Friday, January 19, 2007

Another Conundrum

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to converse with several former foreign secretaries and senior ambassadors and during these conversations (some lengthy, some brief) I have habitually made it a point of asking each of them one simple question: Who has dictated Pakistan’s foreign policy over the past few decades?

The answer, without fail, has always been the same: The GHQ.

The last civilian to have controlled the country’s foreign policy was clearly Z.A. Bhutto. So ever since his ouster Pakistan’s foreign policy has been largely dictated by a handful of generals.

From cadet school onwards the thinking of the Pakistan military mind remains sharply focussed on one country: India – our ‘perpetual enemy’. It therefore doesn’t take much to figure that any foreign policy devised by the GHQ would have to be entirely India-centric.

In his latest Friday Times editorial Two Options for Pak Military Najam Sethi quite pithily summed up the army’s national security doctrine pertaining to Afghanistan.

Not surprisingly, he insists, that “the root of its Afghanistan policies on its western border…is the Pakistan military’s obsession with India on its eastern border.”

According to Sethi the GHQ’s doctrine on Afghanistan is as follows:
(1) Afghanistan must not be allowed to fall into the hands of pro-India elements, like the Northern Alliance Uzbek-Tajik ethnic combine
(2) It should therefore be dominated by pro-Pakistan Pakhtuns who have historically straddled both Pakistan and Afghanistan
(3) These Pakhtuns should not be secular, or pro-Russia or pro-India like earlier Pakhtun regimes until 1990 and the current Karzai regime
(4) The Islamic Pakhtun Taliban should be supported as the least objectionable option.

He then points out:
It is this doctrine that has spawned sectarian violence and fundamentalism in Pakistan and enabled Al Qaeda to take root in Afghanistan.

…Until now, the price of this doctrine was paid by Pakistanis because the military is all powerful and unaccountable. But the Al-Qaeda-Taliban nexus has sucked the US into the region and pitted the Pakistani military’s regional interests against the American military-industrial complex’s global ambitions.

And while the military had to take a step backwards when a bigger armed force threatened to ‘bomb it back to the Stone Age’, their thinking apparently essentially remains the same. As Sethi remarks:
The Pakistani military’s assessment is that the Americans have no long term staying power in the region, as demonstrated by their impending retreat from Iraq, and that Pakistan is sure to rebound as the key player in Afghanistan, hence the need to retain its Taliban assets.

But now tribulations appear to be on the way.
Until now the US has nudged the international media to accuse Pakistan of “hosting” the Taliban. It has also played “good cop” in Islamabad who praises General Musharraf and bad cop in Kabul who clucks sympathetically with President Hamid Karzai when he blasts Pakistan. But that “soft” approach may be changing. Recent statements by top US officials and generals claiming that Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders are holed out in sanctuaries inside Pakistan are meant to signal that if Pakistan doesn’t stop the Taliban then America will conduct pre-emptive strikes against them inside Pakistan.

Islamabad’s ambiguous response lacks credibility. It denies Taliban and Al-Qaeda sanctuaries in Pakistan but cracks down on foreign or Pakistani journalists who try to verify its claim… Mr Bush wants an outright “victory” over the Taliban while Mr Musharraf means to deny him exactly that… We should therefore expect a chorus of foreign and local calls for “democracy” and taming of the Pak army by Democrats and Republicans alike.

According to Sethi, faced with growing US hostility, Musharraf and his GHQ will have only two options left:
The Pakistan military establishment can continue to play devious “power games” at home and abroad, deepen ethnic and religious fissures in the country, demean and weaken the democratic impulse of the people and lead Pakistan into isolation and despair.

Or it can bury its obsession with India, allow Afghanistan to acquire an autonomous, moderate, pro-West centre of gravity, focus on rolling back the tide of religious extremism and build a stable and sustainable economy.


In the event of such happenings your Blogger’s guess is that Musharraf will instinctively go for the ‘Kursi’ option – i.e. whichever option that better safeguards his grip on power (his old slogan of 'Pakistan First' doesn't count for much these days).

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Bombs Ahoy

Bombs have been exploding in Pakistani cities for four decades now. Invariably the authorities lay the blame on ‘miscreants’ and ‘foreign agents’ for these blasts. However, that does not always appear to be the case.

For instance in the 1970s, soon after the dismissal of Balochistan’s first democratically elected government, a sporadic bombing campaign took place in the urban areas of the province. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto publicly vilified the dismissed NAP politicians for the explosions. Much later it was discovered that it was in fact the Bhutto-created Federal Security Force (FSF) that was secretly behind these outrages. In fact an FSF guard named Taj Muhammad was caught red-handed carrying copious sticks of dynamite by the Quetta police. Subsequent facts revealed that he was ‘liberated’ from police custody on the direction of the Director-General of the FSF.

And then as I blogged earlier (see: The KFC Bomb & 'The Usual Suspects' )
A former colonel of the ISI once proudly told me how he had personally arranged a large bomb blast in a Karachi multi-storey office building in the 1980s. Naturally the blast (and the resultant civilian deaths) would have been blamed on RAW, Al-Zulfikar, MRD fanatics or anyone else deemed worthy of being demonised in those wretched days of Zia’s military rule.

Coming back to the KFC bomb of November 2005, my private suspicions about the explosion were subsequently endorsed by an unusually upright DIG of Police. The senior police officer privately disclosed to your blogger that within minutes of the explosion Karachi police were contacted by an intelligence agency which directed them to proceed against the Baloch Liberation Army for the bomb blast.

And so we now come to an event that took place last month.

On 5th December Peshawar police arrested a man after he was spotted throwing an object into a bin outside the NWFP Chief Minister’s residence. The object was discovered to be an explosive and the culprit was subsequently identified to be a junior official of Intelligence Bureau (IB), Naib-Qasid Mohammad Tufail.

As BBC reported:
According to the arresting policemen, the metal object recovered from the rubbish bin outside Frontier House was seven inches long, one inch thick and labelled "high explosive".

[A]gent Tufail, was taken to a nearby police station and charged under the explosives act.

But within an hour of being taken into custody, agent Tufail was released when Intelligence Bureau (IB) joint director Zafarullah Khan came and took him away, provincial police officials on duty said.

Mr Khan also removed the alleged explosive device and later tried to play down events in an interview with a local paper.

He claimed the incident had been "a misunderstanding" and denied explosives had been involved - suggesting instead that agent Tufail had actually thrown a packet of biscuits into the bin.

The IB Joint Director Zafarullah Khan’s claim about ‘a packet of biscuits’ sounds rather unconvincing in view of the information that the Bomb Disposal Squad arrived at the scene and defused the recovered bomb.

For that matter if it was just ‘a mere packet of biscuits’ why did Zafarullah Khan insist on making off with the evidence?

Given these facts it is not surprising that the IB Joint Director soon opted to change his story and ended up giving it a further ludicrous twist. According to The News:
Joint Director-General Intelligence Bureau (IB) Zafarullah Khan told The News it was just a two-inch discarded piece of dynamite that could not explode because it had no explosives. “It was a sample collected by the agency officials. The Naib Qasid got it from somewhere and even had a bite of it, thinking it is a biscuit.

Soon after the ‘liberation’ of the culprit and the evidence, the angry Chief Minister sent a posse of policemen to raid the local IB office where it appears they were neither given access to the offender nor was the evidentiary explosive returned to them.

In the meantime the Peshawar police had filed criminal charges against both Naib-qasid Mohammed Tufail and Joint Director Zafarullah Khan. Tufail was charged under section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act and section 5 of the Explosive Substance Act. Whereas Zafarullah Khan was charged under three sections of the Pakistan Penal Code – ‘resisting arrest by a person’, ‘resisting arrest of another person’ and for ‘destroying evidence’.

A few days later the Police were made to drop the terrorism charge against Tufail and the two ‘resisting arrest charges’ against Zafarullah Khan.

While the IB Joint Director managed to get pre-arrest bail for his remaining offence, Tufail was handed over to the NWFP Police on the chief minister’s insistence and is currently in detention facing trial under the Explosives Substance Act.


So the moral of the story is that when you hear next a bomb explosion in Pakistan, you may safely conclude that it has been carried out by religious fanatics or by ethnic nationalists or foreign agents or by representatives of the government itself.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Narcissism Prevails

Members of Pakistan’s cosseted elite are currently in the midst of their annual winter social revelry. Most of them are preoccupied with the usual overabundance of society balls, weddings, dinners and dance parties which they simply must go to (and are keen to be seen attending).

During this period of extravagant spending and merry festivity very few of these people will spare a thought for 80,000 and more of their countrymen, women and children who happen to be lying out in the open in the freezing January weather lacking food, shelter and warmth. Many of them, particularly the malnourished children, are dying – apparently all due to the actions and misdeeds of our military regime.

In common with most things under the present regime, truth about the plight of these wretched Pakistanis remained concealed until it was thrust into the international media by foreign observers – in this case by officials of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

The UN’s new agency IRIN quoting from a UNICEF report revealed last month that thousands of Baloch women and children, who had fled from the areas of army operation, were not only homeless but were suffering from severe malnutrition and were in dire need of urgent assistance.

These UNICEF officials bluntly accused the Musharraf regime of 'crimes against humanity' by actively blocking the delivery of foreign aid to these starving innocents.

As the Christian Science Monitor reported:

Pakistan's military government is preventing aid groups from helping more than 80,000 people - many of them acutely malnourished children - who have been displaced by a widening civil war in remote southern Balochistan, say international aid workers and diplomats.

An internal assessment by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), shown to the Monitor, paints a disturbing portrait.

UNICEF and Pakistan provincial health officials, who surveyed the area in July and August, report that 59,000 of those suffering are women and children and that 28 percent of the children under 5 were "acutely malnourished." Six percent of the children were so underfed that they would die without immediate medical attention.

"I would say this now qualifies as a 'crimes against humanity' situation," says one foreign observer who has interviewed delegates from the region.

For six months, aid agencies and diplomats have been pressing Pakistan authorities to permit them to distribute aid packages, which include emergency rations, tents, and medicine. The UN won't deliver aid without permission from the host nation, says Robert van Dijk, the top UNICEF officer for Pakistan.

He and other aid workers say provincial officials have continued to assist his local staff in monitoring conditions in southern Balochistan, but more senior provincial and federal officials have simply refused his requests or derailed efforts with endless bureaucratic hurdles.

"We have tried everything to get our aid there," says Mr. van Dijk. "I even know of aid groups that tried to deliver relief without permits, but they got turned back on the road."

Meanwhile, reports from the region indicate the situation has grown even more wretched with the onset of winter. Frustrated aid workers and diplomats are increasingly concerned about the widening humanitarian crisis - and furious they are being denied access to the area.

Six months since the UNICEF assessment, a Western diplomat says: "The UN is now desperate. They are literally begging us for help."

Just this week, the government abruptly canceled a planned tour to Balochistan by a visiting delegation from the European Commission.

There are aid-worker reports that military trucks rounded up displaced people and hid them ahead of earlier visits by local aid groups.

… In the isolated districts of Naseerabad and Jafarabad, where the bulk of the displaced villagers have gathered, one eyewitness describes the refugees as "utterly desperate."

"It's very upsetting to see children in this state," says the local resident, who did not want to be named for fear he would be arrested. "They have no shelter, little clothing, and almost no food."

A climate of political oppression, in which more than 150 Baloch activists have been arrested and taken to undisclosed locations, only amplifies the crisis, say human rights workers and opposition politicians.

Some analysts wonder why the UN hasn't pushed Pakistan on the issue more publicly. "It's quite clear that quiet pressure is not working here," says one Pakistani political analyst. "This situation demands a strong, international condemnation."

Ms. Ahmed of the ICG says that, "The UN has a mandate and UN agencies have a responsibility to help people. My concern here is that if agencies don't meet their mandate they lose credibility."

The UN is not alone in being unable to provide aid. Other organizations, such as Oxfam, CARE, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, have also been trying to gain access to the region.

True to type the military spokesman went into his usual state of denial. “This [UNICEF] report is untrue,” said Maj Gen Shaukut Sultan, “Almost all of those people have gone back.”
While van Dijk agrees that some did return home in September, he claims that a recent UN assessment has shown that other villagers have since been displaced.

“When we went back there recently, we found the same numbers of people,” he says, “and even worse conditions - among the worst I’ve ever seen.”

Interestingly, however, soon after the Christian Science Monitor had interviewed Robert van Dijk, the top UNICEF officer for Pakistan, the newspaper noted that:

[van Dijk’s] office suddenly received a letter from the Pakistani government giving permission to deliver some initial packages.

This begs the question: Why wouldn't Pakistani authorities let relief workers in to help the Baloch victims?

Associated Press quotes Asma Jehangir, Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, who accuses the regime of deliberately blocking all access to the region with the aim of concealing its ongoing military operations.

It appears that even local relief workers may have been denied access to provide aid to the starving women and children. As The News quoting Kachkol Ali Baloch, the leader of Opposition in the Balochistan Provincial Assembly, reported:

Kachkol Baloch, who claimed to have visited the 12 sites where the displaced people live in Jaffarabad and Naseerabad in April 2006, said that that he has taken up the issue in Balochistan Assembly but nothing has been done so far. "Subsequently, I approached Abdul Sattar Edhi to help the affected people but Edhi has not been allowed to carry out any relief work."

While your Blogger is relieved to learn that aid is finally reaching these poor forgotten Pakistanis he can only but endorse UNICEF’s Robert van Dijk’s poignant comment:
"This should have happened 10 months ago," he says. "If it would have happened then those children who died would still be alive. I don't know how many more have died by now."


If UNICEF had not stubbornly and publicly persisted in trying to protect our country’s women and children it is highly probable these people would have been left to die in their hundreds.

The less said about our brutal regime the better, but what about our uncaring elite who feasted, partied and danced while thousands of their country’s innocent women and children lay homeless, hungry and dying in the freezing cold?