Monday, April 16, 2012

Why Our Shia Citizens Are Suddenly Being Killed In Pakistan?

There is a sudden rise in sectarian attacks in Pakistan in recent weeks, especially focused on Karachi, Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan.

The question that all Pakistanis should ask is this:

Who benefits from inciting sectarian conflict in three strategic locations: in Pakistan's business hub, in the province where the Iran gas pipeline will pass, and near our only land link to China ?

The timing is interesting. It comes when Pakistan rebuffed desperate US calls to reopen the military supply route from Karachi to Afghanistan.

Some of the players behind this mess, like terror group BLA in Balochistan, and two militant Pakistani political parties in Karachi, have links to the United States and India. The TTP enjoys safe havens in US-controlled Afghanistan.

Washington continues to allow the Afghan territory it controls to host TTP terrorists responsible for suicide attacks inside out cities. The same is true for BLA, with the additional Indian involvement in this joint venture with CIA.

This is the kind of hostile environment that we face. It provides context to the violence in Karachi, Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan.

Pakistan faces one more thing: punishment for delaying the reopening of NATO supply route. This is where things get dirty.

As Pakistan continued to ignore US calls for a compromise after the deliberate US attack that killed 24 of our soldiers, pro-US Pakistani allies MQM and ANP, two militant parties that divide Pakistanis according to language, stepped up destabilization of Karachi. [President Zardari helped Asfandyar Wali, ANP leader, secretly meet then CIA director in Spring 2008 in Washington.]  In tandem with violence in Karachi, unknown elements launched assassinations of innocent Pakistani Hazara Shia citizens in Balochistan simultaneously with a similar campaign in Gilgit.

Make no mistake: Our enemies are using Pakistanis for this mayhem. So there is a foreign and a domestic element to this situation. But sectarian terror and groups were largely contained over the past decade. The sudden surge in sectarianism at three strategic Pakistani locations should raise alarm bells.


Internally, our state needs to come down with an iron fist on sectarian parties and militant political parties.

The Political Parties Act needs to be amended to ban any political group or party based on sectarian or linguistic agenda that seeks to divide Pakistanis and distract attention from real issues like prosperity, education and development.

Pakistan also needs to warn Iran against recruiting and financing Pakistani citizens of the Shia sect. The Shia-majority areas of Gilgit-Baltistan were peaceful until the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran which brought with it an Iranian policy of recruiting Shia citizens of neighboring countries. To be fair to Iran, it stopped this policy for more than a decade now but some hard-line elements in Iran continue to pump money and provide some training to extremist Shia groups in Pakistan. These extremist Shia groups do not represent all Pakistani Shia citizens but are better organized thanks to foreign backing.

Similarly, we should seek Saudi action against any private funding from Saudi sources to sectarian Sunni groups in Pakistan. Saudi Arabia ended that kind of support a decade ago but some Pakistani extremist Sunni groups could be receiving funding from private Saudi or other Gulf-based individuals and groups.

In short, both Tehran and Riyadh did limit their links to sectarianism in Pakistan over the past decade. But unfortunately some extremist elements in Iran and Saudi Arabia continue to fund Shia and Sunni extremists in Pakistan. If this is stopped, we can identify other terrorists, acting as Sunni or Shia, who are feeding sectarianism on orders from unknown elements in Afghanistan, a country where multiple countries are operating with different agendas. The Indians have a history of meddling in sectarianism during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. [The Americans are known to have used sectarianism as a policy tool in Iraq. Also, Israel appears to have links to a group called Jundullah, created as a Sunni group to hound Iran.]


Pakistan needs a strong federal government to deal with the external and domestic parts of this destabilization. Unfortunately, we are in the middle of a huge mess in our relations with a belligerent US, while a corrupt and discredited political elite is in power in Islamabad.

To put Pakistan on the right track, we need to get out of America's failed war [we can help them in all possible ways with their demands as they withdraw from Afghanistan on case-by-case basis but we should not be party to an American war of extermination against Afghan Taliban and Afghan Pashtuns.]

At the same time, Pakistan's federal and provincial structures need a revamp. The existing political parties are part of the problem and can't be part of a solution. Pakistan needs a break from general elections for a few years. The focus needs to shift from politics to moneymaking, education, arts. Parties need to be legally reorganized, by force if necessary, to allow new leaderships and new faces. We can reorganize Pakistan into smaller administrative units, each with its own elected chief executive and local parliament running local affairs, with a strong federal government in Islamabad. This would provide a good balance between local and federal governments, and forever end the politics of language and provincialism. Once this is done, we can embark on gradually reintroducing a new, stable and peaceful Pakistani politics and democracy in the country.

This kind of change is not possible through politics. It will need the cooperation of middle class patriotic Pakistanis, the judiciary and the armed forces. And whatever the reservations, we need the muscle of the armed forces to pull this through.

None of this should sound outlandish, not after the great transformations we have seen in places like Egypt and Tunisia. We have already wasted the first decade of the new century. We need to do something for our country and people before it is too late.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

From Mike Wallace To Judith Miller

One of the greats of television journalism is dead. He passed away Saturday night at a caring home in the United States. 

At 93, Mike Wallace leaves behind a tremendous legacy. There is little question that American ingenuity takes the credit for the rise of TV journalism in the world. Mr. Wallace belonged to a generation of American TV professionals who set the standards for what we recognize globally today as news television. 

That generation of American journalists set the bar very high. 

That's the reason why the US media became so influential in the world. It certainly didn't happen because America had a formidable military power. 

What is unfortunate is that influential parts of US media failed to maintain the standards set by Mr. Wallace's generation, of rigorous questioning of authority. And of maintaining a credible distance between journalism and authority. Certainly the media's relationship with government must not be confrontational. But it should not be prone to government manipulation at critical times, such as when the state decides to launch a war of choice characterized by deceit. 

That's what happened with Judith Miller who misled The New York Times, the American people and the world on Iraq and the links between terrorists and WMD.  But she was not alone. NYT editors helped her and the paper become a PR arm for the government. It took one of those editors eight years to come clean on this. 

It gets worse. In recent years, some American editors willingly provided accreditation to intelligence agents disguised as journalists. It happened in the case of Roxana Saberi, caught red handed in Tehran spying for Central Intelligence Agency. She was released under a deal whose terms remain secret but appear to include a commitment on her part never to speak to US media about what she was doing in Iran. She was not a journalist and yet an editor of an American newspaper issued her a press card as cover for spying for CIA in another country. 

After 2002, a new type of journalism invaded US media and we in Pakistan experienced it firsthand. All of a sudden there was a rush of 'news reports' and opinion pieces all seemingly coming from diverse outlets quoting unnamed sources but reading from the same talking points: Pakistan is evil, nukes are up for grab, and this is a place worse than Iraq and hence needs to be fixed. 

None of this has anything to do with Mr. Wallace's legacy. 

And yet his passing provides us an opportunity to remember what endeared America to the world. It is the pure American ingenuity personified by Mr. Wallace's creed. That's the real face of America that the world should see. Not the militaristic, deceitful and the warmongering one personified by Ms. Miller, Ms. Saberi and those who backed them. Recently, this Miller-Saberi side of America has turned hateful, with the near assassination of Gabrielle Gifford and the brutal murder of an Iraqi mother in an American suburb. 

It's been a long way from Mike Wallace to Judith Miller. But it is Wallace that represents what's good about America. Let's stick to that.