Here we go again, again

September 26, 2011 § 1 Comment

The current war of words between the U.S. and Pakistani governments is just the latest installment of the soap opera that is U.S.-Pakistani relations. The pattern is typical, predictable, and actually quite stable: the U.S. makes demands on Pakistan; Pakistan rebuffs the demand; the U.S. responds with “evidence” of Pakistani complicity in fomenting terror (usually in Afghanistan but also in India); Pakistan negotiates on the initial demand, giving in to some of what the U.S. wants but still rejecting some part of the demand.

So too is the case with the latest “revelation” last week by Admiral Mike Mullen and other U.S. officials that the Pakistani government is actively sponsoring terror in Afghanistan via the Haqqani clan. According to this formulation, the Haqqani network is a state asset that is activated by the ISI in order to maintain leverage against Afghanistan and, by extension, the United States. That is seemingly explosive stuff, but predictably, as early as the next day, we were seeing statements by U.S. and Pakistani officials that they were still interested in “working with each other.” And today, we see that the U.S. State Department spokesperson has stated that “State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said that the US government was committed to its relationship with Pakistan and wants to work constructively with Pakistan on the Haqqani Network.” Ah yes, “work constructively” – that lovely phrase that hides the ugliness of just how much pressure is applied to other countries in order to coerce them to do the bidding of the U.S.

On the same day, Republican Senator Mark Kirk did his part to play the role of bad cop by stating that the U.S. government should “cut military assistance to Pakistan in the light of the allegations made by the US administration and military about Pakistan having links with the Haqqani network.” We have lost count of the number of times that Some Important Person or the other has called for cuts to U.S. aid to Pakistan in the last couple of years. It’s amusing to note that despite such threats and protests, the aid continues to flow, mostly in very generous proportions (Pakistan still remains the second largest recipient of U.S. aid, after Israel). Maybe, just maybe, there’s something in it for the Americans?

All of this is certainly not to minimize the sheer venality and, frankly, stupidity of the Pakistan establishment, in its attempt to manipulate various domestic and foreign actors and try to maintain leverage against the U.S. The Army, the ISI, Zardari and the other civilian politicians – they would sell their own mothers down the river before they would do what’s right for the Pakistani people. And sadly it’s the Pakistani people who continue to pay the price of this absurd but very costly soap opera.

Leaders issued court summons in Mehran base attack case

August 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Sindh High Court has issued notices to a number of political leaders in connection with the case of the attacks on the Mehran naval base in Karachi. Notices have been issued to President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, and most interestingly, Chief of the Armed Services General Kayani. The case is the result of a court petition brought about by a private citizen who alleges that the lapse in security was the responsibility of the named officials.

Another reminder that Pakistan belongs to Military, Inc.

August 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

On July 12, the United States announced that it would withhold US$800 million from Pakistan’s aid budget. This was intended to be a Stern Warning to denote that Washington Means Business when it says that it wants the Pakistani Army to do its complete and total bidding. (After all, what did the Army think all of those billions were for?) The truth is that these funds have only been suspended and not canceled, and we can expect that the aid will resume its flow once the Army and the U.S. come to a new agreement on drone strikes, U.S. covert operations and movement of CIA assets within Pakistan, and of course on targeting those factions of the Pakistani Taliban that the U.S. deems a threat. But what has been telling in this minor kerfuffle is the response of the Army establishment (via the statement released by the Inter-Services Public Relations agency):

“In line with the position taken in the Pakistan-U.S. strategic dialogue in March 2010, it is being recommended to the government that the U.S. funds meant for military assistance to Army be diverted towards economic aid to Pakistan.”

This is not, of course, a grand gesture on the part of the Army that acknowledges the tremendous drain of resources that the Army places on Pakistani society – resources that would be far better used (even in a strictly neoliberal economic sense, in terms of return on investment) in areas like education, health, and infrastructure. In fact, this is the latest strategy being employed by the Army, which continues to use the elected PPP-led government as a vehicle for advancing its own interests but using the cover of electoral democracy to disguise its actions. What this means is that the PPP government is now very publicly hand-in-glove with the Army, and will dutifully transfer the foreign aid being given to them for non-military purposes over to the Army. This strategy also means that the Army brass has also discerned rather shrewdly the game afoot in Washington. As lawmakers in the U.S. become increasingly hostile to Pakistan, and increasingly start using Pakistan as the scapegoat for failed U.S. foreign policy in the region, calls to suspend military aid to Pakistan will become stronger and stronger. So the Army is simply staying ahead of the rising tide. True, it’s short-term thinking, but that seems counter-productive and illogical only if you don’t assume that ALL the Army cares about it is its own very narrow institutional (and frankly, even very personal individual) interests.

Meanwhile, the Army’s statement also had this to say:

“[The Corps Commanders] reiterated the resolve to fight the menace of terrorism in our own national interest using our own resources.”

Hey, generals, here’s a message for you: those are not YOUR resources. They are the resources of the people of Pakistan, and they rightfully belong to the people of Pakistan. You have no right to them. If you want to play war games, go get your own toys.


Kill and Dump: Military Extremism in Balochistan

May 30, 2011 § 3 Comments

Guest post: Nosheen Ali

One morning, in August 2006, the dead body of Captain Zameer Abbas was brought back to Gilgit from Balochistan. At that time, I was a visiting faculty member at the Karakoram University in Gilgit, and was living in the university’s girls hostel. Captain Abbas was amongst the 21 security personnel who had died during Musharraf’s military operation against the Baloch leader, Nawab Akbar Bugti.

With everyone I met that day – students at the university, staff members at a local NGO, shop-keepers, and taxi drivers – the topic of conversation was the Captain’s death. How Zameer Abbas was just 29 years old when he died. How he had gotten married just last month, and how his mother was now in the hospital. For several days, people were mourning the tragedy that had befallen this respected local soldier and his family.

In bitterness and concealed anger, many criticized the way in which the region’s bodies were being used to implement a warped state agenda. In sheer bewilderment, they wondered how the Pakistani government could use fighter jets and gunship helicopters to openly kill a prominent leader of an already marginalized province. When I talked to the hostel’s female cook about the operation, she said, “Killing one’s own people? Where is such a principle followed? Use of force can never be a solution.”

I was shocked at the fact that this failure of logic and humanity was clearly evident to people around me, but seemed to escape so many in the big cities of Pakistan. The state has to enforce its writ, one heard from even the liberal thinkers. Why would any Balochi respect the state’s writ when the state has become synonymous with gross violations of rule of law? One also heard about the tribalism of Baloch society, and how the sardars were exploiting the poor Baloch. There are exploitations along tribal, biradari, and class lines in the whole of Pakistan. Surely, we wouldn’t advocate state violence as a policy to deal with them? Disconnected and depoliticized, many elite members of society simply didn’t bother to become informed. For them, Musharraf was a great leader who was spearheading economic growth, and must be doing the right thing.

The open killing of the 79-year old Bugti, a former governor and elected chief minister of Balochistan, was a watershed moment that radicalized even ordinary, apolitical Balochis to join the long-standing nationalist movement for regional rights and justice. More than 50,000 Baloch were displaced during the extended military operation surrounding the killing. Even worse, national and international organizations were obstructed from providing humanitarian relief to these IDPs for fear of exposure. When UNICEF came out with a report on the condition of the IDPs, its chief was asked to leave the country and other officials were pressurized to retract their words.

The military operation has only intensified over the last five years, with the most brutal forms of state terror being unleashed in the region today. Reportedly, more than 4,000 people have been illegally abducted and detained by our notorious agencies.  According to the organization Voice for Missing Baloch Persons, around 149 of those missing have been murdered and disposed in what has come to be called a “kill and dump” policy. The dehumanizing nature of the violence is evidenced not just in the ways people are tortured – with drilled holes in the head and bodies mutilated beyond recognition – but also in the way they are discarded. One note accompanying a decomposed corpse said, “Eid gift for the Baloch.”

Those who have been kidnapped, tortured, and killed are not just some armed militants hiding in the mountains. A vast proportion of them are from the urban middle class, including students, engineers, lawyers, journalists, and activists who have been engaging in civilian protest against military atrocities. For their families, the possibilities of justice have also been crushed. As the Guardian reported two months ago, a Baloch farmer went to court to file a case for his missing son but his lawyer was murdered. When he subsequently went to the media, the president of the local press club was murdered. Now, no one wishes to speak up for him.

In this devastating situation, why should we be surprised or offended if Baloch kids refuse to sing the national anthem, and local schools refuse to fly the national flag? Why do we shudder when increasing number of people in Balochistan – including women for the first time – cry “Pakistan murdabad”? Every dead body is an embodiment of Pakistani violence, and a renewed resolve to fight for independence. Burning with anger and retaliation, the armed Baloch groups have also resorted to horrific forms of indiscriminate violence. They used to blow up gas pipelines. Now they do target killings. Punjabi settlers, government servants, even Chinese engineers – any blood that the elite might care about.

To address the situation, the present civilian government had introduced the Aghaz-e-Huqooq-e-Balochistan package in November 2009, promising a ban on new military cantonments, a commission on enforced disappearances, and payment of overdue gas royalties. Exactly what was needed. But the civilian government remains powerless in the face of the forces that continue to run and rampage Balochistan – the ISI, the Military Intelligence, and especially the Frontier Corps (FC). US military aid was meant to train and equip the FC to fight the intrusion of the Taliban into Pakistan. Instead, the FC has given shelter and medical relief to the Taliban in Balochistan, and focused on crushing the Baloch – with the same inhumanity, impunity, and imperial arrogance that we often associate with the US in Iraq or Qaddafi in Libya.

Forty years ago, the eminent sociologist Hamza Alavi wrote that it was the Pakistani army itself which was most threatened by the Bengali demand for regional autonomy. The Awami League, which had an absolute majority in Parliament, was committed to aiding development by decentralizing economic policy-making and reducing military expenditure. Moreover, army cadres were fed the self-perpetuating delusion that Bengali nationalism was “an Indian inspired, Indian financed, and Indian engineered move to disrupt the unity of Pakistan.” This was accompanied by an added delusion – that Bengali nationalism was limited to a small number of intellectuals and politicians, and if they were eliminated, the obedience of the Bengali people would be restored.

These our precisely the twin delusions which were used to drive and justify a systematic campaign of violence against Bengalis in 1971, at the hands of our armed forces and its sponsored JI militants, Al-Badr and Al-Shams. We all know the result. These are precisely the delusions that undergird the current campaign of terror in Balochistan, with new sponsored wings such as Baloch Musla Difai Tanzeem and Sipah-e-Shuhda-e-Balochistan. Additionally, the state is steadily mobilizing extremist Islamic forces to quell the secular Baloch struggle.

Hasn’t the use of radical Islam as “strategic depth” in Afghanistan already landed us as well as our neighbors in extremist depth? Don’t we already have enough blood on our hands? The biggest threat to our sovereignty is neither India nor the US; it’s our own military extremism. We desperately and urgently need to hold our military-intelligence regime accountable, and call for an end to army rule as well as the return of all missing people in Balochistan.

The recognition of political, economic, and cultural rights for constituent regions is fundamental for any federation to survive, and is central to the functioning of a modern democracy. Yet generations of Pakistanis have been made to believe the army-backed logic that extending these rights is the vey antithesis of modern nationhood, because it is tantamount to “provincialism” and destroys Pakistani and Muslim unity. This is our fundamental problem. A positive Pakistani identity can never be based on the repression and denial of the many histories and societies that in fact embody the life and spirit of Pakistan. All we have to do is acknowledge and respect them, instead of killing and dumping them.

A version of this article was published in Express Tribune.  Nosheen Ali is a visiting scholar at the Center for South Asia Studies at UC, Berkeley. To contact Nosheen, please email her at

Overheard in Pakistan: Army and OBL

May 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

For sale! Obsolete Pak Army Radar. Can’t detect US Copter BUT CAN RECEIVE STAR PLUS! ONLY RS. 999!


Overheard one-liners. Poetry from the back of the bus. SMS jokes. We’re starting to collect some of our favorites here. Got something to share? Email us at or post it in our comments section.

Overheard in Pakistan: Army and OBL

May 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

On the back of a rickshaw: haarn na maar. Fauj so rahi hai.


Overheard one-liners. Poetry from the back of the bus. SMS jokes. We’re starting to collect some of our favorites. Got something to share? Email us at or post it in our comments section.

Osama bin Laden in English

May 10, 2011 § 3 Comments

This is the tragedy of Pakistan. It has taken the government nearly two weeks to address the country about the nighttime American raid deep inside Pakistani territory that killed al-Qaeda’s chief, Osama bin Laden. And, when it finally did do so –after speaking to the American media– it did it in English. Start at 6:21:

The point is driven home by local coverage of the parliamentary speech by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani: The chyrons (text) are entirely in Urdu; the speech is entirely in English. It’s a visual depiction of the the alienation between the rulers and those they rule. It’s also a testament to the servile obsequiousness that has become the hallmark of our government vis-a-vis the Americans. For highlights of the speech, you can see this video.

All this, while the Army was putting out a contrary message: General Kayani called the American operation a “misadventure” and warned the Americans against such future escapades. This is the military that’s actually responsible for the massive incompetence or more likely, collusion, that kept bin Laden in Abbottabad.

Politicians of all stripes are calling for the resignation of the President and the Prime Minister with little said about what is actually the Army’s mess. This includes the former Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi and cricketeer turned politician, Imran Khan. Will another civilian government be unable to complete its term? Is there a coup in the making? The Army is good at making lemonade out of lemons.

Finally, here’s a link roundup, in no particular order, on OBL:

Share your links and suggestions in the comments.

The “War Economy”

June 7, 2010 § 1 Comment

Pakistan’s 2010-2011 budget was unveiled a few days ago, and there aren’t too many surprises in it. It confirms what we already knew, that the country is in deep trouble with regards to deficits, and the solution of the government is to propose more borrowing. The government also proposes increasing tax revenues, which is based on the government’s agreement to the IMF’s “recommendation” to impose a Value Added Tax in the country (the tax will be implemented starting October 1 of this year). The budget also trims the deficit by reducing some expenditures.

But of course the item that cannot be touched is military spending. That not only remains unchanged but has in fact been increased by SEVENTEEN PERCENT! No other item receives this treatment. And the justification for this outrageous increase? The finance minister, Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, says that Pakistan currently has a “war economy,” which requires a singular focus on the war and presumably he means that all else must be sacrificed for its sake.

It’s hard not to fantasize about the education budget being increased by seventeen percent, or housing for poor people being increased by seventeen percent, or maternal healthcare being increased by seventeen percent… well, you get the idea. What the minister, and the government, fail to realize is that the people of Pakistan have already been living under desperate conditions, and the REAL war that needs to be declared is on poverty, on gender inequality, on the stigmatization of non-Sunnis and non-Muslims, and many, many other problems that plague the country. For example, after 63 years of independence:

The literacy rate is 55%.
Women’s literacy rate is still only a little over half that of men’s.
As many as a quarter of children do not get basic immunizations.
Women have a 1 in 74 chance of dying in childbirth.
One-third of newborns are underweight.
Malnutrition is rampant.
One-fourth of people live on less than US$1 per day.

(Data courtesy of UNICEF)

The problem is that in a “war economy,” the largest consumer of national resources, i.e., the military, will only extend its monopolization of the Treasury. We are told that this is necessary, that it is for our own good. But isn’t it necessary to increase the literacy rate? Isn’t it necessary that women stop dying in childbirth? Isn’t it urgent that children be immunized and that everyone have safe and clean water to drink? The opportunity cost of military spending, which is what we COULD be spending on instead, is very high indeed. We need to remember that if we weren’t spending on tanks and F-16s and generals’ salaries, we could provide all the basic needs of the Pakistani people. Every single one of them. For everyone.

So this latest euphemism isn’t just a “screw you” from the Army, it’s an attempt to further scare Pakistanis into allowing precious national resources to be used for the military, and for the Pakistani people to take on yet more debt to keep the Army engorged. The destinies of future generations have been mortgaged for the sake of the “war economy.”

Meanwhile, the IMF and the World Bank keep pressing Pakistan to reduce social welfare spending, reduce corruption, privatize state-owned enterprises, raise taxes, raise electricity tariffs, etc etc. The “Friends of Democratic Pakistan” group, a set of countries including the United States, which promised Pakistan US$5.3 billion in 2009, has suspended payments pending “reforms” including the implementation of the Value Added Tax (which will be disastrous for consumers, poor people, small businesses).

Yes, Pakistan can manage its financial affairs with greater efficiency. But these “friendly” sources never ask Pakistan to reduce the biggest drain on Pakistan’s economy: military spending. Instead we get euphemisms like the “war economy.”

Kayani’s apology

April 19, 2010 § 3 Comments

The head of the Pakistani Army, General Kayani, has issued an apology for the latest attack in Khyber Agency in which at least 73 innocent civilians were killed. Kayani offered his apology to the leaders of the Kokikhel tribe, which the civilians were members of. It’s important to note that the tribe is a pro-government tribe, and the apology appears to have been motivated at least partly by this fact. The apology does not appear to admit any error or wrong-doing regarding the Army’s overall policy and strategy in this war. Indeed, one might even worry that by offering this apology, the Army can position itself as seemingly concerned about civilian casualties and as generally sensitive to the concerns of the people on the ground, which might then allow it to remain even more fully committed to its war policy.

But let’s remind ourselves what this is all really about. Let us remember that this is the same Kayani who was in Washington just three weeks ago with a fifty-six page shopping list of arms and ammunition that he wanted from the United States. These are weapons designed to kill innocents, but more importantly for the Army, there is much money to be made in weapons deals. So to keep the gravy train going, the Army needs to keep finding punching bags, and right now, the people of FATA are it.

But while we’re at it, let’s ask the Army to apologize for the slaughter of innocents in the following as well:

1971: The East Pakistan/Bangladesh massacre, in which millions may have been murdered
1974: The Baluchistan operation, which massacred thousands
1983: Army operations in Sindh against the MRD movement, killing thousands
Now: Operations in Baluchistan which have killed thousands, as well as the operations in Swat and FATA

And certainly, the brutality and oppression visited on the Afghan people under the Afghan Taliban is more blood on the hands of the Pakistani military establishment.

We don’t want apologies, General Kayani. We demand accountability for the murders that you and the Army have committed for decades.

Protest Military Action! 73 Civilians Killed by Pak Army

April 14, 2010 § 1 Comment

  • Date: Friday April 16, 2010
  • Time: 4pm – 6pm
  • Place: Karachi Press Club

Activists in Karachi have organised a protest against the recent murder of Pakistanis by the Pak Army. This is their statement:


More than 73 civilians have been killed in an air strike by a Pakistani Army jet on a remote village in the country’s troubled North-West, media reports said Tuesday.

A unnamed military official disclosed that the bombing in the tribal Khyber region took place on Saturday, but news of the operation emerged only now.

The same jet was also used for bombing Taliban positions in neighboring Orakzai tribal region where the militants fled to in the wake of the Pakistani Army’s major push to snuff out Taliban strongholds in the Swat region.

Reports of those killed in air strikes in the area vary greatly with the Army terming them militants while locals say there were several civilian casualties as well.

According to the official, initial reports indicated that the military jet strayed from its course and mistook a village for a Taliban camp resulting in the deaths of civilians.

The injured are being treated under heavy guard at the Hayatabad medical complex in Peshawar and reporters have been barred from speaking to the survivors.

Moreover, in a bid to contain the fallout, the Pakistani Army establishment has imposed a “gag clause” preventing military personnel from divulging operational details including deaths of civilians to media.

It is said the Army is under severe pressure from the U.S. to go after Taliban militants in the restive tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and the ongoing offensive against insurgents has displaced close to one million residents of the region.


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