November 30, 2013



What is the worse that could happen to a country under sanctions for more than three decades, especially when the country is prepared to eat grass and not compromise its national self-esteem?

For over two decades the US policy selectively targeted Iran’s oil industry and limited the involvement of non-U.S. firms in Iranian petroleum projects. Iran remained defiant. In 2006, the UN Security Council imposed sanctions after Iran refused to suspend its uranium enrichment program. The embargo now extended from USA and its trading partners to almost the entire world. Even independent countries under USA’s economic clout restricted their trade relations with Iran. This included China and Russia.

During this period, Iran also had to face an onslaught of Sunni dissidents along its Pakistani and Gulf border, a prolonged invasion and war with Iraq, Kurd uprisings, an unstable Afghanistan and incremental assassination of its nuclear scientists. Politically it absorbed the buckling of its closest ally Libya and endured Syria under siege. Iran was effectively circled and contained.

Quarantine in a globalised and interdependent world took its toll on the Iranian economy, central bank and common kitchen. In the early nineties, Richard Haas of Brookings Institute commented that sanctions as a coercion instrument do not work, rather cause human misery. He was right then and perhaps after being propelled to State Department, not so right now. Americans assessment that a long war with Iraq and economic hardships with peaking hyperinflation would result in social upheaval and a counter revolution was flawed. USA is more than prepared to display reciprocal flexibility towards Iran in pursuit of its geopolitical objectives rather than a humane compulsion of seeing Iranians suffer. Appointment of Chuck Hegal and John Kerry as cited in Pakistan’s Uncertain Portals (Nation 10 January 2013) signalled an Iranian thaw. Iranians unequivocally created conditions that would strengthen their bargaining position.

Iran has braved over thirty years of political isolation under with its national pride intact. Geopolitically, it has consolidated its position in Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq and Syria; used its Persian connections to good effect in Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan; engaged India to maintain economic lines; and opened cautious and limited windows to Russia and China. It also managed to maintain some connections with the invisible US government through the infamous Iran Contra Affair and operations of US oil and gas companies selling products to countries outside USA. Some level of contacts between USA and Iran was visible in the infamous US-Iran Contra Affair and now the visible correspondence between the heads of states. Everyone knew of the trickle of non-combat NATO logistics moving through Iran.

Strategically, Iran used its ethnic and sectarian cards to cover the flanks of US covert and overt operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Iran helped USA install Hamid Karzai as the President of Afghanistan and contain the ilk of Osama Bin Laden. Iraq War consolidated the hold of Shia majority in Iraq. The international surge against Syria was diffused through Iranian backed Russian diplomacy isolating Saudi Arabia. Iran also established a rapport with President Morsi of Egypt who was later ousted through a military coup backed by Saudi Arabia and USA.

Economic constraints could not deter Iran from developing its nuclear programme and providing the bargaining chip for future. 20% enrichment of uranium is now a foregone conclusion while the world keeps guessing the extent of its covert facilities capable of producing weapon grade uranium. Iran has developed an opaque and ambivalent nuclear deterrence.

Diplomatic circles believe that US-Iran negotiations were a foregone conclusion. All issues had been resolved through top secret contacts. Despite apparent hostilities, the two countries had secretly cooperated on issues of mutual concern and benefit. During the recent nuclear talks in Geneva, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius acted as a ‘bull in the china shop’ under Saudi and Israeli demands to place under safeguards 300 Kilograms of enriched (perhaps weapon grade) uranium. Allegedly, this stock can be used to tip five nuclear warheads. Given that France has signed a $4 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, this acrimony is understandable. The immediate deal provides limited relief to Iran but will most likely be consolidated into a comprehensive nuclear pact in six months. There is no moving back and the world will see an emerging Iran in West, South and Central Asia.

Despite cynics, analysis suggests that Iran has lost nothing and gained everything.

Epitomised in the flurry of events for the world to witness, Iran has agreed to suspend enrichment of uranium beyond 20%. Iran’s enrichment programme within this limit would continue under international safeguards to meet civilian needs. Iran has also agreed to cap its heavy water plant at Arak nuclear facility being used to extract plutonium. Plutonium is a less dense and compact nuclear fuel to make smaller nuclear warheads. It is processed through a production reactor like the one at Arak. Iran will retain 300- 500 kilograms of uranium it has already enriched beyond civilian use. Iran has also agreed to freeze further production of centrifuges and alleged rocket casings. However, there is no bar on the use of using existing ones under safeguards. As a confidence building measure Iran has agreed to facilitate IAEA visits to its nuclear facilities at Arak, Natanz, Fordow (Qom), Isfahan and Bushehr.

Reciprocally, all restrictions on Iranian international trade and travel have been removed. UK, USA, EU, Russian and Chinese companies will help Iran’s aviation industry to revamp and modernise. Iran will be facilitated to repair and refit more than 60 passenger aircraft dumped at Imam Khomeini International Airport (Tehran) and import 20 passenger aircraft on easy instalments. Iran’s banking sector will once again get its international operational linkages and conduct its international business without restrictions.

Iran is likely to secure US waivers worth $7 billion for the first year. It will be allowed to sell oil in any currency to the tune of $10 billion. EU will be free to do trade with Iran. Germany and UK alone have offered over 5 Billion Euros of trade. There is no limit on import of educational, engineering, IT, pharmaceutical and medical equipment. Iran will be allowed to buy aerial surveillance equipment to guard its borders with hostile states and allowed to sign contracts with any partner to boost its science and technology sector. If all goes well, Pak-Iran gas deal will get through if it is competitive.

Within neighbourhood, Iran has also secured its strategic position. It is now in a better position to take on the hostile Saudi diplomacy built around containment of Shia Islam. With considerable influence in Syria and Iraq and Shia populations in Gulf States and Saudi Arabia, it will limit the influence of Sunni militant organisations with connections to Middle East. Its Chabahar route connecting with Europe and constructed with Indian assistance will open up to global traffic. It will also be able to strengthen its relations with Pakistan beyond the existing border trade to mutual cooperation. Chabahar, Bandar Abbas and Gawadar combined have the potential of becoming the biggest economic corridor of the world.

India diplomat Mrs Chitra Narayanan was often seen in the lobbies of Geneva’s Intercontinental Hotel but any Pakistani diplomat was conspicuous by absence. These are the lessons and winds of change. The government of Pakistan must take notice.

The article is written in consultation with Dr. Ejaz Hussain. 

Brigadier (Retired) Samson Simon Sharaf is a political economist and a television anchorperson.

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November 24, 2013

Why Societies Die

Filed under: Uncategorized — sharafs @ 7:10 am


Elif Shafak, the award winning Turkish author sums up the limitations on human social capability in her story telling ‘Politics and Fiction’ in TED Talks. Being a child of many worlds, she was brought up in a traditional Muslim family by a single mother, in a country torn between its rich cultural values, instincts of preservation and desire to reach out to the developed Europe. She blends Western and Eastern traditions of storytelling with plots built around her characters comprising women, minorities, immigrants, subcultures, youth and global characters. Talking about the negative and often disastrous effects of social divorce she says, “If you want to destroy something in this life, be it acne, a blemish or the human soul, all you need to do is to surround it with thick walls. It will dry up inside… We’re born into a certain family, nation, class. But if we have no connection whatsoever with the worlds beyond the one we take for granted, then we too run the risk of drying up inside. Our imagination might shrink; our hearts might dwindle, and our humanness might wither if we stay for too long inside our cultural cocoons… We tend to form clusters based on similarity, and then we produce stereotypes about other clusters of people.”

Her storytelling is supported by anthropologists, sociologist and history. Cocooned societies and cultures invariably form the last file in the development ladder resulting in social inbreeding, backwardness and ghettos that could amuse tourism but resign generations to poverty, social apartheid, discrimination and crime. These hermit enclaves include religious, ethnic and cultural minorities, closed societies and sometimes countries that are sucked into these dynamics. Pakistan is no exception.

As the Aligarh Movement of the 19th Century dwindles into the 21st century, the entire body of Pakistan’s reasoning has become reclusive, enclosed in self-created shells, living in religious, sectarian, ethnic, social and political cocoons. As a result, like an acne surrounded by a circle, Pakistani society is drying up from inside and producing a culture whose majority does not wish to propel itself into the next and the next orbit to explore and become part of the environment outside. At the same time the empowered minority continues to draw circles around the majority ‘have not’, depriving them of any opportunities to challenge the status quo. Those who break out of this shell comprise a vast majority of turncoats and men of elastic conscience.

The Muslim enlightenment movement headed by the Mohammadan Education Conference that later morphed into All India Muslim League was a reaction to such inbreeding in Muslim minority enclaves surrounded by Hindu majority in states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal. This was a small group of educated Muslims who despite being high achievers were not elitist. The modern educational objectives of the Aligarh Movement were to convert the Muslims of undivided India into elite educational class that would dominate upper strata’s of society improving socio-economic conditions. At point of history, preservation of the religious exclusivity was the forte of the Muslim religious parties, who opposed Aligarh and Qaide E Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. At some stage after the famous Allahabad address by Allama Iqbal, the movement changes tracks from the socio-economic and political emancipation of the Muslim minorities to an exclusive Muslim identity. Despite Jinnah’s attempts at an enviable pluralism within a Muslim state spelled in his 11 August address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, the drift continued. Creation of Pakistan resulted in ghettoization of Muslim Minorities in India and tragically, the same fate for urbanised migrants in Pakistan who gave up whatever they had in India.

The above reference also applies to Non-Muslims of the sub-continent who voluntarily threw their lot with Pakistan.  Today, majority of them are encapsulated in urban slums, showing alarming signs of social inbreeding and cultural decadence. They own some of the best educational institutions but have the lowest literacy rate. The empowered minority has drawn circles around them as minorities, unworthy of key positions and political outcasts hanging with a thread to the political leaders who can decide their fate whimsically.

Urban planning stopped 60 years ago in Pakistan. As the economy grew, people migrated from rural areas to towns and cities for jobs. Rather than expand cities under a plan, slums were allowed to grow. Today all slums around the major cities of Pakistan are not only a reflection of socio-economic decadence but also the rising crimes. The mega city of Karachi and Islamabad the capital are practically ungovernable.

The idea ‘that was’ and the Pakistan ‘that is’ is a case study of a concept gone astray reflected in the ever increasing fault lines  build inside exclusive cocoons of varied description. These are the moths eating away at themselves.

Pakistan’s political system is preserved and persevered by political oligarchies that discourage inclusivity. Political clans with their economic interests abroad control these organisations and do not allow them to grow beyond a point where their interests get compromised. The foundation of this system was laid by political minimalist of the 40s with the landed aristocracy of Punjab, who post 1947 closed doors on the progressive Muslim Leaguers. They then joined hands with the military, bureaucracy and elements of religious right to frame a narrative built around exclusivism and drawing circles around communities of have-nots.  The entire equation was turned upside down. The political economy of religion began to take a new shape in Pakistan.

The western containment strategy of communism, found a worthy tool in this religiously inspired community that was successively exploited hand and glove with the local establishment. The entire phenomena developed its own parallel culture of economy, education, justice, governance and sometimes violence. The epitome is the militant culture in Pakistan. The system evolved under the eyes of the establishment who exploited it and chose to look the other war.   A situation has now reached that Pakistan’s external security is dictated by its internal dynamics.

Pakistan comprises many cocoons of the majority with walls around them at the mercy of the privileged to make decisions and policies that suit them and their masters of exclusivity, greed, opportunism and economic liberalism. As long as this cycle is not broken, Pakistan will continue to dry up.

Brigadier (Retired) Samson Simon Sharaf is a political economist and a television anchorperson.

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 Post Script

I am an admirer of late Urmila Phadnis and her treatises on Ethnicity and Nationalism. One of my dissertations during my Post graduation were the positive and negative dynamics of reclusive societies endemic to South Asian society as also Africa (most failed states). The country that has used its minority groups most effectively is Malaysia. Their success story is based on Chinese and Telegu origin people. Twenty years ago, this subject was one of my major threat evaluations. People in Pakistan were cynical at my conclusions due to lack of comprehension. Now it is for all to see.


November 16, 2013


Filed under: Uncategorized — sharafs @ 3:14 pm


Today is a sad day. I am sad on learning of your journey to the next abode. During our twenty years journey laced in pain, regrets and hope for Pakistan, we were together in many discussions. Forever, you were an optimist.

But you also fought another battle with ill health that was laced in pain and agony. Finally, the angel of death prevailed to which we all have to surrender.

I recall the television program hosted my me on Sohni Dharti that you consented to grace. It was a very incisive and objective piece. After the show we sat together at Nana’s Kitchen. You were not in good health. On my inquiry you mentioned bad health and old age but no cancer.

I remember those long chats in 1997-2000 we had outside the Defence and Strategic Studies Department of Qaid e Azam University during breaks followed by visits to ISS you headed. As faculty members, there is so much we discussed and learnt.

The last time I called you was to discuss an OPED I was writing. You told me you were at the last stage of your cancer and needed peace. I prayed for you and that was it.

I tried calling but for the shutdown due to Moharram. Your contacts in my cell phone will remain.

I always have a special regard and respect for the children of Partition and the painful exodus for a new home rich in promise and hope. That home is still struggling and we are all Powindas here. One day, there will be a better Pakistan.

You will always be there. I pray for your soul and may You Rest in Peace my Sir.


Filed under: Uncategorized — sharafs @ 5:16 am
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The tangle is complicated and confusing. Who backs who is a riddle difficult to answer? As the deadline for a tactical but not strategic withdrawal of NATO-ISAF begins next year, the local trajectories of violence as predicted in these columns become clearer. The loyalties of actors involved in these crisscross; difficult to evaluate; who supports whom; and who attacks who?

Afghan Mujahedeen were created by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto against Sardar Daud. Arab Fighters later Al Qaeda was provided by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Libya and USA. Afghan Taliban backed by Pakistan did not support Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda mauled by Afghan Taliban left Afghanistan for Sudan then moved back on invitation of President Rabbani on C130 aircrafts. In 1996, USA rejected the Pak-Afghan roadmap for stability. Iran, Turkey and Russia supported Dostam (once a Taliban), in massacre of Taliban at Mazar Sharif. Sectarian outfits of Pakistan joined the Afghan conflict backed by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as move to counter Iranian/Russian influence.  Russia, Iran, Turkey and France supported Ahmad Shah Masood. Al Qaeda Killed Masood in 2001. 9/11 was carried out by Al Qaeda with no Afghan or Pakistani involvement. The actors were Arabs or migrants to West. The plan was devised in Hamburg Germany. In 2001, the offer to hand over Osama Bin Laden was rejected. Taliban were lumped with Al Qaeda. Iran, India, Russia and USA sponsored Hamid Karzai, (a once Taliban) to become the President of Afghanistan.  Afghanistan was invaded under UN umbrella. Al Qaeda, Afghan Taliban, Haqqani Network and Hizb e Islami melted into the mountainous regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan to continue the resistance. Abdullah Mehsud a feared fighter was arrested by Dostum forces in Afghanistan and handed over to Americans. In 2004, he was released from Camp Delta and joined hands with Bait Ullah for organising TTP. He was killed by security forces in an encounter near Zhob, Pakistan. TTP began providing sanctuaries to foreign militants aligned with Al Qaeda and fell out with Maulvi Nazir group who opposed it. Both Bait Ulllah and Maulvi Nazir were killed by drone strikes. Haqqani group maintains links with TTP and foreign militants not backed by Mullah Omar. Swat Taliban are supported by Afghan and Indian intelligence. FazalUllah the Amir of TTP operates exclusively against Pakistan from bases in Kunar Afghanistan. NATO and ISAF forces have failed to stop his activities or arrest him. Heated arguments between General Pasha and Panetta indicate his employment against Pakistan as a counter to Haqqani Group. Yet Haqqani Group and TTP cooperate over foreign militants in North Waziristan. Though Pakistan provided unstinted support to USA, it resisted parting ways with Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Group. Pakistan detained some Afghan Taliban leaders as leverage and set some free this year to push peace negotiations. USA insists that Haqqani group is linked to Al Qaeda and a veritable arm of ISI. Pakistan has supported USA in tracking, arresting and killing Al Qaeda leadership but closed curtains on Haqqani group. Fate of Haqqani group rests in its cooperation with Mullah Omar and Pakistan. Yet a flare-up can undo it.  Though Pakistan feels it has stakes in Afghanistan, it is downgraded by cooperation of Northern Alliance with USA, UK, Iran, Turkey, Russia, India and France. Iran’s acrimony with USA is ideological and the two have cooperated in matters relating to Afghanistan. This minimises Pakistan’s leverage.

So what do we make of this confusion? Pakistan’s unstinted support has been undone by compulsions of the home-grown dimensions. Preservation of strategic leverage prevented Pakistan from capitalizing on the US presence in Afghanistan. Pakistan failed to control neither the militancy nor its spread to urban centres.

In this sour cooperation, Pakistan had the military logic but not the political argument. Having delayed the inevitable, Pakistan is faced with the threat of a long drawn conflict whose fate lies in Strategic Dialogue with USA in the shadow of Strategic Afghan-US Bilateral Agreement. In a worst case, Pakistan could be sucked into another cycle of intense operations lacking civilian management capacity obvious in the recently stalled Peace Talks. The only leverage Pakistan now has is facilitating Afghan Peace. But the prelude is either to pacify TTP through negotiations or defeat it militarily.

All Peace talks have firewalls. Once the operational control is completely handed over to Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), and the US led forces thin out with stay behind parties and imbedded contractors, the futility of following a flawed policy by all will become visible. It is more important for US to engage the Afghan Taliban on the side of Peace. This will divide TTP and its ability to disrupt both Afghanistan and Pakistan. But there are elements to resist this. Pakistan may have to pay heavier for joining a conflict few in Pakistan had courage to own.

In case peace negotiations with TTP do not jump start (seems most likely), Pakistan will have no choice but to pacify some militant groups and use force with political and military precision against others. Pakistan will have to fight on an empty stomach and later expose those within, who orchestrated Pakistan’s economic meltdown.

But this conflict cannot be won on a military plan. It must flow from a political strategy that synergises all three elements of the state, provides leadership and mobilises public opinion. This leads to my oft RANT of a National Counter Terrorism Policy while the US led coalition is still in Afghanistan.

Not only does this article answers my five questions raised in US Retrograde from Afghanistan (Nation 14 April 2013), but also reduces the time span from twelve to six months. Pakistan Army must seal, contain and eliminate terrorists in the area with military precision in case variants of peace fail.

But a new question has arisen. Who assassinated Dr. Naseer Ud Din Haqqani in suburbs of Islamabad?

Pakistan paid a price in blood and money for preserving this organisation prized by Pashtuns and Mullah Omar. After successful Swat Operations, Pakistan could have moved simultaneously in North and South Waziristan with NATO-ISAF-Afghan forces holding the anvil and crippled TTP beyond recovery. But Pakistan chose not to annoy the Haqqani group, Afghan Taliban and local Pashtuns to the chagrin of USA. How could it volte face on many years of perseverance?

At the heels of killing Hakim Ullah Mehsud, USA by killing Haqqani would not jeopardise its dialogue with Afghan Taliban. Yet in the murky world of intelligence wars, the incident can be used to frame a virtually leaderless TTP or Pakistan. It has the potential to rip Pakistan-Afghan Taliban relationship and deprive Pakistan any leverage in a post war Afghanistan. However, it runs risk of closing the doors on Afghan Dialogue and opening more to violence.

Hamid Karzai and the Afghan Intelligence are the only who stand to gain from this incident. They could recoil the Haqqani Group, exert pressure on Mullah Omar, exploit TTP and with Indian support open a new wave of conflict inside Pakistan.  This is an assertion and needs to be investigated. Maybe we will then know who killed Benazir Bhutto.

Brigadier (Retired) Samson Simon Sharaf is a political economist and a television anchorperson.

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November 9, 2013


Filed under: Uncategorized — sharafs @ 7:38 am

I realise it will not be possible to understand this essay without a long attention span. There are too many dots that have been connected; derived from my conclusions and empiricism spanning over 300 papers written by myself over the past 12 years. Those into speed reading will not benefit. The issue of terrorism with all its internal and external dimensions needs to be grasped in entirety. It is up to our governments to devise policies that convert the overbearing US overhang over Pakistan into a position of geo political and strategic advantage. In the foreseeable future converting our resource rich country and enviable location into substance lies in engagement with global powers and defeating the forces of primordialism through a multi-dimensional National Counter Terrorism Policy, where military force will only comprise a small segment of the policy spectrum. The choice is ours.



Hakim Ullah Mehsud’s death, reiterates more US imperial outreach in Pakistan than imaginable. State Department finds it impractical to shift Drone Operations to Pentagon as an unattainable goal with remarks that ‘reality has set in’. This means more covert strikes that bypass Pentagon and Pakistan. 

There is now a new chessboard of instability. The burning issue of the legality of drone strikes in Pakistan is eclipsed with the argument that it killed Pakistan’s most wanted enemy. Sovereignty aside, a large segment of the Pakistani sentiment terms it positive. Notwithstanding peace, instability in Pakistan remains a plank of pliability, a thesis I floated over a decade ago. The ‘so called war’ will eat into Pakistan like maggots. 

TTP a group of over 30 militant organisations is notorious for linkages with RAW, Afghan Intelligence and Middle Eastern sources of funding. They are Indian and CIA assets. Interdiction of some leaders of this group led to Salala. This group fraternises with the CIA controlled Afghan-US Counter Terrorism Pursuit Teams (CTPT). Latif Mehsud, a close aide of Hakim Ullah snatched by US forces from Afghan intelligence raises many questions.   

This hardliner group and its sectarian killers bleed Pakistan. Destruction of Holy Shrines, beheadings of soldiers, display of human body parts in Kurram or repeated attacks on the Hazara community reflect their exclusive ideology. They destroyed four surveillance aircrafts, attacked GHQ and killed two general officers. The group has its sanctuaries in Kunar where they blend with skeleton Baloch liberation groups to destabilise Balochistan. 

Given the nature of its alliance and lose command, factions double crossing US interests is possible. In a post US withdrawal scenario each group is trying desperately to hedge its interests. CIA, Afghan Intelligence, Afghan Taliban and Pakistani intelligence are the direction they look at. With PMLN in power, Punjabi Taliban assumes an important role in positioning TTP at an advantage and created acrimony within the Mehsud TTP ranks. 

Intelligence assets are sensitive and bumped off at the slighted suspicion. In the past, CIA had taken out leaders of TTP for double crossing or Pakistani pressure. Why was Hakim Ullah Mehsud suddenly in the cross hairs of CIA? Was it double crossing, Pakistani pressure or both? 

The group pledges token allegiance to Mullah Umar of Afghanistan. The killing of Colonel Amir Sultan Tarar (Imam) in cold blood is an incident where good Taliban and familiar interlocutors failed to cajole the bad. Hakim was not in favour of executing Colonel Imam but was forced to comply with the orders of its Shura. His reconciliatory efforts met stiff resistance from hardliners. This put him at odds with Afghan Taliban. With 2014 approaching, Hakim wanted to keep his options open viz a viz Hamid Karzai, Afghan Taliban and the military establishment. He was creating a new strategic space. 

Khan Said Sanjana and Wali Ur Rehman in mutual rivalry fought each other to a standstill in Karachi, till Wali, Hakim’s contender turned closest aide finally fell to a drone strike for double crossing. Early this year, a TTP leader critical of both Wali and Hakim was killed by a suicide bomber in Miran Shah. Talk was rife in Miran Shah that internal disagreements may escalate into violence. Amidst these infightings, Hakim hedged his bets in favour of negotiations with Afghan Intelligence, Afghan Taliban and Pakistan. He was doomed. 

The government resigned the significance of John Kerry’s visit with demands of eliminating militant havens to distant memory.  The Prime Minister and Interior Minister failed to convince USA. It appears that some verbal agreements were reached on high profile side-lines during the Prime Minister’s visit to USA. Figures on civilian casualties were deliberately fudged to provide grace to the detested symbol of imperial outreach. Why did the government give away valuable information and persist with a mission doomed to failure? 

In a world wrapped in NSA’s surveillance, even a whisper with interlocutors is bugged. The government and TTP set respective echelons in motion under watchful eyes. The processes warranted a fail-safe execution whose absence became the crucial missing link. CIA was watching every move.  

Wading in alligator infested waters and ignorant of the world of intelligence intrigues, ‘this was a grievous fault’ that Chaudary Nisar played truly to a Shakespearean tragedy. The government rushed into negotiations neither comprehending the cobweb of widow spiders nor the pathology of conflict. Populism and simplifications impose limitations on statecraft. This euphoria coupled with lack of capacity led to foolhardy attitude. 

Army’s plans to fight the militancy met political disapproval. Taliban surrogates were pushing the negotiations option. It provided Pakistani intelligence an opportunity to create splits within TTP. The government bypassed the system and ignored formulating a counter terrorism policy crucial to conflict management and calibrated peace. Select audience of All Parties Conference was never updated. The government restricted itself to 30 odd groups and not 69 as briefed by the intelligence. With a supposed trump card in their hands, Pakistan’s centrist and rightist political parties wanted to give peace a shot as a political stratagem. Like Brutus’ best intentions the government forayed into a hornet’s nest. 

As engagements began, so did the intensity in violence. The idea that USA was disrupting peace talks had holes. The Federal and KP government should have factorised the reality that besides USA, segments within TTP were not interested in peace.  These segments led by Fazal Ullah now control TTP. This means that Fazal Ullah with support of Gujjar elements in Afghanistan and Swat has become stronger in the new power game. Neither Afghan Taliban nor TTP can ignore him. 

Were Hakim Ullah’s intentions grandiose? Was he, like the legendary Mirza Ali Khan Faqir of Ipi choosing his moment in history? He was approachable and used the media to portray himself a normal individual at picnic, enjoying by a stream, talking to select journalists, showing inclinations of reverting to a settled life and dreaming. Whatever, events prove that he was hanging by a straw out of his reach. 

Hakim Ullah Mehsud assured by the government (in turn assured by USA?) let down his guard. With the ugly having taken over from the good and bad Taliban, there is no room for negotiations now. 

TTP clouded in internal competition and external surveillance will become fiercer. Some will fall into Al Qaeda Influence. The ugly will raise the stakes becoming counterweights to the good Taliban. Pakistan will be hit hard from sanctuaries in Kunar. The government in guilt may continue to persist with peace efforts; but who will believe it? It is now time to get serious about counter terrorism policy and educate itself on the many faces of terrorism. 

Dynamics make US retrograde from Afghanistan peripheral. Winds and cinder will ensure the pyre keeps burning. To quote from my OPED in 2007, ‘We neither know when the war began nor have control over when it will end’. The battle has yet to strike Gawadar and Punjab, a prelude to the fortress crumbling. Dust after the drone will take years to settle. 

The writer is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a political economist.


November 4, 2013


Filed under: Uncategorized — sharafs @ 3:48 pm

This disowned war has engaged Pakistan’s LEAs for over 10 years costing thousands of casualties. The typologies and linkages of this conflict crisscross into a maze difficult to untangle.

After the elections, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s plans to fight the militancy with political support were suspended under political disapproval. Political parties led by Imran Khan wanted to give one sincere shot to peace before resorting to a military option. To borrow from Shakespeare, it was a grievous fault and someone was doomed to answer it grievously.

Despite best intentions on part of the government and Hakim Ullah Mehsud (HUM), the government hastened into negotiations neither comprehending dynamics nor the pathology of conflict. Talking peace was never easy. Notwithstanding that much was at stake with peace, instability too had many stakes.

First, formulating a counter terrorism policy was ignored though crucial to conflict management and calibrated peace. Politicians erroneously perceived that it would be too military in nature. They were wrong and played into a field placing they never mastered. Their initiative without detail, secrecy and snail pace methodology was doomed to backfire.

Secondly, John Kerry’s visit ignored the mantra of peace talks and concluded with the familiar demands of eliminating militant havens in Pakistan. Followed by a spate of terrorist attacks, the Federal and KP government should have factorised the reality that not only USA but segments within the establishment and media were not interested in peace. The processes warranted imaginative planning and fail-safe execution.

On the other hand, TTP with diverse groups under its umbrella would always find selling peace within difficult. As engagements for peace began, so did the spate of violence by disparate groups.

In a world wrapped in NSA’s surveillance, even a whimper with interlocutors was not a secret. While the government and HUM set respective echelons in motion, their moves were monitored. Selling peace amongst groups of TTP by Hakim Ullah Mehsud was as difficult as selling the idea to USA by the government. Both Prime Minister and Interior Minister failed to convince. Rather than pause and review, the government persisted; in the process giving away valuable information.
There were also disagreements within TTP. Not long ago a TTP leader critical of HUM was killed by a suicide bomber in Miran Shah. HUM on government assurance took the decision fatale. Had he not, he was still doomed because of dissentions within TTP ranks.

HUM of late wanted sanity to prevail. Efforts to dissuade him were ineffective. He used his media skills to portray a normal individual enjoying a picnic, standing by a stream, talking to select journalists and showing a desire to revert to a settled life. His world of dreams was morphing.

After his death, TTP will become more violent. Most of the Taliban groups will radicalise. Some will fall into Al Qaeda Influence. Sanjana and his group feared for ferocity will now rule the roost. HUM will not be there to moderate them.

Attacking rallies for peace is a war crime under international law. Had HUM not been given assurances by the government (in turn assured by USA), his command group would not have moved so openly in Miran Shah. The government as a face saving may continue to persist with its peace efforts. But who will believe it? Certainly never the TTP lured into an ambush.

The high drama has been played to a feverish pitch. The government and PTI may go hoarse yelling that the strike in intent and purpose was anti-Pakistan; the media will make everyone believe that it was to the contrary.

In days to come the winter fires will burn with more ferocity. There will be winds and cinder to ensure that the pyre burns. Pakistan has tougher days ahead. We neither know when the war began nor have control on when it will end.

November 2, 2013


Filed under: Uncategorized — sharafs @ 2:47 pm


Surveys facilitate research. In marketing, they have a direct impact on sales. However, in social sciences, these samples and simulations are inputs to facilitate modelling and conclusions to formulate viable policy options. Hence corporatists and social scientists will disagree and view surveys differently.

The recent International Republican Institute (IRI) survey with political connotations was conducted by Institute for Public Opinion Research (IPOR) from 1st to 26 August. The timings coincided with a new political dispensation in its first 100 days. From another perspective, the survey is the first post-election feedback that can be used for research into critical national issues. The feedback would only be productive if it is directed objectively into research and policy options.

The sampling and survey methodology meet international standards. Chitral and FATA were once again ignored due to lack of ingress. Considering that terrorism and its related issues impact adversely on Pakistan’s internal and external policy, the ensuing survey relegates some conclusions to insignificance. Due to this structural defect, law and order, terrorism and drones remain a distant low.

Within 5,000 respondents, only 69% (3250) responded. This means that 31% amounting to 1,750 individuals did not value their opinion. Based on the perception that either the entire exercise is futile or reflects a ‘could not care less’ attitude, this is a rather high rate of dismissal.  This trend is reflected throughout the survey amongst the remaining 3,250. Consequently, though the representative nature could be challenged, inferences from some glaring aspects cannot be ignored. This makes the IRI survey valuable.

Unlike the past, where people showed political maturity and association with a larger notion of national well-being, this survey is distinct in disassociation from national issues. The vigorous response of 75-78% of votes as a change in the past has gradually tapered to below 70%. The pattern reflects indirectly on the fairness in the elections and political parties. The survey chose not to pursue opinions of 40% who either questioned fairness or were non-committal. Lesson learnt is that a survey becomes as much objective as one attempts making it.

The question of whether Pakistan is on the right or wrong path and repeated differently remains inversely proportional. Though there is a 10% decline from July 2012 to 81% in positive approvals, the sceptics have risen from 8% to 17%. Seen on a continuum since 2006, it registers a sway between hope and disillusionment.  It also reflects a happiness and positivity factor in the people of Pakistan ranked 16th in 2012 and 81st in 2013 by international surveys. When contrasted with other indicators on Pakistan’s most pressing issues, the people are unanimous in considering economic factors as the most pressing issues. Somehow pressing questions on the relationship of internal stability to economic progress are missing. Asked the same in a personal manner, 49% maintain that economic prospects will improve while 44% opine that they will either get worse or remain bad. This reinforces the impression that the people of Pakistan embroiled in rigours of day to day existence have little time to think of the larger national picture. In another context, the approval ratings despite plummeting socio-economic conditions also give an impression of a national conscience at sleep. The character to relate self to a higher notion of nationhood is depleting. The lack of national consciousness is ascribable to the failure of the state to hold its national conscience together.

A general sense of national wellbeing leads to complementary alliances amongst diversity while contrary leads to unhealthy competition and fractures in a single identity. This single conclusion raises the significance and importance of the social theory that good socio-economic conditions impact directly on national integration and nationhood. Considering that opinion makers suggest that Pakistan’s identity is under threat, this conclusion from the IRI survey should ring alarm bells for the government and political parties of Pakistan.

Within the organisations, the army has approval ratings of 89%, something contrary to what the political elites and media may like the world to believe. 25% consider military to be the most credible in resolving the law and order issues of Karachi.

Media as a force multiplier is the 2nd best at 80%. Within the media groups, Geo and PTV appear to be most biased in favour of PMLN. Express with small viewership is the most balanced. Opinion on preferential treatment of PMLN by Geo stands singled out and an aspersion on its neutrality.

A chilling conclusion is the response of 29% respondents about the indispensability of international aid to healthcare and education. This is not only an indictment of the healthcare and education system but also a tip of the iceberg reflecting fault lines. Within this 29%, 30% look forward to Saudi Arabia, 20% to China, 7% to USA and 5% to Iran. The consolation is that 59% believe that Pakistan can do it alone.

Generally, the survey gives a clean chit to PMLN with a reasonably good standing in Balochistan. PPPP seems to struggle at the federal level but maintains its reasonable standing in Sindh. These are the status quo parties and together continue to roll the roost in power and opposition.

The party that seems to suffer the most is PTI. Though it registers a marginal improvement in KP, its image as a party of change and reform that peaked at 31% in February 2012 has nosedived to 11%.  In Punjab, its approvals have dropped from 33% to 9%, in Sindh from 15% to 5%, in KP from 49% to 31% and Balochistan from 35% to 2%. In public perception, this is an indictment of irregularities in intra party elections, the electable politics, internal dissentions, and inability of the party leadership to capitalise on the charisma and emotions generated by its chairman, Imran Khan.  Perhaps the most telling effect is the politics of exclusion being followed by the elected representatives and members of the core committee distancing the grassroots’ activists and low level leadership.

Despite such battering, 28% still consider it a party of change and 21% a party of youth. All summed up, its positive image stand at 77%.  PTI carries charismatic appeal and can bounce back if it learns fast and makes amends?

IPOR seems fancied not only by the NGO sector but also political parties. PMLN and PMLNQ are their clients. PTI that once rubbished surveys conducted by IPOR is now on the client list. This indemnifies the inferences from the survey that political elites and corporatocracy take the front seat in PTI politics. This must change or else, wither the politics of change.

The writer is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a political economist. Email:

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