Salmaan Taseer memorial attack a bellwether for the nation?

Salmaan Taseer vigil

40 suspects are being held in connection with an attack against citizens who had gathered to remember slain Governor Salmaan Taseer on Sunday. An attack against a peaceful memorial should be shocking enough in itself, but there are certain details which make the event even more disheartening.

The first thing to note is that media reports that the attackers are all ‘belonging to a banned organisation’. This shows that despite lofty rhetoric about the nation finally being united against extremism and terrorism, the fact remains that banned organisations continue to operate with little disruption. Even though arrests have been made after public outcry over the incident, police were reportedly standing aside while the attack took place. It should also be noted that media has so far protected the name of the ‘banned organisation’.

More troubling, however, are the comparative numbers. According to reports, 40 militant extremists were arrested for attacking a gathering of ‘more than 35 activists of civil society’.

The number of extremists outnumbered the number of people at the vigil.

This can be attributed to a couple of factors, but neither of them bode well for the future of the country. It could be as simple as a sign that there are more extremists than tolerant moderates in the country. I am still unwilling to believe this, however. I think what is most likely is that most moderates recognize the risks inherent to standing up for their values.

Salmaan Taseer was murdered because he dared to take a stand for protecting a poor Christian woman who he believed was unjustly accused. Fatwas were issued calling for death of Sherry Rehman. Husain Haqqani received life threats from extremist groups.  Mohammad Shakil Auj, the 54-year-old dean of Islamic Studies at the prestigious University of Karachi, was declared ‘apostate’ and murdered for being too moderate in his religious views. Militants carried out operation to kill moderate columnist and TV anchor Raza Rumi. Though he survived with his life, his driver, Mustafa was not so lucky.

Army has stepped up attacks against militant groups that attack them, and those convicted of carrying out attacks against military targets are being executed. While the military looks after its own, the rest of us are left to look after ourselves.

I continue to hold onto the belief that a moderate, tolerant, ‘silent majority’ exists in this country, but I also believe that this majority does not have the security to stand up to the extremists. My fear is that this lack of security not only weakens our ability to stand up to extremists, it weakens our will to do so. If we do not do something to change this, the majority soon may not be in our favor and extremists may outnumber us not only in the streets, but in our homes, our schools, and our institutions.

If it hasn’t happened already.

Gen Raheel, Kashmir, and ‘Non-State Actors’

Gen Raheel at IDEAS 2014

COAS Gen Raheel gave an important comment during recent IDEAS 2014 expo in Karachi about the importance of solving Kashmir crisis and the role of ‘non-state actors’ in harming the national security.

“In contemporary geopolitics, the battles are no longer between state and non-state actors but are with supra-individuals, those individuals who exploit both the national and international space for their desired objectives. These supra-individuals have the capacity to manipulate networks, organisations and state institutions to create waves of instability and create discord at the centre of the state institutions. Explosions are still a viable tool of war, but implosions are the new defeat mechanisms.”

As if to emphasise his point, a few hours later a band of jihadi militants launched a deadly attack in Kashmir.

Militants in Indian-held Kashmir attacked an Indian army camp Friday, triggering a fierce gun-battle that left 11 Indian troops and six suspected assailants dead, officials said.

The attack is no surprise. Jihadi groups have been openly warning of their plans to increase attacks since long. These attacks were certainly carried out by ‘non-state actors’, but the question is how they were able to carry out attacks without the knowledge of ISI and Army who are watching the area with a careful eye.

With this back drop, the Army chief’s words are very interesting. Not only did he suggest that non-state actors were making Pakistan less secure, he came very close to naming names. The Army chief did not name any names when he mentioned that Pakistan’s current enemy includes “supra-individuals have the capacity to manipulate networks, organisations and state institutions to create waves of instability” who “lives within us and looks like us”, but the definition is not hard to place.

Hafiz Saeed and Gen Hamid Gul

“Explosions are still a viable tool of war, but implosions are the new defeat mechanisms.” –COAS Gen Raheel

Why Is Everyone Out To Malign Pakistan?

Foreign Office

It has become a routine part of the Foreign Office’s job these days: Denying allegations of Pakistani involvement in this or that. Let us assume for the sake of argument that the Foreign Office is correct in all of its denials and each of the allegations lodged against Pakistan are meant to malign the country. The question remains, why is everyone out to malign us?

On Thursday,  the Foreign Office issued a statement rejecting Afghan claims that Pakistan is involved in terrorist attacks.

“We reiterate our categorical rejection of the Afghan allegations of involvement in terrorist attacks, insurgent activities or cross-border shelling. We also firmly reject any statements casting aspersions on Pakistan’s commitment to fight terrorism,” a statement issued by the Foreign Office said.

This denial was issued the same day that the Foreign Office denied Indian claims that Pakistan’s diplomat in Colombo was an ISI agent plotting attacks against foreign consulates.

But it’s not just India and Afghanistan that are making such claims against Pakistan.

The Foreign Office has also had to deny Chinese claims that jihadi militants carrying out attacks in Xinjiang were being trained in Pakistan.

Sometimes, the denials come back to haunt us. The Foreign Office denied Iranian claims that missing border guards were being held in Pakistan, only to watch the Iranians released by Pakistani militants a few weeks later.

Pakistan strongly denied claims of former American military chief Admiral Mullen that Haqqani militants were a ‘veritable arm of ISI’, only to watch former DG ISPR Gen Abbas admit that Haqqani militants were being managed by intelligence agencies.

As seen in this brief list of examples, it’s not just Western countries that are making these accusations against Pakistan. Even our ‘all weather friend’ China is doing. In the latest allegations of our diplomat working for nefarious purposes in Sri Lanka, the claims were not actually originated in India but Malaysia – an Islamic country.

Whether or not these allegations are all true or all lies should be investigated properly so that we don’t continue to experience embarrassments such as happened when our denials become proven hollow. At the same time, we should also be reflecting on why Pakistan faces so many allegations from every corner of the globe.

Are Military Operations Cover For Afghan Taliban?

With the government’s cease fire with Taliban having expired, military has recently resumed operations against suspected anti-Pakistan militants. Airstrikes in Khyber last week killed 37, and Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique has said that PAF is ready to tackle all challenges. While all of this was going on in the headlines, however, another operation was taking place in North Waziristan where 300 Pakistan-based jihadis launched a cross-border attack into Afghanistan.

This raises several important questions. Is the Pakistan military still operating under the false belief in ‘Good Taliban’ and ‘Bad Taliban’? How could such a large scale militant operation be carried out without the knowledge of intelligence agencies? And what does it mean for our own national security if our Western border remains so porous that hundreds of foreign jihadi militants can come and go without detection?

These questions are not likely to be asked openly in our current media environment, but they should be weighing heavily in our minds anyway.

Government’s Anti-Terrorism Strategy: Trimming the branches to prevent felling the tree

Since Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan accepted the government’s offer of a ceasefire, militant attacks have continued to kill Pakistanis on an almost daily basis. A suicide bomber killed 11 and injured dozens more in Islamabad on Monday. The following day, jihadi militants shot dead a truck driver and his helper in Khyber Agency, telling reporters that they are not bound by the TTP’s agreements with the government. On Wednesday, jihadis killed 8 people including six Frontier Corps personnel in an IED attack in Hangu. Some are starting to ask whether it is complicity or cowardice that has officials like Interior Minister Nisar continuing to peddle the tired old canard of ‘foreign hand’ every time jihadis carry out an attack, but the fact that the government continues to frame the national security situation as a problem of talking with some militants and fighting others gives away the real thinking behind our confused security policy.

Continue reading