Bullies and Buffoons: Washington Embassy’s Embarrassing Behaviour

Col Fawad Butt Pakistan Embassy

Think tanks and academic conferences are ordinarily rather dull affairs. Analysts present their latest research and answer questions from journalists and other scholars. It is not uncommon to see someone gently nodding asleep near the back rows, so tea and coffee is often provided to help keep the audience awake. These events are typically gatherings of highly-educated people having a discussion about new research. Often there is some disagreement, but it is usually made respectfully with the point being to add to the discussion or correct some error. Last week, however, Washington Think Tank Hudson Institute held an event that was anything but ordinary moderated by Pakistan’s former Ambassador Husain Haqqani to present a new report on Pakistan-US ties.

Watching a full, unedited video of the event online, one will immediately be surprised by the tone and tenor of the discussion. With our expectations of anything in Washington to be a Pakistan-bashing affair, it is disarming to see that it is actually a polite and civil discussion of serious issues. Yes there are some points to disagree with, but in the era of internet trolls and hypernationalist fake news sites, this event seems like a refreshingly dull affair….for a while.

Things take a turn for the worse, however, once Haqqani opens the discussion to members of the audience to take their questions and comments. There are those who agree and those who disagree, and then at about 58 minutes into the affair it happens. Some unseen person begins shouting from the back of the room while an elderly journalist is politely trying to ask a question. Haqqani calmly asks the shouting man to please compose himself and stop interrupting. At this point, it all comes crashing down. The man, off camera, completely loses it and begins uncontrollably screeching at the top of his lungs.

“YOU ARE A RAW AGENT!!!”

As the man is finally escorted out of the room by security agents, his tirade of senseless screaming is difficult to understand. He appears to be a crazy person who has somehow wandered in to the event from the street, and one can see the analysts and other guests laughing as they are embarrassed for him. Yes, it was embarrassing, but what is one person? Everywhere there are crazy people and certainly this man does not represent Pakistanis.

The discussion continues, but things continue down this embarrassing path. The screaming lunatic may be gone, but the commenters continue to be a steady stream of people planted by Pakistan Embassy in Washington. This is not an assumption – when they are handed the microphone, each person is asked to identify themselves. Two identify themselves, saying, “I am from Pakistan Embassy…” Others claim they are Pakistani-Americans but insisted on pronouncing Pakistan as ‘Pack-is-tan’.

Who were these people? It is normal and appropriate for the Embassy to send a representative to any event where Pakistan is discussed, but this quickly became comedic. Multiple military officers from Pakistan embassy’s military wing reportedly attended including Group Captain Ali Naeem Zahoor, air attache; Group Captain Rashid Siddiqui, Attache Defense Procurement (ADP Navy/Air) and Colonel Fawad Furrukh Butt. It has even been reported that alleged undercover ISI officer Colonel Muhammad Ishtiaq arrived with a van full of civilians recruited to harass the speakers and disrupt the event.

However, the speakers and the rest of the audience seemed to find these agents funny, not intimidating. Col Fawad Butt caused the entire room to roar with laughter when he took the mic and announced, “Thank you very much. As the mic is with me, so now I have the control,” as if he had staged some sort of brilliant coup! His attempted coup was quickly put down, though, when Haqqani jokingly reminded him that things do not work this way as microphones can actually be turned off and then allowed him to carry on with his comment.

Several other Pakistanis, some possibly working under direction of Col Ishtiaq, stood and recited the same points over and over again, usually trying to change attention to India and Kashmir. After one example, Haqqani remarked: “So it comes down to the talking points that everyone was given” and once again the room burst into laughter. However this is not a laughing matter and the Embassy’s antics caused prestigious American analyst Dr Marvin Weinbaum – who had earlier stated that he was an ‘outlier’ in wanting to not reprimand Pakistan publicly – to warn that, ‘Pakistanis must take this report seriously and realise the mood of Washington’.

Watching the entire video, it stands out that it is the former Ambassador Haqqani who allows a constant stream of critical comments while it is the current Embassy staff and its not-so-educated ‘proxies’ who appear dedicated to silencing any criticism. Ironically, one of the well-spoken Embassy officials at the event noted that “there is a need for skilled diplomacy” in Pakistan-US relations. He couldn’t have been more correct. Unfortunately, what took place at The Hudson Institute was the exact opposite of skilled diplomacy. It was bullying buffoonery, and it was a national embarrassment.

CENSORED: Who Will Pay?

The following op-ed was originally published by The Nation on 26th Dec. It was quickly deleted from the newspaper’s website due to unknown orders from unknown offices. We are re-posting the piece in accordance with Articles 19 and 19(A) of the Constitution which guarantee “the right to freedom of speech and expression, and…freedom of the press” as well as “the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance”.

Pakistan Media

So Pakistan’s public will be made to bear the cost of about three million pounds damages and costs for the case filed by Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman (MSR) of the Jang/ Geo group against ARY channel for Mubashir Luqman’s twenty four libelous shows.
This will be the result of the UK High Court’s verdict against ARY for twenty four unbridled and defamatory programmes by Mubashir Lucman against MSR whilst at ARY.

But the UK court didn’t ask the citizens to pay, you might remark.
And you would be right to remark thus.
The court has stipulated ARY to pay out for damaging MSR’s reputation and endangering his life, as a lesson to ARY (and others) to not indulge in such activities.
But imagine: will the owner of ARY channel Salman Iqbal take this lying down, when he has no dog in the game except support from ‘the agencies’? A one-time loss he might even be willing to bear.
But given the slew of cases now being filed in the United Kingdom against ARY (including by the strongest Pakistani industrialist, Mian Mansha, and human rights activist Malala’s father) he would be inclined to bill the agencies for this bill, to set a precedent and basis for them footing the bills for all he has been doing at their behest.

Which brings us back to ‘Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency’.
Salman Iqbal will likely forward the bill to them.
And ‘they’ should rightly pay.
But what does that mean for us, the citizens? What it means is that in addition to its already invisible and unaccountable budget, millions of further pounds will have to be allocated, such that it can pay the bills for the new trend in foreign suits.

Is this, then, not the time for the people and the parliament to renew calls to bring the ‘the primary intelligence agency’ under democratic and financial oversight? This latest ARY casualty would just serve as the peg, the actual thousand leagues under the sea that is ‘the intelligence agency’ being the real target.

But here I must make a very important correction: in recent years the PR arm of the military has been a veritable arm of the military’s intelligence agencies, with the head of said PR agency, while leading the onslaught of military chief’s PR campaign, leading social media attacks on human rights and democracy activists, and leading social media attacks on ‘anti-nationalists’ and ‘ghaddars’ with his bevvy of the ‘Baloch girl’ army, has been reigning supreme.

So will this PR agency be made to pay part of the ARY bills (present and future)? Clearly, whilst ARY is now somewhat chained because of its broadcasts in the UK, BOL will carry on unfettered (to my knowledge it does not broadcast in other jurisdictions, and will cancel any plans to do so because of the ARY fiasco).

But what all this means is that we, the Pakistani citizens, will end up paying more for attacks against us, in the shape of (nontransparent) higher budgets for the country’s premier PR and intelligence agencies.

Moving on to Qazi Faez Isa and Najam Sethi’s take on the report: I was one of the first persons to identify the gaping hole in the honourable justice’s report.
That of not holding the Frontier Corp (FC) to account in any manner for the Quetta horror, obliterating in one fell an entire generation of lawyers and activists.
But Sethi saheb’s editorial of last Friday, whilst correctly criticizing Justice Isa’s report for not holding security agencies to account, ‘doth protest too much’ against the criticism of Chaudhry Nisar, the Interior Minister.
Not a word spoken against him in the Quetta Commission Report is untrue.
Did he not ignore all requests to proscribe Jamat-ul-Ahrar and Jamat-ud-Dawa Al Almi for months despite their claims (and no evidence to the contrary) of having perpetrated the Quetta lawyers massacre? Was he not caught hiding behind NACTA, which was hiding behind the ISI, which said, ‘they should have done their job per the law (despite the unwritten norms with regard to us’?

Whilst I’m the first one to agree with Sethi sahib regarding the egregious oversight with regard to security agencies far as the Quetta Inquiry Commission report is concerned, I am not with him in trying to exonerate the Minister of Interior.
I understand that what Sethi saheb is saying is that this is unfair.
But then rather than exonerate the boys’ man Chaudhry Nisar, why not question ‘them’? Why not try and expose ‘them’ rather than shield elements in the government? Let Chaudhry Nisar be the first casualty.
Only after might we be able to reach his enablers? My most humble submission to Sethi saheb: let’s catch what we can; only it can lead to the elements we have never been able to ‘catch’.
Let’s not exonerate obvious culprits.
Let’s try and get through to culprits via culprits.

The writer is a human rights worker and freelance columnist. Follow her on Twitter at @gulbukhari

#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.

Lack of Credibility Undercuts Kashmir Diplomacy

Pakistan Black Day Kashmir

The latest idea of sending abroad dozens of envoys to promote Pakistan’s position on Kashmir has been met with mixed responses. Even the government has offered to make it a bi-partisan affair with opposition politicians involved, but still the opposition has expressed doubt about it.

For years, the establishment has tried to use diplomacy to shift international attitudes on Kashmir, but it hasn’t worked. Actually, the establishment’s attempts at influencing global opinion has done more harm than good. The case in point is the humiliation caused when ISI agent Ghulam Nabi Fai was exposed taking millions in secret funds to lobby the US on Kashmir. Instead of convincing anyone of anything, all this operation did was destroy any credibility of pro-Kashmir voices who are now nothing but suspected ISI agents.

Even after the embarrassment of the Ghulam Nabi Fai fiasco, certain quarters didn’t give up on the idea of sending spokesmen to make Pakistan’s case. Ahmed Quraishi has been sent on many paid junkets in Europe. Who can forget how well this strategy has worked?

The other problem is that the establishment wants to have its cake and eat it too. We want to convince the world that we are acting in support of human rights, but certain people can’t give up also acting in support of jihadi militants. Former Ambassador Husain Haqqani noted this perfectly: “Until Pakistan can demonstrate its complete disassociation with Jihadi terrorist groups, delegations like these will be nothing more than junkets”.

Pakistan does not have the credibility to defend the Kashmiri cause. Actually, our efforts are doing more harm than good. As Defence and Foreign policy analyst Maria Sultan notes, effective lobbying on Kashmir will have to come from independent Kashmiris. If we really want to see justice for Kashmir, we need to step aside and stop hurting their cause by trying to promote our own.

Bomb Proof Passports and Bullet Proof Denial

Pakistan Bomb Proof PassportWhen American media announced that Taliban chief Akhtar Mansour was killed by a US drone strike in Balochistan, the response of the state was silence. Soon came posts on social media with photos of a Pakistani passport and CNIC that were supposedly recovered from the scene. This was met with laughter by not only the hyper-nationalist crowd but even liberals. Jokes began to go around saying security forces were issuing new bullet proof jackets made of Pakistani passports. Even those criticising our Afghan policy found the situation ridiculous. How is it that a car and two people are completely incinerated by a hell fire missile but his Pakistani IDs just HAPPEN to survive in perfect condition? The answer was in the question: We were being framed. Again.

Only, this time at least, it appears that there was no framing. Sartaj Aziz has confirmed that the person killed in the attack was Mullah Mansour and that Pakistani authorities had identified him by DNA test. More surprising, though, was that the government confirmed that the official government documents that were recovered, the passport and CNIC, were authentic. They had a fake name, but they were real documents issued by NADRA. Interior Ministry has ordered a ‘crackdown‘ against officials for issuing the documents, but it is well known that those behind such things do not answer to the Interior Ministry.

Sometimes, ridiculous things happen. As ridiculous as it sounds, a hell fire missile did incinerate a car and two people yet a Pakistani passport and CNIC somehow survived intact. Does it matter that even the state has confirmed it? No, we will prefer to stick to our denials and our jokes about ‘bomb proof passports’. It may be a ridiculous mindset that refuses to believe what has already been confirmed, but if we start accepting these things then we will be forced to face the most ridiculous thing of all, which is our own foreign policy that causes such things in the first place. After all, Amir-ul-Momineen will come and go…but our denialism is truly bomb proof.