Muttahida Quami Mess and the State’s Options

mqmMQM is once again staring into the abyss. Has Altaf Bhai finally gone too far and done himself in? If the establishment has been trying to erase the party, and it certainly seems that way, Altaf himself has done handed them all the ammunition they need. However, facts on the ground show that eliminating the fourth largest party in the nation will not be so simple.

Farooq Sattar has been moving quickly to set the stage for an MQM version 3 – one run from Karachi, not London. It’s a move that worked for JI following Munawar Hasan’s statement that Taliban were the real martyrs, not Pakistan Army men. The JI chief refused to apologise, and was quickly replaced with someone more politically astute. Of course, MQM and JI are very different animals, and the establishment had much more interest in rehabilitating JI than it does MQM.

There are other complicating factors, though, including the fact that the Mayor of Karachi, whether anyone like it or not, is MQM’s Waseem Akhtar. This is especially important for what it means about how MQM continues to have significant support among the people of Karachi. The establishment cannot afford the risk of turning MQM into another BLA and facing a widespread insurgency in Sindh, too.

There is another complicating problem, also. While the state declares that no threat to law and order will be tolerated, it risks showing hypocrisy and double standards. Those responsible for attacks on media houses must be arrested and punished, and the state has a legitimate cause in controlling rallies that are meant to spark violence. But then we have to ask why this is only applied to MQM while banned militant groups like ASWJ and JuD hold rallies, give speeches that incite violence, and raise money for illegal activities?

MQM is in a mess, this cannot be denied. But both civilian and security agencies of the state also find themselves in a mess. They have a choice: Try to finish the job of eliminating a political party, or try to rehabilitate the party while holding extremist groups to the same standards. One option risks deepening cracks in society, the other could strengthen society and improve law and order. Which path the state will choose remains to be written.

Democracy for Kashmir but not Karachi

Waseem Akhtargestures from an armoured personal carrier while being taken to jail after his arrestPolling took place on Thursday for 41 constituencies of Azad Kashmir Legislative Assembly, and special accommodations were made for over 40,000 Kashmiri refugees also. This election is of particular symbolic importance because it is taking place while Kashmiris in Indian-controlled Kashmir are suffering human rights atrocities at the hands of Indian security forces. However, as unofficial results are eagerly awaited across Pakistan, we should also be asking whether we support democracy for Kashmir but not for Karachi.

Karachi elections were held over seven months ago, though the individuals elected have not been permitted to take their offices. Actually, it’s worse. They have been arrested and denied bail by Pakistan security forces. Now it has been reported that Karachi Mayor Waseem Akhtar has been handed over to the infamous SSP Rao Anwar known as ‘King of Encounters’ for the number of people killed without any trial under his watch and has even been suspended for giving sensationalist press conferences accusing suspects of being RAW agents.

King of Encounters SSP Rao Anwar

Now we are left facing the question of whether democracy in Pakistan is rigged for hyper-nationalists only, or whether we are really interested in letting the people choose their own fate.

State Still Protecting ‘Good’ Taliban? Did They Ever Stop…

Sartaj Aziz recent statements warning about ‘blowback‘ if the state tries to tackle militancy in Pakistan gave an uncomfortable feeling of ‘deja vu’. Analysts have responded asking whether this is a return to the old policy of fighting ‘bad’ Taliban while protecting ‘good’ Taliban. Is there really any question about this?

Here is ‘Good Taliban’ after recent militant attack in Kashmir

And here is the state’s response to their attack

And here is Karachi, which is supposedly under heavy operation by Pakistan security forces

Militants from ‘banned’ Jaish-e-Mohammad openly fundraising for jihad right under Rangers noses and we are supposed to believe that there is no policy of protecting ‘Good’ Taliban?

The only thing wrong with the question about whether there is a return to the state’s policy of ‘Good’ Taliban ‘Bad’ Taliban is that for a ‘return’ one has to actually leave. The state has never given up on the jihadi proxies, and the blowback that has cost 60,000 innocent lives. But this is a small price to pay for our leaders ‘living the dream’.

DHA

Don of Dons

Bahria Town Karachi

When the Panama Papers story broke, I wrote that just because someone wasn’t named in the leaks it doesn’t mean that they are corruption free. I noted a few examples of privileged institutions showing signs of severe corruption that have never been given the attention like politicians. However there was no way I could have predicted what would come next.

Dawn’s report exposing Bahria Town is amazing for many reasons, beginning with the fact that it ever saw the light of day. Like the Panama Papers, what is shocking is not to find out that there is corruption, but to see it laid out so plainly before our eyes. The Bahria Town report is even bigger than Panama Papers though because it directly exposes the one institution that is considered beyond criticism: the military.

The Bahria Town expose is a big story by itself, but it is made even more stark as it is read while Army troops are literally going to war against their peasants. No, this is not a typo. TV anchors will not be covering this development as closely as PM’s shopping spree medical care in London, but it is no less reality.

Chotu gang operations may be in the headlines but Army is also carrying out operations in Okara where they have deployed heavily armed troops against Pakistani farmers who dared to protest their conditions.

Army's anti-farmer operations in Okara

This is not the first time that Army has turned its guns on the farmers who work their land. Conditions at Okara Military Farms have been lamented by the peasants who work there for years, and only two years ago Army troops opened fire on the farmers for daring to protest against being treated like disposable serfs by their feudal military lords.

Panama Papers has shown us just how wide spread is the problem of corruption in our society. But Bahria Town and Okara Military Farms are showing us that overseas accounts and posh London tailors are peanuts compared to what is taking place right before our eyes. Our political leaders may be feudals, but in reality they are mere vassals compared to the real Lords of Pakistan.

Pakistan Becoming a Police State

riot police Karachi

The term ‘police state’ is defined as “a state controlled by a political police force that secretly supervises the citizens’ activities”. Is this a fitting description for Pakistan, which is supposedly a democracy? The answer to this question may be unsettling.

Operation Zarb-e-Azb was long overdue as terrorist outfits had been given leniency since too long which resulted in the inevitable. However, there are a growing number of examples of ‘national security’ being used as an excuse for ever expanding police powers against the citizens of Pakistan.

YouTube appears to be permanently blocked, despite the fact that no one can point to any legitimate reason why limiting access to the site is necessary. This is a relatively minor inconvenience as videos are widely available on other sites, and there are easy ways to access YouTube anyway. The point, though, is that is an early example of the state arbitrarily trying to control what information private citizens can get.

A more alarming example is the growing pressurisation of journalists and media with the most recent case being the firing of Daily Times columnist Mohammad Taqi under direction from Army. Taqi’s case has made international headlines, but it is not the only one. Actually, the media has become increasingly limited in what is reported and the positions that are presented. This is a process that began over one year ago as it was reported in February 2014 that media groups had begun directing journalists not to report anything critical of Army or right-wing political parties like Jamaat-e-Islami and PTI. During this time we have seen those like Ahmed Quraishi and Zaid Hamid returning to the spotlight and preaching a certain agenda.

While the media is increasingly becoming a hyper-nationalistic mouthpiece, Army is expanding its role as well. Civilians in the government are being replaced by military officers, and military courts are being expanded to replace the civilian justice system. Besides Zarb-e-Azb, Karachi Operation also shows no signs of ending as Rangers continue to target liberal political parties while religious extremists continue to terrorise minorities.

In each of these cases, officials and their mouthpieces in the new media justify the expansion of police powers by saying it is necessary for national security. However the latest case was unexpectedly exposed and has revealed what is really going on. Of course I am talking about the announcement that Blackberry will stop providing services in Pakistan due to government demands. As per usual, state officials have said that they have asked Blackberry for help in catching terrorists, but now a Blackberry official has revealed the truth on their website.

The truth is that the Pakistani government wanted the ability to monitor all BlackBerry Enterprise Service traffic in the country, including every BES e-mail and BES BBM message. But BlackBerry will not comply with that sort of directive. As we have said many times, we do not support “back doors” granting open access to our customers’ information and have never done this anywhere in the world.

Pakistan’s demand was not a question of public safety; we are more than happy to assist law enforcement agencies in investigations of criminal activity. Rather, Pakistan was essentially demanding unfettered access to all of our BES customers’ information. The privacy of our customers is paramount to BlackBerry, and we will not compromise that principle.

What we said in July when rumors of Pakistan’s decision started to swirl remains true today: “BlackBerry provides the world’s most secure communications platform to government, military and enterprise customers. Protecting that security is paramount to our mission. While we recognize the need to cooperate with lawful government investigative requests of criminal activity, we have never permitted wholesale access to our BES servers.”

While we are justifiably outraged by the statements from Western politicians that want to monitor all mosques and Muslims, treating everyone as if they are a potential terrorist, our government is doing exactly that already. Is it true that in order to secure the country, we must monitor every citizens as if they are a terrorist threat?

Actually there is another possible reason for blanket monitoring which has been done by totalitarian regimes in the past. By monitoring every citizen closely and reading their messages, totalitarian police states such as Nazi Germany and USSR were infamous for collecting private citizens secrets and using to blackmail them to spy on their neighbors. Is this what we have become already?

There is no question that we are in a fight for our lives against jihadi terrorists and their extremist takfiri ideology. In this fight, Army and other security forces have an obvious role to play, but we must be careful that their role does not seep into every corner of our lives and turn Pakistan into a totalitarian police state.