Arguing With Husain Haqqani

Husain HaqqaniHe is Senior Fellow and Director for South and Central Asia at a prestigious think tank in Washington, DC. He has written multiple books that have been termed ‘compulsory reading‘ in the West. He has been an invited speaker at the Aspen Ideas Festival and his ideas and analysis are regularly featured in global media like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, and Foreign Policy. Whether we like it or not, Husain Haqqani is probably the most influential Pakistani intellectual of modern times. Many don’t like it. I do not want to defend Husain Haqqani or his controversial ideas. What I want to do is use Husain Haqqani to talk about how we respond to those who we disagree with.

As you must know by know, Husain Haqqani’s latest piece for The New York Times caused quite a stir. In it, he dismisses the idea that India poses a real threat to Pakistan, and confirms the belief that the Pakistani state has supported extremist militants in Afghanistan and Kashmir. This is nothing new, however, it is his prescription for a cure that has angered many quarters because Haqqani calls for the US to get ‘tougher’ on Pakistan, something that is automatically seen as many as a shocking disloyalty, even though he explains that he is not looking to punish Pakistan:

The United States would be acting as a friend, helping Pakistan realize through tough measures that the gravest threat to its future comes from religious extremism it is fostering in its effort to compete with India.

Calls for ‘tough love’ are always controversial, however the response to this piece has not been to counter with facts and analysis. Actually, the response has shown the worst of the worst of human emotions. Surely you know what I mean, but here is a small sample of what I am talking about:

This is the response: Abuse, threats, hashtags, shouts of ‘traitor’, Indian flags and even a jewish star photoshopped on his picture. It is so stupid it is embarrassing. What do we think this behaviour makes us look like to the rest of the world? Intellectuals or idiots? Debaters or bullies? This is not even the behaviour of so-called ‘cyber commandoes’. Actually, they are nothing but cyber goondas. He says Pakistanis cannot be reasoned with, and we respond unreasonably. Such responses actually give Haqqani’s point more credit than his enemies realise.

This brings up another point. Pakistan has an entire diplomatic corps at its finger tips. Where is Ambassador Aizaz Chaudhry’s piece published in New York Times? Where is his piece published in The Wall Street Journal? More to the point, where are the Pakistani intellectuals who can debate with Haqqani without resorting to name-calling, innuendo, and threats?

Instead, what comes after the social media abuse calms down is completely predictable: Op-eds will be published in The Nation, Pakistan Observer, and Express Tribune. Urdu talk shows, especially on ARY, News One, and Bol will feature talking heads parroting the same talking points about how Haqqani was a member of IJT 30 or 40 years ago, even though he obviously grew out of such ideas before most of the audience was even born. They will call for Haqqani to be brought back to Pakistan and be tried for treason. After a few days of chest beating, something else will take over the media’s attention and the Haqqani Hate Squad will quiet down until he writes something else and the ‘Standard Operating Procedure’ is repeated.

Husain Haqqani is not really the point here. He is not the only progressive Pakistan whose ideas are responded with such abuse and threats. We see the same treatment handed out to our other internationally respected intellectuals like Asma Jahangir and Malala. If ISI and ISPR support such stupidity, how can we ever expect to be taken seriously on the world’s stage? If they do not support it, they need to call out these foolish ‘cyber warrior’ accounts, especially those that have attended the official trainings at NDU. They need to correct the retired officers and their children who spend their days abusing on social media. We need to stop attacking and abusing those who we don’t agree with, and start proving them wrong if we can. Otherwise, we are only drawing attention to our own lack of intelligent answers!

Social Media: The latest front of deep state’s national narrative management

social media wars

Social media is coming under intense pressurization. First, government and judiciary began raising alarms over alleged problem of ‘blasphemous content‘ on social media. Now the attention has moved from offending the Almighty to offending the Army. Last weekend, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar declared it unconstitutional to criticise national security matters and related institutions. He has ordered FIA to take action against anyone criticising Army on social media.

However, if Army feels like it is loosing its grip online, it is not leaving it to the civilians to fix the problem. Activities of ISI’s media cell (aka M-Wing) are well known, but there are also ‘unofficial’ groups that are used to both spread messages and remind citizens of their place. In a new piece for Daily Times, Dr Aamir Khan has pointed out the rise of ‘a hidden WhatsApp constituency‘.

No, it is not hyper-paid TV anchors themselves, powerful though they are in shaping public opinion. I refer to some 25 to 30 thousand retired army officers who are daily using social media, especially WhatsApp to forge a formidable group exerting pressure on the highest leadership of our armed forces.

Propaganda rings and pro-Army social media operations are nothing new in Pakistan. For many officers, retirement means a new career in media. ‘Un-official’ new media operations were pioneered by the likes of Gen Hamid Gul and Major Raja Mujtaba, and their legacy is being carried on after them by a new generation.

In the past year, a new ‘private’ venture has launched called CommandEleven.com which is led by Lt Gen (r) Tariq Khan and Col (r) Azam Qadri supported by a cast of ‘analysts’ who came up through the ranks of PKKH and its off-shoots. As usual, this new operation features ‘analysis’ by retired Army officers questioning the patriotism of media and blaming corruption for all the country’s problems (but not all corruption of course).

This new group is also closely watching social media for any criticism of the armed forces. After DG ISPR’s Tweet rejecting PM’s notification on ‘Dawn Leaks’, one of CommandEleven.com’s so-called analysts wrote that ‘domestic and international elements also waged a social media campaign against DG ISPR’, and termed the entire affair as a a ‘classic media influence operation’. The same ‘analyst’ also has written a blog post that tries to paint the conference as ‘mysterious’ and the participants as ‘traitors’ and ‘foreign agents’ in a most typical manner, even though the conference was reported in both international media and Pakistani media and the contents of the conference are actually posted online for anyone to see what was actually said.

The real mystery here is what is the point of these hypernationalist social media operations being run by retired military officers? What used to be the domain of conspiracy-mongers like Zaid Hamid and Ahmed Quraishi is now a crowded room of newly retired Army officers and their young proteges. Is it only a coincidence that this is happening at the same time Interior Minister is threatening action against anyone who critcises Army on social media, or is it an orchestrated part of deep state’s national narrative management?

One month since Sehwan blast and already we have lost plot

Hundreds of innocents killed in a new wave of terrorist attacks, a new military operation announced, and within weeks we have already lost the plot. In just the past few days we have seen Islamabad High Court and Interior Ministry announce possible new social media ban to crack down on alleged problem of ‘blasphemous content’. This was followed by a petition against Zara Hut Kay for daring to question the IHC Judge.

Soon after, some of our so-called ‘journalists’ selectively read an article by former Ambassador Hussain Haqqani about American politicians meeting Russian diplomats and somehow managed to turn it into an admission that he helped capture Osama bin Laden. Only in Pakistan is helping capture the world’s most wanted terrorist considered treason, but this is our reality. However this interpretation doesn’t even match what is in the supposed confession. Haqqani says that he brought a request to Islamabad (which was his job) and that American intelligence agents were operating in Pakistan (this is no revelation or have we forgotten that ISI was working with CIA in Pakistan at the time?). The important line that nobody seems to have read is when Haqqani notes that “the United States kept us officially out of the loop about the operation”. Never mind the facts, though, as PPP grasped at the opportunity to disown their former Ambassador, something they do once a year as part of their desperate attempts to slow their slide into political irrelevance.

Meanwhile, COAS Bajwa has met with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Army has announced new operations will defend Saudi Arabia from cross border attacks. This news has broken only two days after Chinese media reported that Pakistan Army Chief has also promised to protect Chinese workers and investments in Pakistan. It has not been clarified where Pakistani citizens come in the priority, but some are speculating that the current list is:

  1. Chinese investments
  2. Saudi Princes
  3. Kashmir-based ‘freedom fighters’
  4. Cricket tournaments
  5. VVIPs

Operation Raddul Fasaad was launched on 22 February. Less than four weeks later, we find our selves in essentially the same chaotic mess that we have remained leading many to ask if Raddul Fasaad and the national ‘unity’ is anything else but a facade.

Trending in #Pakistan

Twitter trends

I am a Twitter addict. I can’t help it. I am glued to Twitter, every minute checking for new posts. There are people who I follow because I know that they are going to say something that makes me think, and there are people I follow because I know that they are going to say something that makes me angry. One of my favourite parts of Twitter are the “trends”. This is where Twitter tells you what some of the most popular terms that are being used at that moment. It gives an insight into what the collective voice of the country is thinking. Or does it?

Some trends are unsurprising. During elections especially, politics seems to dominate Twitter trends. During the recent elections in Karachi, hashtag #NA246 was steadily appearing on Trends. After Election Tribunal announced re-polling in the district, #NA125 began trending. Often though the hashtags that are trending do not just notify about a topic, but contain a specific political message. This is where things get interesting.

Continue reading

Social Networks and Democracy – Joshua Tucker

In light of the recent buzz on Social media and its effect on campaigning, New-Pakistan is posting this study which finds “no relationship between usage of Facebook/Twitter and participation in post-election protests” in Russia.

The following guest post is from political scientists Ora John Reuter and David Szakonyi

Foreign policy pundits have been bullish about the ability of social media to bring democratic change in authoritarian regimes. Observers have argued that social media can literally “make history” by helping topple regimes, and democracy promoters are sinking big money into a variety of trainings with this very goal.   But in countries such as China, Russia, and Iran, where users of local social networks still far outnumber users of Facebook and Twitter, authoritarian governments have used their leverage over domestic networks to contain online opposition to the regime.

The story of Russia’s most popular social networking platform, VKontakte, illustrates this point well.  In March 2013, reports (ru) surfaced about how VKontakte collaborates with Kremlin officials to gather intelligence on opposition groups that use the site.  The most damning of the reports claimed that the site shut down opposition “groups” and misdirected message traffic between opposition figures.

Indeed, in the aftermath of the December 2011 parliamentary elections, when allegations of massive electoral fraud brought tens of thousands of Russians onto the streets in the largest anti-regime protests since the fall of the Soviet Union, the relationship between VKontakte and the Kremlin even became coercive. Four days after the election, the company’s founder Pavel Durov reported that he had been summoned by the FSB (Russia’s internal security service) to answer questions about opposition activity on Vkontakte. Durov’s hesitation to cooperate fully appears to have landed him in hot water, as investors with ties to the Kremlin recently purchased a 48% share in Vkontakte and Durov may have fled the country after his home was searched in connection with an alleged traffic violation.

In our research on social media, we have found that the ownership structure of social media matters greatly for politics. When nondemocratic governments have leverage over the content and structure of social networks, users lose the ability to access independent points of view and learn about government malfeasance. Not only is information sharing monitored and potentially blocked, but democracy activists avoid networks connected with government authorities for fear of reprisals.

Though scholars have long warned about the attempts of authoritarian leaders to influence the internet, little empirical evidence has been brought forth about the effects of these efforts on politics at the micro-level. In a forthcoming article, we used survey data from the 2011 parliamentary elections in Russia to examine how usage of different social networks affected users’ awareness of electoral fraud. Our results indicate that users of Western networks like Facebook and Twitter are about five percentage points more likely to believe that there was significant electoral fraud during the elections.  Usage of Russian networks, VKontakte and Odnoklassniki, meanwhile had no effect on awareness of electoral fraud.

We argue that the reason for this discrepancy lies in the type of information being spread on these networks. During the election season, local networks’ vulnerability to state pressure seems to have led many opposition activists to focus their social media strategy on Western social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, which are much harder to monitor and pressure.   Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most popular political blogger, maintained an active public Facebook page and Twitter account, which he used to spread hundreds of YouTube videos, photographs, and anecdotes documenting electoral fraud, and yet Navalny maintained only a token presence on Vkontakte and no presence on Odnoklassniki.  This strategy is at odds with the goal of reaching a mass audience since Odnoklassniki and VKontakte each have five times as many users as Facebook (only 5% of Russian internet users are on Facebook).

reuter_russia
Caption: Figure 1 shows the week on week change in activity on social networking sites in the weeks surrounding the elections.  There were large spikes in activity on Facebook and Twitter, but no such spikes in VKontakte and Odnoklassniki usage.

Of course, it’s possible that individuals with preformed opinions about electoral violations select into usage of Facebook and Twitter and eschew usage of native social media platforms. Its hard to dismiss this possibility, but our findings do indicate that Facebook/Twitter users are remarkably similar to VKontakte users across a range of factors that might be correlated with perceptions of electoral fraud (sex, income, education, place of residence, support for Putin, levels of political participation, and support for the opposition).

Our presumption was also that Facebook and Twitter usage would also increase levels of protest participation, as the emerging narrative suggests.  This should certainly be true if the self-selection process described above was at work (users with preconceived notions about rampant fraud should be especially likely to join protests against electoral fraud).   But surprisingly, we found no relationship between usage of Facebook/Twitter and participation in post-election protests.

Thus, users of Western social networks were not more politically active than either their counterparts on Russian social networks or even non-users of social networks. Yet they were more informed about the wrongdoings of the government.

Our findings corroborate a slew of recent work that emphasizes an information-centric view of social media, rather than one geared towards organizing collective action. In a clever field experiment, Catie Snow Bailard (gated) randomized free access to Internet cafes in the run-up to Tanzania’s 2010 election. Again, Facebook users were more likely than the average Internet user to think the elections were conducted unfairly.  This finding aligns with recent work done by scholars on thousands of tweets emanating from the Occupy Wall Street protests in Greece, Spain and the USA. They find that online social media are used less for protest organization than they are to spread information about the grievances

What this discussion suggests is that social media’s effects on democratization are not straightforward. The information spreading function of social media is limited when most of a country’s online social networking occurs on domestic platforms that are vulnerable to government pressure, as is the case in a clutch of the world’s most prominent authoritarian regimes.  Indeed, one might speculate that one of the reasons that Russia was able to overcome its protest movement was that it was able to contain and control online dissent, while Egypt, which had no domestic social network, was unable to control the spread of information on Facebook and Twitter.  But a note of optimism is warranted:  Facebook is on the march. Just three years ago domestic social networks still dominated in much of the developing world, but the list of countries where Facebook is not dominant grows smaller every year.

http://themonkeycage.org/2013/05/17/social-networks-and-democracy/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+themonkeycagefeed+%28The+Monkey+Cage%29