Memogate: the quality of justice is not strained

Appeared in Daily Times on Monday March 26, 2012 as weekly BAAGHI

Memogate

After more than five months since a preposterous ‘memogate’ was disclosed, Pakistan’s media and honourable Supreme Court are still struggling to make headway in a conspicuously tilted case. After an October 10, 2011 article by one Mansoor Ijaz, some in Pakistan considered it as an opportunity to take the sitting government to task. These included sections of media, political parties and military establishment. From what was too obvious to ignore, it clearly looked like an agenda driven home-grown ‘gate’ from the outset.

What was most unfortunate was that the superior court allowed itself to be dragged into this agenda-politiking. During its hearing in the Supreme Court, a far-sighted Asma Jahangir had warned the judiciary to not ‘grope for the jurisdiction’ under the public interest litigation window just to drag itself into this highly political case. What appeared as a trap for the incumbent civilian government is now proving to be a vise around the necks of those who tried to use it.

In an 83-page statement, Mr. Husain Haqqani, former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States, has detailed his response denying the allegations levelled against him by Ijaz. The statement, which was submitted to the court on March 22 for its hearing today, Monday March 26, explains Haqqani’s response in 85 points. After the denial of Ijaz’s claims, Haqqani continues that he “waited until now to submit a detailed statement before the commission to ensure that the purported evidence supporting Mr. Ijaz’s claim is first on the record before I respond to it”.

From the affidavits to the apex court submitted by General Kayani and General Pasha, then DG Inter-Services Intelligence, it is clear that the latter made a visit to London in order to ‘investigate’ the memo. Ijaz had claimed in his October 10 article to have drafted a memo allegedly on behalf of Haqqani and delivered the same to General Mullen, then Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff. In the said affidavits, both the generals had claimed that Ijaz had ‘enough corroborative material’ and had been examined by General Pasha. According to Pasha, his meeting with Ijaz took place on October 22, while he reported back to the president on November 18. In his affidavit General Kayani said that he had urged the prime minister to take action urgently as time was of the essence and “the sooner we found out the facts the better it would be”. But it was quite strange that both the generals had wasted around 22 days — three weeks — that were ‘of the essence’, in doing no one knows what, before they could report back to the prime minister on November 13 and the president on November 18.

Even after both the generals, one of whom was leading the ‘intelligence’ of the country, submitted their affidavits to the court, they forgot to submit the ‘enough corroborative evidence’ that they claimed to have ‘examined’. It was this failure and a terrible collective oversight on the part of sections of the memo-euphoric media, the petitioners and probably the judiciary as well, who did not ask the generals to provide the evidence they had so blindly trusted against the country’s hardworking and committed ambassador having no history of betraying the nation’s interest. Even five months after the fishy ‘memogate’ emerged, every one of us is still waiting for the mythical Gul-e-Bakawli of the Arabian Nights that comatosed the brilliance of the good general. But we are not that naïve otherwise. Remember the recent re-emergence of the so-called ‘Mehrangate’? Referring to the affidavits submitted by General Asad Durrani and others, one of the judges on the bench passed an appropriate remark that mere affidavits could not be taken as evidence. But on guesses, the appropriateness of such arguments has to be applied with careful selection.

It not only sends chills down the spine of an ordinary Pakistani to even imagine that our collective security has been in such simple (if not wily!) hands but also rots much of the meat from most of the assertions made in the past by the ‘intelligence’ leadership, e.g., foreign hand in Balochistan etc, which obviously goes without any presentable evidence.

Now when all sides have failed to present any evidence to prove the claims made by Ijaz, it is sort of embarrassing for not only the military establishment, the media, the petitioners but also for the apex court, who in a departure from all judicial precedent, allowed this ‘star witness’ to record his statement outside the country. This would probably be the first and the only case in Pakistan’s judicial history when not only the counsels but secretary to the Judicial Commission (which is part of the judiciary), goes abroad to hear a witness who has an established track record of spreading venom against Pakistan on many occasions. As reported in newspapers on Saturday, Haqqani has requested the court to record his statement on video just as it did in the case of Ijaz. It is going to be a difficult ride for the apex court if it decides to deny Haqqani’s request.

The independent judiciary that we sacrificed so much for has to stand its ground. No matter who the petitioner is, no matter who submits the affidavit, no matter what the media screams, the judiciary will not let its independence be compromised. That is one thing that all of us have been led to believe. If the standards of justice are made subjective and selective, it will have far-reaching effects on judicial freedom. The media should resist the urge to become a power player, just as the judiciary should refuse to become a tool to serve the political purposes of various contenders for power. In this particular case, the judiciary could not appear as objective as it should have been. Right from accepting the petition and failing to reject it on very strong technical grounds, to facilitating Ijaz unprecedentedly, one could not see the norms of equality and justice being followed by all parties. This is one more test juncture of this case.

It might not affect Haqqani too much if he records his statement in London, Paris, NewYork or Islamabad. But if the commission fails to establish itself as a forum of justice, blind to all kinds of subjectivity, the effects will be on the judiciary. As a humble part of the movement for the restoration of the judiciary, the writer is nervously waiting with fingers crossed to see who wins — the judiciary or the egocentric politics of a few who are using the judiciary for their own selfish motives.

Caviar to the General

Published in Daily Times as my weekly BAAGHI, on Monday March 19, 2012

“Tacitly registering his concern over the debate in the media on the role of the army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Kayani on Wednesday said, ‘The national institutions should not be undermined’”, said a news item in an English language daily newspaper on March 15. What merited this royal annoyance was open to discussion in the media about the re-eruption of a long simmering ‘Mehrangate’ that should be best described as ISI-gate. According to this case, some Rs 140 million had been doled out to politicians to rig the elections in 1990. The rest of the money out of Rs 350 million, as claimed by one Younas Habib, Zonal Manager of Habib Bank at that time, who was allegedly asked by the ISI to generate these funds, eventually went to the coffers of ISI and its officials and General Aslam Beg, the then army chief.

The reports of kingly displeasure came when the ‘Chief’ (as is he called by the ranks) was informally talking to a group of editors at the farewell dinner hosted by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani for the outgoing Air Chief Rao Qamar Suleman. ‘Oh, the Chief is not happy,’ was the buzz that quickly took over the atmosphere, if a fly on the wall is to be believed. Curious, as these media persons are normally quite committed to ‘freedom of press’ kind of slogans and usually hit the politicians hard if such a suggestion comes from them, I dared to speak with a couple of them and tried to get a sense if any discontent existed on the Chief’s remarks. There was. With understandable care and qualifying statements to justify the Chief’s unhappiness. Understandable, quite understandable.

To be fair to the Chief, there is little reason to disagree with him. This is perhaps the rarest agreement between us — the bloody civilians and the almighty generals. Indeed, the national institutions should not be undermined. National institutions are undermined when individuals take them for a ride. Institutions are emasculated when individuals responsible for them are allowed to get away with the biggest crimes committed under the guise of ‘national interest’. Institutions are ruined when they are allowed to overstep their jurisdictions with impunity and arrogate to themselves the right to demolish and weaken every other institution of the country. The institutions are, indeed, annihilated when they manipulate the people’s mandate and accord themselves the right to tamper with the country’s law and constitution. In strong agreement with the General, none of us should let the institutions be undermined and weaken themselves.

Now comes the worrying part of the General’s remarks: “The debate (on TV channels) does not support national institutions as it works to de-motivate soldiers performing their duties in 20° Celsius below freezing point. We need to motivate our soldiers instead of demoralizing them by such debates.” What are we being told? These oft- repeated reminders of ‘soldiers doing their duty in 20 minus Celsius’ are not only misplaced but are also hackneyed now to the point of engendering instant yawning. Soldiers on duty in extreme weather conditions are not even the topic of ISI-gate. The nation stands behind these soldiers and salutes them for their sacrifices. What about those who use their soldiers as human bait or as mere pawns to fight the wars created by a few generals? The talk shows discussing ISI-gate are hardly about these poor soldiers. They are, rather, about a handful of generals who subverted the constitution of the country, made an important institution — ISI — an unprofessional one, made this institution a moneymaking machine, put it on a dangerous and anti-state path of undermining the democratic process, filled their bank accounts and walked away. One is flabbergasted at the army’s ability to distinguish between friends and foes. How come nabbing the culprits is akin to ‘undermining’ the institution is an enigma, the answer to which is only known to the almighty generals.

The discussion did not end here. Senior editors were reminded of other countries, including India, USA and Israel, who never talked about their ‘intelligence’ agencies the way the ISI was discussed in Pakistan. Well sir, memory fails me to count the instances when spy agencies of these countries were caught distributing money among politicians to rig elections, kill their prime ministers and torture ‘uncontrollable’ elements of the media to death. “They are never caught,” reminds my friend, a senior editor with another daily, who happened to be present in the said informal media talk. What happened with Al Gore and later Hillary Clinton prompted another senior anchor, as evidence of the CIA’s overstepping the civilian mandate.

They, however, could not come up with a ready reference when I asked about such examples from neighbouring India and other countries, although, “There were many examples of RAW’s overstepping in India as well,” they claimed. While this scribe is not aware of any RAW-hatched conspiracy against their own politicians, the efficiency or lack thereof of IB and NIA is widely discussed in the Indian media. Their ‘soldiers working under 20 Celsius’ don’t mind too much, as professionalism in other countries is the focus of these institutions. We perhaps need to take extra measures to safeguard our soldiers’ morale, which inter alia includes clear demarcation of the role of spy agencies and making sure they don’t make or break democratic governments and people who suffer at their hands do not malign them.

Even if the agencies in other countries play this ‘august’ role of interrupting the democratic process in their countries, does it justify ISI’s doling out money to keep a certain political party of the people’s choice out of government? Now that’s dangerous, if the army thinks whatever happened in 1990 was justifiable and is an established way of agencies’ working around the world, it should worry every law-abiding citizen of Pakistan. If the army is insisting on being right when it dictates the democratic process, we need to worry about our future. In this case we really need to reflect what has really changed despite the army’s lip service that they don’t want to mingle in politics.

About ‘Mehrangate’, the General said, it happened 20 years earlier and discussing it now was fighting history. “We should learn from the past, live in the present with a focus on the future,” he goes on. If indeed it happened 20 years ago, then most of the current soldiers (who the General thinks are losing morale) were not even born. These young soldiers must see that the culprits of serious crime of undermining the constitution of Pakistan are not exempt from the law by virtue of whatever office they might have held in the past. These brave sons of ours, the soldiers, must be taught that whosoever takes the law into their own hands and compromises the professionalism of Pakistan’s army, must face the grip of the law. Giving them a practical example of how important it is to safeguard the army’s own professionalism should not be considered detrimental or negative.

Lastly, if we don’t have to ‘fight history’, the military leadership needs to investigate who from its ranks reportedly met with a retired judge and requested to pass on the message to the ‘right authorities’ to keep lynching the government on the NRO judgment and contempt cases. The ‘Do-Not-Fight-History’ doctrine is not selective sir, is it? Something seems badly rotten in the state that rests within a state.

Of a curious ‘gate’ and the Supreme Court

Originally appeared in Daily Times on Monday March 12, 2012 as my weekly BAAGHI

The Supreme Court of Pakistan, in an unprecedented move, has recently started hearing a long pending case, human rights petition no. HRC 19/1996, Air Marshal Asghar Khan Vs retired chief of army staff General Mirza Muhammad Aslam Beg, the former Inter Services Intelligence chief retired Lt-General Asad Durrani and Younis Habib of Habib Bank (later associated with Mehran Bank fraud scandal). The case was started in 1996, saw few hearings and then was put in the Supreme Court’s case-mortuary for 16 years.

One wonders why they call the scandal ‘Mehrangate’ as Mr Younas Habib, the central character of the case was in Habib Bank back in 1990. Probably because it is too hard to pronounce it as ISI-gate. The story of ISI-gate started on June 11, 1996 when Gen (R) Naseerullah Babar, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s Minister for Interior, while speaking on the floor of the house in the National Assembly, accused the ISI of defrauding the general elections by distributing money among the right wing politicians to make an election alliance and thus rig the elections to defeat the PPP. He alleged that former chief of army staff Gen (Retd) Mirza Aslam Beg withdrew an amount of Rs.140 million from Mehran Bank, and disbursed the amount through the ISI chief, Lt-General Asad Durrani to a selection of anti-PPP politicians and thus rig the elections in favour of the ISI-tailored IJI and Mian Nawaz Sharif.

Following this, the brave and indefatigable retired air marshal Asghar Khan wrote a letter to the then Chief Justice of Supreme Court, Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, who converted his letter with attached affidavit of Asad Durrani into a human rights petition under section 184(3). The petition was, however, stalled after Justice Shah’s unceremonious ouster in November 1997 when members of Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League stormed the Supreme Court and later got the CJ ousted with the help of his Brother Judges. His successor, Justice Ajmal Mian remained completely mum over the case. So much so that his book A Judge Speaks Out does not even talk about Asghar Khan or his petition. All eight chief justices that followed him since then, never dared to open the case.

Meanwhile, the indomitable Asghar Khan kept writing letters to almost all of these incoming CJs including the current one, before and after his restoration. All his letters, pertinent to note here, kept going unanswered. The newly ‘freed’ judiciary made itself busy with more important things like NRO, NAB, sugar prices, appointment of grade 21 officers and the prime minister’s alleged contempt, etc. In these 16 years of the ISI-gate resting in the SC’s mortuary, prime witnesses and central characters of the scandal started disappearing. General Naseerullah Babar and Ghulam Ishaq Khan died, while the in-camera statements of General Asad Durrani and Naseerullah Babar given before the court in November 1997 got successfully demolished from the Supreme Court’s record.

Younas Habib, on March 9, categorically stated before the court that he was coerced into ‘arranging’ the money (through bank fraud), by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Army Chief Gen Mirza Aslam Beg. Of the Rs 1.48 billion that he ‘arranged’, around Rs 340 million were disbursed to different politicians, while rest of the money was deposited in different bank accounts belonging to ISI, whose numbers were provided by General Aslam Beg. General Beg, who denied the charges against him in Habib’s statement, had earlier submitted a statement in the court in 1997, whereby he had admitted disbursal of money to the politicians. As produced by veteran columnist Ardeshir Cowasjee in his August 19, 2007 column, some excerpts of General Beg’s statement are as follows:

“That in early September [1990], Mr Younis Habib then serving in the Habib Bank Ltd as Zonal Chief had called on the answering respondent [Beg] and informed him that he was under instructions from the President’s [Ghulam Ishaq] Election Cell to make available a sum of Rs.140 million for supporting the elections of 1990. He stated that he will be available to collect this amount through his own efforts from his community as donations and that he was under the instructions of the Election Cell to place this amount at the disposal of the Director-General, Inter Services Intelligence who would handle this amount as per instructions of the President’s Election Cell.”

“…That in 1990 the National Assembly was dissolved and the government of Mrs [Sic] Benazir Bhutto was dismissed. A caretaker government was formed to hold elections within 90 days. The then President, Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan, had formed an Election Cell directly under him managed by Mr Roedad Khan/Mr Ijlal Haider Zaidi.”

“…That later on, the answering respondent was informed by the Director-General, Inter Services Intelligence that various accounts were opened and the amount of Rs.140 million was deposited in those accounts directly by Mr Younis Habib. Director-General, Inter Services Intelligence made arrangements to distribute these amounts amongst the politicians belonging to various political parties and persons as instructed by the Election Cell…”

“…That in 1975 Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the then prime minister, created a Political Cell within the ISI organization [Sic]. As a result, the ISI was made responsible to the chief executive, i.e. the prime minister/president for all matters of national and political intelligence…”

Here arise many interesting questions. Under what provision of law did Z. A. Bhutto create this infamous ‘political cell’ of ISI? Does it still operate? Does it have a legal cover? If not, should not the Supreme Court declare it null and void? What made the apex court stay quiet on this extremely important case for so long? Is this not an unconscionable negligence on the part of all pillars of the state including the judiciary? Will the apex court take this opportunity of self-correction? If Waheeda Shah’s “crime was more serious than the Karachi incident of killing a youth by Rangers” and memogate was more serious than all other pressing matters this country was facing, where does the Supreme Court place this case? Even after the resurrection of an ‘independent’ judiciary, why had the case to wait for three long years?

It is probably high time that the superior courts washed the stigma of being under the covert influence of the military establishment. If the judiciary takes this opportunity of mending the civil-military relations through showing the secret agencies (‘intelligence’ would be too much of an accusation against them) their place, defining their role and demarcation of the boundaries of their mandate, it would be writing and righting history. If, however, the judiciary loses this opportunity by giving the ISI a clean chit using the ‘advantage’ of loss of prime witnesses, who have been ‘lost’ due to the judiciary’s own negligence, it will go down in history as one-eyed justice.

More Kicks than Half Pence

Published originally in Daily Times on Monday March 5, 2012 as my weekly BAAGHI

On February 28, 2012, once again, we slept calmly for having proved ourselves to be good pious Muslims. We killed 19 Shia pilgrims returning from ziyarat (pilgrimage) in Iran to their homes in Gilgit-Baltistan. On their way, in District Kohistan of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, their vehicles were stopped, they were asked for their identities, some of them were made to get down, stand in a line, and were shot dead at point blank range. All of them belonged to Shia community that we so want to get rid of.
The data from banks shows a majority of account holders are from the Fiqh-e-Jafariya for the simple reason that they are exempt from automatic deduction of Zakat. This community, nevertheless, remains a ‘minority’ sect in Pakistan. With a long and rich history of harmony between the Shia and Sunni communities of Pakistan, it is rather intriguing to see such widespread hate crimes — well, let’s call a spade a spade, organised Shia killings — throughout the length and breadth of this country. Karachi, Quetta, Parachinar, Gilgit-Baltistan and now Kohistan — this is increasingly becoming an organised genocide of Shias in Pakistan.
Lamenting a perceived Shia-Sunni divide and radicalism as the cause of this genocide would be a painful ignorance of facts. Pakistan’s society could never fall into this trap of violent sectarian clashes even after the decades long “hard work” by the sectarian militants. Shias and Sunnis are still living — or at least trying real hard at it — with each other. Allama Nazir Abbas Taqvi, a Shia scholar, after the latest tragic murders of 19 Shias in Kohistan, completely rejected the notion that there was any tension between the two communities. In fact, both the communities were together against the Ahmedis in the 1950s, and then in the early 1090s. It was the 1980s that brought this gift for Pakistan.
Not much of a labour for digging out what else was happening in the 1980s. Remember? Afghan Jihad, the CIA, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan — errr…Pakistan’s ISI — rings some bell? In the same decade, Pakistan saw sprouting of many sectarian outfits, aggressive in their speech and violent in their actions. Some of these groups were volunteering for our most pious cause…Kashmir. The others were furious against the godless Soviet Union (while being completely at ease with China). There were yet others who were eager to offer themselves for ‘crushing India’ and ‘destroying Israel’. Perfect setting for you know who!
Fast-forward and we come to 1996. The Taliban’s control on Kabul is consolidated. Pakistan, along with the Kingdom and the Emirates, recognises the regime that got power through the gun and violence. They pay us back by becoming our bogeyman for India, and keeping our hard-earned sectarian militants safe and well trained so we could use them whenever the domestic situation or ‘diplomacy’ with India demands. Using these ‘assets’, democratic governments that dare to be ‘too independent’ would be hushed on the domestic front. On the Indian front, usability of these assets was undeniably effective. Plausible deniability of cross-border terrorism got manifold when ‘our own house is burning due to these militants’. It’s like saying, ‘What if my dog bites you? It bites me so often.’
But never mind, what if a few of our people (as few as around 19,000 in the last five years) die in the process? At least we muted all non-conformism and brought down the enemy so well. So well that the ‘enemy’ is an emerging regional power and our children still dying without medicines, our industry getting shut down without energy, our people getting killed by the same ‘dog’. So what?
Lest you think I am suffering from the worst case of delusion, please look around and you will see so many Shias and Sunnis living in complete harmony. Did you notice how the brave Shia community is standing firm to protect the Sunni minority of Parachinar? Did you realise how the Shia elders of Nagar Valley took around 35 Sunnis in protective custody lest they may be harmed by miscreants? In the 1980s, my mother-in-law gave shelter to a number of neighbouring Shias in her house. She still reminisces with tears in her eyes how peacefully they were all living till then. How some aggressive young men with Kalashnikovs entered every household, enquire about their sect, verify the information, etc. And adding that no one knew who they were, no one had ever seen them before.
So then, who were they? Who are they? If people do not know them, where are they coming from? How do they have access to modern weapons? What makes them so organised, disciplined and well-trained? When a slap given to an election officer by an unnerved contestant, two bottles of liquor allegedly imported in her handbag by a prominent woman, a stupid memo whose author remains undetermined gets so much attention of our judiciary, who will convict these militants? When civilian law-enforcing agencies are made completely subservient to the all-powerful ‘premier’ spy agency of the country, who will look after the safety of the people? The interior ministry and home departments do not even mutter audibly if the premier agency is found on the side of someone. The case in point being the latest newspaper reports about the inability of police to get enough circumstantial evidence in cases of terrorism on account of the illegal interference of the premier spy agency.
Probably the engineers of these dozens of sipahs and lashkars and jamaats did not realise that it might not be just Indians or Afghans at the receiving end of violence always. They could not foresee that the madness they were instilling in their trainees for jihad in Afghanistan and Kashmir might come back to Pakistan itself. They did not bother to think twice before using that tactic in Gilgit-Baltistan for probably engaging them in mutual strife so that they might not even think about their long promised autonomy.
The latest well-assisted regimenting of these ‘assets’ could be seen in the Difa-i-Pakistan Council (DPC). Abdul Rehman Makki, leader of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), one of the DPC’s members, is quite a fiery orator from the Jamaat. On Kashmir Day, February 5, 2011, Makki was heard speaking vociferously against what he thought was a thaw in Indo-Pak relations. On this occasion he gave a superb advice to the government of Pakistan. Establish a ministry of Jihad, he said, and get the first batch of one million trained soldiers from him readily. He also offered that the total budget of this proposed ministry would be given by JuD. He was standing on a big stage on the Mall Road of Lahore. One would have expected Punjab’s home department to immediately get hold of this hate-monger who openly confessed to having a personal army of trained soldiers as well as resources to wage jihad.
But nothing happened. Who would dare touch the assets? It is probably high time the Generals understood that their strategy had been a total failure and had brought death upon Pakistanis themselves. More kicks than half pence, as they say.

The ‘anti-state’ Sarmachars of Balochistan

Appeared in Daily Times on Monday February 27, 2012 as my weekly column BAAGHI

After US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher’s sudden attention to Balochistan, the Pakistani media went bonkers to protect the proverbial ‘sovereignty’ of our country — a cause championed by the security establishment and most of its mouthpieces in the media as well as political circles and civil society. Emerging from the fathoms of near oblivion to almost a dozen Op-Eds in the mainstream press daily, Balochistan is now the darling of the prime time TV cupola as well.

If the anchors and columnists want to sound more profound, and if they run out of words to express the imperiousness of the US Congress for interfering in Pakistan’s internal matters, they would endlessly repeat almost clichéd references to 1971 with emphasis on giving ‘due importance to the Baloch problem’. The umpteen ‘political analysts’ and ‘Balochistan experts’ religiously recount the current government’s failure to address the issue despite the latter’s trumpeted mantra of ‘democracy, the greatest revenge’. Such talk would be garnished with admonishing the ‘irresponsibility’ of the Baloch nationalists in attacking innocent citizens of ethnicities other than the Baloch.

What goes completely missing from this narrative is the origins of the conflict, the response of the state to the centrifugal nature of Baloch nationalism and the ever deteriorating civil-military relations in Balochistan, which now seem to have reached the point of no return. The way Balochistan was made to accede to Pakistan goes missing from the textbooks alongside any reference to the military operations carried out in 1948, 1958-59, 1962-68, 1973-77 and the current surge starting from 2002 to date. The result is a general apathy towards Balochistan in the rest of the country with almost no understanding of the surges in historically seeded ethno-nationalism in Balochistan, described as ‘Baloch insurgencies’ in the mainstream media. The same media gives prime space to opinion makers who describe Taliban insurgents as ‘freedom fighters’. No wonder one finds so many people in upper Punjab and Islamabad who take Baloch nationalists as ‘traitors’, while the Taliban militants as flag bearers of Muslim nationalism.

Muslim nationalism, lest we forget, was made the bane when the independent state of Kalat was coerced into accession in 1948. Probably that is why the New York Times in its issue of August 15, 1947, published the maps of the newly born states of India and Pakistan with the latter without the state of Kalat. And that was the time when in the Lower House of Balochistan’s elected parliament — Dar-ul-Awam — one of the most respected Baloch leaders, commonly known as Baba-e-Balochistan, Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo said on December 14, 1947: “We are Muslims but it is not necessary that by virtue of being Muslims we should lose our freedom and merge with others. If the mere fact that we are Muslims requires us to join Pakistan, then Afghanistan and Iran, both Muslim countries, should also amalgamate with Pakistan.” That says it all!

Leaving aside these uncomfortable details, as even the Baloch leaders let themselves be subsumed by the state of Pakistan later, there has been much more to the Baloch conflict than mere political alienation. When Baloch leaders rejected Rehman Malik’s recent ‘offer’ of withdrawing cases against some of the exiled leaders and his invitation to them to return to Pakistan, they have reasons to do so. In 1948, the Baloch had seen Prince Abdul Karim Khan, the brother of the Khan of Kalat, being lured to return to Pakistan from his exile in Afghanistan under an oath on the Holy Quran by the security establishment. Nevertheless, such oaths are not binding when it comes to ‘national interest’. In clear violation of the promise, Prince Karim was arrested and put in prison for the next 10 years.

The second betrayal of this nature was seen when General Tikka Khan took an oath, again, on the Quran promising amnesty and security of life to Nawab Nauroz Khan, a respected leader among the Baloch who was fighting Balochistan’s independence movement from the mountains. In 1959, when he came down from the mountains, he was arrested and put in jail in violation of all the promises and oath on the Quran. Not only that, his sons along with other Baloch leaders were hanged in Hyderabad in 1960. The octogenarian Baloch leader died of shock three years later. With such audacious display of ‘keeping promises’, who would take Rehman Malik seriously?

The duplicity of Pakistan’s establishment was manifest this time too. While the Minister of the Interior was making these offers to the Baloch exiled leaders, the security forces deemed it fit to arrest Abdul Qadir Baloch, the leading figure of the movement for the rescue of Baloch missing persons, amidst a peaceful sit-in in Karachi. Not even a week had passed after the Interior Minister’s ‘generous’ offers when the uninhabited house of another Baloch leader, Balaach Marri, whose killing is an enigma as yet, was demolished in Quetta. Freeing of eight ‘missing persons’ seems a small bait to entice the Baloch leadership in the wake of the recent American pinch.

At the time of the partition of the Indian subcontinent, a rubber stamp Shahi Jirga used to be there for signing off everything the colonial (and post-colonial) masters wanted. The British wanted to build their bases on strategically important coasts in Balochistan. A Balochistan acceded to India would never oblige. An independent Balochistan was not feasible either, keeping in view a strong sentiment prevalent at the time about Greater Balochistan consisting of the Baloch triumvirate in the state of Kalat and adjoining strip of British Balochistan, and the Baloch areas in Afghanistan and Iran. To contain ambitious Russia and prevent regional forces from building on this promising future trade route, the British had to support its accession to Pakistan, in whose establishment the British had too many friends. 

Now, replace the Shahi Jirga with the current ‘democratic’ legislature in Balochistan, the British with the US and we have all the pieces of the Balochistan puzzle fixed. Dana Rohrabacher has probably forgotten a very important factor in the Baloch resentment where even the US has supported Pakistan’s security establishment. The establishment of so many cantonments and military bases in Balochistan, which are seen among the Baloch as consolidating the army’s involvement in their area, was not only supported but excessively used by the US for years, especially in the last 10 years. The way China has invested in mega projects, for example the Gwadar Port project, only explains its strategic ambitions in the region for imports through this easiest possible route.

Why the Baloch see these mega development projects as an eyewash and an attempt to invade their land is a sure shot future monopoly of the non-Baloch on jobs and other resources. If Gwadar is envisioned as a Karachi in Balochistan, the Baloch fear it would be inhabited by mainly Punjabis or other settlers and would outnumber the indigenous Baloch and Pashtun population. This monopoly is not very difficult to see in the rest of Pakistan. On a recent visit to Radio Pakistan’s Headquarters in Islamabad, one was shocked to see the photo gallery of former Director Generals (DGs) of PBC. Since its inception, Radio Pakistan has had only its second DG who is ethnically Sindhi, no Baloch and just two Pashtuns. Rest were all either Punjabis or Urdu-speaking.

And yet we say the Baloch are anti-state!

Extremism: A Tool or a Problem?

Appeared as my weekly column BAAGHI on Monday, February 20, 2012

Last week one’s wisdom got brushed up further with the onset of two reports on extremism, terrorism and violence. One was the Jinnah Institute’s (JI’s) excellent report ‘Extremism Watch’, which maps conflict trends in Pakistan covering the period of September 2010 to September 2011. The other was the annual feature of Pak Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), ‘Pakistan Security Report’, which compiles details of incidents of violence, extremism and terrorism in the country from January to December 2011.

While the latter gives data charts covering different subsets of the variables of violent extremism and terrorism, the former attempts at taking a deeper look at the violent manifestations of extremism and terrorism with historical perspective. The report by PIPS gives a separate chapter for recommending future course, while the JI still leaves room for more discussion and debate on critical issues like defining terrorism, extremism, violent extremism and how these concepts should be treated separately.

Both the reports should make it to the desks of the students of counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation in Pakistan for their overview and canvas of the incidents of violent extremism in Pakistan. There are, however, few points that one needs analyse when it comes to extremism in Pakistan. Despite the origins of this country, people here cannot be described as inherently violent, sectarian or abhorrent to religious diversity. Intolerance has not been a trend; it has been a strategy used by the state to meet very shortsighted objectives — sometimes in what they describe as ‘national interest’, sometimes on the pretext of geo-strategic pressures and most of the time using both the above-mentioned veils to serve personal power pursuit of a group or an institution.

As cited by the second chapter of the JI report, even Justice Munir’s commission of inquiry recognised the complicity of the state, as early as 1954, in pervasive violence in Punjab in the Ahrar-Ahmedi conflict of the 1950s. Later, this conflict became non-Ahrar-Ahmedi conflict as its tentacles overgrew from the Ahrar to the general Muslim community. Justice Munir compiles enough information of that conflict as evidence of how different organs of state and individuals occupying public office used the conflict as a tool. The way Kashmir’s battle of 1947-8 was ‘designed’ by this side of the British dominion is not a secret either. Whereas Islam was made the axis, intolerance was the implement, aggression was the weapon and the tribesmen from FATA were the pawns who delivered aggression. This remains the same ever since. Tribesmen have, one is pushed to think, been intentionally kept aloof from education, moderation, modernisation and enlightenment as a well-thought out strategy. Their attachment to religion had since been used to create the seeds of intolerance and thus aggression and violence. The pattern remains the same with a greater sophistication when it comes to the rural poor and urban lower to the middle class. An outmoded, primitive and antediluvian system and content of education delivered to the non-elite has been producing nothing but more and more combatants for a state-patronised meshwork of violence.

A degree holder in computer sciences from one of Pakistan’s biggest urban centres should be treated as educated as might be an unemployed rural youth with 10 or even 14 years of education when it comes to cognitive development, intellectual maturity, analytical skills, logic and reasoning. In the absence of these important ingredients that shape a useful contributor to human society, one would only expect a herd of unthinking, aggressive and intolerant people.

The two reports mentioned in the beginning do give you a very nice thematic and historical perspective on what happened, alongside careful compilation of the data covering the reported periods. But the text would prove to be pebbles cooked as meals if read without keeping in mind where all this violence emerged from and where it converges. One saw during the last two years Salmaan Taseer, the sitting governor of Punjab, killed by his own guard for supporting a poor woman from the minority Christian community, Dr Mohammad Farooq, the religious scholar from Mardan, brutally killed in broad daylight for his progressive views, Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, a religious scholar of very enlightened views and tolerant mindset, having to leave this country after receiving threats to life. All of them could safely be termed as ambassadors of inter-faith harmony. Yet the state could not provide them security. The same state cannot act against the intolerant and violent members of the Difa-i-Pakistan Council (DPC) — many of them head the second generation of proscribed organisations or the groups still proscribed by the UN (e.g. see UN Resolution 1267). Calling it the state’s ‘incompetence’ would be the greatest of the euphemisms ever known to humankind.

Both the reports have used excellent data sets of incidents of violence with their trend charts comparing the data for all the regions that make Pakistan. Very useful indeed. But a researcher must benefit from another piece of information, which is how the state of Pakistan has allowed and patronised the perpetrators of this violence. Maulana Masood Azhar is still said to be somewhere in the comforts of state security — something that many of the journalists under threat could never get. Hafiz Saeed and Malik Ishaq, despite claiming some of the most violent attacks, still enjoy the freedom to move, associate, gather and spew venom against the politicians of this country. It is rather refreshing to see that the violent attacks in Balochistan, which get very little or no coverage in the media, are well documented in both the reports. What needs to be read before reading those tables is how the excesses of the security forces go unnoticed with impunity. Yes, I know you would remind me of the excesses of the Baloch nationalists and how they have sold themselves out to the Indians. But with such a heavy presence of security forces in Balochistan, how do Indians or their agents make it to that area? How is someone, other than the security forces of Pakistan deployed in Balochistan, empowered enough to carry out these attacks on not only the security forces and installations but also leave mutilated and bullet-ridden bodies of the Baloch?

Similarly, Malik Ishaq, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) leader who was released from a Lahore prison in 2011, was provided state security at his residence in Rahim Yar Khan. Not only that, he was allowed to rally thousands of people throughout Punjab and spew hate speech against progressive forces as well as against many countries with whom Pakistan is pursuing good relations. He now takes part in DPC rallies. The Interior Ministry has recently banned some of the DPC leaders, including Ishaq, from entering Islamabad, but the DPC has responded to the ban by its firm commitment to hold the rally in Aabpara. This is ironic, as the venue of the DPC’s promised rally is also the fountainhead of state power.

If someone in Pakistan fails to reiterate the role of state institutions in patronising terror and intolerance, it should be understandable in the light of the findings of the Saleem Shahzad Commission. Do read the PIPS and JI reports for they carry very important data indeed. But handle the data with thoughtful care!

Let’s Talk Civil-Military, NOW!

This article appeared in Daily Times on Monday January 30, 2012 as my weekly column BAAGHI

Atiqa Odho needs to change her name. Not only her name but also the prefix if she wants to avoid further humiliation that she possibly could not and would not want, just because she is a woman and does not bear the right prefix before her name. Brigadier Zafar Iqbal had both — the right name and the right prefix.

The good brigadier embarked on a PIA flight from Karachi to Lahore on Saturday night, intoxicated with the ‘sherbet’. The captain of the plane handed him over to the Airport Security Force (ASF) after the brigadier publicly harassed one of the female crew members. The ASF, obviously, could not hold him for more than a few minutes when they discovered the full name of the detainee. No wonder the news item merited just a few lines in Sunday newspapers. I am still waiting for the ‘suo motu’ and media-panic that we saw in Atiqa Odho’s case. Pertinent to remind here, Ms Odho was neither drunk nor did she harass anyone on the flight.

This points to two serious maladies of this society: one, a strong gender bias that women of this country have to endure everywhere, including the courts; and two, unjust and unfair partiality that society confers on the military. It is not only about an overly powerful military but also about an extremely weak civil society. It would be naïve to believe that civil society in Pakistan is powerful enough to foil any attempt to usurp power from the civilian entities. This is mainly because the military here never departed from power. Irrespective of who occupied the buildings of the Prime Minister Secretariat and the Presidency, the military always ruled in the country through its incontrovertible influence over political decision-making and social phenomena.

The way things happen in the court, and outside of it, memo scandal is a case in point. In the memo scandal, Husain Haqqani was treated as an accused by the media and society at large because the military thought so. Everything else had to be in sync with what the military wanted or at least, was perceived to be wanting. The same ‘evidence’ (the BBM conversations claimed by Mansoor Ijaz that took place between him and Husain Haqqani) implicated the head of the ISI who was accused in the same BBM conversations to have spoken to the leaders of some Arab states and gotten their consent to sack the present government. But no one from the media, politicians (even the ones who portray themselves as most committed to civilian supremacy) and the judiciary could ever point a finger towards General Pasha, the accused. Husain Haqqani was an easy target because he was not a general. Or even a brigadier.

Later, the chief of army staff and the head of ISI submitted their affidavits in clear departure of the government’s point of view — the same government that both of them are accountable to. The prime minister was openly criticised by everyone for calling this action of the two generals as unconstitutional. So much so that the media wing of the Pakistan Army, the ISPR, attacked the prime minister — their boss — by issuing a strongly worded statement warning the government of grave consequences and serious ramifications. So there were two statements, one by the chief executive of a country castigating his subordinate generals for unconstitutional actions, and the other from the subordinate generals threatening their boss with grave consequences. Guess who had to retract the statement? You got it right, it was the boss. The Islamic Republic is unique in its construction.

What can be more worrying for a people whose representative is humiliated by an agency that should be subordinate to the people. The agency, it is more perturbing, does so with popular consent. The absence of popular outrage amounts to consent if one could decrypt public reactions. We can go on endlessly criticising hungry-for-power generals, selfish politicians, corporate media and an ambitious judiciary, but what remains a fact is Pakistani society’s utter failure — rather refusal — to grow from a Praetorian state to even a half decent egalitarian democracy.

Samuel Huntington in his seminary work on civil-military relations identifies Praetorianism as a key factor in the relationship between a weak civil society and a strong military. In a Praetorian society, the institutions remain weak, giving way to social groups to act independently in order to achieve their political goals. In such situations, any institution having control over the instruments of force, wields power. In Pakistan, the army is the prime institution that acquires power — military and political — through such control. The terrorist organisations, religious parties and their sectarian brethren are only second to the military in being allowed to exercise control over the instruments of force. This open allowance is possible when political institutions are at their lowest strength.

Those responsible for building and fostering political institutions, thus, are either eliminated by the powerful institutions or get co-opted by them. In Pakistan, this phenomenon has resulted in an ultimate breakdown of political institutions. This civilian breakdown has been largely used by the powerful and institutionalised military on the pretext of ‘filling the vacuum’. Little does our ‘concerned’ army realise that attempting to fill the vacuum with even more mediocrity would not only impair civilian capability but also the military’s own professionalism. What the military relies on while attempting the country’s governance is its institutional strength. This strength comes from, to borrow from Huntington again, the military leadership’s generational character that enables its adaptability, the organisational complexity achieved through its hierarchical structure, its de facto autonomy and the coherence among its various sub-systems. This largely mechanical superiority that the military enjoys over a fragmented and disunited civilian society keeps the military under the impression that it can replace a political agency, or at least keep the civilian political organisation under its strong influence for making things work.

This has miserably failed not only in political governance but also in keeping up the military’s own professionalism. A professional soldier should hardly have an inclination of retorting against the authority he works under, with threats of grave consequences. When the prime minister of a country has to retract his statement and try to placate his own subordinates, this is a most telling situation not only about the chief executive, but also about the subordinate. That the military has little capacity to govern the country and has eroded its own professionalism are facts only to be disputed by someone naïve, going by the events of the last 10 years. If there was a time for civil society to start a meaningful dialogue with the military, it is now.

In such a backdrop, any attempt at starting a civil-military dialogue should be welcome, provided the dialogue is happening with the right people. The retired military officers who spent 35 years in planning wars and strategising military takeovers of the country cannot become ambassadors of peace and civilian supremacy overnight nor could they be taken as ‘interlocutors’ of such a dialogue. If a dialogue is to be, let it be among the people who represent alternative voices in civil society with a strong commitment to civilian supremacy, and those who call the shots in the power structure of the armed forces. A dialogue between a deer and a lion is no dialogue.