Saturday, March 18, 2017
An article written by Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former Ambassador to the United States, has kicked off a storm in Pakistan. Haqqani’s article states that the Obama Administration managed to place intelligence assets within Pakistan to help track Osama Bin Laden. The civilian government under President Zardari approved the request. These assets may have facilitated the May 2011 operation by US Navy Seals to find and kill Bin Laden without Pakistan’s knowledge.
Almost all the political parties and TV talking heads have construed Haqqani’s narrative as an admission of facilitating CIA thereby harming Pakistan’s security interests. The media rumpus and impending resolutions in the Parliament constitute much ado about nothing. The way Haqqani tells it, this was all done in full knowledge of the then PPP government. The latter’s distancing itself from the comments has not proved sufficient in quelling its opponents’ thirst for political blood. For some in the party, Haqqani may have, perhaps inadvertently, thrown the PPP under the bus. But it really is no biggie. Our politicians need to readjust their focus. There are two issues of import here. Haqqani’s account follows the official line that the hunt for Bin Laden was a CIA go-it-alone adventure conducted without the knowledge of the Pakistani security establishment. This view has been meticulously debunked by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh. Ironically, Haqqani’s comments unwittingly let Pakistan’s security establishment off the proverbial hook. Both complicity and negligence on our part are perturbing scenarios.
Second, and more worrying, is how the conventional line that the Abbottabad raid hurt the national interest is being reinforced. The unsaid flip side of this dictates that holding the Al Qaeda chief prisoner for five year was in the national interest. According to one Hersh source, the then ISI chief was blunt in his explanation of the perceived strategic pay-off. It goes something like this: the ISI were using Bin Laden as leverage against the possibility that Al Qaeda and Taliban activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan took a turn against its diktats. Were this to happen — the spooks would take revenge by handing over Bin Laden to the Americans. Needless to say, Bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan remains an issue of far greater significance than how many visas were granted to Americans and with whose authorisation. Thus instead of wasting time political chest thumping, our parliamentarians would do well to heed the old adage of never looking a gift horse in the mouth. They should, with full support of the media, revisit the Abbottabad Commission Report and demand its immediate declassification. Failure to do this will be far greater a crime than a former ambassador’s momentary bragging.
The accountability discourse has suffered mutilation and deformation of Himalayan proportions with the expansion of electronic media and its “freedom”. The term media trial is not sufficient to describe what transpires in the prime time talk shows of TV networks. There are many reasons for it. One, the semi-democratic nature of Pakistani state system determines the monopoly of the deep state over defining almost all dimensions of national narrative. ISPR’s word is supposed to be the last word on any issue. As if that isn’t enough, the so called defense analysts don’t lag behind the spokespersons of political parties in projecting the views of the deep state on any issue under the sun which leads to thought control. Two, in other countries of the world, where freedom of expression exists, there are strong and effective laws on defamation and damages. Media outlets or networks involved in publishing or broadcasting lies for maligning other people or inciting violence are taken to task by courts. A recent judgment of a court in London imposing heavy fine on a Pakistani TV channel operating in UK is a case in point. On the contrary Pakistani torts and defamation laws aren’t strong enough to discourage media from indulging in negative practices. Three, although the masses and political workers are struggling for democracy and have rendered heroic sacrifices against dictatorships of all kinds, the political leadership has failed to translate those efforts into the supremacy of the Constitution and elected Parliament. The dominance of a patronage culture has been the major obstacle in gaining a higher moral ground on the part of the political leadership which seems to be content with becoming just a partner in power.
Rampant corruption in most of the state institutions has been eating into the vitals of the democratic system. Unfortunately neither the institutional machinery inherited from the colonial state or new institutions created for fighting corruption have delivered, as they have been confined to selective accountability, witch-hunts and political victimisation. Some powerful institutions have simply refused accountability all together. Consequently substance has been replaced by rhetoric on this issue. Most recently the slogan of accountability has become a stick to beat one’s opponents with.
Be that as it may, the recent uproar over an article of Mr Hussain Haqqani published in the Washington Post has brought to the fore the twisted nature of Pakistani discourse on accountability. With a few noble exceptions the rating hungry electronic media went for the kill without bothering about rationality or fairness of the argument. At least in one Urdu TV channel I saw a ticker purportedly based on a message from a viewer demanding hanging of Mr. Hussain Haqqani. Now we know that there is no FIR or criminal complaint against Mr. Haqqani and he hasn’t been put on any type of court trail. How can someone say such an irresponsible thing against Mr Haqqani or anyone else and get away with it? Interestingly the Abbottabad Commission Report that can clarify most of the controversies involved in the debate about Mr Haqqani’s article remains under wraps. The Publication of the said report can not only put most of the controversies to rest but can also apportion responsibility paving ground for trails. If the aforementioned report finds Mr Haqqani in violation of any law or procedure no one will have any problem with his prosecution. But that doesn’t seem to be a priority. Is it surprising? Haven’t we been here before? The worst thing that has happened to this country during the seven decades of its existence was its disintegration in 1971. A Supreme Court Commission known as Hamood-ur-Rehman Commission investigated the debacle, apportioned responsibility and recommend trails. But the report never saw the light of the day inside Pakistan because the then political government (supposed to be the strongest) didn’t dare putting Generals on trail.
Total failure of the state in prosecuting the abrogators of the country’s Constitution is another instance of the myth of accountability in Pakistan. Article 6 of the 1973 Constitution describes abrogation of the Constitution as high treason punishable with death sentence. Even if we forget about the martial laws imposed by General Ayub Khan and General Agha Mohammad Yahya that happened before the 1973 Constitution, there have been at least four instances of abrogation of the Constitution (with General Musharraf having the dubious distinction of abrogating the Constitution twice). The only serious effort for prosecuting an abrogator was seen when General Musharraf was arraigned before a special tribunal some time ago. But we witnessed the brazen manipulations that led to General Musharraf’s escape from the trail and interestingly he has been bragging about it. Breaking a traffic signal seems to be a more serious offense in Pakistan than breaking the country’s Constitution!
Yet another example of the myth of accountability is the weird debate about banning social media in Pakistan. Like every other medium social media has its pros and cons. It is a powerful medium presenting new and serious challenges to the authoritarian control over media. Curbing dissent in its presence has become impossible. It has empowered the suppressed masses by providing a forum for raising issues that could never find space in the so-called mainstream media. But some criminal elements, including extremists and terrorists have also started using it for promoting their nefarious designs. There aren’t two opinions about legal mechanisms for eliminating cyber crime. But the deep state doesn’t seem to be even inclined to go by the rather draconian Prevention of Cyber Crime Act. The kidnapping of bloggers and the subsequent fascist campaign clearly show that an atmosphere is being created to block all social media instead of weeding out cyber crime. It’s like killing the patient instead of eliminating the disease.
Pakistan needs a robust and effective constitutional system for across the board accountability with no holy cows and no witch-hunts. But the country also needs a truth and reconciliation commission for bringing the painful and troubling issues of the past to a closure.
It seems as if the Islamabad High Court (IHC), the National and Punjab assemblies, investigative bodies and political parties collectively do not have anything better to do, other than finding content that infuriates them, which can easily be avoided if the enraged members of the state just decide to not go out of their way in their search. At the same time, why is the government taking the IHC’s decision so seriously and is in a rush to implement it, when this proactive attitude was nowhere to be found in implementing the National Action Plan (NAP)?
The entire issue of the impossibility of monitoring social media seems lost on the government as well. But even if we ignore that, labelling the suspects as part of a ‘gang’ already presumes guilt where there might be none.
Not only that, but it also makes it sound like the suspected blasphemers have made inflammatory remarks on purpose, with the stakes in mind. As we have seen in the past, the issue of blasphemy and the accusations surrounding it are never this black and white. What one says may be construed as blasphemy even though the meaning behind was entirely different. Looking at public statements on social media and viewing them with this binary lens is not sensible.
Calling the presumed blasphemers a “gang” makes them sound much more sinister than they probably are. Surely there are better things we should be looking into, such as countering the terrorist threat, instead of starting a mass campaign which will only reflects our skewed priorities.
We have already been made an international laughing stock on more than one occasion for attempting to block the unblockable. This second attempt will only make the government look even more foolish. It is in the best interests of the country to allow freedom of speech and look to steer clear of anything that hurts our sentiments, instead of losing our tolerance at every perceived insult.
Former President of Pakistan and currently PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari penned an article for an international magazine in which he hoped the United States of America continues to develop Pakistan's economy and more cooperation between the two states in fighting against militancy in the country.
In his recent article in Forbes magazine, Zardari stated that US and Pakistan have jointly done well against extremists by dismantling Al-Qaeda's network and rooted out extremists' safe havens. However, he claimed that Pakistan had suffered huge economic losses as a result of directly fighting terrorists.
"These successes come at no small price. Pakistan has lost over 60,000 people, both civilian and military, as a direct result of offensives against terrorist networks. The economic cost to Pakistan is currently above $60 billion and continues to climb," he writes.
He was quite critical of the Congress' initiative to cut down reimbursements to Pakistan under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF), claiming that such measure coupled with Congress' decision to block much-needed sales of F-16s to Pakistan have resulted in extremists are 'slipping over the border' to undermine the whole effort. Zardari also warned of the waning community partnerships which are crucial in beating militants.
"Pakistani civilians are war-weary and feel abandoned, their sacrifices undermined. This is perhaps the most dangerous result, as community partnerships are critical in a fight against non-state actors," he stated. "To prevent unnecessary backsliding and the tragic costs that follow, we must renew our common goals and craft a streamlined strategy that galvanizes both the military and civilians in this war of ideas."
Zardari also criticised Nawaz Sharif's current era, claiming that transparency and dramatic values under the current PM have experienced a backslide.
"Today, my party stands as the only organization that is unambiguous in his fight against terrorism and violent extremism—offering a comprehensive strategy that encompasses coordinated civilian leadership and action. And despite a backslide in transparency and democratic values under Nawaz Sharif, foundations built during this early pivot have yielded tangible results," she said.