The US ‘viceroy’ rules Islamabad

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Sameer Arshad Khatlani

December 12, 2010

Three A’s – Allah, Army, and America – have long defined Pakistan, but perhaps for the first time, the latest Wikileaks revelations have revealed how the US towers above the rest in the country’s affairs. The revelations show the extent of the American involvement in Pakistani politics, much to the embarrassment of the country’s ruling elite. The cablegate has confirmed how America manages Pakistan in every sphere that even Maulana Fazlur Rehman, a bitter critic of the US “imperialism”, lobbied with former US ambassador to Islamabad, Anne Patterson, to help him become the prime minister.

The revelations show the country’s leading players seeking advices, favours, confiding, complaining and pouring their hearts out before Patterson. The ambassador’s good offices were even used to resolve the judicial crisis that threatened to destablize the country’s fledgling civilian government in 2009. Thousands of lawyers, with support from main opposition parties, marched to Islamabad seeking restoration of the judiciary after president Asif Ali Zardari dragged his feet on his promise of restoring chief justice Ifthikhar Chaudhary, whom former ruler Pervez Musharraf had ousted.

Analysts say the disclosure that former National Security Adviser Mahmud Durrani had leaked an in-camera briefing of Pakistan’s spy agency, the inter-services intelligence (ISI), to the country’s parliamentarian to the American embassy really takes the cake. Pakistani analyst, Shireen Mazari, said the revelations have “aggravated mistrust between the state and the nation” and said American ambassadors to Pakistan are no less than “viceroys’’.

The leaks have also, perhaps for the first time, exposed the country’s all-powerful military, deemed for long the “only institution with the country’s interests at heart’’. The revelation that its chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani allowed the US special forces to operate in the country and discussed the possibility of persuading Zardari to resign and replacing him with Frontier Gandhi’s grandson, Asfandyar Wali Khan, with the Americans in 2009 has left the army red-faced.

The leaks have, however, come as the biggest setback for Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Zardari, grappling with credibility crisis. According to the leaked cables, Zardari told Patterson that he feared a coup and that he had made a provision that his sister would be named the president in case he is assassinated.

The cables showing that the Pakistani leadership “quietly acquiesced’’ with the highly-unpopular drone attacks have provoked outrage. Gilani, who tabled a resolution condemning the attacks in Parliament, is quoted as saying that he does not care as long as drones get the right people. “We will protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it.’’

The cables revealed that interior minister Rehman Malik requested an urgent meeting with Patterson in November 2009 and sought “political protection” for Zardari. Malik told her that ISI chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha was “spinning intrigues” against Zardari. An unconvinced Patterson wrote to the US state department that Malik’s view was “either naïve or intentionally misleading”.

Noted American South Asian expert Stephen Cohen said the reference to the role of the US ambassador is nothing new. “I discuss this in my book on Pakistan (2004, before Patterson went there), and, in fact, every US ambassador that I talked to complained that they were being dragged into Pakistani politics by politicians and even the military and that they were all distressed at the lack of political integrity in Pakistan,” he said, and insisted that “Indians should not gloat when their neighbor’s house is on fire”.

Islamabad Dateline editor Kamran Rehman agrees with Mazari, saying one of the first lessons a student of Pakistani politics and history learns “is that the US ambassador to Pakistan is, for all practical purposes, a viceroy’’. Small wonder, he adds, a shrewd cleric-politician “with a sharp eye for spoils of power, had no qualms about seeking Patterson’s blessings — an image in complete contrast to his public conduct’’.

The Wikileaks have dealt a body blow to American’s covert operations in Pakistan and put the country’s leadership in the dock over the embarrassing closed doors conduct. But it is unlikely to change the Washington-Islamabad equation. “The US will continue to be the Captain Kirk of the Pakistani Starship Enterprise,’’ says Rehmat.

Noted American-Pakistani historian Ayesha Jalal has a different take on the issue. “For someone, who has been using diplomatic sources for decades, I do not detect anything especially unusual about the exchanges.’’ She says all that is new “is the efficiency with which the media can stir up a storm across the globe in no time” and insists that it was too early to analyze the disclosures. “A substantive analysis of the disclosures must await, but I doubt we have with their help managed to capture all the intricacies of the US policymaking in the contemporary context.”

Rehmat, meanwhile, is optimistic. “The leaks are probably the best thing to have happened to Pakistan’s people — they are now definitely aware of where they stand with regard to their elected and un-elected leadership.’’

(First published in the Times of India)

How Jaish turned on the Pakistani state

JeM hit the Pakistani army where it hurt the most by targeting its chief and engineering dissents within its ranks a year after it was banned following the attack on the Indian Parliament

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Sameer Arshad Khatlani
Jan 10, 2016

The windshield of Pervez Musharraf ‘s armoured car was damaged as two suicide bombers rammed their explosive-laden cars into his motorcade in Rawalpindi on December 25, 2003. The military ruler escaped unhurt. But the second attempt on his life in 11 days shook Musharraf beyond belief.

The abortive bids to cripple Pakistan army’s command and control forced Musharraf to turn to his trusted aide, Rawalpindi Corps CommanderAshfaq Pervez Kayani, to probe the conspiracy behind it. His worst fears were confirmed as Kayani sifted through the evidence and concluded the bids on his boss’s life were an inside job, leading to the arrest of 56 Pakistani soldiers.

Five of the soldiers, including air force technician Adnan Rasheed, were sentenced to death as they were found guilty of sharing information with banned Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) for Musharraf ‘s assassination.

Rasheed, whom Taliban freed after attacking a prison in Bannu in 2012, confessed to having been trained at a JeM camp. It was also revealed that explosives used in the first assassination bid were stolen from an air force station.

JeM had hit the army where it hurt the most by targeting its chief and engineering dissents within its ranks a year after it was banned following the attack on the Indian Parliament. The crackdown on the outfit that followed has clearly yielded little as JeM proved its lethality by attacking the Pathankot airbase.

JeM’s history should make it easier for PM Nawaz Sharif to make good on his promise of “decisive” action against the Pathankot attack perpetrators. His assurance of cooperation after two meetings with top officials, including Army chief Raheel Sharif and National Security Adviser Nasir Janjua, appear to be the steps in this direction.

Groups like JeM are also covered under Pakistan’s National Action Plan (NAP), which was formulated after an all-party meeting in the wake of the Peshawar school massacre to root out terrorism of all hues.

The anti-Taliban operations intensified as part of the NAP have yielded significant gains and led to a major decline in violence. JeM turned its guns on the Pakistani state after Musharraf signed up for the US war on terror in 2001. The group was riled further when Omar Saeed Sheikh was arrested in 2002 and sentenced to death for journalist Daniel Pearl’s murder.

Sheikh was released from an Indian prison along with JeM founder Masood Azhar in exchange for a hijacked Indian Airlines plane in 1999. Azhar, who went underground in 2008, is believed to have made common cause with the Pakistani Taliban as they emerged as a formidable force seeking to overthrow the Pakistani state. JeM was reported to have trained Taliban guerrillas in Swat valley when they briefly overran the region in 2009.

In 2014, Pakistani media cited a 2011 intelligence report warning Azhar’s seminary in Bahawalpur was “actively fanning radicalism” and counted Taliban faction Ahrar-ul-Hind’s Umar Qasmi among its alumnus. Qasmi had claimed responsibility for attacks like 2014 Islamabad district court bombing.

Earlier in 2009, JeM was reported to have tied up with groups like Lashkar-eJhangvi, whose leader Malik Ishaq was killed along with his two sons in an “exchange of fire” with police in July 2015. Sharif ‘s aide, Shuja Khanzada, a former ISI field officer in charge of the NAP in Punjab, was killed in retaliation to Ishaq’s killing a month later.

The context makes JeM a compelling target under the NAP. Backsliding is not an option as the greater goal of mutual coexistence and better future of South Asia is at stake.

Courtesy: The Times of India

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Fixing India-Pakistan antagonism: Cross-border religious tourism is lowest-hanging fruit

The 2005 restoration of Katas Raj temple complex in Pakistan’s Punjab provides the blueprint for taking the process forward

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Sameer Arshad Khatlani

Dec 26, 2015

Singer Anup Jalota’s bhajan ‘prabhuji tum chandan hum pani’ played in the background as a saffron-robed priest purified Krishna, Radha and Hanuman’s idols with milk for their installation at Lahore’s Krishna Temple in February 2007. The temple on Ravi Road in Pakistan’s cultural capital was packed with devotees, many of whom occupied the corridor and stairs to witness the unusual murti sathapna amid Hindu chants.

The India-Pakistan detente (2003-2008) had allowed a group of Indian pilgrims’ to carry out the first sathapna at the temple since partition virtually emptied out Hindus and Sikhs of west Punjab and Muslims of the region’s eastern part.

The sathapna was perhaps the little-known high-point of the thaw before the attacks on Mumbai derailed the process in 2008.

The inclusion of religious tourism now in the recently-announced India-Pakistan dialogue should allow the two countries to pick up the threads on this front to promote greater people-to-people contact.

The 2005 restoration of Katas Raj temple complex in Pakistan’s Punjab provides the blueprint for taking the process forward.

Ex-deputy prime minister L K Advani’s choice for inaugurating the restoration project was highly symbolic and contributed to goodwill during that period.

It showed the willingness to move beyond the toxic legacy of partition and Advani’s Babri Masjid demolition campaign, which triggered anti-Muslim violence reminiscent of the grisly bloodbath in 1947.

The first religious service at Katas since partition was held with much fanfare in 2006. But tense India-Pakistan ties have left its religious tourism potential unrealised.

Religious tourism is perhaps the best way to engage the religious right, which is seen to be most resistant to altering status quo in bilateral ties. It is the lowest-hanging fruit that could be harnessed for a positive impact on solving more fractious issues.

Cross-border Muslim and Sikh religious tourism has thrived for decades. And the addition of two shrines associated Hindu triumvirate’s third god, Shiva, to it in Pakistan — Katas and Hinglaj — can potentially generate unparalleled goodwill.

Katas’s importance to the Hindu mythology could draw Indian pilgrims in droves if they are encouraged like Sikhs. Seven temples in Katas are dedicated to Amar Kund. It is one of the two sacred ponds believed to have been created after Lord Shiva’s tears fell on the earth at Katas and Pushkar as he mourned his consort, Sati.

Even Mahabharata protagonist Yudhishthira is said to have passed his wisdom test at Katas to bring his four siblings to life during their exile there.

Over a thousand-km away, Mata Hinglaj Temple in Baluchistan’s remote mountains is one of 52 shaktipeeths believed to have been created at places where body parts of Shiva’s consort, Parvati, had fallen.

In Hinglaj, Parvati’s forehead with vermillion mark had fallen after Shiva took her corpse around following her self-immolation.

Muslims revere the shrine and call it Nani Pir. This was evident when then Baluchistan chief minister late Jam Mohammad Yousaf refurbished the shrine in 2007.

Accounts of pilgrimage to Hinglaj date back to the fourth century. It was among the toughest pilgrimages, which took 45 days via Karachi before partition. A Uttam Kumar-starrer Bengali film captured the perilous journey to Hinglaj in the 1950s.

Ex-defence minister Jaswant Singh had led a group of Indian pilgrims to Hinglaj for the first time since partition in February 2006.

The fresh peace process could boost reopening of shrines like Sharda Peeth, dedicated to Goddess Saraswati on the Pakistani side of Kashmir, and become symbols of enduring peace if India-Pakistan ties do not take the familiar schizophrenic trajectory.

Courtesy: The Times of India

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Nawaz Sharif cedes more ground to the army

Sharif has had a series of run-ins with the establishment over his three tenures that have led to removal from power twice

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Sameer Arshad Khatlani

Dec 13, 2015

When Lt Gen Nasir Khan Janjua was appointed as national security adviser (NSA) in October, it signalled tightening of Pakistani military establishment’s control over the country’s security and foreign affairs.

The appointment had been in the works for months and was effected in particular to ensure the establishment had its man in the thick of engagements with India that restarted with Janjua’s meeting with his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, in Bangkok on December 6. The need for someone like Janjua was felt after Sharif was seen to have given in again following his meeting with Indian PM Narendra Modi in Ufa, Russia, in July.

The establishment was aghast to see its key concerns like Kashmir missing from the joint statement issued after the meeting and forced it to prevail upon Sharif to have Janjua replace his loyalist, Sartaj Aziz.

Aziz has been the odd one out as the only non-military NSA Pakistan has had so far.

Janjua fits the bill also because he retired as the chief of Pakistan army’s Quetta-based Southern Command, where he led anti-insurgency operations in Baluchistan.

His expertise is believed to be crucial as Islamabad seeks to counter allegations of fostering terror in India with accusations of India’s backing of Baluch insurgents.

Janjua was involved in Azm Nau (new resolve) war games as well. Azm Nau is a response to India’s Cold Start Doctrine that seeks to launch conventional strikes against Pakistan before the world comes to know about it without provoking a nuclear attack.

Janjua is seen to be the ideal person to keep Sharif on a tight leash vis-a-vis his India policy and deal effectively with his assertive Indian counterpart.

The establishment has long been suspicious of Sharif over his unilateral goodwill in defiance of its desire for parity with Delhi.

Janjua’s appointment is the latest compromise Sharif has made with the establishment since he faced third unceremonious removal from power when opposition leader Imran Khan led a campaign against him over “poll fraud” last year. Sharif has had a series of run-ins with the establishment over his three tenures that have led to removal from power twice.

He appeared to be once bitten twice shy when the army appeared to be the force behind the campaign to remove him in 2014. The army had booted Sharif first out of power in 1993 before he had his way briefly during his second stint.

Sharif forced army chief Jehangir Karamat to quit before the bid to sack his successor, Pervez Musharraf, boomeranged, leading to his exile.

He has acknowledged his India policy was partly responsible for his downfall in 1999 and his attempts to pick up the threads from where he had left then made things difficult for him in his current term. He backed good ties with India with calls for unilateral visa-free travel for Indians and Siachen demilitarization when he returned to Pakistan in 2007.

Sharif fought the 2013 election promising peace with India and declared his victory was a mandate for building bridges. He described peaceful relations with India as “the cardinal principle” of his foreign policy in his 2014 Independence Day speech.

Sharif earlier visited India to attend Modi’s inauguration defying hawks, whom he enraged further by defying the norm and not meeting Kashmiri separatists.

 He instead chose a meet a steel tycoon, who later reportedly arranged his secret meeting with Modi in Kathmandu.

The alleged meeting gave grist to the rumour mill in Pakistan that Sharif ‘s steel business interests force him to bend over backwards to please India.

Courtesy: The Times of India

Resurgent Pakistani army cuts Nawaz Sharif to size

The army had somewhat lost its sway after the lawyers’ movement ousted Pervez Musharraf from power in 2008 and Osama bin Laden’s killing in its backyard

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Sameer Arshad Khatlani

Nov 28, 2015

Pakistan army chief Gen Raheel Sharif spent a day with Strategic Plans Division commandos, guarding the country’s nukes, before flying to the US for a five-day trip on November 15.

The optics reaffirmed — if at all there was any doubt — who really matters in Pakistan by addressing the key nuclear security concerns.

Gen Sharif‘s visit followed that of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s US trip a month earlier during which nuke safety was among the points stressed in a joint statement.

The army had stamped its authority days before PM Sharif’s visit with Lt Gen Naseer Khan Janjua’s elevation as the national security advisor in place of his loyalist, Sartaj Aziz.

Gen Sharif had riled PM Sharif four days before his US by reminding him about the need for good governance after a corps commander meeting.

The army chief’s muscle-flexing underlines his rising stock since he brushed aside PM Sharif’s reluctance and launched an all-out operation against the Taliban in June 2014.

The operation showed immediate results with civilian casualties going down to 159 in 2014 against 1,116 when the Taliban insurgency peaked in 2008.

The casualties have gone down further substantially in 2015 and created a sense of euphoria that prompted The New York Times to call Gen Sharif “the most popular man in public office”.

Gen Sharif’s popularity, underlined by the use of his pictures in electioneering, has legitimised the army’s stranglehold over foreign, security affairs and altered PM Sharif’s zealously conciliatory India policy.

The army had somewhat lost its sway after the lawyers’ movement ousted Pervez Musharraf from power in 2008 and Osama bin Laden’s killing in its backyard.

The resurgence has forced PM Sharif to accept his diminished stature, which he had earlier fought valiantly and lost power twice over it. His capitulation has been described as a silent coup without the risks of an overt takeover.

Gen Sharif’s family history, too, adds to his popularity, which offers consolation to many Pakistanis in the otherwise disastrous history of wars with India.

His uncle, Major Aziz Bhatti, enjoys a legendary status among war heroes, whose heroics are taught in schools. Bhatti was killed preventing Indian soldiers advance after they crossed the Wagah border in 1965 and had the Lahore cantonment within the range of their tanks.

Gen Sharif’s brother, Major Shabbir Sharif, followed his warrior Rajput family tradition by receiving highest military gallantry award posthumously like Bhatti after the 1971 war.

His battlefield heroics are part of the country’s folklore. More so, as they were a rare ray of success in a war in which Pakistan was routed, demoralised and dismembered.
Shabbir was killed in Punjab’s Fazilka sector after legendary hand-to-hand combat with Major Narain Singh. The two wrestled with each other while other soldiers were ordered against intervening. According to the Pakistani version, Shabbir killed Singh in the fight after he charged on their positions, lobbed a grenade and prevented Indian soldiers from firing. An Indian T-54 tank shot hit Shabbir and killed him the next day.
The Indian account refutes the version saying Singh did not die in the hand-to-hand combat. He died while being taken to a medical room after a hail of bullets wounded him as he charged at Pakistani positions.


Courtesy: The Times of India

Pakistani leaders strike the right note on Diwali

The Pakistan Peoples Party counts Hindus among its committed vote bank

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Sameer Arshad Khatlani
Nov 16, 2015

• Pakistan leaders echoed each other in supporting minority rights at separate festivities

• PM Nawaz Sharif Nawaz Sharif told Hindus he will stand by them if they are in distress

• Imran Khan promised equal citizenship for minorities at a rally

In an inherently adversarial political culture, very rarely do rival Pakistani politicians speak in one voice. Diwali was one such rare occasion when leaders of three top political parties, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, echoed each other in supporting minority rights at separate festivities.

Sharif flew to Karachi on Wednesday to take part in Diwali festivities amid a war of words with military establishment after it put him under pressure again by publically ticking him off over tackling terror.

 An unfazed Sharif spoke passionately about minority rights, insisting all religions in Pakistan enjoyed equal rights while pledging to safeguard them at a function, where Gayatri Mantra was recited along with the Quran. He told Hindus he will stand by them if they are in distress. “Even if a Muslim commits an injustice, I will stand with the victim,” said Sharif.

“Minorities are part of Pakistan and it is my duty to protect them,” said Sharif, who became the first prime minister to attend Diwali festivities. He said he had long been asking his Hindu friends to invite his to Holi festivities. “Do invite me and splash colour on me.”

Sharif underlined he is prime minister of all communities. “Minorities are part of Pakistan and it is my duty to protect them,” said Sharif, who became the first prime minister to attend Diwali festivities. He said he had long been asking his Hindu friends to invite his to Holi festivities. “Do invite me and splash colour on me.”

Sharif called Diwali a celebration of struggle against evil while announcing the construction of a hospital named after spiritual leader Bhagat Kunwar in Hyderabad (Sindh).

His arch-rival, Imran Khan, promised equal citizenship for minorities at a rally amid fireworks in Hindu-dominated Umerkot a day after Diwali.

He said treatment of minorities would be exemplary in the ‘New Pakistan’ he promises to build. “We will take such care of minorities; make them equal citizens that Narendra Modi would be ashamed of himself over what is happening in India,” he said amid loud cheers.

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari joined the Hindus for Diwali festivities in Hindu-dominated Mithi in Tharparkar, where he cut a cake and enjoyed dandia performance.

Bilawal expressed happiness that every house was lit up with diyas for Diwali while claiming religious freedom and harmony was being destroyed in India.

He said the PPP considers Diwali as its own festival, but Modi does not even celebrate Eid while assuring his party would not discriminate on the religious basis. “We will continue to celebrate Eid and Diwali together, all under the flag of the PPP and the flag of Pakistan.”

The outreach comes ahead of next week’s local bodies elections in Sindh; where over 90% Pakistani Hindus live.

Most of the Hindus are concentrated in Umerkot (49%), Tharparkar (46%) and Mirpurkhas (33%). The Hindu population varies from 8-19% elsewhere in Sindh, where PPP rules and counts Hindus among its committed vote bank.

In Tharparkar alone, 500 Hindus are contesting the elections and Bilawal made it a point to ask voters to vote for his party.

Bilawal even likened his rival in the region, Arbab Ghulam Rahim, to Ravan while promising to rid the region of his influence and celebrate Diwali again when the election results would be announced on November 19.

Political expediency aside, journalist Beena Sarwar, a lifelong champion of minority rights, insisted the outreach was genuine as part of the efforts to change the narrative, which threatened to tear apart the country before an apparently successfully zarb-e-azab operation was launched to root out extremism in 2014.

Sharif has his work cut out as minorities face myriad problems, including negative portrayal in textbooks that ends up othering and promoting ill will against them.

Courtesy: The Times of India

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