Personal to the political

Can the army defend this country from itself?

A December 21, 2011 Inter-Services Press Release No PR301/2011-ISPR reads: “An article was published in the daily, [sic] Independent, [sic] UK on 13 December 2011, [sic] in which Mr Omar Waraich has made false assertions regarding DG ISI’s visits to Arab countries [sic]. It has been said that the DG met senior Arab leaders and asked permission for a military coup in Pakistan. The story has been publish [sic] without verification at any level.

“It is clarified that DG ISI did not meet any Arab leader between 1-9 May 2011 as mentioned in the article. DG ISI’s other visits to Kingdom of Saudi Arabia [sic] and UAE [sic] only, prior to or after this period, were part of routine intelligence sharing activity, during which he interacted with his counterparts only.

Contents [sic] of the article are strongly and categorically denied. A legal notice is being served to [sic] the newspaper to retract the story and apologise.”

If the genesis and purport of this PR were not serious and malignant, I would have poked fun at its terrible drafting, asked the ISPR to hire a good sub and moved on. Unfortunately, the issue is vital to me at two levels, personal and analytical.

Personal because Omar Waraich, the reporter who has been falsely and gratuitously attacked by the ISPR-PR, is a friend and a fine professional and I take my friendships and enmities seriously.

The second level, the analytical, is important to me because I have always argued that the civil-military imbalance in Pakistan is the biggest security threat to this country. And I have argued this as a realist, not some softie lib-lab.

It is not every day that the personal and the analytical become part of a continuum as they have in this case. That being so, let me begin with the personal and move from the specific to the general.

What is Omar being accused of: false assertions? And pray, what did Omar say: that Mansoor Ijaz, the current darling of the army-ISI combine, told him that a senior [US] intel source confirmed to Ijaz that “Pasha had traveled to a few of the Arab countries to talk about what would be necessary to do in the event they had to remove Zardari from power and so forth”? And why did Ijaz need to consult a US intel source? Because Ijaz felt the measure was necessary “to make sure that there was nothing we were doing that was against US interests”. And what did “we were doing” mean? In Ijaz’ words, “to make sure that a senior person that I know in US intelligence would have had the opportunity to review what was about to sent over”. What was being sent over? The memo, thank you.

Please note that what is being said here is what Mansoor Ijaz told Omar Waraich in an interview from London over the telephone. None of this constitutes Omar’s “assertions”. If these assertions are false, as the ISPR-PR makes them out to be, the falsehood belongs squarely to Ijaz, not, I repeat not, Omar Waraich.

But wait. Let’s go back to the BBM exchange which makes the basis of the current crisis. In a message on May 10 Ijaz writes: “I was just informed by senior US intel that GD-SII Mr P asked for, and received permission, from senior Arab leaders a few days ago to sack Z. For what its [sic] worth.”

Omar got on to the story from this message. He called and spoke with Ijaz, recorded the interview and wrote the story. And after reproducing what Ijaz said to him his own analysis was that what was being said was unlikely, that no such thing happened and there was no danger of any coup. In fact, as Omar’s story put it: “Did he [Ijaz] find the information credible? ‘Of course I thought it was credible,’ Ijaz replied, slightly exasperated by the question.”

So, why this ISPR attack on Omar? It would stretch credulity to think that the army-ISI combine cannot get this fact which is plain and simple. There are two reasons why they have decided to shoot the messenger: one, the government has annexed Omar’s blog piece with its reply to the petitions on the memo (there’s also a separate petition asking for the removal of the DG-ISI); two, the army-ISI combine cannot accuse Ijaz of making false assertions because you can’t say he has blatantly lied about this matter while being truthful about everything else related to the memo.

To wiggle out of this and put something on the record to be presented before the court, they have decided to attack Omar and The Independent. This is as good a strategy as Huckleberry Finn would come up with after a 10-minute reading of Sun Tzu.

But let’s move to the general. What happens after this calumnious attack on Omar? Would the civil-military fault-line disappear? Let’s also assume the army manages to get rid of the current government by acting as a force-multiplier in combination with sections of the media, the judiciary and the political “tsunami” that’s about to engulf Pakistan. Would the structural problems that keep begetting us these crises disappear?

The answer to these and many more questions is a big no. Let me also assume something else, i.e., the memo actually happened. The question is: why? Why does something like this not happen in India? The army can either take a snapshot view of this event and cry foul or – in the most unlikely event –do some honest soul-searching and take a longitudinal view of the situation and its own role.

So fed up are the civilians with the army – if this memo happened the way it’s said to have – that they are prepared to compromise the country’s security, if required, to put the army down. That is the biggest security threat to Pakistan. The army claims to defend Pakistan. The question is: can it defend this country from itself? Attacking reporters, who do an honest job, or hanging someone or getting rid of this or that government will solve absolutely nothing.

The writer is Executive Director of Jinnah Institute. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect JI’s policy

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