Saturday, December 31, 2011

VIEW: No More Sitting Ducks - taking a Chapter from the 1980s Playbook

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, December 31, 2011


These days Pakistan can be found standing at the crossroads mulling over its future role in an ongoing war. A shaky alliance merits the deployment of its sophisticated air defence network on the western front. Its cash-strapped economy in turn merits the reassessment of the defence budget to sustain this expansive proposition. After 26/11, Pak military’s mission statement has undergone some necessary overhauls; it must now rethink safeguards against a powerful ally and identify the limitations of its proposed strategy.

The primary goal is to strengthen the western border defences. It has been done before. No Soviet could get past their watchful gaze in the 1980s. Pakistan’s current capability allowed swift detection of an intruding Indian helicopter from the east recently. And yet there have been two air violations from the west in a span of six months. Two!

After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, radars had been deployed on the western front to keep an eye on those Soviets. That kind of surveillance however comes at a cost and calls for a war-footing scenario. The armed forces managed to maintain a round the clock (low level and high level) air cover and doing so, they will tell you, meant that it paid a high price due to excessive wear and tear.

Those wondering why the changed nature of threat perception did not warrant such a deployment long before 26/11 or Abbottabad raid are treated to some depressing news. Keeping the impressive looking Eyries (AEW&C platforms) in the air while maintaining continuous low level coverage of the entire border, analysts say, is cost prohibitive. This is why there are other deterrents in place. The threat of retaliation, whether it is through military might or by finding the right leverage (economic, diplomatic), generally keeps foreign military misadventures in check.

At present Pakistan is monitoring the airspace using two kinds of radars — one of which has a range of 250 miles (high level). The other, with its limited cone of coverage will not be much use unless deployed in bulk. More than a dozen (high level) radars working on a 24/7 basis deployed alongside 250 or so low level counterparts integrated through a computerised network may be considered enough to cover the entire airspace. Here more depressing news follows. Apparently the shelf life of low level radars that demand periodic overhaul is reduced considerably if operated on a constant basis.

The high level coverage is up and running. But clearly there were major gaps in the low level aspect of the defence network — information that the US Navy SEALS team used to their advantage this past May. To overcome these limitations, point defences at key checkposts close to the border are likely to be deployed along the Durand Line. A US military commander who maintains that the strike was accidental cannot guarantee that something like 26/11 will not be repeated. The tacit agreement between both allies that once prevented Pakistan’s armed forces from engaging the intruding drones is at the moment void. Local commanders can guarantee that a fitting response will be offered should there be a repeat performance by NATO troops.

Coming back to the two violations — in one the US Navy SEALS swooped in and out reportedly unchallenged and in the other NATO combat aircraft engaged unfortunate Pakistani checkposts seemingly unprovoked. In both cases, the response everyone expected and waited for with bated breath was either too late or not forthcoming at all.

The communication network in the first instance was not knocked out — experts say that the modified Blackhawk copters used in Operation Neptune Spear would only have resorted to jamming after being alerted by their radar warning receivers (RWR) because they are virtually invisible to the current generation radars. The second event is harder to deconstruct. Radars on the Pakistani side of the border claim to have picked up activity before they came under attack; they blame their lack of response on downed communication that kept the news of the actual firefight from filtering down.

In the end, the biggest deterrent is not the oft ignored ‘No Trespassing’ sign, but the increasingly downplayed ‘relationship’ card — 26/11 cost the allies’ valuable logistic support, hard earned goodwill and a free (overhead) pass to the tribal zone; that alone can provide some incentive to perhaps not stray too far from the red lines next time.

Images Courtesy of: http://i.istockimg.com/file_thumbview_approve/18307389/2/stock-illustration-18307389-satellite-dish-radars-vector.jpg

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

VIEW: Spin Cycle (A look at Media’s responsibility) - 2007

BY: Afrah Jamal & JH
Published in Pakistan Observer 2007

“People understand that democracy depends on a free press, but just as importantly, real democracy depends on a fair press."
Roger Ailes, Chairman & CEO, FOX News.”

The shift in power has been perceptible in the dominance of ‘real news’ over ‘selective views’ and a government that is no longer dogging the footsteps of journalism. A free press is powerful. With power comes responsibility and this new found freedom brings a far greater obligation, to advocate truth with as much ‘good sense’ as with accuracy and impartiality to sustain a liberated press.

This could be when potential harm from complete disclosure vs. publics’ right to information is given due consideration to avoid an infringement upon raison d’état. But this very premise raises some serious questions like ‘will a bowdlerized version of truth be acceptable when national/security interest is at stake?’ ‘And granted that the Media’s role is to further our national/security interest but then who ensures that self interest does not encroach upon it or which facts are invasive to security?’

Sensationalism aside, the sensitivity of the nuclear issue necessitates keeping media apart from a well known public figure; his cult worthy status and achievements may have been newsworthy but the need to know about intricacies of his outfit overrides the right if a mix of media and disclosure activate a chain reaction of devastating proportions to the state.

Facts become stories only after they go through the traditional spin cycle. Every media outlet has one. While some form of sensationalism (“form of bias said to over emphasize, distort or fabricate the exceptional over the ordinary ””) or yellow journalism (“Inflammatory, irresponsible reporting by newspapers. ”) may be evident in all publications/broadcast mediums, they nevertheless maintain a detachment from any visible signs of bias.

A relic of our past still exists in the form of the controlled media but the influencing force of private channels (mainstream) is far greater than the allegedly slanted alternative and for this very reason the impressionable majority takes mainstream media as gospel. The problem with breaking stories is that they are seldom in context. Consequently, the spectacle of judiciary or media under attack by police, seen out of context carries an implicit message of government sponsored anarchy. Only a balanced debate on what sparked the violence empowers citizens to condemn or acquit without succumbing to a prepared verdict.

The narrow focus on negative by mainstream and positive by state is only good for one thing, distorting the picture. Moreover, the persistent replay of such imagery and subsequent innuendos is likely to cause the mood to gravitate towards mass hysteria and paranoia especially where proportionate response is not forthcoming. While the negative aspect is always more newsworthy, the truth can be equally compelling. Drama in stories, however, makes better television.

The highly publicized and widely condemned attack on lawyers protest march of 12 March 2007 could just as easily have been a mob triggered offensive instead of an unprovoked aggression. Premature speculation with selective representation and lack of proper investigation imprisons the public’s decision making capability. “Responsible Journalism seeks to accurately reflect important and interesting information in a timely fashion doing no harm unless the social good achieved out balances the harm." (Jack Fuller, President, Tribune publishing)

The recent front page headline "US Govt. expects Musharraf to quit army post" was hard to miss. It is neither false nor entirely true, just with a spin, that a noted U.S. scholar believed to be a simplification of truth which ‘seemed to reflect more of the editors’ personal interpretation of what the state department spokesman meant, unsubstantiated by the actual quotes’.

That the press in Pakistan is freer today than ever before is a fact. The present government claims credit for providing this freedom and to an extent they are right. While their initial decision to permit establishment of private TV channel and tolerate dissent from existing print media may have been made in good faith, their efforts now to rein them in now is proving fruitless because the global environment has made it impossible for them to do so.

The private TV channels and the print media still complain of government’s efforts to curb their liberty. They too are right to an extent. No press in the world is totally free from pressure, be they from government, big business conglomerates or even the vested interests of media tycoons themselves.

Freedom of press is therefore a relative term and the nation at this point in time is fortunate that its press has greater freedom than most developing nations.
Notwithstanding the ‘trade in’ of yore’s heavy handed influence for the highly prized liberty of today, ghosts of that era do resurface on days like 12 or 16 March 2007 to cast reasonable doubt on the freedom of our press.

Nevertheless, the media remains a decisive player in the pursuit of empowerment through enlightenment so more power to them. Given that “Whoever controls the media, controls the mind”(Jim Morrison), it is all the more important that ill judgment of media managers does not fashion a new breed of captive audience.

Am I glad that our press today is vocal, bold and fairly free? An unequivocal yes. Do I fear that this new found freedom may generate a new set of power players and manipulators? Sadly yes again. Do I want to revert to the old times? Definitely not. I can only hope that those entrusted with this powerful tool use it wisely.

Images Courtesy of: http://www.localwala.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/660628.jpg
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FILM REVIEW: West Bank Story a live-action short film (2007)

Published in The POST May 17, 2007

Directed by: Ari Sandel
Written by: Kim Ray and Ari Sandel
Duration: 21 Minutes
(An official selection of the 2005 Sundance Film Festival)


The Middle East is better known for staging violent uprisings, certainly not for inspiring comedic masterpieces.

Since 1967, the West bank has spawned a surge in Arab hostility, frequent visits to the Middle East by Condoleezza Rice and lately, a small little inspirational musical comedy about competing falafel stands, directed, co-written and produced by Ari Sandel (part Israeli, part American Californian native). Since there is no easy way to represent both sides fairly, the very notion of West Bank Story is greeted with a justifiable mix of scepticism, wariness and resentment at first. No doubt, it is a precarious balancing act that mandates such a film to be witty without being offensive, show compassion without discrimination and entertain without losing substance. So does West Bank Story deliver?

West Bank Story is an over the top, comedic if simplistic interpretation of an ongoing and tragic feud. Premiering at the Sundance film festival, this musical embraces the stereotypes with evident glee in a brazenly subtle, wickedly funny musical comedy where thrown together are two competing falafel restaurants (suspiciously like two very well-known fast food franchises) with the archetypal Israeli (acted by Jews/Israelis) and Palestinian characters (enacted by Muslims/Arabs). The pairing of David, a dashing Israeli soldier and Fatima, an equally attractive Palestinian girl, completes the heartfelt little tale amidst a bizarre setting of indisputable deadly rivalry and food.

Ari Sandel skates on thin ice, takes several liberties, but gives a credible performance nonetheless with a well-meaning film that manages to capture some defining and contentious moments of this ongoing conflict, notwithstanding its outrageous humour and Arabs/Jews dancing to some memorable if conventional Arab tunes. Some familiar faces are also seen from AJ Tannen who played the Mossad agent in NCIS (2005) to Naureen Dewulf from Numb3rs (2006).

A year and a half went into the making of this 21 minute film and though the concept appears to be both unconventional and risky, the storyline itself is clever and compelling. West Bank Story has so far won 25 festival awards out of 112, including the coveted Oscar.

Enjoyable from start to finish, I recommend West Bank Story to anyone with a sense of humour and also those in need of one, for this film will restore the lost goodwill for 21 minutes anyhow.

See the trailer at http://www.buzznet.com/tags/comedy/video/65981/ and download music for free or buy DVD from http://westbankstory.com/

Images Courtesy of: http://www.debbieschlussel.com/archives/westbankstory.jpg

VIEW: The Lost Art of Music Video Making (2007)

Published in the POST Aug 16, 2007

2011: All Pakistani/Foreign Music Channels have been removed from the local TV cable

If, through some science fiction miracle, my past self happened to glance at the present, the me of the 90s would wonder why I tinker with the radio of an obviously non-functional music player in 2007. It is wiser not to let on that though we can carry 1,000 songs in our pocket, getting just one from the 'telly' is practically impossible. I am afraid the Taliban do not get credit for this though. No, the disappearance of English music from TV falls in the jurisdiction of the oft-cited cable provider's monopoly on this particular genre. Two articles on their antics are quite enough and hence, this is not a commentary on these folks.



Still, before we go any further, PEMRA officials need to check what one particular distributor is up to in Karachi. Meanwhile, back in the future without any English videos/music to preview, one can still flip over to MTV Pakistan, till it gets scrambled too. Far from being discouraged, however, this seems like the perfect opportunity to observe the evolving Pakistani music video scene through the remaining five local music channels. Several days of channel surfing later, the evolution is not very discernible and video-making appears to be suffering from a sad case of identity crisis instead. The quality of music, however, has somehow escaped degeneration.

One would imagine that as the video-making business comes of age, it must have built itself up on an established standard, fostered by liberated media policies, superior technical expertise, rising avenues of expression and the ensuing healthy competition. Branded as Pakistani, a good many videos jazzed up as they are, also exhibit an unmistakable streak of an alternate way of life. Whether that is good or bad is entirely a matter of taste. However, beyond the idolised West lies another culture once confined to the Indian cinema and now emulated by the local music video industry. The new generation of musicians either takes refuge behind the Indian film footage they have lent their music to or get a posse of females in (er!) costumes to swing to the beat, or both.

As it gets more difficult to identify with the detour music videos seem to be taking, artists unwittingly gamble with their individuality while endorsing a lifestyle more customary to Indian films than Pakistani television. Barring a few videos, the creative spark is seldom seen as unimaginative templates keep cropping up. Past videos where Yasir Akhtar pranced around as an officer wearing a rank higher than his years allowed is admittedly a minor faux pas compared to the outlandish cultural flaws that routinely show up nowadays. As cowboys perched on train tracks in backwater village/townships and lonely gas stations on a fabricated Route 66 incongruously form the backdrop of an emergent music scene, the landscape dressed up as the 'Wild West' is neither picturesque enough to inspire awe nor befitting for the perfectly coiffed Desi fella.

Video-making is a tricky business where the line between an amusing fantasy and absurd reality is already stretched thin. It can also be a very expensive business, but as the band Noori proved years ago, a handheld camera can just as easily give a good concept the right form. I suppose we should be grateful that the era of 'move while singing in the PTV studio and incur the wrath' is over. One would assume that the presence of so many different venues to showcase musical talents and extraordinarily fine songs must have created a bigger market for video directors/producers. That is the not case where 'classic' has given way to 'risque' on the music video front.

Even though the primary purpose of music videos is merely to entertain while peddling the song, how they go about it is equally important. Singer Abrar-ul-Haq, on a TV appearance claimed that the dearth of good directors makes our singers cross over. That partly explains why a highly talented singer, who also became a commercial success across the border, hesitated to release a Pakistani version of his videos. A Pakistani song featured on an Indian film still needs to have its own video made for home audiences, regardless of the director deficit. To those who ask why spend twice when the product is more marketable with an Indian flavour, the answer would be that since this is not a permanent cultural exchange vaudeville, Pakistanis need to see their own selves represented in some way, however fantastic or mundane that might be.

A popular band won the 2005 MTV music award in an Indian category, which raises the question, how long can our talented musicians distinguish themselves as great Pakistani artists if they continue to be proffered as Indian merchandise? As Indians grow in stature on the world stage, what will be left to promote if artistic merit gets lost in transformation as well? Can we not bridge the cultural divide without assimilating the two identities and alienating our own people?

The local music channels have been remiss in covering the golden oldies of Pakistani music and continually promote the past and present of Indian cinema. The sheer amount of Indian music that comes through would make Indians jump up with glee while our own music maestros neither get the level of recognition nor the extent of exposure enjoyed by the other side. It is not my intention to open a discussion on the alleged popularity of old/new Indian cinema among the masses. It would be nice, however, to set the bar higher for our music directors so that they make videos worthy of our music and aspire for an established international presence in the future.


60 years later, the film industry has expired for all intent and purposes; its revival by the new Shoaib Mansoor film 'In the name of God' has raised hopes. Many believe that the drama scene is also on life support. The present trend indicates an ominous slump in the quality of music videos and unless the video business is properly overhauled, what another 60 years will bring for the music industry will not be that difficult to predict.

Images Courtesy of: http://img.xcitefun.net/users/2009/11/126445,xcitefun-pic1.jpg
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INTERVIEW: Pak-US Relations - an Interview with Dr Rodney Jones (2007)

Published in the POST & VISTA Magazine 5 March 2007 in 3 parts

By: Afrah Jamal & QS

PART 1

Dr Rodney Jones is President of Policy Architects International and has served as Senior Advisor to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START II) project of the Carnegie Moscow Centre and as Senior Advisor and Counselor to the Keystone Centre’s National Commission on Nuclear Threat. Policy Architects International is a private research, consulting and advisory services organisation in Reston, Virginia that concentrates on services needed in international policy areas, including international security, economic development, technology transfer, trade controls, public and private assistance and direct investment. Following is an interview with Dr Rodney Jones.

Q: Since quite a bit of confusion among Pakistanis, amongst the majority at any rate, stems from the fact that they do not understand how we are perceived from across the Atlantic, so let us begin with the basics - the American mindset.

Dr. Jones: Speaking of Americans at large, the American mindset on this part of the world has changed; before this, it was very passive and ignorant by and large of what life is like in this region, but 9/11 has really changed things in terms of alertness to and feelings, positive and negative, about this part of the world. But the knowledge of the US government official about this region is much greater than that of the average person.

Q: You are talking about public perception or the establishment?

Dr. Jones: Let me start with the mindset of the people; that I think governs how most Americans look at your part of the world. The previous popular mindset in America was very ignorant about this region in the sense that most Americans had very little knowledge about your region. Now people have strong feelings about this region without necessarily having a lot of knowledge about it either. So ignorance remains, especially about the deeper aspects of society in your region. I should add though that there is in the US a rapid expansion of immigrant communities including from South Asia and the Middle Eastern countries. The Muslim part of that is also growing quite rapidly, so mosques are going up and the Muslims present are more visible.

9/11 has had a rather powerful effect in making people more aware of them and therefore to have feelings about them. Broadly speaking, American reactions in the larger public are very open and not negative but 9/11 has tended to create negative perceptions or apprehensions about Muslims to some degree.

I should also say something that is generally true, which is that immigrant communities are pushing their way in to domestic American politics; they are becoming exceptionally active in the US elections. So there is now factionalism developing as first generation immigrants tend to be more closely conscious of and partisan about their origins. So Indians tend to be very active in promoting Indian causes in the US-India relations and this is also true of Pakistanis.

Frankly, though, I think Pakistani immigrants are more divided than their Indian counterparts. Certainly Arabs are from different Arab countries, so there is less homogeneity or cohesiveness of perspective, but there tends to be a similar kind of tendency, which is to become active in the support of relations with their parts of the world and to get a voice in the US government that reflects that.

In terms of other trends, the American establishment view of Pakistan and India in this region has shifted (leaving out 9/11 at the moment). In broad terms, since the post-Cold War emphasis has been increasingly on globalization, therefore the view is less on who is a security partner and more focused on who is more capable of promoting the expansion of global benefits.

Pakistan, to some degree suffers from being in India's shadow; Pakistan's role and appeal in the US in the globalisation sense is weak. It is getting better, it is not going downhill, but it is relatively weak by comparison with India. In an average American's eyes, Pakistan's major liabilities come from the security problems; 9/11, going after Osama bin Laden, things like that. This view of this part of the world has been coloured by the May 1998 declarations and testing of nuclear weapons.

Since the Cold War the quality of many people recruited into American policy making has gone down. That may eventually be addressed, but I think this is one aspect of why things have gone so badly for the Bush administration on foreign policy. He has had people who were experts in the Cold War issues but were not the best for post-Cold War issues; people who tend to be displaced from their regions of former expertise into areas where they really do not have sound judgments. Over time this could change, hopefully it will for the better.

Q: You mentioned the presence of a strong Indian lobby in the US; should their growing influence be as much of a concern to Pakistan as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee-AIPAC was to Saudi Arabia in the early 80s?

Dr. Jones: It is a good question in a way to ask, but I cannot give you a quantitative or precise answer. I should say something about the nature of the Indian lobby in the US so that it is not misunderstood to be all that similar to the Jewish lobby. There are similarities but also differences.

The Indian lobby is of two kinds: Indian expatriates, people who have migrated to the US with Indian backgrounds and what is interesting about them is that those who stay interested in politics are still very much concerned or preoccupied with India. They keep their Indian concerns and connections. Most Americans over time lose their previous ethnic origin and become more concerned with the mainstream issues. The Indians do become concerned with the issues around them as they become naturalised citizens but they remain very much focused on their concerns in India so that is the most powerful part of it. As they become more involved in the country, some of them become very wealthy and they put money into elections.

The second aspect of the lobby is big business; the big business corporations are looking for markets and China and India are the emerging markets where many things are not yet earmarked. The big US corporations have a corporate working group, the US-India Business Council, and Indians have corporate people who participate in a bilateral working group or commission.

Q: So this would explain the recent tilt of the US towards India?

Dr. Jones: It has a lot to do with it. The Bush administration's carving out this US-India civil nuclear cooperation agreement was not done with the broad involvement on the part of the US public, or even with members of Congress ahead of time. It was simply handed to the Congress as a fait accompli. This is very unusual in American politics. So there's a lot of technical criticism, reaction and resistance from professionals in the American arms control community, because this agreement undercuts the whole basis of US non-proliferation policy by making a monumental exception in US laws related to atomic energy. Once you have made such an exception in those laws, the whole basis for the non-proliferation effort becomes shaky and questionable. The people who pushed hard to get an agreement negotiated at the executive level and then through Congress are the pro-Indian constituency. Many experts in the non-proliferation area were horrified but were unable to prevail as they were overshadowed by people using money who are part of the electoral process.

The other side of it is that some of them are caught up with the notion that India is where the future is for their purposes. Some former Congressmen, Steven Solarz, for example, became advocates for India after they lost their positions in Congress; there were others who became active as consultants. They formulated post-Cold War concepts about why this is good for the US and worked to win people over to those concepts, so there is a process that looks reasonable but there are major drawbacks to it. Those who make it look reasonable get out there to push for it and there is no question that US-Indian business investment and interchange are going to be very good for both sides. But there have also been false or misleading propositions advanced in this process. One is the proposition that the agreement will open up the Indian atomic energy area to US business sales in India. While this is true in a limited technical sense, it is unlikely to be true as a political reality.

Q: So the fact that Pakistan is not as strongly represented in the US should in fact concern us?

Dr. Jones: It's a political reality that those who have a strong view of what the US should do in a positive way for Pakistan are fewer in numbers, they are far less wealthy and in that sense they are far less influential in American politics where these groups matter. If you go back 30 years, this kind of influence mattered, but not as overwhelmingly as it does today because it has so much to do with the cost of elections. What has really changed there is the cost of the media. You use the media to get elected, it is expensive, there are huge amounts of money raised, a lot of it is media advertising. That is a big business.

Pakistan's leverage in the US during the Cold War did not depend on the size of any lobby, but rather on the way the US and Pakistani interests dovetailed on geopolitical and security matters. India had less leverage on the US than it might have had otherwise, because it favoured the Soviet Union. That has reversed since the end of the Cold War, except that the war on terrorism has made Pakistan one of the most important partners in combating the terrorist threat.

END OF PART I

PART II

Q 1: How do you see the future of US-Pak relations in the next decade?

Dr. Jones: It's only a best guess but if the incumbent problem which we call 'terrorism' is reduced, the relationship goes up, if not, it is going to go down. If the issues have to do with proliferation, and if we are at odds, then the relationship will go downhill. A lot of this has to do with how Pakistan conducts itself. A lot of has to do with how the US conducts itself. The relationship will continue to basically be solid where we meet on common ground. I think it will never again have the emotional commitment that old timers remember nostalgically; this is unlikely to be rekindled on either side because too much has happened. This is my opinion. In the next 10-20 years, I cannot imagine that there will be rebuilding of emotional positive commitment by either side. However, a broadened relationship that both sides invest in officially and in a sustained way could be a solid relationship that is not easily disrupted.

Q 2: Even if the pressing problems are worked out?

Dr. Jones: I am saying that the relationship will be solid but the depth of commitment that once existed within certain channels in the Cold War, the chances of reviving that are not very likely. Here too, I think what has also changed is that Pakistan is a more differentiated society and it is unlikely that Pakistanis will under any government feel a large degree of collectively positive emotion about the US. Will they want to send their kids there to school? Yes, definitely. Will they want to travel there? Of course, but will they feel a positive overall orientation to the US? I do not think that will ever happen again. Basically you have developed a dialogue within Pakistan which now is a mantra, that the US betrayed you; that has become real and I will not even deny that there is a certain basis for it. This is now well seeded in your educational system and in people moving up in bureaucracy. So if you are looking at this on both sides, you have to admit that about Pakistan. I'm not saying that there is no basis for it. That's my prognosis for the next 10-20 years.

If you talk about how things could become genuinely good (that can occur if) terrorism is gone, countries become prosperous, there is interchange and things that cause division or anger among us become so small that positive feelings are revived. I do not want this to sound condescending but the US deals with a lot of countries and in current circumstances will not take sides with just one country against another. It tilted towards India but still does not view all its investment there as something which would never go bad. This tilt towards India makes it harder going between our two countries at the moment. We need to be realistic about that, in terms of recognising what is in our mutual interests, so that working on them may make the relationship feel better.

See I have dealt with Pakistan long enough to know about some of the complexities. If you read Ayub Khan's book Friends not Masters, and he was the one most close to the US, it was very clear that an unbalanced relationship on the basis of this idea ”can you have unequal relationships where only one side demands and the other gives” does not work with Pakistan. Generally speaking, this is not how things work in international relations and does not work that way for sure with bigger countries. And Pakistan may have its liabilities but it is a big country. It is not going to be easy to deal with and you have people who look at things in different ways. You may believe that India has malevolent and aggressive tendencies and fine, I understand that, that is how we felt about the Soviet Union and back then things warranted that outlook. Since then, conditions have changed and I can understand they have not changed yet the same way in the Subcontinent. That is the reason that a legitimate and arguable case can be made for that.

One of the ways Pakistan, as a state, can improve the relationship is to do things that are beneficial for the present Iraqi condition, such as to be engaged in the training of their security forces, Pakistani entrepreneurs engaged in helping others get on their feet there without being viewed as outsiders trying to take what belongs to the Iraqis. Iraq has very advanced medicine and so does Pakistan and the Iraqi hospitals are in a bad shape. This is an area where things can be done at the government or sub-level basis as a project. Things like that can help you. They will help the Iraqis. They will also help the US in its current involvement in Iraq.

Q 3: Help us in which context?

Dr. Jones: By simply doing good things for Iraq.

Q 4: Why Iraq in particular?

Dr. Jones: Why, that is where the disaster is.

Q 5: Yes, but there are disasters in other parts of the world, Darfur for instance?

Dr. Jones: Yes, there are other disasters, and human rights problems, we can talk about them. Depends how you view them, but I would say that If you accept what the US has stated publicly that the Sudan regime has been engaged in a genocidal programme against the people living in Darfur, if you can accept that and adopt the same point of view publicly, the US and others will be very heartened by Pakistani statements about what they believe, in the UN setting and elsewhere.

Actually, one of the most productive things Pakistan has done for itself, that the US can be very complimentary about, is its participation in the peace keeping forces. They are not necessarily directly connected to with US-Pakistani relations but because they have international prominence, Americans who learn about them can become very supportive of Pakistan for having that kind of capability and Pakistan for being willing to undertake whatever sacrifices are involved in that.

Let us take another area where I am not sure how Pakistan can do much about it in terms of acting as a major regional power, but it is worth exploring. This is the area of energy security. It is how we make sure that energy delivery from Middle East stays there, is available and not broken down. Oil production in Iraq is still not yet back to levels it was before the war and what Saddam did to his own infrastructure have held them back from doubling. They could easily have doubled in the period from the first Gulf War to the second; I am talking about the output, you know, the amount of oil produced. Saddam was fighting the sanctions instead of trying to develop the country but that is another part of the story. However, the point is that there is a lot that can be done in Iraq which will make Iraq healthier and then if the oil is available and out there, that is important for the countries that need to import it and Pakistan is becoming more dependant on imported oil for energy, for electricity generation and also for manufacturing processes. You have a big issue now facing you, which is what will happen if the natural gas deposits from Balochistan area, which currently provide this country with sufficient resources, start to decline? And they are declining and not being replaced.

Q 6: Because of the situation on the ground?

Dr. Jones: Well, partly that, partly lack of foresight and partly because countries sometimes have a hard time getting their act together, but also partly because you may have assumed that imported natural gas from the Middle East will become available from Iran and I think from Turkmenistan. You may have assumed that the problem will be solved in a different way. That is my best guess. Iraq is a part of this picture. The more oil there is available, the less is the strain in meeting your energy requirements, and the US talks about this as an energy security issue.

Today, for the first time the US is becoming the champion of ethanol. In my opinion, ethanol is not a cost-effective alternative energy source when it is made out of corn. But it may have a limited place in an overall energy strategy. If Pakistan wants to join the bandwagon, that would be interesting. Ethanol as a gasoline or petroleum substitute and the proportion of 15 percent ethanol to 85 percent petrol means you can extend the use of the petrol and it will still work OK in a car. The ways in which it could be obtained in Pakistan that would be easy to visualize are from sugarcane wastage after the juice for sugar has been extracted from the cane. Crushed sugarcane waste is a natural way to do this. The US is looking at doing this with corn, which is not a good idea; this will drive the corn price up around the world. But the idea of using ethanol has gained ground because Brazil has made it a significant part of its automobile fuel supply, maybe about 30 percent.

Q 7: What in your opinion are the areas Pakistan needs to focus on to maintain its ally status with the US?

Dr. Jones: There are lots of things that are pretty obvious in that light. Some of them have to do with Pakistan running itself well; some of the things have to do with helping prosecute effectively the terrorists out there, especially al Qaeda; some of them have to do with Pakistan being able to contribute to a positive and constructive set of regional relationships.

Q 8: Positive and constructive regional relationships? Such as?

Dr. Jones: Well, one thing, for example is to support the healing of Afghanistan and reconstruction and the other thing that would be viewed that way by the US would be not to give others nuclear weapons. I mean some of these are so basic and obvious, but I know there are many Pakistanis who do not think these are so obvious.

Q 9: That is precisely why such issues need to be addressed, to get your point of view.

Dr. Jones: Yes, well, if you want the relationship to go up in smoke just go give nuclear weapons to somebody.

Q 10: And what should the US do? Is 100 percent blame with us then?

Dr. Jones: Where is the blame? I believe the issue is how you would move the relationship forward and I think that the US also needs to be attentive to what it can do in a constructive and positive way in this region. It has done a lot of things for Pakistan in the last few years, and they have not been unimportant things, they have to do with debt relief which has been a very major factor in re-stimulating the Pakistani economy and how it is dealt on the Pakistan side is in your hands. Other issues can be in the educational development, but the crying need is to become less dependent on the madrassas that are out there in the Afghan borderland and create real schools there and it is not something the US can fund without these being treated as outposts of US influence. It has got to be a Pakistani project. But that does not mean there cannot be significant US and Western resources, both in the public and private NGO sector going into that. They are going into that where circumstances allow them to in Afghanistan. I think a lot can be done in that area. Another area which we need to work together is in blocking the smuggling of narcotics, heroin from poppies in Afghanistan, the largest producer again of opium and heroin.

END OF PART II

PART III

Q: Nuclear non-proliferation being your specialty, what would you say on Pakistan's nuclear ambitions and why censure Pakistan from going nuclear?

Dr. Jones: I can look at it at different levels and I have to view it in terms of what my own commitment was: if I was a missionary it was to try to prevent the spread of nuclear arms and thereby reduce the risk of nuclear war.

Q: We all agree that there should be nuclear disarmament all around but asking one to disarm when the other retains it makes it seem - well, a bit too idealistic?

Dr. Jones: Not at all. During the Cold War it was vital to keep this in very few hands…

Q: Why keep it in a few hands?

Dr. Jones: Because of the danger of them being used. The danger multiplies by the number of people who have them.

Q: Five declared countries had it in the Cold War. Why would these declared countries have them still? Why not destroy them? If you are talking about idealism then that would be the ideal scenario?

Dr. Jones: If the 'why' on your part is a serious question then the answer, in part, that is a serious answer, is that the US actually has pushed very hard for nuclear disarmament in a staged way, particularly with the START Treaty and the INF Treaty. The INF Treaty took what are called intermediate range nuclear forces, for the US. It was Peshing missiles, for the Soviet Union it was SS 20s and several older generations of ballistic missiles, and got rid of them completely. The START Treaty, in that context, brought about deep reductions in strategic missiles and warheads and also in heavy bombers. In addition, the US has unilaterally denuclearised its army entirely.

The US army used to have nuclear weapons, but it no longer does. The US also denuclearised its surface ships. In the US Navy, there are still submarines with strategic missiles but surface ships carry no nuclear weapons. So most remaining nuclear weapons are either on strategic missiles or available for the use of long-range aircraft, but the numbers are drastically reduced. Our ability to continue reducing depends in part from Russian reciprocity and cooperation. Russia had built 25,000 tactical nuclear weapons. When the process of reducing really took hold, they still had between 15,000 to 17,000. I'm talking of early 1990s.You can not get a clear report today of how many they actually have. We negotiated strategic reduction and elimination of the intermediate. We did not negotiate on tactical nuclear weapons directly. So you know getting things down depends on cooperation. Arms control is a cooperative process. You decide you do not need all of those or you decide to do without them. So in terms of moral consistency we have been actually been fairly steady there and in terms of non proliferation, we have had a fairly consistent course.

There are problems of double standards and of course Israel has been treated differently in some ways. It has not had the world come down on it because it is being protected to some degree against that but the number of countries success stories that have turned away from this proliferation is significant. These include South Africa, which under the previous white regime developed a few nuclear weapons, but even as it moved on the way to becoming a majority rule government , decided to give them up, went to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and a process of elimination began with South Africa joining the NPT. Other countries that have moved away from this are Argentina and Brazil in quite definite ways. Then there is Taiwan. Japan of course is a country that in terms of security apprehension you would think is the one to worry about but they stayed fairly consistently in the non nuclear fold. With South Korea, it took more effort but we managed to keep it from going in this direction. So now we have mainly Iran and North Korea as new proliferators, and a few years ago, before the 1998 tests, Pakistan and India were in that category.

So this original system of very small numbers is breaking down but the logic of it is not gone, it is just that other countries are defying this system of small numbers. It is understandable in some cases. In Pakistan's case, the apprehension about India as a mega country, 5-7 times the size of Pakistan, causes Pakistan to feel certain imperatives in this matter. But this imperative was geared to India going nuclear. It should be noted that India did not go for nuclear weapons because they needed them for security reasons; they went for them for status. That poisons the whole meaning of arms control and it is how you guys came into it. “You have it, why cannot we have it,” that thought is poisonous. You have to have a way of keeping these things from being more numerous and it will be very likely that some day something will go badly wrong and I will not have to explain why. But today I do have to explain why, because the younger generation has no memory of the non proliferation reasoning.

Q: Going back to 1998, when India went nuclear, some of us were in favour of restraint and we, of course have little interaction with our Indian counterparts but our friends in the relatively open Middle Eastern society who do interact with them, detected a not so subtle change in the Indian community's attitude after their new found status, and consequently, within a week people like us also became unanimous on the nuclear issue; this is where we believe the US did not play its role. How could the US have helped?

Dr. Jones: The US offered Pakistan F-16s in much larger numbers and other things too if Pakistan took a decision to not go nuclear. This was not at the public level. The US actually tried to buy Pakistan off.

Q: Then why not try to buy India off?

Dr. Jones: India was not ready to be bought off. It was determined to impose a new perception of its status on the rest of the world.

Q: Who would India target? Pakistan? China? Certainly not the US?

Dr. Jones: Well, India has programmes that have an inherent capacity to target the United States. Inter-continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) could target anywhere. Although they have not come into material reality in India yet and there are folks in the US military community who worry about Indian ICBMs and say that maybe it's not such a good idea to let this happen. But those systems do not exist yet and that would require a different kind of intervention; you could hope that with diplomatic and other initiatives we could dissuade India from creating things of that sort. You can look this up on the internet, type in Surya, which is basically the name that was earlier on given to the idea of a very long range ballistic missile in India. You know, in India sometimes things take forever to materialise. They have been working on a nuclear submarine prototype since 1982; we are 25 years beyond that and they still have not succeeded. But they are likely to succeed eventually.

Q: Moving on to something that keeps cropping up in most conversations nowadays, the word 'terrorism', how would you define terrorism?

Dr. Jones: Individuals or private groups using violent force to achieve their political ends, for example in the name of religion, as often occurs in this region. Take away the word 'religion' and you have a more abstract version of the definition of terrorism.

It is where people use violent force to create fear (terror) in order to achieve political objectives. Terrorism is where people go outside the political system to impose their will. Usually this means a small minority imposing its will on the majority. It is most clear when it operates against ordinary people who are not combat people.

Q: So would you say that Pakistan has done enough on terrorism?

Dr. Jones: I think it has, to date but maybe it is now falling behind the challenge. The challenge is growing from the revolutionary push of the reconstitution of the Taliban to try to take power in Afghanistan by armed force and intimidation and some of these resources are coming from Pakistani soil and Pakistanis are involved. So in a sense, that has to be dealt with.

Q: Is that pure inference or a known fact?

Dr. Jones: I know it. I do a lot of research on this. It is also being declared as a fact by those who make U.S policy; their views are changing in that direction. Just in the last few months, for example the agreements that the Pakistan Government negotiated in South and North Waziristan, (that was in September/October) were supposed to help check the support in Pakistan for the Taliban. But by November/December, reports from the White House and in the testimony by intelligence agencies in Congress, show that there is a real sense that Pakistan is not yet succeeding in doing what it now needs to do in that area. It is actually a very difficult challenge and the most effective approaches may not yet have been tried. Shahid Javed Burki wrote an op-ed in a national newspaper that points to what really could be a sensible direction forward, which is a combination of economic, military and security law and order approaches in the Pashtun tribal areas where much of this support for the Taliban occurs. The FATA and the tribal economy are now anachronisms. Healthy nation states need something different. The question is how do you get there?

The development approach, economic resources , schools , health, education, which will be partly resisted, partly accepted, partly some people will really want it, but if that is done I think it will alter the conditions of being able to get people there to resist the Jihadi tendencies surrounding them. These current jihadi tendencies against Afghanistan are not supported by all the people throughout the whole region there. There are the outposts of militancy. But they are supported by some of the people there because fighting outsiders is the way things have been looked at. Some people say that the tribal areas do not want any development; it is a problem that they do not want it as much as some other areas do because it unsettles tribal traditions, especially Pakhtunwali. However, change is coming. The movement of the Pushtuns into the wider Pakistani economy, and many of them working overseas in the Gulf has changed the expectations of what will be done in their region.

They no longer expect to keep just things as they are; they are open to sensible development, water projects expanded cultivation opportunities, other mercantile opportunities. One related problem is that drugs are likely to be one of the easiest things to pursue for livelihood in the farm economy. The economic initiatives are not easy to get political support to make them work that way; it is tough but I think the US government is likely to be open to looking at it that way, if that is also the way that Pakistan authorities are eager to proceed. I do not think it can be done without military and security involvement. People engaged in terrorism have to be stopped and people who are engaged in basically educating people to be terrorists, unless they change their ways, have to be cut down when they take up arms. You have no choice. It's like bandits; it's an anachronistic behavior, no longer part of what is acceptable. FATA is going to become healthy and whether it can do it effectively on its own is doubtful but at least there are forces there working on it and by the way the development efforts in Afghanistan will be much more effective and substantial if these Taliban attacks were not taking place. They are simply cutting the NGO humanitarian and economic development efforts to shreds.

The End

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VIEW: Signs of Our Time

Old Old Piece Published In The POST, May 10, 2007

Update: Imran Khan's Karachi Jalsa (2011) turned to yesteryear's idols to liven up the proceedings....

2014: JJ puts his foot in it by declaring women should not be allowed to drive. Time to Boycott his clothing.

It is the 1980s.

Sounds of music emanate from a garden where some youngsters strum a guitar to the amusement of a small captive audience of neighbourhood children perched on the wall, the best seats in the house.

Some years pass; destiny fashions this unlikely albeit glamorous hobby into a career; a pop icon emerges with the phenomenon of Vital Signs, one of the most recognisable and well-loved hit songs of that time and a fan base ranging from admiring youth to stern-looking aunties.

As the Signs rejuvenate Pakistani pop culture, their wholesome image and evident musical genius quickly establish them as a class act. Music flourishes despite the stifling media policies and good songs with great musicians surface to define the 90s.

Now that music is fast becoming endangered in some areas of Pakistan, some former advocates of this vocation have crossed over to the other side of reason, leaving their legacy highly vulnerable. The implications of such radical shifts, the derivative risks and farcical charges against an art form make for an intriguing study.

In a group, and later as a solo act, front-man Junaid Jamshed was the most vocal of his group, whose candour and charismatic personality captured the imagination of the nation. The youth looked up to this group, especially Junaid, as a role model who displayed none of the airs of a celebrity or the stereotypical lifestyle usually associated with Western pop/rock culture. Vital Signs effectively bridged Western standards with Eastern conservatism and the blend appeased all but the hidebound traditionalists and confused moralists. Music and the musician seemed to get on well together, which is why the breakup of Junaid's musical relationship, when it came, was hard to fathom and even harder to accept for the legions of devoted followers.

Today, Junaid denounces his past life and undermineshis former profession - the same profession through which came something more lasting than wealth from any amount of endorsement deals, through the respect of a nation, renown both at home and abroad and admiration of peers. In fact, casting aspersions on his musical past makes it appear like it was Crystal Meth and not music he was promoting.

Does he still regard the Signs music as worthy or their work to be a noble endeavour that evoked patriotism, conserved the musical/cultural heritage, uplifted this nation and gave us some of the finest songs? Would he now concede that his past devotion to music and observance of cultural norms attested to love of country and not frailty of character? The public's disappointment stems not from renouncing fame and fortune but denouncing the music that brought honour, not disgrace, songs that touched many and earned accolades along the way. This says something for the kind of work the Signs did, with music that was profoundly patriotic, facetious yet poignant, stirring the spirit of nationalism and the effervescence of spirit.

Aging pop stars/celebrities do eventually reach a place where they seek fulfillment away from the glitz and glamour of show business. This is perfectly understandable. The good news is that the power of celebrity positions it very well to bring the positive change they seek in their society. Celebrities elsewhere manage to reconcile their quest for salvation with their work. Hence we saw our Fakhar-e-Alam successfully rallying the nation after the October 8 earthquake, rock star Bono promoting his 'One Campaign' to eradicate poverty, and even Shakira comes with a 'Fundacion Pies Descalzos' (Barefeet Foundation) for her country's impoverished children.

Music and art are professions much like engineering, architecture, politics, medicine or cab driving; each can bring renown and also lead to infamy. Personal choices play a role in how professions are tackled. Who do you suppose would be recommended access to the Pearly Gates, a crooked architect/politician/engineer or the honest musician or cabbie?

Part of the myth about religion is that it is an obdurate philosophy that suppresses expressions of humanity by binding the soul in rigidity of norms which define right and wrong and insist on conformity to this bleak notion. The true spirit of our belief, however, lies in rejecting the radicalism of ideals. Know that the faithful are recognised by good deeds, not by dress code alone. It is merely a symbolism and nothing more. By itself, it does not reflect the strength of character or force of conviction. There is no confusion in this religion. Clear cut diktats will tell what is prohibited, logic will support these assertions, and the heart will accept them as right.

Now, to take a detour believing that no other road leads to God, salvation only lies in renouncing the world, associating art with vice, asking the flock to do the same will further widen the chasm between extreme interpretations and the new found concept of 'modern enlightenment'. Careless comments and condemnation of the finer things of life can only fan the flames of bigotry, which are becoming harder to extinguish as it is. The young generation must realise now that they do not need to give up a respectable life for an acceptable afterlife.

That religion must never infringe upon reason is a given and while reactionaries try to re-sculpt societies, only the presence of genuine role models can truly establish that rationality of theological beliefs is, in reality, at par with progress.

This is not a comment on the changing priorities or the determination of which path is most rewarding. It is, however, about protecting the intellectual property rights that foster balanced development of civilised societies. All societies do hold the right to artistic expression within defined boundaries and, therefore, must stand up somehow to counter this cross-pollination of radical concepts.

'All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing' - Edmund Burke.

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Saturday, December 10, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Inside the Pakistan Army: A Woman’s Experience on the Frontline of the War on Terror

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, December 10, 2011

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

Author: Carey Schofield

First Abbottabad, then Admiral Mullen, and now the BBC — whispered allegations against the Pakistan Army have picked up pace. Thus far it has been unable to build an effective counter against the barrage of accusations headed its way. Thus far it has watched its credibility plummet and the problems mount. That the military’s weakened standing can be attributed to a series of unfortunate events — some of their own creation, others beyond their control, have left their image tarnished. Even the fact that a Pakistani checkpost recently came under NATO fire and suffered heavy casualties did little to alter the negative perception.

Carey Schofield, the author of Inside the Soviet Army, who admits to having spent seven years studying the Pakistan Army, is off to vindicate her hosts. Since she does not practice the military’s customary caution, her findings add a bit of colour to their staid monochromatic narrative.

These days the Pakistan Army is not just subjected to embarrassing questions regarding foreign aid or their affinity for shiny hardware. While the fate of their precious tax dollars and Pakistan’s ability to safeguard its nuclear assets keeps the world up at night, in between these musings allies find time to question the Pakistan Army’s commitment to the war on terror. This gives the media pundits and policy makers plenty of reasons to endlessly stalk the military and poke holes in its testimony.

The writer has a backstage pass to the corridors of (military) power, which allows her to paint a compelling picture of the brave men (the women somehow did not make the cut) who have led the charge over the years. This pass takes her through the inner sanctums all the way to the frontline, but even such a high vantage point may not always permit a 360-degree view — a fact she readily acknowledges.

The story, from inception to the army’s constant evolving structure through the regional wars and occasional stand offs with its eastern neighbour and exploits in GWOT (Global War on Terror), however, is laid out in vivid detail. Groomed for combat, forced into leadership and now caught in the international crosshairs, the book clarifies the military’s core message that seldom makes it to the front. The source of its power for instance, which turns out to be “its institutional culture”, where individuals are “grouped together not by social background or religious fervour — but bound through service and regimental loyalty and friendships”. Such an arrangement is common to the armed forces. In theory, this should form a natural bulwark against any hate mongers out to exploit divisions.

When someone labels it as the “most effective organ of the state”, she eagerly embraces the sentiment and proceeds to demonstrate exactly how this fighting force of 550,000 strong came to be and why it occupies the top of the totem pole. As for the accusations that fly back and forth across the Durand Line, the book turns around to focus on the challenges of fighting an insurgency and the perils on the field, and leaves the simmering resentment between Pakistan and its allies well alone.

That this fractured relationship overshadows all progress has become increasingly evident. The book does not exonerate the army by seeking evidence to the contrary, offers no theories, but lets the charges of duplicity (spoken and unspoken) hang in the air and mildly argues that when CENTCOM blamed the CIA for the mess, the CIA turned on its ally and arranged deliberate leaks to the media ensuring that “Pakistan was at best ineffective and at worst actively assisting the enemy”.

Consequently, when operational information is leaked to the Taliban, the Pakistan Army points to the ISI but this line of inquiry is left un-pursued. Interestingly enough, she blames the ISI for allowing the impression of omnipotence to arise and the civilians under contract with this service for bringing the directorate into dispute. She goes on to argue that “whenever anyone had to deal with the Taliban, even on the fundamental foreign policy issues,” in the past, the “ISI was consulted so its ownership of the relationship was strengthened”. As for Osama’s hidey hole — the incompetence angle resonates more than the complicity story partly because of the sheer number of variables involved in sustaining such an elaborate cover-up. The book also offers portraits of key players like Musharraf, Faisal Alavi and ‘Colonel Imam’ (kidnapped and murdered earlier this year).

There are some important points in the army’s favour and Carey graciously brings them out: how 15 Frontier Corps (FC) rescued trapped American troops from Mogadishu, Somalia (1993), an event featured in the movie ‘Black Hawk Down’(2001) that neglected to mention the role of the Pakistan Army, how the ISI’s ‘intel’ helped apprehend the London bomb plotters, etc. Many of these revelations are timely; knowing that the million dollar bounty the Pakistan Army collected was spent setting up “a welfare fund for injured army personnel and their dependents” helps draw some fire away. She does see General Kayani, “who has no close friends and fewer enemies”, as a man who overstayed his welcome.

But just when the readers might actually begin to warm up to the army-walas, they are blindsided by the ugly twist. Major-General Faisal Alavi’s mysterious murder at the hands of ‘persons unknown’ prompts her to devote an entire chapter to his memory as a silent indictment of the shadowy presence found standing at the periphery.

Not dwelling on military misadventures of yore can be liberating. Of all the commentaries out there — and there are many — Inside the Pakistan Army is the most generous one yet. Given Pakistan’s embattled status, these sketches offer some basis for comparison when the next sensational story breaks.

Pentagon; Pp 352; Rs 1,395

Image: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51n09sk9tsL._SS500_.jpg

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

VIEW: A Base for an Eye

Written 29 Nov 2011..Published 06 Dec 2011 in GEO NEWS BLOG

This week’s episode of ‘Homeland’ (TV serial) bears remarkable resemblance to events that transpired halfway across the world along the Durand line. In the drama, civilians are accidentally shot by officers while in pursuit of a wanted suspect and though there are witnesses who can testify to the contrary, the official story insists that the suspect fired first. In real life, ISAF led by Afghan Special Forces in hot pursuit of insurgents mowed down a Pakistani check post eerily echoes that very claim regarding the predawn raid which, were it not for their statement, reinforces Pakistan’s image as a wronged partner instead of the usual ‘janus-faced’ ally.

Admittedly, a very steep price has been paid for altering the perception with the lives of more than two dozen Pakistani soldiers who perished in an ISAF attack on 26 November 2011. Yet, even in a straightforward case like this – and no one contests the border violation – even when Pakistan is the wounded party – and it was – opinion makers continually challenge its credibility. Somehow we are culpable. Somewhere, we have sinned. The only facts undisputed in this scenario are that ISAF was involved and Pakistan suffered heavy causalities. The rest is a garbled blend of speculation, innuendo, and strategically applied whitewash.


Despite local resistance to the idea of a blunder, fratricide is easier to rationalize than voluntary manslaughter. A massacre of the kind that occurred that day may not have much justification in Pakistan’s eyes but it does have precedence. In Operation Medusa 2006 two US A-10 Thunderbolts accidentally strafed NATO forces in Afghanistan. A British convoy mistook Afghan police for Taliban insurgents and called in a US air strike. Human error remains a factor, advancements in technology notwithstanding. Military men chalk it up to ‘fog of war’ and when they do the term used is involuntary manslaughter; the perpetrators are charged with criminal negligence and appropriate action is taken.

Through their own assertion this has been the ‘deadliest’ border violation to date; other foreign media outlets classify it as their ‘costliest mistake’. The sudden switch from ‘friendly fire’ to ‘self defence’ abruptly changes that narrative in favour of NATO. The ambiguity surrounding the incident makes it possible for the stakeholders to seek the nearest most convenient exit from what is in fact an untenable position. Afghan Special Forces called for NATO air support after reportedly coming under fire from the Pakistani side of the border. That NATO refused to heed the Pak Army’s pleas and persisted with the attack for one and a half hour is worrisome.


If ISAF & Afghan forces were lured into a fire fight by Taliban – as some papers now claim, then their decision to continue the attack shows how much the lines between enemy combatants and allied forces have blurred. When it comes to drone attacks against alleged HVT’s (High Value Target) many accept the argument of collateral damage however grudgingly because these are the undeniable side effects of war. Granted that from the air every moving object is a potential target and fire fight situations are ripe for errors. Nevertheless, the failure to pull back in time meant that the soldiers on the Pakistani side who were caught off guard did not stand a chance against the incoming fire. It is easier to forgive a mistake than to ignore a cover-up and till the results of the investigation come in; the latter story will fuel our frenzied imagination.

It may be too soon to rush to judgement but not too soon to take a stand. Pakistan does not have much leverage left at this point. As many head off to lodge their protest at NATO’s facebook page, the state has demanded the return of Shamsi base and suspension of NATO bound oil supply for the proverbial ‘Eye’. Owned by UAE and used for mounting predator strikes till 2003, the strategic importance of Shamsi is now called into question and analysts no longer consider this air field as a primary launch pad for drone attacks. They believe that the allied show is poised to go on with or without Shamsi. UAE’s demand on the other hand, that the Americans be allowed to continue the use of the base is ill timed. And presumptuous. And a little bit insulting.

And yet none of the above actions imply that the cooperation is over. The Pak-US relationship runs on deception, distrust and disenchantment – especially on the public front. Privately Pakistan provides implicit support for drone strikes within its territory and has developed a high threshold for international meddling. This is why Pak military does not take on the intruders from the Western borders and pools its intelligence sharing apparatus. This is why the coordinates of the Pakistani check post that came under attack by ISAF were likely shared with the allied counterparts; to avoid the risk of fratricide. That the partnership has survived Osama, Raymond Davis and most recently, Admiral Mullen’s disdain for his Pakistani counterparts speaks for its resilience. And the high cost incurred in keeping it running – well that just gives grist to the ever efficient anti American mill.

America’s crusade and Pakistan’s jihad supposedly run on parallel tracks but are motivated by a different endgame. It is highly probable it will survive the recent allied adventurism. And when it does, the rules of engagement on both levels (political & military) must be reassessed. But even under different parameters, the core philosophy remains the same – the annihilation of extremism in all its forms. Pakistani’s who have relegated the United States to the enemy camp should not forget that ‘enemy of thine enemy’ (Taliban/Al Qaeda) is still an enemy no matter whose banner it claims to carry. Americans who openly question their ally’s commitment and frequently write off its losses (both civilian and military) need to watch where they are going. This alliance, bruised, battered or busted and badly mishandled on both sides may be the only thing keeping them on track for the scheduled exist strategy.

Dedicated to the Martyrs of Pakistan’s 26/11

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