About that helicopter…

helicopterIt is a story that came and went too quickly not to be noticed. According to reports, a Punjab government helicopter crash landed in Afghanistan. Thankfully, all on board had their lives spared, but then were immediately seized by Taliban militants. Finally, good news as all have safely been returned to Pakistan. However, behind all the good news are some very strange facts.

  • The helicopter was flying from Punjab to either Uzbekistan or Russia, depending on the media report. Uzbekistan is over 1,200 km distance, and Russia is over 4,000 km. But the helicopter was an MI 17, which is a military helicopter with a maximum range of only 800 km.
  • The official story is that the helicopter was being taking abroad for maintenance. MI 17 is a military helicopter used by Pakistan Army. Does this mean that we do not have the ability to maintain our own fleets in Pakistan? If the helicopter required maintenance, why was it being flown over twice its maximum range?
  • Except for the flight crew, passengers aboard the helicopter were all retired military officers. Why were several retired military officers taking a Punjab government helicopter for maintenance?
  • Foreign Office has said that all captives were freed by the Taliban following an “inter-tribe exchange“. What was exchanged for these military officers?

The way that this story was so quickly and neatly brushed under the rug should raise eyebrows. There are many unanswered questions that need to be answered, and it seems that the powers that be are not keen to talk about them. Why?

Demanding land rights is not terrorism

By Farooq Tariq

Army's anti-farmer operations in OkaraA massive repression of the peaceful peasant movement, the Anjuman Mozareen Punjab (AMP), is underway. Most of its leadership has been arrested under false anti-terrorist laws. Dozens of members are missing, while over 50 remain behind bars. All have been declared “terrorists” by the Okara district police, working hand in hand with the Military Farms administration, which mainly serves military officers.

The source of the problem is that while 14000 acres of land in the Okara district is owned by the Punjab government, it is occupied by the Military Farms administration. Since 2001, the tenants of the Military farms have refused to turn over half of their crops (bitai), which they and their families had been paying for over 90 years. How could ordinary people dare to say no to the military officers? That is their real “crime”; their demand of their land rights.

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Gen Raheel shows telling uncomfortable truths is patriotic

Ayesha Siddiqa Military IncCorruption within the ranks has been an open secret since I can remember. Entire books have been written on the topic, but little has ever been done because pointing out any corruption or faults in Army, especially officers, has been rejected as ‘demoralising’ our forces and ‘defaming’ sensitive institutions. Now, though, history has been made as no less than Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif has confirmed that at least six high-ranking military officers were involved in corruption and inquiries are ongoing against even more.

Details are still coming to light, but one point is very clear: Unless we are prepared to start accusing Gen Raheel as a RAW agent, we must admit that noting the faults of national institutions, even sensitive ones, is a patriotic duty.

It was not long ago that Ayesha Siddiqa who has written extensively about corruption in the ranks was termed a RAW agent in the Green Book, the official journal of GHQ. I do not expect an apology or a correction, though this would not be unwarranted given Gen Raheel’s actions. The need of the hour is to start recognising that the real patriots are those like Ayesha Siddiqa and Gen Raheel who have the courage to tell uncomfortable truths in order to make the nation stronger.

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.

Who knows what is true in this country?

What is fact? What is fiction? In our post-modern democracy it is hard to know sometimes what is black and white. Knowing the reality made even more difficult after listening to statements of officials.

Foreign Affairs adviser to PM Sartaj Aziz has admitted that he has no idea about Pakistan’s role in Saudi military alliance. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar denied any presence of Daesh in the country, then piled confusion on top of confusion by denying that he denied anything. Meanwhile intelligence agencies admitted there is not only a presence but it is growing. After Bloomberg warned that Pakistan is facing dangerous risk of defaulting on $50 billions in foreign debt, Finance Ministry rejected the report as ‘not based on facts‘, however the only point that the Ministry argued was the scale of the default, not the default itself.

Analysts believe that Chaudhry Nisar’s refusal to accept the presence of Daesh in Pakistan is attempt to keep the public in the dark in order to prevent panic. This has become the standard trait of official statements, lying to the public ‘for our own good’. However this is not how a democracy works. If officials worry that the people will panic if they know the truth, how will they react once they realise that they have been lied to since long and have no idea of the truth?