(TFT May 25-31, 1989, Vol-I, No:11)
Live and let live
The politics of intolerance in Pakistan has reached new heights of absurdity. This can be summed up in the moralising insinuation of most politicians, on both sides of the political divide, that “if you are not with us, you are against us”. Patriotism has become the exclusive domain of each party, with the implication that political opponents are either “traitors” or “agents of foreign powers”.
Such language is among the most destructive political legacies of the Zia era. His successors continue to speak it. Some of the PPP’s allegations against the IJI and the Punjab government of Mian Nawaz Sharif are so distasteful that in any other country the courts would have been clogged with thousands of cases of defamation. The IJI’s charges that the PPP is merely a tool of India, Russia or America are equally destructive. The common man wants to see a policy of “live and let live”; he wants politicians to get on with the job of government. But no one cares for those who really matter in the end.
The worst aspect of this intolerance is that the press is also labelled in the same way. Four newspaper offices have been attacked in the past five months because someone or the other did not like what these papers had printed. Some newspaper editors and owners have not helped the process of free and balanced reporting by encouraging both sides to plant stories in their newspapers.
In the confused politics of today, when the country is confronted with ethnic violence, economic chaos and war on its borders, the press has an important and responsible role to play. It must condemn intolerance and help rebuild the political fabric of democracy.
Paralysis in Afghan policy
Despite the war of words between Kabul and Islamabad last week, Pakistan’s Afghan policy is in considerable disarray. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s statement that Pakistan would retaliate if President Najibullah attempts to rocket Pakistani cities is not a policy statement; it is bluster answering the bluster from across the Durand Line. It does little to reassure Pakistanis that we are pursuing an intelligent, thought-out and comprehensive Afghan policy which can bring the war to an end.
The divisions in Islamabad are already well known. The prime minister’s Secretariat, the Foreign Office and the military establishment each has its own perception of who lost the battle of Jalalabad and what is to be done now. There does not seem to be much unity between these three elements who have spent more time leaking accusatory stories against one another to the press than in concentrating on coordinating Afghan policy.
Since the Jalalabad offensive was launched (March 6th), faltered and finally lost, the Foreign Office and the Prime Minister have been remarkably silent on Pakistan’s options for the next stage in the war. They were finally pushed into saying something last week after Najibullah’s latest threats. The Western media has already concluded that Pakistan has lost its moral high ground and that Najibullah is winning the propaganda war. In two weeks Ms Bhutto will be in Washington where Pakistan’s Afghan policy will be subject to intense scrutiny by the American press and where the myriad complaints of the Mujahidin that Pakistan is interfering too much in Mujahidin strategy will not pass un-remarked.
The Mujahidin themselves are in a state of paralysis which, if reports that the fundamentalists are being shifted to the Kandahar region to launch an offensive there are true, could well dissolve into open internecine conflict.
Sadly, Islamabad has abandoned all the diplomatic options that opened up just before the Soviet withdrawal was completed on February 15th. There was an ongoing face-to-face dialogue between the Soviets and the Mujahidin that came to an abrupt end. There was a United Nations plan to help a dialogue get going. The Non Aligned Movement and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference were all willing to play a diplomatic role if asked to do so.
The key factor is Washington, which has for the time being decided that there should be no dialogue with the Kabul regime. But US policy makers do not have to live with the daily fears and threats that Pakistanis living on the Afghan border have to cope with. It is therefore time we got our Afghan-policy act together, spoke with one voice and encouraged the Mujahidin to broaden the base of their government by opening their promised dialogue with “good Muslims” in Kabul.
President Najibullah has often said that he would be willing to resign if it would bring peace to Afghanistan. He repeated this call at last week’s Loya Jirga in Kabul. Najibullah is always being quoted by US, Pakistan and Mujahidin officials as being the biggest stumbling block to peace. Now he has once again offered to step down on the condition that the hundreds of thousands of people who support the regime in Afghanistan’s cities are not slaughtered. Is it not time for Pakistan, the US and the Mujahidin to test him out on this offer?
(TFT June 1-7, 1989, Vol-I, No:12 Editorial)
Disagreements between parties are the very stuff of democratic politics. But a clear distinction exists between slander and comment. It seems, however, that both the IJI and PPP are quite ignorant of the dividing line between these two concepts.
It is perfectly admissible to say in public that so and so is corrupt, but you must provide evidence for such an assertion in a court of law. If you cannot do that, you are being slanderous and must be made accountable for your indiscretions. In this context, the PPP has levelled many charges of corruption against Mr Nawaz Sharif and other IJI members, but not one charge has been taken to court and substantiated. We can, therefore, deduce that the PPP is slandering Mr Sharif and Co. This must stop. It serves no purpose other than making the PPP look inept. It also pollutes the political atmosphere and makes things difficult all round.
The IJI, however, has transgressed all limits of decency and propriety. In the election campaign last October, the IJI was downright vicious. The personal attacks on both Mrs Nusrat Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto were unbelievably gross. It is quite pathetic to hinge an entire campaign on filth and abuse. It is no good saying that certain Jamaat-i-Islami supporters got out of hand and that the IJI leadership absolves itself of their behaviour. this will simply not do.
As if that were not enough, matters have got worse. Since the SAARC summit, the IJI has launched another rabid campaign of defamation against the PPP. In the public pronouncements of its leaders, the PPP government is labelled as ‘an agent of India’. This is an appalling line of attack. Sh Rashid Ahmed, the IJI maverick from Pindi, has a vulgar way with words. He believes the IJI has a monopoly of patriotism in Pakistan, all others being “traitors and agents of India”. He openly declares that Pakistan should meddle in the affairs of that country. He claims that Ch Aitzaz Ahsan has sold Pakistani intelligence dossiers to New Delhi. He declares that “India, with the help of the Hindus of Sindh, is responsible for the situation in Sindh”. And so on, ad nauseum. In one fell swoop, he has condemned the Prime Minister, her Interior Minister and the entire Hindu minority in Pakistan as “traitors”, and there is no limit to his bellowing.
We say enough is enough. Let there be a new and specific law to restrain such verbal excesses in public. Set up a special court to hear cases of slander and abuse. If politicians of all shades and parties will not play cricket, let there be neutral umpires and well defined rules of the game. We are sick and tired of it all.
Bon voyage, Prime Minister
Benazir Bhutto is off to the USA on the 4th of June. We dare say this is going to be one hell of a trip. For obvious reasons, she’s a heroine to most Americans. But the trip shouldn’t be frittered away in exchanges of sweet nothings. She must use her enormous goodwill to obtain the maximum advantage for Pakistan.
The most important item on Bhutto’s agenda should be discussions with President Bush on Afghanistan. The confusion in Pakistan’s policy on this issue reflects that in the White House. Let there be an end to it. There should be a broad-based government in Kabul, and talks with Najib and the Soviets should be initiated to restore peace in that unhappy country. New proposals are not lacking, and the UN is itching to mediate. It is time to put the legacy of the disastrous Soviet invasion behind us and build afresh, both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan.
One last matter. We understand that the Prime Minister intends to endow Harvard University with US$ 3m for setting up a chair of Pakistan Studies. While her involvement with her old alma mater is understandable, and she will doubtless get a standing ovation for it, there is no need for such an extravagant gesture to a copiously affluent university. The money can more profitably be spent on any one of a number of educational schemes in Pakistan.
Bon voyage BB and have a nice time.
(TFT June 1-7, 1989, Vol-I, No:12 Article)
The ISI was a little-known but highly professional military intelligence agency in the 1970s. It was then led by Gen Ghulam Gilani, sometimes described as “the finest military brain in the sub-continent”. Gen Gilani and his ISI kept a low profile and rightly concentrated on military matters. When the ISI did intrude into civilian life, which it is presumed to have done in Balochistan in the 1970s, it was unobtrusive, subtle.
All this changed after Zia ul Haq’s coup d’etat in 1977. Suddenly, because Zia did not trust the IB and Special Branch, the ISI was thrust into mainstream civilian intelligence-gathering operations. Then the Soviets moved into Afghanistan and the ISI, under Gen Gilani, was entrusted with the job of organising, with the help of the CIA, the arms pipeline to the Afghan Mujahidin.
Since then, there has been no looking back. Having done a first rate job of beefing up the Mujahidin resistance in Afghanistan, ‘Gil’ made way for Gen Akhtar Abdul Rehman, a close confidant of Zia ul Haq.
During the 1980s, the ISI ran Pakistan and the Afghanistan war and, in terms of Zia’s objectives, did a bloody good job of it. However, as opposition to the Zia regime intensified at home and the Afghan war hotted up, the ISI began to acquire a controversial public image both at home and abroad.
When Gen Akhtar Abdul Rehman became vice-COAS, he handed over the ISI to his protege, Maj-Gen Hameed Gul, an outspoken junior officer, who was suddenly thrust into the limelight when Ojhri went up in flames and the Junejo government was sent packing for insisting that the ISI take the rap for it.
After Gen Zia’s death, it is common knowledge that the ISI supported the IJI campaign against Benazir Bhutto’s PPP. After the elections, there were continuing conflicts between the PPP government and the ISI, especially over the handling of the Afghan war, domestic surveillance of PPP politicians by the ISI and its attempts to thwart Ms Bhutto’s directives in the Punjab. When Brig Imtiaz Ahmed, who apparently ran the notorious ‘political cell’ in the ISI, was eased out a couple of months ago, there was unmitigated glee in PPP quarters.
The first public shot across Gen Gul’s bow was fired by a young Western journalist last February. Writing from Islamabad for a London-based newspaper, Miss Christina Lamb drew attention to the acute tensions between Gen Gul and Ms Bhutto over important policy matters. The theme of the article was picked up, elaborated upon and analysed later by most other Western and Pakistani journalists. Within two months, the whole world was talking about the ISI, and Gen Hamid Gul had become a household name. The flak got really thick when the prestigious American newsmagazine Time carried a detailed story on the ISI’s machinations against the PPP, its bribes to every second journalist in the country and allegations of siphoning off funds meant for the Afghan resistance to finance ISI’s domestic policies. The story highlighted Prime Minister Bhutto’s political frustration at being unable to keep the ISI in line. The article was co-authored by the same Miss Lamb who had earlier blown the cover off ISI-PPP contradictions.
In the meantime, the siege of Jalalabad failed to yield ‘positive results’, despite ISI propaganda that its fall was imminent. Soon thereafter, it also became obvious that the ISI’s tactics were faulty, its strategy confused, and there was ominous talk of clipping its wings.
That is when Gen Hamid Gul exploded in an interview to a correspondent of The New York Times. Gen Gul said that the decision to go for Jalalabad was taken by prime minister Bhutto in the presence of the US Ambassador in Pakistan, Mr Robert Oakley, and representatives of the Mujahidin Interim Government. He implied that the responsibility for that decision lay with the Prime Minister and not with the ISI. He added, quite unconvincingly, that the ISI took orders and implemented them, that it did not make independent political decisions.
This quite undiplomatic interview seems to have sealed Gen Gul’s fate. It irrevocably antagonised the Prime Minister who vehemently denied his version of events last month. It turned the US against him because he had breached confidence by openly involving Mr Oakley in the internal affairs of Pakistan. It probably also confirmed to his detractors in the armed forces that he is unsuitable for such a sensitive position. It is likely therefore that his departure from the ISI has more to do with his military colleagues than with any posturing of PPP politicians in Islamabad.
Having told the story of the ISI’s involvement in civilian and political matters, it needs only to be emphasised that the agency must be urgently reoriented to stay within its original military jurisdictions. Its charter is clear: it has no business meddling in domestic politics, running the Foreign Ministry or supporting any particular provincial government at the expense of any other government at the central or provincial level.
The committee established by the Prime Minister, and headed by Air Chief Marshal (retd) Zulfiqar Ali Khan, has already given its findings, which include a review of the ISI and all other intelligence agencies. Suitable reforms need to be undertaken immediately to preclude a repetition of past behaviour. New laws to safeguard against such excesses in the future should to be considered for all intelligence agencies, especially the ISI.
Lt-Gen (retd) Shamsur Rehman Kallue, who was eased out by Zia ul Haq and Co, is tipped to be the new ISI DG. He is reputed to be a professional soldier. If this is true, it is good news because we need more men like him. We hope that he will purge the ISI of all remnants of a dangerous political past and quickly set about getting it to do its real job —that of silently gathering military intelligence for the defence of Pakistan —so that we do not hear another bad word about it.
(TFT June 8-14, 1989, Vol-I, No:13 Editorial)
No budget blues
This particular budget has been a long time coming. After all, everybody has been talking about it for three months. Interest in it is more than purely economic.
For three months, the PPP has warned of a tough budget ahead, highlighting the disastrous economic legacies of the Zia regime and warning that only surgical measures can redress the situation. This exercise has paid political dividends. The IJI was all geared up to mobilise street power against ‘the gross injustices of the budget’, only to find the actual budget prescriptions quite inoffensive, almost welcome, to most Pakistanis. There is nothing ‘tough’ about it, no great injustices to fuel revolt either in the factories or in the bazaars and not too many concessions to the IMF as predicted.
The trick in this exercise has been to raise expectations of nasty times ahead, and then to present a soft budget which is received with a mighty sigh of relief by everyone. This is the opposite of what we are normally accustomed to expecting in this country —promises of good times ahead with little to show for it subsequently. For the first time in six months, the PPP gets full marks for a strategy which has paid off.
The budget has economic merits. Education expenditures are up by nearly 100%; defence is solid enough, without hogging the cake; wages for government employees are to rise slightly; the Peoples Development Programme will kick off with Rs 3 billion; power generation is to improve with the promise of no load shedding after June this year; administrative expenses are actually down, for once, by about 14.5%.
On the other side, the tax base is to be broadened (about time), trade liberalisation is to be followed (no choice), a sales tax is to be graduated over a period of years. There are proposals for privatisation, including five new private finance companies, without dislocating the public sector. Hitherto income-tax exempt companies and foundations from the Services are to be included in the tax net (no reason why not) and there are other reasonably mild measures which businessman can swallow without too much discomfort. User charges on telephones, postage etc are up by less than 10%, but that was to be expected at the very least, and it’s no big deal. Petrol hasn’t been taxed, and that’s the way it ought to have been. The question of agricultural income tax has been sidelined because it is so inextricably linked to a complex structure of subsidies and requisition prices, and needs detailed structural adjustments in the economy, including a careful constructed packages of land reforms, before it can be approximately tackled.
The budget, however, is not going to help the Punjab government resolve its financial problems, which is not to say that it is inimical to the people of the province. Quite the contrary, since the federal government is determined to spend a lot of money there via the PWP, WAPDA, etc. However, Mr Nawaz Sharif’s financial difficulties are of his own making, and so he has been left to sort out his deficits himself. Consequently, Mr Sharif’s own Punjab budget may require many propertied people to tighten their belts. But then the rich can afford to pay, and so they should.
All said, a good, sensible and workable formula from Benazir Bhutto and Co.
Politics of disinformation
We are a gullible people. We love to spend our leisure hours gossiping and rumour mongering. We also believe that, from dawn to dusk, life is one big conspiracy made up of countless small conspiracies.
From an innocent, thoughtless evening pastime, this tendency is now taking root in our public life and acquiring a dangerous dimension. We refer here to conscious efforts by the press and politicians to infer a treacherous conspiracy in every gesture or word from those with whom there are disagreements or contradictions. Very soon, there will be no patriots left in Pakistan.
Coupled with this is the rapidly escalating politics of disinformation. In the old days, resort to disinformation was made only during wars with India when it was necessary to keep the morale of the people and the armed forces from flagging in the face of national adversity. However, of late, politicians have resorted to conscious disinformation campaigns against their opponents, heedless of the repercussions on national solidarity and democratic practice.
This sort of thing must stop. The press must resist the efforts of two-bit politicians to plant dubious stories to serve their own short terms interests. Gen Aslam Beg, COAS, has also recently drawn attention to this tendency and warned politicians and the press to desist from such practices, in the larger national interest. This is good advice and should be heeded.
(TFT June 15-21, 1989, Vol-I, No:14 Editorial)
Today, the IJI is demanding the resignation of the Bhutto government and fresh general elections as though elections were a weekly performance like “Neelam Ghar”. A former prime minister, Muhammad Khan Junejo, who should know all about destabilisation and being ousted from office prematurely, is in the front of this band-wagon. His erstwhile former rival in the Muslim League, Mr Nawaz Sharif, is leading the anti-government troops. The opposition has no leadership, no common ideology and is torn apart by a kind of factionalism that makes an anthill look like a haven of peace. Nevertheless, they are temporarily united in trying to topple the federal government and bring the entire election exercise, carried through with such difficulty and tension, down on its knees. They are not just drifting towards catastrophe, they are taking us by the hand and begging us to enter the abyss.
The PPP government has fought long and hard for democracy in Pakistan and deservedly won a national mandate to rule in Islamabad. However, it was not given any such right in the provinces of Punjab and Balochistan. Notwithstanding these facts, the PPP, whose ranks include some of Pakistan’s best human rights workers and constitutional lawyers, finds it difficult to pull along with the IJI. Despite their high sounding and moralistic rhetoric, the PPP walas also have little time to practise democracy.
The IJI is determined to undo the democratic gains of post-Zia Pakistan. Its campaign is focussed on accusing the PPP of selling state secrets to India, of being an American footstool and agent of Zionism; in short of blocking government at every level.
In any civilised country, treason is a charge not lightly made, let alone kicked about like a football. When the word ‘treason’ enters your political vocabulary in such a footloose fashion you have the seeds of a real political catastrophe. The cleavage within the power elite is now so severe that it is beginning to look like it can never be mended.
It is depressing to have to write like this and probably even more depressing to have to read it. But the proverbial man in the street is more deeply worried than he has ever been. This situation cannot be explained away by some whipped up foreign conspiracy theory. This is made in Pakistan, by us, in just six months.
The charges of treason, and the intolerance from both sides of the political divide, must be shed or the next martial law may be much more severe than the types we have been accustomed to living with. The fireside philosophy of Generals has always been that we are not fit for democracy. If the present confrontation continues, we will end up proving them right.
Politics should be an honourable profession. But politicians of all sorts are rapidly losing all public confidence because they have muddied their own pool. However it is still not too late to pull back and start talking of give and take, live and let live.
Shake hands all round
There has been a great deal in the press about the “success” of prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s visit to the United States. That aside, it is clear that Ms Bhutto has enjoyed herself enormously. And why ever not? She stood vindicated in the midst of those she clearly respects and the support of whom she considers so vital to her survival. She positively glowed with triumph and radiated the joyous spontaneity that is so natural to a person of her age. She beamed her toothy grin, she dressed to kill and she shook hands with gusto. Why then are we in Pakistan purveyed a dour and gloomy version of our clearly effervescent prime minister? Or are we, her countrymen, not worthy of her ebullient responses as were the Americans?
Ms Bhutto should dispense with the hypocrisy that has been thrust upon her. All rooted Pakistani women don the dupatta. But they rarely bother to swathe themselves in it, least of all those who have, like the prime minister, trendily crimped hair. Ms Bhutto shook hands with all and sundry in America. It came naturally to her and nobody batted an eyelid. And if it goes for Americans, it should go for Pakistanis as well. The prime minister must stop this assiduous cultivation of a holier-than-thou image. It is entirely superfluous. The maulvis are not placated, in fact they ridicule her for it. And her supporters, of whom there are millions, flap about in a defensive and confused manner.
Ms Bhutto should remember that she cannot beat the maulvis at their own game. She must not make any concessions to them. She has every reason to be a confident and liberated leader of this nation. She must never apologise for being a woman.
(TFT June 15-21, 1989, Vol-I, No:14 Article)
Benazir Bhutto’s confirmation
The prime minister is back from America, flushed with success. Pakistan will get the military hardware it coverts and the economic aid it so desperately needs. President Bush will certify next October that Pakistan is not producing the bomb, and the aid pipeline will gush again. The package deal also includes an honorary doctorate of law from Harvard for the young prime minister of Pakistan. Not bad for a week’s work, is it?
But, consider. There is nothing new about US military and economic aid to Pakistan. Except for a brief period in the 1970s, every two bit Pakistani dictator or recycled leader has lapped it up in abundance, and gratefully. The Americans certainly cannot be accused of being partial to democrats in Pakistan. As for President Bush’s certification, the fact is that even if the Americans know we are making the bomb, there’s not much they can do about it. Long-term strategic thinking about Pakistan is hardly likely to be deflected by any one issue, even if it is a question of nuclear proliferation. Nor should Ms Bhutto make too much capital out of her newly acquired doctorate. The late dictator Zia-ul-Haq was given an honorary doctorate not once but twice, with both Malaysia and Pakistan conferring this dubious honour upon him with great fanfare.
We are also reminded by our PPP friends that Ms Bhutto was twice given a standing ovation by Congress, apparently an unprecedented gesture of goodwill and respect. That’s nice. But we also recall, with some distaste, a dictator’s (Gen Ayub Khan) visit to America over two decades ago when he talked of ‘friends not masters’ to Congress and was given a resounding hand for it. By themselves, doctorates and ovations don’t count for much.
This does not mean, however, that the PM’s trip to the USA is without significance. On the contrary, it should mark the first watershed in her struggle to last the full five years allotted to her as prime minister of Pakistan.
When Ms Bhutto negotiated her entry into Islamabad last November, she had more than a little help from her friends in Washington. The situation at the time was perilously confused, to say the least. The remnants of the Zia regime within the armed forces, the bureaucracy and the civil opposition, who were forced to accept her, were all determined to undermine her authority and legitimacy. Ms Bhutto, too, didn’t make her task any easier. Her government fumbled and fumed, and limped along dangerously close to the precipice, tottering from conspiracy to conspiracy, clueless.
The Americans have bailed her out three times in the last six months. They helped persuade the Pakistani establishment to accept her within its fold last November, and provided guarantees of good conduct, including checks and balances of which Sahibzada Yaqub Khan and Ghulam Ishaq Khan are only two obvious manifestations. Later, after she was cripplingly harassed by Gen Hameed Gul, the Americans did their bit to ease the opinionated general out of the ISI. Finally, the IMF was softened to accommodate the fledgling regime, so that a minimally acceptable budget could be pushed through and the ship of state nudged on to the high seas.
The PM’s trip to America should therefore be seen as the final and climactic act of a long drama in which the Americans have played a major role. The standing ovation from Congress is as much an acknowledgement of Benazir Bhutto’s courage and ordeal as it is of the “successful” American policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the last ten years.
That is why the IJI and its friends are so dejected and confused. For eleven long years the Americans have held their hand and backed them up. Last November, they were reassured that they would not be left out in the cold. They are just waking up to the fact that the game has changed, for the foreseeable future any way. Suddenly, even the founding stones of their empire like Gen Hameed Gul and Gen Fazle Haq are crumbling. The Afghan war is also probably headed for a resolution in the next year or so, which doesn’t conform to their game plan. And Benazir Bhutto looks to be standing tall and firm on the horizon.
All the COPs in Pakistan will not impress Washington. It has decided to back Ms Bhutto and there are no two ways about it.
Khan Abdul Wali Khan knows this better than Mr Nawaz Sharif. In one deft move, he has re-established his bonafide with the IJI and sought to bring pressure to bear on Ms Bhutto. He knows he must act now. The Afghan policy will be reviewed seriously for the first time in eleven years in Washington and Islamabad. He wants to have a say in the direction and pace it takes. There is nothing more important to a politician than to be wooed, especially if his support base is weak and his voice feeble. The PPP, too, needs reminding that it cannot go the whole hog without friends. The Khan will come back soon enough, after exacting his pound of flesh from both the IJI and the PPP.
The PPP-MQM alliance is all sewn up, despite the hiccups of the last few months. Nawab Bugti has distanced himself from Mr Sharif for he too sees the writing on the wall. Mr Aftab Sherpao and Qaim Ali Shah are secure in their seats. Ms Bhutto’s budget will last, notwithstanding any minor amendments which may be necessary later, without too much compromise. Gen Shams-ur-Rahman Kallu is safely ensconced at the ISI and reporting to the PM. Gen Beg, COAS, has quietly and appropriately distanced himself from the political hubbub, busying himself with preparations for the largest military exercises in Pakistan’s history.
Ms Benazir Bhutto returns from America, refreshed and strengthened, hoping to lead Pakistan as prime minister for the next five years.
(TFT June 22-28, 1989, Vol-I, No:15 Editorial)
It is difficult not to be provoked by a pernicious piece in a Lahore English daily which many people believe to be an attempt to ‘disinform’ leaders about the present “situation” of the Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI) of Pakistan.
The article says that the ISI’s “external operations have been cancelled”, its “other functions cut to the bone”, it has “suffered in stature”. It bemoans the fact that “operations in India” have abruptly halted, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) has taken over the ISI’s “counterintelligence function within the country”, “the ISI has been forbidden any monitoring of internal politics”, and “20 persons, mostly from Sindh, … are being accepted … in civilian posts … without any security clearance”. The author’s “sources” have told him that there are “serious leaks … ascribed to Indian penetration” of the ISI, that Gen Kallu, the new DG, is “expected to be replaced by a party stalwart in due course”. In short, an insidious attempt has been made to demonstrate how the PM’s recent initiatives regarding the ISI are “disastrous for Pakistan and welcomed by our arch enemy India”. Finally, a picture has been painted of Gen Hameed Gul, the former DG ISI, which shows him to be “an intensely patriotic, professionally unscrupulous … a dangerous man”. The rest of the para is worth reproducing because it sheds light on the extremely perilous ground the author is treading and the contradictions inherent in his statement: “It is a mark of his [Gen Gul’s] character that he chose to fight his own government to the last in what he believed to be the national interest, rather than either obey or resign, a soldier’s only real choice” [my italics].
If the democratically elected prime minister of Pakistan has chosen to curtail some of the functions of the ISI, in conformity with new and long overdue foreign policy initiatives to reduce tension in the region, that is her natural political prerogative and it should be applauded. The ISI, like all intelligence agencies, is supposed to implement, not formulate, foreign and domestic politics. If the PM wants it to stop domestic surveillance of politicians, a most culpable practice initiated by Gen Zia and his henchmen, and concentrate instead on its military charter, what could be more welcome than that? If the IB has received jurisdiction over civilian matters from the ISI after a decade, that is as it should be. The IB is as much a national institution as the ISI, and it is a most outrageous transgression to attempt to downgrade, malign to ridicule it.
If a dozen Sindhi officers have been installed in civilian posts at the ISI, it is preposterous to infer from this that the Indian secret service (RAW) has infiltrated the ISI. And one more thing. Lest we forget, Sindhis too are Pakistanis, as is our prime minister, or should one believe that only Mohajirs and Punjabis qualify for citizenship?
It is stupid to suggest that the ISI has been infiltrated by Indian agents in the one month since Gen Hameed Gul’s departure, while it has retained its virginal purity for forty years since independence. And it is vicious to give currency to the totally unfounded rumour that the new DG ISI is to be replaced in due course by a PPP stalwart.
No one has ever doubted the professional competence of Gen Hameed Gul. By the same criterion, the author should desist from implicitly questioning the professional competence of Gen Kallu for the job. There is another obvious flaw and it lies in the author’s plaudits of Gen Gul: “it is a mark of his character when he chose to fight his own government to the last, rather than obey or resign, a soldier’s only real choices”. What is at issue is not the man’s character, which is doubtless beyond reproach, but his conduct in fighting his own government to the last! A true soldier does not fight his own government, under any circumstances, in a democratic country. For once, however, the author is right when he says, “that adds up a dangerous man!” Indeed.
If truth be told, the press is being used to propagate a perfidious campaign to destabilise the democratic government in Islamabad. Several instances spring to mind — the ‘Jalalabad has fallen’ stories, the ‘mass migrations in Sindh’ reports, and now this. And that is not all. There is another aspect to this whole ISI drama. Certain powerful politicians and their supporters and sympathisers in the state apparatuses are alarmed that the PPP government will soon get its hands on a veritable gold mine of information in the ISI files which relates to the past ten years and which is expected to shed much light on their ‘shady deals’, corruption, misuse of power and resources. In short, there is every likelihood that all the ugly skeletons in their closets will be exposed. This is something they cannot tolerate. Hence, their combined efforts are directed at discrediting the PPP, accusing it of ‘treason’, destabilising its government, and trying to overthrow it by hook or by crook. What is nauseating about this whole affair is that certain sections of the media are being blatantly involved in this campaign to undermine the democratic experiment in Pakistan.
We can only conclude that the stakes must be very, very high.
(TFT June 29-July 05 , 1989, Vol-I, No:16 Editorial)
Aftab Sherpao was wrong
Mr Asif Vardag, formerly of the Tehreek-e-Istaqlal and lately of the IJI, was reportedly loaded with money and other pieces of paper promising plots of land, when he holed out in Abbotabad last week, backed up by a Punjabi superintendent of police, Mr Pervez Rathore. His mission: by hook or by crook, to blow down Mr Aftab Sherpao’s fragile House in the NWFP.
Mr Sherpao, naturally, was not amused. So Mr Vardag was ceremoniously booted out of the Frontier and asked to cool his heels in the Punjab.
This sort of thing used to happen fairly frequently in the good old days of martial law when politicians were barred from entering a particular province ‘in the interest of law and order’. In fact, the tradition goes way back. But in these democratic times no provincial government has taken recourse to such measures to keep trouble makers out; not even Mr Nawaz Sharif, when the Feds were camped in Lahore some months ago conspiring to overthrow him. That is why Mr Sherpao’s hasty action has rebounded on him and he has had to retreat under a barrage of criticism.
We thoroughly disapprove of any attempt by anyone to destabilise a democratically elected government anywhere in Pakistan. The PPP, notwithstanding the aversion of Mian Nawaz Sharif and Co to the ideals of democratic politics, had no business trying to overthrow the IJI government in the Punjab. By the same token, we resolutely condemn the IJI’s bellicose attitude towards PPP governments in Islamabad and the NWFP. It is one thing to sit in opposition honourably, and quite another, totally unacceptable, to conspire by all the foul means available to undermine the legitimacy of an elected government.
Everyone knows Mr Vardag was up to no good. Unfortunately for all of us, it is no longer so novel or unconscionable, or even odious to sell your soul for a handful of money. The practice is common enough, and politicians and many others in this country think nothing of it. But, because the roots of such corruption have spread so deep into our society, nothing short of a bloody revolution will redress matters. In the meantime, however, because we all live in glass houses, we must be more tolerant and learn not to throw stones at others. So Mr Vardag’s conspiracies and villainous methods notwithstanding, Mr Sherpao did wrong to kick him out of his province. Such arbitrary methods belong, in theory, to the dark ages of dictatorship, and we would do well to disown practises of that time, rather than to fish them out at the drop of a hat.
Brother Arafat’s message
Brother Yasser Arafat, who was in Islamabad recently as Pakistan’s distinguished guest, was given a standing ovation by all the PPP MNAs in the Assembly. Many IJI oppositionists, however, did not stand up to applaud his speech.
It is downright boorish and uncivil to treat Mr Arafat thus. He was a state guest. He is a courageous Muslim Mujahid. He is the President of the State of Palestine. He has been Pakistan’s friend for over three decades.
The IJI suspects that Mr Arafat was invited to Pakistan by the PPP to bolster its image. Because the IJI has absurdly accused the PPP government of having links with the Zionist lobby in the USA, this charge will obviously not stick if the PPP is seen to be close chums with the greatest anti-Zionist of our times. The IJI also thinks that Mr Arafat may be persuaded by Ms Bhutto to open a line of communication with the Soviets over the question of Afghanistan. This too the IJI does not appreciate, because it foolishly wants the war in Afghanistan to continue and even spill over into the Soviet Union, so that ‘all the Muslims there can be liberated’.
Mr Arafat conducted himself admirably during his brief stay in Pakistan. He spoke only of Palestine. He did not refer to events or personalities in Pakistan, apart from welcoming the return of democracy to this country.
The opposition in Islamabad has no sense of propriety. It continues to make a perfect ass of itself at all opportunities. There is a time and place for washing one’s dirty linen, and this was not the time to sulk either.
(TFT July 6-12, 1989, Vol-I, No:17 Editorial)
Afghan war should end
Yasser Arafat’s recent initiatives to help negotiate peace talks in Afghanistan directly between the Kabul regime and the Mujahidin merit serious consideration. It also appears that prime minister Benazir Bhutto is not averse of encouraging him to try his luck with the Mujahidin in Peshawar, Gen Najib in Kabul and the rebel factions in Iran.
But the Americans do not seem to be terribly interested, just yet, in talking peace with Najibullah. By all accounts, they are egging on the Mujahidin in Peshawar to have another go at Jalalabad or Kandahar. That is why Vorontsov’s perfectly good formula for negative symmetry, as a first step in the right direction, has fallen on deaf ears in Washington. That is also why Peter Tomsen, their newly established envoy to the Mujahidin, is in Pakistan traipsing around the camps, assuring the Mujahidin that the arms pipeline will continue to flow, certainly until they have had another chance to capture Jalalabad or Kandahar in the next few weeks.
By all accounts it is clear that another adventurous military assault on either of the two cities by the divided and demoralised Mujahidin is bound to flounder. Independent foreign journalists, who have recently visited Afghanistan and met with officials of the Najibullah regime, have assessed the military situation on the ground of the two adversaries. They report that the morale of the Kabul regime’s soldiers is high, desertions have stopped, food and weapons are in abundance and a military victory for the Mujahidin highly unlikely in the short run. Additionally, the Iranians have only recently established a cosy relationship with the Soviets, who have promised to give President Rafsanjani an aid package of over US $ 6 billion. Chances are that the Iranian Mujahidin will be persuaded to settle for peace rather than support American efforts to prop up Mr Gulbudin Hekmatyar & Co and prolong the war, despite Mr Hekmatyar’s trip to Teheran last week to win the Shias over to his side. Finally, recent developments in the hierarchy of the Pakistani ISI, which used to call the shots in the Afghan war, may make it difficult for the Bush administration to have its own way completely, regardless of the consequences for Pakistan.
“The United States government has only one policy on Afghanistan,” says Mr Robert Flaten, director of the State Department’s office in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. “We support efforts toward a political settlement of the Afghan issue”. So, what then, do the Americans hope to achieve by sanctioning yet another military attack on Jalalabad or Kabul? Mr Vorontsov is right when he says that they hope to capture a city or two so that, when, eventually, all the parties sit down to talk some time in the future, their bargaining position is stronger. But, by the same token, if the military tactics fail, it is obvious that their final bargaining position will be weaker than it is now.
There are no options for Pakistan except to support all efforts to secure peace in the region. We must encourage proximity talks among the warring Afghan factions as a first step toward direct talks between the Mujahidin and Najibullah. This bloody war has gone on for too long and it is time the refugees went home. If some Mujahidin leaders are afraid of free and fair elections in Afghanistan in which all the warring factions, including the present regime in Kabul, can participate under a neutral authority, then they can always exercise the option of flying off to Switzerland to spend their ill-gotten war spoils.
(TFT July 6-12, 1989, Vol-I, No:17 Article)
Accountability for all
In his first speech as Combined Opposition Leader in the National Assembly, Mr Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi foolishly decided to hit Public Accounts Committee chairman Mr Hakim Ali Zardari below the belt. He pointed an accusing finger at the Zardaris, levelling charges of corruption. We had not recovered from the first bout of mudslinging when Mr Zardari retaliated forcefully, with astounding facts and figures about the IJI leaders, to knock us all out.
Of course, everyone loves a good, scandalous bash every now and then, especially if it involves our ‘elected representatives’, who are not renowned as paragons of virtue. But the recent accusations against Messrs Nawaz Sharif, Jatoi and other ‘friends’ of the late dictator Gen Zia ul Haq, are no laughing matter. When it appears that most of the top opposition politicians of these times are crooks who deal in plots, loans, sanctions and human beings, it becomes a deadly serious business.
Mr Zardari has detailed all the plots and acres of land accumulated by Mr Jatoi. He has laid bare the loans and mills sanctioned to Mr Nawaz Sharif, Ch Shujaat Hussain et al. We hear that billions of rupees owed to the state by countless people were written off by the Zia regime. The list of people who ripped off the public exchequers in exchange for keeping Zia ul Haq in power is shocking, as are the astronomical amounts involved.
A summary of these crimes reads as follows: Rs 42.5 billion in loans to 263 Zia supporters was written off under the dictator’s orders and not recouped by the government; 12 ‘industrial groups’, including Mr Nawaz Sharif’s companies, borrowed Rs 92.21 billion from nationalised banks against insufficient or inappropriate security; Rs 1.9 billion was lost through the sale of four hotels to the Hashwani group; the CDA in Islamabad lost Rs 380 million through the sale of cheap plots to Zia ul Haq’s pals; Mr Jatoi and his tribe accumulated dozens of urban plots and hundreds of thousands of acres of agricultural lands and orchards at throwaway prices; Dr Mehbub ul Haq changed the country’s import policy to suit the business interests of the Ittefaq group. The list goes on and on, ad nauseam. We would be hard pressed to identify a single politician from the opposition who has not been a major beneficiary of Zia ul Haq’s excessive patronage, at the expense, as always, of the tax payer of Pakistan.
Now that Mr Zardari has spilled the beans, what is he going to do about it? Is the government going to recover all the money which has been written off? Is Mr Zardari going to initiate legal action against all those who have defrauded the public over the last ten years? What about those bureaucrats in the armed forces and the civil services who acquiesced in these massive frauds, and were signatories to these unholy deeds?
Clearly, Mr Zardari cannot let matters rest after such a loud public outcry. He must do something, and quickly, if the whole exercise is not to rebound on him and impair the PPP’s image. He must follow up his accusations with concrete action, otherwise his party will lose credibility with the public at large and end up proving the opposition right.
However, the stakes are so high that he would be advised to tread with foresight and planning. It is going to be difficult to make many of these charges stick in a court of law because crooks of such a stature always cover their tracks well. The opposition is most certainly going to shout “victimisation” at every step Mr Zardari takes. It will also counter his charges with all the filth and dirt it can dig up against the PPP.
Nor is this matter confined to civilians in the opposition and those in government today. By the looks of it, the most powerful organs of the state are also deeply involved in widespread corruption and misuse of power. The fallout of these revelations will hurt many more powerful interests and groups than Mr Zardari can imagine. The fight between the PPP and the IJI is going to get bloodier over time, and Mr Zardari should be reminded that a man forewarned is a man forearmed.
This is as good a time as any to emphasise accountability, which is presumably what we have all been talking about for the last two decades. But it needs to be stressed that accountability is neither select nor time barred. Above all, it needs to be institutionalised, before the very idea is corrupted and falls victim to our increasing cynicism and opportunism. We have been bombarded, in the past, with white papers and charge sheets every time there is a change of government in the country. But that is precisely why the concept of accountability has lost its meaning. It is suspiciously linked to ‘victimisation’ and harassment of political opponents whenever there is a change in the balance of power. And in between such transitions, the word and its practise have ceased to exist.
All this must change. Since a democratically elected government and not a military dictator has now raised this issue before the public, we urge the PPP government to seek ways and means to institutionalise the whole process of uninterrupted accountability. This incorporates a continuing review of the officers of the government in power, MPAs, MNAs, the autonomous bodies and all the organs of state, including the armed forces, the bureaucracy and the police.
Mr Zardari’s accusations may be suspected of being merely a knee-jerk reaction to Mr Jatoi’s earlier outburst, or an attempt to preempt Mr Naveed Malik’s depositions against him personally. In order to dispel any doubts about his motives and intentions, the PPP government in Islamabad should allay fears of ‘victimisation and harassment’ by immediately setting up a non-partisan and independent body, preferably led by a retired chief justice of the Supreme Court, to oversee all matters relating to accountability, past and present.
Mr Zardari has done a fine job in the PAC. However, whether we like it or not, he is just as controversial and partisan a public figure as those he has spotlighted. It would be in the order of things if the PAC, or indeed another suitable watchdog body, were, in future, to be led always by a non-partisan and irreproachable person acceptable to both the government and the opposition at any given time. Surely, an act to institutionalise this practice in the constitution would be welcomed by all.
(TFT July 13-19, 1989, Vol-I, No:18 Editorial)
An Obnoxious Law
The “rusted sword” of the Press and Publication Ordinance of 1963 has finally been buried. It is now time to dispense with another unsavoury legacy of Martial law.
We refer here to the West Pakistan Publication of Books Ordinance, 1969 (WPPBO). This obnoxious ordinance was promulgated during the dictatorial regime of Yahya Khan and has remained on the state books for twenty long years. During this time, it has been ruthlessly used to harass and often imprison publishers and force them to toe the government line.
This ordinance pretends to protect “the integrity and cultural solidarity of Pakistan” by prohibiting the reprinting in Pakistan of all books published outside the country, “without first obtaining permission to do so” from the respective provincial information ministries.
The salient features of this ordinance are:
- A “show cause notice” is issued by the Press and Information Branch of the provincial government to any publisher who had not obtained the ministry’s prior permission toreprint a foreign book in Pakistan. This ordinance applies to all reprints. Thus it makes no distinction among scientific, technical, professional, academic, medical reprints (which cannot be ‘objectionable’ under any circumstances) or those in the area of sociology, literature, political science, economics etc. (which can conceivably be ‘anti-Pakistan’, although who is to judge that question is another complicated matter best not left to the illiterate bureaucrats of the Press and Information branch of the provinces). Furthermore, the Ordinance does not concern itself with whether or not reprinting rights have been obtained from the foreign publisher, prior to the reprinting of any book in Pakistan. Thus a local publisher may well have obtained reprinting rights from a foreign publisher but permission to reprint the book in question can still be denied by the provincial government under the provisions of this ordinance.
- Failure to respond in an acceptable manner, usually within three days of the notice from the provincial government, leads to the registration of a case against the errant publisher and the issuance of non-bailable warrants of arrest.
- Punishment upon conviction may extend upto several years including a fine.
The ostensible purpose of this Ordinance is to “control and regulate the printing of foreign books” so that ‘anti-Pakistan, anti-Islamic literature’ from a broad is censored. Of course, no one can question the wisdom of this objective. Anti-Pakistan, anti-Islamic literature should not be imported, printed or published anyway. However, several other laws which are more than perfectly adequate already exist on our statute books for the protection of Pakistan’s culture and integrity. For example, the Customs Act, 1969, under Section 15(c), prohibits the importation of obscene literature of all kinds. The Registration of Printing Presses and Publications Ordinance, 1988 (RPPPO), Part IV, details the innumerable conditions under which copies of any publication in the country are forfeited. This RPPPO safeguards the integrity, solidarity and culture of our country more than adequately. However, both the Customs Act and the RPPPO act to deter the importation and publication of ‘objectionable’ material, without imposing pre-publication censorship on the printed word.
In contrast, the West Pakistan Publication of Books Ordinance, 1969, acts to censor publication before publication. Furthermore, publishers are not allowed to appeal in the civil courts against the decision of the Press Branch to withhold reprinting rights. Under the circumstances, the WPPBO can be used, if necessary, by the government to restrict the fundamental rights of expression and speech. In the past, especially during the dark days of the martial law regime of Gen Zia ul Haq, this ordinance was also used quite effectively to silence, even imprison, certain publishers who had published books critical of the regime in power.
Pre-censorship of the printed word is unacceptable in a democratic society. Objectionable imported literature can be legally impounded at Customs’ entry points. Objectionable locally printed books (whether original or reprints) can be banned or forfeited at any time under the RPPPO which comprehensively covers all types of printed literature. The copyright laws should effectively combat piracy, after appropriate tightening, if necessary. But there can be no justification for retraining the censorious WPPBO.
(TFT July 13-19, 1989, Vol-I, No:18 Article)
The roots of police brutality
It would be difficult to think of an institution in this country which is more loathsome or distrusted than the police. Yet, given the fragmented nature of our society and its ethnic, religious, regional and social tensions, it would be difficult to think of an institution which is more essential to national-state building than an efficient and honest police force.
Everyone recognises both these facts of life which have developed concurrently, almost symbiotically. The greater our need to strengthen law and order in civil society, the more we distrust and suspect the intentions and ability of the police to respect the law and keep order. Or, if you like, put it the other way round: the more we hate and curse the police and the more contemptuous we become of it, the more likely we are to corrupt the law and break the order.
Of course, part of the problem can be traced to our colonial legacy. The police force we inherited was trained to protect the imperialist state and strengthen its conceptions of law and order. Consequently, the police’s basic powers of function, of serving the people, were transformed by the imperialist state into powers of oppression, in order to secure and maintain the interests of the colonial state.
After independence, the powers of function needed reinstatement, while the powers of oppression should have been dismantled. But that did not happen. It did not happen because we failed to establish a democratic order in which the people are sovereign and the state is subservient and accountable to them. On the contrary, the stirrings of democratic values were thwarted at every turn of our tumultuous history, in the process impoverishing our political culture, subverting civil institutions, corrupting politics and alienating the state from the people. This is why, in the institutions of the Pakistani state, which include the police and bureaucracy, the power of exploitation and oppression has dominated and overruled the power of function. That is why, instead of serving the people (remember, their functionaries are still referred to formally as public servants or civil servants), these institutions now rule the people. That is why we are accountable to them, rather than the other way around.
The police, regrettably, has imbibed the new ethos more readily and obviously than any other state institution. The explanation for this is simple enough. Every government, whether civil or military, has been forced to rely on the police, in the first instance, to keep itself in power and to subvert the natural democratic urge in society. Every government, as a corollary, has therefore felt it necessary to beef up the police’s powers of oppression, rather than have the courage or inclination to focus on strengthening its function to serve the people. This policy has lent the police enormous, unaccountable power. This power, by its own compulsions, is brutal, totalitarian.
When we confront police indifference, inefficiency or corruption in everyday life, we shrug our shoulders, call our ‘contacts’, and try to make do with what we can, silently, helplessly. When we read about police brutality, torture and high-handedness, most of us pretend it couldn’t happen to us and look the other way.
The press, of course, dutifully pulls out its files on the police and reruns its standard editorials, calling for ‘accountability and suitable action’. The IG, who always appears as a benevolent Godfather, routinely initiates ‘an enquiry’ and sometimes may even ‘suspend officers’ for a while. If a whole community is angered, even the Chief Minister may be forced to concede a statement or two, reassuring all that ‘action will be taken’.
The fact, however, is that in the prevailing strategic relationship between the state and the people of Pakistan, no officer in a state institution may take serious action against another, without upsetting the equilibrium. Each is, in turn, dependent upon, and loyal to, the other. The Chief Minister needs the total loyalty and unquestioned obedience of his IG, who needs the same from his DIGs, and so on and so forth, until we reach the level of the SHO and his constables. In return, each expects security and protection from his superiors, especially when laws are flouted and the public interest is harmed or compromised.
The chief minister of a province is directly responsible for the action of the police in his province. The press should hold the chief minister accountable for the actions of his subordinates. If a chief minister encourages his police force to break the law, brutalise the opposition and oppress the people, we should focus on him rather than on the officers of the police force. If the Punjab police is corrupt, irresponsible, callous or even brutal, we should focus on the government in power in the Punjab.
Mr Hussain Haqqani, the Punjab chief minister’s special adviser on many matters, recently informed the public that the Punjab police was more efficient in maintaining law and order, controlling crime, combatting corruption and protecting citizens, than the police force of any other province. The idea was to give his own government in the Punjab a pat on the back and knock those of the PPP in the other provinces. Of course, Mr Haqqani’s statistics are cooked up for convenience, but he is deadly right in calling attention, unwittingly, to the established nature of the relationship between the police force and the government in power in any province.
If a government is efficient, democratic and popularly elected, the facts should be reflected in the behaviour of the police. If it is not, the police will be ruthless, unaccountable, mercenary and trigger-happy.
(TFT July 20-26, 1989, Vol-I, No:19 Editorial)
Copyright laws: domestic needs and foreign interests
For many years Pakistan has been under enormous pressure from British and American publishers to amend its copyright laws to afford better protection to foreign publications and computer software in this country. This pressure is perfectly understandable, because foreign publishers lose a great deal of money when their books and software are pirated in the Third World.
The biggest pirates, in a priority ‘watch-list’ drawn up by the Office of the US Trade Representative of 25 offending countries, are India, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, with Pakistan listed among the top eight. According to US estimates, book, computer software, video and industrial pirates in India account for a business loss of US$ 123 m per annum while in Saudi Arabia the figure is about US$ 189 m and in Pakistan it is approximately US$ 20 m.
Clearly, something needs to be done in Pakistan to protect foreign business interests. But before the Peoples’ government rushes into hasty legislation under pressure from the Americans and the British, it should examine all the complex issues involved in this debate. It is all very well to enact tougher laws to punish errant book, video, software and industrial ‘pirates’, but the root cause of all forms of piracy -—prohibitive prices of the original imported products which are in great demand by end-users who are relatively poor middle class people -—will not go away by simplistic punitive measures and amendments in the copyright law.
While seeking to strengthen copyright legislation, which is a noble objective, the government must simultaneously address the problem of high priced imported books which lies at the heart of the matter. There is only one way out of this: Pakistan must insist, as indeed have India and other Third World countries, that foreign publishers should make comprehensive reprinting rights available to local publishers upon demand (under reasonable royalty, of course) so that foreign textbooks books continue to be cheaply reprinted and made available in this country for its huge but impoverished student population. Without corresponding legislation which makes it easy for the local publishing industry to legally reprint foreign books, the government will fail in eradicating piracy in this country. The system of ‘compulsory licensing’ which works in India, whereby a local publisher can reprint any foreign book by paying a fixed percentage of the list price in royalty to its own government for onward transmission to the foreign publisher, should be established in Pakistan also.
There is another, most important, aspect to this question of adequate and proper copyright legislation. In the past, certain book publishers have been singled out for ruthless treatment by a dictatorial martial law regime because they have published books critical of the regime and its policies. An ideal way to silence such offending publishers has been to harass them by falsely implicating them in cases of ‘piracy’ and then holding with without trial for months. The hard fact is that in the last ten years of Zia’s vicious rule, not a single authentic book pirate was convicted of ‘piracy’ even under martial law regulations, although many brave book publishers were falsely implicated in cases of ‘piracy’ and arrested under MLO provisions of ‘preventive detentions’, because they had published books which the dictator did not like.
The PPP government has to tread carefully. Its duty is also to ensure that no government, now or in the future, can ever falsely implicate a book publisher in a case of ‘piracy’ because the publisher has printed books critical of the regime in power. It should ensure that the charge of ‘piracy’ is not easily made for political reasons. Furthermore, if such a charge is made but cannot be upheld, compensation should be available to the victim.
There is only one way this can be affected satisfactorily. The government must not make allegations of ‘piracy’ a criminal offence, cognizable under the PPC for prosecution by the FIA. It is a civil offence in all countries of the world, and aggrieved parties make recourse to the civil courts to obtain relief, much as one would sue someone in a case of defamation. Of course, the government should strengthen and streamline the whole process whereby relief is available to the offended party when a product -—book, videofilm, computer software -—is indeed pirated. But the charge of ‘piracy’ must not be allowed to be made for political reasons. Because publishers of books, periodicals and newspapers are especially vulnerable to the wrath of a regime when they refuse to be cowed down, it is all the more necessary to ensure that their freedom to publish is not damned by a hostile government in power.
(TFT July 20-26, 1989, Vol-I, No:19 Article)
The Indo-Pak equation
The conflict between the nation states of India and Pakistan is rooted in the communal history of two peoples which goes back to much before the idea of Pakistan was carried to frution by Mr Jinnah. Unfortunately, after partition, India’s untenable position on Kashmir did not make relations any better. Several wars, including one which led to the disintegration of Pakistan in 1971, have added to the legacy of distrust and hostility which characterises relations between the two countries. In the process, an arms race has overtaken efforts to alleviate poverty in the sub-continent.
Politicians in both countries, including the establishments, have readily added salt to old wounds at every conceivable opportunity. It has paid dividends to arouse the worst prejudices of the two communities. In the end, however, it is the gullible public which suffers. Billions of rupees spent on arming to the teeth are billions not spent on the economic and social welfare of the people in both countries.
Of late, however, another dimension has been added to the old conflict. Since the oil crisis of the 1970s and the resurgence of Islam fuelled by it, the world has increasingly come to be viewed in terms of the ‘civilisations’ which inhabit it. The Jewish, Christian, and Athiest civilisations, each with its own ‘bomb’, were joined by a resurgent Islamic one. Pakistan conveniently found its own orbit in a new and powerful ‘Islamic’ galaxy, contending for position in the political universe. In this political cosmology, the world was no longer seen as ‘aligned’ and ‘non-aligned’. Secular, non-aligned India was left out in the cold of this political space.
This is when the seeds of Hindu India were sown. Attempts were made to make Indian culture synonymous with Hindu culture, the Hindi language was Sanscritised and officially thrust down the throats of the Indian masses. Historical evaluations of the Muslim period in Indian history were revised to show that the Mughals were ‘intruders’, that Islam was a ‘foreign encroachment’ on native soil. It was argued that without defining and establishing a pure Hindu civilisation, India would not find its rightful place in the new political universe.
It is this process which is in motion now. Hindu India is a civilisation that contends for recognition as the fifth dimension in political cosmology. That is why Hindu India is flexing its muscle in South Asia and appears determined to impose its hegemonic influence in the region. Viewed in this context, Indian interventions in Bangla Desh, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives and fresh tensions with Pakistan over Siachin and with Nepal over new links with China, all within the last few years, fall into place.
Under the circumstances, it is not going to be easy for Pakistan to live in peace with India. While our compulsions are to live and let live, Hindu India is driven to establish its modus vivendi in a larger universe, to which the smaller nation states of South Asia must acquiesce.
Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto is under considerable foreign pressure to ‘normalise’ relations with big brother Rajiv Gandhi. There is, in principle, absolutely nothing wrong with talking peace and pledging non-interference in each other’s affairs. On the contrary, it is to be welcomed. Even Gen Zia and Mr Junejo acepted the necessity of this approach. But Ms Bhutto must tread carefully, lest she trips over in her eagerness to ‘normalise’ relations on Mr Gandhi’s terms. The opposition in this country has always exploited the ‘India bogey’ and it is itching to embarrass the PM if she is seen to be ‘soft’ on Kashmir and Siachin.
There is considerable opposition even in India to its intervention in Sri Lanka and its bullying of Nepal. If, as President Ghulam Ishaq Khan has noted, Mr Rajiv Gandhi’s government is concretely able to allay fears of ‘Indian hegemony’ voiced by India’s smaller neighbours, then our government must be supported in its efforts to reduce tensions with India.
This year should afford an excellent opportunity to test Mr Gandhi’s bonafide. He is readying for an election and if he can resist the temptation to knock theories of the ‘foreign hand in Kashmir and Punjab’ and settle Siachin amicably, thereby diffusing the ‘Pakistan factor’ as a vote catching gimmick, he would be in an ideal position to catch BB’s ball of peace in flight and carry it through the goal in his next term.
(TFT July 27-August 2 , 1989, Vol-I, No:20 Editorial)
No love lost
The CM Punjab has turned down an invitation to dinner from the PM. Mr Nawaz Sharif says he did so because “the political atmosphere in the country was not conducive for such a meeting”. IJI sources have elaborated further: “It did not seem appropriate for a dinner invitation to be accepted from the head of a party which was trying to destabilise the Punjab government.”
We agree that the political atmosphere in the country is far from being benign, that it may, indeed, be poisonous. However, it follows logically that every opportunity ought to be grasped to clear the smog. But Mr Sharif has chosen instead to make matters worse. By refusing to talk to Ms Bhutto, he has indicated that he is not interested in resolving differences with the federal government.
The argument that the IJI will not talk to the PPP because the PPP is trying to destabilise the government in the Punjab does not wash either. The IJI is, in fact, trying desperately to overthrow the PPP government in the NWFP. It is clearly a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
Mr Sharif looks increasingly intransigent. This attitude has fuelled speculation that he is not interested in ‘co-existing’ with the government in Islamabad and that he would be only too happy to welcome martial law again in the country. Because Mr Sharif was so closely associated with the regime of Gen Zia ul Haq, and because his party still considers the dictator to be its mentor, there may indeed be solid grounds for believing that there is no love lost between Mr Sharif and the democratic urge in Pakistan.
This attitude should be roundly condemned because another bout of martial law will probably sound the death-knell for Pakistan. That said, the PPP too needs reminding of which way the wind is blowing.
Relations between the PPP and Akbar Bugti’s government in Balochistan have deteriorated to the point when the Baloch are egging President Ghulam Ishaq on to intervene and resolve matters quickly. The situation in Sindh continues to worsen; the accord between the MQM and the PPP still looks thin and is under constant pressure, with the MQM also lending its voice to the clamour for Presidential intervention. In the NWFP, the PPP is besieged and in danger of sudden death.
If this situation continues, the siege of the PPP will be extended to breaking-point. Surely, that is the last thing Ms Bhutto would want to confront. Because she has the most to lose, and her opponents the most to gain, from continuing the confrontations in the provinces, it is for her to initiate sound policy measures to neutralise the opposition and get on with the job of steering a course of grand diplomacy, compromise and consensus.
Change Afghan policy
The facts of the Afghan war can no longer be brushed under the carpet. And these are as follows. One, despite the best efforts of the US and Pakistan, the Mujahedin are more divided now than ever before and have abandoned the war against Najib to murderously fight one another instead. Two, Najib’s regime has demonstrated its ability to withstand any number of military assaults from the Mujahedin, its morale is high, defections have ceased, and the arms pipeline from the USSR is gushing with new and more sophisticated weapons. Three, the Iranians have established a new ‘detente’ with the USSR and Mr Velayti, the foreign minister, now argues that a future government in Afghanistan may, in fact, include representation from the PDPA. Four, US policy is in disarray, with junior officers at the Afghan desk in the American embassy disagreeing with Ambassador Robert Oakley over his increasingly untenable position of pressing the Afghan guerillas into yet another futile military assault on Kabul (Mr Oakley, it appears, has also displeased PM Bhutto by his unsolicited comments on how Pakistan should deal with India). Five, the democrats in Congress are becoming increasingly sceptical of the Administration’s efforts to prop up the Mujahedin, and opposition to the war is brewing in Washington. Six, the Europeans no longer see eye to eye with Presidnt Bush and would like to see new diplomatic initiatives to resolve the stalemate.
Ms Bhutto’s commitment to Mr Bush last month in Washington, to continue with existing Afghan policy for a couple of months so that the Mujahedin could have one last go at gaining some military victories on the ground, is wearing thin in the face of all these facts. She is also known to be personally sympathetic to the proposals from Mr Arafat and Mr Velayti.
There is not much point in going on and on with the present Afghan policy. After the exit of the Soviets, a continuation of the old policy in radically changed circumstances will only harm Pakistan. The PM should reassert herself and initiate the peace process to end the bloody war on our borders. If she does that, it might just be seen as a bright feather in her otherwise bare cap these days.
(TFT August 3-9, 1989, Vol-I, No:21 Editorial)
1977 vs 1989
It is worth asking today whether or not there are any similarities between two periods — 1977, the end of Mr Z A Bhutto and 1989, the beginning of Ms Benazir Bhutto — and what, if any, are the implications for the future of the PPP, democracy and Pakistan.
In 1977, when he thought he was set to rule another twenty years, Mr Z A Bhutto faced the onslaught of a combined opposition which consciously instigated an army coup to plunge the country into martial law. He failed to see the writing on the wall and paid for it tragically.
Ms Benazir Bhutto’s PPP government in Islamabad is not yet one year old, but the opposition to it is acquiring monstrous dimensions by the day. This opposition is led by ‘like-minded friends’ of the late dictator and sworn enemy of the Bhuttos, Gen Zia ul Haq. However, it now also includes all the former MRD friends of the PPP, and some more. They will go to any lengths, including the imposition of martial law, to get rid of her.
In 1989, Ms Bhutto’s position compares very unfavourably with that of her father in 1977. She does not have Punjab and Baluchistan, she is dependent on a tottering coalition in the NWFP and an unreliable majority in the National Assembly which includes the MQM and FATA. The Armed Forces are highly politicised, the bureaucracy cannot be trusted, the press is free and the opposition makes full use of it. Her team is politically immature, often trigger-happy, and certainly not beyond personal reproach. She contends with a powerful President with whom there is no love lost and who is constitutionally an alternative source of legitimacy. She also has to demur to the views of senior army officers who were forced by circumstances to acquiesce in the elections last year, and amongst whom there are many who look upon the PPP with suspicion, even hostility. On the other side, the opposition is opposing her to protect enormous political and economic interests acquired during the last ten years. Finally, the unending turmoil in Sindh is eroding her home base and casting doubts on her ability to govern efficiently.
Given all this, it is in the interests of the PPP to make friends and influence people and institutions in the right direction, rather than to antagonize them. Because the PPP has the most to lose under the circumstances, it is all the more necessary for it to be flexible in the short run. Its record, however, on this score is not terribly good. The “dismissal” of the Baluchistan government was a bad omen of things to come. The ‘Get Nawaz’ operation was totally misplaced. The Salman Rushdie affair was grossly mismanaged. These incidents early on soured the game and raised the stakes. The Peoples Works Programme is seen as an attempt to erode the opposition’s support base. Finally, with the arrest of Gen (retd) Fazle Haq and similar allegations against Nawaz Sharif, relations between the PPP and the opposition have touched rock-bottom.
The next few weeks are going to be tricky. The opposition has determined to go for the big kill, and swiftly. The Punjab and Baluchistan CMs have already asked the President to ‘intervene’, and so has the MQM. We know all too well the meaning of such ominous ‘interventions’. The game-plan is to overthrow the NWFP government and then to move a vote of no-confidence in the National Assembly. The MQM and FATA members simply require a nod from the President when the time is ripe.
Even if the opposition fails in its objectives now, it is not going to give up easily. The propaganda against the PPP is going to get shrill with each passing day. Three new exclusively anti-PPP papers from Lahore -—Sayasi Log, Facts International and The Observer -—will carry the battle into the media for the hearts and minds of the people. Fresh efforts will be made to intensify the contradictions between the PPP on the one hand and on the other, the President, the armed forces, the trader-industrialist classes, and the independent members of parliaments. Even old photographs of Ms Bhutto during her student days may be blown up for good effect. Wait for it.
The Prime Minister needs to do some serious and quick thinking about the mess at home, and forsake, for the time being, all her trips abroad. There is no alternative except to govern by consensus. If she allows things to slide, she will be unceremoniously ousted from power, notwithstanding her many friends abroad. The message is blowing in the wind.
(TFT August 10-16, 1989, Vol-I, No:22 Editorial)
Remembering a dictator
It is difficult to find a single example in the history of modern democratic nations when a dictator’s death has been commemorated by either the government or the opposition in a country. No one mourns Cromwell or Napoleon, although they were the harbingers of the great democratic revolutions which later erupted all over Europe. The tin-pot, dime-a-dozen dictators of Latin America and Africa come and go, and we would be hard pressed to remember their names with any veracity. It isn’t difficult to understand why.
A dictator is the very antithesis of a democrat, and formally remembering or honouring a dictator erodes the whole culture of modern democratic values — free and fair elections, adult franchise, a universally accepted constitution, an uncensored press, a strong and independent judiciary, a vibrant party-political system, etc.
In Pakistan, however, we are about to set a dangerous precedent. The dictator Zia ul Haq will have been dead one year on the 17th of August, and the IJI plans to mourn his passing in the tens of thousands on that day, in Islamabad. By so doing, the IJI is clearly making the following political statement: “Zia ul Haq was a martyr. He is our hero. We supported all his policies for eleven years, and, if given another chance, we will formally reinstate his legacies“.
What are Zia ul Haq’s legacies? He executed the democratically elected prime minister of Pakistan. He drastically amended the nation’s constitution, arbitrarily and illegally. He attempted to destroy the party-political system in Pakistan. He interfered in the internal affairs of Afghanistan and India. He mortgaged Pakistan to the World Bank and the IMF. The list is endless. In effect, the dictator ruthlessly flouted all the norms of democracy with contempt.
Is the IJI saying it doesn’t believe in democracy, free elections, an uninhibited press, a sovereign nation-state in Pakistan? Does it want another military dictator to overthrow the legally elected government in Islamabad? Does it want Pakistan to interfere in the internal affairs of Afghanistan and India? It seems to us the IJI is playing a dangerous game. By honouring the memory of a dictator who divided the people and ruled with ruthless disregard for their democratic rights, the IJI is hovering on the brink of treason to the very democratic system which gives it sustenance today.
If all these implications are not true, if the IJI does indeed believe in democracy and wishes to strengthen it, we might ask what the IJI hopes to achieve politically by commemorating Zia ul Haq on the 17th of August 1989. Let us concede that the IJI may be able to muster tens of thousands of people on that day in Islamabad. What will that prove? That despite his divisive politics, many people, including the Mujahidin, thought him personally pious or generous? But we know all that already, and it doesn’t detract an iota from the destruction he wrought on this country’s institutions and the unacceptable face of his political system. In fact, it will only prove that the IJI does not support the democratic system in Pakistan. If that is so, it might be argued that the IJI has no right to benefit from its many provisions if its real objective is to undermine them for everyone.
For too long, we have been subjected to a type of politics which undermines the foundations of this country. Instead of making martyrs of dictators, we should honour our commitments to the spirit of November 1989.
Mr Nawaz Sharif is determined to harass the PPP’s Mr Salmaan Taseer. While it is perfectly understandable that Mr Sharif is irked by Mr Taseer’s relentless attack on the IJI in the Punjab Assembly, it is totally unjustified and ridiculous to trump-up patently absurd charges of murder against him and lock him up. If Mr Sharif thinks he’s playing a game of tit-for-tat (Taseer for Fazle Haq), he should think again, because Mr Fazle Haq’s case is quite different and everybody knows that. This ‘game’ can escalate dangerously and before you know it, a similar PPP reaction against some unfortunate IJI-ite may trigger a snowball effect. There are many IJI stalwarts who have never minced words in attacking the prime minister or the PPP. Should it then follow that these gentlemen be charged with murder and hauled away to cool their heels in the clink?
Unfortunately, we cannot escape the suspicion that perhaps this is indeed what Mr Sharif would like to happen. The more the merrier, eh? There is a theory floating around that the IJI wants to sharpen the contradictions between the PPP and the rest of society so that in the ensuing heat and dust the fledgling democracy in this country can be thrown out with the dirty bath water. Certainly, Mr Sharif’s recent actions against Mr Salmaan Taseer lend currency to such speculations.
(TFT August 17-23, 1989, Vol-I, No:23 Editorial)
Pakistan is 42 years old today. It has been through three major wars, several border conflicts and two internal unsurgencies in Balochistan, with another simmering in Sindh at the moment. Two prime ministers, one president, three chief ministers, several generals, and dozens of political, religious and party leaders, including members of parliament, have been assassinated. We have chewed up three constitutions and countless provincial and federal governments. The shadow of Martial Law has hovered over us for nearly two-thirds of our life. In the process, over forty billion rupees have fled the country for safer havens in the West, and we have lost half our population and one-fifth our territory.
That’s not a bad record at all. Our rapacious self-destruction is symptomatic of a deep crisis of identity which remains unresolved to this date, threatening to puncture the pristine dreams of the Quaid-e-Azam four decades ago.
There is absolutely no doubt that the Quaid wanted a democratic and secular Pakistan. The two epithets go together. Everyone knows that and no amount of propaganda will succeed in revising history. This is probably the most fundamental issue at stake. Because our leaders have sabotaged democracy in this country over and over again for short-term personal and political reasons, they have been desperate to clutch at some alternate source of legitimacy to justify their political aberrations.
When the palace intrigues of the 1950s were dominated by selfish bureaucratic and feudal interests, the nascent culture of democracy and tolerance was inevitably compromised. When Gen Ayub Khan talked of ‘basic democracies’, he meant a benevolent but highly restricted, circumscribed and centralised autocracy. When Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto shouted about “peoples’ democracy”, he believed himself unassailable and infallible for at least twenty years. When Gen Zia ul Haq was forced to justify his autocratic rule, he took recourse to “Islamic democracy”.
It is heartening that, despite desperate attempts to sabotage the essence of democracy by prefacing it with words like ‘basic’, ‘peoples’ and ‘Islamic’, our detractors have failed to kill its spirit in the hearts and minds of the people. It is time we realised that democracy is here to stay, and no number of martial laws and theological autocracies will get rid of it.
The democracy Pakistan needs for its survival has many different but complimentary facets. To begin with, we have to consciously nourish a social culture of tolerance, large-heartedness and peaceful co-existence. A political edifice of democracy can only rise on the durable foundations of such a vigorous culture of indulgence.
Political democracy also needs strict adherence to a universally accepted set of laws and rules enshrined in a constitution. Arbitrary amendments should be shunned after consensus has been reached. The 1973 constitution should be protected from subversion. For better or for worse, it is all we have got. That is why the divisive 8th Amendment must go.
If we look at the political landscape today, after four decades of death and destruction, certain features stand out prominently. For one, the Pakistan Army under Gen Mirza Aslam Beg has reiterated its pledge to strengthen the political system of democracy and concentrate on its professional duties of soldiering. This is heartening. For another, the Pakistan Peoples Party has been returned to its rightful place in Islamabad after many years of persecution in the political wilderness. However, this picture is marred by the blot of a dictator.
The IJI, whose democratic credentials were extremely suspect to begin with, today insists on resurrecting the legacies of a military usurper. This is unpardonable. Nothing muddies the democratic waters more than breathing life into the political ghosts of Generals Zia ul Haq and Akhtar Abdur Rehman.
Mian Nawaz Sharif has got hold of the stick by the wrong end. He has foolishly allied himself with all the fascist forces in this country. After Zia’s death last year, he is known to have made great efforts to thwart the scheduled process of elections in November 1988. Subsequently, he has allowed, even encouraged, his long standing dispute with the PPP to degenerate into a bitter and acrimonious feud which chips away at our fragile democracy. Now, Mian Sahib is treading very dangerous ground by closely allying with those who are pointing the accusing finger at the COAS. It looks very much as though Mian Sahib wants a coup d’etat to plunge this country into darkness again.
Even a cursory reading of the political history of Pakistan should warn him that this strategy is primed for self-destruction, sooner rather than later. In the end, the spirit of democracy will survive, as it has done all these years, and its hysterical opponents will indeed vanish without a trace, as they have done before.
(TFT August 17-23, 1989, Vol-I, No:23 Article)
Mir Ghaus Bux Bizenjo
Pyaray, to ab kya ho ga? He would always say to me whenever he met me. And I would defer to the elder politician and reply, Aap bataye, Mir Sahib. As though on cue, he would then launch off into a logical and scholarly analysis of the situation at hand, mixing empirical facts with historical allusions, anecdotes and deductions, ending with To ab aur koye rasta nahin hai, Pyaray. At which point, the debate would start in real earnest, and we would go hammer and tongs at each other. I always listened to him patiently, and he never interrupted me when I was talking.
I first met him at a friend’s house in Karachi in 1972. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was then re-negotiating with the Baloch triumvirate of Mengal, Marri and Bizenjo over the formation of a NAP government in the province of Balochistan. There was much heated discussion over long dinners late into the night. Yes, argued everyone, the cool, argumentative, elderly Bizenjo would be able to handle the fiery, arrogant Bhutto better than the reticent, sulky Khair Bux Marri as Governor of the province.
Bizenjo was excited at the prospect of finally governing a province for the rights of which he had fought a long and arduous battle, dating from 1935 to 1972, and which involved long spells of incarceration. But he was apprehensive. As Governor of a troubled province, it would be tough mediating between the youthful, nationalist exuberance of Mengal and Marri on the one hand and the impatience of the autocratic ‘peoples’ leader Bhutto on the other.
Mengal and Marri mistrusted Bhutto and wondered how much leeway a NAP government would have in the province; in turn, Bhutto, whose PPP had failed to win a single seat in Balochistan, was determined to transform the political landscape of the entire country, especially the ‘backward’ areas of the NWFP and Balochistan. Within nine months, all three Baloch leaders were in prison and Bhutto had provoked an armed conflict in Balochistan with far reaching consequences. Ghaus Bux Bizenjo had failed to reconcile the increasing militancy of Baloch nationalist aspirations with the vaulting ambitions of the great moderniser Bhutto in his quest to build a ‘new Pakistan’.
I caught up with Mr Bizenjo again in 1976, in Hyderabad Central Jail, where we were both on trial in the notorious “Hyderabad Conspiracy Case”. We spent nearly 18 months together in one ward, talking politics, playing chess, discussing the lessons of history, being friends. He was bitter about the war in Balochistan and wanted it to end. He was also not on speaking terms with Marri, whose long silences and unbending attitude frustrated the pragmatic politician in Bizenjo. Apparently, when the three had been held at Sihala Rest House in 1973-74 near Rawalpindi, Bhutto had made half-hearted attempts to initiate a dialogue. Bizenjo was all for it; Marri, however, was unforgiving, while Mengal had certain preconditions, like the restoration of his ministries in Balochistan. Bizenjo was over-ruled.
Bhutto would have loved to effect a break in their unity, and Bizenjo was aware he would be rewarded abundantly if he parted ways with the others. But there was never any question in his mind of serving his own ambitions at the expense of his Baloch comrades. He had never been an opportunist; and he was certainly not going to bend his principles now. So he continued to argue his case, even as he sulked and suffered in prison.
The debate carried on in Hyderabad. But the canvas was now larger than prison life. Mir Saheb read extensively. A great favourite was Trotsky’s voluminous History of the Russian Revolution, which he’d ignored all those years, but couldn’t put down once he’d picked it up. I remember the relish with which he read certain brilliant passages over and over again. He also read Lenin’s articles on social democracy, Deutscher’s history of the unfinished revolution in Russia, contemporary debates on the nature of the Pakistani state by progressive Pakistani academics abroad like Hamza Alavi, and innumerable essays on the ‘national question’ in history.
He was an avid student of international relations, holding forth every day before the other prison inmates on the nature of the states of Eastern Europe, the legacies of imperialism in Third World countries like Pakistan, the nature of global superpower strategy and its implications for the rest of mankind. He loved an intellectual discussion, and was keenly interested in what others, irrespective of their social and political standing, had to offer in return. Always, he saw the other’s point quickly and was tolerant of the views of adversaries, provided he could persuade them to accept one platform and work together for the common good. Even when we played chess together, he would stop concentrating for a while, lean back in his chair, look me in the eye and start a fresh debate with great animation.
In 1977, when Bhutto was fighting for his life against the PNA, the question arose: should the Baloch and Pushtoon nationalists side with the PNA or should they talk to Bhutto and try to bail him out? Mengal and Marri were personally too antagonized by Bhutto to care about what happened to him, while Wali Khan was persuaded by his wife to give his blessings to Mazari’s NDP which stood in opposition to Bhutto. Bizenjo stood alone, arguing that talks with Bhutto could prove constructive at the time because he was weak and needed their support. The PNA was a reactionary movement, aided and abetted by American imperialism, he argued. The mullahs were fascists, led by the Jamaat-i-Islami, who wanted to create a one-party theological state in which democratic values would be banished forever, he said. It was criminal for civilians, under any circumstances, to encourage the overthrow of a civil regime by an army coup d’etat, he protested. When Bhutto sent Mr And Mrs Mazhar Ali Khan to Hyderabad prison to talk sense to the Baloch and Pushtoon leadership, only Mr Bizenjo echoed their warnings of dark days ahead if Bhutto was overthrown by the military.
When Zia’s coup finally came, everyone knew the Hyderabad Tribunal would be disbanded and all prisoners freed. Jubilation over the prospects of personal freedom and fresh elections overtook serious considerations of what lay ahead. But Mr Bizenjo was distraught. He feared there would be no fresh elections and that the army was here to stay. It was a great blow for democracy and Bizenjo never tired of reminding everyone of it.
During the last ten years of his valiant life, he made Promethean efforts to bring all patriots together on a progressive, secular platform. But, in the heat and dust of petty intrigue, great egos and ruthless ambitions, his suggestions fell on deaf ears or were consciously sabotaged. He did not give up. All his life he had struggled for the democratic rights of minorities, provinces and working peoples, and he continued to do so till his dying day. He was personally snubbed by the PPP and its leader Ms Benazir Bhutto many times, yet even as he lay on his deathbed fighting his last battle with a vicious cancer, Ghaus Bux Bizenjo urged his friends and followers to support her and the PPP in the larger interests of democracy in Pakistan.
(TFT August 24-30, 1989, Vol-I, No:24 Editorial)
The return of the prodigal
Mr Ghulam Mustafa Khar is like the proverbial phoenix which rises from the ashes. But he is the sort of person who will put even the phoenix to shame, because he is about to surface for the third time since we have known him. What is it that they say about not being able to keep a good man down?
Mr Khar was rebuked by Mr Z A Bhutto because he got too big for his boots in 1975. The errant son of the soil, however, was indispensable and resurfaced again in 1976, exchanging in the bargain the post of Chief Minister for that of Governor, Punjab. After the coup d’etat in 1977, he was Gen Zia’s unwelcome guest for many moons. The disappearing act didn’t last and before long he had safely exited into exile in London. Never one to say die, Mr Khar plotted away during his years in luxury, only to find himself in the clink once again after he returned to Pakistan in 1986.
It was deadly serious this time because there was that unfortunate matter of hobnobbing with an unfriendly neighbouring state in a conspiracy to overthrow Zia ul Haq et al. For two years, the ISI didn’t listen to Mr Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi’s plea for compromise, but when the PPP was romping home in the November elections, out popped a yoga-trimmed Mr Khar, seven days before the general elections, to pounce on PPP prospects in Muzaffargarh, and trounce all and sundry in sight for miles. As a gesture of his everlasting goodwill, the hapless Mr Jatoi was chucked a safe seat from the many in Mr Khar’s kitty. No sir, ungrateful Mr Khar is not, large-hearted he has always been, although the old ISI lot might rue the day they let him out, for reasons we all know.
The bitter-sweet relationship with the PPP has endured. Mr Bhutto was always his mentor (for the record, of course, though he couldn’t do without Mr Khar rather than the other way round), just as Ms Benazir Bhutto will always be his ‘niece’. When the PPP was down and out in the wilderness, Mr Khar only strayed a comfortable distance; when it came in from the cold, he was close enough to bask in its warmth. But then, how could it be otherwise? Doesn’t his heart belong to Daddy?
The Bhutto ladies are impaled on the horns of a dilemma. To Khar, or not to Khar, that is the question. Mr Sharif is blowing hot and cold in turns, threatening nightmares all round. The likes of Messrs Farooq Leghari and Makhdoom Altaf have all been routed on the battlefield of Changa Manga, and now Mr Sharif dares to make dangerous inroads in the NWFP and Islamabad.
The Punjab is intransigent under Mr Sharif and there is nothing the PPP can apparently do to win it back. It lacks organisation and is pulling in as many directions as there are leaders, notwithstanding Mr Salmaan Taseer’s bravado or Rana Shaukat’s dinners for Mr Sharif. No ma’am, this will clearly not do.
That is precisely what many of Mr Khar’s friends have been saying in Islamabad. Now, if Mr Khar were in the party, things would be different, the sun would settle on the IJI once and for all time to come, and the PPP would live happily ever after in the Punjab. Or so the argument goes, becoming more compelling by the day.
In the meantime, Mr Khar has readied himself for a final embrace with his long lost party. The spadework is done, the ladies are listening. The ‘rumours’ can no longer be ignored. Can the great Khar indeed deliver?
First, he wants the wherewithal: nothing less than the interior ministry will do, though of course, other possibilities cannot be ruled out if Gen Tikka can be persuaded to move to the cleaner environs of Islamabad. The deal naturally implies that, after Punjab has been delivered from Mian Sahib, Mr Khar shall in due course inherit it. The mechanics of the operation will be as follows: use the interior ministry to create the backdrop for Mr Sharif’s departure, resign from the NA, move into the PA Punjab, not courtesy another younger Khar from Muzaffargarh (that would be too easy) but from central Punjab (now, that would be something else) and take the glittering crown that once belonged to him.
Do not underestimate the man or his ambitions. Remember, when Khar roared in days of yore, ordinary folk slept peacefully, secure in the knowledge that their cows grazed serenely and thieves fearfully kept away. Since that is what ordinary folk in the Punjab want more than anything else in the world, he may indeed be the man of the hour yet again. Therefore, the ladies’ real dilemma may in fact turn on the more relevant issue of how to handle Mr Khar after he’s gobbled up poor Mr Sharif in the months to come.
(TFT August 24-30, 1989, Vol-I, No:24 Article)
The significance of Zia ul Haq’s ‘barsi’
There are several questions that spring to mind when we discuss the commemoration of Zia ul Haq’s first death anniversary. Which political force in the country wants to resurrect the ghost of a dictator and why? Who organised the show and how? To what extent did the ‘show’ achieve its proclaimed objectives? What is its significance and where do we go from here?
The Zia years spawned an era of illegitimate and arbitrary rule. Old and debunked politicians were given a new lease of life while new vested interests were created to sustain the facade of ‘Islamic democracy’ and keep the PPP out of Islamabad. During those lean years, the ‘golden oldies’ were replayed — Sardar Qayyum, Khattak, Safdar, Haroon, Ghafoor, Tufail, Talpur etc. — while a new bunch of ruthless, ambitious ‘young’ politicians was created to lend weight and give substance to the dictatorial regime. Of this crop, a few have fallen by the wayside — Aheer, Chatha, Imam, Hashmi, Naeem etc. Of the survivors, Mian Nawaz Sharif, Ch Shujaat and Pervez Elahi have cobbled together the IJI, which includes all the other remnants of the ancien regime.
None of the younger lot is a ‘born leader’, although each has had the turf to himself for over a decade. However, they have all accumulated vast fortunes and nurse vaulting ambitions. Because there is so much at stake for them personally, they will not be easily thwarted. Since they are all the offsprings of an unrepresentative and brutal system, their political methods and democratic bonafides are also suspect.
After the death of their benefactor and Lord Protector last year, they made Herculean efforts to rouse his original constituency — a particular clique in the armed forces — to scuttle the democratic urge within society. But for a little known General, sidelined by Zia and reinstated by a quirk of fate as VCOAS, they might well have succeeded.
Lacking credibility and legitimacy, the ‘young Turks’ maneuvered to keep the reins of government in their hands in the Punjab to facilitate their plans for the November elections. However, more than that was required to put up a good show. Once again, the convenient slogan of ‘Islam in danger’ was flogged mercilessly, along with much drumbeating about the PPP’s ‘track record’ during the 1970s, and the piety and good intentions of their dear, departed Zia ul Haq. Money there was in abundance and when the PPP’s ill-organised machinery and poor choice of candidates presented the IJI with many seats on a platter, it was left only to raise the spectre of anti-Pakistan Sindhi nationalism to clinch a dubious and narrow victory in the Punjab.
Unfortunately, given the caesarian conditions of its birth, Mian Nawaz Sharif’s band is not an organic political party with a charismatic or established ‘leadership’. Its existence today is inextricably linked to the death of Zia ul Haq (unlike the PPP, which owes its organic roots to the birth of Z A Bhutto as a political leader in the late 1960s) which necessitated the banding together of all those disparate elements who were his ‘political children’. Without continuing formal acknowledgement to the source of their existence, this band of men and women led by Mian Nawaz Sharif lacks legitimacy. Consequently, the survival of Mian Nawaz Sharif’s faction is dependent on the survival of Zia ul Haq and his legacies in the institutions of the state and the people.
It is therefore perfectly understandable that Mian Sharif et al should have made a tremendous effort to revive their fortunes by trying to capitalise on the occasion of Zia’s barsi. Their objective was to demonstrate the extent of the endorsement for their mentor, instill confidence in their own ranks as Zia’s ‘legitimate inheritors’ and to provoke Zia’s supporters in the bureaucracy and armed forces — the establishment — into ‘suitable intercession’ to restore their fallen hero.
The organisation of the ‘show’ was commonly undertaken by Mian Nawaz, Ch Shujaat and Pervez Elahi, with moral support from Mr Ijaz ul Haq’s ‘Zia Foundation’ and the filthy rich sons of the dictator’s friend and political ally, Gen Akhtar Abdul Rehman. According to reliable information, they were lent financial and organisational help by the mayors of Faisalabad and Pindi. Over 700 busloads, including the curious and the idle, were carted to Islamabad on the occasion.
I spent the better part of the 17th of August mapping the route from Pindi to the Feisal mosque, estimating the open and covered areas of the congregation site, the number of shamianas put up, the open space beside the mosque and the number of people. On the safe assumption that 1 person takes up at least 2 sq. feet of ground space, I reckon there were about 60,000 people there, of whom about 40,000 had been carted in from outside Pindi and Islamabad (i.e the rest of Punjab). However, for the sake of argument, let us say the figure is 100,000. So, what does that prove?
For one, it reflects favourably on the organisational ability and financial resources of the chief minister of Punjab, Mian Nawaz. But there was never any doubt of that in the first place; after all, his coalition did win enough seats in the Punjab to enable him to become CM. Second, it is less than half the figure of those present on the day Zia was buried last year. So if it proves anything, it is that ‘support for him’ has diminished by half in the last year. Third, apart from the obvious stalwarts of the IJI, the Muslim League and the independents boycotted the barsi. The COP was nowhere in evidence. This suggests there are fissures within the ranks of the IJI, that most components are unhappy with being associated with the legacy of a dictator and that this is why they have distanced themselves from observing his political barsi. Fourth, the crowd was apathetic, listless, confused, curious. You cannot compare it at the passionate expressions of solidarity at Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s barsis every year in Garhi Khuda Buxsh in Larkana.
Mian Nawaz Sharif later said that the crowds at the barsi signalled a referendum against the PPP government in Islamabad. On the contrary, the whole exercise indicates the increasing precariousness of the position in which Mr Sharif finds himself. He is desperately clinging to the rapidly fading image of Zia ul Haq and his IJI colleagues are deserting him in quick succession. The PPP, on the other hand, has shown it is confident, strong and democratic enough to allow Mr Sharif his little ‘tamasha’ in Islamabad. Gen Aslam Beg has also clearly warned that the political process will remain uninterrupted despite the natural hiccups, and that no third force should entertain the thought of upsetting the cart of democracy. It only remains for the prime minister to change tactics and get on with the job of government in earnest.
Short of a bloody act by a desperate conspirator, it does look like the end of the road for those who are clinging to the legacy of a dictator. Mr Ghulam Mustafa Khar’s re-entry into the PPP fold should pay put to this legacy in the Punjab in the near future.
(TFT August 31-September 6, 1989, Vol-I, No:25 Editorial)
The real crisis of Pakistan
Since independence, the Pakistani state has unsuccessfully grappled with the issue of provincial autonomy, in the process sparking armed conflagration on two occasions in Balochistan, war with India and the session of East Pakistan, the imprisonment of the entire NAP leadership in the 1970s, rising ethnic tension and bloody conflict in Sindh and the continuing drama between Mr Sharif and Ms Bhutto over the last year. No province has been spared its quota of legal and political anguish by the Pakistani state. Over the years, it has ruthlessly crushed the aspirations of the small provinces, one by one. Bengal in the 1950s and ’60s, Balochistan and the NWFP in the 1960s and ’70s, and Sindh in the 1980s.
Now, for the first time in 41 years, the central government in Islamabad finds itself at odds with a provincial government in the Punjab. Past Punjab governments have consistently refused to acknowledge provincial rights, let along fight for these because these governments have always been an extension and appendage of the central government in Islamabad, which in turn has been an unequivocal extension of the centralised military-bureaucratic Pakistani state.
The Pakistan state’s most favoured son — Punjab — for once finds itself in the same position in which the other provinces have been for forty years. Suddenly, Punjab has woken up to the fact that provinces have rights and that these ought to be protected against the encroachments of the centre. Backed by the Punjabi bureaucracy and military, Mr Nawaz Sharif is now talking of ‘rights’ and ‘autonomy’, and threatening to go to the courts and to the streets in order to ‘protect Punjab’s provincial rights’.
The origins of this centre-province conflict lie in the inability of the political parties and the state apparatuses to agree to a constitution that adequately represents the aspirations of all the nationalities in Pakistan which live in clearly demarcated geographical boundaries. The 1973 constitution has, unfortunately, lost so much credibility after its various amendments that few are prepared to abide by its diluted provisions any more. The spirit with which the constitution was enacted in 1973 has since evaporated and it now reflects the personalities rather than the issues of the last decade.
This conflict between the centre and the provinces is not going to be resolved without a radical restructuring of the Pakistani state itself. Power must devolve down to the lowest political structures, and the centre must relinquish budgetary, financial and other controls in favour of the provinces. In the absence of a radical overhaul of the present state structure and drastic amendments to the constitution of 1973 which reflect the present-day demands of the provinces, there will be no end to ethnic and nationalist strife in this country. The law of the constitution is good and effective only to the extent that it reflects the de facto aspirations and rights of the people it is supposed to protect.
The MRD, in its heyday, had already agreed to open up the constitution for a thorough overhaul, including a detailed scrutiny of the clauses which relate to the autonomy of the provinces. The PPP, then in opposition, had concurred in the collective decision to give more power to the provinces.
Regrettably, once in government, the PPP seems only interested in repealing the 8th amendment. This will never do. Mr Bhutto’s amendments were controversial just as much as Zia ul Haq’s. All the present amendments need to be overthrown and a fresh start has to be made with the cooperation of the entire opposition and the different provincial governments. We need to enlarge the scope of the provinces so that nationalism and ethnicity can be channeled for productive purposes rather than for strife and conflict in the years ahead.
Many people have long talked of the necessity of devolution of power in Pakistan. The first step in this direction is to call a round table conference of all the politicians so that everyone can put their cards on the table. A lot of give and take will be needed and this should be forthcoming without hesitation. Pakistan is in dire straits; if the present opportunity for democratic consensus and compromise is wasted, we may all be the poorer for it.
In the background, there is a grumbling noise that we should start afresh, but without the politicians who are held responsible for the mess. In these quarters, the constitution has never been held in any great regard and the politicians are viewed with contempt. Now is the time for the politicians of different provinces to agree to share power before they are all deprived of it for years to come again.
(TFT August 31-September 6, 1989, Vol-I, No:24 Article)
Do we need fresh elections?
Air Marshal (retd) Asghar Khan hates to be left out of the melee. He has now jumped in, arguing that new elections are necessary because the PPP government in Islamabad is incapable of legislating, given its slim majority. He also thinks that with the way things stand today — increasing polarisation and militant divisions in Sindh, provincial governments under attack by opposing parties in the Punjab and NWFP, differences between the PM and the President — the PPP government has lost its mandate to govern Pakistan.
Mr Asghar Khan’s is not the only voice from the wilderness. Everybody else in opposition, from Mian Nawaz Sharif to Maulana Fazlur Rehman, wants some sort of ‘intercession’ or ‘intervention to save the situation’. Yes, there is an uncanny and ominous ring to these demands and statements. Have we come full circle to 1977?
On the one hand, the opposition refuses to cooperate with the PPP government to either get rid of the 8th amendment or help legislate non-controversial bills, because it thinks that by so doing it will either invest too much power in the hands of the office of the prime minister or end up making the PPP government effective and durable. At the drop of a hat, we are suitably reminded of the bad old days of Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and warned that his daughter is a chip off the old block and cannot be trusted with power, nor be allowed to determine the destiny of this country for the next few years. On the other hand, however, it is argued with equal fervour that the PPP government in Islamabad is weak, cannot even restore law and order in Sindh, let alone legislate in the Assembly, and that there should therefore be fresh elections to determine who, in fact, has ‘got the public’s mandate to govern’.
All this smacks of wanting to have your cake and eat it too. The opposition refuses to cooperate with the PPP at any level, opposes it tooth and nail on each and every issue regardless of the merits of the case, and then criticises it for its inability to legislate, govern or run this country effectively. Seen in this context, the demand for fresh elections is no more or less than a dog in the manger policy by an opposition unable to come to terms with the requirements of a democratic system in a bitterly divided and inherently unstable country like Pakistan.
What, then, does the opposition actually want, notwithstanding its pious ‘democratic’ rhetoric? For one, by insisting on the legitimacy of the 8th amendment, it demonstrates its abiding respect for Zia ul Haq’s most despicable legacy — subversion of the democratically approved 1973 constitution. Two, by agitating for fresh elections barely one year from the last such exercise, it shows its impatience with the natural logic of a democratic system which authorises the PPP to govern for another four years. Three, by consciously sabotaging the workings of the democratically elected PPP government in Islamabad, the opposition is desperately trying to create conditions which can only result in the revival of martial law and suspension of all democratic rights in this country.
To some extent, this is to be expected from all those civil forces which cooperated with the late dictator Zia ul Haq and which owe their rise to political prominence to his patronage and beneficence during the years of military rule. We can also expect such an attitude from the reactionary forces aligned with the Jamaat-i-Islami which only want to establish their one-party rule and don’t care two hoots for democracy and pluralism in Pakistan.
But when people like Air Marshal (retd) Asghar Khan, Nawabzada Nasrullah and Maulana Fazlur Rehman, all of whom have vigourously opposed dictatorship and authoritarianism in the past, lend their shoulder to such fascists, it is a cause for much concern.
Why are these gentlemen in such a hurry to get rid of the PPP government, when it is abundantly clear that another martial law may well sound the death-knell of this country? Do they have any illusions left about the implications of a new martial law regime? Are they sanguine about the illegitimate return to power of the Zia ul Haq brigade, under the cloak of a military government?
It is difficult to fathom the depths of their desperation. Since they cannot be accused of cow-towing to the obviously dangerous anti-democracy sentiments of Nawaz Sharif & Co, we are left with no other explanations except those of intellectual fallibility or personal greed. The Nawabzada has, indeed, turned exceedingly sour after he was ditched by the PPP over the question of the Presidency early this year. But he should know that the PPP had no real choice in the matter. As an elder statesman he should forgive and forget, unless, of course, the advancing years have sapped his generosity of spirit and made him oblivious of his responsibilities to his country. As for the Maulana, he runs a coalition government in Balochistan and should get on with the job of governing rather than involve himself in sterile debates simply because he likes to see his name in print. Mr Asghar Khan took eleven years to erase the blot on his good name — when he encouraged the overthrow of Mr Bhutto’s government by an army coup d’etat in 1977 — and it would be tragic if he were to end up now sabotaging his well-earned credentials by echoing the demands of the ‘martial law’ brigands.
For the sake of argument, however, let us suppose that fresh elections are triggered off either by the PM or the President in the near future. What sort of results can we expect? Without going into the possible permutations and combinations, it is clear that we will either be thrown back into the same sort of vortex in which we find ourselves today, maybe with the roles reversed for the two major parties, or we will witness a strong government at the centre which is hostile to one or more of the governments in the provinces. In either eventuality, the mudslinging will begin afresh and we will be back to square one.
We do not need fresh elections, not by a long shot. What is desperately in short supply is the ability to live and let live, to be tolerant of the views of others, to accept the right of those in power to formulate policies and laws in accordance with their mandate. What is also lacking is a consensus about the historical destiny of Pakistan and the status and role of the various nationalities and ethnic groups which live in it. That is what the debate should be about, rather than attacking one another for short-term personal gain and demanding new elections whenever the results belie some expectations or hopes.
(TFT September 7-13, 1989, Vol-I, No:26 Article)
Sindh: danger zone
Ms Benazir Bhutto needs to spend more than just her weekends in Sindh. Her home province is riven with dissension and she is doing nothing to repair the damage. It is not enough to pack Khawaja Tariq Rahim off to Karachi every now and then to assuage Mr Altaf Husain with new concessions so that the MQM is restrained from pulling back from the Karachi Accords and endangering the PPP government in Islamabad.
The Sindh National Alliance is making a strong bid for the hearts and minds of the Sindhis. It is rapidly eating into the PPP’s constituency. However, if the SNA insists on an ethnic charter like that of the MQM, rather than a nationalist one like the BNA or even the ANP, there is bound to be serious trouble ahead. Add to this bubbling cauldron the revival of the right-wing pro-Zia groups and parties, like the Jamaat i Islami and the JUP, and we have all the ingredients of an explosive cocktail which can ignite a prairie fire in Sindh at any time.
The PPP is also bitterly divided in that province. The powerful Makhdoom Khaliquzzaman has already attacked Mr Qaim Ali Shah for being weak and inefficient, while Mr Qurban Ali Shah has gone on record about “the two Zardaris who are devouring the party like termites”. The IJI’s clamour against the first family seems faint compared to the scandalous uproar caused by Mr Shah’s allegations against the Zardaris.
Even if some of the charges against the Zardaris are half true, it is nothing less than a huge national disgrace to our already tottering democracy. The PM’s campaign for accountability will lack credibility so long as she doesn’t clean up her own backyard first. A majority of Pakistanis still wish her well, but it must be remembered that the springs of goodwill for her are not bottomless.
Ataullah Mengal’s musings
As he reminds us, Sardar Ataullah Khan Mengal’s views have progressively hardened over the years as a consequence of the step-brotherly treatment of the Pakistani state to the Baloch since 1947. However, Sardar Mengal is not a secessionist ideologue. His rigorous opposition to the present distribution of power in Pakistan does not preclude for all times the possibility of returning to Pakistan to participate in the democratic process. But he is absolutely right in demanding a radical change in the way all power has tended to concentrate in Islamabad.
In 1979, Gen Zia explored the possibility of restoring Mr Mengal and his colleagues to power in Balochistan. However, because the dictator was not even prepared to countenance the possibility of mutual consultation on the appointment of a Chief Secretary for the province, Mr Mengal was spared the frustration of trying yet again to make a deal with the federal government. That episode is a far cry from the way Mr Sharif runs Punjab today and the sort of provincial demands Punjab is making on the federal government.
All this simply confirms the oft repeated statement, echoed by Sardar Mengal, that Pakistan’s other name is Punjab. For forty years, Punjab has lorded it over this country, consistently refusing to acknowledge the existence of other provinces or nationalities. Today, however, when Punjab finds itself denied the reins of power in Islamabad, its Chief Minister righteously and indignantly demands the prerogatives of his province and thinks nothing of officially expressing views on foreign policy, currency, communications, etc., which are contrary to those of the federal government.
This is an excellent opportunity to sort out the matter once and for all, because Punjab is not likely to sabotage initiatives for the devolution of power to the provinces, given its own peculiar predicament at the moment. The present federal arrangement is totally unworkable and bound to break down more frequently in the future than in the past, inevitably with disastrous consequences for the viability of the country itself.
The PPP is duty-bound to call a round table conference of all politicians to decide the question of autonomy, once and for all. That will be the time for raising the issue of all the amendments to the 1973 constitution, including the controversial 8th amendment. There is much to be gained from a fresh and final assault, taken in consultation with all, to overthrow the earlier aberrations to the constitution and set the record straight for the 1990s. Pakistan needs breathing space to pull itself out of the quagmire of the last 40 years and launch itself into the 21st century as a vibrant and democratic country.
It is time to create conditions also for people like Sardar Mengal to return to their homeland, as all the PPP exiles of the last decade have recently done.
(TFT September 7-13, 1989, Vol-I, No:26 Article)
A couple of years ago, an American professor of political science visiting Pakistan asked a top party activist how ‘the Sindh problem’ would be solved by the political parties in Pakistan. Pat came the answer: “Oh, that’s simple, give us democracy, and there won’t be a Sindh problem”. To which, the American angrily shot back, “That’s nonsense! I’m alarmed that you should be so naive!”
There is an increasing sense of deja vu about the present political situation in Pakistan. The Punjab-Centre conflict has acquired absurd dimensions, Sindh is rupturing at the seams, Balochistan sulks in dangerous isolation and the NWFP is a hotbed of drugs, guns, intrigue and ruthless political horse-trading. What is the solution to this mess?
Prime Minister Bhutto has shrugged all this off as the inevitable consequence of the ‘litter strewn about from the Zia years’, implying that the insignificant rubbish will soon be swept away. If this is not merely a diplomatic way of sidestepping the quicksand, i.e., if she really believes what she says, then the prime minister is surely labouring under a grave and dangerous misconception.
The installation of democratically elected governments at the centre and in the provinces is merely a necessary condition for resolving political disputes. In other words, it is a first step in the right direction. However, if the sufficient conditions for rejuvenation, which are as complex as they are numerous, are missing, the first step forward is likely to end up pushing us two steps back. It is a dangerously short exit from democracy to dictatorship and an agonizingly endless journey from dictatorship to democracy in Pakistan.
Unfortunately, not a single political party has demonstrated its ability or willingness to help create the sufficient conditions for enlarging the democratic space available to us today. On the contrary, a brief survey of the political landscape reveals that we live in Blunderland rather than Pakistan.
The PPP has the most to gain from the revival of democracy in Pakistan. By the same token it has the most to lose from its failure in Blunderland. Since the prime responsibility for the success of this renewed experiment rests on the PPP, our sympathy for it diminishes in proportion to the ridiculous leaps and bounds it takes, lurching from one blundering position to another, leaving supporters and critics alike astounded by its political immaturity and short-sightedness.
Let us forget about the Balochistan and Rushdie affairs. The early morning dew on the opening day of the match helped the ball to seam about a bit, leaving the PPP batsmen Khwaja Tariq Rahim and Ch Aitzaz Ahsan floundering on the back foot. However, instead of taking fresh guard and settling down for a long innings, the PPP decided to appeal vociferously against the intimidatory bowling of Mian Nawaz Sharif in the hope that the two neutral umpires, President Ghulam Ishaq and COAS Gen Aslam Beg, would be persuaded to banish Mian Sahib from the ground altogether. This campaign to get rid of Mian Nawaz Sharif is harmful to our new democracy, and therefore deplorable. Mian Sahib has as much right to run Punjab as the PPP has to rule in Islamabad, NWFP and Sindh.
But the Centre-Punjab conflict is only one manifestation of life in Blunderland. Another aspect is the increasing suspicion that the PPP government in Islamabad lacks team spirit and is pulling in many different directions. Sympathetic insiders regale us with horrific stories of corruption, bunglings, inefficiency, misinformation and great insecurity in the corridors of power. The PM’s secretariat is like a closed fortress thundering along like Trotsky’s armed train, sweeping aside friends and foes alike. A bewildering abundance of ministers, secretaries, advisers, attaches, family friends, loyalists and ambassadors-at-large, desperate to have a cut of the cake and show-off their power and largesse, has all but brought the business of government to a standstill. Unfamiliarity and impatience with the established rules of government has alienated many bureaucrats and left them wondering about whose orders should have priority. To top it all, the PM seems to be more interested in what her foreign friends say of her (including the foreign press) rather than what her own constituency thinks of what she and her party are doing at home. She has also, regrettably, acquired the reputation of being a bad listener and has apparently begun to sound more and more like a solid ‘conspiracy theorist’.
Someone should tell her the lay of the land outside her secretariat. She should be told how the PPP’s vote-bank is losing deposits in the Punjab and Sindh; how her party and government stalwarts are knifing one another behind her back; how nepotism and favouritism are gnawing away at the roots of her popularity and weakening her party; how her foreign friends are shaking their heads and clucking disapproval in public; how her father’s image is fading away from the memory of those who mourned for him and voted for her; how her detractors are gleefully counting the days before the PPP’s departure. In effect, how, in such a short time, she has become her own worst enemy.
As for Mian Nawaz Sharif and his Jamaati cohorts, the less said the better. Since they do not believe in a democratic system, they are abusing it with much relish and gusto. They have done irreparable damage to the country by fanning ethnic hatred in the community, rebellion in the armed forces and polarisation in the press. If Ms Bhutto urgently needs to take critical stock of her failings as a leader of Pakistan, rather than of Blunderland, Mian Nawaz Sharif should be seriously warned for continuously overstepping the line.
(TFT September 14-20, 1989, Vol-I, No:27 Editorial)
Story of the “coup”
The Financial Times of London (September 8, 1989) carried a scoop from its Islamabad correspondent, Miss Christina Lamb, saying that several senior army officers, including one Maj-Gen, had recently plotted to overthrow the government of Benazir Bhutto. The report says that the plotters were thwarted by a tip-off from the US embassy and later arrested. Miss Lamb said she confirmed the story from a couple of federal ministers and intelligence sources. However, she does not name the plotters, the US source or the federal ministers who confirmed the story.
When the story hit Islamabad the day following the PM’s massive rally on September 6, denials were quickly posted from the Ministry of Interior, the US embassy and the ISPR, while COAS Gen Aslam Beg angrily described it as “nonsense” and the PM shrugged it off contemptuously.
In journalistic circles, however, the story seems to have to acquired a more sinister dimension. PPP sympathisers are convinced that Miss Lamb was manipulated by the “IJI-disinformation cell” in order to dampen the PPP’s euphoria after the tremendous success of the September 6 rally in Rawalpindi, in which the theme of the address was the unity of the armed forces with the democratically elected PPP government in Islamabad.
Miss Lamb, however, is resolutely sticking to the story, even though she has reportedly been ‘rapped on the knuckles’ for her alleged indiscretion and misrepresentation. Despite grumbling from certain quarters that she ought to be expelled from Pakistan, the PPP government has judiciously thought fit to drop the matter.
Miss Lamb has spent nearly a year in Pakistan. She has travelled extensively, known our politics like the back of her hand, and has many influential friends across the political divide. In the process, she has ‘broken’ several stories of major significance, including reports of tensions between the ISI and the PPP government early this year and the departure of Gen Hameed Gul from the ISI. She has interviewed everyone of importance, from the Pakistani PM to Gen Najib in Afghanistan, and she was adjudged the best young British journalist for 1988 on the basis of her incisive and authoritative writings on Pakistan and Afghanistan.
There is no doubt in our minds about Miss Lamb’s impeccable journalistic credentials. Because our own press is so highly polarised and often thinks nothing of consciously carrying ‘planted’ stories, speculation about the origins, motives and timing of such a story, which casts a shadow on Miss Lamb’s veracity, is perfectly understandable in the circumstances. However, it is totally unjustified, in view of her excellent record for objectivity and professionalism.
Equally, if we are to believe the outright denials emanating from high office, it is perfectly possible that she may have been the unwitting target of a subtle ‘dis-information’ campaign by either the IJI or some confused PPP ministers, or even a combination of both. Some background facts which shed light on this episode are already known. For instance, it was reported earlier that some senior officers of the armed forces were unhappy at being formally denied permission to attend Gen Zia’s barsi last August. It is quite possible that their grumblings were investigated and checked out by our intelligence agencies, as a routine matter. But mere ‘questioning’ of army officers is a far cry from arresting them, or even of accusing them of plotting to overthrow the government. Such speculation was also fuelled by the PPP’s mishandling of the ‘Sirohey affair’. Further, the transfer of the DG, Intelligence Bureau, Mr Akram Sheikh, had been unofficially forecast a few weeks ago, for reasons which have nothing to do with the FT’s story of the coup, and it could simply be a coincidence that Miss Lamb’s prediction of his ouster came two days after his actual transfer was formerly announced.
Our own research suggests that the FT’s story is incorrect. We do not think that a coup was being plotted, or that any officers have been arrested. We believe that Miss Lamb has been misled into jumping to the wrong conclusions. Since she says she confirmed her story from a couple of PPP ministers, and there is absolutely no reason to disbelieve her, the spotlight should shift from her and focus instead on discovering who these gentlemen are and what their motives were in feeding her with such a story.
Finally, it needs to be noted with some satisfaction that thus far the government has dealt with the matter in a most democratic and sensible fashion. Miss Lamb has not been expelled or harassed, nor have her journalistic privileges been withdrawn. However, it is worth asking whether or not a local journalist would have been dealt with in such a sensible manner if he or she had carried such a story. We hope the government will continue to emphasise the freedom of the press, irrespective of misunderstandings or mishaps along the way.
(TFT September 14-20, 1989, Vol-I, No:27 Article)
Bigger and Better than ever before
According to TFT estimates, the PPP rally in Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi, on September 6th — Defence of Pakistan — was a truly grand display of popular support for Prime Minister Bhutto’s government.
Liaquat Bagh measures approximately 500 ft. by 500 ft. or 250,000 sq. ft. in total (compared to the site of the Faisal Mosque, where Zia’s barsi was observed last month, which is about 150 ft. by 650 ft. or 100,000 sq. ft. in total). If there were 60,000 people at Zia’s barsi, there were over 150,000 at Liaquat Bagh. If we include the spillovers into the streets leading up to and around Liaquat Bagh and add Mr Sherpao’s process which couldn’t get to the rally outskirts of Pindi, we can safely say that over 300,000 people turned out to greet Prime Minister Bhutto on September 6, 1989.
Liaquat Bagh began to fill up at around 8 am on September 6. Dozens of fruit vendors, fresh lime sellers, books and posters hawkers had set up stalls all over the venue. I counted over two dozen different colour posters of Benazir Bhutto in various moods and moments — elegant, demagogic, pensive, ravishing — with and without her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto or mother Nusrat Bhutto. Sales were brisk and enthusiastic, the buyers choosy but determined.
A few barefoot old women, their clothes tattered and dirty, wandered around looking lost and fatigued. “So Mai, how’re you doing?” I asked one of them. She frowned and squinted at me, “Son”, she said matter-of-factly, “we’ve travelled a hundred miles on foot and but to be here today, we haven’t eaten a crumb, but we’re longing to catch a glimpse of her. When do you think she’ll come?” “Oh, about 7 in the evening”, I replied nonchalantly. “Never mind” said another, as they deposited themselves under the shade of a tree, starring blankly at the stage erected some distance away. I looked around. There were many clusters of such women, parked at different places in the ground. The men, on the other hand, were milling around, talking, gupping. They were all poor.
After spending a couple of hours measuring the ground, I drove to the Faisal Mosque to confirm my earlier assessment of the site’s capacity. Yes, indeed, the ratio was 1:2.5. So, if Liaquat Bagh were packed tonight, I thought, we should have over 100,000 people.
How wrong I had been, I mused, when I made my way back to Liaquat Bagh at about 3.30 pm, along with a couple of journalist friends and a senior officer of the Press and Information Department. We meandered about in the environs of Liaquat Bagh, looking for a place to park our car. After fifteen minutes of brisk walking and rubbing shoulders with tens of thousands of PPP supporters, after evading buses, vans, cars, motorbikes and cycles, we finally (phew!) arrived at the gates of the entrance to the park for journalists and VIPs. If there were thousands of people outside the park who couldn’t get in around 4 pm, there must be ten times as many inside, I wondered out aloud.
Getting in was tough. It took us about half an hour to push and shove our way through to gate, which was closed to all the sundry. Like us, Mrs Bushra Aitzaz, minister Iftikhar Gilani and several others had an equally hard time getting in, and that after proving bonafides by waving the special entry cards we’d been given.
But no, our troubles weren’t quite over, Tough, enthusiastic and terribly efficient PPP volunteers from Pindi obstructed new entrants, scrupulously checking entry cards and giving everyone a thorough once-over. By 4.30 pm, I was enscounced in the Press Gallery, especially constructed to provide a marvellous vantage view of the stage and the ground.
One look round and I was convinced it was going to be a grand event, possibly better and bigger than anything I had seen to date. The loudspeakers were blaring away with news of the arrival of the processions from far and wide — so and so from such and such a place, along with so many buses and supporters — as well as announcements of people, important people I assumed, who had only just declared their “support for the Peoples Party and its dynamic leader Benazir Bhutto”. On and on it went, interspersed with martial and patriotic music, until I had to crouch in my seat and block my ears for what seemed an endless wait.
Everybody was drenched in sweat, and thirty. But we need not have worried Eager, young PPP volunteers rushed around offering drinks of cold water without discrimination. What a marvellous organisational effort, I thought.
The ground was packed to capacity by 6 pm, with people perched on trees, hanging from props, breathing down one another’s necks, literally. Amazingly, the long wait hadn’t made the crowd restless, although the stage secretary was visibly nervous and promised the assembly that its “beloved Prime Minister would be here any moment”!
Around 5.30 pm, an helicopter flew overhead, circled the ground and disappeared from sight. “She has come” murmured the crowd in anticipation. Everybody stood up, and then sat down quietly a little while later. False alarm, probably just PTV crews doing their little but for the 9 pm news. The minutes dragged on into the night, until the ground was illuminated with the blaze of hundreds of spotlights. There was still no sigh of Benazir Bhutto. Just then, we were told that Aftab Sherpao, “along with an eleven-mile long procession” was stuck at the outskirts of the city and couldn’t make his way into Liaquat Bagh.
By 7 pm, we were all getting desperate. A couple of foreign journalists left because they wanted to scout around outside the ground and file their stories before their deadlines ran out. Others hung around with good-natured humour, taking photos, recording the din, and making cynical remark about the Pakistani conception of time. By now, however, we could smell rain in the air and the wind was threatening to disrupt proceedings all round.
She arrived at 7.20 pm. As soon as she faced the crowd, it stood up like one big giant, and gave her a thundering ovation. Everyone in sight was aglow with expectation and joy. Sheer joy. That is when powerful slogans ripped the air and everything else was lost in the space between the people and their leader.
I was reminded of April, 1986, when Benazir Bhutto returned from exile to Lahore like a conquering heroine. It seemed like nothing had changed in the intervening years. But that was not quite true. Bhutto, the man, had largely been displaced by Bhutto, the women. For every ten pro-Shaheed Bhutto slogans in 1986, there was only one now. Benazir had indeed come of age.
Her speech wasn’t predictable at all. We had all thought she would blast Nawaz Sharif, warn the people of dark conspiracies to overthrow the peoples’ government, be long on rhetoric and short on substance. But no, there was none of that. She was concrete, she emphasised unity, she condemned the hoarders of sugar, she set aside a fund for the heroes of Siachin, she erased the distinction of ‘us’ and ‘them’ between the armed forces and civil society. She urged the people on to struggle for their democratic rights, and promised to deliver. She was passionate, she was argumentative, she was reasonable; in turns diplomatic and statesmanlike, she enthralled, excited and provoked the imagination of hundreds of thousands of people in and around Liaquat Bagh on 6th September, 1989. It was a truly memorable occasion and it ended with the promise of new dawns to be conquered.
IJI at Mochi Gate
The former Prime Minister Mr Muhammad Khan Junejo must have given up his last hopes, if he had any left, of playing a part in the country’s politics, after the PML’s September 11 rally at Mochi Gate.
The crowd started leaving as he took the stage, despite Mian Nawaz Sharif’s request that “no one was to leave without hering out Mr Junejo”. Already smarting at Mian Nawaz Sharif’s repeated references to “Shaheed Gen Ziaul Haq”, and the roar of the crowd in response, Mr Junejo finished his speech in a hurry. But by that time, the Mochi Gate ground was one-third empty.
Estimating the crowd remained the favourite topic among the journalists. The Mochi Gate ground was packed, which means 25,000. Outside the ground, towards Bhati Gate at one end and Rang Mahal on the other, the road was lind with buses used for trucking in the people.
All told, another 45,000 outside Mochi Gate would be more than a safe guess, considering that the road which gave the whole place a very crowded look is about 30 feet in breadth, and that the crowd thinned out rapidly as one moved away from the venue of the meeting.
Inside Mochi Gate, the right hand side of the stage was occupied by supporters only of the generals, as was clear from the loud applause that wold erupt from that corner whenever the name of Gen Zia was taken by any of the speakers.
In his 20-minute speech, Mian Nawaz Sharif repeatedly mentioned himself as the sole opponent of Ms Bhutto and “her designs to break up Pakistan”, to the exclusion of all other leaders present at the stage. He also made another interesting observation. On his way to Mochi Gate, he said, he could “see it in the eyes of the people that they were repenting for having voted the PP into power”.
(TFT September 14-20, 1989, Vol-I, No:27 Article)
The politics of rallying round
Barely a year from the last elections, it looks as though we are in the midst of another election campaign in Pakistan, although nothing could be further from the truth. Mian Nawaz Sharif has roamed far and wide, kicking up dust in Islamabad, Sialkot, Lahore, Faisalabad and Peshawar. Not to be outdone, the PM has blasted off from Pindi in a most impressive manner, and followed it up with a truly massive congregation in Karachi in association with the MQM. In between, the record also shows an assortment of also-runs — the SNA, the JUP, the ANP and a few ‘pro-Zia’ groups, etc.
Mian Sahib’s campaign revolves around accusing the PPP government of being ‘anti-army’ and ‘anti-Pakistan’, of hobnobbing with the enemy (India) and selling-off state secrets to it. Mian Sahib’s desperation is evident, given the abusive language he has chosen to use and the patently absurd charges he is making against the PM. The IJI-sponsored press is equally determined to sow the seeds of discord, by hook or by crook, between the armed forces and the PPP government in Islamabad.
Why is Mian Sahib in such dire straits? He knows only too well that he cannot depend on the Punjab IJI MPAs to hang on to his coat-tails for much longer. The natural long-term pressure of the federal government on Punjab is beginning to assert itself all round — in the present federal system, no provincial government can survive for long without Islamabad’s goodwill and patronage. However, Mian Sahib’s real fear is that losing the Chief Ministership may be a prelude to being wiped out altogether, politically and economically. Since Mian Sahib’s political and economic strength is rooted in the legacies of a martial law system of government, he obviously thinks he needs extra-constitutional props to sustain his electioneering gains in and after the 1988 elections. Small wonder, then, that he has transformed the Punjab state police and administration into his personal militia in the manner of a 19th century warlord.
Mian Nawaz Sharif believes that, short of a military coup d’etat which gets rid of the PPP’s charismatic leader Ms Benazir Bhutto, his chances of survival in the long run are getting slimmer by the week as the PPP’s federal government digs in and begins to pull out the stops. That is probably why he is openly contemptuous of all men and matters democratic and has determined to leave no stone unturned in his efforts to provoke the President and/or the armed forces to intercede and ‘save the situation’.
Clearly, Mian Sahib’s perilous strategy, which hangs over PPP heads like the sword of Damocles, has distracted the PM’s efforts at government and forced her to respond in much the same fashion. That is why she chose September 6th — Defence of Pakistan Day — to demonstrate immense solidarity with the armed forces and to underline the symbolic link between the compulsions of the armed forces and the sentiments of the people of Pakistan, as represented by the democratically elected PPP government in Islamabad. That is why she also chose September 11 to emphasise the relationship of democracy with the cherished ideals of the Quaid i Azam.
To what extent have both protagonists succeeded in the politics of rallying round the people and the armed forces of Pakistan? One superficial answer lies in assessing their relative success in the numbers game. There were about 60,000 people at Zia’s barsi, and over 2,00,000 at the PPP’s rally at Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi on 6th September, more than all attendants put together at all of Mian Sahib’s rallies in the Punjab. Round 1 to the PPP? The PPP supporters are spirited, defiant and militant, whereas those at Mian Sahib’s events are generally apathetic and listless. Round 2 to the PPP? Mian Sahib, unfortunately, comes across as a puerile, abrasive and desperate man while the PM has successfully cultivated a public air of confident and superior statesmanship. Round 3 to the PPP?
While winning at the numbers game is doubtless important for the PPP in its psy-war against Mian Nawaz Sharif, the PM should soon take a breather and carefully weigh the pros and cons of prolonging such a noisy campaign into the months ahead. Time and energy are of the essence for her government. Part of Mian Sahib’s strategy is to constantly distract her from the job of government so that she is forced to spend all her time reacting to his audacious conspiracies, instead of concentrating on bread and butter issues crying out for solution. So it becomes all the more important that she should get on quickly with the job of formulating good policy and executing it efficiently. She should, in short, concentrate on being a Prime Minister rather than on merely appearing to be one.
The politics of rallying round is not limited to impressive displays of mass public turnouts at ‘jalsa and jaloos’. It also involves the ‘rallying round’ of several other, perhaps more important, groups, classes, factions, parties and interests in the body-politic of a country. To begin with, the PM has to rally round her team — ministers, advisers, ambassadors — so that every department works enthusiastically and in harmony, rather than at odds, with one another in government. The PPP team, however, has been criticised for lacking experience and professionalism, and for pulling in different directions. The PM tends to brush this issue under the carpet by saying that her team is new to the game and inclined to make mistakes. This explanation doesn’t wash. Regular pep-talks, an occasional rap on the knuckles, maybe even firing a few miscreants would surely do wonders for discipline and team spirit.
The bureaucracy, too, needs to be rallied round. The PM cannot afford to ignore its suspicions of, and hostility to, her government. The PPP team cannot move an inch forward without the assistance and goodwill of the bureaucrats who have run this country for four decades. Likewise, the opposition of the trading and industrial classes to the PPP can only be diminished by a carefully planned and orchestrated policy of wooing them over by concrete measures and stable government. Finally, the Defence Ministry should be strengthened to act as a viable channel of continuous communication between the PM’s Secretariat and GHQ in order to avoid misunderstandings or blunders.
If Benazir Bhutto wants to rule for at least five years, if she wants to banish coups d’etat from the political vocabulary of Pakistan, if she wishes to fulfill her father’s dream of building a ‘new’ Pakistan, then she must rapidly commit herself to positive measures of government, rather than continuing to react to the snide manoeuvres of the Chief Minister of the Punjab. The PM should also remember that government by communication, persuasion and consensus is always more effective, durable and powerful than arbitrary or ad-hoc rule.
(TFT September 21-27, 1989, Vol-I, No:28)
Mian Sahib vs Nawab Sahib
Mian Nawaz Sharif didn’t waste much time, after Gen Mirza Aslam Beg’s ‘briefing’, in trying to steal headlines in a local English daily. In what was billed as the most comprehensive interview since November 1988, but was in fact quite disappointing, Mian Sahib dutifully ticked off his complaints against the federal government, assured everyone of his commitment to democracy, and said that the confrontation with the centre ‘can be dissolved within 24 hours, provided the PPP adopts the right attitude’. Naturally, he denied ever wanting to provoke martial law before or after the elections and confessed to absolutely no wrong-doing on his part since becoming Chief Minister.
We have heard all this before and it doesn’t wash with us. We believe it takes two hands to clap. However, there was one significant moment during the interview when he was asked whether or not he agreed with Nawab Bugti’s assertion that the constitution did not grant ‘sufficient autonomy to the provinces’.
Mian Sahib sidestepped the question, saying that ‘even what was provided for in the constitution was being withheld. After that was obtained, then amendments in the constitution could be considered, and such amendments could pass if all the provinces had a consensus on them’. He also said that ‘if the constitution provided for Balochistan to obtain royalties for its natural gas, then this should be given without hesitation.’
Nawab Bugti, in an exclusive interview to a rival English daily from Lahore, was more blunt on the question of autonomy. ‘Don’t ask me about royalties of gas’, he snapped, ‘we’re talking of revenues from gas’. As for the constitution, the Nawab felt that the centre ought to have no more than four subjects to administer, leaving the rest to the provinces.
A close look at the positions of the two CMs betrays the fact that, while they both talk of provincial rights, arm-in-arm, their positions are quite different.
The Nawab says the constitution is imperfect on autonomy, that he wants revenues not royalties from Balochistan gas. He is thus clearly implying that revenues are earned in full from one’s own property while royalties are received only in part from utilising that property. Would Mian Sahib grant Nawab Sahib the revenues he covets from Balochistan gas rather than the royalties he is given if Mian Sahib were the Prime Minister? Clearly not, for Mian Sahib is not terribly interested in amending the constitution just yet in order to redress the question of autonomy. He is only interested in getting what he wants from the centre, which is everything, without amending the constitution! No wonder he says that ‘after [not now or before] that was obtained, amendments could [not should] be considered, and such amendments could only [condition] pass if all [condition] the provinces had a consensus on them.’ Given all these ifs and buts, it’s clearly a case of Mian Sahib wanting to have his cake and eating it too.
It is indeed a mark of the PPP’s gross ineptness that Mian Nawaz Sharif (the strongman of the Punjab which has historically ‘exploited the provinces’) and Nawab Akbar Bugti (the tiger of Baloch nationalism), strange bedfellows at the best of times, are best-friends in these strange times.
Christina Lamb’s harassment
The Interior Minister, Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, has said that Miss Christina Lamb of The Financial Times, London, must leave Pakistan before September 22 because her visa will not be extended by his ministry.
Apparently, Miss Lamb is being persecuted for carrying a story recently alleging an attempt at a coup d’etat in this country. Since the federal government has denied the story, the matter should be allowed to rest. This is not the first time stories have been carried in the national or foreign press which have been denied by the government. But we have not hitherto heard of marching orders being issued by a democratic government in the past to any journalist on the basis of allegedly incorrect newsreports.
It seems to us that there is more than meets the eye, especially in view of Gen Beg’s allusion to a particular federal minister as most probably being one of Miss Lamb’s sources for that story. Miss Lamb, of course, refuses to disclose her sources, and of course she must not. However, there is every likelihood that if her persecution is carried forward, she will spill the beans and a couple of heads may roll.
Chaudgry Aitzaz Ahsan was once a crusader for human rights. But it looks as though Islamabad may have altered his life-long perceptions. If Chaudhry Sahib wishes to return to his honourable profession one day, as indeed he must, he will rue the day he ordered the deportation of Miss Christina Lamb from Pakistan. It is still not too late to rescind the orders and avoid a disastrous fallout.
(TFT September 21-27, 1989, Vol-I, No:28 Article)
Gen Aslam Beg: the neutral umpire
The Chief of Army Staff, Gen Mirza Aslam Beg, has set the record straight in more ways than one. In three hours, he has briefed us bluntly on the strengths and weaknesses of the democratic system, the political and military role of the armed forces, fresh initiatives on the Afghan question and the law and order situation in Sindh.
Gen Beg says the armed forces are deeply committed to the success of the democratic process, notwithstanding any political hiccups that may threaten the system, and will provide a security umbrella to the budding flower of democracy in Pakistan. He thinks that a political initiative is now required to bring the Afghan war to an end; and he has advocated direct talks between the Mujahedin and the Soviets. He has admitted the failure of the military, in the past, to evolve an appropriate defence strategy, and outlined the present efforts of GHQ to create a satisfactory doctrine for the years ahead. He believes his boys could militarily control the law and order situation in Sindh within a week, but that such a course of action is not advisable in view of its serious and adverse long-term political implications. Finally, he has emphasised the care GHQ has taken to ensure that the forthcoming military exercises are conducted efficiently without, in any way, posing a threat to India or disrupting its electoral schedule for 1989.
Gen Beg’s ‘briefing’ is terribly significant for many reasons. One, it was conducted before an audience of Pakistani journalists exclusively. Presumably, Gen Beg wished to underline his nationalist sentiments and build bridges between the armed forces and the national media. This gesture was widely appreciated by our press which has often been rudely ignored by the political leadership in Pakistan in favour of the foreign press. It was also a confirmation of the fact that Gen Beg is irritated with reports in the foreign press of an attempted coup d’etat in Pakistan and thought this was a good occasion to indicate his displeasure with the irresponsible attitude of the foreign press, not only in the coup story recently but also in highly speculative and misleading reports about the August 17 aircrash.
Second, the timing of the briefing is, once again, marvelously in tune with the exigencies of the developing political situation. Gen Beg’s profound remarks came on the eve of the new National Assembly session which was forecast to be stormy and uncertain for the PPP government owing to the professed strategy of the IJI/COP to overthrow the government in Islamabad. After Gen Beg’s comments, the NA session is not likely to provide the fire-works and mayhem previously expected.
Third, Gen Beg could not be provoked into naming names even when he referred to present or previous governments, martial laws, political parties, ministers, leaders, and generals. In this fashion, he has succeeded in establishing for himself, as the representative of the armed forces, the high ground of a non-partisan authority which oversees the whole political process in the country.
Fourth, Gen Beg has signalled GHQ’s point of departure with both the previous regime and the present one over the question of the solution to the Afghan war, without belittling the pivotal role of the Mujahedin. This is a most realistic and daring initiative which is bound to bear fruit and win further respect for the armed forces, while nudging the federal government in Islamabad to go ahead and evolve a long-awaited and appropriate foreign policy agenda. It also signals a welcome attempt by the armed forces to become autonomous of external pressures where matters of national security and integrity are concerned, without upsetting the strategic superpower balance in the region.
Fifth, Gen Beg has outlined details of Zarb e Momin, the first comprehensive military exercise to be held in this country for four decades. By so doing, the General has served to emphasise the professional duty, competence and defence preparedness of the armed forces, despite the military’s past involvement in politics and martial law administration. Thus he has served notice to all those doubting Thomases who propagate the view that the Pakistani armed forces have become flabby and unfit for military duties. While these military exercises are meant to raise the morale and ability of the armed forces to defend Pakistan, their timing also suggests that the armed forces wish to concentrate on military rather than political matters, and substantiate Gen Beg’s view that the armed forces seek to strengthen the democratic process rather than create hurdles for it.
Under Gen Beg, the armed forces seek to carefully redefine and anchor their political role in Pakistan as a neutral umpire, realistically keeping in view its turbulent political history and fledgling democratic institutions. It needs to be emphasised that the first formal attempts at such an institutionalised redefinition were initiated by Gen Zia ul Haq in 1985, but he failed miserably because he was too personally, deeply, brutally and controversially involved in the whole process to take a neutral position. However, Gen Beg has started with an admirably clean slate, having successfully negotiated the transfer of power to politicians in November 1988 and lent his support to the system whenever it has looked like crumbling — Mian Nawaz Sharif was bailed out earlier this year when he looked certain to succumb to the PPP’s ‘Operation Get-Nawaz’, and the PPP in more recent times.
Pakistan’s political system is in a shambles. In no small measure does the responsibility for this rest on the shoulders of our immature politicians. However, because both Gen Ayub Khan and Gen Zia ul Haq were politically motivated and personally ambitious, the system was rocked and throttled in its infancy. There are a few voices today which argue that Gen Beg is merely paying lip service to the democratic process and that in due course the army will probably install itself directly in power once again. It would be a triumph of momentous proportions if such cynicism were banished from our political vocabulary, if the armed forces could understand that the survival of this country depends on the workings of a democratic system, if they could gradually extricate themselves from the political life of Pakistan.
Gen Mirza Aslam Beg is ideally placed to go down in history as the one man who helped steer Pakistan towards cohesive, democratic nationhood. We hope, for the sake of our children, that he will be man enough to shoulder the tremendous responsibility that rests upon him in these uncertain times.
(TFT September 28-Oct 04 , 1989, Vol-I, No:29 Editorial)
What is to be done?
Mian Sahib has ordered the arrest of two officials of the Federal Investigation Agency without batting an eyelid. So much for the writ of the government in Islamabad. In the old days, if the Balochistan or the NWFP Chief Minister had as much as looked Islamabad in the eye, the army would have rolled in and chucked the entire cabinet into the clink in Hyderabad, there to cool its heels, awaiting trial for ‘treason’ against the ‘solidarity and integrity of the federation of Pakistan’. But the times, they are a’changin’.
Mian Sahib absolutely ‘hates’ the PM, or so we are told by associates close to him. He will go to any lengths to dislodge Ms Bhutto. It doesn’t much matter to him what happens to the democratic process in the meanwhile. Conspiracies, abusive language, blatant disinformation campaigns, publication of secret government documents, efforts to instigate rebellion in the ranks, everything is fair game in his war on Benazir Bhutto.
There is a method in this madness. The idea apparently is to provoke the federal government into over-reacting to his pinpricks, to keep Islamabad on a reactive backfoot, as it were, to ensure it cannot get on with the job of government and consolidation. Nothing will hurt Mian Sahib more than efficient and cohesive PPP governments at the Centre, NWFP and Sindh which are able to address the problems of the people. The longer the PPP takes in settling down and getting its real act together, the greater the chances that it will stumble from one position to another and create a royal mess of things. This would be fine, just fine, for Mian Sahib.
There is no Punjab-Centre conflict at hand. There is, however, an acute and antagonistic Nawaz-Bhutto contradiction which is becoming increasingly irreconcilable with each passing breath, and reminds one ominously of the Zia-Bhutto days. If we are yet again fated to witness the clash of an irresistible force (BB) with an immovable object (NS), then there is going to be more thunder and lightning and the country is destined for a severe drenching instead of the long-awaited days of glorious, blue, democratic sunshine.
The PPP must not fall into Mian Sahib’s trap, despite all the provocation in the world. He is a desperate man given to desperate measures. If his actions are perceived to be unconstitutional, the proper response is to refer these to the courts rather than to pay him back in kind.
Having said all this, Islamabad must take measures to ensure that the province of Punjab is not denied its rightful share of development funds. Genuine efforts must be made by the PPP government to win over Mian Sahib’s constituencies, especially the business and trading elites of Punjab. This cannot be done overnight because the hostility of these elites to the PPP is firmly grounded in the reality of the last twenty years. However, sound economic policies will pay rich political dividends and there is no better way to combat Mian Sahib than by courting these elites with efficient planning and implementation of sound economic policies.
That is why it is time we had a full-fledged Finance Minister who can inspire confidence and move the economy forward. There is no better man for this job in Islamabad than Mr Farooq Leghari. For too long, he has been sidelined for the wrong reasons. He has the experience and the ability to perform well and he is not a controversial figure, which is saying quite a lot in these stormy times. The business community will have no trouble warming to a man who is not given to histrionics or rhetoric.
Mr Farooq Leghari is the right man to combat Mian Nawaz Sharif, rather than Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan or Mr Iftikhar Gillani. Mr Leghari should be armed with development and employment generating projects, tax incentives, export subsidies, concrete measures for privatisation and public-sector reform of corruption and mismanagement. He must buttress the interests of the poor while ensuring that the fruits of development accrue not only to PPP sympathisers but also to ordinary people at large, including the business community.
If the PM can initiate swift and successful economic policies, she will inspire confidence all round and eventually take the wind out of the sails of Mian Nawaz Sharif & Co. There is no alternative to this strategy and no time to be lost.
(TFT September 28-Oct 04 , 1989 Vol-I, No:29 Article)
L’Affaire Christina Lamb
She is British, 24, unmarried, tall, slim, tanned and attractive. She arrived in Pakistan quietly last year, just before the elections. However, she leaves Pakistan a year later in a trail of dust after provoking a hornet’s nest in the PM’s secretariat, the GHQ, the Ministries of Interior and Information, and assorted newspaper offices in the country.
Christina Lamb authored a controversial report in The Financial Times of London, 8 September, 1989, which alleged that a number of army officers, including a Maj-Gen, were arrested following attempts at an aborted coup d’etat in Pakistan. Miss Lamb quotes unnamed PPP federal ministers and intelligence sources, including an American embassy contact in Islamabad, as apparently confirming her story.
As soon as the story hit the headlines in this country two days after the PPP’s triumphant September 6 Defence of Pakistan Day rally, there were strong denials from both the Ministry of Interior and the Inter-Services Public Relations department about the veracity of her report. However, Miss Lamb stuck to her guns, insisting that her story was correct and refused to reveal the names of her PPP sources.
Why was there such an uproar about Miss Lamb’s story? Why did the Ministry of Interior react so adversely and refuse to extend her journalist’s visa and accreditation? Why did the press gleefully, and often quite maliciously, headline her ordeal these past few weeks? In order to try and answer these questions, some background to Miss Lamb’s stint in Pakistan is necessary for perspective.
After arriving in Pakistan last year, it didn’t take Miss Lamb long to make good friends with a lot of important people in Islamabad and Punjab, on both sides of the PPP-IJI political divide. She is a charming, bright and determined journalist who knows her mind and does her job professionally. In the past year she was politically courted by politicians of all shades and the doors to all ministries and secretariats in Islamabad and Punjab were open to her. Consequently, she was able to file excellent and informed stories on the Punjab-Centre conflict, the Afghan war, business and commerce, and even occasional ‘colour’ pieces from her travels in the northern areas, Baluchistan and Sindh. She has carried exclusive interviews of Benazir Bhutto, Mian Nawaz Sharif, Gen Najib and countless political ‘leaders’ in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In recognition of her obvious professional merits (she wrote over 500 articles on Pakistan and Afghanistan) Miss Lamb was awarded the distinction of being the “best young British journalist for 1988-89.”
When Miss Lamb ‘broke’ the story last February of tensions between the ISI (under Gen Hameed Gul) and the Prime Minister, she became the first journalist to actually highlight the politics of the much-feared ISI in Pakistan. Her revelations in The Financial Times and later Time magazine created a major stir in Islamabad, and she was reportedly ticked off by the ISI. At that time, it was rumoured among IJI circles that the PPP had briefed and egged her on, although Miss Lamb’s sources in both the parties were equally good.
However, a couple of months later, she wrote an article on prospects for foreign investment in Pakistan, in which she concluded that bureaucratic hurdles in Islamabad and political instability were not conducive to foreign investment in the country. She also interviewed top businessmen, including APTMA officeholders, to highlight the problems facing industrial development in Pakistan. This was followed up subsequently by a piece on the troubles of the Ittefaq group in the Punjab. By this time, certain PPP circles were already pointing an accusing finger at her for carrying stories sympathetic to the IJI. Later, when Miss Lamb applied for an interview with the PM, she was apparently ignored while certain other foreign journalists were accommodated. By then, certain PPP circles were already questioning her journalistic credentials and alleging that her ‘close friendship’ with Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain was ‘behind her slant towards the IJI’.
The coup story broke on September 8, two days after the September 6 rally in which the PM talked of the unity of the armed forces with the people and the support of the armed for the democratic system. In effect, her story was interpreted in certain PPP circles in Islamabad as tending to diminish the import of the PM’s message on September 6. It highlighted divisions within the armed forces over the continuation of the democratic process even as the PPP was being euphoric over its success in mobilising hundreds of thousands of people on that day. Also, because she had referred to certain PPP ministers as her sources, Islamabad was quick to disclaim any responsibility for such a story. It was, under the circumstances, very convenient to allege instead that “the IJI had planted the story on Christina Lamb in order to harm the PPP precisely at its moment of triumph”. The more Miss Lamb has protested her innocence and reaffirmed her objectivity, the more Islamabad has tried to cover its muddy tracks and plant disinformation about her alleged IJI ‘contacts’.
However, after COAS Gen Beg’s press conference recently, in which he alluded to the hobnobbing of “a young PPP minister with Miss Lamb on the trip to Siachin with the PM”, thereby apparently confirming one of the sources of Miss Lamb’s story, the Ministry of Interior has reacted in a most unpleasant fashion, fuelling further speculation that the Ministry is very keen to get rid of her as quickly as possible.
Consequently, the past week has witnessed a flurry of ‘reports’ in local papers, quoting sources in Islamabad, saying that the Interior Ministry is determined not to renew Miss Lamb’s visa, and making scandalous references to her “close association with four Ministers, various prominent Opposition leaders, as well as several other high officials”. In the meantime, Miss Lamb was asked by the Interior Ministry to pack her bags and leave the country ‘within ten days’.
Miss Christina Lamb gave an exclusive interview to The Friday Times on September 19 in which she confirmed her harassment and imminent departure. At that time, there was no indication that she would be allowed to re-enter the country again. She appeared to be frustrated and angry over the recent course of events, and her frankness was not surprising. However, on September 20, she reportedly met with officials of the Interior Ministry to find a credible way out of her present predicament. Under pressure from the Foreign Office, which has had to deal with a strong protest from the British Ambassador in Pakistan and The Financial Times in London, and from the PM’s secretariat which has advised restraint, the Interior Ministry has tried to affect a face-saving modus operandi whereby ‘Miss Lamb’s visa application will be considered next month’ if she leaves the country without further ado.
Miss Lamb’s interview with TFT, given a day before her compromise-meeting with the Interior Ministry, hit the newsstands on September 24, one day after that meeting. Since the interview sheds poor light on the behaviour of the Interior Ministry, it has created fresh problems for both Miss Lamb and the Ministry, both of whom would now prefer to forget their charges against each other.
Consequently, on the day of her departure from Lahore for Delhi on 26 September, a newsreport in Dawn says that the Interior Secretary has labelled Miss Lamb’s allegations against him, as reported in TFT, as “utter nonsense”. Miss Lamb has reportedly told Dawn that ‘the interviewer was a friend of hers and that she was talking informally, that “an interview was not on the cards”‘. Pressed by Dawn to comment on her remarks about the Interior Secretary she said “Mr S K Mahmud never accused me of sleeping with a leading member of the IJI, in so many words“. This statement reveals, perhaps, more about what he said rather than of what he did not say!
Miss Lamb doubtless hopes that the Ministry will stick to its promise and she will be back in Pakistan within a month. The Interior Ministry has tried to whitewash its faux pas and failed. As for TFT, the Dawn story confirms that, ‘according to Miss Lamb, the interview itself was “fairly accurate”‘.
TFT’s position remains unchanged, despite the change of heart in the Interior Ministry and Miss Lamb’s reported statement that she talked to TFT rather than give ‘an interview’. The fact is that Miss Christina Lamb did indeed give a formal statement to The Friday Times and every word attributed to her by TFT is correctly quoted and reproduced.
In the larger interests of the freedom of the Press, TFT hopes to see Miss Lamb back in Pakistan before too long.
(TFT October 5-11, 1989, Vol-I, No:30 Editorial)
First things first
For seventeen years, the Bihari issue has defied solution despite the efforts of two completely different types of government in Islamabad during this period. Therefore it would be unrealistic to expect an immediate solution now, simply on the basis of PM Benazir Bhutto’s visit to Bangla Desh.
The problem is difficult enough as it is without having to question the new government’s intentions and the mood in the provinces. The Saudi-based Rabita Al-Alam Al Islami organisation has thus far only raised US$ 10m out of a proposed fund of US$ 300m to settle the 300,000 ‘Biharis’ in Pakistan. It is not easy to imagine how the Pakistan government can contribute to this effort, given the paucity of its own resources.
However, the problem is complicated by the nature of politics and inter-provincial relations in the country. Nawab Bugti says he wants to encourage the Punjabis settled in Balochistan to go back to the Punjab, so he is certainly not going to allow any ‘Biharis’ to be relocated in his province. The Frontier has its hands full with 3 million Afghans who have made life difficult enough as it is. Sindh is in a real mess already and passions run high on this issue. The MQM and the Jamaat-i-Islami want the Biharis, not out of some great humanitarian impulse but because they can smell victory in a couple of new MNA and MPA seats in any future election. By the same criterion, the SNA, Jeay Sindh and the PPP are totally opposed to exacerbating the present ethnic divide in that unhappy province.
Mian Nawaz Sharif, of course, says that Punjab is ready to welcome them with open arms. Of course, he didn’t once express such sentiments during the martial law regime of his great benefactor Zia ul Haq, which makes his recent generosity extremely suspicious. Where and how does he intend to resettle them? How will he ensure that they get jobs? How will he stop them from migrating to Sindh and creating problems there?
Pakistan has more than its share of troubles at present without wishing to add to them. While everyone shares the anguish of the poor Biharis of Bangla Desh — who opted for Pakistan and thus became ‘Pakistanis’ — we have got to take a realistic position on this issue. There are no short cuts at hand and there is little the Pakistan government can do before it puts its own house in order. The first priority is to obtain some sort of consensus on the bigger and more contentious issue of the rights and duties of the provinces in the federation of Pakistan before we can realistically come to terms with the problem of the Biharis and their settlement in one province or the other.
Politicisation of financial institutions
The PPP government has more to fear from a stagnating economy than from Mian Nawaz Sharif’s efforts to topple the government. If unemployment and inflation are not immediately tackled, the prospects of riots on the streets cannot be ruled out. Consequently, it is imperative that the economy is given a quick shot in the arm to revive business confidence and investment in the country.
However, the government’s efforts in this direction will not bear fruit unless the banking and financial system is efficiently and equitably revved up to cope with the demands of the business community. Unfortunately, the signals emanating from the PM’s secretariat are contrary to the requirements of the day.
By all accounts, the efficiency of the financial institutions is crumbling by the day, under party-political pressures to accommodate PPP sympathisers and loyalists, irrespective of the economic merit of the cases at hand. Consequently, bonafide applications from the business and trading classes are having to take a back seat to those with sanctions from the PM’s secretariat. It isn’t surprising, therefore, that bank managers and heads of financial institutions are sitting back and letting things be, out of a sense of insecurity and fear. It isn’t easy to say ‘no’ to little chits bearing requests for favours from PPP ministers, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to negotiate bonafide business applications for project sanctions without clearance from the PM’s secretariat.
The banking sector was nationalised two decades ago precisely to preclude favouritism. The present politicisation of this sector will make it even more inefficient and corrupt than it already is. The PPP government must stop interfering in its workings if it wishes to seriously restore confidence in the business community and encourage new industrialisation in the country.
(TFT October 12-18, 1989, Vol-I, No:31 Editorial)
Stop flying kites
It’s a ridiculous situation. The Punjab government wants to lock up several PPP MPAs and MNAs, including Mr Salmaan Taseer, Mr Rana Shaukat, Mr Wasi Zafar, Haji Mohd Aslam Ghurki and Mr Mukhtar Awan. Likewise, the IJI’s Ch Shujaat Hussain, Sh Rashid, Gen Fazle Haq and Syed Ahmad Mahmood are under attack from Islamabad. For good measure, the FIA and the Punjab police are occasionally slugging it out in public, to keep the show going, as it were. In Balochistan, the PPP Parliamentary leader Mr Sadiq Umrani is in prison while the Bugtis and the federally controlled Frontier Corps have recently taken potshots at each other and Nawab Bugti has threatened to dissolve his assembly. In Sindh, while the SNA and the MQM are at each other’s throats, G.M. Syed of Jeay Sindh zigzags between the Punjab and Sindh, with both governments in hot pursuit. In the NWFP, the PPP and the ANP have taken positions behind armed morchas while the IJI continues to chip away at Mr Sherpao’s credibility. The PPP’s Mr Mukhtar Awan is in Karachi, absconding from the Punjab police while Mr G.M. Syed has taken refuge in Balochistan from the clutches of both the Sindh and Punjab governments.
Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s troubles never look like ending. Her home province, Sindh, defies an acceptable solution to the problem of law and order triggered off by the seemingly irreversible forces of militant nationalism and rabid ethnicity. In the NWFP, her government is dependent on Mr Sherpao’s dubious ability to expand his cabinet to bursting point. Punjab is rude and intransigent while Balochistan is bristling with indignation, and both are literally up in arms against her.
Not a happy situation after only a year in office, is it? To some extent, admittedly, she has inherited these problems from both her father Z A Bhutto and his successor Zia ul Haq. However, after failing to win in three provinces and readily agreeing to accept a moth-eaten constitutional arrangement so that she could quickly move into the PM’s house in Islamabad, Ms Bhutto cannot now have her cake and eat it too. That is why she should understand that her government simply cannot rule without give and take.
The real problem is not Mian Nawaz Sharif or Nawab Akbar Bugti or Altaf Hussain or G.M. Syed or Abdul Wali Khan or… — the list of those who oppose her is quite long. The problem is that these gentlemen all represent powerful nationalist forces which increasingly resent the concentration of political power and patronage in Islamabad and are unhappy with the existing federal arrangements. Thus opposition to the PPP could more accurately be described as opposition to the federal system of which she is the present caretaker.
This should come as no surprise to anyone even remotely familiar with the tumultuous history of this country and the demands of the provinces for greater autonomy from the centre. During the 60s and 70s, Islamabad was in trouble in Balochistan and the NWFP, in the 80s it was Sindh and now it is Punjab. There is undoubtedly something drastically wrong with the constitutional provisions controlling power-sharing between the provinces and the Centre.
The PPP was only too aware of this problem while it was in opposition during the 1980s. That is why it signed the MRD resolution on greater autonomy for the provinces. Now, however, after the election results have confirmed the inherent inadequacy of the constitution to come to grips with this central issue, the PPP has chosen to disregard the writing on the wall. That is why it is being accused of wanting to hog the whole show, and that is why no one will give Ms Bhutto a free hand to get on with life.
There is no way out of this quagmire except for everyone to sit down at a table and methodically hammer out a unanimous agreement on the maximum autonomy available to the provinces without sabotaging the federation.
There is also no need for ‘super-patriots’ to go up the wall on this issue. Mini and sub-nationalisms are on the rise the world over, including in Western democratic countries, and their demands have been accommodated without too much agony. In Pakistan, a great deal of courage and soul searching is required if we are to proceed on the road to building a vibrant nation-state. Mr Z A Bhutto had an excellent opportunity to do just that but because he was such a megalomaniac and a powerful CMLA-President-PM all rolled into one, he screwed it up royally.
Precisely for the opposite reason, because his daughter is a democrat and so weak constitutionally, she has no option but to agree to accommodate the rightful demands of the provinces for more power-sharing in Pakistan. The sooner Ms Bhutto accepts the validity of this proposition, the better it will be for her, for democracy, for the PPP and, of course, for Pakistan.
(TFT October 19-25, 1989, Vol-I, No:32 Editorial)
Attacks on the press
They rush in, brandishing weapons, breaking equipment, overturning tables, threatening everyone in sight and holding hostages until their demands are met. No, we’re not referring to dacoits in the night but to youthful bands of hoodlums masquerading as party cadres and political activists agitating against the printed word.
This sort of thing became common on university campuses in the 1980s when the dispensers of martial law encouraged the thugs of the fascist right to browbeat the university administrations to toe their line. Increasingly, however, the national press is being subjected to the same sort of harassment and intimidation from the same sort of people. The MQM has absolutely terrorised the Karachi press, including the big guns like Dawn and Jang, and there is nothing that can apparently be done about it. The Jamiat’s record is worse because it has been known to burn places down. Now the PPP thugs have also got into the act. The latest incident concerns Karachi Jang, which was ransacked by PPP activists because of a typographical error in the printed text and had to suspend publication for 24 hours.
It is our view that, notwithstanding the gravity of the printed provocation, the administration must firmly deal with such miscreants in an exemplary fashion. No one may take the law into his own hands.
However, this is easier said than done. More often than not, it is the administration itself which has encouraged such bloody outbreaks of violence or consciously turned a blind eye to the attacks against the press. There is also a historical background to such vagrancy. When governments in the past have openly flouted the very laws they are supposed to protect, it is clearly giving the green light for errant citizens to do the same and get away with it without serious consequences.
There is no excuse for this any more because we are not governed by a dictator in Islamabad who pits one against the other, dividing and ruling. Because Ms Benazir Bhutto’s government depends on democracy and the law for its survival, it should ensure that both are strengthened rather than flouted during its tenure. That is why it is all the more unforgivable that, in the latest incident, it is the PPP which is involved in diminishing the freedom of the press and breaking the laws of the land.
(TFT October 26- November 1 , 1989, Vol-I, No:33 Editorial)
The quarrel over the judges
Another constitutional crisis is upon us — this time one that will demand to be met head on.
President Ishaq is said to have taken the position that the appointment of superior court judges is left by the constitution to the President’s own discretion and not made subject to the advice of the Prime Minister. He is reported to have gone and acted on that premise last weekend in sending out a list of names for the five vacancies in the Supreme Court.
The difference of opinion is a fundamental one. It puts a new interpretation on the constitution. It makes even Gen Zia ul Haq appear to have been less presidential than the constitution allowed. After all, he did let himself be advised by Mr Junejo on the issue.
On the surface, however, the other view looks more sustainable. Wherever Gen Zia ul Haq’s Provisional Constitutional Order or the Eighth Amendment or the original constitution itself bestowed discretionary power on the President, it is specifically mentioned in the document: as in dissolving the National Assembly; in the selection, until March 20, 1990, of the National Assembly member to be the prime minister; and in the appointments of the chief election commissioner, the chairman of the federal Public Service Commission and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. It follows that where no such pointed provision is made the basic principle of the parliamentary system and of the 1973 Constitution applies: which is that the president will be bound in all matters by the advice of the cabinet.
When the issue was raised in India several years ago, the nine judges of the Supreme Court were unanimous in ruling that appointment to the superior courts was indeed an executive act and the president was bound in it by the advice of the Prime Minister. That judgement ought to be of relevance here considering that the corresponding provisions in the constitutions of the two countries are almost identical.
And not just in India. Everywhere else that the parliamentary system prevails, appointment of superior judges is considered the responsibility and prerogative of the prime minister. It has to be that of the chief executive in any system; of the President, yes, where the President is the chief executive.
The view favouring the president’s discretion in the present case seems based almost wholly on a ruling of a division bench of the Lahore High Court on a writ-petition which had challenged the caretaker government’s appointment in October last year of 11 judges on the grounds that that government had no prime minister. Dismissing the case in limine the court had taken the view that the constitutional provision on appointment of judges does not make any reference to the prime minister. If there had been further debate on the issue it might have emerged that the constitution makes a general, binding principle of the advice of the prime minister for all presidential actions. That rendered it unnecessary for it to keep mentioning the prime minister every time the president’s function was described. The president just could not act independently of the prime minister, except where specifically required to.
In normal circumstances, this sort of conflict would not have arisen. The issue of judges’ appointment has become a controversy between PPP and IJI, between Ms Bhutto and the phalanxes opposed to her. This is a pity. The question is a more fundamental one. It has to be decided in relation both to the letter and spirit of the constitution. Even those who favour limits on the prime minister’s powers in relation to the president have to work for it, not assume that it exists. And they have to be conscious of the difference between a parliamentary and presidential form of government. In either system, all executive powers, including appointments to key posts, belong to the person more representa-tive of the popular will.
Under the 1973 constitution the president of this country is elected by a very limited franchise, more limited than, say, under the BD system of the past. It visualised his role to be basically symbolic; as one representing the unity of the federation. It was, rightly, not its object to invest him with any power that is possible of becoming controversial or requires any measure of accountability.
This issue must be sensibly resolved and quickly. If there are genuine doubts about the interpretation of the constitution, a reference to standard practice, political logic and judicial opinion can easily settle it.
(TFT November 2-8, 1989, Vol-I, No:34 Editorial)
No-confidence move — an ill-timed exercise
The nation has just been through some of the most agonising days of its history. It didn’t matter which side of the political fence one was on. The angst was equally shared. The suspense wasn’t just whether one’s horse would win. Those not able to count on direct personal gain or loss from the outcome — which means the bulk of the common people — worried also about what would happen afterwards. The result had seemed likely to be an indecisive one. It could just mark the thin end of the wedge.
Should the event have shaken our frail system so? There were reasons that it did just that.
First, this was no routine confidence vote. Even in long established parliamentary democracies such a vote is not brought up lightly. The most bitterly critical of oppositions, too, generally refrain from a showdown until a point of crisis has been reached. The reason simply is that even democracy requires some continuance of rule. If it didn’t, it would long have been discarded as an irrelevance and dictatorship would have enhanced its appeal even for sane people.
The system does provide for the existence of an opposition, but it envisages it as an entity with a positive role of its own; one of acting as a watchdog over the government. It does not define opposition simply as the group defeated in the race to power, and one whose preoccupation should thereafter just be to keep trying to bring down its adversary.
And the system does provide for a change of government at any stage that the latter loses the confidence of the parliament. But that also presumes that confidence should have been accepted to have been reposed in that government in the first instance and that the opposition should not have been emphasising its rejection of the government from the start and creating serious hurdles in the latter’s way whenever it could. If, moreover, the test of confidence were to be heavily influenced by strong doses of material blandishments then surely the process becomes kaput, the constitutional provision senseless.
It is clear that these conditions were not fulfilled in the present move. The proverbial visitor from Mars witnessing the scene would no doubt have noticed the botch-ups of the PPP govern-ment over the past 11 months, the things it did that it shouldn’t have and those it should have but didn’t. But he could not also have failed to note the extraordinary handicaps under which that government happened to function or not function. If it got a split electoral verdict, that was of course its own failure, but it constituted a serious drawback nonetheless. Added to that was the legacy of a hostile Senate, the child of the earlier apolitical, dictatorially dominated era. Second was another legacy of the past: the electric ethnic divide in Sindh which, among other things, prevented the ruling party from making quick advance on its agreement with the MQM and thus stabilising its parliamentary majority and beginning to govern more confidently. Its similar failure to maintain its alliance with ANP could at least partly be attributed to factors it could not have resolved in its first few months.
Most critical, of course, was the fact of an IJI opposition that regarded the PPP government as an unmixed evil and was resolved to free itself of the other’s supremacy. Its having won power in the Punjab, and the disgruntlement that some of the PPP’s own policies had justly or unjustly caused, enabled the IJI to win political allies outside of itself and to build a strong anti-PPP front.
Then there were appeals to the army that it involve itself in the exercise. The offsprings of democracy could not trust the democratic process; they still trusted the army more.
If the whole episode of the past week caused a public scare there was thus sufficient reason for it. It had almost seemed that democracy would find it impossible to function in our parts. If the PPP won, the COP would continue baying at its heels even more fiercely; and if the COP was victorious it would have a thinner edge than its predecessor and would be unable to govern well even if its components somehow managed to stay together once it was in power. The COAS’s warnings to the feuding politicians were hardly reassuring.
There are lessons to learn for the future. Democratic governance requires political good sense from all sides. Follies have cost heavily in the past. They can, God knows, do so all too easily again. Partisan gains of short-sightedness are tempting; but often they yield a harvest of thorns that everyone has to reap. Political wrangling has to have limits. So must both exercise of and opposition to power. The country is not just for the present, nor are the fruits of its governance for one time only. Those who will not be patient, who will not be honest, will be found out. They can depend on that. And then they will not be forgiven.
(TFT November 2-8, 1989, Vol-I, No:34 Article)
Strategic options for the PPP
Although the PPP has rallied at the last minute to thwart the COP’s efforts to overthrow its government in Islamabad, it is by no means obvious which of the two parties will have the last laugh. Certainly, the PM’s confident assertion that her government will last its allotted five years is more questionable now than ever before.
It must be readily admitted that the PPP has done much to create the impression that it is its own worst enemy. Depending on an over-abundance of naive political loyalists who pull in different directions rather than effecting a well-oiled team of mature managers, PM Bhutto’s government has blundered along the way, in the process corrupting its soul and undermining its assets with great facility. But this deficiency does not qualify as the root cause of the PPP’s troubles in Islamabad.
The real problem lies in the political strategy of the remnants of the ancient regime, which is characterised by a ‘live and let die’ philosophy inimical to democracy in Pakistan. Mr Nawaz Sharif & Co plainly set the ball rolling in this direction by trying to subvert the move towards elections shortly after August 17 last year. This tendency was reinforced by a pernicious ‘balance-of-power’ formula thrust upon Ms Bhutto (with President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, the Senate, Sahibzada Yaqub Khan, the Afghan policy, IMF conditionalities, the eighth amendment to the constitution and the powerful ISI), which is primed to destroy her and the PPP by gnawing away at the slender threads that hold the system precariously together but make effective government impossible.
The federal government’s writ is slim in the Punjab because Mr Sharif effectively runs the province as an independent warlord. In Sindh, the MQM holds the PPP to ransom. Both Mr Sharif and Mr Hussain take their cues from, and are abetted by, certain powerful elements of the state hostile to democracy in general and the PPP government in particular. In Islamabad, Zia ul Haq’s Senate negates the National Assembly while President Ishaq jealously guards the eighth amendment and continues to curtail the PM’s ability and power to govern. The Americans control foreign affairs while the IMF orders economic change and regulates financial policy. Behind these barricades bristle the corps commanders and the ISI of the Pakistan army, ready to reinstate the legacies of the 1980s at the drop of a hat.
Survival, under these circumstances, requires much more than a tactical balancing act in the short run. A sophisticated political strategy capable of confronting the challenge of Zia ul Haq’s legacies is the paramount need of the hour. Is the PPP capable of discerning the wood for the trees? Because the PPP has won the latest battle, there is danger that in its complacency it may quickly lose sight of the hurdles ahead and eventually lose the war. Consider:
* The COP may mount any number of no-confidence moves against the government in the months ahead, thereby pushing it from pillar to post and giving it no time to consolidate its position and govern the country.
* The economic crisis may erupt spontaneously on the streets of Lahore and Karachi at any time, or be fuelled by business and trading interests antagonistic to Islamabad.
* Sindh may be consciously nudged by the conspirators into bloody and prolonged ethnic conflict entailing massive law and order problems and creating a demand for the intervention of the armed forces ‘to clean up the mess’.
* Corruption scandals may escalate into demands for the removal of the government in Islamabad.
* The President may decide, at any time, and in his discretion, under any of the circumstances above to take recourse to article 91 (5) of the Constitution under the eighth amendment, and require the Prime Minister to obtain a vote of confidence from the Assembly.
* Assassination of a political leader may trigger off civil strife and bring the army directly back into Islamabad.
Because the IJI has the most to gain and the PPP the most to lose from a continuing policy of confrontation, it can be argued that the initiative for a ‘live-and-let-live’ policy must come from the PPP before it is too late to mend matters. This will entail considerable diplomatic manoeuvering and a genuine effort to accede to the demands of its protagonists, especially its former MRD allies. It will also mean relinquishing greater power to Mian Nawaz Sharif and Nawab Akbar Bugti so that they can run their provinces without central interference. For example, the Peoples Works Programme may have to be genuinely shared between the provinces and the centre. The Council of Common Interests may also have to be activated.
If, however, the PPP is unable or unwilling to come to such terms with the opposition, then its only real option is to go back to the people and insist that they give it the electoral muscle to overthrow the eighth amendment legally and remove the obstacles in its way.
The real danger, however, is that after its recent success in thwarting the COP’s no-confidence move, the PPP may either become foolishly aggressive and try to overthrow Mian Nawaz Sharif in the Punjab while increasing its tensions with the President, or sit on its recent laurels and revert to its previous practice of clinging to hollow promises and empty threats, of muddling through without strategic vision and planning. If this happens, the PPP will surely find itself, sooner rather than later, out in the cold for years to come.
The PPP’s future strategy must take into account the possibility of such pressures exerting themselves in the next few months. It has a clear choice. Either the PPP can accept the validity and force of the power sharing arrangement and tone down its rhetoric and ambitions to conform with the political reality on the ground. Or it must quickly seize the initiative to plan concretely for another round of elections, at a time and under circumstances chosen by the party itself rather than those forced upon it by the opposition, the President or the armed forces of Pakistan.
(TFT November 9-15, 1989, Vol-I, No:35 Editorial)
The National Book Council of Pakistan, under poet Fehmida Riaz, may be finally beginning to get its act together. But it is not going to be without some hiccups first.
Ms Riaz inherited a bureaucratic structure from the martial law period and understandably wanted to get rid of it in a hurry. However, she ran into trouble when she tried to cancel the 1988 awards to authors and publishers given by a select committee established under the ancient regime. Since the award winners had already been formally notified before she took over, one author (who happens to be a police officer) threatened to go to court to uphold the earlier committee’s decisions if the NBC cancelled the awards. So Ms Riaz had to backtrack and dish out the prizes in a low-key ceremony in Islamabad two months ago. The whole episode was not concluded without the NBC displaying a certain degree of haste and bad taste.
In doling out this year’s awards, Ms Riaz’s own handpicked selection committee for 1989 did not bother with the intellectual or scholarly merits of authors and books, although her prize-winners do not lack these qualities. She wanted to acknowledge the contributions of ‘progressive’ men and women of letters ‘to the peoples’ struggle against the tyranny of the last decade’. She did just that, given her own personal likes and dislikes which are probably as good or as bad as anybody else’s.
However, the guest list for the award-giving ceremony (presided over by the PM) was just as one-sided as that of the recipients of the cash prizes. We know of at least one publisher, five of whose authors received the top honours, namely Habib Jalib, Yusuf Lodhi, Taufiq Rafat, Khawar Mumtaz and Farida Shaheed, who was not even accorded the courtesy of an invitation by Ms Fahmida Riaz, let alone a citation for publishing these ‘progressive’ writers during the martial law years.
Probably an oversight, you might say. We think not. More likely an attitude of mind which afflicts all PPP-ites. Dale Carnegie should be on the prescribed reading list of everyone in Islamabad these days and Fehmida Riaz would do well to read his classic — How to win friends and influence people — and publish a cheap edition for distribution to all her fellow travellers. After all, what can she lose?
(TFT November 16-22, 1989, Vol-I, No:36)
The words co-opt and co-operate lie next to each other in the dictionary. Their meanings are distinct. This can be seen in the following proposition: the prime minister’s avowed desire to strengthen democracy through “co-operation” with the opposition has not been fulfilled by the “co-option” of three IJI MNAs into her cabinet.
That the prime minister’s message of co-operation should be understood as newsspeak rather than as a signal of political maturity became apparent when her entire cabinet was requested to present their resignations, except the IJI three. Translating from newsspeak to plain speaking, the message is that the prime minister wishes to co-opt members of the opposition into the government in order to harden her fragile majority in the National Assembly.
The incongruously charmed lives of Benazir Bhutto’s new IJI ministers, unbuffeted by the winds of change in the Prime Minister’s Secretariat, also gives us the context in which the phrase broad-based government is to be interpreted. When the prime minister announced that she would seek to attain the Holy Grail of all un-stable, fragile democracies, many felt that the PPP had come out of the no-confidence vote the wiser. Sadly, the reality has been shown to be more prosaic.
Three IJI MNAs, distinguished only by the facility with which they first signed their names on the motion to move a no-confidence vote against the prime minister and then pledged allegiance to her, are inducted into the cabinet. Two days later, the resignation of all ministers is requested in an exercise purportedly to underscore the accountability and democratic responsibility of cabinet ministers. The three IJI ministers are clearly so irrelevant to this process that the prime minister does not even bother to ask for their resignations for form’s sake.
Against this background, the search for a broad-based government is not to be interpreted as a lofty aim but as a sordid mechanism. A mechanism designed to get enough bums on the treasury benches to make those who stand in opposition an irrelevance. The prime minister’s statement at the time of the no-confidence vote, that she was prepared to expand her cabinet still further in the hopes of forming a broad-based government of moderates and saner elements of the opposition, can now be seen as the expression of a simple arithmetic exercise: each addition to the cabinet is another vote in the bag.
If a dictionary of newsspeak were ever to be written, the entry for the term moderate would be one of the longest for it plays a crucial role in the subtle rhetoric of self-justification. The most practised and expert wielders of the term moderate, especially of its derivative moderate elements, are Western foreign policy-makers. It is usually used when an attempt is made to remove a much excoriated impediment to Western interests through a last-ditch policy of divide and rule, splitting the opposition into moderates and extremists. The prime minister’s appeal for moderate elements to come together is set squarely in this tradition.
However, her appeal for sane elements would require a new entry in our dictionary of newsspeak. Politicians in the past have avoided implying that their oppositions are insane.
This descent from the norms of democratic rhetoric into the language of newsspeak is a reflection of the distortions and dislocations that democracy has suffered here. The key terms of democracy are not protected by a procrustean bed of democratic tradition. They are vulnerable to being conscripted into partisan battles for political supremacy. When this occurs, democracy is the sure loser.
By fighting with the opposition in the twisted and contorted language of newsspeak, the PPP may just win itself enough of an untrustworthy and greedy majority in the National Assembly to keep itself safe from another no-confidence vote in the short term. But increasingly dependent on double-talk and double dealing, the PPP and democracy will pay the price in the long run.
A government whose responsibility should be to foster and strengthen our fragile democracy threatens to discredit it. Caught up in a fight to ensure its predominance, it seems unable to comprehend the notion of compromise. It offers cosmetic change which serves only to reveal its fundamental malaise.
Benazir Bhutto should take a few moments off from the battle and turn to the dictionary, look up the meaning of co-operation, and remind herself what distinguishes it from the word which follows it, co-option. As the nation’s Prime Minister at this crucial juncture in its history, it is above all her interpretation of democracy’s tenets that will set the standards for future democratic governments. She should take this responsibility seriously.
(TFT November 23-29, 1989, Vol-I, No:37 Editorial)
Oh no, not again!
After a well-earned breather spent replenishing his copious energies in crispy Quetta and clinical Islamabad, Mian Nawaz Sharif is on the warpath once again. We shouldn’t be surprised. Minutes after the failure of the no-confidence vote early this month, he promised to dish out more of the confrontationist stuff. And so, like a true politician, he is merely making good on his earlier promise.
However, we cannot help thinking that in his desperation to get rid of Ms Bhutto, Mian Sahib may be going a little haywire. Examine, for example, his balmy ‘policy’ initiative to ‘Islamise’ the somnolent Punjab bureaucracy.
For eleven interminable years, Gen Zia tried to drive us all into paradise at the point of a bayonet and failed woefully. Mian Sahib’s tacky directives to use the ‘Islamic’ carrot and stick on the sardonic sons of the Punjab are even more pathetic. At times even he must surely sense he is not likely to get a rise out of anyone on this issue.
Or take this business of doling out state lands all over the place as though he were merrily distributing his own private property. Given the capricious manner in which he is flying around being an unbelievable goody-goody, there won’t be any plots left to expend in the months ahead. More worrying, though, is the inevitability of his Punjab government landing itself in a royal mess as soon as thousands of claims and counter-claims from exaggerated squatters and ambiguous claimants come flooding into his secretariat.
But no matter. Mian Sahib is now bent on raising the skeleton of the Punjab Bank to give everyone a run for their money. It is immaterial to him that his little scheme to raise funds for his industrialist cronies can be sabotaged easily by the federal government in so many ways, as for example by simply denying it clearing-house facilities. Have you ever heard of a provincial bank whose cheques cannot be cleared in any other bank in the country?
His latest blueprint of action envisages a massive campaign, aided by the Jamaat-i-Islami, to provoke violent unrest on the streets against the PPP government. He doesn’t much care what happens to destabilise business in his province, and he remains oblivious of the objections of his COP partners to such a course of action. His tirade against the PM — accusing her of being an “Indian agent”, an “Al-Zulfiqar terrorist”, an “anti-Islamic wanton”, etc — would sound droll if he didn’t insanely insist on wanting to “dump the bones of the Bhutto family in the Arabian Sea.”
No, it is all too obvious that Mian Sahib is fast becoming a desperado who will scuttle the ship if the worst comes to pass concerning himself. The fact that Mr Mustapha Khar, his prospective nemesis in the Punjab, has now headquartered himself in the province and is busying himself trying to make clever inroads into Mian Sahib’s shaky coalition of oppositionists, has only made matters worse. It also makes for sleepless nights imagining the PM’s loyal lieutenant Mr Aftab Sherpao corralling Mr Wali Khan in the Frontier, or anticipating the developing conflicts in ally Akbar Bugti’s nationalistic coalition in Balochistan. Since the Muslim Leaguers in the COP cannot be trusted for long anyway, it is quite possible that Mian Sahib is getting worked up at the unsavoury prospect of spending the remaining months of his political life in the company of the Jamaat-i-Islami.
Having said as much, however, it is pertinent to ask who has pushed Mian Sahib into such desperate straits. Unfortunately, we cannot escape the conclusion that it takes two hands to clap. Ms Bhutto and her aides also find it impossible to subscribe to the philosophy of live and let live. Therefore, part of the responsibility for the mess we are in rests on her. There is too much at stake for all of us to let these two warring sides wantonly slide into a mutually self-destructive spin. It is tragic that we are forced once again to suffer, within the short span of a year, the spectacle of an irresistible force clashing with an immovable object.
We have said this before and we say it again. The initiative for genuine rapproachement must come from the Prime Minister. There must be an end to this stormy weather. The provinces must be allowed to develop and progress under the aegis of their respective elected representatives, namely Mian Sahib and Nawab Sahib. They must not be pushed to the brink. The PPP cannot claim a monopoly of ‘democratic’ practices in this country.
(TFT November 30-December 6, 1989, Vol-I, No:38 Editorial)
A Full circle?
If the country craves a stable period of competent government to steer it out of the woods, a solid but responsible opposition is no less a desperate need of the hour. But the situation looks bleak. The tragedy is that we seem to have come full circle to 1977 without recognising that we are at the beginning once again.
While it is perfectly clear that the PPP government in Islamabad has behaved quite immaturely on several occasions over the past year, it is more than obvious too that the opposition’s role has been highly irresponsible and negative in the prevailing circumstances.
The Combined Opposition Party (COP) looks to be in the same mould as its predecessors, the PNA and the MRD. Such platforms of differing, even opposite, viewpoints do not last beyond the achievement of their limited aim of overthrowing the government in power. Therefore, they tend to split up into so many parts that the original front is incapable of posing an alternative government. But the COP’s problem is more substantial.
While the PNA and the MRD were apparently similar to the COP in their political composition, there are at least two significant differences between those two on the one hand and the COP on the other, which should compel us to pause and reflect. For one, both the earlier alliances were pitted against what were, by widespread consensus, imperious or dictatorial governments (Z A Bhutto’s and Gen Zia ul Haq’s), while the present one is ganging up against a democratically elected government which, while it may be inexperienced and sometimes incompetent, is neither reckless or despotic nor illegitimate. Two, none of the components of the PNA or the MRD had ever participated in or supported a dictatorial government in the past, while the COP (with a few exceptions like the ANP and JUI) is characterized by those who aided and abetted the martial law regime of Gen Zia ul Haq, with Mian Nawaz Sharif, Gen Fazle Haq and the Jamaat-i-Islami each playing a pivotal role then as now. Even Nawab Akbar Bugti played a most treacherous game in 1973 when he conspired with Mr Z A Bhutto to dismiss the democratically elected NAP government in the province and subsequently became Governor under President’s rule. Mr Junejo’s Muslim League, too, cannot escape a similar indictment for supporting a dictator’s attempt to tamper with the Constitution.
Therefore it can be argued that, while the political credentials of the PNA and the MRD were beyond reproach, those of the COP are highly suspect. We do not have to believe in the prime minister’s recent revelations to The Washington Post about the unsavoury intentions of the COP in order to arrive at such a conclusion.
Most distressing, however, is the participation in the COP of people like Wali Khan, Nawabzada Nasrullah and Maulana Fazlur Rehman. None of these gentlemen can be faulted for not opposing tyranny in the past. Why, then, should they be rubbing shoulders with the likes of the Jamaat-i-Islami and the IJI?
The Nawabzada is at the fag end of his political career and he has been dreaming of rounding it off by sitting in the Presidency. The PM’s hands are, unfortunately, tied. The Maulana’s marginal support base exists only on the periphery, yet he apparently insists on forcing his sectarian view of an ‘Islamic’ order on the whole of the country. If the PM made him Governor of Balochistan, would he still ally with the COP?
While these two gentlemen clearly put personal ambitions above national ones, Khan Abdul Wali Khan is a different kettle of fish. Because he is opposed to the PPP’s Afghan policy, an ANP Governor in the NWFP would scuttle attempts by the Americans and other vested interests within the state to prolong this bloody conflict. In all three instances, the PM, unfortunately, is much too insecure and weak to accommodate their demands after accepting the power-sharing formula proposed by the Pakistan Army and the Americans last November.
While the others in the COP have no stake in the democratic system, the PM must move swiftly to neutralize these three gentlemen by genuine overtures of power-sharing in the federal government. Shorn of these ‘democratic’ partners, the COP will come out in its true colours. In which case, the PM will have nothing to worry about and can get on with the job of government. Eventually, we should be able to assess her performance on the basis of her ability to resolve the long-term issues which really matter.
(TFT December 7-13, 1989, Vol-I, No:39 Editorial)
Democracy, war and peace
There is no end in sight to the raging war between Ms Bhutto and her powerful opponents in Pakistan. Despite President Ishaq’s anguished plea for peace to live and let live, both factions seem to have resolutely set course for a war to knock the other out. In the process, it doesn’t much matter to them what havoc is wrecked on civil society and economy. Apparently, they couldn’t care less also for the dangerous ambitions which their conduct nurtures in certain sections of the armed bureaucracy.
While President Ishaq was passionately calling for a spirited defense of the ‘democratic federal system’, Mian Nawaz Sharif was actively engaged in thwarting the federal government’s efforts to provide Sui gas to the despondent residents of the old city of Lahore and drawing up plans to establish his own provincial TV and radio network. Elsewhere, Ms Bhutto’s lieutenants are busy hustling up IJI MNAs and MPAs, cajoling them to desert Mian Sahib’s ship in the hapless province of Punjab.
In one year of government, neither side has much to offer by way of positive achievements except, perhaps, to point to the festering wounds senselessly inflicted on Pakistan’s body politic. The much-flaunted Peoples’ Works Programme is still stuck in no-man’s land, the bloody conflict in Afghanistan continues unabated, the menace of drugs gnaws away at the threads of our civilisation and the rising tide of impoverishment threatens to bring the whole edifice crashing down on everyone.
All this is evidently true enough. So, should we conclude from this mess that something is organically rotten in the state of Pakistan? That political ‘democracy’ is a meaningless concept in an undeveloped, feudal economy such as ours? That the demand for ‘provincial autonomy’ is inherently untenable in an ideological state such as the one we have created? That, in our post-colonial situation, we are structurally incapable of sustaining economic policies designed to rehabilitate the wretched of this country?
If the answer to all these questions is ‘yes’, then, logically speaking, we must presume the inevitable demise of our nation-state sooner or later and dispense with agonising any further over our predicament.
There is, however, a pernicious line of thought which analyses our problematic in much the same terms but comes instead to a radically different conclusion. In its bare outline, it is the argument that ‘democracy’ — meaning thereby elections, parliaments, constitution, consensus etc — doesn’t work in countries like Pakistan. This is a shameless and unmitigated plea for a return to a highly centralised, authoritarian state under military rule, notwithstanding our disastrous experience with such dispensations over 26 of the last 42 years of independent Pakistan. It is conveniently forgotten that ‘democracy’ hasn’t yet worked precisely because we haven’t given it a fair chance over a reasonable period to demonstrate its abundant creative utilities.
While ‘democracy’ means different things to different people, depending upon their prejudices, it must be emphasised that many of its wherewithals are necessary, rather than sufficient, conditions for the development of an energetic and modern nation-state. Further, to expect a weak representative government, newly elected after years of divisive martial law, to lead us to the doors of economic and political beneficence in a year or two, is asking for too much. To expect it to readily welcome and fully cooperate with powerful and entrenched elements hostile to the representative system itself is also asking for the impossible.
‘Democracy’ will take many decades to install itself securely and prove its bonafides to the satisfaction of a majority in our country. The tussle for power, within such a representative system, is inevitably volatile and unpredictable as world history so amply demonstrates. In time, however, power may be consensually parcelled out and institutionalised. Checks and balances, too, are an integral part of this on-going process, and reversals — two steps forward, one step back — not uncommon.
Therefore, in modern times, there is no alternative to a representative system of government anywhere in the world, as recent events elsewhere demonstrate so vividly. In the long run, intermittent war between factions and groups in democratic Pakistan will eventually give way to longer periods of peace. In the meantime, while we accustom ourselves to both war and peace in the years ahead, let us emphasise the fact that we really have no choice but to give the system more time. It is our firm belief, fortified by the logic of history, that democracy in Pakistan will, given a chance, find an equilibrium and take root.
(TFT December 14-20, 1989, Vol-I, No:40 Editorial)
Abolish information ministries
It is enlightening that, despite being rocked by continuing turmoil and even violent coups, Mrs Cory Aquino has abolished the institution of the Ministry of Information in the Philippines. In the longer-term interests of democracy and press freedom, the Philippino President is content to employ the services of only a press secretary and speech writer to present her views to the public. Regrettably, however, our own PPP government, despite many tall promises and claims, has failed to take a leaf from Mrs Aquino’s book and initiate similar emancipatory measures.
The repeal of the odious Press and Publications Ordinance was actually effected through a Presidential Ordinance by Mr Elahi Bux Soomro, the Information Minister in the caretaker government after Zia ul Haq’s demise in 1988. Since then, Ms Bhutto’s government has simply issued two Ordinances to keep the new order alive (RPPPO), but the National Assembly has yet to pass a bill making this the given law of the land. Such a situation is inherently capricious, therefore unacceptable, and the PPP government must immediately move to make secure this ad hoc arrangement.
The National Press Trust, too, is a revulsive legacy of martial law and we must insist that the PPP honours its electoral pledge to abolish it. There is no justification in a democratic system for such a Trust. Attempts to fob us off by alluding to the ‘problems’ and ‘mechanics’ of doing so are patently feeble and untenable. If there is a will, a satisfactory solution should not be difficult to find. The private sector should be seriously sounded out to help the government resolve any ‘problem’ attending the NPT’s dissolution.
The obvious lack of autonomy and professionalism in PTV and PBC also merit cognizance. We accept the right of the federal government to maintain these organs in the public sector, but with several important provisos. One, both organisations should be professionally manned, with recruitments, hirings and firings channelled through some autonomous and respected public body acting as a watchdog free from political influence. Two, the federal government must totally relinquish its monopoly over the electronic media and permit the establishment of an electronic network in the private sector at the provincial level. Competition will compel the public sector to purge inefficiency, highhandedness and favouritism, thereby providing for an altogether more neutral, relevant and exciting media.
We are opposed to the establishment of TV and Radio networks by the provincial governments for the same reason that we abhor the encroachments of the public sector into our private domains. Given the inherent and enduring political antagonisms between the provinces and any federal government, allowing the provincial governments to establish their own politically biased networks will further corrupt the media and preclude a meaningful and creative role for the private sector.
The government must also forego control over the disbursement of advertisements to the press. The Press and Information Department of the federal government has no business meddling in the affairs of the autonomous bodies and public sector corporations, which should freely determine their own advertisement policies. It is absurd to force us to hang on to the coattails of the PID and kowtow to its demands and press “advice” all the time. This argument applies with equal force to the provincial Directorates of Public Relations which play much the same role to curtail press freedom.
All this can be accomplished in one blow by abolishing the office of the Ministry of Information at the provincial and federal levels and all the tricks of the trade that go with it. By all means, tighten the libel laws in the country so that false and malicious press reporting is penalised. But remove, once and for all, the various devices utilised to keep the press in chains.
Sitting governments must not make the mistake, as always, of assuming that they will stay in power indefinitely. This PPP government, especially, should have a much greater stake in the consolidation of a democratic system and a free press than any government in the past 42 years for the simple reason that it depends crucially on such dispensation for its continued survival. It must realise that in the not to distant future it will have to sit on the opposition benches in Islamabad and/or elsewhere. That is when it will require the services of a free and vibrant press to air its views. That is when it will reap the fruits of what it sows now.
(TFT December 21-27, 1989, Vol-I, No:41)
We live in trying times. Every second citizen totes a Kalashnikov and whips it out at the raising of an eyebrow. Every other Chief Minister and Governor threatens to dissolve his cabinet or assembly and send MPs packing if his boat is rocked. The PM has survived one no-confidence move by some nifty horse-trading but lives under the shadow of another in the not too distant future. Do this, do that, or else … that’s the name of the game and the devil take the hindmost. Not at all, you’ll agree, like the terribly civilised war between Blueland and Foxland highlighted on the front pages of our dailies.
In Balochistan, Nawab Bugti wields the sword of Democles like a true blooded gladiator. When the Frontier Constabulary moved in to check drug smuggling and gun-running in the province, the Nawab shouted “Halt! Or else I’ll dissolve the assembly”. When his youthful allies in the BYM or the fiery mullahs of the JUI urge him to keep his distance from the IJI, the Nawab merely twirls his moustache to warm them to look out for their seats.
Gen (retd) Tikka Khan has also got into the merry swing of things in the Punjab, albeit rather belatedly. The Governor of the Punjab can no longer keep his silence or peace, such is the provocation from chief minister Nawaz Sharif. Watch it, old chap, the Gov now seems to be saying, or else I’ll run the Punjab and you can go fly a kite.
The Man of Steel in the Punjab, however, is hardly chastened by such neighbourly advice. Gimme this, gimme that, do this, don’t you dare do that, or else I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house in Islamabad down. The big bad Punjabi wolf makes no bones about it, come hell or high water.
Elsewhere, CM Aftab Sherpao dishes out ministries as though he were a stately bearer at a royal banquet in the Frontier. More, more, the MPAs all scream, (no relations of Oliver Twist, these gentlemen) or else … and the show goes on, without Wali Khan and his band of merry men. The latter, we must remind you, have already retreated to the political wilderness after duly executing their threat to ditch the government in power because they were denied the carrot they coveted.
In Sindh, the MQM wants Karachi, Hyderabad, you name it, they want it, or else … and everyone has got more than a rough idea of the mean medicine they usually dispense when they get angry. Add to this, the escalating demands of the dacoits, kidnappers, drug mafia, and you know what we’re talking about.
In Islamabad, the PM too has not escaped the plague. Her secretariat is cluttered with the enforced resignations of a fleet of ministers, advisors and OSDs. Now, now, behave yourself boys, or else ... ! Boys can evidently no longer be boys, there is much too much at stake.
Nor has the Presidency been spared its blushes. Mumble, mumble, it seems to grumble, I’ll appoint the judges, or else … Sirohey will stay, or else … don’t you dare smack my Nawazo, or else …
The Yanks, it must be conceded, have always been good at this game. Raise prices, cut subsidies, buy this, sell that, arm guerillas, wage war, talk to VP Singh, don’t talk to Najib, or else …
Have we left anyone out? Oh yes, the neutral umpires who supervise this extraordinary game of spoilsports. Thus far, admittedly, it’s only been a record harvest of no-balls and wides, with the occasional dead ball called for good measure. Despite bending the rules to allow for the numerous bouncers in this Test match, you can increasingly spy the umpires huddled together, clocking their wristwatches, shaking their heads, looking at their light meters under an overcast sky. Call the match off? Well, we certainly will if there is thunder and lightning, if the drizzle becomes a downpour, they seem to nod in grim agreement.
It’s a ridiculous, even absurd, picture we paint. But it’s not too far from reality. True, the rules of the game are ambiguous, sometimes even obscure, but they are always controversial. It’s also a fact that we haven’t had much practise during the last 42 years playing by such rules, some of which have been amended quite arbitrarily and autocratically in recent years. Having said as much by way of explanation, we must emphasise that there is no justification at all to some of the unsavoury political practises, including blackmail, conspiracy and violence, in vogue today.
(TFT December 21-27, 1989, Vol-I, No:41 Article)
The lessons Of Bangladesh 1971
Najam Sethi argues that Bangladesh 1971 and events thereafter demonstrate that the over-riding concerns of the people of Pakistan, unfortunately, have nev er been reflected in the grinding demand of a centralised military-bureaucratic state apparatus to perpetuate itself at all costs.
Every December, for the last 18 years, we go through the motions of reluctantly and inconclusively reminding ourselves of the lessons of Bangladesh, then quietly sweep these under the rug. Even as a rite of passage, the exercise has unfortunately lost all meaning.
The Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report has lain buried for so long that we have forgotten to even think of demanding the public’s right to examine its far-reaching conclusions. Gen Beg’s glasnost, while it sheds light on some of the Pakistan army’s military and political shortcomings in the past, stops short of acknowledging the follies of a military government which led to the tragedy of Bangladesh in 1971. Since then, we have increasingly come to behave like the proverbial ostrich, with our heads buried deep in the shifting sands of these stormy decades.
In that tragedy, there were clear lessons for all. For one, military rule is a disastrous substitute for even an imperfect or unstable representative system, notwithstanding propaganda about the ‘law of necessity’ that sought to hide its Stalinist origins. The fallacious argument that freedom could be realised through necessity or that necessity was also a recognition of freedom was first extended to Pakistan by Justice Muhammad Munir when he legitimised the first martial law in 1958. Today, we know from our own ruinous experiences under three martial law regimes that this view is bankrupt. Conclusive evidence on a world-historic stage is forthcoming too from the current stampede for freedom in the USSR and Eastern Europe.
The second obvious lesson of 1971 relates to another dimension of freedom — and that relates to autonomy for the provinces. To our manifest peril, the Bengalis’ demand for provincial rights was callously ignored for 20 years, thereby pushing them into a corner from which there was no possible retreat. Since then, we have appeared bent upon reducing the legitimate demands of the remaining provinces to naught — we need remind ourselves only of the bloody insurgency in Balochistan and the NWFP in 1973, of the rising tide of violent nationalism and ethnicity in Sindh during the 1980s, and more recently of pressures from the Punjab to take greater control over its own resources. Without decentralisation of power to the provinces, there is no end in sight to the instability ahead.
A third important lesson, albeit a most unpalatable one, concerns the nature of the state. Clearly, the fact that we are all Muslims is insufficient, by itself, to bind us together in one nation-state. The complicated historical legacy, consisting of modern, traditional, secular and religious components, which has gone into the making of this state, cannot be ignored any longer. If this observation were untrue, the struggle for legitimacy would not have been as fierce and as relentless as it has proved to be. Class struggles, ethnicity, provincialism and religious sectarianism cannot be wished away by proclaiming an idealised ‘Islamic’ republic. Modern nation-building, as a prerequisite, requires a voluntary consensus in society about the nature of the state and rules of political conduct. Without democratic institutions and freedom to explore viable options, such a consensus will continue to elude us. And if we fail in arriving at that consensus, we cannot hope to enter the next decade with confidence.
Finally, we have yet to come to a realistic assessment of the role of the ‘foreign factor’ in securing or destablising Pakistan. It is incorrect to attribute the birth of Bangladesh to Indian intervention, just as it is patently untenable to seek assurances of Pakistan’s security from the United States of America or ‘the pan-Islamic ‘jehad’ in Afghanistan.’
While India certainly acted as a catalyst in hastening the military defeat of the Pakistan army in East Pakistan in December 1971, we had long before precipitated an irreconcilable crisis by our prolonged insensitivity to Bengali demands for provincial autonomy. The political battle for hearts and minds was lost years before Pakistan’s military debacle in 1971.
In the same fashion, our relationship with the US is based on false strategic premises. We cannot plan on building a modern nation-state unless we clear the decks of slavish reliance on US aid and advice, on believing that our credible nationalistic concerns coincide with the long-term interests of a superpower. Nor is it in our long-term interests to subscribe to that dangerous line of thinking prevalent in certain sections of the military and Islamic fundamentalist groups which envisages the implementation of a pan-Islamic doctrine based on the concept of ‘strategic depth’, a rear area stretching from Iran, through Kabul, to Islamabad. It is nonsense to claim that ‘Pakistan and Afghanistan are two countries, but one people’. There is no realistic equation measuring the loss of East Pakistan in 1971 on the one side with the illusive ‘gain’ in Afghanistan on the other side in 1989.
Bangladesh 1971 and events thereafter demonstrate that the over-riding concerns of the people of Pakistan, unfortunately, have never been reflected in the grinding demands of a centralised military-bureaucratic state apparatus to perpetuate itself at all costs. Disregarding participatory consensus, the state has increasingly alienated itself from civil society and contributed to the sectarian and disintegrative tendencies which characterise the country today.
(TFT Dec 28-03 Jan, 1990, Vol-I, No:42 Editorial)
Merry Christmas, Panama
Most Panamanians will probably rejoice at the sight of Uncle Sam bearing Christmas gifts in his traditional ‘diplomatic’ manner. At home in the US, too, what better way to greet the New Year than a unanimously reviving the spirit of John Wayne to welcome the passing of Panamanian thug Noreiga? President Bush, the old wimp, will be especially elated at having successfully negotiated a difficult rite of passage to Rambohood in the New Year. Because a great ‘moral’ victory has been achieved over the forces of darkness, should we presume that a round of good-natured back thumping is in order at the ‘restoration of democracy’ in Panama?
Since Machiavelli’s Prince set the explicit tone of international relations many centuries ago, the dead horse of morality, unfortunately, cannot be flogged any longer. In international law, the US intervention in Panama is most certainly illegal, and therefore deserves severe condemnation all round, instead of praise.
The US has offered several ‘legal’ views in support of its gunboat diplomacy. For one, it has argued that because Noreiga had earlier declared Panama to be in ‘a state of war with the US’ and followed it up by ‘a number of attacks on US servicemen and civilians in Panama’, the US was justified in acting to defend American lives, under Article 51 of the UN Charter.
This is indefensible because the right of self-defence must be exercised in a ‘necessary and proportional manner’ and the death of one marine officer and rumours of further attacks do not justify the invasion of a country.
The US has also said that, under the Panama Canal Treaty of 1977, it reserved the ‘indefinite right to take military action to preserve the security and neutrality of the canal’. The problem here is one of interpretation which, even in 1977 and thereafter, the two countries failed to resolve. The Panamanian position has always been that the US must take no action against ‘the territorial integrity or political independence of Panama’ and the ‘US action is only permissible within the Canal Zone’.
The arguments that the US is duty-bound to ‘restore democracy’ in Panama or that it did so because Noreiga was wanted in the US, would be laughable if they weren’t quite so pathetic. A logical extension of these would imply US military intervention in dozens of countries, including superpowers USSR and China!
In this century, Latin America has suffered US invasions no less than 42 times. American marines have landed in Panama five times and launched full-scale occupations from Nicaragua to Grenada in the past. For many Latins, who have suffered under US-backed dictatorships for decades, the latest intervention is a demonstration more of American weakness than strength and there is little sympathy for the US predicament in Panama. Apart from flagrantly violating the UN charter and contradicting the growing international trend towards dialogue and diplomacy as a means of solving disputes, the US military invasion must be a source of considerable worry too contributions to world peace. He must naturally be worried that the American attack may strengthen the hands of his conservative opponents at home who allege that Moscow’s conciliatory foreign policy, peppered with unilateral concessions and initiatives, is selling out to a fundamentally aggressive superpower rival. It is argued that this action may increase pressures in the USSR for a reversal of the recent trend to cut defence budgets and jeopardise the entente with Washington negotiated in Malta recently.
It is worth noting, also, that there were only two exceptions to the chorus of press approval in the US for President Rambo’s outlandish heroics. One of these, the authoritative Los Angeles Times, warned Americans that “the US helped created the monster it is now trying to destroy and the invasion may set back genuine democracy in Panama for many years.”
These are revolutionary times indeed. The USSR, which today seeks military disengagements all over the world, was urged by Western powers to send Warsaw pact armies into Romania to liberate it from the clutches of the ‘conductor’, Nicolae Ceausescu, while the US continues to fuel the blood-letting in Afghanistan! The US has retained the military option to keep its backyard Continent under the heel, but is prodding the Soviets to relinquish control even over their own territories on the periphery. In the circumstances, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the two Blocs may have switched roles in the twilight of this century, with the Evil Empire now playing the Rebels and vice versa!
(TFT January 4-10, 1990, Vol-I, No:43 Editorial)
The Ides of March
Does the PM require a new vote of confidence in March 1990? By opining clearly that the superior courts should determine the course of action to be followed, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan has once again lent credence to our view that the issue of the balance of powers between the President and the Prime Minister will not be resolved merely by pious statements of harmony between GIK and BB.
When the federal government last month withdrew, at the last minute, its appeal before the Supreme Court over the issue of the appointment of judges, we argued that if the Supreme Court had found in favour of the federal government, the much feared teeth of the 8th amendment would have been taken out. However, by back-tracking from a winning position in a crucial petition, the PPP left undisturbed the time bomb of the 8th amendment ticking away in the Constitution.
On the heels of President Ishaq’s statement, as though on cue, comes one from the IJI, threatening to launch another no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister in March. Mian Nawaz Sharif has also indicated that he is seeking ‘radical changes in the political structure’ by way of some ‘new formula’, as yet undisclosed.
On the other side, the PPP has constituted a seven-member opposition high-command in the Punjab, led by Mustapha Khar operating from the Circuit House in Lahore. Mr Khar has set the rumour-mills to working overtime by his assurance that ‘Mian Sahib will be no more in three months time’.
The stage, then, is clearly set for fireworks. The PPP, having foolishly left its Presidential flank undefended, needs better strategic thinking to redeploy its troops and dig its defences quickly. Much more than Iftikhar Gillani’s legalistic advice or kinship with President Ishaq is required to negotiate the Ides of March.
Kill-joys at New Year’s Eve
As elsewhere, when we came to celebrating the eve of 1990, it was with a feeling of optimism. For the truly decadent, however, time seems to be running out. That is why there was a mad rush to dampen the spirits of the optimistic. When, in the last week of December, 22 young men and women were arrested by the Punjab government in Lahore for dancing at a private party, it was an ominous portent of things to come.
On New Year Eve, Jamaat-i-Islami toughs in Karachi and the Punjab police in Lahore sought to crush people’s joy and thereby revealed their own degenerative tendencies rather than the so-called decadence they sought to quell. And it was with sadistic pleasure that the Jamaat and its patron, the Punjab chief minister, indulged in an orgy of bullying and beating on New Year’s Eve. In Karachi, the Jamaat’s vigilante squads roamed about all night in search of game. In Lahore, all restaurants had received orders from the police to down shutters by 10.30 pm. In the case of one trendy joint on the Mall, the Punjab police actually resorted to beating up a number of young men in order to prevent them from overstaying the stipulated time. The entire area of Liberty Market was also cordoned off by the police in an excess of zeal. In Gulberg, the premises of a club were raided and ladies insulted. Nothing, it seems, was out of bounds for the Punjab police. A private party at the home of a wealthy land owner from Southern Punjab was rudely interrupted and the guests sent packing. Just off Lahore’s Sherpao bridge, a journalist and his wife were flagged down by the police and questions put to the couple about their marital status. The police let up the pressure only when the two threw their weight about and after the police spotted the car, just behind the journalist’s, of an American diplomat who’d stopped, no doubt, to witness the police state in action. We hear now that the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam has ‘hailed the Punjab and Sindh governments for taking strict measures to prevent the holding of dance parties on the eve of the New Year.’
This is the decadence of the archaic in full bloom. The fundamentalists and Mian Nawaz Sharif know that they are out of step with the realities of modern day life. They display a pathetic desperation when they seek to oppress those who wish to live a normal life. If they were optimistic about their future in the 1990s and only ten years away, the twenty first century, they would not spoil everybody’s fun. The would join in.
(TFT January 11-17, 1990, Vol-I, No:44 Editorial)
Resist the bigots
At least the bigots are united on one platform. From the ‘fundos’ of the Jamaat-i-Islami to the ignoramuses of the JUI, the bearded are most apprehensive that a cultural invasion from India will erode our morals and undermine our great civilisation. Ravi Shankar, the master sitarist, is viewed as a modern day pied-piper from Akhand Bharat who must not be allowed to lead us astray. Hence the public is warned that a cultural troupe from India will not be permitted to play fast and loose with our endangered national identity.
It is time we, the majority, stood up and were heard. Why should the subject of our majority, our civilisation, our religion, become the focus of dime-a-dozen fatwas and strong-arm displays of self-righteousness by an unrepresentative fringe? Why should we allow ourselves to meekly submit to the blackmailing tactics of the bigots?
Mr Z A Bhutto thought that by giving in to the beards he might save his skin and live to fight another day. His daughter is now making the same mistake. They will never accept a liberal, democratic order, much less one under a young Westernized woman. While they violently disagree with one another on the larger questions of the Shariat, they are united in their hostility to a representative political system under which they are marginalised because people will not vote for them.
It is stupid to believe that they can either be ignored or placated by regular offerings for any length of time. For every inch you give them, they demand a yard the next time round. Indeed, that is how, over the years, they have encroached upon the state and accumulated sufficient power to be able now to publicly flex their muscle. This is why we must now fight over every millimetre of political and ideological space and refuse to allow them to whip us into submission.
Over New Year’s Eve, young and old alike were harassed by reference to the Hudood Ordinances which, we are warned, makes a mixed social gathering punishable under the law as ‘attempted fornication’. In Lahore, under pressure from the Jamaat-i-Islami, Mian Nawaz Sharif went overboard in his attempt to please his dubious allies by ordering the arrest of 22 youngsters who were allegedly ‘caught dancing’ and bunged into prison for over a week. If we do not resist this arbitrary display of power, we will end up surrendering all our civil and personal liberties to the Philistines and bigots of our times.
The argument that by listening to classical music or watching classical dance we are subverting our cultural values and diluting our national identity is patent nonsense. It reflects the burdens of an historical inferiority complex which every bigot carries in his intellectual baggage. It is the same with books from India. We must be protected from the printed word because, like children, we must be shown the right path by those who claim to be the enlightened ones, the ulema who alone know the Truth from falsehood. And anyone who cries, ‘Hold, Enough’ is an Indian Agent.
Let us say boldly that they do not have a monopoly over what constitutes Islamic righteousness or patriotism, that we will not be driven into paradise at the point of the contentious Hudood Ordinance. It is the responsibility of the federal government and its elected representatives to ensure that laws are made and enforced for the protection of citizens’ rights, liberties and freedoms and that a minority, no matter how vociferous or powerful, does not get away with thrusting its point of view on a suffering majority. If he wants to, Ravi Shankar must come. We look forward to delighting in his music.
(TFT January 18-24, 1990, Vol-I, No:45 Editorial)
New elections: throwing the baby out with
It is remarkable that the question of new elections has cropped up yet again. Last September, when the opposition parties were gearing themselves up to overthrow the PPP government in Islamabad through a vote of no-confidence, the press carried their demands for fresh elections. Now, once again, when the opposition is attempting to build up pressure on the President in the run-up to March 1990, ‘to intervene and save the federation’, there is talk of the possibility of elections next April.
There are, however, significant differences in the underlying context of the two situations. Six months ago, the opposition seemed united in wanting fresh elections, while today, in public at least, it does not support such a demand. On the contrary, it is the prime minister herself who has recently alluded to such a possibility if the opposition and the President ‘leave her with no option’.
Whatever does the PM mean by that? Presumably she has reflected on her position as a prime minister rendered powerless by her shackles. She is chained to the power-sharing formula she acquiesced to last November. She is surrounded by powerful and hostile forces led by Mian Nawaz Sharif which will not rest until they see the back of her. Her relations with the all-powerful President, which have never been particularly good, have soured recently to the point where she suspects his intentions and cannot count on his support in the months ahead. Add to this the fact that her thin majority in the National Assembly precludes her from reshuffling her cabinet and making room for greater efficiency and competence, and you can fathom the depths of her helplessness. We can presume that the thought has crossed her mind that she might be better off calling for elections herself at a time of her own choosing rather than being ousted on some pretext by the President, in collusion with the opposition, in the near future.
It is abundantly clear that no one, except perhaps those like Mr Asghar Khan who were wiped out in the last elections, is really interested in another round of elections just yet. Apart from denting the exchequer and the pockets of would-be legislators, creating further tension and turmoil and disrupting the economy, we cannot expect fresh elections to generate parliamentary results significantly different from those of last November. Therefore it is worth asking why there is so much talk about, and interest in, this subject now.
The COP, in effect, wants to oust Ms Bhutto from Islamabad via a ‘confidence move’ organised by itself or at its behest by the President. If successful, the COP can install itself in government and call elections when it so choses under its own provisional or caretaker government, which could be expected to give it an edge in the interim period. The PM, by the same logic, would like to be able to do so likewise. Thus, while no one wants elections at the moment, all the players would like to manoeuvre themselves into a better position now in case elections become inevitable later.
The problem, therefore, lies in the universal perception among the politicians that the present constitutional dispensation and distribution of power is inherently unstable and cannot last too long into the future. What is regrettably forgotten is the fact that elections simply reflect the given face and aspirations of society at any time, its tensions and divisions, or consensus and unity, rather than create such conditions. Because new elections will not alter the existing environment, it is imperative that all this talk of elections and votes of confidence from both sides should come to an end. Spirited efforts are needed to negotiate an amicable and enduring formula to live and let live.
(TFT January 25-31, 1990, Vol-I, No:46 Editorial)
Gently does it over Kashmir!
If India remains stubborn and Pakistan permits Sardars Ibrahim and Qayyum to jump the gun, there will be, sooner or later, another war between the two countries.
For the first time since 1947, Kashmir is under the heel of the Indian army and Kashmiris are forcefully demonstrating a complete loss of faith in India.
India can now only allow the situation in Srinagar to drift at its own peril. The insurgency is becoming stronger by the day and New Delhi cannot impose an indefinite, violent and costly martial law on the state. It will only succeed in provoking Kashmiris on both sides of the border to greater unity in their fight for independence. Eventually, a low-intensity conflict may escalate into a full-blooded war with Pakistan, which neither can win.
New Delhi, however, appears to have embarked on a predictable route. It has sent in a new Governor whose reputation for personifying the ‘colonial approach’ precedes him — under Mrs Indira Gandhi, he successfully played the toppling game in Srinagar, ousting Farooq Abdullah and bringing in G M Shah. The idea, clearly, is to use strong-arm methods to militarily crush the Kashmiris’ spirit of resistance. If successful, New Delhi may go in for new elections in the hope that most militants can be persuaded to participate, and subsequently be handed the reins of government. In this fashion, New Delhi hopes to control the situation and bring the Kashmiris round to negotiations aimed at giving the state a greater sense of control over its destiny, without opting for secession.
There are enormous difficulties inherent in this approach. For one, New Delhi will not be able to impose a quick military ‘solution’ in Kashmir because, unlike in the Punjab, ‘the fish have total control of the sea’, and the Kashmiris may not accept anything short of a ‘total solution’. Second, while military ‘pacification’ continues in the valley, with reports of ‘genocide’ and brutal repression hitting the Pakistani press, the pressure to ‘do something about it’ will build up in Pakistan over time and undermine the weak PPP government’s ability to peacefully negotiate public protest on a historically sensitive issue. Because V.P. Singh’s government, too, is inherently unstable, the likelihood of both being bullied by internal opposition forces to adopt tough, uncompromising positions, which lead to dangerous escalation in tensions, cannot be ruled out.
Both governments, however, appear at the moment to be aware of the potential for danger ahead. That is why Pakistan’s special envoy, Mr Abdul Sattar, and then its foreign minister, Sahibzada Yaqub Khan, have gone to Delhi for talks. It can also be presumed that rime minister Bhutto, President Ishaq and COAS Gen Beg concur that a joint session of Parliament in which a coherent national consensus is articulated on the issue which strengthens Pakistan’s historical stance will diffuse the possibility of any untoward incidents shifting the conflict into a new dimension.
While the COP cannot be expected to let such an opportunity pass unremarked, it is already obvious that its rhetoric on Kashmir will not be matched by any concrete action on the ground, just as yet. This is a good sign because it demonstrates the opposition’s awareness of the intricacies involved in handling this issue.
For 43 years, Pakistan’s position has remained consistent: India should honour Nehru’s international pledge to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir. The sooner New Delhi accepts the inescapable logic of this course of action, the better it will be for everyone. By removing the deep thorn in Indo-Pak relations, India could lay the immediate basis of peace, prosperity and democracy in the sub-continent.
(TFT February 1-7, 1990, Vol-I, No:47 Editorial)
No time for numbers game
Like easily excitable children, we find the numbers game irresistible. The COP shouts itself silly screaming there were 2 million people at its rally in Karachi recently, while the PPP brushes its claims aside as so much tommy rot. Given that Karachi’s population is about 8 million, and setting aside 6 million to cover the women, children and old folks who obviously couldn’t come, the COP would verily have us believe that everyone else in Karachi had turned out to salute Mr Altaf Hussain and his Coppers! But even if we put the figure more reasonably at a couple of hundred thousand, we must admit it was the biggest show ever in the history of Karachi. That is significant, is it?
While the rally certainly proves the MQM’s incredible organisational abilities and tremendous support in this predominantly muhajir city, in no way does the latest public offering suggest that the PPP has suddenly lost Sindh to the COP. But a note of warning to the PPP is in order, notwithstanding Qaim Ali Shah’s packed assembly: if the MQM so wishes, the COP can bring Karachi to a grinding halt or set it alight at the drop of a hat.
However, it would be a mistake to link the COP’s recent success in Karachi to its forthcoming ‘protest’ on the 5th of February when the country will surely down shutters for 24 hours. Although the COP would dearly like people to believe that 5th February is, somehow, the day of reckoning for the PPP, the position is altogether different. On Kashmir, there are no two opinions in Pakistan, and the strike will cut across party, ethnic and religious affiliations. That is why no national purpose can be served if the occasion is exploited by the COP for purely party political advantages.
There is apprehension, however, that the Kashmir issue may be used by the COP in furtherance of its strategy to discredit the PPP government by accusing it, as in the past, of being ‘unpatriotic’ and ‘soft’ on India. It has recently accused the PM’s emissaries Sahibzada Yaqub and Abdus Sattar of backpedaling in New Delhi.
From the national point of view, this is treading on thin ice. Because Kashmir arouses much sentiment in these parts, we need to be especially careful in the country’s long-term interests that emotions are not allowed to transcend the requirements of dispassionate realpolitik. The COP would be failing in its national duty if it exploited the Kashmir issue for short-term party gains. The government must not be unthinkingly pushed into an internationally indefensible posture over Kashmir in order to survive the slings and arrows of the COP in Islamabad.
In the sensitive developing Indo-Pak scenario, the COP’s demand that the Prime Minister should be forced by the President to demonstrate a vote of confidence in her government next month is also a sign of misplaced resolve. We strongly urge that unreasonable demands for fresh elections and controversial constitutional issues should not be raised unnecessarily in the fragile democratic situation at hand. More significantly, however, the demand has become patently inappropriate in view of the gathering war clouds over Kashmir. We are already embroiled in one regional conflict, which involves the superpowers, over Afghanistan and it would be suicidal to rush headlong into another with India without closing ranks and putting our own house in order.
This is not the moment to score points. This is not the occasion to undermine central or provincial governments by planning shows of strength in the assemblies. More than anything else, because of Kashmir, this is certainly not the time to play the puerile numbers game.
(TFT February 8-14, 1990, Vol-I, No:48 Editorial)
- Africa’s last chance for peaceful change
Despite the calls for new election s by the extremist, and powerful, Conservative Party and an outbreak of right-wing terrorism, the South African stock-market hit an all time high following President F W de Klerk’s lifting of the ban on the African National Congress, the Pan Africanist Congress and the South African Communist Party. Stronge?
Not, not really. South Africa’s businessmen have been at the forefront of attempts, often illegal, to encourage a dialogue between their government and the ANC. The economy, buoyant in the ‘70s with growth rates of 5-6 per cent, has cooled as apartheid South Africa found itself increasingly isolated from the international community. Last year growth had showed to the glacial peace of 1 per cent. Not good for business — nor good for the state, witness Poland, Hungary, Romania and the rest of Eastern Europe.
References to the fate of Eastern Europe’s out-of-touch governments were evident in President F W de Klerk’s landmark speech in which he opened up channels of democratic expression to all South Africans, and in particular removed most of the obstacles to a dialogue with the ANC. He is clearly aware that if South Africa’s whites are to avoid the lot of Europe’s communists they must display a willingness to compromise and an openness to change.
What has changed? Everything and nothing. The representatives of black South Africa have been invited in from exile and prison, yet must operate from the political wilderness of the back ghettos where nobody can vote.
The strictures and structures of apartheid remain untouched. That ignominious list of statutes that ensure that the back man stands unequal before the law reads as before: the Group Areas Act, the Land Act and the Population Registration Act that allots to all South Africans a racial coding that determines their fortune in life.
State of emergency regulations still threaten any returning ANC leader with summary arrest and detention and press censorship, despite some relaxation, remains strict.
So it is not surprising the Nelson Mandela, the living embodiment of the South African freedom struggle, is refusing to leave the jail in which he has been kept since his arrest in 1962. His price is reported to be the incomplete lifting of the state of emergency, a price the government may be willing to pay given his symbolic value, especially in the West.
Yet the potential for fundamental change is there in President F W de Klerk’s speech. It heralds a realisation within the white establishment that their interests are no longer served by ignoring the demands of the majority. It is courageous too. His opposition is demanding new elections, elections they suspect that can win on this issue. The police made clear their feelings when they teargassed blacks peacefully celebrating the legalisation of the ANC.
It has also raised expectations within the international community that apartheid can be dismantled, and dismantled swiftly. President F W de Klerk will not have forgotten the severe economic consequences of the world’s anger when his former leader P W Botha shied away from his path of reform.
Nor must he forget that while the steps he has announced might appear enormous strides from the distorted perspective of the laager, to the majority of his citizens they appear only as an inching across the start line.
In his speech he talked of the “political and economic upheaval [that] surged forward in an unstoppable tide” across Eastern Europe. The indications are that he realises that his metaphor is equally applicable to his own country. He must not fear to draw the conclusion that recent history has taught us: that before such a tide only those deeply committed to fundamental reform can survive.
(TFT February 15-21 1990, Vol-I, No:49)
Don’t play with fire, Altaf Bhai
Mr Altaf Hussain is no fool. In the tinder-box that Karachi has become he surely knew that his strike call last Wednesday would detonate like a Molotov-cocktail, leaving only death and destruction in its wake. Why then did he go ahead with it? What did the MQM hope to achieve?
Clearly, Mr Hussain was not flexing his muscle in order to intimidate the PPP into relinquishing financial and administrative control over Karachi. The unprecedented COP rally was more than ample proof, if indeed further proof were required, of the MQM’s massive power base in Karachi. Even if we grant Mr Hussain these obviously dubious methods to force urban decentralisation, why would he, in the same self-righteous breath, ask President Ishaq to suspend all legislatures, including those of the MQM, by imposing President’s rule in Sindh? No, Mr Hussain is no fool; his actions do not contradict his words.
As we predicted last month, the COP will not rest until it has seen the back of Benazir Bhutto. Its strategy has been obvious: accuse the PPP of unabashed corruption, increase the tempo by provoking bloodshed in Sindh to disable and discredit the government and pressurise the President to force Ms Bhutto out. Therefore it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see this strategy unfolding mercilessly in the run-up to March. The MQM’s decision to provoke butchery in Karachi last week fits nicely into this context, notwithstanding Mr Hussain’s accusations against the PPP.
However, a new dimension has entered the equation which threatens to disrupt the COP’s calculations to oust Ms Bhutto. This is the possibility of war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. Against this backdrop, there is increasing consensus among the people, the PPP and the armed forces that the country should not be unhinged by internal upheavals while tension with India remains high.
Mr Altaf Hussain’s fatal mistake lies in the fact that he has jumped the gun at the COP’s misguided behest. He has failed to perceive a growing feeling in the country that the boat must not be rocked under these circumstances. That is why the PPP has not buckled under the MQM’s latest onslaught and that is why the federal interior minister, Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, has threatened a showdown with Mr Hussain’s militia. This argument also explains why, fearing an unnecessary adverse effect on Indo-Pak relations, the PPP confidently terminated the debate on Kashmir in Parliament last Sunday. It is unlikely that without the concurrence of the armed forces the PPP government would have displayed such confidence.
The MQM will now pay for its rash and arrogant behaviour. It will have to deal with a public backlash, and not only in Karachi. About time, we should think. For too long it has behaved like a state within a state, unaccountable to anyone, terrorising the people, the press and the legitimate government, putting its own warped interests above those of the country and democracy. Far from acquiring a national stature, it has retreated into the worst form of sectarianism.
After the Karachi rally in January, the COP’s Syeda Abida Hussain gushed: “It was a unique and beautiful experience … it is bound to have an effect on the future course of events … I see a great future for the MQM and its leadership … the only thing is that Altaf Hussain will have to choose the right allies for his national politics”. In more than one sense the lady has been proven wrong by the subsequent carnage in Karachi: the ‘unique and beautiful experience’ has been replaced by urban strife of the utmost savagery, casting a grim shadow over the future of the MQM and its present leadership. Mr Altaf Hussain, by choosing friendship with the Syeda’s COP, has diminished his chances of becoming a leader of national stature.
(TFT February 22-28 1990, Vol-I, No:50 Editorial)
APC — no solution
Old style ethnic violence involved physical clashes between communities. This is not what we witnessed in Karachi. Sniper fire by trained political activists. Kidnapping and torture of and by students affiliated to the PPP and the MQM. Administrative aggression. This was Clauswitz’s “continuation of politics by other means”. This was political violence pure and simple.
It is not a violence we can afford. Most people recognise this. So the President has called for an All Parties Conference (APC) to discuss the law and order problem. In its implicit declaration that political violence requires a political solution, President Ishaq’s proposal is to be welcomed. Yet there are aspects of the President’s request that demand scrutiny.
First, there is a worrying lack of definition. Amid all the acclamation for the President’s statement it may seem niggardly to ask: what is an All Parties Conference? The last one was in 1988 over Afghanistan, and that was little more than a briefing. By telling us that an APC is when politicians “sit together and talk in an atmosphere of accommodation and understanding,” he has told us nothing. Who is to be invited? Will the Sindhi nationalists, without representation in parliament yet with great power on the streets, be at the meeting? Who will set the agenda?
Second, Karachi is not an Afghanistan or a Kashmir. National unity in the face of a possible external threat is an obligation on politicians. But an absolute demand for national unity on internal issues is a threat to democratic government. The President, in his address at Sibi, seemed to desire that the nation’s polity “speak with one voice on any problem of national importance”. One newspaper the next day gushed that we should convene an APC “whenever a crisis crops up”. If this is how the President’s words are to be interpreted, then they strike at the notion of a government sovereign through parliament. No wonder politicians have been wary of accepting the President’s proposal.
But this is not to deny that national consensus is a good thing, and there are many issues that cry out for agreement between our warring politicians, the demand for the convening of a CCI not least among them. Is the violence of Karachi amenable to such an approach?
Despite the lack of information on how the APC is to be constituted we can be sure that the COP will be sitting across the table from the PPP. This is the COP which has said: “the government which massacres its own people [in Karachi] has no right to rule”. And this is the PPP whose interior minister has threatened strict action against Altaf Hussain and the MQM for the killings of innocent people.
The rhetoric is harsh, the reality harsher. The government is locked in a bitter struggle for supremacy with the opposition. It is a battle in which Karachi is but a pawn. We have said that the COP will not rest until it has seen the back of Ms Bhutto. This remains true. They are not going to give the PPP the propaganda coup of peace in Sindh.
So if consensus is not to be sought from the politicians resident in Islamabad, where are we to look? There is, of course, only one place to look, and that is to Karachi itself. No solutions can or will come from outside. The government of Qaim Ali Shah must start the long process of winning back the trust of the MQM, lost through so many promises broken by the PPP with an attitude amounting to contempt. The MQM must say no to the siren calls of the COP and rid itself of its delusions of national grandeur. These two parties are going to have to live with one another come what may. It is only they who can bring peace to Karachi.
(TFT March 1-7 1990, Vol-I, No:51 Editorial)
The boot is on the other foot
For some time now it has been abundantly clear that Mr Qaim Ali Shah has overstayed his welcome as CM Sindh. A mild, indecisive man who ran back and forth to Islamabad for ‘instructions’, Mr Shah was demonstrably out of his elements in the quicksand of Sindh.
Since things cannot possibly get worse in Sindh, a change of chief ministerial face, ceteris paribus, should nudge matters in the right direction. But the situation is much too complex and explosive to allow for the expectation of quick remedies, let alone small miracles, from Mr Altab Shabaan Mirani.
Mr Mirani, while bringing experience, integrity and the right family connections in Sindh, including loyalty to the Bhuttos, must be prepared to toss and turn in a bed of thorns. Amongst his first concerns should be concrete feelers for a dialogue with the MQM to effect a hiatus in the violence which has shattered the province.
Once breathing space has been established for communication, where Mr Shah failed Mr Mirani should fearlessly pick up the threads of the PPP-MQM accord signed a year ago and attempt to put it on the rails again after mutually agreed revisions to make it more reasonable and workable. But this must necessarily await a set of appropriate and long overdue signals from diverse sources to the prime minister in Islamabad.
President Ghulam Ishaq has indicated that the PPP government is not opposed to the idea of an APC or something like it in Sindh. Fine. But on the other side, a change of heart and fresh analysis is required of the MQM too. They cannot lend their shoulder to the COP’s obstreperous efforts to topple the PPP government in Islamabad and then expect the PPP to play footsie with them in Sindh.
That is the crux of the most recent antagonisms in Sindh. So long as the MQM is violently arrayed with the IJI against the PPP, the latter will understandably bristle with hostility and the province will remain perpetually volcanic. Put it another way. If the MQM-supported COP refuses to accept the legitimacy of the Bhutto government to stay its full elected term in office, we can reasonably forecast an aggressive PPP reaction in Punjab and Sindh to the respective machinations of Mian Sahib and Altaf Bhai.
In that sense, Sindh is not another country crying out for a separate resolution. At the national level, actually, the solution is staring us in the face. If the COP hounds could be called off the PPP’s back in Islamabad with secure assurances that there will he no foul play in future, Ms Bhutto would assuredly be more receptive to the idea of reining in the lion of the Punjab, Mr Khar, from growling at Mian Sahib, as well as encouraging Mr Mirani to negotiate a fair deal with Altaf Bhai by checking the reactive anti-MQM militancy in his own PPP ranks.
On its part, the MQM needs to reassess its political strategy. There is no getting away from the fact that its natural and long-term ally in Sindh is the PPP which legitimately governs the province. The IJI amounts for little in the province, especially after the MQM has roped in the vote bank of the Jamaat-i-Islami and JUP in Karachi and Hyderabad. Nor should the MQM base its tactics on its fearsome ability to cripple Karachi and hold the rest of Pakistan to ransom — the backlash from Punjab and the NWFP, which is developing inevitably, will do irrevocable harm even to those of its claims which are reasonably fair. But as a first step, the MQM must urgently disavow its absurd ultimatum to be recognised as a ‘fifth nationality’ in Pakistan.
(TFT March 8-14 1990, Vol-I, No:52 Editorial)
The way forward
While the PPP is humming with a sense of renewed purpose and brimming with confidence, the same cannot be said of Punjab’s IJI or Karachi’s MQM.
This is perfectly understandable. On the one side, Mian Sahib is sulking after his shock defeat at Mr Khar’s hands in NA-99, fearing a precipitous collapse of his IJI coalition which is also buffeted by Mr Junejo’s ominous efforts to reorganise the Muslim League under his own command. On the other, the MQM is licking its self-inflicted wounds after its adventurism last month. It is rapidly coming around to the conclusion that it must mend its fences with the PPP to guarantee peace in Karachi and bolster its sagging credibility in the rest of the country.
This scenario is a novel one in many ways. Ms Benazir Bhutto seems to have finally grasped the strategic initiative for the first time in 14 months. Her government has handled the Kashmir situation most adeptly, leaving the opposition no scope to exploit this highly emotive issue. She has visibly endeavoured to patch up her differences with the President without diminishing the stature of her office. Her recent efforts to woo Mr Junejo and other disgruntled politicians outside the IJI are more than likely to fructify. Her proposal to convene a conference of Governors and Chief Ministers to sort out centre-provincial financial and legal matters has been widely welcomed. Regular briefings and discussions with the media have also created a better atmosphere in which to press forward. She has effected a facelift in Sindh so that the business of talking again to the MQM is not sabotaged prematurely by the burdens of the past. A welcome reshuffle of her own cabinet is imminent. Finally, she has demonstrated high statesmanship by clinching the nuclear plant. All in all, a neat month’s work.
The situation is interesting also because the COP’s efforts to destabilize the government seem to be stalling exactly at a time when another vicious onslaught had been predicted. The President, whose neutrality has not been altogether unquestionable in the past, especially when he turned a blind eye to the no-confidence machinations of the COP, has finally woken up to discover the ills attending the centre-province contradictions — horse-trading, corruption, violence etc. He is now pressing for some sort of a formula to evolve a workable compromise between the various protagonists. It cannot remain unremarked that he is doing this precisely when the PPP has got into position for the first time to cut Mian Nawaz Sharif down to size.
It would be a mistake, however, if the Prime Minister squanders this opportunity for compromise by retaliating against the IJI and conspiring to oust Mian Sahib in Punjab once again. Bygones should be bygones. It takes two hands to clap, and the people have seen a lot of that last year, beginning with the ridiculous “Get Nawaz” operation, taking in the absurd “Get Benazir no-confidence move”, and culminating in the senseless violence in Sindh last month. Quite frankly, no one wishes to be ‘reminded’ that democracy owes its sustenance to the goodness of Gen Aslam Beg, rather than to the heroic, decade-long struggle of ordinary people for freedom, constitutional rights and representative rule. If our politicians do not rein in their ambitions and put the country first, they will have no one to blame but themselves.
That said, efforts to build a democratic two-party structure should be vigourously supported. The Muslim League and the People’s Party are ideally placed to link the past with the future. Mr Junejo’s credentials to lead the ‘other’ party are better than anyone else’s. If he is successful in wrenching his party free from the clutches of the Jamaat-i-Islami, we should see a movement towards stable government and loyal opposition. Which is exactly what Pakistan needs.
(TFT March 15-21, 1990, Vol-II, No:1 Editorial)
A new spring
Spring is in the air. On a beautiful day in Lahore, as President Ghulam Ishaq Khan bathed in the glow of the sun and watched young Aitchisonians marching past smartly, his stiff posture seemed to unbend; a wary smile played across his lips; another question, the same one as always. But today was different.
“No”, he said firmly, “the Prime Minister does not require a fresh vote of confidence on March 20″. But hadn’t Mr Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, leader of the opposition, assured everyone that the President believed otherwise? “Jatoi? Who’s Jatoi”, asked the President, with just the hint of a twinkle in his eyes.
The President’s companion, Mian Nawaz Sharif, was dumbfounded, like an errant orphan before a stern stepfather, unaware of where he stood in the affections of his patron. In the PM’s house, you could hear the heels clicking to the merry sound of a lively jig, “If winter comes, can spring be far behind …”
Let there be no mistake about the significance of President Ishaq Khan’s belated utterances. There is too much at stake. As the snows begin to melt in Kashmir and the struggle for liberation refuses to buckle under the Indian heel, the war hysteria in New Delhi becomes more shrill with each passing day. On the other side, the war in Afghanistan threatens to isolate and draw Pakistan deeper into the quicksand. At home, in Sindh, the bloodletting shows no sings of abating. We seem to be moving against the spirit of the times. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that unless we halt the drift the cost to Pakistan may be incalculable.
The time to put our own house in order was many months ago. It is unfortunate that the President has only just woken up to a recognition of his ‘constitutional obligations’. The same words spoken six months earlier would doubtless have yielded better dividends for our nascent democracy.
It now remains to be seen how the Pakistan army, the opposition and the government respond to this new opening.
Take Kashmir. The government’s policy cannot be faulted. The Foreign Office is working overtime to repair the breaches by VP Singh’s emissaries. Given the bloody rush of events in Kashmir, our point of view will prevail sooner or later. In the meantime, the opposition should be restrained from using a national issue like Kashmir as a launching pad for their party-political ambitions. It can only give the Indians an additional reason on which to peg their dangerous counter-thrusts.
Take Afghanistan. Despite our avowed commitment to a broad-based popular government in Afghanistan, the Pakistan army is desperately trying to foist its own dubious candidates on the Afghan people. The latest coup attempt by the sectarian Tanai-Gulbudin-Ghilzai combine is apparently backed only by our Generals; the US, Iran and even Saudi Arabia are ominously silent. The AIG rejects it completely. While the US has distanced itself from Hekmatyar, our government is under continuing pressure from our armed forces to accord him more legitimacy than is acceptable to anyone else in the game. The Afghan crisis cries out for a political solution and Gen Beg would be advised to allow the Bhutto government a freer hand to explore the options available in the future.
As for Benazir Bhutto, if she is to take responsibility for steering the country through rough times ahead, she must quickly mend her fences with the opposition. The President is correct when he says that the demand to convene the CCI merits serious thought. The PPP does not have the electoral base to hog the whole show. The sooner it relinquishes more autonomy to the provinces the better it will be for the federation of Pakistan.
The President has finally bowed to his constitutional obligations. It is now time for the others — the army, opposition and the government — to follow his lead.
(TFT March 22-28, 1990, Vol-II, No:2)
Our Afghan betrayal
The credentials of Pakistan’s new horse, Gen Shahnawaz Tanai, are worth jotting down. He is a hard-line communist leader of the Khalq faction who, in 1978, ordered the massacre of thousands of civilians in Herat at the time of the Soviet-inspired coup against President Daud. An ambitious military commander, he is known for his Bonapartist tendencies: at a rally bidding farewell to the Russians in February 14, 1989, he stood for several hours with one hand thrust into the front of his greatcoat and the other behind his back. Trained by the Russians, he led Kabul’s specialist commando brigade and later organised the military defences of Jalalabad and Khost. When, as Defence Minister, he was asked last year whether or not the army was plotting to overthrow President Najib, his smiling reply was a classic of audacious opportunism: “It is Western propaganda; it will not happen”. Clearly, he does not believe that politics is any more difficult than soldiering.
Take the other — Mr Gulbudin Hekmatyar, the ISI’s blue-eyed fundamentalist whose blind ambitions extend to liberating not just the Muslims of Afghanistan but also those of Soviet Central Asia. Ditched by the Americans, he is intensely disliked by all the Afghan Mujahidin groups, including the AIG and those in Iran. He has been accused of ruthlessly promoting his personal interests at all costs. By undermining rival Afghan Mujahidin groups and hogging the arms, food and funds, he has also incurred the wrath of the foreign press for allegedly bumping off a couple of journalists whose views he found unacceptable.
If we were pressed to conceive of a decidedly ‘unholy alliance’, it would be immensely difficult to imagine one more unpalatable than the communist Tanai-fundamentalist Hekmatyar combine. That is why it is now worth commenting upon our government’s volte-face in latching on to the apron strings of these two isolated Bonapartists.
Ms Bhutto has long advocated a broad-based government in Kabul. Therefore she has not recognised the AIG. However, the Pakistani ISI controls Afghan policy and the Prime Minister is scared to rein in the ISI. On its part, our military has scornfully dismissed all overtures — from Gorbachev, Najib, and the United Nations — for an honourable settlement of the dispute. Despite its manifest failures, the establishment is pressing ahead with a military solution, regardless of the costs, to foist its own candidate in Kabul. The lessons of history — the Afghans will never accept a government imposed on them — which the British and the Soviets eventually learnt to their great cost, are apparently immaterial to these calculations.
Ms Bhutto may like to believe that she has clinched a deal with her hawkish Generals. In exchange for implicit guarantees of safe passage in Islamabad, she has apparently forsaken interest in this area of foreign policy. Her meek acquiescence in allowing the state-controlled media to propagate a profound disinformation campaign by our Afghan-Cell about the bonafides of the latest coup is alarming evidence of her foolish opportunism.
The new plans to assault Jalalabad and Khost may yet fail again because none of the other Mujahidin groups will support these efforts. It is also abundantly obvious that, were the ISI-supported putsch to ever look like succeeding, many Mujahidin groups would resist the Tanai-Hekmatyar-ISI triad and Afghanistan would break up into so many splinters, without an acceptable government in Kabul. Which will bring us back to the tragic bloodletting of square one.
No, there are no patent military options, least of all with the likes of Gen Tanai and Mr Hekmatyar. Yes, it is time the civilian government boldly took charge of foreign policy. Indeed, if Gen Beg is a man of his word, he should withdraw the ISI to the GHQ where it rightly belongs, rather than leave it in reckless charge of the Foreign Office.
(TFT March 29-April 4, 1990, Vol-II, No:3 Editorial)
The COP’s dilemma
Fisticuffs in the National Assembly? Tut tut. Boys will be boys, it’s only a storm in a tea cup. After all, we’re so refreshingly virginal to democratic parlance, there are bound to be some ruptures along the way. In India, after 45 years of institution building and stable democracy, MPs are not occasionally averse to breaking chairs over the heads of their honourable colleagues in the Rajya Sabha. In fact, it is worth recalling the spectacle of the Rt Hon Ron Brown (Labour) wielding The Mace against the Tories so threateningly a year ago on the floor of the House of Commons.
In a different context, perhaps, this bluster might pass unremarked. Not so in Pakistan today. A fledgling representative culture struggles to break free from the straightjacket of authoritarian rule. Powerful forces, inimical to democracy, seek to bar its way at every second step. This is precisely the sort of behaviour which confirms their worst prejudices and demeans the system. No, we simply cannot afford the luxury of giving vent to such emotions, provocations notwithstanding.
Unfortunately, the strains are now beginning to tell, especially where the opposition is concerned. After its unsuccessful efforts to oust the PM last November, the COP has failed to persuade the President to force the Prime Minister to go in for re-election again after March 20. It has also been unable to exploit the Kashmir issue. In Sindh, the MQM is reassessing its strategy and is in no hurry to jump the trigger again at their instigation. In the Punjab, after the IJI’s shock defeat in NA-99, Mian Nawaz Sharif is battling to retain his primacy against the dangerous inroads of Mustafa Khar while simultaneously tackling the more ambitious and restive elements in his coalition.
No wonder, then, that the COP is having difficulty holding its own ranks together in the face of a prime minister who is increasingly confident and looks set to consolidate her position. All of which makes the situation quite desperate for the COP.
Understandably, this desperation has forced the COP to become overtly hysterical with time, signs of which are frequently evident: the violent attack on Lahore newsmen by Mian Sahib’s MSF; ransacking MNA Anwarul Haque’s office; threatening four other deserting IJI MNAs with ‘dire consequences’; and now this fiasco in the Assembly where Mr Sher Afgan narrowly escaped being roughed up by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and his cronies.
On a different front, the COP is planning to take recourse to the Supreme Court and challenge the government’s viewpoint on several issues: convening the CCI, the Prime Minister’s status after March 20, provincial TV rights, the terms of reference of the Karachi Inquiry Commission set up to investigate the February 7 incidents, etc. — in short, to ensnare the PPP in litigation and keep it on the back foot.
Apparently, the COP has concluded that the only way out is to open as many fronts as possible against the government in power and its supporters, thus retaining the initiative and precluding further defections from its ranks.
This is a desperate strategy, shorn of any democratic pretensions. In effect, the COP is saying that it is prepared to disregard the rules of the game and throw the representative system overboard, irrespective of the consequences.
The PPP must not let itself become ensnared. Mr Tariq Rahim has done well to offer an unqualified apology over Mr Afgan’s alleged indiscretions in Parliament. The opposition is spoiling for a brawl. The PPP would be advised, in the interests of the democratic system, to diplomatically sidestep such provocations. The long-term good of the country should come first.
(TFT April 05-11, 1990, Vol-II, No:4 Editorial)
Haunted by ghosts
Pity the wretched country which staggers from pillar to post, seeking a constitutional consensus after four decades of independence. Pity the state which lacks legitimacy, desperately clutches at bureaucratic-centralism, martial law, ‘guided’ democracy, socialism, Islamic fundamentalism, and now democracy. Pity the country that makes martyrs of autocrats and military dictators. Yes, pity a people torn between paying homage to Z A Bhutto on the 4th of April and commemorating his executioner Zia ul Haq on the 17th of August every year.
Reams of paper have been wasted trying to make contemporary sense of the 1940 Lahore Resolution; miles of words have been written portraying Mr Jinnah in various shades of green and grey; tons of wreathes placed at the shrine (yes, shrine) of Mr Bhutto; and now we seek to crown Gen Zia ul Haq with the halo of a Wali Allah. No one cares to ask what purpose, if any, is served by resurrecting these ghosts of our inglorious past other than to cloud the way forward.
It is time to dispense with contentious images and grasp the reality of today. The Pakistan we know bears not even a faint resemblance to any idea from yesterday. The country has been dismembered, ideologies corrupted; we have brutally assassinated leaders, callously torn up constitutions; communal hatred, incipient sub-nationalisms, bloody ethnic divisions scar the landscape. And as we totter to the edge of a new century, with India breathing down our necks, even our dreams for the future of our children are blurred by the nightmares of each passing day.
No, there is not much point left any more in digging up the past, in agonising over the failings of Zia ul Haq or eulogizing Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto; nor indeed, we dare say, in disputing over the ideas of the incomparable Mr Jinnah because we can no longer agree on what he said or believed in. The more we rely on them for contextual guidance, the more intractably divided we become as a nation. Instead, we should look to where we stand and what we have become, now in 1990.
What we indisputably have is a frail, provisional democracy. Of such a system, at least one thing is known for sure. It is more representative and in greater tune with the aspirations of our people than anything else in the past. From Mr Jinnah to Gen Zia, to a greater or lesser degree, no one has ever advocated anything other than a democratic way of life. Clearly, a minimal consensus should be developed to bolster this system rather than defame it by making it unworkable.
How, then, should we go about assembling such a minimal consensus? To begin with, any attempt to unseat any government, whether by the COP in Islamabad or by the PPP in Punjab, should be resisted forcefully. Such shortcuts only succeed in belittling the system and confirming its booted detractors in their abhorrence of it. Two, the Kashmir issue should be managed with foresight. This is not a question over which to score points. A war with India would be disastrous not only for the system we wish to nurture but also for the state and country. Three, the provinces must have greater powers so that the system is able to perform to its promised potential. Let there be private provincial TV stations and banks, People’s Works Programmes, taxes, royalties, the lot. The only real democracy is that which works all the way down to the grass roots, not one which is jealously secluded in Islamabad and monopolised by one political party. Finally, the MQM must be calmed down and allowed to participate vigorously in government.
In all this, there has to be some minimum give and take among the participants in democracy. It is time everyone got off their high horses, exorcised the ghosts which haunt us from the past and looked purposefully at the future.
(TFT April 12-18, 1990, Vol-II, No:5 Editorial)
Tick tick tick…
The facts speak for themselves.
The Indo-Pak border is getting hot. Cross firing, soldiers killed, bunkers destroyed. On both sides, troop movements. Upwards of 3000 Kashmiri ‘refugees’ in Azad Kashmir. All desperate to acquire arms and military training. Determined to go back, join the ‘jehad’. ‘Liberate’ Kashmir. Bombs going off in Muzzafarabad, Lahore, Jhang, with Moharram round the corner. Unidentified ‘killers’ spraying bullets in Karachi, Hyderabad. ‘Thousands’ of ‘Indian saboteurs in Sindh’. Everything primed to explode.
Stop. Think cooly.
What do these facts suggest: that the Indians are going to sit back and do nothing? Allow Kashmir to secede? Spare 100 million Muslims in India?
We don’t care, some of us say, if it comes to war, so be it, let’s be done with it, this is the chance of a lifetime.
All right, we say. Go ahead. Open training camps, arm the refugees, send them back to ‘liberate’ Kashmir. Then wait for it. Stage one: more bombs, in Liberty Market, Anarkali, Mall Road, Empress Market, Defence, Clifton, Brandreth Road, Landa, Tariq Road. Body count? Irrelevant. MQM! shouts one, PSF! cries the other. Stage two: massacres in Karachi, Hyderabad, Nawabshah. Untold dead. Stage three: War.
A bloody nightmare which will make 1965 and 1971 look like a kids’ brawl.
Then, inevitably, a ceasefire. Or, God forbid, a nuclear holocaust.
No winners, all losers. Back to square minus one?
Wrong? We’ll take Kashmir? Give nothing in return? Will Kashmir be part of Pakistan? Or an independent state, including Azad Kashmir and our Northern Areas, reducing Pakistan to a ‘moth-eaten’ proportion?
The facts speak for themselves.
Mr Altaf Hussain on hunger strike. Till death do us part. APMSO, PSF burying their dead, cocking their guns, digging in to even scores. Spectre of Beirut now staring us in the face. Pakistan held to ransom. So that the killers on one side can be released from prison while those on the other are bunged in? So that murderers become heroes, victims become martyrs? So that the MQM presides over Karachi and Hyderabad, while Sindh becomes India’s fifth column to neutralise Pakistan over Kashmir?
War. War between ‘mohajirs’ and ‘Sindhis’. War between Kashmiris and India. War between India and Pakistan. Disintegration. To make room for Kashmir and Mohajiristan?
No, nothing makes sense any more. Neither war with India, nor Altaf Bhai’s hunger strike. Both are acts of desperation. Both will unleash havoc, chaos. And solve nothing. Absolutely nothing.
So, how do we defuse these ticking bombs?
Take Kashmir. There should be no training camps in Muzaffarabad. No guns for the ‘refugees’. No Jamaati infiltra-tions behind the lines. No tie-ups with the Afghan Mujahidin. No trucking with the likes of Sh Rashid. Instead, we should stick to Simla: no intervention across the border; plebiscite under the UN. Internationalise the issue, pressurise India to halt its repression. Nothing more, nothing less.
Take Altaf Bhai. He’s a desperate man, determined to starve himself to death unless … And it won’t be an unprecedented act. Remember the IRA in The Maze.
Altaf Hussain won’t make the first move. Only the PM can open a dialogue, and keep it going. Publicly. Calm him down. Give him space to retreat, save face. Meanwhile, restrain the PSF. And don’t say stupid things like: “this is a provincial matter”. Or: “he’s blackmailing everyone, we won’t give in to terrorists, let him starve”.
Such sentiments make matters worse. They pave the way for the army to move in. And that’s a full-stop.
(TFT April 12-18, 1990, Vol-II, No:5 Article)
Bhutto’s agenda for war and peace
For fourteen months, Benazir Bhutto has fought with her back to the wall. The presidency, army, bureaucracy and political opposition have made few concessions to her. It has been a difficult time, fighting the bitter legacies of dictatorship while attempting to fulfil the expectations attendant upon her rise to power.
All governments make mistakes, some can even survive blunders if they are able to dip into reservoirs of goodwill among the people. However, no leader can hope to escape the harsh indictments of inefficiency and corruption in government. Further, a short-term political problem can become accentuated by the long-term compulsions of the economy which tends to have a nasty, overriding logic of its own.
Ms Bhutto’s detractors say, with some justification, that she has made many small mistakes and some serious ones too. An accusing finger is pointed to the unprovoked fiasco in Balochistan early in 1989 when chief minister Jamali dismissed the provincial assembly and severely embarrassed the federal government in Islamabad. However, with goodwill, mistakes can be repaired, and this the PM did by supporting the revival of the assemblies soon thereafter.
The ‘Get-Nawaz’ operation, however, was of an altogether different nature. Coming on the heels of the Balochistan affair, it was an unmitigated blunder whose shadow has dogged her government and muddied political discourse ever since. Unfortunately, a resolution of the Centre-Punjab confrontation is still not yet in sight.
The Peoples Works Programme only made matters worse. Launched at the height of antagonisms between the federal government and the chief ministers of Punjab and Balochistan, it denied the two provinces funds hitherto earmarked for them. Consequently, whatever little has been spent by the provincial and federal governments has been haphazard, piecemeal, politically motivated and often at odds with the objectives of planned development for the welfare of ordinary people.
The tension with the President over the Sirohey affair was downright silly. Fortunately, the PM was quick to heed better advice and restore peace again. His neutrality reaffirmed, the President may not obstruct her path out of sheer cussedness any more.
The alliance with the MQM fell apart at a most crucial moment -—the no-confidence move against the PM by the combined opposition — and led to much vindictiveness and bloodshed on both sides. For this parting of ways, the PPP is not blameless. It signed a comprehensive accord with the MQM last year when it required its crucial support in the National Assembly. Once through, it conveniently backtracked on many promises. Relations with the MQM have touched rock bottom. Altaf Hussain is on a hunger strike and Karachi and Sindh may explode with renewed ferocity again. The federal government simply cannot shirk responsibility for what befalls the unhappy people of Sindh.
In short, while the PM has mended her fences with the President and straightened out some of her earlier mistakes, she is still reaping the bitter harvest of her blunders. It has been a case of squandering the peace dividend of the 1988 elections by needlessly warring with the political opposition.
The irony, however, is that she has been bailed out of the quicksand, which was partly of her own making, not by any internal peace overtures to the opposition at home but by the external threat of war with India over Kashmir. It is evident that Gen Aslam Beg and President Ishaq are in no mood to see the federal government disabled at this critical juncture. And justifiably so. India is making a lot of hysterical noise about ‘the Pakistani hand’ in Kashmir and, as the situation in Srinager slips out of its hands, the war drums beat louder with each passing week in New Delhi. The opposition, too, has read the mood in GHQ and been persuaded, however reluctantly, to call off its campaign to destabilise the government in Islamabad.
It now remains to be seen whether Benazir Bhutto has the vision and ability to exploit the external war dividend to promote peace and stability at home.
There are many areas which cry out for urgent repair. Top on the list are relations with Mian Nawaz Sharif, Nawab Akbar Bugti and Mr Altaf Hussain, all elected representatives with important constituencies. Such are the divisions and ambitions in society — regional, ethnic, sectarian — that the present clumsy constitutional arrangements are clearly not viable for much longer. Support for the 8th amendment is only one intimidating sign of this malaise. There is unquestionably increasing endorsement for a balance of powers between the President and the Prime Minister and between the provinces and the central government. There is talk also of proportional representation to accommodate the smaller parties and interest groups. In the end, it all boils down to the decentralisation of power, to the rights and duties of the provincial and local governments in our federal structure.
Ms Bhutto must not mistakenly believe that she can exploit this temporary reprieve to strengthen only her party and consolidate only her governments in Islamabad, Peshawar and Sindh at the expense of the others. It won’t work, despite the rickety umbrella proffered by Gen Beg and President Ishaq to protect the government from a downpour in the Kashmir imbroglio.
How, then, should Bhutto go about drawing up an agenda for peace and progress, live and let live? First, she must bravely confront the longer-term necessity of convening a meeting of the CCI, whose pre-condition is the removal of suspicions and contradictions which mar relations between her government and the opposition. The CCI should be called after a modus vivendi has been settled with the opposition. Its purpose should not be to exacerbate federal tensions; instead it should help to democratically change the rules of the game and legalise the longer term decentralisation of power in the country. This is a commitment Benazir Bhutto repeatedly made when she was in opposition. For more than one reason, she cannot afford to renege on it now.
Second, Bhutto must urgently put her own house in order. Her government has acquired a reputation for being recklessly inefficient and grossly corrupt. Inefficiency stems from an absence of policy planning, from acute indiscipline in the party, from cabinet ministers bent on pushing in different directions. In short, from a complete lack of organisation and direction in the PM’s secretariat. Corruption, on the other hand, is sustained by nepotism, patronage and willful negligence. It breeds on itself and once it acquires substantial proportions it is immensely difficult to weed out or even control.
In fourteen months, the PM cannot fairly point to a single piece of legislation which purports to improve the quality of Pakistani life. Apart from some technical amendments in certain areas, like for example in the Anti-terrorist bill, there is nothing to show by way of serious endeavours to create employment, provide better education, extend health facilities and nourish culture. Nor is there any visible effort to plan carefully for the coming Budget so that the poor are adequately provided for. There is no dialogue with the press to help mediate the public’s reaction to the inflationary pressures ahead. The information ministry’s preoccupations have more to do with faithfully echoing the PM’s rhetoric and her ministers’ hollow assurances than with enlightening us on what is really going on and what lies ahead. The economic and finance ministries are in a shambles, notwithstanding all the local and foreign advisors who draw fat perks and twiddle their thumbs, because no one quite knows who is in charge of determining priorities, what to do with them, where to get permission and clearance, how to implement policy, where to get the resources for it, etc. As for the Foreign Office, the less said the better. The prime minister gives the impression that she is only interested in handing out Ambassadorships to political loyalists who cannot be suitably accommodated elsewhere. As for Foreign policy initiatives, these are apparently best left care-off the GHQ.
Corruption in Islamabad, however, appears to be in a special class all of its own. Most worrying, it seems to be the PM’s blind spot. Nepotism, apparently, is just another word for patronage; it is not viewed as straight-forward corruption, despite its frightful proportions. The Zardaris are simply seen as victims of unsubstantiated rumours, politically motivated conspiracies and idle drawing-room gossip. Permits for banks, sugar mills, textile projects etc are all said to be above board; tenders and procedures perfectly in order for power generation projects, rice exports, bank loans, foreign aid disbursements. No, her argument goes, it is a vicious propaganda campaign to malign Benazir Bhutto’s government. The charges cannot ever be proven in a court of law, hence they are fabricated. Clearly, it doesn’t much concern the prime minister that her regime is now universally being compared to that of Ferdinand Marcos before his disgraceful ouster from the Philippines some years ago.
This is a harsh indictment, if only because our expectations of Benazir Bhutto are high and we believe that she can, indeed should, deliver. But if she is unable, or unwilling, to seize the initiative provided by this hiatus, if she squanders the historic opportunity to make peace with her domestic opponents while Pakistan digs in for a protracted confrontation with India over Kashmir, she will have only herself to blame for the terrible anguish which will inevitably follow.
(TFT April 19-25, 1990, Vol-II, No:6 Editorial)
Give peace a chance
Peace. Between Mohajirs and Sindhis. Between government and opposition. Between centre and provinces. Between Zia ul Haq and Z A Bhutto. Between Pakistan and India. Between ISI and Kabul.
Yes, give us peace so that we can get on with life. Without dacoities, kidnappings, sniping. Without strikes, lockouts and shutdowns. Without political victimisation, horse-trading, no-confidence moves. Without bombs, bloodshed and the threat of war hanging over our heads.
We are exhausted. For over two decades, since 1968, it has been tough going. The loss of one half of our country in 1971 was unbearable. The Z A Bhutto years, full of civil strife, personal vendettas and senseless industrial dislocations, offered no respite. The execution of a democratically elected prime minister scarred us for years to come. Under Zia ul Haq, the peoples’ struggle to restore legitimacy to their lives against the crushing burdens of the coercive state never abated.
Since 1988, instead of allowing the wounds to heal, our leaders have sharply escalated the state of turmoil and confusion within society. After the long downpour, where we expected to rejoice at the sight of a rainbow, we have been scattered by the screaming winds of war, communal venom and base political ambitions. No, nations and people rarely survive the buffetings of unending misfortune and political misconduct.
The tragedy is compounded by the fact that this predicament is all too obvious to everyone, yet our leaders seem unable or unwilling to deliver us from this desperate situation.
Take Altaf Hussain’s senseless hunger strike. For one week, he held Sindh to ransom, threatening to snuff out thousands of innocent lives. And what did he achieve? Nothing.
Take the continuing saga of centre-province relations, starring Mian Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto. Directed by the Godfathers whose ghosts haunt the landscape of our waking hours to sow the seeds of discord, this hopeless sparring succeeds only in sapping the spirit of democracy upon which we pin our goals for the future.
Or take now the spectre of war with India, imagine the scale of death and destruction; the cruel displacement of populations, the ruination of the economy. What does the PM hope to achieve by reiterating her father’s pledge to wage a-thousand-year war with India? What purpose is served by heightening the propaganda, raising the rhetoric, promising to raise ten crores for Kashmir, unless the base motive is simply to conduct an election campaign in Azad Kashmir? Why should we, the people, remain silent and allow frustrated politicians to play havoc with our lives?
No, enough is enough. We are sick of these rampant corruptions that plague our body politic.
We want peace. Peace to work, to produce, to build afresh, to prosper, to be creative. So that we can improve the quality of our lives. So that our children can grow up to be responsible, meaningful citizens, living in civil harmony, taking pride in their country, joy in its culture, participating vigourously in its diverse endeavors. So that Pakistan can take its rightful place among the modern, dynamic nations of the world.
The prime minister and the oppositionists should calmly reflect on the crying needs of the hour — justice, jobs, health, education, industrial development. The fruits of representative government must be shared. Benazir Bhutto should be generous in sharing power. She must seize the initiative and extend the hand of genuine friendship and cooperation to her political opponents. Let bygones be bygones. Warring with one another or with India doesn’t solve anything. We have had enough of it. A new Pakistan awaits fulfillment. Give peace a chance.
(TFT April 26-May 9, 1990, Vol-II, No:7 & 8 Editorial)
Punjab is not another country
Our Punjabi ruling gentry likes to believe that it lives in a clinical world set apart from the rest of the country. If the price of our Afghan war is 3m refugees, 285 bomb explosions, hundreds killed, 2m heroin addicts and 500,000 Kalashnikovs in the NWFP, we think it apparently a small sacrifice by the Pushtoons in pursuit of a noble national objective. If Sindh is mauled by ethnic strife, held to ransom by powerful dacoits, our patent response is to mutter in disbelief at ‘the law and order situation’, and turn in mock relief to the sports pages of our daily papers.
‘It couldn’t happen in the Punjab’ we sit back and pronounce with a definitive wave of the hand. Oh yes? Well, pause for a moment, consider these screaming headlines of the past two months.
In Lahore: over 100 major daylight dacoities in banks and homes; street firings in Gowalmandi, Shahdara, Township, Krishanager, Allama Iqbal Town and Defence; five shocking cases of ransom abductions (one of a leading industrialist, the others of children); armed attacks on the homes of Mr Mustafa Khar, Tahirul Qadri, Maneka and Ch Hakim Ali. Even the CM’s residence wasn’t spared by an armed young man desperate to attract attention, obtain justice!
Or consider: Maulana Jhangvi and Maulana Sajid Naqvi assassinated; sectarian riots in Jhang, Chiniot, Muzzafargarh, Thana factory area in Lahore; 7 policemen stoned (yes, stoned) to death by an angry mob in Chiniot; police stations attacked by violent public crowds in Lohari, Gulberg, Garhi Shahu, Samanabad….
No, Punjab is not another country. Punjabis can no longer pretend that their province has escaped the devastating consequences of the rapid erosion of civil society in the rest of the country. At the present rate of self-destruction and fragmentation, we do not have to worry about the Indians stepping in to finish the job.
This crisis is not just a ‘law and order’ problem requiring ‘strong-arm measures’. Nor is it a merely conflict between Benazir Bhutto and Messrs Nawaz Sharif & Altaf Hussain. These are only the latest symptoms of a deeper, underlying malaise related to the dynamics of the Pakistani state and the authoritarian and divisive role it continues to play.
Since its inception the state has been lopsided. Institutions of power such as the army, bureaucracy and the judiciary, and the pillars on which they rest — industry, commerce and land — have been concentrated in a single nationality — the Punjabis. By denying others a fair share in the fruits of growth, the state has antagonised them to the point of desperation.
Because the social, regional and cultural base of the state is narrow it has been plagued by recurring crises of legitimacy and raison d’etre. Should it reflect the aspirations of the provinces/nationalities or should it merely echo the prerogatives of the dominant Punjabis? Despite the tragic lessons of dismemberment in 1971 and insurgency in Balochistan and NWFP during 1973-77, despite the constitutional commitment to extend the provincial list, the state has consistently refused to decentralise any power. Instead, it has acted in a Viceregal tradition, ruthlessly dividing and ruling, scattering the people into bloody sectarianism and ethnicity.
In the end, the chickens always come home to roost. The Punjab cannot afford to be another country. And because it is the more powerful and the more wealthy of all the provinces, because it has lorded it for the longest, it hears a special responsibility to share wealth and power, help strengthen civil society and create a modern, democratic, federal nation-state. By chosing to ignore or strengthen the divisive tendencies enveloping Pakistan today, the Punjab may find that it is the biggest loser in the long run.
(TFT May 10-16, 1990 Vol-II, No:9 Editorial)
Minting is not enough
The ‘law and order’ situation, as we know to our anguish, has become progressively unacceptable. However, our cigar-chomping, pot-bellied businessmen have only recently woken up to the fact that not all the money in their numbered accounts, nor all the Securicor guards outside their palatial homes, will protect them from the bomb blasts, kidnappings and dacoities which continuously puncture everyday life.
It is not sufficient to demand that as tax-payers they expect the government to be solely responsible for maintaining ‘law and order’. While their new-found determination to march on the streets against the rising crime rate is commendable, it is only one side of the coin.
For all the rights that citizens demand from government, there is a corresponding set of duties, obligations and responsibilities to society. On this score, however, a widespread perception exists that businessmen have failed to deliver on the expectations attendant upon their status as wealthy citizens of an impoverished country.
Take the matter of taxes. Less than 0.01% of Pakistanis pay taxes, while the underground economy approaches the equivalent of nearly 40% of GDP. Ponder the US$ 20 billion illegally stashed away abroad by Pakistanis. And then ask: how many deserving charities are funded by businessmen, how many hospitals and libraries built for the poor and middle-classes? How many philanthropists patronise the arts and science, build parks and playgrounds, schools and colleges? The fine examples are confined to a clutch of top industrialists in Karachi and Lahore. But as a social group our capitalists and traders have contributed pathetically little to the establishment of a creative, dynamic and stable civil society; instead, they have shirked their and responsibilities most callously.
The tragedy is compounded by the fact that businessmen have yet to realise they must put their general interests as a class before their particular interests as different groups pulling in so many narrow directions. It is this singular failing which explains why they flounder in articulating their common interests before an entrenched bureaucracy, a hostile press and a powerful feudal lobby.
It has also become a self-satisfying cliche to proclaim, ‘we are businessmen, we are not interested in politics’. This statement is more false than true. Yes, it is unfortunately true that businessmen don’t have a political party which manifestly extends their collective interests; yes, there is no press which promotes a liberal ideology necessary for nourishing the political culture in which industrialisation is historically rooted. But it is patently false because businessmen are nevertheless deeply involved in making political choices at all times: voting for candidates and parties, channelling funds to politicians, undermining hostile interests, bribing them to secure patronage and power. It is false also because businessmen have generally tended to support the political system of martial law and openly frowned upon representative government in the past.
In short, when they are confronted with political choices, businessmen are quick to make them, but they do so without collective wisdom and always with an opportunist eye to the short-term compulsions of making a quick buck and squandering it in conspicuous consumption.
As long as this attitude persists, all the businessmen’s advertisement campaigns in the press will amount to nothing and their concerns for the national good sound hollow. Instead of threatening to withhold taxes, businessmen should shoulder their historic responsibility to contribute more generously to society, participate more vigorously in representative government and gear themselves up to become the leading edge of a modern nation-state on the verge of the 21st century.
(TFT May 17-23, 1990 Vol-II No:10 Editorial)
Cancer of corruption
“Corruption”, wrote Edward Gibbon, “is the most infallible symptom of constitutional liberty”. But because power corrupts in all political systems, corruption is now a fact of life everywhere. It is bribes, kickbacks, nepotism, smuggling, over-under invoicing, tax evasion, malafide appointments, transfers, dismissals and more. Corruption is everything that is illegal.
It becomes a matter of special public concern when high state functionaries bend or break the law. Because political leaders are required to enforce the law, great anguish is caused when they do not practise what they preach. By so doing, they undermine their credentials to govern.
In Pakistan, we have lived with the blatant corruptions of bureaucrats and generals for longer than we care to remember. But because they foisted an authoritarian world upon us, we could not expect them to deliver the ground norms of public behaviour. Nor could we count on our ability to make then answerable for their sins.
Things are different today or at least we hope that they are. A democratic system exists in which we, the people, are presumed to matter, in which elected representatives are expected to occupy the high moral ground. It is our right to demand clean and efficient government and to hold public functionaries accountable. Because the press is free to investigate and to report, it is easy to pinpoint the misuse of power. In that real sense, ordinary peoples’ perceptions of dishonesty in government can have serious consequences.
Take the case of the Philippines where the Marcoses fled for their lives. Or India, where Mr Rajiv Gandhi suffered the humiliating consequences of the Bofors scandal. In Mr Gandhi’s case, although no formal charges were brought against him, the mere perception of the misuse of power for personal gain was sufficient to do him in.
Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s family and government, too, are increasingly viewed, at home and abroad, as scandalously corrupt. In defence, the PM argues that: (1) This is a conspiracy to discredit and overthrow democracy, that “mud is slung on her in the hope that some of it will stick”. (2) The charges are false because those making them are reluctant to take them to court. (3) The wickedness of earlier regimes is downplayed.
While there may be some obvious element of truth in her claims, the matter unfortunately will not rest thus. By definition, graft is not documented, hence it is difficult to prove it in court. Moreover, people are concerned with the here and now, rather than with a distasteful past that is dead and gone. Also, Benazir Bhutto consciously articulates the high moral ground of democracy, freedom and the rule of law. She cannot then turn around and ask to be compared with those of her detractors whom she so vociferously condemns.
Reality is often obscured by appearances, illusion can become more powerful than substance. In Ms Bhutto’s case, a perception of corruption in Islamabad has taken firm root and will not wash easily. The High Court decision against Mr Piracha’s nepotism knocks out one of the central planks in her ‘prove it in court’ argument.
The PM’s attitude is inexplicably apolitic. Where she should be moving with surgical finesse to root out corruption and silence her critics, (she should sack Mr Piracha), she is seen to be dragging her feet. She should make a conscious effort to distance her family from the corridors of power. She should learn to distinguish between political patronage and nepotism. She should put all those ministerial resignations lying in her handbag to good use. She should encourage a system in her secretariat whereby she has better access to objective information. She should insist that her ministers be regularly answerable to Parliament.
Ms Bhutto has no time to lose, she should do something positive to clean up her act quickly.
(TFT May 24-30, 1990, Vol-II, No:11 Editorial)
The reconciliation farce
The thorny issue of Centre/Punjab relations has snagged many an initiative. Development work has become ensnared by it and it is cutting into industrial growth. But can we add to the list of lame policies the confusion over Kashmir and the lack of progress in halting the violence in Sindh? With qualification, yes.
First, the qualification. The rumours hinting at conspiracy that escape from the lips of politicians — “Federal government behind Punjab law and order situation”, or “Punjab government sending arms to Sindh” — remain unsubstantiated rumours. The issue lies deeper, in the failure of government.
It lies in the failure of the Centre to provide clear leadership and strong government at a time of crisis. Moving always to the shadow of Nawaz Sharif in Lahore, Benazir Bhutto keeps looking to her back. And with only half her attention left for the rest of the country, it is not surprising she appears sometimes to be bereft of vision.
So, are the new rounds of reconciliation manoeuvres between the Centre and the Punjab to be warmly welcomed? A tepid reaction would be more appropriate. It is said that familiarity breeds contempt, and frankly we have seen it all before. The ‘useful’, even ‘successful’ high-level meetings are followed up by petty acts of spite: the accounts of two Ittefaq companies are frozen and the Punjab government blames the Centre for a series of bomb blasts. All is then retracted and there is another ‘successful’ meeting. We are getting to know the steps of the dance by heart.
And it is a dance that is intended not only to deceive us as to the true state of relations between the two governments — the relationship is and always will be one of enmity — but it has also hypnotised us into believing that good and strong government can only be expected when the Federal and the Punjab governments work in tandem. This simply will not happen, and we must snap out of trance now for much damage has been done. The perception that Pakistan cannot be properly governed when the Centre and the Punjab are in conflict is pernicious and dangerous. And it is a perception all too commonly held across the political spectrum.
When the Central government is seen as depending on the goodwill of the Punjab to govern effectively, it leads to a crisis of legitimacy. The Federal government’s insecurity is evinced by its confused Kashmir policy and its inability to come to grips with the near total law and order breakdown in Sindh.
This unthinking assumption has led us to the pass where many in the PPP argue it must unseat Nawaz Sharif and recapture the Punjab government before it can get on with the serious business of ruling, while Nawaz Sharif and his followers in the Punjab feel insecure without control of the Federal government. Some, recognising the danger of this all or nothing mentality, have talked of bashing together a coalition government. A noble cause this may be, but it is again predicated on the need for amity between the two governments.
Centre/Punjab relations are fractious and will remain so. This we must accept. And once this is accepted, a new political agenda arises. One that accords the party with the majority of seats in the National Assembly the right to govern with strength and confidence, and refuses to accept a hostile Punjab government as an excuse for weakness.
It is also an agenda that seeks to identify precisely those areas of the Centre/Punjab conflict that are leading to instability on a nationwide scale. Two areas that demand immediate attention are the rapidly worsening law and order situation in the Punjab, and the province’s budgetary troubles. Isolated from the accumulated, and emotive, detail of the conflict there is some hope that progress can be made on issues that are a threat to both governments.
Any other approach is just blowing in the wind.
(TFT May 31-June 6 , 1990, Vol-II, No:12 Editorial)
Do we have any options?
If Benazir Bhutto is now beginning to feel like a prisoner in Islamabad, then obviously she has been very slow on the uptake. In the transfer-of-power package deal of 1988, the chips were all too visibly stacked against her: the 8th amendment conditionalities, the Shariat Ordinances and the powerful Senate. Add to this the tenacious legatees of the last decade — the MQM and the IJI — and you have a perfect example of a prime minister in a catch-22 position: damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t.
Ms Bhutto, of course, hasn’t made her own task any easier. Her government is generally viewed as inept, lacking in foresight and increasingly corrupt. These charges are extracting a painful toll of society, let alone her own support base and credibility to govern.
Her most visible failure is in Sindh. The contradictions between Sindhi nationalists, who form the backbone of her government, and the MQM (which controls Karachi and Hyderabad), are tearing us apart. Government has ceased to exist.
What are the options?
The most talked about and obvious one is Governor’s rule. Without seeming to side with one or the other factions in her party, she can get rid of the deadweights, obstructionists and saboteurs in her administration and forcefully clean up her own stables. She can also bring in the army to disarm the MQM and PPP extremists. But the problem in this approach is that she is bound to lose significant Sindhi support in the National Assembly, which would leave her government vulnerable to renewed attack (probably in the form of a no-confidence motion) from the Combined Opposition Parties in Islamabad.
The second option is to impose Martial Law in Karachi and Hyderabad and ask the army to mop up the extremists on both sides. This runs aground on the consistent army refusal to go into action in these two MQM-dominated cities while leaving the Sindhi extremists free to command the rest of the province.
The third option is to impose Martial Law throughout the whole of Sindh province. The prime minister will not consider this course of action because it will totally isolate her from her home province and leave her at the mercy of the COP. Further, the army is unlikely to agree to earmarking a substantial chunk of its manpower to patrol Sindh while it is faced with the threat of war with India.
Fresh national elections or martial law are no solutions. Because the people are so violently divided into regional, ethnic and sectarian lots, it is unlikely that we will get assemblies which are markedly different from those which exist today. As for Martial Law, if there is one lesson we should have learnt from past history it is that military rule can never be a substitute for representative politics. It would also set us apart from the thrust of popular political culture in the rest of the world and isolate us in our dispute with India over Kashmir. It would be ruinous if the armed forces were to be distracted from their duty to defend our frontiers at a time when the Indians are spoiling for a war to dismember Pakistan.
The last option is to leave the constitutional position unchanged and trudge along as best she can, genuinely negotiating with the MQM on the one hand and beefing up the administration on the other. While this course is unlikely to yield quick dividends, it offers the only democratic way out of this impasse.
Damned if we do and damned if we don’t, for better or for worse, the present political system is all we’ve reasonably got. It is up to the warring factions to call a truce if we are not to encourage some adventurers to precipitate a crisis and shatter the Quaid’s dream.
(TFT June 7-13, 1990, Vol-II, No:13 Editorial)
Pakistan, like Los Angeles, is built on a fault line. LA simply sprawls across the meeting point of two tectonic plates; Pakistan has a fissure running right through its highest state institutions, through its polity, and through the minds of its people. Such has been our nation’s genius.
Islam and liberal democracy. Their meeting is up-front, in the name of The Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The ‘Republic’ came to us from the French revolution, its qualifier, ‘Islamic’, from Arabia. Both were brought by the sword, but both are now undeniably ours.
And just as the San Andreas fault reminded Los Angeles of its destructive potential last year, so this year we have been warned of the tremendous pressures building up between the two ideologies upon which our nation is built. The Senate’s Shariat bill was no tremour. If passed by the National Assembly, it would signal a major realignment of forces.
No longer will the Constitution be the arbiter of our laws, but it will lie as handmaiden to a small coterie of ‘interpreters’ and ‘explainers’ of texts. For, under Section three of the bill, “the Shariat shall be the supreme law in Pakistan.”
No longer will the people, through their elected representatives, hold the responsibility of judging their legislation as consonant with Islam, for, under Section four of the bill, the courts shall now decide what is “repugnant to Islam.”
Through the haze and fog which always descends at the mention of Islamic jurisprudence, the vague outlines of a new state structure are just visible in the text of the Shariat bill. It envisions a new balance between the demands of democracy and the dictates of Islam. Its supporters would argue that this realignment will release the pressure building up between the two. Will it?
Sadly, it will serve only to exacerbate the friction. For the bill strikes at two of the pillars of the democratic state: the rule of law and the priority of the will of the people.
The rule of law is predicated on the citizen’s ability to know whether any action will fall foul of the law or not. When law becomes arbitrary, and prediction impossible, the rule of law breaks down. The tragic consequences of this can be seen in Sindh, where the distinction between murder and political action has become so blurred that assassination and ‘sniper firing’ have become everyday events.
On the introduction of Shariat, as envisaged by the Senate’s bill, the carefully codified statutes of our traditional law will be judged on the basis of Islamic jurisprudences that have, for hundreds of years, been gathering dust in the heads of academics. Their unfettered application would release a dust storm that would cover the law with a blanket of obscurity that few, and certainly no ordinary citizen, will be able to penetrate.
The Senate was canny not to raise a dust storm within its own august chamber by refraining to give any indication of which of the country’s many Fiqh is to be applied. It has chosen to let that storm play across the country. The Senate clearly has some sense of self-preservation.
But it is a sense of self-preservation that was sadly lacking when it passed to the courts the duty to decide whether the laws passed by parliament, and hence our elected representatives, are, or are not, “repugnant to Islam”. The religious dogmatists who have repeatedly been rejected at the polls will be inducted onto courts of law to sit in judgement on those who beat them at the hustings.
So has the Senate signed away the rights of a people under a democratic system in the name of an Islamic jurisprudence that it dare not name.
If this bill is passed, and it remains with the National Assembly for 90 days before the Senate can call a joint sitting, our state will be struck with a force as destructive as an earthquake. The obscurity of the bill makes it impossible to imagine what the ruins might look like. But they will be ruins all the same.
(TFT June 14-20, 1990, Vol-II, No:14 Editorial)
In his preamble to the Budget, Mr Piracha, the finance minister, said he was “grateful to Almighty Allah for the privilege of presenting the budget”. Of course, he didn’t mean a word of it and would probably have played truant that day if the Headmistress hadn’t put her foot down. In the event, despite the opposition’s predictable negativism and its determination to fight ‘over every clause’ in the forthcoming parliamentary debate, is it such a terrible budget, all things considered?
That phrase — all things considered — is crucial to any reasoned perspective on the budget. How does one go about squaring the insatiable appetite of the armed forces (allocation up by 19%) and foreign creditors (Rs 50 billion in debt payments) with the urgent demands of the destitute social sectors? The most sensible way, under the political circumstances, is by increasing the size of the cake. But the size of the cake is circumscribed by the bankruptcy of past economic practices and a flourishing ‘underground’ economy. Enlarge the tax net, you say? Easier said than done, given a corrupt tax-collecting bureaucracy and a business class that has neglected its responsibilities to society. Rely on direct taxation, cut subsidies instead? And thereby further alienate the impoverished masses, no, thank you!
For every budgetary palliative there are fairly predictable adverse reactions from someone or the other. In the end, it’s sadly never more than a nuts and bolts job which entails some marginal juggling of financial means and political ends.
Let us be positive. We welcome taxes that fall on those who can afford to trim their waistlines. If anything, the list should have been more extensive. Salary concessions to workers and government employees will barely keep pace with inflation. Financial incentives to education and health services in the private sector are the least we can expect. The self-assessment income tax scheme should make small businessmen happy and corrupt tax collectors despondent, which is as it should be. It is also sound to bring in a foreign company to oversee Customs evaluation procedures. It will surely clip many underhand practices which amount to tax-evasion and smuggling. Of course, the reduction in the duty on newsprint is most welcome. The press can only be free so long as it is strong. Its independence cannot be bargained away at the alter of government beneficence.
There is no justification, however, for across-the board and substantial increases in the cost of electricity, gas, water, service charges on passports, radios, TV, telephones etc. If the budget makers had done their homework, they could have produced a progressive structure which discriminates between consumers. Similarly, it is incomprehensible why the PM has backtracked on her public commitment to withdraw the 5% licence fee on books.
On privatisation, selling off stocks of profitable public sector companies is an eyewash without any positive long-term effects on investment. Again, confusion over the status of the GST was totally unnecessary. Mr Piracha and Mr Akhund have only made matters worse by contradicting each other.
Because the government threatened a tough budget, we are now left to speculate about the fate of this comparatively soft offering. Given its present political dilemmas, it is all too obvious that another mini-budget looms on the not too distant horizon, just as soon as the fallout of this one has been safely contained.
Spreading political risks over a period may make eminent sense. However, when this logic spills over to the budget it mocks the very concept of economic planning, in which certainty plays a major role, and reduces the budgetary exercise to a disagreeable farce. If the financial health of this country is going to be treated in the same cavalier fashion in which we conduct politics, we are truly doomed.
(TFT June 14-20, 1990, Vol-II, No:14 Article)
The new Indo-Pak impasse
Today, while the armies of India and Pakistan nervously finger the dry powder in their pouches, it is worth examining how the confused, reactive and ad hoc political responses of both countries to the Kashmir crisis have suddenly precipitated the dominant parameters of a new Indo-Pak impasse.
Both India and Pakistan have been caught napping by the recent explosion of passions in Kashmir. The Simla Agreement implicitly hustled the ‘problem’ into cold storage and laid the basis of an equivocal peace between the two countries for nearly two decades, despite occasional brushes over Siachin. Even ‘cricket diplomacy’ was hastily contrived by Gen Zia to avoid conflict, while allegations rang out of the Pakistani ‘involvement’ in East Punjab and the Indian ‘hand’ in Sindh. The SAARC summit last year raised expectations of a new modus vivendi and the possibility of peace in the sub-continent.
However, soon thereafter, Kashmir threw a spoke in the wheels of a diffident Indo-Pak detente. Press reports increasingly began to focus on a militant mood in the valley: pro-Pakistan slogans appeared hastily on Srinagar walls and overt anti-India sentiments became visibly shrill. By June 1989, the Indian Defence Review was already talking about a sinister plot allegedly hatched by Gen Zia in 1988, code-named Operation Topac, to encourage militant separatism and destabilise the valley. Although even the more jaundiced Indian journalists soon realised that the Review article was a devious RAW plant, Indian commentators have routinely dug up details of the ‘plot’ to point an accusing finger at the ‘Pakistani hand in Kashmir.’
The fact, however, is that Indian and Pakistani governments, oppositions and the press were all much too preoccupied internally during this time to cast more than a cursory glance at Kashmir. In Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto and the COP were locked in a furious struggle to overthrow each other’s governments in Islamabad, Peshawar and Lahore. In India, Mr Rajiv Gandhi was tottering from the Bofors scandal and faced defeat at the hustings. Unremarked and ignored, the simmering militancy in Kashmir, meanwhile, escalated to boiling point. Neither government recognised the ‘problem’ and failed to anticipate its enormous potential to destabilise the sub-continent.
If Islamabad was slow to react in January 1990, it can draw comfort from the fact that New Delhi was even more awkward in assembling an appropriate internal ‘Kashmir policy’. While the Pakistani Foreign Office was desperately casting about for details of the various ‘groups’ involved in the uprising — their comparative organisational strengths, demands and prospects — the Indians reacted in a predictably knee-jerk fashion: “flush out a handful of terrorists and crush them militarily”. Neither side reckoned that the Kashmiri revolt could ever acquire significant proportions. Neither country examined the danger of renewed Indo-Pak conflict on a potentially devastating scale.
In consequence, both governments stumbled from one reactive position to another. The Pakistanis were initially apprehensive about the Kashmiris’ ability to withstand the power of the Indian state while the Indians showed an inability and unwillingness to comprehend the gravity of the ‘political’ challenge to their Union.
In Pakistan, the events in the valley have simply been traded as cannon-fodder in the opportunistic war between the PPP and the IJI. Where the opposition has accused the PPP government of lacking a coherent and substantive ‘Kashmir policy’, it has failed to delineate its own rather bleary position. In our press, apart from predictable denunciations of “Indian repression of the heroic Kashmiris” and emotional exhortations to seize “the chance of a lifetime”, the sound and fury has led to pathetically little reasoned analysis or prognosis.
The press and opposition in India has been no more concrete. In their shallow perception of “Pakistani-instigated trouble”, they expected Mr Jagmohan to clean up the mess quickly. It is only now, when Kashmiri separatism has acquired the proportions of a tidal wave, that they have woken up to question their government’s policy. It is a measure of the complexity of the situation and the lack of any anticipation, foresight or planning — in short, a defined policy — in New Delhi that various countervailing strands of thought, as articulated by Governor Jagmohan, Home Minister Mufti and Kashmir Affairs Minister George Fernandes, have struggled for pre-eminence, openly pulling in different directions and negating one another. Mr Jagmohan’s recent replacement by yet another administrator, Mr Girish Saxena, the former head of RAW, is testimony of New Delhi’s failure to ‘formulate’ a politically appropriate response to the Kashmir crisis. The Indian press, too, is crippled by its inability to analyse the way out. Witness the frequent, rather hysterical Pakibashing by columnists like M V Kammath or Girilal Jain and the intellectual hypocrisy of Pakistan-watching liberals like Bhabani Sen Gupta, Pran Chopra et al.
In Pakistan, understandably, a measured and suitable response was slow to materialise. With the rest of the world consolidating on peace, Pakistan could hardly risk jumping into the fray and stoking the fires of a military conflict with India. It could neither afford to support the Kashmiris’ demand for an independent state nor overtly give military assistance to the ‘insurgents’. In view of the hostility of the Western world to ‘Islamic movements’ (there is already talk of a new cold war between Islam and the West) and the deep rifts within the Muslim ‘Ummah’, Pakistan cannot up the ante on Kashmir without alienating the rest of the world and totally undermining its established legal position that Kashmir is ‘disputed territory’ between the two countries for which a ‘peaceful’ solution should be found bilaterally with India under the Simla Agreement.
Prime Minister Bhutto’s foreign policy initiatives have correctly focussed on five salient points: (1) to draw attention to the Indian repression in Kashmir (2) to allay suspicions that Pakistan is actively intervening in the valley (3) to highlight the indigenous and comprehensive character of the revolt (4) to bring international pressure to bear on India and restrain it from any military adventure against Pakistan (5) to remind the world that Kashmir is ‘disputed territory’ for which a plebiscite under the UN was promised over four decades ago.
To some extent, Pakistan has succeeded in internationalising the problem. The world press is openly critical of Indian brutality in the valley. The Big Two are pressurising India to backtrack militarily. But, given the measure of India’s desperation, Pakistan has had to pay dearly for supporting the cause of Kashmir. The Indians have retaliated viciously by fueling the ethnic divide in Sindh. And by so doing, they have further destabilised the rickety democratic system in Pakistan. This Indian diversionary tactic has taken the wind out of Ms Bhutto’s Kashmir initiatives and reminded the PPP government of its extreme vulnerability on the home front. It is a sad reflection of the stabbing divisions that mark our political environment that Pakistan cannot even unite over a national concern like Kashmir.
A new Indo-Pak equation is therefore unlikely to find equilibrium in the foreseeable future. It is bristling with volatile parametres on both sides. In Pakistan, these comprise (1) the MQM-Jeay Sindh rupture (2) the COP-PPP enmity (3) the Constitutional impasse over the 8th amendment and Shariat Bill which preclude the possibility of a consensus over ‘the rules of the game’ (4) the ISI, whose independence, power and political ambitions determine the manner in which the first three conflicts are resolved. In India, it is apparently Kashmir and East Punjab. But underlying the equation is the rising tide of Hindu communalism and India’s overbearing urge to dominate the region.
Both India and Pakistan have relentlessly pursued a long-term policy of arming to the teeth with newer and more sophisticated weapons. But different political perceptions and concerns underlie the military compulsions of the two ‘establishments’ in Islamabad and New Delhi. Pakistan has been the fly in the Indian ointment, consistently refusing to accept ‘the geo-political logic of Hindu Indian hegemony’.
As long as each country is beset with such problems, concerns and perspectives, it will continue to seek short-term palliatives and opportunities to exploit the obvious weaknesses of the other. This approach is fated to lead to a disastrous conflict between the two countries, sooner or later. The fact that both countries cannot, in the foreseeable future, sustain strong, liberal, democratic regimes which shun antithetical, religious revivalist movements only makes the scenario more inevitable.
(TFT June 21-27, 1990, Vol-II, No:15 Editorial)
Pressing the point home
The PM has warned that the press is misusing its freedom. We’ve heard it all before; this is not the first time that a government has lashed out at the press. Even at the best of times, and these have been scarce over the past 40 years, the press has had a difficult relationship with the incumbent government, whether dictatorial or democratic.
We have endured the whimsical arrogance of military adventurers and civilian megalomaniacs and lived to write the tale. We have suffered debilitating bouts of censorship, years of ‘press advice’, and faced the financial blackmail of rigid controls on advertisement and newsprint quotas. Journalists have been imprisoned, even assassinated, and our offices burnt down. It is a tribute to the press that it has survived its tribulations and emerged stronger over the years.
Yes, some of us tend to go overboard now and then. Yes, we can sometimes be irresponsible, thoughtless, subjective, even politically biased. But no one has survived these 40 years by standing on integrity, and we are no angels; our professionalism has been scarred by the anarchy in civil society and infected by the corruption of political discourse. And it is not only the Fourth Estate that has suffered; the PM should remember that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones at others, especially when the stone she has thrown at the press threatens to shatter the conception that press freedom belongs to us by right and not by favour.
We do not regard press freedom as a gift from any government. Just as the struggle for democracy is inherently legitimate, so too is press freedom an inviolable civil right in any republic. It is not for government to lecture the press on the do’s and dont’s of journalistic ethics or objectivity, nor to give or take favours, let alone seek to bribe or browbeat it into toeing the line. This is as a matter of principle. It is only an additional irony to contemplate the standards of ‘objectivity’ and ‘integrity’ the government has set for the NPT and PTV. Or to recall that it was the 1988 caretaker government rather than Benazir Bhutto who returned to us our right to publish unfettered by government interference.
There is a crucial sense in which the press is set apart from the politicians. Whereas they represent different societal urges and seek political power to further vested interests, our charter is to articulate the common concerns, attachments and curiosities of our constituency, which is the public at large, irrespective of political beliefs or affiliations. And if we fail our public, if we refuse to reflect their concerns, then we are bankrupt, literally.
It is not for us to pass blanket judgement on the prime minister’s opponents, who are all representative legislators under the constitution that she has agreed to uphold. If she is demanding a favourable response because she is a democrat and her detractors ‘remnants of martial law’, she should apply her logic elsewhere, perhaps before the electorate. If she is threatening us, she should think again.
The press has been in chains for so long it often trips over itself in its rush for greater freedom. Sometimes, this leads to lamentable lapses of professionalism or integrity. But the way out is not prime ministerial belligerence. There has been too much of such official interference in the past, and it has been deeply damaging. The press will become more responsible as the society it reflects becomes more responsible.
Instead of issuing warnings, the PM should be examining institutional ways of strengthening the press, like better funded schools for journalists, a liberal tax policy, cheap newsprint and raw materials, etc. But if she thinks that by promising a solitary press institute, with crumbs for sustenance, she has won the allegiance of the press, she cannot be more mistaken.
(TFT June 28-July 4, 1990, Vol-II, No:16 Editorial)
A beguiling promise
The rumour mills of Islamabad grind on. Their latest product is ‘the national government’; the most refined version comes complete with a ‘consensus’ Prime Minister, Miraj Khalid, and 30 dispirited PPP MNAs. It has been well marketed and enjoys wide exposure in the press. It even comes with a catch phrase that slides easily off the tongue: ‘recognising the split mandate.’
In a country racked by division, this is a beguiling promise. Relations between the PPP and almost all other political parties are bad; so bad that Sindh often looks to be on the verge of civil war, while the actions of the Punjab sometimes make one worry that it would declare UDI if it wasn’t so hungry for the rest of the country, an appetite the Indians now threaten to share. The bickerings in Islamabad are clearly an inappropriate response to the dangers facing us today.
Yet the bickering continues interminably. So no wonder the idea of a national government now seems to be gaining some purchase. It seems to offer unity where there is dissension and stability where there is chaos.
This is an illusion. Look first to its claim to ‘recognise the split mandate’. This catch phrase, like all other advertising tags, is a piece of sophistry; try to pin down its meaning, and it dissolves leaving only a sweet taste. Some have claimed that it signifies the inability of the PPP or the IJI to speak for all of the people. But this is a preposterous criterion. Another formulation derives the ‘split mandate’ from the fact that the electorate has given the PPP a mandate to rule in the centre and the IJI a mandate in the Punjab. But these are two separate mandates; to argue that it is one split mandate is to argue that the Punjab government is a second national government. It isn’t, although old imperial habits are difficult to lose. There is only one mandate that the federal government requires: a majority in the National Assembly, a majority that the PPP displayed throughout the budget session.
So the PPP has the mandate it requires, but this fact won’t stop the destructive intriguing. Could a national government bring some semblance of order to our fractious polity? To try and answer this question, one must try and imagine how such a government could be brought to power. This could happen in two ways. Either enough MNAs gather in the waste ground between the PPP and the IJI to force a power sharing agreement, or else one is enforced by the army or the President. Politics being the art of the possible, we can discount a reconciliation between Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. One of them, perhaps both, would have to go.
An enforced power sharing agreement would lead us back to the Junejo days. One brought about by the action of concerned MNAs would be democratic, but would it bring about the elusive stability that this country so desperately needs? Sadly, it would only add to the confusion. The country would no longer have two competing focuses of political power, but three. And the third would rapidly lose its raison d’etre in the ensuing scramble for control.
In this flight of fantasy, one crucial actor has been ignored: Benazir Bhutto. It has been assumed that she would be content to allow these threats to mature. This is to misread her character. She is still a politician in the populist mould. A serious threat to her power would be countered by the dissolution of the assemblies and elections: a return to the people.
So if we are not to look to a national government to bring a desperately needed reduction in political tension, where are we to look? First, a long and angry stare at the federal government. It has managed, through its insensitivity and inflexibility, to estrange all other parties. Most seriously, it has so alienated the MQM that urban Sindh has come to doubt whether it has any future in the present political set-up. Confidence building measures are urgently needed. Second, the opposition must accept that the PPP does have the full mandate of the people. Talk of a split mandate is just trouble-making.
(TFT July 5-11, 1990, Vol-II, No:17 Editorial)
We should commend the Jang Group for organising a National Solidarity Conference in Lahore last week. At least, now we need no longer labour under the delusion that a formal All Parties Conference might amount to anything different.
Attended by 28 parties of all shades, this five-star occasion was additional proof of how intransigent and intolerant our politics has become. Predictably, each leader appeared interested only in hogging the media show and grinding his own axe with renewed vengeance. And damned be him who first cries, Hold, Enough!
The nationalists from Baluchistan, Sindh and the NWFP all want more autonomy. The outstanding problem, for them, is to first establish the ‘premises of the Pakistani state’ — unitary/ centrist, federal or confederal. They believe it is useless to debate on ‘other minor matters or especially irrelevant issues like the Shariat Bill’.
The religious fanatics, on the other hand, all seek to enforce their own brand of Islam and Shariah. They are determined to overthrow the legislative prerogatives of an elected Parliament. As for the nationalists, they should all be despatched to hell for their subversive ideas if the mullahs had their way.
Then, there are the PPP and the PML who simply cannot stand the sight of each other (thus a token walk-out by the PPP when a triumphant Ijaz ul Haq occupied the rostrum). The PML is in the throes of sorting itself out, with Mr Nawaz Sharif/Ijaz ul Haq, Mr Junejo and Pir Pagara pulling in different directions. So it has no problem believing in everything and nothing, depending upon the pressing circumstances of any particular case (as when Ijaz ul Haq ironically harked back to ‘the good old days of Mr Junejo’s democratic government’). As for the PPP, it has conveniently forgotten its manifesto and is merely concerned with digging in everywhere because it claims to be ‘the only national party on the scene’.
Finally, there are those countless ‘others who also ran’. They too covet a piece of the electoral action through a system of proportional representation and will discuss nothing else. Of course, Syeda Abida Hussain, the one independent member of the assembly, is in a class all of her own. The MQM, too, is on a limb and, like Sheikh Chilli, in perpetual danger of scuttling itself.
So, what are we to make of this aborted dress rehearsal for national solidarity? How much longer should we, the people, endure the petty jealousies, vicious rivalries and unabashed opportunisms of our budding politicians?
Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions. Certainly, asking the khakis to step in and sweep everyone aside will only make matters worse, as past history so conspicuously amplifies. Nor are mid-term elections a panacea for such deep-rooted suspicions and divisions. We will surely end up jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
If it is of any remote consolation, we might recall that it took Europe a tumultuous century to assemble a set of workable, stable institutions. By that historic yardstick, there is nothing to be gained in cynically retreating to our ‘chardevaris’ or foolishly advocating dangerous shortcuts. While we should stolidly trudge on, it is worth reflecting on how to educate future generations to be politically mature. And there is no surer way of doing that than by patiently reinvesting, time and again, in a democratic system which puts its faith in the abundant energies and collective wisdom of our people.
Give this country an uninterrupted period of free elections and each government its allotted time and space. Allow for a new generation to throw up a different and more constructive leadership (from among the professional and true nationalist industrial classes). Break up the feudal stranglehold on the state. Do all this and we might all yet live to experience the heady sensibilities of a strong, stable and dynamic Pakistan.
(TFT July 12-18, 1990, Vol-II, No:18 Editorial)
The obdurate reality
Military “aid to civil power” in extraordinary situations is not uncommon. The British have employed the army to fight the IRA, flush out ‘terrorists’ from embassies and guard the Heathrow airport. In 1971, Canadian PM Gary Trudeau used the military for six months against the FLQ in Montreal. The Indian army, too, has been extensively occupied in Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Punjab, and now Kashmir.
The overriding framework of military operation in all such situations remains the same: the army’s scope is severely circumscribed by civilian law. It is nowhere allowed to ‘replace’ or usurp civilian authority. The concept of ‘martial law’ is legally unknown to democratic systems. Even in Malaya, during the large-scale counter-insurgency operations against the communists in the 1950s, the army remained under strict civilian control. Similarly, where ‘third force’ para-military troops have been created to handle extraordinary civil problems (the French CRS, the German FBG, the Carabenieri in Italy, the Merechausse in Holland, etc.), these have always remained under the Home Ministries. In India, all military “aid to civil power” is governed by Articles 130, 131 and 132 of the Criminal Procedure Code. These Articles protect the rights of detainees to be tried through due process in the ordinary courts of law. Civil law is never supplanted by military law. ‘Martial law’, however restricted, is illegal and thus never imposed.
If all this is evident enough, what then is the controversy in Islamabad all about?
Behind the unresolved confusion over the pertinent constitutional provisions (Section 245 or 147) necessary to “clean up Sindh” lie two unfortunate factors: a crisis of trust and an obdurate political reality. The crisis of trust exists between civil society and the military because of certain historical tensions. The obdurate reality consists in the continuing involvement of the army in present political discourse.
In the seesaw over political primacy between civilians and the army during the last 43 years, representative, constitutional government has existed for less than ten years while generals and martial law administrators (in one form or another) have ruled for twice as long. This praetorianism has had far-reaching consequences. Civilians blame the army for their lack of experience and inability to govern effectively. They also suspect that army juntas tend to create precedents for military rule.
The PPP’s present reluctance to invoke ‘military aid’ in Sindh without germane constitutional caveats is particularly grounded in its bitter experience of the Zia decade. It can recall only too well how Z A Bhutto’s Martial Law in Lahore in 1977 became a stepping stone for Zia ul Haq’s seizure of power. Neither can it forget its long years in the cold: workers and leaders were flogged, incarcerated and exiled. There is substance too in the PPP’s allegation that the MQM, its nemesis in Sindh, was sustained by the ISI under Zia. Finally, the Bhutto government resents the crippling ‘power-sharing formula’ forced upon it by the military in November 1988. There is, understandably, a crisis of trust and confidence here.
On the other side of the coin is a new military brass which claims to eschew politics and practise glasnost. But the military retains a firm grip over certain crucial political decisions. The Gen Beg Doctrine of ‘offensive-defense’ seriously encroaches on the civilian domain of foreign policy, especially in relation to India and Afghanistan. The military also casts its shadow on Parliament through the aegis of the 8th amendment. Gen Beg’s polite demeanour, quiet diplomacy and distant political postures can hardly obscure this obdurate political reality.
The legal wranglings in Islamabad over when and how to employ the army to clean up Sindh are therefore pertinent. No democratic government, least of all in Pakistan, can concede constitutional and republican rights without running the risk of damaging the system and undermining its own credibility.
(TFT July 12-18, 1990, Vol-II, No:18 Article)
India’s strategy to contain Pakistan
India and Pakistan are scheduled to hold talks later this month in Islamabad in an effort to sort out their tangled relationship. But these talks are unlikely to yield fruitful results. The stakes are high for both sides and neither is prepared to backtrack on established, well-known positions.
If war is an extension of politics by other means, it should not be ruled out at some stage of the game. However, relentless international pressure on both countries as well as domestic compulsions and the military balance make it unlikely that either country will take that risk without first exhausting all other strategies.
What is the Indian strategy going to be? For pointers, it is worth noting what the hawks in the Indian establishment are saying. Take Mr Girilal Jain, a pillar of the nationalist press in India: “India does not command the kind of superiority it requires to be able to inflict a quick and crushing defeat on the enemy … 1990 is not 1971. Pakistan had then been cut off from its US arsenal for six long years while India had substantially modernised its forces since 1965 … Since 1980 Pakistan has received US arms on a generous scale … in the last three years India has foolishly engaged in penny-pinching with serious military consequences …” The gist of the argument is that India cannot hope to achieve anything significant by going to war with Pakistan.
Mr K. Subrahmanyan, South Block’s blue-eyed defence strategist, concurs with Mr Jain. He sees no rationale in escalating the situation across the border with Kashmir as India did in 1965. “First, because of our negligence in the past few years, a large number of infiltrators and arms have already been introduced into Kashmir. A war … will not be of much help … to neutralise the terrorists within”. Second, he is unhappy at the prospect of having to fight a strong Pakistani army while simultaneously dealing with armed Kashmiris and Sikhs behind his own lines. “So, what should be a sensible strategy in these circumstances?” he asks.
His answer is enlightening. “We should seal the border, retain troops and concentrate fully on neutralising the infiltrators within. We must also take into account that if events in Pakistan are allowed to take their course, they will be denied the opportunity of unifying to meet the challenge of war. And if narcotics and arms accumulate within Pakistan as a result of the sealing of the border there could be an implosion within that country caused by ethnic rivalry, narco-power, religious fundamentalism and political instability. Our strategy should therefore be to buy time while the fuse is burning fast within the Pakistani polity … Our aim should be to get the Pakistani army put in its place politically by its own people. The best strategy is one of containment and allowing the internal situation in Pakistan to come to a boil. If martial law is imposed in Pakistan this time, it will plunge it into a civil war and it will become a larger sized Lebanon … in the forthcoming talks between the two foreign secretaries, mining the border should be on the top of the list of confidence-building measures … India should be careful not to confer on Pakistani rulers the kind of benefit which Brezhnev did with his invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.”
Mr Girilal Jain echoes his colleague’s arguments: “I am convinced that we should be willing to sit out the present tension with Pakistan [because] developments in that country can lead it in the course of time to review its policies … The conflict in Sindh is inherently incapable of early resolution … this makes Pakistan vulnerable on a long-term basis … we can reinforce that feeling of vulnerability by maintaining a military presence on the Sindh border …”
There aren’t too many Pakistanis who will dispute the perilous logic of these Indian arguments. Indeed, the domestic conflicts which drain our energies have already taken a crushing toll. Those who support a return to martial law or believe that the Sindh problem can be militarily tackled by eliminating a few hundred Sindhi extremists are foolishly playing into India’s hands. Those who talk of dividing Sindh, those who conspire to create instability in Islamabad, those who seek to undermine the authority of parliament and fan sectarianism by imposing the Shariat Bill, all these people, in one way or another, make Pakistan acutely vulnerable to the machinations of India.
Our future, and by corollary that of Kashmir, lies precisely in our ability to build stable democratic institutions in which conflicts are resolved through representative consensus and constitutional justice is available to all nationalities, ethnic groups, religious sects and classes. Until we put our own house in order, it would be fatal to delude ourselves into believing that we are sitting pretty while India bleeds in Kashmir.
(TFT July 19-25, 1990, Vol-II, No:19 Editorial)
It is now more than tragically evident that the Punjab and Sindh police are both viciously breaching the very law they are expected to fortify. Our affliction is compounded by the realisation that both Chief Ministers have given them a carte blanche to do much as they please.
The Sindh police, admittedly, has to confront heavily armed dacoits, invisible snipers, deadly political extremists and RAW agents who terrorise the province. True, also, that in relation to these apparently obstinate problems, the Sindh police is undermanned, ill-equipped and poorly trained. But, unfortunately, matters have been made unacceptably worse by its overtly political motivations and ethnic biases. How else can one explain its trigger happiness at Pucca Qila when it indiscriminately gunned down dozens of Mohajirs in Hyderabad not so long ago? It is equally condemnable that the police should audaciously protect countless Sindhi dacoits and criminals who blackmail the hapless province at will.
There is, however, no visible explanation, let alone any remote justification, for the recent derangements of the Punjab police. Guided, ironically enough, by a special Crime Control Committee, the police has mowed down dozens of alleged criminals in contrived ‘police encounters’. It has beaten up women and journalists in broad daylight. It has publicly lashed citizens for allegedly “watching obscene videofilms”, notwithstanding judicial remands and court orders. It has perversely applied the Hudood Ordinances to harass and intimidate untold innocent people. Only recently, the police arrested 67 courtesans from Lahore’s Hira Mandi in a ridiculous effort to enforce a particularly pernicious interpretation of “Islamic” laws. Now it is pitilessly sweeping aside “encroachments”, despite judicial “stay orders” and without making provision of alternative avenues to thousands of small hawkers and petty shopkeepers. All this, while the real criminals go unchallenged, drug pushers are patronised and smugglers flaunt their unholy riches at every nook and corner. This cruel and unlawful behaviour is, to say the least, downright shameful.
But all this is hardly inexplicable. During the last two years, the chief ministers of Punjab and Sindh have openly sapped the authority of the Public Services Commission by directly recruiting scores of petty police officers to do their political bidding. Stories abound of police thanas going to the highest bidder. We know of advisors to the CMs who harbour criminals and flout the writ of senior police officers. It is also well known that the Punjab CM uses the police to blackmail errant or prickly MPAs to toe the line.
No wonder, then, it is difficult to think of an institution in this country which is more loathsome or distrusted than the police. Yet, given the fragmented nature of society, we would be pressed to imagine an institution more necessary to modern nation-state building than an efficient and honest police force. Unfortunately, however, the greater our need to strengthen law and order in civil society today, the less likely does the police appear to be able or willing to fulfill this requirement.
Part of the problem, of course, is historical in nature. The police force we inherited was trained to protect the imperialist state. Consequently, its basic purpose was to rule rather than serve the people. After independence, this perversion should have been corrected. But this has unfortunately not materialised because we failed to establish a democratic order in which people are sovereign and the state is subservient and accountable to them. Because every government, civil or military, has relied on the police to help it cling to power, the police has imbibed an authoritarian ethos more readily and obviously than other institutions. In consequence, it has been heartless and excessive in the exercise of its power.
We hold the CMs accountable for the despicable actions of their administrative subordinates. If their governments were truly popular and well meaning, their police forces would not be ruthless, mercenary or trigger happy.
(TFT July 26-August 1 , 1990, Vol-II, No:20 Editorial)
Mullahs on warpath
Dangerous fundamentalists are determined to scuttle the republic and drag us back into the dark ages. The latest attempt to block our entry into the 21st century is marked by screaming allegations of blasphemy and constitutional violations by the prime minister simply because she says she doesn’t approve of amputating limbs as punishment for criminal acts. Although the charges may appear farcical, we are forced to comment on them not so much because they lack substance but because they may shed valuable light on the deep crisis ahead.
Take the issue of blasphemy. Is it blasphemous to oppose man-made laws, especially those enacted by a despised military dictator and unequivocally opposed by the Federal Shariat Court? The PM, fortunately, is not alone in opposing the Hudood Ordinances. All the significant jurists in this country, most political parties, NGOs, women’s organisations, Human Rights groups and an overwhelming majority of legislators have recorded their adhorrence of these laws. Thankfully, too, a vast majority of adult Pakistanis have made their views known by consistently rejecting the mullahs at the polls.
Or examine the charge that any criticism of existing laws is a violation of the constitution. Isn’t it wildly ironic that in one breath the mullahs are rabidly critical of the constitution and want to maul it by imposing the Shariat Bill, while in another gasp they shriek about a democratically elected Prime Minister airing her views about a most contemptuous issue? Apparently, fundamental rights and freedom of speech exist only to facilitate the mullahs’ divisive utterances.
That said, it is instructive to note why renewed attempts are being made by obscurantists to whip up such a storm at this particular time. After all, reams of paper have been used to criticise the Hudood Ordinances and there wasn’t a squeak from the mullahs about blasphemy or constitutional violations over the last ten years.
This drama is clearly being enacted to create an appropriate psychological backdrop for the Shariat Bill which comes up for debate early next month in the Assembly. The Bill is dangerously sectarian. Its avowed objective is to overthrow the elected legislators’ exclusive constitutional prerogative to make and pass laws. By all accounts, and naturally so, a majority of parliamentarians of different political shades are opposed to it. The mullahs’ strategy is to whip up hysteria in the press and on the streets so that legislators can be emotionally blackmailed to turn a blind eye to the constitutional aberrations implicit in this bill. Because no politician can afford to be portrayed as ‘unslamic‘ or ‘anti-Shariat’, the mullahs believe that if sufficient pressure can be built up at all levels, they stand a good chance of browbeating Parliament to push through this legislation.
This ‘direct action strategy’ has been unfolding in the past few weeks on several fronts. Press statements, seminars, mosque sermons, lobbying, police instigation and finally street agitation is visibly on the cards. The mullahs will grasp at any opportunity to target the PM and the PPP and push them on the back foot. Gen Zia ul Haq’s barsi on the 17th of August threatens to be a most climactic moment when such sentiments will be expressed forcefully while the Assembly is in session.
Our tragedy is compounded by the fact that many opposition legislators, despite serious reservations about the Shariat Bill, are wilting under this insidious terror. Others in the COP don’t much care about democracy and constitutionality so long as the PPP government is undermined in Islamabad. A few, like Nawabzada Nasrullah, have allowed their personal grouches to obscure their vision and beliefs. And then, of course, there are those like Senator Sami ul Haq, the mover of the bill who has threatened to “blow up the National Assembly if the bill is not passed”.
It is distressing that new divisions within the PPP have erupted precisely when the party needs to close ranks and oppose the Shariat Bill with all its ingenuity. That is why it is all the more urgent that the PM should get off her high horse and rally round the faithful.
(TFT August 2-8, 1990, Vol-II, No:21 Editorial)
Saddled with pressing domestic problems, prime minister Bhutto’s government has paid scant attention to issues relating to Pakistan’s place in the world. The few foreign policy initiatives, such as two trips to the Muslim states and the forthcoming one to Scandinavian countries, have understandably focused on creating a favourable international climate over Kashmir. However, recent developments around Afghanistan offer the government a good opportunity to turn one of Gen Zia’s worst legacies into foreign policy gains.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the two sponsors of the Afghan war, the US and the USSR, are ready for a settlement. Although it is unlikely that an agreement will be announced on August 1 when the US Secretary of State, James Baker, meets Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze in Irkutsk, Siberia, there are indications that the US is willing to deal with Najibullah, thus clearing the last stumbling block in the way of a settlement.
In a recent press briefing in Islamabad, a high-level diplomat admitted that Najibullah had demonstrated staying power and that all parties to the conflict must recognise the “new realities” inside Afghanistan. The recent publicity that Najibullah is enjoying in the American media, including a cover story in Time magazine, seems to be laying the basis for his eventual recognition in the not too distant a future.
At the same time, the US has been putting pressure on the Mujahidin. The US Senate has already reduced annual aid to them from $300 million to $200 million. The international climate is also turning against the Mujahidin as their military ineffectiveness and political disarray becomes apparent, and violence against Western aid agencies becomes uglier.
But the Mujahidin remain the biggest snag in the peace process. Although they have failed to dislodge the Najib govern-ment inspite of unstinting help from Pakistan and the US among other countries, they are implacably opposed to any participation by Najib in future political arrangements. They are also opposed to the current UN sponsored pilot project to repatriate Afghan refugees. In some cases Mujahidin groups such as the Hizb are reported to be actively dissuading, if not preventing, refugees from returning. The Mujahidin claim that conditions inside Afghanistan are not safe enough for the refugees to return. But since repatriation is voluntary, it is up to the refugees to decide what is best for them. In their effort to block the repatriation process the Mujahidin have been joined by the Jammat-i-Islami and, according to a local daily quoting foreign sources, by the ISI.
Resolution of the Afghan crisis, however, is in the deepest interest of the country. In the short run it will relieve the financial and administrative burdens associated with maintaining the refugees and reduce social, political and ethnic tensions which their continued presence poses. In the long run we stand to gain even more.
Settlement of the Afghan issue can lead to closer relations with the Soviet Union at a time when perestroika has opened up new possibilities. The opening up of Soviet Central Asian republics offers the chance to establish a host of economic and cultural ties. Preliminary assessments indicate considerable potential for the expansion of trade and commerce in the region. Friendly relations with our neighbours to the North will also provide a greater sense of security.
Pakistan can play a decisive role in bringing about a political settlement on Afghanistan because of its special relationship with the Mujahidin. They have, after all, been nurtured and supported by us. We can hardly be accused of not having been generous enough, militarily, morally or socially. We are entitled, therefore, to use all the resources at our command to prevent them from scuttling an emerging peace process for narrow, sectarian reasons.
It is equally important to impress upon institutions like the ISI who have been involved with the Mujahidin militarily to accept the changed circumstances and push their allies towards a political settlement. We have little time to lose. The months to come will provide an opportunity to take bold new foreign policy initiatives. If we do not do our homework now, we may be caught napping as the US and the USSR put an end to a war they started 11 years ago.