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.

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.