Radd-ul-Fasaad: Older Than It Seems


In the wake of last week’s attacks, especially in the Punjab, Pakistan’s new army chief has launched a new war. Is it necessary?

By Wajahat S. Khan


ISLAMABAD: Fortress Punjab has been breached, and it seems to have gotten its own operation.


On Wednesday afternoon, in an almost empty amphitheater filled with a select few generals in Lahore Cantt, General Qamar Javed Bajwa finally made a decision that was made for him many months go.


Kayani got to route his way in Raast & Nijat. Raheel got to swing the sword of Azab. Bajwa, who started off strong in GHQ with an expeditious spate repositioning top brass as he propelled a massive turnaround at Aabpara, has been greeted in turn for his first 100 days with the tumult of Sehwan, Charing Cross, Mohmand and half a dozen other attacks, nationwide.


Thus, he gets Radd-ul-Fasaad. And so, literally, he gets his shot to rid Pakistan of all evil. And maybe even bombing the Afghans.


But just as the new brand of war settled, on cue, less than 24 hours after the announcement of Radd on Wednesday last, not too far from the Lahore Garrison where Bajwa had his big rethink, the DHA blast happened on Thursday afternoon. Nine were killed in what some saw as a nose thumbing to GHQ and the Model Town establishment and their so-called Punjab Operation, while others obfuscated it as a gas cylinder explosion. The paranoia was so thick that a series of imaginary city-wide attacks followed.


So, why do we need a new urban anti-terror operation.


First, the politics: If you’re asking how could the Army launch a countrywide operation while the prime minister of the country was in Turkey, don’t stretch your imagination. Nawaz Sharif gave the all clear before he left (including permission to hit targets in Afghanistan, minus boots on the ground or air strikes); Ishaq Dar outlined the essentials to Senate on Tuesday, and the alacrity with which Shahbaz Sharif has been building the Punjab Rangers a sweet launching pad since his press conference last weekend is green light enough.


So, Bajwa gets to run this one, even though it may not be as ‘nationwide’ as it is sketched out to be. More on that later.


For now, some context: The Sharifs and Bajwa are not like the Sharifs and Raheel.


See, deep inside 2016, Raheel had been asking for something similar to Radd-ul-Fasaad, but he didn’t get it because he was Raheel, and essentially unbearable for the Sharifs by the time he was ready to officially go golfing.


Clearly, the Sharifs feared that a Punjab-centric operation would become more than a quick swan song for Raheel. It could well become a reason to stay on, and anathema for Raiwind. Thus, the Punjab Police and its Dark Justice were displayed as ample substitutes for a full-blown Army operation. Remember Malik Ishaq? That was Punjab’s Dark Justice, in motion, saying it didn’t need the Army, thank you very much.


But Bajwa’s a team player, and after what happened last week, he gets his Radd-ul-Fasaad, which, I’m projecting, will be nothing like Zarb-e-Azab optically but a natural follow up to that endeavor kinetically.


The thing is, around the time of its launch in the spring and summer of 2014, Zarb-e-Azab was initially the name of simply the ground clearance of North Waziristan. Soon, as enemy realignments happened, a part of it morphed into Khyber 1.


Then the Army Public School attack happened.


Then all hell broke loose.


And then the National Action Plan was born. Or still born.


As the NAP faltered, and the civilians kept on dropping catches, or were made to look like they were dropping catches, naturally, Zarb-e-Azab expanded.


In Karachi, it morphed into an “Anti-Terror Financing Op”, not just a “Targeted Operation” which was to be “Captained” by the zombie that was Qaim Ali Shah. With the Dr. Asim Hussain case and the Nine Zero Raid and then Anwar Majeed, it got stretched and politicized even further.
In Balochistan, Zarb-e-Azab became an eternal “IBO”, or a series of intelligence-based operations: Never a major assault that could get political, but slick, smooth hit jobs that you’d find out about weeks later.


In KP, the northwest’s settled-areas were outsourced to a tough police. Swat was normalized by cantonments, and FATA was essentially sealed off the by the FC and Army for ‘Combing Ops’, even as the PAF did the heavy lifting. Naturally, the IDPs – hundreds of thousands of them – were lost in the fog of war.


Frankly, all of this was great, and the parts which were not so great were worth trying. The statistics were grand: Pakistan was getting safer.


The real problem, really, was in the press. Zarb-e-Azab had essentially become the Raheel Sharif Show, complained Raiwinders. Gradually, they feared, so could CPEC.
That didn’t go down well with the Sharifs. CPEC was going to be their baby, they figured, and some infantry grunt on his way out wasn’t going to take it from them. That’s why there was foot-dragging on the NAP, lest that too became a Raheel-centric exercise. That’s why no extensions, and no further operations, provincial or nationwide, were the spirit of 2016. That’s possibly even why the Dawn Leaks happened.


That’s the politics. Now, the dynamics.


It’s logical to assume that massive military operations aren’t imagined overnight. Thus, it’s easy to assume that Radd-ul-Fasaad wasn’t conceived when Pakistan was taken by storm last week, and as easy to assume that the operation was on the books since the pre-Bajwa days. That’s how the Army’s Military Operations Directorate works…over months.


“It was expected. It was the weakness of NAP, as well as the security and intelligence agencies, to not be able to follow up in the wake of what the Army did in FATA,” said a senior security operative.


“When you kicked out the bad guys from FATA in Zarb, you interdicted their capacity to strike. They needed time, and last year was the time they needed to regroup,” he explained. “Regrouping was natural, especially as the finances from India and logistics from NDS were rolled out for them, as can be established from evidence around.”

In this analysis, disturbingly, what happened last week was to happen – had to happen – for this operation to be launched.


Now, as for operationalizing our brand new Radd-ul-Fasaad, lets keep it simple and try to understand what the ISPR is telling us in its press release:


  • Operation aims at indiscriminately eliminating residual / latent threat of terrorism, consolidating gains of operations made thus far and further ensuring security of the borders”: This means everything could change, if its really, truly implemented. ‘Residual’ means the bad guys left behind. ‘Latent’ means the not-so-bad guys who could become bad guys (these are the guys who are tolerated as ‘good militants’). It also means that the Army will go for what the Army wants – more Frontier Corps Wings raised specifically to seal the western border – and possibly the toughening up of inter-provincial border checks, which Shahbaz Sharif and now Murad Ali Shah are declaredly big fans of. But one must get some clarity about the Good vs Bad militants narrative here: a senior officer told me that the operation will probably launch in the Punjab against just the ‘bad’ ones first, but pressure and counter-attacks will naturally lead them to some — just some — of their former friends. That’s how wars are fought, I was told: in stages.


  • “Pakistan Air Force, Pakistan Navy, Civil Armed Forces (CAF) and other security / Law Enforcing Agencies (LEAs) will continue to actively participate / intimately support the efforts to eliminate the menace of terrorism from the country”: This means that Army will be in-charge and in the limelight, as usual. But expect unsung heroes, like Counter-Terror Departments of provincial police forces and Field Security units of the Rangers, to continue to perform and not be lauded enough.


  • “The effort entails conduct of Broad Spectrum Security / Counter Terrorism (CT) operations by Rangers in Punjab, continuation of ongoing operations across the country and focus on more effective border security management”: This is jargon for what the purpose of Radd-ul-Fasaad really is: Harden Fortress Punjab. Bajwa’s given the Punjab Rangers a new Director General, liked for now by Lahore, and synched under the Punjab Police. And by the way, the new Rangers were given the green light to start the operation by the Punjab government hours before Bajwa’s announcement, so you can tell who’s trying to be in charge here. So what we have in the Punjab is a Shahbaz-led, Army-backed Rangers operation. This will be, hopefully, remarkably different from the Army-led, Nisar-backed Rangers operation in Karachi that was never really backed by those who matter there: the PPP or the MQM. Except for passive aggressive approvals and clenched-jaw smiles, Bilawal House and Nine Zero (now PIB Colony) never really signed on for that little op. We all know how the shortfalls of Karachi have evolved since then.


  • “Country wide de-weaponisation and explosive control are additional cardinals of the effort. Pursuance of National Action Plan will be the hallmark of this operation”: Lets be honest. Pakistan is like Texas. Nobody will ever totally de-weaponize it, and will ironically be shot if they tried. Same for explosives: There’s just too much technology and too many unregulated materials out there to make Pakistan an IED-free zone. So lets stick to the low-hanging fruit: The key, really, is the reference to NAP. With RAF, Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif seem to have finally outsourced NAP, or parts of NAP, to the Pakistan Army. That’s what the ISPR statement reads like.


What can we expect the Army to do that others have not been able to do for NAP, via its latest project, this Radd-ul-Fasaad?


Here’s my projected checklist, and what may happen to NAP under RAF:


  • Regulate Madrassa reforms? Yeah right.
  • Empower NACTA? Dream on.
  • Continue Karachi? Surely, but there’s the Zardari and Altaf factor, always.
  • Bring back the military courts? Yes, please.
  • Take action against terror and hate literature? Whatever.
  • Administrative reforms in FATA? Already started.
  • Crackdown against abuse of social media? The crackdown’s here (just ask the missing bloggers)
  • Registration of refugees? Why do you think the Army’s doing the census?
  • Eliminate sectarian outfits? If only, but lets give it a shot.
  • Empower the Balochistan government to initiate peace talks? Not this caliber of government. Not yet. Not with CPEC on the cards.


END NOTE: For those in Lahore, Raiwind and Lala Land who think this is a great moment for civ-mil parity, here’s a heads up to the Punjab: You’re in the Army now, because the Army’s in you now. And just so you know, Bajwa’s war is older than it seems.


Why Pakistan Matters To The Next U.S. President

Today, as the United States chooses its next leader, the rest of the world holds its breath. The new president will face many challenges upon taking office, and it is not for me, an interested outside observer, to rate them. But I do have an important message to share. From where I am sitting in Pakistan, there is a microcosm of many of the threats and opportunities that confront the new incumbent. Billions in U.S. taxpayer dollars pour into my country to help consolidate democracy and keep the terrorists at bay. Many of those dollars are being wasted and the mission is failing. It should be no surprise that the United States found and killed Osama bin Laden here and that the conflict next door in Afghanistan drags on as the country’s longest war. Polls place America’s popularity as marginal, just above support for the world’s most dangerous terrorist organization. That’s the bad news. The good news is that we want to succeed. So don’t abandon us. Just fix our broken relationship.

It starts with helping us fight corruption. Corruption in our government is a toxin that contaminates our entire country. It breeds cynicism among our people, thousands of whom marched upon the capital as late as last week, demanding more transparency in a corruption probe against the prime minister. Then, it delegitimizes our institutions by allowing a blind eye to be turned to financial and regulatory abuse. Importantly, it steeps and dyes even our security services, which leads to threats unheeded going from local to global. Despite international pressure to clean house, corruption cannot be unstitched from the fabric of the Pakistani state. So much so that it has wormed its way into the leading anti-corruption oversight agency, Transparency International in Pakistan (TIP).

TIP is itself a walking, talking conflict of interest. TIP’s leadership now “advises” the government and holds office in the prime minister’s secretariat while auditing it at the same time. The chairman of TIP, who signed a multimillion dollar contract with USAID for a U.S.-taxpayer funded anti-corruption hotline, had his own son appointed as head of the program. Only in Pakistan could nepotism be the face of an anti-corruption project that Americans continue to pay for.

Alas, nobody watches the watchdogs. It should be no surprise that the Pakistani people lose faith in the U.S. government and in their own. It opens the door to the appeal of extremist organizations who lure supporters with seemingly “pure” alternatives. Only 20% of the Pakistani population supports the government’s friendly relationship with the United States. Compare that with the nearly 10% which openly support ISIS, and the figure becomes even bleaker.

That said, pulling the plug on funds would be a drastic mistake. Measures such as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker’s move to ban Pakistani purchase of F-16s and the 2016 passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, which will block $450 million in aid to Islamabad, only serve to deepen the relational chasm between nations. This chilling in U.S.-Pakistan relations feeds directly into the rhetoric and intents of extremist organizations, fills their ranks with recruits, and leaves us with few friends in a strategically critical region.

You have three policy options: (1) continue U.S. aid to Pakistan with no change, (2) limit U.S. aid to Pakistan, or (3) reform and rethink our aid.

The third option is not only most efficient but will serve to address issues of instability and corruption in Pakistan. Just as the United States conditions its military aid, it must also condition its civilian aid, encouraging transparency and urging Pakistani oversight institutions on reforms of accountability and anti-corruption policies. Following suit, USAID should conduct an overhaul of its oversight policies and enact strict follow-through on grants to ensure that good money is being put to good use. With precious tax dollars and the fate of a strategically critical region in play, the United States cannot just tick the box of “aid granted” and move on to the next budget cycle.

To preserve the integrity of foreign funds, the next U.S. president’s tenure in Washington must show a new vigilance: Reform the aid infrastructure lest non-governmental antagonists deal irreparable blows with America’s own wayward dollars. Only the development of transparent, legitimate institutions accountable to the people can serve as a long-term bulwark against instability and extremism. The voters deserve that security, and the allies need that reminder.

The article was originally published in Forbes. Read full article here

Razzaq vs Afridi (or Ego vs Id)

The difference between Afridi and Razzaq is the difference between the Pakhtun and the Punjabi. The Pakhtun delivers violence and punishment randomly, but with vigour, passion and even intransigence. For him the moment is more important. The end is never nigh for him. The Punjabi metes out the same with as much impact but induces more damage, as he works within a larger stratagem. His victory is built on a framework, a scheme. His plot is thicker. Unlike the id-driven Pakhtun who works on a pleasure-pain principle, the Punjabi is ego-driven and operates in a reality network…It is thus that the Punjabi wins matches…but the Pakhtun conquers his opponent’s fear..

The Governor Of Us All

He was the ‘Governator’ – even more than Arnold – and it was because of his never-ending collection of wrap-around sunglasses.

I asked him what he felt about such infamy the last time I met him, and like everything in his life – serious or stupid – Salman Taseer incredulously laughed it off.

What about ‘Teflon Taseer’ and ‘Billionaire Jiyala’, I pushed.

All I got was a ‘you’re cute, kid’ look and a ‘lets get on with it’ response.

It was my second interaction with Taseer, and one of the toughest shows I’ve ever conducted.

I’ve interviewed Salman Taseer twice – once, for Indus News in 2004, the next time for Dawn News in 2009.

It was during the second interview that I was reminded – directly and not very politely – that the only reason I was granted an exclusive at the governor’s mansion in Lahore – a rare feat after Governor’s Rule was implemented in early 2009 – was because of our first interview.

“You asked me this question which still bothers me, so I chose you from all the other requests I had for interviews,” he declared before the recording started, looking down his desk, cutting a Cohiba with a complicated blade.

What question, I asked.

He pretended to struggle with his thoughts, and then mumbled that it was something critical about his newspaper, the Daily Times.

How had I managed to still stay in his thoughts, I asked again. The Times is one of the most screamed-about papers in the country.

‘You called it my ‘pet-project’ and my ‘personal P.R. publication’”, he coolly lit his cigar.

“I wanted to get even. So today, we’re going to do exactly that.”

What resulted was a combative browbeating from one of Pakistan’s true bad-boy politicians.

My show, ‘TalkBack’ – conceived and reputed as a no-nonsense, tough talking yet civilized debate – turned into an Alpha vs Alpha barroom brawl.

And – unusually – I lost.

Salman Taseer could do that.

He could talk down at you. He could defeat you. He could outperform you. He could outstare you. He could outmatch you.

In nation that has struggled for identity, Taseer was a true champion of confidence.

He didn’t care. And he loved the fact that it bothered his enemies.

I don’t want to recall his politics. Others more observant than me will do that for months.

But I do want to remember the man I briefly knew.

I saw him in his element at a concert in Lahore in 2007. Meher Bokhari, then just starting at Samaa TV, and some other friends were with me.

Like a superstar, Taseer – then Caretaker Minister of Commerce and Industry – rolled in with an entourage of Lahore’s finest and fairest.

He relaxed in a lounge in the back, lit up his Cuban, and didn’t move all evening.

Everybody else came and went, including his crew. Taseer stayed on and stayed put, centering his own galaxy, a sun to his starlets.

He was sober, solid and stylish.

But in a sea of people half his age, Taseer still looked as tough as Gibraltar.

It’s not uncommon to note that we Pakistanis haven’t had a lot of role models; most of them have been killed or tainted.

Salman Taseer was never one of them. But he was still something.

What exactly, I’m not sure.

Pakistan’s Donald Trump? Maybe our Islamic Republic’s Richard Branson?

Old-money billionaires, like one of my former TV bosses, called him “slimy”, but that was probably out of spite for his entrepreneurial wizardry.

So did ‘kitty-party’ housewives of DHA Lahore, who would hear it through the grapevine that Taseer was frequenting one of the ‘guest-houses’ down the street from their picture-perfect homes.

Eventually, Taseer’s lifestyle and panache – even while in office – would lead to his enemies marking him as the Nero of contemporary Pakistani politics.

But even to his detractors, Taseer was enviable.

A self-made man. A self-styled tycoon. An arrogant politician. A serious risk-taker.

Salman Taseer was a lot of things.

But he was still the governor – if not our hearts, then definitely our collective and divided polities.

Rest in peace, Governor. And may God bless you, your family, and Pakistan.

The Corruption of Anti-Corruption (or Pakistan is a Big Black Hole)

The smartest people in the world can talk and talk, but it’s still a tough call to reach a resolution.

Even at the tail-end of Day 1 of the 14th IACC, the International Anti-Corruption Conference  – the world’s premier platform for tackling corruption – identifying the basis, the causes, and the methods which will eliminate corruption has been a difficult task.

I’m here with seven other journos – reporters, bloggers, photogs – who do print, TV and online work – and the mission is a simple one: get the word out  on global corruption. Period.

The concept is ground-breaking: Eight journalists, from all over Asia, bring cutting edge social media skills to the Thai government/Transparency International sponsored expo and spread the happenings to the world.

But that’s where the problem begins.

Hearing some of the world’s smartest corruption fighters, campaigners and prosecutors is inspiring – but also confusing.

In the workshops as well as the ‘plenary’ sessions (which are as big if not bigger than UN General Assembly meetings, complete with translation headphones that disseminate the buzz in four languages), these experts  focus on several key areas regarding corruption – security, defence, human rights, environment, climate-change, and disaster-relief.

The topics are engaging, as is the jargon: “State Capture” (when corruption becomes endemic in society in congruence with central institutions of the nation-state perpetrating ‘organized’ corruption; “Water Integrity” (I’m still trying to figure out that one); “Settling Foreign Bribery Cases”; and that’s just Day 1.

According to the schedule, over the next four days, the IACC is also going to be shedding light on “Corruption and Human Trafficking” , “Facilitating Integrity in the Judiciary”, even “Following the Money to Curb Forest Crime”.

As an American colleague put it, it’s all very “heady”.

This is probably the biggest collection of academics, public officials, development workers, activists and info-junkies I’ve ever seen in one place.

But there is a gap – the elephant in the room; the black swan; the 800 pound gorilla – and no one is covering it well enough.

That would be the Islamic Republic of Pakistan: my home and country, and now the world’s unofficial “basket case” of geo-political instability, terrorism, poverty and yes, corruption.

A few days ago, a former Indian diplomat referred to “Pak”, as it now commonly called, as the “Sick Man of Asia”. He said it on live TV, hours after President Barack Obama had displayed the courage to tell an Indian audience in Mumbai that their country had a “stake” in the stability and prosperity of Pakistan.

The diplo had slammed the American president, and his “erstwhile ally”, Pakistan, as being a failed state, a hotbed and sponsor of terror, which was well on it’s way to breaking up.

But he missed some details. The country that became the template for Public-Private partnership (for current giants like S. Korea and the UAE) for a sustainable economy in the 1950s has not only gone broke economically, but also institutionally. The military, the executive, the judiciary, the civil society, and yes, the so called liberal elites, are all in the common business of corruption.

That is Pakistan’s primary and perhaps existential problem.

Not nukes. Not Osama. Not the Taliban. Not human rights abuses. Not biblical floods.

Just corruption.

Rampant, embedded and institutionalized corruption.

Unfortunately, that is the gap at the IACC.

For now, I have failed to see enough attention drawn to the Islamic Republic’s ghosts of graft.

I have failed to see any questions being asked by a very eclectic audience.

I have failed to see an interest in a failing state whose ultimate demise will probably create the most catastrophic ripple effects on the political, economic and demographic spectrum of our planet not seen since the fall of the USSR.

The eye of the global security storm, “Pak”, has not been covered by a global conference dedicated to tackling the world’s corruption woes, so far.

Is there something corrupt about that?

I think so…


NEWS ANALYSIS: Pakistan’s ‘New Look’ Foreign Office – Tough, but not Autonomous

The Foreign Office is hardening its stance – but where is the inspiration for the art of gaining the upper hand on Delhi coming from?

Pakistan’s FO has never been the most independent of organizations. It is not news that Pakistani foreign policy has long been the domain of GHQ – Rawalpindi has always had a particular interest in Islamabad’s handling of the six vital ‘nodes’ of Pakistani diplomacy: Beijing, Kabul, London, New Delhi, Riyadh and Washington – other missions, as they say in the military, do not make it on ‘Pindi’s radar.

But suits do what boots can’t, and after all, civilian functionaries are supposed to be inherently more diplomatic than their uniformed counterparts. Despite decades of systemic quasi-autonomy, Pakistan’s Foreign Office has remained one of the country’s more functional bureaucracies – even during recent times of gross mismanagement by a beleaguered and distracted central government. Islamabad’s diplomats have seen it all, and the new international dispensation has forced them to reshape their tactics, fast.

New York and Washington were the latest battlegrounds for the FO. On the margins of the UN General Assembly, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi exhausted the think-tank circuit, building a case for that guarded crown-jewel of Pakistan’s existential raison d’etre: Kashmir. He even sent a signal by not taking his foreign secretary along – Pakistan, the message went, was in a ‘no-nonsense zone’ – enough meanderings, he declared at the UN itself. Stop the repression in Kashmir.

The falling out with India was expected, and it came.  Qureshi’s Indian counterpart, S.M. Krisha, went on a classic, terror-centric anti-Pak rampage – and both diplomats went home without even a joint photo-op.

But the FO’s recent handling of Kashmir has been particularly telling of a new, aggressive evolution that Islamabad’s legates have undergone of late. The ‘flexible’ and ‘out of the box’ thinking of the Musharraf era has been dropped, at least publicly. A highly placed FO official, comparing the diplomacy of Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs versus that of his predecessor, Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri, made a sharp comparison, criticising the systemic of the former administration’s foreign policy approach.

“Publicly, one should not dilute their basic positions. That is left to negotiations, behind the scenes,” he said, citing Musharraf’s famous ’06-’07 submissions to India that Pakistan was willing to ‘move away’ from its conventional policies on Kashmir.

“When you say publicly you are willing to move beyond your ‘stated position’, that too without a quid pro quo from the other side, you gain nothing. We believe in flexibility, but … our stance has been that you don’t need to go public on everything…it becomes difficult to change your position.”

This traditionalist, discrete approach of the FO follows the classic tenets of old-school statesmanship – and the end of the Musharraf era has seen Pakistan’s diplomats snap back into their former, cautious modes. Wardrobes are a good comparison; if the general had a ‘business-casual’ approach to dressing down his foreign policy, today’s Foreign Office is, undoubtedly, attired in ‘formal’ regalia.

“The Foreign Office was always very different, tactically, from Musharraf. But the man was a one-man show – he could take positions and decide on behalf of the whole country, that was his prerogative. But now things are different. Now, the Foreign Office, through an elected Parliament, has a mandate.”

He might have a point, but not completely. Today, even a less than astute observer of Pakistani diplomacy will agree that Islamabad’s new self-declared ‘democratic diplomats’ have hardened their approach on several, if not all foreign policy fronts. But orders are still taken from men wearing three or four stars, not the ‘suits’ and ‘waskets’ in Islamabad. As for the FO’s missions abroad, most observers agree that the defence attache is still the key opinion-maker, outweighing the views of most ambassadors. Perhaps that is why Pakistan’s relationship with India has witnessed the biggest turn-around.

Exemplary are the events of this summer, which saw the unveiling of Foreign Minister Qureshi’s new ‘tough love’ approach towards India. At the end of an over-hyped visit to Islamabad by S.M. Krishna in July (both countries had not talked formally at the foreign ministerial level since the Mumbai attacks in 2008), and after a round of tedious and obsessively secretive meetings, Pakistan published its new foreign policy tagline: exercising zero eye-contact with Krishna even as he shared the podium with his counterpart, an aggressive and irked Qureshi declared Pakistan was not interested in “talks for the sake of talks”.

Since then, strengthened by the Intifada-style uprising in Indian-administered J&K, Qureshi’s summer quip has now become the mantra of an increasingly confident Foreign Office.

But Qureshi’s actions were not conjured by his own whimsy, nor were they the studied and independent view of an all-powerful Foreign Minister. Islamabad was rife with rumours that the FM had chosen to tow GHQ’s tough line with the Indians, and this had led to serious tensions with the softer-leaning President Asif Zardari, who evidently even coined a devious nickname for the bespoken, immaculate Qureshi: ‘Mr. Aabpaara’, referring to the Islamabad suburb that headquarters the ISI. Reportedly, Mr. Qureshi was also sent a more direct message by the Presidency when he was denied accompanying Mr. Zardari on the latter’s recent, controversial trip to France and the UK.

Regardless of the FM’s branding and treatment by the Presidency, GHQ’s stamp resonates far and wide at the Foreign Office. This ‘Run it all through Pindi’ systemic – not new to Pakistani bureaucracy – is only reinforced in the current dispensation by a weak and divided centre. The recent dismissal of Indian overtures of talks on all issues, including Kashmir, is reflective more of the establishment’s firm grip on the bureaucratic core of Pakistani diplomacy and not the muddled footprint of the PPP-led government over its Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“They want to confuse the issue, making it look like a concession when it is not one – Kashmir was always a part of the Composite Dialogue. There is nothing new about the offer…all they are buying is time,” said the Foreign Office source. “That’s why there is an impasse.”

Since this summer, the FO’s India-centric tactics have evolved fast. The Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Omer Farooq inspired “Protest or Die” rebellion in Indian-Administered J&K – which is armoured by the passionate spontaneity of a generation of Kashmiri teenagers who have grown up in probably the most militarized and over-policed region in the world – has forced India out of its old ‘Blame Pakistan’ knee-jerk defence of the dispute. It seems the Kashmiris have a case and, finally, they are making it themselves.

But Pakistan’s FO, instead of gloat with a ‘we told you so’ rebuke to India, has been cautious, even controlled about using the protests and India’s mishandling of them as a ready made diplomatic weapon.
 At this point, with New Delhi embroiled in a crisis of its own making, it seems that for Islamabad, less is more.

“We are cautious because the stone-pelters have redefined the whole struggle. Even the Indians themselves are saying that this uprising is indigenous; the situation is just like the Palestinian Intifada. And Pakistani involvement – none! Back in the day, you could have said we inspired all of this. But, not now. Whatever [Syed Ali] Geelani wants, happens. And even he is not friendly with Pakistan anymore.”

But Srinagar’s rock-throwers have also inspired a daring, paradigm breaching policy shift at the typically conservative Foreign Office. This ‘change the discourse’ move is being seen as a nuanced variation in Pakistan’s diplomatic brinksmanship with India. At a time when India is tied down in J&K, Pakistan doesn’t want to lodge the diplomatic kick – rather it wants to take the moral high ground and shepherd the fury of Kashmiri nationalism from a distance.

“Right now, you want to operate with utmost circumspection. You don’t want Pakistan linked to it [J&K unrest]. As long as they [anti-Indian protests] are going on fine on their own, we don’t need to push it,” said the source.

Instead, what the Foreign Office is pushing for is a change in that classic tool of diplomacy: language.

“Our approach is nuanced now. We are asking India things [regarding J&K] we have not tried in the past. We now, officially, are demanding three things. One, stop saying it is internal. Two, stop saying it can be by solved by just the Indian Constitution alone. And three, stop calling Kashmir an integral part of India. There can be no progress if the discourse doesn’t change. Stop with the hackneyed approach.”

Such evolved tactics reflect a new, dynamic ‘counter-attack’ school of diplomacy in Pakistan, a big shift from the ‘your place or mine’ approach of the Musharraf-Kasuri Foreign Office. For instance, defending Islamabad’s links to the Mumbai attacks has usually been an embarrassing case for any official to make on behalf of the country. But the Foreign Office has finally chiseled a new, libertarian argument based on the contemporary buoyancy of fair and balanced judicial freedom – effectively stalemating India’s demands for immediate and punitive measures against the accused.

“Don’t politicize the judicial process [for Mumbai]. For the trials, we need India’s assistance. We can’t do it alone,” explained the FO source with smug reason.

“Remember, the crime scene was in India. Processing a crime there in court here cannot just happen within a certain timeframe, given that they [India] convicted one man, [Ajmal] Kasab, in one year, and acquitted two in the same period. Meanwhile, we have seven men facing trial here! How do they expect us to conclude those trials on demand?! We have a newly independent judiciary, after all, which is following the course of the law, and that takes time. The Indians have to live with that fact.”

But Pakistan’s new-look Foreign Office, tougher than ever, is not totally in control. Islamabad’s new ‘diplomats with a mandate’ have not been able to damage-control every burning issue, and even admit to making critical mistakes, usually due to structural inefficiencies – like sharing the information platform with organizations like the Directorate of Inter-Services Public Relations, the Pakistani military’s media arm.

“Offering India the dossier on its involvement in Baluchistan was a mistake,” said the FO source, referring to the controversial offer by ISPR chief Lt. General Athar Abbas earlier this year – a promise Pakistan could not – or would not – deliver on, and which encouraged Indian diplomats to further chide Pakistan’s claims for New Delhi’s involvement in Baluchistan. It was a critical error of diplomacy mistakenly committed by a military spokesperson who should have talked about just weapons and tactics – but it was the Foreign Office which had to the heavy, political fire-fighting.

“After all, India has been claiming for decades that there is infiltration across the LoC, but has never provided any proof. We did not have to make that offer [of providing evidence on Baluchistan] either.”

Though stronger than ever before, the FO’s decades old relationship with GHQ is still that of a subordinate to a principal. Perhaps that is why the Foreign Office is not dynamic enough to handle the demands of the new, 24/7 news cycle that now shapes South Asian diplomacy.

Recent underperformances are evident. Even 12 hours after last Monday’s startling disclosure by Afghanistan’s ISAF that its combat helicopters breached Pakistani airspace last weekend and killed 30 alleged militants on its soil – this less than a week after a previewed book by Washington ace reporter Bob Woodward claimed that the CIA has been running a brigade-sized Afghan ground force in and out of Pakistan on ‘hit and run’ missions – the Foreign Office was not ready with a firm response.

Given the political mood of the country that day, it seemed that Rawalpindi – with the COAS tied down due to his ‘routine’ meeting with the Prime Minister and President as the Chief Justice was considering the government’s appeals in the NRO case – seemed too busy to have issued immediate directives for the right language to shape an appropriate rebuttal.

“I do not know what happened, what they [ISAF] are trying to do…The whole nation is engaged in handling the flood, the NRO, Afia Siddiqui and all. We will make a demarche…but I don’t know if there will be a press release or not,” said the FO official.

Rather, an open-ended introspection that only the finer diplomats in the world can provide was offered by the FO source.

“Hopefully we are summoning someone [American]. This is a new element. We will not let it go like this. We are considering our options.”

When it eventually came, late on Monday night, the Foreign Office’s statement was both diplomatic and aggressive: reflective of what is, perhaps, Pakistan’s ultimate political nexus – that between the Bureaucrat and the Battalion.

“There are no agreed ‘hot pursuit’ rules…ISAF/NATO has been asked not to participate in any action that violates the UN mandate and infringes upon Pakistan’s sovereignty. In the absence of immediate corrective measures Pakistan will be forced to consider response options.”


By Wajahat S. Khan – On Oct 1 – The Day Musharraf Announced his Return to Politics

(also published with editing in The Express Tribune)

Everybody likes comebacks. No one ever agrees on their quality, but the chatter can’t be ignored. The return of the doped-out athlete or the jailed movie-star is always observed, debated and judged by all.

But there is no comeback like a political comeback: Winston Churchill; Richard Nixon; Nelson Mandela; even M.A. Jinnah – all giants of government, each left or forced out of the public coliseum as a wounded ideologue, only returned as stronger and bigger leaders: the political gladiators of their national arenas.

But the most rare of comebacks is that of the defamed dictator.

Military rulers – especially those who have had the luck to survive assassination attempts but not the acumen to sustain an absolutist, coup-inspired dispensation of their own making – returning to the political realm, that too through the mainstream of the democratic process – a parliamentary party – are the hummingbirds of the political animal kingdom: They are seldom seen, not expected to make much of a dent to the food-chain, but are obsessively sought by the observers of the jungle of public affairs. In effect, they’re cute – politically, at least.

But the artilleryman who became a commando, and the commando who became a general, and the general who became a coup-maker, and the coup-maker who became a pariah, and the pariah who became a statesman, and the statesman who became a global icon – one former President General (retd.) Pervez Musharraf, doesn’t think he’s a hummingbird. Nor do his supporters.

And they also say that he’s been through so many transformations and challenges, that another turn-around is only natural for the man who was once quoted by Time Magazine in unforgettable, yet (eventually) fallible gusto: “I never feel scared.”

Those were the Big Days of Musharraf. The million-dollar book deals and the Camp David retreats, the 95 percent referendums and the booming middle-classes, all made him, and most of the rest of the world, feel like the man was always meant to run Pakistan, fight a global war, solve regional conflicts, empower women, emancipate media, and ensure everyone in his country could afford a cell-phone.

But then, something went wrong.

Musharraf’s base – the “believers” – could not understand. The progressive elites were shocked at his treatment of the judicial crisis. The capitalist elites were let down by his inability to balance the books and provide the basics as militancy multiplied. The middle-classes saw their car and bike loans climb into deathbed debts. And as they saw both his country and his control over it melt all around him, the global elites – not the always interested academic ones, but the low-attention span political sort – concluded that Musharraf was a powerless relic, an emasculated warrior, an armchair general who needed to retire. And so it ended.

But now, it has begun again. Well, sort of.
Yesterday, in London and Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad, the All Pakistan Muslim League got a new leader. Pervez Musharraf is now, officially, the tough cookie of Pakistani politics. His party’s symbol, the eagle, is a throwback to the famous Iqbal poem that inspires all to fly high. His “branding” is that he is the natural successor of the Quaid-e-Azam (all the launch events paired him in equal ratio with the Great Leader on supersized billboards – Musharraf in living colour, Jinnah in classic black and white). In marketing effect, the APML is saying that it is the return of that iconic platform: The All-India Muslim League. And their message: Big on Sovereignty, Big on Economy, Big on Security, Big on Pakistan.

But Musharraf’s Big Manifesto doesn’t have the biggest of support bases, at least not yet. Only a sliver of the “suits” – vested, corporate giants who supported him once are actively backing him now. Most of the social progressives and liberal-urbanites will only join in when there is a political raison d’etre in motion, not just long television speech, but actual politicking. However, the ‘x-factor’ that makes Musharraf feel confident enough about returning is not actually, but virtually, full of potential.

This is the “credit card” support base that APML is banking on – called so because they have the potential to provide Musharraf benefits, but currently only ‘promise’ the big bucks.

These include Pakistan’s wealthy expat community – rich in cash and even connections to lobby and support his planned comeback, but inherently politically disconnected from the political mainstream of the country.

Second is the APML’s self-processed association with the “youth” – young Pakistanis who, the APML believes, love Musharraf as a strong leadership figure but who are essentially depoliticized and uninvolved in the public policy process.

And finally, as Musharraf himself said recently to David Frost on Al-Jazeera, he is counting on “sixty percent of people who don’t vote.” This grouping, his party insiders explain, are the educated, urban tax-payers who work hard, save little and aspire for economic stability, low fuel prices and no-load shedding – instead of clamoring for “token conventional constitutional supremacy”, as one well-heeled supporter at the launch in Islamabad put it.

Musharraf’s game-plan is not public yet, nor is it fully baked. His supporters at home obviously feel the time is right for him to launch into politics, but not return back. His manifesto is broad, but his unspecified. Most of his former team-mates (or cronies) are not with him, but those who have stuck to the man regard him as Pakistan’s only hope. It’s a strange cult…the military teddy-bear who fondles the political pet-grenade is the closest one gets when comparing Musharraf to the toys – and tools – that the Pakistani polity wants to play with.

As a recent comment on Facebook, the social networking website that he is so popular on, concluded soon after his speech: “If the PML-N is a sea of Payas and Nihari, and the PPP is a broken basket of rotten eggs and tomatoes, while the MQM is a counterfeit bottle of Tabasco and the ANP is actually weeks old barbeque kebabs, then Musharraf, surely, in this fridge of politics, is a loaf of bread – basic, yes, but functional enough to get by on.”