Part the dark clouds, let the sun shine in

Light Shining Through CloudsPM has convened an independent commission to investigate the Abbottabad incident and ascertain the full facts regarding the presence of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. This is a commendable decision and one that should be fully backed by those whose primary concern is truth and justice. It is time that we part the dark clouds hanging over the nation and let the sun shine in.

The 2/5 operation may have come at the first of the month, but the past few weeks have been a string of incidents. After Abbottabad we saw the terrorist attack on PNS Mehran. We saw suicide bombings almost daily. Yesterday the sad news was announced that the body of another journalist was found tortured to death. Surrounding each of these incidents has been an aura of suspicion, doubt, and conspiracy. This is not unusual and may even be considered as ‘status quo’. When tragedy strikes, it is hard to part the dark clouds to see clearly.

But these tragic events are not the only events that have caused confusion. There continue to be questions about visas issued to American nationals, even after the Embassy in Washington has made multiple press statements including providing access to the data on these visas to show that there has been nothing out of the ordinary.

Najam Sethi got the memo and corrected the record on Aapas Ki Baat recently, but obviously this information is not being made widely available since Javed Chaudhry and Shireen Mazari continued to perpetuate the conspiracy on Kal Tak that 7,000 Americans were issued visas without proper security checks.

Drones is another issue that is surrounded by dark clouds of confusion and misinformation. Listening to Imran Khan and others talk about drone attacks, it is easy to come away with the belief that 30,000 innocent Pakistanis have been killed by drones and not one single terrorist. But actually none other than the terrorist leader Baitullah Mehsud was killed by drones. Actually, according to data confirmed by independent news reports, maximum number of drone deaths are militants. This fact was also confirmed by GHQ when General Officer Commanding 7-Division Maj-Gen Ghayur Mehmood said in a briefing earlier this year:

“Myths and rumours about US predator strikes and the casualty figures are many, but it’s a reality that many of those being killed in these strikes are hardcore elements, a sizeable number of them foreigners.

“Yes there are a few civilian casualties in such precision strikes, but a majority of those eliminated are terrorists, including foreign terrorist elements.”

Never the less, incorrect statements and conspiracies continue about both visa policy and drone strikes. Now we have talking heads on TV telling that Osama bin Laden was not killed at Abbottabad, PNS Mehran attack was a CIA-RAW-al Qaeda conspiracy, and now there are even those saying Saleem Shahzad’s murder was a conspiracy to harm the image of the farishtas in our agencies.

We all know that good Muslisms cannot lie, therefore the people who are perpetuating these statements must be like so many people mistaken due to not having the facts. The only solution to this problem is to have an independent commission verify the facts so that the confusion can be resolved and we can move forward to solve the grave issues facing the nation. Abbottabad is a good place to start since it was the first incident in the past weeks (though surely not the first incident in history).

But we should also convene independent commissions to investigate the other issues also – PNS Mehran, Saleem Shahzad murder, visas, drones etc – and take the nation into confidence so that myths, conspiracies, and confusion can be buried for good. In order to ensure that there is no doubt about the results of these findings, the independent commissions should be open and transparent for all citizens to inspect.

We have been living for too long under the weight of dark clouds. It is time to let the light shine upon the truth. Only then will we fund real justice.

China, a friend, shouldn’t be our fantasy

The fanfare over PM’s visit to Beijing comes as little surprise. Frustrated with our most allied ally in the West, there is understandable reason for people to see some hope in the East. But I worry that we are making the same mistake with China that we make with US – expecting a benefactor and not a friend.

Our relations with the US go up and down as the US grants aid or assistance and expects something in return. We look to China which seems to expect less – but gives less also. But there is another point that must be examined more closely which is whether China really expects less in return for its friendship.

Consider the recent US raid over our borders. Many people are furious at the US for this unilateral action, but China also praised the US operation that killed Osama bin Laden.

“We have noted the announcement and believe that this is a major event and a positive development in the international struggle against terrorism,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said about the White House’s announcement that bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader who orchestrated the September 11 attacks, was killed in a U.S. raid, Chinese newspapers reported on Tuesday.

This is no surprise. China’s position on terrorism is basically same as US.

In the eyes of the Chinese government and people, bin Laden was a terrorist ringleader,” said Guo. “But I do think we have to understand that his death does not mean the death of al Qaeda — there’s still the real risk of counter-attacks.”

China is a member of the 15-nation U.N. Security Council that on Monday welcomed the news “that Osama bin Laden will never again be able to perpetrate such acts of terrorism”.

“China has always opposed all forms of terrorism,” said Jiang. “China advocates that the international community enhance international anti-terror cooperation and adopt comprehensive steps to treat both the symptoms and the root causes of terrorism.”

Actually, China – an athiest nation – has been concerned with the Muslims community of Uighurs in Xinjiang, many of which are training with Taliban and other militant groups. We can help China to suppress these groups, but at some point we will be faced with the same problem as we are with the US – our “ally” requesting us to “do more” while militant groups attack us demanding that we do less. This is something that journalist Huma Yusuf has warned about for years.

Uighur extremists and members of the outlawed East Turkestan Islamic Movement have already been blamed for sporadic terrorist activities. But if a militant movement that can trace its roots to Pakistan gains momentum in Xinjiang, the ire that Beijing is currently venting on the Uighurs – by detaining 1,400 of them, closing down mosques and upholding economically repressive policies – could be unleashed on Islamabad instead.

Will be then be complaining about Chinese requests to “do more”? Or will we see dark clouds gathering on our “all weather friendship”?

And it’s not only security matters that we need to be realistic about. We also need to recognize that the reality of our economic friendship with China is not going to be radically different from our economic ties to any other power. Farrukh Saleem explains perfectly that China is a friend, not a benefactor.

Gilani is in Beijing with the biggest begging bowl Jiabao has ever seen in his sixty-eight years. Historically, the highest grant assistance that comes to Pakistan comes from the US that contributes around 38 percent of our entire grant pool. Next comes Saudi Arabia that donates 19 percent followed by the UK at 18 percent and Japan at 8 percent.

Jiabao will not give what Gilani wants — budgetary support. China has foreign exchange reserves of over $3 trillion and Gilani is asking for only a couple of billions but China, as a matter of policy, does not dole out dollars for budgetary support.

China built the 1,300 kilometres Karakoram Highway and China doled out $198 million for the Gwadar Port. Jiabao is willing to invest even more in Pakistan’s infrastructure but Jiabao will not give what Gilani is asking for.

Gilani has air defence equipment — especially for our western borders — on his agenda as well. To be certain, Pakistan is critically short on modern air defence systems. Our man-portable air defence systems, like FIM-92 Stinger and FIM-43 Redeye, depend on the US manufacturers. Our Oerlikon 35mm twin cannons have an effective range of only 4,000 meters.

Since 2004, Uncle Sam’s MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers have been raining hellfire missiles into Pakistan’s wild west. So far, there have been a total of 241 strikes and some of those strikes have killed IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) fighters along with Uighur militants. Would Jiabao help Pakistan down a drone? Would Jiabao go against the rest of world to help us out?

PM’s mission in Beijing is to secure important agreements to aid our economic and military needs. This is a vital task. But we should not mistake our friend China for our fantasy China. Pakistan should be working to make agreements with all the world powers so that we can increase trade and improve our security. This idea that China will replace the US is basically Cold War thinking in which there are two sides to play against each other. But the Cold War is over. In the post-Cold War world China and the US are friends despite their differences, and we need to have good relations with both. Pakistan needs strong ties with China and strong ties with the US also. What we don’t need is another fantasy setting us up for a future in which we find ourselves left with no friends left at all.

Where Pak and US Interests Overlap

The government has been loudly criticising drone strikes recently, and PM Gilani has said that “when drone attacks occur, militants and tribes unite”. But at the same time the government is also requesting the US to transfer drone technology to Pakistan. If drone attacks are so terrible, why do we want the weapons ourselves?

Perhaps we want the drone technology because it works.

Ustadh Ahmad Farooq, a leading al-Qaida propagandist in Pakistan, says in a new audio message that the terrorist network is “losing people” and “facing shortages of resources” in the area, thanks in large part to the escalated U.S. drone campaign. And he indicates the safe havens aren’t as safe as they once were.

“There were many areas where we once had freedom, but now they have been lost,” Farooq laments in a January 23 audio message obtained by the terror-trackers at the SITE Intelligence Group. “Our land is shrinking and drones are flying in the sky.”

Remember when Gen. Ghayur let slip that the drones were successfully killing militants?

General Officer Commanding 7-Division Maj-Gen Ghayur Mehmood said in a briefing here: “Myths and rumours about US predator strikes and the casualty figures are many, but it’s a reality that many of those being killed in these strikes are hardcore elements, a sizeable number of them foreigners.

“Yes there are a few civilian casualties in such precision strikes, but a majority of those eliminated are terrorists, including foreign terrorist elements.”

If the drones work, what are we complaining about? This was the conclusion of Dawn last month, and it makes sense.

Is the army hinting that the strikes are a useful and precise tactic in neutralising identified militants and terrorists? If that is the case, then the military and political leaders should publicly change their stated position and matters should move on — the battle against local and foreign terrorists hiding in the country`s north-western regions is far from over. Some of the social and political repercussions to which Maj-Gen Mehmood referred would be reduced if the drone strikes were acknowledged as an effective technique and thus legitimised in the public discourse. More importantly, if the army is recognising the utility of such strikes, greater cooperation between Pakistani and US forces could yield success in the long term.

Ostensibly the objection is due to sovereignty. But for all the talk of sovereignty and never letting foreign soldiers on our soil, there are reports of Chinese soldiers lining up on the LoC. And let’s be honest – if the US offered to post troops on the Eastern border facing their bayonets towards Delhi, would we object or rejoice? Part of the problem is that what we seem to want are two different things: We want the support and the resources of the American military, but we want to pretend that we don’t. As a result we are sending mixed messages to the US and to ourselves. Nadir Hassan noticed this in the latest ISI-CIA talks between Pasha and Panetta.

The army, for its part, knows that its complaints amount only to public posturing. We went through this whole charade with army opposition to the Kerry-Lugar Bill, where it was made clear that the army did not like being dictated to by the US. Yet it, and the country, ended up accepting the aid and the conditions attached to it and the issue is a forgotten one. As was the case then, the army’s main motive was to make its displeasure known domestically. This essentially boils down to the army trying to maintain its sense of self-pride by telling everyone that they know they have to accept American control but they certainly don’t like it. Everyone fretting about the US-Pakistan alliance should just keep that in mind and tone down the alarmism.

Perhaps the real wish of the military brass is a return to the way things were in the 1980s when the US sent money and weapons and left the ISI to manage the strategy on its own. The ‘Charlie Wilson’ way of cooperating. Maybe that would be best, but let’s be realistic – it’s not going to happen.

The other part of the problem is that the Americans want the support and resources of our own military, but they want to pretend like they don’t also. The Americans seem to wish that we would just open the door and let them run their own war within our borders. That’s not going to happen either.

Where Pak and US interests overlapRight now we’re facing the awkward situation where we need the Americans and they need us also, but both sides are acting like we can do without the other. This is self-defeating. Our interests are not 100% same, but there is a lot of overlap and that is where we should be talking about how to work together. Shuja Nawaz says as much in a blog post released yesterday:

The Pakistani military and government do cooperate with the C.I.A. and U.S. military in the border region, but they will not acknowledge this openly. Both countries need to address their concerns frankly and in detail rather than continue a charade that misinforms their own people about what they are doing and why.

Each side needs to look at what are the realistic options and decide what is in the best interests of the effort to stop militants. That’s going to require some honest discussions and some difficult decisions for both sides.

Wishing Healthful Recovery to Mian Nawaz Sharif

Nawaz SharifMian Nawaz Sharif has undergone a successful heart surgery in London and has been advised to complete a bed rest for recovery. We wish the PML-N chief a speedy and healthful recovery.

Additionally, there has been much outpouring of support for the PML-N chief from those who may disagree with him on certain issues or belong to a different political party.

Journalist and commentator Nadeem F. Paracha wrote on Twitter today,

Mian Sahib, get well soon. I may have serious disagreements with your party, but Pakistan needs every local democrat alive and kicking.

Another journalist Beena Sarwar echoed this sentiment also.

Nawaz Sharif, get well soon. We may disagree, but #Pakistan needs every local democrat alive & kicking

Additional well wishes came from Ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani and MNA Farahnaz Ispahani, both PPP stalwarts.

Also wishing the former PM a speedy recovery include President Zardari and PM Gilani. In addition to the proper etiquette of basic human decency, this is also a healthy sign of respect for the democratic process in which we can disagree with each other’s ideas without feeling a personal animosity towards our political opponents.

Supreme Court’s 18th Amendment Decision

You have to hand it to the Chief Justice – he may have walked right up to the edge of the cliff, but he stopped before pushing the country into the abyss. Announcing a verdict on his suo moto hearing on the constitutionality of the 18th Amendment to the constitution (a bizarre bit of self-referential argument if there ever was one), the Supreme Court expressed its concerns with Article 175-A, but stopped short of upending the nation. All things considered, the court appears to have come to the correct conclusion – the authority to amend the constitution lies with the people through their elected representatives in parliament.

The apex court in its decision ordered that Article 175-A, detailing the amendments to the procedure of appointing superior court judges, be sent back to the parliament for review.

“Parliament is asked to review Article 175-A, for it has harmed judiciary’s freedom,” Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry stated, adding that consultation with the chief justice was necessary for the appointment of judges.

It is significant to note that the apex court decided to send Article 175-A back to the parliament for reconsideration instead of striking it down.

Clearly the court is not happy with Article 175-A. And I won’t take the time to make any particular argument for or against this specific article. But the court smartly avoided a constitutional crisis by not superseding the written constitution.

The Prime Minister handled the announcement with a great deal of class, saying that he appreciated the judiciary’s show of respect for the parliament and that, as parliament also respects the judiciary, he would work with the National Assembly to move forward with the court’s request and review the article in question. This is how a properly functioning democracy works.

I do want to say a bit about the guiding principles that became such a hot topic over the past few months. While it is without question that there are certain guiding principles behind the constitution, these principles do not exist above the written law. Actually, the exist within it. Just as the spirit of a song exists within the melody and the lyrics, so also the guiding principles of freedom, independent judiciary, division of powers between branches etc etc etc exist within the written words and the judicial interpretation of the nation’s defining law – the constitution.

This, of course, raises the question as to whether the constitution could be amended to say things that are against these guiding principles of a liberal democracy. I think the answer is obviously yes – we have seen just such abuses perpetrated by past dictators, and we are still working to undo those abuses. Actually, this is part of the reason the 18th Amendment was passed unanimously.

But just as the abuses of a tyrant cannot break the spirit of the people, so they also cannot break the spirit of our constitution. If there any errors or abuses find their way in, we will remove them. But it is vital that we do so properly. We cannot set our hopes on the benevolence of any dictator – military, civilian, or judicial. By trusting each other and working honestly to resolve our concerns and our disagreements, we are the masters of our own fate. We are a democracy.