Criticizing Pakistan's Military: Dangerous, As Is Life Asma Jehangir, a human rights advocate and lawyer in Pakistan, has sharp words for the country's dominant institution. The military is under pressure from the U.S. following the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound.
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Criticizing Pakistan's Military: Dangerous, As Is Life

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Criticizing Pakistan's Military: Dangerous, As Is Life

Criticizing Pakistan's Military: Dangerous, As Is Life

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Mary Louise Kelly.


And Im Renee Montagne.

Pakistan's military is facing sharp questions from outside and from within. The military is Pakistan's most powerful institution and a critical U.S. ally in the war against militants. It's under pressure from the U.S. after Osama bin Laden was discovered near a military academy. But that's not all.

MORNING EDITION's Steve Inskeep is reporting from Pakistan and we reached him in the capital, Islamabad.

And good to talk to you, Steve.


You too, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And tell us then about this increasing pressure on the military there.

INSKEEP: Well, the pressure comes from an incident last week. Officials I've spoken with find it to be even more disturbing to them then the failure to find bin Laden. It's the militant attack on a naval base in Karachi; a couple of planes were destroyed. And what makes it more disturbing to officials, Renee, is evidence that it may have been an inside job; that somebody inside the military helped the militants to get passed base security.

MONTAGNE: Meaning that they have to start, now, asking serious questions about Taliban and al-Qaida sympathizers within their ranks?

INSKEEP: Yes, and they are. Senior security official here the military has arrested a former navy commando, a Pakistan navy commando. It's not clear that he was really involved but he is being questioned.

And current and former officials are putting the best face on this. A lawmaker and former general I met with last night says the army is still strong, the military is strong - procedures for rooting out disloyalty. But there's clearly a lot of attention here.

A few days ago, Renee, a reporter for Asian Times Online published a story about al-Qaida and the ranks of the navy. And afterward, the reporter vanished. He was last seen in this seemingly secure neighborhood, where I'm standing right now, in Islamabad.

Human Rights Watch, the human rights organization, is saying that Pakistan's major intelligence agency took him away. The agency says they have no knowledge of that. But there's a lot of tension.

MONTAGNE: And just, Steve, what our politicians and the public saying about all this?

INSKEEP: Well, they were already raising more questions than usual about the Army and we're going to listen this morning to some of those questions.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. MUHAMMAD NAWAZ SHARIF (Politician, Pakistan Muslim League): (Urdu language spoken)

INSKEEP: Some of the criticisms come at political rallies like this one in Lahore, where opposition leader Nawaz Sharif stood on stage.

Mr. SHARIF: (Urdu language spoken)

(Soundbite of cheering)

INSKEEP: Sharif asked supporters if they want an independent investigation of the U.S. raid in which bin Laden was killed. He repeatedly asked the crowd: Are you with me?

Mr. SHARIF: (Urdu language spoken)

(Soundbite of crowd response)

Mr. SHARIF: (Urdu language spoken)

(Soundbite of crowd response and cheering)

INSKEEP: Sharif did not criticize the military too directly. But it's a high-pressure time for Pakistan's dominant institution, which is also under pressure from the United States.

We're listening to Pakistan's debate this week, as we ask if bin Laden's death could bring wider changes. And we heard sharp words about the army when we climbed a set of stairs, passed an armed guard, to an office in Lahore.

There, we met Asma Jehangir, a human rights activist and lawyer.

Ms. ASMA JEHANGIR (Attorney/Human Rights Activist): I think I have lived enough in this country, where I can say what I think is true and which is the voice of my conscience.

INSKEEP: Asma Jehangir is a tiny woman, modestly dressed, with her graying hair pulled back and glasses on her face. The books on her shelves have titles like "Rise of Fascism" and "Administration of Torture." She has been jailed in the past for criticizing the government. The armed guard stands outside her door because men tried to kidnap her family many years ago.

And in recent days, she has publicly urged the army to get more serious about the threat of terrorism. A national newspaper soon criticized her. But she has ignored calls for Pakistanis to get together behind their military in a time of crisis.

Ms. JEHANGIR: If getting together with them means that we hide things, then I'm afraid I am committing the same offense that people do in history, who don't speak up at the right time.

INSKEEP: You spoke up on television the other day


INSKEEP: and have received quite a bit of attention for that. What did you say?

Ms. JEHANGIR: Well, that's not the first time I've spoken up, but this was a live program so there could be no censorship on it. And what I have said is that the military leadership is I use the word duffer. And I'm sorry that I used the word duffer. I should have said dangerous duffers.

INSKEEP: I'm thinking about that word duffer. I mean it means incompetent, they don't know what they're doing.

Ms. JEHANGIR: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: What makes that the right word for them right now?

Ms. JEHANGIR: Well, duffer has a special connotation. It's also a person who's not only incompetent, but incapable of learning.

INSKEEP: Is there a limit to how much you can criticize the military?

Ms. JEHANGIR: Well, do you know that many years ago, nobody could say anything about the military? And there are laws in this country that you cannot criticize the military. So we have come a long way. It's true, that even now, they don't like criticism well, too bad for them. I don't like to be killed in violence, so they had better like my criticism.

INSKEEP: Is it dangerous to speak like that?

Ms. JEHANGIR: I'm sure it is, but we all live dangerous lives here.

INSKEEP: Do you see a way for civilians to assert greater control over the military a practical way that that could happen?

Ms. JEHANGIR: There is a practical way, and there must be a practical way. But for that, we have to be able to sacrifice. First of all, our civilian leadership has to be clean as a whistle. Unless they're not, they will always be subject to blackmail.

INSKEEP: You say you need to have clean politicians.

Ms. JEHANGIR: I think you need to have and you need to have a certain amount of unity amongst politicians. There have to be certain issues in which there has to be national agreement amongst them. For example: do they want democracy, or don't they want democracy? Do they want a democratic system or not? Do they want to spend that much money on the defense, or do they not?

INSKEEP: Let's remind people that in this country, vastly more is spent on defense than, say, education.

Ms. JEHANGIR: Largely on defense, on debt servicing. What is going to be the foreign policy of Pakistan? I think there has to be consensus amongst political leadership do we want, or do we not want to have peace with our neighbors. Do we then need such a large army?

INSKEEP: When you have talked with your friends, your relations, your colleagues, people you meet in your work over the last few weeks, have you noticed signs of anxiety or paranoia about the state of the country?

Ms. JEHANGIR: Almost everybody. I mean if you go to the bar room, which is the lawyer's bar room...

INSKEEP: We're talking about the Bar Association.

Ms. JEHANGIR: Bar Association, in our wishful thinking we call it the bar room.

INSKEEP: You wish it was a bar. Maybe you could drink.

Ms. JEHANGIR: I don't, but many people actually do. But in any event, when we are there, it used to be very lively discussion. And I see a kind of demoralization a kind of depression. In the face of those forces that are extremist because they are too strong for you to fight.

INSKEEP: I want to make sure that Americans understand this. Why would this be a moment for depression? Because the last big event was that bin Laden was killed the good guys won. Why wouldn't that be a moment for exhilaration or opportunity?

Ms. JEHANGIR: Look, I mean, for you, in the U.S., it was a big event. For us, where does it change things for us for the better? He was somebody that the U.S. was looking for, and they got him. So what has happened to us? Where are we in all this? We've had the same amount of bombings in fact, more.

INSKEEP: Those are retaliatory bombings in Pakistan.

Ms. JEHANGIR: The retaliatory bombings, or not retaliatory, because they have been going on. So what difference has it made to my life? My life is as uncertain as it was before. In my life, I see violence every day. Today, for example I'm just coming from the court two people were murdered inside the court, inside the courtroom. For us, life is tough here. Very tough. If bin Laden is dead, do you think I'm not threatened?

INSKEEP: Well, thank you for taking the time to speak with us.

Ms. JEHANGIR: Oh, not at all.

INSKEEP: Asma Jehangir is a lawyer, human rights activist, and outspoken critic of Pakistan's military.

MONTAGNE: That's Steve Inskeep in Pakistan. He's reporting from there all this week.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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