Islamic State is expanding to Islamic Republic of Pakistan

ISIS wall chalking in Quetta

Recent articles published in the US media are giving the impression that Islamic State, with a global Jihadi appeal, is struggling hard to get a foothold in Pakistan but the authors of these articles are either downplaying the tell tale signs or the articles lack the necessary framework in which emerging terror organizations flourish.

As the Taliban lose steam as a result of the death of their supreme leader Mullah Muhammad Omar and splintering and internal fighting, stage is set for a new group to take over. A cursory look at the metamorphosis of Jihadi organizations in Pakistan and Afghanistan over the past two decades indicate that they are getting deadlier, sophisticated and high tech savvy with every passing year; from Mujahideen groups willing to negotiate to Taliban willing to blow up and finally to Islamic State willing to behead innocent people. This is a worrying development not only for the South Asian region but for the entire world as well.

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Even the best media campaigns cannot change reality

Gen Bajwa ISPR

“You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Gen Bajwa’s elevation to three stars was seen as announcing the arrival not only of the respected general himself but of 4G warfare and the psychological operations that ISPR has perfected under Gen Bajwa’s leadership. To commemorate the anniversary of APS Peshawar attack, ISPR released another excellent video, ‘Mujhe Dushman Kay Bachon Ko Parhana Hai’. The video has received thousands of views and positive coverage in the media. But while ISPR’s media programme was rallying nationalist fervor, another narrative was beginning to take hold. One that is questioning whether everything is really as we’re being told.

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Zarb-e-Azb and the limits of military power

Parachinar Lashkar-e-Jhangvi attack

Army’s anti-terrorism campaign has been a huge success. We know this because we are reminded of how successful the Army has been by their crack media team such as the series of Tweets from General Asim Bajwa declaring operation Zarb-e-Azb “a phenomenal success” further projected by media that has been recruited as just another wing of ISPR. Gen Bajwa’s Twitter profile proclaims that “Truth Prevails”, and as far as we know everything that the Army’s top PR manager says is the truth, and the successes and sacrifice of our brave soldiers should be appreciated. However, without denying the great successes of Gen Raheel and Zarb-e-Azb, if “Truth Prevails”, we must also face the limits of military power in finally ridding our country of the menace of terrorism.

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Pakistan Becoming a Police State

riot police Karachi

The term ‘police state’ is defined as “a state controlled by a political police force that secretly supervises the citizens’ activities”. Is this a fitting description for Pakistan, which is supposedly a democracy? The answer to this question may be unsettling.

Operation Zarb-e-Azb was long overdue as terrorist outfits had been given leniency since too long which resulted in the inevitable. However, there are a growing number of examples of ‘national security’ being used as an excuse for ever expanding police powers against the citizens of Pakistan.

YouTube appears to be permanently blocked, despite the fact that no one can point to any legitimate reason why limiting access to the site is necessary. This is a relatively minor inconvenience as videos are widely available on other sites, and there are easy ways to access YouTube anyway. The point, though, is that is an early example of the state arbitrarily trying to control what information private citizens can get.

A more alarming example is the growing pressurisation of journalists and media with the most recent case being the firing of Daily Times columnist Mohammad Taqi under direction from Army. Taqi’s case has made international headlines, but it is not the only one. Actually, the media has become increasingly limited in what is reported and the positions that are presented. This is a process that began over one year ago as it was reported in February 2014 that media groups had begun directing journalists not to report anything critical of Army or right-wing political parties like Jamaat-e-Islami and PTI. During this time we have seen those like Ahmed Quraishi and Zaid Hamid returning to the spotlight and preaching a certain agenda.

While the media is increasingly becoming a hyper-nationalistic mouthpiece, Army is expanding its role as well. Civilians in the government are being replaced by military officers, and military courts are being expanded to replace the civilian justice system. Besides Zarb-e-Azb, Karachi Operation also shows no signs of ending as Rangers continue to target liberal political parties while religious extremists continue to terrorise minorities.

In each of these cases, officials and their mouthpieces in the new media justify the expansion of police powers by saying it is necessary for national security. However the latest case was unexpectedly exposed and has revealed what is really going on. Of course I am talking about the announcement that Blackberry will stop providing services in Pakistan due to government demands. As per usual, state officials have said that they have asked Blackberry for help in catching terrorists, but now a Blackberry official has revealed the truth on their website.

The truth is that the Pakistani government wanted the ability to monitor all BlackBerry Enterprise Service traffic in the country, including every BES e-mail and BES BBM message. But BlackBerry will not comply with that sort of directive. As we have said many times, we do not support “back doors” granting open access to our customers’ information and have never done this anywhere in the world.

Pakistan’s demand was not a question of public safety; we are more than happy to assist law enforcement agencies in investigations of criminal activity. Rather, Pakistan was essentially demanding unfettered access to all of our BES customers’ information. The privacy of our customers is paramount to BlackBerry, and we will not compromise that principle.

What we said in July when rumors of Pakistan’s decision started to swirl remains true today: “BlackBerry provides the world’s most secure communications platform to government, military and enterprise customers. Protecting that security is paramount to our mission. While we recognize the need to cooperate with lawful government investigative requests of criminal activity, we have never permitted wholesale access to our BES servers.”

While we are justifiably outraged by the statements from Western politicians that want to monitor all mosques and Muslims, treating everyone as if they are a potential terrorist, our government is doing exactly that already. Is it true that in order to secure the country, we must monitor every citizens as if they are a terrorist threat?

Actually there is another possible reason for blanket monitoring which has been done by totalitarian regimes in the past. By monitoring every citizen closely and reading their messages, totalitarian police states such as Nazi Germany and USSR were infamous for collecting private citizens secrets and using to blackmail them to spy on their neighbors. Is this what we have become already?

There is no question that we are in a fight for our lives against jihadi terrorists and their extremist takfiri ideology. In this fight, Army and other security forces have an obvious role to play, but we must be careful that their role does not seep into every corner of our lives and turn Pakistan into a totalitarian police state.