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Pakistan Army: The Fog of War Argument Won’t Do

Since the recent killing of Pakistani soldiers by NATO, the Pakistani political leadership and Pakistani people have entered a sort of crisis overdrive mode.

English: Pakistan Army Logo
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Thankfully, this time the people and politicians are not just railing about the US and NATO. Quite a few hard questions are also being asked of the Pakistan army senior leadership, the kinds of questions that should always be posed to military leaders in a living democracy.

One question that has now become a sort of proverbial albatross around the army’s neck is this: “Why did the army not mobilize Pakistan airforce to support the ground troops who were under attack? An apt question, I must say, of an organization that takes the lion’s share of Pakistan’s meager GDP every year.

The answer, says the army, “we were confused!”

Yes, seriously this is the answer being provided by the army leadership. According to an AP report published also by Dawn:

A Pakistani military statement on Friday said the response could have been more ”effective” if the airforce had been called in, but this was not possible because of a ”breakdown of communication” and confusion at ”various levels” within the organisation.

So basically, this is a roundabout way of saying that we were so inept that even when our troops were dying, we failed miserably in coordinating any countermeasures at the highest levels of military leadership. There is a pattern to this argument and it also has its own history: Kargil, OBL raid, and now this tragic event. So the senior leadership cannot admit that they COULD not aid their troops while they were being killed because their internal communication systems, somehow failed. But the same leaders had functioning communication systems to literally  “PLEAD” to NATO to stop killing their soldiers. So, is PLEADING the highest level of military strategy our over indulged generals can come up with?

The communications failure argument is fallacious on many accounts. First of all there are layered forms of communications available. There is a whole, well-funded, Joint Chiefs of Staff headquarters with the sole job of coordinating interservice communication. If they failed, how many of them are willing to resign for letting down their troops?

On tactical level, such breakdown is not possible. Her  is how it goes: a post is under attack; the post commander informs the battalion headquarters (they have both wireless and field telephones to do so); the battalion headquarters launches its own countermeasures and also informs the Brigade Headquarters; then to Divisional and Corp headquarters. It should have not taken more than fifteen minutes for the news to reach the General headquarters, Director general Military Operations. From there, it is a question of reaching out to the airforce. Now if the DG military Operations was busy “pleading” to NATO, someone else could have contacted the airforce and asked them to, at least, pose a challenge to the attackers in support of their troops. Of course, I am not suggesting that the Pakistan Airforce should have launched a counterstrike, but their presence in the area could have sent a message to NATO: A message that they were bombing a Pakistani post.

So, please do not insult the sacrifice of your soldiers. Do not tell us that you lost your “communication” when they needed you the most. This defense of your ineptitude certainly is not very reassuring to your troops and makes you look pathetically stupid and unprofessional. And know that this country belongs to its people and you are nothing more than the servants of your people: they pay for your privilege by sacrificing their own future. The people deserve an answer worthy of the trust they have placed in you: stop acting like bad politicians and answer our questions like good soldiers and servants of your nation.

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Pakistan Should Re-evaluate its Relationship with the US and NATO

Photo From Dawn http://www.dawn.com/2011/11/28/pakistan-fire-may-have-prompted-nato-strike-wsj.html

In wake of the recent killing of Pakistani soldiers as a result of NATO bombing, Pakistani government has gone into a crisis mode and so has the Pakistani public: while the civilian government and the army have issues some powerful rhetorical statements, including the ultimatum to the US to vacate their base in Balochistan, the Pakistani people are out in the streets protesting against yet another violation of their airspace by their so-called allies.

Yes, I know Pakistan is weak and needs all the friends in the world that it can gather, especially against the daily terror unleashed by the Taliban and others in its cities, villages, and public spaces, but does that mean that Pakistan should be a total hostage to the interests and policies of powers that suffer no direct consequences of their actions in the region.

Here is a sad irony: while the Pakistani troops were being killed by NATO bombers in the tribal region, the US citizens were camping outside corporate big-box stores to purchase the latest gadgets at reduced prices. Is this what Pakistan is underwriting with its sacrifices? Are we there to serve the empire so that its privileged citizens can buy their video games in peace, while our children suffer of malnutrition, our cities stink of raw sewage, and while our soldiers are being killed by the very allies for whom over three thousand of them have died in the past few years.

Yes, the war against fundamentalism is in the best interest of Pakistan, but why should we call it a WAR? Why not call it a struggle and then harness all resources, mostly peaceful and pedagogical, in order to win this struggle against intolerance and terror. In my meeting with a senior ISI officer last year, who happens to be an old friend and my mentor in so many ways, the most important thing that I learned was this: Even the ISI knows that this struggle cannot be won through military action alone and that in order to win, Pakistan would need a lot of international support to literally rebuild its national infrastructure. Yes, rebuild the educational system, the healthcare system, and the system of law and justice. Of course all these sectors are considered “non-developmental” sectors by the IMF. So, if the US is so committed to the long-term interest of Pakistan, then where is the help to restructure and overhaul Pakistani economy and the public sphere?

Sadly, it is quite obvious that the world economy is not really “Flat.” Third world nations have now become living and ghettoized sweatshops for the developed nations: how else could Walmart sell its crap for so less to its American customers. Politically also nations like Pakistan are expected to submit their national will to the dictates of the likes of USA; that, the surrender of our national will, is too high a price for a nation .

The current policies and agreements with the US and NATO, let us not forget, were forged by a dictator under duress. It is time that the popularly elected government asked its people, the people who are the true owners of the nation, as to what its policy should be. Yes, our people are poor and not highly educated but you will be surprised to know that most of them are politically more aware than their average American counterparts.

So, this time let this not again be another set of empty slogans and un-implemented ultimatums: let us remind our so-called allies that killing our soldiers and civilians–even if it is hot pursuit or collateral damage–is not acceptable under any circumstances. I mean what was the army high command doing when two of their posts were under attack? Obviously, according to the protocol, the officers on the posts must have reported what was happening, must have asked for aid: Why did no aid arrive? Where was Pakistan Air Force whose job it is to defend the nations borders? Or was the current military leadership following the same cowardly policies as the ones followed by Pervez Musharraf when he abandoned his soldiers to die in Kargil!

This is also the time to ask these hard questions of our military commanders: did they let these soldiers die in vain without even mounting minimal countermeasures? And if they did, doesn’t that mean that they have let down the very soldiers they expect to die for their country on their orders? Yes, enough empty posturing: answer our questions honestly. Your troops deserve the answers and so does the nation.

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Killing of Pakistani Soldiers: A Mistake or a Message?

Map of Pakistan with Balochistan higlighted
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According to recent reports, 24 Pakistani soldiers were allegedly killed by NATO airstrikes along the Pak-Afghan border. The Pakistani government, in retaliation, has blocked the two NATO supply routes and has also asked the US to vacate the CIA (drone)base in Balochistan.

This is a crucial moment for the so-called alliance between Pakistan and the US. So far, this alliance has only brought misery to Pakistani people and caused them to be immediate targets of Taliban and other militant reprisals. Pakistan so far has been the ideal soft target for the militants any time they are under pressure and want to lash out against targets close by. The Americans, on the other hand, might lose their troops in this war but their home country is safely away and thus not subject to such reprisals.

This latest bombing of Pakistani border posts should not be taken lightly: the general fog of war claims cannot hold here as the positions were known to NATO, as they have been provided the exact coordinates of Pakistani posts. If this is a sort of message to Pakistan, it is rather a sad and cynical message. What does it tell Pakistani people: simply that when cornered, the NATO troops have no qualms about killing the troops of their most important ally in the region.

I am glad to know that the Pakistani government is showing some courage here, as they have asked the US to vacate their base in Balochistan, but I think the government and the military need to do more. They need to clarify it to their so-called allies that killing of Pakistani soldiers and civilians cannot be tolerated especially if they turn out to be premeditated or caused by the carelessness of NATO forces.

The NATO commanders should learn that in their zeal to capture or kill their foes in Afghanistan, they cannot just blow up anything that stands in their way. Sometimes, it is necessary to let your enemy escape if bombing them kills quite a few of your friends in the process.

Yes, it is time Pakistan re-evaluated its committment to the war on terror and it is also time for the Pakistanis to safeguard their own people and their own national interest.

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Rick Perry Chews on Pakistan to Cure Himself of Foot-in-Mouth Disease

In yet another attempt to dislodge the foot that he had swallowed in the last Republican presidential debate (the oops moment), Governor Perry has decided to chew on Pakistan as a laxative to excrete the said foot through the other extremity of his long intestine. [Watch the video here]

Pop art Portrait of Rick Perry
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It seems as if having run out of usual slogans for do-nothing economics and  other extreme forms of social conservatism, Mr. Perry is now attempting to forge a tough guy image and Pakistan, it seems, is an ideal whipping boy for this exercise.

It is sad to see this sham policy debate as all the candidates excrete is the xenophobic and tetosterone-driven drivel that somehow counts toward their increasingly diminishing constituencies. So, Mr. Perry would expect Pakistan to continue losing its civilians and soldiers for a US imposed war and then come and beg for some help. This kind of politics might work in Texas, where Mr. Perry has had cordial relationships with rich so-called Job-Creators, but would not serve the US well in the international arena. Providing financial aid to one’s friends is the only tangible way of ensuring them of US committment to peace and stability in the region and if that aid is withdrawn to safeguard domestic political agenda then the consequences of such actions would not just be pertinent to the region.

So, in all sincerity I hope that Mr. Perry finds some other remedy to cure his own image problem and a little bit of reflection before opening his mouth would be a good first step toward curing this affliction of the mouth.

 

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US-Pakistan: Latest Accusations, Threats, and Counter-Threats

It was evident a few weeks ago, after the public accusation of Pakistan’s alleged involvements in the attacks on the US embassy in Kabul, that we are now entering a new phase of the unequal relationship between Pakistan and the United States.

The early signs of this change were clear when Admiral Mike Mullen declared that Pakistan was “exporting” terror to neighbouring Afghanistan.” The admiral’s these views, launched an entire array of counter proclamations from all Pakistani circles.

Looking at it in another way, one could easily state that Admiral Mike Mullen’s words, obviously cleared by the highest levels of United States government, are not just words of a frustrated commander whose mission in Afghanistan is seriously bogged down, but also the views of a skittish American establishment that has failed to conclude this long, unending war.

One must also keep in mind that the current situation in Afghanistan is a direct outcome of the way the invasion of Afghanistan was planned and executed (I had published an article to this effect in 2007 but, obviously, no one has ever read it). The ground offensive in the earlier stages of the war was led by US troops but most battles were fought by the foot soldiers of the Northern Alliance. Thus, from the outset, while Afghanistan was being “liberated” the seeds of a future ethnic divide, hatred, and mistrust were already being sown. Let us also not forget that the Northern Alliance did commit numerous recorded atrocities during their invasion of the south.

So, yes it seems that having reached a stalemate, the US is now turning on its own allies in order to apportion blame for their own failures of strategy and tactics. Pressuring Pakistan to launch an offensive against the Haqqani group is wrong strategy, wrong politics, and terrible tactics.

On the strategic level, it is an attempt to expand the current theater of war to Pakistani territories, which would certainly end up expanding the war to a larger area affecting a wider number of people. Tactically, this makes no sense. Why start a new theater of war? Why not stop the terrorists from operating in Pakistan but allow them to move into the theater of war to take them on where the war is. politically, to expect Pakistani government to buckle down and start a new war just because US wants it is based in a myopic policy driven by hubris.

As a further proof of political short-sightedness,  Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asserted that  the United States needs to leave “all options on the table” including a possible invasion in order to bring Pakistan in line with US policy. One other senator, whose name I do not care to remember, also suggested that US relations with Pakistan should be “transactional,” meaning that the US should only give aid to Pakistan in return for services rendered. Well, the honorable senator should know that the US relations with Pakistan have always been transactional and were mostly built by appeasing, establishing, and supporting military dictators, three of them in my lifetime. The US has never tried to build a people-to-people relationship with Pakistan.

So, let us assert once and for all. Pakistan is a sovereign state and is obligated to live by its international obligations but no one, least of all United States, should expect Pakistan to sacrifice its own national interests just to appease the United States.

It is also time that most US leaders took a crash course in humility and patience: thankfully we are still far from that moment in history where everyone lives to serve the mandates of US government and corporations.

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Geo TV’s Shameful Silence on the Hunger Strike

Those of you who come to our blog often must be aware that for the past few days we have constantly been covering the anti-corruption hunger strike by Raja Jahangir Akhtar. An Islamabad based businessman and lifetime activist, Raja is on the fifth day of his hunger strike, a fact hard to miss around Islamabad. While the strike is now being covered by bloggers, national and international newspapers, the major Pakistani news channel, Geo TV, has been stramgely silent about the strike.

I just checked their website, and while they are covering what Indian Film actors are up to and even the news about a british farmer who has, it is being reported, “grown the largest onion” (I am not making this up; please check the screen shot), there is no mention of RJA’s strike for Pakistan.

 

As a scholar and editor and a Pakistani citizen I find this silence by Geo TV not only troubling but also deeply shameful. Obviously, since it is impossible to miss the strike, Geo TV has made a decision not to cover it and the reasons must be political.

I take this opportunity to request those who run this TV network to live up to their responsibility of informing Pakistani people about things that are important, especially if someone is putting his life on the line for the cause of Pakistan.

If they remain silent about it, then their’s would be a legacy of shame!

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Aid Wars: US-Pakistan and Politics of Coercion

In a latest move, the US government has decided to  suspend $800 million military aid to Pakistan. It is fairly obvious that grounds for this had already been smoothed by the powers that be: The recent statements by senior US military officers about involvement of ISI in the murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad, it seems, was the tipping point of war of words and silence that has been going on between the two allies. Another reason being given for this drastic step is   “the Pakistani army’s decision to significantly reduce the number of visas for U.S. military trainers” (Douglass Birch, AP).

It is also being suggested that the US wants the Pakistan army to launch a major offensive in the tribal regions to ease pressure on the US forces across the border in Afghanistan. Those of you who have read my recent public writings know that I am not really a fan of the Pakistan army brass, but in this situation I agree with General Kiyani’s suggestion that “the aid should be diverted to civilian institutions.” This means that while General Kiyani is not willing to kowtow to the American policy makers, he understands the importance of this aid and would rather still have it delivered to the civilian government of Pakistan.

In fact, this could be a very important step for the US. By diverting this aid to the civilian administration, the US can convey its displeasure to the Pakistan army–whatever their reasons–without hurting the general Pakistani population. Let us not forget that there is a popular myth in Pakistan about the fickleness of US friendship: we tell stories–some true some pure legend–of how America betrayed us time and time again. This step would only enhance the level of distrust of the US by the Pakistani public.

The same report that I cited above also suggests that Pakistan, it seems, has not been doing enough in the war on terror. Let us not forget that both Pakistani civilians and military personnel have sacrificed heavily during this unending war. As I wrote a few months ago, the losses have been great. Here are some of the figures as provided to me by some very reliable sources within the Pakistan army:

  • There were 118 drone strikes in 2010 claiming 1127 lives of which 680 are believed to be those of civilian bystanders.
  • As of January 2011, Pakistan has lost 2740 soldiers while 8500 of them have been wounded in action.
  • According to very conservative estimates about 5800 civilian were killed during 2010 due to terrorist actions.
  • Total civilian casualties in Pakistan since 9/11 have now exceeded 36,000.

These are some of the figures of what has befallen Pakistan since the beginning of this unending war. The intangible factors are beyond just these figures that include destruction of infrastructure, loss of productivity, and simple increase in public fear of terroristic attacks and reprisals.

So, those who claim Pakistan has not done enough should get off their proverbial, prejudiced behinds and look at the situation more carefully. This is no way of treating an ally: one simply does not kick one’s friends when they are down. The US policymakers need to realize that using Pakistan as their whipping boy to buttress their domestic political agendas is not good policy and may come to harm US interests in the long run. On a simple level, I would suggest that instead of playing this game of coercive power politics, try to develop a serious, equal, and lasting relationship with Pakistan.

Yes, there will be policy differences between the two nations: Pakistan, after all, is a sovereign nation and, thankfully, not a US colony. It is time the US government realized that politics of coercion will not work, but a serious attempt at helping Pakistan develop its civilian infrastructures might help the US in the long run.

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Pitfalls of a Religious National Identity

Hadith Oliyankara Juma Masjid
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There is myth in the public politics of the nation that underwrites the political narrative of religious political parties. It is a myth of a sacred and unsullied past. The common belief is that if the nation could, somehow, retrieve and emulate this idealized past then all our problems will be solved. Surprisingly, no one actually explains or streamlines as to how a future Islamic Pakistan will function: the future is posited as a natural outcome of a turn to religion.

Now, we know that even at the height of its symbolic and political power, Islam was by and large a very pragmatic political system. As the Muslims conquered the persian and Eastern Roman empire, their approach to governance was based in tolerance and acceptance: they accepted and appropriated the differences that they could appropriate, but also allowed their non-Muslim citizens a fair degree to fluidity and freedom in practicing their particular religions.

This, sadly, is not the case with the religious-minded political parties in Pakistan. Yes, they pay lip service to the rights of minorities, but the system that they envision creates a national space divided between those considered full citizens–Muslim men–and those not so equal. A national imagination underwritten by this view of the real has its inequalities pre-inscribed in this narrative. There are, of course, material causes for the rise of Islamist politics in pakistan: The Islamists, at least, promise a restructuring of the Pakistani public sphere,which the neoliberal system absolutely cannot. This future restructuring–in which the least shall, they are told, will be the first–can be very seductive as it is revolutionary and not reformative in nature.

In true sense though, even if this future were to be realized, would it not create a nation at the mercy of only one dominant group? Can we have a viable nation if it is divided between has and has beens not on the basis of material resources but in terms of their pure, immanent ontological being? Can there be a just system if people in a nation are considered ontologically unequal?

Religion, in my humble opinion, will fail to solve our problems and would rather fracture the nation even more. We know what happened when a certain group with a certain specific view of Islam came to power: Afghanistan became a death world. If we continue on this path of unreflective Islamization of the public sphere we will also become such a death world.

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My Fellow American Website

I just recently got an email about this wonderful website that offers the best of America. There project about Islam–offered against the usual racist representations of Muslims–is commendable. Here is their statement/ pledge about American Muslims:

They are part of the national fabric that holds our country together. They contribute to America in many ways, and deserve the same respect as any of us. I pledge to spread this message, and affirm our country’s principles of liberty and justice for all.

Please visit their website: http://myfellowamerican.us/

 

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Democratic Society and Importance of Criticism

Lately, I have focused extensively on offering public criticism of some powerful institutions both inside Pakistan and United States. Of course, no one asked me for it, but as someone invested in issues of democracy and social justice, I find it apt to share my views and insert my voice in the public debates about contemporary issues. I am, however, not a journalist; I am a literary and cultural critic by training and a public scholar by choice.

There is an important moment in the famous Foucault-Deleuze interview, where Foucault insists that the role of the intellectual, and I am paraphrasing here, is to provide a persistent and relentless critique of power. Power, for both Foucault and Deleuze, is not hierarchical as envisioned in the classical Marxist tradition but rather more “diffuse” ever-present around us. We all are, in one degree or another, caught up in this web of power, a web that does not give us a chance at reaching outside or the other side of power. Our existence, in a way, is always discursive.

So, when I criticize power from within my discursive space as an intellectual, I am within the fold of power myself, but my puny voice, it seems, still baffles those invested in normative drive of power, for they retaliate in so many subtle and unsubtle ways. Those using  subtle ways suggest that I am, somehow, a “disgruntled” former military officer trying to take a swipe at the mighty Pakistan army; the less subtle ones have informed me that my long hair and my life in the US, somehow, disqualifies me to be a critic of power in Pakistan. And this is being implied when all the powerful institutions in Pakistan–civil and military–are in the most intimate relationship with powers that be in the United States.

In the last few weeks, I have written a criticism of Israel, an indictment of Pakistan Army, a self-reflection on my Army career, and an introductory entry to an important Jewish peace organization. These entities sometimes do not have much in common but the only way I can plot a connection amongst them is by my views of power and its impact on our lives. My critique, of course, is narrow and often not very detailed: it does not need to be, for it is these little cuts, these small ruptures in the armor of power that matter the most. I think this is what Foucault meant by the term “persistent critique” of power: not a giant heroic blow but these small cuts and swipes to unsettle power, to make it stop to lick a thousand tiny wounds, to stop it from normalizing itself, from becoming natural.

The response has been mixed: quite a few young and hopeful readers have added their voices to mine and given me their strength: I see a rhizome in the making. But the minions of power, ever so gently, have also responded with their rationalizations and ad hominem attacks. It is almost comical: like an elephant responding to a bee sting. But then that is the problem with power: it must totalize itself to become normative and our small acts of defiance hinder that process.

These small instances of criticism are crucial to develop a more humane and responsive system of life and governance. These “micro-resistances” (Deleuze) are important just as it is important to squash those micro-fascist tendencies in our minds that force us to respect power and those who wield it.

So, in all humility, I offer my gratitude to all those who find some merit in my public writings, and to all those who are flustered and disturbed by them, I say: Peace!!!

Remember, we are a swarm and we are many!!!

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