Has Gen Bajwa Lost Control of Media Operations?

Gen Bajwa ISPR

DG-ISPR Gen Bajwa has received international recognition as a master of public relations for the media campaign that has lifted COAS to unprecedented heights of popularity. In addition, media has been united behind Army’s efforts to fight terrorists until the bitter end. However, a new trend has appeared within media that has some shaking their heads and wondering if a change for the worst has taken place behind the scenes.

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Democracy wins, federation loses – Farahnaz Ispahani

Following article was published in The Hindu. Author, Farahnaz Ispahani, is a former member of Pakistan’s Parliament and media adviser of the co-chairman of the PPP, President Asif Ali Zardari

While Nawaz Sharif has won the election decisively, he faces the challenge of reaching out beyond his main base in Punjab to the rest of Pakistan

Pakistan achieved a historic landmark with the completion of its five-year term by the civilian coalition government led by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the successful completion of elections resulting in the clear victory for Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N). The election results, surprising for many, point to the challenges ahead for the country.

Although the PML won enough seats to be able to form the government without having to bargain too much with too many factions, its success comes entirely through the support of one ethnic group — the Punjabis. Every Pakistani province appears to have chosen a different party to represent it. The overall high turnout nationwide masks the harsh reality that very few people voted in Balochistan, where alienation from the centre has been growing.


There is no doubt that people voted out the incumbents amid questions about their performance. But the virtual wiping out of the PPP in Punjab means that each Pakistani political party now reflects the dominant sentiment of a particular ethnic group. The PPP was the only party that had representation from all four provinces of Pakistan in the outgoing Parliament.

The election result may be a step forward for Pakistani democracy. It is a step backward for the Pakistani federation. Given the history of complaints about Punjabi domination, Nawaz Sharif will have to reach out to the leaders of other provinces. Authoritarian rule has undermined national unity in the past because of Punjab’s overwhelming supremacy in the armed forces, judiciary and civil services. Democracy should not breed similar resentment among smaller ethnic groups through virtual exclusion from power at the centre.

In addition to bringing the provinces other than Punjab on board, Sharif’s other major headache would be to evolve a functioning relationship with Pakistan’s military establishment. Although he rose to prominence as General Zia-ul Haq’s protégé, Sharif clashed with General Pervez Musharraf over civilian control of the military. He might be tempted to settle that issue once and for all, partly because of the sentiment generated by his overthrow and imprisonment by Musharraf.

Changing the civil-military balance in favour of the civilians would be a good thing. But if it is done without forethought and caution, it could end up risking the democratic gains of the last several years. The PML-N’s view of Pakistani national identity being rooted in Islam and the two-nation theory does not differ much from that of the Pakistani establishment. His real difference with the establishment is over his belief that he, as the elected leader, and not the military must run the country.

Foreign policy

Sharif has publicly stated his intention to pick up the threads of the peace process he initiated with Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1999. That process was undermined by the Kargil war, which Sharif now says was initiated by Musharraf without his authority. There can be no assurance that the establishment will let Sharif move forward over changing Pakistan’s posture towards Afghanistan and India, something it did not allow the PPP-led coalition to pursue. Moreover, having been elected with the support of hardline conservative Punjabis, how far can Sharif go against the wishes of his base?

During the election campaign, Sharif said little about Afghanistan. In his previous two terms he maintained close ties with the United States but did nothing against the jihadi groups. It was under Sharif’s rule that Pakistan officially recognised the Taliban regime and established diplomatic relations. This time, he has spoken of good relations with the West but his voters are overwhelmingly anti-American. The best he might be able to do on foreign policy would be to say the right things publicly without making tough policy decisions.

The Punjab electorate, in particular, and some parts of Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa were clearly swayed by a hyper-nationalist tide, with tinges of Islamist grandiloquence. Sharif’s PML-N and Imran Khan’s PTI used similar hyper-nationalist, anti-American language about Pakistan no longer asking the West for aid. Both parties courted Islamist extremists to bolster their respective vote banks. It might be difficult for them to get off that tiger any time soon.

The National Assembly seat break-up is skewed in favour of one province, the largest province of Punjab. Punjab sends 148 general and 35 women’s seats or a total of 183 out of 342 seats which is more than half the seats in the lower house of Parliament. With deep ethnic, linguistic and economic diversity among the provinces, with trust between the provinces being at an all-time low and with the challenge of terrorism facing the country, there is a need for Mr Sharif to show statesmanship and to appeal beyond his urban Punjabi base.

Other players

Sharif is not the only one facing challenges. The PPP has suffered a national setback but has held onto its base in Sindh. It is now time for the party to look inwards and understand that the country has changed. It is growing more urban and Sindh is also doing so. The party is down but not out. It will have to reinvigorate itself by asserting its liberal, social democratic roots. Like the Congress in India, it can continue to seek unity in leadership from the family of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto. But it has to be a party that is not dismissed as a family enterprise.

As for Imran Khan, he achieved a breakthrough by mobilising disenchanted, apolitical youth. But if he seeks to remain relevant he must realise that there is more to politics than slogans and catch-all phrases. Railing against corrupt and patronage-based politicians is one thing, offering a viable democratic alternative is quite another.

(Farahnaz Ispahani )

Elections 2013: The Pakistan establishment strikes back by Farahnaz Ispahani

Following is a replug of an article published in firstpost.world by Farahnaz Ispahani on April 6th 2013.

As Pakistan approaches its next general elections, scheduled for 11  May, questions have arisen once again about the fairness of the electoral process. The problem stems from Pakistan’s long history of meddling in politics by unelected institutions of state, euphemistically referred to as “the establishment.” In addition to direct military rule for half its life as an independent country, Pakistan has always lived in the shadow of the ubiquitous influence of generals, judges and civil servants.

If Ayub Khan was the man who laid the foundations of Pakistan’s praetorian creed, General Zia-ul-Haq created structures for limiting democracy that would outlast him. Zia-ul-Haq drastically changed the constitution and legal regime in ways where reversing these changes has proved difficult even a quarter century after his death. The outgoing Pakistani parliament completed its term and amended the constitution to make it closer to what it was originally intended to be. But the poisoned legacy of Zia-ul Haq endures, enabling the establishment to use Islam as the instrument of control and influence over the body politic.

Soon after the elections were called, Pakistan’s human rights and democracy icon Asma Jahangir tweeted:  “Please read Article 62 and 63 of the Constitution before closing your minds. Witch-hunting will start selectively.” These articles were inserted by Zia-ul-Haq and are still retained in the Constitution because conservative and Islamic parties refused to amend it over the preceding five years.


Returning Officers are asking candidates to recite specific verses from the Quran, prove that they pray five times a day. AFP

Article 62 lays down that a candidate for parliament must demonstrate that “(d) he is of good character and is not commonly known as one who violates Islamic injunctions; (e) he has adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings and practices, obligatory duties prescribed by Islam as well as abstains from major sins; (f) he is sagacious, righteous and non-profligate, honest and ameen, there being no declaration to the contrary by a court of law; (g) he has not, after the establishment of Pakistan, worked against the integrity of the country or opposed the ideology of Pakistan.”

Article 63 disqualifies a Pakistani from becoming an MP if: (g) he has been convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction for propagating any opinion, or acting in any manner, prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan, or the sovereignty, integrity or security of Pakistan, or morality, or the maintenance of public order, or the integrity or independence of the judiciary of Pakistan, or which defames or brings into ridicule the judiciary or the Armed Forces of Pakistan”.

The Election Commission of Pakistan is now using these articles to pre-select candidates. Returning Officers are asking candidates to recite specific verses from the Quran, prove that they pray five times a day and, in case of a woman candidate, even respond to the question “How can you be a good mother if you serve in parliament and are too busy to fulfil your religious duties as a wife and mother?”

Columnist Ayaz Amir, who is part of Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League, has been disqualified from running as a candidate because he wrote articles that were “disparaging” about the ‘ideology’ of Pakistan. Ironically, militant and terrorist leaders have had no problem in meeting the litmus test of religious sagacity and commitment to Pakistan’s ideology. Nomination papers of Maulana Mohammad Ahmad Ludhianvi, who heads Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, a reincarnation of the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, were cleared even though he has publicly acknowledged his role in the killing of Shias in the country.

A few of us saw this coming some years ago. The establishment started with my husband, former Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani, who has battled the establishment and its ideology, especially through his book ‘Pakistan Between Mosque and Military.’ He was dubbed a ‘traitor’, stopped from leaving the country by the Supreme Court even though he faced no legal charges and tarred through the establishment-controlled media. The Supreme Court was criticised by the International Commission of Jurists for acting outside the law to impose its view of patriotism in Husain Haqqani’s case.

Soon after that, I was handpicked and disqualified by the Pakistani Supreme Court on grounds of having dual nationality even though Pakistani law allows citizens to retain dual citizenship with several countries. The Supreme Court seemed to suggest that the law allows judges, generals and bureaucrats to hold two citizenships but not elected members of parliament. Subsequently, the Supreme Court even refused to share information with parliament about judges who are dual nationals.

The unstated argument seems to be that unelected institutions are superior and can be trusted more than mere mortals elected by ordinary people. From the establishment’s perspective, Pakistan’s politicians cannot be trusted to lead or run the country even if they manage to get elected by popular vote. The political system must somehow be controlled, guided or managed by the unelected institutions who deem themselves morally superior and even more patriotic than those supported by the electorate.

This patrician approach is reflected in the assertions of Generals Ayub, Yahya, Zia-ul-Haq and Musharraf at the time they took power in coups d’état. It can also be found in the constant efforts by Supreme Court judges and civil servants to second-guess the people by deciding who is and who is not eligible to run in elections.

The establishment may have allowed parliament to complete its term and refrained from another direct coup but it is still far from accepting the basic premise of democracy – the supremacy of parliament among institutions and the right of the people to vote whomever they choose.

Farahnaz Ispahani is a former member of the Pakistani parliament

Benazir Bhutto Remembered

by Farahnaz Ispahani

Farahnaz IspahaniToday is the fifth death anniversary of Pakistan’s iconic leader, Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. History remembers her as the first elected woman prime minister of a Muslim majority country. For millions of Pakistanis she was the embodiment of their hopes for a democratic, pluralist country and the desire to be free of the scourge of extremism and terrorism. She led and kept the PPP alive against many odds during and after the dark years of the obscurantist dictatorship of General Ziaul Haq.

Benazir Bhutto touched the lives of many Pakistanis by confronting military dictatorship in opposition and through her programmes to address the issues of the poorest and most marginalised during her two short stints in office. She was seen as a threat by those who saw her vision for Pakistan as a challenge to their militarised intrigues. For that reason alone she was hounded during her life and killed by the bigots who have hijacked our beloved country.

Bibi Shaheed firmly believed that women and those who followed other religions were equal Pakistanis in every way. She lived by her convictions and was killed for them. Her vision for Pakistan is summarised in her final book, fittingly titled Reconciliation. Bibi also left the PPP a Manifesto that she had personally worked on and read and reread countless times.

It is hard to forget the day of her assassination, the scenes at the hospital, that endless night carrying Bibi’s coffin in the C-130 with her young children and closest friends and aides on board. The long, terrible drive through the dark, sleeping villages of Sindh, driving behind the ambulance which carried our beloved Bibi home are seared in my memory. Buried next to her father at Garhi Khuda Baksh and close to her two brothers Mir Murtaza and Shahnawaz, Benazir Bhutto was like them, martyred by those who loved power more than Pakistan.

Many of us believed that Bibi Shaheed’s sacrifice of her life would bring change to Pakistan. The country was paralysed and even those who had been her fiercest political opponents during her lifetime grieved for her and her family. There was grief around the world. World leaders who had known Ms Bhutto personally either in her capacity as prime minister or as the leader of the opposition or from her exile years mourned. As did many citizens of countries near and far. In the years since her assassination, many of us have run into countless working people in many countries who express their grief over Bibi’s death the moment they find out that we are from Pakistan.

Today, on the fifth anniversary of her death, we have to ask ourselves whether we understood her ultimate sacrifice. Have the over-reaching powers of the establishment that consistently plotted against her democratic values been curbed? Has democracy and its roots been strengthened? Have the lives of Pakistan’s citizens improved materially and socially or at least been put on the path to improvement? Are Muslims of different denominations and our non-Muslim minorities safer today?

Several excellent laws have been passed by parliament. The visible improvement of Pakistan-India ties are to be celebrated. The Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) — initially conceived by Mohtarma Bhutto herself along with economist Kaisar Bengali — is an extremely successful initiative with many new components. But much still has to be done and many of her ideas are still unfulfilled.

Pakistan remains in the grip of militarism and militancy. The superior courts have failed to expand access to justice, involving themselves in political issues instead. The democratic process continues to be undermined by invisible intrigues and many important issues end up being neglected. The establishment continues to think of ways around the Constitution instead of allowing the country to be run according to its principles. Instead of mourning what we have lost, we must use this occasion for self-reflection. We must remember her indefatigable energy, her love for her homeland, her endless patience and her step-by-step, day-by-day work together to reclaim Pakistan.

We owe Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto no less.

The writer was MNA from 2008-2012 and is media adviser to President Asif Ali Zardari. Published in The Express Tribune, December 27th, 2012.

PPP’s Losing Strategy

PPP Supporters Protest Blasphemy

A famous quotation attributed to the British political philosopher Edmund Burke says that “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”. That may be the least that is necessary, but it’s not the only path. Evil can also triumph when good men undermine their own cause by taking a page out of evil’s playbook. Unfortunately, that seems to be happening among some in PPP, and it’s a losing strategy.

As elections draw near, politics naturally takes a turn for the worst. Disgust at the now well-known YouTube video was justified, but the hijacking of the people’s sentiments by religious parties and banned groups was not. By calling for a national holiday, PPP’s strategy to limit these group’s ability to exploit the situation was not only too clever by half, it actually played into the hands of extremist groups.

While most people have focused on the holiday’s giving legitimacy to the demonstrations, what has been largely overlooked is that the national holiday gave extremist groups cover to carry out violent attacks. By nightfall on Friday, groups like Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamaat-ud-Dawa took to the media to proclaim that any acts of violence were not carried out by their organisations who protested peacefully. As proof, they dared anyone to provide evidence of JI or JuD supporters doing such acts while they provided photos and videos of their supporters waving flags and chanting peacefully.

Of course this is a classic smoke and mirrors operation. All these groups had to do is make sure to document their supporters with flags acting peacefully, while their supporters without flags created mayhem. With the entire nation on holiday, it would be impossible to sort out who is who. Before you think this is going a step too far, keep in mind that we’re talking about groups that claim they don’t engage in violence and believe they’re telling the truth because they have redefined violence.

Unfortunately, some PPP leaders didn’t stop with the passive strategy of declaring the national holiday that gave cover to the extremists, they started parroting them themselves in order to appeal to the national mood.

Headlines reporting Rehman Malik’s telling the West to stop supporting Pakistan’s enemies sounded more like a speech at a DPC rally than the statements of a Federal Minister. Of course, this isn’t the first time that Rehman Malik has ventured off of his script in an attempt to appease the right wing – the worst episode being when he threatened to kill blasphemers with his own hands following the murder of one of his own party leaders by a crazed lunatic.

Then there’s Ghulam Ahmed Bilour who sounded more like Mullah Yousaf Qureshi than a Federal Minister when he announced a bounty of $100,000 for murder of the maker of the offensive video. Granted Bilour is ANP and not PPP, but as the leader of a coalition government, the PPP must take responsibility for his presence in the Cabinet.

That these statements and the national holiday are poorly thought out should be obvious. Not only do they undermine the PPP’s position as a modern, progressive political party, they also gain nothing. Let’s face reality – no matter how much support PPP leaders give for right-wing issues, they will never be enough to win the support of the right-wing.

Munawar Hasan and Hafiz Saeed attack the PPP as irreligious not because they want PPP to accept their positions. They do it because they have nothing to offer the people and therefore have to rely on attacks. Giving in to their demands will not neutralise their attacks, it will only make their demands more extreme. Today it is protests against an internet video clip, tomorrow its funding for jihad…then what? Continue down this path for very long and at a certain point, the PPP becomes completely irrelevant.

And this brings us to the point. If the PPP leadership does not have the courage of conviction to sack Federal Ministers who cross the line to openly advocate murder, on what moral authority are they asking for our support?

The PPP became the most popular political party across the nation not because it campaigned on religious symbols, but because it campaigned on the substance of our religion. What is ‘Roti, Kapra aur Makan’ if not the command of almighty Allah to care for the poor of society? Just as Islam was spread across the region not at the tip of a sword but by the demonstration of tolerance and love that was shown by earlier Muslims, the PPP’s popularity was gained not through threats and intimidation but by fighting for the rights of the country’s poorest and least powerful.

Bilawal’s passionate speech on the martyrdom of Salmaan Taseer Shaheed exemplified the type of courageous and inspirational leadership that the people are desperate for – one that stands up for justice without fear, not when it is toeing the popular line, but when it stands out. In this, he has reminded the people of his mother who never pretended to be an extremist to gain popular support, but rather watered the roots of tolerance and democracy with her own life’s blood.

We have seen this courage in other recent PPP leaders, also: Salmaan Taseer Shaheed, Shahbaz Bhatti Shaheed, Sherry Rehman, Farahnaz Ispahani. We have heard it in the statements of Ahmad Mukhtar and Nadeem Afzal Chan, both of them unwavering in speaking out against the sectarianism that is ripping our nation apart at the seams. This should be the public face of what is supposed to be the nation’s largest liberal party, not appeasement and parroting.

There is another, less popular quotation from Mr Edmund Burke that bears remembering as well: “I take toleration to be a part of religion. I do not know which I would sacrifice; I would keep them both: it is not necessary that I should sacrifice either.” The PPP does not need to sacrifice tolerance to align itself with the religion of the masses, it only needs to faithfully stick to its founding principles. Doing otherwise is a losing strategy.