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Reboot the narrative

My views incorporated in The Jinnah Institute’s new brief on the urgent policy interventions for 2015:

Jinnah institute
Reboot the narrative. Pakistan needs a new narrative of nationhood and its security. This requires a parliamentary debate and resetting the public discourse. If the civil-military leadership is serious about changing […]

January 5th, 2015|education, Extremism, terrorism|0 Comments

Pakistan: Fuse lit for Independence Day fireworks

Tensions rise in Pakistan, as the country braces for protests.

AzadiMarch Imran Khan, the chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party, led an anti-government march to Islamabad.


Pakistan faces yet another challenge and this time it is not the terrorist groups but the opposition groups mounting pressure on its Prime Minister to resign from office. One of the main opposition parties in Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has been complaining of electoral rigging since the 2013. PTI’s charismatic leader – a sportsman-philanthropist turned politician – is leading a Long March to Islamabad on August 14, Pakistan’s Independence Day.

Moderate cleric Dr Tahir ul Qadri, who leads the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) and is in alliance with political factions supporting General Pervez Musharraf, has also called on his supporters to join the march.

Earlier he called for protests in the second largest city Lahore which turned deadly after local authorities tried to disperse them. Qadri came back after living in Canada to lead what he calls a movement for “inquilab” or revolution. In plain terms, Qadri seeks to overthrow what he says is a “corrupt and unjust system”.

At the same time, Khan’s PTI has led a vigorous campaign to delegimitsie Nawaz Sharif’s government. Sections of media have sided with Khan in building the popular narrative and the public opinion is deeply polarised.

In recent days, the government has been in a state of panic – blocking main roads, highways, suspending mobile telephone service and preventing people from attending the protest. Sharif’s government announced that it was going to set up a high level judicial commission to investigate the charges of rigging, but he was not willing to resign. […]

New battle against old demons

Raza Rumi

After 30 years of self-defeating policies, the new National Internal Security Policy may be the right way to make a fresh start


New battle against old demons National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz


Pakistanis should be grateful for small mercies. The federal cabinet finally approved the draft of the internal security policy that was pending for review since December 2013. This is some improvement from the earlier performance of civilian authorities and complete outsourcing of security question to the military. The approval does not suggest that the military has backed off and the civilians are fully in charge. In fact, reports suggest that the military leadership has proactively argued for a cleanup in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) and had advised the Prime Minister for not delaying the final putsch any further.

The National Internal Security Policy (NISP) has a detailed conceptual part that highlights the extent of damage that Pakistan has suffered during the last 12 years. While reporting on the victims of terror, the NISP notes that from 2001 to November 2013, 48,994 people were killed in the country including 5,272 personnel of the law-enforcement agencies. The attacks on security apparatus accelerated during 2011-2013 as 17,642 casualties including 2,114 security personnel took place during this time period. The NISP notes that with more than 600,000 strong personnel in 33 civilian and military security organizations provide adequate capacity to the Pakistani state to fight terrorism. The impact of terrorism has been calculated as losses worth $78 billion to Pakistan’s economy. Surprisingly, the draft also refers to the foreign policy priorities with respect to Afghanistan, Kashmir and India and limited civilian input in policy process. Governance failures also find a mention in the draft.

The democratic process in Pakistan has been a victim of terrorist narratives

Perhaps the most important feature of the NISP refers to the emphasis on the narratives – political and martial – which have increased the domestic support for terrorist outfits and mislead many a citizen in believing that terror tactics are justifiable at a certain level. This area has been largely unaddressed by Pakistan’s political parties and permanent state organs. While the PPP-led coalition tried to make some amends, it was often cowed down into acquiescence by militancy all around. In fact, the elections of 2013 took place under the threat of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that decided which political groups had more space to campaign and contest. Certainly, the democratic process in Pakistan has also been a victim of terrorist narratives. […]

March 9th, 2014|Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times, terrorism|0 Comments

Looking back at General Kayani’s Tenure

Raza Rumi

General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani retired after leading Pakistan’s most powerful institution for six years. As a close confidante and successor of former president General Musharraf, General Kayani ensured policy continuity and facilitated the return of the army into the barracks. Histenures were eventful yet, turbulent and thus, he leaves behind a chequered legacy. Before his extension in 2010, Kayani led successful operations in Swat and the tribal areas against extremists, and save a few instances, did support the democratic transition. In 2008, he ordered all serving military officials in civil departments to relinquish charge. Despite these commendable measures, the military firmly set and managed foreign and security policies, and faced little or no challenge from the civilian rulers. In fact, following the 2008 Mumbai attacks, former president Asif Ali Zardari and his prime minister(s) gave up the management of the security policy, which had serious ramifications for Pakistan’s governance and economy.

During 2008-2013, a weak democracy beset by civil-military schisms defined Pakistan’s governance. The military strongly resisted attempts by the civilian government to reform the country’s premier intelligence agency, the ISI. A campaign was orchestrated, which moulded public opinion against the Kerry-Lugar-Berman (KLB) bill in 2009. The KLB bill was projected as an assault on Pakistan’s ‘national interest’). An unprecedented reaction through an ISPR press release (bypassing the ministry of defence) was given to the civilian authorities when the military aired its reservations about the KLB bill. The latter marked a significant shift in Pakistan-US relations: for the first time, an attempt was made by the Obama Administration to engage with the civilian government. Earlier, US relations with Pakistan were mediated through military cooperation, which bred domestic perceptions that the US always backed military dictators in the country. The establishment identified the orchestrator of the KLB bill as Husain Haqqani, our then ambassador in Washington. […]

December 2nd, 2013|Pakistan, Published in the Express Tribune|0 Comments

At the Abyss

By Raza Rumi

tft-39-p-8-a-600x349The recent drone strike in Pakistan’s northwest has eliminated an enemy of the state and his close associates. Hakimullah Mehsud’s death in North Waziristan has shaken the loose alliance of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). In any other country, the security policy managers would have capitalized such an opportunity. Not in Pakistan. In fact the reaction from the political parties, which had recently vowed to hold talks with TTP to secure peace, are alarming to say the least. Despite the great urge of politicians to hold talks, there were murmurs that the military may not be too excited about this development even though the COAS Gen Kayani gave his public assent saying that the army was following the political consensus. A PTI leader recently posted on social media that there was only a 40% chance of success for a military operation. However, the party stalwarts on social media later refuted this claim.

Independent security experts and political commentators have been highlighting that the simplistic, populist solution of ‘talks-will-lead-to-peace’ was designed to fail. Whom would the government negotiate with? What would be the conditions? Would the TTP end its terror attacks against Pakistani state and its citizens? All of these questions were unanswered. Yet, Hakimullah’s death has invited a barrage of reactions from politicians and right wing media that the latest drone strikes were a ‘murder of peace’. […]

Elections 2013: A Peaceful Transfer of Power

My piece for South Asia magazine (published in Jan 2013 issue)

General elections in Pakistan are scheduled to take place later this year; however, the ongoing political instability signals otherwise.

The forthcoming general elections in Pakistan are significant for a number of reasons. Firstly, this is a unique moment in Pakistan when a democratic government under a civilian President is completing its term and preparing for a transition through elections. Secondly, due to the constitutional changes made by the current parliament under the 18th and 20th Amendments, the process remains firmly in civilian hands. This has caused an unprecedented moment in our history where the elections are not being supervised or managed by the military establishment, which has called the shots over a larger course of the country’s history.

The last time a civilian regime managed the election was in 1977 but the results were controversial and were annulled, leading to Gen. Zia ul Haq’s led coup d’ etat.

Throughout the 1990s, most political parties were used as puppets by the security establishment against each other. Four elections were held between 1988 and 1999. Each time, a President, who acted at the behest of the military and intelligence agencies, ‘engineered’ the electoral results by appointing a handpicked and compliant caretaker government.

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-N (PMLN) were the two major parties playing this game with the Army. The Musharraf coup and subsequent political developments reversed this trend as these two parties entered into a compact in 2007 and agreed not to approach the military to resolve or fix political disputes. Whilst Musharraf and Gen. Kayani oversaw the elections of 2008, the results surprised everyone, illustrating a clear victory for anti-Musharraf forces. Both parties have liaised with the military between 2008-2013 but have jealously guarded their parliamentary space as well as the continuation of the democratic system. Governance challenges and failures notwithstanding, the record of political parties has been encouraging on this front.

In the spirit of constitutionally mandated agreements, the government and opposition have appointed a respectable former judge as the Chief Election Commissioner. Similarly, other formalities have been taken care of and the rest will be handled in the days to come. The appointment of a caretaker administration is another major step that needs to be taken to ensure that an impartial regime takes over the task of administering elections. In Pakistan, given its bitter history, the legitimacy of an election and the confidence in the caretakers is of major importance.  […]

A Shifting Political Landscape

By Raza Rumi:

If there is any single constant in Pakistani politics it is perennial instability. More so when fledgling democracies struggle to change the governance discourse and attempt to consolidate their hold over power which has traditionally been concentrated in the unelected ‘arms’ of the executive. The current civilian governments at the centre and the provinces are no exception
to this historical trend.

Nevertheless contemporary political dynamics in the country display both continuity and discontinuity from historical trends. This is what makes Pakistan’s evolution during the 21st century a most fascinating process of societal change and resistance by the post-colonial state which is basically fighting a serious battle for its survival; and perhaps has entered the decisive
phase of this conflict. […]

September 6th, 2011|Lahore, Published in South Asia Magazine|5 Comments