Monday, December 7, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: “Asia - Search for Security and Cooperation” Book-II

PUBLISHED IN PAKISTAN OBSERVER JUNE 17, 2007

Arguably, major shifts in both perception & priorities can be attributed to significant upheavals in the global and political dynamics, arising, partially from the vestiges of the Cold War, threatened exclusivity of the nuclear club(to the dismay of 5) and absolutely from actions of 9/11.

The emergence of the Asian continent as a globally predominant security concern merits the exploration of its complex, long drawn out regional conflicts while identifying the security/cooperative challenges, the neglect of which will jeopardize global stability given the fragility of a nuclear setting on hostile territory.

And this is what ‘Asia-Search for Security & Cooperation’ aims to do.

Maj. General (R) Jamshed Ayaz Khan is an authority on matters pertaining to regional and International affairs being the head of Institute of Regional Studies(Islamabad) and his second book ‘Asia-Search for Security & Cooperation’ is, in fact, a compilation of newspaper articles and papers, presented at various international conferences.

Taken together, these papers present a systematically independent study of the exigency in addressing a multitude of issues directly concerning the peace, stability and development of Asia in a new millennium. While the premise of the book remains Asian security and cooperation, this theme can be explored separately and on several different levels.

Taking the contentious Indo-Pak relations first, making a strong case for reversing the trend of mistrust & suspicion plaguing both nations is high on the agenda while touching upon the underlying causes of the Indo-Pak conflict; the potentially favorable signs marking an acceptable resolution of core issues since 2004 have also been liberally covered and chapter (11) has been devoted to an assessment of India’s professed level of commitment to the peace process. Chapter 3 presents a cooperative matrix for both countries, at the same time keeping the risks emanating from dissension in a nuclear environment well within sight.

Here, the arguments contending the powerful impact of stabilizing the Indo-Pak region in terms of fostering a surge in economic growth in the both countries while setting off a ripple effect of stability in South and West Asia and regions beyond the subcontinent appear credible and subsequently, the significance of Track-II/back channel diplomacy along side global intervention (where needed) has also been put forth to facilitate the course of composite dialogue. In an atmosphere where talks on core issues have so far remained inconclusive, response to trade and economic cooperation has been more favorable and slow advances have, in fact, been made.

The emerging Indo-US relationship accounts for the visible tilt of US towards a country whose perceived hegemonic designs are as much a cause of regional concern as its nuclear triad aspirations that, in effect, openly conflict with the stated U.S. nuclear objectives.

Chapter 4 on ‘Bush and the Indo-U.S. Nuclear Deal’ investigates the U.S. Interest of turning India into a ‘global power’ . We may well attribute globalization with these disturbing but seemingly unavoidable shifts in allegiance as the expansion of global benefits has a powerful appeal and India finds itself in an advantageous position with none of the liabilities of security issues affecting Pakistan of late.

The carving out of a civil nuclear cooperation agreement was unprecedented in that it was done without the involvement of American public or Congress ahead of time. What this growing partnership portends for the Asian region and Pakistan in particular, in terms of preservation of the depth of U.S.-Pak commitment and the expectancy of an even handed approach in the U.S. dealings can only be imagined. Regrettably, both India and Pakistan have been saddled with a nuclear albatross, the deterrence value of which is subject to interpretation.

The Chapter on ‘WMD: Pakistan’s Perspective’ relays Pakistan’s support of a ‘non discriminatory WMD free world’ with a look at the initiatives aimed at reducing nuclear weapons. Though the modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal can be blamed for the escalatory nature of the arms race but I will add that the START Treaty and INF Treaty are, in fact, responsible for reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal and the unilateral denuclearization of its army. In Russia, the U.S. has so far successfully negotiated reduction of strategic and elimination of the intermediate, although tactical nuclear weapons still remain.

Profiling the major stakeholders in stability stationed within the Asian neighborhood, the book further proposes that the ECO and SCO join forces in creating a greater security and economic bloc to interact with SAARC, thus contributing to the economic uplift of this region. The emergence of EU as a trading bloc serves as an inspiring model of regionalism, one of many, for the Asian region. The growing concern of energy security mentioned in Chapter 8 is given a serious look alongside some non traditional security challenges of poverty, arms/drug trafficking etc . The capability of Iran or Turkmenistan to replenish the declining natural gas deposits of Baluchistan, for instance, remains debatable. Now turning to Pakistan’s closest neighbors,

Chapter 16 presents the strategic benefits of a Pak-Iran partnership in terms of politico-economic cooperation for the reconstruction of Afghanistan , the stability of which is jointly perceived to be linked with the core national interests of both these nations. Also, in Chapter 6, China which is said to ‘overtake Germany in economic output by 2008, Japan by 2015 and U.S by 2040’ , with its ‘sustained economic and strategic partnership’ calls for the strategic readjustment and enhanced cooperation between these two nations

The civilized world is in consensus that global dimensions of terrorism present a unique security challenge threatening the autonomy of concerned nations, so equally important are the areas dealing with Pak-US cooperation in combating terrorism and the ability to forge a liaison that is realistic; more durable and less conditional. Some people point out that the tribal economy is an anachronism and Chapter 14 ponders on the potential effect of introducing development packages in tribal areas in a bid to check the lawlessness; It also makes a clear distinction between ‘Jihad’ and ‘Terrorism’.

That the unequivocal acceptance of a ‘Greater Middle East’ plan by the U.S. garnered mixed sentiments among the Arab States brings up the argument that its success hinges, in part, on engagement of the concerned States in addition to the resolution of key causes of dissension in the Muslim world, specifically Palestine and Kashmir and the intransigence engulfing these issues. The writer argues in the final chapters that if the US can be seen in an objective perusal of the ME political and economic reforms, much less focus will be on the sincerity of its intentions and more on the attainment of mutually beneficial goals. .

Stalling for peace now presages a disaster of global proportions; that much has been established. So keeping the inner complexities of regional relationships within Asia in mind when endorsing a durable settlement of leftover conflicts, the recognition and ultimate acceptance of rising foreign stakes and their stabilizing influence taken with compatibility of ideals might foster a deeper commitment to usher in an era of cooperative defense and comprehensive security.

Images Courtesy of: http://www.stepmap.de/getmapimg.php?id=187236&w=480&m=2

BOOK REVIEW: Frontline Pakistan: The Struggle With Militant Islam (2007)

Author: Zahid Hussain

PUBLISHED IN THE POST JUNE 14, 2007

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

Frontline Pakistan: the struggle with militant Islam goes for the jugular with an insiders look at a deformed culture borne of a dated ideology, fueled by vested interest and driven by intolerance; and a nation’s complicity.

Not surprisingly, the legitimacy granted jihadists by ISI-CIA ran out soon, as did the sympathy for their jihadist actions formally perceived as heroic. Once used to counter the threat of communism, the rapid shift in their objectives that placed Pakistan’s national interest on a collision course with its security rendered them an anachronism.

This led to a parting of ways with the ISI; consequently, the deadliness of operations and depth of penetration in society seen in the context of 9/11 forever breached the line between liberators and terrorists.

Veteran journalist Zahid Hussain, Pakistani correspondent for the "Times of London", "The Wall Street Journal", "Newsweek and Newsline draws on interviews with President Musharraf, and unique access to some jihadist organizations for his book that looks candidly at a nations culpability in fostering and harboring a radical culture.

Devoid of sentiments, ‘Frontline Pakistan’ is a grave commentary on the incendiary nature of a nascent Jihadist culture that ‘shares a common culture and anti western world view’ , threatens the integrity of a nation and aims to hold the world hostage. As one of the leading expose of recent times, this sharply critical piece uncovers the emergence of the jihadist trend responsible for sectarian divide in some cases with a rare insight into the origins, dogmatic ideologies, and modus operandi of known jihadist outfits.

In hindsight, the war on terror is the progeny of that war on communism as “The Afghan resistance was projected as global jihad against communism” ( Chp 1 P-17 Para 4); Clearly It was fanaticism employed as an accessory in that battle that soon came to be wielded by the paragons of myopic vision. Admittedly, the noble concept of jihad has become warped; it has continued to lure in the poor, the illiterate and above all, the misguided nonetheless, in a bid to deliver a death blow to the moderates.

Extraordinary details emerge about the Islamic seminaries that “became a transit point for foreign militants aspiring to join al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan” with a probing look at the military links which gave them sustenance and the effectiveness of the present administrations policies. Furthermore, the politicization of religion, Al-Qaeda links of better known militant organizations, pieced together by the capture of elusive agents and ISI‘s alleged complicity make this particular book a riveting piece of investigative journalism.

Now that yet another dimension has been added to the war on terror with this book, it puts this governments’ position in perspective. The tone of the book remains reproachful towards an administration whose actions against militants seem more driven by international pressure than national interest.

Passages like “very little was done to rein in the militant madrassas despite their continuing involvement in jihadist politics” reflect the writers unsympathetic outlook but the formidable nature of the undertaking better known as the war on terror, given the hostility of terrain and society that dwells within the tribal belt and provides safe havens to likes of Taliban and Al-Qaeda is portrayed in vivid detail in the chapter on tribal warriors; a place where “ Bin Ladens men distributed millions of dollars amongst tribal elders in return for shelter” and the ‘intensity of fighting shocked the Pakistani army commanders’ (P-148, Para 2) and this illustrates what the government is up against in the lawless wild west of Pakistan.

Having said that, allegations of simultaneous condemnation and reluctant but nevertheless imprudent patronage and administrations ineffective counteractions of such groups has now reshaped a fearsome foe, as responsible for sponsoring anarchy within as terror without.

In brief, ‘Frontline Pakistan’ is a wakeup call. The book, confirms our worst fears regarding the current state of affairs. Then again, the world will comprehend the complexity of unraveling the network of terror spread to the lawless frontiers of Pakistan.

Unfortunately, this rather unflattering portrait of an administration unable to restrain the monster it created will fuel rather than curb the mounting Western paranoia against the madrassa and jihad.

‘Frontline Pakistan: the struggle with militant Islam’ reads more like an extended article than a book, and while it may not qualify as a literary masterpiece, it still remains a well researched, provocative and intriguing piece of work.

The authors’ assessments make one thing abundantly clear; this movement is not in remission; the pervasiveness of radical teachings, its broadening reach and ominous intent bodes ill for the future.


Hardcover: 220 pages
Publisher: Columbia University Press (March 15, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0231142242
ISBN-13: 978-0231142243

VIEW: Alibi

PUBLISHED IN MUSLIM WORLD TODAY(calif.) SEP 12, 2008

“Thou shalt not be a victim. Thou shalt not be a perpetrator. Above all, thou shalt not be a bystander”
Holocaust Museum, Washington, DC

Somewhere in the remote region of Baluchistan, a few women are killed and buried, and not necessarily in that order. Their exact number is debatable and the manner of death is still under investigation. If the unofficial version is to be believed, they were buried alive on the whim of the elders, with perhaps just a little backing from some influential quarters. This chilling murder involves antiquated customs which unfortunately, have never gone out of style.

To the bewilderment of the civilized world, this incident goes unnoticed for nearly two months. When the Parliaments Upper House finally asks why, Senator Israrullah Zehri, dismissively shrugs it off as ‘Tradition’ – one of the most powerful and disturbing words in tribal culture. He is not alone for Acting Chairman Senate Jan Muhammad Jamali goes further by advising those ignorant of tribal culture to refrain from debating such issues. Fortunately, the feeling is not mutual and these two Senate members are censured while the rest of the nation is scandalized.

Those who knew that human rights violation is a fairly common phenomenon in this part of the world now understand that it has been with the tacit support of such authority figures all along. And so, these cherished traditions have endured over time and thrive in tribal societies despite the existence of numerous bills supposedly designed to protect women.

While the Senator’s mulish stance has outraged the Senate and shocked the world, 9 years ago, previous resolutions against honor killings had been rejected by the Chairman of the Senate, along with majority of its members on much the same grounds. This time, however, the House has been unanimous in its condemnation, barring the two traditionalists. In such circumstances, the HRC member’s kind suggestion that these two be excluded from Senate appears well justified.

Hasil Bizenjo, VP National Party Baluchistan links this incident to a possible blood feud, for Balouch traditions have never endorsed this extreme form of brutality. But what ever prompted this gruesome act, preliminary findings implicate the Umrani tribe’s jirga and the ruling itself is very much in keeping with tribal laws - what the tribesmen did was simply brutal innovation.

Over the years, many bills have been drafted, while some were rejected, others became law and none have been effective to date. The 2005 bill recognizing honor killing as a crime punishable by death was considered to be a major breakthrough, but those who attempted to fix glaring loopholes that allowed culprits to buy pardon, met with strong resistance and the amended version ended up being vetoed by a majority. No wonder thousands are killed and victimized in honour-related crimes every year despite the existence of these protection laws.

For 61 years, our laws have been neither respected nor feared; why should they be when 5 of the 6 convicted in the Mukhtaran Mai case, are not only freed by the Courts, none of them are on death row.

Now that the once iron clad alibi of ‘tradition’ stands exposed as a flimsy pretext to mask decadent practices, this can be used as necessary leverage to bring change in patriarchal sections of society across the country.



The End

VIEW: Swat Deal: Profitable Merger or Hostile Takeover?

PUBLISHED IN THE POST AS Swat deal: a hostile takeover? SEP 22, 2008

When a house came under rocket attack in Peshawar cantonment on 19th May, the incident went without serious comment because after all, these acts are commonplace enough in 2008. What made it significant for me was that the very house had once been my home. That would be the year when Soviets had all but withdrawn from Afghanistan and the only close call then had been an airspace incursion from the Afghan side of the border. But, what happened in the confrontation between the fearless Afghan pilot and military officials present that day is no where as alarming as what happened 19 years later with the fearsome pro-Taliban and the State officials elected today.

A peace treaty in war torn Swat has a nice ring to it. Does a pacification strategy towards militancy mean that a country which stood up to Communism capitulated to Fascism? Not so, say government officials who hasten to draw a distinction between peace loving militants all set to renounce violence over hard core elements bent on carrying out so called ‘jihad’ in neighbouring Afghanistan and openly loath to giving up claim to the killing fields of Pakistan. But a great deal hinges on the successful implementation of this 4-pronged strategy where the tribal elders have been recruited as intermediaries between State and subversive elements: domestic stability, global security and similar cheering notions.

Here is what people can expect in the coming days with a 3 stage agreement that began with a ceasefire on May 9, 2008, followed by the headline that “Taliban ban NGOs, women education in Orakzai Agency”. Briefly, the agreement promises truce with Pak Army and security forces: women allowed to work: polio vaccinations permitted, music shops and barbers free to operate, foreign militants expelled, private militias disbanded and display of arms prohibited. In short, everything people are entitled to as free citizens of any sovereign State. In exchange for the release of captured militants, withdrawal of Pak Army troops and imposition of Sharia – the Islamic law in Swat and Malakand.

Roughly translated, this means that local Taliban will let women work; ‘Let’ being the operative word here; only if they are forced into the veil. Else, they probably will be sorted out in the grand traditions of the jirga. So we can safely assume that this Sharia is the kind that dragged our neighbour back to the Stone Age. Then there is the proviso that government schools and hospitals stand to be monitored and ‘erring employees’ dealt with severely, Taliban style. CSNEWS.com reveals that a local Taliban Commander’s permission is required to send a female to school. Such is the agreement, accompanied by thinly veiled threats by Taliban ordering the State to ‘O-behave’ and stay the course or incur the wrath of an ‘organized power not to be easily thwarted’. Finally, the ones who wrecked Pakistan’s internal security may sue our current President for nothing less than crimes against humanity, or rather against their people.

And here is what we may expect elsewhere in Pakistan. Nothing. A key aspect of the contract has already been breached with a renewal in the cycle of violence in Islamabad and continuance of bombings and suicide attacks during and after the ‘peace’ agreement in and around the tribal belt. By early June music shops started winding up business in Kohat, an attack on the President’s life was foiled and 4 policemen were ambushed by signatories of the peace treaty. To date, the Capital remains on high alert.

Despite such open violations, the army pullout went ahead as per schedule, release of militants has already begun and the tribal supervision meant to ensure compliance appears questionable. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister draws attention to the spirit behind the deal which in his words is neither capitulation, nor compromise but peaceful coexistence. Perhaps the Taliban did not get the memo. When Ben Franklin stated that there never was a good war or bad peace, he was clearly not referring to us.

Now Pakistanis may not have voted in any Taliban sympathizers, the entrepreneurial spirit of Taliban seems to have found a new home nevertheless. The story with the fugitive from Afghanistan had a happier ending for he surrendered unconditionally; the MIG-21 now sits in a museum in Karachi and its pilot went on to pursue his American dream. Not a bad deal.

Images Courtesy of: http://www.pakdef.info/pakmilitary/airforce/warbirds/images/mig21_957.jpg

BOOK REVIEW: Reagan Diaries

Reviewed By: Afrah Jamal
PUBLISHED IN THE POST / OCT 13, 2007

Much has been written about the man who ushered in the end of the Cold War and survived the fallout of Iran-Contra scandal. And now it appears, as much has been written by the man himself in diaries he kept during his 8 year tenure as President of the United States. Presidential diaries are rare. Publicizing one is unprecedented.

‘The Reagan diaries’ are an abridged version of records Ronald Reagan kept from 1981-1989 which also served as reference material for his autobiography. Other than 6 pages redacted for National security reasons and some on Nancy Reagan’s request, these diaries are an edifying dramatization of Reagan’s presidential duties, private commitments, personal thoughts and high profile State visits. Edited by Douglas Brinkley, contributing editor Vogue and in-house historian CBS News, these posthumously published diaries are important on several levels and while they by no means ‘give away everything’, their capture of exclusive offstage drama could be considered remarkable enough to revive interest in the Reagan era. And, apart from tracing the unfolding Iran-Contra scandal, which could be seen as an instance of ‘plausible deniability’ and the diplomatic warfare between Soviet Union and the U.S., we get a rare chance to piece together chain of events in the South Asian region of the world.

Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions are a recurring motif of the Reagan years as signs emerged that the surreptitious beginnings of the South Asian arms race coincided with the Soviet-U.S. arms reduction efforts. By early December 1982, Reagan thought Pakistan’s President Zia-ul-Haq “was dedicated to helping the Afghans and stopping the Soviets” . He may be right there. Zia also assured him that Pakistan was not developing any atomic or nuclear bombs. According to the diaries, we managed to keep that farce going till 2 months before Zia’s ill fated plane crash, though warning bells had been going off in Washington. A meeting was also held with Foreign Minister Yaqub Khan in November 1984 about Pakistan’s reluctance to allow inspections. Some of our analysts differ from Reagan’s professed ignorance and allege that Aid for ‘Mujaheedin’ was a compelling reason for Washington to look away from Pakistan’s nuclear program, at least till the end of Soviet occupation; which coincides with the timeline in the diaries; only by April 1988, Washington formally conceded that Pakistan may be ‘dickering’ for nuclear missiles.

Coincidentally, President Zia’s initial popularity with Reagan also sagged with the end of the Cold War and on June 9 1988, he officially canceled a trip to the United States. A week later, when Zia declared Islamic law to be law of Pakistan , Reagan placed the Pakistani President in the same league as Khaddafi or Ayatollah; let’s just say, not the best company as far as the Washington was concerned. Colin Powell’s call about Zia’s mysterious plane crash came 2 months later, but curiously enough, Reagan refers to it as ‘one of our C-130’s in Pakistan’ when it must be clarified here that the C-130 belonged to Pakistan. It is an unusual slip-up, but since the editor maintains the raw format of these diaries, other errors like misspelling Zia’s name, or referring to the Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrews wedding as ‘Charles and Di’s’ in July of 1986 are not uncommon.

As far as Iran-Contra is concerned, the entries frankly sketch the original plan whereby Israel releases 20 Hezbollah, sells weapons to Iran; Hezbollah releases 5 U.S hostages. U.S replaces Israel’s weapons. Iran agrees not to upset the apple cart further with more hijackings. No one ever talks about it. It is hardly surprising to learn what came off this convoluted diplomacy.

Another significant incident is that Reagan dismisses Bob Woodward, a reporter for the Washington Post and author of such works as ‘State of Denial’ and ‘Plan of Attack, as ‘a liar’ when Woodward claims to have been privy to the death bed confidences of Bill Casey – Director CIA 1981-1987, that implicated Reagan of approving assassinations in Lebanon. Bill had been said to be incapable of understanding or communicating at the time, hence the doubts on Woodward’s credibility. Later, in 1988 another Woodward story surfaced alleging U.S.-Israel intelligence agreements based on claims by Israel’s Amiram Nir- (counterterrorism advisor to Simon Perez). Since this happened after Nir’s death, Reagan, once again likened the scoop to the Bill Casey incident. The problem with Reagan’s allegation is that an Iranian Shiite target identified as the mastermind of bombings which killed U.S. Marines in Beirut in the October of 1983 had been marked for air strikes by the U.S on November 7 that same year , put off due to lack of adequate intelligence and taken out within days by Israel instead. Such coincidences could be suggestive.

Being the President, Reagan’s thoughts are predominantly on the politics of the day but some extraordinary trivia livens up the narrative; for instance Queen Elizabeth and Reagan are cousins and perhaps the White house plays host to a ghost; entries about the behavior of ‘Rex’ the dog lends some credence to the haunting stories circulating around Lincoln’s bedroom.

Publishing all 5 volumes in their entirety is a future objective. Currently available in 693 pages, this manuscript preserves the defining moments of the Reagan era, helps set timelines for interested historians and possibly fill some gaps in our knowledge base. Besides, the White House as the observation post to study global politics is always an intriguing notion.

VIEW: Rallies are like Russian Roulette (2007)

PUBLISHED IN THE POST JUN 07, 2007

As early warning signs of potential unrest preceded the proposed Karachi rallies of 12th May 2007, the consequences of a newly acquired affliction with the rally-syndrome became glaringly obvious on 12th May 2007. Granted that the mayhem witnessed in Karachi or the tragic conclusion of a rally in Charsadda is more of an exception than the norm, given the post 9/11 scenario, the old adage of safety in numbers no longer applies. Besides, the inconvenience faced by the people makes the concept irksome while its management makes the process dated. Notwithstanding the constitutional right of citizens to hold demonstrations or address congregations, places like Islamabad end up being sealed, Karachi is left in an appalling political mess and NWFP has to deal with the tragedy of Charsadda.

Polls will find that people like us are not in favor of rallies; and judging from the way they can end up, it is fairly easy to see why. There is an inherent flaw in the way demonstrations are ‘done’ here and this is what sets us apart from other parts of the world. Rallies are not uncommon elsewhere but they generally follow procedures and seldom hold up the lives of ordinary citizens. Take USA for instance where protestors are expected to remain in designated areas, the perimeters of which are patrolled by police. The sensitivity of a situation determines the level of police turnout and in any case demonstrations are restricted to areas easy to patrol; and oh yes, brandishing weapons is the prerogative of the police (plainclothes or otherwise) and not civilians.

Admittedly, the violence such as we witnessed lately may not be typical of protest marches here, however, when things go well in Pakistan, people still lose one (or two) working days, their liberty to wander the streets and peace of mind. Even the most peaceful of demonstration does not alter the lock down situation imposed on the populace so when rallies have been planned, it is advisable to put your own plans on hold. And since a day of protest can broaden into a couple of more days of strikes, imagine the losses faced by businesses, corporations and educational institutes. Whatever motivates these protests, be it theological, ideological or political, an assessment of recent events confirms that the effects and aftermath of rallies cost far too much in terms of human life, financial implications aside.

It has already been established that ‘actions’ of some law enforcement elements aggravated the problems in Islamabad on the 16th of March 2007 while their inaction fueled anarchy in Karachi on 12th of May 2007 ; nevertheless, a quick roundup of the aftereffects of recent demonstrations will show their impact on society and why the directive issued by the US embassy in Karachi during the events of 12th May 2007 where they advised American citizens to remain ‘indoors, alert and self-defensive’, is just as relevant for the locals.

As ominous headlines of a sealed Capital preceded the judicial demonstration on 16 March 2007, the ensuing disturbance, though limited to a few areas, left several twin cities residents confined at home and the blockade of Islamabad-Rawalpindi highway left others stranded elsewhere. Life remained partially paralyzed on both 16th and 17th of March despite the absence of an officially declared holiday and people packed up early fearful of a deteriorating situation. While actual lives may not have been in danger that day, the impact of events was powerful enough to restructure the organized lives of residents and visitors alike.

Since security threats mandate banning demonstrations anywhere , a place like Karachi haunted by a past of ethnic violence did not deserve the provocation of not one but two(or more) demonstrations. Though similar rallies had been pulled off successfully elsewhere in the country, the fact remains that like Russian roulette, it is a matter of time before one comes up against a loaded shell.

Even when the planned rallies were prevented from taking place, their disabling influence could be witnessed at significant junctions like Karachi’s Quaid-e-Azam International Airport or Railways where travelers had harrowing tales to tell while Shahra-e-Faisal was used for target practice and trigger happy goons ruled the city. As it is, airports are generally off limits to demonstrations so a large contingent of people headed there amounts to potential civil unrest. It would have been far more sensible to converge at other places and proceed without the accompanying fanfare than to disrupt the lives of citizens. The concentration of terror in areas like Shahra-e-Faisal previously deemed secure shook people up as much as the images of police in the role of spectators.

The disruptive influence of rallies mounts further with strikes and black days called to protest/mourn violence that mars one protest march or the other and thus Karachi was brought to a standstill for 3 days while the rest of the nation observed a sympathetic shut down. Strikes target the economy, such demonstrations can impair peace and both effectively shutdown the system.

Finally, the Aftab Sherpao congregation in NWFP on 28 April 2007 proved that public gatherings make appealing targets in these troubled times and there is no reason to provoke attacks that are hard to foresee and harder to prevent. Therefore, toning down these marches would be a mark of prudence not cowardice and well within the publics’ interest.

After the predicted happened in Karachi, a month long ban has now been imposed here when limiting such gatherings should have been the logical first step. Demonstrations such as these, wherever they are held in Pakistan, often have the unfortunate side effect of citizens being forced to reschedule their lives. That Karachi security should have been beefed up is already being debated and will be till some satisfying explanation is forthcoming; devising effective contingency plans to avoid a recurrence must take center stage amid the usual accusations hurled back and forth by alleged anarchists and supposed pacifists.

Karachi has already lost three days, precious lives and the carefully built up illusion of peace, so planning three more days of strikes again signals an open invitation to recession. Thrown off course frequently given the unruly nature of rallies and strikes, our nation’s energies have been dedicated more on course correction strategies these past few months than actual development. Until security can be ensured for protestors and liberty to citizens simultaneously, such acts can only be counterproductive.

Images Courtesy of: http://images1.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20110217213722/uncyclopedia/images/thumb/4/45/Russian-roulette1.jpg/210px-Russian-roulette1.jpg

http://cache.virtualtourist.com/15/3887207-Mazar_e_Quaid_at_night_Karachi.jpg

VIEW: NATO BOOTS - A LETTER

PRINTED IN THE POST SEP 21, 2008

One of the mandates of our recently elected government was to annihilate Taliban sanctuaries; allowing NATO boots on the ground was also somewhere down the agenda.

It has not escaped notice that the ‘Boots’ have come on the heels of the new presidency. Their presence, confirms that Washington has given the green light to a controversial new strategy their media has been hinting at for months. A strategy that promises more action within Pakistani territory and a planned surge in Afghanistan makes their intentions perfectly clear. The war on terror has taken a crucial turn and there will be more where that came from. And though Pakistani leadership has been slow to react, statements from Pakistan’s military brass indicate that they not happy with this arrangement.

The Pak-Afghan border has been declared a new frontline by Washington, proving that perhaps authorisation or approval is no longer considered central to the partnership. While the new government prefers to stay on the fence regarding this issue, the armed forces are being asked if retaliation is an option. But how appropriate is it really, to raise such questions given that our alliance is still intact, and the terrorist network is at its most active?

Pakistan is not a signatory to the new agreement; it is therefore, unprepared to deal with the fallout of US-led incursions and could be backed into a possible confrontation with its partner. Needless to say, that would be bad. Yet, if a more robust intelligence sharing network kicks in, it would be Pakistan taking these actions, and there will be consequences – hopefully for the militants but possibly for some innocents. We are at war after all.

Ordinarily, coalition partners should not be concerned about border issues when they have a common objective and Former Ambassador Zafar Hilaly made a valid point that the enemy neither respects nor recognizes borders, and yet the nation quibbles about border violations. The fact that militancy found a willing stronghold within the tribal belt shows how easily these people surrendered their ‘sovereignty’ to the enemy.

Those who vow to defend our territorial integrity against the ‘Farangi’ invader forfeited the right when the first Taliban crossed over to Pakistan after 2001. But someone needs to clean up this mess and it is preferable to have Pakistan at the helm only because our national pride will not permit otherwise. If Pakistan can convince the Americans that they can sort out their side of the border, they must then convince this nation to let them.

Images Courtesy of: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3376/3188257024_42f51018bc.jpg

VIEW: ‘Press—Amendment’

PUBLISHED IN THE POST AS FREEDOM OF THE PRESS JULY 03, 2007

Free press is multi -dimensional; it anchors democracy in the civilized world, preserves the semblance of democratic systems elsewhere, and could serve as an independent reformer of society; therefore, its longevity is desirable and a well governed, better regulated setup critical.

Now that the impressive credentials of a free press have been established, we can move on to its fate in our society.

Where we stand today regarding the state of journalism manifests itself in the form of events that, from a distance, indicate widening fissures in press freedom land. Pakistan’s ranking in terms of press freedom comes at a dismal 157 in 2006 down from 119 in 2002 ; a questionnaire considering actions taken against journalists and media outlets censored, seized or ransacked provides the press freedom index. The events of 2007 suggest that we may be headed further South in press freedom land.

While the track record of this government, in terms of granting press freedom, had been creditable thus far, little wonder then that hints at retraction of liberal policies or possibility of reinstatement of dated oppressive ones left people uneasy about the fickle definition of laissez-fair practiced in Pakistan. Orders to seize, fine, seal and suspend culprit channels have mercifully been rescinded; countermeasures against spin and undue bias on the other hand, has prompted the launch of a ‘code of conduct’ creating yet another flurry. Rules, however, are lesser of the two evils; in fact most societies deem them a necessity and the free spirited press of the civilized world ardently practice self regulation.

A closer examination reveals that the present status of journalistic freedom in Pakistan can be gauged more in terms of quantity than quality of broadcast channels. Today 48 odd channels have taken over the airwaves; they dominant the local satellite news dissemination department perhaps because the original(sycophant) pet network, pompously serenades the state but unlike FOX TV, fails to make it entertaining. The influence of privately owned media channels cannot be disputed, but some people, after seeing the treatment of the recent crisis, have found unkind parallels between media practices of today and the monkey with a machine gun.

Freedom for the more amateur media outlets has translated into providing a stage to launch in rancorous debates with political adversaries, voicing a stream of invectives against State oblivious of the libel laws and giving an unfiltered coverage of violent breakdowns in law and order. Whether it is a show put on for ratings or something more sinister, untamed media, that can reshape perception, is a formidable force to reckon with.

Finally the State could no longer feign indifference to the ‘weapons of mass conversion’ wielded by mainstream media, it challenged their objectivity and while their original heavy-handed approach continues to rankle, the resultant effect is that our media now has to reconcile itself with the fact that power does not absolve it from responsibility and prepares to make the necessary adjustments.

Restraint has been imposed on certain aspects of reporting but media is also expected to be self regulatory and the contents of an official code will soon be divulged. Who knows, guidelines may actually prevent this watchdog from turning into a vicious hound dog.

Repressing free speech will never be viewed kindly but having said that, there is nothing wrong with a ‘code of conduct’ that will ultimately prevent the ignorant, immature or avaricious elements in the media, if they exist, from fermenting accidental (or otherwise) strife within society. The other side of argument, made on a local news channel stands that when information flow is checked, disinformation seeps out.

There’s no visible change since the crackdown; anti government statements appear all the time in prominent dailies, partisan voices have not been silenced in the media and the fixation on CJ issue is unabated albeit in a subdued manner.

While there is a way to quantify press freedom, however, none exist to quantify press objectivity, but watchdog groups like MRC-Media Research Centre and FAIR, to name a few, have been active in exposing bias, sensationalism in the US media for the world is as prone to sensationalize as we are. As to who can challenge inaccuracy and pinpoint bias in the ‘rookie’ Pakistani media? There has been a suggestion that senior journalists, ex-judges, senior officials serve on a surveillance team to guide the uninitiated on national priorities with the proviso of sound editorial policies practiced by media moguls to chart Media’s future course. The case against press freedom is strong but media has always been subject to a degree of restraint; granted that there may be no formal media censorship in democracies like USA, they show zero tolerance for those questioning their patriotism.

Bill Maher hosts ‘real time’ on HBO now but antipatriotic sentiments on his previous late night talk show ‘politically incorrect’ cost him the show . Veteran war correspondent Peter Arnett, a Pulitzer Prize winner for his Vietnam War coverage, criticized the Iraq War Plan on Iraqi state TV” and lost his job. Then there’s Ann Coulter, at the other end of the spectrum who does get airtime on American national television but has been fired from networks for vicious personal attacks.

Censorship issues also abound; the worst riots in France were given superficial coverage by French broadcasters in 2005, ostensibly to avoid further goading the rioters or playing into the right wing politicians hands. British broadcasters endured a 6 year ban (1988-1994) that prevented them from airing ‘direct speeches’ from 11 Irish organizations. In 2001, major news networks like CBS, ABC, FOX, NBC and CNN convinced themselves that their national security and public interest lay in acceding to their Secretary of State request in curtailing coverage of Bin Ladens taped messages; statements like "In deciding what to air, CNN will consider guidance from appropriate authorities." further illustrate the picture.

By contrast, the leader of a dissident madrassa in Pakistan keeps appearing on media to justify acts of sedition and violence. Scathing observations are made concerning the sluggishness of ongoing search and rescue efforts in devastated coastal areas of Pakistan during the storm season as the relief agencies and armed forces battle impossible weather conditions. The presence of cameras sometimes appears correlated to the level of violence during crisis hours (power riots for instance) and the bright smiles of some agitators seen toppling structures make one wonder if their actions are more motivated by the 3 and a half minutes of fame. And flashing images of ‘injured ’ women

Somewhere underneath all this lies good reporting and makes its presence felt now and then.

That the national interest is best served when media cheers our progress while stopping to point out flaws is a given; however, the sheer impropriety of denouncing actions of a nation in distress or deep focus on the marginal rather than essential and sensationalism over substance will ultimately invalidate the effectiveness of this watchdog. Such an event will neither be in the public’s interest nor the States. Then again, state sponsored censorship could be the surest way to commit political ‘Hara-Kiri’.

Seen in the context of emerging threats and changing priorities, possibly some democratic systems have become increasingly intolerant of dissenting voices, but few take kindly to irresponsible journalism and all place their national interest supreme. The cases quoted above merely show that the censorship trend is not an isolated incident but part of a global phenomenon. The difference, perhaps, lies in subtlety (we just don’t have any); so If we could only bear in mind that casual potshots at medias freedom might be easy to forgive but napalming them will be impossible to forget.

Images Courtesy of: http://files.coloribus.com/files/adsarchive/part_177/1779555/file/free-press-free-press-for-free-people-small-55073.jpg

VIEW: The Enemy of my Enemy? (2008)

PUBLISHED IN THE POST JAN 24, 2008?

The good news; terrorists are on the run in Swat.

The bad news?

See the good news
.

Does achieving the military objective signal an end of terrorism? Or just imply a break in a long winded terror campaign.

The latter seems more probable, considering 2 suicide attacks which were only 3 days apart in Swat and Lahore in the first 10 days of 2008 and terror that struck Karachi 5 days afterwards.

Which is why reports of successful operations in Swat meant to foster long term stability, at least in that particular region, fail to raise hopes about the short term security in the rest of Pakistan. Especially when certain cities have once again been placed on high alert after intelligence indicated the entry of more potential bombers. The January 17, 2008 attack on Peshawar demonstrates the accuracy of this intelligence without altering our growing susceptibility to terror.

Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz wants citizens to cooperate with police and law enforcement agencies and report suspicious activities. What these activities could be have yet to be specified. Nevertheless, recognizing the need to mobilize local populace against terror is a step in the right direction. But to succeed, the State has to contend with a deeply divided civil society more focused on scoring brownie points with masses than denouncing extremist actions, and citizens who are averse to counterinsurgency operations against their own.

While terror remains the only constant, varying views come forth on a daily basis; some trying to determine ‘U.S. interest in a destabilized Pakistan’; others dismissive of extremist designs on Pakistan’s nuclear assets and the ensuing danger to the West, ‘the range of missiles being too limited to concern allies’; most contending that the present scenario has been conjured up, perhaps to pave the way for a U.S. take over. None helpful in terms of resolving the crisis at hand.

That some of these statements come from an international relation expert like Dr. Shireen Mazari and not nuclear experts or defence analysts becomes immaterial given the readiness demonstrated by the general public to embrace any idea that reinforces the carefully nurtured paranoia against those fighting terror. Real experts appreciate the global nature of nuclear threats, their range notwithstanding. In the same debate, a random remark that the JFK murder in 2007 would also have been attributed to terrorists is representative of the prevalent mindset unable or unwilling to grasp the changed realities. Either way the message being sent to society illuminates selective parts of a very complex picture and keeps them in the dark about the ultimate price of picking the wrong side. An article printed on 18 Jan. 08 in a local daily (The News) casually dismisses the Interior Ministers warning as ‘a sense of fear being encouraged by the government’. Yet another example of trivializing this situation underscores the urgency of clearing away propaganda and subsequent cynicism brought on by either naiveté and obstinacy or resentment due to pre-existing grievances.

Given that the war on terror morphed into a war for Pakistan’s survival , it is alarming to know that 7 years on, the counterinsurgency operation is mired in controversy; aspersion are regularly cast on its legitimacy and reservations voiced about its projected success. And while the civil society may be shaken by traumatic events of 2007; they are not sufficiently stirred to seek national reconciliation, or acknowledge that the enemy of any (perceived) enemy is, in fact, their enemy. Now would be a good time to set the record straight.

Images Courtesy of : http://www.pakimag.com/files/2011/03/Mingora-swat-Satellite-map-Swat-Mingora-Kanju-Airport-ImamDherai-Fiza-Ghat-Landaki.jpg

BOOK REVIEW: TWICE AS GOOD - CONDOLEEZZA RICE AND HER PATH TO POWER

PUBLISHED IN THE POST SEP 13, 2007


Though this biography has been penned by a ‘brother’ and bears the stamp of approval from Condoleezza Rice herself, it neither endorses her politics, nor excuses divisive policies. It instead assembles particular facets of her life to identify the glimmer of a luminary in the racial obscurity of the South and outline her decisive path to power. In seeking to present a ‘honorable and fair’ portrayal of Dr. Rice, NEWS WEEK CHIEF OF CORRESSPONDENTS, Marcus Mabry abstains from airbrushing any imperfections revealed behind the ‘practically perfect’ public demeanor and instead allows them to clarify the enigma we know as Condoleezza Rice: who made history on two counts: first, as a person of color and second, as a female U.S Secretary of State. Marcus Mabry sallied forth to peace together the origins of her enduring relationship with success through in-depth interviews with Rice while her friends, family, colleagues and unnamed sources contributed to his findings. The research took about two years and what he discovers is significant, both in terms of understanding Condoleezza’s ascent to power in a male dominated, supremely white society and the source of her symbiotic relationship with the Bush administration given the abiding allegiance to its agenda.

Appointed to Stanford’s faculty at 25, NSC director at 34, Stanford Provost at 38, NSC - National Security Advisor at 46 and finally Secretary of State by 50, Condoleezza Rice ranks fourth this year among 100 most powerful women of the world. History singles her out for having held extraordinary appointments for a person of her gender and race but the book duly credits her amazingly disciplined early life and strong family influences that, at the age of nine, made her announce intentions of being inside the White House someday.

Divided into three parts, the focus steadily shifts from her early days in the South, to education in Stanford and a career path that led to the White House. Part one: ‘Alabama Steel’ begins in the racially charged South where the struggle for integration that defined the city of Birmingham in the 1960’s neither deterred nor distracted the Rice family from the long term goals they set for their only daughter; that of succeeding at all odds. Her family decided not to join in the clamor for equal rights but to seek it on their own and Rice skated, played piano and grew up free to pursue the American dream among a race imprisoned by color. Although Rice projects the impact of segregation according to her unique perceptive, testimonies from friends and family conflicts with her recollections and has not escaped comment from Marcus Mabry. Notwithstanding her sterilized upbringing, events of the racially charged South clearly contributed to the steely resolve developed to vanquish seemingly insurmountable odds a person of her color and gender had to endure as a matter of course. And she did so admirably, but the example cited on Page-261, of the Pakistani Prime Minister being reduced to a dithering fool in her presence seemed like an excessive way to demonstrate as Marcus put it, her ‘strong will’.

Part 2: ‘Higher Learning’ concentrates on the abilities and progressive career path of a young Condoleezza – starting with her entry into the academic world from Denver “where she lived a life of privilege rare for a middle class girl”- where she gave up her cherished dream of being a concert pianist and where her new major finally set the tone for an upcoming illustrious career. Mabry identifies inexplicable factors behind her ascendancy from Senior Staffer on the NSC with Bush 41 to the top echelon of power that saw her first groom a politically challenged Bush 43 for presidency as a foreign policy advisor, assume the role of the ‘most recognizable National Security Advisor since Kissinger’ and subsequently, take over as Secretary of State, wielding more power than many of her predecessors.

Excerpts from ‘State of Denial’ by Bob Woodward and ‘Soldier’ by Karen de young are incorporated within Mabry’s version of events in the final portion where he reflects on the mettle of a woman up against Colin Powell, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld; tough enough to withstand the grilling regarding the alleged intelligence failure of 9/11, well able to counter criticisms to a sluggish Katrina response and facing the ultimate test of her skills and judgment as she continues to defend the Iraq War and her President. The author muses that being a survivor herself, perhaps made Rice less willing to concede defeat or tolerate dissent. Bush calls her a sister and she was his ‘Yoda’ and remains his most loyal soldier; her closeness with Bush has been illustrated through a Freudian slip she allegedly made by nearly referring to him as her husband and though Rice does not recall the incident, it has been cited more than once.

‘Twice as Good’ set out to capture the inner complexities of a person who owes much to her parent’s philosophy that required a person of color to be twice as good as the majority. Such resolve is the driving force behind Condoleezza’s rising star; her personal belief that demands her to ‘move on, get over it’ explains the upbeat tenor of her life. Marcus believes that “Rice’s firsts are her most significant legacies: not what she as accomplished but what she has attained.” Soon after he does contends that “given her phenomenal will and capabilities, she may yet become not just the first. Not just the only, but the best.” Other books have been released since the publication of ‘Twice as Good’ but Marcus Mabry has been the first to be granted privileged access to Condoleezza’s life since her takeover as Secretary of State. ‘Twice as Good’ is extensively researched and manages to bring out the inconvenient truths behind power and celebrity.

Hardcover: 362 pages
Publisher: Rodale Books (May 1, 2007)
Language: English
Price: $18.15

VIEW: Aftermath: Damned if you do, Damned if you don’t

PUBLISHED IN THE POST JULY 18, 2007 AS OPERATION SILENCE - THE AFTERMATH


No crystal ball was needed to predict that violent or peaceful, the end would come for the anti-State movement initiated from the Islamabad mosque. It was also very apparent that all the patience in the world or negotiations for that matter will not prevent many from affixing the label of ‘Brute’ on the State.

Barely had the operation ended the critique began. The fact that such negotiations could have lasted for 51 days without any positive outcome, like the Waco Texas incident of 1993, suddenly became inconsequential; as did the rescue of some 1350 people. The collateral damage however brought the clerical group on the streets. It was between the gun and the gallows for the identified militants in any case. The State will argue that it proceeded with extreme caution and much has been said about their delaying tactics but suddenly, and not surprisingly, the fortitude of 6 months has become an ineffective trump card in front of the remonstrating clerics. By screaming blue murder, the clerical group can perhaps absolve itself from its role in this situation, but in fact, it was as much their failure to convince their fellow cleric to a timely compromise that led to this day. In the end, everyone’s silence at the wrong time was the cause of this unfortunate ‘operation silence’.

The operation that ended the 8 day siege and 6 month crisis, was in retrospect neither reckless nor precipitous, but still provoked an aggressive debate among media and the general public on the demerits of the outcome. So they stormed in to save the hostages. After 8 days. They had always meant to. Many of us however were blindsided by the operation because the media had inadvertently given the impression of an upcoming peaceful resolution. But what other options were there? Wait, till the supplies/ammo of the militants ran out. That could have been a while. How much longer would the besieged residents have held out? Or the hostages for that matter? Accept the ever changing demands of the cleric and give everyone inside, foreign nationals included, had they been present, a blanket clemency in exchange for the safety of hostages? Imagine the consequences of such an act?

Then there is the cleric, who also spent more precious time on media interviews than on the negotiating table, so to speak and one wonders how much of that contributed to the drawn out and ultimately unsuccessful negotiations. Ironically, the negotiators themselves were accessory to the clerics’ place on the media centre stage by sending in battery after battery and cell phones instead of one walkie talkie. If cutting off communications of the militants was the main concern then giving the cleric a mobile phone was equivalent to letting the militants have free access to the outside world.

It may have been simpler to deal with the initial symptoms of the crisis but in the advanced stages nothing short of a serious operation was the solution. A lot happened in this time. The frequent media appearance of the cleric managed to shift the focus from misdemeanors to self-professed morality; there may have been little sympathy for the death of a nameless rebel; the same cannot be said for a well known public figure and as a result his end came as a shock. The girls who surrendered in the early days, appeared on a local news channel and demonstrated that far from being grateful or remorseful they have come out hardened in their resolve, convinced of the morality of their actions and determined to carry on the path they have chosen; one going so far as to ask 'arsenal? What arsenal, God and God alone rained bullets on Pak Army. The psychological effect of picking up dead bodies of peers coupled with the vice like grip of their mentor has created a bigger problem. These girls, while no doubt suffering from deep shock also remain steadfastly loyal to their ideals. There is nothing benign about them or their beliefs. In their modified mental condition, those who proposed rehabilitation of the students should also give serious thought to their mental reconditioning.

Where legitimate questions have been raised about the whole incident, many irrational arguments are also making the rounds. A leading newspaper carried an article on 15 July 2007 asking an oft repeated question; why the media was not led in the instant the operation ended? If the answer is not readily apparent then people first need to look up the word ‘booby-trap’. Then consider that intelligent militants resided within, not just nerdy students. After that they might understand that in such a situation the existence of such traps was a real possibility, one that could never be overlooked. Also, sanitizing the area is a common procedure and therefore, restricting media access should not come as a surprise, unless one considers them to be an expendable unit. In the same article, a misleading statement has also been attributed to Edhi concerning the delivery of 800 kafans, to establish the death toll, where in fact Edhi himself has dismissed any such claim.

In all fairness, once the matter came to a head, the overall strategy was commendable. It was a no win situation for the State though. They were first called ineffective for reasoning with the cleric and are now tyrants for taking a stand.

Images Courtesy of: http://i.istockimg.com/file_thumbview_approve/11327410/2/stock-photo-11327410-fortune-teller-s-hands-glowing-crystal-ball-floating-between-black-background.jpg

VIEW: Pandora II

PUBLISHED IN THE POST AUG 04, 2007

The last thing I expected on 27 July 2007 was to be blindsided with, what appeared to be a reenactment of events witnessed earlier in the month in Pakistan’s Capitol. The place was the same and so were some of the key players. The Islamabad mosque reopened for Friday prayers amid adequate security measures but its abrupt descent into chaos proved how naïve we all were to think that former anarchists had been tamed or their belligerent mood mellowed with time. The security gates could only check for fissile material and not the threat posed by the former students, ex-detainees and sympathizers associated with the Mosque and seminary.

Like a rerun of a bad film, the radicals demanded that the surviving rebel Maulana conduct Friday prayers and the denial of this demand rapidly led to civil unrest once more. Labeled simply as activists, they are in reality ‘activated’, a legacy of the two brothers. The police, possibly afraid of provoking further disturbance, stayed back initially. Well trained in disruptive behavior, the radicals, however, wasted no time in taking over the mosque once again and repainting it red. Ever resourceful, these people fashioned crude weapons out of whatever they could lay their hand on from the rubble of the seminary perhaps and reprised their role as the rebel force. Had the tragic blast not occurred nearby at the ‘Muzaffargarh Nihari House’ during the developing crisis, another prolonged confrontation with an ultimate siege seemed imminent. The one crucial difference between 3rd July and 27th July was the absence of supplies and ammo stashed within their former stronghold and therefore, had it come to a siege, the besieged only had a limited number of options; starvation and an appointment with the Maker, surrender and serve the long over due sentence.

Confronted by an unruly mob, the security forces began their customary tear gas shelling; the blast later dispersed the rebels from the mosque. Now that such kind of unrests is becoming a regular article, it is a good time to invest in water cannons. One also feels sorry for the media personnel who get the worst in these situations. First manhandled and thrown out of the mosque by radicals, the police also wrongly vented their anger on some media men. Clearly the police personnel require some kind of briefing (or a refresher course) as security and media form a cohesive unit in an ideal world and ordinarily are on the same side. And maybe the media could do with a good suit. Seems to me the police would think twice before roughing up a suited booted cameraman, reporter.

Seen from one angle, this could well have been another premeditated attack on the security forces that have been relentlessly targeted by either sympathetic radicals or independent minded militants since the termination of the mosque operation. Perhaps the small lull in these attacks was merely a preparation for this one and the deployment of a heavy security force was the intended target, smoked out through the strife in the mosque.

As already indicated by the sentiments of surviving students, the movement initiated by their leader was neither dead nor dying. It came out of remission at the first opportunity while periodic bombings could have been sustaining it on the side. I had pointed out earlier that the women and men, especially the innocent! women will lapse back into their former ways unless some one came forward and reconditioned their minds. If they continue to believe in the nobility of their deeds then their future course of action should not come as a surprise.

I naively wondered what would happen if the Maulana was released to lead prayers every Friday to appease the rabble. People were quick to point out that he would be whisked off by his followers who will then form a human chain and dare the State to take him away on pain of death. Previously, if the ‘catch and release’ strategy adopted by the government was motivated by public pressure, then it was a poor decision if an inevitable one. The ones who pleaded for the safe passage of armed radicals holed up within the mosque and cheered at the amnesty given to criminal men and women can now ponder on the mercifulness that bears such a steep price. The empathy some people have shown for those involved in everything base, from kidnappings to murders and now suicide bombings is as disturbing as their reasoning that the brothers had legitimate demands or their outrage at the certain collateral damage. It is a revelation to know that a legitimate demand exonerates criminal activities or that mowing down resistance is an iniquitous act. Such people vindicate the presence of radical elements and could ultimately be the undoing of all that this nation stands for.

The mosque is red and off limits yet again. Now it seems like a suitable color for a place that is somehow always the nexus of bloodshed. Desecrated once by the clerics and then by the followers, it has become painfully clear that something other than paint will be required to cleanse its image and purify the spirit. Who could have thought the analogy of a Pandora’s Box would one day be used in such a context.

Image courtesy of: http://www.dudziak.com/pictures/fractals/pandora.jpg

VIEW: Conspiracy Theory

PUBLISHED IN THE POST JAN 05, 2007


Insinuations – by politicians and media pundits, are making global rounds.

About election rigging, the opposition claims that a well known political leaders’ assassination came hours before she was about to uncover a spectacular result manipulation scheme hatched by none other than the government. About the incident itself, the existence of Baitulah Mehsud – a Taliban commander who likes beheading Pakistani soldiers, or the Al-Qaeda, fond of targeting odd interior ministers in mosques or rallies and attacking children’s buses, is disregarded in favour of the notion that none of them could possibly have a hand in the recent assassination. About the post-mortem, they allege that the medical report was cooked up. About the subsequent law and order breakdown, they maintain that no party loyalist could possibly have been involved in arson or looting and the sole beneficiary of the post assassination deterioration of law and order situation was a government that needed an excuse to postpone elections.

An opposition party representative, Chaudery Manzoor (ppp), in a talk show aired on 2nd Jan 2008 on a local news channel, contends that the dying declaration of an assassinated leader is to be taken as an FIR and the ultimate indictment against the perpetrators. It is not difficult to guess where the finger will point. The International scene is no different. About the security lapse at the unfortunate rally of 27th December 2007, PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST, emphasizes that “After all, this took place in the centre of Pakistani military -- the Pakistani military headquarters, which would imply, I think, some low level military help.”

Since the death should not prevent the opposition leadership from divulging the contents of the report, the first dispute can be easily settled when the dossier is publicized. It would be interesting to see the effects any unsubstantiated allegations – assuming of course that they are based largely on accusations and random complaints - are likely to have on the party’s future. One reason for crying foul, however, can be to lay the groundwork for a possible defeat. Only an impartial investigation can validate these claims.

Other charges are less easily explained away but they must be addressed nevertheless; some by allowing an international intervention and others by exhuming the body. Indeed, the government has scant authority to prevent an exhumation now or stop an autopsy then. The victims’ spouse, the loudest (and angriest) proponent of such conspiracy theories, on the other hand, can. And he did. Scotland Yard's assistance has been sought at this stage but it cannot be denied that international investigators could have been called in sooner as the crime scene has been comprised since then and the trail is now a week old.

That Scotland Yard’s involvement after the first attack of 18 October 2007 would have prevented the second as argued by the bereaved spouse is debatable if we concede the pervasiveness of terrorism. In an ongoing investigation, suggesting the involvement of a particular terrorist outfit was met with suspicion perhaps because it was thought to be both hasty and premature. In the initial days, even with an intercepted conversation in hand, admitting to a probable link would have been wiser than declaring a positive one. An equally contentious issue is the exact cause of death in this tragic ‘whodunit’. The discrepancies in the official version, eye witness reports and photographic evidence have sent conspiracy theorists into overdrive; yet, what the cover-up accomplishes still remains obscure when the presence and existence of both the suicide bomber and shooter are an established fact.

The judiciousness of not opening the polls days after the death and ensuing destruction has also been challenged; the injudiciousness of exposing the voting public to yet another spell of violence is a genuine concern, one shared by many others, voiced by few. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer’s argument that “Rawalpindi is really a military town. It's a garrison where you would think security would be pretty good” demonstrates the West’s unfamiliarity with the ‘ground realities’, incidentally the new catchword of 2007 and makes the brazenness of the attack, though alarming, not new for Pakistanis. Expressing incredulousness at the penetration of Rawalpindi overlooks its recent vulnerability. Implying tacit military support for Al-Qaeda, however low level it may be, speaks of a duplicitous nuclear armed regime.

Going back to Chaudery Manzoor’s declaration that suggests the use of unfounded dying declarations as guarantees of guilt complete the Wild West scenario where the judiciary would finally become irrelevant and law of the jungle can officially prevail. Conspiracy theorists and fear mongers have made a clear cut case and the implications are obvious, depending on whom one believes. Musharraf is playing the US. His real ally is the al-Qaeda and both hunt Pakistanis for sport.

Images Courtesy of: http://cdn.tfw2005.com/transformers-news/attach/7/3/8/6/3/Transformers-Classified-Switching-Gears_1306612536.gif

BOOK REVIEW: Plan of Attack (2004)

PUBLISHED IN THE POST


The chain of events set in motion by events of 9/11 led USA to War and have been extensively documented by the press; Bob Woodward, a reporter of the Washington Post has been at the helm of this Crusade (not to be confused with ‘the’ Crusades) with his trilogy of ‘Bush At War’, relentless in his pursuit of the truth.

Post ‘State of Denial’, (the authors most recent offering) Woodward had unique access to Presidential views and thus, his 9th book, ‘Plan of Attack’ presents an insider look at the Principals, Presidents and the British Prime Ministers level of involvement and degree of commitment for a War Plan that threatened to alienate the United States from many of its allies and nearly cost Blair his Premiership. All the same, the President made the tough call, followed by a reluctant Powell, optimistic Cheney, steadfast to the end Blair and an ostensibly well prepared military.

‘Plan of Attack’ is the second book of the recent Woodward trilogy. This impressive piece of investigative journalism neatly touches upon the infallibility of CIA, puts forth the mounting evidence which portrayed Iraq as a potentially seething mass of insurgency; in short, the makings of a political nightmare. However, this particular version of events is no where as critical as ‘State of Denial-2006’ which is why President Bush actually looked forward to this one.

Though the longevity of this War is now a cause for major concern of the World in general and Americans in particular, the book demonstrates the extent of the Presidential resolve for it then, the consequences of which, “he was fully prepared to live with” and the process whereby the administration managed to deaden the increasingly noisy trombones of War by donning a convincing mantle of peace. The countdown commenced on November 2001, redirected the course of the ‘War on Terror’ from the suspected Al Qaeda sanctuary Afghanistan toward confirmed dictator, (and suspected WMD) territory Iraq. Here, the primary challenge continued to be planning an effective attack, and a secondary one , convincing Congress, the American people and the World at large while banking on failure of the United Nation process in Iraq, which then would provide the perfect cover for the stated mission of ‘regime change’ and justify the proposed incursion.

As the Top Secret planning was underway behind closed doors, the intensity of speculation continued to deepen outside. Rumsfelds list of worst case scenarios expanded from 15 to 29 “to prepare so things go right” even as the Presidents official stance remained that, “there were no war plans on the desk”. With the certainty of a military action forming the basis for recruiting and sustaining the local intelligence force by CIA operatives, the very talk of a peaceful resolution could potentially jeopardize the nature of these intelligence missions . Interestingly, while skepticism about WMD stockpiles ran deep within the administration, the Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and CIA Director Tenet never doubted this questionable piece of intelligence Shrouded in secrecy, the planning gained momentum and Secretary of State Powell was tasked with an unenviable job of rallying the world sympathy to support for a War he privately cautioned against.

This book recreates the 16 months of planning that went into this invasion with impressive detail. Over 75 sources helped Woodward document all phases of getting the military into an operational readiness status, the time it took for coercive diplomacy to prevail over the United Nations and events that unfolded after the marching orders finally arrived. The outcome is an authoritative, absorbing and remarkably detailed account of the groundwork for this War and the aftermath thereafter, till the year 2004.

The War is still on and ‘Plan of Attack’-2004 along with ‘State of Denial’-2006 will bring its readers up to date with the progress, failure and progressing failure of Iraq.

VIEW: Asymmetric Conflict (2007)


By Afrah Jamal

PUBLISHED IN THE POST OCT 27, 07

It is no longer a toss up between ‘will they?’ or ‘won’t they?’ Not when it comes to terrorist strikes in 2007. Analysts are more likely to have turned, albeit grimly, to pinpointing the ‘where’, ‘when’ and speculate about the ‘who’. The recent bombing in Karachi confirms that ‘where’ is not that difficult to ascertain as it gradually dawns on people that the attack in the early hours of 19 Oct 2007 is merely a snippet of a prolonged terror campaign. Therefore, it is futile to pretend that these are isolated incidents of violence, easily pre-empted or averted.

Foreign Correspondent, Greg Palkot covered Ms. Bhutto’s return for FOX News Channel and made a valid point in his blog - Dispatches from the Terror Front: Can Terrorism Be Tamed in Pakistan? that, “In the terror analysis business, hindsight is always 20/20”. However, concerns of the citizens in the days leading up to 18 October 2007 were worth paying attention to. Their critique in the aftermath is equally significant; whether it is to question the wisdom of blocking the main artery of Karachi for an entire day or the folly of not congregating in a reasonably secure location in view of a credible threat. So far, these issues have been sidestepped in favor of some bizarre conspiracy theories.

Ironically enough, the International opinion seems to side with Ms. Bhutto’s decision to lead a rally in such a manner; the following post by Paula Newberg argues that “Even under explicit threats, no politician returning from eight years of exile would agree to helicopter to a rally. The people, after all, are what make politics real -- they are the engine that fuels any possibility that Pakistan might one day achieve a representative democracy. So Bhutto shunned the government's offer of a helicopter and by most accounts, the bulletproof cabin that was to remove her threats, and her adoring supporters.”

That would be one way of looking at it.

However, considering that not one but four suicide squads had already ‘shown their hand’ so to speak, this argument abruptly becomes invalid. Ms. Bhutto also claims to have received names of 3 ringleaders and telephone numbers before her arrival to Karachi but according to a report in the ‘Guardian Unlimited’, this information was forwarded to the President on the eve of her return and not before.

Then there is the theory that darkness cloaked the bomber implying that a human bomb can be contained. “As the sun set, we saw that the street lights had been closed. Our security guards were having a difficulty in identifying suicide bombers....because we couldn't see.” The top leadership escaped virtually unscathed despite the darkness, and traumatized though they must be from the proximity of this attack, they need to consider that barring perhaps a thermal signature technology, detection or deterrence of this primitive but lethal threat is not a perfect science - not yet.

Allegations also link this attack to the supporters of someone (Zia-ul-Haq), who himself fell a victim to an assassination 18 years ago and shadowy military organizations. With this logic, does it also follow that these mysterious forces were behind the Tarbela Ghazi ‘fratricide’ of 12 September 2007, where 20 elite SSG officers were killed and 44 injured? Or the twin bombings near the military headquarters in the garrison town of Rawalpindi, which left 25 dead and 68, injured? What about the 28 other bombings that have occurred all over Pakistan this year alone?

If the 19 October Karachi bombings were an attack against democracy then how would we classify attacks on Pakistan’s Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao, President Musharaaf, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and the Pakistani security forces? At a time when Pakistan is trying to dissociate itself from extremist elements, baseless allegations involving government officials in terrorist activities are not only unpardonable but also extremely irresponsible. They signify this states connivance or ineffectiveness; either perception could be fatal for our sovereignty.

The recently targeted party graciously considers a reevaluation of their campaign strategy but the governments proposal of moving rallies to the outskirts of the city or secured areas has met with resistance in some quarters and led to accusations of a “grand rigging plan" by others. Reckless disregard of the new realities can spell an early death for the fledgling democratic movement the world seems to be banking on with a possible replay of this tragedy. The nation demands that in the midst of an asymmetric conflict such as this, terror must now be factored in each politician’s itinerary. Its awareness is already ingrained within every civilians mind.

Images Courtesy of: http://publicmb.files.wordpress.com/2007/10/trafic-plan-18-oct-07-in-karachi1.JPG

VIEW: Dealing with Emergent Threats

PUBLISHED IN THE POST JULY 11, 07

Is the primary threat to a sovereign state still its enemy’s military capability?

Given that the world learnt the fine art of countering, deterring and neutralizing such physical threats and also became adept at threatening each another with weapons neither one can ever use, many will concede the next big challenge for national security is the emergent threat of extremism.

The exact origin of extremism within a State is perhaps difficult to pinpoint and very hard to combat for it resides in the mind of the enemy and can take form anywhere, anytime with devastating consequences.

Which is the reason vigilance now needs to be exercised as much inside the border as at them - vigilance and prompt action. Extremism feeds on the ignorance and frustration of the common man and instills a cold contempt for human life and property. It is a worrying sign in any circumstance. It becomes especially disturbing when its followers threaten to destabilize not just one nation but the entire world order. To know if places of enlightenment serve as breeding grounds of terror is hard to do. But the States role must be crystal clear when it identifies the origin of violent ideals because if this proverbial ticking time bomb of ideas is left un-tackled, it has the capacity to override humanity and end in the usual bloodshed.

The beginnings of any extremist movement may be irrelevant but end is absolute. Therefore, only one course of action is available when extremist elements show their hand. Though religion is an effective cloaking devise for extremist motivation and activities, neither the wavering sympathies of people nor the fear of any religious backlash should deter the State. To devise fresh tactics for the new weapon wielded by unscrupulous elements of society who happen to be fellow citizens, is the ultimate challenge. A clear message needs to be sent to this new enemy and so weakness of resolve at such moments is not an option.

Fear for bloodshed made the State overlook some obvious and opportune courses available for action in the recent crisis of Islamabad- that and perhaps the sanctity of a mosque. The most obvious one should have been some form of visible reaction to the first slogan advocating violence. The State owed it to the citizen it has vowed to protect including those impressionable followers that were undergoing a dangerous and perhaps irreversible transformation in front of the world.

Failing that, women police could have stormed in to end the children library occupation by armed female militants. Having missed this opportunity, the first display of a weapon should have brought swift retaliation in the form of a siege demanding surrender of militants. The instant a citizen picks up a weapon; he/she becomes a militant and unless sophisticated weaponry has suddenly become an acceptable fashion accessory, such an action would have been justified. Converting a religious place into an arsenal was the next red flag. A showdown would have been understandable.

The State does not need to be told how to conduct an operation; it is the timing of action that poses the hard questions. If the reluctance to use force was the presence of innocent! women and children than it is a poor excuse for unless the women and children had been coerced to leave or taken away by their parents, they would have remained within - willingly or otherwise till the end.

Unfolding events show that, in fact, this has become an unusual hostage situation where some of the followers (women and men) that have already accepted the immoral stance of their leader are now posing further hindrance to the operation in their role as hostages. Nevertheless, to preserve the lives of these human shields, the withholding of force that we have witnessed for the past 6 days is of course the only advisable course of action; but calling people innocent who have shown themselves to be all too willing pawns in the deadly game played by the clerics is also misleading.

If the students, who chose to remain are of age, and, putting the orphans and homeless aside, old enough to decide and be involved in criminal activities then they are also old enough to be tried. Orphans and juvenile delinquents are a different matter but there must not be any gender discrimination against the students/militants. Charges of kidnapping and wrongful takeover should be brought against the women used and also the men who instigated them. Not to do so would be an injustice. It is ironic that tribal areas deal harsh punishments to innocent women and rural society overlooks their criminal activities, lures them out with promises of amnesty and monetary compensation. Then again, these concessions were the outcome of the ongoing hostage negotiation efforts and succeeded in getting several followers safely out.

Several occasions presented themselves where force would have been justified like the abduction of policemen, women residents, and Chinese nationals not to mention the threats to businesses and destruction of their property. Instead of action, negotiations were made and concessions offered which strengthened the criminals resolve and gave rise to intense speculations and stranger conspiracy theories.

Small wonder then that the culprits bought time and set about gathering rations and arms, and are ultimately well positioned for a long standoff. Prolonging the crisis to spare innocent lives is both inevitable and admirable but the residents of that area who have become captive to the situation are undergoing severe hardships dealing with curfew restrictions and food, water, electricity and gas shortages. At such a time, the State will facilitate these people, where possible as their problems are slowly identified (mostly through the efforts of our media) but good Samaritans and mosques can at least play their small part.

Now the people are left wondering if a strategy for minimizing collateral damage could just as easily have been devised at the beginning as it was at the end. Were these elements deliberately given enough rope to hang themselves with? Was the proclamation of patience used to garner universal support of the masses and have even the naysayers clamoring for action?

The only argument that can be made for a delayed action is that now even stronger cases can be made against the perpetrators, although charges of sedition could have been a compelling enough reason to act in the first place. Despite the ironclad evidence though, the clerical group wants a full pardon granted to the instigator, their solution to the hostage crisis.

If the reports of hostages being willing participants can be substantiated then they would automatically become an acceptable collateral damage and this operation can be wound up swiftly. As to the suggestion of granting a safe passage, that works only when some other country agrees to take in the dissidents as was the case in 1981 when the Syrian government took in the hijackers of a PIA plane to end the 2 week hostage crisis. A safe passage here does not denote absolute freedom to return to their villages or the FATA; that will come in the heading of ‘clemency’ which has an entirely different implication.

Acknowledging extremism as an active threat is just one facet of the crisis; it has also identified fresh challenges for the State that involve adequate training of media personnel for safely reporting in conflict-zones, the concept of the embedded journalist to prevent the leakage of premature news and preserve the crucial element of surprise and finally, the need for skilled hostage negotiators instead of well meaning media men or ordinary compatriots.

Dedicated to the brave media personnel who died in the line of duty.
“May Their Rest in Peace”


Images Courtesy of: http://www.historycommons.org/events-images/b209_red_mosque_2050081722-23474.jpg

VIEW: Burden of Proof

PUBLISHED IN THE POST DEC 08, 07

Pakistan’s kaleidoscopic political scenario leaves the nation hedging its bets on the possible outcome while an apparent alliance of leading political parties emerges, still holding a possible electoral boycott as a valuable bargaining chip.

Meanwhile a charter of demands devised by the APDM-ARD, may suggest revoking post November 03 2007 actions of the government, which resulted in a re-shuffled judiciary, and the cherry picked caretaker government. The governments consent to the charter will automatically set the ‘heads you win, tails i lose’ clause in motion for the President and allay oppositions’ fear of rigging to an extent. Quite possibly, it may bench the formidable opponent who has been in the game for 8 years and open the door for some of the major players whose democratic declarations are their strongest and perhaps only asset. Either that or a possible poll alliance of key parties would decide to go ahead and contest without seeking further concessions. Then, presumably, the nation can select from its two ex-‘s and for many, it will be amount to a simple coin toss between one or the other.

At this point, a complete scrutiny of the ten-year legacy left by the two leading frontrunners would not help either candidate both of whom have ruled alternately from1988-1999. History reveals two idealistic figureheads whose flawed execution of the basic tenets of democracy is hardly endearing. Past performance becomes especially relevant when former leaders vehemently project democracy as the panacea for an ailing nation. Pakistan has witnessed democracy relapse into dictatorship under the civil leadership and democratic ideals thrive, at least for a while, under autocracy.

While contrasting a haughty dismissal of the professed failures of dictatorship by leading politicians to the documented gaffes in their rendition of democracy, one observes that the most grotesque images of human rights violations, media crackdown, judicial interference, lawlessness and economic frustration from recent times are but re-runs of events featuring two democratic governments. Though two exiled leaders have returned to re-launch their interrupted careers or ‘Save Pakistan’, as they so eloquently put it, immunity only removes the stigma of corruption from paper. It does not expunge observations made by Human Rights Watch publications of the ‘harshest media crackdown since Gen Zia’ in 1995 , the ignominy of having the world’s worst records of custodial deaths, extrajudicial killings and torture according to Amnesty International in 1996; brazen attempts to silence the judiciary in 1997, the post nuclear test economic meltdown of 1998 and finally, the decision to take a shot at being ‘Amir-ul-Momineen’ - the Supreme leader of the faithful- in 1999.

Thus far, it appears that this nation has merely toyed with this universally renowned concept; why else would democracy still appear to be in an experimental stage? In the 60 years of alternating between regimes and civilian rule, promises of restoring democracy are pointless when this country has yet to experience the real thing. However, since the specter of democracy has once again been raised, the burden of proof now lies with the next Prime minister.

Images Courtesy of: http://www.ethiosun.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Democracysign1.png