Saturday, June 18, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Pakistan: Beyond The ‘Crisis State’ / Author: Maleeha Lodhi

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Published under the title: 17 Reasons to Hope

“History will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, history will have its revenge and retribution” — from the movie, ‘Good Night, & Good Luck’

A region known for most “terrorist sightings”, a place feared for harbouring medieval mindsets next to progressive thinkers and a nation shunned for having an affinity for nuclear toys. By turns a cautionary tale, an indispensable ally and an international pariah, Pakistan does not fit into any mould — for long. But its name crops up whenever things go awry.

Pakistan: Beyond the ‘Crisis State’ is a compilation of articles put together by Maleeha Lodhi that countermands the grim prognosis. When Ms Lodhi, who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and UK, acknowledges that “resilience has been part of Pakistan’s story from its inception, obscured by the single issue lens through which outsiders have viewed the nation,” she has already rounded up the architects of a counter-narrative.

This book, she explains, is the product of a “virtual” conference (in cyberspace) — the voices featured within are bold, imaginative, at times humourous, (where need be) scathing — and, more importantly, powerful enough to carry over the din.

The names need no introduction. They are our nation’s leading historians, award winning journalists, diplomats and scholars who, with their grasp of Pakistan’s complex history, come forth to respond to the criticism — spoken or otherwise, the challenges — short and long term — and hidden dangers both internal and external.

Luminaries such as Shuja Nawaz, Zahid Hussain, Ayesha Jalal and Ahmed Rashid, to name just a few, give Pakistan some much needed context — be it historical, political or religious. They join others in taking on a range of issues that plague society, from its derelict state of the economy, spectacular energy crisis, sorry state of education and eroding sovereignty to its recent history of violence, ill conceived military adventures, the rising spectre of extremism, foreign policy issues and mounting security and governance challenges, in the light of seminal events from the past 64 years.

This parallel storyline has been created keeping regional complexities in mind. Mohsin Hamid’s comforting piece, ‘Why Pakistan will survive’, dwells on the many admirable qualities of this land, providing the perfect rebuttal for those who claim to have heard the ‘fat lady’. He says faugh to the extremists, observing that, “theocracy will not work”. Why? Because “we are too diverse to agree on the interpretation of religious laws”. He comes to the heartening conclusion that the “Taliban cannot win”. He further adds that “false nationalism will not work; we are too diverse to believe it”. Maleeha’s own piece scrutinises Pakistan’s governance failures, identifying five scenarios that range from bleak to optimistic; they can break the stalemate and salvage the future or watch it spiral out of control.

Bold reforms are needed to improve an aging infrastructure and shaky foundations, and the contributors bring imaginative solutions that ensure Pakistan’s longevity by attempting to reset its self-destruct button. Ziad Alahdad appraises the energy deficit, pushing a five-stage process (IEP — Integrated Energy Planning Process), a concept introduced in the 1970s. Dr Ishrat Husain brings out his eight pillars of good governance destined to thrive given a proper environment. Others keep it simple: support taxes, they say, because, apparently, “Pakistanis pay a pittance (10 percent of the GDP) compared to other nations”, and raising it by just a fifth means a gain of Rs 300 billion a year.

In some areas, the proposed business model asks for a system reboot. In others, it can survive with a little tweaking. Either way, their manifesto is worth exploring. These findings have added significance in the wake of recent events where Pakistan’s once powerful establishments have begun to show signs of the strain.

When they talk about the future of nuclear policy, they can envisage both scenarios, one where Pakistan repeats the “cold war nuclear experience of arms control and CBM with stakeholders” and the other where “a radical right-wing government in power wields nuclear assets as an ideologically based power instrument instead of as a security tool”. When they shift to military matters they argue that, “Pakistan’s defence lies in a smaller, highly mobile powerful military relying on nuclear, conventional weapons system with the capability of delivering a damaging riposte.” While scrutinising the army viewed as an entity “that protects its interests at the cost of national interest”, they dismiss the fearsome ISI as a counter-intelligence entity “that operates at behest of government, civil/military aligning with whatever centre of power is deemed more powerful or supportive of its functions”.

Drawing upon this collective wisdom helps readers understand the Pakistan of today in light of its foibles — both past and present. In Ms Lodhi’s words, “The prism of terror and extremism has deflected attention away from the strength and stability of its underlying social structures which have enabled the country to weather national and regional storms and rebound from disasters — natural and manmade.”

This book carries 17 viewpoints that show what Pakistan beyond the crisis state might look like provided it can align the projected vision with reality. It provides 17 reasons to hope.

Oxford University Press;
Pp 391;
Rs 895

Thursday, June 9, 2011

VIEW: SPOOKS in the Dog House

(Published in SHE Magazine June 2011)

7 years ago, Tim McGirk of TIME wondered if ISI could help find Bin Laden. In a way they did.

Pakistan’s decision to share a critical piece of information sealed Osama bin Laden’s fate. But the hand that dealt the fatal blow was American. The Inter-Services Intelligence – (ISI), never popular to begin with, has seen its credibility plummet since 2nd May 2011. Other services have come into their share of criticism but trying to ascertain Pakistan’s top spy agency’s role in this fiasco can be a daunting challenge. In one day they were checkmated by an ally, became suspects in a crime, forced to be spectators of their own show and put on public trial.

Over the years, visiting American scholars have expressed incredulity at ISI’s inability to locate bin Laden given the agencies reach (deep) and reputation (fearsome). While they may be convinced in their minds of ISI’s duplicity, its head, Lieutenant General Shuja Pasha has pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of incompetence. Still bad!

That Osama had been ‘discovered’ hiding in plain sight in Abbottabad came as a great surprise. That the audacious raid was conducted by US Navy SEALS and not by Pakistani authorities was a source of greater consternation. While the air space violation did not sit well with the masses, bin Laden’s proximity to Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point academy sent military men into a paroxysm.

The world rejoiced. Pakistan, however, was mortified. Since then ISI is in the doghouse. And everyone has been busy trading theories. ‘ISI knew all along’ tops the list while ‘they were caught napping’ is a close second. A third postulates that they were in on it with the Americans the whole time.

The stigma of a spectacular intelligence failure is hard to bear but the alternative is worse. This piece takes apart the complicity theory while examining ‘incompetence’ & ‘collusion’ charges on the side.

Finding Osama, who had been eluding capture for close on ten years, was not a ‘one agency’ show. President Obama has hinted as much when he touched upon the help extended by Pakistani Intelligence in nabbing the object of a decade long man-hunt. Osama bin Laden had gone off the digital grid…no cell phones, no internet, and no chatter.

He was a ghost.

The old trail had gone cold and the first bread crumb of the new trail was handed over to the CIA by the ISI. This valuable clue ultimately led them away from the tribal belt along the Pak-Afghan border straight to bin Laden’s lair.

It started a year ago when ISI intercepted a phone call made from a cell phone in Nowshera. The first red flag, for them was that it was in Arabic; an even bigger flag was that it was coded. ISI, which operates without a voice data-bank for most wanted al Qaeda members, is concerned more with containing the spread of local Taliban. Without an army of code breakers and analysts at their beck and call, their analysts are at a serious advantage. CIA’s primary concern, on the other hand remains the annihilation of Al-Qaeda.

It was the CIA then who found one of Osama bin Laden’s trusted couriers at the other end. From that moment onwards, all suspicious calls intercepted by ISI from the same source were shared with their American counterparts. The last call originated from the compound in Abbottabad, which is how the place came on CIA’s radar. According to one report, their ‘advanced voice matching apparatus’ helped them reach bin Laden’s compound.

And so, CIA took the lead employing a combination of humint (human intelligence), electronic surveillance and satellite imagery. ISI was kept in the dark. Perhaps, a fear that Al Qaeda sympathizers within the agency might tip off Osama thus compromising the mission prompted them to cut out their principal ally. ISI’s reputation as a double dealing agency is enmeshed in American psyche. Or maybe they wanted all the glory. Who knows?

Was Pakistan aiding and abetting a terrorist mastermind when CIA had eyes on the compound for months? If so, it is pretty sloppy work for a premier intelligence agency. One analyst argues that if Osama bin Laden was in ISI’s custody, his safe house would have been at a more secure location. Abbottabad may be regarded as a virtual garrison town albeit one without strong ground and air defence network and its vulnerable points have become embarrassingly obvious.

Many reason that ISI may have deliberately let CIA and Obama’s administration take full credit in the hope that it will receive financial windfall and support from a grateful Obama administration in the process. Others wonder if fear of retaliation from Al Qaeda made them cave in to their allies demands. The collusion theory which suggests that ‘Operation Neptune Spear’ carried out by CIA with full knowledge of ISI has glaring flaws. Whatever their motivation, ‘discovering’ Osama in the remote areas of the tribal belt would have been more sensible - and far less embarrassing. That and the fact that Pakistani media (allegedly with ISI’s blessings) ‘outed’ the local CIA station chief points to a breakdown of cooperation.

ISI has been called many things, (most of them unflattering) but should suicidal be added to this list? By opting to take a back seat in this operation, it has gained even more notoriety. A unilateral strike inside a sovereign territory has set a dangerous precedent whereby neighboring states with real or imaginary grievances might seek to emulate the American model. Pakistan has been busy sending clear signals that the repercussions of a similar transgression by an enemy state would be severe.

ISI does not get off easy, however, and have been hauled up in Parliament to explain how this Al Qaeda leader spent 5 years under their very nose. Osama could not have survived for as long as he did without a support network in Pakistan including secret Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives, their sympathizers or even some renegade ex intelligence officers and men.

Of course, some insist that this ‘cave to million dollar compound’ journey never happened and that bin Laden was killed years ago. And that the Americans saved this scoop for a rainy day. This does not explain why Osama’s family members, and Al Qaeda, verify the kill now. Or why Bush, handed Obama a victory for that matter.

There may have been collusion – in the beginning, complicity at the lower end and incompetence all around. But there was also betrayal.

ISI Image taken from: http://www.isi.org.pk/
Compound Image from: http://www.geoeye.com/CorpSite/gallery/detail.aspx?iid=377&gid=20

Saturday, June 4, 2011

VIEW: An Inconvenient Truth — According To A Little Bird —by Afrah Jamal

I've already acknowledged the bravery of our men in 'You Can't Handle The Truth'....

First Published in Daily Times / Saturday, June 04, 2011

Some new information surfaced immediately after I hit the send button on my first piece ‘You Can’t Handle The Truth?’ (Daily Times, May 30, 2011) — information that casts new light on the events of May 22, 2011 when an indeterminate number of men stormed a naval airbase and targeted its prized assets. I say indeterminate because none of the officials seem to agree on a number.

This new information holds answers to some key questions — motive (why target the Navy?), the mystery surrounding the downgraded number of attackers (not 12) and determining who was really responsible for security on that fateful day when a surgical strike paralysed an entire base. Incidentally, it could be a brief extension of the same light the slain journalist, Saleem Shahzad, was trying to shine on the PNS Mehran tragedy.

A recent headline, ‘Navy blames PAF for security lapse,’ may have deflected some criticism from the Navy but the death of Saleem Shahzad has pushed them right back into the unforgiving glare of the media spotlight. There is more to the Mehran disaster than meets the eye.

It began when a Navy man was court-martialled when his ties to an extremist faction were ‘discovered’. His ‘friends’ warned the Navy against taking further action against the traitor, adding that they would rue the day. It was a very specific threat and aircraft were mentioned.

Now this version of events matches, to a degree, a report published by Saleem Shahzad who recently broke a story in Asia Times Online, exposing “sizeable al Qaeda infiltration within the Navy’s ranks” — only his analysis of the PNS Mehran saga goes deeper. It also provides a motive for these attacks, which he claims were “a reaction to massive internal crackdowns on al Qaeda affiliates within the Navy.

Pursuing this line of inquiry can be hazardous for the health. Yet, the presence of potential al Qaeda loyalists within the Navy necessitates a re-examination of the ‘breach’ story. Two days after this report, Mr Shahzad disappeared and his subsequent death has given his final words added weight. The Pakistan Navy, which is currently in the process of exorcising its demons, took a bold stand against extremism and, as a consequence, has suffered from a serious blowback. Both these versions lean heavily towards an al Qaeda hit, and bolster the inside job theory. One of them holds the Navy accountable for its actions or lack thereof in this matter.

The brave men who died that day were facing multiple challenges. The first perimeter was breached not by four, six or 12 but by more than a dozen attackers. The first breach, as the Navy keeps insisting, was in the portion that fell under the PAF jurisdiction and hence was their responsibility.

In the Navy’s own words: “They were prepared but not specifically for Mehran.” People may well ask, why ever not? According to a report, there were more than 30 aircraft in the naval compound that day. Airbases generally have three layers of ground defences — the outer ring (walls/barbed wires/lights/cameras covering the entire outer perimeter), the inner ring (armed patrols, dogs, fortified bunkers) and, finally, point defence (each armed guard defending an individual aircraft). After the first line was ostensibly breached, was the second line in place? There is no mention of guards amongst the deceased. At what stage did the point defence guards spring into action?

The Navy had been forewarned, yet it was not forearmed. The bird has pointed to a strong likelihood of this being an ambush led by 20 or so men, some of whom might have been renegades from within the naval ranks. It is a damning number that squares with the odd behaviour of the prime minister who, when pressed on disclosing the true figure, mysteriously declared that some things cannot be shared with the media. That and the fact that a Navy man initially registered an FIR against 12 people — a Freudian slip perhaps?

One can see why the Navy has been hesitant in owning up to this as it would mean that a large number escaped or melted back into the ranks. Either way, this has been a major setback. The presence of a rift within begs the question of whether any amount of defensive measures can withstand an attack that comes from inside? This new knowledge gives rise to a new set of fears — fears that military men might want to address quickly.

They might also want to take a look at official naval accounts, which have done nothing for their image: “The terrorists were so well-trained in guerrilla tactics at night that they remained unharmed despite thousands of bullets being fired at them by naval and allied forces.” There is more: “For the sake of your imagination, I would say it was such an intense, swift, well-trained, and precise attack worthy of famous Hollywood movies such as Rambo.” One is tempted to quote another Hollywood flick (Thor): “You made my men look like minimum wage mall cops.”

Granted, May 22nd was not our finest hour. Yet the people do not seek to pull down their defenders for sport nor do they doubt their resolve. Saleem Shahzad may have been viewed as someone who dared to encroach upon sacred turf (national security) but his quest to identify major faultlines within institutions once thought to be invincible could only lead to ‘better security and introspection’ as someone wisely pointed out.

Images courtesy of: http://img2.allvoices.com/thumbs/image/609/480/80706221-fire-and.jpg

Thursday, June 2, 2011

EVENT: It Happened This Morning..

I dont react to crank messages as a rule, but when this morning i get a 'Good Morning Afrah' at 7am....7am!!! from a strange number, i smsed back asking who it was.

NO Response.

So i called & someone said Hello then went silent...freaking out that they knew my name (& could spell it) I wondered (was it isi sending a warning shot (heaven forbid) on my navy story) & then took a childish & ineffective stand by texting 'who is this...coward, ans or i'll report u'. False bravado on my part.

How was I to know MM Alam had just learnt 2 text...

Image Courtesy of: http://cdn5.staztic.com/cdn/screenshot/privus-caller-id-plus-1-month-401-1.jpg