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Old Sunday, December 26, 2010
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Default Opinion: The Express Tribune

The curious case of the CIA station chief
Momin Iftikhar December 25, 2010
The recall of the CIA Station Chief Jonathan Banks in Islamabad, on account of a blown off cover and the jittery response of a very upset US intelligence establishment, has yet again shown the complex and murky relationship between the CIA and the ISI. An article published in the New York Times on December 17 titled, “Pakistan role is suspected in revealing US spy’s name” quoted American officials as saying that they strongly suspected that operatives of the ISI had a hand in revealing the CIA officer’s identity — possibly in retaliation for a lawsuit filed in Brooklyn last month, implicating the ISI chief in Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 2008. Earlier in the month, a police complaint had been filed by a resident of North Waziristan which said that a CIA-operated drone had launched missiles at his house, killing his son and brother. The complainant had sought action against Jonathan Banks.

To some analysts, familiar with diplomatic protocol, the question of a blown cover of a CIA official and the US finger pointing at the ISI have come as a surprise — even a subterfuge — because the identity of the station chief of a foreign intelligence agency in a host country is a generally known fact. This is because among ‘friendly’ embassies there is a routine and a standing practice to station an intelligence representative for the purpose of liaison and cooperation on an exchange basis. The purpose is to speed up agency-to-agency, two-way intelligence flow, circumventing delays caused by diplomatic red tape. This is with full knowledge of the host country and the privilege is extended with the proviso that it would not to be adversely exploited by conducting clandestine acts that compromise interests of the host country. In that context, Mr Banks’ identity and status were no secret. He would have been known to hundreds of officials in that capacity and to journalists as well, whose unique knowledge of the ground situation makes them a legitimate and lucrative source for intelligence gathering, particularly for an American severely restricted by the hostile environment of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area.

So if a journalist knew and gave Banks’ name to the lawyer of a man seeking justice for the loss of his close relatives in a drone attack, the US tirade targeting the ISI for causing the security lapse, certainly emerges as a case of overreaction.

Besides, the pressure for him to leave was caused, in large part, by America’s drone campaign because the threats to Mr Banks emanated in that respect as well. Hence, the US would do well to look into its own backyard for reasons that forced Mr Banks to pack up in such haste from Islamabad, instead of venting his frustrations on Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 26th, 2010.

Civilisational narcissism
Ayesha Siddiqa December 25, 2010
The other day Dr Mubarik Haider was in Islamabad speaking about the thesis of his book Tehzeebi Nargisiyat. Luckily the book, which is written in Urdu and therefore not confined to the English-speaking crowd, talks about the Muslim civilisation and its inability to question itself because of its self-image. In Islamabad, the author spoke about the flawed manner in which we have always read and interpreted our history which itself is one of the major causes of this narcissism.

It was heartening to hear the author not pose as the perfect repository of knowledge. He, in fact, claimed that this was a work in progress and he was open to his theory being questioned. But for a fruitful intellectual engagement, it is necessary for individuals, groups and societies to carry out research and have an enabling environment to do the same. Dr Haider’s secondary thesis was that Muslim societies have failed to do research using scientific methods. Not surprisingly, some of the best works on Islam and the Muslim civilisation has been done abroad and not inside the countries that claim to be part of the Muslim ummah. French scholar Louis Massignon’s work of four volumes on Sufi martyr Mansur Al-Hallaj (c. 858 – March 26, 922) is one of the many examples of the amazing research done so far.

Very recently, I came across a research project in Germany titled “Corpus Coranicum” in which a team of researchers has gotten together and is trying to construct the history of the text of the Quran using sources from the Muslim world. Of course, their only claim is that they are doing it from their own perspective. But then, the larger point is why should we grudge others when we fail to use our own resources to conduct research?

In fact, when it comes to research we are inclined towards wasting those resources because our narcissism does not allow us to explore or extend our intellectual horizons. Despite our claim that the Muslim civilisation has produced some of the best scientists, mathematicians, historians, there is no inquiry into why we ceased the process of scientific research and experimentation.

In Pakistan, which is considered the fortress of the Muslim civilisation, there is little done in the field of education and research. With a focus on quantity versus quality, we keep establishing institutions without producing results. Our fascination with establishing infrastructure means a greater number of universities and research institutions which are not equipped (in terms of manpower) to conduct scientific research.

I can comfortably speak about social sciences in this country which has died because of the lack of trained and capable human resources. Despite our emphasis on producing new doctorates and institutions, most of the work done is of poor quality. The state refuses to understand that good quality research can only be produced when there is an enabling environment. This means independence of academic and research institutions and allowing them to produce work without fear of retribution lest they stray away from the state’s ‘strategic’ perspective.

It’s a shame to see public money going to waste in the shape of numerous research institutions, especially in the capital city. Many have become places to accommodate retired bureaucrats. It is absolutely ludicrous to require security clearance for researchers from military intelligence agencies. This subservience of social science research to the state’s narrow security objectives is awful. Not to mention how the security apparatus has established new think tanks — with the label of ‘private sector’ on them — which only further the work government institutions are already doing.

Managed by people with fake PhDs or those whose main credential is their closeness to the security establishment, even new research centres have turned into mere intellectual ‘safe houses’. The social science departments of public sector universities serve as recruitment centres for foot soldiers. These are young students who move from an unscientific university environment to an equally bad research environment. Good contacts or empathy with the deep state, being a female, having a reasonably good command of English and a mind uneducated in social science methodology are some of the basic criterion for getting a job in these numerous old and new think tanks.

No wonder, we suffer from national and civilisational narcissism.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 26th, 2010.

Babur’s motto: Let the great game begin
Jyoti Malhotra December 25, 2010
Babur, the first Mughal king of Hindustan, seems to be back in vogue, with the Economist rediscovering the Baburnama and distinctly approving of the manner in which the young man turned every crisis into an opportunity.

Babur’s travails across his beloved Ferghana and Samarkand, his flight northwards towards Afghanistan — where Kabul and its villages in the north, like Istalif, captured his imagination and his heart — and the conquest of Hindustan are familiar territory to readers in our part of the world.

But for the US, which has lost 1,424 soldiers so far in the war against Osama bin Laden, in the eradication of the religious extremist-terrorist tangle in the AfPak region, in the (misguided) hope that it could help the flame of democracy and egalitarianism in the region burn brighter than ever, the last decade has been a traumatic and terrible waste land.

It’s enough to drive you to new lessons in power politics in the new year, flavoured with the acceptance of the so-called ‘moderate’ Taliban taking some control of Kabul, of oil and gas pipelines snaking across Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan and eastwards into India — in the hope that the lure of the black dollar in boom town Hindustan will subdue warring factions and bring about a semblance of peace — and crucially, with the return of Iran into the big, Afghan tent.

America’s new geostrategic designs, so elaborately crafted, are a tribute to Richard Holbrooke whose unfortunate death from a torn aorta a few days ago has thrown Washington into a whirl, not unlike a lost traveller in the Kara Kum desert. The traveller craves the horizon so that he can bring back some direction into his waterless wanderings. In DC these days, with President Obama having decided to drawdown by 2014, there’s much uncertainty about that age-old historical question: What is to be done?

Just like Babur, though, Obama has come to the conclusion that Delhi is at the heart of his legacy; that the big picture cannot be completed without India. That is why India’s special envoy on Afghanistan Satinder Lambah was in Washington to meet Holbrooke & Friends a fortnight ago to talk about that eternal euphemism, ‘the way forward’. As it turned out, he was probably one of the last foreigners to have conversed with Richard, of the lion-heart.

Only a few straws are available to judge the wind these days. The first is that Holbrooke, virtually single-handedly, has brought Iran back into the Afghan conversation. Despite the virtual US blacklisting of Tehran, the Iran representative was present at the US-brokered talks on Afghanistan, in Rome, a couple of months ago. Even after Holbrooke, the Americans have decided that he is going to participate in all the forthcoming discussions.

Holbrooke realised it was not good enough to rely on Pakistan as its chief ally against terror, as the US had done for the last decade. That it was imperative to open the Afghan tent and draw in the neighbourhood. Like Iran. Like India.

The turning point is said to have been the Obama visit to India in November. A throwaway line in the joint statement, issued thereafter, refers to joint projects that India and the US will undertake in Afghanistan. From agriculture to women’s empowerment to tentative first steps like training the Afghan police, either in Kabul or in Delhi.

Every child in India grows up knowing Rabindranath Tagore’s “Kabuliwallah” story by heart. Perhaps it’s time to return the compliment.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 26th, 2010

Fatima Jinnah and Sharifuddin Pirzada

Not many today are interested in what Pakistan’s first dictator General Ayub thought, but Diaries of Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan 1966-1972; edited and annotated by Craig Baxter; (OUP 2007) remain worth glancing through. The man was more intellectually gifted than we think. His only limitation was his mental ratchet on India. Was Bhutto more gifted? It is moot today who damaged Pakistan more.

On April 30, 1967, Ayub thought Dr Fazlur Rehman’s book “on the ideology of Pakistan” was “fascinating”. He also liked I H Qureshi’s book on Pakistan. Rehman, he had to help flee; Qureshi came to dominate thinking in Pakistan, till he was debunked by his junior fellow historian, K K Aziz. In July 1967, he notes the death of Fatima Jinnah ‘by heart attack’ (sic!) and opposes the demand that she be buried next to Jinnah: “It will ruin the symmetry”.

But the details are interesting. There was an initial Namaz-i-Janaza at her residence in Mohatta Palace in accordance with Shia rites. A Sunni official funeral was to be held in the Polo Ground: “There an argument developed whether this should be led by a Shia or a Sunni, eventually Badayuni was put forward to lead the prayer. As soon as he uttered the first sentence the crowd broke in the rear. Thereupon, he and the rest ran, leaving the coffin high and dry”.

The coffin was taken to the compound of the Jinnah mausoleum where she was to be buried. But ‘students and the goonda element’ started pelting stones on the police. They had to resort to lathi-charge and tear-gas attack.

On August 31, 1967, Ayub delivered himself of the following gem on Sharifuddin Pirzada, his foreign minister: “He is on the run in foreign countries most of the time and often purposelessly, is very suspicious by nature, has hardly any communication with the staff, chases small things most of the time and is frightened of taking a definite stand on any issue. There is also some suspicion that he is not above telling a lie. So I am in a fix as to what to do with him”.

On June 14 1968, he takes note of ‘an American senior official’ Mr McNamara who said: “US Congress is very angry with Pakistan because of the 1965 war with India because it was the volume of American aid that enabled the two countries to divert their own resources to building up their armed forces”. He noted Bhutto telling a gathering of lawyers “that amongst his services to the country was the expression of willingness to fight India for a thousand years and that if he was in power Jerusalem would never have been lost”.

In October 1969, he noted that a road had been named after Suhrawardi but no road after him: “Who can deny that I am responsible for the concept, naming and development of Islamabad; it is my creation”. He notes Iskander Mirza was buried in Tehran because President Yahya Khan had refused to let Mirza visit Pakistan on Shah’s request. Iranian Foreign Minister Ardeshir Zahedi was related to Mirza’s wife.

In January 1970, he thought “Mujibur Rehman is a pure and simple agitator. He has no brains, no administrative acumen, is unreliable, impulsive and emotional. He is a wrecker not a builder. Besides, his loyalty to Pakistan is extremely doubtful”. Like other strongmen in history he also thought “the Americans had a hand in my downfall”. His remark on his defender, Z A Suleri: “Though an opportunist of the first order and a thoroughly unreliable and ungrateful man, he writes well”.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 26th, 2010.
2010 winners: Allah, Army and America
Aamer Ahmed Khan December 25, 2010
As 2010 draws to a close, we might as well take stock of where we stand. In many ways, the so-called war on terror has made it fairly simple to do year enders. In the pre-9/11 world, I remember the very wide view one had to take to sum up the year gone by. There was politics, economy, society, crime, education, health, culture, entertainment and what not to think through for the purpose.

Of course, even then, the joke used to be the three A’s that rule Pakistan’s destiny — Allah, Army and America. But it was never as stark, as in your face, as it is now. Somehow, the war on terror has turned what was supposed to be a joke into the only relevant reality for perhaps the most troubled Muslim country in the world.

So, let’s take stock of where we stand viz Allah, Army and America.

My database shows that the Americans have hit a century of drone attacks on Pakistani tribal areas this year, the first time they have done so in the space of just 12 months. But it seems to be of no concern to anyone. In fact, if anything, we know from WikiLeaks that instead of trying to stop this flagrant violation of our sovereignty, our civil and military leadership spends its time cosying up to American diplomats and sharing with them their deep, dark, scandalous desires.

In contrast, the Americans, clearly not content with the hundreds of nameless and faceless tribals they have killed, make no secret of their desire to see their Pakistani allies kill as many, if not more, and say they are deeply upset that we have so far been unable to satisfy their bloodlust. Yet they remain our allies, and for that, one of the clear winners in Pakistan for the year 2010.

Then, there is Allah, whose original message to his people lies mutilated and forgotten due to the ignorance of illiterate intermediaries, the intrigue of the faithful and the murk of international backstabbing and skulduggery. Whether we admit it or not, we now know Allah only through the bloodthirsty band of lunatics who call themselves the Taliban. Over the years, aided by dishonest politicians, self-styled preachers and a confused populace, they seem to have worked their way into our psyche like never before.

Despite the drone strikes and numerous military operations, they seem to be conducting their business pretty much as they always have — striking at will and drawing more and more youngsters into the twisted labyrinths of their evil philosophy. The army chief’s recent assurance to the people of Swat that the army was there to stay for the foreseeable future, is a clear admission of Taliban’s resilience and endurance. Along with the Americans, they must rank among the clear winners of 2010 in Pakistan.

Finally, the army. Our religious leaders have always been staunch believers in the need of a commander for the faithful, a sipah salar, and have always been allied to the army in one form or the other. But, it is our secular leadership that in 2010, has surrendered like never before to the army’s predominance in national politics.

PML-N leaders regard General Pervez Kayani as a pro-democracy general. PPP leaders are so keen to keep him at bay that they have, for the first time in the country’s history, awarded him with an additional tenure. But the icing on the cake has come from WikiLeaks which has told the entire world that our pro-democracy military leadership was looking to change the country’s unanimously elected president. Yet, there is no one to hold the soldier accountable for his indiscretion.

In any other democracy, such a general would have been forced to resign. As such, the army too claims a premier spot among the winners in Pakistan in 2010.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 26th, 2010.
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Old Monday, December 27, 2010
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Default 27-12-2010

Remembering Benazir Bhutto
Farahnaz Ispahani

Three years ago today, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. It was a dark day that indelibly changed the direction of Pakistan and I am torn both by personal and political reflections.

I was blessed and honoured not only to assist Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto in the field of communications but also to know her personally. So for me, December 27 is doubly tragic — I miss her skill, her leadership, what she could have accomplished politically for our people. But I also miss her laughter, her humour, her loving attention to her family and her friends. I miss her every day, and I weep for all the ‘might have beens’ if she hadn’t been so brutally assassinated ahead of her greatest electoral triumph.

Some in our chattering class, speaking from the comfort of their couches and their salons, gossip and criticise and dismiss her accomplishments. How many of them — if they had her brilliance, her education at Harvard and Oxford, her beauty, her youth, her family wealth, her loving husband and children — would have sacrificed everything out of personal responsibility and commitment to the people of Pakistan? She had everything to live for. She could have had a life that anyone of us would have only dreamed of. Yet she came back fearlessly to lead us because of her faith in God and the people of Pakistan.

There are tens of thousands of primary and secondary schools across our country that were built during her government. There are thousands of villages that got electricity. There is healthcare in our rural areas because of her programme of 100,000 women health workers being trained in nutrition and pre and post-natal care. There are women abused by domestic violence who can now go to women’s police stations for help. There are computers, fiber optics, cell phones, access to CNN and BBC, an uncensored media and an independent civil society because of her vision. And there are 90 million women in Pakistan who refuse to accept limits on their futures because she broke the glass ceiling for all of us, shattering not only the glass but her very life in the process.

On her first day in office in 1988, she freed all political prisoners, she made student and labour unions legal, she made civil society truly ‘civil’ again, she uncensored the media and opened it, for the first time in Pakistani history, to the political opposition.

And all of that was on her first day. During the 1800 days that she served as our prime minister, she built on this record of human rights, not only in rhetoric but in practice. She appointed women for the first time in our history to superior courts. She freed Pakistani women and girl athletes to compete in international competitions. She created a Women’s Development Bank to provide loans to women to start businesses across Pakistan.

Her accomplishments are not recognised by obscurantists because they do not agree with her vision. Some others fail to appreciate the odds she overcame.

Benazir Bhutto didn’t fear dictators or tyrants. She threw down the gauntlet to jihadists and terrorists and was the face of a modern, enlightened and loving Islam to a world that had condemned us to caricature.

She alone dared to challenge Ziaul Haq in the 1980s and Pervez Musharraf in the new century. Because of her, Pakistan strives to build a thriving and robust democracy, with our constitution restored and the vestiges of dictatorship purged from the laws of our land. No one can take that away from her. And no one will ever be able to take that away from us. Benazir Bhutto was the bravest person I have ever known. She was also the smartest, the most visionary and the most selfless. She didn’t live for herself, she lived for us. And, tragically, she died for us. For me, for Pakistan, and for the entire world, she is irreplaceable.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 27th, 2010.

COIN dilemmas

The writer was a Ford Scholar at the Programme in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at UIUC (1997) and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution's Foreign Policy Studies Programme

Khar Bazaar in Bajaur Agency has been struck again, the suicide bomber this time leaving in the wake of the attack nearly 110 casualties with over 40 killed and the toll mounting.

The agency has previously seen attacks on checkpoints and, mostly, Salarzai tribal elders (Mashraan) who are pro-government and whose armed cooperation has been essential in securing areas cleared by the army and the Frontier Corps. This time, early on December 25, the target was a World Food Programme (WFP) distribution point for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

This is a classic counterinsurgency problem, where strategy operates along four stages of clear, hold, build and transfer. Securing the area depends on successful completion of all four stages, but does not depend for that process only on military operations. That’s the tough part.

There is a semi-jocular but profound saying in the army that ‘when you secure the area, make sure the enemy knows it too’. In counter-insurgency operations (COIN), the enemy, amorphous and elusive, depends for his success precisely on denying the counter-insurgency force the satisfaction that the area has been secured.

But it is important to define what securing the area means because capturing the area does not necessarily mean it has been secured. When Operation Sherdil began its roll in Sept 2008, the area west and northwest of Barang and Utman khel tehsils was almost completely under the control of the Taliban.

Three operations later, except for some fringe pockets, Bajaur Agency is physically under the control of security forces. But the dilemma is that in COIN operations, capturing physical space is just one aspect of the operations, though an important one because it gives you partial control of psychological space. The next stage is to capture the social space. That’s the real contest because, in theory, that is when the insurgent is really threatened because this means the COIN force is now moving towards ‘securing’ the area. His (that is, the insurgent) asymmetric advantage depends on controlling the population, which he partly exercises through persuasion and largely through coercion. This is what is called shaping the environment.

Now that the forces have captured the area physically and have also begun to make inroads into the social space by co-opting tribes and sub-tribes for multiple activities — patrolling, maintaining law and order, picking up intelligence on unwanted people and ensuring normal social activity — they are moving towards securing the physical, psychological and social spaces. The insurgent is under pressure and has no option but to strike back. His best bet is the suicide bomber, the ultimate smart bomb.

He will, of course, use various methods, for instance the coordinated armed raids on checkpoints recently in Mohmand Agency, which lies south of Bajaur. But armed attack is a tactic better workable in areas where the insurgent can still move relatively freely. Bajaur is more secure that way and offers very little movement to a platoon-sized body of armed men to approach the inner areas of the agency.

The relative physical and social security of Bajaur is what induced the decision to get the IDPs back in various stages. The insurgent’s objective now is to recapture the physical and social spaces by attacking the people — to signal to them that they are not secure; that the area, in real terms, is still held by him.

The insurgent’s task is easier because he needs to choose the right targets and strike at will without exposing himself through heavy movement. A suicide attack every now and then is enough. He knows that for the government to get the people to return also means the security forces will have to loosen security procedures — people gathering to get food make an ideal target from that perspective. But this also means that the insurgent realises he is losing physical and social spaces. He will attack to recapture the psychological space to try and re-dominate the social space.

That is where the contest will unfold. The fact that he is attacking the people is what needs to be leveraged against him. The WFP has suspended its programme. If it remains suspended, the insurgent would have succeeded in thwarting the return of the people and resumption of normal life. This must be avoided.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 27th, 2010.
Ejaz Haider

Give democracy a chance

The writer is professor of political science at LUMS

Caught in the spiral of multiple problems, capped by insurgency and terrorism, disquiet with the elected governments is natural. Nor have high-ranking government leaders done much to satisfy the common people. Rather, their administrative and political conduct has given enough ammunition to opportunity-seeking autocratic groups to present democracy as an unworkable form of government for Pakistan.

There are influential social, business and political groups in Pakistan that don’t trust the political parties that often get popular support. In inciting the military establishment to take over power and orchestrating hybrid military-civilian regimes, they have played a great role. What motivated this kind of partnership? Neither any enlightened ideology, nor any longer-term interest in state or nation building had any role. Social class and business interests motivated these disparate groups, individuals and party factions. They have always used political connections for moneymaking ventures.

Elected governments have displaced those aligned with the last hybrid regime and have co-opted those who have realigned with the powerful figures and groups in power. Elite social networks are the bedrock of Pakistani politics; party affiliations, identities and labels have no meaning. Restoration of democracy and elections help reshuffle the political pack. The important players change seats, seek new alliances and build new networks with the same motives of greed, plunder and extorting resources.

The moral of this political story is that the hybrid regimes didn’t give us honest people or those motivated to serve Pakistan and its citizens; everyone entered the game with the same interests and motivations which are generally attributed to the elected and electable political class. Look back at the character and integrity of cabinet ministers, governors and those pulling the strings from the institutional walls and you will know how deceptive and fraudulent the gang was.

We cannot allow the same game to be played under what passes for democracy in the post-hybrid regime. Those genuinely elected by the peoples and laced with popular legitimacy to govern have ethical, legal and political obligations to serve the public and national interest. However, it is true that they have failed in many respects and some of the central players of the political game are responsible for the worsening social and economic conditions of the country. What, then, is the remedy?

The remedy lies in democracy itself. There is no other system in the world that can offer anything better or even remotely close to a democratic system. This system grows with experience and takes roots in the society as voters learn how to change the representatives that violate their trust. The leaders and the parties that have popular mandate today may not have it tomorrow if they violate trust, if we give democracy a chance.

Generally, the urban intellectual and conservative affluent sections of the society mistrust the common man and argue that he is easily manipulated and intimidated into voting for the ruling groups. This is a very simplistic view of the common man and his electoral behaviour. Even in developed countries, citizens remain loyal to their parties over generations. But party identities and commitments dissolve when the parties fail to serve the interests of their constituents.

Our history also confirms the view that voters reject leaders and parties that don’t serve them well, and they explore alternatives when they have an opportunity. Let the present assemblies complete their tenure, so that the people have a chance to judge them on account of their performance. This will prove that democracy is a self-perfecting system and hybridism brings distortions into its natural evolution.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 27th, 2010.
Rasul Bakhsh Rais
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