Social Media: The latest front of deep state’s national narrative management

social media wars

Social media is coming under intense pressurization. First, government and judiciary began raising alarms over alleged problem of ‘blasphemous content‘ on social media. Now the attention has moved from offending the Almighty to offending the Army. Last weekend, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar declared it unconstitutional to criticise national security matters and related institutions. He has ordered FIA to take action against anyone criticising Army on social media.

However, if Army feels like it is loosing its grip online, it is not leaving it to the civilians to fix the problem. Activities of ISI’s media cell (aka M-Wing) are well known, but there are also ‘unofficial’ groups that are used to both spread messages and remind citizens of their place. In a new piece for Daily Times, Dr Aamir Khan has pointed out the rise of ‘a hidden WhatsApp constituency‘.

No, it is not hyper-paid TV anchors themselves, powerful though they are in shaping public opinion. I refer to some 25 to 30 thousand retired army officers who are daily using social media, especially WhatsApp to forge a formidable group exerting pressure on the highest leadership of our armed forces.

Propaganda rings and pro-Army social media operations are nothing new in Pakistan. For many officers, retirement means a new career in media. ‘Un-official’ new media operations were pioneered by the likes of Gen Hamid Gul and Major Raja Mujtaba, and their legacy is being carried on after them by a new generation.

In the past year, a new ‘private’ venture has launched called CommandEleven.com which is led by Lt Gen (r) Tariq Khan and Col (r) Azam Qadri supported by a cast of ‘analysts’ who came up through the ranks of PKKH and its off-shoots. As usual, this new operation features ‘analysis’ by retired Army officers questioning the patriotism of media and blaming corruption for all the country’s problems (but not all corruption of course).

This new group is also closely watching social media for any criticism of the armed forces. After DG ISPR’s Tweet rejecting PM’s notification on ‘Dawn Leaks’, one of CommandEleven.com’s so-called analysts wrote that ‘domestic and international elements also waged a social media campaign against DG ISPR’, and termed the entire affair as a a ‘classic media influence operation’. The same ‘analyst’ also has written a blog post that tries to paint the conference as ‘mysterious’ and the participants as ‘traitors’ and ‘foreign agents’ in a most typical manner, even though the conference was reported in both international media and Pakistani media and the contents of the conference are actually posted online for anyone to see what was actually said.

The real mystery here is what is the point of these hypernationalist social media operations being run by retired military officers? What used to be the domain of conspiracy-mongers like Zaid Hamid and Ahmed Quraishi is now a crowded room of newly retired Army officers and their young proteges. Is it only a coincidence that this is happening at the same time Interior Minister is threatening action against anyone who critcises Army on social media, or is it an orchestrated part of deep state’s national narrative management?

Are we heading toward another bin Laden disaster?

Today is 6th anniversary of that black day in history when it was revealed to the world that Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted terrorist, was not only living comfortably in Pakistan but was living comfortably outside PMA Kakul. After six years, still we do not know the full details of how this was allowed to happen. Whether the state was complicit in protecting and hiding bin Laden, or whether our agencies were so incompetent that they could not find him even while he is living next door, the answers in the Abbottabad Commission Report have been hidden from us.

The government says that the facts cannot be made public because doing so is a threat to national security. Such excuses do not give any more confidence in the state’s role. Even though the full report has not been published, though, there are some parts that have been leaked by the media, and these might give us a clue as to what actually happened. For example, while saying ‘The U.S. acted like a criminal thug‘, the leaked report also says this:

“Although the possibility of some degree of connivance inside or outside the government cannot be entirely discounted, no individual can be identified as guilty of connivance.”

In other words, the commission could was not confident that Osama bin Laden did not receive state support, but they were unable to learn who it was that was helping him.

This was also stated by ex-DG ISI Lt Gen Asad Durrani who said:

“I cannot say exactly what happened but my assessment […] was it is quite possible that they [the ISI] did not know but it was more probable that they did.”

Whatever happened six years ago, are we repeating it today? A high level government official recent admitted that ‘he was “100 percent” sure that bin Laden’s 26-year-old son, Hamza, a rising power in Al-Qaeda, is also in the country under ISI protection’. Hamza has been termed ‘Al Qaeda poster boy‘ and his name has been placed on global terror lists. If ISI is protecting him, are we heading toward another disaster?

Right now, most of these are still only questions and possibilities because the actual facts are unknown to us. They ARE known to someone, though, and the nation should be taken into confidence. Till date the state has insisted that the facts of Osama bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan must be hidden to protect national security. They have it backwards. However negative or embarrassing the facts are, making them public is the only way to make sure that they are not repeated, which is the only way to protect our national security.

Ehsanullah Ehsan: How did ‘patriotic Pakistanis’ end up as RAW agents?

Ehsanullah Ehsan’s confession has confirmed what we have said all along: TTP are fighting to destabilise Pakistan under the direction of hostile foreign intelligence agencies. After Kulbhushan Jadhav’s confession, what more evidence needs to be provided? There is only one problem: This is not what we have said all along. Let us review some history.

In 2006, Army signed a ceasefire that was followed by hugs and return of weapons.

Maulvi Nek Zaman MNA read out the agreement after which the militants and military officials hugged each other and exchanged greetings. The venue was heavily guarded by armed Taliban and journalists were not allowed to shoot or film the event.

In 2011, Army allegedly entered peace talks with TTP. This was ‘strongly and categorically‘ denied by ISPR, but immediately after a cease fire was announced. That cease fire ultimately failed, but negotiating with TTP was still the official policy. COAS Gen Kayani even confirmed Army’s support for the process. This policy was not only continued but expanded by Gen Raheel who declared peace talks with TTP a national security ‘top priority‘. In 2014, we accepted another month long ceasefire that was supposed to break the deadlock in peace talks. Reconciliation with TTP was state policy for years.

Nek Muhammad with Army officer

This begs the question, if TTP are RAW/NDS agents, why would the state want to reconcile with them? To find the answer, let us ask our top security officials themselves.

“We have no big issues with the militants in Fata. We have only some misunderstandings with Baitullah Mehsud and Fazlullah. These misunderstandings could be removed through dialogue.”

The truth is, our own Army termed TTP as ‘patriotic Pakistanis‘.

So what happened? Is the military really that incompetent that they were fooled by RAW/NDS for so many years? Did we just not get it? Or was it all BS? Are the allegations about RAW connections BS or was all the stuff about ‘patriotic Pakistanis’ BS?

Before you answer, consider this. Despite Ehsanullah Ehsan’s allegations about TTP’s  RAW links, the idea that TTP are simply ‘misguided patriots’ and not actual RAW agents is still being projected.

This begs a serious question: Are claims of a RAW connection meant to cover up an ISI connection?

Long before anyone had thought to point fingers at India, it was widely reported that our war against TTP was a fight against our own Frankenstein’s monster. This point has been swept under the rug and replaced with the claim that TTP was a creation of hostile foreign agencies. However the facts are the facts, and in the digital age, history is not so easily re-written.

Ehsanullah Ehsan in state custodyOn a related note, there has been a lot of anger expressed about Ehsanullah Ehsan’s media appearances, and even PEMRA has now issued a notice banning such presentations. However, what is not being asked is how Ehsanullah Ehsan, who is in Army’s custody, has been able to give such interviews and appearances without Army’s nod?

In the shadowy world of spy games and proxy wars, the truth is often hard to find. Be careful about believing anything you hear without seeing some actual evidence first, especially if what you are being told is exactly what you want to hear. The truth might be a little more complicated.

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.

Gen (r) Janjua’s advise for Afghanistan is good advise for Pakistan also

Gen (r) Naseer Khan JanjuaNational Security Advisor Lt Gen (r) Naseer Khan Janjua has found himself widely ridiculed on social media after claiming that US is only a superpower due to Pakistan. However, there are other claims made by the retired officer that are much less amusing. Actually, they should be taken very seriously if we are to ever find a way out of the cycle of madness that we seem to be stuck in.

Gen Janjua also asked at the same gathering, “It is said Pakistan is supporting Taliban. If that is true then why are Pakistani Taliban fighting a war against us?” Is the NSA not aware of the difference between Afghan Taliban and TTP? Is he not aware of the state’s different policies towards these two groups, seeing one as a legitimate political force and the other as an illegitimate anti-state terrorist group?

This brings up another curious point made in an exclusive interview the NSA gave to Geo where he blamed Afghanistan and un-named ‘hostile intelligence agencies’ for hosting anti-Pakistan militants like TTP. Here is what he said:

As a result of the successful conduct of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, the terrorists ran for their lives and crossed over to into Afghanistan, where they were hosted by the Hostile Intelligence Agencies (HIAs). After absorbing the initial set back, these terrorists relocated and re-established themselves.

Over time, they have reorganised, regrouped, and recuperated. The recent series of attacks show that they are now well-established and have adequate support of Hostile Intelligence Agencies to restart their heinous activities.

I am not making any disagreement with the NSA’s statement, but there is an important point missing which is that what he is describing is exactly what Pakistan is doing also.

Last year, Sartaj Aziz admitted what was already obvious which is that Pakistan has been hosting Taliban leaders and providing safe haven where they were able to reorganise, regroup, and recuperate. Former COAS Gen Musharraf also admitted that ISI cultivated Taliban to counter any Indian influence in Kabul. In other words, everything we have blamed Afghanistan for doing that has fueled this terrible war, we have admitted doing also!

NSA Lt Gen Janjua said that “continuous way of war, and the intent to gain a position of strength, has made the war perpetual in Afghanistan.” If this is something he truly believes and is not just reciting sweet talking points, the obvious result is for our own state agencies to end our obsession with the way of war and intent to gain a position of strength in Afghanistan. If we are sincere in wanting to see peace in Afghanistan and at home, we need to take our own advise and stop our ‘good Taliban’ ‘bad Taliban’ policies.