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Why Does the Pakistan Army Deserve our Support

It seems that deriding Pakistan army and maligning its efforts has become a finely tuned mechanism within the Pakistani public sphere. It would, however, be prudent to keep certain truths in our minds when we reach hasty conclusions and then share such easily formed opinions on the ubiquitous social media outlets. I write this neither as a former army officer nor as an international scholar, but rather as a diasporic Pakistani who has never actively severed his symbolic and material links with Pakistan.

As I write these lines, the young officers and soldiers of Pakistan army are fighting and dying for Pakistan’s very survival and security on various fronts. I have no doubt that they have the necessary skills, the leadership, and the material support necessary to continue defending Pakistan against all threats. But armies are never only about equipment and technology alone: at the end of the day an armed force is a trained body of human beings who voluntarily offer their services and, when, needed their lives to defend their nation. No amount of money can induce anyone to sacrifice their life: one must believe in the nobility of one’s mission and its intrinsic value to offer one’s life for a cause larger than oneself. When I was deployed at Sia Chin, I did not give my best to the nation because I was being paid a hard area allowance; I gave my best because I believed in defending Pakistan and would have died in the process. I could have such faith because at that time when I introduced myself as an army officer, no matter what the scenario, people treated me with respect and honor. As a human being I knew deep down that the nation for whom I was willing to sacrifice my life accorded me honor and respect. In other words, the public opinion of my service had an inextricable link with my morale, my self-worth, and my commitment to lay down my life for my country!

In the early nineties, only a fraction of Pakistan army was deployed at Sia Chin: at this time over eighty percent of our troops are deployed in one internal struggle for Pakistan or another. Just visit any cantonment and you will see that most battalions only have their rear parties in the cantonment, for rest of them are fighting in one way or the other. The soldiers and young officers, according to my sources, hardly ever get the one and a half month annual, staggered, leaves that happen to be their legal right. Besides this, about seven thousand soldiers have died just in FATA and the number of seriously wounded is even larger than that. In such a scenario, the least we can do for our troops is to offer them the kind of moral support that is absolutely essential for their morale and eventually crucial to Pakistan’s survival.

I live in the United States, an established democracy with strong civil institutions. Even here, from leaders to the average people, no one ever unduly criticizes the armed forces or troops. In fact, if every day Americans run into a military person, they often say to them: “Thank you for your service.” If we just adopt such every-day rituals, it means a world to the soldiers who are fighting for the very survival of Pakistan.

I understand that some politicians and their supporters find it easy to scapegoat the army, but if their politics can only sustain itself by unduly maligning the very integrity of their national defense force, then there is certainly something wrong with such politics. Of course, the politicians are well within their rights to insist on the civilian control of the institutions, but that does not mean that they should force their will upon the internal functioning of armed forces or make it their mission to malign their own armed forces.

I am not naive and am aware of the past political adventures of the Army elite. I am, however, also aware that soldiers, officers, and the current leadership is more interested in keeping Pakistan safe and secure and impugning any other motives onto them is dangerous and self-defeating.

So, your soldiers are fighting and dying for you. It is only fair to lend them your love and support, for if Pakistan loses this fight against the forces of destruction, then no amount of electioneering or democratizing will save Pakistan!

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Commentaries

Pakistan Army and Pakistan’s Water Security

By all accounts, Pakistan is currently one of the top water stressed countries and the situation is likely to further aggravate in the future. Given the rise of population, urbanization, and loss of forested areas, water planning should be at the top of Pakistani federal and local governments. However, there seems to be no coherent long-term planning at all governmental levels.

The Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) has warned that the country may run dry by 2025 if the authorities didn’t take an immediate action. According to a yet-to-be released report, parts of which have been made available to the media, the Islamic country touched the “water stress line” in 1990 and crossed the “water scarcity line” in 2005. 1

One does not need to be a water planning expert to assess the water stress situation in Pakistan. Even in Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan, the city has to resort to water rationing and the residents do not seem to have a reliable supply of water. The situation is even worse in older cities, especially the inner city areas of all major urban centers. During the summers, the unregulated private water supply vendors charge exorbitant amounts of money to supply water, and sadly they basically sell public water to the urban citizens. Thus, “water mafia” is yet another powerful net of illegal extortionist businesses in our major cities. So far, most people in the inner cities rely on private wells to draw water, but since the population is rising and more and more city-spaces are being paved, the aquifers that supply the deep wells are also drying up. If this trend of water scarcity continues, Pakistan’s next violent clashes could very well be caused by fights over water.

There are many solutions being offered by people much more educated and wiser than me and given some planning and political will, the government can if not avert this impending disaster then at least reduce the costs and risks. As a former army officer, I would like to encourage our military commanders to make this into a major issue of national interest.

Pakistan army has cantonments all over the country and the army also owns vast stretches of land all over the country. While on a strategic level the federal government could develop a long-term water security plan with the army, the army itself, through its own resources, can also launch some major initiatives. In the United States, for examples, most human-made dams and water reservoirs were built by the US Corps of Engineers over a long time. The Pakistan army could also use the expertise of their own Corp of Engineers and other forces to build small-scale dams and water reservoirs in all cantonment areas. The dams do not have to be massive or large: any size of water storage ponds, lakes, and dams would not only serve the immediate purpose of storing rain and stream water but would also help in raising the water table around the ponds and dams.

Similarly, the Pakistan army cantonments pretty much always have their own independent sewage systems. The army could invest in modernizing the sewage systems and then create efficient water treatment plants to clean and reuse water. The army has the expertise, the manpower, and a centralized effective leadership to accomplish all this and thus become central to securing the future of Pakistan in this important, but sadly neglected, part of our national planning for the future.

Of course, the Pakistan army has already undertaken such projects in water stressed areas. For example:

Wali Tangi Dam, Islam Kach and Levy Post dams in Balochistan and water supply schemes in Thar Desert are a few examples, which have made positive impact on the environment and the local population. Additionally the Army has reactivated a number of abandoned tube wells in Cholistan desert. 2

However, these efforts need to be accelerated both at macro and micro level. 3 In a way, the army could launch a whole program that introduces thousands of micro programs to create and maintain water storage areas all over the country. Furthermore, while developing the army housing schemes for troops and officers, water planning should be a major part of any such planning, for what is the point of building housing for troops and officers if they are left scrambling for water.

While the civilian government ought to lead Pakistan toward its water security and we can hope that water will become a priority for our political governments, the Pakistan army can lead the way in doing its part in ensuring the water security of Pakistan.

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Editorials

The US and the Myth of “Pakistan Should Do More”

Once again a US politician, this time the new US president, has offered the same hackneyed wisdom about the US war in Afghanistan, and besides other mundane things offered as new and innovative, yet another refrain was also included in the non-substantive Afghanistan policy speech delivered by President Donald Trump. Trump, like so many other US politicians before him, bellowed:

Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists. In the past, Pakistan has been a valued partner. Our militaries have worked together against common enemies. The Pakistani people have suffered greatly from terrorism and extremism. We recognize those contributions and those sacrifices.

But Pakistan has also sheltered the same organizations that try every single day to kill our people. We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting.

But that will have to change. And that will change immediately. No partnership can survive a country’s harboring of militants and terrorists who target U.S. service members and officials. It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order and to peace.

Beyond the usual bluster, if looked at textually only the rhetorical energy spent on Pakistan in the speech also declares, beyond the words themselves, the extreme importance of Pakistan in the US mission in Afghanistan, whatever that mission ought to be, for Mr. Trump failed to define what exactly would be the US “Victory” in Afghanistan. The Pakistani government and military should not take this as more of the same or as an empty threat. Furthermore, declaring that we as a nation are better off with China (as the argument is being made in Pakistan by some leading politicians and journalist) is also not in Pakistan’s best interest. Staying engaged with the United States can in no way be against the Pakistani national interest. But keeping the US public informed about the sacrifices made by Pakistan is also exceptionally important.

Just the last month as I sat with one of my former army seniors, he informed me that my old battalion was slated to be deployed in an operation in the Pakistani tribal areas that very night. As we talked, we both hoped and prayed that everyone in our battalion came out of the operation unscathed and unharmed, but, deep down, we both knew that in operations such as these there are always casualties. Pakistan has suffered tremendously over the last decade or so both in terms of military and civilian casualties. We need to remember that this war against the Taliban and ISIS and other extremist groups is not necessarily a war conducted at the behest of the United States, but crucial to our own national future. We should fight this war on all fronts, military, civic, and economic, with or without US help, but we should also do a better job of challenging absurd claims by the US politicians about “reluctant” Pakistan “not doing enough.” Our men and women, civilians and soldiers are dying every day in this complex and expansive war: WE ARE DOING A LOT!!! We need to do a better job of foregrounding our sacrifices and our efforts nationally and globally. Our politicians, generals, journalists, and academics need to help develop a counter narrative to the Taliban and others but also a strategic counter narrative to any scapegoating of Pakistan proffered by the US politicians.

We should also pose some hard questions to the US policymakers: What, to them, is victory in Afghanistan? Obviously it cannot be the conquest of Afghanistan! If the victory to the US is a stable democratic Afghanistan with a democratically elected government, then it cannot be accomplished through military means and even if Mr. Trump does not like it, he will have to invest in building the civic and political institutions in Afghanistan. Building a stable and autonomous Afghanistan should also be a top Pakistani priority. We as a nation need to rid ourselves of the misconception that Afghani people owe us for anything. Yes, we hosted millions of their refugees during the Soviet-Afghan war, but that alone does not give us the right to dictate Afghan politics or their foreign policy. If we need to win Afghanistan over as a regional ally and friend, then we should accomplish that with deep cultural and economic investments in Afghanistan and not through proxy groups or through politics of intimidation and isolation.

If there is some truth to Trump’s claims about Pakistan serving as a safe haven for Taliban groups, then we as a nation should openly declare that no place in Pakistan shall be or could be used as a safe haven for any Taliban group. If we have used any of these groups as our proxies in the region, we should know by now that the same groups can turn on us any time and conduct horrible terroristic attacks on our people. At this point there seems to be no advantage to us in harboring any terroristic groups both  officially or unofficially. Pakistan should, therefore, declare openly that Pakistani territory will not be a safe place for any terroristic proxy group, may they be targeting Afghanistan or any other adjacent regions.

Only when we have a clear and open policy against terror groups can we challenge the sad and shallow stereotyping used by US politicians against Pakistan. Furthermore, our relationship with the US should not be transactional but rather deeper and long-term. Th US on her part can continue to invest in Pakistani education, infrastructure, and other civic and cultural fields. If the US decides to isolate Pakistan and defunds US cultural and military support to Pakistan, the long-term implications  of such steps might be hard for Pakistan but would certainly be damaging to the US interests in the region.

So, as two nations focused on solving an intractable problem in the region, the US and Pakistan should treat each other with the kind of respect and dignity as two sovereign nations ought to!

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Commentaries

Why it is Absurd to Compare Pakistan Army and Pakistan Police

Pakarmy_police

Lately, it seems, everyone is comparing the general conduct of the army and the police with reference to the two marches on Islamabad. Of course in this comparison, the army always comes out ahead. These comparisons are inherently absurd and are like comparing oranges with apples.

Both these institutions are still organized along colonial lines, which means that their organizational structures, training, and general conduct is based in our colonial legacy. The army, for example, has not only maintained the same rank structure as created by our erstwhile masters, it has also kept the informal symbolics of the civilian-military relationships also intact. The royal Indian army, of which the Pakistan army is one offshoot, was strictly professional, very well trained, and very well-funded: the Pakistan army has kept those traditions and, I would  say, further enhanced them. Furthermore, Pakistan army, when not deployed, is mostly stationed at self-contained and very well maintained cantonments, often separated from the cities, now more than ever, with either a security wall or a security barrier. Within the army itself, the battalions are fully self-contained units: this means that all the needs of a soldier are met, and the officers are trained to make sure that the needs of their soldiers are met. Thus, if there are two soldiers stationed on a check post, you can be sure that their three meals will be provided right on time and so would be their tea and other rations. If they fall ill, or are injured in the line of duty, they will have access to the best healthcare system that a nation can provide. It is no wonder, then, that the Pakistan army is more disciplined, organized, and better led. The officers are not only trained in the specifics of their professions, but also, formally and informally, trained as the leaders of men.

I remember that my first company commander–who later retired as a lieutenant general–taught me not only to check the weapons, and teach classes on tactics and small arms, but also the habits of thinking about my troops’ welfare. As an army officer, one either had to be completely callous or part of a terrible battalion to not learn the basic attributes of a good officer. It is this investment of resources, training, and organizational specificity that makes army such a professional and well honed instrument for the state. Furthermore, there is no direct political meddling in the general affairs of the army. I mean, if my battalion is deployed in aid of the civil power, chances are no one, other than my superior commanders, can tell me how to conduct my business. As a military commander one is protected from the pushes and pulls of political power or even the common vagaries of daily life. These organizational, material, and symbolic markers are crucial to training a professional army, and the Pakistan army, therefore, live sup to its impeccable reputation.

The Pakistan police also inherited its organizational and administrative structure from the British. Our police is still organized under the Thana/ Police Station system and relies quite heavily, and without government sanction, on the methods of policing and interrogation that were in vogue during the colonial times. None of the police organizations, however, is self sufficient and self-contained. Neither their officers, nor their men get the kind o intensive training that is provided for the army. Furthermore, the police interacts directly with the public and its leadership structures is deeply politicized. The police is also very ill-equipped and its soldiers neither get the kind of facilities that their army counterparts enjoy, nor do the police officers are trained to care for the welfare of their troops. (How many times have you driven through Islamabad and seen a policeman trying to get a lift to his job). Chances are, if four policemen are manning a post, they are expected to fend for themselves. There is likely to be no quartermaster’s truck bringing them their daily food and tea?. And before you blame their officers for not doing enough, take a look their budget!

Of course none of this excuses any violence committed by the police against PAKISTAN-MILITANCYevery day citizens, but when the government puts them on the front line in crowd control situations, then a lot of things can go wrong. In Islamabad, compared to police, who have faced the maximum brunt of the popular outrage, often under trying circumstances, the Pakistan army has been mostly behind the scenes. Thus, when they show up to resolve the issues–like they did at PTV station–they can afford to be magnanimous, for the dirty work has already been done by the police. Sadly, in this powerful game of political chess police has paid a heavy symbolic and material price: they have been beaten, abused, stoned, and generally criticized. I am not saying that all their actions were right, but despite their material and symbolic disadvantages, they have done their job: they have, by and large, protected the buildings and areas they were tasked to protect. Given the limitations placed on the amount of force they could use, this is not less than a spectacular performance. However, in order to really create an efficient and professional police force, the police will have to be reorganized and funded in the same way as the army.

The reason I am writing this is because a lot of my former army friends are right now gloating–digitally and otherwise–at the incompetence of our politicians and the army. I have read digital boasts about army being able to control the whole thing in one hour (My reply to that is “what are they waiting for?), and exhortations from others for the army to take over. Naturally, Pakistan army does not need any such comparative narratives: they can claim to be a good force without putting others down, but they do this because they have lately, like all other state institutions, faced criticism and some hostility from their own people. I have no problem with that. I think in a real democracy all institutions must be constantly under public scrutiny, for without that democracy cannot exist. But, on the other hand, try standing in the streets and try to control a bunch of protestors and then come back and boast about how much the army is loved and how effective it can be.

Police_IslamabadSo, overall I think all these comparisons between the performance of the army and police are flawed as they neither take into account the inherent structural and administrative inequalities, nor do they gauge the nature and extent of public involvement of both these institutions.

In the end both police and the army are instruments of the state with completely different missions and modes of functioning, and we should not be too hasty in privileging one over the other.

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Editorials

Article 245 and the Situation in Islamabad

245. Functions of Armed Forces.- 1[(1)] The Armed Forces shall, under the directions of the Federal Government, defend Pakistan against external aggression or threat of war, and, subject to law, act in aid of civil power when called upon to do so.

(2) The validity of any direction issued by the Federal Government under clause (1), shall not be called in question in any Court.

(3) A High Court shall not exercise any jurisdiction under Article 199 in relation to any area in which the Armed Forced of Pakistan are, for the time being, acting in aid of civil power in pursuance of Article 245:

Provided that this clause shall not be deemed to affect the jurisdiction of the High Court in respect of any proceeding pending immediately before the day on which the Armed Forces start acting in aid of civil power.

(4) Any proceeding in relation to an area referred to in clause (3) instituted on or after the day the Armed Forces start acting in aid of civil power and pending in any High Court shall remain suspended for the period during which the Armed Forces are so acting.]

PakconstitutionIn the recent take over of the PTV building and its eventual peaceful clearance by the Rangers and Pakistan army, the Pakistani media have been opining about the absence of police and the warm welcome received by the troops when they arrived at the airport.

I think in this frenzy to constantly create visual and news content, most Pakistani news channels have failed to ask the most important questions about the nature of Article 245 of the Constitution.

I have cited the article above in full text so that none of my views are considered just mere speculation. It is a fact that the federal government of Pakistan invoked the article 245 as far back in June of 2014 but only to safeguard any terrorist threats.

In the current crisis, the argument from the army has been that it cannot be deployed to solve political crisis, which literally means that army does not feel duty-bound to aid the government against the two marches. This, in fact, is a very liberal reading of the article 245.

The article, cited above, states categorically:

The Armed Forces shall, under the directions of the Federal Government, defend Pakistan against external aggression or threat of war, and, subject to law, act in aid of civil power when called upon to do so.

Note, there are no exceptions here, no room for a subjective interpretation. Furthermore, the army has done this countless times before. Most of my service in Sindh in the mid nineteen eighties was “in aid of the civil power” fighting the dacoits in interior Sindh; I was also deployed in the same role in Karachi when the ethnic clashes broke out in Karachi in 1986. Of course, the country was then being run by a dictator, but when we filled our forms, our duty was listed as IS duty (Internal Service) and that is how it was defined and understood.

We were also taught, and we practiced it, that after the local magistrate hands over the situation to the local military commander (we had to fill a form A for that) the area came under total control of the army and police had no jurisdiction over it.

So, while I laud the heroic acts of the army in saving the PTV building, it was, under the constitution, already there job, especially if the building was included in the sensitive areas under their protection. According to the constitution, the police should have not been there at all.

furthermore, if section 245 is still in effect, then asking the police to handle something they are ill-equipped to do does not sound like a sound strategy. So, our politicians and generals should read our constitution and then go on suggesting the best measures to each other.

Pakistan is in serious and dangerous situation right now, and at this juncture we should use the constitution to guide our actions–that is the reason the constitution exists– rather than relying on the subjective interpretations of politicians and generals.

And our dear journalists should be asking these hard questions and they should be educating us about the constitution and its importance!

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Commentaries

Mission Accomplished: A Puppet Democratic Government

PTI-PATRallies

According to the latest news from Dawn, a Pakistani newspaper I love and trust, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has finally been humbled by the army, and for the rest of his term, he will be, as so many of us had feared, a “ceremonial prime minister.” {{1}} [[1]]http://www.dawn.com/news/1128364/nawaz-close-to-reaching-deal-with-army-wsj[[1]]

According to the latest reports, the new compromise in the offing has assured the following for the army:

  • The elected government will defer to the army for foreign policy, US relations, and on other strategic defense matters.
  • The elected government will eventually create a path for Pervez Musharraf to leave the country.

Besides the two obvious capitulations by the elected government, it seems that government is now so weak that we are back to the hackneyed and failed method of Pakistani politics: token governments run by the military.

So, in other words, democracy in Pakistan is back to where it used to be and powers that have held our destiny for all these years are back in charge.

I have been openly opposed to the two marches on Islamabad for precisely this reason: I, along with so many others, had feared that these marches would end up weakening the Pakistani political system and open the back doors to the uncocstitutional power brokers. That is what has come to pass.

It no longer matters what happens now: the fragile system is already damaged.  Even if Imran Khan, somehow, becomes the prime minister, he will be yet another puppet, for this is the new formula of power sharing that he has forced on the current government and he himself will have to acquiesce to it.

I understand that Imran Khan has been successful in mobilizing the privileged segment of Pakistani electorate for popular causes, but in the end this mobilization has weakened the very democracy that he and his followers claim to champion. I dare suggest that this is not an accidental outcome. I believe that both Imran and Tahirul Qadri entered this new phase of popular protest with certain understanding with the powers-that-be, and as a result the same powers now have won their way back to state power.

So, yes while it is salutary to see a different kind of political constituency and a different kind of politics, in the end if we cannot support the democratic norm, then it is only a cosmetic difference. Now, if we soon see Pakistan transitioning into the kind of political farce that we have so often seen, we will know who to blame!

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Geo News: Descent into Tantrums, Taunts, and Tastelessness

Geo

Like so many Pakistanis, I was shocked to hear about the assassination attempt at Hamid Mir. As someone associated with many public writing projects and as one who believes in the absolute freedom of the press, to me an attack on Hamid Mir was nothing less than an attack on all of us who voice our opinions against the powerful and mighty.

So, while my prayers and sympathies are still with Hamid Mir and so many others in Pakistan who put their lives at risk to keep the public informed, I now have strong reservations about Geo news since they have embroiled themselves in a silly war with those who have either challenged them or called them to question.

I have been watching Geo’s response to the case against them under consideration with PEMRA and now also the tone and virulence of their attack on Imran Khan, and I find their response childish, irresponsible, and reprehensible.

When I close my eyes and hear their phony challenges to Imran Khan and others to come debate them, all that comes to my mind is the image of an overfed spoiled brat who constantly wants more and more attention. It seems as if, somehow, through some cosmic intervention this entire network has been hooked to a massive, infantile id-driven monster, and no matter how much attention you give it, it always wants more.

Yes, freedom of press is absolutely necessary, but no democracy will ver allow the press to air uncorroborated rumors as news without any consequences. It seems Geo wants to have its cake and eat it, too. There is another side to the question of freedom of press: responsibility.

There is a certain hoarse childishness to Geo’s response to PEMRA as well as the statements of Imran Khan. I have been watching their continuous taunts and challenges to Imran Khan for his recent statements, which is sensationalist and might make sense to a twelve-year-old, but repsonsible journalism it is not.

Why was the army so incensed with the coverage of ISI after the attack on Hamid Mir? This question the Geo stalwarts have not bothered to ask. Was it only about the sanctity of the army as an institution, or that of its generals? I do  not think it was the latter.

Pakistan army is engaged in a war with the Taliban. This means that for the last ten years, eighty percent of Army cantonments are empty as men and officers are deployed in several regions of conflict. Those of you who have read my work before know that I am not an uncritical apologist for the army. In fact, some of  my writings have really alarmed some of my old friends. But my past criticism of the army notwithstanding, in these times one needs to be careful of what one impugns to the army, and the reason is simple.

Pakistan army is not a machine: it is made up of human beings. In most of the cases those human beings do not just follow orders, but follow the orders because they find them to be just. When the war against the Taliban was launched, there was a general crisis of motivation amongst the ranks that needed to be resolved. The crisis was religious: How to justify fighting against fellow Muslims who are fighting against America and who are fighting to establish a Muslim system.

So, the Pakistan army leadership had to redefine their role. They had to fist convince their soldiers that they were not fighting a proxy war for the US interests, but rather a war for the integrity of their own nation. They then had to posit the conflict not in the language of religion but in terms of rule of law. It was drilled into the minds of the soldiers and young officers that this war was about establishing the rule of law and the writ of Pakistani constitution and Taliban, by opposing the accepted law of the state, were, therefore, the enemies of the state. By and large this narrative seems to have worked.

By attacking the armed forces on flimsy evidence, Geo did not only jettison all forms of journalistic ethics, it also attacked the Pakistan army where this rhetoric hurts the very mission that the army has been engaged in. The logic is simple: If even the great institutions of Pakistan army are not safe from conjectural accusations, then, how would the media treat those in the lower ranks who put their lives at risk every single day. Furthermore, this “public trial” of generals further erodes into the leadership legitimacy that, when it comes to war against Taliban, rests on very precariously balanced narratives.

Similarly, the public spat between Geo and Imran Khan is another example of the infantile journalistic ethics that seems to be the mainstay of Geo group. In their pronouncements, the various Geo voices have insisted that Imran Khan should either prove his allegations in the courts or should come and face them on their TV shows. So, in one case they want Imran Khan, a politician, to follow some kind of journalistic ethic that Geo itself did not follow in reporting the attack on Hamid Mir, and in the other scenario they want a political leader to come into their staged TV show and offer himself for questioning. This is trying to have it both ways.

Over all, in this quixotic fight, as I watch the live streaming on my phone, Geo increasingly comes across as a spoiled rich kid stomping his feet and grinding his teeth asking for things that his opponents have no reason to give.

So, while I am not for banning any media channels or for putting journalists in prisons, I am also not very impressed with how Geo administration and its minions have behaved in this entire scenario.

I live in America, which has one of the freest (but corporatized) media in the world. Even here, where most programming is driven by ratings, the journalists never ever go after the armed forces without a hundred percent proof. By and large the media, sometimes more than required, mostly are very respectful to the armed forces and the logic is simple: the men and women of US armed forces put their lives at risk for their country and thus deserve due respect.

I would say the same principles should apply to the coverage of armed forces in Pakistan. It takes more than a good salary and good weapons to ask a soldier to run across a minefield and assault a heavily defended position. It takes a lifetime of care, love, honor, and respect.

This means that our soldiers should feel respected in their streets, villages, cities, mosques, and markets. All these acts of honor and respect are an investment–in so many indirect ways–to earn the right–as a nation–upon the lives of these men and it cannot just be done with a fat bonus. While this subjectivity of a solider takes a lifetime to construct and mobilize in the name of a nation, it can be very easily destroyed by one or two irresponsible and careless acts.

So, the reason the army is so incensed at Geo is not because Geo has, somehow, hurt the fragile egos of its generals, but that Geo has, inadvertently, weakened a fragile and precariously built system of motivation and morale.

No one who claims to be working in the best interest of Pakistan should do such damage and then hide behind childish and sanctimonious tantrums disguised under the general rubric of freedom of press. There can be no freedom of expression without responsibility!

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Commentaries

Geo News: Descent into Tantrums, Taunts, and Tastelessness

Like so many Pakistanis, I was shocked to hear about the assassination attempt at Hamid Mir. As someone associated with many public writing projects and as one who believes in the absolute freedom of the press, to me an attack on Hamid Mir was nothing less than an attack on all of us who voice our opinions against the powerful and mighty.

So, while my prayers and sympathies are still with Hamid Mir and so many others in Pakistan who put their lives at risk to keep the public informed, I now have strong reservations about Geo news since they have embroiled themselves in a silly war with those who have either challenged them or called them to question.

I have been watching Geo’s response to the case against them under consideration with PEMRA and now also the tone and virulence of their attack on Imran Khan, and I find their response childish, irresponsible, and reprehensible.

When I close my eyes and hear their phony challenges to Imran Khan and others to come debate them, all that comes to my mind is the image of an overfed spoiled brat who constantly wants more and more attention. It seems as if, somehow, through some cosmic intervention this entire network has been hooked to a massive, infantile id-driven monster, and no matter how much attention you give it, it always wants more.

Yes, freedom of press is absolutely necessary, but no democracy will ver allow the press to air uncorroborated rumors as news without any consequences. It seems Geo wants to have its cake and eat it, too. There is another side to the question of freedom of press: responsibility.

There is a certain hoarse childishness to Geo’s response to PEMRA as well as the statements of Imran Khan. I have been watching their continuous taunts and challenges to Imran Khan for his recent statements, which is sensationalist and might make sense to a twelve-year-old, but repsonsible journalism it is not.

Why was the army so incensed with the coverage of ISI after the attack on Hamid Mir? This question the Geo stalwarts have not bothered to ask. Was it only about the sanctity of the army as an institution, or that of its generals? I do  not think it was the latter.

Pakistan army is engaged in a war with the Taliban. This means that for the last ten years, eighty percent of Army cantonments are empty as men and officers are deployed in several regions of conflict. Those of you who have read my work before know that I am not an uncritical apologist for the army. In fact, some of  my writings have really alarmed some of my old friends. But my past criticism of the army notwithstanding, in these times one needs to be careful of what one impugns to the army, and the reason is simple.

Pakistan army is not a machine: it is made up of human beings. In most of the cases those human beings do not just follow orders, but follow the orders because they find them to be just. When the war against the Taliban was launched, there was a general crisis of motivation amongst the ranks that needed to be resolved. The crisis was religious: How to justify fighting against fellow Muslims who are fighting against America and who are fighting to establish a Muslim system.

So, the Pakistan army leadership had to redefine their role. They had to fist convince their soldiers that they were not fighting a proxy war for the US interests, but rather a war for the integrity of their own nation. They then had to posit the conflict not in the language of religion but in terms of rule of law. It was drilled into the minds of the soldiers and young officers that this war was about establishing the rule of law and the writ of Pakistani constitution and Taliban, by opposing the accepted law of the state, were, therefore, the enemies of the state. By and large this narrative seems to have worked.

By attacking the armed forces on flimsy evidence, Geo did not only jettison all forms of journalistic ethics, it also attacked the Pakistan army where this rhetoric hurts the very mission that the army has been engaged in. The logic is simple: If even the great institutions of Pakistan army are not safe from conjectural accusations, then, how would the media treat those in the lower ranks who put their lives at risk every single day. Furthermore, this “public trial” of generals further erodes into the leadership legitimacy that, when it comes to war against Taliban, rests on very precariously balanced narratives.

Similarly, the public spat between Geo and Imran Khan is another example of the infantile journalistic ethics that seems to be the mainstay of Geo group. In their pronouncements, the various Geo voices have insisted that Imran Khan should either prove his allegations in the courts or should come and face them on their TV shows. So, in one case they want Imran Khan, a politician, to follow some kind of journalistic ethic that Geo itself did not follow in reporting the attack on Hamid Mir, and in the other scenario they want a political leader to come into their staged TV show and offer himself for questioning. This is trying to have it both ways.

Over all, in this quixotic fight, as I watch the live streaming on my phone, Geo increasingly comes across as a spoiled rich kid stomping his feet and grinding his teeth asking for things that his opponents have no reason to give.

So, while I am not for banning any media channels or for putting journalists in prisons, I am also not very impressed with how Geo administration and its minions have behaved in this entire scenario.

I live in America, which has one of the freest (but corporatized) media in the world. Even here, where most programming is driven by ratings, the journalists never ever go after the armed forces without a hundred percent proof. By and large the media, sometimes more than required, mostly are very respectful to the armed forces and the logic is simple: the men and women of US armed forces put their lives at risk for their country and thus deserve due respect.

I would say the same principles should apply to the coverage of armed forces in Pakistan. It takes more than a good salary and good weapons to ask a soldier to run across a minefield and assault a heavily defended position. It takes a lifetime of care, love, honor, and respect.

This means that our soldiers should feel respected in their streets, villages, cities, mosques, and markets. All these acts of honor and respect are an investment–in so many indirect ways–to earn the right–as a nation–upon the lives of these men and it cannot just be done with a fat bonus. While this subjectivity of a solider takes a lifetime to construct and mobilize in the name of a nation, it can be very easily destroyed by one or two irresponsible and careless acts.

So, the reason the army is so incensed at Geo is not because Geo has, somehow, hurt the fragile egos of its generals, but that Geo has, inadvertently, weakened a fragile and precariously built system of motivation and morale.

No one who claims to be working in the best interest of Pakistan should do such damage and then hide behind childish and sanctimonious tantrums disguised under the general rubric of freedom of press. There can be no freedom of expression without responsibility!

Categories
Editorials

On Negotiating with Taliban

Recently the negotiations between the Taliban and Pakistani government have been one of the major daily stories in the Pakistani and international media. My purpose here is not to deride this recent attempt at peace by the Pakistani government, but to ask one important question: What is likely to be the cost of this peace?

There are two parties to these negotiations: people of Pakistan–represented by their elected government–and the Taliban, an extra-national violent group in a state of war with the people and government of Pakistan. This aspect of these negotiations should be very clear: Taliban are not another political party negotiating a sort of peace settlement with Pakistan. Taliban, as an entity, have declared war on Pakistan and are, therefore, a belligerent group that has used their coercive violence to bring the Pakistani state to the negotiation table. It seems as if without having read Clausewitz, the Taliban seem to be working within the logic of modern warfare: fight your enemy to a point where you can bring them to the negotiation table to seek an advantageous peace.

Let us also remind ourselves as to what kind of war have the Taliban waged: they have killed women, children, soldiers, doctors, the poor, and the rich from all walks of life. We are not talking about a noble resistance movement that fights its “enemies” with a certain degree of honor and respect for the lives of average citizens. No, this group has targeted schools, mosques, hospitals, military installations, bazars, polio workers, and Pakistani streets. They have done it to break the will of our nation in order to overwrite the constitution of the state with their own vision of what constitutes Islamic, moral, and properly religious.

I understand the reluctance of military leadership to negotiate with the Taliban: The army, along with thousands of civilian citizens, has paid a heavy price for this ongoing war in defense of Pakistan. The army must also see this as a delaying tactics by the Taliban: what better way to buy more time and regroup to continue their violent war than by negotiating for an unreachable peace.

This peace cannot be achieved unless the government of Pakistan abandons Pakistan’s constitution and rewrites it to suit the Taliban. And what kind of a constitution would it be: a constitution that practically bans women from the education and other aspects of the public sphere, that further reduces the minorities to the levels of abject silence, and that regularizes only one interpretation of Islam–Hanbaliyya-Wahabi–as the ultimately correct interpretation of Islam. These changes, let us remember, would have to be brought in without a public consensus and without involving the majority of Pakistani people. This implies that Taliban want nothing less than restructuring of the Pakistani national identity and nothing less than this would satisfy them. In return, if their demands are not met, they go on killing innocent Pakistanis as indiscriminately as they have done so far.

There is a certain point beyond which all cosmetic attempts at peace fail and a nation must decide that if the price of peace is to abandon the very nature of the nation, then that is too high a price. So, yes acceptance of the constitution of Pakistan as it exists should be an absolutely necessary point for the negotiations to begin. To participate in this the Taliban must accept the Pakistani law, abandon all murders and killings, and then they should be welcomed at the negotiation table. Anything less than this is not a peace negotiation but a genuflection to the violence that Taliban have perpetuated.

Yes, I know a failure of these negotiations could be catastrophic. But we have seen, for the last ten years, the destruction that these so-called  Muslims can bring about and as a nation, despite our limited resources, we have withstood them and not allowed them  to send us cowering into the kinds of caves that they dwell in. Yes, the losses have been great, the suffering high, but at least, as a nation, we can proudly declare that no amount  of bloodshed by the Taliban and their ilk has forced us to surrender the basic humanity of Pakistan as a modern nation, a nation that can live with differences and does not need to be forced into a violently created straightjacket of a fanatical interpretation of religion.

So, if we must negotiate with the Taliban, and I am doubtful about this, we must first make sure that those who have to fight them–the soldiers, the police, and others–are on board this process, as theirs are the lives that have been affected the most by this ongoing war and they are the ones who will put their lives at risk whenever asked.

Furthermore, the Taliban must first renounce violence, turn in their weapons, and accept the Pakistani constitution as a necessary precondition for peace talks.

If these steps are not met, then the negotiations will fail and even if they succeed, we would have surrendered Pakistan to the destroyers Pakistan. The result would not be a peace but a total surrender of our entire way of life!

Categories
Editorials

On Negotiating with Taliban

taliban

Recently the negotiations between the Taliban and Pakistani government have been one of the major daily stories in the Pakistani and international media. My purpose here is not to deride this recent attempt at peace by the Pakistani government, but to ask one important question: What is likely to be the cost of this peace?

There are two parties to these negotiations: people of Pakistan–represented by their elected government–and the Taliban, an extra-national violent group in a state of war with the people and government of Pakistan. This aspect of these negotiations should be very clear: Taliban are not another political party negotiating a sort of peace settlement with Pakistan. Taliban, as an entity, have declared war on Pakistan and are, therefore, a belligerent group that has used their coercive violence to bring the Pakistani state to the negotiation table. It seems as if without having read Clausewitz, the Taliban seem to be working within the logic of modern warfare: fight your enemy to a point where you can bring them to the negotiation table to seek an advantageous peace.

Let us also remind ourselves as to what kind of war have the Taliban waged: they have killed women, children, soldiers, doctors, the poor, and the rich from all walks of life. We are not talking about a noble resistance movement that fights its “enemies” with a certain degree of honor and respect for the lives of average citizens. No, this group has targeted schools, mosques, hospitals, military installations, bazars, polio workers, and Pakistani streets. They have done it to break the will of our nation in order to overwrite the constitution of the state with their own vision of what constitutes Islamic, moral, and properly religious.

I understand the reluctance of military leadership to negotiate with the Taliban: The army, along with thousands of civilian citizens, has paid a heavy price for this ongoing war in defense of Pakistan. The army must also see this as a delaying tactics by the Taliban: what better way to buy more time and regroup to continue their violent war than by negotiating for an unreachable peace.

This peace cannot be achieved unless the government of Pakistan abandons Pakistan’s constitution and rewrites it to suit the Taliban. And what kind of a constitution would it be: a constitution that practically bans women from the education and other aspects of the public sphere, that further reduces the minorities to the levels of abject silence, and that regularizes only one interpretation of Islam–Hanbaliyya-Wahabi–as the ultimately correct interpretation of Islam. These changes, let us remember, would have to be brought in without a public consensus and without involving the majority of Pakistani people. This implies that Taliban want nothing less than restructuring of the Pakistani national identity and nothing less than this would satisfy them. In return, if their demands are not met, they go on killing innocent Pakistanis as indiscriminately as they have done so far.

There is a certain point beyond which all cosmetic attempts at peace fail and a nation must decide that if the price of peace is to abandon the very nature of the nation, then that is too high a price. So, yes acceptance of the constitution of Pakistan as it exists should be an absolutely necessary point for the negotiations to begin. To participate in this the Taliban must accept the Pakistani law, abandon all murders and killings, and then they should be welcomed at the negotiation table. Anything less than this is not a peace negotiation but a genuflection to the violence that Taliban have perpetuated.

Yes, I know a failure of these negotiations could be catastrophic. But we have seen, for the last ten years, the destruction that these so-called  Muslims can bring about and as a nation, despite our limited resources, we have withstood them and not allowed them  to send us cowering into the kinds of caves that they dwell in. Yes, the losses have been great, the suffering high, but at least, as a nation, we can proudly declare that no amount  of bloodshed by the Taliban and their ilk has forced us to surrender the basic humanity of Pakistan as a modern nation, a nation that can live with differences and does not need to be forced into a violently created straightjacket of a fanatical interpretation of religion.

So, if we must negotiate with the Taliban, and I am doubtful about this, we must first make sure that those who have to fight them–the soldiers, the police, and others–are on board this process, as theirs are the lives that have been affected the most by this ongoing war and they are the ones who will put their lives at risk whenever asked.

Furthermore, the Taliban must first renounce violence, turn in their weapons, and accept the Pakistani constitution as a necessary precondition for peace talks.

If these steps are not met, then the negotiations will fail and even if they succeed, we would have surrendered Pakistan to the destroyers Pakistan. The result would not be a peace but a total surrender of our entire way of life!