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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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Urdunama: Raymond Davis

It has surfaced that Raymond Davis, the U.S. citizen arrested in Lahore for killing two Pakistanis, is actually a CIA contractor who provided security to agency stations in Pakistan.  This will further complicate matters between the U.S. and Pakistan on the status of Mr. Davis.

The shrillness and rhetoric in Pakistan’s Urdu press, which has led a campaign for capital punishment for Mr. Davis since his capture, will only grow.  As an example, Roznama Ausaf’s February 22 editorial challenges the U.S. to make good on threats from some quarters in D.C. to withhold military and non-military aid to Pakistan if Mr. Davis is not released.  An excerpt of the editorial follows:

America will continue its “carrot and stick” policy with Pakistan.  It will try to bribe its way out of its current predicament.  But does it not realize that a country of 170 million people with one the finest armed forces in the world cannot be bought?  The U.S. will probably increase the amount of money it is willing to pay to seek the release of Raymond Davis.  Mr. Davis’ importance to the U.S is apparent given the lengths to which they are prepared to go to secure his release.  No doubt, he was part of a larger U.S. conspiracy against Pakistan.

The U.S. may also threaten to withdraw military and non-military aid to Pakistan.  However, if they do follow through on this threat, what do they think will happen to Pakistan’s military operations in FATA?  Does the U.S. realize what impact a Pakistani withdrawal from FATA will have on its war in Afghanistan?

This isn’t the first time that Pakistan would have had to face sanctions from the U.S.  Each time the U.S. has punished us with economic and military sanctions, Pakistan has responded — by becoming a nuclear power, by upgrading our missile technology, and by strengthening our armed forces.   Let the U.S. be under no illusions that once that “safety valve” that Pakistan has kept secure in the tribal regions is open, the U.S. will not be able to deal with the repercussions, even after spending another trillion dollars.

It is therefore advisable that the U.S. come clean about all its activities in Pakistan, ask for forgiveness, and allow Raymond Davis to suffer the consequences of his actions.   Times have changed. [روزنامہ اوصاف]

An approximate Hindi translation of Ausaf’s editorial can be accessed here (thanks @SundeepDougal).  Also follow my monthly review of Urdu and Arabic news media in Pragati.

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Responding to Michael Scheuer

Let us not rationalize irrationality.

The Diplomat carried an article by Michael Scheuer entitled “Coming Nuclear Flashpoint” on the India-Pakistan equation as it relates to Afghanistan.  Mr. Scheuer is a foreign policy critic and former CIA Station Chief of Bin Laden Issue Station (aka Alec Station).  He is noted to have strong views on U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and on the “Israeli lobby” in D.C.

The gist of Mr. Scheuer’s article is essentially this — that India has unwisely chosen to involve itself in Afghanistan.  This has caused uneasiness in Pakistan, which may in turn result in a nuclear confrontation between the two neighbors.  Mr. Scheuer attempts to substantiate his “bells of doom” theory for India by making several arguments that have no sound basis.

The first has to do with the concept of Pakistan’s quest for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan.  This term is a particular favorite of folks in Rawalpindi and employed to sell gullible visiting U.S. and NATO generals on why Pakistan’s influence must be unchallenged in Afghanistan.  Let’s be clear about what this “strategic depth” really is.  It isn’t meant to be, as some might imagine, a last refuge for a retreating Pakistani army in the face of an invading Indian army.

The term “strategic depth” is a euphemism for territory that Pakistan wants to use to attack India and Indian interests. This has precedence:  while many in the West might have forgotten, the hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight to Kandahar in December 1999, executed by Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex, is still fresh in the minds of many in India.  The idea therefore, that India ought to somehow be sympathetic towards such nefarious designs is ridiculous.

Second, Mr. Scheuer attacks India’s investments in infrastructure projects in Afghanistan, suggesting that there is more than meets the eye as far as India’s intentions go.  Specifically, he draws attention to India’s work on the Zaranj-Delaram project, which he feels can be used by Afghanistan to trade with Central Asia by bypassing Pakistan; Mr. Scheuer feels that this was deliberately designed to hurt the Pakistani economy.  Here, it would not be imprudent to ask, “what Pakistani economy?”

At the very least, this argument presupposes that India gains from an economically battered Pakistan — if this were the case, India’s contribution to such a situation would matter little;  successive Pakistani governments have themselves been single-minded in their pursuit to loot their country and destroy its economy.

Third, on Afghanistan, Mr. Scheuer suggests that the mujahideen have not forgotten India’s support for Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, and the repercussions for this support will be apparent once U.S. and NATO forces leave.  Certainly, the mujahideen have been anti-India (supported as they are by Pakistan’s ISI) but it is wrong to think that they are representative of the people of Afghanistan.

A 2009 poll ( PDF) conducted by BBC/ABC/ARD indicates that 71 percent of the Afghans polled had a favorable opinion of  India — the highest for any foreign nation — as against unfavorable opinions of Pakistan (81 percent), the Taliban (89 percent) and Osama bin Laden (91 percent).  The same poll also showed that 56 percent of Afghans in 2009 indicated that they had access to improved road infrastructure, while 50 percent believed they had access to better medical care — two areas of significant Indian contribution.

Next, an area where I agree (if only in part) with Mr. Scheuer is on India’s exclusive reliance on soft power in Afghanistan.  Many of us at INI and other platforms have argued that over reliance on  soft power will be detrimental to India’s interests in Afghanistan.  Over at Pragati, many have made the case for India to match its soft power in Afghanistan with hard power, viz. deploying troops. Some of us have even argued that the very least India ought to do is commit to train the Afghan National Army at a time when Western forces are seeking to wind down their own commitments.

The difference between our arguments and Mr. Scheuer’s is that while we argue that soft power alone cannot be the basis of India’s engagement in Afghanistan, Mr. Scheuer argues that no Indian influence — whether soft or hard — is acceptable in Afghanistan.  Given the obvious implications of a security vacuum in Afghanistan to India’s internal security, such a position is not only untenable but unacceptable.

Mr. Scheuer is right that Indian interests in Afghanistan will be increasingly targeted once U.S. and NATO forces leave.  However, the  solution to this is not for India to flee from the scene, with tail firmly between its legs.  India must counter Pakistani influence by working with like-minded countries, such as Russia and Iran and yes, even the U.S. to deny ground to the Wahhabi brigade that turned Afghanistan into a festering swamp of extremism in the ’90s.

Finally, perhaps the biggest mistake Mr. Scheuer commits in his article is trying to rationalize the Pakistani establishment’s deliberate irrationality.  While on the one hand articulating Pakistan’s hysteria with great clarity, he almost inexplicably accepts this institutional irrationality as valid, and appears irritated that India does not.

Let us be clear — India’s actions in Afghanistan have as much to do with its desire to help rebuild a war-ravaged nation as they do with mitigating national security risks.  India need not apologize — to anyone — nor back down from doing everything it can to protect its people and its interests.  Now Pakistan’s interests may be incompatible with this, but that’s unsurprising, given that the Pakistan military-jihadi complex’s position is antithetical to the existence of India.  Giving credence to such irrational positions is an exercise in appeasement that will come back to haunt the rest of the world and India.

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America's New Embassy in Islamabad

US plans for the $1 billion upgrade of their Islamabad embassy are taking shape.  The plans include investments of about $405 million in reconstruction of the main embassy building and $111 million for a housing complex for additional personnel.  The US has already purchased 18 acres of land from the Pakistan government for additional accommodation for diplomatic personnel.

This plan to increase US presence in Pakistan was first announced in May 2009, to complement Obama’s Af-Pak strategy.  The plan also calls for a significant increase in the number of personnel (by about 1,000), and includes the deployment of 350 marines and several armored personnel carriers.

The slow but steady increase in US boots-on-the-ground provides the Americans the ability to carry out COIN and covert operations in NWFP, FATA and Baluchistan with or without direct assistance from the Pakistani army and the ISI.  Clearly, the frustration of being encumbered by a double-talking “ally ” has translated into the US adopting a more operational role in the border regions of Pakistan and beyond.  Indeed, there are reports of significant US muscle power already present in the Tarbela area (about 20 miles NW of Islamabad), in addition to CIA “facilities” in Karachi and Peshawar, and Predator drones operating out of Shamsi airbase.

While there may be question marks over the exact role of US marines in Pakistan, they are clearly there as a result of Pakistani government assent — whether provided voluntary or under compulsion.  Boots-on-the-ground provides the US the flexibility to operate with enough independence to pick and choose targets for engagement, while leaving some of the “dirty work” to the Pakistani army.

It also ties in with the overall strategy of negotiating with the so-called “moderate” Taliban, while targeting those Talibani elements not willing to be bought over. In this regard, the return of Robin Raphel to the neighborhood may not be coincidental. Who better to deal with the Taliban than their most vocal cheerleader? (via The Acorn)

As expected, this hasn’t gone down well with the Pakistani media.  Never one to pass up an opportunity to fume over all things India or US related, Shireen Mazari takes her government to task for kowtowing America’s line.  She argues:

It now transpires that there are already 300 plus US military personnel in this area – the so-called “trainers”. Of course, given the poor counter insurgency record of the US, heaven knows what training they will impart to our much better trained army!

Of course, one could point out that for all the bravado and chest-thumping, the Pakistani army has nothing to show for its COIN efforts in Swat, that the Swati leadership is still intact, and that as was last known, the Radio Mullah had resumed his FM-based sermons, but the concepts of “fact” and “logic” are largely irrelevant in Mazari’s writing.

Meanwhile, the August 3 editorial of The Dawn disapproves of the increasing US presence and asks whether such a move would “endear” the US to Pakistani civilians.  The editorial sees the development as being part of US’s contingency plans of taking control of Pakistan’s nukes, in the event of a meltdown of the state.  It points out that the Americans operated a similar base out of Tehran during the Shah’s rule, and asks, with tongue-in-cheek, whether such a base wouldn’t be more suitable if it were to operate out of capitals in the region that were friendly to Washington, such as Kabul or New Delhi.

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