What It Means to Challenge Military in Pakistan

Write at your own peril
By Anjum Niaz: The News, June 15, 2007

Even the army gets confused when the heat wave of June tangles with brain waves producing electrons that tittle-tattle with negative energy. Seriously, notice how sane people suddenly start saying crazy stuff farming more heat and huff. The army’s public relations handlers have descended from Olympian heights to pedestrian lows. Can one imagine a government lawyer boasting on national television that the two top spymasters, heads of military intelligence and intelligence bureau along with President Musharraf’s chief of staff had “hit boundaries — fours and sixers” with their affidavits against the chief justice of Pakistan? What is this language? Who wrote the script for him?

Ahmad Raza Qasuri got bumped up from an advocate to a captain of a cricket team by his copywriters. They must have told him to talk the language of the street. Why else would the distinguished lawyer with pulled back hair and three piece suits enact a reality show by imaging the three khaki headpins to be Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Yusuf and Younis Khan? A cheap shot, indeed. The three affidavits by the serving and retired faujis that Mr Qasuri touted nationwide had been tainted black by the CJ’s lawyers. Aitzaz Ahsan and his smart alecks lost no sweat in dismissing the write-ups as false.

Such trivialities regarding the army are pathetic. We have the highest regard for our brave soldiers and officers. But remember there’s no smoke without a fire and don’t we all know who started the fire! The pen-pushers at the presidency and GHQ need to be sent for a crash course in writing to Ivy League schools on government scholarships paid by us the taxpayers. Instead of drivel, the nation can then expect more dignified write-ups that can stand the test of accuracy (can’t vouch for that though!), syntax and a mature tone of voice.

Consider the wording of the ISPR press releases recently. The usually untalkative Inter-Services Public Relations message to the public on the prodigal support of the top generals for President Musharraf after the corps commanders meeting has drawn fire from the independent press. Blame it on political exigency; blame it on the judicial junction to nowhere; blame it on the hidden hands and shadowy spooks working behind the wheels of government. Whatever, but for the ISPR to write out-of-the-way ingratiatory reflections of the corps commanders is even more demeaning. The open declarations of support: “… under the leadership and guidance of the president and the COAS” and the resolve “to ensure that the nation continues on the path of socio-economic development and carries on its mission to rid society of the scourge of extremism” followed by conspiracy theories such as “serious note of the malicious campaign against institutions of the state launched by vested interests…” are unprecedented. I am reminded of the oaths we took as boy scouts or girl guides when kids. General Baden Powell (only generals think of such oaths) introduced the scout promise where the boys and girls stood up, holding upright three fingers of their right hands to swear: “On my honour I promise that…”

Ayesha Siddiqa’s saga continues. I can’t erase the look on her face when she said that people were suggesting she leave right away. It was the face of a woman demonised by her powerful detractors; it was the face of a woman horribly scared and hunted. She was distracted and disturbed as she tried answering my annoying questions on why she was buckling under pressure. Of course she rejected my assertions outright, putting up a defiant face. But now I realise that during the two-hour interview (June 5), the string of phone calls she attended, some must have contained messages akin to a death sentence. Perhaps as she rattled off the answers to my questions, a battle between her heart and head was going on: to leave or not to leave. That night she left for London.

Good folks at the ISPR continue the witch-hunt. An unnamed ‘spokesman’ continues to flagellate her for daring to write a book exposing the military empire and the money-grubbers. The spin by the spokesman is truly misleading when he claims that the author has been “discredited by the well-informed intellectual community of the country, and even by those whom she has acknowledged and quoted in her book for sharing her viewpoint.” Other than The News columnist Ikram Sehgal’s rebuttal, I am unaware of anyone “discrediting” her. Continues the spokesman, “Dr Ayesha’s book has been discredited because it contains distortion of facts, conjecture and personal bias, which are misleading in nature. It is a deliberate campaign to malign the image of the army and reflects vested interests and hidden agendas behind its launch. The book finds favour only with those who are part of this hidden agenda and malicious campaign to target institutional strength of the military to create a rift between civil society and the armed force.” To parse the ‘spokesman’s’ words: anyone found reading Military Inc is akin to being a traitor.

In her last weekly column for the Daily Times, ‘Co-opting intellectuals’, Ayesha wrote, “promising and brightest stars eventually fall prey to the state’s advances…The past three decades have seen many such who rose high and then got co-opted. They began as champions of political liberalism, challenged the state power and became powerful commentators on the country’s politics and regional security before keeling over to the other side. The important question is: Why does this happen? Why do established names get attracted to the establishment they question so vociferously?”

Naming these “intellectuals” is stating the obvious. All know who they are. For their allegiance, Musharraf has made them big shots — here and abroad.

“Ayesha is right — very few of our intellectuals will gather the guts to commend Ayesha’s work publicly. But they should as this is an opportunity for them to wash away their sins,” says the Harvard-based research fellow Hassan Abbas. When his book Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism: Allah, the Army and America’s War on Terror came out, “while many columnists supported my work, ISI directly conveyed to me: ‘We would have paid you double the amount CIA paid you if you would have written a book supporting our perspective.’ My simple response was please read my book as it is as critical of ISI as it is of CIA.”

Hassan says an old friend with intelligence background in Pakistan recently asked him which US intelligence agency in Hassan’s view financed Ayesha’s book! “You can’t beat this state of mind - one that is entrenched in conspiracy theory. “While I may not agree with some of Ayesha’s conclusions, what’s important is she wrote on a topic which is taboo. She’s done a national service.”

General (retd) Hameed Gul doesn’t think so. His bid to silence Ayesha and kill her book through a lawsuit is thus instructive: write at your own peril!

The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting. Email: aniaz@fas.harvard.edu


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