Magnificent Delusions: Riyadh Summit Edition

Arab Islamic American Summit

It was supposed to be another opportunity for Pakistan to shine on the world’s stage. An international summit in Riyadh attended by world leaders including the American President Donald Trump. We would be standing side by side with other Muslim leaders including our close allies Saudi Arabia and our message would be clear to all. Only, that’s not what happened. We were caught completely off guard. What happened?

The first problem rose during US President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi. According to reports, ‘something has gone terribly wrong‘. The reason for the panic? At the ‘Arab Islamic American Summit,’ Pakistan was not highlighted nor given opportunity to present its view. It was a snub felt across the nation, but should it have been so painful?

There are a few things that must be considered. Fifty-five nations were present at the summit. Keynote addresses were given by Saudi and American leaders who did not mention Pakistan’s sacrifices. It is unfortunate, but we must consider the circumstances. The summit took place soon after a series of mob attacks in Pakistan, statements by IHC and the Interior Ministry whipping up religious anger over blasphemy issue, kidnapping and torture of liberal bloggers, and the state’s full attention being paid to tracking down anyone who criticises Army on social media. Meanwhile, TTP is opening offices in KP.

World forums are not arranged by ISPR to promote the state’s narrative. In this case, it may have been better that nothing was said about the state’s actions. However, our frustration did not stop with our not being praised. Our media spit on other nations terming them as ‘minion states’ and even said that ‘Terming India a victim of terrorism was also a deeply painful insult,’ as if we are the only nation that has suffered from terrorists.

According to reports, PM spent hours preparing and rehearsing his speech for the summit, only to learn that he was not designated a time slot. It was a huge surprise to the entire delegation, but how is this possible? The entire affair appears to be another case of our believing what we want to believe instead of looking at the cold hard reality.

It was not just that we were denied the spot light we believed we deserved, policy statements by our allies were completely out of sync with what we expected also. The Saudi King turned the summit into an anti-Iran platform, terming Iran as “the spearhead of global terrorism”. This means that the Islamic Military Alliance led by our own Gen Raheel Sharif is actually a Sunni military alliance against our own neighbor Iran? We were shocked and surprised, but why? Journalists, bloggers, and even some politicians have warned of this since the beginning. Only problem, these were so called ‘liberals’ who were accused of working against Pakistan’s interests. Once again, we allowed ourselves to believe what we wanted to believe instead of looking at the cold hard reality.

Many have blamed the Foreign Office, or what passes for a Foreign Office in this country, for poor diplomacy that led to these embarrassments. But it is not the FO alone that is responsible, it is all of us. As long as we continue to believe that our wishes are reality, and reality is global conspiracy against Pakistan, we will continue to face such shocks and surprises.

In closing, it should be noted that the day after the summit it was reported that the US is considering slashing military and civil aid to Pakistan, and converting what is left to loans which must be repaid with interest. This should be no problem, though, as ex-COAS Gen Kayani has already said that Army has no need for US funds. And, after all, we’ll always have CPEC…

“Standard Operating Procedure: Deny, then deny the denial”

Foreign Office Spokesman Nafees Zakaria

Nawaz Sharif claimed another victory yesterday, as Kuwait has decided to lift six-years old visa ban for Pakistanis after the PM discussed the matter with his counterpart Sheikh Jaber al Mubarak al Hamad al Sabah. However, this victory has been somewhat overshadowed by scandal because by announcing the good news, the government has also exposed itself as making false attacks against those who tell inconvenient truths.

The issue of Kuwait’s visa ban surfaced during debate about American President Donald Trump’s order to ban visas for several Muslim countries known as a ‘Muslim Ban’. During this discussion it was noted by former Ambassador Husain Haqqani that actually Kuwait also had also banned visas for Pakistani citizens since six years ago. Haqqani was immediately attacked by the Foreign Office in an official statement.

Meanwhile, as “fake news” against Pakistan was doing the rounds, the spokesman came down heavily on Pakistan’s former US ambassador Hussain Haqqani who was caught while retweeting five years old news, claiming that Kuwait had put a ban on Pakistani visas.

“It is highly regrettable and deplorable that a person who was honoured to represent Pakistan has been indulging in activities that would hurt Pakistan’s national interests. Unfortunately, he is doing all this at a time when the world is increasingly acknowledging Pakistan’s growing economic potential in the wake of tremendous improvement in the security situation, investor friendly policies and strengthening of democratic institutions”, responded the spokesman.

He added that the more Mr. Haqqani does such malicious and unethical acts, more he exposes his character. “He has not only lost respect among Pakistanis but also among those who attach importance to values”, said the spokesman.

By announcing the reversal of the ban, though, the government has shown that the ‘Fake News’ was coming from none other than spokesman for the Foreign Office Nafees Zakaria!

Haqqani responded to the situation with his famous wit before quickly moving on to more pressing matters:

Whatever one thinks about Husain Haqqani, he has hit the nail on the head this time. “Standard Operating Procedure: Deny, then deny the denial”. We have seen this over and over again, especially with attacks against anyone and everyone who dares to point out inconvenient facts that don’t fit a particular ‘narrative’ of how we wish reality was.

Will the FO apologise for attacking Haqqani’s character when he obviously did nothing but tell the truth? Or was the FO really unaware of Kuwait’s visa ban? If this is the case, then they not only owe Haqqani an apology, but a sincere ‘thank you’ for alerting them to the situation. Either way, the conclusion is clear: Officials need to do more listening, and less attacking, if they want to solve national problems. That is undeniable.

Masters, Not Friends: Saudi Attack on Pakistani Sailors Shows Limits of Sovereignty

SaudiFive years ago, American forces carried out an airstrike targeting Pakistani soldiers at Salala. The response was swift. Foreign Office immediately summoned the American Ambassador and delivered a strong protest, and American forces were forced to vacate airbases in Pakistan. ISPR released strongly worded condemnation of the attack, and some retired officers were advising the government to shoot down American planes. Media was completely dominated by responses to the attack, with many calling it an act of war. Five years later, the memory of Salala is still bitter and painful.

Tragically, another foreign airstrike has martyred Pakistanis this week. The targeted airstrike attacked a ship killing at least six Pakistani sailors. The response from the Foreign Office and Army has been silence, though. This time the attack was not carried out by Americans. It was carried out by Saudi fighter jets.

Not only have government and military officials been silent on the targeted attack that killed Pakistani sailors, media too has shown no interest in the story. The names and photos of the martyred sailors are not being displayed on TV, they are not being memorialised in the newspapers, and no one is calling for a strong response. No one is calling for any response at all. It is like they never existed.

Would we rather forget our own people than say any word against Saudi Arabia? This seems to be the case. It is no surprise. Saudis have been told not to marry Pakistani women and Saudis treat Pakistani workers like slaves. Every time we are insulted and spit on, we smile and say thank you. When it comes to sovereignty and self respect, our limit is clearly drawn at the border of Saudi Arabia.

As Pakistan Confirms Joining Saudi Alliance, ‘Coup’ Talk Returns

PM Nawaz Sharif and COAS Gen RaheelSaudi Arabia’s announcement of a new 34-nation Islamic military alliance was greeted with cheers by many, and confusion by others. For many Muslims, the idea of a grand alliance of Islamic countries was a dream come true, forgetting the sad reality that the Ummah is deeply divided over sectarian and political issues, many of the divisions being made worse by Saudi Arabia, not better. In Islamabad, confusion had once again taken hold as Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry expressed surprise about the announcement saying the first he heard of Pakistan’s joining the alliance was in the news.

Some wondered if this was another case of GHQ making a decision and forgetting to deliver the script to the civilians on time. Unsurprisingly, it looks like that analysis might be spot on.

Senior officials at the foreign ministry initially expressed surprise at Pakistan being included in the new group, and said that Riyadh had not taken Islamabad on board. But subsequent developments revealed that Saudi Arabia had been given a secret commitment regarding joining the alliance, about which the Foreign Office was not aware.

There were speculations about who had given that assurance.

The military had started in October a new phase in the bilateral defence relationship by training Saudi special forces personnel in countering terrorism. Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif visited Saudi Arabia after the special exercises for discussions on counter-terrorism efforts.

Today the Foreign Office has confirmed Pakistan’s commitment to Saudi Arabia’s new military alliance, however explains that officials are still “awaiting further details to decide the extent of its participation in different activities of the alliance”. It was not clarified whether they are awaiting these details from Riyadh or Rawalpindi. For all the confusion, one thing seems clear: Important decisions are appearing to be made outside the constitutional channels. As long as this continues, don’t expect the ‘coup’ question to disappear.

Can you untangle FO’s statement on ISIS?

Foreign Office spokesperson Qazi Khalilullah

Earlier this year, Foreign Secretary Azaz Ahmed Chaudhry admitted that Islamic State poses a “serious threat” to Pakistan. What seems obvious is newsworthy because it contradicted the long standing position of the Foreign Office that there is “no evidence” of ISIS presence in the country despite all evidence to the contrary. This week, the government returned to previous denials, but with a bit of a twist. Speaking at the weekly media briefing, Foreign Office spokesperson Qazi Khalilullah gave the following statement:

“There is no footprint of ISIL in Pakistan. The people of Pakistan have no ideological, ethnic or linguistic affinities with the organisation and its members. However, we have seen some pamphlets and wall-chalking. That is no proof of the presence of ISIL in Pakistan. Nevertheless, we are cognizant of the threat the ISIL poses. Our security agencies are aware of this threat and will take appropriate measures, if needed.”

This statement is an amazingly twisted web of contradictions that leaves little confidence in the government. How can the government say that no one in Pakistan has ideological affinities with the organisation? Has the FO spokesperson not seen the video of Jamia Hafsa students?


The FO even admits in its statement that “we have seen some pamphlets and wall-chalking“, but then terms all of this as “no proof.” Actually, pamphlets have been distributed since months demanding cooperation of people and recruiting supporters.

This is not “proof” for the government? Are they waiting for the self-described Khalifa to open its Embassy?

Then there is the claim that “our security agencies are aware of this threat and will take appropriate measures”. If there is no Islamic State presence in Pakistan, how can it be a threat that our security agencies are aware of?

Trying to unravel this web of doublespeak has only given me a headache. I am left with this question, how can we be expected to trust that the state to take the jihadi threat seriously when it continues to issue blatant denials that contradict obvious reality?