Sirajul Haq had made some bizarre comments during his speech at Minar-e-Pakistan last week, and they have been really bothering me.
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The important role of our countrymen living overseas cannot be overstated. In addition to sending billions back home in remittances, overseas Pakistanis are having a major influence in politics by funding political parties. However, it is not only influence inside Pakistan that is taking place. According to a new report, a shadowy organisation in London called the ‘World Congress of Overseas Pakistanis’ has arm-twisted Oxford University into canceling speaking invitations to Hamid Mir and Malala Yousafzai. This report is disturbing enough by itself, but it also raises questions about how certain vested interests may be using overseas Pakistanis to promote a particular agenda in foreign countries.
When Raymond Davis shot two men in the street, the nation erupted in anger. The streets were packed with angry souls who demanded justice. As his true identity as a CIA agent became known, anger fueled paranoid nightmares that saw trigger happy Americans in every burger restaurant and behind every boundary wall in Pakistan. Internationally acclaimed Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid expressed this anxiety most eloquently in his piece for The Guardian.
The affair has brought home what should have been obvious to us Pakistanis for a long time. Pakistan has become a game preserve, a place where deadly creatures are nurtured, and where hunters pay for the chance to kill them.
It’s a terrifying picture. What makes it all the more terrifying is that, like many nightmares, there is some small piece of truth to it. But, then, like most paranoid conspiracies, it deflects from the reality. Pakistan has become a place where deadly creatures are nurtured, and where where hunters pay for the chance to kill. It’s not, though, American Raymond Davises that are killing Pakistanis like game.
16th August 2012: 20 Shias pulled off bus and shot dead
Local police official Shafiq Gul told AFP that the gunmen were masked, but said the victims were pulled from three separate vehicles in the district, which neighbours the Swat valley, a former Taliban stronghold.
“They stopped three vehicles, searched them and picked up people in three batches of five, six and nine and shot them dead. They were all Shias,” he said.
20th September 2011: Sectarian atrocity: 29 killed in Mastung, Quetta ambushes
The Shia community in Balochistan came under intense attack on Tuesday when 29 people were killed in two separate, targeted incidents claimed by banned militant outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
At least 26 people were killed and six others injured in Ganjidori area of Mastung, about 30 kilometres southeast of Quetta, when a group of armed men attacked a passenger bus carrying Shia pilgrims from Quetta to Iran.
Hours later, three more people, hailing from the Hazara community, were gunned down near Akhtarabad area of Quetta as their rescue team made its way to the site of the bus attack. Two others were also shot.
Not CIA. Now RAW. The initials of these killers are LeJ. And the leader of the hunting party is Malik Ishaq, the man invited on stage with Sheikh Rashid, Hamid Gul, Hafiz Saeed, and others of the so-called ‘Difa’-e-Pakistan Council. The same Malik Ishaq who was paid by Government Punjab ever since Sharifs came to power in 2008.
In case you are thinking, “Oh but I am not Shia this is not my problem…” please let me remind you that this was not the only terrorist attack inside Pakistan that day. Same day, militants attacked PAF Minhas airbase martyring two soldiers before being defeated by our security forces.
Federal Defence Minister Syed Naveed Qamar Thursday said the terror assault on Kamra’s Pakistan Air Force (PAF) Airbase is not a failure of the security institutions, but then, what else can we call it when terrorists plan and carry out attacks on our own PAF base inside our own country? Security is when agencies stop terrorists BEFORE they carry out attacks, not DURING attacks.
It’s time to stop making excuses and start defending our nation.
COAS Gen Kayani spoke the following words on the anniversary of the national Independence Day:
“The fight against extremism and terrorism is our own war and we are right in fighting it. Let there be no doubt about it, otherwise we’ll be divided and taken towards civil war. Our minds should be clear on this.”
Today, this has become crystal clear. If we continue to bury our heads in the sand and ignore the jihadi killers in our midst, it will be all of Pakistan that is eventually buried. There is still time to save ourselves but we must act now to end this open season on Pakistanis.
The recent NATO airstrike on two Pakistani military outposts near the village of Salala have triggered yet another flash point in U.S.-Pakistani relations. Officials in Islamabad have reportedly confirmed that at least 25 Pakistani soldiers were killed by strikes that involved both NATO helicopter gunships and fighter jets.
The cross-border incident has already claimed its first victims, as the U.S. subleased Shamsi airbase—a launching pad for drones flying over the tribal areas—and the crucial supply routes through Torkham to Western forces in Afghanistan have been sacrificed at the altar. Details of the strike are still shrouded in mystery however, but both U.S. and Pakistani officials have expressed concern over the ramifications the attack will have on the future of an already tumultuous relationship.
The United States and Pakistan have coped with crisis after crisis all year, from the Raymond Davis episode to the raid that killed Usama bin Laden. However, the recent air strike has brought Pakistani anger to a new apex especially since Pakistani blood now stains the soil. Some in Pakistan insist that this is the last straw and that rhetoric should be reinforced with action, implying the immediate severing of ties. But the partnership—as frustrating as it is—is durable and will remain firm into the foreseeable future. Essentially, after the smoke clears and the public diatribes are over, the U.S. and Pakistan will undoubtedly return to business as usual.
Given the Pakistani public’s rampant anti-Americanism, it is standard procedure for Pakistani representatives—both civilian and military—to publicly berate the U.S. when relations hit a critical point in order to preserve their domestic political support bases. Behind the scenes however, the U.S. and Pakistan acknowledge that they have vital overlapping interests including the neutralization of al Qaeda from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and the survivability of the CIA drone program. Indeed, these are the nuances of the relationship that nullify the prospect of a full-blown amputation of cooperation between the two.
Both Washington and Islamabad share the ambition to once and for all eliminate al Qaeda from the South Asian region. The terror network, while at first focused mainly on the disillusion of Arab autocracies had no intention of targeting the Pakistani state until former president Musharraf pledged his unflinching support for the U.S.’s War on Terror. Left with no choice but to categorize Pakistan as a kafir state, al Qaeda began engineering the ideological cultivation of Pakistan’s tribal areas after it sought refuge there following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.1
Its greatest achievement was the creation of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella term used to represent a phalanx of radical Islamist militant groups sworn to destroy the Pakistani state and replace it with a system heavily influenced by Sharia law.2 The al Qaeda affiliated TTP is responsible for notable attacks such as the Marriot Hotel bombing in Islamabad that left 54 dead, at least 266 people injured, and a gaping crater sprawled out in the street, and the siege of Mehran Naval base in Karachi earlier this year. The South Asian Terror Portal has also linked the group to a slew of suicide bombings in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP).
It is hard to believe that Pakistanis would shed a tear if the al Qaeda affiliated TTP were somehow dissolved. Indeed, the CIA’s drone program—operating out of Shamsi—located near the town of Washki in southwestern Pakistan—is tasked to do just that. In a deal forged during the Bush Administration, Pakistan agreed to allow U.S. drones to operate on its soil since it would assist in the killing of mutual enemies. These included senior al Qaeda members such as Sheikh Essa and TTP leader Baitullah Meshud, who was later incinerated along with his wife in 2008 by a Hellfire strike from a Predator. The U.S. was quick to accede and Pakistan has benefited from the vanquishing of its adversaries. In short, the Pakistanis want the drone program just as much as the U.S. does as long as it does not disrupt the operations of militants on the ISI payroll like Hafiz Gul Bahadar and Maulvi Nazir. In essence, the Pakistani security establishment knows that the country needs the drones for its own security.
There is also little to fear from Pakistani demands for the CIA to vacate Shamsi and the subsequent closing of the cross-border supply routes. According to Jayshree Bajoria at the Council on Foreign Relations, the squeezing of U.S. assets does little harm to U.S. operations in South Asia. It is reasonable to assume that given the nadir of the U.S.-Pakistani relationship after JSOC’s foray in Abbottabad that the CIA has prepared for a possible eviction and will wage its drone war elsewhere with Pakistani approval. Naturally, the Pakistanis have demanded the CIA leave the base, not end the drones.
Tom Gjelten at National Public Radio (NPR) also reports that the U.S. is exploring alternate supply routes to Afghanistan. The Northern Distribution Network (NDN), a series of routes from Europe across Central Asia that enter Afghanistan from the north, all avoid running through Pakistan.13 The NDN if successful, would help remove a critical piece of Pakistani leverage over the U.S.
Ultimately, while the death of Pakistani soldiers is tragic, the NATO attack on Salala is but a minor hiccup, leaving the crisis-laden partnership unscathed given the need for mutual cooperation on the counterterrorism front. In the coming days, a series of diplomatic meetings will likely cool Pakistan’s temperature and restore the alliance back to what it once was. Nonetheless, the U.S. and Pakistan are destined to experience these mishaps again and again.
1 Shahzad, Syed S., Inside al Qaeda and the Taliban, London: Pluto Press (2011) p. 8
2 Abbas, Hassan. “A Profile of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.” CTC Sentinel 1, No. 2 (January 2008)
The author is a Research Assistant at the Woodrow Wilson International Center. He is currently working on a project detailing the history of US foreign policy towards Pakistan.
The controversial policy of recruiting retired military soldiers and officials to support the security forces of Bahrain against pro-democracy protestors threatens to undermine the credibility of complaints about foreign interference within our own borders. But this may not be the only affect. After reading a news report from last Friday, I think it is worth examining whether this practise is also destabilizing Balochistan.
The news report referred to appeared in last Friday’s edition of The News. Amir Mir wrote that hiring of Pakistani fighters for Bahrain angers Iran. The government of Iran is unhappy with this because, though it is no bastion of democracy itself, Iran has sees the crackdown on pro-democracy protestors in Bahrain as a sectarian fight.
But what is being clearly seen as Sunni and Shia rivalries, Iran is annoyed with the recruitment of mainly Sunni Muslims for the Bahraini security forces because it blames them for crushing a mainly Shia uprising against the rule of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. Tehran believes that all these recruitments were being made at the behest of Saudi Arabia. For long, Riyadh has been one of the two foreign hands — the other being the US — rocking the cradle of Pakistani politics, brokering truce among warring leaders, providing asylum to those being exiled and generously lavishing funds on a state strapped for cash. But the explosion of democratic upsurge is gradually bringing about a role reversal — it is Pakistan’s assistance the Arab royal families have now sought to quell rebellion in West Asia, rekindling memories of 1969 when the personnel of the Pakistani Air Force flew the Saudi fighter planes to ward off an invasion from South Yemen.
Viewing the situation with this historical perspective, the Iranians may see Pakistani involvement in Bahrain as sectarian aggression. The involvement of Fauji Foundation, even though it is nominally a private enterprise, makes the policy like an official position of the military.
The Fauji Security Services (Pvt) Limited, which is run by the Fauji Foundation, a subsidiary of the Pakistan Army, is currently recruiting on war footing basis thousands of retired military personnel from the Pakistan Army, Navy and the Air Force who will be getting jobs in the Gulf region, especially in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. But sources in the Fauji Foundation say over 90 per cent of the fresh recruitments, which started in the backdrop of the recent political upheaval in the Arab world, are being sent to Bahrain to perform services in the Bahrain National Guard (BNG), and that too at exorbitant salaries. Thousands of ex-servicemen of the Pakistani origin are already serving in Bahrain and the fresh recruitments are aimed at boosting up the strength of the BNG to deal with the country’s majority Shia population, which is calling for replacement of the Sunni monarchy. Bahrain’s ruling elite is Sunni, although about 70% of the population is Shia.
While it’s popular to blame the US and India for supporting Baloch separatists, the nation that actually stands to gain the most from the trouble is Iran which shares a border with Balochistan. In retaliation for Pakistani participation in putting down the pro-democracy shia in Bahrain, Iran could be funneling support and resources to Baloch separatists. Iran could also see the possibility of an independent Balochistan as a bulwark against sectarian militant groups in Pakistan. Amir Mir saw the same possibility.
In other words, as things stand, Islamabad, wittingly or unwittingly, has become the frontline state for protecting the supremacy of Sunni Islam which would not be taken lightly by Iran that has the ability to create problems in Balochistan province, neighbouring Iran.
We should be examining the policy of allowing Fauji to recruit security personnel to help the Bahrain ruling family because such a practice goes against our own stated protests against foreign interference in our own politics. How can we complain about hundreds of Raymond Davises when we are sending our own Raymond Davises to Bahrain?
But more immediately, we need to carefully consider whether such actions are doing worse than undermining our own credibility and are actually fueling instability in the country by promoting sectarianism and hurting our relationship with our neighbors.