Pakistan under Benazir Bhutto, 1993-1996

(TFT July 22-28, 1993 Vol-5 No.20 — Editorial)

Three cheers for COAS

On the face of it, Mr Nawaz Sharif seems to be a big loser in the current turn of events. But this may not necessarily be true. Mr Sharif’s victory in 1990 was hollow, many of his ‘achievements’ since then largely illusory, even downright fraudulent. But now, compelled to stand on his own two feet, he is on the verge of becoming a leader in the true sense of the term. Good luck to him.

Mr Ishaq Khan, too, has managed to salvage some sorely needed pride in the dying moments of his Presidency. History is a terrible mistress but Mr Khan’s parting gift to the country of genuinely fair elections may neutralise the error of his ways from August 1990 to April 1993. Good luck to him too.

The real winner, of course, is the Pakistan army. Gen Asif Nawaz won the hearts and minds of Sindhis in 1992 while Gen Abdul Waheed has won ungruding laurels from every Pakistani in 1993.

So, three cheers for Gen Abdul Waheed! Here is a General who could have taken sides. But he didn’t. Indeed, he could have seized power at any time during the crisis and no one would have questioned his compulsions. But he didn’t. Instead, the Chief has brokered a fine “political deal” within the ambit of the constitution.

The people of Pakistan have heaved an enormous sigh of relief with the end of the war between Ishaq Khan and Nawaz Sharif. Yet they remain deeply cynical about the efficacy of elections in the absence of constitutional reform. Of course, there is nothing the caretakers can do about changing the system. But prime minister Moeen Qureshi can, indeed must, make sure that the new government which takes power next October is not crippled by any crisis of legitimacy as in 1990.

On that score, there is room for optimism. For the first time since 1970, we can look forward to fair elections under an impartial administration. Fortunately, Mr Qureshi has no political ambitions. As a matter of fact, he is probably sacrificing his health in the service of his country.

Nor should anyone worry too much about the political leanings of Mr Wasim Sajjad, the acting-President. Mr Sajjad may be a member of the Muslim League but he is a man of integrity and much too seasoned a politician to even think of muddying the waters at this critical juncture. In fact, should a neutral Presidency grow on him, he could prove his bonafide as a consensus candidate next November.

Some of the other caretakers are also said to be conservative men with a ’tilt’ towards the Muslim League. No matter. We would all like to believe that they will acquit themselves honourably.

Nevertheless, Mr Qureshi would be advised to make note of some crucial points in order to facilitate his objectives.

(1)  The Election Commission should be revamped. In particular, the Chief Election Commissioner Mr Justice (Retd) Naeemuddin, who conducted the controversial 1990 polls, should be immediately replaced by a person of stature like Mr Justice (retd) Dorab Patel of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Mr Patel will know exactly how to make the Election Commission effective and impartial.

(2)  If there are no insuperable technical problems, elections to both the national and provincial assemblies should be held on the same day.

(3)  Members of the caretaker cabinets should disclose all their assets and liabilities as well as forfeit right to any public favour or office for the next five years.

(4)  State owned media and the Ministry of Information must be ‘cleansed’ of hard-core political activists or loyalists. Equal time should be given to all the major parties for presentation of manifestos and views.

(5)  All local bodies must be immediately dissolved and their funds should be frozen. The Zakat, Ushr and Baitul Maal committees, long known as dens of corruption and patronage, should be sent packing.

(6)  Provincial administrations should be overhauled. Too many ACs, DCs, Commissioners, DSPs, SPs and IGs are politically tainted.

(7)  Ways to monitor and control electioneering expenses should be seriously explored and implemented.

It is, of course, proper that Prime Minister Moeen Qureshi should devote some of his energies to salvaging the country’s bankrupt economy. But he would be failing in his primary duty to give Pakistan a legitimate new start if his efforts are found to be lacking in establishing a vigourous and fiercely neutral administration.

At any rate, the Pakistan army high command has cut the cloth to suit the situation. It is now up to General Abdul Waheed and his ‘boys’ to make sure that it fits properly. So if the army thinks it has done its job and can afford to relax, it has another thought coming. This is an extraordinary situation. It will require extraordinary efforts to steer the ship of state in the next three months. The army’s neck is on the line. It must make sure that the caretakers are not misled by the guiles of self-seeking ‘advisors’ or loud-mouthed contenders for power.

(TFT July 22-28, 1993 Vol-5 No.20 — Article)

‘Establishment’ Versus Civil Society

Some born-again cheerleaders for democracy say that in recent times Mr Nawaz Sharif had outgrown his “establishment” birth pangs and come to embody the very antithesis of the hated “establishment”. Mr Sharif’s supporters claim that their leader’s revolt against President Ghulam Ishaq Khan and its endorsement by the Supreme Court last May signified a resurgence of “civil society” against the conservative establishment-dominated state. That is why, they argue, the powers of the Presidency under the 8th amendment should have been handed over to Nawaz Sharif so that the anti-people “politics of the establishment” could have been laid to rest forever.

This is a facile, self-serving argument. The reality has been, and remains, quite different. As prime minister, Mr Sharif was no great democrat striving on behalf of “civil society” to stamp out the “establishment”. On the contrary, the former prime minister was involved from Day One in a ruthless power struggle with the former President to seize absolute control of the “establishment”. Far from wanting to subvert or overthrow the “establishment”, Mr Nawaz Sharif was engaged in a bitter struggle to determine who would lead the “establishment” in the next decade.

Ironically enough, though, the fierce power-struggle between the two ‘insider’ contenders for supremacy of the ‘establishment’ has ended up only maligning and weakening the very ‘establishment’ each sought to control. In the process, both Mr Ishaq Khan and Mr Nawaz Sharif have booted each other out and opened the way for the political sovereign in theory — the people — to reassert its will in practise.

If civil society has been allowed some space within which to breathe, it is not because of Mr Nawaz Sharif’s democratic credentials as opposed to those of Mr Ishaq Khan. It is because of Mr Sharif’s vaulting ambitions to be a bigger autocrat of the ‘establishment’ than Mr Ishaq Khan.

What remains to be seen is only this: Is the reassertion of civil society (predicated on the fratricidal conflict within the ‘establishment’ and based on the presumption of the first genuinely free elections since 1970 promised for next October) a permanent or temporary gain for democracy.

Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Mr Nawaz Sharif go back together a long way in the “establishment”. They both served in the 1980s as right-hand men to a military dictator by the name of Gen Zia ul Haq, the former as Finance Minister and then Chairman Senate at the federal level and the latter as Finance Minister and then Chief Minister at the Punjab provincial level.

After Gen Zia ul Haq’s unexpected demise in 1988, as Gen Aslam Beg duly informed us in a controversial interview to the press (which became the subject of lively hearings before the Supreme Court last March), both ‘establishment’ partners tried to conspire towards the restoration of the national assembly of Mohammad Khan Junejo by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. They did so because they feared that Benazir Bhutto, an anti-establishment “outsider”, could not be stopped from sweeping into office in the elections scheduled for 1988.

Their joint conspiracy in 1988 failed for two reasons. (1) In the absence of an establishment Prime Minister following Gen Zia’s demise, the ‘establishment’ was temporarily without the services of a countervailing third player in its ruling troika. So the “establishment” branch led by President Ghulam Ishaq was obliged to demur to the views of the establishment branch led by Gen Aslam Beg. Gen Beg says he insisted that the elections should go ahead as promised. (2) Zia was gone. The cold war was coming to an end. The Russians had retreated from Afghanistan. The Americans were now keen on giving Benazir Bhutto a chance to serve in office. This pressure could not be ignored by the pro-US establishment in Islamabad.

This point was suitably made by Mr Mushahid Hussain, Mr Sharif’s Special Assistant until recently, in a penetrating article which he wrote for The Nation of April 11, 1993, titled “Pakistan’s Establishment: a profile”. Wrote Mr Mushahid Hussain: “It was at American prodding that the establishment eased off its resistance to Benazir Bhutto and helped her assume office in a somewhat smooth and stable manner”. The Americans, as Mr Mushahid Hussain notes, “virtually defined the world view of this Pakistani establishment” and could not be ignored.

But the establishment was only prepared to allow Ms Bhutto the niceties of office and not power in 1988. The distinction between office and power was also noted by Mr Mushahid Hussain: “Holding office and having power are two different things…the nature of the role performed by individuals entitles them to a position in the establishment, irrespective of the fact whether they are in government or out of it…[the PPP’s] Aitzaz Ahsan, even when he was Interior Minister was not part of the establishment while Sharifuddin Peerzada, even though not in government, is very much part of the establishment…[Benazir Bhutto’s] DG-ISI Lt Gen (retd) Shamsur Rahman Kallue remained an ‘outsider’ [while] Lt Gen (retd) Sahabzada Yaqub Khan, even out of government, is part of the Establishment”.

In other words, Ms Bhutto, an anti-establishment outsider who became prime minister, was effectively deprived of political power by the establishment from 1988 to 1990. Indeed, her government was actually destabilized by the establishment as represented by President Ishaq and Gen Beg at the centre and Chief Minister Nawaz Sharif in the Punjab and MQM chief Altaf Hussain in Sindh. This point was not lost in Mr Mushahid Hussain’s profile of the Pakistani establishment: “There is also an ethnic dimension to the question of establishment ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’… The Pakistan establishment has largely been a united bloc comprising Punjabi, Pushtu and Urdu-speakers…whose camaraderie is knit together by geographical contiguity, cultural compatibility, economic integration and representation in the power structure”. Ms Bhutto is a Sindhi (“anti-establishment”) while Mr Khan is a Pushto-speaker, Mr Sharif is a Punjabi, Gen Aslam Beg and Altaf Hussain are Urdu-speakers (“establishment”).

The denouement to Ms Bhutto’s regime came in mid-1990 when Gen Beg actually refused to obey Prime Minister Bhutto’s orders to clean-up Sindh. He said he “would not chase shadows”. The fact that Gen Beg’s argument was patently contrived and mischievous was proved by COAS Gen Asif Nawaz who cleaned-up Sindh in 1992 without recourse to the special powers demanded by Gen Beg in 1990, viz Section 245 of the PPC.

Ms Bhutto’s government was dismissed by President Ishaq in August and her ouster was applauded by Mr Nawaz Sharif. Earlier, as Punjab chief minister, Mr Sharif formally wrote two letters to President Ishaq urging him to use his discretionary powers under section 58-2B of the constitution to boot out Ms Bhutto. The ‘establishment’ had closed its ranks.

Sections of big business (All Pakistan Textile Mills Association and some other business and trade bodies) planted front page advertisements in newspapers calling upon the President to “do his constitutional duty” and get rid of the ‘outsider’. Leading press barons (notably Nawa i Waqt, The Nation, Dawn, etc) published editorials approving Ms Bhutto’s ouster through the President’s 8th amendment powers. As Mr Mushahid Hussain has confirmed: “The establishment is then sustained through such informal organs of influence sharing the establishment’s interests and world view like business barons and media magnates”.

Ms Bhutto’s fate was also sealed by the Supreme Court, another pillar of the establishment as Mr Mushahid Hussain has argued so cogently: “The Pakistan establishment comprises about 500 individuals spread across three key components of the state [which] include members of the higher judiciary , ie the Supreme Court…senior bureaucracy… and Pakistan Armed Forces officers which include all the corps commanders plus their service chiefs as well.”

The unholy establishment alliance between Mr Nawaz Sharif, President Ghulam Ishaq and Gen Aslam Beg then went on to rig the 1990 elections so that Ms Bhutto would not be able to return to office. In their efforts, they were ably assisted by two key figures of the establishment, both former ISI officials Gen Hamid Gul (then corps commander Multan) and Brig (retd) Imtiaz Ahmad (then de facto chief secretary Punjab) who had worked overtime to oust Ms Bhutto earlier.

   The Punjabi-Pushtoon-Mohajir establishment united once again when the question of a new prime minister was raised on the agenda after the 1990 elections. Mr Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, a Sindhi, was ditched in favour of Mr Nawaz Sharif, a Punjabi, who was a business magnate to boot. The establishment’s ethnic preferences noted by Mr Mushahid Hussain were flogged mercilessly.

After Mr Sharif became prime minister in 1990, the establishment troika was complete again. It now decided to further cut Ms Bhutto down to size. Apart from the references against her, she was hounded to death in her own home province of Sindh. For this purpose, the services of Jam Sadiq Ali, a Sindhi ‘outsider’, were bought by the establishment. As Mushahid Hussain explains: ” ‘Outsiders’ are people who may have emerged in politics and were later co-opted by the establishment and promoted with establishment support to key positions of authority…There is one abiding feature of the establishment’s interaction with political forces: no shortage of politicians willing and ever-ready to play its game, whenever required to do so.”

Why wasn’t Benazir Bhutto acceptable to the establishment? Mushahid Hussain notes one feature of this establishment which sheds light on this issue. “The establishment has always failed to determine the popular mood [of the people] as in 1968 [anti-Ayub movement] and 1983 [anti-Zia MRD agitation], or gauge an electoral outcome as in 1970 [anti-feudal, anti-22 family peoples upsurge] or 1988 [anti-dictatorship, popular resurgence of democratic forces]”. Mr Hussain could more profitably have argued that the Pakistani establishment has been by nature conservative, elitist, (“500 people”) and conspiratorial.

Within months of becoming prime minister, however, Mr Nawaz Sharif actually began to believe his own establishment’s propaganda that he had been swept into power on the crest of a popular wave rather than through an establishment conspiracy. This false consciousness of his presumed strengths and merits led to unfortunate consequences for the balance of power within the troika-led establishment.

The first signs of an incipient power-struggle within the establishment-troika came during the Gulf War in 1991. When Gen Beg publicly criticised Mr Sharif’s Gulf policy, the Prime Minister was hugely embarrassed. So Mr Sharif determined to lean on President Ishaq and ease Gen Beg out of uniform, rather than elevate him to the post of Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, as promised, after retirement. Consequently, for a month before Gen Beg retired in August, the government looked shaky and the country was rife with rumours of an impending coup by Gen Beg.

After easing out Gen Beg in August 1991, and mindful of his bitter experience at the army chief’s hands, Mr Sharif straightaway determined to establish an upper hand over Gen Asif Nawaz, the new army chief and establishment-partner appointed by President Ishaq. But this was easier said than done. In January 1992, Gen Asif Nawaz summararily relieved Gen Hamid Gul from his Corps command at Multan and transferred him to a management position at Wah. As a close confidant of the prime minister, Gen Gul appealed to Mr Sharif to persuade Gen Asif Nawaz to revise his orders. Gen Nawaz’s refusal to do so added fuel to the simmering fire between the two establishment competitors.

More bad blood between the two of them was to flow. When Gen Asif Nawaz visited the USA in February, the red carpet was laid out for him by the US Defence and State departments. Considering that Mr Sharif had been angling for a formal invitation to visit Washington, the Prime Minister wasn’t terribly pleased with the importance given to the COAS by the US government.

In April, the PM hit back. He over-ruled the advice of the COAS and appointed Gen Javed Nasir, who was thoroughly unsuited for the job, as head of the ISI. It was now Gen Asif Nawaz’s turn to lick the dust. Relations between the two members of the troika were strained further when the army was sent in to clean-up Sindh in May. The PM wanted Gen Asif Nawaz to target only Sindhi extremists and leave his political ally, the MQM, alone. But the COAS adopted a bi-partisan position and ended up cleaning-up the MQM. Mr Sharif was understandably peeved.

Then came the worst floods in the country’s history. The army was called in to help strengthen relief work. It did an excellent job, often putting the civilian administration to shame. The PM didn’t like that either. In November, Benazir Bhutto launched her long march to destabilize the government. Convinced that the opposition had been given a secret nod by the army to try and overthrow his regime, the PM responded with all the repressive force available with him.

While the power struggle and bad blood continued between two sections of the establishment-troika — the COAS and the PM — each protagonist turned to the President for support and succor. Consequently, President Ishaq began to emerge as the stronger, countervailing, mediatory force within the establishment.

Then Gen Asif Nawaz died of a sudden heart attack on January 8th. Mr Sharif thought this a propitious moment to redress the balance of power in the troika-establishment in his favour. So he immediately tried to pressurise the President to appoint a General of his own choice as the new COAS. Mr Sharif’s choice was Gen Mohd Ashraf, the Lahore Corps Commander, who was close to him. But the President saw through the PM’s game-plan. He was in no mood to alter the balance of power within the establishment-troika and make Mr Sharif more powerful.

Frustrated, the PM issued a veiled warning to the President that if he didn’t appoint his man, the two of them wouldn’t be able to work together as amiably as in the past. Shocked at the PM’s open attempt to arrogate the leadership of the establishment, the President appointed Gen Abdul Waheed in the hope that the fellow-Pathan officer would remain under his thumb instead of that of the Punjabi prime minister. Neither Mr Sharif nor Mr Khan were interested in offering the job to Gen Asif Nawaz’s natural successor — Chief of General Staff Gen Farrukh Khan — who would have immediately worn the independent mantle of his predecessor with ease.

From then on, it was downhill all the way between the President and the Prime Minister. The establishment was rocked by increasing tensions between its two leading members, the one trying to maintain his ascendent position (President) while the other (PM) was seeking to deprive him of it. Gen Waheed, meanwhile, was taking his time finding his own feet.

In February, the PM tried to do a deal with opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in order to solicit her help to repeal the President’s 8th amendment powers to hire army chiefs and Supreme Court judges and fire governments at will. In the same month, he made his intentions clear: he told the Senate that he intended to repeal sections of the 8th amendment because he wanted to have the same powers as the prime minister of Great Britain, Mr John Major. The PM’s cabinet colleagues also hinted that they wouldn’t support Mr Ishaq Khan for another term as President in October.

By March, the battle lines within the establishment twosome were fairly drawn. On one side stood President Ishaq, with a section of the senior federal bureaucracy and the old Muslim League behind him. On the other were arrayed the forces of PM Sharif, backed by sections of the younger bureaucracy and the new Muslim League. Business interests and press barons who stood to benefit from Mr Sharif’s patronage also lined up solidly behind the PM. However, the army high command, hitherto the decisive force within the troika, decided to stay aloof from the intra-establishment power struggle and Gen Waheed studiously adopted a position of “neutrality”. Why did he do that?

There are several reasons for this stance. First, throughout his career, Gen Waheed had confined himself to military matters exclusively. As a scrupulously honest and professional officer, he showed a total lack of interest in, and knowledge of, matters political. In fact, it was argued that the COAS had a total abhorrence of politics. He was contemplating retirement and endless rounds of golf and shikar when he was catapulted into the top slot suddenly. So he was totally unprepared and mentally ill-equipped to play the political role earmarked historically for the COAS within the establishment-troika.

Second, Gen Waheed was put on the defensive straightaway by the political tacticians of the prime minister. A whispering campaign was launched by certain quarters to sow the seeds of ethnic distrust and rivalry in the high command of the army. It was propagated that the President had bypassed several senior Punjabi Generals and selected Gen Waheed primarily because the latter was a fellow Pushtoon. “He is the President’s man”, said the Punjabi rumour mongers, “the Pushtoon-grid wants to run the country”. Unaware of the treacherous wiles of power-hungry politicians, Gen Waheed’s knee-jerk reaction was perfectly understandable: he extended the service by one year of two senior generals who had been bypassed by the President, Gen Farrukh Khan and Gen Arif Bangash.

Third, stung by rumours that he was merely the “President’s man” or “not sufficiently his own man”, Gen Waheed took concrete steps to establish his own identity quickly. He ordered changes and transfers in the high command so that he would not have to walk “in the shadow of Gen Asif Nawaz”. He also assiduously chalked out a position of “political neutrality” for himself in the struggle within the establishment between the President and the PM. When the President dismissed the Nawaz Sharif government in April 1993, Gen Waheed was quick to stress his “neutrality”. “We follow the constitution and will abide by the Supreme Court’s decision”, the COAS reiterated on several occasions. Later, he fired the ISI-DG, Gen Javed Nasir, and ‘balanced’ it by ousting former ISI-DG, Gen Asad Durrani, because both Generals were seen to have acquired an undesirable profile on each side of the political divide.

Gen Waheed’s “neutrality” forced each establishment-protagonist — the President and the PM — to try and woo the popular forces of the opposition, in particular those of Benazir Bhutto, in order to tilt the balance in their favour. Mr Sharif also launched a media blitz to paint himself in populist colours.

By April, the conflict between the two for the leadership of the establishment power-base had come to a head. Each warrior eyed the other warily and waited for Benazir Bhutto to show her hand. The President remained reluctant to dissolve the national assembly because he feared that the anti-establishment Bhutto might eventually emerge as the final winner in a new round of elections. He continued to hope that Mr Sharif might be pressurised to step aside in favour of some other establishment man like Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi. Likewise, Mr Sharif flirted with her without going so far as to offer any real reconciliation or power-sharing.

On April 17th, the PM took a calculated risk: conscious of the fact that he had done sufficient populist spadework (propaganda relating to flood relief, land distribution, development projects and crime alleviation) to merit a favourable response from sections of the public and strengthened by the knowledge that business, trade and press interests were solidly in his pocket, Mr Sharif attacked the President on television in a speech studded with populist rhetoric, bravado and false anti-establishment sentiment.

On April 18th, after Ms Bhutto lent her support to the President, Mr Ishaq Khan was, against his better judgement, pushed into dissolving the national assembly. Mr Sharif was sent packing by his erstwhile establishment partner, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan.

From then on, everything that the President did went wrong and everyone that Mr Sharif touched was transformed into gold. The President had reckoned on a number of factors to yield dividends. When they didn’t, his position became increasingly tenuous. First, he was under the impression that his moral authority stood on the same high ground as in 1990 when he had dismissed Benazir Bhutto. In this he was mistaken. His moral high posture had begun to erode shortly after August 1990. The caretaker cabinet headed by Mr Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi was blatantly partisan; the references against Ms Bhutto were visibly trumped-up; the imprisonment of Asif Zardari was patently vindictive; the 1990 elections were hugely rigged; the appointment of Jam Sadiq as Sindh chief minister was viciously unjust; the defence of his son-in-law Irfanullah Marwat was blindly immoral; and the protection of a proclaimed terrorist like Altaf Hussain was clearly inexplicable.

Second, unlike as in 1990, the President’s motives for dismissing parliament and government had become questionable in the public eye in 1993. People had begun to suspect that the President was interested in running for another term in November. The impression gained currency at the behest of Mr Sharif that he had dismissed the PM simply because Mr Sharif was not prepared to support his bid for another term. Consequently, the President’s litany of charges against Mr Sharif failed to make an impact. Yet, at no time did the President make any effort to publicly deny that he wasn’t a candidate for another term.

Third, unlike the PM’s forceful speech on the 17th of April, the President’s speech on April 18th was largely viewed as ill-prepared and badly delivered. The PM pitched himself as a firm defender of constitutional democracy while the President painted himself as a stumbling, confused, tired and hapless man conspiring vainly against democracy.

Fourth, the President made a fatal error in thinking he could have his cake and eat it too by getting rid of Nawaz Sharif without allowing Benazir Bhutto to come back to power. Even as Mr Sharif was painting himself as a martyr and rousing crowds, the President dragged on his negotiations to appoint a caretaker cabinet and did not allow Benazir Bhutto to play a forceful role in stemming the Sharif tide. In the event, when an unseemly large caretaker cabinet was finally completed, it lacked credibility and couldn’t function cohesively at all. Its members didn’t trust one another and pulled in different directions. Bhutto continued to criticise the President for not dissolving the provincial assemblies while the President continued to pull strings to thwart her from sweeping the scheduled elections.

Fifth, the President had hoped that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and his colleagues would back him to the hilt as in 1990 since, as head of the establishment, he had appointed them to their positions. In this he was grossly mistaken. The judges saw the ground rapidly slipping from under the President’s feet. They believed correctly that Gen Abdul Waheed wouldn’t lean on them as Gen Beg had done in 1988 or 1990. They appraised the sheen on Nawaz Sharif and found it compelling. They discerned the rust on Ishaq Khan and found it contemptuous. Here was the perfect moment in history when everything and everyone was conducive to a “historic” judgement before the galleries. The judiciary clearly decided it was time for a change in the leadership of the establishment. They turned their backs on the fading President and bowed before Mr Sharif as the rising star of the establishment. As Mushahid Hussain noted: “Such an intra-establishment conflict would have been quite unprecedented as is the case with the recent public tussle between the President and the Prime Minister…However, once a person retires from his position or is seen to be on the way out, an ‘insider’ [like President Ishaq] is quickly transformed into an ‘outsider’.

Once back in power in May, however, the establishment-insider Nawaz Sharif made two significant errors which forced the third establishment member ― the COAS — to sit up and take serious notice for the first time. Mr Sharif made the mistake of trying to seize the Punjab government by fraudulent means. The secretary of the assembly was kidnapped by Sharif henchmen and the Lahore High Court was leaned upon to give a favourable verdict. This episode brought the senior judiciary into serious disrepute, thereby hurting the establishment’s public image. When the LHC decision failed to deliver the goods, Mr Sharif went one illegal step further. He rammed a resolution through parliament and issued a fraudulent Proclamation taking over the province. That’s when the army chief decided to step in and stop the fratricidal conflict which was hurting the establishment.

In the end, as we all know, the army forced both establishment members to quit. The only way out was to hold new elections.

In the process of this inter-establishment power struggle for supremacy, however, the troika-establishment has been crippled and sapped of its unity and strength. In consequence, an apolitical and unambitious army chief has become the fountainhead of this weakened establishment.

But the establishment will never again be the same. Nawaz Sharif has acquired populist hues while Benazir Bhutto has got a foothold in the establishment by cooperating with the army chief over the cancellation of the long march. In other words, Benazir Bhutto is no longer an unacceptable “outsider” while Nawaz Sharif is no longer an exclusive “insider”. Both politicians realise the necessity of having a toehold in the other’s original constituency — Nawaz Sharif among the masses and Benazir Bhutto within the establishment.

   This is good news for democracy. As it licks its self-inflicted wounds, the ‘establishment’ is no longer monolithic and united. The main contenders for supremacy — Mr Ishaq Khan and Mr Nawaz Sharif — within the establishment have knocked each other out. Nor is Ms Bhutto any longer an undesirable ‘outsider’. Unless she botches up her chances, the old ‘establishment’ is not likely to rear its ugly head again with any degree of force or certainty in the future. Appropriate constitutional reform, with checks and balances on the use of power by the institutions of the state, could spell its death-knell for all times to come. Whether that will come to pass, however, still remains to be seen.

(TFT July 29-August 04, 1993, Vol-5 No.21 Editorial)

Change the rotten status-quo

President Wasim Sajjad and Prime Minister Moeen Qureshi have been as good as their word. Reasonably bipartisan cabinets are in place, the Election Commission seems to be on its toes and administrative reshuffles are in order. Although some people are still cribbing, on the whole the caretakers are moving in the right direction. So far, that is.

   Some crucial decisions, however, remain to be taken. The arguments in support of polling for both assemblies on October 6 are compelling. These should be accepted. The arguments on the necessity of ID cards, however, are more contentious, hence greater deliberations may be in order.

Local Bodies: It is well known how local councils and Zakat/Baitul Maal/Ushr committees have been exploited by self-serving MNAs and MPAs to enhance their economic and political prospects. Many such bodies are controlled by drug-traffickers or infected by rampant corruption. Freezing their funds for the next three months will address the problem of electoral malpractices only partially; it will not stop office-holders from misusing their considerable levers of power and patronage in favour of prospective candidates for the assemblies.

At any rate, everyone knows that these councils and committees were a product of massive rigging or favouritism by sitting provincial governments in 1991. If those very governments have been packed off, there is no justification left for retaining their illegitimate offspring. If the caretakers don’t sweep these local bodies away, their bipartisan efforts will be blotted forever.

Election malpractices: (1) As electoral experts of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, among others, have pointed out, the Presiding Officers are the lynch-pins of the system. If the intentions of even some of them turn out to be dishonourable, the transparency of the whole exercise can be jeopardised.

   One way to ensure that Presiding Officers are not tempted to leap beyond the call of duty is to post them away from their home districts. But, apart from being expensive and cumbersome, such an exercise is by no means foolproof. Far better that the armed forces should lend the services of their officers for one day — October 6 — to countersign election results announced by Presiding Officers in the presence of each party’s representative at polling stations across the country.

The army has cobbled together this present dispensation. Its image will be tarnished if the election is tainted with complaints on the day of polling. It shouldn’t shirk its duty by arguing that it cannot ‘spare’ its officers even for a single day.

(2)  Everyone suspects that electoral rolls were seriously manipulated in 1990, especially in a number of ‘sensitive’ constituencies belonging to leaders of certain parties. As a matter of fact, evidence is available that thousands of ‘voters’ were fraudulently registered in a number of constituencies belonging to stalwarts of the caretaker governments in 1990 (as, for example, in the constituencies of the Mian brothers of Lahore and the Chaudhry cousins of Gujrat). These malpractices were subsequently strengthened in the 30 months the IJI was in power.

The Election Commission should not leave any stone unturned to rectify these lapses of authority, in particular where the seats belong to ‘leaders’ of various parties. All we need for the elections to turn sour is for some ‘leaders’ to later shriek that they were denied the fruits of victory because the Commission was ‘biased’ in favour of other ‘leaders’.

(3)  While the Commission is scrutinising electoral rolls, it might also redouble its efforts to delete the votes of those who have died or permanently moved to some new abode. This is a large chunk of the vote-bank (about 20%) which, if misused as in the past, could once again make the difference between defeat or victory for a candidate.

Ministry of Information: The caretakers have made a fair start by focussing on a few notorious Nawaz Sharif loyalists in this ministry. But that’s just for hors d’oeuvres. Such people are in every nook and corner of the state-owned media. Apart from Khabarnama, those pro-Sharif loyalists who have crept into the woodwork in other news-comment oriented PTV and radio programmes must also be flushed out. PTV in particular is especially vulnerable to the machinations of such people. If they are able to plant their biases even subconsciously, they could seriously impair the credibility of the caretaker regime.

In due course, as election campaigning takes off in earnest, it is inevitable that allegations will fly thick and fast. In particular, if one major party is able to put up a better show at the hustings than the other, subtle pressure could conceivably be brought to bear on the caretakers to somehow ‘balance’ the equation. The temptation to do this must be fiercely resisted.

The job of the caretakers is to allow the people of Pakistan to freely chose their new leaders. If Mr Moeen Qureshi doesn’t want to end up being presented with a garland of thorns, he would be advised to stick to one rule of thumb: when in doubt, change the rotten status quo!

(TFT August 05-11, 1993, Vol-5, No:22 — Editorial)

Mr Memon’s burden

Mr Nisar Memon is a competent, decent, upright fellow who has been lumped with a portfolio we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemies. The Information Ministry is a veritable bed of thorns. By and large, it is inhabited by the scum of earlier rogue regimes. At any rate, it has no right to exist in a democratic country.

However, to expect the good Mr Memon to abolish his Ministry with one stroke of his Big Blue pen would be unrealistic. Mr Memon could always argue that he doesn’t have the mandate for that. Fair enough. But Mr Memon should know that he will feel the heat if he doesn’t come up with some sorely needed initiatives to clean-up this vast den of conspiracies. A quick check-list is therefore in order.

(1)  PTV and PBC are choked with corrupt and ‘sifarshi’ party-political loyalists. These scoundrels are easily identifiable. If they’re allowed to cling to their seats, sooner or later (as the electoral campaign kicks up dust and sensitivities begin to get frayed over state-owned media coverage) they will do irreparable harm to Mr Memon’s credibility and, by extension, to prime minister Moeen Qureshi’s avowed neutrality.

   Mr Memon should therefore pick up a broom and sweep these people aside. He might also advise Mr Qureshi that lugging around the former prime minister’s controversial cabinet, press and military secretaries is creating ill-will in independent circles. Surely, Mr Qureshi should know better.

   (2)    Apart from the Intelligence Bureau, a number of ‘journalists’ are, or have been, on the Information Ministry’s payroll, plotting and planting their sordid little conspiracies on an unsuspecting public. These rascals have done incalculable harm to the credentials of the press. Mr Memon should tell us who they are so that we can deal with them appropriately. The public would also welcome a list of all those newspaper groups or agencies which were gifted with large sums of money by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif from the Baitul Maal or “discretionary fund”.

(3)  The Press and Information Department is rotten to its bones. Hundreds of ‘dummy’ periodicals are handed out government advertisements worth millions of rupees. A few all-time newspaper favourites hog the ads while deserving independent ones are blithely ignored. Mr Memon should address this blatant discrimination. He should also bar the ‘dummies’ from the precincts of the PID.

(4)  The Information Ministry also controls the duty-free newsprint ‘quota’ for newspapers. This system is grossly iniquitous because it is biased in favour of papers which toe the sitting government’s line. It is also a source of illegal profits from paper blackmarketing. Scrapped when Ms Bhutto was in power, the system was re-introduced by Mr Sharif as a lever to bribe the press. It must go.

   (5)    The odious Press and Publications Ordinance of 1963 (PPO), which had shackled the press for over 25 years, was abolished by the caretaker government in 1988. Mr Elahi Bux Soomro, who was then the Information Minister, won praise by promulgating an Ordinance (RPPPO) repealing the 1963-PPO and setting out freer terms of press conduct. Mr Soomro’s 1988-RPPPO was extended several times by the Benazir Bhutto government. Regrettably, however, it was never laid before parliament so that it could become an irreversible act of law. For obvious reasons, Mr Nawaz Sharif allowed it to lapse during his tenure. So, in its absence, we are once again stuck with the obnoxious 1963-PPO. Mr Memon should take a leaf from fellow caretaker Soomro’s book and promulgate the 1988-RPPPO once again. If he does that, the press will regard his gesture with affection and gratitude long after Mr Memon has departed from Islamabad.

(6)  While Mr Memon is mulling over reinstating the 1988-RPPPO, he might also take a quick look at the disgusting West Pakistan Publication of Books Ordinance, 1969 (WPPOB). This Ordinance seeks to censor books before they are published. It is another unsavoury legacy of a martial law regime. It must also be rubbished. At any rate, some of its dubious purposes are more than adequately covered by the 1988-RPPPO.

Mr Memon may not realise it but the fact remains that he is sitting on top of an ugly volcano. The Information Ministry is the lynchpin on which the goodwill for prime minister Moeen Qureshi’s government revolves. Every day, millions of Pakistanis turn to PTV and PBC for confirmation of the caretaker government’s “neutrality” and “competence”. Every day they scour the waves for sounds and sights of Mr Qureshi’s “partiality”. Who’s producing or directing the Khabarnama? Who’s compering news-oriented programmes? Has Benazir Bhutto got more or less coverage than Nawaz Sharif? Did the camera pan Mr Sharif’s rally longer than Ms Bhutto’s? Why are the mullahs and other two-bit political parties getting so much TV attention? Why must viewers be forced to stomach the sight of dull politicians lining up obsequiously before the President, Prime Minister, Governors and Chief Ministers? And so on.

Mr Nisar Memon should get his act together quickly. Or he will rue the day he decided to join Mr Moeen Qureshi’s caretaker government as Information Minister.

(TFT August 12-18, 1993 Vol-5 No.23 — Editorial)

Discretion Vs Justice

According to documentary evidence, Chief Justice Justice Nasim Hasan Shah applied for a 1000 sq yard plot in Karachi from the then Chief Minister of Sindh, Syed Ghaus Ali Shah, on 17th December, 1986. In his application Justice Shah wrote: “You are aware that the Supreme Court goes to Karachi for its Circuit Sittings several times in a year. I am therefore desirous of having my own house there so that I might live in my own place during the Sittings of the Court at Karachi as also during my private visits there. I would therefore feel obliged if you could kindly allot a suitable plot of land in my favour for this purpose of at least 1000 yards, out of the Judges Quota.”

   Accordingly, on 20th December, Mr Ghaus Ali Shah was pleased to sanction a 600 sq yard plot in Gullistan-e-Johar, KDA Scheme 36, Karachi, to Justice Shah at “a reserved price of Rs 250 per sq yard, in relaxation of rules under Clause 15 of the Sind Disposal of Plots Ordinance 1980”. The total price of the plot (Rs 150,000.00) was to be paid in four installments of Rs 37500.00 each.

Justice Shah submitted an affidavit confirming that “Neither I nor my wife nor any dependents own or owned, at the time of application, any residential plot/house/flat in Karachi or in any other District/Town of the Province of Sind”.

Under clause 7 of the relevant law, “no person shall be eligible to apply for a residential plot under section 5, if he or any of his dependents owns a residential plot, flat or house in any District Headquarter town in Pakistan”.

Since Justice Shah must have owned a plot or house of his own elsewhere in the country, Chief Minister Ghaus Ali Shah therefore found it “expedient” to “relax” the rules in Justice Shah’s case under Clause 15 of the Ordinance.

In the event, Justice Shah did not build a house in Karachi on this plot for his own use as he had claimed he would in his application. Instead, after having cleared his installments, he sold the plot for the princely sum of Rs 525,000/ on 20th August 1992 to a certain Mrs Mariam Qadir.

Legal experts, however, say that neither Justice Nasim Hasan Shah nor former CM Ghaus Ali Shah have breached the law. The law allows chief ministers and prime ministers an undefined degree of “discretion” in such matters, we are informed.

If this is so, we wonder what laws other chief ministers and prime ministers have broken by doling out plots, “in relaxation of the rules”, to hundreds of bureaucrats, judges, army officers, politicians, journalists and other professionals, in similar extenuating and “expedient” circumstances. Most of these plots were, needless to say, given out of the CM’s or PM’s “discretionary quotas”.

Nevertheless, Justice Abdul Majid Tiwana of the Lahore High Court has taken “suo moto” notice of the sordid “politics of plots”. The good judge has demanded details of such transactions since 1985. The judge says that “the court would treat all PMs and CMs at par. None will be able to escape accountability for his or her illegal acts”.

   More ominously, Justice Tiwana is threatening to examine the accounts of the Bailtul Maal which has been exploited by politicians to shower favours on party favourites. He also intends to scrutinize details of the billions of rupees in bank loans “written off” at the behest of unscrupulous politicians. Justice Tiwana says he wants “to complete judicial investigation in these matters as soon as possible so that an impression is not created that the court is trying to impede the election process”.

No one can deny that this is all for a good cause. It is indeed about time that some sort of serious accountability took place. Our rulers have been recklessly squandering national resources as though these belonged to them as fiefdom rights. But a number of issues need to be raised if such accountability is to be credible. Also, we would require assurances that in no way will this process derail the general elections scheduled for next October.

As far as the question of “plots” is concerned, it is actually a fairly straightforward matter. Either the chief ministers and prime ministers involved were within their legal “discretionary” rights in or they were not. It is therefore up to the LHC to determine the question of what constitutes “discretion”. Once that is done, wholesale decisions can be enforced.

But it appears that Justice Tiwana intends to examine the bonafides of each allotment separately. If so, then he must be planning to spend the rest of his tenure perusing thousands of such cases. Clearly, that is not on. Is he then going to condone some groups of allottees (like his fellow judges) and focus only on certain others? If so, he should be reminded that the public certainly doesn’t think that judges are above the pale of the law. Is he going to penalize some former CMs and PMs while sparing others? If so, the public simply won’t stand for it. Is he going to target only politicians with a view to excluding them from the electoral process while sidetracking the cases of his fellow state functionaries who should be fired from service if they have misrepresented the facts? If so, he should think again.

   The matter of the “written-off loans” and disbursements from the Bailtul Maal and other financial institutions is also likely to come a cropper if an improper or discriminate strategy is followed by the courts. Presumably, every CM and PM was advised by the Law Ministry before patronage was extended. Is the good judge now going to examine the merits of the arguments noted in every file explaining the economic justification for writing off a given loan? Or is he going to concentrate on a few big fish and allow thousands of others who may be equally culpable to go scot free?

The fact of the matter is that thousands of politicians, bureaucrats, judges, mullahs, journalists — in short, every section of the ruling and propertied classes — have absconded with the loot on an unprecedented scale. None of these scoundrels must be allowed to get away with their plunder. In pursuance of the public’s demand, we would like to take a leaf from Nawaz Sharif’s book and recommended a simple way to recover our national wealth.

From 1985 to 1988, Mr Sharif dished out crores of rupees to cronies from his CM’s “discretionary” fund. Under law, however, he was not allowed to do this: the maximum limit of his “discretionary” fund was Rs 200,000/ per year. So Mr Sharif came up with a novel solution. Just before the 1988 elections, he passed an act of parliament in the Punjab Assembly which made his “indiscretions” since 1985 retroactively legal. The new law absolved him of the illegalities he had committed in the use of the discretionary fund since 1985.

That is exactly what PM Moeen Qureshi should do, except that he should do it the other way round. The caretaker government should pass an Ordinance making all “discretionary” grants of land and plots by all CMs and PMs since 1985 illegal, except those for which some concrete justifications can be laid down in the Ordinance.

Once such an Ordinance is promulgated, Justice Tiwana’s headaches will be over. The judge can take a quick look and declare a majority of grants illegal. The state would then be entitled to recover the plots. Where such plots have already been sold off, the state can determine their market value at the time of the sale and recover the amount due from the original beneficiaries of the plots. Where the beneficiaries have already built houses on these plots, the state can threaten to auction the houses if the outstanding dues are not cleared. At any rate, a good lawyer should be able to draft an Ordinance which resolves all such procedural details fairly.

   The same sort of strategy should be followed in the matter of “written-off” or “outstanding” loans from DFIs. Surely, if there’s a will to enforce accountability, a way can easily be found. And if some future government should have the audacity to refuse to extend the Ordinances or drag its feet over making them Acts of Parliament, it will have to face the wrath of the people and the press.

   While we are on the subject of accountability, we might also ask why the Election Commission has not insisted that every electoral candidate should furnish a detailed and audited statement of his or her wealth, including that of their immediate dependents. Given the overemployment in the Central Board of Revenue, such statements can be verified in a matter of days. Apart from the threat of disqualification, this measure will surely unearth many rascals who have escaped the tax net thus far. We might also suggest that the services of an international firm of auditors be hired to help the CBR thoroughly scrutinize the income-tax returns of every electoral candidate.

Enough is enough, we say. We demand that Ordinances be passed to help government recover the nation’s wealth from the crooks who’ve milked the country dry. Or, failing that, perhaps Justice Abdul Majid Tiwana can take a leaf from Justice Nasim Hasan’s “historic” judgement last May and redefine the meaning of the term “discretionary powers”.

(TFT August 19-25, 1993 Vol-5 No.24 — Editorial)

Playing with fire

Warring politicians have yet again brought us to the brink of anarchy. The Supreme Court’s judgement has only made matters worse. Its central assumption — that there was no constitutional deadlock because the President and the PM could work together reasonably well — has been belied by subsequent events.

The primary responsibility for precipitation new crises must rest squarely with Mr Nawaz Sharif, if only because he has had the most to win or lose. After becoming PM again, Mr Sharif ought to have shown statesmanship and taken two steps to diffuse hostilities. First, he should have driven straight to the Presidency and offered to forgive and forget, live and let live. President Ishaq, who was badly mauled by the Supreme Court, would have been put on the defensive and his moral authority further eroded by the magnanimity of a victorious, younger man. It would have been difficult for him to do anything other than fade into retirement.

   Second, Mr Sharif should have offered the olive branch to mr Manzoor Wattoo and allayed the latter’s fears of retribution. Within a couple of weeks, Mr Wattoo would have seen the writing on the wall occasioned by an isolated President in retreat, he would then have fallen into Mr Sharif’s lap like a ripe plum. And, at the end of the day, obeisant ally than Mr Pervez Elahi in the Punjab.

Instead, Mr Sharif instantly trained his guns at the Presidency, forcing Mr Ishaq Khan to jump back into the trenches and stiffen his resistance. Likewise, the hasty attempt to unseat Mr Wattoo forced the CM to burn his boats and jump into the PPP’s camp.

One thing has led to another, with Mr Sharif going downhill all the way and taking the country with him. The kidnapping of the Punjab assembly secretary by Mr Sharif’s cohorts resulted in the first dissolution of the provincial assembly; the “lotas” at the Marriott in Islamabad provided the pretext for the second dissolution. On desperation, Mr Sharif blundered into bulldozing a resolution in parliament, followed by a fraudulent Proclamation, in an attempt to take over the Punjab. When it seemed like backfiring, he sent in the Rangers to seize power in Lahore.

But this, Mr Sharif’s latest attempt at a coup d’etat, has severely strained the Pakistan army’s patience and neutrality. Fearing bloodshed, the army has rightly questioned the PM’s illegal orders, forcing him to seek due process of law.

Mr Sharif, however, remains unrepentant. Having antagonised the President, the leaders of the opposition and sections of his own Muslim League and IJI, he now seems determined to alienate army chief General Waheed. a vicious disinformation campaign against the COAS by a select group of loyal journalists is being fueled by the PM’s media managers. One perverted columnist in an Urdu daily which blindly supports the PM has gone so far as to write that if the institution of the state continue to be eroded, “history will judge the heirs of Abdul Ghaffar Khan as standing with the saviours of this country and the heirs of Abdur Rab Nishtar with those who would destroy Pakistan”. so, accolades for Wali Khan and slander for Gen Waheed.

The object of this scurrilous exercise is obvious enough. It is to put the army chief on the spot. In this manner, the PM is hoping to buy time and obtain a favourable decision from the courts in order to take control of the Punjab.

While the COAS may indeed be pushed to the back foot for the moment, his resentment at being unfairly charged is bound to simmer. This is how they antagonised Gen Asif Nawaz and the same treatment is being meted out to Gen Waheed. With such allegations do they sow the seeds of discord in Pakistan’s most important institution and seek to bend it to suit their irresponsible will. But this strategy cuts both ways. Should there be further civil strife, there is no knowing what the army will do and which way it will go.

And such a situation could easily develop in the days ahead. The opposition is gearing up to launch a long march on Islamabad. This time it will be a very different affair from the one last November. This time the governments of Punjab and the NWFP will support the marchers. This time the marchers will get to Islamabad in their hundreds of thousands. What will happen then? Will the federal government order the paramilitary fores to mow the demonstrators down? Will the COAS stand by and watch a massacre taking place?

Mr Nawaz Sharif is playing with fire. He would be advised to give up his ambitions for being Prime Minister, President, COAS and Chief Justice all rolled into one. A consensus now exists across the provinces and the institutions of the state that free and fair elections are needed to break the logjam. If Nawaz Sharif refuses to respond to the call of the times, he will be responsible for the fatal consequences which follow.

(TFT August 26-01 September, 1993 Vol-5 No.25 — Editorial)

Hip Hip Hooray!

When Mr Moeen Qureshi took charge as prime minister last month, the economy was in a royal mess, thanks in particular to Mian Nawaz Sharif’s cavalier management methods and pet-patronage-projects over the past 30 months. The fiscal deficit was running at over 10 per cent of GNP, the growth rate of the economy had fallen from over 6% to 3% (the lowest in three decades), foreign exchange reserves were down to less than two weeks’ import bill ($300 million) and debt payments at a whalloping Rs 40 billion a year were 33% of budgetary revenues. More alarmingly, the government was on the verge of defaulting on its foreign debt because donors had refused to infuse fresh credits or grants into the economy.

Now Mr Qureshi has launched a socio-economic package which promises to usher in a small revolution if it is successfully implemented. Doubting Thomases and self-righteous cynics aside, there is no reason to disbelieve Mr Qureshi’s noble intentions. He is aiming to squeeze desperately needed revenues out of chronic tax evaders and to bar scores of grubby politicians from contesting the next elections. Who can honestly disagree with this agenda?

Ironically, though, the most sweeping economic measure is a small tax on agricultural incomes and wealth on farms above 60 acres (only 1.5% of the total number of farms). This is expected to yield Rs 10 billion ($350 million) every year on the heroic assumption that there will be no leakages. A piddling sum, true, even if it works, but a revolutionary step all the same — since independence in 1947, the powerful feudal lobbies which have dominated every civil or military government in the country have fiercely resisted any form of tax on their wealth. A small step for man, a giant leap for mankind.

Mr Qureshi is also targeting other rich people who don’t pay their dues. All rural and urban properties will be re-assessed at current market prices so that wealth taxes reflect the true worth of assets rather than values established over two decades ago. Although Pakistan nourishes a sprawling underground economy estimated at about Rs750 billion (only 0.1 % of all Pakistanis pay any tax at all and about Rs 100 billion are evaded every year), no one has ever gone to prison for evading taxes. No more, says Mr Qureshi, who is threatening to bung tax dodgers into the clink.

On the political front, equally far reaching reforms are afoot. Stringent laws to bar crooks from contesting the next elections have been announced. This category includes those who have defaulted on bank loans or used political clout to have their loans written off. Tax evaders and drug traffickers are also on the hit list, with the death penalty now prescribed for drug pedlars.

According to reports, about 300 former members of the national and provincial assemblies, mostly feudal politicians, owe about Rs 23 billion to various state-owned financial institutions. Many among these gentlemen have defaulted on payments. In addition, about Rs 10 billion in debt is said to have been written off in the past decade. On this basis, scores of current electoral candidates, especially from the two main political parties — the PPP and the PML — face disqualification next month.

There’s more to come. Mr Qureshi is now framing rules to ensure that future prime ministers or provincial chief ministers do not misuse their discretionary powers to grant thousands of plots of state owned urban land worth billions at a fraction of market prices to political cronies and favourites as they have done in the past. The worst offenders on this count have been Mr Sharif and his henchman Mr Wyne, although Mr Junejo, Ms Bhutto, Mr Jatoi, Jam Sadiq Ali and Mr Muzaffar Shah have vied equally for such dubious honours. Justice Tiwana of the Lahore High Court is taking a damned good look at all such allotments since 1985 and we expect he will do his duty by his country and force hundreds of undeserving recipients to return the plots back to the state.

Corrupt civil servants and police officers are also in the firing line. A commission under Justice (retd) Samdani, whose reputation for no-nonsense precedes him, has been established to weed them out in the next six weeks. Hundreds of high and low bureaucrats have already been transferred across the country so that they can’t tamper with the election process now underway. Another task force under an army general is expected to sweep drug infected regions, especially in the North West Frontier and Balochistan provinces which produce over 200 tonnes of opium every year, and arrest known drug traffickers.

Understandably, the rich and powerful are angry and fearful. Some politicians, especially from Mr Sharif’s camp, are claiming that Mr Qureshi’s caretaker government doesn’t have the “mandate” to enforce such sweeping changes. Give such people a miss, we say. Having screwed up their own mandate, they’re no one to talk about it anymore.

Some businessmen are also accusing the government of kowtowing to the IMF and World Bank. We hear this sort of rubbish at budget time every year. We all know that there’s plenty wrong with us without bringing the World Bank or the IMF into the debate. Having lived off the fat of the land and gobbled up foreign aid all these decades, it’s time these bleaters belted up and forked over.

Mr Qureshi’s recipe for increasing revenues, however, could also hurt the urban lower-income brackets. Wheat and edible oil prices are up 15% while charges for electricity, gas, petrol, water and phone calls have risen by another 10%, the second time in three months. This was probably unavoidable. What is avoidable, however, is the secondary round of price rises on a range of goods affected by greedy traders and businessmen determined to maintain their huge profit margins. Maybe, it’s time Mr Qureshi beefed up the Monopolies and Prices Commission to keep such profiteers in check.

   Nonetheless, ordinary Pakistanis are absolutely thrilled. At times like these, a dose of inflation is a small sacrifice to make for such lofty long-term goals. The country can finally boast of a prime minister, even though he is an unelected caretaker, who has had the courage to pass such laws and may have the grit to make them stick. Most people are sick and tired of crooked politicians, despotic bureaucrats and filthy rich businessmen ruthlessly lining their nests at the public’s expense.

But what makes Mr Qureshi so sure that he’ll succeed where others have failed before him? Mr Qureshi’s strength flows from his team of retired army officers, judges and bureaucrats with a clean record of public service and no vested interests to grind. A sprinkling of scrupulous businessmen and professionals has also been thrown in for good measure.

More significantly, though, the caretaker government has the blessings of the army which, like the rest of us in the country, is thoroughly fed up with the shenanigans of deviant politicians. The generals have told the prime minister to put the country on the rails again and make sure that it stays that way. We’re prepared to buy that.

Of course, international donors are enthusiastic about the new reforms. Following Mr Qureshi’s announcement of the package on August 19th, the World Bank has swiftly committed $ 700 million in credits to help Pakistan out of its foreign exchange crunch. Another $ 2.1 billion will be forthcoming from the Aid to Pakistan Consortium next September. Too good to be true?

Some people in Pakistan think so. The suspicion is that when a new government is elected to power next October, it may roll back Mr Qureshi’s more radical reforms. Such cynicism may not be altogether misplaced. Although Benazir Bhutto has welcomed the reforms, there are grumblings in Nawaz Sharif’s camp. “The caretaker government doesn’t have the mandate to disqualify anyone from contesting the elections”, said Mr Ghaus Ali Shah, a former federal minister in Mr Sharif’s cabinet, “We may challenge this move in the courts”.

Go ahead Shahji, we say, try your luck with the courts. Somehow we don’t think they’ll even give you the time of the day. No judge can afford to ignore the mood of the country and still expect to remain honourable.

If the next government tries to roll back Mr Qureshi’s reforms, it will not get away with it. For too long we’ve been taken for a ride. No more, we say. Now we want good government and nothing short of that will do.

Meanwhile, we have only one word of advice for Mr Qureshi. Get on with it, Sir! Take a butcher’s knife and show no respite. We’re with you all the way. Hip Hip Hooray!

(TFT August 26-01 September, 1993 Vol-5 No.25 — Article)

Murtaza Bhutto’s dilemma

Brig (retd) Imtiaz (Billa) Ahmad, former DG Intelligence Bureau under the Nawaz Sharif government, must be licking his lips in anticipation. His pet project — to lure Mir Murtaza Bhutto back to Pakistan so that the PPP can be riven by divisions as well as lumped with charges of harbouring a proclaimed terrorist in its ranks — may well come true. Going by his various interviews to the press, Mir Murtaza seems to have swallowed Brig Billa’s offerings hook, line and sinker.

If proof is required of Murtaza Bhutto’s naivete, consider his outrageous charges (“They are both intelligence agents”) against two men who lay claim to being the biggest thorns in Brig Billa’s hide. These are the staunch PPP loyalist — Mr Salmaan Taseer — and a recent deserter from the Nawaz Sharif ranks — Mr Hussain Haqqani. Mr Taseer has probably done more than any single PPP leader to destroy Nawaz Sharif’s credibility in the country. As far as Mr Haqqani is concerned, Mr Sharif’s loss is truly Ms Bhutto’s gain. You cannot find a sharper card in the pack today than this wily “master media-manager”. No wonder, Mr Sharif’s control over the “free press” is beginning to wilt and Brig Billa is mad as hell at Mr Haqqani.

Mr Murtaza Bhutto’s choice of spokesman at 70 Clifton in Karachi, a certain M Subuk Majeed, also belies the logic of well known facts. Granted that Mr Majeed is Murtaza’s “childhood chum”, we might also reveal that Mr Majeed was an associate of the late terrorist Jam Sadiq Ali and is reported to be a business partner of his son, Jam Mashooq Ali. Brig Billa could not have selected a more suitable candidate to do his bidding.

   Such matters aside, Murtaza Bhutto’s press interviews definitely give the impression of a man totally out of touch with the ground realities in Pakistan. Of course, this is perfectly understandable. Murtaza has been floundering in the political wilderness ever since his father was assassinated by the dictator Zia ul Haq in 1979 and the young man was driven to desperation to avenge his family’s honour. But, all said and done, it was clear from the outset that Murtaza’s angry means to achieve his lofty ends were always dubious. In the event, his sister Benazir Bhutto took the more mature and democratic route and has reaped the harvest. Therefore she alone deserves to consolidate on her father’s lasting goodwill among large sections of the people of Pakistan.

That said, Murtaza Bhutto has every right to return to his homeland and seek rehabilitation as many other former “terrorists” of his ilk have done. As we understand the situation, the cases against him are not terribly strong. As a matter of fact, according to a law enacted by Benazir Bhutto while she was PM in 1989, Murtaza can appeal to the superior courts to reassess the evidence claimed against him by the military court which sentenced him in absentia over a decade ago. That his chances of being acquitted are good needs to be emphasised. Whatever the new military leadership may think of Murtaza’s past methods, we dare say the current crop of Generals thinks even less of his nemesis Zia ul Haq. Since there are no personal scores to settle anymore, a brief stint in prison while his case is adjudged afresh may be all that it takes for Murtaza to be a free man one day not too far away.

Consequently, it would be good strategy on Murtaza’s part to maintain a low profile and keep his trap shut while his mother negotiates with the establishment to find a suitable way out of his dilemma. Of course Murtaza should contest the forthcoming elections as an independent candidate from a safe seat in Sindh so that the stamp of approval from the people strengthens his case for rehabilitation. But he should stay away from the hustings until the heat and dust of electioneering has settled and conditions are more conducive for his return to Pakistan.

Unfortunately, though, it does seem that the young man in solitary exile has begun to doubt his sister’s sincerity in accepting him into the mainstream. This is uncharitable. Given Brig Billa’s machinations, Benazir Bhutto may be rightly apprehensive about the adverse impact her brother’s return to Pakistan could have on her prospects in the next elections. Apart from such justifiable considerations, however, surely there is nothing more to be said about the matter. Benazir Bhutto is the undisputed leader of the Peoples Party and until she is thoroughly discredited either at the polls or after another stint in government Murtaza Bhutto doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of capturing his father’s party.

   While Murtaza Bhutto’s frustration is perfectly understandable and many people actually sympathise with his predicament there is no justification for the sort of contradictory, immature, unrealistic and often bitter statements which are emanating from Damascus. Murtaza Bhutto would therefore be advised to stay cool, bide his time a wee bit longer and stay out or Brig Billa’s treacherous clutches. He could do much worse for his own cause than he has done in recent weeks.

(TFT September 02-08, 1993, Vol-5, No.26 — Editorial)

Don’t be so timid, Mr Qureshi!

The Pakistan Banking Council Report shows that over 4000 individuals and companies, all of whom owe more than Rs 1 million each, had defaulted on over Rs 60 billion (about 4 % of our GDP) in bank loans and had about Rs 2 billion in debts written-off from March 1985 to June 1993. The looters are all filthy rich people, the so-called creme de la creme of society. They should be ashamed of themselves.

The argument that financial transactions ought not to be publicly disclosed is patently false and self-serving. The public clearly has a right to know the names of all those who’ve milked the exchequer. That’s what accountability is all about.

However, a perusal of the Report and the accompanying Ordinance which seeks to disqualify loan defaulters from contesting elections reveals the timid mind-set of the caretaker government. Mr Qureshi’s intention, clearly, was not to bar more than a handful of politicians from returning to power.

According to this Ordinance, only those people will be disqualified who, along with their “dependents” (non-adult sons/daughters and spouses), own more than 51% of the shares of any company which has defaulted on more than Rs 1 million in loans.

Few such candidates are anywhere in sight. The fact is that most defaulters are business companies with boards of Directors or Partners comprising several brothers, sisters and adult relatives. Rarely are “dependents” listed as share-holders of the company. Even where they are, the Report does not indicate whether any of the defaulting Directors or Partners (along with their “dependents”) actually holds more than a 51 % share in the company. Nor does the Report give the names of those thousands of others who’ve each defaulted on loans of less than Rs 1 million.

Given the terms of the Ordinance, therefore, the legal position is that almost all defaulters will be allowed to contest the elections even if they don’t pay back their loans. In any case, since the Report doesn’t tell us who will be disqualified and who will not be disqualified from the elections unless the debt is paid back promptly, no purpose can be served by giving a copy of the report to every Returning Officer conducting the election.

Obviously, if Mr Qureshi had genuinely been interested in cleaning-up the mess, he would have barred all defaulters, irrespective of the size of their loan or the extent of their share in any company. But if he’d done that, few politicians would have survived and the electoral process would have run aground. At the very least, writs would have flown thick and fast challenging the constitutional validity of the caretakers’ mandate to pass such sweeping laws. Clearly, Mr Qureshi is not cut out to be the long lost reformer Pakistanis have fervently prayed for.

So the caretakers have satisfied themselves with more “realistic” objectives. By publishing their names, Mr Qureshi is seeking to shame all loan defaulters and nudge them into paying their dues. He has also put the issues of “public morality” and “accountability” squarely on the agenda of “good government” for times to come. This is a compromise we may have to accept, for the time being anyway.

What we cannot countenance, however, is that the defaulters should be allowed to get away without being compelled to pay back the public’s money. And by that we mean all defaulters, irrespective of how much money they owe. How does Mr Qureshi intend to go about doing that?

One way is to rely on existing laws and procedures to enforce the recovery of bad debts. But that has proven to be a non-starter, otherwise the situation wouldn’t have been as insolvent as it is today. Another hope could be that the defaulters might be sufficiently shamed into running to clear their names. But this is whistling in the dark. “Respectability” in this country is measured by marble-lined mansions, fleets of spanking new cars and weddings which reek of gold and silver. “Integrity” went out of fashion decades ago. No. Our grubby elites are beyond moral redemption. They have to be squeezed and whipped into line.

What we need are new laws and new institutions specifically designed to meet such ends. A suitable Ordinance or two may be promulgated to start the ball rolling. But more than that will need to be done. The state has to forcefully demonstrate its will and ability to track all crooks down. In order to do this, it must start at home.

It is time the organs of the state were cleansed of all filth. We refer in particular to thousands of malignant civil servants, high and low, who’ve recklessly connived in the breakdown of law and order. Justice (retd) Samdani and Justice (retd) Salam mustn’t get bogged down in too many legal niceties. For starters, they should ease out all those who’ve overstayed their mandatory 25-year welcome and are clinging to extensions and dubious contracts. They should also fire those who stink of corruption, including members of their own profession.

Hopefully, Mr Qureshi’s anticipated new lists will not be as frustrating as the recent one.

(TFT September 09-15, 1993 Vol-5 No.27 — Editorial)

Qazi on the rampage

Qazi Hussain Ahmad is flying high these days. The Pakistan Islamic Front (PIF), which is the more ambitious, modern face of the Jamaat i Islami, is continuing to capture headlines. By words and by deeds, Qazi Sahib has put to shame both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. How is that?

Qazi Sahib is an astute politician whose policies are beginning to yield dividends. He has transformed the Jamaat i Islami from an ideological, exclusivist and fringe Islamic group relatively disinterested in capturing votes to a populist contender for state power through the “democratic” route. Gone are the Shariah-shrieking days of the Jamaat i Islami. Qazi Sahib is now thundering about things that really matter to the angry middle-classes of today: inflation, jobs, police brutality, political corruption, accountability, good government. He is also seeking to exploit middle-class nationalist sentiment against the “immoral and imperialistic policies of the United States of America”. This is a proven formula for winning hearts and minds.

The Jamaat’s tactical alliance with the PML, from 1988 to 1992, was a good one. A Shariah bill was clinched, Jamaat MNAs acquired high public profiles, Afghan policy was suitably influenced, tens of crores of secret government funds meant for the Kashmir Jehad were hogged and arms were cached for a rainy day. Having squeezed the IJI dry, Qazi Sahib has now chalked out a plan to outflank it in the next elections.

Radical Islamicists everywhere have seen the writing on the wall. In many Muslim Third World countries, ruling secular elites have become notoriously corrupt, uncaring and inefficient. The plight of the growing hoardes of the uneducated, unemployed and unattended, meanwhile, has worsened. The contrast between the haves and the have-nots strikes a bitter chord.

The return to the faith is, in part, a natural consequence of the bankruptcy of secular ideologies and an anguished cry against the Third World gentry’s reckless monopolisation of economic and political power. The fact that Western regimes have helped prop up such rotten ruling classes is an added outrage.

The explanation for the rise of radical Islamic parties is also linked to the coming of age of the post colonial urban Muslim middle-classes. Armed with secondary or tertiary education — hence intellectually all too aware of its strengths — this middle class lacks any sense of intellectual tradition or financial security. Frustration, feelings of injustice, a sense of inferiority, anger and fear — all these emotions fuel its search for radical alternatives. In consequence, some groups have already retreated into ethnicity and biradaris, while others are leaping out to clutch at faith.

Qazi Hussain Ahmad recognises the potential of tapping this growing source of power. Sadly, Mr Sharif and Ms Bhutto do not. That is why the PPP and PML governments did little to alleviate the rising economic and cultural impoverishment of the middle-classes. Even now their class base is remarkably similar: over 86 per cent of the candidates of the PPP and about 90 per cent of those of the PML(N) are feudals, landlords, businessmen or tribal chiefs, most of whom have already been discredited as corrupt “lotas”. In contrast, the PIF is fielding middle-class intellectuals, professionals, small traders or religious leaders. Considering that the urban areas will account for 50 million Pakistanis by the end of the century, this failure by the mainstream parties to address the problems of the middle-classes is sure to have profound implications for the future.

One frequently mooted scenario goes like this: the PIF will gobble up Mr Sharif and take over his vote-bank after the PML(N) has lost the elections. Then the secular forces of Benazir Bhutto will be confronted by the Islamic forces of the PIF. Since Ms Bhutto is doomed to fail, the PIF will be primed to capture power after her government has been successfully overthrown. Then there will be no turning back of the clock.

This is a frightening prospect. The Jamaat i Islami sees no contradiction between exploiting the virtues of democracy when it is out of office and abusing them once it is in power. More significantly, as events in post-revolution Iran have demonstrated, there is nothing inherent in radical Islam to suggest that it is capable of changing the conditions of which it is a product. While movements such as the PIF are capable of inflicting vast damage on civil society, they show no intrinsic ability to create anew.

Unfortunately, though, it seems that both the PPP and the PML(N) are clueless about the state of the Republic. Although both are promising the moon to their voters, neither has any concrete or workable ideas about “good government” or social action to satisfy the middle-classes. In fact, both are threatening to “review” the profound and imperative reforms undertaken by Mr Moeen Qureshi recently.

It is time, therefore, that the two mainstream political parties realised the gravity of the economic and political crisis which confronts the state. The ruling gentries, in particular, should part with a sizeable chunk of their ill-gotten gains and accommodate the aspirations of the volatile have-nots before it is too late.

God help us if Qazi Hussain Ahmad should end up reaping the harvest of their failures.

(TFT September 09-15, 1993 Vol-5 No.27 — Article)

Grand delusions of Rao Rashid and Mairaj Mohammad Khan

Both these amiable gentlemen seem to have had a change of heart. But Najam Sethi is not fooled for a moment.

“Mairaj Mohammad Khan and Rao Rashid have announced their total support for Mian Nawaz Sharif”, proclaims the 27th August issue of Dawn. A photograph showing the two former heavyweights squeezed between the chubby Sharif Brothers adorns the inside pages of most newspapers of that day.

What on earth has propelled Mr MM Khan, the fierce revolutionary and ardent democrat, to join hands with the “arch reactionary” Mr Nawaz Sharif? Isn’t Mr Sharif the very person that Mr Khan attacked not so long ago as “remnant of the dictator Zia ul Haq”, “plunderer of Pakistan” etc.? Didn’t Mr Khan’s National Democratic Alliance wage a relentless struggle to get rid of the same Mr Sharif that he has now warmly embraced?

   Mr MM Khan’s explanation is that “the industrial-commercial peoples democratic alliance led by Nawaz Sharif is on one side while on the other stands the conspiratorial feudal-bureaucratic alliance”.

Mr Rao Rashid was more eloquent. “The NDA has failed to achieve its objectives, the war is now between the feudals represented by Benazir Bhutto and ‘free enterprise’ capitalists represented by Nawaz Sharif. Ms Bhutto may have been a ‘good agitator’ but Mr Sharif is a ‘good administrator’.”

Mr Rashid says that although Mr ZA Bhutto dealt “a blow to free enterprise”, he had “completely rehabilitated the feudals in the Peoples Party by 1977”. Ms Bhutto, he alleges, betrayed the struggle of the MRD for social justice and has now compromised on the 8th amendment. Mian Nawaz Sharif’s stand, on the other hand, was “democratic and progressive”. Therefore “the intelligentsia, progressives, professionals, peasants, landless, workers, middle and lower classes must opt for the forces of change and progress and support Nawaz Sharif in this historical struggle”.

Mr Rashid has particularly noted Mr Sharif’s virtues as “a man of action who took bold economic decisions”.

   A thesis can be written debunking all these tall claims, especially Mr Sharif’s so-called “anti-feudal” credentials. In a recent sociological analysis (TFT September 2-8) of both parties I have demonstrated that 75 (47%) of the national assembly candidates for the 1993 elections in the PPP are feudals/big landlords while 72 (44%) of those in the PML(N) belong to this class. In Punjab, Mr Sharif’s home base, the PML(N) is actually fielding 19 feudals compared to the PPP’s 16! Such marginal differences certainly don’t warrant the sort of radical conclusions drawn by Messrs Khan & Rashid.

As far as Mr Sharif’s “bold, action-oriented economic policies and administration” are concerned, the less said the better. He has plundered the economy at will, subverted the civil services and impoverished us for generations to come. How can Messrs Khan & Rashid be so blind to Nawaz Sharif’s megalomaniacal follies?

Mairaj Mohammad Khan and Rao Rashid are friends of mine. I have known MM for donkeys of years. You cannot find a more honest and dedicated political worker than him in the country. RR is a charming man who can regale you with his wit for hours at end. His personal integrity is also irreproachable. Although their backgrounds and political practises differ significantly, both are unfortunately marked by one powerful sentiment: a bitter hostility to the PPP and its leader Benazir Bhutto who have undoubtedly given both gentlemen a raw deal.

Mairaj is a founding member of the PPP who was once billed as ZA Bhutto’s chosen “heir”. Nonetheless, he parted ways with Bhutto after “the power of the state” was unleashed “against the power of the street” and over 50 protesting workers were gunned down in Karachi in 1972. He lost sight in one eye after he was felled by a blow from a policeman during a street march in Karachi in 1973. Bhutto punished his unrelenting critic by imprisoning Mairaj in Hyderabad for over two years. Although he subsequently sent emissaries to Mairaj seeking rapprochement, they were all spurned contemptuously.

When Benazir Bhutto ascended to her father’s throne in the mid 1980s, Mairaj was psychologically ready to offer his hand in friendship. After all, he must have reasoned, the sins of the father shouldn’t be visited on the daughter. And she was, admittedly, the only populist leader in the country who had vowed to carry on her father’s ‘socialist’ legacies.

But Benazir seemed cold and cautious. Wary of all the ‘uncles’ who had “betrayed Shaheed Bhutto”, she quickly surrounded herself with a new band of sycophants who said that Mairaj was an “irrelevance” from the past. The young lady was also terribly averse to the sort of anti-imperialist, anti-American rhetoric which came naturally to Mairaj. Distanced irrevocably from the Peoples Party, Mairaj began to stray, clinging to some leftist alliance here, hoping to find a berth in some democratic alliance there, jealously guarding his independence and fiercely refusing to merge his small Qaumi Mahaz Azadi into any larger political entity in the country.

Of course, it need not have worked out that way. If Bhutto had offered Mairaj a winning ticket from Karachi, say from Lyari, in 1988 or 1990, he might have been persuaded to ally with the PPP. But that didn’t happen. And since then too much water has flowed under the bridge. The future must look bleak for Mairaj Mohammad Khan today.

There is, of course, no way a die-hard communist can join Qazi Hussain’s Islamic Front. Mairaj will have nothing to do with the PPP and vice versa. The left has evaporated. The NDA is now meaningless because there is no despotic government to oppose from any platform. So where does that leave our fiery labour leader of yesterday? It is time to renew a 1960s Maoist pledge to continue the anti-feudal “new democratic revolution”.

I dare say Mian Nawaz Sharif must have been very impressed with himself. It’s not everyday that a committed revolutionary should come up to him in his plush drawing-room and declare that Nawaz Sharif is the very man all of Pakistan has been searching for to lead the country’s “progressive” forces at this “historical juncture”.

Rao Rashid’s case is different, though I suspect he has now arrived at much the same dilemma as Mairaj. As a police bureaucrat blindly loyal to ZA Bhutto in the 1970s, Rao Sahib paid his political dues to the party in the 1980s and was rewarded with a slot in Benazir Bhutto’s government in 1988. But Rao Sahib miscalculated when he, along with some other hardliners, provoked Ms Bhutto to overthrow Mr Nawaz Sharif’s government in the Punjab in early 1989. When the move seriously rebounded on Bhutto, in the process isolating her from the establishment and incurring its renewed hostility, she must have reckoned she could profitably do without Rao Rashid.

The sad thing is that Bhutto didn’t part ways with Rao Sahib gracefully. He was in one day, out the next. No explanations were offered by the fickle Benazir, none were demanded by the proud Rao, who refused to become another one of the countless ‘hangers-on’ in the PPP. So Rao Sahib retreated into a private sulk and suffered silently. If he’d secretly hoped that she might recall him for duty one day, he never once showed any desperate inclination for it. Personal self-respect was still paramount. Needless to say, Rao Rashid was totally ignored when Bhutto began to dish out electoral tickets in 1990. Nor did Rao Sahib send any intermediaries to plead on his behalf — it would have been beneath his dignity.

In due course, of course, the personal sulk gave way to political bitterness. After Nawaz Sharif came to power, Rao Sahib finally broke his silence and laid into BB, getting increasingly personal in his attacks on her in the press. He had finally burnt his boats with the PPP. But because, in all conscience, he could hardly let Mr Sharif off the hook, he didn’t try to woo the new star on the horizon. How often Rao sahib has lamented the lack of any real political choices for decent people in this country is a matter of record.

Last year, when Nawaz Sharif was aiming to become an all-powerful civilian dictator in alliance with President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Rao Sahib was clearly in the doldrums. In his articles, while he continued to attack BB as a lost cause, he blasted away at Nawaz Sharif, accusing him of being a wayward child of the hated and despotic “establishment”.

Until now, Rao Sahib has consistently refused to chose between the devil and the deep blue sea. Instead, he has clutched at every non-fundamentalist opposition alliance which has come his way, hoping against hope that a true leader might emerge worthy of respect and support.

Rao Sahib’s acute frustration at the hopeless political situation finally caught up on him some months ago. In an article for The Nation, he actually advocated a short, sharp martial law to sort out the mess and give Pakistan a fresh start.

Now the NDA is in a shambles, without any electoral prospects. Like Mairaj, Rao Sahib is a confirmed secularist who cannot countenance Qazi Hussain Ahmad’s Islamic Front. There is no question of finding a home in the PPP. If politics is in his blood and journalism much too trite an occupation, where should he go?

Rao Rashid has worked with the feudals all his adult life. He knows them inside out. And he hates them with a vengeance. As a former bureaucrat, however, it seems to me that he has mixed views about the “establishment”. It is therefore perfectly understandable that he should be pained by attacks on the judiciary while secretly hoping for an Ataturk to lead Pakistan to salvation. Meanwhile, it seems, he sees some merit in backing Nawaz Sharif. After all, Mr Sharif must appear infinitely more personable than the uppity Ms Bhutto.

I’m sure there is much more to the recent decisions by Mairaj Mohammad Khan and Rao Rashid to back Nawaz Sharif than they have let out in their press conference. Equally, I’m aware that my brief account of their frustrated journey in search of self-discovery and political fulfillment probably doesn’t do them justice. Nonetheless, I remain convinced that they are both deluding themselves when they claim that Nawaz Sharif is truly the man of the future.

(TFT September 16-22, 1993 Vol-5 No.28 — Editorial)

We demand an autopsy

Since Gen Asif Nawaz died eight months ago, Begum Nuzhat Nawaz has firmly believed that he was poisoned to death. When she said as much to family members and close friends, she was told: “That’s not possible”. Senior army colleagues of her husband clucked in sympathy, but privately scoffed at the idea. This was perfectly understandable. The half a million strong Pakistan army was bruised when its high command was wiped out in an unexplained aircrash in 1988. It was now doubly difficult to live with the thought that another army chief could have been a sitting duck for assassins.

Begum Nawaz discreetly knocked on a few friendly doors. But everywhere the response was the same: “You’re imagining things, it’s dangerous to even think such thoughts, forget about it”.

But she couldn’t, though God alone knows how hard she must have tried. In a traditional society like ours, it’s not easy for a widow to ask for the body of her beloved husband to be hauled out of the grave and cut up for public scrutiny. But the more she mulled over the sequence of events since November 24th, when Gen Asif Nawaz was diagnosed as having suffered a bout of “food poisoning”, the more convinced she became of foul-play. By April, she had made up her mind. So she went public with her allegations and demanded an autopsy.

Mr Nawaz Sharif’s government promptly ordered an inquiry by three judges of the Supreme Court. In all, 23 witnesses, including Begum Nawaz, Gen Asif’s personal physician and a professor of medicine at the Army Medical College, appeared before the judges. The doctors concurred in the view that Gen Asif’s illness on the 24th of November was nothing extraordinary, that is why they had prescribed a tablet of Stemetil to sooth his nerves. Begum Nawaz, however, found the doctors’ statements “most surprising”. She disputed their version of events and found their testimony contradictory. She “begged the learned Commission to appreciate that in the absence of conclusive determination of the real cause of death by means of an autopsy, the statements made by all and sundry before this learned Commission merely tend to confuse the whole issue and amount to adding insult to the injury suffered by me and other members of the late General’s family”.

   The Commission took all of 18 days to conclude that “Gen Asif Nawaz died a natural death on account of a massive heart attack. The allegations of poisoning are not correct”. It disposed of Begum Nawaz’s crucial demand for an autopsy by foreign experts in this ambiguous manner: “As the Commission lacks extra-territorial jurisdiction and has constraints both administrative and financial, it is for the government to consider these experts along with any other considered equally or more competent”. The Commission did not bother to send Mrs Nuzhat Nawaz a copy of its brief report.

Mrs Nawaz was greatly demoralized, she felt that justice had been denied her. If anything, aspersions were cast on her motives. So she determined to chart her own course. The results of her forensic inquiry showed fatal levels of arsenic in the hair sample which could have led to “delayed cardiac arrest”. She then did the obvious thing by filing a police report. But because she didn’t want to be accused of harbouring any political motives, she refrained from naming names. Faced with the same predicament, who would have done differently?

Mrs Nawaz’s demand for an autopsy cannot now be brushed under the carpet. No one should question her single-minded devotion to the memory of her husband. And no one should seek to exploit her quest for the truth by making political capital out of her grief.

If an independent and expert autopsy should prove her wrong, nothing more need be said. The widow has a right to allay her fears. Pakistanis in general and the armed forces in particular will also be able to breathe easier. The file can then be closed.

But if the autopsy should prove her correct, Begum Nawaz’s rights will pale before the angry demands of every Pakistani to unearth the assassins and execute them for premeditated murder of their revered army chief.

In the past 46 years, many political leaders have been assassinated. No government has ever made any serious attempt to uncover the truth or bring the assassins to book. No more, we say. Mr Moeen Qureshi must not drag his feet and pass the buck to the next government simply because he fears the results of the autopsy could conceivably have an adverse effect on his electoral plans.

Gen Abdul Waheed’s position, of course, is clearer still. He must brook no delays in conducting an autopsy. He owes it to the memory of his colleague, to every officer and jawan in uniform and to all Pakistanis to clear the air regarding Gen Asif Nawaz’s tragic demise. If the late COAS was indeed poisoned, the current COAS must track the assassins down with a vengeance that is exemplary.

(TFT September 23-29, 1993 Vol-5 No.29 — Editorial)

Expose the beards and babus

Mr Moeen Qureshi has done a splendid job by publishing lists of those whoever defaulted on bank loans and utility bills. Justice Abdul Majeed Tiwana has done better. He has told us the names of all those whoever looted the Baitul Mall and Jahez Funds or pocketed plum pieces of real estate for a song in the Punjab. Jointly, they have indicted thousands of politicians and businessmen. And rightly so.

But we wonder why Mr Qureshi is dragging his feet over the felonies of two social groups — the bureaucracy-judiciary and the Islamic fundamentalist parties. We’re also dismayed that roadblocks have been erected in the path of Justice Tiwana and the press has been banned from reporting his judgements.

Since the time of General Zia ul Haq, the fundamentalist Islamic parties, especially the Jamaat-i-Islami, have enjoyed undue power and privilege. Pampered beyond redemption, the fundamentalists have infiltrated and destroyed the education system, siphoned off funds and arms meant for the Afghan Jihad and milked the Ministry of Religious Affairs dry. They have also dipped into every intelligence agency’s secret financial pool in the name of the Kashmir Jihad. It is time we were told how they’ve been fattened up by previous governments.

A good place to start is the Ministry of Religious Affairs. As Maulana Abdul Sattar Niazi’s case proves, the Religious Affairs ministry dished out hundreds of millions of rupees to the mullahs, ostensibly to set up mosques and madrassas. Where much of the money actually went is anybody’s guess — in hundreds of cases the mosques and madrassas only exist on paper. In others, the mullahs were ingenious enough to set aside part of the free funds and land for commercial use, which is illegal. Will Mr Qureshi scrutinize such allocations and publish lists of all those God-fearing men with holy white beards who have “defaulted” on religious grants? We would also like to know the source (local or foreign) of funding for the Jamaat-i-Islami’s many “institutes”, including its expensive Pasban functions and front page advertisements in the press. A peep into the discretionary allocations of provincial chief ministers, especially in Balochistan province, should also reveal much wrong-doing by the beards. In the Punjab, the Sipah Sahaba’s drug connections certainly need to be checked out.

The bureaucracy, too, seems to have got away scot-free. As the case of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court proves, previous governments have all too readily “relaxed the rules” to accommodate the “pressing needs” of senior bureaucrats and judges with plots of land. There must be hundreds of bureaucrats whoever been lavished with several plots of prime land. Prime minister Qureshi’s principal secretary, for one, seems to be perennially in need of assistance. Many civil servants have built commercial plazas or marble palaces and are still hankering for more, like modern-day Oliver Twists. Well Mr Qureshi or Justice Samdani give us a list of all those civil servants and judges who have received such favours from past governments and have accumulated vast, unaudited fortunes? Probably not.

Mr Qureshi says the bureaucracy is demoralised and needs rehabilitation. He seems to hold politicians responsible for the erosion of the “steel frame” of government. He may be partially right. Still, it takes two hands to clap. And there is no doubting the fact that the bureaucracy has become notoriously corrupt, inefficient and politically biased. What purpose can be served, we wonder, by trying to protect such civil servants by making allowances for their dismal behaviour? The proper thing would be to take a broom and sweep them all away, thereby making room for hundreds of youngsters desperately keen to ‘serve’ the nation.

Justice Abdul Majeed Tiwana of the Lahore High Court has been so contemptuously thwarted by ‘friends’ and ‘foes’ alike that he has thrown up his hands in disgust and is thinking of quitting. What an extraordinary indictment of the superior judiciary by a sitting judge of the High Court! So it is time to overhaul the judiciary as well. Most High Court judges were appointed by the martial law regime of General Zia ul Haq. Most were small-time lawyers or government executive officers before they were ‘elevated’ to the High Courts. What we need on the benches are lawyers with solid professional credentials and impeccable apolitical reputations who have not been tainted with political wheeling dealing or favouritism. It is time to cut the umbilical chord with a distasteful and dictatorial past regime. Justice Samdani, who refused to take oath under the martial law regime, should surely know what’s what and who’s who. Come on, Samdani saab, let’s get your Commission cracking! There is much hiring and firing to be done and not a moment to spare.

Most Pakistanis think Mr Moeen Qureshi is “too good to be true”. Certainly, no one expected Mr Qureshi to take the sort of radical initiatives he has already launched. But having embarked upon a “clean-up”, he cannot stop midway. He has whetted our appetite and we will not forgive him if he lets us down now.

(TFT September 30-06 October, 1993 Vol-5 No.30 — Editorial)

Bhutto deserves another chance

1993 has turned out to be a remarkable year. Who could have divined the sudden death of Gen Asif Nawaz or the appointment of Gen Abdul Waheed as his successor in January? Who could have believed that bosom establishment-buddies Nawaz Sharif and Ghulam Ishaq Khan would part ways with such bitterness? Who could have foreseen the ouster of premier Sharif by President Ishaq in April? Or Mr Sharif’s swift reinstatement by the Supreme Court in May? Or, indeed, the exit of both the President and the Prime Minister at the hands of the invisible establishment without recourse to martial law in July? Who could have predicted that Mr Moeen Qureshi, of all people, would be sworn-in as caretaker prime minister? Who could have imagined that in October we would hold the fairest elections since 1970 under the most neutral and reformist caretaker government in the country’s history?

Today all eyes are focussed on October 6th. A battle royal is expected in the Punjab. The electoral arithmetic works like this. Ms Bhutto is the frontrunner because she starts with the advantage of about 30 seats in Sindh compared to three or four only for Mr Sharif. If, as in 1988, she wins a simple majority in the Punjab (about 55 seats) she can expect to take at least 95 PPP seats, which is good enough to form a coalition government. But if she sweeps the Punjab, she will be strong enough to cobble a two-thirds majority in parliament. On the other side, Mr Sharif will have to sweep the Punjab and the NWFP as in 1990 as well as ally with the MQM if he wants to be prime minister.

Of course, there may be some surprises ahead. Some people say that Qazi Hussain Ahmad’s histrionics will put an end to Mr Sharif’s career prematurely. Others wonder whether Murtaza Bhutto, Altaf Hussain and Nawaz Sharif will together cut Benazir Bhutto down to size. Many worry about the implications of a hung parliament and despair at the thought of a coalition government in Islamabad. Everyone dreads a Centre-Punjab conflict all over again. No one knows the long-term fate of the radical reforms initiated by Mr Moeen Qureshi’s government.

Irrespective of who becomes prime minister, though, some deep-rooted disquiet will still remain. Take a look at the party manifestos of the PPP and PML(N). They are bloated with empty words and phrases. Read their multi-million media campaigns. The PPP is attacking the PML(N) for being a party of plundering crooks while the PML(N) is accusing the PPP of being a party of blundering fools. Frankly, neither can point to any credible accomplishments while in power and neither inspires much confidence about its ability to harness the future.

Try and imagine, too, what Benazir Bhutto’s future cabinet will look like if she should become prime minister. Mr Farooq Leghari apart, from among Ms Bhutto’s many favourite loyalists it is difficult to name suitable ministers of finance, commerce, interior or foreign affairs — four crucial areas which define “good” government. Harder still, the thought of Nawaz Sharif spurring Mr Sartaj Aziz to paint the country yellow is enough to make one’s stomach churn. Certainly, Mr Sharif’s last cabinet was a veritable gallery of rogues and rascals.

Then there is the question of who will be the next President of Pakistan. If neither Ms Bhutto nor Mr Sharif is able to boast a sweeping majority in the national assembly coupled with a strong showing in the provinces of Punjab and Sindh at least, the search will have to focus on a “consensus” candidate. That will take us back to the dilemma of last July when Mr Moeen Qureshi had to be “imported” from Washington in order to resolve the deadlock. Unless Mr Qureshi can be persuaded to shift from one house on the Margallas to another next month, there is much agonising uncertainty ahead on this front.

The question of how to resolve the bloody Sindhi-Mohajir divide also remains unresolved. Neither Ms Bhutto nor Mr Sharif, nor indeed President Ishaq or the Pakistan army high command, was able to find a satisfactory solution. Mr Altaf Hussain appears to be a thorn in everyone’s side. If Mr Sharif is prime minister, will he force another Jam Sadiq Ali on the PPP in Sindh? If Ms Bhutto is prime minister, will she thrust Qaim Ali Shah again on the MQM? In either case, it is not difficult to imagine the grave implications for Sindh.

All said and done, though, Ms Bhutto deserves a second chance more than Mr Sharif. As everyone knows, she got a raw deal from the establishment during her stint from 1988 to 1990. Mr Sharif, on the other hand, was the establishment’s blue-eyed boy whose ruthless quest for untrammeled power was responsible for his downfall. On another score, too, Ms Bhutto deserves the support of all Pakistanis. Whatever her failings, and she has many, she is decidedly the more modern and democratic of the two leaders. That is Pakistan’s best chance to get a berth into the next century.

(TFT October 07-20, 1993 Vol-5 Nos.31 & 32 — Editorial)

Back to the drawing board

It’s been a job well done by Prime Minister Moeen Qureshi. He saw to it that elections took place on time and were universally hailed as free and fair. One would have thought that the politicians would have made some sounds of grateful acknowledgement. Not a bit. Instead, the atmosphere has been soured by a petulant Mian Nawaz Sharif who refuses to sit in opposition. And if we had nursed hopes of sound and sturdy government by one of the two major political parties, the people’s verdict has dashed all such expectations. So it is that the stench of horse-trading once more pollutes the atmosphere. In many ways, it’s back to square one. Not all the good intentions or the floor-crossing laws on the statute books will save us from ourselves. Such are the wiles of democracy.

The elementary arithmetic of the numbers in both the National Assembly and the Punjab Provincial Assembly would give Benazir Bhutto plus allies an edge over Mian Nawaz Sharif. In parliamentary democracy, an advantage of one can make the difference between government and opposition. That is how it works all over the world and if we subscribe to the philosophy of this form of democracy, we must play by the rules of the game. Also, the proper thing would be for all pre-election alliances to hold together in the post-election scenario. The memory of 1988 – 90 is still vivid in our minds when centre-Punjab conflict had driven the country to despair. It can safely be argued that Pakistanis across the board are averse to a repetition of the same. Indeed, it is not difficult to predict a swift breakdown of the system should there be an attempt to return to 1988.

In the past, strong governments bent on authoritarianism have driven weak oppositions to the wall. Our only hope now is that weak governments will be compelled to respect strong oppositions and abide by the rules. By his strong showing in election ’93, Nawaz Sharif has wiped out the stigma of the rigged election of 1990. He should now take a back seat and think positively of the faith reposed in him. There are lessons in the recent past for Mian Nawaz Sharif, should he care to learn them. First, there is no alternative to good governance and economic discipline. Second, he seems to thrive on his antagonism for the PPP. It may now stop working for him. While he may feel that Ms Bhutto is permanently foolish and people around him may reinforce this notion, it may no longer be true. It could be that she has learnt her lesson. Indeed, there are indications that she is somewhat chastened. Mr Sharif must now think of co-existence with the PPP so that he can take his turn in Islamabad. Further, he may not find any takers in the establishment for his toppling philosophy. Not only does the world outside now expect Pakistan to behave maturely, but Mr Sharif’s is a conservative votebank which fights shy of instability.

In the end, nothing can compensate for a degree of personal competence and vision in a leader. Mr Sharif must use this time to relieve many of his anxieties on this score. It was the contradictory centres of influence in his government, in the absence of direction from him, that ran it aground. While on the one hand he made Sartaj Aziz the architect of his liberal economic policy, as recommended by the multi-national agencies, on the other he allowed Maulana Abdus Sattar Niazi and the fundos to ride roughshod over his own secular instincts. While his own training in business pointed towards deregulation, the total lack of regulation in his government spread chaos all round. So it was that when the deficit climbed to over 10% of GDP, the alarms went off and it was suddenly discovered that Mr Sharif had no idea. He must now sit down and reflect on his extraordinary good luck in getting rid of the fundos. He now has a heaven sent opportunity to mould himself according to the real needs of the state and the real instincts of his vote bank. Above all, Mr Sharif need no longer posture.

Ms Bhutto suffers from the opposite flaw. She has vision and she is so firm about it that she brooks no advisors. The usual complaint is that, once in power, she tends towards isolation for there is no one in her party who dares speak up. Ms Bhutto should take a leaf out of Mr Sharif’s book. She would be well-advised to be well-advised. While her last state minister for finance, Ehsanulhaq Piracha, inspired no confidence at all, Mr Sharif’s glib finance whizz, Sartaj Aziz, dressed up bad policy in neat garments and proved an asset to his leader. Then there was Mr Sharif’s flair for making alliances. While we cannot recommend an unprincipled cohabitation of unlimited proportions, it is essential to demonstrate a degree of flexibility. Indeed, there is a great deal Ms Bhutto can learn from Mr Sharif and vice versa. Could it be that we will see Nawaz Sharif living with grace under pressure and courage in opposition as Ms Bhutto did? And will Ms Bhutto develop a knack, like Mr Sharif sometimes did, for delegating authority to the right people?

(TFT October 21-27, 1993 Vol-5 No.33 — Editorial)

A toast all round

Democracy and nation-hood are not served on platters. History is a tumultuous, and often tragic, process. Ours has been especially so. But there are times to rejoice even in the long, hard march to freedom. That is why, as we stand on the brink of rediscovering our national soul, this is a moment to savour.

   A toast to Mr Moeen Qureshi, a prime minister Pakistan can proudly boast of. By establishing a new yardstick for good government and giving us the fairest election since 1970, Mr Qureshi has redefined the meaning of political life. It is a legacy we should cherish and fight for if necessary.

A toast to Mian Nawaz Sharif. Gone is stilted child of the establishment. We now have a confident, popular leader who has finally come to age. This is no mean transformation. It augers well for a meaningful two-party system in the country.

Finally, a toast to Ms Benazir Bhutto. Here is a courageous woman who has braved the odds time and again. She richly deserves being prime minister today, not least because she was unfairly ousted from power in 1990 and then hounded from pillar to post by Mr Sharif. She has now been vindicated. We hope she will prove worthy of our trust.

We are not whistling in the dark. There is room for optimism. The political situation today is far more conducive to stable democracy than in the past. Ms Bhutto was an inexperienced and strident leader when she first became prime minister five years ago. Today, by building delicate alliances everywhere, she has demonstrated laudable political maturity. Who could have imagined that she would be able to disarm the ferocious Nawab Akbar Bugti, charm the perennial lone ranger Nawabzada Nasrullah, proffer the hand of friendship to the sulking Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi and bend before the obdurate Manzoor Wattoo? In 1988 she had debts to pay, so she stuffed her cabinet with useless loyalists and blithely ignored their indiscretions. All that is behind her now. She has already said that she will make-do with a small cabinet.

From 1988 to 1990, Ms Bhutto also had to contend with a hostile and powerful President, a politically ambitious army chief, a province in full-blooded revolt (Punjab) and a terrorist organisation (MQM) determined to fan ethnic warfare. Thankfully, no such roadblocks remain. The next President will probably be a consensus candidate. The 8th amendment has been capped by the Supreme Court. The current army chief abhors politics. Punjab is in a cooperative mood. And the MQM has been defanged. The opposition, too, cannot expect any untoward support from the establishment.

There is another dimension to the political situation which augers well for stability. After the dismal performance of politicians in recent times — nakes horsetrading, absurd lota-ism, futile long marches, dubious vote of no-confidence — political parties nd leaders are visibly on the defensive. Whatever moral authority they may contrived over the people in the past has evaporated after Mr Qureshi’s stunning revelations of corruption and nepotism in previous governments. They know that they are all on trial. They also know damned well that the army will not countenance further instability or another round of elections. They have got one last chance to deliver and if they don’t Mr Moeen Qureshi will surely come back to haunt them for a much longer period than the last time round.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that Pakistan under Benazir Bhutto is about to become an island of political stability or an engine of economic growth. Old habits die hard, hatchets are harder still to bury. Certainly, Mr Sharif will need adjusting to new realities much more than Ms Bhutto. He has been in power for nearly thirteen years. Life in solitary opposition will not be easy, especially because he is given to political posturing. The MQM, too, may take some hard knocking before it is able to climb off its high horse and learn to accept cold realities. The economy is in a mess, it cannot be turned around without some belt-tightening. This could prove difficult to stomach. Kashmir has once again become a potential flash-point for armed conflict, yet India remains burtally indifferent to peaceful negotiations. The United States continues to breathe down our nuclear programme and the demise of the discriminatory Pressler amendment is still not in sight. So we may definitely expect some hiccups along the way.

Ms Bhutto, meanwhile, might be advised a diet of simple do’s and dont’s. Don’t meddle in the army’s internal affairs, take GHQ’s advice on how to deal with the MQM. Don’t be haughty or inaccessible. Don’t condone corruption or inefficiency. Keep family and friends out of the cabinet. And live and let live with friends and foes alike. If Benazir Bhutto does this, Mr Sharif may huff and puff but he won’t be able to bring her house down.

(TFT October 21-27, 1993 Vol-5 No.33 — Editorial)

Bang on target

In a recent propagandistic piece for The Nation from Lahore, Mian Nawaz Sharif’s media mouthpiece Mr Mushahid Hussain has alleged that The Friday Times’ pre-election predictions were “atrocious”. Mr Hussain, who is inexplicably allowed by The Nation to contribute op-ed pieces without a bye-line noting his party-political affiliations, has demanded that TFT should “apologise” to its readers for wrongly predicting that the PPP would win “115 seats” in the national assembly.

While Mr Mushahid Hussain is “renowned” for his jaundiced views in furtherance of political ambition, his recent distortion of the facts has only served to damage his credibility irrevocably.

In a pre-election survey published Sunday 3rd October and titled “PPP poised to win elections”, TFT had predicted that “Ms Benazir Bhutto’s Peoples Party would win the elections by taking at least 86 NA seats, give or take a 10 per cent margin of error” (not 115 seats as Mr Hussain has falsely concocted). In actual fact, the PPP has won exactly 86 NA seats out of 194 seats contested (excluding 8 FATA seats and 10 minority seats which were not taken into consideration by TFT). Far from “apologising” to its readers, TFT has every right to crow about the uncanny exactitude of its macro predictions. Unexpected praise for TFT’s pre-election lead story came from the Karachi eveninger The Star of Thursday 7th October, a day after the election, when it lead the front page with a headline borrowed from TFT “PPP poised to win elections”!

TFT had also predicted that there would be tough fights between the front-runners in 47 seats. The actual result shows that in fact there were exactly 47 tough fights where the difference between the votes polled by the winning and losing candidate was less than 5 per cent of the total votes cast for both the candidates (excluding FATA and minorities).

TFT’s pre-election survey was closer to the mark than the surveys of other newspapers and magazines. For example, The Nation from Lahore had predicted that the PPP “had an edge” or was “likely to win” 94 seats. The Nation had also argued that “tough” or “close” fights were expected in 57 other constituencies. Since he cannot bite the hand that feeds him, Mr Hussain had conveniently failed to take note of the margin of error in The Nation’s predictions.

Apart from The Nation, another Lahore daily — The Frontier Post — had said that the PPP should win 96 seats. The Karachi newsmagazine Newsline had also predicted in a pre-election poll that the PPP was a ‘front-runner’ in 94 seats.

TFT had predicted 34 tough fights between the PPP and PML-N. In actual fact, there were 33 tough fights between the two leading parties. TFT had predicted 4 tough fights between the PPP and ANP. In actual fact, there were exactly 4 tough fights between them where the winner’s margin was less than 5 per cent of the total votes polled for the two candidates.

TFT had predicted that the PPP would win at least 51 seats in the Punjab, excluding NA-60 where the election was cancelled and the federal area of Islamabad. In actual fact, the PPP won 46 seats, which is well within the range of 10 per cent error built (and admitted) into TFT’s projections.

TFT made no predictions in respect of which of the two parties — PPP or PML-N — had a leading edge in the tough fights.

   Of the 86 projected winning seats given to the PPP by TFT’s pre-election survey, in actual fact the PPP won only 55 while the election on one seat was cancelled. However, where the PPP lost to the PML-N in these 21 seats, it did so by such small margins that the results could easily have been reversed. Nonetheless, the PPP made up for its narrow defeats on these seats by winning 10 significant seats alloted to the PML-N and others by TFT’s survey. The PPP also won 21 out of 38 projected tough fights with the PML-N and ANP, thereby arriving at the magical figure of 86.

While TFT’s macro-predictions were bang on target as far as the PPP was concerned, it erred in underestimating the electoral prospects of the PML-N (which is why it has incurred the wrath of Mr Mushahid Hussain). TFT had argued that the PML-N would get “a minimum of 27 NA seats” while the MQM would get a minimum of 10 seats. In the event, the PML-N picked up an additional 10 seats from Sindh (mostly in Karachi) because the MQM boycotted the polls. It was also able to pick up a maximum number of seats from those TFT had designated as “tough fights”, thereby raising its tally to a maximum of 73. Of course, because TFT had not made the mistake of putting an upper limit to the number of seats which could be won by the PPP or the PML, it can hardly be faulted by Mr Mushahid Hussain for not predicting that Mr Nawaz Sharif would win 73 seats. In theory, of course, Mr Sharif could have won as many as 80 seats without disproving TFT!

(TFT October 28-03 November, 1993 Vol-5 No.34 — Editorial)

Some consensus is better than no consensus

If a “consensus candidate” is not available, the two main parties are going to slug it out for the Presidency. Benazir Bhutto would understandably like to see the Presidency shorn of its 8th amendment powers so that she doesn’t have to worry about being stabbed in the back again. So she might conceivably toy with the idea of trying to do a deal with Mian Nawaz Sharif. In return for supporting his candidate, she could demand Mr Sharif’s commitment to swiftly undo the 8th amendment. Is that a workable proposition?

We think not. Even if Mr Sharif were to agree for now, there is no guarantee that he will keep his word once his man is ensconced in the Presidency. Why should Mr Sharif sit it out for five years and risk another general election? It would be in his interest to exploit the Presidency, destabilise Ms Bhutto and try to oust her as soon as possible.

If Ms Bhutto decides to go her own way, she will be looking at a person who fulfills three requirements — someone who is a Punjabi, who can rally round some sorely needed extra votes and who will rest content with cutting ribbons and hosting banquets. But this seems like an impossible task. Anyone who has the ability to dip into Mr Sharif’s camp or secure the support of the independents and the small regional or Islamic parties will surely be tempted to consolidate his constituency and become a hands-on President.

Nonetheless, many people think that Mr Balakh Sher Mazari is still Ms Bhutto’s best bet on this count. Mr Mazari is a polite, mild-mannered man without vaulting ambitions. He gets along well with her. On the basis of his personal goodwill he should also be able to pick up some extra votes. Unfortunately, Mr Mazari’s pushy sons and nephews are seen as a liability in circles otherwise sympathetic to him.

   Ms Bhutto seems to be comfortable with Mr Hamid Nasir Chattha. But since handing over the Punjab to the PML-J she has been advised to think again of delivering another bastion of power to her new allies. After all, say PPP think-tankers, only interests, not friends, are permanent in politics.

Nawabzada Nasrullah’s candidature is said to pose unpredictable, even tricky questions. He has always been his own man and is unlikely to become Ms Bhutto’s appendage even in the most agreeable of circumstances. Mr Asghar Khan and Mr Yahya Bakhtiar have burnt their boats with the PPP, so they are unlikely to be given any second thoughts. Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan may not yet be a spent force but he is definitely discredited in the eyes of the public. If Ms Bhutto were to risk endorsing the ex-President, Mr Sharif would most certainly exploit her decision. She might therefore be advised to give Mr Khan a miss, especially since she says she wants to start her second stint as prime minister on a clean slate. Malik Qasim, however, could turn out to be the PPP’s dark horse. But can he persuade Mazari, Nasrullah, Bugti, Asghar Khan and other small heavyweights to lend him their shoulders?

For Mian Nawaz Sharif, the choices are simpler. It is either Mr Wasim Sajjad or Mr Gohar Ayub. Both commend themselves by their ability to pick up extra votes, the former in the Senate and the latter on account of his Pathan grid. PML sources say Mr Sajjad is a better bet, though Mr Sharif is playing his cards close to his chest.

   Mr Wasim Sajjad, it appears, has also opened lines of communication with Ms Bhutto so that he can become a “consensus candidate”. Although Mr Sajjad is a staunch PML man who is much enamoured of Mian Nawaz Sharif, there is some talk of a public accord between him and Ms Bhutto whereby he would publicly renounce the 8th amendment powers to hire and fire in exchange for her support. Whatever the net worth of such an accord in times of political crisis, and there are bound to be many such occasions ahead when the President could conceivably disagree with the PM, the fact remains that without the implicit approval of GHQ this proposal may not take off.

   As for the khakis, they were still exploring when reports last came in. No doubt, they would have liked Mr Moeen Qureshi to shift to the Presidency but he wasn’t terribly keen on the idea. As a man of action with many ideas on good government, Mr Qureshi could hardly have relished the prospect of being a piece of furniture which is yanked out on ceremonial occasions. We don’t know if he will change his mind but nothing is beyond the realm of possibility if GHQ is seriously concerned.

Of course, it would be marvelous if a “consensus candidate” could be agreed upon between the PPP, PML and GHQ. But if that proves an elusive task, Ms Bhutto might sound out GHQ for its choice of the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of Pakistan. After all, a consensus between two of the three power-bases in the country is better than no consensus at all.

(TFT October 28-03 November, 1993 Vol-5 No.34 — Article)

“You are my sister, you can depend on me, come and stay in Saudi Arabia for a week” — Shah Fahd tells Benazir

Jeddah, 23rd October — In a gesture of unusual candour, warmth and much significance, Shah Fahd bin Abdul Aziz cut short his vacation, returned to Jeddah and expressed his desire to meet Benazir Bhutto, minutes before the Pakistani prime minister was scheduled to fly out from Jeddah to Abu Dhabi to dine with Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nayhan.

After the conclusion of her trip to Limassol (Cyprus) where she had gone to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting on 22nd October, Ms Bhutto flew to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia on a private visit to perform Umra. She was naturally delighted with her fortuitous 65 minute meeting with the Saudi monarch.

Said a foreign office spokesman: “This is a most unusual event. Normally the Saudi monarch is very inaccessible. One has to structure appointments or meetings much in advance. When former prime minister Moeen Qureshi recently went to Saudi Arabia for Umra, he sought an audience with Shah Fahd. This was denied since it hadn’t been set up well in advance”.

According to other sources, even former president Ghulam Ishaq Khan and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who have personally known the Saudi monarch for years, have rarely been accorded such unexpected honour or courtesies.

Ms Bhutto, who was about to board her aircraft for Abu Dhabi when the invitation was delivered to her at Jeddah VIP lounge, changed her programme and rushed to confer with the Saudi monarch. She also had to delay her departure for Abu Dhabi by nearly three hours. In another unexpected courtesy, Shah Fahd personally rang up Sheikh Zayed to explain why Ms Bhutto had been delayed.

In the meeting which lasted for over one hour, Shah Fahd reportedly did most of the talking and reminisced about the past. This too, said a foreign office spokesman, was most unusual. “Shah Fahd is a reticent man. But he was in an altogether different mood this time”.

The Saudi monarch told Ms Bhutto that he had tried to intervene with General Zia ul Haq to spare the life of her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He also appreciated the difficult times ahead for Pakistan and assured Ms Bhutto that she could count on his support at all times. “I am your brother. Come and stay in Saudi Arabia for a week. See for yourself what we have done to develop our economy”, he is reported to have said.

Ms Bhutto thanked Shah Fahd for his generousity and invited him to visit Pakistan. The Saudi King promised to do so after the conclusion of his trip to Europe and the United States in three months’ time. He also assured the Pakistani prime minister that he would intercede with the Americans on behalf of Pakistan’s position on Kashmir.

The discussions between the two leaders focussed on Kashmir. Ms Bhutto acquainted Shah Fahd with the dismal and deteriorating situation in Indian-held Kashmir and requested Saudi support for a forthcoming (third week of November) Pakistan-sponsored resolution in the United Nations on violation of human rights in the Valley. The Saudi monarch reiterated Saudi support for the right of self-determination for Kashmir. However, he also sought Ms Bhutto’s views about the possibility of exploring the “third option” to resolve the long-simmering dispute between Pakistan and India. Ms Bhutto said that in view of the UN resolutions of 1947 and ’48, the “third option” was a non-starter. Instead, she argued that pressure ought to be applied to India to create suitable conditions for meaningful dialogue, one prerequisite being the withdrawal of the Indian army from the Valley and a halt to the policy of systematic genocide being applied by New Delhi. Such a “cooling-off period” was necessary, she argued, before a dialogue could start.

Shah Fahd was sceptical about the success of this proposal. He told Ms Bhutto that when he raised the question of self-determination of Kashmir with former prime minister Indira Gandhi and criticised Indian policies, he had incurred her wrath and she had sulked for a long time.

But he said his policy of support to Pakistan remained steadfast and reminded her that the Saudi Foreign Minister had recently spoken out in the UN in support of the UN resolutions for a settlement of the dispute. Shah Fahd also promised to extend full support to the Pakistan-sponsored human rights resolution in the United Nations next month.

Ms Bhutto drew Shah Fahd’s attention to a letter addressed to her upon her accession to the office of prime minister of Pakistan from the Indian prime minister Narasimha Rao in which the latter had reportedly offered “talks” relating to the “situation in Jammu and Kashmir”. She explained that the Pakistan government viewed this letter as a ploy by the Indians to sidetrack the main issues. In the past, she said, the Indians had offered similar “talks”. When the Pakistan government had responded, New Delhi had refused to enter into any meaningful negotiations and instead insisted that Pakistan should recognise the Line of Control as the permanent border between the two countries. New Delhi had also used the earlier occasion to accuse Pakistan of meddling in its internal affairs.

Ms Bhutto thanked Shah Fahd profusely for meeting her and said she was relying on his help, guidance and wisdom in the coming years. Shah Fahd said she could rely on him because he viewed her as “his younger sister”. In another noteworthy gesture, the Saudi monarch escorted Ms Bhutto to her car and saw her off.

(TFT November 04-10, 1993 Vol-5 No.35 — Editorial)

State terrorism in Kashmir

The military siege of the shrine of Hazrat Bal in Kashmir could be precipitous. The Indian army is itching to “flush” out the “trouble-makers”. It cannot do that without violating the shrine’s sanctity and damaging it physically. If that happens, it will be seen everywhere as yet another example of India’s brutality and recklessness.

Fortunately, the Indian judiciary has sounded a note of caution by allowing food to be sent in to the occupants of the shrine. Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Ayer has also pleaded for the siege to be lifted — his argument is that wiping out a few militants is hardly likely to reverse the dialectic of violence and insurgency in Kashmir. Indeed, it will only serve to outrage the sentiments of Muslims all over the world, including the 100 million Muslims in India, and isolate New Delhi from the international community.

As it is, India’s attempts to hang on to Kashmir by brute force, even genocide, are finally beginning to attract worldwide censure. US President Bill Clinton’s public concern about the serious abuse of human rights in the Valley by the Indian security forces is palpable. The US State Department has firmly endorsed the disputed status of J&K and called for a negotiated settlement which takes into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people. Its view is that “external interference” — a stock phrase used by the Indians to allege a Pakistani hand in the Valley — is not responsible for the crisis which is based on indigenous factors because “the Kashmiris have been unhappy with their status vis a vis India for a long time. The US now sees Kashmir on the radar screen along with Yugoslavia and Somalia and lots of other places in the former Soviet Union. We can’t overlook it because there is a message in that”. What is the message?

The US would like everyone to believe that its recent concerns have to do with violation of human rights. That is only partly true. The real message is that if the Kashmir dispute isn’t resolved amicably, it could provoke a fourth war between India and Pakistan. Because both countries are potential nuclear states, the fear is that such a war could escalate into a nuclear holocaust, with serious implications for the security of the rest of the world.

For a long time, the US has wrongly believed that its goal of nuclear non-proliferation in South Asia could be pursued by leaning on Pakistan to sign the NPT while treating India with kid gloves. The Pressler amendment and the US military aid cut-off in 1990 were designed to achieve this objective. As long as the Kashmiris were relatively passive, the US saw no reason to take a special interest in their predicament. But now that Kashmir is in open revolt against India, the Pakistani argument that the road to nuclear non-proliferation in South Asia lies via Srinager is beginning to make sense in Washington.

   The establishment of a new slot at the US State Department for the Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs is evidence of heightened US concerns in the region. Ms Robin Raphel’s appointment to that office is a most welcome development. She is highly knowledgeable about the area and has an excellent grasp of the nature of the historic conflict in the sub-continent. The implications for world security in case of a clash between the two countries, cannot be lost on her.

Meanwhile, the ground situation in the Valley has gone from bad to worse. The military siege of Kashmir confirms the inexorable imprisonment of the arrogant Indian state in a web of internal and external contradictions. Such problems and dilemmas have increased in direct proportion to the state’s audaciousness. First it was the Golden Temple in Amritsar, then came the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya and now we have arrived at Hazrat Bal in Kashmir.

The phenomenal rise of militant Hinduism in “secular” India is yet another manifestation of the bankruptcy of the Indian state. Western friends of India would do well to recognise these insidious developments and counterpose them against the overwhelming rejection of the mullahs by the people of “fundamentalist” Pakistan in last month’s general elections.

The contradictions in the Indian position are manifold. India insists upon a global view on nuclear non-proliferation, a regional one on arms limitation talks and a bilateral one on the Kashmir dispute. This is like having one’s cake and eating it too. If India is still not prepared to recognise post cold-war realities, the world should sit up and take notice.

Later this month, a resolution sponsored by Pakistan and several other countries will be tabled in the United Nations condemning India for unprecedented violation of human rights in Kashmir. It would be tragic if the Western powers, especially the United States, were to shoot down this resolution or dilute it for fear of antagonising New Delhi. Far from yielding any dividends, a policy of molly-coddling India has only served to aggravate the situation. It is time India was convicted for state terrorism in Kashmir.

(TFT November 11-17, 1993 Vol-5 No.36 — Editorial)

May the right man win

Mr Farooq Leghari and Mr Wasim Sajjad are both good, upright men. Despite the considerable personal merits of each, however, Pakistanis would have preferred a “neutral”, consensus candidate in the Presidency. Why is that?

Past experience suggests that if the president and the prime minister don’t see eye to eye, a strong opposition can exploit their differences and bring the government down. This is what happened in 1990. Equally, a power-hungry President can fuel the contradictions between a strong government and a weak opposition in order to try and win longevity for himself. This is what happened in 1993. Past experience might also imply that if there is complete unanimity between the president and the prime minister, a weak opposition can be whipped into total submission and deprived of playing a vital role in holding the government accountable. This is what happened when the country had a rubber-stamp president from 1973-77. Hence a “consensus, neutral” President might have been the ideal way out. He would have built bridges between the two warring parties and provided much needed space for the development of democratic traditions.

   If the compulsions for a neutral President are obvious, why then have both parties decided to field their own favourites and slug it out to the bitter end? Surely, one of the two political leaders is bound to be humbled by the contest. When that happens on November 13th, he or she will inevitably plunge into desperation and recklessness. That is a sure recipe for disaster. We cannot afford it.

In all fairness, though, Ms Bhutto cannot be blamed for the present impasse. In discreet negotiations with Mr Sharif through the mutually-agreed aegis of the neutral umpire in Rawalpindi, the PM offered to concede the Presidency to the PML-N. Mr Wasim Sajjad was acceptable, she said, provided Mr Sharif entered into an accord with her to undo some of the president’s discretionary powers. Mr Sharif refused. He wants to discuss each and every clause of the 8th amendment so that he can extract further concessions from her. He also insists that such negotiations can only be held after his candidate is comfortably ensconced in the Presidency. This, despite Mr Sharif’s public commitment to repeal the 8th amendment at the first opportunity! In the end, the neutral umpire has pulled out and left the two political leaders to grapple with their respective fates. They are now poised to go for the kill, barring any last minute change of heart.

Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s fears are well grounded. The opposition rules Balochistan and Frontier. Her coalitions in Islamabad and Punjab are weak. She is highly vulnerable to onslaughts by Mian Nawaz Sharif. If Mr Sharif’s man wins, he will immediately insist on the appointment of governors of his choice in the four provinces. That would make life almost unbearable for Ms Bhutto in Punjab and give Mr Sharif an opportunity to capture the province in due course and reduce the central government to nought as in 1988-90. Mr Sharif will then have a strong vested interest in keeping the 8th amendment alive and kicking. Votes of no-confidence and horsetrading will also become the order of the day. In the event, Ms Bhutto will have as much chance of completing her five year tenure as a snowball in hell.

If the government’s candidate wins, however, Ms Bhutto will be in a good position to fend off attacks by the opposition. She will be able to bring Mr Sharif to the negotiating table over the 8th amendment. Maybe the two leaders can also explore ways of eliminating the blackmailing power of independents and small parties so that the two-party system can be strengthened.

Mr Sharif, of course, fears that Ms Bhutto would then become an all-powerful, unaccountable prime minister who will be difficult to dislodge even when her term is up. Is this suspicion justified?

We don’t think so. Comparisons with the situation during Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s regime from 1973-77 are untenable. Mr Bhutto had swept the elections, the PPP was all-in-all in the rump which remained of Pakistan. The Muslim League opposition was weak and fragmented, the press didn’t know the meaning of freedom. The army was a spent political force. There were no institutional or political checks on the prime minister. Mr Bhutto loomed larger than life.

Things are vastly different today. Ms Bhutto’s political experience and responses are very different from her father’s. She has barely scraped through to Islamabad and knows her limitations. The Muslim League is a powerful, united force for the first time in Pakistan’s history under the dynamic leadership of Mian Nawaz Sharif. The press is vibrant and cannot be silenced. The new army leadership watches carefully over the nation’s transition to democracy without taking sides. And the people of Pakistan will not accept authoritarianism of any kind.

For all these reasons, it might be better to give the original 1973 constitution a chance to redeem itself. Maybe it might be better if the prime minister and the president belonged to the same party. The alternative, despite Mr Wasim Sajjad’s integrity, commitment to democracy and due process of law, could conceivably be less workable.

(TFT November 18-24, 1993 Vol-5 No.37 — Editorial)

Don’t be a spoil-sport, Mr Sharif

Mr Nawaz Sharif is behaving like a spoilt child. Having spent over a decade in office, he is unable to cope with life in opposition. The leader of the opposition did not attend the oath-taking ceremonies of the new prime minister or president of Pakistan. That is bad form indeed.

   Worse, Mr Sharif is not a graceful loser. He seems to be opposing government for the sake of opposition. He refused to accept Nawabzada Nasrullah as a consensus presidential candidate when the Nawabzada’s name (among others) was suggested by Ms Benazir Bhutto three weeks ago. Yet, on the eve of the presidential election, when defeat was staring him in the face, he was ready to ditch Mr Wasim Sajjad and back the Nawabzada. He did so not because he genuinely thought the Nawabzada might win but because he hoped to drive a wedge between the ruling coalition alliance in the event that he lost. Fortunately, Nawab Akbar Bugti and Mr Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi counselled otherwise and the Nawabzada escaped being trapped in a web of conspiracies. Such thoughts must rankle with Ms Benazir Bhutto even as she rejoices over her recent victories.

Mr Sharif’s response to three other issues over which there is societal consensus is worrying. Mr Moeen Qureshi’s caretaker government passed 30 ordinances of varying significance. Ms Bhutto would like to enact these as Acts of Parliament. She can do so on the basis of the simple parliamentary majority which she enjoys. No, threatens Mr Sharif, “we will walk out if the government tries to push them through”. What is the point of being so belligerent, we wonder.

   Ms Bhutto also wants to repeal certain sections of the 8th amendment. Surely, Mr Sharif should have no objection to this. All year long, he has been thundering against its unjust provisions and crying himself hoarse about his commitment to democracy. Also, he must know that with Mr Farooq Leghari as President, Ms Bhutto can now appoint provincial Governors and Supreme Court judges at will. Nor does the prime minister have to worry about being dismissed under article 58 (2-B) anymore, given the Supreme Court’s strong verdict against it. Under the circumstances, an agreement to get rid of the president’s powers in these respects can be achieved in one minute flat. Why then should Mr Sharif insist upon discussing “each and every clause of the 8th amendment” in a tiresome, drawn-out process before he gives his seal of approval?

In the matter of the 35 women’s seats in the Senate and National Asembly, Mr Sharif’s approach reflects a dog-in-the-manger policy. When he was prime minister not so long ago, Mr Sharif could have restored these seats in less than the 35 minutes it took him to pass the controversial 12th amendment. He didn’t do so probably because he didn’t want to antagonise his obscurantist partners at the time. But what’s the problem now? Mr Sharif has bluntly told Qazi Hussain Ahmad to go and jump in a lake. Maulana Sattar Niazi has been wiped out in the elections. Senator Sami ul Haq remains a nobody. Maulana Fazlur Rahman is now Ms Bhutto’s headache, not Mr Sharif’s. The PML-N manifesto commits itself to the proposal loud and clear. His new proposal that there should be 40 special electoral constituencies for women is an ingenious afterthought to deflect public criticism of his foot-dragging over the issue.

There can only be one explanation for Mr Sharif’s dogged resistance on all these issues: to try and draw out the process of negotiation, clause by useless clause, in the hope of thwarting Ms Bhutto from making good on her commitments. Mr Sharif’s strategy is to erect stumbling blocks for Ms Bhutto and create an impression of incompetence in Islamabad. At best, this is a cheap form of filibustering; at worst, it is a bloody-minded game plan to fuel instability.

The prime minister, however, is bending over backwards to appease Mr Sharif. She has advised her Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Dr Sher Afghan, to “negotiate with the opposition” before moving the various bills in parliament. She is also holding back the appointment of the strong and silent Chaudhry Altaf Hussain as Governor of Punjab because she thinks it might signal an aggressive move on her part and further provoke Mr Sharif. In our view, this is misplaced concreteness. Mr Sharif is not likely to change his spots. The PM should send Ch Altaf to the Punjab immediately and order Dr Sher Afghan to get on with life.

Pakistan desperately craves stability. This can best be achieved by various confidence-building measures between government and opposition. An agreement to ratify the 30 ordinances and restore the women’s seats is ideally suited for this purpose because these are not controversial issues. By so doing, both sides will restore the peoples’ faith in their leaders and make the political system credible. If Mr Nawaz Sharif can stop sulking and help Ms Bhutto clean up the mess of the last two decades, maybe we can settle down to a period of dull, boring politics. God knows we deserve it.

(TFT November 18-24, 1993 Vol-5 No.37 — Article)

Sharif refused Bhutto offer for consensus President

According to a careful construction of the events and negotiations leading up to the final choice of presidential candidates, Mr Nawaz Sharif has only himself to blame for putting Mr Farooq Leghari in the Presidency.

Two weeks before the presidential election, Mr Nawaz Sharif spurned Ms Benazir Bhutto’s offer to nominate Nawabzada Nasrullah as a consensus candidate for the office of the President of Pakistan. Later, Mr Sharif once again rejected Ms Bhutto’s proposal to accept Mr Wasim Sajjad’s candidature in exchange for an agreement to repeal certain sections of the 8th amendment, despite the fact that Mr Sajjad was personally amenable to the government’s suggestion. However, in a desperate volte-face on the eve of the election, Mr Sharif contacted Nawabzada Nasrullah and offered to withdraw Mr Sajjad from the contest if the Nawabzada agreed to stand for election with the backing of Nawab Akbar Bugti.

Early in the game, Mr Wasim Sajjad and Ms Benazir Bhutto opened lines of communication to determine the conditions on which Ms Bhutto would accept Mr Sajjad as a consensus candidate. Ms Bhutto wanted Mr Sajjad to give solid assurances on three counts: (1) that he would not, during the course of his term, take recourse to article 58-2B and dismiss the national assembly, (2) that he would accept her advice on the appointment of provincial governors of her choice, (3) that the appointment of judges to the superior benches would comply with the prime minister’s recommendations.

Mr Sajjad didn’t foresee any major problems in accepting her first conditionality. He knew that after the Supreme Court’s May 26 judgement, the efficacy of article 58 2(B) had been greatly diminished for all times to come. Therefore he felt that assurances could be given in this regard.

The other two conditionalities were more problematic. Mr Sajjad was worried lest Ms Bhutto exploit the power to appoint governors to destabilise the PML-N governments in the NWFP and Balochistan. He sought counter-assurances from Ms Bhutto that this would not be done. Punjab was a grey area. Mr Sajjad realised that at some stage Mr Sharif would want to capture the province by driving a wedge between Mr Manzoor Wattoo and Ms Bhutto and horsetrading in a dozen or so independents. But this strategy would be difficult to enforce if a strong PPP governor like Chaudhry Altaf Hussain was sitting in the Governor’s House in Lahore. The PPP, of course, was not prepared to concede this power to the President.

The third condition  appointment of SC judges  was less intractable. As long as the PPP’s recommendations were professionally sound, Mr Sajjad said he would have no objections.

The real problem, however, was how such an accord, or undertaking could be affected between the two parties. Mr Sajjad argued that his word should be good enough. Ms Bhutto thought otherwise. At one stage, Ms Bhutto’s emissary put forward a proposal which appeared outrageous to Mr Sajjad. Would Mr Sajjad be prepared to give signed but undated orders on Presidential letterheads to Ms Bhutto confirming the appointments of unnamed provincial Governors and SC Judges? No, said Mr Sajjad, there should be some other way to cement the understanding. In due course, the talks failed to take off and Ms Bhutto shifted the focus of negotiations towards Mr Nawaz Sharif.

In theory, both sides were prepared to negotiate a consensus candidate under the aegis of GHQ. But GHQ didn’t want to be dragged into the political fray. The problem, however, was that neither side was ready to take the other at face value unless a neutral umpire could guarantee the credibility and worth of each side. Accordingly, both sides persuaded GHQ to lend a helping hand. Each sent its lists of consensus candidates to the neutral umpire for onward deliberations by the other side. Each side also requested GHQ to suggest a couple of independent names.

Mr Sharif’s list contained five names, all of which were from the PML-N. Among these were the names of Mr Wasim Sajjad, Mr Gauhar Ayub and Gen (retd) Majeed Malik. Among Ms Bhutto’s list were the names of PPP allies like Mr Hamid Nasir Chattha, Mr Balakh Sher Mazari, Nawabzada Nasrullah and Malik Qasim. The others were PPP men like Mr Aftab Shabaan Mirani, Mr Farooq Leghari and Mr Aftab Sherpao. The prominent name in GHQ’s brief list was none other than Mr Moeen Qureshi, the former caretaker prime minister.

When the lists were exchanged, Mr Sharif rejected all but the five names he had put forward himself. Nawabzada Nasrullah was not acceptable to him. Ms Bhutto in turn rejected all of Mr Sharif’s nominees. Though she was politically astute enough not to reject the GHQ nominees, like Mr Sharif she too indicated her lack of keenness on Mr Moeen Qureshi.

A deadlock ensued. That is when Ms Bhutto offered a deal to Mr Sharif. She said that she would accept the PML-N’s Mr Wasim Sajjad on condition that Mr Sharif agreed to help her repeal certain sections of the 8th amendment. Ms Bhutto was happy to leave the Islamic provisions untouched as well as leave the power to appoint the chiefs of the armed forces with the President.

But Mr Sharif spurned the offer. He argued that he wanted to discuss each and every clause of the 8th amendment in detail and would not enter into an accord until after Mr Wasim Sajjad had been elected President.

Realising that Mr Sharif was intransigent, GHQ decided to pull out as a neutral mediator between the two sides. Left to her own fate, Ms Bhutto went ahead and named Mr Farooq Leghari as the PPP’s candidate. She also set about trying to reconcile her allies to this decision, in particular the group led by ex-president Ghulam Ishaq Khan which was now demanding the third slot in the troika for its members.

Mr Sharif, meanwhile, was still not sure which of his two candidates  Mr Wasim Sajjad or Gauhar Ayub  stood a better chance of winning. While he kept them dangling and delayed launching Mr Sajjad’s campaign, he was also not averse to a late secret proposal from the Tehreek-i-Istaqlal to nominate Air Marshal (retd) Asghar Khan as a consensus candidate. Although Mr Sharif didn’t formally put Mr Khan’s name on his list, he did send a communication to Ms Bhutto to consider Mr Khan as a possible, last minute choice. Mr Sharif hoped that since Mr Khan was on record as opposing the 8th amendment, Ms Bhutto would agree to his candidature without demanding a formal agreement with Mr Sharif to repeal certain sections of the 8th amendment. The fact that Mr Asghar Khan had already met with the COAS twice in the span of a few days was meant to signal GHQ’s approval of his candidature. Interestingly enough, Mr Wasim Sajjad was kept totally in the dark about this development.

By that time, however, GHQ was in no mood to re-enter the negotiations. Once bitten, twice shy, it was unhappy with Mr Sharif on three counts:

(1) In July, the name of Mr Moeen Qureshi as interim prime minister was suggested by Mr Nawaz Sharif after efforts to agree upon any one of a number of candidates had failed to satisfy the three parties to the dispute — Mr Sharif, Ms Bhutto and the then president Ghulam Ishaq Khan. Since neither Ghulam Ishaq Khan nor Bhutto had any objections, Mr Sartaj Aziz called up Mr Qureshi in Singapore. At first Mr Qureshi refused. Then, at the request of Mr Sharif and Mr Sartaj Aziz, GHQ tried to persuade Mr Qureshi to take the job and succeeded in its efforts. Later, however, when Mr Qureshi refused to side with Mr Sharif, a disinformation campaign was launched by the PML-N arguing that Mr Qureshi had been imposed on them by GHQ.

(2) When Mr Wasim Sajjad’s name was proposed as a consensus candidate on certain conditions, the story was leaked by Mr Sharif to a pro-PML-N daily newspaper. In the story, which made headlines, an effort was made to falsely suggest that Wasim Sajjad was GHQs preferred choice. Since GHQ had been dragged into the negotiations reluctantly, it was anxious to keep its name out of the political fray. Also, since it had indicated no preferences for any of the candidates suggested by the two sides, it was untrue to attribute choices to GHQ.

(3) The decision of the MQM to boycott the national assembly elections was taken by Mr Altaf Hussain. But stories were planted in the press by PML-N leaders suggesting that GHQ had connived to bring about the MQM’s boycott in order to help the PPP in Sindh. Since this was proven false by the MQM’s decision to contest the provincial polls, GHQ was naturally peeved at the malicious allegations.

For all these reasons, GHQ remained a reluctant, half-hearted player throughout the negotiations. In particular, it was no longer prepared to act as a guarantor for any informal accord between Mr Sharif and Ms Bhutto. The credibility of at least one of the two players was questionable.

Ms Bhutto read the situation better than Mr Sharif. She quickly settled her problems with Mr Ishaq Khan and launched Mr Farooq Leghari on the campaign trail. Nawab Akbar Bugti and Nawabzada Nasrullah were problematic, but there was never any doubt in the minds of insiders that they would come round in the end and back Mr Leghari in exchange for certain assurances of support in the future. The appointment of Chaudhry Altaf Hussain as Punjab Governor was one such concession; the grant of development funds to Balochistan was another, including consultation on the choice of Balochistan Governor.

On 10th November, Nawab Bugti and Nawabzada Nasrullah finally promised their support to Mr Leghari. This was duly announced on the evening of 11th November. The contest was now a foregone conclusion. Mr Farooq Leghari would romp home and there would be no spoilers to give the PML-N an outside chance of an upset victory.

After the announcement of Mr Bugti’s withdrawal from the contest, PML-N leaders privately began to concede defeat. One stalwart actually confided to a senior journalist that he was already making plans to take a long holiday abroad.

But Mr Sharif couldn’t come to terms with the new situation. An insidious plan was now hatched. If the PPP couldn’t be defeated at the presidential polls, it was imperative to try and drive a wedge between the PPP and its allies so that the resultant bad blood could be exploited by the PML-N later.

Accordingly, Mr Wasim Sajjad was prevailed upon to withdraw so that Nawabzada Nasrullah could be tempted to enter the contest. The hope was that even if the new alliance under the Nawabzada lost, it would lose by a very small margin, thereby allowing Mr Sharif to redeem pride and clout. It was also expected that the PPP could be estranged from the NDA and Nawab Bugti for all times to come and that would give Mr Sharif a leading edge when the time to destabilise and overthrow the Bhutto government arrived later.

   Consequently, on 12th November, Mr Sharif took the dispirited Mr Wasim Sajjad, along with Chaudhry Shujaat, Gen (retd) Majeed Malik and Haji Nawaz Khokhar, to meet with Nawabzada Nasrullah and Nawab Bugti. All day and evening long, there were meetings. Mr Sharif and/or associates met the Nawabzada no less than six times and Mr Bugti three times. On some occasions Mr Sajjad simply sat waiting in a car outside the homes of the Nawabzada or Bugti. They desperately tried to persuade the Nawabzada to become their consensus candidate. Mr Bugti’s point of view was reportedly simple: he would abide by the Nawabzada’s decision but he would do so unhappily. He had given his word to Mr Leghari and he wanted to stick to it. Mr Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, too, was opposed to Mr Sharif’s new initiative. He felt that they would all look bad in the eyes of the public if they did a somersault at that stage. A winning candidate (Mr Leghari) in the hand, their argument went, was better than a possible loser in the bush. The negotiations were finally called off shortly before 11 pm on 12th November. The MQM, which was waiting to ascertain the fate of this last ditch effort, finally announced its decision to back Mr Leghari at about midnight. This, despite the fact that the MQM had a day earlier secretly agreed to back Mr Leghari.

In the event, Mr Leghari routed Mr Sajjad by a huge margin of 106 votes on November 13th. It is possible that Mr Leghari was able to bag some extra votes after some Sharif supporters lost heart when their leader ditched his own candidate at the last minute. But the fact is that Mr Leghari would have won anyway, albeit by a narrow margin, even if the 30 odd votes of the MQM, Bugti and Nawabzada groups had gone over to the other side.

The biggest loser is not Mr Wasim Sajjad, although he has been badly done in by his leader. It is Mr Nawaz Sharif whose credibility in the eyes of his own supporters has plummeted to new depths. Here is a man, they say, who is capable of ruthlessly ditching his most loyal lieutenants at any time without a care in the world.

(TFT November 25-December 01, 1993 Vol-5 No.38 — Editorial)

So far, so good

Two recent cartoons in the press sum up the prevailing gloom and doom in the PML-N camp. One shows a group of PPP cricketers thumping each other with joy while the scoreboard reads: “Nawaz b Benazir 0, Gohar lbw Gilani 0, Sajjad c Nasrullah b Bugti 0, Shahbaz c Ramay b Wattoo 0.” The other captures the PML-N’s reaction to this debacle: it shows Mian Nawaz Sharif perched upside down from the branch of a tree, viewing the spectacle through a pair of binoculars. This cartoon is titled: “PPP a picture of failure — PML-N”.

A lengthy press statement by Mr Mushahid Hussain, the PML-N’s information secretary, should be read in this context. Mr Hussain has made a number of ridiculous allegations to try and “prove” that in its first month in office the Benazir Bhutto government “has lacked ideas, initiatives and policies”. Mr Sartaj Aziz, the PML-N’s secretary-general, has tried to raise the stakes by comparing the PPP’s “performance” with the “achievements” of the Nawaz Sharif regime in its first 30 days in office in 1990. Accordingly, a government spokesman has been obliged to refute these allegations “point by point”.

Unfortunately, the PML-N’s disinformation campaign has now begun to harm national security. Mr Sharif’s indiscreet utterances on the nuclear issue are a measure of his desperate plight. He has “accused” Ms Bhutto of being a “traitor” for “capping” the nuclear programme and trying to “roll it back”. This, despite well known facts to the contrary. After Ms Bhutto was sacked in August 1990, President Bush sent a stiffly-worded letter to President Ghulam Ishaq on September 18th saying that he had “reason to believe that the status of Pakistan’s nuclear programme has changed”. Mr Robert Oakley, the then US ambassador to Pakistan, said that US aid to Pakistan had been terminated because Pakistan had “crossed the red light in April 1990”. On 18th October 1990 President Ishaq wrote to President Bush saying that “it would be my endeavour that this programme does not advance beyond its present stage”. More significantly, President Ishaq assured the US President that it would be his “earnest hope that this political decision by the present government [Mr Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi was then caretaker prime minister] would be maintained by future governments”. In the event, the nuclear programme remained frozen and the Americans were also allowed by Mian Nawaz Sharif to inspect Pakistan’s Anza-2 missile development programme. No wonder, despite their bitter parting of ways later, Mr Sharif has never criticised Mr Ghulam Ishaq over the country’s nuclear policy. He could hardly have done so, having been a witting co-partner in its implementation.

Is Mr Nawaz Sharif, then, simply being bloody-minded? Up to a point, of course, it is his democratic right as opposition leader to criticise the new regime. It might even be conceded that in a democratic system sometimes it is necessary simply to oppose for the sake of opposition. But there should be a fullstop somewhere. Surely, politicians ought to approach sensitive national security issues with a degree of responsibility.

The nuclear question, in particular, doesn’t lend itself to an acerbic debate merely for the sake of scoring cheap propaganda points. If Ms Bhutto had wanted to derive mileage from this, she could have done so when the programme was frozen under Mr Sharif’s government. But she didn’t oppose for the sake of opposition. Indeed, her silence spoke volumes about her patriotism. Unfortunately, this lesson has remained lost on Mr Sharif.

Of course, Ms Bhutto doesn’t need any certification from the opposition leader. She just received a resounding vote of confidence from the very business community which Mr Sharif claims as his constituency. The Karachi Stock Exchange Price Index, which stood at about 1450 points last month, peaked to over 1700 points the day after Mr Farooq Leghari decisively clinched the presidency.

The prime minister’s recent initiatives are transparently sincere. Her cabinet is small, her ministers are clean and competent. She has resisted the temptation to be nepotistic. She accepts the plurality of political interests in the country and her alliances are proof of her democratic intentions. She wants to promulgate laws against drug traffickers and is pressurising loan defaulters to cough up. Various task-forces are grappling with plans to combat inflation, upgrade the social sector, and launch development-oriented projects. Reforms to improve the status of women and prisoners are on the anvil.

More significantly, Ms Bhutto seems determined to end Pakistan’s isolation in the international community (thanks to Mr Sharif) and restore the aid pipeline to the army. The question of the nuclear reprocessing plant from France is again on her agenda. She is scheduled to visit Iran, Turkey and China next month to canvass support for Kashmir.

So far so good, we say. The prime minister is moving on the right track and with the right speed. In contrast, Mr Sharif appears increasingly desperate and forlorn. At the beginning of 1993, he was prime minister with a two-thirds parliamentary majority. By the end of the year, he will be lucky to survive as opposition leader with only a rump of the Muslim League in tow. If anything, he should be scrutinising his own dismal performance rather than going on about Ms Bhutto’s.

(TFT December 02-08, 1993 Vol-5 No.39 — Editorial)

Educational apartheid must end

There have always been “two Pakistans”. One “Pakistan” is reserved for the miniscule English-speaking elites who are educated in expensive private schools and colleges and who go on to govern the country and manage its institutions. The other “Pakistan” is populated by the unwashed, illiterate “masses” who slave away for these elites from dawn to dusk. This system of educational “apartheid” continues to eat into the fabric of our nationhood. What can be done about it?

Pakistan’s paradox is that it is a middle-income country with a literacy rate of only 30 per cent. Comparable countries like Turkey, Thailand and Indonesia boast literacy rates of over 80 per cent.

One reason is that Pakistan spends next to nothing on educating its people. Until the 1970s only 1 per cent of GNP was consumed for educational purposes. This is up to 2 per cent of GNP now. Still, all save one of the 28 Asia-Pacific countries spend much more per capita, many over 4 per cent of their GNP.

Education has also occupied a low position in every government’s priority list. Typically, about 7 per cent of the country’s combined federal and provincial budgets is earmarked for it every year and much of it is misappropriated. The UNESCO benchmark for countries in the same income bracket like Pakistan is 20 per cent of budgetary outlays.

The problem is partly due to the nature of the Pakistani economy. Over 70 per cent of the country’s 130 million people live in the rural areas and agriculture accounts for over 60 per cent of GNP. Land ownership is highly skewed. Big landlords dominate the two largest provinces, Punjab and Sindh. They also control parliaments and run governments. Largely uneducated themselves, they have a vested interest in keeping their peasants illiterate, unorganised and dependent.

The result is that only 40 per cent of Pakistani children between 5-9 years are enrolled in schools. Half of them drop out in the first five years and only one in four complete matriculation. Female literacy in such a traditional, even reactionary, environment is abysmally low — the national average in the rural areas is 4 per cent. It is rock bottom in the largely tribal societies of Balochistan and Frontier provinces. With an annual population growth rate of over 3 per cent, there are 32 million more unschooled Pakistanis today than there were a decade ago. In Thailand, Indonesia and Turkey nearly 90 per cent of the children go to school.

Several other factors account for this bleak situation. History is one of them. For two centuries, the British Raj remained largely indifferent to the educational needs of its subjects. Emphasis was placed on the liberal arts in order to create an Anglicized, elite corps of administrators for the colony. But the Muslims of India didn’t help their cause either. Unlike secular, middle-class Hindus who adapted to the new social environment and became upwardly mobile, the Muslims tended to resist the new cultural values and institutions introduced by the British. Modern, rational philosophy came into conflict with the heavy theological content of traditional Islamic curricula.

When the sub-continent was partitioned, Pakistan got a raw deal. The bulk of assets, financial resources, skilled manpower and educational and commercial institutions fell to India’s lot. Most schools and colleges were ramshackle outfits strapped for funds. The situation became particularly grim after tens of thousands of Hindu teachers migrated to India in 1947.

   A war with India over Kashmir in 1948 forced a new set of priorities on the leaders of the nation. Education was not one of them. The military began to hog the budgets and the social sector was all but forgotten. The militarisation of Pakistan gathered pace in the early 1950s and two more wars with India reinforced this trend. In 1974 prime minister Z A Bhutto launched a nuclear programme, vowing to “eat grass”, if necessary, to keep it going. We have never looked back.

Educational “policies” were launched with much fanfare in 1947, 1969, 1972, 1979 and 1992 but shelved when governments abruptly fell from power. Pakistan has been plagued with acute political instability. From 1947 to 1958, six prime ministers fell from grace. In the last seven years, another six have come and gone, four alone in 1993. When there was a modicum of stability, as under army rule from 1958 to 1972 and again from 1977 to 1988, the generals concentrated on making war with India (1965 and 1971) or trying to liberate Afghanistan from the yoke of Soviet communism (1979-88). Given such fitful starts and political adventures, educational policy has come to suffer from lack of planning, coherence and continuity.

Under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s socialist regime (1973-77), all educational institutions, including schools, were nationalised. The quantity and quality of learning rapidly declined and the economy went into a slump. Then the country did a U-turn under General Zia ul Haq: the education system was privatised but this time a heavy dose of “Islamisation” was injected into the curriculum. This has proved disastrous.

Any material thought “repugnant to the teachings of Islam” was censored from some 551 primary and secondary school textbooks. New Islamic subjects were introduced and made compulsory in schools. The curriculum for “Pakistan Studies” was thoroughly revised — henceforth Pakistanis were taught to think of themselves as citizens of the Middle-East and told to forget their South Asian heritage. Arabic was made compulsory for classes V1 to V111. A degree from a mosque school was now equivalent to a Masters degree in Islamiyat or Arabic from a university. Exercises were carried out to “Islamise” school mathematics by introducing Arabic terminology and insisting that text should flow from right to left. Overnight, education found itself lost in a fog of sham “Islamisation”.

When Ms Benazir Bhutto came to power in 1988, she promised to inject more money into education and overhaul the system. But her 20 month period in office was marked by such instability that none of her schemes took off. Under Nawaz Sharif, however, another attempt was made to “revitalise” the education system. By this, Mr Sharif’s new Education Policy meant “to pursue Zia’s Islamisation initiatives with increased avidity”. However, after spending two years deliberating over the appropriate dose of Islamisation required, the education minister gave up. The matter was handed over to a special parliamentary commission for consideration. The commission spent six months thinking about it and couldn’t come up with any ideas.

Now Ms Bhutto’s government is busy dusting Mr Sharif’s Education Report and hoping to salvage some of its prescriptions. The PPP’s election manifesto spoke of spending at least 4 per cent of GNP on education by the time Ms Bhutto’s term ended in 1998. This figure has already been revised to 3 per cent by the end of the decade.

Even this may prove impossible to achieve. Currently, Pakistan has about 124,000 primary schools (including ‘mosque schools’, ‘shelterless’ and one room structures) with an enrollment of about 11.5 million “pupils”. By the end of this century the population of the 5-9 age group will be about 22 million. Merely to achieve universal primary education, an additional 107,000 schools and 265,000 teachers will be needed. This will require an outlay of tens of billions of rupees. A doubling of the facilities for secondary, vocational and higher education, which is the minimum required within the next decade, will mean additional tens of billions.

   Where are we going to get such vast sums of money? With defence expenditures gobbling up nearly 40 per cent of annual budgets, followed by debt servicing at 35 per cent, there is precious little left over for the social sector, including education. Thus the private sector must be harnessed to help achieve our goals. But businessmen refuse to pay taxes or repay loans. They expect investment in education to yield the same sort of profit margins as ghee or cement, which is preposterous.

Where teachers are concerned, no one wants to go and teach in the rural areas. “Islamic ideology” also remains as elusive and confusing as ever. And both the PPP and PML are dominated by ‘feudals’ who have a vested interest in the status quo.

Ms Bhutto’s objective — of spending up to 3 per cent of GNP on education by the end of this century — is laudable. The ambitious education policy prepared by Mr Sharif’s government had hoped to hit a target of 2.5 per cent of GNP by the year 2002. How Ms Bhutto proposes to do better than that, however, remains unclear. At best, her government can marginally increase federal and provincial budgetary outlays on education, and that too only if can squeeze substantially larger revenues from the rich and greedy, which remains doubtful. But that would still amount to only a drop in the ocean of needs. Unless the private sector makes a substantial contribution, all hope is lost.

Many educational schemes involving private sector participation can be envisaged. While attempts are made to encourage such a package, the government should put its own house in order. One priority would be to reserve a slice of subsidised institutions of higher and vocational education for meritorious children of the middle-classes and privatise all the other colleges and universities which are a drain on the exchequer. Another would be to make primary education compulsory and free, especially in the rural areas.

A third objective should be to end, once and for all, any ambiguity surrounding the status of the English language. It should be made a compulsory second language from secondary school and upwards. It is ridiculous to harp about its colonial connotations in this day and age. The fact is that without English, which is the paramount language of trade and commerce, there can be no upward mobility. A policy of denying English to the middle-classes, wittingly or otherwise, by emphasising Urdu at its expense is designed only to increase the gulf between the rulers and the ruled and sustain the idea of the “two Pakistans”.

A fourth initiative should be undertaken to end the confusion about the role of “Islamic ideology” in state and society. We have been continually obliged to revise our textbooks to suit the ideological whims and fancies of illegitimate or insecure rulers. Such hypocrisy should come to an end now that we have a legitimate, democratic and stable government in power. “Mullahcracy” has only served to cripple our education system without rearming us in any moral sense.

Unfortunately, in Pakistan’s highly status conscious society, education is still viewed only as a means to an end, “a screening device for limited job opportunities”. This is a pernicious, self-defeating philosophy. If it persists, the educated elites will shrink over time and the country will be faced with a tidal wave of illiterate and unemployed Pakistanis. This is a frightening scenario which only the ignorant mullahs can relish.

(TFT December 09-15, 1993 Vol-5 No.40 — Editorial)

Foul play by both sides

The recent bye-elections were marred by senseless squabbles between the PML-N and PPP, especially in Lahore. Mr Nawaz Sharif, the PML-N leader, says an attempt was made to “assassinate” him. “It is a miracle that I am alive”, he claims, “the bullet whizzed an inch past my ear”. Not to be outdone, Mr Faisal Salah Hayat, the Punjab chief minister’s chief PPP advisor, has regaled newsmen with tales of how he braved a rain of bullets on election day. Both have lodged cases of “attempted murder” against their opponents. Allegations of rigging also abound. The PML-N is accused of using bogus ID cards. The PPP is said to have stuffed ballot boxes. What are the facts?

There was no “assassination” attempt on Mr Sharif. A burst of Kalashnikov fire by activists of the Muslim Students Federation (once allied to Mr Sharif but now with Punjab chief minister Manzoor Wattoo) left one roof-top bystander dead, which would suggest that the gunnmen were not aiming at Mr Sharif’s shiny pate closer to the ground. Nor did Mr Hayat show a shred of courage on the day of voting. Both leaders were involved in scuffles and both beat hasty retreats when their opponents threatened to get really nasty.

The allegations of electoral foul-play are more credible. There are eye-witness accounts of how a couple of PPP candidates tried to “capture” some polling stations in order to stuff ballot-boxes. Fortunately, they chickened out and fled from the scene after being challenged by the police.

This is disgraceful. It proves that when it comes to a pinch the ruling PPP-PML(J) alliance is no different from the PML-N when it was in power. It is just as well therefore that Mr Sharif’s opposition party thrashed the ruling alliance at the polls in Lahore.

The bye-elections, however, have left a bad taste in the mouth. This is most unfortunate. Here was an excellent opportunity for politicians to demonstrate their political maturity and prove that they are capable of running the system competently without any “outside” or “neutral” assistance. But they have squandered it once again.

Why did the army not conduct the bye-elections? It takes two hands to clap. One reason for the army’s reluctance to get involved may have to do with an insidious campaign launched by Mr Sharif & Co to question the army’s “neutrality” in recent times. According to published statements of PML-N stalwarts like Syeda Abida Hussain and Sheikh Rashid, a conspiracy was hatched by General Abdul Waheed, Ms Benazir Bhutto and the United States government to oust Mr Sharif from power and bar him from returning to office by “rigging” the general elections held on October 6th. Thus when Mr Shahbaz Sharif, the opposition leader in the Punjab assembly, demanded that the bye-elections should be conducted by the army, his pleas fell on deaf ears at GHQ. Another factor may have been the government’s desperate efforts to win the Lahore seats by hook or by crook in order to “prove” that Mr Sharif had lost ground in his home-base. In the event, both sides have behaved questionably. Where do we go from here?

Ms Bhutto is now planning to force loan-defaulters and crooks involved in the co-ops scam to cough up or else. Even if the prime minister’s new measures succeed only in recovering a slice of the Rs 80 billion owed, the funds will help the government launch urgently required development-oriented projects. This is to be welcomed. But Mr Sharif & Co, who owe billions, are bound to cry “victimisation” all over again. Temperatures may therefore rise to uncomfortable levels.

Mr Sharif’s strategy is transparent. He believes he cannot afford to give Ms Bhutto any respite to consolidate herself in power. If she does, the argument goes, she may be able to provide “good” government to the people of Pakistan, thereby eroding Mr Sharif’s support base in the long run. In the short-run, of course, Mr Sharif thinks he risks losing many PML-N parliamentarians to the carrots proffered by the government. A state of running confrontation, therefore, is to be preferred in the interests of Mr Sharif’s Muslim League over a period of relative calm and stability in the interests of the country.

Mr Sharif, however, may find that such aggressive tactics, far from yielding any dividends, could easily rebound on him. Apart from provoking the government to pay him back in kind (in which case he will be the big loser), there is very little public sympathy for Mr Sharif’s “destabilisation” campaign. We are all fed up with the puerile games that politicians play. Even the business lobby, which supported Mr Sharif in the last election, now wants a break from political fire-fighting so that it can concentrate on making money in a stable environment. Ordinary people, especially, would like the government to make good on its promises.

If the opposition’s dog-in-the-manger policy persists, a backlash from the public may lead to Mr Sharif’s isolation. Therefore, he should be counselled, in the interests of stability and democracy, to get off his high horse and start talking to Ms Bhutto.

(TFT December 09-15, 1993 Vol-5 No.40 — Article)

Much ado about nothing

Ms Benazir Bhutto has ousted her mother Mrs Nusrat Bhutto from the post of Chairperson of the Pakistan Peoples Party and crowned herself Queen. A photograph of the tearful mother was splashed on the front pages of most newspapers following the “coup” within the PPP hierarchy. How should we react to this event?

Naturally enough, Ms Benazir Bhutto’s hardened detractors will point to this as further evidence of her “autocratic” temperament. They will say that if Ms Bhutto cannot tolerate her own mother, who has done so much for the party especially in the hard times following Mr Z A Bhutto’s execution in 1979, how can she be expected to treat the opposition in a democratic fashion?

Others with a less unsympathetic attitude towards Ms Bhutto will want to know what considerations, if any, compelled the daughter to strike out against a mother who has been such a pillar of strength to her in the past. Many will question the way Ms Bhutto went about affecting her mother’s ouster — in a surprise move, Ms Bhutto called a meeting of the Central Executive Council of the PPP, declined to inform Mrs Nusrat Bhutto about it, and rammed through a resolution proclaiming her own nomination as Chairperson. Some will wonder whether such a drastic measure was necessary at all, whether an in-house family settlement should not have been the preferred course of action. Many may, however, believe, that the PPP has been significantly weakened as a result of this “split” within the Bhutto dynasty.

While there may be an element of truth in some of these assertions, they do not constitute the real and full political picture. To grasp that, consider the following points.

Despite her many sacrifices for the cause of her party and daughter, which no one can dispute, Mrs Nusrat Bhutto had increasingly begun to lose her political bearings, thereby causing severe embarrassment to Ms Bhutto. For a long time, Ms Bhutto shrugged off many of her mother’s utterances as well-meaning though misplaced indiscretions. However, the crunch has come after Mrs Nusrat Bhutto’s recent efforts to launch her son Mir Murtaza Bhutto as the rightful heir to the party of her husband Z A Bhutto. In so doing, Mrs Nusrat Bhutto has objectively sought to oust her daughter from the leadership of the PPP. In other words, it is Mrs Nusrat Bhutto and not Ms Benazir Bhutto who is responsible for initiating a dynastic power-struggle within the PPP.

Whatever Mir Murtaza Bhutto’s credentials to “inherit” the PPP, the fact remains that these aren’t a patch on Ms Bhutto’s difficult and long struggle to catapult the PPP into power twice within the last five years. In that sense, Ms Bhutto has already emerged as a political leader of substance in her own right while Mir Murtaza is still clutching at the “legacy” of his father.

Ms Bhutto arguments are based on sound political judgement. She wanted Murtaza not to come to Pakistan before the elections because she feared that Mr Nawaz Sharif would exploit his allegedly “terrorist” status to hurt the Peoples Party. She was right. Mr Sharif has already derived considerable mileage from this “fact”. But neither Murtaza nor Mrs Bhutto were prepared to listen. In that sense, they were both ready to sacrifice the interests of the party at the alter of dynastic inheritance. In consequence, much of what mother and son have recently uttered about their rightful “dues” has only served to weaken the party and hurt Ms Bhutto. Their attacks on PPP leaders close to Ms Bhutto, in particular, have been most damaging.

Faced with an insidious and continuing attack aimed by mother and son at her leadership, Ms Bhutto has demonstrated much restraint in the face of great provocation. Recently, however, she had received reports that Murtaza was pressurising Mrs Bhutto to unilaterally announce her ouster as co-chairperson of the PPP in favour of himself. In order to pre-empt this, Ms Bhutto has chosen to strike first. Will this lead to an irrevocable and dangerous split within the PPP?

No. Those who have flocked to Murtaza’s side or may do so in the near future do not count for much in Pakistani politics anyway. Some are people who criticise Ms Bhutto for having deviated from the party’s populist rhetoric and policies of the 1970s. The others are disgruntled elements who have not been accommodated in government recently. In both instances, they do not have a leg to stand on. If Mian Nawaz Sharif can successfully project himself as the true PML leader, despite being in opposition and despite the existence of the PML-J rump, Benazir Bhutto is even better placed. As prime minister, she can reasonably count on the loyalties of her party workers.

There is only one set of circumstances in which Murtaza Bhutto and Mrs Nusrat Bhutto could conceivably become larger than life and pose a real threat to Ms Bhutto’s leadership. If Ms Bhutto mucks up in government this time round, the voters will not forgive her and could announce their displeasure by flocking to Murtaza next time round. But that possibility is a long way off. Ms Bhutto still has five years in which to prove that she has left her father’s legacy behind and become a true leader in her own right. If Mian Nawaz Sharif can put the legacy of Zia ul Haq behind him in 30 months, there is no reason why Benazir Bhutto cannot be a bigger leader than Z A Bhutto in times to come. Meanwhile, the possibility of a family rapprochement after the tears have dried should not be ruled out.

(TFT December 16-22, 1993 Vol-5 No.41 — Editorial)

Foreign policy blues

Both India and Pakistan should brace themselves. In 1994 they will come under American pressure to abandon long-held positions on nuclear proliferation and Kashmir.

But India remains pigheaded. Its grandiose visions of acquiring a Super Power status are totally unrealistic. (See the excellent article by Ross Munro, an old India ‘hand’, on pp 7-9 of TFT). Therefore, it stands to reason that India should be compelled to make major concessions on both issues. Equally, one may expect that India will do its damndest to slip off the hook.

US President Bill Clinton intends to enact a new Foreign Assistance Act (FAA) which gives him greater leverage to achieve nuclear non-proliferation objectives in South Asia. Given the Democratic Party’s hold over both houses of Congress, we may assume that the Symington, Pressler, Solarz, etc, amendments will all become history in 1994. Therefore US economic and military aid will be dangled before Pakistan, including spares and F-16s, on two conditions next year: (1) that Pakistan should comply with US demands to allow inspection and verification of its nuclear programme even if India should pointedly refuse to do so. (2) that Pakistan should do this sufficiently early next year so that the US administration is able to request Congress to earmark funds for Pakistan well before the US budget is announced next October for fiscal 1994-95.

In pursuance of this strategy, the US has already made some headway. It may have “advised” Pakistan to withdraw its draft resolution in the Third Committee of the United Nations censuring India for human rights violations in Kashmir. In exchange, the Americans seem to have “persuaded” India to talk to Pakistan next January on “all aspects of the Kashmir dispute”. What is the significance of these talks?

Ms Bhutto has said that the talks are a “significant gain” for Pakistan since India has never agreed to discuss the status of Kashmir in the past. That may be so. But it is worth asking what “gains”, if any, Ms Bhutto expects to reap from these parleys. If the Indians once again drag their feet over Kashmir, and there is no reason to believe that their position has changed, how will Ms Bhutto explain her decision to let India off the hook in the UN last month?

We are told, however, that the talks may nonetheless point to the outlines of an acceptable “settlement” over Siachin. In that case, Ms Bhutto could claim her decision to hold talks was a tactical victory. True, but if “Siachin” is not promptly settled, Pakistan would be under renewed pressure not to sabotage its future prospects over Siachin by shaming India at the UN Human Rights Convention in Geneva next February. Once that opportunity is also missed, India could be emboldened to backtrack and leave Pakistan in the lurch all over again. In the event, Ms Bhutto will have a lot of unpleasant explaining to do at home.

But let us be optimistic. Let us assume that the Americans will be able to lean on India to settle “Siachin” to Pakistan’s satisfaction soon. What then? Obviously, the US will argue that it is now Pakistan’s turn to take the next initiative. And what might that be? Clearly, it would be permission to inspect and verify Pakistan’s nuclear programme, secretly if necessary. In exchange, Washington will offer to earmark substantial amounts of economic and military assistance to Pakistan under the new FAA.

What will Ms Bhutto do then? Without the approval of GHQ, there can be no such deal with the US. If GHQ disagrees, US-Pak relations may further sour. But if both army and government are persuaded of its necessity, how will Ms Bhutto sell it to the people of Pakistan, considering that Mian Nawaz Sharif will accuse her of “treason” for bartering away Pakistan’s “sovereignty” without a similar and simultaneous gesture from India?

This would suggest that the Pakistani government is in a veritable cul-de-sac. Barring concrete progress over resolving the Kashmir dispute during the forthcoming talks, even a settlement over Siachin could become problematic for Ms Bhutto.

A better bet for Pakistan might have been to put India on the mat in New York last November and once again in Geneva next February. It would have sent the right signals to Washington and New Delhi: that we will not allow India to buy time in order to crush the resistance in Kashmir.

   The real test of Pakistan’s diplomatic mettle lies in nailing India down on Kashmir. A longer term strategy to mobilise world opinion for Pakistan’s cause still serves our purposes better. If prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s diplomacy is weak-willed, her government will be threatened by a severe backlash at home. If it is naive and bumbling, Pakistan risks being further isolated internationally.

US aid is important. But without a consensus between Ms Bhutto, Mr Sharif and General Waheed on its terms and conditionalities, it would be foolish to start negotiating with the Americans over Pakistan’s nuclear programme. The Americans must be persuaded that the road to nuclear non-proliferation in the sub-continent lies only via Srinagar.

(TFT December 23-29, 1993 Vol-5 No.42 — Editorial)

Case is closed

Mr Nawaz Sharif has now discovered yet another fatuous explanation for his electoral defeat last October. He says that a conspiracy was hatched by President Ishaq Khan and Ms Benazir Bhutto to discredit him in the minds of the people in connection with the unexpected death of former COAS General Asif Nawaz. Mr Sharif has pointed to President Ishaq’s speech on April 18th in which many reasons were enumerated for sacking the national assembly, including a public complaint by Mrs Nuzhat Nawaz in which she had aired suspicions about the circumstances of her husband’s death. Mrs Nuzhat had alluded to the possibility of treachery by two close aides of Mr Sharif (Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Brigadier [retd] Imtiaz Ahmad) and demanded an autopsy to put her doubts at rest. Subsequently, says Mr Sharif, Ms Bhutto exploited the situation during the run-up to the October elections when she spoke about bringing General Nawaz’s alleged assassins to book if she became prime minister. These unfounded insinuations, argues Mr Sharif, unfairly cost him the 1993 election.

There is, of course, no denying the fact that President Ghulam Ishaq’s reference to Begum Nuzhat’s “suspicions” was unwarranted in his April 18th speech. Mr Sharif had already established a judicial commission to enquire into the “allegations”. At the very least, the matter was subjudice. The President was expected to list “facts”, not “suspicions”, which justified the ouster of the national assembly. Later, Ms Bhutto was ill-advised to try and extract mileage from Mrs Nuzhat’s tragedy, especially since caretaker prime minister Moeen Qureshi had acceded to the demand for an autopsy by foreign experts. All this is beyond contention.

But it doesn’t amount to a conspiracy of “pre-electoral rigging” by Mr Sharif’s political opponents. Consider the circumstances in which the death of General Asif Nawaz acquired a political dimension in 1993.

   Mrs Nuzhat Nawaz was privy to her husband’s bitter tensions with Chaudhry Nisar and Brig Imtiaz throughout 1992. She thought him hale and hearty when he suffered a fatal heart attack in January 1993. She recalled the perfunctory attitude of the army doctors who had treated him for food poisoning in November 1992 and was nagged by doubts. By April, she was ready to go public with her misgivings and demand an autopsy. Mr Sharif responded immediately by establishing the Shafi-ur-Rahman Commission to recommend a suitable course of action. So far so good.

The Commission, however, failed to satisfy Mrs Nawaz. Far from it. It took a mere 18 working days to hear 23 testimonies and swept away her demand for an autopsy on the flimsiest of excuses: “administrative and financial restraints”. It was for the government, wrote the judges surprisingly, to determine whether and who should conduct the autopsy. Mrs Nuzhat was not even sent a copy of the Commission’s report. The judges who pooh-poohed her complaint were the same gentlemen who restored Mr Sharif to power in a controversial and unprecedented judgement which many said was legally flawed. How was the widow expected to feel?

After Mr Sharif was restored to power in May, he decided to ignore the pending demand for autopsy. After he was fired in July, he made a point of publicly distancing himself from both Chaudhry Nisar and Brig Imtiaz. What was the widow expected to think?

Fearing a “cover-up”, she launched her own private investigation. The results of “hair analysis”, which arrived in September, provided sufficient reason to repeat her demand for an autopsy. This time, however, she went ahead and lodged a formal complaint with the police, although she didn’t name names.

Mr Moeen Qureshi did what Mr Nawaz Sharif ought to have done months ago but didn’t: order an autopsy. Also, if Mr Sharif knew that his hands were clean, there was no need to treat loyal comrades-in-arms like Chaudhry Nisar and Brig Imtiaz as though they were some lepers from a forgetable past. Instead, Mr Sharif’s attitude to the “Asif Nawaz case” seemed to smack of someone who was on the defensive because he may have had something to hide. In the event, Mr Sharif was wholly responsible for his own discomfort.

It is, of course, preposterous for Mr Sharif to claim that such allegations adversely influenced the electorate. Politicians make all sorts of outrageous claims and accusations at election time, but voters seem to have minds of their own. For instance, Mr Sharif has constantly harangued Ms Bhutto as a “traitor”, which is more offensive than being alluded to as an accessory to murder. If the people have chosen to elect the “traitor” Benazir Bhutto for the second time in five years and have refused to elect Mr Shahid Nawaz (General Asif’s younger brother who fought on a PPP ticket), clearly they are not as gullible as Mr Sharif would have us believe.

The autopsy report is clear. General Asif Nawaz’s widow is satisfied. Her family never had any political axe to grind, that is why Shahid Nawaz never sought to beat his brother’s drum. Those who are now pretending to be martyrs, like Mr Nawaz Sharif, are wasting their breath. The case is closed.

(TFT Dec 30, 1993 to Jan 05, 1994 Vol-5 No.43 — Editorial)

Give the devil his due

To all intents and purposes, the existing power-sharing formula between the PPP and the PML-J in the Punjab has broken down. As chief minister, Mr Manzoor Wattoo wants to rule the roost. But, as chief advisor, Mr Faisal Saleh Hayat insists on calling the shots, especially in matters concerning the S&GAD and Home departments.

In this bewildering tug-of-war, the bureaucracy has lost its bearings. Many civil servants resent being moved about in a capricious manner. Others are hustling for plum appointments. All are worried about whose orders to follow. Cabinet formation has also been stalled and there is no agreement over who should be the new Governor of the province. An early manifestation of this malaise was provided by the shoddy manner in which the ruling-alliance conducted the December bye-elections in the province. Governments cannot function efficiently under such divisive circumstances.

Mr Wattoo’s arguments are weighty enough. He claims that if he hadn’t switched sides in April and stood his ground in May, June and July, Mr Nawaz Sharif would still be prime minister. Furthermore, if he had failed to lure away a dozen independents after the elections, Punjab would be in the clutches of Mr Sharif today, with predictably perilous consequences for the PPP government in Islamabad. Such “deserving” considerations apart, Mr Wattoo is offering to accommodate the PPP’s due interests (ministries, jobs, development funds etc) in the Punjab if he is given a freer hand in return.

Ms Bhutto, too, has a valid point of view. As the major share-holder in the province, the PPP should have the right to nominate its own chief minister. Failing that, it must have a dominant say in how the province is run. The PPP has fared badly in the urban areas and Ms Bhutto is anxious to rebuild her credibility quickly. Giving Manzoor Wattoo more power might mean allowing the PML-J to make inroads into the PPP’s potential vote-bank. Hence, some checks and balances over the PML-J are necessary in the long-term interests of the PPP.

Since both sides are being doggedly self-righteous, a precipitous disequilibrium of power has come to prevail. Mr Wattoo may have fired a warning shot across Ms Bhutto’s bow by absenting himself from Lahore when she came to the city recently. She has now taken him along with her to China in the hope of extending the dialogue and finding ways to appease him.

Short of withdrawing Faisal Saleh Hayat to Islamabad, it won’t be easy. Mr Wattoo is probably the shrewdest and most ruthless politician in the country. If he could stab Mr Sharif in the back after eight years of close association, he will have even fewer qualms about ditching Ms Bhutto and jumping right back into Mr Sharif’s lap should that become necessary for the advancement of his personal ambitions.

Ms Bhutto is on a weak wicket. Mr Sharif is looking for an opportunity to drive an irretrievable wedge between the PML-J and the PPP. If Punjab is lost to a Sharif-Wattoo alliance, the PPP government in Islamabad could flounder on the rock of political instability. With the NWFP and Balochistan out of grasp and Sindh in turmoil over the MQM’s refusal to play ball, this is a risk Ms Bhutto would be wise not to take.

The only way out, it seems, is to give the devil his due in exchange for an amiable sharing of power in the Punjab cabinet. If the PML-J ministers in Islamabad are content with their lot in a cabinet dominated by the PPP, there is no reason why the PPP ones in the Punjab should be dissatisfied with their status and privileges in a cabinet shared equally with the rest under CM Wattoo.

While Ms Bhutto mulls over the issue, she might also consider bringing in a new Governor whose virtues are not merely confined to blind loyalty towards herself. At least two other demonstrable talents are also necessary for the job in hand: an intellectual ability to perceive and respond positively to the longer-term interests of the PPP in the Punjab and the practical savvy to keep effective tabs on the wily chief minister. On this score, the choice is obvious enough: Chaudhry Altaf Hussain.

Here is a tried and tested man who can simultaneously match wits with both Mr Wattoo and Mr Nawaz Sharif and still manage to come out on top. Chaudhry Altaf also has a fair claim to the job: he relinquished his MNA seat to bail Ms Bhutto out of a tight spot when Mr Sharif was gung-ho about capturing the province last May.

The troika of Mian Manzoor Wattoo, Mr Jehangir Badar and Mr Nawaz Sharif has Punjab by the throat, arms and legs respectively. Ms Bhutto should stop prevaricating. She should recall Mr Hayat to Islamabad, give Manzoor Wattoo a better deal and ask Jehangir Badar to set about reorganising her party. Chaudhry Altaf Hussain, in the meanwhile, can keep a close eye on everyone.

(TFT January 06-12, 1994 Vol-5 No.44 — Editorial)

Don’t be so timid Ms Bhutto

The first three months of a new government are generally viewed as its “honeymoon period”. During this time, the mood of the people is normally up-beat and the air is expectant with change. According to conventional wisdom, this is when the government should clearly articulate its policy framework, swiftly harness its expert manpower and boldly demonstrate its purposefulness. This is also the proper political environment in which to launch critical measures aimed either at imposing a degree of hardship on some vested interests or at providing relief to groups discriminated against in the past. A government’s performance during these early months acquires political significance because it sets the agenda, quality and pace of reform in the most conducive of circumstances.

If all this is evident enough, why is the new government of prime minister Benazir Bhutto looking rather cheerless? It isn’t, claims the ubiquitous “government spokesman” in Islamabad. The prime minister, we are informed, forswears “quick-fixes” and “propaganda gimmicks” for cheap popularity a la Nawaz Sharif. The “reality”, it appears, is better reflected in an eight-page list of “achievements” handed out by the media managers of the government.

A perusal of this list, however, reveals considerable padding. Many of the “achievements” are pious statements of intent culled from the PPP’s manifesto; others are dividends of policies and projects initiated by Mr Moeen Qureshi; some are half-baked recommendations of the prime minister’s various Task Forces. Contrary to the propaganda, the prime minister’s three foreign trips were largely PR efforts and yielded rather common dividends. (Turkey, in fact, is hopping mad over the cancellation of the Islamabad-Peshawar highway and needs to be mollified quickly). Two pages are devoted to the government’s accomplishments over Kashmir, notwithstanding the dismal failure of the recent Indo-Pak talks. (“A significant gain” promised the prime minister after the government decided to abandon efforts to censure India in the UN last November; “a small step” clarified foreign secretary Shahryar Khan after the talks concluded.

Some notable initiatives, however, are praiseworthy. Action against a handful of tax defaulters has been taken and rules and regulations relating to overdue loans have been tightened (but comprehensive measures need to be taken on this front). An attempt has been made to pay back some of the victims of the Coops scam (but the gesture is too timid and miserly to attract many kudos). Scores of “Katchi Abadis” have got proprietary rights (but hundreds of thousands of landless Haris haven’t); and a policy of tight money supply and expenditure restraint has stopped inflation from galloping away with our hard-earned savings (but the autonomy of the State Bank has again been curtailed).

A few swallows, though, do not make a full summer. The government is limping along without a full cabinet. Punjab’s administrative structure is in a shambles and crime has gone up. The Sindh government is making no visible efforts to improve “law and order” and dispense with the army. On the one hand, some sensitive appointments (eg DG-IB, Chairman PIB, etc., have raised eyebrows. On the other, the government is inexplicably delaying the appointments of qualified judges to the High Courts. Elections to local bodies are nowhere in sight. And so on. This is no way to run a government.

As a matter of fact, the prevailing perception of the PPP government is not terribly flattering. It is widely described as being timid, indecisive and reactive. One astute diplomat in Islamabad put it quite succinctly: “The government’s leading strategic thinker is Nawaz Sharif”. For once in his life, the PML-N’s Sheikh Rashid spoke the truth when he characterised the Bhutto government’s performance thus: “In 1988 it got into trouble early in the game because of its indecent haste to get things done; now it is asking for trouble by waffling on so many fronts”. Compared to the go-getting Nawaz Sharif and the no-nonsense Moeen Qureshi, Ms Bhutto comes across as a conservative and diffident prime minister in domestic and international circumstances which cry out for exactly the opposite qualities.

Of course, no one would like Ms Bhutto to ape Mr Sharif and become irresponsible and reckless. We also realise that, unlike Mr Qureshi, she is accountable and must build a workable consensus with her coalition partners before she can embark on any radical reforms. Nevertheless, Ms Bhutto can be faulted for squandering her early goodwill by failing to instill a sense of purposefulness about her government.

Part of her problem probably stems from an acute perception of how and why things went awry in her first stint. Once bitten, twice shy, as it were. She is also thwarted in her attempts to build a dynamic team of advisors and ministers by the appalling shortage of competent and efficient representatives in the National Assembly and Senate. But it takes two hands to clap. Ms Bhutto is not a very good listener. She is not the best judge of people. She is often unable to distinguish tactics with strategy. And she seems content to languish in the company of sycophants or weak-willed hangers-on. This will not do. This time she has everything going for her. She should look and act as a real leader.

(TFT January 13-19, 1994 Vol-5 No.45 — Editorial)

Step back from the brink

The Bhutto family’s blind rush towards collective suicide amazes everyone. The opposition can’t believe its good fortune. It has found an ally in the unlikeliest of places. The fortress that had once seemed impregnable has suddenly begun to be rifled from within. The Pakistan Peoples Party’s friends, for their part, are devastated. Torn between the two Bhutto ladies, they do not know whom to blame. The cheer has turn to despair at the very start of Ms Bhutto’s current tenure. And this, not because of sinister conspiracies from outside but from puerility within.

There is little to be said for the mother and son. For all their past contribution to the cause, they have wobbled at the first test on home ground. They have shown an inability to rise above their sense of temporary, if genuine, wrong. They haven’t been more bitter against their worst enemies. In fact they find Zia benign by comparison. What he wouldn’t have given to hear that praise.

But the hardest to unravel are the knots the Prime Minister seems to be tied up in. Back at election time, there was a feeling across the board that Begum Bhutto’s indiscretion was harming the PPP, especially in the Punjab. Mir Murtaza’s clumsy attempt to jump into the fray was inept on many counts. This was certified by the election results wherein Murtaza made a poor showing. Benazir Bhutto, therefore, appeared to be suffering silently at the hands of her unreasonable relatives and in that, she had the sympathy of friend and foe alike. The Murtaza factor had all but fizzled out.

It was then that the PPP’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) ousted Begum Bhutto from her party post. It was feared that the lady, desperate for her son’s rehabilitation, was going to annoint him her successor. Had she done so, the pliant CEC could then have unseated the usurper. This would have been in the fullness of time. Greater sympathy would have accrued to the PM. Politically, it would have been a master-stroke. The mother and son would have been seen to have made their own mistakes. And if, as Begum Bhutto has said, she was not going to impose Murtaza on the party, the extreme step of her ouster was unecessary. Playing down the issue, the PM told the press that she had merely regularised the de facto position. If that were so, what need was there to do it? In any event, Ms Bhutto was unable to choke the challenge with a pre-emptive strike at the chairpersonship.

And once the arrow had left the bow, the PM was left with few options. Still, might it not have been possible to work out separate times to visit the elder Bhutto’s shrine on his birthday? There was an inevitability about what followed. Mir Murtaza was spoiling for a fight and he got what he wanted. He has shown that provoked he can still be as militantly irreconcilable as ever.

The dissidents and disaffected members of the old PPP couldn’t have been better served. Wanting to tame them, Ms Bhutto has handed them a measure of political legitimacy and popular sympathy that was otherwise beyond their reach. And, wanting to keep her hand free for the main opposition, she has provided the latter new grist to its tired mills.

The need for the PM now is to try and control the damage, even if that requires some temporary loss of face. For a start, she is doing well by not commenting on the issue. Lesser mortals in the party too, should learn to keep their own counsel. It is a family matter, that is where it ought to have stayed and to which it now needs to revert. Ms Bhutto has many concerned relatives. She should let them mediate the problem between herself and her mother.

Within the party hierarchy too, any division that a restored Begum Bhutto can cause will not prove irreparably disruptive. Realism and political sense produce compulsions of their own. Ms Bhutto’s concern should be to try and perform well as prime minister. If she can do that, Murtaza Bhutto will take a lot of learning and unlearning before he can begin to be a political match to her.

One thing looks certain meanwhile. The PMs combative brother isn’t bothered about the brink ahead. He almost seems keen on it, if only for the joy of seeing his sister over it. It is Benazir Bhutto who has to do the constructive thinking. She should begin now.

(TFT January 20-26, 1994 Vol-5 No.46 — Editorial)

Howwzzat?

President Farooq Leghari is to be commended for halting the BCCP’s slide into administrative and financial chaos. A criminal enquiry by the FIA into the BCCP’s wheeling-dealings has rightly been ordered. The culprits should not be spared.

Some people, however, believe that Justice Nasim Hasan Shah, the ex-BCCP president, should not have been sacked in such a summary fashion because he also happens to be the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Justice Shah, it is argued, ought to have been given the graceful option of quitting his post before the President’s axe fell.

In theory, there is merit in the argument that a judge ought never to be treated in a cavalier manner by the executive. Judges are presumed to have an exalted status in civil society and governments should show due respect to them. In practice, however, it takes two hands to clap. Judges are also expected to maintain a low profile, remain dignified and shun controversy at all times. They should never, as a matter of principle, accept positions of executive authority. When they act otherwise, they must be prepared to shoulder the burdens of accountability.

Justice Shah’s brilliance as a man of jurisprudence is overshadowed only by his passion for cricket. So it is perfectly understandable that he should have wanted to be closely associated with the game in Pakistan. Indeed, there is a precedent when another Supreme Court judge ( A R Cornelius) presided over the fortunes of the BCCP some decades ago. But alas, the game and the judiciary have changed beyond recognition.

Cricket, for one, is no longer what it once purported to be — a charming game for unhurried amateurs lorded over by soft-spoken gentlemen in tweed jackets with leather elbows. It is a maga-buck industry in which all the dirty tricks of the trade are employed to get ahead — by players, officials and sponsors alike. Surely the worldly-wise Justice Shah knew the facts of life when he donned the hat of the president of the BCCP. And if the BCCP is in a royal mess today, its president should be prepared to answer a lot of unpleasant questions rather than take refuge behind the flowing robes of a judge. The irony is that Justice Shah has consistently fought for the separation of the judiciary from the executive even as he has relished his prospects as the chief executive of cricket in Pakistan.

The judiciary, too, has not remained above the fray as in the time of Justice Cornelius. These days judges may publicly attend to politicians in power; they may preside over functions where heated political arguments are bandied about; they may accept government patronage in the form of plots and perks; and they may make sweeping statements and comments in court which betray their social prejudices or political leanings. If Justice Shah is unhappy for being kept “in total darkness” by President Leghari, the fact is that the President’s action shouldn’t have come as a surprise to him. It is time judges learnt to address some of their concerns to members of their own fraternity rather than to the wicked government in power.

That said, it is clear that the leading officials of the BCCP had become increasingly authoritarian, irresponsible and capricious. The Board was at war with local cricket associations, especially in Karachi and Gujranwala. Allegations abounded of a string of illegalities and irregularities in its dealings with the private sector in matters of sponsorships and contracts without transparent bidding procedures. Kickbacks have been mentioned. The cricket selection committee is said to have played favourites and fueled discord among players. Managers and coaches were appointed and dismissed without due process. And so on. It was high time to stop the rot.

An ad-hoc committee led by former captain Javed Burki is now trying to salvage the mess. It has suppressed the revolt in the cricket team against Wasim Akram by appointing Salim Malik as the new skipper and Majid Khan as the disciplinarian manager. Whether this strategy will work or not depends on the cooperation of the two fast bowlers Wasim and Waqar, both of whom think they’re the cat’s whiskers and deserve to be captain. Then there is the question of the suitability of Saleem Malik for the top job. If he doesn’t display the temperament of a skipper, he won’t be able to get the best out of the boys. If he also fails with the bat, it is curtains for everyone.

The exclusion of Javed Miandad has raised eyebrows. No matter. Javed may be the stuff of folklore but since his ouster as captain a couple of years ago his heart hasn’t been in the game. Now diminishing returns have set in. Mr Burki may be advised to take a longer term view from the pavilion and resist the temptation to fly him out at the first sign of injury or failure in the Pakistani camp. Far better to groom the youngsters by persisting with them than trying to cling to an ageing war-horse. We might lose the series to New Zealand in New Zealand but we could well live to win from the West Indies in the West Indies.

(TFT January 27-02 February, 1994 Vol-5 No.47 — Editorial)

Warlordism in Afghanistan

Afghanistan has sunk deep into factional strife and warlordism. Since the Soviets retreated in 1988, the power-struggle among the various Islamic sects and tribes of the Mujahidin has periodically erupted into warfare, claiming more lives than were lost in the 10 year-long jihad against the Russians. The recent fighting has been particularly fierce, with over 1000 killed and many thousands wounded. Kabul has been razed to the ground, embassies have been evacuated and 70,000 refugees are knocking at the gates of the Khyber Pass demanding to be let into Pakistan.

As we predicted earlier, Mian Nawaz Sharif’s much touted Afghan “peace accords” or power-sharing in 1992 and 1993 have broken down. The militias of President Burhanuddin Rabbani, vice-President Rashid Dostum and Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar are at each other’s throats. The bitter irony is that the friends of yesterday have become the foes of today.

For the last two years, the combined northern forces of ethnic, Persian-speaking Tajiks under Rabbani and the Uzbeks under Dostum have clashed with the southern and central Pashtuns under Hekmatyar. Now Dostum has teamed up with Hekmatyar against Rabbani. The Hazara, pro-Iran, Hizbe Wahdat has shed its ‘neutrality’ and also lined up behind Hekmatyar. Rabbani’s ‘government’ is isolated and in deep trouble.

The policies of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have also changed radically. Until 1992, their blue-eyed favourite was Hekmatyar. In 1993, Rabbani was propped up and Hekmatyar was alienated. When the two began to squabble over power-sharing, the Islamabad “peace accord” was abandoned in despair and both countries became “neutral”. Also, having previously spurned UN mediation for peace, both countries are trying to enlist UN help for a “regional peace conference” as early as possible in 1994.

Further complications have arisen because of the vested interests of the Central Asian states of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Sizeable populations of Tajiks, Uzbeks and Turkmens exist in Afghanistan’s northern belt bordering these states. Governed by secular strong-men from the Soviet ancien regime, the governments of Central Asia fear domestic destabilisation if militant Islamic fundamentalists spill over from Afghanistan into their countries. Indeed, Tajikistan is already in the throes of a civil war where the opposition is backed by the Jamaat-i-Islami forces of Afghan President Rabbani and Defence Minister Ahmad Shah Massoud. Pockets of pro-Saudi Islamic revivalism also exist in the Ferghana valley in Uzbekistan where the situation is compounded by the presence of significant Tajik populations in the “cradle of Islamic civilisation” in Samarkand and Bokhara. Consequently, the Central Asian communists remain supporters of General Dostum, the communist Uzbek warlord in north Afghanistan.

   Joint Pak-Saudi pleas for a cease-fire have fallen on deaf ears. Efforts by dozens of tribal notables to knock sense into the heads of the three major warlords have proven futile. Hekmatyar has lashed out at the Saudis and told them to keep out. Pakistan has closed its border to refugees. The fighting is getting bloodier by the day. But who can afford to wash their hands of Afghanistan?

Pakistani and Central Asian stakes are high. Apart from the political dangers that a highly volatile, sectarian Afghanistan poses for these western-looking neighbours, each of which has ethnic Afghan populations overspilling its borders, Kabul straddles the strategic divide between landlocked Central Asia and the ports of the Arabian sea in Pakistan. Iran is a possible outlet to the Gulf but the Central Asians worry about relying too much upon an aggressive Islamic country. Thus, without peace and stability in Afghanistan, Central Asia cannot reduce its crippling dependence on Moscow by building road, rail, oil and gas pipelines to Pakistan. Nor can Pakistan extend its home market by exporting goods and services to them.

In a recent visit to Central Asia, the Pakistani foreign minister Sardar Assef knocked heads with his counterparts in order to win approval for an overland route to Pakistan through the hitherto peaceful and stable north-western and southern regions of Afghanistan. However, with the recent outbreak of fighting in some of these areas, even this initiative seems fated to flounder.

   Afghanistan’s future looks very bleak. Even if a new cease-fire is negotiated, it is not likely to endure. The Afghan state, which once claimed to exercise its writ over central Afghanistan at least, has now ceased to exist. Ethnic, linguistic, sectarian, ideological and regional contradictions scar the landscape. Neighbours on the north, west and south are scrambling to chalk out areas of influence. The Western powers, which might have played a meaningful role in mediating the internecine conflict because of their vast economic clout, have lost interest in the backwaters of Asia.

As long as stocks of guns and ammunition last, the Afghan factions will continue to spew fire and venom in a mad jostle for power and territory. In the end, fatigue may set in and some warlords may be knocked out in the battle. The real fear, however, is that the country may be partitioned by its uneasy neighbours long before it is wholly annexed by some capricious warlord or the other.

(TFT February 03-09, 1994 Vol-5 No.48 — Editorial)

Open and shut case

The ordinance against floor-crossing in the national and provincial assemblies promulgated by former prime minister Moeen Qureshi will lapse on February 7th. In all probability, Benazir Bhutto’s government will not seek to renew it, at least not for some time.

A floor-crossing bill has been moved in the Senate. After it has been debated, agreed upon and forwarded to the national assembly, it will go to a parliamentary committee which will deliberate upon its clauses before moving it in parliament. Meanwhile, MNAs and MPAs will be free to form “forward blocks”, blackmail the government and opposition and haggle over terms for switching sides. Why doesn’t the government give another lease of life to this ordinance?

Shortly after she became prime minister, Ms Bhutto offered to negotiate with Mr Nawaz Sharif on the fate of Mr Moeen Qureshi’s various ordinances. Ms Bhutto was especially keen to clinch the two issues over which the manifestoes of both the PPP and the PML(N) seemed to be in harmony — the nomination of women to parliament and the repeal of certain sections of the 8th amendment.

But Mr Sharif’s attitude was inexplicably negative. He refused to cooperate with the government at any level. In fact, he seemed determined to stop Ms Bhutto from legislating at all. Mr Sharif’s stone-walling tactics may now be about to rebound on him because Ms Bhutto seems to think that there may be some definite advantages for the PPP in allowing the floor-crossing ordinance to lapse.

It is a well known fact that Muslim Leaguers generally do not like straying too far from the corridors of power. After February 7th, many PML(N) wallahs will not be able to resist the temptation proferred by the power-brokers. Of course, Mr Sharif will be bruised by the defections. But it is by no means certain that the horses will stampede in the direction of the PPP.

The first crisis is expected to erupt in the Punjab where the Wattoo-Faisal contradiction has been simmering for some time. If the PML(N) turncoats turn to the PPP, Mr Wattoo’s blackmailing tactics will become hollow and he will no longer remain indispensable. In the event, he can either grovel for a “new deal” with Mr Hayat on the PPP’s terms or he can conspire with Mr Sharif to try and destabilize the assembly. If he gets really angry and desperate, he could even dissolve the assembly and plunge the country into a new crisis. But if Mr Wattoo is able to lure the PML(N) traitors to his stables, the PPP’s problems in the Punjab are bound to increase. At the very least, Mr Hayat will have to pack his bags and let Mr Wattoo run the show in the Punjab. In either case, however, the PPP will find itself in an uncomfortable situation.

   Obviously, the PPP thinks this line of argument is misplaced. It believes that the turncoats will gallop straight into its arms because Mr Wattoo has precious little to offer in comparison with the enormous powers of patronage available through the good offices of Islamabad. In this country, three things matter above all: police, DC and banks. Mr Hayat weilds the district administration (stick) while Ms Bhutto controls the credits and loans (carrots) from public sector financial institutions. The idea would be to open the gates of the stables, herd in the horses, stamp them with the PPP tri-colour and swiftly re-issue the floor-crossing ordinance. An open and shut case, as it were.

But Ms Bhutto might be advised to pause and reconsider some possible consequences of embarking on this path. By stooping to conquer, she will surely lose much of the moral high ground she occupies as a democrat and parliamentarian of long standing. People will accuse her of demeaning the spirit of the constitution to suit her mundane purposes, much as Mr Sharif did while he was in power. We also wonder whether such devious tactics will lead to greater stability and better government in the country.

The PPP has 96 MPAs in a house of 248 in the Punjab. Along with the independents, minorities and fresh turncoats, its tally could go up to 140. This would enable it to form a government without bargaining with Mr Wattoo. But a majority of only 15 MPAs would also make its government susceptible to blackmail and pressure tactics from a host of lotas and unscrupulous elements. This route leads to corruption, misuse of power and bad government. That is absolutely the last thing we need.

Mr Wattoo and Mr Sharif have pushed the PPP to take refuge in desperate tactics. If Mr Wattoo had kept to his bargain over power-sharing with Mr Hayat and if Mr Sharif had cooperated with Ms Bhutto in parliament, we need never have come to such a sorry pass. Damned if the PPP does and damned if it doesn’t.

It is still not too late for Mr Wattoo and Mr Sharif to become reasonable and give Ms Bhutto an opportunity to pull back from the brink. The floor-crossing law is necessary to bury the obnoxious practice of horse-trading. The ordinance must be saved from an untimely death.

(TFT February 10-16, 1994 Vol-5 No.49 — Editorial)

Perceptions and realities

Mian Nawaz Sharif has predicted doom for Benazir Bhutto at a number of crucial political junctures in the past, only to find that she is not as crushable today as she was in 1989. He lost the tally in the National Assembly after boasting he would make the government; he lost the battle for Punjab after claiming he would trounce Manzoor Wattoo and his new-found friends; he lost the race for the presidency after telling the press that he would make the next president.

What most of us have not noticed is that Mr Sharif is being eroded gradually and Ms Bhutto is gaining. For certain reasons we can’t see her winning and are unaware of the process of meltdown in the PML(N).

   Ms Bhutto looks beleaguered. She looks as though she is being tossed on rough waves without a rudder and without many deck hands around her to create the impression that good ship PPP is capable of cleaving the brine and emerging on calm waters with hooters announcing victory. Mr Sharif sees the March election to 41 seats in the Senate as an ominous highwater mark in his toppling campaign, and thinks appearances denote unending trouble for Ms Bhutto. Instead of the PML(N) finding its realistic level of political power in March after it loses half of the 40 seats in the Senate, it is the PPP which is supposed to meet a mysterious comeuppance at the hands of equally mysterious elements if Mr Sharif can’t do his toppling through the normal channel.

Can one say that Ms Bhutto has helped create this impression because her media handling has been inept? She got hurt in the matter of loans to the Ittefaq Group and was winged by someone’s effort to link the ship that brought scrap for Mr Sharif to Mossad. To date, the charges brought by her government in the matter of the motorway have not been effectively argued, while the courts are unwittingly making the yellow cab insanity look good.

Then the Senate most uncharacteristically blackballed her bill clipping some of the autonomy that Moeen Qureshi had given the State Bank. This sudden change of heart in the PML(N)-dominated upper house must have sent economists, who had known Nawaz Sharif’s handling of the State Bank, into convulsions. This was topped by the NWFP government coming apart in the face of Mr Sharif. PPP opposition leader Aftab Sherpao’s effort to facilitate the process of disintegration of this strange power conglomeration hasn’t looked good in the press where commentators are telling Ms Bhutto ‘not to do it’.

It is a reflection on her handling of the press that journalists continue to ignore the hara-kiri that chief minister Sabir Shah stamped on his cabinet. This he did by appointing all the independents and all the PML(N) MPAs ministers, giving the fruitiest subjects to the independents who never took the gesture with any kind of gratitude.

Let us be frank. There is no juice left in the plum of the state economy. Mr Sharif was pursuing disastrous policies to give himself a leg-up with the populace. His employment scheme, his motorway, his yellow cabs and his Bait-ul-Mal hand outs related to the economy only as short-term builders of the national deficit. They rendered the country uncreditworthy and ripe for the plucking by the IMF. Ms Bhutto has the same playing field, only she can’t dip into the till and spend the way Mr Sharif did to acquire votes.

She is therefore doing the other thing to get where she thinks Mian Nawaz Sharif got by spending. Her campaign on Kashmir is a part of that process of substitution. Swept by passions, most of us are giving her credit for competently advocating the Kashmir cause. Let us hope these laurels don’t wither as soon as Washington’s interest in the subject wanes. We might then only be left with Ms Bhutto’s rhetorical promise that Kashmir would soon be a part of Pakistan.

What will Mr Sharif do if Pakistan’s difficulties multiply but not enough to unseat her? What has happened over the past three months must give him the creepy feeling that the ink-patch of the PPP’s control is slowly spreading around him, threatening to pass under his feet to the unsteady fringe in Lahore dubbed the PML(N)’s Punjab forward block. His protestations about horse-trading seem to point to this dread possibility: instead of carrying the fractured legacy of Manzoor Wattoo, the PPP might opt for a less power-hungry faction of the big PML.

Despite Mr Sharif’s doomsaying, Ms Bhutto is in with a chance to stay the course of her tenure. But she must move to alter the crisis of image the PPP is saddled with. There is a widespread perception that she has come to power for the second time without an agenda. This should not have been the case. After all, in democracies, succession to power is anticipated. It is only in dictatorships that it is accidental.

(TFT February 17-23, 1994 Vol-5 No.50 — Editorial)

No-win situation

Prime minister Benazir Bhutto remains unreconciled to the loss of the NWFP government to the PML(N)-ANP alliance. In an assembly of 83 members, the PPP won the largest number of provincial seats (24) in the last elections but was unable to assemble a coalition government even with the help of its electoral allies. The ANP-PML(N)-alliance, on the other hand, lured 11 “independents” to its fold and thwarted the PPP’s ambitions.

But not for long, it seems. The floor-crossing ordinance promulgated by Mr Moeen Qureshi lapsed on February 7th because Ms Bhutto willed it so. Sensing their opportunity, nine fickle independents, who had earlier grabbed chief minister Sabir Shah by the throat, have now decided to stick the knife in and finish him off. The glittering charm of Mr Sharif and his cronies has worn thin while Ms Bhutto’s beckons anew.

The vote of no-confidence against Mr Shah proposed by Mr Aftab Sherpao last week was not unexpected. The opposition’s attitude towards Ms Bhutto has been patently hostile. Mr Sharif, in particular, has done his best to try and stonewall her labours in and out of parliament. Mr Shah, too, has been making uncompromising noises over the Kalabagh Dam and the Ghazi-Barotha power project, both close to the PM’s heart. If Ms Bhutto is now paying them back in the same vulgar coinage, we can hardly feign surprise.

Of course, Ms Bhutto is on solid constitutional ground as she manipulates change in the Frontier assembly. And of course the furious denunciations of Messrs Nawaz Sharif & Wali Khan threatening violence are totally misplaced. Nonetheless, most Pakistanis remain wary of parliamentary shenanigans (horsetrading, kidnapping, court cases, etc.) which poison the political environment and destabilise the country. If we have been critical of Mr Sharif’s belligerence in the past, we are not likely to warm towards Ms Bhutto’s offensive now.

The vote of no-confidence against Mr Sabir Shah could incur prohibitive costs. While Ms Bhutto might consider a few broken chairs and microphones in parliament a small price to pay for capturing the provincial government, the aftermath of broken bones and skulls is more problematic. A clash between the provincial police and the federal law-enforcing agencies is an altogether different and acutely perilous matter. And if the army is called out, we might as well call it a day and throw in the towel.

Obviously Ms Bhutto reckons she can get away with it. Maybe she can, if only narrowly. But if she can’t, which is possible, she will rue the day she gave in to Mr Aftab Sherpao.

There is no guarantee that if Mr Sherpao is successful in toppling Mr Shah, the new coalition government will be any more stable or secure. The lying, cheating, immoral “independents” who embraced Mr Shah not long ago and have now blithely turned their back on him will most certainly blackmail Mr Sherpao and exact a heavy price for supporting him. If he accedes to their demands, he can hardly run a clean and efficient ship. If he doesn’t, his government will be rocked by one crisis after another, making a mockery of Ms Bhutto’s claims of providing stability to the country. Heads Mr Sharif wins, tails Ms Bhutto loses.

   Ms Bhutto should pause and reflect on Mr Sherpao’s advice, given that he must have a vested personal interest in becoming chief minister. The situation is akin to that of 1989 in the Punjab when she was erroneously advised to get rid of Mr Sharif by a gang of PPP loyalists out of jobs in the province. She is still paying the price for committing that blunder. Another unpleasant analogy with Mufti Mahmud’s NWFP government under Z A Bhutto’s regime in 1974 also comes to mind.

If all this is evident enough, the wisdom of Ms Bhutto’s move is seriously questionable. We might also ask why Mr Sharif has deliberately provoked her to such desperation. Are both political leaders obsessed with some sort of death-wish to drag each other and the nation down? Does Ms Bhutto think she can erode Mr Sharif’s popularity by denying him a moth-eaten government in the NWFP? Does Mr Sharif believe he can reap windfall profits from plunging her government into one crisis after another? By knocking each other, they are only knocking the political system. If the system goes under, they will both drown. Last July they came perilously close to disgracing the system irreparably. Today it appears they have learnt little, if anything, from past experience.

It is said President Farooq Leghari advised Ms Bhutto to withdraw Mr Faisal Hayat from the Punjab and give Mr Wattoo a chance to prove his credentials. This makes sense. The confusion in the Punjab has now made way for stability. That is the sort of thinking which is required again. If Mr Sabir Shah refuses to play ball with Islamabad, far better to leave him to his miserable devices so that he can discredit himself further than to try and get rid of him and shame yourself in the process.

(TFT February 24-02 March, 1994 Vol-5 No.51 — Editorial)

Mythology of Mohajirism

Mr Altaf Hussain has once again raised the spectre of the partition of Sindh. His argument is that since the Mohajirs constitute a majority of the urban population of Sindh and we have voted for the MQM, they ought to have a separate province by the name of Jinnahpur. This is an absurd proposition. What would we say if Mian Nawaz Sharif put forward the view that since he has won a majority of the votes in the urban areas of Lendha (central Punjab) and Potohar (northern Punjab) but lost in the Seraiki (southern) zone, the province of Punjab out to be split up into three units of which two (to be called Sharifabad and Sharifpur) are handed over to him?

Mr Hussain has been treading very dangerous ground for a long time. He was able to get away with cold-blooded murder because a vicious dictator by the name of Ziaul Haq nourished his ego and fed his ambitions. In the process, however, Mr Hussain has done irreparable harm to the cause of the Mohajirs in the one province which warmly embraced them and gave them a home at the time of partition. If some extremist Sindhis today believe (quite erroneously) that all Mohajirs are trespassers, it is only because they suspect Mohajir leaders like Mr Hussain of seeking to demean them in their own province.

As a matter of fact, apart from a brief interregnum under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Sindhis have had a raw deal from every government in the country. From prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan to dictator Ziaul Haq, the Sindhis were left to fend for themselves even as the Mohajirs were accorded superior status in the country. The tragedy of Sindh was compounded when the MQM brazenly allied itself in the 1980s with a dictatorial government which brutally sought to crush the PPP.

The writing on the wall should have been clear to the MQM when Ziaul Haq perished in 1988 and the PPP was returned to power in Islamabad and Karachi. But it wasn’t. Mr Hussain was so deeply wedded to dictatorship and so hostile to democracy that he jumped into the lap of General Mirza Aslam Beg when the latter conspired to undo the elected government in 1990. Subsequent events have only served to demonstrate that Mr Hussain is still out of step with emerging democratic realities.

General Asif Nawaz, on the other hand, was a man of his times. Therefore, he was fated to incur the wrath of the MQM. Gen Nasir Akhtar, Gen Abdul Waheed and all the other generals of today and tomorrow will act similarly. It is Mr Hussain and all those who believe in his terrorist brand of politics who must think again.

The PPP has a majority in the Sindh assembly. It has offered a number of ministries to the MQM in exchange for a promise of cooperation and good behaviour. This is an immeasurably generous offer, considering the MQM’s past record of treachery and betrayal. If Mr Hussain and his supporters are disinclined to accept it, they are welcome to their intransigence. The PPP can get along without them. But on at least two counts, the MQM cannot escape its fate: Mr Hussain must stand trial and prove his innocence, much like Ms Bhutto did from 1990-93 and as Murtaza Bhutto is doing today.

The MQM must also come to terms with new realities. It can no longer blackmail, threaten or terrorise the government of Sindh. The organs of the state are committed to crushing terrorist violence wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head in the country. If Mr Hussain doesn’t change his spots, he will hurt the cause of all Mohajirs in Sindh.

The Mohajir vote-bank which has helped sustain Mr Altaf Hussain thus far should now help him in refashion his future strategy. Blind loyalty to a mythical cause built upon violence, hatred and corruption leads to the precipice. Mr Hussain’s brand of politics is no longer tenable. Reasonable-thinking Mohajirs should stand up and say so. If he is in no mood to listen, they should reject him boldly and choose new leaders who appreciate their concerns more realistically. A policy of lavishing support to Mr Hussain out of fear, stubbornness or prejudice will not endear the Mohajirs to the other communities of Pakistan.

The MQM is not an island unto itself. The Mohajirs did not create Pakistan, even if they trekked thousands of miles to savour its freedom. Karachi doesn’t belong exclusively to them. They do not have a monopoly over Urdu. Their culture is not superior to that of other communities in the country. Mr Altaf Hussain is not infallible. The Sindhis are not low-caste citizens. The PPP is not an implacable adversary. General Zia was not an unforgettable or irreproachable friend any more than General Asif was an inscrutable foe.

The MQM has become a prisoner to all these dangerous, self-perpetuated myths. It is time that Mohajirs learnt to live without quotas or any other special rights or privileges. It is time they became as free and equal as all other Pakistanis.

(TFT March 03-09, 1994 Vol-5 No.52 — Editorial)

Poverty of philosophy

The imposition of Governor’s Rule in the NWFP reflects the poverty of political philosophy in Pakistan. It proves that Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif have learnt precious little from their turbulent experience in politics or from their dismal performances in the past. It also lends credibility to the argument that we lack a culture of democracy to make a parliamentary system work.

   The crisis of government in the NWFP was not unexpected. It has been bubbling ever since Mr Sabir Shah hastily assembled a coalition government on the wings of a group of unscrupulous independent MPAs. When Mr Shah bought their loyalties by giving them ministerial slots, he did so at the expense of another partner, the ANP. Mr Wali Khan was accordingly obliged to take a deep breath and swallow his ambitions. When Khan Sahib’s patience ran out, he was within his rights to demand his pound of flesh. Poor Mr Shah. When he tried to accommodate Mr Khan at the expense of the grasping independents, his coalition ran headlong into quicksand. Sensing greener pastures in Ms Bhutto’s political fiefdom, the independents promptly sprinted to Islamabad.

Shorn of a majority, Mr Shah should have done the proper thing by stepping down and letting Mr Aftab Sherpao try his luck. That is the way the constitution envisages the situation. In due course, if Mr Sherpao’s rickety coalition had also floundered on the rock of the treacherous independents, the President would have been justified in asking the Governor to order fresh elections. That would have taught both voters and politicians to act differently. But, of course, things don’t work out quite so neatly in Pakistan. Majority or no majority, Mr Shah was damned if he would vacate the CM’s chair. “We’ll resist the vote of no-confidence with force”, he thundered. “If they try to bring their supporters to Peshawar in helicopters, we’ll shoot them down”, roared Mr Wali Khan. Alas, the crumbling constitution was all but forgotten in the din that followed.

If Mr Sharif and his cronies were deliberately knocking the system, Ms Bhutto and her lackeys were hardly more responsible.ÿIn fact, Islamabad played smack into the hands of Mr Sharif when it decided to push ahead with the no-confidence move and call “his bluff”. Only Mr Sharif wasn’t bluffing. He wanted to precipitate a crisis and he did so unabashedly. From Day One, his intentions have been clear: provoke one crisis after another, put Ms Bhutto on the back-foot, make sure she is unable to govern or legislate. In short, prove that she cannot provide stability or good government to the country.

At the end of the day, Ms Bhutto may turn out to be the bigger loser. She is the one who made a spectacle of airlifting her MPs to Peshawar. She is the one who called out para-military troops to escort them to the assembly. She is the one who prompted two Muslim Leaguers to cross the floor. She is the one who hit nasty headlines all over the world. And what does she hope to get in exchange? A moth-eaten government in which Mr Sherpao will be blackmailed, much as Mr Shah was, by the blighted independents.

Meanwhile, no one will care two hoots about Mr Shah’s illegal actions or President Leghari’s constitutional response. Certainly, no one will recall Mr Iftikhar Gillani’s insolence before a division bench of the Peshawar High Court. In the end, people will only remember Changa Manga and Swat in 1989 or the Marriott lotas and the midnight Rangers in the Punjab in 1993. And they will be so overwhelmed by the offensive taste of those memories that they will quite unconsciously forget about who perpetrated what and why in the first place. Instead, as in 1990 and 1993, they will lay the entire blame for the crisis at the door of the government in Islamabad.

Most people seem to think that this is a sum-zero game in which neither the elected government nor the elected opposition can be credited with a win. In one sense, of course, they are right: Mr Shah’s loss can only turn out to be an illusory gain for Mr Sherpao. But in another, more crucial sense, they are wrong. The democratic paradigm has again suffered harm. The Westminster-type parliamentary system has again been proven incompatible with the reckless genius of our politicians. And the impulse for paternalistic authoritarianism under the garb of some sort of Presidential system is again stirring in the bowels of the country.

It is unfortunate that President Farooq Leghari was quoted in the press, a day or two before he imposed Governor’s rule in the NWFP, as saying that he had no intention of suspending the provincial assembly. Now we hear that he may order a session of the assembly in the near future to determine which side has a majority to form a government. We would advise him against a quick move. Tempers are running high, it is better to let the dust settle. Meanwhile, if Mr Sharif should insist on huffing and puffing, he may be allowed to blow away his energy.

(TFT March 10-16, 1994 Vol-6 No.1 — Editorial)

Don’t stoop to conquer

Since the floor-crossing ordinance was scrapped by prime minister Benazir Bhutto last month, the obnoxious practise of horsetrading has reared its ugly head again. In the NWFP, seven independents and two PML(N) stalwarts have been lured away from Mr Sharif’s stables. In the Punjab, 16 independents have formally joined the PML(J). Another two MPAs and one MNA have left Mr Sharif in the lurch and hitched a ride on Ms Bhutto’s bandwagon. In Sindh, the record shows a deserter a piece from the MQM, PML(N) and PML(F) to the PPP’s fold. We understand that more defections from the PML(N) cannot be ruled out.

Of course, Mr Sharif is clearly out of his depths. His strategy to try and destabilise Ms Bhutto has backfired. As a matter of fact, mutterings against their leader’s bravado can be heard in the ranks of the PML(N). It is being argued that it was stupid to provoke Ms Bhutto so early in the game. Their real fear is that if Mr Sharif’s threatened street agitation against Ms Bhutto fails to take off, such great demoralisation may set in that many more PML(N) wallas will be tempted to bolt in time to come.

But what about Ms Bhutto? Obviously, she is seeking to consolidate power. Islamabad, Sindh and Punjab are already in her grasp. NWFP is in no-man’s land today but she thinks it will fall into her lap tomorrow. A majority in the Senate, and with it the prized post of the Chairman, has been assured. The Presidency belongs to her. Once the loose ends have been nicely tied up, she believes she will become secure and last her full term.

Maybe. Maybe not. All said and done, serious misgivings will remain even if the prime minister acquires a seemingly unassailable position. When did a majority in Islamabad and the other provinces ever assure any Pakistani prime minister of any longevity in Islamabad? Mr Z A Bhutto seemed invincible until he was booted out. Ms Bhutto herself appeared to have got over the worse of her hiccups when she was abruptly ousted in 1990. Mr Sharif, of course, was thinking of ruling for ever when the curtains were drawn on him in 1993. In the final analysis, other things probably matter more.

   Good and equitable government, for one, is important. If a government is capricious (like Mr Bhutto’s from 1972-77) or inefficient (like Ms Bhutto’s from 1988-90), or both corrupt and autocratic (like Mr Sharif’s from 1990-93), its survival is only a question of time. On all these counts, it may be premature to pass any judgement on Ms Bhutto’s second stint in power. But the general perception is that the prime minister is waffling. Her task forces have amounted to nothing much. Her foreign policy initiatives seem wooly and tentative. Her economic management is decidedly lacklustre. And so on. It is difficult to dispel the impression of a sense of drift, or deja vu, in Islamabad.

Fortunately, these molehills haven’t become mountains as yet. Most Pakistanis are keen to see at least one elected government, however uninspiring, complete its tenure. To that extent, there is some built-in goodwill for Ms Bhutto. Everyone is sick and tired of instability and political squabbling — that is why Mr Sharif’s negative tactics are increasingly alienating mainstream public opinion. But this goodwill is bound to start evaporating if Ms Bhutto is seen to lack the dynamism necessary for good, clean and efficient government.

However, one pre-requisite for such a government is political stability. Expectations are therefore high that Ms Bhutto will create conditions conducive for such an environment. But is the PM delivering on that score? When Pakistanis look at the phenomenal economic and political progress made by their Asian neighbours in recent years, they hope that one day they will be able to catch up with them. But when they look at the political landscape and find it littered with the debris of vengeance, conspiracy and political corruption, they wonder why they should accept leaders who are obsessed only with naked power. Instability serves only to convince them that their hopes for a brighter future are totally misplaced. It also makes them yearn for another Moeen Qureshi to descend from out of the blue.

It is in this context that the renewal of horsetrading, at the behest of the government in power, should be viewed. It is horsetrading which is responsible for the constitutional crisis in the NWFP. An added irony is that Mr Iftikhar Gillani and Mr Aitzaz Ahsan, once such bosom buddies in the cause of democracy, are tearing the constitution apart before the judges of the Peshawar High Court and Supreme Court. Regrettably, even President Farooq Leghari seems sanguine in the erroneous belief that the rules of the game haven’t been abrogated by such cynical power-plays.

We reiterate: Mr Sharif should not be allowed by Ms Bhutto to set her agenda. Two wrongs do not make a right. Horsetrading and instability hurts Ms Bhutto, not Mr Sharif. The prime minister should have more confidence in the people. They know who is right and who is wrong. It is not necessary to stoop to conquer Nawaz Sharif.

(TFT March 17-23, 1994 Vol-6 No.2 — Editorial)

Hawks and Doves Vs Right and Wrong

Last week, the Pakistan government decided not to press ahead with a vote on its resolution before the 53 member UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva censuring India for its brutal policies in Kashmir. The motion was “deferred”, says Islamabad, on the advice of Pakistan’s close “friends”, especially Iran and China.

Briefly, the government’s position is this: (1) If a vote had been taken, most countries would have abstained. Of those voting, a clear majority would have sided with India and voted against the resolution. (2) The government weighed the pros and cons of insisting on a vote and losing outright as against “deferment” (not “withdrawal” as some critics have noted) in exchange for a concession by India to allow the ambassadors of several Islamic countries to visit Kashmir for an on-the-spot assessment of the problem.

Islamabad’s argument, in a nutshell, is that a policy of “deferment” under the circumstances largely satisfies the main strategic objectives behind moving the resolution in the first place. These are: (1) Drawing the attention of the world community to Indian atrocities in Kashmir — which has been successfully done by the long drawn out debate and negotiations in Geneva. (2) Forcing an intransigent India to “open up” the valley, however slightly, for inspection by the Red Cross and by the ambassadors of several countries. (3) Keeping the pressure on India by retaining a “dormant” resolution instead of allowing the resolution to be “killed” and letting India off the hook. If the vote had been taken, says the Foreign Office, Pakistan would have lost badly. In consequence, Islamabad would have suffered on three unbearable counts: (1) Its credibility would have suffered and it would have been humiliated beyond repair. (2) It would have alienated its few international “friends” by not heeding their advice. (3) Such humiliation and isolation would have made it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to raise the matter afresh at some later date.

These are undoubtedly weighty considerations. Unfortunately, however, they have largely fallen on deaf ears at home. Apart from the opposition (which senses a kill and is threatening a street movement to overthrow what it calls an “unpatriotic” government), many thinking people are also angered by what they see as “backtracking” by Islamabad. Their argu­ments go something like this: (1) “Unlike the Indians, Islamabad didn’t do its homework properly. If it had, the international com­munity might not have been swayed by India.” (2) “It is better to have fought and lost than not to have fought at all”.

A variant criticism accuses the government of misleading Pakistanis by raising expectations of success and then dashing them to the ground at the last minute. “If the FO wasn’t sure of success”, say some people, “it shouldn’t have taken on the Indians in the first place”. Others are irked that the Foreign Affairs Committee is in the hands of people with dubious intellectual and “patriotic” credentials like its chairman Maulana Fazlur Rahman of the JUI. A few analysts insist that Pakistan has once again crumbled under American pressure. And so on.

   Notwithstanding the emotive nature of most of these silly outbursts, some allegations may not be without substance. Perhaps the FO didn’t do its homework as meticulously as it should have done. It also transpires that both the PM and the FM were misplaced in their judgements: “This is not a numbers game” said the PM some time ago; “It’s a win-win situation” explained the FM cheerily last week. Certainly, the government erred in raising domestic expectations to unrealistic levels.

But all this is really besides the point. The point is that Pakistan has unfortunately never had a well thought-out, systematic and long term strategic policy on Kashmir over which there is a societal consensus within government, army and people. From 1947 to 1965, we twice went to war with India over Kashmir on two downright stupid and false presumptions: (1) That the Kashmiris would rise in revolt against the Indian “occupation forces” if they were suitably nudged into action by us. (2) That we could forcibly annex Kashmir by winning a war with India. In consequence, we were dealt such a humiliating blow by India in 1971 that we were obliged to bargain away Kashmir and bury it in Simla in exchange for 90,000 military POWs.

Kashmir was all but forgotten by Pakistan until the 1980s when Mrs Indira Gandhi’s overarching ambitions (and then those of Mr Rajiv Gandhi) to create a strong centralised state irrevocably antagonised the people in the valley. When the Kashmiris rose up in revolt in 1989, the civilian government of Benazir Bhutto was understandably caught off guard. When it tried to formulate a “moral, diplomatic and political” strategy to exploit the unrest in Srinagar, it ran headlong into trouble with the hawkish “visionaries” and “strategic defiance-ists” in the military establishment and their supporters in the opposition led by Mian Nawaz Sharif. Even as the government was gearing up a diplomatic strategy to “help” the beleaguered Kashmiris, the “establishment” was already several steps ahead, secretly fueling the revolt in the valley.

In consequence, by April 1990, India and Pakistan were on the verge of a potential nuclear conflict. By September 1990 Pakistan had lost all US economic and military aid by wittingly drawing attention to its nuclear programme.

When Mr Nawaz Sharif came to power, he quickly fell in line with the hawks in the establishment. The Pakistanis upped the military ante in Kashmir in 1991, only to discover that they hadn’t covered their tracks at all. In consequence, Islamabad was threatened in 1992 by the US with severe punitive sanctions for “exporting terrorism”. By 1993, the government and establishment had buckled under pressure and changed track once again. Accordingly, in April 1993, Mr Nisar Ali Khan, the special assistant to Mr Sharif, went to Washington and promised to close down “training camps” for the Kashmiris in Azad Kashmir.

   Since then, the establishment has discovered the utility of launching a diplomatic struggle against India. At first, this was confined to reiterating the principles of self-determination and calling upon the international community to honour the UN commitments of 1947 and 1948. When this strategy didn’t work (because the world is not yet prepared to see the “dismemberment of the biggest democracy in the world which is opening up a market of over 300 million consumers to foreign investment”), a new tack was found — India’s human rights violations in Kashmir.

Accordingly, in 1993 Pakistan moved a draft resolution before the Third Committee of the UN to censure India for its abysmal record in Kashmir. However, Pakistan was so racked by political instability and crisis that no government was able to stay long enough to formulate and implement a winning strategy over Kashmir in the UN.

When Benazir Bhutto came to power in October last year, she was saddled with the responsibility of ensuring success for a UN resolution the following month for which no adequate preparations had been carried out by her predecessors. If she had gone ahead regardless, she would have definitely botched it up. In the event, her government would have been attacked by Mr Sharif and the rest of the self-righteous, unthinking hawks and pen-pushers for being “inefficient”, “incompetent” and “unpatriotic”.

When Islamabad weighed the odds stacked against going ahead with the resolution last November, it decided to back off only after receiving assurances of an unprecedented statement of admission by India that “Kashmir was a territorial dispute” between the two countries which merited a fresh round of talks to resolve the core issue. This was no mean achievement, considering that in the last 45 years India has refused to talk about Kashmir by consistently arguing that Kashmir was a “problem” and not a “dispute” which demanded a satisfactory resolution. Although no one on either side expected the talks to be substantive (and they weren’t), Pakistan was successful in bringing the “unfinished business of partition” on the agenda of the international community.

Unfortunately, the country’s tangible gains on the diplomatic front were lost in a cacophony of abuse against the government. The opposition’s response was totally partisan, opportunistic and narrow-minded. Instead of appreciating the problem and helping the government cement a national consensus and strategy over Kashmir, Ms Bhutto was roundly ticked off for being “soft” on India. It is also regrettable that instead of standing up and bravely explaining the real position to the people of Pakistan, Ms Bhutto succumbed to pressure and ended up posing as a hawk herself. “We have not withdrawn the draft resolution”, she roared, “we have only postponed it to Geneva next February”. By so doing, the prime minister had, in effect, agreed to play on the opposition’s turf. Instead of taking the bull by the horns and clearly delineating her strategy, Ms Bhutto merely ended up postponing her day of reckoning.

   It should have been clear to Islamabad that Geneva wouldn’t naturally be ripe for plucking in February. At the very least, the chances of failure should not have been blithely ignored. The government should have embarked upon a campaign to make the public aware of the issues and problems involved. It should have subtly prepared public opinion for a probable reversal in Geneva by hammering a couple of points home that, for various economic and political reasons, India unfortunately occupies centre-stage in the mindset of the international community; that many among the 53 member countries in the Human Rights Commission, including Iran and China, have a pathetic human rights track record of their own and would in all likelihood not vote in support of the Kashmiris and against India; that in relations among states, it is vested interests and not “friendship” which prevails; that “morality” and “principles” are always sacrificed at the alter of political expediency; that the struggle for Kashmir is bound to be a long, convoluted and arduous one which will often entail two steps forward, one step back; that Geneva would be only one hurdle in a long line of obstacles; that lack of total success here should not be taken as the be-all and end-all of our crusade; etc. In short, Islamabad should have nudged a wide-ranging, realistic and open public debate on the hurdles ahead and the narrow choices available to the government.

No such thing, however, was done. The government wittingly played right into the hands of the opposition. Now it is trying to limit the damage to its image, without much success it appears. By and large, simple-minded people have drawn rather simplistic conclusions about the “incompetence” of the government and the “betrayal” of the cause of Kashmir.

   In actual fact, of course, Ms Bhutto’s critics are way off the mark. For the second time in three months, the government of Pakistan has managed to extract a small price from the Indians. This may appear insignificant today but it isn’t. Every drop maketh an ocean, that is what the struggle for liberation is all about. There will be other occasions in the future to notch up more substantial kudos. Slowly, it will all add up. There are no quick-fire short cuts to liberation. Instead of carping about “defeat”, critics might be better advised to adopt more realistic and down-to-earth assessments. They might also learn to think positively for once and suggest how the government and opposition can be persuaded to agree on a coherent, long-term national strategy to help the cause of Kashmir.

Srinagar cannot and will not be liberated from the yoke of India in a jiffy. We should join ranks, become utterly cold-blooded and dig our heels in for a long and arduous struggle on all fronts. The fashionable distinction between “hawks” and “doves” signifying “right” and “wrong” is stupid. So is the concreteness of those who cast mindless aspersions about the patriotism of an elected government in Pakistan. If India thinks it is off the hook, it has another thought coming. The liberation struggle has just begun.

(TFT March 24-30, 1994 Vol-6 No.3 — Editorial)

Rethinking nuclear policy

The Clinton administration is proposing that the US Congress should lift the ban on US military aid to Pakistan in return for a verifiable Pakistani commitment to halt production of nuclear weapons materials. “The idea is to see what we can get in terms of limits on nuclear proliferation”, say US State department officials.

   Concretely, this means that in exchange for a resumption in military supplies, in particular 38 F-16s for which Pakistan has already made down payment of US 650 million in cash, the US wants immediate verification of the “dynamic” nuclear fissile material (uranium) which Pakistan is alleged to be enriching beyond 5% so that this enrichment process can be frozen effectively (a de jure “freeze” is called “capping”) at its present stage. The US is not demanding an inspection of the “static” nuclear fissile material which Pakistan may or may not have already honed into enriched nuclear “cones” for purposes of nuclear bombs. In other words, the US is saying that it is prepared to concede a small nuclear arsenal to Pakistan but not a big one. It is offering a resumption of conventional military supplies to Pakistan if it accepts this nuclear compromise today.

Our position, however, remains unchanged: Pakistan will accept an international verification regime (even if it only applies to “dynamic” fissile material and leaves our existing nuclear arsenal untouched) only when India agrees to open up similar nuclear facilities for inspection. The thrust of our policy, meanwhile, is to try and persuade the US Congress to repeal the discriminatory Pressler amendment.

While the US State department has come round to the view that the Pressler may actually hurt current US non-proliferation efforts in South Asia, the US Congress remains intransigent. Far from agreeing to its repeal, Congress is still reluctant to grant a Pressler exemption to Pakistan under the limited verification regime proposed by the State department. Meanwhile, time is running out for Pakistan on the delivery of the F-16s — Lockheed says it cannot indefinitely store the aircraft in its hangers pending Pressler’s repeal or a Congressional exemption. And it is by no means certain that Pakistan will get its money back if the F-16s contract is cancelled.

There is, of course, a great deal of moral satisfaction to be derived in Pakistan from sticking to a principled regional security policy linked to Indian non-proliferation responses because of India’s aggressive ambitions in South Asia. Nonetheless, there may be some merit in reviewing our position, if only to fine-tune Pakistani reactions to a changing and increasingly complex nuclear problematic.

Such a review should realistically focus on the implications for Pakistan of three new factors which are bound to affect our security concerns in the coming years. First, there is the question of how the international community increasingly views India in relation to Pakistan. This raises the problematic of Pakistan’s lack of sufficient counter-leverage with the US in comparison with India.

Second, we need to comprehend how India’s growing economic strength and solid democratic consensus is poised to alter the historical military balance with Pakistan whose economy is trapped in stagflation and whose politics are mired in divisions and constitutional deadlocks.

   Third, we must force ourselves to look beyond the visible horizon and try to discern the implications of international non-nuclear proliferation policies which will come to fruition in 1996. These policies are expected to run on a parallel track to the NPT and have the potential of hurting Pakistan much more than India if both are obliged to accept them simultaneously in two years’ time.

(1)  Pakistan, unfortunately, no longer enjoys any counter-leverage with the US. The end of the cold war has meant that US strategic interests in propping up Pakistan as a “front line state” have evaporated. There is therefore no intrinsic reason any more for the US to mollycoddle Pakistan and ignore its nuclear programme. Pakistan has also failed to develop any “insider” links with the Muslim states of the region to make it an attractive proposition for the furtherance of US interests. Its lack of influence in Afghanistan and Central Asia has only served to devalue its utility in Washington. The fact that its economy is still struggling to attract crumbs of foreign investment underlines its isolation in the international market place as well. So when the US gets tough with Pakistan (as over “exporting terrorism” or “crossing the red light” over nuclear proliferation or cutting off aid and denying us the F-16s), there is precious little we can do in retaliation (apart from expressing a sense of moral outrage). Because our economy and military has been and remains dependent on US largesse, Washington is able to exert pressure on us. But because we have nothing to offer in return, we have no counter-leverage against the US.

In marked contrast, India is basking in the glow of international acclaim for its resilient democracy, political stability and economic dynamism. Its 300 million-strong consumer middle-class has whetted the appetite of foreign investors, all of whom are tripping over themselves for a piece of the Indian cake. India’s finance minister Manmohan Singh knows the equation better than anyone else. Indian trade with the outside world is rising, its reserves are buoyant, technology transfers are taking place on a massive scale, old loans have been returned even as new ones are being negotiated on better terms. Under the circumstances, the US doesn’t have the option of exercising the same sort of leverage against India that it can and does exert against Pakistan. In turn, India’s many political and economic strengths enable it to stand up and resist encroachments on its “sovereignty”.

(2)  The conventional military balance between India and Pakistan is becoming increasingly lopsided. India is not restricted from purchasing new weapons systems from diverse sources because it has the cash to do so and because it has never been tied to the apron strings of the US. Also, India’s domestic armaments industry is reasonably self-sufficient and sophisticated to enable it to fulfil many of the country’s defence requirements locally. Pakistan, on the other hand, doesn’t have the financial resources to shop around in the arms market and keep pace with India. Nor does it have the heavy-industry resource base or technology with which to fulfil its more pressing military requirements. Where India can blithely increase its defence budget in real terms (20% rise in the new budget), Pakistan is hard pressed to continually keep up with inflation. This lopsidedness in India’s favour is bound to increase over time, especially if Pakistan is unable to persuade the US to quickly restore military supplies. The F-16s are available today, they might have flown the coop tomorrow and be unavailable if and when Pressler is repealed.

(3)  The US and Russia are in the process of finalising a far-reaching agreement under which, as The Washington Post put it, “inspectors from each country would be able to go and count the plutonium triggers being taken out of each other’s deactivated missiles”. This agreement implies that many new, better and more effective ways are in the process of being devised for international inspections which are capable of reconciling the requirements of host-country secrecy and third-party verification of nuclear weapons materials. By 1996, these methods will be available for use in other countries like India and Pakistan.

More significantly, this agreement signals an era of more “openness” in arms control regimes and is bound to strengthen the imperatives of signing the NPT. If the US and Russia can reach an agreement on dismantling nuclear weapons and refrain from nuclear testing, it will become doubly difficult for countries with ambiguous nuclear ambitions like India and Pakistan to resist in­ternational inspections and NPT conditionalities in the future.

The international community (including India and Pakistan) has already established such a precedent of inspections by accept­ing the treaty banning the development and use of chemical weapons. In this backdrop, the same principles will be applied to a forthcoming international convention on a treaty on inspections of “dynamic” fissile materials in 1996 and both India and Pakistan will find it difficult to thwart Washington.

This analysis would suggest that the thrust of India’s argu­ment against signing the NPT (that it is globally discriminatory) is going to be seriously eroded in a couple of years’ time as the US and Russia take steps to make it more equitable. If, after it has stockpiled a sufficient nuclear arsenal, India decides to sign on the dotted line of international inspections of fissile materials in 1996, Pakistan will have no option but to follow suit (because that is our long-held formal position). When that happens, it is worth asking what the strategic military balance between the two will look like. Will it be favourable to India or to Pakistan?

In the next two years, given their relative nuclear resource bases, India will probably have enhanced its nuclear bomb stock­piles much more than Pakistan. If India has 70 bombs today, it may have as many as 100 such bombs in 1996; Pakistan’s 10 bombs could be upped to 15, at best. But this increment hardly makes any difference to the equation of nuclear deterrence in the sub-continent. Unlike India, Pakistan palpably lacks a second-strike capability. As first strike potential, Pakistan’s ten bombs are a good enough deterrent and the addition of another five will not make any difference. But, and this is more crucial to our long term national security concerns, the equation governing conventional military arms will have deteriorated even more rapidly for Pakistan in the interim because of the continuing adverse effects of US em­bargoes on military hardware to Pakistan.

This would suggest that if, following India, we were to accept inspections of fissile material in 1996, we would have jeopardised our relative conventional military strength (by disallowing inspection today) without in any way improving our nuclear balance with India.

In view of such considerations, it makes good sense for Pakistan to think long, hard and carefully about the present US of­fer of an immediate resumption in military supplies in exchange for an inspection and freeze on Pakistan’s un-enriched fissile ma­terial. If Pakistan will follow India in doing so in two years’ time when both conventional and nuclear military balances will be in favour of the latter, it might seriously consider allowing inspection now in order to ensure a more favourable balance of conventional forces in years to come.

When considering this option, however, a number of points obviously need to be thrashed out. First, if our nuclear pro­gramme is still not advanced enough to guarantee deterrence, it would obviously be in our interest to refuse inspection of fissile material and speed up uranium enrichment so that we are in a sat­isfactory position by 1996. The implication here is that if we have already frozen our enrichment programme (as we claim) then we should unfreeze it quickly. A credible nuclear deterrent against India is more important than a military balance in conventional weapons. Hence the F-16s can be sacrificed at the alter of more compelling reasons of national security.

Second, we need to re-examine the longer-term validity of our position that we will sign the NPT simultaneously with India. If by 1996 our nuclear programme is still below the stage at which it can provide a suitable deterrence, it may not be in our interest to sign the NPT even if India is agreeable. Given the fact that the conflict over Kashmir is likely to remain a potential flashpoint in the region until it is satisfactorily resolved, we cannot afford to rely only on conventional weapons as a means of deterring India from provoking a military conflict in the region.

Third, it is imperative that we fashion a national consensus over how to deal with these complex and secretive issues. This would imply that the leaders of the armed forces, government and opposition should sit across a table and hammer out an agreement over how to tackle American pressures over Pakistan’s nuclear programme.

Such a consensus in the larger interests of the country is all the more necessary because the implications of whatever decision we take are likely to be far-reaching and tumultuous. If we embark upon a policy of refusing inspections irrespective of India’s stance (under the NPT or otherwise in 1996), Pakistan risks being iso­lated internationally as a “pariah” nation, the consequences of which can prove horrendous. However, if we are to agree to in­spections of fissile material now in the larger national interest, the government will have to seek assurances from the opposition that it will not plunge the country into a crisis of unimaginable propor­tions. Consequently, the opposition needs to be brought into the picture so that the nation speaks with one voice on this issue.

Pakistan’s nuclear position is shrouded in a great deal of mystery at home and abroad. The common perception is that apart from the high command of the army, no one really knows the ground situation. Although we say that we have not made the bomb, Washington has successfully propagated the line that we crossed the nuclear threshold some years ago and have since be­come a covert nuclear power. This perception is a double-edged weapon: on the one hand it serves notice to India that it can trigger war with us only at perilous cost to its civilian population (because we are said to have the bomb); on the other hand it helps to re­strain the US from imposing stricter sanctions on us (because we don’t admit to having the bomb).

Increasingly, however, our positions are becoming less ten­able as pressures for inspection become stronger and existing US military sanctions start to pinch harder. Consequently, those who command the levers of our nuclear programme should begin to ask themselves some serious questions which require urgent an­swers.

If we have already enriched a certain amount of uranium to make a given number of bombs which can act as a nuclear deterrent to India, why shouldn’t we make our de facto freeze into a de jure freeze (allow inspection of fissile material) and reap the benefits of a resumption of military supplies from the US? If, however, we still haven’t enriched a sufficient amount of uranium to make the requisite number of bombs, why have we “frozen” our programme without any substantial “reward” from the US? If we think we need more time to arrive at the proper nuclear deterrent stage, why shouldn’t we unfreeze our programme and get on with it? If we won’t be ready to allow inspections of fissile material in 1996, why should we keep insisting that we will sign the NPT or allow inspections when India does so?

Whatever the answers, the implications of each answer need to be carefully weighed. In the meanwhile, the armed forces should gather the government and opposition under their wing, explain the changing situation and insist on a consensus which enhances the security of Pakistan. The nuclear issue cannot be allowed to become a football between the government and opposition. Nor should it remain exclusively in the domain of a few planners who are not accountable to anyone. Some hard headed thinking needs to be done and it should be done in a cold, calculating and unemotional fashion. There is too much at stake to allow ourselves to be carried away by moral self-righteousness and outrage.

(TFT March 31-06 April, 1994 Vol-6 No.4 — Editorial)

Benazir’s faux pas

Benazir Bhutto should be pleased that the trumped-up charges filed against her by President Ghulam Ishaq in 1990 are falling like nine-pins. She has been acquitted in all but two pending cases whose fate is similarly assured in days to come. Under normal circumstances, this should have occasioned a publicity campaign lauding Ms Bhutto’s vindication before the highest courts of justice in the country. But it hasn’t. Ms Bhutto’s managers have been so absorbed in damage-control gambits to salvage her plunging reputation that they haven’t had time to think or act positively.

Barely six months after becoming PM, Ms Bhutto’s gloss has begun to fade. The public is disenchanted with her government’s performance, or lack of it, in recent months. The latest blow to her credibility stems from her party’s failure to win the election to the post of Senate chairman. For this setback she has largely herself to blame. Victory seemed assured because her PPP and main alliance partners clearly commanded at least half of the 87 votes in the Senate. But Ms Bhutto dragged her feet in nominating a candidate, thus giving the opposition a wide berth to woo some undecided voters in the interim. When she did resolve the confusion in her mind  Mr Manzoor Gichki’s candidature was not announced until election day ― she made a bad choice. Mr Gichki may be a thoroughly personable man but he is a bit of a nobody in Pakistani politics.

Ms Bhutto made her first blunder when, in an interview to the BBC some weeks ago, she said she had “helped” India off the hook in East Punjab in 1989 when the Sikh secessionist movement for Khalistan was at its peak. The opposition was quick to seize upon her admission as “lack of patriotism” in helping an enemy which is committing genocide on Muslims in Kashmir. Ms Bhutto had meant to say that “helping” the Sikhs would have amounted to “interference” in India’s internal affairs ((which Pakistan, like a good member of the international community, doesn’t believe in doing) because East Punjab was part of India whereas helping the Kashmiris was Pakistan’s bounden duty since Kashmir is disputed territory. It was a subtle distinction addressed to the international community to offset Indian allegations of unwarranted Pakistani interference in its internal affairs over Kashmir. But it was a point which should not have been made. Allegations that Ms Bhutto may have connived with Mr Rajiv Gandhi in 1989 to put down the Sikh insurgency have been floating around for years. Her recent “admissions” have unfortunately only served to make them more credible in domestic eyes. If the PM’s belated “clarifications” have been drowned in a din of outrage across the country, she shouldn’t be surprised.

Ms Bhutto committed a second mistake late February when she prematurely launched a move of no-confidence against the opposition government in the NWFP and failed to achieve her objective. Having been forced to impose President’s rule, she may come to rue the day she allowed Mr Aftab Sherpao to have his way.

   Her troubles mounted last month after Pakistan failed to persuade members of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva to censure India for human rights violations in Kashmir. Having earlier built up high expectations of a win, Ms Bhutto’s decision to defer the motion has gone down badly at home. Naturally, Mr Nawaz Sharif has been quick to exploit the situation. “No further proof of her treachery is required”, he says smugly. Unfortunately, the hype over Kashmir has reached such absurd heights recently that Pakistanis are increasingly inclined to accept this point of view.

Mr Sharif is naturally overjoyed. “This is the beginning of her end”, he boasted after his unexpected victory. While such conclusions may be a trifle premature, Ms Bhutto certainly cannot afford to trip up any more. Apart from Sindh province (which is trapped in bloody squabbles), the PPP lacks a majority in any of the other three provinces. In Islamabad too she depends crucially for her survival on a couple of alliance partners, especially the fickle and ambitious PML(J) which is already beginning to spread its wings. If she is not careful in future, she may find many of her friends turning into foes overnight, much as some did in the Senate last month.

Six months ago, it was arguable that Ms Bhutto had a good chance of lasting her full term. Only a very brave or very foolish person would say that today. Chattering classes aside, ordinary folk are decidedly disheartened and fearful of renewed instability. Increasingly, questions are being asked about why her “team” is so incompetent, why she has allowed herself to be surrounded by sycophants and discredited bureaucrats, why Mr Asif Zardari is again looming larger than life ― in short, why she is acting like her own worst enemy.

If Ms Bhutto nevertheless appears sanguine, we can only presume that she may have fallen prey to her own propaganda. There can be no greater tragedy than that since it would point to some basic and unforgivable flaws in her political ensemble.

(TFT April 07-13, 1994 Vol-6 No.5 — Editorial)

Talk, talk, talk!

Sindh is on the boil again. Everybody is angry and frustrated with everybody else and nobody is prepared to listen to anyone. The MQM claims that the PPP isn’t offering a “fair” deal on power-sharing. The PPP retorts that the MQM’s list of 70 “demands” is preposterous. The MQM wants the army to stop arresting its members, release all those in prison and withdraw all the criminal cases against Altaf Hussain et al. The army says a criminal is a criminal irrespective of political affiliations or street power. The MQM shrugs this off by promptly calling strikes and crippling Karachi. Is there a way out?

Mian Nawaz Sharif and General (retd) Aslam Beg think there is. “Pull out the army from Sindh”, they say callously, knowing perfectly well that that is a sure-shot recipe for civil war in the province. Of course, they would like Sindh to be swamped by bloody strife. It would create an ideal situation in which to conspire for the ouster of Benazir Bhutto from power, much as they jointly did in 1990. But it’s not going to happen because their conspiracies are all too evident to Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

Of course, Sindh cannot be allowed to drift into anarchy, and of course a way has to be found to reconcile the interests of the MQM with those of the PPP and the army. But before everyone is nudged to the negotiating table and advised to be more accommodating, one thing ought to be understood: If Benazir Bhutto had to endure a three year battle to win acquittal in patently trumped-up cases before the Special Courts and if Murtaza Bhutto is in prison facing charges from a largely forgotten era, then Altaf Hussain must also agree to face the same music. If he’s really innocent, as he claims, why doesn’t he have the guts to turn himself in and let the law of the land take its course?

That said, we might suggest a two-track approach in which the two tracks run simultaneously without impinging upon each other. Along one track the MQM and the PPP should directly negotiate a power-sharing formula which fulfils two reasonable requirements: it must be realistic and it should be endurable. The MQM cannot demand everything from the sublime to the ridiculous. Nor can the PPP hope to fob off its adversary by offering merely the crumbs of office while denying it the fruits of power.

On a second track, the MQM and the army should directly tackle the question of who is a terrorist or murderer and who is not. If the MQM demands that all charges must be dropped and everyone must be released from custody, it should think again. If the army insists that all those whom it has targeted are guilty as hell, it must not be taken in by its own propaganda. Both sides could start by discussing the merits of cases in which the nature of the alleged ‘crimes’ is not too serious and where some sort of ‘amnesty’ can be arrived at without too much soul-searching or agonising loss of face. In due course, after tangible gains have been affected by both sides and a better political understanding of each other’s dilemma has come to prevail, a strategy for more give and take may be reasonably embarked upon.

   Meanwhile all the parties should not say or do anything to exacerbate the situation. And they must start talking. Ms Bhutto has instructed her Sindh chief minister to re-open lines of communication with the MQM. This is heartening. The MQM mustn’t spurn the offer for talks with the government. Not should it muddy the waters by calling for any more strikes. At the very least, it should demonstrate its bonafides by staying clear of the likes of Nawaz Sharif, Aslam Beg and Ajmal Khattak — all of whom have a strong vested interest in sabotaging the prospects for peace in Sindh.

On the other front, leaders of the MQM and General Nasir Akhtar, the Karachi corps commander, should have a crack at an agenda for mutual “appeasement”. While the talks progress, no further arrests or raids should take place; nor should the MQM try to notch up any provocative propaganda points against the army (as in the Naheed Butt case recently). The withdrawal of the dreaded Field Intelligence Unit of the army from Karachi is a gesture in the right direction by GHQ.

Now it is the MQM’s turn to make a move towards reconciliation. Rightly or wrongly, its super-patriotic credentials have been considerably eroded in the eyes of many Pakistanis after its leaders went to Geneva recently and accused the Pakistani army of “human rights violations” in Karachi. Some people also believe the MQM is dancing to the tune of foreign masters. How, for instance, it is asked, are MQM activists able to obtain quick visas from the consulates of certain countries when other Pakistanis have to stand in a humiliating queue? If the MQM remains bloody-minded, many more awkward questions are bound to be raised. It is time for the MQM to quell such talk with concrete and positive action on the ground.

(TFT April 14-20, 1994 Vol-6 No.6 — Editorial)

Well done Ms Bhutto and Gen Waheed!

Last week, Mr Strobe Talbott, the US Deputy Secretary of State, proposed a package of confidence-building security measures to India and Pakistan. The US package for South Asia involves (1) a verifiable freeze (called “capping”) of the “dynamic” nuclear enrichment process (uranium in the case of Pakistan and plutonium in the case of India) (2) a halt to the development and deployment of ballistic missiles in the region (3) a 9 nation multilateral conference on arms control, non-proliferation and security-related issues in South Asia.

Mr Talbott left Washington saying that the purpose of the US proposals is to create conditions conducive to a nuclear “roll-back” (dismantling of nuclear weapons) in South Asia. However, by the time he departed from the sub-continent, he was at pains to stress that the US hadn’t raised the issue of a “roll-back” with Pakistan at all. “Benazir Bhutto has said Pakistan will not roll-back its nuclear programme unilaterally”, he explained and went on to clarify that “we’re not asking Pakistan for a roll-back”.

India is reported to have rejected all the American proposals.

   However, as in the past, Pakistan has expressed support for “global and regional efforts to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and missiles capable of delivering them”. In this connection, both Pakistan and the US “agreed to pursue the goal of capping, then reducing, and finally eliminating weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles in South Asia”. The US “reaffirmed its recent proposal that Pakistan agree to a verifiable cap on the production of fissile material [enriched uranium] in association with enhanced US cooperation with Pakistan in various fields”.

Pakistan has expressed “support for the objectives underlying the proposal” and the two sides “agreed to proceed with consideration of the US initiative, with a view to developing an approach acceptable to both the US and Pakistan”.

Shorn of diplomatic niceties and verbiage, it isn’t too difficult to try and construct the essence of what was discussed in the talks last week. Here is an imagined dialogue:

Pakistan: “We agree with your views regarding the non-deployment of ballistic missiles as well as those on a proposed 9-nation conference. On the nuclear issue, the position is that we unilaterally stopped producing fissile material for the purposes of making atomic weapons in 1990-91. Statements and assurances to this effect have formally been given by General Aslam Beg, Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and Shaharyar Khan. Washington knows, from its own sources, that the Pakistani freeze remains in place to date. Yet US military aid to Pakistan has not been restored, in particular the 38 F-16 fighter aircraft for which we have already paid US$ 658 million. This is most unfair. The Pressler amendment is not only discriminatory, it has allowed India to resist efforts directed at non-proliferation in the region.”

US: “Thank you for conceding our case over the first two issues. We’re also inclined to believe you when you say that you’ve frozen your nuclear enrichment programme. But we have a problem with Congress which insists on a formal verification of your claims before it restores aid to Pakistan. We [the US administration] had hoped that we might be able to pass a Foreign Assistance Act this year which would have got rid of the Pressler amendment and brought India and Pakistan at par, thereby allowing us to restore military assistance to Pakistan. Unfortunately, we have had to defer our plans vis a vis Congress in view of our more pressing social and economic problems in the domestic arena, quite apart from the hullabaloo over Whitewater. That is why we are now seeking from Congress a one-time exemption to the Pressler so that your F-16s can be delivered. However, in order to do that, we would need to inspect your nuclear enrichment facilities and confirm to Congress that you have indeed frozen your programme as you claim.”

Pakistan: “If you think we will allow you to walk into Kahuta and take a look around, then you’ve got another thought coming, F-16s or no F-16s. Such an inspection is out of the question. There is absolutely no way any government in this country can afford to allow that to happen unilaterally.”

US: “OK, OK, we appreciate your problem. But you must understand our constraints. We’ve got to find a way of breaking this deadlock. We’re very keen to restore our relationship with you”.

Pakistan: “So are we. But the ball’s in your court. We say our enrichment programme has been frozen. You know darned well that it’s the truth. At any rate, as a superpower with all the sophisticated gadgetry, satellites and evesdropping resources in the world at your disposal, surely you can find ways and means of confirming our position independently, without physically walking into Kahuta with your inspectors.”

US: “Yes, if it comes to that, we suppose we might be able to do something along those lines. But we would need at least some cooperation on your part.”

Pakistan: “Give us your proposals on a ‘non-intrusive’ verification and we will certainly look into them. But remember that these must be transparently just, equitable and honourable for us to even consider them in the first place. There is a second point. Your package should include not just the 38 F-16s we’ve already paid for but all the 71 F-16s on contract plus all the other equipment on hold. While you’re reformulating your proposals, you might also consider, for starters, writing off some of our international debt, increasing our textile quotas and leaning on India to resolve the conflict over Kashmir. Surely there should be a reasonable quid pro quo for having frozen our nuclear programme?”

US: “That’s a tall order. We don’t want to make any promises but we’ll see what we can do.”

Pakistan: “This is a highly sensitive issue for us. We suggest that neither side should make any irresponsible statements which could muddy the waters. Few people in this country actually understand the complexities involved in your proposals and we don’t want any misunderstandings on the rights and wrongs of this issue because it evokes strong emotions in this country. On this issue, the government, opposition and armed forces of Pakistan speak with one voice”.

US: “Yes, we appreciate that. Quiet diplomacy is called for. We intend to meet with Nawaz Sharif’s representatives to gauge their opinion and inform them of our views. Thank you for giving us a fair hearing and supporting our broad objectives. That’s much, much more than we got in India. In the meanwhile, we’ll go back to the drawing board, knock our heads and see if we can come up with some sort of a non-intrusive modus operandi for verification which satisfies the compulsions and requirements of both our countries.”

What more needs to be said on this issue? The government of Pakistan has reiterated its position firmly and honourably. It has laid its security considerations squarely on the table without appearing to be stubborn, inflexible or unreasonable like India. Mr Talbott now clearly knows what’s what. He has got a commitment from Pakistan on the issue of a multilateral conference and missile proliferation. Once he has done his homework on a non-intrusive verification, we have promised to re-examine it carefully to see if it satisfies our concerns.

On the eve of his departure, Mr Talbott said that he had “just completed a very good day of talks with the Pakistan government as well as several members of the opposition”. Pakistan reciprocates the sentiments.

The government of Benazir Bhutto has not given away anything. Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent remains firmly in place. The United States, however, has been forced to concede two significant points: There will be no unilateral nuclear roll-back in Pakistan; and it is up to the US government to find ways and means of satisfying Congress and restoring military aid to Pakistan without directly impinging on our policy of nuclear ambiguity and secrecy.

Well done, Ms Bhutto and General Waheed!

(TFT April 21-27, 1994 Vol-6 No.7 — Editorial)

Merc as metaphor

Why should there be such a brouhaha over the solitary Mercedes Benz imported by prime minister Benazir Bhutto? As the law minister has clarified, the rules of government allow the person of the prime minister to import any one car for “personal use” without paying any import duties or taxes.

It is also well known that previous presidents, prime ministers, chief ministers, governors, judges, army chiefs and other senior government officials and representatives have invariably cashed in their duty-free privileges while in office. As a matter of fact, former President Ghulam Ishaq Khan was more than favourably disposed to “buying back”, at knocked-down prices of course, several of the many valuable “gifts” he received from foreign heads of state while touring abroad in his official capacity.

Prime ministers and chief ministers, in particular, have done much worse than skim the rules to evade import duties. Armed with “discretionary” powers to “relax” the rules, they have doled out state largesse to grovelling cronies and bureaucrats with reckless abandon. Who hasn’t been appalled by the scandals attached to grants of valuable real estate by Nawaz Sharif, Ghulam Haider Wyne, Jam Sadiq Ali and Manzoor Wattoo? Who doesn’t recoil from the cynical exploitation of the Jahez and Bait ul Maal funds by leaders of the Muslim League to line the pockets of accomplices, partners, cohorts, allies, chums and assorted “well wishers”?

Given this background, Ms Bhutto’s ire at the opposition for trying to make a mountain out of a molehill is perfectly understandable. In turn, the government has now trotted out all the spanking new Mercs imported by Nawaz Sharif and put them on display, including two jazzy sports cars in which the former prime minister of Pakistan loved to gallivant in the hills of Murree and Nathiagali singing sweet nothings to his companions. Like Imelda Marcos’ endless rows of bright and burnished shoes, the 53 Mercs of Nawaz Sharif have become an apt metaphor for these “chamacky” times.

Here is a poor country wallowing in debt. We don’t have the money to educate our people or provide for their health. Our roads are clogged with traffic and full of pot-holes, our industry is starved of power and short of skilled labour, our crops are thirsty for water and sick with viruses. Yet our leaders are squandering away billions of our hard earned money in refurbishing their official homes, importing fleets of cars, taking planeloads of friends on foreign junkets. Fiddling while Rome burns, as it were.

No more, we say, we will not stand for it any more.

Benazir Bhutto talks endlessly about her party’s scrupulous standards of behavior. She insists that her family and friends occupy a higher moral ground than those of Nawaz Sharif. If she wants to be credible, she might consider putting her money where her mouth is.

The prime minister could begin with her husband’s favourite Merc which has become the subject of much scorn. The import duties on this car are peanuts. She should set aside the rules — for once in the right cause and cough up the dough. If Nawaz Sharif could write a personal cheque to Bosnia for twice that amount, Ms Bhutto can steal the thunder for a song on this front. This could be followed up by auctioning, preferably in foreign exchange, most of the Mercs imported by Nawaz Sharif. More good can be done by channelling the proceeds of the auction into a maternity care hospital for the poor in Islamabad. Can you think of any other timeless reminder of how a caring prime minister was able to transform the ill-begotten policies of a plundering predecessor into a peoples’ cause? Here is a good and positive way to stay on the front pages of the press. Surely Mr Hussain Haqqani can drum up a media campaign to extract maximum mileage from such a well-meaning gesture.

Ms Bhutto should also take a leaf from Mr Moeen Qureshi’s book: she could float a proposal in parliament curtailing many of the privileges, rights and discretionary powers of senior government functionaries and elected representatives to bestow or receive state largesse and patronage. Imagine the discomfort of Mr Sharif & Co when they are asked, before a full gallery, to cooperate with government in making it an act of law!

   Ms Bhutto should also think of sending the same sort of signal to all those who continue to default on bank loans. We had been given to understand that new laws were being drafted to bring defaulters to book before special banking tribunals. What has happened to them, we wonder? Isn’t it time tax evaders were locked up? Isn’t it time some corrupt bureaucrats were fired?

Ms Bhutto and Mr Sharif don’t like Mr Moeen Qureshi because he has set the yardstick by which we, the people, now tend to measure our elected representatives. If they want us to banish him from our hearts and minds, they will have to give us good and honest government. If they don’t, they mustn’t expect us to chose between the two of them when they bring the system into disrepute next time round.

(TFT April 28-04 May, 1994 Vol-6 No.8 — Editorial)

Clean up Mehrangate

Mehrangate has cost about Rs 5 billion in public money. It is the culmination of a Ziaist legacy in which the fatal nexus between illicit megamoney and a felonious business, military-bureaucratic, political elite has played havoc with the institutions of the state.

The chief culprit is Younus Habib who has milked the Habib and Mehran banks from 1989 to 1994 and passed on a substantial chunk of his ill-begotten money to business cronies and political benefactors.

More ominously, though, former army chief, General (retired) Mirza Aslam Beg, is also deeply involved in some murky deals. Beg has admitted to taking Rs 140 million from Habib and says that a slice of this ‘philanthropic donation’ went to the ISI. The rest was used for the purposes of the “election cell” organised by the IJI and its patrons in 1990. The sum may be peanuts but the implications of the use to which it was put are horrendous.

Gen Beg roped in the President of Pakistan and the combined opposition parties to discredit and overthrow the elected government of prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 1990. He followed up by rigging the 1990 elections so that his protege, Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, could become prime minister and make him a powerful Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee for another three years after retirement. But fellow conspirator Gen Hameed Gul, who wanted to be COAS after Beg retired, linked up with President Ishaq to nominate Nawaz Sharif as prime minister. Thus Beg was obliged during the Gulf war in 1991 to destabilise the Nawaz Sharif government in order to advance his ambitions. From 1988 to 1991, he recklessly manipulated the institutions of the army — ISI and MI — to erode the credibility of the political system. It is a sordid tale of greed, conspiracy and vaulting ambition which laid the state low. (see pages 6-7)

Following the Mehrangate disclosures, some conclusions are already unassailable. (1) The nexus between money and politics has assumed dire proportions — there is apparently no limit to the greed of politicians like Jam Sadiq Ali, Altaf Hussain, Nawaz Sharif, Chaudry Shujaat, Ijaz ul Haq, Javed Hashmi and many others. (2) The nexus between ambitious soldiers and corrupt politics has severely damaged the institutions of the state and is responsible for the recurrent crises of government in this country.

The irony in the situation should also not be missed. In 1992, Mr Nawaz Sharif appointed Lt-Gen Javed Nasir as head of the ISI. Gen Nasir was persuaded by his old chief, Gen Beg, to transfer Rs 100 million plus US$ 17.2 million of ISI money to the Mehran Bank, doubtless for some welcome ‘considerations’.

In May 1993, however, Gen Nasir was fired by the caretaker government of Balakh Sher Mazari. The new DG-ISI, Gen Javed Ashraf Qazi, consulted with his COAS and decided to rescind his predecessor’s dubious orders. When the ISI said it wanted its money back, Younus Habib balked because there was nothing in the kitty. So the ISI picked him up quitely and told him to cough up or else.

By February 1994 Habib had somehow repaid most of the ISI’s money. But, as a result, the Mehran Bank was now bleeding profusely and in desperate need of a transfusion. So Habib persuaded his friends in Islamabad to lean on the State Bank not only to write off Rs 170 million in penalties but also to allow him to sell off FEBCs worth US$ 37 million. His fatal error lay in not depositing the proceeds in the State Bank as required by law.

So the new governor of the State Bank — an admirable, independent sort of fellow appointed by Mr Moeen Qureshi — reckoned that enough was enough and ordered the FIA to get cracking. Islamabad scanned the FIA’s enquiry and reasoned that the ruling party was on a solid enough footing: the opposition was deeply involved but no one of any stature from its own stables seemed to be seriously entangled. So the FIA was given the all-clear to pick up Younus Habib.

Habib is now singing like a canary. Every day brings a fresh revelation which boggles the mind. Yet scores of questions are still unanswered and many of Habib’s unsavoury political links, including some with members of the ruling alliance, remain unexplored. Thus there are grounds to fear that a cap may be put on his labyrinthine confessions as they also begin to encroach on the credibility of those in power today.

Certainly, Habib’s own strategy is geared to this end. He is threatening to name more names so that the potential net becomes uncomfortably wide for Islamabad. Consequently, a deal to silence him in exchange for letting him off lightly cannot be ruled out.

That would be an unforgivable lapse. If the scam is capped, an excellent opportunity to purge the political system will have been missed. Will the new umpires sit back and allow the criminals to perpetuate themselves? If they do, they will be acquiescing in the further erosion of the state and its institutions they have pledged to protect.

(TFT April 28-04 May, 1994 Vol-6 No.8 — Article)

Unveiling Gen Beg’s grand plan

During his tenure as army chief, General Aslam Beg conspired to have his term extended as Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, and failing that tried to impose martial law. Following the scandalous revelations in the Mehrangate affair, the story can now be told of how Beg tried to achieve his goals and why he failed in the end.

Act One: 1988

Hours after General Zia’s aircrash on August 17th, 1988, VCOAS General Beg and Acting President Ishaq Khan met to determine their joint course of action. In this meeting a decision was taken to appoint Beg as COAS and to announce that new elections would be held as originally scheduled by Gen Zia in November 1988.

The logic of sticking to Zia’s schedule was inescapable: there was no prime minister or parliament in existence following the sacking of Mohammad Khan Junejo’s government in May 1988; direct military rule would have been difficult to sustain (a fact recognised even by Zia when he sacked Junejo and promised elections in six months’ time), given that the cold war was coming to an end and the Americans were keen on a restoration of democracy in the country.

However, on the issue of what the future civilian set-up should look like, there was already a subtle but significant unspoken difference of opinion between Beg on the one hand and the remnants of the Zia regime led by Ishaq Khan, Mohammad Khan Junejo and Nawaz Sharif, on the other. Ishaq Khan et al secretly wanted the Junejo regime to be restored by the Supreme Court so that the elections wouldn’t have to be held and Benazir Bhutto, who was feverishly knocking on the gates of Islamabad, could be effectively thwarted.

Gen Beg, however, was more astute. He realised that a restoration of the ancien regime would not exorcise the ghost of Bhutto nor dissolve the myth of the daughter who had returned to Pakistan as a conquering heroine in 1986. It would be necessary to bring Benazir Bhutto to Islamabad so that she could be discredited and buried for all times to come. Once this step was accomplished, it would be easier for Beg to accomplish his personal objectives.

Within days of Gen Zia’s death, the Ishaq Khan group made its first move. Haji Saifullah, who had been the law minister in the Junejo regime, moved a petition in the Supreme Court praying that Gen Zia’s dissolution of the Junejo assemblies and government should be held illegal. While the SC was deliberating, Gen Beg moved into action behind the scenes. His intelligence services had forewarned him of the likelihood of the SC restoring the Junejo government under pressure from Ishaq Khan. Even as Mr Junejo was waiting in the Court’s chambers to be called in for a discussion on the way out, Gen Beg sent a message to the SC that the army would not tolerate such a decision. All this is clear, thanks to details leaked in public by Beg himself in 1993 (which led to his aborted trial for contempt by the Afzal Zullah Supreme Court).

Consequently, the SC was obliged to chart a middle course by holding that while Zia’s dismissal of the Junejo regime was illegal, elections ought to go ahead in the larger interests of democracy. (Justice Nasim Hasan Shah has recently alluded to the sort of pressures the SC has had to contend with.)

The 1988 elections duly brought Benazir Bhutto to power. But, thanks to a fail-safe strategy worked out by Ishaq Khan to return Nawaz Sharif to power in Punjab (the caretaker government in the Punjab was led by Nawaz Sharif who suitably rigged the elections in his province), Ms Bhutto lost the crucial province to the opposition. Gen Beg was perfectly at ease with this stratagem: it would enable him to exploit Nawaz Sharif later to undermine the Bhutto regime when it was time to kick the prime minister out.

Ms Bhutto, however, realised her Achilles heel straightaway and determined to overthrow the Nawaz government in the Punjab. A “get Nawaz” operation was launched in February 1989 by Islamabad, forcing the beleaguered chief minister to run off to Changa Manga with his “horses”. But the chips were stacked against Nawaz and on the eve of the no-confidence motion, it looked clear that Bhutto would succeed in toppling the Punjab government.

That’s when Gen Beg decided to step in and save the situation. Having arrived in Lahore, ostensibly to attend a marriage ceremony, Gen Beg met with the editor of Jang for a short pithy “interview”. Next morning, Jang’s headlines screamed: ” ‘Punjab government will not fall’ says Beg”. The message was not lost on all those MPAs who were thinking of switching sides to Bhutto: the army wanted Nawaz to survive. So it was to be the following day when the vote of confidence was taken in the assembly.

Shortly afterwards, Ms Bhutto decided to fire Maj-Gen Hameed Gul, then DG-ISI, for interference in government. As a staunch Zia remnant, Gen Gul was continuing to flaunt the government’s policy and run an Afghan cell independently. He was also suspected of having chalked out the opposition’s electoral strategy against the PPP in 1988 and for continuing to give advice and sustenance to Nawaz Sharif. It was time for Gen Beg to step in once again and save an ally. Gen Gul was therefore transferred to take charge of the Multan corps, but not before Gen Beg had also promoted him to the rank of Lt Gen and leaned on the prime minister to give him a royal send-off.

The stage was now set for all the conspirators to organise a vote of no-confidence against Benazir Bhutto in Islamabad. Step one would be to pry apart the alliance between the MQM and the PPP in Sindh so that the MQM would vote against Bhutto. This was to be followed up, after the vote of no-confidence, by installing Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi as prime minister. In due course, (and this was the secret part of Beg’s strategy which he didn’t share with his co-conspirators), Jatoi would be expected to extend Beg’s tenure by another three years by making him Chairman of a revamped and powerful Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. Later, if Jatoi ended up also discrediting himself, along with the system, Beg could get rid of him and become all-powerful.

The MQM didn’t take too long to come round to the establishment’s game-plan. Altaf Hussain was a creation of the military agencies under Zia and he quickly fell in line with his masters’ thinking. The plan for a no-confidence move against Bhutto was concretised after the budget and all systems were go shortly thereafter.

However, Bhutto was not altogether ignorant of what lay in store for her. The PPP government quickly laid out a counter strategy — Operation Midnight Jackals — to nip the conspiracy in the bud. As Zahid Sarfraz has disclosed, Nawaz Sharif, Brig Imtiaz and Major Aamer (then in the ISI) almost fell into the trap when they were about to buy some “planted” MNAs set up by the PPP. When prime minister Bhutto sent the file containing the evidence against Brig Imtiaz to Gen Beg demanding that Brig Imtiaz ought to be court-martialled, Gen Beg refused to oblige and simply recommended the errant Brig’s exit from the army.

In the event, however, the no-confidence move against Bhutto in November 1989 was narrowly defeated. Zahid Sarfraz later disclosed that Nawaz Sharif had backed off from buying a couple of crucial votes which swung to the PPP’s side at the last moment. Nawaz Sharif also allowed a few MNAs to “escape” from his camp in Murree where all the opposition MNAs had been corralled on the eve of the no-confidence motion. According to Sarfraz, who was an active conspirator in the game-plan at the time, Nawaz backtracked when he realised that Jatoi, and not he himself, would be the main beneficiary of Beg’s conspiracy. It also appears that Gen Hameed Gul had by now wisened to Beg’s strategy and was secretly chalking out his own moves, in alliance with Nawaz Sharif, to thwart Beg.

Hereafter, it is clear, there were two game-plans within a master plan to get rid of Bhutto. There was Beg’s plan to oust Bhutto, get Jatoi in and enforce an extension in his term. And there was Hameed Gul’s secret plan to oust Bhutto, get Nawaz in, ease out Beg and become COAS himself. The one thing both plans had in common was the starting point: oust Bhutto. Until that was achieved, all conspirators would work together in harmony.

By mid-1990, Younus Habib had been contacted to help implement the plan by giving financial assistance, both for the Midnight Jackals and also for buying MNAs through Javed Hashmi for the no-confidence move. The MQM was bought off and ethnic strife was engineered in Sindh to destabilise the Bhutto government. When Bhutto ordered Beg to send in troops, the COAS flatly refused: “I won’t chase shadows”, he thundered.

On August 6th, President Ishaq booted Bhutto out, set up a partisan caretaker government led by Beg’s man, Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, heaped one reference after another upon her and funnelled Younus Habib’s loot to rig the elections. The “election cell” which rigged the elections was run by Gen Beg, Gen Rafaqat (advisor to President Ishaq) and Gen Hameed Gul. No wonder, Bhutto accused Military Intelligence of having conspired to oust her from power. During the run-up to the elections, MI operatives, acting on Gen Beg’s instructions, openly visited offices of the press to try and plant stories linking Al-Zulfikar to the PPP.

Following the elections, however, the drama took a new turn. Now it was time for Gen Hameed Gul to make his mark. Beg argued that as the head of the Combined Opposition parties, Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi should become the new prime minister. But Gen Hameed Gul and Nawaz Sharif quickly brought President Ishaq up to date on Beg’s ambitious plans for himself via the installation of Jatoi as prime minister. With President Ishaq supporting Nawaz Sharif’s bid for the premier slot, Beg had no choice but to acquiesce. Mr Jatoi, suddenly, was left high and dry.

After Gen Beg’s plans went awry, he was forced to consider changing track. He knew that Nawaz Sharif and Gen Hameed Gul had joined forces to ease him out in 1991. There was no choice now but to conspire to directly take over as quickly as possible. An excellent opportunity presented itself soon enough.

The Gulf war broke out in early 1991. Public opinion swerved against the US and in favour of Saddam Hussain. Beg conveniently forgot how he had, in alliance with Mt Jatoi, committed troops to Saudi Arabia in September 1990 and now openly struck a position of defiance against the USA. The idea was not only to cash in on public sentiment and paint himself as some sort of a savior but also to destabilze Nawaz Sharif and provoke a panic in Islamabad.

Beg quickly invited leading journalists to a tour of the army’s ordinance factories in Wah where he proudly demonstrated the “giant steps” taken by him to make Pakistan “self-sufficient” in tanks and electronic devices. While the press was clucking with pride over Beg’s achievements and lauding his endeavours, the COAS was on the verge of executing his coup de grace.

On the day that Nawaz Sharif was expected to return to Pakistan from a trip to the Gulf, in the midst of the run-up to the war, Gen Beg had planned a lunch in honour of the visiting journalists. More significantly, he had planned to give a rousing talk the same morning to garrison officers stationed in Rawalpindi. When Beg met the journalists for lunch in Rawalpindi, he didn’t let on what he had already said to his officers in the morning. This was to be revealed via fax messages to newspapers the same afternoon (through the army’s Inter Services Press Relations directorate), only hours before Nawaz Sharif was expected to hold a press conference at 6 pm the same day on his return to Pakistan.

Beg told the garrison officers that the position taken by the Nawaz Sharif government on the Gulf war was untenable. He advocated a strategic defiance of the USA and thundered about the faulty policy of the civilian government. All this was leaked to the press only hours before Sharif’s press conference and it was intended to embarrass and humiliate the prime minister.

   When Sharif walked into the press conference, he was visibly stunned by questions relating to Beg’s outburst against the government. No one had prepared him for this situation. Mr Sharif began to fidget, then he started to sweat and eventually, after he couldn’t answer the queries, he beat a hasty retreat. The next day, the press began to speculate about an imminent military take-over.

That is when President Ishaq teamed up with Nawaz Sharif to make a timely intervention to thwart Beg’s objectives. The President promised Beg that he would extend Beg’s tenure by giving him the revamped, more powerful position of Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee in August when Beg retired as COAS. In return, he asked Beg not to destabilise the government or toy with the idea of taking over.

That is also when President Ishaq determined not to give in to Nawaz Sharif by appointing Gen Hameed Gul as the next COAS. He knew perfectly well that together Nawaz and Gul would make formidable opponents who, in due course, could whittle down his powers within the troika. Consequently, many months before Beg was due to retire as COAS, President Ishaq announced the impending appointment of Gen Asif Nawaz, the then Chief of General Staff, to be the new COAS. In one masterful stroke, President Ishaq had not only created the backdrop to thwart Gen Beg but also to nullify the equally ambitious Gen Hameed Gul. It now remained to ensure that Beg would not get wise to President Ishaq’s plans to break his promise and ditch him in the end.

By June, however, Beg was getting fidgety again. President Ishaq had not approved the file setting out Beg’s scheme for a revamped CJCSC slot. Rumours began to float that Beg was intending to take over in July, only one month before retirement date, and the Sharif government was visibly rocked by intelligence reports suggesting that Beg was gearing up to make his move.

It was now time to nip him in the bud again. Two unlikely people, Gen Asif Nawaz (CGS) and Brig Imtiaz Ahmad (DG-IB), were ordered by President Ishaq and Nawaz Sharif to join hands to ensure that Beg would not embark on his adventure. Together, the two worked behind the scenes to put a spoke in Beg’s wheels. Beg’s intelligence services reported that a couple of corps commanders loyal to Gen Asif Nawaz were openly saying that they wouldn’t tolerate martial law and that if Beg tried to impose it they would march their corps against him. Beg tried to recover ground by feverishly visiting all the corps headquarters to determine the mood of his colleagues. In the end, realising that his plan wouldn’t work, he threw in the towel and retired on August 13th.

During the course of his tenure as COAS, Beg had tinkered with the Supreme Court in 1988, propped up Nawaz Sharif in 1989, cajoled the MQM to ditch Bhutto in 1989, inspired Gen Hameed Gul, Brig Imtiaz Ahmad and the ISI-MI to destabilize Bhutto in 1989-90, instructed the MQM to fan ethnic strife in 1990 and then leaned on President Ghulam Ishaq Khan to dismiss Bhutto in 1990. In 1991 he tried to destabilise Nawaz Sharif and pressurise President Ishaq to appoint him CJCSC. For his purposes, he had taken Rs 140 million from Younus Habib. He had also, it is understood, received a hefty donation (US$10 million) from a friendly foreign Muslim country which was keen to ensure Benazir Bhutto’s loss in the 1990 elections.

Gen Beg’s ambitions, however, did not come to an end after he retired in 1991. He set up FRIENDS and acquired a high public profile as a strategic nationalist thinker. Recently, he has joined the PML(J) in order to protect his flanks against the fallout of Mehrangate. Whether the new establishment will get to the bottom of his shenanigans remains to be seen.

(TFT May 05-11, 1994 Vol-6 No.9 — Editorial)

It’s going to be a long, hot summer

The heat is on — and by that we don’t mean the weather. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto thinks the people are with her and nothing else matters, so the opposition can huff and puff for all she cares but it doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of upsetting her apple cart. But opposition leader Nawaz Sharif believes she’s living in a fool’s paradise, the people are actually with him and it’s only a matter of time before her end comes. Both are so confident of their positions that neither is prepared to speak to the other because any initiative for dialogue might be construed as a sign of weakness. Nor are they too worried about what might happen if both sides continue to stick to their guns and end up plunging the political system into yet another abyss.

Meanwhile, the country continues to bleed.

Consider, for example, the plight of Karachi. Industry has been hit with power shortages and work stoppages. The city is plagued with crime. The army doesn’t know whether to stay or go. The PPP government doesn’t have a clue about how to deal with the MQM. The MQM hasn’t a positive thought in its head apart from spilling into the streets to battle it out with the police. The current deadlock is looking ominously like the one in 1990.

Or examine the new government of Mr Aftab Sherpao in the NWFP. It is hanging on for dear life by the skin of its dentures. If Mr Sherpao intends to spend his time buying off MPAs and keeping them happy, or running to President Farooq Leghari whenever the courts find against him, when will he find time for government? We have seen it all before — in Balochistan (1989), Sindh (1991) and Punjab (1993) — and we know it leads into a dead end.

Or take the threats given by Mr Nawaz Sharif. He has boycotted the provincial assemblies of Punjab and NWFP as well as the national assembly. Now he is toying with the idea of handing in the PML(N)’s resignations and calling it a day. It is a nasty tactic, to be sure. But it has been borrowed from Ms Bhutto’s well-thumbed diary. Islamabad may like to pretend that it is business as usual but in fact the PPP is simply putting on a brave face. No one is fooled for a minute. The current deadlock is, potentially, rather like the one in 1993 in which the executioner ended up by being executed himself.

It is pretty gloomy on other fronts too. The internecine war in Afghanistan is threatening to spill over our borders as Pushtoons on both sides of the Durand line jockey for a larger-than-life role in the region. Yet Islamabad has been so immobilised by the legacies of the past and the gridlocks of the present that it is unable to chart out a firm plan of action. On Kashmir, it seems that there is no life after Geneva. US-Pak relations are frozen and there is no sign of the F-16s. Central Asia has been all but forgotten, Turkey is bristling over the cancellation of its contract to build part of the Motorway and Iran and China are busy mending fences with India. The economy is in a deep recession, foreign businessmen have decided not to invest in Pakistan even on a rainy day and Pakistanis are increasingly fearful of the hardships that are in store for them when the next budget is announced.

Meanwhile, anger and frustration are mounting all round. An under-trial Christian was gunned down outside the Lahore High Court and the Bishops of Lahore are threatening to strike against the unjust blasphemy laws. The majority community has responded by stoning and burning to death one of its own, allegedly for mishandling the Holy Quran.

Now Mehrangate has erupted to remind us just how rotten the whole system has become. The leaked FIA report, understandably enough, is focussed only on luminaries of the former IJI. But we all know that the buck doesn’t stop there. By the time Mr Yunus Habib is through, it will be difficult to find a single Mr or Ms Clean around. Mr Sharif wasn’t joking when he recently waved a sheaf of papers and claimed that the high and mighty are about to be tarred with the brush of Mehrangate.

Neither Ms Bhutto nor Mr Sharif can possibly relish this situation. Far from it. There was a purpose behind Mr Moeen Qureshi’s recent visit in which he publicly gave some unsolicited advice to both parties. And there is purpose to the continuing revelations about Mehrangate (which certainly don’t flow from the PPP camp). In both cases, it is clear even to the uninitiated that Someone somewhere is sending some pretty strong signals to both the government and the opposition: “you both have your snouts in the same trough give us good leadership and good government, or else!”

It is a message which Ms Bhutto and Mr Sharif can ignore only at great peril. They must start talking to bring the temperature down. Otherwise it is going to be a long, unbearable summer.

(TFT May 12-18, 1994 Vol-6 No.10 — Editorial)

The genie will devour the state

As Moharram approaches, news reports are beginning to filter in about the probability of renewed sectarian violence. A worrying dimension in recent years has to do with the Indian ‘hand’ in formenting such conflict, presumably in retaliation against the Pakistani ‘hand’ in Kashmir.

   The government will do no more than try to enforce its usual precautionary measures. Pillion-riding will be banned for a month and police patrols will be increased briefly at potential ‘troubled spots’. Leaders of various sects will be called in and told to behave. For the record, a few ‘raids’ will be conducted by the administration to ‘unearth’ small arms. A number of ‘objectionable’ pamphlets and handbills will be duly ‘banned’ by a simple Gazette notification, some walls will be scrubbed-clean and here and there a couple of ‘militants’ from the leading sects will be picked up and bunged into ‘protective custody’ for a week or two. Once Moharram is over without ‘too much bloodshed’, Deputy Commissioners will heave a sigh of relief and life will be allowed to return to ‘normal’.

   In effect, ‘normal’ life means that the various sectarian political groups and parties are free to kill one another with abandon and to terrorise the population. It means that they are free to acquire deadly weapons (‘prohibited’ is the more apt word apparently), free to publish and distribute their poisonous tracts, free to organise and conduct illicit trades (drugs is big business), free to receive ‘donations’ from foreign governments — in short, they are free to break every conceivable law in the land because no government has ever had the will to thward their putrid passions. In consequence, more lives are lost during the year through religious violence than during Moharram.

Why can’t anything be done about armed fundamentalists whose barbarous mentality and diabolic methods mock the very notion of a tolerant and ‘civilised’ society? Why have they been allowed to spread their vicious tentacles into every nook and corner of this country?

Part of the reason may have to do with out political history: cynical political leaders — like Z A Bhutto, Zia ul Haq and Nawaz Sharif — have desperately clutched at the coat-tails of the fundamentalists when their governments have been rocked by a crisis of confidence or political legitimacy. Much irreparable damage has been done to the notion of the modern state by infusing political meaning into our faith. Part of the reason has to do with the continuing failure of governments to provide education and jobs to the swelling tide of the unemployeed which has become a fertile breeding ground for alienation and religious revivalism. It is too late to put the genie of fundamentalism back into the bottle?

   If you talk to Nawaz Sharif in private, he will fervently argue that the blasphemy laws are totally misplaced, conveniently ignoring the fact that his government blithely strengthed the same laws during its stint in power, first in Punjab and then in Islamabad. “Why, even the Holy prophet (PBUH)”, he will tell you with disarming sincerity, “didn’t pass such strictures in his lifetime”. Then, with obvious pride, Mr Sharif will claim credit for routing the fundos at the last polls. Yet when it comes to lending a helping hand to Benazir Bhutto in her feeable efforts to amend the blasphemy laws and make them marginally less unacceptable, Mr Sharif is all sound and fury in his defence of “Islam”.

Talking publicly to Iqbal Haider, our inimitable law minister, can be an even more frustrating experience, especially for the earful monitories. “All this hoohaa by the Biships about human rights is counter-productive”, he bristles indignantly, “the Indians will exploit it to weaken our case over Kashmir”. In private, of course, the former human-rights activist readily concedes that the blasphemy laws should be scrapped, even as he admits rather sheepishly that his ‘social-democratic’ government doesn’t have the wherewithal to do so.

In both cases, the triumph of hypocrisy over truth, of cynicism over morality, is complete.

In theory, of course, all may not necessarily be lost. Just as bad governmets and reckless oppositions have steadily given in to the fundamentalists, a good government and a responsible opposition can join hands to drive the fundos out of business over time. It is a question of will, of putting the country first.

In practice, however, the opposition is true. Mr Sharif will go to any lengths to bring the government down, including allying with the fundos all over again and demeaning his ‘achievement’ in the last elections. In turn, Mr Bhutto wants all the reins of power and will twise the constitution, if necessary, to achieve her purpose. Neither is losing any sleep over the deepening faultlines which crisscross the landscape of our country.

Religious fundamentalism and sectarianism is even more incompatible with the modern nation-state than incipient ethnicity. If the mainstream political parties continue to ignore its implications, the genie will devour the state in time to come. Something should be done about achieving a minimum consenus on how to put it back into the bottle. And quickly.

(TFT May 19-25, 1994 Vol-6 No.11 — Editorial)

Prove us wrong Ms Bhutto!

It is our considered view that, by and large, Ms Benazir Bhutto’s government does not enjoy a “positive” image in society. As a matter of fact, it is largely seen as generally inept, increasingly cynical and painfully inadequate to the tasks at hand.

This perception is not confined to the “chattering classes”, whatever Mr Hussain Haqqani, the glib special press assistant, may say contemptuously in order to sooth the frayed nerves of the prime minister. If only the PM’s hangers-on would pluck up the courage to tell her the truth, she would realise how rapidly her stock has declined since coming to power. Alternatively, she might consider holding an open “katcheri” of the rank and file of her party workers and wait for an earful.

This leads to two important questions: Is the Ministry of Information responsible for failing to project the government’s policies and point of view adequately? Or is the prime minister at fault for not providing the good government people desperately expect of her?

Since perception is often more important than reality, all governments worry about how their policies are portrayed in the press. Prime Ministers, in particular, tend to be extremely sensitive of how their “image’ is projected in the media. The Ministry of Information, thus, seemingly acquires a pivotal role in government. Apart from packaging government policies and ensuring widespread dissemination, the ministry is also expected to keep a tight rein over `independent’ journalists who don’t always see eye to eye with the government’s point of view. This is an unenviable job, even at the best of times.

A host of ministries, many of whom are staffed by “sifarshi”, ill-merited officials or inept ministers, make policy on the recommendations of the cabinet or prime minister. Unfortunately, they do not always know how and when to communicate their intentions and expectations to the Information Ministry or to the press in the best possible manner. Since time lags and packaging are of the essence in achieving public impact, many good initiatives by the government are lost either through the incompetence of the relevant ministry formulating policy or simply through sheer inertia in the labyrinthine corridors of bureaucracy. Under the circumstances, the Information Ministry can be reduced to flogging half-baked briefs or desperately trying to limit damage to a minimum.

At any rate, it is impossible to “control” the press in a democracy. This, despite the fact that every government has a number of “levers” at its disposal expressly designed to “manage” the media. Apart from the organs of the government — NPT, Radio and TV — many private-sector newspapers are routinely inclined to toe the “line” in exchange for handsome newsprint quotas and advertisements. All that is required is to strike a suitable “deal” to win them over or to neutralise them. But not all papers are always so cynical. Sometimes, in fact, a few “rebels” can sour the environment so bitterly that the government’s best-laid propaganda coups are wont to misfire. Nor, given the plethora of publications fiercely competing for a niche in the market, is it always possible even for timid editors to maintain a pro-government stance on each and every issue. Readers have a voracious appetite for gossip, scandal, crime and corruption. Unfortunately for the government, however, such is the psychology of public behaviour that people in power make much better and more likely targets than the under-dogs of the day. In such cases, there is precious little the Information Ministry can do.

Many local journalists, it is true, are invariably keen to stay on the right side of every government. The lure of plots, “lifafas” and foreign junkets with the prime minister is difficult to resist. Once again, though, there are some journalists who cannot be “bought” or cajoled by the government, either because they are inclined to guard their independence rather jealously (for whatever reasons — ego, status, professional ambition or rivalry, etc) or because they write for the foreign press. Nor can there be any question of “controlling” or “managing” those journalists who are ideologically or politically motivated against the party in power. In all such instances, the job of the Ministry of Information is once again relegated to damage-limitation at best.

In view of these perennial circumstances and in-built limitations on the Information Ministry’s brief, it is now worth asking how Benazir Bhutto’s government has fared in projecting itself in the last six months.

   As far as the Information Ministry is concerned, there is every reason to believe that it has harnessed the major newspapers relatively efficiently. Apart from one major Urdu paper, which is openly allied to Mian Nawaz Sharif, and a couple of Urdu weeklies which are ideological organs of the right-wing and hence implacably opposed to the PPP, the vernacular press appears to be reasonably “sympathetic” to Ms Bhutto. The major English dailies, as a matter of fact, seem to have bent over backwards to appease the government by relegating the utterances of opposition leader Nawaz Sharif to a maximum of two columns on the front page. What remain problematic for the government, however, are the nagging columns of a few “die hard” commentators and analysts. These are written either by unreformed ideologues or by a select band of unrepentant “rebels” who have made it their life’s mission to oppose every government in power and expose every bungling they can lay their hands upon. There isn’t much the Information Ministry can do about them.

Then there is the question of the performance of Radio and TV. Given the lack of professional manpower available in these bodies and the refusal of the government to reform them radically, it would be foolish to expect any imaginative initiatives on this front. They are chockablock full of “sifarshis” from the last decade and the Urdu-Punjabi divide in the management has thwarted any possibility of a quick redemption. If both are unable to come up to the PM’s expectations, it is not their fault.

It is, of course, true that the PM’s media managers are not getting along well among themselves and that this failing may have adversely affected their joint ability to project the government’s cause. But there is no reason to believe that by switching and transferring people at the top any better results can be expected, given the sort of institutional and administrative constraints we have mentioned. Indeed, matters could get worse if the PM were to antagonise the mandarins of Islamabad by importing an “outsider” into the Information Ministry.

No, the fault doesn’t lie with Ms Bhutto’s media managers. It lies fairly and squarely with herself. She has spent more time whizzing about to foreign lands in quest of illusive causes, performing countless Umras to prove her piety and cutting unlimited feet of ceremonial tape than in assembling a good team and getting down to brasstacks. Does the prime minister really think that ordinary people give a damn about the state of Pakistan’s foreign reserves or how faithfully her finance minister is adhering to the IMF’s conditionalities to cut the budget deficit? Does she really think that a rise in the price of wheat has made her enormously popular with the peasants? Does she think that people will wait with bated breath for Ghazi-Barotha to roll around in five years time? Does she think that the deteriorating law and order situation doesn’t affect the quality of peoples’ lives? Does she think that many of her advisors and ministers are not on the take? Does she think Pakistanis have forgotten the ray of hope during the Moeen Qureshi regime?

The PPP government is lacklustre and unfocussed. Benazir Bhutto doesn’t seem to have the will to lead effectively. It is no good blaming the media managers for this shortcoming. If the prime minister disagrees with this analysis, we couldn’t be happier if she were to get her act together and prove us wrong.

(TFT May 26-01 June, 1994 Vol-6 No.12 — Editorial)

Pyrrhic victories

Talking to Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif can be a frustrating experience. Neither is short of whimsical answers or fanciful solutions. Both are brimming with confidence or self-righteousness. Ms Bhutto is convinced that she’s running a fairly good ship, the only problem is that her media managers have not been able to get her message across to the people. Mr Sharif thinks she’s made a mess of things and is incapable of governance. She thinks that because the President is with her and because the army isn’t against her she’s here to stay. He thinks she’s living in a fool’s paradise and is on the way out. Tragically, there is no meeting of minds at any level.

Mr Sharif is ready to cooperate with the devil, if necessary, to get rid of Ms Bhutto. He’s even prepared to live with martial law. His argument is that if martial law is imposed it must come to an end sooner rather than later. When that day dawns, he is hoping that she will have disappeared from the scene while he will still be around to pick up the threads of power. It is a foolish and dangerous analysis that he is flogging.

In consequence, Ms Bhutto’s attitude towards Mr Sharif has progressively hardened. She is now ready to use all her wits to cut him down to size. Therefore she has had no qualms in hoisting her government in the NWFP, exploiting the lack of any anti-defection laws to strengthen her power base and getting on with the business of legislation during the opposition’s boycott of parliament. She’s also determined to put the economy on the “right track” by reducing government spending, enlarging the tax base, lowering the fiscal deficit and developing long-gestation projects in the public sector. She says that the belt-tightening period will be over in a couple of years. After her policies have begun to yield fruit, she will be in a good position to call fresh elections and win another term in power. It is a slippery path that she is treading.

   In a rather perverse sort of way, Mr Sharif approves of her economic strategy. He believes that it is ideally designed to alienate her from the people and bring her crashing down. His hope is that after a tough budget is announced, the people in the urban areas, especially the trading classes, can be egged on to spark a country-wide protest and plunge her government into a crisis. If Karachi, Lahore and Faisalabad can be brought to a halt, the deed is as good as done, or so he thinks.

Doesn’t it all sound rather depressing and hopeless? We have experimented with two long bouts of martial law, we have licked the election trail three times in the last five years. But what have we achieved? The tragedy is that we have come full circle and arrived at the beginning, only to discover that it might not be a beginning after all.

Unfortunately, the bitter struggle for power has not only crippled the economy, it has also seriously impaired the institutions of the state. The civil bureaucracy is demoralised, the judiciary is gasping for breath. Even the armed forces are unsure of their position, especially in Sindh. As the two main parties blindly slug it out, the marginal clusters in society — religious sects, ethnic groups, tribal assemblies in the periphery — are beginning to acquire a larger-than-life profile that can prove extremely harmful to civil society.

No state structure can endure in such circumstances. The lack of a minimum consensus in society over how to resolve the nuclear deadlock with America or how to tackle the Kashmir issue with India or how to manage the economy efficiently or how to conduct fair elections or how to hold government and politicians accountable, for example, has only made matters so much worse.

Of course, Ms Bhutto and Mr Sharif are both wrong if they think that they can make do without the other. If Ms Bhutto is unable to bring Mr Sharif to the negotiating table, the loss will be hers. But it will also be a tragedy for us. If Mr Sharif is able to overthrow her government, his victory will be Pyrrhic, But it will be also be a tragedy for us. If there is life after Benazir Bhutto, it might well be without Nawaz Sharif.

In this context, it may be instructive to recall the significance of the brief Moeen Qureshi interregnum. Mr Qureshi stepped in to stop the rot when all seemed lost. Within three months he proved that, given transparently good and neutral leadership, the people were prepared to make sacrifices. “If only he could have continued….” remains a refrain to this day.

Moeen Qureshi has gone and is not likely to return. But the metaphor remains. By the time it loses its vitality and becomes a cliche, Ms Bhutto and Mr Sharif might both have vanished from the scene. Given the current deadlock, it is a thought many Pakistanis could live with rather comfortably. For starters, this is something both our youthful protagonists might consider in all seriousness before they begin to flex their muscle over the coming budget.

(TFT June 02-08, 1994 Vol-6 No.13 — Editorial)

Tough budget is OK but …

Understandably enough, everyone is edgy on the eve of the 1994-95 Budget. “It’s going to be tough” warns prime minister Benazir Bhutto. The poor are agonising about how to survive these times of double-digit inflation. The middle classes are agitated by the threat of falling living standards and rising unemployment. The business classes are worried about higher taxes and falling sales. Foreign companies are concerned about profitability and international donors are dubious about the prospects of economic and political stability. If the government is losing sleep fretting over the consequences of public agitation and strikes in the wake of the budget, it isn’t surprising in the least — all these fears are well grounded. But we have been living way beyond our means. It is time to call a spade a spade and get on with a bit of surgery.

Prime minister Bhutto claims that she has inherited a wayward economy from Nawaz Sharif who went on an irresponsible spending spree to build a vote-bank. Up to a point, of course, her allegations are true. But the problem didn’t begin with Mr Sharif, nor is it likely to be put right by Ms Bhutto only on the basis of the next budget.

The structural imbalances in the economy have simply got worse over time. Domestic savings remain low — hence foreign borrowings and debt-repayments have progressively risen; consumer imports are buoyant, foreign remittances are falling, value-added exports are sluggish — hence the value of the Rupee has fallen over time; non-development expenditures are prohibitively steep, development outlays are grossly insufficient — hence infrastructural improvements in energy, transport and communications have had to be postponed. The net effect of all these tendencies is to widen the fiscal deficit, fuel inflation and make us even more dependent on foreign borrowings.

Ms Bhutto’s policy is aimed at bringing the budget deficit down, from 9 per cent last year to 6 per cent this year and down to 4 per cent in 1995. This entails a two-track approach: cut expenditures and increase revenues, then invest wisely in the social sector and renew the infrastructure. No one should fault her for such sensible objectives.

  But some people do. There are politicians, businessmen and even intellectuals who accuse her of “selling out to the IMF”. But such charges are either due to misplaced concreteness or sheer ignorance about how the economy works. Indeed, if Ms Bhutto is successful in reducing the fiscal deficit and reorienting the government’s spending priorities, she will, in fact, lessen Pakistan’s long-term dependence on international donor agencies and make the country more self-reliant.

   But there are more substantial objections to the IMF conditionalities which Ms Bhutto must contend with. Although few would argue against the necessity of extending VAT across the board, a good case can certainly be made out to start with a low VAT this year and increase it progressively in the next few years — perhaps from about 8 per cent this year to 15 per cent in 1996. Similarly — because the economy is in a recession — it can be argued that government should not cut development spending drastically or even immediately. In other words, there may be greater merit in a fine-tuned policy which allows for a 6 per cent fiscal deficit during the next few years rather than one which makes it problematic for the economy to pull itself out of the recession.

   The problem with this line of thinking, of course, is that it may be difficult to persuade foreign donors to accept its viability. If the IMF and the World Bank are insisting upon a package of do-or-die conditionalities this year, it is only because we have forced them to take such a harsh stance. Pakistan’s credibility with international financial institutions has plummeted to an all time low in recent years because we have blithely broken all our commitments to them. Every year our finance ministers have lined up for financial assistance in Paris or Manila or Washington and promised donors that they will impose financial discipline, reduce the deficit and repay debts on time. Then they have come back home and done exactly the opposite — when Mr Moeen Qureshi took over last July, Pakistan was on the verge of defaulting on its international obligations.

Mr Nawaz Sharif, of course, intends to exploit the situation. Since he is acting within his rights, Ms Bhutto might be advised to tone down her budgetary toughness for reasons of political necessity. Now that everyone is keyed up to expect and resist the worse, it would be in the fitness of things to somewhat deflate anxieties all round on B-day. If the very poor are protected and the middle-classes are given some compensatory relief against inflation, no one will grudge Ms Bhutto’s attempts to make the rich pay more taxes.

One small matter remains. When we are all being asked to tighten our belts for take-off, why should our rulers continue to bask in luxury at state expense? Certainly, they have no business buying luxury aircraft or taking along a cabal of friends and relatives whenever they travel abroad on official duty.

(TFT June 02-08, 1994 Vol-6 No.13 — Article)

There was no threat of Indo-Pak nuclear war in 1990

The sensational disclosures in “Critical Mass” — a recent bestseller — are way off the mark, claim eye-witness accounts by American, Pakistani and Indian experts. Najam Sethi reports on the storm in a teacup brewed by the authors of the controversial book which should more aptly have been titled “Critical Mess”.

The sensational disclosures made in a recently published book — “Critical Mass” by William Burrows and Robert Windrem — that India and Pakistan come to the brink of nuclear war during a period of tensions over Kashmir in 1990, are wrong. The facts reveal that at no time did either of the two countries mobilize their conventional military forces or get ready for any sort of war, let alone a nuclear conflict.

The conclusions of a group of diplomats, intelligence analysts and defense experts, who were in key positions of authority both in the sub-continent and in Washington in 1990, suggest that “the threat of nuclear confrontation was not great, nor were India and Pakistan eager to have another conventional war”.

To help set the record straight, the Henry Stimpson Center think-tank in Washington convened a meeting on February 16, 1994, with US, Indian and Pakistani officials and scholars who could provide authoritative eye-witness accounts of the 1990 crisis. All the participants in the conference had occupied ring-seats in the arena during the period of “crisis” in 1990.

These discussions were led by the then US ambassador to India, Mr William Clark, and the then US ambassador to Pakistan, Mr Robert Oakley. Among the other notables who participated in a frank exchange of views and information on the subject were: Walter Anderson (then Political Advisor at the US Embassy in New Delhi and now at the US Dept of State), Lt-Col Joe Daves (then Assistant Military Attache at the US Embassy in New Delhi and now at the US Dept of Defense), Col Donald Jones (then US Military Attache at the US Embassy in Islamabad and now with the US Air Force), Doug Makeig (then at the Defense Intelligence Agency and now at the CIA), Col John Sandrock (then Air Attache at the US Embassy in New Delhi and now at the Science Applications International Corp), George Sherman (then Political Counsellor in the US Embassy in New Delhi and now at the National Defense University), Grant Smith (then Deputy Chief of Mission, US Embassy in New Delhi, and now at the US Dept of State) and General K Sunderji (Former Indian Chief of Staff).

According to the authors of “Critical Mass”, Pakistan is said to have used the threat of a nuclear strike to prevent an attack by India in April-May 1990 at the height of tensions over Kashmir. At the time there were also rumours that Pakistan’s foreign minister, Sahibzada Yaqub Khan, had personally warned Indian prime minister V P Singh and foreign minister I Gugeral that in the event of a war Pakistan would retaliate with nuclear weapons.

“Critical Mass” argues that during the crisis there was a mass evacuation at Kahuta in Pakistan. Also, says the book, a heavily guarded truck envoy moved nuclear weapons from a suspected storage facility in Balochistan to a nearby air base where the Pak Air Force loaded the nuclear weapons on its F-16s and placed them on runway alert.

These nuclear-nightmare assertions were first reported by American journalist Seymour Hersh in “The New Yorker” on March 28, 1993. According to Hersh, the prospective nuclear holocaust was avoided by a mission to India and Pakistan by the then US Deputy National Security Advisor Robert M Gates. Hersh had been told by Richard J Kerr, the then Deputy Director of the CIA, that “It may be as close as we’ve come to a nuclear exchange. It was far more frightening than the Cuban missile crisis”.

Why Hersh didn’t call up and check the veracity of Kerr’s statement from General Sharma, who was GOC Indian army, in 1990, remains unexplained. “I don’t know why Hersh didn’t call up William Clark [then US ambassador to India]”, General Sharma is reported to have said, pouring scorn over the assertions, “he and I worked that out very nicely”.

In fact, Clark admits that Hersh had called him up to check the facts. But Clark’s comments “didn’t fit Hersh’ thesis” and so Hersh ignored them in his account.

The participants at the Stimpson Center conference came to the following conclusions, the most important of which are at variance with the claims made both by Hersh and the authors of “Critical Mass”:

  1. By all accounts the Gates mission was extremely helpful in defusing the crisis. But “there was no credible evidence that Pakistan had deployed nuclear weapons or evacuated Kahuta or stored nuclear weapons in Balochistan or moved them by convoy to an nearby airfield during the crisis”.
  2. There was “no credible evidence that Pakistan had F-16s armed with nuclear weapons on strip alert during the crisis”. “Indeed”, say the experts, “Pakistani F-16s were off-runway, in protective revetments to shield them from attack and from public view”.
  3. “During the crisis, the Indian military leadership deliberately refrained from moving armour associated with its strike force out of peacetime cantonments and welcomed US defense attaches to confirm this”.
  4. “During the crisis, Pakistani military leadership deliberately refrained from moving its two strike corps to the front and refrained from using forward operating bases for its Air Force — critical indications of an impending attack”.
  5. “During the crisis, US attaches played an essential role in monitoring and reporting on the disposition of Indian and Pakistani military forces. These reports were effectively used to dispel rumours and false intelligence assessments that could have exacerbated tensions.”
  6. “The sense of alarm over the crisis was far greater in Washington than in Islamabad, and it was greater in Islamabad than in New Delhi.”

Other independent accounts also suggest that the claims of “Critical Mass” remain extremely far-fetched. For instance, the book has come under severe criticism from the Indian and Pakistani defense establishments. The then Director General-Military Operations in Pakistan, for one, remains highly skeptical, arguing that at no time did Pakistan mobilize its conventional forces or even remotely consider the possibility of nuclear war with India. Sahibzada Yaqub Khan has also denied that he ever threatened India with nuclear war.

As far as the Gates’ mission is concerned, there didn’t seem to be any overriding urgency about a meeting between Mr Gates and the then prime minister Benazir Bhutto at the time of the crisis. When Mr Gates was on his way to Pakistan in late May, Ms Bhutto was touring eight Muslim countries in the Middle East, drumming up support for Kashmir. While Mr Gates was refuelling at Athens in Greece, Ms Bhutto was en route to Yemen on Air Force 002. Although Gates did contact the Pakistani ambassador in Sana’a to seek a meeting with Ms Bhutto, the meeting couldn’t take place because Mr Gates was not prepared to fly after hours and land in Yemen in the evening after Ms Bhutto had arrived there. Instead, he chose to fly straight to Islamabad for discussions with President Ghulam Ishaq Khan. If his mission had been of crucial importance, and if a potential nuclear war had been on the cards, it is doubtful whether Mr Gates would not have taken the trouble either to contact Ms Bhutto before she set off from Pakistan or to make contact with her in Yemen. Equally, Ms Bhutto would have hardly taken eight days off to tour the Middle East if there had been such a grave crisis on her hands.

Among the significant details revealed in the Stimpson Center conference are the following:

  1. The GOC of the Indian Army, General Sharma, was so irritated by “the Pakistani hand in Kashmir” in early 1990 that he threatened to take out the training camps across the LoC. “It’s time to teach Pakistan a lesson, we’ll put these upstarts in their place once and for all”, is how Ambassador Oakley paraphrased the General Sharma’s feelings on the subject. Ambassador Clark was more forthright:” ‘A boot up their backsides’, I think is the way he [Sharma] phrased it”.
  2. In 1989 neither India nor Pakistan was terribly aware of the explosive situation building up in Kashmir. “Zarb Momin maneuvers were showing a more muscular Pakistan”, recalls Ambassador Oakley, “one that was prepared to carry the offensive into Indian territory…this made a few people nervous or angry on the other side of the line…but Kashmir was so calm it was not discussed…there was a series of meetings during 1989 between the two prime ministers and the defense ministers and the foreign ministers and foreign secretaries — no one raised Kashmir. Punjab, always, but Kashmir, no”.

Ambassador Oakley goes on to add: “And it wasn’t very long, of course, before the Indians put out a white paper saying that all of what happened later in Kashmir had been planned meticulously by the Pakistanis during 1989. But RAW, I guess, was asleep at the switch, because during 1989, no one saw this. It was not raised”.

  1. The arrival of Robert Gates on the scene in May is explained thus by ambassador Oakley: “We feared that if this ratcheting up were not stopped by the Fall, the prime fighting season, the two armies might be face-to-face again, as they had been at the time of Brasstacks, and the momentum would be so strong that it couldn’t be stopped. So we wanted intervention in the Spring in order to preempt something we feared might happen in the Fall.”

When Gates arrived in the sub-continent, Oakley says that “Gates made it clear that the Russians shared his concern. It wasn’t one sided, both sides should back down. In Islamabad, Gates and I alone met with the President and COAS, and Gates presented a very sober assessment of what would happen in the event of war. He said, we are certain that it will not be guerilla warfare in Kashmir. It will be conventional warfare the length of the border. And you may find the Indian Navy in Karachi. You may find the Indian Air Force deep into Pakistan territory. And here are several scenarios ranging from the most optimistic to the most pessimistic of what you can expect in the war. And this was a real eye-opener for Pakistan’s President because I don’t think that it had been put to him in quite those terms by the COAS”. Gates also told the Pakistanis that “Yes, we will have to stop providing support or any kind of support to whichever side might initiate things. And this, of course, will impact upon you more than it will the Indians.”

  1. As tension began to rise from February onwards, the US Military Attaches stationed in New Delhi and Islamabad decided to check out things at first hand and compare notes. In late February, Col Sandrock and Joe Daves got into a car in Delhi and drove through Hissar to Bikaner, Mahajan and Patiala. They say they saw no unusual signs of military activity. Nor, at no stage, were they hindered by the Indian army. Subsequently, Daves was on the road and he says that the Indian army did not move out of its cantonments in the border regions.

At about the same time, on the Pakistan side, Col Jones says he “was on the road at least every other week and usually once a week, going through every major area we could find. We covered everything from Kashmir all the way down to Karachi trying to find signs of military activity. And as the crisis developed, we discovered it was pretty much limited to an area about 50 to 75 miles south of Lahore up though Jammu and Kashmir and there wasn’t much happening south of that…we don’t think that anybody really wanted to fight”.

Col Jones says he remembers Seymour Hersh’ sensational article and “was fairly amused by it”. Col Sandrock admits that “by the time the Gates mission came around, the crisis was largely over, it was a thing of the past”.

Col Jones adds that “I did not see anything that would indicate that the Pakistani Air Force had done anything other than take the appropriate precautions that any air force would take…”. Ambassador Oakley confirms that “we never had any credible evidence that the F-16s were fitted out to deliver a nuclear device; that Pakistan had a nuclear device that could be delivered by an F-16; that they had begun to deploy their planes to forward operating bases…nor did we know anything about any nuclear devices being moved from point ‘x’ to point ‘y’, if they had any”.

The last word on the subject, however, belongs to General Sunderji, the former Indian COAS: “In February India Today came out with a cover story — ‘War clouds over Subcontinent’ kind of stuff– that generally portrayed the kind of drum beating that was going on…I debunked this in my main interview and so India Today didn’t publish it…And I had said there’s no question of any crisis — there will be no war…I didn’t see any hysteria either from the military on either side”.

(TFT June 09-15, 1994 Vol-6 No.14 — Editorial)

Mountains out of molehills

Many people find Mr Nawaz Sharif’s attack on Mr FArooq Leghari disagreeable. What have we come to, they wonder, if the President of Pakistan (who is also the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forced) is now being dragged into the mud by a man whose own claim to fame rests on a littany of corrupt and illegal practices. Mr Leghari’s reputation as a man of integrity and competence precedes his accession to the Presidency, they say, so the opposition leader should have been more circumspect in his allegations.

However, from Mr Sharif’s point of view, it makes good sense to try and discredit the President. Thanks to the 8th amendment, the Presidency occupies a pivotal position in the political system. In the past, when the opposition wanted to destabilize and overthrow the government, all it had to do was to drive a wedge between the President and the Prime Minister, as in 1990 and 1993, and stand by to reap the harvest. Unfortunately for Mr Sharif, this possibility has been ruled out in the present circumstances, given that President Leghari and Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto belong to the same party. The next best thing for Mr Sharif is to demean the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces so that if and when Mr Bhutto loses the confidence and support of the army high command during a time of crisis, the army’s Supreme Commander doesn’t have the moral authority to come to her rescue or stake a claim in his own right.

Mr Sharif’s strategy should not be dismissed out of hand. Political corruption is so widespread and so blatant that ordinary people have become deeply cynical about their elected representatives. Many are easily led into believing the worst. The theory that “if enough mud is slung, some of it is bound to stick” is ripe for the plucking. In view of such perceptions, there is no doubt that Mr Leghari has been stung by charges of impropriety.

On the face of it, of course, there is nothing illegal or improper about selling some of your land at market prices. But when the buyers turn out to be front men for Yunus Habib, at whose hands scores of leading politicians have already been tarred by the brush of corruption, and the seller goes on to become the Head of State, people are likely to raise eyebrows and ask wheher or not the sale of the land also connotes some dubious “connections” between buyer and seller.

Mr Sharif is insinuating that some such connection exists between Yunus Habib and Farooq Leghari. He says that Mr Leghari did Mr Habib a favour when, as finance minister during the Balakh Sher Mazari regime last year, Mr Leghari intervened with the State Bank of Pakistan and got Mehrn Bank off the hook in a case of financial indiscretion. Mr Habib, alleges Mr Sharif, returned the favour when he agreed to buy Mr Leghari’s land some months later. Obviously, Mr Sharif’s implication is that neither of the favours was proper.

Mr Leghari’s supporters have come up with forceful rebuttals. If Mehran Bank was reluctantly bailed out of trouble by the Mazari government, it was only because allowing it to go under would have been an unmitigated financial disaster — over 75 per cent of its deposits belonged to government institutions and agencies. A run on mehran Bank would also have undermined foreign confidence in the Pakistani banking system. As far as the land is concerned, everyone knows that Mr Leghari sold it at prevailing market rates and not a penny more, so the question of any favours from Mr Habib simply does not arise. At any rate, when the land was bought, Mr Habib had no way of knowing that the PPP was going to win in October elections, let alone that Mr Leghari was going to become the President of Pakistan soon thereafter. And so on.

Which of these arguments and counter-arguments is palatable to Pakistanis is difficult to access. What is certain, however, is that Mr Sharif has played his cards more adroitly than Mr Leghari. For over a month, Mr Sharif has been threatening to go public with his allegations. Yet the government made no move to preempt him. If the President had issued a brief statement two months ago, acknowledging last year’s business transaction and pouring scorn over any implication of misdemeanour, the wind would have been taken out of Mr Sharif’s sails. Indeed, if government spokesman like Mr Naseerullah Babar had been better prepared or briefed when Mr Sharif launched his attack in Parliament, the damage to Mr Leghari’s credibility could have been contained. As it turned out, however, the government fretted and fumed and eventually fumbled into a mass of contradiction and invective. The matter of who is taking whom to court, for example, is still unclear. A perfect way to help Mr Sahrif make a mountain out of molehill.

There may be many skeletons still lurking in the cupboards of Mehran Bank. Sooner or later, they will out. Mr Sharif is now threatening to ‘expose’ the prime minister’s connections with Yunus Habib. Forewarned is forearmed, they say. If Mr Bhutto and her lieutenants are clean, they should not unwittingly stumble into the same mud as President Farooq Leghari.

(TFT June 16-22, 1994 Vol-6 No.15 — Editorial)

A brave budget

Even by the standards of the Asian tigers, Pakistan’s economic growth has looked impressive in the last three decades. The country’s GDP has risen, on average, by nearly 6 per cent a year while inflation has consistently remained well below 8 per cent. If these economic gains hadn’t been eroded by a population growth rate of over 3 per cent every year — a peak by any yardstick — the record would have been enviable.

In the last two years, however, the economy seems to have hit a bad patch. Economic growth was 2.3 per cent in 1992-3 and 3.9 per cent in 1993-94. Inflation has crept up to 13 per cent (much higher according to unofficial estimates) and is rising steadily. Has the country been inflicted, as many businessmen believe, with a bout of stagflation, a disease common enough in the rest of the world?

The government of prime minister Benazir Bhutto clearly doesn’t think so. Nor does the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which helped set the guidelines for Pakistan’s 1994- 95 budget announced on June 9th. The new budgetary measures are aimed at widening the income tax net, raising the rate and incidence of indirect taxes and increasing development expenditures. Ms Bhutto hopes to reduce the fiscal deficit from 6 per cent this year to 4 per cent in 1995. Since some of these these recipes are traditionally reserved for an overheated economy, how on earth does the government expect to pull the economy out of the recession? For an answer, we should look at the structure of the Pakistani economy.

Agriculture still accounts for a large chunk of GDP (38.9 per cent in 1991-92), yet agricultural incomes and wealth have never been taxed because national parliaments are dominated by big landlords. The service sector, which includes transport, storage, communication, wholesale and retail trade, contributed 49 per cent to GDP in 1993-94. But it has consistently refused to keep accounts and remains largely out of the tax net. Electricity and gas distribution accounted for 3.7 per of GDP in 1993-94. But bad management and corruption in public sector companies which distribute these services has meant that only 80 per cent of all revenues due are actually collected. Even in the manufacturing sector, which contributed 18.6 per cent of GDP in 1993-94, small scale industry (5.6 per cent of GDP) has generally escaped the tax net.

Since only 1 in every 1000 Pakistanis actually pays any income tax at all, successive governments have concentrated on raising revenues through indirect means — import duties and excise taxes make up nearly 80 per cent of all government revenues. Consequently, governments have been obliged to finance development and balance their budgets by borrowing increasingly huge sums of money from domestic and foreign lenders. Pakistan’s disbursed foreign debt has risen from US$ 145 million in 1959-60 to US$ 20.3 billion in 1993-4 (about 41 per cent of GDP). Its domestic debt has shot up from Rs 58 billion in 1980-81 to Rs 688 billion in 1993-94 (about 43.5 per cent of GDP). Such colossal indebtedness in turn exacts a heavy toll on the annual budget — nearly 40 per cent of it goes into debt-servicing.

But if the government is in debt, so too are thousands of Pakistani businessmen. It is estimated that Pakistani banks carry a liability of about Rs 60 billion in bad debts. Most of this money is owed to state-owned financial institutions.

As if this isn’t a terrible burden on the exchequer, governments also have to pump huge sums into defence in order to keep the cold war with India alive. Military expenditures account for nearly 5.6 per cent of GDP and 35 per cent of annual budgetary expenses.

In consequence, the fiscal deficit has hovered around 7 per cent throughout the last three decades. And government outlays for population planning, education and health have been abysmally low. The government’s Social Action Programmes have never exceeded 3 per cent of the budget.

For years, sensible people have warned that Pakistan is living on borrowed time and money. The IMF, in particular, has continued to stress the need for structural reforms in the economy — reduction in defence expenditures, reliance on direct rather than indirect taxation, lowering tariff barriers to make domestic industry more competitive, increased spending on the social sector and better financial management to keep the deficit down. But for short-term political reasons, every government has tended to postpone the day of reckoning.

Despite such prodding, this state of affairs might well have continued a bit longer if it hadn’t been for the arrival of a new government in 1990 headed by Mr Nawaz Sharif. Mr Sharif did some things that needed to be done. For instance, he deregulated the economy and launched a dynamic privatisation programme to rid the government of its lumbering state sector. But he was careless in managing his finances. Instead of putting the proceeds from privatisation into a debt-retirement fund, he went on a reckless spending spree. Among other things, his passion for a US$ 1 billion, 370 km motorway from Lahore to Islamabad was probably misplaced. Also, in a bid for popularity, he spent nearly US$ 1 billion in scarce foreign exchange handing out interest-free loans to people for the purchase of tens of thousands of duty-free ‘yellow taxis’.

Then, in late 1991, disaster struck. Unprecedented floods in Punjab, the most prosperous province, wiped out nearly 25 per cent of the country’s cotton crop which accounts for 55 per cent of Pakistan’s exports. For the first time in history, agricultural output actually declined by 5.3 per cent in 1992-93. 1993 was another bad year for cotton when a virus attack reduced the crop considerably.

Political instability in the last two years has also hurt the economy. When an interim government took over in 1993, Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves were equivalent to only three weeks import bill and the country was on the verge of defaulting on its debt payments.

   During Mr Sharif’s tenure, GDP rose by 7.7 per cent in 1991-92 and the fiscal deficit stood at 7.5 per cent. However, in 1992-93 GDP rose by only 2.3 per cent while the fiscal deficit went up to 8 per cent. In fiscal 1993-94, Ms Bhutto’s government has upped GDP by 3.9 per cent and brought the deficit down to 6 per cent. Next year, she promises, the deficit will be down to 4 per cent while the economy will grow by 6.9 per cent. How does she expect to bring about this small miracle?

Ms Bhutto’s budget envisages an outlay of Rs 385 billion, up from Rs 332.52 billion last year. Tax revenues are expected to be Rs 237.6 billion (up by 22 per cent), domestic bank borrowings will be Rs 15 billion (down by 25 per cent) and external loans will amount to Rs 82.4 billion (up by 35 per cent). Other sources of revenues like proceeds from privatisation etc will cover the rest of the deficit. On the other side, expenditures on debt servicing will amount to Rs 135.9 billion (up by 8 per cent) and defence will consume Rs 101.9 billion (up by 11 per cent). The Annual Development Plan is Rs 90 billion (up by 21 per cent). The rest of the money will be spent on other non- development activities, including the upkeep of the state’s civilian institutions.

The budget rests on the central plank of additional taxes worth Rs 45.5 billion compared to last year. These are to be collected largely through indirect means — Rs 20 billion from a new sales tax of about 15 per cent on an additional 108 imported items and 169 domestic goods (total items under sales tax are 763), Rs 13 billion from additional customs revenues, Rs 7.5 from extra excise duties and an additional Rs 4.3 billion from income and wealth taxes (including, finally, a small wealth tax on agricultural farms which will yield Rs 100 million).

There is a reduction in import tariffs from a maximum of 92 per cent to 70 per cent. The idea is to force domestic industry to become more competitive and check smuggling (estimated at Rs 50 billion annually). The government is also hoping that price-elastic imports will help increase its total customs revenues after a fall in the rate of import duties.

Ms Bhutto has made the Pakistani Rupee fully convertible in order to encourage foreign investment. She is going to spend Rs 1.2 billion more on the Social Action Programme which is directed at improving facilities for education, health, population planning etc. She has increased the salaries of civil servants and military personnel — long overdue — by 35 per cent. And she has been careful not to increase the rate of tax on sensitive items like sugar, petroleum and electricity. All these measures have evoked a positive response from society.

But businessmen are not pleased by the higher tax burden imposed on them. The Karachi Stock Exchange Share Price Index fell by 11.85 points the day after the budget. Mr Hafiz Pasha, a former commerce minister in the Moeen Qureshi regime, claims that higher taxes will lead to inflation and cut demand. Mr Sartaj Aziz, the former finance minister in the Nawaz Sharif regime, says that “the government should have kept the deficit at 5 per cent and not increased the tax burden so substantially”.

Equally realistic objections are raised by independent economists who worry about how the government will meet its revenue objectives. In the 1993-94 budget, the Central Board of Revenue failed to meet its targets and there was a shortfall of Rs 17.5 billion. Serious doubts are being expressed about the ability or will of the government to reduce corruption in the tax department or rein in smuggling.

All said and done, though, the last word on the budget, belongs to Mr Nisar Memon, head of IBM Pakistan and president of the Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “This is a revenue-oriented, optimistic and challenging budget”, admits Mr Memon, “it will need determination and political will to implement it”.

Truer words haven’t been spoken. But Ms Bhutto will probably need more than ‘will’ and ‘ability’ to scrape through. If the cotton virus rears its head again this year, or if the monsoon doesn’t behave itself (drought so far but floods can’t be ruled out), she will be in deep trouble with stagflation. Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif is waiting for precisely such a situation to develop before he pounces on her. If Ms Bhutto is able to deliver the goods, well and good. If she can’t, we will all be in a lot of trouble.

(TFT June 23-29, 1994 Vol-6 No.16 — Editorial)

Strengthen the judiciary

Mr Nawaz Sharif has rejected the judicial commission set up by Benazir Bhutto to investigate Mehrangate. This, despite the fact that the opposition had demanded precisely such a commission some weeks ago. Mr Sharif thinks that all judicial commissions are a hog-wash. This, despite the fact that while he was prime minister he set up a commission to probe the Coops scam and another one to examine the circumstances leading to the death of General Asif Nawaz. Mr Sharif has changed his mind because, he says, he has no confidence in the impartiality of the judges.

This line of thinking would suggest that politicians have a low opinion of judges. When in power, they have a vested interest in applauding the judiciary because they believe it can be suitably bent to suit their political purposes. When in opposition, however, the same judiciary is said to be tainted because the boot is on the other foot.

Unfortunately, such cynicism may not be altogether misplaced. The role of the judiciary in political decision-making continues to be highly controversial. Despite some good decisions in the normal course of their purely legal work, a number of Chief Justices of the Supreme Court, like M. Munir, Anwarul Haque, Afzal Zullah and Naseem Hasan Shah, ended up as caricatures of justice when they began to dabble in extra-judicial matters.

Nor have many senior judges always behaved with the propriety expected of them. Justice Mohammad Mushtaq of the Lahore High Court was notorious for his threatening postures in court. Justice Zullah’s histrionics sometimes reduced the courtroom to a theatre of the absurd, as for example during the abortive trial of General Aslam Beg for contempt a couple of years ago. Justice Shah’s wisecracks in and out of court often served to betray his bias. The personal failings of these judges were compounded into national tragedies when each one blithely walked into the eye of a political storm and failed to acquit himself honourably.

Respect for the judiciary began to decline rapidly under the martial law regime of General Zia ul Haq. The trial of Mr Z A Bhutto has gone down in the annals of history as an extraordinary travesty of justice. The Provisional Constitution Order of 1981, under which all but a couple of senior judges agreed to take a fresh oath of office to uphold the hypocritical and dictatorial new order, is an irredeemable black spot on the face of the judiciary. The decisions of the Supreme Court upholding the Presidential ouster of Benazir Bhutto in 1990 and denying the dismissal of Nawaz Sharif in 1993 are transparent examples of judicial contradiction. How can pride exist in the midst of such prejudice? The higher courts of Pakistan are packed with gentlemen appointed during the martial law years when an exceptional form of pressure politics held sway. In terms of competence and eligibility, therefore, not all of these judges may have necessarily deserved this honour and some may not have acquitted themselves as well as the others.

It is in this context that we ought to view Ms Bhutto’s recent appointments to the supreme court. These have drawn some flak because she has broken with two conventions or traditions (called “principles” by her detractors) in the Supreme Court. She has not elevated the senior most judge to the chair of the chief justice and she has added two retired judges to the bench. Her critics say that her decisions smack of bare-faced political interference.

But there is more to it than that. The fact of the matter is that Ms Bhutto is well within her constitutional and political rights to make changes in the judiciary. She has also broken two traditions, neither of which is especially time-“honoured” or particularly endearing, considering the quality of the chief justices thrust upon this country by autocratic Presidents from Ayub Khan to Ghulam Ishaq Khan. In the trade-off between a convention or principle which has rarely provided good leadership to the Supreme Court in the past and a constitutional option which might conceivably provide greater stability to the country in the future, Ms Bhutto has done absolutely the right thing.

Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, the new chief justice, has turned out to be a man of profound judicial wisdom and foresight. Wisdom, because he knew the difference between interpreting the constitution and legislating the constitution in the crisis of May 1993. Foresight, because he didn’t make the mistake of confusing the political with the constitutional nature of that crisis (like the rest of his colleagues) and boldly voted in favour of new elections.

How the judiciary fares in the future will depend on three factors. Ms Bhutto must fill the vacancies in the high courts with men and women of proven integrity and professionalism. She must not recourse to the special courts for political objectives. And the judicial commission set up by her to investigate Mehrangate must reveal the whole truth and nothing but the truth. If she is unable to deliver on her promise to strengthen the judiciary in time to come, we will all be the poorer for it.

(TFT June 30-06 July, 1994 Vol-6 No.17 — Editorial)

Punjab’s marriage of inconvenience (Part two)

Chief Minister Mian Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo has a legislature where there is a large hostile PML(N) opposition and a large chunk of PPP members who are increasingly alienated from him. The city too is not his. In the post-budget days, as PML(N) gets ready to use the whip-saw on the PPP with the help of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the PDF is boiling over with its own inner contradictions. Mr Wattoo couldn’t have done much to sell the budget to the shopkeepers of Lahore where the rising crime graph is already a rebuke he can’t ignore.

The PPP MPAs in Lahore are now talking to journalists about how Wattoo is ‘not our chief minister’ Their ‘senior minister’ Makhdum Altaf Ahmad, presiding over the finances of the provinces, is swearing he won’t let the government splurge in conditions of indebtedness (Rs 80 billion). He is being unreliably quoted over the billion rupees Mr Wattoo wants to spend in his constituency in these days for financial duress, and the 20 crore rupees aircraft he wants the Governor to buy so he could use it. As for the other easy pickings, the provincial economy is a wrinkled prune already squeezed dry by Mr Wattoo’s IJI-PML predecessors. Development authorities in Lahore (LDA) Faisalabad (FDA) and Multan (MDA) are all in the hock owing Rs 24 crores each in salaries’ overdraft, the Lahore one being under investigation for the cruel gouging Mian Nawaz Sharif subjected to it when he was master of all he surveyed.

PPP’s Punjab satrap has not able to live down his clever chiseller’s reputation. Islamabad could put up with it if his dominance over the provincial bureaucracy were to yield a better law-and-order situation. Violent crime has shot up and stayed up, affecting high-profile citizens too. The dacoits are not caught in the act but the police often are. Newspapers say almost a dozen of the SHOs posted in the city are known criminals, one of them a proclaimed offender who has been reappointed despite court strictures.

PML(J) was the decisive make-weight in Punjab which yielded the province to Ms Benazir Bhutto. The PDF was supposed to reap the benefit of the political entropy called ‘lotacracy’ in vulgar parlance. Forward blocs and independents were supposed to swell the ranks of the ruling coalition, as is the wont in our parts, but the question is, whose ranks, the PPP’s or the PML(J)’s? One development that proved the PPP had no good leadership in the province was the gravitation of the ‘undecided’ to Mr Wattoo’s magic circle. As his slice of the house increased Mr Wattoo’s confidence increased too. He talked to Islamabad rather than to the PPP in Lahore. His demands for special funds also became more emphatic.

   Islamabad is supposed to have the advantage of the ‘full picture’. The Presidency and the PM’s house see Mian Nawaz Sharif rampant in this full picture. They see in the cunning of Mian Manzoor Wattoo an equal response but a poorly PPP in Punjab cannot match. But Islamabad is also uneasy about the ‘slippage’ Mr Wattoo is causing in the power of the PPP here. Governor Altaf Hussain makes nothing of the Wattoo clout: he is supposed to be able to attract PML(N) stragglers and repentant PML(J) ex-independents to the PPP and thus cause an ‘internal’ transition of power in the Punjab Assembly, replacing Mr Wattooo with a PPP chief minister. Makhdoom Altaf seems to be presenting a similar possible scenario provided Islamabad acquiesces in it.

Islamabad will find it difficult to acquiesce in this scenario. It must have residual fatigue from the Peshawar exercise of not along ago. President Leghari, much hassled by PML(N)’s campaign against him since he let the Peshawar thing happen, would rather let Wattoo be. Everyone knows Wattoo can dissolve the Punjab Assembly ‘in extremis’. Last time he did that, however, the Lahore High Court said he hadn’t done it right. Islamabad may have made ‘suitable’ changes in Lahore’s high judiciary last week to leash Wattoo, but a victory like that will look worse than defeat. Thus, if Wattoo dissolves and re-elections are held, PML(N) sweeps back to power; if PPP makes government on the basis of a new majority in Lahore, and sews that up with an anti-defection ordinance, PML(N) starts looking more morally superior than it does now.

What may be in the offing is another unclean act of Pakistani politics. Once again we may be treated to a gallery of bespattered politicians looking helpless in the face of the inevitable. Had Mr Wattoo demonstrated the efficiency he was reputed to possess, the change could be resisted; but as things are, some king of jogging of the political kaleidoscope seems inevitable. There are other ‘powers-that-be’ kind of people in Pakistan who too see the ‘full picture’, and in that ‘full picture’ democracy itself may be seen to be coming unstuck in Pakistan.

(TFT July 07-13, 1994 Vol-6 No.18 — Editorial)

Small men, great cause

The common man in Pakistan feels deeply about Kashmir. Cynics say politicians use Kashmir, just as they use Islam, to advance their careers. Sages notice in this trend the danger of posting the policy on Kashmir in vulgar, vote-winning terms that convinces Pakistanis but leaves the world cold. What happened in parliament on June 28 shows how much the leaders really care. Kashmiris reading the proceedings of the joint session of the National Assembly and the Senate must have wrung their hands in despair. These days the casualty rate in the Valley has climbed alarmingly and the brutalised Kashmiris need to know who stands by them in this hour of blood and tears.

Our leaders fight because their programmed personalities can do little else. It was too much to expect that they would forget their vendetta and leash their tongues for a session to allow the consensual resolution. The Opposition opposed the resolution on the plea that the joint session was called in a hurry and that the resolution had to be discussed over many days as Government policy was full of holes. If this is mind-boggling to the normal citizen, let us inform him that our leaders are in the habit of showing off their Kashmir policy while condemning the one announced by their opponents. Kashmir is not a cause, it is a shoe with which to beat the opponent over the head. The tragedy is that it is the same shoe on both sides despite grave avowals that the politician in question has dedicated his life and wealth to the cause.

PML(N) chief Mian Nawaz Sharif had followed the ‘consensus’ on Kashmir when he was in power. Kashmir policy was that we wanted the world to take note of India’s treatment of the Kashmiris, recognise their right of self-determination and tell the United Nations to formally arrange to know how the Kashmiris wanted to live in the light of the relevant UN Security Council resolutions. Kashmir policy also declared that Pakistan was vowed to pursuing the resolution of the Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan by peaceful means and that Pakistan’s support to the Kashmiris fighting against the Indian army was moral pending the final resolution. Anyone in power would stick to this formulation if he wants to stay out of trouble vis-a-vis international opinion and law. But if you are not in power and if you are an extremist ready to take on the world, you can say Pakistan should go in and help the Kashmiris physically and go to war with India if this intervention becomes casus belli. Senator Qazi Hussain Ahmad has taken this line consistently in the past, together with other hawks like Gen (Retd) Hameed Gul. Mian Nawaz Sharif decided in the joint session to jettison the ‘consensus’ and call for physical intervention in Kashmir; his friend Senator Maulana Sattar Niazi, who has always fancied a war with India, jumped up and seconded him. The ‘consensus’ was in tatters and the government in a state of deep embarrassment internationally because not long ago Mian Nawaz Sharif was in the hot seat running Kashmir policy.

After the session, how credible is our policy? There is war of independence going on in Kashmir. We think that India is subject to a process of attrition in this war. We think that if we get the world to realise that the Kashmiris qualify for independence, then India’s attrition, coupled with the moral aspects of the related UN resolutions, can make India cough it up. But after the joint session, where is the attrition? Pakistani leaders use Kashmir but don’t agree on any strategy on it. The world that has to deliver Kashmir sees Pakistan increasingly as an unworthy advocate of the cause; it also sees in such spectacles as the one we had one June 28 more attrition in the camp of Pakistan than that of India. Pakistani leaders have seen the cruel taming of East Punjab; they will go on fighting even as the cause they want to die for, ensconced in their Intercoller Pajeros, goes the way of East Punjab.

The weakness in our Kashmir policy is that our politicians use it like a show. The greatest drawback of this weakness is that mutual antipathy prevents all efforts at introducing any sophistication into Pakistan’s posture over the issue. We got the measure of how out of sync over Kashmir we were even with our Muslim brethren who regularly vote in favour of our policy at the OIC. Mian Nawaz Sharif once tried to introduce some flexibility into this posture but was scared back into the ‘consensus’ in short order. Now he has chosen to err on the other extreme because he has seen Qazi Sahib reap kudos with it. Our leaders seem to admit that the cause is too big for them. If the Kashmiris are dying in the hope that these leaders will come to their help, they must soon be disabused.

(TFT July 14-20, 1994 Vol-6 No.19 — Editorial)

Stand firm against fanaticism!

Mr Iqbal Haider, the law minister, is accused by a number of religious parties of having made a statement in Ireland vowing to change the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Mr Haider denies having said anything of the sort. Islamabad has since reiterated that it has no intention of changing the law. Nonetheless, the mullahs are on the warpath. Last week, after the mullahs forced shutters to do down in much of the country, sixteen religious parties gathered in Lahore July 9 and told the government to dismiss the minister or face another showdown on July 14.

After a number of patently mala fide cases under the blasphemy laws which led to persecution and even to the killing of innocent minority citizens, the government had decided to make certain changes in the procedures pertaining to the registration of cases under the blasphemy laws. One such change would have made it necessary to scrutinize the basis of the charge before filing an FIR under section 295-C of the law. This was a wise decision as all state functionaries from the SHO to the judge have tended to come under unfair pressure from the mullahs on the question of granting bail to the accused. Since Islam allows legal cover against wrongful accusation, the government’s decision was welcomed with some relief by citizens worried about the mounting persecution of the minorities under section 295-C.

However, it would seem that nothing is decided among the clergy under Islamic law. Maulana Abdullah Darkhwasti thinks that the law minister is now apostate and should be put to death. Maulana Abdur Rehman of Jamia Ashrafia thinks Maulana Darkhwasti is wrong because, according to another tradition, denial is enough for exoneration. On the other hand, Allama Tahirul Qadri has written a long tract trying to prove how an ‘insulter’ can never be pardoned. Senator Dr Javid Iqbal of PML(N), referring to the greatest Hanafi compendium of law, ‘Fatawa-e-Alamgiri’, has said that section 295-C doesn’t apply to non-Muslims. But Anjuman-e-Tahafuz-e-Namees-e-Risalat of Gujranwala has issued a ‘fatwa’ saying that Ms Benazir Bhutto, Mr Iqbal Haider and Dr Javid Iqbal are all apostates and should be put to death. A pamphlet circulated in Lahore during the 16-party gathering of the clergy asked the believers to kill three Christian leaders, including Population Minister J. Salik, and human rights activist Ms Asma Jehangir. A ‘counter-pamphlet’ against the clergy has also surfaced. Some observers think a third party interested in fanning the fires of religious fanaticism is churning out the poisonous stuff.

   Politicians, certainly, are fanning the fire. PML(N) chief Mian Nawaz Sharif started off by telling the government to negotiate with the agitated clergy to defuse the crisis and ended up letting his party-rally in Faisalabad tilt into the government’s quarrel with the ‘ulema’. It seems anything is grist to the mill of the party that not long ago had its own difficulties with the men of God. Now Mr Sharif finds the intensity of the fanatic seminarian baying for the head of the ruling party to his political advantage. In a recent session of parliament his party gleefully supported a sectarian party trying to push through a ‘Namoos-e-Sahaba’ bill which is clearly aimed against the Shia community.

Before the ‘insult’ law was enforced in 1986, Pakistan lived without any ugly incidents. Since 1986, nearly 300 people are rotting in jails without bail under cases the judges are too scared to hear honestly. It is impossible of underprivileged and poverty-stricken members of the country’s minorities have no other pastime but to insult the Holy Prophet (PBUH). In most instances, it was found that the law, which neither allows any mitigating circumstances (like lack of intent) nor abjures vague innuendoes (like inferred insult), was used by vested interests to dispossess the victims of property or depose them from an office of authority. A recent case in Gujranwala, of an innocent man beaten to death by vigilantes for allegedly burning the Qur’an, made the government realise that illiteracy, shared equally by the citizen and the police, was responsible for the abuse of the law. That led to the correct procedural remedy that an FIR should be made conditional to ‘educate’ scrutiny.

The anger of the cleric against the PPP government may have immediate causes. Islamabad has stopped distribution of funds through the Zakat committees which used to mostly benefit the seminaries. An old 1965 law banning misuse of loudspeakers is being enforced by the government, not so much to relieve the deafened citizen as to prevent the cleric from starting a sectarian Armageddon in Pakistan through his vituperative powers. The ‘ulema’ and their seminarians are seen by PML(N) politicians to be doing the right thing because they see in this furore the possibility of toppling the government. But behind this storm is a bigger storm that threatens the very foundation of the state ― a sectarian conflict that could tear the Pakistani policy apart and embroil Pakistan in a war with Iran. The government must stand firm even if that means putting down the disturbances by force.

(TFT July 21-27, 1994 Vol-6 No.20 — Editorial)

Din of Democracy?

Prime minister Benazir Bhutto has learnt to put a brave face on her declining popularity in the streets of Pakistan. But the fact is that after the budget announced last month — which sought to levy over Rs 20 billion in new taxes and empowered tax collectors to impose heavy fines and arrest tax-evaders — the country’s protesting businessmen called a successful two day strike which forced the government to retract on its tougher measures.

Last week, the prime minister was in trouble again — this time with the mullahs. Sensing that the government, under pressure from human rights organisations, was thinking of tinkering with the strict blasphemy laws to make them less unpalatable to the country’s non-Muslim minorities, sixteen religious parties banded together to call for strikes in Lahore and Faisalabad, the two major industrial centres of Punjab province. In both cities, disgruntled shopkeepers quickly fell in line behind the blood-thirsty mullahs. Once again, the government was forced to retreat hastily. “We have no intention of changing the law”, clarified the terrified law minister Iqbal Haider. Other functionaries, including President Leghari, chimed in reassuringly, but there was no denying the fact that Islamabad was worried about the political fallout of the agitation by the mullahs.

   Ms Bhutto shrugs it all off as the “din of democracy”. Her confidence flows from the fact that President Farooq Leghari is here to back her up her if she should get into a spot of trouble. Another reason why Ms Bhutto remains unruffled, at least outwardly, has to do with the fact that she has been able to appoint judges of her own choice to the Supreme Court and the High Courts. The appointment of a new Chief Election Commissioner should strengthen her flanks in due course.

Nonetheless, Nawaz Sharif shows no signs of tiring from building up pressure against the government. “She’s ready to flee the country”, roars the popular opposition leader in rallies across the country. Even Ms Bhutto’s estranged younger brother, Murtaza, says her Peoples Party government won’t last beyond the year. Is this oppositional politics as usual or are there fresh grounds for concern?

Certainly, the element of deju vu has never strayed far from public memory since Ms Bhutto became prime minister eight months ago. Her husband, Asif Zardari, remains the butt of unsavoury reports and rumours. The fact that Ms Naheed Khan, the prime minister’s former personal secretary, has now become (in Ms Bhutto’s own words) “a pillar of the state” also seems to annoy a lot of people, including many in the PPP.

Then, as in 1989 when Ms Bhutto brought down the opposition government in Balochistan province, allegations abound of her rush to trample over the opposition. Four months ago, she toppled the opposition government in the North West Frontier province and narrowly escaped censure by the High Court in Peshawar. More recently, she has provoked allegations of subverting the independence of the judiciary. Now Mr Manzoor Wattoo’s imminent exit is the talk of the town.

Unfortunately for Ms Bhutto, the yardstick by which her government’s performance is being measured was established by Mr Moeen Qureshi in his brief stint as prime minister last year. Of course, Mr Qureshi could afford to move swiftly on many fronts mainly because he was not hampered by the burdens of electoral alliances or political opposition. Ms Bhutto, on the other hand, has no such luck. She must continually bend before whimsical electoral partners and condone political corruption as well as indulge in horsetrading in order to cling to power. And, instead of being able to concentrate on running a good ship, she must spend much of her time fending off attacks from a well-organised, strong and hostile opposition. As a matter of fact, the only time she has been able to pass legislation has been when the opposition has boycotted parliament for one reason or another.

The problem, however, is that perceptions matter more than reality. Ms Bhutto’s government is perceived to be all over the place because it has failed to match performance with expectation. In part, of course, this is because she has refused to contemplate the sort of gimmicky schemes which made Mr Sharif hugely popular. But there is more to it that just false consciousness.

   Inflation at over 14 per cent is hurting everyone. Industry is in the doldrums and businessmen are annoyed with the government’s tight-money policy (the IMF’s heavy-handed prescription for drastically cutting the fiscal deficit is universally abhorred). Foreign investment, notably in the field of energy, may be promising to stir but rising crime in Punjab province and violent political strife in the country’s biggest industrial city of Karachi, have dampened investor confidence. Nor is privatisation of the big public sector corporations moving as fast as international donors would like it to.

Ms Bhutto’s foreign policy has also failed to take off from the depths to which it had sunk during Mr Sharif’s time. Despite disclaimers by President Leghari, US-Pak relations show no sign of improvement. Afghanistan, which once promised “strategic depth” to Pakistan”, is increasingly moving out of Islamabad’s political orbit. Muslim Central Asia, which seemed to be a potential market for Pakistani goods, has veered towards Iran, Turkey and the West. And relations with India have become permanently hostage to the continuing conflict over Kashmir.

There is no dearth of baleful epithets to describe the reality of the Nawaz Sharif government of 1990-93. But the perception which remains firmly embedded in the mind of the public is that of Mr Sharif as a go-getter and doer. Ms Bhutto, on the other hand, comes across as an airy-fairy leader who is said to lack the will or ability to provide good or stable government. This may be due, in part, to bad media management, but a galaxy of incompetent and corrupt hangers-on must also say something about the prime minister’s choice of advisors and ministers.

   Mr Sharif’s strategy to demean Ms Bhutto is three-fold. First, he has made sure that she spends much of her time fending off his attacks rather than getting down to work. Second, he has been able to chip away at President Farooq Leghari’s credibility by levelling allegations of corruption, some of which may have stuck for good. Third, he is trying to cobble an alliance with important anti-PPP forces in the country, notably the religious parties and the business lobby. The idea is to use money and religious fervour to whip up a storm on the streets, as in 1977 when the rightist parties succeeded in provoking the army to oust Ms Bhutto’s father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto from power.

Mr Nawaz Sharif, say his supporters, would not be averse to an army take-over because he thinks that Ms Bhutto would most likely flee the country and the generals would eventually be obliged to hand over power to him. It’s a long shot, by any reckoning, not least because if the army were to act in a direct manner it would most likely dispense with all politicians for a long time to come.

Ms Bhutto, meanwhile, is already sharpening her claws to put Mr Sharif out of action. Over three dozen cases of alleged corruption and misuse of power when Mr Sharif was prime minister are on the anvil. If he is embroiled in legal battles, Mr Sharif might not find the time and energy to destabilise Ms Bhutto. He might also discover that, if the going gets rough and tough, some of his less plucky supporters in parliament may be wont to cross the floor and join the government. Perhaps that is why he isn’t taking any chances and has sent brothers Shahbaz and Abbas out of the country.

Ms Bhutto may feel secure for the moment because the odds are stacked against Mr Sharif. Also, it must be comforting to know that General Abdul Waheed shows no signs of stirring on behalf of anyone, least of all Mr Sharif. But politics is an extremely dicey business in a highly volatile country like Pakistan. Before Benazir Bhutto swallows her own propaganda hook, line and sinker, she might do well to ask herself whether, perchance, the silence in GHQ is inversely proportional to the “din of democracy” outside.

(TFT July 28-03 August, 1994 Vol-6 No.21 — Editorial)

Let them fight!

Mr Nawaz Sharif recently expressed a willingness to talk to Benazir Bhutto over issues of national security, including a constitutional amendment package to streamline the rules of the game. Ms Bhutto welcomed Mr Sharif’s “initiative” and said she would summon her party’s big-wigs on July 27 to formulate an appropriate response. At the same time, there was news about the possibility of some sort of rapprochement between the PPP and the MQM. President Farooq Leghari was reported to have met with Senator Ishtiaq Ahmad and the PPP’s Pervez Ali Shah was despatched to London to hold talks with Altaf Hussain. ‘At last!’, thought some people, ‘the confrontation between opposition and government which has paralysed the political system may be about to end’.

Of course, there is no such thing in the offing. On the contrary, both sides seem to have dug in their heels for another round of fisticuffs. Mr Sharif is threatening to launch a ‘long march’ to Islamabad on August 17 and Ms Bhutto is getting set to prosecute certain PML(N) stalwarts for ‘treason’. And in Karachi, the factional warfare within the MQM has spilled over into violent sectarian strife. What is going on? When and where will it all end?

A stock-taking of events, perceptions, strategies and counter-strategies reveals a number of players vying for political leverage. Among these may be counted the PML(N), the two Altaf and Afaq factions of the MQM, the GHQ, India, and, of course, the PPP government. This is how the cards have been dealt.

Benazir Bhutto began her second stint as prime minister by offering an olive branch to Nawaz Sharif. ‘Come’, she said to Mr Sharif, ‘let us sit down and hammer out the rules of the game. Let us jointly amend the constitution so that floor-crossing is prohibited, so that the 8th amendment is banished, so that women are given greater representation in parliament, so that a new election commission is constituted which can hold genuinely free elections in 1998’. But this offer was spurned by Mr Sharif without a moment’s thought. Why did he do that?

   Since his ouster from power last year, thanks to Ms Bhutto’s cunning strategy of playing off the prime minister against the president, Nawaz Sharif has come to believe passionately that Benazir Bhutto cannot be trusted to keep her word. Consequently, soon after the elections, Mr Sharif was persuaded by his colleagues that if Ms Bhutto wasn’t packed off as quickly as possible, she would eventually be able to lure PML(N) MNAs and MPAs to her camp, consolidate political power, win the next elections and bury the PML(N) for all times to come. That is why Mr Sharif decided he would use all means, foul or fair, to destabilise and topple her government as quickly as possible.

The opposition’s mood and strategy was not lost on Ms Bhutto. So she began by dangling the floor-crossing ordinance before Mr Sharif. ‘Live and let live’ she advised, ‘talk, or else’ she warned. When Mr Sharif showed no sign of relenting, she moved to cover one of her flanks immediately. The NWFP opposition was duly weakened and the PPP seized power in the NWFP, thanks to President Farooq Leghari’s intervention.

Instead of chastening Mr Sharif, this action merely served to confirm his worst suspicions about Ms Bhutto. ‘The woman is power-hungry and will stop at nothing to demean me or to belittle the opposition’, he thought. He was now also clear about what needed to be done next: erode the President’s credibility so that Mr Leghari would have to think twice before exercising his authority against the opposition again. Enter Mehrangate. Much mutual mud-slinging and acrimony followed, leading to a further souring of PPP-PML(N) relations.

It was time, therefore, for Ms Bhutto to cover her second flank. Hand-picked judges were appointed by the government to oversee the superior judiciary. Simultaneously, the implications of the pending appointment of a new chief election commissioner were conveyed to Mr Sharif. ‘Talk, or else’, seemed, once again, to be the message from Islamabad.

‘Nothing doing’, retorted a bitterly hostile Mr Sharif, ‘the judiciary has been usurped by the PPP’, he thundered. Traders and businessmen, who are traditionally anti-PPP, were accordingly nudged by the opposition to strike against the government’s budget. And contacts were activated with the perennially bristling religious parties to attack the government over the blasphemy laws and force it on the back foot.

But Ms Bhutto had advanced too far ahead to take this fresh challenge lying down. So she took one step back (she appeased the traders and the fundos by diluting the harsh provisions of the budget and promising not to change the anti-blasphemy laws) and two steps forward (the public sector banks were ordered to foreclose the financial options of Mr Sharif, Chaudry Shujaat and other opposition leaders while the Punjab Governor was instructed to prepare cases against Mr Sharif for “misuse of authority” while he was in power.

A desperate ‘long march’ on Islamabad by the opposition had now become inevitable. So mass rallies were organised and Mr Sharif had no option but to publicly commit himself to toppling Ms Bhutto’s government ‘before the year is out’.

Meanwhile, in Karachi, the political situation continued to deteriorate. Ms Bhutto offered a coalition government to the MQM(A) on condition that Mr Altaf Hussain should repudiate terrorism and come back to face the criminal charges against him (mostly lodged before she became prime minister). But Mr Hussain was been in no mood to oblige, egged on as he was by Mr Sharif to defy the government. However, fearing a possible deal between the MQM(A) and the PPP, the MQM(Haqiqi) faction decided to stake its own claims by fueling the on-going bloody strife within the MQM.

With civil disobedience at full throttle in Pakistan, India has probably seen a good opening to avenge the ‘Pakistani hand’ in Kashmir. So a couple of bombs have exploded near Shia Imam Bargahs and a busload of Shias was gunned down by unknown assailants last week. What a perfect recipe to fan violent sectarianism in Pakistan’s most important industrial city and only port, one which is already crippled by ethnic strife, power shortages and general lawlessness. In view of all this disorder, the position taken by GHQ, the office of the last resort, merits comment.

General Abdul Waheed, the army chief, was a reluctant player last year when he was obliged to break the political gridlock by backing the demand for fresh elections under a neutral government. Obviously, GHQ must have hoped that the people would return a strong and stable government which would put the political system and the economy on the rails again. The COAS was also keen to see the PPP and MQM hammer out a political solution to the problems of Karachi and Sindh so that the army could be withdrawn from the province.

There has been no such luck on any front. On the contrary, the bitter war between the government and the opposition is beginning to hurt the cause of national security. The fact that Pakistan is unable to articulate a consensus over Kashmir, nuclear proliferation, Afghanistan and a host of other security-related issues must irk GHQ. How could it sit back and allow this situation to continue? What could it possibly do to knock some sense into the politicians?

It is speculated that a discreet ‘message’ may have been recently conveyed to Mr Sharif and Ms Bhutto that it would be in the country’s national interest if the two leaders could at least sit down and agree not to rock the boat on national-security related issues. If this is so, we can perfectly understand why Mr Sharif was suddenly compelled to claim that he was ready to negotiate a package of ideas with Ms Bhutto. It also explains why Ms Bhutto immediately welcomed the opposition’s offer of talks. Neither politician wanted to be seen in GHQ as being intransigent or bloody-minded over matters that concern the armed forces.

Why then, one might ask, has the initiative not borne fruit as expected? Why is Mr Sharif rushing around trying to organise his ‘long march’ and why has Ms Bhutto gone ahead and arrested the former head of the Intelligence Bureau and Mr Sharif’s right-hand man, Brig (retd) Imtiaz Ahmad?

The fact is that Mr Sharif has never budged an inch from his perception that the sooner Ms Bhutto is ousted the better it is for him in the long run. Continued confrontation suits the PML(N) and hurts the PPP. Thus, even as Mr Sharif was claiming that he was ready for conditional talks with Ms Bhutto, even as secret mediators and emissaries were to-ing and fro-ing between Lahore and Islamabad, there was no let-up in Mr Sharif’s rhetoric against the government. The gesture of conciliation was apparently made by Mr Sharif with the full knowledge that the talks would, and should, not be consummated with Ms Bhutto. Now he can turn around and say to the army generals that he did his bit for reconciliation but failed to evoke a proper response from the government. In other words, blame the government for the continuing impasse.

If GHQ’s initiative has not taken off, what should it do? Under the circumstances, there is no possibility that some such thing as a National Security Council, which includes leaders of the opposition, can take off. Short of imposing martial law there seems to be precious little that GHQ can do about the political deadlock. Since General Waheed is not inclined to take such a plunge, the best thing for him would be to sit back and crunch his teeth.

Maybe that’s the only way out. The MQM is engaged in a violent cleansing of its ranks. Maybe its leaders will see reason once their militant elements have wiped one another out. Similarly, the battle between Ms Bhutto and Mr Sharif, as long as the army doesn’t intervene, is fated to go against the latter. On its own, even if it can persuade the people to march to Islamabad, the opposition cannot topple the PPP government. Mr Sharif & Co’s wits are no match for the repressive power of the state. Once Mr Sharif has huffed and puffed with all his might and seen his efforts come to nought, he might well be in a more realistic frame of mind to consider the legitimacy of Ms Bhutto’s right to complete her five year term in office.

(TFT August 04-10, 1994 Vol-6 No.22 — Editorial)

Karachi needs urgent surgery

“Our beloved city of Karachi is dying”, mourns an advertisement by the city’s Committee for Citizen’s Welfare (CCW), “Please hurry [and register with the CCW] or else ‘the deluge’…”. How sad that the citizens of Karachi should have been reduced to advertising (!) for help after being cynically abandoned by the state. How can citizens conceivably fend for themselves against the might of the mafias which hold the city hostage?

Prime minister Benazir Bhutto said some months ago that she would launch a Rs 10 billion package to ‘save’ Karachi. It later transpired that her brilliant media managers had conjured yet another trick to hoodwink the people. The promised package was nothing more than a statistical toting up of all the existing development works in the pipeline, many of which have stalled for one reason or another.

Now we hear that Ms Bhutto intends to launch a Rs 25 billion programme to ‘save’ the city yet again. Where this money is going to come from we don’t know. Certainly, there is no special provision for it in the federal budget. Is the PM, per chance, relying on all the foreign investment she ‘thinks’ is about to wash ashore in Karachi, including a couple of power projects which are on the drawing board?

Karachi is gasping for breath not simply because it is short of money or power or transport, health and educational facilities. These are merely symptoms of the plague. In fact, the city is being strangulated by a vicious nexus of political, bureaucratic, ethnic, sectarian and criminal mafias against which well-intentioned civic bodies like the CCW are helpless. Clearly, more substantial strategies to ‘save’ the city are required.

Many anguished intellectuals have written about Karachi’s plight. Unfortunately, most of the ‘solutions’ offered tend to focus only on economic or bureaucratic remedies to alleviate the disease rather than posit any fundamental measures to root it out. While such actions are welcome, they beg the real issue. How can we postpone the surgery which has now become imperative?

The problem, however, is to find a surgeon willing and able to carry out the operation without further jeopardising the health of the patient. In theory, of course, the only surgeon one can think of is the army. But the army’s track record isn’t terribly good. In 1958 and 1977, the army stepped into the operation theatre, promising to revive the country and ended up injecting poisonous substances into the body politic.

Nonetheless, it should be recalled that the army’s “Operation-Clean-Up” in Sindh during the summer of 1992 did not begin on an altogether unpromising note. If the Nawaz Sharif government had allowed it to continue in an unencumbered and even-handed manner, some definite success might well have come its way. Unfortunately, the short-term political exigencies of government clashed with the longer-term interests of the state and General Asif Nawaz was left high and dry.

When General Abdul Waheed arrived on the scene, the prevailing political mood in the country tended to support the idea of a pull-back to the barracks. Naturally, the hope was that newly elected governments in Islamabad and Sindh would somehow know how to tackle the problem democratically.

Nine months later, the situation is, if anything, bleaker. The PPP and MQM(A) are further apart than ever before. Dacoits have spread all over the province like locusts. MQM mafias have reduced city suburbs to war zones. Rabid mullahs are weighing in with sermons and guns. Extremist Sindhis nationalists are hand in glove with Indian agents. PPP ministers have their hands in the till and bureaucrats are being transferred and posted at whim.

Too little democracy (martial law) in the 1980s, it seems, created the problem of antagonistic communities. Too much democracy since 1988 (three elections) has led to a free-for-all anarchy. Should the search for some sort of middle ground be abandoned?

Some people in government seem to think that a refurbished Mehran Force might help quell the dacoits and restore a semblance of law and order in Sindh. Others are hopeful that bloody infighting within the two factions of the MQM in Karachi will erode their respective strengths and make them amenable to a dialogue. Will this strategy work?

Only insignificantly. The Mehran Force is not as disciplined or motivated as the army. If its control is vested in civilian hands, its efficacy will be further reduced. Attempts should also be made to distinguish between moderate Sindhi and Mohajir opinion from the rest of the extremists on both sides, a task best not left exclusively in PPP hands.

General Asif Nawaz got a raw deal in Sindh from Nawaz Sharif. Understandably, therefore, General Waheed is not inclined to step into his predecessor’s boots. But if Ms Bhutto can be persuaded not to wilt under political pressure like Mr Sharif, there is no reason why General Waheed cannot finish the job Gen Asif Nawaz set out to do. If liberals don’t like the idea of asking the army to “aid civil power”, they should come up with something more concrete than idealistic pleas for greater ‘democracy’.

(TFT August 11-17, 1994 Vol-6 No.23 — Editorial)

Rein in media managers, Ms Bhutto!

Nawaz Sharif says that Benazir Bhutto is a budding fascist. Give her time to consolidate power, he argues, and she will prove that she is a chip of the old block.

Histrionics apart, the independent press has so far had no real cause to share Mr Sharif’s opinion. If anything, a comparison of the track record of both leaders from 1988 to 1993 would suggest that Ms Bhutto’s level of tolerance for a free press has been far greater than Mr Sharif’s.

But we are not so sanguine any more. Ms Bhutto has succumbed to bad advice and decided, like all her predecessors, that the press needs to be “managed” and “controlled”. A range of dirty tricks is to be employed to achieve this end. Three months ago, the Information Ministry was given Rs 1 crore to buy off journalists. Two months ago, President Farooq Leghari foolishly roped in the press in an effort to try Nawaz Sharif for defamation. Last month the FIA was nudged to devalue a group of journalists. Last week, we laid our hands on the draft of a new law to restrict press freedom. What next?

In a meeting between the Information Minister and members of the CPNE two months ago, Mr Khalid Kharal told journalists that there was no secret fund to manage the press. He also assured us that no new press law was in the offing. Now we know otherwise.

The new Ethics Committee proposed by Ms Bhutto seeks to embroil the press in a litany of complaints and fines. No newspaper will be able to function in its presence. If Mr Sharif says Ms Bhutto is corrupt or vice versa and the press reports their allegations, it will be rapped on the knuckles by two ingratiating hacks and a hand-picked “jiyala” masquerading as a judge. The smaller papers, which live from hand to mouth, will be wiped out by the financial penalties.

   The proposed law is a load of crap. Those who advised Ms Bhutto of its necessity, those who supported the idea (or didn’t oppose it), those who have written of it approvingly and those who drafted it are a bunch of scoundrels. Shame on you Khalid Kharal, shame on you Hussain Haqqani, shame on you Iqbal Haider. You are no friends of the press. As a matter of fact, you are no friends of the prime minister. In one stroke, you have eroded all the goodwill built up by Ms Bhutto in the last decade. All that remains of the difference between you and the goons unleashed by Nawaz Sharif on the press last year is the midnight knock. Perhaps we should prepare for that too.

The government’s argument is that the press needs to be reined in when it acts with irresponsibility. There is merit in this position. However, it is improper for the government to go about trying to achieve this end by devious, divisive or hamhanded means. The proper thing to do is to sit down with bonafide representatives of the press and hammer out suitable changes in the existing press laws. Where is the need to rush into judgement? Why should there be a speedy kangaroo court for the press when all the kangaroos are to be found in the ranks of the politicians? Is defamation a bigger crime than plunder, rape, arson, terrorism or murder for which the speedy courts have now been abolished?

   The problem on both sides, it appears, derives from misplaced notions of the role of the press in a democracy. On the one hand, the press has sometimes been guilty of transgressing the limits of its freedom and encroaching upon the freedom of others. On the other hand, every government always wants the press to become its handmaiden. Both sides are in error. But the government’s position is decidedly weaker. In the absence of stringent and institutionalised rules and practises to hold a galaxy of corrupt politicians and officials accountable, the press may be excused for any unwitting lapses in its efforts to expose malpractice, misrepresentation and bungling in government.

In a functional democracy, the press must play the role of an adversary to government. If the government wants a good press, it must constantly improve its performance rather than try and hide behind a web of conspiracy, propaganda, blackmail, deceit, bribes or strong-arm tactics.

Unfortunately, Ms Bhutto and her advisors, like other political leaders before her, don’t seem to recognise the validity of this point. That is why, instead of getting their act together, an attempt is being made to “manage” the press.

Ms Bhutto is on the wrong track. Her democratic “credentials” will be seriously jeopardised, not only at home but abroad, if she goes ahead and promulgates the proposed Ethics Committee. There could be no greater tragedy than that. Shorn of its “democratic” veneer, there would be nothing left to distinguish her government from the Nawaz Sharif regime which preceded it.

Urgent negotiations are required between the government and the press. Until the issues are squarely sorted out, Ms Bhutto’s media “managers” must be ordered to rein in their overriding ambitions.

(TFT August 18-24, 1994 Vol-6 No.24 — Editorial)

Wanted: Bold, liberal, forward-looking Pakistan

August 14th is a day to rejoice the birth of this truly God-given country. Paradoxically, though, it is also an occasion for much hand-wringing and anguish. Whither Pakistan? Unfortunately, even after 48 years, there is no consensus within our ruling elites over a host of troubling questions.

The problem derives from our obsession with the past. This compels us to search for meaning in the momentous circumstances of our birth. But the birth of Pakistan was a unique experience in the annals of world history. It did not derive from the compulsions of a bloody war of national liberation or a long drawn out and organic political struggle for independence, two elements which have formed the backdrop of most modern nation-states. Consequently, the Pakistani State appeared long before the Pakistani nation was formed in the crucible of history.

   Pakistan, thus, was born a state-nation rather than a nation-state. The implications of this have been far-reaching. Instead of a developed Pakistani nation democratically and constitutionally determining the development of the new state and building an appropriate social contract, the boot has been on the other foot: the strong and well-organised state has autocratically thrust its own exclusivist priorities on the disorganised political parties and largely illiterate citizenry of this country. Even when there has been a semblance of democracy and constitutionalism, as during 1973-77 and 1988-93, the periods are marked by Bonapartist politicians (who emerged from the womb of the state like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto) or were radically influenced by the highest functionaries of the state (like Ghulam Ishaq Khan and General Mirza Aslam Beg).

The 1993 elections were the fairest since independence. Therefore they should mark the beginning of a genuine watershed in Pakistani history during which the praetorian state can be compelled to retreat in the face of strong democratic impulses in society. But if this opportunity to set a new nation-building agenda for Pakistan in the 21st century is once again squandered by the civilian elites, the state could be tempted to postulate the state-nation equation all over again. In particular, if the state’s perceptions of national security are not promptly and adequately addressed, it may be provoked to adopt an interventionist stance all over again.

   Pakistan’s national security concerns demand a consensus in society over five imperatives: (1) A professional army which can suitably defend the country against attack by India. (2) A vibrant economy which can sustain defence preparedness without sacrificing the social infrastructure of society. (3) A political system which conforms to “the genius of the people” so that civilian governments can function with a modicum of stability, integrity and efficiency. (4) An end to sectarianism, ethnic strife and terrorism so that hostile foreign elements cannot exploit divisive passions in Pakistan. (5) A foreign policy designed to integrate Pakistan into the comity of nations without jeopardising its sovereignty or self-respect. How are we disposed to addressing these concerns?

   Rather badly, we fear. On each count, we are in trouble. The conventional military balance between India and Pakistan is increasingly moving against us, partly because the US has stopped mollycoddling us and partly because the economy is in a mess. We just don’t have the cash to shop around for new weapons as well as pay our debts and have sufficient money left over for improving the plight of the people. The political system is still hiccuping along, partly because the government of the day lacks the required degree of commitment to political integrity and economic efficiency and partly because the opposition is determined to undermine the system and render it unworkable. Domestic divisiveness is at a peak partly because various mullah parties have put on the warpaint and partly because the MQM is bleeding itself and the city of Karachi to death. Finally, our foreign policy is in a shambles, partly because of the legacies of the past and partly because domestic political confrontations preclude the search for new directions and departures.

A National Security Council comprising members of the government and opposition would have been ideally placed to break this logjam. But that must be ruled out for the moment because the opposition is not prepared to put the national interest before party political compulsions. Are we then doomed to limp along and wait for the various crises of governance to come to a head?

Not necessarily. There is no better guarantor of national security than a vibrant and liberal economy backed by the rule of law. Prime minister Benazir Bhutto should therefore take some bold steps to hasten privatisation, widen the tax net, haul up defaulters, stop leakages and wastage, rein in corruption and launch a process of accountability.

She must also go the whole hog in attracting foreign investment. One pre-requisite is improving law and order. Another is projecting a modern, forward-looking and liberal image of Pakistan abroad. You cannot have a liberal economy without a liberal polity. For too long we have been hurt by images of violent mullahs and terrorists rampaging the streets of this country. A start must be made by putting such miscreants firmly in their place.

(TFT August 18-24, 1994 Vol-6 No.25 — Editorial)

Stop it, both of you!

Mr Nawaz Sharif has fixed September 11th as a day of reckoning for the PPP government. His objective is to get rid of President Farooq Leghari and Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The PML(N) has resigned from all parliamentary committees. Mr Sharif has rushed to London, along with the ANP’s Ajmal Khattak and Wali Khan, to try and persuade the MQM’s Altaf Hussain to join his cause. Next month Mr Sharif intends to rouse the public via a “train” march from Karachi to Khyber. At the height of his “movement”, he may submit the resignation of all opposition MNAs to create a political deadlock. What next?

There’s no doubt about Mr Sharif’s game-plan. He wants the army to boot out the PPP president and the prime minister, send all MNAs home and install a ‘neutral’ civilian government. Mr Sharif would like this civilian government to clean-up the country, introduce a presidential system and hold fresh elections quickly.

Why should Mr Sharif prefer martial law to a democratically elected civilian government? Doesn’t he know that if the army were to step in, it would ban all politicians (including Mr Sharif) and hold them equally accountable for the mess in the country? At any rate, how can Mr Sharif be so sure that the army will not only introduce a presidential system of government which is to Mr Sharif’s liking but also relinquish power and hold new elections which will bring Mr Sharif to power again?

Mr Sharif thinks he knows what he’s doing. He believes that if Ms Bhutto isn’t overthrown quickly, she will consolidate power, initiate cases against him, win over many PML(N) MNAs and MPAs and go on to sweep the next elections after the economy has turned the corner. That would spell the end of Mr Sharif’s political career. Martial law, on the other hand, might provide greater maneuverability to him. For one, he thinks that it wouldn’t last long, given the strong international climate in favour of democracy. Two, he thinks he is so popular that he would be able to defeat Ms Bhutto whenever the next elections are held. Three, he is hoping that the interim regime will be able to clean up the mess in the country so that when he takes over he starts with a clean presidential slate. In short, Mr Sharif must reckon that he has nothing to lose and much to gain by the ouster of Ms Bhutto, howsoever it is brought about.

Ms Bhutto, however, doesn’t seem to be too worried by Mr Sharif’s desperate tactics. She has covered her flanks by taking the NWFP, assuaging Mr Wattoo’s fragile ego in the Punjab and ‘neutralising’ the allegedly pro-Nawaz judiciary by bringing in judges of her own choice. She believes that General Waheed is a thoroughly professional soldier with no political ambitions. And she is getting ready to crack down on the opposition if it tries to create unrest. If the worst happens and Mr Sharif feels compelled to ask his MNAs to resign, she will doubtless use her stately charms to try and persuade many of the would-be PML(N) dissidents to give him a wide berth. Bye-elections will follow, Mr Sharif will be duty-bound to boycott them and Ms Bhutto will brazenly pick up all the seats. Then, armed with a brutal majority, she will amend the constitution and do as she pleases. She will also ensure that the likes of Mr Sharif are so ruthlessly crushed that they can never again pose a challenge to the PPP.

In the event of his failure, Mr Sharif will, in effect, have precipitated a no-holds barred, authoritarian civilian regime on Pakistan. In the event of his success, he will be responsible for lumping the country with martial law.

Sensible people cannot possibly find these scenarios pleasing. The only hope is that Mr Sharif and Ms Bhutto will pull back from the brink and agree to talk things over in a democratic and civilised manner. What are the chances of that happening?

One should be optimistic. Maybe Mr Sharif is just bluffing in order to extract the best possible terms from Ms Bhutto, in particular to escape the impending “accountability trials” aimed at cutting his dubious financial empire down to size. Maybe, when he realises that Mr Altaf Hussain is not likely to go along with him, he will abandon his do-or-die methods. Maybe Ms Bhutto will give him a face-saving exit from the path of confrontation he has foolishly chosen.

Whatever happens in the coming months, one thing is certain. The people of Pakistan are in no mood for fresh elections. They want the political system to work. They want law and order. They want an end to corruption and they want government, any government, to deliver.

The problem is that neither Ms Bhutto nor Mr Sharif was able to give them good government from 1988 to 1993. If Ms Bhutto fails because of Mr Sharif’s disruptionist tactics, it is not to Mr Sharif that the people of Pakistan will turn for salvation for a long time to come. The sooner Mr Sharif understands this, the better.

(TFT September 01-07, 1994 Vol-6 No.26 — Editorial)

An unwitting joker

Mr Nawaz Sharif is a bit of a joker. He told a rally in Azad Kashmir on August 23rd that Pakistan had made an atom bomb. Until last year, however, as prime minister Mr Sharif had continued to stress that Pakistan had frozen its nuclear programme and hadn’t assembled any nuclear weapons. Clearly, he was lying then or he is lying now.

Mr Sharif says he has chosen to make this disclosure for two reasons: One, because he feared that Benazir Bhutto was negotiating with the Americans to roll back Pakistan’s nuclear programme. His information secretary, Mushahid Hussain, told Voice of America that Mr Sharif was seeking to scuttle the “quiet diplomacy” underway between Islamabad and Washington because it wasn’t in Pakistan’s interests. Two, because he felt that India had become belligerent and needed to be told off in no uncertain terms that “Pakistan meant business”.

Mr Sharif’s explanations are hollow. Benazir Bhutto and General Abdul Waheed have already told the Americans that there can be no question of “rolling back” the nuclear programme or allowing physical inspections of Pakistan’s nuclear facilities. That is why there is a deadlock in US-Pak relations. The “quiet diplomacy” underway is aimed at restoring US aid to Pakistan by assuring Washington that Pakistan’s nuclear objectives are security-oriented and defensive and in no way proliferationist. As far as warning India is concerned, the strategic deterrent has been in place for years. The whole world has been repeatedly told by Pakistan that in the event of a war with India we could assemble and deliver nuclear weapons at short notice. Why then has Mr Sharif made his sensational ‘disclosures’?

One theory (propounded by Mr Sharif’s apologists) is that Mr Sharif might have been secretly nudged by the army high command to make his statement. This is ridiculous. If anything, the opposite is true. The army leadership is involved in trying to alleviate Western fears about Pakistan’s nuclear programme so that it can lay its hands on state-of-the-art hardware for its conventional military defence. Mr Sharif’s statement will make its task all the more uphill now.

A simpler explanation may be closer to the truth. Mr Sharif is a desperate man given to thunderous speeches, impulsive claims and absurd allegations. He will clutch at anything to win cheap popularity and downgrade Benazir Bhutto. On August 23rd, he was alone in the exalted company of that lone ‘mujahid’ from Kashmir, Sardar Abdul Qayyum, who was trying to steal the local show. None of Mr Sharif’s PML(N) lieutenants was around to restrain him. So he got carried away in the heat of the moment and conjured up a Pakistani bomb to evoke some loud cheers.

When Mr Sharif returned to Islamabad, he found his colleagues in a state of feverish agitation. Chaudhry Shujaat had already “clarified” that Mr Sharif was misquoted. “He meant to say that Pakistan could assemble a bomb, not that it had already made a bomb”, said the worried Chaudhry, or words to that effect.

The PML(N) then went into a long huddle in Islamabad. Some people said that Mr Sharif should retract or clarify his statement. Others argued that, because the deed was done and accurately reported, retraction would hurt Mr Sharif’s public image. Instead, the hawks felt, maximum mileage should now be extracted from it and to hell with the ‘national’ cause.

Accordingly, when Mr Sharif emerged from the meeting, he was reluctant to face the press. Instead, a few journalists who could be counted upon not to ask embarrassing questions, were called in and asked to report the ‘official line’. Mr Sharif has since flown the coop to London.

Some people say Mr Sharif’s disclosure is justified: “Since US aid is not available, it’s about time we told Washington where to get off”. Others think Mr Sharif has “redeemed our national honour and raised our morale”. A few, like the hawk Mushahid Hussain, claim that since the NPT is coming up for review next year, Pakistan can now insist on joining it as a nuclear power.

Such emotionalism and sterile views betray a singular ignorance about the ‘proliferation’ debate. Nuclear “ambiguity” serves Pakistan well: it allows us to retain our strategic deterrence without attracting the sanctions imposed on pariah states like Iraq and Korea.

For a long time, Indian intellectuals have “advised” us to put our bomb on the shelf and “come clean” about our intentions. But we haven’t fallen into their trap. Now Mr Sharif has given New Delhi a marvelous opportunity to put us on the mat and isolate us in the forum of international opinion. Reports confirm that New Delhi is quickly gearing up to launch an aggressive campaign to malign Pakistan.

As far as the NPT is concerned, there is no way that Pakistan can join it as a nuclear power. Although the treaty is scheduled for ‘review’ next year, a consensus exists among the Western powers that there is no need to revise or amend it. Instead, the Western powers are thinking of opening a new anti-proliferation track whereby non-weaponised countries with nuclear programmes like India, Pakistan, Argentina, Brazil, Korea, etc can be nudged to halt the production of fissionable material. This would allow such countries to retain their non-weaponised nuclear deterrent while abiding by the anti-proliferation regime. Mr Sharif’s disclosure has now thrown a spanner in the works. If the Western world believes him, it will have to insist that we should roll back our nuclear programme rather than simply freeze it.

Mr Sharif’s miscreancy, however, is not limited to the damage wrought on Pakistan’s nuclear policy. He has also told the world that as prime minister he had given Rs 300 million to the fundamentalist Jammat i Islami to aid and abet the militants in Indian-held Kashmir. India, which wants Pakistan to be stamped as a terrorist state, has long accused Pakistan of doing precisely this. In 1992, we came precipitously close to being put on the list of “terrorist countries” by the United States. But we have consistently denied these charges. However, in view of Mr Sharif’s admissions, it will now become doubly difficult for Pakistan to harness world opinion against human rights violations by India in Kashmir. In time, if Mr Sharif should continue to insist upon his version of the truth, Pakistan could be targetted as a “rogue” regime.

There is no doubt about it: Pakistan’s national security concerns have been irrevocably harmed by Mr Nawaz Sharif’s childish outbursts. Not only has he made it more difficult for Pakistan to persuade the world that it is acting in a mature and responsible manner, it has given India ammunition with which to shoot down Pakistan at every international forum.

Mr Sharif’s hatred for Ms Bhutto has overstepped the boundary of political licence. He has broken every rule in the book. He lied when he accused Ms Bhutto of freezing Pakistan’s nuclear programme in 1989, even as the Americans were accusing Pakistan of having crossed the red light in 1990 while Ms Bhutto was still prime minister. Then, when he was prime minister himself, Mr Sharif forked over hundreds of millions of dollars to Lockheed Corporation for the F-16s which may never be delivered to Pakistan. He also brought Pakistan to the brink of being a declared a terrorist state in 1993. (Chaudhry Nisar was forced to visit Washington in April 1993 and beg the US Secretary of State Warren Christofer to forgive Pakistan). Now he has delivered Pakistan into India’s hands so that it can campaign to have us classified as a rogue and terrorist regime.

There are people in this country who, driven by insane visions and grandiose dreams, are bent upon taking Pakistan into no-man’s land. Others are simply prisoners of an angst-ridden psyche who want to stand up and tell the world to get off. A third category, which includes would-be secularists and die-hard Islamicists, is reacting to the plight of international Islam and the Western bias against it. All these groups are negativist in their approach. They have no concrete solutions to offer. The real danger is that Mr Nawaz Sharif might become an unwitting joker in their hands and lead Pakistan to disaster.

(TFT September 01-07, 1994 Vol-6 No.26 — Article)

Journalists for sale

There is no doubt about it. The PPP government is out to blackmail, browbeat or buy off the press. Since last July, Islamabad has “leaked” several stories accusing a number of journalists and newspaper owners of having received funds and favours from the regime of Mian Nawaz Sharif from 1990-93. To add injury to insult, Islamabad has then gone ahead and drafted two patently anti-press bills for presentation to parliament. It is also known that the prime minister has put a secret fund of Rs 1 crores at the discretion of the information minister and information secretary, out of which nearly 75% has already been disbursed to select journalists to do the government’s bidding. Now a senior journalist, known to be an unofficial ‘advisor’ to Mr Asif Zardari, has laid claim to prime time on Pakistan Television so that he can run-down anti-government stories in the press.

According to a story leaked to an obscure Karachi-based paper, it is alleged that former Intelligence Bureau chief Brig Imtiaz Ahmad and his right-hand man, Major Amir, paid a number of senior journalists Rs 14 crores to write in support of the Nawaz Sharif regime.

This “leak” follows another one a month ago when several well-known journalists were alleged to have been provided with spanking new limosines for to-ing and fro-ing during the Nawaz Sharif regime.

The story, however, does not explain in what form Brig Imtiaz Ahmad paid off all these journalists. Was this money paid for carrying government advertisements in newspapers? Or was it simply paid in cash or kind for specific favours done by these journalists?

   Interestingly enough, newsreports say that when Mr Asif Zardari was confronted by a band of journalists in the cafeteria of the national assembly the other day, he was brimming with spite over these disclosures. It is also known that when a select group of senior editors met prime minister Benazir Bhutto in Islamabad last week, she insisted on the veracity of these claims. “Go to the courts for defamation if you like”, she told the agitated editors. However, when Mr Majeed Nizami asked her to appoint a judicial commission to prove the charges, she is said to have ignored the demand.

Although the government is obviously behind these disclosures, it has thus far not owned up to the “leaks”. However, one fact has given the game away: the story is at pains to list several journalists who did not receive any money from Mian Nawaz Sharif.

Among these are Dr Maleeha Lodhi (then editor of The News in Islamabad and current Pakistan Ambassador to Washington), Azhar Sohail (then Resident Editor “Pakistan” in Islamabad and current unofficial media advisor to Mr Asif Zardari), Rahmat Shah Afridi (chief editor of the “Frontier Post” who has supported the PPP through thick and thin) and Mr Irshad Ahmad Haqqani (Editor “Jang” Lahore, who was tipped to become President Farooq Leghari’s media advisor but declined to accept the job some months ago). Clearly, all these persons have good friends in the ministry of information these days.

   Why is the PPP government out to expose large sections of the press? Off-the-record, a number of reasons have been advocated by the media Moguls in Islamabad. First, many journalists among those named above gave up objectivity, became corrupt and blindly supported Nawaz Sharif. Second, by leaking stories about them in this indirect fashion, Islamabad is sending a strong signal to the press “to behave or else more details will follow”. It is a classic carrot and stick policy.

More of the same, of course, may be in the pipeline. Proof of the carrot is available in the shape of Ms Bhutto’s Rs 1 crore secret fund to buy off journalists. And the stick could be brandished at any time following the promulgation of the two anti-press laws lying with the federal law ministry.

The journalist community is at the moment unsure of its position. Since many of the leading newspaper owners have long demanded that the government publish a list of those among their colleagues and employees who have received undue favours from the previous regime, they cannot very well lambast Islamabad for leaking the latest details now. As far as the small independent press is concerned, it is pleased that the rotten eggs in the profession have got their due but worried that if the government goes ahead with its proposed draconian anti-press laws the press as an institution of democracy may suffer irrevocable damage.

In actual fact, Islamabad is playing with fire. Its policy of blackmailing, browbeating and buying off the press is bound to rebound on it at the first sign of trouble in Islamabad. When that time comes, as it must inevitably, Ms Benazir Bhutto will not have a single friend in the press to present her case or bail her out. She will then come to rue the day she unleashed her media whiz-kids on the press in Pakistan.

List of journalists allegedly bought by Nawaz Sharif

Zia Shahid, Editor “Khabrain” Lahore and Khusnood Ali Khan, Resident Editor “Khabrain” Islamabad — Rs 3.5 crores; Adnan Shahid s/o Zia Shahid, Editor “Khabrain” — Rs 22 lacs; Khalil Malik, columnist “Khabrain” — Rs 6 lacs; Zahid Malik, Editor “Pakistan Observer” — Rs 1 crore; Mushahid Hussain, freelance journalist and current PML(N) information secretary — Rs 75 lacs; Fayyaz Walana, reporter “Khabrain” Islamabad and Mohsin Goraya, reporter “Khabrain” Lahore — Rs 5 lacs each; Mahmood Ahmad Madni, Editor “Jasarat” and Saud Sahir, Bureau Chief “Jasarat” Islamabad — Rs 14 lacs; Z A Suleri, Editor “The News” Lahore — Rs 11 lacs; Abdul Qadir Hasan, columnist “Jang” Lahore — Rs 5.5 lacs; Kamran Khan, chief reporter “The News” Karachi — Rs 6 lacs; Ajmal Dehlvi, Hanif Khalid, chief reporter “Jang” Islamabad — Rs 12.5 lacs; Mohd Ali Khalid; Hasan Nisar, columnist “Khabrain” — Rs 3 lacs; Salahuddin, Editor “Taqbeer” — Rs 42 lacs; Nasrullah Khan, columnist “Jang” — Rs 3 lacs; Nasrullah Ghilzai, reporter “Taqbeer” Lahore — Rs 1.5 lacs; Mujeeb ur Rahman Shami, Editor “Zindagi” — Rs 30 lacs; Munir Ahmad, reporter “Frontier Post” Lahore — Rs 2.5 lacs; Inquilab Matri, Nazir Naji, columnist “Nawa i Waqt” Lahore — Rs 22 lacs; Majeed Nizami, Chief Editor, “Nawa i Waqt” and “The Nation”, Lahore — Rs 2.5 crores; Javed Sadeeq, senior reporter “Nawa Waqt” Islamabad — Rs 12 lacs; Altaf Gauhar, former editor “The Muslim”, Islamabad and current Chief Editor “Politics and Business” Karachi — Rs 22 lacs, Altaf Hussain Qureshi Chief editor Urdu Digest Rs 26 lacs, Bedar Bakht Joint Editor “Khabrain” — Rs 10 lacs; Najib Ahmad Pagee, reporter “Khabrain” Karachi — Rs 4.5 lacs; Hafiz Abdul Khalik, NNI chief — Rs 1.5 crores; Shaheen Sehbai, Bureau Chief “Dawn” Islamabad — Rs 2 lacs.

A Karachi daily newspaper Editor got Rs 60 lacs; a senior reporter of “Khabrain” Karachi received Rs 7.5 lacs; A Karachi eveninger was paid Rs 26 lacs; Ilyas Shakir, Saleh Zafir and Nusrat Javed are also alleged to have received un-disclosed sums of money.

[Some of the journalists named above have denied the allegations. Others are strangely silent.]

(TFT September 08-14, 1994 Vol-6 No.27 — Editorial

Cairo or bust!

There are nearly 6 billion people on Earth. Every year another 100 million are added to the human race. At this rate, the world’s population will hit 10 billion by 2050 AD. How will we feed, clothe, house, educate and employ this mass of humanity?

Crowded, cramped, chaotic Cairo, with 14 million people, is a telling venue for the UN’s International Conference on Population and Development. The Conference is expected to draw nearly 20,000 participants from 180 nations, including several heads of state. The UN says that the key to dampening population growth is improving the status of women. Therefore it is urging that at least $17 billion should be spent every year towards better education, health and family planning for women. How can anyone possibly disagree with the UN’s prognosis?

Some people do. Pope John Paul II, for one, is a fierce opponent of the Conference. Some mullahs and Muslim intellectuals in the Islamic world have also taken up arms against the UN’s draft proposals. Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Libya and Sudan are boycotting Cairo and have urged other Muslim countries to follow suit. What’s the problem?

The Pope argues that the UN plan, by supporting legalised abortion, is a “project of systematic death”, a “heinous evil” by Vatican standards. “The plan embodies a vision of sexuality that favours the individual over the family” claims the Pope, “it advocates models of behaviour which are the fruit of a permissive and hedonistic culture”. Islamicists couldn’t agree more. They suspect that the UN, by focussing on women’s “rights”, is trying to hoist alien, Western notions of “femininity” and “women’s emancipation” on traditionally conservative Muslim societies. “It’s a well-designed explosive device to blow apart Muslim religious identities”, they claim.

“Nothing of the sort”, replies Nafis Sadik, executive director of the UN. Ms Sadik admits that the UN plan focuses strongly on “gender equality and empowering women to control their lives, especially their reproductive lives”, but maintains that the Conference does not endorse or encourage abortion, except where the safety of women is concerned. “Everything in the document is done within the framework of national cultures, laws and religions”, adds the head of the US delegation to Cairo. “The UN is not going to dictate what a culture can do”, he clarifies. Why, then, when such assurances are readily forthcoming, are some states and intellectuals adamant on sabotaging the Conference?

One reason why suspicions have been aroused may have to do with the sort of “modern” language employed in the UN draft proposals. There seems to be undue reliance on concepts and terms derived from modern Western sociology. Since “femininity” is a Western notion, and a much misused, misunderstood and abused one at that, it tends to evoke considerable hostility in many quarters, especially in traditional, conservative, male-dominated third world cultures. Some of the issues on the agenda of “Women’s empowerment” in the West, like “sexual harassment”, “gender equity or discrimination”, “control over their bodies”, etc., are incomprehensible to people in our part of the world. If anything, they tend to trample upon deeply entrenched legal norms and cultural values in Muslim societies. What sense, for example, should we make of one of the declarations of principle in the preamble to the UN proposals which says that “marriage must be entered into with the free consent of the intending spouses”. Or: “Male responsibilities should be emphasised with respect to child rearing and housework”. Fine, but try convincing Pakistanis of the validity of these “principles” and they will brand you as “a misfit” for life!

There is another reason why some Muslim states have taken umbrage at the Cairo Conference. Apart from an intense dislike for the secular Hosni Mubarik regime which is hosting the Conference, the Muslim world is not exactly enamoured of the UN. In recent times, the UN has come to embody American rather than international interests and concerns. Its week-kneed and hypocritical stance over the genocide of Muslims in Bosnia has provoked much anguish and outrage. That is why when the UN talks of “principles” and “universal human rights” at Cairo, and forgets about them in Bosnia, Kashmir and elsewhere, it is met with scorn and derision. The fact that the United States is the principal pressure group behind the Cairo conference is not lost on observers: US domestic policy on issues of abortion and contraception has changed from conservatism under Ronald Reagan to liberalism under Bill Clinton.

Some state leaders have boycotted Cairo as a matter of “counter-principles”. Others, like the prime ministers of Bangla Desh and Turkey, have clearly succumbed to pressure from shrill Islamic groups and decided to send only small delegations to Cairo. Pakistani premier Benazir Bhutto, however, is leading a strong team to the Conference. Has she done the right thing?

Yes, she has. Boycotts and xenophobic outbursts are counter-productive. Dialogue and debate are the essence of internationalism. Rapid population growth is a crippling problem in Pakistan. We have much to gain from international support and funding. Ms Bhutto should use the occasion to allay fears, modify the proposals and steer the Conference in the right direction.

(TFT September 15-21, 1994 Vol-6 No.28 — Editorial

Bhutto owes us

We are up to our necks in debt. And the going is getting rougher by the year. Pakistan’s internal debt has skyrocketed from Rs 58 billion in 1980-81 to Rs 688 billion in 1993-94, which works out to about 43.5 per cent of GDP. Internal debt servicing was about Rs 82 billion last year. Disbursed foreign debt has leapt from US$ 8.7 billion in 1980-81 to US$ 20.3 billion in 1993-94. External debt servicing is now US$ 1.7 billion annually, or about 26.4 per cent of yearly export receipts. In 1993-94, debt servicing, domestic and foreign, accounted for Rs 125 billion or over 42 per cent of budgetary expenditures. Phew!

Unfortunately, the government cannot default on debt servicing like some Pakistani businessmen and landlords. So debt servicing consumes a lion’s share of the budget and forces the government to go in for massive deficit financing. It is a vicious circle.

Mr Nawaz Sharif found a curious way to deal with the problem. He simply borrowed more money to pay off old debts. When this wasn’t sufficient, he told the State Bank to print a lot of crisp blue notes. When he still fell short, he decided to sell some of the family silver for a song (called ‘privatisation’). But, at the end of his regime, Pakistan found itself in deeper trouble than ever before — debt servicing was up, inflation was up, the budget deficit was up. The only one who went down was Mr Sharif.

Then, hand in glove with the IMF and World Bank, came Mr Moeen Qureshi. Everyone agreed that the proper thing to do is to clip government borrowing, go-slow on printing money, increase tax collection and pay off past debts by auctioning state assets to the highest bidder. Mr Qureshi even passed an ordinance whereby all the money from privatisation would have to go into a special debt retirement fund. What a good idea, we thought, finally here is someone who knows what’s what. Alas, Mr Qureshi didn’t hang around long enough to put theory into practise.

   Now we have Ms Benazir Bhutto. Right, she said to the CBR chairman, let’s get cracking. No problem, said the gentleman who is renowned for his winning ways, I’ll fix these crooked businessmen in a jiffy and we’ll be awash with so much cash we won’t know what to do with it. Just the sort of gung-ho fellow who can deliver, thought Ms Bhutto, and promptly made him finance secretary.

Alas, crooked businessmen will be crooked businessmen and the new finance secretary is in a spot of trouble. It appears that a Rs 20 billion shortfall in tax collection is looming like death on the prime minister’s horizon. With the IMF and World Bank demanding unflinching discipline, how will Ms Bhutto plug the yawning deficit?

Enter Mr Naveed Qamar of the Privatisation Commission. Having successfully off-loaded about Rs 3 billion worth of Pak Telecom shares at throw away prices, he cannot behold the sight of the PM worrying about her fiscal slip. Eureka! say friendly finance types, why not plug the gap by selling off a chunk of the PTCL silver for another song? A sort of parting gift to the PM as she winged her way to Cairo under a thick cloud cover.

The resultant fiasco did no one any credit. Not the PC which drew up the underhand deal with its chosen consultants. Not the finance ministry which forced the CLA to give its stamp of approval to the PC’s volte-face. Not the PM who was in such a hurry to pocket the crumbs. If anyone has managed to save the day, it is the Karachi Stock Exchange.

At any rate, the PM now has over Rs 22 billion in her pocket. How she uses this money is crucial. Will she spend it on reducing the public debt this year (and thereby gain budgetary leverage in the years to come) or will she use it to plug the deficit next year (and get into further budgetary trouble hereafter)?

Mr Moeen Qureshi’s ordinance carried a simple message: governments must learn to live within their means, people must be persuaded to pay taxes and the finance ministry must be do its homework properly. Tragically, the law has since passed away.

If the will is there, privatisation of PTCL, with estimated assets of about US$ 15 billion (Rs 485 billion), along with that of OGDC, could be used to knock down the debt considerably. That would free a large chunk of the budget in subsequent years for development purposes. And it would compel the CBR and finance Moguls to trim their coats according to the cloth.

Is Benazir Bhutto listening? Or is she still enamoured of the “yellow” tractor scheme for which Rs 9 billion has to be desperately found? Or the scandalous “yellow” submarines for which another US$ 750 million are needed? Future generations of Pakistanis will be eternally indebted to Benazir Bhutto if she listens to sane advice and takes the right decision.

(TFT September 22-28, 1994 Vol-6 No.29 — Editorial)

Unforgivable!

As prime minister Nawaz Sharif once told the BBC that the ‘third option’ for Kashmir deserved consideration. After his views were aired, there was an uproar at home. Mr Sharif blithely denied the ‘interview’ and got away with it only because the world wasn’t too interested in Kashmir.

During the political crisis in July 1993, Mr Sharif suggested Mr Mooen Qureshi as interim prime minister because the latter was well known to Mr Sartaj Aziz. Later, after Mr Qureshi turned out to be truly neutral, Mr Sharif unjustly accused the armed forces of thrusting Mr Qureshi on Pakistan.

Last November, Mr Sharif publicly confirmed that the elections had been free and fair. Now he has changed his mind. The elections were apparently stolen after 2 am on election night. This is another strong indictment of the army which supervised the polls.

Now we have the Washington Post story which has deeply wounded the army. Mr Sharif denies the remarks attributed to him and has demanded a retraction from the WP. The problem is that the WP stands by its report.

Mr Sharif first said he had no recollection of having met Kamran Khan or given him an interview in May. Later, he admitted that he had met Kamran Khan at his Model Town residence in May and discussed the Mehrangate affair with him. What are we to make of all this?

Kamran Khan has written a number of devastating articles against the PPP. Last year, for example, his interview of Murtaza Bhutto in Damascus washed the Bhuttos’ dirty linen in public. This summer, Kamran unveiled the Mehrangate affair in which General Aslam Beg, Gen Asad Durrani and President Farooq Leghari all figured rather dismally. On both occasions Mr Sharif lauded Kamran for his bold and decisive reports while the PPP accused him of being an agent of Brig Imtiaz Ahmad. How come, then, has the once irreproachable Kamran Khan overnight become a pariah in Mr Sharif’s books?

Mr Sharif’s minions seek to sow doubt about the WP story by asking why it has taken Kamran three months to file his report. But no such questions were asked when, in 1994, Kamran wrote about the 1990 shenanigans of Gen Aslam Beg and the 1993 connections of Mr Farooq Leghari with Yunus Habib! Indeed, it is nonsense to insist that a story’s intrinsic credibility should always depend on how quickly it is filed. On the contrary, a good journalist is expected to weigh the exact moment of filing a report in order to achieve maximum impact. Similarly, it is rubbish to claim that an interview is not an interview simply because it hasn’t been formally arranged or settled in advance. If that were the case, most live coverage of political events and spontaneous press conferences, upon which the media thrives, would become meaningless. No, Mr Sharif must put up a better defence.

We have a simple hypothesis. Kamran met Mr Sharif in May and was ‘briefed’ about Mehrangate. Since Gen Asad Durrani had recently been posted as ambassador to Germany, Mr Sharif thought he would give the retired general a parting kick for conspiring with Ms Bhutto in 1993. Since both Beg and Durrani had already been implicated in the Rs 14 crores Yunus Habib scam in 1990, Mr Sharif must have reasoned that his new disclosures would further discredit them while demonstrating his own sensibilities as prime minister. Further, that if GHQ hadn’t objected to the earlier revelations about the two, there was no reason why it should go up the wall now.

But Mr Sharif hadn’t reckoned with Kamran Khan’s knack for priming his stories for maximum impact. If Kamran had reported the ‘heroin plan’ in a local paper in May, it would most probably have got lost in the din of many other allegations against the two retired generals at the time. (An earlier article by a senior columnist in The Nation drawing attention to the ISI’s alleged drug ‘connections’ under Gen Beg had failed to evoke any comment). So Kamran waited until the circumstances were more propitious from his point of view.

The WP story has created an uproar for several reasons. First, it follows on the heels of Mr Sharif’s irresponsible statement on the bomb, thereby making him look downright reckless. Second, it arrives precisely when Mr Sharif is being criticised for launching his ill-conceived Tehreek i Nijat movement against the government. Third, its credibility is high because it appears in the most prestigious paper in the world. Fourth, the story is structured for an international audience so that instead of the two generals the armed forces have been put on the mat by Mr Sharif’s alleged statement. Fifth, the international community is more likely to react adversely to an army-drug link than a cynical domestic public.

At the end of the day, the armed forces’ reputation has suffered irrevocable damage. Mr Sharif must take full responsibility for that. In his blind hatred of the PPP and his naked obsession with power, he has shot his mouth off once too often. He doesn’t deserve to be forgiven.

(TFT September 22-28, 1994 Vol-6 No.29 — Article)

The Press: Govt policy of divide and rule yields dividends

A headline report published by Daily Intikhab of Karachi, followed by a similar one in Daily Hub Post of Balochistan, on August 26th alleging that 35 senior journalists had received undue favours and large sums of money from the previous regime of Nawaz Sharif is threatening to sow bitter discord among the ranks of the Pakistani print media. If the government’s intention is to divide and rule the press, it may have succeeded to a great extent.

The Intikhab/Hub Post reports went on to claim that the PPP government had decided “to win over these 35 pro-Nawaz journalists” by feeding them with a heavy dose of government advertisements. The articles also criticised Islamabad for ignoring those papers which had resolutely opposed the regime of Nawaz Sharif.

The Intikhab/Hub Post articles gave the impression that their information was based on Intelligence Bureau (IB) files seized from the office of the former head of the IB, Brig Imtiaz Ahmad, by the FIA a few months ago.

The two newspaper articles followed on the heels of press reports that the PPP government was intending to promulgate legislation to change the defamation laws. Under the proposed new laws, when the press publishes the allegations and counter-allegations of politicians or anyone else against one another, it would be liable for defamation just as much as the party making the allegations.

On several occasions, the media has resolutely opposed the introduction of these laws. Its argument is that newspapers should have a right to publish the allegations and the law of defamation should target the party making the charges rather than the press. “If the press is prohibited from printing the statements of politicians and public figures on the ground that these may be defamatory, it will not be able to function at all”, says Mr Z A Suleri, the President of the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE).

The Intikhab/Hub Post reports, however, have now triggered a bitter discord among journalists, with some editors lashing out at their colleagues in print or threatening to take them to court for reporting and commenting on the allegations levelled by the two newspapers earlier. By so doing, however, they have unwittingly ended up supporting the very notions of defamation that the government wishes to introduce. If some journalists want to sue other journalists for reporting the allegations against them levelled by Intikhab/Hub Post, it stands to logic that they must support the new laws proposed by the government to muzzle the press.

On August 26th, Daily Intikhab and Daily Hub Post accused 35 editors and reporters by name of having received large sums of money from the regime of Nawaz Sharif. Photocopies of the two articles mysteriously appeared in Islamabad the following day. This prompted a couple of journalists to report the Intikhab/Hub Post reports and comment upon them in their own papers.

Writing on the front page of The Nation, Lahore, on August 29th, Amir Mateen drew attention to the articles, named a few of the journalists appearing in them (including that of the chief editor of The Nation) who were alleged to have taken large sums of money and speculated whether and why the government had “leaked” the story to the two papers. He also wondered why, the day following the “leak”, a cocky Asif Zardari had deemed it appropriate to “settle scores” with embarrassed journalists in the cafeteria of the National Assembly by urging them to go to the courts if they wanted to redeem their honour.

The same day, respected journalists Nusrat Javeed (The News) and Shaheen Sehbai (Dawn) also wrote about the whole episode. They pointed out that they too had been named in the Karachi newspaper and poured scorn over the allegations.

The Friday Times and its sister publication Aajkal then picked up the theme in their issues of September 1-7th. My article reproduced the names of the 35 journalists who had been targeted in the Intikhab/Hub Post and focussed on accusing the PPP government of trying to browbeat and blackmail senior journalists by “leaking” derogatory stories designed to malign the press. It accused the government of planting similar “leaks” in the past few weeks and warned Islamabad not to play with fire. It also drew attention to a secret fund of Rs 1 crore with the Information Ministry aimed at silencing or buying off troublesome journalists. The aim of the article was crystal clear: it was meant to expose the treacherous intentions of the PPP government to divide and rule the press in Pakistan.

Then, on 5th September, the editor of daily Khabrain, Mr Zia Shahid, wrote a long article detailing the PPP government’s tricks to defame a number of journalists, including himself. He also reprinted the names of the 35 journalists (including his own) and denounced the charges.

Subsequently, a number of other periodicals joined the fray, published the list and defended the charges against them.

The attack on the government, launched obliquely by Amir Mateen in The Nation, Shaheen Sehbai in Dawn and Nusrat Javeed in The News, and more directly by myself in The Friday Times and Aajkal and Zia Shahid in Khabrain, was gathering steam when the tables were suddenly turned upon all of us.

   On September 7th, a notice of defamation was served upon both The Friday Times and Khabrain by one of the 35 journalists named originally in the Intikhab/Hub Post articles. Mr M A Khalid, editor of Daily Zamin Karachi, said that by printing his name, we had undone his honour. Inexplicably, the journalist in question did not bother to target the two newspapers which had actually levelled the allegations — Intikhab/Hub Post– against him. Instead, he went straight for the two newspapers which had commented on the reports and sought to expose the government’s dirty tricks.

This was immediately followed by an attack on The Friday Times by a columnist (one of the 35 accused) who writes for the Daily Jang. Again, there was no mention of Intikhab/Hub Post.

On September 8th, the editor of Weekly Takbeer followed suit. While also printing the list of the 35 journalists (which included Takbeer’s editor), Takbeer accused me of being a pro-PPP Russian agent and threatened to sue me for defamation (Mr Zia Shahid was ignored this time) failing an apology. Takbeer has to date completely ignored both Intikhab and the Hub Post.

On September 15th, writing on behalf of Mr Altaf Gauhar (one of the 35), Mr Hamayun Gauhar (a friend of mine) wrote a vitriolic “rejoinder” against me personally which The Nation (run by a mutual friend) was pleased to publish. Mr Gauhar then went on to pen a full page of diatribe against me in his own magazine. Inexplicably, there was not a single word of censure against the two newspapers Intijhab/Hub Post which had actually levelled the charges or against Mr Zia Shahid of Khabrain and Mr Salahuddin of Takbeer who had also reprinted and commented on the list of 35.

On 17th September, the editor of Daily Zamin, Mr M A Khalid, sent another notice to TFT. However, he had now enlarged the scope of his threat and sent libel notices to the following periodicals also: Daily Intikhab, Daily Sindh Post, Weekly Zindagi, Daily Qaumi Akhbar, Weekly Takbeer. He also roped in DG-IB and DG-FIA.

Why has The Friday Times in particular and other papers in general been targeted by some of the journalists accused by Intikhab and Hub Post of receiving undue favours from Nawaz Sharif? The Friday Times and others who have reported on the original story have not accused any of their colleagues of any misdemeanour. On the contrary, The Friday Times and others have accused the PPP government of trying to browbeat and blackmail the press.

One explanation is that the government is up to its tricks again. Directly or indirectly, the government may be egging on certain journalists to attack The Friday Times and other periodicals — known for their independent views — while deliberately ignoring both Intikhab and Hub Post, the real perpetrators of the allegations.

Another, less sinister, explanation may also be true in part. Since neither Intikhab nor Hub Post are well known or credible, some journalists feel that in order to defend themselves they must demand an apology from the highly credible and widely read TFT. Perhaps a mixture of business envy, professional rivalry and personal egotism has also played a role. If TFT has touched a raw nerve in anyone, its aim was to do so in the ministry of information in Islamabad and not in any editor in Karachi or Lahore.

Nonetheless, the press as an institution is in deep trouble. On the one hand, it says it is opposed to the proposed new defamation laws. On the other, it seeks to apply the same unfair and unworkable standards of defamation against itself which are sought to be promulgated by Islamabad. The real winner, at the end of the day, is the whizz kid in Islamabad who has drummed up a brilliant though devious scheme to divide and rule the press.

The Friday Times’ position is clear: As far as the government is concerned, we will continue to resist the proposed defamation laws until Islamabad gives up the idea for good. As far as our 35 friends in the press are concerned, TFT’s commentary on the Intiikhab/Hub Post articles should not be taken as allegations against certain members of the press. We have targeted the government. We have not levelled any charges of corruption against any journalist. Therefore the question of an apology to anyone in the press does not arise.

(TFT Sep 29-05 Oct, 1994 Vol-6 No.30 — Editorial)

Up for grabs!

Nawaz Sharif is flying high these days. Flushed with successful public rallies, a train march and a traders’ strike, he has called for a “Wheel-Jam” strike and public demonstrations against the government on September 29th.

There is no doubt that Mr Sharif enjoys popularity among large sections of the people in the urban areas of Punjab. It is also clear that many people are disenchanted with Ms Bhutto’s regime. But can this discontent be immediately translated into a popular movement for the overthrow of the government?

For that to happen, certain conditions must obtain. Mr Sharif has to demonstrate an ability to bring large numbers of people on to the streets in the major urban areas of the country. He must also be able to disrupt everyday life for a few weeks at least.

This is a tall order. An occasional strike, a respectable rally here and there, some violent provocations, — all this is possible. But the nature of Mr Sharif’s support base — urban, middle-class, conservative — precludes any radical street-backed movement which leads to a political gridlock. So if Mr Sharif’s current “movement” is fated to fizzle out, will he sit back to muse over his plunging credibility and watch his PML(N) ranks being depleted by an exodus of MNAs and MPAs to greener pastures on the government’s side?

No, he won’t. Before the deluge begins, Mr Sharif will have to play his last and most important card: resign en masse from the national and provincial assemblies, along with his allies in the ANP. If the MQM joins his boycott, the political system will be in serious trouble.

Ms Bhutto may try and shrug off this threat by announcing quick bye-elections. But Mr Sharif & Co will follow up on their shock tactics by threatening violence during the polls. The government will then be obliged to order mass arrests. The feasibility of the political system will become questionable. And General Abdul Waheed will have to start thinking.

Mr Sharif conveys the impression that General Waheed is a “weak man” who can be railroaded by some “strong” corps commanders to take the plunge. Some PML(N) stalwarts openly “count” the number of corps commanders on their “side”. This is dangerous talk.

Under General Waheed, the Pakistan army is a thoroughly professional organisation. No corps commander is on the “side” of any political party or the other. Nor is General Waheed merely “one among equals”. He is the army’s boss, full-stop.

But let us be realistic. Whether he likes it or not, General Waheed will have to take stock of the situation as it gathers pace. What is he likely to think or do?

   The COAS must know that an in-house change of face in parliament will, if anything, only lead to greater instability and inefficiency. He must also realise that another election won’t resolve the type of problems which beset our political culture. So he will have to allow Ms Bhutto’s government to continue without any opposition-representation in Parliament, or impose martial law.

   There is, of course, no reason why Ms Bhutto cannot continue to govern without any opposition in Parliament. After all, there was no opposition under Ayub Khan, Z A Bhutto and Mohammad Khan Junejo, whose civilian regimes were marked by political stability until they were suddenly overtaken by popular movements or ambitious generals. It is also probable that international pressure from the G-7 countries might support Ms Bhutto and go along with this option.

   Martial law, however, could become a possibility if Mr Sharif is able to follow up his resignation by sparking widespread and prolonged civil unrest. What will General Waheed do then?

One option would be not to interfere with Ms Bhutto as she seeks to crush the agitation. The other way out would be to throw out everyone, bring in another “Moeen Qureshi” and push for a new political system to take root.

This scenario is also problematic. On the positive side, a neutral, apolitical government backed by the army might actually succeed in putting the economy solidly on the rails again. On the negative side, it might make General Waheed into another Gen Zia ul Haq. But General Zia had to contend with a challenge from only one popular political leader while General Waheed would have to take on Ms Bhutto in Sindh, Mr Sharif in Punjab, Mr Wali Khan in NWFP and Mr Altaf Hussain in Karachi. If the international community also begins to clamour for the restoration of democracy, the army will get into serious trouble. That’s when the countdown for Pakistan’s demise might conceivably begin.

No, there is no need to get into such worrying scenarios. Mr Sharif and Ms Bhutto must start talking immediately. This vicious tit-for-tat confrontation hurts the country in immeasurable ways. Mr Sharif and Ms Bhutto have conspired to get rid of each other once in the past. The score is even now. Ms Bhutto must be allowed to complete her term. And Mr Sharif must be given cast-iron guarantees that the next elections will be free and fair. If the war between the politicians continues, the biggest loser will be Pakistan.

(TFT Oct 06-12, 1994 Vol-6 No.31 — Editorial)

Politics of Power

Pakistan has been offered more private foreign investment in the next four years than it has received in the last four decades. On the face of it, we should be overjoyed at our good fortune. After all, every third world country, including “friend” China and “enemy” India, is desperately trying to lure foreign investments to its shores. Yet some people have responded in a cynical, even hostile, fashion to foreign interest in Pakistan’s economy.

A close look at the arguments offered by critics of the government’s power package reveals much misplaced concreteness among retired officials, opposition politicians and hard-boiled ideologues. It also leads to the conclusion that perhaps Benazir Bhutto’s media managers haven’t presented the government’s case forcefully.

The facts are fairly straightforward. Owing to short-sighted and inefficient policies in the past, Pakistan faces a shortage of at least 2000 MW of power today which is expected to increase to 7000 MW by 1998. Instead of allowing the power crisis to assume crippling effect, the Bhutto government has decided to tackle it head on. Its “power package” comprises an interesting mix of short-term thermal projects based on imported furnace oil to longer-term gas, coal or hydel-based power plants. Ms Bhutto is hoping that several billion dollars will be invested by foreigners in the next four years to help overcome the country’s power shortages.

A major criticism relates to the incentive package offered to the private sector. It is argued that the government’s agreement to buy power from the private sector at 6.5 cents pKWh in 1997-98 is far too high and will make power prohibitively expensive in the years to come. How far is this criticism justified?

At current exchange rates, 6.5 cents translates into Rs 1.98. Assuming that the Rupee will depreciate by about 20 per cent by 1997-98, this works out to about Rs 2.40 pKWh to WAPDA by the time the projects are on-line. An average consumer tariff of about Rs 3 can therefore be targeted. How does this compare with the forecasts for average WAPDA rates in 1997-98 without private power sources but with increased loadshedding and power breakdowns?

Not unfavourably. The average WAPDA selling tariff in 1993-94 was Rs 1.51 pKWh. The proposed WAPDA tariff for 1994-95 is Rs 2.13 pKWh and the forecast without private power plants but with acute loadshedding for 1997-98 is Rs 2.82 pKWh. If, as the government envisages, consumer tariff rates will progressively reflect time-of-use and seasonal loads, the adverse effect of private power tariffs on the consumer price index will not be significant. At any rate, electricity will be available to all, there will be no power shutdowns and efficiency will increase all round. What some of us lose on the downswing (through slightly higher rates) will be more than offset by what the country gains on the upswing (an additional Rs 10 billion in GNP growth at current prices).

Even by current standards for private power generation, the rationale for a tariff of 6.5 cents pKWh to WAPDA is within acceptable limits. For example, the HUBCO tariff in the first ten years of operation is forecast at 6.74 cents pKWh. India is offering up to 7.2 cents pKWh and Indonesia as much as 8.5 cents pKWh for comparable power projects.

There is, therefore, a more fundamental question at stake. If Pakistan had not offered an internationally competitive rate of 6.5 cents pKWh, how much private foreign capital would have flown into the country? Next to nothing, we fear, given continuing political instability and Pakistan’s dismal credit ratings abroad. Therefore those who argue that the government should not have offered 6.5 cents pKWh are, in effect, saying that we should not welcome foreign capital into the power sector and learn instead to live with increasing power shutdowns and load-sheddings.

Criticism is also levelled against the government for encouraging the establishment of a number of oil based plants instead of gas based ones, thereby increasing Pakistan’s dependence on imported sources of energy. But this charge is also misplaced. At the moment, our proven natural gas reserves are estimated to be only 22.8 tcf which, if exploited for power-generation, will be depleted in ten years’ time. If adequate exploration and development were to be undertaken today, the reserve position could conceivably improve several times. But exploration and development need a lot of money and time, both of which are in desperately short supply. Thus there is really no short-term choice between gas-fired and oil-fired power plants. The former is a long-term option while the latter has become a short-term necessity.

The same sort of arguments hold for coal-fired thermal plants in relation to oil-fired ones. Our coal reserves are estimated to be about 734 million tons. Of these, however, we only produce 3.3 million tons. Even if foreign capital inputs were to flow into this sector immediately and even if substantially higher figures of reserves were to materialize after exploration, it would take years before these resources could be harnessed to provide meaningful amounts of energy. Therefore this, too, is a longer-term option.

  Many people also ask why, when hydel power is so much cheaper than thermal power, the government appears to be pushing for thermal power plants. This question would be relevant only if a short-term choice actually existed between the two routes to power generation. The fact, however, is hydel power generation is a long-term public sector option, it requires huge inputs of foreign capital and it is often hostage to complex political and environmental considerations. Forget about the Kalabagh Dam which has been on the drawing boards for more than a decade. Even the proposed US$ 2.5 billion Ghazi Barotha project has run into snags: there is shortage of public sector capital, foreign capital is reluctant to come into long-gestation projects and international lending agencies have become extremely sticky about environment-related human resettlement questions. At any rate, even if all goes well, this project isn’t scheduled to come on line until 2001 AD.

That said, it needs to be emphasised that the government’s package does not ignore gas and coal-fired power plants. At least six US companies are expected to invest in over 2000 MW gas-fired thermal plants. There is also good news that Hopewell Holdings has unveiled plans to invest several billion dollars in the development and exploitation of our huge coal reserves in Thar for power generation. Hopewell, it may be recalled, has recently set up two 660 MW coal-fired plants in Indonesia and is likely to kick off with two similar plants in Sindh.

Some ideologues, however, are worried about the political implications of such large foreign investments in Pakistan. One conspiracy theory says that the United States is trying to sneak into Pakistan through the back door, that by making us economically dependent the US will eventually have us by the throat. Applied logically, this would suggest that the only way Pakistan can retain its independence is by boycotting all trade and aid and isolating itself from the rest of the world. The tragedy is that Mr Nawaz Sharif, who once flew all over the world begging for foreign investment, should now also be talking of the return of the “East India Company”!

This attitude is a recipe for disaster. It puts such critics in the same dock as certain retired generals who want to liberate Kashmir from India by going to war or those religious extremists who would like to trap Pakistan in a 7th century time warp.

Much more realistic issues, however, have been raised by local businessmen. Despite the government’s tall claims, they believe that, given far more attractive opportunities for investing elsewhere, Pakistan would be lucky to eventually end up with a fraction of the funds claimed by the government. Relevant questions are also being asked about the government’s financial and administrative ability to provide extensive and expensive infrastructural facilities required to make the proposed power plants work efficiently.

In time, we shall know whether such comments were justified or not. Nonetheless, they do not detract from the government’s brave efforts to try and resolve the power shortage in the country. Surely we can do better than look a gift horse in the mouth.

(TFT Oct 13-19, 1994 Vol-6 No.32 — Editorial)

A plague on both our houses?

We can’t say that all of us were grieved by the fact that pneumonic plague was killing the poor in India. Glee quivered under the mast of false concern. We counted all the ways the rascally government of India was embarrassed by the outbreak of a disease long conquered by civilisation. We took in the sight of Hindus appearing on Doordarshan, apologising for the outbreak and trying to play it down. We were not the only ones; most of India’s neighbours went through the same not-so-noble experience. We forgot that there were Muslims living in India and that most of them were poor enough to be the targets of the epidemic.

The BJP in New Delhi said the plague was somehow spread by Pakistan’s rascally ISI. The party thought the idea would go down well with the stricken masses: the ISI that has been engaged in sabotage in Bombay and terrorism in Kashmir has finally restarted to chemical warfare they said, putting the plague bacteria in bombs and letting them off in Surat. No one in the world bought this; but the Indian government didn’t treat the stranded Pakistanis too well after the outbreak, perhaps unconsciously equating them with ISI operatives come to destroy India.

   The fact is that the outbreak in India was caused by squalor born of poverty. As a rule, South Asian cities clean up only half of their refuse, the other half lies around in heaps and disappears into the air. This is what happens in Delhi; this is what happens in Karachi and Lahore. Sanitary conditions in the fast-growing cities are pathetic and the poor have to live surrounded by rubbish heaps. There was a time we used to go to India and come back preening ourselves over the fact that we were less poor. But this ‘poverty-gap’ has been filling up. Now plague can strike us too because we have the same kind of rats. Hence, the feverish cleaning up in the rubbish-laden cities of the motherland.

But Ms Bhutto caught the other side of the story, the allegorical side. She said India had a large standing army, had an arsenal bursting at the seams and bombs to throw with the help of long-distance missiles, but it was vulnerable to the aggression of plague. Some clerics add that India was being punished for the Hindu cruelty against the Muslims of Kashmir. Plague has been inducted into the equation of national security on both sides.

It is not a natural calamity targetting both India and Pakistan, but a ‘weapon’. BJP saw it as Pakistan’s ‘weapon’; we have tacitly agreed that it is so as we frantically clean up our cities. We have a dim memory of how these SAARC-type calamities can be embarrassingly supranational. Not long ago tree-cutting in the catchment areas in India caused flooding in Pakistan. We couldn’t secure ourselves against this ‘weapon’ because we didn’t talk to the enemy. The only time we talk is when one of us is holding military exercises close to the other’s border. When the locust attacked Pakistan, were happy it didn’t fly North but when to India from Sindh. SAARC may envisage all sorts of cooperation to forewarn about calamities and permit joint action to prevent them, but SAARC doesn’t know that these are in fact the weapons of our mind.

   This is symptomatic of the growth of the national security state in South Asia. We raised armies, then we sought alliances outside the subcontinent, and then we went to war. We have thought strategy most of the years that the rest of the world has taken to start thinking of the economy. We have deprived the masses of a minimal living standard, allowed poverty to become criminalised, and suffered cruel internal rifts so that we could raise large armies to ‘secure’ ourselves.

   Elsewhere in the world when the economy buckles under ‘strategy’, governments scrap their arsenals; in South Asia, you can’t even talk of a marginal reduction in defence budgets in the fact of mass homelessness and starvation. The ‘security’ of one is the ‘insecurity’ of the other. Outsiders say the only way India feels secure is when its neighbours are insecure. It cannot undertake normalisation of relations with them because that will take sorting out some of the running disputes; and if you don’t have disputes, your neighbours are secure, and that gives rise to insecurity.

The plague is a symbol of something quite different. It is a reminder that the world no longer agrees with the insights on which we have based our lives. The world doesn’t believe our pledges of progress and development; it is convinced that we will probably stage another war which might go nuclear. It fears that the population in South Asia will soon outstrip the region’s ability to grow food. Even if India and Pakistan continue to rattle their sabres, they have no real wars to win except their internal ones against poverty and destruction of environment. The plague may not have crossed the border this time, but it does indicate that we may perish without getting strong enough to settle our mutual scores.

(TFT Oct 20-26, 1994 Vol-6 No.33 — Editorial)

Papering over the faults

Relations between Pakistan and the United States, allies-in-arms for over four decades, soured after Washington accused Pakistan of “crossing the nuclear red light” in 1990 and cut off all economic and military aid to Islamabad. Matters worsened in 1991 after the then army chief General Aslam Beg publicly denounced US policy in the Gulf war and advocated a strategic defiance of Washington. A year later they hit rock bottom when Washington seriously threatened to stamp Pakistan as a “terrorist state”.

However, a change of all-round guard in Pakistan in 1993-94 — president, prime minister, COAS, D-G ISI — seems to have created the necessary conditions for some sort of a rapprochement. There is now mutual talk of forgetting about the F-16s and concentrating on “a more meaningful, longer-term relationship” between the two countries. Although aid hasn’t been restored, Washington is actively encouraging US private capital to invest in Pakistan. The threat of branding Pakistan as a terrorist state also seems to have dissipated. Have the visits to Washington of General Abdul Waheed and President Farooq Leghari coupled with those to Pakistan of US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Robin Raphel and US energy secretary Hazel O’Leary resolved the underlying issues or merely served to paper over the cracks?

For the benefit of Ms Robin Raphel, who is due in Pakistan shortly, it needs to be pointed out that anti-US sentiment is increasing among Pakistanis of most shades and opinions. In the old days, apart from a handful of “anti-imperialism” espousing leftists, all the moderate, rightist and Islamicist forces in Pakistan were pro-US. This was partly due to the close aid and trade links which Pakistani ruling elites maintained with Washington and partly due to the deference accorded to the House of Saud, a Washington ally, by local religious parties. That Washington turned a blind eye to Pakistan’s budding nuclear programme during the 1980s only served to confirm the enduring warmth of US-Pak relations.

All that has changed. After the Gulf war, Saudi Arabia is no longer sacrosanct in Muslim eyes. Also, rightists, leftists, moderates, Islamicists and secularists, bureaucrats and men in uniform, businessmen and traders, the man in the street — most Pakistanis are increasingly turning to the view that “the US is a hypocritical, immoral, self-serving, anti-Islamic bully” who should be told where to get off. Part of the explanation for this perception may have to do with the mass Pakistani resentment deriving from Washington’s callous abandonment of an old friend which has left it defenceless against its old enemy India. But there is much more to it.

The US aid cut-off to Pakistan in 1990 was seen here as an unprovoked, premeditated and cold blooded effort to sever “the umbilical chord” between the two countries after Pakistan lost its cold war “utility” to Washington. The Gulf war was viewed in Pakistan as a prime example of US military might in the defence of bare economic interests in the Middle-East. In sharp contrast, Washington’s dithering policies in Muslim Bosnia have effectively sanctioned the most gruesome genocide in recorded history. When Washington insists upon human rights or acts under cover of the UN, Pakistanis wonder what has happened to its “principles” in Kashmir. When Washington delinks human rights from trade policy in China, the answer is driven home even more forcefully. When Washington talks of democracy in Haiti, Pakistanis ask why it is supporting the military dictators in Algeria and Indonesia. And so on.

Not many people in Islamabad or Rawalpindi are likely to spell out to Ms Raphel the grave implications of the rise of anti-American, anti-West emotions in Pakistan. Nor are they likely to explain what might happen if and when Islamic fundamentalists succeed in exploiting these sentiments for their own purposes. The fact, however, remains that Pakistanis are becoming increasingly xenophobic. Anti-American, nationalist sentiments are running high. Things have become so bad that even moderate people are beginning to question the wisdom of attracting large doses of US private investment in the energy sector and thereby becoming “dependent” on US-controlled sources of oil. Such fears coincide with the rebirth of Islamic identity, often as a result of the “attack” on Islam (or its misrepresentation) in the West.

It is in this context that Washington should reassess its South Asia policy. The US thinks India is more “important” than Pakistan. It is pressurising Pakistan while bending over backwards to appease India. This is misplaced and dangerous thinking. The US-Pak relationship should not be predicated on the assurances of a moderate or liberal political and military leadership in this country. There is an angry storm brewing in the bowels of this country. Pakistan is not Algeria, nor even Iran or North Korea, for this threat to be taken lightly. It is a nation of 120 million people armed with nuclear weapons. Washington, India and the rest of the world will rue the day Pakistan is driven into becoming a rogue nation. The US must be seen to act fairly and squarely where Pakistan’s Muslim values and nationalist interests are concerned.

(TFT Oct 27-02 November, 1994 Vol-6 No.34 — Editorial)

Politician or Statesperson

Benazir Bhutto’s economic achievements should be mentioned first because few in Pakistan have either the ability or the gumption to appreciate them. The past twelve months were the first year of the three-year extended structural adjustment programme imposed by the IMF as a conditionality for a balance-of-payments support of .3 billion dollars. Therefore one can’t ignore the fact that the PPP government brought the deficit from nearly 8 percent down to 5.8 percent narrowed the payments gap, with foreign exchange reserves climbing from a mere 300 million dollars to 3 billion dollars. To round off the year, the government has been able to attract foreign investment worth 12 billion dollars and conclude agreements in the energy sector for producing 22,000 MW by 1998. Even if only half is forthcoming, we should applaud Ms Bhutto’s brave efforts.

The PPP government has been able to privatise some units stuck in the IJI tenure and has been able to make more money off them; for instance, it sold a unit evaluated under IJI at Rs million for Rs 550 million. The sale of 12 percent of PTC was marred by some ‘accidents’ but it aroused international interest and brought in a billion dollars, making it possible to target the banks next.

Agriculture and industry have not responded to Islamabad’s development policies. The economy is partially out of the trough of 1993 which so unnerved the Moeen Qureshi government. Agriculture at 4 percent has not responded to PPP’s pledge growth rte of 7 percent, mainly because cotton was hit by virus for the second year running. Moeen Qureshi’s devaluation has not yielded the edge in export, as a result of which the industrial sector has remained stagnant in lockstep with the statistics of 1993. Ms Bhutto’s resolve to collect an additional Rs 45.5 billion through the general sales tax and her reforms in the taxation system requiring documentation and checks on manufacture, without parallel reforms in the taxation bureaucracy, have alienated the business community, which doesn’t augur well for economic indices in the year to follow.

If there was room in the economy Ms Bhutto has used it up. But there was not much room in the political front. She had to do the Kashmir thing, which she did most dutifully; and she had to do the nuclear programme thing, which she also did as best she could with the opposition snapping at her heels. She didn’t have the sort of vote required for an effective mandate, so she took on board people like Wattoo and Maulana Fazlur Rehman who keep reminding people that she was serious constraints when it comes to getting the government’s political act together. She hasn’t been able to mend her fences with a much wounded opposition, and therefore has to contend with a divided electorate who will not accept reality except in partisan terms. A part of the press was against her on ideological grounds but her many media cooks have repeatedly spoiled the broth and offended the journalist community in more ways than one.

The blots have been quite large and not to be ignored by even the well-meaning. It has been heart-breaking to see Ms Bhutto become a literalist about the amended constitution. She has used the much amended Ziaist scroll to kick the good judges around till the judiciary has begun to look palpably molested. She used the same literalism to topple a teetering PML-ANP government in the NWFP, thus unleashing criticism that her defenders can’t answer with a straight face.

Without any ground rules of coexistence with a large and revengeful PML(N) opposition in the parliament, the PPP government has had to sacrifice the party to go on ruling. In Punjab, where it had a real power base, the PPP has all but ceased to exist as an organised entity. Its leaders are demoralised and its workers disenchanted. Ms Bhutto may be the party monolith but she is without the advantage of second-echelon party leadership. Knowing this, the opposition has been hounding President Farooq Leghari in office. The swagger of the PML(N) as it conducts its ‘deliverance’ movement stands in contrast to the uncertainty of the party in power.

As Ms Bhutto fights to get us Kashmir, her Sindh politics is not getting anywhere. The mega-city is not as badly off as Calcutta but its ethnic and sectarian wars have made it unlivable. She can’’ offer political solutions because there are none, given the divide at the national level. But she can surely apply the economic balm, by-passing the feuding ethnic politicians. Her Karachi ‘package’ of Rs 121 billion can rescue her if it improves the civic amenities significantly there over the coming twelve months, or it can hurt her irrevocably if it appears as a media hype to buy time.

The few good things of 1994 can evaporate in 1995 if law and order worsens and if Karachi stops being the hub of industrial production. Ruling Pakistan is not easy, especially if room for economic and political manoeuvre is limited. But Ms Bhutto needs to make the transition from politician to statesperson if life is to become less intolerable.

(TFT Nov 3-9, 1994 Vol-6 No.35 — Editorial)

A word of advice

Since becoming prime minister a year ago Benazir Bhutto has visited 17 foreign countries and hopped over to Saudi Arabia for umra several times. She has just been to Turkmenistan and has now gone off to France. At the end of the month she will be in the UK and in December she will be touring Russia. Phew!

   No one should really grudge her these trips. Ms Bhutto enjoys five star ratings abroad and is unquestionably our most eminent ambassador. If Pakistan’s credit ratings have gone up, it is only because foreign investors find Ms Bhutto’s economic policies quite seductive. And if the world is reluctantly beginning to stir over Kashmir, it is partly due to her unstinting efforts to put it on the international agenda (apart, obviously, from the heroic struggle of the freedom fighters in the valley).

Nonetheless, a perception has taken currency that Ms Bhutto expends too much time and energy trying to improve Pakistan’s foreign relations and too little in addressing more pressing problems at home. For example, civil strife in Karachi continues unabated. One day we are told that the army is headed back to the barracks because an agreement with the MQM is around the corner. Next day, we discover that no such plans or agreements are in the offing. Similarly, Ms Bhutto appears not to have chalked out any strategy to neutralise the opposition by allowing it a stake in the political system. The recent fiasco in the national assembly, resulting from the government’s intransigence over releasing some opposition leaders from prison, is a case in point.

More important, Ms Bhutto seems to be so enchanted by the trappings of office that she has all but forgotten her party. To all intents and purposes, there is no sign of the PPP in Punjab. The rank and file of the party is squabbling over petty matters and the lack of a strong leader in the province has led to demoralisation. It is being asked, for example, how many times in the past twelve months has the prime minister held open “katcheri” or met MNAs and MPAs for serious consultations and feedback? How many times has she toured the province to sort out the problems of her elected representatives and their constituents? How many delegations of MNAs or MPAs have been given the time of day by the prime minister’s military secretary in Islamabad?

In the same vein, eyebrows are being raised at Mr Asif Zardari’s increasingly high public profile. At first he was simply the PM’s chosen emissary for behind-the-scene negotiations with various people and parties. Then suspicions were aroused about his untoward interest in key appointments to leading financial institutions. For months it was alleged that he had more than a passing interest in the submarine deal. Two months ago, he took de facto charge of the environment ministry. Last week he led a business delegation to South Korea and Hong Kong. Now he has become head of the committee looking after the multi-million dollar cricket World Cup. What next? Negotiating with Washington over the nuclear issue or huddling with the President over defence and national security-related questions?

In theory, of course, there is no reason why Mr Zardari should not be entrusted with greater responsibility by the prime minister. By virtue of being her spouse, he enjoys her full confidence and trust. He is an elected MNA in his own right. And his considerable persuasive charms should rightly be counted as an asset.

Alas. Many people, even those who are sympathetic to the PPP, don’t quite see things this way. Unfortunately, Mr Zardari’s “reputation” precedes him. While few are prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, many people actually take malicious pleasure in laying much of the sleaze in government at his door. Ms Bhutto seemed to recognise this “problem” when she was in opposition: in private she was wont to acknowledge the fact that during her first stint in power her husband’s form may have damaged her government’s image. She also seemed determined not to make the same mistake when she returned to Islamabad last year — Mr Zardari was conspicuous by his low profile in the early months of the PPP government.

Ms Bhutto now appears to have had a radical change of heart. Mr Zardari is all over the place and the wags are having the time of their life. The prime minister may like to shrug off the chattering classes contemptuously but if she thinks her government can afford to remain sanguine over this “issue”, she is sadly mistaken. In the old days people tended to absolve her personally from any alleged misdemeanour by her near and dear ones. Now they suspect she is in cahoots with them all the way.

Although Benazir Bhutto is surrounded by all shades of sycophants, we cannot believe that she has become averse to well-meaning criticism. The PM should care about her party, she should focus on simmering domestic disputes and she should rein in her energetic husband from throwing his weight around.

(TFT Nov 10-16, 1994 Vol-6 No.36 — Editorial))

The dogs of war

In a new constitutional democracy such as Pakistan’s, the press is quite free, the courts are generally fair and, for better or for worse, people have got the leaders they deserve.

But this democracy has also been interpreted by some groups as a license for anarchy. Each province is badly infected. There are tribal lashkars in Balochistan, urban terrorists in Karachi, militant separatists in rural Sindh, violent sectarianists in Punjab and drug warlords in the Frontier. These mafias are better armed than the police. They control pockets of land where the writ of the Pakistani state runs thin. Having become a law unto themselves, they are a constant and fearful reminder of the precariousness of our nation-state. Why can’t governments crush them?

Lacking legitimacy, military regimes (such as Zia ul Haq’s) were preoccupied with problems of political support and survival. Hence, far from focussing on how to get rid of the problem, these regimes were often directly responsible for nourishing and sustaining the mafias to do their bidding. A case in point is the MQM which was given succour by Zia ul Haq when he was challenged by the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in the 1980s. Similarly, the Sipah i Sahaba and various other extremist sectarian groups began to extend their tentacles in civil society during Zia’s forced Islamisation campaigns.

   Civilian regimes, however, have had a different mindset in trying to cope with these mafias. Benazir Bhutto’s first government lived constantly in fear of the “establishment”. Her writ was challenged even within some of the organs of the state, like the army and the presidency whose leaders actively conspired to undermine her government. So she could not afford to take on the mafias. Nawaz Sharif’s Islamic coalition, on the other hand, lacked legitimacy because the 1990 elections were rigged. Therefore he felt obliged to join hands with the mafias in order to consolidate his rule.

Ms Bhutto is now a prisoner of sorts again. Her coalition is inherently fragile. She faces a ruthless and strong opposition determined to create or exploit any situation which can undermine her government. That is why the MQM terrorists are getting away with murder and that is why the Sipah i Sahaba continues to fan the flames of violent sectarianism and that is why Nawab Bugti and Nawab Magsi don’t give a damn about what Islamabad says or thinks. The drug warlords are happily harvesting a bumper poppy crop without a care in the world. And Maulana Sufi Mohammad of the Tehreek i Nifaz i Shariat i Mohammadi (TNSM) is rampaging in Swat, Dir and Mohmand agencies. He can do this with impunity because Mr Aftab Sherpao’s dubiously installed PPP government hangs by a thread in the Frontier and doesn’t know whether it’s coming or going.

Such are the inherent weaknesses of electoral coalitions in nascent democracies. Nothing worthwhile ever gets done. In any other country, the likes of Sufi Mohammad would have been bunged into prison for subverting the Constitution (for that is exactly what he and his misguided followers have done by violently insisting upon a separate set of laws for themselves). Not so in Pakistan. Can you imagine the opposition’s outrage in the “free press” if the government of the day decided to crush the revolt in a cold-blooded manner?

Looking at the political landscape of this country today, it increasingly looks as if the idea of Pakistan as a modern nation-state is beginning to come apart. There is bitter discord on every conceivable issue. A powerful section of the MQM wants Karachi to be a city-state, a strategy designed to create untold convulsion and spill much blood. Karachi-ites are bitterly critical of the Pakistan army, the country’s last line of defence. Muslims elsewhere are feverishly disputing the nature of the Pakistani state propagated by Mohammad Iqbal and M A Jinnah. Some people want Pakistan to bask in isolated splendour and are advocating a strategic defiance of the West. Others are seeking to exploit the trickle-down effects of strife-torn Afghanistan which have already plunged another neighbouring country — Tajikistan — into civil war. There is no agreement even on the matter of whether or not to put our bomb on the shelf. And the sinister Indian “hand” is to be found in every nook and cranny of this country.

At the root of it all is the inability of the government and opposition of the day to play by an agreed set of political rules and ideas. This has led to a dangerous free-for-all where minor groups, with strong, parochial interests, are able to blackmail the government or hold it to ransom. Thus, with the two main parties at each other’s throats, marginal groups backing one or the other have got a stranglehold over the country.

Under the circumstances, it would be logical to pray for a modern prince to put the country straight. Unfortunately, there are no such saviours in sight. In the meanwhile, it is clear that our present leaders cannot or will not rise above themselves to stop the country from going to the dogs.

(TFT Nov 17-23, 1994 Vol-6 No.37 — Editorial)

Not in our stars but in ourselves

Some people believe that Pakistan has been ‘humiliated’ all over again at the United Nations. Critics attribute our ‘debacle’ to ‘bad advice’ and ‘lack of homework’ by the ‘mandarins’ at the Foreign Office.

We beg to differ. When Z A Bhutto and Zia ul Haq told the FO to forget about Kashmir, the mandarins duly obliged. Pakistan only woke up after an indigenous revolt for ‘azadi’ erupted in Kashmir in 1989. Thereafter, the FO was reactivated by Benazir Bhutto to stir the world’s conscience over Indian repression in the valley.

Nawaz Sharif followed suit. He sent Mrs Nusrat Bhutto to Geneva to lambast the Indians in 1992. However, at no time did he instruct or gear up the FO to bring the issue before a vote of any sort at any forum of the United Nations. In fact, the decision to raise the issue before the third committee of the UN in November 1993 was taken by an interim government.

Since returning to power, Ms Bhutto has tried to muster UN votes for the Kashmir cause. But Pakistan’s point of view hasn’t cut any ice with the international community. Thus, when New Delhi offered a round of talks (“including on all aspects of the Kashmir dispute”) on January 1-3, 1994, Islamabad was inclined to clutch at the face-saving device.

After the talks failed, the FO was promptly shunted off to the Human Rights Commission in Geneva. Despite renewed efforts, however, even countries most ‘friendly’ to Pakistan failed to honour their promises. Therefore, on the advice of bosom buddies China and Iran who warned that a premature vote would expose Pakistan’s isolation, the matter was ‘deferred’. The same sort of thing has happened now in New York.

At Geneva, the Pakistani view was that India should be censured for human rights violations in Kashmir. At New York, Pakistan wanted to draw attention to a conflict which threatens world peace and security. In theory, both positions warrant obvious support. Yet, in practise, the world’s response has been negative.

On both occasions, domestic critics have accused the government of botching up things. Their argument is that it is better to have fought and lost than never to have fought at all. This is a moot point. If Pakistan had called for a vote and lost, the same critics would have flogged the government for misplaced concreteness.

The real tragedy lurks behind the surface. No one in this country has the courage to pose and answer the most fundamental question of all: why isn’t the world ready to accept Pakistan’s point of view on Kashmir?

The Western world doesn’t ‘trust’ Pakistan. It believes that we have fueled extremist forces in Afghanistan with devastating consequences for the area. It now suspects that we may be repeating the same fundamentalist strategy in Kashmir. Therefore it doesn’t support the Pakistani either/or plebiscite option in the sub-continent. The more we whip up militant Islam at home and abroad, the more we refuse to negotiate the third option, the less reputable we appear to be in the eyes of the Western world. It is as simple as that.

Unfortunately, instead of coming to grips with the issue, we seem to be further alienating the Western world. Thus, when a former prime minister thunders about putting our nuclear bomb on the shelf, he does our cause irreparable harm. The same sort of alarm is triggered abroad when our governments give in to pressure from extremist fundamentalist forces demanding implementation of sectarian “Shariah” laws in the country.

The yawning gap between our theory and practise is another cause for concern. Pakistan says it abides by the UN resolutions for a “peaceful settlement” of our dispute with India. Yet significant public voices are constantly raised in favour of extending overt military assistance to the insurgents in Kashmir. Some religious leaders, press barons, retired judges and generals have actually gone so far as to advocate a war with India to liberate Kashmir.

The face that Pakistan often presents to the world outside is convoluted and grotesque. It is of a country as much at war with itself as it is with India and the West. How can anyone do business with such a Pakistan?

We cannot have it both ways. If we are fed up with the hypocrisy and double standards of the Western world and have no faith left in the UN, we should bury the UN resolutions of four decades ago and make war with India for the fourth time. But if we don’t want to wage war with India and expect the Western world to support the cause of Kashmir, we should stop preaching radical Islam within and without and develop a national consensus which genuinely reflects this position.

The fault lies not in our stars but with our selves. Our traditional intelligentsia is myopic, our official state ideology is bankrupt. We have frustrated our nationalist cause by colouring it with fundamentalism. How can the Foreign Office bail out a country whose ruling elites are so impoverished?

(TFT Nov 24-30, 1994 Vol-6 No.38 — Editorial)

Practise what you preach

Despite the time and energy she devotes to foreign policy, prime minister Benazir Bhutto has not been able to notch up any kudos on that front. The domestic situation is more dismal. Karachi has gone from bad to worse. Dir, Swat and Malakand are up in revolt. Industry is in the doldrums. Tax revenues are falling short of targets. Inflation is rampant. Illiteracy and population growth are running scot free. Etc.

More worrying, continuing political instability seems to be eroding whatever little goodwill there is left in store for government. Efforts are now underway to explore prospects for an alternative prime minister.

Instead of reassessing the situation dispassionately and casting about for workable solutions, Ms Bhutto is generally perceived to have succumbed to bad advice by opting for an aggressive posture. The decision to arrest Mian Sharif was a bad one. The opposition had got wind of the impending arrest but refused to believe the government could be so stupid. Even as the intrepid Naseerullah Babar was girding his loins to pick up the old man, a number of Muslim League doves were trying to persuade Mr Nawaz Sharif not to allow the hawks to throw rotten eggs and tomatoes at President Farooq Leghari in parliament.

   In the event, however, the arrest of Mian Sharif (and the manner in which he was dragged out feet first) put paid to opposition sensibilities. Subsequent statements by Ms Bhutto, Mr Zardari and Mr Babar added fuel to the fire. “No one is above the law”, thundered the PM self-righteously, as though the arrest of a solitary old man had come in the wake of a massive anti-corruption clean-up operation starting from the government’s own stables. Mr Zardari wondered aloud that if he could be imprisoned for two years he saw nothing wrong with meting out the same treatment to Mian Sharif (the implication being that two wrongs made a right). Mr Babar, meanwhile, thought fit to concentrate on a pathetic and convoluted case of alleged fraud while reassuring us that Mr Nawaz Sharif’s wife was not on his hit list because she happened to be a woman (presumably women are “above the law” in his book). Ms Bhutto later expressed her frustration at Ms Robin Raphel’s displeasure at the arrest by haranguing Washington for insisting on the extradition of the ailing and aged former BCCI chief Agha Hasan Abidi. Mian Sharif was released on ‘parole’ (no such thing) after the government panicked following reports that he might kick the bucket while in custody.

Now Chaudry Shujaat Hussain has been picked up and other opposition leaders fear they may be next. What does the government hope to achieve by this strategy?

Ms Bhutto’s argument is that if the opposition is prepared to go to any lengths to overthrow her government, including attempts to provoke the army to intervene, why should she treat them with butter fingers? After a year of trying to persuade Mr Sharif to live and let live, she is becoming aggressive in the hope that Mr Sharif’s parliamentary supporters will be so cowed down that they will either desert him or persuade him to lay off the government.

Has Ms Bhutto reckoned with the fallout of this posture if her strategy doesn’t succeed? What if Mr Sharif is able to convince his colleagues to resign en masse from the assemblies? Does she think the political system will be able to survive such a buffeting?

If Mr Nawaz Sharif is surrounded by bad advisors, Ms Bhutto’s lot also seems to have gone up the creek without a paddle. They made a royal botch-up of defending President Farooq Leghari when he was targeted by the opposition in Mehrangate. They screwed up on Kashmir in Geneva and in New York. Their caravan of goodwill to Turkmenistan was waylaid by warlords in Afghanistan. The Mian Sharif fiasco brought the government to an all-time low. Chaudry Shujaat’s arrest is likely to up the stakes further. What next?

Benazir Bhutto is a courageous woman who has defied all odds by returning to power. She is a caring woman who is not naturally given to vindictiveness. There is also no doubt of her desire to run a good ship and leave a lasting impression on the country. Despite this, however, an impression is taking root that perhaps she is not up to the job of governing this volatile country. The tragedy is that a galaxy of advisors hasn’t been able to redeem this image.

Many of the people close to her are hangers-on who were “rewarded” for various “services” rendered in the past. However, while state patronage is an integral part of politics, rulers must beware of taking the practice to extreme limits where the costs to government become prohibitive.

Merit is a greater virtue than loyalty. Leaders are often judged by the company they keep. Ms Bhutto says she puts a premium on performance. If she practised what she preaches, she might find the going less uncomfortable.

(TFT Dec 01-07, 1994 Vol-6 No.39 — Editorial)

Attention: Mr Asif Zardari

When Mr Asif Zardari was appointed de facto head of the environment ministry some time ago, we were quite pleased. The possibility that he might have other than an altruistic interest in the environment was slight. The ministry needed to be strengthened and there could be no more suitable man for the job than the PM’s powerful spouse. Mr Zardari is known for his winning ways with the lumbering bureaucracy when he sets his mind to it — a case in point being the recent textile agreement hammered out with APTMA when Mr Zardari is said to have swept aside the red tape and clinched the deal to the delight of businessmen.

Unfortunately, however, Mr Zardari has been so busy zooming all over the world with the PM, leading business delegations here and there, and lending his counsel to sundry ministers and committees, that he hasn’t had a moment to spare for environment concerns. When he can find the time, he should ask for an update on where matters stand. In that context, a recent development merits special mention because it has the potential to set the ground rules for cleaning up the environment.

   Last month, the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), an Islamabad-based NGO, objected to the proposed import of a Chlor-Alkali plant (which uses mercury cells for the production of chlorine and caustic soda) by Ravi Alkalis Ltd. If the import went ahead and the plant were commissioned, argued the SDPI, it would prove extremely hazardous for the environment.

Ravi Alkalis denied the charges, saying that the government’s Environment Protection Agency (EPA) as well as a Senate Committee on the Environment had approved the project.

But SDPI wasn’t convinced. So it solicited the support of other concerned NGOs including Greenpeace — the international environment protection watchdog — to support its position. In due course, the local press also became an ally of SDPI. Ravi responded by taking out advertisements and handing out press briefs explaining its point of view and assuring the public that the proposed plant was environmentally safe.

If Ravi had wanted to be bloody minded, it could have chosen to ignore the public outcry and gone ahead with importing and installing the plant. After all, a number of such plants are already operating in the country, the EPA was on its side, the Senate had cleared the proposed plant and a sprinkling of bribes in relevant quarters would have eased Ravi’s headache.

But it is to Ravi’s credit that when it acted decisively to resolve the deadlock, it did so in support of a cleaner environment. An honourable compromise was effected two weeks ago when Ravi sat across the table with SDPI and Greenpeace and agreed to undertake a number of measures to allay public fears. Among these: a commitment to eliminate mercury cells and mercury-contaminated equipment from the scope of the plant; and changing the process of manufacture of chlorine to cleaner membrane-cell technology. Ravi has also invited SDPI and its international partners to set up a monitoring programme with the objective of complying with acceptable environmental standards for the installation and operations of chemical industries in general and the Ravi Chlor-Alkali plant in particular. By so doing, Ravi has set an excellent example of the sort of responsibility and self-restraint which we expect other industries to demonstrate.

The role of the EPA, however, leaves much to be desired. Throughout the controversy, the representatives of the agency appeared to be more interested in guarding the interests of industry than those of the environment they are expected to defend. The EPA’s performance, in support of industry, before the Senate committee was shocking, to say the least.

Mr Zardari, therefore, has an immediate, three-fold task at hand. First, the current lot of bureaucrats in the EPA, who seem suspiciously charitable towards industry, should be chopped forthwith. They should be replaced by officials who are better informed and more caring about the environment. Second, the EPA must be beefed up. It needs greater resources to efficiently monitor and evaluate violations of environment protection laws. Third, the law ministry, in close association with NGOs, must take a hard look at the existing set of environmental laws to determine their suitability and adequacy in existing conditions. Where necessary, amendments to the law may be tabled.

   A comprehensive National Conservation Strategy Policy already exists. The problem is that its implementation has been painfully slow. This would suggest that environmental protection is low on the government’s agenda. Mr Zardari could change all this by taking a serious crack at his official job.

When he was asked by the PM to take care of the environment, Mr Zardari sent a brief letter to various editors informing them of his concerns and soliciting their cooperation. On our part, we are pleased to confirm our unstinting support for such endevours. However, Mr Zardari has to demonstrate a measure of seriousness by urgently coming to grips with the problem. If he likes to make headlines, and if he is anxious to earn the public’s goodwill, there can be no better cause to do so than the greening of Pakistan.

(TFT Dec 08-14, 1994 Vol-6 No.40 — Editorial)

Before the chickens come home to roost…

Benazir Bhutto is desperately trying to put a brave face on the latest Mehrangate revelations. She says that the tapes were “concocted” as part of a new “London Plan” to destabilise her government.

It is true that the tapes were given to Mr Sharif courtesy Mir Afzal Khan, the former NWFP chief minister, and Hameed Asghar Kidwai, the former Mehran bank official who taped the conversations and is Mir Afzal’s guest in London. Both have a serious grudge against Ms Bhutto. Mir Sahib because he wasn’t made President or NWFP governor as a reward for helping Ms Bhutto oust Mr Sharif last year, and Mr Kidwai because Mr Sherpao didn’t deliver on his promises. But it is not true that the tapes are doctored, even if the transcripts provided by Mr Sharif may be selectively edited.

Clearly, the performance of our two premier politicians leaves much to be desired. Mr Sharif and his cronies (Jam Sadiq Ali, Muzaffar Shah and Ghulam Haider Wyne) threw away acres of prime state land to win friends and influence people. Ms Bhutto’s Sindh chief minister, Mr Abdullah Shah, is now bent upon denuding the KDA and the Sindh Land Utilisation Department of all their remaining assets. Mr Sharif squandered US$ 1 billion on the yellow-cab scam. Ms Bhutto’s green tractor scheme is designed for much the same purpose. Mr Sharif generously dipped into state-owned banks to build his financial empire. Ms Bhutto’s appointments of hand-picked cronies to key financial institutions smack of the same intentions. Mr Sharif and Mr Yunus Habib were such good friends that the latter gave away tons of money to the IJI to ensure that Ms Bhutto wouldn’t win the 1990 elections. Ms Bhutto and Mr Habib appear to have cemented the same sort of relationship now — Mr Sherpao has had the good fortune to become chief minister of NWFP with no small thanks to Mr Habib. There are other similarities too.

If Mr Sharif’s privatisation of the Muslim Commercial Bank raised eyebrows, similar suspicions have dogged Ms Bhutto’s privatisation of PTC. If Mr Sharif’s arrest of Ms Bhutto’s spouse demonstrated his vindictiveness, Ms Bhutto has done worse by arresting his aged father. If Ms Bhutto was seen to demean the office of the President by shouting “Go Baba Go” in parliament, Mr Sharif has gone one step further by provoking fisticuffs. If Ms Bhutto threatened long marches, Mr Sharif’s train marches haven’t lagged behind. If Mr Sharif’s brother aroused controversy by becoming larger than life, Ms Bhutto’s husband is now all over the place. And so on, ad nauseam. The real irony, of course, is that many of Mr Sharif’s most notorious advisors are now part of Ms Bhutto’s trusted cabal.

   But there is one crucial difference between their ruling styles: Mr Sharif seldom aspired to take the high moral ground in government whereas Ms Bhutto has rarely tired of being self-righteous. Therefore, all other things being equal, her behaviour has added insult to our injured sensibilities.

Ms Bhutto’s accountability trials lack credibility because she is only targeting the opposition. To be convincing, such charity should begin at home. Her grandiose plans to attract foreign investment are up in the air. Without political stability in Pakistan, US investors are more likely to sink their capital in the Gulf of Mexico.

   Benazir Bhutto’s advisors tell her there is nothing to worry about. Why? Because the President and the superior judiciary are on her side. Because PPP MNAs would never leave her in the lurch since they would be wiped out by Mr Sharif in a fresh election. Because a sitting government can always defeat a vote of no-confidence by a combination of tried and tested tips and tricks. The clinching argument apparently is that there is no possibility of any army intervention. Why? Because the Americans would never tolerate any transgression against democracy and because the alternative (Nawaz Sharif) is even less palatable to the generals than her.

We must offer a note of caution. Ms Bhutto’s party is seething with resentment. Many MNAs are restive. The Speaker and his deputy are sulking. Mr Farooq Leghari is under pressure to put some distance between the Presidency and the PM’s House. Most ominously, the army is no longer prepared to do her bidding in Karachi.

A far more important development could imperil both Ms Bhutto and Mr Sharif. The West is increasingly coming round to the view that for many third world countries like Pakistan, democracy may be a luxury they cannot afford. The argument is that, in the face of a threat from radical Islam which feeds on the intellectual and material impoverishment of people, economic development and political stability should come first.

This critique of democracy hadn’t burgeoned into a compulsion last year when the third elections in five years were called. But it is certainly blowing in the wind today. Ms Bhutto and Mr Sharif would be advised to count their chickens before they come home to roost.

(TFT Dec 15-21, 1994 Vol-6 No.41 — Editorial)

Let them eat cake…

Terrorists have taken over Karachi. No one is safe in the city any more. The death toll continues to climb. Over 700 people, including 70 policemen, have been gunned down by unknown assassins this year. Maulana Salahuddin, a courageous opponent of the MQM, was riddled with sixteen bullets. Maulana Abdul Sattar Edhi, the conscience of the nation, fears for his life and has fled to a hideout in London. Journalists are scared of doing their professional duty. Policemen are terrified of donning their uniforms. Scores of leading businessmen are rushing to apply for citizenship abroad. What, in God’s name, are we coming to?

Factional strife within the MQM, sectarian warfare and brazen criminality are only three elements of this gruesome tragedy. But the targeting of policemen is something else. It is an attack on the state. It is not known which forces are behind it but one can hazard a guess about their possible motives. If it is the MQM(A), then there will be no end to the killings until all its demands, including that for a separate province, are met. If it is India, then the killings are part of the continuing price we must pay for wanting to liberate Kashmir.

Some people think that a political settlement between the PPP and the MQM, which meets with most of the MQM’s terms but stops just short of giving in to its demand for Jinnahpur, can halt this bloodshed. That may indeed be a necessary condition for some breathing space. But by no means should it be taken to mean a sufficient condition for enduring peace and stability in the province. Those who are fanning the fires of sectarianism and killing policemen must surely have altogether different objectives.

In view of this alarming attack on the organs of the state, why is the army, our premier state institution, keen to pull out from Karachi? One reason is that the army is reluctant to become anybody’s pawn in a vicious political power game. Another factor is that the army cannot work with its hands tied behind its back. If it can’t do its job as it is properly trained to do, it is not interested in it at all. In the current situation, when public opinion was steadily turning against its half-hearted presence in the city, the army’s desire to pull out is perfectly understandable.

But it is not justified. This is exactly what the terrorists want. Once the army leaves, Karachi will be up for grabs. Therefore, if GHQ doesn’t want to fan rumours of unsavoury “intentions”, there shouldn’t be any question of quitting Karachi.

The real questions are: How do we separate the political issue (MQM Vs PPP) from the problem of foreign-inspired terrorism against the state? Should the resolution of one issue come before the other or should both problems be tackled simultaneously? What is the proper constitutional role of the army in situations in which civil authority has all but broken down?

   One “solution” is to impose Governor’s rule and give the army powers under Article 245 of the constitution. Let them “clean-up” to their satisfaction. If they succeed in disarming the militants and flushing out the terrorists, well and good. Then the chances of a reasonable political settlement between the MQM and PPP, without one holding a gun to the other’s head, should become bright. If they don’t succeed, but continue to complain of political interference and lack of powers, then the government could impose martial law on the city. If martial law works, well and good, and political negotiations between the warring factions could follow. But if it doesn’t, it will at least put an end to talk of martial law in the country. If the army cannot resolve Karachi by means of a mini-martial law, it is even less likely to be able to solve the problems of the country on its own.

We should then be prepared to knuckle down and swallow some bitter pills. Karachi should be dropped into Mr Altaf Hussain’s lap so that he can do with it what he likes. Let the voters of the city get a good taste of their own medicine. If he is as bad as his detractors say he is, he will screw up the city so badly that no one will vote for him ever again. But if he does a sensible job, we should all be ready to applaud his efforts. The bottom line is that the voters of Karachi should have an unfettered opportunity to be governed by the leaders they have wittingly chosen.

That would leave one major issue unsettled. There is no doubt that India is fanning terrorism in the city, partly by infiltrating agents provocateurs into the province and partly by assisting extremist Mohajir and Sindhi “nationalists” to create mayhem. This would suggest that the sooner we begin to explore all the options over Kashmir with our neighbour, the better it will be for everyone concerned in both countries. The last thing we should want is for our army to get embroiled in trouble spots across the country while India spruces up for another adventure against a bitterly divided Pakistan.

(TFT Dec 22-28, 1994 Vol-6 No.42 — Editorial)

Benazir’s Achilles heel

The most oft-repeated question these days is: “When is Benazir’s government going to fall?” It’s as though people have made up their minds that her ouster is inevitable and will brook no “ifs” and “buts”. Few are therefore prepared to concede that she might see through 1995, let alone last her full term. How and why has this perception come about?

Part of the explanation may have to do with a skillful barrage of propaganda against her by the opposition. Hardly a day has gone by without dire forebodings by some PML(N) stalwart or the other. It is an old ploy: if you say something over and over again, some of it is likely to sink into the subconscious regardless of its merits. An element of wishful thinking may also be involved: the country is bitterly divided and millions of PML(N) voters hate the Bhutto family with a vengeance. But there is more to it.

   Ms Bhutto was trudging along until Mr Nawaz Sharif launched his “Tehreek i Nijaat”. Some hiccups were inevitable. In due course, however, Mr Sharif’s “movement” ran out of steam. Here was a good opportunity to offer an olive branch to the opposition and provide Mr Sharif an “honourable” exit. But no. Ms Bhutto thought fit to stick the knife in. She arrested “old man Sharif” on the eve of President Farooq Leghari’s address to parliament and breathed new life into the opposition. Chaudhry Shujaat’s arrest made matters worse. Ms Bhutto now appeared vindictive. Her nerves seemed frayed. When she couldn’t make her decisions stick (Mian Sharif had to be released, Ch Shujaat was sprung out on bail and arrested again), her government looked unsure and inept.

Ms Bhutto committed a second blunder when she refused to abide by the rulings of the Senate Chairman and NA Speaker to produce Sheikh Rashid and Chaudhry Shujaat in parliament. Half-hearted efforts by some Bhutto-lapdogs to defend the government’s position proved untenable. Yusuf Raza Gillani became intractable after he was cunningly manipulated by the opposition to defend his “honour”. Conflict within her own camp made the Prime Minister look even more fallible.

In the meanwhile, Karachi has become Ms Bhutto’s Achilles heel. Her policy statements smack of contradictions. She comes across as uncaring. Islamabad seems paralysed. Facts are being concealed. Consider.

   (1)    Ms Bhutto admits there is a “mini-insurgency” in the city. Then she claims that the “gutter press” is blowing things out of proportion. (2) Mr Abdullah Shah has visited the families of two PPP victims to offer compensation. Yet no government official has even bothered to condole with the families of hundreds of other innocent people mowed down by the terrorists. (3) Ms Bhutto has all the time in the world to travel abroad. Yet she has expended little energy in Karachi to offer solace, seek independent advice or ensure that the Sindh government is more responsive to the desperate plight of the people. (4) Ms Bhutto says that she has pulled the army out of Karachi because the situation is now under control. The facts are otherwise. The army has walked out on her because her recipe for Karachi — let the warring MQM factions slug it out until they are both depleted — is not acceptable to GHQ. Matters are now worse than ever before. (5) She knows that apart from the MQM, sectarian elements and foreign hands continue to bedevil the city. Yet the thrust of her condemnatory statements is aimed exclusively at the MQM for propaganda purposes.

After Nawaz Sharif’s reckless performance, Ms Bhutto’s second term had kicked off on an upbeat note. Many expectations of good governance were attached to her. It was also thought that the compulsions of a coalition would preclude any adventures on her part. Unfortunately, however, since Mr Sherpao’s mischief in the NWFP, it has been downhill all the way.

However much we may blame Messrs Nawaz Sharif and Altaf Hussain for trying to destabilise the government, Ms Bhutto has no cause to be self-righteous or smug. Far from it. Her performance has been bitterly disappointing on many crucial fronts. Accepting the IMF prescription down to the last dot, with the economy in the throes of stagflation, was highly contentious. The imperatives of upholding law and order have been carelessly disregarded. Financial and judicial institutional development has gone awry. And so on. At the end of the day, we are left with the impression of a ruler who doesn’t have any idea of how to govern.

Under normal circumstances, we might have learnt to show more understanding of the problems of government in a third world country like Pakistan and been less uncharitable towards a prime minister like Ms Bhutto who has been elected for the second time in five years. Unfortunately, we cannot afford such luxuries today. Pakistan has entered its most dangerous decade. Nationhood is being torn apart by ethnicity, sectarianism and terrorism. The state is facing erosion. If Benazir Bhutto wishes to retain any raison d’etre, she must demonstrate greater wisdom than she has proffered of late. And quickly.

(TFT Dec 29-04 Jan 1995 Vol-6 No.43 — Editorial)

Bully for you, Benazir

Mr Iqbal Haider’s sacking as minister for law and parliamentary affairs provides a valuable insight into the workings of Benazir Bhutto’s mind. The selection of three people to fill one slot reveals much more besides.

Ms Bhutto was outraged when opposition leaders Chaudhry Shujaat and Sheikh Rashid were produced in parliament. She suspected that Mr Haider, in defiance of her orders, may have secretly given the go-ahead to the courts. She also disapproved of Mr Haider’s initiative in the formation of a parliamentary committee to deliberate on the problems of Karachi. Therefore, when she returned from Casablanca, her mind was already made up. This is how she contrived his marching orders.

The Attorney General, whose advice is always tailored to the PM’s wants rather than her needs, was nudged to go for the jugular. Step by step, point by point, annotating his case with dates and times, Mr Qazi Jamil proceeded to launch a formidable attack against officials of the Law Ministry before the cabinet.

When he had finished, Ms Bhutto turned to Mr Haider and asked delectably: “Is this true, Iqbaaal?”

“Yes, Prime Minister”, he admitted, without a moment’s hesitation, “but the ministry is not at fault. I take full responsibility”.

“Then shouldn’t you resign?”, purred the PM, dripping with honey.

“Yes, prime minister, I must!”, responded the gladiator, caught off guard.

No, no, said a chorus of cabinet colleagues, how can we allow this to happen?

“Silence!” hissed the leaderene, “This is a personal matter between Iqbal and me!”.

Goodbye, goodbye, parting is such sweet sorrow.

Mr Iqbal Haider was eminently dispensable. He is a middle-class, sloppy liberal who worked overtime, charged no fees, stole no one’s money, acquired no plots and pocketed no commissions. He is not a conspirator. Worse still, he stumbled into endearing himself with opposition members of parliament on a matter of small principle. In the PM’s book, this ranks as high treason. Having never looked a gift horse in the mouth, Ms Bhutto must be eternally grateful to Mr Haider for sticking his neck out.

In one fell swoop, Ms Bhutto has deftly accomplished two tasks: she has drummed in the message that “Jo party (BB) se takrain gae, pash pash ho jaien gae”! And she has silenced the clamour for further cabinet expansion in the near future.

The reputation of the new law and parliamentary affairs minister, Mr N D Khan, precedes him. Therefore the less said the better. However, Mr Khan’s able son, whose hourly consultancy costs the law ministry a tidy sum, is eager to do his father proud. While Mr Khan contemplates his navel exhaustively, Mr Rabbani and Mr Qureshi, ministers of state for law and parliamentary affairs respectively, will have an opportunity to win their spurs. Mr Haider, who single-handedly ran a ministry which now requires three men for the job, can console himself with the fact that government and opposition Senators all paid him high compliments when he departed.

With his exit, Ms Bhutto’s 1994 cabal bears no ideological resemblance at all to the one in 1988-90. Middle-class liberals like Aitzaz Ahsan, Meraj Khalid, Iftikhar Gillani, Rao Rashid, Ghulam Sarwar Cheema, Salmaan Taseer, Amir Haider Kazmi, etc., have either left the PPP in anger and disgust or been bluntly shunted to the sidelines. Ms Bhutto touts this as a sign of her growing realism and pragmatism. “The PPP was taken to the dry-cleaners in 1977 and again in 1990 because we believed in sloppy liberalism”, she explains. Mr Asif Zardari went one step further in South Korea recently when he expatiated on the virtues of the new Peoples Party. “We were a leftist party in the 1970s and a centrist party in 1988. Now we are a true rightist party in the 1990s”. The implication is that in the new Pakistan envisioned by Ms Bhutto and her gung-ho spouse, there is scope only for semi-feudal turncoats and bureaucratic weathercocks and none for the liberal likes of Iqbal Haider & Co. This is a stunning conclusion.

Ms Bhutto likes to believe that her position is impregnable. She thinks she can rule this country by a combination of sham, subterfuge and bluff. She approves of hawkish opinions. More significantly, she thinks liberals are sloppy, antiquated and irrelevant.

In the current climate where ethnic, Islamicist and political extremists rule the roost, moderation is seen as a weakness. No one wants to concede anything to anyone. No wonder Ms Bhutto also wants to ride rough shod over everyone.

But the political history of this country belies her judgement. Political crises have rarely been resolved by head-on clashes. Opponents have seldom caved in to imprisonment. Militants have never succumbed to repression. In the final analysis, only a cool-headed, moderate, sensible and democratic — yes, liberal, — approach will bear dividends. For that, we need more merited liberals, not less, in government and opposition alike. Iqbal Haider’s eclipse is therefore deeply regrettable.

(TFT Jan 05-11, 1995 Vol-6 No.44 — Editorial)

It takes two hands to clap

The promise of 1994 was waylaid by the demons of inflation, unemployment, sectarianism and terrorism. Continuing failure to cope with a national identity crisis is now propelling us towards a collective nervous breakdown. If sanity is not restored quickly, we should get ready to fasten seat belts in 1995.

Our perceptions of Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and Altaf Hussain have largely been shaped by the ideas and opinions of the free press. But the press is not infallible. Some of its assessments are partisan or prejudiced.

One major prejudice is that Ms Bhutto’s “intentions vis a vis the opposition have been dishonourable from Day-One of her second term”. Proponents of this view cite several examples: the PPP’s ruthless overthrow of the Sabir Shah government in the NWFP; the instigation of trumped-up ‘victimisation’ cases against several opposition leaders; and Ms Bhutto’s refusal to concede Mr Altaf Hussain’s many demands.

The facts, however, suggest a complex cause-effect situation. In her first three months, Ms Bhutto repeatedly offered a constitutional package for a working relationship between government and opposition. But this was brushed aside by Mr Sharif who seemed determined to destabilise her government come what may. Ms Bhutto countered by covering her flank in the NWFP. The opposition retaliated by launching parliamentary boycotts, street protests and long marches. ‘Victimisation’ inevitably followed. On another front, the PPP effected a compromise with the MQM over the Presidential election. But when Mr Altaf Hussain subsequently upped his demands unreasonably, negotiations broke down. The current doggedness of both sides in Karachi flows from that problematic.

Another prejudice holds Ms Bhutto responsible for all our economic travails, including stagflation. But the fact is that the economy’s growth rate slumped to 2.3 per cent under Nawaz Sharif when reckless mismanagement led to a yawning fiscal deficit, declining reserves and an excessive supply of money. Some of Ms Bhutto’s belt tightening policies are necessary in order to stave off financial collapse.

It is also argued that Ms Bhutto has done nothing for the cause of Kashmir, that the country has been “humiliated” by three “debacles” in Geneva and New York. This is not true. Ms Bhutto has done more than anyone else in Pakistan to “internationalise” the Kashmir conflict. The retreats at Geneva and New York are predicated on the negligence of past regimes and Pakistan’s disagreeable image in the world. Casablanca is a small but significant diplomatic gain under the new regime.

It is also said that Bhutto’s energy policy is either worthless or is a sham designed to revive US imperialist interests in Pakistan. But the fact is that no modern nation can afford to be an island. Even if 10 per cent of the MOUs and LOIs materialise, they will bring more foreign investment into Pakistan in the next four years than in the last four decades. More energy at a high price is surely preferable to less energy at the same high price.

Some people accuse Ms Bhutto of abandoning the nuclear programme, of toying with the third option over Kashmir, of selling out our sovereignty in Gwadur. Such talk deserves to be rubbished.

If the Bhutto regime is more sinned against than sinning, it is important to note its omissions and commissions. Ms Bhutto likes to think that Karachi is a storm in a teacup conjured up by “the gutter press”. Muzzle the press and the problem will go away, she has been advised. Nothing could be further from the truth. Karachi is Bhutto’s Achilles heel. If she doesn’t quickly clean up her Sindh administration and establish a working relationship with the MQM(A), the army will be forced to return to the city in strength and Ms Bhutto will lose her political autonomy.

Islamabad also believes that the mullahs are not a serious threat to government or country because they were only able to muster a miniscule proportion of the vote in the last election. This is misplaced thinking. Running parallel with religious extremism is a strong xenophobic current among many sections of state and civil society. The input of an untarred demagogue into this crucible could trigger an explosion of unimagined intensity and plunge the country into anarchy.

Ms Bhutto claims that her government is clean and transparent. The fact, however, remains that if Nawaz Sharif & Co were stamped as “dacoits”, Benazir Bhutto & Associates could be classified as “burglars”.

It takes two hands to clap. Ms Bhutto was stabbed in the back by Nawaz Sharif and Altaf Hussain in 1989-90. She returned the favour in 1993. She was victimised by them during 1990-93 and given no respite in 1994. The score is more or less even now. It is time to look ahead.

In 1967, Ayub Khan looked very secure. Within a year he was gone. IN 1977, Z A Bhutto said he would rule for another twenty years. Within months, he was out of power. In early 1993, Nawaz Sharif seemed set for another decade. By July, he was banished into the wilderness. Today, Ms Bhutto thinks she is unstoppable….It is time for sober reflection all round.

(TFT Jan 12-18, 1995 Vol-6 No.45 — Editorial)

Silk and Steel

Benazir Bhutto looked positively angelic throughout her recent TV interview with David Frost. At the fag end, when Mr Frost suggested that she seemed all silk and steel, Ms Bhutto smiled coyly for the cameras and floored us all: I wish that were true, she replied silkily, but I’m not at all as hard as steel (or words to that effect). Hah!

In fact, Ms Bhutto is a chip off the old block. She can be tough as nails when it comes to it. Look at the way she rammed into the NWFP, smashed Sabir Shah’s coalition into smithereens and hammered Aftab Sherpao’s government into place. Or consider the arrogance of power when she shuffled the judiciary around and brushed aside the rulings of Mr Yusuf Raza Gillani and Mr Wasim Sajjad. For further proof, ask Sheikh Rashid, Chaudhry Shujaat and Nawaz Khokar how they feel about cooling their heels in the clink.

If the opposition thinks it can manoeuvre a vote of no-confidence against her, it had better get cracking straight away. Many PML(N) wallas, including top dogs Abbas Sharif, Hamayun Akhtar, Shahbaz Sharif, Majeed Malik, Gohar Ayub and Chaudry Pervez Elahi, are on Ms Bhutto’s hit list. She means to convict them of misdemeanor. Then she will seek their disqualification from parliament and follow up by holding bye-elections in which the PPP will inexplicably romp home with thousands of votes to spare. Once she has whipped the PML(N) into line, it will be time to attend to Mr Wattoo’s freewheeling methods in the Punjab and the gutter press’ anarchistic, blackmailing ways in Pakistan.

1995 could therefore be a make or break year for Benazir Bhutto. The good news for Ms Bhutto is that foreign currency reserves are up (from US$ 300 million in 1993 to US$ 3 billion in 1994), the fiscal deficit is slowly coming down, privatization of the big public sector corporations has kicked off and the government has signed MOUs and LOIs of over US$ 28 billion with potential foreign investors in the energy sector. Even if a quarter of these commitments come through, the economy should be sitting pretty in the next few years.

The bad news is that the opposition is out to get her, come hell or high water. The IMF’s structural adjustment programme has severely dented her standing and continuing economic hardship imposed by another tough budget next June could fuel political unrest. More ominously, if a negotiated settlement between the PPP and the MQM doesn’t materialize soon and law and order worsens, Karachi could drag Ms Bhutto into the mire.

   Economy: For the third year running, growth is far below the 6 per cent average of the 1980s. Cotton, which accounts for 55 per cent of all exports, is in short supply. Government borrowings have pushed up interest rates and curtailed investment. Inflation is galloping at an unprecedented 20 per cent (unofficially) mainly because of devaluation (over 15 per cent last year) and stiff increases (over 25 per cent) in utility rates, plus a withdrawal of government subsidies on foodstuffs.

   Another tough budget is forecast for 1995 because the government’s resource mobilization efforts have fallen short by a large margin. If Ms Bhutto’s political management is sloppy, the opposition could exploit widespread public resentment against inflation to destabilize her government.

Karachi: Ms Bhutto has weathered opposition leader Nawaz Sharif’s long marches, street protests and parliamentary boycotts in 1994. Now she faces a decisive showdown with the MQM over control of Karachi. The police and paramilitary forces have been beefed up. But this gesture might be too little too late. If the situation worsens Ms Bhutto will be caught in a bind. Substantial concessions to the MQM would erode her home base in rural Sindh where Murtaza is biding his time. Deadlock will prolong the agony of Karachi and lead to calls for her ouster. If she orders the army back into Karachi, GHQ will demand terms unacceptable to her provincial party. Serious problems could arise if she insists on having it her own way.

Ms Bhutto has weathered 1994 without too many storms. Her government enjoys a majority in three out of four provinces and is protected by the President and the superior judiciary. If she can get her act together quickly, her political opponents will be marginalised and the possibility of any mishap will recede. The current army chief retires in January 1996. By the last quarter of 1995, he will become a lame duck. A new chief appointed by her won’t become “his own man” for another two years, by which time elections will be round the corner, the economy should be chugging along nicely and there will be no impetus for any kind of “intervention”. In the event, she would be good for another term. But if Ms Bhutto slips up, it could be curtains all round. Then we will know what cold steel is really like.

A dubious Lahore seth who likes to pretend that he’s wired is offering odds that Benazir Bhutto won’t survive beyond May 1995. Ladies and gentlemen of the opposition, place your bets. Win or lose, you won’t live to regret it.

(TFT Jan 19-25, 1995 Vol-6 No.46 — Editorial)

A useful visit

Washington might be changing tack in South Asia. Until last year US deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott was intent on pressurising Pakistan to cap its nuclear programme. Last week, however, US defence secretary William Perry acknowledged Pakistan’s national security concerns, agreed it could not roll back its nuclear programme unilaterally and hinted that “ways and means” to skirt the Pressler amendment might be found to allow some relief to Pakistan.

Mr Perry also claimed that Pakistan was a “moderate” Islamic country which had a “key role” to play in regional security. This is a far cry from earlier threats by the US to declare it a terrorist state. Similarly, Washington is now upfront about the view that durable peace in the subcontinent cannot be assured until the “fundamental” dispute of Kashmir between India and Pakistan has been resolved. Contrast this with the desperate backtracking in India last year by Ms Robin Raphel, assistant secretary of state for South Asia, after one of her statements (that Kashmir was disputed territory) stirred a hornet’s nest in New Delhi.

Equally significant is Mr Perry’s assessment of the dangers of missile proliferation in the region. Until recently, Washington tended to downplay the implications of the serial production of the “Pakistan-specific” Prithvi missile by India. US officials used to clutch at the dubious distinction between “deployment” and “production” of missiles and argued that there was no evidence that India was aiming to deploy these missiles against Pakistan. Now the US realises that if India proceeds with the production of Prithvis, Pakistan will launch a similar programme, and a dangerous, new arms race will be triggered in the subcontinent. Consequently, the US administration may now make redoubled efforts to restrain New Delhi from going ahead with its missile programme (failing which they might be persuaded to enter into talks with Pakistan whereby the deadlock over the transfer of M-11 missiles from China might be eventually addressed).

Washington also has a new perspective on China which should lead to a more balanced approach vis a vis Indo-Pak relations. In the past, the US accepted the Indian argument that bilateral arms limitation talks with Pakistan were a non-starter because of India’s perceived threat perceptions of Beijing. But Washington is now convinced that China does not pose any security threat to India. This would imply that the US may lean on India to start bilateral negotiations with Pakistan, a position long advocated by Islamabad but consistently rejected by New Delhi.

Why has the US shifted its stance vis a vis India and Pakistan? How does it now hope to achieve its objectives of non-proliferation in South Asia? The shift in US policy basically stems from two factors:

(1)  Washington has finally come to realise that it will get nowhere as long as it sticks to a ‘hard’ line against Pakistan and a ‘soft’ one against India. The Pakistani position (no unilateral disarmament under any circumstances) has proved enduring because it is strategically and morally strong. That is why American efforts to browbeat and cajole Pakistan to fall in line have failed to take off. On the other side of the coin, it has become apparent that by mollycoddling New Delhi various US administrations have only made it more dogged and resistant to advice. A more “even-handed” approach, it seems, might conceivably yield some dividends.

(2)  Washington is also worried about the implications of two significant fault lines which have appeared in Pakistan during the last four years. One is strident anti-Americanism which cuts across all segments of state and society (because Washington is perceived to have treated an old friend rather callously). The other is Islamic extremism which is simmering among the urban middle-classes (because the West is thought to have launched a fresh crusade against Islam). Under the circumstances, ostracising a large, generally moderate country armed with nuclear weapons like Pakistan could prove extremely dangerous for world security.

The US hopes to advance the objectives of peace and security in South Asia by creating fresh avenues for leverage with both India and Pakistan. The formation of a Consultative Group in the defence establishments of both countries is aimed specifically at this purpose.

Despite shrill propaganda by anti-US elements in both countries, it is already clear that Washington intends to tread carefully and fairly. For instance, while trying to alleviate Pakistan’s hardship over the issue of a refund for the F-16s and the supply of certain spare parts, Mr Perry was at pains to emphasise in New Delhi that Washington would not enter into any joint defence production or military supply agreements with India which could upset the conventional defence balance between the two sides.

Benazir Bhutto and General Abdul Waheed deserve kudos for nudging Washington on to the right track. Pakistan’s position has been vindicated. The pressure has lessened. Washington is beginning to listen to us again. That said, however, we should remain cautious and alert. There is a long way to go before the utility of Mr Perry’s recent visit begins to show concrete results.

(TFT Jan 26-Feb 1, 1995 Vol-6 No.47 — Editorial)

Freedom or Anarchy?

Some months ago, Benazir Bhutto seriously toyed with the idea of introducing a new law to root out libel and defamation in the press. Far from demonstrating any sense of fair play and responsibility, she argued, the press was abusing its privileges and distorting the notion of freedom.

The response of the press was, as expected, quite self-righteous. We will not allow ourselves to be muzzled, we roared, the government is becoming fascistic, we shrieked. How can we print our papers if we have to constantly run for cover from the new laws, we argued.

In the end, a compromise was cobbled. The leaders of the press agreed to formulate and abide by a voluntary code of ethics. In exchange, the government promised to re-enact the press and publications ordinance of 1988 as demanded by the press.

It has now been three months since the agreement was cemented to establish a press body with a code of ethics. But there is still no such thing on the ground. The government, however, has kept its word: the relevant ordinance was promulgated last month.

Mr N D Khan, the new law minister, is now threatening to take action against the press. It seems the government is at its wits end about the continuing excesses of some newspapers and magazines. Before we jump up and start screaming against Mr Khan, we should pause and consider the complaints.

Ms Bhutto says that when terrorists gun down people in Karachi, the press simply reports that “so many people” were killed. The headlines do not mention the fact that they were victims of terrorism. By so doing, she argues, the press is indirectly indicting the government instead of the killers. All over the world, it is the other way round. Can anyone disagree with this charge?

Ms Bhutto also says that the press lacks credibility. No two newspapers, for example, are able to come up with the same figures for casualties in Karachi on any particular day. In fact, some papers seem to take perverse pleasure in distorting the facts, sometimes including in the “law and order death toll” people who may have died through accidents or natural causes. Can anyone dispute this observation?

   Ms Bhutto is particularly irked by the continuous press attacks on Mr Asif Zardari. He is the press’ favourite whipping boy. Right or wrong, every conceivable charge has been laid at his door. Anywhere else, Mr Zardari could have taken the press to the cleaners. But not here. Here he is guilty unless proven innocent. But that slight inversion of the law doesn’t bother the press too much. After all, commentators argue, no one, least of all a hot-potato like Mr Zardari, can ever be proven guilty of corruption under our flawed and compliant legal system. This means, in other words, that journalists have the right to be judge, jury and prosecution all at the same time. Is this fair?

Journalists are also adept at insisting that existing press laws are sufficient to establish good working practices, therefore there is no need for any new laws. If that is the case, why is the press outraged at President Farooq Leghari for including them in a libel case provoked by the utterances of Nawaz Sharif? The accuser as well the purveyor of the accusation — printers, publishers, editors and reporters — all attract the provisions of existing libel laws. How can the press eat its cake and have it too?

There are other problems as well. Certain owner-editors make no bones about their political convictions. They love to rail against the government from every public platform under the sun and are totally blind to the excesses of the opposition. In theory, of course, they have a right to their views, however jaundiced these might seem to the government. But by claiming such exemptions, they have no business to demand, as a matter of intrinsic right, various concessions and favours (like advertisements, newsprint quotas, etc) from the government. Those whose political beliefs compel them to oppose the government should have the self-respect and conviction not to go begging for favours from Islamabad.

By and large, we are sad to say, the Pakistani press has forgotten all notions of neutrality, impartiality and objectivity. Fiction sells better than fact. Freedom has become a licence for anarchy.

If journalists are only human and can be as corrupt, egotistical and prejudiced as anyone else, why should they claim special privileges denied to other professions? If the fourth estate is determined to eschew responsibility, why should it be treated with kid gloves? These are valid questions and the press must be prepared to answer them satisfactorily.

A voluntary code of ethics needs to be devised immediately. A mechanism for its implementation should be hammered out. Errant newspapers have to be rapped on the knuckles. We cannot allow some rotten eggs to give our profession a bad name. The government is itching to have a go at us. Let us put our house in order before the indefatigable N D Khan whips out his pen and scribbles two irrevocable words on our petition for leniency: “Nothing Doing”!

(TFT Feb 2-8, 1995 Vol-6 No.48 — Editorial)

She doesn’t know that she doesn’t know

Is the economy really in terrible shape? Is inflation poised to go through the roof? Is the Benazir Bhutto government solely responsible for all our current woes? Ask any businessman and the answer will invariably be “yes”. A dispassionate analysis, however, would suggest a more complex situation, one in which some, but certainly not all, the blame can be laid at Benazir Bhutto’s door.

The economy is definitely not doing as well today as it did during the last decade when the average yearly rate of growth was over 6 per cent. GDP growth was 3.9 per cent in FY 1993-94 and may be about 5 per cent in FY 1994-95. But this is much better than what it was in 1992-93 (2.3 per cent). And it is about as good as India’s growth rate following Manmohan Singh’s much acclaimed reforms. There is therefore no need to be overly pessimistic.

Inflation is, of course, higher than it has ever been (unofficially over 20 per cent). But there are solid economic reasons for this. The government has raised the support prices of wheat and cotton in order to give our farmers a better deal (about time, too, considering that the abysmally low rate of return on agricultural production in the past is responsible for the sector’s long-term decline); privatisation of the cement and edible oil industry has led to higher prices for consumers (because businessmen must make profits); and rates for electricity, oil and gas products have been enhanced in order to raise revenues (because all other pipelines are dry and the IMF is breathing down our necks to reduce the fiscal deficit).

The transition to a free market economy under the IMF’s 1994-97 structural adjustment programme (bequeathed by Mr Moeen Qureshi) is understandably proving difficult. Given political compulsions, cutting development and social sector expenditures is not advisable. Defence outlays can’t be touched. There is no escape from debt servicing either. The only way out is to improve revenue collection. But businessmen hate paying taxes. WAPDA and KESC are so steeped in corruption and inefficiency that it’s not easy to plug their losses. The CBR, too, has a problem: when the government thinks of giving tax inspectors the power to enforce collections, it ends up antagonising the business community. When it doesn’t, we are back to square one. Reducing the fiscal deficit involves considerable belt tightening. Not reducing it means incurring the wrath of the IMF and getting into serious trouble over our balance of payments, debt servicing obligations and forex reserves.

The economy is in the throes of stagflation mainly because agricultural production has been in the doldrums during the last three years. Cotton output, which accounts for 55% of exports, is projected at 6.7 million bales instead of 9 million bales (12 million bales in 1990) in FY 1994-95 because of continuing attacks by the curl-leaf virus and unexpectedly heavy monsoons last autumn. This has hurt our exports, which are now forecast at US$ 7 billion instead of the targeted US$ 8.5 billion in FY 1994-95. Devaluation might help but it is a two edged sword: it will make imports dearer and push up the rate of inflation.

If Ms Bhutto is in a bind today, it is because we have lived beyond our means for decades. But this is not to say that her government can be absolved of all responsibility.

Ms Bhutto made a mistake by committing herself to reducing the fiscal deficit from 6 per cent to 4 per cent in one year instead of two. The government erred in imposing a hefty 15 per cent Sales Tax. It might have been advisable to extend the GST gradually from 5 per cent to 15 per cent in three years. Losses in revenue from the Afghan transit trade (another name for smuggling) weren’t calculated properly. The government’s neglect of the cotton crop borders on criminality (problems of appropriate seed technology and widespread pesticide adulteration need to be tackled on a war footing). And so on.

Pakistan needs an economic Czar to get the economy cracking. But Ms Bhutto’s problem is that she doesn’t know that she doesn’t know. Mr Jafri, her finance advisor, is a well-intentioned, amiable fellow. But he’s too much of a gentleman to stand up to Ms Bhutto when she’s in full cry. Mr Shahid Hasan Khan certainly knows what’s what, but as a family friend he can go so far and no further. At any rate, he spends half his time fending off dozens of crooks who’re determined to extract unsavoury favours from the prime minister. Mr Javed Talat, current finance secretary, is a fine bureaucrat who should have stayed at the CBR and told to make good on his promises. Makhdoom Shahabuddin is a good looking gent who knows how to read the budget speech. But that’s about it. So where does that leave micro-management? In the hands of Mr Asif Zardari?

If Benazir Bhutto cannot find an economic Czar, she should at least get a team of economic experts and businessmen to sort out the economy. That is what will matter when the next elections roll round.

(TFT Feb 9-15, 1995 Vol-6 No.49 — Editorial)

Game, Set & Match?

In 1992 Nawaz Sharif was flying high and Benazir Bhutto was in the dumps. In 1995 he is on his knees and she is looking supreme. If the tables have been turned, it is entirely Mr Sharif’s fault. Consider the evidence.

If there was no real cause to rile General Asif Nawaz in 1992, it was suicidal to try to usurp Ghulam Ishaq Khan’s presidential powers in 1993. Game to Ms Bhutto.

After the Supreme Court gave Mr Sharif a fresh lease of life, discretion should have been the better part of valour. But Mr Sharif seemed bent on stretching his luck when he lunged for the Punjab and fell flat on his face. Game to Ms Bhutto.

Then Mr Sharif started to rattle General Abdul Waheed. The end came when the brass felt compelled to insist on a fresh round of elections. Game, Set and Match to Ms Bhutto.

This should have occasioned a critical reappraisal of tactics and strategy within the PML(N), but it didn’t. Mr Sharif forcefully advocated Mr Moeen Qureshi as a neutral prime minister, then denounced the new caretaker by claiming that GHQ had thrust him upon Pakistan. Game to Ms Bhutto.

The little goodwill that remained for Mr Sharif in GHQ was irrevocably lost soon after. When he alleged that the elections conducted by the army had been less than fair, the generals went up the wall. Game to Ms Bhutto.

Mr Sharif’s attitude during the Presidential elections also left much to be desired. Ms Bhutto was prepared to accept Mr Wasim Sajjad as a consensus candidate in exchange for a commitment from Mr Sharif to help repeal the 8th amendment. But the offer was spurned. Then Mr Sajjad was subjected to the ignominy of being lugged all over the place in a last ditch effort to garner votes. Game, Set and Match to Ms Bhutto once again.

The ‘hawks’ who had progressively driven Mr Sharif into a cul de sac, however, remained unrepentant. Disregarding the potential strength of a new government backed by its own President, they urged Mr Sharif to rebuff Ms Bhutto’s offer of a constitutional package — which included a floor-crossing law, repeal of the 8th amendment, an independent judiciary/election commission and a commitment to hold fair elections in four instead of five years — in exchange for a live and let live arrangement. This compelled Ms Bhutto to secure her flank by storming the NWFP and installing a PPP government in the province. Then she paused to offer another compromise. When Mr Sharif again said ‘no’, she retaliated by handpicking the judiciary. The offer was repeated again. Mr Sharif still shrieked ‘no’. So she went ahead and reconstituted the election commission. Game to Ms Bhutto.

In desperation, Mr Sharif launched his Tehreek i Nijat. Ms Bhutto dug in her heels and waited for the movement to fizzle out. Then she took off her kid gloves and laid in with a couple of solid punches. Shahbaz Sharif slithered away into exile and Abba Ji was sent reeling. Front-line PML(N) hawks like Sheikh Rashid, Chaudhry Shujaat and Chaudhry Pervez had to cool their heels in the clink. Abbas Sharif therefore had to be sacrificed at the alter of solidarity with the jailbirds while Khayyam Qaiser became easy prey for the FIA. Game to Ms Bhutto.

Now Mr Sharif is confronted with the dismal episode of Nawaz Khokhar and the Forward Bloc. And Mr Rehman Malik’s hounds have made life miserable for countless others in the PML(N). Game, Set and Match to Ms Bhutto yet again.

What in the world is Mr Sharif doing? Why is he bent upon engineering the collective suicide of the PML(N)? With Ms Bhutto on the rampage and Mr Asif Zardari threatening more doom and gloom for the opposition in days to come, where will it all end? Mian Manzoor Wattoo and Sardar Abdul Qayyum are already in the prime minister’s sights. Then it will be the turn of the press. Our fear is that, heady with authoritarianism, Ms Bhutto will make life difficult all round.

A two-party system is the life-blood of democracy. We must therefore give Ms Bhutto no more excuses to arrogate power. As a first step, Mr Sharif should be persuaded to publicly disown the idea of overthrowing her by any means. She must be allowed to complete her term. In exchange, Ms Bhutto should stop harassing the opposition. After tempers have cooled down, both sides should be nudged to sit across the table and hammer out an arrangement for free and fair polls a year ahead of schedule. In the meanwhile, fisticuffs and boycotts in parliament must come to an end and MPs on both sides of the House should get on with what they were elected to do: make laws for the common good of the people.

Mr Nawaz Sharif must break the ice. He has to give up his confrontationist attitude. He must stop sticking needles into the prime minister and president. For the good of democracy and stability, Mr Sharif and the PML(N) must live to fight another election, another day.

(TFT Feb 16-22, 1995 Vol-6 No.50 — Editorial)

Don’t be so stroppy, Ms Bhutto

Prime minister Benazir Bhutto insists that Sheikh Rashid’s conviction by a Special Court for the Suppression of Terrorist Activities is part of her drive to enforce `accountability’ rather than political `victimisation’ as claimed by opposition leader Nawaz Sharif. Ms Bhutto also asserts that, unlike her predecessors, she has never been inclined to tinker with the judiciary which, according to her, remains as free and independent as it has always been. If that had not been the case, Ms Bhutto argues, she would have been sorely tempted to hassle the former chief justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Nasim Hasan Shah, who rejected her father’s appeal against the death sentence, propped up the dictatorial Zia regime, upheld her ouster from office in 1990 but restored Nawaz Sharif to power in 1993. Since she did nothing of the sort, and Justice Shah was able to retire with all the graces of high office, the charge is totally baseless, she explains.

It is, of course, true that Ms Bhutto has had to bite her lip and suffer Justice Shah’s provocations in silence. Indeed, at the fag end of his career she encouraged him to travel around the world canvassing support for the cause of Kashmir. And to this day, despite Justice Shah’s impolitic public utterances, the government has not deemed fit to `leak’ unsavoury stories sullying the `good name’ of the former chief justice of Pakistan. It is also true that, however much some people may object to the rather cavalier manner in which changes have been rung in the courts by the new regime, the constitution has been followed to the letter (if not in spirit) as in the past.

  There is also not much point in quibbling over the true meaning of what is taking place today — ‘victimisation’ or `accountability’. When Ms Bhutto, Mr Asif Zardari and other stalwarts of the PPP were hounded during the Sharif regime, the opposition called it `victimisation’ while the government claimed it was `accountability’. The same sort of thing is taking place today, except that the boot is on the other foot. Similarly, there is not much party-political mileage to be extracted from lamenting the loss of `independence’ by the judiciary. It was so badly mauled by Zia ul Haq and his disciples from 1977 to 1993 that it has become singularly incapable of adjudging constitutional matters without arousing the hostility of one protagonist or the other. If Ms Bhutto has now sought to “redress” the “political imbalance”, she is simply following in the footsteps of her cynical predecessors and cannot be accused of being a bigger culprit than they were.

However, semantics and foul-play allegations aside, we should be seriously worried about the implications of a brewing battle between Ms Bhutto and her detractors. Both sides seem to have wittingly arrived at the precipice. Mr Altaf Hussain is playing with fire in Karachi. Mr Sharif is seriously thinking of stepping aside in favour of a consensus candidate to replace Ms Bhutto as prime minister. Mr Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, Nawabzada Nasrullah, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, Mr Yusuf Raza Gilani and Mr Manzoor Wattoo are all sizing up the odds rather greedily. Ms Bhutto, meanwhile, had dug her trenches and positioned General Naseerullah Babar’s cannons for a preemptive strike, when necessary. Some people say that the rebels will only attack if they get a `nod’ from Rawalpindi. Others think they could get desperate and go ahead without it. Apparently, the plan is to try and stage an upheaval in parliament on the eve of Ms Bhutto’s departure for the United States in April when it could cause much disarray in the treasury benches and undermine Ms Bhutto’s credibility.

Ms Bhutto says her doors are open for dialogue and compromise even at this late hour. But her actions belie her pronouncements. She has arrested several opposition leaders and is threatening others because she is seeking to stamp out incipient revolt in parliament for the sake of her government and not because she is keen on accountability for the good of the public. But if this strategy spurs the opposition to become more resolute, unyielding and audacious, it could make matters much worse. Ms Bhutto would then be compelled to order another round of arrests, thus hastening the hour of showdown.

Since politics is the art of survival, it is in everyone’s interest to try and diffuse the situation as soon as possible. Ms Bhutto could begin by trying to appear less stroppy. Mr Sharif, in turn, should seriously consider entering into a dialogue with the government over his overriding concerns — a genuinely independent election commission, a ban on floor crossing and a new formula for elections a couple of years hence.

It is in neither side’s interest to provoke a do-or-die situation. The nasty tips and tricks of a no-confidence move — horsetrading, forward blocks, kidnappings and arrests — will do no one proud. The problem will become irretrievable if the army, which is adept at knowing when enough is enough, decides it is time to put its boot down.

(TFT Feb 23-01 Mar, 1995 Vol-6 No.51 — Editorial)

Enough is enough!

A fourteen year old boy has been sentenced to death, despite the fact that Pakistan has signed a UN convention forbidding such harsh punishments. In an unprecedented development, the court which awarded the sentence did not peruse the evidence because it accepted the argument that doing so would also have amounted to committing blasphemy. The judge who was originally appointed to hear the case decided to withdraw from it, it is said, because he couldn’t take pressure from the mullahs. The new judge overruled the fact, stressed by the defence, that the three “eyewitnesses” gave conflicting statements over issues central to the case. Now the main complainant has withdrawn his case!

If all this sounds quite bizarre, there’s more to come. When prime minister Benazir Bhutto said she was shocked and saddened by the decision, the fanatics promptly arraigned her for contempt of court. When the Lahore High Court chief justice set up a division bench to hear the appeal, the complainants’ counsel said he didn’t have confidence in the two judges. Then the mullahs went for Ms Asma Jehangir, the defence lawyer who is also chairperson of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission. After smashing her car they threatened to kill her. The head of an extremist religious organisation went further: he is reported to have warned that if the judgement were overturned, his followers would kill the two Christians anyway. A few hundred fanatics then proceeded to “demonstrate” outside the court and said they would kill the judges if they failed to uphold the death sentence.

Kill, kill, kill. That is what the fanatics want. Are we going to let them get away with murder time and again?

So far, we have. They are killing people everywhere, every day, by the hundreds. In Karachi, in Punjab, in the NWFP. The people of Pakistan have firmly rejected them again and again at the polls. Yet no government has had the courage or the conviction to stand up to them. The general policy seems to be: it’s a hornets’ nest, don’t stir it, give them some crumbs from time to time and let them sting one another to death.

But, of course, things have worked out quite differently. Whenever the state has conceded an inch to the fanatics they have come back to demand a yard. The extremists have proliferated and the yards are now stretching into miles. This is worst sort of opportunism imaginable on the part of the state. In essence, it means that civil society has been continuously sacrificed at the alter of the most foul form of politics.

The blame for this creeping terrorism must be squarely apportioned. It began insidiously enough under Z A Bhutto, became full-blown under Zia ul Haq and continued to thrive under Nawaz Sharif. The first two gentlemen aren’t around, so we can’t hold them accountable for their handiwork. But Mr Sharif is. Now he has chosen to remain silent in the midst of all this bloody mayhem. Is he waiting for the government to take action against these extremists so that he can make common cause with them all over again?

Punjab Governor Chaudhry Altaf Hussain is the only one who has been bold enough to call a spade a spade. “We won’t spare these fellows”, he has promised many times. Unfortunately, Chaudhry Sahib doesn’t have the powers to make his postures stick. It is Mr Manzoor Wattoo who is dragging his feet in the Punjab and it is Ms Bhutto who has been reluctant to tell Mr Aftab Sherpao and Mr Abdullah Shah to start cracking the whip in their provinces. As for President Farooq Leghari’s attempts to talk reason and peddle ever so softly with the fanatics the less said the better (“Sectarianism is a bad thing”, he says rather profoundly!).

Why is it so difficult to crush these blood-thirsty fanatics? Is it because the police isn’t strong enough to take them on? Does the government fear a public backlash? Isn’t there enough evidence to convict the leading troublemakers? Are the special anti-terrorist courts reserved only for the likes of opposition leaders who brandish an odd rifle here or there?

No. Ask any DC and he will tell you that their bark is much worse than their bite. Ask any home secretary and the response is invariably this: “Give me an order and watch how swiftly and efficiently it is carried out”. The public, too, has had it with them. The evidence against them is overwhelming. The special courts are raring to go. Why, then, is the government prevaricating?

Some self-appointed spokesmen for the “ideology of Pakistan” are delighted that the two alleged blasphemers have been sentenced to death. Such people do not care about the requirements of due process or justice, they do not care about minority rights, they do not care about the disastrous consequences of the immoderate image Pakistan presents to the world outside. If the government is worried about their sermonising editorials, it should think again. Having lost all credibility, their empty threats are not worth the paper they are written on.

Enough is enough, we say, let us act decisively before it is too late.

(TFT Mar 02-08, 1995 Vol-6 No.52 — Editorial)

Clean-up Cricket

As though we don’t have enough troubles playing down our international image as a country of blood-thirsty fundamentalists and terrorists, we now have to put up with allegations of foul play and scandalous practices in cricket.

Mr Omar Qureshi, the venerable bard of Pakistani cricket, has lambasted the international press, and Australian cricketers in particular, for recently making allegations (fixing matches) against our cricketers. “Where is the evidence”, snorts Mr Qureshi, suggesting that there is some sort of a conspiratorial campaign to vilify our good name, perhaps in order to deny us an opportunity to host the World Cup next year. Mr Javed Burki has also assured us that there will be an enquiry to flush out the miscreants, if any, and that strong action will be taken against them.

Mr Qureshi’s patriotism notwithstanding, the “evidence” is there, and it is quite distressing. It has also been piling up for many years.

   Imran Khan and Sarfraz Nawaz have publicly admitted to ball ‘tampering’. Wasim Akram and Waqar Younus have happily sold stories to the Western media confirming that Pakistani cricketers have smoked dope. Asif Iqbal was once accused by teammates of “throwing” a test match in Calcutta because he had placed heavy bets against his own side. Imran Khan says that on one occasion, when he suspected that some teammates had bet on Pakistan losing a test match, he persuaded the others to place œ 20,000 from the teams’ prize money on winning it instead.

Now we are told that Salim Malik tried to induce some Australian cricketers to “throw” the last test match in Karachi. As if to confirm this, Basit Ali and Rashid Latif have informed the Western press that the first test match in Zimbabwe, which Pakistan lost against all odds, was fixed by Malik. In-between, Mushtaq Mohammad has admitted that he “joked” with Allan Border about the possibility of Australia losing a match in return for a large sum of money.

Since the Mighty Imi Khan abandoned cricket for nobler causes, discipline in the Pakistan cricket team has gone to pieces. If we have won a few series lately, it has been because of the prodigious talent of a few players rather than any discernable team effort. We saw the spectacle of an open revolt against Javed Miandad after he was appointed captain some years ago. The same thing happened to Wasim Akram when he was asked by the BCCP to lead the team. Now it is Salim Malik’s turn to wallow in the sludge.

At no stage did the BCCP take any disciplinary action against anyone. At every dismal stage, the cricket authorities in this country have been full of sound and fury but they have done nothing to instill a sense of discipline into the team. As a matter of fact, if the cricket team is splitting at the seams today, the indecision and disarray in the BCCP camp is no less palpable. Ad-hocism, north/south favouritism and opportunism have come to bedevil the cricket authorities in this country. Indeed, we seemed to touch rock bottom some years ago when Justice Nasim Hasan Shah and Mr Shahid Rafi were lording over the BCCP.

Now comes the World Cup, with Mr Asif Zardari in charge of the committee which is supposed to make sure that all goes according to plan. But will it?

Apart from ensuring that hotel accommodation, food, travel, stadium renovation, ground conditions, TV and press facilities, etc, will all be in order when the final is played in Lahore, Mr Zardari needs to consider preemptive measures against some potentially embarrassing problems related to crowd behaviour and the threat of terrorism during the matches, especially in Karachi. He should also cast an eye over the World-Cup related contracts doled out to various parties during the previous BCCP’s tenure. If something is subsequently shown to be amiss on any of these counts, we fear no one will pay two hoots about correctly fixing responsibility and Mr Zardari may unwittingly have to take the brunt of the blame which follows.

In the meanwhile, the BCCP has its job cut out for it. If it wants a good shot at the Cup next year, a strong dose of discipline should be injected into the team straight away. Those who have broken ranks and gone public with complaints against fellow members of the team should be rapped as much as those who sowed the seeds of discord in the first place. The manager’s role also needs to be separated from that of the coach — perhaps one of the national selectors (even Mr Burki) could “manage” the team during the Cup. We would also suggest that a special request be made to Imran Khan by President Farooq Leghari to lend a helping hand in these efforts.

Man to man, the Pakistanis are an enormously talented lot. But as a team, they have become dispirited and wayward. If Pakistan is to make it to the finals, and if the crowds are to be fired up for a memorable Cup, the time to act is now.

(TFT Mar 09-15, 1995 Vol-7 No.1 — Editorial)

In the shadow of the Taliban

Under a revised UN plan, the transfer of power in Kabul is now scheduled for March 21st. If it takes place on time, it will be a coup by Mr Mahmoud Mistiri, the chief UN negotiator.

   The UN’s interests, which largely coincide with those of Pakistan these days, are to pry apart the warring factions and restore peace in Afghanistan. Beyond that, of course, Western sympathies are clearly lined up behind moderate supporters of ex-King Zahir Shah and the incumbent President of Afghanistan, Mr Burhanuddin Rabbani. Mr Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s extremist Hizbe Islami party and the pro-Iran Shi’ite Hizbe Wahdat party are to have their wings clipped.

In the emerging scenario, the role of the Taliban has evoked much interest and comment. Sardar Assef Ali, the Pakistani foreign minister, and General Naseerullah Babar, the interior minister, have swept aside suggestions that the Taliban are secretively being backed by Pakistan. This is a popular, indigenous movement, they insist. Mr Mistiri, concurs.

The evidence, however, would seem to suggest a more complex situation. The Taliban were nudged into action by General Babar last year when a Pakistani convoy to Turkmenistan was waylaid by rogue Mujahideen commanders in Kandahar. Since then, hundreds of “taliban” from north western Pakistan have made their way to Maulvi Mohammad Umar’s camps in Kandahar and beyond. How many among these tribals are actual Afghan “taliban” and how many are operating under their cover, we don’t know. But it would be naive to think that General Babar has withdrawn his “hand” from Taliban affairs. Nor can Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s “interest” in Taliban matters be fortuitous. Indeed, the maulana’s determination to play a role in the forthcoming Kabul negotiations would suggest that he has the blessings of Islamabad.

Mr Mistiri’s plans, too, have benefitted from the Taliban’s northward march to Kabul. By sending Mr Hekmatyar packing from Charasiab, the Taliban have given the UN leverage to enter into more “realistic” power-sharing negotiations with the stubborn Hizbe Islami. The same sort of fate awaits the Hizbe Wahdat, which finds itself squeezed between the forces of the Taliban and President Rabbani in south-west Kabul. It is therefore no coincidence that Mr Rabbani’s forces have opened their heavy guns on the Hizbe Wahdat on the eve of the transfer of power on March 21st in order to make the Shias more responsive to “reason”.

President Rabbani has also benefited from the rise of the Taliban. He was able to seek a postponement of the transfer of power last month by arguing that the Taliban should also participate in power-sharing. This way Mr Rabbani hopes to ensure that the share of the Royalists and the extremists in any future government will be diluted in his favour. That the Taliban are no longer insisting upon Mr Rabbani’s withdrawal from Kabul as a precondition to the transfer of power implies some sort of implicit “understanding” between these two forces.

That said, it is clear that the Taliban are increasingly beginning to acquire independence from outside forces and are in the process of formulating a political agenda of their own. Whether this eventually meets with the approval of President Rabbani, the UN and Pakistan remains to be seen. If it doesn’t, then we may expect more trouble ahead.

The Taliban are a Pushtun force largely derived from southern Afghanistan. The Taliban leaders also share the same Islamic philosophy as the Sunni Deobandis. In a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian country like Afghanistan, this doesn’t auger well. The predominant Tajiks and Uzbeks of northern Afghanistan are unlikely to allow the Taliban to impose their hegemony on Afghanistan. There are thus bound to be conflicting passions ahead.

More ominously, we need to pause and consider the potential “demonstration” effect of the Taliban on Pakistan. Many of the Deobandi madrassas which have supplied a chunk of the Taliban force are based in Pakistan’s Balochistan province where their students have been ideologically “trained” by Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s JUI which still doesn’t accept the legitimacy of the birth of Pakistan. The JUI, in turn, is the party which gave birth to the extremist Deobandi organisation, the Sipah i Sahaba, which has wrought sectarian havoc in the Punjab. The “success” of the Taliban in Afghanistan, therefore, may lead to the dominance of the Deobandi militant school of thought in Pakistan. This development is likely to be more virulent for Pakistan’s body politic than an earlier aberration: Pakistan’s previous support of Mr Hekmatyar during the Zia ul Haq and Nawaz Sharif years has led to the strengthening of the Jamaat i Islami in the country.

If the Afghan jihad has already brought guns, drugs and militant Islam to Pakistan, the rise of the Taliban in Kabul could fuel sectarian fury and religious intolerance in this country. If it leads to the ethnic partition of Afghanistan, it could also amplify the demand for greater Pushtunistan. Thus when General Babar says that “the Taliban are like school-children and there is no danger from them”, he probably doesn’t know what he is talking about. Certainly, the Afghan situation has the potential to explode in Pakistan’s face at any time in the future.

(TFT Mar 16-22, 1995 Vol-7 No.2 — Editorial)

Bully for you, Mr Sharif

Some commentators think that the recent publication of a photograph showing Mr Nawaz Sharif with COAS General Abdul Waheed has “rattled the government”, “resulted in a pall of doom and gloom in Islamabad” and given Mr Sharif “a new lease of life”. A single photograph, we are informed, has “changed the political situation” because General Waheed’s meeting with Mr Sharif is supposed to signal restiveness within the army. Coming on the heels of Mr Moeen Qureshi’s recent advocacy of a “national consensus government”, this event is thought to imply that the clock has started to tick for Benazir Bhutto. Is this analysis correct?

In the past, when Mr Sharif sought meetings with General Waheed, the request was politely declined without any reference to Islamabad. This time, however, the army chief thought it appropriate to sound out the government. Islamabad’s response, we understand, was favourable. That is why the government, far from being “rattled”, has taken the event in its stride. What needs to be explained, however, is this: why did General Waheed think it a good idea to meet with Mr Sharif at this time and why did the government concur with his view?

For some time now, GHQ has been unhappy that the government and opposition are unable to speak with one voice over a number of national security issues — nuclear programme, sectarianism, drugs, Kashmir, military assistance — which impinge upon US-Pak relations. Although Ms Bhutto has consistently sold GHQ’s views on all these issues to Washington, some of Mr Sharif’s recent utterances (“We have the bomb”, “The army once toyed with the idea of smuggling drugs”, “We are supporting the jihad in Kashmir militarily”, etc) have seriously hurt Pakistan’s cause. GHQ wants such irresponsible outbursts to end so that Ms Bhutto can forcefully present Pakistan’s unanimous point of view in Washington next month.

Ms Bhutto’s crucial Washington trip comes when the US State Department is leaning on Congress to amend the Pressler amendment or seek a partial one time waiver and the Pentagon is hoping to activate the Joint Consultative Group in order to service some US-Pak military contracts. Therefore a meeting between General Waheed and Mr Sharif on the eve of Ms Bhutto’s departure — in which the necessity of formulating a national viewpoint over the country’s security concerns was stressed by the army chief — is all to the good.

If Mr Sharif, in turn, drew the army chief’s attention to the government’s “victimisation” of the opposition, what is wrong with that? General Waheed knows that it takes two to tango. A more responsible opposition — one which is prepared to give up its policy of ousting Ms Bhutto “at any cost” — is needed as much as a secure and stable government. If General Waheed can quitely and gently help both sides to agree on the “rules of the game” — something which Ms Bhutto has long advocated but which Mr Sharif has so far spurned — we should all welcome his meeting with the leader of the opposition without reading too many untoward “signals” in it.

Mr Sharif’s considered response to Ms Bhutto’s pre-Eid letter is proof that his meeting with General Waheed ended on a beneficial note for the country. In his letter, Mr Sharif agrees that the government and opposition should cooperate with each other over national security related issues. He also accepts the fact that the country is going through a difficult transition during which both sides need to engage in a constructive dialogue. This is a far cry from the “hard” position adopted by Mr Sharif in recent months when he flatly rejected the idea of any dialogue with Ms Bhutto.

In this context, Chaudhry Shujaat’s new stance also merits comment. Long seen as a PML(N) “hawk” bent upon confrontation with the government, Chaudhry Sahib is now advocating conciliation in the larger “national” interest. Those who suspect that perhaps imprisonment doesn’t agree with him are wrong. The Gujrat Chaudhries don’t get cowed down by such pressures. If Chaudhry Shujaat is talking sensibly, it is because he too, like Mr Sharif, is a patriotic man who knows when it is time to put the national interest above party politics.

Ms Bhutto should not misread the current situation and squander the gains resulting from General Waheed’s meeting with Mr Sharif. While the opposition pauses to re-assess its policies, the government shouldn’t think that Mr Sharif and Chaudhry Shujaat have become “pliable” only because General Naseerullah Babar has “softened” them up appropriately. Reasonableness, however belated, should not be construed as a sign of weakness. The opposition should be treated honourably and fairly, otherwise General Waheed may find himself, in time to come, under real pressure to send out some genuinely ominous “signals”.

The ball is therefore in Ms Bhutto’s court. If she wants a good US trip, she needs to break the ice and invite the opposition for serious reconciliation talks. At the very least, the government should be able to initiate confidence building measures between the two sides by halting its victimisation campaign against leaders of the opposition.

(TFT Mar 23-29, 1995 Vol-7 No.3 Editorial)

Pride and Prejudice

Imran Khan claims that since he began “to believe in the fundamentals of Islam”, he has “discovered the truth” and transformed his life. “I have lost all fear of human beings”, he writes boldly, “I have broken out of the self-imposed prisons of materialism and egotism [and] become a better and more tolerant human being who feels compassion for the underprivileged”. Armed with the “truth”, Imran has now embarked on a journey to transform the lives of less privileged fellow Pakistanis.

Imran should be supported in his noble endeavours because no one can doubt his sincerity. His “spiritual evolvement” should also be a source of inspiration to all of us. By the same token, however, Imran must know that no one is infallible. Nor can anyone possibly claim a monopoly of the “truth” even if he thinks that he is a better Muslim than most of us. In this context, therefore, we feel it is important to engage in a sincere debate about some of the important issues Imran has raised.

We agree with him that most of us practise “selective” versions of Islam and suffer from some sort of an “inferiority complex” or “colonial hang-up” which compels us “to ape Western values” and put a premium on becoming “brown sahibs”. He is right when he accuses our politicians of “lacking self-esteem” and “licking the boots of the West”. We also endorse his attack on our grubby, uncaring ruling elites which have brought this God-given country to the brink of disaster.

But we must confess disquiet with some sweeping and rather simplistic prescriptions mooted by Imran Khan. For instance, he thinks that by wearing shalwar-kameez we can restore our “pride and self-esteem”. Alas, if only life were so simple. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto popularised the shalwar-kameez in the 1970s. But where did such demagoguery get us? Zia ul Haq and his cohorts had a penchant for shalwar-kameez plus achkans, but they were the most hypocritical, self-serving and dishonest men who ever ruled this country. Mr Nawaz Sharif and Ms Benazir Bhutto love their shalwar-kameezes as much as Imran Khan does. Why, then, don’t they have the same “pride and self-esteem” that marks their detractor?

Imran wants women to “stay at home and look after the children until they are ready for high school”. Alternatively, he believes, if they want to work, they shouldn’t have children. This would suggest that women who work (because they must, in order for the family to better its lot) shouldn’t do so, which is nonsensical. Imran Khan’s prescription is all the more baffling because it stops women from contributing to the wealth of society in a productive and creative manner and effectively disenfranchises half of humanity from enriching society.

Imran has also been ranting against the English language because he thinks it is an alien influence which divides society into the privileged and underprivileged. Accordingly, he is in favour of promoting our national language Urdu at the expense of English so that we can repossess “pride and self-esteem”. While we empathise with Imran’s concerns, we cannot help but wonder whether he has seriously confused cause with effect and succumbed to misplaced concreteness.

Of course, we must take pride in our national language and constantly seek to enrich it in everyday life. But to do so at the cost of English would perpetuate the very barriers to social mobility which Imran frowns upon. By denying English to the masses, our ruling elites have reserved the best jobs in modern society for their offspring. Imran’s “nationalistic” recipe, however well intentioned, would unfortunately have the same negative effect and strengthen the divisions between the haves and have nots. Instead of depriving the middle-classes of English, we should instead do everything possible to equip them with it. By decrying the utility of the modern world’s most dynamic language, we do a great disservice to the cause of our people and our nation.

Imran Khan, it is also said, has become less than transparent about some of his erstwhile friends. As everyone knows, his public campaign couldn’t have taken off without the dedication and hard work put in by the folks at Pasban. Why, then, has he now become reluctant to admit his affiliation with Mr Mohammad Ali Durrani? Similarly, Imran is thought to be less than candid about his liaison with General Hamid Gul. Considering the controversial, though by no means unimpressive public record of these two eminent gentlemen, Imran needs to frankly enlighten his followers about where they stand in his scheme of things.

Imran Khan is quite correct in stressing the necessity of “pride and self-esteem” in nation-building. Since no nation is an island, he must, however, take care that his prescriptions for imbibing these virtues do not flounder on the rock of xenophobic nationalism or isolationalism. National pride and self-esteem do not, per se, flow from the sort of clothes we wear or the language we speak or indeed the religion we profess. They flow from a vibrant, fully employed, educated and creative society that can match the West on universal human terms.

(TFT Mar 30-05 Apr, 1995 Vol-7 No.4 Editorial)

Karachi must come first

The nationwide strike called by the FPCCI, the country’s leading trade body, on March 25th has incensed the government. “It was politically motivated”, charges Mr Ahmad Mukhtar, the commerce minister. Mr Mukhtar draws attention to the formal demand by the FPCCI that the Sindh chief minister should be sacked and the army brought back to Karachi under article 245 of the constitution (a sort of mini-martial law). The minister reminds us that the first businessmen’s strike came during US energy secretary Hazel O’Leary’s visit to Pakistan and the second has followed on the eve of Mrs Hilary Clinton’s two day trip to Pakistan. Mr Mukhtar’s argument is that the business community has badly hurt the “national interest” by consciously undermining the government’s efforts to attract much needed US private investment. In retaliation, the government has sacked four top dogs of the FPCCI and is planning to bifurcate the organisations into two bodies for industry and trade respectively.

Of course, the strike is politically motivated. The business community, by and large, detests the PPP and has consistently voted and agitated against it. But what is wrong with that? Businessmen have interests to defend, like every one else, and if they think (rightly or wrongly) that the PPP government is hostile to those interests they have every right to band together against Islamabad’s economic and political policies.

Some of their demands are also legitimate. For example, leading members of the FPCCI have been begging for a meeting with the prime minister to apprise her of their mounting problems. But this has not yet materialised. For months, terrorists have stalked the streets of Karachi and extorted large sums of money from businessmen. Yet the government has not been able to provide any security to them. If the traders are now using desperate measures to bring their plight to Islamabad’s attention, who can blame them? It is the government’s duty to maintain law and order in Karachi. Therefore, instead of taking refuge behind conspiracy theories and maligning/victimising the business community, Islamabad should reorder its priorities and give us good government (which is what taxes are meant for).

This raises the larger context of “law and order” in Karachi and how to enforce it. The FPCCI wants the army to take over the city. This is a baffling demand, considering that not so long ago Karachi-ites were resolutely opposed to the army’s presence in the city and were quite openly bad-mouthing the men in khaki for conducting operations to flush out the terrorists. If the Punjabi-dominated army has withdrawn from the city, it is only because it is afraid of provoking an ethnically-coloured public backlash whipped up by powerful vested interests in the Mohajir-dominated city.

The government has therefore gone half-way to confront the terrorist challenge as demanded by the FPCCI. It has recently beefed up the Rangers and given them powers to arrest and interrogate suspects. Islamabad is also trying to revamp the police forces whose efficiency was seriously impaired by large-scale political recruitments during the time when Sindh province was ruled by a Jam Sadiq-Altaf Hussain coalition (a terrorist government, by any standards) from 1991-92.

By itself, however, this administrative response will not solve the complex “problem” of Karachi. For a beginning to be made in that direction, a sincere dialogue between the PPP and the MQM has to be initiated. How can that be brought about?

Some people, including opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, believe that as a confidence building measure all the criminal cases and convictions against the MQM leadership should be withdrawn by the government unilaterally. It is argued that if, after decades of violent confrontation, the apartheid South African regime could reinstate Nelson Mandela, if the Israelis could embrace “arch-terrorist” Yasser Arafat, if the British could bring themselves to start talking with the IRA (and if the treason cases against Khan Abdul Wali Khan & Others could be withdrawn in 1978), there is no reason why a dialogue cannot be initiated with Altaf Hussain after withdrawing all the charges against him.

This is a forceful argument but it ignores one crucial point. In all the cases cited, a wide-ranging and prolonged dialogue (sometimes in secret) between the protagonists preceded rather than followed the withdrawal of charges by the state against the erstwhile “terrorists”. In other words, the “terrorists” had to offer a positive quid pro quo before they were formally “rehabilitated” in mainstream politics. In our context, this would imply that the withdrawal of charges against Altaf Hussain & Co should depend on the “quid pro quo” that the MQM is prepared to offer the government. But a “quid pro quo” cannot emerge (and therefore the cases cannot be withdrawn unilaterally) unless the MQM enters into a sincere dialogue without pre-conditions to end the decade long confrontation with the PPP.

A dialogue of sorts has, of course, taken place between the MQM and the PPP in recent months. But it has got nowhere because the MQM insists that the cases against its leadership must be unilaterally withdrawn as a pre-condition to further talks. The government, on the other hand, rightly wants a concrete “quid pro quo” from the MQM before it expresses a willingness to drop or dilute the charges against its leadership. On this front, therefore, the ball is squarely in the MQM’s court. Mr Altaf Hussain has to demonstrate greater political maturity, accommodation and sincerity than he has been willing to show so far.

Having said that, it needs to be stressed nonetheless that the onus of providing peace and security to Karachi ultimately rests on the current PPP government. Islamabad cannot shrug away the crisis in Karachi by arguing, however correctly, that it is rooted in past non-PPP government policies. Nor can it absolve itself of responsibility simply because the MQM remains unreasonable and intransigent. What should it do or not do?

  1. For a start, Benazir Bhutto and her ministers should stop giving contradictory statements about what is going on in Karachi. These mock our intelligence and hurt the government’s credibility. For instance, while admitting that Karachi is infected by a “mini-insurgency” with brooks no simple or early solution, Ms Bhutto has had the audacity to compare it with everyday criminality in New York or Rio. On several occasions Ms Bhutto and her ministers have laid the crisis exclusively at the door of the MQM. Why then are they now accusing the “drug mafia” of provoking the disorder?
  2. The government’s policy prescriptions should not be lukewarm, wayward or inconsistent. For instance, Ms Bhutto told us last November that the army was being withdrawn from Karachi because the para-military forces, police and civil intelligence agencies had been suitably geared up to take care of the city. Four months later, however, we are informed that the Rangers need extra powers and the police is still in the process of being restructured and shuffled. We were also assured some months ago that the army had been withdrawn from Karachi because “everything was under control”. Now we are shocked to learn that it may take many months before any meaningful peace and administrative order can be brought back to the beleaguered city.
  3. The government must seek ways and means to demonstrate that it cares deeply about Karachi and is doing everything possible to alleviate its suffering. Most Karachi-ites have come to believe (rightly or wrongly) either that the PPP government isn’t worried about what happens to them or that it is deliberately prolonging the crisis (by pitting the Haqiqis against the Altafis) in order to punish them for voting for the MQM. They are bewildered by the statements emanating from Islamabad which either claim that all is well (so nothing special needs to be done) or it is very bad (so bad, in fact, that it will take months to resolve). They see no tangible signs of the multi-billion rupee economic package promised by the prime minister to prop up the city’s crumbling infrastructure. And they want proof that the provincial government is moving to uproot the extortion-mafias which have crippled the city’s civic institutions (like KESC, KMC, WASA, etc) and wrought anarchy in everyday life.
  4. The intelligence agencies must be radically overhauled so that credible information is available (and can be presented to Karachi-ites) about the many “hidden-hands” in the city. The unfortunate fact is that many Karachi-ites have come to believe that they are being held hostage to a war between the “agencies”. This perception has to be removed quickly. And it can only be done if the intelligence agencies demonstrate their will and ability to track down the terrorists and present credible evidence against them to the public.
  5. The Haqiqis, who were originally nourished by the intelligence agencies to cut the Altafis down to size but have now acquired a criminal agenda of their own, must be forcefully reigned in. If the Altafis are extorting money from one half of Karachi, the Haqiqis are mopping up in the other half. Many Haqiqi cadres are also involved in purely criminal activities for mercenary reasons. Others are said to be executing “contracts” on people targeted by sectarian groups, drug mafias and anti-American terrorists.
  6. The government must establish an accountable “power centre” in Karachi so that its decisions can be implemented quickly and efficiently. The existence of multiple “decision making centres” reflecting provincial, federal and army interests (Chief Minister, Chief Secretary, IG, Directorate-General Rangers, 5th Corps Command, Directorate General-IB, Directorate General-ISI, Special Branch Police, FIA, FBI, etc), which sometimes have separate perceptions and priorities and may therefore pull in different directions, has seriously impaired the process of restoring law and order to the city.
  7. Every effort must be made to enlarge the scope of popular representation at local and provincial levels. But this cannot be done without an expression of generousity by the PPP governments in Islamabad and Sindh. National, rather than provincial-ethnic or party-political interests, should play a greater role in determining solutions to Karachi.

The people of Karachi cannot continuously live in a state of despair, drift and anarchy. Nor can the rest of Pakistan sit back and pretend that the crisis of Karachi doesn’t affect them. We hope that this message has got through to Islamabad. Ms Bhutto has already wasted precious time blowing hot and cold. If she thinks she still has six months to sort it out, she is sadly mistaken. Karachi remains her Achilles heel, whether she likes it or not. When she returns from Washington, she should concentrate all her energies on finding some workable and worthwhile prescriptions to the plague which torments the heart of Pakistan.

(TFT Apr 06-12, 1995 Vol-7 No.5 — Editorial)

Slowly but surely….

Commenting upon a sessions court judgement sentencing two Christians to death for alleged blasphemy last January, the Prime Minister noted that “the decision had come at a most unfortunate time”. The implication was clear: the judgement could erode her efforts to sell Pakistan as a “moderate Muslim state” with whom the United States could and should do business.

Ms Bhutto’s unwitting statement, unfortunately, focused on the “timing” of the judgement rather than on its intrinsic defects. The embarrassing haste with which the two Christians were acquitted and flown to asylum in Germany only served to confirm suspicions that “Benazir Bhutto is bending over backwards to appease the United States”.

Ms Bhutto’s speedy extradition of Ramzi Yusuf Ahmad to Washington has evoked much the same sort of angry “nationalist” reaction at home. Later, people were right to say: “It has taken the killings of two American officials in Karachi to spur the government into action, despite the fact that hundreds of Pakistani lives have been lost to terrorism since Ms Bhutto came to power sixteen months ago”.

In all these cases, the merit of Ms Bhutto’s policies has not been in doubt. It is their “pro-US” context, however, which is becoming problematic in a country obsessed with false notions of “self-esteem” and “pride” which sees the US as a “hypocritical superpower” which has “betrayed” a friend of long standing.

This is something Ms Bhutto should remember during her US trip. Every gesture she makes to the US administration in Washington, every word she utters before the American press in New York or Los Angeles, is going to be scrutinised by her critics at home for further evidence of “appeasement” to a “bully”.

Of course, Ms Bhutto is not going to “appease” Washington. Our stand on Kashmir, nuclear proliferation and the Pressler amendment has withstood the test of time and been forcefully vindicated. We have made several important unilateral concessions which cry out for commendation: Pakistan’s nuclear programme remains “frozen” since 1989 (before the US aid cut-off) despite the fact that India has continued to enrich fissile material without restraint; Pakistan has not stockpiled or deployed missiles against India despite New Delhi’s determination to go ahead with the serial production (read “deployment”) of the Pakistan-specific Prithvi; We have always been ready to talk to India about Kashmir, with or without international mediation, but India remains intransigent. India has a serious human rights problem, we don’t. We have restored democracy, we have liberalised the economy, we are acting against drug mafias and extremists and we are not, repeat not, exporting “terrorism” of any kind. We seek an honourable and equitable relationship with the US based on our rights rather than as a measure of undue “generosity” on the part of our friends.

Ms Bhutto will draw the attention of her hosts to the dangerous crossroads at which Pakistan has arrived in the post cold war era. The country is burdened by the divisive legacies of the past when it acted as America’s “front-line” state against communism. While we accept our own culpability for the mess in which we find ourselves, Ms Bhutto must insist that the United States accept responsibility for its past and present role in shaping our predicament.

The US is no longer insisting that Pakistan should unilaterally roll back its nuclear programme or open up Kahuta for inspection. We have spurned their inducements and shrugged off the threats because national security is not negotiable. Now Washington is asking Pakistan for a formal statement foregoing our right to deploy missiles irrespective of New Delhi’s plans.

Naturally, Ms Bhutto will stress that this is not possible. If India goes ahead with the Prithvi, Pakistan will be compelled to fashion an appropriate response. Indeed, if India refuses to stop stock-piling fissile material for atomic warheads, the Pakistani government could come under severe pressure from the public to “unfreeze” the country’s nuclear programme.

Pakistan’s point of view on all these issues is rational and responsible. The US administration now accepts this as a self-evident truth. But Congress has still not woken up to the fact that the Pressler amendment, far from achieving its objectives, has made non-proliferation more difficult in South Asia. That will take some more time.

Therefore we must not expect Ms Bhutto to be escorted back to Islamabad by a fleet of F-16s bearing the Pakistan colours. Washington will help us attract US foreign investment. In due course, the Pentagon will probably find a way to return some military equipment sent for repair. Maybe some military spares might also materialise. The Americans are also ready to sell the F-16s to another country, if one can be found, and return our money. This is a far cry from the sort of demands made by Mr Strobe Talbott when he visited Pakistan over a year ago.

If Ms Bhutto’s trip compels a genuine rethink on Capitol Hill and a fair and equitable relationship with the United States flows from it in time to come, it will have served its purpose admirably. As long as she remains attuned to domestic sensitivities during her trip abroad, there can be no better ambassador than Benazir Bhutto to put forward our case in Washington.

(TFT Apr 13-19, 1995 Vol-7 No.6 — Editorial)

Well done, Ms Bhutto!

Before she embarked for America, critics had laid into prime minister Benazir Bhutto for planning on taking along a huge entourage. In the event, a quarter of the aircraft was unoccupied. Of the 40 entourage members, 17 were officials meant to undertake specific tasks during the trip; 9 were journalists representing different newspapers; and apart from the prime minister, her spouse and mother (plus two maids and a valet), the only “guests” on board were Mr and Mrs Hamid Nasir Chattha and their two sons, a personal friend, and the wives of Interior Minister Naseerullah Babar and Special Assistant Shahid Hasan Khan. Punjab Governor Chaudry Altaf Hussain and his son hitched a ride because Chaudhry Sahib was due for a medical check-up in New York. This is hardly the sort of list about which we should carp.

Critics had also fumed about a “fashion show” planned at the end of an investment conference in Washington. They said that the show would “trivialise” the occasion and incur the displeasure of Ms Bhutto’s hosts. But that is not the way it turned out. Although the event was not terribly innovative or brilliant, it seemed to go down well with our American guests and no one can say that it flaunted values alien to Pakistan.

Cynicism was also expressed regarding the billions of dollars worth of MOUs that were meant to be signed during investment conferences in Washington. “The MOUs are not worth the paper they are written on”, it was said, “there will be no investment on the ground”. However, those who were present at the conferences and the round table discussions involving Pakistani and American officials and American CEOs have come away with an altogether different perspective. The conferences were professionally organised and well attended. Mrs Hazel O’Leary, the US energy secretary, gave such a stunning performance in support of Pakistani initiatives that even Ms Bhutto had to admit that Mrs O’Leary’s “act would be very difficult to follow”. The US energy secretary forcefully explained to American businessmen why she put Pakistan at the top of her list of seven Big Emerging Markets (BEMs), ahead of India, China, Malaysia and Indonesia, despite the fact that only US$ 10 billion out of US$ 164 billion in the 7 BEMs has thus far been earmarked for Pakistan by American businessmen. The same sort of exceptional response came from Mr Ken Brodie (president, US EXIM bank) and commerce secretary Ron Brown.

All said and done, however, the fact remains that the Pressler amendment is alive and kicking and the Americans have given us no categorical public assurances about when and if it will be scrapped. This means that the F-16s are not about to wing their way to Pakistan and the US Overseas Private Investment Corp is still barred from insuring US Private foreign investment in Pakistan. There is no immediate US move to mediate the Kashmir dispute. And Washington continues to discriminate against Pakistan on the Missile Technology Control Regime. So what did Benazir Bhutto achieve by going to America?

While India and Israel have long recognised the necessity of establishing strong support groups in the US Congress in furtherance of their interests, Ms Bhutto is the first Pakistani prime minister to initiate a serious dialogue with senior members of both Houses of Congress. By all accounts, her discussions with leaders of Congress — Senators Helms, Brown, Nunn and Dole and Representatives Gillman, Ackerman and Gednjensen — were held in a sympathetic environment. Ms Bhutto not only broke the ice with Congress, she also compelled The Washington Post to conclude: “Not only does the status quo disadvantage and discriminate against Pakistan, American policy has failed to reverse Pakistan’s nuclear programme, or India’s, or draw them into a political and security dialogue and may even have added to India’s inclination to evade dialogue…At the least, Pakistan should get its money back”. The Wall Street Journal, another stolid establishment-oriented paper, reported that Defence Secretary William Perry told Ms Bhutto that the US would try to sell the aircraft and refund the money to Pakistan. “Bhutto may boost pressure on the US to lift a ban on the delivery of the F-16s”, acknowledged the paper.

Ms Bhutto’s success lies in the fact that, unlike our previous leaders, she has not tried to conceal the facts or fob off the Americans. She has been firm and unequivocal about Pakistan’s national security concerns. She has scaled the moral high ground by reminding America of its obligations and responsibilities towards a friend of long standing. And she has boldly interfaced with the broad contours of emerging American foreign policy under the Clinton administration by stressing the necessity of a “broad based relationship” grounded in the realities of emerging economic markets.

Foreign policy initiatives take time to demonstrate their significance. Therefore, the dividends should not be expected to come overnight. Benazir Bhutto has done a bloody good job and we should be generous enough to give her credit for it.

(TFT Apr 20-26, 1995 Vol-7 No.7 — Editorial)

The task ahead

Benazir Bhutto’s singular achievement during her recent trip to Washington lies in persuading President Bill Clinton to publicly admit that the Pressler amendment is both unworkable and unfair. Mr Clinton has now pledged to approach Congress for a revision in US law whereby the long drift in US-Pak relations can not only be halted but also reversed. How credible is this US change of heart? Will something concrete emerge from it in due course?

The American record, unfortunately, isn’t terribly good. Since 1990, the United States has resorted to various tricks and treats to try to cap and roll back Pakistan’s nuclear programme. In April 1990, for instance, the US propagated the view that renewed tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir had propelled both countries to the brink of war. This led to a flying visit to the sub-continent by Mr Robert Gates, who later became head of the CIA, aimed at reducing tensions between the two countries by initiating confidence-building and war-avoidance measures. Mr Robert Oakley, then US ambassador to Washington, exploited the situation to accuse Pakistan of “crossing the red light” by upgrading its nuclear programme. Accordingly, in September 1990, Washington invoked the Pressler amendment to cut off all economic and military assistance to Pakistan.

The facts, however, were otherwise. A report by the Henry Stimpson Center in Washington published late last year, drew upon the testimony of the principal American, Indian and Pakistan actors on the political, military and intelligence fronts and concluded that there was no discernible movement of military forces by either India or Pakistan at any time during the summer of 1990. Hence, the report implied, the chances of armed conflict between India and Pakistan were remote. This conclusion strengthens Pakistan’s repeated assertions that it did not “unfreeze” its nuclear programme in 1990 because it did not perceive any immediate military threat from India.

The conclusion, therefore, is inescapable: Washington drummed up a war scenario between India and Pakistan so that it could accuse Pakistan of crossing the nuclear red light in 1990 as a raison d’etre for the subsequent application of the Pressler amendment to pressurise Pakistan to cap its nuclear programme.

By the time Pressler sanctions were first applied to Pakistan in September 1990, Islamabad had already paid an installment or two towards the contracted purchase of 28 F-16 fighter aircraft. The logical course then should have been to stop further payments to Lockheed since the planes couldn’t be delivered to Pakistan as long as President George Bush wasn’t prepared to sign a waiver. But this didn’t happen. Instead, for the next three years, Islamabad continued to fork over installments of tens of millions of dollars to Lockheed while Washington stood by and nodded approval.

Once again, the conclusion is inescapable: Washington led Pakistan to believe that it should continue to make payments for its F-16s because a Presidential waiver to Pressler remained on the cards. It was only in 1993, after Pakistan had made full payment of US 658 million for 28 F-16s which Lockheed was now ready to deliver, that the US tightened the screws. Far from agreeing to give a waiver and releasing the F-16s, Washington was now ready to accuse Pakistan of being a “terrorist” state.

This US strategy plunged Pakistan into desperate straits. If it didn’t compromise on its nuclear programme, it not only stood to lose US$ 1.4 billion in hard cash, it would also face the threat of further sanctions as a “terrorist” state.

Ms Bhutto was prime minister of Pakistan when Mr Strobe Talbott, US deputy secretary of state, came to Pakistan in 1994. Having progressively led two Pakistani governments (Ms Bhutto’s in 1988-90 and Mr Nawaz Sharif’s in 1990-93) and two army chiefs (General Aslam Beg and General Asif Nawaz) into a classic Catch-22 situation, Washington was now ready to offer Islamabad a “one time waiver” to Pressler. The condition: Pakistan should cap its nuclear programme by allowing international inspections of its nuclear facilities. In other words, damned if we did and damned if we didn’t.

In their moment of reckoning, however, prime minister Benazir Bhutto, President Farooq Leghari and COAS General Abdul Waheed stood their ground. F-16s or no F-16s, there would be no deal with the United States, they told Mr Talbott, if it compromised Pakistan’s national security concerns. This message was forcefully conveyed to the Americans when General Waheed went to the US in March 1994. It was reaffirmed by President Leghari during his ‘private’ visit to the US a month later. And Ms Bhutto drummed it into Mr William Perry, US defence secretary, when he came to Pakistan earlier this year.

The die was now cast for Ms Bhutto’s trip to Washington in April. If President Clinton couldn’t offer a way out of this deadlock, there would be a severe anti-American backlash in Pakistan with potentially far-reaching implications.

It is to Ms Bhutto’s credit that before embarking on her trip to Washington she was able to create the necessary backdrop for a sympathetic hearing at the White House. When President Clinton pledged to seek a revision of the Pressler amendment “which had discriminated against a good friend of long standing”, he referred to Pakistan’s determined actions against drug trafficking and terrorism while praising its continuing commitments to international peacekeeping.

Washington has now taken the first steps towards removing inequities in US-Pak relations. But there is a long way to go before the US President’s words can match his deeds. Although President Clinton acknowledges the necessity of revising Pressler, there is still considerable resistance in the US state department and in both houses of Congress. The Indian and Israeli lobbies are also expected to get into high gear when proposals for Pressler’s revision are mooted between the US administration and Congress.

Mr Clinton has the reputation of someone who makes a lot of promises and commitments but rarely lives up to them in the face of pressure. In Pakistan’s case, this is a worrying factor. Will he push for changes in Pressler at a time when he is under fire from Congress on a number of pressing domestic issues? Or will he pass the buck again?

Time, too, is severely limited. The US presidential elections, in which Mr Clinton is running for a second term, are around the corner. If a decisive strategy to revise Pressler is not mounted and won in the next few months, chances are that Pakistani concerns will be put on a back burner next year when America will become obsessed with itself. In the event, there is also no guarantee that the next American administration will follow up on Mr Clinton’s pledge to Pakistan this year. That would lead to renewed cynicism and anger in Pakistan and put Ms Bhutto on the spot.

Benazir Bhutto was a front-page star in the United States. The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times — all solid establishment newspapers — received her arguments sympathetically. Leading Senators and Representatives went out of their way to lavish courtesies upon her. President Clinton extended his talk session with her. Mrs Clinton sought an unscheduled private chat. Leading members of the American administration and corporate America hosted Pakistan’s investment conferences. Private universities bestowed honours upon her. Such enormous goodwill for Ms Bhutto now needs to be translated into tangible benefits for Pakistan.

This can only be done if suitable follow-up strategies are quickly initiated in Washington after Congress returns to work later this month. A great deal of lobbying is now required to consolidate the gains made by Ms Bhutto. But that is only one side of the coin.

The other side reflects domestic conditionalities. If Karachi’s troubles continue to hit headlines abroad, if the victimisation of the opposition leads to a dilution of the national consensus, if the economy doesn’t pick up, if Islamic extremism, terrorism and drug trafficking rear their ugly heads again, then all the gains from Ms Bhutto’s US trip will evaporate.

It would be tragic if a worsening domestic situation were to end up tarnishing a vastly improved international environment. In order to avoid such a predicament, Ms Bhutto needs to move decisively and fairly on the domestic front so that her image abroad as a dynamic leader of Pakistan squares with perceptions at home.

(TFT Apr 20-26, 1995 Vol-7 No.7 — Article)

Pains of privatisation

Privatisation promises a bonanza for foreign investors. But there are doubts that the playing field will be level

General (retired) Saeed Qadir, the former chairman of the Privatisiation Commission (PC) during the Nawaz Sharif regime (1990-93) was arrested last January and charged with committing “gross irregularities” during his tenure in association with businessman Riaz Shafi (also under arrest) who bought a PVC pipe plant from the PC in 1991. Mian Mohammad Mansha, the chairman of the Muslim Commercial Bank (MCB) which was privatised in 1991, has been told that neither he nor his family members can leave the country pending an enquiry against him in connection with the purchase of two cement factories from the PC in 1991. Mr Khalid Latif, the chairman of the Allied Bank Ltd, which was sold to a workers’ consortium in 1991, is also under arrest for allegedly defrauding the PC.

While the Benazir Bhutto government goes through the PC’s record with a fine comb, the business community is beginning to record its mutterings. “Does this mean that when another government comes to power, it will also dig up this government’s record and haul up those of us who are dealing with the PC these days?”, asks someone who has just bought a factory from the PC.

The question is not misplaced. The Bhutto government’s disinvestment of 6 million Pakistan Telecommunication Corp shares has been less than transparent or efficient. Questions are now being asked about the government’s purposefulness and transparency in the forthcoming appointment of a “consultant” to help the PC find a 26 per cent strategic investor for PTC.

Privatisation began in earnest under Nawaz Sharif in 1991 and has continued under Benazir Bhutto (1993-). By end 1994, apart from two nationalised banks, 67 of the 108 public sector companies earmarked had been sold for a total bid value of Rs 8.7 billion, most of them before Ms Bhutto took over (2 units were yet to be transferred). Among the units privatised were automobiles (7), cement (9), chemicals (7), fertiliser (1), Engineering (6), Edible Oils (16), rice (7), Bread (11), 2 woolen mills. Of the total bid value (Rs 8.7 billion) the total amount still in default either on the principal amount or on the mark-up was Rs 540 million by end 1994. 46 companies had paid up the full amount due; there were 2 outstanding defaulters; in five cases the bid value was later re-adjusted downwards; and in 14 cases disputes between the PC and buyers were pending in the courts.

By March 1995, the PC had offloaded another 15 units, leaving 28 to be sold by December 95. However, in a candid remark recently, Mr Naveed Qamar, chairman PC under the Bhutto regime, admitted that due to “inexplicable” reasons not a single unit privatised by his commission had been physically handed over to the buyer in the last sixteen months. In the first six months, the PC was comatose on the pretext that it was being “extra-vigilant in evaluating the units”. The real reason, it is pointed out, is that “the PC has neither the requisite expertise to carry out privatisation, nor does it understand the magnitude of the preparatory work required for soliciting international investment”.

In the next phase the PC will tackle the big multi- billion rupee public sector corporations mainly through the strategic investor route. These include Pakistan Telecommunications Corp, Habib Bank Ltd, United Bank Ltd, 18 Development Finance Institutions, 2 fertiliser units (Pak- Arab and Pak-Saudi), 3 Gas companies (Pirkoh, Sui Northern and Sui Southern), 2 power plants belonging to the Water and Power Development Authority (Kot-Adu and Jamshoro), Pakistan International Airlines, two ports (Karachi and Qasim), Pakistan Steel Mill, several state engineering companies (Heavy Mechanical Complex, Pakistan Machine Tool Factory, Heavy Foundry Forge, etc), Pakistan State Oil, and several oil and gas fields and refineries belonging to the Oil and Gas Development Corporation.

“This is such a gigantic portfolio”, says a consultant to the PC, “that if it is done properly it could jump start the economy and catapult us in the next century”. How plausible is that?

“The PC recently announced that the Jamshoro power plant would be privatised in accordance with the auction principle of ‘back to back sale’, ” says an insider, “a curious principle about which nobody at the PC knows anything about”. In the case of Sui Southern and Sui Northern gas fields, he notes, “the cart is being put before the horse because the hunt for a strategic investor has been indefinitely held up (although the evaluation reports are almost ready) pending the formulation of a regulatory framework for future gas tariffs.”

In the case of the privatisation of United Bank Ltd and the Kot Adu power plant scheduled for June 95, the government is facing stiff opposition from the workers’ unions because it has not taken them into confidence by indicating the exact benefits expected to accrue to them. Foreign investors who are lining up to pick these units are understandably frustrated by the PC’s indolent attitude.

Other potential roadblocks may be explained by reference to what is happening to PTC. The consultant to be chosen will be paid a flat fee plus expenses which will be supplemented by a “success fee” when the strategic investor is found. The consultant should therefore pocket about 2 per cent of the total value of 26 per cent of PTC’s 5.1 billion shares. “This should amount to a minimum of US$ 60 million on the assumption that each share is valued at around the same price as it sold some months ago”, says a PC analyst. But he points out that when a strategic investor takes management control of the company, the share price is evaluated at a premium above the market price of the share. “The selection of the consultant, who helps prepare the Due Diligence report and Information Memos, then holds the Road Shows and eventually conducts the bidding, is crucial to the whole exercise”, he points out. “If the process of appointing a consultant is marred by controversy or isn’t transparent, the whole process can be seriously jeopardised”. Is this likely in PTC’s case?

Among the 3 consultants “shortlisted” by the PC out of 9 listed earlier is Goldman Sachs in partnership with Faysal Islamic Investment Bank and Khadim Hussain Invest Capital Securities (KHICS). The snag is that KHICS is owned by the son of Mr Safdar Abbas Zaidi, the powerful chairman of the Pakistan’s Board of Investment. Mr Zaidi is said to be a close friend of Mr Asif Zardari, the prime minister’s spouse. Mr Zaidi and Mr Zardari were jointly charged with financial misdemeanour in 1991 by the Nawaz Sharif government which alleged that as the president of the public-owned Habib Bank Ltd Mr Zaidi had granted undue favours to Mr Zardari in 1990. Both were acquitted later. PTC’s waters have also been muddied by the inexplicable, last minute withdrawal from the bidding of two international companies also shortlisted originally — Lehman Brothers, USA, and S.G.Warburg, UK.

In theory, the ground rules for privatisation laid down in 1991 were stringent enough. Each unit was supposed to be evaluated by reputed and independent consultants. A 3-member PC board was then expected to evaluate the consultant’s work and set a Reference Price (RF) based on past and future earning potential, replacement value of assets and discounted cash flows, etc. This RF was to be submitted to the full 11 member PC board which was expected to approve or reject the RF. Finally, an approved RF was to be put before the Cabinet Committee on Privatisation which could approve or reject it. After approval, the PC was expected to advertise the sale of the company, hold a public auction, issue a Letter of Intent to the highest bidder and promptly settle terms and conditions, followed by a Sale Agreement and handing over the management to the buyer.

“Unfortunately, this procedure was not followed in many cases”, says a PC insider. “The evaluation was rarely done by neutral consultants. Often historic book values were taken and depreciated by arbitrary formulas; adjustment for price escalation was capricious and no industry or cash flow analysis was done to establish the market value of the companies”, he says. The Cabinet Committee remained a rubber stamp for the PC chairman’s recommendations.

A most novel method was also invented to favour certain buyers. Since most RPs were based on the company’s audited accounts of a couple of years earlier, the concept of a Joint Audit (based on updated accounts) was brought into play at the time of the bidding. But this was not always followed, and when it was it could be fixed to suit the whims of the PC to adjust the RF downwards after the bidding had closed. “Vested interests would make a high bid and eliminate the competition”, explains the consultant, “and then negotiate with the PC to have the bid revised on the basis of a Joint Audit”.

A confidential report prepared by the Auditor-General of Pakistan (AGP) on the privatisation of the 16 Ghee (edible oil) sector industries in 1991-92 reveals how the fraud was perpetrated. The consultants’ evaluation reports were based on inconsistent methodology, says the AGP; fixed assets were grossly under-assessed; physical inspections and surveys of plants and machinery were not carried out in some cases, land evaluations were arbitrary and not documented while in some cases of profitable mills no value was attached to “goodwill”. The RF was determined arbitrarily in most cases. says the AGP, and in some cases the RF was reduced without the approval of the Cabinet Committee on Privatisation. Of the 16 successful bidders, 9 took control of the units without providing bank guarantees of payment due as required under law. The Joint-Audit concept “proved to be a Pandora’s box and opened the flood gates for a subsequent reduction in sale proceeds”, observes the AGP. “Only in 3 cases out of 16 was the fair value and RF of the unit determined in accordance with professionally acceptable criteria”, notes the AGP. “Only in 2 cases out of 16 did the PC conform to the general principles of competitive bidding”. The AGP concludes with a damning indictment: “The general principles of probity and propriety were not observed by the PC in the disposal of 14 out of 16 units”.

The World Bank, which was expectedly gung-ho about privatisation, also could not ignore important failings. In a report on the subject, it noted that “most transactions were not thoroughly prepared… the quality of contractual agreements entered into between the PC and buyers was in some instances deficient…information was provided to some bidders but not all in some instances… the practice of joint-audit was another element of uncertainty and obscurity”.

Under the Bhutto regime, a technical assistance team from the World Bank is expected to work closely with the PC. But many of the World Bank’s suggestions for greater transparency and efficiency in privatisation have yet to be incorporated by the PC. “With billions of dollars worth of privatisation still to come”, says a PC insider, “the real minefield lies ahead in the area of finding consultants for strategic buyers”.

(TFT Apr 27-03 May, 1995 Vol-7 No.8 — Editorial)

Rules of business

Benazir Bhutto’s forceful support for privatisation, de-regulation and free market economics notwithstanding, government-business relations are severely strained. This was demonstrated when accusations and counter-allegations flew thick and fast on the eve of the FPCCI’s strike last month.

Government officials have accused “politically motivated” FPCCI officials of “conspiring with the opposition to embarrass and destabilise the government”. Mr Ahmad Mukhtar, the commerce minister, has pointed out that the first businessmen’s strike last summer came when opposition leader Nawaz Sharif was touring the country and holding rallies exhorting people to rise against the government. The second strike followed during US energy secretary Hazel O’Leary’s visit to Pakistan in September 1994 and the third was on the eve of Mrs Hillary Clinton’s two day trip to Pakistan in March.

Mr Mukhtar’s argument is that the business community has hurt the “national interest” by consciously undermining the government’s efforts to attract much needed US private investment. The FPCCI’s demand that Ms Bhutto should sack her Sindh chief minister and send in the army under Article 245 of the constitution (a sort of mini-martial law) also reeks of an attempt to undermine the civil order. In retaliation, the government has sacked four top officials of the FPCCI and is threatening to bifurcate the organisation.

If Mr Mukhtar thinks he has a good case, he should be advised not to devalue the FPCCI’s current grievances. The FPCCI was protesting “the government’s indifferent attitude to the mounting problems of law and order in Karachi”. Businessmen live in fear for their lives. They are forced to pay “protection money” to gangsters and terrorists because the government cannot provide a safe and secure environment for trade and industry. Investment in Karachi is down and the Karachi Stock Exchange is reeling from the impact of continuing instability. “Traders are losing millions of rupees by the day because the government hasn’t been able to halt Karachi’s slide into anarchy and terror”, claims Mr M Munir, president of the FPCCI. “We have begged for a meeting with the prime minister but she doesn’t have any time for us”, he laments. Mr Tariq Saigol, president of the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry, concurs: “Talks between the government and the business lobby are crucial”, he advises, “but by adopting punitive measures and keeping us in a state of fear, the government isn’t making matters easy”.

Mr Saigol is right. Far from initiating confidence-building measures with the business community, the government seems bent upon victimising leading businessmen. Mian Mohammad Mansha’s ordeal is a case in point. Mr Mansha is chairman of the Muslim Commercial Bank but he is under pressure to resign from the bank. Along with family members and business associates, he has been banned from leaving the country.

That is not all. Two former bankers, a businessman and the former head of the Privatisation Commission are behind bars. The FIA is conducting enquiries against several businessmen, including several leading members of the opposition, who are also barred from exiting Pakistan. The Central Board of Revenue is also scrutinising the tax records of many leading businessmen thought to be supporters of Mr Nawaz Sharif.

Behind the current tensions lie three decades of distrust and hostility between the country’s business community and the Peoples Party of Zulfikar Ali and Benazir Bhutto. The industrial and trading classes were alienated by Mr Bhutto’s nationalisation of many big and medium sized industries. When they were vengefully harassed and publicly humiliated by Mr Bhutto and his party cohorts, they became irrevocably hostile to the PPP.

Inevitably, therefore, the anti-Bhutto agitation of 1977 was fueled by large doses of money from the business community. When General Zia imposed martial law, the propertied classes heaved a sigh of relief. When Mr Bhutto was arrested, they were elated. When he was hanged in 1979, they couldn’t hide their glee. This has rankled deeply with the rank and file of the PPP and has widened the divide.

The business community remained General Zia’s strongest ally for eleven years. In exchange, it was lavished with billions of rupees in soft loans and concessionary industrial policies. In certain cases, previous loans were blithely written off by public sector banks. Businessman-turned politician Nawaz Sharif, a Zia protege, became one of the main beneficiaries of the military regime’s largesse.

After Ms Bhutto swept to power in 1988, hostilities were resumed when she officially elevated her father to the status of a martyr. Matters worsened when she made no effort to de-nationalise or de-regulate industry, let alone try and woo the business community. Fearful and bristling with anger, leading business organisations lined up behind Mr Sharif and began to exhort President Ghulam Ishaq Khan to boot her out of office. After he obliged, many business lobbies were quick to rally behind Mr Sharif by bankrolling his election campaign in 1990. Understandably, the PPP is bitterly resentful of such business mindsets.

Under the Sharif government (1990-93), the good times began to roll again. Key profitable state-owned industries were farmed off to business cronies and supporters. Public sector banks were compelled to hand out big loans to businessmen. And industrial policies began to be fashioned to suit particular business, rather than national, interests.

When Ms Bhutto returned to power in 1993, she discovered that the economy was in a royal mess. Reserves had plummeted to two weeks import bill, economic growth was down to 2.3 per cent in FY 1992-93, exports were falling, the fiscal deficit was approaching 10 per cent and inflation was about to gallop into double digits. More ominously, bad bank loans and defaults now amounted to over Rs 60 billion (about 25 per cent of the annual budget).

Prodded by the IMF and the World Bank, Ms Bhutto’s government has launched a structural adjustment programme to try and reduce the fiscal deficit. It is trying to tighten money supply, deepen and widen the tax base and reduce import tariffs in order to compel domestic industry to become more competitive. It is also putting pressure on businessmen to pay back non-performing loans (special banking tribunals have been set up to expedite cases of default).

Naturally, businessmen don’t like these policies. Exporters complain that cost-push inflation (16 per cent interest plus rising utility charges) has made their products uncompetitive in world markets. They are upset that the government has backtracked on agreements to expedite the payment of export duty drawbacks worth billions of rupees. “Protected” industrialists are unhappy at the speed with which import tariffs are being reduced (down to 40 per cent this year) under pressure from the World Trade Organisation. Manufacturers are putting up stiff resistance to the 15 per cent sales tax imposed by the government on a host of goods and services. And traders do not want international pre-inspection agencies like Cotechna and SGS vetting their import and export invoices and delaying shipments.

“This government is run by landlords and is hostile to urban business interests” claim businessmen. The textile industry has been severely stretched following the government’s decision to raise the price of raw cotton and bring it to international levels. Cotton exports, especially low grade yarn, account for over 55 per cent of Pakistan’s exports and many cotton mills have been forced to close down because of rising raw material costs.

The government counters with the argument that agricultural production has been declining in recent years because of a lack of financial incentives (Pakistan’s cotton crop is expected to be about 8 million bales this year, 1 million bales short of projected demand). “It is high time the textile lobby stopped living off the fat of the land and became internationally competitive in value-added products”, argues Makhdum Shahabuddin, the state minister for finance, pointing out that the country’s export of garments is still less than that of Bangladesh. The government also remains opposed to any quick and substantial devaluation because it fears a public backlash on account of inflation.

Meanwhile the economy remains in a slump. The government’s tax collection drive has failed to take off — revenue targets have been revised downwards from Rs 260 billion to Rs 230 billion by end June 1995 — and the fiscal deficit is hovering around 6 per cent. With another belt-tightening budget forecast for next June, the opposition is gearing up for an onslaught on the government. In this grim and loaded political situation, with allegations and counter-allegations being flung about, government-business relations have once again hit rock bottom.

This doesn’t auger well for the country. The government and business community need to hammer out an agreement on the broad macro-economic framework for economic growth. Once the “rules of the game” are in place and both sides demonstrate their willingness to abide by them, micro disagreements can be separately negotiated between different industrial and trade lobbies and the ministries of commerce and finance. How can this be brought about?

The government must realise that it has seriously erred in its blanket acceptance of the IMF prescription to reduce the fiscal deficit from over 6 per cent to 4 per cent in just one year. The only way this could have been done was by substantially raising revenues or cutting expenditures. In a stagflationary situation, however, this has proved to be a difficult task.

The IMF recommended a way out. It asked the government to cut import duties so that cheaper imports would stimulate the demand for importables (thereby leading to an increase in revenues from import duties) as well as provide cheaper raw materials for local industry (whereby inflation could be reined in). It also pushed the government to impose 15 per cent sales tax on a host of goods and services so that the gap between revenues and expenditures could be closed.

On paper, of course, this looked like a good solution: the sales tax is deflationary but the reduction in import duties is reflationary. One offsets the other while the government ends up balancing its budget.

In reality, however, things haven’t worked out in this manner. The 15 per cent sales tax has met with resistance from businessmen for two reasons: in a sluggish economy it is difficult to pass on such a big sales tax in one leap to consumers without eroding demand or cutting into profit margins; and in a largely undocumented economy, it is impractical to believe that businessmen will cheerfully abandon their modes of capital accumulation and tax evasion overnight, coolly tote up their sales taxes and hand them over to the government so that they can be held accountable for all times to come. Similarly, without a detailed exercise to determine the price elasticity of various imported goods and services, it was stupid to expect that a blanket reduction in import duties would generate greater demand for importables as well as an increase in import revenues.

It now turns out that the government’s concreteness was misplaced. It hasn’t been able to collect the sales tax in full. And it has also lost revenues from falling import duties. In the bargain, the hefty and largely indiscriminate sales tax has antagonised large sections of the business community. And the drastic reductions in import duties of many finished goods have alienated sections of domestic industry which feel they are not ready to face the world without high protective barriers. Perhaps, if the sales tax and import duty reductions had been staggered over two or three years, the government might have achieved its objectives in a less unsettling fashion.

Nor has the government served its cause by angrily denouncing businessmen as “crooks, loan defaulters and tax dodgers”. If the CBR and the public sector banks are infested with corrupt officials and if the senior bureaucracy is hand in glove with rapacious big-wigs in government, how can the prime minister take a holier-than-thou approach in trying to combat financial misappropriation and misconduct in the private sector? The government is victimising a number of businessmen simply because they happen to be supporters of Mr Sharif. If it is genuinely interested in “accountability”, it should begin at home. God knows there is no shortage of “crooks, loan defaulters and tax dodgers” among political leaders and supporters of the PPP government.

The business community also needs to address its failings. There is no doubt that a number of businessmen have exploited their colleagues’ sentiments for purely political reasons. There is no harm in this, of course, provided that it is not aimed at undermining the legitimacy of an elected government to complete its full term. However, when business lobbies openly call for an army intervention or lend their forums to those bent upon provoking the anarchy of the street, their colleagues must draw the line and tell them where to get off. The business community should not pit itself as an aggressive political adversary to the PPP government.

That said, we need to focus on the next budget straight away. Ms Bhutto should invite leading trade and industrial bodies to submit their proposals. She should take out time to explain her compulsions to the business community and listen to theirs with patience and empathy. This state of confrontation hurts the country. The sooner both sides negotiate mutually acceptable “rules of business”, the better. Otherwise, we are in for a long, hot summer in which both sides will do each other irreparable harm.

(TFT May 04-10, 1995 Vol-7 No.9 — Editorial)

CBMs urgently required

Some people refuse to believe that Benazir Bhutto or her party can ever do any good. Such people suffer from a pathological hatred of the Bhuttos which has its roots in history. There is nothing Ms Bhutto can do to win them over.

There are many more, however, who were once PPP supporters but have now switched loyalties and become critical of Ms Bhutto either because she has not lived up to her promises or because they have progressively lost confidence in her ability to provide the sort of honest and efficient government this country desperately needs. Such people have become so cynical that even when Ms Bhutto tries to do something right or is successful in implementing some policy, they are not prepared to concede an inch to her. Ms Bhutto should worry about what such people think or say. She must try to regain their respect and confidence because their number is growing by the day and their views and votes could adversely affect her political career.

Benazir Bhutto was at the peak of her popularity when she swept into power in 1988. But, for a host of reasons (many of her own making), a majority of Pakistanis were relieved when she was ousted in 1990. If an election had been held within fifteen days of her ouster, she would have lost it fair and square. Fortunately for her, however, in the three months leading up to the new elections President Ishaq Khan’s rigid bias and open hostility against her began to show. Within two months, there was such a surprising resurgence of sympathy for Ms Bhutto that the establishment was compelled to go for an “overkill” by rigging the next election. The sympathy built up for Ms Bhutto during the interim period increased when the elections were “stolen” from her. It continued to grow during Mr Nawaz Sharif’s time when Ms Bhutto, her spouse and her party were hounded from pillar to post by Jam Sadiq Ali and Ghulam Ishaq Khan.

All this would not have amounted to anything if Mr Sharif had not suddenly, in early 1993, acquired an inexplicable death wish. When Mr Sharif fell in April of that fateful year, it was not because he had become unpopular or because Ms Bhutto had cashed in a wellspring of renewed sympathy for herself, but because Mr Sharif failed to appreciate the alacrity with which Ms Bhutto flung away her idealism and became an opportunist like himself.

After Mr Sharif bounced back, thanks to Justice Nasim Hasan Shah’s brilliant perception of the rising mood of discontent against Mr Ishaq Khan, Ms Bhutto was quick to demonstrate the depth of her pragmatism. She was now prepared to go to any lengths to remove him from power. If Mr Sharif had not resigned in July, the army would have been forced to take over. But adversity makes for strange bedfellow. Mr Sharif was now compelled to take a leaf from Ms Bhutto’s book on “populism” just as she had freely borrowed from his tome on the “establishment” a few months earlier.

Ms Bhutto scraped through in the 1993 elections partly because the rural areas of the Punjab and Sindh retained a measure of historical sympathy for her and partly because Mr Sharif’s policies had been oriented towards the urban middleclass rather than the rural poor. Ms Bhutto cashed in all her cards to become prime minister. This has meant that, as the incumbent, she will have to rebuild her hand as assiduously as possible during her second term if she wants to complete it and have a fighting chance to win a third. In the meanwhile, Mr Sharif will attract the sympathy vote while Ms Bhutto in government suffers from her sins of omission and commission.

Ms Bhutto began well enough in November 1993. She built a coalition with the PML(J) and was able to solicit the MQM’s support in the Presidential election. Her cabinet was small. Mr Asif Zardari, whose pals had been banished from the PM’s house, seemed to be out of public sight. When Ms Bhutto said she was determined not to commit the sort of follies that had discredited her first regime, many people were inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Unfortunately, this optimism was short-lived. Her audacious plan to overthrow the PML(N) government in the NWFP (at the prompting of Mr Aftab Sherpao) was a throwback to the PPP’s conspiracies in another province (Balochistan) in 1973 and again in 1989. Her cynical horsetrading, followed by victimisation of the opposition, was another signpost to Punjab in 1989. Soon thereafter, Mr Zardari’s fingerprints seemed to crop up all over the place. The Mehrangate scandal was followed by l’affaire submarine. By the time the budget was tucked away, inflation was rampant and the business community was ready to take up arms again. Whatever sympathy was left for Ms Bhutto was thereafter eroded by dubious recruitments in the judiciary and suspicious reshuffles in the bureaucracy. By year’s end, Karachi was in flames (as in 1990) and the MQM had gone its own way. If Ms Bhutto was in a desperate rush to come full circle to the beginning, she couldn’t have taken a shorter or more damning route.

Meanwhile, a number of issues have cropped up from time to time and served to devalue the government further. Geneva seemed like a “humiliating debacle” because the government erred in raising expectations and then failed to realise them. The controversy over Gwadur alienated large sections of nationalist opinion because the government’s response was both belated and contradictory. The strife in Karachi has been pitched at breaking point because the government dragged its feet over cracking down on the Haqiqis and sectarian extremists. There has been a bitter reaction to the unravelling of the Chakwal “seismic station” because the government has not seen fit to take the people into confidence.

A lack of “confidence” in government seems to be at the root of many of Ms Bhutto’s problems. Her regime has, once again, widely come to be seen as incompetent, corrupt and uncaring. That is why many people are now prepared to believe the worst even when it may not be justified (as in the idle controversy over whether we have paid for 28 or 38 F-16s or in discussions revolving around the significance of the billions of dollars worth of MOUs signed by the government).

Urgent “confidence building measures” (CBMs) are therefore needed to create the grounds for good government. A start can be made by rooting out all corrupt civil servants and PPP politicians so that “accountability” does not continue to be mistaken for “victimisation”. Mr Zardari should restrain his “natural impulses” and lower his profile. Ms Bhutto should revamp her “team” by bringing in people of merit and making government more efficient and transparent. The next budget should be carefully drafted, with greater realism about revenue and expenditure targets and with a view to providing relief to large sections of the urban middle and lower classes. Ms Bhutto should demonstrate that she cares about Karachi by working towards a cohesive plan to save the city. And she should stop victimising the opposition and genuinely make them an offer of cooperation they cannot refuse.

The credibility gap between government and people is growing. Ms Bhutto cannot afford to shrug this off simply because there is no imminent threat to her regime. We would like to see her given credit when it is due (as for the US trip). There is no alternative for Ms Bhutto but to overcome her personal failings and move to repair her government’s shortcomings. Pakistan is not yet ungovernable. Her rulers must demonstrate their good intent and ability to rule or be prepared to be swept aside.

(TFT May 11-17, 1995 Vol-7 No.10 — Editorial)

Slow train to nowhere

The 8th SAARC Summit held in New Delhi 2nd-4th May was unremarkable save in two small respects: (a) An agreement was finally reached to facilitate a South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) whereby, effective December 8th 1995, SAARC countries will allow one another a paltry 10 per cent customs and excise relief on 222 importable items (India 106, Pakistan 35, Sri Lanka 31, Maldives 17, Nepal 14, Bangla Desh 12, and Bhutan 7 (b) A few countries have boldly articulated a desire to amend the SAARC charter so that pugnacious bilateral issues between member states can also be discussed at the SAARC forum.

Interestingly enough, the first agreement indirectly serves the long term cause of India while the second impetus is aimed at securing the national interests of India’s anxious neighbours.

Despite India’s “concessions” to SAFTA, the idea of a free trade area should ultimately benefit India much more than the other SAARC countries. This is so not only because India’s burgeoning industrial sector is in a desperate hurry to expand its “export” market and reduce its external debt (US$ 100 billion), it is also because India is in a better position than its neighbours to take advantage of the sort of large-scale economies which accrue to its manufacturing sector in comparison to that of the other SAARC members.

However, the attempt to amend the SAARC charter enabling discussion of bilateral issues reflects the fears and apprehensions of India’s neighbours about New Delhi’s “grand designs” for the region. India has a running dispute with every SAARC member. Landlocked Nepal wants a closer economic and political relationship with China but India is bitterly opposed to this. Large areas in Bangla Desh have been ravaged and depopulated because of India’s niggardly approach over water-sharing. Pakistan has been forced to divert scarce resources to defence because India is not prepared to divest control of disputed Kashmir. Sri Lanka has been terrorised and effectively partitioned by Indian support for separatist movements in the island. The Maldives are at the mercy of India’s blue water armada. And Bhutan cannot even hiccup without incurring Big Brother’s wrath. Given India’s opposition to third-party mediation in disputes with its neighbours, the pressure for smaller states in the region to use the SAARC forum for conflict-resolution with India is growing by the day.

SAARC has not taken off despite Indian efforts largely because India’s neighbours are not prepared to give a comparative economic advantage in trade to New Delhi in the absence of an amicable and just settlement of pressing regional disputes. This is a natural enough sentiment. Whether it is the EEC or ASEAN, free trade areas are predicated on the development of a conflict-free region. They follow rather than precede the settlement of outstanding political disputes in any given region.

This is the message that Pakistan, Bangla Desh and Nepal carried to New Delhi last week. President Farooq Leghari of Pakistan put it like this: “We must not delude ourselves in believing that all is well. The fact is that SAARC has not taken off because the suspicions and insecurity generated by the unsettled political issues in our region stand in the way of SAARC moving forward…”. The deputy prime minister and foreign minister of Nepal stressed that “if issues within a country can be talked about at the UN, if issues between the European countries are being discussed within the European Unity and if things are settled in ASEAN between two member countries, then why cannot we do so in our region within SAARC”. Begum Khaleda Zia of BanglaDesh put it in an oblique but equally forceful manner: “Dark forces have …wrought death and destruction. They have plotted to rip apart the fabric of our social unity. They have fed bigotry and prejudice… SAARC was designed to alleviate the sorrows of South Asia. It was meant to build a web of interactions to strengthen our bonds, build our confidence to resolve our differences. We cannot, we must not detract from our purpose… Let Summits such as this provide the spark to light the torch of friendship and amity in our region”.

But the torch of friendship and amity in South Asia cannot be lit unless India resolves its outstanding political disputes with its smaller neighbours. The Indian argument that confidence building measures like SAFTA will create the basis of peace in the region is self-serving. It is aimed at creating the economic basis of political hegemony in the region. Its purpose is to create a false sense of bonhomie and camaraderie which India can exploit to sidetrack the resolution of core regional disputes in which its positions are manifestly unjust.

As long as regional disputes continue to generate passions and prejudices, the threat of conflict with India will compel India’s neighbours to divert huge resources into military arsenals at the expense of urgently needed social action programmes for poverty alleviation. The sooner India agrees to amend the SAARC charter so that bilateral political dialogues can be initiated within this forum, the better it will be for South Asia. Otherwise SAARC will remain a slow train to nowhere in particular.

(TFT May 11-17, 1995 Vol-7 No.10 — Article)

“Attaboy, Leghari, that’s saying it like it is”

“SAARC is a slow train to nowhere in particular”, says His Excellency Mr Riaz Khokhar, Pakistan’s gutsy ambassador to New Delhi. This sums up the feeling among India’s small neighbours who were participants at the 8th SAARC Summit held at New Delhi from 2-4th May.

Riaz Khokhar is a man India loves to hate. Only recently, he was in the eye of another storm in a tea cup whipped up by the mandarins in South Block. Mr Khokhar, it was alleged, “humiliated” a junior minister in the Indian foreign affairs ministry when he invited him as chief guest to a garden party hosted on the occasion of Pakistan’s Independence Day celebrations in Delhi and failed to provide him with a chair. Mr Khokhar has characteristically shrugged off the incident by another crisp one-liner: “There are no chairs at a garden party!”

Riaz should know what he is talking about. He has spent the better part of the last fifteen years as a keen “India watcher”, first in the Pakistan FO’s India desk, then as our ambassador to Bangla Desh and later as the powerful additional secretary (foreign affairs) at the PM’s secretariat under both Benazir Bhutto (1988-90) and Nawaz Sharif (1990-93).

Riaz had invited Sardar Assef Ali, our foreign minister, to a quiet dinner at his residence on 29th April. When he came round to the Ashok hotel to ensure that the press party accompanying the Pakistan delegation was well looked after by his staff, he invited me to join him for dinner. “What do you think of the welcome laid out by the Indians for Sardar Assef?”, he asked me with a broad grin as we ambled majestically in his flagged black Mercedes to the Residency.

I was nonplussed. Was he referring to the fact that the Pakistani foreign minister was received at the airport by a secretary from South Block, I asked. Riaz shook his head and clucked. “Look out for the papers tomorrow”, he explained brightly, “the Indians will say that they have caught some ‘Pakistani-infiltrated terrorist’ or the other in Kashmir”.

He was bang on target. An hour later, Doordarshan’s evening news bulletin announced that “Ghulam Hasan Hazzam, alias Hasani, a 25 year old Pakistan-trained Al Barq Tanzim Kashmiri militant who was formerly with the Hizbul Mujahideen and JKLF, had been arrested from a hotel in the Azadpur area north west of Delhi by the Special Cell of the Delhi police”.

The RAW sponsored story was dutifully splashed by the Indian media the following morning. “One plastic handgrenade, two letters in Urdu — allegedly written by Peoples Conference chief Abdul Ghani Lone to Al Barq run training camps in Muzaffarabad — and a Pakistani visa for 30 days beginning April 11th were recovered from Hasani”, said the reports, some of which carried a photograph of “Hasani” handcuffed to a policeman.

The Residency is exquisitely designed and furnished. When I said as much to the gregarious Mrs Khokhar, she told me proudly that “everything in it comes from Pakistan”. As we sank into the plush chairs, I couldn’t help remarking that “an ambassador’s life must be a piece of cake”.

“Hah!”, exclaimed Riaz, “You’ve got another thought coming”. As he began to expand upon the hazards of his job in Delhi, the lights began to dim and blink, then they went off and the Residency’s emergency generator was switched on. Riaz turned to Sardar Assef and grinned again. “The Indians want us to have a candle-lit dinner, sir!”

Later, members of the embassy staff told me how they lived in a perpetual state of siege. There are over 300 of them (including their families), all squeezed into a block of flats in the embassy compound which is surrounded by a high wall and “protected” by a police station nearby. “We don’t dare go out alone”, said one. “Every now and then mobs of Hindu fanatics land up outside the embassy screaming murder”, said another. Sure enough, the day after the SAARC summit ended, there was a rowdy demonstration outside the embassy, protesting President Farooq Leghari’s private meeting with leaders of the Kashmir Hurriet Conference (off the record for journalists).

I tried to recall the last time Pakistani mobs had marched on to the Indian embassy in Islamabad or the consulate in Karachi and couldn’t think of an occasion in the recent past. Nor was the import of a remark, ostensibly made in jest, by an Indian additional secretary at a dinner hosted in “honour of visiting journalists from SAARC” lost on us. The secretary referred to the harassment of an Indian journalist by the “agencies” in Islamabad and quipped to a couple of Pakistani journalists attending his dinner: “You’d better watch out”, he said, suggesting that two could play the game perfectly.

The “welcome” seemed unending. On April 30th, leading Indian newspapers carried an “Agencies” story claiming “US government exposes Pak hand in Kashmir trouble”. Selectively quoting from a report by the US state department on Patterns of Global Terrorism, the Indian media gleefully reported the report’s findings that “there were credible reports in 1994 of official Pakistani support for the Kashmiri militants…some support came from the Jamaat i Islami…”. Interestingly enough, there was scant mention of the fact noted in the report that “Pakistan had condemned the kidnapping in June 1994 of foreign tourists by Kashmiri militants” in the valley. Nor was anything made of the Pakistani allegation, mentioned in the report, that “India was providing support to separatists in Sindh province”.

The same day, the Indian media carried extracts of an “interview” in which Senator Larry Pressler told India’s Finance Minister Mr Manmohan Singh in Washington that he would forcefully fight any changes in the Pressler amendment. Mr Pressler was quoted as telling Mr Singh that he “appreciated India’s concern that if the F-16 aircraft were delivered to Pakistan, New Delhi would have to up the ante and increase its defence expenditure”. However, Mr Pressler admitted that it had been “a battle to hold the line” against Pakistan and that “it’s getting more and more difficult every year”.

On May 1st, The Hindustan Times carried a piece on its editorial pages by noted Indian hawk Brahma Chellaney on Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions. Mr Challeney drew attention to “clandestine Chinese assistance” for Pakistan’s “40 MW heavy water reactor at Khushab” which is allegedly designed at “producing plutonium and tritium for advanced compact nuclear warheads”. The article dealt at length with Pakistan’s Hatf-1, Hatf-2 and Hatf-3 rocket systems, explored the implications for India of the Chinese M-11 missiles to Pakistan and ended up arguing that Pakistan was poised to upgrade its missile capabilities in such a fashion that India would end up facing a “Chinese bomb to the north and a quasi-Chinese bomb to the west”.

On May 2nd, the day the SAARC summit formally opened, the Indian media congratulated the Indian government because “eight out of nine cases of alleged human rights abuses in Kashmir” had been investigated by the state government and found to be baseless. Apparently, out of 34 such allegations since January, 32 have now been declared by the Indian judges and jury as being “false”. The same day, the press highlighted reports that the J&K Governor, Gen (retd) V K Rao, told visiting ambassadors of the EEC that Pakistan was “inducting Afghan militants in J&K”. The Hindustan Times of May 2nd also chipped in with a five column story on the front page detailing the doings and undoings of alleged “Pakistani-master terrorist” and “the most wanted man in India, Dawood Ibrahim.

Lt Gen (retd) A M Vohra hogged the editorial page of The Hindustan Times on May 2nd by an article on how to conduct the elections in Kashmir. His self-serving thesis: “the Kashmiris have realised that the gun has brought them a lot of suffering…the motivation of many groups has got diluted…it is fear of the gun rather than sympathy for the militants which explains their following in the valley…upto 70 per cent of the people in the valley are against the militants…pro-Pak elements are no more than 10 per cent in the valley”. Gen Vohra says that by promoting a dialogue with Kashmiri leaders, the India government can succeed in holding elections.

On May 3rd, The Hindu reported that the “Centre favours TADA extension” when it comes up for review in parliament on May 23rd. It said that 17 out of 22 states had already endorsed its extension. The report noted that out of 77,571 persons arrested since TADA was imposed eight years ago in various parts of India, including Kashmir in recent years, 49,628 persons were from five states, including Gugarat where it was “misused”. There was no mention of the application of TADA in Kashmir. However, in a prominent “box” item placed within this report, The Hindu found itself compelled to note “the ISI game”. “The Union Home Minister has accused the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence agency, of trying to forge links not only with the Sikh and Kashmiri terrorists but also with the fundamentalists PWG, LTTE and ULFA so that concerted action could be launched to destabilise the country”. The Hindu also informed its readers that the BJP remained opposed to the repeal of TADA.

In this grim backdrop to SAARC, however, there was one positive note. Journalist Tavleen Singh’s new book titled “Kashmir — A Tragedy of Errors”, which is critical of India’s blunders in the valley and accuses the Indian press of being biased, was selling briskly. But Tavleen was upset that few editors had bothered to review it in their papers. One Pakistani journalist thought he would scoop his colleagues by interviewing Tavleen about her past “relationship” with a Pakistani politician. But Ms Singh put paid to that line of enquiry by a sweep of her hand: “That’s old hat now”, she said and turned her back on the Pakistani hack.

President Farooq Leghari had a good trip, his “first ever to India”, as he pointed out to a group of top Indian journalists and academics at a breakfast meeting on 4th May at the Maurya Sheraton hotel. Following up on his immaculate interviews to “The News”, “India Today” and BBC in Islamabad and “The Hindu” and CNN in New Delhi, Mr Leghari succinctly explained the Pakistani position on regional peace and security: the road to peace and nuclear non-proliferation in the sub-continent goes via Srinager; hence a resolution of the “core” Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan should take priority over other confidence-building measures. On Kashmir, he stressed, there were only two options — a plebiscite to determine, under UN resolutions, which of the two countries Kashmir wished to join; Pakistan supported the idea of third-party mediation because past experience suggested (a) that bilateral talks had got nowhere because of Indian intransigence (b) two major issues — Rann of Kutch and the Indus Waters dispute — had been resolved through third-party mediation.

Mr Leghari was forthright in placing the facts on the table: the Indians had sent in over 600,000 troops and para-military forces to crush the Kashmiri resistance; the proposed elections were bound to be a farce under these conditions; the resistance movement was indigenously inspired; India could not hope to fool world opinion.

As expected, the Indians were not interested in exploring a solution to Kashmir along these lines. Instead, Mr K Subrahmanium, the noted Indian hawk, wanted to know why Pakistan did not support India’s stand on the global iniquitousness of the NPT. Mr Leghari sidetracked the loaded question cleverly by pointing out (a) that Pakistan had already floated the idea of a multilateral conference on nuclear non-proliferation in South Asia (b) that Pakistan’s position on the proposed Fissile Cut-Off Treaty was the same as that of India.

Others wanted to know why India and Pakistan couldn’t resolve the “minor irritants” between them — Siachin, trade, free flow of literature, etc — as a prelude to talks on Kashmir. Mr Leghari explained that in view of rising passions in Pakistan over India’s repression in Kashmir, this route was a non-starter. On several occasions, attempts were made to trip up the Pakistani President. But he remained cool and articulate throughout the session.

Mr Leghari’s speech at the SAARC summit was, in sharp contrast to those of other leaders, in the same outspoken vein. He thought the SAARC charter should be amended to include discussions on bilateral issues. He alluded to India’s hegemonic ambitions when he said that “it would be a great pity if our initiative towards a New International Order degenerates into a ploy to create international heavy-weights who arrogate to themselves the right to decide for others what essentially serves their own national interests”. And he explained that “SAARC had not taken off” because “the suspicions and insecurity generated by the unsettled political issues in our region stand in the way”.

One Bangla Deshi journalist, who was so impressed by Mr Leghari’s forthright presentation, turned to me with a clenched fist and said: “Attaboy Leghari, that’s saying it like it is”. In more ways than one, when Sardar Farooq Khan Leghari retreated to Simla for “rest and recreation”, he genuinely seemed to tower over all the other leaders.

(TFT May 18-24, 1995 Vol-7 No.11 — Editorial)

The enemy within

Farooq Sumar is a textile mill owner from Karachi who has courageously decided to stand up to the “extortion mafias” who are terrorising the city. He says that for several months the MQM Haqiqi extorted money from him. He got fed up and asked a string of senior provincial and federal officials for assistance and protection. Stung by their abject “helplessness”, he decided to defy the terrorists by not complying with their demands. The mafia struck back by marching into his factory and seizing 3000 yards of cloth. Then he began to receive threats, so he went underground. He thought of going public but was persuaded against it by family and friends. So he sent a discreet note to the prime minister through a senior government official and apprised her of his troubles. After the PM ordered immediate action against members of the Haqiqi mentioned in Mr Sumar’s complaint, he returned to his home, thinking the problem had been solved.

He was mistaken. Early this month, his factory was raided on Pay Day and the terrorists decamped with Rs 4.2 million in cash. So much for your complaint, the terrorists rang up to tell him, and so much for the PM’s orders, which were rubbished by the Sindh government.

Mr Sumar did not suffer any financial loss because his business was insured. His business colleagues, many of whom continue to suffer the same fate, urged him to keep quiet and stop putting his life and property at risk. But Mr Sumar chose to do otherwise. He went to the police and asked them to lodge his complaint against Mr Afaq Ahmad, the head of the MQM (Haqiqi), and several of his known henchmen with whom Mr Sumar’s factory manager had previously negotiated. When the police refused, he called a press conference and lodged a “public” FIR.

The commotion in the press compelled the Sindh government to accept his complaint. When Ms Bhutto’s attention was drawn to editorials in leading newspapers exhorting action, she asked the FIA to contact Mr Sumar and get to the bottom of his troubles. The FIA has interviewed Mr Sumar and submitted a report to Ms Bhutto. The PM has also been gracious enough to meet Mr Sumar in the presence of the Sindh chief minister and hear him out. The problem is that Ms Bhutto doesn’t quite know who to believe and what to do.

Mr Sumar has told the PM that he believes the Sindh government and the federal Intelligence Bureau are in cahoots with the Haqiqi and condone their criminality because they are using them to attack the terrorists of the MQM (Altaf) group. He believes that the government’s policy of pitting one group of terrorists against another in Karachi is seriously misplaced. He has strongly urged the PM to halt this policy and take punitive action against all terrorist groups irrespective of party affiliations.

The Sindh chief minister, however, does not accept this prognosis. Mr Abdullah Shah denies any links with the terrorists and, as proof, points to the recent “action” against the Haqiqi in Karachi. Mr Shah would therefore like the PM to believe that, having collected the insurance, Mr Sumar’s actions are “politically motivated” in order to falsely embarrass the PPP government. Who is telling the truth and who is lying?

Mr Shah’s insinuations of Mr Sumar’s motives are preposterous and self-serving. Mr Sumar and his family are in hiding because Mr Sumar has consciously taken the path of exposing the great lie about Karachi. If he had been interested in reaping an insurance claim, he would have chosen to stay silent after he was paid up instead of jeopardising his life and that of his family by publicly taking on a dreaded group of terrorists. To suggest that Mr Sumar is anti-PPP and acting at someone else’s behest is equally absurd. Mr Sumar’s reputation as an outspoken citizen with “sympathies” for the PPP precedes him in business circles.

Mr Shah’s claim that his government has no links with the Haqiqi is also false. The following facts have been written about in the past and are widely accepted: (1) The Haqiqi faction of the MQM was nourished by the IB and the MI in 1992 in order to combat the MQM (Altaf). (2) When the policy failed to yield significant dividends (because the political leadership of the time was divided and confused over to role of the MQM), the new leadership of the MI changed tack in 1994, stopped abetting the Haqiqi and advised the army to pull out of Karachi so that the new PPP government could negotiate a political solution to Karachi. (3) The continuing intransigence of the MQM (Altaf) to negotiate peace and power-sharing in Karachi has, however, made the civilian government reluctant to cut its links with the Haqiqi in order to retain “terrorist” leverage against the MQM (Altaf). (4) This “dependence” of the government on the Haqiqi has emboldened the latter to resort to criminality and extortion for survival and sustenance without worrying about a crackdown. (5) The situation has been compounded by the MQM (A)’s demands that it will only start negotiating with Islamabad after the government has wiped out the Haqiqi. But Islamabad is not yet persuaded of the necessity of this policy because it does not trust the MQM (A). The fear is that if the Haqiqi are removed from the scene and the counter-leverage is withdrawn, the MQM (A) will regroup its forces and become even more aggressive and powerful.

Ms Bhutto’s dilemma is obvious enough: damned if she crushes the Haqiqi and damned if she doesn’t. So she has taken to devising a balancing act by trying to keep the monster on a tight leash instead of eliminating it altogether. That is why she was prepared to order action against Mr Afaq Ahmad’s henchmen on Mr Sumar’s earlier complaint (because they are dispensable) and that is why she is reluctant to move against Mr Afaq Ahmad himself on Mr Sumar’s later protest (because he is not yet dispensable).

Mr Abdullah Shah’s problems are more vexatious than the PM’s. He finds it difficult to abide by the PM’s instructions and keep the Haqiqi on a tight leash for two basic reasons: (1) His government has been weakened by political divisions and corruption. (2) His police forces are so riddled with corrupt and criminal elements that they cannot cope with the sort of threats emanating from the MQM (A) terrorists. Hence Mr Shah clings to the Haqiqi and condones their criminality like a drowning man clutching at straws.

Mr Farooq Sumar’s case has exposed the murky nature of federal policies in regard to the situation in Karachi. The PM blows hot and cold, not knowing which way to turn. Her hope is that the Sindh government will somehow bring the level of terrorist violence in Karachi to “acceptable” levels quickly so that she can get a firm grip in negotiations with the MQM (A). Mr Shah, meanwhile, totters from pillar to post, transferring a police official here, firing another there, all the while clutching at the coattails of the Haqiqi. The bottom line remains deeply immoral: the use of state terrorism to combat the MQM (A)’s terrorism in Karachi is seriously objectionable.

Six months ago Benazir Bhutto wasn’t prepared to take any sort of action against the Haqiqi. Then the army signalled its disapproval and moved out of Karachi. This prompted Ms Bhutto to feign some disapproval of the Haqiqi. However, when Haqiqi mercenaries were found to be involved in the murder of two American officials, Ms Bhutto was compelled to take a less lenient view of them and launch a limited crackdown. In Mr Sumar’s case, she might eventually be prepared to take action against Mr Afaq’s henchmen (though not against him) if pressure is built up in the domestic and international media. But she is still not ready to accept that her policy of pitting one terrorist group against another is deeply flawed because it erodes the legitimacy of both state and government.

Ms Bhutto has got hold of the stick by the wrong end. Karachi cannot be made peaceful and stable on the basis of a balance-of-terror formula. If the city had a clean government and efficient administration, the people of Karachi would see the necessity of cooperating with it to root out violence and terrorism. The sooner Ms Bhutto comes to accept this fact and acts with wisdom and courage, the better. The real enemy is within, not without. Mr Farooq Sumar has shown the way. His voice must not be allowed to drown in the wilderness of fear, cowardice, apathy or cynicism.

(TFT May 25-01 Jun, 1995 Vol-7 No.12 — Editorial)

Whither Indo-Pak relations?

After years of dogged negotiations, India and Pakistan agreed at the SAARC summit in New Delhi May 4th to slightly reduce tariffs on a small number of importable items from each other. Today, however, Pakistanis are so outraged by the Indian army’s destruction of the five hundred year old Muslim shrine of Charar Sharif in Kashmir that the Pakistan government is under pressure to ban all trade with India. Such is the stuff of Indo-Pak enmity.

Since 1989, when the Kashmiris revolted against India, Indo-Pak relations have been bad. The destruction of the Babri masjid by Hindu fanatics made matters worse. The Charar Sharif incident has aroused passions all over again. With India threatening war, Pakistan has put its forces on alert and some people are urging the government to test a nuclear device and put an atomic bomb on the shelf to deter New Delhi.

Despite Charar Sharif, however, Mr Narasimha Rao is still talking about elections in Kashmir next month. This plan won’t work. Kashmiri leaders, some of whom may have previously thought of supporting the electoral process, have now unanimously denounced the proposed exercise. This pleases Pakistan because it is opposed to the idea of elections in Kashmir as long as 500,000 Indian troops remain there and the UN resolutions are ignored.

Having been denounced at home and abroad for “mishandling” the situation, Mr Rao now seems to be in a less aggressive mood than he was a week ago. India’s foreign secretary Mr Pranab Mukherjee has made a conciliatory statement saying that India is prepared to initiate “confidence building measures” with Pakistan by holding a dialogue with it on all disputes, including Kashmir. But Islamabad thinks it has India over a barrel and is in no mood to forgive and forget. Its argument is that unless the ‘core’ dispute over Kashmir is first settled, no confidence-building measure can hope to succeed in removing hostilities and reducing tensions between the two countries.

In the last four decades India Pakistan have fought three wars and come close to conflict on two occasions. Sporadic skirmishes have continued in the Himalayan region of Siachin since the mid-1980s. Pakistan spends over 6 per cent of its GNP on defense every year and India about 3 per cent. The fact that both are undeclared nuclear powers worries everyone.

Deep-rooted hostilities and fears exist on both sides. Pakistanis believe that India has never reconciled to the “two-nation theory” which led to the partition of the sub-continent in 1947 along Hindu-Muslim lines. India, in turn, argues that Pakistan has not given up dreams of wrenching Kashmir by force. Both sides accuse each other of fomenting terrorist strife in the other country.

A sincere and realistic attempt to break this impasse has been lacking on both sides. Although the 1972 Simla Pact committed both sides to resolving issues bilaterally, it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that a Joint Commission to review problems was set up and led to some relaxation of restrictions on trade and travel, cut off since the war in 1965.

When Benazir Bhutto and Rajiv Gandhi were prime ministers of Pakistan and India respectively in 1989, the prospects for amity seemed to brighten. During Mr Gandhi’s trip to Pakistan that year, the two leaders agreed on a formula to settle the Siachin conflict. They also signed a cultural and trade protocol to enhance cooperation. But both issues were shelved after Mr Gandhi was pressurised by the Indian establishment to backtrack on Siachin.

The revolt in Kashmir in late 1989 altered the situation dramatically by reopening old wounds. Ms Bhutto succumbed to rising domestic passions by accusing India of widespread repression in Kashmir. India responded by accusing Pakistan of running training camps for Kashmiri militants. Within months, both countries had inched towards a military conflict.

Worried, Washington despatched Mr Robert Gates, Undersecretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (later head of the CIA), to Islamabad and New Delhi. His mission: cool tempers on both sides by initiating a series of confidence building measures (CBMs). Mr Gates proposed a two track approach — Track One for reducing the risk of accidental or premeditated war by opening lines of communication between the military on both sides and Track Two to promote an “unofficial dialogue” between the two sides in order to create better understanding of each other’s fears and concerns.

India tabled a CBM package in May 1990. It contained the following suggestions: “sharing of information regarding military exercises, communications between military commanders (hot line), joint border patrolling, an MOU on prevention of violation of airspace by military aircraft, exchange of armed forces delegations, prevention of acts detrimental to the maintenance of peaceful and harmonious relations, non-interference in each others’ internal affairs and reiteration of a common resolve to abide by the Simla Agreement”.

Pakistan’s response was less than enthusiastic. The absence of any reference to a solution on Kashmir or to the deployment of military forces to peace time locations in Siachin was unacceptable to Islamabad. India was not prepared to accept the Pakistani solution of stationing UN personnel along the disputed Kashmir border. Pakistan remained opposed to the exchange of military delegations because that would “create a false sense of bonhomie”. It sought third-party mediation to resolve the Kashmir dispute, a demand India has consistently rejected because it does not want to “internationalise” the issue.

Pakistan’s argument is that the Indian proposals do not eliminate the threat of war by design or create more positive conditions for peace. It wants a discussion with India over a nuclear-weapons free zone in South Asia, a regional nuclear test ban treaty, mutual inspection of nuclear facilities, adherence to the NPT and a joint declaration renouncing the nuclear weapons option. India rejects this approach, partly because it perceives a “threat” from China and partly because it considers the NPT to be “globally iniquitous”.

Nonetheless, some progress has since been made. Both sides now give advance notice for military manoeuvres and exercises, a Hot Line between opposite military commanders is in place, airspace violations have ceased, a treaty banning the manufacture and use of chemical weapons now exists and lists have been exchanged of each others’ nuclear facilities to increase transparency.

Track Two kicked off in 1991 at Neemrana on the border of Haryana and Rajastan states in India. Participants included retired army and civil servants from both sides, with a former US ambassador hosting the talks as a mediator. Thus far, eight Neemrana conferences have been conducted. In addition, over two score unofficial Indo-Pak dialogues involving a mix of academics, retired civil and military officials and journalists from both countries have taken place in India, Pakistan, Nepal, USA, China and Austria. Some newspaper editors in India and Pakistan have also hosted “people to people talks” from time to time. And a 100-strong Pakistani “peoples” delegation comprising academics, journalists, politicians and human rights activists was in New Delhi early 1995 for talks with “like-minded” Indians.

Of all the Track Two dialogues, Neemrana is said to be the most important. Although details of the dialogues have not been made public, it is understood that issues bedeviling Indo-Pak relations were put into four “baskets” representing political, military, nuclear and economic problems. But this approach hasn’t yielded significant dividends. The Pakistanis appear to have staked everything on the prior resolution of the Kashmir basket whereas the Indians want the “minor irritant” baskets to be sorted out first. The deadlock is solid.

The “mental maps” of both countries remain a formidable hindrance. India has problems dealing with Pakistan on a bilateral basis since it sees itself as a multilateral, global player — hence it sees CBMs as enhancing Pakistan’s status and diminishing its own. Pakistan, in turn, worries about India’s “hegemonic ambitions” in the region. The rise of Hindu extremism in India is also running parallel with the resurgence of Islamic passions in Pakistan, which makes the task of rapprochement all the more difficult.

The attempt to “transport” the European CBM experience to Asia hasn’t worked well for several reasons. Unlike South Asia, there was an absence in Europe of any significant territorial disputes between the contending power blocs. Also, the contending groups in Europe were comparatively equal in power potential whereas India is the paramount, pre-eminent power in South Asia. In Europe, ideological struggle was at the centre of the cold-war conflict whereas in South Asia historical experience, especially communal conflict, remains at the root of the problem. Chances of premeditated war were negligent in Europe and accidental conflict was at the centre of security concerns. In the sub-continent, however, the evidence suggests that premeditated war was triggered on three occasions, by Pakistan in 1948 and 1965 and by India in 1971. So, where do we go from here?

Back to the root of the problem, of course. India must come to terms with some facts and fashion its policies accordingly. (1) Kashmir does not belong to it by any stretch of the imagination. (2) Repression will not break the spirit of a resistance movement which has the total backing of the Kashmiri people. (3) Increasingly, New Delhi is being isolated in the forum of world opinion and India’s “liberal”, democratic image is beginning to erode.

Pakistan, too, needs to recognise an emerging new reality: the Kashmiris, who did not respond to Pakistani initiatives in 1965, rose against India in 1989 not because of any prodding by Pakistan but because of the shoddy treatment meted out to them by New Delhi since the rigged elections in 1987. Having paid such a heavy price for “azadi” in the last five years, it seems inconceivable that the Kashmiris would define it now as an exclusive bid to “join” Pakistan. “Kashmir Banay Ga Pakistan” is currency here but it may not be so in Srinager. Kashmiri leaders no longer hide their irritation when Pakistan says that there are only “two options” for them — remain in India or join Pakistan.

India says it will not countenance independence for Kashmir because it would jeopardise the fate of India’s Muslims at the hands of Hindu extremists. This is a self-serving argument: for forty years, there was no threat to the “secular” Congressite state from the BJP, yet India made no effort to “resolve” Kashmir. The real reason is that India thinks of itself as the region’s “superpower” and it would hurt its ambitions if it were to allow Kashmir to break away.

Pakistan, too, has a problem with the “third” option. To consider it formally would erode the legitimacy, however neglected, of the basic UN resolutions of 1948 without any guaranteed fresh legitimacies from India or the UN. Short of a fresh UN resolution accepted by both countries on the future status of Kashmir, something in the hand remains better than nothing in the bush for Pakistan.

Friends of India and Pakistan may therefore find it profitable to look in this direction for solutions to Kashmir. The CBM tracks have run out of mileage. India and Pakistan are prisoners of their past. They cannot bilaterally resolve this conflict. Since both are now nuclear powers, their simmering dispute has become a serious cause for multilateral concern.

While recognising this reality, the Western powers have unfortunately got hold of the stick by the wrong end. They have been urging India to find an “internal”, Indian solution to the “problem”, hence their support to Mr Rao’s efforts to hold elections in Kashmir. This approach is doomed not only because Pakistan is bound to resist it tooth and nail but also because Hindu extremists in the Indian “establishment” are likely to sabotage it at every step, as in the case of the destruction of the Charar Sharif shrine.

A more profitable approach may be for the international powers to band together and oblige both India and Pakistan to accept a solution based on fresh UN resolutions which allow the Kashmiris to “get” their version of “azadi” while “giving” Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas to Pakistan and Jammu and Ladakh to India. Once the Kashmir parameter is amicably “removed” from the Indo-Pak equation, perhaps the two countries can move towards confidence-building measures with a degree of conviction and certainty.

(TFT May 25-31, 1995 Vol-7 No.12 — Article)

Chaudhry Altaf Hussain

He arrived a couple of minutes before 9 a.m. on 1st June 1978, and peered into the glass windows of “Vanguard Books” which was opening its doors for the first time that day on Davis Road in Lahore. I looked at the time and welcomed him in. “I hope you don’t mind, sir”, I said, “we’re still sorting out the books.”

“No, no”, he replied with an apologetic flourish of his palm, “I just wanted to make sure that I got a look at the good books before anyone else”. Before long, he had a thick pile on the counter. Apart from fiction, his interests were rich and varied — psychology (Freud, Fromm, Jung, Laing, Fanon), philosophy (Russel, Althusser), history (Trotsky, Lefebre, Reed, Thompson), politics (mostly biographies). “Good books, good”, he muttered, dipping into the pocket of his black jacket for his wallet. “Are you a lawyer?”, I asked. “Ooo yes”, (he tended to elongate his O’s), “from Jhelum”. He then gave me his visiting card. “Please let me know when fresh stocks arrive”.

I didn’t see him for many, many years, although I knew that he remained a frequent visitor to the bookshop. “That lawyer from Jhelum came to Vanguard today, sir, and bought a lot of books”, my staff would tell me from time to time. And I would scan the cash memo and marvel at the man’s reading habits.

I was formally introduced to Chaudhry Altaf Hussain in the summer of 1992 by that inimitable journalist Azhar Sohail. “He’s Ishaq’s man”, said Azhar darkly, “but you should speak frankly with him”. The meeting took place in a car outside the MNAs’ hostel in Islamabad on a wet and gloomy night tailored for conspiracy. I must confess that I didn’t recognise Chaudhry Sahab as the “booklover” from Vanguard, although he shook my hand vigourously and embraced me warmly. “We’ve met”, he said with a shy smile and his habitual wave of the palm. “Of course”, I beamed, “Vanguard’s first customer!” “And The Friday Times’!” he insisted, “keep up the good work, Sethi Saab, keep it up”. In due course, we became good friends.

Chaudhry Altaf’s mettle was put to the test in the summer of 1993 when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif decided to overthrow the Punjab government of Mian Manzoor Wattoo on the night of 29th June. Part of the story on that fateful night can now be told.

My wife Jugnu and I were sitting with Maleeha Lodhi in the offices of The News in Rawalpindi when she received a call at midnight from one of her reporters (Shakil Sheikh) stationed at the PM’s house. “President Ishaq has signed the proclamation authorising the federal government to take over Punjab”, said Shakil excitedly, “I’m filing a report”.

We were stunned. “This isn’t possible”, I said, “Ishaq would never sign the proclamation”. “You’re right”, said Maleeha, “he must be asleep at this time”. “Ring up Shakil”, said Jugnu, “this should be confirmed”. Maleeha called Shakil who said he was sure because he’d seen the Proclamation. “Let’s go home”, we said, “and think it over”.

As we began to dilate upon the implications of the midnight orders, it occurred to me that we should try to obtain a copy of the proclamation. So Maleeha called up Shakil and asked him to fax it to her. When she walked in with the fax, she was looking pale. “Here it is”, she said, “but it’s signed by the Cabinet Secretary and not the President”. Then it hit us. “Of course!”, I screamed, “the game plan is clear…Ishaq doesn’t know…they’re going to take over Punjab tonight!” “And by tomorrow morning the illegality of the Proclamation will be overtaken by their fait accompli”, said Maleeha.

“Call up the Presidency”, said Jugnu, “and get Fazlur Rahman’s comment”. But everyone was asleep on the hill. I called up Hamid Nasir Chattha on his mobile phone and told him the news. “I’m driving to my village”, he said, “don’t worry, we’ll talk about it in the morning”. I rang Anwar Saifullah but he said he couldn’t possibly wake up the President. “I’m sure he would never sign such a Proclamation”, he added.

We knew that Hussain Haqqani was holed up at the PC in Lahore. So I called him up. “Wake up, HH, wake up Chaudhry Altaf…the party’s over”, we yelled at him, “tell Chaudhry Sahab the Proclamation isn’t signed by Ishaq…they are planning to take over the province”. At first, HH wasn’t impressed. “It’s 1 am…gimme a break, yaar, will you..I’m sleepy.”, he replied and hung up. Then it hit him. He called back shortly and said “I’m on my way to the Governor’s House. Keep in touch”.

Within half an hour, the Governor had the Proclamation in his hands. The CM, IGP and HH weighed the possibilities. Chaudhry Sahab did not give it a second thought. He knew what to do. The CM was apprehensive but the IG Ghulam Asghar Malik was ready to call out his men to defend Governor’s House. Within minutes, they had the information they wanted: the Rangers were getting ready to storm the Punjab government.

Chaudhry Sahab and Mian Manzoor Wattoo woke up General Bangash, the Lahore Corps Commander, and told him the news. “Rein in the Rangers or we will resist and there will be bloodshed”, said Chaudhry Altaf. The Corps Commander rang up the President’s secretary, Fazlur Rahman, and confirmed that the Proclamation had not been signed by Ishaq. He then called the Chief of General Staff, General Farrakh Khan, for orders. General Farrakh told him not to allow any action which might precipitate bloodshed because the matter could be sorted out in the morning after General Waheed had woken up and consulted with the Judge Advocate General.

Next morning, all the papers reported that the federal government had taken over Punjab province and installed Mian Mohammad Azhar as Governor and Parvez Masud as Chief Secretary on the basis of the Presidential Proclamation. Only Maleeha Lodhi’s edition of The News from Islamabad carried information suggesting that something quite different had taken place that night.

Chaudhry Altaf Hussain’s defiant posture had saved the day for President Ishaq and sealed the fate of Nawaz Sharif’s government. If the Punjab government had fallen, Pakistan’s political history might have been very different.

When Benazir Bhutto became Prime Minister, she wasn’t sure that she should appoint Chaudhry Sahab as Governor Punjab. “He’s Ishaq’s man”, she said, and wondered about his loyalty to her. “But if it hadn’t been for him, you wouldn’t be Prime Minister today”, I persisted. For six months, Ms Bhutto dragged her feet. Then she took the plunge and made Chaudhry Altaf Hussain Governor Punjab. “Are you happy now, Najam?”, she teased when she bumped into me somewhere.

Despite failing health, Chaudhry Sahab remained a master conspirator to the end. “I have no choice”, he would lament, “Wattoo is a past master at this game and if he is allowed to have his way he will wipe out the PPP in the Punjab”. Sometimes, Chaudhry Sahab would come up with one plan to “contain” Wattoo, sometimes another, but neither Ms Bhutto nor President Leghari were prepared to go along with him fully or consistently. Mr Ijlal Haider Zaidi, the PM’s unofficial advisor on Punjab, didn’t subscribe to Chaudhry Sahab’s bold views and cautioned the federal government about the Punjab Governor’s misplaced concreteness.

Chaudhry Altaf thought he had cracked the Punjabi psyche. “Law and order and stability are more important to ordinary people than democratic niceties”, he would stress. “Because I don’t have any powers, I must pretend that I do and keep Wattoo guessing”. The tragedy is that he may have ended up confusing not only Wattoo but also the Prime Minister and the President who began to suspect that he might have “an agenda of his own.”

Chaudhry Altaf Hussain had mastered the algebra of politics. He had a clear, decisive and strategic mind. He had a visceral understanding of the people he was dealing with, both at the cultural and political level. He was so thoroughly rooted in the societal mores of the Punjab that he never vacillated in his decisions. Though he was a Muslim Leaguer by inclination, he understood the dialectic of the PPP better than many party stalwarts. He had his feet firmly on the ground and was always accessible. He arrived on the scene as a relatively unknown politician in 1992 and has departed as a giant in contemporary affairs.

Chaudhry Altaf Hussain was a consummate politician with an unambiguous agenda: keep Wattoo at bay while providing some semblance of governance to the people of the Punjab. In that, he had no doubts about the ills that plagued the province. For instance, Chaudhry Sahab was clear in his mind that the religious sectarians had to be dealt with firmly. It was he who tilted the balance while the Punjab government wavered. It was to his everlasting regret that the government could not fashion a more effective response.

Last month, Chaudhry Sahab hitched a ride with Ms Bhutto to America because he was due for a medical check up in New York. En route, on the aircraft, Ms Bhutto called in the journalists accompanying her for a chat. When the discussion turned to Punjab, Ms Bhutto looked around and laughed: “We’d better call Governor Punjab to join us or else he’ll get angry and dismiss the Punjab government.” Mian Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo need have no fears on that score now.

We will miss you, Chaudhry Saab.

(TFT Jun 01-07, 1995 Vol-7 No.13 — Editorial)

Unstable “status quo”

Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan is recently reported to have said that “in the current situation, with divisions and polarisation, there is no possibility of the emergence of a third political force”. Nawabzada Sahab’s argument is that an in-house change is not on the cards because “the military leadership wants to maintain the status quo and the internal and external situation demands that there should be no change in the existing political set-up.”    Before prime minister Benazir Bhutto reaches for the phone and offers Nawabzada Sahab the deputy prime ministership of Pakistan for uttering such reassuring words, she might pause and consider the darkening clouds on the horizon.

  1. Mr Altaf Hussain has proved, yet again, that he can cripple Karachi in the blinking of an eye. The MQM (A) is armed with sophisticated weapons, including rocket launchers, and is threatening to close down the city after Moharram. Whatever her own perceptions, the fact is that Ms Bhutto and the PPP are intensely disliked by Karachi-ites who are dying to get rid of her government. That’s why the MQM won’t talk turkey with the PPP.
  2. The Milli Yekjehti Council (MYC) of religious parties has demonstrated that it can enforce a nation-wide strike against the government. The fundamentalists are convinced that Ms Bhutto is an agent of Western powers who are inimical to Islam. They will seize the first opportunity to remove her from office. That’s why they’re not interested in negotiating with Islamabad.
  3. Mian Nawaz Sharif is at the end of his tether. There are over a hundred cases against his family and more are on the way. His family members are either in hiding in London or in prison. His financial empire is in ruins. Because of his popularity in the urban areas of Pakistan, he can raise large crowds and call successful nation-wide strikes. He has nothing left to lose, so he will sup with the devil, if he has to, in order to boot Bhutto out. The possibility of rapprochement is zero.
  4. Businessmen and traders are hopping mad with Ms Bhutto. The Privatisation Commission and the Central Board of Revenue are digging into the record and leading figures are either on the government’s Exit-Control List or in the process of being charged with fraud or tax evasion. The economy is in a slump. New taxes are about to be imposed. Businessmen have supported every strike against Ms Bhutto and they will do so again and again until they have seen the back of her. Their negotiations with Islamabad are aimed at extracting concessions and do not reflect any change of heart on their part.
  5. The tribals of the NWFP are threatening to take up arms against Islamabad. The ban on Afghan Transit Trade has hurt them badly. Members of parliament from FATA and PATA are under pressure from their constituents to abandon Ms Bhutto and seek a third option. Talks have broken down.
  6. The chief minister of Balochistan is in a nasty mood. Members of the Balochistan parliament and government are warning of mass resignations if Islamabad doesn’t raise their province’s share of royalties from Sui gas. No resolution is in sight.
  7. Messrs Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, Balkh Sher Mazari and Zafrullah Jamali have never hidden their intense aversion to Ms Bhutto’s government. They will lend their weight to any serious effort to dislodge her from power.
  8. The people of urban Pakistan are thoroughly disillusioned and unhappy with Ms Bhutto. Inflation has eaten into their pockets, they are out of jobs and they can expect no respite from the next budget. Sullen and alienated, they may clutch at the first opportunity to change the present political dispensation.

The mid-June budget could spell disaster for Ms Bhutto if it sparks protests against the government. In such a situation, all the elements hostile to Ms Bhutto will bond together and exert themselves to repeat the agitation movement of 1977. But this time, the movement is likely to go beyond street demonstrations, strikes and protest meetings. Thanks to the Afghan jihad which flushed Pakistan with sophisticated weapons, armed militants and militias are likely to seek a head-on clash with the organs of the state. In that event, Nawabzada Nasrullah’s “status quo” supporters in the armed forces will be forced to re-evaluate their assumptions.

Such a re-think might conceivably involve a nod for an in-house change in which Mr Nawaz Sharif makes way for a “consensus” candidate. If a “signal” should materialise under duress, or be contrived under pressure, events will move with speed and Ms Bhutto’s coalition may disintegrate. In the absence of a countervailing heavyweight like Chaudhry Altaf Hussain in the Punjab, the PM will be poorly served by Mr Manzoor Wattoo, whose role could become pivotal.

A single spark, like a tough budget, can light a prairie fire. Ms Bhutto should worry about an unstable “status quo”. Instead of fire-fighting tactics, which is what she has done during much of her time, she should devise a reliable strategy to douse discontent before it lays a blanket siege of Islamabad.

(TFT Jun 08-14, 1995 Vol-7 No.14 — Editorial)

Make or break budget

Budget-making is an unenviable job. It requires the government to devise a complex package which leads to an increase in revenues, reduces the fiscal deficit, keeps inflation at bay and promotes economic growth. The difficulty is that vested interests who demand accommodation — business lobbies, politicians, IMF — tend to pull and push in such different directions that the final budgetary proposals end up becoming inconsistent and unrealistic.

The budget exercise this year is proving especially problematic because the economic figures for FY 1994-95 are in and the government is off target on most fronts. The fiscal deficit, which was targeted at 4 per cent, is up to 5.8 per cent. And GDP growth is only 4.7 per cent, significantly below the 6.5 per cent targeted. Revenue targets have also gone awry.

In June 1994, revenues for FY 1994-95 were targeted at Rs 259.90 billion, an increase of Rs 76.40 billion over the figure of Rs 183.2 billion in FY 1993-94. Of this targeted revenue increase, Rs 45.5 billion was expected to come from new tax measures imposed last year (including 15% sales tax on a wide range of items) while the rest was targeted to accrue from autonomous GDP growth. But things didn’t work out as planned. So the revenue target was revised to Rs 240 billion three months ago. It was revised again to Rs 230.50 billion last month. On the eve of the new budget, the fear is that revenue may be lower still — about Rs 210 billion. What has gone wrong?

In FY 1993-94, gross budgetary receipts were distributed as follows: Tax revenues 63%, non-tax revenues 29%, import surcharges 8%. Of all tax revenues, direct taxes contributed 26%, customs duties 37%, sales tax 17%, federal excise duties 20%.

In FY 1994-95, gross budgetary receipts were targeted thus: Tax revenues 71.77%, non-tax revenues 21.06%, import surcharges 7.16%. Of all tax revenues, direct taxes were expected to contribute 24%, customs duties 35%, sales tax 23%, federal excise duties 18%.

The sharp targeted rise in tax revenues over the earlier year — from 63% to 71.77% — was crucial to the budgetary exercise last year. Except for sales tax (whose substantial increase became pivotal), all other shares were targeted to decline. The revenue increase from sales tax was expected to go up from Rs 32.1 Billion in FY 1993-94 to Rs 59.8 Billion in FY 1994-95.

When the revenue targets for FY 1994-95 were revised from Rs 260 billion to Rs 230 Billion in April, the shortfalls were duly noted: 3.3% or about Rs 2 billion in Direct Taxes, 21.2% or about Rs 13 billion in Sales Tax, 11% or about Rs 10 billion in Customs Duties and 6.6% or about Rs 3 Billion in Federal Excise Duties.

The shortfalls in Direct Taxes and Federal Excise Duties are related to the lower than targeted growth rate of the economy (4.7% against 6.5%). Revenues from Customs Duties have fallen largely because of a reduction in the rates of import duties from a maximum of 95% to 70% without an offsetting increase in the volume and value of imports due, once again, to a lower than expected GDP growth rate. But the largest shortfall (in sales tax collections) is due to two main factors: the lack of an administrative structure to monitor and collect the newly imposed 15% sales tax and the fierce resistance of the business community to additional taxes during recessionary times. Businessmen are also loathe to fall in line with the sales tax proposals because this entails keeping detailed records of accounts which can later be perused by the tax authorities to track down income tax evaders.

Critics of the finance ministry argue that, in view of the government’s high expenditure targets, the original revenue targets in FY 1994-95 were deliberately inflated to unrealistic levels in order to please or hoodwink the IMF. A more accurate view is that the Central Board of Revenue (CBR) just does not have the intellectual capacity or resource data base to frame proper tax policies or the administrative ability to implement them efficiently. Prime minister Benazir Bhutto was so angered by the CBR’s inefficiency that mid-way through the tax collection drive in early 1995, when revenue receipts were well below targets, she fired the chairman of the CBR along with his deputies and handed over charge of the department to the finance secretary Javed Talat. The irony is that Mr Talat was chairman of the CBR when the 1994-95 budget was framed and was subsequently “promoted” as finance secretary by Ms Bhutto because his “excellent” tax proposals were tailored to meet her exorbitant revenue demands.

This is exactly what could happen all over again if the CBR’s proposal to impose over Rs 50 billion in additional taxes in the next budget is approved by the prime minister. The counter-arguments in favour of a reduced tax burden are more weighty.

Revenue receipts in FY 1993-94 of Rs 190 Billion were expected to increase to Rs 260 Billion in FY 1994-95. Of the net targeted increase of about Rs 70 billion, Rs 25 billion were expected to accrue from autonomous economic growth while Rs 45 Billion were targeted from new tax measures, including sales tax. In actual fact, however, they have turned out to be as low as Rs 210 billion. What has happened is that apart from the revenue shortfalls emanating from a lower than targeted GDP growth rate, the sales tax measures have fallen radically short of expectations.

The finance ministry should not use the original revenue target of Rs 260 billion as a base for levying over Rs 50 billion in new sales taxes. The fact is that the revenue base should properly be Rs 210 billion which is what has been realised. On this basis, a target of over Rs 50 billion is both excessive and highly unrealistic. Customs and sales tax were originally targeted at Rs 150 billion but were revised to Rs 126 billion in April and are expected to be about Rs 111 billion on the eve of the new budget. Since the tax/GDP ratio has remained constant at about 12 per cent, the likelihood is that the CBR’s new proposals, if accepted, are going to end up way off target once again.

The CBR’s proposals are also thought to be politically suicidal for Ms Bhutto’s government. With inflation running in double digits, the squeeze on the urban middle classes by the imposition of additional taxes on utilities and basic goods may lead to unrest on the streets. In fact, the opposition is banking upon an unpopular budget to create the political climate for renewed attempts to overthrow the government.

The counter proposals are more sensible. On the revenue side, the new tax burden should be as low as possible; maximum customs duties should be reduced to 55% and not 40%; and the sales tax on additional items should be lower than 15% and staggered over a few years. On the debit side, government expenditures should be restrained and waste reduced by abolishing innumerable unproductive government departments and institutions (the government should not act as an employment agency bestowing political patronage). More significantly, the proceeds from privatisation should be used to retire the government’s expensive domestic debt (over 80 % of total public debt) so that the burden of interest payments (Rs 83 billion or 40% of revenues) on the budget is reduced, freeing resources for development expenditures and the Social Action Programme.

Ms Bhutto does not have a full-fledged federal finance minister. “I’m my own finance minister because I know more about economics than anyone else in government” she once snapped at a journalist who thought the country desperately needed an economic “Czar” to put the economy on the rails again. Having mucked about last year, the prime minister had better be right in her economic prognosis for next year. Or else.

(TFT Jun 15-21, 1995 Vol-7 No.15 — Editorial)

A clean and capable man of immense integrity

When Mr Farooq Leghari was appointed foreign minister instead of finance minister by prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 1993, her motives were thought to be transparent enough. Mr Leghari was said to know more about economics and finance than all Ms Bhutto’s MNAs put together. As the PPP’s premier Mr Clean, Mr Leghari had done an admirable job as minister for water and power in Ms Bhutto’s first government (1988-90) and he would have made an excellent finance minister during her second term. But the last thing Ms Bhutto wanted now was a competent, honest, no-nonsense finance minister who would not only have known what to do but, more importantly, what not to do. No. The prime minister was determined to retain the finance ministry in her own grasp so that she could handpick appointments to the financial institutions of the country and dispense patronage at will. So Mr Leghari was banished to the foreign ministry where, if he’d lasted, he would have been fated to play second-fiddle to the glamourous, glib, globe-trotting daughter of the East.

Mr Leghari owes his elevation to the Presidency soon thereafter to a peculiar combination of circumstances. Originally, the idea was to accommodate Mr Wasim Sajjad as a “consensus” candidate, provided Mr Nawaz Sharif agreed to help repeal the 8th amendment. When Mr Sharif refused, Ms Bhutto toyed with Mr Hamid Nasir Chattha but quickly abandoned the idea when eyebrows were raised in certain powerful quarters. As the search for a PPP president got underway, Mr Leghari increasingly began to appear as the right man for the job. He had stuck by the Peoples Party, in particular the Leaderene, through thick and thin for seventeen long years, so his credentials were irreproachable. Having denied him the coveted finance ministry, Ms Bhutto saw this as a good opportunity to placate him by kicking him upstairs where his do-good inclinations wouldn’t interfere in the cynical running of the executive. There could not be a better man in the Presidency than the deferential Sardar of the vanishing Leghari tribe, thought Ms Bhutto. At last, she would have her very own Fazal Elahi Chaudhry!

Mr Leghari’s first few months in the Presidency were unfortunately marred by controversy and bad blood. Mr Nawaz Sharif and the opposition boycotted Mr Leghari’s oath-taking ceremony. When President Leghari expressed a desire to call on Mr Sharif in Lahore, the opposition leader bluntly rebuffed the gesture by proclaiming that he would have nothing to do with “a jiyala President”. Since a “jiyala President” was exactly what Ms Bhutto was seeking to consolidate, she must have been delighted by the opposition’s reproachful attitude towards Mr Leghari. “That should clip Leghari’s wings and dampen any ambitions he may harbour of playing an intrusive role in times to come”, was the way many PPP stalwarts put it.

Soon thereafter, the opposition had occasion to “confirm” its suspicions. When Ms Bhutto moved against the Sabir Shah government in the NWFP, the President was constitutionally obliged to act on her advice. Having refused to open a line of communication with him in the first place, the opposition was now quick to condemn Mr Leghari’s intervention in support of Mr Aftab Sherpao. For the opposition, it was irrelevant that Mr Aftab Sherpao’s move came after Mr Sabir Shah had already lost support of the independent MPs who had propped up the PML(N) coalition. It was irrelevant that Mr Sherpao had every constitutional right, however distasteful his modus operandi, to move a vote of no-confidence against Mr Shah. It was irrelevant that under the constitution Mr Leghari, whatever his personal disquiet, had no option but to accept the federal government’s advice and act accordingly. The opposition desperately wanted to believe that President Leghari was a “jiyala” and the circumstances were tailored to reinforce such convictions. If the opposition was hopping mad at the President, Ms Bhutto must have been delighted. The greater the hostility between the President and the opposition, the better for the prime minister! A wedge was later to be driven between the President and the opposition during President Leghari’s trip to the USA in April 94.

Mr Leghari had made no plans to attend his son’s graduation ceremony in the United States. But he was persuaded by the prime minister and the army chief to undertake the trip for an important reason. Following US deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott’s visit to Pakistan in January, the Americans were keen for Ms Bhutto to visit Washington immediately so that they could lean on her to make concessions on Pakistan’s nuclear programme in exchange for a waiver to the Pressler amendment. Since the troika was united in opposing any concessions to Washington, it was felt that Ms Bhutto’s trip, far from resolving the core issue, might yield a negative fallout at home and abroad. Far better, it was thought, that President Leghari should undertake an exercise in “quiet diplomacy” on the pretext of a personal visit. In this manner, Pakistan’s national security concerns could be forcefully reiterated before the Americans without any hint of a snub by the government of Pakistan or any suggestion of false expectations at home.

The opposition, unfortunately, saw this as an opportunity to attack the President. A campaign was mounted to allege that the President had incurred huge expenses from the state treasury in undertaking a “personal” trip to the United States. Mr Leghari’s overloaded working itinerary was ignored or belittled. The interesting point is that at no stage did the government’s media managers make any serious effort to brief the press about the real purpose behind the President’s visit to the United States. Nor did the government seriously dispute the opposition’s allegations against the President of “overspending” or “misusing official facilities”. It seemed as though the government was happy to sit back and derive malicious pleasure from the erosion of Mr Leghari’s credibility in the eyes of the people.

The “Mehrangate” affair, which erupted while Mr Leghari was still in the United States, was a blow to the President’s reputation. Even as the opposition was fabricating “facts” about his sale of land to Mr Yunus Habib (at worst, an error of judgement), government spokesmen like interior minister General Naseerullah Babar and law minister Iqbal Haider were blithely issuing contradictory and wishy washy statements which only served to deepen suspicions about Mr Leghari’s role in the matter. The curious aspect of the whole affair is that when Mr Leghari personally sought to clarify his position to a section of the press, the government’s media managers only made only half-hearted efforts to disseminate his detailed interviews. As a matter of fact, some PPP stalwarts privately expressed displeasure over attempts by the President to defend himself in public and at least one such view was reflected in the editorial of an Islamabad newspaper known to be close to the government. Although conclusive proof of the government’s complicity in the sordid character-assassination of President Leghari is not available, it is now known that the person who leaked the “Mehrangate” land deal story to Mr Sharif was none other than the aggressive PML(N) MNA who was arrested some months ago for fraudulent land transactions and then defected to the PPP by announcing the formation of a PML(N) “forward bloc”, courtesy a well-known media manager of the PPP government.

The arrest of Mian Mohammad Sharif by General Babar’s hounds on the eve of President Leghari’s address to a joint sitting of Parliament drove the opposition and the President further apart. Mr Nawaz Sharif had originally rejected the proposal (made by the same double-faced PML(N) MNA referred to above) that opposition MNAs should shower Mr Leghari with rotten eggs and tomatoes during his Presidential address. Instead, the opposition had contrived a harmless plan to sneak a few small tape-recorders into parliament and play back the “Go Baba Go” tapes of 1992 to remind Mr Leghari of his raucous role at the time. Mian Sharif’s arrest, however, put paid to that. An outraged opposition went to parliament and lunged for the President. In the brawls which ensued, government thugs beat up a couple of opposition members so badly that they had to be hospitalised. Relations between the President and the opposition hit an all-time low, prompting many people to wonder whether the timing of Mian Sharif’s arrest (he was as inexplicably released some days later) was in some way linked to efforts by certain government circles to drive yet another wedge between the President and the opposition.

It has taken Nawaz Sharif nearly eighteen months to realise that his strategy of attacking President Leghari has played directly into Benazir Bhutto’s hands. By trying to weaken Mr Leghari and erode his credentials, Mr Sharif has effectively debarred himself from trying to exploit a potentially powerful source of influence, moderation and balance in the political system (a lesson the wily Ms Bhutto was quick to demonstrate when she successfully drove a wedge between Mr Sharif and Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan in 1993). If all this is clear, why does Mr Sharif still demand assurances that Mr Leghari is not a “jiyala” and will indeed play the bipartisan role expected of him? When President Leghari reflects on how the Bhutto government has let him down on so many counts, is it not conceivable that he may be deeply hurt, offended and even angry? Equally, can any conscientious and informed person remain oblivious to the continuing follies, inefficiencies and corruptions of the Bhutto government without wringing his hands in despair and reflecting about alternatives and options?

For Mr Sharif’s benefit, it may be necessary to inject some cold facts about Mr Farooq Leghari into the calculations. Mr Leghari’s contribution to the struggle for the restoration of democracy is second to none in the Peoples Party, so he doesn’t owe anything to anyone. He has been to prison, he has been showered with lathis and blows. He was the party’s leading light during Ms Bhutto’s incarceration abroad until 1986. He was the Bhutto government’s most competent and clean face during its years in office from 1988 to 1990. More crucially, it was Mr Leghari who played a decisive role in determining the choice of PPP candidates from south Punjab in the 1993 elections, an intervention which helped Ms Bhutto form a government in Islamabad. If Ms Bhutto has elevated him to the Presidency, Mr Leghari must surely know that she did him no great favour — he, and he alone in the PPP, merited the honour and responsibility.

Mr Leghari is also, as everyone knows, a genuinely pious, patriotic and self-respecting man. When he resigned from the Peoples Party after becoming President, he was sending an obvious message: he would sincerely strive to become the President of Pakistan by rising above party political interests. When he expressed a desire to call upon Mr Sharif shortly after, he was trying to build bridges between the government and the opposition in order to strengthen democracy.

Mr Farooq Leghari has said time and again that he does not want to be an “intrusive” President. That should reassure the prime minister, although God knows her bumbling government would benefit enormously from some definite intrusions by the President. Mr Leghari is also ready to break the ice with Mr Sharif. That should be welcomed by the leader of the opposition who needs to think in national rather than party terms all the time.

Finally, if Mr Sharif wants to know whether President Farooq Leghari is still a “jiyala” or not, there can be no better way of finding out than by having a heart to heart talk with him. Mr Sharif has nothing to lose and much to gain from opening a dialogue with the President and keeping it going despite any initial frustrations which might result. In a calm and composed manner, Mr Farooq Leghari has come a long way in the last eighteen months. He has a longer way to go in the next four years. It is in the interests of Pakistan and democracy that everyone should seek to extract maximum mileage from this clean and capable man of immense integrity.

(TFT Jun 22-28, 1995 Vol-7 No.16 — Editorial)

Seize the time, Ms Bhutto

These are sombre times. Benazir Bhutto should pause to reflect about what is going on and where she is taking the country.

A clue in this direction has recently been provided by our American friends. They have expressed their displeasure at the government for registering a “treason case” against opposition leader Nawaz Sharif. On the face of it, this view shouldn’t arouse too much controversy — after all, it is a common enough sentiment that the confrontation between government and opposition, initiated by the opposition last year, has now been carried to absurd limits by the government. But the timing and manner of the American statement would suggest a more complex and worrying analysis than the one on sale at the moment — ie, that “this amounts to an interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan because it infringes our sovereignty”.

Of course, it is an “interference” in the internal affairs of Pakistan. But can this “interference” be shrugged away by the usual statement from the Foreign Office and an angry editorial or two in the press denouncing the Americans for not “minding their own business”?

The calculated manner in which the “interference” as made by the Americans needs to be evaluated with great concern. There was no prior hint of American disapproval in the local press, although senior American officials in Pakistan know how to leak stories. More significantly, no discreet message was conveyed to our ambassador in Washington or to anyone in the Foreign Office or in the PM’s secretariat in Islamabad. Instead, US State Department officials prodded a loaded question from a Pakistani journalist in Washington and then promptly read out a carefully prepared statement on the issue. Clearly, the American have resorted to such blunt talking because they want the Bhutto government to sit up, take notice and carefully rethink the extraordinary political implications of trying a former prime minister for “treason”. But that is not all.

After desperately renegotiating a revision of the 1994-95 budgetary targets in April and then again in May, Islamabad had given firm assurances to the IMF that the next budget would be framed strictly in accordance with IMF guidelines. However, despite disclaimers by the government, the new budget has all but overturned the IMF’s structural adjustment programme in Pakistan. We have gone back on our word with the IMF for the umpteenth time. Ominously enough, the word in the IMF’s Washington headquarters is: no more money for Pakistan. How should we react to this?

Since there is ample short-term political and economic justification for the budget, Islamabad is sanguine that the IMF can be persuaded to go along with it, however reluctantly. But this is not a realistic assessment of the situation. The IMF, as everyone knows, is a sophisticated instrument of American foreign policy. It is therefore more than likely that on this occasion the IMF will balk at approving Pakistani requests for economic assistance until the Bhutto government wakes up to its political follies at home. If the Americans think that the confrontation with the opposition is inimical to political stability in Pakistan, it is more than likely that they will use the IMF to drum the State Department’s recent message home even more forcefully. It is also logical to assume that a solution to Karachi will be added to Washington’s political conditionalities because it remains the most dangerous faultline in our political system.

Indeed, there is now more than a hint of evidence that the Americans played a role in persuading Altaf Hussain to call off his strike recently. If that is so, it stands to reason that the Americans must have conveyed this fact, along with their views, to the Bhutto government and asked for reconciliatory measures from the government in exchange for the MQM’s cooperation.

In the final analysis, therefore, we can reasonably guess the bottom line: sort out Karachi at all costs and do so quickly. Since the costs to the Bhutto government have already been outlined by the “treasonable” opposition leader Nawaz Sharif (the MQM(A) should be granted a general amnesty and the Haqiqis should be locked up) we can see what the Americans are trying to tell Benazir Bhutto: make up with Nawaz Sharif and Altaf Hussain because the army is once again having second thoughts about the viability of parliamentary democracy.

There are some urgent questions the prime minister needs to resolve in the next few weeks. Why is there such a big gulf between Ms Bhutto’s views and the perception of the people of Pakistan about the reality in Karachi? How can this gulf be bridged quickly? Why has General Abdul Waheed detached the army from inputting into the problem of Karachi? Why has Mian Manzoor Wattoo been so keen to push the Chaudhry Habibullah case which has inevitably led to the framing of a charge of treason against the leader of the opposition? If Ms Bhutto can find the answers and act decisively, she will thwart the march of events from provoking a conspiracy to remove her from power. If she cannot, either because she is arrogant or stubborn, parliamentary democracy and all its players will be swept away.

(TFT Jun 29-05 Jul, 1995 Vol-7 No.17 — Editorial)

Time to get real

Commentary on the merits of the treason case against a former prime minister and seventeen others — including a former Punjab governor, two former federal ministers and several former MPAs — is subjudice. But it may be useful to recall the sequence of events which motivated key political leaders and bureaucrats in Punjab and Islamabad to persuade prime minister Benazir Bhutto to lodge such a case against the opposition nearly two years after the “original sin” is alleged to have been committed.

On April 18th, 1993, Mian Nawaz Sharif was sacked as prime minister of Pakistan by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan. Seven days later, on April 25th, Mr Sharif’s Punjab chief minister, Ghulam Haider Wyne, was overthrown via a vote of no-confidence and Mian Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo became chief minister. However, on May 26th, the Supreme Court overturned the President’s order and Mr Sharif became prime minister again. Fearing that Mr Sharif’s supporters would now recapture the Punjab assembly, the Punjab Governor, Chaudhry Altaf Hussain, dismissed the Punjab Assembly on 29th May “on the advice” of Punjab chief minister Mian Manzoor Wattoo as required under law. The Punjab opposition, led by Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, promptly contested the legality of this dissolution by arguing before the Lahore High Court that a vote of no-confidence against Mr Wattoo had been lodged with the secretary of the Punjab assembly, Chaudhry Habibullah Goraya, some “hours” prior to the chief minister’s “advice” to the governor on May 29th.

When the Lahore High Court asked Chaudhry Habibullah to appear in court and testify on behalf of the Punjab opposition, the good man was nowhere to be found. The Punjab government claimed that he had been “kidnapped” by the opposition (a kidnapping case was suitably lodged) and was being held in the “protective custody” of the federal government of Nawaz Sharif. Sometime in June, however, Chaudhury Habibullah suddenly appeared before the assistant commissioner in Islamabad and gave a statement denying that he had been kidnapped and confirming that he had received notice of the Punjab opposition’s no-confidence motion some hours before the Punjab assembly’s dissolution.

The Lahore High Court deliberated upon the evidence presented by the Punjab government and the opposition in support of their views and came to the conclusion, on June 29th, that both sides were lying. The court upheld the status quo ante before the controversial dissolution of the Punjab assembly/vote of no-confidence on May 29th and restored the Punjab assembly. Minutes later, Chief Minister Wattoo and Governor Altaf dissolved the Punjab assembly again.

Two hours later, without advance notice of his intentions as required under parliamentary procedures, Mr Sharif successfully railroaded a resolution in a joint sitting of the federal parliament in Islamabad seeking to oust the interim Wattoo administration in the Punjab. By midnight, Mr Sharif was ready to implement his plan to take over Punjab province on the basis of a “Presidential” Proclamation “authorising” him to nominate Mian Mohammad Azhar as Punjab Administrator. But there was one fatal flaw in Mr Sharif’s plan — instead of being signed by President Ishaq, the Presidential Proclamation was signed on the President’s behalf by the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Secretary.

Armed with such a “Presidential” Proclamation, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, the federal interior minister, ordered the Rangers to evict the Wattoo administration in the early hours of June 30th. But his plans were thwarted when Chaudhry Altaf and Mr Wattoo called the Lahore Corps Commander to inform him that the “Presidential” Proclamation wasn’t in fact signed by President Ishaq and asked him to rein in the Rangers. Fearing a clash between the Rangers and the Punjab police, the Corps Commander verified the facts, discussed the matter with the Chief of General Staff in Pindi and stayed the federal government’s directives pending a thorough evaluation by the army’s Judge Advocate General next morning. Nineteen days later, following a constitutional deadlock between Prime Minister Sharif and President Ishaq, both were obliged to resign on 18th July and fresh elections were called. The rest, as they say, is history.

On 11th August 1994, nearly fifteen months from the day Chaudhry Habibullah disappeared, the Punjab Assembly’s Assistant Secretary Nasir Mahmood suddenly woke up and formally lodged a case in the Qila Gujar Singh Police Station in Lahore against Mr Habibullah, Mr Nawaz Sharif, Mr Shujaat Hussain, Mian Mohammad Azhar and 14 others for alleged violation of the Constitution (subversion and treason) under Articles 6, 124-A, 120-B, 161, 166, 172, 173, 174, 465, 468, 469 and 471. All, except Mr Sharif, Mr Hussain and Mr Azhar, were arrested while two others were listed as “absconders”. In due course, all except Mr Habibullah and former MPA Sohail Zia Butt (Mr Sharif’s cousin) were able to obtain their freedom on bail.

The Punjab government’s case against the 18 “subversive elements” didn’t attract much attention until 13th June, 1995 (ten months later) when the Punjab Home Secretary decided to plug the constitutional gaps in the case by seeking the federal government’s permission to nominate it as the original complainant in the case under Article 2 of the constitution. That’s when all hell broke loose — former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was “suddenly” charged with “treason” (punishable with death by hanging) by sitting prime minister Benazir Bhutto!

Some important questions arise: If an offence as grave as “treason” was involved on 29th June 1993, why didn’t the Moeen Qureshi government take notice of it? Indeed, if Mr Wattoo is as passionately patriotic as he claims to be, why did it take his Punjab government over nine months after he became chief minister in November 1994 to lodge the “treason” case against Mr Sharif et al? Why were Mr Sharif, Mr Hussain and Mian Azhar not arrested along with the others on August 11th 1994? Indeed, if the case had any merit at all, why were all except two of the accused subsequently enlarged on bail by the courts? Why was it felt necessary by the Punjab chief minister, nine months after the “treason” case was lodged, to implicate the federal government in it on June 13th 1995? The answers are obvious enough.

Mr Wattoo lodged the case last year for two reasons. He was sending a strong message to the PML(N) opposition in the Punjab, especially the rival group in his home Okara district led by Mian Yasin Wattoo (one of the accused), that he meant business and wouldn’t be trifled with (as many as 30 PML(N) MPAs from southern Punjab are bitterly opposed to Mr Wattoo and have been at the receiving end of his stick since the day he became chief minister). Mr Wattoo was also seeking to ingratiate himself with Ms Bhutto by harassing Mr Sharif — it might be recalled that the treason case was lodged by the Punjab government about the same time last year that Mr Sharif was thundering about “train marches” and exhorting the people to rise and overthrow the Bhutto government.

But this still doesn’t explain why it was felt necessary for the federal government to step in on 13th June 1995 and make a mountain out of a molehill.

The explanation for this change of tack may have to do with Ms Bhutto’s acute frustration with Mr Sharif and General Naseerullah Babar’s rather desperate efforts to “cap” the “plunderer of Pakistan”. The federal government has unleashed the FIA against Mr Sharif and his friends and family. But there is not an iota of change in Mr Sharif’s defiant posture — indeed, he has scornfully laughed away the 130 odd cases initiated against his tribe — and remains as committed as ever to overthrowing Ms Bhutto’s government. Clearly, some conspirator in Lahore or sycophant in Islamabad must have suggested to Ms Bhutto that a good way to tighten the noose around Mr Sharif could be contrived by plugging the legal deficiencies in Mr Wattoo’s brief and “activating” the federal government as a complainant in the case. Knowing Ms Bhutto’s weakness for conspiratorial advice, she must have flashed her mercurial smile and reached for the green line to the inscrutable Mr Ahmad Sadiq: “Peee Esss….I have a good idea….could you talk to CM Punjab and Gen Babar….!”

On a more serious note, however, it is clear that Ms Bhutto has walked into a trap set by Mr Wattoo. As the wily CM defends his fiefdom against the marauding bands of the PPP’s senior Punjab minister Makhdoom Altaf Ahmad, he is desperate to open lines of communication with the PML(N) and once again try to play off one party against the other. That is why he has lumped Ms Bhutto with the “treason” case and is sending one “secret” message after another to the PML(N) protesting his own innocence. It may be recalled that he did much the same thing last year when Mr Sharif’s encroachments in Model Town were brutally demolished by the LDA.

Ms Bhutto’s advisors have succeeded in making her look unacceptably vindictive. Also, they have undermined her democratic credentials by putting her on the mat before the forum of world opinion. More ominously, however, her advisors have led her to ignore the potentially serious implications of a “treason” case against a former prime minister. If the khakis ever need any justification for booting her out, they will only need to cite two compelling reasons: Ms Bhutto’s “inability to halt the bloodshed in Karachi” and her “intention to pursue the treason case against the leader of a party which secured the greatest number of votes in the 1993 elections”. Both situations, it will be argued, “were designed to plunge the country into anarchy and civil war.”

Get real, Ms Bhutto. This is not Superwoman time.

(TFT Jul 06-12, 1995 Vol-7 No.18 — Editorial)

Speak softly and tread warily

Is it purely coincidental that the crackdown on the press in Karachi follows on the heels of a major overhaul in the federal ministry of information? We think not.

The arrival of Haji Akram (Information Secretary), Mr Ismael Patel (Principal Information Officer), Mr Shahid Rafi (DG-Media, Foreign Office), Mr Azhar Sohail (DG-APP), Mr Anwar Mahmood (DG External Publicity) and Ms Rana Sheikh (MD PTV) signals Ms Bhutto’s increasing frustration with the lack of appropriate “media management” in the last year or so. The new “team” is decidedly more hard-nosed and formidable than the departing one headed by Mr Hussain Haqqani, who is alleged to have “disengaged” himself from day-to-day “media manipulation” during his last months as the Media-Mogul of Pakistan.

Messrs Akram, Rafi and Mahmood were once “l’enfants terrible” of the Nawaz Sharif regime. But Haji Sahab (then Information Secretary) saw the writing on the wall and “disengaged” himself from Brig Imtiaz Ahmad’s dirty-tricks department at the fag end of Mr Sharif’s regime. Nonetheless, his come-back as the new Information Czar will cause some trepidation in press circles, especially in the Punjab where Haji Sahab once served as General Zia’s no-nonsense home secretary.

Mr Ismael Patel was President Ghulam Ishaq Khan’s competent but tight-lipped media advisor for several years. As the new PIO, he will fit his job like a glove. It is said that the minions in the Press and Information Department in Islamabad are already shivering in their pants at the prospect of having to answer to their new boss every day.

Mr Shahid Rafi needs no introduction. He was Mr Sharif’s answer to Billy The Kid and is fondly remembered as the fox who put one over President Ishaq and Ismael Patel when he absconded with a tape of the President’s speech on the fateful night of July 18th 1993 so that it couldn’t be aired on PTV until everyone in Pakistan had dropped off to sleep. His introduction into the Foreign Office is designed to make Sardar Assef Ali the Metternich of Pakistan although rumour has it that Mr Rafi’s sights are firmly fixed on his old job as MD-PTV.

Mr Anwar Mahmood was Mr Sharif’s press secretary and later PIO. An unassuming gent who exercised inordinate influence on Mr Sharif, the press should be thankful that Mr Mahmood’s aggressive instincts and perennially over-charged batteries will be directed at “external publicity” rather than “domestic-engineering”.

Mr Azhar Sohail, who was the Islamabad editor of the Urdu daily “Pakistan” before he became Mr Asif Zardari’s point man and political advisor, is not a man to be taken lightly even in the most benign of circumstances. With the APP Kingdom also under his belt now, the quality of news manufacturing should improve by leaps and bounds.

Ms Rana Sheikh is the “new entrant” in this high-tension, barbed-wire playing field. In the final analysis, PTV is the medium with the message. Because Ms Sheikh’s experience in news manipulation is limited, she will be able to give PTV a “new mask” and retain her “drive” only if she can learn to mediate the competing claims on her domain from the five gentlemen mentioned above.

The press has “welcomed” Ms Bhutto’s new team by striking on July 5th in protest against the banning of six newspapers in Karachi. The date was chosen for its symbolic value: on that day eighteen years ago, General Zia ul Haq’s martial law snuffed out democracy and imposed censorship on the press. This also happens to be the lone occasion in history when all press bodies in the country have set aside their internal bickerings and differences and united to put up stiff resistance against official attempts to muzzle the independent media. This, despite private acknowledgement by many editors that the banned newspapers may have indeed transgressed the limits of freedom by promoting anarchy on certain occasions.

Our message to Ms Bhutto is simple: Instead of exhorting Haji Akram et al to wield the stick, she would be better advised to brush up on her team’s performance. Didn’t Ms Bhutto get glowing tributes in the press during her successful US trip? Didn’t the press treat her budget with kid-gloves? Didn’t President Leghari find the press favourably disposed towards him after his excellent trip to India recently?

Since TFT knows the old-new team rather well (having once suffered considerable anguish at the hands of Mr Rafi and Mr Mahmood in particular), a word of personal advice to Haji Sahab and his mates is in order. The press has come a long way in the last five years and will not be cowed down or blackmailed easily. Governments will come and go but we are here to stay. Therefore, speak softly and tread warily before the press. But if the urge to stand up and be recognised overwhelms you, do so before the prime minister. Like her predecessor, it is Ms Bhutto who needs to acknowledge cold realities and harsh perceptions and not the press in Pakistan.

Welcome to the fold, Haji Sahab. We look forward to working with a mature and seasoned man in the Information Ministry.

(TFT Jul 13-19, 1995 Vol-7 No.19 — Editorial)

Change tack in Karachi

The prospects of the PPP and the MQM concluding a quick agreement are not terribly bright. Both sides are sticking to their guns. The MQM says its 18-point agenda is sacrosanct and the city will remain on strike two days a week. The PPP insists that its crackdown on MQM terrorists will continue unabated and no one will get any amnesty.

Both sides are going through the formality of negotiations because they don’t want to appear unreasonable or rigid. The government doesn’t want the army to think that it has abandoned the two track approach advocated by GHQ. The MQM, in turn, is keen to appease the Americans who are discreetly trying to mediate the conflict.

Everyone is, of course, agreed on the necessity of a “political” solution to Karachi. What this entails is, however, not clear. Some people say that the government should immediately offer an amnesty to the MQM and follow it up with local-body elections in Karachi and power-sharing in the Sindh government. Give the MQM a stake in the system, the argument goes, and everything will be fine.

Nothing doing, says the government. Those who have attacked the organs of the state and murdered its personnel cannot be forgiven. They must at least lay down their arms before partaking of a representative system. If this is not done, there is no knowing when the MQM will resort to armed struggle again to achieve a new set of objectives. After all, the argument goes, when the MQM had a free hand in Karachi from 1990-92, Mr Altaf Hussain used the opportunity to equip his party with weapons and criminalise the administrative organs of the city.

If, as feared, the talks don’t take off, both sides are likely to respond in a renewed orgy of blood in Karachi. The onus of responsibility, unfortunately, will be on the government once again. What will the prime minister do then?

Ms Bhutto could, of course, spur on General Naseerullah Babar in the hope that his military crackdown will knock some sense into the MQM and force it to the negotiating table again. But this policy may not succeed for two reasons: first, the capacity of hundreds, possibly thousands, of urban guerillas to paralyze the city is unlimited and indefinite; second, the army is getting restive because it doesn’t like the idea of continuing turmoil in the heart of Pakistan.

Sooner or later, therefore, Ms Bhutto may have to contend with a last-ditch solution. This would involve suspending the Sindh assembly for a period of at least three months (possibly more) by imposing President’s Rule in Karachi — in effect, put in under a “neutral” civilian administration backed by the full weight of the army.

This modus operandi could remove three stumbling blocks. First, it would enable a proper Clean-Up of the city’s corrupt administration and provide civic relief to the harassed citizens of Karachi. Second, it would help eliminate the multiple centres of political power and vested interests that have eroded the legitimacy and efficacy of many crackdowns on the terrorists. Third, it would give the MQM an opportunity for an honourable compromise with the state by removing the hated PPP Sindh government from the scene temporarily — local body elections, for instance, could be held under such a “neutral” administration as part of the “peace formula”.

The army’s induction into Karachi as a “peace-keeping force” would be welcomed by all sections of society. By “engaging” it in Karachi, Ms Bhutto should be able to remove the army’s restiveness by giving it a definite and direct stake in a political solution to the crisis. If the “neutral” administration is successful, well and good — the incipient demand of an army “intervention” on a larger scale will then no longer be justified. If it isn’t, it will prove that “martial law” may not solve the country’s problems and that politicians have to try harder to accommodate one another.

A change in the command of the Sindh Rangers suggests that the army is not averse to finding solutions to “problem-areas” within the ambit of the Karachi administration. The former GOC Karachi has now taken over as DG-Rangers. The outgoing DG-Rangers was DG-MI at the time Operation Clean-Up was launched with the help of the Haqiqis in July 1992. He was serving as commander of the 11 Div in Lahore last year when he was rushed to Karachi to take charge of the Rangers. His abrupt transfer a year later suggests that GHQ has been unhappy with the Rangers’ excessive reliance on the Haqiqis as sources of intelligence in exchange for which the Rangers have been obliged to condone their continuing criminality. In view of widespread criticism that the organs of the state are unduly linked to the Haqiqis, the new DG may be expected to distance himself from them, a demand the MQM has long agitated.

President Farooq Leghari’s role is clear. He has to persuade the prime minister and the army chief to act jointly in the larger interests of the country. And he must do so without losing any further time.

(TFT Jul 13-19, 1995 Vol-7 No.19 — Article)

Face to Face

The PTV debate between Mr Shahid Hasan Khan and Senator Sartaj Aziz on the Budget should be welcomed as an attempt to break the ice between two warring sides who have refused to sit across the table and talk turkey for eighteen months. Najam Sethi comments

A perusal of the parliamentary record and newspaper statements would suggest that, in their mutual hostility towards each other, the government and opposition have both been long on rhetoric and short on facts. While both sides may justify this approach, the fact is that the “debate”, if any, between them has been marred by bloody-mindedness and puerility, with both sides bent upon scoring propaganda points galore.

PTV’s attempt to seat Mr Shahid Hasan and Senator Sartaj Aziz across the table (Face to Face, Friday 7th July) was therefore welcome, budgetary warts and all. Both gentlemen are first rate number-crunchers and know their subject backwards, strengths which facilitate concentration on facts and empirical evidence.

When the idea of a PTV debate between a spokesman of the government and opposition on the 1995 budget was first mooted, the selection of Mr Hasan and Senator Aziz was natural enough. Mr Hasan was said to be largely responsible for persuading the prime minister not to opt for a tough IMF-oriented budget as proposed by the finance ministry. It was therefore appropriate that he, rather than Mr V A Jaffery, the government’s finance advisor, should be asked to defend it in public. On the other side, Senator Aziz was the obvious candidate. Apart from being the PML(N)’s most articulate and seasoned spokesman, he had served as the finance minister responsible for three budgets in Mr Nawaz Sharif’s government (1990-93). The problem was to find a modus operandi acceptable to both gentlemen.

At first it was thought that questions should be put to both gentlemen by a “panel” of two journalists, on the understanding that both sides would “nominate” a journalist of their “choice” each. But this idea was shot down because it was felt it would encourage the nominated panelists to take pot-shots at the “opposing” spokesman and lead to a propaganda war on the screen. It would also have cut down on the time available to the two spokesmen to air their views without tripping over themselves.

If the “panel” was unworkable, the selection of a single independent “compere” was not easy. Most journalists are unfortunately thought by the opposition and the government to be “biased” in favour of the “other side”. This perception belittles a number of genuinely independent commentators and is not correct. Nonetheless, the problem persisted. In the event, when I was asked to compere the programme as a “consensus” candidate, I was honoured.

As an economist by training and a journalist by profession, I was careful to remember two points throughout the programme. Since PTV is the official organ of the government, it was important that Senator Aziz shouldn’t feel that he was unduly interrupted by the compere from completing his arguments or that he wasn’t given equal time to make his case (a complaint he had made of an earlier programme). I was therefore gratified when, at the end of the programme, the Senator expressed his “complete satisfaction” with the time allotted to him.

There was a second point. Some “comperes” like to show off their knowledge of the subject by constantly impinging on the contestants and stealing the time which deservedly belongs to them. This approach tends to work where the subject is loosely defined or where the contestants are relatively inarticulate and need leading questions to draw them out. This device is also ideally suited to a one-on-one interview. In our programme, however, the situation was entirely different. The subject was a highly technical one. Both Mr Hasan and Senator Aziz were reckoned to be cool customers, jealous of the time allocated to them. Keeping such sensitivities in view, I believed that an adversarial, two-way dialogue with a minimum of fuss from the compere would be the proper way to conduct the programme. The important thing was to respectfully define the terms of the dialogue (no propaganda points, please) and let two responsible people have their say. In the event, both gentlemen were delighted that the programme went off “very well”.

But you can’t please everyone. I understand some of Senator Aziz’s friends wanted him to go straight for Mr Hasan’s jugular and were frustrated by his dignified and rational behaviour.

In view of my considered approach, an editorial in a Lahore based paper (“The Nation”– July 9th) has, however, caught me by surprise. While commending the idea of the programme in a cursory manner, the editor of The Nation faults the compere (yours truly) for not having done his “homework” in identifying areas of consensus between the government and opposition and by “transforming the debate into a political platform”. I am also accused of a “subtle tilt in favour of the government” because I questioned Senator Aziz about “two so-called contradictory articles” written by him, without mentioning “any discrepancies in the statements made by Mr Shahid Hasan”.

Well, well, well. All this must be news to Mr Hasan and Senator Aziz, both of whom thought they came off rather well and were treated fairly. If I questioned some of Senator Aziz’s views in the two articles written for (you guessed it!) The Nation, I also drew attention to the somersault of the government during the run-up to the budget. When I asked Mr Hasan what the Budget had in store for the poor and middle-classes of Pakistan (precious little!), I was putting him on the spot. When I reviewed the debate at the end and commented that both gentlemen were agreed upon the necessity of fielding a higher than 4 per cent fiscal deficit and dragging their feet over the necessity of an agricultural income tax, I was focusing on the brief “consensus” between the two sides. For eighteen months, the government and opposition have disagreed violently over everything under the sun. For the editor of The Nation to complain that I didn’t emphasise an invisible “consensus” is distorting the facts.

I am consequently left with some disquieting thoughts about the editorial’s motives. Perhaps the editor of “The Nation” is not happy that the government and opposition should be brought together to talk it out. Or more pitiably still, perhaps I should have done my “homework” at “The Nation” and learnt to flaunt my hour on the stage.

(TFT Jul 20-26, 1995 Vol-7 No.20 — Editorial)

Punjab Potpouri

The tussle for power between Punjab chief minister Manzoor Wattoo and the PPP is the talk of the day. Some people say that Mr Wattoo’s days are now definitely numbered. Others remain convinced that, somehow or the other, he will live to spin his webs again. Meanwhile, the induction of Governor Raja Saroop has done little to moderate the disarray and infighting within the PPP camp. What are the prospects for the PPP-PML(J) alliance?

When Ms Bhutto was trying to knock out Mian Nawaz Sharif in 1993, she desperately sought the cooperation of six people who had a crucial role to play — Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan (then Pakistan President), Mir Afzal Khan (then NWFP chief minister), Mr Manzoor Wattoo (then Punjab chief minister), Chaudhry Altaf Hussain (then Punjab Governor), Mr Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi (then a pro-PPP MNA) and Mr Hamid Nasir Chattha (then a minister in Mr Sharif’s cabinet). When Ms Bhutto stuck an alliance with all these gentlemen, she did so on the basis of certain promises and commitments. A review of her unkept promises sheds light on her Punjab predicament and explains why her former allies are so disgruntled with her today.

Ms Bhutto promised President Ishaq Khan that he would be the PPP’s candidate in the next Presidential elections. So Mr Khan rolled out of retirement and landed up in Islamabad when the Presidential election came around. But Ms Bhutto went back on her word, toyed with the idea of a “consensus candidate” (Mr Wasim Sajjad) and eventually nominated Mr Farooq Leghari. Mr Khan retreated to Lakki Marwat, a broken and bitter man. That is why he is not averse, we understand, to offering advice to Mr Wattoo today.

Ms Bhutto promised Mir Afzal that he would become NWFP Governor or Senate chairman if she became prime minister. When she didn’t keep her word, Mir Sahib retreated to London and set about conspiring against her government. It was he who released the Mehrangate tapes which showed up Mr Aftab Sherpao in a dubious role during the “Get-Sabir Shah” operation in 1994.

Ms Bhutto promised Mr Jatoi a number of seats in the national and provincial elections of 1993. Then she turned her back on him and halved her commitment. Since then, Mr Jatoi has sulked in a corner of the national assembly, nursing his wounds and weighing his options.

Ms Bhutto promised Chaudhry Altaf that he would become Punjab Governor as soon as she became prime minister. In the event, she kept Chaudhry Sahib dangling for six months before she reluctantly made him Governor. Before he died, however, Chaudhry Sahib was muttering about his “differences” with the prime minister who had begun to suspect that he might have an “agenda” of his own in the province. Chaudhry Sahib was about to be removed from the post before he fell ill and passed away.

Ms Bhutto’s approach to Mr Chattha and Mr Wattoo was different because she lacked a PPP majority in Lahore and Islamabad and was compelled to give them their due share. Mr Wattoo quickly roped in a dozen independents, relaid claim to the chief ministership and eventually signed a power-sharing formula with the PPP in the Punjab. Mr Chattha followed up by negotiating a few important federal ministries for his PML(J) colleagues and entrenching himself in the cabinet next to the prime minister. All’s well that ends well, thought Ms Bhutto, and turned her attention to the NWFP where Mr Aftab Sherpao was conspiring to oust the opposition government of chief minister Sabir Shah.

Unfortunately, the power-sharing formula in Punjab was untenable from Day-One. Two intrinsic conditions were required to make it work and neither has been available to date: (1) An environment of mutual give and take based and accepted on the relative electoral strengths of the two alliance partners in the ruling PDF coalition. (2) A PPP provincial leader who commanded the unequivocal trust and confidence of the rank and file as well as that of the prime minister so that the dominant party in the alliance could speak with one voice and act in unison in trying to implement the formula.

The power-sharing formula ran into difficulties straight away when Ms Bhutto decided to bypass her provincial party and nominated Mr Faisal Saleh Hayat, an MNA, as Mr Wattoo’s “principal advisor” and the PPP’s C-in-C in the Punjab. This was an unwise appointment for several reasons: Mr Hayat lacked the political and administrative experience necessary for dealing with a wily fox like Mr Wattoo; nor did he possess the quality of leadership and stature of character required to whip the provincial PPP into becoming a disciplined and well-knit party. More significantly, it sent the unmistakable signal to Mr Wattoo that, in the event of serious trouble between the alliance partners, the PPP would not be in a position to field a single candidate against him as a potential Punjab chief minister, despite commanding over 90 MPAs in the province!

Mr Hayat also made the grievous strategic mistake of opting for the S&GAD/Home departments without insisting on a chief secretary of his own choice. With the finance ministry under his belt (to bestow largesse as he deemed fit) and chief secretary Javed Qureshi in tow (to throw a spoke in the wheels of Mr Hayat whenever necessary), Mr Wattoo was bound to emerge as the chief power-broker in the province even before the ink had dried on the agreement.

As expected, Mr Hayat was soon on the run. Neither Mr Wattoo nor his PPP parliamentary colleagues were in a mood to subscribe to his orders. Worse, without the seniormost position in the provincial party hierarchy, Mr Hayat couldn’t count on the support of the rank and file of his party. Within months he was back in the pavilion in Islamabad and the PPP was desperately angling for a change in the power-sharing formula with Mr Wattoo.

When Mr Wattoo reluctantly acquiesced, Makhdoom Altaf assumed charge of the finance ministry and became the “senior minister” in the cabinet. Mr Wattoo now took control of the S&GAD/Home Departments and retained the services of chief secretary Javed Qureshi. Once again, however, the PPP had mistaken tactics for strategy and landed itself in the soup — without the chief secretary in his pocket to ring changes in the administration and approve implementation of financial projects, Makhdoom Altaf was fated to become a toothless tiger.

But that wasn’t all. By making Mr Mushtaq Awan president of the Punjab PPP (thereby establishing a second centre of power within the PPP), Ms Bhutto effectively swept the carpet from under Makhdoom Sahib and eroded his authority to negotiate effectively with Mr Wattoo. The chief minister was duly able to exploit this division in the PPP and consolidate his own position.

Governor Altaf’s demise has now opened a fresh chapter in the PPP-PML(J) power-struggle in the Punjab. The appointment of a new Governor should have been an occasion for the PPP to close ranks under Makhdoom Altaf and put up a united front against Mr Wattoo. It was therefore imperative that the new Governor should have been appointed exclusively and immediately on the recommendation of the Makhdoom. But this hasn’t happened.

Ms Bhutto first said that there was no hurry to appoint a Governor. Then she said that she was thinking of appointing someone with administrative rather than political experience. She changed her mind midway and thought that either Mr Mustafa Khar or Mr Aitezaz Ahsan would be suitable for the job. In the event, she has pulled Raja Saroop out of the hat and confounded everyone.

Raja Sahib’s first move, as expected, was to call in Mr Wattoo and demand yet another change in the power-sharing formula. This time it was argued that all matters pertaining to the S$GAD/Home departments should be sent to the Governor for “approval” before implementation. Mr Wattoo has rejected the demand out of hand because, he says, the rules of government do not allow any such thing. Meanwhile, Mr Nazim Shah, the PPP’s local government minister, has sown further confusion within the PPP ranks by trying to set himself up as a rival claimant to Makhdoom Altaf. What next?

The federal government has two options if it doesn’t like the status quo. It can either “order” Mr Javed Qureshi out of Punjab and send in a new man who enjoys Ms Bhutto’s confidence. Or it can try and oust Mr Wattoo and install its own chief minister.

Both options are fraught with serious implications. If Islamabad tries to enforce Mr Qureshi’s exit, Mr Wattoo might respond in the same fashion as Mr Nawaz Sharif (then chief minister Punjab) did in 1990 when Ms Bhutto (then prime minister) tried to fire his chief secretary Mr Anwar Zahid — that is, order Mr Qureshi to refuse to heed the federal government’s order. That would lead to a crisis in the PML(J), split the PDF alliance, lead to a run on the PDF governments in the Punjab and Islamabad and end up like the constitutional crisis of April 1993. An attempt to oust Mr Wattoo through a vote of no-confidence would encounter the same sort of political and legal problems that Mr Sharif faced when he returned as prime minister in May 1993. Having already opened so many fronts, Ms Bhutto might be advised to think carefully before she takes the leap.

Mr Manzoor Wattoo knows the score. He knows that when Ms Bhutto is desperate, she is quick to make many promises. He also knows (from the experience of Mr Ishaq Khan, Mr Mustafa Jatoi and Mir Afzal) that she is likely to break them rather nonchalantly when she is off the hook. More significantly, Mr Wattoo is aware of the fact that Ms Bhutto is reluctant to concentrate provincial power in the hands of Makhdoom Altaf, a man known for his integrity and independence of mind — virtues that don’t sit too well with the prime minister’s obsession with blind loyalists. The fact that President Leghari reposes the fullest confidence in Makhdoom Altaf has become, ironically enough, a blot against his name in Ms Bhutto’s book.

If drastic change in the Punjab set-up were to take place soon, it would definitely impinge on the federal government in Islamabad. Can Ms Bhutto take this risk and hope to survive, given that the crisis in Karachi is already looming larger than life? We think not.

Ms Bhutto’s best bet is to keep the PDF alliance going and put a lid over its internal differences. Mr Nawaz Sharif wants an early election because he thinks he will sweep the polls. If Ms Bhutto gives him an opportunity to exploit a constitutional or political deadlock of her making, she should not expect him to sit back and allow her to consolidate power. Nor can she safely assume that the army will look the other way if a crisis of 1993 proportions raises its head again.

By the same token, however, Mr Chattha and Mr Wattoo should take heed and try to accommodate the PPP on the basis of the spirit of the original power-sharing formula. They should know that there is no secure place for them in Mr Sharif’s larger scheme of things. If Ms Bhutto goes down, she will most likely take the political system with her. Then everyone, including her friends and foes, can all eat cake!

(TFT Jul 27-02 Aug, 1995 Vol-7 No.21 — Editorial)

To sue or not to sue

Mr Asif Zardari says he’s a much maligned man. That has made him so angry that he’s decided to teach the Press a lesson. Anyone who inks an irreverent word about him should therefore get ready to apologise or else.

A few journalists we know have recently had a taste of Mr Zardari’s medicine. In the most outlandish case, Mr Ardeshir Cowasjee and Mr Ayaz Amir (and the editor, printer, etc., of “Dawn”) have been asked to apologise for more or less everything they have written about Mr Zardari in the last year or so. Or else cough up billions of rupees in damages.

Inevitably, Mr Zardari’s modus operandi has caught the imagination of the prime minister. Ms Bhutto has now got into the act and is threatening a few notable writs of her own — against the “Far Eastern Economic Review” and “Time” magazine. Not to be left behind, Sindh governor Kamal Azfar has aimed a missive at “Newsline” magazine while PPP ministers Ikram Rabbani and Nazim Ali Shah have tried to test TFT’s mettle by demanding a few trillion rupees in damages (of course, they won’t get a sou!). Interestingly enough, the virus seems to have struck opposition leader Nawaz Sharif too — the PML(N) says it has served “notice” on the “Washington Post” for defaming its leader some months ago. In all these cases, the offending newspapers are threatened with losses of billions of rupees if they fail to grovel before the high and mighty.

In the meanwhile, our honourable judiciary has decided to punish breaches of the contempt-of-court law. Mr Ardeshir Cowasjee, who seems to have a knack for ruffling feathers, was recently hauled up before the Supreme Court in Islamabad and would have faced the guillotine for sure if his lawyer (Mr Sharifuddin Peerzada, who else) hadn’t asked their Lordships why they were so keen to try his client when a case against Ms Benazir Bhutto for contempt of court had been pending for several years before their august bench. Fortunately, the “first-come-first-served” philosophy advocated by Mr Peerzada was so unimpeachable that their Lordships decided to defer the case against Mr Cowasjee.

This “sue or I’ll be damned” philosophy appears to have warmed the cockles of Mr Zardari’s heart after a trip to Singapore some months ago. Mr Lee Kwan Yew, the former Singapore prime minister, is said to swear by it, having successfully sued a few newspapers before a compliant judiciary and forced them to close down (after they were made to pay up and declare financial bankruptcy). Fortunately for the Pakistani press, however, Mr Zardari’s immediate concern is not to ban offending newspapers but only to rap them on the knuckles for allowing “irresponsible” hacks to exhibit their unholy talents.

But a host of unforeseen problems could lie ahead. Consider, for instance, what might happen if, in some case or the other, Ms Bhutto or Mr Zardari should decide to demand an unqualified public apology from some Pakistani newspaper or journalist and then find themselves rudely told to go and fly a kite. What will they do then? If they take the errant hack to court, journalists might decide to gang up and make a cause celebre in defence of “press freedom” — as happened when their Lordships of the Supreme Court were confronted with a battery of top lawyers and newspaper bodies agitating “due process” for Mr Cowasjee; if they don’t, it would imply an unacceptable loss of face which might be difficult to swallow. Damned if they do and damned if they don’t, as it were.

We would therefore urge caution upon these who are inclined to sue at the drop of a hostile word or sentence in the Press. The rule of thumb should be: if you have any dirty skeletons in your cupboard, settle for a “clarification” out of court but never sue. It doesn’t much matter whether there is sufficient legal evidence or not (there rarely is). What matters is the dirt that flies around, given the disposition of Pakistanis to believe the worst of their politicians.

The same logic would appear to apply to those judges who seem bent upon enforcing the law of contempt, come hell or high water. If Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif are to be allowed to go scot free when they have been openly contemptible of the judiciary on so many occasions, it would be contemptible for the courts to hold lesser mortals guilty of contempt. The last thing any judge should want is to preside over the sort of farcical situation which arose when a chief justice of the Supreme Court tried former army chief General Aslam Beg for contempt a couple of years ago. In the event, Gen Beg smugly walked out of court even as a lowly journalist was kicked into prison for daring to question the court’s reluctance to take on a retired general.

Of course, this is not to condone erroneous reporting or malafide intent in the Press. But surely Mr Asif Zardari should be the last person to talk about what is right or wrong.

(TFT Aug 03-09, 1995 Vol-7 No.22 — Editorial)

Economics of Corruption

“Corruption” is a dirty word. Mr Mustafa Khar understands that, thank God, but does anyone else? Time was when people believed the previous PML(N) government to be the most corrupt one in Pakistani history. Now we’re regaled with stories of corruption in Islamabad which leave us speechless.

When the prime minister is confronted with this charge, she gets very angry. “Give me the evidence”, she retorts, “and I’ll roll some heads”. When we can’t give Ms Bhutto the sort of iron-clad proof she demands (because it’s difficult, if not impossible, to find such evidence, as the PM knows from her own experience in trying to convict Mian Nawaz Sharif & Associates), she is quick to explain that “it’s all a conspiracy to weaken me by unfairly targeting key members of my team”.

We find this response unsatisfactory. Not because we’re sloppy liberals who dream of a fairy-tale world without any corruption but because we’re genuinely alarmed. A small commission here or there, an insignificant indiscretion or two, these could be excused by the PM as part of the price we pay for representative democracy (after all, people who spend so much money to get elected are entitled to recoup their investment, aren’t they?). But Ms Bhutto must draw the line somewhere.

The Privatisation Commission, which is engaged in selling off the country’s financial institutions and infrastructure, is a case in point. Since 1991, the PC has privatised about 100 manufacturing units and two banks in the public sector worth about Rs 10 billion. This is peanuts compared to the hundreds of billions of rupees worth of public assets which are now ready to be sold off. The PC’s current portfolio includes over a dozen financial institutions, several power plants and distribution companies, PTC, oil and gas fields and a chunk of Pakistan Railways. If the PC does a good job of exploiting this gold mine, Pakistan has a real chance of taking off into self-sustained growth. But if the PC screws it up, this country will be unforgivably stranded up the creek without a paddle.

Last year, TFT called the chairman of the PC, Mr Naved Qamar, “a clean man”. Now we’re not so sure. Ms Bhutto therefore needs to ask him a number of questions immediately. Why, for example, has the secretary of the PC (Mr Jameel Bhutto, a good man, by all accounts) been fired? The bonafides of a number of crucially placed consultants to the PC, one of whom is said to be related to a senior federal minister while another is an old chum of Mr Naved Qamar, also need to be checked out.

More important, Ms Bhutto should ask Mr Qamar a host of questions relating to the appointment of various foreign financial consultants to the PC for the purposes of finding strategic investors for the big public units on sale. Why, for example, is the PPP MPA with the highest bid on Rohri Cement being unofficially asked to withdraw his bid so that the project can go to the second highest bidder? Was a proper evaluation of bids undertaken when the foreign financial consultant to UBL was chosen or did someone thrust his choice on the PC? Was the contract with the foreign consultant for the privatisation of Kot Addu properly negotiated? If so, why did the PC feel it necessary to hire other consultants for advice on legal and engineering issues? The PM should also keep an eye out on what is happening about the privatisation of KESC and Faisalabad Electric Supply Company.

The PM’s attention is drawn especially to the case of Pakistan’s flagship — PTC. It was imperative that the PC should have negotiated terms with the foreign consultant with the greatest international experience in privatising telecommunication companies. Why hasn’t the PC done this? In fact, isn’t it true that the bid from the financial consultant selected was not the lowest in view of the small print in the original offer? If renegotiation was subsequently required with this consultant, why didn’t the PC renegotiate terms with the other consultants originally shortlisted?

Apart from the PC, Ms Bhutto should make enquiries from those who have recently negotiated a deal to export quality Pakistani rice to a European company at considerably below market rates. Similarly, eyebrows are being raised in certain quarters at the goings on in the ministry of water and power regarding unsavoury deals over the privatisation of transmission lines. Nor has the Sindh chief minister’s overnight dash to Paris recently (to personally negotiate a Rs 2 billion deal for the purchase of “security camera equipment” for Karachi) escaped attention. Finally, the PM should ask the minister of state for finance and the president of the National Bank of Pakistan why they were so keen to allow the NIT to disinvest in choice shares privately when share prices are expected to rise substantially after privatisation of certain public sector units.

The PM should gear up her minions for a public debate on these issues. In the meanwhile, Senator Khurshid Ahmad has his job cut out for him. A Senate Committee to peruse the PC’s record is urgently required.

(TFT Aug 10-16, 1995 Vol-7 No.23 — Editorial)

Tilting at the windmills

Foreign minister Sardar Assef Ali is touring Afghanistan these days trying to drum up support for Pakistan’s new “initiative” in that war-torn country. This Saudi-Pak “initiative”, we’re told, is based on a reaffirmation of certain “immutable demographic realities” (IDR) according to which the majority Pashtuns, who have historically ruled Afghanistan, have to be properly accommodated as the future rulers of Afghanistan in the interests of the country’s long-term stability. The plan therefore envisages the ouster of the Tajik regime of President Burhanuddin Rabbani and its replacement by remnants of the ancien regime of ex-King Zahir Shah. It has the backing of the United States and the United Nations. The only problem is how to go about achieving this goal.

Pakistan’s “involvement” in Afghanistan is as old as the civil war there. Unfortunately, however, Islamabad has always backed the wrong horse. When General Najibullah, a Pashtun, was ruling Kabul, our own General Hameed Gul was desperately pushing Pashtun commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to try and oust him from power. After Gul failed in his “mission”, the UN stepped in and persuaded Najibullah to make way for a “neutral interim government” in 1992. But soon thereafter Hekmatyar sabotaged the UN plan and allowed Burhanuddin Rabbani and commander Ahmad Shah Masood, both Tajiks, to step into the vacuum. This led to a volte-face in Islamabad — Hekmatyar was blithely abandoned and President Rabbani was warmly embraced in 1993. By 1994, however, relations between Rabbani and Pakistan had hit rock bottom because Rabbani wasn’t ready to become a Pakistani stooge. Islamabad then began to cast about for a new option. Enter the Pashtun Taliban, described by Sardar Assef as akin to the French revolutionaries of 1789.

Islamabad’s plan was that the Taliban should “pretend” to march on Hekmatyar’s stronghold in Charyasiab, capture his weapons and drive Rabbani out of Kabul. In the event, however, the Taliban “strategy” proved to be a dismal failure. Hekmatyar fled Kabul and Masood captured his arsenal. Now the Taliban are proving even less amenable to Islamabad than the discredited Hekmatyar. Back to Square-One, Islamabad has dusted ex-King Zahir Shah off the shelves and is angling for an anti-Tajik alliance to get rid of Rabbani.

While Pakistan’s Afghan policy has lurched from left to right, Rabbani has dug his heels in with the support of India, Russia and Iran. In contrast, Pakistan’s IDR line is hopelessly out of step. The bitterly fractured Pashtun elements are proving difficult to unite (Hekmatyar refused to meet Zahir Shah’s envoy Sardar Wali when he visited Peshawar recently). In contrast, the Tajiks and Uzbeks are united under their current leadership.

For the last fifteen years, Pakistan’s Afghan “strategy” has been flawed for two basic but inter-related reasons. First, it has been captive to the personal political ambitions of successive Pakistani leaders and has therefore tended to ignore ground realities. Since Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s time, budding Pakistani politicians have been convinced that the route to “greatness” lies via quick foreign policy achievements. The “conquest of Afghanistan” therefore figures high on their list of personal priorities. General Zia made no secret of his desire to raise the Pakistani flag in Kabul; Mohammad Khan Junego tripped over himself to sign the “historic” Geneva accords; General Hameed Gul fancied himself as the “liberator of Afghanistan” even though he couldn’t get to Jalalabad; Nawaz Sharif hosted the “historic peace accords” of Peshawar and Islamabad (both failed) during 1992-93 and liked to be portrayed as “Fateh Kabul”; now we have Sardar “Metternich” Assef desperately casting about for a prized Afghan feather in his cap.

Second, Pakistani quick-fix strategies for Afghanistan have ignored the dialectic of history as it remoulds the modern nation-state. If post-Soviet Afghanistan was ever propitious for a negotiated IDR solution, it was during Najibullah’s time. But Islamabad screwed up that opportunity because it didn’t want to do business with an “ex-communist”. Since then, much water has flown under the bridge. Instead of reducing the number of Pashtun players in the proposed power-sharing formula, Islamabad has wittingly added the Taliban into the equation. It has also provided an opportunity for other players in the region to make inroads into Afghanistan at the expense of Pakistan.

The IDR approach is misplaced. It assumes that (a) there is a state in Afghanistan, and (b) that this nation-state is potentially amenable to a government dominated by the Pashtuns. The facts, however, are different: (a) the Afghan state was destroyed in the long civil war (b) the historic “unity” of the Afghan nation under the Pashtuns has therefore evaporated and been replaced by ethnic sub-nationalisms representing the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Pashtuns. India, Russia and Iran have recognised this reality, Pakistan hasn’t. It is still flogging the 19th century idea of a unitary, multi-national state long after its world-wide demise in the late 1980s.

If Pakistan wants a “role” in Afghanistan, it has to develop leverage with Rabbani. Insistence on a predominant role for the Pashtuns in a unitary state is ill-placed. Instead, Islamabad should push for a confederal state in Afghanistan which not only conforms to ethnic and regional ground realities but which also shelters us from any spillover of Pashtun nationalism into our territory.

(TFT Aug 17-23, 1995 Vol-7 No.24 — Editorial)

Unequal to the task

On 11 October 1947, the Quaid said: “God has given us a grand opportunity to show our worth as architects of a new state; let it not be said that we did not prove equal to the task.”

Was the Quaid doubtful about our ability to run Pakistan in 1947? If so, did his fear relate to our intellectual capacity to visualise and implement the idea of the new state? Or was he fearful of the general consciousness of the people? The first fear focuses on the ruling elite, the second on the conditioning of the masses. The Muslims had struggled for almost a hundred years for freedom, but this struggle was not all for Pakistan. Their mind had been formed by a long-drawn out Khilafat Movement which the Quaid and his Aligarhian Muslim League elite had diverted to the quest for Pakistan.

While he was alive, his party leaders had ideas about the Constitution that didn’t jibe with his own. He knew that the modern Islamic State could survive only under democracy in an environment of freedom and equality. He was a secularist and made it clear many times. He insisted that a theocratic state was not viable in modern times. The Muslim clergy of the time was in no doubt about Mr Jinnah’s views; that is why the dubbed his creation “Napakistan”.

The first test came while we were still living under the Government of India Act. The Constitution was not framed till 1956 while India’s was duly promulgated in 1951. Instead, our Governor-General dismissed the Constituent Assembly. When we finally got our first of many constitutions, the government under survived only for two years. Looking back, the martial law era of Ayub Khan was our best years, which indicates the sort of fitness we possessed to rule ourselves.

Pluralism was thrust upon us in the shape of East Pakistan. Our monistic vision was repelled by cultural diversity. We compensated for it by creating One Unit, which was abolished only after the fall of Dhaka. The Quaid’s fear about our ability to run the new state was confirmed by this instinctive dislike of diversity and freedom of regional expression.

We got another chance with what was left over. Democracy came back after Pakistan’s first real elections in 1970, twenty years after India was well on its way with five elections. Even during the “liberal” 70s, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s contact with the masses was through the dream of redistributive nationalisation but when, under threat from the clergy, he sought to commence with their subconscious, it was through the apostatisation of the Ahmedis.

The way we ran democracy from 70 to 77 can be judged from the fact that the people and the state welcomed martial law once again when it overthrew democracy in 1977. The changes that General Zia brought about in his long rule all but wiped out the legacy of the founders. He had history rewritten saying that it was absurd for the Quaid to have proposed secularism as the basic tenet of the state. He rejected Allama Iqbal’s liberal interpretation of Islam and imposed his own brand of Shariat.

If the idea was to make Pakistan a modern state, it was rejected. Society began creeping back to the worldview of the Khilafat Movement with the clergy that had turned away from the Pakistan Movement. The idea of a modern liberal Pakistan was crowded out by the worldview of a society that lacked a middle class and was ruled by a feudal elite.

And if the political elite was not equal to the task of running Pakistan, the generals proved even less equal. The economy was allowed to run down even as windfall dollars poured into Pakistan during the Afghan war. Islamisation was reduced to an irony as corruption mounted under the new laws.

After General Zia’s providential death, we were once again put to the test. We could not remove the 8th Amendment inserted into the Constitution to undermine democratic rule. As governments fell one after another under this law, our leaders failed to grasp what was happening. Politics in Pakistan is a pavlovian reflex, not an evolutionary process in which lessons are learned and the state carefully guided towards freedom and prosperity.

Subjected to internal stress, the state has become almost unviable. Constitutional amendments over the years have killed the spirit of democracy. Laws framed under it persecute the minorities while threatening others with exclusion. The judiciary, which ensures enforcement of democratic values, has been mauled out of shape with a resultant loss of respect. Where we have proved most unequal to the task is in learning the lessons of world history. We have tragically embarked upon the creation of a political entity that has been repeatedly shipwrecked.

Confusion persists about what kind of state Pakistan should be. After half a century, there are revolts on the question of state law. Clerics denounce democracy as being against Islam, processionists agitate for a conversion of the state into an identity that the Quaid and Iqbal had both rejected. Reason has been waylaid by passion, desire for peace and prosperity has been conquered by lust for aggression. Thus far, we have definitely proved unequal to the task of running Pakistan.

(TFT Aug 24-30, 1995 Vol-7 No.25 — Editorial)

Kamal Ki Baat

Sindh Governor Kamal Azfar has taken serious umbrage at an article written about him by journalist Mohammad Hanif in the June issue of Karachi’s monthly magazine Newsline. Although Mr Azfar believes the entire article to be scurrilous (it portrays him as a “lota” par excellence), the main offending lines appear to be: (a) “According to a joke that did the rounds in those days (Ayub Khan’s era), Azfar received 101 refrigerators from those vying for industrial licenses”. (b) “Later, he was elected to the Senate and started calling himself ‘Sher-e-Karachi’. When Bhutto heard of his newly acquired title, he asked him in a meeting: ‘So Sher-e-Karachi, how many plots have you received?'”

Mr Azfar reacted by slapping a legal notice on the magazine (editor, publisher, printer and journalist) for alleged defamation. He demanded a retraction and an apology, failing which he threatened dire consequences. When the magazine refused, his niece Ayesha Azfar wrote a long rebuttal which was duly published in the next issue of the magazine. The matter should have ended there — after all, Mr Azfar’s “lota-ism” had been well documented and a joke is still a joke at the end of the day. But it didn’t. Last week, the police woke up the magazine’s editor in the middle of the night to inform her that a criminal, non-bailable case had been registered against her and her colleagues. That’s when all hell broke loose.

Although Mr Azfar has now been persuaded to retract his case, he remains insistent that he was merely acting as an ordinary, aggrieved citizen resorting to defined legal redress. “How would you feel if you had been maligned in this manner”, he asked TFT, the hurt in his voice ringing loud and clear. Fair enough? But ordinary citizens cannot order the Advocate-General of the Sindh government to proceed on their behalf, can they? Nor can we think of any significant instance when a libel case has been pursued as a criminal complaint rather than as a civil suit. Indeed, when Mr Azfar sued TFT a few years ago for publishing a letter allegedly against one of his powerful clients, he did not resort to criminal proceedings against us. It is also noteworthy that, in their libel notices to various local and foreign papers, neither President Farooq Leghari nor Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (nor, indeed, the press’s favourite whipping boy Asif Zardari) have so far thought it appropriate to tread the path taken by Mr Azfar.

Why did Mr Azfar, normally a soft-spoken and polite man who has weathered many “lotesque” slights in his dogged ascent to the top, decide to take such extreme measures? Has Governorship gone to his head? Is he surrounded by a host of sycophantic admirers who are urging him to crack the whip and redeem his “reputation”? Such concreteness, as he must now know to his discomfiture, is invariably misplaced.

In an editorial a month ago (“To sue or not to sue”) we had warned our luminaries about the troublesome implications of following in Mr Lee Kwan Yew’s footsteps. The argument bears repeating: “A host of unforeseen problems could lie ahead. Consider, for instance, what might happen if, in some case or the other, Ms Bhutto or Mr Zardari should decide to demand an unqualified public apology from some Pakistani newspaper or journalist and then find themselves rudely told to go and fly a kite…If they take the errant hack to court, journalists might decide to gang up and make a cause celebre in defence of ‘press freedom’…We would therefore urge caution upon these who are inclined to sue at the drop of a hostile word or sentence in the Press…The rule of thumb should be: if you have skeletons in your cupboard…never sue”.

Mr Azfar was faced with the very predicament we had written about. He demanded an apology from Newsline and was told to buzz off. When he persisted in talking tough, journalists across the country made a cause celebre of the case and forced him to lick his wounds in splendid isolation. Not one of his friends, colleagues or superiors in Islamabad was prepared to defend his hasty action.

For the sake of the record, we might now take notice of several pending cases which could also blow up in the face of the perpetrators if wise council is ignored. Ms Bhutto is demanding an unqualified apology from at least two local journalists. Likewise Mr Zardari. What will they do if any one of these hacks decides to become a martyr “in the cause of press freedom”? Hound him to the wall? Force him into bankruptcy? Put him into prison?

Pakistan is not Singapore. Our press is alive and kicking. We are not about to give up our hard won freedoms for the sake of all the Bhuttos, Zardaris and Azfars in Pakistan. Yes, we are irresponsible and malicious at times. But that is a price our politicians and bureaucrats will unfortunately have to pay for being historically irresponsible, opportunist and corrupt.

(TFT Aug 31-06 Sep, 1995 Vol-7 No.26 — Editorial)

PPP-MQM headed for crash landing

The PPP and MQM are once again inching towards the negotiating table. This would be good news if only both sides were sincere. But they’re not. So the prospects don’t look too bright.

Going by General Naseerullah Babar’s thunderous pronouncements, the government seems to be in a belligerent, unforgiving mood. Islamabad believes that it has seriously dented the terrorist network and that it is only a matter of time before the MQM will keel over in exhaustion. Meanwhile, the PPP wants to give the impression that it is prepared for a negotiated “settlement” with the MQM as long as it does not undermine the “state” of Pakistan. There can therefore be nothing better than talking to the MQM from a “position of strength”.

The MQM, in turn, now appears anxious to erase the impression that it is an “anti-Pakistan” party set upon achieving its ends by foreign-inspired armed struggle. That is why the strategy of “talk, talk, fight, fight” suits it best. Its hope is that prolonged urban guerilla warfare will chip away at the PPP government’s credibility, alienate it from public opinion in the rest of the country and create the necessary conditions for its ouster some time in the near future. In the meantime, an occasional call or two for a comprehensive strike in Karachi should demonstrate who calls the shots in the city and undermine General Babar’s tall claims that “all will be well shortly”.

This is a no-win situation for both parties. The real tragedy is that the people of Karachi in particular, and the people of Pakistan in general, are being held hostage to a senseless clash between the irresistible force of the MQM and the immovable object of the PPP. Public perceptions of the conflict in Karachi are, however, taking a turn for the worse. For the MQM and the mohajirs of Karachi who support it, the following points deserve serious consideration.

  1. More and more people, especially in the rest of the provinces, are increasingly beginning to think of the MQM “as an anti-Pakistan, pro-India separatist party which is irrationally supported by those people in Karachi and urban Sindh who still call themselves mohajirs after having settled in Pakistan nearly fifty years ago”. Also, since the solidification of provincial sub-nationalisms in the 1970s, few people outside Karachi are prepared to consider the argument for a fifth “nationality” in Pakistan. Mr Altaf Hussain’s denouncement of the two-nation theory “as a big joke” has also weakened support for the MQM in important establishment circles. Even those who see a solution to the Karachi crisis in the creation of a dozen or so mini-provinces in the country are at a loss to answer one question satisfactorily: “If Karachi is handed over to the MQM, who will guarantee that Altaf Hussain will not wreak havoc on the city as he did from 1990-92 and hold the rest of the country to ransom?” This creeping anti-MQM, anti-Mohajir mood in the country is a sure-fire recipe for fresh disasters in the making.
  2. The incipient transformation of the MQM’s struggle for representative power in urban Sindh into an ethnic cleansing of Karachi is bound to fuel the growing anti-Mohajir sentiment in the country. The irresponsible actions of a section of the Karachi press highlighting presumed or imagined injuries to mohajir sensibilities, coupled with body bags containing Sindhis or Pashtoons, is likely to rebound on the mohajir community with a vengeance.

The PPP and its supporters, especially in Sindh, also need to recognise the direction in which the civil war in Karachi is taking the country. The following points, in particular, bear recognition.

  1. Increasingly, Pakistanis are beginning to come round to the view that the PPP is part of the problem rather than the solution to the crisis in Karachi. According to this view, no Sindhi dominated political party or provincial government can ever accommodate MQM demands, however reasonable some of these may be, because of the fear of a backlash from nationalist Sindhi opinion. The fact that the PPP’s provincial base is both rural and semi-feudal, instead of urban and middle class, makes matters worse. The overlapping of ethnic, class and demographic factors has hardened positions on both sides and made the problem unmanageable in the hands of the PPP.
  2. The last elections demonstrated that Mian Nawaz Sharif’s PML is slowly but surely making inroads into the urban and rural Sindh votebank of the MQM and PPP respectively. More ominously for both the parties, the longer it takes them to resolve the conflict the greater the chances that the people of Karachi and Sindh will begin to wonder whether their best bet lies not in voting for either of them but for Mr Sharif’s PML when the next elections roll round. Certainly, that would be one way for the mohajirs of Karachi to re-integrate with mainstream Pakistan and give up the politics of ethnicity and regionalism.

If the PPP and the MQM don’t read the writing on the wall, both are headed for a crash landing.

(TFT Aug 31-06 Sep 1995 Vol-7 No.26 — Article)

Privatisation Commission Blues

Najam Sethi, Editor of The Friday Times, replies to Naveed Qamar, Chairman, Privatisation Commission

Mr Naveed Qamar, chairman of the Privatisation Commission, has given a considered response (TFT August 17-23, 95) to some of the charges levelled against the PC in my editorial “Economics of Corruption” (TFT August 3-8, 95). I should therefore like to take issue with him on a couple of important points.

In my editorial, I had asked: “Why, for example, has the secretary of the PC (Mr Jameel Bhutto, a good man, by all accounts) been fired?” Mr Qamar’s answer is: “Mr Bhutto was certainly not fired, he was transferred. It is the prerogative of the government to transfer anyone it wants if it feels that their performance is not satisfactory at the job assigned to them or if their services are required elsewhere”.

Of course, Mr Qamar can hire, fire or transfer anyone he likes. But that is not the issue here. I wanted to know why, after two years as secretary of the PC, Mr Jameel Bhutto was given his marching orders last month? Mr Qamar merely suggests that Mr Bhutto’s “performance” was not “satisfactory”. But he doesn’t tell us in what way Mr Bhutto was found lacking. Nor does he explain why it took Mr Qamar two years to realise that Mr Bhutto was not up to the mark. Indeed, in view of Mr Qamar’s tall claims that the PC has done a lot of good work, it is surprising to find him censuring his former secretary who was presumably at the hub of it all.

No, I’m afraid Mr Qamar’s response is unsatisfactory. This leads me to ask some rather pointed questions: Is it possible that Mr Bhutto had become the proverbial fly in the ointment? Was he reluctant to affix his signature to certain contracts because he found them highly dubious? Did he, per chance, disobey the orders of his superiors because he found them to be against the national interest? In this context, we might also ask whether or not the new secretary of the PC has been appointed at the behest of a very important person in Islamabad rather than the chairman of the PC? The prime minister has been told that Mr Bhutto was transferred because he was unacceptably dragging his bureaucratic feet. If she genuinely wants to get to the bottom of the story, she might be advised to have a confidential, one-on-one chat with the hapless fellow.

I had also raised a pertinent question about the appointment of Morgan Grenfell as financial consultant to the PC on the privatisation of Pakistan Telecommunications Corporation. This is what I had written: “The PM’s attention is drawn especially to the case of Pakistan’s flagship ― PTC. It was imperative that the PC should have negotiated terms with the foreign consultant with the greatest international experience in privatising telecommunication companies. Why hasn’t the PC done this? In fact, isn’t it true that the bid from the financial consultant selected was not the lowest in view of the small print in the original offer? If renegotiation was subsequently required with this consultant, why didn’t the PC renegotiate terms with the other consultants originally shortlisted?”

In response, Mr Qamar has presented a table comparing the three final bids received which shows that Morgan Grenfell’s bid is the lowest (see Table 1).

Table 1

COMPARATIVE STATEMENT OF BIDS RECEIVED FOR THE APPOINTMENT OF A FINANCIAL
ADVISOR FOR PTC

Transaction Size US $ (m)

1,500    2,000    2,500    3,000

MORGAN GRENFELL

Success Fee             7.13              9.50       11.88         14.25

Retainer                  1.75              1.75       1.75           1.75

Maximum Fee           0.50              0.50       0.50           0.50

Total                      9.38              11.75     14.13         16.50

GOLMAN SACHS

Success Fee             7.00              11.50            16.00            17.87

Retainer                    2.13              2.13              2.13              2.13

Expenses                 0.60              0.60              0.60              0.60

Total                         9.73              14.23            18.73            20.60

MORGAN STANLEY

Success Fee             11.20            11.20            14.00            16.80

Ratainer                    7.60              7.60              7.60              7.60

Expenses                 2.56              2.56              2.56              2.56

Total                         21.36            21.36            24.16            26.96

Mr Qamar also argues that “Morgan Grenfell has considerable expertise in the field of privatisation worldwide and has acted as Financial Advisor to governments on several telecom privatisations, including Peru, Uruguay, Trinidad & Tobago and Bolivia”. In fact, says Mr Qamar, “Morgan Grenfell secured a record price of US$ 7,900.00 per line for the privatisation of Peruvian Telecoms and it has committed the same team and team leader that worked on the Peruvian transaction to work on the privatisation of Pak Telecommunication Corp.”

My response is as follows:

  1. On the face of Mr Qamar’s Table 1, the PC seems justified in awarding the contract to Morgan Grenfell. But there is a catch in the table ― while it accurately reflects the content of the contract eventually signed with Morgan Grenfell, it doesn’t conform to the estimates of the original competitive bid submitted by Morgan Grenfell.

Morgan Grenfell original bid was somewhat different from the other two bids in that Morgan Grenfell included the “pro rata assumption of debt and future investment commitments” (which the strategic investor would make for PTC) in the value of its bid. A perusal of Morgan Grenfell’s original bid reveals that it wanted a success fee based on 0.475% of the total bid value as defined above (as a percentage of 26% sale proceeds from a strategic investor) plus 0.475% of PTC debt transferred to the strategic investor plus 0.475% of future investment in PTC by the strategic investor.

In order to make the bids comparable for purposes of evaluation, therefore, the PC should have made some realistic assumptions about PTC’s debt and future investment prospects. This could have been done, for example, on the basis of a report on PTC by Jardine Flemming that the debt level of PTC would be US$ 1.0 billion by year end 1995 and the continuing investment requirements of PTC would be US$ 750 million per year for some years hence. Therefore, the minimum amount which needed to be added to the proceeds from 26% of shares of PTC to determine Morgan Grenfell’s actual bid value for the purpose of calculating the success fee would have been reflected as follows:

Table 2

SIZE OF SALE PROCEEDS FROM 26% SHARES

US$ MILLIONS

                               1000             1500             2000             2500      3000

RETAINER                1.75              1.75              1.75              1.75       1.75

EXPENSES              0.50              0.50              0.50              0.50       0.50

SUCCESS SHARE

PROCEEDS              4.75              7.13              9.5                11.88     14.25

DEBT AND INVEST-

MENT COMMITMENTS  4.75              4.75              4.75              4.75       4.75

TOTAL FEE               11.75            14.13            16.50            18.88     21.25

A comparison of the three original bids on a total fee basis would therefore be as follows:

Table 3

COMPARISON OF ORIGINAL

FINANCIAL BIDS TOTAL FEE BASIS

PROCEEDS FROM SALE OF SHARES

(Millions of US Dollars)

FEE 1000 150020002500 3000

Morgan Stanley                     21.36    21.36    21.36    24.16    26.96

Goldman Sachs                    6.23 9.73 14.23    18.73    20.06

Morgan Grenfell                    11.75    14.13    16.50    18.88    21.25

It is clear from the comparison above that Goldman Sachs was originally the lowest cost bidder, followed by Morgan Grenfell. But the PC unilaterally amended the Morgan Grenfell bid by deleting the clause relating to the pro rata assumptions of PTC’s debt and future investment requirements and thereby made it the lowest bidder (as per Mr Qamar’s Table 1 above). How and why this was done and by whom is the big question.

PC big-wigs claim that this question is irrelevant: “What matters is that in the end Morgan Grenfell became the lowest bidder and this was accepted in the national interest”.

My argument is altogether on a different plane. I suspect that the PC was keen to award the contract to Morgan Grenfell on the basis of its original bid (which was the second-highest). But “someone” thought that that would be against the national interest. So this “someone” wrote to Morgan Grenfell “accepting” their bid without the pro rata assumptions of debt and future investment. This so annoyed certain big-wigs in Islamabad that they decided to get rid of this “someone” from the PC.

At any rate, it is my view that the PC should not have gone about its job in this fashion. Instead, when the three original bids were first evaluated, the PC should have calculated that Morgan Grenfell’s bid was not strictly comparable with that of the other two bidders. Realistic comparisons (as in Table 2 above) would have revealed a “hidden” cost in the Morgan Grenfell bid and that would have made Goldman Sachs the lowest bidder. Either the Goldman Sachs bid should have been accepted or both Goldman Sachs and Morgan Grenfell should have been asked to rebid on a comparable basis in order to get the best possible deal for Pakistan.

“The PC has manipulated the process of sealed bids”, say my sources. “This is a criminal offense and concerned officials of PC can be charged under section 409/420/109 of Pakistan’s Penal Code”, warns a lawyer (the previous chairman of the PC under the Nawaz Sharif regime is in prison awaiting trial for fraud).

  1. Mr Qamar has emphasised Morgan Grenfell’s record in the privatisations of Peru, Uruguay, etc. While I appreciate this fact, I would like to point out that Morgan Grenfell is not in the big league of financial consultants on strategic privatisations of telecommunications. All the countries mentioned by Mr Qamar are relatively small. Peru, for example, has a population of only 6 million! In contrast, Goldman Sachs is at the very top in the field of telecommunications privatisation. The following tables reflect the position of both Goldman Sachs (GS) and Morgan Grenfell (MG).

Table 4: No of deals Bank appointed

BankAdvisor Global Coordinator  Lead Manager

GS                           9                  8                  8

MG                           —                 —                 —

Table 5: No of countries Bank appointed

BankAdvisor Global Coordinator  Lead Manager

GS                           6                  5                  7

MG                           —                 —                 —

Table 6: No of deals elected Advisor

BankSelling Side  Buying Side

GS                           3                  1

MG                           1                  —

Among the countries in which Goldman Sachs has played a significant role are: Germany/US, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Thailand, Singapore, New Zealand and UK — all of which have particular relevance to our PTC strategic sale. In contrast, MG’s advisorship to Uruguay has been suspended.

Despite Mr Qamar’s rejoinder, therefore, I remain convinced that the PC’s operations lack the transparency required to deal with the mega-entities on the privatisation block. In the case of PTC, in particular, I believe that the PC should be especially careful. A controversy first rose when the PC tried to sell off PTC shares for Rs 30 last year and then had to backtrack in the face of stiff opposition from the Karachi Stock Exchange (which thankfully brought in an extra US$ 500 million into the exchequer). Another controversy followed when a report by PTC’s newly appointed underwriters in Hong Kong misprinted facts and figures of the company. And now this.

PTC is Pakistan’s flagship. The search for a strategic investor who will cough up the maximum amount for a 26% stake in the company involves billions of dollars. If the PC’s actions are not transparent, we will be left with the impression that the country is being sold down the drain. Certainly, this is the view of officials in the Finance Ministry and the Corporate Law Authority.

Mr Naveed Qamar is said to be a “good man”. If he wishes to retain his credibility, he will have to resist the sort of pressures which may be applied upon him in the future. One PC chairman is in prison on charges of alleged fraud. We would not wish another one to follow in his footsteps when the boot is on the other foot. That is why I am calling for a Parliamentary Commission to watch over the PC.

(TFT Sep 07-13, 1995 Vol-7 No.27 — Editorial)

Bhutto on the warpath

Prime minister Benazir Bhutto, it appears, has had enough. She is fed up with “wily” Manzoor Wattoo and “terrorist” Altaf Hussain; she is fed up with “anarchist” tribals, “murderous mullahs” and “cheating” businessmen; she is fed up with the “mischievous” press. In fact, there is hardly any significant group in the country which hasn’t tested Ms Bhutto’s patience. Bruised and angry, the prime minister has reacted by unleashing the organs of party, government and state, in particular the Ministry of Interior, FIA and CBR, in order to put all these “miscreants” in their place. Has she done the right thing?

To be fair, Ms Bhutto’s ire is not altogether misplaced. Take Mian Manzoor Wattoo’s case. Over the last two years, he has broken his promises time and again. At every stage he has frustrated Ms Bhutto’s efforts to extract an equitable deal for her party in the Punjab. Now, with the local bodies elections scheduled for December, how can Ms Bhutto sit back and watch her party being wiped out in the Punjab?

Ms Bhutto’s confrontation with the MQM can be explained in much the same manner. Notwithstanding the authenticity of several MQM demands, how can anyone condone terrorism as an act of political strategy in a democracy? Likewise, there is absolutely no justification for the existence of blackmailing tribal lashkars and religious vigilantes in the north western belt of Pakistan. Isn’t it time that the writ of the civil state extended to all parts of Pakistan without fear or favour? As for the trading community and the press, which are up in arms against Ms Bhutto for imposing taxes, the government’s point of view doesn’t seem too outrageous. Islamabad is severely strapped for revenues, yet the monied classes generally remain averse to paying taxes. If some of us are using mobile phones, or sending our children to elite schools or taking holidays abroad, why shouldn’t we admit as much to the CBR, unless our aim is to hide our true income and evade our share of tax? For that matter, why should the press in a free market economy insist on special, duty free privileges for itself when other sectors of the economy are allowed no such concessions?

If Ms Bhutto’s arguments have some weight, does this mean that all those who are agitating against the government are hopelessly wrong? No, it doesn’t. Karachi desperately needs a political and economic package to alleviate its suffering. Since Mr Altaf Hussain is the city’s sole spokesman, Ms Bhutto cannot shrug away his party by calling it the “Altaf Group”, nor depreciate her government’s responsibilities by pretending that the root cause of the MQM’s terrorism is an “anti-state” sentiment in a small section of the mohajir community.

Similarly, the periodic uprisings in the NWFP are rooted in the painful transition from an anarchist, tribal way of life to a modern civil society based on a uniform code of law. This process cannot be accomplished overnight by executive fiat or at gunpoint. The government’s fault lies in failing to prepare the economic, political and sociological pre-conditions necessary for such a transformation. You cannot one day wake up to the deleterious effects of the 50 year old Afghan Transit Trade or the drug business by altogether banning one and extraditing leaders of the other to the United States without radically upsetting the established order of that society and provoking widespread unrest.

Nor can Ms Bhutto treat the trading community in a cavalier fashion and expect to get way with it. Businessmen would be less inclined to resist the imposition of taxes if the landowning classes which make the laws were prepared to levy taxes on themselves as well. Equally, the uproar against CBR officials would be less justified if the state’s tax collectors were not prone to the worst forms of corruption and high-handedness. How much tax do the prime minister and her spouse, arguably the richest couple in the country, pay? How much tax do CBR officials and bureaucrats, many of whom are amongst the most affluent sections of society, pay? Has any government ever exposed the great lie about the state’s burgeoning bureaucracy?

Similarly, the demands of the newspaper industry need to be treated with sympathy and understanding rather than gleeful threats and fulminations. If the free market argument is to be taken to its logical conclusion, what justification is there for the Ministry of Information’s numerous levers of control over the press? Disband the Information Ministry, we say, bring government advertising rates up to commercial rates, pay our bills on time, stop patronising “dummy” publications, abolish the Wage Board and then you can think of treating us at par with other sections of industry. In the meantime, dear prime minister, please don’t cripple us by refusing to ameliorate the adverse impact of a rise of over 400 per cent in the cost of imported newsprint.

Ms Bhutto’s bullishness is therefore not justified. If she is determined to impose harsh, new conditionalities on large sections of society, she should begin the accounting exercise at home.

(TFT Sep 14-20, 1995 Vol-7 No.28 — Editorial)

Punjab deserves a better deal

Although relations between Mr Manzoor Wattoo and Ms Benazir Bhutto had hit rock bottom in recent months, Mr Wattoo’s swift dethronement as chief minister Punjab has caught everyone by surprise, not least the gentleman himself. But the fellow had become so insufferable that no one, not even Mr Nawaz Sharif) is shedding any tears over his departure.

Nonetheless, the role of certain key players in the “Get-Wattoo” drama merits explication. Mr Sharif, in particular, has accused President Farooq Leghari of wrong doing by agreeing to impose Governor’s Rule in the province and thereby encouraging the PDF to buy off or browbeat Mr Wattoo’s supporters. Is this fair?

Yes and no. Yes, because without the cover of Governor’s Rule the PDF would have found it difficult, thought not impossible, to oust Mr Wattoo. No, because (a) under the constitution the President could not have flatly refused the PM’s advice (b) the suspension of the Wattoo government probably ensured far less horsetrading and browbeating than might have ensued if Mr Wattoo had remained in charge of the administration and started to flirt with Mr Sharif (c) a “dirty dissolution” of the Punjab assembly (“which came first, the dissolution order or the vote of no-confidence”, etc, as in 1993 ) would have tied up the courts in knots, opened the floodgates of uncertainty and plunged the country into a needless political crisis. In the event, a problem within the ruling PDF coalition was dealt with so swiftly and efficiently that even Mr Sharif has found it convenient to approve Mr Arif Nakai as the new chief minister.

Ms Bhutto’s position is fairly unassailable too. Despite continuing provocation, she had put up with Mr Wattoo’s histrionics in an effort to keep her coalition partners happy. However, when Mr Chattha & Co thought they had had enough of Mr Wattoo, she agreed to lend them a helping hand in installing another member of their party as chief minister. If she had forced a PPP-ite on Punjab, she could have been fairly accused of ruthlessly engineering the whole show in order to become all-powerful. But since she has amiably acquiesced to a PML(J) man, her motives cannot possibly be construed as an exclusive exercise in the pursuit of naked power.

From the public’s point of view, however, the choice of Mr Arif Nakai as chief minister of the most important province in the country leaves much to be desired, even though he has been elected unopposed. After three years of Mr Wattoo’s shenanigans, the province desperately needed a clean and educated man who could have provided good government. The ideal man for the job was Makhdoom Altaf Ahmed. That real-politik and cynical disdain for public welfare has eventually prevailed says a great deal about our elected representatives on both sides of the political divide. Much will therefore depend on whether or not Mr Nakai plays the dummy role earmarked for him by Ms Bhutto and Mr Chattha so that Makhdoom Altaf can get on with the real job of government as “senior minister”.

But that is easier said than done. Several questions arise. Will Ms Bhutto rule Punjab through Islamabad by bypassing senior minister Makhdoom Altaf and getting Governor Saroop or chief minister Nakai or the president of the PPP in the province Mushtaq Awan to rubber stamp Mr Asif Zardari’s dubious directives as in Sindh province? Will Mr Nakai rest content with his status as a dummy and allow the PPP to show that it genuinely cares about the public’s welfare or will he start getting ideas in his head about the “merits” of flirting with Mr Sharif and creating fresh “problems” for Ms Bhutto a la former alliance partner Manzoor Wattoo?

Ms Bhutto’s charge-sheet against Mr Wattoo has stressed corruption and mismanagement in government. That would suggest that she is aware of her party’s declining popularity in the province and is seeking to redress matters expeditiously by providing good government. If that is so, a dummy chief minister is perfectly in order. But we shall have to wait and see the composition of Makhdoom Altaf’s cabinet colleagues before we can confirm Ms Bhutto’s intentions one way or the other. Certainly Mr Wattoo’s cabinet was characterised as much by the corruption of his PML(J) colleagues as by the get-rich quick schemes of notable PPP ministers.

In the same vein, Governor Saroop’s bevy of freshly transferred bureaucrats to run the new government are likely to remain the focus of public attention for some time. For the moment, we can say that the new postings and transfers seem generally well intentioned. Whether or not many of these “good” officers will eventually get along with their PPP masters is, however, another question. Certainly, chief secretary Aslam Hayat Qureshi needs to be cautioned from recklessly going overboard to please his political masters.

The people of Punjab didn’t like Mr Wattoo because he was devious and corrupt. Ms Bhutto would do well to remember why this point is important if she intends to seek a second term. The road to Islamabad goes through Punjab.

(TFT Sep 14-20, 1995 Vol-7 No.28 — Article)

Bhutto’s bind


By relinquishing her quest for a PPP government in the Punjab in exchange for Mr Manzoor Wattoo’s ouster, prime minister Benazir Bhutto has succeeded in bridging the gap between discretion and valour. However, whether or not Mr Arif Nakai, the new chief minister from the PML(J), lives up to Ms Bhutto’s expectations remains to be seen. He was nominated by the PDF but ended up receiving the support of Mr Nawaz Sharif’s PML(N) in the provincial assembly.

When Mr Wattoo threw in his lot with Ms Bhutto and helped get rid of Mr Sharif in 1993, he was assured by Ms Bhutto that she would make him chief minister of the Punjab in the event of a PPP victory in the general elections. In due course, therefore, Mr Wattoo was elected chief minister, despite the fact that the PML(J) only had 18 seats in the assembly (10 independents were “collected” in due course) compared to 95 for the PPP. If Ms Bhutto’s intentions had been less than honourable, she could have promptly used her prime ministerial clout to gather the independents and keep Mr Wattoo on a tight leash.

But she didn’t. Instead, she bent over backwards to appease her coalition partners in the PML(J) when she first agreed to a power-sharing formula in the Punjab which generously gave Mr Wattoo all the powers of the chief minister (the rules of business weren’t changed in favour of the Governor) as well as 50 per cent of the ministries, including finance. Mr Faisal Saleh Hayat was subsequently despatched to Punjab as the chief minister’s “principal advisor” to oversee PPP interests.

The arrangement, however, didn’t last long. Given Mr Hayat’s relative inexperience in matters of government, Mr Wattoo made mince-meat of him within no time. Ms Bhutto then recalled Mr Hayat and renegotiated terms with Mr Wattoo. The finance ministry now went to senior minister Makhdoom Altaf Ahmed of the PPP while the S&GAD and Home ministries reverted to Mr Wattoo. Once again, however, Mr Wattoo successfully manoeuvred to sideline the PPP from effective decision-making in the province.

By the end of last year, therefore, the Punjab PPP was up in arms against Mr Wattoo. Governor Chaudhry Altaf and Senior Minister Makhdoom Altaf teamed up and tried to persuade Ms Bhutto to allow them to get rid of him. But Ms Bhutto demurred. She didn’t want any rifts with her coalition partners in Islamabad, she said, and promised to persuade Mr Wattoo to become more equitable.

Shortly after Gen Raja Saroop was appointed Punjab Governor this year, Ms Bhutto thought of changing the rules of business so that effective power would vest in the office of the Governor. But Mr Wattoo wouldn’t hear of it. He refused to cede the power to appoint and transfer grade 18 + officers to the Governor. He refused to allow the federal government to appoint its own chief secretary. And he refused to give Makhdoom Altaf a freer hand in the province. More ominously for the PPP, he seemed to favour the idea of non-party municipal elections under his own umbrella — a sure shot recipe to wipe out the PPP in the province while consolidating his own power base. In addition, he began to poach on PPP MPS while opening definite channels of communication with Ms Bhutto’s arch enemy Nawaz Sharif.

Enough is enough, thought Ms Bhutto last month. She gave Mr Wattoo a royal dressing down and told him to behave, or else. Mr Wattoo said he would “sincerely” abide by her guidelines or step aside after returning to Pakistan from a “medical trip” abroad. But then he went and did the opposite thing. He contacted Mr Sharif’s brother Shahbaz Sharif in London and agreed to dissolve the Punjab assembly in lieu of a promise by the PML(N) to make him chief minister after the new provincial elections.

When Ms Bhutto and Mr Chattha got wind of this treachery, they were stunned. The Governor was promptly given an undated notice of a “vote of no-confidence” against Mr Wattoo to be used in the event of the chief minister trying to dissolve the assembly upon his returm. In the meantime, it was agreed that Mr Chattha would lean on Mr Wattoo to relinquish his post and make way for some other PML(J) candidate.

When Mr Wattoo remained adamant on going his own way, the PDF toyed with the idea of moving a vote of no-confidence against him but dropped it in view of Mr Wattoo’s full command of the administration, ostensible support of 35 MPs and overt links with Mr Sharif’s 100-member strong PML(N). Instead the PDF opted for a suspension of Mr Wattoo’s governmental powers under a section of article 234 of the constitution in order to take control of the administration and buy off or browbeat Mr Wattoo’s supporters to line up behind the PDF.

The “Get Wattoo” operation was carried out swiftly and efficiently. Ms Bhutto was able to muster the support of about 125 MPs (just sufficient to form a government in the House of 248) while Mr Chattha was lucky to get away with 26 out of Mr Wattoo’s original kitty of about 37. The real problem now was to persuade Mr Chattha to allow the PPP to appoint its own man as chief minister.

Ms Bhutto pointed out to Mr Chattha that the PML(J) had had a stint of two years in the Punjab and should therefore allow the PPP a similar stint for the next two years. She argued that under Mr Wattoo’s corrupt rule the PPP had been discredited in the Punjab, therefore it should have an unimpeded right to rectify the situation with a chief minister of its own choice. She pleaded that Punjab needed a clean and efficient administration to undo Mr Wattoo’s mischief and proposed the name of the PPP’s Makhdoom Altaf Ahmed, widely known as Mr Clean. But Mr Chattha refused to budge.

On September 12th, the day when Mr Wattoo was ousted in the Punjab assembly by the PDF at 2 pm and nominations for a new chief minister were expected to be filed by 9 pm, the State Guest House in Lahore became the venue of dogged though amiable negotiations between Ms Bhutto and Mr Chattha. Ms Bhutto was in favour of filing two nominations each from the PPP and the PML(J) with a view to withdrawing three nominations the next morning after all-night talks to determine the candidate of their choice. Mr Chattha thought it better to resolve the issue by 8.30 pm the same day so that only one consensus candidate from the PML(J) would be nominated. In due course, Mr Chattha went back to consult with his colleagues and returned to open talks with Ms Bhutto at 6 pm.

But the deadlock was not to be resolved so easily. So Ms Bhutto’s suggestion was acted upon and five nominations (two from the PPP and three from the PML-J) were accordingly filed before 9 pm. Next morning in the assembly, the PDF announced that Mr Arif Nakai (PML-J) would stand as chief minister. Ms Bhutto had eventually given in to Mr Chattha not only because she had earlier promised to do so when he had agreed to ditch Mr Wattoo but also because she didn’t want to jeopardise her coalition in Islamabad.

The PPP is sorely disappointed. It has had to accept a PML(J) chief minister as well as relinquish the finance ministry to Mr Chattha’s party. Although it has unilaterally amended the rules of buisiness to diminish the chief minister’s powers and increase those of Governor Saroop, it is not yet clear that this position will be maintained. However, by chosing a course of action midway between discretion and valour, Ms Bhutto has got rid of Mr Wattoo while consolidating her alliance with Mr Chattha. This should stand her in good stead in the uncertain months ahead when Mr Sharif is expected to mount another “Get-Bhutto” operation again.

(TFT Sep 14-20, 1995 Vol-7 No.28 — Article)

Wattoo’s woes

Yesterday, Mian Manzoor Wattoo was the powerful chief minister of the most powerful province in the country. Today, he is a nobody, relegated to the far benches of the assembly, in turns clutching at the coattails of Mian Nawaz Sharif, the man he helped overthrow two years ago, or begging Mr Chattha, the man whose leadership he constantly sought to undermine, to take him back into the party. Where did he go wrong?

Time and again, Ms Bhutto had urged Mr Wattoo to mend his ways and share power equitably. When he remained unrepentant, she warned him not to test her patience. On the eve of his departure for the United States two weeks ago, ostensibly for medical reasons, Ms Bhutto firmly advised him to postpone his trip and put his house in order. But Mr Wattoo was not in a listening mood. He had opened lines of communication with Mr Sharif and wanted to clinch a deal with Mr Shahbaz Sharif behind the backs of his PDF allies. When the PML(J) finally saw through Mr Wattoo’s agenda, a number of people rose in revolt against him and urged Mr Chattha to make a clean break with him. The dye was cast.

“People who have a weak hand shouldn’t try and bluff too often”, said a senior khaki, “it can tempt their opponents to call the bluff”. Was Mr Wattoo indeed bluffing from a weak hand? Yes and no. Yes, because when the crunch came his so-called friends deserted him without second thoughts and his government collapsed like a house of cards. No, because he genuinely thought he could pull off his little “coup”. Why did he think so?

From Day-One, Mr Wattoo had far-reaching ambitions. He liked to believe that he was prime ministerial material. He thought that the “establishment” would one day turn to him when it came to the conclusion that Ms Bhutto and Mr Sharif were birds of the same feather and no longer acceptable to Pindi. So he worked overtime to straighten his political base by poaching not only on the independents in the assembly but also on the PPP.

He also tried to contrive the impression that he was “in touch” with the khakis and available to do their bidding — “they support me because they don’t want Ms Bhutto to become all powerful”, he would confide with a sly smile. Whether or not he was deliberately led to believe this by low level “operatives” or agents provocateur with an agenda of their own, we don’t know. But we do know that, in his desperation to solicit the blessings of the brass, he left no stone unturned. This was one major miscalculation.

A second miscalculation probably arose because of Ms Bhutto’s consistent refusal, over the last two years, to jeopardize her coalition with Mr Chattha by agreeing to the insistent demands of her party to get rid of Mr Wattoo. Emboldened by Ms Bhutto’s self-imposed constraints, Mr Wattoo blithely disregarded the prime minister’s verbal lashings from time to time and continued to play fast and loose with the PPP in the Punjab.

Third, Mr Wattoo underestimated the brewing revolt against him in his own party. He viewed his party leader Hamid Nasir Chattha as an ineffectual man without grass roots party support and remained convinced that Mr Chattha wouldn’t dare cross swords with him.

Fourth, Mr Wattoo was egged on in his rebellious behaviour by a number of people with a strong vested interest of their own. Among these can be counted Mr Zafarullah Jamali (who has been desperately flogging himself as a candidate for a “consensus” prime minister) and Nawabzada Nasrullah (who is perennially dissatisfied with whatever government is in power in Islamabad and loves to be at the hub of all budding conspiracies by the opposition).

Sixth, Mr Wattoo was convinced that Ms Bhutto wouldn’t risk all-out war with him in the dying months of 1995. With Karachi in turmoil, he believed that Ms Bhutto would never sanction conflagration in Punjab because that would have added to uncertainty and instability in the country and provoked unrest in Pindi where a change of guard is expected next January. That some “conspirators” may have led him into believing that Pindi had finally approved a “grand opposition alliance” against Ms Bhutto is not inconceivable.

Finally, Mr Manzoor Wattoo thought he had Mr Nawaz Sharif all taped up. Although his “contacts” with Mr Sharif have existed for a long time, he had strongly reactivated them in the last month or so, courtesy, among others, Mr Zafarullah Jamali. All he had to do to get Mr Sharif’s backing, he thought, was to demonstrate that he could carry at least 35 MPs with him. In the event, things didn’t work out as Mr Wattoo had planned. Mr Sharif first came under pressure from his Okara Group (which has been hounded by Mr Wattoo in the last three years) to vow never to embrace Mr Wattoo. Then, when Mr Wattoo briefly demonstrated the support of at least twenty MPs, Mr Sharif welcomed him to Model Town. The end for Mr Manzoor Wattoo came when his MPs rapidly began to desert him under administrative pressure from the new Punjab administration and Mr Sharif decided to put him at arm’s length once again.

The irony is that the “wily” Manzoor Wattoo has lost his seat to a non-entity like Sardar Arif Nakai. Mr Nakai was the joint candidate of the PPP and PML(J). But he was elected unanimously because Mr Sharif’s PML(N) decided to cast its votes for him. This last-minute tactical move by the PML(N) promises to keep Punjabi politics as lively as ever.

(TFT Sep 21-27, 1995 Vol-7 No.29 — Editorial)

Forewarned is forearmed

On the eve of Benazir Bhutto’s departure for Washington last April, many people said that her trip would amount to nothing. They were wrong. President Bill Clinton acknowledged not only that the Pressler amendment had failed to serve its anti-proliferation purpose but also that it was unfair and immoral for the US to keep Pakistan’s money and the military equipment. By and large, the same opinion was expressed in editorials and Congressional statements across the US. This was a far cry from the American point of view in the last few years.

Since then, US-Pak efforts to dilute the impact of Pressler have been redoubled. On June 8th, the House of Representatives passed the Brown amendment aimed at a partial repeal of Pressler’s economic sanctions. In addition, the House passed a “Sense of Congress” resolution asking the US government to sell the F-16s to a third country and reimburse Pakistan as well return military equipment sent for repairs before the aid cut-off in 1990. The Brown amendment was duly adopted by a bipartisan 16:2 vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator Hank Brown then attached his amendment to the Foreign Aid Authorisation Bill. But when major differences between the Republicans and Congressmen didn’t allow this bill to take off, Senator Brown tagged his amendment to the Department of Defence (DoD) appropriations bill. This too ran into trouble when four hostile Senators led by Mr Pressler decided to filibuster the bill by asking for a lengthy debate. No further movement was possible because Congress went into its summer recess.

During the Congressional break, much work was done by the Pakistani and American governments as well as by volunteer Pakistani lobbyists to bring the Brown amendment back on the agenda of Congress. Last week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard the testimony of several leading experts on South Asia who advocated a partial repeal of Pressler. This is what they concluded.

Robin Raphael, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia: “Our efforts …are hampered by the sweeping sanctions imposed under the Presser amendment…the US should resolve the fundamental unfairness of a situation where we have ended up with both Pakistan’s money and the embargoed equipment…the status quo is clearly unacceptable”.

Bruce Riedel, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs: “In considering whether to support the release of the embargoed equipment, the administration has carefully considered the impact on the conventional arms balance [between India and Pakistan] and has concluded that the impact would be minimal…should we release the equipment? We in the Administration would argue that we should…. resolving this matter in a manner that will be perceived as fair will … serve US interests”.

James Clad, Georgetown University: “… the US needs better tools than the locked-step and unilaterally applied Pressler amendment…’the way ahead lies in careful and sympathetic diplomacy, not in threats or attempted compulsion. Pakistan is not North Korea or Libya or Iraq. It is open to reasonable diplomacy'”.

Bruce Fein: “The greatest source of instability in South Asia seems India, not Pakistan…to embargo conventional arms transfers to Pakistan …is a wrongheaded strategy aimed at the wrong country at the wrong time”.

Professor Stephen Cohen: “It is highly unlikely that the equipment that the DoD has identified for release to Pakistan will have any significant impact on the regional military balance…it is hard for me to argue that America’s non-proliferation interests would be damaged by the release of this equipment…we need a direct link to the Pakistani military and a modest supplier relationship is one way to achieve it.”

Michael Krepon, President of the Henry Stimpson Center: “If the Congress denies the transfer of a modest package of conventional arms to Pakistan, as proposed by the Administration, Pakistan will likely reconsider its restraint regarding fissile material production…if, on the other hand, Congress agrees to release these modest items, India will likely reconsider its restraint over new missile deployments…on balance, more harm is likely to result from Congressional disapproval. President Clinton has made a commitment to Pakistan and much damage will come from failing to follow through on this commitment in good faith”.

In view of such across-the board-support for Pakistan in Washington, can we expect a quick redressal of our grievances?

Senator Hank Brown doesn’t think so. Congress and President Clinton are locked in an increasingly fierce battle over appropriations in the next budget and no one has time at the moment to concentrate on Pakistan’s predicament. Therefore we might have to wait some more before Pressler is revoked.

In the meanwhile, we should do something quick and concrete to pre-empt the potentially damaging impact of the hostage crisis in Kashmir on American public opinion. If the American hostage is killed by the mysterious “Al-Faran” terrorists, India will surely point an accusing finger at Pakistan and CNN will exploit this to the hilt. If this happens when the Brown amendment comes up before Congress, it could flush all our anti-Pressler efforts down the drain.

Forewarned is forearmed. Islamabad must immediately launch a vigourous campaign in Washington to denounce “Al Faran” and expose India’s evil “game-plan” to discredit Pakistan.

(TFT Sep 21-27, 1995 Vol-7 No.29 — Article)

Benazir didn’t want Makhdoom Altaf as CM

Although prime minister Benazir Bhutto insists that she tried her best to install “a clean PPP man” as chief minister of the Punjab, the evidence suggests that she blithely ignored a number of excellent opportunities to achieve this end. This has led many people to believe that she may have actually contrived in the appointment of a “dummy” from the PML(J) instead of chosing a clean and educated man from her own party like Makhdoom Altaf Ahmad.

If this sounds far fetched, consider the manner in which events have unfolded over the last two weeks and the number of opportunities Ms Bhutto has “missed” to clinch the chief minister’s slot for her own party during and after the “Get Wattoo” operation.

With Mr Hamid Nasir Chattha backing her to the hilt, Ms Bhutto called in Mr Wattoo for a showdown late August and told him to step aside or accept a change in the rules of government enabling Governor Raja Saroop to run the show. By all accounts, we’re told, Mr Wattoo “crumpled” before her and agreed to abide by her decision after he returned from the United States.

Thinking that the matter was as good as resolved, Ms Bhutto went off to Central Asia and China. While abroad, however, she was informed that Mr Wattoo had met with Mr Shahbaz Sharif in London and the two had worked out some sort of a “deal” to thwart her agenda. Fearing a sudden dissolution of the assembly, Ms Bhutto ordered her PPP to submit an undated “vote of no-confidence” against the chief minister to Governor Saroop. The idea was that if Mr Wattoo tried to dissolve the assembly, the PPP would claim that a vote of no-confidence had already been lodged with the Governor, thus negating the legitimacy of Mr Wattoo’s “dissolution” order.

While in China, however, Ms Bhutto was stunned to learn about the volte-face of her coalition partner Hamid Nasir Chattha. Mr Chathha, it was reported, had met with Mr Wattoo after the latter’s return from the UK and told the press that Mr Wattoo would remain the PML(J) chief minister without relinquishing any of his powers to the PPP. This, despite the fact that Mr Chattha had not only fully backed the prime minister’s point of view earlier but was also aware of Mr Wattoo’s renewed “negotiations” with the PML(N).

When Ms Bhutto returned to Islamabad on 5th September, she found the political climate in Lahore unbearably “hot”. A quick consultation with Governor Saroop persuaded her that the situation was about to take a nasty turn: Mr Chattha was isolated and lost while Mr Wattoo was flaunting 38 MPAs and threatening to cross over to the PML(N).

Ms Bhutto’s options were clear: she could either wait for Mr Wattoo to ask the Governor to dissolve the Assembly or she could seize the initiative by asking the President to suspend Mr Wattoo’s government immediately. Moving a vote of no-confidence against him, while the reins of government lay in his hands, was thought inadvisable.

The first option was fraught with grave difficulties. It meant that the Governor would eventually have to demonstrate before the courts that he had received notice for a vote of no-confidence before Mr Wattoo’s advice for dissolution of the Assembly. In view of what happened in a similar situation in 1993, this course of action would have been messy and scandalous. It would also have tied up the courts in knots and hurt the judiciary.

The second option was therefore seized upon immediately. Ms Bhutto rushed to the Presidency on the evening of September 5th and persuaded President Farooq Leghari to issue a Proclamation suspending the Wattoo government while leaving the Assembly in tact.

This dramatic prime ministerial move was to have salutary repercussions for the PPP immediately. Mr Wattoo’s supporters deserted him and the PDF was able to demonstrate the support of 148 MPAs in Islamabad on September 10th.

Ms Bhutto spent September 6th-September 8th and September 11th -September 13th in Lahore finalising and clinching her “strategy”. When should the Governor call a session of the assembly to ask Mr Wattoo to take a vote of confidence? When should the Governor accept nominations for the new chief minister? When should the new chief minister be elected? When should he seek a vote of confidence? When should the Proclamation be repealed?

In the event, five nominations were filed by the PDF — two from the PPP and three from the PML(J) — on September 12th. Ms Bhutto and Mr Chattha also agreed that night to appoint the PML(J)’s Arif Nakai as the new chief minister next morning after the others had withdrawn their candidatures. In the meanwhile, the Governor amended the rules of business so that the new chief minister would become a “dummy” after his elections.

What is surprising is the fact that at no time during the run-up to the election of a new chief minister did Ms Bhutto or Mr Chattha sit down to settle the most important question of all: who should be chief minister? Ms Bhutto’s aides continued to leak stories throughout the week that Ms Bhutto was aiming to install the PPP’s Makhdoom Altaf Ahmad as the chief minister. On the other side, Mr Chattha’s supporters remained insistent that a PML(J) man would occupy the coveted chair.

On the day of nominations Ms Bhutto “tried” to persuade Mr Chattha to let her appoint a PPP man as chief minister — she dutifully “requested” a number of people to persuade Mr Chattha to accept the PPP’s point of view. In the end, say her aides, she gave in to Mr Chattha “most reluctantly” because she didn’t want to jeopardise the PDF coalition.

The evidence, however, strongly suggests that Ms Bhutto may have missed several excellent opportunities to compel Mr Chattha to appoint a PPP man as chief minister.

On the afternoon of September 5th, Mr Wattoo had a majority of the PML(J), the independents and the minorities in his bag. Then the Presidential Proclamation was announced late at night. Next day, Ms Bhutto landed up in Lahore and took charge of the “Get Wattoo” operation. On September 7th, when he arrived at Mr Nawaz Sharif’s residence in Model Town, Mr Wattoo was down to 31 MPAs. By the afternoon of September 9th, a majority of them were ready to board a flight to Islamabad where the prime minister had hosted a dinner the following day to show off her strength. Mr Wattoo’s “game” was as good as over when a head-count on September 10th showed that 148 MPAs attended Ms Bhutto’s dinner at Punjab House in Islamabad.

This was the moment for Ms Bhutto to strike a hard nosed deal with Mr Chattha. She could have told him, very legitimately, that he had been unable to persuade Mr Wattoo to resign or accept the new rules of power-sharing as agreed between them earlier. Therefore, she could have argued, he had forfeited his right to nominate Mr Wattoo’s successor. She could have pointed out to Mr Chattha that if it hadn’t been for her, he would have lost his party to Mr Wattoo. Most of the PML(J) and Independent MPAs were in Islamabad because of her swift and decisive action to demonstrate that the federal government meant business in the Punjab much as it did in the NWFP last year. Under the circumstances, she could have stressed, Mr Chattha owed everything to her. Therefore, she could have said, she expected him to agree to the installation of a PPP man as chief minister.

If Ms Bhutto had persisted in this line of argument at that time, Mr Chattha would not have been able to refuse her demand. All the cards were in her hand and Mr Chattha knew his dismal score. If he had tried to resist, Ms Bhutto could have easily shown that the PPP had the support of over 130 MPAs and was prepared to go it alone when push came to shove.

But Ms Bhutto did noting of the sort. She did not seek any opportunity to woo the floating MPAs to formally join the PPP. She did not extract any new deal from Mr Chattha based on the new ground realities created by her intervention. Worse, she made no effort to raise the issue of the chief minister with Mr Chattha. Instead, she feted the MPAs and congratulated Mr Chattha for bringing 25 MPAs to Islamabad!

A second point is equally illustrative of Ms Bhutto’s “relaxed” position on the question of a PPP chief minister. It should be noted that she did not actually sit down formally with Mr Chattha to discuss this crucial issue until 6 pm on September 12th (only three hours before the 9 pm deadline for nominations on that day).

There is a third question which sheds light on this matter. Why was Ms Bhutto in such a mad rush to get Mr Arif Nakai to seek a vote of confidence immediately after his election as chief minister? In view of the fact that the PML(N) had already launched its strategy to woo Mr Nakai, an obvious course of action would have been to postpone the vote of confidence for a few weeks so that Mr Nakai’s intentions could be tested in the days ahead while the new power-sharing formula was being consolidated. During this time, Ms Bhutto could have strengthened her position by wooing a number of PML(J) dissidents and independents to join her party and kept the vote of confidence dangling like the sword of Damocles over Mr Nakai’s head. That Ms Bhutto did exactly the opposite would strengthen the view that she was in a hurry to bury the issue of a PPP chief minister as quickly as possible.

If this line of reasoning is plausible, a number of questions arise: Was Ms Bhutto badly served by her many advisors on Punjab? Did no one tell her that the moment to cut a deal with Mr Chattha was in Lahore on September 7th or 8th (after Ms Bhutto had lured many of the dissidents to come to the State Guest House and pay their “respects” to her) or finally in Islamabad on September 10th (when 148 MPAs attended her dinner and gave her a vote of confidence) rather than on September 12th (after the PML(J)’s Basharat Elahi had opened channels of communication with the PML(N) through Mian Mohammad Azhar and improved his party’s negotiating position with the PPP)? Or did Ms Bhutto deliberately contrive to choose a PML(J) dummy like Mr Arif Nakai over a clean and educated man from her own party like Makhdoom Altaf Ahmed?

There is considerable evidence that leading PPP figures were unhappy over the prospect of Makhdoom Altaf becoming chief minister. Mr Faisal Saleh Hayat, in particular, has been singled out by the Makhdoom’s supporters for working against his interests and promoting those of Mr Nakai. It is said that since Mr Hayat was “withdrawn” from the Punjab many months ago by Ms Bhutto and replaced by Makhdoom Altaf, he has been eager to stage a proxy comeback by diminishing the stature of his successor. Similarly, a group of jiyalas led by Miss Naheed Khan, Ms Bhutto’s powerful secretary, was strongly backing Mr Mushtaq Awan, the PPP Punjab president, and would have been bitterly disappointed if Makhdoom Altaf had been preferred over their candidate. We can therefore surmise that Ms Bhutto was under pressure from sections of her own party not to opt for Makhdoom Altaf.

On her own part, also, Ms Bhutto may not have been terribly keen on Makhdoom Altaf. Ms Bhutto puts a premium on blind loyalty to her person over and above the virtues of political cleanliness, efficiency and independent-mindedness. That is why she has surrounded herself with dummies and yes-men. A malleable commodity like Mr Nakai from a coalition partner was therefore to be preferred to someone like Makhdoom Altaf who has the reputation of being the Mr Clean of Punjabi politics.

But that may not have been the only reason why Makhdoom Altaf was finally unacceptable to Ms Bhutto as chief minister of the Punjab. For some reason the prime minister has got it into her head “that Makhdoom Altaf is President Leghari’s man”. This wouldn’t matter if she were absolutely certain that “President Leghari was, in turn, Benazir Bhutto’s man”. But Ms Bhutto is no longer so sure about the President’s blind loyalty to her person (he is fairly critical of her government’s corruption and inefficiency). This, despite the fact that Mr Nawaz Sharif continues to lambast the President for being a PPP “jiyala”.

One final question remains. If Makhdoom Altaf was unacceptable to Ms Bhutto, why didn’t she choose a jiyala like Mr Mushtaq Awan? The answer is obvious enough: this would have exposed the hollowness of Makhdoom Altaf’s stint as Ms Bhutto’s “senior minister” in the Punjab; it might have led to further disgruntlement in the rank and file of her vote-bank; it would have unleashed the floodgates of independent opinion that the PPP was bent upon pillaging the Punjab with the help of its jiyalas; and it would have greatly displeased the President of Pakistan who may have been given an assurance by the PM that she would opt for Makhdoom Altaf if Mr Chattha didn’t create any insuperable hurdles. Far better, Ms Bhutto must have reasoned, to contrive the appointment of a “dummy” like Mr Nakai while pretending to have fought for the PPP cause and lost in the larger interests of the PDF coalition.

Has Ms Bhutto cut off her nose to spite her face? We shall have to wait and see what happens in the coming months.

(TFT Sep 28-04 Oct, 1995 Vol-7 No.30 — Editorial)

Small but significant step

The Brown amendment to the Pressler amendment has been passed by the US Senate. The House of Representatives is expected to nod approval soon. Barring a major now between Congress and President Bill Clinton over the Foreign Affairs Appropriations Bill to which the Brown amendment has been tagged, the Pressler amendment should be “repealed” partially by next month. When that happens a small though significant step will have been taken to restore some equilibrium to US-Pakistan relations.

It is a small step because the repeal is a “partial”, one-time waiver which only allows the US government to ease certain restrictions imposed on Pakistan by Pressler since 1990: (a) Washington will return some military equipment sent for repairs by Pakistan. (b) It will supply some new military equipment ordered by Pakistan. (c) It will enable the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation to insure US private investment in Pakistan. (d) It will help Pakistan cope with narcotics control, population planning and terrorism. The net worth of this package, already paid for by Pakistan, is only US$ 368 million. About US$ 20 million or so may also come Pakistan’s way every year under (d) above.

More meaningfully, however, the Brown amendment to the Pressler amendment does not allow the US government to supply US$ 658 million worth of F-16 aircraft ordered and paid for earlier. The US position is that if these aircraft can be sold to some other country, well and good, Washington will give the proceeds to Pakistan; but if there are no buyers, it so chooses, go to court and try to recover its money. Nor does Brown dilute the tough Pressler restrictions on fresh economic and military assistance to Pakistan ― we will still be unable to buy military equipment or spares from American companies.

Nonetheless, it is important to recognise the significance of this step: (a) It vindicates our position that it is morally wrong for America to keep our money and our equipment. (b) It supports our argument that the return of this equipment will not change the military balance between India and Pakistan and should not fuel an arms race in the sub-continent. (c) It helps remove some of the mutual distrust and animosity in US-Pak relations generated by five years of often bitter altercation. (d) It eliminates the element of wishful strategic thinking on both sides: America now understands that our nuclear programme is not negotiable; and we have learnt that we must stand on our own two feet henceforth. (e) It obliges both countries to seek ways and means to cement their relationship not via tied military and economic aid as in the past but through cooperation in free-market trade and investment.

It also vindicates the American establishment’s view: Pressler has served its purpose of freezing Pakistan’s nuclear programme and restraining its military ambitions; continued, unrestricted application could be counter-productive because it might eliminate whatever little “leverage” Washington retains with Islamabad on nuclear and missile proliferation issues. More significantly, it should put a dampener on reactionary forces in Pakistan who have exploited the Pressler imbroglio to fan anti-Americanism and anti-Westernism in the country.

This “repeal” has been predicated on the fact that the Pakistani President, Prime Minister, Opposition Leader and Army Chief ― the establishment ― have spoken with one voice on the subject: F-16s or no F-16s, Pakistan’s national security cannot be bargained away; despite Indian provocation, we have shown restraint on our nuclear programme because we are a responsible nation.

On Pakistan’s side, the visit of army chief General Abdul Waheed to Washington last year marked a turning point in US-Pak relations: some plain talking by the COAS finally persuaded Washington that diminishing returns had set in on Pressler. It was prime minister Benazir Bhutto, however, who clinched the argument for Pressler’