Having been frequently accused of trying to show Pakistan in poor light, I’ve decided to try and make amends. So, for starters, I don’t agree with Pakistani media’s unanimous view that army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa’s sudden trip to Riyad is an attempt to mend fences with the House of Saud after Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s open threat of Islamabad calling for “a meeting of the Islamic countries that are ready to stand with us on the issue of Kashmir and support the oppressed Kashmiris.”
Au contraire, I would like to take Director General (DG) Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Babar Iftikhar’s advice that, “There is no need to read too much into it” very seriously and agree with him that this abrupt visit was actually pre-planned and concerned “military-to-military relations” between the two countries.
I have also started believing ISPR’s assertion that it’s India’s spy agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) that is responsible for anything (and everything) going wrong in Pakistan. So, I find nothing odd in its claim that Kulbhushan Jadhav, who surreptitiously entered Pakistan to organise ‘terrorist activities’ through Balochi separatists was in possession of two sets of passports when he was ‘arrested’ [even though I’ve never ever heard of trained spies or terrorist facilitators on such dangerous mission ever carrying anything incriminating like a passport (in this case two of them!) on their person as these are dead giveaways].
Similarly, I strongly suspect that the armed men (some wearing ‘anti-terrorism force’ uniforms) who recently abducted journalist Matiullah Jan in broad daylight from outside a school in Islamabad were actually RAW agents, though I have no answers on how they managed to pull-off such a daring act in the national capital, or why they released him unharmed 12 hours later. Yet, I outrightly reject insinuations of the ‘deep state’s’ involvement made by his colleagues citing Jan’s outspoken criticism of Pakistan’s military establishment as the reason behind the abduction.
Speaking about journalists reminds me about another recent incident in which more than 30 women journalists have issued a joint statement that “vicious attacks through social media are being directed at women journalists and commentators in Pakistan, making it incredibly difficult for us to carry out our professional duties.” I think that this is a motivated act aimed at maligning the Pakistani establishment and it’s only because of such actions that Pakistan’s Press Freedom Index ranking in the list for 2020 prepared by Reporters without Borders [RSF] has dropped to 145 out of 180 countries.
Surprisingly, all of the complainant women journos have an impeccable record, are well known for adhering to ethics of objective journalism and have no anti-national prejudices. So why are they claiming that “The online attacks are instigated by government officials and then amplified by a large number of Twitter accounts, which declare their affiliation to the ruling party” is as inexplicable as their demand, to “Hold all such individuals within the government accountable and take action against them.” Could it be that RAW is behind this evil campaign because it is greatly upset by the unfettered freedom which as per Islamabad’s claims, the media enjoys in Pakistan? Most likely!
Another current issue related to journalists that comes to mind concerns an audio message that’s been purportedly released by Ehsanullah Ehsan, the former spokesperson of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and later Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) terrorist groups. In his message, Ehsan claims that “I was told (by Pakistani authorities) to lead a “death squad” and start work against traitors and enemies of the country. In the list given to me, majority of people had connections with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and they were all Pashtuns belonging to different walks of lives and the list also included names of some journalists.” Though I would also like to believe this to be a ploy of RAW to malign Pakistan, but there’s a problem.
Ehsan remains an enigma since the circumstances of his ‘surrender’ to Pakistan army in April 2017 are as mysterious as those of his escape from its custody in February this year. Soon after he surrendered, Ehsan appeared in a video voluntarily ‘confessing’ how RAW and Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) were supporting TTP by “extending financial assistance and they also gave targets, and for each attack (TTP) charged a price.” Besides being a live witness of RAW’s sinister campaign against Pakistan, he was the spokesperson and member of TTP’s inner coterie till 2014 and as such must certainly have been aware of Jadhav’s links with TTP in his attempts to “destabilise Pakistan,” that as per ISPR commenced in 2013.
This would have made Ehsan a key prosecution witness against Jadhav and with his case having reached International Court of Justice (ICJ), it’s obvious that Pakistan army would like to keep him custody, available to speak out and vindicate the death sentence awarded to the Indian national, should the need arise. That’s why the decision of some parents of Army Public School Peshawar carnage victims and the APS Shuhuda (martyrs) Forum to challenge an alleged government plan to grant clemency to Ehsan in Peshawar High Court (PHC) seemed infructuous. Afterall, why would Pakistan army release a ‘surrendered’ terrorist who was witness to RAW’s ‘dirty war’ in Pakistan?
But with Ehsan managing to escape from the army’s custody alongwith his entire family, Rawalpindi has lost a key witness who could provide clinching evidence of Jadhav’s involvement in “destabilising Pakistan.” So, was the apprehension of those who sought PHC’s intervention to prevent release of Ehsan right? Or was it that RAW had orchestrated this ‘great escape’ in order to obliterate proof of its seditious role of inciting locals against the Pakistani establishment? Once again, it’s a tough call but having promised to be more charitable to Pakistan I would still like to believe that the Pakistan army had no hand in facilitating Ehsan’s escape and it was just one of those things that went wrong- just like Osama bin Laden living right under the army’s nose in Abbottabad without being detected.
Just last year, Prime Minister Imran Khan himself admitted that “when you talk about militant groups, we still have about 30,000-40,000 armed people who have been trained and fought in some part of Afghanistan or Kashmir.” To add to this, with a whopping 146 of its nationals figuring in the UNSC’s proscribed list of global terrorists, Pakistan stands at number 3 in world rankings- just behind Iraq and Afghanistan. But having promised to be more munificent, I refuse to believe what Khan as well as the UNSC have to say. Instead, I completely trust the ‘clean chit’ that Gen Bajwa gave to Pakistan so pompously during the Munich Security Conference 2018 in Germany by announcing that “Today, I can say with pride and conviction that there are no organised camps on our side of the border”.
Tailpiece: The positive outcome of placing complete faith ISPR in and believing every word that it says is has made me less of a skeptic. Now I don’t lose sleep anymore thinking about issues like how did the second Indian Air Force pilot, who former DGISPR Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor said was in Pakistani custody and convalescencing at a Combined Military Hospital after he was shot down during the aerial combat of February 27 last year, suddenly vanish from face of the earth and was never heard of again?
But the best part is that believing ISPR has opened new horizons with infinite possibilities- so much so, I’ve even started believing the ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ fairy tale.