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.

When all you have is an Army, everything looks like a war

It is hard for me to write anything since I haven’t had enough sleep in the past 48 hours. I’m still not sure whether I’m actually asleep and dreaming. If that is true, I hope I never wake up from this beautiful dream. However, like all dreams, there are some elements of anxiety that have creeped in also.

Despite the awesome victory, some of our fellow countrymen are not satisfied to celebrate they have to turn it into a weapon for their personal wars. In politics, Imran Khan’s Army ‘celebrated’ by attacking Najam Sethi. In case you thought this was the actions of some unruly youths and not part of PTI’s culture, please note that PTI’s official social media channels even posted the embarrassing event.

If PTI’s official channels are trying to use the victory to advance their political war, other official channels tried to use the victory to advance another war.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the border, messages posted that were both humble and gracious in defeat.

If I am thinking about why we can’t enjoy a victory without turning it into a weapon, I have to think that when all you have is an Army, everything looks like a war. But I am not thinking about it anymore. I am choosing to enjoy the sweet victory for what it really is – proof that this country is more than an Army, and that we have more to offer than war.

Why Army’s ‘Withdrawal’ of ISPR’s Tweet Is Not A Victory For Democracy

ISPR’s announcement that Gen Ghafoor’s infamous Tweet ‘rejecting‘ PM’s notification on so-called ‘Dawn Leaks’ has been ‘withdrawn’ is being treated as a victory for democracy. It is not. Allow me to explain why.

Let us look at what the Army actually said in its latest release:

Rawalpindi – May 10, 2017:

The tweet on 29 April 2017 was not  aimed at any government office or person. Recommendations as contained in Para 18 of the Inquiry Committee Report, duly approved by the Prime Minister, have been implemented, which has settled the Dawn leaks issue. Accordingly, ISPR’s said Twitter post stands withdrawn and has become infructuous.

Pakistan Army reiterates its firm commitment and continued resolve to uphold the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and support the democratic process.

There are a few key items to note. First is that the statement begins with a completely ridiculous and unbelievable claim. Gen Ghafoor’s Tweet said ‘Notification on Dawn Leak is incomplete and not in line with recommendations by the Inquiry Board’. That is a specific notification that was issued by a specific government office of a specific person, namely the Prime Minister. This is how it was understood by everyone, and to try to pretend otherwise only confirms the inappropriate and unprofessional nature of the original Tweet.

Most importantly, though is the beginning of the third sentence: ‘Accordingly’. This follows a recognition that PM implemented the Inquiry Committee’s recommendations (a committee that included representatives of ISI, MI, and IB). Army’s new statement says recommendations of the Inquiry Committee have been implemented, therefore Army is withdrawing its Tweet.

The reason Gen Ghafoor’s Tweet should have been withdrawn is that it was prima facie insubordinate as well as inappropriate and unprofessional and furthering suspicions and conflicts between arms of the state. Army’s new statement should have said, “The tweet on 29 April 2017 was inappropriate and is regretted. Accordingly, ISPR’s said Twitter post stands withdrawn.” Instead, Army said that it was withdrawn because PM implemented recommendations made by a committee including Army men. By doing so, Army has reserved the right to ‘reject’ future notifications by the PM if he fails to follow their orders.

The fact that Army’s ‘withdrawal’ is being treated as a victory for democracy and a set back for the military only shows just how firm the military’s grip on the state is. This is not a victory for democracy, it is only a sign of how far we are from it.

Are extremists are becoming mainstream, or the mainstream is becoming extremist?

Ehsanullah Ehsan and Nareen LaghariThe appearance of Ehsanullah Ehsan on TV will go down as one of the largest media blunders in history. That this was orchestrated by ISPR cannot be doubted. The captured TTP spokesman was in Army custody. He did not hire a PR team to arrange his interview. No, it was obviously a plan of Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor’s team. But why? The answer is obvious. Part of it was explained by Mohammad Hanif in his article that the powers that be don’t want anyone to read:

With his appearance, the Pakistani Army seemed to be sending this message: You can kill thousands of Pakistanis, but if you later testify that you hate India as much as we do, everything will be forgiven.

It’s not just anti-India message that the TTP leader was giving, though, it was more. In his ‘confession,’ Ehsanullah Ehsan even pointed a finger at Israel. The narrative here, to use the Army’s favourite expression, is not that militancy is illegitimate, it’s that these militants are illegitimate.

However, after this fiasco blew up in ISPR’s face, they were given a second chance. Ehsanullah Ehsan is hard to feel pity for. He is the same who was gladly announcing the brutal massacre of children at APS Peshawar. As he is ushered off the stage, though, the second performer steps into the spotlight.

Enter Noreen Leghari.

Nareen Laghari interviewLike Ehsanullah Ehsan, Noreen was also involved in terrorism. However, her target were Christians, and she did not get the chance to carry out her evil plans. Now that she has been captured, she has realised her mistake. Noreen’s confession is not as detailed as the confession of Ehsanullah Ehsan, but her role is different. A medical student, Noreen has pointed a finger at social media. You see, this is how she was radicalised. Social media. On the internet. Not in our own society.

Noreen Leghari is the anti-Malala. She was not resisting radicalisation, she was gladly radicalised. She was not an innocent victim of extremists, she was an extremist. Only she got carried away. It could happen to anyone, even a bright university student.

Even a humble daughter.

Noreen Leghari was arrested only two weeks ago in a raid on a Daesh hideout. During her two weeks in custody, she has been deradicalised. She is not working with human rights NGOs, she is working with Army. She is not giving speeches on problems in Pakistani society in foreign cities, she is giving interviews here about dangers of social media and external threats to Pakistan. And she is not denouncing jihad. She is denouncing misguided jihad. In other words, it is the difference of ‘bad‘ jihadi vs ‘good’ jihadi.

Apologists explain that Army is that by mainstreaming extremists like these two, we will set off a chain reaction and other extremists will be mainstreamed also. What is not clear, though, is what is our definition of ‘extremist’. Until we know this, how can we know whether extremists are becoming mainstream, or the mainstream is becoming extremist.

blasphemy riot