Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sino-Pak ties: a reality check

Islamabad’s betting on Beijing is a trademark of its foreign policy, especially when Washington tightens screws or catches Pakistan red-handed in its anti-US moves. The latest example is Osama Bin Laden’s years long hiding in a purposely-built mansion in the garrison city of Abbottabad. However, on the calculus of common sense, relations between Pakistan and China are far lower in essence than what Islamabad defines it as ‘higher than the Himalayas’.
To prove it at a common sense level, at the top of the list comes the LANGUAGE barrier. Out of the 180 million population of Pakistan less than a 1000 Pakistanis can speak Chinese. Going by the official literacy rate (57 percent) in Pakistan, over 85 million Pakistanis—a population equivalent to that of Egypt— can speak or understand basic English, a language spoken in the U.S., UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and several former British colonies including India. Language matters and it transcends communication barriers. Despite claims of ‘time tested relations’, excluding a few lucky Chinese-understanding Pakistanis, not a single Pakistani knows what is the Chinese substitute for “Welcome”. Pakistanis’ general knowledge about China is hardly above zero. They know a lot about the U.S., for example. The U.S.’s power, its major cities, politicians, Hollywood, the Facebook, twitter and media are popular topics among politicians, academics and youth in Pakistan.
China has never been a destination for EDUCATION among Pakistanis. Universities in the U.S., UK, Australia and Europe are the most desired education centers for Pakistani youth, irrespective of their social or financial class. Pakistani politicians and generals play a foul game with their nation while betting on China’s power as none of their sons or daughters are graduates from a Chinese university. They send them to Washington and London for higher education and use their influence to find internships for their kids in the US and Europe. The irony is that even the son of a Pakistani politician, who runs a Pak-China think tank in Islamabad, is also studying in the U.S. On TV screens, the same politician advises Pakistanis that US is defaulting and China is the real super power. Just recently, some Pakistani students have got admissions to medical colleges in China as they couldn’t meet the merit criteria of local medical colleges.
Though it is not taught in Pakistan’s text books but individual experiences have proved Chinese TECHNOLOGY as Nr.2—poor in quality, in Pakistan. The Chinese fighter jets are referred to as flying coffins by Pakistani pilots and fit for a suicide sortie, though its presence in the air force is good for a numbers game with India in peace time. The Chinese armored vehicles are like low quality armed tractors and its Kalashnikov is not reliable for a second magazine to fire. The ‘Made in China’ label on products other than weapons is hardly sellable.  It will injure the ego of a Pakistani if someone gifts him or her a ‘Made in China’ product. Pakistanis may buy it themselves but will not accept it in gifts as they look down upon Chinese products from day one. They are just not in love with the Chinese technology, come what may. Yes, disposable Chinese products—paper, latex, under wears, braws, clay made products have a good local market. For other products, they will go for Western brands. A General in Pakistan, for instance, may love ‘Made in Italy’ ties just like a poor daily wager prefers a ‘Made in Germany’ knife. The same is the case with Chinese products in Pakistan’s fruit and vegetable markets. They may look beautiful in shape and packing, but people hardly buy them for the second time due to its low quality, with the exception of Chinese green tea.
Dollar too is much charmer than yen, comparing Pakistan’s ECONOMIC INTERESTS. The War on Terror, despite Pakistan’s duplicity, gives Pakistan military an average of (unaccountable) $ 1.5 billion a year since 9/11. The money comes mainly from Washington and Europe. Before 9/11, Pakistan’s military was a US mercenary against the former USSR in Afghanistan in 1980s. The generals and their institute received huge amounts in dollars in return then, enabling their sons and front men as future leaders of Pakistan. Contrary to it, China has never been a financial reliever for Pakistan on its economic canvass. It’s rather Pakistan’s dependence on Washington financial assistance, IMF and World Bank tranches that give bail-outs to moribund Pak economy every now and then.
China is a great POWER, no doubt. However, assuming Beijing will stand by Islamabad for its misadventures, ill-judgment and miscalculations is a self-deceiving theory. China has limitations and that is why it couldn’t annex the tiny Taiwan to the mainland China despite the passage of over 60 years nor it has resolved its border dispute with India. The separatist movements in Tibet, Xingjian and pro-democracy movements are its few other headaches. Pakistan military’s tacit support for al-Qaeda, the Taliban and misadventures in Afghanistan or Kashmir will not bring China to Pakistan’s camp. On top of that, China has suspicions that Islamabad provides ideological support and sanctuaries to separatist Uyghur Muslims of China. The leaders of Eastern Turkestan Movement (ETM) are freely moving around in Islamabad, using their offices and facilities for training radical Uyghurs in Waziristan and Afghanistan.
The Sino-Pak relations have mainly benefited the Pak military and undemocratic forces in Pakistan, speaking from a DEMOCRATE’S PERSPECTIVE. China has always been a source of inspiration for one-party rule for its friends and allies. The Kims of North Korea, the Ayatullahs of Iran and the generals of Burma and Pakistan are bent upon following the Chinese model of government. Pakistani generals have given that demo for more than 30 years of the over 60 years history of the country. For the other 30 years, they pulled the strings from behind. The military deals between the two nations carry a badge of corruption and kickbacks as parties in power in both countries are accountable to none.
The CHINESE INVESTMENT in energy, communication and port (Gawadar) is of more worth for China than for Pakistan. China feels comfortable in its relations with India, having Pakistan as its reliable satellite state on India’s western and north-western wing. The post-9/11 US involvement in the region and Pakistan in particular is more beneficial for the general masses of Pakistan than the defense deals between General Headquarters (GHQ) Pakistan and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China. The billions of dollars worth defense deals are not gonna defend Pakistan if it opts for a war with India or the U.S. as we have seen it in Iraq and Libya—the air force of the two countries couldn’t move a muscle when stronger forces started strikes. The US dollar after 9/11 also didn’t go to civilians but Washington’s strong stand against terrorism and an equally forceful discourse on terrorists is what Pakistan needs amid pro-extremist media, military and apologetic politicians. That slogan of “ bin Laden was a mass murderer” coming from Washington (and not from Beijing) is a huge relief for the peace-loving citizens of Pakistan at a time when the right wing media, military and politicians are labeling him as a hero of Islam.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

ISI woos Parliament; MPs disappoint their voters

Pakistan’s outrageous behavior after the killing of the ‘protected’ al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden clearly underlines the fact that Islamabad is fighting a high speed proxy war against everyone who challenges terror and builds Afghanistan. The appalling side of this self-defeating and funds-constrained policy is the response of Pakistan parliament to the military-led ‘misadventures’ in the country’s western courtyard and beyond the Durand Line on Afghan soil.
The anti-terror Pakistanis thought the members of parliament (MPs) would question military’s possible collaboration in hiding bin Laden in a plain sight in the garrison city of Abbottabad. The MPs, rather, chose playing on the turf of the military and extremists during the May 13 in-camera joint session of the parliament. They demanded ‘no repeat’ of the Abbottabad-style raid and called for an end to drone strikes ‘against terrorists’ on Pakistan’s soil in a resolution passed by the joint session.
Ask top militants in Pakistan what they would demand from the international community if they were asked for presenting their wish list. And imagine their demands—they would not seek support for enforcing Sharia nor would they demand money, logistics or weapons. They will rather follow the parliament, demanding an immediate end to their most effective and number one enemy—drone attacks and ‘no repeat’ of Abbottabad-style raids.
Pakistanis are shocked that the elected Parliament has not represented their views on terrorism. The 400 plus MPs in the joint session didn’t note that scores of terrorist groups and hundreds of militants were killing Pakistanis on almost daily basis in suicide attacks and destroying the infra-structure of education and health in Pakhtunkhwa and FATA. They didn’t come out with Made -in-Pakistan solution for combating terror while rejecting the Made-in-USA strategy of surgical strikes against bin Laden and his men. They also failed to ask what Pakistan has done so far against militants who have been arrested and have not yet been presented in the courts.
The resolution, instead, demands protection of the high value terrorists and their blood hungry affiliates hiding in Pakistan by opposing drone attacks. Under the spell of top military generals behind the  closed doors of Parliament, they were seeking protection  for the  terrorists on a day when militants blew up at least 89 border security militiamen in the volatile Pakhtunkhwa province in a bid to, what militants called as, ‘revenge of Osama bin Laden’.
The famous slogan of deceit, disloyalty and treachery—“You too Brutus”—comes to one’s mind the way Parliament chose standing in line with the military, extremists and propagators of hate and anti-Americanism.
Seeking no action against the religious monsters and on top of that demanding ‘no repeat of Abbottabad-style raid’ and ‘end to drone attacks’ are not what civilized Pakistanis want. They interpret this approach as giving up to terrorists, their masters and their handlers.
The demands of the Parliament also underline the divisions within Pakistan. The country’s security apparatus, led by the largest ethnic group Punjabis, damn cares as long as terrorism is blowing up men and women, school and hospital, and mosque and markets far away from the economic and political centers of the country. Today it is Punjab-led military, Punjab-dominated Parliament and its media that oppose the drone attacks against terrorists. The civilized Pakistanis welcome the use of all available tools against terrorists as gifts for their soil to purge it off the rotten eggs, hatched by the believers in the ‘strategic depth’, sitting in GHQ, Rawalpindi. The sooner it happens the better it is.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Set a thief to catch a thief!

The killing of Osama bin Laden in the garrison city of Abbottabad by the U.S. navy SEALS in a Hollywood movie-style sting operation was awesome for many and awful for some. For the U.S., it was a 'justice is done' moment; for the military and its intelligence outfits in Pakistan, it was a double loss of face: One, the mole was found and done to death not in a remote hole but in a made-to-order compound near Kakul Academy. Two, they were found snoring while the U.S. special  troops completed its operation with a bang, literally.  The ruling clique in Pakistan was blushed and nonplussed at its best; incoherent and gibberish at its worst. Even the ghairat brigade was numbed as if struck by the hand of the death. 
To add more to the comedy of error and terror, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced  in Parliament that a lieutenant general, Javed Iqbal, would head an inquiry “to get to the bottom of how, when and why” bin Laden had been hiding in Abbottabad. Who doesn't know answers to these three simple questions? Let's begin our inquiry with the first question: "How bin laden had been hiding in Abbottabad?" Someone (or some organization) who could afford demarcated a plot in the shades of Kakul and built a compound as secure as they could. They brought bin Laden and his bevy to live there without fear and feast on rich food like steaks of rabbit. 
Now the second question: When? Poor Mr. Prime Minister, five years back! This is what one of bin Laden's widows told the all-knowing ISI. However, answer to the third question of why is not that simple. It needs a bit of introspection which our former Commando President Pervez Musharraf did for us just yesterday. He says some rogue elements within the ISI and military might be involved in hiding the terror master in cool shades of Abbottabad. 
Armies in Third World Countries function like a tribe; they don't let their ilks down especially in front of 'bloody civilians'. But when it gets tough to hide skeletons in their cupboards, they blame low-rank persons in their ranks. Going by Musharraf's account low-rank persons in the ISI and the military are powerful enough to further their own agenda at the cost of the country and its people. The last time I checked the armed forces are known for being organized with an efficient chain-of-command. Either the 'chain' has broken or the 'command' is doing doublespeak. 
That a lieutenant general would conduct the inquiry is akin to task a thief to probe a theft. Mr. Prime Minister, you roar in the east and the rot lies in the west. There are no rogue elements; the whole institution has become rogue.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Osama's deep roots in Pakistan

That Osama bin Laden (OBL) was got in Pakistan’s garrison city Abbottabad is not surprising. The decade long speculations that his powerful Pakistani hosts must have hidden him under their nose were always there. The most wanted man enjoyed deep roots within the military and right wing civilian power corridors of Pakistan, making him the most popular warrior and icon of anti-Americanism. Not in his countries of origin--Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or Yemen, for that matter, but again in Pakistan his followers and al-Qaeda have called for revenge against Pakistan’s civilian leadership and purposely spare his ‘uniformed’ hosts.
The most wanted man was brought from Sudan to Afghanistan in 1996 in a Pakistani military transport aircraft by the then ISI official Khalid Khwaja, a squadron leader in Pakistan Air Force (PAF). Mr Khwaja was later killed by Punjabi Taliban in Pakistan’s tribal area in 2010 due to the increasing mistrust between him and Taliban. Mr Khwaja, an ideological disciple of the al-Qaeda leader repeatedly claimed after 9/11 that he flew OBL from Sudan to Afghanistan. So far none has challenged his claim. Nor ISI has denied it.
Mr Khwaja also claimed that he had arranged at least five meetings of OBL with Pakistan’s current opposition leader and two times former prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif, leader of the ruling right wing PML (Nawaz) in Punjab province. The Pakistani media reported that OBL had financed a ‘no confidence’ move led by Mr Sharif against the then prime minister Benazir Bhutto (BB) in 1993. Mr Sharif and his party have condemned the US raid on the OBL compound, terming it a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. The PML (N) leadership can hardly defend its links with OBL.
The military-OBL relations were always received with an approving nod within Pakistan establishment and intelligence services before the 9/11. Military officials ranking from Major to General were on OBL’s list of friends. Among them the former ISI chief and ex-general Hamid Gul and former ISI spy in Afghanistan Brigadier Sultan Amir Tarar, also known as Col. Imam, were considered OBL’s aides. Col.  Imam too was executed by the Taliban in 2011, again due to mistrust between the erstwhile friends.
Soon after 9/11, while the US was negotiating a peaceful surrender of OBL with Taliban leader Mullah Omar, the then ISI chief Gen. Mahmoud Ahmad opposed the idea. Afghan Taliban and a leading Pakistani cleric Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai later said the Pakistani General advised Mullah Omar not to hand over OBL to the Americans. They had been sent to Kandahar by military ruler Pervez Musharraf to convince the Taliban to hand over OBL to the US. The General was later dismissed from the service, mainly due to US pressure. Gen. Mahmoud was the only top Pakistani official who watched the 9/11 destruction from the Capitol Hill on that devastating morning in the US. He is alleged to have provided $100,000 to Omar Saeed Sheikh to transfer it to the 9/11 chief hijacker Muhammad Atta. 
OBL’s charisma also attracted Pakistan’s nuclear mind. Two prominent Pakistani nuclear scientists Sultan Bashiruddin Mehmood and Chaudhry Abdul Majeed were detained at the request of the US on October 23, 2001 for their alleged meetings with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. After retiring from their active services, the two scientists established relations with OBL and floated the idea of manufacturing a dirty bomb. They covered their activities via running an NGO called Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN), Reconstruction of the Muslim Ummah, in Afghanistan.
OBL ran several Jehadi training camps for the ISI-sponsored radical groups. These camps were located in Afghanistan’s Khost, Kabul and Nangrahar provinces. The recruits belonged to the Jehadi groups lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT), Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), a Jehadi wing of Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Islam (JUI-F) of Pakistan. In return, LeT built brick villas for Arab friends of OBL at Muridke near Lahore,  HuM was running the media campaign for OBL and provided foot soldiers for fighting against Taliban’s rival Northern Alliance and manning security check posts near OBL-run training facilities in Afghanistan. Many journalists who have visited the facilities have later wrote down stories of Pakistanis exercising war games in the camps.
Both LeT and HuM were also responsible for providing food rations and logistic support to the Jehadi training camps in Afghanistan. They also played the role of couriers between OBL and Pakistan’s influential circles. Between 1996 and 2001, HuM arranged OBL’s meetings with journalists. The then leader of HuM Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil established a sort of hot line with OBL in early 1998 in a bid to closely monitor their interests in the region.
OBL enjoyed close relations with leaders of religious parties in Pakistan and prominent clerics. In his Khost press conference in May 1998, while announcing his Islamic International Front (IIF), OBL clearly said that Maulana Samiul Haq, patron-in-chief of Madrassa Haqqania near Peshawar and leader of his own faction of JUI, Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai (late), patron-in-chief of Madrassa Banuria in Karachi, Maulana Asad Amir and clerics of Madrassa Farooqia were supporting his cause. Similarly Maulana Fazlur Rehman, chairman National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Kashmir and leader of the JUI (F) have a history of meetings with OBL. The latter also held a three-day huge rally in early 2001 in Peshawar and read out OBL’s letter to the audience.
The OBL’s admirers in military, Jehadi organizations, radical religious parties, right wing parties like PML (N) and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Justice Movement (PTI), and right wing media made him a household name in Pakistan. They have propagated OBL’s anti-Americanism in planted media stories and public gatherings to a level that impressed many in Pakistan. Today in every class room in a Pakistani school you will come upon youngsters with their names as Osama. After OBL’s killing in Abbottabad on May 2, again it is the military, Pakistan’s ‘Jehadi’ groups declared as terrorist organizations, religious parties  and mediamen of the sort of Hamid Mirs and Ansar Abbassis who are lamenting the most his killing.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Tucking tail between the legs and chewing dignity

Just two days after Pakistan’s chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani harangued the nation on ‘dignity and prosperity,’ the US Navy SEALs got Geronimo (code name for Osama bin Laden) in a military backyard (or courtyard) in Abbottabad. The COAS concluded his speech on the ‘Yaum-i-Shuhada’ (Day of the Martyrs’) with these words: “We cannot sacrifice Pakistan’s dignity for prosperity’s sake."
His remarks followed by Geronimo’s killing right under his nose are worth examining. By coughing up such pearls of wisdom one day and tucking his tail between the legs the next day the General and his chief spy Shuja Pasha have set a new precedent for the stigmatized nation. A ‘bloody civilian’ is waiting for the occasion to still uncertain whether the generals are incompetent or they are the ‘uniformed’ and ‘clean shaved’ affiliates of the global terror network al-Qaeda.
The chain of events since OBL’s killing gives a message to the nation that the General was telling lies on Day of the Martyrs’ or he was drunk enough that didn’t mean what he was stating.
Out of the two baits, dignity and prosperity, the top generals so far are chewing the ‘prosperity’ by kicking out ‘dignity’. The post-OBL saga and the circumstantial evidences, as many in Pakistan describe it, have exposed the butts of the generals’ with their paints on their shoulders, but they are shamelessly sticking to the mantra of ‘prosperity’. Instead of deciding who should go home in the post-OBL corps commanders’ meetings, the general and the only unaccountable group of 11 or so on the Earth warned they would not tolerate another such a daredevil operation on its soil. The US and bloody civilians of Pakistan are interpreting this warning as if the generals will fight unto death to protect the remaining most wanted men of al-Qaeda and the Taliban hiding in Pakistan’s military backyards.
The post-OBL Pakistan presents a perfect contrast to the Arab nations fighting for dignity on the streets. They rejected Ben Ladenism and opted for securing self-respect and prosperity. In Pakistan, the generals, media and the whole lot of right-wingers are asking questions how US dared violating their sovereignty on May 2, the day the monster was killed. The reaction of military, media and right wingers shows the three forces want Pakistan to be seen as an affiliate and sympathizer of the global terrorist networks and thereby humiliate its citizens in the comity of nations.
The post-OBL Pakistan has one revolutionary mark, however—educated Pakistanis have started criticizing their military’s dirty games despite full speed propaganda to protect the generals’ follies and felonies.  This single episode of killing OBL in a military backyard has a message for them: The military is neither giving dignity nor prosperity to the bloody civilians.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The OBL saga and a facts-sheet

The killing of Osama bin Laden (OBL) has proved five things—1) Bin Laden lived like a state guest, 2) Pakistan’s military is either involved or incompetent in protecting its guest, 3) CIA out-smarted the ISI in the spy war, 4) Pakistan’s determination to never come out of its typical state of denial, and 5) Pashtuns were wrongly labeled as bin Laden’s hosts in mountainous tribal regions.
That bin Laden was a state guest is clear from his life style. Few Pakistanis can afford accommodations in Pakistan’s summer stations like Abbottabad or Murree with a troupe of wives, children, couriers, servants, and SUVs. No one of his stature on this planet can afford a secret life for 10 long years without leaving traces until and unless state provides that privacy. In this age of technology, many would agree that none can afford covering asses under the naughty radars. Access to organic veges, chickens, home grown rabbits, fresh olives, Arabian dates, milk of goats and cows and a life full of sex—imagine it. Only a state guest and not the guest of an illiterate Pashtun tribesman can enjoy such a hospitality.
OBL’s raided accommodation is at a stone’s throw from Pakistan’s military academy at Kakul which provides training to commissioned officers, in a town known as military city. It has two regiments and one medical corps. It’s the only city where uniformed men are clearly visible in civilian markets, transport, on roads and streets. They no more roam on the streets of Lahore, Peshawar or Multan. While many question why OBL would have opted for living in Abbottabad, the hosts’ decision of providing him a house there was perfect. Its residents are often non-locals and have lesser level of socialization. The language, ethnic background and class association are major barriers that keep the residents away from one another. In a street of seven houses, the possibility is that one resident may be a local, the second from Kohistan, third from Peshawar, fourth from Lahore, and the next neighbor can be a rich Afghan refugee or a tribal elder. It’s again very much possible that one neighbor might have a military background, the other a businessman, a professor and yet another might be one making money in real estate. They would also speak different languages ranging from Hindko, Urdu, Pashto, Punjabi, to Kohistani and even Dari (Afghan version of Farsi). A state-run institute can easily monitor streets and markets of such a diverse town as compared to a city of identical backgrounds.
Bringing OBL from his last reported location, Tora Bora in Afghanistan in 2001, to Abbottabad is a task that can hardly be attributed to an individual or a tribe or a group. In a country like Pakistan where military is the first, last and the lonely force visible on a security gallery, no one else can dare getting close to OBL and his associates. His life style, sense of confidence, proximity with military bases, and living without armed guards—all show that OBL believed he was in safe hands.
The nature of operation is a shame for ISI and Pakistan’s security mechanism. First, the ISI didn’t prove its trustworthiness among its American counterparts. CIA chief Leon Panetta said Pakistan would have jeopardized the raid and were therefore kept in the dark.  Second, it was considered as an ally of the terrorists and hence CIA made efforts to keep it secret from the ISI. The winner of the spy war was no doubt CIA and not the ISI. Its head General Shuja Pasha should resign to reduce the level of ‘embarrassment’ and acknowledge his failure. Third, the operation has clearly passed on a message to Pakistanis that their spy agency had juxtaposed its interests with those of the bad guys on the Earth. Those who have still doubts they need to wait when Mullah Omar, after a bit of ferreting, is recovered from Quetta cantonment and OBL’s lieutenant Aiman al-Zawahiri from some cool summer station near a military base in coming months or years.
Living in a ‘state of denial’ is epidemic in Pakistan. Its leaders, military and civilian, mediamen, and representatives of state have a big ‘no’ for facts. Ask them Pakistan has become a terror hub, and they will say it is a safe place for investment. Chief of Army Staff General Kayani announced in Abbottabad eight days before OBL’s killing that Pakistan armed forces had broken the back of militants. He was calling the shots just 800 yards away from OBL’s complex.
While the world was questioning ISI’s role, doubting it as a protector of OBL, Prime Minister Gilani was telling in Paris, “world shares blame for failure on bin Laden.
The whole world, including mainstream Muslim Umma and religious clerics, call OBL a terrorist but attorneys in Peshawar and Abbottabad, columnists, TV show hosts and guests praise him as a hero and consider the raid on OBL’s house was violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.
Like Americans, Pashtuns in general and tribals in particular, came out victorious in the OBL saga. He was not killed in the mountains of Pashtuns but in a place controlled and administered by Pakistan military. Islamabad did its best telling the world OBL is the guest of conservative, hard fighting Pashtuns in their tough terrain all these years. Never in history, military of a country stigmatized its own co-citizens but in Pakistan, the smaller nations--Pashtun, Sindhi and Baloch are being presented as bad guys in the country’s Punjab-dominated security apparatus. A huge relief for Pashtuns and shame for those who think OBL’s agenda will make the country prosperous. Pashtuns were pleading from day one that they were being used in the War on Terror. OBL’s presence in a military city of Pakistan also lent weight to Kabul’s calls that terrorists were across the border in their safe havens—or ‘hands’?—in main cities.