Critical readers of Pakistani media are quite familiar with Cyril Almeida and his double-tongue when its comes to the ostensible criticism of army and appreciation of democracy while remaining loyal to the narratives of the Deep State. Mr. Almeida’s writings and services to the Deep State are a living proof of the fact that there are not only right wing columnists and media persons (mainly in the Urdu press) who recycle and reinforce the Deep State’s narratives, there are also some seemingly liberal columnists and writers (mainly in the English press) who are equally friendly and useful to the Deep State.
Special links with the military establishment
Pakistan’s media circles are aware of frequent contacts between ISPR and Cyril, a privilege which is not available to anti-establishment journalists. Recently Cyril’s close contacts with the Deep State were revealed by none other than another ‘colleague’ i.e. Ahmad Quraishi. Mr. Quraishi writes quite visibly upset by the fact that Mr. Almeida leaked details of a confidential brief by none other than General Kayani:
Columnist Almeida extensively quoted from a background briefing and turned inaccuracies into policy statements. Thankfully, he didn’t forget to add, “All comments were made strictly on the condition of anonymity being maintained.” Oh really?
Mr. Almeida apparently was one of four-dozen editors, talk-show hosts and columnists invited by Pakistan Army Chief Gen. Ashfaque Kayani to his office on Sunday for an informal and off-the-record chat on the country’s strategic situation. From the accounts of most of those who attended the dinner, Gen. Kayani spent a lot of time explaining the defense and army budgets and then delved into regional military issues when some of his guests went that way during Q&A. All discussion was strictly a ‘backgrounder’, meant to help journalists get a better context for regional developments. Organizers of the event stressed several times to all participants not to report on the event and not to quote.
One can debate how much a journalist should or shouldn’t stick to such official restrictions on information. What is beyond debate is the fact that Pakistan faces a very difficult and deteriorating strategic situation thanks to the blunders of our own and of some of our allies. If a senior official is candidly sharing information and context with Mr. Cyril Ameida and others, then Mr. Almeida, both as a journalist and as a citizen of the country, has the responsibility to reciprocate trust by controlling his urge to leak, especially when the information he just received deals with diplomacy and war and is not as urgent as exposing corruption and underhand deals.
Surprisingly for a professional journalist like Almeida, he tried to hide Gen. Kayani’s indentity by identifying him only as a ‘senior military official. Then he wrote, “The comments were part of a wide-ranging briefing given to editors, anchors and columnists on Sunday.” So much for being discreet.
Salmaan Taseer’s murder
Mr. Almeida also played a dubious role in the aftermath of PPP’s senior leader Salmaan Taseer’s murder by a robot of the Deep State. According to Abdul Nishapuri: a major element of the urban liberal activism after Taseer’s death was to blame the very party, the PPP, which Taseer so proudly served and died while defending its ideals of equality and social justice. See for example, how some of the urban liberals tried to attribute Taseer’s murder to a lone wolf instead of the Jihad Enterprise of the military state which has brainwashed and produced thousands of Mumtaz Qadris and Malik Ishaqs. This is how Cyril Almeida took to the lone gun theory (presented by one of his apprentice writers Samad Khurram) given his rabid anti-PPP leanings and his narrative of blaming Shaheed Governor Taseer’s murder on President Zardari. It is no coincidence that the murderer agreed with Cyril and Samad. The plan was well executed!
Cyril Almeida blamed the PPP for leaving Taseer alone and also for the ‘return’ of the army. Did the army ever leave the position of power, Mr Almeida?
Declan Walsh of The Guardian has written that Taseer was left “swinging in a lonely wind” after the Aasia Bibi case became a “political football”. “Zardari was powerless to act,” according to Declan. Possibly. That Zardari is often powerless to act is obvious enough. But at least you can admire a man who fights for something he believes in, who stands up for his friends when it matters. Instead, we are left with the rumour of a president who is spending a few weeks by the sea at the suggestion of a soothsayer. The hate-mongers in the vernacular media are particularly malign influences. Having seen the ugliness up close and the slyness with which it is foisted off on an unsuspecting public, you can’t help but feel a little ill. And increasingly if there is anything we should fault Asif Zardari for, it should be for surrendering without a fight on that front. The comeback the army has made, the total control it is exercising over national-security policy, the return to a position of singular prestige in the national imagination, all of that may eventually have come to pass anyway. But because no meaningful resistance was offered, it has happened in double-quick time http://www.cyrilalmeida.com/2011/01/07/dawn-op-ed-who-will-fight-back-by-cyril-almeida/
Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder
Not surprisingly, it was same author who had blamed PPP and Zardari for the murder of a senior PPP leader, Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti. For example, the crux of Cyril Almeida’s article in Dawn (The politics of appeasement, 4 March 2011) is that he blamed PPP and Zardari for the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti. His article suggests that Zardari must offer his own blood to prove his boldness; the PPP govt needs not to complete its 5 years (i.e., it should vacate the government for the PML-N, MMA and other right wing allies of the military establishment). Almeida is hardly trying to hide his venom against Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari in the following lines:
THE fire the PPP tried to fight by starving it of the oxygen of publicity and public debate has just consumed another one of its own. In three years, the party has lost its iconic leader, a provincial governor and a federal minister. And still, nothing… The problem is that the PPP has collectively lost its way. It is fighting yesterday’s battles. This government’s raison d’être has come down to the narrowest of interpretations of government: completing its term.
The blinding pace of events since her assassination — elections, insurgencies, terrorism in cities, Afghanistan, Mumbai, judicial crises, the list goes on — has obscured the fact that the party is still in a state of paralysis, ruled by a regent, waiting for its boy king, unsure of what the future holds.
For this, part of the blame must fall on BB. Like most leaders in politically unstable countries, hers was a one-person show. BB had minions around her, not a genuine second-tier leadership with political capital and standing of its own.
So when she was brutally struck down, gone with her was the vision for the party, what it stood for, how it could evolve to meet new challenges. There was no, in corporate parlance, ‘business continuity plan’; there was just a Bhutto continuity plan.
Paralysed, frozen, frightened and paranoid, the group that has coalesced around Asif Zardari has searched for answers to their predicament — but by looking backwards to what they think BB would have done.
Complete a term. That’s probably what BB was thinking. And that’s probably where Zardari got the idea from.
But there was a fifth period which also shaped BB’s thinking, a period that was tragically too brief and came too late to filter through to the leaders running the PPP today.
It was the period between Oct 18 and Dec 27 in 2007. Between the two devastating attacks, the bombing in Karachiwhich was meant to kill her and the attack in Pindi which did.
By all accounts, BB was a changed woman in those 10 weeks. She seemed to have understood that the game had moved on, that it was no longer just about elections and completing terms and politics of survival.
Now, today, with Shahbaz Bhatti dead, with Salman Taseer buried, with BB herself gone, perhaps Asif Zardari and his lieutenants need to focus on the last weeks of BB’s life.
Yes, a full term for a government would be unprecedented. Yes, it would help the democratic project. Yes,Pakistan’s democracy needs strengthening.
But that alone is no longer adequate. BB understood that in her last weeks. Retreat, withdrawal, appeasement, they are no longer options.
Baloch and Hazara
Here’s another example of how Cyril recycles and reinforces the Deep State’s lies. In his extensive three articles series on Balochistan (recently published in daily Dawn), Cyril Almeida tried to equate the Baloch genocide by Pakistan army with the violence by the Baloch nationalist groups. This is a classic case of false equation while ignoring the systematic kill and dump policy of the Deep State against the Baloch activists. Further, he did not write a single word on Hazara genocide by the army backed sectarian monsters. In the same article, Cyril shamelessly justified notable Baloch scholar Professor Dashtiyari’s murder by blaming him for his support to violent Baloch nationalist groups. This is what Mr. Almeida wrote:
When asked about the allegations that Dashtiyari had been killed by the intelligence agencies, a senior security official responded defiantly, “Who owned his death? BLA did. They put out statements eulogising him. Who was he close to? What were his politics?”
Multiple sources confirmed to Dawn that Dashtiyari, while never having taken up arms himself, was close to insurgent groups and at various times had exhorted violence against the state and other ethnicities living in Balochistan.
Blame the politicians
In another article, Cyril suggests that corrupt politicians are responsible for all ills in Pakistan including GHQ-AlQaida alliance:
“Can we fix ourselves? Take a look around. Does anyone think Asif Zardari has what it takes? Nawaz may have the chutzpah, but does he have the nous? Beyond them, what is there but a fetid pool of opportunists and political mercenaries?”
Kayani’s message to Zardari
In yet another article, Cyril Almeida, acting as an informal spokesman of the ISPR conveys the following message to President Zardari:
When the interior minister, the ex-foreign minister and the all-powerful spy chief met to decide the fate of Raymond Davis, two of those gents were of the opinion that Davis doesn’t enjoy ‘full immunity’.
One of those two has now been fired by Zardari. The other, well, if Zardari tried to fire him, the president might find himself out of a job first.
17th amendment and the status quo
Cyril is the same author who wrongly anticipated in Sep 2009 that Zardari will never allow the 17th amendment as he wants to keep the status quo.
Sharif wants Zardari to give back the powers that Musharraf arrogated to the presidency, powers that tilt the institutional balance decisively in favour of the president. Which is why Sharif keeps demanding that the 17th Amendment be undone first and only then a constitutional reforms package be debated.
Zardari’s problem is that while the status quo suits him best, he’s on the wrong side of the consensus of the political class. Other than whoever is currently occupying the presidency and his acolytes, no politician believes that the president and his appointed governors should have the power to dissolve assemblies or that the president rather than the prime minister should have the power to make key appointments in the judiciary and the armed services.
Inside Almeida’s mind?
In his recent piece in Dawn on 16 Sep 2011, Inside Zardari’s mind, the update, Cyril Almeida writes: “army [can stop Zardari], if it decides the costs of non-intervention are higher than benefits of status quo.”
Here are some key extracts from Cyril’s article and my brief comments in square brackets.
The arrogant Zardari will be grinning smugly. The paranoid Zardari will be seeing shapes in the shadows.
[He is your country’s elected president. At least show some respect, Cyril!]
To steal an election, a civilian has to neutralise three players: the army, the main political rival and the outside powers. If two of those factors gang up against you, you’re good as gone.
[Did Zardari steal an election? How?]
Zardari thinks he can pull it off and clear a path to emulating ZAB in 1977. Once rivals and threats are neutralised, he plans to use money, patronage, fear and control of local administrations and the interim set-up to sweep to victory. It will be ugly, it will be nasty, it will be vintage Zardari, the man he’s skilfully hidden behind the avatar of Zardari the democrat the last three-and-a-half years.
[Really, Cyril, do you really believe this is how PPP came to power?]
Ever the opportunist, Zardari has used history to his advantage.
[Carry on abusing. If we criticize you, resort to the ad hominem plea.]
Many in the [army] high command loathe him. They feel utter contempt for his utter disregard for matters of governance and the economy. Of course, they also fear that the awesome incompetence and plunder on the civilian side may shrink the army’s trough and imperil their privileges.
[Spot on, Cyril. You are doing excellent advocacy of the institution which values you the most.]
In Punjab, there’s the Imran Khan factor to peg back Sharif. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the ever-reliable Fazlur Rehman can help hold down the ANP and the PPP. In Balochistan, the brutal repression of the insurgents and their sympathisers could erode the appeal of the moderate nationalist parties. The convulsions in Karachi are helpfully reminding the people why they shouldn’t have faith in any politician.
[Excellent plan. Did Athar Abbas tell you about this?]
So, paranoid Zardari may be wondering if the boys in uniform have quietly begun deploying their weapons against him.
[What have been the boys in uniform quietly telling you, Cyril? Share with us]
Zardari had hoped the IFIs and the West would bail him out by bailing out the country, but they have baulked, tired of the transparent lies about economic reforms and fiscal responsibility.
[Now you, Cyril, are acting both as a foreign policy expert and economy expert, which clearly you are not. Any evidence to your claims?]
Zardari is turning to the pièce de résistance of his rule: converting an accidental term into a monumental edifice to cunning, guile and opportunism by snatching a second term.
[Winning an election is equivalent to cunning, guile and opportunistic snatching?]
The piles of cash have been acquired; the interim set-up studied for loopholes; the presidential overhang will be deployed to full manipulative effect.
[Now you are reading from the same script which is also provided to Ansar Abbasi, Haroon Rasheed and Mosharraf Zaidi. Read it again. Do you have evidence to prove your baseless allegations?]
Zardari is about as much a democrat as Musharraf or ZAB.
[Of course, I heard Anasar Abbasi saying the same line a few days ago.]
Having inverted the rules of divide and conquer — now, it’s the Punjabi-led establishment that is divided between the army and Sharif — Zardari will be master of all he surveys.
[Apparently this is the urban elite’s main concern, the internal divisions within the Punjabi-Mohajir elite dominated establishment. Good job, Cyril.]
Only two things can stop [Zardari from second term victory]: Sharif, if he wises up and somehow stops the election from being stolen; the army, if it decides the costs of non-intervention are higher than the benefits of the status quo.
[Thank you, Cyril, for so clearly inviting army’s intervention in the name of national interests. The costs of non-interventions are indeed too high, not for Pakistanis, but for urban (fake) liberals of Pakistan].