A new nonviolent mass movement has swept through Pakistan in recent months, demanding an end to Pakistan military’s oppression and extrajudicial killings of minority ethnic Pashtuns. This grassroots movement has rattled Pakistan’s deep state, primarily the notorious spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
For decades, Pakistan’s spy service has operated as a formidable U.S. adversary, albeit dressed as a friend, especially in Afghanistan. It has endlessly frustrated the Afghan war efforts since 2001 by playing Santa Claus to all manner of anti-Afghan militant groups, mainly the Taliban and the Haqqani Network. This support has morphed the Afghan conflict into a bloody contest of competing interests and influence, where ISI’s toxic influence is supreme. ISI’s role in managing several anti-India proxy networks is also unmistakable.
ISI is no ordinary intelligence agency. It operates under Pakistan’s military command and is highly secretive, politically influential, patient, alarmingly active and ruthless to anyone they see as opposition. Unlike what some reports suggest, ISI is not a rogue agency but rather a disciplined, non-factional, cohesive and bureaucratic enterprise, where reports of defections are rare. The institution is also well-off, with its active and retired personnel frequently profiting from numerous Pakistani military-owned charitable foundations and corporations. The agency’s nearly twenty-five thousand personnel is mostly ethnically homogeneous, hailing predominantly from the army ranks.
More troublingly, the organization operates under a philosophy that it needs enemies to remain relevant—and in control. This paranoia has allowed the service to manufacture pet militant groups and imaginary threats to drive its motives. To do so, the service allegedly maintains a roster of nearly one hundred thousand militant fighters at its discretion.
Inside Pakistan, ISI sits at the core of the Pakistani state. It has regularly challenged the country’s civilian rule and has hampered Pakistan’s democratic progress through systematic coercive campaigns against dissenting voices, including politicians, activists, academics and the media. It has forged alliances with extremist religious groups and fringe political parties meant to control the Pakistani people by keeping them subservient to the state. As such, ISI has used old tactics wedded to the new, including intimidation, forced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, torture and assassinations. The service also frequently engages in sabotage activities, psychological operations and influence campaigns. More worryingly, ISI’s infatuation with jihadi groups has adversely affected the agency and has turned segments of the agency increasingly extremist.
In Afghanistan, ISI’s Afghan operations are undertaken by at least three units. The first is Directorate S, the principal covert action arm that directs and oversees the Afghan policy, including militant and terrorist outfits and their operations. The second unit is the Special Service Group (SSG), also known as the Pakistani SS, and are the army’s special forces element that was established in the 1950s as a hedge against the communists. Today, some SSG units effectively operate as ISI’s paramilitary wing and have fought alongside the Taliban until 2001. In other instances, SSG advisors have allegedly been embedded with Taliban fighters to provide tactical military advice, including on special operations, surveillance, and reconnaissance. In fact, encountering ISI operatives fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan has become a common occurrence that no longer surprise Afghan and American forces. The third ISI unit is the Afghan Logistics Cell, a transport network inside Pakistan facilitated by members of Pakistan’s Frontier Corps that provide logistical support to the Taliban and their families. This includes space, weapons, vehicles, protection, money, identity cards and safe passage.
Such ISI support networks have been designed to break Afghanistan into pieces and then remold it into a pliant state. The objective is to complicate Afghanistan’s security landscape and drive its political climate into an uncharted constitutional territory to create a vacuum, which inevitably places the Taliban in the driving seat. These support actions have visibly made the group more effective. However, the Pakistani mantra is that they maintain contacts with the Taliban but exercise no control over them.
Yet the ground realities suggest otherwise. The Taliban has recently become deadlier and adaptive. The old Taliban has, in effect, transformed into a new Taliban—decentralized and sated with recruits, including mid-level commanders, who come fresh out of the Pakistani madrassas eager to kill. This new decentralization has enabled the group’s young frontline commanders to exercise greater autonomy in the field, allowing ISI to leverage them for their needs. ISI reportedly manage their leadership succession, bypassing the Taliban’s chain of command.
The Taliban’s devolution of authority has also seemingly fractured the movement’s unity and cohesion and has resulted in multiple power centers within the movement. The group is increasingly taken over by the Haqqani Network, which controls at least 15 percent of the Taliban’s manpower and influences many smaller Taliban fronts. Meanwhile, the Taliban’s leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, and his principal deputy, Sirajuddin Haqqani, are allegedly on bad terms, which has also disturbed the movement’s unity. The new Taliban’s funding now streams not only from the Pakistani intelligence but also from drug trafficking, racketeering, extortion and kidnapping for ransom, where the Haqqanis play a seminal role.
Meanwhile, some Taliban groups have taken on to undertaking basic state-like functions, including levying taxes on local businesses, overseeing kangaroo courts, resolving local disputes, and operating organized schooling. The Taliban uses such state-like measures to create legitimacy for themselves among the local people. Unsurprisingly, this has formed a tacit social pact between helpless local Afghans and the Taliban—a bargain in which the group guarantee no harm to the local people in exchange for their compliance. However, this frail Taliban-civilian relationship exists because of the Taliban’s intimidation and killing campaign, rather than peoples’ compatibility with the group.
More vitally, the Taliban have adopted a robust resource-efficient operational strategy meant not only to fragment Afghan forces but also to capture more territory. This strategy has enabled the group to determine where and when to fight, in which they skillfully avoid the strongest elements of Afghan forces and instead target where they are weakest. The group frequently employs similar tactics in their operations such as ambushes, traps, surprise and simultaneous coordinated attacks and, increasingly, the use of snipers. At the same time, the group has advised their fighters not to give away information upon capture for up to forty-eight hours to allow Taliban leaders the time to render any reports useless. Pakistani intelligence has been in many respects in sync with this Taliban strategy. In contrast, Afghan forces are often blind on the battlefield.
Simply put, Pakistan’s ISI has turned terrorism into a school of thought, directed from the country’s governed spaces that remain undefeated. What can the United States do to unravel the Gordian knot of the Pakistani intelligence and its support to terrorist groups? Three things.
First, the United States should begin to treat the Pakistani spy agency similar to how it manages Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). This would involve the U.S. Treasury Department adding Pakistan’s ISI and its affiliate, the Special Service Group—akin to Iran’s Quds Force—to the U.S.’ antiterrorism sanctions list. By doing so, the United States would impose targeted sanctions, including visa bans and asset freezes, on active and retired Pakistani intelligence personnel with ties to terrorist networks. Meanwhile, Washington and Kabul should encourage defections within the Taliban ranks, meant to loosen ISI’s grip on the group. Washington can extend defected and corrigible Taliban members some sanctions relief, including relaxing travel restrictions, to help build confidence.
Second, bolster the Afghan intelligence apparatus to become relevant and in sync with the Taliban’s shifting strategy. This would require boosting Afghan intelligence capabilities to include a 360-degree collection effort to better understand the internal leadership dynamics and changing tactics of the Taliban and other groups. Similarly, the Afghan Defense Ministry should increase the number of its S2 intelligence and information officers in Afghan forces to handle tactical intelligence and security clearances at the unit level. These officers should also be trained to trace militants, track Taliban surveillance routes, manage interrogations and weed out infiltrators. Meanwhile, the Afghan government should deploy counterintelligence assets to its prisons to limit the communication of Taliban detainees with their leaders outside.
Third, the Trump administration should cease the cyclical pattern of its tempestuous relationship with Pakistan. Unfortunately, America’s Pakistan policy has followed a much too predictable pattern for over sixty years that incentivizes the Pakistani military for cooperation that in fact does not truly exist. This recurrent pattern of the U.S.
relationship with Pakistan is often tactical and reactive. In the first half of the cycle, for example, the relationship spins around convening strategic dialogues and state visits by Pakistani leaders followed by U.S. military assistance and other concessions. But in the cycle’s other half, the warm period abruptly comes to an end until an unexpected event prompts the next standard cycle in the bilateral relationship. Instead, the United States should adopt fewer carrots and more sticks policy and ensure that the stick is tough enough to change Pakistani state behavior meaningfully.
In short, Pakistani intelligence has mainstreamed terrorism and political violence in the region. In Afghanistan, ISI appears increasingly confident in its assertiveness and is seeking a maximalist outcome. It is operating from a position of strength, but no position is so strong that it is permanent. ISI still requires access to funds and defense supplies for its reach, internal stability, as well as legitimacy. The United States can deny or strictly condition that access to them. Meanwhile, Washington should voice its support to the peaceful Pashtun movement, an investment that could potentially pay off and serve the United States in the fight against extremism.
Javid Ahmad, a non-resident fellow at West Point’s Modern War Institute, is a fellow at the Atlantic Council. The views expressed here are his own..
INDESCRIBABLE JOHN ELI
By Shabbir Aariz
This indeed is proverbially a herculean task to describe or define John Elia in any particular frame. Whosoever while mentioning him, is either trapped in contradictions of one’s own opinion or is able to confine to a few verses of John Elia to judge him. But the more one tries to understand John, the more confused one is and I believe that you need another John Elia to explain him. He is a phenomenon, a thing like a live fish to hold in your hand or an elephant amongst blinds to be described. Wusatullah Khan, a noted broadcaster, holds that knowing John is as good as dating with a liberated lady. And it is quite obvious that a man who in him is a philosopher, a scholar, a biographer, a linguist with command over Urdu, Arabic, English, Persian, Sanskrit and Hebrew and needless to say that the Ismaili sect of the subcontinent could not find anyone other than John to translate Ismaili treatises from Hebrew, it becomes a tedious affair to be conclusive about John. Common perception though with an element of truth is that John is a progressive Marxist, an unconventional poet and always in denial of everything including himself while himself saying in three line verse,
“KISKO FUSAT K MUJSAY BAHAS KARAY…..
OOR SABIT KARAY K MERA WAJOOD….
ZINDZGI K LIYAY ZARORI HAY
(Anyone prepared to argue and prove that my existence is imperative for life). His poetry is admittedly very close to life and his verses in the words of a legendry poet, Majrooh Sultanpuri, are like a dialogue which no other poet has the distinction to be capable of. John has an extra-ordinary craft of connecting with his audience that has created an unprecedented fan following which no other contemporary poet can claim to have. So magical is his poetry and its rendition that it has created a cult of his admirers with such an obsession and longing for the life of melancholy lead by John Elia himself. It is no secret that he was never a happy man with defiance and protest against everything and anything around. Loudly a nonconformist when he says
“unjaman main mayri khamooshi…..
burdabari nahin hay wehshat hay”.
His style made him famous and popular. He appears to be disgusted even with creation when he says … “HASILE KUN HAY YEH JAHANE KHARAAB….
YAHI MUMKIN THA AYSI UJLAT MAIN”.
His admirers strangely wish to pass through the same pain and despair that is hallmark of John’s poetry besides satire and the disdain for the system which contributed to his sadness in life. He has so glorified and romanticized the pain and sadness that it leaves his audience in frenzied ecstasy.
John Elia was born in the year 1931 and died in 2002. He originally belonged to Amroha in the state of Uttar Pradesh, younger brother of Rayees Amrohi, a known journalist and writer. John migrated to Pakistan in the year 1957 and settled in Karachi where he is buried now. But Amroha never left his heart and mind. He never felt comfortable after leaving Amroha partly because his stay in Karachi brought him in conflict with the system too. Many other things have also contributed to his sadness in life. He was married to a well-known writer of Pakistan, Zahida Hina but in mid-80’s , the relation between the two became bumpy and ended up in divorce which left John devastated and for ten long years thereafter went in depression without writing a word.
As is true about many in the history of literature, John earned his name and fame more after his death than in his life time while he was not received well and felt a strange type of suffocation when he says,
“AAP APNAY SAY HUMSUKHAN REHNA…..
HUMNISHEEN SAANS PHOOL JATI HAY”.
Thanks to the electronic boom and You Tube that brought him to the lime light and enabled audience to reach him and his works. As if this was not enough that his first poetic collection only came to be published when he reached the age of 60. It is worthwhile mention that he has as many as seven poetic collections to his credit namely SHAYAD, YANI, LEKIN, GUMAAN, GOYA, FARMOD and RAMOOZ. Except one, all other are published posthumously. This is besides his scholarly works in prose which may require greater insight to go into.
John all his life remained honest, direct and straightforward in expressing his views on matters of public interest. He also never demonstrated any pretentions or reservations while expressing the truth of his personal life. He never made any secret of his fantasies, love affairs or drinking habits. Yet he was never at peace either with the times or with himself. John Elia, in my humble opinion lived ahead of times and even the desire of dying young without being bed ridden was not granted to him except that he strangely enough wanted to die of tuberculosis and which he did.
(The author, a senior lawyers, is a well known poet and writer. Feedback at: [email protected])
Manto: Why I wanted to read a ‘lewd’ writer
By Naveed Hussain
I first read Saadat Hasan Manto as a teenager and the spirit of what I’m writing now was etched on my memory in those years.
I was too young to understand the intricacies of his stories but I enjoyed what I read and craved for more. Back then, Manto wasn’t available in the small town of Haripur where I lived. A friend introduced me to a schoolteacher, a bibliophile who had a modest collection of Manto in his personal library.
“Why do you want to read Manto, he’s a ribald, lewd writer,” he quipped. “This is exactly why I want to read him,” I replied, almost impulsively. He smiled and agreed to lend me Manto’s books. Thus began my journey to explore Manto. The more I read, the deeper my love for him became.
Manto was a nonconformist, an unorthodox and ruthlessly bold writer. He didn’t believe in the so-called literary norms of ‘decency’ and ‘civility’ set by didactic writers of his time. For him, truth is truth. No matter how bitter and despicable the reality, Manto never dilutes the truth. Like a muckraker, he pokes his nose into the muck, rakes it, and then holds it up to the reader – in all its profound ugliness and twisted beauty. “If you don’t know your society, read my stories. If you find a defect, it’s the defect of your society, not my stories,” he says.
Manto wrote on socially taboo topics like sex, incest and prostitution, which earned him the wrath of contemporary traditionalists, conservatives and even progressives. For some of his ‘lewd’ and ‘obscene’ stories he had to face lawsuits – among them were great stories such as Thanda Gosht, Bu, Khol Do, Dhuan and Kali Shalwar.
But it is to miss the point to simply say that Manto wrote about sex. He wrote about the sexual debauchery of men and the sexual exploitation of women; about our patriarchal society where women are often treated as a ‘sex toy’, not a human being. Unlike many, I don’t compare Manto with DH Lawrence, because Manto is not lustful, even though he explicitly writes about the female anatomy. He’s more like Guy de Maupassant, who sees the throbbing heart, not the sensuous body, of the prostitute.
Manto blames the ‘diseased mind’ for reading ‘ribaldry’ into his stories. If a sex maniac derives morbid gratification from Venus De Milo, should we blame Alexandros of Antioch for chiselling such a ‘graphic’ sculpture? No, certainly not.
For contemporary literary pundits, Manto was also unacceptable because he wrote ‘indecent’ language. “They [the critics] criticise me when my characters verbally abuse one another – but why don’t they criticise their society instead where hundreds of thousands of profanities are hurled on the streets, every day,” he wonders.
I also love Manto because he was honest. He was an unflinchingly true writer who believed in calling a spade a spade. Sketch-writing was introduced as a genre in Urdu literature much earlier, but Manto created his own peculiar tell-all style. He didn’t write only the good qualities of his characters. “In my bathroom, everyone is naked. I don’t clothe them because it’s the tailor’s job,” he writes.
Manto’s sketches, which he initially wrote for the Lahore-based Daily Afaq newspaper, were later collected and published as Ganjay Farishtay. Manto wasn’t a hypocrite. He minced no words while writing about his dead friends. “I curse a thousand times a so-called civilised society where a man’s character is cleansed of all its ills and tagged as ‘May-God-Bless Him’,” Manto wrote in Ganjay Farishtay. Manto wrote sketches of filmstars Ashok Kumar, Shyam, Noor Jahan, literary figures such as Meera Ji, Agha Hashar and Ismat Chughtai and some politicians. “I have no camera that could have washed smallpox marks off the face of Agha Hashar or change obscenities uttered by him in his flowery style.”
Before embarking on his literary career, Manto had read Russian, French and English masters like Chekhov, Gorky, Victor Hugo, de Maupassant and Oscar Wilde and translated some of their works into Urdu. Surprisingly enough, despite his love for revolutionaries, Manto was not a Marxist ideologue. He was a humanist who was pained to see social injustices, economic disparities and exploitation of the underprivileged. He hated the obscurantist clergy and parasitic elites alike.
Although Manto had migrated to Pakistan after 1947, he couldn’t understand the rationale of partitioning a land along religious lines. His stories of bloodshed and cross-border migration, such as Teetwaal Ka Kutta and Toba Tek Singh, made him unpopular with ‘patriotic’ Pakistanis. To this day he remains a shadowy figure on the official literary lists of Pakistan: our school curricula, our national awards, our drawing room conversations.
Manto was acknowledged as a creative genius even by his detractors. And he knew this, which is perhaps why he wanted these words to mark his grave: “Here lies Saadat Hasan Manto and with him lie all the secrets and mysteries of the art of short story writing. Under tons of earth he lies, still wondering who among the two is the greater short story writer: he or God.”
Manto’s family feared his self-written epitaph would attract the unwanted attention of the ignorantly religious, so on his grave one finds a Ghalib couplet. He faced censorship all his life and even now has chunks of his stories taken out by the authorities. But as we mark his centenary year, I can say this with the instant certainty I felt as a young man in Haripur: the words and stories of Saadat Hasan Manto will outlive us all.
Gauhar Raza: Giving Poetry the Power to Protest
By Asheesh Mamgain
If things were different his poems would have been different, or maybe he would not have been a poet at all. But things are what they are. And that is why Gauhar Raza, the poet is writing, and it is why he writes his poetry of protest.
“Maybe I would have written about love, the beauty of nature and science. But as things stand my poetry is predominantly about resistance and protest,” said Raza, who is faithful to the tradition of resistance poetry to the extent that he has throttled, without much difficulty, the romantic and the scientist in him. “The need to write poetry always arose when something happened around me which affected me, to the core. I have never written and will never write poetry just for the sake of it.”
“The murder of Safdar Hashmi, the breaking up of the Soviet Union, the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the killing of an activist in Afghanistan, the death of Rohith Vemula are some of those things,” he said.
Raza’s second published collection of ghazals and nazms (71 in all) came out in November 2017 and is titled Khamoshi, or Silence.
Is there a lot of anger in his poems? Yes, there is definitely a lot of anger. But then there is also hope. That is where Raza becomes special.
“For me, a poem that merely complains or rants about the injustice, violence and persecution happening all around is not enough. A poet has to go beyond this; he has to give a vision. The vision of an alternative world, of a better world. Only then will his poetry be successful and meaningful. A poet has to show the consciousness he wants to bring into society.”
So how does he define good poetry? “Well, a good poem should be able to raise the level of the reader at least one notch higher, and also give him a fresh perspective about the aspect being dealt in the poem. Something new to dwell upon,” said Raza.
The influences that shaped his poetic thought came pretty early, at home and at the Aligarh Muslim University where he studied. Raza’s father, Wizarat Hussain, worked in the education department there and was a second-generation Leftist.
“The question about the existence of God came up very early in my life and soon I became an atheist for life,” said Raza. Literature was read with passion at home and by the time he was 15 he had read all the Urdu literature available at the AMU library as well as a solid portion of Russian literature.
“During my growing years, Leftist thought had a major presence in the university. On the other hand, the fundamental forces were also steadily getting stronger. I was smitten by the leftist idea. I was part of a literary study circle, we served tea at the secret meetings of leftist groups and listened to discussions at home between my father and other intellectuals such as Irfan Habib and Iqtidar Alam Khan.”
There was a lot of churning in his mind and soon he started pouring the remnants of all that into his poems. When it comes to poetry some of Raza’s major influences have been Ghalib, Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Sahir Ludhianvi. He is often seen reciting their work at length during his various lectures, with Sahir Ludhianvi’s long poem ‘Parchhaiyan’ or Shadows one of his favourites.
“Writing the kind of poetry I do is not easy. Each time a write a poem I must relive all the pain and emotion I went through when the particular incident happened that forced me to write. All those disturbing images come rushing back to me. It is a difficult thing to undergo.”
Nor is poetry Raza’s only means of reaching the people. He recently retired as chief scientist from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. He is also into documentary filmmaking, his documentaries on Bhagat Singh and the 2002 Gujarat genocide being very well known.
Where does poetry stand today, as a means of communication with the reader? According to Raza, “for one, social media has helped. It has helped poets reach a wider audience. Also, the tradition of musharias and kavi sammelans (poetry meets) is still very strong in India. So even if a poet is competing with the multimedia world, it is easy to reach one’s audience with one’s poetry, provided you have something pertinent to say.”
More broadly speaking, however, “I have to say that things have progressed in a disturbing direction. A poem I wrote 20 years ago, I could rededicate it to Rohith Vemula and then to Gauri Lankesh. This disturbing trend is seen all over the world. I believe that the fall of the USSR has been a major turning point in the way our World has evolved.”
A few lines from one of his poems brings out his concern and struggle.
Mein phool khilata hoon jab bhi,
Woh baad e khizan le aate hain,
Mein geet sunata hoon jab bhi,
Yeh aag se ji bahlate hain.
Whenever I make a flower blossom
They bring the autumn wind
Whenever I sing a song
They give the soul succour with flame.
But Raza is still hopeful. “There has been a resurgence of resistance poetry in Urdu in the recent past. The trend of religious poetry in Urdu has also reduced in recent times. The youth today has become more involved in this attempt to bring a positive change. I have seen young people reading protest poetry and reacting to it. Once again universities have become a place of resistance and struggle for change.”