Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Is Pakistan ungovernable?

Mohammad Waseem*

ISSUES of governance stare you in the face in any span of 24 hours, as Karachi bleeds, institutions clash, terrorists strike, extortion destroys commerce and the state is accused of abducting its own citizens.

Glance at a national daily on any day, say an issue of Dawn last week, and we can see that a day in the life of the nation is symptomatic of a year or a whole tenure of the government or indeed several decades of civil and military rule. You will find the PPP government subjected to allegations of poor performance, misinformation and insincerity of purpose in the context of the ongoing conflict between the judiciary and the executive. This is an indicator of the fragility of institutional life inside the state.

The cycle of suspension and reinstatement of FIA officials in the NICL scam inquiry at the hands of the government and the Supreme Court respectively has become a clash of institutions. The judiciary and the elite sections of society point to the government’s lack of commitment to implementing the court’s orders. On its part, the government thinks that the judiciary has overstepped its assignment, whereby it is seeking to micromanage the administration and moving from the role of referee to that of a player in the field.

Indeed, the government has been so grossly engaged in the game of survival in office that it has hardly taken any positive, concrete or result-oriented executive measures to streamline the state machinery. No government can depend on the storm gathering on the political horizon for years as an alibi for non-delivery of services here and now. For example, a terror attack in Landi Kotal is combined with several other news items that throw light on a non-functioning state: the menace of extortion eating into the vitals of commerce in Karachi, the team of a price-checking magistrate fleeing under pressure exerted by a local MPA and the gross inefficiency in the matter of the registration of 500 drugs with the requisite agency.

The PPP-led government continues to be ill-equipped with the wherewithal to face natural disasters. The management of an underwater Badin is a case in point that involves an estimated Rs130bn loss of crops, apart from the gross disruption in social life. The damage to villages in Kasur because of the rising water level in the Sutlej is another natural calamity at a small scale.

The state capacity must improve. The incumbent government has the responsibility to improve it.

Several news items, on one day, concerning missing persons present a challenge to the credibility of the state’s premier intelligence agencies. Their officials deposed in court in Lahore as part of the inquiry into the gruesome murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad, in the context of a forceful denial from their side. They also denied holding a missing Hizbut Tahrir activist allegedly in their custody, in a case in the Islamabad High Court. There was a plea and a counter-plea to shift the case to the Lahore High Court, with reference to a previous case about another missing person.

In Peshawar, the high court warned of action against officials from whom a missing person is recovered after they declare innocence in the matter. A petitioner in a habeas corpus case pointed to two of her neighbours who apparently offered to recover her husband and brother from the custody of an intelligence agency on payment. A similar case of the missing was alleged to be the handiwork of the Criminal Investigation Department. The latter allegedly took Rs250,000 for the release of the missing man, but did not free him. The persistent news about the missing persons points to a shameful dimension of our national politics.

These perceptions of, allegations against and aspersions cast on the state of Pakistan point to a huge gap of trust between the rulers and the ruled. Does the elected government feel that the unelected institutions are beyond its sphere of influence and authority? Apologists for the government might claim that this is a case of responsibility without power. Others would question the moral right of the ruling setup to be at the helm in the current situation in the first place.

As always, women remain at the bottom of the ladder of social security, personal stability and physical wellbeing. There is the news that an Afghan husband came to Pakistan from England to reclaim his wife, whom he had abandoned eight years ago.

When refused, he killed her and several others from her family. Are people too unruly for the government to handle, too brutal in cultural terms to be tolerant and too misogynistic to respect women and their will? Has the government washed its hands off the social and cultural ills prevailing in society, especially when women are the victims?

Has the state dispensed with the need to protect citizens’ entitlement to security? How did it become the target of allegations of abducting and killing its own citizens? Is the state doomed to live with inefficiency, red-tapism and patent weaknesses to establish its writ against terrorism as well as social terrorism such as extortion? Will the clash of institutions continue till it rocks the boat or will the executive and the judiciary find a modus operandi to keep the system in place?

One day in the nation’s life as reflected through the print media in Pakistan may not be a microcosm of the whole reality about politics and the state. However, it reflects on the menace of ungovernability that has made inroads into our social and political life. Reading the news about the declining writ of the state and the security apparatus creating insecurity makes one ask: is Pakistan ungovernable? This question poses a great challenge to all those who want to see Pakistan as a modern and stable country. Only a strong, authoritative, confident, legitimate and responsible government can deal with the turbulence all around.

The author is Professor of Political Science at Department of Social Sciences, Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). This article was published in Dawn newspaper (Pakistan) on Tuesaday, 23rd August 2011, and it is being published verbatim in Pakistaneering with the permission of the author.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Redrawing the Internal Map of Pakistan

There is an emotive debate raging across Pakistan on the pros and cons of reorganising the territorial boundaries of Punjab. In this context a few basic issues need to be addressed at the outset. One, the Constitution of Pakistan is an organic document that doesn’t treat discussions about reorganisation of existing provincial boundaries as sacrilegious. Having said that, the mechanism provided by our Constitution (as opposed to constitutions of other states such as India) to redefine territorial boundaries has been made hard enough to ensure that any such change is the product of consensus at the federal and provincial level.

Pursuant to Article 238(4) of the Constitution, the boundary of a province can only be redrawn through a constitutional amendment ie with a two-thirds parliamentary majority at the federal level. And such amendment can only be sent to the president for assent after it has been approved by a two-thirds majority of the assembly of the province whose boundary is to be altered.

What this means is that unless the government and the opposition in the centre, as well as the relevant province, agree there can be no redrawing of provincial borders. The PPP knows this. And this is what suggests that its announcement to carve a Seraiki province out of Punjab is merely electioneering gimmickry aimed at stealing additional votes in southern Punjab. Stirring up separatist passions in Punjab without making any serious effort to engage political parties across the isle in a serious discussion over how to address the concerns of minority communities within Punjab and other provinces might seem typical Zardari-ingenuity at first, but is actually dangerous. Will pro-autonomy groups within other provinces not seek the redress of their concerns while the subject is open? Even for the maestro of deviousness, it might not be possible to shield other provinces from the flames of separatism being ignited in Punjab.

Two, any time that the limits of one administrative unit of a federation are redefined, the legal impact of such change affects all federating units. Any such amendment in the Constitution of Pakistan will require consequential amendments in other provisions as well. The articles providing for representation of provinces within the National Assembly and the Senate will need to be revisited. A new NFC award might be required: distribution of resources satisfactory for a united Punjab as the biggest province might not be acceptable to its smaller successor units. Thus assuming that super-majority consensus can be miraculously generated at the federal and Punjab levels for the creation of a Seraiki province, a constitutional amendment bill proposing the division of Punjab alone will still impact the rights of all provinces and must be the product of a serious constitutional debate.

Three, the reasons for dividing up territories and creating states and provinces etc are seldom administrative and almost always political. The argument then that redistribution of provincial boundaries is welcome so long as it is undertaken on administrative grounds in nothing but gibberish. In any diverse society each citizen is born with multiple identities: nationality, religion, language, ethnicity, tribe/clan, gender, class etc. Which of these identities shape the socio-political consciousness of a citizen (or a group that he/she associates with) is a product of politics and not administrative needs or convenience. Thus it is the political programme of a group or community within a territorial unit that inspires the demand for division or autonomy and is backed by the conviction that such change will result in greater self-governance, empowerment and justice for such group or community.

It is hard to draw a meaningful distinction between the perception of injustice and of being disempowered and disenfranchised entertained by an individual, group or community and the reality of it. Belief is not always backed by empirical evidence or verifiable facts but still remains possibly the most potent trigger for action. Allegations of bias and grievances rooted in the sense of being treated unfairly and unjustly cannot be dispelled by simply rejecting them. If a group of people view themselves as a community or sub-community, in view of their history or ethnic, linguistic or religious identity, who is to say whether such self-conceived sense of identity is true or false? If such group or community believes it is being treated unfairly and political and administrative structures of the state are rendering it politically impotent, who is to decide that such resentment merits no attention? If a community views itself as a minority and struggles for greater political empowerment, who is to rule whether such struggle is legitimate or not?

If a citizen group conceives of itself as a distinct political community, forms a sizable population within a substantial territory that is geographically congruous, and wishes to collectively decide its own matters, there is no reason in principle to deny it the right to greater autonomy. Also notwithstanding the political interests of Punjab’s ruling elite, the division of Punjab might actually be good for the average Punjabi. Currently, he is the object of hostility and suspicion and held responsible for deprivations of fellow citizens across other provinces, largely due to the size of Punjab. Probably once there are a few Punjabs of the same size and influence as the remaining provinces will others realise that the Punjabi is as disempowered and destitute as the rest of his brethren, and the cause of distress of the average Pakistani cannot be removed by continuing to divide Pakistan up into smaller and smaller administrative units.

Will one, twelve or sixteen new provinces change the fact that our political parties are autocracies? Territorial subdivision will not bolster political autonomy or self-governance for it will still be the handful of individuals heading the political parties of Pakistan who will decide who gets to run in elections and represent ordinary people in each constituency. Till such time that political parties – the gatekeepers of our democracy – remain undemocratic themselves, a sense of political empowerment will remain a forlorn hope. Will redrawing the internal map of Pakistan change the fact that our politics is driven by patronage and not policy?

The object of being voted into power for all political parties is to secure access to the resources of the state and then use/abuse state power and distribute resources amongst its voters and supporters to strengthen the personalised system of patronage of party leaders.

Given that in our country the purpose of politics is not to devise policies that affect all citizens but to control power and resources for the benefit of a few, the vast majority of the citizens will always feel disempowered irrespective of which political party is in office. In any constitutional democracy basic citizen rights are guaranteed by the constitution and upheld by state institutions.

In Pakistan, the ordinary citizen needs personal access to local, regional or national elites to secure even his most fundamental rights. You need such personal access to register an FIR or avoid police harassment, to be heard fairly by a magistrate, to register a property deed and to find a job. This reality doesn’t change whether you are North Punjabi, South Punjabi, Pushtun, Hazarawal, Sindhi or Baloch. How will your personal fate be any different in a smaller province if the horse that you bet on lost the election?

So long as our system of governance and basic state institutions remain dysfunctional and every ruling party believes that its sole responsibility is to its supporters and not the entire citizenry, any party that forms government with simple majority support in elections, where not even half the population votes, will rule over a populace that feels largely disempowered. The debate over the creation of more provinces is just a fight over the distribution of spoils between competing elites and bears no relevance to the ordinary Pakistani.

*The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad. This article was originally published in The News (Pakistan) on Saturday, August 20, 2011 under the title "Perceptions of Injustice". It is being published verbatim in Pakistaneering with the kind permission of the author.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Economics of religion and peace in South Asia

Muhammad Shafique*
Recent success of the US in tracking Osama Bin Laden inside Pakistan has raised more concerns about the restoration of peace in the region and the world than it addressed. It has brought to the fore the suspicions that Bin Laden and Al-Qaida have been enjoying the backing of at least some elements within Pakistan's military and intelligence apparatus. It also lends credence to the US suspicions that Pakistan is still sympathetic towards certain factions of Taliban.
The recent terrorist attack on a naval airbase in Karachi, reported killing of a journalist in this connection, and official reports on investigation of the attack indicate that some personnel of Pakistan's armed forces are linked to Al-Qaida and associated network. One hopes that it is not the tip of an iceberg. While the military establishment in general does not appear to have extremist bent but it is known to have anti-American sentiment and significant presence of extremist elements within its ranks and its intelligence wing is hard to rule out.
During the 90s, extremist elements linked with jihadist network had assumed enough support within Pakistan military to stage a coup against the military leadership and Benazir Bhutto’s government in a bid to establish a radical Islamic state. The planned coup had been successfully pre-empted and army officers at the ranks of major general and brigadier had been implicated in connection with the coup [1].
International community has already been upset with Pakistan’s alleged involvement in nuclear proliferation and its help to North Korea, Iran and Libya in their nuclear ambitions. Now the fear has surfaced that its own nuclear assets may fall in the hands of extremists. The seemingly probable presence of extremist elements within the ranks of military and intelligence agencies and their links with Al-Qaida network make a nightmare scenario for the region and the world.
What makes the situation alarming is the fact that Pakistan shares a history of mutual animosity with neighbouring India and the two nuclear states have fought three major wars. Though, the bitterness of their relationship has been tamed by the influence of US in the region and Pakistan’s role in the ‘war on terror’. While the ongoing war has mainly remained between the jihadist network and the US-Pakistan alliance, the extremist elements did try to pull India into it though attacks on its parliament and a hotel in Mumbai.
This situation makes South Asia a hotbed of nuclear crisis which has the potential to undermine the already fragile peace in the world. Thus, international community has huge stake in the region.
The problem of peace in South Asia is a complex one having its roots in the history of the region, its geo-political landscape, internal political dynamics of individual nations, and their socio-economic structures. The international community, particularly the US, has acknowledged the complexity of the problem. One way to disentangle this complexity is to see peace as a composite of ‘political peace’ and ‘socio-economic peace’. Unfortunately, all the efforts of international community have so far been focused on the former to the detriment of the latter which may be a reason behind ever worsening situation.
Bleeding political peace
The people of subcontinent lived in reasonable harmony till it fell under British rule. The conduct of British Empire created a split between Hindus and Muslims which gradually turned into intolerance towards each other and eventually led to the partition. The partition of subcontinent was a bloody event resulting in killing of hundreds of thousands of people. This historical event has been part of the psyche of the people within both nations ever since and there is hardly any willingness to break with the history. It is even formally taught during early and late schooling in a way that glorifies ‘sacrifices’ of their own and laments the ‘crimes’ of the other.
Besides the historical reasons, the major source of enmity between the two nations is a well-known issue of accession of Kashmir to either of them. India maintains that Kashmir is its integral part while Pakistan considers it as illegally occupied by India and claims that it belong to Pakistan and Indian occupation makes it a disputed territory as acknowledged by international community in UN resolutions. It is also an open secret that Pakistan has been supporting separatist movement in Kashmir and many of the jihadi outfits in Pakistan justified the need for their existence in relation to ongoing jihad in Kashmir.
Due to the abundance of irritants and unwillingness of either side to compromise on the issue of Kashmir, the dispute has always remained central to the relationship between the two rivals.
Since partition, Pakistan has been weaker than India on all conventional measures which led her into making security as the pivot of its national conduct and hence being India-centric. She also claims this to be the reason for obtaining nuclear deterrence. This reality is often portrayed in Pakistan as a landmark national achievement in the context of the fall of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), which Pakistan alleges was the result of India’s intervention and aggression. Its nuclear capability is often glorified by some elements as the Islamic bomb. Due to this glorification, the general public in Pakistan is also sensitive about its possession and control.
India alleges that Pakistan is a sanctuary of terrorists who attack inside India’s territory. Pakistan alleges that India sponsors separatist movements in her territory, particularly in Balochistan and Sindh provinces. It is probable that both are right in their perceptions that have led to a system of actions and reactions that continuously undermine the peace between the two.
India has its own regional and global aspirations which are largely influenced by China’s position and role in the region and the world. For instance, India’s pursuit of permanent membership of Security Council may be seen in this light. While China and India are comparable rivals on several accounts, Pakistan’s strategy to secure power balance with India, no matter how unrealistic, stems from her historical threat perceptions from India. Due mainly to this reason, Pakistan would also like to see a government in Afghanistan which can help secure its Western border which allegedly provide a corridor for support to separatist factions within Pakistan. In this backdrop, Pakistan took advantage of the clout it had gained during the Afghan war against the former USSR and helped create Taliban in the face of Northern Alliance (NA) which was allegedly sponsored by India.
While the victory of Talibans over NA did provide Pakistan a temporary relief but it created significant discomfort to India and the rest of the world. By backing Taliban, Pakistan had already made sizable enemy out of NA. Ironically, its participation in the US war against Taliban has created even more dangerous enemies out of friends. Now Pakistan finds itself being surrounded by enemies not only on its east and west borders but also within its own territory and system. There are a large number of Afghan refugees integrated within the very fabric of its society and the jihadi outfits that it had helped create and nurture ever since the first Afghan war.
The acrimony between Pakistan and India is also nourished by the abundance of conspiracy theorists on both sides. It is no surprise that many in Pakistan interpret recent onslaught of terrorist attacks on Pakistan’s security installation as a systematic attempt from India and its friends to create the grounds for depriving her of nuclear assets.
What is more, both countries suffer from significant influence of the right-wing nationalists, religious extremists, and vested interest groups who prosper on the lack of peace within and between the two neighbors. It is no surprise that the events like the dispute of Babri Masjid, Massacre of Gujrat, and attacks on Indian parliament and Mumbai pitch Hindus and Muslims against each other. This also suggests the possibility that a minor irritation or act of terror can potentially turn into a massacre or a war.
The persistent lack of trust between the two nuclear states and abundance of events on both sides that reinforce the perceptions of mutual hostility between the two is what makes South Asia the most dangerous political spot on earth. This danger is compounded by the increasing penetration of jihadist network in Pakistan which spans to Afghanistan and is likely connected to Pakistani intelligence and military. The success of this network in propelling its benefactors and sympathizers to corridors of power in Pakistan may realize the worst of the fears of international community.
Battered socio-economic peace
The political peace is largely understood in terms of the presence or absence of armed conflicts between nation states or violence within states. It is, however, not a cause but the outcome of presence or absence of some kind of unrest among a sizable part of a population. The social and economic peace or unrest are among the most important determinants of political peace. So, political peace cannot be achieved without socio-economic peace.
The socio-economic landscape of Pakistan has never been conducive for peace for several reasons yet the core of her problems is embedded into poor relations with India. Pakistan always spent heavily in the defence sector to the neglect and detriment of social sector. This was due to ever-increasing power of military establishment which does not permit any accountability by the state on the pretext of security and institutional dignity.
Whenever a civilian government attempted to hold its reins or judiciary tried to question its conduct, it dislodged the government and displaced the judiciary without having to be accountable to the people or any regard to the concerns of international community. It controls intelligence agencies which may use any means ranging from coercion and bribes to illegal detention and murder in order to enforce establishment’s control. Whoever speaks effectively against its hegemony is swiftly labeled as traitor and treated accordingly.
Whatever the dispensation of the government, Pakistan has always lived under permanent military control and military establishment always dictated at least three things—foreign policy, defense spending, and privileges of military and its personnel. It is alleged that military establishment was instrumental in undermining and disrupting the peace initiatives of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif governments vis-à-vis India simply because peace would make the establishment irrelevant.
Military establishment directly or indirectly owns and runs numerous commercial enterprises in the country while paying no taxes and enjoying virtual monopoly in areas ranging from financial services to real estate management. It always managed to secure top management positions for its serving and retired military personnel in key public sector enterprises ranging from electricity supply to steel manufacturing. The failure of most of public service enterprises in Pakistan is largely attributable to the fact that they were managed for most part of their life by military officers who were not qualified for the job.
Ironically, all the civilian governments in Pakistan proved to be even more corrupt leaving the nation between the devil and the deep blue sea. With all the debt and foreign aid, Pakistan has so far been feeding the military establishment, corrupt politicians, and even more corrupt bureaucracy. While the national debt has been piling up, very little has ever trickled down to the social sector leaving the social and institutional structure in shambles.
What is more, the international community, particularly the US, always invested in nurturing Pakistan’s military establishment to the neglect and detriment of its people. While this unending investment did not influence the views of military establishment about the US, it is no surprise that general public is seldom sympathetic to the US despite all her aid because of her role in promoting the economics which created injustice and corruption in Pakistan. It is worth remembering that the perception of injustice and exploitation is such a powerful dynamic that it led to the partition of the subcontinent, initially into two nations and then into three. Ironically, the establishment and extremist elements always managed to exploit this sentiment to their own ends.
Educational and socio-economic disparity in Pakistan
There has been little investment in infrastructure, institutional structure and social sector, particularly education. The state of education has uniquely affected peace in Pakistan. There are two distinct types of education systems, mainstream and seminaries. The mainstream education system comprises a wide spectrum of public and private institutions imparting varying quality of education according to the affordability of different segments. While quality private educational institutions are fewer and costly, public schools teach a selected version of history and set of values which are assumed to serve Islam, and hence, breed a particular world view.
The poorest of the poor who cannot afford to feed their children let alone buy them education, send their children to ‘madrassas’ (seminaries) scattered across the country. These are resident religious schools, often attached to mosques, and run on charity. These provide food, shelter, and religious education to the students without any charge. These seminaries typically teach religion according to the particular perspective and faction of Islam that the administration of each seminary follows. The parents sending their children to these seminaries are neither capable of determining what their child is taught or how is he treated nor they have the courage to question the benefactor. A student would normally spend the formative years of his life within a narrow system of seminaries.
Regardless of how this system shapes the world view of its members in relation to the purpose of existence of the world and that of life, its members suffer from significant social and economic exclusion. Their education is largely considered inferior to the mainstream education and has little use in normal economic life. The employment opportunities for these students are very few and all they can get is to be employed by a seminary or become a resident prayer leader in a mosque. Although there are scores of mosques spread across the country and new ones keep emerging, the employment opportunities remain far fewer than the demand.
After years of education in the seminary, the vast majority of these students and de facto servants of religion usually have to learn some economically useful skill or rely on occasional bounties and charity from the community for their survival. In any case, most of the graduates of seminaries are bound to live a life full of economic hardships.
Interestingly, this system of education has sustained its organic growth due to increase in population, poverty, and cost of mainstream education. It has also remained unregulated to the extent that government hardly maintains any record of the mosques, seminaries, funding, administration, and student population in this system.
It has already been one of the major sources of sectarian unrest within Pakistan during 80s and 90s. Not only that this fragmented network of institutions and people spans the whole country, the segment of population which is beneficiary of this system is also predisposed to favor any party or group which claims to work for the renaissance of Islam.
The promise that Islam is the only solution to all injustices and social ills that we know today is already an integral part of the belief system of a many Muslims. However, it is particularly used by vested interests to appeal to the underprivileged and religiously indoctrinated segment to seek an Islamic revolution for eradicating social injustice. Therefore, their peculiar education and corresponding social and economic vulnerability predisposes them to be pulled into the extremist network operating in the region. This might be one the chief reasons behind the survival and possible growth of the jihadist network despite a decade of war on terror and consequent crackdown on extremist elements.
Prospects of peace in the region
Given the historical, political, and socio-economic configuration of the region, the prospects of peace do not seem bright in the foreseeable future. Even if there is a demonstrable commitment to peace and restraint by the governments of India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan fully supported by international community, it will take quite some time before the negative trend stops and begins to reverse. It requires a significant change in the mental programming and socio-economic configuration of about 1.4 billion people.
At the very least, the two rival nuclear states need to believe that nations come into being and exist not merely for the sake of existence but to afford peace, prosperity and happiness to their people. By failing to secure socio-economic peace, they are failing their people and the world. The prospects of peace and success, if any, lie in a healthy system of collaboration and competition rather than animosity between neighboring states.
In any case, the necessary precondition for peace in South Asia is that the people and the states learn to forget bitter history like Europeans did after the World War II. Use of their history as an ideological tunnel would keep the possibilities of collaboration shut out. Second, people need to learn that religion is something personal and hostility towards each other’s religion does not serve any religion. It must also be learnt that mundane problems would always remain as such even if the whole world comes to believe in one religion. Such a change in collective attitude requires significant reforms in the education system. Third, instead of following the path of mutually assured destruction, India and Pakistan will have to acknowledge and nurture stakes in each other’s peace. Actualization of the SAARC can be a good starting point.
One can only hope that South Asia would not fail the peace of the world.
[1] Frontline Pakistan: The Struggle with Militant Islam by Zahid Hussain, Columbia University Press, 2007, page 72.
* The author is a PhD fellow in economics and management of innovation and technical change at Maastricht University, The Netherlands.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Justice in the balance: The killing of Osama bin Laden

A. B. Qazi and M. Shafique*. This article was originally published in The Global Dispatches. The original version can can be accessed here.

In early May, President Obama announced to the world that Osama bin Laden was dead and that 'justice' had been done. The events spanning almost 10 years — from 9 September 2001 to 2 May 2011 — mark an important era which has affected us all in fundamental ways. But now the world needs to face the question: is this justice? This article tackles a number of wrongs committed during the ‘war on terror’.


The events of 9/11 shocked the world when US jetliners taking off from US soil hit two of the country’s landmarks — one the symbol of its economic power and the other a symbol of its military might. It was a blow to US aviation authorities, intelligence, and military because they all failed to prevent these horrible acts of terrorism before they happened or to intercept them while they were happening.

George Bush’s administration quickly announced to the world that Osama Bin Laden (OBL) was behind the attacks and gave the Taliban regime in Afghanistan the choice of extraditing OBL or facing war. The Taliban’s insistence on seeing evidence of OBL’s involvement (which was not forthcoming) was portrayed instead as the rejection of the US demand for OBL’s extradition. What followed has come to be known as the ‘war on terror’.

Almost ten years after the start of this global war on terror, President Barack Obama announced that the hunt for OBL had ended as US Special Forces had killed and then buried him in the Arabian Sea. The world was told that he had been hiding deep inside Pakistan, a few hundred yards away from a military academy in a town near the capital Islamabad. The White House also revealed some details illustrating how one night, the US special forces secretively flew straight from Afghanistan to the residence of OBL, killed him, carried him back, took him to the sea, and 'buried' him there according to Islamic rituals.

The events spanning this period mark an important era that has affected the world in fundamental ways. While the whole episode might be entertaining to some, like a Hollywood movie, the world needs to take stock whether justice was actually done; to justice itself, to the bereaved families of the victims of 9/11, to the allies of the USA in this war, and to the world at large. There seem to be a number of things that do not bode well for the future of the world. This article is meant to highlight the wrongs that led to and were committed during the ‘war on terror’.

Cruel irony and a Manichean choice

In the run-up to the war, the Bush administration had used a simple and mutually exclusive choice of being ‘either with us or against us’ to judge other nations. Indeed, no responsible nation would have liked to add insult to the injury of the US by being ‘against’ at that stage and thereby inviting wrath.

While the choice was straightforward for most, it was probably the greatest diplomatic dilemma in the history of Pakistan, for several historical and strategic reasons.

As for the history, Pakistan had long been an ally in the US’s proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, but the US had abandoned Pakistan immediately after the Soviet withdrawal. Pakistan had been left to host millions of Afghan refugees who had migrated to and assimilated in Pakistani society over the decades. This assimilation was so undetectable that an average native Pakistani could not tell between an Afghan and a Pakistani hailing from its north western province adjacent to Afghanistan. Afghans were free to enter, work, marry, and live anywhere in Pakistan, and the country had no proper record of Afghans, including a whole generation born and raised in Pakistan.

Moreover, Pakistan’s friendly relations with neighbouring China, with its history of difficult relations with the US, added further complexity to the scenario. Being part of the US-led war in the backyard of China had important geostrategic implications for this closest friend of Pakistan.

As always, the only factor favouring the US at that time was that the reins of power were in the hands of military dictator Pervez Musharraf who had toppled an elected civilian government and was desperate for international legitimacy. Otherwise, the West already considered his army as a ‘rogue army’ due to its adventure in Kargil that had put the two nuclear states at the brink of war.

In short, the choice between ‘with or against the USA’ was not as simple for Pakistan as for most other nations in the world. Being friends with the US meant not only creating millions of foes integrated within the very fibre of its own society but also sowing the seeds of enmity with a brotherly neighbour Afghanistan to reap the consequences forever. On the other hand, the repercussions of not being a friend of the US in that hype are not too difficult for one to imagine. This choice invariably meant a deep split within Pakistani society and exposing it to severe dangers in either case. Nevertheless, Pakistan chose to side with the victim and since then it has been obediently serving as an ‘ally’ of the US in the war on terror.

Roots and branches of terrorism

Pakistan is, indeed, one of the most attractive havens for terrorists due to its proximity and largely unguarded border with Afghanistan, which has been a land of war and lawlessness for several decades. The roots of the terrorism the world so commonly knows today go back to the cold war.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan stirred stiff resistance typical of Afghans. It quickly turned into a sacred war (jihad) for many Muslims around the world. Sharing a long border with Afghanistan, Pakistan naturally became part of this resistance due to the imminent threat to itself. It was an open secret that Pakistan was part of the Soviet enemy camp. Backed by the US, Pakistan quickly became an operational base for jihad in Afghanistan — attracting a large number of Muslim warriors, mainly from the Arab world, including Africa.

Given the stakes, Pakistan’s military and intelligence apparatus did anything and everything to keep the Afghan jihad afloat. As it turned out, Afghanistan quickly became the battleground for a proxy war between the USSR and the US. The US also helped Pakistan’s ferocious campaign of jihad in Afghanistan for obvious reasons. However, after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, it was assumed that the mission of jihad had been accomplished and the US abandoned Afghanistan and Pakistan without helping them clean up the mess created during the jihad, leaving behind a mass of arms and undisciplined warriors.

It is not difficult to imagine that while two generations of Afghans had grown up seeing war as a normal part of life, what else could be expected of them but to fight. Therefore, while the victor Afghans split into ethnic factions and busied themselves in the battle for power, foreign warriors lost interest in the local struggles and, for the most part, quit. Those foreign warriors naturally searched for avenues where their skills were in demand. Consequently, they must have clustered in certain areas — where their brethren Muslims were facing real or perceived aggression like the one they were taught and fought against the Soviet Union. Since these warriors were splinters of a large social network formed during the Afghan war, they systematically rewired this network due to commonalities in interests and threats.

However, this time the aggressor turned out to be the West in general and the US in particular because of their silence and apparent complicity with aggression in Palestine, their foot-dragging on the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Bosnia, and the US military presence in Muslim lands in the Arab world. The first Gulf War and actions in this sequel were largely perceived in the Muslim world as an orchestrated campaign to establish complete control over Muslim lands and their strategic asset, oil, by establishing permanent military bases in those parts that are geostrategically important in this regard.

As regards the difference between the resistance against the aggression of Soviet Union in Afghanistan and that of the US in different Muslim countries (including Afghanistan), it is commonly perceived in the Muslim world that in the former case, it was touted as ‘jihad’ and in case of the latter, the same thing has been rebranded as ‘terrorism’. The issue of branding aside, the unfortunate reality is that the global environment has been turning more and more conducive for expansion of the ‘jihadist’ network engaged in this global war.

Pakistan as the operational base

It is an irony of fate that Pakistan has had to serve as the operational base, initially in support of jihad against the Soviet Union and then against this jihad when it turned into ‘terrorism’. When it was jihad during the 80s, there was a mushrooming of ‘jihadi’ outfits under different banners and slogans. Both Pakistani and US governments turned a blind eye to, or rather encouraged, their proliferation and operations. Most of these outfits had unhindered access to Afghanistan and hence recruits got ‘on-the-job-training’ in various parts of battling Afghanistan. It was a matter of prestige for a warrior to have ‘graduated’ from the battlefield of Afghanistan.

It is an open secret that some of these outfits were supported by the intelligence apparatus of Pakistan whose control diminished over time as these outfits became more entrenched and networked themselves with the local political system via religio-political parties. As a consequence, Pakistan became a virtual battlefield for sectarian groups competing to be the bastion of Islam. This environment also gave rise to ethnic militancy in Pakistan in various forms and manifestations.

What the whole world is reaping today is what was sown during the cold war and as most of it was sown in or around Pakistan, the poor country has been reaping most of the ‘fruits’ ever since. The irony is that the US abandoned Pakistan after the end of Soviet war, but got a rude awakening when the first consignment of ‘fruits’ ultimately reached its homeland on 9/11.

The troublesome facts

Pakistan is indeed one of the most attractive places for jihadists to take refuge because of the intimate social contacts jihadists nurtured during the Afghan war and afterwards, not to mention the country’s ethnic and linguistic diversity, its mountainous terrain, huge population of 170 million, and above all, the jihadist network’s experience and knowledge of it. The prevalence of widespread corruption networks within Pakistan’s administrative, law-enforcement and judicial system provided further insurance against the risks. It is therefore no surprise that many of the most wanted Al Qaeda operatives and high value targets were captured by Pakistani security forces within its territory.

The irony is that while Pakistan has been struggling with the menace of terrorism ever since the Afghan-Soviet war, the world only came to realize it after 9/11 and seems to believe that Pakistan harbours terrorism and all Pakistanis are potential terrorists. There can be nothing more untrue than this perception. Pakistan had already lost several thousand lives due to terrorism even before 9/11, and since then it has lost several thousand more soldiers and civilians while fighting the ‘war on terror’; in direct combat with militants as well as in suicide attacks in the mosques, streets, markets, and public places across the country. Pakistan even launched military operations against the Pakistani chapter of Taliban within its own territory causing history’s biggest internal displacement of people, which ran into millions.

Further, Pakistan gave the US a free hand to conduct drone attacks on terrorist hideouts within its territory as and when it deems necessary. These drone attacks alone have resulted in the killing of thousands of civilians in the name of ‘collateral damage’. Whether drone attacks in tribal areas eliminate any terrorists is an open question, but it surely gives birth to many others.

Pakistan also provided reasonable access, support, and information to the US intelligence apparatus to work within its territory, keeping aside its laws about foreign nationals and diplomatic staff. The fact that US intelligence operative Raymond Davis was roaming around across the country in violation of the laws of the land and killed in cold blood two of its citizens, and yet the Pakistani government brokered his release, is indicative of the level of support the US has received from Pakistan.

On the other hand, the US indicted a woman, Afia Siddiqui, for “attempt to murder” her US captives while she had been reportedly kidnapped from Pakistan and was being detained in Afghanistan. This duality of justice in saving a US citizen who brazenly murdered two Pakistani citizens in broad daylight and indicting a Pakistani citizen in US courts for the attempted murder of her abductors in Afghanistan is yet another telling story.

Despite all the sacrifices of Pakistan, and being itself a great victim of terrorism, the operation against OBL was conducted in a way that humiliated and defamed Pakistan, giving the impression to the world that Pakistan is officially complicit with Al Qaeda or protected OBL. While Pakistan captured most of Al Qaeda’s leaders and operatives and handed them over to the US in the absence of any extradition treaty, the allegation that Pakistan would aid and abet OBL makes little sense.

If the US intelligence and security forces had failed to detect terrorists and prevent 9/11 in their homeland despite all their sophistication, does this prove or indicate that they were complicit with the terrorists? Besides this allegation, the US operation without confiding in Pakistan (who has been fighting its war for more than three decades) has cast an unmistakable message that she does not consider Pakistan even an ally let alone a friend, neither does she care about its sovereignty.

By doing so, the USA has provided the fuel and ammunition to those who believe and propagate that the US has been zeroing in on Pakistan as the target for the next expedition after Iraq and Afghanistan. It must not be difficult for one to imagine how this message is going to affect public opinion in Pakistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world and how it will help the ‘war on terror’.

At the very best, it has set a dangerous precedent that may be used as an example by neighbouring India, which already believes Pakistan to be harbouring terrorists. The attacks on Indian parliament and a Bombay hotel are glaring examples of incidents that may motivate India to follow the example. One can imagine how such an action by India can trigger a war between the two nuclear states in which Pakistan is decidedly weaker in conventional war capabilities.

Violation of fundamentals of justice

Based on the experiences of history and evolution, humankind has agreed upon a fairly refined set of values and procedures that constitute justice. While there are a few differences here and there in the justice systems of individual nation states, there is a consensus about the minimal procedural requirements to bring about justice. Even a cursory view of the ‘war on terror’ indicates a gross violation of justice throughout this period, right from the beginning to the end.

The minimal condition of justice is that the accused is duly charged for an act of crime and proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This can happen only through a fair trial involving three parties — the prosecution, the accused, and a jury. Prosecution tends to presume that the accused is actually guilty while the accused has the right to be presumed innocent. This is why, the prosecution has the responsibility to provide the evidence and the jury has the right to decide whether the accused is guilty.

In the ‘war on terror’, the prosecution has also assumed the rights and privileges of jury, and hence only two parties have participated in the bid for justice. What kind of justice can be expected of this parallel system of justice?

The George W. Bush administration did not provide any reasonable evidence to the world or even to its own courts of law for convicting OBL and his fellows in relation to the 9/11 attacks. The administration inculpated him and others based on its own so-called intelligence reports and went on to hunt them with the intention of exacting justice and punishment. As proven in the case of the weapons of mass destruction upon which the US based their invasion of Iraq, intelligence reports can be grossly mistaken.

What the world has witnessed is that during the 10 years of the ‘war on terror’, neither OBL nor any of his collaborators were ever formally charged, tried, convicted, or warranted by any court of law to be arrested, let alone executed. The inherent injustice involved in this practice aside, this is also an injustice to the victims of terrorism and their families who can never be certain that actual perpetrators have been brought to justice.

In the same fashion, the US captured a large number of people from around the world and held them in Guantanamo for an indefinite period without affording them due access to the procedures of justice. The world has known very little about these prisons, operated outside its territory and jurisdiction, which were set up for so-called ‘enemy combatants’ who are not even given the rights of a prisoner of war as stipulated under the Geneva Convention.

Unfortunately, this practice has diffused around the world in many forms and manifestations. In developed countries, it has resulted in the frequent infringement of individual liberties and rights in the name of national security. In developing countries, the situation is even worse because security apparatuses have systematically morphed into modern-day gestapos, causing massive violations of the human rights set out in the UN charter. For instance, the cases of hundreds of missing persons allegedly abducted by intelligence agencies of Pakistan has been lingering for years in the Supreme Court of Pakistan while the whereabouts of the abductees are still unknown.

This situation raises a fundamental question: is terrorism a separate breed of crime that cannot be handled by the existing system of justice that we know? Then probably the world needs another convention for a parallel system of justice to tackle it. Thanks to this doctrine, Pakistan has already set an example by establishing a system of ‘anti-terrorist courts’ parallel to the ‘normal’ judicial system.

Justice and authority

What indicates a dangerous evasion of justice is the way OBL was executed. Although there were initially contradictory statements from various officials of the Obama administration regarding the status of OBL at the time of the operation, now we have a unified stance from the administration that he was neither armed nor did he resist in any way.

It must be remembered that although he was declared an enemy of the US in the war, the operation took place in a non-combat zone. Therefore, according to the known procedures of justice even in times of war, he should have been captured as a prisoner. One wonders what prevented dozens of special services personnel from arresting OBL? Regardless of who he was, killing him in front of his family when he was unarmed, unguarded, and did not resist, may very well constitute a war crime.

This entire episode, starting from OBL's incrimination by the Bush administration and his execution by the Obama administration, either constitutes a capital crime or proves that the US administration is the ‘supreme court of the world’ with the right and authority to accuse anyone of a crime, order their hunt, and execute them anywhere in the world without the need to prove them guilty. Is there any other plausible conclusion if the world cares about justice?

Crisis of credibility

As if there were not enough unanswered questions in this unprecedented killing of a terror suspect by US special forces on Pakistani soil, the US authorities made it more controversial by not providing any appropriate evidence of the claim that they had actually succeeded in the hunt for OBL. It has been a routine practice of US authorities to make such information public to lend credibility to the US ‘claim’ of success in relation to any declared enemy.

For instance, the CIA transmitted a mugshot of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to news agencies around the world. Photographs of the dead bodies of Uday and Qusay, the sons of Saddam Hussein, killed by US in July 2003 were also released. For that, Paul Bremer (US Administrator to Iraq after the invasion) had reasoned, “I think it will help convince people that these two people are dead...”.

When Saddam Hussein was captured alive in December 2003, video footage was released showing a doctor supposedly examining and ascertaining that it was in fact Saddam Hussain. Similarly, the US government released a photo of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s corpse after he was killed in a US air strike in June 2006. One wonders why the US administration needed credibility of success in relation to Uday and Qusay but not in case of OBL who was the proclaimed raison d’etre of the ‘war on terror’.

The US actually needed more credibility now than at the time of killing of Uday and Qusay, due to the crisis of credibility following the 2004 revelation about the torture going on in Abu Ghraib prison, the falsehood about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Bush’s acknowledgement of the existence of ‘black sites’ (i.e., secret CIA-run prisons across Europe), and Obama’s retreat on the promise to close Guantanamo Bay.

The most concrete evidence supporting the claim that OBL had been killed would have been his dead body, which was supposedly thrown into oblivion with a burial in the North Arabian Sea within hours of his execution. For a decade, the Western media had already made OBL a ‘source of inspiration’ for jihadists around the world when he was alive, and the US put a seal on his ‘legendary’ status by hastily getting rid of his corpse in a mysterious way.

Muslims would ask, where did this sea-burial come from? The chief advisor of President Obama for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, John Brennan, claimed that it was done in “strict conformance with Islamic precepts and practices”. Scholars disagreed however, saying it is exceedingly unusual.

When further asked about the hastiness involved in burying OBL, Mr. Brennan replied “it was determined that it is required by Islamic law that an individual be buried within 24 hours… therefore, we thought that the best way to ensure that his body was given an appropriate Islamic burial was to take those actions that would allow us to do that burial at sea.”

It is true that Islam discourages unnecessary delays in burial, but there are no time limits prescribed in Islam in relation to burial. It is a well-known practice that burials may be halted until close blood relations of the deceased arrive to see the dead body and attend the funeral proceedings if they so wish. This may, however, be the practice prescribed by the US administration to bury the alleged terrorists of Islamic faith within 24 hours of their death, and that too, in deep waters. Even if such claims may be excused for want of their poor knowledge about Islam, the White House could have come up with other plausible reasons for their claim instead of using religion as a false pretext and adding insult to the injury of OBL’s family and offending Muslims.

Who is winning: the world or the terrorists?

Immediately after the 9/11 attacks President Bush said: “we will not allow this enemy to win the war by changing our way of life or restricting our freedoms”. However, since the heinous 9/11 attacks and the comparably heinous ‘war on terror’, the very fundamental principles and values of freedom and justice have been compromised by the West, especially by the US itself.

Be it freedom of speech, right to information or presumption of innocence unless proven guilty, most fundamental values have been suspended or pushed aside in the name of security. The Guantanamo phenomenon and the PATRIOT Act are two clear examples but much more runs even deeper.

President Obama was seen as a tide of change in this regard — not only because of his anti-Bush-policy rhetoric during his election campaign but also because of his inauguration pledge that “the US does not have to continue with a false choice between our safety and our ideals”. He was even given a Nobel peace prize in advance of any concrete achievements, in the hope that the US under his leadership would bring about peace in the world.

Yet what happened instead was President Obama proposing a law of ‘indefinite preventive detention without a charge’. He has already betrayed his own pledge to “restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great even in the midst of war, even in dealing with terrorism”.

What we have witnessed during this era of modern terror suggests that the freedoms and rights which the West in general and the US in particular champion, have already been sacrificed by their former protectors on the altar of ‘war on terror’. It seems that terrorists have been making consistent progress in ruining the peace of the world by baiting its harbingers and protectors everywhere. The greatest of their successes was to provoke the super power of the world hard enough and pitch it against Muslims; and the rest has been taking care of itself ever since.

What is most worrisome is that the successive US administrations never fail in touting their values of freedom and justice but their actions almost always fail to conform to their claims. Consequently, the US provides good reasons to a large part of the world (and its own Muslim) population to feel that it applies different standards of human rights, freedom and justice for Muslims. It seems to us that the behaviour of the US has been shaping a global system of perceptions, actions and reactions that may propel the theory of clash of civilizations into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

*Both authors are PhD fellows in economics and policy studies of technical change at United Nations University-MERIT (UNU-MERIT) in the Netherlands. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of UNU-MERIT.

Pakistaneering: Policy and Guidelines

To help create a world free from intolerance and violence, whereby people and nations live in harmony and every human being is able to develop and realize their potential to earn happiness--through lawful means--for self, family, and the world at large.

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