Arguing With Husain Haqqani

Husain HaqqaniHe is Senior Fellow and Director for South and Central Asia at a prestigious think tank in Washington, DC. He has written multiple books that have been termed ‘compulsory reading‘ in the West. He has been an invited speaker at the Aspen Ideas Festival and his ideas and analysis are regularly featured in global media like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, and Foreign Policy. Whether we like it or not, Husain Haqqani is probably the most influential Pakistani intellectual of modern times. Many don’t like it. I do not want to defend Husain Haqqani or his controversial ideas. What I want to do is use Husain Haqqani to talk about how we respond to those who we disagree with.

As you must know by know, Husain Haqqani’s latest piece for The New York Times caused quite a stir. In it, he dismisses the idea that India poses a real threat to Pakistan, and confirms the belief that the Pakistani state has supported extremist militants in Afghanistan and Kashmir. This is nothing new, however, it is his prescription for a cure that has angered many quarters because Haqqani calls for the US to get ‘tougher’ on Pakistan, something that is automatically seen as many as a shocking disloyalty, even though he explains that he is not looking to punish Pakistan:

The United States would be acting as a friend, helping Pakistan realize through tough measures that the gravest threat to its future comes from religious extremism it is fostering in its effort to compete with India.

Calls for ‘tough love’ are always controversial, however the response to this piece has not been to counter with facts and analysis. Actually, the response has shown the worst of the worst of human emotions. Surely you know what I mean, but here is a small sample of what I am talking about:

This is the response: Abuse, threats, hashtags, shouts of ‘traitor’, Indian flags and even a jewish star photoshopped on his picture. It is so stupid it is embarrassing. What do we think this behaviour makes us look like to the rest of the world? Intellectuals or idiots? Debaters or bullies? This is not even the behaviour of so-called ‘cyber commandoes’. Actually, they are nothing but cyber goondas. He says Pakistanis cannot be reasoned with, and we respond unreasonably. Such responses actually give Haqqani’s point more credit than his enemies realise.

This brings up another point. Pakistan has an entire diplomatic corps at its finger tips. Where is Ambassador Aizaz Chaudhry’s piece published in New York Times? Where is his piece published in The Wall Street Journal? More to the point, where are the Pakistani intellectuals who can debate with Haqqani without resorting to name-calling, innuendo, and threats?

Instead, what comes after the social media abuse calms down is completely predictable: Op-eds will be published in The Nation, Pakistan Observer, and Express Tribune. Urdu talk shows, especially on ARY, News One, and Bol will feature talking heads parroting the same talking points about how Haqqani was a member of IJT 30 or 40 years ago, even though he obviously grew out of such ideas before most of the audience was even born. They will call for Haqqani to be brought back to Pakistan and be tried for treason. After a few days of chest beating, something else will take over the media’s attention and the Haqqani Hate Squad will quiet down until he writes something else and the ‘Standard Operating Procedure’ is repeated.

Husain Haqqani is not really the point here. He is not the only progressive Pakistan whose ideas are responded with such abuse and threats. We see the same treatment handed out to our other internationally respected intellectuals like Asma Jahangir and Malala. If ISI and ISPR support such stupidity, how can we ever expect to be taken seriously on the world’s stage? If they do not support it, they need to call out these foolish ‘cyber warrior’ accounts, especially those that have attended the official trainings at NDU. They need to correct the retired officers and their children who spend their days abusing on social media. We need to stop attacking and abusing those who we don’t agree with, and start proving them wrong if we can. Otherwise, we are only drawing attention to our own lack of intelligent answers!

Raymond Davis and Parachinar: Negotiating Realities

Parachinar residents negotiating with their own Army to receive protectionAfter days of their cries being ignored by military, media, and government, COAS Bajwa finally arrived in Parachinar. It is a scene you do not expect to see. Citizens negotiating with their own Army to receive protection. Protection not only from the jihadi militants who have been terrorizing them and killing them by the hundreds, but protection from the very security forces who were supposed to be defending them. After days of protests gone unheeded, Army was finally forced to sit down and listen to demands of the citizens and now Gen Bajwa has removed FC Commandant Malik Umer and ordered an inquiry into the murders of innocent civilians by security forces.

This is not the only negotiation in the news, however, as the Raymond Davis fiasco has once again returned to the lime light following the publication of a ‘tell all’ book by the disgraced spy. According to the expose, it was actually ISI who orchestrated the release of the CIA agent after he gunned down two men in the streets, led by none other than DG ISI Shuja Pasha and a nameless ISI Colonel. Not only did Husain Haqqani not give the American agent a visa and then arrange for his escape, according to the absconded spy, “Haqqani was largely viewed as being pro-American, but in this instance he was not so accommodating”.

Both of these situations challenge the very narratives that we are spoon fed through media and ISI’s own psyop operations. Such conflicts could be easily avoided by replacing the failed strategy of ‘perception management’ through promoted narratives with actually taking the people into confidence and explaining the difficulties and reasoning behind decisions and living with the harsh realities of the world. For the time being, though, we are left trying to negotiate reality with ourselves.

Kulbhushan Jadhav Sentence: Reading the Analysts

Husain Haqqani has written a ‘must read’ analysis of the Kulbhushan Jadhav affair. As usual, the former Ambassador makes many important observations, particularly about how the ‘military-intelligence combine wants to ensure the primacy of its worldview at least within Pakistan’. This is becoming more and more obvious in the aftermath of GHQ’s announcement of the verdict against Jadhav.

Take note of the following paragraph in Haqqani’s piece:

Pakistani military intelligence maintains a large “M” (media) wing that threatens mainstream journalists, tries to influence reporting on Pakistan by foreign media and ensures that civilian politicians, journalists and intellectuals who question its narrative of a permanently besieged Pakistani state are projected as agents of a Zionist-Hindu cabal. Islamabad was also an early adopter of fake news sites used to promote everything from the country’s capital to building the image of its top army commander.

With that fresh in our minds, now let us consider another analysis of the Jadhav affair. This is from a piece in The Nation by Waqar K Kauravi and Umar Waqar called ‘Kulsbhushan’s Himmelfahrt‘:

The Kulbhushan enterprise was directly responsible for 1345 killings of innocent Pakistanis and injury to 7500, the financial cost to Pakistan has been approximately 3 billion USDs mainly in lost business and bad perception affecting tourism, sports (cricket), exports and imports; indirect cost may not be ever known.

These are oddly specific numbers, aren’t they? Not ‘thousands’, but exactly 1,345. Where did this number come from? The Army conducted Kulbhushan Jadhav’s trial in complete secrecy, so where did these writers get such details? After some research, the only other reporting of this statistic I could find is from an AP story that quotes two anonymous ‘senior security officials’. However, the AP story was published the same day at the story in The Nation. So did Waqar K Kauravi and Umar Waqar get their information from anonymous ‘senior security officials’ also? If so, why didn’t they say so? And who are these officials?

Maybe the answer can be found in the previous writings of these two. Their recent pieces include:

  • A hit piece on an American scholar who is critical of ISI.
  • A hit piece on Husain Haqqani.
  • A piece advising media not to criticise Army and ISI.
  • A piece projecting official narratives of ISI having ‘a global rating of excellence’ and RAW as a threat to ‘Pakistan’s perception management matrix’.
  • A piece celebrating ‘the heroic contest by Pakistani nation and her soldiers against Indian aggression’.

Are these writers the perfect example of ISI’s ‘M-Wing’ that Haqqani discusses in his piece? Now let us return to the mysterious details provided by Waqar K Kauravi and Umar Waqar’s analysis. Such pieces would be completely unnecessary if another of Haqqani’s points was taken to heart by our state institutions:

Mr. Jadhav’s conviction for espionage would have been more convincing if it had resulted from an open trial.

The facts and evidences from the trial are completely unknown. In fact, the entire affair was carried out behind closed doors and it is not even certain that the government was informed until after it was decided. Details are not coming through official channels, but leaked by anonymous security sources and reported by unknown analysts who only write pieces projecting Army narratives. These reports will be emailed and posted and repeated by hypernationalists, but anyone who dares to show any scepticism will be branded as a sell-out or traitor.

Haqqani concludes that ‘spy games can only make it tougher for the two South Asian neighbors to even explore peace, let alone find it’. Maybe it is his mistake that anyone was looking for peace to begin with.

Want to know who is issuing visas? Follow the money…

COAS-Bajwa-and-General-John-Nicholson-Commander-RSM-1

The latest twist in the visa drama is once again shining lights into places that prefer to be in the shadows. First there was the leaked document requesting visas for alleged CIA agents signed not by Husain Haqqani or Asif Zardari but by Lt Gen Nazir Ahmed Butt who was then a Brigadier and the Defence & Army Attache at the Embassy in Washington. Now another evidence of GHQ’s involvement in issuing visas to US agents has come to light, and this time it was sitting in plain sight the whole time.

Former Interior Minister Rehman Malik noted that visas are still being secretly issued to US officials in exchange for American funding to Pakistan Army. This may seem like a conspiracy theory, but actually there is evidence this time. In 2012, the US Congress introduced a new law with requirements for Coalition Support Funds paid to Pakistan that includes “issuing visas in a timely manner for United States visitors engaged in counterterrorism efforts and assistance programs in Pakistan”. Since this new law was passed, the US has paid Pakistan hundreds of millions of dollars.

It must be noted that all of this has taken place years after Husain Haqqani resigned his post as Ambassador in 2011! One can disagree with Haqqani’s analysis on geopolitics, but it is irrefutable that he has not had the ability to issue any visas since the past several years. That power has been handed over to intelligence agencies.

It is unclear what those who have reanimated the corpse of the entire visa conspiracy hope to achieve, but it is clear that what is actually happening is that more and more evidence is coming to light that it was not Husain Haqqani or civilian politicians behind it at all. It is also becoming quite clear that those who were responsible for issuing of visas are still doing. All one needs to do is follow the money. The question remaining is just how long this media drama will be allowed to continue, and if so what new evidences will come to light next.

Visa leaks: A political strategy that backfired?

Nawaz Sharif

It’s hard to believe that it’s almost been five years since PMLN dominated the polls and Nawaz Sharif returned for a third term as Prime Minister. Elections are not expected for one more year, however it seems that election season has arrived already. That is the best explanation I have been able to think of for the sudden return of the old visa controversy.

There are several theories about what is behind the leaks of documents related to Husain Haqqani’s time as Ambassador. Cyril Almeida believes it is to remind the civilians of who’s boss, but I have my doubts this time. The usual Army proxies are unusually silent. Not only this, but whoever is behind this whole drama hasn’t thought it through very well.

The first leaked document was a letter granting Husain Haqqani greater authority in expediting visas for some US officials without first sending requests to Islamabad for clearance. What first seemed like a smoking gun turned out to be nothing but dust when Haqqani himself noted that this was nothing new and had actually been reported long ago.

It was the next document that really gave away the incompetence of the conspirators, though. A memo from the Foreign Office marked as ‘Confidential’ directs Missions not to issue visas to a list of 36 alleged CIA agents. There are three major red flags with this leak.

  1. Obviously, we do not know if visas were actually issued to any of these people.
  2. If this list is authentic, it is unlikely that our agencies would want it published because it will cause serious problems for our own intelligence agents who are working undercover. There is a tradition of agencies respecting each other and not exposing the other sides agents except in extreme circumstances. Publishing a list of undercover agents would risk upsetting the very delicate balance of trust with foreign agencies and put our own agents at risk of being exposed.
  3. This is the biggest mistake: Whoever leaked overlooked that the list of alleged CIA agents includes a hand written request for their visas signed not by Husain Haqqani or Asif Zardari but by the Defence & Army Attache who is himself now a Corps Commander!!!

Defence Attache visa request

Husain Haqqani has insisted that ‘military was not bypassed. period‘. Even if the Ambassador was granted authority to issue visas without review by Islamabad, there has never been any evidence that visas were issued without full cooperation and review of Defence agencies located withing the Embassy. Till date there has been no evidence that any visas were issued without the approval of agencies stationed at the Embassy. In fact, this latest leak suggests that Defence officials were fully informed. Just as publishing lists of foreign agents is not in our own agencies interest, also we should ask if publishing documents that show the Defence officials who reviewed and approved visa requests is in our national interest.

If the boys are not behind this one, then, who is? To find the answer we should look at the narrative that is being promoted. It is not just Haqqani who is being targeted, it is PPP leadership. The former President Asif Zardari and PM Gilani are clearly in the sights of the leakers and those who are pushing the narrative that PPP government went around the military to help US agents. It was Khawaja Asif who called for a full investigation, apparently having forgotten that there already was one, and that if anyone wants to get to the bottom of things they can simply release the full contents of the Abbottabad Commission Report.

Until someone comes forward and admits being behind the leaks, this will all be left to speculation. However, it is hard to see how any of this benefits the boys at this time. Much more likely is that someone in PMLN got too clever for their own good and decided to start campaigning early by knocking out PPP by re-introducing old civil-military divides. This was both unnecessary and counterproductive. Unnecessary because PPP is too busy making their own bad decisions to be a real political threat, and also because it sppears that someone within PMLN leadership is trying to drag the Army into politics. 2018 is looking good for Nawaz Sharif. As this drama shows, he needs to make sure it is his own people who don’t bungle it!