Sep 23, 2011

Mastung carnage

Harris Khalique After the Mastung carnage the other day when people were dismounted from the bus, lined up and shot, followed by attacks on the attendants of the injured and mourners of the deceased in Quetta, I am really worried about the safety and security of Quaid-e-Azam’s mausoleum and Allama Iqbal’s tomb. Twenty-nine Shia Muslims belonging to the Hazara community of Balochistan lost their lives. Many are wounded. This was not the first time. Shia Muslims in the length and breadth of Pakistan, from Gilgit to Karachi, are being targeted in general. But those belonging to the Hazara community have taken the brunt in the last few years. They are continuously threatened, attacked and killed. Some say that the cause of this violence against the Dari-speaking Hazaras is rooted in the conflict between the Taliban and the protégé of the erstwhile northern alliance in today’s Afghanistan. Others blame it on the proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran being waged in our country for years unending. Some also say it is the Jundullah, the separatists from Iranian Balochistan who have adopted a certain religious hue. Then the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, ingrained in the interior of Punjab but now spread all over, takes the blame. Without a doubt no one is spared in the killing fields of Pakistan. Sunni Muslims of different denominations are killed in their mosques, Christian churches and neighbourhoods are torched, Hindus are hounded out of Muslim areas if their children drink water from the same tap, Ahmadis are killed while saying their prayers, Pakhtuns, Baloch, Sindhis, Punjabis, Mohajirs, Seraikis, Hazarawals of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, all fight each other under the banner of different political outfits. School buses are attacked, houses and hotels are blown up, offices are ransacked, markets are bombed. However, Shias are being identified and killed indiscriminately for many years by no one else but their own countrymen. Be they doctors in Karachi, worshippers in Quetta, processionists in Hangu, passengers in Talagang, bystanders in Gilgit-Baltistan, they are all targeted. There is a newly found passion among a certain segment of Pakistanis for correcting the path our ancestors treaded and purifying our customs and rituals of any adulteration brought about by the spreading of Islam in the non-Arab world. That path is no other than the Saudi path. But something that always intrigues me is that it took the Arabs 1300 years to raze the graveyard of the family and companions of the Prophet (PBUH) in Medina to cleanse the faith from impurities. I would just want to come back to where I started. Why is the Quaid-e-Azam’s mausoleum in danger? Because Mohammed Ali Jinnah was born into a predominantly Ismaili family, got married the Shia Isna Ashri way and offered his prayers with Sunni Muslims. And something that I have shared once before about Shorish Kashmiri asking him if he was a Shia or a Sunni, to which he responded, “Was our Prophet Shia or Sunni?” Likewise, Iqbal says about himself in his poem Zuhd Aur Rindi (Piety and Profanity), “Suntey hain keh uss mein haiy tashayyo bhi zara sa... Tafzeel-i-Ali hum ney suni uss ki zabani (People say that there is a Shia tinge in his beliefs... He speaks of the primacy of Hazrat Ali). Iqbal’s son Justice (retired) Javed Iqbal quoted his father once, “I belong to the Ahl-i-Sunnat-Wal-Jama’at (Sunni sect) but in my view those who do not love and revere the Ahl-i-Bait (the members of the house of the Prophet) cannot be true Muslims.” So what do you think readers, are the resting places of the Quaid and Iqbal safe?

Pakistan at a crossroads again

Shafqat Mahmood The Haqqani network is like a bone stuck in our throats: can’t spit it out, can’t swallow it. With the US pressure ramped up to a level where threats of military strikes plus boots on the ground are being trotted out, the Pakistani leadership is at a crossroads. The choices with their pros and cons are anything but simple. Mount an attack on North Waziristan, where the Haqqani network allegedly has safe havens, and risk coalescing all Pashtun groups in Afghanistan against the Pakistani state. This would mean actually turning all Afghan ethnicities against Pakistan because the Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and others of the Northern Alliance already hate us. We have enough on our plate handling a tense relationship with India in the east. A hostile Afghanistan, with no one standing up for normal relations with Pakistan, would become a serious headache. The impact of such a development in the war against militancy within the country could also be significant. The Pakistani Taliban are already creating enough trouble. If they get the support of the Afghan Taliban, who have so far kept a distance if not been actually discouraging, and of other armed groups in Fata, who have been neutralised so far, it would create a near insurmountable challenge. The reluctance of the Pakistani leadership to take on the Haqqani network through a dangerous incursion into North Waziristan is thus understandable. But, this does create the risk of a possible conflict with the might of the US military. I still think the risk of an outright invasion by the US of North Waziristan is a remote possibility. Even air attacks through warplanes are unlikely because they create more media noise than drone attacks. And just after bombing another Muslim country, Libya, the third in the last 10 years after Afghanistan and Iraq, the US is unlikely to risk more negative publicity globally. Boots on the ground also seem unlikely because it is not enough to come in and do a hit and run. It would not damage anyone, other than Pakistan’s sovereignty, which would have its own consequences. But if ground were to be held, it would mean heavy deployment in a difficult region for an indeterminate period. The US public is not ready for it and perhaps America’s financial troubles make another long-term military involvement unfeasible. Drone attacks can and will be ramped up causing far greater damage and civilian casualties but they will not solve the problem. So, the choices are not easy for the US either. It would much rather lean heavily on Pakistan and make it do something that it is unable to do. It is understandable that all nations only look at their own interests. And the US interest in the Afghan game today is for Pakistan to become an active military partner and attack its enemies who are allegedly taking refuge on Pakistani soil. If this creates problems for it, than it is not the American’s headache. They have to look after their own interests and not bother too much about those of others. The intense US focus on the Haqqani group is surprising. Is this the only problem standing between it and victory in Afghanistan? The Haqqani network is important and has been for many years. It played a useful role in the war against the Soviets, with US support, and later controlled Paktika and Khost provinces of Afghanistan. Yet, it was never in the forefront during the Taliban rule with Jalaluddin Haqqani holding a minor cabinet post dealing with tribal affairs. Even now, the overall control of the Afghan resistance against the US is with the Taliban leadership headed by Mullah Omar. The fighting in Helmand and other Afghan provinces that has been so troublesome for the Americans is led by the Taliban. The Haqqani group plays an important role in particular areas, Paktika, Paktia and Khost and because of its proximity to Kabul has the capability to launch attacks in the Afghan capital. This is indeed very annoying for the Americans – and for the Afghans – but does it follow that this group is the only reason for US failures in Afghanistan? Or indeed, is Pakistan’s lack of action in North Waziristan the only thing standing between the US and victory? Any serious analysis of the issues the Americans face in Afghanistan would show that it is not so. Pakistan’s involvement can be helpful but not decisive. In the process it would be seriously destabilised and would have to deal with grave problems long after the Americans have tired of the conflict and left. In a rational world, it would be enough to make a solid argument for others to accept your point of view but this is a world of power camouflaged in plausible justifications to control the media narrative. Pakistan’s argument will not be accepted because the more powerful interlocutor has the luxury to consider only its interests. It is also useful in an election year in the US to have a scapegoat and blame whatever failures there are on it. Pakistan finds itself in this difficult position right now. It has little choice but to do something. There is of course the dangling carrot too because if one does the US bidding there are plenty of goodies in the shape of bilateral and multilateral aid. It is not easy to scoff at this in times of serious economic troubles. The time may have come to lay down a principle. Make it very clear to the Afghan groups be it the Taliban or the Haqqani network that we can no longer afford to allow them to use Pakistan as a base to attack Americans or Nato and Afghan government troops. If they have to fight, they should do so from within Afghanistan. In other words, they should shift their bases, if they have any, out of Pakistan. Sirajuddin Haqqani has already declared that his troops are based in Afghanistan and not Pakistan. To make this assertion visibly plausible Pakistan must occupy any of the ungoverned spaces as it did in South Waziristan. The time thus may have come to make a well publicised push into North Waziristan. The impression that this area is not within Pakistani government control has to be reversed. The Americans will have to understand that militant groups in these areas who are cooperating with the Pakistani state will have to be tolerated, with the proviso that they will no longer go across the border to launch attacks. This strategy is fraught with consequences but if carefully handled can navigate a middle path that can yield positive results. It is also time that the so-called terrorist sanctuary in North Waziristan is taken out as an excuse for the American failures in Afghanistan. In return, we should also seek zero tolerance for Pakistani militants based in Afghanistan and of course complete normalisation, indeed positive returns for the continuing friendship with the US.

Palestinian statehood and US veto

Alefia T Hussain “Tell President Obama: ENOUGH. It’s time to stand with Israel.” That’s a full page ad appearing in Monday Sept 19’s The New York Times paid for by the Emergency Committee for Israel. It accuses Obama of building “a record that is not pro-Israel”, and suggests five steps towards a promise to be a “staunch and reliable” friend of the Jewish state. At the end is, “Tell them: Enough. It’s time to stand with Israel.” It came as a prelude; a pressure tactic in political parlance, four days ahead of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s bid to seek recognition of a Palestinian state from the United Nations. But hasn’t the Obama administration displayed clear intent to veto the move; so why a full page ad? Why this nervousness? The ad aside, the debate on the Palestinian statehood in the US is heating up. Newspapers are abuzz with the issue since the start of this week. Among international stories, it is already ranked sixth, behind the war in Afghanistan, the overall unrest in the Middle East (mostly Libya and Syria), the European debt crisis, the saga involving the two American hikers held in Iran and the UBS rogue trader. “I would expect the Palestinian statehood issue to generate considerably more coverage this week,” says Mark Jurkowitz, associate director Project for Excellence in Journalism. In New York, the debate is likely to dominate the ongoing 66th United Nations General Assembly session. President Abbas is expected to present a letter requesting full membership for an independent state of Palestine, comprising the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem captured by Israel in 1967, to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Friday. Ban will pass the letter on to the Security Council. Palestinians are trying to expedite the recognition, and they believe the quickest way is through the Security Council. The Palestinian request will have to be approved by nine of 15 Security Council members. It is most likely to be supported by Security Council members Russia, China and Britain. The US continues to believe in and is pressing the point that the only way to a two-state solution is through negotiations. Contrarily, the experts in media circles in the US view the Palestinian effort as nothing more than symbolic – yet compelling. “...the proposal is fair, and it speaks to the legal-minded, peaceful aspects of the Arab Spring,” writes Steve Coll in The New Yorker. He adds, “Under international law, the Palestinian case is strong but not airtight.” Referring to the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, which requires a state to have a permanent population, a defined territory, government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other states, he comments, “Palestine – the West Bank and Gaza, as mapped by the 1967 pre-war border with Israel – possesses the first three. Yet the unresolved divide between Hamas, which rules Gaza and seeks Israel’s overthrow and Palestinian Authority , which holds the West Bank and accepts Israel in principle, casts doubt on a combined Palestine’s ability to act coherently.” So, based on the Convention, the Palestinian Authority does not qualify for recognition as a state, and “concomitantly, it does not qualify for UN membership, which is open only to states,” write David B Rivkin and Lee A Casey in the Sept 21 issue of The Wall Street Journal. They further argue that the UN – General Assembly or Security Council – has no power to create states or to grant all-important formal ‘recognition’ to state aspirants. “The right to recognise statehood is a fundamental attribute of sovereignty and the United Nation is not a sovereign.” Irrespective of the legal case against the Palestinian statehood, the stakes for the Obama administration in this battle are high. With a tough re-election next year, by withholding the US veto, Obama will “jeopardise his support among the American backers of Israel. But by using it, Obama will further weaken US standing in the Middle East, where popular uprising have unleashed anti-Israel and anti-American sentiment that US backed dictators held in check for decades,” comment Lesley Clark, Sheera Frenkel and Jonathan S Landay for the McClatchy Newspapers. A UN vote on the Palestinian statehood may be the only way to save the Jewish state, writes Trudy Rubin for The Philadelphia Inquirer. She thinks, as Israelis know well, “their entire region is in flux in ways that make them very nervous”. The status quo has crumbled in most Arab countries, and it will not last in the West Bank and Gaza. “Many Palestinians (and much of the “street” in Arab states that are undergoing upheaval) have given up on the idea of two states. So have most Israelis. Yet the death of the two-state concept and the peace process that went with it creates existential dangers for the Jewish state.” For the moment there’s anxiety: will the veto take place? Will it land in the General Assembly? But certainly the Palestinian state must come into existence – eventually.

Is this a price worth paying?

Brian Cloughley In the course of research for a paper on US-Pakistan relations I came across a speech given by President Obama in March this year, titled ‘A New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan’. It was interesting and quite informative, if misguided and engagingly ingenuous, but the fascinating sentence that leapt from the page to my astonished eyes was the declaration that “The United States of America did not choose to fight a war in Afghanistan.” It’s a bit like being told “Hitler didn’t cause World War Two”, or reading a newspaper headline such as “Republican Politician Tells Truth” or “Gaza is Earthly Paradise.” But the Obama assertion was even further removed from reality. Nobody grabbed America’s collective nose and ordered it to send special forces to go to Afghanistan’s Tora Bora region on October 7, 2001, along with a few dozen British colleagues and a now-rich bunch of raggy baggy Afghan warlords who took millions of CIA dollars in enormous shrink-wrapped bundles and then sat down on their money and did nothing. The prime mover in that farce (for such it was, alas, in spite of instances of exceptionally courageous conduct by US and British soldiers; I have had a first-hand description of the operation, but alas can’t recount it because of the UK’s Official Secrets Act), was the White House. The pathetic Blair of Britain followed in his usual fashion, desperate to have bonding photographs taken alongside the grinning Bush. It was most certainly the United States of America that chose to invade Afghanistan. And it was the United States that manipulated the United Nations Security Council into a resolution that seemed to give justification for its unwinnable war. Two researchers in the British House of Commons have produced a paper titled ‘The Legal Basis for the Invasion of Afghanistan’. These analysts are not bleeding-heart liberals; they are intelligent, independent assessors of fact. And they wrote: “The military campaign in Afghanistan was not specifically mandated by the UN -there was no specific Security Council Resolution authorising the invasion – but was widely (although not universally) perceived to be a legitimate form of self-defence under the UN Charter.” The whole thing was a con-job. And dozens of nations were summoned to give it a slimy veneer of quasi-legitimacy. They were all duped – or chose to be manoeuvred – into committing blood, young lives and treasure to the preposterously named “Operation Enduring Freedom.” While writing this piece I went to the website icasualties and saw that yet more young foreign soldiers had been killed. Boys of 19 and 20 are dying in Afghanistan for...for what? There are no names of Afghan soldiers, of course, because they don’t matter to the West – any more than the deaths of Pakistani soldiers matter to Western politicians and generals who demand that “Pakistan must do more to combat terrorism.” What they mean is that even more soldiers of the Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps should sacrifice their lives in order to make it easier for the West to claim that things are improving in its Afghan debacle. Had there been no invasion of Afghanistan by foreign troops, Pakistan would not be in the dreadful situation in which it now finds itself. The fanatics came over the border and found sanctuary amid the lawless but culturally hospitable tribes, which at that very time were being encouraged, with signs of modest success, to join mainstream Pakistan. But the displaced militants began energetic campaigns of propaganda and hatred, and then wreaked havoc by brainwashing home-grown barbarians to develop their own brand of evil mayhem. Pakistan had no suicide bombings until 1995 when an Egyptian citizen tried to drive a bomb-truck into his embassy in Islamabad. There were no other attacks until 2005, when there were two, by sectarian religious fanatics. But then the foreigners’ war in Afghanistan really got going, and in 2007 there were over 50 suicide attacks in Pakistan, most of which directly targeted military forces. Since then it’s been a hideous growth industry. Last year 50 bombings killed over 1100 people, and so far this year the score is 500 dead innocents. Thank you, Operation Enduring Freedom. And thank you, too, America, for the deaths of over 3,000 soldiers of the army and Frontier Corps, because none of them would have been killed were it not for your war in Afghanistan. Kabul’s fraudulently elected government and its supporting foreign forces whine about Pakistan being unable to control movement of militants to and from Afghanistan, and certainly it is impossible to do this – as the US well knows but won’t admit. Across its own fenced and heavily patrolled border with Mexico, which costs an annual six billion dollars to maintain and has over 20,000 border agents, pass hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants every year. Ignoring its own backyard cross-border shambles, the US demands that Pakistan commit its soldiers to invade North Waziristan to fight militants who – undoubtedly – cross the border to Afghanistan to fight there. This operation – or, rather, long series of operations, because it would take years – would require some 60,000 soldiers, of whom a thousand would be killed in a two-year campaign. There would be at least 3,000 Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps soldiers wounded, with hundreds of them maimed for life. There would be thousands of widows, orphans and grieving parents and families. The aim of the US and its dwindling number of international supporters in Afghanistan is not further stability in Pakistan – because a North Waziristan military operation would mightily increase the numbers of suicide and other attacks throughout the country. Their objective is to make it easier for them to claim that their war is going well, as part of President Obama’s ‘New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.’ Does Pakistan think this is a price worth paying? Currently the US is threatening to invade Pakistan rather than endorse ongoing negotiations with militants in Fata. The intention was made clear when defence secretary Panetta, referring to Pakistan’s supposed support of militant operations in Afghanistan, declared that “We’re not going to allow these types of attacks to go on.” I’ve got news for Panetta. If he imagines the Pakistan Army will be a pushover like the Iraqis, he should think again. If US forces attempt an invasion of North Waziristan they will meet reaction not only from militants but from an army which will not accept flagrant violation of national sovereignty. I know the Pakistan Army, and I state flatly that man-for-man it will hammer any opponent, no matter if the skies are horizon-filled with US bombers. Does America think this is a price worth paying?

Until they ‘bluff our call’

Mehreen Zahra-Malik “I eat US threats for breakfast.” Would it be so far-fetched to imagine a top Pakistani general thinking this as he sat down to breakfast Thursday morning? News had just rolled in that a US Senate committee had voted to make aid to Pakistan conditional on going after the Haqqani network. All week long, across-the-board ultimatums of unilateral action were heard from the highest sanctums of the US administration. The voice of the tiny minority in the US government still willing to sympathise with Pakistan had lowered to a mousey squeak. What was going through General Kayani’s mind in the midst of this? The prime minister, often dangerously flippant, told journalists recently, “Now, it’s time that they [United States] do more.” The quip was ironic. ‘Doing more’ is precisely what the Americans are threatening to do. Unilateral action is, after all, a form of ‘doing more.’ And there is one other thing just as expensive in international relations as threats when they fail: promises when they succeed. This time round, it seems, there’s a promise wrapped up in the threats that Pakistan has since long learnt to shrug off with a scoff. So, will a Pakistan used to American cage-rattling consider this impasse any different from the last one? The old hands – retired generals, former emissaries, jaded journalists – will all tell you the same thing: There’s a huge chasm between total breakdown and positive engagement and Pak-US ties will continue to hover somewhere over this vast murkiness. The Americans want to enlarge the operational and tactical space to pursue their strategic goals in Af-Pak and bullying Pakistan is one way to do it. They used the same approach two months ago and two years ago and in the larger strategic scheme of things they haven’t gotten very far. No need to panic. Are they right? Maybe not. In at least two respects, this stalemate is conspicuously different. One, the good cops and the bad cops are all speaking with one voice. Hilary Clinton, who has come to the rescue whenever others in the administration have sought to haul Pakistan, was severe in her advice to Hina Rabbani Khar this week: Pakistan was fast losing friends in Washington, including herself. Sources extremely close to the meeting say Clinton was particularly frustrated about the concerted Pakistani campaign to downplay the money the US has been giving it. ‘What’s the point if even the carrot means nothing anymore?’ seems to have been the take-home message. That’s one good cop down. The other good cop, Admiral Mike Mullen, who has always been uncomfortable with the State Department’s short-term stupidities and CIA’s bravado, has also joined bad cop Leon Panetta in the tongue-lashing on links between the ISI and the Haqqanis. Then there’s Gen Petraeus, known for deliberately sending his men into hot pursuit of suspected Taliban fighters as part of a broader plan to test the Pakistani reaction before intensifying the US military campaign into Waziristan. Now, everyone is speaking the language of Gen Petraeus and this is what it sounds like: you can make your sovereign decisions, and so will we. Till now, the Americans have been able to bully and pressure Pakistan into helping them meet their immediate purpose. And that’s the second factor that sets this stalemate apart: this time round, the Americans are no longer just interested in an immediate purpose. How many CIA folks are allowed into Pakistan; how many trainers get visas; how many joint aid projects and counterintelligence raids are conducted – who cares about the minutiae? Pakistan has been fatally locked into a static strategic worldview and that is what needs to change. Enough tweaking and tuning. The US wants a fundamental shift now. The Pakistan army argues that a military operation in North Waziristan is a ‘problem of ‘capability.’ The Americans increasingly see it as a ‘problem of will.’ Behind closed doors, and ever more in front of the cameras, this is the argument: if the Pakistanis have the capability to help us catch senior Al Qaeda types, why can’t they rein in the Haqqanis? It’s a fair question. But all this is not to say the Americans will go for an operation in Wazirsitan. On that one, even those most plugged in say we’ll just have to wait and watch. But what we do know is that the options for Pakistan have tremendously shrunk. If we have influence over the Taliban, we should use it to bring them to the table; if we don’t have influence over them, we need to fight them – there is no third option. We can either use our sway to reconcile them or use our power to weaken them. Take them on, or take them to the table. Not convinced we’re capable of making the right choices when we need to? The Lashkar-e-Taiba was long considered one of the most important instruments of Pakistan’s foreign policy in the region. Could anyone have predicted Pakistan would arrest Zakiur Rehman Lakhwi as the foremost mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks? The idea of going after the Haqqanis occupies the same plane of unthinkability at the moment. But for how long? Right now, one can imagine the security establishment whispering into worried American ears: In the worst-case scenario, the very groups you’re most worried about now may be completely beyond our control later; the jihadists out of work after the coalition’s exit from Afghanistan will need something to keep themselves busy... So perhaps we’ll keep calling the United States’ bluff – but only until they bluff our call back.

For Pakistan to change, army must change

Ayaz Amir The army and its strategic adventures have brought Pakistan to its present pass. The footprints of the terrorism now haunting the country go back to the first Afghan ‘jihad’, the one army-inspired event which pushed Pakistan to the frontiers of insanity. The phoenix won’t rise from its ashes, and there will be no return to sanity, unless the army can bring itself to change its outlook and reinvent some of its mental apparatus. Civilians have been poor administrators, in no position to escape their share of the blame for the mess the Fortress of Islam is in. But in the driving seat of Pakistan’s steady march to the brink have been our holy guardians. There is little room for quibbling on this point. Even so, despite the mounting evidence of disorder, the army refuses to change, still obsessed with the threat from the east, still caught up with the quixotic notion of exercising influence in Afghanistan. God in heaven, why should it matter to us if a president of Afghanistan is a Tajik, an Uzbek or a Pathan? Can’t we keep our eyes focused on our own problems? The threat we face lies squarely within but our strategic grandmasters insist on being foreign policy specialists. If a Stalin were around, although fat chance of that occurring, he would lay his hands first not on militants and assorted terrorists but on the foreign policy experts who infest our television studios. Is Mossad pulling the strings of terrorism in Karachi? Was the CIA behind the attack on Shia pilgrims in Mastung? Was RAW behind the attempt on the life of the Karachi special investigator, Chaudhry Aslam? By any reasonable computation we have enough of a nuclear arsenal. By any yardstick of common sense, a commodity often in short supply in the conference rooms of national security, we have as much of a deterrent as we need to counter the real or imagined threat from India. This being the case, we should be directing what energies we have to the threat from within: that posed by militancy marching under the banner of Islam. As part of this undertaking, we need to advertise for a Hakim Luqman who could cure our general staff and the ISI of their preoccupation with the future of Afghanistan. We have been burnt by Afghanistan. We don’t need any further burning. For the sake of Pakistan’s future we need to distance ourselves from Afghanistan’s problems, dire as they are. Of one thing we should be sure. America’s Afghan pacification drive has failed. Far from being defeated or even on the back-foot the Taliban are stronger than ever. When the Americans leave, the mental decision to leave having already been taken, Afghanistan will erupt once more into civil war. This is the writing on the wall, the message emblazoned across the skies. All the more reason for Pakistan’s strategic geniuses to avoid the temptation, irresistible as it may be, to take sides in that civil war. Who comes out on top, the Taliban or warriors from Mars, should be none of our business. The theory of strategic assets for the future thus becomes irrelevant. We paid a heavy penalty for this theory in the past. We can’t be repeating the same mistakes. Our old assets were the likes of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. What good did they do us? Our new assets, even though our denials are vociferous, are the likes of Sirajuddin Haqqani and his so-called network. What are we expecting of them? That they will deliver Afghanistan to the ISI’s safekeeping? Is this grand strategy or the repetition of grand folly? The discovery of Sheikh Osama bin Laden in the sylvan surroundings of Abbottabad should have been a wake-up call for the guardians of national security. Having been caught with their pants down some humility was in order. But they seem to have slunk deeper into their bunkers. The Americans may be asking for too much, and they are certainly in the mood to hunt for scapegoats as their Afghan intervention begins to unravel, but none of this should mean that we remain faithful to the discredited theory of strategic assets. The Haqqanis may be good for Afghanistan but nothing that they have qualifies them to imperil or worsen Pakistan’s ties with the United States. Gen Kayani is perfectly right in saying that any decision to launch an operation in North Waziristan or anywhere else will be Pakistan’s decision, taken in the light of what we think is best for us, and that in this respect there will be no taking orders from America. This is also the voice of the nation. At the same time, however, why must the suspicion be allowed to linger that the Haqqanis enjoy ISI backing? This has been the cocktail circuit gossip in Islamabad for a long time now. If this is a groundless suspicion the ISI’s media machine should have been working overtime to dispel it. But we have allowed matters to reach the point where Pakistan’s real or alleged support for the Haqqanis has become, at least for the time being, the major sticking point between the Pentagon and General Headquarters. Allowing this suspicion to grow has not been very smart on the part of our national security experts. The US secretary of defence Leon Panetta and CIA chief Gen David Petraeus are not oracles whose words should be taken on trust. If they say something it doesn’t become a divine revelation. But we have to be honest with ourselves. Is North Waziristan a Taliban haven or not? Do the Haqqanis use it as a safe base or not? If it is a safe haven we should be doing something about it, not because this is what America wishes but because it is in our own interest to do so. But if it be not in our power to do something then our protestations about national sovereignty wear pretty thin. At America’s door can be laid the responsibility of much mischief stretching from the Middle East to Iraq and onwards to Afghanistan. But the demons we are contending with – whether in Mastung or Karachi – are not American inventions. For their creation and nurturing we have to look at ourselves, in this regard our own shoulders bearing the heaviest responsibility. Let us dread the day the Taliban are victorious in Afghanistan. What a fillip will that be for militancy in the name of the faith in Pakistan? Then America will not come to our rescue. We will be on our own and it will avail us little if the Haqqanis were or were not a strategic asset of ours. By the way, who was the genius who coined this phrase, strategic asset? In a just world he would have some explaining to do. The militants Pakistan faces baulk at nothing. They are utterly ruthless. But, collectively, we haven’t really woken up to this threat, our national response, therefore, a mixture of toughness and softness. How many militants have been sentenced by the courts? Very few if at all. The excuse trotted out is that prosecutions are weak and the evidence often skimpy. But when an Aasia Bibi comes to trial, for an alleged offence with a religious connotation, the punishment is swift and severe, regardless of how persuasive or skimpy the evidence may be. My Lord the Chief Justice is trying to take the authorities in Karachi, especially the police, to task, although what good mere admonitions will do remains to be seen. But it would also help if their lordships took a closer look at the weaknesses in the judiciary’s cupboard. Decades of misadventure have distorted and even corrupted the Pakistani mind. We do not live in the real world. Our foreign policy notions, our list of assets and threats, have but a remote relation to reality. We must look to first causes. How did we create these bonfires for ourselves? How did we become prisoners of our misconceptions? Liberating the Pakistani mind from the shackles of these self-imposed errors must be the first of our tasks if, with luck, we are to become a normal nation.