Archive for May, 2011

Introducing Chota Jatt

When I was little, my after school staple was cartoons. Before my mother could yell at us to do our homework, we’d blissfully escape  into the folds of Thundercats or Transformers. We’d beg for “just ten more minutes” of Duck Tales or The Smurfs. We were kids of the ’80s and ’90s, who were lucky enough to have families that could afford satellite television in Pakistan and VHS tapes of Western cartoon serials.

But looking back on my childhood, I wish we had more options that celebrated our own culture and heritage, that taught morals and values from a nuanced and indigenous perspective, that gave us our own heroes to look up to. (No offense to Lion O, though. He was pretty awesome. Thundercats HO.)

Meet Chota Jatt!

The new Chotta Jatt animated series promises to be all that and more. The cartoon draws inspiration from a line of Lollywood films from the 1970s (i.e., Waishy Jatt, Shera Jatt, and the most iconic one – Maula Jatt). According to Creator Daniyal Noorani (who wrote & produced the song “Find Heaven”), “The character “Chota Jatt” uses his strength to fight for justice and to battle against corruption, feudalism, and extremism. The series will be high octane, action packed and hilarious.” He added to me, “The hope is that this show can be used as a vector to instill solid values such as equality, perserverance, and standing up against injustice,” ultimately universal values expressed through a Pakistani lens.

The series just completed a trailer to generate buzz about Chota Jatt, and Noorani is now looking for distribution on a Pakistani channel, noting that they will soon be releasing a three-minute “webisode.” The Chota Jatt team includes Marria Khan and Ryan for Character Design, Abdullah Saeed for music, Zahid Gill for animation and Shahjehan Khan for narration.

When I asked Noorani what he hopes children take away from this animated series, he answered, “A character whom they can relate to and to whom they can turn to for moral guidance. You know how kids go, What would Superman do in such a situation? I hope that kids can someday say, What would Chota Jatt do in such a situation?

For now, you can check out (and share) the trailer below, and check out the Jattitude website, with links to Twitter and Facebook pages for further updates.

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Since the Raymond Davis debacle and the most recent Osama bin Laden raid & kill, much has been written about the future of U.S. and Pakistan relations. Some see the road ahead as rosy, likely to be steered back on course. Some see it as doomed to fail, unlikely to ever be resuscitated. Below Bilal Baloch and Maria Hasan, both graduate students at The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University, weigh in on the current status quo:

The past decade has witnessed a strong alliance between the US and Pakistan. A malfunction of some proportion, however, has led to some calling for a complete overhaul of US-Pakistan relations. Indeed, the relationship has been stretched from all angles, leaving a quagmire so complex that an understanding, let alone a policy prescription, seems a task of gargantuan order. Nonetheless, a brush of pragmatism reveals that at the heart of the cries, lays one, over-riding question: how important is Pakistan to US interest in the region? The answer remains in the positive.

Since Osama bin Laden’s death, the proverbial finger has been pointed firmly at Pakistan: mostly with suspicion. To Pakistan’s ill-fortune, rogue elements within its government apparatus subversively attack from within, acting as a separate state. Theirs is a logic leading them to believe that a shelter to bin Laden would spruce up an arsenal to bargain with the US if Washington ever decided to clip their wings.

If this is indeed what unfolded, then someone in Pakistan must be made to suffer the consequences and undergo an intensive investigation at the very least. Yet, even if it were the case that an official hand was at play in the bin Laden saga, it is most likely that a small portion of, say, the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency may be complicit rather than the entire agency itself. This begs the stark question: Can the intelligence community of a country have a command structure where some of its factions act without the guidance of its other parts? Absolutely. Lest we forget, Pakistan has oftentimes functioned as a praetorian state, where the three pillars of governance — the Army, ISI, and civilian government — have rarely acted in harmony. And the US has seldom shied away from playing off these tensions.

To date, the US has not made much noise about the prospect of the ISI sheltering some of the Afghan Taliban leadership in Pakistan. Several reasons are mooted for the intelligence establishment to pursue such a move, but the critical matter is that the US is well aware of the cover. In turn, the US has had Pakistan ramp up the pressure on any globally, and specifically American, targeted plots. This has been the pattern of the two nations’ relationship thus far. Though it may strike as absurd, balancing the unethical and paranoid wishes of the ISI with broader objectives to crack down on  Al Qaeda has been billed as the most pragmatic approach available to the US in a country riddled with conflicting elements.

Stability in Pakistan is critical to US national interest in the region at large, both politically and geostrategically. Pakistan will soon become the fourth largest population in the world, with a youth of some 100 million, and a grave lack of jobs, factored into the existing mess of an energy crisis and rising food prices. At this time, it is critical that the perception of the US is not skewed in the eyes of a frustrated, disenfranchised populace. Long-term US national interest may lay in ensuring that rather than winning “hearts and minds,” Pakistan is turned into an ally through trade, development, and diplomacy. This would also serve to counter militant extremism too. And signs of cooperation are there.

Since September 11, 2001, Pakistan has proved a worthy supporting act. Some may suggest that Pakistan didn’t even have a choice in the matter, being faced with extinction or support for the so-called “War on Terror.” US assets have been ever-present in Pakistan, officially or otherwise, since the Afghan war against the Soviets: the very war that gave birth to bin Laden. The CIA has been conducting its drone program in Pakistan since 2004; and there has been an official policy of intelligence sharing between the two countries. Though Leon Panetta declares that the Pakistanis had “no idea about Operation Neptune Spear” itself, it would be implausible to think that the effect of capturing bin Laden has followed a causation devoid of any Pakistani assistance. After all, president Obama was quick to thank Pakistan for its help in the battle to capture bin Laden. And, most recently, allegations have surfaced that an agreement was struck in 2001, where Pakistan would allow US forces to conduct a unilateral raid inside Pakistan in search of Bin Laden, and afterwards, Pakistan would act to protest the incursion. In any case, over the past decade, it is safe to assert that Pakistan has more than produced the bang for the American buck.

Still, the unconventional politics in Pakistan strains the relationship with the US massively. At this time of delicate diplomacy, how can the US react?

Just as the 19th century European powers employed a balance of power system to avoid catastrophe, the US must ensure that it balances the various factions in Pakistan from turning against the Americans, or one another. Yes, investigations and checks must ensue after bin Laden’s capture, but a break up of ties will only be detrimental. Indeed, it is better to have these agencies onside, then not, and failure may lead Pakistan to implode: at least politically. But a carefully constructed, and executed, realpolitik approach may inspire the Pakistani civilian government to act in coalition with the other agencies, while ensuring that oversight at least begins to emerge over the rogue factions. And the signs have begun to surface, as Pakistan has agreed to allow the US to question the three wives of Osama bin Laden who were with him in the compound: a sure stamp of cooperation amid tensions following the raid. Another positive sign lay in the fact that the State Department has declared that it is growing in confidence about
broader information sharing between the two countries. Overall, the US must remain consistent in its support.

An alliance that is shrouded in mystery incites resentment, not trust, in the populations of both the US and Pakistan. It is essential that Americans are reassured that the Pakistani state is doing everything in its power to prevent international terrorism. Yet, if the real war indeed lies in Pakistan, it remains equally important for the US to strengthen its alliance with that country. Acknowledging that Pakistani cooperation has been imperfect, but sufficient, is the first step to stabilizing the current threat to the relationship.

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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Post-PNS Mehran Thoughts

Star Wars Yoda. Cute & cuddly. No resemblance to armed militant.

By now, you’ve all heard of the shocking attack on PNS Mehran, Pakistan’s largest naval base this past Sunday in Karachi.

Here’s what we know:

  • Armed militants stormed the base, using ladders to scale the back wall of one of Pakistan’s premier naval air stations and destroy two U.S.-supplied P-3C Orion maritime surveillance aircraft.
  • The base was “recaptured” by Pakistani security forces after a 17-hour gun battle, during which 10 personnel lost their lives, and 15 were injured.
  • Lieutenant Yasir Abbas, who was killed leading a counter-attack against the attackers, is being hailed as a national hero.
  • 17 foreign personnel – six Americans and 11 Chinese – were on the base at the time of the siege, but escaped without harm.
  • The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack, telling Reuters by telephone, “It was the revenge of martyrdom of Osama bin Laden. It was the proof that we are still united and powerful.”
  • Interior Minister Rehman Malik refuses to admit that the attack was a serious breach of national security, and said it was due to an intelligence failure by the Air Force and Navy (via Al Jazeera English).
  • Malik said “external elements” (*cough* India/Zionists/Blackwater *cough*) may have been involved with the militants, although he did not provide evidence supporting this claim.
  • Malik also said the attackers resembled Star Wars characters, noting, “They were wearing black clothes like in Star Wars movies…”
  • Rehman Malik is an idiot.

Here’s what is still ambiguous:

  • A police report released after the attack said 10-12 militants were involved, although Pakistani officials (including Malik) said “up to six” were involved in the incident.
  • Sources say two of the attackers escaped, rather than being killed as was previously reported.

Here are the questions that still require answers:

  • How did 10-12 militants manage to launch an attack of this magnitude against Pakistan’s security establishment? (And no, “using ladders” is not a sufficient answer.)
  • Why did it take 17 hours for security forces to regain control of PNS Mehran?
  • Who was complicit in these attacks? Dawn newspaper (via AJE) questioned whether the attackers had help from the security establishment, writing, “Did the Taliban raiders have information inside the naval base? Such a possibility cannot be ruled out, because the involvement of serving personnel in several previous attacks has been well-established.”
  • After all this loss, how can anyone still claim that this is anything but our war? How can anyone credibly claim that the enemies are conspiratorial foreign hands? How?

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The WTF List

LOLCat says WTF.

 It’s Friday, (ok fine, early morning Saturday), so I thought it was high-time for some recent WTF-worthy stories:

  1. WTF #1: Wikileaks has partnered with Dawn Newspaper, India’s NDTV and the Hindu to release a new round of secret U.S. diplomatic cables. Yikes. According to the cables, in 2008, COAS Gen. Ashfaq Kayani asked the U.S. to increase “Predator coverage” in South Waziristan to support Pakistan’s military operations in the tribal agency. Yes. He meant the drones. According to Dawn, which cited a report of a meeting between US CENTCOM Commander Admiral William J. Fallon and Kayani, Fallon “regretted that he did not have the assets to support this request” but said trained US Marines to could coordinate air strikes for Pakistani forces on ground. Kayani then “‘demurred’ on the offer, pointing out that having US soldiers on ground ‘would not be politically acceptable.'” Uh yeah.
  2. WTF #2: Also revealed via Wikileaks, the U.S. embassy in Islamabad recommended an increase in American military aid to Pakistan to address their “conventional disadvantage vis-a-vis India” in order to secure its cooperation in the war on terror. A year after the Mumbai attacks. Awkward.
  3. WTF #3: Meera strikes again! Our favorite Pakistani Lollywood actress and “layer” stars in a new reality show that premiered last night on Geo’s Entertainment channel. In Kaun Banega Meera Pati, aka the Pakistani Bachelorette, Meera will choose her future hubby from 13 candidates, and will reportedly get married by the 26th episode. I don’t know what’s worse – that there’s now a desi version of the Bachelorette (shoot me now), or that viewers have to wait 26 stupid episodes to watch Meera’s shaadi. Oh no jaani no.
  4. WTF #4: Former IMF managing director (and alleged rapist) Dominique Strauss-Kahn was released from jail Friday after posting a $1 million bail and a $5 million bond. According to the NY Times, “He was taken to 71 Broadway in Lower Manhattan, a building that has rental apartments but is a bit of a comedown from the deluxe accommodations he had expected.” Here’s what I think – who gives an F what Strauss-Kahn thinks? The dude is an alleged rapist, a pervert, and a creep. His residence should be behind bars.
  5. WTF #5: Apparently the world is supposed to end today (May 21). Harold Camping’s prediction that Rapture (Judgment Day) would be May 21, 2011 has received unprecedented publicity and has led to a number of doomsday parties, entrepreneurs offering post-Rapture services, jokes, and heated debates on American news channels. And here I thought that Rapture was a new night club that just opened. Had I realized earlier, I would have eaten that damn cheeseburger at lunch. Sad Kalsoom.

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U.S. & Pakistan: I just can't quit you.

U.S. & Pakistan: I just can't quit you.

Amid reported tensions between Washington and Islamabad since the Osama bin Laden raid and kill, the U.S. embassy in Islamabad said in statement this week,

Pakistan-U.S. relations should go forward on the basis of mutual respect, mutual trust and mutual interest.

But is the desire to mend these relations actually mutual? Just over the weekend, the Washington Post reported that the Obama administration remained “uncertain and divided” over their future relationship with Islamabad. One senior administration official told the media outlet, “You can’t continue business as usual. You have to somehow convey to the Pakistanis that they’ve arrived at a big choice. People who were prepared to listen to [Pakistan’s] story for a long time are no longer prepared to listen.”

But as much as U.S. senators question sending aid to Pakistan and toy with the carrots and sticks they keep lobbing that way, they ultimately don’t want to do too much to jeopardize that relationship. But not because it’s one based on mutual respect. It’s because it’s based on mutual BS. The U.S. has always viewed Pakistan as a strategic ally, while Pakistan has developed a cloying dependency on American aid. To call it mutual would be a fallacy. The current status quo in U.S.-Pakistan relations can best be described as transactional, opaque, and more often than not, hanging in the balance. Washington and Islamabad, as much as they’d really, really like to, just can’t quit each other.

U.S. - Pakistan Relations: Like Jenga!

During Senator John Kerry‘s visit to Islamabad this week, the lawmaker, dubbed by delusional Newsweek editors as the “Pakistan Whisperer,” made the grand gestures that meant almost nothing at all. According to the LA Times, Kerry delivered a very “stern message,” noting that Washington “would not tolerate Pakistan providing sanctuary to Al Qaeda and allied militant groups that target Western interests.” He said that both Washington and Islamabad had agreed to go against “high-value” targets.

But according to the Wall Street Journal today, the ISI is reportedly pressing the Haqqani network to join the nascent Afghan peace talks, mostly likely due to their desires for strategic depth in Afghanistan, as well as the network’s presence in North Waziristan. A Pakistani defense official told the WSJ that the Haqqanis can’t just be “taken out” like Al Qaeda operatives because they are part of the fabric of eastern Afghanistan and North Waziristan. He argued that the Haqqani network must be won over by talks, despite U.S. resistance to do so.

In light of this, can Washington and Islamabad genuinely work in each other’s mutual interest when much of their interests aren’t aligned?

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Source: Guardian

Today, more than 80 paramilitary soldiers were killed when at least one suicide bomber blew himself up at a military training center in Charsadda. At least 115 people were wounded in the bombing, labeled by the NY Times as, “the first major terrorist attack since the American raid in Abbottabad on May 2 that killed Osama bin Laden,” and by other outlets as the deadliest attack in Pakistan since last November.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack, and a spokesman told the AFP, “This was the first revenge for Osama’s martyrdom. Wait for bigger attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.” (The AfPak Channel’s daily brief, however, did note, “Pakistani police officials…were skeptical that the attack…was the work of the TTP, and suggested it may have been orchestrated by Omar Khalid’s group, which is currently fighting the Pakistani Army in Mohmand.”)

In a Parliamentary session today on the bin Laden operation, ISI Director General Pasha (who may or may not be resigning) admitted to intelligence negligence but not failure regarding the U.S. raid that killed OBL.

Jason Burke noted in a column for the Guardian,

There is a terrible inevitability about the bombing in Charsadda, Pakistan, on Friday morning. Little about it is different from previous bombings. There is the same vicious tactic…a familiar target: hapless recruits to the underpaid, under-equipped paramilitary frontier corps. There is a familiar culprit…The only difference is that this strike comes after the death of Osama bin Laden. It is an attack, claimed in the name of Al Qaeda in effect, by Pakistanis on Pakistanis.

As I watched images of injured young cadets on the news, I felt sick to my stomach. I felt sick because as this country goes up in flames, people are not protesting for the thousands of Pakistani lives lost because of terror attacks in the last few years alone. No. They are protesting violations of sovereignty committed by the Americans. They are pointing fingers at one another, shifting blame, searching for scapegoats. I am sick to my stomach.

Other interesting reads before the weekend:

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Deal or No Deal

What say you, Howie Mandel + Briefcase Ladies? Deal or No Deal?

It has been over a week since news broke that Osama bin Laden was killed in a U.S. operation in Abbottabad, and developments are still unfolding, tensions are still building, and we still are not quite sure what the hell is really going on.

On Monday, our illustrious PM Yousaf Raza Gilani made a speech before the Pakistani Parliament, strongly rejecting allegations of Pakistan’s complicity in hiding Osama bin Laden or incompetence in tracking him down. On the topic of what went wrong, Gilani did admit that there had been an intelligence failure, but refused to take sole responsibility, instead noting,  “It is not only ours but of all the intelligence agencies of the world.”

Good deflection, Jadoogar.

Gilani also used the speech as an opportunity to highlight the U.S. violation of Pakistani sovereignty, saying Pakistanis are “rightly incensed” about the covert U.S. operation on the country’s soil. He emphasized,

Abbottabad hosts a routine Military training institution, which does not require any elaborate special defence arrangement. There is no denying the US technological ability to evade our radars. We regret that this unilateral action was undertaken without our concurrence.

In several interviews post-raid, former President Pervez Musharraf came out as one of the most vocal critics of the U.S. operation, also calling it a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.

But on May 9, the Guardian’s Declan Walsh reported that the U.S. and Pakistan had struck a deal in 2001 permitting a U.S. operation on Pakistani soil to go after Osama bin Laden. Walsh noted,

Under its terms, Pakistan would allow US forces to conduct a unilateral raid inside Pakistan in search of Bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the Al Qaeda No3. Afterwards, both sides agreed, Pakistan would vociferously protest the incursion.

A former senior U.S. official told the Guardian, “There was an agreement between Bush and Musharraf that if we knew where Osama was, we were going to come and get him. The Pakistanis would put up a hue and cry, but they wouldn’t stop us.”

Mushy! You got some ‘splaining to do!

Not surprisingly, Musharraf doth protested such reports. In an interview Wednesday, he told ABC News, “Never! And this is the assertion being cast by the Guardian and I rejected that. I condemn such an insinuation. There was no such deal.”

Interestingly, though, the Guardian wasn’t the only outlet to “cast such an assertion.” In the Friday Times last week, Ali Chishti alluded to something similar, when he quoted former intelligence chief Shah Mahboob Alam who also said, “The U.S. initiated a unilateral action based on an understanding with Pakistan from years ago.”

On Wednesday, Reuters cited more sources – current and former U.S. officials – who further said “the message that the United States would dispatch forces to go after bin Laden if it found him in Pakistan was repeatedly passed on to Pakistani authorities so that, at a minimum, Islamabad should have had no illusions about the U.S. position.”

So, deal or no deal?

It is no secret that Bush and Musharraf had a close relationship post-9/11 attacks.  In a joint statement between the two leaders in November 2001, they reaffirmed “the strength and vitality of the bilateral relationship between the United States and Pakistan,” with Musharraf welcoming Bush’s decision “to lift a number of economic sanctions that would allow for the resumption of cooperation with Pakistan.”

Mush: I got you, bra. Bush: Na, bra.

Unless Musharraf suddenly changes tact and admits to a deal (not likely) we really won’t be sure of anything, particularly if the “understanding” that was met was never put in writing. Nevertheless, given the U.S.-Pakistan history of covert deals (hello, drone strike policy), struck so that the U.S. can achieve their interests and the Pakistan state can pretend like they don’t know that we know, we can at least be justifiably suspicious.

The significant part of the deal-or-no-deal debate though, is how it has shifted our attention away from what’s really important; i.e., how the Pakistani military and our intelligence agencies either managed to allow one of the biggest intelligence failures to happen, or worse yet, how they managed to keep OBL hidden as their strategic interest for so long [read Shahid Saeed’s piece at Dawn for words of wisdom as well as Chris Fair’s piece for the AfPak Channel]. Forget holding the Pakistani military and ISI accountable to the Americans – hold them accountable to us, the Pakistani citizens, who bore the brunt of these misgivings.

As a nation, we often point fingers outwards instead of at ourselves. Conspiracy theories reign supreme. Political pot shots to garner votes and popularity are the norm. And amidst this circus, no one seems to give a damn about anyone but themselves. Pray tell, how can we hope for any progress if accountability is never even part of the vernacular?

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