Choosing Sides, Choosing Isolation

Two important news stories have been reported in the international media that point to a digging in of entrenched positions that are further isolating Pakistan in the world community.

First was the story reported in The New York Times that US is considering withholding $255 Million in military aid due to ‘dissatisfaction with Pakistan’s broader intransigence toward confronting the terrorist networks that operate there’. Specifically, the Americans are frustrated because Pakistani agencies refuse to let them talk to a Haqqani Network militant captured in the raid that freed American hostages earlier this year.

It is a very interesting question why our agencies don’t want the Americans to talk to a Haqqani Network militant, even after he was captured in a raid with foreign hostages. Are they afraid of what he might tell them about receiving support from certain elements within the establishment? Even if this is all a conspiracy theory, isn’t it true that preventing him from speaking to American law enforcement only makes the establishment look more guilty?

The second story comes from a recent appearance of Palestinian Ambassador to Pakistan Walid Abu Ali on stage at a Difa-e-Pakistan rally standing next to none other than Hafiz Saeed who was freed once again a few weeks ago. Ironically the Jamaatud Dawah chief was set free after “a senior finance ministry official failed to convince the board that the release of Saeed would bring diplomatic and financial problems”. Diplomatic problems have certainly come into play, however, as Palestine has recalled its Ambassador due to his appearance with Hafiz Saeed on the DPC stage.

According to a statement by the Palestinian Foreign Ministry, “The State of Palestine highly appreciates India’s support in its tireless efforts to end the Israeli occupation” and terms attendees of the rally in Rawalpindi as “individuals accused of supporting terrorism”.

Blind and deaf to the diplomatic disaster that had broken, our own Foreign Office issued its own statement defending the recalled Ambassador and defending Hafiz Saeed.

In these two highly sensitive matters, it appears the state has chosen to side with the controversial militants rather than foreign governments. In this case both the US and Palestine. In the case of the Americans, even our own frustration with their unreliability does not explain what we gain from hiding a captured militant and looking guilty of their accusations. The case of Palestine is even more puzzling. By all appearances we have simply decided that these militant groups are more important diplomatic allies than world powers or oppressed Muslims.

Finally, it must be noted with some additional irony that in one report on these stories, Dawn termed Husain Haqqani as ‘disgraced ambassador’. While Pakistan receives multiple black eyes from internationally blacklisted militants, petty journalists continue peddling personal jealousies and prejudices instead of educating the nation about the very dangerous path that these stories show we are heading down. As one international analyst noted on Twitter, far from ‘disgraced,’ these stories appear to have ‘vindicated‘ Husain Haqqani and what he has been trying to warn us about since long.

If a drone falls in Fata and nobody calls for dharna, does it even make a sound?

 

Sabir Nazar cartoon on drone strikeEarlier this week a senior commander of Haqqani Network and two other militants were killed by a US drone strike in Fata. COAS casually repeated the mantra that drone strikes are ‘counterproductive‘, but for the most part the incident has been quietly ignored. Only Shireen Mazari has been beating the drum of war against America while criticising the Army Chief for being too sheepish. This raises the question, what is different about this drone strike from others that have been turned into national

For one thing, there is the obvious. Pakistan is poised to win the Champions Trophy, and against none other than India itself. The truth is right now is the perfect time to do any dastardly thing that you don’t want anyone to notice because quite honestly everyone is paying attention to one thing and one thing only and that will continue till at least the next few days.

However, there is something else going on I think which is that there is uncertainty in the halls of power about just how far to push the Americans in the Trump era. Just a few days ago, Ambassador Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhary told the Americans that Haqqani Network ‘have moved into Afghanistan and need to be taken care of there’. Was he lying or was he merely uninformed? Either way, the fact that the Americans carried out a drone strike against Haqqani Network militants in Fata just days later shows that they already knew he was trying to sell them counterfeit goods. Was this strike the Americans sending a message that the old ways were not going to be tolerated any longer?

There have been other messages sent loud and clear, such as the American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announcing that ‘The president has asked the question specifically about our level of support and funding to Pakistan’ and that the US is ‘beginning an inter-agency policy review towards Pakistan’. Is it a coincidence that these announcements came on the heels of a drone strike against Haqqani Network militants in a place that our government swore they could not be?

Whatever our past strategies toward the Americans have been, the election of Donald Trump as president has changed matters by creating much more uncertainty about how we will be viewed and whether our strategic concerns will be appreciated. Strategies of the past that involved turning a blind eye to pro-Pakistan militants are not going to go unnoticed today. That is something, unlike this week’s drone strike, that we cannot simply ignore.

The Cost of Confusion? $300 Million

Haqqani Network

The US Pentagon has announced that they will not pay Pakistan $300 Million in promised Coalition Support Funds despite “the sacrifices that the Pakistani military has undertakenbecause it is “not yet certified that Pakistan has taken sufficient action against the Haqqani network“. The announcement did not come as a surprise as American officials warned their Pakistani counterparts about it one year ago.

In response, Foreign Office Spokesperson Nafees Zakaria has reiterated the position that Pakistan is taking action against all terrorist groups without distinction. However, at the same time Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar reiterated that Pakistan makes a careful distinction between who it terms as ‘terrorists’ and who is considered as ‘freedom fighters’.

This is the point of divergence between Pakistan and US policy. We agree that some groups, like TTP, are terrorists, but other groups, like Haqqani Network and Jamaat-ud-Dawa, we support as ‘freedom fighters’.

It may have been a clever and lucrative strategy to carefully manage appearances about our policies towards certain militant groups, but now that there is no financial benefit it is time to reevaluate the cost of confusion and give a complete explanation of our policies and priorities. By hiding our true intentions, we were giving unnecessary weight to our critics who say that we are playing a double game. If we support Haqqani Network and other militant groups as ‘freedom fighters’, let us at least be open and honest about it and explain our reasoning. What do we have to lose?

Have we chosen to live or die by Taliban?

f4rft5ung5634vThe US Congress has passed another law that threatens to cut off aid to Pakistan unless we take action against Haqqani network militants. Sirajuddin Haqqani was a top deputy of Mullah Mansour, and now it is expected that he will be named Amir of Taliban following Mansour’s death in an American drone strike. Haqqani is also considered by some quarters to be pro-Pakistan. Several years ago the top American military commander termed Haqqani network as ‘a veritable arm of ISI‘, secret US documents say ISI paid Haqqani to attack a CIA base in Afghanistan, and even when Army carried out attacks against the Haqqani network, they were ‘tipped off‘ in time to get away.

The death of Mullah Mansour has put Pakistan in a dangerous position. If Haqqani is named as Amir, will we be willing to carry out attacks, or will we finally put an end to our alliance with the international community in the fight against the Taliban? In 2001, US President George Bush gave the choice ‘you are either with us or against us’. It looks like we are facing the same question again. Will we make the same choice this time?

Gen Athar Abbas Most Terrifying Revelation Is Not What You Think

Haqqanis: father and son

Major General Athar Abbas served as Director General ISPR between 2008 and 2012, but it is his more recent statements to the press that have really made headlines. Speaking to a journalist, the retired General has accused former COAS Gen Kayani of cowardice, suggesting that the former Army chief did not order an operation in North Waziristan out of fear.  But it is not these accusations that should terrify us, after all we have not heard Gen Kayani’s explanation. What should truly terrify us is something that Gen Abbas let slip that has far greater consequences for our national security.

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