Selection of Articles


The Road to Kabul Runs Through Islamabad

By Najam Sethi | June 30, 2010

Pakistani leaders are desperate to broker a deal with Karzai and the Haqqani network. Petraeus understands why.


Now India and Pakistan Can Get Down to Business

By Najam Sethi | March 7, 2010

High-level talks in February, billed by some as a failure, actually set the stage for progress.


Pakistan Unravels

By Najam Sethi | March 6, 2009

President Zardari is losing his grip on the country.


It’s Curtains for Musharraf

By Najam Sethi | Aug. 11, 2008

There is no reason for the U.S. to prop up the president.


Ousting Pervez Musharraf

By Najam Sethi | Aug. 11, 2008

After months of prevarication, the Pakistani government, led by Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif…


Ousting Pervez Musharraf

By Najam Sethi | Aug. 11, 2008

After months of prevarication, the Pakistani government, led by Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif…


Musharraf’s Nine Lives

By Najam Sethi | Dec. 18, 2007

The General’s struggle to stay in power.


Musharraf’s Nine Lives

By Najam Sethi | Dec. 18, 2007

Mushahid Hussain, the secretary-general of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League Quaid Party…


Musharraf’s Second Coup

By Najam Sethi | Nov. 6, 2007

Pakistan’s president has alienated the forces of democracy and moderation when his country needs them most.


Musharraf in the Middle

By Najam Sethi | Oct. 11, 2007

Pakistan’s president is part of the solution.


Musharraf’s Problem — And Opportunity

By Najam Sethi | July 16, 2007

Pakistan’s president now has a chance to break up the military-mullah alliance.


Pakistan in the Balance

By Najam Sethi | June 16, 2007

If you think there are problems now, just wait till the younger generation of radical military officers comes of age.


Pakistan in the Balance

By Najam Sethi | June 15, 2007

Musharraf still has a lot of political life in him.


Najam Sethi: Pakistan could be plunged into anarchy if it fails to back America

By Najam Sethi | Monday 17 September 2001

The “terrorists”, “freedom fighters”, “jihadis” ­ call them what you will ­ choose their targets for their symbolic value.

Jinnah Unbottled? Not Yet.

By Najam Sethi | Dec 10, 2001

Wolpert recycled, with little that’s not already been said about the man

Few Options For Pakistan

By Najam Sethi | Oct 08, 2001

Pakistan has tried to cobble and prop up governments in Kabul four times since 1988, but has failed always.

Blunt Talk And After

By Najam Sethi | Apr 10, 2000

‘Pakistan needs to put stability before taking on the world. If his visit bolsters this view, I’m glad…

Justice In Jackboots

By Najam Sethi | Dec 27, 1999

Despite its sincerity, the junta might lack the vision and integrity needed to take Pakistan into the next…

The Truth Will Out

By Najam Sethi | Jun 21, 1999

My sin was that The Friday Times has never minced words, and Sharif can’t stomach criticism.

Warning: Bumps Ahead

By Najam Sethi | Mar 08, 1999

Symbolism is all fine. But the Lahore Declaration could define history only via an history stance.

The Pen Is Mightier…

By Najam Sethi | Feb 22, 1999

Pakistan’s press is certainly freer than before though it labours under the shadow of the government.

Still Running In Place

By Najam Sethi | Nov 02, 1998

While peace is still a long way off, it would be tragic if Pakistan and India were forced to start the…

Sharif’s Fiefdom On Fire

By Najam Sethi | Aug 24, 1998

The most worrying part for Sharif is that, by playing her “Sindh card” at a huge anti-Punjab rally,…

Delusions Of Grandeur

By Najam Sethi | Jun 15, 1998

The imposition of Emergency by Sharif smacks of dangerous political opportunism. Sharif may see this as a…

The Road Not Taken

By Najam Sethi | May 25, 1998

The road ahead for Pakistan is a forked one

Heil Democracy!

By Najam Sethi | Dec 15, 1997

Sharif’s coup was a sad day for democratic institutions, says one of Pakistan’s leading editors

New media tools as agents of change

By Najam Sethi | MAY 03, 2011

Setting things right?
The News, February 20, 2011

On the face of it, the Supreme Court seems to be gearing up to claim secession from the government and parliament of Pakistan. Is this what the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they sought an “independent” judiciary? The other question worth asking is: what is the intent and purpose of this drive for secession? Is it to hold the government and executive accountable for their sins of omission and commission – which are many – or is it to seize the reins of executive authority and thereby “set things right”? These are harsh questions. But we need to ask and answer them in the face of developing political instability and the spectre of a clash of institutions in Islamabad.

Four recent developments are noteworthy.

The Supreme Court has “suspended” a decision of the Parliamentary Committee to refuse extensions to four “additional” judges of the Lahore High Court that had been earlier approved by the Judicial Commission. Reason: the Parliamentary Committee was constitutionally obliged to record its reasons for rejecting the recommendations of the Judicial Commission. Is this “suspension” in order? If the Supreme Court had not so readily accepted a constitutional petition challenging the Parliamentary Committee’s decision and instead advised the attorney general to seek the reasons underlying the committee’s rejection as required by law, no one would have been alarmed. Instead, the stage seems to be set for a clash.

What if the objections of the Parliamentary Committee are not acceptable to the Supreme Court? The whole constitutional idea behind the institution of a Judicial Commission – dominated by the chief justice and his senior judge-colleagues – and the Parliamentary Committee – comprising an equal number of parliamentarians from the government and opposition – is to ensure a fair degree of neutral judicial oversight by a sovereign parliament. But if the Supreme Court is now going to sit in judgment over the Parliamentary Committee, the whole exercise of the 18th and 19th Amendment will have been in vain and the critics of the Supreme Court will be proven right in their prediction that the court is seeking “secession” rather than independence.

Then there is the question of the extension in service of bureaucrats after retirement with which the Supreme Court is “seized.” The Supreme Court has held that such contractual extensions are illegal. This has led to the wholesale sacking of many in the federal and provincial governments, thereby opening the route for deserving younger officers whose careers had stalled because their “seniors” were so adept at pulling strings and pushing sifarish to prolong their careers. The argument that some such officers were “indispensable” for their political masters because of their administrative experience and expertise has not washed with the Supreme Court.

However, a controversy has arisen because the Supreme Court is not seen to apply the same logical yardstick to the herd in its own courtroom. Why is the Supreme Court resorting to ad-hocism by seeking a second extension in service for Justice Khalilur Rehman Ramday and another for Justice Rehmat Hussain Jaffery? To be sure, Justice Ramday is reputed to be the right hand of the chief justice of Pakistan, having authored several important judgments. But, as the Supreme Court Bar Association says, it is time to end the culture of ad-hocism and double standards, regardless of the indispensability of individuals in the institutions of the state, especially in the judiciary whose judgments depend on the perception of fairness and impartiality for their credibility.

Critics say that if the workload in the Supreme Court has risen because of the special suo motu attention it is devoting to issues of bad governance and corruption by the executive, the proper way of going about addressing it would be to seek a suitable amendment to the Constitution and raise the number of judges from 17 to 19 or 20, or whatever. The Supreme Court’s reservations about the method of appointing judges as set out in the 18th Amendment were laid to rest by the 19th Amendment that was specifically passed by parliament for the purpose.

If the number of judges in the Supreme Court is an issue, it should have been raised at the proper time at the proper forum, rather than been thrust on an unsuspecting parliament. So it is right to ask why the judiciary is not applying this principle of no-extension to itself? Equally significantly, why is this principle not relevant to the army where the army chief, Gen Ashfaq Kayani, the director general of the ISI, Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, and the Defence Secretary, Gen Syed Athar Ali, are all on extensions?

The third controversial decision of the Supreme Court relates to the fate of the so-called PCO judges who took oath in November 2007 disregarding the judgment of Nov 3, 2007, by Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and six other fellow judges, striking down Gen Pervez Musharraf’s second coup. These judges are in the dock for “contempt of court” because they are alleged to have disobeyed the order of the seven-member bench by swearing oath on the new PCO.

The controversy has arisen for several powerful reasons. One set of rules seems to be applied to the judges and another to all the others who also disobeyed the order of Nov 3, in particular the current army chief and corps commanders of the time. A judgment regarding their fate has been frozen in a time warp. And then there is the extraordinary “show-cause” notice to four Supreme Court judges by Justice Jehanzeb Rahim, one of the PCO non-functional judges in Peshawar, who says the Peshawar High Court is immune from the proceedings of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has moved swiftly to ban non-functional judges from issuing such “illegal orders,” but the damage has been done. “Judges against judges” mocks the very notion of a judiciary.

Finally, it should not be forgotten that the Supreme Court is still sitting on a petition that challenges the 18th Amendment, despite the fact that the 19th has been passed and hasn’t been challenged. What is the meaning of this? Why didn’t that petition become infructuous after the challenge raised in it against some provisions of the 18th Amendment regarding the appointment of judges was suitably resolved in the 19th Amendment, with the implicit approval of the Supreme Court?

In view of these outstanding controversial issues, analysts are inclined to ask where the Supreme Court is headed. Secession or independence? If these issues are blithely brushed under the rug but the NRO case is revived against the PPP, President Asif Zardari in particular, then it is a safe bet that we are heading in the direction of a major political intervention by the Supreme Court to “set things right.” But only time will tell whether this will set things right or irredeemably wrong.

The writer is Jang Group/Geo adviser on political affairs.

Party politics or national interest?
The News, February 13, 2011

Time is running out on the 45-day deadline given last month by Mr Nawaz Sharif to President Asif Zardari for the implementation of an extraordinary 10-point agenda to set things right. What happens when, not if, most of Mr Sharif’s demands are shrugged away by the PPP government? Also, it is equally important to determine the intrinsic validity of these demands in order to ascertain whether Mr Sharif and Mr Zardari are both playing “politics as usual” or have national interest uppermost in mind.

Mr Sharif says the federal government must freeze the prices of “basic goods and services”, especially oil and gas products, and end “load-shedding” of gas and electricity. But this is simply not possible in the short-term. The prices of “basic goods” are linked to domestic and international market factors, exchange rates, foreign exchange reserves, money supply, subsidies and support prices to farmers. The prices of oil and gas, and the necessity of “load-shedding”, are related to the current stock of oil, gas and hydroelectric resources of the country – which cannot be significantly changed quickly – no less than the inability of the government to cough up the money to clear the circular debt or stop massive thieving in the sector.

Mr Sharif wants Mr Zardari to “eliminate corruption” by sacking “those ministers and government officials who are accused of corruption and replace them with reputed and clean people”. A noble objective, this is certainly doable. Should accusations alone suffice to fire people, especially in a charged environment where passions and prejudice are running high?

A case in point is the forced resignation of the MD PIA at the behest of violent union mobs protesting a complex financial proposal that has neither been signed nor fully understood by most objectors. But the weight of history must be reckoned with, especially in the personal case of Mr Zardari, no less than the PPP government, both of whom have been dogged by credible corruption charges on all three occasions when they have been in office. Therefore, the intervention of the Supreme Court in such matters is beneficial. The sacking of Raja Pervez (Mr Rental Power) from the Oil and Gas Ministry is timely, even though the retention of Mukhdum Amin Faheem as Commerce Minister is a concession to real politik rather than any stubborn denial of his inefficiency or tainted persona. Mr Sharif wants the PPP government to “recover all bank loans that were written off due to political pressure”. Again, a noble objective, but one that is both complex and double-edged, as the lawyer representing the State Bank of Pakistan has deposed before the Supreme Court. It is complex because most of the loans in question were written off when the loan-disbursing banks were in the public sector but have since been privatised.

Digging the record and perusing the true intent behind each major write-off, many of which are part of complex legal deals worked out with NAB, will require Herculean efforts by a trained team of banking experts. This can’t be done arbitrarily. Also, there will be questions of the legal propriety of deals done in privatised banks which are directly accountable to their board of directors and investors rather than to the public at large. Last but not least, many write-offs may fall in the grey zone between political influence and genuine financial distress of the party in question, a problem that is not amenable to swift justice.

Mr Sharif wants Mr Zardari to “implement all the decisions of the Supreme Court, including those pertaining to the NRO and the question of President Zardari’s immunity from prosecution in a Swiss Court for money laundering”. While it is evident that the government has been dragging its feet in areas where implementing the SC’s decisions, especially regarding various appointments, are likely to hurt its prospects, it is absolutely clear that Mr Zardari has no intention of enabling his very own government to sign his political death warrant in Switzerland. The matter is pending in the SC and has the potential to derail the government and the political system.

Mr Sharif is demanding a neutral and fair NAB and Election Commission. This requirement is truly in the national interest even though it is also in favour of Mr Sharif’s party-political interest and against Mr Zardari’s. When the boot was on the other foot, Mr Sharif’s NAB equivalent of the Ehtesab Bureau was the most discriminating, even vindictive, accountability organ on record. The NAB’s political record during General Pervez Musharraf’s time was only slightly better since no generals or judges were touched. Much the same can be said of previous Chief Election Commissioners and Commissions. Each was constructed or elevated to serve the interest of the ruler at hand. Therefore, unless the SC has its way on both counts, we should not expect Mr Zardari to quickly throw in the towel.

The government has been tasked to significantly reduce its expenses and downsize the cabinet. Some half-hearted efforts in this direction are noticeable. If the media could do some homework and pinpoint the most outrageous cases of unwarranted expenses – such as luxury cars, sprawling houses and unacceptably generous perks and privileges to friends, cronies and pro-PPP bureaucrats – we might be able to get some belated action on this front. But left to itself, the government is not likely to budge.

Mr Sharif wants “national institutions like PIA, PSO, NHA, Civil Aviation and KPT to be revamped and made profitable”. This is easier said than done. He was prime minister twice and did nothing to clean up the mess which has since piled up. Indeed, these corporations are inefficient, corrupt and unprofitable because they are run like employment agencies and sinecure centres for party loyalists. If truly competent professionals were to be appointed to lead these organisations, they would start by sacking at least half of the staff and shuttering down against government sifarish and pressure. But with unemployment soaring, which elected government will demonstrate the courage to downsize, especially without the financial resources to offer golden handshakes? Which judge will not favourably look upon angry petitioners seeking “stay orders” against their sacking?

Indeed, even where golden handshakes were offered in the past, the best and most competent employees took the offer and exited, leaving behind the dregs of the corporation to ruin it further. Privatisation is also, theoretically speaking, an option. But each major privatisation to date has been dogged by corruption and lack of transparency. Worse, even when corruption was not an issue, employee unions and courts have stepped in to sabotage sovereign guarantees, entailing further financial and credibility losses on the Privatisation Commission.

Defending and enhancing “national interest” in the murky world of Third World parliamentary politics, with secret military agencies and foreign powers jostling for resources, influence or space, is a tall order. Neither Mr Zardari, nor Mr Sharif, nor the centralised, first-past-the-post political system in vogue, is equipped to do the job. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

The writer is Jang Group/Geo adviser on political affairs.

US-Pak relations: terms of estrangement
The News, February 06, 2011

The case of Raymond Davis has outraged most Pakistanis and raised nagging questions about the nature of the US role in Pakistan, about the integrity of powerful sections of the media and intelligentsia, and about the political opportunism of the ruling PPP and PMLN governments in Islamabad and Lahore respectively. Ominously, the strategic US-Pak relationship is fraying with unforeseen consequences for both.

The US has stationed dozens of armed intelligence agents in Pakistan. These belong to the CIA – which is a part of the US state – or Blackwater-type private security or intelligence companies specifically contracted to the State Department or to the Pentagon. These men and women have been granted visas by the Government of Pakistan (GoP) on the basis of a protocol signed during General Pervez Musharraf’s time after 9/11. Many, though not all, carry diplomatic passports with “official” or “official business” visas granted by the GoP following formal requests by one or the another US agency or department. Some are attached to the US Embassy in Islamabad, others to the Consulates. Some have formal diplomatic (status) cards issued by the Foreign Office, others don’t, which makes their diplomatic status vague despite their possession of diplomatic passports. Some carry firearms and fake IDs – which is known to the relevant GoP ministries and military intelligence agencies, firearm licenses or not – and others don’t. In other words, ambiguity about their status, work, and facilities afforded are duly maintained jointly by the US and Pakistani governments and intelligence agencies like the CIA and ISI.

That, at least, is the theory. In practice, however, the GoP retains a conscious element of “plausible deniability” about the status and work of such Americans. This is akin to the theory and practice of publicly protesting and privately condoning drone attacks, as one recent incriminating Wikileak revealed. We may also recall how provincial police, including military police, have often, in the past, stopped vehicles with tinted windows or windscreens and false number plates, but have been helpless against armed Americans inside these vehicles on account of interventionist phone calls from powerful officials in Islamabad. The rules of such discourse have not been made public. That is why there is so much anguish and outrage in the media and public against the Americans “who are so brazenly breaking the law of the land” when, in fact, they are doing so with the knowledge, connivance and even approval of the civilian government and military authorities.

Therefore the chronicle of Raymond Davis was foretold. It was only a matter of time before an Iraq-type Blackwater incident of “shooting first and asking questions later” would happen somewhere in Pakistan. I warned against it in October 2009. Neither the Americans, nor the Pakistanis, it seems, have learnt any lessons. No Standard Operating Procedures for such operatives and operations (spies tasked to uncover terrorists) were laid down or made public, nor was their status exactly defined, let alone implemented.

For example, the tinted windows and windscreens, false number plates, and weapons in the vehicles are meant purely for security purposes (to deny recognition to any would-be terrorist and afford defense) and not for evasion of the law (the correct registration documents are always inside the car and can be produced at will). But this SOP hasn’t been properly conveyed to provincial policemen. Nor was the diplomatic status for immunity purposes of such agents clarified and coded by Pakistani and American authorities, just as in Iraq where such agents had to be secretly sent to the US by local authorities after every violent transgression of the laws of the land. Out of over 200 such incidents in Iraq during 2005-2007, over 160 incidents were characterised by US “private agents shooting first”, ostensibly for purposes of “self-defense” or “security”.

This explains the confusion in the statements issued by the American Embassy in Islamabad which first said that Davis was on “official business” contracted to the Consulate, and then changed it to the Embassy when a reading of the Vienna Conventions of 1961 and 1963 suggested that the question of diplomatic immunity might be affected by the consular or embassy status of the person involved, regardless of the diplomatic passport held. It also explains why a State Department official in Washington was wary of confirming whether the agent at the centre of the storm in Pakistan was in fact Raymond Davis or someone else under the guise of Raymond Davis. It also explains the reluctance of the Pakistani Foreign Office to make a clear statement about the diplomatic status of Davis regarding immunity from criminal prosecution.

To make matters worse, the issue quickly became a vicious ping-pong game between the PPP government in Islamabad and the PMLN government in Punjab. Each side has been trying to get brownie nationalist points from the people regardless of the consequences for the strategic US-Pak relationship and national security. If the Punjab government had consulted the federal government before formally arresting Davis and acceded to an informal request to hand him over to the Americans, there would have been no storm and the “Protocols of the Elders” would have remained hidden. Instead, the Punjab government immediately gave a statement that Davis would be tried for murder in a court of law unless the federal government took responsibility for him and confirmed his diplomatic immunity. When the FO dithered, the Punjab government appointed a public prosecutor who immediately went public with his “strong case” against Davis by consciously distorting the facts of the shootout. Unfortunately, the more the Punjab government delighted in the discomfort of the federal government and exploited the media and public outrage, the more the federal government in general, and the FO in particular, retreated behind a smokescreen of feigned ignorance and wounded pride. Privately, the Punjab government has told the US embassy that it is ready to facilitate Davis’s release if the FO makes a statement in court that Davis enjoys diplomatic immunity!

The role of the media and intelligentsia, in general, is a case of deliberate distortion and outright lies. The fiction persists that Davis “murdered” two Pakistanis by shooting them in the back, despite an autopsy report that says four out of seven bullets hit the armed motorcyclists in the front. The fiction persists that they were “innocent citizens” despite the fact that they had robbed two passersby earlier in the day, whose cash and cell-phones were found on their persons. The fiction persists that he was in no imminent danger of grievous injury, let alone kidnapping or death, despite the fact that foreigners, especially Americans, have been routinely targeted and killed or kidnapped by terrorists in Pakistan in the last decade. No one, of course, has bothered to offer a motive for Davis to “murder” the two young men, and even talk of “proportionate” defense is misplaced. So where do we go from here?

The US has signaled distinct annoyance with the GoP. A cool reception was accorded by US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, and Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani in this weekend’s trilateral meeting in Munich. Ambassador Hussain Haqqani has been summoned to the White House and lectured on the virtues of state maturity and reciprocity. The Af-Pak border in Waziristan has heated up, with one Pakistani soldier having been killed in clashes with US-Afghan troops on the border. The IMF has hardened its stance. President Asif Zardari’s proposed trip to Washington and one-0n-one with President Obama in March stands threatened. A go-slow could also impact Coalition Support Funds and US$2 billion worth of weapons in the pipeline for the Pakistan military and $1.5 billion from the Kerry-Lugar Bill for the civilian government of Pakistan.

The sooner this matter is sorted out, the better it is for both countries. Additionally, the rules of US-Pak engagement involving state and non-state actors must be made explicit for the media and public, without hypocrisy and doublespeak. No state’s national interest can be served by passion or prejudice, regardless of the affront or hurt. It is in the national interest of Pakistan to retain a strategic relationship with the United States. However, the US must stop pressuring Pakistan to accept armed, trigger-happy cowboys on intelligence operations as unaccountable diplomats. If this practice continues, there will be more outrage and anguish on the street, and both Pakistan and the US will be the net losers.

The writer is Jang Group/Geo adviser on political affairs.

Who will save Pakistan?
The News, January 30, 2011

Last Friday, three friends of mine commented in this paper on “the state of the nation,” each presenting a contrary view. Much of what each wrote about the nature of the problem makes sense to me. But some of the prescribed solutions raise disturbing questions in my mind.

Shaheen Sehbai is outraged by the continuing corruptions and blunders of the Zardari regime, no less than the “miserable” opposition of Nawaz Sharif. “In three years, the political system has collapsed, the parties have turned into mafias, the economy has officially reached the point of bankruptcy, security has vanished and people have been crushed under the weight of struggling for sheer survival caused by the grandiose failures on all counts,” he argued. “Politicians have to understand that a crippled and dilapidated Pakistan which cannot be revived would be in no one’s interest,” he reasoned. More ominously, he concluded: “That stage will not be allowed. It should not be allowed. If politicians cannot deliver, someone has to.”

Who might be that “someone”?

My friend’s solution was articulated thus: “In practical terms, the military is already calling the shots because Zardari and Sharif have failed, singly and jointly. Besides the strategic assets, the military establishment controls the internal, external, economic and financial policies. The commanders get regular briefings on all critical issues, even matters like Reko Diq contracts and negotiations with the IMF. They talk directly to Washington on matters of vital importance. They have not acted to stop the rot because they thought the politicians will themselves rise to correct the system. They have been proved wrong.”

Is my friend suggesting that it is time for the military to stop pussyfooting and overthrow this crippled, crumbling and failing political system to set things right?

I hope not. I have serious problems with such prescriptions. We have had three military interventions, and each has been a terrible, divisive, politically impoverishing experience and left ugly scars on our body politic. If a litany of political blunders can be laid at the door of this civilian government – actually, of every civilian government to date – much worse political abuse can be attributed to our wannabe military saviours.

Shaheen should know what I am talking about. After all, he was among the most outspoken critics of the last two military dictators to stalk our land. And if, as he says, “in practical terms, the military is already calling all the shots…and controls the internal, external, economic and financial policies” of the country, what more is left to hand over to the khakis? And if, by handing over practical control of the fate of this country to the khakis under the facade of a civilian regime, we are going from bad to worse, why should we invite more trouble by legitimising another military intervention?

My friend Ayaz Amir is more anguished than outraged. Like Shaheen, he too is desperate for someone to appear on the horizon like a gallant knight and exorcise “the demons and nightmares” haunting our beloved country. Who might be that “someone”?

“Only a Kemalist army” could make a go of it, he believes. But in the same breath, Ayaz correctly dismisses the notion that “an army high command wedded to a fortress-of-Islam myth can take Pakistan out of these woods.” Indeed, it is his view that “between the armies commanded by Mustafa Kemal and those which guard our ideological frontiers – never mind the inconveniences of geography – the distance is as vast as between the mountains and the seas.”

So what is the challenge today? “As in 1966-67.” writes Ayaz, “it is to sense the hot winds blowing and fill with something new, some colour and poetry, the barren desert of ideas which is the national political stage… Pakistan needs a makeover, a turning away from the past and a reinvention of the very idea of Pakistan. Is there any artist out there who can fulfil this historic task?”

If my idealist friend Ayaz doesn’t have any “artistic” answers, there is no shortage of those who hanker for a Khomeini to save Pakistan a la Iran, which is neither a Western-type “democracy” like Pakistan, nor a praetorian regime like Egypt or an autocratic one like the one that has just perished in Tunisia. Is a pious strong man at the top the need of the hour?

Pakistan certainly needs much more law and order. It also needs better economic management, greater social equality and much less corruption. But a “Made in Pakistan” Islamic revolution is neither possible, nor desirable. For one, an Islamic revolution, as opposed to a putsch (like the one by Gen Ziaul Haq), requires a regional and religious homogeneity (as in Iran) and intellectual leadership (like the Ayatollahs) that is missing in Pakistan. Also, the performance of the religious parties in government – the PNA during Gen Zia’s time and the MMA during Gen Musharraf’s tenure – was worse than that of the mainstream parties in the 1990s. Therefore, any such frustrated impulse is a recipe for anarchy, not good governance. Also, one should not overly glorify the Islamic Revolution in Iran in view of the marked and increasing yearning for greater “Western type-freedoms and democracy” among its urban middle classes.

So where do we go from here?

My friend Shafqat Mahmood is not so forlorn. For him, “the state of governance in our country that fed deep pessimism suddenly seems capable of reformation. The internal checks that were never visible before in the system have now come aggressively to the fore. And are beginning to leave a mark.” He is referring to the newly aggressive and independent Supreme Court of Pakistan. “What has not been experienced in any sustained way is the impact of judicial accountability on corruption. Seeing it unfold graphically, with all the details being laid bare, is not only surprising (and satisfying) but opens up immense possibilities.” He is talking about the Supreme Court’s intervention to hold the high and mighty politicians and bureaucrats accountable for corruption and misuse of power, no less than its firm advice to the military to remain within the ambit of the law and Constitution regarding the “missing” persons.

I agree. We have experimented with men on horseback like Gens Ayub, Zia and Musharraf and with wannabe Bonapartes like Z A Bhutto, and lived to regret it. Therefore, we must try and fix the system incrementally, without derailing it. In this regard, the Supreme Court is rightly banging on about accountability and corruption. No less significant, there is, finally. broad agreement between the government and opposition over the essential elements of an agenda for reform, even if the will is still weak and there is much foot-dragging. Sooner or later, too, we will have a neutral Chief Election Commissioner and NAB chairman, and then we can have another go at trying to make parliamentary democracy work.

But I would be amiss if I did not raise qualms about two core institutions that need to reform themselves if we are to get going. The army must revamp its national-security doctrine and stop insisting on commandeering the heights of economy and society in an age of internal scarcity and regional distrust. And the media must act with greater responsibility to encourage a progressive, moderate and international outlook in the mindset of the nation. No modern democracy or economy can work in the stifling environment of religious orthodoxy, international isolation or military supremacy.

The writer is Jang Group/Geo adviser on political affairs.

Balochistan’s prospects
The News, January 23

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says the situation in the province of Balochistan is on the brink of civil war. In 2010, over 100 decomposed bodies were found, many in Mekran, and over 300 persons are still “missing.” Most of the dead bodies showed torture marks. Al-Badr-like shadowy groups, such as Baloch Musla Defai Tanzeem and Sipah-e-Shuhada-e-Balochistan are responsible. Last year, there were 117 in of targeted killings; another 119 people died in bomb explosions and 19 were killed in sectarian attacks. NATO tankers are routinely torched.

Taliban Shura leaders are holed up in the Quetta region from where they are directing attacks on NATO forces in southern Afghanistan. NATO wants to bomb their hideouts. Gas pipelines to Punjab are constantly attacked and supplies disrupted. Ethnic-cleansing is increasing. Many questions arise. Are the Baloch nationalists fighting for secession or autonomy? Where are all the missing persons of Balochistan? Who is carrying out ethnic cleansing of settler-Punjabis? Who is target-killing leaders of the nationalist movement? What is the role of the “agencies” of Pakistan and India? What are the grievances of the Baloch? Is there a “solution” in sight?

Balochistan is a sort of tribal confederation with its attendant pulls and pushes, competitions and conflicts. Baloch nationalism draws its inspiration from the enforced accession of Kalat state to Pakistan at the time of Partition. The hurt and wound of the original sin has progressively become a rallying nationalist cause only because accession did not lead to integration into the new nation-state of Pakistan.

Indeed, in time the nationalist narrative has transcended the original agitation politics of non-integration (how many Baloch are there in the bureaucracy, the army and the public sector?), and sought to renew itself on the basis of the militant politics of exploitation (Sui gas royalties are inadequate, Gwadar Port is not in Baloch hands, Baloch lands are being bought up by Punjabis, Balochistan’s minerals are being extracted by foreigners for a song, etc.). The case of East Pakistan’s slide into alienation and separatism comes to mind straightaway. But a comparison points to some critical differences.

A “confederation of tribes” with mutual jealousies and conflict was not as conducive to the rise of unified Baloch nationalism like the political and cultural homogeneity of the Bengalis was for their nationalism. Therefore Islamabad was better able to divide and rule the Baloch than it was able to subdue the Bengalis.

This was reflected in the split between the nationalist tribal sardars of the Marri and Bugti tribes in the resistance movement of the 1960s and 1970s when the former took up arms against Islamabad and the latter sulked on the sidelines or actually embraced it. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Marris, Mengals and Bugtis tried to obtain a measure of political and economic autonomy from Islamabad but failed, because the mainstream PPP and PML-N were busy making and breaking governments and ignoring the imperative of economic development and national integration.

The military government in the 2000s negated the benevolent effect of economic development by depriving the sardars and middle classes of Balochistan of its largesse. (Gwadar was tied securely to anchors in Islamabad and the Bugti tribe was threatened with military reprisals for agitating about royalties from Sui and contracts from Pakistan Petroleum.)

Worse, in the 2002 elections, the military regime propped up the mullahs and religious ideologues of Balochistan (and NWFP) at the expense of the tribal sardars, mainstream politicians and the middle classes, effectively depriving them of power-sharing. This culminated in alienating the Marri sardars and forcing them into exile and antagonising the Bugti sardars and compelling them to resist by force. The premeditated elimination of Nawab Akbar Bugti through a military operation became the catalyst for an unprecedented unified stand by the Marris, Mengals and Bugtis against Islamabad.

This was a turning point for Baloch nationalism. Here was the necessary condition for revolt and rebellion. The sufficient condition was provided by a new twist in regional politics. The American intervention in Afghanistan brought an anti-Pakistan regime to power in Kabul that saw profitable leverage against Pakistan in hosting Baloch insurgents and fanning Baloch separatism.

On the other border, with India, it was also payback time for Pakistan’s jihadi incursions and instigations in Kashmir in the 1990s and early 2000s. Thus, the Marri-Bugti leaders in exile readily clutched at the new facilitators and providers of arms and funds from across Pakistan’s eastern and western borders and launched their armed resistance against Islamabad.

The undemocratic national security “deep state” of Pakistan has responded by a policy of repression. That is why Baloch nationalists are target-killed by invisible agencies whose calling card is “Pakistan Zindabad.” Or they “disappear” in the dungeons of military field-intelligence units where the writ of the soft state (judiciary and civilian administration) is absent. And that is why the Baloch nationalist movement is portrayed as an Indian-Afghan-sponsored “conspiracy against the integrity and solidarity of Pakistan.”

The nationalists have retaliated with a policy of ethnic-cleansing of Balochistan’s settler-Punjabis because they are seen as potential allies of the enemy deep state dominated and led by Punjabis. Their bloody fate can squarely be laid at the door of insurgent Baloch nationalism. Is there a way out of this quagmire?

Secession, for an independent Balochistan, is not possible, because the modern nation state guards its territorial sovereignty and integrity fiercely. India’s state has wiped out an entire generation of Kashmiri “freedom fighters” without relinquishing an inch of territory. Therefore, as in Kashmir, the insurgency in Balochistan will lead to repression, not secession. Only a foreign intervention and war could create conditions for Pakistan’s disintegration and Balochistan’s secession as an independent state, as happened in 1971 in the case of Bangladesh.

But nuclear equations tend to deter war with India. Will the mere promise of political autonomy and economic development and representation in the organs of the civil-military bureaucracy persuade the insurgents to abandon armed struggle and accept rehabilitation in Quetta?

No. The secessionists will cease insurgency only when the external forces that feed and prop them up back off and their safe havens in Afghanistan dry up. That is when they will consider returning to the mainstream, and that too only if there are credible and positive inducements for it. Therefore, the sufficient condition for insurgency today (foreign support) must become the necessary condition (by being withdrawn) for negotiating true autonomy and integration of Balochistan into Pakistan.

But foreign support and safe havens for Baloch nationalists will not end until there are mutually related settlements of outstanding disputes between Islamabad and New Delhi and Islamabad and Kabul, so that their proxy wars and insurgencies can come to an end. This also implies an appropriate end-game in Afghanistan acceptable to the USA.

Is that a tall order? Yes, it is; in the short run, at least. In the longer term, however, there is no alternative for the three states in the region. Each must respect the territorial integrity of the other two in the interest of peace, stability, integration and economic development in the region. A US withdrawal from Afghanistan must be presaged by a historic India-Pakistan rapprochement.

The writer is Jang Group/Geo adviser on political affairs.

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