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Pakistan’s Mojo

Counting your chickens before they hatch

Pakistan is awash with renewed optimism in being able to favorably influence political and structural rearrangements in Afghanistan.  Along with “brother countries” Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Pakistan was able to both craft a proposition at the Istanbul Summit that called for negotiations and eventual reintegration of the Taliban into Afghanistan’s political foray, and also successfully lobbied to keep India out of the summit itself.  The icing on the cake for Islamabad was the broad endorsement of Pakistan’s plan at the London Conference, the following week.

Pakistan’s self-belief in its own indispensability and leverage over a resolution to the Afghanistan quagmire is mirrored in both official pronouncements from leaders of its armed forces and in its press corps.  At the NATO Commanders’ Conference, COAS Kayani enunciated his country’s need for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan, while raising concerns about India’s influence in Afghanistan.  Indeed, a Jang editorial one day before the London Conference called for all preparations to be made for dialog with the Taliban.

Pakistan’s army has also candidly put forth its position to the Obama Administration that India’s role in Afghanistan cannot go beyond development and infrastructural work.  Pakistan has also volunteered to train the Afghanistan National Army (ANA) to counter what many believe is a role best suited for the Indian Army.  In short, Pakistan apparently successfully executed a prima facie diplomatic coup-de-etat, while India played the proverbial “deer caught in the headlights” on the world stage.

Without a doubt, India’s position on the Taliban has always been untenable.  A blanket rejection of an ambiguous collection of disparate groups seemed convenient and excused our leadership from having to go through the exercise of evaluating the various equations at play in Afghanistan.  Over the course of the years, this stance by India has seen it wholeheartedly back the Karzai regime while not wanting to have anything to do with any Pashtun elements that it suspected of being engaged (at whatever level) with the ISI.  Rightly, India’s over-simplistic, “with us or against us” approach was rejected by the international community at large.

But Pakistan’s own influence in matters relating to Afghanistan has been overstated.  Indeed, going by recent pronouncements, Pakistan is counting its chickens before they are hatched and the mirage of indispensability will unravel sooner than later.  Not being able to dictate the modularities of counter-insurgency operations within its own sovereign territory, it is unlikely that it can wield the magnitude of power it believes it enjoys in relation to India in Afghanistan.

So what must India do? The London Conference has already invalidated India’s over-simplistic approach to the Taliban, so the first course of action is apparent.  India must begin to engage with those Pashtun elements who seek reintegration into the existing political foray in Afghanistan.  In actuality, there isn’t a significant divergence of opinion between the United States and India on the issue.

India’s real apprehensions are centered around the possible reintegration of  Mullah Omar’s group — the so-called Quetta Shurah.  This is entirely consistent with the US’s own position.  India’s apprehensions on al-Qaeda elements and Haqqani network are also shared by the US.  This essentially leaves a rag-tag group of warlords who are all too small anyway to individually impact power dynamics in Afghanistan. India can begin by opening up communication channels with these groups.

India must also work with other important regional powers who share similar apprehensions versus the core Taliban group.  Indeed, the alliance of yore between Iran and India, who share common concerns of the spread of wahabbism in the region, and Russia must be resurrected.  Russia has articulated its clearest position to date on its willingness to “help rebuild” Afghanistan and Iran has shared India’s concerns about the spread of radical Sunni Islam in the wider region.

Over the last nine years, India has very naively bought into the argument that the dramatically altered equation post US’s invasion of Afghanistan was permanent, and that its reliance on “soft power” alone could very safely ensure maximized gains in Afghanistan without having to actually assume an overt presence in Afghanistan.

The situation in Afghanistan today, with Western forces working towards a withdrawal deadline, and Pakistan growing increasingly assertive, demands that India adopt a more proactive role, working in concert with the US and regional powers to ensure that the power equations that eventually shape up are largely in India’s favor. The question is, what is Manmohan Sigh’s government planning to do about it?

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Urdunama: "Foreign Hand"

The Filter Coffee is happy to announce a new regular segment, Urdunama, dedicated to coverage of news and analysis from Pakistan’s Urdu media.  As reports ( 2.86 MB) on Pakistan’s media landscape will tell you, Pakistan’s vernacular press dominates English and local language publications and comprises almost 70% of total newspaper distribution.

Yet, while the Internet has provided us the opportunity to read and absorb opinions from Pakistan’s English newspapers, their tone, message and impact on audiences (and indeed on political action) differs greatly from that of the vernacular media.  An eye on Pakistan’s Urdu media therefore helps us see what the awam sees and assists us in understanding what informs popular opinion in Pakistan. This is critical, in the opinion of this blogger, in helping India better understand its western neighbor.

As always, comments and suggestions on what readers like about the segment, or would like to see improved are appreciated.

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The fires may have died down in India, but as far as Pakistan’s vernacular media is concerned, all Sharm el-Sheikh did was to provide fuel to an incantation summoned by Pakistan’s most imaginative minds.

There is pressure on the Pakistani Army to see Operation Rah-e-Nijat through and to turn a blind eye to US Predator assaults in North Waziristan and elsewhere.  A section of Pakistan’s media and intelligentsia wants to know why three Infantry Divisions were moved away from the Indian border and redeployed to assist with NWFP operations.

All these questions cannot be explained without pointing fingers at the Pakistani Army, which is riding a wave of goodwill not seen since the years immediately after the 1999 coup d’état.  The simplest solution therefore is to attack the hapless civilian administration, particularly Asif Ali Zardari and those close to him, including Rehman Malik and Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

Rafiq Dogar’s op-edJhoota kaun hai?”, is a rhetorical masterpiece on the subject of India’s involvement in Balochistan.  Dogar’s issue in the op-ed isn’t focused so much on the factual accuracy of India’s involvement in Balochistan (this is taken for granted), but on why the “proof” of India’s interference wasn’t presented to Hillary Clinton and the people of Pakistan.

Who does one trust? On 13th October, the spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry informed the media that proof of India’s involvement in Balochistan would be presented to the people at the appropriate time. Prior to Hillary Clinton’s visit, the Interior Minister had informed Hamid Karzai that India was interfering in Balochistan, via Afghanistan.

The same day, the president of the Balochistan People’s Party, Mir Lashkari Raisani, informed the media that Education Minister, Shafeeq Ahmed Khan had been murdered because he tried to raise awareness of India’s meddling in Balochistan.   India’s meddling in Balochistan was also corroborated by IG, FC, Maj Gen Salim Nawaz.

Prior to Hillary Clinton’s visit, Interior Minister informed the media that a “foreign hand” existed in supporting the Pakistani Taliban against the army, and had asked the US to ensure that this interference is stopped.  Surprisingly, after Hillary’s visit, the spokesperson of the Interior Ministry announced that no such evidence was presented to the US.

If this was indeed the case, why didn’t the Foreign Ministry — whose spokesperson earlier stated as having proof of external interference in Balochistan — provide the evidence to the US? Ayatollah Durrani is also one of Asif Ali Zardari’s ministers who on 18th October stated that the US wanted Balochistan to secede and that Pakistan’s agencies must work to ensure that this doesn’t happen.

But Pakistan’s agencies operate under the same Interior Minister who announced prior to Hillary’s visit that the proof had been handed over to the Americans.  Who does one believe?

We cannot accept the notion that those suggesting India’s involvement in Balochistan are lying. It is the word of the Prophet Mohammed (SAW) that a Muslim can neither lie nor present false witness.  Our Foreign Minister is a descendant of Muslim makhdooms — are we to now believe that his ministry’s spokesperson was lying?

Even if we are to assume that the spokesperson of the Interior Ministry and the Interior Minister himself were speaking the truth, then why wasn’t (India’s interference) brought up with Hillary Clinton? Were they that scared of her and Richard Halbrooke?

The Interior Minister, Foreign Minister, Zardari and Gilani didn’t have the courage to present the facts to Hillary; but do they have the will to present the facts to the people?

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In a false quarrel, there is no true valor

The “Long March” is at an end.  A banner in the The Dawn proclaims “Mission Accomplished“, in Bush 43-esque vein.  The International Herald Tribune announces a victory to “Justice”.  “It’s a people’s victory”, The Nation declares. People blogged about it on the internet.  Protesters tweeted live as  they marched towards Islamabad.  Others like Tahira Abdullah wept on national television, imploring the (former) Minister for Information to “Save Pakistan”.  On the other side of the Wagah, journalists were at their ignorant, amateur best.  The Hindustan Times called the PML-N leader “Sure shot Sharif”.  Barkah Dutt exalted him as the “Sher-e-Punjab”.

Thankfully, not everyone drank the Rooh Afzah.

This was no battle for democracy.  This was a protest launched by a shrewd politician who saw an opportunity to capitalize on the misdeeds of a bumbling President.  Nawaz Sharif doesn’t care about democracy any more than did Stalin.  Those who took to the streets and endured police assaults only succeeded in supplanting one set of cronies with another.  This should become painfully obvious to the delirious intelligentsia fairly soon.  The issue isn’t whether Sharif can do a better job than Zardari.  Or if Iftikar Chaudhry can bring back the rule of law in Pakistan.  There is something rotten in the State.  Politicians in Pakistan have proven that they are incapable of governance.  Or maybe they just don’t care.  The sense of elation from yesterday’s “victory” is similar to popular sentiments that prevailed when Benazir returned to Pakistan in 2007, and when Musharraf was given his marching orders last year.  However, so monumental was the task of rebuilding the country, and so incompetent were its politicians, that the jubilation quickly turned into despair.  This time will be no different.

Political inertia is already crippling Pakistan socially and economically.  Inflation is close to 20%.  Throw in a projected GDP growth of 3% and the math doesn’t add up.  The issue that should be patently obvious is that at this precarious point in Pakistan’s history, the quarrel shouldn’t be about which Chief Justice serves party interests better or how to settle personal vendettas by launching impromptu uprisings that cripple the state.  Instead, Pakistani politicians should be working to reconstruct the parameters of engagement within the nation in a manner that will allow them to effectively govern, if and when elected.  In addition to common maladies such as poverty, illiteracy and unemployment that plague the subcontinent, Pakistan has to contend with two serious challenges to the writ of State — Talibanization of the frontier provinces and the scourge of terrorism in the heartland.   Nawaz Sharif has already proven, on two separate occasions, that he is incapable of  governing the country.  Zardari and Gilani have done little over the past few months to prove that they are any better.  Unless citizens are able to hold politicians’ feet to the fire and make them accountable for the larger issues of the state, this farce will continue.

Barely a day the “Long March” concluded, a suicide bomber attacked a crowded bus stand in Rawalpindi, killing 15 and injuring several more.  Unless the gravity of the situation in Pakistan is comprehended by politicians and citizens alike, very little will change.

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We Are Also Victims of Terror

“We’re also victims of terror”.  This phrase has come to be used quite liberally by Pakistani leaders (civilian and military), usually in response to an incident on foreign soil that invariably involves their citizens.  It has always surprised me that our leaders and media have never called them out on this bogus statement.  At best, the statement is an unintentional gaffe.  At worst, it’s a calculated oversimplification, regurgitated with the intention to mislead.

Terrorism is a very broad term, and one that has been made popular by the Bush Administration to almost always mean Islamic terrorism, perpetrated against the West or Western targets.  Therefore, the 9/11 and 7/7 attackers in New York City and London were “terrorists”, while those that attacked Mumbai last month, were merely “gunmen” or “militants”.  Theoneste Bagosora’s people, who butchered 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda in the worst genocide the world has seen in decades, were Hutu “militia”.

“The Mumbai attacks were directed not only at India but also at Pakistan’s new democratic government and the peace process with India that we have initiated. Supporters of authoritarianism in Pakistan and non-state actors with a vested interest in perpetuating conflict do not want change in Pakistan to take root.”

— Asif Ali Zardari, “The Terrorists Want to Destroy Pakistan, Too“, New York Times (12/8/2008)

Even the term “Islamic terrorism” is a very broad generalization.  It is precisely the obscurity of this term that allows Pakistan the convenience of hiding their incompetence and/or connivance with the ruse that they are victimized by the same groups.  This, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth.  In terms of pan-Islamic interests, Al Qaeda is the most significant organization that Pakistan today battles in NWFP.  Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar were trained and equipped by the CIA and the ISI to fight against the “Godless” Soviets.  When the Soviets withdrew, they turned around and bit the hands that fed, as it were.  Pakistan today fights the Taleban and Al Qaeda, not because they have ideological differences with them, but because they were forcefully dragged into the “War on Terror”.    It is interesting though that in the many tapes that he has released to Al Jazeera, bin Laden has rarely ever mentioned Kashmir or India.  This isn’t because he doesn’t have anything against India (he clearly does) , but because his immediate priorities are different.

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Bacha Khan, aka Frontier Gandhi

Khan Abdul Ghaffar "Bacha" Khan, aka "Frontier Gandhi"

In Baluchistan, FATA, and NWFP, a region that boasts of colonial-era heroes such as Bacha Khan (“Frontier Gandhi”), the theater of violence is limited in scope to the aspirations of the tribes and ethnicities in the region. They do not think of themselves in being part of a pan-Islamic struggle against the “infidels”, but as good Waziris and Baluchis fighting for autonomy to preserve their way of life.   For them, the tribe is more important than the concept of the nation, which they dismiss as a western concoction.  Therefore, those suspected of masterminding the assassination of Benazir Bhutto (e.g., Baitullah Mehsud) were motivated by a perceived threat to their way of life by a liberal, decidedly pro-western politician.  Despite the gradual radical Islamization of these regions, there is no direct threat to India emanating from the various tribes and groups.

However, there are two types of terror groups in heartland Pakistan — those who seek to act in Pakistan, and those who seek to use Pakistan as a base to act elsewhere. The fight to act in the heartland is along inter-ethnic (Shias vs. Sunnis, Pashtuns vs. Sindhis, Sindhis vs. Mohajirs, etc.) and anti-government lines, and includes terror organizations such as Lashkar-e-Omar and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.  The Mariott bombings in Islamabad in September 2008, were, by many accounts, perpetrated by terrorists opposed to the political process of Pakistan.  Other radical actors, such as the Ghazi brothers who held out in the Lal Masjid in 2007, fought for a more fundamental implementation of Islam in Pakistan, and were against Parvez Musharraf’s quasi-western “enlightened moderation” policies.  Although JeM’s Maulana Masood Azhar is said to have delivered speeches at the Lal Masjid, the interests of Pakistan’s new adversaries in the heartland, again, are confined to the politics of Pakistan.

Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI), and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) are different.  That they enjoy the protection of the ISI and elements of the Pakistani army highlights the impotence of the country’s civilian leadership.  JeM’s objectives include the liberation of Kashmir and its subsequent incorporation into the dominion of Pakistan.  Its leader, Maulana Masood Azhar, was languishing in an Indian jail before he was set free by India in exchange for the lives of Indian civilians aboard Indian Airlines flight 814, which was hijacked to Kandahar by JeM in 1999.  To show gratitude for his release, Azhar sent his thugs around in 2001 to attack the Indian Parliament.  Similarly, LeT’s objectives are clear — the liberation of Kashmir (a goal closely aligned to Pakistan’s own objectives), and the Islamization of South Asia (i.e., wiping out Hinduism).  Indeed, the group’s founder, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, appears to have no quarrels with the State of Pakistan, and considers himself a patriotic Pakistani — a very different view indeed from the other terror groups that denounce political division as a western idea, and see themselves as warriors of the Muslim brotherhood.

In summary, yes, Pakistan, you are a victim of terror, but, no, it isn’t the same kind of terror, and it isn’t being perpetrated by the same terrorists. Seven years ago, you called the people who attacked India “freedom fighters”.  You offered them “diplomatic” and “moral” support.  So let’s be clear: the people that attacked Mumbai, attacked Mumbai — not Karachi.  They attacked India, not Pakistan.  And while Asif Ali Zardari paints his nation as a victim on the international stage, Lashkar’s aiders and abettors, citizens of his country, under the protection of the very agencies that he supposedly oversees,  are busy plotting their next big bloody assault on India.

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