Visa leaks: A political strategy that backfired?

Nawaz Sharif

It’s hard to believe that it’s almost been five years since PMLN dominated the polls and Nawaz Sharif returned for a third term as Prime Minister. Elections are not expected for one more year, however it seems that election season has arrived already. That is the best explanation I have been able to think of for the sudden return of the old visa controversy.

There are several theories about what is behind the leaks of documents related to Husain Haqqani’s time as Ambassador. Cyril Almeida believes it is to remind the civilians of who’s boss, but I have my doubts this time. The usual Army proxies are unusually silent. Not only this, but whoever is behind this whole drama hasn’t thought it through very well.

The first leaked document was a letter granting Husain Haqqani greater authority in expediting visas for some US officials without first sending requests to Islamabad for clearance. What first seemed like a smoking gun turned out to be nothing but dust when Haqqani himself noted that this was nothing new and had actually been reported long ago.

It was the next document that really gave away the incompetence of the conspirators, though. A memo from the Foreign Office marked as ‘Confidential’ directs Missions not to issue visas to a list of 36 alleged CIA agents. There are three major red flags with this leak.

  1. Obviously, we do not know if visas were actually issued to any of these people.
  2. If this list is authentic, it is unlikely that our agencies would want it published because it will cause serious problems for our own intelligence agents who are working undercover. There is a tradition of agencies respecting each other and not exposing the other sides agents except in extreme circumstances. Publishing a list of undercover agents would risk upsetting the very delicate balance of trust with foreign agencies and put our own agents at risk of being exposed.
  3. This is the biggest mistake: Whoever leaked overlooked that the list of alleged CIA agents includes a hand written request for their visas signed not by Husain Haqqani or Asif Zardari but by the Defence & Army Attache who is himself now a Corps Commander!!!

Defence Attache visa request

Husain Haqqani has insisted that ‘military was not bypassed. period‘. Even if the Ambassador was granted authority to issue visas without review by Islamabad, there has never been any evidence that visas were issued without full cooperation and review of Defence agencies located withing the Embassy. Till date there has been no evidence that any visas were issued without the approval of agencies stationed at the Embassy. In fact, this latest leak suggests that Defence officials were fully informed. Just as publishing lists of foreign agents is not in our own agencies interest, also we should ask if publishing documents that show the Defence officials who reviewed and approved visa requests is in our national interest.

If the boys are not behind this one, then, who is? To find the answer we should look at the narrative that is being promoted. It is not just Haqqani who is being targeted, it is PPP leadership. The former President Asif Zardari and PM Gilani are clearly in the sights of the leakers and those who are pushing the narrative that PPP government went around the military to help US agents. It was Khawaja Asif who called for a full investigation, apparently having forgotten that there already was one, and that if anyone wants to get to the bottom of things they can simply release the full contents of the Abbottabad Commission Report.

Until someone comes forward and admits being behind the leaks, this will all be left to speculation. However, it is hard to see how any of this benefits the boys at this time. Much more likely is that someone in PMLN got too clever for their own good and decided to start campaigning early by knocking out PPP by re-introducing old civil-military divides. This was both unnecessary and counterproductive. Unnecessary because PPP is too busy making their own bad decisions to be a real political threat, and also because it sppears that someone within PMLN leadership is trying to drag the Army into politics. 2018 is looking good for Nawaz Sharif. As this drama shows, he needs to make sure it is his own people who don’t bungle it!

The American Election’s Lesson for Pakistan

USA election Hillary ClintonThey say trouble always comes in threes. First India elected Modi. Then UK voted for ‘Brexit’. So maybe we should have predicted that America would follow suit and elect Donald Trump. What does this mean? Nobody really knows, though everyone seems to have a prediction. Some are saying that this will finally bring the downfall of America. Some are predicting that it unites the Ummah against America. Many are worried about their overseas family members, and some are predicting that all overseas Pakistanis will now come home. The only thing anyone knows for certain, is that no one knows what will happen, but it will probably not make anything easier for us.

There is one interesting thing about the election, though, that I want to mention. It is what happened the next day after the election. After losing a very close election to Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton went on TV and gave a speech and said this:

“Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead.”

President Barack Obama who is the leader of Clinton’s party also gave an official statement where he said this:

“We are now all rooting for his (Trump’s) success in uniting and leading the country,”

No dharnas. No long march. Clinton did not file cases with the Election Commission. She didn’t make any accusations of rigging. There’s no ‘Go, Trump Go!’ Clinton’s party lost, and then she told her workers and activists to ‘give Trump a chance’. The leader of her party said he was rooting for Trump to succeed. Can you imagine this happening here?

If this is not shocking enough, let me tell you something else: Clinton is accepting the election results even though she actually got more votes. How did she lose if she got more votes? American elections have something called the ‘Electoral College’ which is a complicated system that allocates votes based on the number of seats in the Congress. The winner is usually the person who gets the most votes, but sometimes, like in this election, the person with the most votes can actually lose. Sounds like it’s not fair? Maybe it’s not fair, but the system still works because politicians accept the results because they respect the law.

American democracy works even though it is obviously not perfect because politicians and people respect the law, even when it works against their own interests. Even when it seems like it’s not fair, they still respect the law instead of trying to cheat it. This made me think: Instead of trying to predict what the American election means for Pakistan, maybe we should take a lesson from it – Even when democracy is flawed, it can still be successful if only we will accept and respect the law.

 

Democracy for Kashmir but not Karachi

Waseem Akhtargestures from an armoured personal carrier while being taken to jail after his arrestPolling took place on Thursday for 41 constituencies of Azad Kashmir Legislative Assembly, and special accommodations were made for over 40,000 Kashmiri refugees also. This election is of particular symbolic importance because it is taking place while Kashmiris in Indian-controlled Kashmir are suffering human rights atrocities at the hands of Indian security forces. However, as unofficial results are eagerly awaited across Pakistan, we should also be asking whether we support democracy for Kashmir but not for Karachi.

Karachi elections were held over seven months ago, though the individuals elected have not been permitted to take their offices. Actually, it’s worse. They have been arrested and denied bail by Pakistan security forces. Now it has been reported that Karachi Mayor Waseem Akhtar has been handed over to the infamous SSP Rao Anwar known as ‘King of Encounters’ for the number of people killed without any trial under his watch and has even been suspended for giving sensationalist press conferences accusing suspects of being RAW agents.

King of Encounters SSP Rao Anwar

Now we are left facing the question of whether democracy in Pakistan is rigged for hyper-nationalists only, or whether we are really interested in letting the people choose their own fate.

Now, about those billions…

Pakistan Rupees

As is so often the case in politics, the lead up to Senate elections has proved to be much more controversial than the actual elections. Accusations of rigging and horse trading abounded, and even PTI has gotten a taste of what it means to be in the hot seat. At the end of the day, however, the high-pitched wailing about ‘billions’ at play were best summed up in less than 140 characters by Cyril Almeida:

And so, as always, the world continues to turn and politicians prepare for the next battle. Now that we have put this chapter behind us, let us return to a question that remains unanswered…where did all those billions go?

No, not those billions…

Those:

Rs5.5 billion foul play in defence funds

The Auditor General of Pakistan has unearthed financial foul play of billions of rupees in spending of funds in Pakistan’s defence sector. The audit report on the accounts of defence services for the fiscal year 2011-12 finds that Pakistan’s defence organisations misused funds or violated prescribed rules during spending of funds exceeding 5490.961 million rupees.

And those:

Defence ministry fails to recover Rs1.5bn from its 81 officials

A defence ministry representative informed the meeting that the 81 military and civilian officials were investigated and found guilty of having embezzled Rs1.53 billion from the accounts of the Military Engineering Services (MES). This sum was siphoned off thanks to fake purchases, fictitious spending and fraudulent payments.

I look forward to reading Farrukh Saleem‘s detailed report…

Azadi March: Is Media Only Capable Of Destroying?

media panic

The Nation today has called on Nawaz to address the public and correct Imran Khan’s incorrect claims regarding elections.

Nawaz Sharif must come out of the ministerial veil and tell people his side of the story. Unlike Khan, he is lucky to have facts on his side. With so much at stake here, there can be no half measures. The Prime Minister must address the public on national television. His speech must identify the massive loopholes in Imran’s narrative. People should be told that the government has no control over the functions of the Election Commission. That the Election Tribunals have already dealt with 73% of the cases lodged. That no reform or ‘change’ can be achieved through abrupt mid-term elections, especially since they will be conducted under the same system Imran claims to be crusading against. 

This recommendation has one major problem, though, which is that people are unlikely to take the Prime Minister seriously. Most likely, he will be seen as saying whatever is necessary to protect his own job. The Nation does raise an important point however which is that much of what Imran Khan is saying is factually incorrect.

My question is, if a major politician is giving incorrect statements, isn’t it the job of media to correct them?

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