Meddling in Bahrain’s internal affairs

Published: March 17, 2011
The writer is a journalist based in Karachi and has worked for Newsline and The Express Tribune Magazine

The writer is a journalist based in Karachi and has worked for Newsline and The Express Tribune Magazine

The Pakistan Army has lost every war it fought against India, committed mass atrocities in Balochistan and what was then East Pakistan and has failed to defeat militant extremists in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Fata. It has, however, always been willing to lend an iron hand to despots of the Middle East. For the army, pan-Islamism, if the definition of the term is narrowed to mean only serving dictators and not their unfree populations, has always trumped national interest.

A report in this newspaper revealed that the Fauji Foundation — a business conglomerate of former military men with links to the military — that, among other things, produces corn flakes, was recruiting personnel to serve in Bahrain’s security forces. The protests in Bahrain are pitting the Shia-majority population against a Sunni royal family. Given its sectarian overtones, and Pakistan desperately needing good relations with the Sunni Saudis and Shia Iran, this is one fight we should have silently observed from a corner. Instead, we have ensured that we will be instantly blacklisted by any new government. The army’s activities in Muslim countries seem to indicate that it is only willing to uphold the status quo, without considering how it will affect Pakistan if ‘their’ side falters.

After the Arab countries were routed by Israel in 1967, Jordan, Syria and Iraq asked for military training from Pakistan. This uncontroversial request was rapidly granted since the enemy in question was the Jewish state. By 1970, though, King Hussein of Jordan had another irritant on his hands: The refugee Palestinian population in his country. Among the Pakistani soldiers stationed in Jordan was Ziaul Haq (then a brigadier) and he was asked to assume charge of a division of the Jordanian army. Given that our army’s role in the country was not supposed to involve combat, the Jordanian request was perplexingly granted.

The Jordanians massacred scores of Palestinians in what is known as Black September. While the exact role played by Zia in putting down the Palestinians is in question, the mere presence of a Pakistani military officer in charge of one division of the army was enough to strain relations between the two sides. It is hard to understate just how immense a foreign policy debacle this was, as after Black September, India could credibly claim to have closer ties than Pakistan with both the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Israel.

Similarly, the Pakistan Army had a brigade posted in Saudi Arabia to aid the regime during the 1970s and ‘80s. Its role in clearing the Masjid-al-Haram of rebels in 1979 is as disputed as its activities in the Black September uprising. To the extent that it was possible to clear the fog that surrounds the operation, it appeared that the Pakistani brigade was present in a purely advisory capacity, while the fighting was done by Saudi and French forces. Back home, Zia, for some reason, claimed that the US had invaded the mosque and then stood idly by for hours as the American Embassy was attacked by an enraged mob. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan prevented a permanent straining of relations. But the incident cemented the US policy that Pakistan is to be used and discarded as needed, but never trusted.

The difference between our entanglements of the 1970s and that in Bahrain is that now, the soldiers are being hired by an organisation run by ex-servicemen and hence, this is not a reflection of official Pakistan policy. That argument is facile. If Pakistan decides to stay neutral in Bahrain’s internal conflict, mercenaries can simply be banned from serving there. And if we are to avoid the embarrassments of the past, neutrality is the only credible option.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 17th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (19)

  • Sobriquet
    Mar 17, 2011 - 1:46AM

    @Nadir Hassan: excellent piece, but the problem is that in Pakistani power circles common sense is extremely uncommon.Recommend

  • Arijit Sharma
    Mar 17, 2011 - 2:11AM

    The fall of the Empire of Islam has been foretold. What we are watching is the beginnings of a civil war.

    Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 0271:

    “…the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) observed: Verily Islam started as something strange and it would again revert (to its old position) of being strange just as it started, and it would recede between the two mosques just as the serpent crawls back into its hole.”

  • NK
    Mar 17, 2011 - 11:07AM

    How True! An excellent peice well researched.Recommend

  • IZ
    Mar 17, 2011 - 11:28AM

    @Arijit – seems like you and Zaid Hamid are made for each other. Can you please take your nonsense elsewhere.Recommend

  • Goga
    Mar 17, 2011 - 12:30PM

    Well the argument can be reversed on its head as to why other countries like India and US meddle in Pak’s internal matters. Recommend

  • vasan
    Mar 17, 2011 - 12:33PM

    That is what mercinaries do. Dont they??Recommend

  • ArifQ
    Mar 17, 2011 - 1:09PM

    Nadir Hassan Sahib, mention the name Zia ul Haq to any Palestinian and be ready to hear an earful of invectives.

    Nadir Sahib, I am not sure how much you know about Bahrain, but for your information Pakistanis have been serving in the Bahraini police for a very long time. Having said that, I agree with you, we should be sensitive to the current situation. Recommend

  • faraz
    Mar 17, 2011 - 1:10PM

    India and Pakistan has a history of producing loyal mercenaries, hundreds of thousands of our forefathers enlisted themselves in the British army. They faught and died in Belgium, France, Palestine, Mesopotamia, China, East Africa, Afghanistan, Italy etc The entire British colonial enterprise was guarded by these mercenaries.Recommend

  • ..............
    Mar 17, 2011 - 1:25PM

    ohh u hate them just because they knw hw to handle u guys !!! pakistanis are the man !! unlike u who dont have the guts to fight in front only knw hw to use the media as ur weapon Recommend

  • rofl
    Mar 17, 2011 - 3:00PM

    @ faraz
    India stopped producing mercenaries long ago.Recommend

  • Mar 17, 2011 - 3:58PM

    @ Arijit Sharma: Exactly what part of the various Arab revolts, in your view, are symbolic of the fall of the ‘Empire of Islam’? Or should I have said, “In your bigoted view”?
    And I agree with @IZ. Whatever little I have seen of Zaid Hamid ‘The Entertainer’ on Youtube, you two are made for each other, and Bal Thakeray too.
    And I nearly forget, its an excellent article by Mr. Nadir Hassan, informative and insightful. But is there room in Pakistan for any introspection? Its merely a play ground where the American’s, and to a certain extent, the Chinese, come to play ‘Foreign Policy’. By its own follies, Pakistan allows itself to be used and discarded by the Americans. The poor always seem to care, but can not do anything. The middle class can do a lot, but don’t seem to care enough. The elites, or the ruling class, are not there to do or care, but to get rich by digging into America’s pockets. But Pakistan is perpetually in denial about the state that it is in. @………….. would firmly disagree, cos ‘Pakistani’s are the man !!’ Recommend

  • Mar 17, 2011 - 4:18PM

    We have a sick tilted view of helping our “brotherly muslim countries” who fuel our ego and we are more than happy to oblidge as the Muslims world sole decalred nuclear power. As if its our responsibility to keep unruly illegitimate regimes in power, Saudi Arabia at the pinnacel ofcourse. Recommend

  • vasan
    Mar 17, 2011 - 4:37PM

    Faraz: What is the use of harping things which happenend before Independence. Now that the destiny of our countries is in our own hands, at least theoretically, shouldnt we come out of that mindset. Being part of the UN peacekeeping forces, on and off, should be the maximum for outdoor adventures, If the armies can guard our countries from invaders and terrorists, should that not be good enough? Atleast in India that is what we practice except for one misadventure, IPKF, for which we paid the price ie Rajiv GandhiRecommend

  • Salim Akhtar
    Mar 17, 2011 - 7:04PM

    @IZ: “@Arijit – seems like you and Zaid Hamid are made for each other. Can you please take your nonsense elsewhere.”

    Drawing a comparison to Zaid Hamid ( and his nonsensical Gazawa-e-Hind ) was the intent behind my post. Thank you.Recommend

  • faraz
    Mar 17, 2011 - 7:21PM


    Totally agreeRecommend

  • Salim Akhtar
    Mar 17, 2011 - 9:21PM

    @Salim Akhtar: “Drawing a comparison to Zaid Hamid ( and his nonsensical Gazawa-e-Hind ) was the intent behind my post. Thank you.”

    Looks like my comment did not get posted/was censored.Recommend

  • abdulaziz khattak
    Mar 17, 2011 - 9:30PM

    This is what a doctor at the largest government hospital in Bahrain – Salmaniya Medical Complex (SMC) – has to say to the inhumane treatment of doctors of poor labour expats.
    As received:

    I am a bahraini medical staff member in salmaniya..plz i want my story of what happened in salmaniya to be told to people.

    Being a human being it is my duty to let the ppl know the reality of what happened in salmaniya on saturday night and early part of Sunday 13th march 2011 in salmaniya emergency .i was present there in emergency, i am narrating to you the incident about the pakistani labor workers who came to emergency,the arrival of pakistanis beaten to death was hailed as a moral victory for narrow minded medical staff of smc including some doctors and nurses which were chanting victory slogans as they had achieved a victory and against our king these poor labor guys ewere taken out of ambulances as animals with hands coughed and woth oozing blood from their body were kicked and verbally abused as they had come to a prison not a hospital where patients are slaughtered .the poor labor guys whom i talked to were innocent laborers who had been sleeping in their rooms in manama when armed ppl attacked them in about 30-40 with knives,swords and sticks,these guys got fractures,wound lacerations,and were then set on fire by inhuman terrorists,after a delayed of initial treatment some of doctors and nurses refuse to treat them saying that these are loyal ppl of government and should not get treatment,one of critically injured was left to die as they thought there was no purpose saving his life and allowed some cameramen and video makers of some fundamental channels to take picture even before they started treatment,they treated them like animals,the patients were shifted to another room where i saw them being threatened to say what the false media and hospital staff ppl wanted tthem to say,they wanted to portray that thses guys were in ministry or army and the poor labor guys were asked that how much money has government given you to kill protestors,with a stand on camera in place like shooting in some television studio and ppl threatning patients to confess to the most stupidity i have ever heard to say that police had harmed them, they were beating the patients and telling them to confess or they will kill all of them,these already beaten to death were crying and pleading for their lives,l this was happening in the presence of some terrorist doctors,nurses and security staff,watching all this i felt like crying,after seeing the inhuman behaviour of staff of smc,they are not worth calling humans,i felt really disgusted,i wanted to do something but was helpless there was no security in hospital to which I could go and complain, i said to allah in my heart ,ya allah you are watching this and you only decide what should be done with those who are a shame to humanity,i rest this case on allah!!!!!,ppl in smc are mercenaries,but now as army has taken over the hospital i am hopeful good changes will come and i welcome this move by the government,these in human staff had made this hospital into a terror camp I sometimes feel like I am working in iran not Bahrain where ppl are forced to practice unethical things, i want the bahraini government to kick out these racist doctors belonging to political sect,these senior doctors are brainwashing the new generation of doctors to be with a political sect and gives negative vibes against our king,always portraying that the government has done something wrong while on contaray these ppl try to give a negative image of our govern ment to world and false media,all this is against the hypocritic oath of doctors as well as ethics, I also would like this so cald negative media to be banned from viewing in hospital,these reporters don’t respect the confidentiality of patients at the time of pain which is against all medical ethics and human rightspls i request the higher authorities and human right activist to take action against these medical doctors and nurses and these false media reporters and kick thses ppl out of smc!!!!!!!!i am hiding my identity,and i am not going to work in smc until security is assured to ppl of bahrain,and i i love bahrain,i love my king,i love ppl of bahrain wether they are sunni or shia,all are my brothers and sisters,,thanking you from a bahraini who loves his country!!!!!!!may this country become more peaceful and heaven on earth.ameen.Recommend

  • Mar 18, 2011 - 12:09AM

    A fine piece of garbage read after so long.Recommend

  • akram khan
    Mar 18, 2011 - 7:22PM

    If the Muslim world needs to live wit honor and dignity it must get over this so called Sunni Shia divide.

    The problem i Bahrain is basically that of a kingship which does not represent majority. However as a by product unnecessary Sunni Shia tensions are on the rise.

    I hope sanity would prevail and the will of the people prevails but peacefully.

    As for Pakistanis they should be very careful and not get involved in this. You can’t go againt the flow of time and time favors democracy.

    In general P{akistanis need to develop a favorable relationship with the Bahrain Shia..Recommend

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