Sufi clerics victim of our paranoid conspiracy culture

Syed Asif Nizami and Nazim Nizami

The story is as predictable as it is embarrassing. Two Sufi clerics visiting Pakistan from across the border go missing. Indian media immediately jumps to the conclusion that the two were picked up by ISI. Pakistani media immediately reported that the reports were just the latest example of anti-Pakistan Indian propaganda and that the two clerics had simply entered into an area where mobile phone signal was not available. Now that the clerics have returned home, though, the truth is coming out, and it is not quite as neat and clean as we wished.

Actually, the two elderly clerics Syed Asif Nizami and Nazim Nizami were picked up by our intelligence agencies and interrogated about their supposed ‘anti-Pakistan’ activities. And where did our brilliant agencies get their intelligence about these two? Apparently Urdu daily Ummat had published some fake stories accusing them of being secret RAW agents.

Now our media is scrambling to create the narrative that the entire affair was a big misunderstanding from an inaccurate report in Ummat. In the most hilarious example, Express Tribune has even tried to frame work the story as agencies providing ‘VIP treatment‘ to visiting clerics!

Let us review the facts of this case:

  1. Two Muslim clerics visited Pakistan.
  2. An Urdu newspaper falsely accused them as RAW agents.
  3. Our intelligence agencies read the report and picked up the Muslim clerics, holding them ‘incommunicado’.
  4. After realising the mistake, the clerics were allowed to return home and our media is spinning their being picked up and interrogated by agencies as ‘VIP treatment’.

It has been noted that daily Ummat is also the ‘news’ paper that first accused missing bloggers of blasphemy.

The entire affair is an indictment not only of our senseless media, but raises serious questions about intelligence agencies. If they were fooled by fake news in this case, how many other fake reports have they been fooled by? And why are intelligence agencies taking their cues from what they read in media reports anyway? It is a recipe for a national security disaster. Do not expect anyone to demand Parliamentary Commission to investigate this humiliating episode, though.

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.

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.

Panama Papers RAW Connection

Mossack FonsecaThe ‘Panama Papers’, the latest treasure trove of secrets to be leaked on the internet didn’t bring any amazing revelations. They just confirmed what was basically an open secret: The world’s rich and powerful protect their wealth by hiding it in secret overseas accounts. The leaks have brought down at least one Prime Minister and sent the global elite scrambling. In Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif finds himself in the cross hairs, but he is hardly alone.

Rehman Malik has also found himself getting attention for his ownership of a company in the Virgin Islands during the 2000s. The former Interior Minister has admitted that he was an owner of the company but that it was dissolved after a few years due to suffering losses and insists that everything about the business was perfectly legal and legitimate. Rehman Malik may be telling the truth about the legitimacy of this business, but what is more interesting was his first response to the leak, which was to term it a ‘RAW conspiracy‘, even though the documents exposed over 500 prominent Indians also. This is worth noting because it actually tells more about our problems than corruption.

If one thing has been learned from the ‘Panama Papers’, it is that corruption is not a Pakistani enterprise. It is a human one. What is a Pakistani enterprise, though, is trying to dismiss everything negative as a foreign conspiracy instead of admitting fault and fixing the problem.

Corruption in Pakistan is a Pakistani problem, just like corruption in India is an Indian problem. So also, terrorism in Pakistan is a Pakistani problem. Whatever Kulbashan Yadav was involved with, it does not explain every act of terrorism in Pakistan. Terming terrorism as a ‘RAW conspiracy’ to destabilise Pakistan only distracts from stopping the problem just like terming the Panama Papers as a RAW conspiracy attempts to distract from the corruption that is taking place here. Let us stop blaming RAW for everything. It gives too much credit to the Indian agency, and it prevents us from addressing our own problems.

The RAW Deal

RAW agent

The arrest of an alleged RAW agent in Balochistan has confirmed for many people what they already believed anyway, that India is trying to destabilise Pakistan by supporting separatist and terrorist groups inside our borders. Even though the headline will be accepted by much of the population, the details of reports raise important questions.

One important item to note is that, if reports are to be believed, there is a massive security failure on the Afghan border in Balochistan.

Yadev – a Commander in the Indian Navy – entered Balochistan through the Afghan border. He crossed the Pak-Afghan border 12 times. When the law enforcement agencies arrested him five days ago, he was in Balochistan for the last 15 days.

A RAW agent has been coming and going with no problems? Where were the security forces? If one RAW agent can do this, isn’t it expected that many others can do the same as well, and yet only one man has been caught? Are our security agencies napping again?

There is also the problem of what exactly this man was supposedly doing. According to some reports, ‘his main agenda was to sabotage the CPEC through propaganda‘. According to other reports, ‘the arrested RAW agent was in touch with the Baloch liberation parties and has been working in Balochistan’. Other reports claim that ‘The Indian spy was involved in financially supporting terrorists and also confessed to his involvement in Karachi unrest’.

Have we captured India’s James Bond? Next we will hear that he is giving weapons to TTP in Waziristan and stealing electricity also. How can one man be responsible for every one of Pakistan’s problems? Obviously it is possible that the captured man is a RAW agent who is working against Pakistan’s interests, but we should not try to make him the scapegoat for all of our troubles. We should also be asking if he is supporting Baloch separatists, why are there separatists to support in the first place?

The arrest of an alleged RAW agent in Balochistan is a serious matter and should be treated as such. It should not be used as a propaganda to whip up anti-Indian sentiments that make relations worse. If it is an authentic case, the Foreign Ministry should collect the evidence from intelligence agencies  and give it to the UN to pressurize India to stop such operations. However, it should not be used as an excuse to ignore our own problems and put the blame on India for everything under the sun.