Sufi clerics victim of our paranoid conspiracy culture

Syed Asif Nizami and Nazim Nizami

The story is as predictable as it is embarrassing. Two Sufi clerics visiting Pakistan from across the border go missing. Indian media immediately jumps to the conclusion that the two were picked up by ISI. Pakistani media immediately reported that the reports were just the latest example of anti-Pakistan Indian propaganda and that the two clerics had simply entered into an area where mobile phone signal was not available. Now that the clerics have returned home, though, the truth is coming out, and it is not quite as neat and clean as we wished.

Actually, the two elderly clerics Syed Asif Nizami and Nazim Nizami were picked up by our intelligence agencies and interrogated about their supposed ‘anti-Pakistan’ activities. And where did our brilliant agencies get their intelligence about these two? Apparently Urdu daily Ummat had published some fake stories accusing them of being secret RAW agents.

Now our media is scrambling to create the narrative that the entire affair was a big misunderstanding from an inaccurate report in Ummat. In the most hilarious example, Express Tribune has even tried to frame work the story as agencies providing ‘VIP treatment‘ to visiting clerics!

Let us review the facts of this case:

  1. Two Muslim clerics visited Pakistan.
  2. An Urdu newspaper falsely accused them as RAW agents.
  3. Our intelligence agencies read the report and picked up the Muslim clerics, holding them ‘incommunicado’.
  4. After realising the mistake, the clerics were allowed to return home and our media is spinning their being picked up and interrogated by agencies as ‘VIP treatment’.

It has been noted that daily Ummat is also the ‘news’ paper that first accused missing bloggers of blasphemy.

The entire affair is an indictment not only of our senseless media, but raises serious questions about intelligence agencies. If they were fooled by fake news in this case, how many other fake reports have they been fooled by? And why are intelligence agencies taking their cues from what they read in media reports anyway? It is a recipe for a national security disaster. Do not expect anyone to demand Parliamentary Commission to investigate this humiliating episode, though.

Should we ban anti-Pakistan ideas? Or debate them?

classroom

When I was a boy, I was would hide outside the door and listen when chacha would visit and he and my father would spend hours discussing and debating politics late into the night. Chacha was a diehard Jamaati, and my father was an unapologetic socialist. It was always interesting to me to listen as the paths of their opinions and beliefs would easily come together and then just as easily part ways. It was like a dance of ideas taking place to the tune of life and society. One afternoon, I tried to impress my father by telling him about something I had heard Qazi Hussain Ahmad say and how it was obviously nonsense. To my surprise, my father took a stern look in his eye and asked me to explain myself. I repeated again what I had said before. For the next half hour my father grilled me with questions, all defending the Jamaati Amir’s position. I felt confused and on the point of tears when my father finally dismissed me.

Later that night, he called me in where he and my uncle were talking. “Beta,” he said, “have you thought any more about our discussion earlier?” I looked down at my feet and told him that I didn’t know what to think, that I thought he would have agreed with me. I could feel the men looking at me and I was burning with embarrassment. My father put his hand on my shoulder and said, “What I think is not the point. You put forth an opinion that wasn’t really yours. Even if you think you believe it, it will always belong to someone else until you understand not only why you believe it, but why someone else might not. Only then will you have fully embraced the idea, and only then it will be yours.” My uncle smiled and said, “Your father and I enjoy these talks so much not because we have any hope of converting the other. I gave up on talking any sense into him years ago.” My father laughed. “The point is we loved these debates because it is through debate that we understand each other’s point of view, and it makes us think more about what we believe and why.”

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Foreign Funding and Conspiracies Against Pakistan

foreign fundsAllegations of foreign funding predate independence. What is interesting, however, is how certain allegations rise and fall. A new report by Ansar Abbasi claims to expose another foreign conspiracy against Pakistan, pumping foreign funding into effort to save Shafqat Hussain from execution.

A senior government source said that not only the proof of foreign funding has been secured it has also been confirmed that the purpose of the campaign was to get the death penalty banned in the country by scandalizing and demeaning the country’s criminal justice system.

According to Ansar Abbasi, this claim has been confirmed by intelligence agencies, giving it the seriousness of a national security issue.

There are two strange things about this ‘conspiracy’, though. Actually, most of the world has done away with the death penalty. 53 per cent countries have abolished it completely, and only 18 per cent continue to execute convicts. Interestingly, these countries include US and India, so the usual suspects are off the hook. Even more strange, though, is the claim that whoever is behind this ‘foreign funding’ is trying to get death penalty banned by ‘scandalizing and demeaning the country’s criminal justice system’. Weren’t we recently told by the powers that be that military courts were essential because the criminal justice system wasn’t up to the task of carrying out its duties?

Sadly, while supposed foreign funding behind efforts to stop one killing may be given the seriousness of a national security issue, foreign funding to stop mass killings has gone widely ignored. Saudi Arabia is believed to be funding extremist networks in Pakistan since long, even recruiting children for terrorist groups. Saudi funding is also believed to be behind militant groups like ASWJ that projects hate and sectarian killings.

Why is this foreign funding ignored and tolerated while hue and cry is being raised against death penalty activists? Instead of cracking extremist militant networks responsible for killing thousands of innocent Pakistanis, intelligence agencies are apparently working against human rights NGOs. We have to ask ourselves…what is the point?

Finally, it should be noted that there is even a new case of foreign funding that is only now coming to light, and one that could have very serious consequences for national politics. PTI has been ordered by Elections Commission Pakistan (ECP) to explain certain details of foreign funds that it has received. According to reports, PTI is under suspicion of taking illegal foreign funding and money laundering. Unanswered questions have surrounded Imran Khan’s finances since many years, and this is the first time that any effort has been made to untangle the secret web that has been able to support his massive operations.

Accusations of ‘foreign funding’ are easily made, but difficult to prove. What is more interesting is where these accusations come from and how they are treated. Asnar Abbasi’s report follows the pattern of gutter conspiracy theories: Vague, anonymous accusations that equate criticism of state policy with being anti-Pakistan. Reports of Saudi funding of extremist networks follow a different pattern: They are specific and documented, with only intelligence agencies unable to find any evidence. It will be interesting to see how PTI’s case is treated. Could it be that Imran’s time is up? Or is he merely being reminded that it is not his place to question the military? Only time will tell…

Leaks Galore

spying-on-imran-khan

Saulat Mirza’s alleged death-cell confession has sparked innumerable questions, not only about his sensational allegations, but about how the video was recorded from a jail cell, and how it managed to make its way into the hands of private TV stations. It is believed by many to be part of an attempt to pressurize MQM leaders. Unfortunately, we will never know the answer since the committee formed to answer these questions was suddenly dissolved with no explanation.

Now there is also the leaked recording of an alleged private phone call between Imran Khan and Arif Alvi discussing attack on PTV. Some are claiming that the recording is actually spliced together from different conversations, but as Arif Alvi himself noted on Twitter, the fact is that ‘somebody’ is recording and leaking private phone calls.

Arif Alvi may not want to make any accusations about ‘who’ would be recording his phone calls, but it is not a long list who has the ability to do this. Many believe that intelligence agencies have been recording and documenting everything under the sun in order to blackmail since long. Even the judiciary has allegedly felt the sting of these ‘dirty tricks’ such as when agencies allegedly blackmailed Supreme Court Justices with secret sex tapes during Gen Musharraf regime.

It’s not just secret recordings that are seeing the light of day, either. Earlier this year, an ISI report on extremist ties of Lal Masjid cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz was leaked.

ISI report abdul aziz

This one may have been leaked in order to pressurize Lal Masjid, but the problem is that leaks are hard to contain. Abbottabad Commission report which noted that “connivance, collaboration and cooperation at some levels cannot be entirely discounted” was leaked to at the embarrassment of intelligence agencies. Even documents allegedly exposing intelligence agencies secret support for Taliban have even surfaced including this letter from a Taliban commander to Military Intelligence about aiding Taliban supply routes across the border into Afghanistan.

Taliban letter to Pakistan MI

Translation

Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan
South West Zone (Helmand province)
Date: May 28, 2008

Respected Brother Janab Usman sahab
Director, Military Intelligence
Assalam-o-Alaikum wa Rahmatullah wa Barkatuhu
Two vehicles which are laden with goods for the Taliban mujahideen brothers are entering Afghanistan through Naushki and Dalbandin. Hope you will secure passage for these two vehicles:
Number plate – Karachi CK 8091
Number plate – Karachi CH 9316
I have sent my representative Mullah Musa. Hope that you will provide assistance.

Mullah Abdur Raheem
Governor, Helmand

Actually, it is not the leaks that are the real problem, it is what these leaks, both the allegedly ‘authorised’ ones and the more embarrassing ones, reveal about agencies activities. As Pakistan faces a serious and existential threat from terrorism, the appearance from alleged leaks is that agencies are more busy playing games than actually securing the country.

Blank Checks and Secret Proceedings: Pakistan’s Injustice System

Adiala prison

Two incidents this week indicate that justice in Pakistan continues to be elusive. First was the promulgation of Protection of Pakistan Ordinance (Amended) which quietly dismissed all missing persons cases and gave agencies a blank check to maintain secret prisons for anyone who they decide has done as little as ‘issued threats’.

The ordinance denotes that the persons under detention of security forces will be considered detained from the day of promulgation of the ordinance. Those facing charges will be tried in courts and the security forces will have ‘indemnity’ on their detention.

The second incident involved the controversial case against a mentally ill British man accused of blasphemy. On Thursday, he was convicted and sentenced to death. Sentencing a mentally ill man to death for blasphemy is questionable enough, but the case became even more disturbing when the court proceeded to carry out proceedings in secret and without the accused man’s attorney present.

His lawyer told the BBC’s Saba Eitizaz that she was forcibly removed from the case by the judge and that proceedings were carried out behind closed doors.

Justice cannot be carried out with blank checks and secret proceedings. There is no doubt that agencies are facing a difficult mission to protect the nation from terrorists, but use of secret prisons and lack of oversight for agencies gives fuel to the terrorists anti-state narrative. Similarly, supporters of blasphemy laws like Tahir Ashrafi always say that the problem is not with the law but with the application. Convicting and sentencing to death a mentally ill man without allowing his lawyer to be present is a casebook miscarriage of justice in any case, but in the case of blasphemy laws it only provides more evidence that fair application of these laws is only a fantasy.