Are extremists are becoming mainstream, or the mainstream is becoming extremist?

Ehsanullah Ehsan and Nareen LaghariThe appearance of Ehsanullah Ehsan on TV will go down as one of the largest media blunders in history. That this was orchestrated by ISPR cannot be doubted. The captured TTP spokesman was in Army custody. He did not hire a PR team to arrange his interview. No, it was obviously a plan of Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor’s team. But why? The answer is obvious. Part of it was explained by Mohammad Hanif in his article that the powers that be don’t want anyone to read:

With his appearance, the Pakistani Army seemed to be sending this message: You can kill thousands of Pakistanis, but if you later testify that you hate India as much as we do, everything will be forgiven.

It’s not just anti-India message that the TTP leader was giving, though, it was more. In his ‘confession,’ Ehsanullah Ehsan even pointed a finger at Israel. The narrative here, to use the Army’s favourite expression, is not that militancy is illegitimate, it’s that these militants are illegitimate.

However, after this fiasco blew up in ISPR’s face, they were given a second chance. Ehsanullah Ehsan is hard to feel pity for. He is the same who was gladly announcing the brutal massacre of children at APS Peshawar. As he is ushered off the stage, though, the second performer steps into the spotlight.

Enter Noreen Leghari.

Nareen Laghari interviewLike Ehsanullah Ehsan, Noreen was also involved in terrorism. However, her target were Christians, and she did not get the chance to carry out her evil plans. Now that she has been captured, she has realised her mistake. Noreen’s confession is not as detailed as the confession of Ehsanullah Ehsan, but her role is different. A medical student, Noreen has pointed a finger at social media. You see, this is how she was radicalised. Social media. On the internet. Not in our own society.

Noreen Leghari is the anti-Malala. She was not resisting radicalisation, she was gladly radicalised. She was not an innocent victim of extremists, she was an extremist. Only she got carried away. It could happen to anyone, even a bright university student.

Even a humble daughter.

Noreen Leghari was arrested only two weeks ago in a raid on a Daesh hideout. During her two weeks in custody, she has been deradicalised. She is not working with human rights NGOs, she is working with Army. She is not giving speeches on problems in Pakistani society in foreign cities, she is giving interviews here about dangers of social media and external threats to Pakistan. And she is not denouncing jihad. She is denouncing misguided jihad. In other words, it is the difference of ‘bad‘ jihadi vs ‘good’ jihadi.

Apologists explain that Army is that by mainstreaming extremists like these two, we will set off a chain reaction and other extremists will be mainstreamed also. What is not clear, though, is what is our definition of ‘extremist’. Until we know this, how can we know whether extremists are becoming mainstream, or the mainstream is becoming extremist.

blasphemy riot

Ehsanullah Ehsan: How did ‘patriotic Pakistanis’ end up as RAW agents?

Ehsanullah Ehsan’s confession has confirmed what we have said all along: TTP are fighting to destabilise Pakistan under the direction of hostile foreign intelligence agencies. After Kulbhushan Jadhav’s confession, what more evidence needs to be provided? There is only one problem: This is not what we have said all along. Let us review some history.

In 2006, Army signed a ceasefire that was followed by hugs and return of weapons.

Maulvi Nek Zaman MNA read out the agreement after which the militants and military officials hugged each other and exchanged greetings. The venue was heavily guarded by armed Taliban and journalists were not allowed to shoot or film the event.

In 2011, Army allegedly entered peace talks with TTP. This was ‘strongly and categorically‘ denied by ISPR, but immediately after a cease fire was announced. That cease fire ultimately failed, but negotiating with TTP was still the official policy. COAS Gen Kayani even confirmed Army’s support for the process. This policy was not only continued but expanded by Gen Raheel who declared peace talks with TTP a national security ‘top priority‘. In 2014, we accepted another month long ceasefire that was supposed to break the deadlock in peace talks. Reconciliation with TTP was state policy for years.

Nek Muhammad with Army officer

This begs the question, if TTP are RAW/NDS agents, why would the state want to reconcile with them? To find the answer, let us ask our top security officials themselves.

“We have no big issues with the militants in Fata. We have only some misunderstandings with Baitullah Mehsud and Fazlullah. These misunderstandings could be removed through dialogue.”

The truth is, our own Army termed TTP as ‘patriotic Pakistanis‘.

So what happened? Is the military really that incompetent that they were fooled by RAW/NDS for so many years? Did we just not get it? Or was it all BS? Are the allegations about RAW connections BS or was all the stuff about ‘patriotic Pakistanis’ BS?

Before you answer, consider this. Despite Ehsanullah Ehsan’s allegations about TTP’s  RAW links, the idea that TTP are simply ‘misguided patriots’ and not actual RAW agents is still being projected.

This begs a serious question: Are claims of a RAW connection meant to cover up an ISI connection?

Long before anyone had thought to point fingers at India, it was widely reported that our war against TTP was a fight against our own Frankenstein’s monster. This point has been swept under the rug and replaced with the claim that TTP was a creation of hostile foreign agencies. However the facts are the facts, and in the digital age, history is not so easily re-written.

Ehsanullah Ehsan in state custodyOn a related note, there has been a lot of anger expressed about Ehsanullah Ehsan’s media appearances, and even PEMRA has now issued a notice banning such presentations. However, what is not being asked is how Ehsanullah Ehsan, who is in Army’s custody, has been able to give such interviews and appearances without Army’s nod?

In the shadowy world of spy games and proxy wars, the truth is often hard to find. Be careful about believing anything you hear without seeing some actual evidence first, especially if what you are being told is exactly what you want to hear. The truth might be a little more complicated.

The real covert war against Pakistan

The real covert war against Pakistan

Parliament is about to begin debating new terms for cooperation with America in the war on terrorism, but this is issue is anything but new. Actually, it seems like everyone has an opinion on whether and how we should engage with the Americans – from the Difa-e-Pakistan chants of “Go America Go” to the reasoned calls for parliamentarians to “put interests ahead of emotions” and everything in between. But while everyone is focused on what new ‘red lines’ will define new talks with America, we may be ignoring a covert war against Pakistan happening right under our noses.

Claims that hidden hands are waging a cover war against Pakistan are nothing new. Opinion-makers writing in major newspapers and appearing on TV talk shows have been telling about this conspiracy for years. Recently, a retired military officer (naturally) wrote a typical piece in The Nation that describes the common narrative.

Ever since the US/Isaf forces ousted the pro-Pakistan Taliban government from Afghanistan, and the pro-Indian Northern Alliance dominated the government, India’s notorious intelligence agency, the RAW, has become fully entrenched in the war-torn country. Backed by the Afghan Intelligence Agency and allegedly supported by the Mossad, CIA and others, it is aiding and abetting insurgency in Balochistan, FATA and our urban centres. Their common goal seems to be to internally destabilise Pakistan to its ultimate disintegration.

Claims of a Mossad-RAW-CIA-KHAD nexus bent on disintegrating Pakistan have reliably served certain sections of society for decades. Actually, this story is so old that one can’t help but wonder if we really have anything to worry about since these powerful agencies can’t manage to get the job done.

But the fact is that we do have something to worry about because there really is a covert war against Pakistan. Only it’s not being carried out by a secret Mossad-RAW-CIA-KHAD conspiracy.

Taking place right now is a field general court martial of Brigadier Ali Khan who is accused of conspiring to topple the government, trying to instigate a mutiny within the army and planning an attack on the GHQ. These are serious charges of treason against the state. And Brig Ali was not some lone wolf who hatched a crazy scheme on his own – the allegations against him involve ties to the group Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an international group dedicated to the overthrow of sovereign governments to form a new Khalifat.

Islamabad posterHizb-ut-Tahrir, though banned in Pakistan, is openly recruiting and plotting against the state. Recently, 21 activists were taken into custody from a meeting in Islamabad. According to Brigadier Amir Riaz, head of 111 Brigade, Hizb-ut-Tahrir “has prepared a new constitution and a shadow government for Pakistan and that the group was ready to take over anytime”.

Most people shrug off this sort of news saying that such groups are such a small minority that they pose no real threat. But what about when the Jamaat-e-Islami chief himself terms Osama bin Laden as ‘the greatest martyr’ and officials democratically elected by the people of Pakistan as ‘beasts’? Besides, small groups can have an outsized effect, as Jamaat-e-Islami has proven time and again when they take to the streets since they can’t win at the ballot box. And while Hizb-ut-Tahrir might insist that they are a “peaceful” group (though this raises the question why they are so intent on recruiting in the military), others make no attempt to hide their aims.

Last week, security forces in Bajaur Agency seized heavy weapons worth millions of rupees from secret hideouts of terrorists. People will again shrug off this news by claiming that these weapons are for killing Americans in Afghanistan, not Pakistanis. This, of course, ignores the obvious problem of where these heavily armed militants will turn once the Americans leave – a change that is getting closer every day.

It also ignores the open threats made by militant groups against Pakistan. The Jamaat-e-Islami chief is not the only extremist who sees the terrorist Osama bin Laden as a hero, and Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan openly threatened attacks against the state if bin Laden’s widows are not released from Pakistani custody.

“If the family of Osama bin Laden is not released as soon as possible, we will attack the judges, the lawyers and the security officials involved in their trial,” Ehsanullah Ehsan of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) told Reuters.

“We will carry out suicide bombings against security forces and the government across the country.”

The Difa-e-Pakistan has threatened force against the state also, threatening to “hold a siege of Parliament House” if the democratically-elected government re-opens NATO supply routes. And once again, familiar faces are making the threats.

Difa-e-Pakistan

The sit-in was addressed by Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Ameer Syed Munawwar Hassan, JUI-S chief Maulana Samiul Haq, former ISI DG Lt Gen (R) Hamid Gul, former minister Ijazul Haq, JI secretary general Liaquat Baloch and Hafiz Abdul Rehman Makki of Jamaatud Daawa (JuD).

All of this is news that should shock the public, but instead it passes almost unnoticed. You don’t have to believe in hidden hands and secret global conspiracies to make sense of this news. It’s all quite plainly laid out before us. There are militant groups who want to overthrow the government of Pakistan because the majority of people do not accept their worldview. These are the millions of Pakistanis who do not believe Osama bin Laden is “the greatest martyr” and do not support suicide bombings. They are the millions of Pakistanis who believe that the civilised people don’t threaten a siege of parliament if they don’t get their way, they contest elections and try to convince their fellow citizens with reason, not threats.

This is the tragic irony of our times. Newspapers, TV talk shows and street gossip is filled with chatter about a covert war being carried out with the aim of destabilising and ultimately disintegrating Pakistan. But we have become so fixated on fantastic tales of external enemies and their invisible foreign hands that we have failed to notice the real threat, and so we are paralysed to do anything about it.

Parliament will debate new terms of engagement with America, the judiciary will continue chasing memos and BBMs, and retired officers will continue weaving thrilling tales of international intrigue and selling them to media more concerned with ratings than facts. Meanwhile, forces are amassing against Pakistan not in US think tanks, but in dhabas and on verandas in our own cities and villages. Will we wake up in time to avert this tragedy and recognise the real enemy among us?

Sovereignty Issues

If questions about sovereignty were merely political weapons to be made during the KL debate, the American operation in Abbottabad has put them into start reality. The Americans may have killed their man and left, but the operation highlighted some more disturbing points such as how did the world’s most wanted terrorist mastermind get into and live in Pakistan for years without notice? And if the Americans can enter and leave Pakistan without notice, how secure are we actually?

The problem is not only that Hizb-ut-Tahrir is banned, therefore the members of this group are choosing to break the very laws they are meant to protect, rather it is something much deeper. The stated goal of Hizb-ut-Tahrir is for all Muslim countries to unify under a Khalifa. That means that supporters of Hizb-ut-Tahrir are by definition anti-Pakistan.

For all the worry about sovereignty, it is Hizb-ut-Tahrir that believes that Pakistan does not deserve sovereignty but should be subservient to a foreign dictator (Khaliph). How can members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir be soldiers sworn to defend Pakistan if they do not believe Pakistan should exist? There are some journalists and media celebrities who are defending these arrested officers and trying to claim that it is an attack on Islamic ideology, but this is fundamentally incorrect.

Neither is it simply a matter of technicalities. When the Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan spoke to the media to take credit for the suicide bombing on a police station over the weekend, he bragged that it was carried out by “Uzbek nationals”. This means that Pakistan’s sovereignty was violated once again by foreign agents crossing our borders and carrying out attacks on our security services. As usual, the Ghairat Brigade is silent on this fact.

We have sacrificed too much for this country to let it be slowly eroded away. We should be vigilant about protecting our sovereignty from violation by larger powers like India and US, but in doing so we should not ignore what is going on underneath our very nose.