Aug 28

Turbulence ahead

Posted on Friday, August 28, 2015 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

If Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif thought he had weathered the storm kicked up by Imran Khan’s dharna-demand for fresh elections, he has another thought coming. If he thought that his unspoken understanding with the PPP to jointly withstand attempts to dislodge the federal government before it completes its five year term was as good as gold, he must now wonder at the speed with which that alliance is unravelling. Indeed, if he thought he had restored the civil-military imbalance in his favour by abandoning the treason case against General Pervez Musharraf and consenting to General Raheel Sharif’s demand to wage war against terrorism “on all fronts”, he must now be worried by the political consequences for his federal government of the dangerous political direction that “popular” war is taking by targeting and alienating the MQM and PPP, which together represent the electoral mandate of Sindh.

The verdict of the Judicial Commission was a great setback for the PTI. But much the same may be said of the PMLN’s current position following judicial verdicts against it in three of the four hotly contested constituencies in Punjab that form the core of Imran Khan’s demand for fresh elections. Indeed, if the JC took the wind out of Khan’s sails, the fall of three wickets, including those of two key stalwarts of the PMLN, heralds an anxious time for Mr Sharif. Imran Khan has now been joined by Khurshid Shah, the leader of the opposition from the PPP, in demanding the resignations of the four provincial election commissioners for failing to conduct the 2013 elections with due diligence. The PTI has filed a reference against the four in the Supreme Judicial Council, which means that the matter is going to remain in agitation mode and on the front pages for the near future.

The PMLN had originally decided to contest the electoral verdicts in the Supreme Court. That was a defensive tactic. But it has now decided to contest the by-elections and confront the PTI head-on in the court of the people. This is fraught with the great risk that if the PTI wins these seats, it is bound to become more aggressive in reasserting its demand for fresh general elections. Meanwhile, the first phase of local bodies elections for Punjab is scheduled for October 31. That will be a true test of the popularity of both the PTI and PMLN and will have a decisive say in the fate of the three NA constituencies in contention. Either way, the next three months could be make or break for one of them.

The war against terrorism in Sindh is now moving into second phase by targeting corruption. This means, principally, the PPP government in the province. When second-tier PPP “administrators” were arrested by the Sindh Rangers some months ago, Mr Asif Zardari was frothing at the mouth. That led the Sindh government to consider terminating the Rangers’ legal cover for operating in the province and only some last minute “negotiations” between the military, federal government and Sindh government stayed such a decision. Now the NAB-FIA Joint Investigation Team effectively under military command has arrested Dr Asim Hussain, a long time Zardari confidante and “business” associate, and compelled the Sindh Chief Secretary to seek bail before arrest from the Sindh High Court. This has set off alarm bells not just in Karachi but also in Islamabad. If the PPP Sindh government retaliates by withdrawing the writ of the Rangers, the military is bound to demand Governor’s Rule in the province. Since that is easier said than done under the provisions of the 18th constitutional amendment, the military’s ire may express itself in other provocative and destabilising ways. Meanwhile, the PPP is likely to explore ways and means of pressuring Mr Sharif to rein in the military or face the political prospect of losing its support against the PTI.

As if all this isn’t sufficient cause for concern, Mr Sharif must also contend with the domestic and international fallout of the aggressive Indian posture against Pakistan. He was hoping that a dialogue could be initiated via agreed proposals at Ufa. But the military has compelled him not just to oppose the Indian viewpoint on cross-border terrorism but also to demand talks on the Kashmir issue, which has effectively put paid to that hope.

Mr Nawaz Sharif’s relations with General Raheel Sharif have barely withstood the test of conspirators and agitators so far. But they are about to enter turbulent waters as the war against terrorism led by the military ruffles political feathers. Inevitably, this “war” will come closer to home in Punjab and Islamabad if it is to retain its “neutral” stance. That thought alone must give Mr Sharif sleepless nights no less than that of losing electoral ground to the PTI in the forthcoming local and by-elections, or politically alienating the PPP in Sindh.

Aug 21

The general in his labyrinth

Posted on Friday, August 21, 2015 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

Generals Zia ul Haq and Hameed Gul were birds of a feather. Together, they drummed up an “Islamist-Jihadist” national security doctrine that entrapped Pakistan in a violent existential legacy that has stunted its economic growth, destabilized its polity, antagonized its neighbours and alienated the international community. No one, singly or jointly, could have done greater disservice to Pakistan. Consider.

The ISI was upgraded by General Zia when billions of dollars in arms and funds were funnelled through it to wage the US-Saudi sponsored jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan. At the ISI, Gen Gul became the leading architect of the Mujahideen’s war in Afghanistan and dreamed of becoming the “conqueror of Jalalabad”. After Zia’s death in 1988, Gul tried to thwart Benazir Bhutto’s return to power by gearing up the ISI’s internal political wing to cobble the IJI and rig elections. When he failed, he unleashed the “Midnight Jackals” plan to vote her out. When that failed too, he joined forces with the army chief, General Mirza Aslam Beg, to nudge President Ghulam Ishaq Khan to oust her from office in 1990. After General Beg’s retirement in 1991, Gul lobbied desperately to become army chief. But when President Ishaq chose General Asif Nawaz Janjua, he openly sulked and defied his chief by choosing to resign rather than accept orders.

Astonishingly, after he retired, General Gul publicly mocked the constitution and the courts by boasting of his role in the unconstitutional interventions of the past.

General Gul was a self-styled “Islamist”. He ardently supported favourites in the Mujahideen’s civil war in Afghanistan in the 1990s. In 1991, during the first Iraq war, he articulated the theory that US forces would be defeated by Saddam Hussein’s army and the war would be long drawn out and leave a trail of body bags as in Vietnam. But the war ended in 15 days when Saddam Hussein’s air force was grounded by superior US technology and air power, compelling him to pull out of Kuwait and lick his wounds.

General Gul was also a great supporter of the Taliban. He lauded Mullah Umar when the latter refused to expel Osama bin Laden and triggered the American intervention in Afghanistan. But he openly scorned General Pervez Musharraf when the latter called off the jihad against India in 2003 and proposed an “out of the box” political solution to India on Kashmir that seemed to put the UN Resolution for a Plebiscite into cold storage for decades.

In the early 1990s, Gul tried to build up Imran Khan as the great Islamist saviour of the nation. But when Imran tied the knot with Jemima Goldsmith, he was bitterly disappointed.

General Gul was blinded by a visceral hatred of India. He never missed an opportunity to stand on the platforms of assorted jihadi organisations to thunder against “Akhund Bharat”. He was delighted when a clutch of ten jihadis from Pakistan sneaked into Mumbai on 26/11 and held the mighty Indian security forces at bay for 60 hours.

To his dying day, he remained contemptuous of Benazir Bhutto and all politicians, including Nawaz Sharif whom he had once tried to groom as a potential prime minister in opposition to her. When she survived a suicide bombing in Karachi upon her return to Pakistan in 2007, she accused him of being part of a conspiracy along with a few others to kill her.

General Hameed Gul nurtured a notion of “patriotism” built upon adherence to radical “political Islam” and “hatred of Hindu India”. Thus Pakistanis reared on these notions in textbooks and the media for over two decades came to view him as an arch “patriot” and “Islamic hero”, oblivious of the devastating consequences for state and society.

In fact, the philosophy of a state built on such notions has spawned a vast network of terrorists which now poses truly “existential” problems for Pakistan. It was General Musharraf who instinctively questioned this paradigm for the first time but he stopped short of taking his initiative to its logical conclusion. His successor, General Ashfaq Kayani recognized the crippling impact of the Zia-Gul legacy but lacked the courage to tackle it effectively. Now General Raheel Sharif has helped formulate a National Action Plan against this narrative and the first concrete steps are being taken on some fronts to try and turn the tide.

General Hameed Gul’s passing was not an occasion of mass mourning in any way, even though he fancied himself as a national hero of sorts. Apart from some die-hard ideologues among jihadist non-state actors, no one will miss Gul’s emotional outbursts and wild conspiracy theories. In his last years, he had become largely irrelevant and inconsequential as his world view collapsed around him.

One would like to believe that with General Hameed Gul’s passing an era of death and destruction and isolation and division has come to an end. But the jury is still out on that.

Aug 21

Apas Ki Baat-21 Aug 2015

Posted on Friday, August 21, 2015 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo

Aug 16

Apas Ki Baat-16 Aug 2015

Posted on Sunday, August 16, 2015 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo

Aug 15

Apas Ki Baat-15 Aug 2015

Posted on Saturday, August 15, 2015 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo