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A chip in every militant

Pakistan’s novel idea for dealing with terrorism.

In an interview with BBC Urdu, the Interior Minister of Pakistan’s Punjab province Col (r) Shuja Khanzada offered the following when questioned on what was being done to counter the terrorist groups active in his province:

The government has increased its monitoring of those militant and sectarian groups in the province that are listed in the Fourth Schedule.  Those individuals listed in the schedule now require permission from the police in order to travel outside Punjab province.

In the past the police had no way of monitoring the movements of these individuals.  However, we are now planning to implant microchips in these individuals in order to monitor their movement.

The joint intelligence committee has listed 1,132 individuals who have been directly involved in or have instigated or supported militancy in the province.  Of these individuals, 700 have already been arrested and we are in the process of implanting microchips in them to monitor their movement per the Fourth Schedule.  [بی بی سی اردو]

What a novel idea.

Of course, implanting microchips is easy.  A tougher question to answer is who is going monitor these 700 individuals on a continuous basis.  Moreover, Punjab police is apparently counting on these individuals not being competent enough to use Google to determine how they can jam, spoof, or simply remove microchip implants.

But it doesn’t end there:

When asked whether the Government of Punjab planned to act against Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jamaat ud-Dawah, the minister said that they were both proscribed organizations and if we feel at any time that they are breaking the law, we will act against them.

When asked if neither one of these two organizations had done anything to attract the attention of law enforcement agencies thus far, the minister indicated that they did not know of any unlawful activity attributable to these groups at this point, but that the government was taking action step-by-step.

This is par for the course.  Despite claims of having turned the corner in its fight against terrorism, Pakistan continues to tolerate – to be charitable – or sponsor – to be more accurate – terrorist groups as long as they don’t pose an immediate threat to the government or military.  In an apparent attempt to placate the U.S., Pakistan “banned” the Jamaat ud-Dawah and then very clumsily attempted to back out of its UN commitments after John Kerry’s visit in January, as Rezaul Hasan Laskar reports in the Hindustan Times.

The Long War Journal’s report earlier this week on files recovered from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad indicates that Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif attempted to negotiate with al-Qaeda and wanted to establish “normal relations” with them “as long as they do not conduct operations in Punjab.”

Indeed, LWJ’s report is instructive in how state and federal governments in Pakistan go about dealing with terrorists groups:  negotiate and plead with those that do not directly target the state, challenge (with varying degrees of sincerity) those that visibly target the military or government, and sponsor and obfuscate others that further the state’s security objectives.

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Pakistan’s sophistry on Jamaat ud-Dawah

Nawaz Sharif’s claims of zero tolerance on terrorism have zero credibility.

India’s civil society and its political leaders across all hues shared the grief of ordinary Pakistanis after the barbaric attack in Peshawar where 132 school children were massacred by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.  In the days following the brutal attack, former Pakistani DG-ISI Hameed Gul, former army chief Pervez Musharraf and Jamaat ud-Dawah’s amir Hafiz Saeed blamed India for the attack even though the TTP had already accepted responsibility.  Jamaat ud-Dawah — the “charity organization” — then held a Ghazwah-e-Hind conference barely a week after the Peshawar tragedy; its loud banner threatened to exterminate India.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in a televised address to his country, proclaimed that the “Peshawar atrocity has changed Pakistan…history will never forgive us if we do not eliminate the curse of terrorism.”  He announced a 20-point National Plan of Action against terrorism which envisaged, among other things, zero tolerance for militancy in Punjab.

Right off the bat, the Sharif government found itself having to explain to India and to the rest of the world how Lashkar-e-Taiba’s operational chief, Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi, who had allegedly been cooling his heels in prison for having orchestrated the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, was about to be released on bail.  The Sharif government has since had to apply the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) ordinance to effectively prevent Lakhvi’s release.

Many in India have quite rightly been skeptical of some news reports that Pakistan was planning to ban the Jamaat ud-Dawah.  Many will remember that Pakistan had claimed that it had  “banned” the JuD one month after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, so it is not clear how it is now contemplating banning an already-banned organization.  We know from Hafiz Saeed’s public appearances, his keynote addresses — of all places — in Lahore’s High Court, and the magazines and literature his organization is able to freely distribute, that neither he nor the JuD are proscribed in Pakistan.

But let’s not take my word for it, let’s just hear it from a Pakistani government official.  Enter stage right, Pakistan’s Minister for Defense Production, Rana Tanveer Hussain who spake thus on Jan 17:

JuD is a charitable organisation and the government of Pakistan has no evidence against Hafiz Saeed or the JuD…The JuD does not have a military wing and they are only involved in preaching Islam and working in the education field…The JuD only pinches India, not Afghanistan or America. You can’t group it along with ISIS and al Qaeda. [The Hindustan Times]

So the JuD is a “charitable organization” that “pinches” India? What sort of charitable organization “pinches” other countries? If we had to be charitable, we would say that Mr. Hussain was being naive.

And “pinches”? Pakistan’s historical euphemism to refer to the India-specific terrorists it bred was “freedom fighters.”  Apparently there’s been a change in nomenclature.  These freedom fighters are now “pinchers.”

But Mr. Hussain’s story is, as the Brits would say, total codswallop.

UN Security Council Resolution 1267 (under the “al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee”) proscribed the LeT (QEL 118.05) and declared the JuD to be its front organization (the UN also sanctioned Hafiz Saeed).  As a UN member state, Pakistan ultimately must comply with these resolutions.  The U.S. Department of State also added Jamaat ud-Dawah (along with al-Anfal Trust, Tehrik-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool and others) as aliases of the already-proscribed Lashkar-e-Taiba.  Hafiz Saeed himself has been on the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list for quite a while.

Incidentally, Mr. Hussain’s sophistry converges with Hafiz Saeed’s.  In an interview with the Urdu daily Ummat in 2012, Hafiz Saeed claimed he had nothing to do with Lashkar-e-Taiba and that the LeT was a Kashmiri group:

1990-91 saw the birth of organized “armed resistance” against India’s occupation [of Kashmir].  Among the organizations fighting India’s occupation was a group called Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).  This organization and its setup was based exclusively in Kashmir.  There was never any relationship between the JuD and the LeT, nor was any leader of the JuD ever the head of the LeT.  But a section of India’s media has consistently spread propaganda alleging that I am the leader of the LeT. [روزنامہ امّت]

Very interesting.  Perhaps Hafiz Saeed thinks the world has forgotten, for example, his editorial  in “ud-Dawah” magazine (one of the five monthly publications of Markaz ud-Dawah wal-Irshad, the predecessor of the JuD) in May 2001 protesting the U.S.’s designation of the LeT as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.  Saeed wrote in that editorial:

We believe that the U.S.’s designation of Lashkar-e-Taiba as a terrorist organization will have no impact on us.  But we say that if the U.S. thinks we are a terrorist organization, let them place their evidence in front of the public.  We have repeatedly told the U.S. that it is welcome to present whatever evidence it has against Lashkar-e-Taiba in an independent international forum.

We now reiterate our appeal.  We will prove to the world who the real terrorists are — India, the U.S., Russia and Israel, or the mujahideen.  [Editorial, Majallah ud-Dawah, May 2001]

To be fair, Hafiz Saeed spins so many stories on a daily basis, he’d be hard-pressed to keep up with them all.  And as for Prime Minister Sharif, his “zero tolerance” on terrorism has zero credibility.


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Getting India’s priorities right

Does it matter if Foreign Secretary-level talks with Pakistan are called off?

The government of India has cancelled the proposed Foreign Secretary-level talks with Pakistan as a result of Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India, Abdul Basit, meeting with Hurriyat leaders.  The meetings took place apparently despite Indian warnings to Mr. Basit that Pakistan could choose to engage in dialog with either India or the separatists, but not with both.  It is possible that new red lines are being drawn on what India considers unacceptable engagement by Pakistani politicians and diplomats.  Reaction to India’s response has been mixed; some have called it an overreaction, while others believe India’s response was justified.

But whether India’s decision was an overreaction or a justified response is of no real relevance.  India and Pakistan hold such divergent and irreconcilable positions on Kashmir that a resolution seems almost next to impossible as things stand today.  For India this matters little, as a status-quoist state in a position of advantage in every area of contention vis-à-vis Pakistan on Kashmir.

Pakistan, on the other hand, has a problem.  As Christine Fair rightly notes in her book Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War, Pakistan is “revisionist, or anti-status quo, in that it desires to bring all of the disputed territory of Kashmir under its control, including the portion currently governed by India.”  Pakistan’s problem though, is that there exists a significant and ever-increasing disparity between its ends and means.  Its military campaigns to wrest Jammu and Kashmir from India have failed with increasing decisiveness in each successive attempt.  India has also successfully thwarted – though at a significant cost – Pakistan’s sub-conventional war in Jammu & Kashmir.

In short, Pakistan’s attempts at resolving the Kashmir dispute through violent means have failed.  Pakistan is therefore left with the only option of negotiation through diplomacy.  But Pakistan’s leaders, present and past, have built a narrative around J&K that allows no scope for nuance, negotiation or compromise.  The resulting public sentiment in Pakistan is that it is unlikely to be satisfied with anything short of India handing Kashmir over to Pakistan on a silver platter.  And that is hardly going to happen.

It doesn’t matter how many whitepapers and non-papers are written and circulated about potential solutions to J&K.  Optimism about their viability isn’t shared by many beyond the confines of Track-II moots in which they are enthusiastically presented.  Ultimately, Pakistan cannot demand anything less than a total surrender of Jammu & Kashmir and India cannot (and will not) give Pakistan what it wants.

This is not at all to advocate a total cessation of dialog with Pakistan.  There is benefit to be derived from continued dialog on ancillary issues such as liberalizing trade and visa regimes.  As far as one can tell, India has only cancelled FS-level talks scheduled for August 25 in Islamabad, not shut the door on future opportunities for talks between the two governments.

Indeed, even as news of the cancelled August 25 talks hogged the limelight, state-run gas utilities from India and Pakistan appear to be in advanced talks for exporting gas from India to Pakistan via a pipeline from Jalandhar to Lahore.  Operationalizing such a project would be significant, considering our troubled histories.  India can continue to pursue these and other pragmatic initiatives with Pakistan, but there are more pressing foreign policy matters that demand India’s attention than its western neighbor.

For India, Pakistan is not a foreign policy priority but a national security threat, given its continued use of terrorism against the Indian homeland and Indian interests abroad.  Dealing with such a threat requires a different set of objectives, actors and intended outcomes.  Currently, those actors do not reside in the Ministry of External Affairs, but in other ministries and agencies of the Indian government.  If India is to expend significant time and effort on Pakistan, it will be better served if they are spent in the pursuit of means to mitigate the threats to India’s national security emanating from that country.

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The attack on Hamid Mir and its aftermath.

Propagandists in Pakistan move in mysterious ways their wonders to perform.  Those who once exercised creative license to ascribe any and all acts of terror in Pakistan to India’s external intelligence agency R&AW are now being labeled agents of that same agency.  Hamid Mir, senior journalist with the GEO Group, was attacked this past Saturday by unidentified persons while on his way to a special broadcast on GEO TV in Karachi.  Mr. Mir was shot six times in the abdomen and legs, but miraculously survived the attack.

In the ensuing outrage, Amir Mir, brother to Hamid and a journalist of repute himself, accused the ISI of orchestrating the attack on his brother.  GEO TV, as part of its coverage of the attack, broadcast a photograph of DG ISI Lt. Gen. Zahir ul-Islam, while Ansar Abbasi, investigative editor of the Jang Group’s English-language newspaper The News, demanded his resignation.

Big mistake.  One does not simply accuse the DG ISI on national television and get away with it.  The ISI dismissed the allegations as “baseless” (as all allegations usually are in Pakistan). Pakistan’s Defense Ministry, in its complaint against GEO TV, accuses it of bringing the ISI into disrepute and demands that Pakistan’s Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) cancel GEO TV’s license to broadcast.

With the PEMRA verdict still pending, GEO TV took to Twitter yesterday, indicating that its channel had been blocked by a few cable operators.  This may of course be true, but some of us may be forgiven if we suspect this to be a reenactment of the last time GEO TV claimed to have been taken off air. In that particular instance, a GEO official privately confirmed that they had “taken themselves off the air in order to blame [a] political party, and garner support for the station.”

GEO TV and Mr. Mir are now under attack from many quarters.  Rival media houses are in an all-out war.  Many of them are unable to appreciate the fact that the price one now pays for defying the Deep State is no longer censorship, it is death.  And it wouldn’t matter if it were GEO, Express or Dawn.  The rules of the game have changed.

Of course, propaganda theories of Indian involvement are never very far when hell breaks loose in Pakistan, which is always.  The Awami Muslim League’s Sheikh Rasheed, who was “detained” in the U.S. in 2012 for his links with Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hafiz Saeed, opined that the attack on Hamid Mir benefited India, which was looking to malign the Pakistani Army and ISI. Hafiz Saeed also took to Twitter to level vague and uncreative accusations at India and the U.S. 

Mr. Mir himself had been particularly distressed in the recent past at being labelled an “Indian agent.” But how things change.  It wasn’t too long ago that Mr. Mir did the bidding of higher powers in Rawalpindi and Islamabad before he managed to find his liberal conscience (though possibly not his “liberal fascist” conscience).

Indeed, he was for the ISI before he was against it.  After all, not every journalist in Pakistan gets to interview Osama bin Laden.  And that too not once, but on three occasions. But the nature of that relationship changed in 2010 when a tape surfaced of Mr. Mir allegedly conversing with the TTP’s Usman Punjabi, in which he relayed false information that may have contributed to the death of ISI official Khalid Khawaja.  The recorded conversation, still available online, also has Mr. Mir talking disparagingly about Pakistan’s persecuted Ahmedis. Quite the liberal indeed.

So where does this all end? It is hard to see how PEMRA could fly in the face of the ISI’s demands and recommend anything other than revoking GEO’s license. But in time, the brouhaha will be forgotten.  Ansar Abbasi and the GEO crew will probably show up somewhere, somehow on some national TV show in which they will proceed to eulogize the Pakistani army, thereby underscoring their hubb ul-watan (patriotic) credentials. Couple this with private undertakings to comply with the red lines now drawn and order will be restored. Licenses will be reinstated, and talk show hosts and their guests will be yelling at each other, competing for the soundbite of the day on GEO TV soon enough.

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