Visa leaks: A political strategy that backfired?

Nawaz Sharif

It’s hard to believe that it’s almost been five years since PMLN dominated the polls and Nawaz Sharif returned for a third term as Prime Minister. Elections are not expected for one more year, however it seems that election season has arrived already. That is the best explanation I have been able to think of for the sudden return of the old visa controversy.

There are several theories about what is behind the leaks of documents related to Husain Haqqani’s time as Ambassador. Cyril Almeida believes it is to remind the civilians of who’s boss, but I have my doubts this time. The usual Army proxies are unusually silent. Not only this, but whoever is behind this whole drama hasn’t thought it through very well.

The first leaked document was a letter granting Husain Haqqani greater authority in expediting visas for some US officials without first sending requests to Islamabad for clearance. What first seemed like a smoking gun turned out to be nothing but dust when Haqqani himself noted that this was nothing new and had actually been reported long ago.

It was the next document that really gave away the incompetence of the conspirators, though. A memo from the Foreign Office marked as ‘Confidential’ directs Missions not to issue visas to a list of 36 alleged CIA agents. There are three major red flags with this leak.

  1. Obviously, we do not know if visas were actually issued to any of these people.
  2. If this list is authentic, it is unlikely that our agencies would want it published because it will cause serious problems for our own intelligence agents who are working undercover. There is a tradition of agencies respecting each other and not exposing the other sides agents except in extreme circumstances. Publishing a list of undercover agents would risk upsetting the very delicate balance of trust with foreign agencies and put our own agents at risk of being exposed.
  3. This is the biggest mistake: Whoever leaked overlooked that the list of alleged CIA agents includes a hand written request for their visas signed not by Husain Haqqani or Asif Zardari but by the Defence & Army Attache who is himself now a Corps Commander!!!

Defence Attache visa request

Husain Haqqani has insisted that ‘military was not bypassed. period‘. Even if the Ambassador was granted authority to issue visas without review by Islamabad, there has never been any evidence that visas were issued without full cooperation and review of Defence agencies located withing the Embassy. Till date there has been no evidence that any visas were issued without the approval of agencies stationed at the Embassy. In fact, this latest leak suggests that Defence officials were fully informed. Just as publishing lists of foreign agents is not in our own agencies interest, also we should ask if publishing documents that show the Defence officials who reviewed and approved visa requests is in our national interest.

If the boys are not behind this one, then, who is? To find the answer we should look at the narrative that is being promoted. It is not just Haqqani who is being targeted, it is PPP leadership. The former President Asif Zardari and PM Gilani are clearly in the sights of the leakers and those who are pushing the narrative that PPP government went around the military to help US agents. It was Khawaja Asif who called for a full investigation, apparently having forgotten that there already was one, and that if anyone wants to get to the bottom of things they can simply release the full contents of the Abbottabad Commission Report.

Until someone comes forward and admits being behind the leaks, this will all be left to speculation. However, it is hard to see how any of this benefits the boys at this time. Much more likely is that someone in PMLN got too clever for their own good and decided to start campaigning early by knocking out PPP by re-introducing old civil-military divides. This was both unnecessary and counterproductive. Unnecessary because PPP is too busy making their own bad decisions to be a real political threat, and also because it sppears that someone within PMLN leadership is trying to drag the Army into politics. 2018 is looking good for Nawaz Sharif. As this drama shows, he needs to make sure it is his own people who don’t bungle it!

How our leaders let their own ambition undo our case on Kashmir

Kashmir or IslamabadIt’s hard to believe that just a few weeks ago there was political unity as all parties, both civil and military, had come together to bring the world’s attention to the Kashmiri cause. Today, unity has reverted back to fighting, and the world’s attention is focused not on the chaos in Kashmir, but the chaos in Islamabad. If our political leaders failed to get any media attention during the diplomatic missions earlier this month, they have succeeded in getting the world’s attention now.

Nawaz Sharif has taken a page from Modi’s book by heavily cracking down on opposition protestors. The images on TV are similar with crowds of unarmed people fleeing clouds of tear gas and facing walls of armed security forces. The result has been the same, too. Next time our diplomats mention statements against Indian oppression in Kashmir from international human rights groups like Kashmir, how will they answer when India’s diplomats note that the same human rights groups are condemning our own reactions to protestors?

Nawaz Sharif is not the only one to blame for this disaster, though. Equal blame is shared by Imran Khan for inciting the entire situation. This is not an excuse for corruption or defence of Panama Papers accusations. If Nawaz had broken the law, let him be held accountable. Imran Khan had many choices for how to handle this issue and he chose the one that he knew would provoke the government to overreact. It was a strategic choice made by PTI’s top leadership to cause chaos. The government was stupid for falling for this trick, but there is no doubt that it has not worked out exactly as Imran Khan hoped.

ISPR has reported that cross border firing from India continues along the LoC, but our ability to make this case in the international forums is quickly becoming moot. The world is finally paying attention, but it’s the insecurity in Islamabad that is making headlines, not Kashmir.

The Road To Military Rule

Gen Raheel

PPP finds itself being squeezed rather tightly lately. Sadly, the squeeze really comes as no surprise. When Pakistan Rangers first raided 90 earlier this year, the writing was already on the wall. Today, PPP leadership is crying foul over being targeted, but in some ways their troubles are a result of their own doing. When it became obvious that Army was going returning to operations against political parties, the PPP took the strategy of trying to cozy up in hopes of weathering the storm. Did they really think that it would work?

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The Wrong March

PTI goondas carry dandas into Islamabad

A day after it began, PAT+PTI long march is beginning to reach Islamabad and the Kaptaan himself is expected to arrive later tonight. Imran Khan’s attitude has been comically arrogant, as apparent from his Twitter feed:

The government has been completely distracted by the marches, having to give full attention to security and responding to the crisis. Meanwhile, life moves on and while all political leaders are fighting on the streets, Pakistan continues to suffer from purely preventable problems.

This week, five more polio cases detected – including in Punjab – bringing year’s total to 115. The stock market has crashed 1300 points. Terrorists continue their war against Pakistan, last night attacking near Samungli Airbase bringing a startling reminder of devastating attack against Kamra Airbase in 2012.

This is not meant as a defence of Nawaz Sharif’s policies, or a justification of opposition complaints. Let me just ask this: Imagine if instead of organising long march to overthrow the government, Imran Khan organised a long march to end polio. Imagine if instead of organising long march to overthrow the government, Imran Khan organised a long march to defend minorities. Imagine if instead of organising supporters to deliver blows, Imran Khan organised supporters to deliver text books.

Even if Imran Khan’s ‘Azadi March’ succeeds, PMLN government will be gone but polio, terrorism, sectarianism, lack of education will all remain. Imran Khan knows he can organise massive action. He just doesn’t know what he should be organising action against.

Consequences and Precedents

In politics, decisions have consequences. Rana Sanaullah learned this lesson following Model Town tragedy in June when Pakistan Awami Tehreek protestors and Punjab police clashed and needlessly resulted in 14 deaths and hundreds injured. With 14th August on the horizon, Nawaz Sharif must be struggling with this lesson as well, trying to find some way to defuse a potentially explosive situation.

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