Narratives and Counter Narratives: Who Are We Supposed To Believe?

President Mamnoon Hussain has joined the call for a counter narrative against extremism and terrorism. This statement puts the President on same footing as ex-COAS Gen Raheel Sharif who gave a similar recommendation at World Economic Forum in January. With such luminaries making the case for a counter narrative against extremism and terrorism, one would be sure that the state had finally reached a unified approach to combating the threat of militancy. Despite these lofty remarks, however, the message reaching the people remains divided.

Lt Gen Muhammad Asad Durrani

Ex-DG ISI says terrorism justified

President and ex-COAS have called for counter narrative against terrorism, but former DG ISI Lt Gen (r) Asad Durrani has a new piece in Dawn justifying terrorism as a ‘technique of war‘, and possibly just ‘part of human nature’.

Gen Mirza Aslam Beg

Ex-COAS says Taliban ideology is equal to Islam

Lt Gen (r) Asad Durrani’s pro-terrorism stance was quickly supported by no less than  ex-Chief of Army Staff Gen (r) Mirza Aslam Beg who wrote in The Nation that Pakistan’s national security was threatened by anyone who criticises Jamaatud Dawah and Taliban, both of which are black listed in the world as terrorist groups. In case there was any doubt, Gen Beg explained that Taliban can never be defeated because of their ideology which he says is equal to Islam.

Official press releases declare that whole nation is unified against terrorism and extremism, but the reality is not clear. We have always been taught to trust our Generals as beyond doubt. Now they are telling us that we should be for terrorism and that Taliban ideology is Islam. Others are telling us that terrorism is never justified and Taliban ideology is not Islam. Meanwhile whole nation is divided and confused who to believe? Pakistan will continue to suffer.

The greatest challenge for the new Army Chief

General Qamar Javed BajwaThe wait is over, and Pakistan has a new Chief of Army Staff as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has appointed Lt Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa as the new COAS. The incoming Army chief faces a number of challenges, as were enumerated by Abbas Nasir in his excellent column for Dawn. These challenges include dealing with a belligerent Modi-Doval regime in India and continuing Army’s successful operations against domestic terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. There is another challenge that the Gen Bajwa will face, though.

Taking over as head of Army from Gen Raheel, Gen Bajwa inherits many successes. One of these successes, though, will actually be a challenge for him. It is the successful PR operation that has elevated Gen Raheel into almost super human status.

By attributing all of Army’s successes to the genius of Gen Raheel, they have built a reputation that will be nearly impossible to live up to. More than ever before, the new COAS will always live under the shadow of his predecessor and will find himself compared to the one who has been made larger than life. If there is an uptick in violence, will it be blamed on the new COAS? Will the people say he is not as good as the previous Army chief? If relations with India continue to deteriorate, will Gen Bajwa be questioned about why tensions have grown worse under him than under Gen Raheel?

During previous transitions, incoming Army chiefs were seen as restoring hope and the possibility of improved relations. This can’t happen for Gen Bajwa without tearing down the impossibly high expectations that were built around Gen Raheel. For Gen Bajwa, the greatest challenge will not be to overcome sectarian militant groups, Indian belligerence, and international pressures, but to overcome the reputation of his predecessor.

#CyrilGate: Has ISI Changed Its Tune on Fake News?

Corps CommandersNation’s top military leadership (in other words, the nation’s leadership) met to discuss the latest threat to national security: This news report in English daily DAWN. At the meeting, Army leaders ‘expressed their serious concern over feeding of false and fabricated story’ to the media. The confused and contradictory nature of officials’ response to the story has given it some credibility, and it must be noted that DAWN has defended the report saying it was only published ‘after verification from multiple sources’. However I am not writing to defend or deny the report’s authenticity. Rather, I am writing to ask whether there has been some change within the establishment’s position on fake news stories?

Disinformation and propaganda has been a tool of the establishment for decades or longer. DAWN itself has been a willing participant in such activities as can be seen on the archived pages from 1971 war.

17 December 1971 Dawn front page

One does not need to go back that far to find evidences of fake news stories, though. It was only a few years ago that Pakistan found itself facing international embarrassment after it was discovered that our media were reporting on a fake wikileaks cable in order to embarrass India. At that time, Ahmed Quraishi actually responded by defending the feeding of false and fabricated news stories. Today, without even a drop of shame, he is hosting a TV programme demanding an official commission to investigate the same.

hypocrite Ahmed QuraishiAhmed Quraishi’s shameless U-turn on the cleverness of false and fabricated news stories raises further points. AQ has actually been connected with several fake news operations during recent years along with others. Earlier this year, Umar Cheema exposed the fake news site ‘ABC News Point’ just as Cafe Pyala had exposed a dozen or more fake news sites being run under shadowy circumstances (also connected to Ahmed Quraishi!)

It remains to be seen whether the top brass have the good sense to cut their losses, but one has to wonder whether ISI’s M-Wing, which is headed by a Rear Admiral and staffed by several Brigadiers and other officers, sees the irony in having the Army Chief himself serious concern over feeding of false and fabricated stories.

Kashmir Jihad and Shia Genocide

Shia funeral

“The bus was stopped and the women were shot because of their ethnicity,” said provincial government’s spokesman Anwarul Haq Kakar.

The entire nation has come united behind the Kashmiri cause. It is the one cause that can even bring together opposing political parties. And it is easy to understand why. How can one watch the brutal treatment of Kashmiri people by Indian forces and not feel some sympathy and anger? It is the same pain we feel when we see how our brothers and sisters in Palestine suffer. This is not an post criticising support for the Kashmiri people. But it is asking why we can’t find the same sympathy for others closer to us?

Yesterday, four Shia women were murdered by sectarian militants in Quetta. They were singled out and killed because of their sect. This incident has received some reporting, but nothing like the attention paid to Kashmir. Before you say, “but this is just four women and Kashmiris are being killed and injured by hundreds” let me remind you that yesterday’s attack was only the latest anti-Shia attack in a long line of such killings. A few months ago, Jinnah Institute released a report noting that Pakistan has become a nightmare for Shia who are being slaughtered by the thousands.

There has been an upsurge in attacks against Shia Muslims in Peshawar, Rawalpindi and southern Punjab…The Shia Muslims have been …. besieged for a very long time as violence has grown in some parts of Pakistan, particularly in Quetta, Karachi and north of the country…

Gen Raheel has strongly condemned the killing of Kashmiri youth, but he is silent on the killing of Shia women. Behind the Army chief’s silence, though, there is some talking.

Banned Sipah-e-Sahaba/#ASWJ Mansehra chief Rabnawaz Tahir with Brigadier Wajahat

Sipah-e-Sahaba/ Mansehra chief Rabnawaz Tahir with Brigadier Wajahat

Have we used all of our sympathy for innocents being killed in other places? Don’t our own fellow citizens deserve the same level of sympathy and anger while they are being slaughtered? Where are the angry condemnations? The speeches at the UN? Where is the Difa-e-Pakistan Council rally to defend our country’s Shia? Or is one’s value only a factor of their political usefulness in our eternal war against India?

Defence Day Delusions

Defence DayIn recent years we have seen an incredible transformation of Defence Day. What was once a somber reflection on the sacrifices of martyrs of 1965 became a celebration of supposedly miraculous victory over much larger Indian forces. However even this ‘victory’ has come under scrutiny as historians have raised questions about the historical accuracy of the official line. If angels were fighting on our side, why did the war end in a ceasefire after costing us huge losses in soldiers and land? This does not mean that India won. Actually, the rest of the world is in agreement that nobody won.

Despite this push for sanity by historians, state myth makers seem to be pushing the boundaries of delusion even further. Media reports are now comparing Zarb-i-Azb to 1965, which should be extremely worrying to anyone who remembers that both sides lost thousands of soldiers as well as land in a conflict that ended in what was essentially a stalemate. Even COAS boasted on the occasion of this year’s Defence Day that ‘defence of Pakistan has now become invincible’ and that ‘Operation Zarb-e-Azb has attained its laid down military objectives’.

Over 450 civilians have been killed in terrorist attacks this year. Gen Raheel’s claims of invincibility come only weeks after dozens were killed by a suicide attack in Quetta. COAS said this week that armed forces ‘will go to any length for the sake of national security’. However it is unclear whether we are willing to give up our delusions of grandeur for such a noble purpose, or whether we would rather die than face a difficult reality.