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Old wounds, new history

Published Mar 26, 2017 07:00am


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IT could just be the absence of meaty stuff. No Panama, Fasaad already inducing yawns — the national circus needed some excitement.

And there’s nothing like a bit of civilian bashing to energise the system again.

Maybe it’ll disappear once Panama returns or something new and unexpected happens — never say never in this land of ours.

But already it has taken a turn for the nasty. History is being rewritten at will.

On, then, to this Osama business. World’s deadliest terrorist found in Pakistan; Pakistan caught with either its trousers down or hand in hand with said world’s deadliest terrorist.

Not a great place to be, was always going to have repercussions, etc.

It takes a special kind of distortion though for, six years later, a contrived dispute over visas to eclipse the real issue.

But there’s a reason for it.

From Raymond Davis to the Abbottabad raid to Mike ‘Haqqani Network is a Veritable Arm of the ISI’ Mullen to Memogate — 2011 was an annus horribilis, for civ-mil and Pak-US.

And, improbably, it was all connected.

Years later, there’s no real reason to disbelieve the core of the boys’ public claim.

Zardari and co probably did facilitate a surge in American intel types in Pakistan, and Zardari and co probably did make some kind of misguided/foolish/idiotic offer to the Americans in Memogate.

But — and this is important — that’s not really what angered the boys.

What scared them was that a master dealmaker in Zardari and a frustrated Pentagon and disillusioned White House on the other side might actually pull off something.

Something that would loosen the boys’ iron grip.

Rewind to 2010. Kayani was popular and had forced Zardari into retreat. By year end, Kayani had grabbed an extension for himself and things were looking pretty bleak for the PPP.

The more exotic the fear, the better — it prevents debate on even the more reasonable aims that the civilians may have in mind.

Bleak not in survival terms — the extension all but guaranteed a full term for the PPP as a quid pro quo — but in terms of policy.

After the no-first-strike and ISI-to-Interior missteps early on, the PPP had been muscled out. The Mumbai attacks sealed the civilians’ irrelevance.

But Zardari, for all his love of money and property, wanted something more than mere puppet or figurehead status.

Maybe it was the memory of BB and a desperation to be seen as her equal, but he wanted back in the policy game.

And that’s where the trouble began — again.

If you hate Zardari, you believe he’ll do anything for money and is motivated by nothing else. If you can allow yourself a wee bit of generosity, you may be able to put your finger on the policy disagreement.

It’s not very hard to see what both sides may have been thinking.

The civilian preference was straightforward and timeless — though, equally obviously, fiendishly difficult to effect: shut down the jihad network at home, bolster the precarious Afghan state and open up to India.

Rebuffed by the boys within months of arriving, and having complicated partners in Kabul and Delhi, Zardari turned to the obvious power with the obvious interest and the obvious clout: the US.

His recent publicly expressed disappointment with Obama tells its own tale, but back then Zardari did what all civilians, desperate and uncertain but dogged in their own way, do:

Offered whatever the hell he thought may cause the Americans to show interest in him again.

On the other side, the boys didn’t — couldn’t — really think that Zardari would succeed.

After all, 9/11 and Bush’s ‘bombed back to the stone age’ had only resulted in a shelving of the jihad project, not dismantling it.

But allow a large-scale American intel presence inside Pakistan, ostensibly in the hunt for Bin Laden, and dangerous, funny, other things could start to happen.

Take your pick. Targeted militant eliminations outside the Fata box where drone strikes weren’t permitted.

Mapping the jihad infrastructure minutely. Updating war plans against Pakistan. Defections by military types secretly cultivated.

And, of course, gathering information on and potentially disrupting the build-up of what the US says is the world’s fastest growing nuclear arsenal. Think North Korea.

If all of that sounds exotic, it is. The more exotic the fear, the better — it prevents debate on even the more reasonable aims that the civilians may have in mind.

Reasonable, but far-reaching.

When Memogate exploded, the public justification was found.

The visa issue had been brewing from the previous summer. Mullen, who famously courted Kayani, had launched an attack on his way out.

The Abbottabad raid had become a local humiliation; not because Osama was holed up near Kakul, but because the vaunted military had been powerless to stop the raid.

Memo or no memo, American spies running around Pakistan or not, the year until late 2011 had created a systemic disturbance.

The military was reeling under internal tumult and external criticism; Zardari was prowling around for more influence; and the Americans had soured on Pakistan.

It was time for an intervention.

We all know how that turned out. Husain was too conniving, Zardari naive, Obama already disengaged and the boys unduly paranoid.

So, the boys won — as they mostly do. Pakistan? That’s another matter.

But if they’re old wounds, why the fresh fake outrage? Because the civilians can’t be allowed to forget who’s boss, or what the boys can do to them.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2017


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (38) Closed

Harmony-1© Mar 26, 2017 07:23am

Wonderful tributes given to Zardari - being motivated by money, Haqqani scandal and what not. But never such accolades for Panama culprit that everyone talks about. How nice!

aga Khan Mar 26, 2017 08:12am

Be careful, most importantly be safe. God be with you, being so straight forward and honest in your view points.

Arif Waswani Mar 26, 2017 08:46am

Sunday fest of analysis over happening over a week.

Glad if this translated in Urdu for understanding of common people.

Ali Mar 26, 2017 08:43am

How many Pak jwans killed by indian firing last year? Dozens. How many jwans and civilians killed by religious terrorist? Hundreds. Does anybody bother to answer if this is their failure. They are all interested in chess game and its totally non-issue for a common man. Totally agree with ur suming last para. ''But if they’re old wounds, why the fresh fake outrage? Because the civilians can’t be allowed to forget who’s boss, or what the boys can do to them.''

Feroz Mar 26, 2017 09:27am

The country can keep running around the tree trying to catch its shadow while analysts and journalists can make money trying to make people understand a situation no sane mind can understand. Nothing is as simple as made out to be. The extremist and militant mindset has formed deep roots within every Institution as well as Parliament, any attempt at rolling up the carpet for the sake of the country will be scuttled from inside. All enemies of Pakistan live within its borders, no external powers can ever create even half the damage the internal enemies can.

Yasir Mar 26, 2017 09:29am

For any sane reader this is a masterpiece.

Shibban Kaul Mar 26, 2017 09:50am

Thank you Mr Paracha.

Ch. K. A. Nye Mar 26, 2017 10:16am

And herein lies the difference: the boys are in the background. They think, discuss, plan and implement. The chumpoos don't think it plan, blurt out the first think that comes to mind and hope for the best which usually means naught.

Javed Iqbal Mar 26, 2017 10:32am

Superb article to make the people understand the truth in hand right now.

dr. Rizwan Mar 26, 2017 10:51am

The fresh outrage is because of Haqqani's recent article in which he has admitted that he indeed facilitated the unchecked entry of US agents into Pakistan with the consent of Zardari and Co, and infact had a role in the killing of OBL. Self-admission of what they previously denied all along.

Nikhil Mar 26, 2017 10:54am

I admire your courage to write facts, plain and simple, against or in favor of the "boys". Stay safe, Cyril. Admiration from India..

ahmed ali Mar 26, 2017 11:56am

@dr. Rizwan but no body asking who gave visa to OBL

Madeeh Mar 26, 2017 12:33pm

Why? Long term: Because Zardari is heading the single most curupt party in the country, which is long past its expiry date and needs to be surgically removed like a tumor.

Short term: Because PP resisted the military courts initiative in the parliament. Probably because they fear their application in the PP elements in Karachi.

Mateen Mar 26, 2017 12:39pm

"So, the boys won — as they mostly do. Pakistan? That’s another matter."Agreed... however, I think, there should be "always" instead of "mostly" as the boys always win in the internal games...particulalry political ones despite their weariness of political structure.

AK Mar 26, 2017 03:02pm

One gap in this analysis. The old wounds opened up due to Hussain Haqqani's recent opportunistic article in which he openly admitted to issuing visas under civilian authority. You cannot blame the "boys" for opening up the wounds in this round. Other than that, as bad as the boys may be, bypassing institutions to facilitate foreign spies is not really a great reform strategy even if the eventual aim is noble. Better would be for civilian leaders to have the guts to stand up and say publicly that they don't agree with existing strategy and demand change. Having a bit of credibility by being non corrupt and offering good governance would also help.

Sana Mar 26, 2017 04:11pm

@Feroz "All enemies of Pakistan live within it's borders' well said Feroz if the country wakes up to this - Pakistan's progress will be limitless

Sana Mar 26, 2017 04:13pm

@dr. Rizwan He may have allowed them in but he did not have a role in killing OBL That is just trying to make it out as if he knew what was going on

roshan Mar 26, 2017 04:27pm

Summarising Zardari's era in a nutshell

Nero Mar 26, 2017 04:48pm

@dr. Rizwan: Go on, lie a bit more. Or maybe read that article first.

Nasir Mar 26, 2017 04:52pm

Outstanding article. God bless you

Amir Dewani-U.S.A. Mar 26, 2017 04:56pm

"Take honor from me and my life is done"- (Shakespeare). Opening old wounds and rubbing salt on them means nothing but 'onion peeling'. The culprits ruining this country are well known and adequately identified. And, their challenge is: 'Catch me if you can'. There is no shortage of fear mongers in Pakistan.What needs to be done is just to pause, think and do a bit of soul searching to mend the ways of doing things the right way. Otherwise, keep drifting in water and wind as the 'drunken soldiers' are doing at present.

dr. Rizwan Mar 26, 2017 04:52pm

@Nero You go and read that article, u obviously havent read it yet. Ignorance is a bliss i guess.

R S Chakravarti Mar 26, 2017 05:01pm

@Shibban Kaul The writer was Cyril Almeida, not Paracha. Totally different styles.

Anita Turab Mar 26, 2017 05:13pm

You give Zardari too much credit. I doubt if he ever looked beyond his bling and damaged internal security comprehensively while doing so. 99% of what he did (or failed to do) had nothing to do with regional peace and alleged posterity. It was just acquisition of wealth. Te remaining 1% was what he was made to do in terms of introduction of a few laws and ordinances. He really had no lasting positive impact. Not even a signal free road to be remembered by.

Abraham haque Mar 26, 2017 05:29pm

@Feroz thank you and remember they still are more patriotic than 200million

BM Mar 26, 2017 05:53pm

A wonderful right up! Cyril Almeida, I am your fan!

Khan Mar 26, 2017 06:35pm

@Nikhil Admiration or Administration from India? To anyone even slightly sane sounds more of the latter.

Indian true friend of beloved pakistan Mar 26, 2017 08:21pm

Wonderful candid analysis. Thanks DAWN for reporting. The quality of columns DAWN reports and equally quality of comments by its readers is very informative and fact based. This type of journalism always wanting in India. God bless u Cryil. Be safe.

Yahoodisazish Mar 26, 2017 09:17pm

@Anita Turab 18th amendment and power to the provinces.

Syed F. Hussaini Mar 26, 2017 10:22pm


The diagnosis and prognosis are correct and the virus stands identified.

However, the virus is so powerful it stops the doctors from naming it in their medical discourse.

This stifled discourse curbs remedial procedures.

The correct antiviral can be prescribed only after the doctors win their freedom of speech and are able to name the virus on the bedside chart.

Otherwise, we can simply prepare for the funeral.


Ghani k Mar 26, 2017 11:49pm

Zardari, Raza Gilani both extracting themselves from the visa issue throwing blame on their boy Husain Haqqani who does n't mind as long as he stays in the limelight. Well, what difference couple of thousand visas would make when Musharraf had handed over complete control of an air base to a foreign power where its personnel landed & flew away without visa requirement.

shubs Mar 27, 2017 01:24am

@Indian true friend of beloved pakistan "This type of journalism always wanting in India. "

There are hundreds upon hundreds of newspapers in India, with quality journalism for more than half a century. It is quite obvious you have never read any. Watching screaming talking heads on Times Now does not count as following "the news". Don't diss something you know nothing about.

Pg65 Mar 27, 2017 04:47am

@Anita Turab - 18th amendment - Limiting power of Presidency - Devolution of budgets and powers to provinces - Civil military partnership in operations in Swat and SWA

Samuel Mar 27, 2017 05:44am

Stay safe cause we need more conspiracy theories like these...

anita turab Mar 27, 2017 10:29am

@Yahoodisazish. 18th Amendment is the single most confusion causing document for which Zardari is not to be blamed directly. But his reliance on pseudo phonies like Rabbani who have no practical sense or government experience and completely destroyed an opportunity to empower the provinces. I wouldn't call it a great success either. It has evened itself out in the last few years but no its not a great success.

Syed F. Hussaini Mar 27, 2017 12:00pm

Mr. Husain Haqqani must have weighed it in very carefully before saying it.

The Yankee fans might like what he said.

The OBL fans might dislike it.

Risking it, is he trying to prove something before some select audience?

Balraj Mar 27, 2017 04:09pm

@Feroz Your comments reflect the real cause of the problem.

Abdullah Mahmood Mar 29, 2017 02:55pm

Spot on! Especially the closing sentence...'Because the civilians can’t be allowed to forget who’s boss, or what the boys can do to them.'