Skip to main content

VIEW: War of the Words


First Published in Economic Affairs (Pakistan) / Jan 2014 issue




Burj Khalifa turns blue, high end resorts flourish a 2020 AED package, fireworks light up the sky and free ice cream was reportedly being handed out to rejoicing subjects. Dubai just made history by winning the rights to host 2020. It is the first Middle Eastern nation to do so.

A few days later congratulatory messages pop up on street corners praising the visionary leadership alongside motivational images of said leadership looking skywards. UAE just turned 42. It finds inventive ways to weave flag colors into everyday life, and the “Spirit of the Union” into its national tapestry.

Emirates is riding on a high these days. Their Expo bid, “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”, with its fetching new theme in tow has set them on a shiny new trajectory. The controversy generated in the wake has upset its oldest, most trusty ally - Pakistan.

Local papers in Pakistan, hint that it helped UAE win. Dubai based daily (Gulf News) insists that it did the opposite.
A Gulf News (GN) editorial came on the heels of their victory casting a nasty little spin on Pakistan’s voting habits after thanking all those who helped secure the win. The word ‘betrayal’ was traded freely. They went on to question our credibility as allies and casually touched upon what to them seemed to be purely one-sided investment in Pakistan’s political / economical future. Though Kabul was also called out for being a bad friend, the paper’s patronizing stance and obvious bias towards Pakistan is cause for concern.

By this time every one has heard the sanctioned version where Izmir, was already a strong contender in the initial round with 60 countries cheering from the sidelines. Where Pakistan had already committed to Izmir (Mar 2011) before UAE stepped into the fray (Nov 2011). And later when Turkey’s dreams of being the first to bring Expo to the Eastern Mediterranean region fell through, Pak votes went to Dubai in the 2nd & 3rd round.

The defamatory editorial had more than 900 heated responses before it was closed for comments. Most were from outraged subscribers, disappointed expats and stunned residents. Some threatened to revoke their subscription. Others suggested suing / firing / de-friending the editorial staff and paper. Many reportedly went through with it, despite the AED 400 voucher offered with each subscription. The story was picked up by the ‘Wall Street Journal’, and carried on Pakistani talk shows.

Pak-UAE relationship runs deep, and is not as one sided as GN suggests. From raising the UAE Air-Force, training its pilots and greening the city of Al Ain, to offering the controversial strip of land (Shamsi) and opening the hunting grounds and precious Houbara Bustard come November despite the universal condemnation by conservationists. Pakistan has been there from the very beginning, and UAE, now plays the role of a major investor in the region. It’s win-win for both. A baseless attack cannot undo half a century of friendship.

The report was challenged by Pakistan’s (Foreign Office) FO and a strong social media campaign finally prompted a response from GN which maintains that “….the Pakistan government, despite its official pledge to the UAE, has voted for another city on the night of November 27. As an independent newspaper, we have the right to question such action and call for a justification, if there were any.” It remains unrepentant and no apology was forthcoming. The paper’s insistence that these comments are directed at Islamabad and not the expat community that helped build their nation is ludicrous. Trends change quickly in Pakistan, it may be dictatorship one season and democracy the next but regardless of the changing fashion, the people and state are not separate entities. Cyber-ville will not let GN, and its platter of half-baked truths off the hook.

Pakistan, seen on the receiving end of terrorism is up against wall of negative perception fed by a fairly well-stocked propaganda factory that somehow manages to gloss over its counter terrorism role and project its least flattering, most Janus-faced side. That the ‘Most Wanted’ lot either trained here, had roots or hideouts in military cantonment’s does not help. Elsewhere, the media for all its democratic credentials appears strangely aligned to company policy, as the gulf between the (Pak-US) administrations widened, random references to Pakistan started to appear in movies, television dramas, sitcoms with greater frequency – and not in a good way.

The refusal to retract the insidious commentary raises questions about the source of displeasure. Though Emirates graciously thanked Pakistan for its support, do mischievous headlines demanding answers perhaps point to rumblings of discontent on a state level? If not then did the paper get a well-deserved rap on the knuckles? Given that the official pledge had been given to Turkey, the story has no foundation. But according to a Pakistani daily, our Federal Minister for commerce might have led the UAE emissary to believe otherwise. And that the UAE delegation was reportedly miffed at what to them probably appeared to be a last minute switch. Some worry that papers tow state lines and for them it is inconceivable that Gulf News risked jeopardizing Pak-UAE strategic partnership on its own. That it continues to propagate the lies is worrisome. ‘Khaleej Times’ - another leading daily from the Emirates - called out its fellow paper on what passes for fact checking in GN, so not everyone bought the Gulf rhetoric. Islamabad can respond by filing defamation charges against Gulf News.

Since then a clarification was issued from Pakistan’s side, but no action has been taken against the offending publication. That their ranting’s went unremarked could also attest to the wonderfully autonomous nature of Gulf media.

There are those who credit those ‘hidden hands’, in this case the Indian lobby, of masterminding the malicious attack; and while ‘said’ hands are our ‘go to’ reason for everything that goes wrong in Pakistan, enlisting a leading newspaper in their ‘discredit Pakistan’ campaign to launch a ‘war of the words’ between such close allies without worrying about consequences implies limitless reach.

UAE, with its carefully cultivated public image stands on the cusp of greatness while Pakistan, remains on the frontline of terror. One gets to battle its demons and the other has a party to plan. Neither can afford to let mischief mongers come in the way of their historically close ties.

Map Link

Images Subject to Copyright

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Importance of Being Pakistan

Published in Global Village Space / July 2017

Implications of a Modi – Trump style ‘meet and greet’

As Mr. Modi descended upon Washington, armed with Kashmiri shawls, tea, honey, and personalized invites for the first family to visit India, the U.S. media hastened to find parallels between the two nations. Democracies both (biggest / oldest), led by men with a degree of social-media savvy, men indifferent to public opinion and sporting unique greeting styles - hugs from Modi, handshakes from Trump.

Seen from afar, the show stopping performance yielded significant results, strengthened defense cooperation and secured 22 shiny new Guardian drones. Commentators noted that contentious issues like H1-B work visas and climate change etc were reportedly left out in the cold while detractors brooded over the symbolism that signaled the arrival of a new world order. As with all these visits, Pakistan wasn’t far from India’s thoughts and opinion makers now wonder at the extent Modi can shape…

OPED: Radd-ul-Fassad – An Urgent Revision in the Wake of Mashal Khan's Lynching

Published Global Affairs / June 2017

Written in the immediate aftermath of Mashal Khan's lynching

On December 2014, 148 people, mostly school kids were murdered by terrorists in the APS (Army Public School) school massacre. In April 2017, a university student was lynched in Mardan. One tragedy marked a turning point. Another opens a Pandora’s Box.

APS happened while Operation Zarb-e-Azb was underway. It shook the nation to its very core; and pushed the armed forces to expand the scope of its offensives. Military courts were set up in the aftermath. A death row inmate (Qadri), once lauded by clergy and lawyers for killing a Governor, was finally executed along with scores of militants.

And soon another operation would come into effect after shrines, rallies and public places were targeted in a resurgence of terror in 2017. If the first was driven by vengeance, the second came from desperation. Pakistan’s survival was at stake – unless it tackled the darkness head on. But the dark…

What Pakistan Wants from Afghanistan...?

Published by Global Affairs / July 2017


In the aftermath of the deadly attacks in a diplomatic enclave and a funeral, Afghanistan’s fate now hangs in the balance, while experts mull over the merits of potential troop surges and worry about the endemic corruption, plummeting morale and ensuing chaos. Afghan President Ghani’s statement that his nation suffers from an ‘undeclared war of aggression from Pakistan’ delivered at Kabul Process meeting sums up the problem.

Interestingly, a week before, he expressed the exact same sentiment – only the words were ‘undeclared war of aggression from non-state actors.’ Later his Twitter feed regurgitated the passive aggressive plea from the speech that by turns call for dialogue and apportions blame to its neighbors.

What is it that Pakistan wants is the question foremost in his mind. He also wonders what the Taliban want.

The first question is easily answered. The Pak Army COAS wants Afghanistan to look inwards. Probably at the safe havens …

Pakistan’s Neutral Stance on Qatar

Written right after the Qatar embargo

Published Global Affairs Jul 2017


Qatar recently found itself in hot water based on comments attributed to its leadership – comments that had been categorized as fake news. As a pretext it served its purpose. The oil-gas rich nation has been placed in a diplomatic stranglehold though it renounced charges of funding terrorism and being a destabilizing influence the region. These may be pressure tactics meant to put Qatar in its place, cut it down to size, make it tow the GCC line whatever that might be at the moment. The definition of terror in this case is open to interpretation. Qatar fights ISIL alongside coalition partners. But its support for proscribed groups like Muslim Brotherhood for instance and relationship with Tehran keeps it in the doghouse.

Washington remains ambivalent. The American President endorsed the move. The Secretary of State cautioned against boycotts. But GCC nations seem clear-sighted. The small state houses US CENTCOM, t…

OPED: Keeping the Truth & Reconciliation Train on Track in Pakistan & Bangladesh

Published by Global Affairs / June 2017

It is no secret that Pakistan’s Eastern Wing broke away or that India helped carve Bangladesh in 1971. There were weaknesses to be exploited and deep seated resentments that left sizeable fissures in between Pakistan’s East and West wing. The Indian PM Modi can now tip his hat to 1,661 Indian soldiers allied with an armed resistance – the dreaded Mukti Bahini without fear of reprisal. Of late, there have been whispers about a KGB element in the mix. But the past is over and done with. Or is it?

There was madness and mayhem and civil unrest. Both sides suffered. The figure of three million offered by Bangladesh however has been widely disputed. While there has been a lot of water under the bridge since 1971- there has not been any serious attempt at breaching the divide. But most Pakistanis have not whitewashed their history and acknowledge their errors in judgment and lack of political foresight that led to the debacle.

‘The wall between Bangl…

OPED: Pakistan at the Frontlines of Educational Reforms

Originally Published by Global Affairs / May 2017. Written before the Mashal Khan tragedy in Mardan



A terrifying document surfaced the other day on the social media that suggested a possibly extremist agenda in the education department in KPK - Pakistan. The letter dated 2015, ostensibly from Pervez Khattak directed DCTE Abbottabad to seek input from proscribed groups - the ASWJ for devising the curriculum. It was an alarming discovery and the comments that followed on the twitter timeline of the social activist who shared the story were even more alarming for they appeared to support making terror outfits stakeholders in the academia.

In a different part of town a few good Samaritans put forward a timely proposal that promised salvation for young Pakistani’s at the mercy of the hardliner’s pen.

Representatives from 7 organizations presented a pilot project launched to defuse the ticking time bomb of bigotry and hate. They dubbed it - ‘Badal Do’ – ‘Ignite the Change Within’ - a c…

OP-ED: Business as Usual

Published in Global Affairs / March 2017. Written / Sep 2016.

Third world nations that remain daggers drawn have yet to ascend to that stage of nirvana marked by regional cooperation and economic reforms; the kind that defines Sino - US relations for instance. Former US ambassador to China described their emerging relationship as “controlled enmity.” It had remained on course despite Washington’s concerns over the militarization of South China Sea, or indictment of Chinese hackers by a US court. The world’s biggest economy and the largest US foreign creditor and the superpower had learnt to prioritize and steer their relations towards a semblance of normality.

No one really knows which direction they will take under a Donald Trump Presidency. But economic considerations trumped personal differences at the time. And now judging from the list of banned nations devised by the White House where some obvious names have been pointedly left out – at least for the time being, it still app…