LUBP Interview with Dr Ayesha Siddiqa (Part I)

by admin

Previous LUBP Interviews

with Nadeem F Paracha

with Kamran Shafi

Introduction

LUBP is pleased to present an exclusive interview with Pakistan’s leading political commentator and military analyst, Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa.

Dr. Siddiqa is a regular op-ed contributor to leading Pakistani newspapers. She did her doctorate from King’s College London in 1996 and has worked on issues varying from military technology, defence decision-making, nuclear deterrence, arms procurement, arms production to civil-military relations in South Asia. She has written two books on defence decision-making and political economy of military: Pakistan’s Arms Procurement and Military Build-up, 1979-99: In Search of a Policy (Palgrave Press, 2001), and, Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy (Pluto Press, 2007).

Dr. Siddiqa worked a civil servant for 11 years during which she served as the Director of Naval Research with Pakistan Navy making her the first civilian and a woman to work at that position in Pakistan’s defence establishment. She also worked as a Deputy Director Audit (Defence Services).

She is a Ford Fellow and was the ”Pakistan Scholar” at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars at Washington, DC for 2004-05. She is a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (South Asia Studies Program).

Interview

LUBP: Dr. Siddiqa, thanks for taking out the time to interview with us. Tell us something about your background and what made you go into the civil services and then subsequently quit the service?

AS: I was born and raised in Lahore. So, despite that my family is from Bahawalpur, a place with which I have active contact, my heart is Lahori (it is a frame of mind). I joined the civil service in 1988 purely for personal reasons.

I lost my father in 1979 and being an only child I was left with my mother to confront issues of inheritance. After I did my bachelors from Kinnaird College, Lahore my mother, who was a novelist – Jamila Hashmi, advised me to do CSS.

Seeing my resistance to the idea one day she told me that “look child you don’t have a father, brother or uncles to help you. You need to stand on your feet to survive, which in this country, means having contacts. You should either earn a name for yourself through writing (and she meant fiction) or join the civil service.

In hindsight, it was a good decision because I finished with my written exams for the CSS in October 1987 and my mother passed away in January 1988 leaving me behind to stand up ‘on my two feet’. I realized that being a member of the civil service made such a difference in the world.

The deputy commissioner Bahawalpur, who was a pakka DMG (District Management Group) officer with the ‘right’ kind of attitude for a brown sahib, began to behave differently. I was no more the awam (ordinary person) but part of the class of rulers. Trust me, this meant a lot in a feudal-bureaucratic environment.

I was in the Audit and accounts service and served in various capacities. It was during this period that I went to England to do my Ph.D. in War Studies, King’s College, London. I returned in 1996 and rejoined civil service where I remained until I resigned in 2000. Prior to my resignation I also served in Pakistan Navy for a year and a half as Director of Naval Research. The problems, which were the cause for my joining the civil service, were no more and I was more inclined to pursuing an academic career. I have no regrets on my decision. I think I was just not suited for a bureaucratic career.

LUBP: How did your experience as the Director of Naval Research assist you in your research methodology? Did this experience guide you in what many consider the definitive analysis of the economics of our security establishment, “Military Inc.”?

AS: My stint with the Navy was an interesting experience and an experiment. Actually, the CNS then Admiral Fasih Bokhari had a great idea to get a civilian to work for him and bring a change in the service. However, the status-quo forces didn’t allow him to do so. But it was interesting. One raced with time and battle with ideological bottle necks.

Majority of the naval officers were not willing to open up the system and bring about the necessary change. The one and a half years stint was also wonderful from the perspective of me understanding the fact that civilians and military personnel are two different species. The biggest sin in this country (in the eyes of the military) is to be an argumentative civilian.

As for my book, my stint at the NHQ just helped endorse my findings. I gleaned some bits of information but noting major.

LUBP: In our interview series, Kamran Shafi talks about the “Deep State” and his understanding of it and describes it as “alliance between the intelligence services; the army, and the civil bureaucracy, which is beholden to the former two.” What is your assessment of the term?

AS: There are different names for the deep state. Sometimes, people refer to it as the establishment as well. I believe that there are two sets of members of the deep state – the primary actors and the secondary actors. While the civil and military bureaucracy is the primary actor, there are other members as well such as judiciary, business and industrial elite, members of religious elite, media, some political parties or individual members of political parties. These are what I call secondary members as they become less or more significant due to their relationship with the primary members.

These people are connected due to their common interests of remaining the sole power in a socio-politically underdeveloped state. The establishment never lost power even at the best of times. This even includes the period of ZA Bhutto’s election. However, he was ousted when he lost touch with the establishment. The bottom-line is that the deep state in Pakistan is deeper than one can imagine.

LUBP: The misuse of the WikiLeaks to plant fabricated news has been a major source of embarrassment for our self-anointed “independent media”.’ To what extent is our media – not only the mainstream print and electronic media – but also the blogsphere – stringed to the Deep State?

AS: The media was always connected with the establishment. We must not forget that the first papers were established with the help of the state. Later, some papers acquired a leftist tone mainly due to the state acquiring a different shade.

But the fact remains that the media’s relationship with the establishment is very old. The link has now become stronger because of the common sense of a nationalist agenda. The new members of the media are less well trained and too arrogant not to see how they get used by the establishment. I would insist that being sympathetic to the establishment’s point of view is different from becoming its agent.

The fake WikiLeaks story is just a reflection of the unhealthy dependence of the media on the state. Given the fact that information is centrally controlled, there are many a budding journalists or even senior ones who happily get into a partnership to access information.

The fault also lies with the owners of media groups who are reluctant to invest in their human resources. So, journalists have little option but to wait for some agency wala (spy agencies) to pass on critical stories. It is a weird relationship because there are times when paid journalists (by the agencies) go astray and are then punished.

LUBP: When the Hamid Mir/Khalid Khawaja tape story broke, Café Pyala, yourself, the Daily Times and LUBP were some of the very few that paid attention. LUBP was the first to break this story. Does the burial of this story indicate a disturbing lacks of ethics within our media?

AS: Hamid Mir was exposed but there are many others who do the same. They are meant to twist information to the deep state’s advantage. Even reputed papers such as Dawn publish planted stories on the front page. Very recently, my name appeared in TTP’s hit-list. Interestingly, the publication of the story was followed by visits from agency moles in the media who tried to tell me strange stories with the intention scaring. Perhaps, they want to see me leave the country.

My argument is that today’s media may have greater tools but it lacks a free spirit. It has far less courage than the media of the 1980s which was under greater physical constraints but was much more free in thinking.

(to be continued)

17 Comments to “LUBP Interview with Dr Ayesha Siddiqa (Part I)”

  1. Dear Ayesha, we are all so proud of you! Keep up the good work.

  2. very nice post ! Dr Ayesha Siddiqa Truly great Scholar Analyst !

  3. “…today’s media may have greater tools but it lacks a free spirit. It has far less courage than the media of the 1980s which was under greater physical constraints but was much more free in thinking.”

    Oh, the freedom of media in Pakistan, the mushrooming of TV channels and blogs, and the ‘struggle’ of the ‘civil society’!

    http://criticalppp.com/archives/31088

  4. excellent interview!

  5. Politics of the media

    By Ayesha Siddiqa

    LATELY, people have raised questions regarding the independence and ideological tilt of Pakistan’s media. Some have even expressed surprise over the perspectives of a few seemingly liberal anchors.

    However, such a view is essentially flawed because it is based on an equally faulty judgment of the media’s overall ideological leanings.

    The view of the media as being liberal or conservative, right or left, is based on the position which many in the print and electronic media took towards some recent domestic political issues. Examples of the latter included the debate on the lawyers’ movement and Gen Musharraf’s rule and many of his controversial decisions.

    An overall view would make the divide appear thus: first, those supporting the lawyers’ movement and opposed to Musharraf are liberal in contrast to those who back him. Second, sections of the media (this includes commentators) supporting the US against the Taliban claim to be liberal in contrast to those who take an opposite view. The problem with this kind of mapping is that writers, anchors and channels liberal in the first category, appear to be conservative in the second. In fact, post Mumbai most of the media seems to have swung to the centre-right, a shift that confuses everyone who wants clear categories of those holding varying viewpoints.

    The question then is how does one begin to view Pakistan’s media and intelligentsia? Issue-based categorisation, as mentioned earlier, is flawed. As a matter of fact, by and large the media in Pakistan is either centrist or right of centre in orientation. Perhaps there is only one anchor who represents the centre-left position.

    This shouldn’t come as a surprise because a major expansion in the media took place under the Musharraf regime mainly due to the Pakistani establishment’s realisation that it needed a friendly media for future international encounters. The Kargil crisis, as a friend pointed out, made it clear to Rawalpindi that battles could be won or lost depending on the state’s ability to manoeuvre domestic and international opinion via the media. This is how post-Mumbai developments were approached by building an opinion that the Pakistani state was under tremendous threat. Resultantly, most opinion-makers stopped asking questions about the internal threat.The media’s expansion during the Musharraf dispensation also did not mean that the media would support the former general. The main beneficiary of this expansion has been the establishment which is one of the kingmakers and more powerful than any particular ruler. This also means that a ruler, civilian or military, can be discarded once he or she becomes a nuisance. So, sections of the media could turn against him giving the flawed appearance of being liberal.

    Assessing the media’s role and contribution is necessary to bridging the intellectual gap as perceived by the powerful state which has been extremely irked at the thought of the Indian intelligentsia being far more loyal to the state than its counterpart in Pakistan. It is apparent from the treatment of the recent crisis between India and Pakistan that the new media, which represents a major part of the intelligentsia as well, has been much more in line with the establishment on national security issues like its counterpart in India. The manner in which the media played a role in building the war hype and in de-linking the real issue of militancy inside the country from Indo-Pakistan tensions is an example of its peculiar ideological bent.

    This is not to suggest that the media should have supported Indian jingoism. However, a more liberal media would have critically investigated the larger issue of militancy within the country. Unfortunately, only a handful of writers and one paper was willing to carry out such an assessment.

    Another example pertains to providing tacit support to authoritarian, ideological and cultural traditions. For instance, a few months ago, an anchor of a particular television channel show condoned the killing of Ahmadis. More recently, the same channel showed as part of its breaking news a man in Balochistan walking on fire to prove his innocence in a murder trial before a local jirga.

    This is not about selling news and attracting viewers but about deepening the right-wing agenda. After all, the right wing is far more comfortable with authoritarian principles and structures. The political left talks about change and dissent which is increasingly missing from our media. The political battle fought against Musharraf or other generals does not necessarily mean a left-wing liberal orientation. In fact, the battle against Musharraf reflected divisions within the establishment over a man who had to go because he had become too costly for the state.

    The new media represented by the electronic version is a potent tool. Interestingly, most anchors who play a major role in moulding opinions are either from urban Punjab or urban Sindh. Owing to reasons that cannot be jotted down in this space, they are observed as being far more closely aligned with the centre-right than many journalists of yore. This goes to show that the right wing-oriented Pakistani state is much more powerful and stronger than it used to be.

    Two reasons are behind the strength of the right-wing state: first, the definition of liberalism is wrongly construed within a limited framework, and pacifism and political liberalism or alternative politics are no longer considered part of liberal politics. Second is the gradual weakening of the left in Pakistan.

    The breakdown of the Soviet Union caused the weakening of left politics all over the world, especially in Pakistan where it proved to be the death knell for the already weak left. A lot of people who felt the left’s absence either converted to the right by supporting the US and became self-proclaimed liberals, or came closer to the right-wing establishment in the country. It was forgotten that left politics is about a liberal political ideology and supporting a people-friendly agenda.

    Although some might argue that supporting Taliban politics is part of representing what people favour, the fact is that we refuse to look at the liberal-left politics which prevails in Latin America at the moment. It is possible to fight America’s political incursion without necessarily pushing state and society towards a far more virulent brand of right-wing politics.

    Most sadly, the left wing today has transformed itself into an NGO-style operation with limited capacity to influence public thinking. A right-wing state supported by a media with a similar orientation will only lead to strengthening the political right and weakening the liberal left, if any bit of the latter remains in the country.

    The writer is an independent strategic and political analyst.

    ayesha.ibd@gmail.com

  6. One needs to ask a question whether the deep state is that deep really or is it that its fear makes it deep? I for one feel that intelligence agencies do not have the powers that we perceive them to have but somehow fan them with the “power” that they do not really have. Any thoughts?

    BTW, great interview madam.

  7. An excellent interview waiting for the part 2 of the interview.
    I have great regard for Dr. Ayesha , though sometime I am overcome by my inherent pessimistic trait, and can not believe someone living in Pakistan can be bold enough to speak the truth without the consequences. The other day when I read that she receives the regular threats from the goons of “deep state/establishment/military” , I realized how fearless she is.
    I have a firm belief that the transformation of Pakistan from a “security state” to a “welfare state” will result from a definite historical process. This process is ongoing and the people like Dr. Ayesha are true catalyst in making this process move faster.

  8. @Great interview and can’t wait to read the second part.

    @Ahmed, I think the fear is well founded. The PPP has still not recovered from all the sucide bombings it faced in between 2007 and 2008, one of which claimed BB herself. That is why those who are with the Deep State like PML N, PML Q, PTI and even MQM will never be targetted by such attacks. Ofcourse, MQM will allow its Shia members to be killed whilst pretending to be protector of the minorities in Karachi even as it (mis)uses this trust to further its mafia interests. This is why the PPP and ANP have been pounded (literally by sucide bombing) into submission to the Deep State.

  9. Dr Ayesha is obviously a role model for us, she has the courage to challenge the dominant discourses, which is rooted in the state doctrines of dominance through their guardins and collaborators, strengthen by their subordinates like religious organizations, paid journalists, analysts with different tags and intellectuals.

  10. I really appreciate Aisha Sahiba for her courage and efforts .

  11. اگر عائشہ صدیقہ کی کتاب اردو زبان میں شایع ہوتی تو یہ عام عوام تک بھی پوھنچتی ، مسلہ یہ ہے کہ عوام کا ذھن جنگ گروپ ،امّت اور اردو میڈیا سے بنایا جا رہا ہے ،جس میں صرف اور صرف سیاستدان برے ہیں باقی سب پاک صاف . دشتگردی اور اس کے اسباب پر زیادہ تر انگریزی میں کتابیں لکھی گئی ہیں ،عوام یا تو مذہبی انتہاپسندوں کی اردو کتابیں یا جماعت اسلامی کے تربیتی یافتہ صحافیوں کے تجزیے پڑھ کر اپنی راے قائم کر رہے ہوتے ہیں

  12. @زلان
    فوج اور اقتدار اعلی کے حوالے سے عبداللہ ملک کی انتھای اچھی کتابیں موجود ھیں.

  13. I agree with Zalaan. As long as Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa, Kamran Shafi, Nadeem F Paracha etc are confining their message to the English speaking class, the outreach and the impact of their message will remain severely limited.

  14. In my view Dr. Siddiqa hits the nail on the head: “The media was always connected with the establishment. We must not forget that the first papers were established with the help of the state. Later, some papers acquired a leftist tone mainly due to the state acquiring a different shade.”

    This explains why certain left looking media persons and blogs are in fact just another shade of the establishment to propagate an anti-politician and pro-deep state narrative.

  15. When She wrote her book at the times of Mush rule, she was frequently quoted and consulted personality in Tv shows as the media gurus and their masters have Mush as their target, now when the Mush era has replaced, she seldom appears on Tv, as everyone know, its difficult for them to get their own thoughts endorsed by Dr Ayesha. As she definitely have understanding of the media as extension of state propaganda machinery and political system having burden of an over ambitious state on their shoulder tightened his legs around the waist, like a character of an old man from the Alif Laila stories.

  16. Sarah Khan: I have personally tried on several occasions to write for an Urdu paper. The last effort I made was asking Abbas Athar of Daily Express if I could write an Urdu column for his paper. The answer was a plain no. His response in fact was that my articles get printed in other papers. If someone translates my articles then it is not my fault. I am not even aware of who does it. In any case, I was willing to write a fresh article for them. it beats me why he refused. The only answer being that the establishment jealously guards Urdu press. Such resistance poses a huge problem for people like me who write for newspapers not by choice but by force. I am not a journalist or train as one. But I don’t have any channels being an academic. In this country people don’t really read books and my space to get into the academia is restricted. They wouldn’t let me in a university.
    @Faiq Rizvi: Not only that there is reservation on my appearance on tv channels, my book has also been made to disappear from stores which shows that the problem extends beyond Musharraf.

  17. good interview,however if everything is wrong and number `1` is military then shuld we give this country to liberals which are now every where.WEST IS NOW REALIZING THAT THERE 800 YEARS CULTURE IS DECADENT we are persuing with viguor

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