Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Ismaili Shias Massacred in Karachi. Iron Hand Promised

Many Ismaili families from Gujrat moved to Karachi after partition. They became part of a prosperous, hard-working community. They kept a low profile. As in any community, everyone could not be rich enough to buy large houses next to the Bhuttos and Zardaris in Clifton. Some of them therefore bought land on the outskirts of town, where it was cheap, and built a housing society there and called it Al-Azhar Gardens.

People moved in 8 years ago and as is the tradition in this particular community, they maintained their colony exceptionally well. Almost everything was available right there. Proud residents boasted about the well designed housing, the community facilities, the cleanliness, the security.
But you still have to get to town to work and go to school and so on. So they ran a shuttle bus service.

Today, the shuttle left Al-Azhar Gardens with 60 or so people on board. Someone else got on at Safoora Chowrangi. Armed men stopped the bus and using 9 mm pistols, systematically shot dead women and children, one by one, at close range. It is said that a few children were spared, or survived by hiding. Or something. The dead include women and the elderly.
Imagine the scene in the bus. The mind boggles, does it not?

Who did it? Jundullah (and/or the Islamic State, they are one and the same in any case and these days the name IS will sell better), a well known anti-shia group with a long history in Karachi (including a history of getting people out of police custody in mysteriously easy escapes) has claimed responsibility.

Not to be left behind, Mubasher Lucman, Pakistan's most popular "paknationalist" anchor has blamed the Indian "Relatives and Wives Wing" (otherwise known as RAW) for the attack.

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Most people seem to take Jundullah/IS at face value, with their history of dragging Shias off buses and shooting them in the head. But there are those who blame MQM (supposedly operating on the instructions of RAW and Mossad). But whoever did it (I tend to go with Jundullah, but cannot claim to know for sure, so we will leave it at that), someone stopped a bus at a major crossing, calmly shot 60 people (43 of them now dead) and walked away without getting caught (and without any fear of getting caught). That does not look good. Not good at all.

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We may soon hear that this is Pakistan's 9-11. Unlike Amrika, Pakistan is rich in 9-11s. It depends on how you count. Using the standard formula of 1 Sunni Punjabi=3 Shias= 5 FATA Pakhtoons there have been at least nineteen 9-11s till now (more if you start counting poor people as humans, but that would be just too much). Unfortunately, I am afraid there may be more in the days to come.

The Prime minister has condemned it. He has also "ordered the police to arrest the culprits". I am not kidding. He actually ordered the police to arrest the culprits!

 More to the point, the army chief has called up the Aga Khan and said he will use his iron hand at the earliest opportunity. Coalitions support funds may have been mentioned. Life goes on.

Before I am accused of cynicism, let me paint two (fictional) scenarios. Which one is more likely?

1. General X has figured out that Pakistan's policy of nurtuting Jihadist terrorists as force-multipliers against India has blown up in its face. He wants to change things root and branch. Not just the Kashmir Jihad and strategic depth (a direct consequence of that jihad), but the whole shebang. Mufti Naeem and his ilk will be terminated with maximum prejudice. All training camps will be shut down. All militants will be reformed or terminated (with the same maximum prejudice). India will be offered a deal: Lets both stop using this kind of terrorism for any reason and settle all future disputes via negotiation or all out war, like civilized countries. No more shooting of random people sleeping on the platform at Chatrapati Shivaji Railway terminus. But General X realizes that 50 years of Islamic-Paknationalist education has prepared a generation of morons who cannot be told the whole truth without having their heads explode. So General X is going to lie, deceive, dissimulate and detour his way to a future TNT-free Pakistan. Sometimes his public actions will appear contradictory. Sometimes he will have to make up all sorts of bullshit about RAW and Mossad to get his way. He will do what has to be done. But in the end, we will have a defanged Pakistan where every poor man's son (or daughter) has the chance to become a toll-collector on the Pak-China-Economic-Corridor. Then, our problems will be no different from those of Thailand or Phillipines (both of whom have some Islamist terrorists, but the government are not in bed with them). And so on...

2. General Y has figured out nothing but even he can see that something has to be done. Ismailis have been killed in cold blood and the Aga Khan is on the phone. Next the damn American ambassador will call and before night falls he will even have to pretend to have a meeting with the prime minister. He is pissed off. He promises to deal with everyone with an iron hand. He sends general Z to see the big boss in the Pentagon and General Z reports that the Pentagon is pretty pissed off too. Block E/F F-16s will not be free. Loans will have to arranged and then paid back at 27% compound interest by fleecing the patriotic people of Pakistan. But all is not lost. Brigadier April Glaspie does seem to have hinted that a transfer of mujahideen into IOK would probably be OK with the US. Or at least, that is what General Z gathered from the conversation. He also met the Chinese ambassador, who served the best halal dimsum in Islamabad and nodded and smiled through most of the dinner. General Z reports that all seemed higher than Himalayas and deeper than the Indian ocean, though his excellency Sun Weidong did become a little stern after that last shot of Mai Tai and said something like "we hope the fraternal people of Pakistan will do whatever is necessary to establish good public order". But mostly he smiled. Not for lack of language skills. The man speaks perfect English and Urdu (and our man in the embassy reports, also some Punjabi) but most of the time, he just doesn't speak. One hopes for the best.
All the corpse commanders nod their heads at these words of wisdom from General Z. The bearer brings in the tea and Peak Freans biscuits. Iron hands are waved around. All will be well.

Which (fictional) scenario sounds more plausible?

It started with the Kashmir Jihad (which started back in 1947, so Zia is not the only culprit). That jihad is the gift that keeps on giving. Everytime one of the foot soldiers in these massacres is caught (sometimes, they are. In fact, we even had Malik Ishaq in custody for a while), it turns out that they either went to a Kashmir Jihad training camp or were trained by people who got their start in the glorious Kashmir Jihad. Strategic depth. Where would we be without it?

For more on Shia-killing in Pakistan, see here.

btw, here is something I wrote four years ago. See the halva story at the end to understand what the PPP government in Sindh is doing. In fact, since people don't like to click through, I will paste that four year old article here too. Try to figure out what has changed and what has not.

Pakistan: The End Of The Affair (June 11 2011)

We have been here before, but it is being said that the unhappy marriage between the Pentagon and GHQ  has deteriorated further and once again, those watching this soap opera are wondering if this union can last.  Writing in Al-Arabiya, GHQ’s own Brigadier Shaukat Qadir says that the US appears to be "gunning for Pakistan’s top generals", who are said to be bravely resisting this latest perfidious American plot against General Kiyani.  
And why is the US trying to undermine the good General?
Because at a meeting with President Obama he made clear "that this soft-spoken, laid-back, easy-going general, far from being overawed by the privilege of meeting President Obama, would still give back better than he got." 
This interesting article (I highly recommend reading it twice to get the full flavour) can be read in a number of ways, all of which are worrisome.
One is to assume that Brigadier sahib means exactly what he is saying. That there is some core Pakistani interest that General Kiyani bravely insisted on defending, and for that sin, he is now being systematically undermined. 
Note that Pakistan’s elected government did not decide what this core interest is supposed to be, nor was it consulted before General Kiyani decided to defend this core interest against US imperialism. In fact, Brigadier sahib hints that the elected regime may include "powerful individuals who have no loyalty to this country and its people". No, this core interest, for which Kiyani sahib is supposedly willing to risk a clash with the United States (and by extension, NATO, Japan, etc) is defined by GHQ, as it has been for decades.
"Strategic depth", it seems, is alive and well and we can live with bombings, insurgencies, electricity shortages and all sorts of economic and social crises, but we cannot live without strategic depth
For the sake of this strategic depth, we kept the Taliban alive and made sure the new American-installed regime in Afghanistan would not stabilize. And when the Americans leave (something that everyone in GHQ seems convinced is happening very soon), we will restart a civil war in Afghanistan, with "our side" led by the Haqqanis and Mullah Omar. This war we expect to win in very short order, after which we will move on to our Central Asian Nirvana.
Having antagonized all the hardore jihadis by siding at least partially with the US, we are now to antagonize the US and its allies by sticking by the Taliban. This is known as GHQ's "Sau Gunndey tey Sau CHittar strategy". [1]
The problems with this approach are manifold and include:
  1. "The imperialists" are unlikely to leave as soon as imagined. This alone puts the whole strategy in question because as in Kargil, there seems to be no plan for the possibility that the "enemy" may not do what we expect it to do.
  2. "Our side" is unlikely to win all of Afghanistan even if the Western imperialists leave according to our timetable.  Given the opposing interests of many regional powers, that struggle is likely to be even more prolonged and bloody than the last attempt to fill the Afghan vacuum.
  3. "Blowback" from this war will be worse than the blowback from the current confused operation. The Taliban refused to cooperate with us against anti-Shia terrorists even in the good old days of the nineties. This time around, they will be much more difficult to control. We cannot even control the current (relatively small) Islamic Emirate of Waziristan. To imagine that we will control the much larger and more fractious Islamic emirate of the future seems to be a pipe dream.
  4. Any exit of the imperialists and return of the Taliban will inevitably be followed by a house-cleaning of Western "fellow travellers" in Pakistan. That cleansing may not be on the army's immediate agenda, but pressure to Islamize Pakistan will be hard to resist once the Islamists are winning. The establishment may then find it expedient to try and get rid of the ANP, Pakistani liberals and other riff-raff that the army has tolerated in the Sulah e Hudaybia phase. Naturally the Americans will respond with retaliatory measures of their own and a liberal efflux will have some modest but detectable negative impact on the economy and the state; the final outcome, in a weak and fractious state, may not even be up to North Korean standard.
But that is only one interpretation of Brigadier sahib’s views. There is another: it may well be that cooperation with the United States is set to continue, but the haze of lies that surrounds the relationship now needs to be raised to new heights.  Pakistan’s deep state is highly "Westernized" in very practical ways and has always been a willing and even eager partner of the CIA and the Pentagon in the region. But both the state and its American minders have been operating with the view that those who matter will calculate profit and loss, and everyone else can be kept suitably entertained with our own peculiar version of Jihadi kool-aid (a uniquely Pakistani mix of Islam, militarism and the "two nation theory").
In one of the more spectacular "own goals" in history, this convenient and previously useful propaganda has now created a large constituency within the rank and file of the armed forces and the semi-educated middle class. How now to tell them the truth, smack dab in the middle of a crisis? Better to just update the kool-aid, pray to Allah, and keep going while hoping for a miracle. In this version, no breach with America is intended or desired, but the natives are restless and the Jihadi/Pak nationalist credentials of the supreme commander must be burnished to prevent any unplesantness, hence the article and others like it. The problem with this version is that it means the state will continue its policy of trying to appease both the Islamists and the Americans and this only postpones the day we fall between two stools, it does not alleviate that risk.
Yet another version holds that this is simply more of the "controlled burn" strategy, the aim being to get the Americans to cough up more money by raising the threat of a "rogue" nuclear state (a strategy with which we have long years of practice by now). The problem with this version is the one pointed out by Mr. Lincoln a long time ago; you cannot fool all the people all the time. What happens if someone decides to call our bluff?
It is hard to say which of these theories is correct. If I had to pick, I would pick the last one because I am a cynical person, but there is little objective evidence based on which an outside observer can decide between these theories.
It is even possible that all three (and others I have failed to imagine) are ALL simultaneously true.
Pakistan’s biggest curse and the army’s most treacherous gift to the nation is its culture of secrecy and double-dealing. Domestically, the army (and particularly its intelligence agencies) have thoroughly undermined the credibility and effectiveness of politicians, civil bureaucrats and the media by decades of behind the scenes manipulation. They have done the same thing abroad by keeping foreign policy under their opaque control. This is fertile ground for conspiracy theories of every stripe (including the three I have managed to outline above) and the truth is impossible to know for sure ("loose change" aficionados will no doubt feel it’s the same in the United States, but the murkiness in Pakistan is an order of magnitude above anything an American can imagine).
And the same opacity and confusion may now extend to the supreme command; it is possible that not only are we unable to discern what is going on, the corps commanders who meet every month are equally clueless and confused. Not being the best and the brightest, and acutely conscious of their intellectual shortcomings but determined to stay in charge no matter what, they may be flying blind too….this final irony raises the disturbing possibility that the past may not be an adequate guide to the future and very nasty black swans may be swimming just beyond the next bend in the river.
Perhaps India should prepare for an influx of Pakistanis seeking refuge from chaos that even the worst enemies of Pakistan may not have imagined. Being our cousins, and with a bureaucracy not known for its boldness and vision, one doubts that India will have a policy adequate to the needs of this mother of all black swans. The rest of the world may be equally unprepared. The Chinese, supposedly used to thinking one hundred years ahead, may be our only hope.

[1] "Sau Gunndey tey Sau CHittar strategy": Literally, one hundred onions and one hundred lashes. A man was to be punished and was given the choice of eating a hundred onions or getting a hundred lashes. He opted for the onions but after 3-4 onions, he thought this is too hard and switched to lashes. But after 5 of those the pain was too much, so he switched again to onions..he ended up with a hundred of both. GHQ runs the risk of being punished by both sides to the full extent of the law. Picking one poison might have been a more rational choice.
Post Script: Sufi masters in upstate New York have sent a sufi teaching story that they claim has some relevance to why the hapless civilian regime is having so little success in Pakistan; It is not known if these are true sufis or impostors, so the story may or may not apply. Halva strategy: The Mongols were coming and the capital was in a state of panic. A holy man showed up and his followers claimed he had magical powers and could stop the Mongols. He was invited to take over and do his thing. He took over command and ordered the ministers to prepare the finest halva. They did so, he ate and let others eat as well. Next day, they said the Mongols are only 100 miles away, what now? He asked for more halva. It was done. This went on for days, every day the Mongols got closer and he asked for more of the best halva. Finally the Mongols arrived at the gate. He packed up his sleeping bag and said "I am off, do what you can to save yourself". Everyone screamed "but what about the your magic"? He said "dudes, I came for the halva and I had lots of it and it was indeed good. The Mongols are your problem. Good bye."

Good Night and Good Bye.