Tag Archives: pakistan

Waziristan: What We Knew

I’ve been in Pakistan for about two months now, and the chasm between what is reported and what we know but goes unreported is deep and wide. But, here’s some stuff we knew about Waziristan:

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Chaos Theory: The Press on Pakistan

I’ve just published a media critique of Pakistan coverage by the American press:

Chaos Theory: How Pakistan was Cast as a Failed State Columbia Journalism Review 4.24.09

An excerpt:

Pakistan is on the clock. “A fast-expanding Islamic insurgency…threatens to devour the country,” wrote The New York Times this month. The 175 million-strong nation has been on deathwatch since at least February, when The Atlantic Council sounded the alarm that Pakistan was headed for turbulence within twelve months. Recently, General Petraeus’s advisor shortened the time frame to within six months. “We could see the collapse of the Pakistani state,” said David Kilcullen. “Al Qaeda acquiring nuclear weapons, an extremist takeover—that would dwarf everything we’ve seen in the war on terror today.”

Tick tock. Boom.

It would be difficult to know from recent articles that Pakistanis scored a stunning mass-political victory only a few weeks ago. Instead, the press has been parroting Washington’s conventional wisdom on Pakistan as a country coming apart at the seams. There is no civil society here, only loons and goons that need to be bombed. The U.S. has based its actions on this decades-old story, and that has now helped produce the very realities Washington claims only to describe.

And shortly following my piece, it appears that other commentators have also noticed the breathless tone of the MSM with regard to Pakistan. Here are some:

  1. Commentary: Pakistan Isn’t Falling Peter Bergen, CNN 4.27.09
  2. Time Magazine’s “Reporting” on Pakistan Drone Attacks is Pentagon Propaganda Jeremy Scahill, Rebel Reports 4.29.09
  3. Pakistan Crisis and Social Statistics Juan Cole, Informed Comment 4.26.09


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Pakistan: A Primer for the New York Times

These are a couple of reminders for the paper of record:

  1. It’s the social forces, stupid.
  2. When writing editorials, making sense is a Good Thing.

Let’s start with the first. Here’s the lede to the NYT story announcing the reinstatement of the Chief Justice:

LAHORE, Pakistan — The Pakistani government agreed early on Monday to reinstate the independent-minded former chief justice of the Supreme Court, a stunning concession to the opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, who had been heading toward the capital in a convoy threatening to stage a mass protest over the issue after he broke free from house arrest at his residence near here.

This is just wrong. The concession was not to Nawaz Sharif; it was to the lawyers’ movement, you know, those thousands who have been marching in the streets defying government repression and getting their heads bashed in by the police.  Those people. The concession is to them. And while Nawaz Sharif and his party have been pushing for the reinstatement of the judiciary, the movement does not belong to them. They belong to the movement. The Sharif brothers know this. In fact, they’ve glommed on to the movement in a shrewd political manoeuvre to polish-up their tarnished image, and it’s a tenuous alliance.

Click here for more

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Deal Deadlock: Zardari Says No

The News reports that a possible deal, backed by London, Washington and the Pakistani military, to reconcile the PML-N and Pres. Zardari has collapsed. The measure which would have included an end to governor’s rule in Punjab and dialogue on the reinstatement Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, was flatly rejected by Zardari. Dawn reports:

…by late evening, all hopes of a possible breakthrough fell apart as, according to a high level government source, the message from the PML-N was that it was not prepared to given any concessions unless the government agreed to restore the deposed chief justice.

Sources said that this was enough to annoy President Zardari, who was already adamant to go ahead with his earlier decisions of using strong-arm tactics to deal with the lawyers and opposition members.

Hopes were high, and intense efforts were underway for the last three days to broker the deal with the various parties urging Gilani to persuade the president. General Kayani met with the Prime Minister on Thursday to discuss the new arrangements. US special envoy Richard Holbrooke had also encouraged accomodation in talks with Zardari and Gilani while US Ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson reached out to Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday.

But, despite a midnight meeting on Friday, Zardari remained adamant to the disappointment of the Prime Minster. The News reports:

‘Yes, I can consider these options as part of a new reconciliation deal but only after March 16 so that no one should think that I had taken the decision under pressure from the foreign or local forces,’ a source quoted the president as telling his two guests at the Presidency

Meanwhile, the massive crackdown continues with dozens of activists, lawyers and political leaders being arrested in the NWFP yesterday, reports the BBC. Over 1000 activists and opposition leaders have been jailed or put under house arrest. Lawyers and others have gone into hiding in and around Islamabad. Protesters are hoping to make their way into the capital in small groups.

And finally, offices of Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) were raided. Office equipment and party flags were taken by the police.  The leader of the party, legendary cricketeer turned politician Imran Khan expressed resolve to continue the struggle to restore the judiciary.

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Policing the Press -Long March Day 2

Remember this? In a reprisal of Musharraf’s policies during Emergency Rule in 2007, Pres. Zardari has banned the largest news channel, GeoTV from major sections of Pakistan including Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Quetta and Multan. Following the ban, PPP Information Minister Sherry Rehman resigned from her government post.

Rehman had held a “a series of heated arguments” with other officials in the PPP, according to Dawn, but after failing to convince them against the ban, she resigned in protest.

A prominent member of the PPP, Rehman’s decision signals splits inside the PPP about how to tackle a vigorous press that has been openly critical of the government’s policies towards the Long March.

In fact, activists and politicians have relied on it during the recent crackdown. When police came to arrest lawyers’ leader Athar Minallah, he turned to the press for help. From Time:

“I locked myself in the car, and the police didn’t know how to get me,” he said. “So I called the television cameras who were only two minutes away. I began giving live interviews from the car, addressing the Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, directly. After a while, Mr. Malik came down himself and shouted the police officers away.”

There may be institutional issues at several levels in Pakistan, but the press is working. “The media,” Open Society Institute’s Fawzia Naqvi told us, “has become the most trusted institution in Pakistan.” The statement was borne out in interviews with refugees from the NWFP and Fata who thanked the press for covering the dismal situation in their hometowns and exposing the damage caused by the US drone attacks, the Pakistani military and the Taliban.

Activists over at the popular listserve, Emergency List, have asked that people thank Rehman for her principled stance.  You can email her at:

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Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad (Long) March?

Long March Primerfor those who want to know more than ‘all the news that’s fit to print.’

An email update by a protester on the ground in Khi:

it was a very up-and-down day. when people set out from the high court (felt brilliant!), we thought the police would respond immediately. they didn’t, but had  obviously made a plan to corner the marchers outside of the city…. the marchers reached there much later in the evening–it was slow because the bus drivers that were supposed to take people had been warned against it by the police, so new arrangements were made–when they finally did reach, after much nare-bazi, they were prevented from going further than the toll plaza….[where arrests were made].

people have been going thaana [police station] to thaana to release ppl from police custody. many have been released, but march seems to have been stopped for now, as best as i can tell. there were rumors that the buses were going to be burnt! though i don’t think that happened.

anyway — the feeling on the ground was brilliant, very fearless….

Karachi Police arrested  nearly 200 people. They were later released on Rs 5,ooo each after the local magistrate issued an order, according to the News. Dawn confirms that scuffles broke outside of Sindh High Court where 35 people were arrested including the Vice President of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) Party. Police beat protesters with batons and sticks, reports BBC. You can find the BBC’s video here. Approximately 10 prison vans were on hand at a main exit point in Karachi for arrests. An SMS update by Anonymous from Karachi:

Lawyers lock thenselves in their cars at the Toll Palaza Karachi and resisting arrests.

Protesters have been wending their way to Islamabad for the main rally in small groups.

OF NOTE:

1. Aitzaz Ahsan defies Section 144 and leads a rally on Mall Road, Lahore. A key leader of the lawyers’ movement and member of the PPP, Ahsan has been suspended from the CEC of the PPP for violating party discipline. Of PPP supporters of the Long March, he told Dawn blog:

”Many PPP supporters are with us because they know that Benazir [Bhutto] had promised them that the judiciary would be restored,” he says, adding ”it is not true that the lawyers’ movement does not have massive public support…. People are just waiting for the right opportunity to come out on the streets.”

2. In Lahore, police tortured a cameraman and seized his camera as he was filming lawyers arrests, GeoTV reports.

Head of Supreme Court Bar Association, Ahmad Ali Kurd led a march from Quetta which was stopped at Jacobabad. An SMS:

We have surrounded ali ahmad kurd. To govt authorities: if u have the courage come arrest him.

But protesters remained spirited. One texted:

Jacobabad we are going to have a sit-in here. We are not going down that easily.

TV MOMENTS

An emotional moment: human rights activists Tahira Abdullah broke into tears as she took on the PPP’s Minister of Information, Sherry Rehman. If you don’t speak Urdu, no worries here; much of the exchange is in English:


Nawaz Sharif on Live with Talat: PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif who’s party is supporting the Long March appeared for a hard-hitting interview on the news show of one of the top journalists in Pakistan, Talat Hussain. The exchange was interesting. The video will be available here. Hussain asked Sharif why he was taking on the PPP so directly rather than waiting till next elections.  He also questioned whether the Long March was a national movement or one that belongs prominently to the province of Punjab. Sharif’s responded by saying that most Pakistanis support the march and that the PML-N has been winning by getting votes in all provinces.

It may also be added that several of the top lawyers movement leaders are not from Punjab, but Sindh.


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The Long March -Day 1

From an activist on the ground in Khi (Karachi):

He writes in an email:

political activists, and civil society members defied section 144 to launch the long march to islamabad.

they cannot stop us.

Here are his videos:

Leaving the Sindh High Court, Karachi:

Note the Rangers standing by and the crowd walk through the barricades past the police (@ :20 sec). They don’t seem to making much of an effort to enforce the ban on gatherings in Khi. This, despite a statement by senior-officer-in -charge Wasim Ahmad who said according to GeoTV:

Talking to media, CCPO Karachi said police force is working under specific procedure. Anyone who violates section 144 would be punished and no one is allowed to disturb law and order.

Marching through Saddar Town in Karachi:

Watch the size of the crowd (and it’s just begun!) and listen to the chant:

Jeena ho ga, marna ho ga!

Dharna ho ga, dharna ho ga!

Rough Translation: Life or death, the dharna (sit-in) will happen!

Protesters are marching towards the capital Islamabad. Activists from Karachi and Quetta are expected to arrive  in Lahore on the 14th, and converge on the capital by March 16th for a dharna (sit-in).

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