Has the military lost control?

Gen Hamid Gul with jihadi militants

Despite losing over 3,000 soldiers and 40,000 civilians, there was always some confidence that GHQ had a plan and that, when the final accounting was complete, Pakistan would be stronger and better positioned. Use of jihadi groups as proxy fighters in Afghanistan and Kashmir may have resulted in some tallies in the liability column, but these would be more than made up for in the final summing of the assets column. Since the past few weeks, however, the wheels seem to have come off and security analysts are quietly pondering the unthinkable: Has the military lost control?

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Fighting the symptoms, Ignoring the disease

Mumtaz Qadri

A week after the drone strike that killed Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud, public discourse remains dominated by questions of ‘what comes next?’ Mehsud’s death actually changed very little, if anything, in the equation. The Taliban has vowed to continue attacks, the government continues to demand that peace talks are the only solution, and the military remains ever silent. Whether or not the Taliban is interested in talks, the public debate has settled on the question of ‘talk’ or ‘fight’. It’s a seemingly impossible puzzle. How do we negotiate with uncompromising extremists? How do we defeat a loosely organised, ‘asymmetric’ insurgency? We have become paralysed by this paradox, but there is an answer to our problem: Stop fighting the symptoms and start fighting the disease.

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PCNS Proves Democracy Works

Chaudhry Nisar

There’s a common joke that I hear from certain friends who take a cynical view of the world. “Democracy: Where any two fools can outvote a genius”. This is one of those jokes that sounds much more clever than it really is. For one thing, it is often a fool who thinks he’s a genius. More importantly, though, that’s not how democracy works anyway. Democracy isn’t three people trying to decide what to eat for dinner. In the case of parliament, for example, it’s hundreds of people representing all parts of society coming together to discuss, debate, and decide answers difficult questions. Most recently we saw this in action as the different parties were able to find common ground and make a unanimous agreement on the requirements for reengagement with the US.

In this example, the process was not fast or easy. The majority party did not simply over rule the other parties. Neither did the opposition parties use the opportunity for point scoring. Actually, all parties came to the table with their priorities, and where there were differences, debates were had, compromises made, and a unified policy worked out.

Coalition parties did not sell anything to America, but made a rational decision based on what is best for Pakistan. And even this was not an easy task. JUI-F boycotted the proceedings until Fazlur Rehman was satisfied following a series of meetings with President Asif Ali Zardari, PCNS Chairperson Senator Raza Rabbani and Ambassador Sherry Rehman. Opposition parties were not ‘friendly opposition’ but held out until a compromise could be reached that satisfied all parties. The Americans had to wait, but so what – this was our chance to make our own policy and set our own boundaries for engagement. And we did.

Few reports explain this better than one in The News.

The sources said Pakistan’s Ambassador to US Sherry Rehman has played significant role in engaging various political groups for bringing them on consensus for the resolution. She was present in the Prime Minister Gallery in the Parliament when the resolution was put for the verdict of the house. Opposition Leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, in his speech, talked high of her role and pointed out her presence in the gallery who was their colleague as member of the National Assembly for about four years. Prime Minister Gilani was the first to thump the desk and later joined by the members of the both sides.

The leaders of both sides of the divide paid rich tribute to the sagacity of the ambassador. A stalwart of the opposition, Ahsan Iqbal, pointed out that the recommendations have no mention of ties with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member countries. Senator Raza Rabbani, who tabled the report, conceded the error and the GCC countries were also enlisted which are the major source of valued remittances.

The sources said the Nato supply had become compulsion since it involved 48 countries which are present in Afghanistan in various capacities. Pakistan has been facilitating the countries for about 10 years without any remuneration and now they are planning to leave the area, it would not be in the interest of Pakistan to deny them the facility. The point was accepted by the committee, the sources said.

Unlike under past governments when secret deals were worked out behind closed doors, opposition parties silenced, and the people kept in the dark about reality, this time we had an open and honest debate about issues facing the nation and worked through our differences to decide a consensus approach that respects all parties’ concerns. As a result, the recommendations have the full backing of parliament and not just the ruling party. Many people said it could not be done, that politicians from different backgrounds could not work together to form a unified policy for the nation. Today, it is those people who look like fools. Because it is now proven that given the chance, democracy works.

Fazlur Rehman’s About Face on Blasphemy Law

Well, well, well…look who has turned an about face on the blasphemy law! It is none other than JUI chief Fazlur Rehman himself.

Fazl-ur-Rehman

This is the same man who termed requests to reconsider the blasphemy law “a favor to the US” last December and then after Salmaan Taseer Shaheed was murdered could not bring himself even to condemn such an act, but rather issued an equivocating response that partially blamed Governor Taseer himself.

Consider JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman who said that the murder was the result of the failure of the country’s democratic institutions “by this he meant, he said, the failure to implement Islamic laws in the country. When pressed on the issue, he said that the country was experiencing “extremism on both sides”, religious and secular forces which were hell bent upon proving each other wrong.

When Minister Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti Shaheed was also murdered for the same reason – speaking out against the misuse of blasphemy laws – Fazlur Rehman was so cowardly that he could not even stand to pay respect for the slain minister. Apparently, two short minutes time was too much to ask.

THREE REMAIN SEATED: But many in the house and the galleries were surprised to see three bearded members of the opposition Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam of Maulana Fazlur Rehman remaining seated in their chairs when the rest of lawmakers stood up to observe two minutes’ silence for Mr Bhatti.

There was no immediate explanation what motivated the JUI back-benchers, in the absence of their party leader, to violate a parliamentary etiquette, and a directive given by the chair, in agreement with some voices raised in the house, that members stand up to pay a silent tribute to their assassinated colleague.

The reaction in Dawn is 100% correct. Fazlur Rehman speaking out against such vigilante killings now is the height of hypocrisy.

While Maulana Fazlur Rehman can now say that “such acts [of violence] amount to taking the law and constitution into one’s own hands”, the fact remains that religious and hardline political parties, such as his own JUI-F, have played an incendiary role in bringing matters to this pass. And this is true not only in terms of the recent furore over the proposal to bring the blasphemy laws under parliamentary review but also in a larger sense — over the decades the mindset that produced extremist and dangerous groups has been steadily nurtured.

Still, as Dawn correctly observes it is essential that such religious leaders are finally coming to understand that the issue is NOT between secularism and religion NOR is it between liberals and extremists. Rather the only issue is one of law and order and of basic justice and human rights.

The question remains however whether Fazlur Rehman is merely willing to speak a few conciliatory words or if he will be willing to bring to bear the full strength of JUI-F to honour the sacrifice of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti as well as everyone who has been a victim of misuse of the blasphemy  law for some personal or political ends.

The religious parties have been quick to carry out massive street protests when it suits their agenda. Will they now organize protests against misuse of blasphemy laws? Are they willing to walk? Or is this simply talk?

Whose Side Are You On?

This is a question that I get asked from time to time, usually when someone takes offense at my daring to take a point of view that goes against the Ghairat Brigade talking points. It’s a cheap trick – when you have no other answer, accuse someone’s patriotism. This question couldn’t help but come to mind again after the numbness following yesterday’s assassination wore off. Reading the reactions of people who I respect, people like Ahsan Butt who is despairing, and MSS at Cafe Pyala who is so angry, I realized that this question is often misused, but sometimes it is not entirely inappropriate.

In his anger at the killing of Shahbaz Bhatti Shaheed, MSS lashes out at the people whose own inactions and careful hedging on the issue of extremism clear the way for the violence, hatred, and intolerance.

I write that I condemn the spineless, self-preserving hedging about of the spineless, self-preserving f—wits swarming TV and newsprint. I write that I condemn the willful, witless intolerance seemingly decent people practice through their silence during bloodthirsty sermons delivered in mosques and drawing rooms. I write that I condemn those whose reaction to events like this is a diminishing of their personal and political engagement with the world around them rather than an expansion. I write that I condemn every parent, grandparent or caregiver who lets strangers dictate their child’s moral code.

Ahsan Butt independently makes the same complaint.

Please don’t give me any nonsense about allowing the political system to work, or letting institutions develop, or other claptrap. These are our institutions at work. We need to understand this. Our military spawned these nuts. Our society tolerates them. Our judiciary celebrates them. Our media excuses them. And our political parties are either beholden to extremist forces, or so intimidated and pusillanimous because of them, that they may as well be the same thing. When Rehman Malik says things like “I will shoot a blasphemer myself” and Babar Awan says things like “There will be no change to the blasphemy law” and the Gilani government doesn’t even provide a bullet proof car to its targeted ministers and also withdraws support from Sherry Rehman at a crucial time, that is our political institutions at work. And mind you, this is the “liberal, secular” PPP. Forget the Army or the ISI or the PML(N).

Both blogs will be accused of pessimism, both will be accused of despairing when we need a positive outlook. This is the line I would have taken in the past, too. But today I can’t help but think that they have a point.

MSS points also to a Dawn story that should be shocking to anyone who respects democracy and the rule of law, not to mention basic human decency.

THREE REMAIN SEATED: But many in the house and the galleries were surprised to see three bearded members of the opposition Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam of Maulana Fazlur Rehman remaining seated in their chairs when the rest of lawmakers stood up to observe two minutes’ silence for Mr Bhatti.

There was no immediate explanation what motivated the JUI back-benchers, in the absence of their party leader, to violate a parliamentary etiquette, and a directive given by the chair, in agreement with some voices raised in the house, that members stand up to pay a silent tribute to their assassinated colleague.

Fazlur Rehman should be pressed to answer for his actions. Why did he choose to show such contempt and disrespect for the murdered Minister? This is not a question of blasphemy law, it is a question of BASIC HUMAN DECENCY. Fazlur’s action, consciously chosen, can be easily interpreted as sympathy for those who murder men in the streets when they disagree with their opinions. Is this what his action meant? Why does he not come clean and admit it?

What about Munawar Hasan, Abul Khair Muhammad Zubair, Sahibzada Fazal Kareem, and Maulana Ameer Hamza? Their immediate response is to blame CIA, Black Water, ‘Foreign Hand’ and all the other bogeys that provide cover for and distract attention from the jihadi gunmen who have already admitted guilt.

The question, ‘Whose side are you on?’ is typically used to accuse people’s patriotism by suggesting that they’re tools of the CIA, the US, or the West. But maybe it’s not the question but the assumption that is incorrect. We should be asking not whether people are loyal to Pakistan or the US, but whether people are loyal to Pakistan or the jihadis. There is no ‘good Taliban’ and ‘bad Taliban’. This lie must be stopped. Speaking against bogey men like Raymond Davis is cheap. It’s easy. If you are a real patriot, speak against TTP. Speak against LeT. Speak against SSP.

Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was a real patriot, and her blood has watered the soil of the country that she was loyal to. Salmaan Taseer Shaheed was a real patriot, and his blood has watered the soil of the country he was loyal to. Shahbaz Bhatti Shaheed was a real patriot, and his blood has watered the soil of the country that he was loyal to.

What about you? Are you on the side of Pakistan or of jihadis? Will you speak out against the real enemies of Pakistan? Or are you going to hide in your chair like Fazlur Rehman?

Fazlur Rehman

The question here is not meant to accuse anyone. It is meant as a serious question. Lets get it all out in the open, please. I am only asking because I truly want to know. Every day I am spilling out my own position. I am very open about it and yet it seems nobody can hear me.

But you…your silence is deafening.