Imran Khan’s “Interrogation” A Publicity Stunt?

Imran Khan

When Sheikh Rashid was detained by authorities at a US airport earlier this year, I predicted that Imran Khan would be next. Looks like I was right. But is this incident everything that it’s being made out to be? Or is there more to the story…

In case you haven’t heard already, Imran Khan was on his way to a fundraising tour in the US when he was briefly delayed by US officials at an airport in Canada who wanted to ask him some questions. According to a report in Express Tribune on 27th October, “Khan was questioned for half an hour”. The details of those questions is not exactly known. Imran Khan insists that he was asked about his position on drones, and Tweeted from the airport:

I was taken off from plane and interrogated by US Immigration in Canada on my views on drones. My stance is known. Drone attacks must stop

Imran Khan makes a good point here. His views on drones are well known, so why would US officials need to spend one half hour asking him about them? Something seems strange.

Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy Richard Hoagland reinforced this view when speaking to journalists in Peshawar earlier this week, saying that “A lot of the story that went out was not very accurate but played up for political purposes”. The American DCM later posted on Twitter that Khan’s questioning had “Nothing to do with drones – he brought it up”.

Here’s how Imran Khan described the conversation in a phone call to CNN:

“I kept asking them what was this all about, and then one guy interviewed me and he was so confused, he had no idea what he was saying,” Khan told CNN by phone from Seattle, another stop on his trip.

“He was talking about some fund-raising, so I asked him to come to the point, and he said, ‘We’re worried you might use violence against drones.’ I mean, it was so ridiculous, I didn’t even know how to answer it.”

What’s interesting is that this is different not only from Imran Khan’s original description – “interrogated…on my vies on drones”, but also how Imran Khan has been describing the incident to journalists here in Pakistan, where he claims that he was interrogated about his position on drones for “three or four hours”.

“I am cool. Such intimidating tactics cannot faze me. I was absolutely not upset at having to spend three or four hours at an airport against my will. It’s not a big deal for me”, Imran told reporters in the federal capital.

Imran, who has been a vigorous critic of US drone attacks and even led a rally to the tribal belt in protest, regretted the government’s silence on the maltreatment he had received in Canada.

“I am the head of a major political party of Pakistan and my detention and interrogation by US immigration authorities in Canada is in fact an insult of the entire Pakistani nation.”

Talking to CNN after the incident, Imran Khan claimed that he was asked about his fundraising plans in America, and that the issue of drones only came up at the end. The Americans insist that he’s the one who brought up drones, that they never even asked. But talking to reporters in Pakistan, Imran Khan tells a much more exciting story of his courage in the face of ‘intimidation’.

PTI was once seen as an emerging force in Pakistan’s political scene, only to see it’s prospects quickly fall. Earlier this week, PTI canceled internal party elections after discovering that only 350,000 members, or are actually eligible to vote in Pakistan. The most recent voter rolls include over 84 million people, meaning that PTI voters amount to about 0.4% of the population. The Kaptaan’s ‘tsunami’ is starting to look like more like a leaky faucet.

Was his so-called interrogation a political overreach by an empire mad with power, or a last ditch effort by a desperate politician about to be bowled out? It’s not hard to see who stands to benefit from the incident – Imran Khan gets to look like the fearless leader standing up to the world’s super power, while the US looks like the world’s bully. Perhaps the most telling thing about the incident, though, is just how little attention it got him. After giving him millions, I wonder if Imran Khan’s American supporters aren’t starting to feel a little bit like phuddoos.

Sovereignty Lost, Sovereignty Regained

Taliban

One of the most controversial topics in recent years has been the question of Pakistan’s sovereignty. Usually, this question is raised during discussions of drone strikes and the unilateral American strike that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. Without saying that these are not important issues, there is another more pressing threat to our sovereignty that has gone ignored until it has reached a crisis point.

A new report tells how Afghan Taliban have actually taken control of Quetta.

According to the locals, the Quetta Shura has within the span of a decade gotten to the point where it “runs the show.” From managing neighborhood security and harassing those who oppose them, to investing in hospitals where militants returning from Afghanistan are treated and in real estate as far as Karachi, the Quetta Shura has not only become the face of insurgency in Afghanistan, but indeed, it has become the face of destabilization in Pakistan.

Several of the locals that I talked to suggested that Quetta Shura is openly collecting funds through its hoax Islamic charity fronts in major cities of Pakistan, and recruiting local Baloch to torch the NATO supply tankers. “They tell us that each truck that we will blow up will get us several ‘hoors’ in paradise. We don’t get fooled, but many do.”

As another local suggested, “[A] few years back, Quetta Shura was passive and was only urging people to wage war against the U.S., but now they are forcing people to wage war, not only on the US, but also on Pakistan.”

It is not just Balochistan where the Taliban appears to be seizing control of our territory. In an op-ed for Express Tribune, Ejaz Haider argues that the military should not go into North Wazirisitan. Even though “It’s our territory and we should be in control of it”, he says, “physical dominance of territory in irregular war is always of limited value.” He then explains that our security forces simply are not able to control our Western border or the areas of North Waziristan.

The Haqqani fighters will go into Afghanistan where they control large swathes of territory and where the bulk of their fighters are already based. Other groups will disperse inland: the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Punjabi Taliban and foreign fighters. The foreigners have nowhere to go and they will continue to operate against Pakistan until captured or killed.

At least in the short term this dispersal will result in heightened urban terrorism, though I am told by sources that the intelligence agencies have been more effective in busting urban terrorist cells and nabbing and killing their fighters. That may be so but all indicators tell us that our counterterrorism capacity — civilian law enforcement — falls short of what it will take to effectively neutralise urban attacks. The reprisals will take their toll.

In other words, according to Ejaz Haider, it would be useless to try to control North Waziristan because we can’t stop militants from crossing our border and our counterterrorism capacity is not up to the task of effectively neutralising urban terrorists. If Ejaz Haider is correct, the Taliban has achieved what India never could. They have effectively redrawn our border and taken over part of our territory. Perhaps this is why Sheikh Rashid appealed to Mullah Omar and not the Army to protect Imran Khan?

Some have found a clever way of avoiding this logical conclusion by demanding that it is America’s responsibility to secure the border with Afghanistan, but this is obvious nonsense. First, how can we claim to want no American military interference in our sovereignty and at the same time say that they are responsible for our border? Also, what happens when the Americans leave? Who will we demand to secure our border then? Either we can secure our own borders or we can’t secure our own borders.

Fortunately, I think Ejaz Haider and others are wrong and our security forces are up to the task of securing our border and controlling our territory. To succeed, however, the military leadership needs to take a strong stand against militants and their support networks, but armed and propaganda. The speech of COAS on the occasion of Independence Day was a good start, but it is not enough to stop there. Otherwise, what sovereignty will be left to defend?

Sheikh Rashid Detained. Is Imran Khan Next?

Sheikh Rashid is well known for his boisterous personality and his attraction to the media lime light. Even those who do not agree with his politics often find him entertaining. The former minister has gone through a number of political transformations, though lately it seems that he has come full circle – and it appears that international authorities are taking notice.

Last Wednesday, American authorities detained Sheikh Rashid for several hours as he was trying to return to Pakistan from Texas. Rashid was eventually permitted to leave, but only after his phones were confiscated and all data obtained by the American authorities.

A clue as to why he was not permitted to exit the US can be found in the details of the Americans questions while he was detained. Speaking to journalist Azeem Mian, Rashid explained that the American authorities had interrogated him about his involvement with Difa-e-Pakistan Council.

This is not the first time that Sheikh Rashid’s links to militant groups have caused problems for his international travel. In 2005, even as a federal minister Sheikh Rashid was denied visa to India to attend the Indo-Pak cricket series because of his previous support for militant groups in Kashmir.

Gen (R) Mirza Aslam Baig confirmed that same year that Sheikh Rashid used to run a militant camp in Rawalpindi. During his tenure with the Musharraf regime, though, Sheikh Rashid reinvented himself as a supporter of Gen. Musharraf’s “enlightened moderation”.

But it seems that Rashid has abandoned his support for moderation. He has been an active supporter of Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) regularly appearing on stage at its ‘Go America Go’ rallies and joining with Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed and Amir JI Syed Munawar Hassan in warning against reopening NATO supplies through Pakistan.

Ijaz ul Haq Syed Munawar Hasan Abul Khair Zubair Hamid Gul Hafiz Saeed Sheikh Rashid Samiul Haq Difa e Pakistan

Only after Ambassador Sherry Rehman intervened with the American authorities was Sheikh Rashid released from detention – something most Pakistanis will not have the privilege of counting on if they find themselves in similar circumstances.

There is now speculation that PTI supporters could face similar questioning by US authorities, and that Imran Khan was warned by well wishers not to travel to the US for a planned fundraising tour that included a $5,000 per person luncheon. Some are concerned that Imran Khan’s ability to put on a moderate face with American media while supporting militant leaders like Hafiz Saeed and sharing the stage with pro-jihad personalities like Gen. (R) Hamid Gul at anti-American seminars. If American authorities are interested in the data on Sheikh Rashid’s phone, many wonder, are they interested in money being collected also?

So far, Sheikh Rashid’s detention is being down played and treated as a possible misunderstanding. But it could be that this is the first sign of a new policy by American authorities of ‘zero tolerance’ for supporting extremist groups and projecting anti-Americanism. Is Imran Khan next?