Building Pakistan’s Future

Mumtaz Qadri MosqueFew things tell as much about a society than the physical space itself. America’s Statue of Liberty, London’s grand palaces, the pyramids of Egypt, the canals of Amsterdam – each of these gives a glimpse into the heart and soul of the society. In Pakistan, too, our architecture tells our story. You cannot know Pakistan without knowing Lahore Fort, Shalimar Bagh, Islamia College, and Mazar-e-Quaid. Architectural landscapes change along with societies, though, and what we are building today is a glimpse into where we are headed tomorrow.

In Pakistan, the future we are building is usually discussed in terms of transportation infrastructure. Whether the controversial Orange Line Train in Lahore, or game changer CPEC, we are told stories about development that will usher in a bright future for the country. However, these are not the only projects taking place, and they may not even be the most important ones.

Jamia Hafsa, the infamous Lal Masjid madrasseh whose students swore allegiance to Daesh, has been granted 20 kanals plot in Sector H 11-4 Islamabad for construction of new facilities.

Across the capital, Faisal Mosque is getting competition from a newer construction – the mosque built to honour the convicted murderer Mumtaz Qadri. This mosque has proven so popular that it has raised funds to double its size.

Religious extremists are not the only ones expanding their space in the country. There has also been an rapid growth of building by DHA, one of the Army’s construction companies. DHA has even spread outside of its usual areas, announcing new developments in Balochistan also.

While religious extremists and the military expand their presence across the architectural landscape of the nation, secular political offices are being bulldozed. This is not a defence of Altaf Hussain, but nobody suggested bulldozing PMA Kakul when a COAS was charged with treason.

Projects like Orange Line Train and CPEC will make it easier to travel and transport both in major urban areas and across the nation. But it is what is being built for people to travel to that that will define our future.

Taking Refuge in Words and #Hashtags

see-no-evil-hear-no-evil-speak-no-evil

The latest MQM fiasco has mostly focused on the issues of law and order. Rangers raided and sealed 90 after MQM activists carried out attacks against media houses in Karachi – an inexcusable action by anyone but especially by a democratic political party, though sadly not an unusual one. PTI workers have been known to attack media workers include female reporters and PMLN workers have also indulged in attacking journalists. Any attacks on media are condemnable and attackers must be punished accordingly. However it is the underlying issue behind all of these attacks that requires our immediate attention.

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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.

Recent Spy Stories Need Better Script Writers

During the past few weeks there have been a couple of particularly sensational developments regarding RAW involvement in Pakistan. The timing could not have been more perfect as we had previously witnessed the case of the disappearing evidence and the case of the disappointing dossiers.

First was the capture of alleged RAW agent Kulbhushan Jadhav AKA Hussein Mubarak Patel. Any doubts about Agent Kulbushan’s true activities were wiped away when ISPR released his video confession.

The video is impressive and is fool proof evidence for many people, but after watching the video many others have begun to have their doubts. There are a few questions that are hard to answer.

If this is a video confession, why did ISPR spend so much effort in the editing and production? There are multiple camera angles, sound effects, editing in different photographs, and subtitles. Actually it is the last one that first drew some questions, not because there are subtitles but because the subtitles are necessary since the confession was given in English. Why is an Indian agent giving a confession in Pakistan in English? Was this confession scripted for a foreign audience?

The alleged RAW agents words, too, raised some eyebrows. If he is a RAW agent, why did he repeatedly say that he was working for “anti-national activities”? For an Indian, anti-national would not be anti-Pakistan. And his description of his activities too is very strange. He says that he was working for “deteriorating law and order situation” and that he was carrying out “activities which are criminal which are anti-national which can lead to maiming or killing of people within Pakistan”. Is he reading a charge sheet or giving his own words? Later he even confuses his story by saying that he “became aware of RAW activities” and was following orders of his “handlers in RAW”. However earlier he said that he was “directing various activities in Balochistan and Karachi” and that he was “the man for Mr Anil Kumar Gupta who is the Joint Secretary RAW”. He also says that he “commenced intelligence operations in 2003” but later says he was “picked up by RAW in 2013”, ten years later?

All of these questions and more have created serious doubts about whether Kulbushan’s confession was authentic or was it a combination of scripts by a couple of Brigadiers which is why there seem to be multiple story lines and wrong phrases like “anti-national”. Is this the reason that, despite such ‘fool proof evidence’, the world has completely ignored ISPR’s video?

If Kulbushan Jadhav was an unreliable witness, the next proof of RAW activities to come forward would surely get the world’s attention. A few days ago a key former UK diplomat who worked closely on the issue revealed that Altaf Hussain told the British government that he was a RAW agent supporting insurgents in Balochistan.

UK diplomat Once again, though, questions began to be raised about the authenticity of the story almost immediately. The “key former UK diplomat” turned out not to be a UK diplomat at all.

Background investigation by this scribe reveals that Shaharyar Khan Niazi worked at the British High Commission for nearly 12 years. He gained experience and influence in the process and it was in 2010 that the British government took the unusual step of making him the deputy head of mission as the UK went for austerity measures and appointed many bright non-British diplomats in their missions abroad.

Once again, the story began to smell strange as the same journalist who reported Shahryar Khan Niazi’s revelations had only a few days early filed a report saying that he ‘quit his job in mysterious circumstances and its believed that he has been under pressure ever since in Pakistan to remain quiet about his time at the heart of the decision making with reference to Karachi’. Now he has suddenly resurfaced only to read a very familiar script.

News reports have become like cheap TV dramas using recycled scripts. Like the Kulbushan Jadhav ‘confession’, the world has completely ignored Shahryar Khan Niazi’s revelations also. Is it because of a Western conspiracy against Pakistan? Or could it be that the world is simply not interested in these low-budget dramas? This all may be beside the point, though. There is also increasing chatter among analysts that none of these productions were actually for export. They were created for the domestic market only.