Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Pakistan Political Palette

This is a Pkpotpourri Exclusive

By: Yasmeen Ali

The Pakistan Political Palette is dotted with multi hues. Parties that have been there, seen it, done all, the wannabes waiting for their turn, individuals who have returned from yonder wanting to grab a part of the action. You name it, Pakistan has it. The trailer promises an action packed thriller. Grab your bag of pop corns everyone!

NS & AZFirst there are the traditional arch rivals: PPP and PML-N. The five years of PPP governance have been marred by increase in terrorism, inflation, energy crisis. There are charges of widespread corruption. Whereas it is true that PPP could have improved upon its governance, it is also true that after the 18th Amendment- a number of issues laid at the federation door were the responsibility of the provincial governments. PML-N and MQM cannot today, legitimately claim to oppose PPP after having governed their respective provinces/areas for the term. They were as much a part of the overall government as was PPP. Faraz Khan posting in Express Tribune Blogs published 11th Feb. 2013 shares that according to the Punjab government, 30 billion rupees were spent on the Lahore Metro Bus Service. Overall the entire allocated money for Punjab infrastructure development is Rs63 billion which means that 50% or half of the development budget of Punjab was spent in Lahore. This excludes the cost of the underpasses and overhead bridges built in Lahore. Compared to this Rs 16.5 billion was allocated to the Health sector and Rs25 billion development budget for education in Punjab for the current year. From this 25 billion a total of Rs5 billion was spent on giving away laptops.

The province’s annual average growth rate of 2.5% between 2007 and 2011 lagged far behind the 3.4% for the rest of Pakistan, according to the Lahore-based Institute of Public Policy (IPP).No smaller energy generation plants were set up although Punjab is badly hit by power cuts, destroying businesses and disrupting normal life.

Altaf & AZUnder MQM’s tutelage, Karachi burned for five years. It continues burning today. Karachi is the hub of multiethnic people. The demographic makeup of the city has changed over the past few years, leading many to believe that the ongoing violence is a turf war being fought between MQM & ANP. Former Interior Minister Rehman Malik places target killed people in past five years at 1.363(Published 7 Sept 2012: Express Tribune). By any common sense standards this is a highly under estimated account. It will be pertinent to note here that Karachi was under MQM Mayor-ship from 2005 till 2010. Delimitation of constituencies is seen as a negative by MQM – which will be at a defensive position and might lose some constituencies, though it will remain the majority party of the Karachi.  MQM is already in court against the delimitations in Karachi.

Bringing in the new colors of the Political Palette is the PTI. The supporters of PTI are enthusiastic about the chances of their party in the forthcoming elections. Some over exuberant even claim a clean sweep. Brig. Farooq Hameed Khan® in an article published in a local newspaper states, “While October 30 kindled the candle of hope for Pakistan’s future, March 23 lighted the flame of a ‘Naya Pakistan’. On both occasions, Imran Khan displayed vision of a statesman and a national leader.” PTI has made an electoral alliance with Jamait-e-Islami-a step that makes sense since PTI lacks rural grounding and is restricted to urban areas only. It may stand to gain by this alliance. However, others point towards lack of any policies by PTI to bring about the much touted ‘Naya Pakistan.’ They also claim PTI lacks a well-knit team of people to achieve the claim. Induction of fall-outs of other parties, now close to the PTI Chief has not helped. That PTI will erode the vote bank of PML-N in Punjab owing to the latter’s bad governance is a foregone conclusion. To what degree they are able to harness their support and convert it into votes remains to be seen.oooooo

An unexpected entrant in the arena was Tahir-ul-Qadri, He claimed to “get rid of electoral dictatorship.” He raised questions about the integrity of the candidates in light of Article 62 and 63 of the Constitution. Mr Qadri insisted that before elections are held, a system must be put in place to probe the integrity of candidates. Since his party will not be contesting the forthcoming elections, some believe, his entry in the foray was aimed to build pressure in order to wean out the candidates who have failed to come up to the standards constitutionally laid down and flagrantly violated.

The side-dish is the re-entry of Former President General Pervez Musharraf. Columnist Cyril Almeida said Musharraf the politician today evokes the memory of Imran Khan from a decade ago: a high-wattage name, lots of media coverage, and absolutely no impact on the electorate. This may or may not turn out to be true in light of the welcome received by him on his return to Pakistan. Notwithstanding the challenges, both legal and otherwise, his party will manage to cull some seats, if they contest.  Musharraf had declared the rally by Tahir-ul-Qadri a success saying in unequivocal terms, ““I have supported them from the beginning.”

Mush & TUQ

The three vote-cinching parties offer different goodies to the people. PML-N with its glossy manifesto, making wild promises- especially in relation to countering energy crisis-solutions suggested neither workable nor practical. PPP mainly banks on the Bhutto legacy and the fact that being the only national party, it has access to the Pakistani People. There are many populist promises thrown in, that work. MQM, talks about everything under the sun from education, poverty alleviation & empowerment, health, urban development and so on. One may pose the question, as to why these were not acted upon in these five years- maybe a query for another day!

Then there are the motley of smaller regional parties, smaller religious parties, the independents…all wanting a piece of the pie!

The million dollar question is: which way will the camel sit? And no, the Army is not taking over. The facts are different:  that the ‘electable’ will carry weight, electoral alliances will be cobbled together between the smaller/newer parties with one aim: to oppose PPP. Will their joint seats succeed in forming the government? Who will head that alliance? PTI Chief? Will PTI lose on table failing to carry other winners with it? Or, will PPP succeed in proving itself to be the only nationalist party it states in its manifesto? With whom will PML-N and MQM throw in their lot? One would not undermine PPP’s negotiation abilities.

One thing is clear. It will be a hung parliament with more cooks joining in to make the broth.

The writer is Author of, “A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.” She is a University Professor & may be reached at Twitter ID: @yasmeen_9


Katju’s dreary mirror

By Shamshad Ahmad Shamshad

How he is wrong on some fronts and yet right on some others

Justice Markandey Katju, a former judge of the Indian Supreme Court who also served as Chief Justice of three high courts and who is currently chairman of India’s statutory media regulatory body, the Press Council of India, has lately been in the news for his outspoken ‘words of wisdom’ on almost everything from the state of media to the failures of governments in India. Recently, at a seminar in New Delhi, he shocked his own people by telling them that at least 90 percent of them were “idiots”. On the same occasion, Katju also took a freaky shot on Pakistan by distorting our history as a nation and questioning the very creation of Pakistan.

He called Pakistan a “fake” country which according to him was created artificially by the Britishers through their “bogus Two-Nation Theory”. Katju also predicted that “in the next 15-20 years India and Pakistan would reunite”. If this outlandish statement had come from a traditional fanatic Indian mindset, one could just ignore it. But coming from a retired judge of India’s superior judiciary with distinguished lineage and family history, who was known for his non-communal moderate outlook, this was nothing but a barefaced assault on Pakistan’s raison d’être. Obviously, it was for the Indians to take him to task for calling them “idiots” but for us in Pakistan, it surely was our challenge to prove him wrong and repudiate his aberrant ‘reunification’ theory.

Since Katju made his statement in his capacity as Chairman, Press Council of India, one expected our media to at least show some sensitivity to his remarks about Pakistan. In particular, those newspapers which have traditionally claimed ‘nationalist’ credentials should have editorially demolished Katju’s ‘reunification’ illusions by challenging him on what he thought of our nationhood and about our country’s future. This never happened. I could not resist responding to Katju’s slur and wrote an article giving a dispassionate account of history to establish why Hindus and Muslims in the subcontinent, having lived together for centuries, remained poles apart eventually becoming two separate states in 1947.

Despite Jinnah’s efforts for Hindu-Muslim unity, the beginning of the 20th century saw a line being drawn, making it impossible for Hindus and Muslims to live together in India. What brought the simmering Muslim nationalism in the open was the character of the Congress rule in the Muslim minority provinces during 1937-39. The Congress policies in these provinces hurt Muslim susceptibilities leaving them with no doubt that in the Congress scheme of things, they could live only on sufferance of Hindus and as “second class” citizens. They were convinced that it was impossible to live in an undivided India after freedom from colonial rule because their interests would be completely suppressed.

In response to my article published in a major ultra-conservative newspaper, Katju sent me an e-mail message requesting for the e-mail address of that newspaper saying he wanted to respond to my article through a ‘rejoinder’. While sending him the requested e-mail address, I warned him that I was not sure if any newspaper in Pakistan, much less this particular one, will print anything questioning the very raison d’être of Pakistan. I was wrong. The esteemed paper published not only Katju’s bizarre “truth about Pakistan” devoting to it more than half of its op-ed page but also the text of my e-mail message that Katju had unethically and illegally shared with it in blatant breach of the privacy of the mail exchanged between two individuals. It was violation of the Code of Ethics followed by both the Press Councils of India and Pakistan.

In his article, Katju said that “Pakistan was doomed from its very inception”. According to him, “Created artificially by the British through their wicked policy of divide and rule and the bogus two-nation theory, Pakistan is bound to reunify with India.” He also distorted some of the historical facts. All said and done, Justice Katju’s article finding prominent space in a major Pakistani newspaper known for its ultra-conservative outlook and ideological ‘guardianship’ shocked the people of Pakistan. They couldn’t believe it. Even the Indians were surprised at this turn of the tide in Pakistan. The Indian Express (Pakistan all-praise for Markandey Katju, March 7) viewed this event worthy of special attention disclosing how the Pakistani “newspaper that had traditionally taken an anti-India stance surprisingly agreed to publish Katju’s article”.

According to The Indian Express, this decision came only because his daughter considered Katju’s article print worthy. She was quoted to have said: “I expected spirited feedback on it and haven’t been disappointed. My father knew I was publishing it and agreed. I’d be delighted to publish Katju again.” That sounded generous. One noted a dramatic change of direction in this paper’s known policy. Apparently, no one realised that there is one full clause in PCP’s Code of Ethics that forbids printing, publishing or disseminating any material, which may bring into contempt Pakistan or its people or tends to undermine its sovereignty or integrity as an independent country. It appeared to mark the end of an era. But the ‘Katju story’ did not end there.

My own read on the ‘feedback’ was disappointingly different. Pakistani readers paid no serious attention to Katju’s article. They just ignored it as yet another volley of a dogmatic if not rabid school of thought from across the border that never accepted Pakistan’s creation. From the Indian side, many knowledgeable comments were posted, mostly dismissive of Katju’s ‘reunification’ theory. One was, however, shocked at the unworthy and graceless language that some of the comments from across the border used for Pakistan and its founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. They crossed all limits of civility. It was by no means a ‘spirited’ feedback. It was just filth and vulgarity. No newspaper in the world would allow abuse of its space for such trash. I am sure even Justice Katju must have been ashamed of the profanity heaped on our Quaid.

Katju presented his aberrant ‘reunification’ theory without being disrespectful to anyone. That is perhaps the spirit of his ‘satyam bruyat’. Jinnah is one of those rare leaders who received some of the greatest tributes paid to any one in modern times, some of them even from those who held a diametrically opposed viewpoint. Katju’s own illustrious grandfather, Dr Kailash Nath Katju, one of India’s leading lawyers who participated in the country’s freedom movement, then serving as Governor of West Bengal, also paid glowing tribute to our Quaid describing him as “an outstanding figure of this century not only in India, but in the whole world”.

Our Quaid did not live long to personally steer Pakistan to be what he thought would be “one of the greatest nations of the world”. No doubt, we have had a chequered history after independence. But it has been a failure of governance, not of the nationhood. A Hindu fanatic has every reason to challenge Pakistan’s nationhood. But if a man of Katju’s non-communal outlook is drawing negative conclusions on our future, there is cause for us to look at ourselves to find what after all is wrong with us. No matter what Katju’s motives are, he has indeed shown us a mirror.

What if Katju’s mirror shows us a hazy picture? We see a mutilated and disjointed nation debilitating itself physically as well as spiritually. We also see a country looted and plundered by its own rulers, and left with no dignity and sovereign independence. We are not even ashamed of what we are doing to ourselves. Isn’t it time for us to change and behave like a nation? Isn’t it also time, our increasingly family concentrated media owned its national responsibility and played its role in defending Pakistan’s independent statehood?

The writer is former foreign secretary, Pakistan.

The Article was Forwarded to Blog Moderator for publishing.

Sufism Genesis

By: Naveed Tajammal


Sufi ArtIf wisdom is the practical application of knowledge acquired through research,in pursuit of truth,through the right of free inquiry,to promote and help the happiness or well being of humans;’than the life proposed by this order,negates it,as it is a ritual based way of life,leading to the whirling dervish,and it seems out of place,because the life to lead as given in our code,negates this type of life,all humans must face the life,inclusive of,all’ its good times or the Bad,one cannot lead the eventual life of a hermit,as envisaged in this code,confined to,isolation/seclusion,the harsh realities cannot be avoided,in life,you must earn a living,and,living off,the alms,is hardly a worthy life,even though one may claim he is doing some,thing,holy ? In the true sense this is a classic case of escapism,or the, rah’ e’ farar.

Had,Pherecydes’ the true teacher of ‘Pythagoras [The first Grand Master of ‘Illuminati ],been fair to his knowledge,which he had acquired,from the sacred books of Phoenicians and the Egyptians,which was based on the evolution of thought, through the ages,upon,the observations’ seen from a keen hawk eye,to promote and help the happiness or well being of the mankind.These, were various ‘Phenomena’ which commonly are seen,before a, Storm or an earth quake,or such like other Calamities,which the humans face from time to time,and which the ‘Ignorant termed’ super natural’,and so men basked in the glory on the work of the others[ by predictions] .And so ‘Pherecydes’,likewise capitalized,when armed recently with this knowledge,he predicted,about a ship in full sail,at a distance approaching its harbor,so Pherecydes,predicted,that it would never come into the Haven [a sheltered anchorage] and it happened accordingly,for a sudden storm,arose and sunk the vessel,on yet another ococcasion, after drinking water from a well,he predicted an Earth Quake,which happened three days aftewards’ hence’ the Lament’,that this happens,when the knowledge is used,as seen above for ‘Imposture’.
The aim of this short article is Not to hurt the inner feelings of those who follow the rites,and rationale of Sufism,but to enlighten them in many ways,Besides that, of late’ the western powers are hell bent upon,to ensure that this order is implemented upon us,all in the name of our well being,if that be a rationale.
But what baffles one the most is that,this too,exists,in their own religion under the term of ‘Mysticism’,and also amongst the Jews under ‘En Suf’,The doctrine under which come the ‘Kabballistic rituals,and its hidden numbers.And the Question,why do they”,Want’ to impose,what is good,for us,and our Salvation,and Not’,the same on their own’ as well ?
As the readers are Classified in three main classes;
Firstly,Those who believe everything they read or are influenced by the Demagogues.
Secondly,Those who No’ longer believe in anything and Nor pay any heed to the Rantings of a Demagogue.
Thirdly,Those who critically, examine,What they Read’ or Hear’ and form their own Judgments.

This Article is for the Perusal of the Third Class.
Sufism tells of a God,perfectly distinct,from that,in the Book,who can only be Pleased,with the outward,”Rites’,as given or Tabulated in Various Sufic Orders.The meaning of a ‘Rite’, may point either to the acquisition,of knowledge [power], or to the realization of the Self,The old ”Philosophers” spoke, of two aims of existence,’Enjoyment or Renunciation [or giving up the worldly life].Leading to the ultimate,”Salvation’.And so,the ‘rite’ would depend upon,the ‘Will’,of the performer’,in other words the ‘rite’ is the mean for evoking the ‘will’,which in its turn,starts the awakening,Here perception of potency, of a real-idea,an objective element is
needed to ‘Effectuate’,the idea-force and herein lies the Origin,of Rituals & Mystic,practice.
However the ‘Rationalists,new or old’,,have always looked askance,’in the ritualistic exccess,found in the various Sufic-Orders.
The very word mystic’ is based upon,the word Mystery’,or Mysteries,a name given to certain Ceremonies,in the old Greek religion taken from remote times,which were esteemed,peculiarly ”Sacred’,and might Not’ be freely spoken about,[Delphic Oracles / Amphictyonic Council].In reality this was and remains a Closed subject,on account of the absolute silence maintained and guarded terms in which the few references to it are ‘Couched /Oblique references as given’.
Without entering, further into related subjects like,Occultism,Magic,Alchemy,Astrology,Theo-sophy or the Esoteric Philosophy.We see,that,Sufism,is regarded by most as an reaction to the Arab Islam by those to its North,But,infact it is nothing but a revival of the ancient habits,rituals of the people of North,as well the middle Iranians,of,their,old’ thoughts and ways,The later Persian Poetry as it evolved from the previous Pahalvi of the Sassanids,is like of that in North,full of an ardent natural, ‘Pantheism’,in which comes the ‘Mystic’ apprehensions,of Unity and Divinity, of all things,and so the Verses of Hafiz’ and Saadi’,devoted to Wine and Women’,and even the most ‘Licentious’ of the Verses,have been given a mystical interpretations,The delights of Love’,are made to stand for the raptures of Union,with the Divine,and the Tavern,for them’ Symbolizes,the house of Worship.And the intoxication’,is the bewilderment’ of sense’,before the surpassing Vision.
As to the Etymology of the term,If it has No relationship to the ‘En Suf’,earlier mentioned,of the Jews,the other being,the ‘Suffa’ or the terrace people,over which early muslims slept,in the Mosque built by the Prophet,or the ‘Ikhwanu’s Safa’,the brethren of purity’,or the ‘Ahlu’s-suffa [the people of the bench] or the Arabic word ‘Sufa,’ denoting ‘purity’ or the ‘woollen raiment [suf].
The names of the early sufi’s were ,Ibrahim Adham, of Balkh,which remained a center of Zorastrian,and later Buddhist religion,Fuzail,’was a native,of Merv,another old center of Buddhist,Manichaeism,and Nestorians.Ahmad son of,Khazruvaih,who hailed from Balkh,Abu Sadiq [d.812 AD],was a contempary of Ibrahim Adham,and Hatam Asam too was from Balkh,[d.871 AD].The famous Bayyazid [d.874 AD, of Bistam, [part of old Zorastatrain heart land]’,He,was amongst the earliest of the Sufi writers,his,best work was, Doctrine of Fana’,[Passing away of Consciousness in Mystical Union],A few’, of his well quoted ,quotes being,”Beneath my Cloak there is Nothing but,God”.I am the Cup bearer,the Wine and the Wine-drinker’.I went from God to God’,till i heard from within, ‘O Thou I’.
Now we come,to, another famed Sufi,”Junyad’,according to Jami [poet],he was the ‘Sayyidu’t-Ta’ifa’,,”The Chief of the Community”.Junayd ,too,spoke in the same gusto,as ‘Bayyazid Bistami’,”For Thirty years”, said ,Junayd,”God spoke with mankind by the Tongue of Junayd,though ,Junayd,was No longer there,and the Men’ knew it, Not”.
In the Crux,according to the,Masters,of Sufic orders,”The Supreme’,degree of the Doctrine of Divine Unity,is the Denial of the Divine Unity”.The most celebrated of this class remains,but,the name of ”Hussain Mansur ”al-Hallaj’,about whom Fariduddin Attar”,would say,His [hallaj] Only fault being,’That he divulged the,”seceret”,as eventually, hallaj’ boasted the words,”An ul Haq”,[ I am the Truth ],meaning he claimed Divinity,or being a divine being’.And about,this famed man,of’ the old Sufi’,the less said, the better,as of the few’ of’ his many accomplishments of knowledge,He” was a ”Sunni amongst the Sunni’,a Shi’i to the Shi’a,and a Mutazili’ to the Mutazilites [Free Thinkers ],Medicine,Alchemy,and Conjuring were a few of his many other Occomplishments,as well, being a Traveller and ofcourse,a Seeker of Knowledge,So in 922 AD,the Man,met his Fate’,keeping in view  his past track record,the state,”Condemned him a death,,”Scourging,Amputation,Decapitation,and eventual burning ”Cremation’.Even than,keeping in view his most prized accomplishment the Gift of a Tongue which had cost him his Life,The Captain of the Guard ‘[Sahibu’s-Shutra ],one Mohammad Abdus Samad’,was specially cautioned’,Not to give Heed’,to anything Hallaj’ said”.
The followers of Hallaj’,claim’,the period of his Captivity’ from his first Arrest till his day of Execution’,to be ”Eight years Seven months and Eight days,and so interpret the same in their own Mystic Numbers,and the related Oracles”.
The writer has 30 years of historical research experience.

Breaking Up Is Not Hard to Do

Why the U.S.-Pakistani Alliance Isn’t Worth the Trouble
By Husain HaqqaniHH

Washington has not had an easy time managing the U.S.-Pakistani relationship, to put it mildly. For decades, the United States has sought to change Pakistan’s strategic focus from competing with India and seeking more influence in Afghanistan to protecting its own internal stability and economic development. But even though Pakistan has continued to depend on U.S. military and economic support, it has not changed its behavior much. Each country accuses the other of being a terrible ally — and perhaps both are right.

Pakistanis tend to think of the United States as a bully. In their view, Washington provides desperately needed aid intermittently, yanking it away whenever U.S. officials want to force policy changes. Pakistanis believe that Washington has never been grateful for the sacrifice of the thousands of Pakistani military and security officials who have died fighting terrorists in recent decades, nor mourned the tens of thousands of Pakistani civilians whom those terrorists have killed. Many in the country, including President Asif Ali Zardari and General Ashfaq Kayani, the army chief, recognize that Pakistan has at times gone off the American script, but they argue that the country would be a better ally if only the United States showed more sensitivity to Islamabad’s regional concerns.

On the other side, Americans see Pakistan as the ungrateful recipient of almost $40 billion in economic and military assistance since 1947, $23 billion of it for fighting terrorism over the last decade alone. In their view, Pakistan has taken American dollars with a smile, even as it covertly developed nuclear weapons in the 1980s, passed nuclear secrets to others in the 1990s, and supported Islamist militant groups more recently. No matter what Washington does, according to a growing cadre of U.S. senators, members of Congress, and editorial writers, it can’t count on Pakistan as a reliable ally. Meanwhile, large amounts of U.S. aid have simply failed to invigorate Pakistan’s economy.

From birth, Pakistan was saddled with a huge army it could not pay for and plenty of monsters to destroy.

The May 2011 U.S. covert operation in Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden brought the relationship to an unusually low point, making it harder than ever to maintain the illusion of friendship. At this point, instead of continuing to fight so constantly for so little benefit — money for Pakistan, limited intelligence cooperation for the United States, and a few tactical military gains for both sides — the two countries should acknowledge that their interests simply do not converge enough to make them strong partners. By coming to terms with this reality, Washington would be freer to explore new ways of pressuring Pakistan and achieving its own goals in the region. Islamabad, meanwhile, could finally pursue its regional ambitions, which would either succeed once and for all or, more likely, teach Pakistani officials the limitations of their country’s power.


It is tempting to believe that tensions between the United States and Pakistan have never been worse. And to be sure, the public in each country currently dislikes the other: in a 2011 Gallup poll, Pakistan ranked among the least liked countries in the United States, along with Iran and North Korea; meanwhile, a 2012 Pew poll found that 80 percent of Pakistanis have an unfavorable view of the United States, with 74 percent seeing it as an enemy. Washington’s threats to cut off aid to Pakistan and calls in Islamabad to defend Pakistani sovereignty from U.S. drone incursions seem to represent a friendship that is spiraling downward.

But the relationship between the United States and Pakistan has never been good. In 2002, at arguably the height of U.S.-Pakistani cooperation against terrorism, a Pew poll found that 63 percent of Americans had unfavorable views of Pakistan, making it the fifth most disliked nation, behind Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and North Korea. Before that, in 1980, soon after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, a Harris poll showed that a majority of Americans viewed Pakistan unfavorably, despite the fact that 53 percent supported U.S. military action to defend the country against communism. During the 1950s and 1960s, Pakistan did not feature in U.S. opinion polls, but its leaders often complained of unfavorable press in the United States.

Pakistani distaste for the United States is nothing new, either. A 2002 Pew poll found that about 70 percent of Pakistanis disapproved of the United States. And their negativity predates the war on terrorism. The September 1982 issue of The Journal of Conflict Resolution carried an article by the Pakistani civil servant Shafqat Naghmi based on analysis of keywords used in the Pakistani press between 1965 and 1979. He found evidence for widespread anti-Americanism going back to the beginning of the study. In 1979, a hostile crowd burned down the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, and attacks on U.S. official buildings in Pakistan were reported even in the 1950s and 1960s.

From Pakistan’s founding onward, the two countries have tried to paper over their divergent interests and the fact that their publics do not trust one another with personal friendships at the highest levels. In 1947, Pakistan’s leaders confronted an uncertain future. Most of the world was indifferent to the new country — that is, except for its giant next-door neighbor, which was uncompromisingly hostile. The partition of British India had given Pakistan a third of the former colony’s army but only a sixth of its sources of revenue. From birth, therefore, Pakistan was saddled with a huge army it could not pay for and plenty of monsters to destroy.

British officials and scholars, such as Sir Olaf Caroe, who was the pre-partition governor of the North-West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), and Ian Stephens, the editor of The Statesman, encouraged Pakistan’s founding fathers to keep the country’s large army as a protection against India. Lacking financing for it, though, Pakistani leaders turned to the United States, reasoning that Washington would be willing to foot some of the bill given Pakistan’s strategically important location at the intersection of the Middle East and South Asia.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the country’s founder and first governor-general, and most of his lieutenants in the Muslim League, Pakistan’s main political party, had never traveled to the United States and knew little about the country. To fill the role of ambassador to the United States, they chose the one among them who had, Mirza Abol Hassan Ispahani, who had toured the United States in the mid-1940s to drum up support for an independent Muslim state in South Asia. In a November 1946 letter to Jinnah, Ispahani explained what he knew of the American psyche. “I have learnt that sweet words and first impressions count a lot with Americans,” he wrote. “They are inclined to quickly like or dislike an individual or organization.” The Cambridge-educated lawyer tried his best to make a good impression and became known among the Washington elite for his erudition and sartorial style.

Back in Pakistan, Jinnah attempted to befriend Paul Alling, the newly appointed U.S. ambassador in Karachi, then Pakistan’s capital. In one of their meetings, Jinnah complained about the sweltering heat and offered to sell his official residence to the U.S. embassy. The ambassador sent him a gift of four ceiling fans. Jinnah was also at pains to give interviews to U.S. journalists, the best known of whom wasLife magazine’s Margaret Bourke-White. “America needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs America,” Jinnah told her. “Pakistan is the pivot of the world, the frontier on which the future position of the world revolves.” Like many Pakistani leaders after him, Jinnah hinted that he hoped the United States would pour money and arms into Pakistan. And Bourke-White, like many Americans after her, was skeptical. She sensed that behind the bluster was insecurity and a “bankruptcy of ideas . . . a nation drawing its spurious warmth from the embers of an antique religious fanaticism, fanned into a new blaze.”

The visceral anti-Americanism among many Pakistanis today makes it difficult to remember how persistently Jinnah and his ambassadors lobbied the United States for recognition and friendship in those earlier years. Yet the Americans were not convinced. As a State Department counselor, George Kennan, for example, saw no value in having Pakistan as an ally. In 1949, when he met Pakistan’s first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, Kennan responded to Khan’s request to back Pakistan over India by saying, “Our friends must not expect us to do things which we cannot do. It is no less important that they should not expect us to be things which we cannot be.” Kennan’s message was reflected in the paltry amount of U.S. aid sent to the new country: of the $2 billion Jinnah had requested in September 1947, only $10 million came through. That dropped to just over half a million dollars in 1948, and to zero in 1949 and 1950.

In the 1980s, Washington not only funneled arms and money to the mujahideen across the border but also quadrupled its aid to Pakistan.


Pakistan finally got what it wanted with the election of Dwight Eisenhower in 1952. His secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, embraced the idea of exchanging aid for Pakistani support of U.S. strategic interests. He saw Pakistan as a vital link in his scheme to encircle the Soviet Union and China. The aggressively anticommunist Dulles also relished the thought of having a large army of professional soldiers with British-trained officers on the right side in the Cold War. Influenced by earlier descriptions of Pakistanis, Dulles believed them to be especially martial: “I’ve got to get some real fighting men in the south of Asia,” he told the journalist Walter Lippmann in 1954. “The only Asians who can really fight are the Pakistanis.”

Muhammad Ali Bogra, who had taken up the post of Pakistani ambassador to the United States in 1952, was also eager to cement the friendship. He was as successful as his predecessor at cultivating American elites, especially Dulles, who was already leery of India’s leaders due to their decision to stay nonaligned during the Cold War. Bogra ensured that his own anticommunist sentiments were well known to Dulles, as well as to the journalists and politicians with whom Bogra went bowling in Washington. Meanwhile, Eisenhower tasked Arthur Radford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with earning the respect of powerful Pakistanis — particularly the military commander General Muhammad Ayub Khan, who would rule the country by the end of the decade. Ayub Khan was instrumental in installing Bogra as Pakistan’s prime minister in 1953, after a palace coup, in the hope that Bogra’s friendship with the Americans would expedite the flow of arms and development assistance to Pakistan. Indeed, military and economic aid to Pakistan began to rise rapidly; it would hit $1.7 billion by the end of the decade.

In return, the United States got Pakistan to join two anti-Soviet security arrangements: the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, in 1954, and the Baghdad Pact (later called the Central Treaty Organization), in 1955. But there were already signs of trouble. Any notion that Pakistan would join either alliance grouping in a war was quickly dispelled, as Pakistan (like many others) refused to contribute much money or any forces to the organizations. Dulles traveled to Pakistan in 1954 looking for military bases for use against the Soviet Union and China. On his return, he tried to conceal his disappointment in the lack of immediate progress. In a memo he wrote for Eisenhower after the trip, he described U.S.-Pakistani relations as an “investment” from which the United States was “not in general in a position to demand specific returns.” According to Dulles, the U.S. presence in Pakistan meant that the United States could expand its influence over time, leading to “trust and friendship.”

Ayub Khan, for his part, assumed that once Pakistan’s military had been equipped with modern weapons — ostensibly to fight the Communists — it could use them against India without causing a major breach with the United States. In his memoirs, he acknowledged that “the objectives that the Western powers wanted the Baghdad Pact to serve were quite different from the objectives we had in mind.” But he argued that Pakistan had “never made any secret of [its] intentions or [its] interests” and that the United States knew Pakistan would use its new arms against its eastern neighbor. Still, when Pakistan tested Ayub Khan’s theory in 1965, by infiltrating Kashmir and precipitating an all-out war with India, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson suspended the supply of military spare parts to both India and Pakistan. In retaliation, in 1970, Pakistan shut down a secret CIA base in Peshawar that had been leased to the United States in 1956 to launch U-2 reconnaissance flights. (Although Pakistan had made the decision to shut down the base right after the 1965 war, it preferred to simply not renew the lease rather than terminate it prematurely.)

U.S.-Pakistani relations were scaled back after the suspension of military aid, but neither side could give up on trying to find some common ground. Ayub Khan’s successor as president, General Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan, agreed to serve as an intermediary between the United States and China, facilitating the secret trip to Beijing in 1971 by Henry Kissinger, then U.S. President Richard Nixon’s national security adviser. Later that year, Nixon showed his gratitude for Pakistan’s help by favoring West Pakistan against separatist East Pakistan and its Indian supporters during the civil war that resulted in the creation of Bangladesh. The United States played down West Pakistani atrocities in East Pakistan, and Nixon tried to bypass Congress to provide some materiel to West Pakistani forces. But that did not stop the country from dividing. As a civilian government led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto picked up the pieces in the new, smaller Pakistan, the United States and Pakistan maintained some distance. During a 1973 visit by Nixon to Pakistan, Bhutto offered Nixon a naval base on the coast of the Arabian Sea, which Nixon declined. By the time the relationship had started to warm again, when Washington lifted the arms embargo on Pakistan in the mid-1970s, Pakistan had already sought economic support from the Arab countries to its west, which were by then growing flush with petrodollars.


The next time the United States and Pakistan tried to work together, it was to expand a relatively small Pakistani-backed insurgency in Afghanistan at the United States’ request. After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, in 1979, the United States saw an opportunity to even the score following its poor showing in the Vietnam War and bleed the Soviet army dry. The Afghan mujahideen, which had been trained by Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and funded by the CIA, would help. Pakistan’s military ruler, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, made his sales pitch: “The Soviet Union is sitting on our border,” he told an American journalist in a 1980 interview. “Has the free world any interest left in Pakistan?” Later, Zia even surprised the U.S. State Department counselor, Robert McFarlane, with a sweetener: “Why don’t you ask us to grant [you] bases?”

The United States was no longer interested in bases in Pakistan, but it did want to use Pakistan as a staging ground for the Afghan insurgency. So Washington not only funneled arms and money to the mujahideen across the border but also quadrupled its aid to Pakistan. Islamabad had been repeatedly asking for F-16 fighter aircraft in the late 1970s and early 1980s; the Reagan administration found a way to grant them, even urging Congress to waive a ban on military and economic aid to countries that acquire or transfer nuclear technology. James Buckley, then undersecretary of state for international security affairs, rationalized in The New York Times that such American generosity would address “the underlying sources of insecurity that prompt a nation like Pakistan to seek a nuclear capability in the first place.” In 1983, the first batch of the fighter jets arrived in Rawalpindi.

But as did the 1965 war between India and Pakistan, so the Soviet decision to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan in 1989 exposed the tensions beneath the surface of the U.S.-Pakistani alliance. Differences between Washington and Islamabad over who should lead a post-Soviet Afghanistan quickly emerged and unsettled the two countries’ unspoken truce. Pakistan, of course, wanted as much influence as possible, believing that a friendly Afghanistan would provide it with strategic depth against India. The United States wanted a stable noncommunist government that could put Afghanistan back in its place as a marginal regional power.

If the alliance ended, Pakistan could find out whether its regional policy objective of competing with India was attainable without U.S. support.

For the first time, the issue of Pakistani support for terrorist groups also became a sore point. In a 1992 letter to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Nicholas Platt, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, warned that the United States was close to declaring Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism: “If the situation persists, the secretary of state may find himself required by law to place Pakistan in the U.S.G. [U.S. government] state sponsors of terrorism list. . . . You must take concrete steps to curtail assistance to militants and not allow their training camps to operate in Pakistan or Azad Kashmir [the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir].” That threat was hollow, but the United States did find other ways to punish its erstwhile ally. In 1991, Washington cut off military aid to Pakistan after President George H. W. Bush failed to certify to Congress that Pakistan was adhering to its nuclear nonproliferation commitments. Between 1993 and 1998, the United States imposed strict sanctions on Pakistan because of its continued nuclear progress and tests. And it imposed more sanctions between 2000 and 2001 in response to the 1999 military coup that brought General Pervez Musharraf to power. Civilian aid, meanwhile, bottomed out.


Acrimony continued to color the relationship until 2001, when, after the 9/11 attacks, Washington once again sought to work with Islamabad, hoping that this time, Pakistan would fix its internal problems and change its strategic direction for good. But there was little enthusiasm among Pakistan’s public or its military elite, where the country’s decision-making power lay, for an embrace of the United States or its vision for the region. Meanwhile, Pakistani diplomats in the United States spent most of their time responding to Congress’ criticism of Pakistan’s double-dealing in regard to terrorists. The role of ambassador during this period was first held by a former journalist, Maleeha Lodhi, and then by a career foreign service officer, Ashraf Qazi. They worked to build the case that Pakistan was the frontline state in the war on terrorism by reaching out to the U.S. media and lobbying Congress with the help of the growing Pakistani American community. With support from the George W. Bush administration, the ambassadors were able to fend off criticism and get huge aid packages approved. But skeptics, such as the journalist Selig Harrison, pointed out that Pakistan was selling “bad policy through good salesmen.” These particular salesmen were succeeded by two retired generals, Jehangir Karamat and Mahmud Ali Durrani, who attempted to work more closely with U.S. military officers, assuring them that reports of continued Pakistani support for the Afghan Taliban were exaggerated. On the U.S. side, Anthony Zinni, who had been commander of the U.S. Central Command at the time of Musharraf’s coup and remained in touch with Musharraf after his own retirement, spoke publicly of the benefit of being able to communicate “soldier to soldier.” Still, the soldier-ambassadors were unable to overcome the negative press about Pakistan’s involvement in Afghanistan.

U.S. ambassadors to Pakistan during this period focused on forging close ties with the country’s leader, Musharraf. When Musharraf’s control weakened toward the end of the decade, Anne Patterson, who was U.S. ambassador between 2007 and 2010, tried to reach out to civilian Pakistani politicians by meeting the leaders of all of the country’s major political parties. To cover the waterfront, Admiral Mike Mullen, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pursued a personal friendship with Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani. Mullen held 26 meetings with Kayani in four years and often described him as a friend. But by the end of his tenure, Mullen expressed frustration that nothing had worked to change Kayani’s focus: “In choosing to use violent extremism as an instrument of policy, the government of Pakistan, and most especially the Pakistani army and ISI,” he said in a speech to the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2011, “jeopardizes not only the prospect of our strategic partnership but Pakistan’s opportunity to be a respected nation with legitimate regional influence.”

In the end, during Patterson’s and Mullen’s tenures, Musharraf’s regime crumbled and a civilian government took office. From the start, the new administration, led by Zardari, sought to transform the U.S.-Pakistani relationship into what he called a strategic partnership. Zardari wanted to mobilize popular and political support in Pakistan for counterterrorism, as the United States made a long-term commitment to Pakistan through a multiyear foreign assistance package including more civilian aid. At the same time, the two countries would work together to devise a mutually acceptable Afghan endgame.

As Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States from 2008 to 2011, I tried to carry out this agenda and serve as a bridge between the two sides. I arranged dozens of meetings among civilian and military leaders from both sides. Senior U.S. officials, including James Jones, the national security adviser; Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state; and Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA and later secretary of defense, were generous with their time. Senators John McCain, Diane Feinstein, and Joseph Lieberman hashed out the various elements of a strategic partnership, and Senator John Kerry spent countless hours constructing models for Afghan negotiations. Richard Holbrooke, who was the Obama administration’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan before his death in 2011, shuttled between the capitals, seeking to explain U.S. policies to Pakistani officials and secure congressional support for Pakistan. Over several weekends, when our spouses were away from Washington, Holbrooke and I spent hours together, going to the movies or meeting for lunch in Georgetown. We spoke about ways to secure a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan with Pakistan’s support. Convinced that the Pakistani military held the key to stability in the region, President Barack Obama conveyed to Pakistan that the United States wanted to help Pakistan feel secure and be prosperous but that it would not countenance Pakistan’s support for jihadist groups that threatened American security.

But in the end, these attempts to build a strategic partnership got nowhere. The civilian leaders were unable to smooth over the distrust between the U.S. and Pakistani militaries and intelligence agencies. And the lack of full civilian control over Pakistan’s military and intelligence services meant that, as ever, the two countries were working toward different outcomes. Admittedly, however, things might not have been all that much better had the civilians been in full control; it is easier for strongmen to give their allies what they want regardless of popular wishes, whether it be U-2 and drone bases or arming the Afghan mujahideen. My own tenure as ambassador came to an abrupt end in November 2011, just weeks after an American businessman of Pakistani origin falsely accused me of using him as an intermediary to seek American help in thwarting a military coup immediately after the U.S. raid that killed bin Laden. The allegation made no sense because as ambassador, I had direct access to American officials and did not need the help of a controversial businessman to convey concerns about the Pakistani military threatening civilian rule. The episode confirmed again, if confirmation was needed, that supporting close ties with the United States is an unpopular position in Pakistan and that there is a general willingness in Pakistan’s media, judicial, and intelligence circles to believe the worst of anyone trying to mend the frayed partnership.


Given this history of failure, it is time to reconsider whether the U.S.-Pakistani alliance is worth preserving. At least for the foreseeable future, the United States will not accept the Pakistani military’s vision of Pakistani preeminence in South Asia or equality with India. And aid alone will not alter Islamabad’s priorities. Of course, as Pakistan’s democracy grows stronger, the Pakistanis might someday be able to have a realistic debate about what the national interest is and how it should be pursued. But even that debate might not end on terms the United States likes. According to 2012 poll data, for example, although most Pakistanis would favor better ties with India (69 percent of those polled), a majority of them still see India as the country’s biggest threat (59 percent).

With the United States and Pakistan at a dead end, the two countries need to explore ways to structure a nonallied relationship. They had a taste of this in 2011 and 2012, when Pakistan shut down transit lines in response to a NATO drone strike on the Afghan-Pakistani border that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. But this failed to hurt the U.S. war effort; the United States quickly found that it could rely on other routes into Afghanistan. Doing so was more costly, but the United States’ flexibility demonstrated to Islamabad that its help is not as indispensable to Washington as it once assumed. That realization should be at the core of a new relationship. The United States should be unambiguous in defining its interests and then acting on them without worrying excessively about the reaction in Islamabad.

The new coolness between the two countries will eventually provoke a reckoning. The United States will continue to do what it feels it has to do in the region for its own security, such as pressing ahead with drone strikes on terrorist suspects. These will raise hackles in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, where the Pakistani military leadership is based. Pakistani military leaders might make noise about shooting down U.S. drones, but they will think long and hard before actually doing so, in light of the potential escalation of hostilities that could follow. Given its weak hand (which will grow even weaker as U.S. military aid dries up), Pakistan will probably refrain from directly confronting the United States.

Once Pakistan’s national security elites recognize the limits of their power, the country might eventually seek a renewed partnership with the United States — but this time with greater humility and an awareness of what it can and cannot get. It is also possible, although less likely, that Pakistani leaders could decide that they are able to do quite well on their own, without relying heavily on the United States, as they have come to do over the last several decades. In that case, too, the mutual frustrations resulting from Pakistan’s reluctant dependency on the United States would come to an end. Diplomats of both countries would then be able to devote their energies to explaining  their own and understanding the other’s current positions instead of constantly repeating clashing narratives of what went wrong over the last six decades. Even if the breakup of the alliance did not lead to such a dramatic denouement, it would still leave both countries free to make the tough strategic decisions about dealing with the other that each has been avoiding. Pakistan could find out whether its regional policy objectives of competing with and containing India are attainable without U.S. support. The United States would be able to deal with issues such as terrorism and nuclear proliferation without the burden of Pakistani allegations of betrayal. Honesty about the true status of their ties might even help both parties get along better and cooperate more easily. After all, they could hardly be worse off than they are now, clinging to the idea of an alliance even though neither actually believes in it. Sometimes, the best way forward in a relationship lies in admitting that it’s over in its current incarnation.

Originally published:

Senior Citizens & Saving Centers!

A Pakpotpourri Exclusive

By: Shamsa Aftab Ali

I would like to draw the attention of concerned authorities about a serious problem that we, the aged, face regularly.The saving centers of all localities have this problem. The majority of people coming there to collect interest are old (like me being 74) with multiple illnesses.It takes hours to get the profits owing to the rush, which is a torture for most of us.But those in the saving centers insist on the presence of the owner of certificates to release the profit_DSC0073. It would be very helpful to give the interest to a person carrying a letter of authority  provided by owner. This will be a big relief for us senior citizens.I have twice asked this, both times being denied. Although I had suggested, ID card of both awarding the authority & that receiving the authority to collect may be duly attached while also being mentioned in the letter.

I beseech the authorities to kindly facilitate the old people .

This was contributed by the Author to this blog . She is based in Lahore.

A Discourse on Sunni-Shia killings

By: Syed Mohsin Shayan

Abbas Town

First things first, I’ve not included “sectarian violence” in the title deliberately to draw a distinction between Shia-genocide going on in Pakistan and the sectarian violence, as it is perceived generally all across the globe. Whereas, sectarian violence refers to Shias killing Sunnis and Sunnis killing Shias, the case in Pakistan is entirely different. In Pakistan, Shias and Sunnis have and continue to peacefully coexist with each other, without any problem. Shia genocide that is going on for quite some time now, is a different story. It’s not Sunnis killing Shias, rather it is Saudi funded and RAW/CIA/Mossad trained organizations that carry on the slaughter of innocent Shias all across the country, be that in Quetta in form of Hazaras or in Karachi and Lahore in form of Shia professionals or in Northern Areas and agencies where the Shia pilgrims and common people are butchered on daily basis.


These organizations (Lashkar e Jhangvi, TTP, Sipah e Sahaba etc) are not the representative parties of Sunnis and most of the Sunnis have shown their open disaffection for these militant organizations, though they continue to operate under their name to create a sectarian rift in Pakistan. Many of the political and defense analysts (both at national and international level) continue to fall in this prey and call this crisis “sectarian violence”, which it is strictly not. It needs to be reiterated and made clear nationally and internationally that Pakistan’s community has not fallen a prey to sectarian violence rather it is only some non-state actors who want to make it look that way. Never has a Shia blamed or killed any Sunni in return of the killings that are going on all across the country and never has a Sunni been found involved in Shia killing. On the contrary, they have stood alongside Shias in their protests against the genocide.

The first point clarified, I shall now move on to the next point which is the focal point of this discourse. Being a member of Shia community, I think Shias have brought it on themselves, to some extent. From the time Shia exclusion started from the Forces, bureaucracy and national institutions (O yes it happened, no matter how much GoP denies it!) Shias have failed to lobby for their interests. Shias should have joined hands with Sunni groups who had been victimized themselves in bomb blasts in Daata Darbar Lahore, Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi and many others, but they missed these opportunities. Instead, a common Shia saw Sunnis as their foes.Zakirs made the case worse by poisoning the Shia masses through their ignorant and manufactured discourses in Majalis. And the result was a secluded Shia community, which if not victimized and hunted by Sunnis, was at least not aggrieved for if they were taken down by someone else.

Now the emergence of Majlis e Wahdat e Muslimeen (MWM) and Shia Unity Council are taking care of steps of solidarity between Shias and Sunnis but the lack of political wisdom and vision and immaturity due to their tender age is not allowing them to be too effective. Also, the situation all across the countries is in such shambles that it would take tremendous toil and time to get it under control.

The need for unity is sensed on both sides and that is why Sunnis are also making an effort to stand with Shias, be it individually if not through organizational platforms. Yet some major confidence building measures are missing on both sides. To effectively oust the chances of sectarian violence and to strengthen the solidarity between the two sects, meetings of highest clerics from both sects should be scheduled regularly, at least on a monthly basis, in which they should chalk out a clear plan to fight with this menace. They also need to hold joint press conferences in order to give clear cut Fatwas against the killing of each other and to take out publications to remove any misconceptions existing on both sides. The role of clerics in toning down the differences cannot be stressed enough. And last but not least, these clerics and organizations, as well as influential persons on both sides should encourage inter-marriages between Shia and Sunni families. This is a historically tested measure of removing differences and bringing peace in societies and this also has been the most ignored step. I realize that this will take a lot of courage and boldness in order to carry out this step in face of all the antagonism from the society, but it is absolutely imperative if a long-term peace is to be established between both sides.

This is a cross post from:

Obama’s overseas drone strike program

This is a Pakpotpourri Exclusive

By: Naseer Ahmed Virk

Capitol-Hill-Washington-DCBefore this week, Capitol Hill was mostly quiet about President Barack Obama’s overseas drone strike program. Sure, the hardcore civil libertarians in Congress, like Senator Ron Wyden or Representative Jerrold Nadler, persistently needled the administration for information, and the subject came up at the occasional committee hearing. But drone strikes had never been a big, public topic of discussion in the House and Senate certainly not the way they are in, say, Pakistan or the United Nations, which last month opened an investigation into the legality of the United States’ operations. Micah Zenko, author of a recent Council on Foreign Relations report on the United States’ use of drones, called Congress’ oversight “extremely poor” last week.


This week, however, the volume has turned way up on the Hill. And it’s only going to get louder. That’s what happens when the president nominates the mastermind of his drone program, his chief counterterrorism advisor John O. Brennan, to lead the CIA: It focuses attention on what he masterminded. On Thursday afternoon, when Brennan appears before the Senate Intelligence Committee, he’ll be asked to talk about those drone strikes in a public hearing on his nomination.


The Obama administration, wanting to clear potential obstacles to Brennan’s confirmation, handed Congress a big victory late Wednesday. The White House reversed itself and agreed to provide legal opinions to the two Congressional Intelligence Committees explaining its rationale for ordering the death of a U.S. citizen overseas suspected of terrorism. That ought to answer some questions for members of the Senate panel, but not all of them. And it still leaves a number of other committees not to mention the American public in the dark.


To critics of the administration’s policies, such scrutiny is long overdue. Other checks on executive power are stymied when it comes to intelligence: Reporters encounter difficulty in obtaining classified information, and courts run into the “state secrets” privilege. Congress, however, under the National Security Act of 1947, is obligated to receive information on intelligence programs from the executive branch that others are not.


Congress has waded into the intelligence controversies of the recent past, from warrantless wiretapping to torture to Guantanamo Bay. Its relative silence on drone strikes before this week was surprising though Congress is not as clueless to the administration’s drone programs as you’d guess from the public record. What Congress does learn about the drone programs usually happens behind closed doors on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. It is with these committees that you begin to understand Congress’ complicated relationship with the White House’s most controversial national security program.


The members of the two Intelligence Committees have seen more of the drone strike programs than anyone outside the White House, the Pentagon, and spy agencies. The Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by Senator Diane Feinstein, has monthly review sessions on the strikes. Meanwhile, the House Intelligence Committee Chairman, Rep. Mike Rogers, said on the House floor in December: “If there is any air strike conducted that involves an enemy combatant of the United States outside the theater of direct combat, it gets reviewed by this committee. I am talking about every single one. That’s an important thing. There are very strict reviews put on all of this material.”


Both Feinstein and Rogers, however, have been reluctant to criticize the drone programs; in fact, they’re both strong supporters. And nearly all of the information their committees handle is classified. Feinstein, for instance, said in a speech last summer that “collateral damage is really greatly reduced beyond what you may read in the press” but offered no supporting evidence: “I have asked, ‘please please please can I release these numbers?’ And the answer is ‘no, they’re classified,'” she explained. “So that’s about as far as I could go on that.”

“We’ve seen members come out of these sessions saying, ‘We’re satisfied,'” says Andrea Prasow, senior counsel in Human Rights Watch’s Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program. “Essentially they’re just saying, ‘Just trust us.’ Sometimes, it’s necessary for the public to be told ‘Just trust us,’ but very, very rarely.”


Although much of the committees’ work needs to be confidential, not all of it does. Steven After-good, editor of Secrecy News, has written about the declining tendency of the Intelligence Committees to hold public hearings: The Senate Intelligence Committee had just one such hearing in 2012, which After-good calculated was the fewest in 25 years and perhaps ever.

“It absolutely weakens the committees,” says Amy Zegart, a Stanford professor and Hoover Institution fellow who has written extensively on congressional oversight of intelligence. “The juice the committees get is from public support. To the extent that the committees are focusing public attention on intelligence issues, they have a lever in negotiations with the executive branch.”


Other Congressional committees you might expect to exercise some oversight of the White House drone programs have faced criticism for being ineffective. In January, Vicki Divoll, a former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer, took Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy to task in The New York Times for “limply requesting the Department of Justice memorandums that justify the targeted killing program.” The House Judiciary Committee has likewise opted for the velvet glove. In December, it procedurally scuttled a resolution from since-retired Rep. Dennis Kucinich demanding more information from the administration on drone strikes. The committee’s leaders said they were seeking the information by other means and didn’t want to up the ante just yet.


Other committees have fared just as poorly. “The Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs Committees have never received any briefings,” says Zenko. “They’ve threatened to withhold funding, and the administration has said, ‘Go ahead and try it.'” This means, Zenkos says, the committees “can’t really do their oversight function.”


It should be noted that Congress has, in fact, done meaty work on intelligence since September 11, 2001. It created an Office of the Director of National Intelligence and completely reshaped the bureaucracy of the intelligence community. But when it comes to some of the most controversial recent programs, it either hasn’t been able to put an end to them or has chosen not to do so. Congress’ response to the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance program was to effectively authorize it. It also tried multiple times, without success, to ban the Bush administration’s harsh interrogation methods. And Congress is one of the major reasons that the Guantanamo Bay detention facility remains open. Each year, lawmakers renew a series of hurdles that make it exceptionally difficult for the executive branch to transfer prisoners elsewhere.


“We still have better oversight with respect to intelligence than any nation in the world,” says Loch K. Johnson, a University of Georgia political science professor who once served as a Hill intelligence staffer. But that doesn’t mean it’s anywhere near enough, Johnson says.

It will probably be hard for Senators to push Brennan off his talking points when they question him Thursday, but it will at least be an opportunity to ask questions.

After years of work, Wyden says he is pleased by the White House’s Wednesday evening release of the Office of Legal Counsel opinions on the targeted killing of U.S. citizens. On Wednesday morning, Wyden said he would “pull out all the stops” to get the memos, which reporters widely interpreted as a filibuster threat to Brennan’s nomination. But Wyden says that wasn’t the idea. “What happened here is the cumulative effect about how strong the sentiment was on this,” he says.


What happens next will depend, in part, on what Senate Intelligence Committee members make of the memos when they view them before Brennan’s hearing. But there are already signs that Congress is paying a price for being tardy to the fight. According to reports, Brennan has wanted to shift more of the drone strike burden from the CIA to the military. That’s what human rights and civil liberties groups want, too: Prasow said the military is more transparent than the CIA, at least, which gives the public a better chance at insight into what’s really happening.


Ironically, then, by the time Brennan comes before the Intelligence Committee to discuss drone strikes, he might not be the best person to talk to about it anymore.

“The time to ask questions about this issue was yesterday,” Zenko says, referring to the Senate Armed Services hearing on Obama’s nominee for Defense Secretary. “The questions to ask were to Chuck Hagel, if the Pentagon is going to be the lead authority on drone strikes. Not surprisingly, nobody asked the question at all.”

The writer is based in Thailand.He contributed this piece to the blog.