For a number of years I have come to have little regard for the daily ‘Dawn’. Under editors such as Ahmed Ali Khan, Saleem Asmi and Tahir Mirza the newspaper seemed to have been living on its past glories and lacked the willpower to confront any military regime or civilian ‘dictatorship’ that came in its way.
In May 2006 the octogenarian Tahir Mirza made way for the 46 year-old Abbas Nasir. The Karachi-born Nasir previously held the position of Executive Editor for the Asia and the Pacific Region with the BBC World Service at London. Prior to joining BBC in 1994 he worked in Pakistan with publications such as Dawn, The Muslim and The Herald.
Having routinely derided ‘Dawn’ as the toothless of old grandmother of Pakistani newspapers, suddenly I am beginning to sense a change.
Here are two items from today’s edition for starters. And if Abbas Nasir and his newspaper keeps it up, more will surely follow.
In recent times, in the local press, we have been fed fictitious gunk about Balochistan originating from Islamabad.
Remember for months we heard the same line parroted by regime appointees such as Sheikh Rashid and Aftab Sherpao, subsequently from ISPR’s Major general Shaukat Sultan and finally from the Head Chowkidar himself; the line being: There is no military action underway in Balochistan.
What these blatant liars actually meant was: Yes, we are using Cobra gunships and F-16s to bomb the hell out of a bunch of Pakistani civilians in Balochistan but as we are your superiors it is none of your bloody business what we get up to.
Today Dawn published the first of a series of reports on Balochistan. This first report basically sums up what Musharraf and his Khakis are doing to the ordinary tribesmen and where the loyalties of those tribesmen lie.
Here is a core excerpt:
And by the way, I don’t completely buy the Islamabdi spin about numerous Bugtis laying down their weapons and cursing Akbar Bugti. I suspect most of it is largely a PR arranged exercise with the express purpose of trying to downgrade and weaken Akbar Bugti in the eyes of the Baloch who now commonly regard him as their unalloyed national hero.
DEH KHALIAN (District Jafarabad): Fifty-something Fateh Ali says he is too proud a Baloch to cry over the death of a child in public. Yet he struggles to hold back his tears as he recalls how his young daughter was killed when army helicopter gunships strafed the suburbs of Dera Bugti one chilly night last December in an operation that was ostensibly meant to target militants engaged in anti-state guerilla warfare.
“My girl had just had her evening meal when she was hit by shrapnel from one of the many bombs dropped by the army helicopters that hovered over our mud-brick huts near Haft Wali for hours that night. The troops who took part in the operation must have known full well that they were attacking a civilian settlement unable to return fire,” he says, clenching his fists in helpless anger. “I wish I had the means to take revenge.”
Ali now lives with hundred-odd Bugti tribesmen on desolate farmland irrigated by the Pat Feeder canal, lined with eucalyptus and acacia trees, in Jafarabad.
With womenfolk confined to an improvised thatched hut, the men, with long-barreled rifles slung over their shoulders, lazily take turns to graze whatever cattle they are left with.
“The army helicopters destroyed our standing wheat crops. They also destroyed the grain stored from last year’s crop.
We fled the area in such haste that we left behind the bodies of our near and dear ones unburied. Our children are not going to school anymore and young, able-bodied members of our tribe, who were previously employed, are constantly harried by law-enforcement agencies,” says Ali Nawaz.
Showing remarkable courage in the face of adversity, these displaced tribesmen say they still look up to Nawab Akbar Bugti with unimpaired loyalty.
Asked how they would have felt if the Nawab had mended fences with the establishment through negotiations and they would not have been dislodged from their ancestral towns, they give incensed looks and a curt reply: “No, the Nawab is a fighter.
“Like us, he is also suffering. And we will go back to Dera Bugti only when he returns to his house. We will win our war,” says Nawaz with the resolution of an armed warrior, although, by his own admission, his only worldly possession is a worn-out sheepskin water-container, known as the “khalli” in the vernacular.
It is unclear how many Bugti displaced people (DPs) actually poured into neighbouring cities and towns following the outbreak of hostilities between the warring tribesmen and the law-enforcement agencies in the early summer of last year.
The Dera Bugti Nazim, Kazim Bugti, puts the number of DPs at over a hundred thousand. His assertions about the involvement of army helicopters in Dera Bugti military operations lend credence to the claims of the DPs. The accusation is stoutly denied by the government, however.
As all of us ought to know there are a large number of people missing in Pakistan. Kidnapping is a crime punishable by death in Pakistan, but as the prime suspects in these cases are none other than our own intelligence agencies the law becomes the customary ass - and has to take a necessary step backwards.
Having saidthat, however, recently some brave relatives of a few of these ‘missing’ citizens ventured to approach the Sindh High Court under the ancient and sanctified law of habeus corpus.
The High Court proceeded on logic and requested the Ministry of Defence to ascertain if the intelligence agencies were holding any of these ‘missing’ people.
On Tuesday Lt. Col. Khalid Iqbal Sahoo, Assistant Judge Advocate General of the Pakistan Army admitted before the court that the Ministry of Defence has no operational control over the ISI or the MI.
The defence ministry official submitted that the task of locating and recovering missing persons did not fall within their purview and they did not have the mandate for the ground-check in such cases.
However, the court was assured that as and when any information regarding the whereabouts of the detainees came into their knowledge, it would be submitted before the court.
In reply to this sheepish admission Dawn took the ISI to task in an editorial todayl.
THE court proceedings in the case of missing persons should focus the nation’s attention on the invisible but pervasive entity that the Inter-Services Intelligence is. On Tuesday, the Assistant Judge Advocate-General of the Pakistan Army told the Sindh High Court that the defence ministry could only pass on the court’s order to the ISI and the Military Intelligence because it had no operational control over the two agencies. Whether the ISI is or is not involved in the case of the missing persons is for the court to determine, for any opinion on this may amount to contempt of court, but a comment on the ISI and the role it has arrogated to itself would be in order and indeed is called for. Every country has intelligence agencies whose duty it is to collect intelligence of interest to the government from a security point of view. This job includes intelligence and counter-espionage, the latter concentrating on the enemy’s spying and subversive activities within the country. But under no circumstances does the latter part of the duties involve hounding the regime’s political enemies and running torture chambers. While the latter phenomenon is the scourge of all dictatorships, men like Saddam Hussein or Hafez al-Assad would not allow their intelligence operatives to interfere with foreign policy. But in Pakistan the ISI has over-stepped all limits.
During the weak political governments (1988-1999), the ISI refused to give up the position and privileges it had acquired during the Zia regime and pursued its own policy in Afghanistan. This had disastrous consequences. It had access to unlimited financial resources and it perpetuated the military’s alliance with religious parties forged by Ziaul Haq. An example of the misuse of funds was the Mehran Bank money used by the ISI to create the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad, an anti-PPP alliance. Even though Gen Mirza Aslam Beg, the then army chief, went public with this scam, it is a measure of the ISI’s hold over the state apparatus that the National Accountability Bureau has not found the Mehran Bank case fit enough for a probe. Until the ISI is reined in and its activities are made strictly professional, its conduct will continue to militate against the growth of democratic institutions in Pakistan.
It does appear that Dawn is becoming a gutsy newspaper, for that credit has to be given to Abbas Nasir.
Now I just hope he copes well with the official pressure that will be brought to bear on him.
Only time will tell…