A Military At War With Its Own People

Source: ISPR

Perhaps the Pakistan military ran out of RAW agents to target and to showcase to the national media. A few nights ago, the Director General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the official mouthpiece of the Pakistan military, displayed a chart featuring a bunch of “traitor” bloggers and journalists who they allege to be connected to the enemies of the state.

A good number of these social media activists and bloggers were affiliated with PML-N. A number of other prominent journalists were also “mapped” and presented in a manner as if they are a part of some international cartel. He also went on to insult the tribal cap that Manzoor Pashteen wears as a foreign fabrication. In other words, our military is hellbent to push the dissenters to the fringe and exclude them out of the national discourse. And that is abundantly clear by the media blackout of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement.

Manzoor Pashteen and his trademark cap – Source: niazamana.com

Now, there is a lot of anger we are talking about here. I say this because I have a good idea of how these men think like. The tone with which the DG ISPR was speaking said everything. Obviously, military men like him cannot help but crush the heads of all the traitorous snakes they disapprove of, but in this day and age, it is not that easy. However, the unlawful “disappearances” that the civil society laments continue.

The Foreign Network Blogger Chart – ISPR

Just a day ago, Pakistani-British dual national journalist Gul Bukhari, who currently has an undeniable pro PML-N bias, was mysteriously abducted. It’s really chilling how that happened almost next to the sinister presser by the chief propagandist of the military. Her return to her home the very next day only goes to show that her abductors were anything but any random stalker. It is abundantly clear who her secret stalkers are. Of course, the ISPR denied any responsibility.

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You would wonder what sort of action the secret agencies carry out when they monitor anti-state accounts. The question is whether they act against the bloggers in the form of such abductions? Now, see how Salman Haider, one of the abducted blogger activists replied to journalist Salman Masood’s tweet about the statement from the ISPR.

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To the military and the nationalist patriots, it is nothing but these hideous policies in the name of security that cost people their lives. And people like Lt. Gen. Asif Ghafoor justifies such disgusting tactics by saying that there is no place in Pakistan for traitors. Especially when he has broadened the definition of traitor so liberally. We have a military at war with its own people.

It is almost like the military is openly threatening dissenters, and in my opinion, it is working. Why spoil your comfortable lifestyle and see the inside of a detention center? That too, for a state with a discriminatory constitution and a shameful raison d’être? It’s just not worth it. You are kind of stuck with it now.

But had it been about actively lobbying for Israel or India, or even actively working for a regime change, or being a Hussain Haqqani, it would have been completely different. These days just being an outspoken PML-N could get you in trouble. That has been unheard of, especially for the people of Punjab who have been mostly blind to this side of the Pakistani state.

Whatever was left of democracy in Pakistan is dying a slow, rotting death. The state had never been more threatening to the freedom of press. The role of the military in politics has become even darker than during old school coups as in the terms of Ayub, Yahya, Zia, and Musharraf. Never would you have ever felt more pessimistic about Pakistan and its future.

With a state like this, you don’t need to be paid money to turn against it.

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A Wake Up Call for the Interior Minister

Source: Dawn

Ahsan Iqbal is easily one of the most dignified, educated, and well spoken politicians in Pakistan. He is a visionary and has been promoting a progressive economic vision since the earlier terms of PML-N.

He became an unlikely candidate for the position of Interior Minister when the self-righteous Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan, an ultra conservative pro-establishment PML-N dissident, stepped down. When the Prime Minister was also disqualified, the tensions got even more intense and paved way for Ahsan Iqbal’s rise to the powerful but controversial position of becoming the civilian security boss of the country. Many expected that the position will not suit him well, a man of a scholarly background. Especially because it was in this current tenure that the social media was blacked out during a protest for the first time in history in Pakistan.

Back in November, when Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah was occupying the parliament square in Islamabad, the greatest test came of his leadership. His resolutions to the problem drastically failed when due to the unwillingjness of the military, a half backed operation ended up further strengthening the hands of the rogue Labaik Tehreek Ya Rasool Allah, a radical Barelvi political cult whose agenda is to reinforce the laws about the Finality of the Prophethood and to make life further miserable for the already marginalized Ahmedi community of Pakistan. Ahmedis are perceived as a threat by orthodox religious Muslims in Pakistan to the tenet that Prophet Muhammad is the final prophet, even though the Ahmedis respond that they share the same belief.

The recent controversy over the Ahmedi oath for the parliament members sparked the protest in the first place with the blame falling on the , apart from generally on the entire leadership of PML-N. Sunni clerics even issued fatwas that voting for the party was haram or forbidden.

Despite the threat to the party, and some would say that particularly because of it, the PML-N federal government decided to appease the extremist Muslims by making laws about blasphemy and speech even stricter. The Ministry of Interior, as well as the National Counter Terrorism Agency, are running campaigns that openly call for people to hunt for perceived blasphemies in the guise of acting against hate speech. While such narrative has not been started by the Government of Pakistan so proactively, as you can thank the narrative of the local cleric for that, it has emerged with full force as a countering reaction to unpopular speech on social media.

Today, hours ago actually, Ahsan Iqbal was shot at by an angry citizen in a meeting with the constituents in his native Narowal District. Fortunately, the bullet only brushed his arm and his life was spared. The would-be assassin Abid Hussain has been captured and he has confessed to have made an attempt on the Minister’s life because of the “Finality of Prophethood” or “Khatm-e-Nabuwat” issue.  While this complex term may not mean anything to most people, it is the article of faith of the Muslim population, and takes an extreme in the more radical elements of the Barelvi sect that is particularly devotional to the Prophet.

Source: Times of Islamabad

While the Minister has been lucky, all the citizens hunted by the extremists such as his assailant are not so much. Especially when the one putting them to death is the judiciary. The 30 year old blogger who got convicted by the court for just expressing himself was not so lucky. Often people tend to forget how harmful and dangerous these so-called responsible information campaigns are. And it is important to remember that government campaigns calling for reporting blasphemy are as dangerous in creating the mindset that resulted in the attempt on the life of Ahsan Iqbal as the hateful teachings in the mosque.

I wish the Interior Minister will consider this unfortunate event a wake up call. We are very happy that he is safe but it is time that he starts thinking about safeguarding the speech and lives of his citizens. Of course, he can’t fight the atrocious courts in Pakistan but at least he can tone down the explicit witch hunt. Or the same poison that stung him today could get just about any one of us.

What Diplomatic Isolation Looks Like

Source: The News

There finally comes a time in the relationships between nations when you start seeing the end of the concessions given to a party.

Pakistan has been given the warning that many have talked about around the world and finally has been put into the terrorism funding watchlist by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), perhaps only a day or two after the Pakistani diplomats were boasting of evading the banking and economic sanction. This was probably because they had decided to formally do that in the next meeting in June 2018, when the term of the current elected government of PML-N will pretty much be completed and had not made the announcement earlier. The last time Pakistan was on the watchlist was 2012, until 2015 when it was removed from the list by the body.

While Khawaja Asif’s delegation had thought that Saudi Arabia and China had done just enough to keep them off the list, especially ahead of Pakistan sending a thousand troops to the Kingdom, probably for the Yemen campaign, it wasn’t to be. The United States had particularly lobbied following the US administration’s tough stance against Pakistan’s policy on fighting terrorism.

While the Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa made quite a few important comments in his speech at the Munich Security Conference, such as the premature withdrawal of military resources from Afghanistan by the US government, his overall case apparently failed to make an impression on the international community. Time and time again, the response of Pakistani military and diplomats have been pointing fingers back at the West for this failed policies. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif has also brought up the US-Afghan Policy during the latter years of Cold War and has even gone far enough to say that it was a mistake to follow that path.

Listen to the speech of the Army Chief and you will get an impression as if the militant Jihad is some sort of a recent invention. He also probably does not realize that his speech really got weird for a foreign audience at a point when he said that a body of Islamic clerics from all sects had passed a decree that Jihad and suicide bombing were not permitted “until sanctioned by the state.” Yeah, right. That’s precisely what the security officials from around the world wanted to hear. I just hope I am wrong or he should fire his communications director.

Source: RFE/RL

But really our military establishment has more people’s performance to worry about than just their communications team. We can make it a national issue because of our bloated egos as in the case of the “Dawn leaks,” but the inaction of the security establishment to take. We are talking about a country where Hafiz Saeed, a certified terrorist in the eyes of India and the West and pretty much the rest of the world, has formed a political party which is contesting elections. And of course, anyone who claims that his Difa-e-Pakistan Council has no support from the military establishment is obviously living in a fool’s paradise.

Pakistan finally needs to decide whether it wants international acceptance or not. It is up to the Pakistani state to decide if we want to become Iran or North Korea in the world’s eyes or a progressive democratic nation. Pakistan is nowhere near going to be acceptable to the international community with the same course of action. The government and the military simply cannot keep on distracting and diverging when answered a simple question about taking action against terrorist elements within the country. The FATF restrictions are only going to make the people suffer from the horrific policies of their ruling state.

Yes, more is needed to be done indeed.

Captain Safdar and the Lost Conscience of the Nation

Source: Dawn

A question that probably nobody has ever asked is if Pakistan ever had a collective conscience as a nation. Even though the next logical question should be an inquiry whether Pakistan itself is a nation or not. Let’s say for the sake of argument that it is.

When it comes to the establishment of our theocracy, we completely lack any sense of morality and justice as a nation. We have utterly failed to produce even a fair and reasonable social contract and, even worse, are not even acknowledging that it is unfair to the religious minorities. Pakistan is indeed morally corrupt for its denial of the need of secularism.

A reflection of the state of morality of the Pakistani nation, at least of its majority, was offered by Captain Safdar on the National Assembly floor at the expense of perhaps the most vulnerable religious minority in the country.

Would the PML-N say that the husband of their probable future leader Maryam Nawaz Sharif is reflective of the official stance of PML-N? Could you say that this politician of no stature at all is appealing to the baser instincts of the conservative supporters by invoking his loyalty to the faith of finality of Prophet, for which you need to openly express your hate for one religious community? Could you say that it was a move to divert attention from the corruption cases against Captain Safdar and Maryam Nawaz Sharif, who are facing criminal prosecution?

Could you say that they are playing good cop-bad cop? Challenging the naming of a Quaid-e-Azam University Physics Department named after Dr. Abdus Salam when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his father-in-law and party leader, himself recommended it to be named after the only Physics Nobel laureate in Pakistan’s history.

One way or the other, it is unbelievable that we have such a high place in our society and in our legislator, the highest institution of our democracy. But of course, when the constitution of a country is endorsing discrimination against a group of its citizens and essentially declaring them public enemy number one, how can you blame people like Captain Safdar. However, he particularly moved into very dangerous territory by questioning the national loyalty of Ahmedis and exposing his antisemitic tendencies linked them with Israel and declaring them a security risk.

Even if it was a good cop-bad cop move, the PML-N at least should have made an official statement to distance themselves from the bigotry and nonsense of Captain Safdar. Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal did condemn the hate speech but without taking his name. At least it has undone the impact of moderation that the likes of Ahsan Iqbal, Khawaja Asif, and even Maryam Nawaz Sharif herself are trying to make.

Even though we have lost our conscience, humanity, and moral compass as a nation, I still need to say this.

Shame on Maryam Nawaz Sharif and shame on PML-N for putting up with this nonsense. And even if it is a deliberate move, the party should know better than this.

An All Too Familiar Face of Accountability

Source: BBC Urdu

Pakistan is a unique country in terms of governance and politics. Not everything is as it seems and you can often have a hard time discerning who is really at the helm of policy. The case with accountability is not any different. It is often used as a moralizing political tool than a dispenser of justice.

Ever since the office of the Prime Minister was created in Pakistan, the civil and military bureaucrats have been busy inventing excuses to dismiss it. And whether they have not been creative enough in coming up with those excuses, they most certainly have been effective in the ultimate objective.

Ever since General Pervez Musharraf resigned as President, it seems that the coup-ready military of Pakistan has changed its decades-old strategy. It apparently has realized that explicitly taking over the government in Pakistan is either not good for its image internationally or does not garner enough support at home. So now they prefer to move the strings from behind the curtain.

The Pakistani people have been fed a singular dimension of accountability. That the elected office holders or the politicians are the embodiment of all the corruption in the government, while the civil and military bureaucracy is the most efficient machinery in existence. Not only that, they are also the most suitable entities to hold the politicians accountable.

Ever since the revelation of the Panama Papers with the mention of the offshore companies of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, we are seeing the familiar face of accountability surface. As it came as a welcome relief after the drama around electoral rigging died out. And as before, when the military lies dormant, the judiciary plays its part to be the entity ready to stage a soft coup as in the case of Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani. The very tone used by judges, in this case, speaks volumes of their intent. It may or may not materialize, but the way the wind has been blowing is unmistakable.

At least for moral reasons, there have been calls for the Prime Minister to step down. Apart from not qualifying on the mystical constitutional standards of “Sadiq” and “Amin”, there is hardly any reason to until a definite proof of money laundering is produced on his person, as opposed to the conjectures listed by the JIT. But if the Prime Minister does not step down, it would be interesting to see how far his opponents go to bring about his demise. In that case, it is probably better for his purpose to play the victimization card.

However, where his governing achievement surpasses most other parties, his poor political leadership is costing him dearly. The problem with the PML-N has always been that it mistakes its heavy mandate as a carte blanche to alienate political stakeholders around the country. Of course, the incurably cynical PTI is on a saboteur mission to take democracy down with themselves but the rest of the parties can at least listen to the majority party and come to its rescue in case of bureaucratic threats.

What the PML-N does not realize is that its overwhelming majority that it takes for its strength is its greatest weakness. Because it has always been targeted by the bureaucratic establishment for such powerful popular support that no other party has enjoyed over three decades. The way it has been targeted is evident from all three terms of Prime Minister Sharif.

Unfortunately, there are elements in our civil and military bureaucracy, as well as the intelligence community, who do not want democracy to flourish in Pakistan. Not only do they not believe in democracy as a system of government, they strongly resent any hint of power in the hands of the public. The bureaucratic rule has been presented as a solution for the Pakistani people since independence and sadly, a good number of people buy into this narrative surviving since colonial times. And who better to hold the politicians accountable than bureaucrats, as evident from the JIT, which has now rendered military intelligence as an extension of the judicial branch.

Nobody has bothered questioning why the JIT has officially become an extension of the Supreme Court. Nobody has bothered questioning why the range of investigation has been extended beyond the revelations of the papers. Nobody has bothered asking why military intelligence officials are investigating the first family. And above all, nobody has bothered questioning why in Pakistan a panel of judges can undo the mandate of the people instead of impeachment by elected officials.

Of course, accountability should be a part of a strong democratic system. And a fragile democracy is hardly any excuse to forego the crimes of the political class. However, it would have been far easier to trust the high office of judiciary and bureaucracy in Pakistan had they enjoyed a cleaner political track record.

So, who is going to hold who accountable?

Well, let’s start from the politicians again. Now and forever.

 

The post was originally published in the Dunya Blogs.

Pakistani Idiot of the Year 2016: Khawaja Muhammad Asif

Source: samaa.tv

Source: samaa.tv

If you recall the fiery, brave, and honest speech that Khawaja Muhammad Asif delivered in the Parliament during the Presidential term of a military dictator in Pakistan, this nomination is going to come as a shock to you. It has come as a shock to me, at least. However, the current Minister of Defense has committed a faux pas serious enough to deserve with, with even worse behavior to follow it up.

First of all, nobody in the world would want the name of their country to be associated when it comes to responding to fake news. I have been very sarcastic in my treatment of the previous Pakistani idiots of the year. So let’s not hold back any punches for such irresponsible and idiotic behavior. Khawaja Asif deserves not only our scorn but also our unrestrained jests and insults. But it’s a strange and surprise nomination indeed, but perhaps not so much for the ardent PTI and PPP supporters who have been maintaining the same opinion of him for a very long time.

But let us dissect what happened too, which incidentally only materialized a few days before the publishing of this post. But imagine the shocker that this New York Times story created reporting the Pakistani Defense Minister responding to some obscure fake news on an even remote, even obscurer website.

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While a part of you would want the New York Times to have made an error, just because the statement was made by the minister on twitter, and because his timeline was already full of other wacky statements about Syria and other things. But sadly, his twitter account is verified.

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The very reason that the Defense Minister bought the idea that the Israeli Defense Minister would have a problem with Pakistan deploying forces against the Islamic State in Syria is due to antisemitic conspiracy theories. Entertaining this very idea offers us an insight into the troubled mind of our current foreign minister. But that is subject for yet another detailed post about the incident.

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But there is no wonder that he was not responding to the clarifications of the Israeli Defense Ministry directly addressing the twitter account. I, as a responsible citizen, made a last, hopeless effort to attract the attention of our honorable Defense Minister to at least respond to the clarifications made by the twitter account of the Israeli Defense Ministry, the authenticity of which I am not a 100% sure about.

Source: Customs Today

Source: Customs Today

This unprecedented and shocking development easily earned Khawaja Muhammad Asif the title of the Pakistani Idiot of the Year, but he most certainly was not alone in the tight race for it.

This year was dominated by his party PML-N, as the Senator Sardar Muhammad Yaqoob Khan Nasar could have easily been the winner otherwise for stating that the poor have been created to serve the rich. Now, I am not exactly a Marxist, but this sort of statement is enough to boil the blood of even the loyalties. It’s not only undemocratic, it’s beneath the standards of humanity and decency. It’s unimaginable that someone can claim to be a government servant after making such a statement.

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

And of course, someone from the Islamic Ideology Council is never far away from winning the title of the Pakistani Idiot of the year, because let’s face it, the organization is idiotic by definition.

Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani of the CII won the title hands down last year thanks to his provocative, yet absolutely legal and Sharia compliant statements demeaning women. He did not come as close this year when under his able leadership, the IIC condemned the Prime Minister’s decision to establish a National Physics Center in the Quaid-e-Azam University (formerly University of Islamabad) after the name of Pakistan’s only Nobel Laureate for Physics, Dr. Abdus Salam. The reason for the objection was that Dr. Abdus Salam was an Ahmedi, which is not supposed to be Muslim and is even supposed to be worse than an infidel.

We surely have our hands full of idiots, don’t we? Dangerous ones too. Do enlighten me if I missed anyone, please.

 

Bringing down the Sharifs

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

The Panama Leaks are the sort of story that was needed to shake the firm grasp of the Sharif family on the politics of Punjab.

Unlike the uproar in the media and warnings of a protest movement from PTI chairman Imran Khan, I am not convinced that the people of Pakistan are particularly bothered by the revelations in the Panama leaks. To some people, avoiding tax payment is a terrible sin, but let’s admit it, most people in Pakistan hardly believe in paying taxes or trusting the government with their money. Others consider smuggling fair trade. These views may outrage many liberals, but people are free to see the world that way.

Naturally, most businessmen and investors, particularly those who fear their assets would be frozen by a certain state for political reasons, would be attracted to offshore tax havens. Or perhaps they have a genuine desire of paying low taxes. In the past, the Swiss accounts of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari have been a matter of major controversy, and now the offshore assets of the Sharif family have surfaced.

To many people, the crime of the PML-N leaders lying about their offshore assets is far worse than the act of possible tax evasion. They would have to produce clean taxation and remittances records to eliminate the suspicion of any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, such behavior seems more suited to businessmen than the leading political family in a developing nation.

However, what makes the leaders of the PML-N the hypocrites of the highest order is that they have gone to all lengths to demonize the PPP leadership for what they have been obviously doing themselves. 1999 actually taught them a lesson that heads of state not only need a haven for their financial assets but one for political asylum as well.

Instead of freaking out by Panama Leaks, it does not hurt to be optimistic about their aftermath. Personally, I would not like to see the Prime Minister go as long as he ends up clarifying his position, as did Prime Minister David Cameron in Britain. However, if he fails to present a strong case and succumbs to the pressure of the opposition, good riddance.

Some people are also seeing the military intervening as the ultimate solution for accountability as always, but nothing would be more disastrous for the progress of democracy. At least, for the development of the economy and services to the people of Pakistan.

In any event, you cannot ignore the fact that the Sharif brothers have become a bit too comfortable in their almost absolute political power in Punjab. The landslide in the last election stunned the rest of the parties, but their continual abuse of power hardly goes unnoticed as well.

A strong opposition, and ideally alternate terms for different parties, is good for democracy. Historically, Punjab does vote to balance the power between two leading parties, but due to the popular emergence of PTI, the opposition vote has been divided between PTI and PPP.

The PML-N infrastructure projects particularly require continuation of terms, but regardless of whether the party is good for the country, or at least Punjab, they need to be challenged. The PTI and the PPP will probably not find a better opportunity to strike a dent in the formidable wall of the political support of the PML-N in Punjab. In terms of producing electoral results, both the political parties would have to set aside differences and form an alliance in Punjab.

While the metro bus projects have been much the needed mass transit in the urban areas in Punjab, at least the twin cities, they reflect on how executive power is exercised in Pakistan by political governments. PTI and other liberal critics also make sense when they make a case for the lack of government funds in the health sector while such mega projects are being developed.

Opposition parties sense instinctively that something is wrong with this spending pattern, but are not able to make an effective case for some reason.

Unfortunately, the idea of limiting the executive power is not popular in Pakistani politics. As a matter of fact, these very opposition parties, with the possible exception of PPP, would favor more executive power, so that they are able to exercise it when they are in power. After all, elections are about getting things done.

So while we need to address the problem of corruption and tax evasion, the procedures on government spending and the permitted abuse of executive power need to be taken into account as well.

 

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.