Express Tribune’s Jailbreak Spin Helps Nothing

Gilgit District Jail

Militant jailbreaks are not new, but there was something unique about the way that Express Tribune reported the recent escape from Gilgit District Jail. The brazen escape, in which four jihadis managed to break free, has been widely reported as having been carried out with the help of the very men who were supposed to be guarding the hardened terrorists. On 1st March, Dawn reported that Gilgit-Baltistan police chief Zaffar Iqbal Awan ‘conceded that the jailbreak attempt by four prisoners had been assisted by some members of the security staff within the prison’.

Seven jail staff and three religious leaders were immediately arrested on suspicion of aiding the terrorists escape, and the investigation into how the escape could have happened has revealed that security officials at the jail had been recruited by the terrorists, and that ‘companions of the suspects were also in contact with jail officials and tried to take care of their “necessities”.’

Coming during same time as reports of arrest of a Punjab constable attending jihadi training camp in Afghanistan, the entire facts of the case points to a terrifying reality in which terrorists are infiltrating the police forces. So how does Express Tribune report the story? As evidence of success of military courts.

The fear of being sentenced to death by a military court is what spurred two suspects charged with the Nanga Parbat basecamp massacre, along with two other prisoners, to risk a jailbreak in Gilgit, investigators said on Sunday.

Even the headline, ‘Running Scared’, gives the impression that the terrorists were so afraid of their fate at the hands of security forces that they were willing to risk everything. However this ignores the facts. The terrorists were not attempting a panicked and desperate escape, they were leaving with the help of the very guards who were supposed to be keeping them under lock and key.

Express Tribune’s report gives the feeling that the event involved terrified militants and fearless security forces who launched a manhunt that killed one and captured another. The reality is that half of the terrorists escaped unharmed, and at least 10 jail personnel have been arrested in connection with helping them.

I have written before that premature declarations of victory can undermine success. Now is not the time to hide the truth. If we are going to defeat terrorism, we must face the reality, not cover it up.

Living in America

The following is a clip from a post for ExpressTribune by Taimur Ahmed published on 8 August titled, ‘American life through the eyes of a Pakistani’. The full, original piece can be read by clicking here.

Taimur AhmedOnce you are at immigration you are asked the same questions you were asked when you got your visa.The officers asks you what kind of vegetables you are carrying with you on that particular day, which firearms you decided to bring along and how many times you personally met Osama Bin Laden.

Once you’ve answered these extremely relevant questions you move on out of the airport and hail a cab. The whole ride you think about how unbelievable it is that you are finally in the country where all your favourite movies have been made, you tell yourself you’ve seen that building in some movie and you take picture with your brand new Blackberry to upload it on Facebook.

And then, something unexpected happens.

You reach your destination and contrary to what everyone has told you, the locals are actually nice to you! It’s the Pakistani’s who try to keep their distance. They don’t seem to want to be associated with you, they don’t seem confident enough to let everyone know they are from Pakistan. But it’s okay, because you’ve already made tons of American friends. They are all really nice to you and make you feel really comfortable. They ask you plenty of questions because they seem to know that everything they’ve been shown on TV can’t mostly be true. And that’s when you realize it’s not the American people who hate us, not even the American government.

They do not have any hidden agendas against us; they do not want to harm us.

They just want to make sure that we will in no way harm them. When they see that you will not, you are welcomed as one of them. You have been accepted.

You see, it is not America or the American people who have developed this feeling towards us, they had no need to. It is the hero of many, Mr Osama Bin Laden and his countless followers who have done this to us. They have cast doubts upon us; they have made sure that we are the last ones to be looked at when there’s a job opening even though we might have a better GPA then most of our class.

To change the way they look at us Pakistanis we must change our behavior. We cannot go there and attempt to blow up bombs, it is not right.

Sure, they’re not treating us in the best way possible right now, but why should they?

We fostered the world’s most wanted terrorist, Pakistani’s tried to blow up Time’s Square, Pakistani’s funded terrorist organizations and Pakistani’s come from a country that is nuclear powered and is reportedly on the brink of collapse.

If we do not change ourselves, then it is only a matter of time before we are denied entry not only into the United States but into every civilized society in whole world.

Latest Abbottabad lie – How stupid do they think we are?

I have to admit that I’ve been a bit skeptical of the Abbottabad commission from the very beginning. It took the Americans a few hours to carry out the operation, and it has taken months for the commission to even get started. It was clear from the start that certain people didn’t want any inquiry at all. But after all this, now I’m supposed to believe that we won’t learn anything because of…America?!?

According to the front page of yesterday’s Express Tribune, the US is trying to put a big foreign hand over the mouth of the Abbottabad commission.

“The US was in fact strongly against the very idea of any commission to investigate the Abbottabad incident,” said a security official, who chose to stay anonymous.

Of course, the American Embassy immediately rubbished such claims and Express Tribune had to publish a statement contradicting their anonymous report. But reading the original article it becomes apparent what the real problem is.

Intelligence agencies have been collecting evidence and all the relevant details that could provide leads on how the world’s most recognised face managed to live undetected in a garrison town for so long, said another official.

“The arrest of several local people who were working for the CIA is also helpful in finding the unanswered questions,” the official revealed.

The first paragraph says that the agencies are investigation how Osama managed to live in Pakistan. The second paragraph says they are arresting local people who helped the CIA catch him. How is arresting locals who may or may not have tipped CIA in 2011 going to help us learn how Osama got here in 2005?

The real issue is not how the US found him. The real issue is how Osama bin Laden got into Pakistan in the first place, and it’s the one issue nobody wants to talk about. Shireen Mazari screeches on TV about visas, but never asks who gave Osama bin Laden’s passport stamp. Ghairat Brigadiers (R, of course) give lengthy speeches about defending the national sovereignty, but they are silent about thousands of foreign jihadis are coming to our country and carrying out attacks against our own people.

Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan confesses that TTP was behind the attack on PNS Mehran, and what do I read in the newspaper? Politicians scoring cheap political points by blaming the US.

When Abbottabad operation happened, what was the story from the anonymous “security officials” and Ghairat Brigadiers (R)? For weeks it was nothing because they were caught with their pants down. Then the usual parade of clowns began filling my inbox with confused and contradictory conspiracy theories. It was a joint operation and the Americans are refusing to give us our due! No, it was an invasion! They snuck in when our radars were having a rest! No, the radars were on but the hills got in the way! Osama was already dead! No, he wasn’t dead, but he did not do 9/11 attacks! No he was killed and he put up a brave fight against the imperialist bastards! No he was killed and he didn’t put up a fight because he was an innocent old man!

No matter what, the problem is arrogant Amreeka! As a perfect example, Gen sahib actually managed to make all of these ridiculous statements together in less than two minutes.

And now this pathetic song and dance has been followed with this latest number claiming that if we don’t learn anything from the commission, it’s not our fault, once again it’s the American’s fault!

The only question for me is…how stupid do they think we are? The answer, I’m afraid, is very.

HEC Not Worth Defending

Higher Education Commission

Judging by newspaper headlines and TV talk shows, one might be forgiven for thinking that devolution of the HEC will result in the end of education in the country. What a bunch of non sense. If we take an objective look at the HEC – and the status of education more generally – it is quite clear that the HEC is simply not worth defending.

Attaur Rahman, former chairman of the HEC, writes in The Express Tribune that the central planning by the institution is required to produce graduates needed to build the country’s economy.

The minimum quality requirements and the numbers of engineers, scientists, doctors, economists and social scientists needed for nation-building have to be determined through careful central planning regarding human resource requirements in various sectors. A multiplicity of standards and regulations would be disastrous. That is why the world over, including in India, higher education planning and funding is done centrally, even though universities are located in the provinces.

But the US, which has the world’s highest standard for higher education, does not practice central planning, nor does it set a uniform national curriculum. Actually, quite the opposite. US schools compete with each other by setting their own standards and curricula and, through this competition, raise the quality of education all round.

In fact, an article in The Wall Street Journal looks at the state of higher education in India and concludes that despite praise from Attaur Rahman, the centralized bureaucracy has created graduates ‘unfit’ for good jobs.

Business executives say schools are hampered by overbearing bureaucracy and a focus on rote learning rather than critical thinking and comprehension. Government keeps tuition low, which makes schools accessible to more students, but also keeps teacher salaries and budgets low. What’s more, say educators and business leaders, the curriculum in most places is outdated and disconnected from the real world.

This is not unlike the ‘good work’ done by the HEC. Attaur Rahman lists various awards received by the HEC, but awards only create economic growth for HEC chairmen, not for the rest of the nation. And let us consider what Dawn listed as the successes of the institution last week:

For instance, since its coming into being in 2002, the number of public sector universities and degree awarding institutions almost doubled from 59 to 127 while student enrollment went up from 135,000 to 400,000. Thanks to the HEC`s efforts, the country produced 3,037 new PhDs from 2003 to 2009; compare this to the 3,281 scholars we produced from 1947 to 2002.

What difference does it make if HEC is increasing the number of degree awarding institutions and producing new PhDs when the result is universities and think-tanks producing graduates that are not prepared to compete with graduates from other countries? What good is a national curriculum that parrots a failed establishment ideology instead of teaching critical thinking and complex problem solving?  And, please, let us be honest. HEC has not even been able to impose uniform standards or managed even to implement its own rules in a consistent manner as many defense institutes choose to defy HEC mandates and operate under their own regimes.

What is truly telling, however, is that many of the people most loudly demanding that the HEC continue as is went to school overseas themselves and would never allow their own children to attend schools under HEC supervision.

We deserve better.

Let’s have a real discussion about education in this country, shall we? We currently spend around 2% of GDP on education. This is unacceptable. A report by Ahsan Iqbal published by The Pakistan Education Task Force concludes that,

The truth is that Pakistani policymakers have little handle on what is currently being spent on education. We need urgently to gain greater clarity over the current situation and also to analyse what needs to be spent if governments are to meet their constitutional obligations on education.

Ahsan notes that this cannot be done by provinces alone, but neither has it been done under the authority of the HEC. That he why he insists that answer lies in a new approach, on in which

“Both federal and provincial governments need to work together, assisted, if necessary, by Pakistan’s top economists to discover what we know about financing, and – as importantly – what we don’t know.”

The sad fact is that we are failing our children when it comes to education. And by failing our children, we are failing our own future. No matter how many ‘degree awarding institutions’ are opened, it will mean nothing if we continue to ignore the persistent problems with providing basic education to millions of our own citizens. And, here’s an uncomfortable fact, a real solution to the education emergency will require that you pay your taxes.

Education emergency is a problem that must be addressed honestly, sincerely, and seriously. Not with sensational threats about losing hundreds of millions in USAID and World Bank funding. International donors are not interested in HEC patronage or ideologies of central planning. They will help fund any education program that works.

We need to stop putting politics above our children’s education by defending the ‘status quo’ out of a misplaced sense of political gamesmanship. The HEC may have had some successes, but it had not brought Pakistan’s education system to the world class standard that we deserve. Central planning has not worked in India, and it has not worked in Pakistan. It’s time to try something new.

The Truth About Reko Diq

Farooq TirmiziHow valuable is one’s wealth if it is buried underground and one has no way of getting it out? And what would one say to somebody who came along and volunteered to extract this wealth, providing all of the technical expertise and putting up the entire investment costs, and letting you keep half of the profits? Would it be fair to say that this person was indulging in exploitative behaviour? Or would we say that a fair deal was on offer?

The above scenario is not hypothetical. It is exactly what is currently going on in the case of the Reko Diq mining project in Balochistan. The Tethyan Copper Company, a joint venture between Canada’s Barrick Gold and Chile’s Antofagasta, has spent $220 million to explore the Reko Diq area and, having discovered a feasible reserve of minerals, is now willing to spend the further $3.3 billion it would take to extract the minerals. And yet it is being treated like a neo-imperialist villain out to pillage Pakistan’s national treasures.

Here are the facts: The Balochistan government gets a 25 per cent stake in the profits of the company for doing absolutely nothing besides being lucky enough to have jurisdiction over Reko Diq. It also gets a royalty fee on every penny of revenue earned by the Tethyan Copper Company. In addition, the company will pay the full 35 per cent of its income in corporate income taxes to the federal government. When all is said and done, the provincial and federal governments walk away with 52 per cent of the net cash flows of the project, while putting up none of the investment. By what standard is that a bad deal?

Yet if one were to pay attention to all of the populist screeching emanating from every corner of the print and electronic media, and now from 19-odd senators who have filed a petition in the Supreme Court on the matter, and also from people who have absolutely no expertise in resource economics, one could be forgiven for thinking that a great crime is about to occur. The truth, however, is that the crime is being committed right now, with the people of Pakistan being used as accessories to one of the biggest highway robberies in history.

The populist frenzy currently being whipped up on television and in newspapers is no accident. You see, a field is worth almost nothing when it has no proven reserves. Yet it can suddenly become worth billions the minute it is announced that there are significant quantities of minerals buried underneath. And that is when the vultures start to circle, smelling a fortune to be made by crooked means.

Here is how it will happen: The government officials who gave away the licences to the Tethyan Copper Company before it discovered anything at Reko Diq were unable to extort any bribes when the field was worth nothing. Now that it is worth billions, however, they can either extort bribes from Tethyan or from another mining company (and at least two Chinese companies have shown interest). Yet in order to get those bribes from Tethyan, the threat of losing the contract needs to be real enough. Hence the creation of a popular hysteria to give these officials the political cover they need for their banditry.

The other option is to actually kick out Tethyan (for which the popular hysteria is still useful) and then quietly give away the contract to the company willing to offer the highest kickbacks. Either way, the national interest, in the truest sense of the word, will have been cast aside since no company in its right mind will want to do business in a country that kicks an investor out the minute the latter finds something worth mining. The legendary wealth of Balochistan will remain buried beneath the sands of misery that currently haunt the Baloch people.

But, of course, the chest-thumping politicians will have made their cut and the journalists who helped them drum up the smokescreen of patriotic fervour will have unwittingly destroyed the nation’s interests. I do not know about you, but I do not like being used in this manner.

Farooq Tirmizi is a consultant who has worked previously on the business desk of The Express Tribune. He is a graduate of Georgetown University. This column was published in The Express Tribune on 26 January 2011.