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Posts Tagged ‘Zardari’

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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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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The Wikileaks Burn Book

Hey, Assange, the Lord of the Rings Elven King called. He wants his ishtyle back.

Reading the news yesterday, I swear I could hear the faint but haunting sound of Julian Assange cackling gleefully while swimming the backstroke in an enormous pile of cable papers.

Wikileaks, Assange’s whistleblower website, began the release of more than 250,000 diplomatic cables to the New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Le Monde and El Pais on Sunday. According to Foreign Policy, “Wikileaks published 226 cables on its website, and plans a phased release of the rest of the documents, with each new release focusing on a new country or topic.” The NYT reported that the dump, “provides an unprecedented look at back-room bargaining by embassies around the world, brutally candid views of foreign leaders and frank assessments of nuclear and terrorist threats.”

Some of the countries implicated in the Wikileaks fiasco this time around? Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, North Korea, South Korea and (drum roll please) Pakistan.

In a recent interview, Assange said Wikileaks is performing a “public service,” noting,

The cables show the U.S. spying on its allies in the UN, turning a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuse. If citizens in a democracy want their governments to reflect their wishes, they should ask to see what’s going on behind the scenes.

I am all for transparency, but the Wikileaks fiasco seems to take that notion to a whole new level. First, many of the revelations weren’t as earth-shattering as they claimed to be, not even reports of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah advising the U.S. to take action against Iran, telling them in 2008 “to cut off the head of the snake.”

Anyone interested in Middle East politics knows this is not all together surprising. Arab countries have been threatened by the power of Iran and its proxies in the region for some time, and the strategic chess game that has ensued mostly plays out behind the scenes, for the sake of diplomacy. The statement has therefore become significant because it was made public, not because of what was actually said.

King Abdullah also had some words about our very own President Zardari, calling him the greatest obstacle to progress last year. According to the cable, “When the head is rotten, it affects the whole body.”

Ouch. Not to be outdone, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed said last year that Zardari was “dirty but not dangerous,” while PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif was “dangerous but not dirty,” and could not be trusted to honor his promises.

Other less than diplomatic comments? Dmitry Medvedev: “Robin to Putin’s Batman.” Kim Jong-Il: “Flabby old chap.” Silvio Berlusconi: “Penchant for partying hard means he does not get sufficient rest.” [Berlusconi defended himself today, saying he doesn't attend "wild parties" but hosts "dignified and elegant dinner parties." Er yeah.]

Cat fight!

The cattiness is eerily reminiscent of Mean Girls, when Rachel McAdams and Lindsay Lohan wrote horrible things about other girls in high school in a Burn Book. When the contents of said book were revealed, all hell broke loose. (And yes, I just compared foreign dignitaries to high school mean girls.)

But the Wiki-Burn-Book won’t necessarily result in more transparency in the future, if this is indeed Assange’s objective. So far, most U.S. officials haven’t responded to the leak with promises of future transparency, they’ve replied with calls to make sure such a breach doesn’t happen again in the future. According to Al Jazeera English, “The White House also directed government agencies to tighten procedures for handling classified information after the mass leak.”

Ambassador Munter, the new U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, emphasized in The News yesterday, “For our part, the U.S. government is committed to maintaining the security of our diplomatic communications and is taking steps to make sure they are kept in confidence. We are moving aggressively to make sure this kind of breach does not happen again.” He also noted,

An act intended to provoke the powerful may instead imperil the powerless. We support and are willing to have genuine debates about pressing questions of public policy. But releasing documents carelessly and without regard for the consequences is not the way to start such a debate.

The revelation that the U.S. has secretly been pushing to help Pakistan remove highly enriched uranium from nuclear reactors since 2007, “fearing it could be diverted for illicit purposes,” is likely to have such consequences. Moeed Yusuf, South Asia adviser to the U.S. Institute of Peace told me today,

Many casual readers in Pakistan may conclude from the leaks that the U.S. has been trying to manipulate Pakistani authorities – that is the last thing Washington wants at this point. Specifically on the nuclear program, what has been revealed is not earth shattering but that is not how it will be presented to the man on the street in Pakistan. This will likely fuel even more conspiracy theories in the country.

So, Wikileaks, a force for the greater good? That’s for you to discuss.

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Zardari, Shoes & Floods

"The shoe was not...a Ferragamo...no..."

On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal released an op-ed by President Asif Ali Zardari defending his Europe tour, a trip that garnered tremendous criticism and even resulted in shoes being lobbed in his direction.

Yes, shoes. Nice throwback to Bush in Iraq in 2008, don’t you think?

In the article “written” by Zardari, he noted,

As the floods hit the country, I faced a dilemma as head of state. I could stay in Pakistan and support the prime minister in our response to the floods, or I could continue with a scheduled visit abroad. I chose to use my travels to mobilize foreign assistance—money, supplies, food, tents, medical care, engineers, clean water and medicine—for our people. Some have criticized my decision, saying it represented aloofness, but I felt that I had to choose substance over symbolism.

To an extent, I agree with the-aide-writing-as-Zardari. If he had stayed in Pakistan instead of jetting off to Europe, would that have made an enormous difference to the government’s response, or lack thereof, to the floods? Probably not.

He went on to add,

I might have benefited personally from the political symbolism of being in the country at the time of natural disaster. But hungry people can’t eat symbols. The situation demanded action, and I acted to mobilize the world.

Mister President, I agree with fellow bloggers that media attention on your trip has been overblown and took away from the much more serious issues at hand. But I am not sure a Europe jaunt was the necessary step in “mobilizing the world.” Couldn’t a phone call have sufficed? Skype? A few smiley faces and lol’s can go a long way these days.

But regardless of our feelings toward Zardari’s trip, the series of developments prior to and upon his return are even more frustrating. After the GEO and ARY television networks aired the shoe-hurling incident against Zardari, the two stations’ signals were reportedly “blacked out” in parts of Sindh. Geo’s managing director Azhar Abbas told CNN, “Activists of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party are threatening cable operators to take Geo off the air as well as cut cables of operators in Karachi and interior Sindh.” Copies of the Jang group’s daily Urdu newspaper, the Daily Jang, were also set on fire, and when a group of PPP activists surrounded Geo’s building Tuesday, “law enforcement groups did nothing to stop them.”

While the threat of media groups is a dangerous phenomenon, it is also exacerbated by these outlets’ responses, which sensationalize reports and further this cycle. All the while, the attention that should be dedicated to the 14 million affected by the floods in Pakistan is diverted to far less important things. So shame on you. Shame on all of you.

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Bilawal and the PPP Throne

Image: Telegraph

Anger continues to rise against President Asif Ali Zardari, as critics lambast the leader for jetting off on a Europe tour while the country faces devastating floods and violence. After his meeting with British PM David Cameron [who made some very controversial remarks against Pakistan last week], Zardari told reporters,

Storms will come and storms will go, and Pakistan and Britain will stand together and face all the difficulties with dignity.

Storms will come and storms will go“? Very sensitive analogy, Mister President, particularly when 4.5 million people have been affected by floods caused by torrential storms.

Attention has also been directed towards Bilawal Bhutto, son of Zardari and the late Benazir, the “heir” of the Pakistan People’s Party. In a biting article entitled, “Bilawal Bhutto Zardari: Born to Rule Pakistan, but Destined to Fail,” the Telegraph‘s Dan Nelson wrote,

So this Saturday, the Bhutto-Zardari family will present Bilawal Zardari, or “Bilawal Bhutto Zardari” as he is now known, as the PPP’s new leader, head of the family business, at a party rally in Birmingham. Despite his tender age and minimal experience of Pakistan, the young scion of one of the country’s wealthiest feudal families will take over the reins of the country’s largest political party…It’s a position for which there was neither contest nor welcome contestants. While the PPP has a number of promising up-and-coming MPs, like Palwasha Khan, or inspirational and able veterans like Aitzaz Ahsan (the former interior minister who led the successful lawyers’ movement to reinstate the deposed chief justice), merit simply doesn’t come into it.

In a statement released Thursday though, Bilawal “categorically denied” that he would be launching his political career tomorrow, emphasizing that he is instead opening a donation point for the flood victims in Pakistan. He stated, “I felt it was necessary to issue a statement to counter some inaccurate information that has recently been reported. As for my future plans, I intend to continue my education both academic and political.”

The back-and-forth has left me both perturbed and irritated. First, why are we still so surprised and incenced by the presence of dynastic politics in Pakistan? Yes, it is disturbing that the PPP and political parties in the region as a whole portray political office more as a family business than a merit-based career. But isn’t that also something fundamentally wrong with society’s perception of politics? Don’t we, at the end of the day, vote [at least some of] our leaders into power? If dynasties have become the norm in the region, then society also plays a role in perpetuating the reality of personality-based politics.

Second, are we selective in our criticism of Bilawal Bhutto? I find it interesting that past coverage of his political journey have been framed alongside the presence of his cousin Fatima Bhutto, not veteran politicians who have devoted their careers to the PPP. Articles have discussed who is more “deserving” of the PPP throne, with Jemima Khan acidly noting in 2008, “If everything’s in a name, Fatima need not have changed hers in order to inherit. Brought up in Pakistan, unlike Bilawal, and a native speaker, she is an established writer and political commentator. At least she has some work experience. Aunt Benazir’s first-ever job was prime minister of a 160-million-strong nation.” Yowza. Catty.

While I am not a proponent of personality politics, and certainly not of the paradoxical “dynastic democracies,” I do think it’s important to go beyond being angry about Bilawal Bhutto and ask deeper questions about the prevailing reality of Pakistan. Also, I do think (as I mentioned in my last post) that we really should be concentrating our energies elsewhere – like actually donating our time and money towards the millions of people impacted by the floods. Isn’t that what’s really important right now?

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Sometimes we are really hard on our politicians. I mean, come on guys, they’re people too! Sure, many lie, cheat, and steal from the country. The whole “there’s no I in ‘team‘” saying is completely lost on most of them.  But beneath that lying, cheating, bratty exterior are people, with real feelings. Because politicians – they’re just like us!

For example:

They’re forced to wear dorky costumes that someone told them looked “amazing” at the time!

Ugh. This is SO not something Harry Potter would wear...

They sported bad haircuts in the 80’s and had jungle-themed bedrooms!

You're a tiger, Imran!! Growl! Rawr!

They think fuzzy animals are just SO adorable!

"Gimme the panda!! Give him to me!" "No he's my fuzzy wuzzy bear!" "NO! MINE!"

They really do love their pets!

"Aren't my lions AMAZING?! I call that one Nawaz and the angry one's Shahbaz."

Sometimes all they really want is a nice, big hug…

"If you insist, I might hug. No, really. Insist."

Or a big, fat, kiss!

"Come give your Altaf Bhai a smoochie!" "Oh. God."

So next time you rag on your seedy politician, remember – they’re just like us!

(Credit for the Imran Khan photo goes to Rockistani and via @dishoompk and @fiverupees on Twitter)

(Inspired by US Weekly’s inane “Stars – They’re Just like Us!)

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