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Archive | May, 2011

A history of violence

On Saleem Shahzad’s killing.

The killing of Syed Saleem Shahzad near Islamabad is but another example of the perils journalists face in Pakistan today for challenging the conspiracy-riddled narratives of the military-jihadi complex.  Through his articles in Asia Times, Mr. Shahzad gave us perspective on the inner workings of the MJC and its internal competitive dynamics.  Lesser journalists in Pakistan who tow the line of the MJC by putting forth conspiracy theories of underhand foreign agencies working in concert to dismember Pakistan are lionized and rewarded.  Little wonder then, that Pakistan ranks as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists (Freedom House, 2011).

Voice of America Urdu’s Waseem A. Siddiqui catalogs the history of violence (اردو) :
Pakistan journalists killed

Readers of this blog are no doubt familiar with the conspiracy theory-ridden narratives in Pakistan’s vernacular press.  Almost every tragedy in Pakistan is attributable to the machinations of the CIA, R&AW, Blackwater or Mossad.  Their ultimate quest being Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.  It should come as no surprise then that the recent attacks against a Pakistan Navy base in Karachi were immediately attributed to India.  Because that’s easy. And convenient.

In her recent visit to Pakistan, following the raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton urged Pakistanis to understand that conspiracy theories “will not make their problems disappear.” But with journalists like these, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Further reading: A brave piece by Mehmal Sarfraz, and Syed Saleem Shahzad’s brilliant interview/report on the resurgence of Ilyas Kashmiri and the 313 Brigade.


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All-weather doormat

Old Chinese proverb say: Beggars can’t be choosers.

As relations between the U.S. and Pakistan deteriorate, Pakistan’s prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani referred to China as an “all-weather” friend who has stood by Pakistan through thick and thin.  The truth of course, is that China has used its weight to allow the Pakistanis to be naughty when it suited China’s purpose.  There are endless examples, the most significant being supporting Pakistan’s illicit nuclear program.  After the bin-Laden raid, the Pakistanis are keen to promulgate the notion that they have the ability to choose their primary benefactor, and that China can quite easily replace the U.S. in this regard.

But the facts speak for themselves.  The U.S. has contributed more than $20 billion to Pakistan since 2002.  It also gave Pakistan over $150 million in aid of last year’s flood victims.  China, almost belatedly, perhaps embarrassed by its own absence among the philanthropic few, donated $18 million.  For those under any illusions that China can effectively substitute the U.S. as Pakistan’s primary patron, a read-through of Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa’s September 2010 article is warranted (excerpts):

In Pakistan, most people view China as a saviour and time-tested friend – one that, unlike the US, will never abandon their country. According to former diplomat Tariq Fatimi, this is the only one of Pakistan’s links that can be considered truly ‘strategic’. To a great extent, however, this relationship is based on the transfer of military technology. Beijing played a key role in the development of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, and was also a source of weapons to fill the gaps left by the US arms embargo on the country until the blockade was lifted in 2001. China also provided military supplies when none were assured from the West.

Beyond the general perception that China is an all-weather friend there is also some negative opinion, particularly in the business community. The corporate sector has been badly affected by the dumping of cheap Chinese goods in Pakistan’s markets, but the high-stakes relationship between the two states means that the business community has not been able to protest too loudly. A senior official at the Ministry of Finance in Islamabad conceded that there is substantial informal trade in the form of smuggling of Chinese goods into Pakistan. However, Islamabad seems to consider it almost suicidal to broach the matter openly, given the importance of the defence ties with Beijing.

More interestingly, the second group that privately expresses reservations about China is the military personnel directly involved in weapons procurement. Junior and mid-ranking officers who come in contact with Chinese manufacturers express shock and disappointment at how Chinese businesses negotiate as ruthlessly as the weapons manufacturers of the West. In the minds of these military officers, this present-day reality clashes with the memory of China as a friend that provided Pakistan with free weaponry during the war with India in 1965. Although there is no proof to support this view, many continue to believe that China could play a decisive role as Pakistan’s saviour in case of an escalation of conflict with India.

According to an intelligence source who spoke on condition of anonymity, the Pakistani authorities go to great lengths to hide actions taken to appease Beijing. The source claims that a significant number of Pakistani citizens were caught between 2004 and 2009 by various intelligence agencies for alleged involvement in fomenting rebellion in China’s Xinjiang province, and were actually handed over to the Chinese intelligence agencies.

Likewise, in June 2007, President Pervez Musharraf reacted to the threat posed by clerics and seminary students aligned with the Lal Masjid in Lahore only after they attacked some Chinese citizens based in Pakistan, including the owner of a massage parlour in Islamabad. The Chinese ambassador in Islamabad at the time warned the government over the security of Chinese citizens, and many believe that this pressure contributed directly to the action eventually taken against the Lal Masjid clerics. Interestingly, Islamabad was silent when the Lal Masjid’s ‘burqa brigade’ had kidnapped a female professional escort and took a few police officials hostage who had come to rescue the woman. Reportedly, the Chinese ambassador had forcefully demanded protection of Chinese citizens.

In the long run, the relationship between China and Pakistan could be adversely affected if the increased militarisation and radicalism in the latter continues. Pakistan’s incessant political instability, the corruption and administrative inefficiency of its political leadership and problems of democracy are some of the many problems that feed into the inability of the China-Pakistan relationship to shift from a tactical to a strategic gear in a way that would be more beneficial to Pakistan than in the past. According to Yuqun Shao, from the Shanghai Institute of Strategic Studies, President Asif Ali Zardari does not have much credibility in Beijing, despite the fact that he is keen to further strengthen and expand bilateral links. This is hardly surprising, given Beijing’s culture of top-down authoritarian rule that emphasises political stability as a driver for economic growth. As such, the shift towards radicalism in Pakistan is bound to further negatively influence the relationship with the Pakistan government.

Ultimately, undermining the development of a more holistic relationship with China will prove disadvantageous to Pakistan, particularly now that Beijing’s strategists are reconsidering the relationship with India. In any case, Beijing seems willing to apply the model of Sino-US relations to its relationship with India as well. This means that while tensions with India – over Arunachal Pradesh, the potential strategic rivalry in the Southasian neighbourhood and the Indian Ocean, and competition for petroleum and mineral resources worldwide – could continue, it will not hamper the development of greater economic ties between the two states. But such conditions also mean that Sino-Pakistani relations could become even more tactical from Beijing’s point of view. Chinese officials, who are more concerned about improving relations with India and view the new set of relationship as an economic opportunity, will probably be averse to getting too distracted by the constant rivalry between Pakistan and India. [Himal South Asian]

After the bin-Laden raid, we have been victimized by cacophony emanating from Pakistan about how it can pick and choose its benefactors and that it doesn’t need the U.S. because it has China’s “support.”  The U.S. would do well to call Pakistan’s bluff.  Let the world see how much of a substitute China can be for the U.S. in Pakistan.  And when realization finally hits Islamabad, the U.S. should deal with Pakistan on its own terms.

Updated: Quote courtesy a friend: “Did it matter if a grain of dust in a whirlwind retained its dignity?” —  CS Forester’s “Horatio Hornblower” series

 

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Urdunama: Intelligence Failure

Pakistan’s military and political leadership is scrambling to explain how Osama bin Laden came to be living in a house in Abbottabad, 60 miles from Islamabad, as well as trying to assuage people’s concerns about the military and intelligence apparatus’ inability to detect or challenge the U.S.’s so-called breach of sovereignty.

Under attack from all corners, Pakistan is attempting to fall back on “allies” not named America.  While Prime Minister Gilani eulogized Pakistan’s ties to China in a manner most poetic, Pakistan dispatched Interior Minister Rehman Malik to Saudi Arabia for consultations.  In the seaport city of Jeddah, Mr. Malik spoke to al-Arabiya, in an interview charged with rhetoric and unseemly comparisons.  Below is an excerpt from Daily Pak:

Rehman Malik, in speaking with an Arabic newspaper said that Osama bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan was an intelligence failure, in the same way that 9/11 was a failure of U.S. intelligence agencies.  But this doesn’t mean that Pakistan’s intelligence agencies harbor terrorists.  Mr. Malik said that there would not be any calls for resignation of anyone from the political or military establishments, just as no one from U.S.’s political or military establishment resigned as a result of 9/11.  To those accusing Pakistan of connivance, Mr. Malik asks, who created Osama bin Laden?  Who used bin Laden against the Russians in Afghanistan?

He said that Pakistan had never allowed Osama bin Laden to come to Pakistan.  Mr. Malik also stated that the essence of the problem was the lack of trust between Pakistan and the U.S.  In response to another question, Mr. Malik said that if India attempted any operations against Pakistan, it would be given a befitting reply to its misadventure. [روزنامہ پاکستان]

 

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After Osama bin Laden

Eight points to consider.

Osama bin-Laden has been killed.  U.S. president Barack Obama made the announcement over an hour ago.  We have more questions than answers about the nature of the operation that led to his killing and what cooperation, if any, was received from other governments.  Some points for us to consider:

  1. The fact that bin Laden was killed outside Abbottabad (75 miles from Islamabad) is significant.  Abbottabad is reported to house several retired Pakistani army and intelligence officers.
  2. Mr. Obama’s mention of President Zardari, and not Gen. Kayani/DG-ISI Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha is equally significant.  We know that the operation was in the works since August 2010, and gained momentum over the last six weeks.  It is also important to note Mr. Obama’s  mention that the operation was entirely executed by the U.S. — this was not a joint operation with Pakistani special-ops forces.  It is not clear at what point the Americans informed the Pakistanis.  If it turns out that the Pakistani civil administration was informed days or weeks before the operation, this is a significant victory for the civil administration over the military-jihadi complex (MJC).  If the Zardari government was informed ex post facto, it will still affect civil-military relations in Pakistan, but on a relatively lesser scale.
  3. We cannot read too much into President Obama thanking Pakistan for its cooperation.  The U.S. president was speaking in general terms — lest we forget, there is still a battle raging in Afghanistan for which the U.S. requires Pakistan’s assistance.  There was not much else Mr. Obama could have said about Pakistan’s duplicity.
  4. Given the fact that U.S. Navy SEALs traveled from Afghanistan to Pakistan and executed the operation, it is likely that some level of Pakistani cooperation — whether direct, or indirect — was required.  If it turns out that cooperation was provided by Pakistan’s FIA and not the ISI, this is again, a significant moment in civil-military relations in Pakistan.
  5. If, in the remote possibility, any assistance was provided by Pakistan’s military/ISI, it only means that Osama bin Laden had become expendable to them.  The torch had been passed.
  6. Expect the battle between the civil administration and its goons, and the Pakistani military and its goons to play out openly in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  This will also effect the U.S.’s ability to move men and resources from Pakistan’s tribal areas  into Afghanistan.  This can be significantly consequential to the U.S.’s war in Afghanistan.
  7. The MJC will look to reassert itself as quickly and as decisively as possible.  It will set its sights on high-value targets in Pakistan, Afghanistan or even India.
  8. Critically, the Indian government needs to guard itself against possible terrorist activity in mainland India. ISI or al-Qaeda inspired attacks on Indian soil in the immediate future cannot be ruled out.  India is perhaps the most vulnerable target for the Pakistani MJC to counter-punch the Zardari government, which is ostensibly engaged in a “peace process” with New Delhi.

 

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