Open Letter to Hamid Mir


May 30, 2010

Dear Mr. Hamid Mir,

Much has been said and written about your audio tape since last two weeks. I have also read your rebuttal, your email, a message that got "leaked" – as is claimed by one of the blogs, in which you're (claimed to be) clarifying your position and Asian Tigers' position, and a recent letter to an international newspaper. I do understand how this whole business of terror-network is run in Pakistan, how many state or non-state actors and interlocutors are involved in umpteenth levels of negotiations and contact building, but still this is matter of grave concern for an ordinary citizen of Pakistan.

Let me reiterate Hamid sahib, that as a citizen of Pakistan, I'm the primary stakeholder of terror business. Its me (as in the citizen) who has greatest threat from the terrorist attacks at personal level, as well as at a collective level. Its us – common citizens – who have to face embarrassment and humiliation in foreign lands as green passport holders, when it comes to Pakistan's terror-craft. My country, its eroding honor, its international credibility and life of millions of its citizens are under direct threat. It is, thus, a matter of gravest concern for us to see into details of who is responsible and / or is accomplice in all this business, and who is benefitting from killing my country's people and axing its honor among the nations of the world. I hope you do understand and appreciate this point.

It makes me, moreover, absolutely shocked at and skeptical of the role of entire media or at least a section of media, when I see you – the man who does not mince his words while telling us how bad and corrupt is the government, how immoral it is on the part of Jamshed Dasti to present fake (although unproven by any court of law) educational degrees, and how incompetent it is on the part of Interior Ministry for not having been able to control terrorism. This loud voice against the ills of the society & the government, brokering with the terror network is definitely not a pleasant episode for most of the people of Pakistan, who trust all of the TVenngelists (you inclusive) for identifying weaknesses of politicians (it is understandable why you do not touch upon the corruption of many other institutions which are holy cow in our country).

Hamid sahib, we know each other at least as acquaintance since past few years and keep meeting and exchanging greetings in Islamabad's drawing rooms and parties. Based on your apparent verbal frequent assurances of being committed to democracy, citizens' rights and upholding of journalistic standards, we supported you throughout the movement for citizens' right to information and freedom of speech, in the wake of a ban on your program during Musharraf's regime. Although that ban won you and many other TVengelists much of the credibility and legitimacy as "principled" journalists who "did not bow before a dictator". But we somehow knew you had very close contacts with most of the terrorist outfits, not that you ever tried to hide it. Interviewing Osama Ben Laden is not an evidence against you, but being Taliban apologist throughout and promoting their agenda subtly in your program, definitely is. We knew you are a journalist, quite active so, and quite in the limelight so, and that by the token of being a "frontline" journalist, you need to keep contact with everybody especially those who can make news. But we never knew the extent to which you are / have been part of these networks. I'm still ready to give you concession of being an ambitious "investigative" reporter, if you kindly clarify yourself of all the charges – too heinous, grave and ugly to be kept yourself stuck with. Here go my questions Mir sahib:

  1. You have been telling us ever since this tape was released, that Daily Times has done a damage to you by unilaterally publishing a story about it. Then you said that the tape is concocted and President Zardari's PPP is behind it. Then you said its ISI doing it with you. Then you said you've met with the President and all doubts have been cleared and that PPP is not behind this tape. And then you said that the voice on the tape is not yours, it is machine produced. Well, if it is produced / manufactured by the machine, then there exists machines that can be used to detect if the voice is original or not. I don't think you need to worry about it much. And then you started a silence because the case is "sub judice". Well, there have been many other issues that have been sub judice but we kept on having the privilege of hearing you on all those issues. But still, respecting your decision not to speak on the tape issue, we wouldn't ask about it. But what we'd like to ask is, whether you spoke to a Punjabi Talib ever?
  2. Did you ever share the information about the upcoming military operation against North Wazirastan with one of these networks?
  3. Didn't you propagate religiosity among masses through your program?
  4. What do you think of Ahmadis / Qadiyanis? Do you really think they are worse than "Kaafirs"? And what do you mean by this? Are they, who're worse than kaafirs, liable to be killed?
  5. What do you now say, was Khalid Khwaja a CIA agent? How do you think a CIA agent should be dealt with? Should s/he be killed?
  6. Do you support the kind of jehad Taliban and other militant groups are waging? If no, why do you eel obliged to respect them like a revered soldier should be?
  7. Do you think those who wage war against the federation / state of Pakistan are punishable with treason? If yes, why do you support Maulvi Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid? Why do you call Rasheed Ghazi a shaheed knowingly that he was killed during his war with Pakistan army? Do you consider Pakistan Army, which is fighting these criminals terrorists, as "Baatil force" against which jehad is normally waged?
  8. You were among those TVangelists who pressurized the then government to start operation on Lal Masjid / Jamia Hafsa duo, but immediately after the operation, you started molding people's opinion against that action, in favour of the criminals who challenged the writ of the state. What do you say to explain it?
  9. You recorded a program immediately after the Lal Masjid operation was completed. You arranged the whole drama of a girl crying and ranting out emotional speech to emotionally charge the people against military operation on Jamia Hafsa, who in the beginning wanted the operation. Do you really think this kind of journalistic dishonesty is allowed when it comes to your cause?
  10. What exactly is your cause? Does it sync with the 'cause' of those militants you keep talking to?
  11. After months of this first program, you recorded another program with around a dozen more students of different Madrassas. During the recording you kept on influencing the participating students to get as angry as they can, against the operation on Jamia Hafsa / Lal Masjid. On whose orders / suggestions did you do so? If you did it on your own, what was your inspiration? Do you think the culprits of public violence were actually crusaders of Islam? And that they are / were worthy of respect?
  12. We heard you saying on the tape (for us – the citizens of Pakistan – the voice was yours unless proven otherwise) that Taliban could explode as many NATO trucks as they can. What is your personal belief? Should the terrorists explode / bombard NATO trucks to push them out of Afghanistan? Are you with terrorists for human killings whether or not they are of Pakistanis?
  13. We heard you listening on tape from that TTP representative that there would be more of suicide blasts in the country. You were neither shocked nor agitated. Do you think they're doing a right thing by bombing innocent Pakistanis to death? If not, why didn't you inform the authorities responsible for security? If you did, whom did you talk / write?
  14. Why do you think ISI is your enemy? What exactly have you done to invite ISI's wrath?

There are many such questions that emerge after hearing your tape. Can you please address them for the sake of record and reference so that your audience could not be led astray by those who want to malign you? Since you have an image at South Asia level, and keep portraying yourself as 'Amn ki Fakhta' when you're in India and in SAARC countries generally (unlike obviously your stance on Indo-Pak relations which you keep reiterating for local audience), I'm copying this email to senior journalists as well as prominent civil society activists, media houses and senior columnists from the region.

Awaiting your reply,

Marvi Sirmed


AZ Victory

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Zardari!

Posting this to remind Pakistanis, what was being written about President Zardari (the then inmate of a jail) in 2005. Written by  a veteran journalist, a columnist par excellence, an inspiring rights / peace activist and a professional with unblemished credentials, Beena Sarwar, this post appeared on January 26, 2005 in The News, a paper of the same Jang Group currently at a well declared war with one person they seem to hate endlessly – Asif Ali Zardari.

It would be interesting for the readers to think and recall history of this media group, and how it has changed sides with every changing regime. May be then we’re in better position to peep through their headlines and “breaking news”, into the reality!

“Corruption,” pronounces Asif Ali Zardari, “is a state of mind. A corrupt person wouldn’t have taken on the establishment, wouldn’t have sacrificed eight years of his life in prison. I could have accepted a deal and got out, and kept them happy — that’s what would have benefited me most.”

No, no, no, there’s been no deal, he repeats. But he is confident that the government will have to call for early elections, and that BB (whom he refers to as his ’leader’) will be back, “INSHALLAH!” We’re at Bilawal House — or Bilawal Fortress, as some call it — in
Karachi (the one in Lahore is a rented premise), a few days before his departure to Dubai. There is an air of expectancy about the place, which is buzzing with men, outside the gates, in the courtyards, under a shamiana, in the living room next to the book-lined study where we meet him.

Wondering if it’s always like this, one learns that yes, it was like this even when he was in prison — having an easy time of it, one heard, air-conditioned rooms, all kinds of visitors, nudge, nudge, wink, wink… And yet, it could not have been that easy. Even if he was given preferential treatment, he was still a prisoner, deprived of home and family. And yes, there were some pretty rough moments, including solitary confinement, denial bail, and worse (remember the tongue incident?). Any luxuries would have been countered by such moments — and rides in the back of rickety police vans charging along from Karachi to Lahore for court hearings. A reporter later mentions that he developed spondalitis because of this mode of transport — he could either sit on the hard wooden bench, or stand all the way. This is why he has to walk with a cane and undergo physiotherapy.

He comes into the room briskly, despite the cane. We’re expecting an informal meeting, but the seating arrangement — he sits behind the large wooden desk facing the four of us — implies an interview. During the ensuing discussion one thing becomes clear: Zardari isn’t going to complain about his prison stint or political and personal adversities. Instead, he repeats what appears to be his mantra: positive thinking (reflected in that wide, somewhat cheeky grin, flashed along with a V-sign in every newspaper photograph or television shot taken during his prison days) — “Convert weaknesses and adversity into strength.”

“There is an unrepresentative, undemocratic government, and the West will eventually have to stand with the democratic forces. That process has started. Musharraf can’t step out of the umbrella of democracy. PPP is not in a rush to get into governance, and we believe that a martial thought process is not the answer — the strength it provides is temporary. We can’t wish away those who believe in a militant approach, but the real strength comes from the people, and we have to educate them against the prevalent defeatist attitude, we must be positive, we must assert our thought process. Civil liberties are never given voluntarily; we have to demand them. And we must each do what we can. I am doing what I can; I have chosen politics. I didn’t need to.”

This was a ’considered decision’. The only regret is not being able to see his children grow up — the eldest, Bilawal, was just eight when Zardari was imprisoned by the Nawaz Sharif government. But this is not a complaint. “I did it for the sake of democracy, for the people, for all our children. I could have taken the easy way out, but I didn’t. I knew that one day I would win. I didn’t know how long it would take. I am fighting and I will continue to fight.”

He dismisses the allegations of corruption. “They haven’t proved one case against me. You know how it started? It was Gen. Mujibur Rehman’s brainchild (information minister during Gen. Zia’s martial law), to use the old trick: give the dog a bad name and hang him. So they created this image of me, as an Achilles heel of PPP. I couldn’t counter it because I didn’t have a political image. I did have a personal political history, my family has always been in politics that people chose to ignore, but prison was a new experience for me.”

And then, some unexpected philosophy — “History will redeem me. What am I? I am just a bleep in the universal picture. So I might as well try and shine.”

There were times when no one would come to see him, but he never lost faith. “Nawaz Sharif left. My graph went up. The only people I’d see would be the court reporters, and the people who were looking after me — I learnt a lot from interacting with these downtrodden people. So I wasn’t entirely isolated. I’ve spent these eight years thinking, dreaming about how we can change Pakistan’s destiny for the better.”

The answer, he believes, is utilising what is considered Pakistan’s weakness — its burgeoning population — and converting this into strength. “We must invest in manpower, instead of ’toys for boys’. Invest a billion dollars in our people instead of planes.”

Then he makes a startling revelation: “We are working to export nurses; I believe that women are twice as hardworking as men. We will monitor everything with modern technology. The emancipation of women is the future of Pakistan. If we give land to anyone, we will ensure it is given only to women. The trouble is that we train our sons but not our girls.” His own children are treated equally, he says. Bilawal and Bakhtawar are both karate black belts, and if Bilawal is learning to shoot, so does his younger sister.

What about Benazir Bhutto, will they (the establishment) let her return? “They? Who are they to stop her? She has chosen to stay away because the world has gone mad. She is working nine hours a day, to change world opinion about us, about Pakistan.”

He disagrees that she is arrogant and unapproachable. “A person with an arrogant mindset wouldn’t work so hard. Look, people here are hypersensitive. She has a thousand things on her mind. But you know how people are — they’ll want to ask something, but the preamble is so long. So sometimes she may be a bit short, and that could be seen as arrogance.”

What about the contention that the Peoples Party should have sat in Opposition in 1988, instead of coming into power with their hands tied? “The circumstances then were such that that seemed the only choice,” he answers. “Perhaps it was not, but we are saying that with hindsight.”

So if there were fresh elections and a similar situation developed, would his party accept power with similar compromises? Zardari refuses to say. “She’s the leader. Her wisdom is more than mine. Whatever decision she makes will be correct and we will abide by it.”

But speaking for himself, what he would like to be if in power again, is environment minister. “That’s my passion. I can’t believe that the people responsible for that oil spill near Clifton beach are still around, that the environmentalists have not picketed KPT and so on. There is so much apathy. I’d like to change that.”

But he has full faith in the people. “We are portrayed as a lawless society, but it’s not true. The average person is hardworking and honest and law abiding. Who are the people who indulge in crime? Who supports them?” He answers his own question: “From political parties like the MQM, from the jagirdars and the sardars, all crime stems from these roots!”

His minders finally prevail upon him to leave for his next appointment, and as he exits the room, that wide grin reminds one of the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, who every now and then would slowly vanish, its grin being the last thing to fade out. Asif Ali Zardari’s grin lingers on too. And you wonder who will have the last laugh…

The Kerry-Qureshi Ruckus

zhqSuch a ruckus about the son of Pakistani Foreign Minister being an intern with Senator John Kerry of US Senate! After a host of blogs, columns and news items on spreadsheets and on cyberspace, I could not make out what exactly is the problem with a young kid getting education in one of US institutions, and getting a fellowship in US Senate? A friend Mosharraf Zaidi resolved it for me this morning by citing a column by Ms. Anjum Niaz, an experienced journalist turned columnist.

A scanned image of the visiting card of Mr. Zain H. Qureshi, son of Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, has been in circulation among the ‘Twitteretti’ and cyber-based social networks ever since Jang group gave it prime printed and airspace. The image shows Mr. Zain as a Legislative Fellow with Senator John Kerry in US Senate. The propaganda had been done as if the intern son of the Foreign Minister has been a key factor in government’s support of recent media-inflated Kerry-Lugar Bill.  The impression was also given as if this ‘great favour’ was won by Qureshi, in lieu of his ‘baseless’ support to KLB.

Ms. Anjum has come up with a little piece of research for us before terming it a “conflict of Interest”. She, probably the only one who cared to do this before publicly mudslinging on Mr. Qureshi, was responsible enough to make a call on the numbers given in the card. The cell number, as her research goes, “ . . . on ZHQ’s call card has been disconnected; while the mail box belonging to “Zain Qureshi” was “full!” So, I couldn’t get to him”. But she did not give up. A professional journalist she is. She tried to make calls to Senator Kerry’s office, and after “a number of calls” she finally got connected to a male staffer of the Senator (as if Senator’s office knew she’s going to call so they must not take the call . ..  so she had to make “number of calls”). Without doubting the credibility of as professional a journalist as Ms. Niaz, let’s put no questions to what she has written in her column dedicated to the Foreign Minister’s son.

So she made calls, I mean number of calls, and found out that Mr. Zain had indeed worked for Senator’s office, but he doesn’t now. Brilliant work indeed. But one thing was missing, the staffers did not tell her, what capacity Zain was working there. Probably she forgot to ask, or maybe it was just not important. Because someone just wanted to blow up the fact that the young Qureshi was associated with Kerry. Nothing else. And Ms. Niaz in very supportive cooperation with our media pundits did not take long before making it news of the hour.

Why do I say that? Because anyone with an average level of intelligence and with half an hour of close watch on Kerry-Lugar Bill (KLB) debate in Pakistan, could tell where the criticism has been coming from. Without going into the details of KLB for it has been discussed and swollen in Pakistani media to serve those who were not given a good share from the cake of the AID for the first time in Pak-US Aid history.

Coming back to the fellowship issue, the issue would appear rather strange, if we examine how these fellowships are awarded. Anyone who’s familiar with the system would know that Senate does not offer these fellowships, nor do individual Senators unless they offer it for their own firms, companies and offices. In that case, the interns are not given visiting cards bearing Senate insignia. Since the circulated image of ZHQ’s card bears one, we would assume he was neither an employee nor an intern employed by Senator Kerry in his private capacity.

Senate of US does not allocate budget to support these fellows and interns for individual members. What happens is, the associations, organizations and Foundations who work in close association with the educational institutions and the Congress, often offer these internships and also pay for them. According to a “How to do” website for students of American Universities “there are several organizations out there who want to get their little protégés up the steps and onto the Hill”. Students often search for the best fellowship that mirrors them and their ideals in best possible manner, for example, AGU Science and Society or American Association for the Advancement of Science for science fellowships etc. Students contact the American Political Science Association for fellowships through its organization; the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation or the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies for minority fellowship possibilities. There are many other fellowships ranging from religious issues to nuclear science fellowships in Congress.

The stipend / pay for these fellowships differs on where the funding is coming from and the duration of these fellowships in turn differs on how much the budget is. In many such fellowships, the awarded is even expected to raise funds for not only his/her stipend, but also for the Foundation. We can understand what the fellowship expects of the Fellow simply, you are working in Congress and usually for a congressman, but you are paid by another employer. It is usually the employer in consultation with the congressman who decides about the jobs description of the Fellow.

Having explained all this, I fail to understand, where does this issue of “conflict of Interest” stem from? In order to understand this, we may recall the introductory lines that usually appear before Ms. Niaz’s columns: “First Pakistani woman to qualify under US Government Immigration as possessing Extraordinary Ability in Journalism, Coordinator at Johns Hopkins University and a Board Director The Population Institute in Washington DC”. Well, that raises some questions about how come a knowledge beneficiary of American education system, speak so loudly about it? In one of the columns Ms. Niaz is accusing US of hatching a conspiracy against democracy in Pakistan by developing rifts between Zardari and the army through KLB, on the other hand she is becoming an implement with those trying to prove that KLB is a conspiracy against Pakistan and Zardari and his cabinet (read Shah Mehmood Qureshi) is the part of that conspiracy. Oh Ms. Niaz, you need to put your mind and your pen in the right place. And so should the Twettering and ‘FaceBook’ing intellectual elite of Pakistan.