What’s Brewing in Pakistan

This was written for The Open Magazine of India, and appeared on Saturday January 21, 2012

EYES RIGHT! Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani preside over a military exercise - Photo: Open Magazine

ISLAMABAD ~ Ever since democracy was restored in Pakistan after the general elections of 2008, not a day has passed without a crisis—sometimes engineered, sometimes resulting from the government’s weaknesses and incompetence.

The country’s two major political parties, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), joined hands to contest the elections, which were boycotted by most right-wing religious parties including Imran Khan’s ‘movement for justice’—the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI). One common thread that ran through the winning PPP–PML-N coalition was its strong opposition to the ‘establishment’ (an oft-used euphemism for the military, which remains the largest and most powerful political actor in Pakistan).

The PML-N, foreseeing an economic crisis as well as one of governance, decided to leave the coalition and take on the role of a ‘meaningful’ opposition. But it would be naïve to believe that Pakistan’s key political events were only those being played out in parliament and among political parties. Newly revived, the country’s civil society—of lawyers largely—was still riding the exuberance of two successful campaigns for the restoration of the judiciary, under threat from Musharraf in July 2007 and later from the newly elected government in early 2009. The same civil movement had also given rise to a potent and dynamic media.

Massive corruption charges (still unproven in any court of law) had been used to put the PPP’s Asif Ali Zardari in jail for nearly a decade. During this period, he had to confront a highly antagonistic bureaucracy and judiciary. One story goes that during this time, one of the seniormost judges on the bench once flung a file at Zardari’s face and challenged him to get bail if he could. He could not get bail, but did get spondylitis as well as injuries on the tongue and neck that were claimed to have been inflicted by torture in prison. The result: while Zardari has a history of forgetting personal persecution, the judges do not, so the enmity lives on.

Benazir Bhutto, who was in self-imposed exile, had already earned Musharraf’s rage for her outspoken criticism of his plans. While the PPP’s past political positions since the early 1970s had been largely based on popular sentiment on Kashmir (against India), Benazir had been able to reverse much of the thrust of her father’s foreign policy, especially vis-à-vis India, even while sometimes maintaining a belligerent public posture.

Negotiating with the PPP, Musharraf made sure it legitimised his election as president in 2007, and in lieu issued a notorious waiver on all ‘politically motivated cases’ through the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). General Kayani, then chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), had negotiated the NRO on Musharraf’s behalf. It was challenged in court as soon as the judiciary was restored in 2009. The PPP’s hesitation in supporting the restoration was not something the judges were in a mood to forgive.

This is the backdrop against which Pakistan’s present stage of politics has been set. A belligerent media, a politicised judiciary, an eager-to-rule army, an opportunist clergy, a coterie of selfish pro-establishment politicians—all set against the ruling coalition, especially the PPP, and more so, President Asif Ali Zardari. The problem for the ‘establishment’, though, is that moving its Brigade 111 from Rawalpindi to a couple of buildings on Islamabad’s Constitution Avenue is not as easy and kosher as it might have been in the 1950s or even 1970s. After the army did carry out a coup in 1999, it had to endure severe public disapproval, which gradually started showing on the force’s own morale. At one point, Pakistan’s army officers were ordered not to go to public places in uniform.

Covert martial law or controlled democracy was the best of all available options. But even that did not prove to be easy because of elements within the government that managed to thwart the army’s control of policy. Even foreign aid legislation was manipulated by civilians and linked to civilian supremacy and democratic rule in the country, under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman (KLB) legislation of the US Congress. Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, was one of those ‘rogue elements’ committed to civilian rule and had reportedly played an important role in the passage of the KLB bill. He had to be tackled. The recent memo scandal—which concerns an unsigned note allegedly sent via Haqqani from Pakistan’s political leadership to US Admiral Mike Mullen asking for American help in curbing the army’s power—did that quite well. Haqqani was made to resign.

Amid all this, Imran Khan emerged as a potential ‘third force’ in Pakistani politics. With the overwhelming support of the youth, Khan poses a threat to the two traditional loci of political power—the PML-N and PPP. Both of them, though often at odds, are still working together. The PML-N has been worried about the upcoming Senate of Pakistan elections (due in March 2012), in which the PPP was expected to gain a majority. Such a majority in the Senate could hamper legislative business in the National Assembly. It has, thus, started its ‘Go-Zardari-go’ campaign from Punjab; this way, the PPP-led government could be made to pack up before the upcoming Senate elections.

But after a massive October rally held by Imran Khan, the PML-N has clearly said it would not mind a PPP majority in the Senate. Nonetheless, maintaining a semblance of antagonism towards the PPP would allow the PML-N to project itself as an alternative to the ‘incompetent and corrupt’ ruling party. The PTI, in turn, needs time to organise itself—both to select suitable electoral candidates and register its hitherto unregistered voters. The traditional parties would rather press for as early an election as possible to prevent this.

While Pakistan’s political parties are at odds, the ‘establishment’ is all set to teach a lesson to all those who it thinks have been responsible for reducing the army’s clout on the policy front, especially on the country’s counter-terrorism strategy and Afghan policy.

While the memo scandal was helped along by the hyper-nationalism of the urban middle-class, the anger against Musharraf’s controversial NRO has been brought to boil once again. Pakistan’s apex court had earlier ruled that all corruption cases be re-opened, including one in a Swiss court that was closed after Musharraf wrote a letter to the Swiss Government. The [apex] court had ordered the government to write to the Swiss Government to re-open those cases. This order, the government in turn maintains, is against the constitution that grants immunity to the president.

In recent developments, the superior court has charged the prime minister with contempt-of-court for not writing that letter [to the Swiss], and has ordered him to appear in court. His counsel’s licence has also been suspended for contempt-of-court. As of now, an old party comrade, Aitzaz Ahsan, has been appointed the PM’s counsel on this case. Ahsan had earlier been sidelined within the PPP for his apparent closeness to the chief justice, when he was a prominent leader of the lawyers’ movement.

The army is also in no mood to forgive the ‘independence’ of the civilian government, especially of the prime minister who has lambasted the army twice in a couple of weeks. A strongly worded statement from the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) followed the prime minister’s media jibe against the army chief and ISI head, who had submitted affidavits to the court that contradicted the government’s position on the memo issue. The prime minister had called it extra-constitutional and illegal; the army, in turn, threatened the PM with ‘grave consequences’.

While general elections are due in the later part of 2013, they may be held as early as October this year. The prime minister, who is appearing before the court on 19 January, is expected to cite the constitutional immunity enjoyed by the president. Scenarios for the endgame of the government will emerge only after the court’s decision. If the prime minister is convicted or sentenced for contempt, he will be disqualified from holding public office, but this will require another procedure within the National Assembly that might take a week or two. If the prime minister decides to resign meanwhile, it would be a good time for the PPP to oblige one of its coalition partners by nominating a PM from its benches.

All this points to an early election, but suggests no overt coup is in the offing. Rather, covert control by the army is a much more likely option. The timing of the election, however, is crucial and would determine whether the PTI can make a big impact. October 2012 seems to be a time that suits everyone, but anything can happen any time in this ‘land of the pure’. As a popular Urdu adage goes, let’s see what posture the camel adopts.


Marvi Sirmed is a columnist with Daily Times, Pakistan. She is also a member of the Council of Complaints, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulation Authority.


Presidential immunity vs selective accountability

Appeared as my weekly column BAAGHI in Daily Times on Monday January 23, 2012

The President, the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of Pakistan and Chief of the Army Staff - Photo by AFP/AP

Umpteen talk shows on 24/7 ‘breaking news’ media in Pakistan tell us almost daily how bad is democracy, how this democracy is worse than the dictatorships we have had, etc. TV presenters and reporters show little care for facts-based evidence to substantiate their claims. The act not only goes largely unchecked but brings more ‘ratings’ as a bonus. Who would like facts to come in the way of a good story?

The recently blown up issue of the president’s immunity clearly granted by the constitution is being debated in a furious media. Last week, Prime Minister Gilani was called to the Supreme Court by a bench hearing the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) case, to explain his inability to send a letter to the Swiss courts for opening the cases against President Zardari, failing which he might be charged with contempt of court. Prime Minister Gilani went and informed the court about the existence of Article 248 in the constitution under which the president has immunity from being tried for criminal cases.

The argument of passionate ‘constitutionalist’ journalists and newfound ‘analysts’ against presidential immunity is whether it is against the spirit of Article 25 of the constitution, which guarantees equality of all citizens before the law. It is quite pleasant to see them quoting Article 25, because the same Article is almost always negated when it comes to the Ahmedis and actually all religious minority communities. If “equality of all citizens”, as per Article 25, is being invoked against the immunity from judicial action, it must also be invoked for the rights of the Ahmedis, Hindus, Christians and Jews (yes, there is a small community of Pakistani Jews still left) to practice their faith and participate in national decision making and governance. It is then an equal right of every citizen of Pakistan, irrespective of caste, religion and gender, to become the prime minister or the president of Pakistan.

There is another argument by a smug and self-righteous ‘editor investigation’ of a big media house, who regularly contributed stories of corruption about the chief justice in February 2007 but later got pangs of conscience and became an obsessive part of the ‘lawyers’ movement’ for the restoration of the deposed judiciary. The pious journalist is seen on almost all the main TV channels where he is religiously being invited as an ‘expert’ (of something hitherto unknown), advocating that the constitutional immunity to the president is against the spirit of justice as well as the constitution itself. This flabbergasting discovery of the virtuous journalist seems slightly economising on honesty, truth and common sense.

The immunity the constitution grants to the president is an internationally accepted norm. What is not known to the world is our practice of granting permanent immunity to the military and judiciary. In 2005, newspapers told us about a big scam of the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) in which DHA lands were being sold to multiple buyers, looting many hundreds of billion of rupees from the people. The head of the DHA, a serving army officer, was transferred (no, he was not sacked if you are wondering) while a few estate agencies were ‘sealed’, only to be reopened a few months later. No one dares to report on what happened afterwards. And this is just one case.

According to a report by Mr Rauf Klasra in 2006, many top military officers had their loans written off. This fortunate lot included five lieutenant-generals, two major-generals and a battalion of other senior uniformed beneficiaries, with some army managed institutions to boot. According to the official list of loan write-off beneficiaries tabled in the National Assembly, those who benefitted from written off loans to the tune of millions of rupees were Lieutenant-General (retd) Ali Kuli Khan and his father Lieutenant-General (retd) Habibullah Khan, Lieutenant-General (retd) K M Azhar, Lieutenant-General (retd) SA Burkey, Lieutenant-General (retd) Safdar Butt, Air Marshal (retd) A Rahim Khan, Air Marshal (retd) Viqar Azeem, Major-General Zahid Ali Akbar, Brig M M Mahmood, Begum Omar Mahmood, Saeed Ahmed, Gohar Ayub Khan, Raza Kuli Khan (brother of General Ali Kuli Khan), Major-General (retd) M Mumtaz, Lieutenant-Colonel (retd) Shaukat, Major (retd) Tajuddin, Major-General (retd) Ghaziuddin, Major-General (retd) G Umar, Lieutenant-General (retd) Safdar Butt, Major-General (retd) Abdullah Malik, Colonel (retd) M Zafar Khan, Mohammad Afzal Khan, and the list goes on.

Similar concessions go to the judiciary also. There have been hundreds of cases of corruption, misappropriation of funds, misuse of powers, misconduct, etc, against the judges from the superior, higher and lower judiciary, well reported in the media pre-2007. The judiciary, according to the surveys conducted by Transparency International in the last many years, has been in the top five most corrupt institutions in Pakistan. No head rolled. Accountability is even difficult when most prominent and senior judges are accused of misusing their authority in getting lucrative jobs for their sons, completely making a mockery of merit and the principles of justice. Since some are more equal before the law, the constitution (and Article 25) may not apply evenly despite winning a ‘free judiciary’, a democratically elected parliament and an army that ‘respects and protects the democratic system’.

When it comes to independence and accountability, some of our powerful institutions always opt for the former for themselves and the latter for the politicians — only politicians. The glorious National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has its exclusive domain that does not include the military and the judiciary. Similar is the case with the splendid Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) Ordinance that excludes both these institutions. Even the Accountability Bill that is under discussion in the National Assembly does not net the armed forces. In the present milieu created by the media, any bid by parliament to include the judiciary or even the armed forces is going to be painted as creating deliberate friction among the institutions by the government. Sadly, the ‘senior analysts’ do not seem to understand the difference between the government and parliament.

Since the much-hyped independence of the judiciary is a sensitive matter, as is the morale of the armed forces (that could be hurt easily, even by an unsigned piece of paper — at least this is what we are told by the ISPR), we are constantly under pressure to let go of the authority of the law and of the constitution when it comes to these holy cows. What we are missing in this rut of ‘freedom of judiciary’ and the ‘morale of soldiers’ is accountability. For a parliament that has passed around a hundred bills in the last four years, only second to the parliamentary tenure of 1973-77 in legislative performance, and which has passed two constitutional amendments of highly political nature, it is a big challenge to come up with necessary and tight legislation to bring these two holy cows into the accountability net instead of letting them always malign and suppress elected legislatures with the teeth of discretionary accountability. If you let other people do it for you, they will do it to you!

For the holy cows, one could say, if you cannot stand the heat, better get out of the kitchen.

Friends, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Ears!

This was originally published by Daily Times on Monday January 16, 2012 as my weekly column BAAGHI

Benazir Bhutto once said about democratic governments in Pakistan that they might be in office but have never been in power. An unbridled army has always been in the driving seat aided by the judiciary, bureaucracy and the chosen political segments produced and milked by the army itself. This wonderful support machinery gets a sustainable push through a profitably saleable clergy and an uber-powerful corporate media.

An unsigned memo bearing nothing treasonous attributed to a sitting ambassador of the country is enough for the chief of the country’s main spy agency to pack his bags and leave to ‘investigate’ about the involvement of the ambassador. The tour was not only unauthorised for it was not sanctioned by the competent authority but it was also an overstepping of the sanctioned mandate of the ISI, which is a spying agency not an investigating agency unless authorised otherwise by the prime minister. The spy chief came back with the ‘satisfactory evidence’ against the ambassador and reported to the chief of army staff (COAS). It was only after three weeks that the ‘sipah saalaar’ (as the apex court refers to the army chief) and the spy chief urged the president to take action immediately because ‘time is of the essence’. No reason was given why three weeks were lost despite being ‘of essence’? The ‘satisfactory evidence’, however, turned out to be a text-message conversation on BlackBerry between Mr Haqqani and Ijaz with no mention of the memo. So much for the ‘intelligence’ gathered and used!

Mansoor Ijaz, a personal friend of one sitting Senator and funding contributor to a US-based editor of a big Pakistani media house, broke the news about the infamous memo in an op-ed in October last year. The said media house, besides creating a noise, used another one of its editors to whisper it to Imran Khan, just before his October 30 rally in Lahore, to include the point about the memo in his speech. Meanwhile, Mian Nawaz Sharif decided to bury the hatchet with his old friends in uniform and to help them where it could also help him. He went to the court on the memo issue despite it being under parliament’s review.

After the affidavits of the ‘sipah saalaar’ and the spy chief that contradicted the chief executive under whose authority they were bound to work, it was quite clear what they wanted. And when the bench gave frequent remarks in favour of the ‘sipah saalaar’, it was more than clear what the court’s decision would be. To recall the sequence: Mansoor Ijaz’s op-ed, DG ISI starts an investigation, a US-based editor and former recipient of Ijaz’s money starts screaming about it, a media house uses Imran Khan for it, Mian Nawaz Sharif goes to court, the army hints to the court where it stands, the court takes the hint and decides accordingly, Ijaz engages Nawaz Sharif’s personal lawyer as his counsel, Ijaz demands security and trusts only the security provided by the army or the Punjab government, Ijaz puts over a dozen conditions to his appearing before the Judicial Commission, Ijaz is reportedly brought to the Chaklala airbase through a chartered plane with special arrangements of his visa to be granted at the port of entry. Now, who is fooling whom?

In all this, a media trial of Husain Haqqani was run with impunity against whom no evidence exists. Not even the ‘free judiciary’ took any note of this environment created mainly by its own order whereby Mr Haqqani was barred from travelling abroad without the court’s permission. Now the entire coterie with the men in uniform, in gowns and with microphone and pen, all can be clearly seen siding with and facilitating Ijaz who has been spewing venom against the army while maligning, defaming and vilifying Mr Haqqani who has been defending the army with all his might despite its incompetence that led to the May 2 situation. These are indeed interesting times!

The shameless highhandedness of this most powerful institution does not end here. The recently retired three-star General submitted a reply to the court whereby he, as the Defence Secretary, informed the court that the army was not working under his ministry (really?). the army chief and DG ISI presented affidavits directly to the court without the approval of the competent authority — the defence minister or the prime minister. When the prime minister drew attention to this breach of constitutional procedure and shameless refusal to act under the constitution, the de facto rulers of the country retorted by issuing a strongly worded statement threatening the civilian government with “grave consequences”

Had this been anywhere else in the world, a few heads would have surely rolled. But this is Pakistan. Here we operate differently. When the prime minister sacked the Defence Secretary — a former General, not a sitting one — all hell broke loose through the media where every B-class commentator sat as a ‘senior analyst’ and went too far in condemning the ‘unnecessary’ and ‘unlawful’ act of the prime minister that would end up in ‘friction among the institutions’. The media and some politicians have been casting unprecedented pearls of wisdom for the last few days.

When these lines were being written, news about the army chief’s meeting with the president were being relayed with reports that he has demanded that the prime minister be asked to retract his statement. Not only this but the lion from Punjab, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, has reportedly repeated the same demand. What an audacity from the so-called custodians of the ‘people’s interest’ as was claimed in their petition in the Supreme Court, to demand submission of the civilian elected authority before unconstitutional transgression from the army. What a chutzpah from men with mikes and pens to vociferously demand civilian subjugation. What a shame.

One is dumbstruck to hear the chief minister Punjab asking for an ‘unconditional apology’ from the prime minister for offending the army. Probably the lion of Punjab has turned into sheep after experiencing what the army did to him and his family in 2000. But democracy is not a family business. Mr Sharif’s advisors should work overtime to stuff in his head that the army has no business to poke its bleeding nose in what is strictly a civilian domain. The world is witnessing that an apparently committed democrat, Mian sahib, is actually backstabbing the democratic setup. History is a useless teacher for us.

Asma Jahangir rightly warned Nawaz Sharif of the ramifications of his petition. “It will haunt you one day,” said a fuming Asma. This also holds true for the media hubbub against the absolutely constitutional action by the prime minister under the mandate conferred on him by the constitution. Everyone who is pushing a civilian government to bow before the arrogance of the military establishment are but traitors to the constitution. A coup will remain a coup no matter what you call it. Moralising it through the media and selfish politicians would not earn any legitimacy.

Democracy in the rest of the world is thought to be a necessity for transparent governance. When Simonides of Ceos insisted that not even gods fight against necessity, we in Pakistan vowed to prove him wrong. One wonders if it is an ultimate irony or decisive victory of Pakistan’s military establishment when it uses people to depose and discredit their own representatives.

Where is judicial independence, my lords?

This piece appeared in Daily Times on Monday January 2, 2012 as weekly column BAAGHI

The apex court’s short judgement in the memo case last Friday left many stunned and shocked. The petitioners could neither prove any violation of fundamental rights under Article 184(3), as their petition claimed, nor could they prove former ambassador Husain Haqqani’s alleged role in the memo. Nonetheless, they were given what they wanted: an inquiry commission without due process of law, and putting Mr Haqqani on notice not to leave the country without the court’s permission.

Judicial independence remains one of the most misused and mythical terms in Pakistan. Civil society’s saving the employment of a few judges taken away by a dictator could hardly translate into a much-fantasised ‘judicial independence’. When a lower middle class woman from a minority community is left to languish in jail just because a fair decision would mean a popular uproar or maybe life threats to judges, when a judge has to flee the country after sentencing the murderer of former Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer because the fanatic religious elements thought he was a blasphemer, when hundreds of Ahmedis are killed with impunity, and the judiciary along with the state’s law-enforcing mechanism miserably fails to provide them justice or even access to justice, the independence of the judiciary seems to be a cruel joke.

The ‘freedom of judiciary’ frenzy that engulfed us in 2007 totally blinded us to the real elements of judicial independence. We started the movement and took the first milestone as a destination. The symbolism of not accepting dictation and still surviving in the office was taken as the freedom of judiciary, while it was just the first step. Little did we realise that the basic ingredients of a free judiciary, institutional independence, individual independence, separation of powers and impartiality of judges have to be watched and ensured as part of a continuous process. While we see how touchy the lordships have been on institutional and their individual independence, little attention has been paid to the most important aspects of impartiality and separation of powers.

Before the kicking in date of the freedom of the judiciary (in 2009), judicial bias was imminent when it came to the political leadership versus the security establishment. Post-2009, we thought we got a free judiciary. Unfortunately, the judiciary after this kicking in date still seems to be under the establishment’s influence. If it is the NRO or NICL case, judicial activity is exemplary. When it is the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case, Mehran Bank case or missing persons’ cases, the freedom of judiciary puts on a burqa and goes into hiding. When Asghar Khan’s petition comes up, judicial independence takes its own ‘independent’ decision to remain quiet. One laments over this judicial ‘freedom’ when one is refused even the copy of public petition no HRC 19/96 — the petition by Asghar Khan that incriminates the security establishment.

In pre-2009 days, the judiciary used to be biased against civilian governments and under the strong influence (in some cases, under control) of the security establishment. Looking at the short order on the memo case, one wonders, what exactly has changed? The judiciary still fears standing up to the imperiousness of the military establishment against the civilian dispensation. Judgements are still given looking at the names of the petitioners. How could a bench even attempt to be impartial under moral obligation of obliging the petitioners who had won the lordships their jobs just a couple of years ago? How could the bench claim individual liberty when the all powerful spy agencies who possess dark secrets of the bench and bar are a party to the case?

As an observer of most of the proceedings on the memo case, one cannot help but see the visible partiality against the defence lawyer who was grilled by relevant and irrelevant questions while leaving aside the petitioners who chose to beat about the bush most of the time, as if knowing quite well that they cannot lose the case anyway! When media noise and populist sloganeering of political parties sway the courts, how could they be free or independent? Most amusing was the frequent pronouncements by the bench of ‘sipah salaar’ instead of a constitutional term ‘Chief of Army Staff’ (COAS), as if it will change the reality of their surrender of independence to the old traditional power centre.

Among the 20 basic principles of the independence of the judiciary adopted by the Seventh UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders and endorsed by the General Assembly resolutions 40/32 and 40/146 of 1985, principle number 6 reads: “The principle of the independence of the judiciary entitles and requires the judiciary to ensure that judicial proceedings are conducted fairly and that the rights of the parties are respected.” Moreover, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrines the principles of equality before law as well as the presumption of innocence before proven otherwise. The memo case is a classic example of not only how basic principles of the independence of the judiciary have been violated, but also, how the international guarantees of human rights have been torn apart.

The petitioners in this case were not insisting and in fact pronounced during the proceedings time and again that they are not implicating anyone, including Mr Haqqani. But the apex court went on curbing Mr Haqqani’s fundamental right of mobility by restricting his freedom of movement just because the affidavits of their ‘sipah salaar’ and spy chief included Mr Haqqani’s name. Ironically, even the spy chief does not seem to have any evidence against Mr Haqqani, as even he ‘requested’ the court to order a probe and get forensic evidence necessary to incriminate Haqqani. Some glaring blunders in how the bench approached this case and anomalies that would come out resultantly after the short (sighted) judgement, however, cannot be ignored. The only link between the memo and Mr Haqqani is an alleged phone conversation wherein Ijaz (who boasts of his links with two dozen intelligence agencies) claims the contents of the memo were dictated to him. One wonders, how will the forensics help decide whose account of the conversation is right?

It also seems deliberate by a section of the media that Asma Jahangir argued for no inquiry, implying that Mr Haqqani might be fearing an investigation. It was clearly said time and again that the government and Mr Haqqani both demand an impartial inquiry, but under the due process of law. Should we laugh or cry when even the apex court decides to make a mockery of the due process of law? Why an inquiry commission by parliament or by the government could not be made under the Commission of Inquiry Act 1956? With three high court chief justices on the inquiry, what happens if the inquiry leads to a criminal case? Will three high courts be disqualified from hearing appeals in that criminal case? If General Pasha’s demand is a forensic inquiry, why did his and General Kayani’s statement incriminate Husain Haqqani creating a pre-disposition against him without an inquiry? And why the apex court upheld these anomalies?

Where is judicial freedom, my lords?

Postscript: Human Rights Watch, an international rights organisation that pointed towards the violation of basic rights through this judgement, is being attacked by sections of the media. Hail judicial independence!

What Makes it "Memogate"?

This was written for Daily Times, appeared as my weekly Op-Ed BAAGHI on Monday November 21, 2011

By now we all know what Memogate is, and what memo we are referring to here. Without going into the details of what happened or did not happen between Mr Husain Haqqani and Mansoor Ijaz, one has to admit that the contents of the memo represent a most pressing issue that Pakistan faces today. It is high time that we bring civil-military relations to a meaningful public debate.

The public outrage manufactured within the past couple of weeks through some sections of the media, trained and adept at manipulating public opinion on anything their bosses assign them, moved into action rather briskly. The din approached its crescendo when Imran Khan got the nod to bring it up in his rally two weeks ago. And now the media is in generous supply of information about the saga, bit by bit. In a very typical spooky way, we are fed up with the bits of supposed conversation that they claim had happened between some Mansoor Ijaz and Mr Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington. In all this euphoria of mindless hatred directed at persons, we in this rush of adrenalin are once again forgetting to bother our brains that are tutored to blindly go in the directions normally set against the civilian set-up.

Irrespective of who authored it, I decided to give the memo, now available on the internet, a cursory look without listening to angry anchors and their fit-for-mental-asylum guests (some of them start shouting at random Americans in restaurants). While reading the memo I realised that the contents point to some very important issues every Pakistani should stand for. Mainly the memo seeks the recipient for his “direct intervention in conveying a strong, urgent and direct message to General Kayani that delivers Washington’s demand for him and General Pasha to end their brinkmanship aimed at bringing down the civilian apparatus”. Is it not what many of us would always stand for? I mean, only if we are patriotic enough to believe in democracy and civilian supremacy.

Next, the memo goes on to describe how this ‘intervention’ could be beneficial for the US itself (which we may note here, has always been supportive of Pakistan’s military dictators). These lines appear to be a bid to ‘market’ the main proposition of the memo, i.e. Mullen may convey a strong message to Kayani that civilian supremacy should not be undermined. Then, like a good salesperson, the author of the memo goes on to describe what changes could be brought in the aftermath of such message from the US that could go for the benefit of both the US and Pakistan. The conservatives (in the strict Pakistani sense) at home might comprehend international relations as a zero-sum game, but the sad fact for them is that it is no more like that. Two or more nations could be winners simultaneously in today’s globalised world.

The revamping of the civilian structure ‘favourably viewed’ by Washington may keep the Hizb-ut-Tahrirish elements at bay, one might think, it may include committed and progressive Pakistanis like Salmaan Taseer was or now Mian Nawaz Sharif is (although there is no apparent parallel between the two and I am not accusing Nawaz Sharif of having progressive credentials according to my standards). We, after all, have been letting some other countries poke their noses in our internal affairs quite frequently in the past. We send our democratically elected prime ministers into exile on the guarantees of some foreign rulers. And we do not even blink our eyes. We let our land be used by terrorists from all over the world and do not get bothered much. We allow the world’s most sought-after terrorist enjoy the safety of our garrison town for half a decade and then shelter ourselves comfortably behind the ‘incompetence, not complicity’ argument.

Next, the memo lists a number of steps that could be taken in case the civilian leadership is empowered by General Kayani after getting the message by Mullen, his friend. First of these is an independent enquiry into the Abbottabad incident and how Osama bin Laden could live in Pakistan for such a long time. Second, the enquiry would be impartial and would be of tangible value in the sense that if anyone was found guilty, they would be taken to task whether they come from the civilian, intelligence or military institutions. That sounds like a revolution! If it happens, Pakistan would see a new dawn, would usher in a new era of peace, respect and esteem among the comity of nations. Third, all terrorists operating on Pakistani soil would be either captured or killed by one means or another. What could be more ‘patriotic’ than eliminating terrorists from Pakistan’s soil? Pakistanis deserve a better future without any references to the terrorists being harboured on their land.

Fourth, and the most important proposal as spelled out in the memo is about our nuclear assets, which our forces fear, are, vulnerable — especially keeping in view the stealth capabilities of the US. The memo says that to make the nukes more secure, an acceptable framework of discipline is carried forward as started by the previous military regime. The national security team spearheading this proposed framework would be initially civilian but eventually would entail all three power centres. For a democratic, sensible and peaceful Pakistan, nothing could be more appropriate than this.

The fifth proposal is the most sensitive one, especially for the one who rushed in a hurry (supposedly without the knowledge of the supreme commander of the forces) to a godforsaken European country to collect forensic evidence from this infamous Mansoor Ijaz guy. This killer proposition promises the shunning of the Directorate S of our premier intelligence agency, the ISI. For beginners, Directorate S is the wing that has been responsible for all the mess that the ISI is accused of creating in Afghanistan through proxies and agents. The removal of this wing would ensure lesser ISI control on foreign policy in general and revision of the crazy policy of gaining more strategic depth in Afghanistan in particular. An abandonment of the strategic depth policy would allow the civilians to take corrective measures in our Afghanistan policy, which would ultimately lead to better relations with Afghanistan and real strategic depth.

No, hell’s doors are not closed yet. Another bombshell for our security establishment is yet to come in the memo. It is about enquiry and investigation of alleged Pakistani involvement in the Mumbai attacks of 26/11, 2008. Not only an enquiry but the memo also proposes the handing over of those proven guilty after sufficient evidence to the Indian security forces. This is like an ultimate sniff of red chillies for our security establishment.

If this happens, Pakistan will be another country. We would be a country with our heads proudly held high having a higher moral ground and better prospects of progress and respect in the region. The only loser will be our security establishment, which has been eating up Pakistan’s resources and Pakistanis’ lives, including our precious soldiers, for the wars they keep creating at the expense of the poor of Pakistan. Mr Haqqani has categorically denied any involvement in this but if something happens to him, we precisely know who needs to be incriminated.

Why its a must to get Zardari?

This article originally appeared in Daily Times as my weekly column BAAGHI on Monday November 7, 2011

It has been a week since the blogerati, TV anchors and the Op-Ed community started nervous ‘wake-up calls’ for two big parties after the ‘successful’ jalsa by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) on October 30. While one cannot disagree on major changes both the bigger parties need to bring to their structure, approach and ways to connect with the people, one is intrigued by the urgency for ‘change’ being manufactured by key proxies of the ‘establishment’ in the media and political sphere.

The concept of ‘change’ that an average jalsa-participant of the PTI appears to have is not so much in consonance with what the masters of the game might be thinking. At the tactical level, however, a young PTI follower and much of the rest of urban opinion holder has been led to believe that a change in faces would automatically bring ‘change’. For the jalsa-attending crowd, ‘change’ might mean a better life for the citizenry, more opportunities, peace and progress. Too broad, general and wide — that is where the key lies.

Long ago I heard a family elder, who was a comrade of Jinnah and played an important role in Pakistan’s politics in its early years, saying that a politician should always give a slogan that is general, ambiguous and attractive to the common man. The ambiguity and generality of a leader’s slogan would render support from diverse sections that might not agree on specifics. The relevance of the slogan to a common citizen would get a sustainable germaneness to the leader. No corruption, no corrupt leader, no slavery of imperial America and economic opportunities for all are no doubt very noble and much needed causes, but one could not see the specifics in both the PML-N or PTI’s October political congregations in Lahore.

The attractive, general but ambiguous slogans of both the shindigs had this conspicuous similarity. The similitude was not in the parishioner but in the message. The predominantly Punjabi dukaandaar (trader) crowd of Friday was distinctly different from a chic and young throng of music loving kids and Imran-loving middle-aged men and women on Sunday. The parties looked like pitching against each other but were actually complementing each other by bringing two different sets of partakers on the same message: change the faces on Constitution Avenue. Another coherence that one could see in the PML-N and PTI’s ‘we can do without the US’ mantra. It sounded familiar. Oh yes, we heard it in a statement issued by the ISPR after a Corps Commanders meeting a couple of months ago. So, it is no more rocket science who stands with whom while keeping up a defiant face.

The similar thread of ‘Get Zardari’ goes through the entire range of politicians, retired bureaucrats and military officers and analysts (amusingly referred to as ‘annalists’ in one social networking site) available 24/7 to the hypertensive media. Why has it become such a pressing need when the fifth (and last of the current tenure) parliamentary year is starting in the National Assembly and third (the last one) parliamentary year in the Senate is ending in March 2012? Why it is a must to get rid of a government (or parliament) that is already in its last leg of constitutionally granted tenure? Why change of face in the Presidency is pressed upon in the general opinion-leading environment?

The Senate elections expected in March 2012 must be one reason where the PML-N cannot afford a PPP majority for obvious reasons of political rivalry. It would be a disaster for a government-in-waiting to see the incumbents fully in charge of the legislature by having a simple majority in both Houses. But then why are establishment-touted voices also syncing with the PML-N? Imran Khan’s stance against parliament and politicians is understandable for it is this outright rejection of the ‘status quo’ that has won Khan such a wide acceptability not only among the urban young, but also among the general middle class of big urban centres. His definition of ‘status quo’, however, only includes change of incumbents without proposing any solid systemic reform agenda. But his urgency to shake the system is looking like a manufactured one, as one last year of the National Assembly should not be a big deal for the PTI, which is not yet ready with candidates in hand for most of the constituencies in case new elections are announced to give an opening to the ambitious Khan.

Manufacturing this urgency to ‘change’ seems to be the result of an anxiety shared by not only a predominantly Punjabi establishment but also the lions of Punjab and Generation X Khan. Much of this anxiety comes from the fact that the Senate elections under President Zardari are going to be a game changer in which the major loser will be Punjab. After the 18th Amendment, some changes in the existing power balance between the federation and provinces have been affected that are not only going to prove disastrous to Punjab but also might be a death blow to the monopoly of the security establishment over social policy.

By amending Articles 161, 167, 168, 172 and removing the Concurrent List, the 18th Amendment has made the provinces equal shareholders in excise duty and royalty on natural resources (oil and natural gas) if the wellhead is situated in that province. It has also empowered the provinces to make their own educational curricula, the power devolved under the devolution of the Ministry of Education. Smell something? What if ‘smaller’ provinces make their own curricula and leave out the jingoism and glorification of militarised policies? What if the educational curricula project the ‘provincial’ heroes (like for example G M Syed and the Frontier Gandhi, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan) or the personalities that put establishment-created religious differences in danger (e.g. Dr Abdus Salam) instead of more acceptable national heroes? What if a secular Balochistan, a sufi Sindh and an inherently tolerant Khyber Pakhtunkhwa starts propagating art, culture and literature instead of hatred of the ‘other’? What if all these provinces do away with an overwhelmingly anti-Hindu and anti-India curriculum?

The list of ‘what-ifs’ does not end here. What if the taxes on services are charged in Karachi of Sindh that mainly emanate from the goods and products produced by the largest and most populated Punjab? What if the resource-rich Balochistan and equal beneficiary of its energy resources charges the industrial hub Punjab for them? What if the jobs in civil and military institutions are equally shared with the provinces? There is a problem, a grave one! And the only way out from this probable mess is a 20th constitutional amendment that nullifies a silent revolution that the ‘thoughtless’ and ‘impractical’ 18th Amendment seems to bring in another few years. While the PPP and the ANP are in office, any nullification of this sort seems implausible. It is therefore a must to run a ‘Get Zardari’ campaign by every possible means.

While the PTI’s Khan is understandably impatient to play his innings, the PML-N joining the bandwagon is the most foolish thing the time-hardened Mians of Lahore should opt for. The establishment would not like them in power, but would love to use them to get the incumbents out of power. One hopes for both the bigger parties, who have fought hard for democracy, to play their shots sensibly.

Geronimo EKIA: They Got Him (Unedited)

This was posted by Dawn.com as a blogpost on May 4, 2011. Posting here unedited / uncensored version of the piece

The Situation Room

“Geronimo EKIA” – the words that caused jubilation in America on May 1, 2011, left most of Pakistanis shocked and confused. Barak Obama pronounced Osama Bin Laden (OBL) dead in a brief speech he made to the American people. Geronimo – the code name given to OBL after the Apache warrior who fought with México and America for many decades in Apache Wars and was captured with great difficulty in 19th century. EKIA is the contraction for Enemy Killed In Action. And that was the enemy number one of America as was defined in the objectives of war on terror.

The ‘action’ referred to in EKIA happened on Pakistani ground in Abottabad and hour and a half drive from the capital Islamabad. After around 48 hours of the operation, there’s still a conspicuous mum from authorities in Pakistan except a shadily phrased statement from Foreign Office. Media went bonkers as the news broke and remains in that condition ever since.

There seems to be a deliberate attempt from Pakistan’s intelligentsia to direct the flow of questions to a direction that saves military establishment and the intelligence machinery of the country, of answering more important and key questions. Capturing and killing OBM on Pakistan’s land is not as simple for Pakistan as it might seem to few. If it is sovereignty of this country that is bothering small time politicians with no popular representation, they must ask themselves where the sovereignty comes from? Does it come from the geographical boundaries alone or the integrity, reliability and uprightness too?

Watching countless TV talk shows in private channels, one feels a little more than nausea. Almost all of them, on May 2, seemed to be completely lopsided in terms of having a panel from one particular point of view. The anchors behaved like political leaders who would humiliate the politicians for this ‘insult’ USA has inflicted on Pakistan by violating boundaries. Oddly, all the channels only reached out to the ‘politicians’ who have no or little electoral bank and absolutely no parliamentary presence. The overwhelming narrative that engulfed media, remained focus on ghairat (honour) and the way USA has violated Pakistan’s sovereignty in its ‘imperial arrogance’.

Little did anyone on these pulpits tried to recall that Mr. Ben Laden was anything but a law-abiding citizen of Pakistan. The biggest question regarding Pakistan’s sovereignty comes from Osama’s presence in Pakistan. How was he, along with a dozen children and two wives, given entry to Pakistan? Did he fake a passport? Or was given an entry without the documents? Since there’s some evidence of his being here for more than five years now, one is justified to ask the secret agencies responsible for scrutinizing visa applications, how this ‘irregular’ visa was granted to OBL and family? Please note, our ghairat media still accuses Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to USA, for issuing ‘irregular’ visas without the approval of intelligence agencies.

A pearl of wisdom that came from Imran Khan shared by Marvi Memon – MNA from the coalition partner PML-Q – yesterday was the implications of letting OBL killed by America were very serious and that Pakistanis would be the victim of more terrorism whether in Pakistan or in middle east. In the same breath both of them accused the government of being completely clueless about the operation about which USA didn’t let them know, thus violated Pakistan’s sovereignty. What they fail to answer is the mother of all questions. How come Pakistan’s military – fighting terrorists in South Wazirastan – and intelligence agencies missed this prime target for so many years? An ordinary Pakistani cannot buy, sell or rent a piece of land or a one-room quarter even, without presenting her/his identification. Who owned and built the compound in Abottabad?

“This was a security breach no doubt” were the words of a veteran columnist from Pakistan while talking to NDTV, an Indian tv channel. Well, its quite generous on those responsible for Pakistan’s security, but the question remains, if such an important target could hide in plain, naked-eye sight of Pakistan Army, can this army be trusted for the securing Pakistan’s borders? If Pakistan’s security and intelligence agencies have been too busy in settling scores with renegade journalists, assaulting people’s homes for anticipated information and tapping politicians’ communication, to keep an eye on their own breeding center – the academy where they are producing their officers to be.

One possibility can be that ISI did not know about OBL living under their nose. This puts huge doubts on the capability of one of the most expensively kept security agencies in the region. Second possibility, most likely, is that OBL was probably supported by some of the sections of ISI. Again, if the internal dynamics of this huge organization are not manageable by its military command, is there any reason why this agency must not be provided with such big finances and consummate power to move and shake not only Pakistan, but also most of the world? Third possibility is that ISI took this strategic decision to support OBL for safeguarding much trumpeted ‘national interest’. Are we justified to know in what circumstances this decision was taken? Who approved it and what national interest did it serve? Any of the three scenarios do not look good for ISI.

Based on the hopeless failure and the huge embarrassment this episode has brought to Pakistan, may we demand immediate sacking of highest leadership of not only the responsible intelligence agencies, but armed forces also? If four helicopters could enter country’s boundaries anytime without any check, and complete their operation in 40 long minutes without any interference from Pakistani forces, how are we going to trust this hugely financed army? Where is the justification of 18% raise in defense budget even this year? Why is our highly moral media not asking these questions internally rather than getting on ‘imperial arrogance’? The imperial design, if any, would not have been there had we been behaving responsibly. As a responsible nation and the state, we should have never allowed any kind of terrorism to get harboured on our ground. No terrorist of whatever scale should be allowed to have safe haven in this Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

The most disturbed souls in the wake of OBL killing in Pakistan, including Imran Khan, Marvi Memon, Ansar Abbasi, Hamid Mir, Talat Hussain, Kashif Abbasi, Kamran Khan and the likes (there are many), my request would be to kindly use the brains for the sake of this fateful country and its people. Are they saying that we should have kept on supporting Osama in hiding? Hiding, in this case, would have meant an unchallenged lease of life to the terror tsar with resultant strength and sense of supremacy to all his ground forces throughout the world who have been on a killing spree for last decade. Confusing people in selfish pursuit of your banal opportunism would only drive the country towards further depth of disgrace, if there’s still more down there.