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Discussion on Attacks on journalists and Media Freedom


Participants:  Imtiaz Alam, Khaled Ahmed, and Sadaf Arshad

 

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2011 in Media

 

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US-Pak relations: terms of estrangement


Najam Sethi
The News, February 06, 2011

The case of Raymond Davis has outraged most Pakistanis and raised nagging questions about the nature of the US role in Pakistan, about the integrity of powerful sections of the media and intelligentsia, and about the political opportunism of the ruling PPP and PMLN governments in Islamabad and Lahore respectively. Ominously, the strategic US-Pak relationship is fraying with unforeseen consequences for both.

The US has stationed dozens of armed intelligence agents in Pakistan. These belong to the CIA – which is a part of the US state – or Blackwater-type private security or intelligence companies specifically contracted to the State Department or to the Pentagon. These men and women have been granted visas by the Government of Pakistan (GoP) on the basis of a protocol signed during General Pervez Musharraf’s time after 9/11. Many, though not all, carry diplomatic passports with “official” or “official business” visas granted by the GoP following formal requests by one or the another US agency or department. Some are attached to the US Embassy in Islamabad, others to the Consulates. Some have formal diplomatic (status) cards issued by the Foreign Office, others don’t, which makes their diplomatic status vague despite their possession of diplomatic passports. Some carry firearms and fake IDs – which is known to the relevant GoP ministries and military intelligence agencies, firearm licenses or not – and others don’t. In other words, ambiguity about their status, work, and facilities afforded are duly maintained jointly by the US and Pakistani governments and intelligence agencies like the CIA and ISI.

That, at least, is the theory. In practice, however, the GoP retains a conscious element of “plausible deniability” about the status and work of such Americans. This is akin to the theory and practice of publicly protesting and privately condoning drone attacks, as one recent incriminating Wikileak revealed. We may also recall how provincial police, including military police, have often, in the past, stopped vehicles with tinted windows or windscreens and false number plates, but have been helpless against armed Americans inside these vehicles on account of interventionist phone calls from powerful officials in Islamabad. The rules of such discourse have not been made public. That is why there is so much anguish and outrage in the media and public against the Americans “who are so brazenly breaking the law of the land” when, in fact, they are doing so with the knowledge, connivance and even approval of the civilian government and military authorities.

Therefore the chronicle of Raymond Davis was foretold. It was only a matter of time before an Iraq-type Blackwater incident of “shooting first and asking questions later” would happen somewhere in Pakistan. I warned against it in October 2009. Neither the Americans, nor the Pakistanis, it seems, have learnt any lessons. No Standard Operating Procedures for such operatives and operations (spies tasked to uncover terrorists) were laid down or made public, nor was their status exactly defined, let alone implemented.

For example, the tinted windows and windscreens, false number plates, and weapons in the vehicles are meant purely for security purposes (to deny recognition to any would-be terrorist and afford defense) and not for evasion of the law (the correct registration documents are always inside the car and can be produced at will). But this SOP hasn’t been properly conveyed to provincial policemen. Nor was the diplomatic status for immunity purposes of such agents clarified and coded by Pakistani and American authorities, just as in Iraq where such agents had to be secretly sent to the US by local authorities after every violent transgression of the laws of the land. Out of over 200 such incidents in Iraq during 2005-2007, over 160 incidents were characterised by US “private agents shooting first”, ostensibly for purposes of “self-defense” or “security”.

This explains the confusion in the statements issued by the American Embassy in Islamabad which first said that Davis was on “official business” contracted to the Consulate, and then changed it to the Embassy when a reading of the Vienna Conventions of 1961 and 1963 suggested that the question of diplomatic immunity might be affected by the consular or embassy status of the person involved, regardless of the diplomatic passport held. It also explains why a State Department official in Washington was wary of confirming whether the agent at the centre of the storm in Pakistan was in fact Raymond Davis or someone else under the guise of Raymond Davis. It also explains the reluctance of the Pakistani Foreign Office to make a clear statement about the diplomatic status of Davis regarding immunity from criminal prosecution.

To make matters worse, the issue quickly became a vicious ping-pong game between the PPP government in Islamabad and the PMLN government in Punjab. Each side has been trying to get brownie nationalist points from the people regardless of the consequences for the strategic US-Pak relationship and national security. If the Punjab government had consulted the federal government before formally arresting Davis and acceded to an informal request to hand him over to the Americans, there would have been no storm and the “Protocols of the Elders” would have remained hidden. Instead, the Punjab government immediately gave a statement that Davis would be tried for murder in a court of law unless the federal government took responsibility for him and confirmed his diplomatic immunity. When the FO dithered, the Punjab government appointed a public prosecutor who immediately went public with his “strong case” against Davis by consciously distorting the facts of the shootout. Unfortunately, the more the Punjab government delighted in the discomfort of the federal government and exploited the media and public outrage, the more the federal government in general, and the FO in particular, retreated behind a smokescreen of feigned ignorance and wounded pride. Privately, the Punjab government has told the US embassy that it is ready to facilitate Davis’s release if the FO makes a statement in court that Davis enjoys diplomatic immunity!

The role of the media and intelligentsia, in general, is a case of deliberate distortion and outright lies. The fiction persists that Davis “murdered” two Pakistanis by shooting them in the back, despite an autopsy report that says four out of seven bullets hit the armed motorcyclists in the front. The fiction persists that they were “innocent citizens” despite the fact that they had robbed two passersby earlier in the day, whose cash and cell-phones were found on their persons. The fiction persists that he was in no imminent danger of grievous injury, let alone kidnapping or death, despite the fact that foreigners, especially Americans, have been routinely targeted and killed or kidnapped by terrorists in Pakistan in the last decade. No one, of course, has bothered to offer a motive for Davis to “murder” the two young men, and even talk of “proportionate” defense is misplaced. So where do we go from here?

The US has signaled distinct annoyance with the GoP. A cool reception was accorded by US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, and Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani in this weekend’s trilateral meeting in Munich. Ambassador Hussain Haqqani has been summoned to the White House and lectured on the virtues of state maturity and reciprocity. The Af-Pak border in Waziristan has heated up, with one Pakistani soldier having been killed in clashes with US-Afghan troops on the border. The IMF has hardened its stance. President Asif Zardari’s proposed trip to Washington and one-0n-one with President Obama in March stands threatened. A go-slow could also impact Coalition Support Funds and US$2 billion worth of weapons in the pipeline for the Pakistan military and $1.5 billion from the Kerry-Lugar Bill for the civilian government of Pakistan.

The sooner this matter is sorted out, the better it is for both countries. Additionally, the rules of US-Pak engagement involving state and non-state actors must be made explicit for the media and public, without hypocrisy and doublespeak. No state’s national interest can be served by passion or prejudice, regardless of the affront or hurt. It is in the national interest of Pakistan to retain a strategic relationship with the United States. However, the US must stop pressuring Pakistan to accept armed, trigger-happy cowboys on intelligence operations as unaccountable diplomats. If this practice continues, there will be more outrage and anguish on the street, and both Pakistan and the US will be the net losers.

The writer is Jang Group/Geo adviser on political affairs.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2011 in US-Pak relations

 

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Appeasement policy towards religious intolerance leads to murder of a governor


A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

PAKISTAN: Appeasement policy towards religious intolerance leads to
murder of a governor

The nation has suffered a great loss due to this tragic murder. A
voice of sanity has been silenced. This has happened at a time when
the kind of political leadership provided by Salman Taseer is most
needed. He stood for basic values which are essential for the
stability of Pakistan. His shocking death should be an awakening for
all right-thinking people of Pakistan about the perils that the
country is facing. Creating chaos is not difficult under the tense
conditions under which Pakistan has functioned for a considerable time
now. The benefits of such chaos will only go to a few. However, the
consequences of this death can seriously harm the population which may
begin to react with fear of such murders. It is time for all concerned
persons and the government to react soberly but strongly on this
occasion in order to ensure that the benefits of this situation will
go to those are bent on creating chaos.

The incident is a clear demonstration of the religious hatred and
fanatical mindset that has seeped into the society. The sin of
Governor Salman Taseer was that he was openly criticising the misuse
of the blasphemy laws not only by the fundamentalists but also by the
courts and politicians. He was opposed to section 295-C of the
Pakistan Penal Code which was promulgated by the former military
dictator, General Zia-ul- Haq which dictates the death penalty to
alleged blasphemers.

It is very ironic that the fanatic Muslim leaders were openly
declaring that Governor Salman Taseer is Wajibul Qatl (must be
killed). They even publically announced reward money for the killings
of any person who opposes the blasphemy laws. However, the government
has made no move to arrest the fundamentalists. The Asian Human Rights
Commission (AHRC) on December 8, 2010 issued an Urgent Appeal
demanding that the government prosecute Muslim leaders who issued
decrees to kill Aasia Bibi. The AHRC also mentioned that Governor
Salman Taseer has been declared infidel so the government should
provide protection.

The policy of appeasement for the Muslim fundamentalists is simply
political expediency. In particular, the governments of Pakhtoon Kha,
Punjab provinces and the federal government have ignored the severity
of the religious madness which has made the society intolerant. The
media and its anchor persons are also responsible for the killing of
the governor as they were enjoying the controversy over the blasphemy
laws and were inviting fanatic Muslim leaders to take part in their
discussions. It was during these media discussions that they openly
urged the masses to act against Governor Taseer and Ms. Sherry Rehman,
the former federal minister who introduced a private bill in the
national assembly against section 295-c of blasphemy laws, as they
were both infidel and Wajibul Qatl.

It is also found that Punjab provincial government is notorious in
providing shelter to the leaders of banned religious terrorist
organizations and in many cases particularly during the election
campaigns, the provincial law minister was taking leaders of banned
religious parties in the processions so as to garner the votes of the
fundamentalists. The Punjab government was holding the conferences of
Tahafuz-e-Namoos-e- Risalat where the religious leaders were openly
threatening death to religious minorities and liberals for blasphemy,
particularly against the Ahmedis.

The governor’s assassin, Police Constable Mumtaz Quadri of the Elite
Force fired a burst from his machine pistol of which 26 rounds struck
Taseer. According to a pre-planned arrangement no security policemen
attempted to stop him. He first fired one shot and this was followed
by a total of 40 rounds. Three days before the shooting Quadri told
his colleagues that he was planning to kill the governor after which
he would surrender so as not to be killed himself. The Elite Force was
created by the chief minister of Punjab in 1997 and since then it has
become parallel to the police force. All appointments are made by the
ruling party of Punjab on political basis. Quadri claimed that he
killed the governor because he was opposed to the blasphemy laws.

Controversies abounded between the ruling party and the governor’s
house. The chief minister never liked his presence because the
governor was very vocal against the lukewarm attitude of the ruling
party towards the militant religious groups. The provincial government
did not obey the orders of the governor and, in fact, they were not
even on speaking terms.

The reports in the media suggest that the incident was not carried
out by a single person but was rather the result of a conspiracy. It
must be noted that the conspiracy was hatched through the Elite Force
which is run by the provincial law minister who was very much against
the governor and supportive of militant Muslim organisations. The
Punjab government was responsible for the provision of the security to
all VIPs in the province. It is a strange that a person with such
extremist inclinations was deployed in the governor’s security detail
which raises eye brows on the murder.

The murder of the Governor Taseer shows that the country is being
controlled by the military and the Mullahs and is rapidly turning into
a fascist state. The use of loud speakers from the mosques, which is
actually already against the law, must be halted firmly so that
religious and sectarian hatred cannot be spread throughout society.
The government must come out from behind the policy of appeasement of
the fundamentalists and put a stop to the cancer that is destroying
the country.

 

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