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Posts Tagged ‘Military’

The Weekly Pah-kee-stuhn Musings

NYT/AP. Gilani: I should just Expecto Patronum all of you! All of you! Kayani: Oh God.

The problem with blogging about Pakistan is that there’s no dearth of topics and issues to write about. Turning on the television hits you with drama, intrigue, and conspiracy theories as caricatures scream in vain and to no one in particular.

And that’s just on our news channels.

Rather than be overwhelmed by the multitude of things I could write about, and hence, um, not actually write anything, I decided to spare you the excuses and just package them as a list. With a bow. And a rainbow. You’re welcome.

1. Gilani went all Jadoogar on the military. If you don’t know why Harry Potter should be jealous of Gilani Sahib, check out this past post. This week, media outlets and Twitter feeds alike were abuzz after Prime Minister Gilani fired Pakistan’s Defense Secretary [retired] General Lodhi. (Poof! He was gone. Jadoogar! Ooh!) According to media outlets, the controversy resulted from Lodhi’s statements during his Memogate investigation, claiming the Ministry of Defense (MOD) had no control over the ISI or Pakistan military.

Not surprisingly, coup rumors were abound after said news went public, as the Express Tribune reported Gilani allegedly made a “panicky” phone call to a British diplomat to support the PPP government. The British Foreign Secretary appealed for calm today, urging that all parties respect “the constitution and help ensure stability.” So military coup in the making? The jury’s still out, but I highly doubt it given the proximity (hopefully) to elections as well as the military’s own capacity to perform a coup. Al Jazeera English quoted analyst Moeed Pirzada who further iterated, “The Pakistani military is not the political player it used to be. It knows it’s not in a position to capture political power in Islamabad … not with the Supreme Court being the biggest impediment.”

But why such a high octave of rumors now? There are obviously many reasons, but one factor [purposefully?] upping the notch is…

2. The controversy known as #Memogate. Gah. I recently wrote about the first iteration of the Memogate scandal here, when Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz alleged that he was asked by [now former] Amb. Haqqani to pass a memo to former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, asking for help in reigning in Pakistan’s military establishment. The military, particularly COAS Kayani & ISI chief Pasha claim there is truth to the document & urged the judiciary to investigate its origins. Gilani claimed that Kayani & Pasha were violating the Constitution by submitting statements to the Supreme Court. ISPR responded by calling Gilani’s statements false and could have “very serious ramifications.” Gilani responded by saying the Army’s statements were – wait for it – released with his consent, i.e. “Just kidding, guys! I totes let the Army make allusions to a military coup, that would hence usurp my power!” Hee! [Note: read this great piece by Mohammed Hanif on how the military uses rumors over force.]

As the three-member judiciary panel gears up to for the memo inquiry this coming Monday, “A separate bench of the Supreme Court is scheduled to convene that day to hear the government’s explanation for failing to comply with earlier court orders to reopen corruption cases against Mr. Zardari,” noted the NY Times. Raza Rumi said it well when he noted, “The real threat for the government is a proactive Supreme Court which has taken a serious notice of noncompliance with its orders. The civilian government is stuck between two powerful institutions, which are no longer comfortable with business as usual.”

The ironic thing, though, is that this cacaphony still is business as usual. Politicians are not the only players who reign over politics, they are joined and often challenged by the judiciary and the military. This politicized warring, this blurring between the lines, mean we are also distracted from *real* issues like…

3. The Gas Shortage. Hello, McFly! The gas crisis in Pakistan isn’t so much a shortage as much as it’s the result of horrendous management. Or as Khurram Hussain noted in his piece for Express, it’s the result of an addiction. As CNG stations ran short on fuel and/or shut down in the country, protests broke out as people voiced their discontent. The gas shortage became visual as you would drive past rows of cars waiting at the CNG stations. But beyond the lines, beyond the protests, the crisis goes much deeper. Take away gas, and citizens are immobilized. They can’t drive their cars, they can’t take buses to get to work, they can’t cook their food. This has impacted industries, where, in Punjab, rows of factories have had to shut down. It’s affected jobs and livelihoods. In my opinion, that more than coup rumors is worrisome.

Also while you were watching Memogate

4. The Saleem Shahzad Report came out. And it was inconclusive. The Pakistani journalist was abducted, tortured and found dead outside Islamabad last year, two days after his report on connections between Al Qaeda and the Pakistan Navy was published. Although several facts pointed to an alleged connection to the ISI, the Saleem Shahzad Commission did “not hold any institution or individual responsible for his death,” instead blaming “belligerents” for the incident. Given this lack of accountability, it’s no wonder the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) once again said Pakistan was, for the second year in a row, the most dangerous place in the world to be a journalist. CPJ’s Bob Dietz told AJE,

[The media in Pakistan is] free and vibrant, but let me qualify that with saying that they are under tremendous amounts of pressure from all sides. There’s been a lot of emphasis on intelligence services attacking journalists, but the fact, if you look at the journalists slain in the last few years, is that the ISI is only one of the actors that is putting pressure on journalists, threatening them and responsible for their deaths as well.

The news about Pakistan is, as always, eventful. The negative developments couched in this list are a reflection of the ground reality, but they are also a snapshot of what’s in the news. My work convinces me every day that Pakistan is a country with tremendous potential that has been horrifically managed. We are the victims of poor leadership, institutions that care more about pointing fingers outwards than looking inward, and a number of inefficiencies in our national value chain. Peel back that rotten layer, and you see the positive stories of opportunity, innovation, and energy. It may not completely overcome the bad, but it’s enough to be the silver lining. At least in my opinion.

And if you ever need further proof of change, check out this preview for Pakistan’s Next Top Model (PNTM). Because nothing says “Pakistanis, they’re just like us! Yay!” quite like reality television franchises & model wannabes smizing. What ups, #FAT (Fashion Against the Taliban).:

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Photo Source: The News

So by now the madness over Veena Malik (actress, reality show breakout starlet, crazy maulvi fighter extraordinaire), her published nude cover photo, and her subsequent row with India‘s FHM Magazine is old news. I mean, that was so last week. Over it. (Here is a link to the story in case you live in a cave or away from the wonderful world of Twitter & Facebook news feeds.)

But did you know that Veena’s fake ‘ISI‘ tattoo as well as another almost-nude photo of her in camouflage were code for a MILITARY COUP?! Yes, everyone. Veena was totally in the know, using her cover shoot as an underlying message to tell us all what was really going on. With an Indian magazine no less. Oh, the irony. OMGZ, how GENIUS!

See what I just did there? I started a little rumor. Ok, it was a little far-fetched, closer to being a conspiracy theory, but the line between rumor and conspiracy is often thin, especially in Pakistan. And with rumors flying on Twitter today about whispers of a potential military coup, it is fair to ask whether we are too trigger happy when it comes to the Pakistan rumor mill.

Twitter Feed After News of Zardari's Ill Health Surfaced

These rumors were compounded even further after Foreign Policy reported that President Zardari flew to Dubai to undergo medical tests Tuesday. In the FP piece entitled, “President Zardari suddenly leaves Pakistan — is he on the way out?“, Josh Rogin wrote,

A former U.S. government official told The Cable today that when President Barack Obama spoke with Zardari over the weekend regarding NATO’s killing of the 24 Pakistani soldiers, Zardari was “incoherent.” The Pakistani president had been feeling increased pressure over the Memogate scandal. “The noose was getting tighter — it was only a matter of time,” the former official said, expressing the growing expectation inside the U.S. government that Zardari may be on the way out.

According to this same unnamed U.S. official, Zardari had a “minor heart attack” and may resign due to “ill health.”

Cue the speculation.

Rogin cited the Atlantic Council’s Shuja Nawaz, who noted, “This is the ‘in-house change option’ that has been talked about,” a plan in which Zardari would “step aside and be replaced by his own party, preserving the veneer of civilian rule but ultimately acceding to the military’s wishes to get rid of Zardari.” He added, “Now if [the military] stay at arm’s length and let the party take care of its business, then things may improve. If not, then this is a silent coup with [Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Raza] Gilani as the front man.”

While I think the FP and The Cable are credible outlets, the use of unnamed U.S. and Pakistani sources who are all speculating (for example: “the growing expectation inside the U.S. government” or “in what might be a precursor to Zardari stepping down”) show how we can be both trigger-happy in our news production and our news consumption. The title of the FP piece, “Zardari Suddenly Leaves…Is He on His Way Out?” is framed as leading question, further baiting the rumor mill. Dawn Newspaper, in its subsequent coverage of the FP piece, conveniently quoted the unnamed U.S. source as well as half of Shuja Nawaz’s hypothesizing (mentioning the ‘in-house’ change option but not the fact that the military could stay at arm’s length), exacerbating this even more. (The Express Tribune and GEO Television provided similar coverage.)

Meanwhile, as noted by Arif Rafiq over at the Pakistan Policy, Zardari’s aides have not done well in quelling the speculation. Rafiq noted, “Rather than being honest and forthcoming [about his heart condition], Zardari’s spokesman, Farhatullah Babar, did what most Pakistani government officials do to their people: obscure the truth. He said Zardari is in Dubai for a routine medical checkup,” which is obviously not true. The Khaleej Times also quoted Babar who said earlier,

…said that contrary to media reports the President did not visit any hospital today for tests or treatment. Instead the President held separate meetings today in Presidency with Prime Minister, Chairman Senate and Interior Minister to review overall situation, security arrangements for Ashura and legislative business in Senate before leaving for Dubai…

So essentially on one side we have the overactive rumor mill, and on the other the “let’s-pretend-everything-is-just-dandy-camp.” Great. Because nothing makes people more suspicious than obviously playing down a situation, even if it may be in response to potential sensationalism. (This is when I realize my Masters degree in Conflict Resolution could have come to great use! Sad Kalsoom.)

As for the potential military coup? Rafiq has the most rational dose of speculation I’ve seen so far:

It would be difficult to hide the fact that Zardari was being pushed (illegally) out of office by the army. The army would then be condemned by a wide set of actors… Zardari in exile would then play the role of political martyr, stirring up his currently disenchanted party base and possibly even do really well in the next elections. Kayani is not one to act brashly. He wouldn’t push Zardari out right now.

Here’s what I hope: For once, I want the military to not be the one holding the government in power accountable. Let the regime go out, but not like this.

Here’s what I think: Aside from a few unnamed sources and cloak-and-dagger like whispers, we really don’t know anything. So stop churning the rumor mill even more (and God knows, I’m guilty of it too. Damn you Retweet!). And for those of you ‘excited’ about Zardari’s illness, shame on you. You should be better than that.

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Leaked & MemoGated

Zardari: Ah, crap. (Source: 3QuarksDaily)

This piece first appeared today in Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, which you can see here.

This morning Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, resigned his post over the scandal known as “memogate,” whereby Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz alleged that he was asked by Amb. Haqqani to pass a memo to former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, asking for help in reigning in Pakistan’s military establishment. But while Haqqani’s resignation may signal an end to this episode, the prior evolution of events was nothing short of a witch hunt.

The ‘witch’ in question varies depending on whom you speak to. If you’re a member of Pakistan’s opposition parties, Haqqani’s actions were an act of treason, and his resignation is only a further admission of guilt. How dare he, they demand to know, ask for foreign (American) help to control Pakistan’s military? How dare he be secretive about said actions?

If you’re one of those in the ruling party, Mansoor Ijaz is a lying conspirator, a man not to be trusted. The revelation of the memo, they claimed, was really just an excuse to target democracy, to vilify the PPP government. Haqqani’s resignation was not an admission of guilt, but a sacrifice in honor of said democracy.

In the serial drama also known as Pakistani politics, all the key elements have been in place – intrigue, cloak-and-dagger conspiracy, treason, and secrecy. From the outset, it plays out much like an episode of Game of Thrones, where in their thirst for power, the main actors all simultaneously destroy each other (or themselves). Except this is real life, and we’ve seen this episode numerous times before. Politicians are intent on leveraging “memogate” for their own party ambitions in anticipation of the upcoming elections, while the military sits pretty on the sideline, their hands clean of the public mudslinging. As is often the case, dangling a threat to sovereignty or to Pakistan’s security is enough to stir a feeding frenzy.

For those of us who read the memo in question, who perused through the BlackBerry messages exchanged between Haqqani and Ijaz, and who have read every imaginable op-ed and interview on the controversy, one thing is abundantly clear: even with Haqqani’s resignation, we still are not entirely sure what happened. It is possible that we may never know. We should concern ourselves not with asking hypothetical questions, but asking the right questions. What constitutes treason within the Pakistani narrative? And why are many challenges to the current civil-military status quo met with such accusations?

In the case of this incident, Haqqani’s alleged actions were called treasonous and unpatriotic because he is said to have attempted to challenge the security establishment, to hand over Pakistan’s sovereignty to America. As Fasi Zaka noted in his op-ed for the Express Tribune the memo sought to allow “another state a unilateral deal of internal policy actions without any legal authority [that] bypasses all codes of conduct.” Extra negative points if that foreign hand happens to be American.

But shouldn’t we then place other purported back door dealings under similar scrutiny? Why do we continue to be incensed by the alleged attempts by a civilian politician to undermine the security establishment but fail to express similar outrage if the same security establishment undermines a civilian government, whether it be through military coups, backchannel talks with militants to retain strategic depth in Pakistan, or even purported deals permitting a U.S. operation against Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil?

The civil-military imbalance, as also noted by Mosharraf Zaidi for Foreign Policy, is the primary reason behind this disconnect. Pakistan’s military, despite its flaws, has historically projected a stronger and more resolute image than any civilian regime. The national sentiment has long bought into this perception. The charge of treason against former Ambassador Haqqani is, therefore, subjective, laced with emotion, and used conveniently in the semantics of political pot shots to desperately curry favor among the masses. Treason makes for a good sound bite. But in throwing around such accusations, we lose sight of the bigger picture.

Haqqani’s resignation today will be viewed as an admission of guilt to some and a sacrifice to others. But the bigger issue has been left untouched. In terms of Pakistan’s broader civil-military relations, the sign is clear — cross the military, and you will get burned. And as the mudslinging continued, it became increasingly clear that the only players getting dirty and tainted were the politicians. Long live democracy.

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Who Watches the Watchmen?

Photo: NYT/AP

In last week’s Economist, an article delved into the increased use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) – also known more colloquially as drones – in present-day warfare. As The Global Post noted in their related series, “The Drone Wars are the new black.”

What was once a super sleuth secret weapons program by the U.S. government is now openly referenced by the likes of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who recently said, “Having moved from the CIA to the Pentagon, obviously I have a hell of a lot more weapons available to me in this job than I had in the CIA, although the Predators weren’t bad.”

Good one Leon. Not so “secret” anymore!

During his tenure as the former director of the CIA, Panetta “oversaw a dramatic increase” of drone strikes. Since becoming president, Barack Obama has intensified the number of drone strikes in Pakistan, from one every 40 days under the Bush administration to one strike every four days. The Economist reported,

John Brennan, Mr Obama’s counter-terrorism chief, has made it clear that as America draws down its forces in Afghanistan over the next three years, there will be no let up in drone strikes, which, he claims, are partly responsible for al-Qaeda being “on the ropes”. The grim Reaper’s ability to loiter for up to 24 hours, minutely observe human activity from five miles above while transmitting “full motion video” to its controllers and strike with pinpoint accuracy has made it the essential weapon in America’s “long war”.

According to U.S. officials, the rationale for an increased usage of UAVs is obvious – the drones allow reach into places where U.S. boots cannot. They also can hit very specific targets – or at least they’re supposed to, the numbers are hotly disputed. While the U.S. government claims that the drone program [which, besides Pakistan, operate in Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan, and Iraq] is a success, “claiming that out of the more than 2,000 people thought to be killed so far, all but 50 were militants,” the number of civilian casualties has been contested. According to analysis conducted by Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann from the New America Foundation, the true civilian fatality rate since 2004 is about 32 percent, versus the 25 percent cited by government calculations.

Via the Economist.

The recent death of Al Qaeda militant [and U.S. citizen] Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in a September 30th drone strike as well as the number of civilian casualties lends itself to an interesting and pertinent discussion. From a legal perspective, drones sit in an uncomfortably gray area. U.S. officials, not surprisingly, will tell you that drone strikes are perfectly within the parameters of international law. U.S. Department of State Legal Advisor Harold Koh has stated (via the Global Post),

It is the considered view of this Administration … that U.S. targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war … the United States is in an armed conflict with Al Qaeda, as well as the Taliban and associated forces, in response to the horrific 9/11 attacks, and may use force consistent with its inherent right to self-defense under international law. As a matter of domestic law, Congress authorized the use of all necessary and appropriate force through the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). These domestic and international legal authorities continue to this day.

But just who operates drones raises an issue as well. According to the Global Post, drones used by the military are considered an extension of armed conflict, and are therefore more likely to be deemed acceptable by international law standards. But what if the same system is deployed by the CIA to target a specific individual or group? What about the death of innocent civilians? Or U.S.-born citizens-turned-militants like Awlaki [btw, no love lost for Awlaki, but just raising the argument here]?

For me, the issue of drones goes beyond the issue of legality. It touches on the progression of warfare as a whole. Or whether morality, arguably the foundation of international law, is really being compromised in favor of the arbitrarily defined “greater good.” In an article by Barbara Ehrenreich for Guernica Magazine this past summer, she discussed how the emergence of a new kind of enemy – “non-state actors” – has partly contributed to a shift in how we combat war, namely with “robot”-like machines (including but not limited to drones). She wrote,

Video cameras, borne by drones, substitute for human scouts or information gathered by pilots. Robots disarm roadside bombs…today, the U.S. military has an inventory of more than 7,000 [UAVs], ranging from the familiar Predator to tiny Ravens and Wasps used to transmit video images of events on the ground. Far stranger fighting machines are in the works, like swarms of lethal “cyborg insects” that could potentially replace human infantry. These developments are by no means limited to the U.S.

This is not to say that human beings do not play a significant role in today’s conflicts. But is the “automation” of warfare something that should concern us? A guy sitting in Nevada operating a drone by a joystick may not feel the same gravity of war as a soldier fighting in the trenches. As we become more detached and more removed, are we losing touch with the humanity of warfare [and yes, that was an ironic statement, since many feel warfare is inhumane by nature]? Civilian casualties become dots on a computer screen, the collateral damage of the “best worst option.” Computer viruses affecting drones become a significant tool in cyber warfare. And we in turn become increasingly distanced from the reasons why we engage in conflict in the first place.

An interesting debate, nevertheless. Who does watch the watchmen?

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Under Pressure (Sing It, Queen)

Via NY Times/Associates Press

On Tuesday, the NY Times came out with a punchy, no-holds-barred piece, reporting that Obama administration officials believe that the ISI was behind journalist Saleem Shahzad‘s death last month.

Wait. What’s that you say, Captain Obvious? We’ve been saying that for the past month? Oh.

Well, there’s no evidence like new evidence (*jazz hands*). The NY Times cited new intelligence obtained before Shahzad’s May 29th disappearance, showing that senior ISI officials had “directed the attack on him in an effort to silence criticism.” Administration officials, who said the evidence was reliable and conclusive, stated that the ISI’s actions were “unacceptable and barbaric.” Another official told the NYT, “There is a lot of high-level concern about the murder; no one is too busy not to look at this.”

A TIME piece Tuesday further explored the ISI-related development, discussing how journalists like Najam Sethi and Ejaz Haider heavily criticized the military/ISI for their alleged role in Shahzad’s torture and subsequent murder. In the article,  Omar Waraich wrote, “The ISI denies that it ever threatened Shahzad or was involved in the kidnapping or killing of the journalist. The ISI has contacted Sethi, Haider and other journalists whom it feels have unfairly represented the spy agency.” Sethi told TIME, “For what I’ve been saying since the bin Laden raid, I have incurred the wrath of the ISI. The agency has officially expressed its anger and annoyance and irritation.”

This “wrath” could even turn into a court case, noted Waraich. A lawyer who served as deputy attorney general under Gen. Musharraf, Sardar Muhammad Ghazi, has filed a 20-page petition against Sethi, Haider, and Hamid Mir, telling TIME, “These people are criticizing my armed forces. They sit and castigate the army. I can’t tolerate it. There should be somebody who should come forward and say the media should be controlled.” Waraich added,

In the petition, he accuses Sethi, Haider and Mir of being “out to promote the foreign agenda to destabilize and denuclearize Pakistan.” He alleges that the journalists are intent on allowing India to “expand [its] boundaries” and are influenced by the American, Indian and Israeli intelligence agencies.

So apparently anyone who questions the actions of the state are conspirators to the Zionist/RAW/American degree? Somehow this does not surprise me.

What does infuriate me is the subsequent pressure (Waraich noted that one pro-army website even superimposed the star of David on Haider’s forehead to brand him as an Israeli agent) on journalists and figures willing to ask questions. The elements behind these tactics know very well that the aforementioned journalists aren’t foreign agents, evil mouthpieces for evil enterprises. But they’re manipulating the masses who feast madly on the coattails of conspiracy theories. They’re leveraging the anti-[insert here] sentiment that already pervades the atmosphere, framing the nationalist narrative as “with us-or-against us.” Poison lurks in that kind of polarization. For a nation crippled by the alleged transgressions of our security apparatus, this type of thinking gets us nowhere.

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On Tuesday, news agencies reported that authorities detained a Pakistani Army officer, Brigadier General Ali Khan, on suspicion of links to banned militant outfit Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT). According to the New York Times,

General Khan was serving at the General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, outside the capital, Islamabad. He was picked up for questioning by the Special Investigative Branch of the Pakistan Army on May 6, but the announcement of the arrest was made Tuesday after an army spokesman confirmed that he had been detained to the BBC Urdu Web site.

Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas told reporters, “We have a zero tolerance policy towards people indulging in such activities.”

Zero tolerance? Selective tolerance? Tomato To-mah-to? Hmm.

The Express Tribune yesterday noted it was unclear whether the arrest was part of a larger “cleansing process” of the military. However, on Wednesday, the military announced that it had begun investigating other officers with links to HuT, saying they had questioned four majors with links to the case.

But just who is HuT, aside from a pretty convenient, ridiculously good-looking acronym?

HuT, or Hizb ut-Tahrir, meaning Party of Liberation, is a radical Islamist group that was established in 1953 and “wants to revive the Islamic caliphate and unify Muslim countries under Islamic laws.”  According to GlobalSecurity.org,

Hizb ut-Tahrir now has its main base in Western Europe, but it has large followings in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, as well as in China’s traditionally Muslim Xinjiang Province. Most of its members are believed to be ethnic Uzbeks. Its expansion into Central Asia coincided with the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. By one estimate there are more than 10,000 followers in Central Asia. Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami has been active in Central Asia since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The group was banned in Pakistan under Pervez Musharraf‘s regime, but continues to operate relatively freely in the country, reports Reuters, “clandestinely distributing leaflets and sending e-mail and text messages.” On HuT’s UK website, the group notes that Pakistan “is a powerful nuclear-armed country, let down by a corrupt government, absence of Islamic rule and subservience to the West.”

Analyst Imtiaz Gul told the news agency that the outfit, which claims to have a peaceful agenda, has some influence within the military. “They basically address educated people, educated Muslims, middle-class, lower middle-class.” In Britain, where they are not banned, the group allegedly attracts well-educated British Pakistanis as supporters, and told Reuters that HuT has not specifically targeted Pakistan’s military, but “works with all sections of society.”

But according to the New York Times, HuT – apart from organizing underground meetings and seminars in Pakistan – also uses SMS text messages and social networking sites to spread its message. The Times noted, “A recent text message sent out by the media office of Hizb-ut-Tahrir on June 9 stated: ‘Remove the traitors amongst the civilian and military leadership. Fulfill your obligation by establishing Khilafah,’ meaning the caliphate.”

The Guardian‘s Declan Walsh echoed in his coverage, “HuT has long faced accusations of seeking to infiltrate Pakistan’s army. In the wake of Bin Laden’s death it distributed pamphlets near army bases calling on officers to overthrow the government and forge a new Islamic caliphate.” Former HuT activist Maajid Nawaz, now part of Quilliam, a UK think tank, told the Guardian that HuT plans to come to power through a military coup. Walsh noted, “[Nawaz] has previously admitted recruiting Pakistani officers who were attending a training course in Sandhurst in 2000.” Nawaz told the Guardian in 2009, “We sent them back to Pakistan to infiltrate the army. They were recruiting for three years and tried to mount a coup.” The plotters were discovered and jailed by then president Pervez Musharraf, he said.

 The Pakistani military has recently come under fire for its alleged ties with militants – particularly following the Osama bin Laden raid and the PNS Mehran attack last month. Omar Waraich wrote in TIME this week that it has been “a grim seven weeks for Pakistan’s powerful generals.” Talat Masood, a retired lieutenant general-turned-analyst told Waraich, “It’s amazing the level of criticism that the military leadership is facing. It’s clearly the worst in its history.” Perceptions of COAS Gen. Kayani are increasingly negative, if polls are anything to go by. While the most recent Pew (pee-you) poll on Pakistan found that the army remains popular (79% says it has a good influence on the country), only 52% of respondents gave Kayani a favorable rating, down from 57% before the Osama bin Laden raid.

However, analysts are skeptical that Kayani will be fired or pushed out of his position. The Atlantic Council’s Shuja Nawaz told TIME, “My understanding is that there is a debate on different issues within the corps commanders and senior officers from the General Headquarter. It is not in the form of pressure on General Kayani as such, but on what to do in response to the criticism.”

The arrest of Khan and the investigation into other officers linked to this case are indicative of such a response. Imtiaz Gul wrote in the AfPak Channel this week,

The bad news of Khan’s arrest is that it underlines the presence of a radical mindset within the armed forces. The good news is that it probably also reflects new thinking: greater attention to all those who might be influenced by organisations such as Hizb ut-Tahrir and Lashkar e-Taiba. Moreover, if the army can demonstrate it has gone after suspected militant officers successfully, it might be able to release some of the pressure it currently faces from the United States, which is demanding that Pakistan do more to fight Pakistan.

But is this indicative of a greater purge within military ranks? A part of me – the part that still blinks at Pakistan with hopeful puppy dog eyes – wishes this were true. But the larger part of me – the part that rolls eyes frequently and scoffs snarkily – has heard this tired refrain before. Yes, the arrest of Khan is significant. The investigations are notable. But I’d wait before passing judgment on whether there is an impending sea change. HuT is a dangerous outfit, despite their claims to the contrary. That is certain. But is the military rooting out infiltration amidst its ranks because it’s genuinely concerned with extremist tendencies, or because the HuT-specific links are a direct threat to the military’s authority? Would the Army perform similar exercises with officers linked to other militant groups that still hold strategic interest?

The jury’s still out.

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WTF.

Darling readers, I apologize for the lack of consistent blogging on my end (though twice a week is still pretty good, I say!). I am in the process of launching my start-up company this Fall, so life has been a little manic. I do still read the news and opine to self about things that piss me off. Which is a lot. But because snorting and laughing snarkily to self is lonely (and not as self-indulgent as self would like), I give you yet another WTF list – this time the WTF CRAP (i.e., WTF is wrong with people?!) and WTF YAH (i.e., WTF this is awesome! Yay! Puppies!). Because there are always happy things to WTF about too:

 THE WTF CRAP LIST:

WTF-C #1: The ISI arrested five Pakistani informants who fed information to the CIA in the months leading up to the Osama bin Laden raid, reported the NY Times this week. So…they…um…arrested the guys who helped in the capture of OBL? Somewhere out there (hopefully not on a compound in the Islamabad suburb known as Abutababa), new Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is cackling gleefully. #FacePalm.

WTF-C #2: SPEAKING OF MILITANTS LIVING IN ISLAMABAD’S SUBURBS (Curse you Wolf Blitzer! You haz tainted ma city’s suburbz 4 life!), AFP (via Dawn) reports that Fazle-ur-Rahman Khalil, the head of Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen (HUM), is sitting pretty in a “suburb” of Islamabad, Golra Sharif. Given that many of these militants also sit pretty all over the country (hey, Bravo, new reality show deal?), this is massively disturbing but not surprising. Dawn reported, “The Pakistani senior government official who spoke with AP said Khalil has been arrested twice but each time was released on orders from Pakistan’s intelligence agency.” WTF.

WTF-C #3: Pakistan seems to top every freaking list these days (even the #1 Nation in Sexy Web Searches, you can’t make this stuff up). A recent Thompson Reuters Foundation survey ranked Pakistan as the third most dangerous place in the world for women. Granted, this was a poll about perceptions, but the fact that 90% of women in Pakistan experience domestic violence in their lifetime is a very depressing statistic indeed.

WTF-C #4: In some non-related Pakistan news, Rep. Anthony Weiner resigned from office today after being tangled in a “lewd” sexting scandal. According to news agencies, Weiner engaged in “‘inappropriate conversations’ with six women over the last three years, including on Facebook, e-mail, Twitter and on the phone with one of the women.” During his resignation speech, in which Weiner “apologized for the mistakes he had made,” reporters cheered, they heckled, and one dude even yelled, “Are you bigger than seven inches?!” Oh dear. Why.

THE WTF YAH LIST (Because some news is fun!):

WTF-Y #1: Speaking of resignations (or things related), Jane Perlez reported this week in the NY Times that COAS Gen. Kayani “is fighting to save his position in the face of seething anger from top generals and junior officers” following the OBL raid. Perlez noted, “The Pakistani Army is essentially run by consensus among 11 top commanders, known as the Corps Commanders, and almost all of them, if not all, were demanding that General Kayani get much tougher with the Americans.” So an inter-military coup? Who knows. But until then, we can thoroughly enjoy the hilarity of “What Kayani Whispered,” an assortment of awesome photos with even more awesome captions:

Via What Kayani Whispered

WTF-Y #2: I would make a terrible rapper. This is because I sound like a Dr. Seuss rhyme when I try. (And then I wore a hat/Shaped like a cat/Where’s my bat?/Boiii) This is why I massively respect people who can rap extremely ridiculously well. Like Adil Omar. I first interviewed the rapper from Islamabad two years ago, (when he was just 17 years old), and he recently released a new music video featuring Xzibit (Yes. THAT Xzibit) and directed by Matt Alonzo (who did “Like a G6″) called, “Off the Handle.” Watch the video below and download the song here:

WTF-Y #3: The Unreasonable Institute, an accelerator program for high-potential social entrepreneurs, launched its new summer of fellows a few days ago. Saba Gul, the co-founder and executive director of BLISS (Business & Life Skills School) is at this year’s Institute, representing her amazing social enterprise, which empowers adolescent girls in rural Pakistan through education and entrepreneurship. BLISS was also just featured on NBC Nightly News, see here. Congrats and good luck at Unreasonable, Saba!

WTF-Y #4: Nothing makes me happier (or yell WTF-Yah!) than Coke Studio, which just premiered its fourth season in Pakistan. The immensely popular show, which “embodies a musical fusion of exciting elements and diverse influences, ranging from traditional eastern, modern western and regionally inspired music,” already has a number of memorable songs and collaborations, including Kangna. But while I will always love Coke Studio, I have also been loving another initiative, Levi’s Original songs, particularly this gem by The Strings & Zoe Viccaji:

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Awesome.

Well friends, it appears after years of searching for Osama bin Laden, the hunt is over. Caput. Capiche. Ding dong the Wicked Witch is dead. Three cheers for freedom. The war is over.

Not so fast.

America may have pulled the trigger on the iconic OBL, but the “War on Terror” is not over. Tuck the #Winning hash tag and vat of tiger blood away for now, and let’s back track.

OBL, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks and head of Al Qaeda, was not, contrary to public opinion, hiding in a cave in the mountains along the Afghanistan and Pakistan border. Oh no. He was killed in a well-secured compound in Bilal Town,  a residential area of  Abbottabad, Pakistan (which, despite what Wolf Blitzer will tell you on CNN, is not a suburb in Islamabad, it’s 150 km north of the capital). According to Al Jazeeera‘s Rosalind Jordan in Washington, the operation had been in the making for the last 9 or 10 months. President Obama said in his remarks Sunday night:

Last August…I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden.  It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground…finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice. Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.  A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability…After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.

The Globe and Mail interviewed Abbottabad resident Esham ul Haq, who said he heard explosions and gunfire around 12:45 a.m. local time (PST) and the noises continued until about 2 a.m., followed by silence. Pakistani news agencies had also reported that “three loud blasts” were heard late that night near the Pakistani Military Academy Kakul Road and a military helicopter crashed. According to GEO News, heavy firing was reportedly heard before the crash.

Since news of the death broke, Express 24/7 confirmed that a team of four U.S. helicopters were sent to the area for the  40-minute-long operation. The LA Times cited U.S. officials, who said American operatives killed Osama bin Laden, his adult son and three others, including a woman used as a human shield during the firefight. Reports have not yet confirmed the whereabouts of AQ’s #2 man, Ayman al-Zawahiri. A senior intelligence official told the outlet, “In the end it was the matchless skill and courage of these Americans that insured the success of this operation.”

Therein lies a significant detail – no mention of Pakistan’s role in the operation, despite the Wall Street Journal citing a senior Pakistani official, who claimed the crashed helicopter belonged to our Army. Express 24/7 later reported that Pakistan’s military was not part of the nighttime operation, but noted that later, “Pakistani forces joined in.” President Obama, meanwhile, noted in his speech Sunday,

Over the years, I’ve repeatedly made clear that we would take action within Pakistan if we knew where bin Laden was.  That is what we’ve done.  But it’s important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding. Indeed, bin Laden had declared war against Pakistan as well, and ordered attacks against the Pakistani people.

Currently, the details surrounding the death and the operation are still unraveling, and while I’m hesitant to make concrete conclusions at this time, I do think the lack of reported cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan for this operation is telling. First, the LA Times reports that Pakistani officials were not told beforehand about the operation. While this could be for a number of reasons, one possibility is the increasing trust deficit in U.S.-Pakistan relations, particularly on the intelligence front.  Another possibility is the fear that perceptions of U.S.-Pakistan joint operations could result in backlash for Islamabad, particularly given the anti-U.S. sentiment in the country.

The fact that our own officials have been vague for years on the hunt and capture of Osama bin Laden also raises a red flag, [see this past post on Qureshi's interview with Wolf Blitzer two years ago]. OBL wasn’t in a cave or in Afghanistan (as Karzai breathes a giant sigh of relief). He was in Abbottabad – for at least nine months (or via @DaveedGR for years) – living in a high-walled compound owned by a courier and his brother, two known bin Laden confidantes noted the LA Times. It was, noted the news agency, a property valued at $1 million “with extraordinary security features…Its 12 and 18-foot walls were topped with barbed wire. Internal walls provided extra security. It had no internet and telephone connection. And its resident burned their trash rather than dumping it.”

It was also located near a Pakistani military academy, which begs the question, was bin Laden hiding in the area because he was an ISI asset? Or did the Pakistani military know he was there and was helping U.S. forces monitor his presence? Did Pakistan know that the U.S. knew that they knew? The questions are endless and speculation is infinite.

At the end of the day, Osama bin Laden’s death, while deeply symbolic, will not greatly impact Al Qaeda’s tentacled wide network, [see Five Rupees' insight here]. U.S. military analyst Mark Kimmit told Al Jazeera, “We still have an Al Qaeda threat out there and that will be there for a number of years.” It will, however, add major boost to President Obama’s administration before his reelection campaign and invigorate millions around the world who have been impacted by the numbers of vicious AQ terror attacks throughout the years. All I can pray for is that more AQ attacks will not ensue in the wake of these developments.

P.S.: Obama’s remarks cut into Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice. Poetic.

Whoops. (Via Newsweek)

You're fired.

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Express/EPA: "Areh, you....bloody...Wikileaks..."

It has been a few days since the latest Wikileaks fiasco began, and news channels, online media sources and Twitter have been flooded with constant updates.

At this time, I really would love it if I didn’t have to see 1) the word Wikileaks followed by “dump” 2) the word Wikileaks followed by “state secrets revealed” (I mean, really? Berlosconi partying? Sarkozy chasing puppies?), 3) photos of Julian Assange in Zoolander-style poses, or 4) just the word Wikileaks.

However, since the “dump” in question on Wednesday had to do with Pakistan, I did a little sifting so that you, dear readers, wouldn’t have to. Here’s a run-down:

The Obvious

1. Hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. aid money were not used for its intended purpose. Yes, because U.S. aid to Pakistan has been spent efficiently for decades.

2. In a private meeting with former U.S. ambassador Anne Patterson, COAS Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and ISI Chief Gen. Shuja Pasha “complained vociferously” about provisions in the aid package calling for military accountability towards the civilian government (via The News). If you look up military accountability in the dictionary, you might find a photo of Kayani showcasing a “choice” finger.

3. The U.S. is frustrated with Pakistan. There is mutual distrust. They no likey each other.

The Somewhat Interesting

1. During the judicial crisis in March 2009, Gen. Kayani hinted to Ambassador Patterson that he may ‘reluctantly’ have to urge Zardari to resign if conditions deteriorate and “indicated that Asfandyar Wali Khan [leader of the ANP] or someone else broadly acceptable (though not Nawaz Sharif) might be an appropriate replacement,” [via the Express Tribune]. This would not have been an “official” coup and would have left the official PPP government (with Gilani) in place, so elections would not have to take place. According to Dawn, “The implied message in Gen Kayani’s contingency planning was immediately read by the ambassador as a plea to intervene and compel both parties to back down or else the army would play its role.”

2. In February 2009, Zardari told his son Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari that if he was assassinated, then Bilawal should name Zardari’s sister Faryal Talpur as president. According to Express, Kayani “told U.S. ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson that Talpur would be a better president than her brother.” Apparently we are the Islamic Monarchy of Pakistan.

The Under-Highlighted

Perhaps the most telling cable leak was the revelation that the United States were aware of the military’s extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses during operations in Swat and Malakand, but  purposefully kept quiet, [remember this video taken by mobile phone?]. The September 2009 memo stated,

Senior military commanders have equally and repeatedly stressed their concerns that the courts are incapable of dealing with many of those detained on the battlefield and their fears that if detainees are handed over to the courts and formally charged, they will be released, placing Pakistan Army and FC troops at risk.

This belief by commanding officers that the judicial system was incapable of prosecuting detainees, as well as the belief that revenge killings were “key to maintaining a unit’s honor,” were reportedly reasons cited by Patterson that many of these alleged extrajudicial killings and abuse happened. However, while the U.S. privately expressed concern about these murders, they “deemed it was better not to comment publicly in order to allow the Pakistani army to take action on its own,” noted Declan Walsh of the Guardian.

Moreover, while the U.S. discussed proposing alternatives to military commanders in the hopes reducing human rights abuses, the memo ultimately advised that the U.S. “avoid comment on these incidents to the extent possible,” in order to preserve goodwill and resist criticizing this strategic ally too much.

For me, this leak further emphasizes the holes in the U.S. rhetoric towards Pakistan. The relationship is built on short-term strategic interests, despite crows from both governments to the contrary. This is not surprising from a realpolitik perspective, but it should nevertheless be a reminder to constantly read between the lines – to not generate more conspiracy theories, but to remember that every country will operate in a way that serves its best interest. Simon Tisdall at the Guardian makes this point when he noted,

All great powers intrude in pursuit of their own interests; it’s what they do – and picking up where the British left off, the U.S. is no different. It is a measure of the Pakistani state’s weakness that the Americans apparently have such scope and leeway to influence and direct its affairs.What is equally remarkable, however, is how little the Americans appear able, ultimately, to control their satraps.

The biggest casualties from this constant game, noted Tisdall, are ordinary Pakistanis, who suffer grievously from terrorism, “a ravaged economy, acute poverty and lack of education; and in the all but forgotten but still terrible aftermath of this year’s floods.” I’d have to agree.

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Image from UK Independent: Painting by Amina Janjua on Pakistan's Missing Persons

Guernica Magazine’s October issue has a really powerful piece about Pakistan’s missing persons, people who have disappeared  under the government label of “terrorism suspects” since the 9/11 attacks, (many from Balochistan). Guernica’s J. Malcolm Garcia wrote, “Guilt or innocence is not the issue. To impose terror on suspected terrorists, to maintain a grip on power, ah, now that is a strategy, eh?”

According to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2010, Pakistan’s Interior Ministry has estimated that 1,100 people “disappeared” under the military regime of Pervez Musharraf, a number that “is almost certainly an underestimate.” HRW added in its assessment, “The Zardari administration promised to resolve these cases, but it has made negligible progress. Pakistan has yet to sign the international treaty banning enforced disappearances.”

One man who disappeared in 2005 was Masood Janjua, the husband of Amina Janjua, a housewife-turned-activist, a woman who reportedly “took on” the government and the ISI to find and rescue her husband, subsequently inspiring others whose family members also disappeared under the Musharraf regime. Back in 2007, Frontline/World’s David Montero interviewed Janjua, who said, “When a person is desperate for their loved one, the person most dear to me, the person who I can’t live without…I have to give my life [to find him].” Guernica Magazine, in their piece, wrote,

More days passed [since Masood's disappearance]. The days turned into weeks, months, years. Still no Masood. Now forty-six, Amina alternates between fear, sadness, and puzzlement when she speaks of Masood’s five-year absence…But now instead of despair, a weary, hardened resolve to find him compels her. They had been married sixteen years when he went missing. Twenty-one years now, when she includes the five years he has been gone. She tries not to think what another five years will be like without him.

Montero spoke to former law minister Wasi Zafar in the aforementioned Frontline/World piece, “Pakistan: Disappeared.” Zafar told the PBS journalist, “If he’s a terrorist, he loses his rights…If in developed countries it can be done, then why not here?

Zafar’s statement begs the question – if someone is a suspected terrorist, does he (or she) have the right to a lawyer, to call their family? By virtue of still being a suspect, arbitrarily taking away these people’s rights before they have been proven guilty is and should be considered a violation of human rights, a fact that makes these suspects of terror and anti-state activities victims in the eyes of international law.

According to HRW, “In October 2009, the government amended the country’s anti-terrorism laws through presidential ordinance to further curtail the legal rights of terrorism suspects. Under the ordinance, suspects can be placed in ‘preventive detention‘ for a period of 90 days without benefit of judicial review or the right to bail.” The organization added, “Confessions made before the police or military are now deemed admissible as evidence despite the fact that torture by Pakistan’s police and the military’s intelligence services continues to be routine.”

Guernica’s piece is especially thought-provoking because it humanizes the many “persons” who have disappeared in Pakistan, some of whom lawyer Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui believes were “given over to U.S. authorities in exchange for cash and are held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan.” Masood Janjua was a father and a husband, a man who went hiking and skiing “on a whim” with his family. Sheraz Arshad, the son of Mohammad Arshad, was an 18 year old who “smiled easily but shyly,” who wanted to join the army “for the opportunities an army career would present to a young man born in a humble village.”

Garcia noted one particular exchange between Amina, who now runs Defense of Human Rights, and a woman whose son disappeared:

If my son is alive, I want him here, and if he is dead, I want to know about his death, a woman dressed entirely in black tells Amina. Her son has been missing for a year. Amina holds her hand. We won’t complain to anyone if he’s dead, the woman says. We just want someone to tell us.

Though the numbers of people who have disappeared are often depicted as part of a faceless statistic, the testimonies of their families – their pain, their loss, and their struggle – should be a constant reminder of how very human this issue is, and what a gross violation of human rights is committed unabated on a regular basis within our own borders.

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