Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Clueless in Canada


Someone just pointed me in the direction of the worst article by a Non-Resident Pakistani (NRP) in the Western press. What is it about NRPs? I mean, if you're going to immigrate, must you pretend to still be clued in to what's going on back home? And what is the deal with the Western press, which is willing to accept all kinds of libelous statements from NRPs - which they would never from Westerners about their own countries - presumably simply because of the authors' "credibility", defined only by their ethnicity.



We have seen this in the past, with Tariq Ali claiming in a piece in the Guardian that Murtaza Bhutto was shot point blank in 1996 - when no such forensic evidence has ever been presented - simply taking, one assumes, daughter Fatima Bhutto's word for it. We saw it with the claims of that charlatan Ahmed Chelabi, who seemingly singlehandedly convinced the neo-con administration of George Bush and the public through op-ed pieces in the New York Times, that Iraqis were waiting to line up in the streets to welcome US troops into Iraq. I'm not saying this current piece is on that level of deceipt, but its playing fast and loose with facts and generalizations is still breathtaking in its sheer audacity.

The article in the reputed Globe and Mail of Canada, provocatively titled "A Military Coup in Pakistan?", is by Tarek Fatah, a most prolific writer on issues related to Islam, Muslims and Pakistan. According to a journalist who met him in the US a few years ago, "he is a know-it-all whose knowledge of Pakistan is firmly anchored in the '70s." The problem is not even his central thesis - that the Pakistani establishment would rather see the back of Zardari and his cronies. That has been written about with much regularity in the Pakistani press to say the least, and truth be told, the majority of Pakistanis would probably have the same views. The problem, in fact, is with the sweeping claims made about motives, the lack of substantive evidence to back libelous accusations and the propagandistic (read apologist) tone of the piece.

Right off the bat, Mr. Fatah begins with:

"A military coup is unfolding in Pakistan, but, this time, there is no rumbling of tanks on the streets of Islamabad. Instead, it seems the military is using a new strategy for regime change in Pakistan, one that will have adverse consequences for Western troops deployed in Afghanistan."

So, the parameters are set. The "regime change" is not bad per se for democracy in Pakistan or for the future of rule of law in the country. It is bad only because it might adversely affect Western troops in Afghanistan. So much for having the interests of Pakistan at heart.

Here are some other choice examples:

1.
"A year after rogue elements of Pakistan's intelligence services disrupted Indian-Pakistani peace talks by staging the Mumbai massacre..."

Wow. Clear and to the point. Except, nobody has proved this yet. Not even the Indians. Yes, Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives have been charged with the planning and aiding the crime, but they have not yet been convicted as far as I know. Not even Ajmal Kasab, the surviving gunman, whose trial in India is still going on. And while there is ample speculation about whether the attackers received help from elements within the Pakistani intelligence services, no credible publication has been as foolhardy as to claim in definitive terms that this was so. No such burden of proof for Mr. Fatah apparently.


2.
"The men who wish to replace Mr. Zardari represent the religious right-wing backers of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, adding a new obstacle in Barack Obama's war effort in Afghanistan. A change of guard in Pakistan will also place Canadian troops at a higher risk of attack from a Taliban that will get unimpeded access to safe havens across the international border."

Let's leave the pandering to the US-Canadian interests aside for the moment. Since in the previous sentence, Mr. Fatah claims that the people out to get Zardari are "the men who run Pakistan's infamous military-industrial complex", it is only fair to surmise that he is accusing General Ashfaq Kayani of being a "religious right-wing backer of the Taliban and al-Qaeda." Really? So, anyone who thinks Zardari is an unprincipled man with no vision is a Taliban and al-Qaeda backer? And the US dithering on whether it will stay or go from Afghanistan, its own willingness to include the Taliban in talks and power-sharing, and the growing influence of India there plays no role whatsoever in the Pakistan establishment hedging its bets, if it does? I have to admit I haven't read anything as unnuanced since... oh, I don't know... Bush's 'With us or against us' dictum.


3.
"In the West's war against terrorism, Mr. Zardari is probably the only politician in Pakistan who has the guts to identify the cancer of jihadi extremism and order the Pakistani army to root it out. With reluctance, the army has complied, but only half-heartedly. With him gone, it's almost a certainty that Canada and the United States, as well as Afghanistan and India, will once more face the deception and fraud that became the hallmark of Pervez Musharraf's military regime."

Yet again, wow. I doubt even the Press Information Department (PID) of the Government of Pakistan would have felt comfortable with such propagandistic drivel. The only politician? I have no love lost for the MQM or the ANP, but you know, they were saying the same thing for a much longer time, not to mention scores of other left politicians and intellectuals. Even during the time in the mid-1990s when Zardari's former spouse Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed (MBBS) was actively facilitating the formation of the Taliban in Afghanistan through her interior minister General Naseerullah Babar.

And "the army has complied [to Zardari's directive], but only half-heartedly"??? What exactly leads Mr. Fatah to believe that the current (or any) military operations are directed from the presidency without real interest from the military and that the killing of hundreds of soldiers and extremists constitutes "half-hearted" compliance, we shall never really know. It may have helped had he explained how he came to this conclusion but then that would require providing some evidence, something Mr. Fatah seems not too bothered about.


4.
"For years, the Pakistani army received billions of dollars in direct American aid while it backed the Taliban and staged faked armed encounters to deceive the Pentagon."


Such as? Come on, give us something tangible, dammit. Oh, ok, we should just take your word for it.


5.
"Mr. Zardari also is being depicted as the epitome of corruption and thus unworthy of governing Pakistan. Working from within the government, military intelligence was able to coax a junior minister to release a list of thousands of supposedly corrupt politicians and public officials in the country. Leading them was Mr. Zardari himself – notwithstanding the fact that before he was elected president, he had been imprisoned for more than a decade by the military without a single conviction."

Yes, of course, and NOBODY in the world ever accused Asif Zardari of corruption ever before. And look, it was a hassled JUNIOR minister who released the lists, not a credible SENIOR minister. And the Supreme Court and Pakistan's parliament itself never ASKED for the lists of people who benefited from the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). And the NRO only wiped out cases that were already decided in Zardari's favour anyway. You know, Mr. Fatah, you should work with Jahangir Badar. You'd make a good team.


6.
"What irks the generals is not just that they are now answerable to a civilian but that Mr. Zardari belongs to an ethnic group that is shunned by the country's ruling Punjabi elite. Mr. Zardari is a Sindhi."

No, scratch that. You should work with Dr. Zulfiqar Mirza on the next Topi Drama.


7.
"The hysteria among Pakistan's upper-class elites demanding a military dictatorship is best reflected in an article written by a retired military officer in the right-wing newspaper The News: “Military rule should … return. … The problem with democratic governments is that they remain under pressure to go with what the majority of the citizens want, not what is best for them. … People of several South American countries that have returned to civilian rule after a long time are now beginning to feel they were better off under dictatorships.”

Ah, the smoking gun! Except, this was no article in the "right-wing newspaper The News" (as opposed to left-wing Dawn?) This, ladies and gentlemen, is a quote from a Letter to the Editor by a mad fauji who keeps writing such letters regularly. The same guy sparked off a whole debate in the paper about the term "bloody civilians." If I had two cents for every loony letter to the editor published in left-wing, centrist and right-wing newspapers, I'd be as rich as Zardari now. This the best you could come up with Mr. Fatah? I mean, it's not like you had scarce material to work with.

And finally:

7.
"If Mr. Obama wishes to succeed in bringing the Afghan war to an end, he had better make sure Mr. Zardari's elected civilian administration is allowed to govern until the end of its term."

Sheesh! Talk about cringe-worthy. "Mr. Obama... better make sure"? Even Asif Zardari might find being compared to a puppet like Hamid Karzai unsettling.

Moral of the Story: Stupid, clueless friends are worse than stupid, clueless enemies. Especially if the friends are NRPs.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Let me make a few guesses about you. You are a Punjabi, you come from a family background that was entirely comfortable with Zia and hated Bhutto with a passion, you kinda-sorta liked Musharraf but were happy to see him go. You probably also considered the lawyers movement to be this expression of true grass roots support of Pakistan (Pakistan = Punjab) and consider the CJ to be a paragon of virtue. In short, you are a typical member of the same ruling elite that Tareq refers to.

I have not even read the original article but your blurbs and your own flawed interpretation lead me to believe that it was probably a fairly accurate interview about the situation on the ground.

Withregard to Zardari, yes, he is the only leader of a national political party that has stood for secularism. If MQM and ANP had a national appeal, they could be mentioned. I am sure the Lahore Christian Community Political Association has secular leaders as well, but they don't have much of an impact outside their mohalla.

With regard to Mumbai, outside of Zaid Hamid loving sections of Pakistan, pretty much everyone knows what happened with reference to LeT support. You talk of proof with regard to Mumbai, but suspend proof when it comes to Zardari? Very Punjabi of you I must say. Let me guess, you also think Zaid Hamid is a nice entertaining guy?

Anonymous said...

Zardari Seeks to Streamline Corruption, Help People of Pakistan

http://wp.me/pIP1s-O

XYZ said...

@Anon1016: A-hahahaha! Let me disabuse you of some of your notions.

"You are a Punjabi" - No.
"You come from a family background that was entirely comfortable with Zia and hated Bhutto with a passion" - Er, No.
"You kinda-sorta liked Musharraf but were happy to see him go." - Let me think... No. Ok, you may be right a little bit.
"You probably also considered the lawyers movement to be this expression of true grass roots support of Pakistan (Pakistan = Punjab)" - No.
"...and consider the CJ to be a paragon of virtue." - No.
"Let me guess, you also think Zaid Hamid is a nice entertaining guy?" - Oh yeah, and here's the proof:
http://cafepyala.blogspot.com/2009/10/wanker-of-week.html

I don't know where that leaves your analyis my friend, since you managed to get almost every single one of your assumptions wrong. But let me make a few guesses about you (be honest now):

You are a Sindhi who lives in Karachi but considers your hometown in the interior your constituency. You went to English medium schools and probably studied abroad. You're under 30 years of age and belong to a landed family. Since you're too young to be a politician, my guess is you're related to a PPP parliamentarian (minister?), which is why you've taken great umbrage at any criticism of Zardari and other government figures.

But what I find really interesting is that you have no qualms about admitting that you haven't bothered reading the original article (it wasn't an interview for one). One would think that for someone who feels passionately enough about the post to attempt a lengthy psychoanalysis of the author, would at least bother knowing what he's talking about.

XYZ said...

@Anon1016: One more thing. You write: "You talk of proof with regard to Mumbai, but suspend proof when it comes to Zardari?"

I have done no such thing. I have merely pointed out the flaws in Tarek Fatah's piece which attempts to crudely whitewash the allegations against Zardari. Zardari spending time (and a long time!) in jail without any final convictions is no proof of either his guilt or his innocence. But we do also know how and why cases never reached their conclusions and under what pretext at least one conviction (in the Swiss case) was set aside.

khabardrama said...

Isn't it funny how the Canadian expat criticised in the post and the anonymous critic of xyz share a similar essentialist brand of logic?
The out-of-touch expat Fatah believes that the valiant leftist Zardari is being undermined by the Al-Qaeda loving army and its handmaiden the media only because of the president's anti-terror stand. From this rather crude premise is born an article that does not let facts, or any nuance, get in the way of his thesis.
In much the same way, anonymous assumes from the start that xyz is a Punjabi, and therefore is automatically anti-PPP, Zia-loving and pro Zaid Hamid. Everything else flows from a single accusation: that of being a Punjabi.
Again, silly things like facts or arguments are not deemed necessary once this (now denied) assumption is made. In fact, anonymous confesses to this crime by admitting that he has not even read the piece that is being criticised!
One small piece of advice to anon: you are doing no favours to the PPP by adopting this myopic approach. The party whose defence you have leapt to so valiantly, if misguidedly, happens to(at least until recently) be a formidable force in the Punjab and is sitting in power courtesy all those (Zia-loving, Zaid Hamid-worshipping?) votes it got from that province. Idiotic zealots like you will only reduce the future electability of the country's only national party --- that is if your hero Zardari has not already done so.

As xyz rightly says at the end of his post, 'Stupid, clueless friends are worse than stupid, clueless enemies'

Rabia said...

I have to say that your assertion that it's unfair to besmirch the good name of Lashkar-e-Taiba before any convictions from Mumbai occur is pretty appalling.

XYZ said...

@Rabia:

You write: "your assertion that it's unfair to besmirch the good name of Lashkar-e-Taiba before any convictions from Mumbai occur is pretty appalling."

Er... where exactly have I said that? I know people don't read much in Pakistan but this is getting ridiculous.

Rabia said...

You might consider re-writing this little chunk if you don't mean what it says:


"Yes, Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives have been charged with the planning and aiding the crime, but they have not yet been convicted as far as I know. Not even Ajmal Kasab, the surviving gunman, whose trial in India is still going on. And while there is ample speculation about whether the attackers received help from elements within the Pakistani intelligence services, no credible publication has been as foolhardy as to claim in definitive terms that this was so. No such burden of proof for Mr. Fatah apparently."

Rabia said...

Look if you meant to say that no member (rogue or otherwise) of any Pakistani intelligence agency has been charged for Mumbai, you should have said that. Instead you went a step further and said that no member of Lashkar-e-Taiba has been convicted. Perhaps it was a simple error and you didn't mean to, but that comes across as defending the Lashkar-e-Taiba members who have been charged but not yet convicted for Mumbai.

Most high-profile criminal suspects are discussed (and judged) in the press long before they are convicted of the crime for which they are accused. You appear to have a problem with this in the case of Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Either that or you just have no clue what you are writing.

Anonymous said...

I'm back again. A few things - I did not read the article but I did read the specific blurbs you posted and I read your interpretation of those blurbs. Since my critique was of your post, rather than the priginal article, I think my reading was adequate but I wanted to be upfront.

FYI, I am not Sindhi. I trace my origin to a small town on the outskirts of Chakwal, close to Choa Saidan Shah. I am over 30, and yes, I do live abroad.

The point being, as Rabia mentions, it was not just your critique of Zardari (agreed that his lack of conviction was neither here nor there) but matched what at least came across as a robust defence of the LeT (not convicted yet - gimme a break..even Riaz Basra was never "convicted") that lead to an overall impression.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I am not related to any PPP parliamentarian from near or far. That was way out of left field.

XYZ said...

@Rabia:

My point was, as you surmised, that "no member (rogue or otherwise) of any Pakistani intelligence agency has been charged for Mumbai." The reason for bringing the LeT into it - for whom I hold absolutely no torch - was to point out that since EVEN its members had not yet been legally convicted, the issue of intel operators accused of backing them being held responsible is completely moot. But further than that, no matter what you or I may think of the LeT (and trust me, I would be the last person to subscribe to their ideology), claiming their involvement in specific acts is an issue of libel and journalistic ethics.

I'm sorry if I was unclear but your assertion that "high-profile criminal suspects are discussed (and judged) in the press long before they are convicted of the crime for which they are accused" does not confer any sort of immunity to those writing in the press. Discussion that clearly states what is an allegation is one thing and perfectly acceptable. Claiming allegations as fact - as Mr. Fatah does in his piece - is quite another. What I believe on a gut level or even KNOW from sources is one thing, I cannot claim it as a fact without proof. That is why in credible publications the word 'alleged' is usually inserted before any such claims.

There are numerous cases where initial accusations have turned out to be seemingly false - one of the most recent e.g. being the Samjhota Express blasts which were also pinned on the LeT initially. (Of course Indian intel plays as murky and dirty game as Pakistan's and there's a whole other dimension to accusations from both sides which one must recognize.) Similarly some of the accusations against Zardari, widely bandied about initially, such as the drugs case, have been disproved in later years.

sahaafi-braadri said...

Ok. I'm going to say something but please lets keep it civil; no lynching.
I disagree with that bit about Zardari being the only secular politician. There are many others, including the ANP. Since, as opposed to the MQM, it has to actually get the votes, its overt secularim, and that too in the Frontier, is remarkable. The point about the PPP having a national appeal, however, is correct.

But this columnist is dead-on as far as the half-hearted efforts of the military is concenred. I'm a journalist and any journalist who investigated Operation Rah-e-Haq (the media would have you think there was nothing before Rah-e-Rast) would tell you that the army's collusion with the militants in Swat was pretty obvious.
And then there are the Khyber Agency operation(s). Operation Siraat-e-Mustaqeem, Operation Daraghlum, Operation Bia Daraghlum and now, Operation Khwakh Ba De Shum and the entire set-up of the Lashkar-e-Islami (not even TTP, for God's sake!) is safe. The IGFC uncomfortably says, "Well, he (Mangal Bagh) is very lucky..." A small motley crew can be tough to catch, but not one big enough to get back to operating a "tax" network in between the supposed operations.
If, by way of proof, you want me to provide an agreement between the army and the militants on a stamp paper of Rs 100, then I don't. But, please, as far as this is concerned, all my distaste for airhead expats aside, he might have a point.

Ahsan said...

You know you've arrived as a blogger when anonymous commenters come on, say nothing of substance, and attempt to psychoanalyze you by delineating your demographic profile. There's nothing like it.

american said...

What exactly leads Mr. Fatah to believe that...the killing of hundreds of soldiers and extremists constitutes "half-hearted" compliance, we shall never really know.

Didn't you JUST say above that the Pakistani establishment is hedging its bets while it waits for the US to leave Afghanistan? Or I guess you made that conditional because you don't want to admit that anything this guy says, no matter how uncontroversial, could be correct; but you know its true.

tizi said...

Anonymous and Rabia are pea brained zits that needn't be bothered with. Anonymous is one of Tarek Fatah's ill gotten children, while Rabia is an ex LeT lieutenant (she was expelled for being female despite her mad spit balling skills). Don't let oversensitive, ignorant little piglets slow you down. One of the best Pakistani blogs on the web!

Indian said...

As an Indian, I love this blog and read it regularly.
But please do not trivialize Mumbai attack by arguing about journalistic jargon like 'alleged' or 'convicted'.
Your reply has a tacit bent towards LET and that is something which gives us immense pain.