Pakistan


It is somewhat futile to complain about people granting more attention to cause X than causes Y and Z. Our empathetic capabilities are limited and our feelings are not proportioned according to the consequences of events but a myriad of ethical, aesthetic, opportunistic and circumstantial factors. Typically, when a lot of people care about one issue the alternative is their ignoring all of them. Had people stopped being interested in Kony 2012, they would not have begun to campaign to end starvation; save the whales and preserve Dandy magazine but gone back to laughing at pictures of cats in hamster wheels.

Still, while so many are so outraged by the treatment of activists who kicked up a stink in someone else’s church it would be nice to have more realisation of the fact millions don’t have the freedom of peace in their own homes. The Guardian reports on how the reaction to the supposed blasphemy of an 11-year-old girl has endangered hundreds of Pakistani Christians…

An 11-year-old Christian Pakistani girl could face the death penalty under the country’s notorious blasphemy laws, after she was accused by her neighbours of deliberately burning sacred Islamic texts.

Rifta Masih was arrested on Thursday, after complaints against her prompted angry demonstrations. Asif Ali Zardari, the president, has ordered the interior ministry to investigate the case.

As communal tensions continued to rise, about 900 Christians living on the outskirts of Islamabad have been ordered to leave a neighbourhood where they have lived for almost two decades.

On Sunday, houses on the backstreets of Mehrabadi, an area 20 minutes’ drive from western embassies and government ministries, were locked with padlocks, their occupants having fled to already overcrowded Christian slums in and around the capital.

One of the senior members of the dominant Muslim community told the Christians to remove all their belongings from their houses by 1 September. “I don’t think anyone will dare go back after this,” said one Christian, Arif Masih. “The area is not safe for us now.”

Being a Christian in Pakistan is something like being the only Celtic fan at Ibrox on a baking August day in which the only liquid in the stadium is beer. It is, however, much scarier. Asia Bibi remains in jail – three years after she was attacked under suspicion of the “crime” of insulting Muhammad and almost two since she was sentenced to death for it.

To say the country’s religious Muslims are intolerant to difference is like saying that bubble boys are sensitive to infection. Last year another Christian schoolgirl was the focus of controversy for nothing more than a naive misspelling. Tasked with writing a poem to celebrate Muhammad, she added a gratuitous dot to the term “naat”, which refers to devotional poems, and thus turned it into “lanaat”, which means damnation. She was thrashed by her teacher and expelled from her school; her Mother was banished from the town and the family fled the region.

I suspect that Masih won’t be sentenced to death – as, if nothing else, it would make aid to Pakistan untenable – but the threat of vigilantism remains acute. Shahbaz Batti, the one Christian in the Pakistani cabinet, was gunned down merely for opposing the nation’s blasphemy laws. The fact that such grandees aren’t immune from vengeance, nor people as young as Masih safe from violent indignation, intimidates the nation’s other Christians into staying quiet and not posing the slightest challenge to the self-righteous supremacists.

A BBC programme claims to have uncovered evidence that the ISI – Pakistan’s intelligence force – works with the Taliban. Right. Anyone surprised? It took me a while to figure out what a corrupt organisation it is – the ISI, that is, not Aunty B – but I doubt the world’s largest military powers can plead naivete. The US must have known they were on friendly terms with Islamic radicals for the simple reason that they were both funding them. They’ve known for years that relationships are still warm. They’ll even exploit this

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday admitted the United States held one exploratory meeting with the Haqqani network, which an official said took place before a series of massive attacks.

A US official said Pakistan’s main spy Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate had arranged for the meeting with the Islamists that took place “in the summer”, before two symbolic anti-American attacks in Afghanistan.

What I’m trying to say is that I find it hard to believe the U.S. is being played; I think they’re playing. I mean, everyone from Nafeez Ahmed to our old friend Con Coughlin have known of the ISI’s complicity with terrorism. And for years, as well. The notion that they’re sincere opponents of the spawn of the muhajideen is the most farcical since Ryan Giggs claimed to be monogamous. You really think US intelligence, with all the knowledge that an 80 billion-a-year budget can provide, haven’t cottoned on? Of course they have! For whatever reason they just choose to tolerate it.

I’ve seen the idea expressed on some anti-war sites that the US blames Pakistan for atrocities or incompetence to justify their regional interventions. Well, perhaps, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they take the rap for things that Western forces were involved in, but it seems unlikely as I’ve always thought a reason they’re fond of “secret” wars – drones, commando raids; that kind of thing – is that they’re not compelled to justify them. No one really cares.

Isn’t this one of the most sinister quotes you’ve read?

“They can’t live with us. They can’t live without us,” [Pakistani Prime Minister] Gilani told reporters. “So, I would say to them that if they can’t live without us, they should increase contacts with us to remove misunderstandings.”

Christopher Hitchens is demanding that the U.S. separate itself from Pakistan. That’s something I’ve wished for Britain – after, it’s only fair to say, a long-held ignorance of how insane the state is – but I think America – yes, even if it wanted to – would find it hard to draw back from their unseemly embrace. The Pakistani state has more internal contradictions than the collected works of M. Night Shyamalan. It’s a corrupt and dangerous institution, yes, but considering that whoever rules the nation has sufficient firepower to drag us close to the apocalypse it may be preferable to the alternatives. I don’t know the answer.

What’s provoked the latest, er – “misunderstanding” between America and Pakistan is the former’s claim that intelligence agents of the latter are cooperating with the Haqqani Network – a sort of jihadist Mafia that funds its terrorism through extortion, drug smuggling and the like. This alliance has been a theme of Nafeez Ahmed’s writings.

It’s enlightening to see how this Haqqani bloke rose to prominence, though. In the late 1980s he was an asset of the CIA as they aided the mujahedeen in their fight against the Soviets. Funds and arms were liberally distributed to his group, which soon became a major player in Afghanistan.

This man wasn’t just an asset – he was seen as quite the hero. Congressman Charlie Wilson claimed he was “goodness personified”. A U.S. intelligence official said, admiringly, that he could “kill Russians like you wouldn’t believe”. No one seems quite sure of when this bond snapped. Even after 9/11, it’s claimed, the U.S. met with Haqqani to see if he’d change his loyalties from the Taliban to the U.S. and Pakistanis. That’s a conversation I’d have liked to hear.

The U.S. adventures in the region, then, contributed to the destruction and instability that now leads people to feel they’re compelled to stay: emboldening fickle “allies” and inspiring enemies. That’s also true of Afghanistan, of course. Last week Hitchens was informing us of the sad necessity of endless war. The lesson of Haqqani and his comrades in the Taliban is surely that America isn’t locked into perpetual war, but perpetuates it with needless and reckless involvement. These problems, in other words, seem to make the the case for less intervention, and while I’m not enough of an expert to offer a solution here I can’t help suspecting it’s a decent place to start. As someone who’s watched too many ill-fated relationship drag out past the time they were salvageable, I doubt it can end well.

A word on our friends the Pakistanis, though. Gilani talks about “misunderstandings”. Last year he was insisting that bin Laden was “not in Pakistan” – something credulous observers like myself presumed was his belief. Now, he was either gravely wrong or involved in some form of cover-up. That’s one “misunderstanding” I’d like to see addressed.

Last year David Cameron said our nation’s bond with Pakistan was “unbreakable”. Let’s hope it’s unbreakable in the sense that the Titanic was unsinkable. We might try to aid its people (or play its cricket team) but its state is too corrupt to be anything more than dangerous.

I trusted – to some extent – their claims that they had no idea of bin Laden’s whereabouts. (Doubtless it was true of some – I use the term “they” broadly.) Wounded pride could be fraying the corners of my reason, then, but I still think they must have known of where the git was loitering. Let’s run through the possible scenarios…

  • bin Laden was living in a gated villa in one of the most-armed cities in the nation and no one knew he was there.

Possible. Then again, what isn’t? This man was among the most notorious on Earth and would have been an ill, wounded and quite demanding one at that. It’s massively unlikely that he dwelled in serene isolation.

  • bin Laden’s been dead for ages and they’ve just brought him out.

Possible. Yet Pakistan’s authories would have to be complicit. After all, they’ve not denied the U.S. narrative.

  • bin Laden was a guest of (some of) the Pakistani secret services, military and government officials.

Very possible.

The implications of these scenarios are grave. It seems probable that supposed “allies” of the U.S. people have been harbouring a man suspected of plotting the attack that slaughtered thousands of them. Oh, sure, I might be picky but that’s not the way friends should behave. Add to it the knowledge that their secret services have aided terrorists across the world and an unsavoury – no, outrageous – picture of corruption builds.

Yet I’m not sure the U.S. are going to act. John Brennan has said they’ll have “candid conversations” (scary!) while Obama’s still acting as if they’re an ally. Tossing bin Laden’s cadaver into the drink doesn’t just leave room for questioning the circumstances of his death, it means we’ll never know what kind of shape the old bastard was in. If his kidneys were being treated, say, or his war wounds seen to then it’d be compelling evidence that he wasn’t just crouching in his secret lair but a man about the town. If the U.S., for whatever reason, isn’t too intrigued the British government should be.

I will say that David Cameron drew attention to the Pakistani links with terrorism before I, for one, had grasped them. This makes it all the more strange, however, that he quickly rebuilt bridges and insisted that the two states were compadres. Perhaps there are material concerns I’ve overlooked or perhaps they share too many secrets to be apart but from this British citizen’s perspective I don’t see the value in maintaining this relationship.

Not that I bear grudges against Pakistan per se. They, the people, have borne far more horrors than we’ll ever see and I’m sure than honest men exist within their government. But if someone isn’t willing to patch up their crumbling roof you’re not obliged to stand beneath it. Their officials have “lost” suspects, tortured others and supported networks that have sent fresh militants around the globe. If there’s a reason for not keeping our distance I doubt it’s an honest.

In fact, I’ve become increasingly convinced that our nation should give up its pretensions in the sordid game of statecraft. For the past decade “our” allies only had our back inasmuch as they were stabbing it and “our” enemies have made us look like fools (or worse). Let’s cast an eye across the overseas adventures of our state since 9/11…

  • Afghanistan – The sort of grim quagmire that Vietnam comparisons are made for.
  • Iraq – The kind of squalid bloodbath Vietnam comparisons are made for.
  • Libya – I’ll admit pinching the Colonel’s nukes was sage but after that, like a policeman who disarms a rogue gunman and then befriends the unhinged bastard, he was blessed with our government’s favour: arming him; trading with him and flying out to the desert to lick sand from his boots. That’s all changed now, of course, but the place is mired in conflict. (Oh, and we’ve still got no proof they bombed the Pan Am flight.)

What a record! All that I can say to commend our foreign policy is that we haven’t backed the Juche or invaded Costa Rica. Meanwhile, real dyed-in-the-beard Jihadists have been plotting and recruiting within our borders. Yes, I hate to get all paleocon on your posteriors but it seems eminently sensible to stop trampling across the flowerbeds of their neighbourhoods and start tending our own garden. (Which, after all, is where a lot of pests have spread from.) I’m not sure, however, that our state has the influence to give up its influence.

Bye!

Some bloggers, sad Kants that we are, feel duty-bound to comment on each issue of significance, even if they don’t have an opinion that’s worthy of it. I try to avoid this tendency but as I’ve posted so much on bin Laden (often wrongly) I still feel compelled to offer thoughts on the occasion.

***

Pakistan’s officials have claimed to be ignorant of bin Laden’s whereabouts for years. I,  naively, took their denials seriously. What should be as clear as day, however – but the U.S. and U.K. have helped obscure – is that the Pakistani state is more corrupt than its Afghan equivalent (and that’s about as grave a charge as I can level). For decades it’s been mixed up with terroristic Jihadists and it looks as if these ties endure today.

The ISI, its secret service, ran the “hunt” for bin Laden and yet seems to have been complicit in his flight. The idea that a man could have been living in a gated villa without drawing notice is as ludicrous as, say, the notion that a top suspect could flee while his guards popped into McDonalds for a burger, or another of the weird events the ISI have been involved with. If, as it seems, bin Laden had been dwelling in this compound he wasn’t a hermit but a guest.

An honest government would keep as much distance between themselves and these criminals as the Earth’s circumference allows. One suspects they share too much – interests and secrets – not to sally forth together, though.

***

The notion that bin Laden had expired was not some product of a nutbag’s strange imaginings. (One of the first theorists to voice it, after all, was the FBI’s counterterrorism chief.) People who have held or maintain the theory are being mocked but I have no qualms in saying that while I think it’s more likely he died last night than, say, last decade I won’t dismiss the idea ’til I fully understand the basis and am shown the data for believing it was he who bought it in Abbottabad.

A principle I’ve been developing in recent times is to never trust pronouncements of a government. That’s not to say we should deny them – sometimes they’re accurate – but that, as one might do in science, we should stay agnostic ’til we’ve got to grips with its data. Paranoid? Well, if we’d cleaved to it then people wouldn’t have been fooled into believing claims of Saddam’s nukes, anthrax and friendship with al-Qaeda; the Americans might have demanded proof over Tonkin; we might have a clearer view of what occurred around the Pan Am bombing. Yes, one might risk looking foolish if, as often happens, there was no cause for suspicions but, hey, better unneeded doubts than ruinous delusions.

***

Speaking of which, dumping his body still seems curious. Pictures, witnesses and DNA should be enough to prove he died but, still, it seems a strange way to treat “the world’s most wanted”. It’s not just a question of identifying him. Medical examinations would have shown the state of his kidneys or the wounds he’s said to have taken in Tora Bora. The extent to which they showed that he’d received medical treatment would have been valuable in discerning how the sod was treated by his Pakistani neighbours, no?

***

He is dead, though. I mean, who’d’ya think this guy is? Elvis?

***

Celebrating death is never good for the soul.

Last year I had a series of posts at Back Towards The Locus that collected Pakistan’s denials of bin Laden’s presence in the country as if they were meaningful. (I suspected the old sod was dead.) Now, one can’t be sure of where and when he was slain but, still, I should retract those posts as, as became clear to me, Pakistan’s denials are as meaningful as a lawyer’s promises. In politics it’s difficult to be too suspicious.

On the other hand, I wasn’t wrong to be sceptical of the U.S. assertions. They did, after all, inform us he was in “tribal” areas of Pakistan – a claim that always sounded weird as with the drones and shells flying around you’d think they’d have picked him off – and he’s actually said to have been in the comfortable city of Abbottabad. The story of how much the U.S. let alone the Pakistanis knew will be an interesting one if it’s ever told.

Meanwhile, we can only wait for tests to show us whether this corpse is indeed bin Laden’s. They claim to have dumped his body in the sea which seems curious. (Couldn’t they have had some Saudi relative peer at it? Maybe I’ve watched too many cop programmes but that seemed to be an efficient procedure.) They’re said to have taken DNA, however, so I hope it’ll be verified. By the way, imagine if this whole affair had taken place on friday!

I submit to you that there is hope for just as long as people realise this is sarcasm. My thoughts are with all Pakistanis who are free enough of bitterness, hate and self-righteousness that they’ll shudder at it…

Cheer on my friends! Cheer on the assassin! Smile and clap your hands, chant odes to the ghazi’s bravery! Go ahead, applaud the darkness that is coming your way, because once it has taken you into its embrace, there’ll be no cheer left in your life.

Hail the assassin as your hero! Lift him up on your shoulders and show his brave deed to your children! Tell them to emulate his example and follow his footsteps! Kiss the ground he walked on! Congregate outside the prison that holds him and shout slogans so he hears your support through the walls. Because soon, the only heroes left in your life will be those with blood on their hands and death in their hearts.

Denounce the fallen governor! Denounce his licentious ways! Mock his speeches and drag his grieving wife and children through the dirt that is in your mind, your eyes! Question his faith: Was he a secret atheist? Fling all manner of filth and dirt on his name and his ways, for soon there’ll be nothing left in your minds, other than the filth of a faithless piety and the dirt of prejudice.

[H/t]

The US still asserts that Osama Bin Laden is hiding in Pakistan, and that assumption’s been deployed as a rationale for attacks in that country. However, Pakistani authorities have repeatedly denied possessing any significant knowledge of the ageing Saudi’s whereabouts, leading them to speculate that he might be dead or holed up in Afghanistan. Today, they reiterated their confusion…

Pakistan’s civilian government reiterated Thursday it had “no evidence” that Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden was in the nuclear-armed Muslim country, as Washington has charged.

They’ve asked the US for evidence several times, today declaring that “those making claims of his presence in the country should provide valid proof of it“. Assumedly, this has not been forthcoming, despite Leon Panetta’s claims that he “ha[s] a number of people on the ground in Pakistan who are helping [the CIA] provide targets“.

To restate: there are two possibilities…

  • They really don’t know, and the US isn’t telling them anything.
  • They’re lying, utterly.

Both are conceivable, but I can’t think of a motive for the latter. The US, meanwhile, could have good reason for not providing evidence: not having any particular evidence to provide.

(Sorry this post sounds so stilted, by the way: I’m on a post-holiday comedown, and I’ve all the unrestrained sparkle of a telemarketer.)

In other “horrible from every angle” news…

…many observers say that Islamabad, while publicly condemning the drone attacks, is secretly cooperating with the US campaign and has provided a base from which some of the raids are operated.

“Well, if you talk of drones, our whole nation has condemned them. Our four regional assemblies, our national assembly, our senate all passed unanimous resolutions saying no to drones,” Malik told France 24 television.

Yes, it’s plausible that [some of] Pakistan’s authorities privately support the strikes – though I’d like to know who these “observers” are – but that just adds a whole new level of hideousness. If that’s the case, it suggests that the drones are so unpopular in [parts of] Pakistan that they have to appear to oppose them.

From “dead” to “in Afghanistan” to “we just don’t know!

“If they give us real time information we’re quite capable of handling Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. If we are given the information I assure you that we have the capability to take the necessary action against him.”

Two possibilities…

Either way, it all points to sinister, and acutely skilful, maneuverings. Not everyone’s in the dark.

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