Monday, August 29, 2011

What He Said (And Leaked Beforehand)

For the last five or six days I had been contemplating how best to present the information contained on a website that someone had stumbled upon and forwarded to me. Not because one did not believe the authenticity of the information on it but because it left unanswered a number of questions. Not least of which was who was behind the website and to what end. I could make a fairly straightforward and educated guess about the persons behind the site even though the site's owners had chosen to disguise their ownership while registering it.

Zulfiqar Mirza swears on the Quran (Photo: PPI)

After today's "atom bomb" presser by the redoubtable former Sindh Home Minister / PPP Senior Vice President / Sindh MPA Zulfiqar Mirza, I think it is quite obvious who is behind the site.

The site of course is the imaginatively titled and contains pretty much all the information Mr Mirza spoke about and brandished in his presser today.

Not only does it have the facsimiles of the "secret" reports of the Joint Investigation Teams (JIT) on arrested target-killers (all of them allegedly connected to the MQM) in Karachi, it also contains the video-ed professional interrogations of some of them, such as the notorious Ajmal Pahari...

Who else would have had access to this highly classified information and have the motive and the guts to "leak" it on the net. Not a bureaucrat or policeman who feared the wrath of the government for disclosing official info, that's for sure.

These confessional statements make for fascinating (and of course chilling) reading and watching no doubt. And they also provide an insight into the mindsets of professional killers as well as those who control them. There is plenty here to damn the MQM's top leadership. But without, in any way, trying to sound like I am defending the indefensible, one must add a couple of caveats about the information contained here.

For one, keep in mind that this website does present only a selective version of the truth. The only information leaked here is of those terrorists alleged to be part of the MQM. Yes, the MQM's hit squad is apparently the most well-organized, most feared and most talked about. But in recent years the PPP, Sunni Tehrik and the ANP have also managed to cultivate their own nexus with the mercenary underworld (which Zulfiqar Mirza brushed off as "tit-for-tat" in answer to a question on Geo's Capital Talk tonight). And let's also not forget the hit squads of outlawed organizations such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Sipahe Sahaba (which have links with other legitimate political parties), the MQM-Haqiqi faction, and on a different level, state-controlled institutions such as the police and intelligence agencies themselves. We do know that at least some of those killers are also in custody. Why is that information not here on the website? Does that justify the MQM's killers? No, not at all. But reading the lawlessness of Karachi without factoring in the political and economic turf wars which breed it or understanding how various communities perceive and react to the state would be slightly simplistic and even perhaps dangerously naive.

Secondly, purely from a legal (i.e. not moral) point of view, these documents and confessions do not necessarily establish guilt. They have yet to be proven in a court of law. We may choose to believe them (or not believe them) but they have the same legal position as, say NAB's accusations of corruption against Mr Asif Zardari. That is not to say that they are not true, just that one's belief in their authenticity does not equal legal proof for conviction.

Of course, as pointed out by a number of people already, this information and Zulfiqar Mirza's press conference also begs the question why, if this information was available with the government, have these terrorists not yet been prosecuted in the courts of law. If, as Mr Mirza claims, witnesses crucial to the prosecution are being eliminated, is it not the government's responsibility to protect them?

But even bigger questions hang over the whole drama today. Who benefits from this rhetoric and these disclosures at this time? Is it a mere coincidence that what occupied Pakistanis' entire evening came on the same day that the Rangers claimed to have unearthed ammunition stockpiles and torture cells in Lyari raids, and managed to push that news off the news channels?  On the face of it, Zulfiqar Mirza may be claiming that his newly awakened conscience dictated today's "straight-talk", but has he not also driven a stake through the heart of his close friend and "benefactor" President Zardari's political manoeuvrings for the PPP's future? For weren't what Federal Interior Minister Mr Rehman Malik (the target of Mr Mirza's wrath) and current Sindh Home Minister Mr Manzoor Wassan doing to keep the MQM on board part of Mr Zardari's strategy?

Mr Mirza may also have wrested the initiative from Sindhi nationalists who had been chipping away at the PPP in Sindh after the party's U-turn on the Commissionerate system. But would that really help the PPP if Zulfiqar Mirza is considered to be at odds with the party leadership? And was there something more to Mr Mirza's fullsome praise for the ISI and military than meets the eye? Who benefits if the PPP government at the centre comes under strain?

I confess I do not have the answers to these questions. At least answers that make immediate sense to me. If someone has a coherent explanation, I would love to hear it.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Presenting... the Real Spirit of Aamir Liaquat

Without further ado...

[Update 1: The above video may not play because it has been pulled from Youtube by Geo. In that case you can watch the video here or try the following embed:

Update 2: I fully expect the above videos to be taken down eventually. Please check the comments section for new links that readers may post for the video in case you cannot view them from the given links. If you do come across new working links that are not already known, please do share them with others in the comments section.]

I don't subscribe at all to the sectarian twist this video takes towards the end, which is obviously motivated by other concerns. But the first half should be enough to get an idea of the reality of this televangelist. I'd love to see the face of the numerous people taken in by his faux piety and "gentleness" right about now. Keep in mind that this man is currently the Managing Director of ARY's religion channel QTV.

What is it they say? Har Cheez Meezan Mein Achhi Lagti Hai!

Update 3: Of course, Aamir Liaquat has taken the expected route and claimed that the video is a doctored one, with sophisticated editing and dubbing in of a fake voice used to conspire against him (what other possible recourse could a bald-faced hypocrite painted into a corner have?). Let's just say nobody - especially those with any sense of the technicalities of video editing - are buying it. He has blamed, without naming his former employers, Geo, for releasing the video, ostensibly because his Ramzan programmes on the ARY Network are (according to him) beating Geo's ratings (it's all about the ratings, isn't it?). Some others too have questioned how this video was leaked, comprising as it does, material that only Geo could have been privy to. We don't know how the video material made its way out of Geo (such things are usually traceable to editors or other working in an organization who have access to the footage and who can make copies on the sly) but the very fact that Geo has been pulling out all stops to have the video taken down from various sites points to the fact that the video is very much genuine. The reasons for Geo to want to suppress the video are simple: it reflects rather poorly on their programming and their brand as well, even though Aamir Liaquat may no longer be working for them. What it reveals is the utter hypocrisy of not just Mr Jaahil Online himself but also of those in direct charge of the 'religious' programming and indeed of the overall broadcaster itself. Obviously, while Aamir Liaquat was in Geo's employ, his producers, editors, crew, and channel executives knew full well what a charlatan he was and yet continued to deceive their viewers with a hyped up image of his piety.

But what is even more galling as far as Aamir Liaquat's latest "explanation" is, is how he immediately lays the blame for the "conspiracy" at the feet of those who are "against the finality of the Prophethood" and "against those who love the Prophet." Recall that Aamir Liaquat once condoned on his programme on Geo, a declaration that Ahmadis were wajib-ul-qatl (those whose killing can be justified), which was followed by the subsequent assassinations of two Ahmadis and Aamir Liaquat's live telecasts being suspended by Geo. "The tongue that speaks of the Prophet, Peace be upon him," he says in his most recent programme on ARY, "could never utter obscenities." If that is not the worst form of munafiqat (hypocrisy) in the name of religion, I don't know what is. Has this man no shame at all?

You can see the slimebag squirming here:

As a response, and to make Aamir Liaquat squirm some more, I would have love to have posted here the badchodaboy remix which I saw yesterday (man, these guys are quick) but, unfortunately, it too has disappeared off Youtube. If you find a link for it, let us know.

Thanks to @WarisJunejo, here it is:

Incidentally, do ARY head honchos really think Aamir Liaquat can ride this out?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Ties That Bind

Consider the following lines from an AP distributed article published in Dawn today:

"With... government all but paralysed by scandal, the Supreme Court has taken command of some of the nation’s thorniest issues in what activists hail as an overdue flexing of judicial muscle but critics call an unconstitutional power grab. 
In the past month, the court has frozen..., disbanded..., reversed the seizure of..., and begun searching for billions in illicit cash stashed abroad. 
To many..., the judges are simply filling the vacuum left by politicians who have failed to protect the poor or battle corruption that has grown rampant across the nation. “Because these guys aren’t doing anything, the court is the only saviour right now,” said... 
Parliament collapsed in pandemonium over the winter and reopened last week to similar chaos as lawmakers traded barbs and accused one another of graft and financial mismanagement.... The deluge of scandals and criticism has left Prime Minister... nearly impotent at a crucial time... 
But critics accuse the Supreme Court judges of a frightening overreach, elbowing their way into scandals and ideological debates that are traditionally beyond their mandate. “In no judiciary in the world do you find this kind of activism,” said .... “Some of the judges seem to be not aware of their constitutional limits at times.”... 
The judges appeared to have grown frustrated with the government’s refusal to follow earlier court orders, said... “(The decision) was in response to the complete failure of the government to do anything despite being given numerous chances,” she said. ... 
[X] criticized the ruling and accused the judges of pursuing ideological ambitions at all costs. “Effectively, the judgment disregards the basic constitutional features of the separation of powers,” he wrote in [a] newspaper. ...—AP"

You know who and what the piece is talking about, right?

See if you're right, here.

With Friends Like These...

On Geo's Aapas Ki Baat show today, Najam Sethi referred to an interview that Imran Khan gave a few days ago and expressed incredulity that more notice had not been taken of the explosive claims the PTI chief had made. In it, Sethi said, Khan had claimed that a message had gone out from the army chief General Kayani to the Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry not to drag the army into its battles with the government, and specifically that if the Supreme Court invoked Article 190 of the constitution (requiring all executive and judicial authorities to come to the aid of the Supreme Court), it should not expect the army to come to its aid.

I was truly surprised because I too had not heard about this claim anywhere and, if true, Sethi's incredulity would be absolutely spot on. Leave aside the whole question of what Article 190 actually states - for the record, there is no mention of the military in it and, in any case, even if the SC invokes 190, it does not automatically translate into calling upon the army to intervene - if true, Imran Khan's claims should have amounted to a scandalization of the Supreme Court. Not only was he claiming that there were backdoor contacts between the army and the SC, he was actually saying that the court was willing to take into account political considerations in its judgements (yes, yes, let's leave the snide comments for the time being).

Once I started searching for where these claims appeared, it quickly became clear to me why more notice had not been taken by the media and the public over these comments. The said interview was on Dr Shahid Masood's new show on Express News, called Shahidnama, which aired first on July 27. I mean, who watches Dr S&M anyway (new hair notwithstanding)?? Perfectly understandable that it went under the radar for most people...

In any case, here is the clip... the relevant portion begins around 02:20 into the clip.

For those who do not understand Urdu, this is a translated transcript of the operative part of the interview:

IK: If the Supreme Court goes towards 190 and demands that state institutions come to its aid, which is in 190, I say the army should stand with the Supreme Court. My information is that, last October, when the Supreme Court was moving ahead on the NRO [National Reconciliation Ordinance], a message was conveyed from the army to it, that if you invoke 190, we will not come [to your aid].
SM: You're saying a very big thing here...
IK: This is my information.
SM: How reliable is it? Do you believe on [sic] it?
IK: I think it's very reliable. They gave this message then that if the Chief Justice...because then the Chief Justice backed down. I believe that...
SM: One minute Imran, let me repeat this. The army sent a message to the court not to move ahead on this, otherwise 'we will not stand with you'...
IK: Yes, 'we will not allow destabilization'. Meaning they would not let democracy be destabilized...
SM: So, the judges...
IK: ..and now they've completely ruined democracy..
SM: No, but listen to me. Why did the judges back down?
IK: Look...
SM: This is very strange...
IK: The amount of pressure this government has put on Chief Justice Iftikhar.. neither did the friendly opposition come to his aid, because in the 18th Amendment they also sat on /sided with [unclear] the Parliamentary Committee...
SM: Imran wait...
IK: Listen to me...
SM: People like us get killed in the crossfire of these silent messages. I often get killed personally. I have shared this in private with you and you know, I have often got killed in the crossfire. I mean, the message goes across to 'them' and we get hit in the crossfire...

It goes on but you get the idea. So not only did Imran Khan claim that the SC was open to receiving messages from the army/ outsiders influencing it, but that the learned judges who are supposed to dispense justice on the merits of the law without fear or favour or other extraneous considerations, allowed that message to influence their judgements. As Sethi pointed out, forget the media not taking this up, neither did the Supreme Court take notice of this clear scandalization, nor was any clarification ever issued by the ISPR, denying any of this.

Unwittingly, Immy bhai has dealt a real body blow to the institution he claims to want to strengthen. Can the Supreme Court allow this open contempt of court to pass? Can it afford not to haul Immy bhai up on charges of scandalizing the court, especially while threatening the government and others with possible contempt and condemning bureaucrats left right and centre on the same charges? Can the military afford to continue to keep mum? Let us see if DrS&M really does get hit in the crossfire once again or not.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Return (and Resurgence) of Napier

The recent spate of violence, mayhem and bloodletting in Karachi has drawn a number of responses, ranging from the outraged to the resigned, the depressed and confused. And all of them are understandable on their own terms. It would be fair to say, however, that in a city as teeming, complex and diverse, there is no single truth about the causes for the flare-up that trumps all others. Every actor in this sordid saga can (and does) point to the actions of other actors as an excuse for their own villainy.

'The burnt out ends of smoky days' (Photo source: Times of Karachi)

If the MQM operates like a mafia, there is also no denying the underworld nexus that parties like the PPP and ANP are using to carve out their own slice of turf in the city. If Karachi's law enforcement is inefficient, corrupt and politicized, it is not an aberration from the rest of Pakistan where the writ of the state has been steadily eroded. If politicians are venal and self-serving about their political ends, this city has not been spared the shenanigans of the military's nefarious tactics to ensure they have the means to keep the political kettle boiling. If people from all over Pakistan stream to the city because of its higher professionalism, employment opportunities and avenues for making money, there are also those who resent the ever widening gap between the affluent and themselves. Where Karachi is Pakistan's most cosmopolitan and ethnically diverse city by far, its diversity also creates the conditions for easy friction between cultural identities and is a magnet for those who wish to take advantage of it. Add in the desire for political and economic clout to diminishing respect for the state's writ, the complexity of administering a megapolis in general and in times of a regional shadowy militancy in particular, severely strained resources and constrained availability of land and you have a truly volatile mixture.

Does this mean that the anarchy let loose on Karachi in recent days could not have been prevented? No, it definitely involved actors who benefited - at least in their perceptions - in some way from it and it was fueled by leaders without vision (some may argue, basic humanity) who believe the best route to getting what they want is brinkmanship of the most dangerous kind. But what it does mean is that these sort of spells will recur (as they have before) unless and until the issues that underlie these conflagarations are addressed in some cogent, cohesive manner and unless at least the majority of stakeholders recognize that the status quo will not hold. It is not just a matter of allaying the current insecurities of the MQM (as the PPP seems to believe) or satisfying the local political ambitions of the ANP. There are serious chronic issues to do with land-use, planning, administration, distribution of resources and law enforcement that need to be tackled. Otherwise new problems, one example of which is this, will keep rearing their heads.

But this is actually not what I wanted to address in this post. What I wanted to look at was an intriguing aside to the current flare-up, how the seemingly raging fires of political instability were suddenly damped down. Consider the following timeline:

August 3 (Just Past Midnight): MQM supremo Altaf Hussain issues a fiery statement, full of rhetoric, asking the people of Karachi to stock up on at least a month's rations (even if they need to sell valuables to do it) and to be ready for sacrifice for the 'cause'.

August 3 (Morning): Fears of what is implied in Hussain's speech lead to palpable tension in Karachi and a run on stores as people stock up for impending shut-downs and further violence.

August 3 (Afternoon): British Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister for South Asia Alistair Burt calls up Sindh Governor Dr Ishrat-ul-Ebad. According to the official press release, Mr Burt said:

"This morning I spoke to the Governor of Sindh Dr. Khan to expressed my concern at the continuing violence and loss of life that Karachi has faced in recent weeks.  I encouraged the Governor in his ongoing strong personal engagement to restore law and order.  I warned that inflammatory statements from any political party risked making the situation worse and that all political leaders and their parties have a duty to refrain from inciting violence and to reduce tensions and restore calm.  I reiterated the view of Her Majesty’s Government that the stability of Karachi is in the interests of all in Pakistan and the wider international community.  I said that peace and prosperity in Karachi was necessary to encourage further foreign direct investment which would be vital to Pakistan’s future economic growth and stability."

August 3 (Evening): Altaf Hussain makes another, milder speech, this time with nary a word about stocking up on rations. Even more intriguingly, he makes half the speech in English.

August 4: Altaf Hussain issues an unprecedented apology for his earlier speech, claiming his talk about stocking up on rations was misunderstood and that he never meant to offend anyone. He also appreciates the paramilitary Rangers' actions at Kati Pahari, the area at the centre of the storm. Conciliatory statements also come from the MQM's bete noir PPP Sindh Minister Zulfiqar Mirza who speaks respectfully about "Governor sahib" who he had dubbed a "bhagora" (fugitive) just a few days ago.

August 5: MQM members of parliament attend the Sindh Chief Minister's iftar party in a seemingly convivial mood, strengthening rumours that the MQM has come to an understanding with the PPP. President Zardari formally invites the MQM to yet again join the government.

Sindh CM Qaim Ali Shah with MQM leader of the 'opposition' Syed Raza Haroon at iftar (Photo: Whitestar/ Dawn) 

One can only speculate about what the exact reasons are for the British to take such a leading and active role in this reconciliation. Could it be that they were asked to do so? It's important to recall that anarchy in Karachi not only threatens the entire economy and stability of Pakistan (more than 70% of Pakistan's tax revenues are generated from the city) but also obviously port operations - which is the hub of the NATO supply lines into Afghanistan. It would also do well to recall that it would not be the first time that the British have played foot-soldiers for their allies. And as WikiLeaks has divulged, it's not the first time that the US and the UK have coordinated their efforts with regards to Karachi and the MQM either.

It could also well have to do with Britain's own interests in Pakistan too. After all, trade between the UK and Pakistan is well over 1 billion pounds (mutual direct investment adds about another 300 million pounds)  and has been rising significantly and more than 100 British companies operate in Pakistan including the giants Unilever, Shell, GlaxoSmithKline, Standard Chartered Bank, HSBC and Barclays. British pharmaceutical companies also control over 30% of the market share in Pakistan and Britain has also earmarked over 1.3 billion pounds in aid for Pakistan over the next 4 years.

But far more interesting would be to understand why the British have the leverage they do in the current situation and why they are likely to play an increasingly significant political role in the future. Consider the following simple facts:

* Altaf Hussain, Leader of the MQM: Lives in self-exile in London. Is now a British citizen with a British passport. The MQM's 'International Secretariat' is also based in London. And as slyly pointed out by journalist Abbas Nasir in his column in Dawn today, "the British government has acquired greater leverage over some of the political exiles on its soil because an amendment to the immigration laws in 2006 empowers it to revoke the nationality of any naturalised dual national if the decision was deemed for the 'public good.'"

* Asif Zardari, Co-Chairperson of the PPP: Has property in the UK including Rockwood, the infamous "Surrey Palace" (Abbas Nasir has reminded me that Rockwood was sold off to pay debts). Has a son and daughter studying in the UK.

* Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Chairperson of the PPP: Studying and living in the UK.

* Yousuf Raza Gilani, Prime Minister: Has a son studying in the UK.

* Nawaz Sharif, President of the PMLN: Has property in the UK including flats in super-posh Mayfair. Wife is currently under medical treatment in the UK. Keep in mind also the British assessment of Sharif's future as detailed in this secret US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks.

* Shahbaz Sharif, Chief Minister of the Punjab: Has property in the UK including at least one flat in Mayfair.

* Pervez Musharraf, head of APML: Lives with wife in London, has property there including a flat in Edgeware and is provided security by Scotland Yard.

* Imran Khan, Chairman PTI: Former wife and two sons are British citizens and live in London.

It pays to be even a former colonial power doesn't it? The US can try whatever it wants to gain influence in Pakistan but even it realizes that the British do have first mover advantage.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Post-Modern Dialectics of Belief

I have been musing a little bit about belief, especially after a couple of outraged comments on the previous post about the absurdity of the moon-sighting charade that occurs ever few months. We get similar comments every time we post something about the irrationality that seems to pervade the thinking of literalist followers of religion. There really is no way to argue against belief. If someone actually believes with all their heart that white is actually black or that the placement of Venus relative to Mars will affect your chances of finding true love, how do you argue against it? A belief, by definition, resists interrogation. A good part of religion involves blind trust - that a beneficient god (or gods) exists, that everything that occurs has a hidden, deeper meaning, that there is a goal to strive towards, and that the path to that goal as defined by the religion is the best route to achieve it.

I should point out that I have no issues with people's personal spiritual beliefs (it's their own space after all and human history shows us that everyone requires some sort of belief system to survive) and I do think that on the whole all major religions (all the ones I know of in any case) share a desire to create a better, more just society (even if their followers' interpretations can tend to lead one to conclude differently). The desire to believe in a power greater than ourselves, to bring meaning to apparent anarchic chaos, is deeply ingrained in the human psyche, and I am not one of those whose mission in life is to go around attacking religion in toto.

But problems do arise when personal belief systems are either imposed on other people who wish to have a different belief system or, as in this case, when belief is substituted for an argument even in the face of tangible evidence to the contrary. If someone really believes that God intended for us to order our lives only by looking upon the moon with a naked eye (as the maulvis of Pakistan seem to believe), there is little that logic can do. They will throw hadees (or hadith to you Arabophiles) at you as if that in and of itself constitutes any rational argument (and I'm not even getting into the theological issues of which hadees is credible and which suspect, that different schools of jurisprudence have different opinions on). Such is the power of irrational dogma that even recalling the fact that the Quran itself encourages, at numerous points, people to use their minds (i.e. logic, rationality) is brushed aside as irreligious.

I am not advocating that science has all the answers to everything - it doesn't, and the realm of the spiritual is not the domain of science in any case. But yes, science is a process through which we have come to understand more and more about the physical world around us and it posits theories based on evidence, not on mere belief. These theories, which may be overturned by new evidence, are the most plausible explanations at the time of how or why things are the way they are. You can well argue against a theory using evidence that contradicts it. But you cannot, repeat cannot, argue against it just on the basis that you believe something is different.

And this is my problem with the bizarre new post-modern dialectic that seems to pervade the world these days and which is evidenced in some of the comments we get on this blog. Everything is not equally valid, especially if it originates from different planes of thought like religion and science. (Personally, I don't even see the contradiction between being a Muslim and accepting the principles of science, and it seems to me a selective reading in any case, since mullahs use all sorts of products based on scientific principles when it suits them.) This is the new cop-out: claiming you can base analyses on nothing more than your feelings. A sort of 'I feel it therefore it's true.' But you just cannot pit your cherished belief as a valid counter to empirical evidence or reasoned logic. Or rather, you can if you want, but we will make fun of it.

Just in case you thought the irrationality of religious belief  is limited only to places like Pakistan's Ruet-e-Hilal Committee, here's a handy reminder of how the whole world suffers from it. First see the following spoof video below and then follow it up with the real video that it satirizes...



Maybe somebody should enter Mufti Muneeb et al into the Miss USA pageant, based obviously merely on their rejection of logic.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Mooning of Pakistan

Stung by intense criticism of the cretinism of Pakistan's maulvis and their perennial inability to reconcile even the basic concepts of natural science with their warped ideas of religion, the Ruet-e-Hilal (Moon-Sighting) Committee has this year attempted to allay some of the concerns by going out of their way to address them...

Here's Mufti "I Love Muftas" Muneebur Rehman, head of the central Ruet Committee attempting to sight the moon...

Meanwhile, here's Peshawar mosque Qasim Jan's Mufti Shahabuddin Popalzai, head of his own Ruet Committee attempting to do a moon landing in his own inimitable style...

First of Ramzan mubarak. Or Second of Ramzan. Or whatever. And don't miss the full moon on the 12th of Ramzan.