Five Lessons Egypt Should Learn from Pakistan (The National Interest)

In the National Interest, I offer five lessons for Egyptian democrats from the experience of their counterparts in Pakistan. Click here to read it.

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This Passes for Journalism?

Eli Lake, national security correspondent for the Washington Times, has written a terribly awful story on concerns about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.  Lake’s overzealousness in pursuit of a sexy Pakistani angle in the wake of the Osama bin Laden (OBL) raid comes to trump his journalistic professionalism.

There are five sources in the piece.

Three are unnamed U.S. officials who simply comment on the OBL raid.  They do not make any statements regarding Pakistan’s nuclear program, though this is the article’s focus and they would be the ones who’d have the best access to the latest intelligence that would raise fresh concerns over the safety of Pakistan’s nukes.  Their purpose in the piece is to give it some meat with their sheer presence, though they do not offer Lake any information on Pakistan’s nuclear program.  Their presence, in a way, allows Lake to write this in his lede:

…while U.S. officials and analysts raise concerns about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear materials.

U.S. officials never actually raise those concerns with Lake.  But Lake cites concerns about Pakistan’s nukes expressed in 2009 State Department cables revealed by WikiLeaks.  So no U.S. officials ever say anything to him about Pakistan’s nukes after the OBL raid.

So who actually makes comments to Lake about Pakistan’s nuclear program? The remaining two sources. And they prove to be quite weak.

The two remaining sources are Olli Heinonen, a former IAEA official, and Steve Rothman, a congressman who serves on the House Appropriations Committee.

In light of allegations that the ISI or elements within it helped OBL hide, Heinonen expresses his concern that similar personnel within Pakistan’s security apparatus could assist al-Qaeda or other terrorist organizations in gaining access to “sensitive nuclear materials.”  It is a legitimate concern, but it is laden with assumptions (e.g. that a person who would help OBL hide would also give him access to nuclear material and have the ability to do so).  And it is not based on any new information.

Rothman’s quote is really the heart of the piece.  And it’s completely wrong.

Lake writes:

Mr. Rothman said al Qaeda operatives in 2009 “came within 60 kilometers of what is believed to have been Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal,” though he could not elaborate on the incident.

Rothman — a consumer, not a producer, of intelligence analysis — incorrectly relates information he heard in a briefing two years ago. Blame it on fuzzy memory.  And though Rothman “could not elaborate on the incident,” Lake certainly could have done his own research.  Unfortunately, some journalists become overly dependent on governmental sources (especially unnamed ones).

In the spring of 2009, the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (not al-Qaeda) came within 60 kilometers of Islamabad (not Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal — components of which are dispersed across the country). While the TTP represented a grave threat at that point, there is no available evidence that they had contacts with security personnel or the organizational ability to access Pakistani nuclear material.

The enroachment of the TTP may have “resulted … in new safeguards and new measures taken by the United States and Pakistan and others to minimize any possibility of anyone acquiring the Pakistani nuclear weapons or material.” But there is no evidence that these changes were made on the basis of specific threats to the nuclear program, rather than fears based on an overall deterioration of security.

Lake’s packaging of the article is very clever. But once one takes it apart, it becomes clear there’s nothing inside.


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The Malakand Division War Begins

The nation of Pakistan begins its greatest test in decades as Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani declared war against takfiri terrorists in the Malakand Division in a national address this evening.

Gilani called on Pakistanis to unite behind their army and government in a war to “completely eliminate” militants who have reaped havoc and death in the once tranquil greater Swat area.

The prime minister’s speech is part of an aggressive public relations campaign by the Pakistani state to rally public support for a full-fledged war against the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan in Swat.  The campaign centers around using Islam to de-legitimize the militants.

Around a week ago, a news anchor close to the military-intelligence establishment read the following Qur’anic verses — unprecedented on his program — at the end of a segment on Swat:

And when it is said to them: “Make not mischief on the earth,” they say: “We are only peacemakers.”

Verily! They are the ones who make mischief, but they perceive not.

(Surah al-Baqarah, Ayat 11 & 12)

Immediately, I realized that the verses were probably offered to him by elements of the state security apparatus and signaled the start of a campaign to take away the Islamic legitimacy of the takfiri terrorists.

Today, the Pakistani government began airing public service announcements on private and government television channels, broadcasting the same Qur’anic verses.  As the bullets and mortars fly and hundreds of thousands flee their homes, the war of ideas begins.

Islamic scholars from all backgrounds — Ahl-e Hadis, Barelvi, Deobandi, Jafri (Twelver Shia), modernist, and Islamist — including Muhammad Rafi Usmani, Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, and Khalid Masud, have come on television to speak out against the violent methodology of the militants and their campaign of terror against Pakistanis.

Generations ago, four young men told the Muslims of India: “The issue is now or never. Either we live [and establish Pakistan] or perish for ever.”

Pakistan faces the same choice today: to live or perish forever.

There is no question as to how the takfiri terrorists will respond.  The will begin hitting Pakistani cities tomorrow.  The battlefield will not be contained to the Malakand Division.

But as for the Pakistani people, we will learn of their decision — and fate — soon.

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Taliban Whipping of Girl Roundly Condemned

The Taliban whipping video has been broadcast on Pakistani television channels, generating a great deal of outrage inside Pakistan. Both the prime minister and president have condemned the act.

Surprisingly, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry took suo moto notice on the case. He has summoned several leading bureaucrats to present themselves before an eight-member bench on April 6th.

As I wrote last month at World Politics Review:

“[The rule of law movement] provides an opportunity to strengthen the Pakistani state, improve the judicial system’s responsiveness, and resist creeping Talibanization….

“…Islamabad must now curb the spread of social Talibanization elsewhere by demonstrating that civil justice can also be speedy and effective. It should leverage the popular, national demand for the rule of civil law by bolstering the reform of the judicial system and ensuring the judiciary’s independence.”

Kudos to Samar Minallah, sister of lawyers movement leader Athar Minallah, for bringing this crime to light.

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Victory for Civil Law in Pakistan a First Step

Here’s an excerpt from my latest external piece, published at World Politics Review:

A movement led by black-coated lawyers achieved a defining victory for the rule of civil law in Pakistan on Monday with the restoration of illegally deposed Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. This highly popular movement provides an opportunity to strengthen the Pakistani state, improve the judicial system’s responsiveness, and resist creeping Talibanization.

You can read the remainder of the article here.

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Pakistan’s Way Out of the Abyss

Pakistan has come to a point in which political half measures are no longer an option.

Its economy is in tatters, amidst a global recession that will be multi-year.  The textile industry contracted by 33% this past year.  Skilled and unskilled laborers will be returning from Dubai with little possibility of local employment. This year’s growth rate will be below 3%, which, for an impoverished country like Pakistan is effectively negative growth.

The militant threat is rising.  Meanwhile, the state security apparatus — in a fast replay of Musharraf’s downward spiral in 2007 — is presently oriented around suppressing domestic dissent, at the cost of combating takfiri terrorists.

Political reform is non-existent. State failures are mounting on top of those that have accumulated over the decades.  Pockets of the country in which the primary organs of the state — the elected leadership, bureaucracy, police, and judiciary — are non-functional have proven to be ripe for the rise of militant vigilantism.  These pockets exist not only in the Pashtun belt bordering Afghanistan, but also in no-go areas in major cities and a good number of rural districts throughout the country.

State resources must be channeled to combat these threats and seize opportunities to put Pakistan on the right course.

For that to occur, Pakistan needs detente between its two largest parties, the Peoples Party (PPP) and Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).  They must serve as anchors of stability, not agents of chaos.

There is, however, no trust between the the Peoples Party (PPP) and Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N). The sole reason for the breakdown in trust is the fact that President Asif Ali Zardari made three separate agreements with former Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, only to renege on his commitments after the expiry of each deadline.

The absence of trust and the imminence of a direct confrontation between the Long Marchers and an increasingly repressive state apparatus necessitates immediate, decisive change on the part of the PPP-led federal government to restore political stability.

So how does Pakistan get there?

  1. END GOVERNOR’S RULE IN PUNJAB: Allow the PML-N to form a coalition in the province, preferably with the PPP.  Reverse bureaucratic and judicial changes made after the imposition of governor’s rule.
  2. EXPAND THE NRO: Immediately pass a new amendment that expands the National Reconciliation Ordinance to political parties left out, enables the Sharifs to run for office, and removes the two-term bar on elected officials.
  3. RESTORE CHIEF JUSTICE IFTIKHAR CHAUDHRY: Let him serve the remainder of his term with honor and respect.  A judge who stands up for the rule of law is not an enemy, but a national hero.  He is a potential asset for revitalizing civil law in Pakistan.  Western governments need to realize this.  Neither his term nor his powers should be reduced.
  4. CREATE A NATIONAL UNITY GOVERNMENT: Invite the PML-N to rejoin the federal cabinet.  If the PML-N declines, it should become a productive policy-oriented opposition with a complete shadow cabinet.  As a sign of good faith, the PPP can vacate a National Assembly or Senate seat and offer it to Tehreek-e Insaf’s Imran Khan.
  5. COMMIT TO A NON-AGGRESSION PACT: Have all power brokers commit to letting the national and provincial assemblies complete their terms.
  6. RESTORE THE SOVEREIGNTY OF PARLIAMENT: Reduce presidential powers to their original form.  Improve the functioning of parliamentary oversight committees. Televise their proceedings on a dedicated terrestrial channel.
  7. IMPLEMENT THE CHARTER OF DEMOCRACY: The COD is one of the best political consensus documents in Pakistan since the 1973 constitution.  It is the product of the maturation of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. [Full text of COD] Start with issues such as provincial autonomy and the National Finance Commission award, which will help improve inter-provincial relations and bring the Baloch out of the periphery.

The steps above ensure the political participation of all the major players in the present political setup; they all get a piece of the pie.  Pakistan is then able to focus on pressing issues such as economic and political reform, counterterrorism, and poverty alleviation.

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U.S. Personnel Inside Pakistan ‘Securing’ Nuclear Weapons

Weeks ago, I wrote that the extent of the U.S. presence inside Pakistan is often underestimated.  Days after that, Sen. Diane Feinstein [re-]revealed that the Predator and Reaper drones are launched from a base inside Pakistan.

Here comes another bombshell from Richard Sale:

“…under the terms of secret [U.S.-Pakistan] agreements, U.S. personnel have been stationed in Pakistan whose sole function is to guarantee and secure the safety of Islamabad’s nuclear arsenal and keep it out of the hands of terrorists, according to several serving and former U.S. officials.

Some of the American technicians have had direct access to the nuclear weapons themselves, these sources said….

The United States then used Special Forces ‘snatch teams’ to kidnap Pakistani scientists who were peddling Pakistan’s nuclear technology or knowledge of it to undesirables. For example, a group of such scientists abruptly disappeared while traveling in Burma, these sources said.

Under U.S. pressure, within two days of the [9/11] attacks, Pakistan’s military began to secretly relocate critical nuclear weapons components to six new secret locations, U.S. sources said…”

Playing dumb, I ask, “Why are all these revelations coming out now?”

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The ‘Push on Pakistan’

Almost a year ago, I wrote an op-ed for Lahore’s Daily Times discussing an intensifying phenomenon I described as the “push on Pakistan.”  [The paper's editors took out the word "on" and made a 'liberal' (pun intended) edit or two.]

But, in light of the heightened pressure on Pakistan from Washington and the increased role of the Pakistan-Afghanistan conflict in the U.S. presidential campaign, here’s a link to that piece.  Some points I made were particularly prescient.  Others not so — but we can forget about those:-)

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Full Employment

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Arif Rafiq, a Washington, DC-based consultant on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. [About]

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Arif Rafiq regularly appears on the John Batchelor Show Friday nights from 09:30-10:00pm Eastern Time. Tune your dial to 770AM in New York or 630AM in DC. The show appears on affiliates in other cities. Listen live online at WABCRadio.com.
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