Sunday, June 26, 2011

ISI-Bashing: A US Battle Transferred to Pakistan

By Ahmed Quraishi

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—What is the right balance between a healthy skepticism of Pakistani military and ISI and between antagonism toward both?

Pakistani media and politicians have to define this balance to avoid unnecessary divisions in Pakistan. These divisions serve to weaken a vital line of defense for the Pakistani state. The United States is orchestrating a get-ISI campaign in the US media. This campaign must not be transferred inside Pakistan, where a US-backed lobby groomed during the past eight years is acting as America’s B-team, mounting a Pakistani version of the American campaign against Pakistani military.

There have always been anti-military leftists and ex-communists in the Pakistani media, promoting extreme ideas such as disbanding the military. This lobby has been vocal but never too much. These days, this lobby has gained a new vigor thanks to the US propaganda against Pakistani military.

The brutal assassination of noted journalist and my friend Syed Saleem Shahzad has laid bare this decades-old feature of Pakistani politics.

The ISI is our principal tool for counterintelligence and information gathering. It is the eyes and ears of our strategic community as we navigate our way through a difficult neighborhood.

The antagonism toward ISI as seen in the past few weeks is not natural to the system but manufactured and sustained through a combination of lack of information, real mistakes, rumors, half-truths, and in some cases outright propaganda. Some of this antagonism is rooted in skepticism toward state power. That’s healthy for any vibrant society. But in Pakistan, the lines between skepticism and animosity have blurred over the years. Expressions of this animosity in some corners of our politics and media surpass anything seen in stable and mature democracies. After all, a democratic system needs a functioning state, including educated voters, independent media, judiciary, military and intelligence. A state could collapse without educated voters, or without a working military and intelligence. Choose your pick.

Shahzad’s brutal assassination brought the unhealthy anti-military antagonism within our system to the surface. It was stunning to watch some leading pundits in our media accuse ISI of killing Shahzad without evidence, and simultaneously ignore strong circumstantial evidence on the involvement of elements close to the terrorists of al-Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban. Shahzad maintained close contacts with sources in the two terror groups, as his scoops on numerous occasions indicate. You can’t blame the foreign media, especially media based in the United States, for giving a spin to any story where ISI is mentioned, since this Pakistani agency has become too independent for American taste. But at least at home we should question all angles and not simply ride the wave.

For example, western media saw in Shahzad’s article that purportedly led to his brutal death an embarrassment for Pakistani military and thus a motive for ISI to eliminate him. Many people in our media picked up this theory. That’s an angle worth probing, but so is the fact that the same article exposes al-Qaeda links to the attack on the naval base in Karachi. If it did it, Al-Qaeda didn’t claim responsibility. Late Shahzad did. Did he fell out with his terror informants? No one knows for sure. But it’s an angle worth probing.

The anti-military antagonism has probably blinded many of us to exploring other important angles. For example, ISI itself was badly burned when two of its ex-operatives were killed by Pakistani Taliban earlier this year while trying to create inroads within the terror group. Likewise, US journalist Daniel Pearl paid with his life for getting too close to unscrupulous elements.

A meeting between Shahzad and officers from the media management wing of ISI last year is cited as evidence that the spy agency was harassing him. The agency’s version is very straightforward: they met Shahzad at a registered government office about a story he did and asked him either to confirm his sources or retract the story because it damaged Pakistani interests. Shahzad declined both demands and that was it. One friend and acquaintance of Shahzad, Mr. Najm Sethi, said the meeting constituted a threat. Another friend of Shahzad, Mr. Ejaz Haider, wrote that his friend mentioned the meeting with ISI but didn’t characterize it as a threat.

It is fair to say that ISI, by virtue of the said meeting, should be included in Shahzad’s murder investigation. But that is quite different from saying ISI is the killer and ignore all evidence that points to other possibilities. That said, we do have a history in Pakistan of secret government agents kidnapping journalists, beating them up and then releasing them, alive. But most of us forget that this culture is not part of what our security agencies want to do. It was thrust on them by governments, often democratic ones. Security agents from various agencies of the government have at different times kidnapped and ‘sorted out’ journalists under orders from several democratic and non-democratic governments in Islamabad. In most of such cases journalists were harassed because powerful figures in government wanted to harass them and used state power for the purpose.

There is also the legacy of how state institutions were used to settle political differences. This burden of history should not be overblown and used to create a wedge between state institutions such as the ISI and ordinary Pakistanis.

A version of this column appeared in The News on 6 June 2011.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Urdu vs English: Are we ashamed of our language?

Many Pakistanis have been brought up speaking our national language Urdu and English. Instead of conversing in Urdu, many of us lapse into English during everyday conversation. Even people who do not speak English very well try their best to sneak in a sentence or two, considering it pertinent for their acceptance in the ‘cooler’ crowd.

I wonder where the trend started, but unknowingly, unconsciously, somehow or the other we all get sucked into the trap. It was not until a few years ago while on a college trip to Turkey that I realized the misgivings of our innocent jabber.

A group of students of the LUMS Cultural Society trip went to Istanbul, Turkey to mark the 100th Anniversary of the famous Sufi poet Rumi. One day we were exploring the city when we stopped at a café for lunch. The waiter took our orders, and continued to hover around our table during the meal. We barely noticed him until he came with the bill, and asked us:

“Where are you from?”

“Pakistan”

The waiter looked surprised, and then asked whether we had been brought up in England. We answered in the negative, telling him how Pakistan was where we all had grown up and spent out lives. The waiter genuinely looked perplexed now. Finally he blurted out:

‘Then why don’t you speak in the Pakistani language?’

The waiter went on to explain how Turkey, particularly Istanbul was a hot tourist location, luring millions of people of different nationalities from across the globe. However, when the Dutch would come visit, they would speak Dutch. When the French would come, they would speak French. When the Chinese would come visit, they would speak Chinese. Similarly everyone in Turkey spoke Turkish. He claimed he was very proud of his language and culture and failed to understand how someone would not speak the language of their country and choose instead a foreign tongue.

There were around ten of us there, and we were all at a loss of an answer. We had never thought of it that way. It was just something that you took up because of society. Even when people speak in Urdu, they tend to include a lot of English words in their sentences. Why is that? Is it because we are not proud of our national language? I am sure all of us are aware of how beautiful Urdu is, the poetry, grace and rhythm of our language is exceptional.

One excuse that springs to mind is the concept of ‘ westernization’ due to the increased pace of globalization in today's world. Globalization is a factor, and yet the Japanese still speak Japanese, the Thai still speak Thai, the Greeks still speak Greek. China, a powerhouse on the global economic front, despite its many factories and western products production still speaks Chinese. In fact when the Chinese Olympics were held in 2008, the Chinese government actually had to ask its Chinese public to learn a few basic English words to help welcome the world.

I respect how these countries value their sense of identity, culture and language. I was deeply ashamed of what image I was unknowingly portraying of my country. I am very proud of Pakistan and Urdu, as I am sure we all are. No matter the problems, it is still our identity. I understand the irony of this article, since it is written in English. However, it is one way to reach those people who may unconsciously be making the same mistake as I was.

When living in the UK or traveling abroad, I make sure I use Urdu to converse with fellow Pakistanis. At home, I am also trying, though it is admittedly difficult since apparently there is a weird and honestly ‘sad’ association of how ‘cool’, well brought-up and educated a person is with the amount of English he or she speaks. I write this article because it is high time we break such ignorant patterns in our society. Urdu is a beautiful and graceful language and we owe our country the respect it deserves by speaking and portraying our true roots.

Kiya khayal hai?

By Amna Khalid

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Pakistan remains host to world's largest refugee population

Pakistan remains host to the largest refugee population in the world with 1.9 million registered Afghan refugees. An official of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees(UNHCR) Qaisar Afridi says that more unregistered members of the registered Afghan families including new born babies have been registered, taking the figure of registered Afghans in Pakistan to 1.9 million from last year's 1.7 million. The Pakistani Ministry of States and Frontier Regions, which deals with Afghan refugees, says that there are nearly one million unregistered Afghan refugees, who are living outside the refugee camps in the country. More than 3.5 million Afghans have returned home from Pakistan with UNHCR's help since 2002. The repatriation movement that followed the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001 was spontaneous and overwhelming.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Minorities still identify with Pakistan despite persecution

Minorities in Pakistan connect strongly with a Pakistani national identity, even as they are persecuted on the basis of their religion, revealed a report released by Jinnah Institute.

The report, titled ‘A Question of Faith’, is a study compiled over the period December 2010-April 2011 and documents the deterioration in the political, social and economic status of members of religious minorities in Pakistan.

The rising tide of vigilante violence and extremism is threatening religious minorities in the country, says the report.

The report notes that the assassination of two prominent advocates of minority rights this year has led to an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. It also criticizes the government for backing off from repealing, or even discussing, the country’s controversial blasphemy law.

The report was prepared in consultation with members of several religious minorities across the country, human rights organizations and policy experts.