Abdul Aziz FIR welcome, but we have a long struggle ahead of us

Abdul Aziz FIRThe registration of FIR against Abdul Aziz is a welcome development in the aftermath of this week’s tragedy. Most inspiring were the crowds who gathered outside Lal Masjid and refused to be intimidated as they demanded justice and an end to support for terrorism. However, I still worry that we are getting our hopes up too quickly.

Abdul Aziz was an obvious target after he refused to condemn the 16th December attack at APS Boys, but remember that Munawar Hasan also had petition filed against him after he termed jihadi terrorists as ‘Shaheed’ but not our own soldiers. Over a year has passed, and nothing has come of it.

We are once again hearing about ‘zero tolerance’ for militants and that ‘Good Taliban Bad Taliban’ policy is finished, but mention of Hafiz Saeed and Jamaat-ud-Dawa is glaringly absent from any such talk.

While people protested outside Lal Masjid, they was another demonstration going on in support of Abdul Aziz and the ideology he promotes. Members of ASWJ turned out in force to show their support even while threats of suicide attacks were thrown about. Registering a FIR against Abdul Aziz is one thing. Registering a FIR against Ahmed Ludhianvi is another.

Inshallah the martyrdom of those 141 angels in Peshawar will finally spark real change in this country. But don’t think it will be instant. Reversing decades of creeping extremism will require a long struggle, and it will not be easy.

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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Memogate Mindset

As the memogate saga continues to drag on long after its expiration date, it occurred to me that Memogate is about much more than the accusations underlying the case. How else could one man with quickly sinking credibility manage to so completely capture the attention of the nation? What I’m proposing, though, is not that memogate is a conspiracy – I don’t know if it is or it isn’t. What I’m proposing is that memogate reflects a mindset that cripples our ability to get things done.

In this mindset, despite the bizarre claims, the countless contradictions, and the weak and unimpressive ‘evidence’, we get swept up by a dramatic narrative in which we chose a villain and then become fixated on catching the villain and punishing him. In the process, we ignore all facts and reason. In the memogate case, Dawn captures this perfectly:

Three serving chief justices of high courts are spending long hours wrestling with borderline silly claims and counter-claims in Islamabad while the infinitely more serious work of managing high courts weighed down by myriad administrative problems has been sidetracked.

But it’s not just secret memos that we allow to distract us from pressing issues. Drones, too, have become a fixation of the national mindset. You don’t have to support drone strikes to realize that they aren’t the biggest threat to Pakistan right now. Facts are facts, and the facts are that while hundreds of innocents have been killed by by drones, but over 30,000 have been killed by extremists. But you wouldn’t know that from the way we talk about the war on terror here. We turn a blind eye when militants hold public rallies, but we suspect every American of being a Raymond Davis.

Imran Khan says the killing of Osama bin Laden was the greatest humiliation for Pakistan, but what about the fact that the world’s most wanted terrorist not only felt safe living for years in the shadow of Kakul. Was that not a greater embarrassment? Dr Afridi has been charged with treason for helping expose the terrorist leader, but nobody has asked who helped this terrorist to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty and expose us to international humiliation.

Imran Khan termed the killing of Osama bin Laden as “cold blooded murder”, while his good friend Munawar Hasan terms Osama as “the greatest martyr” – but martyr for what? Certainly not for the Islam that is practiced by hundreds of millions of Pakistanis – a humble, peaceful, merciful, loving Islam. We have picked our villain, and it is America. Facts and reason be damned.

This mindset is holding us hostage. Just as the continued wasting of precious time and resources on the word of a single discredited source keeps us from relieving the suffering of countless Pakistanis who are crying out for justice, our obsession with America as a villain keeps us from seeing the forces who are actually carrying out attacks against our people and our targeting our military assets. If we truly want to defend Pakistan, we need to change this mindset now.

The real covert war against Pakistan

The real covert war against Pakistan

Parliament is about to begin debating new terms for cooperation with America in the war on terrorism, but this is issue is anything but new. Actually, it seems like everyone has an opinion on whether and how we should engage with the Americans – from the Difa-e-Pakistan chants of “Go America Go” to the reasoned calls for parliamentarians to “put interests ahead of emotions” and everything in between. But while everyone is focused on what new ‘red lines’ will define new talks with America, we may be ignoring a covert war against Pakistan happening right under our noses.

Claims that hidden hands are waging a cover war against Pakistan are nothing new. Opinion-makers writing in major newspapers and appearing on TV talk shows have been telling about this conspiracy for years. Recently, a retired military officer (naturally) wrote a typical piece in The Nation that describes the common narrative.

Ever since the US/Isaf forces ousted the pro-Pakistan Taliban government from Afghanistan, and the pro-Indian Northern Alliance dominated the government, India’s notorious intelligence agency, the RAW, has become fully entrenched in the war-torn country. Backed by the Afghan Intelligence Agency and allegedly supported by the Mossad, CIA and others, it is aiding and abetting insurgency in Balochistan, FATA and our urban centres. Their common goal seems to be to internally destabilise Pakistan to its ultimate disintegration.

Claims of a Mossad-RAW-CIA-KHAD nexus bent on disintegrating Pakistan have reliably served certain sections of society for decades. Actually, this story is so old that one can’t help but wonder if we really have anything to worry about since these powerful agencies can’t manage to get the job done.

But the fact is that we do have something to worry about because there really is a covert war against Pakistan. Only it’s not being carried out by a secret Mossad-RAW-CIA-KHAD conspiracy.

Taking place right now is a field general court martial of Brigadier Ali Khan who is accused of conspiring to topple the government, trying to instigate a mutiny within the army and planning an attack on the GHQ. These are serious charges of treason against the state. And Brig Ali was not some lone wolf who hatched a crazy scheme on his own – the allegations against him involve ties to the group Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an international group dedicated to the overthrow of sovereign governments to form a new Khalifat.

Islamabad posterHizb-ut-Tahrir, though banned in Pakistan, is openly recruiting and plotting against the state. Recently, 21 activists were taken into custody from a meeting in Islamabad. According to Brigadier Amir Riaz, head of 111 Brigade, Hizb-ut-Tahrir “has prepared a new constitution and a shadow government for Pakistan and that the group was ready to take over anytime”.

Most people shrug off this sort of news saying that such groups are such a small minority that they pose no real threat. But what about when the Jamaat-e-Islami chief himself terms Osama bin Laden as ‘the greatest martyr’ and officials democratically elected by the people of Pakistan as ‘beasts’? Besides, small groups can have an outsized effect, as Jamaat-e-Islami has proven time and again when they take to the streets since they can’t win at the ballot box. And while Hizb-ut-Tahrir might insist that they are a “peaceful” group (though this raises the question why they are so intent on recruiting in the military), others make no attempt to hide their aims.

Last week, security forces in Bajaur Agency seized heavy weapons worth millions of rupees from secret hideouts of terrorists. People will again shrug off this news by claiming that these weapons are for killing Americans in Afghanistan, not Pakistanis. This, of course, ignores the obvious problem of where these heavily armed militants will turn once the Americans leave – a change that is getting closer every day.

It also ignores the open threats made by militant groups against Pakistan. The Jamaat-e-Islami chief is not the only extremist who sees the terrorist Osama bin Laden as a hero, and Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan openly threatened attacks against the state if bin Laden’s widows are not released from Pakistani custody.

“If the family of Osama bin Laden is not released as soon as possible, we will attack the judges, the lawyers and the security officials involved in their trial,” Ehsanullah Ehsan of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) told Reuters.

“We will carry out suicide bombings against security forces and the government across the country.”

The Difa-e-Pakistan has threatened force against the state also, threatening to “hold a siege of Parliament House” if the democratically-elected government re-opens NATO supply routes. And once again, familiar faces are making the threats.

Difa-e-Pakistan

The sit-in was addressed by Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Ameer Syed Munawwar Hassan, JUI-S chief Maulana Samiul Haq, former ISI DG Lt Gen (R) Hamid Gul, former minister Ijazul Haq, JI secretary general Liaquat Baloch and Hafiz Abdul Rehman Makki of Jamaatud Daawa (JuD).

All of this is news that should shock the public, but instead it passes almost unnoticed. You don’t have to believe in hidden hands and secret global conspiracies to make sense of this news. It’s all quite plainly laid out before us. There are militant groups who want to overthrow the government of Pakistan because the majority of people do not accept their worldview. These are the millions of Pakistanis who do not believe Osama bin Laden is “the greatest martyr” and do not support suicide bombings. They are the millions of Pakistanis who believe that the civilised people don’t threaten a siege of parliament if they don’t get their way, they contest elections and try to convince their fellow citizens with reason, not threats.

This is the tragic irony of our times. Newspapers, TV talk shows and street gossip is filled with chatter about a covert war being carried out with the aim of destabilising and ultimately disintegrating Pakistan. But we have become so fixated on fantastic tales of external enemies and their invisible foreign hands that we have failed to notice the real threat, and so we are paralysed to do anything about it.

Parliament will debate new terms of engagement with America, the judiciary will continue chasing memos and BBMs, and retired officers will continue weaving thrilling tales of international intrigue and selling them to media more concerned with ratings than facts. Meanwhile, forces are amassing against Pakistan not in US think tanks, but in dhabas and on verandas in our own cities and villages. Will we wake up in time to avert this tragedy and recognise the real enemy among us?