Media reports suggest that the Pakistan army has revised its security assessment and is now placing more emphasis on ‘internal threats’ rather than the external enemies which had informed its strategy as well as operations. This is a welcome development. The details of the new doctrine are unclear but there have been three indications in the recent past. First, the tacit support to the civilian government’s thaw with India and undertaking the unimaginable: trade with India. Second, the chief of the army staff, Gen Kayani, while speaking at an official ceremony on August 14, cited the threat of extremism and reiterated the moderate ethos of Islam. Thirdly, the continued battle against militants in the northwest of the country continues without any major policy reversal.
There are two issues with the internal shifts, if any, in the way military is proceeding with its strategic rethink. First of all, due to its structure and institutional culture it is not an open and engaging entity. Decisions are centralised and are taken by a coterie of top commanders. Secondly it is also learning to readjust its power and influence within the context of a changing Pakistan.
Secondly, after five years of civilian rule and emergence of new power centres (judiciary and media), its exclusive monopoly of power had been eroded. For instance, launching a coup though not impossible is a far more complicated endeavour. In this fluid political environment, the Army has yet to find a comfortable equilibrium with the political forces and the parliament. It might have been more useful had the army tried to engage with the national security committee of the parliament thereby giving its rethink more depth, public input and long term legitimacy.
Let’s not forget that the ideological propaganda of al Qaeda and its affiliates has penetrated various sections of the Pakistani society. Whilst the Pakistani population does not want a Taliban type regime that bans women’s education, a vast majority of the population considers the US as an enemy of Islam and the Muslim. More often than not the West — as a vague construct — is also employed in this xenophobic and violent ideology of resistance. This narrative has gained ground in the country whether we like or not.
Sadly the elements of the state, especially the military, have added to this paranoia by firstly allowing the torchbearers of this ideology to live safely in the country for over a decade and secondly to operate from within the country. In this lax environment, the al Qaeda and its junior partner, the Taliban, have made some local alliances Continue reading
By Raza Rumi
Pakistan’s right wing has flourished on the crutches of a national security doctrine: A world view, which prioritises paranoia and ‘security’ of ideological and geographical frontiers. Never mind if the majority of Pakistanis have no access to water and sanitation or the public education and health systems have virtually collapsed. The events of May 2011 cast a long shadow over the merits of investing in security institutions and fuelling patriotism with conspiracies.
First, the poster-Shaikh of anti-Americanism has been ‘eliminated’ when the mighty guardians were asleep. The new round of WikiLeaks cables reveals anecdotal evidence of civil-military acquiescence to the grand designs of ‘evil’ America, including the nasty drones that kill civilians. And now, the latest attack on a well-guarded naval base and destruction of high-value military equipment has jolted us all. Continue reading
My piece for The News, Pakistan
As details of Operation Geronimo unfold, more and more questions are being raised regarding Pakistan’s role in the war on terror. Sadly, millions of Pakistanis are even more confused than the global pundits. Other than the lunatic fringe thriving in the folds of mainstream media, ordinary Pakistanis are dumbfounded at the prospect of the world’s most wanted man living next to the deep state’s power-house, i.e., the Pakistan military academy. If bin Laden was indeed residing in a purpose-built house with extra thick walls and security cameras then how come Pakistan’s most ‘efficient’ institution was unaware of this lethal presence? Furthermore, if they were not involved in the operation then how could a mammoth defence establishment allow such a clandestine operation by a foreign country which violated air space and international laws?
Governance crisis: Some of these questions will be answered in due course and some will perhaps turn into eternal conundrums. Perhaps, the most pressing issue then remains, who governs Pakistan and in what manner? Seemingly a constitutional republic, Pakistan’s representative and relatively accountable institutions surely do not steer the ‘national security’ policies. The latter have their own limitations and imperatives of rent-seeking but they are marginal to core policies. Here is the fundamental disconnect and reasons for the flourishing non-transparent culture. Continue reading
Three weeks after the floods have broken Pakistan’s back, the international community is yet to show its resolve in helping a drowning country. The reasons for such a slow response are erroneously being understood in the context of the Pakistani government or the current crop of civilians in power. However, this is a narrow twist to the reality. The real angst and distrust being displayed by the world is at the Pakistani ‘state’. The situation is also reflective of the duplicity of international opinion makers and power-centres in labelling Pakistan as a country with an ‘image problem’.
One is sick of reading nauseating reports on how the post-earthquake assistance was ‘diverted’ or squandered. The truth is that in 2005 a military dictator was ruling Pakistan and the entire world was doing business with him. At that moment, the issues of democracy, transparency and human rights all took a backseat and strategic imperatives prevailed.
Pakistani, and by extension the global media, are regurgitating tiresome cliches about corruption without talking about reforming state institutions. For instance, not a single commentator has said that we have a new accounting system in the form of the Project to Improve Financial Reporting and Auditing (Pifra) in place. But it has not been put into place effectively at the provincial and district levels. This is the way we will ensure transparency and good tracking of money received and spent. Continue reading
Raza Rumi retraces the bittersweet legacy of Benazir Bhutto (published in the Friday Times)
It was only yesterday that we were mourning for the loss of an icon of our times. The much loved, and passionately hated Benazir Bhutto whose tragic murder in broad daylight was the greatest metaphor of what Pakistan has turned into: a jungle of contested history, ethnic conflict and extremism. Little wonder that Bhutto’s worst enemies cried and lamented the loss of a federal politician whose life and times were as unique as her name. The populist slogan – charon soobon ki zanjeer (the chain of the four provinces, literally) could not have been truer than the most tested of axioms. As if her death were not enough, the state response was even more brutal. Why did she participate in public rallies? On that fateful day of December 27, 2007, why did she invite death by sticking her neck out – literally and metaphorically? This was tragedy compounded by invective and betrayal. After all, had she not received a tacit understanding from the then military President, General Pervez Musharraf?
The official machinery then went to work in a super-efficient frenzy. Within hours, the murder scene had been washed away, right opposite the Liaqat Bagh in Rawalpindi where Pakistan’s first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, was also shot dead. If anything history repeated itself with a bang – only to restate that Pakistani Prime Ministers are dispensable accessories of the power game. The misogynistic thirst for blood-letting once quenched, patriarchy dictated that the autopsy of a woman became an issue of honour, confusion and violation of the law. How telling, that the laws of the land remain subservient to the imperatives of culture and tradition.
Within a day, Pakistan shook and the world also felt the tremors from an already stinking cesspool of violence, terror and global mischief. Many Pakistanis think these labels are of imperialist manufacture, reeking of hogwash. But the case has been made: Pakistan is a rogue and failing state and no one is safe. Continue reading
My recent piece for the The Friday Times – about the bitterness and destitution in a Dhaka camp for Biharis
It was almost by accident that I visited the Mohammadpur Geneva camp in Dhaka – one of the largest settlements housing thousands of stranded Biharis in Bangladesh. On my last visit to Dhaka, my guide Ronny offered the possibility of getting the best bihari kebabs in town. He told me that his house was near the place and I could meet him somewhere close.
This was an extraordinary afternoon when the receding sun was converting the sky into a field of unimaginable colours that artists can only aspire to create through their limited palettes. Dhaka, the noisy, overcrowded megapolis can be enchanting at times, especially during late springtime when the Krishnochura trees (the Flame of the Forest) bloom all over with their fiery flowers. I almost cancelled the trip thinking that a walk in the park might be a better alternative to the usual South Asian gluttony. Quite soon, I arrived at the meeting point having rationalised my proclivity for indulgence.
Little did I know that the meeting point was nowhere but at the doorstep of Dhaka’s underbelly, the easy to ignore Bihari camp. Not until I had reached there had I realised how the wounds of 1971 were festering for hundreds and thousands of men, women and children who have waited for all these years to attain identity and citizenship of Pakistan. As if it were a curse, the Pakistani state soon forgot about their existence as its ethnic politics dominated the policy commitments of Bhutto. And for the Bangladeshis these were the “traitors” who continued to wave Pakistani flags when the vast majority of East Pakistanis revolted against the excesses and the might of Pakistan army following the infamous and mischievous army action of 1971.
In a few minutes I had all but forgotten about the famous Mustaqeem kebabs and parathas and forced Ronny to take me inside the camp. Very soon I realised I did not need any Bangla-speaking guide as the ghetto was Urdu speaking, and portraits of Pakistani leaders and flags could still be spotted despite the passage of three and a half decades. Ronny knew the locals and found his younger friends, child workers and idle youth who took charge of our little tour.
Shamed by guilt and excited by the real experience, I wandered the smelly, open-drained and dark streets of the ghetto. I have frequented other slums but this one was special for it reeked of the contemporary elite politics, bloodshed and cold inhumanity that Pakistanis are shy of confronting. The living conditions would put any half-concerned South Asian to shame. The homes for most of the families comprised tiny little rooms, with all the belongings and large families concentrated in the inner space. No proper toilets and water supply – as if civilization had taken a backseat here. Continue reading