CENSORED: Who Will Pay?

The following op-ed was originally published by The Nation on 26th Dec. It was quickly deleted from the newspaper’s website due to unknown orders from unknown offices. We are re-posting the piece in accordance with Articles 19 and 19(A) of the Constitution which guarantee “the right to freedom of speech and expression, and…freedom of the press” as well as “the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance”.

Pakistan Media

So Pakistan’s public will be made to bear the cost of about three million pounds damages and costs for the case filed by Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman (MSR) of the Jang/ Geo group against ARY channel for Mubashir Luqman’s twenty four libelous shows.
This will be the result of the UK High Court’s verdict against ARY for twenty four unbridled and defamatory programmes by Mubashir Lucman against MSR whilst at ARY.

But the UK court didn’t ask the citizens to pay, you might remark.
And you would be right to remark thus.
The court has stipulated ARY to pay out for damaging MSR’s reputation and endangering his life, as a lesson to ARY (and others) to not indulge in such activities.
But imagine: will the owner of ARY channel Salman Iqbal take this lying down, when he has no dog in the game except support from ‘the agencies’? A one-time loss he might even be willing to bear.
But given the slew of cases now being filed in the United Kingdom against ARY (including by the strongest Pakistani industrialist, Mian Mansha, and human rights activist Malala’s father) he would be inclined to bill the agencies for this bill, to set a precedent and basis for them footing the bills for all he has been doing at their behest.

Which brings us back to ‘Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency’.
Salman Iqbal will likely forward the bill to them.
And ‘they’ should rightly pay.
But what does that mean for us, the citizens? What it means is that in addition to its already invisible and unaccountable budget, millions of further pounds will have to be allocated, such that it can pay the bills for the new trend in foreign suits.

Is this, then, not the time for the people and the parliament to renew calls to bring the ‘the primary intelligence agency’ under democratic and financial oversight? This latest ARY casualty would just serve as the peg, the actual thousand leagues under the sea that is ‘the intelligence agency’ being the real target.

But here I must make a very important correction: in recent years the PR arm of the military has been a veritable arm of the military’s intelligence agencies, with the head of said PR agency, while leading the onslaught of military chief’s PR campaign, leading social media attacks on human rights and democracy activists, and leading social media attacks on ‘anti-nationalists’ and ‘ghaddars’ with his bevvy of the ‘Baloch girl’ army, has been reigning supreme.

So will this PR agency be made to pay part of the ARY bills (present and future)? Clearly, whilst ARY is now somewhat chained because of its broadcasts in the UK, BOL will carry on unfettered (to my knowledge it does not broadcast in other jurisdictions, and will cancel any plans to do so because of the ARY fiasco).

But what all this means is that we, the Pakistani citizens, will end up paying more for attacks against us, in the shape of (nontransparent) higher budgets for the country’s premier PR and intelligence agencies.

Moving on to Qazi Faez Isa and Najam Sethi’s take on the report: I was one of the first persons to identify the gaping hole in the honourable justice’s report.
That of not holding the Frontier Corp (FC) to account in any manner for the Quetta horror, obliterating in one fell an entire generation of lawyers and activists.
But Sethi saheb’s editorial of last Friday, whilst correctly criticizing Justice Isa’s report for not holding security agencies to account, ‘doth protest too much’ against the criticism of Chaudhry Nisar, the Interior Minister.
Not a word spoken against him in the Quetta Commission Report is untrue.
Did he not ignore all requests to proscribe Jamat-ul-Ahrar and Jamat-ud-Dawa Al Almi for months despite their claims (and no evidence to the contrary) of having perpetrated the Quetta lawyers massacre? Was he not caught hiding behind NACTA, which was hiding behind the ISI, which said, ‘they should have done their job per the law (despite the unwritten norms with regard to us’?

Whilst I’m the first one to agree with Sethi sahib regarding the egregious oversight with regard to security agencies far as the Quetta Inquiry Commission report is concerned, I am not with him in trying to exonerate the Minister of Interior.
I understand that what Sethi saheb is saying is that this is unfair.
But then rather than exonerate the boys’ man Chaudhry Nisar, why not question ‘them’? Why not try and expose ‘them’ rather than shield elements in the government? Let Chaudhry Nisar be the first casualty.
Only after might we be able to reach his enablers? My most humble submission to Sethi saheb: let’s catch what we can; only it can lead to the elements we have never been able to ‘catch’.
Let’s not exonerate obvious culprits.
Let’s try and get through to culprits via culprits.

The writer is a human rights worker and freelance columnist. Follow her on Twitter at @gulbukhari

CENSORED: The Myth We Believe In

The following op-ed was originally published by The Nation on 17th Sept. It was quickly deleted from the newspaper’s website due to unknown orders from unknown offices. We are re-posting the piece in accordance with Articles 19 and 19(A) of the Constitution which guarantee “the right to freedom of speech and expression, and…freedom of the press” as well as “the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance”.

Gen Raheel

In Pakistan your patriotism is gauged by your love for the uniform. Not just any uniform though. Not blue, not white nor the greys. The respect is deeply attached to the Khaki tone. If you worship the cloth you are a true Pakistani, if not you’re simply a traitor.

Choosing sides is fairly easy when it comes to the skirmishes involving the khakis. One fairly common battle is the khaki vs the sherwanis. Everyone knows who wins these. The Sherwanis’ squeaky attempt at going head to head with the former has been a sore retelling throughout our history. The dabs of corruption and opportunism give an outrageous edge to the Khaki’s who manage to woo the crowd. Not much good happens when the crowd sides with the Khaki’s alone. However, the support is not up for debate. It never has been; as far as the unsaid laws of this country go.

There are other battles as well; or at least there should be. The Khaki has been a bully dominating a playground that was made for others to play in. Take the real estate for example. Retired khakis who have only retired officially but maintain their kahki ego and influence, monopolise some of the most lucrative endeavors in the real estate business. Somehow, the field in question is a money minting machine if you’re a khaki. Besides a certain rarity (who himself has often exhibited himself as an accessory to the Khakis), those who don’t wear the color usually don’t prosper as much. Why this happens is a matter of perspective. The ex-Chief’s brother and his adventures give some insight. The Ferrari crash too, clears the picture. And then there is so much more. There are the banks. There are the factories. And indeed, so much more.

The khakis have managed to maintain dominance in the setting of other uniforms as well. The mammoth budget directed to the uniforms out of our tax money has the lion share go to the them. No other uniform ever protests this. Then there is the obvious usurping of power sectors that the other uniforms -thankfully so- don’t even dream to venture into. The populace has believed in the myth the Khakis want them to believe in. In times of despair or political frustration, the chief in Khaki is looked upon. As time has taught the nation of Pakistan, these expectations are never really a good idea.

No one dares challenge the might of the Khakis. Those who do simply don’t exist. The rules of the game in this country dictates it as so. However, someone just did. A person bearing the grey uniform did what he was paid to do. The khakis didn’t like that. Figures of an elite force were called in to help their khaki brothers. The greys were beaten. There are pictures and first and second person accounts. The beating was not the end for the greys were then forcefully kept at Attock fort.

The said incident does not raise many eyebrows. The term ‘bloody civilian’ has been often repeated by men who believe being rude dictates authority. Similarly, the traffic police too have not had to face the anger of a disappointed influential who’ve insisted on not paying their dues. This incident is but a usual affair in our country.

What is interesting however is how the country has reacted. The reaction takes us back to the initial premise of this article whereby one’s patriotism is dictated by having complete faith in the army. There have been ludicrous justifications to the incident. Those who seek to justify the actions of the men involved have just made a mockery out of the institution. ISPR too has brushed this aside with a rather casual term: sad. Now there is supposed to be an internal inquiry of the men involved. Strange, why the said men are not being brought to the civil courts for more transparent proceedings. After all, wasn’t this the expectations the civilians attached to the civilian cases sent in to the military courts?

If this incident is not brushed under the carpet it will make an impact that has been much awaited. However, those found guilty must be held accountable to the public at large as well. With secret proceedings and rulings, not many of us will know what exactly happened with the case. Most of us will forget about it much sooner than we should. Here is to hoping that the ISPR does a better job at this than the tweets it has most recently become fond of. A detailed ruling must be shared with the public. The Khakis are good at making the public believe in their myth; let’s hope they can make the public believe the truth too.

The writer is working as a health economist in a think-tank based  in Islamabad

Azadi March: Is Media Only Capable Of Destroying?

media panic

The Nation today has called on Nawaz to address the public and correct Imran Khan’s incorrect claims regarding elections.

Nawaz Sharif must come out of the ministerial veil and tell people his side of the story. Unlike Khan, he is lucky to have facts on his side. With so much at stake here, there can be no half measures. The Prime Minister must address the public on national television. His speech must identify the massive loopholes in Imran’s narrative. People should be told that the government has no control over the functions of the Election Commission. That the Election Tribunals have already dealt with 73% of the cases lodged. That no reform or ‘change’ can be achieved through abrupt mid-term elections, especially since they will be conducted under the same system Imran claims to be crusading against. 

This recommendation has one major problem, though, which is that people are unlikely to take the Prime Minister seriously. Most likely, he will be seen as saying whatever is necessary to protect his own job. The Nation does raise an important point however which is that much of what Imran Khan is saying is factually incorrect.

My question is, if a major politician is giving incorrect statements, isn’t it the job of media to correct them?

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Heads to remain firmly in sand until next attack

head in the sand

Following multiple terrorist attacks that killed dozens including high ranking military officers and innocent civilians alike, there appeared a brief moment of clarity in the national discussion. Some even predicted a change in the attitude among the top leadership, pointing to the sudden increase in media stories openly criticising state support for jihadi groups as part of foreign policy. It appears that prediction may have been premature. Once again, as the dust begins to settle after the blast, Jihadi sympathisers and media Talibans are giving full throated support for militant groups.

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Oh no…I agree with The Nation

Drone

That’s right. Mark your calendars. Today may be a historic day. I agree (partly) with The Nation. The piece I am referring to, even more strangely it seems, is an editorial about drone strikes. What has changed my mind you ask? Nothing. Allow me to explain.

When drone strikes resumed after being stopped following the 26th Novemner NATO attack and Shamsi airbase being vacated, I expected an angry statement from Army, street protests, another media outcry about sovereignty. Of course, what I got instead was silence.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who noticed. Here’s what The Nation said:

The general understanding was that following the vacation of the Shamsi Airbase and discontinuation of NATO supplies to Afghanistan, drones would never again enter Pakistani airspace. It may be recalled that the American television channel MSNBC aired a report saying that on December 12 last year, Prime Minister Gilani and COAS Gen Kayani resolved, at a meeting, that any further drone attack would be considered an act of aggression. Not only this, the report said that the top civil and military leadership has also decided to shoot down any drone entering into Pakistani airspace. It is strange that no action against these invading planes was taken and not even protested.

But is it really so strange?

Consider the next sentence in The Nation’s editorial: “It gives credence to another US newspaper report that Pakistan has agreed to selective drone strikes.”

Yes, it does.

And that’s not the only thing we agree on. Here’s the conclusion reached by The Nation:

The civil and military leadership will have to put their heads together and decide once and for all whether they are going to continue making empty promises to Pakistanis or whether they will finally put their money where their mouth is. People are no longer willing to be hoodwinked about the clarity of the policy on this issue. If there is some renewed understanding with the Americans, that too must be clearly stated, failing which the government may face a strong spate of protest demonstrations. The US too must recognise, that whether or not its drone policy is one it officially recognises, it is having a justifiably negative impact on its perception as a whole in Pakistan.

Guess what? I agree.

I have written several times about drone strikes against militants, and I’ve been accused of everything from having a CIA visa handler to being on the payroll of RAW. I can assure you that none of that is true. Honestly, these comments don’t bother me because the people who know me know that I’m none of these things, and besides I think it’s funny that most of the accusations come from jihadi wannabes commenting from US and UK, anyway.

I’ve personally never been a strong supporter of drones, but I’ve never been strongly against them either. How could I be either when I have so little credible information on which to make a judgment? I’ve always just wanted to have a rational conversation about them. Part of that conversation is two crucially important questions that, until now, nobody has really wanted to ask:

1. Given that militant groups are a problem that must be countered, do drones result in less suffering for innocents than using ground troops?

2. Are officials condemning drones in Pakistan while secretly giving the nod to the Americans?

These are legitimate questions, I think. The first one has already been answered by Pakistani military officers, even though there is so much misinformation and confusion in the media.

The second quesiton has also been answered by Wikileaks, even given later contradictory statements by the COAS and the PM.

And there’s our problem. The subject of drones is being used as a political tool to manipulate the people’s sentimentalities. Let’s be honest – even if the civilians wanted to defy the military and allow the Americans to carry out operations in Pakistan that the military did not approve, they couldn’t. The military controls intelligence. The military controls the borders. The military controls the airspace. Blaming the PM for drones is like blaming the COAS for tax evaders.

Should the Army allow the Americans to carry out drone strikes? I say the military should take the people into confidence and give us the hard and honest truth. Believe me, we can handle it. If the generals honestly think that the drones are making things worse, then tell us – and tell the Americans, too. And lets put an end to this programme once and for all. But if the generals believe that some drone strikes are a necessary evil that will help more quickly bring an end this godforsaken war on terror, then tell us and we will support you 100 per cent.

Just stop telling us one thing and doing something else. We are your fellow countrymen. Please, sirs, we deserve this much at least.