Category Archives: Media Notes

Facebook May Assist Pakistan’s Censorship

So far it only appears to have been reported in the Pakistani news, but according to the Pakistani Interior Ministry, Facebook will be sending a delegation to investigate allegedly blasphemous and objectionable content on the website. The move from the social media giant apparently comes after the government threatened to ban Facebook in the country, something it last did in 2010 when I wrote about it. This is Dawn’s report on the latest:

The government had approached Facebook earlier this week regarding access to the records of three controversial pages accused of spreading blasphemous content, the director general of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Mazhar Kakakhail had said.

The issue comes at a moment when the Islamabad High Court (IHC) is hearing a petition filed by Salman Shahid. Interestingly, Dawn explains the case this way:

The case, filed by Salman Shahid, argues that the presence of blasphemous content on social media websites is “hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims”.

The petition also alleged that pages and videos defaming the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him) and revered personalities had not been blocked by the respondents nor had any steps been taken to remove the content.

Three of the ‘blasphemous’ pages had already been blocked, whereas five to six other pages carrying blasphemous content had been marked, the FIA DG had told the court in a hearing on Monday.

The Independent, however, notes the following about the petition:

Salman Shahid filed the case, alleging that five bloggers, Salman Haider, Ahmed Waqas Goraya, Asim Saeed, Ahmed Raza Naseer and Samar Abbas, were spreading blasphemous content through pages on social networks.

So, at issue, are not just any Facebook pages in general (although there is that too), but particularly the pages of 5 bloggers who were disappeared. Samar Abbas continues to be missing. In other words, Facebook is now potentially involved in the issue of disappearances in Pakistan.

The judge adjudicating the case, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, seems to be a zealot:

Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui also wants people found to have posted blasphemous content online to have their names added to the Exit Control List, thereby prohibiting them from leaving the country.

“I will go to every extent to bring this case to its logical end and if needed I will even ban social media in Pakistan,” he is reported to have said.

Justice Siddiqui claimed that he had been unable to sleep since seeing the offending content, and also compared blasphemers to terrorists.

The blasphemous pages are being removed with the help of Facebook officials.

The government has also asked Twitter as well as Interpol to assist it in curbing what it views as objectionable ‘blasphemous’ material.

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Military involved with census

The military is involved in the census process that is currently underway. Strangely, in addition to providing security to census-takers, it is handing out its own, second census form and sending out 44,000 troops to do a parallel count. The UN is concerned:

But that has created some disquiet for the UN, who are concerned about the army’s role as parallel data collectors.

Additionally, the current census will count IDPs as residents of the host province if they have been there for more than 6 months, which is likely to yield severe undercounts for FATA, particularly Waziristan and Mohmand, and that will have unfortunate consequences when it comes to allocating budgets and resources based on the new census. A case has been filed by rights activist, Samreen Wazir:

NADRA has blocked certain CNICs ahead of the census:

The National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) has blocked 350,000 computerised national identity cards (CNICs) ahead of the first phase of the census.

Bajwa claimed that most of the blocked CNICs belonged to Afghan nationals. However, he added, the census would cover all people living in the country irrespective of their ethnicity or nationality. Foreign nationals would also be registered.

However, in the census reports only those Afghans will be counted who have valid Pakistani CNICs and the rest will be left out. The PBS will use Nadra database to check fake CNICs.

Ethnic Baloch are also worried about the census as it is likely to put them in the minority. They’ve filed petitions with superior courts. Full story here.

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US retires Predator drone

After 15 years of use, the US is retiring the Predator drone:

The General Atomics remote-piloted plane entered service in 1995 as the reconnaissance drone RQ-1. But in 1999 it was fitted with Hellfire missiles and re-designated MQ-1, an ad-hoc adaptation that would give it a reputation as a silent assassin.

The first Predator strike is believed to have taken place in Afghanistan in 2002, but it was not until 2004 that the US launched its first drone strike in Pakistan, an attack that killed Taliban leader Nek Muhammad.

Full story here.


News 03.18.2016

2. Drivers in Bajaur decry ‘highhandedness’ of political administration

KHAR, 17 March: Drivers in Bajaur Agency have complained that the political administration officials unnecessarily tease them and confiscate their vehicles.

The local drivers alleged that despite having proper driving licences and other documents, the administration officials bother them and confiscate their vehicles to mint money. A driver told TNN that his driving licence was stuck in Timergara due to an issue.

“Despite having all other documents, they manhandled me and impounded by vehicle. They are doing it for money. We demand the administration to stop this practice of teasing peaceful citizens,” he said.

Another driver said there is no licence office in Bajaur. “Licence law does not apply on our area as we are governed under the Frontier Crimes Regulation,” he told TNN.

On the other hand, Assistant Political Agent Khar said the crackdown against underage drivers and those not possessing mandatory documents has been initiated over public complaints. He said a number of drivers have been arrested and their vehicles confiscated for violating rules. He said the crackdown will continue.

3. Mobile service restored in Bajaur

KHAR, 17 March: Mobile telephone service has been restored in Bajuar after remaining suspended for two days, local residents informed.

The signals have been restored on Wednesday evening as people from different parts of the agency confirmed the connectivity has been gradually reestablished. However, there are still complaints of poor signals in some areas.

According to sources in the political administration services of all the telecom companies were cut off as they had not obtained the no objection certificate (NOC) from the relevant quarters which is required for operation.

The sources maintained that services on more than 10 towers of the concerned telecom companies have been restored as they obtained the relevant documents.

This after cell phone service was suspended.

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Tracking the Wild West in Pakistan

I had the pleasure of sharing a panel with Sinan Antoon last Saturday at the Page Turner literary festival. Sinan noted at that panel the dense, suffocating weight of western constructions of other places and peoples so much so that it begins to seep into our sense of ourselves so that it now, for instance, not uncommon to find casual reference to Pakistan’s Tribal Areas as a kind of “wild west” frontier  (or, alternatively, to hear about groupthink by classes of people as “tribalism”). The extension of that imagination –and therefore, implicitly of a network of related ideas: civilization, manifest destiny, noble savage– is both prelude and effect of the terror wars. I have been working on an article that touches on some of this.

Examples, in no particular order, of the use of the “wild west” trope in journalism writing and media about Pakistan:

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is Pakistan’s impoverished, wild west region, bordering Afghanistan, where the Taliban and al Qaeda have established a stronghold to plan their attacks on Kabul, Islamabad, and New York City. —Foreign Policy, Nov 04, 2009

Dara, a dusty, Wild West-type town, crawls with intelligence agencies, drug smugglers and gun-toting Pathan tribesmen. —The Telegraph, Dec 02, 2005

Dealing with Pakistan’s Wild West —The Globalist, Jan 24, 2008

“It’s the wild west of the 18th century,” says Imtiaz Gul, Pakistani journalist and author of “The Most Dangerous Place: Pakistan’s Lawless Frontier.”

“People are like the old time Wild West, adventurous creatures who grew up with guns, who grew up with a lot of adventurism and who are pretty partially alien to the culture of United States, or for that matter even the culture of Islamabad. —PBS NewsHour Jun 15, 2010

Darra Adam Khel, a small burg in Pakistan’s tribal areas, is the quintessential frontier town. Picture Wyatt Earp sashaying down the streets of Tombstone in a turban, and you begin to get the idea. —Washington Post, Mar 30, 2008

Pakistan’s Wild West – A Photo Essay —TIME

Waziristan -Pakistan’s Wild West (Video) —FORA.TV on Dailymotion

There are more guns for him to choose from in Darra Adam Khel, the nearest thing Pakistan has to a Wild West town.

In fact, guns are about the only things made and sold in this dusty one-street town near Peshawar, capital of the country’s unruly Northwest Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan. —LA Times, Sept 27, 1987

A Wild Frontier – It will take more than American missiles to bring order to Pakistan’s north-western border region —The Economist, Sept 18, 2008

If Peshawar is the Wild West with electricity, then Lahore is Southern California in the 1950s without the beaches. —Rug Review, Feb 1989

Rudyard Kipling described this dusty frontier capital near the Khyber Pass as a “city of evil countenances.” Other cities lived, Peshawar lurked. Even the shadows here had shadows. —LATimes May 12, 1986

Pathans Rule the Wild West —The Independent, Jun 03, 1999

Wild West Pakistan —The Age, Jan 29, 1980

It is an economy and society evoking an image of the American Wild West —Christian Science Monitor, Dec 06, 1982

Wild West Alive, Well in Pakistan (also on Darra Adam Khel) —The Lewiston Daily Sun, Nov 21, 1973

These two provinces, called the “wild west” of Pakigtan (sic) —NYT, Mar 29, 1973

Asked why many of his opponents suddenly find themselves up for murder, Bhutto said it was all part of the “Wild West” atmosphere of Pakistan politics —Lewiston Evening Journal, Mar 12, 1973

“Shooting started last Thursday,” he continued, “and all hell let loose Friday. It was just like the Wild West.” East Pakistan Refugees Tell of Mass Executions, The Milwaukee Sentinel, Apr 07, 1971


Warrior Poets: Guns, Movie-Making and the Wild West of Pakistan 2008

Among the wild tribes of the Afghan frontier: A record of sixteen years close intercourse with the natives of the Indian marches 1912

I had ventured into Pakistan’s wild west and I had the scars to prove it. Muslim Cleavage 2011

Peshawar is the capital of Pakistan’s “wild west” Three Cups of Tea 2009

Peshawar Pakistan is the archetypal wild-west frontier town Force Valor – Revenge (Vol 1) 2013

For Special Forces, Afghanistan was the wild wild West, and the new Ranchers reveled in it. —The Hunt for Bin Laden: Task Force Dagger 2003

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Reporting Drones: Consent, Complicity & Racialized Media

Here are my quick observations (3 of them) on some of the articles that have come out in the last few days on drones. These are, I stress, musings/thoughts that I am working out/ notes to myself. So, if you read them, please take them as such–and not my final word.

1. Mark Mazzetti How a Single Spy Helped Turn Pakistan Against the United States (on Raymond Davis) Apr 14.2013

The interesting point about this article is it depicts, quite clearly, how little control the State Department has in trying to establish relationships in Pakistan. Shorter CIA to State: STFU. Why that’s relevant is below this quote:

Munter saw some value to the drone program but was skeptical about the long-term benefits…He would learn soon enough that his views about the drone program ultimately mattered little. In the Obama administration, when it came to questions about war and peace in Pakistan, it was what the C.I.A. believed that really counted.

Munter said he believed that the C.I.A. was being reckless and that his position as ambassador was becoming untenable. His relationship with the C.I.A. station chief in Islamabad, already strained because of their disagreements over the handling of the Davis case, deteriorated even further when Munter demanded that the C.I.A. give him the chance to call off specific missile strikes. During one screaming match between the two men, Munter tried to make sure the station chief knew who was in charge, only to be reminded of who really held the power in Pakistan.

“You’re not the ambassador!” Munter shouted.

“You’re right, and I don’t want to be the ambassador,” the station chief replied.

This turf battle spread to Washington, and a month after Bin Laden was killed, President Obama’s top advisers were arguing in a National Security Council meeting over who really was in charge in Pakistan. At the June 2011 meeting, Munter, who participated via secure video link, began making his case that he should have veto power over specific drone strikes.

Panetta cut Munter off, telling him that the C.I.A. had the authority to do what it wanted in Pakistan. It didn’t need to get the ambassador’s approval for anything.

“I don’t work for you,” Panetta told Munter, according to several people at the meeting.

But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came to Munter’s defense. She turned to Panetta and told him that he was wrong to assume he could steamroll the ambassador and launch strikes against his approval.

“No, Hillary,” Panetta said, “it’s you who are flat wrong.”

There was a stunned silence,…

There are a series of articles and news reports coming out now elaborating on the complicity between segments of the Pakistani state and the US. For example:

Nic Robertson Musharraf Admits Secret Deal with US on Drone Strikes Apr 12.2013

These reports are of import because there has long been the question of whether the Pakistani state has given consent to the US for drone bombing. First, as the article above clearly shows, the State Department doesn’t even have control of its own agenda, never mind Pakistan’s elected government when it comes to the machinations of the security establishment in the US. In Pakistan, (as in the US), the question of the state must be disaggregated into its various parts. The military, which is by far the strongest arm of the Pakistani state, has been funded, backed, armed and encouraged by the US. That has been the case for decades so much so that the only Pakistani military coup that wasn’t backed by the US was Musharraf. That changed after 9.11.

The structure of the Pakistani state is, therefore, thoroughly conditioned by the arrangements that have existed between the American and Pakistani security establishments. The Pakistani army has its own interests, independent of the US, but however fraught that relationship is, its continuance has been the overriding concern for much of Pakistan’s history.

To put it baldly, the US has spent billions bribing the Pakistani security establishment and thus fundamentally re-structuring the Pakistani state to the detriment of Pakistanis. In that context, talking about “consent” of one allegedly independent state to another, is laughable. These conditions structure the way drone attacks happen and who bears the responsibility. Darryl Li made this point with respect to US secret prisons in other countries.

Therefore contrary to the discussion of consent given, the discussion that ought to be had is about consent bought: from whom and to what effects. The American government dispenses with its responsibility and its crimes, displacing them onto other states. That does not, of course, mean that those governments are not complicit or war criminals. But, it does mean a discussion that is much closer to the character of the actually, existing relationships between the US and other countries rather than the pretense that we are simply dealing with independent, container states.

2. Mark Mazzetti A Secret Deal on Drones Sealed in Blood (on Nek Mohammed) Apr 6, 2013

The deal, a month after a blistering internal report about abuses in the C.I.A.’s network of secret prisons, paved the way for the C.I.A. to change its focus from capturing terrorists to killing them, and helped transform an agency that began as a cold war espionage service into a paramilitary organization.

Ok, this article shows what I have been saying for a while now. Accountability and transparency are weak procedures. The demand for these procedures in the context of secret prisons meant that the CIA shifted its tactics to drone attacks. The state learns, and adapts. Another example was Israel’s shift towards torture tactics that left no marks on the bodies of Palestinians following human rights reports documenting torture using bodily wounds, scars and marks as evidence.

3. Jonathan Landay Obama’s Drone War Kills ‘Others,’ not Just al-Qaida Leaders (on secret papers received by McClatchy) Apr 9.2013

Jonathan Landay US Collaborated with Pakistan Spy Agency in Drone War Apr 09.2013

Micah Zenko An Inconvenient Truth Apr 10.2013

Zenko’s article is subtitled, “Finally, proof that the United States has lied in the drone wars.” It’s useful that these reports are out there, but I find it troubling that liberals and leftists have been touting these reports as “Finally! proof!” which is how some have also tweeted about it.

For one, the bodies of dead kids should’ve been enough proof. Even the little wire service stories –even as they are largely driven by various interested parties –have also occasionally noted the confusion on the ground about who was killed. That these stories –those of the government’s own pronunciations and declarations– continually grab the major headlines when it comes to Pakistan rather than stories from the ground, perfectly rehearses the spectacle of secrets. It invests a kind of legitimation and power in the American government to determine the line between the truth and a hunch, between the visible and the invisible. I wrote about this in my New Inquiry piece.

This is also what happens when the major voices, even among liberals and leftists, are those of white males, with journalists or analysts from the country in question either entirely missing or brought on for bit parts in the narrative that is written largely by those in empire. I am not accusing Zenko or indeed anyone else of maliciousness or even support for American empire, but I do think these stories would look quite different if they were being told by people from the countries in question. It would shift perspective, and it would highlight as well as marginalize different aspects of the issue. As it is, the conversation is had among largely American, largely white, largely male voices, and the only real options for the rest of us are either to enter that conversation by agreeing or disagreeing, or risk irrelevance.

Finally, the intense focus on the government’s narrative lets journalists and the media off-the-hook for not doing the hard work of actually reporting the stories of those on the receiving end of America’s war in Pakistan. I say “in Pakistan” as a caveat because, interestingly, the recent gruesome, shocking murders of 11 Afghan children by NATO did get its own full-length articles, complete with photos. In the Afghanistan context, this happens much more frequently. And this is, I suspect, because there are western, largely white reporters on the ground. In other words, it speaks to the racist structural underpinnings of the modern media, and about those we think can serve as legitimate witnesses and those whose stories are always cast in doubt because there were no western (white) bodies in the vicinity to lend them credibility.

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Making of experts II

A conference of journalists working in the tribal areas came to some interesting conclusions:

Growing anarchy has made access to information dependent on the will of the military and the militants. Both have shown little tolerance in allowing reporters to work independently. In threatening circumstances, journalists feel little hesitation in toeing the line, which has made journalism subservient to military strategies. More importantly, it has provided journalists with an excuse to justify anything in the name of insecurity, making professional dishonesty the norm in war reporting.

Ethically, any defensive measure is justified if it helps reporters keep safe. In the local context, however, this provisional compromise is of little help in ensuring their security. Meanwhile, it has killed in them the spirit of initiative. There is a growing realisation that journalism in a hostile situation is mainly about serving the combatants. This has caused complacency in war reporters. They take pride in their relationship with militants, who often invite them to cover terror at the source.

This should give pause to think tanks which regularly use this reporting to build arguments for or against drones and more generally, the ‘war on terror.’ It’s what I pointed out in an earlier post.

Full article here.

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II. War in a New York minute

Was it the drones or the mortgage? Certainly, Faisal Shahzad has made no claims; all we have to go by is the infuriatingly racist coverage. Faisal Shahzad is a Pakistani-American, but according to the media, he’s a PAKISTANI american, who the media emphasizes, had been a citizen for just one year. Good liberal Pakistanis have gotten into the act throwing a pity party about all that’s wrong with Pakistanis and urging Pakistani-Americans to cooperate. In the rush to assign nationality to acts of terror, they forget that Shahzad was living in the US for over a decade. So was Nidal Hassan, the Fort Hood bomber gunman. And Anwar al-Awlaki is a US citizen who was partially raised there. These people are obviously pissed and it’s possible that they’re pissed about the Iraq war, about Afghanistan, about Pakistan, about the attack on Muslims both in their home countries and their marginalization and demonization within the west. But if that is true, then one could almost say that all paths of terror lead through the US, or at least some toxic transnational mix.

Joshua Keating has a good list of contradictory reportage about Faisal Shahzad to highlight what we don’t know. Here’s my addition:

Rachel Maddow says it:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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I. War in a New York minute

While some early reports claimed that it was NYC (attempted) car bomber Faisal Shahzad’s wife and parents or his relatives who were picked up from Karachi where they had been residing, other news now suggests that anywhere between five to eight men were arrested in connection with the Times Square car bomb attempt. One of the men detained in Karachi may be his father-in-law; Shahzad’s parents meanwhile left their Peshawar home once they learned of their son’s arrest. The family was seen leaving their well-to-do home in Hayatabad. Two of the men have reportedly been identified as Tauhid Ahmed and Muhammad Rehan who says he travelled with Shahzad to Peshawar where they stayed for about two weeks in July.Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Rehman Malik claims that no arrests have been made in connection with this case, but some people are being detained for questioning. Rehman also said that no official request has been made by the US, but Pakistan intends to cooperate fully.

Shahzad is the son of  retired air vice-marshal and deputy director general of the civil aviation authority, Baharul Haq. Shahzad’s cousin, Kifayat Ali expressed disbelief about the former’s arrest, according to al-Jazeera

“This is a conspiracy so the [Americans] can bomb more Pashtuns,” Ali said, referring to a major ethnic group in Peshawar and the nearby tribal areas of Pakistan and southwest Afghanistan.

Family members in the family’s village of Mohib Banda, near Pabbi in Nowshera district echoed Ali’s denial about their relative. Another cousin, Sameerul Haq also charged conspiracy and reportedly said Shahzad had gone to the US for the sole purpose of studying. A villager who claimed to be Shahzad’s childhood friend told the News, “I don’t think Faisal had links with any militant group.” Interviews conducted with relatives and those familiar with Shahzad by the AP had similar findings.

Earlier this morning, when I visited North Nazimabad, a relatively quiet, upper middle class neighborhood of Karachi, neighbors were tight-lipped. Sources claim that the detentions of people from Nazimabad were made by military intelligence, not the local police. I was told that officials dressed in civilian clothing came looking for people connected with Faisal Shahzad and enquired about Shahzad in the neighborhood. If true, the involvement of military intelligence in these detentions poses some serious problems: the establishment is well-known for disappearing people. Jeremy Schahill raises concerns on the American side where American intelligence planes may have been used to locate Shahzad. The trouble with this, explains Scahill is that:

If true, that could mean that secretive programs such as “Power Geyser” or “Granite Shadow,” remain in effect. These were the unclassified names for reportedly classified, compartmentalized programs under the Bush administration that allegedly gave US military special forces sweeping authority to operate on US soil in cases involving WMD incidents or terror attacks.

See Scahill’s full post here.

[Post in progress…]

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