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!

Balochistan, Rohrabacher and Pakistan’s complacency

Hearing of US Senate Committee

 This article appeared in Daily Times on Monday February 13, 2012 as my weekly column BAAGHI

While the reports released by the US State Department kept indicting China, Iran and other ‘rogue’ countries in the ‘axis of evil’ for human rights violations, similar reports kept sprouting from China and Russia against the US. More so, international rights watchers like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch accused the US of “practices that grossly violate human rights, like the death penalty, poor prison conditions and sentencing youth offenders to life without parole”.The Apologetic Index, which deals with the cults, sects, religious freedom and other human rights, records that the US government “generally fails to acknowledge, let alone address, America’s own human rights violations (e.g. use and promotion of the death penalty, a faulty ‘justice’ system, multiple violations of international treaties, export of torture equipment, continuing trade war on Cuba, failing to curb hate groups, support of extremist groups such as the Church of Scientology, and so on).”

Why is it that the US continues to judge other countries but when others try to judge it on similar counts, its attitude is ‘who are you to judge us’ and ‘how dare you meddle in our internal affairs’. The question got an answer when Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ramin Mehmanparast censured a UN General Assembly resolution against his country for human rights violations in November last year. “Unfortunately, human rights has turned into a political issue and a tool in the hands of the western hegemonic and bullying countries,” said Mehmanparast.

Human rights have indeed become a tool for conducting international diplomacy and pursuing big powers’ own global interests. For instance, one would not see any big power having an iota of conscience pangs for human rights violations perpetrated by its strategic allies as long as they keep producing results for those powers. Examples are as few as there are sand grains in the Sahara Desert. Saddam’s Iraq, Gaddafi’s Libya (in his life and his death), Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Kashmir (sounds rhetorical? Yes, it is), and most of all, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — all were and are bastions of human rights until they serve their purpose.

Pakistan, being a rapidly unallied ally, has recently started getting the heat. The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations in the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs held a special hearing on what they know as ‘Baluchistan’ on February 8. The hearing started with an introduction to ‘Baluchistan’ and its history by the chairman, Dana Rohrabacher. The introductory two minutes were quite heavy with jumbled-up facts and one-sided views on the history of this region. There were five presentations covering different aspects of the conflict going on in Balochistan, by five witnesses of sound professional experience, the analyses of whose arguments is not possible in this place. The witnesses were followed by remarks from the committee members, displaying their shock, displeasure and…self-righteousness.

Nonetheless, despite all the human rights politics in play on what Rohrabacher kept calling ‘Balookistan’, Pakistan should not let it go under the fog of the US’s “ill-advised move” to “intrude in our internal affairs”. Issues that came up during the hearing need serious self-evaluation if another 1971 is to be avoided. Putting everything down to ‘international conspiracies’ and the over-defined ‘enemies’ of Pakistan and adopting a sense of victimhood so popular among us would only damage our own selves. The ‘difa’ (defence) of sovereignty is in appraising ourselves and taking corrective measures, not in prompting civil disorder by instigative rallies in big urban centres.

When Ralph Peters, a military analyst, said in his testimony, “Pakistan is not an integrated state, but a miniature empire that inherited its dysfunctional and unjust boundaries from Britain’s greater, now-defunct empire,” it demanded serious introspection. Peters might have been a bit liberal in using the term ‘empire’, but it should still concern us for the way we have been conducting ourselves offers little material for defence. It might be hinting at the future course of US policy towards Pakistan when Peters said, “We must set aside our lazy Cold War era assumption that Pakistan is a necessary ally and recognise that the various insurgent movements challenging the Islamabad government are engaged in liberation struggles against an occupier.” Pakistan might have become a soiled diaper for the US, but this must not blind us to what we have been doing with Balochistan and to all the territories that acceded to Pakistan in 1947-8.

We can keep screaming about human rights abuses in Indian-administered Kashmir but it must not be used to camouflage our own atrocities in our own courtyard. That our citizens in Balochistan have been victims of most brutal subjugation, suppression, abuse, violence and rights violations at the hands of our own state is a fact that must shame us and activate us for immediate reaction. But the fact that the civil and political society in Pakistan are suffering from a general ignorance about and insensitivity towards Balochistan’s plight is something extremely disturbing.

Pakistan’s mainstream TV channels seldom broadcast anything about the issues and problems of the people in Balochistan. The general ‘opinion atmosphere’ is completely devoid of an inclusive narrative that speaks of the Baloch problem. Amidst all this prevalent callousness towards Balochistan, where all the efforts of the Balochistanis (the Baloch and the Pakhtuns of Balochistan) to make their voices heard are being sabotaged by the state of Pakistan, they have started reaching out to international bodies who watch human rights violations. Would you blame them? When the Baloch nationalists, intellectuals, professionals and opinion makers are target killed, which go unnoticed by an otherwise ‘vigilant’ civil society and media, what options are we leaving for the oppressed Baloch?

The executive and the judicial branches of the state of the Islamic Republic have to be accountable for the criminal miscarriage of state writ and justice in Balochistan. The case of 11 missing persons being heard by the Supreme Court against the premier intelligence agencies of Pakistan might be a good omen but it demands similar, in fact more forceful, action on Baloch missing persons and mutilated bodies that they find on a daily basis in Balochistan’s streets. Those ranting about our sovereignty being hurt by drones must also shed at least a few tears, whatever their worth, for the absence of state writ in most of Balochistan.

In an extremely dreadful situation we have created for our fellow citizens in Balochistan, the Baloch nationalists have reverted to counter-violence and aggression, the solution of which does not lie in further incriminating and criminalising their actions but in addressing their legitimate concerns. Reminding the US of its failure to notice human rights violations even-handedly might be a reflex action; it certainly is not something that would prove useful to Pakistan’s own interest, which is in self-assessment and taking remedial measures. When Hazara Shias are killed en masse, Baloch youth are regularly kidnapped by state agencies, mutilated bodies of Baloch nationalists become the order of the day, Baloch intellectuals and professionals are target killed, hue and cry over the US’s double standard is not only unnecessary but dishonest too. Complacency is the worst enemy of Pakistan.

Memogate: The Bigger Picture

This appeared in Daily Times on Tuesday December 6, 2011 as my weekly column BAAGHI

In an op-ed in a British paper, a man claims to have communicated a message from a diplomat to the American establishment. After an aggressive media trial, the diplomat in question has to resign while the heat approached the head of the state whose supposed treason is being heard in the Supreme Court on the petition of a key opposition leader. Welcome to Pakistan!

In all this pandemonium, we forget to make even a meagre attempt at knowing who the initiator of all this fuss was, and what his intent could have been. Mansoor Ijaz has been routinely seen by the Pakistani diaspora in the US showing off his close contacts with the American establishment and governments of the world. The man had been hobnobbing with the Israeli government, India’s RAW officials, governments of Sudan and some Middle Eastern countries as well as jihadi networks in Pakistan, etc. His name came in the Pakistani media after the assassination of Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl. Reportedly, Ijaz had been one of the interlocutors who helped Pearl establish links through former ISI spook Khalid Khawaja with jihadi networks operating in Pakistan.

While going through the record of Ijaz’s bids to play interlocutor in various could-be deals between governments and international stakeholders, the success rate of his dealings appears to be touching zero. Even his present cause célèbre proves his lousiness as an agent. If he was indeed engaged by Mr Husain Haqqani, the former diplomat in question, to convey the message clandestinely and keep it a secret, Ijaz has miserably failed. And if he were to trap President Asif Zardari through Mr Haqqani while working for someone else, his failure cannot be clearer. The zeal Ijaz is pursuing the case which is not only reductio ad absurdum, but also raises the suspicion that his ‘mission’ might not be over yet.

There can be various scenarios if a positivist method of reasoning is implied to decrypt the saga. If Ijaz is right and Mr Haqqani indeed helped write that memo, the latter should immediately be taken to task: one, for the clumsy English writing, secondly, for trusting Ijaz and making him an agent provocateur and finally, for such maladroit and gauche understanding of politics around. If Pakistan’s security establishment hatched the plan, they need to be implicated for insulting Pakistanis’ basic intelligence, which they are so used to doing by now. If the scheme was conceived by some in the US, they surely are wearing invisible clothes. While people might never know who was behind the ignominy, they would surely see how palace intrigues are played by everyone on the international chessboard, making use of crafted ‘public hue and cry’ administered through a hungry corporate media, copiously used by the movers and shakers of the world who otherwise love to appear ‘moralist’ and ‘ethical’.

Within days of the publishing of Ijaz’s op-ed in a British newspaper, the Financial Times, it was reported that the chief of Pakistan’s premier spy agency boarded a London-bound plane and in an approximately £ 780-per-night suite of an expensive hotel, reportedly a favourite of Pakistani Generals, and allegedly met Mansoor Ijaz for four hours. Supposedly an IT expert, our chief of intelligence went on ‘examining’ the ‘forensic evidence’ and after getting ‘satisfied’ with it, he came back and reported it to his boss, the army chief. Err yes, the army chief, the boss.

Ijaz established the authenticity of the said memo (unsigned by the unnamed author) through the transcripts of BBM conversation that Ijaz claimed took place between him and Mr Haqqani. The BBM conversation involves many subjects of discussion and looks like a heap of different chinwags that someone gives out while establishing himself as an informed person of worth. One thing that the Pakistani media has conveniently chosen to ignore is Ijaz’s confirmation to Mr Haqqani in the BBM conversation that some ‘P’ had gotten the nod from some Arab states for toppling the Zardari government in Pakistan. One wonders if the initial investigator paid any heed to this part of the said BBM conversation transcript or tried to know who that Mr/Ms P was.

If anything was treasonous about the said memo, as already written on these pages, it was ‘treasonous’ for some people at the helm of Pakistan’s security establishment, not the country. The contents of that unauthentic memo, however, are not different from what the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has been saying about the civil-military imbalance ever since signing the Charter of Democracy (CoD). Now the PML-N chief is currently in the Supreme Court of Pakistan shrieking about purported treason via the alleged memo. All the points contained in the memo make the demand charter of Pakistan’s civil society as well as nationalist parties, including the PML-N, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party and elements in the ANP and the PPP as well. Requesting a foreign country’s help in fixing the military establishment’s unconstitutional and covert hegemony over civilian domains could hardly be said to be treasonous. Noteworthy is the fact that Pakistan’s dictators have been the biggest seekers of foreign help for fixing our security and economic problems. Moreover, if seeking the help of a foreign country is treason, let’s find the person mentioned in Ijaz’s BBM conversation, to be tried for treason for getting the ‘nod from Arab states’ to topple the civilian government.

Here, some bigger questions also emerge. Considering that Mr Haqqani has been an ardent supporter of civilian supremacy and key opponent of Pakistan’s strategic depth policy in Afghanistan, he might have been a target of the strategic depth (SD) proponents and advocates of peace with the Taliban. While it is quite clear now that the US State Department is keen to secure a deal with the ‘good Taliban’ (from an American perspective), they might prefer a slightly pro-Taliban and pro-SD officials (or even government) in Islamabad that would be better placed in working with the so far ‘bad guys’ turned ‘workable’ Taliban. Getting rid of Mr Haqqani was, thus, in the interest of the ‘peace process’ and ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan. Here we see the merger of forces advocating ‘peace process’ and ‘strategic depth’, apparently at odds with each other so far. Is Mr Haqqani the first civilian casualty in Pakistan of the peace process in Afghanistan?

Mansoor Ijaz’s passionate attempts to bring the ‘truth’ to light could be better understood keeping in view his media somersaults. After his anti-Pakistan-military article in the Financial Times, his subsequent appearances on the media are clearly anti-civilian government too. This may mean a rapidly changing US policy towards what it calls ‘AfPak’. People, who stand for an independent and peaceful Afghanistan free of Taliban-like extremism and barbarism, are going to become not workable, if not outright ‘bad guys’. If indeed this is true, the Democrats would be seen as part of toppling democracy in Pakistan. Who says irony is dead?

After the milestone of ‘Get-Zardari’ is achieved, it seems safe to say that the strategic depth policy will be pursued more aggressively while the Afghan Taliban would get a share in the endgame, larger than anticipated. Little do they seem to realise that returning to a 1989-like situation in Pakistan-Afghanistan would be disastrous for regional peace. While the American and Pakistani establishment appears to be in consonance with each other, will ‘My Lordships’ admit for hearing if Zardari is implicated for treason? The theatrics should, thus, end here.

Let us tell NATO, "No More!"

This was originally written as my weekly column BAAGHI and appeared in Daily Times on Tuesday November 29, 2011

The anger in Islamabad is natural and understandable. The early morning attack on Pakistan’s two border security posts by NATO aircraft left nearly two dozen soldiers dead and several injured. Pakistan continues to claim (till Sunday late afternoon) that the attack was unprovoked, although a Kabul-based NATO official was quoted by The Guardian as saying that the Afghan-US joint forces deployed in the Kunar province of Afghanistan were the first to come under attack, thus “forcing them to return fire”, thereby implying that the attack was not unprovoked as claimed by Pakistan.

While the gory episode is still shrouded by an opaque mystery typical of the war on terror ever since it saw Pakistan’s doors, the Pakistani media has managed to build public sentiment over the attack. If people are feeling bad about it and are outraged, they cannot be blamed. Their country’s borders have been violated, their forces have been attacked and their soldiers have been killed. Therefore, protests by the people certainly do not amount to jihadism (Islamic fundamentalism).

The American people must be familiar with the pain caused from losing so many innocent lives, as they have been enduring this loss in Afghanistan and Iraq for so long. The same goes for the Indian people, who have experienced the same agony, as recently as Kargil. However, when an average American or an average Indian feels sorry for his or her troops and protests angrily, no one in Pakistan calls them jihadi. In fact, most of us, apart from a misguided minority that follows state-sponsored history, politics and leaders, stand with their fellow humans who are victims of terrorism irrespective e of where they are. In Mumbai or in NYC, human blood is red and human massacre is horrifying and shameful. But what makes us — the Pakistanis — unique is our dense denial, ignorance of ‘whodunit’ and our stark refusal to listen to reason.

Any foreign attack on Pakistan’s borders must be fiercely opposed and retaliated by all possible means — diplomatic and military. There is nothing stopping us from taking on every violator of our sovereignty in a non-selective manner. The public outrage against all such violations is important as it keeps the troops’ morale high and also pushes them to act. If we allow our sovereignty to be violated once, we will only be inviting more such violations, by everyone. For getting others to respect our sovereignty, we need to be firm about safeguarding it all the time and from all foreign forces.

By giving certain foreign countries and groups a free hand to operate on our soil and use it for terrorism everywhere else in the world, we are surrendering our sovereignty to them. Since we are all very patriotic, we strongly believe that the ceding of the sovereignty of Pakistan by anyone, within the powers of the constitution, is nothing less than treason. We, as a nation, have proven that just a week ago when on mere suspicion of ‘ceding the sovereignty’ via a suspicious memo supposedly dictated by our former ambassador to the US, we got him to resign from office and have since pressed for an investigation into the matter. It is important for the world to know that we care for our country and that our sovereignty is a sensitive issue for us.

Since NATO has violated our sovereignty, it must not only be condemned in the strongest possible terms but an apology must also be sought and border security must be ensured, failure to abide by which shall result in the perpetrator to be taken to the International Court of Justice. For doing so, we will have to establish that we care for our sovereignty and that whosoever violates it will be subjected to the toughest measures. We would also have to take action against all such violations that we normally let go of. That Osama bin Laden was present on our soil and was living in plain public sight with immunity for years is to be regarded as one of the most blatant violations of our sovereignty. That he could not have enjoyed the luxury of complete security for such a long time had someone on our soil not helped him is a reality. Should we, the people, not immediately demand an independent probe on that? Should we not ask for the constitution to be invoked for this treasonous act?

That the northern areas of our country are no more under state writ and are being ruled by militants from various foreign countries is also a sheer violation of our sovereignty. If someone from the machinery of our state, including the holier than holy cow institutions, is protecting or supporting them, let us try them under the treason act of the constitution. If a country patronises and triggers the business of child kidnapping to use them for camel races or the killing of endangered species of our wildlife for pleasure, that too is a violation of our sovereignty and so we must also deal with it in a befitting manner. The fact that foreign criminals have sanctuaries in our country and are training suicide bombers on our soil, killing hundreds and thousands of our innocent civilians, is a brazen violation of our sovereignty. Our free judiciary should feel free enough to take notice of the presence of foreign militants as was admitted by Major General Ghayur Mehmood, the general officer commanding the 7th corps, earlier this year.

It was a violation of our sovereignty when militants put the Pakistan Army’s general headquarters under siege. It was again a flagrant violation of our sovereignty when the Mehran base of the Pakistan Navy in Karachi was attacked and besieged in May this year. It was a violation of our sovereignty when American choppers came, killed Osama bin Laden and disappeared into the thin air of the night without our army even knowing what had happened. It is an act of sheer violation of our sovereignty when security forces are continuously under attack by militants and go uncontrolled by our mighty army. Again, it is very much a violation of our sovereignty when hundreds of our troops are kidnapped and kept hostage by the militants without firing a bullet.

In failing to address all these violations and punishing those responsible, we are only telling the world that whatever happens to our sovereignty we will not be moved an inch. It appears that our media only screams when a couple of individuals sitting at the top of two institutions are questioned and confronted by something as silly as an unsigned memo allegedly dictated by a civilian official. If the killing of troops by militants does not bother us, the maiming of our soldiers by terrorists, bloodshed of our civilians by our own security forces in Balochistan and suicide attacks in the rest of the country do not trouble us, we are giving the message that we do not care.

The US and NATO have to be given a clear message of “no more”, and that can only be done once we start taking our sovereignty seriously as well. Let us stop the violators of our sovereignty getting away with all this so easily and let us stop behaving like a nation with an IQ below 20 — a nation that can be led in any direction by half a dozen nincompoops sitting in the idiot box. The slogan of ‘no more’ needs to be raised for everyone who violates our sovereignty.

No Clean Hands in AmAfPak

This was originally published by Daily Times as my weekly column BAAGHI on Monday October 24, 2011

The recent diplomatic overdose to Pakistan by the US has not only heightened the verbal tug-of-war between the two allies but has also exposed the paucity of both sides to defend themselves with rational counter-arguments. A cursory look at the course of events in Afghanistan and Pakistan after 9/11 attests to the fact that there have been no clean hands in the AmAfPak theatre.

The visit by Hillary Clinton upped the pressure last week when she ‘warned’ Pakistan to ‘squeeze’ the Haqqani network in ‘days and weeks’ because Pakistan could not nourish “snakes in its backyard” and expect that they will only bite the neighbours. The warning had a quick follow up by Major-General Athar Abbas, the Pakistan army’s spokesperson, who returned the argument in the same coin and mentioned sanctuaries available to Mullah Fazlullah in Nuristan province on the Afghan side of the Durand Line. Now the challenge is to sift who has moral higher ground and some rational weightage. Not to forget that both have mutual complaints of a similar nature (providing safe havens to the enemies of the other), both have a similar history of patronising Islamist terrorists, both have a similar track record of using proxies in foreign lands to turn geopolitics in their favour, both have a similar tendency to use double talk whenever it suits them.

One could mention a hundred junctures where the US went wrong in Afghanistan over the past 10 years, including turning a blind eye to the Taliban and the elements of Pakistan’s security establishment who had been openly supporting militants. The double game under General Musharraf, then the president of Pakistan and chief of army staff, that went largely unnoticed by the US, either out of an underhanded understanding with him or because of sheer gullibility, was responsible for the Taliban surge two years after the October 2001 military action on Afghanistan. For instance, one still cannot reconcile with the idea of giving an air corridor to the Pakistan Army to airlift a mixed group of Taliban militants and ISI workers from Kunduz in November 2001.

In his book, Descent into Chaos, Ahmad Rashid calls it a ‘major air bridge’, what was initially ‘sold as a minor extraction’. Around a thousand ISI agents and Taliban commanders were airlifted from Kunduz and transported to Pakistan’s northern areas. After this game changer ‘Evil Airlift’ (as it was nicknamed by the US Special Operations Forces on the ground), the saved Taliban commanders proved instrumental in reconsolidating themselves in Waziristan only to come up forcefully in what we call the 2003 Taliban surge. All through the years from 2001 to 2007, the US silently witnessed this ‘secret’ affair going on quite openly despite the fact that Pakistan’s progressive civil society continually screamed about this duplicity. It reminded one of how the US closed its eyes to the Pakistani establishment’s nuclear experimentation as well as drug trafficking. No morality was invoked when in a US Congress Committee a senior member seriously floated the idea of using drugs on the Red Army soldiers.

Let alone the strategic follies in the war zone, some fairly dumb decisions were made politically too. Forgetting that the battle for a peaceful Afghanistan was not about ‘winning hearts and minds’ only and that it should have entailed a lot of political thinking, the US backed former mujahideen who were Taliban allies in the 1990s. Some people with a shady track record were accepted in the new governance structure of Afghanistan — Mohammad Qasim Fahim being one of them, who used to be loathed for human rights excesses and rigidly violent conduct. These decisions on the part of the coalition forces and the new government in Afghanistan made one thing quite clear, that there were no moral or ideological considerations in labelling people as friends or foes. What mattered was how quickly you change your allegiances from the enemy (al Qaeda and the Taliban). One has to trust many of the Afghan warlords for their potential on this. One saw them doing that with the speed of light when the Taliban started consolidating their successes in 1994-5; it was not very difficult to reverse their direction once the Taliban persecution started. Even in the current parliament, many such faces could be seen who have not only been Taliban allies but have also been equally, if not more, puritanical in their religious beliefs — Abdul Rasul Sayyaf to name one.

Having said that, it was still possible to crush the Taliban movement had Pakistan’s security establishment decided to do so. The fact that the Taliban and al Qaeda had sanctuaries and freedom in Pakistan is largely responsible for their present position in the strategic equation. Saying that the US has lost the war because the Taliban are a shrewder enemy is an overstatement. The Taliban had an edge because they got their shelter and supplies intact and unhindered in Pakistan, till the time they got this advantageous position. The argument that Afghanistan too has sanctuaries for the Pakistani Taliban, who are attacking Pakistan, is also strongly linked to Pakistan’s earlier support to militants only to make them formidably strong to challenge the writ of the state this side of the border.

Once the operations Rah-e-Rast and Haq were carried out to push them (as opposed to finish them off), they found sanctuaries in Afghan provinces, especially Nuristan. This could not have been possible without utilising the influence of the Afghan Taliban in these areas, which got stronger after the US’s failure in shifting their counterinsurgency drive in the eastern provinces in the second phase as per the original McChrystal plan. This big failure was coupled with the botched NATO attempt at the Afghan National Security Force and Afghan National Army’s training and subsequent transference of security responsibilities to them from the NATO forces. The drawdown began without heeding these very important milestones that should have been pre-requisitioned. The resultant loss of writ in Nuristan, Paktia, Paktika and recently Badakhshan and Kunar as well, contributed hugely to the success of the Afghan Taliban and thus of Mullah Fazlullah’s group backed by the Pakistani Taliban.

That the US has been trying to talk to the Haqqanis for peace while pressing Pakistan to act against them is also lame in the sense that for any negotiation to succeed, it is important to approach the insurgents and militants from a position of strength, which is not possible if the US and allied forces are under attack from all sides. This is what the US wants Pakistan to offer as a favour to a long-term ally and donor in security and development. What seems to be Pakistan’s dilemma is, at this point when the former bosses of the security establishment had made and executed the criminal decision of harbouring the Afghan militants who have become strong enough to occupy a major portion of Afghanistan once the US forces leave, that it seems suicidal to take on probable conquerors in the near future. Basic common sense says that it still could be made up if we seriously try to nip the evil in its full bloom while NATO forces are still here. If Pakistan is expected to take on the Haqqanis, NATO needs to gain control in the eastern Afghan provinces. Let’s not make Pakistan a scapegoat using morality that never was. And let Pakistan understand that time is running short if we want to make our way out of this cul-de-sac. Just do it, make friends with the Afghans who consider the Taliban their enemy. Be a friend to Afghanistan if you want strategic depth!


Confronting Popular Narrative about the Taliban — II

This appeared as my weekly column BAAGHI in Daily Times on Monday October 17, 2011. The first part of this article can be seen here. This blogpost corrects the two names erroneously misquoted in the printed version; One: it was Jalaluddin Haqqani, not Mulla Omar who took Khost and Two: it was Peter Henning not Peter Jennings who filmed Charlie Wilson while raising Allah-o-Akbar slogans with the Mujahideen after the victory in Kabul over Red Army. The errors are regretted.

Pakistan’s strategic culture follows a bizarrely predictable course: develop a hypothetical security situation, make an internationally unpopular policy decision responding to it but officially say things opposite to it, start mythmaking at public level to generate a popular demand for the decision you have already made, tell the world it is not your fault, it is the stupidity of the people who want that decision. Pakistan’s strategic elite has been following the same course in building popular sympathy, if not support, in order to legitimise the Taliban in the name of our ‘strategic interest’ in Afghanistan.

This mythmaking factory has been working overtime for many years now. The impact can be seen in unquestioned mythical assertions and popular belief that the ‘good Taliban’ and ‘bad Taliban’ are mutually exclusive and Pakistan’s long-term interest rests in helping or at least not offending the former. In this process, little has been realised that this brutal murder of historical facts and simple reason would only result in spilling over chaos into Pakistan itself.

When in the war of narratives, Pakistani right wing media habitually asserts that it was the US that made these jihadis in the first place, and then stopped supporting them once the Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan, there is no one to challenge the underlying mendacity. When they say that Islam had better chances to spread under the Taliban and that is why the US disengaged itself for its sheer hatred of Islam, there is no one to confront it. This potpourri of brazen falsehoods keeps growing and influencing public opinion (another fictional term used frequently to legitimise an untruth) in the absence of a counter-narrative that sets the record straight. In order to do that, someone needs to remind them what happened during and after the Afghan ‘jihad’ to bring the windmill of trickeries and fabrications to a halt.

One needs to remind Pakistan’s strategic elite, who keep fuelling public emotion against everybody antagonistic to the Taliban, that just because the US stopped disbursing money using the ISI tarmac does not mean Afghanistan was left alone. If memory serves, Saudi Arabia, the US, Russia, Iran and India kept pouring money into the Afghan civil war and Pakistan continued brokering Saudi and American support alongside providing the mainly Pakhtun warlords with logistic support. If Saudi and American money is put together, the Muj (affectionate name given to the mujahideen by the Americans) got half a billion dollars in the second year of the civil war, which is exclusive of Russian, Indian and Iranian money flowing to the ‘renegade’ non-Pakhtun Muj factions. Historians must record how this kaleidoscope of international interests turned Afghanistan into a permanent theatre of war and bloodshed. Just when the Americans were celebrating the capture of Khost by CIA’s favorite and ISI’s beloved, Jalaluddin Haqqani, as their victory against pro-Soviet Dr Najibullah, no one realised how Pakistan had defeated all the competing states in Afghanistan.

When Charlie Wilson was raising the slogans of Allah-o-Akbar (God is Great) with his Muj boys in Kabul after the withdrawal of the Red Army in the wake of the Geneva Accord only to be filmed by Peter Henning, little did the Americans realise that all they have been trapped in to contribute all through the jihad years was percolating the latent ambition of global political Islam. None at the seventh floor of a Langley building ever realised that 30,000 non-Afghan, non-Pakistani men from around the Muslim world and thousands of Pakistanis that General Hamid Gul proudly boasted to have trained would redirect CIA’s Afghanistan programme towards hitting the World Trade Centre.

Despite Charlie’s Allah-o-Akbar, the ISI’s Afghan wing had never had any love lost with the CIA or the Yankees in general. During the jihad years, the Afghan wing continued to keep the Americans from direct contact with the Muj. The hatred of an ‘exploitative’ and ‘anti-Islam’ Christian America — ironically — permeated silently and smoothly from the trainers to the young students from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan throughout the network of seminaries and training schools in Pakistan’s northwest. Langley got a shock when tamed kids like Gulbuddin and Sayyaf stood against the US as soon as the Gulf War started. The CIA, in close collaboration with the Saudis, was still running the Afghan programme and had $ 400 million sanctioned in 1992 while hiding a secret appropriation in a $ 298 billion defence bill the same year with $ 200 million earmarked for Afghanistan, records George Crile. And that is just a year before the first attack on the World Trade Centre.

The meshwork of regional and American vested interest went all wrong when the dormant pan-Islamist ambition simmered into a full-blown war against the US. Once the ‘goodness personified’ — Jalaluddin Haqqani in partnership with other ISI-supported Muj kept on capturing one after the other point in Afghanistan, it was, to oversimplify it, an ISI proxy winning the war through American weapons and Saudi money over the boys carrying Soviet, Iranian and Indian money. Victory made the ISI infamous, not the ideology, for none of the providers of that war had any moral ground to play with Afghan blood. The ultimate loser was neither the US nor any other contributor. The sole loser was none other than a Pakistani who had lost any value of her/his life in the eyes of each and every stakeholder as well as its own security establishment. When over a hundred people of Islamabad died in the Ojhri ‘accident’ at the tail end of the jihad, Pakistan’s president called his ambassador in Washington to get the Americans to replace every single weapon wasted during the Ojhri camp incident.

Callousness has run so deep among the Pakistanis that they have heightened their threshold to tolerate loss of life to the level of insensitivity. The figure of 3,000 dead bodies for the Americans is worth fighting a trillion dollars war for over a decade while a figure of 160 dead bodies is enough for the Indians to want to jeopardise ‘peace’ with Pakistan — if there is any. But as high a figure as 35,000 Pakistani lives lost is not big enough to raise a single eyebrow. Not even our own security elite who only use this figure to get more concessions from the world and regional powers to play its games.

Someone needs to tell the mythmakers that their argument that the Afghan jihad was necessary to save Pakistan from a pre-emptive attack by a ‘godless’ Soviet Union is rubbish. During one of my Twitter scuffles in 2010 with Ijazul Haq, son of General Ziaul Haq — infamous dictator and Pakistan’s man behind the Afghan jihad — he told me that had Pakistan not decided to be a part of the Afghan jihad, my name would have been Marvi Sirmedov — implying that the Soviets would have converted Pakistanis to atheism. No one is there to remind them of the real reason behind supporting and training the Taliban even after the fall of the Soviet Union when there was no threat of atheism to spread to the land of the pure.

When the Americans were going to bed with a dream of being the sole superpower, the Saudis were dreaming of heading global Wahabi imperialism, Iran and India were focusing on more of existential concerns of survival among hostile actors, Afghan warlords imagining Kabul — their homeland — to be under their own control, and trainers and students in FATA were fascinated with a global caliphate of Islam, while laying down the lives of thousands of Pakistanis and Afghans. Now go figure, who wins.


Confronting Popular Narrative about the Taliban — I

It originally appeared in Daily Times as my weekly column BAAGHI on Monday October 10, 2011

Last week, one got the opportunity to be on a television talk show with General Hamid Gul and Oria Maqbool Jan, a civil servant turned hawkish columnist for Urdu language newspapers, on the panel. Both have a long, indomitable record of being Taliban apologists and proponents of the infamous ‘strategic depth’ policy in Afghanistan. A lopsided panel it was, no doubt, but the host still insists on being ‘neutral’. Well!

What came up during the discussion was not something new, for one is quite familiar with the arguments usually thrown up by the likes of Mr Jan and General Gul. But how the ‘educated’ middle-class reacted to the counter arguments against those by the two gentlemen was quite astonishing. One would expect a violent backlash from our misguided youth after you loudly challenge the relevance of the Two Nation Theory or maybe stand up for the rights of religious minorities and oppressed social classes. But when even the advocacy of a rational approach in reviewing foreign policy becomes a threat to the ‘existence’ of Pakistan and amounts to ‘treason’, based on which you call for ‘public hanging’ of the challenger, hope is almost lost.

We have a brand of liberal and progressive ‘analysts’ who will join us for the equal rights for religious minorities, women’s empowerment, no persecution of Ahmedi Muslims, etc, but the same coterie will go the extra mile to justify the Taliban and how important it was/is to keep our link alive with the Haqqanis. One would not want to blame the Hamid Guls and Orya Jans who have been clearly putting forward their dream, which is Islamic glory and defeating the imperial US, Hindu India and the infidel West by a glorious Islamic rule first in Afghanistan through the Taliban, and then in Pakistan through — well let us figure it out — whom? I am worried about the ‘saner’ sections of the intelligentsia that enjoys the freedom promised by western civilisation and believes in a progressive world, but still prescribes to a medieval solution to conquer the region.

A queasy fetish of ‘supremacy’ inherited from a delusional united-Indian Muslim has engulfed Pakistan’s educated classes; while the system at home runs on money borrowed/begged from the West, society continues to suffer from unfathomable oblivion leading to sick denial and the people bear the brunt in the form of collapsed state writ to provide for basic needs and ensure rule of law. What General Gul claimed in the said programme is a very simple narrative that is now the popular understanding, thanks to a hypocritical and venal media, which is an accomplice in the radicalisation of Pakistani society and gives uncompromising coverage to these thickheads only to misguide a people with slightly less than zero percent literacy rate when it comes to history, international politics and Pakistan’s own role in violent South Asia for decades. The storyline on Pakistan’s streets is as follows:

The Taliban’s was a peaceful reign. The US made these jihadis during the Afghan jihad and then they got together under the banner of the Taliban. The US stopped supporting the mujahideen after the Soviet withdrawal lest Islam gain power in the region. 9/11 was an inside job to be used as a pretext to enter Afghanistan and then Pakistan. The US attacked a sovereign Afghanistan in 2001 and the Taliban came forward to defend their homeland. They are thus freedom fighters, not terrorists. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is against Pakistan and is funded by India. More than 70 percent of Afghanistan is being controlled by the Taliban right now. The Karzai government is just an American puppet and does not represent the Afghan people. Afghans love the Taliban and want them in power. It is the indisputable right of the Taliban to rule Afghanistan. India is fuelling the ‘insurgency’ in Balochistan through its massive presence in Afghanistan via “hundreds of Indian consulates” along the Durand Line. Pakistan will get a huge advantage against India if the Taliban come to power. The Pakistani Taliban are just our brats who should be spoken to in order to remove their ‘grievances’ and to mainstream them into Pakistan’s society and state. Terrorist attacks started happening in Pakistan after we announced our support for the global war on terror.

One would need several columns to deal with every single myth listed above, some of which are so insulting to average human intelligence that one cannot even laugh at them. If the Pakistani Taliban is the handiwork of our all time villain, Hindu India, how can the same Indian agents be our bigray huway bachay (spoilt children)? If some of our brats have been conspiring to implode our country in connivance with our supposed enemy, how and why should we negotiate with them in order to mainstream them into Pakistani society?

It might be useful to recall here that the Taliban’s was not an internationally accepted sovereign government. Recognised only by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, Kabul did not have any embassy during that gory regime save Pakistan’s. Why I call that regime gory is verifiable from the news files of that period. When hundreds of Shias were killed, women were violently subjugated, girl children were denied education and basic health services in case a female doctor was unavailable, anyone who did not accept the authority of the Taliban was brutally killed and non-Pakhtuns and ‘rebellious’ Pakhtuns were butchered, calling such a period as the ‘most peaceful’ one amounts to a shameless partisanship with the killers.

This unrecognised government by a group of barbarians who came to power through the gun (provided by us and not by the US) and not the vote, had zero credibility in the first place. They were loathed internationally for their opposition to and violence towards even aid groups working for humanitarian causes. They hosted militant sectarian organisations that killed the Pakistani people just for saying or not saying their prayers in a certain way. There were training camps of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and other militant outfits that were involved in the killing of urban Pakistanis — ironically, the same class that is today supporting the Taliban as ‘freedom fighters’. They were hosting bin Laden, the most wanted terrorist who was being claimed by the US and Saudi Arabia as well. It was not very long before 9/11 that then Prince Abdullah visited Pakistan (and later Kabul as well) for negotiations with the Taliban, with the Pakistani authorities a part of the process, to hand over bin Laden. This was before 9/11.

This rogue Taliban government not only committed crimes against humanity and stubbornly overturned the world’s repeated requests to not harbour terrorists (belonging to al Qaeda and Pakistani sectarian outfits), it also started antagonising Pakistan. Press conferences by Mullah Zaeef, Taliban’s ambassador to Pakistan, are on record where he accuses Pakistan of not only interfering in Afghanistan’s internal matters but also levels allegations of Pakistan eating up donor money that came to Pakistan in the name of Afghan refugees. Mullah Zaeef’s book shows the Taliban’s hatred for Pakistan where he calls Pakistan a hypocrite state that plays double games with everyone.

(Read the second part here