Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Pakistan: another journalist killed

Journalism is a risky profession, more so in Pakistan: For the past two years, Pakistan has been the deadliest country in the world for journalists, according to CPJ research. At least seven journalists were killed in direct relation to their work in 2011, says Committee to Protect Journalists in its January 17 report. Five of them were in targeted killings. Another was killed on Tuesday near Peshawar in Pakhtunkhwa province where in most parts the state has either outsourced or lost sovereignty to extremists in its pursuit of 'strategic interests' in bordering Afghanistan.
Mukarram Khan Aatif was a correspondent for private TV station Dunya News and also worked for Deewa Radio, a Pashto-language channel of the Voice of America. He was praying in a mosque near his home in Shabqadar, a town near Peshawar, when two gunmen entered the mosque, shot him several times, and fled on a motorcycle. 
Taliban spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan called The Associated Press and said the Pakistani group took responsibility for the killing. Ihsan said Aatif had been warned "a number of times to stop anti-Taliban reporting, but he didn't do so. He finally met his fate."
Atif earlier left his hometown in Mohmand, a Taliban-infested tribal agency that borders Afghanistan, when he received threats because of his journalistic work. Journalists, especially those working in the volatile tribal areas, face threats from several actors--intelligence agencies of the state included.
Atif is the 77th journalist killed in Pakistan since January 2000 and till date no culprit has been named, arrested or punished in any of these cases. This has emboldened both the state agencies and the extremists to kill those journalists with impunity who do not toe their line. The high-profile murder of Saleem Shehzad, who wrote about Al-Qaeda's connection with Pakistan's Navy, was probed by a judicial commission. However, the commission filed its report after a six-month inquiry, without naming the murderers.
Daily Express Tribune in its January 13 report says that about the possible reason behind the brutal killing of the journalist was the conclusion that "in all likelihood, the motive behind the incident was provided by the writings of Saleem [Shehzad]. What is not so clear is the question of who had that motive and actually acted upon it."
In other words, Shehzad the victim is to blame for his own killing, which gives a license to everybody with an interest in suppressing the truth to kill with impunity. States have a monopoly on violence, but when state institutions abrogate transparency and accountability in their use of violence, they also abrogate their monopoly on violence.
When states use proxy forces for their strategic and security purposes, non-state actors become states unto themselves while journalists become target to be taken out.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Pakistan at the crossroads, once again

Pakistan army, in a charged political environment, has decided to provide security to Mansur Ijaz when he lands in the country to testify in the memogate case. Pakistan’s military chief met top commanders at the general headquarters Thursday amid a widening rift between the powerful armed forces and the civilian government.
The meeting lasted for 10 hours which was not only attended by the corps commanders but by the Principal Staff Officers of Pakistan army as well. The meeting took place in the backdrop of a standoff between the government and the armed forces over the memogate scandal which is being probed by a judicial commission.
However, it is not clear from whom the army would protect Ijaz, a shadowy character who has blamed Pakistan's former ambassador to the U.S. Hussain Haqqani for dictating to him a memo asking then U.S. army chief Admiral Mike Mullen's help against a feared coup when Al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden was taken out by U.S. Marines in Abbottabad on May 2 last year.
But it is clear that army is behaving, instead of a state institution, as a state unto itself by speaking to the government through the media, and that too in a threatening tone. It is one of the rare moments in the history of the country that army is hurling threats at the government instead of toppling it. Many observers are of the opinion that Pakistan's army never wants to usurp power when the state coffers are empty, which is the situation right now.
The May 2 incident rid the world of a high-profile terrorist, embarrassed Pakistan's armed forces, especially its intelligence outfit the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and offered the civilian government an opportunity to reclaim its authority by rolling some key heads heads on many counts. But, in the flush of misplaced nationalism, the whole political disposition became jingoistic in tone.
Instead of taking them to task, the president, the prime minister and the parliament stood by a demoralized army whose ego had been injured not by the presence of Bin Laden but by the U.S. Marine's sting operation. In Pakistan, the strength of a civilian government lies in the weakness of the army--and that was that moment. Now the armed forces are beating the war drums as democracy seems wobbling.
However, leaders can turn their weakness in strength by showing perseverance at a time when the system looks shaky and the adversary indomitable. As the Persian proverb goes: mardee wa namardee qadme fasila daa rud [Manliness and unmanliness are just a step apart]. At a critical moment, like the present one, just a step forward or backwards makes a difference.
It is now a defining moment for democracy in Pakistan. If the prime minister and the president show enough courage by not stepping back, they can save democracy--and their necks too; if they step back, then its a setback both for democracy and their own political careers.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Pakistan, Durkheim and morality

While reading Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), the French sociologist, exactly one year after Governor Salman Taseer was gunned down by a demented character, I came across the following note which applies quite more aptly to present-day Pakistan than France of the yore:
When society undergoes suffering, it feels the need to find someone whom it can hold responsible for its sickness, on whom it can avenge its misfortunes: and those against whom public opinion already discriminates are naturally designated for this role. These are the pariahs who serve as expiatory victims. What confirms me in this interpretation is the way in which the result of Dreyfus's trial was greeted in 1894. There was a surge of joy in the boulevards. People celebrated as a triumph what should have been a cause for public mourning. At least they knew whom to blame for the economic troubles and moral distress in which they lived. The trouble came from the Jews. The charge had been officially proved. By this fact alone, things already seemed to be getting better and people felt consoled.
Alfred Dreyfus was a Jewish army captain, who had been court-martialled for treason, an act which had been felt by many to be anti-Semitic. Durkheim was deeply offended by the Dreyfus affair, particularly its antisemitism, but he saw it as a symptom of the moral sickness confronting French society as a whole.
To Durkheim, the answer to the Dreyfus affair and crises like it lay in ending the moral disorder in society. Because that could not be done quickly or easily, Durkheim suggested more specific actions such as severe repression of those who incite hatred of others and government efforts to show the public how it is being misled.  He urged people to have the courage to proclaim aloud what they think, and to unite together in order to achieve victory in the struggle against public madness.
If we replace Dreyfus with Taseer, it looks Durkheim is talking about Pakistan: Mumtaz Qadri, the murderer, is being lionized and is greeted with flower petals--not in the 1894 France, but in the 21st century Pakistan. People celebrated as a triumph what should have been a cause for public mourning. Countries and nations pass through their dark periods and march towards a bright future; Pakistani society willfully stumbles into the dark age. Painfully, it does it with a panache of its own: feeling no remorse and taking pride on something it should have been ashamed of.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Taliban gets an address--and recognition too

It is not surprising to know that the U.S. and Pakistan have been in talks with the Taliban of their respective choices.  But it surely is demoralizing for those who want to see extremism defeated in Afghanistan and Pakistan. 
The Afghan Taliban have agreed to open a political office in Doha, Qatar, to kick-start negotiations with the U.S., which wants to pull its troops out of Afghanistan by 2014--come rain or shine. Pakistan is talking to another kind of the Taliban that have 'gone astray' after they were unleashed to find a strategic depth for it in Afghanistan.
The U.S. wants to disengage the Taliban from Pakistan's influence which could make them agree to share power with President Hamid Karzai. Initially, Karzai had been kept out of the loop which prompted him to call back Afghanistan's ambassador from Doha in protest.
Both Pakistan and Karzai look askance at the U.S.'s single-handed overtures to the Taliban: Karzai, sensing betrayal, fears for his power--and his life too--in any new arrangement in Afghanistan. Pakistan does not want to sit on the fence while the fate of Afghanistan is being decided. This can bring Karzai closer to Pakistan and together they can spoil the game for the U.S.
Whether these talks succeed or fail, it has already emboldened extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They have been accorded a recognition by giving the Taliban an address. It does not mean that one does not want a negotiated peace in Afghanistan. But, the U.S. seems to be negotiating only for its in-time withdrawal from Afghanistan.
It seems that the people of Afghanistan are in for another bout of retributive punishment when a victorious Taliban revisit their blighted country after another super power makes a shameful flight. Across the border, the elks of the Taliban will be readying to punish and discipline the people of Pakistan.
And then, people in the U.S. will ask once again: "Why do they hate us?" Better they this time ask this question from their government.