Are we doomed to repeat past mistakes with China?

“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

Are we doomed to repeat past mistakes with China? We believe we have turned a new corner by shedding our reliance on America and becoming closer to our neighbor to the East, but will that allow us to continue past behaviours without facing similar consequences? These are questions that require immediate attention if we are to enjoy the full benefits of CPEC and our strategic alliance with China, and current events warn of looming problems.

On the strategic side, Nawaz Sharif appreciated China’s support in the fight against terrorism, a critical issue during a time when terrorist attacks have once again sky rocketed in Pakistan. Only yesterday there was another suicide blast in Lahore, showing that the militants have much more ability than official statements give credit for.

However if we ask whether China is actually on the same page as our own civil military leadership when it comes to terrorism, there is reason to worry. Chinese authorities have continued passing tighter restrictions on Muslims including banning long beards and burkas. Chinese officials are worried about infiltration of extremist ideology, a problem that the Chinese have blamed Pakistan in the recent past. There is also the question of China’s international anti-terrorism fight. It is also becoming clear that China is secretly working with Kabul in fight against Taliban in Afghanistan.

In Pakistan, our position is less clear. We are united against ‘terrorism’, but we are not united about who is a terrorist. While there are question marks around how Osama bin Laden was able to live outside PMA Kakul without being detected, Sartaj Aziz has famously admitted that we hosted Taliban leadership in Pakistan. Pakistani militants have been killed fighting alongside Taliban in Afghanistan, and JUI-F General Secretary Abdul Ghafoor Haideri on Wednesday even invited Taliban to join his party.

We have not forgotten the past, but our memory has become cloudy and confused as incidents and actions have been buried under decades of conspiracy theories and  ‘narratives’ invented to retell history in a way that favours what we want to believe. In the past, we wanted to have close relationship with America, but support Taliban also. Eventually, this destroyed our relationship with the Americans who saw us as playing a double game. Now we have replaced US with China, but we have kept the Taliban as our ally. However, China also sees Taliban as a threat just as America does also. Will our unwavering support for Taliban destroy our relations with China also?

Has the military lost control?

Gen Hamid Gul with jihadi militants

Despite losing over 3,000 soldiers and 40,000 civilians, there was always some confidence that GHQ had a plan and that, when the final accounting was complete, Pakistan would be stronger and better positioned. Use of jihadi groups as proxy fighters in Afghanistan and Kashmir may have resulted in some tallies in the liability column, but these would be more than made up for in the final summing of the assets column. Since the past few weeks, however, the wheels seem to have come off and security analysts are quietly pondering the unthinkable: Has the military lost control?

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Raymond Davis Case Closed: Time To Move On

Raymond DavisWhen Raymond Davis burst onto the headlines in a flash of broken glass and gunfire, the nation became immediately transfixed. Here was the blonde, white American ex-Blackwater CIA operative that the conspiracy theorists of the Ghairat Brigade had been warning us about! The Americans immediately claimed diplomatic immunity, and the response was a predictable gasp from both the left and the right.

There were two popular responses to the question of diplomatic immunity and the fate of Raymond Davis. The jihadi solution was to set aside any pretense of reason, justice, and law and order and simply hang the man in the street as an act of vigilantism.

The second came from the more reasonable-sounding crowd who repeated ad nauseum that everyone should ‘let the courts decide’ and demanded that the Americans respect the ruling of Pakistani justice.

For example, here is the statement of JUI-F.

“The Islamic laws clearly provide that a person, after proving to be guilty, would have to undergo the punishment, Qasas, Diyat etc under Sharia,” said JUI-F’s Secretary General Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri.

He explained that the judicial process is obviously of Pakistan as an accused would have to pass through the process in accordance with the law of the land where he commits a crime…”The only acceptable option is to let the courts decide about the fate of the arrested US national in accordance with the laws,” he responded to a question.

Letting the courts decide was also the stated opinion of COAS Gen Kayani – an opinion termed “total commitment to rule of law in the country” by The Nation.

Reaffirming total commitment to rule of law in the country, the top brass of Pakistan Army Wednesday supported decision of the government that case of US national Raymond Davis was a sub judice matter and let the court handle it.

In fact, The Nation was quite explicit in its own support for the courts to decide. On 6 February they even published an editorial with the headline, ‘Leave it to the courts’.

Is it intolerable for the bipartisan delegation for a Pakistani judge to decide the fate of an American? The need to leave the judiciary to decide is highlighted because the investigator in the case has determined that excessive force was used.

Even JI deputy chief Liaquat Baluch said that the Americans should allow the courts to decide.

“Why is America hell bent on trampling on Pakistani law and its judicial system? We will forcefully protest if he is released without a court order,” Jamaat-e-Islami deputy chief Liaquat Baluch told Reuters.

Now, of course, the court has decided. Justice has been carried out according to our own laws and customs, and not American or Western jurisprudence. Qisas & Diyat Laws were invoked, blood money has been paid, the families have issued a pardon, and the accused has been acquitted by the courts and released.

So, everyone who demanded to let the courts decide based on our own laws and customs is satisfied, right? Of course not. This is Pakistan.

No, instead you have everyone complaining that the court came to the wrong conclusion. If this is the case, why bother with courts at all? If courts are supposed to come to a pre-determined conclusion no matter what, then they are not courts at all but just a sham. Law and order is about process, not outcome. Justice is about means, not ends.

There were some groups that made very clear that they had no interest in real justice – that no matter what, their blood lust must be satisfied. These groups include TTP and JuD.

If Pakistani courts cannot punish Davis then they should hand him over to us,” said Azam Tariq, spokesman for the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (Taliban movement of Pakistan).

“We will give exemplary punishment to the killer Davis.”

The entire Raymond Davis affair was a disaster from start to finish. People are still talking about the effect on national dignity, but that was a no-win situation also. Recognizing his claim of diplomatic immunity would stoke a media firestorm that threatened riots and violence that would humiliate the nation on the world stage. Not honouring our commitments under the Vienna Conventions would make us appear untrustworthy to other world powers. In the end, the court managed to side-step both of these possible disasters in an artful and just decision under our own laws.

As for the Americans, whether or not Raymond Davis was entitled to diplomatic immunity, the incident was humiliating for them. And with this outcome, the Americans had to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty as well as our courts, laws, and customs. Raza Habib Raja makes this excellent observation on Pak Tea House.

Now if indeed the families of the victims have accepted the compensation and Mr. Raymond has been released after compensation has been paid, then frankly it is a win win situation. Although I know some may disagree because they desperately wanted to see Raymond publicly hanged but a thoughtful analysis would reveal that in fact USA has not been able to bully Pakistan and eventually had to resort to proper legal means and had to compensate the families. Of course this fact would not be acknowledged by the media but if the families have accepted the compensation then it is a moral victory of Pakistan while preserving its realpolitik concerns.

The only people who didn’t get their wish were the Taliban who weren’t ever interested in ‘justice’ but only wanted to quench a blood lust. These are the same Taliban who are mercilessly killing our own people, violating our own sovereignty, and trying to replace our own laws and customs with their own. Do we really want to find ourselves infected with their same blood lust?

Village schoolAfter dragging on for far too long, the Raymond Davis case is finally closed. It’s time to focus our attention on more important matters. Like the urgent need to address the education emergency in our country. We can tell our children about how the Americans could not bully us, and how through our own laws we found justice. But we cannot, we must not dwell on this episode. Our children deserve a better future than one obsessed with ghairat and America. We need to stop looking backwards, and start looking to the future of our country. The Raymond Davis case is closed. It’s time to put that same energy that we spent in putting down America into building up Pakistan.

Fazlur Rehman’s About Face on Blasphemy Law

Well, well, well…look who has turned an about face on the blasphemy law! It is none other than JUI chief Fazlur Rehman himself.

Fazl-ur-Rehman

This is the same man who termed requests to reconsider the blasphemy law “a favor to the US” last December and then after Salmaan Taseer Shaheed was murdered could not bring himself even to condemn such an act, but rather issued an equivocating response that partially blamed Governor Taseer himself.

Consider JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman who said that the murder was the result of the failure of the country’s democratic institutions “by this he meant, he said, the failure to implement Islamic laws in the country. When pressed on the issue, he said that the country was experiencing “extremism on both sides”, religious and secular forces which were hell bent upon proving each other wrong.

When Minister Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti Shaheed was also murdered for the same reason – speaking out against the misuse of blasphemy laws – Fazlur Rehman was so cowardly that he could not even stand to pay respect for the slain minister. Apparently, two short minutes time was too much to ask.

THREE REMAIN SEATED: But many in the house and the galleries were surprised to see three bearded members of the opposition Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam of Maulana Fazlur Rehman remaining seated in their chairs when the rest of lawmakers stood up to observe two minutes’ silence for Mr Bhatti.

There was no immediate explanation what motivated the JUI back-benchers, in the absence of their party leader, to violate a parliamentary etiquette, and a directive given by the chair, in agreement with some voices raised in the house, that members stand up to pay a silent tribute to their assassinated colleague.

The reaction in Dawn is 100% correct. Fazlur Rehman speaking out against such vigilante killings now is the height of hypocrisy.

While Maulana Fazlur Rehman can now say that “such acts [of violence] amount to taking the law and constitution into one’s own hands”, the fact remains that religious and hardline political parties, such as his own JUI-F, have played an incendiary role in bringing matters to this pass. And this is true not only in terms of the recent furore over the proposal to bring the blasphemy laws under parliamentary review but also in a larger sense — over the decades the mindset that produced extremist and dangerous groups has been steadily nurtured.

Still, as Dawn correctly observes it is essential that such religious leaders are finally coming to understand that the issue is NOT between secularism and religion NOR is it between liberals and extremists. Rather the only issue is one of law and order and of basic justice and human rights.

The question remains however whether Fazlur Rehman is merely willing to speak a few conciliatory words or if he will be willing to bring to bear the full strength of JUI-F to honour the sacrifice of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti as well as everyone who has been a victim of misuse of the blasphemy  law for some personal or political ends.

The religious parties have been quick to carry out massive street protests when it suits their agenda. Will they now organize protests against misuse of blasphemy laws? Are they willing to walk? Or is this simply talk?

Senator Talha Mehmood’s Media Circus

Is Talha Mehmood Senator or Media Circus Ringmaster?Ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani is a favourite punching bag of far-right-wing political types. With regards to the case of Dr Aafia, the first thing out of the mouths of these people was that it was a set up devised by the PPP and orchestrated by Haqqani who they say is a puppet of the Americans. Only one problem – all their claims proved false. So why are they now calling the Ambassador away from his work to attend a media circus?

If PPP and Haqqani had devised to send Aafia to US custody, they have a much more amazing political machine than anyone gives them credit for. Actually, Aafia appears to have been detained under the rule of Musharraf, that darling of the right.

It was General Musharraf and the leaders of an elite intelligence agency who arrested Dr Siddiqui along with her small children and, having separated her from her siblings, presented her as a gift to the US military in one of the most disgraceful acts ever committed by the head of an Islamic country or by the ruler of any country. The “commando” president would later audaciously claim credit for handing over such suspects (refer to his book In the line of fire). It is this aspect that now needs to be analysed and addressed.

So what has Husain Haqqani’s role been? According to Aaj TV, Haqqani has been one of her most ardent defenders. Of course, Haqqani was working through diplomatic and legal channels, not on TV talk shows.

Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, has also taken a keen interest in the Afia Siddiqui case given its political importance at home, sources say. He had two meetings with the Bush administration’s Attorney General and has made President Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder at least four times to discuss the case. The US government has been unusually considerate in allowing these meetings, American officials point out, as it is not usually US policy to let foreign ambassadors get involved in cases pending before its courts.

Senior diplomats from the Pakistani embassy in Washington have been following Aafia Siddiquis case since the beginning. On the insistence of her brother Mohammed Ali Siddiqui, an expensive team of lawyers was hired to defend her in court with special approval from Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. It was unusual for the Pakistan government to pay top human rights lawyers, who had successfully defended other Al-Qaeda linked prisoners in the past, to defend a single Pakistani citizen who was not arrested while in service.

Unfortunately, that work was not good enough for Senator Talha Mehmood (JUI-F), who has now requested the Ambassador to return to Islamabad to explain why all the money spent could not secure her release.

But perhaps the problem is actually one belonging to the Senator, and not the Ambassador. It seems Talha Mehmood is still hanging onto that old belief that money will buy results. Is this not the same Senator who was exposed by Ahmad Noorani’s 28 January 2009 article for The News, “The sorry story of political blackmail of a 72-year old lady“?

The chairman of a Senate standing committee has been almost caught red-handed while trying to deprive a 72-year-old lady of her only but expensive F-7 bungalow in Islamabad and the story of the legal and physical abuse and torture depicts the plight of all those citizens who are victims of the powerful political elite of this country.

In this gory drama of illegal misuse of power, outright fraud, cheating and use of blackmail and physical force, The News talked to all the parties concerned, met them several times, saw the documents they provided, some of which turned out to be fake later, and found that the old lady and her 90-year-old husband had become victims of brute political influence.

Senator Talha Mahmood Aryan, Chairman Senate Standing Committee on Interior, a ruling-JUI-F senator, has been occupying the house of the old woman in a posh Sector F-7 of Islamabad for the last seven years and not ready to vacate it despite high court and lower court’s verdicts while the whole Islamabad Police is openly siding with the chairman of the Senate interior committee.

Senator Talha, when approached by The News, provided some documents for proving the legality of his occupation of the house. However, all these documents given by Talha to this correspondent proved fake. When the documents provided by Talha to The News were found fake, a close friend of Talha, associated with the issue, approached this scribe and asked to mediate and close the issue.

Senator Talha’s anger seems to be based in his belief that justice in America works the same way as in Pakistan where it is simply for sale to those with enough money and influence. In Senator Talha’s mind, our Embassy spent millions to buy a result – so where is it?

Of course, for all its faults, America does not suffer from the same level of corruption in its courts as we do. It is telling, also, that the Senator is happy to make some political circus by calling a hearing for the Ambassador, but was not able to provide any assistance to the actual defense of Aafia.

And that’s what all of this is about, really, is it not? Whether the booing at our Minister or the requests for explanation from our Ambassadors, we seem to revel in beating up our own officials and never considering whether what they are doing is advancing our interests. You don’t win a match by only hitting sixes – you have to be able to hit block strokes also.

If Senator Talha really wanted to help Dr Aafia, why not call a session to go over what has been done in her defence and identify what has helped (diplomatic pressure, surely), what has hurt (her outbursts, certainly), and what is missing from at least getting her transferred home where we can conduct our own investigation and trials.

But helping Dr Aafia does not seem to be at the top of Senator Talha’s priorities. Rather, he seems intent on making a political media circus by calling home an Ambassador for a confrontational hearing. It’s a waste of time that helps no one. Take the advice of another MNA, Ayaz Amir, who is neither PPP nor JUI-F:

This should be a time for everyone concerned to sit back and take stock of things. We have wasted too much time. Perhaps this was only to be expected but now is the time to leave the past behind and move forward, leaving it to historians to fight over the battles of yesterday.

The best interests of Pakistan are served by putting aside petty political battles and working together to achieve our potential and our goals. Unless our goal as a nation is to have more media circuses than any other country, maybe we should stop wasting time on them.