They can kidnap a blogger, but they can never disappear the truth

bhensaFour missed calls from my sister. I knew why she kept calling, and I didn’t want to talk about it. When the phone rang the fifth time, I put my phone in my bag and went out for a smoke. I finally called her back when I was able to get alone.

“You need to call Baba.” I expected the usual harassment, but this time my sister was calm. She didn’t sound angry, she sounded tired. I asked her was he upset, but she said he was acting strange. He had seen the news report about Salman Haider and this was bad enough, but it was the rumours about others – some say four, some say nine, some are saying the numbers are still growing. And they’re being targeted for their social media accounts. “I know,” I said, “I’m pushing my luck.” My sister laughed. “You were pushing your luck a few years ago. Now? Now I just think you don’t even care about your safety.” I sat and listened to her silently, watching at an ant as it crawled across my shoe. “If you don’t care about yourself, that’s your problem. But think about how you’re affecting the people around you. It’s not fair.” I promised her I would talk to my father and hung up.

I called my father later that night. We talked for a while, but he didn’t say anything so I finally said, “Baba, I don’t want you to be worried. I’ll quit everything. I don’t really know why I do it anyway.” He was silent. He said, “You always told me you were very careful. Are you worried about something?” I told him, no, I’m very careful. Sometimes I think I’m paranoid, even. But I don’t want him to worry. He snapped at me. “Beta, if you make yourself disappear, then what was the point?” I was stunned. “Listen to me,” he sounded angry, “You are a man, no? Will you hide yourself? Will you wear burqa? No! Be a man! I don’t always agree with you. Sometimes I think you are foolish. But it is your right to be foolish! When I was your age we sat around for hours arguing with each other and no one cared because no one heard us. Now, it is the internet and people are hearing you.” I said, no, no one listens to me. This only made him angrier. “And they will listen when you stop talking? Don’t be stupid! Whatever is happening is only because all of you on the internet must be making some difference.”

There was a moment of silence, then my father sighed deeply. “Beta, listen to me. You are my son. I will worry about you for trying to make a difference. It is my right as your father. However, I will worry about you more if you give up.”

Honestly, I do not know what to think of this situation we are in. It’s easy to believe that agencies are involved. History does not give them a clean chit. But the sad truth is it could be anyone that is behind these disappearances. Extremist groups have also tried to silence secular activists. Can we ever forget the words of Sabeen Mahmud’s killer?

“There wasn’t one particular reason to target her: she was generally promoting liberal, secular values. There were those campaigns of hers, the demonstration outside Lal Masjid [in Islamabad], Pyaar ho jaane do (let there be love) on Valentine’s Day and so on.”

There are forces that are out to silence anyone who challenges their ideology. They are well armed with guns and bombs, but is truth and ideas that will defeat them. They lurk in the shadows, trying to make us silence ourselves. If not, they will reach out from the shadows and silence one of us to send a message. But theirs is an impossible mission. The truth is not a fragile flower than bruises and wilts so easily. It is a hearty plant, deeply rooted and native to this soil. And it has grown into a forest that provides shelter to those who embrace it. They can kidnap a blogger. They can shut down a social media account. But they can never disappear the truth. In the end, we will win.

Hyper-Nationalists Doing RAW’s Work For Them

tilting at windmills

After suffering losses of over 50,000 Pakistanis and billions of dollars, the national mood began to look hopeless. Taliban was attacking in Waziristan and tribal areas. Sectarian groups were attacking in Sindh and Punjab. PTI and PAT had put up roadblocks in the capital both literally and figuratively. Polio was spreading, and education was not. There was no international attention to Kashmir situation, and too much international attention to Balochistan situation. Pakistan felt like was starting to tear at the seams. In recent weeks, though, things have changed. There has been a marked improvement in the national mood. Whatever the facts, it feels like things are turning around. There are some reasons for this: For the first time since long, polio cases have declined this year. Militant attacks have declined also. Most significantly, though, we have finally identified an enemy that the entire nation can unite against regardless of geography, ethnicity, or sect: India. However while declines in polio cases and militant attacks are positives, the rise of anti-India rhetoric could actually reverse these trends.

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Why Varsity Students Are Vulnerable to Extremism and How To Change It

Saad AzizSaad Aziz is an unlikely poster boy for terrorism. The son of a good family, educated at some of the nation’s top schools, Aziz appeared to be everything that any parent would want for their child. Inside, though, a terrible storm was building. How did this promising young man turn into a monster? This is a question that must be dealt with because, as is finally coming to light, Aziz is not the only well-educated jihadi in our midst. We look for answers to this question not out of mere curiosity, but in hopes of finding a cure for the disease. Thankfully, it might be easier than we think.

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RAW Nerves Exposed?


We have long known that terrorism is not natural to occur in Pakistan. The footprints of American CIA and Black Water agents, Israeli Mossad, and RAW have been found at the scene of every act of violence. Rehman Malik warned that foreign elements were spreading terrorism in Pakistan when he was Interior Minister, and Chaudhry Nisar has continued the same during his term. In the media, retired military officers have been protesting that India’s intelligence agency is behind every act of terrorism in the country, but this week charges of Indian responsibility for terrorism were given the ultimate stamp when GHQ made the accusation in an official release from ISPR. The question now is what happens next?

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Why is it easy to #BlameISI?

Justice for Sabeen

After the outcry over the killing of Sabeen Mahmud, a new Twitter trend #BlameISI appeared to make the point that it is too easy to blame agencies for everything under the sun. Point taken, but I couldn’t help but also wonder why it is so easy to blame ISI? One of  the most popular defences of ISI in Sabeen Mahmud case was included in a piece by Ali Afzal Sahi published by Daily Times:

Firstly, a fundamental rule underlying criminal law is that the primary suspect is that who benefits most from the murder. Treading along this line of thought, what can be clearly ascertained is that ISI has nothing to gain and everything to lose. Any sane person would have guessed that if she is hurt, ISI will be blamed.

This is fascinating. Think about what he is saying: “Any sane person would have guessed that if she is hurt, ISI will be blamed.” Why would any sane person guess that ISI will be blamed if a liberal intellectual who hosts a discussion of Balochistan is harmed? Shouldn’t this be the question we are asking?

Reading this left my head spinning. Then, I found what I believe is the answer in an opinion piece by esteemed lawyer and analyst Feisal Naqvi.

The first point is that the problem is not just that nobody knows the answer today: the problem is that we will probably never know who killed her. Just like we will never know who killed Saleem Shehzad. Or Wali Muhammad. Or Parween Rehman. Or Benazir Bhutto. Or Omar Asghar Khan. Or Hakim Said. Or General Ziaul Haq. Or Liaquat Ali Khan.

A few days ago, rumours began to circulate that an ISI sting operation had nabbed the killers and they would be exposed soon. I was relieved. Not just because I don’t want to believe that my own security forces would be willing or able to have a defenceless woman killed over a discussion, but because it would be a sign that things had taken a turn and justice would be carried out. We are still waiting for the announcement, and actually by now I have turned cynical for exactly the reason that Faisal Naqvi makes: Historically, we never learn the answers.

Politicians and Army spokesmen are prone to speaking in riddles. When explaining who is behind such attacks, we are told that there is insurmountable proof of ‘foreign hand’ or ‘known elements’ or ‘enemy agents’. Never a name, though. Never a photograph. There are vague insinuations, but never details.

Feisal Naqvi finally put into words what I have been feeling since long. So, with apologies to him, I am going to borrow his final paragraph:

I have no reason to doubt the DG ISPR’s sincerity when he condemns the murder of Sabeen Mahmud. At a personal level, I very much doubt that our agencies had anything to do with her death. But in the absence of any independent accountability or trustworthy form of dispute resolution, all we are left with are his words. And words really don’t go that far.

The best defence of ISI is not a social media trend or a threats against media airing hate speech against national institutions. A better defence of ISI is for our intelligence agencies to find the killers and expose them by making the detailed evidence public, no matter who the killers are. The best defence is for agencies to stop these killings before they ever happen.