Sunday, July 2, 2017
The party is over; decision is made; Nawaz is being disqualified; Sicilian Mafia; Godfather; and finally, Imran Khan the true national hero in Parachinar standing with protestors while the corrupt Prime Minister and Chairman PEMRA, Absar Alam, even banned the media from covering the tragedy of Parachinar bombings and protests of the victim families, leave alone going there to sympathise with them or offer them any comfort or financial compensation.
This new ticker would be worrying were it not so comical and so transparent. The world has moved on, it has changed and its high time for those playing games the games of yore wake up to this reality. The tactics of the past don’t work anymore. Someone moved the cheese and the shadowy actors who are used to playing games have been caught unawares wondering who moved their cheese, because they are not accepting the change and not changing with the changed realities.
Social media is that key factor which is not allowing old tricks to work; no matter how much news is censored, it gets out; no matter how much people are threatened, they speak out; no matter how much propaganda is done, social media deconstructs it; no matter how many puppets and muppets are put on mainstream television, social media undercuts it and doesn’t let false narratives be built and become popular. But shadowy actors are not adjusting to these new realities and continue to use their old tricks in a new world.
The narrative of ‘corrupt’, ‘corruption’, ‘thieves’, ‘robbers’, has failed miserably because now the electorate see the false narrative building for what it is, and the electorate resents its will being thwarted in unconstitutional ways – this too is because of social media because unlike print or electronic media, it can neither be controlled nor silenced. Hence, ‘corruption’ having failed, a judicial route has been taken. But even for a judicial coup at least SOME solid evidence is required, hence the JIT route. And no matter what is said, the people are not stupid and they can perceive what is going on. When judges begin to call some one Godfather or Sicilian Mafia, without any evidence whatsoever, they expose themselves in front of the masses.
The people can see where they are coming from and from whose hymn book they are singing. The people can see that this is not about corruption, but about undemocratic regime change.
However, even the JIT needs to do a solid investigation to find evidence of white-collar crime. But it knows that several attempts in the years past have failed to turn up evidence good enough to convict the accused. Hence the attempts by JIT to intimidate people into providing false statements to net the Sharifs. But because this is the day and age of social media, almost the entire population became aware of the illegal, immoral and unethical means by which the JIT was attempting to trap the elected prime minister of the country. If the JIT had any real hope of finding anything of substance, the JIT might have concentrated on pursuing that instead of putting together hundreds of hours of media commentary and thousands of twitter and facebook posts to complain to the Supreme Court. This is JIT is being watched and criticised for its behaviour by the people of this country. Instead of correcting its behaviour, the JIT complains to the Supreme Court in an attempt to somehow have the media and particularly social media controlled or banned from criticism.
But that’s not the way the world works. Shadowy characters need to understand that they will have to change and adapt to the new world and get used to it, the world will not turn back for them. But this message does not seem to be getting through: the Prime Minister did not have security clearance to visit Parachinar; the former Interior Minister of the country together with other leaders was not allowed to land in Parachinar and their helicopter was sent back; the media was “told” that the helicopter could not land because of rain and inclement weather; social media users put the lie to that “explanation” with instant uploads of photos of dry weather. The lies don’t go very far in this day and age. False narratives are not, and will not, be allowed to be built.
For almost a week the people of Parachinar were protesting with sit-ins, but coverage of their protests was not allowed. Social media covered it. All the information came out, including the information that three persons had been killed in the shooting ordered by Colonel Omer on unarmed protestors who had lost relatives and friends in the terror bombings a week earlier. The optics of not responding to the cries of the protestors, which by now the whole world could see despite the media blackout, became toxic to the extent that Bol TV and Amir Liaqat were trotted out for damage control.
And dutifully, Amir Liaqat helped to lay it all on the callousness of the ‘corrupt’ Prime Minister who was so heartless he didn’t go to Parachinar, only visited the Bahawalpur victims and announced generous compensation to the victims of the Bahawalpur tragedy (this was in fact offered by the provincial government). Amir Liaqat and Bol were covering a manufactured dharna of the MWM, where the MWM clerics criticised the Prime Minister and his government, put the entire blame on PEMRA chairman Absar Alam for electronic media channels not covering the Parachinar trageday and ensuing sit-ins, blamed the attacks on foreign hands, blamed miscreants of playing into enemy hands by giving the tragedy a sectarian colour (implying the attack was not in fact sectarian in nature), praising the army chief and repeating several times that he would be landing there soon to resolve matters. As an aside, once again it had been social media that had outed the fact that politicians had flown to Parachinar but were not allowed to land.
This Amir Liaqat stunt was so transparent, it was comical. And it did nothing to help create the attempted false narrative. It merely made people laugh. As if to then confirm and put a signature on the whole project, Imran Khan was flown into Parachinar to do his public image building, just as the prime minister’s image had been damaged by propagating his callousness in not visiting Parachinar. The icing however was this: the army chief had reached the protestors and met their representative and negotiated with them in the daytime; a deal was reached with many of the protestors demands being met; the protestors started to leave deal having been struck, but they were asked to stay a while longer because Imran Khan the darling was being flown in to address them!
And then of course the Parachinar hashtag was aflood all of a sudden with ‘true hero’, ‘Imran Khan’, ‘only hope’, and other nonsense. But here’s the thing. Social media demolished this attempt at rigging and engineering too. The refusal of security clearance to the PM and others politicians, and royal assistance to Imran Khan too was exposed by social media. Social media forced the military to acknowledge the protestors, to negotiate with them, to meet their demands. And it did not allow a false picture or narrative to become general perception. Nor will it allow the ‘party to be over’. The best lesson to learn here is that psy-ops don’t really work anymore. Get with the program and stop the engineering that used to work in the past.
By Hassan Javid
In the fictional totalitarian state of Oceania, the setting for George Orwell’s 1984, everyday life is permeated with doublespeak – the use of language by the media and those in power to promote a particular agenda by distorting reality through the selective use of facts and outright lying.
Doublespeak is fundamental to the spread of doublethink, whereby people start to believe in two mutually contradictory propositions. This is best encapsulated in the slogan of Ingsoc Oceania’s ruling party, ‘War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength’. Disagreement with any of this, even unspoken, is called thoughtcrime, which is treated as an extremely serious offence in Oceania.
It is now commonplace to compare contemporary authoritarian regimes with Ingsoc and Oceania and while the comparisons might often be overwrought, the changing media landscape and the technologically sophisticated mechanisms through which opinions can now be shaped make Orwell’s warnings about doublespeak and doublethink more prescient than ever. At a time when mainstream media outlets are inexorably being replaced by the fragmented cacophony of the internet’s endless echo chambers, and where the capitalist imperative for profit often puts greed and ratings before any duty to investigate and report the truth, misinformation and so-called ‘fake news’ are easier to spread than ever before.
When the infamous Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB) finally became law in Pakistan in 2015, critics repeatedly warned of how the powers it granted the state could easily be abused. While the law was justified by the need to counter genuine electronic crime and also crackdown on the activities of terrorists and other violent actors, it was clear from the outset that the law could also be used to target all kinds of political beliefs and dissent online. Indeed, it could be argued that the passage of the PECB was a watershed moment precisely because it heralded the Pakistani state’s recognition, and mastery, of cyberspace; what had previously been a relatively anarchic and free realm of expression would now be surveilled and police, with the state making use of technical tools and a degree of technological savvy it had previously lacked. Earlier utopian visions of a new generation of millennials using technology to disrupt the power of the gerontocracies of the world gave way to the realisation that those same weapons could be turned against them.
This point has been made before but is worth repeating because of the extremely disturbing patterns of events that has unfolded since the start of this year.
The feared crackdown on freedom of speech that began with the abduction of five bloggers in Islamabad, allegedly picked up by state agencies, has only worsened over the past few weeks as yet more media personnel have been subjected to threats, intimidation, and incarceration for simply doing their job and expressing opinions that either question or contradict that official narrative being peddled by the state. Lists of journalists, bloggers, and anchors hauled before the authorities to explain their statements have been circulating on social media, and there are almost daily reports of people being punished for Facebook posts, tweets, and other forms of online expression that are either deemed to be blasphemous or a danger to Pakistan’s national security. One suspects that at this rate, these two types of offence might simply cease to be different.
The dangers of the new media landscape once again became apparent over the past week; as people across Pakistan celebrated Eid, hundreds of people in Parachinar sat in protest against a state that they argued had neglected and ignored them for too long. After two explosions ripped through the town on the 23rd of June, the latest in a chain of terrorist attacks that had claimed hundreds of lives over the past few years, the people of Parachinar decried the indifference of the state to their well-being, alleging that their well-founded security concerns had been repeatedly ignored, and that certain elements of the security forces deployed in the area had engaged in systematic discrimination against them, culminating in an incident where some FC personnel reportedly fired on peaceful protestors in the city.
The sit-in in Parachinar finally ended on Friday after a visit to the town by the Chief of Army Staff but one of the more notable and sinister aspects of this entire saga is the way in which it received hardly any media attention. The mainstream channels and newspapers, with some exceptions, largely chose not to run stories on Parachinar, and much of the information regarding what was happening came from the efforts of a few activists who made it a point to publicise the protests on social media. However, the reaction to this was revealing; the activists who were reporting from Parachinar were accused of fomenting sectarianism by highlighting how the attacks had targeted a predominantly Shia community, and were also said to be marching to the tune of nefarious foreign powers hoping to spread discord in Pakistan. A press release from the ISPR on 28th June said as much itself, suggesting that viewing the events in Parachinar through a sectarian lens amounted to unwittingly abetting hostile foreign powers.
There are a number of issues that need to be addressed when it comes to Parachinar. While better late than never, it is worth asking why more serious efforts were not previously made to address the security concerns of the town’s residents. It is also worth asking why allegations of misconduct by the FC were not taken more seriously over the past few months. Also notable is the complete lack of any noticeable role being played by the civilian government beyond mouthing the using platitudes and engaging in the ritual of promising victims and their heirs monetary compensation. All of this is important, but it is worth considering how and why the very act of contemplating a sectarian motive behind the blasts can come to be seen as a potentially treasonous activity.
There is little reason to doubt that Pakistan faces serious external challenges, but this notion has too often been deployed to deflect attention from the demons that plague the country internally. Are there militant, extremists organisations in Pakistan that are avowedly sectarian in nature? Yes. Have they been engaged in targeting and killing minorities in the past? Yes, and unashamedly so. Is there reason to believe they still operate and possess the capacity to launch attacks in different parts of the country? Absolutely. Whatever the role might have been of hostile agencies in Parachinar and other parts of Pakistan, pretending that sectarianism and sectarian organisations do not exist in Pakistan independently of these foreign machinations is simply ludicrous. Suggesting otherwise, and punishing people for disagreeing, is not just wrong, it is counterproductive. If anything, promising to crush sectarianism in all of its forms is a better way to foster unity than making empty statements about solidarity.
Despite this, what we have instead are contemporary demonstrations of doublespeak and doublethink. There is no sectarianism. There are no sectarian organisations. There is no violence, there is only peace. To suggest or even believe otherwise is to engage in thoughtcrime.
Faced with a series of terror attacks, Pakistan is fighting back against Islamic State-affiliated militants after repeatedly claiming that Islamic State has been unable to establish a foothold in the country, analysts say.
"Pakistan no longer denies IS’s presence as it used to,” Michael Kugelman, deputy director and senior associate for South Asia at Wilson Center in Washington, told VOA.
He and other analysts warn that the IS group in Pakistan, while still relatively small, is spreading swiftly in many areas where the government struggles to maintain law and order, including the restive Balochistan province.
Earlier this month, officials claimed that a military operation destroyed an IS stronghold in the southwestern province, killing 12 “hardcore terrorists.”
The operation took place days after a Chinese couple was abducted and killed by IS operatives in Quetta, the provincial capital.
In May, a suicide bomber killed at least 25 people in a caravan of a prominent politician in Balochistan. IS claimed responsibility.
While Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province by size, it also is wracked by poverty, creating fertile breeding grounds among the disenfranchised.
“Islamic State is an international phenomenon and the name of an ideology, and anyone can get impressed by that ideology,” Abdul Qayyum, a lawmaker and prominent member of the ruling PML-N party, told VOA.
“But the Frontier Corps Balochistan and Pakistan Army are doing a commendable job to overcome such security obstacles in the province,” he said.
But with so many groups active in the region, it’s a tough task, analysts say.
“Islamic State is trying to establish a territorial presence through its terror allies such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi,” Sarfaraz Bugti, home minister for Balochistan, told VOA recently. “But these groups should not be mistaken for Islamic State.”
Pakistan said Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), a predominantly Punjab-based militant sectarian group that has been tied to the Taliban in Afghanistan and al-Qaida, and recently linked to IS, had occupied the base that was used as an IS foothold until it was destroyed in the military operation earlier this month.
Pakistani authorities believe LeJ pledged allegiance to IS to help the group establish a base in Pakistan, and that it also wanted to carry out terror attacks on its behalf.
“Pakistan has an environment that encourages and enhances the prospects of terror groups, because the presence of other terror groups and their facilities presents an enabling environment for extremism overall,” said Kugelman.
Islamic State’s influence is not limited to Balochistan.
In 2016, Aftab Sultan, Pakistan’s Intelligence Bureau Chief, warned that IS was an emerging threat in the country and that hundreds of Pakistanis linked to local banned religious groups had left for Syria to join IS ranks there.
Last week, at least two alleged IS leaders in Pakistan, including its Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa chief, were killed in a gun battle with security forces in Peshawar. Police said they were planning to carry out an Eid attack.
In May, Pakistani authorities arrested five suspected IS operatives from Karachi who were planning terrorist attacks in the city. Last year, Pakistani authorities found a group of women from Karachi that was raising funds for IS.
Scores of suspected IS militants and operatives have been arrested in recent raids across Pakistan in the recent past. Many of them went to Syria for training before returning to Pakistan.
Noreen Laghari, a young woman from Lahore arrested in April, was planning to target an Easter gathering — and had gone to Syria to get trained by the IS.
The government says it is aware of the gravity of the matter and how IS is luring youth, working to establish a foothold in Pakistan. It has beefed up security measures in Balochistan to combat groups like IS.
Pakistan has come under frequent criticism from U.S. officials over its inability to curb homegrown militancy and extremism in the county.
In its defense, Pakistan says the government is determined to root out extremism from the country, and it has done a lot to address the issue of terrorism and extremism in the country.
Islamic State has made inroads recently in the mountain regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan, branding itself as the Islamic State of Khorasan, a title that distinguishes the militant group in that area from its main branch in Iraq and Syria.
As the Trump administration finalizes its policy towards Afghanistan, a series of articles and speeches (by key Pakistani officials) are once again putting forth the argument that a friendly Pakistan is indispensable to American success in Afghanistan. According to this argument, Washington needs to reassure Pakistan, and that attempts to coerce or isolate Pakistan will lead the country to move closer to China and Russia.
In itself the argument sounds simple, however, in reality it is not.
For the last six decades, ever since Pakistan first became an American ally in 1954, the country’s leaders have periodically used this argument with their American interlocutors and counterparts.
In an OpEd in the New York Times, Stephen Hadley and Moeed Yusuf argue that instead of using “sticks” the United States “must understand and address Pakistan’s strategic anxieties.” This according to the authors means addressing Pakistan’s fears about Indian presence in Afghanistan and helping resolve the Kashmir dispute.
A former Pakistani official argues that if all “players” in Afghanistan “have their preferred militant outfits” why should Pakistan “give up on its long-held assets?” Pakistan, according to this argument, is simply protecting its own interests in a hostile environment. Further, China’s $46 billion investment through CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) is cited as demonstrating that Pakistan has a strong ally and hence United States “is in no position to influence Pakistan’s security policies in a meaningful way.” Growing Russian involvement in Afghanistan is cited by another recent piece to make the argument that with the help of China and Russia, Pakistan will be able to “reduce or even neutralize” any global coercion or attempts at isolation.
At a recent event, Pakistan’s top diplomat in Washington DC, claimed that there are no terrorist ‘sanctuaries’ in Pakistan and asserted that the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban were not Pakistan’s proxies. The theatrics may fool some people but if you listen closely you could be mistaken for believing you were back in the 1950s if not the 1980s.
After decades of using jihad as a lever of its foreign and security policy, Pakistan’s intelligentsia and its officials prefer to live in denial instead of acknowledging the reality. Instead of changing their policies the argument being made is that Pakistan has no option but to support jihadi groups like the Haqqani network and the Taliban. Rather than admitting that it is Pakistan’s own policies that have led to its isolation, the argument being made is that Washington’s close ties to India have led it to move away from Pakistan. Pakistan, however, is not concerned as it has China and Russia to depend upon and is no longer dependent on American aid or military equipment. Hence, any ‘tough love’ approach by Washington has its limits and the US should be careful otherwise it will soon have no leverage over Pakistan.
To those who have followed Pakistan’s foreign policy and US-Pakistan relations these arguments are not new. At periodic intervals whenever Pakistan’s leaders feel that the US is getting too close to India or exerting pressure on Pakistan to change its policies, they complain of American betrayal, assert that the Americans will lose any leverage they have on Pakistan and brandish close ties with China.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s Pakistan’s first military ruler General Ayub Khan warned his American counterparts – from President Eisenhower to Kennedy to Johnson –that Pakistan may turn to China if the US becomes too close to India. Generals Zia through Musharraf continued to make similar arguments to their American counterparts. Reference to the United States as a ‘Fair-weather ally’ and China as an ‘All weather ally’ was another way of applying pressuring on the Americans.
The former spy contractor of US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Raymond Davis, has explained in his book how he cried like a baby upon his release but also mentioned how some relatives of his victims cried after being pressured by former spy chief Pasha to accept the Diyat deal.
In his book titled The Contractor: “How I Landed in a Pakistani Prison and Ignited a Diplomatic Crisis”, Davis explains the circumstances under which he was released after two-months of detention in Pakistan. He appreciated the role of Lieutenant General (retd) Ahmad Shuja Pasha in securing his release. Once the plan (Blood money deal) was hatched, it was up to Pasha to carry it out, but a Pakistani officer was more than happy to let me twist in the wind all the way up until the very end. At the same time, Pasha was clearly committed to making sure that the deal was successful, he said. The CIA agent also highlighted how relatives of the killed men were pressured to accept the deal.
Because the plan hinged on the acquiescence of the eighteen family members, Pasha applied as much pressure as was needed to get them to accept the diyat. With the support of their lawyer, (Asad Manzoor Butt), several of them resisted.
According to Raymond Davis Gen Pasha was responsible for replacing the prosecutor, Asad Manzoor Butt who, according to one report, had worked the case pro bono at the behest of Jamaat-e-Islami—with Raja Irshad, who was more beholden to Pasha than any religious group. He said one of those who didn’t accept the plan right away was Muhammad Faheem’s brother, Waseem Shamzad. Another dissenter was Mashhood-ur-Rehman, whose brother had been killed by the SUV coming to rescue me and who’d recently obtained his law degree in the United Kingdom.
To separate the family members from the radical Islamists whispering in their ears and the lawyer who endorsed a hardline Islamist agenda, Pasha intervened on March 14, detaining and sequestering all eighteen of them. For the two days preceding the March 16 trial that would decide my fate, Butt was unable to reach any of them by phone, and their neighbors confirmed that they had disappeared, Davis wrote.
“There is a padlock on their door,” said Faizan Haider’s cousin Aijaz Ahmad. “Their phones are all switched off. If they have done this, then they have acted dishonorably.”
“The night before the March 16 trial, Pasha took the family members to Kot Lakhpat Jail and encouraged them to accept the deal that was on the table. If they agreed to forgive me, they would be given a large sum of money in return. If they didn’t agree, well, the consequences of that decision were made clear the following morning when they were reportedly held at gunpoint just outside the prison’s courtroom for several hours and warned not to say a word about it to the media.
When Butt arrived at the prison that morning, he received similar treatment. Butt was never able to see or talk to any of his (now former) clients.
“The shock of being denied access to the man who’d guided them through their country’s convoluted legal system for more than a month, and forced to agree to a deal that many of them didn’t want, was evident on their faces as they shuffled to the front of the courtroom on March 16. And, as Carmela had observed, the women were indeed the ones taking it the hardest. Some of them had tears in their eyes. Others were sobbing outright” Davis wrote.
Their new lawyer, Irshad, presented the judge with a signed document showing that all eighteen of Muhammad Faheem and Faizan Haider’s legal heirs had agreed, at least on paper, to forgive me and accept the diyat. After each relative had signed the necessary paperwork, the judge asked if any of them had been coerced into doing it. All eighteen relatives said no. The judge also reminded both the defense and the prosecution that they were entitled to object. Neither side did.
Davis also narrated how he broke up after finally learning about his release.
But the moment I realized that I was actually being released, that it wasn’t some cruel joke, I let my guard down and allowed all the emotions I’d kept at bay—joy, shock, sadness, fear—to return. Because of my occupation and my physical appearance, I was viewed as a tough guy, but now during one of the most intense and vulnerable minutes of my life, all that toughness disappeared, and I was just a husband and a father who wanted nothing more than to go home. “And, yes, I cried. I cried like a baby.”