hollowed out

Observing the recent spate of political assassinations in Pakistan – from Habib Jalib Baloch and Maula Bakhsh Dashti, to Mian Iftikhar Hussain’s son to Raza Haider one cannot help having the horrifying thought that soon there will be no politicians left in Pakistan’s blighted political landscape The Baloch Hal had a really moving obituary for Habib Jalib Baloch which contained the following line: “Tall trees cannot survive long in Balochistan. People with a tall stature get their heads chopped off.” Replace Balochistan with Pakistan and that line will not be out of place at all. By all accounts Raza Haider was a solid politician of a middle class background and additionally a symbol of MQM’s pluralism.

These people are not replaceable. They are politicians who were not lifted into political power through some tribal system or some gaddi. They are just politicians who gained their political status through hard work and talent and good political instinct – other countries have loads of them but we have very few. In Pakistan, as Ayesha Siddiqa describes in this blog post (which some may find offensive due to her rather strange choice of metaphor), it is the norm to gain ones political legitimacy due to some kind of mating dance that one performs for the established centres of power – the ‘establishment’ as we like to call it. For an excellent example of this mating dance, one can refer to Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s recent performance at the recent Indo-Pak dialogue. What audience was Qureshi’s performance directed at? What vision was he calling upon? Shah Mehmood Qureshi is simply one example of the PPP’s move (out of necessity) in the last 3 years since BB’s death to replace political legitimacy with a careful courting of the military establishment. I think that it’s becoming clear to most of us that the PPP will not survive BB’s death as a genuinely legitimate political force. It will become just another, in the long list of hollow political entities propped up as civilian fronts for the military to rule through. The political system will continue to be hollowed out through a combination of well-timed assassinations and the active participation of the anti-political elite and (secondarily) through the political class’s own failures at governance. The space that should have belonged to genuinely legitimate politicians will continue to be usurped by violent entities such as Sipah-e-Sahaba who, despite all well-deserved criticism that is heaped upon them, cannot be said to be lacking grassroots legitimacy. (You just have to watch one of their speakers to understand the difference between them and your average PPP or PML or ANP politician). Similarly, from an earlier era, one can certainly question the success of the Majlis-e-Ahrar’s political model, but one of the things that one appreciates about it is their strong belief that the key to a political party’s relevance is its ability to be ever-present in the minds of the people. Of course one can criticize them for their choice of controversies and issues, but has that thought ever crossed the minds of our political elite? The idea that they need to be relevant, even in situations such as disaster management where they don’t have the capacity to be truly effective.

I can’t help thinking about a quote from ZAB on this subject – it goes like this:

If things do not change, there will be nothing left to change. Either power must pass to the people or everything will perish

Love him or hate him, you have to admit that he was right when he said that.


Scared of history

The tricky issue of intelligence sharing


NACTA was formed as a repository of all information of institutional memories supposed to be under the control of the PM. But it has been rendered ineffective because the IB, the ISI and the MI have their own spheres and they cannot work under the Ministry of Interior. NACTA has not started functioning properly because of a lack of will.

At the moment, a number of intelligence agencies are functioning in Pakistan that include Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), premier intelligence agency run by the army; Military Intelligence (MI) directly working under the army command; Intelligence Bureau (IB), officially reporting directly to the Prime Minister/Chief Executive to deal with independent political affairs and law and order situation. In police, there are two major agencies: Crime Investigation Department (CID) and Special Branch. Only police and the CID can submit challan and arrest any person. The Special Branch is sued for the protection of the VVIP (Very Very Important Person) movement. Also, there is Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), working under the Ministry of Interior that deals mainly with immigration and cyber crime.

There is a homeland security system in place in the USA since 9/11 and the information is shared at the immigration level. 9/11 gave a vital realisation to the US to improve its intelligence-sharing which is central to the war on terror. In other countries, there are intelligence coordination and supervisory committees in the parliament that review the performance and coordination among the intelligence agencies. In Pakistan, there is no such committee except National Security Committee, a body confined to the periodic meetings only.

Some top police officials, requesting not to be named, say that such gaps have also been noticed in the attacks on Rescue 15 and ISI office in 2007. Examples of prior intimation of the possibility of attacks on Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore in March 2009 and the one on Pakistan Army’s General Headquarters (GHQ) in October 2009 are other glaring examples of this lapse. The information of one intelligence agency was overlooked by the other law enforcement and intelligence agencies even though it had been provided beforetime.

“Such examples are not new,” recalls Imtiaz Billa, former DG IB, who had informed the then-NWFP government that Lt Gen (r) Fazle Haq could be assassinated in a week’s time, but no measures were taken and the person was killed. “What is needed is a first-rate and effective coordination system both in sharing of intelligence information and coordination of the joint interrogation,” he suggests.

“There is no sharing system within Pakistan. We are taking up the issue in the national security committee, too. The role of the NACTA is also under purview,” Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, former interior minister and sitting Member of Parliament, tells TNS.

Historically, General Yahya was the first to attempt the formation of a national intelligence commission but the plan never materialised. There were attempts also to set up intelligence academies at that time. A similar proposal was made in Air Martial (r) Zulfiqar Commission in 1989, during the first regime of Benazir Bhutto, but again it could not be implemented. Hameed Gul, former DG ISI, proposed an end to the political role of the ISI but he was rejected.

In 1996, Masood Sharif, former IB chief, proposed Intelligence and Crime Coordination Committee. The proposal was widely appreciated and discussed but, again, it was never implemented.


Much needs to be done to share facilities and information. The latest botched effort in this regard pertains to establishing of the National Counter-Terrorism Authority (NACTA). The organisation was being set up as a central point for intelligence gathering and handshaking amongst various intelligence organisations, and to produce a counter-terrorism strategy that would also comprise of interaction with media and developing research and analysis tools. Its former head Tariq Pervez, who has a great career in the police, resigned recently in protest against the interior ministry dragging its feet. Now, NACTA is a non-starter due to pressures from within the interior ministry and from the intelligence community

Civilian cover

In any given crisis-like situation involving interaction with foreign governments, the only certainty is that this is how the Pakistani opposition will react:

In other words, barring perhaps the NAP and its supportive reaction to the Taskhkent declaration every Pakistani opposition party in history uses a crisis in foreign affairs to act like a maximalist lunatic in order to extract the maximum domestic political advantage at the expense of the party in power. In many cases, of course, this is also true of ambitious elements within the government itself, especially when the government is weak, such as Bhutto during and after Taskhent and Shah Mehmood Qureshi in the current situation.

More interesting, to me, is the army’s ability to act like a sort of permanent opposition – at least when it’s not in power. So, in the current situation we have Ahmed Shuja Pasha cancelling his trip to the UK. By the way, has anyone considered that this cancellation is a very effective pressuring tactic, the message being that if we, Pakistan, don’t cooperate with your homegrown terrorism problem, then you are in deep trouble? Anyone who naively makes the argument that as a “beggar” country Pakistan has no leverage over the UK is being extremely stupid. Pakistan, by virtue of being the terror training hub for most of the UK’s homegrown terrorists has far more leverage over the UK than the UK has over Pakistan. In fact, that’s the argument made by Anatol Lieven in one of his articles about the nature of UK’s relationship management with Pakistan in the future. This fact has been reflected by the UK’s Afghan policy so far, and Cameron’s remarks are being given a befitting response by the Pakistani establishment in order to drive the point home to him early in his career so he doesn’t make this mistake again. As in its relationship with the US, the Pakistani establishment is selling security. The difference is that Pakistan has the ability to negatively impact domestic security within the UK which gives it far more leverage.

So as we can see, the military has the privilege, by virtue of the cover offered by Pakistan’s nominally civilian government, of acting like a party in the opposition in terms of how far it can go in being undiplomatic in its response to a foreign affairs crisis. We saw this same dynamic playing out after Mumbai and during the whole Indo-Pak dialogue. In fact taking things a step further, one might even argue that in terms of foreign relations, this current situation is really the sweet spot for the military. As opposed to a situation like post-2001 in which Musharraf was really in the limelight and could be openly pressured by Armitage, etc, in the current situation the army can pretty much do what it wants and will always have the cover of foreign countries being unwilling to upset the applecart overmuch for fear of strengthening the military’s hand and enabling a takeover of the civilian government.

In other words, we can see that the civilian government gives the military the cover to act like a permanent, maximalist opposition. As a society, Pakistan is quite cruel in its treatment of its politicians, but perhaps this is the most cynical use of them of all!

How does the MQM do it?

I just read a really funny statement by Altaf Hussain in which he asked Zardari to review his visit to the UK in the light of David Cameron’s remarks about Pakistan. Now of course if one is seeking political asylum in a country one is perfectly entitled to criticize it’s leadership. But to urge your head of state to cancel his trip to the country is going a step beyond that, surely.

Anyway, this is pretty much parallel to MQM being a benificiary of the NRO but withdrawing support from it at the last minute. And it made me wonder about how MQM manages to take such clearly illogical positions? Not as a moral question, but more as a practical one. There are several explanations

1. MQM is able to avail of tacit “establishment” support at various times. Except for a decade or so when it overstepped its bounds, its always had the advantage of being the one small ethnic based party that has not been on the wrong side of the Pakistani establishment ideologically. This is due to the rather unique relationship of the Mohajir ethnicity (linguistic grouping, whatever) with the Pakistani state. Mohajir nationalism is not opposed to the idea of the Pakistani state per se, in fact its deeply connected to it. This makes MQM somewhat more privileged as a party in relation to the ANP (which only got accepted by the establishment when it completely softened its political stance) or the NP (under Hasil Bizenjo) and much more privileged in relation to parties like BNP-M, PKMAP, etc.

2. MQM is confident that it will have the support of its base no matter what it says. If Altaf Hussain acts hypocritically or MQM collectively acts hypocritically on the NRO, it doesn’t have a hugely fickle electorate (like, for example, the PPP or to a lesser extent PML-N). So it can afford to make statements for national consumption that aren’t really scrutinized by its own voters.

3. As a small coalition partner in a shaky coalition, MQM (like JUI-F) feels confident that the larger party (PPP) in the coalition needs it more than it needs PPP.

4. And finally, here’s a reason that I find really interesting and that is that MQM, unlike all other parties so far, is somewhat more advanced in the art of audience management. This is in sharp contrast to the party which (in my opinion) has the worst audience management and that is PPP. Now what do I mean by that? By that I mean MQM realizes it needs to say different things to cater to different audiences. MQM understands the need to make vapid (and at closer examination, clearly hypocritical) pronouncements on NRO and on Zardari’s UK visit because that appeals to what a certain audience wants to hear at a certain time. In MQM’s case, this audience is much larger than MQM’s potential electorate and even within MQM’s electorate, most would be happy to hear MQM taking such a “principled” stance, hypocrisy be damned. The percentage of people within MQM’s electorate that would be deterred by MQM’s hypocrisy on these stances is small compared to those who would be gratified at their party taking a stand. That’s weird, isn’t it? But if you are a party that is seeking to grow on a national level, it’s a good policy to throw various statements out there. Even if they are grossly hypocritical on closer examination, chances are that in the political climate (anti Zardari anti NRO) their rhetorical value will be more valuable than the irritation by a small number of disgruntled (mostly PPP supporters) people who will be turned off by their hypocrisy. Now one might ask, is this simply clever management of an audience? OR a party taking advantage of a relatively friendly political climate and a loyal voter base? OR a party with an implicit “bond” certified by the security establishment.

I’m not sure!

Attack on NATO supply trucks is “umeed ki kiran” according to Munawwar Hasan

via this blogger I came across Munawwar Hasan’s jumma khutba of June 4 2010 in which he explicitly called for Muslims to attack NATO convoys passing through their lands (from 6:40 onwards):

Anyway, then on June 9, gunmen set fire to more than 50 trucks carrying NATO supplies near Islamabad.

Then shortly thereafter there was the really entertaining statement by him in which he called the attack “umeed ki kiran” and an expression of “awam ke jazbaat” and wondered why the Interior Minister had any problem with this attack.

Given all that, it was really nice to see Faisal Sabzwari efficiently slap Munawwar Hasan ably assisted by the ARY anchor.

More retardedness from the Foreign Office

I’ve said before that our Foreign Office seems to be populated by the most neanderthal minded dumb****s in the country. Which is not surprising since for the last 40 years our “foreign policy” has basically been vicarious acid-throwing (i.e. in any given foreign conflict we are more likely to support the party which believes in throwing acid on some hapless female, beheading civilians or blowing up girls schools).

So it seems like, empowered by his chicken dance at the Indo-Pak dialogue, the foreign minister has now decided to start openly defying his civilian leadership. From Dawn:

For once the PPP leaders were not just at odds with the military leadership, but also the Foreign Office, led by their party man. The army conveyed its displeasure after the ISI chief cancelled his upcoming visit to UK. After hectic day-long consultations, sources said the final decision was on these lines – President Zardari will go ahead with his visit to UK; ISI chief to call off the trip; and the Foreign Office, which is torn between the political and military cross-currents, to summon a British High Commission official. British Prime Minister Cameron’s remarks in India earlier in the week accusing Pakistan of exporting terror created uproar here with demands for a strong response to the statement.

Mr Cameron, despite protests from Islamabad which described the comments as saddening, and criticism back home, stood by his statement. Diplomatic observers say ISI chief Lt Gen Shuja Pasha’s decision to cancel the visit conveyed the disquiet in Pakistan on the issue, even though the president desired to downplay the diplomatic row by sticking to his plan.

Both Mr Zardari and Gen Pasha were to visit UK separately. Mr Zardari is going there on a five-day state visit, while the ISI chief was to visit London for consultations with intelligence counterparts.

The Foreign Office’s failure to announce President’s Zardari’s UK visit along with his visit to France, which are taking place back to back, fuelled speculations that the visit might be cancelled.

However, shortly afterwards it was clear that Mr Zardari was adamant to go ahead in view of what his aides described as “strategic partnership and broader bilateral relations”.

Two graphics will illustrate this sad state of affairs. The first, via Cafe Pyala:

The second, via blog reader Shahid:

Inciting an emergency


“As a matter of fact, I heard some dangerous talks from time to time that he” [Mirza] before the imposition of the martial law “had told certain people to engineer inciting trouble in Balochistan and elsewhere, so that he had an excuse to take over and abrogate the Constitution and declare a state of emergency. He was looking for such an opportunity and would often talk to me about it. But I would tell him for God’s sake, don’t let such a situation develop, because the country is at stake and we will suffer tremendously. We will lose our prestige with India and the rest of the world. It is a very delicate matter and once you lose respect in the eyes of the world, it is very difficult to set it right.”

Guess the party

“In the election manifesto approved by the Working Committee of the ____ Parliamentary Board, a detailed program was given according to which the ____ ministers would accept minimum salary and it would ensure that low-paid employees could meet their expenses within their lawful resources. Cottage industry including hand-loon would be encouraged. Beggary would be eliminated by converting the beggars into good and responsible citizens. Measures would be taken to increase the agricultural resources. Facilities would be provided to educate every child and researches would be encouraged. The program also included improvement of public health and judiciary, reformation of police department, elimination of briberty and modification in the Panchayat system”.