Jun 24

Carnival of Fools

Posted on Friday, June 24, 2016 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

There’s never a dull moment in Pakistan. But even by our political standards, last week was a veritable carnival of fools.

Khawaja Asif, the defense minister, called Shirin Mazari, the PTI’s information secretary, a “tractor trolley” in parliament for constantly heckling him. He had to eat humble pie in public but remained unrepentant in private.

Marvi Sirmed, a rights activist, and Senator Hafiz Hamdullah of the JUI, had a verbal spat on TV that provoked the mullah to abuse and threaten her physically. Marvi protested before the Senate chairman and filed an FIR with the police. But the senator is unrepentant in public even if he has been chastised in private.

Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister, had heart bypass surgery in London at the Harley Street Clinic. But a couple of TV anchors wondered how heart surgery could be performed at a “clinic” instead of a “hospital”. A few actually said that all this was a sham just to earn sympathy from a public disgusted with Pananaleaks. Some advised him to call it a day. Others speculated whether Shahbaz Sharif or Mariam Sharif would inherit the PMLN.

Ayyan Ali, the supermodel charged with currency smuggling, has accused Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the interior minister, of contemning the Supreme Court (SC) by refusing to let her leave the country. Both the Sindh High Court (SHC) and the SC have ordered the government to remove her name from the Exit Control List but the gent who determines the ECL just wont let go. This has provoked the Chief Justice of the SHC to threaten the interior secretary with prison and SC Justice Azmat Saeed to ask why, when smugglers and tax cheats and assorted criminals can come and go freely, a fashion model who has obtained bail from the Lahore High Court has aroused the ire of the interior ministry.

But Chaudhry Nisar has other fish to fry. He is busy scolding Sushma Swaraj, the Indian foreign minister, for trying to put a spoke in civil-military relations in Pakistan by alleging a rift between the government and military establishment on making peace with India. This is rich, considering that civil-military estrangement is the talk of Pakistan, and the world, not just India. Chaudhry Sahab has also ordered the Sindh Chief Minister, Qaim Ali Shah, to ascertain the source of the leaked video confessions of Dr Asim Hussain, a PPP stalwart and confidante of the PPP chairman Asif Zardari. This is richer still, considering that Dr Hussain was in the Rangers’ custody before being remanded to NAB, both of which are operating in Sindh with the backing of the federal government, and the videos were taken during interrogation by these very agencies. It is also adding insult to injury, not so long ago, when Mr Shah had protested the innocence of the good doctor, Chaudhry Nisar had publicly boasted of being in receipt of such confessional videos.

Meanwhile, Mr Sartaj Aziz, the foreign advisor, is nursing his wounds. It seems nobody is treating him like a real foreign minister while blaming him and the Foreign Office for Pakistan’s mounting foreign policy failures. Mr Aziz has, perforce, to take responsibility for strained relations with neighbours Iran, Afghanistan, India and superpower America. But he can’t very well explain why Iran is mad at Pakistan (an ISPR tweet upset the Iranian President when he last visited Islamabad) because that would further strain civil-military relations. For much the same reason, he cannot explain why Pakistan hasn’t been able to deliver the Taliban leadership to the quadrilateral table with China, Afghanistan, America and Pakistan (Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says General Raheel Sharif promised to do so by the summer of 2015).

What takes the cakes, however, is Mr Aziz’s explanation for the dismal state of relations with America. Mr Aziz holds Pakistan’s ex-Ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, responsible for single-handedly thwarting the heroic and untiring efforts of Prime Minister Sharif, COAS Sharif, Pakistan’s Foreign Office, Mr Tariq Fatemi, and our Ambassador to Washington to mend relations with America. Lest anyone forget, Mr Haqqani was charged with treason in Memogate in 2011 and banished from Pakistan by the same national security establishment (in cahoots with the PMLN) that later conspired with Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri to try and oust fellow Memogate petitioner Nawaz Sharif via dharnas in 2014. If Mr Haqqani is such a super lobbyist, why can’t Mr Aziz bring himself to admit the error of making a traitor of him, and put him to good use working for Pakistan instead of against the establishment that outcast him earlier and is now scapegoating him for its abject failure to strategize an effective foreign policy?

Fortunately, there was one case of ascending from the ridiculous to the sublime. Asma Jehangir told the SC that the ISPR should be “monitored and regulated” because it was “allegedly maligning politicians and civilians”. But the chances of this happening are as slim as those of a snowball in hell.

Jun 22

Aapas ki Baat – 22 June 2016

Posted on Wednesday, June 22, 2016 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo

Jun 21

Aapas ki Baat – 21 June 2016

Posted on Tuesday, June 21, 2016 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo


Jun 20

Aapas ki Baat – 20 June 2016

Posted on Monday, June 20, 2016 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo

Jun 17

Input-output analysis

Posted on Friday, June 17, 2016 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

Pakistan’s relations with India, Afghanistan and the US remain prickly. Since the core of our national security strategy is focused on all three countries, it is worth asking who in our civil-military establishment is responsible for this failure of strategic policy.

Let us admit some hard facts. Since independence, Pakistan has been fashioned by the powerful military establishment as a “national security state” in which law, constitution, economy, democracy and foreign relations are all subservient to a strategic doctrine of “national security” defined by the military in which India has figured as the perennial arch-enemy. This doctrine and the consequent national narrative that flows from it is embedded in the national consciousness by virtue of the military’s direct political over-lordship of state and society during three decades of rule by Generals Ayub Khan, Zia ul Haq and Pervez Musharraf and indirect stewardship when corrupt, inefficient and weak civilian rulers have been in office. Indeed, whenever the military has seized power from the civilians it has cited “overwhelming national security concerns” as a key motive. In fact, all the key foreign policy decisions since independence have been taken by the powerful military establishment while the weak and divided civilians have meekly acquiesced. These include the anti-USSR Cold War alliance with the US, pushing East Pakistan into secessionist mode, sponsoring jihad against USSR in Afghanistan in the 1980s, triggering war and conflict with India on four occasions, playing favourites in Afghanistan by installing the Taliban in Kabul in 1997 and giving them safe havens in Waziristan after 9/11 in pursuit of another national security offshoot doctrine of “strategic depth”. As a consequence, the military has also nourished non-state jihadi and sectarian actors for “liberating” Kashmir from India and opposed trade and peaceful co-existence with India. As a result any potential economic dividend from peace with neighbours has eluded Pakistan.

To be fair, however, the fact also is that since General Musharraf’s time the military establishment has been critically reviewing its national security doctrine and making significant adjustments in view of changing geo-political realities. After 9/11, it abandoned the doctrine of “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. In 2005, it realized the futility and negative consequences of sponsoring jihad in Kashmir and slowly turned off the tap. In particular, it abandoned the “core” idea of “Kashmir banay ga Pakistan”. By the time General Ashfaque Kayani retired in 2013, the military’s national security doctrine had also abandoned the cherished notion of a “pro-Pakistan” Afghanistan and settled on sponsoring a neutral Afghanistan that would not be hostile. Most significantly, the national security doctrine now postulated the “enemy within” (religious terrorism) as an “existential” threat to state and society and not the external enemy India. Operation Zarb-e-Azb is a natural and powerful exposition of this doctrine by General Raheel Sharif. These developments amount to an evolving paradigm change in the outlook of the military in Pakistan.

Unfortunately, however, the historical burden of distrust and double-dealing among the key players in this region – Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and the US – is creating stubborn obstacles in the way of this process of stabilising Pakistan and the region. The key players in Afghanistan are all agreed on a joint multi-lateral approach to establishing peace in Afghanistan but each wants to put the onus of core responsibility (“do more”) on the others. This is a major source of tension between the Pakistani military establishment and the other regional players, especially America and Afghanistan. Internally, the civilians and military in Pakistan are also, finally, on the same strategic page. But much the same burden of historical civil-military distrust has muddied the waters and lead to tensions and frustrations.

This is the context in which we should address the question of “who makes foreign policy” and who is responsible for its success or failure in Pakistan. The military says it simply gives its “input” into the making of foreign policy for which the civilians are ultimately responsible. But the civilians say with greater justification that the military is the key determinant of policy because the instruments of its implementation are squarely in its hands. If the civilians wanted the military to attack the Haqqani network and push it out of Pakistani border lands or if the civilians ordered it to drag the Afghan Taliban to peace negotiations (as demanded by the regional players), of if they wanted it to disband the jihadis and help the government confront the radical religious outfits, would it be able or willing to do so? If the civilians wanted to make unilateral trade and overland concessions to India in a non-sum zero game, would the military agree or would it sabotage any such initiative?

Therefore this is not a matter for a full time civilian foreign minister to redress as opposed to a coterie of foreign policy advisors. This is really about elected civilians demonstrating greater know-how, ability and vision to steer the country out of troubled waters as much as it is about the military relinquishing its grip over national security tactics and strategy.