Who’s Afraid of Declan Walsh?

Declan Walsh

One of the more interesting sub-plots of the Axact thriller is the case of the New York Times reporter who broke the story. The reporter, Declan Walsh, was unceremoniously expelled from Pakistan two years ago, a fact belaboured by Axact’s defenders.

What exactly were these “activities against the state”? Well, like his report on Axact, they were investigative pieces that lifted the lid on some rather unsavoury dishes. When the Axact expose burst onto the scene, many were asking which piece it was that got the New York Times reporter expelled. There’s some disagreement about which was the ultimate sin, but what is more likely is that there was not one piece but a pattern in the reporting that was objected to.

In 2011, Mr Walsh wrote a long report titled ‘Pakistan’s secret dirty war‘ about what’s going on in Balochistan – a topic that some quarters would prefer not be discussed.

In 2012, he filed a report on Kamra Airbase attack that the target was “believed to be one of the locations where part of Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile” – a claim that was unwelcome for obvious reasons.

In 2013, Mr Walsh reported that American military officials believed Pakistan was lying about drone strikes to cover up our own airstrikes. A few days later, his visa was cancelled and Declan Walsh ordered to leave the country immediately.

For those of us whose perspective is molded by hyper-nationalist self-appointed ‘patriots’, that is to say all of us, this looks like a clear pattern of “anti-state activities” by the New York Times reporter. If we are willing to set aside our nationalist instinct towards defensiveness, though, another question emerges: Was any of his reporting actually wrong?

Whether or not these reports were factually incorrect is something that is not easy to answer. Those who know for certain are not interested in the truth coming out. But is this actually serving the country’s interests, or undermining them?

Questions about what is taking place in Balochistan are virtually unanswerable since the military has banned reporters from going there. The result of this is that all manner of allegations can be easily made but very difficult to disprove. Worse, if there are abuses taking place, they are not able to be exposed and corrected. This provides ready fuel to separatist propaganda and undermines the credibility of our own armed forces.

Army officials strongly denied that Kamra airbase was a nuclear site, but that doesn’t mean much. They would deny it even if it were true. Nuclear weapons sites are a carefully kept secret in order to keep them secure. But are they really more secure for being secret? When no one is sure where the weapons are kept, it’s hard to know if they’re really being targeted or not. We have to take Army’s word for it, and it does not serve Army’s interest for the public to know the details of such sensitive matters. Would our nuclear sites actually be more secure if they were public? Out of curiosity I did a quick Google search and discovered that America’s nuclear sites can be seen on Google Maps!

The missiles and their command bunkers have been in the same place “for decades,” Air Force Capt. Edith Sakura of the 90th Missile Wing Office of Public Affairs wrote in an email. “They are near county and state roads that are public access to people. You need security clearances to access the sites; however, it would be hard to ‘hide’ such facilities.”

Moreover, as other commenters noted, the sites are already visited by foreign militaries. Russian officers regularly inspect U.S. missile silos to make sure America is adhering to international arms-control treaties. (And the U.S. sends its own observers to Russia.)

America does not worry about whether someone knows where their nukes are because America’s Army is certain that they are secure. What does it say, then, when we so defensively keep ours a secret?

As for lying about drones, perhaps the less is said the better.

Army will deny each of the claims made in Declan Walsh’s reports, and because they involve sensitive subjects, it would be virtually impossible to prove them. Actually, even if some secret evidence was leaked, it would simply be dismissed as a Western conspiracy against Muslims as has been done in the past. We will accept the denials because what other choice do we have? We will dismiss Declan Walsh as “anti-Pakistan”, and we will sincerely resent him, not because we really believe that he’s a foreign spy but because there is that sinking feeling in the back of our minds that makes us doubt what we have no choice but to believe.

In an important piece by one of Axact’s victims, respected journalist Wajahat S. Khan reflects on his regrets about his brief experience with Bol:

But arrogance has a tone. Denial has a deafening silence. And mirages are self-constructed. I contributed to all three, in my three months at Bol. And played along with the best of them, because of where they came from, who they are, and what it all meant.

Khan’s astoundingly open and honest words sparked an uncomfortable feeling, like they were hitting a bit too close to home.

Arrogance has a tone. Denial has a deafening silence. And mirages are self-constructed.

Wajahat S. Khan may have contributed to all three in his brief time at Bol, but each of us has contibuted to all three during our lives as well. The arrogant tone of our insistence that we are the fortress of Islam. Our silent denial that jihadi ideology is devouring our nation. And the mirage that we have self-constructed that tells us that the number one intelligence agency in the world and most accomplished military in the world will keep us safe and secure…just as long as we don’t ask any questions.

Axact Scandal: 007 Tie-In Only Makes the Plot More Thrilling

axact

The investigative report that exposed Axact’s alleged role in an alleged massive fake degree operation was described by many as ‘breaking the internet’. The embattled IT company has continued to dominate discussion like almost no other, and it’s no surprise. The story has all the elements of a blockbuster movie: Billions of dollars, a charismatic leader who little is really known about, and a network of successful businesses that some say don’t seem to actually produce anything. This is a winning formula on its own, but there is yet another sub-plot that has yet to really begin unfolding, and this one could make Axact the biggest blockbuster of all time: A 007 tie-in.

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US not cutting aid – Another non-story

US not cutting aid

If your rich uncle offers to pay your school fees and you tell him that you want to take some time off, he’s not going to send you the money anyway. It doesn’t mean you are abandoned to your own fate, it just means that the money is for school fees, not a gift for you to spend as you please. Such a scenario happens every day, and no one is surprised. So why is it that we act surprised when the US says that its not going to pay for certain anti-terrorism operations if the military isn’t ready to carry them out?

This latest chapter in the drama started when The New York Times reported that the US is deferring millions in aid to Pakistan. Immediately I began to hear reactions about how the US is abandoning us just as they always do. But look at what the report actually said.

This aid includes about $300 million to reimburse Pakistan for some of the costs of deploying more than 100,000 soldiers along the Afghan border to combat terrorism, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in training assistance and military hardware, according to half a dozen Congressional, Pentagon and other administration officials who were granted anonymity to discuss the politically delicate matter.

Some of the curtailed aid is equipment that the United States wants to send but Pakistan now refuses to accept, like rifles, ammunition, body armor and bomb-disposal gear that were withdrawn or held up after Pakistan ordered more than 100 Army Special Forces trainers to leave the country in recent weeks.

Some is equipment, such as radios, night-vision goggles and helicopter spare parts, which cannot be set up, certified or used for training because Pakistan has denied visas to the American personnel needed to operate the equipment, two senior Pentagon officials said.

And some is assistance like the reimbursements for troop costs, which is being reviewed in light of questions about Pakistan’s commitment to carry out counterterrorism operations. For example, the United States recently provided Pakistan with information about suspected bomb-making factories, only to have the insurgents vanish before Pakistani security forces arrived a few days later.

In other words, the aid isn’t being cut. The generals have made a decision that it is in the national interest not to carry out certain operations at this time. Maybe this is because the military is stretched too thin, maybe the generals believe there is not enough popular support. Either way, the result is that American funds that were tied to these operations will be put on hold also. But the money isn’t being “cut” and it isn’t going away.

White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley told ABC TV that the money was only being held back until the two nations could come to agreements about operations that the funds can be used for, even praising Pakistan’s sacrifice and saying that the money has been “committed”.

Speaking on ABC’s This Week programme, Mr Daley accepted that Pakistan had been “an important ally in the fight on terrorism. They’ve been the victim of enormous amounts of terrorism”.

He added: “It’s a complicated relationship in a very difficult, complicated part of the world. Obviously, there’s still lot of pain that the political system in Pakistan is feeling by virtue of the raid that we did to get Osama Bin Laden, something that the president felt strongly about and we have no regrets over.

“Until we get through these difficulties, we will hold back some of the money that the American taxpayers have committed to give them.”

More importantly, and this seems to be getting completely lost in the discussion, is the fact that this announcement affects no civilian aid. Regardless, I continue to hear that the US is cutting one-third of its aid to Pakistan. That is not true. The funds being discussed are actually only specific military aid as is clear from the original report in the New York Times.

Army spokesman Gen Abbas issued a statement that the military is capably of fighting without American assistance. Of course it is. The American assistance is helpful in off setting costs associated with joint anti-terrorism operations on the Afghan border, but it is only a drop in the bucket of the full $6.41 Billion military budget.

Pakistan has plenty of resources to defend its borders. Now, I might argue that this money can be better spent by re-focusing on immediate rather than hypothetical threats, but that is for another post. The point is that the national security will be looked after. And neither is the US abandoning Pakistan – far from it. No cut has been made to the civilian aid package which is arguably far more important as it can be used to improve the lives of ordinary Pakistanis. And military aid that is not related to the operations that are on hold is still flowing.

Officers and officials of both countries should be able to make decisions based on their own national interests and legal requirements of their own countries. This doesn’t mean that relations are falling apart or that worst fears are being realised. We have to stop evaluating everything with emotions and use reason instead. Doing so in this case will save a lot of heartburn.

How the New York Times Keeps Getting Pakistan Wrong

Syed Yahya HussainyThe New York Times is an institution in journalism. Published continuously for over 160 years, the Times has won 104 Pulitzer Prizes – more than any other news organization. In 2009, one of those Pulitzer Prizes went to a team that included Pakistan correspondent Jane Perlez for their coverage of America’s deepening military and political challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan. With this background, how is it that The New York Times keeps getting Pakistan so wrong?

In her latest article, Many in Pakistan Fear Unrest at Home, Jane Perlez suggests that Pakistan is on the brink of takeover by Islamists, comparing the political climate today to Iran in 1979. But is this really an accurate description of Pakistan, a nation that only recently held massive pro-democracy street demonstrations, overthrew a military dictator, and elected a democratic government that for the first time includes all ethnic groups and major political factions at either the state or federal level? Tunisia and Egypt may be shedding the yoke of autocracy, but Pakistan achieved this years ago.

Since 2008, of course, Pakistan has been hit hard by the global economic downturn, been ravaged by devastating floods of historic proportion, and lost thousands of citizens to attacks by terrorist groups. Despite these challenges, the democratic government has remained resilient, implementing political reforms to strengthen the democratic process and the rule of law. So why is The New York Times comparing 2011 Pakistan to 1979 Iran? It turns out the answer may lie in Ms Perlez’s sources.

Jane Perlez has quoted Mr Farrukh Saleem quite regularly over the past few years, though she introduces with different titles in different articles. In her latest article about the possibility of an Islamist putsch, Farrukh Saleem is “a risk analyst”. Last November, Ms Perlez cited him as “a political analyst” in an article about political violence in Karachi. A month earlier, Mr Saleem was “executive director for the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad”. The one constant in Mr Saleem’s CV is his affiliation with The News, an English-language newspaper that has received international attention for its virulent anti-government propaganda.

In fact, Mr Farrukh Saleem appears in a 2009 article by Jane Perlez praising opposition leader Nawaz Sharif of the PML-N party. Here Saleem is referred to only as a newspaper columnist. Earlier, Farrukh Saleem is quoted by Jane Perlez saying that President Asif Zardari “has an unending desire to control all of Pakistan.”

Later that year, of course, President Zardari transferred power over the nation’s nuclear arsenal to the Prime Minister, and a few months after that signed the 18th Amendment further devolving power that had been consolidated under military dictators. For someone with an unending desire to control all of Pakistan, the president appears to be giving a surprising amount of his power away. Despite this record, Jane Perlez continues to present Farrukh Saleem as an objective “analyst”.

Then there is Ms Perlez’s other go-to source for analysis of Pakistan: Jahangir Tareen. According to Ms Perlez, Mr Tareen is “a reformist politician”. But what claim to the title of “reformist” does Mr Jahangir Tareen actually have? After all, this is the same Jahangir Tareen that served as Minister of Industries and Special Projects under the dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf – a fact certainly known to Jane Perlez as she has been quoting him in her articles as such since at least 2008.

Ms Perlez quotes Jahangir Tareen blaming rich politicians for failing to address the economic needs of the people without mentioning the irony that he is both rich and a politician himself in the opposition party PML-Q. Jane Perlez also fails to mention that Jahangir Tareen’s CV includes such “reformist” tendencies as serving as a cabinet minister during the corrupt Musharraf regime that squandered foreign aid money while incubating jihadi militias. Today, Mr Tareen warns the Times reporter that Islamist forces “will sweep into power”, but Jane Perlez conveniently ignores her sources background and fails to provide her readers important context that might raise questions about his credibility.

Certainly Pakistanis are frustrated with unemployment, inflation, and ongoing attacks by Islamist militant groups. And there do exist residual effects of an institutionalization of Islamism carried out by the regime of 1980s dictator Gen. Zia-ul-Haq and reinforced by the former boss of Ms Perlez’s friend Jahangir Tareen, Pervez Musharraf. But Pakistan’s democratically elected government has proven resilient, and by-election results since 2008 have not revealed any increased support for Islamist parties.

When the curtain is drawn on the election booth, the people of Pakistan consistently reject Jamaat-i-Islami’s candidates and policies. Jane Perlez’s article may represent the prejudices of her rather compromised (and seemingly few) regular sources, but it does not represent the aspirations of the Pakistani people. Let us not forget that fewer than six months ago, Jane Perlez predicted a military coup in Pakistan. That, too, never came to pass.

Jane Perlez’s fearmongering on Pakistan notwithstanding, the democratic system is maturing and growing stronger – a fact evidenced by the unprecedented cooperation between the opposition parties and the coalition government in defense of political stability. It is true that religious parties organize street protests with thousands of participants. But these are demonstrations of frustration, not political support. If Ms Perlez truly believes that the Pakistani people believe in “the failure of representative democracy”, perhaps she should expand her social circle beyond those who have built careers trying to derail it.

The question for The New York Times is whether or not Jane Perlez is actually providing investigative reporting on Pakistan or simply phoning her few friends for juicy quotes to pad sensationalist articles. Following her reporting over the years, Times readers would come away with two things: a close familiarity of Mr Farrukh Saleem and Mr Jahangir Tareen, and very poor understanding of Pakistan.

Power, Violence, and Conspiracy Theories

Hannah Arendt stampIn a column for The New York Times, Roger Cohen takes a look at the culture of conspiracy theories in the Arab world and comes to the conclusion that “minds resort to conspiracy theory because it is the ultimate refuge of the powerless”. What he was writing, though, could have just as easily been said about our own conspiracy culture.

To prove his point, Mr Cohen looks at the ridiculous conspiracy theories that seem to find an invisible American hand behind everything. What he finds is that with the twisted logic of the conspiracy theorist, “there can be no closure because events stream on endlessly, opening up boundless possibilities for ex post facto theorizing”.

To demonstrate that the twisted logic of the conspiracy theorist can be used to reach any conclusion, no matter how crazy, Mr Cohen uses their same reasoning to ‘prove’ that it was Iran, not the US, that invaded Iraq in 2003!

I know it appears that the United States was behind the invasion. What about “shock and awe” and all that? Hah! It is true that the deception was elaborate. But consider the facts: The invasion of Iraq has weakened the United States, Iran’s old enemy, and so it can only be — quod erat demonstrandum — that Tehran was the devious mastermind.

We see this same desperation in as they try to explain how Wikileaks is a conspiracy against Muslims. You see the same twisted logic when Hamid Gul says that America committed 9/11 against itself or when Zaid Hamid says 26/11 attacks were carried out by ‘Hindu Zionists’.

But what is happening in Pakistan is more than merely the powerless trying to make sense of the world around them. What is actually happening is that a powerless but ambitious group of people are using these conspiracy theories to manipulate a public that is desperate to find some sense behind all the chaos. By redirecting attention away from the real problems, problems that these powerless but ambitious souls have no solutions for, they manipulate the people’s emotions. It is part of a cynical strategy to get people to put their faith in these charlatans and give up power over their own lives.

The German political philosopher Hannah Arendt, in her book, On Violence theorized that violence is a tool for multiplying strength, but it is destructive only, not productive. Power, she says, corresponds to the human ability to act together towards a common purpose. Thus violence can destroy, but can never create power.

People like Ahmed Quraishi know too well what governments and covert agents are up to with their conspiracy theories. He has even said so himself, defending the release of the fake Wikileaks story by saying that “we can manipulate too”. He follows up this astonishing admission of manipulation by calling for a blatant authoritarian regime in Pakistan that will “enforce discipline” and “tolerate dissent but not chaos”.

This is where the true intentions of our conspiracy theorist set becomes clear – manipulate through propaganda as long as possible. When that stops working, resort to violence.

Conspiracy theories and coercion. These are the tools of the powerless, would-be tyrant. He is powerless because the truth is that, as Hannah Arendt observed, all power lies with the people. That is why would-be dictators and their pawns like Ahmed Quraishi must resort to the tricks and threats of the powerless. That is why the democracy is not only the best revenge, as Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto has said, but is also the antidote to conspiracy theories and coercion, the antidote to tyranny in all forms.