Pakistan under General Pervez Musharraf, 1999-2008

(TFT Oct 15-21, 1999 Vol-XI No.33 — Editorial)

Saviours?

Two weeks ago, we asked “whether some sort of political change was in the air” and answered that “if change is to come, good or bad, it must originate from the direction of GHQ or the PM’s house”

(TFT Editorial, “Optional leaders or policies?”, September 30th). And that is what happened on the fateful day of October 12. A civilian coup against the military leadership was launched from the PM’s house and thwarted by GHQ in a counter-coup. The story of events leading up to the two coups is worth recapitulating, if only to gauge what lies ahead.

General Pervaiz Musharraf, it may be recalled, was handpicked by Nawaz Sharif as COAS after General Jehangir Karamat was sacked last year for decrying the lack of a consultative process of governance. Then, disregarding criticism, General Musharraf went out of his way to prop up Mr Sharif’s government — from ordering the army to unearth ghost schools and carry out a long overdue census to manning military courts and running WAPDA. He did so because he sincerely believed that his efforts were aimed at enhancing national security and “nation-building”.

But some months ago, following the enforced withdrawal of Pakistani troops from Kargil under American pressure, the chummy relationship between the PM and COAS began to sour. As the Kargil episode increasingly came to called the “Kargil misadventure”, Mr Sharif decided to pass the buck to the army and get General Musharraf to take the rap for it. Indeed, speculation was rife at the time that Mr Sharif’s Intelligence Agencies had bugged conversations between the COAS and CGS and passed on the tapes to New Delhi as “proof” of Mr Sharif’s “innocence” in the matter. Irked, the COAS was compelled to publicly assert that “everybody was on board” re Kargil. Relations between the two deteriorated when the COAS announced that “there would be no unilateral withdrawal from Kargil” even as Mr Sharif was making plans to rush to Washington and surrender unilaterally, an event which led to much demoralisation and anger within the armed forces.

Matters now took an ugly turn. Even as General Musharraf was rushing from pillar to post, exhorting his troops to keep their morale high, Mr Sharif was secretly sowing the seeds of division in the upper echelons of the armed forces. Rumours were floated to suggest that the COAS had not taken his colleagues, including the Air Chief and the Navy Chief as well as several Corps Commanders, into confidence, the idea being to undermine the authority of the COAS and sow dissension within the ranks.

For Mr Sharif, it was a tried and tested strategy — weaken an opponent by creating tensions and misunderstandings between his colleagues and him, isolate him and then destroy him. That was how Mr Sharif had contrived the ouster of the chief justice of the supreme court, Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, in 1997. Now the strategy was swiftly executed once again and at least two corps commanders (General Saleem Haider in Mangla and General Tariq Pervez in Quetta) along with the DG-ISI, General Khawaja Ziauddin, were egged on to flout the authority of the COAS and challenge his views at home and abroad, in private and in public. The stage was set for a coup against the army high command by Mr Sharif which would begin with the sacking of General Musharraf.

But General Musharraf was not blind to goings-on in the PM House. So he moved to protect his flanks and consolidate his home base. General Saleem Haider was transferred from a command position at Mangla to a staff position at GHQ on September 20 and General Tauqir Zia, a loyalist, appointed to head the critical corps. Then, on October 10th, General Tariq Pervez was sacked by the COAS, as a warning to other generals that dissent at the behest of the PM or at the alter of personal ambition would not be tolerated. The dye was cast. The COAS was ready to thwart any attempt to remove him from his command and purge his senior colleagues. Shortly thereafter, he made the confident statement that he “would complete his tenure”, suggesting that the prime minister would not, or could not, remove him.

However, disregarding the obvious “moves” by the COAS to “protect” himself, Mr Sharif made bold to put his plan into action. General Musharraf was confirmed as Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, so that he would be lulled into a false sense of security. Then Mr Sharif waited for the COAS to go to Sri Lanka on official business before striking.

Mr Sharif’s trip to the UAE when the COAS was in Sri Lanka came out of the blue. It was not on any agenda. Nor could one fathom what Mr Sharif urgently needed to discuss with the Emir of the UAE. But the composition of the PM’s entourage was the giveaway. What was the need to take the DG-ISI with him? Why were Mushahid Hussain and Pervez Rashid, head honchos of media disinformation, members of the select entourage? What was Nazir Naji, the PM’s speech writer, doing in the UAE along with the PM? There were no press conferences or speeches or briefings. Clearly, all were together to put the finishing touches to a coup against the army high command away from the prying eyes and ears of Military Intelligence.

The evidence of October 12 confirms this. Mr Sharif went to Multan, ostensibly for a routine, scheduled public meeting, to give the impression of “business as usual”. Then the civilian coup was launched, shortly after General Musharraf’s PIA flight took off from Sri Lanka and he was out of contact with GHQ. Pakistan TV in Islamabad was “occupied” at 5 pm by Pervez Rashid and a contingent of the police. The announcement of General Musharraf’s sacking, as well as the appointment of General Ziauddin, followed. General Ziauddin is then reported to have called up the CGS, General Aziz, to inform him that he was on his way to GHQ to take charge. When he was politely rebuffed on the plea that GHQ wanted to wait for General Musharraf to arrive and relinquish charge, the counter-plan went into operation. The pilot of the PIA flight carrying the COAS to Karachi was radioed by Chairman PIA Khaqan Abbasi to divert the Airbus to Nawabshah where a special plane and a police escort was waiting to arrest and transport the COAS to Islamabad. When the pilot protested that the airstrip at Nawabshah could not accommodate the Airbus, he was ordered to fly to Dubai. When the pilot said he did not have sufficient fuel to do so, he was ordered to go to Islamabad. Then General Musharraf intervened and ordered the pilot to land at Karachi and discovered that a coup against him was in the process of unravelling.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Corps Commander Pindi had sent a contingent to stop the PTV authorities from broadcasting news of the sacking of General Musharraf and the appointment of General Ziauddin as the new army chief. But the small contingent was overpowered by a force led by the PM’s military secretary and the PTV broadcasts were resumed. This compelled GHQ to despatch a stronger force and rout the erstwhile coupmakers. Troops loyal to General Musharraf had already sealed the PM and his close associates in the PM House and elsewhere by the time General Musharraf landed in Islamabad and assumed full operational charge. Then the corps commanders went into session to determine how to deal with the situation, eventually declaring that the Sharif government had been “dismissed” (by whom, it was not said) and that the Chairman JCSC and COAS (not CMLA), General Pervaiz Musharraf, would address the nation in due course.

The facts are clear enough. General Musharraf is not an innate, politically ambitious, coup-maker. The sincerity in his short but emphatic four minute address to the nation on October 13 rings true, every word of it. Mr Sharif, on the other hand, clearly tried to over-reach himself once too often and failed. Indeed, he seemed to have been finally emboldened in his recklessness by the statement of support from the Clinton administration in Washington warning the army not to carry out a coup some weeks ago!

It is also clear that a majority of the people of Pakistan had had enough of the Sharifs and their hangers-on. They were repressive, deceitful, corrupt, incompetent and dangerous. Not too many tears are going to be shed at the passing of their rogue regime. And as for democracy, it died in Pakistan when the supreme court was stormed and the judiciary humiliated and undermined, when parliament was gagged, when provincial governments were arbitrarily removed, when the press was attacked, when the bureaucracy was politicised, when all checks and balances on the power of the prime minister were systematically removed and the sword of the impending Shariah Bill was waved to scare away conscientious dissenters. If a formal burial of this long-decaying corpse was ordered on the day of the successful counter-coup, does it matter?

It matters in one sense. All other things being equal, democracy is still the least objectionable system of the lot. But there are democracies and democracies. Indeed, there are as many forms and types of democracy as there are countries. Nor do elections constitute the be-all and end-all of democracy. Apart from a number of Western countries with history on their side, most new nations cannot demonstrate uninterrupted periods of successful democratic practise. Nor is democracy an end unto itself. Indeed, it is meant to be a means to desireable ends like security, stability, prosperity, creativity. So where does that take us?

We have had ten years of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. Each regime has been worse than its predecessor. Neither has given us security, stability, prosperity. Indeed, we have become worse off on all these fronts with each passing year. That is why our loss of faith in the electoral system is now reflected in diminishing turnouts at the polls and an increasing resort to arms to fulfill our needs or overcome our frustrations and alienation. Therefore another round of sham elections with the same “leaders” and candidates is the last thing we need.

Most Pakistanis are desperate for an “interim arrangement” which will hold across-the-board accountability and set the new rules of the game to include the many demands of good governance before the political system is opened up a couple of years down the line for a fuller form of representative federal democracy. This is a do-able formula. But certain conditions are attached to it. The “caretakers” must be transparently above-board and competent. They must be prepared to take hard decisions without fear or favour. They must have the moral authority to lead from the front so that no one may cast a stone at them. And they must demonstrate the collective courage and wisdom to reverse course on a number of disastrous domestic and foreign policy adventures.

General Pervaiz Musharraf and his colleagues have unwittingly arrived at a critical juncture of Pakistani history. Everything around them smacks of failure on a grand scale. If they can deliver a significant portion of a new agenda to restructure and revamp Pakistan, history will remember them as the saviours of Quaid i Azam’s dream. If they can’t — for whatever reasons — the implosion will engulf them as surely as it will all of us.

(TFT Oct 22-28, 1999 Vol-XI No.34 — Editorial)

Proof of the pudding…

The radical reform agenda announced by COAS General Pervez Musharraf on October 17 is: (1) Rebuild national confidence and morale (2) strengthen the federation by removing inter-provincial disharmony and restore national cohesion (3) Revive the economy and restore investors’ confidence (4) Ensure law and order and dispense speedy justice (5) Depoliticise state institutions (6) Devolve power to the grass roots level (7) Hold across-the-board accountability.

This is a tall order. It cannot be accomplished in a few years, least of all without the continuous and creative involvement of the finest representatives of civil society. But a beginning can be made.

General Musharraf’s objectives are laudable. But the General has not discovered them in a flash of inspiration. In fact, these objectives have long been formulated by concerned Pakistanis as core issues in the debate of reforming and revitalising Pakistan. More significantly, they form the very yardstick by which the people of Pakistan have already condemned and rejected Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif and by which General Musharraf’s regime will also inevitably be measured. Therefore let us get some things straight.

  1. The new regime has got off to a fair start. This is not because of any intrinsic merit in it. Far from it. The international environment is hostile to military take-overs, as demonstrated by the Commonwealth and the European Union. But it has got the critical benefit of doubt from Washington only because (a) the people of Pakistan have shed no tears for the departed “sham-democratic” government of Nawaz Sharif (b) the people of Pakistan have afforded legitimacy to the new regime because they have high expectations of it. From this it follows that if domestic support withers on the vine because the Generals are unable to deliver, they will find themselves in a tight corner at home and abroad.
  2. The Generals have initially been slow to take and announce decisions. This hasn’t hurt their domestic credibility so far for two good reasons: (a) because they were “reluctant coup-makers”, there was no premeditated plan of action (b) because they wish to avoid blundering into the political thicket, they have treaded with deliberation and care. But the regime’s spokesmen must not flog this argument too far. Betrayed time and again by their leaders, Pakistanis have become innately suspicious and cynical of long-winded promises and excuses. They want action and they want it fast. If cynicism and loss of faith begins to set into the public, it will be very difficult to reverse.

(3) The means and ends of the new regime must be consistent with each other. For instance, if ruthless, across-the-board accountability is to be carried, the chosen mechanism must be demonstrably efficient and equitable. This would imply that since the existing judicial system is notoriously inefficient, biased and politicised, and since “due process” as practised here is ridiculously slow, it simply cannot be used in its current discredited form to carry out accountability. By the same criterion, those who are to sit in judgment over others must first offer themselves for public scrutiny. In this context, it may be noted that the existing Ehtesab Benches of the High Courts, apart from being controversial, have delivered just one decision in two years, despite the current law which prescribes a maximum time limit of three months.

(4) The reform agenda is tough and unremitting because Pakistan “has hit rock bottom”. It will require more than “a prayer for vision, wisdom and courage” by a brave General to be fulfilled. Let alone soldiers, the best political strategists, statesmen, thinkers and technocrats on offer will not be able to avoid costly mistakes. Therefore General Pervez Musharraf and his colleagues would be advised to give their regime a full-fledged civilian-technocratic face as early as possible and retreat into the background. In this way the army can be shielded from criticism when things go wrong while it enjoys kudos for all the good things done by “its” government.

(5) Certain international opinions and concerns cannot be disregarded. That is why the new regime has retained the fig leaf of “democracy” and “legality” by “suspending” the national and provincial parliaments and keeping the constitution in temporary “abeyance”. That is why General Musharraf has appended the rather innocuous title of “Chief Executive” to himself instead of calling a spade and spade and becoming a CMLA. And that is why Mr Rafiq Tarar has been retained as President of Pakistan. But surely the Generals don’t think they can fob off the international community thus without concretely addressing some of its more serious and outstanding concerns like nuclear and missile proliferation, a broad-based government in Afghanistan and regional peace as soon as possible?

Pakistan, as General Musharraf candidly admits, has “hit rock bottom and is at a crossroads”. This is no mean verdict — lesser mortals have been imprisoned for saying much the same thing. Now it’s time to put the diagnosis behind and get on with the prescriptions. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating of it.

(TFT Oct 29-04 Nov, 1999 Vol-XI No.35 — Editorial)

The only short-term option

The recent appointments at the very top have, by and large, escaped scrutiny in the press. Opportunists apart, the most generous explanation for this may be that, given General Pervez Musharraf’s palpable sincerity, no one wants to start picking bones with him from day-One, rather than any candidate’s outstanding qualification for the job. Nonetheless, some non-personal remarks may be relevant for the record.

Clearly, no hard criterion seems to have been followed in the process of selection. The CE has reposed his confidence in certain professionals who have served the governments of General Zia ul Haq, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif with or without credit. Nor has he cared too much about the past or present political affiliations of some members of his team, preferring instead to pay greater attention to their perceived strengths in other areas. We are also struck by some unbiased and fairly widespread comment on the general-make up of General Musharraf’s team so far: with the odd exception to prove the rule, most of the faces have a status-quo halo about them, with fairly stolid reputations to boot. Nor, it seems, has each and every candidate been picked on the basis of the management criterion of “the right man for the right job at the right time”. How this motley crowd will cope with the dynamic reform agenda promised by General Musharraf therefore remains to be seen.

Fortunately, however, the fog has been lifted for those of us who were wondering about the role of an NSC in a military dispensation when a Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and a Cabinet, both headed by General Musharraf, are in existence already. Now we know. The current NSC is as much a showcase of sorts as a precursor of institutional innovation in time to come.

That said, let us be clear about the nature of the agenda before Pakistan in the aftermath of Nawaz Sharif’s reckless rule. This non-personal agenda has two aspects, the internal and the external. The popular view that internal reform must be instantly carried out is likely to be disabused because there is no such thing as an “economic jumpstart”. People will have to face greater hardships before the beneficial effects of a change of government begin to filter through. This is so for a variety of reasons: the industrial sector is linked to the loans crisis and is subject to a deep rooted bout of general mismanagement, inefficiency and corruption. Nor has a creeping devaluation of the rupee in the past helped boost the country’s exports. Indeed, economic experts have discovered that Pakistan’s predominantly agriculture-related exports do not much respond to moderate changes in price. The trade and confidence gap has therefore widened and brought the rupee under a sort of “historic” pressure that won’t slacken. The crisis may therefore intensify before it is resolved by our new stewards.

Equally, the process of accountability or Ehtesab will take much longer than people think, not least because the most publicised item of Ehtesab remains the crisis of default. But it may not be possible (or desirable) to forcibly recover the total amount (over Rs 200 bn) from loan-defaulters. In fact, utmost care needs to be exercised so that the loan defaulter issue does not adversely affect domestic business confidence in the same manner as the IPP issue vis a vis international trust.

This brings us to the external aspect of the new government’s agenda. It is wrong to assume that, after the ouster of the Nawaz Sharif government, Pakistan’s dependence on external factors will diminish immediately. For that to happen, Pakistan will have to look after its external affairs more carefully and more honestly than Nawaz Sharif and his cronies did. What has been lost is trust. The international backlash against events that took place under Nawaz Sharif cannot be shrugged away. This backlash, which has directly benefited India, will have to be analysed and tackled cooly and dispassionately rather than with cries of hurt pride and injustice. Pakistan needs to recreate its image in the eyes of the world. It must demonstrate that its market is willing to trade with the world and honour its contracts.

There are definite gains or losses to be made on the foreign policy front. Can we get rid of the cobwebs of the ‘Made in Pakistan’ charade let loose under Nawaz Sharif? An aggressive posture based on the delusion of righteousness will not do. It should be remembered that the world’s reaction against the suspension of democracy in Pakistan is informed by more understanding than in the case of martial laws imposed during the Cold War era.

Equally, proper reform in the internal order will register well with the world. The warlike situation created within the country by legally indeterminate organisations fighting covert wars must be defused. Foreign policy debacles triggered by these wars and the damage done by them to civil society in Pakistan have scared our neighbourhood and the world. Our national economy will not respond to any reform unless the rumour of war ends and the resultant environment of peace liberates domestic and foreign investment. This is the short-term option available to Pakistan.

 

(TFT Nov 05-11, 1999 Vol-XI No.36 — Editorial)

Old paradigms, new paradoxes

General Pervez Musharraf’s first press conference went down well. The General is a likeable personality because he “talks straight” and doesn’t try to be “extra-clever” or indulge in “political doublespeak’. But hark the mutterings: “Where are the policies?”, they were impatient to know. “Why, the General seems to be enjoying himself”, they were wont to quip [democrats think this is an ominous sign]. Clearly, the regime must not make a virtue out of necessity by flogging the argument that the Generals were unprepared for government because they didn’t want to carry out a coup.

Then there is the question of sincerity. General Musharraf and his colleagues are obviously sincere. But sincerity begins to lose its value when it is self-assuredly offered as an alternative to good policies or becomes an excuse to justify inefficiency or inactivity. Nawaz Sharif, it may recalled, was overflowing with much the same milk of sincerity in early 1997 and look where it left him stranded in the end.

General Musharraf says that his interim arrangement is aimed at facilitating Pakistan’s return to “true” institutional democracy. He says that because he knows that the international conditionality of democracy jibes with the aspirations of the people at home. It follows therefore that this is one fiat of the international order that should be accepted at the cost of the traditional doctrine of state sovereignty. The latter, as we know, has taken a beating in our day not so much because of global imperialism as because of the compulsions of the national economy.

Pakistan has been dependent on external assistance for its economic survival for the past decade because its economy has always been more plugged into multilateral financial organisations than most others. Therefore, if Pakistan wants to sort out the distortions in its economic management and enforce urgent macro-economic reforms in the national economy, its linkage with its creditors will become even more critical. That is why economic experts in Pakistan are agreed that the country needs breathing space in which to obtain all possible concessions from its creditors before it can start putting its own house in order.

Since the external dimension is organically linked to the internal one, the Commonwealth and EU delegations which have visited Pakistan to determine if the new government is well-meaning in its resolve to return the country to democracy should not be taken as instruments of “interference”. They have taken full stock of public opinion in Pakistan and realise that the country needs a period of correction. Their insistence that the government give a time-frame for the restoration of democracy too should not be taken as a hostile gesture. The truth is that in Pakistan all the long martial laws in the past have abused their pledge of interim governance. Therefore the government’s inability to give a time-frame for the restoration of true democracy should be presented to the West as an unavoidable handicap, not as a hostile rejoinder.

China’s example is instructive. It is a strong state with a global status. But it has confronted “Western interference” with wisdom rather than hostility. The Chinese President has not only promised democratic freedoms in China, he has also pledged that China will ratify the CTBT. As against this, our foreign policy spokesmen say that “the CTBT is more or less dead”. This betrays ignorance of the CTBT agenda in European, Canadian and Japanese capitals and is hardly the way for Pakistan to negotiate breathing time.

In fact, the dependence of the new government on the financial goodwill of the West will increase as it tries to grasp some domestic nettles. The total domestic support it is now getting for shaking down the loan-defaulters will plunge once finance minister Shaukat Aziz gears up to extend the tax net and force the market place to cough up the taxes. Therefore negotiating entry into the CTBT and fixing some of the bad laws that violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at this stage could bestow sufficient international respect and credibility on the new government to counter the domestic backlash which is sure to come.

In fact, it is in the domain of foreign policy, rather than economic policy, that Pakistan can obtain immediate results. It can switch off some of the aggressive fronts it has been using as instruments of legitimisation at home. It can accept more frankly the loosening up of its internal order in the service of jehad in the neighbourhood, especially that related to covert wars against the US, Russia, China and Iran. Indeed, in order to get its market economy going and attract domestic and foreign investments it can cooperate with international opinion to normalise relations with India and defuse the warlike environment that hurts Pakistan and makes India look good.

The old paradigm has left Pakistan internationally isolated. The new paradox is that the pro-democracy generals will have to devote themselves to the task of reconstructing a new paradigm of international cooperation, participation and integration.

(TFT Dec 10-16, 1999 Vol-XI No.41 — Editorial)

Abundant sincerity, noticeable limitations

 

Mr Ijaz ul Haq, MNA, has recently offered General Pervez Musharraf a rather self-serving “formula” for the “restoration of democracy”. In effect, Mr Haq suggests that the assemblies should be restored; someone (Mr Haq?) from the PML should be given a perceptible nod by General Musharraf to lead a vote of no-confidence against Nawaz Sharif and get himself nominated as prime minister; then the national assembly and senate should indemnify the military’s various interventions (including locking up the Sharifs, Bhuttos and countless others), as well as authorise the establishment of a National Security Council which includes representatives of the armed forces and is headed by a president (General Musharraf?) with powers to sack governments (not assemblies) if they stray from the straight and narrow.

Despite Mr Haq’s vaulting ambition and non-entity status, the formula provides a road-map for the laudable objective of reviving constitutional democracy as quickly as possible. But there are many problems with this strategy. One, the current parliaments are thoroughly discredited, being chock a bloc with people who should have been disqualified from contesting the elections in the first place if we had had an independent and vigourous election commission. Two, these parliaments owe their existence to a trumped-up electoral-roll system gerrymandered by powerful vested interests in the past and a highly outdated system of constituency delimitation based on a population census taken twenty years ago. Three, such parliaments cannot be trusted because, more than other parliaments in Pakistani history, these have acted as immoral accomplices of Nawaz Sharif and Co by providing a “legal and constitutional” cover to their criminality. Finally, General Musharraf’s association with the ancien regime is likely to be a kiss of death since it will be interpreted by the people of Pakistan as a measure of status-quo weakness rather than as an act of bold wisdom, thereby militating against the popular sentiment that has afforded a degree of legitimacy to the new regime. No, far better to start afresh than to tie oneself to the dirty apron-strings of the past.

That said, it is still worth debating whether General Musharraf’s ambitious “agenda without a time-table” is based on realistic assumptions. And if it isn’t, what should be the contours of a preferred course of action?

General Musharraf has admitted that accountability of the corrupt could last “forever”. Apart from suggesting a definite criteria, the CE’s remarks imply a cut-off point beyond which accountability cannot be an excuse for delaying elections. But no one knows NAB’s criteria of corruption and accountability and its cut-off point. General Musharraf has also admitted that the economy is “much worse” than he feared. But he does not explain how long it will take him to “fix it”? He has now referred to “politicians” as “brothers”. But “brothers” Qazi Hussain Ahmad, Nawabzada Nasrullah, Ajmal Khattak and Ataullah Mengal, and “sister” Benazir Bhutto, are now all demanding an early election. Before long, “brothers” Imran Khan and Farooq Leghari may also become critical of the new regime and demand elections. How long can the “brotherhood” be put off?

General Musharraf seems to think that his personal “sincerity” and “courage” will suffice to “motivate” all manner of Pakistanis to give him the benefit of the doubt and make sacrifices for the good of the country, in the bargain propping up his regime for a few years at least. This may be wishful thinking. By and large, Pakistanis tend to be a cynical, suspicious, conspiratorial lot. Most people look at the NSC and various cabinets and conclude that the new regime is mired in a bureaucratic status quo. Others wonder aloud why there is a preponderance of “Urdu-speakers” in all the critical slots of government. Many scan the think-tanks to argue that the civilians are merely rubber-stamps for a government in which all the important decisions are being taken by the men in khaki, whether at the corps commanders level or in GHQ or in the ISI. Meanwhile, an uncomfortable number of people are saying that the regime is practising double-standards by targeting allegedly corrupt or errant businessmen, politicians and landlords while protecting allegedly corrupt or deviant civil-servants and generals. Meanwhile, hardly anyone thinks that Nawaz Sharif should be convicted in the hijacking case when so many better and more credible alternatives are available. And a few are even betting that this regime will be overtaken by another in due course.

On their own, these apprehensions may not amount to much. But taken in a clutch, such fears could eventually erode General Musharraf’s credibility. The critical point here is that if domestic legitimacy evaporates, the international community is likely to come down like a ton of bricks on Rawalpindi. In the event, the unsustainable contradictions in the regime’s “foreign policy-domestic economy paradigm” will come home to roost and lead to an implosion in Pakistan.

General Pervez Musharraf and his military colleagues must plan their strategic medium-term exit point even as they rush to develop their tactical short-term entry points into civil polity. This regime is abundantly sincere and fiercely motivated. But its limitations are becoming obvious and its shortcomings cannot be ignored.

(TFT Dec 17-23, 1999 Vol-XI No.42 — Editorial)

Reconciling with reality

Pakistan owes about US$ 35 billion to the international community. Has anyone wondered what would happen if, instead of constantly rescheduling Pakistan’s debt and injecting fresh loans into its coffers, the international community were to set up a body like NAB and empower it to hold Pakistan “accountable” for all its willful defaults? Or consider this. If the state of Pakistan is a most willful defaulter, the State Bank of Pakistan and the Central Board of Revenue are its right and left hand respectively. The former has willfully gobbled up billions of dollars in forex deposits belonging to Pakistanis while the latter owes at least Rs 30 billion in income and wealth tax refunds to the banking sector and tens of billions of rupees in rebates to domestic industry. But both have refused to cough up or make amends. Nor does the matter end here. State-owned corporations, including several belonging to the army’s “welfare” trusts, owe at least Rs 50 billion to the banks. Yet NAB has shown no particular inclination to haul them up and string them upside down.

We now understand that NAB will also tread ever so softly where accountability of the armed forces and judiciary is concerned. The justification for this approach apparently is that “both institutions have highly efficient and credible internal mechanisms for accountability” which obviate the necessity for NAB to step into any breach.

Unfortunately, this explanation doesn’t wash. With honourable exceptions, and present company excepted, many service chiefs in the past have not been able to shrug off perceptions of corruption or misdemeanour, whether from receipt of illegal kickbacks and commissions in major arms deals or through unjustified acquisition of state assets and privileges or through unauthorised receipts of payoffs in furtherance of unconstitutional political objectives. But not one service chief has ever been hauled up by the service concerned. The same applies to the judiciary whose reputation is no better than the civil and financial bureaucracy of the country. Yet the former couple will be allowed to go scot-free by NAB even as the latter are hauled over the coals.

We are all for “accountability”. Indeed, without accountability there can be no “true” democracy. But we are not sanguine about the nature and scope of accountability initiated by General Pervez Musharraf’s government, no matter how sincere and well-intentioned its motives.

There are at least five critical elements of any credible “Accountability”: (a) it should be a constitutionally viable process (b) which is institutional in nature, (c) even-handed in essence, (d) transparent in operation (e) and self-accountable in perception. How do the Accountability Ordinance and NAB fit this bill?

Rather badly, we fear. The draconian ordinance, which allows NAB to imprison alleged crooks for up to 90 days without provision of bail is likely to be struck down for violating fundamental constitutional rights. That will put paid to any claims which the law may confer to the actions of NAB in these troubled times. Nor, by definition, may any newly-created non-civilian organisation with such vast powers over civilians headed by a serving army general in extraordinary times claim any institutional longevity and legitimacy. Equally, the lack of any consistent, even-handed criteria in nabbing people is demonstrated both by the cavalier manner of selecting the first lot last month and the threats and arrests by NAB subsequently. Finally, there is no transparency in the selection or modus operandi of NAB’s investigating and prosecuting officers; nor is there any mechanism to hold NAB accountable for its own sins of omission and commission. After all, apart from General Amjad Hussain and an odd lieutenant or two whose personal integrity is beyond reproach, none of the other senior officers in NAB can be said to have irreproachable pasts or be beyond the pale of vested interests or personal prejudice. Indeed, not one of them has been “confirmed” in his or her arduous responsibility through a public scrutiny process which strips them bare before anointing them as public officials primus inter pares. That some of them worked for the notorious commission headed by Saifur Rehman has not disqualified them for the job. Nor are others sufficiently endowed with the professional expertise required, especially where complex financial and banking matters are concerned.

Let us make no bones about it. General Musharraf and his men in shining armour are no revolutionaries who stand apart from and above society. They are here for a short time and should cut their coat according to the cloth. They should put a few of the worst criminal offenders in each category in the power-bloc comprising soldiers, judges, politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen, traders, bankers, landlords and press magnates—the “elites” to which General Pervez Musharraf referred—in prison as soon as possible and throw the key away. Then they should offer conditional amnesty and reconciliation to all the others in the melting pot so that we can start on a cleaner slate. The last thing General Musharraf needs is a state of confrontation between the head of NAB and the heads of various ministries who do not share his enthusiasm for “ruthless accountability”.

(TFT Dec 24-30, 1999 Vol-XI No.43 — Editorial)

Get on with it

There was an air of great expectation before General Pervez Musharraf unfurled his “Economic Revival Plan”. But there are no novel or quick-fix solutions in it. Indeed, many of the economic ideas which Mr Shaukat Aziz is tinkering with have been advocated before. Others have been abandoned because the social or political infrastructure for accomplishing them was found wanting. The most glaring omission, of course, is that of an overriding political philosophy aimed at restructuring and retooling the economy for self-sustainable growth in the future.

The economic debate in this country is conducted by free marketeering economists or their bureaucratic nemeses and rarely, if ever, by political economists. One conventional group doesn’t give a damn for the principles of equity, the other conventional group gives two hoots for the requirements of efficiency. One loves “supply side” incentives, the other is obsessed by “demand management”. Both are prisoners of conventional economic wisdom which may have succeeded in stable and democratic Western economies but has consistently floundered in unstable, authoritarian countries like Pakistan with highly iniquitous social structures and highly inefficient bureaucratic-capitalist environments.

In this context, two like-minded philosophical observations from two opposite ends of the philosophical tradition may shed some light on Pakistan’s current predicament. The first one was made by Karl Marx 150 years ago. Marx postulated that when “the social relations of production (class or power structures) become a fetter on the social forces of production (economy)” in any society, radical political remedies are needed to break out of economic stagnation and decline. The second was made less than 150 days ago when the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mohammad Khatemi, said that Iran’s economy would not be able to develop and grow until “democratic freedoms and laws” were established in civil society. Both are, in effect, saying the same thing, albeit in different historical contexts: that when certain social and political structures of power begin to throttle the inherent creativity and dynamism of human endeavour instead of facilitating them, a critical economic situation arises which requires an appropriate change in these relations and structures of power. What does this mean in concrete, contemporary terms?

Marx’s European context was clear enough. Feudal relations (of power and production) had to be abolished before the capitalist industrial revolution could take off. Khatemi’s context is equally succinct: the Iranian revolution’s rigid orthodoxy and authoritarianism (relations of production), which was once its propelling force, has now become a bureaucratic millstone around the neck of the economy (forces of production). Consequently, an enlargement of democratic freedoms and strengthening of civil society is required in order to unleash the creative enterprise of the people of Iran. What are the lessons for Pakistan?

The inefficient and iniquitous nature of Pakistan’s powerful landed gentry is adversely impacting on the agricultural and industrial economy of the country. Since bloody revolutions are out of fashion, and paper partitions of land have rendered radical land nationalisations and redistributions impossible, the state must tax the absentee landlord and subsidise the tiller-peasant. Progressive agricultural “income taxation” coupled with micro-credit extension and poverty alleviation programmes is one way to do this. Mr Aziz recognises this instinctively but shies away from immediately striking at the roots of rural stagnation. The simplest and most effective remedy is to levy a flat income tax rate of about Rs 750-1000 per acre per year, irrespective of the size of land holding or ownership and without any exemptions, collect Rs 25-50 billion through the patwari\tehsildar and put it all into a poverty alleviation and agricultural extension and training programme for the rural middle-class and poor, thereby unleashing the productive power of the self-interested direct producer.

The same approach is needed to break the other social fetters on the economy. The businessman-trader must be made to pay taxes. But the taxes cannot be extracted from him through a hostile, corrupt and rapacious tax-collecting bureaucracy. First, Mr Aziz must hold the tax collector accountable, simply the tax collecting laws and demonstrate the state’s bonafide by providing transparent and good government. Then he can rightfully stake a claim to the hard earned incomes of the business community. The other way round would be misplaced concreteness of the worst kind.

The organs of the state, too, must come clean and demonstrate their sincerity and purposefulness. This can be done by holding the bureaucracy accountable, by rightsizing the public sector, and by speeding up privatisation. General Musharraf’s decision to cut Rs 7 billion from the budget of the armed forces is a major step in the right direction.

Finally, and most critically, the Pakistani state needs to break the bonds of international debt by recasting its foreign relations to allow the economy to obtain breathing space for itself on the basis of a significant debt write-off. This requires a critical reassessment of our cold-war “national security” paradigm so that the health of the economy becomes an integral element of it rather than be cripplingly dependent upon it.

There is no time to be lost. There may never be a better opportunity to reinvent the lost idea of Pakistan.

(TFT Dec 31, 1999 to 06 Jan, 2000 Vol-XI No.44 — Editorial)

Anti-historic judgment

 

The recent judgment by the Supreme Court’s Shariah Appellate Bench (SAB) equating “interest” with “riba” and outlawing all interest-based finance systems as “un-Islamic” (and therefore unconstitutional) has many interesting, ironical and provocative dimensions. Before rushing into judgment, consider…

In 1991, the Federal Shariat Court (FSC), prodded by “Islamic ideologues” in Nawaz Sharif’s Islamic Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) parliament, judged “interest” to be “riba” and banned all interest-bearing transactions as un-Islamic and unconstitutional. The judgment embarrassed the Sharif government, which was then desperately trying to woo foreign investors, and compelled it to appeal before the SAB. But the appeal wasn’t pursued enthusiastically by Sharif or the judges and interminable delays set in. It was as though they had mutually agreed not to upset the business community or provoke the wrath of the Islamicists. This, despite the fact that the law required the SAB to deliver a judgment within six months at the outset.

Naturally enough, Benazir Bhutto or the judges did not show any interest in concluding the case in 1993-96. But after Sharif regained power in 1997, he soon effected a stunning U-turn. He packed the SAB with hardline “Islamic” judges and then withdrew his appeal against the 1991 judgment. He also determined that neither his family, nor his close political confidantes, would pay the accumulated “interest” on their own bank loans on the grounds that “interest” was “riba” and therefore un-Islamic and unconstitutional.

If it was remarkable that SAB should have continued with its deliberations without anyone explicitly arguing against the proposition, the timing of the judgment has also raised eyebrows. It comes at a particularly difficult time for the country and the new government. The former is crying out for foreign investment while the latter is desperate to project a modern and moderate face of Islam to the outside world. But the judgment pours cold water over such sincere endeavours. It seems to be urging the international community to shun Pakistan like the Plague. And it reinforces fears that Pakistan is headed for financial default and “failure” on an unprecedented scale.

It is equally astonishing that the judges should have so sanguinely assumed the mantle of modern-day economists and financial experts in setting out the explicit parameters of a new financial system. Indeed, one judge has actually implied that the lack of a true Islamic economic system is responsible for Pakistan’s economic travails. Why the western economy has been booming for over two centuries without an Islamic system is left unexplained. The directive to complete the desired “Islamic” restructuring of a complex financial system within a quick cut-off date is no less baffling.

The judges seem loath to accept other facts. A true “Islamic” economic system does not even exist in the most “favoured” Islamic nations of the world. There are three basic reasons for this: first, no nation, Islamic or otherwise, is an island — indeed, the globe is fast becoming one economic village; second, the western capitalist system sets the rules of the financial game and doesn’t accept dictation from anyone — to believe otherwise is to indulge in wishful thinking or fall victim to false pride.

There is a third fact, one of history, which is often overlooked by Islamic “scholars” averse to true ijtihad. At the time of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), the moneylenders were the rich and the borrowers were the poor. High rates of usury (riba) charged by the few moneylenders were therefore a direct cause of the impoverishment of the borrowers who were many. Therefore the Holy Qur’an took the side of the poor and oppressed masses when it banned “riba”. In today’s world, however, a majority of the “moneylenders” are (bank) “depositors” who come from middle or low income backgrounds whereas the (bank) borrowers are rich businessmen seeking funds for new investments. The roles have been reversed. The relatively poor lend their hard-earned money to banks for safekeeping and security while the relatively rich borrow money from the banks for enriching themselves further. Therefore, to equate the “riba” of yore with the “interest” of today would be to prohibit the depositors of today from securing the highest return on their savings and to encourage the borrowers (capitalists or landlords) of today to hold out for the lowest cost of capital. That would turn the logic of Allah’s injunctions on its head.

If much of what today goes under the name of “interest” is therefore not “riba”, this should not, of course, stop us from devising systems in which small-time borrowers are facilitated with subsidised interest rates or enabled to become partners in business through project-finance profit and loss schemes. Indeed, there are many explicit financial innovations and institutions which can be established in the periphery of the capitalist financial system to genuinely appease the more orthodox borrowers and lenders in the Islamic world. And many such have indeed come into existence all over the world. But until there is a surplus of capital over demand as well as a surplus of “true” Muslims over both false Muslims and infidels in the world, it would be best to ask the honourable judges to review their decision in the larger interest of the government, country and Ummah.

(TFT Jan 07-13, 2000 Vol-XI No.45 — Editorial)

Hard and soft options

We have heard of “rogue” states, “failed” states and “terrorist” states. Now we are informed that a state can be like a hard boiled egg, “hard” on the outside and “soft” on the inside. Like India, for example?

Indian hawks argue that their state is “soft” because it treated “Pakistani-trained hijackers” with kid gloves and did a “deal” with terrorists. A real, “hard” state like Israel or the USA would never have done that, they say, admonishing their own state.

Many Indians are also telling the world that the Pakistani state is a “rogue” state and a “terrorist” state both hopelessly rolled into one grand “failed” state.

All this is hogwash. If the Pakistani state has “failed” to adequately look after 100 million Pakistanis, as alleged by India, the Indian state has “failed” to take care of nearly 400 million Indians below the poverty line. If Pakistani exports of terrorism to Kashmir and Afghanistan are the rage, as charged by India, Indian exports of terrorism to Karachi and Sri Lanka are no laughing matter either. If Pakistani nuclear weapons are in rogue Islamic hands, Indian nuclear weapons are surely in fiendish Hindu clutches. If the Pakistani state opted for a “hard” crackdown in quelling separatism in East Pakistan or insurgency in Balochistan, the Indian state tore up the 1948 UN Resolutions on Kashmir, sent troops to annex Hyderabad and Junagarh, bombed the Mizos in Aizawi, stabbed Pakistan in Bangladesh, stormed the holiest Sikh shrines in Amritsar, invaded Sri Lanka, committed genocide in Kashmir and nuked Pokharan many times. If the Pakistani state spends US$ 2.75 billion beefing itself up, the Indian state weighs in at US$ 11 billion in “hard” military muscle every year. Finally, if the experience of non-Muslim minorities is anything to write about in Pakistan, ask the Muslims, Christians and untouchable castes how they feel under the heel of the saffron state in India.

Conspiracies notwithstanding, the facts of the current situation are also straightforward. The hijackers, whether Kashmiris or even Pakistanis, are an angry consequence of the historic and continuing injury perpetrated by India against Pakistan and Kashmir. Therefore the onus of responsibility, or the root cause of the problem in whichever form it manifests itself (war, armed insurgency or hijacking), lies squarely with India. Also, India’s refusal to negotiate with the hijackers in Amritsar or refuel the plane suggests that it wanted the plane to land in Lahore or crash over Pakistani territory, in both cases pinning responsibility on Islamabad.

This tactic fits India’s post-Kargil strategy like a glove: paint Pakistan as a “rogue” or “terrorist” state, condemn and isolate it internationally, drag it into a suicidal nuclear arms race and wait for it to implode as a “failed” state. How should Pakistan confront this Indian challenge?

Clearly, international perception and assistance should figure as a critical element in the strategic objectives of both states. But despite Pakistan’s outstanding tactical military victory in Kargil, or perhaps because of it, it is India which clinched a strategic diplomatic win in July by successfully portraying Pakistan as an “irresponsible” nuclear state given to adventurism. Pakistan also seems to have miscalculated on the strategic value of delinking its nuclear policy from that of India so that it might reap some autonomous dividends from it. The tit-for-tat nuclear tests in 1998 and the reluctance to negotiate a timely signature on the CTBT are prime examples of this lack of vision. What now?

India is insisting that Pakistan should pull its “terrorist” hand out of Kashmir before its new military government can be accorded “legitimacy” by means of a dialogue with New Delhi. The correct diplomatic response to this Indian precondition would be for Islamabad to offer unconditional talks to India in the perspective of the Lahore Summit last February. If India puts Kashmir on the table as it agreed to do in Lahore in February 99, well and good. But if it doesn’t, which is more than likely, the onus of a “failed” dialogue for regional peace will be on New Delhi and not Islamabad.

But Pakistan has done no such thing. Indeed, government spokesmen seem to be tripping over themselves reiterating that there will be no dialogue with India unless the “core” issue of Kashmir is discussed! India’s conditionality has thus been matched by Pakistan’s conditionality. There is no dialogue. But that is what India wants. Why should Pakistan hand it over to India on a platter?

Since 1947, India and Pakistan have jointly mined the region in action and reaction. The end result is a conventional arms race followed by nuclear proliferation. Every now and then some mine goes off, as in Kargil last June or the airplane hijacking more recently. Both countries are hurting. But let’s face it. Pakistan is economically weaker than India, it is also more dependent on international goodwill and largesse than India. So it is currently hurting more than India. Therefore, while the goalpost of national security may remain the same, the game plan needs to be urgently revised. We need to build a state that is “hard” on the inside and “soft” on the outside rather than the other way round.

(TFT Jan 14-20, 2000 Vol-XI No.46 — Editorial)

Yes sir, but no sir

As most countries queue up to enter the 21st century, some like India seem poised to leap ahead. Others, like Pakistan, are conspicuous for lagging behind. “Measured by any index”, explains one foreign analyst, “India is undoubtedly the preeminent and pivotal power in South Asia”. In contrast, another influential foreign strategic thinker is worried that Pakistan “faces the prospect of instability to the point of chaos”. How ironic. Not so long ago, Pakistan was billed in think tanks abroad as a “pivotal state” in South Asia even as India was reported to be stumbling into its most “dangerous decades”. What sort of signals are emanating from Pakistan to create such negative perceptions abroad?

Yesterday, Pakistan was acknowledged as the world’s fourth largest democracy, warts and all. Today, it has been shoved to the backwaters of Burma and beyond. Yesterday, it was applauded for its policy of nuclear restraint. Today, its nuclear threats and ambitions are the stuff of western nightmares. Yesterday, it seemed to bask in the sunshine of the Lahore peace summit. Today, it is scowling in the chill of Kargil. Yesterday, its civil society was admired for its uniformly moderate Muslim behaviour. Today, significant elements are openly espousing violent jihads not just against India but also against the United States and Russia while the organs of the state stand by in acquiescence. Yesterday, its state institutions were broadly secular and in conformity with those of the developed world. Today, some of them are overtly ideological and others are laying down unrealistic cut-off dates and criteria for “Islamisation”. No wonder Pakistan looks completely out of step with the global village.

Two concrete examples on two critical issues of peace and security demonstrate our confused meanderings in foreign policy and statecraft. In late 1998, the government of Pakistan announced that it had “delinked” its position on the CTBT from that of India and would consider signing the treaty as soon as the “coercive environment” of post-nuclear test sanctions had been lifted by the Unites States. Since the prime minister and the army chief seemed in agreement, the foreign minister and the foreign secretary were duly dispatched to Washington to start negotiations. In due course, the United States significantly diluted the Pressler amendment and cobbled a debt relief package of US$ 4 billion from the Paris and London Clubs to bail out Pakistan. But by late 1999, Pakistan’s position on the CTBT had suddenly become tenuous. Its new foreign minister was blowing hot and cold. And, like true weathercocks, certain serving and retired generals and foreign-office types had begun to argue against signing the CTBT. Indeed, the defining phrase of yesterday—“coercive environment”—has been replaced by the qualifying phrase of today—“developing consensus”—as the main hurdle pending a signature on the CTBT. In effect, any quest for a worthwhile tactical initiative on the CTBT seems to have been abandoned in favour of clutching at India’s coattails once again.

The second issue relates to Kashmir policy. Yesterday, Islamabad discreetly deprived Kashmir of its “core” issue status and relegated it to the “outstanding” level of less intractable problems. Today, Kashmir has become a “core” issue again. Yesterday, confidence-building measures and track-2 diplomacy vis a vis India were de rigueur in Islamabad. Today, we are posing strict conditionalities for a resumption of dialogue with New Delhi. It is as though we have determined to play on New Delhi’s wicket at all times.

The same sort of confusion and lack of clarity seems to mark domestic policy. Three months ago, both the Chief Executive and the Finance Minister assured us that the dispute with Hubco would be settled within 30 days so that foreign investor confidence would be restored. Ninety days later, however, the 30-day deadline remains unchanged. We were also warned that GST and agricultural income tax would not be delayed, come hell or high water. Now we are assured that the day of reckoning has been postponed for six months at least. Then NAB was supposed to hold everyone, high or low, accountable. Now the judiciary and the army have been accorded the honour of sacred cows. Loan defaulters were on the top of NAB’s hit list. Now they have been relegated to the bottom. Corrupt politicians were to be uprooted in the blinking of an eye. Alas, “white-collar” crime rarely leaves any tracks behind. The day after the military takeover, the ECL had bloated to over 5000 names. Now it has been reasonably pared down to more “manageable” proportions. The hijacking case against Nawaz Sharif was said to be cut and dried, that is why it was the first to be launched. Three months later, the charges against him have yet to be framed and the judges are becoming stroppy. Last month, there was no question of restoring the assemblies. This month, politics has been reaffirmed as the “art of the possible”.

Yes sir, we know patience is a virtue. Yes sir, we understand radical reforms can’t be wrought overnight. But sir, you will appreciate there is too much at stake for us to suspend judgment when evidence of political immaturity and lack of strategic thinking begins to litter the bleak landscape of our beloved country.

(TFT Jan 21-27, 2000 Vol-XI No.47 — Editorial)

Yes sir, but no sir

As most countries queue up to enter the 21st century, some like India seem poised to leap ahead. Others, like Pakistan, are conspicuous for lagging behind. “Measured by any index”, explains one foreign analyst, “India is undoubtedly the preeminent and pivotal power in South Asia”. In contrast, another influential foreign strategic thinker is worried that Pakistan “faces the prospect of instability to the point of chaos”. How ironic. Not so long ago, Pakistan was billed in think tanks abroad as a “pivotal state” in South Asia even as India was reported to be stumbling into its most “dangerous decades”. What sort of signals are emanating from Pakistan to create such negative perceptions abroad?

Yesterday, Pakistan was acknowledged as the world’s fourth largest democracy, warts and all. Today, it has been shoved to the backwaters of Burma and beyond. Yesterday, it was applauded for its policy of nuclear restraint. Today, its nuclear threats and ambitions are the stuff of western nightmares. Yesterday, it seemed to bask in the sunshine of the Lahore peace summit. Today, it is scowling in the chill of Kargil. Yesterday, its civil society was admired for its uniformly moderate Muslim behaviour. Today, significant elements are openly espousing violent jihads not just against India but also against the United States and Russia while the organs of the state stand by in acquiescence. Yesterday, its state institutions were broadly secular and in conformity with those of the developed world. Today, some of them are overtly ideological and others are laying down unrealistic cut-off dates and criteria for “Islamisation”. No wonder Pakistan looks completely out of step with the global village.

Two concrete examples on two critical issues of peace and security demonstrate our confused meanderings in foreign policy and statecraft. In late 1998, the government of Pakistan announced that it had “delinked” its position on the CTBT from that of India and would consider signing the treaty as soon as the “coercive environment” of post-nuclear test sanctions had been lifted by the Unites States. Since the prime minister and the army chief seemed in agreement, the foreign minister and the foreign secretary were duly dispatched to Washington to start negotiations. In due course, the United States significantly diluted the Pressler amendment and cobbled a debt relief package of US$ 4 billion from the Paris and London Clubs to bail out Pakistan. But by late 1999, Pakistan’s position on the CTBT had suddenly become tenuous. Its new foreign minister was blowing hot and cold. And, like true weathercocks, certain serving and retired generals and foreign-office types had begun to argue against signing the CTBT. Indeed, the defining phrase of yesterday—“coercive environment”—has been replaced by the qualifying phrase of today—“developing consensus”—as the main hurdle pending a signature on the CTBT. In effect, any quest for a worthwhile tactical initiative on the CTBT seems to have been abandoned in favour of clutching at India’s coattails once again.

The second issue relates to Kashmir policy. Yesterday, Islamabad discreetly deprived Kashmir of its “core” issue status and relegated it to the “outstanding” level of less intractable problems. Today, Kashmir has become a “core” issue again. Yesterday, confidence-building measures and track-2 diplomacy vis a vis India were de rigueur in Islamabad. Today, we are posing strict conditionalities for a resumption of dialogue with New Delhi. It is as though we have determined to play on New Delhi’s wicket at all times.

The same sort of confusion and lack of clarity seems to mark domestic policy. Three months ago, both the Chief Executive and the Finance Minister assured us that the dispute with Hubco would be settled within 30 days so that foreign investor confidence would be restored. Ninety days later, however, the 30-day deadline remains unchanged. We were also warned that GST and agricultural income tax would not be delayed, come hell or high water. Now we are assured that the day of reckoning has been postponed for six months at least. Then NAB was supposed to hold everyone, high or low, accountable. Now the judiciary and the army have been accorded the honour of sacred cows. Loan defaulters were on the top of NAB’s hit list. Now they have been relegated to the bottom. Corrupt politicians were to be uprooted in the blinking of an eye. Alas, “white-collar” crime rarely leaves any tracks behind. The day after the military takeover, the ECL had bloated to over 5000 names. Now it has been reasonably pared down to more “manageable” proportions. The hijacking case against Nawaz Sharif was said to be cut and dried, that is why it was the first to be launched. Three months later, the charges against him have yet to be framed and the judges are becoming stroppy. Last month, there was no question of restoring the assemblies. This month, politics has been reaffirmed as the “art of the possible”.

Yes sir, we know patience is a virtue. Yes sir, we understand radical reforms can’t be wrought overnight. But sir, you will appreciate there is too much at stake for us to suspend judgment when evidence of political immaturity and lack of strategic thinking begins to litter the bleak landscape of our beloved country.

(TFT Jan 28-03 Feb, 2000 Vol-XI No.48 — Editorial)

Evaluate performance

Following the military government’s decision January 26 to ask the judges of the Supreme Court, Federal Shariat Court and four High Courts to take a fresh oath of office swearing loyalty to the “new provisional order”, a number of judges have chosen to retire rather than stand to ceremony. Many among them were very good judges who did their profession proud. We are sorry to see them go.

Equally, however, several judges did not enjoy the best reputations in the business, while others were marked for overt political or ideological bias. Too many tears will not be shed for them. It is also significant that none of them had the courage to take up arms and punish the guilty when their holy shrine, the Supreme Court, was assaulted by violent mobs at the behest of the ruling party in 1997.

No matter. Good and bad alike, this was a matter of conscience and we should respect their decision as a matter of principle. Significantly, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Mr Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, did the unprecedented and rather heroic thing by standing down.

Equally, however, those who have taken the oath have not done the dishonourable thing. Many among them are good and distinguished judges, no less than the best, just as the others are no worse than the worst, among their departing colleagues. Indeed, all of them have been as practically neutral as their predecessors were when the given order was abrogated, suspended, overthrown or replaced by similar military or quasi-civil dispensations in the past. In fact, at times like these, it is worth recalling that the judiciary in this country has never been chaste and there is no immutable or pristine yardstick against which it may be measured. Like political leaders and constitutionalism, it as emerged pockmarked from the debris of civil society in the aftermath of military-bureaucratic or autocratic-civilian interventions.

The real question is different. Why didn’t General Pervez Musharraf issue this critical order the day after he seized power instead of four months later? Every unemployed political pundit had offered this advice gratis but it was spurned by the high and mighty in Rawalpindi. However, now that there seemed no escape from it, given the tortuous web of legal niceties confronting the regime, we reckon that such political naivete is unbecoming a regime with such grand ambitions of transforming state and society.

In fact, we might take this opportunity to raise afresh certain other issues which are hanging fire and which could embarrass, possibly even derail, General Musharraf’s government in time to come.

First, you cannot have a clear-cut mission statement without a clear-cut timetable. The two are flip sides of the same coin. This suggests, at best, a blurred vision which could lead to false starts and dead ends, and, at worst, no vision at all, which would be tragic. It also implies a lack of confidence in being able to steer along the straight and narrow path to “true democracy”. The fact is that in this time and age a timetable would have imposed some necessary political discipline in Rawalpindi as well as removed some of the obstacles in the path of the government by the international community. Finally, it would have imbued the new dispensation with a degree of political certainty and assurance that would have revived confidence in the economy and country.

Two, conventional wisdom suggests that tough economic and political decisions should always be taken at the very beginning of a new regime when there is goodwill aplenty for it in society, or when everyone is in awe or fear of it. This is especially true of us, considering how many times we have been led up the garden path by adventurers, demagogues and democrats. Regrettably, this time-tested approach seems to have been abandoned in favour of one which naively proclaims sincerity and integrity above performance and consistency. The areas in which this strategic shortcoming is most marked are: economy, foreign policy and accountability. These are precisely those where expectations were at an all-time peak when the new regime seized power and where the greatest erosion has subsequently taken place.

Three, it is clear that this is a military government without even a credible civilian face to take responsibility for, or share the burden of, any mishaps which will inevitably follow. The decision-making centre is GHQ which constantly cues the federal and provincial cabinets as well as the NSC. If this arrangement had been on a strategic level, we would have learnt to live with it. But on a day-to-day basis, with GHQ’s powerful tentacles all over the provinces and districts via the Corps Commanders masquerading as “Monitors” and the various Governors and cabinets meekly acquiescing in matters big and small, the situation could become alarmingly self-perpetuating. There is no fall back position, no fall guys, no “alternative” advisors, no political (as opposed to military) strategists. The mind fairly boggles at the thought of a unprepared military junta with a leaky umbrella caught in the midst of a sudden downpour as it stumbles across a terrain splattered with land-mines.

General Musharraf should pause to evaluate the quality of advice he has received so far. There is too much at stake to remain smug any more.

(TFT Feb 04-10, 2000 Vol-XI No.49 — Editorial)

Entry and exit

Benazir Bhutto is la femme fatale, Kulsoom Nawaz Sharif is the reluctant debutante. They have finally made common cause because their spouses are up the creek without a paddle. So it behoves Mrs Sharif to suddenly condemn the “judicial murder” of Ms Bhutto’s father two decades ago (never mind that it was at the behest of a military dictator who was her husband’s mentor). Equally, it serves Ms Bhutto’s purpose to scream that a military dictator has no business holding popular civilian leaders accountable for anything, let alone murder (never mind that she danced a jig of joy when Nawaz Sharif was booted out). Of course, both ladies and their hangers-on seem oblivious of the irony of the situation.

The civilians played musical chairs from 1947 to 1958. They did not hold elections or give the country a democratic constitution. The then President Iskander Mirza handpicked General Ayub Khan as his defence minister, only to find himself being packed off by the good general shortly afterwards.

General Ayub handpicked Z A Bhutto to be his mercurial foreign minister and General Yahya Khan to be his Commander in Chief. But when the chips were down he found Bhutto leading the masses against him and General Yahya waiting in the wings to nudge him aside.

Bhutto rode into Islamabad on the backs of General Gul Hasan and Air Marshal Rahim Khan. Then he rudely shoved them away. Soon thereafter, he handpicked General Zia ul Haq to cover his flanks. But when he began to hound the civilian opposition to the wall, they implored Zia to save them from a fate worse than democracy. Zia was happy to oblige. In exchange, they legitimised his Majlis i Shura.

General Zia handpicked Mohammad Khan Junejo to be his puppet prime minister. But Junejo snubbed him not once but twice, over the Geneva Accords and the Ohjri disaster. So he had to go. In the event, Junejo’s sacrifice was a prelude to the Bahawalpur aircrash when Zia’s masters pulled the plug on him after he had served their purpose.

When democracy returned in 1988, General Hameed Gul and General Aslam Beg handpicked Nawaz Sharif to oppose Benazir Bhutto and paved the way for his (s)election as prime minister in 1990. Then General Beg began to spread his wings, compelling Nawaz to team up with CGS General Asif Nawaz and elbow him out. Later, when army chief General Asif Nawaz fell out with corps commander General Hameed Gul, Nawaz was quick to turn his back on his former mentor in favour of his latter ally.

The latter ally, of course, later became a foe. But when the foe died with his boots on, Nawaz seized on the opportunity to overpower his lord protector Ghulam Ishaq Khan. The two clawed at each other and went down fighting, the original sin having been committed when Ishaq Khan handpicked General Abdul Waheed as army chief. Barely six months later, however, General Waheed looked Ishaq Khan straight in the eye and gave him his marching orders. Poor Ishaq Khan. He was thrice done in by his handpicked men — by Nawaz in February 1993; by Nasim Hasan Shah, his darling supreme court chief justice, in May 1993; and finally by General Waheed in July 1993.

The same story continued. Benazir handpicked chief justice Sajjad Ali Shah and president Farooq Leghari. In due course, they joined hands to get rid of her and ended up, along with General Jehangir Karamat, in paving the way for Nawaz Sharif to return to power in 1997. But Mr Sharif could not rest until he had seen the back of all three of them in 1997-98. Of course, the final rub came when he was routed October 12, 1999, by the very general he had handpicked to replace General Karamat in 1998.

The conclusion is obvious. The civilians — whether politicians, bureaucrats or judges — have always stabbed one another in the back and invited the military to throw them out. To add insult to injury, they have always mistaken the institutional angel of death to be their handpicked guardian angel. The tragedy is all the greater since it apparently requires the hangman’s noose to remind them of their rights, duties and responsibilities not only to one another but also to the state and people of Pakistan. What then?

If the civilians have invited the generals in and paid an ignominious personal price for it, the unhappy fact remains that the generals have never known when to quit and have ended up forcing the country to pay a heavy price for their gung-ho-ism. The needless wars with India, the dismemberment of the country, the rise of violent narco-religious and ethnic mafias — all these can be laid at the door of the men in khaki. What now?

General Pervez Musharraf did not plan his entry into politics. Thank God for that. But history suggests that another tragedy could be in the offing for the country if he were led into believing by his handpicked men that he doesn’t need to plan his exit as soon as possible – notwithstanding la femme fatale and the reluctant debutante.

(TFT Feb 11-17, 2000 Vol-XI No.50 — Editorial)

More loyal than the PM

General Syed Amjad Hussain is getting warmer by the day. He has so far nabbed a former prime minister, a couple of former chief ministers, several former federal and provincial ministers and advisors, and a few former and currently suspended MNAs, MPAs and Senators. Most of these “elected representatives” or “politicians” are reputed to be crooks. All are being investigated for corruption, misdemeanour or misrule on a princely scale. In due course, many more of their ilk will probably meet the same fate at the hands of the good general. And when they get their comeuppance, not many tears will be shed over their political demise.

But what about accountability of the bureaucracy? The Civil Service of Pakistan was once the awe-inspiring “steel frame” of the state. But it has now become a rotting “branch” of government. Manifestly in the jug are two former principal secretaries to two prime ministers (an accused and an approver), a couple of former grade-22 federal secretaries and the odd Eng.Lit. policeman thrown in for good measure. But if truth be told, and man for man, the civil bureaucracy, high or low, has become as malevolent and malignant as its political masters. Why has this happened? Why didn’t the civil servant resist corruption in the post-colonial period as he had done in the colonial era?

Power is corrupting. But absolute power corrupts absolutely. In the colonial era, the bureaucracy was answerable and accountable to an immaculate colonial master. But when the powerful civil bureaucracy inherited Pakistan in 1947, it became its own lord and master and ruled the roost during the halcyon years of “licence-raj” from 1947 to 1968, the last decade in partnership with its armed brethren. Then came the “socialist” ’70s and “Islamic” ’80s when a demagogue and a hypocrite breathed fire and venom, forcing the bureaucracy to pay obeisance. This was climaxed by the glorious ’90s when the ravenous politicians befriended the bureaucracy, stormed the citadels of power and pillaged the coffers of the state. Hence the catch-all term: “politicisation of the bureaucracy”. Why didn’t the bureaucrats resist the politicians?

Apologists claim that they had no choice, that they were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t, that they went along with the politicians because they were not sufficiently anchored or institutionally safeguarded in the 1973 constitution. It is pointed out that the Government of India Act 1935 provided the civil servant with ample protection against arbitrary or illegal orders. That is why the bureaucracy could, and did, stand up to accountability in those times. Much the same was true of the 1956 constitution. But the 1973 constitution of Pakistan, unlike the earlier ones or the current constitution of India, was not terribly benevolent to the bureaucrat. In fact, as a matter of jurispolicy, it deliberately threw the civil servant at the mercy of the politician in power. There was, we are reminded, a method in Mr Bhutto’s madness: he was, after all, a budding Bonaparte (l’etat, c’est moi!) who had planned to rule for twenty years with the “help of the bureaucracy”. So the bureaucracy had to be bent or broken to do his bidding.

There is some truth in this line of argument. If the law and constitution had been more hospitable for the upright civil servant, perhaps some civil servants would have had the spine to defy immoral political authority and lived to tell the tale. And to that extent, perhaps the Chief Executive and his legal eagles can all put their heads together and make notes for the future. But such safeguards are only a necessary condition for survival on one’s feet. Their presence is not sufficient to thwart corruption just as their absence isn’t a recipe for misconduct.

Let us be candid. The bureaucrat is, after all, of the same breed as the rest of us. Like the rest of our “civil society”, and thanks to the hypocritical ideologues of our times, he too has progressively learnt to cloak immorality with piety and character with personality. It is immeasurably simpler and more rewarding to bend with the wind, to cling to the perks of power and privilege, to numb the conscience, than it is to seek refuge behind cheerless rules and regulations in the official wilderness of “special duty”.

The road-map is clear. If the constitution is to be amended to build job security for the civil servant so that he is able to resist corruption and arbitrary or discretionary power, it must also be amended to build deterrence so that he is punished if he succumbs to them. And if NAB is within its rights to nab the errant politician and inject a dose of deterrence into his successors, so too with the bureaucrat who has stooped to please such politicians. And just as it is necessary not merely to disqualify a corrupt politician from standing for public office but also to punish and dispossess him, so too is it imperative that we must disown and discard the bureaucrat who owes his loyalty to the government of the day rather than to the state.

(TFT Feb 18-24, 2000 Vol-XI No.51 — Editorial)

Breathing space required

 

Mr Shaukat Aziz, the finance minister, has managed to wrap up US$ 4 b in foreign debt rescheduling. He has also swapped three Pakistani Eurobonds worth US$ 608 million with a 10% six year bond (this is no mean achievement, considering the donor community wanted Pakistan to default on the bonds). It also seems that for the first time in several years the government may achieve its tax revenue target of Rs 360 billion or so by end-June. At the same time, exports, which have been stagnant in the last three years, have risen by about 8% during July 99-January 2000 compared to the same period last year. Inflation is down, interest rates have been reduced by 2%, privatisation is on the anvil, loan defaulters have coughed up Rs 12 billion, a good cotton crop of over 10 million bales has been harvested and the stock exchange has woken up from its deep slumber. Finally, General Zulfikar Ali, chairman Wapda, has chipped in by renegotiating tariff rates with all except two power producers, and thereby saved the country a billion dollars or so over the life of these projects. Not bad going, eh, in only 100 days?

Alas, if truth be told, the picture is not so rosy. Debt rescheduling was clinched by the Nawaz government in early 1999 and the Musharraf regime has simply put the finishing touches on it. The good cotton crop (and therefore the rise in textile exports) is, of course, due to Allah’s blessings rather than any great policy prescriptions by either government. Also, inflation is down not because of any prudent fiscal fix but because there is a recession in the economy. Finally, the duel between the Wapda chairman/finance ministry and the managements of Hubco/Kapco has scarred the economy for a long time to come.

Indeed, the fact is that the government’s economic performance could have been much better in the recent past if hard economic decisions had been taken and might be much worse in the near future if hard political decisions are not taken. For example, if the revamping of the tax structure, including the imposition of GST on retail trade and a tax on agricultural incomes, had been effected earlier, Mr Aziz might have been laughing all the way to the bank next June. Similarly, the delay in negotiating further assistance from the IMF, whether under the old Extended Structural Adjustment Facility/EFF programme or the new Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility, is not to be shrugged away simply in terms of a delayed “tranche” of US$ 280 million — it underlines some very basic and potentially crippling balance of payment and debt repayment problems which cast a deep shadow over our economic and political future. What do we mean by that?

Pakistan’s total domestic and foreign debt is now statistically equal to about 105% of its GDP. By itself, that means little, considering that some fairly affluent countries are equally up to their ears in debt. Nor is the burden of domestic debt, which is more than our foreign debt, bearing down too heavily upon us. When it becomes due for payment, we have the legislative and political freedom to simply replace it with a bigger, and sometimes more expensive, debt. But foreign debt is a different matter altogether. If we don’t pay it back on due date, or we are unable to have it rescheduled on mutually acceptable terms, we run the risk of defaulting on our loans and being declared “bankrupt”. And “financial bankruptcy” is no laughing matter for any country. It can lead to currency crash, runaway inflation, shortages, rationing, and great economic hardship followed by political turmoil and social upheaval. Countries which have actually slipped into default have taken a decade or two to recover from its ravages.

Pakistan has been teetering on the brink of financial default for many years because our foreign exchange earnings, whether through exports or inward capital remittances, have always been less than our foreign exchange expenditures, whether for imports or profit/dividend/debt repatriations. But no big deal was made of it because our international goodwill was sufficient to enable us to borrow afresh year after year not merely to plug the continuing gap between our imports and exports but also to repay outstanding foreign debt. In 1998, however, our goodwill ran out when we tested the nuclear bomb and alienated the international community. Faced with economic sanctions, and unable to repay our foreign loans because of inadequate reserves, we stumbled headlong into potential financial default.

Fortunately, however, we were able to avoid a fate worse than death when the international community relented and allowed us to reschedule over US$ 5 billion in debt due 1999-2001. It did so partly because it was persuaded that we had been pushed into nuclear testing by India and partly because we promised to address some of its outstanding concerns as soon as possible. How do we fare on all these fronts today?

Rather precariously, we fear. The balance of payments gap is threatening to hit US$ 6 billion in FY 2000, of which about US$ 2.5 billion will be on the current account and about US$ 3.5 billion on the capital account. The reason for such a large gap is the additional burden of US$ 1 billion on account of an unprecedented rise in the price of oil from US$ 14 per barrel to US$ 23 per barrel, falling inward remittances (thanks to the freeze on forex deposits necessitated by nuclear testing), a rising trade gap and negative foreign investment flows. Out of this, we have already rescheduled US$ 2.5 billion, leaving US$ 3.5 billion to be paid. In FY 2001, after the 1999 rescheduling has run out of steam, this net gap will have risen to about US$ 5 billion. Where are we going to find the money to close these gaps, year in and year out?

Privatisation is the answer, we are told, surely we can raise at least US$ 20 billion by selling the family silver. Rubbish. In the current circumstances in which leading domestic businessmen are either being put behind bars for loan defaults or evading taxes or are emigrating in the droves to more hospitable climes like Canada or Australia, it is wishful thinking to imagine that foreigners (clutching their local embassy’s “advisory” cautioning them about the pitfalls of venturing forth in Pakistan) will be lining up to grab the goodies.

Clearly, the goodwill of the international community in terms of fresh economic assistance to tide us over our restructuring problems will be the critical factor. And if this goodwill is not forthcoming, we will come face to face with financial default and everything that it entails. What is the way out?

We could, of course, tell the world that we are unable to pay our debts and it can go to hell for all we care. For various reasons, some angry people in this country actually advocate this route and are prepared to pay the price for it. But most of us would like to remain within the global village while restructuring our economy in such a way that in time to come economic dependency becomes a thing of the past and healthy balance of payment surpluses a matter of business as usual. How do we bring that about?

If Mr Shaukat Aziz is to go down in Pakistani history as the “economic man”, he must fight to get some medium-term economic “space” in which to set the economy right on its long-term path. The “space” he requires is freedom to manoeuvre radical reforms in the social, industrial, trading and agricultural sectors without being bogged down by shortage of foreign exchange to retool the economy or pay international debts. At the very least, he will require an international debt write-off or long-term rescheduling of another US$ 10 billion or so in the next couple of years in order to have elbow room to revamp the economy. How will he get this space?

This space can only be made available by our national security establishment on the basis of a review of our foreign policy options. Such a review should enable us to address pressing international concerns like nuclear proliferation, international terrorism and regional peace without jeopardising our national security so that significant debt rescheduling or write-offs can be claimed as a matter of our right as a responsible member of the international community. This is not an impossible task. Nor are there insuperable contradictions between our quest for security and the demands of regional peace. All it takes to devise an appropriate foreign policy strategy is to have the courage and vision to comprehend the role of the economy in national security and build its centrality into it. Any other status-quo strategy will be revealed, sooner or later, to be clever-by-half and plunge us into the jaws of international default and isolation, followed by domestic anarchy and upheaval. The sooner this is understood where it matters, the better. The time for huffing, and puffing and bluffing and blackmailing our way out of trouble has run out.

(TFT Feb 25-02 Mar, 2000 Vol-XI No.52 — Editorial)

Forewarned is forearmed

The next few months promise to be full of hardcore news. Several consequential developments are on the cards and each will have implications far beyond the predictable. Individually or together, they could propose a watershed or turning point in Pakistan’s post-nuclear political history. Therefore General Pervez Musharraf should be forewarned so that he is forearmed.

  1. The hijacking case against Nawaz Sharif in the anti-terrorist court in Karachi will come to a head soon. The prosecution has presented its material witnesses; the defense has cross-examined them; an explosive political statement from Mr Sharif is due; and then the judge will deliver his verdict. Several questions arise. Will the government try and postpone the hearings in the court until after President Bill Clinton has come and gone in end-March so that no embarrassing, democracy-related issues concerning the trial or verdict sour the atmosphere? If it does, a perception will be created that the government has obstructed the path of justice. That would be a plus point for Mr Sharif and a minus for General Musharraf. If it doesn’t, an anti-Sharif judgment will raise the political temperature in the country and risk a backlash in Washington that could strengthen the hands of those who are urging Mr Clinton not to visit Islamabad because that would amount to “legitimizing” the military overthrow of an elected regime.
  2. President Clinton has announced his trip to India next month. If he decides to give Pakistan a miss, it will be seen in this country as “sleeping with the enemy”. This would amount to a “mother of all betrayals”, the earlier betrayals of Pakistan being the American aid cut-off in 1990 and Washington’s refusal to supply the F-16s or return the US$ 658 million paid in hard cash for them nearly a decade ago. Coming on the heels of continuing American apathy towards the cause of the oppressed Muslims of the world — at first in Kashmir, then in Bosnia and now in Chechnya — this would be a perfect recipe for an anti-American, xenophobic backlash amongst the people and national security establishment of Pakistan. The conceivable consequences of this, both in the short and long-term, for Pakistan, India and America, could be horrendous. But if Mr Clinton does grace Pakistan with a visit, the logic of the talks between the Americans and Pakistanis, based on a vested appreciation of the problems which concern them, could lead to fresh difficulties, rather than urgent solutions, for one or both sides. If the Pakistani government concedes the American demand to rein in the jihadi forces fomenting trouble in Kashmir, or stamps down on Osama Bin Laden’s terrorism or agrees to effect a temporary freeze of the Kashmir issue along the Line of Control, the disgruntled politicians who are at the receiving end of the stick from the generals, and the jihadi forces who are straining at the leash, will jointly seize upon the opportunity to accuse them of wilting under American pressure and selling-out on Pakistan’s vital “national interests”. That would certainly strain the regime’s credibility among the people of Pakistan. But if Islamabad refuses to budge its ground unless the Kashmir issue is resolutely addressed by the American President, and if Mr Clinton is faced with having to chose between India or Pakistan, he is likely to go home wishing he’d never come to Pakistan in the first place (remember, the issue for him at the moment is not whether to visit Indiaor Pakistan but whether to visit Pakistan at all). In the event, US-Pak relations may be expected to deteriorate sooner or later and the debt-choked, dependent Pakistani economy will suffer greatly as a result.
  3. India is deadly earnest in undermining whatever little American goodwill or strategic interest there remains for Pakistan. It sees Mr Clinton’s visit as a perfect opportunity to rupture the US-Pak relationship. Mr Atal Vajpayee’s overt belligerence, coupled with talk in India’s hawkish think-tanks of the necessity of a “limited” war with Pakistan, suggests that RAW could get up to dirty tricks in the days and weeks leading up to Mr Clinton’s arrival in the sub-continent. But if New Delhi-conspired events collude to sabotage Mr Clinton’s visit to Pakistan, we may be sure that Islamabad will remain true to form and not hesitate to repay this generosity in kind. In the unfortunate event, however, it could be India which might reap the sympathy and Pakistan the hostility of the world community (as in Kargil), with adverse implications for the military regime in Islamabad. Similarly, if jihadi-inspired acts against American interests in Pakistan or elsewhere in the next few weeks should serve to stiffen Mr Clinton’s resolve to rain death and destruction upon them wherever they might be, the sole loser will be Pakistan since it remains in the eye of the Islamic storm brewing in the world.

We expect the military government in Islamabad to have done its homework and prepared plans to negate any eventuality in the coming days that could have an adverse impact on its credibility, legitimacy or longevity. But if this turns out to be a forlorn hope, we will derive no pleasure at all from saying, “we told you so”.

 

(TFT Mar 03-09, 2000 Vol-XII No.1 — Editorial)

Poverty of philosophy and philosophy of poverty

 

Poor Mr Abdul Sattar. Since the foreign minister began to advocate a pro-CTBT position, he has been variously rubbished as a “dove”, snubbed as an “opportunist” or branded a “traitor” by a pack of super-patriots spitting fire and venom at all the “lily-livered”, “weak-kneed”, “panic-prone”, “pessimistic”, “pusillanimous” “capitulationists” with “derivative”, “pro-West” mindsets who are in favour of signing the CTBT or negotiating a constructive dialogue with India and the Western powers not because of any intrinsic or intellectual conviction which they may have about the merits of the issues but because they are “agents” of “anti-Islamic imperialists and regional hegemonic powers” with “ulterior designs”. Phew! That is one helleva charge-sheet.

It is odd, however, that not one of our super-patriots, who stake monopolistic rights over received wisdom or political clairvoyance and are tilting at the windmills of the “enemies of the state”, has had the courage to look General Pervez Musharraf in the eye and tar him with the same brush. After all, it is hardly conceivable that Mr Sattar would utter a single word on foreign policy, including the CTBT, unless it perfectly reflected the position of his military masters.

Our super-patriots are a rather motley crew. They comprise leaders of so-called religious groups, a handful of retired generals, some former foreign-office types and a few judges — all of whom strut about as “expert-columnists”, “leading opinion-makers” or budding politicians. Included also are certain owner-editors of the press whose chummy relationship with the most venal and corrupt politicians of our time is no less reprehensible than their enthusiasm for rabid provincial sub-nationalism and sectarianism. Three decades ago, these people and others of their ilk had exhorted the military to crush the “treacherous” Bengalis of East Pakistan for demanding their constitutional rights. Two years ago, they blasted the opponents of tit-for-tat nuclear tests as “western agents”. Today, they are among the fiercest proponents of changing the status-quo in the region by the use of armed force, directly or by proxy. Under their command and control systems, policies of nuclear bravado would have precedence over nuclear ambiguity, strategies of nuclear defiance would overtake nuclear restraint and militant jihad would replace serious diplomacy. It is a heady mix.

This is a “confrontationist orthodoxy” that masquerades as a “national consensus”. It seeks to crush dissenting opinion by juxtaposing “patriotism” and “conspiracy theories” against the immutable logic of facts. It belittles intellectual adversaries as “renegades” from “Pan-Islamic nationalism” (a contradiction in terms) even as it cloaks its own intellectual poverty in the rage of passion or the pride of self-righteousness. Its discourse is couched in the thunderous language of the weak and the insecure rather than in the cold-blooded rationality of scientific knowledge.

The situation on the other side of the border has become no less bigoted or hysterical. A different sort of “national consensus” forged by resurgent Hindu extremists has determined to drag Pakistan into an arms race and try to crush it under its own weight — just the US$ 3 billion increase in New Delhi’s defense budget for next year is more than the total current defense budget of Islamabad (US$ 2.8 billion). But there is one critical difference between India and Pakistan’s defense strategy. India’s defense expenditure projections are based on a self-reliant and buoyant economy growing at above 7% per annum in the next few years, dynamic IT-led export growth (target US$ 50 billion in 2010) leading to huge balance of payments surpluses, solid forex reserves and multi-billion dollar inflows of foreign investment. Pakistan, on the other hand, will remain critically dependent on scarce foreign handouts to stave financial default on a year by year basis unless it puts its house in order. How then will a hard state with a soft core like Pakistan cope with a hard state with a hard core like India?

Our super-patriots have a brilliant answer. Kashmir must be liberated and India must be crushed before the conventional balance of economy and weapons becomes asymmetrical. That means that the jihad must be reinforced in Kashmir immediately. It also means that the jihad must be swiftly extended to other parts of India as a low-cost-high-efficiency method of undermining India’s state. This would entail a state of continuous military confrontation with India till death do us part. In other words, the arrival of nuclear weapons in the subcontinent is not to herald durable peace based on nuclear deterrence but nuclear destruction initiated by limited wars. Nuclearisation is to be used to change the status quo. If this is not the route to mutually-self-assured-destruction, we don’t know what is.

Our angry super-patriots won’t like our line of argument. It defies their nationalist yearning to avenge gross wrongdoing by India and immoral tilting by the western powers. But at the end of the day we must ask ourselves whether we want to provoke a suicidal nuclear holocaust in South Asia or try to negotiate a durable peace with our neighbour.

(TFT Mar 10-16, 2000 Vol-XII No.2 — Editorial)

Media management is futile

General Pervez Musharraf is apparently intrigued why the print media does not fully project public approval of his government’s many admirable policies. Wherever he goes, he says, people praise him for the good and sincere efforts of his team. Yet he does not see this sufficiently reflected in the newspapers. So the conclusion is that the government’s media-managers must be lacking in ability and should be replaced by a more hands-on team.

This conclusion is misplaced. In many areas, this government is not doing as well as it thinks it is, or as well as it promised to do. So if the press is not exactly gushing with praise, the government’s media-managers can hardly be blamed. Equally, if some people are wont to bow and scrape before Caesar, he must beware the sycophants rather than insist on recording and projecting their hypocrisy.

The truth is that, despite its many shortcomings (a military regime is, by definition, anathema to a free press), General Musharraf’s government is still getting a fair press. This is partly because the political opposition has done nothing to inspire the imagination of the press or rekindle the faith of the people so that it can claim the headlines all over again. It is also because the Musharraf government has not blundered in anything that it must be constantly whipped in public and made to atone for its sins. In other words, the opposition is not “good” enough and the government is not “bad” enough to make for exciting, catchy copy. What could be better news for any government than that, considering that the last thing the press or public would ever want is to reverse the order of things and make life dull and boring and unprofitable because readers would stop reading and newspapers would stop selling and everybody, especially the government, would suffer the consequences of being “good”.

It is not advisable to “persuade” the media to present a “positive” picture of the government. How this is done is reprehensible. Officers reputed for being “intrusive” can be pulled out of obscurity and re-employed to “bend” the news. Friendly “advice” can then become “emphatic” and “leveraged” with subtle punitive gestures or not-so-subtle blandishments. Side by side with this, a core group of “journalists” who are always on the take, can be inspired to lull the government into a false sense of well-being and security. But such “media-management” cannot endear General Musharraf and his comrades to the public. Consider.

General Ayub Khan also believed that his “popular” image was not sufficiently reflected in the press. Therefore “good coverage” was predicated on the Press & Publications Ordinance 1963 (PPO) along with section 124 of the Penal Code outlawing criticism of government. But when the “needful” was not forthcoming, his media experts came up with the brilliant device of creating the “good deed” which could be blazoned in the subjugated press. Hence the “Decade of Reforms and Development” was launched as an image-building exercise. But when the end came it was obvious that the people had seen through the charade.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto went one step further in his efforts to stamp his charismatic achievements on the minds of the people. He whipped the press into submission only to rue the day when it did not rise to his defense when he was sent to the gallows by a dictator. General Zia ul Haq exhorted the press to be “good Muslims” doing “good business”, failing which they were flogged and/or imprisoned. But when he dived to his doom a decade later, no one in the press mourned his passing. Then came the era of “good government” (not good governance) under Mohammad Khan Junejo and Benazir Bhutto when the press was freed from the shackles of the PPO and the “good deeds” of “sympathetic” journalists were rewarded with cheques and good relations with press owners were based on generous newsprint quotas, duty-free machinery imports and lucrative advertisement handouts. Unfortunately, however, the “image-building” of the media-experts had no impact on the popularity graph of the governments which remained low.

Nawaz Sharif’s media-management was the most instructive. He left no stone unturned to try and build a “positive” image. Indeed, his passion for “positive coverage” was so intense that unprecedented lollipops were offered to friendly journalists, columnists and press barons who sang paeans to him. Equally, criticism was stifled with an iron hand when journalists were kidnapped, beaten up and accused of sedition. Yet, at the end of the day, his home-spun media experts and friendly press barons could not prevent his fall. In fact, his foul media-management became the yardstick by which his democratic government was condemned in favour of an undemocratic one when General Musharraf seized power.

General Musharraf must never forget this. The truth is that without advising, inducing or coercing the press — “managing” it in short — he still has a far better public image than any democratic or military ruler has had so far. The tonic criticism his government receives in the press is good for it. In the final analysis, what matters is good policies and competent performance rather than hollow images or shallow propaganda. The people are not fools. They know how to distinguish one from the other.

(TFT Mar 17-23, 2000 Vol-XII No.3 — Editorial)

Interests Vs concerns

 

During a forthcoming five-day state visit to India, US President Bill Clinton will be wined and dined in style, along with his hot-shot entourage of cheque-book businessmen, powerful congressmen and influential cabinet members. Later, accompanied only with a handful of aides, he will “drop in” for a serious chat with General Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad on March 25. What is the significance of his trip to South Asia?

Given the frenetic lobbying by India and Pakistan in the last few weeks, New Delhi would have been thrilled if Mr Clinton had decided not to grace Pakistan with his presence at all. Equally, Islamabad would have been delighted if he had agreed to linger a bit longer when in town. But because both countries are locked in a fierce confrontation, each seeks to woo the sole superpower to the exclusion of the other. It is therefore understandable that each should try and put its own gloss on the American President’s visit to the region. Thus the Indian prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has openly voiced his “displeasure” over Mr Clinton’s decision to visit Pakistan, even if it is to be ever so brief. At the same time, several right and left-wing parties and groups in India championing an assortment of “anti-imperialist” slogans are busy chalking “Go Home Clinton” on the walls of their constituencies. Meanwhile, on the Pakistani side, our ever-vigilant PTV has trotted out its usual band of pundits to trumpet a “crushing defeat” of India. Indeed, our Chief Executive has gone so far as to claim that the American President’s decision to meet him for a round of talks is an endorsement of his military regime.

The American State Department insists it is nothing of the sort. In fact, senior US officials are at pains to differentiate engagement with a military regime from an endorsement of it. But perhaps it is just as well that another critical and realistic distinction — that between an American pursuit of mutually beneficial interests/advantage with India and an American expression of singularly worrying concerns/worries with Pakistan — has not been overtly made by Washington. If it had been articulated in this manner, the Pakistani establishment might have been more than circumspect and less than thrilled at the prospect of a grueling session with Mr Clinton.

Let us be candid. The fact is that the extended US-India discourse will focus on how to accommodate or expand India’s global economic integration and political outreach within the positive matrix of American interests or advantage. As opposed to this, the brief US-Pakistan negotiations will focus on how to restrain or limit Pakistan’s local economic disintegration and global political isolation within the negative matrix of American concerns or worries. In concrete terms this means that the United States’ budding relationship with India is set to explore the prospects of stimulating significant private American foreign investment in India, encouraging a multi-billion dollar Indian information-technology export thrust into the American silicon market and enabling India to build and flex a countervailing econo-military strategic presence vis-à-vis China. All these are mutually beneficial Indo-US interests.

On the other side, the United States’ waning relationship with Pakistan seeks to restore representative democracy in the country, curb the impulse of terrorism in its backyard, restrain its military exertions in Kashmir, limit its nuclear and missile arsenal and stop it from sliding into financial default, political unrest and social anarchy.

The basic reason for the American President’s trip to India and Pakistan is to foreclose accidental or pre-meditated armed conflict between the two countries (which could get out of hand and become a nuclear holocaust) so that the aims and objectives of American interests and concerns in the region are not undermined wittingly or otherwise by either or both sides.

It should also be clear to everyone, but especially to the Pakistanis, that President Clinton could never have conceived of a trip to South Asia without touching base in Pakistan, irrespective of the nature of our political regime. But despite themselves both India and Pakistan may well have strengthened the American agenda in South Asia. An elaborate charade of “will-he-won’t-he” has been played out. The net result is that for opposite reasons both India and Pakistan will now come under American pressure to get off their high horses, start talking to each other without pre-conditions, normalise relations and try to find peaceful bilateral solutions to their outstanding disputes.

The American President, it is said, has already become a lame duck. The Indian Prime Minister has lately out-hawked his Hindu colleagues. The Pakistan Chief Executive stands accused of bullish adventurism. On the face of it, this unlikely troika of ducks, hawks and bulls does not inspire confidence. But what the heck. This is a great challenge and a greater opportunity. India has a lot to gain and Pakistan has a lot to lose depending on how each responds to The Great Communicator.

(TFT Mar 24-30, 2000 Vol-XII No.4 — Editorial)

Rejectionism or Flexibility

 

In the unfolding South Asian scenario, the United States is walking the thin line of peace diplomacy between unrepentant neighbours India and Pakistan. Both countries have been treated to a sermon on non-proliferation. But this hasn’t cut ice with India; hence it may have little, if any, impact on Pakistan. They have also been urged to abandon the idea of a limited war, respect the “sanctity” of the line of control in Kashmir, and reduce tensions so that an accidental or premeditated nuclear holocaust can be avoided at all costs. If this advice, too, is shunned by India, Pakistan is not likely to make any unilateral concessions. Thus the prospects for peace between them don’t look good at all. In the event, how will each country fare?

India and the US have signed a “vision” statement. This reminds us of the “friendship” treaty between India and the USSR signed many decades ago that served to prop up India’s military-industrial complex for nearly four decades. If this futuristic “vision” is to be shared with the sole superpower of today, it will surely blossom into something much more significant than the “friendship” with the other superpower of yesterday. In time to come, India could get the full red carpet treatment: easier access to American goods and markets and whopping foreign investments in information technology, biotechnology, environmental protection and energy development. Indeed, President Bill Clinton has gone so far as to state that Washington supports India’s quest for leadership in this region.

Pakistan, on the other hand, will not be endorsed by the US. It will be advised to trim its jehad policy, clamp down on training camps that produce international terrorists and return to representative democracy as soon as possible. A tall order, indeed. India’s refusal to sit across the table with Pakistan is no help. And the poverty of the political landscape doesn’t inspire much hope in an early revival of democracy either. In the event, a political deadlock between Islamabad and Washington would lead to an economic chill between our ministry of finance and Western donor institutions and countries. The squeeze in Pakistan would, of course, be in stark contrast to the expansive mood in India.

Beyond the short-term South Asian scenario is the broader, medium-longer term Asian perspective. There is a growing but uncertain consensus against some of Washington’s global policies. India remains a “conscientious” objector to America’s “nuclear bullying”. Iran has repeatedly expressed its willingness to join Russia and China in opposition to American global hegemony — it has chafed under Washington’s sanctions and remains determined to continue participating in the anti-Israel campaign in Lebanon. Russia and China have opposed violations of state-sovereignty in the Balkans and in North Caucasia. And China is squarely facing the American challenge in the Asia-Pacific region where it adamantly opposes Taiwan’s independence. What is Washington’s response to all this?

It is a masterpiece of flexibility in the face of growing odds. India is in the process of being “disarmed” following President Bill Clinton’s recent visit. Trade agreements galore are being signed. Some of the post-nuclear test 1998 sanctions have been lifted and others will eventually fade away too. Mrs Madeleine Albright, the US secretary of state, has now signaled an apology of sorts to Iran over “mistakes” in US foreign policy in the past, not least support to Saddam Hussain during Iraq’s war with Iran. She has also announced a partial lifting of the sanctions imposed on Iran in 1995 and is ready to open talks on unfreezing major Iranian assets in the US. It all depends on Iran, she says. Meanwhile, the Iranian president and people are in a reformist mood to liberalise and open up their country to the world. So we may expect Iran and the US to improve ties in the years to come.

While Afghanistan and Pakistan find it difficult to accept US “engagement” on terrorism and non-proliferation respectively, Iran is already half-way there. It is a signatory to both the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). It has also kept clear of regional conflicts to its east and north. It has controlled its side of the Afghan jehad sufficiently to prevent any blow-backs, stayed out of the Azerbaijan-Armenian conflict even though the Azeris were fellow Shiites, and observed strict neutrality in the war in Chechnya in North Caucasia. In fact, its relations with the states of Central Asia have actually improved after the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 1994, allowing it pride of place in the grand regional consensus that includes Russia, the Central Asian states and China — a consensus that opposes Pakistan as the real power behind the Taliban. It is also in Central Asia that American and Iranian interests tend to coincide as a make-weight to Russia’s influence. Finally, Iran has mended fences somewhat with the Gulf Arabs who were forced to look to Iran for cooperation after Saddam Hussain attacked them in 1990.

Clearly, none of the opponents of American “hegemony” are immune to incentives and stimulants. India, in fact, is keen to “seduce” America into punishing Pakistan. China’s whopping trade surplus with the US also tempts it to cling to America’s One-China commitment without jumping the gun in Taiwan. With Iran now disavowing isolationalism, no one except Afghanistan and perhaps Pakistan seems to hanker for this way of life.

Nations which are not alive to regional changes in the offing or which refuse to adjust to them tend to minimise their range of strategic options. Instead, the advocates of defiance wear isolationism as a badge of courage, rebuking others for being weak-kneed in the face of hostile global forces. Certainly, this is the style in Kandahar. Is this the style which appeals to the Pakistani national security establishment and its apologists? If it is, we can only conclude that it springs from an unrealistic self-assessment and is driven by a presumption of collective wrath.

Since America’s positive initiatives with India and Iran (both more or less hostile to Pakistan) will surely intensify in time to come, it is imperative that Pakistan should break out of its defiant and rejectionist mode precisely at a moment of its greatest economic vulnerability. This is urgently required in the face of Islamabad’s intense confrontation with New Delhi and growing distance from Washington. What could be better than that its greatest asset – its nuclear capability – should now allow it to embrace statesmanship safely and enable it to adjust to new regional developments with a measure of maturity and flexibility like its neighbours to the east and west.

(TFT Mar 31-06 April, 2000 Vol-XII No.5 — Editorial)

Put Pakistan first

Last week President Bill Clinton spent five days in India gushing about the virtues of the “new” India and lauding its “leadership” role far beyond South Asia. But in Islamabad it looked as if Mr Clinton were treading on egg-shells in New Delhi after he was publicly rebuked by the Indian president for depicting South Asia as the “most dangerous place in the world”. This, of course, is the same India which was a pro-Soviet leader of the “non-aligned world” and a fierce US critic during the cold-war.

Mr Clinton then hopped over to neighbouring Pakistan where he spent five hours warning the Pakistanis not to support terrorism or violate the line of control with India. He lectured them about the risks of international “isolation” and the costs of becoming a “failed state”. In New Delhi it looked as if Mr Clinton had landed in Islamabad all guns blazing. This, of course, is the same Pakistan that was Washington’s “most allied ally” against the “communist menace” during the cold war.

Mr Clinton should have been more circumspect in Pakistan if he wasn’t inclined to be less one-sided in India. Our fear is that instead of promoting peace between two belligerent countries this sudden “shift” in American policy could spell more trouble in the region. India has been itching to give Pakistan a bloody nose since its military humiliation at the hands of the Pakistan army in Kargil last year. Might not Mr Clinton’s perceived policy “shift” in South Asia embolden resurgent India to provoke a conflict with prickly Pakistan? Was it wise to leave the region in this frame of mind?

It is, of course, perfectly understandable why Mr Clinton went to such lengths to convey the impression that it would not be “business as usual” with Pakistan’s new military regime. The US President had, after all, personally persuaded Mr Sharif last year to withdraw forces from Kargil, thereby triggering tensions between Mr Sharif and General Musharraf. But Washington also bore some responsibility for emboldening Mr Sharif to try and get rid of General Musharraf, thereby provoking a military coup. In fact, that is why during his talks with General Musharraf in Islamabad March 25, Mr Clinton pointedly sought assurances that Mr Sharif would not be “executed” by the military regime for any alleged crimes.

Mr Clinton was originally not sure that he should grace Pakistan with a visit at all. His advisors said that his presence in Islamabad might be construed as “legitimising” or “endorsing a military regime”, thereby reducing Western pressure for the restoration of democracy in Pakistan. But in the end it was thought better to engage a nuclear-armed military regime (which enjoyed a degree of popularity with Pakistanis) in a “constructive dialogue” than to ostracize or alienate it. Accordingly, strict protocol conditions were laid down by Washington.

President Clinton spent only five hours in Pakistan. He directly addressed the Pakistani people on TV rather than through a press conference or speech before an audience in the company of his military hosts; he was received at the airport by the country’s civilian foreign minister rather than by any top general; the country’s civilian president welcomed him at the Presidency in Islamabad; he “engaged” with General Musharraf and his civilian aides in the company of his own advisors and not alone.

The gist of Mr Clinton’s lecture to General Musharraf and the Pakistani nation was loud and clear. Pakistan must restore democracy quickly. It must disavow terrorist activities in India and respect the sanctity of the line of control in Kashmir. It must support the cause of nuclear-non-proliferation and sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. It must hold an unconditional bilateral dialogue with India to resolve its outstanding disputes. It must channel scarce economic resources towards building prosperity rather than be drawn into an arms race with India. If it chose the right path, it would benefit from friendship with the United States. If it didn’t, it could end up being isolated internationally as a failed state. There was also a clear indication that in the event of conflict with India, Pakistan should not expect the US to side with it. Equally, the US would not agree to mediate the dispute between Pakistan and India over Kashmir without a nod from New Delhi. Was General Musharraf listening?

In a press conference after Mr Clinton’s departure, General Musharraf dilated upon his “exchange of views” with the American President. Pakistan, he said, had assured Mr Clinton that it would not export nuclear technology, know-how or fissile material. But he held out no promise on some of the other issues raised by the Americans. The CTBT would be signed only after a “national consensus” on it had been obtained. Pakistan had no leverage on the forces of Islamic jehad fighting in Kashmir but would try to “moderate” them provided India “reciprocated” with a dialogue on the “central” issue of Kashmir. Democracy would be restored in the country since he (General Musharraf) had “no desire to stay in power for too long” but no definite timetable could be given. Mr Sharif’s fate rested with the courts but he (General Musharraf) was not “personally vindictive”. Observers were quick to note that the general was unusually cautious and moderate during the press conference and went the extra mile to downplay the import of policy differences with the Americans while emphasising that his talks with President Clinton were held in a cordial and frank manner — there was even some banter about golfing handicaps, he told us.

More significantly, in a departure from his usually bristling references to the BJP government in India, General Musharraf said that he was ready to hold talks with India’s prime minister “anytime, anyplace”, adding however that Kashmir’s “centrality” in the Indo-Pak dialogue should not be undermined. This was in marked contrast to his earlier statements that there would be no talks with India unless the “core” issue of Kashmir was first resolved to the satisfaction of Pakistan. General Musharraf, it may be recalled, had earlier frowned on the dialogue between the prime ministers of India and Pakistan in Lahore in January 1999 when both sides agreed to put all their outstanding disputes, including Kashmir, on the table for discussion, without putting any pre-conditions about the resolution of any “core” dispute. Does this mean that General Musharraf has softened his stance toward India and is inclined to heed at least some elements of Mr Clinton’s advice?

General Musharraf has proceded on a visit to four South East Asian states. He has not yet ordered a review of foreign and domestic policies in the wake of the recent American “advice” he has received. Nor has he had time to brief his senior military colleagues of what, if anything, transpired behind the scenes during President Clinton’s stop-over in Islamabad. But there are some straws in the wind.

Seen in the context of General Musharraf’s press conference, a statement by Yussuf Bin Allawi Abdullah, the Foreign Minister –in-Waiting of Oman, who received Mr Clinton in Oman when he was en route to Syria, suggests that a dialogue between India and Pakistan may not be too far away. This is what he said: “President Clinton expressed his optimism over an adequate solution to the outstanding problems between India and Pakistan, in particular the problem of Kashmir”. Equally, a dash to New Delhi from Islamabad by Mr Rick Inderfurth, the American assistant secretary of state for South Asia, after the conclusion of Mr Clinton’s trip to Pakistan, has fueled speculation that some sort of peace initiatives between the two countries at the behest of the Americans cannot be ruled out. This could conceivably take the form of an immediate and marked reduction in Mujahideen attacks on civilian targets in Kashmir and unexplained bomb blasts elsewhere in India and a reciprocal reduction in the violation of human rights in Kashmir by India’s security forces and bomb blasts elsewhere in Pakistan. But there are bound to be many obstacles in this proposed thawing process.

Both countries have earlier raised stiff preconditions for a resumption of dialogue which will make any quick backtracking by both sides difficult. India has insisted that Pakistan should stop aiding and abetting cross border terrorism before it will agree to a dialogue even in terms of the framework of the Lahore Summit in 1999. Pakistan has insisted that India should publicly agree to focus on the Kashmir dispute before talks can begin. Neither side trusts the other – the Indians constantly refer to a “betrayal” over Kargil and the Pakistanis to Indian backtracking over Siachin in 1989 and promised discussions on Kashmir in 1997. The problem is accentuated by hawkish elements in the national security establishments of both countries who are against any dialogue at all. The hawks in Pakistan want to “bleed India dry in Kashmir” by encouraging the forces of Islamic jehad to infiltrate into Kashmir and conduct “suicide missions’ against India’ s security forces. The hawks in India want the Indian army to launch “hot pursuit” operations against the Mujahideen and destroy their training camps in Pakistan-controlled areas across the line of control. The months of April and May, when the snows melt and cross border operations are possible, are ideally suited for both countries’strategies. The logic of the situation is such that if a dialogue doesn’t start quickly enough and enable tempers to cool down, existing tensions on the line of control could provoke a wider military conflict. Of course, a losing or stalemated war with India would claim many political and military scalps in Pakistan and plunge the country into political turmoil and economic anarchy, with unforeseen consequences for the state.

As General Pervez Musharraf ponders a review of his difficult foreign policy options, he must contend with certain new developments on the home front. President Clinton’s firm demand for the restoration of electoral democracy has galvanised mainstream political parties to echo the same yearnings more forcefully. If these spill over into the streets, the government’s repressive measures will alienate world opinion. Also, a court decision regarding the fate of deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif is expected soon. If Mr Sharif is adjudged guilty of attempted hijacking, kidnapping and murder on October 12, 1999, and awarded the death sentence, there are bound to be strong protests from his party as well as the international community. That would create similar difficulties for General Musharraf. But if Mr Sharif is declared innocent, General Musharraf’s lawyers will have a hard time convincing the supreme court of Pakistan that his military coup was justified and that he cannot give a timetable for the restoration of democracy. Add to all that the announcement of a tough budget in May-June and we may be sure that political temperatures will rise in the country soon.

Following Mr Clinton’s warnings, the business community also seems to be increasingly persuaded that a military regime might not be good for business, especially if Washington is compelled to lean on the IMF and World Bank to withdraw critical financial assistance to the Pakistan government in the months ahead. Pakistan would tilt into financial default next year if the donor community abandoned Islamabad for one reason or another. Under the circumstances, how will General Musharraf’s military regime fare?

If President Clinton has been successful in persuading the military junta in Rawalpindi to recognise that the country is at a historic crossroads and that provocative, non-democratic, isolationist policies will spell serious trouble, there may be light at the end of the tunnel. But if the message hasn’t got through, or if attempts will be made to bluff our way through, General Musharraf would be advised to shun the over-confident hawks who have monopolised decision-making so far. However, if he is unable or unwilling to do that and change course perceptibly, the chances are that the political crisis of Pakistan will deepen and there could even be a limited military conflict with India. Since Pakistan cannot sustain a war stretched out over a few weeks, given its weak economy and international isolation, such a conflict would definitely derail General Pervez Musharraf and his regime. What might follow after that cannot be predicted. But if the war transcends nuclear blackmail into nuclear conflagration, the political, military, social and environmental consequences for the entire region would be cataclysmic.

Pakistan desperately needs some breathing space to sort itself out. We should put its internal stability and economic prosperity above everything else. We have said this many times before. But if Bill Clinton’s powerful voice was needed to bolster our arguments, we are glad he came to Islamabad.

(TFT April 07-13, 2000 Vol-XII No.6 — Editorial)

Start talking

 

Indo-Pak relations, as General Pervez Musharraf admits readily, have hit rock bottom. US-Pak relations are also down and out. The root cause is perceived to be Islamabad’s “aggressive posture on Kashmir”. Irrespective of the moral or legal merits of Islamabad’s case, we must ask whether such perceptions and policies are likely to promote the liberation of Kashmir or hurt the cause of Pakistan?

General Pervez Musharraf is talking of a dialogue with India’s leader “anytime, anywhere” provided Kashmir figures “centrally” in it. Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee says a return to the Lahore Process is conditional on the willingness of the Pakistani military government to stop “cross-border terrorism”. Pakistan says it is also ready to “moderate” the freedom fighters and give dialogue a chance to take off provided there is some “reciprocity” from India like a palpable improvement in its human rights record in the valley. But India is blocking this initiative, increasing its repression in the valley and threatening a “limited war” with Pakistan in “hot pursuit” of “Pakistan-sponsored militants” across the Line of Control. New Delhi’s continuing belligerence is obviously attributable to anger over Kargil followed by thumping support from the sole superpower in the world for its position on the Kashmir dispute.

Islamabad is therefore faced with an unprecedented dilemma: on the one hand, the armed struggle and the suicide missions of the Kashmiri freedom-fighters are beginning to inflict unacceptably high casualties on the Indian military forces stationed in Kashmir. Equally, the Indian army will be hard pressed to retain control over the Kargil heights and other strategic regions across the Line of Control in order to avoid a repetition of last May. Both factors will serve to engage a substantial chunk of India’s military might against highly mobile guerilla forces, thereby reducing the balance of conventional forces between the two countries’ armies across the international border to more manageable proportions for Pakistan. From this perspective, a continuation of the guerilla war in Kashmir is an anti-dote to any major adventure by the Indian army against Pakistan.

The other side of the coin is more persuasive. The greater the losses of India at the hands of Pakistan-inspired jehadi forces in Indian-held Kashmir, the greater the chances that New Delhi will be provoked into launching a war against Pakistan. This argument is strengthened by the fact that in the event of such a conflict, the international community led by Washington may be expected to support India as a victim, and condemn Pakistan as a sponsor, of “terrorism”. The fact that India’s robust and independent economy will also be able to better withstand the rigours and ravages of war and the international sanctions which follow than Pakistan’s dependent and crippled economy lends weight to this line of thinking. What considerations should prevail with policy makers in Islamabad when formulating Kashmir policy?

  1. Even if we accept the argument that the Islamic jehad serves to dampen rather than provoke India into launching a war with Pakistan, the strengthening of the diverse Islamic jihadi parties and revolutionary groups based in Pakistan — which are anti-democratic, anti-civil-society and anti-nation-state — for the purposes of the proposed liberation of Kashmir is bound to undermine Pakistan’s internal cohesion and political stability. Indeed, granting centre-stage to the Kashmir struggle by the mujahidin could signal a strengthening of the forces of Talibanisation in Pakistan just as similar succor to similar forces for similar purposes in Afghanistan has had a socially destabilising impact in Pakistan. Equally, since such groups lack a callibrated world view with regard to diplomatic gains or losses, their military successes in Kashmir would be proportionate to a decrease in the political leverage of Pakistan over them, as in Afghanistan. Indeed, in time to come, Kashmir could come to resemble Afghanistan, with all that that description entails.
  2. Even if the armed struggle of the mujahidin is constantly fueled, there is no possibility of a military liberation of Kashmir from the clutches of India without a full-fledged war. This is what happened when India tried to liberate Bangla Desh from Pakistan. And this is what is likely to happen if and when Pakistan tries to liberate Kashmir from India by force. The only problem is that, for reasons of a failing economy and lack of support from the international community, Pakistan will lose a fourth war with India just as it lost the third war with it.
  3. Even in the event of a limited war with India, the repercussions of a lost war on the armed forces and the state and the government and the economy and the civil-society of Pakistan are simply too horrendous to contemplate. It will hardly matter to us what is left of India after such a war. Of course, a nuclear holocaust, either through accident or design, would signal a crippling of India but the veritable demise of Pakistan.

For reasons such as these, it is imperative that General Musharraf should order a wide- ranging review of foreign policy, especially that relating to India and the USA. Our current political and military leaders should not be carried away by their own exuberance and plunge Pakistan into an unprecedented crisis as the equally well-intentioned General Yayha Khan did in 1971.

(TFT April 14-20, 2000 Vol-XII No.7 — Editorial)

Bad politics

The trial of Nawaz Sharif and six others for attempted hijacking, kidnapping, terrorism and murder was ill-conceived and unnecessary. Indeed, it can be argued that those who advised General Pervez Musharraf to embark upon this course of action did the military regime, and possibly the country, a great disservice.

If a guilty verdict in the trial was deemed necessary in order to eventually win legitimacy for the coup from the supreme court, what was the point of ordering the judges of the high courts and supreme court to take a fresh oath of office last month swearing loyalty to the new “provisional constitutional order?” In fact, if a fresh oath had been ordered the day after the coup, it would have been generally received in the rush of events as an inevitable follow-up on the coup and the international approbrium attached to it five months down the line after much trumpeting about the “independence” of the judiciary – could have been avoided, including the resignation of some judges and the need to initiate a hijacking case against Mr Sharif.

Alternatively, if the motivation of this case was not linked to the requirements of legitimacy for the coup, its only other purpose could have been to lock up Mr Sharif and throw away the key so that he could never again pose a political threat to the junta. But surely any one of a couple of dozen cases of corruption, loan default, tax evasion, misuse of powers, etc, in an Accountability Court could have sufficed to achieve that objective (a la Al Capone) in half the time it has taken for a decision in the hijacking case so far. Indeed, a swift conviction for corruption would have been received unreservedly by almost every Pakistani and his American aunt or Commonwealth uncle since everyone knows or believes that Mr Sharif was hugely corrupt, ran a venal administration and thoroughly deserved to be punished for such sins. In fact, Mr Sharif’s conviction for corruption would have relegated him to the same sphere of oblivion as Benazir Bhutto and encouraged both the mainstream political parties to regroup under credible alternative leaderships or enabled dissident groups within each to reach out to, or help create, a third significant party. Instead, the government’s abysmal handling of the hijacking case means that Mr Sharif is down but not yet out.

The harsh reality is that Nawaz Sharif’s fate will not be sealed until all his appeals have been rejected by the high court and the supreme court. Until then, at least, he will remain the leader of the Muslim League irrespective of what the more daring dissidents may say or do. And until then, the military regime will not be able to even think of, let alone define, a roadmap for the restoration of representative democracy. Of course, if Mr Sharif’s trial in the high court or supreme court is not perceived to be fair or transparent, public sympathy for him will rise in equal proportion to domestic and international aversion for the military regime. And an outright acquittal would naturally elevate him to the position of a born-again political leader who has been wronged. In the event, even the ripe corruption cases against Mr Sharif would begin to smell foul and General Pervez Musharraf would, like General Zia ul Haq before him, find himself riding a tiger. Since the country is still paying a heavy price for the Zia-Bhutto legacy, a confrontational Musharraf-Nawaz legacy could have horrendous political implications for the future (if Nawaz doesn’t go, Musharraf will have to go).

The Musharraf regime’s options are now clearly limited: it must either put paid to this case by affirming Mr Sharif’s conviction in the appeal courts and get on with the corruption cases against him; or it must drag this case along until a signed and sealed conviction on any corruption charge is firmly in hand. The worst thing that could happen from the government’s point of view and therefore from the point of view of when the generals can be persuaded to return to barracks would be for Mr Sharif to be acquitted in this case before he is convicted in a corruption case. That would undermine the perceived legitimacy of the corruption conviction, strengthen Mr Sharif’s credentials as a never-say-die leader and block the path of new general elections in which he or his staunch loyalists stand a good chance of coming to power.

If Mr Sharif’s conviction was received with frigid indifference by Pakistanis, General Pervez Musharraf’s regime is hamstrung by its desultory performance. This is not a stable equilibrium. It won’t last long. One protagonist or the other must eventually get the upper hand. This means that if the self-avowedly “sincere” generals don’t get their act together quickly, the publicly “discredited” politicians could band together with the alienated international community for a stinging come-back. That would make the generals more repressive and postpone the restoration of credible or “true” democracy. Who would want to contemplate the horrendous implications of this possibility?

(TFT April 21-27, 2000 Vol-XII No.8 — Editorial)

Maximal Vs Minimal Agendas

If General Pervez Musharraf’s coup was neither welcomed nor condemned by significant sections of domestic and international opinion, the fact is that certain quarters were deeply apprehensive (“the military’s record is bad…”) while others were quietly expectant (“the military can sweep the decks…”). In the event, however, everybody agreed that, sincerity notwithstanding (“the road to hell….”), the military regime would be judged by the quality of its performance.

Soon thereafter, General Musharraf unveiled his seven point blueprint to reinvent “true” democracy. If this merely confirmed apprehensions that a mission statement without a timetable or roadmap was a contradiction-in-terms and hence doomed to failure, it also raised expectations that his radical, social-democratic agenda was the answer to our myriad problems.

The first signs of political confusion or misplaced concreteness in Rawalpindi were manifest soon enough. The selection criteria for the various cabinets and the NSC raised apprehensions and dulled expectations. The favoured few were largely “non-controversial” but they were generally more stolid than solid. Certainly most could not be classified by any stretch of the imagination as do-ers or go-getters. Eyebrows were consequently raised. It was all very well for socially stigmatized candidates to be disregarded but people did wonder how the generals expected to make so many sizzling omelettes if they didn’t want to select people who knew how to break eggs? How did the generals expect to change the status quo without taking “controversial” decisions”?

Two opposite conclusions followed. General Musharraf was so hamstrung by status-quo opinion that he was unable or unwilling to chose an object-oriented (“right person for the job”) team. Alternatively, he deliberately chose men and women who would quietly acquiesce to policy decisions taken by hands-on generals in GHQ and ISI.

Six months down the line, it’s clear that GHQ is running the show and its civilian team, barring notable exceptions, is a fig leaf only for international respectability. But apprehensions are rising and expectations have plummeted. The public perceives a lacklustre performance by the generals. Fortunately, however, GHQ seems aware that something is amiss. An internal review has consequently been ordered. Should the composition of the civilian team be changed? Is the agenda lacking in some sense? How should the message be propagated?

We believe that the above questions are secondary to certain more fundamental questions which are being avoided. (1) Should the generals have adopted a hands-on approach in such adverse domestic and global circumstances instead of choosing a dynamic civilian prime minister and ordering him to assemble his teams and deliver within a certain timeframe, or else? This is the strategic approach that COAS General Abdul Waheed, ably backed by CGS General Farrukh Khan and DG-ISI General Javed Ashraf Qazi, adopted in 1993 with such excellent results. And this is the approach their counterparts of today have overconfidently spurned. (2) Should the generals have raised expectations by insisting on such a maximalist agenda and then found themselves misfiring on every cylinder? Once again, the minimal, do-able agenda of 1993 is instructive. (3) Shouldn’t a policy review emphasise the message as much as the medium? In other words, instead of focusing on how to get an imperfect message across, shouldn’t the generals be wondering on how to right the flawed message?

Pundits or ideologues will advise GHQ on the micro-management of politics and economics in order to consummate public expectations or revive flagging national morale. But all such well-intentioned advice would amount to missing the wood for the trees.

General Pervez Musharraf must recognise the basic limitations of his enterprise in this post-cold-war timeframe and democratic age. He should view matters in the context of his depleted and dependent domestic economy. He must comprehend the domestic implications of continuing regional tensions. He must dispassionately neutralise his powerful international opponents instead of plunging into a clash with them in a fit of rage. He must extract time from the international community in order to create the economic space for changing the political will of the people of Pakistan so that they can stand on their own feet and become self-reliant.

General Musharraf insists that he cannot give a time-frame for full democratic restoration because he doesn’t want his plans to be derailed by the obstructionists. But that is only because he has a maximalist agenda in mind. If he had a minimal agenda — get rid of 100 crooked politicians, create a new legal framework order and negotiate debt-rescheduling with the international community – he wouldn’t have to worry about giving a timetable at all. Indeed, the unfinished reform, accountability and good governance agenda could be taken up later via a powerful National Security Council and through the terms of the transfer of power to the elected representatives of the people after institutional checks and balances have been imposed on them.

Think about it General Musharraf. Do you want to risk being derailed in pursuit of a maximalist agenda instead of being anointed in extension of a minimal agenda?

(TFT April 28-04 May, 2000 Vol-XII No.9 — Editorial)

Truth and reconciliation?

 

Open any newspaper. Kulsoom Nawaz Sharif feigns piety, head covered, eyes down, hands cupped, she says she seeks only Allah’s justice. She mocks politics: “I am just a housewife, my husband is innocent, I don’t want to lead the Muslim League”. She taunts the generals: “My popularly elected husband was ousted by a retired and vindictive general, Nawaz Sharif tried to cement divisions in the army created by a gang of four”. She woos the international community: “Nawaz Sharif didn’t sanction Kargil”. She upbraids the press: “Stand up for our rights, Nawaz didn’t know what Saifur Rahman was doing”. She berates the judiciary: “The hijacking judgment was engineered”. And she insults the intelligence of the people of Pakistan: “Nawaz was not corrupt, he was a democrat, he had found a solution to the Kashmir problem”. Congratulations Begum Sahiba. You’ve come of age.

Across the seas, another woman whose husband is also in a Pakistani prison continues to brazen it out. Benazir Bhutto says she did not wrong while in power. Out of office, she mocks the law by being a fugitive from justice.

Despite the enormity of their sins, we can either exhort General Pervez Musharraf to track down Bhutto, Sharif et al and show no mercy. Or we can suggest an approach based on truth and reconciliation.

The first approach hasn’t yielded any dividends so far. Ms Bhutto was charged with corruption and misconduct and ousted in 1990 by the establishment. Her husband was imprisoned and her party hounded to the wall by Nawaz Sharif. But the people of Pakistan shrugged off these charges and brought her back to power in 1993. She was thrown out again in 1996, this time by her handpicked president. Her husband was again imprisoned but this time the couple was convicted by Nawaz Sharif for corruption. Yet her political party has made her chairperson for life, the press prints her utterances prominently and she could be a political force in less restricted circumstances.

Nawaz Sharif’s case is similar. He was ousted in 1993 by the establishment for creating a constitutional deadlock. His brother and father were imprisoned for corruption by Ms Bhutto. But the people of Pakistan voted him back into power with a vengeance in 1997. He was kicked out again last year, this time by his handpicked army chief. He and other family members are in prison. They face stiff penalties for hijacking, kidnapping, corruption, etc. Yet his political party sticks to him, the international community intercedes on his behalf, the press gives him front-page treatment and he would be a political force in less captive circumstances.

Both politicians have clearly betrayed the trust of the people. But they are not yet history. This may be because no new political leader has been able to spark the imagination of the people and sweep these two politicians aside in the battle for hearts and minds. But it is also because people are reluctant to repose unquestioning faith in the army’s ability to deliver the promised land. After all, if the two political parties have wallowed in corruption and incompetence, the third political party (the army) which has ruled Pakistan for half the time since independence has provoked three costly wars and presided over its dismemberment. Worse, the army seems to be floundering again and this has created misgivings about the fate of our state and civil society. International isolation, coupled with political and economic ineptitude, is no recipe for sustainable development or democracy.

Should we seek the goal of sustainable democracy rather than try to simply restore it? Instead of asking the third political party to crush the leaders of the other two, can we consider a process of national reconciliation among all three parties on the basis of truth? By truth we mean the truth of the allotment of evacuee property, the truth of Liaqat Ali Khan’s murder, the truth of the Hamoodur Rehman Commission Report, the truth of the trial of Z A Bhutto, the truth of the US$ 10 billion Afghan pipeline in the 1980s, the truth of the Ojri camp explosions, the truth of the F-16 and Mirage commissions, the truth of the Bahawalpur aircrash, the truth of the rigged 1990 elections, the truth of General Asif Nawaz’s death, the truth of the Motorway and Yellow cab kickbacks, the truth of the LDA/CDA plots, the truth of the Swiss bank accounts, the truth of the IPP tariffs, the truth of various privatisations and SRO revisions, the truth of the Surrey mansion, the truth of the Augusta submarines and French frigates, the truth of the Ukrainian tanks, the truth of the London flats, the truth of the defaulted bank loans and write-offs, the truth of the Kargil affair, etc.

If Nawaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto and the many politicians, bureaucrats, judges, businessmen and generals who have plundered and wrecked our beloved country are ready to tell the truth, atone for their sins and agree to return Pakistan’s looted wealth, the people may reconcile with them. But if they persist in their great deception, they should all be hauled over the coals and no mercy should be shown to them.

(TFT May 05-11, 2000 Vol-XII No.10 — Editorial)

No time to lose

The proposals for a GST, an agricultural incomes tax and credible anti-smuggling measures have all been mooted for a long time. But nothing ever got off the ground because democratic governments were vulnerable to blackmail by vested interests. Thus Rs 200 billion in desperately needed revenues was lost every year, which is about equal to our annual foreign debt payments.

When General Pervez Musharraf rolled in, however, we were assured the day of reckoning had arrived. So we rejoiced in the expectation that necessary economic decisions would be swiftly taken in the national interest. Alas. The tax proposals were postponed for nine months, the “whitener” schemes were continuously extended, the agricultural income tax was banished to the committee room and the smugglers made bold to hawk their wares with impunity.

Last month, Gen (Retd) Moinuddin Haider, muttered “enough is enough” and bared his fangs. But the much flaunted “anti-weaponisation” drive soon petered out into an “anti-display” sop. The smugglers then engineered a “compromise” and the businessmen bamboozled an extension of the tax amnesty scheme. When will this hide-and-seek end?

Some people say the government must not open “too many fronts”, especially with the prickly business community whose shutter-clout has been the bane of many past governments. This argument is buttressed by economists who claim that attempts to raise additional tax revenues or cut government expenditures or downsize the public sector when the economy is barely limping along is bad economic policy and worse political management. Is this good advice?

In principle, of course, no government should open more adversarial fronts than it can safely handle at any time. So it is worrying that the government is battling the politicians, the businessmen, the smugglers, India and the regional and international community all at the same time. But more alarming is the fact that some people are advising General Musharraf to be soft where he should be tough and brazen where he should be circumspect. Which wicket should he choose to play on?

Third world governments — civil or military — derive their legitimacy and longevity from the support, understanding and encouragement of two basic sources of power: ordinary people at home (workers, peasants and the middle-classes) and extra-ordinary people abroad (the foreign diplomatic community and the independent international media). If ordinary people at home are with you but the international community is against you, as in Iraq, you are doomed. And if the international community is with you but ordinary people turn against you, as in Indonesia, you cannot be saved. Variations of this theme make the world go round or stop it in its tracks from time to time. What is our government’s situation?

On October 12 the international community was aghast at the military intervention. But ordinary Pakistanis were all for it. This dangerous imbalance had to be corrected forthwith: the support of ordinary people had to be consolidated and the potential hostility of the international community had to be quashed. How could this be done?

Pakistanis wanted swift accountability of corrupt people. A military government was ideally placed to provide this. But it couldn’t get its act together and amazingly found itself trapped in a web of bureaucratic and legal formalities. Then it lost credibility by excluding a swathe of corrupt people from the ambit of accountability.

Pakistanis wanted economic revival and self-reliant growth. This entailed raising revenues, cutting wasteful expenditures, privatising state white-elephants, retiring debt, and increasing the development budget. Instead, tough action against vested interests (tax evaders, loan defaulters, smugglers) to raise revenues was postponed. Military expenditures were increased. Development outlays were slashed. Accordingly, there were no buyers for state assets, borrowings had to increase and we were back begging before the international community.

Pakistanis wanted political stability and certainty. This meant that anti-people politicians like Nawaz Sharif should have been sorted out once and for all and as quickly as possible. It also required a definite timetable and roadmap for restoration of representative institutions. But the first task has been so mishandled that the second has been jeopardised.

On the other side, the international community, far from backing the military government, is threatening all sorts of sanctions and roadblocks. Its concerns over regional tensions and the rise of extremist religious mafias were spurned when our government legalised the export of jehad as an instrument of our foreign policy. Its hope for an early signature on the CTBT was dashed when the government opened up the emotional subject for irrational comment and partisan outrage. And its pleas for a swift timetable for democracy went by the board when the government sank deeper into the economic and political quagmire at home.

General Pervez Musharraf should reverse his priorities. There is a gaping hole in his government’s relationship with the international community where there was only a potential fissure to begin with. And the active support of Pakistanis for his government is fast becoming a baleful irritability. The good general should therefore salvage the situation by taking off his gloves against the thugs at home while allaying the fears of our friends abroad. There is no time to be lost.

(TFT May 12-18, 2000 Vol-XII No.11 — Editorial)

Stay the reformist course

It is at great cost that Pakistan’s Chief Executive General Pervez Musharraf tries to maintain his post-October popularity. He is compelled to ignore reality in his pursuit of popularity with the very elements whose pressure on Islamabad has brought Pakistan to this sorry pass.

Seeing the government becoming flaccid, the religious parties have ganged up on the question of the blasphemy law. Shopkeepers have raised the standard of revolt to protect the vast smuggling network that originates in Afghanistan and which depends on the continuation of Pakistan’s present Afghan policy. Corrupt politicians under pressure from the National Accountability Bureau are accusing the government of rights violations and calling in question its probity. Religious fanatics have killed 30 innocent Shia citizens since October 1999 to test the resolve of the government to extirpate sectarianism. The so-called jehadi militias are delivering “anticipatory” warnings against any shift in Pakistan’s Kashmir policy.

A part of the press has joined this chorus of protest. The citizens’ peace initiative with India begun by women on both sides of the border has now come under virulent attack. This is despite the fact that the women told the BJP government to abandon its policy of not talking to Pakistan over Kashmir. Pakistani women peace activists were able to enlist more Indian support for this stand than the Foreign Office could ever dream of getting. Will the government now stand aside while the fanatics use the press to prompt its activists to kill the leaders of Pakistan’s endangered civil society? General Musharraf should remember that this rabid reaction has been triggered by his own decision to hold a human rights convention in which he spoke out against honour killings and the targeting of religious minorities.

The general is faced with a predicament, and it stems from the government’s decision to uphold the old foreign policy. The opportunity of signing the CTBT was lost after the government decided to throw the matter open to public debate. Foreign minister Abdul Sattar, who supported the signing in the interests of the national economy, was allowed to be pilloried and discredited by a cabinet which remained coyly reticent over the issue.

We know what kind of lessons General Musharraf has gleaned from his trips abroad. We know what advice he was offered by Lew Kuan Yew of Singapore and the warnings he got from leaders in the Middle East and Africa. We know exactly where Pakistan stands internationally on the Kashmir policy it doesn’t want to change. General Musharraf knows all this too. He knows all too well about the international and regional forces which are uniting against Pakistan to counter the policy we are persisting with in Afghanistan. And the irony is that if the government thought it could placate the extremist elements nurtured by the state during the past decade of foreign policy adventurism, it now stands disabused. General Musharraf’s government is increasingly isolated, both at home and abroad.

This need not be the case. General Musharraf has only to read the newspapers to grasp who is challenging his government. Analysis will easily identify the elements arrayed against him and their connections to the policies that he has so far tried to defend. These elements are acting preemptively to prevent General Musharraf from becoming flexible in order to give the economy the breathing space it so desperately needs. They are questioning the government’s legitimacy in the hope that divisions within will deliver an even more isolationist leadership in Islamabad. Extremist forces in Pakistan need isolationism to stay alive. But Pakistan simply cannot afford isolationism. This is why General Musharraf must stay the reformist course and change the policies that have caused us to stand alone in the world.

We maintain that General Musharraf’s government is Pakistan’s best chance of shifting the destructive paradigm that has brought our country to the edge of the precipice. It is better placed to alter course than the political governments of the past whose leaders are discredited. The fact that it is not answerable to anyone is the present government’s strongest point. Its well-chosen members have the moral high ground to support a reformist overhaul of the state. The government must not heed the noise being made by elements whose appeasement has only brought it more difficulties. Instead it should listen to the voices of civil society which will support a genuinely reformist agenda. It is this path that will lead both Pakistan and the Musharraf government out of its costly isolation.

(TFT May 19-25, 2000 Vol-XII No.12 — Editorial)

Give us a break, please

The political temperature is rising. Last week was quite eventful. The next few weeks could prove more nettlesome. The military government continues to disappoint with false starts and empty threats. Consider.

The home minister is acquiring a reputation for bluster. The thunder of deweaponisation has been reduced to an ineffectual ban on display. You and I, dear reader, hapless as we are, tremble in anticipation of the general’s wrath as we scurry to bury our double-barreled family heirlooms. But the lashkars in Muridke, Azad Kashmir and the NWFP make bold to stick “Up Yours” in the gleaming barrels of their guns, rocket launchers and bazookas. Meanwhile, General Sahib has swiftly moved on to target the smugglers. Pay 60% duty or else, he wags his finger. Or else what, ask the smugglers in unison. Pay 20% duty or else, he scowls. Or else what, they chorus, warming to the theme. We won’t settle for anything less than Rs 50,000 a head, he sputters. Take Rs 10,000 or buzz off, they shrug. End of dialogue.

The chief executive has gone and done one better. He kicked off by praising Kamal Ataturk, the secular founder of modern Turkey. Just as we were beginning to nod approval, he was already clarifying that it was Ataturk the soldier who had impressed him so much rather than Ataturk the political leader. One statement from Qazi Hussain Ahmad, it seemed, was sufficient to chastise the well-meaning general. Meanwhile, the radical 7-point reformist agenda outlined in his opening speech has all but disappeared from the horizon. Instead we were offered the sop of a conference on human rights whose high point was a commitment to take the mischief out of the notorious blasphemy law. Just as we muttering that something was better than nothing, and thanking God that the general had been Man enough to call the mullahs’ bluff, the man stepped off his state-craft at the tarmac and uttered the fateful words: I take it back. A short, sorry sentence for General Musharraf. A giant, ungainly yank for the nation. A wretched watershed, an irretrievable precursor of worse to follow. It would have been far better for everyone if he had never taken the first halting step than for him to have halted in midway-house and beaten such a sorry retreat at the first sign of opposition from the God-fearing beards.

Not to be outdone, the chief justice of the supreme court has verily yorked us out. We are astonished to learn that General Pervez Musharraf did not usurp power by overthrowing the legitimately elected government of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. This leaves us wondering whether the verdict would have been the same if General Musharraf had not succeeded in his counter-attack. We are stunned to discover that Nawaz Sharif’s sacking of General Musharraf on the fateful afternoon of October 12, 1999, was “without legal effect” because it was “arbitrary”. This leaves us suspicious of the legality of General Jehnagir Karamat’s equally abrupt sacking a year earlier. We are shocked to observe that “there was no other way to remove a corrupt government except through the intervention of the armed forces”. This leaves us dumbfounded at the summary manner in which the petition challenging the 13th amendment (which got rid of the 8th amendment) was dispatched by the same court a couple of years ago. We are struck by the unprecedented audacity of the judgment which explicitly grants, nay encourages, General Musharraf to abrogate not just everyday provisions of the constitution but our very own sacred fundamental rights. We are overwhelmed by the thought that he may amend the constitution at will because the apex court has already granted him the right in advance rather than for him to be constrained by the thought of having to get all his actions indemnified at a later stage by the elected representatives of the people of Pakistan.

Thanks to the supreme court, General Musharraf has got 30 more months in which to deliver the promised land. The uncertainty about his regime’s legitimacy and longevity should no longer pull at his coattails. No great time-consuming court battles lie ahead to detract him from his job. He is all-powerful, the very embodiment of every budding reformer’s wildest, most passionate dreams. There is no room or excuse for failure any more. Why then does a clutch of generals protest that there is not time enough to accomplish the agenda at hand?

 Let us get real. The regime’s first seven months have been painfully amateurish. Tall promises have been wrecked at the altar of weak resolve or lack of political vision. Foreign policy is up the creek. The economy is down in the dumps. Law and order is breaking down. The bureaucracy is alienated. The provinces are sulking. Big business wants to flee. Small business is up in arms. The mullahs are rampaging. The jehadis are smacking their lips. Ordinary folks are bewildered. Some neighbours are bristling with contempt. Others are seething with rage. Yet General Pervez Musharraf is sanguine that everything is under control, there is nothing to worry about. Have a heart, General. Give us a break, please.

(TFT May 26-01 June, 2000 Vol-XII No.13 — Editorial)

Don’t give in

Mr Omer Sailya, who is president of the All Pakistan Organisation of Small Traders and Cottage Industry (APOSTCI), is in a nasty mood. His furious denouncements are directed at the Central Board of Revenue, the Finance Ministry and the International Monetary Fund. He accuses them all of being “in cahoots with Western imperialism” to undermine Pakistan’s economy and society by enforcing a General Sales Tax on retail trade.

This is a self-serving tirade. The shopkeeper is not being asked to pay a penny of the proposed GST out of his own pocket. The GST is a Value-Added Tax on goods and services whose net burden – the difference between the amount of 15% GST paid by the shopkeeper on all purchases (imported or locally manufactured) minus the amount of 15% GST charged by the shopkeeper and received on all his sales from the consumer— falls on the final customer of goods or services. What is Mr Sailya’s problem then?

His problem is that he doesn’t want shopkeepers to keep and produce a record of all their purchases and sales – which will be required by the sales tax department in order to verify the right amount of net sales tax payable – because that would mean an open and shut case for the income tax department! In other words, once actual purchase and sale is recorded and known for GST purposes, the gross profit (which is the difference between the two) can be easily calculated and the scope for income tax evasion is significantly diminished. And that is why a retail GST is unacceptable to shopkeepers. They simply do not want to pay the full amount of income tax due.

This is a most inequitable status-quo. The vast salaried class pays its full burden of income tax because the employer deducts it from every salary and pays it to the government. Importers and manufacturers have also generally been dragged into the GST– Income Tax net. The landlord, too, may soon be expected to pay a land tax and income tax. Only half a million shopkeepers remain intransigent. If they could be persuaded to pay more income tax, the government would be richer by at least Rs 50 billion a year.

To Mr Sailya’s good fortune, most political parties, including the PPP, PML and JI, are backing him to the hilt. Indeed, the religious parties which have banded under the banner of the Milli Yakjheti Council in furtherance of their so-called 10-point “Islamic” agenda have gone out of their way to shower support on the traders. Meanwhile, the government seems unresolved about how to confront this mounting challenge to its writ.

The tacticians of the military regime thought they could neutralize the mullahs and protect their government’s flank by retreating over the proposed amendments to the procedures governing our blasphemy laws. But this has turned out to be a case of misplaced concreteness. Instead of being appeased, the mullahs are rampant. They are demanding more concessions – amongst other things, they want Friday to be the weekly holiday instead of Sunday and they want the Provisional Constitutional Order to include all the so-called “Islamic” provisions of the amended 1973 Constitution.

Of course, even a cursory glance at our political history by GHQ would have forewarned our Generals Know-All that whenever any government has conceded an inch to the mullahs, they have always come back to demand a yard. But Rawalpindi has been quick to announce reformist policies and quicker still to cancel them.

The mullahs will not rest until the state is subservient to them. Today they are unfairly targeting senior members of the cabinet as “secular agents of western imperialism”. Tomorrow they will go for the chief executive who has appointed such people. In fact, a stinging personal attack on General Pervez Musharraf has already been launched by Qazi Hussain Ahmad, prompting newspaper editors across the country to reach for their scissors and get rid of some of his more provocative remarks. What next? Will the generals abandon their announced reformist agenda because all the vested interests which have wrecked this country are threatening to gang up against them?

There are two principal contradictions in Pakistan’s make-up and everything else flows from them. The first contradiction relates to the sort of Islamic state we wish to be or become: one that is moderate and modern, espousing peaceful nation-state sovereignty; or the other that is extremist and orthodox, threatening violent extra-national jihads. We have to choose between these two models. Our choice should determine our attitude to the demands of vested interests. The second contradiction relates to our ability to become self-reliant and strong or remain dependent and weak. When every Pakistani pays his tax and corruption is rooted out, we will be a strong and self-reliant nation. When corruption is rampant and tax evaders threaten strikes, we will be weak and dependent on foreign powers and institutions for economic survival.

Hark, General Musharraf. All vested interests are paper tigers before a great reformer. If you stand and fight you will win. If you give in, you will have lost without a fight. Don’t give in if you want to rescue Quaid-e-Azam’s Pakistan.

(TFT June 02-08, 2000 Vol-XII No.14 — Editorial)

11 years of history in 11½ paras

TFT is eleven years old today. We had hoped to celebrate our tenth anniversary in May last year but were thwarted by Nawaz Sharif & Co who sought to silence us by putting our editor in prison. But this repressive strategy rebounded on Mr Sharif and our detractors. This was not due to any surfeit of courage on our part. It was the unflinching political and moral support of our loyal readers and fellow journalists here and abroad that laid Mr Sharif’s government low. It was they who moved heaven and earth to draw attention to our plight and compelled a fascist regime to back down.

When TFT was launched, everybody said a weekly, and that too in English, wouldn’t work. But it did. It caught the attention of top decision-makers in Pakistan and abroad and had an impact far beyond its circulation. We said it like it was, warts and all. And our readers urged us on, even when they were wont to wince occasionally. We used the English language to analyse, to clarify and to communicate, not to dither, obscure or flatter. And our readers nodded approval even when they thought us a trifle audacious. We weren’t afraid to stick our necks out in forecasting the mad rush of events. And our readers pondered gravely even when they didn’t agree with our prognosis. We were free and easy with unsolicited advice to every government, even as friends warned us that it would be misunderstood and foes ordered us to shut up or else.

It hasn’t been an easy journey because we have always believed that the truth is out there, the point is to go and get it. So we haven’t shied away from taking sides or striking out on our own in the continuing battle of ideas and policies in Pakistan. Obviously, this has not endeared us to many people with vested interests to defend, especially not to opportunist, corrupt or extremist political parties, groups or leaders who stand exposed. Consequently, we are the dubious recipients of some of the most colourful and contradictory labels in the business. Benazir Bhutto once accused TFT of sitting “in the lap of Nawaz Sharif”. Nawaz Sharif constantly rebuked TFT’s allegedly “pro-PPP” stance. Both leaders feared TFT as a “pro-army” paper even as TFT continued to challenge the army’s conventional views on national security issues. Dyed-in-the-wool liberals chided us for our hard-nosed critique of sham democracy while praetorian-types frowned on our relentless campaign on behalf of civil society and human rights.

We have also blithely broken the dog-eared rules of commercial journalism in the country –“if”, “but”, “however”, “on the one hand”, “on the other hand”– which are designed to make opinions and facts appear neutral and progressive even when they are partisan, reactionary or bigoted in reality. This has ensured perennial hostility, bordering on incitement to violence, from sections of the local press which either claim a monopoly over patriotism and ideology or have always sold themselves to the highest bidders. But we are not bothered by the green-eyed monsters or toothless dragons of our profession.

Our view of Pakistan’s history in the last decade as articulated in the pages of our organ at the time of its making in the flesh and blood can be summarised thus. We thought General Zia ul Haq’s “ideological” martial law was an unmitigated evil. We supported Benazir Bhutto in 1988 because she espoused democracy and human rights. But by 1990 we were disillusioned with the incompetent lady and her corrupt husband. So while we dilated upon the many conspiracies hatched by Ghulam Ishaq Khan, General Mirza Aslam Beg, General Hameed Gul, Altaf Hussain and Nawaz Sharif to undermine and eventually sack her government, we prayed that a new round of elections would deliver a better leadership even as we feared a “dimming of the lights of democracy” at the hands of the Islamic Jamhoori Ittehad.

We analysed the 1990 elections as the most rigged elections in Pakistani history. But we gave Mr Sharif a chance to outgrow his mentors and prove himself. When he flunked the test, we were ready to denounce him in 1992 for his blatant corruption and unholy alliance with the MQM in Sindh. This provoked Mr Sharif to order reprisals against TFT, the goon-squad being led by Brigadier (retd) Imtiaz Billa and DIG Punjab Rana Maqbool (both detained these days). Therefore we were not sorry to see the sacking of Mr Sharif by the President in 1993. However, after he was restored by the Supreme Court, we urged him for the sake of democracy and stability to make up with the President, failing which we warned that Justice Nasim Hasan Shah’s “historic’ judgment would not be able to bail him out.

When Benazir Bhutto returned to power in 1993, we were gullible enough to believe that she had learnt her lessons well and should be supported. But by mid-1995, we were disabused of this belief by the realisation that both husband and wife had happily embraced the political methodology of Sharif and become doubly corrupt. Relations were now strained. She accused TFT of seeking “to drive a wedge between her and President Farooq Leghari”. In response, we attacked her for undermining the judiciary led by Justice Sajjad Ali Shah.

After President Leghari sacked her in 1996, we urged him to postpone the elections and hold sweeping accountability of Bhutto, Sharif and other corrupt politicians, civil servants, generals and judges. But when he spurned our advice, we wondered in print whether he would have occasion to regret his decision.

When Sharif returned to power in 1997, he announced he was a much chastened and “sincere” political leader. So, like most Pakistanis, we decided to give him another chance. Alas. When he pounced on the 8th amendment, TFT was the sole exception to the national view editorialised in all the papers that this was “good riddance to bad rubbish”. We agreed that the amendment had been misused in the past. But we strongly feared that Sharif’s penchant for personal despotism could provoke another martial law. By end-1997, following the ouster of Leghari and Shah, we were wary of Sharif’s budding fascism. In 1998, we opposed Pakistan’s tit-for-tat nuclear testing, arguing that our security had not necessarily been enhanced by them. In 1999, however, we welcomed Sharif’s peace overtures to India but predicted that the Lahore process was likely to be derailed in the absence of a consensus in state and society over an abrupt change of tack. By May, our relentless criticism of the personal corruption of Sharif and Saif ur Rehman provoked them to detain our editor on trumped-up charges of sedition.

By the summer of 1999, TFT’s editorials had already pasted the epithet of a “historical watershed” on the Kargil adventure. Finally, in our editorial of 30th September, we feared that “change was in the air” and predicted that it would come from “Rawalpindi or Islamabad”. The rest, as they say, is current affairs rather than history.

We are deeply worried by the current situation. The civilians have let us down badly. But the army doesn’t seem to have many of the required answers. Neither is ready to face the complex situation squarely. Nobody is prepared to make any personal or institutional sacrifice for the country. In consequence, anti-Pakistan forces and tendencies are gathering strength.

May God have mercy on us all.

(TFT June 09-15, 2000 Vol-XII No.15 — Editorial)

Wrong cause, wrong effect

Islamabad has focused on the wrong causes in its analysis of what ails the state. The latest indicators of the Pakistani economy are proof of this fact. The growth rate continues to slump and the current rate at 4.5 per cent has only been made possible by a season of good crops. The manufacturing sector has actually grown at 1.6 per cent instead of the projected 5 per cent.

This means that there is no investment in the economy. In fact, investment has declined by 37 per cent since last year, which should make the government rethink the causes it assigned to the country’s economic decline. But there are no signs of a rethink and the government continues to read the signals wrong because the economy is not item number one on it’s agenda.

The government’s real agenda compels it to defy the world and to make concessions to retrograde elements within the country. This is done at the expense of the economy which seeks openings and linkages to the outside world with its exports entirely pegged to the European Union and the United States.

When the government retreated on the procedural amendment to the Blasphemy Law, and consigned the CTBT to the deepfreezer despite a consensus in the now-defunct parliament favouring its signing, it rejected international concerns. It also signalled a lack of will. This latter was seized upon by the religious right that pressed home the advantage by demanding a reiteration of the Shariah through the PCO, a retreat to Friday as the weekly holiday, and a tougher defiance of the international community. So while the government asserts state sovereignty with regard to a world that wishes to see Pakistan integrating with the global community, it is unable to establish the writ of the state viz a viz its challengers on the religious right. Where does this leave the economy which demands integration with the world?

When the leader of Pakistan’s trading community, Umar Sailya, links the misfortunes of his community to the presumed depredations of the IMF, he displays an opportumism that links up directly with the agenda of the religious right which sees the IMF as an agent of the anti-Islam West. The traders, like the maulvis, have drawn the conclusion that a generally retreating government can also be made to retreat on the documentation front. The interface between the traders and the religious parties has always been there but it now seems to have reached a decisive phase. The government perceived the linkage partially when it asserted that religious elements were being funded by out-of-work politicians. The PML’s opportunist decision to come out openly in support of the traders in their confrontation with the government is actually a reversion to the old bazaar-PML alliance in which the PML was funded by traders in return for immunity from taxation.

The government is responding shakily to the threat emerging from all the elements that seek its retreat. This is despite broad public support to the government’s drive to document the economy. Why does the government not draw strength from the majority opinion amongst the public? This opinion wants to see the nation state strengthened, its international isolation broken, and the economy integrated with the world. Is this at cross-purposes with the government’s real agenda? If it is not, then the government should demonstrate firmness in the face of opportunists and blackmailers. This is a crucial test of will for General Pervez Musharraf’s government.

Earlier, the test of will was flunked when the government did not enforce its decision to reform the seminaries by changing the syllabi taught there. The test of will was flunked when it postponed the day of reckoning for smugglers. Ditto with the Blasphemy Amendment and the CTBT issue. If the record is any indicator, the government will probably give up its recently announced intention of probing the jehadi militias as a non-issue.

It is fantasy to expect the economy to respond in such circumstances. If it is not placed above the national security agenda, the process of economic collapse which began with our nuclear tests in May 1998 will not be reversed. The international community has registered the effect of the submission of the government to the religious right. It now makes clear reference to the linkage of the Pakistani state with terrorism. It puts it diplomatically as a threat to Pakistan’s own security, but it is bracing for a possible decline of the country into an area of turmoil radiating threat to international security. The Central Asian States, Russia, the United States and China see Afghanistan as a region of chaos which recreates itself in areas contiguous to it. President Clinton is persuading Moscow to accept America’s National Missile Defence programme against “rogue” nuclear states. Who will qualify as such? Not India, which is perceived as an ally by the West. That leaves only Pakistan with its uncontrolled internal situation and its defiance of external advice.

When investors continue to respond negatively to Pakistan’s growing isolation and the rumour of war, not all the stimulants being offered by finance minister Shaukat Aziz can shore up the economy.

 

(TFT June 16-22, 2000 Vol-XII No.16 — Editorial)

Economic illusions vs political realities

Dr Ishrat Hussain, Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, claims that investment has declined by 37% in the last ten months, the manufacturing sector is virtually stagnant and exporters have under-invoiced to the tune of about US $ 700 million so far this year in anticipation of a devaluation of the rupee. Meanwhile, Mr Shaukat Aziz, the finance minister, is getting ready to bludgeon us with the mother of all budgets.

Unfortunately, the confused political and economic signals from Islamabad are not helping matters. Recently Dr Mahmud Ghazi, an exalted member of the National Security Council, triumphantly declared that the government would extirpate all riba (interest) by December 2000. Since the Minister for Religious Affairs is clueless about economics and finance, his enthusiastic pronouncements about “Islamisation” had the effect of stampeding many civil-military pensioners and widows (who depend on non-Islamic interest-bearing savings in capitalist banks for their sustenance) into the swelling ranks of angry traders and businessmen. This compelled the finance minister to say belatedly that the State Bank was busy preparing a report on how to abolish riba by end-June 2001 so that the required “Islamic” reforms to the banking system would not wipe out the hard-earned savings of the citizenry.

Not to be outdone, the interior minister General (retired) Moinuddin Haider, continues to blow hot and cold. His latest gaffe concerns a statement to The New York Times in which he advocated “a modern, moderate and secular Pakistan”. This was meant to take some of the international heat off Pakistan as a budding “terrorist state” encouraging extra-nation-state jehads. But the general has beaten a hasty retreat. “I never used the s-word”, he pleads, fending off an attack by mullahs and ideologues. And so it goes on. We are now given to understand that Friday instead of Sunday may be ordained as the weekly holiday. This is meant to be another sop to the mullahs, and to hell with the fact that the country reverted to Sunday in 1997 only because the domestic business community wanted to remain in the same trading time zone as its international counterparts.

What is the meaning of this? When will General Pervez Musharraf and his team-mates realise that the problem is not one of a failing economy but one of a failing polity? When will they understand that all the fine tuning of the budget will not lead to the promised land unless there is a basic change not only in the philosophy of how to collect revenues and from whom but also in the rationality of what to spend and on what? When will it dawn on them that foreign investors will not step into Pakistan until domestic investors stop fleeing the country? Indeed, why should “non-ideological” domestic and foreign capital venture into Pakistan when the country is booby-trapped with violent “jehads”, maverick “strategists” and crazed “ideologues”, when two antagonistic legal traditions run side by side sowing confusion, when the sanctity of sovereign guarantees and legal contracts is routinely violated by an unholy nexus between a corrupt corporate state sector and a feeble judiciary, when civil society is constantly being undermined and eroded by armed militias? The finance minister must demand reasonable answers from the military junta. If he doesn’t, his strategy will be doomed to failure.

Pakistan faces a crisis of state and society. The economic crisis which Mr Aziz seeks to resolve is an effect of this political and ideological state crisis and not a cause of it. That is why any attempt to fix the economy without first understanding and tackling the larger state crisis is not likely to yield long-term dividends. The generals would be advised to ponder some enduring facts.

The economy is in a deep recession because no one wants to invest. Investment is down not merely because of high interest rates and reduced government spending but essentially because of political uncertainty at home and threats of international isolation from abroad. These factors in turn are the effects of the military’s secret domestic motives and ambitious regional agendas which deny us the security and certainty of political democracy and the financial dividends of regional peace. Beyond these, some larger facts are worth recapitulating.

The prosperity of post-war Japan and Germany was built on the carcass of outmoded st3ate structures and defunct national security paradigms. The demise of the Soviet Union was predicated on an economic collapse derived from a costly arms race. The unprecedented prosperity of America in the post-cold war period is largely due to the peace dividend arising from a substantial reduction in the growth of military expenditures. India is growing at our Muslim rate of 6% growth while Pakistan is languishing at the Hindu rate of 3% growth — the one is threatening to transform wealth into power, the other impoverishment into weakness. The sooner General Pervez Musharraf swaps economic illusions for political realities, the better for all concerned.

(TFT June 23-29, 2000 Vol-XII No.17 — Editorial)

Heroic assumptions in the Budget

The government of General Pervez Musharraf has presented its first budget after claiming that it has pruned defence allocations for 2000-2001 by nearly Rs 10 billion. The government has also announced that it will not respond to India’s latest Prithvi testing. It has abolished wealth tax, given an annual bonus of Rs 2,000 to state-sector employees in the pay scale 1 to 16, allowed 80 percent reduction in income tax for people earning Rs 60,000 annually and staggered this reduction upwards till those who earn Rs 15,000 will get 50 percent reduction. The government has increased the share of the provinces in the federal divisible pool by 28 percent, subjected the assessment of presumptive taxation to advice from traders’ committees, pledged to make export-related refunds within one month and clear the outstanding Rs 10 billion refunds by end June. The budget has allocated Rs 21 billion for poverty alleviation and Rs 120 billion for the Annual Development Programme. It has reset the tax revenue target at Rs 351 billion, a whopping increase of nearly Rs 80 billion over the current year’s revised target. Federal taxes have been cut down to three and provincial taxes from 30 to only nine.

Critics say the government will find it difficult to meet its targets. The cut in the defence budget in real terms comes to much less if one factors in the low inflation rate at 4 percent, compared to the past around 10-12 percent, and if one accounts for the approximately Rs 26 billion transferred to the government’s expenditures side. In real terms therefore the defence budget may have gone up by 14 percent in monetary terms, testifying to a covert arms race with India. Experts continue to be sceptical about the ability of the government to revamp the taxation bureaucracy which will collect the sum of Rs 351 billion. If the growth rate is excepted to be no more than 4.5 percent, the additional collection will not be based on growth but on arm-twisting, which in itself is a heroic assumption considering the fact that the ground reality of corruption has not changed. Failure to collect an additional Rs 80 billion under low growth will cause the IMF to drag its feet and undermine the budget assumption of receiving Rs 178 billion from external sources. This large sum from the IMF, the ADB and Pakistan Development Forum is still conditional to Pakistan making fundamental foreign policy decisions which are nowhere in sight. The second round of debt-rescheduling in January 2001 is hardly certain, given the current submissive stance of the government to internal pressures.

Significantly, the government has slapped up to 70 paisa surcharge on diesel, kicking up transportation costs and the general price index. Add to that the expected hike in gas rates and the costs picture becomes more gloomy. It has increased the withholding tax by 1.5 percent, cut the profit on saving schemes also by 1.5 percent, and extended sales tax to the services sector. The economy may not respond to this positively and exports may actually decline, the boom in the textile sector may not repeat itself and the budget’s reliance on agriculture for growth may be misplaced. Given Pakistan’s very low foreign exchange reserves, crucial imports may come under pressure too. A general curtailment in the purchasing power of the population in the face of high costs and curtailment of savings will certainly affect revenue collection despite documentation. After the Budget refuses to balance, poverty alleviation and development programmes will surely be axed.

It will need a different Pakistan to execute the new budget. People are willing to respond to the amnesty scheme after sensing that the government has resolve. Shopkeepers hiding their stocks want the amnesty to be increased and extended beyond June to make their stocks “white”. The next step will be to effectively stop the influx of smuggled goods and meet the challenge of confronting powerful vested interests behind the racket. Unfortunately, the dispute with HUBCO has not been resolved so far, and WAPDA is bound to come under more pressure after the stoppage of subsidy to it. The HUBCO issue is a hurdle in the path of foreign investment and is still firmly in place. And it will require many more internal improvements, inclusive of law and order and the judiciary, to restore the investment climate in Pakistan.

Budget 2000-2001 is asking Pakistan to change its ways. The proverbial bullet was never really bitten in the past and the state was forced to nuclearise itself without having the flexibility of response needed to face off punitive global pressures. What we need is a strong government. There are many elements in our society who have enjoyed the bounties of a mal-functioning and “fudged” economy in the past and would now like to test General Musharraf’s resolve. Unfortunately, some ground has been ceded to these elements in the past months. More bending in the face of these people will adversely affect the enforcement of the new budget and damage the confidence of Pakistan’s foreign creditors without whose political support the economy can go into a payments default next year.

(TFT June 30-06 Jul, 2000 Vol-XII No.18 — Editorial)

Look before you leap

 

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague has rejected Pakistan’s case against India on the shooting down of an unarmed Pakistani naval plane in August 1999. The Court said it had no jurisdiction in the matter. This has surely embarrassed Pakistan’s Attorney-General, Aziz Munshi, who led the Pakistani team to The Hague. More significantly, India is crowing about a third victory (Kargil being the first and President Clinton’s trip being the second) in recent times and trying to fuel and extract mileage out of the perception that Pakistan is growing increasingly isolated in international affairs. In the meanwhile, a clear case of international gangsterism on India’s part has gone abegging.

Pakistan had a bloody good case. The debris of the plane that was shot down (the Atlantique) was found two kilometres inside Pakistan. There was visual proof that Indian helicopters had landed inside Pakistani territory to collect the debris as a ‘trophy’ for Mr Vajpayee. What was, however, not clear to the lay person was how the case would fare at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). It was known that India would rely on the argument that the Court had no jurisdiction in such matters in view of the “optional clause” declaration announced many years ago which stopped the court from adjudging disputes between India and members of the Commonwealth. But it was Mr Munshi’s job to weigh the chances of getting a fair hearing for Pakistan at the ICJ and plan a strategy accordingly.

The ICJ, it may be noted, is a holdover from the League of Nations in the sense that it grants the right of exemption from international law to sovereign states. If a state doesn’t want to be adjudged, it simply has to say so in a declaration under Article 36. India’s 1974 declaration under this article claims exemption in disputes involving members of the Commonwealth. Clearly, therefore, Pakistan’s case had to be presented in such a way as to compel the Court to change its stance. Since its birth it has adjudicated only 58 cases, and these too have been mostly those referred to it by the United Nations. Pakistan was therefore going to the ICJ with the expectation that it would extract a “historic judgement” which would change the course of international law. Was this in any way justified?

Pakistan fielded an eight-member team. Mr Munshi was the only Pakistani lawyer among them. India had nine players, all lawyers and legal experts, including Indian and international personalities, with Indian Attorney-General Soli Sorabjee leading the team. The convention at the ICJ is that cases of jurisdiction are presented with the help of academic experts specialising in public international law theory. Professors of law have traditionally dominated the proceedings of the Court. But Mr Munshi’s professional bias inclined him to engage mostly lawyers, ignoring the academic side of the case. His choice of the lawyer Lauterpacht (not the famous father Lauterpacht but his much less talented son) was not uncontroversial. From the Indian side, there were not only five professors who put the Indian case effectively in the two days allotted to them, but some of them were Indians who knew the nuances of the case in the South Asian setting. In addition, the British lawyer-academic, Brownlie, representing India, had authored a well-received book on public international law that the judges of the ICJ were familiar with.

Pakistan had asked the Court to hold India guilty of violating international law and order it to cough over US$ 60 million as indemnity to cover the price of the plane as well the compensation paid to the 16 Pakistani personnel killed in the incident. But by losing the case, Pakistan has not only not collected cost from India but may have to bear the entire cost of the unsuccessful litigation. We understand that the panel of international lawyers has been paid rather hefty fees. The expenses of the ICJ hearing, which extended over four days in April, including the time spent by the judges and their aides on the case, will also have to be borne by the public exchequer in Pakistan. If the cost of the Indian side too has to be met by Pakistan, the total bill may swell quite steeply. This is certainly not good news for Pakistanis creaking under the burden of fresh taxes and stiff penalties in the new budget.

Mr Munshi has told the Voice of America that the case he has lost has been a ‘step forward’. We don’t understand how he can make this claim, unless of course he is using the same twisted logic used by every government so far in claiming that the cause of Kashmir has been highlighted whenever we have failed to get the United Nations to take note of it at the First Committee level.

The psychological fallout of the case will be negative. It will doubtless reinforce the feeling of international isolation in and out of Pakistan. We might have thought twice before rushing headlong into it.

(TFT Jul 07-13, 2000 Vol-XII No.19 — Editorial)

Turbulence in PML

The great PML leaders’ meeting in Islamabad on July 4 that was to decide Nawaz Sharif’s fate was a bit of a damp squib except that a group of 31 dissidents was able to voice its rejection of him as leader of the party in a press conference. This, despite the perception that any party headed by Mr Sharif could not possibly play any significant role in a future political set-up planned by an army high command headed by General Pervez Musharraf. And this, despite some plain talking by General Musharraf to Raja Zafar ul Haq a couple of days earlier. And all this, despite the rebel group led by Mian Azhar, Khurshid Kasuri, Fakhr Imam et al which has long agitated to knock out Mr Sharif and whose leader Mian Azhar was doubtless offered inducements by General Musharraf to shake off Mr Sharif.

There are several reasons for the continuing “unity” of the Muslim League. First, there is still no leader in the Muslim League who comes even remotely close to matching the popularity of Mr Sharif in the rank and file of the League as far as the party’s vote-bank is concerned. Certainly, Begum Kulsoom’s aggressive posturing has helped her husband retain his centrality in this vote-bank. But Mr Sharif’s refusal to bend before the men in khaki has also helped his personal cause immeasurably — bravery and martyrdom being significant elements in the mythology of charismatic leadership. Second, the regime’s inability to knock out Mr Sharif via the courts within the first month or two of his ouster has helped perpetuate the belief that perhaps he isn’t guilty of all the sins heaped at his door by General Musharraf. Third, the government’s avowed intention to “nab” many League leaders, including the Chaudhurys of Gujrat, has only served to harden their resolve not to abandon Mr Sharif in the expectation that safety lies in sinking or swimming together. Fourth, the army’s assault on the bazaar, a mainstay of Mr Sharif’s urban constituency, has evoked a wave of sympathy for their deposed leader and a matching revulsion for army rule. Finally, the military regime has earned few, if any, brownie points for its grandiose plans to revive the economy which continues to languish in no-man’s land. Indeed, the recurring flip-flops of the regime have already earned General Musharraf the unflattering epithet of CMLA — Cancel My Last Announcement!

On June 25, Nawaz Sharif played an all but masterful card. He announced the appointment of six new vice-presidents of the party in the provinces. All were young and second-rung leaders keen to support Mr Sharif’s ‘forward’ policies. The idea was to increase the strength of pro-Kulsoom vice-presidents in the central working committee to give Begum Sahiba the majority she needed to take the entire party along the path of confrontation. The tactic would have worked beautifully if he hadn’t overplayed his hand by appointing Saad Rafiq as Acting-Secretary General Punjab in place of Rana Nazir who has been ‘nabbed’. The League leadership, in particular Chaudhury Shujaat, reacted against this step by arguing that if the party president in jail (Nawaz Sharif) was not to be replaced by an acting president merely because NAB was proceeding against him, what was the unholy haste in deposing Rana Nazir? Doubtless, Chaudhury Sahib was wondering about his own fate in the PML in the eventuality of falling foul of NAB? That was sufficient to put paid to Begum Kulsoom’s efforts to take over the party.

There are three groupings in the PML today. The Chaudhurys, playing their cards well from behind the ‘consensual’ figure of Raja Zafar ul Haq, have emerged as the biggest faction in contact with other dissidents like Fakhr Imam and Mian Kasuri. The second faction is that of Mian Azhar who leads a group in Punjab clearly resolved to remove Nawaz Sharif from the leadership of the party. The third grouping is of course the loyalists led by Kulsoom Nawaz, greatly fortified by Nawaz Sharif’s power to make new appointments for the party from his prison cell. Out of the three, it was Mian Azhar’s faction that seemed isolated among the PML rank and file because of its radical stance, but General Musharraf has partly removed this weakness by meeting Mian Azhar the same day as Raja Zafar ul Haq. However, at the end of the day, the biggest grouping led by Raja Zafar-ul-Haq has decided not to oust Nawaz Sharif from the Presidentship of the PML for the time being. The sole reason for this is that any other route would have led to a bloody break-up of the party, with deleterious consequences for each of the three groups.

The Chaudhurys have been reassured by Raja Zafar ul Haq’s contact with General Musharraf. Raja Sahib in turn has strengthened his position as a “go-between” within the party. The Sharif faction led by Begum Kulsoom has also watered down its rhetoric against the Chaudhurys by apologising for Nawaz Sharif’s act of appointing vice presidents without consultation. Mian Sharif, who has so far stayed out of the PML fray, is also expected to become active as a ‘rebuking father’ to repair his son’s excesses. So we may expect the turbulence within the PML to continue without leading to a crash.

(TFT Jul 14-20, 2000 Vol-XII No.20 — Editorial)

The meaning of isolation

 

A French parliamentarian said in Islamabad the other day that Pakistan and India should not be allowed to become “isolated” if the issue of nuclear proliferation was to be addressed effectively by the West. The national press gratefully blazoned the statement in a headline saying: “France against isolating Pakistan”. That is a great leap of the imagination.

Unfortunately, the issue of isolation has become a kind of tit-for-tat debate in Pakistan. Some say that Pakistan is internationally isolated, others maintain it is not. Certainly, General Pervez Musharraf himself thinks that his international contacts are sufficiently firm to dispel any such “isolation”. But consider.

International isolation is a political term. It denotes the measure of a state’s ability to walk with the rest of the international community. There is no legal basis for this. In fact, if a nation is legally in the right but has not been able to lobby its cause successfully it is liable to fall victim to ‘moral inflexibility’, which nudges it to go its own way and thus become isolated. Nor is there anything ‘moral’ about the international system — the threat of international isolation is faced by all states, including the sole superpower, the United States, as for example in the matter of its National Missile Defence (NMD). Avoidance of isolation is thus the constant preoccupation of all states in relation to their national economies, which require unfettered access to markets, and bilateral disputes which require steady international support.

The fact is that defiance of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) isolated both India and Pakistan in the past decade. The United States, which made the NPT its main foreign policy plank, was also threatened with isolation because of the defective enforcement of the Treaty, especially with regard to Israel’s defiance. But it succeeded in countering it by getting the member states to endorse it in perpetuity, thus isolating India and Pakistan further. After 1998, our nuclear tests took this isolation up another notch, and a UN Security Council resolution affirmed the sanctions placed on both countries. The CTBT was then offered as a way out of this isolation, but India and Pakistan failed to sign it, even as Israel was quick to take the opportunity of relieving some of the isolationist pressure on it by signing it.

Pakistan’s malfunctioning economy and its dependence on external factors made this isolation more punishing. But in the months following the nuclear tests, Pakistan adopted other policies that deepened its isolation. The fall of the civilian Nawaz Sharif government added intensity to this isolation. Meanwhile, despite its anti-West rhetoric on the nuclear issue, India has been able to take initiatives to lessen its isolation. It is perceived to have shown “restraint and maturity” on the Kargil provocation, it has drawn closer to the US and NATO, it has made reassuring noises about signing the CTBT and it has moved closer to Israel — a move that also checkmates Pakistan in the military sense. But Pakistan’s isolation today springs from its inability to negotiate international demands relating to its internal situation: human rights, terrorism, lack of democracy and the uncertainty that this state of affairs evokes about its nuclear ability and failure to “normalise” relations with India.

Breaking out of isolation is a challenge for both India and Pakistan; in fact, it is a kind of competition between the rival powers. But since Pakistan tends to ‘follow’ India instead of taking initiatives that would isolate India, its ability to develop international linkages has become severely curtailed. Indeed, the tendency to use its nuclear capability as an antidote to isolationism is a dangerous game. While the bomb helps in averting total international boycott, it must be accompanied with civilian initiatives to prevent it from being seen as a crude blackmailing device.

Political initiatives in a world that bristles with conditionalities often compel ‘isolated states’ to reach out to other such states. We must avoid this at all cost. If such relations have to be established, they must remain discreet and low-profile. Therefore the recent high-profile visit by a delegation from Burma led by a general of the junta that has cruelly suppressed democracy in that country was not good diplomacy. In this too Pakistan followed India, forgetting that India’s contacts with Burma have been low-profile and secret.

The lesson to be learnt is clear — in a world that is guided by politics rather than morality, it is important for states to remain flexible in their conduct of foreign policy. China’s conduct over the past decade in this regard is exemplary. State ‘sovereignty’ is an easy principle to resort to in order to ward off pressures from the international community, but without international support it means very little. The choice is ours. We can reduce our increasing isolation through a reasonable and flexible approach. Or we can exacerbate it by pinning our defiance on self-righteous anger.

(TFT Jul 21-27, 2000 Vol-XII No.21 — Editorial)

Fauji Jirga is nonsense

Mr Ajmal Khattak has called for the establishment of a “fauji jirga” comprising politicians, ulema and army officers, suggesting a lineage of power. Mr Khattak, it may be recalled, was recently ousted from the Awami National Party amidst ugly recriminations and is hard put to whip up a political consensus in Pakistan. His formula is therefore strictly opportunistic.

The army, of course, has always been the ghost of the banquet. As far as the politicians and ulema are concerned, they were one and the same thing because both were willing to contest elections and sit in parliaments. But that is no longer the case. The ulema are increasingly inclined to reject the electoral route. This means that the political parties may be an important ingredient of Mr Khattak’s potion but their role will be curtailed in the face of the other two ingredients whose agendas may clash with them.

Indeed, the ‘fauji jirga’ proposed by him is likely to feature political personalities of a certain unrepresentative stripe which may render it strictly unworkable. The PML rebels may be the only ones amenable to joining this ‘jirga’ without too many difficult conditionalties. But if representative politicians are chosen for the ‘jirga’ on the basis of their electoral strength, how will leaders like Mr Khattak gain entry?

It is also a kind of “defensive guarantee” to give parity to the ulema in this tripartite arrangement. The ulema will have to come from among the leaders of the jehadi organisations because the academic ulema and scholars have withered on the bough. It is also clear that the third party, the army, which is now envisaged as a permanent arbiter of the state, will impose officers into the “jirga” who will be primus inter pares rather than equal to the other two components.

The army is in power, full-stop. The ulema are also partly in power on the ground because of their armed militias and their contribution to the army’s crucial agenda of keeping the Kashmir issue alive. They exercise considerable coercive and ideological control over civil society. Their leverage on the government is far more palpable than that of the politicians. It is no surprise therefore that they have asserted their agenda very aggressively. They have rejected the NGO factor in the Musharraf government and have an economic programme that scares even the army with its radicalism. They want a change in foreign policy that even the hawkish establishment in Islamabad cannot implement. And all of them have announced their decision not to contest elections but to gain power on the basis of militant Islamic ideology. The politicians, in the meanwhile, are nowhere on this scene. Therefore an ill-balanced “jirga” will not work. But there is more to it.

The world of fatwas is riven with contradiction. There are those who have declared jehad on the United States and vowed to kill Americans and Europeans on sight. All of them have cursed the ‘shameless women’ of the NGOs and are united in their condemnation of the alleged “Qadiani-Jewish conspiracy” within the Musharraf government. Some of them want the Shia community to be declared non-Muslim. It is also more than likely that the ‘fauji jirga’, in order to be representative, will have a majority of Deobandi ulema and only a sprinkling of Barelvis, which will fuel sectarian divisions within the “jirga”.

The politicians are no less divided. While Nawaz Sharif controls the vote bank, there are parties in the Grand Democratic Alliance which refuse to have any truck with the PML and the PPP. These will demand that the PML and PPP should be punished with large-scale disqualifications as a precondition to joining the “jirga”. Similarly, a number of regional parties will extend their agitation in PONM with a programme that equally excludes the mainstream parties. In this scenario, there will then be only two parties left in the country to decide the fate of the state: the army and the ulema. But this alliance is doomed to failure. While both are allies in jehad, they differ in their approach to the political system. The army wants to re-establish guided electoral democracy in the country while the ulema want a more utopian order in which a Western-type representative system is simply not permitted. Add to this the confusion generated by constitutional provisions that favour the ulema but not the politicians, like the Council of Islamic Ideology and the Federal Shariat Court, and you have a situation that is primed to tilt in favour of anarchy.

Objectively speaking, Pakistan’s jehad policy and its internal adjustments militate against any form of good governance, especially in an economy that is dependent on external factors. But the Musharraf government could do worse by changing its present make-up and opting for the sort of “fauji jirja” advocated by Mr Khattak. The regime’s current agenda is far more benign than the one such changes might induce. If these are difficult days in which no policy seems to work, the military government should create the conditions for accountable, electoral, democratic civilian government as swiftly as possible and return to the barracks.

(TFT Jul 28-03 Aug, 2000 Vol-XII No.22 — Editorial)

Kashmir initiatives bubbling over

Political ferment in Indian-Held Kashmir is palpable. A few Kashmiri leaders were recently released from prison by the Indian authorities. Then there was talk in New Delhi about a dialogue with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference. This was upstaged by Farooq Abdullah’s radical proposals of “autonomy minus independence or independence minus secession”. Now comes a most significant initiative by the Hizbul Mujahidin, the leading guerilla group in the valley, trumping Abdullah’s hand by offering a conditional 3 month ceasefire in exchange for a three-way dialogue (India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris) on the future of Kashmir. What is going on?

Farooq Abdullah’s “autonomy” proposals envisage the territory of J&K to be administered under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution according to the Nehru-Sheikh Abullah agreement of 1952, giving only currency, defense and foreign affairs to New Delhi. The internal autonomy law would give administrative autonomy to Jammu and Ladakh from the Valley after readjusting some districts where Muslim populations would like to be a part of the Muslim-dominated Valley. These proposals were framed in the backdrop of the fact that the ‘special status’ of J&K under Article 370 is nothing more than a fib. From 1953 to 1989, New Delhi has amended the Indian Constitution 43 times to destroy the autonomy promised by Nehru to Sheikh Abdullah under Article 370. The territory has been ruled through governors who rigged elections and unleashed a reign of terror on the Muslims. These proposals have been denounced in India and Pakistan as American attempts to stake indirect claims on Kashmir.

Another recent development has brought about a matching Indo-Pak negative ‘consensus’ on Kashmir. The New York-based Asia Study Group (ASG) headed by ex-Kashmiri Farooq Kathwari has gone and discussed ASG’s own plan for Kashmir with Farooq Abdullah. His paper wants the Line of Control (LoC) frozen as an international border, the Valley more or less independent from India after giving Ladakh and Jammu virtual independence from the Valley. This harks back to the 1952 Owen Dixon plan of a regional plebiscite which presaged annexation of Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir by Pakistan, and annexation of Ladakh and Jammu by India, leaving the Valley to go whatever way it wanted. The Kathwari plan would have the Valley functioning as an ‘independent state without sovereignty’ guaranteed by India and Pakistan. The Indian rejectionists immediately called this an American plot to annex Kashmir for itself while Pakistani rejectionists have likewise denounced Farooq Abdullah’s latest “rebellion” against New Delhi as “nura kushti”.

Pakistan, unfortunately, doesn’t have a considered response to the question of “autonomy” in the Indian-held territory because of the hawkish public opinion built around the maximalist position that nothing short of a plebiscite under the UN resolutions would be acceptable. But because international opinion has been swinging away from the UN position, the jehad in Kashmir has come to be billed as Pakistan’s best bet to reestablish focus on the issue. This approach, in turn, has been undermined by the insistence of the international community that jihad is “terrorism”, which has allowed India to extract mileage from it.

Unfortunately there is no middle ground between the two extreme positions taken by India and Pakistan. Both rely on each other to perpetuate a conflict that the world wants resolved. Whenever some sort of middle ground is sought to be created through track-two diplomacy, it is attacked by pro-establishment forces on either side.

The current situation is that the two countries are unwilling to talk to each other. India says that Pakistan must first switch off ‘cross-border terrorism’. Pakistan attaches the ‘core-issue’ precondition of Kashmir to the talks. Until now, the international pressure on India to change its policy on Kashmir either by talking to the militants or allowing ‘autonomy close to independence’ to the Valley has been defused by Pakistan’s extreme stand-point, forcing the international community to choose the ‘lesser evil’ of India. Is a greater policy sophistication from the Pakistanis in the offing?

Following the election of pro-Pakistan politicians to the leadership of the Hurriyat Conference and the announcement of a “ceasefire” along the LoC by Pakistan some weeks ago comes the brilliant, Rawalpindi-sponsored ceasefire offer by the pro-Pakistan Hizbul Mujahidin. This will put a spoke in Farooq Abdullah’s wheels by shifting the focus away from Srinagar to New Delhi and Islamabad. It will also put pressure on India to respond in kind, both on the ground and in the diplomatic arena, to Pakistan’s demands for Kashmir-oriented talks between the two countries. If it is now backed by an official “approval” of sorts from Pakistan’s military regime, New Delhi will have a hard time refusing a Summit meeting between General Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in the next month or so. If such a meeting serves to eventually “restore” the Lahore process while making progress on the core Kashmir issue, Islamabad can claim unprecedented policy success. But if the talks fail, India will be hard pressed to come up with some credible excuses or alternative policy prescriptions. In either case, Islamabad cannot be worse off than it is now.

(TFT Aug 04-10, 2000 Vol-XII No.23 — Editorial)

Next move, India

The Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) has offered a “conditional” ceasefire” to India: hold your fire and then hold unconditional talks with Pakistan, HM and the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) on the future of Kashmir and on peace in the region. On the other side, the BJP government is ready to talk to the HM and the APHC but not to Pakistan. Also, it insists that the talks with the two Kashmiri parties must be within the framework of the Indian constitution.

Not everyone in India agrees with the BJP’s initial response. Editorials in leading English-language newspapers in India have advised the BJP not to belabour the constitutionality or otherwise of the proposed exercise. In fact, the Congress-I, India’s leading opposition party, has recommended that talks with Pakistan should be initiated. Even Mr Farooq Abdullah in Srinagar has now supported the idea of an Indo-Pakistan dialogue.

On the face of it, this seems to suggest that there is some agreeable change in the ground reality in Kashmir. Coupled with General Pervez Musharraf’s unilateral ceasefire along the LoC, and his call for a resumption of the peace dialogue with India, this is a significant development. If the BJP government ignores or scuttles this diplomatic opening, it may find itself isolated in India and censured abroad. Indeed, the consequences of missing the bus on this occasion might be most unpleasant.

If the Indian government thinks that the change is owed to weakness in Pakistan, and that New Delhi can reap further unilateral dividends by simply waiting it out, it should think again. If the ceasefire offer is withdrawn, India is bound to face a far more intractable situation on the ground than it has experienced so far. As it is, its rejectionist attitude has already caused its client government in Srinagar led by Farooq Abdullah, to bend in favour of the APHC because the march of events is bringing the divided forces of Kashmir together again – APHC leader Mirwaiz Farooq’s visit to the house of chief minister Farooq Abdullah to condole the death of the latter’s mother is a pointer in this direction. Therefore the BJP, which kicked off the process by releasing several APHC leaders and asking for an abatement in “cross-border terrorism”, is now morally bound to move forward rather than recoil to the dark days of Governor’s Raj simply to leash Farooq Abdullah.

Is the change brought about by HM’s ceasefire more far-reaching than the orthodox forces on both sides of the border realise? In Pakistan the most die-hard advocates of jehad concede that HM is responsible for 60 percent of the Kashmir jehad and remains the mainstay of resistance inside Held Kashmir. This accounts for the support its ceasefire decision has been able to enlist from Mr Salahuddin, the HM chief based in Pakistan, despite the outrage among the other more radical outfits. Furthermore, the new leader of the APHC, Mr Gani Bhatt, has inclined to the stance taken by HM, followed by his Muslim Conference counterpart in Azad Kashmnir, the shrewd Sardar Abdul Qayyum. These facts lead to the conclusion that the stage might be more thoroughly set for a change in the status quo than many observers and activists realise. But how optimistic should one be?

The government of Pakistan has acted wisely by declaring that it will not interfere in the politics and policies of the jehadi forces in Kashmir. At any rate, it is difficult to imagine how, if the government of Pakistan was not behind the move, it could have actually rejected the HM ceasefire and then expected to remote-control 60 percent of the jehad from Islamabad. Interestingly enough, in an interview to TFT, Pakistan’s Jama’at-i Islami leader, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, has rejected the extreme policy prescription advocated and adopted by some leaders of the jehadi organisations. Although he too has rejected the HM ceasefire, his stance has become less intense and more cautious. Meanwhile, the extremist Deobandi outfit, Harkatul Mujahideen, has split, clearing the way to some extent for the return of the non-sectarian and relatively moderate Jama’at-i Islami to the fore.

If Pakistan is not yet ready to effect a change in its policy vis-a-vis Afghanistan by controlling terrorism at home, the implied pledge by General Pervez Musharraf to lower the temperature in Held Kashmir has certainly been fulfilled. That explains why the CP(M) and the Congress-I in India have responded by asking Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to talk to Pakistan even if that means talking to its military ruler.

Pakistan has always tended to imitate India and thereby harmed itself in the past. But what if this Pakistani-initiated move leaves India stranded on the back-foot? In the event, even if the world cannot bring itself to punish India, it can certainly offer some rewards to Pakistan, including bailout funds for Pakistan’s blighted economy.

The international community should jump into the breach offered by the HM ceasefire and compel India to see the wisdom of departing from old, unworkable policies. But it would be tragic if this window of opportunity is lost in the cynical world of cold-war strategists on both sides.

(TFT Aug 11-17, 2000 Vol-XII No.24 — Editorial)

Nawaz Sharif’s fate

The Pakistan Muslim League under Nawaz Sharif has experienced another potentially destabilising development — its imprisoned “leader” has issued orders that are flexible, vague and mysterious. The net result is greater confusion than cohesion in the party.

On July 30, the PML’s rank and file, mobilised by Kulsoom Nawaz and the ‘new’ young leadership coalesced around her, roughed up the two dissident leaders Mian Azhar and Fakhr Imam outside the Muslim League office. Inside the session, Mr Sharif’s statement did not mention Raja Zafar-ul-Haq who is in charge of the Coordination Committee of the party. Instead, a light-weight like Ahsan Iqbal was vaguely put in charge of the new mobilisation campaign desired by the leader. Furthermore, even as Raja Zafarul Haq’s clique was assuaged by allowing it to pursue “sincere” negotiations with the military government of General Pervez Musharraf, no effort was made to rein in the gung-ho faction led by Kulsoom Nawaz.

In the event, the PML’s July 30 meeting in Islamabad has put paid to the power of the dissidents. It has voted overwhelmingly for retaining Nawaz Sharif as president and refused to consider the dissident demand for an Acting President and fresh party elections. But this ambivalence, could, in fact, be a carefully cultivated one, containing the seeds of confrontation rather than reconciliation.

Nawaz Sharif certainly shocked most Leaguers by telling them that the PML would not take part in the coming local bodies elections. This means that Mr Sharif does not wish to grant legitimacy to the acts of the Musharraf government — the PML is, after all, best placed, at least in the majority province of Punjab, to win the non-party polls, the party machinery having primed itself for over a decade for exactly such an opportunity. He sees the induction into local government as a reduction of the momentum he wants to build up against his long prison sentence and the longer disqualification period he must suffer. He believes, quite rightly, that most Muslim Leaguers who end up supporting the new local institutions will inevitably come under their spell and forget him in the bargain.

The other message, that of joining the All-Parties Conference (APC) and the reference by name to Benazir Bhutto as part of the ‘democratic’ order, put off many loyalists and dissidents. This was to be expected. Mr Sharif has nurtured the PML(N) on a private hatred and public persecution of the PPP and its Bhutto-Zardari leadership. But the APC comprises parties who largely want the PML and PPP purged from the system before a National Government is set up to hold the next elections. The APC of August 6 in fact ended up destroying the one plank on which the PML was united: restoration of PML-dominated assemblies.

Obviously, Nawaz Sharif has only one thing on his mind — incarceration leading to political oblivion. Therefore he can only seek to build up pressure on the government to let him off the hook. This means that his PML must be arm-twisted to stay away from any process that might cool its passion for confrontation. Is he likely to succeed in his mission?

Certainly, the dissidents who wanted to topple Nawaz Sharif from the presidency of the PML have bitten the dust again. The PML has not only held together, newspaper surveys show that Mr Sharif is still the citizens’ choice for the party’s leadership. Why hasn’t the PML gone the way it has always gone in the past when challenged by the army?

The truth is that this time around there is no Nawaz Sharif in the second-rung leadership of the PML as there was when Mohammad Khan Junejo was removed by General Zia ul Haq. The truth also is that General Pervez Musharraf is no General Zia, ready, able and willing to publicly shower his blessings on the chosen replacement. And the truth is that if the party leadership has deep fissures, the dissidents barely have their own constituencies in hand, habituated as they are to linkages within the old Establishment. Finally, they are all at risk from the government’s accountability drive and any place outside the party fortress would be unsafe for them if and when NAB decides to prosecute them.

They say that time heals wounds. But time could equally widen the lacerations received by the PML. The loyalty Sharif is evoking in the party is the kind of loyalty he had striven for, not of principles but of personal benefit. But as he lives out his sentence in jail and even sits out the next election, this loyalty is sure to fade. And as his family’s ability to look after the loyalists diminishes (its cohesion is already damaged by Shahbaz Sharif’s conscientious dissent) the vested interests looking to him for survival are bound to latch on to other supports.

Nawaz Sharif may be a non-entity in the coming years. But he could find some solace in the fact that the years in the wilderness for him, as for Benazir Bhutto, may well prove intractable for Pakistan’s state and economy.

(TFT Aug 18-24, 2000 Vol-XII No.25 — Editorial)

Political calculus is wrong

Law minister Aziz Munshi wants to “purify politics”. He has promulgated an ordinance aimed at punishing convicted politicians from holding any party office. The message is that if the PML and PPP will not “cleanse” themselves of Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, the government will do it for them by decree. But actually the Ordinance is an acknowledgement of the government’s failure to erase Mr Sharif and Ms Bhutto from the hearts and minds of their supporters.

Past experience suggests that this is a dubious strategy. Far from sharpening contradictions within the political arena, the Ordinance has served to make the 42-member APC more focused than before. Equally, the PML dissidents who have supported the Ordinance could find themselves terminally isolated if the Sharif lobby is able to make common cause with the PPP.

Under Article 63 of the Constitution persons convicted of cognisable offences cannot contest elections. Under the new Ordinance they can’t even hold office in their respective parties. If they do, they will be jailed for three years and fined. This means that Nawaz Sharif, who is already serving a “life” sentence, may get another three years if his party doesn’t remove him from the top position. The absurdity of this position suggests that the PML could be punished with a ban too. Under the Ordinance, if members of a banned party indulge in political activity, they too will be bunged in for three years and made to pay a fine. So the government now seems set to chase members of banned political parties as well. But what if the PML is banned for not ousting Nawaz Sharif and renames itself PMML or some such thing. After all, when the NAP was banned by an obliging judiciary under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1974, it was reborn as the ANP with the same leadership and thereafter remained an integral part of the national political scene.

Faced with various deadlines, the government’s impatience with the slow process of ‘natural purification’ in the PML after October 1999 has translated into a cavalier ordinance. That is why it has found no support in the press. The Supreme Court, where the affected parties have decided to challenge the Ordinance, will also find it difficult to reconcile the ban on politicians and parties with fundamental rights invested in the Constitution. The practical difficulties are no less daunting. Ms Bhutto, who is already disqualified, remains the PPP’s chairperson for life. She has escaped going to jail by staying out of Pakistan, somewhat like Altaf Hussain who has run the MQM from exile without fear of any alternative leadership. Thus a sagging PPP may return to centre-stage by simply refusing to remove her from chairmanship and then being chased from pillar to post by the government. Mr Sharif may also seem worse off because he is in for life, but this disadvantage too could be put to good use through a robust defiance of the Ordinance. From a corrupt and despotic erstwhile ruler he could still be transformed into a messiah, especially as more and more segments of society come under pressure from a failing economy which the generals’ glib whiz kids haven’t been able to revive. Finally, even if the parties decide to give in, removal from office doesn’t mean that affected politicians will lose their leadership positions. In fact, this may start a new trend of jailed or exiled political leaders in the country, discredit the electoral process and make it meaningless, as was proved by Altaf Hussain in Karachi and Sindh in 1993 and 1997.

When General Pervez Musharraf finally hands over power to the civilians, an elected parliament and prime minister is likely to threaten his ordinances. But if General Musharraf follows the route taken by General Zia ul Haq and compels the new parliament to indemnify his ordinances into a modern equivalent of the notorious 8th Amendment, the eventual fate of his amendment may not be too different from that of General Zia’s. The lesson is that you can’t undermine democracy under the pious impulse of purifying it. Laws imposed without political consensus tend to decay and become bad laws. And those who believe that disabling laws can be enforced to prevent military intervention should study the ‘intervention’ that took place under General Abdul Waheed in 1993 when both president Ghulam Ishaq Khan and prime minister Nawaz Sharif were forced to step down under the very 8th Amendment which was supposed to prevent such an intervention.

The latest Ordinance will not find popular approval. Far from being ‘purified’, the forthcoming local bodies polls may decline into a farce of ‘proxy’ elections in favour of absent and debarred politicians, thanks to the government’s growing number of “new” enemies especially in the marketplace. The fact is that the Musharraf regime has mishandled political matters by allying with the fundos on the one hand and on the other by failing to make a critical distinction between the liberal, democratic forces and their fascistic, corrupt leaders. That is why no number of well-intentioned decrees will set things right on the ground unless the military’s political calculus is set right.

 

(TFT Aug 25-31, 2000 Vol-XII No.26 — Editorial)

Politics by other means

 

General Pervez Musharraf has “revamped” the National Security Council (NSC) and unfurled his plan to “empower the people and make them masters of their own destiny”. What do these steps signify?

The idea of the NSC, with top military participation, standing “above” a cabinet of ministers, may be relevant in a “representative” civilian system that is hostage to authoritarian cultures, praetorian traditions and periodic coups. But in a hands-on military regime it makes no sense to have the NSC and a cabinet, both headed by the army chief and comprising civilians as well as serving and retired men in uniform. The post-coup NSC was particularly superfluous, given the conservative and timid demeanour of its civilian members. But matters became more complicated when a clique of “supergenerals” in GHQ/ISI, assisted by the corps commanders, actually began to call all the shots and made a mockery of provincial governors and cabinets. Has anything of significance changed in the recent NSC reshuffle?

No. Five civilian non-entities in the NSC have been shunted to advisory or cabinet positions, in effect making the trimmed NSC look like the Defence Committee of the Cabinet, with a military man rather than a civilian as its chief executive-head. Ridiculous. A “higher” body is looking like a “lower” limb of the cabinet, while real power still resides in the invisible, supergeneral kitchen-cabinet (from which even the wretched air and navy chiefs are excluded) which decides on strategic matters like the CTBT, Kashmir jihad, relations with America, India, Afghanistan and domestic political restructuring and reinventing.

General Musharraf’s “devolution” programme is more noteworthy. Promising to “revolutionise” state and society, the plan seems to have even stirred the restless souls of some of our more perspicacious commentators. But we need to be careful in rushing to judgment.

Yes, of course, the base of the proposed district government system will comprise directly elected men and women. But won’t the top two tiers consist largely of indirectly elected representatives who might be susceptible to all sorts of dubious pressures and unsavoury deals? If so, how would this be essentially different from the “basic democrats” and “local body politicians” so beloved of yesteryears’ military strongmen? Yes, of course, the ubiquitous 19 grade DC of the “steel-frame” will be no more. But won’t he be reinvented as a more powerful 20 grade DCO hailing from the same District Management Group controlled by Islamabad? Yes, of course, the most corrupt and inept party-political rascals will be excluded from the “non-party” polls. But won’t a further depoliticisation of the body politic exacerbate caste, ethnic, regional, sub-nationalist, religious and sectarian tensions in the country, much as the same sort of initiative by General Zia ul Haq did in the 1980s?

In the new system, the source of power will be the Nazims and not the councils. In the hierarchy of power, this will translate, in ascending order, into the Union Nazim, Tehsil Nazim, District Nazim, Provincial Governor, and the President of Pakistan. The scheme therefore seems set to achieve two objectives: it evolves into a presidential form of government without actually appearing to do so a la Ayub Khan; and it does away with the dyarchy of power created by the presidential powers under the scheme of the original 8th amendment. At the same time, the framers of the plan have tried to obviate the possibility of “divisive politics” by electing members through direct vote from single or multiple members constituencies — which seems like a first step towards some kind of a proportional representation system which, far from making the system democratic and efficient, may simply lead to a weakening of the two-party system as well as to a dilution of the powers of the legislative assemblies. The late Captain Liddel-Hart would be delighted by this “indirect strategic approach” to Presidential politics-in-the-making.

One last point. We know that good governance in Pakistan is precluded by debilitating client-patron relationships in given socio-economic structures. Does this scheme offer any radical solutions to this problem? No, it doesn’t. In fact, by putting undue emphasis on the Nazim or Mayor, and creating difficult procedures for his removal, it may tend to strengthen the office of the executive to which everything and everyone is likely to gravitate. So the checks and balances touted by the scheme could veritably wilt under this arrangement.

Let us be clear. The local government plan, the NSC, etc., are all inseparable elements of the political matrix adopted by the supergenerals of GHQ/ISI rather than political or security initiatives worthy in their own right. This leads us to an uneasy sense of déjà vu involving military coups, ousted prime ministers, banned parties, martyred politicians, thundering legatees and nervous generals atop runaway tigers. In the end, there is no stopping the relentless historical march towards unadorned civilian rule. Everything that can go wrong with contrary philosophies is likely to go wrong. Therefore General Musharraf might be advised to take a longer look at his grand plans to outlast himself.

(TFT Sep 01-07, 2000 Vol-XII No.27 — Editorial)

Hamoodur Rehman revisited

 

The Hamoodur Rehman Commission Report was “leaked” in order to embarrass the military regime of General Pervez Musharraf and remind us of the disastrous consequences of past military interventions. Obviously, the Report had been stashed away for encashment on a rainy day by someone who was once in high authority. But vested interests apart, an analysis of the Report suggests conclusions that are highly relevant and quite disturbing today.

We learn that an extended involvement of the army in politics and administration leads to corruption and undermines the military’s professional discipline and moral standards; that military actions cannot substitute for political settlements; that international isolation can have dire consequences. And so on. But a reading of the Report also leads to some very uncomfortable historical and contemporary speculations.

If the Report had been published in 1972 and if the international community had succeeded in establishing a permanent International Court for War Crimes, a number of Pakistani Army officers would have been indicted for atrocities in East Pakistan in 1971 on the basis of sections of the Report read with material evidence gathered by the NGOs and government of Bangladesh. But more crucially, the Pakistani Army would have been compelled to purge itself of its actions in East Pakistan, in the process nudging the Pakistani nation and state apparatus to try and purge themselves of false consciousness and mistaken identities. This issue is of critical significance today.

The Pakistani establishment’s refusal to publish the Report suggests that it has been scared of facing up to the spiritual and ideological crisis caused by the debacle of East Pakistan. That is why it has not been able to transcend or modify the slogans coined during the Pakistan Movement to incorporate new state realities and national interests (for example, the separate electorate system, which the Muslim League reinvented to counter the Hindu vote in East Pakistan in 1971, has today become a weapon to disenfranchise the minorities of West Pakistan and strengthen the fundamentalists). That is why the establishment has not yet grasped the real reason behind the “national security paradigm” that prevented political power from vesting in the majority population of East Pakistan. Indeed, that is why it has not yet understood the obsolescence of the same “national security paradigm” that has compelled the Pakistani armed forces to intervene in the political process time and again.

The Report should therefore lead concerned Pakistanis to ask the most critical questions of our time: What was the nature and extent of Mohajir-Punjabi chauvinism in the Pakistani state that led to a propagation of One-Unitism and the consequent alienation of the Bengalis? What was the ideological conception of the Pakistani state that created a certain civil-military equation that in turn sustained a distinct national security paradigm that eventually led to war and the dismemberment of Pakistan? Can an exclusivist ideology based on abstract and fiercely divergent conceptions of religion cement disparate sub-nationalities and tribes in the absence of vigourous socio-economic structures and democratic political systems? To what extent can the coercive apparatuses of the state be applied to force people and political parties to accept the national security paradigms of imagined ideological communities? Should democratic states be built around historically formed and secular nations or should religious nations be cobbled together in authoritarian states? How can we retain the notion of the ideological Pakistan state without succumbing to political anarchy, fundamentalism and war?

The military is back in the saddle. If its intervention sparked hopes that it might undertake reforms of state and society, these have proved largely misplaced. Indeed, the military’s desperate search for a new political system in which it can effectively articulate, defend and enhance a dog-eared conception of national security is deeply worrying. This implies that the army leadership has not learnt the right lessons from the East Pakistan debacle. Nor, it seems, is it interested in asking the complex questions about the sort of state that can guarantee both national security and socio-economic welfare, national sovereignty and global integration, nuclear might and regional peace. In fact, the army’s obsession with creating a uniform conception of the nation in its own immaculate image is unsatisfactory.

Of course, the army alone is not totally culpable. The landed elites, the civil service and the politicians have mocked the rule of law, federalism and constitutionalism throughout Pakistan’s history. The new element in the current scenario is the demand by the religious parties to stake the concept of jihad in the centre of “national power”. But since General Musharraf conceded this strategy, India has been dying to flex its muscle and the international community has looked away. The wheel seems to have come full circle.

Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto were ill-suited to construct the new Pakistani state. Will the supergenerals prove any better? The politicians were overly corrupt and opportunist. The supergenerals are overly sincere and rigid. None of the current wannabes has demonstrated the vision and courage to propose and construct a new Pakistan. Will we pause to consider the implications of the Hamoodur Rehman Report? Or shall we rush to prejudice again and brush it aside?

(TFT Sep 08-14, 2000 Vol-XII No.28 — Editorial)

Political economy of corruption

 

If Pakistani politicians and bureaucrats are perceived to be corrupt, allegations of US$ 1 billion in kickbacks and commissions in defence deals involving the army, air and navy chiefs have tarnished the armed forces. Worse, this theft was committed during a decade when the nation was exhorted to make “sacrifices” for the Kashmir jehad and piety was thrust down our throats through powerful religious militias supposedly fighting in the name of Allah.

During this time political governments fell like nine pins, accused of corruption, drug-trafficking and loan-gouging. But the more cruel fact is that the corruption in the khakis cut directly into the US$ 11 billion in foreign exchange deposits that disappeared from the State Bank of Pakistan and brought the national economy crashing down.

The corruption in the top echelons of the military suggests that its leadership had lost confidence in the functioning of the state and wanted to imitate the politicians. Since the defence budget cannot be scrutinised, the kick-backs were obtained without fear of being caught. Thus the naval and air chiefs were in cahoots with the politicians — one was allowed to sneak out of the country while the other retired gracefully and the officer who had ‘supported’ one of them in the GHQ was allowed to leave Pakistan and settle in Europe. The story is too long to encapsulate here.

Of course, corruption is incidental to all organisations in democracy and takes place in all states. After all, it was General Sundarji who ‘allowed’ Rajiv Gandhi to buy the price-inflated BOFORS guns. But it is only when the army gets deeply involved in it together with the civilians, while standing exempt from prosecution under the Constitution, that the matter becomes serious. That is why in the present circumstances the disclosure has not so much damaged the army leadership and embarrassed the Musharraf government as it has undermined the process of army-initiated accountability. The parallel is unavoidable with the PML ‘Ehtesab’ done by Nawaz Sharif under the personal charge of Saifur Rehman. Needless to say, NAB will lose its moral justification for conducting accountability unless it can freely go after the tainted officers and their agents.

But that may not be possible. The Musharraf regime seems to have become familiar with the realistic limits of its accountability drive. The judges and the army were unofficially left out of the NAB net because, it was argued, the state had to remain “functional” while accountability moved apace. But when the government tried to drag the madrassas into the accountability net, it discovered that that too was not possible for reasons of “state security” (the state of corruption in the jehad so passionately championed by the government is not hidden from anyone although the ‘qabza’ and other activities of extortion will not be printed out of fear of the warriors and the weakness of the writ of the state). Then the government decided to go after the smugglers, only to discover that its Afghanistan policy would come apart if the smuggling routes were forcibly plugged. Therefore the only thing left to do without endangering “military security” was to proceed against politicians and businessmen. Alas. Here too it has now come to realise that turning the screws on the trader and industrialist can endanger the state’s “economic security”.

The exit of General Syed Mohammad Amjad from the NAB HQ is a final confirmation of all these “considerations” and “compromises”. In the end, his sincerity, energy and integrity was his undoing. He made the fatal mistake of pursuing accountability as total war rather than as select deterrence.

Who isn’t corrupt in Pakistan? If we can’t answer that question to our satisfaction then what should we do to save the state from collapse? The panacea discovered in Pakistan last year was “ruthless accountability”. But before the year is out we have realised that accountability doesn’t fill the stomach or provide employment or deliver a bonanza of stolen dollars or is simply too dangerous to carry out for reasons of “national security”.

What should we do? Should we let the state die in its pursuit of accountability or look to the other factors endangering the state?

The real truth is that our foreign exchange reserves are down to 15 days of import payments and we can’t get the IMF to give us the clean bill of health required for foreign investment. The rupee has all but crashed. Domestic investment too has disappeared. According to one estimate, 120,000 people have fled Pakistan in the last one year, many of them talented citizens, thinking Pakistan is a sinking ship run by obstinate rulers who can’t take the life-line when it is thrown to them. The life-line is stamping down on the terrorism at home and curtailing the jehad abroad. The life-line is generally climbing down from the stance of confrontation with our neighbours and the international community.

The government must end its international isolation in order to give itself the economic breather it needs to set the internal scene in order. It will be time after that to sic all the corrupt people wherever they may be ensconced because then the state would be in a better condition to withstand the shock of it all.

(TFT Sep 15-21, 2000 Vol-XII No.29 — Editorial)

Good and bad moves

 

The last two weeks have been eventful. The PML rebels, headed by the Chaudhrys of Gujrat, were finally able to trump the Sharif faction in a show of strength based on the numbers game. This has prompted some people to ask whether the PML is ready for the plucking by General Pervez Musharraf.

Not to be outdone, the PPP has rallied behind Benazir Bhutto and confirmed her “chairperson for life” for the nth time. This has emboldened some people to claim that at least one province, Sindh, will forever remain out of General Musharraf’s grasp.

Meanwhile, General Musharraf has been busy tying and untying some knots of his own. Irrespective of how it is officially billed, the change of command at GHQ is most significant. General Mohammad Aziz, the former Chief of General Staff and now Corps Commander of Lahore, was one of the two coup-makers of last October, the other being the current head of the ISI, General Mahmood Ahmed. As a decisive and opinionated person, General Aziz’s stamp of authority was visible on all the major political, tactical and strategic decisions of the junta following the coup. Since many of those decisions have now come a cropper, people are right to expect a review of political policy and strategic direction in Rawalpindi. This view is strengthened by the exit of General Mohammad Amjad from the intoxicating heights of the NAB. Like General Aziz, his inflexibility stood in the way of real politik. The fact that both hard-line generals have been replaced by more amenable ones also suggests that General Musharraf is more his own man now than before. Will this lead to an improvement in the CE’s perception, performance and policy prescriptions?

Such expectations, if any, were not fulfilled during General Musharraf’s trip to the UN in New York last week. Apologists and official drum-beaters apart, his offer of a “no-war” pact to India and his readiness to meet the prime minister of India “for meaningful talks on Kashmir anywhere, any time etc” was neither new nor bold. The no-war offer, in particular, has been flogged by Pakistan since General Zia’s time and countered by India’s demand for a “no-first-strike” pact. India rejects the first because it thinks it would deprive it of conventional military leverage and Pakistan rejects the second because it thinks it would diminish its nuclear deterrent. But if General Musharraf had offered the second, India would not have been able to deny the first, and a genuinely bold breakthrough for peace in South Asia would have been credited to Pakistan’s Chief Executive.

Equally, or alternatively, if General Musharraf had given his blessings for an unconditional dialogue between New Delhi and the Hurriyat Conference/Hizbul Mujahidin in Kashmir, for the moment leaving aside the question of when (not if) Pakistan would insist on making it a trilateral exercise, the international community would have given him a standing ovation and put Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee in the dock. In the event, Mr Vajpayee’s appalling speech at the Asia Society in New York, in which he self-righteously condemned Pakistan, would have been roundly denounced, casting a shadow on his much-trumpeted official visit to the US. As it is, however, Pakistan’s cause has gone abegging once again, General Musharraf’s five minute angry flutter at the UN notwithstanding.

Finally, we have read and heard disquieting reports of General Musharraf’s encounter with the Pak-American press in New York. At one stage, we gather, the irritated General accused the “irresponsible press” of “taking money” to write “negative” stories about his government. Alas. How many times have we heard all this before! Nawaz Sharif alleged it and Benazir Bhutto bemoaned it all the while in power, even as they were dishing out tens of millions from slush funds to the perennial pro-government “lifafa journalists” on the payroll of the ministry of information. But out of power, they were always quick to laud the same “irresponsible” press and the same “negativist” journalists for their “courage”, “integrity” and “independence”. Nor should General Musharraf forget that the press and journalists he is quick to condemn and accuse today are the very ones who stood by him and gave him a degree of sorely-needed acceptability when he made his coup.

So we have a mixed bag of developments in the offing. If the Sharifs’ grip over the PML can be loosened without splintering the party and leading to a dangerous political vacuum in the Punjab, the way can be paved for a speedier return to stable civilian rule in one form or the other. But if Benazir Bhutto’s grip over the PPP cannot, General Musharraf runs the risk of deepening the fissures in the federation by sliding into an unacceptable “one-unitism” of the country.

On the other front, the GHQ shuffle augers well for potentially desirable changes in domestic and foreign policy. But General Musharraf’s increasing irritation with the independent press – sparked by officials who do not have the spine to tell him the truth about his failing policies and who seek to protect themselves from accusations of inept “media-management” – could unwittingly lead him into choppy waters, much as it did the prime minister he so wittingly ousted.

 

(TFT Sep 22-28, 2000 Vol-XII No.30 — Editorial)

What is the national interest?

 

Nearly a year ago, we, the press, told the world that the people of Pakistan welcomed a reprieve, even one ordered by the military, from the corrupt, incompetent and suffocating “democracy” of an elected prime minister. That view was supposed to express the “national interest”. Did we take the right perspective?

General Pervez Musharraf’s regime is treading on thin ice. It has offended mainstream political parties, religious minorities and ethnic communities. It has alienated businessmen and the liberal intelligentsia. It is isolated in the international community. The public has become cynical and prickly. Religious fanatics are running riot. Separatists are sprouting in Sindh and Balochistan. Foreign-inspired terrorists are grabbing the headlines. India is itching to trigger an implosion in our country. Worse, unaccountable corruption at the top echelons of the armed forces has all but denuded the military of whatever moral legitimacy it once enjoyed as a “national security institution” of the last resort. Should this government retain the confidence and goodwill of the independent press?

General Musharraf exhorts us to be “positive”. The economy is supposed to be picking up (wait for the IMF to bail us out); the people will be empowered shortly (one-unit will be back); Kashmir will be liberated through jihad (get ready for a fourth round with India). And so on. What is worrying is the good general’s sanguine belief that not only is he, as chief of the armed forces, the sole repository, interpreter and defender of the “national interest” but that if he should think it necessary to obfuscate or scatter the truth in pursuit of his interpretation of the “national interest”, the press should dutifully back him to the hilt. We beg to disagree.

Conceptions of the “national interest” may differ not only in time and space but also as amongst persons, groups, classes and institutions within the same time/space matrix. It all depends on the vested interests of who formulates the parameters of the national interest debate at any given time/space. For instance, the military coups of 1958 and 1977 were justified by the coup-makers and their supporters in terms of the country’s national interest at that particular juncture. Yet we are all now agreed that those coups turned out to be against the national interest. Similarly, the conflicts with India in 1965 and 1971 and 1999 were sold as serving the national interest. But when passions dried up in the face of defeat or dismemberment or catharsis, we were quick to decry the perpetrators as having acted against the national interest.

An editorial in a leading newspaper recently said that Kashmir should be put on a back burner while we concentrate on liberating our economy. Nonsense, berated a columnist in another newspaper, citing the national interest. Who is right? What constitutes the national interest?

Is it in the national interest that there should be ruthless, across-the-board accountability? No, as defender of the last resort, it is in the national interest to exempt the sacred cow of the armed forces. Is it in the national interest to protect the freedom of the press? No, it is in the national interest to spread and believe the government’s propaganda. Is it in the national interest to curtail the jihadi forces? No, it is in the national interest to export them far and wide across nation-state boundaries. Is it in the national interest to provide a timetable for unencumbered general elections as soon as possible? No, it is in the national interest to keep the politicians out for as long as possible. Is it in the national interest to fulfill IMF conditionalities so that Pakistan can be bailed out immediately? No, the national interest demands that we kick out the IMF and become self-reliant immediately. Was it in the national interest to postpone nuclear testing until the economy was strong enough to shrug off international censure? No, it was in the national interest to explode our bombs when we did even if we had to freeze forex accounts, face sanctions and cripple the economy. Is it in the national interest to negotiate a signing of the CTBT without tit-for-tatting India? No, it isn’t. And so on.

Clearly, no one has a monopoly on defining the “national interest”. Therefore no one can claim to be the fountainhead of “national security”. Notions of “patriotism” too may legitimately differ in complex situations. In fact the nation would be richer in thought and deed if these notions were not bandied about carelessly.

General Pervez Musharraf must not succumb to the arrogance of power, as many heads of government before him have done. Indeed, he would be a potential winner rather than a sure loser if he were to encourage and learn from, rather than gag and condemn, free debate, discussion and criticism in pursuit of the common good. God knows his sincerity has been flogged mercilessly by his errant advisors.

(TFT Sep 29-05 Oct, 2000 Vol-XII No.31 — Editorial)

Restore civilian rule

 

Mr Altaf Hussain is given to histrionics. It is a failsafe tactic designed for maximum, rather than best, political effect. This time he has called Pakistan unmentionable names and pronounced a revisionist history of independence in 1947. This outburst has angered some people and alarmed others. His separatist sentiments, delivered from a conference platform in London, were apparently shared by some “nationalist” leaders from the estranged “small” provinces, most notably Sardar Ataullah Khan Mengal and Mahmud Khan Achakzai of Balochistan.

Their rhetoric is not new. But their timing is another wake up call to rise and put an end to military rule. Having been denied national or provincial power, political leaders perceive only a remote possibility of capturing and consolidating local power via the district government elections scheduled to begin under the auspices of the military in December. What can one make of such political discontent?

Shortly after General Pervez Musharraf seized power, we lauded his radical 7 point agenda for the reform of state and society and urged him to get on with it. Indeed, we were inclined to support the “liberal” technicians who joined the new set-up in the hope that they would input into the decision-making matrix. Alas. We were victims of misplaced concreteness. Sincerity notwithstanding, the supergenerals are out of sync with reality while the “liberals” lack the courage of their convictions. Together, they have demonstrated little vision and even less strength to admit their failings. Indeed, they are beginning to display an ominous irritability with critical opinion, a sure sign of a faltering regime. Where do we go from here?

Many months ago, there was some talk of persuading the generals to “restore” the assemblies sans Nawaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto and other “unacceptable” politicians. We denounced the idea, arguing that such a step would sabotage the reform agenda. But now that the same reform agenda has been injured by the supergenerals, we are in favour of a restoration of representative civilian rule immediately. If the khakis and their technocrats are as inadequate as the politicians they have ousted, and if they are as reluctant to hold their own accountable as them, then it is clearly better and safer to deal with the devil we know rather than the devil we don’t know. What reasonable and realistic formula should be advocated for a quick return to civilian rule?

Clearly, a safe and sound exit strategy has to be offered to General Musharraf, one that he may consider without losing sleep over the matter. Equally, the proposal must be aimed at full-fledged and representative civilian rule in the long rather than short term.

The first set of pre-conditions would entail the short-term disqualification or banishment of certain political leaders from the restored parliaments (partly for the safety and security of the outgoing players and partly for the credibility and efficiency of the incoming government), indemnification of the military coup and some of its ordinances by parliament and a significant, though not overarching or permanent, seat for the military in the formal hierarchy of power in the political system. On the other side, the new team must have sufficient leverage to vet and approve a revised plan for district government which meets with the approval of provincial parliaments as well as the power to review and revamp the whole gamut of foreign policy and political economy. Is this a tall order?

Perhaps. But we don’t have many choices. Neither self-righteous anger, nor bankrupt ideological sputterings, nor indeed idealistic rigidity or purity, will get us out of this grand mess. The need of the hour is for clean compromise, not cock-eyed opportunism, for a historical rapprochement with the hard reality of the post cold war imperative rather than a reckless spurning of it. Left to their own devices, neither the politicians nor the supergenerals can about-turn in the cul-de-sac of modern-day Pakistan. Together, however, they may just be able to shoulder and share the burden.

A couple of things remain. We have heard the frequent denouncement that “Pakistan has come to exist for the army rather than the other way around”. Rubbish. We must all acknowledge our role in the denouement of the state-nation and expect to share in the progress of the nation-state. We have also been regaled with the counter-view that if it wasn’t for the army, the fissiparous tendencies in Pakistan’s body-politic would tear it apart. Nonsense. The record shows that such cracks have developed or become deeper when the military has flexed its political muscle rather than when the civilians were bumbling along. A case in point is the recent desperate outpourings of Mr Altaf Hussain et al.

General Musharraf is a good commander of disciplined troops. But he is not cut out to be a good commander of anarchist civilians. The general is trained to win military battles. But the conduct of diplomacy by other than military means is not his cuppa tea. Confronted by a precarious political economy in which the efforts of his khaki comrades have drawn naught, he could do worse than surround himself with the raucous representatives of the people of Pakistan.

(TFT Oct 06-12, 2000 Vol-XII No.32 — Editorial)

Half-full or half-empty?

General Pervez Musharraf admits that the country is faced with “an ocean of problems”. Some we have apparently inherited from incompetent and corrupt administrations. Others may have more to do with perception than reality. But the blame for the pervasive mood of doom and gloom, he believes, should be laid at the door of “negativist”, “motivated”, “unscrupulous”, “corrupt” and “unpatriotic” journalists. Nonetheless, the good general is sanguine that his regime is bang on target and that all will turn out for the best, especially as regards the economy which is about to rise, Phoenix-like, from the ashes.

We will not quibble over shades of gray, lest we are accused of calling a “half-full” glass of water “half-empty”. So we are delighted to confirm that the revenue figures for the first three months of the current fiscal year (July-September) are not alarmingly off target. [Never mind that the target has been “revised” downward and never mind that in the nine months ending June 2000 both revenue and fiscal deficit figures were notoriously negative.] We are also over the moon with an export leap of over 15% in the last three months. [Never mind that Allah Mian chipped in with the best cotton harvest of the decade which propelled the textile sector to excel itself at the expense of the farmer, and never mind that the exchange rate has depreciated significantly, thereby making the export sector more profitable rather than more competitive, and never mind that some exporters have already exhausted their share of the six month quota in the first three months, which means that export performance may turn out to be a bit lacklustre in the next three months.]

There is more good news. The bumper wheat crop, Allah be praised, has relieved some pressure from our balance of trade. [Never mind that the soaring price of oil has negated that gain.] The rice crop, too, looks good enough for several hundred million dollars in desperately needed foreign exchange. [Never mind that we are stuck with about 800,000 tonnes from last year’s crop which the government didn’t export when the selling was right and which will now adversely impact the government’s ability to pick up and store the early Sindh crop, thereby alienating the Sindhi farmer.] Sugar is unfortunately in the dumps but that has apparently less to do with government policy than with the farmers’ switchover to other cash crops last year. [Never mind that a restrictive import policy has raised domestic sugar prices to more than three times international levels and enabled some sitting ministers to rake in windfall profits from their sugar mills, and never mind that in the absence of an appropriate industrial policy which raps the sugar industry, the people of Pakistan continue to fork over about Rs 50 billion in subsidies every year to 70 excessively privileged sugar mill owners in the country.]

The good news continues. The government is anticipating a grand sale of a few billion dollars worth of family silver. [Never mind that in dollar terms the assets are worth less today than last year, partly because of the 20% depreciation of the rupee since then and partly because foreign buyers are wont to balk at investing in a country whose negative rating is precariously close to that of failed states like Burma and Russia.] We must also thank our lucky stars that the government has finally arm-twisted Hubco and AES into biting the bullet and reducing their power rates, thereby saving the country tens of millions of dollars every year. [Never mind that the long drawn out dispute may have cost us hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign investment flows every year due to a loss of confidence in our ability or willingness to honour international contracts.]

The best news, however, comes once again from our honourable finance ministry. The IMF and World Bank, we are told, are dying to give us billions of dollars in hard cash. They are also desperate to reschedule our multi-billion dollar short-term debt. [Never mind that the Fund has publicly upbraided the harbinger of such news, and never mind that Fund officials tell us privately that Pakistan would be lucky to receive a very small disbursement before March next year, let alone the billions this year touted by our never-say-die technocrats.] Fortune also seems to be smiling on us at last –the proposed oil and gas pipeline between Iran and India is in the bag and should yield us over $ 700 million in royalties. [Never mind that the concerned minister has forgotten to clarify that this sum refers to the proposed life of the pipeline and works out to a maximum of $50 million a year, and never mind that unless Washington kisses and makes up with both Iran and Pakistan, no western financial institution will touch the project with a barge pole, and never mind that the project may take at least five years to complete after Washington has given approval.]

He who knows that he knows not is a wise man. If General Musharraf were to pull up his informants, he might edge closer to the truth. And we would not have to suffer fools gladly for his sake.

(TFT Oct 13-19, 2000 Vol-XII No.33 — Editorial)

Crown of thorns

 

Listening to General Pervez Musharraf in all his certainties, as we did at a recent press conference, one might say that if power flows from the barrel of a gun, better him than anyone else. Articulate and relaxed, he comes across a man who sincerely wants to do good by the nation. But even if he is the best face of this military regime, is he the man of the hour for the country?

General Musharraf seems inclined to marginalist empiricism in matters of strategic significance for state and society as opposed to the requirements of a sweeping historical approach. This means that he likes to count his blessings in the here and now. So we learn that the “downslide in the economy has been halted” because most economic indicators are “more positive than last year”. We are also informed that accountability is proceeding apace (167 court cases, 48 convictions), that Rs 25 billion has been recovered from bank loan defaulters and Rs 11 billion from tax evaders, and so on. All quite true and laudable “achievements”. But what is their impact and objectivity in the future?

Pakistan is beset with three fundamental strategic issues. First, neither Westminster democracy nor military rule seems to work for us. In the short-term this may be the fault of the democrats who have a tendency of slipping into dictatorship. But in the longer-term context, democracy seems to have been continuously interrupted or derailed by the shenanigans of the military so that it has not had a decent chance to rectify its shortcomings as a viable political system not merely in itself but also for itself.

Second, the economy is beset with two original sins and their negative blowback effects. The first original sin is the continuing gap between government revenues and expenditures, which entails blowback borrowings from the Pakistani public to fund the fiscal deficit instead of contributing to private investment. The second original sin is the gap in the balance of trade resulting from an excess of imports over exports, which entails blowback debt from the international community and makes us increasingly dependent.

Third, our foreign policy remains anchored in the negative matrix of India alone rather than reflecting the positive global outreach of the fifth most populous country in the world. The blowback effect of this is leading to a rapid degeneration of state and civil society. Has General Musharraf done anything to lead us out of these strategic traps?

Take the first issue. General Musharraf admits he was “pushed” by the democrats into derailing the democracy he had sworn to defend. In the event he should have found a way of restoring democracy as quickly as possible without tinkering with its essential federal structure. But he has done the opposite. Now he seeks to restructure the political system from top to bottom not just without the permission of the two main political parties of the country but at their expense. This will never work. Consensual structures, however clumsy or inefficient, tend to last, dictatorially propped-up ones, however neat or solid, are short-lived. The historical tide is pro-democracy and anti-dictatorship. Sooner or later, it will engulf this sort of handiwork. Not good.

Take the second issue. The military has flexed its muscle and government revenues should show a significant rise. Good. But on the other side of the equation, there is an unprecedented increase of 22.4% in defence expenditures —revised defence expenditures last year were Rs 134 billion after General Musharraf kindly transferred Rs 7 billion out of the military’s pocket to the Poverty Alleviation Fund; this year they are Rs 164 billion (Rs 138 billion in the defence budget plus Rs 26 billion in pensions shifted out of the defence budget into government expenditures). It is also bad economics to pin hopes of plugging the historical trade gap by restricting industrial imports and increasing primary commodity exports. In fact, the recent spurt in textile exports is more fortuitous than planned, based as it is on the first good cotton harvest in years. Good economics would encourage unimpeded flow of most foreign goods to provide a competitive environment for domestic industry and consumer alike while enlarging the base of human resource value-addition exportable surpluses. This paradigm shift is nowhere in sight because the education system is starved of funds. Not good.

Take the third issue. An India-centric foreign policy has led us into the arms of destabilising regional jehads, an arms race we cannot afford, an international isolation which renders us incapable of finding the breathing space to restructure our debt-ridden economy and an erosion of civil society, human rights and democratic norms at the hands of sectarian and fundamentalist militias. Not good.

It would be good if General Musharraf were to steer a path that realigns Pakistan’s economy with the prosperous countries of the world, which leads to a peace dividend in the region, which builds civil society and democracy at home. To do that he would have to transcend himself as a hawkish chief of the Pakistan army and become the statesmanlike leader of the Pakistani nation. Will he heed the call of national history or succumb to the lure of parochial power? As long as he dithers, he will wear a crown of thorns.

(TFT Oct 20-26, 2000 Vol-XII No.34 — Editorial)

Mid-way house

 

It doesn’t much matter whether Javed Jabbar resigned or was sacked. What matters is why he had to go. In fact, it may be worth asking why eleven other provincial and federal bigwigs before him threw in the towel and called it a day barely a year in government.

Apart from the lone provincial minister for health from Balochistan, Khadim Changezi, who was arrested last May for being a loan defaulter, all the others clearly had a grouse or two either against some overbearing general or some unpalatable government policy or decision. Sindh Governor (retd) Azim Daudpota departed on May 24, claiming differences over Kalabagh Dam policy. Later, however, he homed in to the truth when he complained that the Karachi corps commander, Lt General Usmani, had reduced him to a puppet governor by running the show. A couple of other Sindh ministers were also sent packing when they aired views contrary to military wisdom.

The case of the NWFP governor, Mohammad Shafiq, who resigned on August 13, is equally, if not more, interesting for the light that it sheds on the sort of views that are unpalatable to the generals. Once again differences over the Kalabagh Dam were cited. But once again, the truth was otherwise: he was forced to acquiesce by the local corps commander to a ban on cable television demanded by the fundos of the province. Which bring to mind the case of Derek Cyprian, the federal minister for minorities. A Christian who could not stomach the separate electorate system and the blasphemy law conceded to the fundos, he preferred to resign on August 16 rather than live with the life-long guilt of having betrayed his cause.

This brings us full circle to the case of the two information ministers — Shafqat Mahmud and Javed Jabbar — who “resigned” their provincial and federal portfolios respectively within two weeks of each other. Both claim they left for “personal reasons”. Since both are hale and hearty, this is more likely another way of saying that they would rather not reveal the truth. Discretion clearly being the better part of valour, who can blame them? General Pervez Musharraf has already sounded off about the corruption, negativism and lack of patriotism in the press. The last thing we want is a harangue that the better among his cabinet ministers are incompetent and lack motivation, for that would demoralise us and erode whatever little confidence is left in the military regime. Are other resignations in the offing?

We wouldn’t be surprised at all. General Zulfikar Ali Khan, the powerful WAPDA man, is being generous when he confines his remarks to the dismal formulae of the Finance Minister, Mr Shaukat Aziz. And vice versa, we’re sure. Nothing personal in all this, of course, but perceptions of the national interest differ radically. Another general in charge of the OGDC visibly scowls when mention is made of the intentions of the Privatisation Minister to sell the company in question. Elsewhere, the corps commanders’ zealous monitoring teams have become a power unto themselves, berating high and low bureaucrat alike, with the result that the sulking civil servant is bogged down in fear and loathing. What is going on?

It is clear that when the generals seized power, they quickly determined that an outright martial law would pose more problems than render solutions, especially since the international community would reject it out of hand. Equally, they were sure that they did not want to share power with the civilians since much of their agenda required “sorting out the civilians” in the first place. So a facile solution was wrought. The generals would call the shots and a band of timid civilian puppets masquerading as experts would provide a fig-leaf for international respectability. Thus it transpired that the federal and provincial cabinets and the National Security Council were more or less stocked with civilian non-entities while power began to revolve around the army chief’s favoured few in GHQ and ISI, devolving to the NAB on the one hand and the corps commanders’ monitoring teams on the other. Thus were governors and ministers made redundant and resentful and thus was a sham civilian set-up revealed to be a grand disorder in the eyes of the cynical public.

In theory, this seemed a neat arrangement. In practise, however, it is already splitting at the seams. This mishap should not have mattered because it did not seriously impinge on the reality of power. But the perception of a government at odds with itself created by the mishap has come home to roost. How can hapless civilians be blamed for bleating, true to form?

The so-called dyarchy of power is an unmitigated disaster. Every civilian resignation or sacking ostensibly for “personal reasons” will unleash a host of suspicions about motive, cause and effect, each of which will anger the supergenerals and exacerbate the divide between them and their civilian partners. Either they must have the guts to go it alone and take full responsibility for their actions or they must restore civilians to power. Clever-by-half mid-way houses are inherently unstable and fated to crumble.

(TFT Oct 27-02 Nov, 2000 Vol-XII No.35 — Editorial)

Image or reality?

 

The cartoon above shows two twice-elected prime ministers who have been convicted for corruption. One is in prison, the other is in exile. Both face stiff penalties. The picture reflects on one particularly dismal dimension of our political condition today. But does it “tarnish the image of Pakistan”? Should there be laws to punish those who, like our cartoonist, reflect the reality of Pakistan in images such as the one above?

These questions have acquired relevance since General Pervez Musharraf ordered the interior minister to investigate the “anti-Pakistan utterances of certain politicians” and draft a law to punish them for “tarnishing the image of Pakistan”. But before Mr Moinuddin Haider churns out such a law, he might pause to consider its potential scope for mischief. He might also review the current image of Pakistan.

Pakistan is not a pristine Islamic utopia whose image has been tarnished by the brush of heretical or unpatriotic opinion. In fact, Pakistan’s image is that of a backward, immoderate, indebted, poor, illiterate and undemocratic country ruled by rapacious civil and military elites which have not respected the rule of law or constitution even as they have desperately vied with each other to rule and rob the exchequer. The image is of a country where religious fanatics run amuck and kill one another; where religious schools feverishly manufacture jehadis to stir up trouble; where blood-curdling tribal vendettas and honour killings jostle for “Islamic” legitimacy along with edicts banning “interest” and fatwas outlawing video films and pop music; where non-Muslim minorities are accorded second-rate citizenship. Pakistan’s image is that of a country where few people pay any taxes and fewer still pay back their bank loans; where women are economically exploited and socially oppressed. And so on.

Dispassionate Pakistanis will agree that this unflattering composite image of their country is not far removed from reality. Should we then shoot the messenger for conveying the truth? Should we string up all those who demand a change in this reality? Indeed, does it matter whether, in this age of the internet and information revolution, the demand for change is made or the reality is reflected in a conference or seminar in Lahore or London or Delhi or Washington?

Let us face facts. The dream bequeathed by independence has since become a sour reality for many Pakistanis. If blame has to be apportioned and punitive measures applied for the tarnished reality of Pakistan, the target should be those who have robbed the country, those who have mocked the constitution and derailed democracy, those who have fanned the fires of ethnicity, obscurantism and sectarianism at home or waged war abroad, rather than those who agonise over the plight of their beloved country. The historic irony is that those who have blackened the name of Pakistan have often been the ones to advocate and promulgate laws to punish those who have dared to reveal the faces behind the masks.

One last question remains. Some people argue that while it is desirable to speak the truth and freely analyse our shortcomings at home, we should not wash our “dirty linen” in “public”. By this, they mean that we should not elaborate our societal faults or systemic failures before foreign audiences or in foreign lands.

This is a perfectly understandable, well-meaning view. It is based on certain inbred notions of nationalism or national pride generally prevalent in newly born countries. But the fact is that such views also reflect a country’s failure to channel diverse socio-political currents into the river of modern, democratic, nationhood and are therefore manifestations of a subconscious inferiority complex. That is why such notions have lost value in the West where the modern nation-state was born over 200 years ago and where efforts are now being made to transcend its narrow “sovereign” confines. Among the strengths of Western nation-states is the ability to publish and promote self-critical views in an institutionalised manner rather than frame laws to outlaw “subversive” ideas and thoughts.

Such views also smack of misplaced concreteness in today’s context. If it is alright to write a book or an article critical of certain “national” traits and shortcomings, and have it published and read abroad, why should the same ideas presented at a conference or seminar abroad provoke angry denunciations at home?

General Pervez Musharraf’s concerns about improving Pakistan’s image are justified. But he should know that in this day and age one cannot manufacture a country’s image at variance with its reality. So he must focus his efforts on changing the offending reality. He should also realise that there is no shortage of laws to deal with secessionists, criminals, flag-burners, spies and agents-provocateur. Therefore he must not fashion any new laws which lend themselves to human-rights abuse, curtail the freedom of the press or restrict fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and expression. If he does, he will be guilty of tarnishing Pakistan’s already frayed image.

(TFT Nov 03-09, 2000 Vol-XII No.36 — Editorial)

A stitch in time…?

 

Just when people had begun to think that Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan should call it a day and hang up his hookah, he has gone and surprised them again. The recent one-point “understanding” between the veteran Nawabzada and the debutante Kulsoom Nawaz to seek an end to the regime of General Pervez Musharraf is a case in point. It supercedes Nawabzada Nasrullah’s earlier one-point agenda — to throw out the civilian government of Nawaz Sharif — which formed the basis of the Grand Democratic Alliance with Benazir Bhutto et al not so long ago. Since that particular alliance became redundant on October 12 last year, the Nawabzada must have thought it time to stitch together a fresh agreement, this time between the two old protagonists Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto against the new incumbent in Islamabad.

Of course, the Nawabzada has had his share of gadflys like Tahirul Qadri and wannabes like Imran Khan. But he has weathered their comings and goings like a willow that bends gracefully rather than an oak which stands its ground stubbornly. Meanwhile, his relationship with Benazir Bhutto has endured and flourished. After all, they go back a long way and have much in common. He has voluntarily spent most of his political life languishing in opposition. She has spent most of her political life involuntarily being kicked out of government. He has wisely refrained from disputing her diminishing popularity. She has cleverly deferred to his conspiratorial wisdom. They make quite a pair. The problem is how to make it a formidable threesome along with Nawaz Sharif.

In the meanwhile, Mr Sharif has been discovering some home truths. How fair-weather foreigners have been quick to reassert national interests over personal friendships. How a heavy mandate has become a weighty noose. How a hand-picked lieutenant has donned the mask of a dreaded executioner. How certain stalwarts who once paved the way for his ascent to power are today seeking his permanent ouster from the party he led. How the very press he once sought to beat and gag is now his only hope of breaking the silence of the lambs. Is it any wonder then that Mr Sharif should be inclined to believe that his salvation lies in embracing his former enemies and fighting his former friends? So if he has nudged his wife in the direction of Nicholson Road (the Nawabzada’s residence in Lahore) and Mr Zafar Ali Shah in the direction of Dubai, there is no great mystery behind his motives. Indeed, it may be argued that he had no choice. But what about Ms Bhutto? What’s in it for her?

The rank and file of the PPP hates the idea of making common cause with the Muslim League. But it will probably go along with Ms Bhutto if she insists. To what purpose, though? Certainly not a mere restoration of the PML parliament? Even without Mr Sharif, this route is not likely to be acceptable to Ms Bhutto because it might cement an alliance between the anti-Sharif Muslim League faction and the army and thereby put paid to her efforts to rehabilitate herself and her party for years to come. Equally, an early election will serve only to marginalise her if it is held on the army’s terms and conditions because it is likely to bring another Junejo to the political surface and enable the army to constitutionalise not only its own source of political power but also the lack of it for her.

An alliance between Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto brokered by the indomitable Nawabzada Nasrullah can only prove meaningful if one major condition is fulfilled. The alliance will hold water if Mr Sharif’s starched but supine supporters are prepared to join arms with Ms Bhutto’s ragtag but energetic workers and heave the army out of power. If they can’t, the alliance will not survive all the clever manoeuverings in the world. But if no great hopes can be pinned on it, is there any harm in it?

No there isn’t. If the nominees of Ms Bhutto and Mr Sharif can sit together and let bygones be bygones, if they can compare notes and ascertain the mistakes they made, if they can together appreciate their own role, singly and jointly, in their current travails and in those of this country, if they can see the futility of wanting to hog power in a democracy or understand the necessity of sharing responsibility in it, it would be worth it as an apt lesson for the future.

The army has seized power before. But it has had to go back to barracks. The reasons for seizing power have remained much the same. So too the justifications for hanging on to it and the compulsions for letting go. Why should it be different now? Indeed, there is one very good reason to believe that it will be sooner rather than later this time round. Like Indonesia’s generals and Korea’s communists, our generals too understand the truth that no nation can afford to be an island in this day and age. If Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto can also understand the enormity of their falsehoods through the good services of the Nawabzada, we shall all be richer for it when civilian rule is restored at the end of the day.

(TFT Nov 10-16, 2000 Vol-XII No.37 — Editorial)

Fate foretold

Moeen Qureshi’s recent visit to Pakistan has provoked a rash of rumours. Was he offered the job of interim prime minister? Is General Pervez Musharraf seriously thinking of handing power back to the civilians in October 2001 rather than in October 2002?

Since 1993, Mr Qureshi has routinely visited Pakistan every winter, spending a week or so interacting with friends and former colleagues in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. Invariably, too, he has publicly drawn attention to the overarching problems of the time and delicately advised the government of the day on how to tackle them. At no stage during this time has there been a hint of any political ambition on his part or any scope of a role for him in government. So why should it have been different this time round?

We are not privy to the meeting between Mr Qureshi and General Musharraf. But Mr Qureshi was either offered the job of interim prime minister or he wasn’t. If he wasn’t, there is nothing more to be said about it. But if he was, several critical questions arise. First, what conceivable factors might have compelled General Musharraf to consider appointing a civilian prime minister in the two year run-up to the general elections? Second, given such a need, why should he chose Mr Qureshi rather than anyone else? Third, given Mr Qureshi’s own views, what sort of pre-conditions might he insist upon before accepting the offer vis a vis power-sharing and decision-making with the military?

When General Musharraf ousted Nawaz Sharif last year, he had three broad policy options before him. First, to impose martial law, summarily convict and disqualify a couple of dozen politicians and bureaucrats from holding office, etc., including Mr Sharif and Ms Bhutto, hold party-based general elections within 90 days, arm-twist the new parliament into amending the constitution and accommodate him as the next President of Pakistan and Chairman of a military-dominated National Security Council empowered to sack prime ministers, cabinets and parliaments, singly or jointly as the case might warrant. Second, to follow the route that General Abdul Waheed took in 1993 by appointing Mr Qureshi interim prime minister (this time for three years instead of three months) and giving him a free hand to put things right – accountability, economic revival and foreign policy. This route could have also terminated at the same exit point as the first in terms of the newly crafted political system to be bequeathed to the civilians. Third, to establish a mid-way house in which the army would call all the shots under a civilian façade stretching over three years and ending at the same point as the first two.

In the event, the third route was taken. Unfortunately, however, it has led to the widespread perception at home and abroad that the army has failed to deliver. This continuing debacle might have convinced some generals to advocate a retreat to the second route as soon as possible in order to stop the army’s slide into general disrepute and the country’s descent into international isolation. Indeed, it is entirely possible that such generals might also wisely wish to shorten the end point of their regime’s journey from three to two years.

If Mr Qureshi has been asked to bail out the army from a difficult situation, clearly the offer would be in consideration of his perceived strengths as much as the regime’s known failings. So it must be Mr Qureshi’s seeming acceptability or proximity to two previous army chiefs, his reputation as a top-notch economist, his pragmatic political wisdom and experience and his many important contacts in the West — all highly desirable virtues in the current context of economic dependence and political isolation – that would have made him the punters’ hot favourite in recent weeks. Should he accept the job if it is offered to him?

Yes, if he is truly given a free hand to create the necessary political conditions for a sufficient economic programme of revival and growth based on a substantial debt restructuring and write-off, along with a reduction in the growth of military expenditures. This would entail negotiating fruitful entry into the CTBT, pulling out of a crippling arms race with India, establishing a relationship of “friends not masters or foes” with the West, braving the forces of fundamentalism, extremism and obscurantism which have so damaged Pakistan, and making peace in the region by calibrating support for the Taliban and the Mujahidin in conformity with the correct balance of Pakistan’s strengths and weaknesses. No, if General Musharraf and his blue-eyed Kargil boys expect Mr Qureshi to turn the economy round while they retain control over a foreign policy that has wrecked the prospects of sustainable economic development. The worst thing that could happen would be for Mr Qureshi to take over and be consigned to another clever-by-half mid-way house engineered by the military in which his civilian team is fated to meet the same ignoble end as past and present civilians in this military regime. Indeed, Moeen Qureshi’s absence from the domestic scene could turn out to be the fate of a story foretold.

(TFT Nov 17-23, 2000 Vol-XII No.38 — Editorial)

Subverting Musharraf’s efforts

 

The federal minister for religious affairs, Mr Mahmud Ali, is given to provocative statements on sensitive issues. We have refrained from commenting in the hope that better sense might prevail in the larger national interest. But that hasn’t happened. In fact, Mr Ali recently said something that subverts General Pervez Musharraf’s heroic efforts to persuade foreign investors to rescue Pakistan’s ailing economy.

  “Pakistan owes a debt of US$ 31 billion in foreign loans on which it has so far paid US$ 32 billion as interest, meaning thereby that it has cleared the capital borrowed and also paid one billion in excess…the country should therefore refuse to pay back the interest and demand that one billion dollars should be returned to it”, said Mr Ali. He pointed out that “interest was prohibited in Islam” but “an interest-based economy had been imposed on Pakistanis”. Mr Ali then exhorted the military government to take “a daring decision by refusing to pay any interest to foreign donors”.

  Well, well, well. We wonder what finance minister Shaukat Aziz has to say on the same subject. Indeed, how is he going to “clarify” Mr Ali’s pearls of wisdom to the directors of the IMF, the World Bank and the Paris and London Clubs to whom Pakistan owes billions of dollars? How might various groups of foreign investors, who are being toasted by no less a personage than the Chief Executive of Pakistan, react when they hear about the proposed fate of their money in Pakistan?

  We are reminded of a similar situation in 1991-92 when Mr Sartaj Aziz was finance minister of Pakistan. Following a judgment by the Federal Shariat Court outlawing interest and ordering the government of Nawaz Sharif to comply with its decision within six months, Mr Aziz was distinctly uncomfortable when he had to explain the meaning and implication of the judgment to frowning members of the Aid to Pakistan Consortium in Paris who had assembled to deliberate a US$ 3 billion aid package (on interest) to Pakistan even as he sought to assure them that his government would challenge the judgment and safeguard their financial stakes in Pakistan.

  If Mr Aziz was as good as his word, it was only to a limited extent. The Sharif government, which had only some months earlier amended the constitution to pass the Hadood laws and make “shariah” the supreme law of the land, opposed the FSC judgment in the Appellate Islamic Bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. But interestingly enough, the government obtained an indefinite freeze on the proceedings rather than a decision against the judgment. When Benazir Bhutto ascended the throne in 1993, she decided not to touch the matter and there were no protests from the FSC or the SC. Then Nawaz Sharif returned with a vengeance in 1997 and set about becoming an Amir ul Momineen. Among the more meaningful appointments of the time was that of a confirmed fundamentalist, Justice Khalil ur Rehman, as head of the Supreme Court’s Appellate Bench dealing with the issue of interest or riba. Mr Sharif also ordered the government to withdraw its earlier opposition to the FSC judgment. The route was now clear for Justice Rehman to deliver his earth-shattering judgment confirming the earlier FSC decision to outlaw interest because it was “riba”. Is it any wonder then that Mr Mahmud Ali should think himself on firm ground when he exhorts his boss, General Pervez Musharraf, to tell all foreign donors to go fly a kite because Pakistan has no intention of repaying an outstanding debt of US$ 32 billion?

  The irony of the situation should not be missed. Last year, when Nawaz Sharif was prime minister, the notorious Senator Saif ur Rehman asked the Lahore High Court to waive the accumulated interest on his Rs 930 crore defaulted loan to United Bank Ltd. The senator’s lawyers relied on the argument that “interest was un-Islamic”. Subsequently, Mian Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif and Abbas Sharif jointly approached a Sessions Court in Lahore to grant them a “stay” order against a judgment of the London High Court ordering them to pay US$ 32 million in principal and interest on a loan they had taken from a Middle-East bank. Their argument was much the same as the senator’s: interest had been declared un-Islamic in Pakistan and they were not obliged to pay it.

  When the Pakistani court granted them their wish, we editorialised on the hypocrisy of the ruling party thus: “If every Pakistani businessman or financial institution in this country with international obligations were to resort to the same irresponsible tactics, no foreigner would ever lend a sou to Pakistan. In fact the whole basis of the international law of contract would be knocked out, with Pakistan’s sovereign credit ratings suffering unmitigated and irrevocable damage… Have the Sharifs and Senator Saif gone mad? How can they blithely jeopardise the national interest by setting such ruinous legal and financial precedents in the country?” Need we repeat ourselves vis a vis the honourable minister for religious affairs in the venerable government of General Pervez Musharraf?

(TFT Nov 24-30, 2000 Vol-XII No.39 — Editorial)

Illusion of peace, reality of war

India recently allowed some Kashmiri leaders, including Mirwaiz Omer Farooq, to attend the OIC moot in Doha. Then India granted a passport to Mr Abdul Gani Lone, a leader of the APHC in Kashmir, enabling him to travel to Islamabad for his son’s marriage to the daughter of Amanullah Khan, leader of the JKLF based in Pakistan. However, just as people were beginning to wonder whether a “thaw” was in the offing in Kashmir, India acted true to form. It refused to allow several other Kashmiri leaders to accompany Mr Lone to Pakistan. India also forbade its cricket team from playing in Pakistan next month. In this twisting illusion of peace and the reality of war, India has now offered a ceasefire in Kashmir during the month of Ramazan.

On the face of it, of course, any ceasefire is better than no ceasefire at all. In fact, if it can be upheld, we may create some political space for determined back-channel diplomacy on all sides. But there lies the rub. In order to be effectively upheld, the ceasefire must be endorsed by both the other players in the game, namely, the organisations which represent all the Kashmiri freedom fighters and the government of Pakistan. Is such a ringing endorsement on the cards?

This ceasefire could be fated to wither on the vine like the earlier ceasefire offered by the Hizbul Mujahidin last July because everything hinges on the motives of the two key but intransigent players, India and Pakistan. Whatever India may say or Washington may think, the fact is that the Hizbul Mujahidin’s ceasefire was not offered without the tacit approval of the very top echelons of Pakistan’s national security establishment, even if it tactically caught many of its civil and military components by surprise, as in the Kargil operation last year. If New Delhi had understood this fact, it would have realised that attempts to go it alone with the HM were bound to prove futile and a more constructive approach lay in involving Islamabad rather than isolating it in the run-up to the proposed dialogue. But India’s initial insistence on a dialogue within the ambit of the Indian constitution, followed by its dogged refusal to include Pakistan into the peace dialogue at any level or via any public or secret means, effectively derailed the July ceasefire. Why should it be any different this time round?

The evidence suggests that India has been very selective and biased in its “confidence-building” measures. All are specifically designed to endear New Delhi to the APHC and the HM whilst angering Pakistan by further reducing contacts with it. This means that far from hoping to include Islamabad in the dialogue at some stage in the future the Indians are trying to exclude it for all times to come. Therefore Western praise for the Indian offer of a ceasefire followed by pressure on the APHC and HM to react “positively” to the Indian move is as premature as was its earlier belief that the HM ceasefire was contrived without a Pakistani nod and could be exploited without Pakistani approval.

On Pakistan’s side, however, there seems to have been a genuine scaling down of the aggressive posture taken by General Pervez Musharraf last year. The general means it when he says he is ready to meet the Indian prime minister any time and anywhere without preconditions. The general has also indicated to Mirwaiz Omer Farooq that Islamabad is not necessarily stuck on publicly frozen positions. Indeed, in a significant statement, a spokesman of the Foreign Office has said that the Kashmir issue should be tackled within the framework of the UN resolutions and the Simla Agreement — which suggests considerable leeway to all parties in moving towards an enduring resolution away from the status quo.

The problem for the leaders of India and Pakistan is their unwillingness or inability to determine a concrete way forward in the historical context of so many false starts, missed opportunities and downright mutual deceptions and betrayals. Thus India is constrained to isolate Pakistan while simultaneously wooing and wrestling the Kashmiri mujahidin. Pakistan, in turn, is unable to explore any other option and is therefore pushed to extend military support for the insurgency in Kashmir. As a sense of frustration deepens all round, this route is bound to provoke dangerous blowback.

If the leaders of the HM and APHC decide to open negotiations with New Delhi without Islamabad’s approval as some Western powers are urging them to do, we may expect a violent split in the HM followed by an upsurge in intra-Kashmiri warfare, much as happened in Afghanistan. Pakistan will then choose its favourites, arm them to the teeth and unleash them against India. That will surely lead to war. If they don’t, India’s ceasefire will burn out in the next few days and the two countries will continue to slide into hostilities. Therefore India must be willing to negotiate the future of Kashmir with Pakistan rather than with the Kashmiris only. That was possible before 1989. It isn’t anymore. Failure to recognise this truth will lead to a fourth round of war.

(TFT Dec 01-07, 2000 Vol-XII No.40 — Editorial)

An ill omen

 

The split in the PML between the “Sharif-loyalists” and the “Musharraf-hopefuls” is a belated development. It would have come earlier if General Pervez Musharraf had willed it sooner. But in the spirit of a born-again, idealistic reformer, General Musharraf originally didn’t want any “discredited” politician clutching at his coattails. Indeed, the instructions handed down to General Mohammad Amjad, the uncompromising first chief of the National Accountability Bureau, were that all crooked politicians, irrespective of party or faction affiliation, should be targeted and nabbed.

But real-politik (“wiser council”, if you will) began to prevail among the supergenerals in GHQ six months ago when it dawned on them that not everything was going according to plan. The trial of Nawaz Sharif in the plane hijacking case, in particular, seemed to drag on, making the fellow a bit of a martyr in the process. But other factors — international pressure for a definite road to democracy, rising business hostility and diminishing public sympathy — also weighed in, necessitating a political review of short-term tactics and long-term strategy in GHQ.

Accordingly, contingency political plans were developed. General Amjad was told to call off his hounds tracking the financial shenanigans of the Chaudhrys of Gujrat and ignore question marks surrounding the enormous wealth of Ijaz ul Haq and Hamayun Akhtar Abdul Rehman, etc. Then General Musharraf formally invited a number of carefully selected “politicians” to have a “cuppa” tea with him. Later, the DG-ISI, CGS and DG-MI secretly opened lines of “communication” with others of such political ilk. In effect, secret track-2 politiking was initiated to compensate for the lack of public Track-1 compromise.

If the stage was set by the government for a split in the PML six months ago, its November timing was determined by two inter-related factors. First, the government’s announcement that the process of “democratic restoration” would kick off with “non-party” local elections to district governments at the turn of the year. This necessitated an advance understanding with the anti-Sharif rebels so that no untoward gains could be made by the Sharifs in these elections. Second, Nawaz Sharif’s fear of being isolated and sidelined at the behest of the military in the political process ahead. This demanded an alliance with the anti-army Peoples Party of Benazir Bhutto before the Sharifs were knocked out for good and lost their value to Ms Bhutto.

The argument that the rebels decided to split simply because Mr Sharif decided to join hands with arch-enemy Bhutto doesn’t wash. Some of the leading rebels dislike Mr Sharif’s rough and ready ways more than they dislike the idea of an alliance with the PPP. More significantly, it needs to be asked why Mr Sharif waited so long to join forces with Ms Bhutto rather than doing so at the very outset of his travails. The answer is obvious: he didn’t until it was clear to him that the military regime had finally and irrevocably decided to split his party in order to consign him to the rubbish bin. Thus his alliance with the PPP is in response to the machinations of the government rather than being a trigger for the split within his party’s ranks. Of course, as far as Ms Bhutto is concerned, joining hands with Mr Sharif makes eminent sense. In the best of future circumstances from her point of view, she can conceivably cut a deal with the army chief in exchange for ditching Mr Sharif (as she did in 1993); in the worst case, she and Mr Sharif have a better chance of jointly mustering forces to oust the army and reclaiming space in party-politics than risking their fate singly.

Meanwhile, the jury is likely to be out for some time as far as the PML rebels are concerned. They are a dull lot, driven more by personal ambition than any steely principles. The Chaudhrys of Gujrat have a constituency in parts of the Punjab. But they are hardly the sort of “clean” politicians General Musharraf would like to bed on a permanent basis. Ijaz ul Haq is a nobody as far as the public is concerned. The notion that he has an important constituency in the army is more cultivated than real. Both are pure opportunists. The non-controversial elements — Fakhar Imam and Khurshid Kasuri — have yet to distinguish themselves as populist leaders in their own right. Mian Azhar is somewhere in between. Unfortunately, his political stature has still to transcend the local level.

Left to themselves singly or as a group, these rebels will not amount to anything unless any one of them is selected by GHQ and patronised as the chosen one in rather clinical circumstances. That is why their preference is for parliament to be restored so that they can find a suitable role for themselves. The last thing they seek is to be hustled into a general election without the cover of the army.

The hope of radical reform has already evaporated. Now the trappings of political neutrality in government are disappearing one by one. General Musharraf’s regime is slipping into cynicism. This does not bode well for the future of “sham-less” democracy in Pakistan.

(TFT Dec 08-14, 2000 Vol-XII No.41 — Editorial)

How about it, Shaukat Aziz?

 

The IMF is back in business in Pakistan. After an eighteen month hiatus involving many heartaches, it has finally agreed to “stand-by” with US$ 596 million in assistance to Pakistan as the country grapples to overcome a multi-faceted illness over the next ten months. This is peanuts, considering that finance minister Shaukat Aziz was originally confident of extracting a medium-term commitment of at least US$2.5 billion towards poverty reduction and growth. Indeed, we wonder whether it is already a case of too little, too late.

Of course, it is nice to know that Mr Aziz sets his feet on firmer ground when he admits that the IMF reprieve is no more than a “breather” which is supposed to pave the way for a new round of short-term debt rescheduling from international donors and enable international finance institutions like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank to pitch in with sorely needed project aid. But it is small comfort to learn that all this is predicated on so many dos and don’ts over the next ten months, with the IMF breathing down our neck like a hawk, that it would be a small miracle if we were able to avoid boomeranging to Square One.

The sting in the IMF’s tail is bound to hurt badly. The standby agreement is proof of that, all 14,000 words or so initialed by Mr Aziz, Mr Ishrat Hussain (State Bank Governor) and Mr Horst Kvhler (IMF-MD). Every day brings a new reading of this daunting document that reveals yet another unprecedented and gut-wrenching experience in store for some section of the population or the other. Here is a short-short list of the more important objectives: implementation of quarterly petroleum price adjustment mechanism for all major petroleum products; ban on new GST exemptions and fixed tax schemes under GST; GST extension to all other agricultural inputs; extension of income tax to all new National Savings Schemes on the same basis as the income tax currently applicable to other financial instruments; extension of GST to all retailers/traders above the Rs 5 million threshold; etc.

All these inflationary measures are bound to provoke an urban and rural backlash. Yet all are to be calmly heaped in the next ten months on the plate of a regime which has not been able to levy a GST on retail trade for over a year, which has not yet privatized a single major project, which has shied away from downsizing a single bloated department, which has increased non-productive expenditures instead of reducing them, one which distinctly shudders at the idea of imposing an extra 5 paisa per kilowatt burden on electricity consumers during Ramadan. Are we then headed for another drubbing from the IMF once the “breather” is called off after we are accused of reneging on our commitments as in the past?

Mr Aziz has no business stumbling from pillar to post in search of economic “breathers” to keep his supergenerals happy. Far from it. He should realise that conditional “breathers” will not right the economic wrongs of half a century. He should also know that radical economic reforms cannot be undertaken or sustained without a longer term amnesty from debt payments that enables a gradual fat-shedding of the economy and its transformation into a lean and mean competitive entity operating in a stable, transparent and democratic political environment. But for Pakistan to join the 50-odd nations queuing up for debt write-offs from the US$50 billion fund established for this purpose by Western countries, certain conditionalities other than those outlined by the IMF in the LoI are required. Why doesn’t he tell the supergenerals what these are and how they might consider going about fulfilling them for the sake of Pakistan? And if they are not prepared to listen to his comprehensive recipes for survival and growth, he should call it a day so that he is able to avoid the dishonourable fate which has befallen his predecessors in the ministry of finance.

To nudge Mr Aziz in the right direction, here is a short list of pre-conditions which the IMF didn’t spell out but which remain implicit in the whole debate about how Pakistan’s supergenerals might escape from the nutcracker of debt and underdevelopment: negotiate a profitable and secure entry into the CTBT, negotiate an honourable and enduring settlement with India over Kashmir; negotiate an orderly retreat to barracks by restoring the relevance of political parties, accepting the necessity of free elections and upholding the supremacy of parliament, and negotiate entry into the comity of educated, modern, liberal, rational nations interlocked in mutually profitable trade and commerce. In other words, what Pakistan needs is not a “breather” from debt-payments but an uninterrupted peace dividend based on a conclusive end to warring at home and abroad. Is this an impossible task?

It isn’t, if the gist of what we are suggesting is understood and sincere efforts are made to cobble a consensus on how to achieve it. But it is, if the supergenerals persist in holding out for “economic breathers” as they go about politically alienating foreign friends and condemning domestic allies. In the final analysis the choice is stark: we can go under as we swim against the tide or we can take off if we become great people to fly with. How about it Mr Aziz? You have nothing to lose except your chains.

(TFT Dec 15-21, 2000 Vol-XII No.42 — Editorial)

Blessing in disguise

 

The supergenerals have clinched the mother of all cynical deals with Nawaz Sharif. Having failed to knock him out politically, they have tried to wash their hands off him. But this highly discriminatory, good-riddance-to-bad rubbish policy will have repercussions long after its stench has evaporated.

The people of Pakistan see it as the mother of all betrayals. Betrayal of accountability. Betrayal of law and justice. Betrayal of national sovereignty. Betrayal of morality. It smacks of hypocrisy, opportunism, even criminality. The army’s stock was lower only in the aftermath of 1971. If the supergenerals don’t care a fig about public opinion, they should be wary at least of the rumblings in their own rank and file.

On the other side, we are reminded of Nawaz Sharif’s famous remark accompanied with the thump of a clenched fist ― “I won’t take dictation!” — which gave heart to many in 1993. But as he scurried to nocturnal safety in the arms of foreign potentates with not a thought for his suffering political colleagues or his bleeding party in his empty mind, we wonder whether Mr Sharif consoled himself with the self-serving rationale of one who, having deceived most of the people most of the time, expects to be able to deceive all the people all the time. Whatever fate may have in store for him, he has been revealed to all as the mouse that roared.

This unsavoury deal was in the making a long while. During General Pervez Musharraf’s first trip to Saudi Arabia only a week or so after he took over, the Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz bluntly interceded on Mr Sharif’s behalf, offering to pay Pakistan the money allegedly plundered by the Sharifs. Subsequently, the Saudis relentlessly pursued their objective through the good offices of Qatar’s foreign minister. When General Musharraf began to drag his feet, the Saudis jolted him by initially rejecting the nomination of a retired DG-ISI as ambassador-designate to Riyadh and then suggested to the finance minister Mr Shaukat Aziz that if General Musharraf wanted to benefit from Saudi largesse, the quid pro quo should be handed over to them. It appears that the Saudis have not forgotten how in 1991 during the Gulf war, while the then Pakistan army chief expressed pro-Saddam Hussain sentiment, Nawaz Sharif flew about the world mustering support for the House of Saud. Nor indeed when the world urged Mr Sharif not to test the nuclear bomb and offered inducements, he went ahead just as soon as he received a nod from the Saudi king. The fact is that the Sharifs’ love affair with the Saudis goes back a long way and Mr Sharif has never taken any major domestic or foreign policy decision without their say-so. In winning him a reprieve, the Saudis have paid for services rendered by Sharif at the expense of Pakistan.

The Americans, too, have welcomed Mr Sharif’s reprieve. And why shouldn’t they? They perceive him as one of the architects of the Lahore peace process with India and not as one of the perpetrators of the Kargil adventure. Indeed, there has always been a hint of self-reproach in their attitude towards his fate, with some people saying that he was emboldened to sack General Musharraf following a strong statement by a senior US state department official in late September 1999 to the effect that Washington would never condone a military coup in Pakistan. It has now been admitted that Washington has been in close communication with Riyadh over the matter of Mr Sharif’s release.

Our own reaction, once the bitter pill of betrayal has been swallowed, should be more circumspect. This “deal” may be a blessing in disguise. If it has eroded the myth of Nawaz Sharif’s invincibility, it has also shattered the military’s holier-than-thou political image in the eyes of the people. Indeed, the supergenerals have been revealed to be sinning mortals like the rest of us, with the “super” prefix wholly undeserved. Civil society should rejoice in this awakening. Perhaps the generals will now find a way of retreating to barracks where they belong.

Some people, however, fear that the opposite may be truer — that having got rid of the one political leader who was a spoke in their wheel, the generals mean to lord it over us for years to come. If that is their intent — for who can say whether we have seen the height of opportunism rather than its beginning — we would advise them to think again.

General Musharraf was a reluctant debutant to political power. Just as it was being whispered that he was the long awaited saviour, harsh reality shook him out of this reverie. He should be thankful for this windfall. And we should help him out of the political wilderness into which he has stumbled instead of criticising him for a desperately needed dose of realism. Nawaz Sharif’s departure should be a harbinger of renewed democratisation rather than increased militarisation. If the opposite comes true, General Musharraf will plunge headlong into trouble instead of exiting from it as required.

(TFT Dec 22-28, 2000 Vol-XII No.43 — Editorial)

Bad advice

 

General Pervez Musharraf’s “address to the nation” last Wednesday was full of sound and fury signifying nothing. At the very least, we hoped he would enlighten us about his compulsions in letting Nawaz Sharif off the hook. After all, hadn’t he assured us that he would pursue the crooks of Pakistan to the ends of the earth and bring the loot back? Didn’t he lecture the British and the Americans about allowing their countries to become havens of refuge for the plunderers of the third world? In the event, however, he desperately tried to make virtue out of necessity and failed.

Nawaz Sharif is supposed to have been exiled on the basis of “an appeal” signed by him and three others. But we still don’t know whether this appeal was a political mercy petition, a cast-iron legal plea-bargain or merely a request to translate imprisonment into exile? Most people are now likely to believe Mr Sharif when he says he did not beg a pardon or make any compromising promise. In fact, by naively admitting that the government does not have any evidence of Mr Sharif’s plundered billions stashed away abroad, General Musharraf has inadvertently painted his accountability sleuths as bumbling fools in comparison with Saif ur Rehman who did such a hatchet job on Benazir Bhutto not so long ago.

General Musharraf says that several countries are pleased with his decision to reprieve Mr Sharif. He claims that this has served to reduce the “negative” image of Pakistan abroad. In fact, he has gone so far as to assert that certain economic benefits are likely to accrue to Pakistan’s ailing economy in its wake. None of this can be disputed. But the logic of the argument is quite perverse. The whole world has been telling General Musharraf that he can curry favour if he reveals a road-map for the restoration of democracy. Yet there is no hint of that. Sign the CTBT and stop proliferating if you want to be molly-coddled, they have repeated ad nauseam. Nothing doing, responds the general. Stop chumming-up with the notorious Taliban and clip the budding fundamentalists and sectarianists in Pakistan if you want to improve the image of the country, they have pleaded, to no avail. Create an enabling environment of regional peace and confidence for foreign investors, they have begged, only to be countered with the assertion that “jihad” is a state-legitimized expression of territorial “national interests”.

General Musharraf’s blithe disregard for matters of principle or bipartisanship is also quite astounding. What is sauce for the goose is apparently not sauce for the gander. But if a deal with the Punjabi, Nawaz Sharif, is politically opportune and diplomatically “correct” in the “national interest”, one with the Sindhi, Benazir Bhutto, would appear to be even more deserved. Corruption apart, Mr Sharif is a political Frankenstein created and nurtured by the army while Ms Bhutto is the democrat who was twice nipped in the bud by the army and all its Frankensteins. Indeed, if there are dozens of stinking cases of misappropriation and misuse of power pending against Mr Sharif and his cohorts, the few against Ms Bhutto and her spouse smell like roses in comparison. Yet, there was not a single word of similar comfort from General Musharraf on this score.

General Musharraf’s contemptuous reference to “drawing-room” gossip is no less revealing. When political leaders thunder about the “chattering classes” and flog them as scapegoats for their own failures, it is a sure-shot sign that they are out of touch with the reality in the streets and bazaars of the country. Equally, when they begin to thump on the table or sing their own praise, it is a sign of nagging doubt and insecurity rather than renewed vigour and confidence. In fact, General Musharraf could not have chosen more ominous words to describe his own frame of mind: “I am not a deserter and I don’t panic. I will accomplish my mission. I will never let you down. I am not afraid of death. God alone is my protector and guider…” The un-typical, repeated references to God Almighty suggest a man in trouble rather than one in command.

General Musharraf has been badly served by his advisors. For a politically sensitive matter such as this one, they should have adequately prepared public opinion for the mother of all retreats. Now they have now compounded their original sin by allowing their leader to look like a rambling, anxious, and lost man. If conspiracy-theorists have now concluded that someone is setting up General Musharraf as the fall-guy of this regime, who would blame them in view of the hollow explanations and half-truths on sale?

Fortunately, however, the situation may still be retrieved. General Musharraf should stop overplaying his “sincerity” card. He should open the route to bipartisan, party-based elections, as early as possible. And he should prepare the people of Pakistan to accept the same international compulsions of “national interest” followed in the Nawaz Sharif case in most other pending cases also — whether pertaining to Benazir Bhutto or to the economy or to the image of the country. The sooner we all accept the truth of our national predicament, the better we will learn to cope with it.

(TFT Dec 29, 2000 to Jan 04, 2001 Vol-XII No.44 — Editorial)

Desperate deadlock

 

India’s “peace offensive” in Kashmir has solicited Pakistani reciprocity and stirred the imagination of concerned people. In many ways, the current media optimism is building up to that preceding the Lahore Summit in 1999. It is therefore worth asking whether the fate of this initiative might be no different from the one two years ago and what this might imply for Indo-Pak relations as well as domestic political change in Pakistan.

Both countries and the third party seem “flexible” enough. The Hizbul Mujahideen offered the first ceasefire last July. Islamabad did not oppose it. Then India responded by one of its own last month. The HM and APHC welcomed it. Islamabad reciprocated by “exercising maximum restraint along the LoC” — a euphemism for “reducing cross-border infiltration”, a long-time Indian demand. India extended the ceasefire for another month. It has now promised to facilitate a visit of Kashmiri politicians to Islamabad for discussions with Pakistan’s national security establishment. Islamabad has consequently gestured a reduction of troops along the LoC. India may follow suit. A meeting between General Pervez Musharraf and Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee in a month or so would set the stage for a thaw all round. What then?

Consider the burden of history — or more precisely, how many times since the Kashmiris rose up in revolt against India in 1989 the leaders of India and Pakistan have painstakingly arrived at exactly such a juncture, only to slip further back into hostilities after each encounterIn 1989, Benazir Bhutto and Rajiv Gandhi agreed in Islamabad not only to demilitarise Siachin but also to sign significant cultural and political protocols. Next year, however, the Indians went back on their word. Soon, the two countries were on the brink of war, compelling Robert Gates, a senior US intermediary, to rush over to cool things down.

It took four years, and a change of two governments apiece in both countries, before a new round of foreign secretary talks in Islamabad on Jan 1. But the moot was cut short because the two couldn’t even agree on which issues to take up in what manner. Subsequently, the various Islamic lashkars and jehadi organisations stepped up their assaults on Indian security forces and their civilian stooges.

Prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Inder Kumar Gujral met three years later in Male. This was followed by foreign secretary talks in Islamabad in September. A “historic breakthrough” was announced. India acknowledged that there was a “dispute” over Kashmir; Pakistan agreed to form working groups, including one on Kashmir, for simultaneous discussions on all issues (the all-or-nothing, “core” issue approach was diluted in exchange for an implicit recognition by the other side that Kashmir was not an “integral part of India”). However, Mr Gujral was faced with an election in 1998 and reneged on his agreement. The BJP came to power, India conducted nuclear tests, provoking Pakistan into tit-for-tat tests, upping the ante.

If India had at every stage betrayed an agreement with Pakistan to start talking about Kashmir, it was now time for Pakistan to try and extract a deal from India. The Kargil blueprints were dusted off the shelves in late 1998 and plans were initiated to take advantage of the winter snows, exactly as the Indians had done in the winter of 1984 when they scaled the heights of Siachin in no-man’s land. Unaware of what the Pakistani security establishment had in store, Mr Vajpayee had already kick-started the bus that brought him to Lahore in February 1999.

The “progress” in Lahore was unprecedented from India’s point of view. Pakistan ostensibly dropped the “core” issue approach. Kashmir became one of the “outstanding” disputes along with several others and the LoC became a sacred cow. It seemed as though we had come full circle to 1972 when the Simla Agreement was signed to bury Kashmir. But before the fruits of Lahore could be digested by New Delhi, the Pakistani national security establishment trumped the process in Kargil. Unfortunately, however, the Indians did not react as anticipated. Instead of exchanging Siachin for Kargil and strengthening the Lahore process of equitable disengagement, New Delhi hit back and imposed a full-fledged conflict on the border. As a dangerous military escalation threatened, Nawaz Sharif sued for mediation by Washington on Indian terms. This led to tensions between Mr Sharif and the principal military architects of Kargil led by General Musharraf. In the event, Mr Sharif’s attempted sacking of General Musharraf and two key Kargil players in Rawalpindi led to a coup against him, plunging Pakistan into its third military phase.

In short, every attempt by India to impose a one-sided settlement on Kashmir has been followed by increased Pakistan-abetted insurgency in the Valley, India-controlled terrorism in urban Pakistan, the threat of war or war itself. In addition, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif have, in turns, been tarred by the brush of being “pro-India” — the former lost office in 1990 partly because the national security establishment saw her as a “security risk” vis-a-vis India while the latter was booted out in 1999 because he chose to challenge the same national security establishment over how to deal with Kashmir and India. Meanwhile, shorn of its mainstream civilian supporters, the national security establishment has progressively nurtured an ally of increasing power and belligerence — the rabidly anti-India militant Islamic jehadi forces which are ready to do its bidding in the region.

The current situation is marked by extreme volatility in the ranks of two of the three key players — Pakistan and Kashmir. India, on the other hand, is happily placed. Having tried and failed on so many earlier occasions to negotiate a deal with Pakistan bilaterally which enables it to impose a deal on the Kashmiris, India has now chosen to try the opposite route: negotiate a deal with the Kashmiris and impose it on Pakistan with multilateral approval. Also, there is no internal threat to the BJP. Indeed, it has the support of the leading opposition parties in its “peace offensive”. The international community is on board. India’s economy is healthy. And its defense budgets are soaring.

Meanwhile, the Kashmiris are fatigued. Divisions are emerging within political ranks as well as between politicians and militants. The prospects of peace as opposed to war, coupled with some sort of internationally-guaranteed peace dividend short of full-fledged independence, is beginning to appeal to many. If this seems to be a “pro-India sentiment”, it could potentially translate into civil war or internecine conflict in Kashmir.

Pakistan’s position is more problematic. Its military government lacks domestic and international legitimacy. The mainstream opposition wants to overthrow it. The bazaar is set against it. The economy is in a shambles. Worse, in the absence of civil society support, the military government is held hostage by the very radical Islamic groups and jehadi forces that were nurtured by it to advance its aggressive “national security” causes. Much worse, some hawks in the national security establishment see the present stage of the Kashmir struggle as the apotheosis of their strategy rather than as its downside. Thus General Musharraf is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

If he doesn’t adopt a moderate stance vis-a-vis Kashmir and balks at supporting the indigenous peace process, the international community could isolate and cut him off. If he becomes too flexible, the hawks in his camp could try to derail the peace process by signaling increased violence in Kashmir and elsewhere in India. Indeed, if all else fails, the radical Islamic groups in Pakistan could band together and try to oust him. Qazi Hussain Ahmad has already called General Musharraf a “security risk” and asked the generals to sack him. In the event that General Musharraf is perceived by such forces as “weak” or seen to succumb to Indian or international pressure to make an “unjust” settlement with India which amounts to “abandoning” Kashmir, the very national security establishment which he helped to create could devour him. In the event, a radicalised Islamic national security leadership in Islamabad would provoke India into a conflict with Pakistan.

The issue is not of peace at any cost. It is of a just settlement on Kashmir. If India is lacking in sincerity as in the past, the desperate deadlock can only be broken by war.

(TFT Jan 05-11, 2001 Vol-XII No.45 — Editorial)

Pragmatism and reality

 

If General Pervez Musharraf were to survey the political landscape of the year gone by, he would discern the dos and don’ts of dog-eared experience. Indeed, if he were a good leader, he would take some lessons to heart and mould them into the building blocks of political wisdom.

Shortly after he seized power, General Musharraf announced sweeping measures to satiate the thirst of the masses for “ruthless accountability”. A year later, the missionary zeal of the early months exemplified by General Mohammad Amjad has given way to the cheerful pragmatism of General Khalid Maqbool. But the damage to business confidence will not be easily repaired.

General Musharraf was equally hard on former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Instead of initiating corruption cases against him in which conviction merited a few years in prison, the government went for the jugular by indicting him in the airplane hijacking case where the offence was liable to the death penalty. In the event, letting him off the hook at the altar of pragmatism has elicited a heavy toll of General Musharraf’s credibility.

Other examples of rigid positions buffeted by the cold gust of reality come to mind. We recall how General Musharraf once pursed his lips and declared that he wouldn’t talk to India unless it was prepared to negotiate the “core” issue of Kashmir above all else. But after listening attentively to the geo-strategic concerns raised by President Clinton during his five-hour stopover in Islamabad in April last year, the good general was ready to meet the Indian prime minister unconditionally for talks “anywhere, anytime”, in pursuit of regional peace. Indeed, his pragmatic flexibility in recent times has diminished his government’s international isolation significantly.

Much the same sort of diagnosis can be made about the government’s economic and financial claims. There is no question about devaluation, we were told last year. Now we know that there was no way out of a hefty devaluation this year. Similarly, the dispute with Hubco was supposed to have been settled even before Mr Shaukat Aziz was sworn in as finance minister. Yet the ink is still not dry on an agreement penned last month. Equally, the IMF was supposed to weigh in a year ago with billions of dollars in funds for poverty alleviation. Now we realize how lucky we are that a few hundred million dollars were granted last month on promise of exceptionally good behaviour.

Tall claims were also made about the scope and impact of local elections. Nothing less than a radical alteration of the political landscape of traditional heavyweights and perennially crooked politicians belonging to the mainstream parties was promised. But if the first phase of the six-month long ordeal is anything to go by, nothing could be further from the reality. The rural and urban elite that the self-righteous generals so love to hate has rebounded with a vengeance and thwarted their ambitious plans to create a middle-class constituency in their own image. The government will now review the extent of power that should rest with these councilors when it should have been the other way round in the first place. What possible legitimacy or longevity can such airy-fairy devolution plans realistically claim?

Clearly, the key words are pragmatism and reality. The key issues – whether relating to devolution of political power or economic well being or sustainable foreign relations – cry out for a heavy dose of both. Will the Musharraf government temper its various policies accordingly in the future?

The prospects seem better than before. There is an increasingly realistic appreciation among General Musharraf and his military colleagues of the manner in which the concerns of the domestic business community and the international political community impinge on the well being of Pakistan. We welcome this development. The strains of pragmatic flexibility are also evident in a review of national security policy in Islamabad currently underway. This too is good news. But certain critical areas now cry out for the same realistic approach.

The question of the restoration of parliament is hanging fire despite firm denials by General Musharraf that it might soon return to business as usual. We see no reason for such strong denouncements of the idea, especially since stranger somersaults have been witnessed in recent times. Indeed, a diplomatic silence would be preferable since it would enable General Musharraf to retain some realistic options in his clutch without having to eat humble pie later. Similarly, there is no point in constantly thundering about an unrealistic three-year mission-statement or agenda when the remains of bigger pundits than General Musharraf are littered all over the political graveyard that is Pakistan.

It has taken General Pervez Musharraf over a year to become pragmatic and realistic. It would be marvelous if he could take under a year to clinch a pragmatic restoration of civilian rule in 2001 rather than in 2002. More crucially, if he can bring himself to sponsor a realistic solution of the Kashmir dispute, Pakistanis will remember and thank him for generations to come.

(TFT Jan 12-18, 2001 Vol-XII No.46 — Editorial)

Leaf from Bangldesh

 

Last week, two courageous judges of the Bangladesh High Court in Dhaka, a man and a woman, handed down a judgment of great significance to all Muslim-majority countries that claim democratic statehood. They said that religious fatwas or edicts purporting to be Islamic law issued by maulvis, maulanas, muftis or other religo-political leaders are illegal and should be liable to punishment as any other illegality. The court had taken notice of the plight of a rural housewife who was verbally divorced by her husband and then forced to marry another as decreed by a local mullah.

It held that “fatwa means legal opinion which means legal opinion of a lawful person or authority. The legal system in Bangladesh empowers only the courts to decide all questions relating to legal opinion on Muslim and other laws in force…we therefore hold that any fatwa including this one is unauthorized and illegal…Giving a fatwa by unauthorized person or persons, even if it is not executed, must be made a punishable offence by Parliament immediately…” The court admonished the District Magistrate who did not take “cognizance of the said offence under Section 190 of the Code of Criminal Procedure” and hoped that this would serve “once for all as a warning to the other district magistrates, magistrates and police officers”.

In parting, the court wondered “why a particular group of men, upon getting education from madrassas or forming a religious group, are becoming fanatics with wrong views” and suggested that perhaps there might be a “defect in their education and their attitude”. It then went on to recommend the introduction of the Bangladesh Muslim Family Ordinance in the curriculums of madrassahs and schools as well as during Friday prayer sermons. It suggested a “unified education system and an enactment to control freedom of religion subject to law, public order and morality within the scope of Article 41(1) of the Bangladesh constitution. “The state must define and enforce public morality. It must educate society”, held the court.

According to Amnesty International, “dozens of fatwas are issued each year in Bangladesh by the rural clergy at village gatherings after receipt of complaints, usually against women who assert themselves in village family life. They impose flogging and stoning and other humiliating punishments such as shaving of heads, insults and beatings. They are also often involved in their execution”. The motive, says AI, is often financial because fatwas can be a source of income for the fatwabaz (those in the business of issuing fatwas) who justify their deeds in the name of religion. At least 10 women have committed suicide or been killed as a result of such fatwas in the last two years.

Fatwa is an old Islamic instrument of expressing religious opinion based on the “school of thought” of the mufti (fatwa-giver). The mufti was once a state officer who gave official state opinion when the state was represented by an Amirul Momineen. Today, however, the state in most Muslim countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan is represented by a host of institutions whose scope is defined in a Constitution, among which parliament is the sole law-maker and giver while the judiciary is the sole interpreter and opinion-giver of all laws. In modern parlance, if parliament is the Amirul Momineen, the courts are the grand muftis. Therefore there is no room for mullahs or anyone else to issue fatwas or edicts purporting to have the weight of Islamic law behind them.

The practice of issuing fatwas was never altogether abandoned by the mullahs in most Muslim countries even after they adopted democratic statehood. In due course, sectarian and “school” differences of opinion gave rise to various types of fatwas, usually of tafkir (apostasy) of rival sectarian leaders. In the sub-continent, for example, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the great Muslim modernizer of the 19th century, was subjected to a number of “united fatwas” of many “Islamic” schools of thought. Nor was the great 20th century poet Allama Mohammad Iqbal spared.

In Pakistan, the fatwa has come to mean an opinion, exhortation or command issued by an individual, group or party whose belief structure is based on any one of the various sects of Islam. So we have dissenting fatwas on foreign policy, murderous fatwas against the United States, threatening fatwas against various women and human rights NGOs, etc. We can even recall a particularly bullying fatwa against our courageous colleague, Ardeshir Cowasjee, issued by a mullah in Karachi at the behest of a former chief minister of Sindh who was annoyed with the columnist for opposing his land-grabbing schemes. In essence, such fatwas are attempts to silence dissenting opinion by inciting the public to violence against the target.

Unfortunately, our courts have rarely demonstrated the same courage vis a vis such fatwas as the Bangladesh High Court. Nor has the Pakistani state successfully learnt to cope with the phenomena of fatwas, some of which have damaged the credibility of the country and served to create a “negative” image abroad by encouraging violent vigilantist practices and undermining the writ of the state. Therefore we should take a leaf from the Bangladesh High Court judgment and set our house in order.

(TFT Jan 19-25, 2001 Vol-XII No.47 — Editorial)

Unholy wars

 

Religio-political forces in Pakistan, which have been molly-coddled by civilian and military governments since the time of General Zia ul Haq, constitute a double-edged weapon. On the one hand, they are propped up as an integral element of a “national security strategy” devised to secure some sort of military advantage in Afghanistan and political leverage in Kashmir. On the other, they are visible threats to the fabric of democratic government and civil society in the country. In fact, as the world recoils from an image of Pakistan wrought by such gun-toting fundamentalists bent on waging jehad against the West, the price of this dubious state strategy becomes prohibitive.

Nothing demonstrates this more forcefully than the increasingly threatening postures adopted by some such elements. Certainly, it is questionable whether the Jamaat i Islami is within its constitutional rights to exhort the corps commanders of the Pakistan Army to remove the COAS from office (in effect, stage a coup d’etat). Worse, nothing undermines the efficacy of the state or erodes the writ of law than a policy of “selective appeasement” as demonstrated by a meeting between the Lahore Corps Commander and the leader of the Jamaat i Islami on this issue.

Other worrying examples abound. Alarmed by the spectre of JI and other religio-political activists rampaging on the streets, the government was quick to backtrack on procedural modifications to the controversial blasphemy law, in the process losing considerable credibility at home and abroad. Yet when some minority and human rights organisations decided to march peacefully in Karachi the other day against the excesses of such laws and the injustice of the separate-electorate system, the police was ordered to beat them black and blue and arrest them in the scores. If the first was an act of capitulation disguised as a “tactical retreat” (“we don’t want to open unnecessary fronts”), the second was a manifestation of might against right in defense of a dubious “law” and a non-existent “order”.

Equally illuminating was the government’s response to a threat by another religio-political group — the Tanzimul Akhwan — to march on Islamabad and demand the enforcement of shariah. The groveling attitude of the officials who met with the leaders of this group, including a federal minister, and promised all manner of concessions to them confirms our fears just as much as it raises their hopes — demand a mile and you will be a given a yard; and every yard is another step along the route to capturing state power. Therefore we are not at all surprised that the interior minister, Gen (retd) Moinuddin Haider, was told to buzz off when he ever-so-gently chided the bearded ensemble at Akora Khattak not to perpetuate a negative or bad image of Pakistan.

General Moinuddin Haider, like his boss General Pervez Musharraf, is among the best faces of this regime. Both are temperate and pragmatic persons, who prefer not to speak with forked tongues even when real politik demands otherwise. Indeed, one of their strengths is their ability to project a degree of sincerity or compulsion in what they do or don’t do. That, however, is precisely why they are not hot favourites with the likes of Qazi Hussain Ahmad or Maulana Sami-ul-Haq. But the issue here is not one of personalities. It is one of approach. If the military establishment, of which both Generals are card-carrying members, is so dependent on religio-political groups for its long-term (this is the critical factor) foreign policy agendas in the neighbourhood, why should it clamp down on its allies at anyone’s insistence or instigation? The fundos know this and have time and again shown an inclination to exploit this factor to the hilt. Indeed, that is why it is increasingly looking like a case of the tail wagging the dog rather than the other way round.

This could have adverse short-term consequences for national security apart from the insidious longer-term damage to state and society. A case in point relates to the peace process initiated by New Delhi with the backing of the United States. We do not know whether India is sincere or whether it is posturing. But one thing is already clear: whichever side is perceived to sabotage the process by adopting an unduly intransigent attitude at any stage of the game will be condemned in the corridors of power all over the world. Thus aggressive posturing for maximum negotiating strength by either side is fraught with risk. In India’s case, a denial of visas to the Kashmiri leaders or a continuing refusal to agree to a meeting between its prime minister and the Pakistani chief executive, without sufficiently valid or palatable reasons, would hurt its cause. In Pakistan’s case, diminishing returns are bound to set in if suicide attacks by the Mujahideen continue on key military or civilian targets in India, thereby giving India a good excuse to abandon the peace process and hold Pakistan responsible for its breakdown. Thus the link between the Pakistani state and religio-political elements could spell trouble for the country on more than one count if it is not firmly calibrated. The moot question is whether Islamabad has the will and ability to do that.

(TFT Jan 26-01 Feb, 2001 Vol-XII No.48 — Editorial)

Hunter and hunted

 

Benazir Bhutto has recently remarked about a functioning intelligence-agency state within the dysfunctional state of Pakistan. She refers to the insidious role of the ISI and the MI in “hunting” democratic governments, in running amok in pursuit of a national security agenda “at variance with the popular will” and in “dividing the civilian popular base by holding out to those who cannot win — the promise of power without legitimacy”. She says she was overthrown in 1990 because she chose to dictate her own security agenda. But because the liberal forces which “should have stood by” her failed to do so, she accepted a “historic compromise” by following the security agenda of the agencies in her second stint in office. “I accept my part of the responsibility but others must own up to theirs”, she says.

Much of what she says about the agencies’ dirty tricks during her first term in office is well known and true enough — the shenanigans of the “midnight jackals”, Brig Imtiaz Billa and Major Amer, in destablising her government; the “poisonous” stories of handing over lists of Sikh terrorists to India; the reluctance of the army chief, General Aslam Beg, to salute her and his role in egging on the MQM to split with the PPP and create violent disturbances in Karachi; the role of a serving corps commander and Nawaz Sharif in persuading Osama Bin Ladin to help finance a no-confidence motion against her by sending a cheque for US$ 10 million to General Aslam Beg personally; etc. If she had dilated on how the agencies rigged the 1990 elections to keep her out, how Nawaz Sharif was chosen by Lt General Hameed Gul and Ghulam Ishaq Khan to be PM above Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, how banker Yunus Habib was nudged to give crores to the ISI and how Lt General Asad Durrani, DG-ISI, forked over hard cash to Nawaz Sharif, General Aslam Beg and many others to ensure ‘proper results’ in the 1990 elections, she would have made a formidable case against her detractors.

Ms Bhutto, however, is guilty of selecting her facts to suit her case. She doesn’t acknowledge, for instance, her own secret attempts to turn the tables on Nawaz Sharif by pushing General Aslam Beg in the direction of a coup against the Sharif government in July 1991. Nor does she note how the then Chief of General Staff and COAS-designate, General Asif Nawaz, along with the then DG-IB, Brig Imtiaz Billa, joined hands to thwart General Beg’s threatening moves against a civilian government just prior to retirement. Indeed, after General Asif Nawaz became army chief and developed differences with Nawaz Sharif in 1992, Ms Bhutto redoubled her efforts to establish contact with him and try to pressurize him to get rid of Nawaz Sharif (remember the abortive “long march” in November 1992?). Thus if Ms Bhutto was done in by the national security wallahs from 1988-90, the fact is she did not hesitate for a moment in joining hands with them to try to destabilise and overthrow an elected government when her own turn came to live in opposition from 1990 to 1993.

Ms Bhutto is quite elaborative about what happened to her during her second time in office from 1993 to 1996. She claims that “everything was fine when Lt General Javed Ashraf Qazi was my DG-ISI” until “an officer called [Maj Gen] Shujaat was installed [in the ISI] and all our troubles began”. But she doesn’t explain why and who installed him, nor why, when General Qazi was such a goodie-goodie in her books, he retained Lt Gen Shujaat despite her objections. She says she tried to persuade the next DG-ISI Lt Gen Rana (“good man but quite simple”), and the Defence Secretary, to remove Lt Gen Shujaat but in vain. How was this possible, we wonder, when the Defence Secretary was her own man, the DG-ISI Rana was a “good man” and the COAS General Abdul Waheed was well-disposed towards her, apart from being a non-interfering sort of fellow.

Most surprisingly, Ms Bhutto lambasts Lt General Mahmood Ahmad, DG-MI in 1996 and currently DG-ISI, for conspiring against her, even though at the time she admits she “kept quiet”. Later, however, when Lt Gen Mahmood allegedly continued with his conspiracies, she asked General Jehangir Karamat, the then COAS, to explain Gen Mahmood’s conduct and rein him in, upon which the COAS is said to have written a letter to her saying that if she didn’t trust him he would be happy to resign. But she didn’t ask him to resign. Nor did she insist as PM that Gen Mahmood ought to be sacked or transferred. Yet she now wants General Mahmood to “explain to the nation at whose behest he did these things”.

Ms Bhutto’s story gets more confusing in 1996. She says that Gen Karamat told her in August that, according to Gen (retd) Hameed Gul, President Farooq Leghari was ready to sack her but was simply waiting for a direct nod from General Karamat. Then she says she learnt that General Mahmood, the DG-MI appointed and retained by General Karamat despite objections by her, was urging President Leghari to get on with it even as President Leghari was offering gulab jamans to her and reminding her that she was his “sister” and he was “ghairatmand” and General Karamat was offering to “mediate” between her and her president. She also refers to “some foreign bankers” [Mr Shaukat Aziz, who was also friendly with her, was one such] who called upon General Karamat and told him that the economy was on the verge of defaulting. She says that when she asked General Karamat to go to President Leghari and “ask him point-blank” whether he intended to dismiss her government, she was faced with the stunning murder of her brother Murtaza Bhutto.

Ms Bhutto blithely “exonerates General Karamat and the military as an institution” and lays the blame at the door of “President Leghari in collusion with rogue elements of the intelligence and security apparatus” for her government’s dilemmas during her second stint. Yet she cannot explain why COAS Abdul Waheed wanted a Brigadier accused of sedition “to be hanged” whereas COAS Karamat wanted him “spared”, nor why COAS Waheed had no objections to the pursuit of an enquiry against former DG-ISI Lt Gen Asad Durrani for disbursing ISI funds to politicians in 1990 while COAS Karamat advised against it. The best part of this story claims that “they changed my military secretary after telling me it was a routine change and when the COAS tried to send me a message [on the night of her government’s sacking], he could not get through and when the COAS got in touch with the defence secretary, he too could not get in touch with me”. This is ridiculous. Who are “they”, if not the COAS and Defence Secretary? Nor is it conceivable that the army chief and defence secretary tried to contact her but couldn’t get through, despite all the hot lines and open phone lines and couriers at their service. As for not proceeding against Lt Gen Asad Durrani, Ms Bhutto has conveniently forgotten to mention one salient fact which might shed light on her indecision — Lt General Asad Durrani was “sacked” from the army in 1993 by General Abdul Waheed after it transpired that he had conspired with Ms Bhutto against PM Nawaz Sharif after Mr Sharif sacked him as DG-ISI in 1992 for running with the PM and hunting with the COAS General Asif Nawaz. Thus Lt General Durrani was not kosher when he was conspiring with Sharif and General Beg to keep Ms Bhutto out of office in 1989-90 but he was a “friend indeed” when he was conspiring with her against Nawaz Sharif in 1992-93!

Ms Bhutto’s story is part truth, part fiction. The truth is that the intelligence agencies undermined her government for various reasons during her two stints in office. But it is fiction to claim that they did so as “rogue elements” without the knowledge and approval of each army chief. The truth also is that if she was the hunted, she was not averse to being the hunter in turn. The truth admittedly is that a section of the liberal intelligentsia did not stand by her. But the fiction is that it did so for personal, false or whimsical reasons — indeed the truth is that she was abandoned because there were credible allegations of corruption against her.

But there is also a broader and more unpalatable truth at stake. The intelligence agencies are an organic and integral element of the military establishment at the apex of which sits the COAS with a rigid perspective on the constituent elements of national security. Therefore as long as the military’s view on such matters is at variance with the popular will as reflected in the views of a freely elected government, PM and parliament, there will be no political stability in this country. Both politicians and generals, past, present and future, should try to resolve this dilemma via a genuine Truth and Reconciliation Commission rather than continue to snipe from behind a façade of make-belief.

(TFT Feb 02-08, 2001 Vol-XII No.49 — Editorial)

How utterly wrong

 

General Pervez Musharraf was supposed to pay a visit to Kabul many months ago, ostensibly to try and talk some sense into the Taliban leaders of Afghanistan. But General (retd) Moinuddin Haider, the interior minister, is going instead on “mission impossible”.

Iran was once provoked to consider flattening the Taliban. But it changed its mind when the enraged Taliban swarmed to the Iranian border instead of retreating to Kandahar. Then President Clinton rained cruise missiles on them for hosting Osama Bin Laden. But this was like water off a duck’s back. Meanwhile, President Putin of Russia has blown hot and cold over the destabilizing impact of Talibanism in Chechnya and some central Asian republics but it has not made an iota of difference in Kabul. Now the Taliban face a host of American sponsored UN sanctions that will make life uncomfortable for everyone in Afghanistan. But they remain defiant. Indeed, they are hoping that the US will eventually engage with them, recognize them as the legitimate government of Kabul and do business with them.

Meanwhile, the supergenerals of Pakistan have trotted out a list of dos and don’ts for Mullah Umar, partly because Islamabad pretends to be concerned about the blowback effects of Talibanism as manifested in the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in general and Islamic sectarianism in particular in Pakistan and partly because it is posturing (“we’re doing our best to moderate them”) for the sake of appeasing the international community. What is right or wrong with Pakistan’s Afghan’s policy?

The supergenerals maintain that Islamabad has always played favourites in Afghanistan because it needs an unequivocal ally in Kabul who provides “strategic depth” to Pakistan in its regional framework. But no one has ever explained what this high sounding “strategic depth” is really all about. If it means a friendly state in Pakistan’s backyard where we can park a couple of airplanes in time of war with India, no one can quibble with that. But an anarchist friendly state in Kabul with a crippling blowback impact on Pakistan’s civil society at the expense of an old and civilisational friendly state like Iran is hardly good strategy. Nor does it make sense for a country with a critically ailing economy like ours to alienate the oil-and-gas rich central Asian republics (who yearn for a mutually profitable relationship with Pakistan) for the sake of friendship with a highly dubious and impoverished regime in Afghanistan.

But the supergenerals may have another notion of “strategic” interest in mind when they view the pros and cons of supporting the Taliban of Afghanistan. Indeed, General Musharraf may have been thinking of some such strategic notion when he recently said that Pakistan had to be friends with the Taliban because they were comprised of ethnic Pakhtuns who formed the main ethnic community of our own NWFP that borders Afghanistan. This leads us to postulate the supergenerals’ strategic thinking that a strong Pakhtun state in Afghanistan would suit Pakistan immeasurably more than a weak Pakhtun on non-Pakhtun state. Is that right?

No, it isn’t. First, we need to make the distinction between a strong and weak state in Afghanistan irrespective of its ethnic composition. Then we have to ask whether a strong state in Afghanistan suits us more than a weak one. Thus a weak state in Afghanistan which is dependent on Pakistan is surely better from our point of view than a strong state which competes with us for regional influence or makes bold to ally with other powers in the region. Finally, we have to ask whether a strong Pakhtun-dominated state in Afghanistan suits us more than a weak, non-Pakhtun dominated state in Afghanistan. For those who haven’t followed the march of history, a weak non-Pakhtun dominated state in Afghanistan has never posed any threat to Pakistan because it has neither had any ideological bearings or religious extra-national ambitions nor any ethnic or sub-nationalist stirrings. On the other hand, whenever there has been a strong Pakhtun dominated state in Afghanistan, whether secular-centrist as under President Daud or secular-leftist as under President Nur Mohd Taraki or Hafizullah Amin or Najibullah, its government has been compelled by the logic of its own composition to pander to ethnic nationalism by supporting Pakhtun separatism (refusal to accept the Durand Line) or try and export religious fundamentalism (Talibanism) to the NWFP and Balochistan. If Mr Ajmal Khattak, who was the first politician to be graced by a meeting with General Musharraf, knows all about the first sort of anti-Pakistan, Pakhtun Afghan state, Maulana Samiul Haq knows all about the latter sort of potentially anti-Pakistan, Pakhtun Afghan state. This would suggest that a strong Taliban state in Afghanistan, which combines the worst elements of ethnic Pakhtun nationalism and religious exclusivism, would eventually pose a threat to the territorial integrity and political solidarity of multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian, democratic Pakistan.

Afghanistan under the Taliban therefore poses a greater potential danger to Pakistan than it does to any other country in the world. But while the world is up in arms against a regime that provides sanctuary to all the religious extremists of the modern century, our supergenerals insist upon lecturing us about the necessity of the Taliban. How completely, utterly wrong they are.

(TFT Feb 09-15, 2001 Vol-XII No.50 — Editorial)

Reason and irrationality?

 

The facts relating to the Frontier Post episode on January 29 expose the degeneration of state and society in Pakistan. Indeed, for those who, like General Pervez Musharraf, are concerned about the adverse perceptions of Pakistan abroad, this case reveals what is wrong with us.

First: It is inconceivable that any sane Muslim could actually blaspheme against Allah or the Prophet (peace be upon him). It is doubly inconceivable that he/she would deliberately publish a blasphemous statement made by anyone else, not least because the punishment for this offence is death. But if a mad man were to commit this offence, the punishment for it in any civilised society would be confinement to an asylum for treatment rather than death at the hands of a frenzied mob. But we do things differently here.

Second: The blasphemous letter from an American Jew got through the defences of the concerned editor for three main reasons. (a) It was received by e-mail, which meant that it didn’t have to be scrutinised and then typed. (b) Its headline (Why Muslims hate Jews) was the stuff of everyday views in this country, which meant that its chances of being glossed over were greater than if it had been the other way round (Why Jews hate Muslims) (c) It was in English which, unfortunately, is not even a sufficiently-grasped second language for a majority of the writing and subbing staff of many such newspapers (a former editor of the FP in Lahore likes to recount fearful stories of how many reporters were inclined to file copy in Urdu, which then had to be translated into English by only marginally better English writers). This is a good example of what can go wrong when information technology is expected to interface efficiently with a barely literate society.

Third: The mobs that burnt down the press the following day comprised zealots who hadn’t even seen the letter because they couldn’t read or write a word of English. Indeed, if they’d been instigated to murder, they would have done so blindly. But they were neither herded to an asylum, nor booked for arson. Such is the sorry state of law enforcement in our country.

Fourth: General Pervez Musharraf was quick to denounce the publication of the letter as an unacceptable transgression of “press freedom”. That the case had nothing at all to do with press freedom was obvious enough. But General Musharraf’s readiness to tar and feather the press at the first available opportunity reveals his basic hostility to the idea of fundamental rights. Indeed, it is clear that the supergenerals tolerate a free press not because they sincerely believe in its virtues but because the existence of a free press generates desperately needed brownie points for them from the international community. At least there should be no illusions on this score.

Fifth: The role played by PTV was extremely negative. The pictures and commentary on the national Khabarnama were designed to fuel outrage against the alleged perpetrators of blasphemy rather than urge restraint and uphold law and order. Interestingly enough, though, five people were killed the same day in Quetta as a result of police violence against a crowd of demonstrators protesting the dismal drought conditions in Balochistan that have wrecked the lives of countless unfortunate citizens. But there was not one word on Khabarnama about their grievous fate. When the medium is the message in this increasingly violent and fanatical country, why should we blame foreigners for portraying and perceiving us as we really are in everyday life?

Sixth: The local general was more loyal than the Chief. The administration charged seven persons, including the chowkidar of the press, with blasphemy, arrested them, closed down the paper, blacked out its web-site, escorted another mob to attack a cinema in the area the following day, arrested six more persons from the FP’s Urdu publication Maidan and shut it down. Such imprisonment is euphemistically called “protective custody” in this country. It means that instead of protecting you by dispersing the lawless mob, the state is ready to abuse your freedom by putting you into prison.

If the events of January 29/30 have deservedly marred the image of the government and people of this country, we might say a silent prayer for a ray of sanity in its aftermath. A commission of inquiry has been established to sort out this mess. The leaders of the religious parties have been persuaded to cool tempers (indeed, they are now wont to claim that they fell into a trap set by Islam-hating Jews — incidentally, an unrepentant Brooke BenDzac has now e-mailed newspapers crowing that the reaction to his letter proved the point he was trying to make). And chances are that all but one or two of the accused journalists will shortly be set free.

Civil society is increasingly held hostage by religious fanatics in Pakistan. So-called “Islamic” laws, which distort reality, hinder rather than help progress. In an age of reason and rationality, General Musharraf’s Pakistan is out of step with the rest of the world.

(TFT Feb 16-22, 2001 Vol-XII No.51 — Editorial)

Far reaching repercussions

The Sunday Times of London has recently published a story that damns politicians and state institutions alike in Pakistan. The report suggests that an official of the Intelligence Bureau was ordered in 1998 by the head of the Accountability Bureau, Mr Saif ur Rehman, to tap the telephones of Justice Abdul Qayyum of the Lahore High Court (illegal order by politicians, illegal implementation by IB). The IB official later pocketed the tapes and decamped to London, eventually handing them over to the British newspaper. If true, the conversations between Justice Qayyum and Saif ur Rehman, Khalid Anwar (then law minister), Mrs Abdul Qayyum and others are fascinating because they reveal the political bankruptcy of the system and those who are elected or nominated to make it work.

The tapes suggest that Justice Qayyum was bullied by the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his minions into convicting former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and her spouse Asif Zardari for corruption in 1998. This means that – irrespective of the substantial evidence laid against the two accused – the trial wasn’t conducted entirely in a free or fair manner as required by law. Ms Bhutto shrieked as much during and after the trial but critics, including TFT, dismissed her allegations against Justice Qayyum as inconceivable. Hence when the review petition comes up for hearing before the Supreme Court on February 26, the court will be hard put to choose between acquitting the couple or ordering a fresh trial. If it clings to a third option — upholding the verdict — it risks being tarred by the same brush.

The role played by each of the actors merits comment. Nawaz Sharif ordered Saif ur Rehman to bug the judge and Mr Rehman had no qualms in barking compliance to the head of the IB who did likewise to his subordinate staff. Everyone acted illegally down the chain of command. Mr Rehman, in particular, stands out like a sore thumb. He is earlier known to have boasted that the “judges were in his pocket”. Apparently, Mr Sharif also leaned on the then chief justice of the Lahore High Court, Justice Rashid Aziz, to advise Justice Qayyum to do the needful or else. The Supreme Judicial Council needs to take a careful look at this allegation.

The law minister, Khalid Anwar, acted in a deplorable manner. What is wrong with asking a judge to hurry up, he asks. Nothing, if this is done in open court and in a transparent fashion. But it is immoral it if it is done amidst dire threats brandished by officials at the Prime Minister’s behest. Mr Anwar also claims that his government never authorised the IB to wire-tap the judges. Nonsense, says former chief justice Sajjad Ali Shah, who reports that when a bug was discovered on his phone, Mr Anwar advised him not to make an issue of it. We might also recall that this is the same gent who, as President Farooq Leghari’s council in 1996-97 in the Bhutto dismissal case before the Supreme Court, cited phone tapping of judges by the Bhutto regime as a major justification for her government’s ouster.

Finally, there is the judge in the dock. By all accounts, a most competent and learned man, indeed one on whom undue reliance has been thrust by politicians and judges alike in politically sensitive or legally complex cases. But the tapes have compromised his position. He could try and ride out the vicious gossip or he could call it a day and quietly fade away. If he chooses the first route, the law would require him to face the Supreme Judicial Council and explain his situation.

One last matter. The timing of the revelations — just before the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear Benazir Bhutto’s review petition — and the dubious role of the IB Deputy Director (how has he suddenly acquired a conscience?) is thought to cast doubts about the veracity of the tapes and the allegations flowing from them. Not so. The tapes are authentic enough. If they weren’t, every one of the alleged culprits would have tripped over the others to sue the Sunday Times for millions of pounds in criminal defamation and the judges involved would have hauled up everyone in sight for gross contempt of court.

Nor should it matter whether the spook in question received a hefty cheque or a promise of some lucrative posting in the future for allowing his conscience to get the better of him. The fact is that Ms Bhutto has cunningly exploited the counter-evidence at her disposal for maximum effect like a true politician who may be down but refuses to be out.

This case could have far-reaching repercussions. It might give Ms Bhutto a new lease of life. It might stiffen the resolve of lawyers and politicians to agitate for democratic revival and accountability. And it might embolden the judiciary to redeem itself by standing up a little bit to the government.

(TFT Feb 23-01 Mar, 2001 Vol-XII No.52 — Editorial)

Fighting over scarce resources

 

In 1935 the USA built its famous Hoover Dam and then proceeded to build 2,000 smaller dams on the same river to regulate water in times of plenty and scarcity. The objections of the affected states were quickly addressed, followed by enduring agreements. The run-up to the Aswan Dam in Egypt in 1959 was more difficult because it required an agreement between two sovereign countries, Egypt and Sudan. But that too was achieved — local Egyptian objections pertaining to hydrology were resolved by resorting to international expertise on the subject. But in Pakistan, which signed an agreement with India over water-sharing rights in 1962, non-sovereign provinces can unfortunately claim the longest deadlock in the country’s history over an equitable and efficient division of waters that has effectively embargoed any national effort to meet the critical challenge of global climatic change in times of economic scarcity. This is what happened.

The 1962 agreement with India was based on one major compromise: the waters of the eastern rivers — Ravi, Sutlej and Bias — would go to India and those of the western rivers — Indus, Jhelum and Chenab — would flow through Pakistan. Since the loss of the eastern river water was expected to devastate southern and eastern Punjab on Pakistan’s side, two major link canals were required to divert the waters of the Jhelum and Chenab into these rivers. In turn, the Jhelum and Chenab rivers were to be compensated by diverting water from the Indus via the Chashma-Jhelum and Taunsa-Punjnab link canals. The system was rounded off by building two water storage reservoirs at Mangla (1967) and Tarbela (1976) for use in times of water abundance and scarcity.

There was no significant expression of provincial discord over this arrangement at the time because there were no provinces in the country under General Ayub Khan’s prosperous one-unit west Pakistan. Subsequently, however, when a federal constitution was approved in 1973 under prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a Sindhi, the need arose to devise and clinch a provincial water-sharing accord because Sindhi representatives felt that their province had been deprived of its “rightful” share of Indus river water following the 1962 treaty with India and the diversion of the waters of the “Sindhi Indus” to the “Punjabi rivers”. Unfortunately, however, Mr Bhutto, who was ideally placed to devise and sanction an equitable and efficient water accord, didn’t have the vision to do so during his tenure. Attempts to set up commissions for securing an accord in 1980 and 1983 during the Zia ul Haq regime foundered on the rock of Sindhi distrust or NWFP dissent. Another opportunity was lost when Mohammad Khan Junejo, a Sindhi, was prime minister from 1985-88. Then, under the Nawaz Sharif regime which controlled all four provinces in 1991, a “historic” water accord was signed by all the chief ministers.

Some critical facts about this March 1991 accord should be noted since its alleged violation by Punjab in recent months is the cause of bitter provincial squabbling at a time of water shortage in the country. The accord came after much argument, with the Punjab chief minister Ghulam Haider Wyne finally relenting to a new water sharing formula favourable to Sindh only after the approval by the other parties of a priority clause permitting the establishment of new water reservoirs which would lead to an increase of at least 10% in the quantity of water available throughout the year and help supplement Punjab’s relative loss of “historical” share-rights to Sindh and the NWFP under the accord. Although a dam at Kalabagh was not explicitly mentioned at the request of the Sindhi and NWFP chief ministers Jam Sadiq Ali and Mir Afzal Khan respectively, it was clearly understood that both would prepare the provincial ground for such a project and Mr Sharif would announce it within the month. In the event, however, Mr Khan reneged from the deal by getting the NWFP assembly to vote against the Kalabagh Dam project while Sindh chief ministers Jam Sadiq Ali and later Muzaffar Shah began to drag their feet. Subsequently, neither a Sindhi prime minister (Benazir Bhutto) nor a Punjabi (Nawaz Sharif) was able to cobble a consensus over the Kalabagh Dam project. And ten years later, with no additional reservoirs established or in the offing and a water shortage on its hands, Punjab stands accused by Sindh of subverting the 1991 accord by diverting significant quantities of water from the Indus to its five rivers.

The problem is accentuated by the fact that not only have new water reservoirs not been built to address the problem of water shortage but the old ones have been allowed to silt up, choking critical downstream channels, especially in Punjab. Thus when agriculture is badly affected by low rainfall and low flow in all the rivers, as in recent times, Sindh is quick to level allegations of “water theft” against Punjab. It may be recalled that parts of both Sindh and Balochistan were struck by drought and famine-like conditions last year and Sindh is fearful of the same fate this year too. In fact, the Sindh government has asked its farmers not to expend too much acreage to the province’s most important crop, rice, because of its high water requirements. But the fact is that Punjab’s rice and cotton crops are also at risk in the south where drought has been persistent and river water discharge at its lowest in decades.

As Sindh and Punjab continue to wrangle over the apportionment of river water, the prediction is that in the next three years the catchment area of the Indus system will suffer from low rainfall and lead to drought in the two provinces. Ominously, the United Nations has synchronised its warning about a global shortage of water at the same time as the water crisis in Pakistan.

Sovereign states often do not pay heed to global factors but move selfishly to grab scarce resources at the expense of their neighbours. But Pakistan has the dubious distinction of settling the scarce-water issue with hostile India (despite the rhetoric that the enemy could and would use Kashmir to choke off Pakistan’s water supply) while creating a kind of civil war over the division of waters among its constitutent federating units. So intense has been the war of words over water between Punjab on the one hand and the NWFP, Sindh and Balochistan, on the other, that no new water reservoirs have been built in the country since 1974. Pakistan is therefore in an unenviable energy nut-cracker: it can’t have nuclear energy because of an external embargo, and it can’t have hydel energy and irrigation because of an internal embargo.

The ruling elites of Pakistan have a way of creating crises that allow no resolution. Problems much smaller than the river-water dispute have been allowed to fester because deadlock serves some vested interest or the other. Now most solutions seem difficult, if not impossible, because the time for implementing them is rapidly passing. In terms of the water problem, large dams, in particular, are no longer internationally popular and global citizens’ movements are ready to fight such projects tooth and nail wherever they are discussed. Thus if it is not easy to counsel international arbitration to the provinces of a sovereign state, the fact is that even if the provinces were to agree to submit to such an arbitration and come to an agreement, Pakistan will still find it difficult to raise the money for big dams in the next decade or so without major shifts in the way it is perceived by international money-lenders whose geo-strategic concerns are blithely spurned by our national security establishment.

If Pakistan were a genuine federal democratic republic following realistic and consensual policies at home and abroad, it could get many of its necessary infrastructure projects, including irrigation dams, off the drawing boards. Equally, a bleak economic outlook will fuel inter-provincial, inter-class and inter-ethnic distrust and conflict.

The fact is that a bankrupt economy can be significantly improved only with international help. If this were to be forthcoming, it would lessen the political pressure on the provinces for making a political cult out of economic disagreement. But as things stand, the government in Islamabad has no resources with which to attract the wrangling provincial establishments into a water-sharing agreement. Problems pushed under the carpet since the 1970s have now become crises that brook few amicable solutions. The water dispute, in particular, is potentially explosive. If famine and large-scale movements of population become an annual feature in the years of scarcity ahead, not all the nuclear weapons in our arsenal, nor all the jihads in Kashmir and Afghanistan, will preclude civil war-like conditions in the country.

(TFT Mar 02-08, 2001 Vol-XIII No.1 — Editorial)

Trussed up like a president?

 

The biggest non-secret of the year is out of the bag; General Pervez Musharraf is readying to don the mantle of the President of Pakistan. He said as much in a recent closed-door meeting in Islamabad with the top dogs of business and industry. Should this happen, he would have traversed a much trodden path in Pakistan’s sad history during which the Presidency has housed all sorts of conspirators (Iskander Mirza, Ghulam Ishaq Khan), usurpers (Generals Ayub, Yahya, Zia), stooges (Chaudhry Fazal Elahi, Rafiq Tarar), misfits (Farooq Leghari) and witnessed or sanctioned all manner of political instability or perversion. How will General Musharraf get there? And if he does, how will he fare?

The simplest way would be for him to follow in the footsteps of Caesar, Napoleon or Ataturk — having seized the crown, he could simply put it on his head, change his tunic and announce: “l’etat, c’est moi!” Alas, times have changed. The international community won’t stand for it. And since the international community is calling all the financial shots, therefore, someone – preferably the public but any mothball parliament, old or new, will do nicely, thank you – has to confer the presidency on him because neither the writ of the supreme court nor the will of the corps commanders will suffice.

But the public cannot be trusted in the Land of the Pure. It is fickle, if not downright treacherous, having reposed faith in demagogues like Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, dilettantes like Benazir Bhutto and the intellectually challenged Nawaz Sharif. Indeed, the public is being unpardonably sinful by insisting that, given half a chance, it is likely to vote for one or both of these rascals yet again. So that leaves only parliament to fiddle with.

The defunct parliament could be revived (rubbish, said he not so long ago; it’s one option, he muses today), sooner or later, for better or for worse, to hand him his crown, create the dubious conditions for reinventing itself and call it a day. But that is easier said than done. Shorn of dozens of leading luminaries who are languishing in the clutches of NAB, the old parliament could go into divisive fits of hysteria when it reassembles without its old leaders. In the event, neither its raucous continuation nor a second sacking is likely to do the general’s cause much good.

The other route is to risk fresh general elections, order the ISI and NAB to rig them to his heart’s content by disqualifying every notable in sight, hold a gun to the head of the new parliament, much as General Zia ul Haq did in 1985, and order it to do the needful or else. Or else, what? The new parliament will be conscious of its indispensability as no parliament before it. It will not allow the generals to mess around with it for too long. And since every politician worth his salt is at least another potential Mohammad Khan Junejo, there are bound to be more than ugly hiccups ahead. Thus General Musharraf could find himself up the creek without a paddle like Zia did in 1988. The alternative would be a game of musical chairs as in the 1950s, with prime ministers getting the boot whenever they raised their heads. Neither route would serve to restore confidence in the country and revive the economy.

Yet General Musharraf seems to have opted for a more difficult transition than even General Zia. He has determined to be pitted against two political leaders instead of one. The circumstances of his era are also not as propitious as they were during Zia’s day. For one, the economy was galloping along then. It is barely crawling today under the shadow of default. Two, the international community was ready to turn a blind eye to the dictator’s political machinations then but is downright impatient with the generals today. Thus, all other things being equal, General Musharraf’s burgeoning confidence might not only be misplaced for his own personal political health, it could spell trouble for the country too.

We acknowledge the fact that General Pervez Musharraf didn’t choose to jump into the dirty political arena. He was pushed into it. But from this it should have logically followed that he would have been keen to get out as soon as possible. Instead, he has been trying to dig in his heels for a long innings. A clique of ambitious supergenerals around him, backed by an anti-corruption moral rearmament brigade comprising middle-class intellectuals seeking perfect solutions in an imperfect world, seems to have convinced him that the time is nigh for a final solution worthy of his person and rank. However, just as he is warming to this theme, the homeless intellectuals have deserted him and the economy has begun to exact a nasty toll of his credibility.

General Musharraf is a good, sincere and well-meaning soldier. But he might rue the day he allowed himself to be trussed up like one of our presidents of yore.

(TFT Mar 09-15, 2001 Vol-XIII No.2 — Editorial)

Borrow more not less

 

Why aren’t foreign investors interested in Pakistan? The Economist recently commented on the prospects of foreign investment in emerging markets on the basis of an opinion survey of 135 key executives of the world’s biggest 1000 companies. “Size matters”, it said, adding “China and Brazil, two big emerging markets that are expected to grow quickly, now occupy the second and third spots” in the preferential scale of foreign investors. India is among the top seven. But Pakistan, with a population nearing 150 million, is nowhere in sight, despite the fact that all but four emerging markets in the poll were smaller in size than Pakistan. Clearly, if size matters, it isn’t critical at all. What is?

“General economic performance and exchange rates” are important confidence-building factors, argues The Economist, quoting Brazil’s GDP growth of 4.4% last year on the back of a surge of 7.5% in industrial production. This makes sense. The east Asian tigers — Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore — who were in desperate waters not so long ago are back in business, having recently stabilised their exchange rates and posted growth rates of 6%-12%. In contrast, Pakistan’s GDP is languishing at about 3.5%, large-scale industrial production is stuck at below 2% and its rupee is devalued by over 13% every year.

Curiously enough, though, even these two factors may not be critical. Turkey is in The Economist’s list of 25 top emerging markets when Pakistan is not, even though its size is less than Pakistan’s, its interest rate is several thousand percent, inflation is about 80% per annum, industrial production was minus 4.2% last December and its trade balance was minus US$ 27.4 billion last November.

Statistics reveal an interesting common factor among the 25 top emerging markets. Irrespective of economic performance, exchange rate stability or size of the country, all of them boast significant levels of forex reserves. China was second in the emerging market list and first in the forex reserve category (US$164 billion); Turkey was 22nd but had reserves of US$ 19 billion. India was 7th but its reserves topped US$ 37 billion. Hong Kong was last with reserves of US$ 106 billion! In fact, only Hungary had reserves of under US$ 11 billion.

Compare this to Pakistan’s forex reserves of only US$ 1 billion last December. In fact, we have been on the brink of financial default for many years, but acutely so after May 1998 when we tested the nuclear bomb, froze forex deposits and betrayed the confidence of Pakistani and foreign investors alike.

The level of forex reserves is a good barometer of the potential health of any economy because it reflects its ability to pay back royalty, dividends and interest on loans. It enables free outward movement of capital, which is a pre-requisite for greater foreign investment inflows. What economic strategy will ensure a respectable level of forex reserves?

The prevailing wisdom is that we should focus on reducing our “crippling international debt”. But, all other things being equal, foreign debt reduction should lead to forex reserve reduction rather than the other way round. Nor is debt a bad thing necessarily. In fact, some of the most indebted countries of the world are among the richest or most dynamic emerging markets of today. It is one’s ability to pay back debt that matters to foreign investors and creditors. Thus, the higher the level of forex reserves, the greater the credit worthiness of the country and potential inflow of foreign investment.

There are two major ways to build forex reserves. By exporting more than importing. But we can’t do this overnight, given the lack of a sufficiently developed human resource base necessary to make the changeover from an import-dependent economy to an export-led one. The other is to create an economic and political environment in which people want to send money for savings and investment in Pakistan rather than one in which everyone wants to hoard, hide or take it out of the country.

But we cannot hate or spurn the international community while we beg it to bail us out of our misery. We cannot hover on the brink of financial default while we ask foreigners to invest in our country. We cannot turn a blind eye to religious extremism and indulge in regional warmongering and expect international secular democrats to support us. We cannot pretend to locate our problems in South Asia while we search for solutions in the Middle-East. We cannot posit a political defiance of the West on nuclear-related issues while we pretend a tactical economic alignment with it.

We can attract foreign capital and know-how to Pakistan by creating a healthy level of forex reserves. This can be done by persuading the international donor community to write off a chunk of our international debt or to radically reschedule it. Or, better still, by getting it to lend us more money rather than less on even more favourable terms so that we are able to capture the space required to restructure our economy for self-sustained growth. But this, in turn, can only be predicated on an assured, long-term strategic partnership with the West as in the case of Turkey. Nothing less will suffice.

(TFT Mar 16-22, 2001 Vol-XIII No.3 — Editorial)

Strategic depth or isolation?

The Taliban’s Buddha-bashing is un-Islamic, argue Islamic scholars and religious leaders across the world. It is illegal, claim international jurists. It is unnecessary, irrational, unreasonable, stupid, nay barbaric, say others. Indeed, not one word in defence of this senseless destruction has been uttered by anyone outside Afghanistan. Yet the Taliban are defiant. Why’s that?

When the rag-tag armies of the Taliban first swept across the war-ravaged plains and mountains of Afghanistan in 1995-96, they were motivated more by their desire to wage war for the purposes of peace than by any madrassah-inspired zeal to enforce a particular “vision” of Islam. But, prodded and propped up by Pakistan, they ended up conquering nearly all of Afghanistan in the next two years. Subsequently, they sought to acquire legitimacy, or reinvent themselves, primarily in the garb of an Islam in which pre-Islamic tribal custom and primitive rituals, superstition and ignorance, all jostled for supremacy with ordained notions of equality and social justice. Thus, even as Pakistan turned a blind eye or condoned their retrogressive actions, one Taliban decree followed another in banning music, shaving heads, outlawing female education and employment, cutting-off hands, and even stoning alleged adulterers to death. In due course, the inability of the Taliban (and their Pakistani handlers) to erect an efficient, moderate and consensual political and administrative system in multi-ethnic Afghanistan and their increasing frustration at being denied international recognition created a propensity for negative or punitive measures in order to entrench themselves domestically.

Unfortunately, the international community’s attitude towards the Taliban hasn’t helped in moderating their beliefs. After walking out of Afghanistan at the end of the cold war, the West has made no serious institutional effort to engage the Taliban in the economic and political reconstruction of Afghanistan as a gateway to the mineral-rich region of Central Asia. On the contrary, it has rained cruise missiles on Afghanistan and thwarted the Taliban’s attempts to demolish their opponents. In fact, the latest episode of Buddha-bashing may be seen in the light of the UN sanctions on the Taliban regime last January. How’s that?

The UN sanctions were applied when drought and famine stalked Afghanistan, when millions were faced with starvation, fuelling the exodus of hundreds of thousands of refugees to Pakistan. The aim of these sanctions is to weaken the Taliban’s hold on Afghanistan, partly by provoking internal instability and partly by denying them Pakistani military assistance in the forthcoming spring offensive by the Northern Alliance led by former Afghan president Burhannudin Rabbani (whose non-existent government is still recognised by the UN as the legitimate government of Afghanistan). These sanctions have been followed by three major acts of defiance, frustration, resentment or anger by the Taliban: Osama Bin Laden’s marriage was internationally publicised, as if to say “up yours”; a massacre of Shi’ite Hazaras was blithely condoned, as if to say “who cares”; two women were executed for alleged adultery, as if to say “so what” and now the Buddhas so beloved of the international community have been demolished, as if to say “damn you.”

The latest provocation is particularly instructive. Five years ago, Mulla Umar had decried the Taliban zealots who ransacked Kabul Museum and destroyed priceless artefacts; last year he set up a committee to review the case of “idol-worship”; five weeks after the UN sanctions, on February 26 this year, and despite acknowledging that there are no Buddhists in Afghanistan, he issued his fatwa and refused to back down when the world roared in outrage.

Pakistan’s cynical attitude to Afghanistan and its opportunist relationship with the Taliban is also responsible for the current impasse. In pursuit of dubious notions of statecraft, Islamabad has relentlessly, and often recklessly, sought to make Afghanistan a subservient client state. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was Pakistan’s first blue-eyed boy. But when he failed to deliver, a “historic accord” was clinched with Burhanuddin Rabbani. But when Rabbani demonstrated that he had a mind of his own, Islamabad was quick to clutch at Mullah Umar. Now Mulla Umar has become unpredictable and unreasonable but there is no fall-back or forward position for Pakistan as it writhes uncomfortably in the glare of international censure. Indeed, even though Islamabad claims that it did more than anybody else to dissuade the Taliban from carrying out their threat to demolish the Buddhas, the world has reserved its harshest criticism for Pakistan as the “sole defender and supporter of the extremist regime in Afghanistan”. The fear is that Islamabad could be further isolated as moderate Muslim nations scramble to evade the fallout of the Taliban’s extremist version of “Islam” that borders “international terrorism”, as the European Union fulminates about Pakistan’s failure to exercise its “considerable and unique influence” with the Taliban, and as the United States weighs its options to bomb Osama Bin Laden out of Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s Afghan policy is an unmitigated disaster. The Taliban blowback in the form of sectarian and jehadi inspired violence continues to exact a heavy toll of civil society in Pakistan. Now it is threatening to push us into the eye of an international storm. The sooner we change our misplaced notions of outreach, the better. The blowback of vague “strategic depth” is certain strategic isolation and despair.

(TFT Mar 23-29, 2001 Vol-XIII No.4 — Editorial)

Too little, too late?

 

The run-up to Moharram is always predictable. There are official vows to “crush sectarian terrorism” and ulema of all stripes are loud in denouncing firqawariat. But this year, the main sectarian organizations are conspicuous by their deadly silence. In fact, the fear is that the Sunni sectarian terrorists may rampage during Moharram in protest against the recent hanging of their hero, Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, and the incarceration of their firebrand leader, Maulana Azam Tariq.

Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, it may be recalled, assassinated the Iranian Consul, Sadiq Ganji, in 1990 but could not be sentenced because at least a dozen judges of the Lahore High Court were afraid or reluctant to convict him. Last year, however, the supreme court was nudged to do the needful by the military regime following an Iranian outcry at his acquittal by the Lahore High Court. But the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, a banned offshoot of the Sipah-i-Sahaba, avenged the hanging of its leader by killing dozens of Shias in Sheikhupura two weeks ago. A week ago, the Shias went on a killing spree by targeting SS activists and sympathizers in Nishat Colony, Lahore. Meanwhile, Riaz Basra, a companion of Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, is still at large, having inexplicably “escaped” from police custody many years ago to subsequently sow terror in the heart of various civil administrations by successfully targeting top Shia civil servants and police officers in the Punjab.

Now General Pervez Musharraf has expressed his determination to tackle the scourge of sectarian violence in this country. His words ring truer than those of the politicians he has deposed because he is not obliged to horsetrade. In fact, he is averse to sectarian violence because it hurts his government’s drive to portray itself as a “no-nonsense” regime keen on stability and reform. So we may expect the current ban on weapons-display to be followed by a ban on certain avowedly sectarian organizations, followed by the formal tasking of the military’s intelligence agencies to bring the worst offenders to book. But are such administrative measures, however welcome, a case of too little, too late?

To answer this question, we need to remind ourselves that sporadic sectarian disagreement was institutionalized into continuing sectarian violence in this country during the time of General Zia ul Haq when the constitution was formally stripped of its informal secular garb, and sectarian ideas and leaders were allowed entry into the organs of state and government. From then onwards, it has been downhill all the way. Today, at least three Shia-majority cities — Parachinar, Gilgit and Jhang — are in a permanent state of siege while even Karachi, once a sparkling cosmopolitan city, is acutely vulnerable to the sectarian menace.

Some people say that there is not much that the state can do about a religious disagreement that is embedded in Islam’s early history. True. But when a state in a country overwhelmingly dominated by one sect makes it its business to promote so-called Islamic ideas, beliefs and practices, why should one expect the state to remain neutral in passionate schismatic disagreements between the two sects, however well-intentioned any particular organs of the state may be? Surely, isn’t it inevitable under the circumstances that the weight of the ideas and beliefs of the majority sect will be far greater than that of the minority sect and lead to a potentially discriminatory and divisive situation in the country? Indeed, one reason why the state has not been able to curb sectarian warfare in this country is that powerful sections of the state either secretly agree with some of the prejudices of the dominant sectarian ideology as espoused by its violent practitioners or condone it for opportunist strategic external policies.

The state’s reluctance to uproot the aggressive sectarianism of the majority sect is also related to its administrative weakness. The police, for instance, is far less motivated than its adversaries, not merely because of insufficient material incentives and resources but also because of its majoritarian-sect beliefs which find an echo in those of its leading foe. Certainly, it is not as well armed.

The proliferation of small arms since the Afghan campaigns of the 1980s and 1990s has led to the use of weapons for offence rather than defence, to fuel civil war at home and insurgency abroad. But it is no consolation to say that jehad is being waged outside one’s territory because the mind-set nurtured by a proliferating arms culture is consolidated at home and not abroad. The problem becomes even more intractable if external wars are not fought by professional soldiers but by jehadis from the majority sect who periodically return to the home country as heroes in civil society. Thus, open borders facilitate the inflow of all sorts of sophisticated weapons from all over the world. Indeed, Afghanistan alone has sufficient Afghan-war leftovers to arm the majority-sect warriors for another twenty years.

If it is futile to try and resolve old religious differences, it is downright dangerous in a predominantly two-sect nation to de-neutralize or de-secularise the state by allowing majority-sect versions of Islam to dominate its civil and security discourse. Until we stop doing that, we are fated to bite the bullet and be savaged by the warriors of “true faith”.

(TFT Mar 30-05 April, 2001 Vol-XIII No.5 — Editorial)

History Man

 

The government may have successfully bust the ARD’s proposed rally at Mochi Gate in Lahore on March 23. But its decision and modus operandi have been variously diagnosed as “reactionary”, “precipitous”, “needless”, etc. The argument is that if the rally had not been disallowed it would have pitched the ARD in rather poor light because the politicians would not have been able to muster a respectable and animated crowd. As it is, Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, Qasim Zia and Javed Hashmi cannot bring themselves to wipe out the grins from their faces. Certainly, the regime has got a bad press at home and abroad.

But the supergenerals seem to have figured it out. “We don’t want to be distracted from our main concerns”, they rebut, suggesting that political activity is bad for the economy and noting the virtues of a “non-discriminatory” approach. Mr Farooq Leghari had planned to march from Peshawar to Attock to demand an international debt reprieve, hardly a provocative act. But he wasn’t allowed to do so. Similarly, Mr Rasul Bux Palejo’s long march in Sindh to focus on the issue of water-sharing and shortage was broken up even though it posed no discernable threat to the regime. All this is true enough. But it is actually the proverbial fig leaf for a less than democratic road map for the future. Consider the sequence of events and the logic of a veritable anti-democratic entry strategy that is cunningly portrayed as a “true democracy” exit strategy.

The local elections have been staggered over a seven month period and split unevenly across the provinces ostensibly because voter lists are not ready but actually because it is easier to control and channel passions in the desired direction over a longer time span and wider canvass compared to an unpredictable, one-shot, operation across the length and breadth of the country. In the absence of political parties, this is the best way to corral voters into polling stations without worrying about the results in the heat and dust of battle. Hence the 45% voter turnout last January was comfortably upped to over 50% on March 21. That was just two days before the proposed ARD rally. If the signal hadn’t gone out to the voters on the eve of the rally that party politicians were strictly no-no, the results of the second round of local elections might not have been so welcome to the regime as they were in the event.

Mian Azhar’s election as president of the PML on March 25 was also scheduled in the shadow of the ARD rally. After the ISI had painstakingly herded the recalcitrant PML MNAs into the dissident camp by promising all sorts of sweet nothings, how could it risk allowing the ARD to dilute or sabotage its message on March 25? The iron fist had to be smashed on the party-political street opposition as represented by the ARD so that the non-party independents at the local level and the King’s party hopefuls behind Mian Azhar in Islamabad could be massaged with a veiled glove. And never mind, as one keen observer has pointed out, that the Margalla Cricket Ground where a red carpet was laid out for the 5000 strong anti-Nawaz PML dissidents so that they could jostle and crowd each other out was bigger and better than the barbed-wire Mochi Gate venue denied to the ARD.

Therefore General Pervez Musharraf’s March 25 announcement to seek an indefinite extension in his tenure as army chief fits nicely into the jigsaw puzzle. When the time is ripe, he means to become the president of Pakistan. When and how will that happen?

General Musharraf is half way there already. Half the local elections are in the bag. And half the political opposition (ie, PML) is in his pocket. Come August, the curtain will fall on the local elections and it will be time to start thinking of provincial elections and what to do about Benazir Bhutto and the PPP. Come to think of it, what is to stop him from decreeing that no one may be elected prime minister if he or she has already been PM twice? Once his nemeses are out of the way for good, he could stagger the provincial elections across time and space much like the local elections and try and engineer “positive results”. That would leave him just one step short of the coveted presidency atop a planned national security council or some such thing. The coup de grace would come with the national elections, which would seek to legitimise and institutionalise the role of the supergeneral regime and accord primacy to General Pervez Musharraf. The question of the restoration of the assemblies is peripheral to the main thrust of future developments. It is merely one route among many to the same end.

If General Pervez Musharraf has his way there will be no politics on the streets of Pakistan. And Pakistanis will not be free to choose the politicians and political system of their choice. But if the road to hell is often paved with the best of intentions, history might still have its way and the best-laid plans could go astray.

(TFT April 06-12, 2001 Vol-XIII No.6 — Editorial)

Restrain them, General

The good news is that the number of journalists imprisoned for various alleged offences in 131 countries of the world declined from 87 to 81 in 1999-2000. The bad news is that there were over 600 cases of media repression, including assassination, assault, imprisonment, censorship and bureaucratic harassment involving trumped-up tax-evasion charges, crippling libel suits and prolonged advertising boycotts. Worse, 24 journalists were killed last year in the line of duty — 16 in cold-blooded murders in which most of the murderers went scot-free.

The worst offenders were drug cartels in Columbia, crime syndicates in Russia and state-sponsored death squads in Sierra Leone. The Report suggests that journalists were more likely to be imprisoned in China (22 last year) and murdered in Columbia (34 in the last decade) than anywhere else. Among the other pariah states inimical to a free press were the Ukraine, Mozambique, Venezuela and almost all dictatorships in the so-called “Islamic” Middle-East. The worrying details are listed in the annual report of the influential New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The CPJ notes, however, that some progress has been made in defending press freedom across the world. This is proof that organisations like the CPJ, Amnesty International and other human rights watchdogs devoted to exposing abuse and rousing opinion against acts of oppression and repression, have distinctly served the cause of press freedom. But “outrageous abuses of the media continue as governments achieve their repressive goals with more sophisticated techniques of harassment”. How has Pakistan’s press fared under the military regime?

Decidedly better than under the last representative government when horrendous tactics were used to try and silence the independent press. In fact, the Nawaz Sharif government lost the support and sympathy of key countries when it tried to gag journalists and papers in Pakistan. By the same token, General Pervez Musharraf has earned grudging support from the international community for his hands-off-the-press policy so far. In fact, he is quick to flaunt press freedom as a key element of his novel “return-to-true-democracy” agenda.

But a degree of disquiet, even alarm and fear, is in the air. Last September, Gen Musharraf denounced journalists for planting stories at the behest of the deposed prime minister. Challenged to prove his allegation, the good general angrily pursed his lips but declined to comment. Then, last November, 3 employees of a daily paper in Karachi died in an inexplicable bomb explosion in their office. Words of sympathy and solace apart, the regime remains totally disinterested in investigating the incident, tracking down the culprits and determining motives. Around the same time, an army monitoring team unthinkingly trampled all over the offices of another paper in Karachi, creating quite a stir among journalists. Earlier, in May, violent mobs attacked and ransacked the office of a newspaper in Karachi while the police stayed put. In between all this, a Sindhi journalist was murdered by a local Mafioso who bought his way to freedom and a newspaper in the northern areas was banned while its editor was hounded out of the area for arousing the wrath of the local military commander.

It is, however, the sacking of the Frontier Post in Peshawar by zealots some months ago that has tarred the painstakingly contrived press-friendly image of this regime. PTV couldn’t hide its glee at the desperate plight of the paper and its journalists. And the Peshawar administration seemed to freeze in its tracks at the wondrous scene of gutting printing machines but swept the streets in search of the blaspheming journalists. Even the CE couldn’t restrain his impulse to signal good riddance to bad rubbish!

Now a senior reporter of The News in Islamabad, Mr Shakil Sheikh, has been badly roughed up by unknown assailants. Mr Sheikh has pointed a finger at those who don’t like his reports. Who are these people? How are they able to roam the streets of Islamabad in unmarked four-wheel drive jeeps? What are the boot-mark injuries on his back supposed to imply? Does he know or suspect their identity but doesn’t want to remark upon it? The journalist community is buzzing with speculation but no one is naming names, explaining motives or investigating the facts in print. Indeed, a curious new development seems to have tainted sections of the press. It is the realisation or fear that if it tramples on the boots of the powerful men in khaki by exposing nepotism or lack of transparency or moral turpitude (thank God, there is no overt corruption so far), there may be scant legal protection in its hour of trial.

This does not bode well for the regime. When the press is afraid to freely air its news and views, a whispering campaign can prove deadly because there is no official or public defense against it. In time, the world will wake up to the plight of the local press and General Musharraf will lose the key to his showcase of democracy. Restrain the rogue elements, General, before they stir a hornets’ nest and harm you irretreivably.

(TFT April 13-19, 2001 Vol-XIII No.7 — Editorial)

One possible script

If a black cat can have up to nine lives, Benazir Bhutto must wonder why she can’t be blessed with a third one at least. Why not, indeed?

The recent supreme court order for a retrial of the SGS/Cotecna corruption case against her and Asif Zardari proves that the high court trial in 1998-99 was rigged by Nawaz Sharif. Certainly, Saif ur Rehman’s abject “apology” to Mr Zardari recently is evidence of his objectionable role in the matter.

Ms Bhutto can also safely assume that the retrial will keep her on the front pages for a long time. Her review petition for acquittal will take some weeks. If she wins, well and good. But if she loses, the question of the “competent court” in which the trial is to be held will have to be addressed. However, the old accountability law under which she was tried in the high court has given way to the NAB ordinance under which the government will want to seize the issue. But Ms Bhutto is likely to challenge this assumption. That should consume some more energy. At any rate, the NAB ordinance is already being thrashed in the supreme court where, let alone the judges who are perceptibly hostile to it, even the attorney-general is embarrassed to own up to its draconian provisions. Thus a watered-down accountability ordinance should afford her personal relief as well present opportunities to fortify her legal defence.

Much, of course, will depend on the supreme court’s detailed logic when this is made public. In turn, Ms Bhutto’s defence will depend on whether the court has attached any relevance or significance to the conduct of the high court judges as demonstrated by the scandalous tapes, or based its judgment on the procedural unfairness of the trial. Additionally, the question of whether there is to be a trial from scratch or whether only certain aspects of recording and appreciation of evidence are to be redressed will impact on the duration of the retrial. Finally, both sides are likely to appeal galore as the case trudges all the way back to the supreme court. Does this mean that Ms Bhutto can afford to relax?

Hardly. General Khalid Maqbool, the head honcho at NAB, was forewarned. So he is forearmed with a clutch of brand new charges against Ms Bhutto and Mr Zardari. He says that if the lady thinks she can set a free foot in Pakistan she is sadly mistaken. Ms Bhutto, of course, understands the language of the generals only too well and has calibrated her response accordingly. Disclaiming a quick return to Pakistan, she has ordered her party stalwarts to make haste for London for a meeting to determine an appropriate re-entry strategy for her. Meanwhile, delighted with the PPP’s improved showing in the Punjab during the second stage of the local elections, she has nudged Nawabzada Nasrullah to test the waters by attempting a second public plunge on May Day. Her approach is failsafe because she has learnt her lessons well.

In a predominantly two-party system, post cold-war nature abhors a political vacuum just as much as it abhors attempts to fill the vacuum by a non-representative third party. Thus the vacuum engineered by Ms Bhutto’s ouster in 1990 was filled by Mr Sharif, the one by Mr Sharif in 1993 by Ms Bhutto and the one by Ms Bhutto in 1996 by Mr Sharif in 1997. So she is basically telling the generals that they should make a deal with her to fill the current vacuum. But General Pervez Musharraf thinks otherwise. He believes that instead of filling the vacuum in the old political system it is time to sweep the old system aside by creating a new one which is based on the two popular parties but without their acknowledged leaders so that he can become the kingpin instead of either of them.

This is a novel idea. It departs from Zia ul Haq’s non-party model by trying to reinvent the Pakistan Muslim League without Nawaz Sharif while holding out the possibility of working with the Pakistan Peoples Party without the Bhutto-Zardaris. But it is far from being accomplished. Indeed, the inability of the pro-Musharraf PML dissident group to fire the imagination of the Pakistani public, coupled with the supreme court’s judicial reassertion and an aggressively pro-democracy international environment, has enabled Ms Bhutto to deal herself a good hand. She means to throw everything she can muster at General Musharraf so that she can get a better deal from him than Nawaz Sharif. What’s possible?

Protestations for the sake of form notwithstanding, General Musharraf is not averse to political deals when the alternative is less palatable. Thus the greater Ms Bhutto’s success in making a real public comeback, the better the deal she can hope to get from General Musharraf. At the very least, she has to make a real nuisance of herself so that Mr Zardari is let off and a front-row seat is reserved for the PPP in the next national assembly without Ms Bhutto. That, at least, is one possible script. But Pakistani scripts are notoriously susceptible to the mercurial Pakistani weather.

(TFT April 20-26, 2001 Vol-XIII No.8 — Editorial)

Duplicity all round

United Bank Ltd has just petitioned the supreme court (SC) to review a sweeping decision by the SC’s Shariat Appellate Bench (SAB) in December 1999 which equated interest with riba, outlawed all interest-based financial systems and transactions as “un-Islamic”, proposed new Islamic financial institutions and economic laws, and set June 30th, 2001, as a cut-off date for implementing its order. However, the UBL petition does not directly challenge the definition of riba approved by the SC, nor its blanket equation with interest in a capitalist, free-market system. It merely argues that the SC went beyond its constitutional jurisdiction in proposing certain types of Islamic institutions and laws to replace the ones in place currently because only parliament is authorised to make laws and establish new institutions.

Since the matter is sub judice, we will not discuss the legal merits of the petition. But the duplicitous manner in which successive governments, including this one, have dealt with this critical issue cries out for comment. It is also necessary to reiterate that in the current international environment of fear and loathing for the wave of religious extremism threatening to engulf Pakistan, this could become a matter of life and death for our struggling economy.

In 1991, the Federal Shariat Court (bequeathed by a military dictator) was prodded by “Islamic ideologues” in Nawaz Sharif’s Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (both created by the military) to declare interest as riba and ban all interest-bearing transactions as un-Islamic. The FSC was emboldened to do so by Mr Sharif who had not only handpicked its chief judge but also amended the constitution to incorporate shariah as “the supreme law of the land”. However, Mr Sharif was forced to reconsider his decisions when his finance minister, Mr Sartaj Aziz, was collared by members of the Aid to Pakistan consortium in Paris in 1992. Therefore, as a sop to aid donors, the government reluctantly appealed the FSC decision in the SC. But as a sop to the Islamic ideologues propping up the IJI government, no serious effort was made to overturn the decision. Indeed, interminable delays were sought by the petitioner and granted by the SC, even though the law expressly said that the review petition should be disposed of within six months.

The hypocritical conspiracy launched by Mr Sharif continued under Benazir Bhutto from 1993 to 1996. In fact, she left the case in cold storage because she didn’t want IJI ideologues baying for her blood. But the mood became decidedly chilling after Mr Sharif returned to power in 1997, packed the SAB with hard-line Islamic judges and, in a shocking U-turn in 1998, withdrew his pending 1991 appeal against the FSC judgment. A proposal to amend the constitution and make himself Amir ul Momineen followed, but was thankfully blocked in the Senate. Undaunted, he moved a local court to throw out a London court’s order to pay about US$ 30m in principal and accumulated interest on a loan his father and brother had taken from a middle-eastern bank a long time ago. His lawyers argued that interest was un-Islamic and the local court accepted their plea. Simultaneously, the Sharifs approached the Lahore High Court to waive all interest payments on the billions of rupees in bank loans outstanding against them. Indeed, the farce soon threatened epidemic proportions when Mr Saif ur Rehman, a Sharif henchman, also requested the High Court to waive interest charges on his Rs 1 billion bank dues.

No less stunning was the manner in which the SAB reacted to the government’s decision to withdraw its 1991 appeal. Instead of dropping the matter as is the norm in such situations, the court summoned “financial experts” and “Islamic jurists” to enlighten it. In due course, a detailed anti-interest judgment was delivered in the absence of any appellant or respondent in the case!

The timing was curious, to say in the least. It came at a particularly difficult time for the country and new government. The former was crying out for foreign investment and the latter was desperate to project a modern and moderate face of Islam to the outside world. Instead, it seemed to make Pakistan look like the Plague.

Curiosity, however, gave way to disbelief when General Musharraf casually shrugged it away. Disbelief turned to shock when Mr Shaukat Aziz ordered his minions to start fashioning the tools of Islamic finance ordained by the SAB. And shock turned to horror when both gentlemen unflappably told the donor community that the judgment would neither apply to foreign financial transactions nor jeopardise the World Bank funded programme for financial and judicial sector reforms along the lines of a modern free-market economy.

The faces have changed but the pretence and opportunism remains the same. UBL’s feeble petition at the last hour does not ask the SC to re-examine the fundamental issue of equating all forms of interest as riba that lies at the heart of the matter. This is a delaying tactic. At best, it will sow more financial confusion when the appeal is finally adjudged. At worst, it will enable a Damocles-like sword to be hung over us as we seek integration in the global economy.

(TFT April 27-03 May, 2001 Vol-XIII No.9 — Editorial)

A small beginning at least

As navy chief (1994-1997), Admiral Mansoor ul Haq’s corruption preceded him. But evidence of commissions and kickbacks was hard to come by, so he remained at large, perennially cosying up to the First Husband, Asif Zardari, and flouting all rules and regulations. However, if TFT couldn’t name names, its back page was heavy with innuendo and allusion about the navy chief’s mischief.

TFT took the plunge during the interim government of President Farooq Leghari in 1996 when it lent its pages to l’enfant terrible of the Pakistani press, Ardeshir Cowasjee, because his own paper was reluctant to print his commentary on the affairs of the navy. After the first article appeared, there was a howl of protest from naval headquarters. The PM’s staff wondered how a paper belonging to the PM’s advisor — TFT’s editor was then on loan to the federal cabinet – could target serving member(s) of the government and bring the armed forces into “disrepute”. Undaunted, TFT went ahead and published a second article by Mr Cowasjee. This now became the object of sharp remarks from the navy chief at a private dinner in Islamabad hosted by the PM in which the president, service chiefs and the advisor were all present.

However, to be fair to the armed forces, it must be admitted that the ISI had also submitted a dossier on Admiral Haq’s doings and undoings to the PM’s secretariat. But the prevailing view among the other service chiefs and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee was that Admiral Haq was giving the forces a bad name, so he should be eased out (not sacked), citing ill-health rather than misdemeanour. In the event, however, the Admiral’s plea that he should be allowed to stay on until he had married off his daughter was readily accepted.

There are a number of incredible aversions in this account. First, it is difficult even under a democratic government in Pakistan for the press to level serious charges of corruption or impropriety against senior members of the armed forces, let alone serving service chiefs, because of a habit of self-censorship and hangover of fear inherited from the long night of military Raj.

Second, there is no civil tradition of putting senior armed forces personnel on trial for corruption or misuse of power. Indeed, the rule is that the civil order must remain at arms length from armed forces personnel, serving or retired, high or low, irrespective of any crimes that they may have committed. Thus, if Admiral Haq was unharmed as navy chief, we only have to recall the case of General Aslam Beg who, after retirement, was condoned by the chief justice of Pakistan after he had publicly confessed (thereby committing contempt of the supreme court) how, as army chief in 1988, he had leaned on the supreme court not to restore the national assembly but to order new elections. General Beg it was, too, who had revealed how he and the ISI split the proceeds from a highly dubious financial handout by banker Yunus Habib in 1990 for the purposes of rigging the elections to keep Benazir Bhutto out of power. Finally, it was General Aslam Beg who received a US$10 million cheque in his personal name from Osama Bin Laden in 1990 for the same objective. The civil and army high command has known this fact from Day-One but no one has had the courage to cleanse the stables.

Third, every accountability law passed by the civilians has steered clear of the armed forces on the pretext that their in-house accountability process is failsafe and transparent, even though the truth is patently otherwise. Indeed, even Mr Saif ur Rehman had to wait after Admiral Haq was eased out of office before he could even contemplate an investigation against him. In the event, Admiral Haq was allowed by Mr Rehman to leave the country even though he should have been a prime candidate to top the ECL list. If all this is true, why has the military government sought Mr Haq’s extradition from the USA?

Clearly, General Pervez Musharraf is hugely embarrassed that NAB’s draconian outreach doesn’t extend to the armed forces, more so because General Mohammad Amjad, the first head of NAB, was in favour of casting his net over certain fellow khakis. But accountability of army generals is not quite the same thing as that of navy admirals. Also, Mr Haq’s links with Mr Zardari are a special attraction. In fact, TFT has learnt that the government sought Mr Haq’s extradition only after he spurned the offer of a deal with NAB whereby he might have avoided a tortuous trial if he had returned the kickbacks and implicated Mr Zardari in the submarine deal.

Explanations apart, we welcome the government’s efforts to drag Mr Haq back to Pakistan. His extradition and trial will set new precedents. In the future, every civilian or khaki crook will suffer a recurring nightmare wherever he or she is holed out. That may not be a sufficient deterrent against high level crime but it is a beginning in the right direction at least.

(TFT May 04-10, 2001 Vol-XIII No.10 — Editorial)

India: conduct unbecoming

Despite peace-mongering, India remains the bully on the block. Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal have been variously alienated. Now, four years after the Gugral peace initiative settled the water dispute with Bangladesh, its eastern neighbour has been given a dose of New Delhi’s aggressive intent.

Last week, 16 Indian soldiers were killed by the Bangladesh army when they violated the international border in the Sylhet-Meghalaya sector. Understandably, Indians were angry to learn that the dead bodies had been mutilated. Inexplicably, however, the Indian government didn’t shed any light on what had happened, despite a string of nagging questions by the Bangladesh media. Nor has India registered the message of the protesting people of Bangladesh. Instead, the BJP’s allies want aggressive action. Accordingly, New Delhi has reinforced its forces on the border and registered a case of “war crimes” against Bangladesh in an Indian court.

India needs to look at what is happening inside Bangladesh in order to understand why its army has encountered such fierce resistance from the Bangladesh army. Mrs Hasina Wajed’s Awami League government is friendly with the Hindu-nationalist BJP government (it was friendlier still with the Gujral government earlier). But India and BD share a potentially troublesome 4000 km long border guarded by 700 ‘border outposts’ because both countries have enclaves penetrating far into each other’s territory. This is the legacy of the 1947 Radcliffe Award. It should have been straightened out but wasn’t when Bangladesh was still East Pakistan. However, an agreement to do so was signed in 1974. But this wasn’t subsequently ratified by India because it perceived ‘unfriendly political trends’ in Dhaka that led to the political eclipse of the pro-India Awami League of Sheikh Mujiburrehman. Meanwhile, India has continued to suffer from a steady ‘leakage’ of Bangladeshis into India which could have been better prevented if the treaty had been ratified.

Most Indian security experts insist that India should adopt a “forward policy” and teach Bangladesh a lesson. They accuse Bangladesh of culpability on other counts too: that a senior BD army officer paid a visit to Pakistan recently; that Khaleda Zia, the opposition leader, visited China; that the ISI had set up office in a certain quarter of Dhaka and was behind it all; that the Bangladeshi army was pro-Pakistan and that General Musharraf’s current visit to Myanmar could be part of a grand design against India. But no one cared to note that the Bangladeshi media was unanimous in criticising India for provoking the conflict.

Indian security minds are unwilling to see Bangladesh as a small state next door that should be sympathetically treated. They also tend to encourage the Indian public to think of India as an innocent and righteous state constantly destabilised by its’ wicked’ small neighbours. Indeed, the Indian state is so disabled by passions of misplaced nationalism that it cannot fathom why a small and poor state like Bangladesh should choose to kill and maim its troops in such a manner. This, despite the eventual great cost to India when a Sri Lankan soldier hit prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1990 with his rifle butt during a ceremonial parade long before he was assassinated as a direct consequence of the Indian role in the civil war in Sri Lanka. The fact that the Indian ‘free’ media has also failed to present the other side of the story — how the BSF has gradually encroached on Bangladeshi enclaves – reinforces the negative aspect of Indian nationalism.

The hostile Indian reaction does not auger well for the future of Indo-BD relations. Prime minister Hasina Wajed’s popularity will plunge if she isn’t sufficiently defiant. Right wing politicians might also try to deepen the wedge that already exists between her and a suspicious BD army. Therefore Bangladesh might be destabilised unless India shows understanding, ratifies the treaty and gets out of the enclaves it has seized.

If India wants to be recognised as a global player it must first be accepted as a generous regional power trusted by its smaller neighbours. But this is highly unlikely in view of the prevailing circumstances. Now that elections are on in some Indian states hosting Bangladeshi refugees, local politics is bound to turn on communal issues, with leaders putting on the war paint in states like Assam, Bihar and West Bengal, and souring the regional atmosphere further. Let us not forget that there are over one million Bangladeshi refugees in India and the Bangladeshi economy is overwhelmed by goods smuggled across the unprotected border from India.

India’s quarrel with Pakistan is out in the open but Nepal and Bangladesh have tended to downplay their simmering squabbles with their big neighbour. However, when governments sweep big issues under the carpet, their people tend to form their own views about what India is doing to their country. Thus India’s villainy tends to be exaggerated and harms its bilateral relationships. Therefore, as the big country, India should understand this better than the small countries in its neighbourhood. But it doesn’t seem to give a damn. That is classic small-power behaviour in a nation that bids to become a global player and sit inside the UN Security Council.

(TFT May 11-17, 2001 Vol-XIII No.11 — Editorial)

The world according to PM

If it’s lonely at the top, as General Pervez Musharraf claims, it’s certainly not evident in his demeanour. The general is bristling with overconfidence. The politicians have no credibility, he thunders, hence they have no right to hold public meetings. The IMF and World Bank are on board, he asserts, hence everything’s chummy with the donor community. Traders and businessmen have forked over an additional Rs 50 billion in taxes this year, he argues, hence everything is going to be hunky dory with the economy. The local elections are whistling through, he chuckles, hence it’s time to start thinking of ascending the presidency. The supreme court is in a cooperative mood, he grins, hence any number of constitutional amendments can be made. The dictatorial regimes in Burma and Egypt which recently laid out the red carpet for him are alive and kicking, he shrugs, hence his own longevity is assured. The foreign minister has been invited to meet the top dogs of the Bush administration in Washington, he clarifies, hence sanctions are on their way out. The Taliban are giving Tajik commander Ahmad Shah Masood a good thrashing, he notes, hence the European Union which invited Masood to Brussels recently can go jump in a lake. The jihadis are making India pay through its nose in Kashmir, he boasts, hence the national security strategy is clicking. Finally, praise be to Allah who moves in mysterious and unexpected ways, Washington and Beijing are trading threats, he submits, hence Pakistan may receive some Chinese windfalls in the bargain.

But before General Musharraf clicks his heels and dances a jig of joy, he might pause to consider the flip side of the coin. The politicians may be down but they are not out, which is why the regime is scared of allowing them to kick up a dust storm. The IMF and World Bank are fickle mistresses, now you see them, now you don’t, depending on their master’s voice in Washington. America has decided to cosy up to India, thus if push comes to shove, it could start brandishing the stick to Pakistan all over again. Traders and businessmen are mad as hell, so instead of investing in the country they would rather take their money and run. The economy is growing, to be sure, but it’s far below target. The local nazims are lining up to elect a president, but the self-same philosophy may induce them to leave a sinking ship like rats. The Taliban’s military victories provide illusory strategic depth to Islamabad, but one false move by Osama Bin Laden could provoke the wrath of the big boy in the White House and make Afghanistan a millstone around our necks. The Indians may not know whether they’re coming or going, but when they tire of Pakistani pricking they might just become desperate enough to pick up the gauntlet and hurl it in our face.

Finally, there is not much comfort to be drawn from the experience of the military dictators in Burma or from the autocratic president of Egypt. Burma is not teetering on the brink of financial default and is not dependent on international goodwill for economic survival. Nor is it at odds with either Washington on the issue of nuclear proliferation and Islamic terrorism or any powerful neighbour over a hotly disputed slice of history. Likewise, General Musharraf isn’t a patch on President Hosni Mubarak. Where the latter is the most virile, anti-fundo American ally in the Middle-East, the former is wont to flirt with the fundos and is not averse to blackmailing the West (Apres moi, le deluge!).

In other words, General Musharraf is safe and sound until he trips up or someone throws a spanner in his works. That is not a matter of if but when, since there are so many angry people and disgruntled states around and the general is seeking nothing less than a total transformation of political life according to his own worldview. When that happens, all his wistful dreams will become recurring nightmares and it will get terribly lonely at the bottom of the well.

There is, of course, one way in which PM can ward off the odds stacked against him. That is by stripping the state of its misplaced concept of national security. In the modern age, national security is not built around notions of extracting pounds of flesh by war or jihad. It is constructed around historical compromises with neighbours east and west so that the peace dividend is used to enhance the welfare of all the citizens of a state. Security doesn’t flow from squeezing growth in order to reduce the fiscal deficit or from pushing human talent and capital out of the country. It springs from a high savings and investment rate in the country. It cannot be protected by controlling dissent because it is critically dependent on a democratic consensus based on free association and will. It cannot be achieved by institutionalising passionate faith because it is primarily predicated on the innocuous self-interest of people. Anyone who thinks or believes otherwise is deceiving himself.

(TFT May 18-24, 2001 Vol-XIII No.12 — Editorial)

Learning from China

The recent visit by Chinese premier Zhu Rongji to Pakistan has aroused many hopes in this country. Indeed, some of us are inclined to view it in the perspective of a deteriorating US-China relationship following the spy-plane incident coupled with the determination of the US to rearm Taiwan, and a warming US-India relationship following India’s opportunist turnabout on President George W. Bush’s controversial National Missile Defence program to which China is opposed. This strategic perspective suggests that China may now be more inclined to assist Pakistan in confronting India and the United States than in the past. In fact, a number of opinion-writers who think Pakistan’s unbending foreign policy is the only way to go are glad to note that a “strategic opening” has been provided to offset Pakistan’s growing international isolation.

But Pakistanis are not alone in thinking in such military terms. In India, too, there are people who see profit in the developing Sino-American contradiction provoked by a Republican Party made rabidly right-wing by its bitter confrontation with ex-President Bill Clinton. In fact, since both India and Pakistan are rather backward in international trade, they are secretly keen to stoke a revival of the Cold War so that they can sort each other out militarily. India supports President Bush’s NMD programme when no one even in the European Union has shown any enthusiasm for it, while Pakistan thinks it can carry on its self-isolating jehadi policies now that China has been provoked by the US to bankroll Pakistan.

That is where the mistake lies. Pakistan must look closely at China and try to understand the real compulsions of its friendly neighbour. This is necessary because Pakistan hardly has any non-official contacts with China, and Beijing is traditionally not given to mouthing reckless foreign policy statements. China is not a warrior state but a trading nation deeply committed to a policy of modernisation and trade surpluses to maintain its astounding growth rate of over 10%. In fact, its status in global trade reinforces the pragmatism that has marked its traditional style of state behaviour. Thus, in its handling of the confrontation with the inexperienced new US president, it is likely to behave as a mature and calculating entity rather than as a state with human attributes that is maddened by a perceived insult.

This means that those Indian and Pakistani ‘experts’ who smell in this “confrontation” the seeds of yet another Cold War and a consequent free military ride should think again. In fact, the Indians may be in for a rude awakening if they think that Washington will build India up militarily as a factor to balance China, given Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent and its nervous rulers. On the other hand, Pakistanis who think that China will lean in favour of Pakistan to offset what is perceived as an India-Israel-US axis should ponder the real meaning of Chinese self-interest.

China’s future lies in retaining its fast growth rate and becoming the biggest economy in the world in the next twenty years. Thus, while it pursues its Asia policy, it is more than likely to take great care in remaining inside a regional consensus and not becoming isolated – a value on which Pakistanis place no premium. It is in this context that China has been pursuing detente with Russia and India whereby it has removed its fundamental disputes with Russia and put its border disputes with India on the backburner. It has achieved a remarkable identity of views with Iran. Indeed, it has even initiated a slight ‘thaw’ in its relationship with the Taliban without going so far as to recognise it as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. But we should remember that all these are countries, excluding the Taliban, with whom Pakistan has bad relations because we believe that there is no alternative to the policies that have led to bad relations with these states. But that is not how China thinks. In fact, Pakistanis should worry about the fact that while India as America’s budding partner is regionally and globally more integrated than ever before, Pakistan can only relate to Burma to break its greater-than-ever solitude. The fear is that Pakistan could become a Chinese liability if it continues to pursue its moribund self-isolating policies.

That leads to a realistic consideration of the promising turn in Pak-China economic cooperation heralded by premier Zhu Rongji’s visit. This is where the silver lining actually exists if Islamabad can demonstrate the capacity of using Chinese help without crumbling under the weight of its old inertia.

We must not let this opening lead us back toward the path of isolationist thinking. Those who suggest that Pakistan should hitch its wagon to China and forget about integrating with the South Asian trading bloc under SAARC are advised to consider whether China would approve of such policies (it won’t!). Finally, we should carefully re-read the import of Chinese advice in the light of its own policies and experience regarding the “unfinished business of history” (our Kashmir cause) on how to settle border and territorial disputes with neighbours.

(TFT May 25-31, 2001 Vol-XIII No.13 — Editorial)

Mixing religion and politics

The federal minister for religious affairs, Mr Mehmud Ghazi, is a veritable busybody. He is constantly conjuring up apparently pious religious edicts, exhorting misplaced cannons to thunder against the avowed evils of riba (interest), and hatching plots to drive the unwashed unbelievers into paradise at the point of General Pervez Musharraf’s bayonet. Reportedly, Mr Ghazi’s latest construction is a draft for legislation aimed at “Islamising” every aspect of our wretched lives. It is said to be titled Iqamat-i-Salah (saying prayers regularly), Amr bil Maruf (furtherance of good), Nahy anil Munkar (purging evil).

There is something rather menacing about this proposed law. It is quite akin to Nawaz Sharif’s proposed 15th constitutional amendment to become a dictator. But there are two crucial differences between them. Mr Sharif didn’t spell out how he meant to promote “good” and expunge “evil” from society. But Mr Ghazi has no such compunctions — his draft is over 1000 words long. Also, Mr Sharif was attempting to strengthen his own hands as prime minister. But Mr Ghazi is singing the president’s tune. Consider.

Hisbah (Censorship) authorities will be appointed at every administrative level to frame rules and ensure compliance. All executive powers shall act in aid of Hisbah authorities. Complaints by citizens (as in the blasphemy law) or public functionaries will be grist for the mills. Such authorities will “discourage anti-Islamic social habits” (not defined). Penalties will range from fines and stripes to “corporal or other punishments”. Accused persons must defend themselves without lawyers. The head of the Federal Hisbah Authority and two ulema members will be appointed by the president while the federal government (read prime minister) will have two reps, thus giving the president a decisive edge in furthering his particular agenda. The same powers will accrue to the president’s nominee (Governor) at the provincial level who will “reorder the individual and collective life of Pakistanis on the cultural pattern and moral values of Islam”.

Why is such a law necessary, when all the so-called “Islamic” laws decreed by that evil dictator Zia ul Haq and that rascal Nawaz Sharif didn’t succeed in purging “evil” from our hearts and making “good Muslims” out of us? Indeed, isn’t this another devious scheme to strip us of our civil and fundamental constitutional rights and hound us into submission to those scoundrels who masquerade as the “chosen” few? The fact is that our bruised and battered constitution already mocks the notion of an Islamic state by calling Pakistan an “Islamic Republic” (in an Islamic state, Allah is sovereign; in a Republic, the people are sovereign). Why do we want to muddy the waters further by such a decree? If anything, we should be moving in the opposite direction by ensuring that the purity of religion, faith or belief is not blotted by the dirt and filth of political engineering.

Mixing religion with politics has spawned unprecedented degrees of violence and terror in this country and progressively uprooted chunks of the citizenry. The Qadianis were banned by a “socialist” government-dominated state in 1974 and hounded to flee from the country. Women were alienated by the Hadood laws in the 1980s when rape was equated with adultery and the Qisas and Diyat ordinances degenerated into elements of the class struggle. The blasphemy net was then cast far and wide to include the hapless Christians as well. Meanwhile the Ushr and Zakat committees were established to empower and enrich the ulema, and madrassas were officially funded and propped up in the entire belt bordering Afghanistan in quest of jihadi lashkars for the war in Afghanistan. And so on.

Thus the Talibanised vigilantes who scour the hills of the NWFP and Balochistan, breaking TV sets, burning video films, banning music and flouting the writ of the state, are characterised more by tribalism and illiteracy than by any organic rooting in Islamic law, history or tradition. The Sunni and Shia sectarian militants who heap abuse and murder upon each other in pursuit of an imagined practise of faith harm revealed truth rather than purify or unify their herd. The intra-sect fratricide in the dominant religious stream of the Sunnis is more about the spoils of power and space than it is of religious zeal. The local jihadis who are bent upon waging war against the injustice of the infidels not just in the region but in the four corners of the world are playing with the fortunes of the sovereign nation-state of Pakistan rather than enhancing the cause of Islam. And the advocates of abolishing all forms of interest in an economic system wedded to and integrated with the global system of capitalism are undermining the growth prospects of the economy and the confidence of our saving and investing classes rather than enhancing the cause of our impoverished masses.

Therefore do-gooders like Dr Ghazi who are bent upon making good Muslims out of us by decree are more likely to strengthen the impulse for dictatorship and disruption rather than support the quest for democracy and stability. Perhaps some enlightened general might have a quiet word or two with the gentleman and set him on the right path?

(TFT Jun 01-07, 2001 Vol-XIII No.14 — Editorial)

Hopes and fears

After adopting a holier-than-thou attitude for 18 months, India has now more than just agreed to talk to Pakistan — its prime minister has actually invited Pakistan’s military leader for talks in India “on all outstanding issues, including Jammu and Kashmir”. On his part, too, General Pervez Musharraf doesn’t seem rigid any more. He began by rubbishing the Lahore Peace Summit of 1999 in which Kashmir didn’t figure as the “core issue” between the two sides. Later, however, he shifted ground, sought domestic support for a “moderate and flexible” approach to the Kashmir issue, and called for unconditional talks “anytime, anywhere”. Does this mean that the situation is ripe for the Hindu hardliners in India and the military hawks in Pakistan to arrive at a historic compromise and bury the hatchet?

We think not. For starters, the weight of history is pitted against such a quick fix. In the last decade, there were at least four false starts in 1989 (Bhutto & Gandhi), 1994 (Bhutto & Rao), 1997 (Sharif & Gujral) and 1999 (Sharif & Vajpayee). But there are more concrete reasons why one should not build high hopes into the latest diplomatic flurries. Consider.

General Musharraf was fairly gung-ho when he arrived on the scene in November 1999 and spurned the idea of pursuing the Lahore Peace process. But within months, he realised that even an accidental conflict with India, let alone one provoked by Pakistan, would derail his reform process (especially on the economic front which was critically dependent upon American goodwill) and undermine the stability and longevity of his regime. So the hardliner quickly switched from a policy of “fight-fight” (via the jihadis in Kashmir) to one of “talk-talk, fight-fight” when the Hizbul Mujahideen offered a conditional ceasefire in July 2000.

India, in the meanwhile, wasn’t sitting idle either. After five decades, it had finally succeeded in charming America to tilt in its favour. Now it certainly wasn’t going to allow Pakistan to chip away at its newfound friendship with the sole superpower. So the fraudulent Hizb ceasefire sponsored by Islamabad was followed by a row of fraudulent ceasefires by the Indian army in Kashmir. In due course, each side tried to outdo the other with its “peace overtures” in a bid to woo the international community — restraint along the border and partial withdrawal of troops by Pakistan, and an offer to talk to the Kashmiris by India, etc ― even as the war in Kashmir continued to rage furiously.

India’s latest, rather dramatic offer should therefore be viewed in its proper context. It follows two significant overtures, one by New Delhi (support for President’s Bush’s national missile development program) and another by Washington (a high profile visit to DC by Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh and high profile visits to New Delhi by the US Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, and the new head of Centcom, General B J Shelton). But if India is keen to scratch America’s back, it is keener still to demonstrate its toughness to Pakistan in more ways than one. The invitation to General Musharraf was preceded by threatening war games along the border with Pakistan, buttressed by aggressive attempts to fence the border in Kashmir and followed up by an abrupt end to the ceasefire in Kashmir. Clearly, it is going to be talk-talk, fight-fight all the way for India as well.

 If India has made a clear and decisive move to win international sympathy without alienating its hardliners, Pakistan’s response has been somewhat confused. The invitation was “positively” accepted, to be sure, but the Foreign Office mandarins have been clumsy. They initially supported the context in which the Indians proposed the talks — the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Summit in which both sides agreed to seek a bilateral solution to all outstanding issues, including Kashmir, without assigning primacy to any one at any time. But then the blundering Pakistani High Commissioner to New Delhi, Ashraf Qazi, succumbed to the foot and mouth disease by unnecessarily suggesting that the third option of independence for Kashmir could be considered if the Kashmiris so desired, after an agreement by India and Pakistan to seek an amendment to the UN resolutions, and the Kashmiri freedom-fighters could be persuaded to “alter the pattern of their behaviour” in the event of progress on the peaceful-solution front. This has prompted our Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar to back-pedal furiously by bringing Kashmir back into the “core-issue framework” and insisting that the talks will take place in the context of all previous agreements with India, including the UN resolutions for a plebiscite to determine Kashmir’s future in India “or” Pakistan. And this has led India’s Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh to retaliate that while Kashmir can be discussed, it cannot be negotiated away since it is an “internal” matter of India.

Alas. We have been down this slope many times in the past. The opening moves by both sides were so full of hope and promise. But after each summit, there has been a long and bitter estrangement because neither side had the courage or sincerity to seek a historic compromise. We hope it will be different this time. But we fear it won’t.

(TFT Jun 08-14, 2001 Vol-XIII No.15 — Editorial)

Lies and damned lies

A report by the State Bank of Pakistan on the health of the Pakistani economy at the end of the third quarter (March) of the current financial year 2000-2001 paints an interesting picture. Among its summary conclusions may be listed the following: 1. Large-scale manufacturing is up by 8.8%, as against 3.5% last year and 3.6% a year earlier, partly because sugar production and petroleum refining are buoyant. [This is a good sign.]

  1. Exports are also up 8.4%, as against 8.9% last year and a decline of 11.7% a year earlier. [This is a good sign.]
  2. Home remittances are up by 16.8%, as against a fall of about 9% last year and a fall of 31.5% a year earlier. [This is a good sign.]
  3. Tax revenues are also up by about 15%, as against 18% last year and a mere 2% in the earlier year. [This is a good sign.]
  4. The consumer price index, which is a measure of the rate of inflation, is up by 4.8%, as against 3.4% last year and 6.3% a year earlier. [This is not a bad sign.]
  5. The fiscal deficit is down to 5.3%, as against 6.5% last year and 6.1% a year earlier. [This is a good sign.]
  6. The trade deficit is up by only 1.7%, as against 2.3% last year and 3.6% a year earlier. [This is a good sign]
  7. The cotton crop has largely escaped the ravages of the drought, partly because of its early sowing season and partly because it is less water-intensive than other crops. [This is a good sign.]
  8. The IMF targets have been generally met and the country’s “good standing” with the IMF has “enhanced its credibility with the international community”. [This is a good sign.]
  9. BUT GDP growth will be less than 3% this year, as opposed to under 3% last year. Therefore GDP per capita will be stagnant, since population growth is still estimated at about 3% per year. [This is a bad sign]
  10. Responsibility for the low GDP has been laid at the door of water shortage and drought, “which have taken a heavy toll of agricultural production”. Last year, the major crops averaged over 9% growth. This year, there may be an actualdeclineof over 5%.

In other words, implies the SBP, the managers of the economy have notched many pluses. Unfortunately, however, nature has thwarted their designs and stopped the economy from taking off into self-sustaining growth. Is this true?

No, it’s not. Agricultural production accounts for less than 25% of GDP. A small decline in the output of some agricultural crops, excluding cotton which accounts for nearly 65% of our exports, should not have such an adverse impact on GDP growth rates. After all, last year agricultural production of the major crops averaged growth of over 9.6% as admitted by the SBP, yet GDP growth was less than 3%!

A glance at the SBP’s summary reveals that critical statistics and explanations which tell the real story behind the economic slump are missing from its analysis. For starters, there is no mention of what has happened to savings and investment (they have actually fallen to about 11% of the GDP, the lowest for a long time) and no attempt has been made to outline and explain the decline of foreign investment in the country (a decline of 70% over last year’s level, bringing it to under US$150 million so far this year). Nor has the SBP told us how much money, which might have been used for investment at home in the right conditions, has fled to foreign shores in search of safety and certainty (unofficially estimated to be about US$1 billion this year). Indeed, the SBP has not explained why anyone in this country should save in rupees when interest rates are down to under 10%, the lowest in a decade, and the government proposes to levy an unprecedented income tax on saving schemes, while the rupee is being devalued by about 15% every year and dollar deposits can earn at least 5% abroad. [In other words, rupee savings yield less than 10% while dollar deposits yield at least 20% in rupee terms.] We might also point out that the home remittance figure is up not because Pakistani expatriates actually sent more money home this year than last year but because there was a one-time windfall handout from the Kuwait government to Pakistani workers in Kuwait as compensation for losses suffered during the Gulf war in 1991. Finally, the fact that the fiscal deficit is down to 5.3% of GDP is relevant only for IMF purposes. The more relevant fact is that this cut in the deficit has entailed cuts in development expenditures and poverty alleviation programmes, and this fact has not been highlighted by the SBP. Similarly, there isn’t much point in crowing about the revival of Pakistan’s standing in the international community by virtue of access to debt-rescheduling programmes when we are being forced to run faster and faster merely in order to stay at the same spot.

The fact is that the economy is down because Pakistani savers and investors are not inclined to save and invest at home because the government’s domestic and foreign policies are not designed to instill certainty and confidence. Until these are realigned, all statistics will prove to be lies and more damned lies.

(TFT Jun 15-21, 2001 Vol-XIII No.16 — Editorial)

Action wanted

Audacious or blunt, opportunistic or pragmatic, General Pervez Musharraf seems a remarkable person. He appears neither as rigid as his old uniform might warrant nor as diplomatic as his new position might demand. His arguments are invariably tempered by realism rather than rhetoric. Indeed, his plain-talking and flexibility may have won him more friends at home and abroad than his critics might wish to concede.

General Musharraf’s exceptional performance at the National Seerat Conference in Islamabad on June 6th merits comment. Until now, no political or military leader in the history of Pakistan has had the courage or integrity to call a spade a spade in front of the aggressive, self-appointed “guardians of Islam” and self-righteous “defenders of the identity” of Pakistan. Indeed, if the orthodoxy was confirmed in its suspicions that General Musharraf is unlikely to do its bidding blindly, the liberals were left wondering whether the general might somehow fit their own bill rather smugly. In all honesty, though, who can disagree with the gist of what General Musharraf said that day?

What is so “Islamic” about our country when Sunnis and Shias, and now Deobandis and Brelvis, are killing each other so wantonly, when we are so devoid of a sense of brotherhood and tolerance, when there is no justice for the poor and destitute, when our women are relegated to second-class citizenship? Who can blame the international community for calling us an “irresponsible” or “failed” or “terrorist” state when our religious leaders are quick to hurl outlandish threats? Who will invest in our country if it is constantly rocked by senseless religious strife and violence? Since no nation is an island, how can Pakistan survive in hostility to the global community? The root cause of our instability lies in mixing religion, which is pure, with politics, which is dirty. Could General Musharraf have said half as much last year?

With hindsight, we think probably not. A case in point is the proposal to amend the procedure of filing a case under the blasphemy law. The idea was sound enough since the law is exploited by all manner of vested interests. In fact, a representative government had drafted the necessary changes already. But General Musharraf was ready to backtrack when his intelligence agencies revealed how the religious parties intended to stir up trouble for the government if the proposed changes were implemented. (In one scenario, a religious party would stage an angry demonstration in which a copy of the Holy Quran would accidentally fall to the ground and be trampled upon, thereby enraging the mobs and provoking widespread arson). Why, he was advised, should the military government stir a hornets’ nest, when the politicians and businessmen were already up in arms against the military government, India was fomenting trouble, the economy was down in the dumps and the international community wasn’t being terribly helpful? One step forward might have become two steps back.

Clearly, General Musharraf is not on such a weak wicket any longer. He has rung changes in the army’s high command so that all critical slots are manned by hand-picked generals loyal to him. He has neutralised India and the international community by initiating the regional peace process and buckling down to IMF conditions. He has assuaged the prickly domestic business community by nudging NAB to focus on the public sector while restraining the ubiquitous CBR from fishing in troubled waters. And he has successfully unleashed the process of local elections, thereby isolating the traditional political parties in the run-up to the general elections next year. If ever there was a budding Bonaparte in Pakistan, it is General Pervez Musharraf.

That should not be misconstrued as a compliment. While modern-day Bonapartism could conceivably act as an anti-status quo force favouring modernity and assimilation rather than backwardness and isolation, as in 18th century absolutist Europe, it has no lasting place in a budding 21st century third world democracy like Pakistan. The task for General Musharraf is to initiate the process of growth, globalisation and modernity in a progressively democratic environment without unleashing any of the turmoil and instability associated with rapid change in a largely static society, and then exiting from the scene in a voluntary and organised manner. Anything less than that would be unacceptable to civil society. And anything more than that could be personally perilous for General Musharraf. Is the road clear?

No, it’s not. There is a contradiction between continuing to sponsor jehad as state policy and buttoning up the religious activists in the interest of domestic stability. There is a contradiction between squeezing the public for greater revenues and channelling them into unproductive defence expenditures. There is a contradiction between remaining uneducated and attempting to retool our labour force for IT purposes. There is a contradiction between plans for devolution of power and the state’s preferred mode of centralism. There is a contradiction between constantly stockpiling and upgrading nuclear and missile materials while asking the international community to write off or reschedule our staggering foreign debt. And so on. The sooner General Pervez Musharraf removes these contradictions from Pakistan’s reckoning, the better. Words alone will not suffice. We need action.

(TFT Jun 22-28, 2001 Vol-XIII No.17 — Editorial)

So what’s new?

General Pervez Musharraf’s ascent to the Presidency shouldn’t come as a surprise to discerning TFT readers. Three months ago, we editorialised (Trussed up like a President, TFT March 2-8, 2001), that he was “readying to don the mantle of the President of Pakistan” and wondered whether “the simplest way would be for him to follow in the footsteps of Caesar, Napoleon or Ataturk — having seized the crown, he could put it on his head, change his tunic and announce: ‘l’etat, c’est moi!’” (‘I am the state’). Should this happen, however, we noted advisedly, that “he would have traversed a much trodden path in Pakistan’s sad history during which the Presidency has housed all sorts of conspirators (Iskander Mirza, Ghulam Ishaq Khan), usurpers (Generals Ayub, Yahya, Zia), stooges (Chaudry Fazal Elahi, Rafiq Tarar), misfits (Farooq Leghari) and witnessed or sanctioned all manner of political instability or perversion”.

Last week (Action wanted, TFT, June 15-21, 2001), we thought D-Day could be round the corner. “General Musharraf is not on a weak wicket any longer. He has rung changes in the army’s high command so that all critical slots are manned by hand-picked generals loyal to him. He has neutralised India and the international community by initiating the regional peace process and buckling down to IMF conditions. He has assuaged the prickly domestic business community by nudging NAB to focus on the public sector while restraining the ubiquitous CBR from fishing in troubled waters. And he has successfully unleashed the process of local elections, thereby isolating the traditional political parties in the run-up to the general elections next year. If ever there was a budding Bonaparte in Pakistan, it is General Pervez Musharraf”.

That is exactly what General Musharraf has now done — put the crown on his head rather than wait to be crowned. Having scratched the back of the international community by ticking off the fundos, freezing defense expenditures and reaffirming faith in IMF-dictated policies in the new budget, he must be pretty sure of getting away with his audacious fait accompli.

Barring an accident, he probably will. Nawabzada Nasrullah & Co will rant. Benazir Bhutto will shriek. Nawaz Sharif may squeak. Qazi Hussain Ahmad will bluster. But who cares? The Commonwealth will protest. The EU will condemn. But so what? The Japanese and Americans will cluck disapproval, urge him to note their concerns and continue doing business with him. And General Musharraf will start sprucing up in sherwanis and suits for his forthcoming visit to India so that he is accorded a reception befitting a head of state legitimised by no less an august body than the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Meanwhile, the people of Pakistan will wake up and go to sleep as usual, as though they’ve seen it all before.

Beyond that, there will be other milestones to cross. The move will certainly be challenged and clever legal arguments will be aired in the courts. But a judiciary that has taken oath under the PCO and legitimised the coup, and a Supreme Court whose chief justice has sworn in the new president, are hardly likely to undo their own decisions.

Nor is the fate of the PML(LM) a moot issue any longer. The decision to put the suspended assemblies out of misery will force many Nawaz dissidents to stand on their own feet and face the competition for the hearts and minds of the voter squarely. Others may join the cabinet to improve their prospects. It also means that the confusion and uncertainty about whether or not the next general elections will be held as promised before October 2002 has been removed. Finally, the news that General Musharraf will remain the Chief Executive implies that there will be no interim prime minister — until a new one is nominated by an elected parliament next year and is asked by President Musharraf to demonstrate a vote of confidence prior to becoming the chief executive atop a cabinet of elected ministers.

In the months ahead, we may witness some new constitutional developments that don’t necessarily clash with the guidelines of the supreme court of Pakistan. The National Security Council headed by the president may be further institutionalised, ostensibly in the interests of “national security”. The provincial elections may be staggered one by one, presumably to get a better “handle” on the provinces. An element of proportional representation may be brought into the general election process supposedly to provide for greater “electoral fairness”. The president may acquire the power to sack the prime minister and his cabinet without simultaneously sacking the parliament for purposes of “electoral stability”. The president may transfer some of the subjects of the concurrent list to the exclusive domain of provincial parliaments in order to massage the hurt egos of the provinces in the face of strong local governments. And the next national and provincial assemblies may come to resemble a cluster of fractured groups and alliances rather than abodes of the two mainstream parties so that the president can exploit their differences and lord it over them.

So what’s new? The sordid game has begun all over again. The message is clear. Those who don’t like it can lump it.

(TFT Jun 29-05 July, 2001 Vol-XIII No.18 — Editorial)

Tight leash

Mr Shaukat Aziz, our soft-spoken finance minister, is a fortunate person. For two years in a row, he has not had to stand in parliament and sweat about making a budget speech without drowning in a sea of cacophony, as was “normal” during the heady days of democracy. Better still, he has not been forced to listen to the unending “critiques” of party political faithfuls belonging to the “other” side. No parliament, no accountability. But how lucky can you get! Mr Aziz was reprieved when this year’s budgetary blues were neatly eclipsed a day after the budget by the rather dramatic ascent of General Pervez Musharraf to the Presidency!

But, to give the devil his due, it must be admitted that Mr Aziz hasn’t desperately tried to hide all the unpalatable truths or gloss over most of the unpleasant facts. GDP growth last year was listed at 2.6% (target 4.5%), even though it might conceivably turn out to be slightly higher when all the figures are collated and analysed in September. In the past, it was the other way round – the rosiest possible picture of achievements was painted at budget time and quickly curtained off from scrutiny until the “provisional estimates” were quietly “fixed” a couple of months down the line. Nor has he tried to fudge last year’s fiscal deficit or pretend that revenue targets were adequately met. He has also been true to his word in some other ways: GST on retail trade has finally arrived; import duties have been reduced; more taxpayers have been brought into the net; and revenues have grown impressively.

But some bones remain to be picked. The tax structure has not been simplified as promised. The hike in the salaries of government servants is closer to 18% than 50% as earlier claimed. The defence budget has, strictly speaking, not been “capped” at Rs 131 billion as argued – it is actually going to be about Rs 136 billion, or 4% higher, if the proposed increase in defence pensions (Rs 27 billion last year, Rs 32 billion next year) tucked away in the category of “government expenditures” since last year is taken into account. Nor is there much point in crowing about the “low rate of inflation” of under 5% as compared to the target of about 6%, if only because ordinary folk bitterly perceive the cost of living to have risen by much more than that. In any case, a lower than targeted rate of inflation merely suggests that growth has been lower than predicted on account of a fall in business confidence rather than prudent fiscal and monetary management.

Looking ahead, Mr Aziz claims that a tax revenue target of Rs 464 billion next year is quite “realistic” in view of the problems encountered this year. Last year, this target was an overly ambitious Rs 437 billion. This was quickly scaled down to Rs 431 billion in September and Rs 417 billion in March. But actual receipts end-June turned out to be closer to Rs 404 billion, which itself was no mean achievement, considering that the CBR had only managed Rs 356 billion a year earlier and not much less than that in the preceding year. Thus, against a growth of about Rs 50 billion this year, the government is budgeting growth of Rs 60 billion next year. On the face of it, this seems fair enough. But is it?

There is a limit to the amount of taxes that the CBR can extract from people if the economy is not growing fast enough to generate a fair degree of autonomous growth in the revenue base. This year, many people coughed up more money than usual, despite low economic growth, only because the government succeeded in browbeating them in an environment of fear. But a stiff price was paid for doing so – savings and investment fell to their lowest levels for a long time. This means that the same counterproductive strategy will probably be avoided this year. Thus a great deal of reliance will be placed on the results of the income surveys completed earlier in which businessmen were arm-twisted to admit significantly greater turnovers (and therefore potentially greater tax liabilities) than usual. But even this will not suffice to raise revenues by as much as Rs 60 billion, which works out to an increase of about 15% for the second year running, especially if GDP growth is still imprisoned at not much more than 3%.

Mr Aziz also seems optimistic that the IMF and other donor agencies will fork over a great deal of money for balance of payments support and poverty alleviation. But there will be a price for that too. The rupee, which has been effectively devalued by 15% this year, will face continued pressure if the State Bank of Pakistan persists in buying up to US$ 2 billion from the free market to shore up its reserves to IMF standards. This is a sure shot recipe for the continued dollarisation of the economy which must be avoided.

The economy desperately needs a shot in the arm. Mr Shaukat Aziz should persuade the IMF not to keep him under such a tight leash.

(TFT Jul 06-12, 2001 Vol-XIII No.19 — Editorial)

Change the status quo

General Pervez Musharraf is all thumbs-up. On June 26th he got a pat on the back from the leading editors of Pakistan to go ahead and talk to India with an open mind. Much the same response was forthcoming from the leaders of all religious groups and political parties who met him a day later. But most critically, the ISI, which destabilized both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif when they didn’t see eye to eye with them on how to deal with India, is already in the bag. Indeed, to all intents and purposes, General Musharraf heads a military government in which former ISI big-guns hold sway — two are serving as powerful corps commanders, one is in the federal cabinet, another is defense secretary, a third heads the CE’s secretariat, a fourth is governor of a province and at least two are ambassadors in foreign lands — while the former corps commander of Pindi whose troops arrested Nawaz Sharif on 12 October 1999 is currently DG-ISI.

The irony should not be lost on us. Among the editors who are sanguine about General Musharraf’s visit to India are many who vigourously opposed Ms Bhutto and Mr Sharif when they hinted at “flexibility” — the buzzword these days. More significantly, among the religious groups and parties who are now backing General Musharraf are many with overt or covert links to the jehadi forces in Kashmir. Indeed, Qazi Hussain Ahmad of the Jama’at-i Islami, who created such a ruckus during the Lahore Summit in February 1999 and who not so long ago was urging the corps commanders to remove General Musharraf because he had allegedly become a “security risk”, has now gone all the way to Islamabad to say “yes” to the general. Similarly, the other fiery clerics who are given to castigating General Musharraf for his so-called ‘secularism’, were all too conspicuous when they prostrated themselves along with him in the namaz following the meeting. In fact, JUI leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman has actually called for a general ceasefire in Kashmir and on the LoC if the Musharraf-Vajpayee summit makes progress. The Maulana is an important leader in Pakistan because his party represents the grand Deobandi alliance behind the jehad in Kashmir. Together with Qazi Hussain Ahmad, he was until recently most given to making aggressive statements about General Musharraf’s ‘NGO-driven’ cabinet. But so soft was Fazlur Rehman’s stance the other day that the apex jehadi organization, the Mutahhida Jehad Council, could not resist denouncing him, although the very next day the Council was itself front-paged for endorsing the summit. The newspapers also carried the namaz photo of General Musharraf lining up with such jehadi panjandrums as Maulana Samiul Haq, a friend of Afghanistan’s Mulla Umar and a powerful seminary-owner of the NWFP. In fact the jehadi religious parties first formed a six-party alliance topped by an action committee, then went and met General Musharraf to lend him their support vis-à-vis India. All this, while the chief of the main religious party feeding the Deobandi jehad, Maulana Azam Tariq of Sipah-e-Sahaba, was languishing in jail. Meanwhile, an internally riven Hurriyat Conference has also endorsed General Musharraf unequivocally.

The irony is all the greater because the three political parties which wanted peace with India – PPP, MQM and PML-N – did not deem fit to meet General Musharraf and wish him good luck. In fact, they have tried to play the role of spoilers by asking India not to negotiate with a military leader. Equally interesting is the government’s disdainful attitude towards former DG-ISI, General Hameed Gul, a self-styled Islamicist hardliner, and former army chief General Aslam Beg, an avowedly trigger-happy “defiance” theorist. Neither was “invited” to meet General Musharraf. It may also be recalled that on 5 June, General Musharraf, had criticized the jehadi organisations for their lack of accountability over jehad funds and for the empty anti-India braggadocio of their leaders. Only a man squarely in control can express such sentiments and get away with it.

General Musharraf can rein in the jehadis in Kashmir if the situation so warrants. That is the message he is sending to New Delhi. And that will be his strong card at the Agra Summit. Is New Delhi going to stop playing bloody games?

India is forestalling hopes by referring to Kashmir as ang (or part of its body). Pakistan can respond by terming Kashmir its shahrag (jugular vein). But the truth is that both have to show flexibility on Kashmir. India’s view of Pakistan may be that of a deadbeat state now desperate to sign on the dotted line. But Pakistan has the bomb and General Musharraf can bleed India in Kashmir for some time to come. New Delhi should also realize that Agra is not Simla and General Musharraf is not negotiating the release of 90,000 POWs. But if “deadbeat Pakistan” actually goes under as some Indians would like, India and Pakistan will be at the receiving end of jehad like never before. Therefore neither can afford to stick to the status quo.

(TFT Jul 13-19, 2001 Vol-XIII No.20 — Editorial)

NSC: IFS AND BUTS

 

The idea of a National Security Council in which the army constitutionally “shares” power with a prime minister was first mooted by General Zia-ul Haq in 1985 but shot down by a non-party parliament midwifed by him. It was raised again in 1991 by COAS General Aslam Beg but knocked out by his handpicked prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. The NSC was floated a third time (in the shape of the Council for Defense and National Security) by COAS General Jehangir Karamat and President Farooq Leghari during the interim government in November 1996. But once again Nawaz Sharif would have none of it. Indeed, Mr Sharif went so far as to compel the president (who wanted to share power with him) to resign in 1997, and later put paid to General Karamat when he dared to persist with the idea in 1998.

Now COAS General Pervez Musharraf wants to implant the NSC once and for all. He believes it is a good idea whose time has finally come, not least because he expects to be in charge of the destiny (fate?) of Pakistan for donkeys of years and will make sure that no future prime minister can dispense with the army’s pet scheme. Is this realistic?

Everything will depend on the reformulated NSC’s aims and objectives. If it satisfies the demands of the present and future, it will become and remain a reality. But if it clings to the past, it will meet the same fate as its predecessors. Consider.

General Musharraf has ordered that there will now be nine members in his NSC presided over by the president and including the COAS, C-JCSC, the two other service chiefs, the four provincial governors and as many civilians as the president deems fit. In other words, the wise men in mufti will lord it over the imprudent men and women in civvies, and elected parliaments and prime ministers will exist at the pleasure of the COAS/President who will determine all issues relating to Pakistan’s “ideology, security, sovereignty, integrity, and solidarity, in light of the Objectives Resolution of 1949”. If this is not to be billed as a presidential system, one may safely note it as ‘guided’ democracy with a ring in its nose. How will such a NSC fare?

By straining the imagination, one may come to believe in a functioning NSC under General Musharraf. After all, two years in power have taught him the value of being more pragmatic and less ideological. But if a future NSC under an elected government is to become a permanent institution of the state overriding other players in the democratic set-up, then we must pause and reflect upon the conditions of its viability.

Ostensibly, Pakistan is an “Islamic” state with a strong disposition in favour of enforcing the Shariah under the Federal Shariat Court, despite an inchoate political model at the level of Islamic theory. Indeed, the Pakistan army since General Zia ul Haq’s time has become increasingly “Islamic”, with frequent born-again outcroppings among the officers’ corps. In fact, there is no institutional device barring the “Islamicists” from “taking over” and further subjecting the state to an unsteady process of “Islamisation”. But given Pakistan’s multiple crises, it needs more pragmatism today and much more pragmatism tomorrow than it ever did during the cold war. Thus the fate of the NSC is critically dependent not so much upon the feasibility of the power-sharing formula between the army and elected civilians per se as it is upon the NSC’s ability to steer a pragmatic and non-ideological path for Pakistan.

The fact is that a National Security Council can be useful only as long as a moderate, anti-isolationist general is head of the Pakistan army. He and his service chiefs can then actually cooperate with a beleaguered prime minister who is looking for rational and realistic options. In this situation, even an army chief under pressure from an “Islamicist” army can collaborate with the civilian government and strengthen its resolve to practise statesmanship instead of delivering on unpractical and extremist foreign policy slogans concocted during election campaigns. Such an army chief can reach a consensus within the National Security Council about Pakistan’s rapidly declining economy, the rising power of the jehadi organisations at the cost of the writ of the state, and the advisability of taking foreign policy decisions to avoid international isolation and censure. By the same token, acute problems are bound to arise if “Islamicist” generals espousing the same sort of creed as a couple of former ISI chiefs take over and are then allowed to dominate the discourse by virtue of ruling the National Security Council.

Fortunately, such “Islamicists” have never got to the top of the army. But the fact is that their hold on the army’s thinking is palpable enough and brings the army chief constantly under pressure. Indeed, the leaders of the Jamaat i Islami have already warned that when they “come to power two years from now” they will overhaul the structure of the armed forces to make them exclusively “Islamicist”. Therefore it is this threat rather than any perceived democratic “disequilibrium” in the power-sharing equation embedded in the NSC that should be of primary concern to us.

(TFT Jul 20-26, 2001 Vol-XIII No.21 — Editorial)

Two steps forward, one step backward

General Pervez Musharraf is back from Agra without a peace-process pact with India in his pocket. Was failure on the cards, or did “misplaced sequencing” and “vested interests” sabotage a happy ending?

The Agra Summit followed year-long diplomatic overtures by India and Pakistan. Whether these can be ascribed to international pressure or a sincere desire to mend fences by both sides, or a bit of both, the fact is that both countries were guilty of orchestrating media hype and creating the impression that, despite differences, they would kiss and make up in the city of love. Indeed, many people were led to believe that secret diplomacy had already ironed out the differences between the two protagonists and the two leaders would meet in Agra only to smile for the cameras. In the event, far from concluding anything of the sort before the Summit, both stepped into the fray by firmly drawing their lines in the sand. Mistake One.

On the face of it, General’s Musharraf’s “cautious optimism” didn’t seem unwarranted. He was, after all, only seeking to reflect the ground reality by a slight amendment in one particular clause of the Lahore Agreements — by changing the previous requirement of “moving forward on all outstanding issues, including Jammu and Kashmir” to a new one of “moving forward on Jammu and Kashmir, and all other outstanding issues”. That is why he constantly asked everyone whether India was “sincere” in wanting durable peace with Pakistan — his argument being that an acknowledgement of core ground realities, especially in Kashmir, would demonstrate sincerity on India’s part.

Alas. That was Mistake Two. “Sincerity” has little to do with diplomacy, just as a grudging acknowledgement of “ground realities” is to be invariably sought and expected at the end of a long drawn out process of give and take rather than at the beginning of negotiations between states. Nor, in reality, could General’s Musharraf’s demand to put Kashmir at the centre of the debate be seen as a small Indian concession to the peace process. From India’s point of view, the Simla Pact in 1972 buried the Kashmir dispute for all practical purposes while the Lahore Summit in 1999 made a notable concession to Pakistan by allowing Kashmir to be included in the litany of outstanding issues to be resolved. Hence, the small change of emphasis demanded by General Musharraf on the basis of sincerity and ground realities amounted to, in effect, a significant about-turn from India’s point of view. How could this be affected without a seeming loss of face for India, or without getting something in exchange? Such was India’s dilemma from the outset.

General Musharraf was, of course, prepared to make significant concessions to India in exchange for centralizing the Kashmir dispute. But Step One, he told a conference of Indian editors, was to reflect ground realities by focusing on Kashmir and bringing the aggrieved Kashmiris into the dialogue. Step Two, he suggested, would be to link progress on other contentious issues with that on Kashmir. Meanwhile, progress on Kashmir could be initiated by mutually ruling out Kashmir “solutions” unacceptable to either India or Pakistan. This was an unprecedented and daring offer.

In effect, he seemed to imply that Pakistan’s “flexibility” on the issue could amount to no less than an implicit abandonment of the “either” “or” UN Resolution position in which one country’s gain is the other’s loss, just as much as it would negate the idea of an independent Kashmir at India’s cost. In other words, General Musharraf held out the exciting possibility of a final arrangement on Kashmir in which the Kashmiris could claim to be winners without either India or Pakistan having to be losers.

Pakistani sources claim that an agreement was sabotaged at the last minute by Indian hardliners in Mr Vajpayee’s cabinet who insisted on linking the issue of “cross-border terrorism” with the central Kashmir issue. Indian sources claim that the Indian hardliners were constrained to pull out the stops after General Musharraf’s unrelenting remarks about the centrality of Kashmir in the editors’conference. But the fact is that the Pakistanis were provoked by the one-sided remarks of the hard-line Indian Information Minister, Sushma Swaraj, following the first round of discussions in which she tried to convey the impression that the Pakistanis had quietly acquiesced to the “composite issue approach” advocated by India. When General Musharraf tried to set the record straight in the editors’ breakfast conference the next day, the Indians retaliated by fishing out the clause about “cross-border terrorism” on which the Summit hopes eventually came to be dashed. Wittingly or otherwise, the sequencing of events left much to be desired.

Clearly, both countries still have much to learn about the art of Summitry. But they have regrouped rather well and kept hopes alive for the future. Of course, the hardliners on both sides must be delighted and will do their best to decry future openings. But the two leaders must resist the temptation of finger-pointing. Indeed, every opportunity to talk as soon as possible again must be grasped because people on both sides passionately desire peace.

(TFT Jul 27-02 Aug, 2001 Vol-XIII No.22 — Editorial)

Sometimes less is more

India and Pakistan were prodded by the international community to try and build the blocks of peace. But if India was under pressure to demonstrate benevolence in the region in exchange for big-power status in the world, Pakistan was left in no doubt about the linkage between peace and economic bailout by the IMF. Therefore the argument that India was negotiating out of a position of relative weakness vis a vis Pakistan is patently false. Indeed, if Pakistan or its state intellectuals insist on extracting mileage out of misplaced concreteness, the Indian response, as its prime minister has now iterated, may become more rigid and intransigent when the second round of talks is held. This will not serve Pakistan’s interests if its government is seen as trying to score points rather than searching for real peace.

More homework also needs to be done behind the scenes by both sides before the two leaders meet again in Islamabad. In fact, it would be a good idea if the foreign ministers can build on the substance of the 8 or 9 points discussed in the Summit and get the text of a joint declaration/statement approved and readied before the second Summit.

The Indians are, of course, right when they say that negotiations should not be conducted in the glare of the media. This suggests that if the Pakistanis try the same media tactics again, they will provoke the wounded Indians to react, and the second Summit will founder on the rocks of mutually destructive propaganda. In the event, Pakistan may be held responsible as the party sponsoring such tactics on both occasions.

Whether or not the Agra Summit was always vulnerable to BJP hardliners, as Pakistani hawks insist, the fact is that the Indian hawks were provided a perfect excuse to spike the declaration after Pakistan’s decision to go public with the Pakistani president’s breakfast meeting with top-notch Indian newspaper editors. This was an extraordinary intervention. On the plus side, it provided General Pervez Musharraf an unprecedented opportunity to reach out to the hearts and minds of ordinary Indians, which he did with devastating effect. On the minus side, it compelled the Indian hardliners to drum up the issue of “cross-border terrorism” as a new element in the proposed Indo-Pak equation. Thus the formidable challenge ahead will be to convey the same message to the people and opinion-makers of India while delinking the issue of Kashmir’s centrality with “cross-border” terrorism.

It is, however, unlikely that the Indian government will provide another grand opportunity to General Musharraf to talk directly to the Indian people. But even if such an opportunity should present itself, not much advantage may be gained by repeating the same point again and again. This is borne out by the dismissive manner in which the Indian media and public have responded to General Pervez Musharraf’s press conference in Islamabad the day after the Agra Summit. In the mind of the Indian public, General Musharraf’s “Kargil-warrior” mystique and the idea of Kashmir’s centrality were inextricably linked during the Summit. But the first is naturally wearing thin with overexposure and the second is likely to be finessed with the counter-idea of “cross-border” terrorism.

The time has therefore come to pick up the gauntlet thrown by India in supporting greater people-to-people contacts between the two countries by means of a soft visa regime, freer flow of information and renewed cultural interaction. This will promote the cause of Kashmir articulated by General Musharraf rather than hinder it. Indeed, There can be no greater ambassadors of Pakistani “sincerity” and “ground realities” than the people of Pakistan, even those who are opposed to military rule in Pakistan.

This people-to-people approach should not be mistaken by the Pakistani establishment as a “confidence-building” measure proposed by India in order to sideline the Kashmir issue, in line with its “less contentious issues” strategy. Instead, it may be viewed as an element of Pakistani strategy to win its cause in the hearts and minds of India rather than in the exclusive killing fields of Kashmir. It may be recalled that all guerilla wars for liberation or freedom in the annals of history were successfully concluded only after public opinion in the oppressing country was won over to the cause of the oppressed people, thereby pressurizing their own governments to let go without further bloodshed. Thus the ball that was kicked into flight so beautifully by General Musharraf during his “hardtalk” with the Indian editors should be caught in motion by lay Pakistanis and carried to the goal post across the border. This can only happen if the Pakistani leadership has the courage of its convictions and allows its people to express theirs with the same candour as General Musharraf.

Finally, some clarifications may be in order. Not losing is not the same thing as winning. Today’s hero could end up as tomorrow’s villain. Passion should not be confused with patriotism. Patriotism is not the same as nationalism, and neither is the monopoly of the military or its hawkish defenders. The divide between hawks and doves doesn’t translate into right and wrong. Confidence should not degenerate into cockiness. Personal success should not be equated with national vindication. And sometimes less is more.

(TFT Aug 03-09, 2001 Vol-XIII No.23 — Editorial)

Is this democracy?

The local elections are finally over. The politicians and generals should have learnt some valuable lessons. And we should know what to expect from the unfolding roadmap ahead.

The military government’s plans for “devolution of power” announced a year ago, were greeted with cynicism from politicians and press alike. But increasing voter turnout has cheered up some people. Indeed, the appearance of former provincial or national political heavyweights at the District Nazim level also suggests that the military may have succeeded in creating the perception that there could be a real shift of power from the centre to the local level. This, despite the fact that the local elections were marred by administrative opportunism or rigging, as when confronted by the MQM boycott in Sindh, or the fundamentalist opposition to voting by women in the NWFP.

Under the new law, the District Nazim may be expected to lord it over the police and become a very powerful person. Is that an intended consequence of the ordinance?

We think not. The District Nazims will be kept in line by the provincial Governor via the District Coordination Officer. And the Governor, as we have been told, will be appointed by the COAS-President and will hold office at his discretion. And the COAS-President, as we have come to learn, will lord it over the future elected prime minister and his cabinet via a super-charged National Security Council in which the four provincial governors will tilt the votes inescapably in the President’s favour.

So there it is. President General Pervez Musharraf will tell the elected prime minister what to do and his handpicked provincial Governors will tell the District Nazims what not to do. If the prime minister tries to go beyond his brief, he will be rapped on the knuckles and, failing that, sacked. If parliament tries to protect him/her, it will be advised to think again and, failing that, packed off too. Likewise, should any of the many army monitoring teams floating around file an adverse report about any District Nazim’s mischief or flight of fancy, the Governor will quietly ask the Regional Accountability Bureau to lock him/her up and throw the key away.

The same sort of engineering is on the cards for the provincial and national elections. Most of the candidates will be “sorted out”, literally, at the nomination stage. Those who escape the khaki net will be subjected to the discreet charm of the intelligence agencies at the time of voting and the RAB and NAB after the voting is over. Finally, if the herds insist on electing their own independent leaders, they will be throttled by the ubiquitous Governor in the case of errant chief ministers and the President in the case of an unwise prime minister, while the provincial or national assembly, as the case may be, will be advised to show restraint or else.

The essence of the political system that is in the throes of being engineered is clear. At every level of government, the army will determine which civilian is fit or not fit to be elected by his peers. Many who are not acceptable to the generals – for whatever conceivable reason — will not be allowed to contest or will be knocked out after the election on one excuse or another. For the sake of devolutionary form, of course, some of the redundant subjects in the centre’s concurrent list will be offloaded in the exclusive domain of the provincial governments.

It is a neatly designed system. Everything fits into place because it has been conceived by a gang of laptop wannabes. The system will be protected by an anti-virus army shield that is supposed to run unobtrusively in the background. On the face of it, it will be democratic and promise stability and continuity. In reality, however, it could be anything but that. Why’s that?

Despite the claimed failsafe credentials of various military-political operating systems in the past, the fact is that human beings are, by nature, chaotic and averse to programming. For example, it will not be easy to sack parliaments at will without undermining the new system and provoking domestic and international censure. Thus prime ministers and chief ministers, whatever their originally proclaimed timidity, may not be tamed eventually. Likewise, the inherent fluidity of the political situation may preclude any easy reigning in or sacking of errant District Nazims, thereby creating administrative confusion, deadlock and instability. Finally, the inability of the generals to erase Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto and Altaf Hussain from the hearts and minds of large chunks of Pakistanis, may prove to be a blunder. Excluding them from impinging on the new rules of the game by decree is not the same thing as removing them from peoples’ political reckoning altogether.

That is the central flaw in the new system. It is of the military, by the military, and for the military. It is much more intrusive than even the political system in Turkey. This is not democracy. Thus, while the system may succeed in the very short term, its chances are bleak in the longer run.

(TFT Aug 10-16, 2001 Vol-XIII No.24 — Editorial)

What law and whose order?

General Pervez Musharraf is enraged by terrorists. He says he wants to don his SSG uniform and blast them all to smithereens. We share his sentiment. But we are not terribly enthused by the government’s stale “law and order” approach to the problem.

Many of these terrorists are motivated by religious passions. Others are clearly agents of foreign powers seeking to destabilize state and government. Together, they have laid our country low. Foreign tourists and businessmen are afraid to visit Pakistan or invest in it. Enforced work stoppages in the wake of terrorist violence greatly hurt the economy. The targeting of Shia professionals, especially doctors in Karachi, has scared them into seeking refuge abroad. In short, an environment of violence, fear and loathing has confirmed the awful perception of Pakistan abroad.

The worst offenders are religious fanatics. Last year, over 300 Pakistanis died at their hands. This year, the score already exceeds 150. Karachi is the current hot spot and Shias are the main target. For weeks TFT has reported on what is brewing in the city, why the police is unable to handle the problem, why the issue defies purely administrative measures. Yet the government’s fixation on dusting curative prescriptions off the shelf rather than attempting preventive solutions, despite the continuing failure of this approach, suggests that the state is tied up in knots.

To be sure, the government could do worse than ban sectarian parties and “de-weaponize” society, improve intelligence gathering and motivate the police. But is that all that needs to be done?

Did General Musharraf’s order to hang Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, who assassinated an Iranian Consul General in 1990, deter the banned Lashkar-i-Jhangvi from killing dozens of Shia leaders subsequently? Has General Moinuddin Haider’s “de-weaponisation” campaign deterred the terrorists from using deadly weapons? Has any government’s “sincere” exhortation to shun sectarian strife ever led to any meaningful results? Has the continuing re-organisation and revamping of the police and administration succeeded in deterring terrorist violence? Indeed, on a general note, it is worth asking whether the voluminous criminal procedure code (law) has ever deterred hardened criminals and motivated terrorists from committing crimes?

The fact is that no administrative force can ever be sufficiently equipped or motivated to match the raw passions of religiously blinded warriors or foreign-inspired mercenaries. The fact is that the theory of deterrence is fine as far as it goes logically and rationally, but it doesn’t go too far when it is countered with the opium of the masses. The fact is that every government since the time of General Zia ul Haq has been helpless in the face of the sectarian menace because he stripped the constitution of its secular spirit and enabled pan-Islamic ideas and religious leaders to erode the hitherto neutral organs of the state like the army, ISI, judiciary, police and political parties. The fact is that when a nation-state so dominated by one religious sect makes it a matter of policy to sustain and promote the religious ideas and beliefs of the majority sect, we cannot expect it to stay neutral in passionate schismatic disagreements between the various sects. The fact is that powerful elements in the state apparatus, even when they disagree with majoritarian sectarian prejudices, are ever ready to condone or ignore them for so-called “strategic” external policies. The fact is that our strategic foreign campaigns and wars are not being fought by professional soldiers of our army but by religiously inspired warriors belonging to the majority sect and dominant provinces. The fact is that the sectarian militants are neither Mohajirs nor Sindhis but hail from the Punjab and NWFP which also supply a majority of the manpower of the army, bureaucracy, police and judiciary. The fact is that the weapons of war are stored by the religious warriors not in safe homes or underground cellars which can be raided by the police but in places of worship and indoctrination where no unholy encroachment may be made. The fact is that there is an organic link between sectarian violence in Pakistan, the rise of indigenous religious militias to overwhelm infidel peoples and places and the retaliatory “foreign-hand” behind inexplicable acts of terrorism in Pakistan.

Generally speaking, when we talk to army officers, civil servants, judges and journalists, we are struck by the similarity of their views with ours regarding concerns about the dangerous domination of Pakistan’s civil and security discourse by the warriors of the majority sect. Yet when we talk to the same set of people in the loop of the national security establishment led by the intelligence agencies, we find a reproachful shrugging away of the problem. It is as though “it is a small price to pay for our security” which cannot be entrusted to the faint-hearted. Is that a fair response?

No, it’s not. The price is getting beyond our national outreach. The poverty of state philosophy is impoverishing us in myriad ways, of which the current exodus of doctors, scientists, businessmen and capital is only its most cruel manifestation. Thus General Musharraf would do well to reflect on the real and underlying causes of terrorism instead of fuming mistakenly about it.

(TFT Aug 17-23, 2001 Vol-XIII No.25 — Editorial)

Hold your breath!

General Pervez Musharraf’s announcement on August 14 purports to be a transparent roadmap for democratic revival. However, it is anything but that. It situates the general elections at the edge of the supreme court’s cut-off date rather than early next year which might have been more welcome as a confidence-building measure. This suggests that he means to lord it over the civilians for as long as possible before handing them a slice of power.

The 14 month gap between now and then also implies that he is not terribly sure how he should transfer some power to party-political elected assemblies. Thus he is playing his cards close to the chest because he doesn’t quite know how to trump or finesse the hands of his potential political adversaries. Indeed, some people may find it ominous that he had nothing to say about the party-based status or otherwise of the forthcoming elections, leaving his spokesman to later shed some light on the matter. Clearly, the announcement has been made as a sop to international opinion rather than out of any real concern about reviving civilian rule.

The government proposes to take no less than nine months to debate the pros and cons of various possible constitutional amendments before carrying them out. As if that is not ridiculous enough, we have not been told how this is to be done. Presumably, it will be no different than the “debate” conducted by General Tanvir Naqvi and his loyal band of laptop wannabes over the form and content of the local elections scheme, aided and assisted by their evergreen, strategy-regurgitating hacks. In other words, the military troika around General Musharraf will lay down the amendments for their touts to flog before a captive audience, and that will be that.   These constitutional amendments will ostensibly relate to the issue of “checks and balances on civilian power”. On the face of it, this sounds reasonable enough, given the unbearable extremes to which former prime ministers Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif went in trying to accumulate all power and decimate all manner of opposition. But if our elected representatives are to be checked for the good of the country, who will check the “checkers”? The political record of army generals Ayub Khan and Zia ul Haq is hardly any better, if not worse, than that of our most errant politicians. Indeed, as the experience of Benazir Bhutto in government suggests, what is to stop the uniformed “checkers” from checkmating the civilians and making a mockery of prime ministerial government? Equally, the insistence that political parties should be compelled to act in a reasonable and responsible fashion should not be taken to mean electoral engineering in order to outlaw or bypass them.

Several other questions need credible answers. How will General Musharraf become a legitimate president? Will he tilt in favour of some sort of dubious device, like a rigged referendum as in the case of General Zia, or is he inclined to take the route taken by General Aslam Beg when he leaned on Ms Bhutto in 1988 to “elect” Ghulam Ishaq Khan as president?

The fate of General Musharraf’s coup-making colleagues is also hanging in the balance. Will they all be retired, one by one, or will some be chosen over others to stick close to him on his long journey? Who will ascend the NSC along with him and in what form? As much as the outcome of the elections, the country’s fate depends critically on the sort of choices he will make about such men and matters in the months to come. After all, one of them may be called upon to consolidate or scuttle his legacy in the event of some unforeseen happening or circumstance.

In the final analysis, however, the outcome of the elections will determine the extent to which General Musharraf and his merry men are able to erect a political system of their liking. Ideally, of course, it would be marvelous from their point of view if no political party were able to muster a majority in the National or Provincial Assemblies, thereby making it easier for the ubiquitous intelligence agencies to mould the disparate factions into flexible national or provincial coalitions. But in the event that this is not possible – on current form, the PPP is most likely to stage a thumping comeback – how will the brass deal with the situation?

General Musharraf has demonstrated a practicality in affairs of state that has served his purposes well so far. A good example is the deal struck with Nawaz Sharif. But the task may become harder in the run-up to the elections, especially as regards the ability of a resurgent PPP to throw a spanner in his works. Will he rig the elections or will he carry out wholesale disqualifications of the PPP? Or will there be a deal with Ms Bhutto as well?

It has been a piece of cake so far. But the going will get tough as the tough get going towards the goalpost.

(TFT Aug 24-30, 2001 Vol-XIII No.26 — Editorial)

Untenable position

 

Since the military seized power in October 1999, more than 220 people (mostly Shias) have been killed and over 200 seriously injured in 80 outbreaks of religious violence in 30 cities of Pakistan. The worst affected is the economically backward, religiously conservative, largely illiterate, Federally Administered Tribal Area where Sunni-Shia clashes have accounted for over 60 dead. But the contagion has spread to Karachi, the industrial hub of the country, killing 50, disrupting economic activity and undermining business confidence. What is the government doing about this malignant sectarian disease?

General Pervez Musharraf seems alive to the national threat posed by religious extremists nurtured in Pakistan’s many sectarian-inspired madaris (religious schools). On the curative side of the prescription, he has constantly urged religious groups and parties to tolerate diverse opinion and shun violence. But after failing to elicit an encouraging response, he has now banned the two leading proponents of sectarian violence — the Sunni-Deobandi Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Shia Sipah-e-Mohammad — and warned their “parent” parties — the Sipah-e-Sahaba and Tehrik-e-Jafaria respectively — of more serious consequences if they don’t behave. The government has also stiffened the anti-terrorist law by imposing punitive restrictions on the “glorification” of such sectarian acts by the media. On the preventive side, the government proposes to establish an institution for the rational guidance and financial care of model deeni madaris whose curricula are in tune with the requirements of a modern and rational outlook.

Clearly, General Musharraf is embarrassed by the negative diplomatic consequences of allowing jehadi groups to maintain a high profile in Pakistan. This concern follows India’s insistence in Agra last month that the issue of “cross-border terrorism” (meaning “Pakistan-based and inspired jehad”) should be treated at par with the Kashmir dialogue in any Indo-Pak peace talks. Thus the government is making a tentative effort to cap this adverse fallout by trying to veil the jehadi groups, in particular by restraining them from collecting funds in public. All these steps are commendable. But they fall far short of the drastic measures needed to halt the slide into violent religious anarchy, economic uncertainty and political confusion.

The ban on two underground sectarian organizations makes no concrete sense. Warning an incorrigible group to behave, while setting its leader free from prison, is baffling. Arresting scores of sectarian activists amidst a glare of publicity one day and releasing them quietly in ones and twos the next day is hypocritical. The idea of a new body to establish and oversee model religious schools is hardly ingenious, considering that is the job of the ministry of religious affairs anyway. Similarly, amending the anti-terrorist law by imposing restrictions on press freedom is misplaced concreteness. Significantly, too, the government has not banned jehadi organisations from collecting funds; it has merely asked them not to collect them publicly. And that too only in one province, where they are quite insignificant.

But if moderate Muslims are dissatisfied with these mock-measures, the extremists are deeply offended by them. The government’s attempt to guide or oversee religious schools is seen by their sponsors as an effort to “control” and steer them away from their objectives. Similarly, the jehadis have flatly refused to stop collecting funds. Indeed, sections of the ideological print media in accord with jehadi aspirations are advising General Musharraf to proceed with “caution” on this front.

Clearly, General Musharraf’s situation is untenable. On the one hand, he is the Chief of an army whose outlook is conservative and whose fighting spirit is inspired by religious ideals and slogans. The army’s “corporate” interests in Afghanistan and Kashmir, however mistaken they may be, also dictate a specific linkage with jehadi groups motivated in support of the army’s tactical or strategic foreign objectives. Thus it is not easy for him to sever ties with the religious and jehadi elements. On the other hand, General Musharraf is the President of a country that desperately seeks rejuvenation as a modern, moderate, peaceable, Muslim state in the community of nations. The country’s “corporate” interests also demand a resounding economic revival program organically linked to the secular dynamics of global capitalism rather than to the ideological statics of a semi-feudal domestic order. But in order to achieve this international status, he must erase all evidence of religious extremism, bigotry and extra-territorial jehadism from Pakistan’s body-politic. Meanwhile, the contradiction between the two corporate requirements or positions is accentuated by the fact that the religious extremists have an independent agenda and life of their own in which they seek to capture the command of the Pakistan state and army rather than remain their pawns for all times to come.

General Musharraf is trying to play all sides at the same time. But the contradictions in his position are becoming sharper by the day. He should lead Pakistan unambiguously into modern nationhood. If he can’t or won’t, it is only a matter of time before the country and army are engulfed in domestic anarchy and international conflict.

(TFT Aug 31-06 Sep, 2001 Vol-XIII No.27 — Editorial)

Dirty little great game

 

A recent newspaper photograph shows Makhdum Amin Fahim of the Peoples Party looking like a deferential prime minister-to-be chatting amiably with a benevolent-looking General Pervez Musharraf. This has sent political pundits into raptures. A “deal” between Benazir Bhutto and General Musharraf has been clinched, they believe, in which the two, in association with the Like-Minded rebels from the Pakistan Muslim League, will make and run a “national” government in Islamabad after the October general elections next year. This speculation has been given a fillip by Ms Bhutto’s revealing statement to a middle-eastern newspaper in which she is quoted as saying that she would like to return to Pakistan and look after her children while her nominated prime minister from the PPP governs the country. Is this a plausible scenario?

It certainly doesn’t square with General Musharraf’s oft-repeated view that Ms Bhutto, no less than Nawaz Sharif, is corrupt as hell and must pay for her sins. In fact, the government calls her a convicted absconder from justice. Nor has it relented in the case of Mr Asif Zardari. Indeed, the recent arrest of the PPP Secretary-General, Jehangir Badr seems proof of the government’s abiding hostility towards Ms Bhutto and her trusted lieutenants, several of whom face the wrath of General Khaled Maqbool’s ever-zealous NAB. Is no “deal” necessary or possible from either protagonist’s point of view?

On the contrary. General Musharraf likes to portray himself as a straight-forward soldier who says it as it is and sticks to his word, come hell or high water. However, he is anything but that. In fact, the end justifies the means for our simple soldier. Remember his detestable but most practical “deal” with Nawaz Sharif when confronted with the spectre of the ex-premier’s martyrdom? Or his disappointing but pragmatic backtracking on the blasphemy law when threatened by the Islamic fundamentalists? Or his readiness to be “flexible” on Kashmir when faced with a belligerent New Delhi capable of imposing a destabilising conflict on the border? Or his quiet submission before the IMF in order to forestall external default and domestic anarchy?

No, the good general is capable of making a deal with the devil, if necessary, let alone Ms Bhutto, who increasingly seems a “lesser evil” compared to the vengeful Sharifs in exile or the violent mullahs in the wings. In fact, a strong case can be made out for a working alliance between the military led by General Musharraf and the peoples’ representatives comprising elements of the PPP, PML(LM) and MQM. How’s that?

Notwithstanding the “non-party” nomenclature attached to the local elections held recently, the fact is that pro-PPP candidates swept Sindh province and made deep inroads into Punjab and the NWFP. Similarly, the MQM remains master of all it surveys in Karachi and the PML-LM has made a niche for itself in Punjab. Projecting on this basis, the PPP is clearly the most “national” party of all. We can also confirm that the PPP voter is alive and kicking, having simply refused to turn out to vote in the last elections rather than switch sides. But it is the PPP’s abiding liberal and national outlook that is probably more relevant today than ever before as the country lurches dangerously between violent religious passions and stable economic self-interest. In fact, it is the one party that is naturally placed to help General Musharraf move the country forward in a modern and moderate manner.

General Musharraf must know this. Yet no one can take a potential alliance between the military and PPP for granted. Ms Bhutto would like to be prime minister, her husband by her side and her party loyally behind her. But Generally Musharraf would like her to remain in exile, her husband in prison and the PPP loyally behind him. The “deal” will therefore lie somewhere in-between these extreme positions as both jostle to overwhelm the other and extract maximum concessions in their own favour. That is where two recent developments become relevant. Ms Bhutto’s statement that she is ready to become a mother rather than a prime minister is meant to extract an early deal from General Musharraf so that her party can strengthen itself, sweep the next elections and put pressure on the military for a better deal for her later. But the sudden arrest of Jehangir Badr suggests that General Musharraf means to whip the PPP into an alliance of his liking rather than gamely let it impose one upon him. Thus we may expect the government to openly turn the screws on the PPP in the short term even as it discreetly reaches out to it in the medium term.

It is good that both sides have broken the ice and are talking to each other in the national interest. But neither should count its chickens before they are hatched. Certainly, we should expect some cunning manoeuvres from Ms Bhutto via her political allies at home and abroad and some firm manipulation by General Musharraf via his ubiquitous NAB. The dirty little great game of politics has begun all over again. Sit back and enjoy it.

(TFT Aug 31-06 Sep, 2001 Vol-XIII No.27 — Article)

Remembering General GA

 

Lt General Ghulam Ahmad died tragically in a car accident last week. He was Chief of Staff at the Chief Executive’s secretariat. He belonged to the Armoured Corps and served as head of the ISI’s Internal Wing from 1998-2000. He leaves behind a wife, two sons and two daughters

I first met him in an ISI hideout somewhere in Rawalpindi in May 1999. A clean-cut, genial man, he sported aviator glasses and was decked out in a colourful bush shirt and tan trousers. Not exactly your deadly hush-hush sort-of-spook, I thought, since he seemed relaxed and reassuring.

Sethi Sahab”, he said, firmly shaking my hand, but without introducing himself, “I’ve arranged for your wife and lawyers to meet you. Please come with me. I hope you don’t mind if I sit in the room with you”. And then, without further ado, he ushered me into the company of my wife Jugnu, and my lawyer-friends Dr Khalid Ranjha, Asma Jehangir and Shabbar Raza Rizvi. At the conclusion of our meeting, Jugnu told me that my mother sent her love and was anxious about my well-being. General GA heard her and said: “Sethi Sahab, why don’t you call your mother?” The colonel who was my minder then took me to the room next door and I spoke briefly to my ailing mother.

I was brutally kidnapped from my home in Lahore by the Punjab police and Intelligence Bureau in the early hours of May 8th, 1999, roughed up in custody and handed over to the ISI. But the ISI handled me with kid gloves, as though instructed by its “higher-ups” to be careful. I was lodged in a “safe” house, a doctor checked me out and prescribed medicines. My minders were two bright ISI colonels and a youthful captain — polite, poker-faced, confident. “Don’t worry, everything will be OK”, was their constant reassuring refrain.

General GA, I learnt subsequently, was head of the internal political wing of the ISI in Islamabad. He was posted to the secret service in 1998 by the then army chief, General Jehangir Karamat. When the then prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, personally called up the then DG-ISI, General Ziauddin Butt, and ordered him to arrest and court martial me, it was to General GA that the DG-ISI turned for advice and compliance. GA called up Brigadier Ijaz Shah (now our untiring home secretary Punjab), then head of the ISI in Lahore, and briefed him about the situation. But Mr Sharif’s vicious henchman, Saif-ur-Rehman, thought the ISI was dragging its feet. So he coordinated with the Punjab chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif, and jumped the gun. Apparently, I had to be taught a lesson so that others of my ilk would not become so audacious.

During my “captivity”, I came to one confusing conclusion. The prime minister and Saif-ur-Rahman wanted to lock me up and throw away the key. But the army and ISI — from General Musharraf to Brigadier (now Major General) Rashid Qureshi, Brigadier Ijaz Shah and General GA — thought otherwise. The ISI did not share Sharif’s hostility towards me. It made no attempt to intimidate or coerce me into making a false “confession”. Indeed, it actually refused to hand me over to the IB for “interrogation” when Saif-ur-Rehman made the demand. More critically, it did not agree with the prime minister that I should be court-martialed. How was this possible, I thought, wasn’t General Ziauddin Butt, the DG-ISI, handpicked by Sharif and bound to do his bidding? What was going on?

The answers were partly and indirectly provided by GA in a long afternoon session that we had together in the last week of May in my “safe house” in Pindi. He was in uniform this time. He told me how General Musharraf , whom I didn’t know from Adam at the time, had refused to sanction my court-martial, despite pressure from the government, how the ISI in general, and GA in particular, didn’t like to be “used” for anyone’s personal vendettas. We also talked about the content of a rather candid speech that I had made at the National Defence College six months earlier about the multiple crises facing Pakistan. This had now become the pretext for action against me by the Sharif government on the grounds that when I aired it in New Delhi I was acting in a treasonable manner. GA thought I should have been more circumspect but it certainly didn’t amount to treason by any stretch of the imagination. “You’ve been writing some pretty strong stuff against him”, he added, referring to Nawaz Sharif. “Is it all true?” he mocked, his eyes hinting at mischief.

But one small detail seemed to intrigue him. In my so-called “controversial” speech, I had, in a rhetorical flourish, written that “there is only one modern-day ideology over whose application there can be no bitter or divisive controversies, and which will be acceptable to all Pakistanis, irrespective of caste, creed, gender, region, ethnicity, sect, etc. And that is the ideology of economic growth, the ideology of full employment, the ideology of distributive justice and social welfare”. Expanding on the theme, I had suggested that “Pakistan should make this ideology the ideology of the state and thereby bury all false consciousness and false ideologies”. GA wanted me to explain the gist of this construction. He was especially keen to know what I had meant by “ideology” in this context. When I explained the “idea” of economic revival and reconstruction as being central to building modern nationhood, he nodded thoughtfully.

Discussion over, he got up to leave, shook my hand, looked me in the eye and said matter-of-factly: “Sethi Sahab, I shall submit my report to my DG in a day or two. It shall be brief. No one can force me to write against the facts”.

One week later, the government was forced to concede before the Supreme Court that it had no case against me and I was a free man again. In an interview to the BBC, I attributed my arrest to the prime minister and my freedom to, among the many others who fought for me, the ISI and the Pakistani army chief who refused to be exploited for political purposes. Many people were confused by this statement because they had all too easily believed the government’s propaganda that I had been detained by the ISI for “anti-national” activities.

But my “association” with GA was not yet over. When Amnesty International invited me to Britain to accept an award for Journalism Under Threat, I called up GA and asked him to facilitate the return of my passport which lay with the ISI. He promised to “try his best” but indicated that the IB was pressurising him to hand over the passport to Saif-ur-Rehman. In due course, however, it was quietly handed back to me by the ISI with the request that I should not make a song and dance about it.

GA was promoted to Lt Gen and made Chief of Staff to General Musharraf last year. His appointment reflected his strengths as a gatekeeper to the most powerful man in Pakistan just as much as it reflected the temperament of his boss. GA was, as Major General Rashid Qureshi put it, “someone with his feet firmly planted on the ground, down to earth, realistic above everything else”. He was hardworking, intelligent (but without the pretense of being an intellectual), candid in his opinion but never expansive or intrusive. He never had a bad word to say about anyone.

In the brief moments that I spent with him, I saw all these qualities in the man. But I also felt he was a deeply compassionate and fair-minded person. Everyone testifies to his modesty and humility. He was barely two years away from retirement, yet had not even begun to build his retirement nest. Whenever his wife would express her anxiety on this score, he would gently chide her by saying “My dear, do you have any problems?”

I last met him on July 13, when General Pervez Musharraf invited the leading editors of the country for a pre-Agra chat in Islamabad. During the meeting, I noticed that he made a note in his pad only when someone made an original or meaningful comment, for the most part hearing out our ramblings with a poker face. After the meeting, he came over to embrace me warmly.

“I hope you’re accompanying the Chief to Agra”, I said. “If he wants me to, sir, I shall certainly do so”. General Rashid Qureshi tells me that GA was a model of restraint and sobriety in India as all around him hopes soared and fell, and nerves were frayed. That was so typical of GA. He was, as they say, a good and true man. We shall all miss him. May God bless his soul.

(TFT Sep 07-13, 2001 Vol-XIII No.28 — Editorial)

Afghanistan is core issue

 

The travails of the Afghan people and the turmoil in Kabul under the Taleban continue to cast their shadow over Pakistan. But the Islamabad establishment refuses to account for the mounting costs of this relationship to Pakistan, apart from mouthing inanities about some sort of “strategic depth”.

Some weeks ago, we reported a high-powered Taleban “delegation” in the Mohmand agency of Pakistan. Among other things, the Taleban were advising the local people not to fret about getting Pakistani ID cards because they would be provided Afghan ones in time to come. The political agent of the area was helpless in the face of such audacity by our “guests”. But Islamabad remains quiet about the Taleban’s refusal to accept the Durand Line and claim chunks of Pakistan.

This is nothing new. Every Pashtun-dominated government in Kabul has rejected the Durand Line and demanded it should be redrawn at Attock. Indeed, the stronger the Pashtun regime in Kabul, the more aggressive has been its ethnic-nationalist territorial claims on Pakistan. But for the Taleban to embarrass us so openly should be doubly difficult to swallow, considering just how much they owe us in terms of their very origin and continued existence. Yet Islamabad shows no sign of reviewing and changing its failed Afghan policy. But that is not all.

The Taleban are hosts to Osama bin Laden, a hero to a few and a terrorist to most countries. They are the destroyers of the Bamian Buddhas, symbols of peace for the many and idols of oppression for a few. They seek to keep their women in chains while the rest of the world celebrates their growing freedom. They are determined to take Afghanistan back to the 7th century even as we all rush to embrace the new millennium.

The United Nations has long advocated a broad-based and moderate government in Kabul. But the Taleban have been able to spurn that advice because Pakistani support for the war against the ethnic Hazaras, Tajiks and Uzbeks in the north is still assured. Indeed, the Taleban can shrug away all manner of international advice or criticism as long as Islamabad is solidly behind them. But the price of camaraderie with the Taleban is rising by the day for Pakistan.

In the old days, Pakistan was able to house and feed millions of Afghan refugees because the western powers were eager to give money to Pakistan. In fact, many Pakistani and Afghan mujahids were flushed with cash because their jehad was the same as the Western cause. But times have changed. Now we are driving them not just back to war-ravaged Afghanistan but beyond the seas to the southern hemisphere in search of refuge. More worryingly, the UN has slapped sanctions on the Taleban and determined to send monitors to Pakistan to make sure that Kabul is not so blatantly propped up as before. This has raised the stakes for Pakistan and created a precipitous situation.

If Pakistan is seen to defy the sanctions on Kabul, it is likely to crumble under the burden of fresh economic and political sanctions itself. If it doesn’t, the Taleban will be slowly strangulated out of their intransigence and Pakistan’s foreign policy will be shown to have been a disaster. So what should Islamabad do?

The Taleban’s “advisors” have countered with a cunning “strategy” to maintain the status quo. First, they have cobbled a private-sector jehadi front in Pakistan which is threatening to kill the UN monitors should they land in Islamabad. Second, the Taleban have taken a leaf from the early days of the Khomeini regime in Iran by taking Western hostages under the pretext of illegal Christian proselytizing. It is thought that this two-pronged approach will lead to greater leverage for both Islamabad and Kabul vis a vis the West. How’s that?

Pakistan faces three layers of American sanctions. Since nothing can be done about those related to crossing the nuclear red-light in 1990 and those related to the coup in 1999, the Americans are to be persuaded that they should lift the nuclear-testing related ones in 1998 as soon as possible after India is reprieved on the same front as well as the IMF lifeline going. What better way to get this done than as a quid pro quo for Islamabad’s quiet intervention to get the Shelter Now hostages released after they have been convicted and pardoned by the Taleban? The jehadi threat against the UN monitors should also lead to a postponement of their mission, thereby averting serious problems with Pakistan.

This strategy may seem terribly clever but it is all too obvious. At best it will prolong the painful economic status quo and stunt Pakistan’s rebirth as a creative and modern nation. At worst, it might hasten the Talibanisation of our country and precipitate a showdown with the West when its patience runs out. If Pakistan expects the world to support it in terms of its core dispute with India, it should not snub the world in terms of its core concerns about Afghanistan under the Taleban.

(TFT Sep 14-20, 2001 Vol-XIII No.29 — Editorial)

Time to change tack

 

The 11th September terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York, and the Pentagon and State Department in Washington DC could become a defining point for Pakistan, if not for the rest of the world. The US is ready to declare war against those groups, countries and civilizations that aid, abet or harbour its declared enemies. This will have profound implications for the world order in general and certain “rogue” regimes and their friends, associates or supporters in particular.

The “terrorists”, “freedom fighters”, “jehadis” — call them what you will – chose their targets specifically for their symbolic value. The World Trade Center as a symbol of US capital, the Pentagon as a symbol of US muscle and the State Department as a symbol of America’s government. Together, they define the soul of the USA, one that has now been bruised beyond American reckoning. There is, clearly, no “shield” against human suicide squads.

As stunned Americans grieve the enormous human tragedy, elsewhere in the world certain battered groups, communities and countries – ranging from the angry jehadis of the Islamic world and the displaced Palestinians in the Middle-East to sanction-burdened Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Libya, Afghanistan, and even Pakistan – strain to hide their true emotions: “the bully on the block has met its comeuppance”.

So far no particular group has validly claimed responsibility for the attack. But Western commentators, politicians and even philosophers are straining at the leash to join in a “clash of civilizations” by starting a “hunt” for Osama Bin Laden and his Islamic jehadis in those countries like Afghanistan that are accused of harbouring or facilitating him. Bin Laden is, of course, a self-avowed enemy of the US. Therefore, once the shock of the tragedy is replaced by the rage of wounded American pride seeking a swift and terrible retribution, the politicians and generals will start pushing buttons and all hell will break loose. Saner voices, explaining the origins of rising anti-Americanism in patently unjust American policies in certain situations and countries, and advising restraint, dialogue and diplomacy, are likely to be drowned in a wave of raw human passion. In the longer term, also, we should not be surprised if some democratic freedoms and common rights that are taken for granted in the West are visibly circumscribed in the host countries for people with certain religious or ethnic or national backgrounds.

As each potential target of American wrath holds its breath, Pakistani policy makers might be advised to take urgent stock of the situation. A few months ago, (Editorial, The world according to PM, TFT, 11th May, 2001) we argued that General Pervez Musharraf should not become too complacent in power and pointed out the pitfalls of his Afghan policies. “The Taliban’s military victories provide illusory strategic depth to Islamabad, but one false move by Osama Bin Laden could provoke the wrath of the big boy in the White House and make Afghanistan a millstone around our neck.” Last week, (Editorial, Afghanistan is core issue, TFT, 7th September, 2001), we said that: “The travails of the Afghan people and the turmoil in Kabul under the Taliban continue to cast their shadow over Pakistan. But the Islamabad establishment refuses to account for the mounting costs of this relationship to Pakistan, apart from mouthing inanities about some sort of ‘strategic depth’…This strategy may seem terribly clever but it is all too obvious. At best it will prolong the painful economic status quo and stunt Pakistan’s rebirth as a creative and modern nation. At worst, it might hasten the Talibanisation of our country and precipitate a showdown with the West when its patience runs out.”

Unfortunately for Pakistan, that patience may have finally run out on 11th September. If the Americans demand that the Taliban hand over Bin Laden to them, the Taliban will probably refuse. The US will then expect the Pakistani government to stop playing both sides and stand by, if necessary with men and materials, to assist American action against Kabul. If the national security establishment under General Musharraf agrees, that could be the beginning of the end of its Afghan and Kashmir policies because its “Islamic” jehadis will turn irrevocably against it. If it refuses, the US may have few qualms about embracing India and turning the screws on Pakistan, plunging it into economic ruin and political anarchy. In that event, Pakistan could not remain sanguine that its nuclear program would survive the tumultuous developments in the region, the armed forces would be destabilized and General Musharraf’s personal and political survival could not be taken for granted.

Whether or not Osama Bin Laden is involved in this attack, the situation will henceforth remain perilous for Pakistan because Washington is not likely to ignore the continuing threat from Islamic jehad and will jump the gun sooner or later. Domestic economic confidence is thin. The political leadership is alienated or thwarted. Therefore visionary leadership is necessary to steer Pakistan to safer waters. This is no time for domestic prevarication or international bluff. General Pervez Musharraf should stake the country’s future on right and rationality rather than on pride and passion.

(TFT Sep 21-27, 2001 Vol-XIII No.30 — Editorial)

Support Musharraf!

 

General Pervez Musharraf is correct in arguing that Pakistan is facing its most critical crisis since the dismemberment of the country in 1971. He is correct in listing the strategic and economic dangers facing the country should its leaders and people succumb to rage and passion instead of acting with intelligence and wisdom. He is correct in warning India to “lay off” from stirring trouble in Pakistan. And he is correct in demanding that Pakistanis should demonstrate the will and courage to put the interests of their country above everything else at this juncture.

This is not the time to apportion blame on leaders past or present for our current predicament. But certain factors have contributed to it and we should highlight them so that the agonizing process of finding a comprehensive solution is made easier.

First: Our five decade-long relationship with America, with its unthinking ups and ruthless downs, has left us with two major sores: a dependent economy and an anti-American backlash. Therefore, as we strive to rebuild our economy and rethink our relations with the United States, we should be wary of the sort of quick-fix-solutions that have brought us to this pass. Yes, every cloud has a silver lining — and in this case there is clearly an opportunity to set many things right – but let us not get carried away into believing that a “strategic realignment” with the US along the old client-state parameters is either necessary or possible in our own best interests.

Second: Our two-decade long so-called process of “Islamisation” of state and society — with its constitutional amendments, Hadood laws, riba injunctions, blasphemy excesses and emphasis on apparent piety instead of truth and justice — has planted the seeds of recurring instability in our nation-state. The “reassertion” of such fundamentalist impulses has hurt many human rights causes, fueled violent sectarianism and created economic confusion. But worst of all, it has revived the notion of jihad across the geographical boundaries of our nation-state and pitted it against other nation-states. Yes, we are all Muslims — and in many instances we have been clearly wronged as a people — but let us not retreat into a raging clash with all the infidels of the world. As General Musharraf said, “let us put our (nation-state) Pakistan first”.

Third: Our two decade-long “intervention” in Afghanistan has been an unmitigated disaster, leading to our current “critical” circumstances. We plunged into America’s war with the Soviet Union and helped destroy that country. Then we replaced our requirement for a friendly state in our backyard with an obsession for a client state at our back by picking and supporting favourites among the Afghans, engineering civil strife, making enemies of Afghanistan’s ethnic minorities and driving them into the lap of neighbouring powers. When all failed, we propped up the Taliban without acquiring any significant leverage with them in exchange. Now we are being held accountable for befriending them and being made to count the costs of ditching them. Yes, we must have a friendly government in our backyard, and yes, it must be dominated by the Pashtuns, but the radical Islamicist Taliban have to go and Pakistan’s establishment must learn to live with an autonomous, moderately Muslim, broad based national government in Kabul.

Fourth: Our five decade-long war with India over Kashmir has burdened our economy, led to the dismemberment of our country and brought us to a nuclear impasse. But thousands of Kashmiris have died and there is no solution in sight. Meanwhile, the jihad is threatening to disrupt civil society in the valley. But a larger writing is on the wall already. Despite any short-term concessions to Pakistan for reasons of exigency, like ignoring the Pakistan-sponsored jihad in Kashmir for the time being, America’s war against “terrorism” — meaning America’s war against radical Islam — is bound to bring the various domestic and foreign Lashkars and Mujahids in its sights after the Taliban and Afghanistan have been “sorted out”. Therefore if India is to be pressurized to “lay off” Pakistan today, Pakistan must expect to face pressure to “lay off” India tomorrow. Thus it would be a good idea for both to start talking again in the search for peace rather than try to threaten or undermine the other in the current circumstances.

What lies ahead is clear enough. The Taliban will attach unacceptable conditionalities on the extradition of Osama bin Laden which America will spurn contemptuously. America will ask Pakistan to provide overt and covert logistical support (intelligence, airspace, fuel, and bases) for the creation and maintenance of a bridgehead in Afghanistan for military operations against the Taliban. After the Taliban leadership has been eliminated, America will seek to establish a new, broad based government in Kabul which will be entrusted with the task of reconstructing the country. Throughout this period, Pakistan will remain in the eye of the storm. But if it plays its cards right, it could come out a winner in the end.

The current crisis has shown General Pervez Musharraf to be a clear-thinking, moderate, pragmatic, decisive and courageous man. Pakistanis should rally round him as the right man in such trying circumstances.

(TFT Sep 28-04 Oct, 2001 Vol-XIII No.31 — Editorial)

De-mythologising Afghanistan

 

Conspiracy theorists apart, many commentators have assumed that the United States will bomb Afghanistan into the stone age, thereby provoking a dangerous blowback for America and its Muslim allies like Pakistan. Some argue that it will be “a war without end” in which the tenacious Afghans will defeat America much like the Russains a decade ago and the British a hundred years earlier. Others fear that thousands of innocent Afghans will perish, triggering widespread anti-American riots in Pakistan that could lead to the overthrow of the moderate Musharraf regime. America’s Muslim allies therefore want “credible evidence” of OBL’s complicity in order to “neutralize” the rage of their people.

The basic assumption in these scenarios, however, may not be true. Far from exacting revenge for the innocent lives lost in America by launching indiscriminate attacks in Afghanistan, the US strategy may be more calibrated by focusing on OBL, his Al-Qaeda companions and the core Taliban leadership. This much can be gleaned from President Bush’s recent statement that the best way to bring those responsible to justice for the September 11 terrorist attacks was “to ask for the cooperation of citizens within Afghanistan who may be tired of having the Taliban in place”.

This suggests that the US may seek to ally with the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan in order to pressurise the Taliban to concede American demands regarding OBL and Al-Qaeda. It would entail beefing up the Northern Alliance and “softening” up the Taliban forces in control of Kabul, Mazar i Sharif and Herat by high-altitude target bombing. This assessment is reinforced by US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld who recently pointed out that not all Taliban members agree with the their leader’s decision to “create a hospitable environment for Al Qaeda”, adding that certain tribes in the south might be persuaded into joining the anti-Taliban coalition. The recent visit of Britain’s foreign secretary, Jack Straw, to Iran may also be read in this context.

But an Afghan government led by the Northern Alliance would not be acceptable to Pakistan and create severe strains in the budding US-Pakistan relationship. That is why, perhaps, President Bush has also said that he is seeking “justice” and “isn’t into nation-building” — meaning that the US will not go so far as to install a Northern Alliance led government in Kabul hostile to Islamabad. This scenario is a far cry from the crude one assumed by some commentators.

Other assumptions also need to be scrutinized. It is assumed, for example, that the north-west frontier province is bound to “explode” with insurrectionary outbreaks in favour of the Taliban. But this assumption completely disregards the complex interplay of tribal interests within the Pashtun matrix. For instance, the Afghan Taliban are primarily part of the Ghilzai-Durrani tribal federation of Pashtuns while the main Pashtun tribes which proliferate in Pakistan are the Wazirs, Mahsoods, Mohmands, Afridis, Khattaks, Bangash, Orakzais, Yusufzais, etc. Many among these tribes are in the “pocket” of the federal government in Islamabad and there is no reason to believe that they cannot be dissuaded from supporting the Taliban should a desperate need arise.

Similarly, the premise that the people of Afghanistan are bound to line up behind the Taliban because they love them is questionable. Indeed, the opposite may be truer, since the Taliban have not provided any institutional justice or prosperity to the Afghans. In fact, many of the local commanders who acquiesced in Taliban rule when the Taliban first swept across the country in 1994-95 with the backing of Pakistan may be tempted to switch sides once the writing on the wall is clear and the Pakistani props have been removed.

The assumption that Afghanistan is bound to become a “graveyard” for the Americans because it was such for the British and the Russians before them is also dubious. The Afghan tribes were the “object” of the “great game” in the 19th century and exploited it by switching patrons. In the war against Russia, their powerful patrons were the Americans. Today, however, their sole patron Pakistan has been neutralized while the world powers are forcefully arraigned against them. There is no great game to exploit.

Finally, the argument that the US should provide “credible evidence” of OBL’s role in the September 11 attacks in NY may be good for purposes of assuaging public opinion in Muslim states but is a non-starter as far as radical Islam’s jehad against America and Israel is concerned. OBL has formally declared such a jehad more than once and Afghanistan under the Taliban has become a veritable base area for all the jehadis of the world. If some jehadis have now attacked America because they perceive it to be their enemy, rightly or wrongly, America has returned the compliment by targeting their base area and leaders in Afghanistan.

That said, the fundamental truth remains as powerful as ever. The United States must strive to remove the root cause of Muslim rage if it seeks to end the scourge of “terrorism”. That means it must seek justice for the oppressed peoples of Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya, Kosovo, etc, and end its indiscriminate support for the state terrorism of Israel.

(TFT Oct 05-11, 2001 Vol-XIII No.32 — Editorial)

Stand up and be counted

 

September 27 was billed as a day of national solidarity. On that day General Pervez Musharraf asked the people of Pakistan not so much as to choose between the Taleban and America as to stand up and be counted in the ranks of those who oppose extremism and reject narrow-minded isolation. Accordingly, notable rallies were held across the country.

Two salient facts about these rallies stand out. The religious parties were conspicuous by their absence. And the mainstream political parties, especially those who have incurred the military government’s wrath on more than one count like the Peoples Party and the MQM, were very much in attendance. Thus while the mullahs are burning effigies and threatening jehad against the government for upholding the national interest, the politicians have set aside their quarrels with General Musharraf and are backing him to the hilt in this difficult moment for Pakistan.

There is a lesson in this for the wise men and women of General Musharraf’s government. During a national security crisis, internal political differences should be sacrificed at the altar of the supreme national interest. Our difficulties have just begun and the worst is yet to come. If the politicians have understood this point and demonstrated wisdom by supporting General Musharraf, the government should reciprocate by building a formal national coalition to steer the nation-state into safer waters. This is a time to close ranks, a time for international credibility and not domestic accountability.

There are lessons to be learnt also by Pakistan’s perennial Establishment. The most important is that the tail should not wag the dog. In our case, this means that foreign policy should not dictate how Pakistan is domestically organized and run. Islamabad’s swift about-turn on Taleban policy in the face of viable threats to our domestic economy and nuclear assets is therefore commendable, as is General Musharraf’s speedy invitation to ex-Afghan King Zahir Shah for emissary-level talks in Pakistan. But this is a moment not just for adjustment to pressing foreign realities. It should also be a time for serious introspection about what sort of nation-state and civil society we want to build and how we want to integrate with the rest of the world in a mutually profitable, creative and enduring enterprise.

Therefore it is not only the Pakistani Establishment that has to make its choices. It is also us, the elites and the middle-classes, who must choose the kind of society we want to build. We have to choose how we want to live and what sort of country we want to hand over to our children. We must ask ourselves certain crucial questions: Can we afford the kind of isolation that was imposed upon Afghanistan? Can we live the way the Afghan population has lived under the extremist Taliban? If the answer to both these questions is no, then we have made our choice. We want to be part of the world, we value freedom, we want to be prosperous and we want our children to have a future with choices.

For too many years, the elites in particular have had their golden parachutes on the ready. They have lived luxurious, alienated lives in Pakistan and banked their money abroad. Their children have sought educations abroad (mostly in America) and gone on to find gainful employment (mostly in America). Do the elites now realise that there are no safe havens left? Do they realise the enormity of the fact that we are now to be judged by the colour of our skin and the sound of our names in the coveted West of our dreams? If the elites don’t build a modern and moderate Pakistan, they will find all doors closing on them abroad. So instead of seeking slippery toeholds abroad, the elites must more firmly stake their interests at home.

The middle classes, who were all lining up for immigration visas, must make their choices too. They cannot opt for western countries with hatred in their hearts for secular values and free cultures. In fact, those who’ve already made their lives and jobs abroad must realize that a judicious integration with the world is necessary if they are to escape the disastrous consequences of racial attacks and suspicions that are before them today. All expatriates should shed political hypocrisy and retreat from the mental ghettos in which they survive.

Finally, every Pakistani needs to confront the challenge of violent religious passion in an age of reason, rationality and science. For too long the moderate silent majority has shirked its responsibilities. For too long, the Establishment has condoned the growth of violent militias. For too long, the judiciary has cowered in fear of reprisals. For too long, the politicians have made political alliances detrimental to the interests of the nation-state. For too long, we, the nation, have unthinkingly foreclosed our options for a truly satisfying nationhood.

If, as many are wont to claim, today is a critical moment in our history, let us join hands in defining it afresh. Having betrayed our forefathers, let us not now betray our grandchildren. Let us stand up and be counted as an articulate and confident majority in search of a modern Pakistan.

(TFT Oct 12-18, 2001 Vol-XIII No.33 — Editorial)

In the national interest

 

Pakistan’s obsession with a strong Pashtun state in Kabul also flies in the face of history. Until 1973, when Afghanistan’s king, Zahir Shah, a Pashtun, ruled in Kabul, the Afghan government was pro-Soviet and friendly to India. But because it was politically broad-based and decentralized, it posed no serious threat to Pakistan, which was pro-US. In fact, despite pressure from India, Zahir Shah declined to open a front against Pakistan during the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pakistan wars

Until recently, the ISI was set on helping the Pashtun Taliban clinch total victory in Afghanistan. But today we are told that the “ground reality has changed” and a broad-based, multi-ethnic government is the name of the game. Fair enough.

Until yesterday, it was treasonable to mention the name of ex-Afghan king Zahir Shah in the corridors of the ISI Headquarters in Islamabad. Today no less than the COAS/CE/President of Pakistan says that the ex-king may yet have a role to play. Good enough.

In fact, former foreign minister Assef Ahmad Ali and former president of Pakistan Farooq Leghari have now come out in support of the idea that Zahir Shah should be asked to play his due part in the establishment of any future government in Afghanistan. Even former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, during whose last tenure the Taliban were midwifed by interior minister General (retd) Naseerullah Babar and nourished to manhood by the ISI, seems wiser after the event.

As for former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, it was during his first stint in office that a great opportunity was lost in 1992 when the then Pashtun president of Afghanistan, General Najibullah (allied to the Uzbek commander Rashid Dostum), offered to facilitate, and hand over power to, a broad-based Afghan government supported by Pakistan. But the ISI under General Javed Nasir, a born-again fundamentalist handpicked by Mr Sharif, spurned the “communist” offer, preferring instead to spur its favourite Pashtun Islamic commanders to hunt Najibullah down. In the furious melee that followed, Ahmad Shah Masood, the Tajik commander, rushed to seize Kabul, compelling Pakistan nine months later to acquiesce in the nomination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, a Tajik, as president, Ahmad Shah Masood as defense minister and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a Pashtun, as prime minister of a new government. But the arrangement was doomed to fail because neither side trusted the other and the ISI was overly partial towards Hekmatyar.

It may also be recalled that when in 1997, during Mr Sharif’s second stint in office, the ISI prodded the Foreign Office under foreign minister Gauhar Ayub to formally “recognize” the Taliban government following the fall of Mazar-i-Sharif, the Pakistani prime minister was gallivanting in Central Asia. In fact he was only informed of his government’s recognition of the Taliban regime as the lawful government of Afghanistan after the announcement had been made on Pakistan TV and radio. That put paid to secret attempts by Mr Sharif, through the good offices of his chief minister in the NWFP, to negotiate with Mr Masood in quest of a stable and broad-based government in Kabul. It also compelled the Rabbani government to seek a firmer alliance with the Uzbeks and Hazaras and consolidate sources of support from Iran, India and the central Asian states. After Mr Masood paid a trip to India, the die was cast.

How was Taliban policy shaped and why has it never been adequately explained? Perhaps General Nasim Rana, who presided over the ISI from mid 1995 to the end of 1998 — a period straddling two civilian governments which dared not oppose the ISI — can enlighten us. General Rana retired after COAS General Jehangir Karamat was eased out by Mr Sharif in 1998. He resurfaced as defense secretary after the October 1999 coup d’etat.

In the meanwhile, we may explore the viability of every Pakistani government’s declared aims and objectives vis a vis Afghanistan. Since the Soviets were kicked out of Afghanistan in 1988, Pakistan has tried to cobble and prop up four governments in Kabul and failed. All but one, including the Taliban, were led by ethnic Pashtuns. What was Pakistan’s interest in such dispensations?

Pakistan has a natural interest in wanting a friendly government in its backyard. We are ringed by India, which is Hindu and hostile, and Iran, which is Shiite and aspires for regional dominance. Pakistan therefore rightly feels that a new government in Kabul dominated by the Northern Alliance, whose constituent Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara elements have received economic and military assistance from both Iran and India, would hurt its national security.

Unfortunately, however, another notion has confused the issue. This is the idea of “strategic depth,” first articulated by Pakistani army chief Gen. Aslam Beg. Gen. Beg believed that in the event of a long, drawn out and difficult war with India, Afghanistan’s friendly territory could serve as a strategic zone, providing secure operating bases for Pakistan’s air force and army. During the 1965 war with India, Pakistan sought to protect its smaller air force from Indian air attacks by parking some of its American-supplied fighter aircraft in Iranian airfields near its western border.

But times have changed. Given the development of nuclear weapons and the deployment of ballistic missiles and faster jet planes, it has never been clear what Pakistan might want to “park” in Afghanistan, or why, in the event of another war with India. More critically, Pakistan’s strategic thinkers have refused to learn lessons since they began cultivating close relations with the Taliban in 1996: a rigidly ideological government such as the Taliban’s with a narrow worldview cannot be a reliable partner in the defense of Pakistan’s interests.

Therefore Pakistan’s current predicament follows two decades of misplaced “interventionism” in Afghanistan. This was based on a policy of picking Pashtun “favorites” and trying to install them in power in Kabul. Over time, however, this transformed Pakistan’s natural requirement for a friendly neighbor into an unyielding obsession for a client state. Consequently, Pakistan has ended up alienating Afghanistan’s ethnic minorities such as the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras, and driven their leaders into the lap of India or Iran or Russia.

Pakistan’s obsession with a strong Pashtun state in Kabul also flies in the face of history. Until 1973, when Afghanistan’s king, Zahir Shah, a Pashtun, ruled in Kabul, the Afghan government was pro-Soviet and friendly to India. But because it was politically broad-based and decentralized, it posed no serious threat to Pakistan, which was pro-US. In fact, despite pressure from India, Zahir Shah declined to open a front against Pakistan during the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pakistan wars. This, despite the fact that his government refused to recognize the Durand Line.

But this benign Afghan attitude changed after Sardar Mohammad Daoud, a Pashtun nationalist, deposed the king and seized Kabul in 1973. He established a strong, centrist state and began to foment Pashtun nationalism and separatism among the Pashtuns of Pakistan. After Daoud was overthrown by leftists in a 1978 coup, the Durand Line was aggressively challenged by communist presidents Nur Mohammad Taraki and Hafizullah Amin, both die-hard Pashtuns. Thus, strong and centralized Pashtun governments in Kabul have either pandered to Pashtun nationalism in Afghanistan by supporting Pashtun separatism in Pakistan, or tried to export Pashtun-Islamic fundamentalism to Pakistan’s border provinces like the Taliban have done in recent years.

This should have suggested to Pakistan’s defense establishment that a strong Taliban-led state in Afghanistan would eventually pose a threat to the territorial integrity and political solidarity of a multi-ethnic Pakistan because it would combine the worst elements of ethnic nationalism with violent religious sectarianism. But it didn’t. Instead, when the Taliban arrived on the scene in 1994 rather unexpectedly, and demonstrated a degree of public support in war weary Afghanistan, Pakistan leapt into the fray and gave unstinting economic and military support to them to the exclusion of all the other ethnic contenders for power.

Unfortunately, however, the Taliban’s military successes made them progressively confident and rigid, thereby diminishing Pakistan’s political leverage with them. Now Pakistan is being held accountable for befriending the Taliban and being made to count the costs of not ditching them earlier. Where does Pakistan go from here?

The plan for the future of Afghanistan should not be too difficult to fathom. Afghanistan faces an American offensive meant to soften up the Taliban’s militia so that its components peel off gradually as the pressure of war and isolation increases. The Taliban are, in effect, composed of those Pashtun elements of the government-in-exile established by Pakistan in Peshawar in 1989 after the exit of the Soviets from Afghanistan. The Pashtun commanders of the various militias, once numbering 6,000, are either with the Taliban or have their men fighting in the ranks of the Taliban. They also contain elements of the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan last ruled by President General Najibullah and these constitute the engineering and military brains of the militia. Experts also point to a Durrani-Ghilzai tribal divide in the Taliban regime which could be exploited. There is also no doubt of the wide variety of ideological opinion that prevails in the dominant Pashtun matrix. The pressure of war is bound to increase the fissures within the Taliban, therby undermining their unity and paving the way for the notion of broad based governance.

It is this possibility that has attracted the opponents of the Taliban to Zahir Shah, the king who was ousted in 1973 and later favoured by five out of the seven militias that Pakistan was supporting against the Soviet invasion. This support stemmed from the fact that the militias had little cohesion at the time because they had been subjected to splits in order to facilitate Pakistan’s handling of the situation in Afghanistan. His long absence from the scene has certainly diminished that early support but he remains the one figure around whom the Afghan cities might conceivably rally, somewhat like the kings who returned to the Balkans after long years of chaotic nationalist conflict.

The anticipated victory against the Taliban, however, should not lead to the dominance of the Northern Alliance in which the main party is Burhanuddin Rabbani’s Jamiat-e-Islami whose regime in Kabul was disastrously cruel and paved the way for the victory of the Taliban without much fighting. Pakistan has rightly warned that a government dominated by the Northern Alliance would be counter-productive, against its national security interests and therefore unacceptable to it.

Fortunately, there is a tacit acceptance of Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan among the Western powers lined up against the Taliban. It is also realistic to link the broad-based future government in Kabul to the ratios that determine the ethnic map of the country. The Pashtuns are over 45 percent of the population but there are large chunks of Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and Turkmen who must be represented. The concept of the Loya Jirga has always been at hand but any kind of realignment of forces will depend very much on the efforts made by the world to rebuild the destroyed country, revive its economy and resettle its uprooted population. The best roadmap through this period should be drawn within the framework of the United Nations, under the aegis of a carefully selected UN force that descends on Afghanistan after the Taliban have been replaced. Some kind of loose federal order must prevail in Afghanistan in line with ‘consensual’ laissez faire governance under Zahir Shah before the Soviet obsession with centralisation destroyed it under Presidents Nur Mohammad Taraki and Hafeezullah Amin. To achieve this, all the neighbouring states with interests in Afghanistan — Iran, Pakistan, China, Russia, Central Asia – must come to an agreement without necessarily abandoning their own national security priorities. In turn, Pakistan, the most affected party, must trim its policy in light of the relief it will get from the sectarian terrorism and violent fundamentalism that has “blown back” from Afghanistan over the past decades. This will be essential to keep the new broad-based government going in tandem with an attractive economic deal that keeps the funds flowing into Afghanistan.

Thus, firstly, nation-building in Afghanistan must rely on a truly loose and federal arrangement in which the various ethnic nationalities are fully empowered. Second, it must be an international, as opposed to a national, affair. Third, it must be recognized that the Taliban, even after they have been defeated, cannot be eradicated because they are part of the ground reality, in or out of power. Thus they would have to be represented in any future set-up. Finally, it should be noted that while kings can provide powerful symbols in certain extreme situations that need swift balancing solutions, they can only play a limited role and that too in a transitional sense in which the final outcome is determined by the complex manipulations of internal and external forces.

Zahir Shah could provide such a transitional umbrella under U.N. supervision. The new government’s job would be to “clean up” Afghanistan with Western support – get rid of al Qaeda terrorist training camps and elect a representative governing body for Afghanistan.

The Western powers could then ask Pakistan to assist them in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Afghanistan, thereby giving it a strategic foothold in Kabul, and eventually opening access to Western oil and gas pipelines from Central Asia to Pakistan and beyond. Transit royalties from the pipelines alone would swiftly pull Afghanistan out of its abject economic misery. Is this a far cry from the rage and passion and bloodshed of today?

It is. The conflict could be long and difficult. Many people will be dead before it is over. Pakistan’s religious parties are digging in for a final battle for the soul of the Afghan and Pakistan states. The Taliban remain defiant. Increasing civilian casualties in Afghanistan will enrage Muslims everywhere, with unpredictable consequences. And Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda jehadis will fight to the last.

But no matter. In the final analysis, as General Musharraf has admitted, “the Taliban’s days are numbered”. The ISI has a new head. Zahir Shah’s emissary has been invited for talks in Islamabad. The OIC is being harnessed to bolster the anti-Taliban coalition. General Pervez Musharraf could not have done better than take such first steps in the national interest of Pakistan.

(TFT Oct 19-25, 2001 Vol-XIII No.34 — Editorial)

Dangerous political vacuum

 

“Musharraf’s battle to reshape Pakistan is a lonely one”, says Time magazine. “No political party backs him: he has consistently poured scorn on the parties’ established leaders. His anti-corruption drive, his jailing of politicians for abuse of authority, his categorical statements that he wants to introduce a new political class at the expense of the old, have all alienated established politicos who see him only as a threat”.

Time magazine is half right. General Musharraf is attempting to navigate “the toughest job in the world” at the moment without an effective political crew. But not all established politicos see him as a threat. For whatever it’s worth, the anti-Nawaz PML is clutching at his coattails. But its members are more anti-Nawaz than pro-Musharraf. They are also fractured and leaderless. Many are still too ideologically straitjacketed for comfort in the daring new dispensation. Nor have they risked their necks in publicly denouncing the Taliban and welcoming the international intervention in Afghanistan against extremist jihadi elements. In fact, all have dithered, demanding “evidence” of Osama bin Laden’s complicity in the September 11 attacks. And not one has stood up to admit that Osama bin Laden long ago confessed his enmity with America and vowed to wage jihad against “civilian and military targets in America”.

The stunning exception is former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. She has not prevaricated or minced her words. Long before this crisis burst upon Pakistan, she was openly rebuking the Taliban and urging General Musharraf to change course in Afghanistan. Indeed, she is the one Pakistani politician who has braved public sentiment at home by openly calling Osama bin Laden a terrorist. Now she has lent unconditional support to General Musharraf and parted company with many colleagues in the ARD who are either sitting on the fence or openly condemning General Musharraf. She says she has put aside her personal predicament “in the national interest” – the Musharraf regime is seeking to oust her from politics, albeit unsuccessfully, while her husband has been in prison for five years without a conviction. Like her, General Musharraf has also risked his all for the sake of Pakistan. It may be recalled that when, in a meeting with senior editors last month, one self-righteous “guardian of Pakistan” advised him to “be a hero and defy America”, General Musharraf shamed him into silence by saying he would rather be an anti-hero and save Pakistan.

Therefore much the same sort of reasoning should now nudge General Musharraf away from the “accountability policies” that have politically isolated him in the country. In fact, he should quickly build a viable political coalition in order to shield himself and his new policies from attack by misguided, confused, bigoted or vested interests.

The Friday Times remains fiercely opposed to corruption and abuse of power in government. It targeted former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto and paid a price for its principles. It is still stoutly pro-accountability. But there comes a time when the principal contradiction in the life of a country should be identified and resolved while shelving all other considerations. And that moment has arrived. The core contradiction today is not between corruption and accountability. It is not between dictatorship and democracy. It is between fundamentalist national isolation and liberal global outreach. And in this context, Ms Bhutto and the Peoples Party, despite their misdemeanours and misjudgments, are natural allies of General Musharraf. Therefore they should be politically rehabilitated as soon as possible in the national interest.

Of course, people will advise General Musharraf to spurn political alliances and go it alone, counting only on his army and new-found friends in the West. But that would be a grave mistake. Recall the exits of Sadaat of Egypt, Zia of Pakistan, Noriega of Panama, Pinochet of Chile, Suharto of Indonesia and countless other dictators who could not be “saved”, or were abandoned, by the West when the chips at home were down. But there is a yet more compelling reason to play politics urgently.

In 1996, President Farooq Leghari sacked Bhutto and singled her out for accountability. Result: Nawaz Sharif obtained a two-thirds majority, got rid of Leghari and went berserk. In 1999, General Musharraf seized power and forced Sharif and Bhutto into exile. Result: political isolation at home. But general elections are within sight. If mainstream moderate politicians and parties are sidelined, a dangerous vacuum will be created. Pakistanis might then vent their rage at America by sweeping the fundamentalists and anti-West elements into office. Then the Pakistani army and its chief will find themselves in the same untenable situation as Algeria and Turkey without the will or inclination to act in a forceful and overtly secular manner. That would spell a greater national disaster than the disaster General Pervez Musharraf has just averted.

General Pervez Musharraf says elections will not be postponed. That is good because there is no alternative to democracy. But it would be heartening if he were to cobble an alliance with liberal, forward-looking politicians so that his daring and patriotic national initiatives can lead to a free and progressive Pakistan.

(TFT Oct 26-01 Nov, 2001 Vol-XIII No.35 — Editorial)

India’s error

New Delhi’s behaviour is startling. Two years ago, it didn’t want to talk to General Pervez Musharraf because he was a military dictator and the architect of Kargil. But that didn’t cut much ice with observers. N Delhi’s historical record shows its readiness to cosy up to dictators when it suits its interests. Certainly, India had no problems dialoguing with General Ayub Khan with whom it signed the historic Indus Waters Treaty in 1962, and with General Zia ul Haq with whom it enjoyed cricket diplomacy in 1987. The former, it may be recalled, went to war with India in 1965 while the latter stirred up the Khalistani separatists in Indian Punjab in the early 1980s.

Last year, New Delhi was ecstatic when US President Bill Clinton spent five days lapping up India and five hours badgering Pakistan. In particular, the spectacle of Indian MPs literally tripping over themselves to paw Mr Clinton in the Indian parliament was inexcusable. Even in the heyday of US-Pak relations in the 1960s, when Pakistan was an American client state, such toadying was never sanctioned in Islamabad. And this fawning India was the same independent India that once led the non-aligned movement of the third world.

Early this year, however, India’s prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee suddenly decided that General Musharraf was kosher for talks. Perhaps Mr Vajpayee sought to curry favour with the new Republicans in Washington by portraying himself as a man of peace. Unfortunately, however, the BJP hardliners derailed his planned diplomatic coup at Agra by fishing out the concept of “cross-border terrorism” at the nth minute in exchange for conceding the centrality of the Kashmir dispute between the two countries.

But if Agra did not cement an immediate agreement, it did not preclude one in the near future either. Indeed, the requirement of incorporating “cross-border terrorism” into the diplomatic loop totally rejected by Pakistan did not stop Mr Vajpayee and foreign minister Jaswant Singh from accepting a Pakistani invitation for talks in Islamabad. In fact, early post-Agra statements from them suggested that they saw wisdom in continuing the talks about peace-talks. All this was said and done because it was correctly recognized in India that a failure to achieve an understanding with General Musharraf was likely to strengthen the militants in Kashmir and prolong the insufferable insurgency. Meanwhile, both sides continued to feign a stout defense of their uncompromising position over Kashmir. Thus when the Kashmiri militants attacked military targets and provoked “collateral damage”, N Delhi renewed its attempts to crush them without bringing Pakistan into its direct firing line.

On September 11, however, the world changed in many ways, not least for India. As the US thundered “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” and vowed to wage an infinite war against the Taliban, al-Qaida and all those abetting them, India saw a perverse opportunity to embrace the United States and isolate Pakistan. Suddenly, even before Presidents Bush’s words had stopped ringing in the ears of its Western allies, India was ready to offer airbases and anything else the US so desired in its war against “terrorism”. It was an act of incomparable obsequiousness ill-befitting India. Therefore the humiliation and anger and hurt that has followed America’s spurning of India in favour of Pakistan has begotten a new anti-Pakistan belligerence from India that began by welcoming Colin Powell with an unprovoked barrage across the LoC and is now threatening to spiral out of control in Kashmir.

The anti-Pakistan rhetoric that has followed is a matter of grave concern. The return of the cavalier George Fernandes as defense minister also suggests that India is tilting in the direction of destabilizing Pakistan by undermining General Musharraf. Apparently, its thinking is that it’s now or never. In other words, it believes this is the time to wake up the world “to the terrorism spawned by Pakistan in Kashmir” and get it to collar Islamabad. Hence what was kosher yesterday (talking with General Musharraf) is not kosher today, not in Pakistan and not at the UN next month.

This is misplaced strategy on the part of India. It means that the Hindu Fundos in India are unwittingly playing into the hands of the Islamic fundos in Pakistan. The Jaish-i- Mohammad, for instance, has upped its attacks on civilians in Kashmir in order to put General Musharraf on the mat. Other fundo organizations are openly trying to subvert the Pakistani army and unleash an Islamic coup. Their purpose is the same: create mayhem and rage, then try and seize the Pakistani state.

Seen in this context, the current poverty of philosophy in India is both self-insulting and self-injuring. If a couple of thousand Islamic fundos in Kashmir are a millstone around India’s neck, a couple of million Islamic fundos in Pakistan could trigger a nuclear war in the region. The sooner India recognizes the truth of current realities — including the injustice in Kashmir — the better. N Delhi should therefore start talking to Pakistan again as soon as possible since there is no better-placed or flexible Pakistani than General Pervez Musharraf with whom to clinch an honourable and equitable compromise.

(TFT Nov 02-08, 2001 Vol-XIII No.36 — Editorial)

Afghan roadmap needed

Has the supercharged US military-intelligence machine got bogged down in Afghanistan? Despite the bombs and high-gadgetry homing devices poured over Afghanistan, the “tenacious” Taliban seem unrepentant. Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden has gone underground, literally, but not before threatening to ignite the ground under the feet of the “aggressors”. Americans are therefore bracing for another terrorist attack.

Critics argue that the American carrot-stick strategy of trying to bomb and bribe the Taliban has failed to bear fruit. Further evidence of failure relates to the CIA’s botched attempt to stir rebellion against the Taliban via commander Abdul Haq who was armed only with satchels full of greenbacks before he was betrayed, captured and executed. It is therefore concluded that this war or campaign is going to be a long and nasty one, with some people apprehensive about a right-wing military coup against General Pervez Musharraf. Leading this pack is the irrepressible American journalist Seymour Hersh who says that special American troops are rehearsing how to “take out” Pakistan’s nuclear programme should General Pervez Musharraf be ousted from power.

Like many others, General Musharraf had hoped that the American military campaign would be short, swift and sharp, leading to the installation of a friendly broad based government in Kabul before public opinion turned irrevocably hostile in Pakistan. But this hasn’t happened. In fact, local religious parties have swelled their ranks and are flexing for a showdown with the government, with a few actually trying to subvert the army. This has prompted General Musharraf to sweep the decks and bring moderate and pragmatic army officers into positions of responsibility in place of the more ideological or politically ambitious ones who originally installed him in power. The prospect of a longer than anticipated war with rising “collateral damage” (what a callous phrase!) and an attendant popular backlash in the country has also fueled speculation that he might seek to mend fences with certain politicians in the national interest of Pakistan.

But General Musharraf is reasonably sanguine that he has taken the right decision and the storm will pass. He is hoping for positive results in Afghanistan even as he digs in for a longer haul. Is his guarded optimism justified?

As everyone knows, two salient facts stand out about the American campaign against OBL, Al Qaeda and the Taliban so far. First, the Americans have said from Day-One that this is the beginning of a multi-faceted and prolonged war against Al-Qaeda and its ilk. So if there are any qualms about the lack of progress until now, people should be patient. Second, the Americans have merely tried to “soften” up the Taliban rather than seriously finishing them off. They are concentrating on knocking out the Taliban’s logistical support and heavy weapons instead of indiscriminately carpet-bombing their troop concentrations. There are two reasons for this: the Taliban’s heavy armour and logistical bases must be knocked out before the Americans can establish a couple of secure bridgeheads for “boots on ground” and intelligence operations; and the NA has to be kept at arms length from Kabul until a broad based government acceptable to Pakistan and the rest of the regional players has been cobbled and installed in the capital. What are the prospects of that happening soon?

Pro-Taliban commentators say the Taliban will never surrender to the Americans. But might they not switch in sufficient numbers if the conditions were right? General Musharraf’s rather coy remark recently of impending switches and defections among the Taliban should not be ignored. Perhaps the hiatus in the war provided by Ramadan will be a cover for achieving this objective. Voices in the American establishment are already saying that Washington may have missed the import of the Taliban’s early statements suggesting that they would have no serious objections if the Americans could “take out” their honourable guest without direct reference to them.

A couple of days ago some American soldiers and advisers were attached to contingents of the NA facing Mazhar i Sharif. This significant development suggests that further pressure will be brought to bear on the Taliban’s front lines by a targeted dose of carpet-bombing while propelling the NA’s ragtag army into effective military action. Equally critically, the presence of the Americans is meant to make sure that the NA’s troops do not commit atrocities after they capture the city. The same sort of pressure on the Taliban and restraint on the NA may be evident along the Kabul front in weeks to come. In fact, the Americans may be preparing the ground to hold the NA in check while readying a UN sponsored military force to occupy Kabul as soon as possible.

Fortunately, civilian casualties in Afghanistan are still much less than originally anticipated. But these will surely mount as the war is extended. Islamic passions are bound to be further inflamed. That is why the Americans and Pakistanis must extract maximum mileage from the onset of Ramadan. The sooner the political essence and organisational structure of a new government in Kabul is agreed upon between the contending powers, a roadmap, as it were, the quicker the Taliban can be swept aside and the bombing brought to an end.

(TFT Nov 09-15, 2001 Vol-XIII No.37 — Editorial)

Think positively

Mr Shaukat Aziz says that if the post-September 11 geo-political situation does not stabilize quickly, Pakistan’s economy could lose about US$ 2 billion this year. That would translate into a GDP growth rate of about 2.5% instead of the targeted 4%. It would also rubbish our fiscal and trade deficit targets and jeopardize the IMF-sponsored reform process initiated two years ago. It may be recalled that original expectations of investor and donor confidence surging back and reviving growth this year were based on cementing this comprehensive structural adjustment programme rather than abandoning it mid-way.

According to the State Bank’s most recent report on the health of the economy, these expectations are now doubtful because of two factors: the global recession which has brought down global economic growth forecasts from 3.2% to 2.6% this year; and the consequences of the post-September 11 events which have reduced stock indices in the US and Europe by 7% to 15%. The SBP cites a number of resultant factors which may have an adverse impact on Pakistan’s economy: the increase in freight rates and imposition of war-risk insurance cover will increase the cost of imports and make exports more expensive and therefore less competitive, thereby widening the trade deficit; the cancellation and disruption of air cargo flights to and from Pakistan will undermine trade flows compelling manufacturing units to maintain abnormally high inventories or face shortages, thereby raising operating costs; the exit of foreign heads of multinationals and a freeze in the operations of foreign companies in the oil and gas sector will further erode foreign investor confidence; privatisation, which was expected to yield up to US$ 1 billion in sales this year, may not materialize; and the influx of millions of Afghan refugees will add a burden to our scarce human and capital resources.

In the SBP’s worst case scenario — a prolonged and bloody war in Afghanistan and deepening political instability in Pakistan — exports will decline significantly, foreign investment flows will dry up, capital flight will intensify and GDP growth will be stagnant. According to another authoritative assessment (ABM-AMRO), the net impact of these adverse factors would reduce GDP growth to 2.5%-3.1%, with exports barely reaching US$ 8 billion (last year about US$ 9.3 billion) and imports hovering around US$ 10 billion (last year about US$ 11 billion).

But as the SBP, ABM-AMRO and others have also pointed out, there could be serious mitigating factors in the medium and long-term. To begin with, there are bright prospects of a restoration of bilateral foreign financial assistance on soft terms worth at least US$ 1 billion this year. The IMF/ADB/WB et al would probably weigh in with another US$ 2 billion or so. We would save US$ 500 million or thereabouts on our import bill for oil because crude prices are falling in the wake of a slowdown in the world economy. The switchover from the hundi system to formal banking avenues in the wake of an anticipated crackdown on hundi dealers by US authorities on the track of Al-Qaeda, coupled with the inflow of forex deposits from not-so-safe havens abroad anymore, should beef up the rupee and keep inflation in check. The 15% increase in the quota of value-added cotton goods from Pakistan to the EU effective next year, plus a reduction in EU import duties on many items from Pakistan, should lead to a net gain of about US$ 500 million a year. If this is supplemented by greater access of Pakistani goods to US markets, as promised by US leaders, Pakistani exports could increase by an additional 10% every year over and above normal export growth.

Finally, as financial experts have clarified, the greatest gains may be forthcoming in the event of an anticipated long-term re-profiling of our foreign debt instead of the usual short-term re-scheduling by friendly Western donors. Rescheduling is essentially the replacement of an existing debt obligation with another in which there is no reduction in the stock of debt. Re-profiling, however, means a reduction in the outstanding stock of debt in its net present value via an extension of the maturity period of outstanding debt contracts. Under certain terms, this reduction in the net present value of the debt stock could be as high as 50%-70%. Re-profiling would also imply concessional interest rates on outstanding loan amounts which are significantly lower than in the original terms. In other words, re-profiling would provide a permanent reduction in Pakistan’s stream of foreign payments every year because it would affect both stocks and flows. It would therefore provide valuable fiscal space unavailable under simple re-scheduling as in the past and alleviate the requirements of a massive debt write-off as a pre-condition to sustainable economic growth.

General Pervez Musharraf’s misplaced religious critics are devoid of common sense. It is in Pakistan’s long-term national interest to stick with the international community and try to reap economic benefits rather than risk isolation and face economic meltdown. Much, of course, will now depend on how the war shapes up in Afghanistan and how General Musharraf deals with the tricky situation on the home and foreign fronts. His current trip to Europe and the US is therefore critical. It will provide pointers in the direction we are about to take.

(TFT Nov 16-22, 2001 Vol-XIII No.38 — Editorial)

On the right track

Following the sudden Taliban rout in Afghanistan, Polly Toynbee of The Guardian had this to say: “Never in the field of human conflict have so many experts of the highest renown been so thoroughly wrong. Never have so many old war horses of right and left been so embarrassingly trounced”. Of course, these trenchant words fully apply to Pakistani state intellectuals, ex-army chiefs and ISI types who have made an art of mythologizing Afghanistan and the Pashtun Taliban.

Recall the doomsters’ warnings: The Taliban jehadis were infused with the mythic Pakhtoon warrior spirit that created a rare breed of fighting machine that would suck in the Americans and fight to the terrible end since defeat was not in the vocabulary of heavenbound martyrs while the fractious rogues of the Northern Alliance could never beat the Taliban and American bombing would only kill thousands of civilians without touching the elusive foe which could flit from cave to cave in an unending guerilla war.

Recall too that it was none other than General Pervez Musharraf who had the courage and perspicacity to admit in an interview with BBC late October that “the Taliban’s day’s are numbered”. Our view, too,

(TFT Editorial “De-mythologising Afghanistan”, September 30th) had been similarly expressed earlier. “Conspiracy theorists apart, many commentators have assumed that the US will bomb Afghanistan into the stone age, thereby provoking a dangerous blowback for America and its Muslim allies like Pakistan. Some argue that it will be a war without end in which the tenacious Afghans will defeat America much like the Russians a decade ago and the British a hundred years earlier. Others fear that thousands of innocent Afghans will perish, triggering widespread anti-American riots in Pakistan that could lead to the overthrow of the moderate Musharraf regime. But the basic assumption in these scenarios may not be true”.

We explained why there would be no significant pro-Taliban insurrections in the tribal areas of Pakistan, why the people of Afghanistan and the old Pashtun commanders currently allied to the Taliban were not bound to line up with the Taliban in a crunch, and why Afghnaistan was not likely to become a graveyard for the Americans. Indeed, we argued

(TFT Editorial “Afghan roadmap needed”, October 31st ) that “if there are any qualms about the lack of progress (related to American bombing) until now, people should be patient”. We noted the significance of “American soldiers and advisors attached to the contingents of the NA facing Mazhar i Sharif which suggests that further pressure will be brought to bear on the Taliban’s front lines by a targeted dose of carpet bombing while propelling the NA’s ragtag army into effective military action” and pointed out that “the presence of the Americans is meant to make sure that the NA’s troops do not commit atrocities after they capture the city…the same sort of pressure on the Taliban and restraint on the NA may be evident along the Kabul front in weeks to come”.

Unfortunately, however, it seems that the pundits are still alive and kicking. Now they are saying that the Taliban and OBL have “tactically” retreated from the cities so that they can wage a punishing guerilla war in the countryside. Nonsense. If that had been the case, Mullah Umar wouldn’t have been begging his commanders to stand and fight the NA. It should also be clear that for a successful guerilla war to be waged for any length of time, the Taliban will require militarily impenetrable and economically self-sustaining base areas, solid and secure lines of communication and much external financial and military support, none of which will be available. Indeed, if anything, the sea in which these fish are expected to swim may not be too friendly after hundreds of small and big local commanders who form their military backbone in many provinces have switched sides for one reason or another.

Other critics argue that General Musharraf’s about-turn policies have failed because the Americans now have no use for Pakistan since they have won the war in Afghanistan. Nonsense. Washington will require the assistance of Pakistan’s army to deny hiding places in its tribal belt to the Taliban, to Mullah Omar, OBL and the al-Qaeda terrorists. It will need the help of the Pakistani ISI to locate and flush out the terrorists from their caves in Afghanistan. Pakistan will be needed to persuade non-Taliban Afghan Pashtun leaders to join a broadly representative and extremely loose federal government in Kabul under a UN umbrella. And the US will require the full cooperation and long term assistance of Pakistan in the reconstruction of a stable Afghanistan so that the oil and gas pipelines of Central Asia which have long been eyed by Western oil companies find non-Iranian outlets in the Arabian sea and beyond.

General Pervez Musharraf is on the right track. But in a rapidly developing situation, he must redouble his efforts to remain firmly entrenched in the international coalition while scaling down his army’s regional ambitions and dealing swiftly and effectively with his country’s internal political contradictions.

(TFT Nov 23-29, 2001 Vol-XIII No.39 — Editorial)

No time to sulk

The race is on for Kabul. Mr Burhanuddin Rabbani, the Jamiat-e-Islami leader recognised by the UN as the legitimate president of Afghanistan but debunked by Pakistan, is back in the capital, pruning himself for re-anointment. He is a Tajik. Mr Zahir Shah, the deposed king of Afghanistan long spurned by Pakistan and now baited by the West, is waiting for a nod from the Unites States to stake a claim to the throne. He is a Pashtun. Meanwhile, Moscow, an old Indian ally which despises Pakistan, has thrown its weight behind Mr Rabbani. Not to be left behind, India is straining at the leash to play a significant role in Afghanistan now that the Taliban are gone and the Northern Alliance which it partly funded and trained is back in the saddle. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are supporting the NA Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum and Iran’s NA protégé is the Persian-speaking Gen Ismail Khan. Pakistan is unfortunately nowhere in the scene with its proclaimed band of loyal Pashtuns.

Next Monday, the UN will herd into Berlin nearly 40 military commanders and politicians claiming to represent one segment or another of the people of Afghanistan. Their job is to agree on a special governing committee to oversee the transition to an interim government approved by a loya jirga or tribal assembly until general elections are held in a couple of years in Afghanistan. This moot follows an implicit US warning to the NA that it won’t be allowed to fly solo, not least because its control over most of Afghan territory following the rout of the Taliban is due largely to US military might but also because it doesn’t represent the dominant Pashtun community of the country.

The UN, prodded by the US, wants to move fast in order to stop the country from sliding into another bloody round of civil war. Despite its high sounding name, the triumphant NA is riven with ethnic and military rivalries which make it volatile. The three generals who captured Mazhar i Sharif — Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek; Atta Mohammad, a Tajik; and Ustad Mohaqqik, a Haraza — are at loggerheads. Gen Ismail Khan, who has established control over Herat and the western territories, has serious differences with the NA group holding Kabul. In Jalalabad, the Pashtun commander Haji Abdul Kadeer, (brother of commander Abdul Haq who was executed by the Taliban) has become governor and is pushing Pashtun interests. In Kabul itself, even as the pro-Russia and pro-Iran Rabbani bills himself as president, effective power remains in the hands of Tajiks like Younus Qanuni (interior minister), Dr Abdullah Abdullah (foreign minister) and Gen Mohammad Fahim (army chief) who are all inclined to look to the US just as much as to Russia and Iran. The internal challenges within the NA also come from the Shia Hazara fighters of the Hizbe Wahadat party that is demanding a stake in governing Kabul because of a strong Hazara presence in the city.

Worse from the point of view of a quick peace plan, the deal between the NA and Zahir Shah, struck with some fanfare last month, is all but off. Former Taliban commanders in the south of the country have bolted from Kabul-Kandahar’s central command and become Pashtun chieftains bent upon staking and exercising control over large swathes of territory in their own right. And renegade, armed groups and roaming bandits are once again the order of the day. With no one in a commanding position in Afghanistan, the potential for internal strife has increased alarmingly. In this difficult and unsure situation, what should Pakistan do? How can it protect its national interests?

Some analysts think that continuing political and military chaos may not be such a bad thing after all from Pakistan’s point of view. If every major player turns out to be a loser and a vacuum persists, Pakistan might be able to exercise some leverage in the southern and eastern Pashtun belts by default. The geographic contiguity that has condemned Pakistan to embrace Afghanistan might, it is argued, also give it the advantage of re-engaging Afghanistan after the other players have thrown up their hands in despair or exhaustion. Thus this line of thinking suggests that Islamabad should bide its time while ironing out its differences with Iran, another country geographically placed to play a long-term role in Afghanistan.

Alternatively, and more realistically, Pakistan could become pro-active and reach out to Zahir Shah, who has full Western support, may be eventually acceptable to the power-brokers in the NA and is potentially the least objectionable or undesirable person to temporarily lead and represent the Pashtuns. In fact, Pakistan’s interest lies not only in an Afghan state that is friendly and sufficiently Pashtun-led but one that is united and stable. Continuing chaos could lead to the Balkanisation of Afghanistan along ethnic lines which would eventually spill over into Pakistan by rousing its Pashtuns into violent sub-nationalism and separatism. The worst policy, of course, would be one of sulking indifference to key players and regional developments or brash confidence in one’s own indispensability in the order of things, which has unfortunately been the case so far.

(TFT Nov 30-06 Dec, 2001 Vol-XIII No.40 — Editorial)

Chomsky’s relevance

Noam Chomsky, the western world’s leading dissident thinker, was in Pakistan recently to deliver the third Eqbal Ahmad Distinguished Lecture organized by the Eqbal Ahmad Foundation in association with TFT in Lahore and Dawn in Islamabad. An impressive gathering of students, teachers, journalists, intellectuals, politicians and concerned civil and military officials turned out to hear him at the seminars. Amidst the madness of war in Afghanistan and rage and confusion in Pakistan, he provided a brief respite for the consideration of universal moral and human values.

Chomsky’s visit and the Lahore seminar meant a great deal to TFT. It was an expression of our continuing links with the one Pakistani whom we loved, admired and respected above all others: Dr Eqbal Ahmad. His passing has left a stunning void in our lives.

It was also a dream come true: a meeting with Chomsky whose brilliant work and courageous views have moulded the intellect and morality of many dissidents of the 60s generation in no small way. Even as he and Eqbal were protesting the Vietnam war in Boston in 1967, many others were spilling over into the streets of Lahore and Karachi and London and Paris shouting “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids have you killed to-day?”

More significantly, the fact that the most trenchant American critic of America was able to lambaste his country’s foreign and domestic policies abroad should mean something to us. Here was an American of Jewish origin who called America the biggest rogue and terrorist state of all, and he said so not just at home in America but abroad as well, even in countries and amidst populations hostile to America. And he did so without being branded a traitor by his government or being put into prison for his views.

These three points are linked together in an organic way. Eqbal Ahmed was the most profoundly patriotic, moralistic intellectual that Pakistan has ever produced. If ever there was a living and breathing Chomsky in our very midst, it was Eqbal. Yet, for all his intellectual brilliance and political wisdom, he was shunned by the exclusivist nationalist ideologues of Pakistan, ignored by the liberal or secular political parties of the country and sidelined by the rest. In fact, when he sought to establish a liberal university of the social sciences called Khaldunia (after the great Islamic scholar Ibn Khaldun) in Islamabad, neither the Sharif nor the Bhutto government could bring itself to grant him a sizeable chunk of land or give him an autonomous title for the proposed university. The disillusionment was all the greater because Eqbal’s many well-wishers, friends and colleagues at home and abroad were ready to raise the seed capital required for the project. So there is great irony in the fact that it should have required Noam Chomsky to come all the way from America and choke halls to capacity in Lahore and Islamabad in memory of Eqbal Ahmad.

Professor Chomsky’s multifaceted fame precedes him. One biographer has pointed out that “the era before his linguistic interventions was known as Linguistics BC”, meaning not Linguistics Before Christ but Linguistics Before Chomsky. Another claims that he ranks among the most quoted sources in the West, along with Shakespeare, the Bible and Marx. But his presentations in Lahore and Islamabad were not as a linguist. In an essay he wrote as long ago as 1966, Professor Chomsky said that “the duty of intellectuals is to speak the truth and to expose lies”. He has an acute sense of moral responsibility, and as the leading conscience of the world, we heard him speak the truth about the profoundly immoral and unjust world order dominated by the lone superpower of the new millennium, the United States of America.

Truth, of course, is a bitter pill to swallow, for many people. In particular, those who speak the truth about their rogue regimes, errant establishments or failing states, at home and abroad may expect to face the wrath of their establishments and be stamped out in the name of patriotism. This is nowhere truer than in Pakistan. Free-minded journalists, non-state intellectuals, human rights activists, peaceniks and dissident politicians who make critical comments on political developments in Pakistan at forums and conferences abroad are routinely condemned by PTV and “independent” newspapers as being “anti-Pakistan and anti-Islam”. Some have even had to endure the agony of prison as “traitors”. The sad thing is that many well-meaning Pakistanis are also quick to succumb to such misplaced notions of nationalism and pride that undermine our fundamental human and constitutional rights of freedom of speech. A great irony is that many Pakistanis who are likely to condemn criticism of Pakistan’s policies abroad by fellow Pakistanis are often the first ones to line up to hear criticism of western policies by western dissidents in Pakistan.

Noam Chomsky and Eqbal Ahmad are beacons of light precisely because they are guided by high morals and great human values rather than hypocrisy, lies and double standards. When we seek to understand their political views we would do well to place them in their great humanitarian context.

(TFT Dec 07-13, 2001 Vol-XIII No.41 — Editorial)

Revive commitment to free press

 

Among the few enduring strengths of this country is a free and vibrant press. To those who have not lived under the shadow of dictatorship or don’t know this country well, this fact is taken for granted. But for much of the time since independence in 1947, the press has been in chains. And it was only in 1988, after Gen Zia ul Haq perished, that the first gust of freedom blew our way. This was owed in no small measure to a repeal of the notorious Press and Publications Ordinance (PPO) enacted by General Ayub Khan in the early 1960s in which the press was treated in the manner of a subversive native element in a repressive colonial state.

The repealing Ordinance, appropriately called the RPPO, was promulgated by a caretaker regime only days before the elections of 1988 which Benazir Bhutto was expected to win. To be sure, the press had bravely fought for freedom and deserved its rights. But the anti-Bhutto establishment that had denied such rights earlier was now quick to open the floodgates of the printed word. Cynics said the establishment wanted to “exploit” a free press to undermine the new democratic government in the offing and there was much proof of such manipulation in the years to follow, with clever journalists becoming witting tools (information ministers, press secretaries and attaches) in various civilian dispensations. But in due course sections of the press were able to shrug off the persistent demands of overbearing governments and stand on their own feet. A proliferation of newspapers and magazines since then has made it almost impossible to “control” the press effectively, though, of course, this has not stopped any government from offering “press advice” or using various levers of power (inducements and threats) to try and keep editors and publishers in line. This was especially evident during the “democratic” regime of Nawaz Sharif from 1997-99 when the stick was applied more ruthlessly to newspapers and journalists than at any time since the Zia years.

Indeed, one of the “blessings in disguise” inherited by the coup-makers of 1999 was a free press which told the world how the country had suffered under Mr Sharif and why no one shed any tears for the not-so-dearly departed “democrat”. It was a bizarre situation: an elected prime minister had been deposed by the military; but instead of a chorus of press voices condemning the unconstitutional act and fearing the worst, free-minded journalists were inclined to weigh their words in “explaining” away the military intervention when they were not openly justifying it. No leader has kicked off with so much press hostility against a departing one and so much support for a new one than General Pervez Musharraf.

It is, of course, to General Musharraf’s abiding credit that his government has not taken any steps to try and gag the press. In fact, he has been wise to exploit the international goodwill generated by the existence of a lively press in the country. Certainly, the hostility of the international community to the Kargil coupmakers was assuaged in no small measure until recently by elements of the free Pakistani press. But there have been some disquieting developments since General Musharraf has acquired greater legitimacy at home and abroad and demonstrated a swaggering confidence in his own ability to hold sway.

Thankfully, though, the incidents are few and far between as yet. Irritation at stupid questions during press conferences and anger at awkward ones. Accusations against journalists and hostility towards critics. Standard Operating Procedures in regard to snubbing “negative” reporting. And so on. But that is how it always begins, doesn’t it? When rulers are insecure, they are keen to woo the press. When they become supremely confident, they are likely to become intolerant of a boisterous press. But overconfidence has rarely yielded “positive” results. Indeed, as our own history testifies in the case of Bhutto II and Sharif II, it has led to fatal ends. Therefore greater personal tolerance and political modesty may be a preferred course of action for leaders seeking to retain support and ensure longevity.

General Musharraf’s attention is required in one other matter. The RPPO was allowed to lapse unlegislated by the Sharif regime. Therefore there is a legal vacuum in the law regulating the press. The 1960s PPO is dead and buried but the 1990s RPPO is not alive and kicking. The problem has been accentuated since the provincial governments were rendered clueless about their prerogatives under the new local government’s charter of rights. It is therefore imperative that the federal cabinet should breathe new life into the RPPO quickly before some blundering official trips the wire and embarrasses the government by clamping down unnecessarily on a publication or some frustrated publisher prints a new title without “official” permission. The RPPO, we understand, has been approved by the ministries of information and law and only needs the cabinet’s green light. Can we expect General Musharraf to revive the RPPO immediately as a sign of his personal commitment to a free press in this country?

(TFT Dec 14-20, 2001 Vol-XIII No.42 — Editorial)

Afghanistan: what next for Pakistan?

 

Except for the core troika in the Northern Alliance represented by Mr Abdullah Abdullah (foreign minister), Mr Younas Qanooni (interior minister) and General Mohammad Fahim (defense minister), no one in Afghanistan is particularly pleased with the power-sharing formula hammered out in Bonn. The “troika” has hogged all the important posts and is now manipulating internal and external policies with a view to influencing the Loya Jirga when it meets six months down the line to construct a longer-term government. Forget about the majority Pakhtuns who have been given no more than a token representation in the form of the prime minister, Hamid Karzai. Even old NA allies like the Uzbek warlord, General Rashid Dostum, in the north and the former president of Afghanistan, Burhanuddin Rabbani, are grumbling.

It is, of course, the fate of the Afghan Pakhtuns that concerns Pakistan for many reasons. The Pakhtun south is predictably split. If that seems to be an unfortunate Pakhtun characteristic, the contrast in the political behaviour of the other ethnic communities of Afghanistan is quite remarkable. In the old days when everyone was fighting the Russians, the Uzbeks stuck together and General Dostam was able to sway all incoming governments in his favour with his 40,000 strong army. He was available to the communists of the PDPA for “use”. Then President Mujaddidi made him his own top general. The Tajiks also stuck together and created the second largest army of Afghanistan under commander Ahmad Shah Massoud. In contrast, the majority Pakhtuns tended to split into separate parties and behaved as if their Pakhtun identity did not really matter. Although this characteristic made them amenable to their ISI and CIA “handlers”, this kind of divide and rule strategy yielded no permanent loyalties and everyone knew that everyone was in the game for his own dirty purpose. Indeed, Pakistan may have played it domestically as a holy jehad but it was a cruel dog-eat-dog game on the ground. Therefore when the Taliban entered the arena and united the Pakhtuns in 1996, the situation gradually slipped out of Pakistan’s control and the tail began to wag the dog. Over the years, the heady feeling that Pakistan finally had Afghanistan as its own backyard while no other country could even sustain an embassy in Kabul became a soporific that closed Islamabad’s eyes to the future.

If the fear of a “Pakhtun split” once again is real, nothing else on the ground is what it was when Pakistan went in with the Taliban and thought it had the field to itself. All the foreign embassies are soon going to be back in Kabul. The UN is going to be more influential than in the past as Bonn has demonstrated and its clout will be felt just as soon as British, European and Turkish “boots are on ground”. Above all, a lot of international money is going to be spread around, not so much through the biased parties in the Kabul interim government as through international agencies that are likely to concentrate on humanitarianism and social development rather that politics. The hope is that as this money is funnelled to the grassroots, it might lessen the intensity of the potential Pakhtun splits in the south of Afghanistan. In the event, this would contrast sharply with what happened to the money when it was given to the ISI for distribution among the mujahideen during the war against the Soviets.

Pakistan’s bugbear in Afghanistan has been India. But that policy of seeing red every time any Afghan is seen shaking hands with the Indians must be given up and a new non-ISI policy initiated to work on the emerging Tajik leadership on the basis of the transit trade facility that Pakistan can always use as leverage. India will remain marginal even after the end of the war. Its entry in the Afghan arena was a kind of tit-for-tat for the flanking move the ISI was making in Bangladesh, a flawed policy based on the assumption that Mrs Hasina Wajed was pro-India. In fact, India’s role in the new Afghanistan is bound to subside as Kabul will be inclined to act more and more in light of the advice offered by those who fund it. The biggest counter in Pakistan’s favour and against India is that India has exclusively backed the Tajiks while the stage must inevitably be set for the Pakhtun majority to reassert itself through the Loya Jirga next year.

Ironically enough, the fact that Afghanistan has gotten out of Pakistan’s stranglehold should go in favour of Pakistan. A large number of countries contributing to the reconstruction of Afghanistan should prevent it from becoming a battle-field for India and Pakistan. Therefore the sooner Pakistan recognises this reality, the better. It is the consolidation of internal rather than external control that should matter to us. A policy shaped passively on the belligerence of Islamic extremists posing as friends of the Pakhtuns in Afghanistan is a bad policy. India’s undue interference in Afghanistan can best be countered by aligning with the international community whose clout will be focused on keeping Afghanistan away from fundamentalist terrorism.

(TFT Dec 21-27, 2001 Vol-XIII No.43 — Editorial)

Fresh start needed

 

Pakistan’s military leaders have had a propensity for adventure unmatched by other dependent states in the modern age. Irrespective of the rights or wrong of the issue, Pakistani army generals provoked military conflict with India in 1965, 1971 and 1999. In the process, Pakistan has had to sign unequal ceasefires (Tashkent), submit to humiliating surrenders (Bangla Desh) or accept forced withdrawals (Kargil).

It was, however, General Zia ul Haq who believed that Pakistan was in a win win situation in Afghanistan. But he was wrong. If the legacy of the various wars with India is a reinforcement of historical pride and prejudice, the legacy of our “involvement” in Afghanistan is even more pervasive and poisonous. It has derailed the post cold war impulse for political democracy, created the demon of bloody sectarianism, raised the spectre of violent fundamentalism, stamped a militaristic ethos on society and created a powerful but unaccountable state within the state.

The ISI’s writ has spread far and wide, at home and abroad. Indeed, in recent times, an unprecedented and worrying development had begun to manifest itself with senior ISI operatives being invited as a matter of state policy into the precincts of GHQ and civilian government and also slotted into senior command positions in the army and vice versa. This was in sharp contrast to the situation before our involvement in Afghanistan when no more than Brigadiers ran the ISI and army chiefs tended to frown upon overly active roles for former ISI-types in regular army matters. Thus the ISI was actually poised to become a state in itself and for itself if the Afghanistan debacle hadn’t compelled General Musharraf to rein it in and freeze its more adventurous external operations.

Clearly, the ISI’s twenty-year “adventure” in Afghanistan is the worst thing to happen to Pakistan’s state and society in fifty years of independence. One dismal but stark manifestation of this fact is that our army now has to defend not just our eastern borders with India as part of an old historical reality but also our western border with Afghanistan as part of a new self-inflicted injury. Latest reports say that we have been obliged to move over 50,000 soldiers and 150,000 para-military troops to the border with Afghanistan in order to stop infiltration of Al-Qaeda terrorists into our tribal areas. And we are being obliged to do this in a security environment in which India is threatening to overrun our borders in hot pursuit of “terrorists” allegedly trained and supported by us while the international community is clucking in sympathy with its plight.

If there is a silver lining in the cloud, could it be, ironically enough, General Musharraf? Here is a man who has acted decisively and courageously to win international support for Pakistan’s ailing economy by swiftly abandoning a thoroughly bad foreign policy in Afghanistan. He has also held out an olive branch to India by showing flexibility on Kashmir, even though India hasn’t yet had the sense to recognize the true value of his initiative. He has reined in the ISI by suitable postings, transfers and retirements. He has shunted intractably rigid-types from GHQ. And he has risked the wrath of the religious extremists by clamping down on them in the national interest. This is a great start in the right direction. But much more needs to be done to reverse the tide.

Let us admit it. After Afghanistan, our biggest foreign policy failure is in Kashmir. From 1947 to 1965, we beseeched the UN to grant us Kashmir in vain. We then tried to stir revolt in the valley and triggered a destabilizing war with India. After 1971, we buried the Kashmir issue at Simla and forgot about the UN resolutions abroad. We then woke up in the 1990s to foment trouble in Kashmir after New Delhi had made a mess of things in the 1980s. In the last ten years, we have exported Islamic revolution to Kashmir and provoked untold brutalities on the Kashmiris by India’s security forces. In exchange, we have paid the price of urban terrorism in Karachi and elsewhere sponsored by India. We have undermined civil society and democratic pluralism by relinquishing political space to extremist jehadi organizations. We have piled up debt in order to fuel the cold war with India and scared away potential foreign investors. And we have pulled the rug from under the feet of elected political representatives who dared to think of smoking the peace pipe with New Delhi. Now we are being pushed into a conflict with India by the very extremists who have already dashed our hopes in Afghanistan. Isn’t it time to change a policy of perennial warring with India into a policy of enduring peace with our neighbours?

We have barely managed to survive a highly destablising debacle in Afghanistan whose end is not yet in sight. But we might not be so lucky in the event of a conflict with India over Kashmir. Putting Pakistan first means doing it not just vis-á-vis Afghanistan policy but also vis a vis Kashmir policy. Nothing less than that will constitute a safe and secure fresh start for the country.

(TFT Dec 28, 2001-03 Jan, 2002 Vol-XIII No.44 — Editorial)

Indo-Pak follies

 

As India ferries its tanks and missiles to the border to “teach Pakistan a lesson” for “meddling in Kashmir”, it might sensibly pause to consider its error. One nuclear power can’t possibly teach another nuclear power any “lessons” through war. Nor can it rest assured that its military intervention will have “limited” objectives. Escalation is inevitable when each side is able and willing to hit back, as both India and Pakistan discovered to their mutual discomfort in the Kargil conflict.

Equally, Pakistan’s old strategic doctrine of supporting proxy wars in India’s periphery, especially through an Islamic jehad in Kashmir, so that the conventional military balance is restored to more manageable proportions, is out of sync with recent realities. In particular, the post 9/11 world sees Islamic jehad as pure terrorism that must be stamped out everywhere.

We said as much over a year ago

(TFT Editorial “Start talking”, April 7, 2000): “The greater the losses of India at the hands of Pakistan inspired jehadi forces in Indian-held Kashmir, the greater the chances that New Delhi will be provoked into launching a war against Pakistan…. In the event of such a conflict, the international community led by Washington may be expected to support India as a victim…the fact that India’s robust and independent economy will also be able to better withstand the rigours and ravages of war…than Pakistan’s dependent and crippled economy lends weight to this line of thinking”.

The dye was cast last October when the jehadis of the Jaish i Mohammad (JM) led by Maulana Masood Azhar in Pakistan killed 40 people outside the state parliament building in Srinagar, prompting the American ambassador in New Delhi to finally say that the militants in Kashmir were terrorists and not “freedom fighters”. A more aggressive response from India and the international community should therefore have been anticipated following the December 13 jehadi attack on the parliament house in New Delhi. As India has mobilized for war, Washington has stepped in to outlaw the JM and the Lashkar e Taiba (LeT) and warned Pakistan to clamp down on them.

Unfortunately, Pakistan’s argument that India should provide “evidence” against the JM and LeT before action can be taken against them doesn’t cut ice with the international community which scarcely bothered with such niceties itself when it came to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. But like their ill-fated counterparts in Afghanistan, the jehadis in Pakistan and Kashmir have proven to be their own worst propagandists, having proudly owned up to acts of militancy in Kashmir as well as publicly threatened to carry the jehad to the heart of India in Delhi. Therefore Pakistan’s condemnation of such acts as “terrorism” evokes the same contemptuous dismissal as its lack of adequate “leverage” over the Taliban before 9/11.

But this, too, hasn’t come as a surprise to us. In the same TFT editorial in April last year we warned that “the strengthening of the diverse jehadi parties and groups based in Pakistan for the purposes of the proposed liberation of Kashmir is bound to undermine Pakistan’s internal cohesion and political stability. Indeed, granting center-stage to the Kashmir struggle by the mujahideen could signal a strengthening of the forces of Talibanisation in Pakistan just as similar succour to similar forces for similar purposes in Afghanistan has had a socially destabilizing impact on Pakistan. Equally, since such groups lack a calibrated world view with regard to diplomatic gains or losses, their military successes in Kashmir would be proportionate to a decrease in the political leverage of Pakistan over them, as in Afghanistan. Indeed, in time to come, Kashmir could come to resemble Afghanistan with all that that description entails.”

If Pakistan’s past errors have caught up on it, is there any hope of a realistic adjustment in its Kashmir policy? Islamabad has certainly gone through the motions of complying with the international requirements of freezing the assets of some jehadi groups and detaining their leading lights. But this may not be sufficient to stave off further pressure if the jehadis continue to mount suicide attacks in Kashmir and India, thereby jeopardizing the political and economic “gains” of Islamabad’s revamped Afghan policy after 9/11.

However, if Pakistan desperately needs a more realistic Kashmir and India policy, it is equally true that “India remains bereft of a Kashmir policy and a Pakistan policy and its brinkmanship policy is unimaginative”, as American scholar Stephen Cohen has noted. “This policy cannot consist only of Pakistan-bashing. India must also reassess its entire strategy for dealing with the Kashmiri separatist movement and with Pakistan under its present leadership,” argues Mr Cohen. “India fantasizes that the Pakistan army will suddenly yield power to a pro-Indian civilian government that will turn Pakistan into a pliable and accommodating neighbour but this is wishful thinking. New Delhi cannot afford a truly radicalized and a fragmenting but angry and nuclear-armed Pakistan…Ignoring the root causes of the anger of some of its own citizens and the very existence of its neighbour do not seem to be steps in the right direction”.

Truer words have not been spoken. India should talk to Pakistan and the Kashmiris and resolve their disputes with it instead of fighting with them.

(TFT Jan 04-10, 2002 Vol-XIII No.45 — Editorial)

Diminishing returns for flexing muscle

 

India is threatening to wage war against Pakistan for “aiding and abetting terrorism” in Kashmir, territory held by India but hotly disputed by Pakistan since the independence of both nations in 1947. India’s view is that if America can attack Afghanistan for hosting Al-Qaeda terrorists, why can’t India follow suit against Pakistan for sustaining Islamic groups bent on “terrorist” violence in Kashmir?

But this argument is a non-starter. The fact is that the United States had obtained three UN Security Council resolutions sanctioning the Taliban regime in Afghanistan before September 11 and two more later before it took the decision to attack Kabul. Washington also had full NATO support. In India’s case, no such legal backing or world support is available. In fact, George W. Bush and Tony Blair, key players in the anti-Afghan coalition, have firmly advised against such an adventure. Nor can the fighting in Kashmir be classified in black and white terms, as in Afghanistan’s case. The Taliban regime was not recognized by the United Nations. In the case of Kashmir, however, there are several UN Security Council resolutions going back to 1948 urging India to hold a plebiscite to determine whether the Kashmiris want to stay with it or join Pakistan, resolutions which India has blithely spurned. That is why Pakistanis insist that the jihadis in Kashmir are not terrorists but freedom fighters seeking Kashmir’s liberation from India.

India’s attempt to ratchet up its military might to put pressure on General Pervez Musharraf to stamp out pro-Kashmir groups based in Pakistan could also create problems all round.

First, no Pakistani ruler could survive the backlash from the public and the military if he were perceived to have “betrayed” the cause of Kashmir by bending before India. So beyond a point the more India relies on military muscle to “persuade” Pakistan to rein in the jehadis, the greater the chances that such tactics might backfire by provoking Pakistan to lash out in anger. That is why when General Musharraf decided to swing behind the allies against the Taliban he was careful to create the domestic perception that he did so because he thought it was in Pakistan’s best interests rather than because America had put a gun to his head.

Second, General Musharraf has already risked much by alienating powerful religious forces in Pakistan after aligning with the West over Afghanistan. His personal security has had to be increased after certain domestic forces have begun to target him as their enemy No. 1. Thus Indian actions might destabilize him and therefore Pakistan just when the West needs a reliable partner.

Third, by ferrying half a million men under arms to the Pakistani border, India has forced Pakistan to thin its 200,000 strong paramilitary force plugging the Afghan border. This means that Qaeda terrorists still holed up in the Tora Bora mountains will find it easier to sneak into Pakistan and hide until the American storm blows over. Surely, that is not what Washington wants.

Fourth, General Musharraf is not like Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban regime, who refused to act against the terrorists. On the contrary, he has reiterated his resolve to root out religious extremism in Pakistan. A month ago he froze the assets of several terrorist groups and arrested the top five leaders of the anti-America and pro-Kashmir jihadi parties in the country. Now he has detained leaders of the two militant organisations named by India and the United States as responsible for the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament on Dec. 13, even though neither country has provided evidence of its claims. And General Musharraf has revamped the external operations of the Interservices Intelligence directorate, which is credited with backing the “terrorism” in Kashmir, so that its policies are in line with those of the government of Pakistan. What more could New Delhi or Washington have asked for and got immediately?

Finally, India should remember that Pakistan is not as defenseless as Afghanistan was against America, nor as helpless as the Palestinians against Israel. The Pakistani army has given as good as it has ever got from India during times of military conflict. And Pakistan is a nuclear power that will not hesitate to use nuclear weapons should India threaten to overrun it.

Under the circumstances, even an accidental or limited war could get out of hand, with dangerous consequences for the entire region.

General Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee of India are scheduled to attend the SAARC meeting in Nepal this Thursday. India should stop thundering about war and use the occasion to start talking peace with Pakistan.

India’s political aims in Kashmir may be better served by patiently strengthening General Musharraf’s hand in his fight against all forms of religious extremism than by foolishly pushing him to the wall. Nuclear weapons apart, Muslim Pakistan’s last line of defense against Hindu-majority India is an Islamic jihad on a national scale. That is exactly what the fundamentalist forces in Pakistan want to exploit, not just against liberal democratic elements within Pakistan but against infidel India and the hated West as well.

(TFT Jan 11-17, 2002 Vol-XIII No.46 — Editorial)

Together or separately

 

Who is the most popular politician in the country? Nine out of ten people will probably say “Benazir Bhutto”, even as most will remind you that she is corrupt and incompetent. That is to say that most of the nine wouldn’t actually vote for her, with some absenting themselves from the polls as usual and others voting against her on some principle or the other. Ask them about Nawaz Sharif and they are likely to shrug contemptuously, “He’s finished”, implying that not only is he corrupt but also out of the political reckoning, hence not worth commenting upon. Talk about Pervez Musharraf and the remarks are likely to be as diverse as the class composition of the sample polled. “At least he’s anti-fundo” (professional types); “He’s not corrupt” (urban middle-classes), “He’s a survivor” (retired army officers); “What’s he ever done for us?” (working classes); “He’s the devil in disguise” (mullahs); “He’s got the wrong team” (big business); “He’s got it in for us” (traders) – none of which is exactly a good barometer for domestic popularity. How does all this translate into practical politics in the months ahead?

There are some people who want General Musharraf to postpone the general elections and rule without the politicians. But their arguments are either self-serving (“The politicians are corrupt and incompetent”) or misplaced (“The country cannot afford democracy at this critical juncture”). Fortunately, all accounts so far suggest that General Musharraf intends to keep his word and elections will be held before the year is out. What is less clear is how democratic, free and fair these will be in the prevailing circumstances and who will be allowed or banned from participating in them and how power will be shared between the army and the politicians.

It is clear that General Musharraf means to sit in the driving seat. The constitution is to be amended for this purpose. We shall see a super presidential National Security Council lording it over the prime minister and his cabinet. A degree of proportional representation may be decreed along with an enhancement of the seats in parliament so that no party can whip up a majority; apart from the power to confirm a prime minister, the president may also demand the right to nominate members of the cabinet; and so on. But all these calculations would amount to nought if a popular but corrupt politician like Benazir Bhutto were to sweep the polls and refuse to play ball with General Musharraf. So, for starters, she has to be kept out of the game and her Pakistan Peoples Party is to be isolated and divided so that it cannot muster the strength to upset General Musharraf’s apple cart. How is this to be done?

Recent political maneuverings are a sign of things to come. The PPP is now in the anti-Musharraf Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy, now out of it, depending upon its state of negotiations with the government. General Musharraf has a straight-forward formula: Bhutto is corrupt and incompetent; she was prime minister twice and didn’t mend her ways; hence she doesn’t deserve a third chance. If the constitution has to be amended to keep Bhutto and Sharif out, it will be done by decreeing that no one can be elected or become prime minister three times in a row; but since the PPP is a valid enough national party, it will be accommodated in Islamabad and wherever else it deserves, depending upon how many votes it has managed to pull. In the meanwhile, the government will do whatever is needed to ensure that the PPP is kept in its place. This will be done by stringing an anti-PPP coalition made of PPP renegades (Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, etc), PML-N renegades (Mian Azhar et al), Pashtun and Baloch opportunists (Begum Nasim Wali Khan, Akbar Bugti, etc), and perhaps even the MQM if it is ready to accept terms and behave itself. And if, despite everything, the Bhutto factor still seems to threaten General Musharraf’s blueprint, then the elections will be rigged selectively to guarantee “positive” results.

Isn’t all this familiar? Did we not see the same sort of strategy in 1990 when President Ghulam Ishaq and General Aslam Beg contrived to thrust Nawaz Sharif and Jam Sadiq Ali on Islamabad and Sindh respectively and had to follow it up with the most disgraceful politicking to keep the PPP at bay? Nor should it be forgotten that puppets have a habit of pouncing on their string pullers with devastating effect – Junejo on Zia, Nawaz on Ishaq, Leghari on Bhutto, Osama on the CIA, Bhindranwalle on Gandhi, etc. It is far better to make realistic compromises and rule as democratically as possible. That is why Ms Bhutto should be given a personal face-saving exit from office while enabling the PPP to make a deserving institutional entry into power. We have bitter experience of rigging and no establishment has ever prospered by such tactics.

Together, General Musharraf and the PPP can walk the straight and narrow as prescribed by the modern world and construct a new Pakistan. Separately, they are bound to flounder.

(TFT Jan 18-24, 2002 Vol-XIII No.47 — Editorial)

A great beginning

 

All except religious extremists have hailed General Pervez Musharraf’s recent speech. The Americans approved it. The Indians welcomed it. Domestic liberals delighted in it. Politicians lined up behind it. The media appreciated it. And the public has breathed a sigh of relief after it. He has averted a terrible war and put the lid on religious strife in the country. That’s a great beginning.

The speech, read as a manifesto, has two aspects: domestic and foreign. Each is significant, but the foreign element is mainly responsible for its timing and thrust. The suspicion is that without unbearable military pressure from India and compelling diplomatic advice from the US, it might not have been made at all or certainly not at this time and in this form. After all, some of us have pleaded for much the same sort of forceful state intervention and policy change in the national interest for donkeys of years but been sidelined as “negative” and “unpatriotic” elements by the very patrons of the “new” Pakistan.

This is not to say that General Musharraf has acted only because a gun was put to his head. Indeed, there is evidence to show that he has long thought of moderating Pakistan’s domestic and foreign policies in line with present economic and geo-political realities. But there is also contrary evidence to suggest that he was thwarted from doing so by military advisors and civilian colleagues to whom he was personally indebted in some way or by whom he was intellectually overawed, or a bit of both.

We might recall that in his first speech to the nation on October 12, 1999, General Musharraf had instinctively and spontaneously framed the right questions about Pakistan’s crises and hinted at the right answers in an Ataturkian fashion. But thereafter certain khaki colleagues prevailed upon him to make conservative “tactical readjustments” on many issues, the retreat on the blasphemy law being one of the most objectionable. In due course, his frustration and anger with the Taliban in Afghanistan and the sectarian parties and groups at home also became increasingly obvious. Yet, even as he rejected the “strategic depth” doctrine of his predecessors vis a vis Afghanistan, he was unable to fully break free of the “national security” doctrines regarding India into which most army officers are straitjacketed as a matter of training and motivation.

In fact General Musharraf was most intransigent in the case of India. At first he pooh-poohed the Lahore Summit, saying he wouldn’t talk to India until it was ready to principally discuss the “core” issue of Kashmir in the light of the 1948 UN resolutions. Then he went so far as to stamp jihad as a “legitimate” weapon in the Kashmiris’ struggle for freedom and self-determination, irrespective of the source of that jehad. Fortunately, however, by the time of Agra a degree of realism had naturally crept back into him and he was ready to discuss all options with India. But he was prevented by his glib “nationalist” hawks from cementing an agreement with India. Provoked by Pakistani insistence on the centrality of Kashmir, India countervailed with the unprecedented centrality of “cross-border terrorism” to it and wrecked the Summit. The loss of an agreement in Agra is acutely felt in Islamabad because General Musharraf has had to say that Pakistan and Pakistanis will not sponsor or support any jihad on the soil of any country. This is a unilateral commitment not to export militancy of any kind to India (what India calls “cross-border terrorism”). India has yet to concede a dialogue focused on the Kashmir dispute in exchange.

If a Pakistani about-turn on a ten-year Afghan policy was an immediate response to the events of September 11, there are two additional political turns evident from General Musharraf’s latest speech. One, a retreat to the pre-1989 “hands-off Kashmir” policy negotiated with India at Simla in 1972 and in Lahore in 1999. Two, a commitment to return to the modern, moderate and progressive Pakistan envisioned by the Quaid-e-Azam in 1947, with General Musharraf seemingly categorical in burying the notion that Pakistan might become a theocratic state. Both steps are in the right direction.

If the force of military habit and political insecurity marks the early Musharraf, the force of circumstance and political maturity is writ all over the late Musharraf. But administrative regulation of the madrassa and the mosque is only a half-curative measure. The organs of the state — the military and its intelligence agencies, the judiciary and civil services, the public universities, colleges and curricula, the state controlled and patronized media, etc – which have jointly spawned politico-religious indoctrination for elusive “national” or “ideological” interests since General Zia ul Haq have all got be to purged as well. And these vested interests will not go without a bloody fight. On the preventive side, too, nothing less than universal education, gainful employment and health security is needed, which means a substantial economic revival programme. And that is not going to be available on a platter.

There are miles to go and promises to keep. Only time will tell whether or not General Pervez Musharraf was the man of the hour.

(TFT Jan 25-31, 2002 Vol-XIII No.48 — Editorial)

No politics without politicians

 

The military is unveiling its proposed constitutional and electoral changes in the run-up to the general elections later in the year. But apart from the PML Yes-Men, the popular political reaction has not been enthusiastic, even though there are obvious merits in specific provisions. The abolition of the separate electorate system is an unequivocally good step. It will bring the minority non-Muslims back into the political mainstream, which is what was desperately needed. Similarly, by increasing the number of parliamentary seats for women, the government has moved to try and redress an historical injustice. This is also to be welcomed as an attempt to remove apartheid in one particular form. Also, no serious objection may be raised to the addition of certain privileges for “technocrats” who are unable to participate in the political life of communities because the electoral route is closed to them for a host of reasons. But what on earth does the government mean to achieve by insisting that only graduates may contest elections?

If by “graduation” we mean education and education is supposed to lead to a lack of corruption and better morals, then we are barking up the wrong tree. The most successful crooks are invariably quite educated, which is what white-collar crime is all about. So clearly that is not the intention. Indeed, since nearly 80% of the population of this country is illiterate, this scheme will disenfranchise all except the graduated few (under 10%) from holding senior positions of public office. Surely, that cannot be the objective of a regime which professes “true democracy”. So what is the game all about?

We cannot escape the conclusion that a general link may have been found between “education” (university graduation) and political moderation, between religious bigots and extremists (especially those begotten by madrassas) on the one hand and progressive Muslims with a degree of education on the other. That is to say that in one swoop the military may be seeking to clip the wings of the extremist religious orthodoxy in the most uneducated and peripheral areas of the country and among the most militant sections of the population (excluding the Jama’at-e-Islami, which ranks among the mainstream parties), paving the way for a brand of politics that is both modern and moderate. Of course, this move will also disqualify about half of the last assembly of parliamentarians and, with the rest already in the grip of NAB, pave the way for a fresh, more youthful and enlightened start. A most original idea, and one whose repercussions could have significant implications for the political development of the country.

This would suggest that the main issue is the unwillingness of the military to take the mainstream opposition politicians and political parties into confidence about how and to what extent it intends to share power with the moderate civilian leaders of tomorrow.

It is true, of course, that many politicians are thoroughly corrupt and discredited. But that is no reason to say that politics without politicians is more desirable than politics with politicians. In the final reckoning, it is the politicians who have the vote of the people, and they are the ones who will have to make the system work and deliver. By the same token, the military’s record in government has been disastrous. True, such periods have been marked by relatively insignificant doses of overt corruption. But the mindless political and military adventures of various juntas have irreparably damaged this country. Indeed, the military’s creeping political ascendancy has been singularly responsible for the failure of the state to manufacture a credible nationhood. Certainly, no military leader has ever won the trust and confidence of the people of Pakistan. Nor is one about to in the short term, irrespective of his sincerity and righteousness. Why then should the military exclusively make and unmake laws and constitutions? If war is too serious a business to be left solely to generals, there is even less reason to entrust the art of politics to them exclusively.

A good example of how military self-righteousness and personal sincerity can mar the political and economic landscape is available in the shape of the confusing local self-government forms unfurled by the military in the last two years. It also needs to be recognized that if certain people and their policies are now acquiring heroic proportions, this is ironically due more to their sense of survival rather than to any innate sense of vision.

The greater misfortune may be that having made virtue out of necessity, there is no visible attempt to recognize necessity for what it is – the opposite of freedom. Hence the peoples’ representatives are not to be given the freedom to choose a political system that suits them. Instead, the representatives are to be vetted according to pre-determined criteria and an appropriate system is to be thrust upon them. Haven’t we been down this failed route before?

The government has some good ideas up its sleeve. It should discuss them with the mainstream politicians and win their approval. That is the only way to make sure that the system now being devised is not aborted by its forced practitioners after the manufacturers have long gone, as inevitably they must.

(TFT Feb 01-07, 2002 Vol-XIII No.49 — Editorial)

Destiny and fate

 

General Pervez Musharraf is increasingly looking more like a brave helmsman than a great soldier. The ghost of September 11 – anti-American terrorism at home and in neighbouring Afghanistan – has been laid to rest. The Indian threat of war has been blunted for the time being by muzzling the local jehadis. The downslide in the economy has been halted by the successful solicitation of foreign aid, debt re-scheduling and debt re-profiling. Having thus made the transition from a pariah state usurper to an international partner and regional statesman, he is now ready to lap up the icing on the cake – a state visit to Washington as a guest of President George W Bush.

This is an extraordinary turnaround. It is remarkable because of the swift manner in which a lack of strategic vision has been compensated for by a decisive dose of political realism. Rarely in the annals of Pakistani history has dire necessity been so swiftly accommodated as common virtue. But hark. Therein could lie the seeds of despair if a measure of history is not taken.

General Musharraf has publicly said that he means to rule for another five years at least as president and army chief rolled into one. Indeed, the good general sincerely believes and says that “the country needs” him above anything and anyone else. This is a man who is already thinking of himself in terms of destiny and not fate. So be it. If he is wise and generous and brings peace and prosperity to this land, his hopes may bring welcome relief for the populace as well.

But it would be a mistake to see the beginning of the story as its end. Seen in the light of historical irony, some of these statements sound more worrying than assuring. Recall. Shortly before the polls for 1977, a supremely confident Zulfikar Ali Bhutto told friends that he expected to rule for twenty-five years. In the event, twenty five years were eclipsed into five months when he fell from power and twenty five months before he faced the gallows. Recall, too, the audacious manner in which General Zia ul Haq booted out a prime minister and parliament in early 1999 and didn’t live to regret his arrogant decision five months later. And let us not forget that Nawaz Sharif was talking in much the same sort of language in 1999 (Amir ul Momineen) before fate intervened and put him in his rightful place.

That is to say, if General Musharraf’s reign is marked by an arrogance of power and opportunist bent of mind rather than a disposition in favour of democratic power-sharing and farsightedness, it is bound to flounder. The three gentlemen referred to above had deluded themselves into believing they were justified in decreeing sweeping changes in the body-politic of the state and civil society because they were the long-awaited saviors of the nation. But if they had set more modest goals for themselves, including an honourable and democratic exit strategy, they might have fared better both in personal and institutional terms.

Seen in this light, the electoral amendments that are flying thick and fast and the sweeping constitutional changes on the anvil raise a host of apprehensions. There has been no significant independent discussion with the representatives, actual and potential, of civil society and the people of Pakistan about what is needed and what is workable. There is no credible attempt to make a level playing field for all politicians and parties, irrespective of caste, colour or creed. Indeed, if anything, the opposite is truer, that a stage is being set for fully-managed and pliable parliaments in Islamabad and in the provincials capitals of the federation. Equally, if a King’s party has not been officially announced, it has not been officially denounced as well – the efforts to cobble a grand Muslim League of Yes-Men without the nettlesome Nawazites are all too familiar. Finally, the attempt to whittle down the PPP is becoming obvious, the leading player nominated in this political treachery being none other than Aftab Sherpao. But even Mr Sherpao cannot be trusted to do the needful without ensuring a degree of compliance, courtesy NAB (a 1996 case has been dug up against him). What manner of “deals” have been suggested and cemented with the Wali Khans and Saifullahs of the NWFP, whose scions have tasted the bitter fruit of NAB and then been let off rather suddenly, also doesn’t require a leap of the imagination. The appointment of the former chief justice of the supreme court who helped legitimize the military government as the new chief election commissioner is equally evidential.

If General Musharraf’s windfall political profit is owed to pressing and rather pointed American requirements as much as it is owed to his own dexterity, he should start thinking of a time in the not too distant future when the hand of the great benefactor will not be there to bless him as advisedly. State interests change with changed circumstances, and circumstances may change without notice, as we all know only too well. That is when the brave helmsman will need more than just a clutch of soft hands on deck to traverse the ocean between fate and destiny.

(TFT Feb 08-14, 2002 Vol-XIII No.50 — Editorial)

Cleanse thyself

 

The case of the missing American journalist Danny Pearl is intriguing. He is the Bombay bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal. Mr Pearl disappeared from Karachi on January 23. At first it was rumoured that he was trying to locate Dawood Ibrahim, the former Bombay underworld Mafioso who is on the run from Indian authorities and is reportedly in Karachi. It was feared that Mr Pearl might have been “wasted” for trying to step in where even fools would fear to tread. This view gained currency when another journalist, Ghulam Hasnain, who works for a foreign magazine, also went missing for two days around the same time in Karachi. Mr Hasnain had written an article for a local magazine some time earlier exposing Mr Ibrahim’s underworld nexus in the city. It was feared that he might have incurred the wrath of the powers-that-be who wanted to stitch up his mouth because the Indians were clamouring for Mr Dawood’s return. So when Mr Hasnain reappeared two days later, his stony silence confirmed this line of thinking.

But when Mr Pearl remained missing, the supposed link with Mr Ibrahim snapped. Instead, it was now revealed that he had been on the trial of the American shoe-bomber Richard Reid which had led him in the direction of a certain Mr Mobarak Ali Shah Gillani whose terrorist Tanzeem al-Fuqra organization based in Pakistan had been outlawed by the US some time ago. The subsequent arrest of Mr Gillani by the Pakistan authorities seemed to clinch the argument.

However, a new angle now crept in. Mr Mobarak was said to have made some calls to important people in India. The “Indian hand” seemed to lurk behind another fact: Mr and Mrs Pearl’s Karachi host turned out to be an “Indian” lady who had allegedly overstayed her visit to Pakistan without getting a visa extension from the ministry of interior. This prompted General Rashid Qureshi, the top government spokesman, to hint darkly at an Indian conspiracy behind Mr Pearl’s kidnapping. The same fears were alleged by Pakistan’s foreign minister Abdul Sattar who suspected that India’s RAW had planned the whole thing in order to defame Pakistan.

While all this was going on, the Wall Street Journal received an e-mail ultimatum demanding the return of the Pakistani terrorists detained in Cuba and the delivery of F-16 aircraft to Pakistan in exchange for Mr Pearl’s release. The name of the group making the demand (National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty) was most curious since it was unlike that of any Jehadi or non-state actor. Also, by digging up the issue of the aircraft, the group seemed to go out of its way to suggest a link of sorts with Pakistani officialdom. A second e-mail extended the ultimatum and changed the conditions: the group now wanted the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Mulla Zaeef, released by the Americans in exchange for Mr Pearl. But when Mr Zaeef’s family disavowed any relationship with the group or its latest demands, the matter was brushed aside. The story then hovered on the brink of a tragedy when someone called up the police and said that Mr Pearl had been killed and his body dumped in some Karachi graveyard. An unidentified body of a “white man” was soon discovered, prompting the world media to announce the death of Mr Pearl.

Fortunately, that was not true. In fact, Mr Moinuddin Haider, the interior minister, has now raised hopes by claiming that Mr Pearl is alive and should shortly be a free man. No one can make such a claim unless he is already negotiating with the kidnappers. This means that the government and FBI teams tracking this case know more than they have revealed. The recent arrest of Sheikh Umar Saeed in Karachi could be a pointer in the right direction. Mr Saeed is the former London School of Economics graduate who became a Kashmiri mujahid, tried to kidnap foreign journalists in India some years ago, was caught and imprisoned and then freed from an Indian jail via the 1999 hijacking of an Indian plane, after which he conveniently “disappeared”. He is also wanted for his links with Mohammad Atta who masterminded the suicide attack on the World Trade Centre. Is it possible that Mr Pearl’s ordeal has to do with his discovery that certain terrorist groups banned or wanted by the government are still alive and kicking, thanks to the protection of rogue elements in the intelligence organs of the state? That would also explain why the government has been able to track down the culprits and is hoping to conclude it on a favourable note before General Pervez Musharraf embarks on his state visit to Washington.

We hope and pray that Daniel Pearl is alive and will be a free man shortly. But there are no guarantees. This episode is a timely reminder that the terrorists and religious extremists spawned by the state over a thirty year period will not be crushed by thundering speeches and well-meaning arrests alone. The state will have to cleanse itself before it can clean up anybody else.

(TFT Feb 15-21, 2002 Vol-XIII No.51 — Editorial)

Strengths and weaknesses

 

General Pervez Musharraf has made a number of candid statements recently that provide a valuable insight into his mind. Since he is expected to be in charge of Pakistan for an untold period ahead, they may be worth dissecting for more than their intrinsic value.

He recently told an American journalist that “the three most difficult decisions in his life” were the about-turn on Afghan policy shortly after September 11, the crackdown on religious extremists that followed, and the handshake with the Indian prime minister at the SAARC summit in Nepal last month as a gesture of friendship. We empathize with him entirely.

No Pakistani politician, let alone an army chief, has ever had the guts to call a spade a spade on each of these issues. Indeed, most have blithely supported the opposite initiatives in order to further short-term personal ends or long-term state goals, which is why these “problems” acquired such significant proportions in the first place.

But in General Musharraf’s case, too, it may be noted that when he took power he was gung-ho about a hands-on Afghan policy, a hands-off fundo policy and a no-holds barred India policy. And why not? The three postures are interlinked. If you want to bleed India, you need the jehadis. If you need the jehadis, you have to condone their religious intolerance and sectarianism in Pakistan. You also have to train them in Afghanistan. And if you need Afghanistan, you have to condone the Taliban and turn a blind eye to their friends in Al-Qaeda. Everything, clearly, hinged on our India policy.

But in a curious way, it wasn’t India that triggered the need for these difficult decisions in the opposite direction. It was, in fact, America who demanded that Pakistan help catch the Al-Qaeda tail that was wagging the Afghan dog. But helping America go after Al-Qaeda meant going after the Taliban who were protecting them. Going after the Taliban meant going after the religious extremists and jehadis who supported them in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And going after these elements meant antagonizing or alienating important elements of the anti-India strategy network, including sidelining its most ardent traffickers in the army and intelligence agencies. Therefore it is difficult to escape the suspicion that the “hand of friendship” to India was a direct and necessary diplomatic consequence of this dialectic, which included a military threat from India, rather than the effect of any change of heart in General Musharraf’s institutional view of India-Pakistan relations.

This impression would unfortunately seem to be reinforced by General Musharraf’s speech in Muzaffarabad on 5 February (Kashmir Day) in which he reiterated Pakistan’s long-standing official position that the fighting in Indian-held Kashmir was the result of an indigenous insurrection that deserved Pakistan’s support. As a worried editorial in the Washington Post on the day of General Musharraf’s meeting with President George W Bush pointed out, “the problem is that Pakistani governments for years have used this formulation as a cover to foment and supply the Kashmir insurrection”. The WP also feared that the crackdown on religious extremists and jehadis was not uncompromising as officially billed since “many of the militants have been allowed to remain free in exchange for lying low”. Such fears were heightened when General Musharraf blamed India for conniving the kidnapping of the American journalist Danny Pearl – “an irresponsible and implausible suggestion that is not backed by evidence” according to the WP. In the event, feared the WP, “where the extremists’ cause intersects with that of Kashmir, Musharraf may feel tempted to pull his punches”.

We hope not. The decisions General Musharraf has taken may have been difficult, given his institutional training and motivation, but they were the correct decisions to take in the long-term interests of the country. Therefore, as a logical follow through, the Pakistan army must decisively break with theories of strategic outreach, stop molly-coddling the jehadis and make durable peace with Pakistan’s neighbours. But much more than that could be at stake. An alliance between the jehadis and the intelligence agencies in the past was used to undermine democracy and politicians and stake out a permanent political role for the armed forces in the body politic of the nation. This must stop. Civil society and the military should join hands to break from the past rather than woo the fundamentalists and extremists to undermine each other as in the past.

General Pervez Musharraf has also claimed that God has ordained him to be President. Of course, as Believers, we know that not a leaf stirs without divine intervention. But much more than that is implied by the president’s statement. It suggests a delusion of power that is totally unacceptable in a society struggling to find rational, democratic moorings. It reminds us of the Amir ul Momineen status sought by Zia ul Haq and then Nawaz Sharif in their quest for absolutism before they fell from grace. It is not a thought that we would wish to associate with General Musharraf. His strength lies in his vulnerability to civilian notions of freedom and moderation and not in his rigidity as a military dictator.

(TFT Mar 01-07, 2002 Vol-XIV No.1 — Editorial)

Post mortem

 

Mariane Pearl has been courageous and gracious in her hour of tragedy. She has borne the terrible death of her husband with fortitude despite the many false starts and desperate hopes attached to his plight since he was kidnapped on January 23. And she has been kind enough to praise the Pakistani investigating authorities for “doing an amazing job with limited resources”. Her statement is worth reproducing for its eloquence and clarity.

“Revenge would be easy, but it is far more valuable in my opinion to address this problem of terrorism with enough honesty to question our own responsibility as nations and as individuals for the rise of terrorism. My own courage arises from two facts. One is that throughout this ordeal I have been surrounded by people of amazing value. This helps me trust that humanism ultimately will prevail. My other hope now—in my seventh month of pregnancy—is that I will be able to tell our son that his father carried the flag to end terrorism, raising an unprecedented demand among people from all countries not for revenge but for the values we all share: love, compassion, friendship and citizenship far transcending the so-called clash of civilizations.”

None of this, however, excuses us from a political post mortem of the case of Daniel Pearl. His dastardly murder was an act of desperation and defiance by religious extremists on the run. Their desperation flowed from increasing isolation and alienation from the civil society into which they were “ideologised” by vested interests. Their defiance was aimed both at the Americans who thrashed them in Afghanistan and the Pakistani state that abandoned them at home. Brainwashed into believing that they were invincible “soldiers of Islam”, they were frustrated by their own impotence and turned their rage into revenge by decapitating Danny Pearl before the eyes of the world. Many disquieting questions arise.

Why was the Pakistan government optimistic until the grisly end that it would herald the “good news” of Pearl’s freedom “soon”? Did it always “know” the perpetrators of the crime and felt it could “handle” them safely? Why was news of the arrest of the alleged master-kidnapper Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh kept under wraps for a week? Why did bigwigs like General Pervez Musharraf and General Moinuddin Haider become overly optimistic about the outcome of the case after Omar Sheikh’s arrest? Why did Sheikh Omar refuse to “deliver” the goods? We can try and stitch a reasonable story.

Since Omar Sheikh and Maulana Masood Azhar were sprung to freedom from an Indian prison cell via the hijacking of an Indian plane in 1999 by unknown “freedom fighters” or “terrorists” linked to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, they were free to rent or recruit “Kashmir jihadis” throughout Pakistan with a wink and a nod from our national security establishment. Then came 9/11 with its “you-are-either-with-us-or-against-us” ultimatum, followed by an American demand for the arrest and extradition of Omar Sheikh who was thought to have links with Mohammad Atta, the key suicide bomber in the World Trade Centre attack. Consequently, Omar went, or was pushed, underground in order to avoid an extradition that might have unraveled other national security links, acts and operatives.

Soon thereafter, Masood Azhar became an “embarrassment” when he claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack that left 40 people dead outside the parliament building in Srinagar. Pakistan condemned the outrage but balked at arresting him. But when the pressure became unbearable, General Musharraf banned the Jaish-i-Mohammad outfit in January and arrested Azhar and his supporters. It was easier to detain Azhar than Omar because Indian demands for the former’s extradition could be stoutly resisted while American demands for the latter’s extradition could only be deftly sidestepped.

However, the arrest of Azhar and his Jaish-i-Mohammad companions on American prompting probably convinced Omar that his erstwhile Pakistani “handlers” couldn’t be trusted in the circumstances and he should distance himself from them. The dye was cast when Pearl stumbled upon hard-core elements of the Jaish in Karachi and Bahawalpur despite news of the “mass arrests” of its cadres by the government earlier.

When Omar Sheikh was arrested on or about February 5, the government’s silence was probably based on the reasoning that if he could be persuaded to help free Pearl quickly it would be a feather in General Musharraf’s cap when he met President Bush in Washington some days later. But if he did not cooperate, it was reasoned, it might be better to keep him under warps lest his confession or defiance mar the president’s trip to America. In the event, the government claimed that “good news” was on the way after it admitted Omar’s arrest while General Musharraf was still in DC. But Omar’s statement before a magistrate soon thereafter that Pearl was probably already dead put paid to the government’s efforts to redeem the situation. Why did Omar become “hostile” towards his former “friends” and “handlers”?

It is reasonable to think that he may have been pushed over the edge following statements by senior government functionaries denouncing the kidnapping and kidnappers as “Indian agents”, when not so long ago the same people had verily taken pride in them as legitimate “freedom fighters”. How did they think Omar and his fellow jihadis would react to this outrageous charge? By meekly turning themselves in and confessing their crimes so that they could either be sentenced and silenced by their own “handlers” or, worse still, be deported to Cuba as “Al-Qaeda” suspects or supporters? Indeed, this accusation probably persuaded Omar Sheikh and Pearl’s captors that it was the end of the line for them. Their best friends had become their worst enemies, there was nowhere to hide, it was time to go with a bang. Poor Danny Pearl. In the eyes of his frustrated and enraged kidnappers, he had unwittingly become a symbol of everything they had come to distrust, despise and loathe – America and Americans, General Musharraf and his intelligence agencies.

All this can be reasonably inferred from reports of Omar Sheikh’s behaviour while in captivity. He was furious that he had to turn himself in because his family was being harassed by the police. He lectured his “handlers” about betraying the cause of “jihad” and becoming American stooges. When all else failed, he decided to put an end to the ordeal by claiming before a judge that Pearl had already been killed. If that was supposed to be an indirect message to his colleagues to put an end to Pearl, he needn’t have worried about getting it through. Government sources were now quick to claim publicly that his statement amounted to a death sentence on Pearl. If Pearl’s captors had had any doubts about the import of Omar’s statement, there were none following such a “clarification” from the police.

Is this an isolated act of wanton terrorism by fading jihadi outputs? Are all Americans in Pakistan in some sort of danger? On the face of it, the threat of terrorism is palpable enough. The fury of Omar Sheikh and his fellow jihadis has been more than matched by a spurt of bloody sectarian killings in Karachi and Rawalpindi recently. That would suggest only one sort of desperate link between the perpetrators of both acts of violence: they all hate General Musharraf and his idea of a new Pakistan that has downgraded militant jihad and religious supremacy, and is keen to woo, and be wooed by, the “infidel” international community. Their institutional loathing for General Musharraf’s new found liberalism is buttressed by their sense of personal betrayal at his hands. Those who spawned them and led them up the garden path have now blithely turned against them.

If it is pay-off time for the “great betrayal”, are the “Islamic” terrorists a formidable threat to the Musharraf regime? It is tempting to play up this theme as if there are hundreds of thousands of such desperate and angry jihadis ready and willing to take on the government in a series of terrorist acts, including suicide missions against key officials. In fact, government sources say they are on red alert for sectarian attacks during Moharram. General Musharraf’s personal security has also been enhanced manifold. All these precautionary measures are welcome because the threat is real enough and no militant organization is going to dissolve itself or give itself up without a fight to the bitter end. But let us be realistic. The fundamentalists are no match for the state in the long run. Nor do they have much support or sympathy in the public. They may create headaches for everyone, including and especially General Musharraf, but eventually they can and must be crushed. Of course, the nation and the state will have to pay a price for condoning and nurturing them in the first place. But the threat will pass if the state is sufficiently clear about its new goals and objectives and determined to sweep all obstacles from its path. Already, the mainstream religious parties and groups have distanced themselves from the gruesome tragedy of Danny Pearl.

One last point. If General Musharraf is misled into thinking that the fanatics should be muzzled but not de-clawed, or that their energies can be redirected into some reformulated national security cause by means of a calibrated dialogue with them, he should spurn such advice. He must confront the past and cleanly break from it. The masks must come off or be scratched off. The country needs a new national security team for a new national security policy. Trussing up the old misguided team in the cloaks of a new one will not work. The sooner he comprehends the nature of the basic and bloody challenge to state and society, and to his own person, and acts decisively, the better for General Pervez Musharraf and Pakistan.

(TFT Mar 08-14, 2002 Vol-XIV No.2 — Editorial)

More or less like each other?

 

An acclaimed Indian Muslim “secularist” recently lambasted Mohammad Ali Jinnah as “the man who single-handedly divided India in 1947”. That is not true. While Mr Jinnah certainly created Pakistan single-handedly, it was Mr Jawaharlal Nehru and Mr Vallabhbhai Patel who jointly presided over the division of India by compromising with the Hindu communalists within the Congress party and pushing Mr Jinnah out of their fold. The sad irony was that it was Mr Gandhi who had to pay the price of their folly with his own life by insisting on a secular ideal for India. That lesson remains lost on many Indians even today.

Since 1969, over 10,000 people have died in communal clashes in Ahmadabad, which fact bemoans the passing of Mr Gandhi’s dream into a sectarian nightmare. Last week, over 600 innocent Muslims died in Gujarat and at least 30,000 were rendered homeless. Nearly 30 mosques in Ahmadabad were razed to the ground. Ten years ago, Hindu militants ran amuck in Ayodhya and sparked communal riots which left over 2000 people dead.

Well meaning secular Indians rightly berate Pakistan for being an “ideological and authoritarian state”, proudly pointing to their own country’s “secular and democratic” moorings. Yet they overlook the frightening similarities between the fundamentalists of the two countries, those in Pakistan who have declared war on Hindu India and the infidel West and those in India who talk of protecting or strengthening the “Hindu nation”, those who wield the trident, stick and firetorch in India and those who carry automatic rifles and advocate an Islamic state for the “Muslim nation” in Pakistan. Both may be minorities within their faiths but both have powerful political supporters in the civil and military hierarchies of their own countries.

The impulse of Hindu-Muslim communalism is rooted in the politics of medieval Indian history. Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism emanated from within the soul of ancient India and therefore didn’t lead to violent conflagration. But Islam arrived from outside India as a “conquering” force through the sword of the “temple breaking” Muslim hordes or on the back of “liberating” Muslim saints and mystics. Later the British imperialists aggravated religious tensions by politicizing the divide. The birth of Pakistan followed because Indian secularists couldn’t comprehend the nature of the communal challenge posed by the Hindus communalists within their fold rather than as a result of Muslim League belligerence in quest of a Muslim “nation”. But just as Pakistani Muslims should have stopped their search for a “Muslim nation” after the formation of their state in Pakistan in 1947 (as Mr Jinnah had advocated) but didn’t do so to their everlasting disarray, so too the Hindus should have stopped clamouring for a Hindu “nation” in India (as Mr Gandhi had pleaded) but didn’t do so to their recurrent dismay. Indeed, if many of Pakistan’s post-independence woes can be laid at the door of its “Muslim ideologues”, some of India’s problems have been accentuated by its Hindu revivalists who seek to define and enlarge Hinduism in the same erroneous manner of Islamism in Pakistan.

Of course, the rise of Islam as a “civilisational” force following the eruption of oil politics in the 1970s has hurt both countries. In Pakistan it fertilized the ground for the emergence of Ziaism and provided the impetus for the Saudi-American sponsorship of jihad in Afghanistan. In India, it laid the seeds of a counter-civilisational response in the form of Hindutva. The articulation of this “civilisational” behaviour was manifest in India by the advent of the “smiling Buddha” in 1974, a reference to India’s “peaceful nuclear explosions”, and in Pakistan by the launching of plans to build the “Islamic bomb” subsequently. Pakistan now came to be cast in the mould of an Islamic state while India began to shed its secular leanings in favour of a Hindu Rashtra. In Pakistan the process of Islamising the state was fed by the ambitions of the military while in India the BJP could not have scaled the heights of the state without the democratic votes and financial power of civil society. Over time, the failed authoritarianism of Pakistan and the successful democratization of India have led them to the same ideological cul-de-sac. In trying to disprove the political legitimacy of each other, both countries have mirrored the compulsions and concerns of the religious impulse in the other.

The most indelible memory of Partition is of railway carriages filled with mutilated corpses of Hindus and Muslims. Five decades later, the blood lust of both communities in India was fanned by exactly the kind of circumstances that fueled the slaughters in 1947, making India’s orgy of secular self-immolation look like some hoary fantasy. The irony is that it is General Pervez Musharraf who wants to liquidate fundamentalism and separate religion from politics in Pakistan today while India’s prime minister in waiting, Mr L K Advani, remains a staunch supporter of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad which seeks a “Hindu Rashtra”. The truth is that if India and Pakistan want to be stable and prosper together, they must be more like each other in secular outlook and less like each other in religious terms.

(TFT Mar 15-21, 2002 Vol-XIV No.3 — Editorial)

Lengthening shadows?

 

Some disquieting questions have been raised by the sudden resignation of Shaheen Sehbai from the editorship of The News amid a flurry of accusations and counter-accusations between him and the owner of the paper, Mir Shakilur Rehman. For one, why did Mr Sehbai catch the first plane out of the country for the US, where his family is based, even before the ink was dry on his resignation letter? Two, why did he deem fit to give interviews to the foreign press rather than hold a press conference in Pakistan and explain his decision? Third, why did the local media largely, though not entirely, refrain from reporting the news of his resignation or enlightening the public about the reasons behind his departure?

Mr Rehman has questioned Mr Sehbai’s professional competence in handling matters. Stories of “uncertain veracity” were published, says the owner, hurting the organisation’s “financial” interests and damaging its “reputation”. He implies that the editor may have had a personal axe to grind in publishing such stories. Consultation on “contentious issues” with the owner was totally lacking, says Mr Rehman. Considerations of the “national interest” were disregarded in publishing certain stories, he alleges. Senior government officials were deliberately “rebuffed” he says and so on and so forth.

In response, Mr Sehbai accuses Mr Rehman of succumbing to government pressure and leaning upon him to sack three offending journalists – Kamran Khan, Amir Mateen and Rauf Klasra – from The News. He says he indirectly “conveyed to the government” evidence proving that “the policy of the paper was very balanced, in fact tilted in favour of General Pervez Musharraf, not under any government pressure but because some of the things he was doing were right”. Mr Sehbai claims that “at least 50 editorials and over 100 Op-Ed articles over a six week period were cited to show that The News had no bias against the government”. He also rejects allegations of professional incompetence. The gist of his message is that “the government’s pressure on Mr Rehman is unbearable”, that is why he has charge-sheeted Mr Sehbai and forced his resignation.

On the face of it, such mutual recriminations are not surprising. Many such tensions are built into the relationship between the owner and the professional editor of a paper, with some owners mainly concerned about money matters and some editors obsessed with editorial independence. However, where the government enters the fray as a key player impinging on the financial health of a paper and the independence of an editor, as in Pakistan whether under civilian or military rule, sparks are bound to fly.

Mr Rehman certainly has many assets to protect or procure and cannot afford to irrevocably alienate the government. But he knows that the public will disavow his paper if it is less than fully independent. Thus he must constantly walk a tight rope between reining in an independent editor and succumbing to an overbearing government. A problem came up in 1999 when his editors ran afoul of the Nawaz Sharif government. Confronted with a demand to sack some journalists, Mir Shakilur Rahman stood his ground when the government’s henchman Saifur Rehman employed the most brutal methods to bring the press to heel. Eventually, maters were “settled” without sacking the journalists in question. Why wasn’t the same route possible in the current situation? Did Mr Sehbai’s resignation and departure preclude it altogether? Herein may lie some clues about what really happened and why.

Mr Sehbai resigned and left the country in a hurry because he feared that the government was readying to trump up some charge or the other against him. We don’t know whether his fears were justified — no such evidence has been presented. But the three journalists in question haven’t been fired by Mr Rehman, say sources, most probably in order to give the lie to Mr Sehbai’s allegations. Therefore it is irresponsible to claim, as his critics have done, that Mr Sehbai had made up his mind to quit for various reasons and sought an opportunity to leave with a bang rather than a whimper. Don’t we know concrete cases of Pakistani journalists being strangely silenced since the military government came to power?

Two years ago, an editor was hounded out of the northern areas by the local military commander. Last year a senior journalist was brutalised by masked men for writing unflattering stories about a serving general. Another was severely reprimanded by the newspaper owner after the government complained about how he had needled General Musharraf at a press conference. A photographer was imprisoned because he mistakenly submitted a photograph for publication that “demeaned the nation”. A local journalist disappeared for a couple of days some months ago after he wrote a story about official patronage of a wanted criminal. And so on. We know, of course, how government functionaries, including General Musharraf, have sometimes flown off the handle when faced with awkward questions from the press, and how “press advice” from Islamabad, coupled with advertisement leveraging, has become a matter of routine for some newspaper owners and editors.

True, the press is still relatively free and that is a plus point for General Musharraf. But the government’s shadow must not be allowed to fall on the press and the relationship should not be marred by the sort of circumstances that forced Shaheen Sehbai to flee to safety.

(TFT Mar 22-28, 2002 Vol-XIV No.4 — Editorial)

Music from its armpits

 

In a nauseating replay of hypocrisy, the Punjab police recently raided some theatres in Lahore and arrested many actors on the charge of “obscenity”. The “evidence” was provided by police officials (who are not counted among the most “civilized” of government servants in Pakistan according to the frequently bitter obiter dicta of the High Court). The police sat among the packed audience to determine if the double-entendre of the comedians amounted to “obscenities” that the pure state of Pakistan simply could not tolerate. And sure enough, it was soon discovered that the apocalyptic offence of fahashi (vulgarity) had been committed, especially in the sexually arousing (to the police) nature of a sequence called “balti” dance. The police then arrested the actors in its trademark brutish manner. People ran for cover, screaming in confusion and fear. The actresses were particularly distressed because of the anticipated rough embrace of the police who are the custodians of our honour.

As the Urdu idiom goes, the Punjab government thereafter made “music from its armpits”, telling citizens that the label of “liberal” pasted on its forehead by Pakistan’s aggressive clergy was misplaced. In fact, the message was that the new order under General Pervez Musharraf was as strait-laced as under General Zia ul Haq and all the ideologically blinkered governments that followed. Accordingly, the Punjab Governor’s advisor preened himself at a religious conference in Lahore the same week and boasted about the way “propriety” had been restored by the police. Clearly, General Musharraf’s visit to a Deobandi seminary in Lahore last month had not been enough to demonstrate his agreement with old causes, so a more solid demonstration of intolerance to “liberalism” had to be given to reassure the old guard.

The Urdu press was predictably obsequious in its high-pitched welcome to the clampdown on the entertainment industry. But some Urdu newspapers carried comments stating that obscenity on the Lahore stage was actually the handiwork of General Musharraf’s “permissiveness”. This is not true. The comedy theatre of Lahore was born under General Zia ul Haq and has been kept alive by citizens who seek to relieve their boring lives in the puritanical state of Pakistan. The ad-libbing plays of Lahore have attracted audiences for the past twenty years on the basis of their use of the double meaning, a practice that has continued from time immemorial all over the world.

Thankfully, though, not everyone was pleased or relieved. Justice (retired) Javid Iqbal, the son of Pakistan’s poet-philosopher, Allama Muhammad Iqbal, told a Lahore newspaper that the brutal rounding up of the entertainers was an ill-advised attack on the liberty and free will of the people. There was no clear-cut edict against dance and music in the Quran, he said, and if governments in Pakistan persisted in hounding the entertainment industry, society would produce nothing but morons. The actors manhandled by the police and condemned by the state have also tried to voice their opinion but to no effect. They are guilty of entertaining a pleasure-starved population that lives a dull, unrelieved existence under the threat of violent crime about which the police does nothing. In fact, some actors became so disheartened after their mistreatment by the police that they decided to retire from their profession. The cable channels, already depleted through the government’s fiat banning “Indian” entertainment, were told not to show videos of comedies performed by these stage actors. This, despite the fact that these comedies on cable are not considered obscene by audiences because the exchange of such “vulgarity” has been normal fare in our part of the world for centuries.

It is fashionable to decry “liberalism” in Pakistan without understanding its meaning or choosing an alternative path. Droning about the middle path of “moderation” between extremism and liberalism is misplaced concreteness because moderation is nothing but liberalism just as extremism is nothing but fundamentalism and terrorism. So what is the government going to do next? Crack down on the cinema? Raid private parties? Order the youth to stay at home? Or worse still, push “immorality” and “obscenity” into the chardevari of the rich and powerful and thereby strengthen the system of apartheid which is stifling public creativity and growth in the name of ideology? What will happen when the citizenry that is to be saved from perdition goes down the dangerous road of repression and violent release?

Not long ago, the government was forced to confine some religious leaders because their plans to enforce the cultural shariah in Pakistan were potentially violent. The plan was to take over 20 cities and enforce pieties like the hijab for women and compulsory prayers for men. There is no end to the sort of demonstrable piety that governments love to flog. But General Musharraf must not fall into that trap. He was won goodwill at home and abroad for the making of a modern and liberal Pakistan. He should stick to his commitment rather than diminish his credentials by supporting the sort of bureaucratic action that caught the headlines recently.

(TFT Mar 29-04 April, 2002 Vol-XIV No.5 — Editorial)

Ho Hum Referendum

 

Government functionaries admit that General Pervez Musharraf is toying with the idea of holding a referendum to try and “legitimize” himself as president of Pakistan for another five years. The two most articulate proponents of the idea are Sharifuddin Peerzada, the perennial legal eagle of all dictators-cum-wannabe democrats and all democrats-cum-wannabe dictators, and General Tanvir Naqvi, the ubiquitous intellect behind all grand schemes to revamp the political system in the image of the military. Ho Hum. Haven’t we been down this wayward path before?

It certainly didn’t seem so when General Musharraf first arrived on the scene in 1999, looking and sounding so refreshingly different from General Zia ul Haq. Where Gen Zia executed an elected prime minister and lived to rue his decision, Gen Musharraf opted for banishment as a more sagacious policy. Gen Musharraf vowed to restructure state and civil society in a moderate and liberal framework whereas Gen Zia remained obsessed with straitjacketing society and ramming two-faced piety down its throat. Gen Musharraf seemed determined to inject a credible dose of accountability into the system in contrast with Gen Zia who systematically victimized the Pakistan Peoples Party and its leaders. In fact, the differences between the two coup-makers became more marked after September 11 last year. Whereas Gen Zia had foolishly catapulted Pakistan into Afghanistan on the back of the jihadi forces and made opportunist alliances with the religious right, Gen Musharraf bravely decided to stand apart from Afghanistan and rapped the jihadis and religious extremists for getting out of line. Suddenly, hopes began to soar and Pakistan seemed to glow with renewed vitality.

Unfortunately, that Musherrific promise is threatening to dissipate. The accountability drive has bypassed its own political supporters in the army, bureaucracy and political parties. Also, General Musharraf’s political ambitions, cloaked as they are in self-righteous garb, are obvious now – he means to remain an all-powerful president for five more years at least, notwithstanding all the talk of “instituting checks and balances without changing the basic structure of the constitution.” In fact, his political demeanour is beginning to change in ominous ways. Instead of alienating one mainstream political party as Gen Zia did, Gen Musharraf seems bent on sidelining two major parties at least. Instead of staying aloof from the intolerant religious parties who caused him so much anguish and distress not so long ago, he seems to be inching toward them once again. Now comes the mother of all rubs. In true Ziaist fashion, a referendum may be held in which the people of Pakistan are collared to say “yes” to “something” that will be billed as “legitimizing” General Musharraf as a powerful president. In the event, we should get ready to see the spectacle of all the ruthless opportunists of the country rallying round to achieve this cynical aim as soon as possible. How can that possibly help General Musharraf?

Legitimacy flows from the rule of legislated law that flows in turn from a voluntary, free and overwhelming national consensus on a given constitution. Anyone who abrogates, suspends or mangles the constitution, is “illegitimate” or loses legitimacy. By definition, therefore, no dictator or usurper can ever be truly “legitimate”, not even after he has “amended” the constitution to feign legitimacy with the help of the courts or manipulated the constitution makers to accord it to him or her. In the final analysis, the power of all dictators flows from the barrel of their guns. When they drop the gun or are unable to use it, they lose that power. If dictators are wise and benign, and if their policies are widely perceived to be in the public good, they may rule undiminished for as long as circumstances will permit, but they do so without legitimacy. If that were not the case, there would be no distinction between democrats and dictators, usurpers and elected representatives. Therefore no number of dubious referendums and unilateral constitutional amendments will make General Musharraf more or less legitimate than he is today. If that is so, why go through an exercise that is totally discredited in this country by virtue of association with a discredited dictator with whom comparisons are odious?

A presidential election a la Gen Ayub Khan on the basis of the 300,000 strong “nazimate” is another option for becoming “less illegitimate”. But we would advise against it for much the same reasons as in the case of the referendum. The cleanest, most desirable route is to hold a national, all parties convention, seek the approval of the representatives of the people of Pakistan for making necessary amendments in the constitution to enable the sorts of broad constitutional checks and balances proposed by General Musharraf and others to be implemented, hold free and fair elections and get a new parliament to ratify the agreed amendments. That is the only form of truth and reconciliation that will work and endure during General Musharraf’s time and after his departure. All others will fall when he loses his firepower for one reason or another, as he must inevitably one day, and plunge the country into another round of political and constitutional anarchy.

(TFT Apr 05-11, 2002 Vol-XIV No.6 — Editorial)

Palestinian martyrdom won’t be in vain

 

The Arab League’s recent summit in Beirut concluded with the offer of normal relations with Israel in return for a complete withdrawal of the Israelis from the occupied lands. This is, in effect, a historic concession by the Arabs. Before Israel invaded and occupied Arab lands, it wanted to be recognized by the Arabs and have normal relations with them. But the Arabs said they would settle for nothing less than the destruction of the state of Israel. In the event, Israel invaded and occupied Arab lands so that it could eventually negotiate the return of the lands for peace. Why then has Israel spurned the recent Arab concession and declared war in Palestine? Is there a method in Israeli madness?

Israel seeks the complete destruction of the Palestine national movement before exchanging land for peace with its Arab neighbours. It fears that recognition alone of its right to exist will not bring enduring peace as long as the Palestinian resistance movement is alive and kicking. History is replete with examples in which the stronger warring side has continued to rain bombs on the weaker side until it has disarmed or destroyed its military capacity before sitting down at the table to negotiate an unequal peace treaty. That is what Israel is also trying to do. But the critical problem with this line of thinking is that unequal or unjust treaties rarely endure or bring peace.

The role of the United States in this strategy is also clear enough. Having publicly announced its support for the formation of a Palestinian state, the US is now trying to make sure, like Israel, that it is a moth-eaten, weak-kneed state in which nearly 400,000 Israeli settlers constitute a potential spike in the heart of the new state. But there is a wider US motive in sanctioning the current Israel madness. It is to break the spirit of resistance to imperialist injustice and domination that has come to mark much of the Arab and Muslim world but which is perceived in many western eyes as a civilisational outgrowth of Islamic hostility. Indeed, since the Islamic world has cried itself hoarse explaining how the rise of Islamic militancy and the events of September 11 are in many ways directly related to the injustice of what is happening in Palestine, the US has been confirmed in its belief that the militant Arabs who lead or support the Palestine cause are as much a danger to them as they are to Israel. Hence the sanction to eliminate them as far as possible before dictating peace terms to the wider Arab community. This would suggest that it is the recent American fear of and obsession with Islamic militancy that has given Israel a new carte blanche to shed blood and wreak untold havoc in Palestine and the occupied territories. The Islamic terrorists who reacted to Israeli terror by attacking the US have unleashed a cycle of hatred, bloodshed and terror that is threatening to provoke reaction and counter-reaction on a global scale.

There remain two fatal flaws in the thinking of Israel. It thinks that the only way to be secure vis-à-vis the Palestinians is to stake settlements in the heart of the occupied territories, i.e. to colonize the territories. But that policy has proven to be an unmitigated disaster because it has spawned an intifada (resistance) that continues unabated even under the most oppressive circumstances of today. Indeed, it is proof that Israel can never be secure without liberating the Palestinians, abandoning most settlements, and accepting a viable Palestinian state.

The second flaw lies in the claim that the rise of Palestinian “terrorism” is a sign of the unwillingness of the Palestinian to accept peace which compels Israel to again fight for its survival. The fact, however, is that all mainstream Palestinian leaders have stuck to their pledge for peace with Israel in return for a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. And if this were to be realized, the minority Palestinian militants who still dream of destroying Israel would be isolated and disabled by the majority-moderates who would strike the deal with Israel. History is replete with instances of this kind.

There also remain two fatal flaws in American thinking. First, the US has always had a strong policy against Palestinian “terrorism” but never even a weak policy against Israeli “terrorism”. It is time to redress the imbalance because the crisis has deepened rather than abated as a result of this one-note policy. Second, the US has failed to offer the Palestinians a realistic hope that a state can also be won through negotiations. This has alienated the Palestinians from the US and encouraged Israeli to belligerence.

Non-state terrorism and violence are symptoms of conflict, not its causes. Israel and the US don’t recognize this as yet but they will, eventually. The fact is that even as Israel wages an unjust war in Palestine, the rest of the western world is slowly beginning to wake up to the truth of this assertion and protest its naked transgression. In that sense, the blood of the martyrs of Palestine will not have been in vain.

(TFT Apr 12-18, 2002 Vol-XIV No.7 — Editorial)

Double, double, toil and trouble…

 

General Pervez Musharraf has laid down a strong hand. He did so with a flourish at Lahore’s Minto Park where even demagogues have feared to tread. Decked out in camouflage battle-dress to signal military prowess and punching the air with his fists, he repeatedly conjured up the “unworthy” effigies of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif and knocked them down to the ground. The following day, he was up in Bannu, in the heart of conservatism, trampling all over the extremist religious parties, accusing them of being “anti-national” and exhorting people not to support those who cannot even assemble to “pray together in the same mosque”. Make no mistake about it. These are fighting words. And more to come as he stumps the length and breadth of the country in his newfound role as our latest politico-military saviour.

If the political arena is to be turned into a military battlefield, it is not surprising that the administration should be oversubscribed at his behest. It is coughing up funds for pro-government nazims to herd the masses to his rallies, impounding busses and trucks and wagons to lug the unwashed from far and wide, ordering government employees to swell the crowds, ensuring military supervision of “unfriendly district nazims”, rooting out potentially irksome lower judicial staff from referendum duty, and decreeing wholesale amendments in the law to guarantee a failsafe passage. Bringing up the rear is the lightweight brigade comprising all the political non-entities of the country who between them can hardly muster a seat or two off their own bat in any general election but who are likely to become raucous allies in the heat and dust of electoral battle when they are propped up by the state. Under the circumstances, General Musharraf fields a formidable arsenal. Even his two military predecessors with whom he finds comparisons odious – Generals Ayub Khan and Zia ul Haq — were unable to gather such an ensemble in pursuit of similar objectives.

On the face of it, however, the opposition does not look like a pushover. It comprises the two mainstream political parties – the PPP and the PML(N) – and the six leading religious parties and groups denoted by the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) which includes the Jamaat-i-Islami of Qazi Hussain Ahmad and the Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam of Maulana Fazlur Rehman. These are no mean foes. Left to their own devices, the PPP in Sindh, the PML(N) in Punjab and the MMA in northern Pakistan, are all capable of stiff resistance. But two significant questions arise: are they able and willing to join hands to mount a counter-offensive? Will the state calmly stand by and allow them to exercise their democratic right to agitate against its agenda?

The second question is easily solved. Forget normal democratic rights. The compulsions of true democracy are such that arrest warrants are being readied for any leader or activist of this would-be alliance who expresses a desire to agitate against the proposed referendum. We also understand that none of these parties or groups will be allowed to hold public rallies denouncing the new messiah.

The issue of whether or not a combined opposition group can quickly materialize out of those who until today were natural political foes – the PPP against the PML(N) and both against the MMA – is thorny. Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan’s Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy (ARD) is supposed to comprise, amongst some small fry, both the PPP and PML(N), but neither of the two has been a reliable partner so far, hopping in and out of bed with the Nawabzada to suit its changing interests. The waters have been further muddied by the continuing hide and seek between the PPP and the government in which the former seeks a free hand to try and win the forthcoming elections and anoint Benazir Bhutto prime minister for the third time, and the latter which means to ensure that Ms Bhutto remains out in the cold for at least five more years and the PPP is not allowed a snowball’s chance in hell of winning even a third of the seats in the next parliament. Add to this the secret glee with which both Ms Bhutto and Mr Sharif view the plight of their historical nemeses — the religious parties — who’ve been earmarked for “special handling” by General Musharraf at the urging of the Great Satan, and their capability of putting a lid on everything by playing safe and staying put in Jeddah and London. We would then have all the ingredients of a grand “no-show” in the offing.

All this may seem to bode well for General Musharraf. He may “win” the referendum, amend the constitution, ennoble the military with a “permanent” role in government, and ensure a pliant parliament and prime minister to do his bidding. But is that what we want or need? A forced marriage between civil society that naturally yearns to be free and the military that is a stifling bureaucracy by definition? And for how long will such an inherently unstable arrangement last? Our fears – that history may yet deceive those who don’t learn its lessons — remain as valid as ever.

(TFT Apr 19-25, 2002 Vol-XIV No.8 — Editorial)

Don’t mess around with the press

 

For nearly three years we have praised General Pervez Musharraf’s tolerant attitude towards the press as one of the most endearing features of his regime. When certain sections of the press were wont to exaggerate or misreport, General Musharraf would register his complaint and leave it at that. And when the government erred in unduly leveraging its demands, quiet diplomacy would resolve matters quickly. It was a mature relationship in which both sides were acutely aware of the limits of power and the requirements of responsibility.

Of late, however, overt tensions are manifest in government-press relations. The “list” of incidents in which the government has reacted indiscreetly, and sometimes brutally, against members of the press cannot be brushed aside any longer. Nor can we remain sanguine about the increasing use of press “advice” by the secret and not-so-secret agencies of the government to try and influence newspaper owners and editors. The developing rift is now out in the open. General Musharraf has publicly accused the press of deliberately downgrading his public rallies and gone on to suggest that some press wallas are recipients of financial incentives from “discredited” political forces opposed to his reform agenda.

So what’s new? Every government to date has clutched at similar conspiracy theories to justify its dislike of an independent press. Indeed, the press is used to being wooed by politicians and generals alike when they are in overt or covert opposition to the government of the day, and being flogged by them when they are in power. In fact, when times are good and governments are sailing smoothly, the relationship is exemplary. But when times are bad and governments find themselves in turbulent waters, the relationship turns sour. This implies that the responsibility for good or bad times rests upon governments while the press is simply an instrument to reflect the reality on the ground. When it reflects a stable environment, government-press relations are hunky-dory. When it reflects otherwise, the government is quick to brandish the stick and cite conspiracy theories.

That is exactly what is happening these days. General Musharraf has donned the metaphorical clothes of the dirty politicians that he abhors. But he doesn’t want the press to portray him as another such politician in the making. Like a good politician, he is making political speeches full of sound and fury signifying nothing. But he doesn’t want the press to extend its usual cynical welcome to him. He is kicking up dust and raking up charges wherever he goes. But he doesn’t want the press to touch upon his own ambitions and shortcomings. For a variety of valid historical reasons, the press is generally averse to generals as politicians and General Musharraf is no exception to the rule. But what is specially getting the goat of the press is his bristling self-righteousness and cocky behaviour in which political opportunism is being paraded in the garb of law and patriotism.

The trouble first arose over the general’s referendum plans that most reputable journalists don’t like for many reasons. It got worse when the press objected to the use of state resources to rent-a-crowd for the general’s public rallies. General Musharraf hit back with conspiracy theories. Worse, the loyal Punjab governor went overboard in his political debut in Faisalabad and the resultant police assault on a couple of dozen protesting journalists left many to nurse their wounds. The Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors has issued a stiff note of protest, the first of its kind in three years, and snubbed the government’s efforts to hold an inquiry under a District and Sessions judge instead of a High Court judge. Press clubs across the country have erupted in anger and indignation and the one in Lahore has revived the Press Freedom Committee dormant since Nawaz Sharif’s tyrannical time. General Musharraf has apologized for the police excesses in a round about way, but we are left with the unmistakable impression that in his heart of hearts he believes the press got its comeuppance that day and wouldn’t be any the worse off for some more of the same. The Punjab governor may think much the same thoughts as his leader but his demeanour suggests he will think twice before stirring this hornets’ nest again.

And what of the press? We fear that as General Musharraf wages a series of political battles to achieve his grand national objectives, he shall find the press increasingly on the other side of the fence. This is a natural consequence of his own transition from a clean and upright soldier to an opportunist politician whose pristine mantle is bound to get muddied by the “dirty” politicians he has embraced of late. The challenge before him is to achieve his dubious ends without irrevocably alienating the press. In this context, he would do well to remember a couple of lessons of Pakistani history. First, the domestic press has come of age by linking up with the free international press. It won’t be cowed down by anyone. Second, those rulers who are hated by the press are fated to short political careers.

(TFT Apr 26-02 May, 2002 Vol-XIV No.9 — Editorial)

Sit back and enjoy the ride

 

As we race to April 30, R-Day, the writing on the wall is becoming clearer. All pollsters say a majority of those polled are in favour of General Pervez Musharraf. Whether or not the polls were conducted to fairly represent the respective weights of the urban and rural areas of the country in a scientific manner is not known. Nor can anyone be sure that those who are said to be in favour of General Musharraf will all come out and vote for him. But other signs also point in his direction.

The crowds at his rallies are significant even if they are relatively insipid. That these have all been pulled out by the nazims (mayors) with financial and organizational assistance from the public sector, however distasteful and illegal this practice, is proof that the same tactics will bear fruit on R-Day. This also confirms the strategy of General Tanvir Naqvi to use the local government system as the bedrock of the new political system in the offing. Indeed, where pundits have been scanning the horizon for the Pakistan Muslim League (QA) as the King’s Party in-waiting, the real King’s Party has been quietly spreading its tentacles on the ground. After the referendum, many of the same nazims, flushed with success, could be tempted to become the torchbearers of the new provincial and national assemblies, there to form the backbone of General Musharraf’s very own parliamentary group.

Meanwhile, the dilemma of the wretched political parties is getting worse. When the local non-party elections were announced last year, the parties grappled with the idea of participating in them indirectly or altogether boycotting them, succumbing in the end to the ground reality which showed many party activists itching to bolt in the event of a boycott by their leadership. That same ground reality has now swelled manifold, compelling the parties to threaten action against party nazims who want to participate in the welcoming queues for General Musharraf even as they wink the green light to dissenters under the “law of necessity”. What remains to be seen is whether those party-political nazims of the PPP, PML(N), JI, JUI et al who are tripping over themselves to spread the red carpet for General Musharraf these days will remain true to form (and pull out the voters) on R-Day or loyally switch to the fold of their parties and leave the general high and dry.

But General Musharraf isn’t only relying on the nazims to pull him through. He is hoping that the facility with which voters will be allowed to vote – as many times and wherever they want – should add to the numbers game. All other things being equal, too, one should expect certain groups in society to be more disposed to voting in his favour than others – women, non-Muslims, government employees, expatriate Pakistanis, technocrats, students, etc. Women are more likely to vote for rather than against him because they rightly perceive him as having promised more to them (especially public representation) than any Pakistani political leader in history. Non-Muslims, too, fall in the same category – his promise of a “moderate and modern Pakistan” based on the abolition of the separate electorate system and a stern attitude towards the extremist Islamic parties has gone down well with them. Government employees, especially those from the armed forces (serving and retired), expatriate Pakistanis, middle-class urban students and technocrats are also likely to favour General Musharraf because these groups have historically preferred the illusion of stability over the din of democracy, and political accountability (a la NAB viz. corruption) over popular representation (a la elections and parliaments).

The Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy or the All Parties Conference or what-you-will has promised a show of strength in a couple of days to try and resist this Musherrific tide. But if the past is any guide, and the crowds threaten to overwhelm the good impressions left by General Musharraf’s Lahore rally, we should not expect the ever-loyal Punjab governor to sit idle and twiddle his thumbs. Thus the second best thing to a grand rally could be a failed grand rally with a spot of violence thrown in for good measure. Even so, that is hardly likely to dampen the spirits of pro-government nazims or their ubiquitous and powerful minders.

If the referendum a thing of the past already, despite the constitutional petitions in the Supreme Court (SC) against it, we must take stock of what lies ahead. For one, we will have a truckload of constitutional amendments and new decrees to ensure that the Musherrific system works. But this is going to be a very tall order — a critical contradiction runs right through the proposed order of things. General Musharraf intends to have a “unity of command” – a solid and valid military concept but totally alien, indeed hostile, to the concept of pluralist or consensual democracy. Furthermore, he wants the selected prime minister to be the fount of this unified command system even as he insists that he personally, as president with veto powers, intends to oversee the elected prime minister and the elected cabinet via a majority of the unelected members of the National Security Council chaired by him.

Sit back, ladies and gentlemen, and enjoy the ride all over again. That is, unless the SC has other ideas.

(TFT May 03-09, 2002 Vol-XIV No.10 — Editorial)

Disgraceful

 

To prove a point, one of our reporters cast four votes in the “presidential” referendum yesterday, all in favour of General Pervez Musharraf, in four different polling stations within a kilometre radius. Another outwitted her by stamping six votes in the general’s favour. The story is much the same across the country. One could vote as many times as one desired and many did. This is adult franchise taken to preposterous limits for dubious ends. Think of it, 71 percent turnout of which 97.5 percent voted ‘yes’. So much for the credibility of the exercise.

If ever there was a case of deliberate institutional rigging, this was it. No formal ID was required for voting. There were no constituency lists. The opposition wasn’t allowed to canvass votes against the referendum. Billions were doled out to hire crowds for pro-Musharraf rallies and lug pro-Musharraf voters to the polling stations. The number of polling booths was increased tenfold. And the voting age was reduced from 21 to 18 years so that millions of new voters without any memory of the military’s disastrous interventions in 1958 and 1977 could be added to the kitty.

Worse, much worse, tens of millions of low and middle level civil servants, factory workers, school teachers, peons, janitors, jail inmates, soldiers, paramilitary troops, policemen etc were ordered by private and public employers to shape up or ship out. This is unprecedented even in Pakistan’s flawed electoral history. Just think of it. Wardens ordering prisoners to stamp “yes” on ballot papers. Department heads taking roll calls and lining up subordinates at special polling station on the premises. Policemen on the streets and rangers on border patrol, even as their votes were being stuffed in ballot boxes and winging their way to headquarters. The most appalling aspect of this sordid affair was the despicable role of the private sector. Of capitalists, bankers, factory owners, school/college owners/principals, traders and businessmen ordering their employees to queue up for General Musharraf. Of multinationals that went overboard in rustling up their workers. “Captive” voters in the hands of capricious elites. Disgraceful. If April 30 was a sad day for democracy, the complicity of civil society should not go un-remarked.

Why did General Musharraf go for an overkill when every pundit with even a remote memory of the farcical presidential referendum held by General Zia ul Haq in 1984 had advised against it?

The question of legitimacy haunts every dictator and General Musharraf is no exception, however benign his attitude towards the press or however cooperative his response to the international community’s war against terrorism. Thus the common perception is that an overwhelming “yes” in the presidential referendum should give General Musharraf a degree of civilian legitimacy that is sorely lacking in him. This is buttressed by the fact that the Supreme Court of Pakistan has said that he is perfectly entitled to hold such a referendum. But the facts belie this argument.

The Supreme Court has not said that this referendum is a constitutional substitute for a presidential election. In fact, it has left that issue to be resolved by the parliament that comes into being after the next general elections in October. Nor does a referendum, however credible or successful, under a provisional constitutional order legitimizing a military coup (which is the legal umbrella under which General Musharraf is currently operating), eliminate the requirement for a parliamentary endorsement after the constitution has been fully restored. Indeed, every action that General Musharraf has taken in the last three years will require a constitutional sanction by means of a two-thirds majority in the next parliament. So what is the point of a referendum today if, in the ultimate analysis, General Musharraf’s fate lies in the hands of a parliament that is yet to be born?

The answer is that the referendum was never meant to be an exercise in acquiring legitimacy. Instead, it is an attempt to flex muscle and browbeat intransigent political opponents to join the Musharraf camp so that a King’s Party or Alliance can be cobbled to win the next general elections and become a dutiful parliamentary appendage to President General Musharraf. Indeed, General Musharraf admitted as much when he said that he was conducting this exercise because he wanted “to get the fence-sitters off the fence”, alluding to the many political stalwarts in the country who had not yet deserted the two mainstream parties led by Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. Has he succeeded in his objective of ensuring, as he put it once, an “upper hand in parliament”?

No. Whatever the government may claim, the opposition will certainly be emboldened by the referendum’s lack of credibility at home and abroad. Indeed, an element of defiance could creep into the main opposition parties, forcing General Musharraf to adopt repressive policies, which in turn would hurt his benign image and undermine his credibility further. The fear is that in the ensuing tussle for the hearts and minds of Pakistanis in the run-up to the October elections, General Musharraf may be erroneously advised to postpone the elections on some pretext or the other or try and rig them massively to thwart his opponents. In the event, the loss won’t be his only. It will be Pakistan’s too.

(TFT May 10-16, 2002 Vol-XIV No.11 — Editorial)

Fighting terrorism should come

before fighting politicians

Last January, General Pervez Musharraf gave a rousing speech to the nation in which he promised to crack down on terrorism inspired by internal or external forces. He also vowed to stamp out religious extremism in all its manifestations, especially sectarian warfare at home and violent jihad against members of the international community. The speech went down very well at home and abroad. No country can afford to be racked by such divisive and fearful forces. Nor can it expect the international community to condone a lack of will in tackling such critical issues. At last, we thought, General Musharraf is coming to grips with the real problem bequeathed by General Zia ul Haq and twenty years of misplaced regional policy in quest of dubious national security goals. In fact, our hopes soared when General Musharraf ordered a clean-up of the intelligence agencies that have spawned many terrorists wittingly or otherwise and followed it up by arresting potential and actual troublemakers.

Barely three months later, however, we have grave cause to reassess General Musharraf’s will and ability in pursuit of this objective. The “deweaponisation” campaign that was launched with so much trumpeting has turned out to be a dismal flop. Worse, the government has quietly relaxed its grip over the religious extremists even as they appear more determined than ever before to undermine the Musharraf regime. Now we are faced with a wave of terrorism in which the sinister forces of sectarianism, ethnicity, jihad and India (all outgrowths of our national security policies) seem to be involved in a dire project to “get General Musharraf” and plunge the country into anarchy. And what, pray tell, is he doing about all this?

He is donning bewildering headdresses, drumming up dubious referendums, conjuring dozens of constitutional amendments, herding non-entities into grand sounding national alliances, arm-twisting Muslim League “fence-sitters” to join his entourage, and generally having sleepless nights tossing and turning the permutations and combinations of a parliament that is not yet born but may not be sufficiently obedient after it has been midwifed by him. In short, he looks very much like a modern day Don Quixote tilting at the windmills.

The problem basically stems from two misplaced notions. First, he wants to stake an institutional role for the army and for himself personally (via the office of the COAS) in the constitution of the country. That is against the natural political order of things and is bound to create many problems. He is seeking an institutional entry into politics whereas he should be searching a viable exit from it. Second, he means to perform this inherently difficult task by allying with political non-entities and weak economic classes while alienating mainstream political heavyweights and soft peddling on the extremists. This is the worst of all possible worlds. Gen Ayub Khan allied with the business classes and the bureaucracy but put down the democratic impulse in the country and paid the price for it. General Zia ul Haq went one step further: he allied with the religious lobby and the business classes and the bureaucracy and the Muslim League but still couldn’t hold down the main democratic impulse in the country at that time. What General Musharraf should do is, in fact, the opposite of what he is doing. And what is that?

This country needs a period of stable, liberal democratic order in step with the economic requirements of this day and age. In fact, as modern day economists remind us, democracy and development go hand in hand, and the model of patriarchal development so favoured by small state-nations in South East Asia in the 1960s and 1970s is no longer valid. Thus, having being pushed into the well of politics, General Musharraf needs to pull himself out of it rather than trying to nestle comfortably in it. He also needs to recognize that, notwithstanding personal likes and dislikes for some parties or political leaders, he must join hands with the liberal and forward looking forces in the country in order to get out of this quagmire. In other words, he must change his political strategy 180 degrees and reorder his priorities. He is blowing against the wind instead of blowing with the wind.

It is possible that General Musharraf has been lulled into a false sense of security because the international community cannot discern a “better” or more credible alternative to him right now. But this support is ephemeral. It is here today, may be gone tomorrow. That is also why he should worry about what happened in Karachi on Wednesday when foreigners working on a defense related project were blasted to smithereens by a suicide bomber. If he doesn’t act decisively against terrorism in all its forms, he will become a victim of it himself in one way or another. Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. If General Musharraf is not able or willing to crush this monster, it will devour everyone and everything in its path. In the event, all his carefully crafted designs of political and economic restructuring will fall by the wayside. And someone else will have to pick up the pieces and start all over again.

(TFT May 17-23, 2002 Vol-XIV No.12 — Editorial)

Dose of political economy needed

 

Mr Shaukat Aziz, the finance minister, is perennially optimistic about the country’s economic prospects. That is why he is General Pervez Musharraf’s “favourite” minister. Indeed, Mr Aziz has so mastered the art of “positive” thinking demanded by the good general that not a frown marks his burrow even at the most testing of times. This is a technique inherited from his halcyon days as Citibank’s roving “personal fund manager” par excellence, when he rubbed shoulders with the high and mighty, including our very own Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto. Indeed, if Mr Aziz appears to be even more sanguine than usual these days, we must not grudge him his moment in the sun. General Musharraf is stepping into the runaway world of politics. He needs all hands on deck. And none more so than the great helmsman in charge of the bread and butter issues of the day.

The unsuspecting general was well briefed for his mass rallies during the referendum campaign. Forex Reserves are up to US$5 billion, he proclaimed, leaving the audience wondering what on earth he was talking about and how that was in any way related to the quality of their everyday lives in which jobs were harder than ever to find. Debt-rescheduling of up to US$12.5 bn has been accomplished, he thundered, without explaining why higher domestic oil and electricity prices had laid the public low despite falling oil prices in the international market. The trade balance has improved by nearly US$1 billion, he added for good measure, leaving importers and manufacturers gasping about their diminishing prospects in a stuttering economy (If exports had risen by more than imports, showing increased economic activity in the country, the trade balance would have improved and that would have been a good sign; but that hasn’t happened. Instead, imports have fallen and exports haven’t risen. So the trade balance has improved but that is a bad sign of diminished economic activity in the country.) The IMF, World Bank and international donors are lining up to give us more foreign loans, he boasted, making nonsense of his earlier promises to reduce the national debt piled up by the dirty politicians. Privatisation is gearing up, he pointed out, ignoring the number of times the sale of major projects has been postponed due to the dismal economic environment in the country. Remittances have more than doubled, he bragged, as if he and his minister had anything to do with channeling them into the formal banking sector in the wake of an American crackdown on all forms of informal money transfers since September 11.

The fact is that the Musharraf government has mastered the art of making economic virtue out of political necessity. Up until September, it was stubbornly ploughing ahead with “regional and national security policies” designed to keep Pakistan in splendid international isolation regardless of the adverse economic impact of these policies on the lives of ordinary citizens. The dividend from peace and trade with India was spurned in favour of sponsoring jehad in Kashmir. The dividend from oil and gas pipelines from Iran and central Asia was wrecked on the altar of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Among the costs of this unholy nexus of garrison and mullah could be counted the rise of terrorism inspired by religious extremism, which in turn had a disastrous impact on the perception of the country by potential foreign investors. To add to our woes, the hostility of the Musharraf regime to the mainstream political parties suggested a throwback to a much abused and highly unstable political order. As for everyday lives, three years of Musharrafic restructuring did nothing to lift the pall of doom and gloom overhanging the economy. Every real economic indicator with a bearing on everyday lives remained negative and there were no signs of improvement.

Then September 11 happened. The prospect of standing against the mighty US was too much to stomach, even for commando types. But a great justification was fortunately at hand. Our cherished nuclear “assets” were threatening to become “liabilities.” So dear allies like the Taliban were thrown overboard before they could say Jack Daniels, back-thumping friends and coup-making colleagues who disagreed were sacked, and barely disguised noises were made for soliciting economic “rewards” for enforcing the required about-turn. All this while, however, it didn’t occur to the high and mighty that these very economic benefits that they are so eager to notch up as their own achievements today could probably have been had on an institutional platter a decade ago if misplaced notions of national grandeur in the guise of national security hadn’t taken center-stage with the brass.

But by the same criteria, an about-turn on Afghanistan and a freeze on Kashmir can hardly provide the basis for a grand economic recovery. The goodies from the international community are flowing free and easy but the optimism in Islamabad’s finance ministry is still misplaced. It is certainly not reflected in the industrial hubs of Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, etc. Agricultural growth is down to 1%. Industrial growth is down to 2%, despite a resurgence in the textile sector, thanks to a relaxation in international tariffs and quotas after September 11. Private sector borrowing for industrial development is down by nearly 40% compared to last year despite the fact that the average lending rate has fallen from above 16% to below 12%. National consumption of energy – oil, gas, electricity – is also down, showing falling economic activity. This, despite the fact that the fiscal deficit could hit 6% in June this year instead of falling to the 4.5% targeted two years ago!

The root-cause of a lack of investment is political instability at home and regional uncertainty abroad. With anti-West terrorism rampant, which foreigner wants to come to Pakistan, let alone invest in it? With General Musharraf embarked on a political route that lacks credibility and therefore sustainability, which domestic investor has confidence in the longevity of his economic policies? With India breathing down Pakistan’s neck and itching to have a go, which businessman wants to sink money in industry when a devastating war could disrupt all his calculations? With America insistent on tracking down Al Qaeda terrorists in every nook and corner of the country and bent on provoking the religious fanatics to suicidal lengths, who can predict the future of the Musharraf regime with any degree of accuracy?

Tomorrow, better water supply and greater rains may yield higher agricultural growth. And the relief afforded the national budget by debt-rescheduling and renewed international assistance could spur government expenditures and revive demand and economic growth. But the basis for such growth would remain highly vulnerable to the vagaries of the “weather” – both climactic and geopolitical. And that is hardly an enduring peg for sustained economic development and growth.

No, General Musharraf and Pakistan would be much better served by Mr Shaukat Aziz if, instead of always painting pots of gold at the bottom of every rainbow after every downpour, he would apprise his benefactor of the limits of “positive thinking” and steer him away from the dangerous edge of national and international politics. Indeed, if Mr Aziz can make a smooth transition from a special banker to a special finance minister, it is time he made the leap into the realm of political economy. Who knows better than him that he may be required to offer his services as a politician rather than as an economist in time to come. And what better time to start than now when General Musharraf thinks he is going up when in fact he may be veritably slipping.

(TFT May 24-30, 2002 Vol-XIV No.13 — Editorial)

Road map is clear

 

India’s prime minister says the “time for a final war” with Pakistan has come. But India’s defense minister claims India will not attack Pakistan until after the Kashmir elections in September. This can be construed as breathing space or deliberate deception. Meanwhile, India is marshalling its forces along our border. Worse, in an unprecedented exhortation full of religious symbolism, India’s leaders are urging their “Hindu” troops to “crush the Islamic menace”. India’s rhetoric is clearly in step with its physical capability on the ground; hence conditions are ripe for war by India. But will India actually launch war?

Pundits argue that war must have a compelling objective. In India’s case, it is to stop Pakistan from fueling the insurgency in Kashmir that is bleeding half a million Indian troops in the valley. But war is also not without heavy costs. In India’s case, these could range from a fatal loss of political face by the BJP government in the event of a military stalemate or setback in a limited war — which is most likely since Pakistan is capable of giving as good as it gets in a short, swift conventional war in a small theatre like Kashmir where the force-ratios favour it. Or, in the event of a wider conflict that leads to nuclear holocaust, the losses can be multiplied a hundred times over without any clear winner emerging. Thus India must think a hundred times before embarking on a war with Pakistan.

But pundits will also note that there is a better strategy than war in pursuit of given objectives. And that is to push the adversary into compliance by a credible threat of war without actually going to war. It’s like holding a person at gunpoint and asking him/her to hand over the wallet rather than shooting him/her for it and risking a murder charge. Is India trying to do that with Pakistan?

Certainly, India has managed to create the perception abroad that it means business like never before. That is why the international community is asking Pakistan to dismantle the Kashmiri training camps and stop infiltrating men and materials across the LoC before India’s patience runs out. Our generals have also noted that India’s political intentions and military capabilities have never synchronized so menacingly before. Thus, in Pakistan’s reckoning, the chances of India launching a limited or unlimited war are about fifty-fifty. What should Islamabad do?

One option is to prepare for war, tell India to go fly a kite and face the political and military consequences that flow from war. That would be stupid. No government or nation can afford to miscalculate the consequences of war, let alone ignore them. In our case, these could range from the worst-case nuclear holocaust scenario to the best-case military stalemate scenario. But the latter case would probably exact the same political cost from General Musharraf as the military stalemate (even victory) in Kargil did of Nawaz Sharif in 1999. Why is that?

There is one basic reason for this. The international community, especially the United States, is now sympathetic to India’s view that our Kashmiri “freedom-fighters” are their common “jihadi terrorists” in the same manner as the Al-Qaeda terrorists who are motivated by religious rage. Indeed, where our hawks are inclined to separate our “freedom fighters” from our sectarian extremists and Al-Qaeda terrorists, the world is convinced that they are of the same ilk with a shared hatred for the United States, Israel, India and the West. Thus India’s demand that General Musharraf crack down on “cross-border terrorists” finds a strong echo in Washington and elsewhere where this is seen as part and parcel of the crackdown promised by General Musharraf on all forms of terrorism last January. Therefore in the event of a conflict with India, however limited, there will be at least one casualty at the very top in Islamabad.

Another option is to call India’s bluff and do nothing. This is problematic too because India’s BJP is continuing to beef up its arsenal and shrilling its rhetoric, thereby painting itself into a corner from where it can only extract itself by lashing out at Pakistan.

At the heart of the matter is the Kashmir conflict. What lessons, should we have learnt from our experience so far?

First, that infiltrating men and materials into the valley will not yield the forbidden fruit. It didn’t in 1947-48; it didn’t in 1965; and it hasn’t since 1990. And second, that “Islamising” a liberation struggle as in Kashmir since 1990 or supporting an “Islamic” cause as in the Taliban’s Afghanistan from 1994-2001 does great harm to us since it alienates and angers the world against Pakistan and also sows the seeds of instability, violence and division within our own homeland.

Under the circumstances, General Pervez Musharraf’s road map is laid out for him just as clearly as it was last September vis-à-vis the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. He should implement his January promise to root out all imported, homegrown or exported forms of extremism, violence and terrorism. If he does that, he will be seen as having served the cause of Pakistan rather than succumbing to the demands of India or the United States.

(TFT May 31-06 June, 2002 Vol-XIV No.14 — Editorial)

What next?

 

When General Pervez Musharraf did a swift about-turn on a twenty-year old Afghan policy last September, he justified it on the basis of a “pragmatic” assessment of “changed ground realities” (an American ultimatum). However, despite well-meaning domestic views to the contrary, he refused to acknowledge the uncomfortable organic links between the jihad in Kashmir against India and the jihad of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban against the US and the West. Indeed, he was adamant that the Pakistan army’s Kashmir policy vis a vis India would not be adversely affected, perhaps even going so far as to imagine that he might be able to raise the ante with India because the US would be constrained not to jeopardize its alliance with Pakistan in pursuit of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Now we know that that assumption and the policy that flowed from it – it is alleged that training camps were activated and plans were underway to infiltrate thousands of jihadis into Kashmir — was wrong. Washington and the rest of the world have been compelled to declare that Pakistan’s “freedom fighters” in Kashmir are “terrorists” at large and they must be stopped from provoking a nuclear war in South Asia. Thus Pakistan has been compelled once again to respond in a “pragmatic” way to the “new ground realities” (another American ultimatum) by putting a unilateral lid on cross-border infiltration into Kashmir (“terrorism”) without any apparent quid pro quo from India.

This is another example of bad policy planning by Pakistan’s national security establishment. It may be recalled that the Agra summit a year ago foundered precisely on the point of “cross-border terrorism”. Mr Vajpayee had invited General Musharraf to smoke the peace pipe and discuss Kashmir and all other outstanding issues. This was a minor coup for General Musharraf already because mention of Kashmir was conspicuously missing during the Lahore summit in 1999. At the last minute in Agra, however, Mr Vajpayee fished out the issue of “cross-border terrorism” and stunned General Musharraf by insisting it was as much a “core” issue for India as Kashmir was for Pakistan. But General Musharraf would have none of it and returned home in a huff. The dialogue was ruptured and later overtaken by 9/11. A year later, however, India has caught Pakistan on the wrong foot and extracted a commitment to end “cross-border terrorism” without giving anything in return, not even the public assurance of a dialogue on Kashmir that was conceded at Agra. The “calibrated” strategy of pressurizing India via the jihad that Pakistani hawks and establishment types so love to articulate has once again rebounded on them, much to Islamabad’s embarrassment and discomfort. Where do we go from here?

General Musharraf’s May 27 speech and the world reaction to it may be a pointer in one direction. Apart from some unnecessary digressions about the referendum, it was bang on target. Compelled to retreat on the foreign policy question of cross-border terrorism, General Musharraf sought to deflect potential criticism on the domestic front by denouncing India and announcing a date for free and fair general elections. His passionate defense of the liberation struggle in Kashmir was aimed not so much at warning India as it was at ensuring that the Kashmiris would not be demoralized by Pakistan’s impending policy shift. And his demand for an implicit quid pro quo from India was aimed at the international community that has underpinned his policy retreat: de-escalation of Indian troops along the Pakistan border, reduction in India-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir; and initiation of a dialogue with a view to finding a just solution to the issue of Kashmir. In other words, a plea to return to Agra and pick up the pieces again.

India’s careful response (“disappointing”, “we shall wait and see”) shows that all this is within the realm of the possible and desirable. As if on cue, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin has invited General Musharraf and Mr Vajpayee to a conference in Almaty June 3-5. This makes sense. India is publicly more comfortable exploiting Russian “facilitation” than American “mediation”. What follows next?

Irrespective of what transpires at Almaty, India will take its time to de-escalate. It has painted itself into a corner and will wait to confirm that General Musharraf has been as good as his word on cross-border terrorism so that it can justify its pull back before the Indian public. An opening dialogue may follow in time to come. Eventually, the two sides will have to sit and grapple with the short-term Indian objective of holding elections in Kashmir with which New Delhi is comfortable and the long-term Pakistani objective of ensuring transparently free and fair elections so that the real voice of the people of Kashmir can be heard loud and clear.

Between now and September, however, there will be many hurdles of pride and prejudice, suspicion and betrayal, misunderstanding and deceit. But both sides need to trade incremental political gains and reduce military or terrorist options. If rogue elements in Pakistan and Kashmir succeed in throwing a spanner in the works, or if India misreads Pakistan’s gesture as a sign of weakness and persists in its aggressive intentions, then the war clouds are likely to reappear on the horizon again.

(TFT June 07-13, 2002 Vol-XIV No.15 — Editorial)

Keep your fingers crossed

 

General Pervez Musharraf hopes his Almaty trip will yield dividends even though there was “no eye-contact”, let alone a handshake, with Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee. Pakistan, he said, was ready for “unconditional” talks with India. This offer follows an earlier commitment not to allow infiltration across the LoC. Together, the two commitments constitute an unprecedented peace package offering. How’s that?

Until now, Pakistan has always set the pre-condition that the Kashmir dispute should figure prominently in any dialogue. Also, Pakistan has never accepted the charge of cross-border infiltration, let alone commit itself to ending it swiftly. Indeed, the Agra dialogue was jettisoned by General Musharraf when the Indians countered with the demand to stop “cross-border terrorism”. Now Pakistan has conceded both Indian points unilaterally but India refuses to de-escalate and begin talks.

India says it will wait and see if General Musharraf makes good his promise. Meanwhile, it wants joint Indo-Pak border patrols across the Line of Control for verification purposes. This is a curious demand. Surely, if India can claim to know when cross border infiltration takes place, it should also know when it isn’t taking place. In fact, given that both armies are bristling with indignation and itching to have a go at each other, this is the sort of measure that may well provoke conflict rather than build confidence. So there is more to it than meets the eye.

This proposal was mooted after the Almaty conference declared a distinction between legitimate liberation struggles for self-determination against foreign occupation and illegitimate separatist struggles within internationally recognized territorial state boundaries. The Kashmir struggle falls into the first category for Pakistan and into the second for India. But if Pakistan were to accept joint border patrols along the LoC, India could argue that the LoC has been de facto treated like an international border, implying thereby that Kashmir is a part of India and the struggle in Kashmir is illegitimate.

This is not the first time India has floated such proposals. One such was the idea that India would offer visas to visitors from Azad Kashmir at border crossings along the LoC. If Islamabad had accepted this, its state practice would have legitimized Indian-held Kashmir as an undisputed part of India. Meanwhile, India continues to spurn international monitors along the LoC because it doesn’t want to internationalise the Kashmir dispute.

This Indian position has now become more untenable than ever before. The world is having nightmares about nuclear war in the region and international emissaries are rushing to South Asia to advise restraint. Yet India deludes itself into believing that the issue is still bilateral. Nuclear weapons and nuclear wars are international, global concerns. At the very least, a nuclear war between India and Pakistan would have a radioactive fallout on neighbouring countries. The irony is that it is India’s chilling threat of war that has internationalized the issue. Under the circumstances, India’s joint-border patrol proposal is aimed at shifting the goal post of dialogue rather than concretizing it.

Indeed, there are fears on at least two counts here. One, of course, is that India may shift the goal post and make a return to dialogue more difficult rather than easier. This could be done by offering unworkable or unacceptable formulas as pre-conditions for dialogue, e.g., a cease-fire by the Kashmiri insurgents, a repudiation of Pakistani involvement in a dialogue between New Delhi and the All Parties Hurriyet Conference, etc. In the event, Pakistan would be compelled to make its own demands and the whole effort at dialogue would be buried beneath a heap of pre-conditions and counter-preconditions. The second fear is that rogue elements in Pakistan and/or Indian-held Kashmir not in the control of General Musharraf’s intelligence agencies could strike out on their own and succeed in driving a blistering wedge between India and Pakistan. This has happened in the past – indeed is the very reason for the Indian troop buildup – whenever a foreign peacemaker of repute has descended on New Delhi to try and make it listen to reason. But India has always clutched at the “Pakistan-hand” theory even when the terrorist act has been patently against the interests of Pakistan. With senior American officials expected this week, it is anybody’s guess what lies in store for Indo-Pak relations in the short term.

Meanwhile, the post 9/11 world has concluded that Pakistan’s Kashmir policy of the last decade has “failed” because its reliance on militant Islamic jihad has shorn it of international support. In fact, the international community wants General Musharraf to take an immediate and unilateral about-turn on Kashmir policy as he did in the case of Afghanistan. Herein lies an acute dilemma not just for General Musharraf personally but also for the Pakistan army and the Pakistani nation. Can the quest for “Kashmir banega Pakistan” be given up in any way? If not, what are the internal and external consequences for Pakistan? If yes, how is the process to be the successfully choreographed? If ever there was a turning point in Pakistan’s history, it has now arrived.

(TFT June 07-13, 2002 Vol-XIV No.15 — Article)

It’s high time for a goodwill gesture from India

Indian and Pakistan I

In a speech addressed as much to the international community and India as to a domestic audience in Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf reiterated this week the he would not allow militancy and violence to be exported. Nor, he said, would cross-border infiltration into India be permitted.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia has responded by inviting Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee of India to peace talks in Kazakhstan, starting June 3. Does this mean that the war clouds are about to disappear swiftly from South Asia?

Hardly. India finds Musharraf’s speech disappointing and dangerous – disappointing, because there is no clampdown on jihadi militants stoking the fire of insurgency in Kashmir, and dangerous, because Musharraf talked about nuclear weapons.

Musharraf began a crackdown on extremists in January with a bang but it ended with a whimper. By April, western intelligence sources were accusing Islamabad of reviving the training camps in Pakistan-held Kashmir for over 3000 potential infiltrators into adjoining Indian-held Kashmir. In early May, Pakistan-trained insurgents killed over two dozen civilians in an attack on an army post in Indian-controlled Kashmir. In response, Vajpayee threatened all out war. He has threatened military reprisals against Pakistan before. What is different now?

Previously, Musharraf could count on the United States to turn a blind eye to the training camps and the infiltration because of Pakistan’s support for the war against Al Qaeda. But not anymore. The risk of nuclear war has compelled the United States to step into the fray and warn Pakistan.

Washington has woken up to the dangerous interconnections between Al Qaeda and the Pakistani jihadis. It is not prepared to condone the latter as “freedom fighters”. Musharraf can’t say no to America because Pakistan’s economic lifeline comes from the United States. But even if he is willing, can he actually put a stop to cross-border infiltration?

Only up to a point. There are dozens of Islamic jihad factions and parties comprising thousands of loyal followers. Mainstream religious parties in Pakistan support them. For ten years the jihadis were nurtured by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies in Afghan camps as cannon fodder in the war for the liberation of Indian-held Kashmir.

The camps were shifted to Pakistan after the terrorist attacks on the United States in September in the mistaken belief that Washington would ignore their presence. But when Musharraf became overly pro-U.S. and anti-Taliban, most jihadis began to hate him as much as they do the West, India and America. Some cut their links with their official intelligence agency “handlers”.

This has led to rumblings in the intelligence agencies, compelling Musharraf to shift key officers and weed out others. Reports now suggest that Al Qaeda and Taliban remnants hiding in Pakistan are trying to forge a common bond with Pakistan’s Islamic jihadis. The aim: to try and provoke a war between Pakistan and India to rupture the cooperation between Islamabad and Washigton and exploit the anarchy that follows.

India’s refusal to address the Kashmir conflict squarely angers Pakistanis. Thus, without a gesture of goodwill or reciprocity from India, it is a moot point whether Musharraf can ever commit to put an irrevocable lid on the thousands of Islamic jihadis who are Pakistan’s secret suicide-weapon against India.

The next few weeks are critical. As a result of international prompting, there could be negotiations between India and Pakistan in which incremental political gains are traded while military or terrorist options are progressively reduced.

But if rogue elements in Pakistan and Kashmir succeed in disrupting the process, or if India misreads Pakistan’s gesture as a sign of weakness and persists in its aggressive intention’s then there will be war.

(TFT June 14-20, 2002 Vol-XIV No.16 — Editorial)

Greater challenge at home

On June 11, Muhammad Yusuf, convicted two years ago of blasphemy by a sessions court, was shot five times in the chest with a .30 handgun at Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore. The next day, the press reported that the gun was allegedly brought into the prison by one of the jail staff and given to a prisoner on death row. The said prisoner didn’t have the stomach for it, so he passed the gun on to a fellow-convict, Tariq Mota of Gowalmandi, Lahore, a member of the banned extremist outfit, Anjuman-e-Sipah-e-Sahaba. Tariq, after killing Yusuf, shouted “Allah-o-Akbar” and declared that he had done the deed to win eternal salvation.

Reports in the press say that the sessions judge who gave Yusuf the death sentence in the first place was a close relative of General Zia-ul-Haq and had made it clear during the trial that he was moved more by religious passion than solid evidence. Yusuf had appealed the sentence in the High Court and his case was pending. Since there were some serious flaws in the earlier judgment, legal experts had opined that his sentence would be set aside. Unfortunately, some newspapers began calling him kazzab (pretender) even before he was convicted and have continued to label him thus after his murder. All this before his guilt could be conclusively proved at the High Court.

A few days before Yusuf’s murder, on June 7, a group of lawyers and mullahs nearly came to blows in the Supreme Court. The Court was hearing a petition filed by the United Bank Limited against a 1999 verdict banning bank interest. Eminent lawyers Raja Akram and Raza Kazim appeared for UBL while Ismail Qureshi of the Jamaat-e-Islami represented the party defending the 1999 verdict. In arguing their case, the former quoted verses from the Quran. To this, the clerical crowd raised objections saying Raja Akram was not employing the “right accent” when quoting from the Quran. They also took exception to the presence in court of Dr Rashid Jallundhuri, a scholar of Islam. Qazi Hussain Ahmad of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Engineer Salimullah of the JUP (N), ex-convict Maj-General (retd) Zaheerul Islam Abbasi, and Maulana Allah Wasaya were also present. The defendants’ lawyer Ismail Qureshi also protested the removal of Justice Taqi Usmani from the Bench. Justice Usmani had been part of the court consensus against riba in 1999. Matters came to a head and the assistants of both sets of lawyers came to blows. The honourable court warned the mischief-makers but took no action, clearly embarrassed by the presence of a powerful religious pressure group in the court.

It has also come to light recently that of the 12 high-profile cases of sectarian violence, none was brought before the anti-terrorist courts after the expiry of the one-month deadline set for the production of the accused belonging to the banned Anjuman-e-Sipah-e-Sahaba and Sipahe-e-Muhammad. Earlier, Pakistan’s most notorious sectarian killer Riaz Basra was killed in a “police encounter”, which many analysts thought was stage-managed to avoid bringing the case to court. The reason for this was not only that the police usually fail to investigate the case effectively but that the judges at the lower courts are subject to threats from religious organisations. Scores of highly qualified and public-spirited doctors have been killed in Karachi by the religious terrorists. Despite pledges of tough action, the killings have continued and some medical practitioners have quietly left Pakistan because they know the state’s writ does not extend to those who strike terror in the heart of the nation. Even police officers have been quoted in the press as saying that they cannot stand up to the terrorists because the state is unable to protect them. Interior Minister General (retd) Moinuddin Haider was the only member of General Musharraf’s government who chose to call a spade a spade and spoke out against the religious mafias that run riot in Pakistan. He was warned of dire consequences by many recognized clerical bodies. His brother was then cruelly done to death in Karachi. General Musharraf himself was threatened with physical removal by Maulana Akram Awan of the Tanzim-al-Ikhwan in 2001.

Such is the power of the terrorist in Pakistan. The elements that the state has unleashed on the nation over the past two decades now threaten its very existence. The economy is starved of investments, which have dried up in the face of runaway terrorism in Karachi, Pakistan’s industrial and commercial hub. Wary investors euphemistically call this terrorism “Pakistan’s unsatisfactory law and order situation”. The fallout of the 1999 anti-riba verdict of the Supreme Court Appellate Bench compounds the threats that booby-trap the national economy.

The groundswell of support for General Pervez Musharraf when he first came to power in 1999 had sprung from the citizen’s desire to see the military putting an end to Pakistan’s internal anarchy. Unfortunately, state and society have both become more undermined since 1999 and the country is clearly unable to withstand external challenges while the government is unable to protect it from internal dangers. As the Musharraf government faces off with India, it would do well to remember that the greater challenge is at home.

(TFT June 21-27, 2002 Vol-XIV No.17 — Editorial)

Conservatism or dynamism?

It is not unusual for the finance ministry to blow its own trumpet about “investor-friendly” budgets and so on. But it is unusual for the business community not to crib about some feature or the other of every budget, which is the case this year. In fact, Mr Shaukat Aziz’s latest budget has been described as “listless” rather than “crippling”, which is not such bad news after all, given a cheerless situation all round.

The good news refers to a clutch of “incentives” for capital markets and investments ranging from a continuing rationalization of withholding tax and excise duty structures and a reduction of the customs tariff to a small but significant lowering of the corporate tax rate and an extension of the self-forecast for the new trade liberalization regime vis-à-vis Afghanistan, the economic reconstruction of which remains subject to the uncertainties of political consolidation in an environment of war, warlordism, foreign occupation and ethnic strife.

The bad news is the adverse impact of GST on edible oil and on utility services. But if the net result of these is a rationalization of the consumption patterns of the rich more than of the poor, some good may come of it in terms of tax collection. The truly controversial aspects of the budget relate to its various assumptions and projections. For instance, tax revenues are projected at Rs 460 bn, up by about 15% on the actual amount of less than Rs 400 bn collected last year. This is ridiculous. Despite or because of NAB, tax revenues haven’t grown beyond 8% any year for many years. Has this experience been blithely shrugged away or is there some devious jugglery afoot? The record suggests that every year the government sets on overly unrealistic GDP growth target and then budgets for tax increases that are based on an “autonomous” growth of revenues on the basis of that projected economic growth rate. But when the economic growth rate refuses to come anywhere near the projected target because investment remains stagnant, tax revenue targets are periodically revised downwards followed by consequent reductions in the allocations for the public sector annual development plan. But this year, much more than the usual assumptions will be challenged.

For one, the assumption that GDP will grow from 3.5% last year to 5% this year is totally unwarranted. There is no evidence that investors are tripping over themselves to build new factories or increase production runs. Nor is there any likelihood that exports will become the engine of domestic growth – a quick economic recovery of the advanced countries is not assured by any stretch of the imagination. That would suggest that, despite lower import duties, aggregate demand in the economy is not likely to rise by much. This means that revenues from relatively inelastic imports may decline instead of increasing as projected, thereby putting additional strain on the aggregate tax revenue targets and, by implication, on government spending on the social sector.

Another moot issue relates to allocations for defence. The point is not that higher defence expenditures are unjustified, because in the current circumstances they may even be necessary. The point is that every year an attempt is made to hide the true extent of such expenditures in the budget because supplementary budgets are available, no questions asked, to do the needful when required. Thus we are told that defence expenditures have actually fallen in this year’s budget (Rs 146.02 bn) compared to the revised figures for last year (Rs 151.6bn). But last year’s budgeted defence allocation was Rs 131.6 bn while supplementary grants amounted to about Rs 20 bn, or an increase of about 15% over and above the budgeted amount. So we may expect more or less the same to happen this year – which means that by June 2003 the defence budget should have ballooned to about Rs 165 bn or so, which means further reductions in social sector expenditures. And so on.

Meanwhile, there is no sign of the Rs 100 bn dividend from the external debt-rescheduling granted by foreign donors. One might have hoped that not all of it would be consumed by a rise in defence spending and a reduction of the fiscal deficit. In fact, a substantial increase in public sector spending, coupled with significant corporate investment incentives, a policy of much lower interest rates, and greater spending powers to the middle classes, might have been a good tonic to spur aggregate demand and revive the economy.

But that isn’t likely to happen until Mr Shaukat Aziz takes off the robes of a conservative banker and dons the garb of a dynamic finance minister.

(TFT June 28-04 July, 2002 Vol-XIV No.18 — Editorial)

Function and exploitation

The old tiger of Balochistan, Nawab Akbar Bugti, is no pushover. Dogged, arrogant, foolhardy, he has chewed more politicians than anyone else. The exception was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who succeeded in stoking the Nawab’s fiery ambitions and manipulated him to split and undermine the Baloch tribal-nationalist movement in the 1970s. In recent years, shunned by his Baloch comrades and estranged from Islamabad, Nawab Bugti has retreated into a sullen and isolated splendour, growling his presence from time to time and keeping a tight rein over the Bugti tribe.

  Now he is in the news again. Reports say Bugti tribesmen have amassed around Sui in Dera Bugti and are taking pot shots at the oil and gas pipelines of the OGDC, allegedly at the behest of Nawab Bugti. But Mr Bugti claims they are retaliating against broken pledges by the federal government regarding welfare issues of employment, workers’ salaries and benefits, pensions, etc. The OGDC submits that crores have been paid against such claims but the Bugti tribesmen, acting through their trade union Nawab, are accusing the federal government and the OGDC of reneging on various contracts and agreements signed with them in the past.

  Islamabad is apparently at its wits end about what to do. The oil and gas sector is the only sector to receive a dose of foreign investment this year and the last thing this financially strapped government wants is an unruly insurgency in the oil and gas lands on its hands. So the OGDC has dangled some carrots for the Nawab while the federal government has unleashed a stick with which to browbeat the rebels. Contingents of the Frontier Corps, along with elements of the Bhambore Rifles, Loralai Scouts, Chagai Scouts, Sibi Scouts etc have “gheraoed” Nawab Bugti’s lair and are itching to rout the frisky Bugtis.

  There are two ways in which people can react to this situation. They can say they are sick and tired of “tribal Sardars holding the state to ransom” and standing in the way of the state’s centralizing and leveling mission in pursuit of a “unified and enlightened” nation. Such people see backward remnants and aggressive defenders of tribalism as an obstacle to progress measured in terms of transiting from pre-capitalist social structures based on special bilateral agreements and arrangements to market economies based on universal, contractual laws. In this perspective, Nawab Bugti and his tribes are anachronistic blackmailers who should be dealt with ruthlessly by the state so that the multinational oil and gas companies can get on with their job.

  Then there are those who, like their opportunistic political predecessors, would rather buy off the Nawab and his Bugtis for a token in ransom rather than incur their wrath and be compelled to take military action against them. No one really wants to draw attention to yet another fault line in the country’s body politic.

  Neither side is completely right or wrong. But both seem unaware of the peculiar strains of Baloch nationalism that still impinge on such issues and create the conditions for national distrust and disunity. Consider.

  The Baloch believe that Balochistan “state” acceded to Pakistan in 1947 as a sovereign entity with defined rights. Among these, they claim, was the right to hugely benefit from its natural resources, including oil and gas. But since these have been effectively usurped by Islamabad which has denied any form of royalties to the province on the exploitation of these resources, political and economic struggles to reclaim such rights and privileges are not only justified but necessary. Of course, Islamabad has not helped matters by adopting “double standards” and conceding a percentage of royalties to the NWFP on the federal exploitation of its water resources. Thus when Nawab Bugti exhorts Islamabad to cough up in Sui, he evokes a degree of sympathy from his fellow Baloch and provokes a wave of outrage against Islamabad from his fellow Bugtis.

  Islamabad tends to be on a short fuse when it is ruled by the military. This is especially true of insipient provincial or tribal rebels with or without a cause because the military’s “civilizing and nation-building” view of itself is so powerfully and self-righteously imbedded in its approach to political issues. But this is a classic case of false consciousness. True, states have had to be cobbled together. But it is truer still that nations have evolved voluntarily over time.

  Thus the use of the stick against the Baloch in general and the Bugtis in particular should be avoided, irrespective of Nawab Bugti’s histrionics. Similarly, instead of opportunistic agreements to appease the Bugti tribes or silence Nawab Bugti, Islamabad might be advised to better define and build provincial rights and benefits into the federal constitution so that the provincial government rather than the federal government is responsible for “trickling-down” the benefits of exploiting the natural resources of any state or province. Indeed, if Akbar Bugti is to be the last Nawab of the Bugti tribe who combines in himself the dual power of function and exploitation, the state of Pakistan should strive to become the first Sardar of the Bugti tribe which retains the power of function and gives up the power of exploitation.

(TFT July 05-11, 2002 Vol-XIV No.19 — Editorial)

Another blunder?

Except for a clutch of self-righteous generals, everyone advised General Pervez Musharraf against the referendum. But he spurned the advice and demeaned himself in the process. Now the same people are egging him on to hog power and change the fundamentally prime ministerial constitution into a presidential one. But history suggests this route is neither desirable nor feasible. It will lead General Musharraf into the same political quicksand that devoured Generals Ayub Khan and Zia ul Haq.

General Musharraf claims he isn’t seeking to usurp power. That’s not true. Even by his own admission, a “continuation” of various policies is paramount; therefore it is logical that he should want powers to make them stick. The problem is that constitutionally it is not his or the army’s prerogative to devise policies for the country. Thus wholesale constitutional changes will be needed to rid it of its republicanism.

The restoration of Article 58 2b, with added provisions enabling the president to sack the prime minister and/or parliament, aims to give flexibility to General Musharraf against obstinate or conscientious objectors; the NSC is devised to thump prime ministers and chief ministers in private rather than in public; the presidential right to a five year term against four years for parliament is demanded so that the president can start determining the contours of every new parliament and government well before every general election, including his own next term; the law banning “convicts” from contesting the polls is aimed at keeping Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and Altaf Hussain out of the loop, regardless of the fact that each has been convicted under duress or in absentia or by a “special” court of one sort or another; the law that makes party elections mandatory for contesting general elections within only 60 days (why wasn’t this law promulgated earlier?) is meant to provoke a boycott so that non-party polls can salvage the mess; and so on. General Naqvi is truly amazing. How does one block future army coups, he asks in all seriousness. By allowing the army to call the political shots in the first place, he responds innocently. Take away the question mark and you don’t need an answer.

Unfortunately for the generals, this won’t work. It won’t work because it militates against the very “ground realities” that General Musharraf is so fond of pointing out. These ground realities are: the local body system has failed to deliver the goods coveted by General Musharraf; the referendum has undermined General Musharraf’s standing at home and abroad; the constitutional package reeks of cynical opportunism rather than sincerity and Pakistanis are intelligent enough to note how General Musharraf is increasingly looking and sounding very much like the politicians he is railing against; the religious parties and the mainstream political parties (PPP, PML(N), MQM, JI, JUI etc) are lining up against him; even the earmarked elements of the King’s Party (PML-Q, Millat, TI, PAT, ANP, etc) are expressing doubts about the workability of the proposed presidential arrangements; and the international community is getting tougher by the day demanding a reversal of General Musharraf’s Kashmir and India policies (indeed, questions are being asked whether Musharraf is unable or unwilling to do the needful – it being obvious that in either case thoughts have begun to dwell not just on alternatives to him but also on the sort of political system best suited to make Pakistan “a stable, democratic and moderate country fully committed to the international fight against religious extremism”); and the economy is far from picking up to the point where General Musharraf can exploit some goodwill.

But even if General Musharraf is able to railroad the general elections on his own terms, what then? If the elections are grossly unfair, a new crisis of legitimacy will erupt. Otherwise, the next parliament will comprise all the oppositionist elements which will be loath to provide him with a pliant prime minister and a two-thirds majority to amend the constitution. Later, the whole setup will become untenable when General Musharraf is asked for a quid pro quo by the politicians and the international community that threaten key elements of the army’s domestic or foreign policies. It would also be a mistake for General Musharraf to think he can sack the next parliament if it doesn’t play ball with him. The international environment is likely to get more hostile to useless dictators in the years ahead and instability and uncertainty may return to haunt Pakistan under General Musharraf.

General Zia was supported by all the parties except the PPP. He held non-party elections that returned a pliant parliament. But the system crashed under the weight of its own contradictions. Under the circumstances, how will General Musharraf’s proposed system fare? He has alienated all the significant parties of the country and the next parliament won’t be such a pushover. The best thing for him to do is to seek a compromise with the PPP and PML(N) and ally with them. After all, the cost of their joint decade-long corruption is less than the cost of the army’s defense overruns of last year alone resulting from failed national security policies.

(TFT July 12-18, 2002 Vol-XIV No.20 — Editorial)

Women and honour

In which country are women who have been raped liable to be charged with adultery and stoned to death in punishment?

In which country are women liable to be publicly gang-raped on the orders of “democratic” village community organizations like jirgas and panchayats in revenge for alleged crimes committed by male members of their families and clans?

In which country are young girls criminally assaulted by deranged, perverted or powerful individuals as a matter of routine and condemned to live a “shameful” lie in silence?

In which country are women killed to avenge the perceived “honour” of their male relatives, tribes, clans, village elders, and influential families even though they may not have committed any crime?

In which country are women defaced and deformed by frustrated, “acid-throwing” maniacs?

In which country are women burnt alive in “stove explosions” engineered by enraged in-laws, husbands, brothers and fathers?

In which country do judges clutch at medieval notions of dishonour, inequality, piety and even religiosity to punish and demean women?

In which country are state and society predisposed against women?

If the answers are shameful and embarrassing, we should do something about it. If it is hurtful to see the foreign media washing our filthy linen in public, we should put an end to our dirty practices. If we are appalled by such brutality, we should protest vehemently. If we are aghast at such injustice, we should institutionalize punishments for crimes against women. If our laws are misplaced or discriminatory, we should change them.

Women constitute more than half the population of Pakistan. Yet they are more illiterate, downtrodden, oppressed and exploited than any other section of society. This is a blot on our country’s face; a blot that all the nuclear or nationalist “honour” in the world will not efface. The irony is all the greater when it is lost on our leaders. In an interview some time ago with the National Geographic magazine on the subject of women’s oppression in the context of “honour killings”, General Pervez Musharraf was asked by the foreign interviewer why nothing had been done to alleviate the plight of women in Pakistan. Pat came the answer: “We don’t have the money for alleviating poverty and eradicating illiteracy and backwardness”. “But you have the money for nuclear weapons and missiles”, retorted the devious foreigner. “Yes”, said the simple soldier, “we need nuclear weapons and conventional weapons and missiles in order to live honourably ”. Should General Musharraf ever get round to watching that anguished documentary, he might look out for the gleam in the interviewer’s eye. It indicts the country and convicts its leader.

Much the same sentiment can and should be expressed regarding some so-called “Islamic” laws that are demonstrably unjust and also give a bad name to Pakistan. We refer, in particular, to the blasphemy law that has been the subject of so much mischief in the name of a great and just religion. Alleged blasphemers are punished by enraged mobs. They rot in prisons or are killed awaiting trial. They are assassinated inside and outside the courts. Judges dare not acquit them. And self-avowed reformers like General Musharraf don’t have the courage of their convictions to revamp such laws. Why, then, are we surprised by the condemnation of the world when a miscarriage of justice concerning some masih or the other is splashed on television screens and some of Pakistan’s murderous laws and cultural practices are displayed in all their gory details?

Pakistan is stretched on a historical rack, an arm and a leg in antiquity and barbarism, an arm and a leg in modernity and civilisation. Old notions of sovereignty, statecraft, politics, power, patronage, despotism, honour, religion and culture vie with modern symbols of globalisation, electoral democracy, constitutionalism, accountability, civil society, gender equality, professionalism, competitiveness and universal literacy. Historic Islamic strictures contradict post-colonial Anglo-Saxon structures. Unable to find a mutuality of interests between these two streams of thought and behaviour, society is inclined to descend into a feisty confrontation between the two. As the pace of life quickens under the impact of the new world order, large swathes of state and society are uprooted and dispersed. The job of the modern prince is to channel this energy into a productive, stable and assimilated nationhood. But tragically Pakistan has lacked leaders of substance or vision.

The worst excesses against women and the minorities are the tip of the iceberg. But this is the arena in which we must begin the quest for the soul of our country. Every negative image of their oppression is another nail in our collective coffin. Free them from bondage and suffering and we will have freed half our humanity from chains. There can be no greater celebration of national honour than that.

(TFT July 19-25, 2002 Vol-XIV No.21 — Editorial)

The world according to PM

General Pervez Musharraf doesn’t like to pussyfoot around. He shoots from the hip and dares to win. His latest constitutional gambit aims to restructure Pakistan’s state and society according to a commando’s guide to politics and philosophy. That is why he’s so fond of lecturing everyone on the virtues of “unity of command” and the necessity of “command and structure”. In fact, that is why he’s so obsessed about retaining the “commanding” heights of “authority”.

Such naked political ambition is not expected from a soldier in this day and age, certainly not from one who says he was “pushed” into the whirlpool of politics and didn’t jump in to seize power. But since General Musharraf obviously seems convinced not only of the sincerity and righteousness of his cause but also of its political and philosophical rationale, his worldview is worth examining on its own merits.

Pakistani politicians have proven themselves to be corrupt and bad; hence they cannot be allowed to run the political system on their own and without any checks and balances on them from the military. Right? No, wrong. All over the world, politicians are more or less corrupt, yet they still retain the political right to run the world on their own to the complete exclusion of the military. Next door in India, for example, where the political culture is much like ours, the politicians are generally more corrupt than the ones in Pakistan. Yet their “democracy” is a showcase of the less developed world and their military has no political role in it. Equally, our generals in power or authority have rarely been blameless. Indeed, in 1986 Time magazine noted that a clutch of Pakistani generals involved in the multibillion dollar arms and drugs pipeline for the Afghan mujahidin had overnight entered the ranks of the richest men in the world.

But that’s not all. When politicians hand out plots of land to themselves and their cronies, it’s recognized as “corruption” and they are hauled off to prison for their sins. But when generals and bureaucrats hand out plots to those of their ilk, it’s in recognition of their “services” to the state and they are decorated for their troubles. Indeed, when politicians run up fiscal deficits by squandering money on motorways and prestige projects, they are called “irresponsible” and “incompetent”. But when generals break budgetary barriers for defense expenditure overruns, it is all in the “national interest”. When politicians make retreats and political somersaults, they are called “opportunistic”. But when generals do about-turns, they are applauded for accepting the new “ground realities”. When politicians want to change our so-called Kashmir and Afghan policies, they are condemned as “unpatriotic” and even “treasonable”. But when generals are obliged to do the same, they are complimented for being “pragmatic”. And so on.

Pakistan’s democracy in the last decade was unstable, inefficient and flawed. Both prime ministers were bounced out without completing their terms because they didn’t deserve to stay in power. Hence we must not revert to such a system again. Right? No, wrong. The system was never allowed to work and iron out its wrinkles. The record shows that the khakis have overtly, covertly and consistently undermined and destabilized political governments throughout this period. Benazir Bhutto had to contend with an IJI that was manufactured by a general, a no-confidence motion that was sponsored by a Brigadier, a hostile MQM that was playing to the tune of the army chief, and Younas Habib’s handouts to the army and ISI chiefs to make sure she didn’t get elected again in 1990. Indeed, Ms Bhutto might well have completed her second term if the then president hadn’t been “persuaded” by the generals to do the needful. As for Nawaz Sharif, the less said the better. He was created and nurtured by a string of generals from 1981 to 1993 when he was also nudged out of office by the army chief despite a supreme court verdict allowing him to remain in office. In his second term, his government was so destablised by the Kargil crisis manufactured by the military that he lost his bearings and committed hara-kiri by taking on the generals.

Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif are so corrupt that they have no right to become PMs again. Right? No, wrong. Both politicians are perceived to be corrupt, but they have not been proven to be corrupt. Give them a free and fair trial and if they are convicted all the way to the supreme court, write down their epitaphs and give them a quick burial. At any rate, the sins of the party leaders should not be visited upon the parties or the political system.

General Musharraf is a clean and upright soldier. But so too were Generals Ayub Khan and Zia ul Haq before their heads were turned by political ambition, self-righteousness, infallibility and the wish for self-aggrandisement that follows. General Musharraf says we should trust him, even if we think his judgment flawed. But governance is only marginally about trust, it’s really all about judgment. That is why it’s better to devise a workable mechanism for the transfer of power than to try and hog it and tempt fate all over again.

(TFT July 26-01 Aug, 2002 Vol-XIV No.22 — Editorial)

The last Straw

Britain’s foreign secretary, Mr Jack Straw, has come and gone. But he didn’t divulge what transpired in his meeting with the Pakistani minister of state for foreign affairs, Mr Inamul Haq. However, it was duly noted that a meeting with General Pervez Musharraf didn’t take place, fueling speculation that the Pakistani snub was delivered because he seems to have become too pro-India and anti-Pakistan to be called an honest broker. While in India, Mr Straw had said that Pakistani was expected to do more to plug all the holes facilitating cross-border infiltration. The fact that Mr Straw seems to be taking a tougher line with Pakistan than even Mr Colin Powell, the American secretary of state, is remarkable, considering that the UK has kept out of South Asia’s overheated politics for far too long to be able to make a quick and smooth comeback. So it transpires that you can’t lean on Mr Straw too much if you want the lurching bandwagon of Indo-Pakistan relations to move forward.

The US and the UK clearly see what they want done in South Asia. But the political horizon in this region is murky. It is true that Pakistan has been less popular with the world than India for some time past, and has had to change its spots rather quickly after September 11. Thus the G-8 summit of last month expressed itself in terms that clearly demand more from Pakistan than India. In this context, the biggest negative factor weighing against Pakistan is the rise of the jehadi militias which Pakistan’s national security establishment has acknowledged only grudgingly after September 11. Now the war against some of these militias is on inside Pakistan. Hundreds have been hauled up. In return, one group tried to assassinate General Musharraf last April. And if some of the more militant religious parties and groups could help it he would disappear on the wings of a prayer.

Unfortunately, General Musharraf has mishandled the mainstream political parties. They are now so alienated from him that they have few qualms of hoisting themselves on to this anti-Musharraf bandwagon. The rigged referendum and the aggressively self-serving constitutional amendment package have lost him many former supporters and sympathizers too. Also, the state of the economy isn’t winning him any kudos with ordinary folks at home. The tariff hikes are killing, with oil, gas and power rates halving middle incomes already under siege by diminishing savings rate on fixed income accounts.

If General Musharraf no longer looks like a messiah who rescued Pakistan from Nawaz Sharif, how can he backtrack too much and too overtly on Kashmir without any discernable quid pro quo from India? But on the Indian side, too, the kaleidoscope has been thoroughly shaken by the BJP extremists. A party brought to power by the anti- Muslim passions aroused by the Babri Mosque affair is now wilting under the Gujarat communal pogrom. Its governments are falling in the provinces like ninepins and its coalition allies are attacking it in the Lok Sabha from right and left. This has compelled party fanatics to clutch at a hard line on Pakistan because that is where the rare Lok Sabha consensus is located. Thus the only strategy it can adopt is an opportunistic, anti-Pakistan one, and mix it with sound and fury about the war against terrorism that goes down well with the international community. Now it is seeking to improve its prospects by winning big time in the Kashmir elections next October on which it has international support despite Pakistan’s protestations.

But that’s not all. Having sniffed the global winds, the Hurriyet Conference chairman, Mr Abdul Ghani Bhatt, is becoming ambivalent over boycotting the election. Also, the son of the recently assassinated Kashmiri leader, Abdul Ghani Lone, who now occupies his father’s seat in the Hurriyet executive committee, wants the Hurriyet to talk to New Delhi without Pakistan. This suggests that Mr Straw couldn’t have gotten much out of New Delhi in the shape of a pledge to start talking to Pakistan before the Kashmir elections. Under the circumstances, General Musharraf may soon have to worry about more than just the backlash to his constitutional proposals.

It also appears that the US and the UK don’t clearly see how they are going to advance their anti-terrorist agenda. Both want to attack Iraq to take out Saddam Hussein but no one agrees with them. Father Bush fought the Gulf War against Saddam Hussein with the entire world behind him, but son Bush wants to attack him while the world is disapproving. This means that his special allies in the war against terrorism are soon going to come under pressure from their own publics. That is why it will probably suit India to keep its troops amassed on the border with Pakistan, which in turn will make it easy for India to “stage” the Kashmir elections. But by the same token, it may no longer suit Pakistan to make serious efforts to plug the LoC holes as demanded by Mr Straw.

We are looking at renewed tensions and war clouds in South Asia ahead. The fear is that elections in Pakistan may be washed out if it starts to pour.

 

(TFT Aug 02-08, 2002 Vol-XIV No.23 — Editorial)

An absence of law

It all happened in just one month. In a village named Jatoi near Muzaffargarh in Punjab province, a “panchayat” (elders’ council) of the Mastoi tribe decided that the daughter of a labourer should be raped by four men. The deed was done in front of hundreds of spectators and the girl was sent home naked afterwards. This action was followed by the rape of another girl by two armed Mastoi feudals. The police let the culprits off, after which the girl committed suicide by drinking poison. In all, 22 women were subjected to gang-rape in the Muzaffargarh area of Punjab in one month. It transpires that the “panchayats” of the area are inclined to resort to rape as punishment as a preferred policy option. We also learn that in Attock, a girl had to marry a 70-year-old man to prevent her brother from being killed by family rivals. And in Dunyapur, a girl who dared to contract a “love marriage” was killed on the orders of the “panchayat” and no one dared to take notice of it. Thus we note that cases of rape in Punjab have registered a hundred percent increase. The highest number of rapes in the past was committed in 1995 when 340 women were dishonoured. In the first five months of 2002, already 521 women have been raped. After 3,000 cases of rape were registered with the police, only 80 rapists have been punished in the court of law.

There’s more. In a village of Faisalabad, an “imam” of a mosque called a “panchayat” and persuaded the locals to catch a man and stone him to death. He was accused of insulting the Holy Quran in 1994 but had been bailed out because he was deemed to be mentally disturbed. He had quit the village but infuriated the cleric when he returned. This time the “khateeb” did not have recourse to law and got a “panchayat” to order the people to stone him to death. In the village of Abakhel in Mianwali, a panchayat ordered that to resolve a dispute over murder, eight girls (the youngest being only 8) of a clan should be forcibly married to the men of the opposed clan. The council which took this decision included one MNA, one MPA, the present Nawab of Kalabagh, and a number of religious leaders who approved of the verdict under Islamic principles. The offended party had actually asked the clan to give them 20 virgins. And so the story of local democracy continues.

Under law, crime and punishment is well defined. In one society, in one state, there is only one law, so that justice can be done under one norm. The criminal isolates himself before committing a crime. It is because of law that there is such a thing as social conscience: the feeling of contrition when defiling a collective norm. But this conscience is dulled when a group commits a crime. Indeed, in most societies, defiance of the law is often expressed through gangs or groups. But no state can survive such moral segmentation. Unfortunately, however, that is exactly what has been happening in Pakistan over the past twenty years or so as the law has been weakened in the face of defiant group norms. In Karachi, for instance, ethnic groups have set up their own “morality” and subjected the city to crimes of unspeakable cruelty without any qualms of conscience about what they have done. In fact, all manner of organised criminals have set up their own moral values which a simple exhortation to return to the law will not wipe out. And there is nothing more dangerous than the use of religion in this segmentation. The politics of the sect has dominated Pakistan’s social scene in the past three decades and the Islamic state has surrendered its writ more than readily when confronted by a cleric empowered by a sectarian norm.

All over the country, the process of segmentation into group codes has resulted in a collective recidivism. We all know that the tribal “jirga” had serious social flaws because of its clan domination. Our films and our literature have made it amply clear that the “panchayat” of the village in the plains is controlled by the feudal elite. In Afghanistan, the history of the famous Loya Jirga is that of a sad hoax. In Pakistan these institutions should have declined and gradually disappeared as the Penal Code and our regular courts came into their own. But the opposite has happened. The courts have shrunk in terror in the face of threats from the state-sponsored jehadi warriors. Judges brave enough to decide cases on merit have been killed. The police has learnt to favour the powerful criminal because it knows that the final verdict will inevitably go in his favour. These are symptoms of the demise of the state. There is nothing romantic about the “jirga” or the “panchayat”. They are simply expressions of defiance of the law of the state.

The biggest social evil to emanate from this segmentation of morality is the criminalisation of society. Pakistan desperately needs a law which bans the holding of “jirgas” and “panchayats” outside the ambit of state authority and without the supervision of a legal representative of the state. And it needs the will of the state to implement it.

(TFT Aug 09-15, 2002 Vol-XIV No.24 — Editorial)

Tragi-comedy

General Pervez Musharraf has always said he wants to rule Pakistan for at least five more years without contending with Benazir Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif. With a dubious referendum in his pocket to anoint himself president and a plethora of discriminatory laws in his clutch to empower himself, have Ms Bhutto and Mr Sharif been personally sidelined altogether?

On the play of the dice so far, it would seem so. Mr Sharif has bitten the bullet and handed the crown of the PML(N) to Shahbaz Sharif. Ms Bhutto has been equally pragmatic, sidestepping the hurdles and clearing the way for the PPP via the PPPP. Both believe it is better to live and fight another day than to fight and lose today. But it didn’t have to turn out this way at all.

General Zia ul Haq had a personal and political contradiction with Ms Bhutto and the PPP in the 1980s. So he wooed the PML and nurtured a compliant Nawaz Sharif. His successors in the “1990s establishment” followed the same policies. But the tables were turned in 1999 when General Musharraf acquired a personal and political contradiction with Mr Sharif and the PML when he exiled the leader and hounded the party until it yielded a potentially pro-Musharraf faction. Thus it should have made sense for the army/establishment and Ms Bhutto/PPP to embrace each other at the expense of their joint Sharif/PML nemesis.

But that didn’t happen. General Musharraf’s anti-corruption, self righteous, reformist zeal compelled him to put Ms Bhutto in the same dock as Mr Sharif even as his moderate leanings and pragmatic assessment of the “ground realities” prompted a possible “understanding” with her powerful party. Indeed, an “alliance” with the PPP without Ms Bhutto seemed all the more necessary to the military when the PML(Q) faction, while being stoutly anti-Nawaz, failed to transform itself into a significant pro-Musharraf force. But Ms Bhutto miscalculated the balance of her dormant power over the voter with the budding influence of General Musharraf with the organs of the state and the international community. She mishandled the initial probes, laying down conditions for an alliance with General Musharraf that were unacceptable to the military. Having lumped the offer, she thought sounding-off in relevant international quarters might yield dividends. This strategy might well have worked if September 11 hadn’t happened. But when Mullah Omar and OBL came to General Musharraf’s rescue, he changed his spots and transformed himself from an international pariah into a “trusted friend and ally” of the West who could do no wrong. Now the boot was on the other foot. And it was time to make amends with him.

But Ms Bhutto couldn’t bring herself to be sugar and honey. She continued to stalk the corridors of international power, bemoaning the lack of democracy in the country and thundering against the military for spawning the terrorism of jehad. However, her fatal political error came when she tried to nudge Nawaz Sharif in Saudi Arabia into a united front against the military. Alarmed, the ISI quickly winked at Shahbaz Sharif and thwarted an unholy alliance. In defiance, Ms Bhutto got herself elected as chairperson of the PPP. But the cynics in Islamabad put paid to that by threatening to outlaw her party if it tried to contest the general elections under her leadership. Thus the Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) was midwifed with Ms Bhutto as its “guide” and Makhdoom Amin Fahim as its president. It is a measure of the last resort by a popular though tainted political leader whose claims to legitimacy have been frustrated by an apathetic public and wounded by an illegitimate though uncorrupted military dictator bent upon clinging to power by the coattails of the international community.

But if Ms Bhutto hasn’t succeeded in scaling the heights of Islamabad, the Sharifs are far from sneaking into the hallowed halls of parliament. Mr Shahbaz Sharif, says the government, will not be allowed to return to the country. But there is no doubt that the linear-thinking generals, especially those from the Punjab, have a soft corner for Sharif Jr. because of his carefully orchestrated reputation for good administration. But if he is allowed to return and freely canvass for his party while Ms Bhutto is arrested at the airport, the halo of renewed martyrdom for her should give an enormous boost to the PPPP and undermine the credibility and neutrality of the military regime as well as the legitimacy of the polls to come, an outcome General Musharraf may well wish to avoid.

The truth probably is that General Musharraf would be happiest with Benazir Bhutto and Shahbaz Sharif and Altaf Hussain canvassing for their respective parties from London rather than Lahore or Karachi so that the PPPP and the PML(N) and the MQM are equally disadvantaged, thereby enabling the PML(Q) and other regional parties and religious groups to stake small but significant claims in the upcoming new order and denying any of the two mainstream parties a majority in parliament.

That said, there are miles to go before any of the protagonists will know for sure what fate has in store for him or her. But it promises to be a first rate tragi-comedy.

(TFT Aug 16-22, 2002 Vol-XIV No.25 — Editorial)

The “real” terrorist network

 

The latest “revelation” from Islamabad is that the terrorists who spilled innocent blood in Murree and Taxila this month belonged to only one organisation, the banned anti-Shia sectarian outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Earlier, the murder of Daniel Pearl was also officially pinned on the LJ. The curious thing is that only a year ago, the LJ was not officially centre-stage. It was said to be a “peripheral” organisation that allegedly focused only on sectarianism while the other well-known militias were busy fighting for Islam well beyond the neighbourhood. But now we have been informed that the LJ has been up to other kinds of terrorism too, that the LJ was closely associated with al-Qaeda and received money from OBL. The name of a new organization, al-Umar, cropped up lately but was suppressed because the policy is to dump everything on the LJ, thereby making it the fall guy for others who are not to be targeted for one reason of state or another.

The terrorist network may be much bigger and wider in Pakistan than is suggested by this focus on the LJ. But one reason why the LJ is being isolated and attacked is to create the perception that the government is winning the war against terrorism and we can relax. The LJ’s founder, Riaz Basra, has been knocked off by the police and his successor, Akram Lahori, is in custody, singing like a canary. But we can’t help wondering whether this singing is on the basis of a musical score that is intended to save the necks of a lot of people, including the “handlers” who had convinced the people of Pakistan that the Jihad was “pure and spiritual”. The LJ was “separated” from its parent organisation but two other jihadi organisations have sprung from the same parent and are now under global ban as terrorists. Are these organisations separate entities or are they the footprints of an extremely protean single entity strongly entrenched inside the organs of the Pakistani state? Here’s a frightening glimpse of the length and breadth of the interconnections.

As reported in Khabrain“FBI and Pakistani intelligence agencies arrested an Egyptian Arab named Hisham al-Wahid from Saudi Arabia and brought him to Pakistan. He guided the agencies to Gaggar Phatak in Karachi from where, behind the police station in a garage, three activists of Jaish-e-Muhammad and two of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi were arrested. These activists belonged to Sargodha and had been trained at the Akora Khattak seminary of Maulana Samiul Haq. These activists then guided the police to a bungalow in Gulshan-e-Hadeed in Steel Town from where the police arrested one Iraqi and two Yemeni Arabs. All of them belonged to Al Qaeda and were working in a poultry farm owned by a man from Nazimabad. The three Arabs spoke fluent Urdu, Balochi and Pashto. From them the police recovered three satellite mobile phones, two laptop computers, four ordinary computers, four mobile phones, four sub-machine guns and six magazines. The police also searched Mujahid Colony Nazimabad and arrested Rafeequl Islam of Sipah Sahaba. It recovered cassettes showing Mullah Umar and Osama bin Laden and books on jihad from Nazimabad. Rafeequl Islam acted as a communications man for the jihadi network in Karachi. The same day the police discovered a large cache of arms and rocket launchers of Russian make from Kachra Mandi behind UBL Sports Complex.”

Obviously, it isn’t just the LJ that is connected with OBL and al-Qaeda. All three persons freed from Indian jails after the Kandahar hijacking of an Indian airliner two years ago went on to acquire their own militias, with Umar Saeed Sheikh leading the Jaish after its leader’s arrest. Two of them are now in Pakistani jails and the third one is getting interviews published in Pakistan from somewhere in Kashmir, but his militia, al-Umar, is emerging as OBL’s fourth proxy. After the Murree carnage, one leader of a banned militia was reportedly arrested because he was found traveling in the area at the time of the terrorist strike. Whoever got the report of his arrest printed in the press also volunteered the additional information that he was being kept under house arrest. The truth of the matter is that his “handlers” had let him live in opulence with the money he got from OBL (Osama’s gift to him of a dozen double-cabin pickup trucks was reported by the press). The Murree killings were so blatant that it was decided to make a show of arresting him. No one cared to look at the contradiction that if the man was under comfortable house arrest in Islamabad, how could he be found driving in the vicinity of Murree?

This subject is not closed. A British organisation says it has proof that over US $1 billion were sent annually from the United Kingdom to the organisations led by these gentlemen. Even if a fraction of this money was sent, we have a serious problem on our hands. With judges inclined to run away from cases involving these jihadis and the state continuing to adopt a hands-off policy for dubious reasons of “national security”, the problem of terrorism in Pakistan is far from being tackled in a meaningful way.

(TFT Aug 23-29, 2002 Vol-XIV No.26 — Editorial)

War and peace

Three good persons from India recently came to Pakistan to help launch Daily Times, a liberal English newspaper from Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi. Narasimhan Ram is the forthright editor of Frontline, a journal of integrity. Shekhar Gupta is the expansive editor-in-chief of The Indian Express that is published in eight editions. And Arundhati Roy is the little big woman whose mesmerising prose and breathtaking vision is a source of inspiration to so many around the world. That they came at a time of heightened Indo-Pak tensions was creditable. That they chose to talk of peace when the ruling Hindu-BJP in India is obsessed with talk of war was courageous. We salute them. We also salute the thousands of Pakistanis who thronged the seminars to welcome the visitors and applaud the demand for peace.

But Indo-Pak peace is as elusive as a chameleon. Whenever it seems within our grasp, it manages to transform itself into war. The fifty-five year post-independence history of both countries is littered with lost opportunities for peace followed by outbreaks of hostility. The record of recent times is especially depressing. In late1989, Benazir Bhutto and Rajiv Gandhi almost clinched an accord on Siachin. But, faced with general elections, Mr Gandhi couldn’t make it stick in India. The next six years were full of acrimony. In 1997, Nawaz Sharif and I K Gujral reached an understanding on how to tackle the full range of issues bedeviling relations, including Kashmir but not limited to it. But Mr Gujral felt compelled to backtrack when confronted with the prospect of a resurgent BJP in the 1998 elections. Then came the nuclear blasts and the “desert shook” in India while the “whole mountain turned white” in Pakistan.

Fortunately, though, the war paint was peeled off by both sides when the Lahore Summit rolled round in 1999. Nawaz Sharif agreed not to be dogmatic about Kashmir and Atal Behari Vajpayee went to the Minar-i-Pakistan to assure Pakistanis that India had no malicious or evil designs on their country. But did we bury the hatchet for all times to come? No. Pakistan’s Kargil adventure scattered the prospects of peace so carefully nurtured at Lahore a few months earlier. Two bad years followed. Then came Agra in 2001. But once again peace proved abortive when General Musharraf’s personal success proved to be Pakistan’s collective loss. The flexibility over Kashmir offered by General Musharraf was spurned by Mr Vajpayee at the altar of “cross-border” infiltration.

Since then, Mr Vajpayee has become a bit of a warmonger while General Musharraf is sounding like a peacenik. India’s army has maintained a continual and unprecedented threat along the border and innocent villagers on both sides are falling in the artillery duels between the two sides. Fresh hope was injected into the equation recently when the US stepped into the fray and tried to pry the two sides apart. This was followed by General Musharraf’s unprecedented offer of unconditional talks with India, coupled with verifiable assurances that Pakistan would do its utmost to plug cross-border infiltration into Kashmir. What more could India want?

The BJP wants to hold elections in Kashmir in September-October of this year. It says these shall be free and fair. And it doesn’t want Pakistan to interfere in the process, let alone instigate the Kashmiris to boycott them. But it refuses to concede that Kashmir is a trilateral issue which will not be “solved” by keeping Pakistan out of the loop while putting most of its eggs in the basket of Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference rather than in the All Parties Hurriyat Conference. This suggests that the BJP is not sincerely interested in finding a solution to Kashmir, not even one within the ambit of India’s constitution, and is merely playing for time in order to relieve the international pressure on it.

Recent developments strengthen this perception. The Ram Jethmalani committee sponsored by New Delhi to talk the APHC into contesting the elections has recommended that the elections be postponed so that more time is available to iron out the differences and problems between the contending sides. But Mr LK Advani, India’s deputy prime minister, has not only rejected the proposal but also accused General Musharraf of pressurising the APHC to boycott the elections. So what else is new? Did he expect that General Musharraf and the APHC would roll over and play dead so that New Delhi can walk all over the Kashmiris as in the past?

Under the circumstances, we might conclude that the war in Kashmir could be part of the “solution” rather than part of the “problem” for the BJP. The more the Hindu right in India slips in popularity, the more it whips up war hysteria against Pakistan and the Muslims of India. And with elections in ten more Indian states forecast for next year, the BJP will not risk lowering the anti-Pakistan hype in the foreseeable future so that it can retain its Hindu vote-bank.

This doesn’t bode well for peace. Mr Richard Armitage, the US deputy secretary of state, is on his way to the region for the umpteenth time to try and knock sense into both countries. We wish him luck.

(TFT Aug 30-05 Sep, 2002 Vol-XIV No.27 — Editorial)

Soldiers in pursuit of solutions

 

General Pervez Musharraf must wonder what the continuing fuss is all about. His original constitutional amendment proposals were endless and outraged everyone. But now that he has chucked away most of his half-baked ideas, why is the public outcry still so shrill? In fact, the international media is sounding downright hostile towards the very “strongman” it so lavishly praised when he put “democracy” on the back-burner in the face of the threat from radical ‘Islamic’ terror. What’s gone wrong for him?

It’s true that the constitutional amendments announced by General Musharraf last week are absolutely ‘minimal’ in terms of his original proposals. Essentially, his supporters argue, he has merely restored Article 58-2B with minor alterations. So what’s the big deal? Didn’t parliaments from 1985 to 1997 voluntarily accept this clause? Didn’t all the political parties in turn beg former presidents to use this clause and dismiss elected parliaments and governments during periods of actual or contrived constitutional deadlock? Didn’t well-meaning journalists write reams in defense of the “checks and balances” enshrined in this amendment? Didn’t the supreme court uphold all but one parliamentary dismissal at the hands of such presidents? Didn’t the removal of this clause by the passage of the 13th constitutional amendment in 1997 pave the way for the unmitigated sackings of the chief justice, the president and the army chief, thereby emboldening the prime minister to try and become an omnipotent and unaccountable Amirul Momineen? And what is all this hue and cry over the establishment of an “advisory” National Security Council? Aren’t there twice as many elected civilians in it than nominated soldiers to ensure sufficient civilian advocacy rights?

These “reasonable” arguments tend to evaporate in the face of weightier “ground realities”. First, General Musharraf’s much trumpeted local government system has crashed before it could even take off. Its “democratic” pretensions have been laid bare in the face of central bureaucratic authority and its failure casts a dark shadow on the rest of the “true democracy” still to come.

Second, his reckless referendum to anoint himself president has dealt a deadly blow to his personal credibility and revealed his true political mindset. He is no different from Generals Zia ul Haq and Ayub Khan in wanting to conjure necessary ‘results’. And it has indicated his innate contempt for representative institutions like parliament and consensus documents like the constitution. In fact, if General Zia’s referendum was a farce, Musharraf’s will be read as a tragedy. What little might have been acceptable from him before the referendum is not acceptable after it.

Third, his attempt to institutionalize the role of the army in politics in an age of democracy seeks to reverse the natural order of things. It will come a cropper, like General Zia’s did, when the international community on which it is propped is finally done with him. That is also why 58-2B might have been acceptable in the hands of an elected civilian president as in the past but will constantly be challenged as long as it remains in the hands of a soldier.

Fourth, his attempt to rig, divide and rule flies in the face of society’s urge for truth and reconciliation. General Zia kept just one party — the PPP — out of the loop and failed to provide stability. How can General Musharraf hope to keep the PPP, the PML(N) and the MMA out of the reckoning and still stake a claim to longevity? He should have co-opted the true representatives of the people — whoever and whatever they were — in a political and statesmanlike manner rather than manufacture consent and exclude them from full political participation. In fact, as things stand, the next general elections will probably go down as the most “pre-rigged” polls in Pakistan’s history and rob General Musharraf of the credibility he craves.

Fifth, and this is the most important reason, General Musharraf’s act of seizing the crown in 1999 is not half as illegitimate and unacceptable as the Bonapartist act of putting it on his head last week without seeking the approval of the next parliament. Neither of his coup-making predecessors was so arrogant or self-righteous. “Go to the supreme court”, he says contemptuously, “it has allowed me to crown myself”, knowing fully well that the supreme court does not have the power to “give” the power of constitutional amendment to anyone. And what if the court were to deny him this power? What if the next parliament were to try and take it away from him? “Why then,” he warns, “I shall have to sack it.”

All these factors manifest an anti-institutional frame of mind that mocks the very concept of checks and balances that he wishes to institutionalize. It highlights the contradictions of the man and his politics so eloquently captured by the remark that “the army must be allowed in so that it is kept out”.

General Pervez Musharraf has come a long way from the apolitical soldier who was pushed into the cesspool in 1999 to the soiled politician who has emerged from it in 2002. Sooner or later, however, the world will recoil from soldiers and armies in pursuit of solutions and focus on soldiers and armies as part of problems. And that is when the cookie will begin to crumble.

(TFT Sep 06-12, 2002 Vol-XIV No.28 — Editorial)

Dangerous political vacuum

General Pervez Musharraf says Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif wanted to make deals with him, which he piously shunned. There was a time when this spiel probably appealed to Pakistanis disenchanted with the country’s two main parties, but after the referendum, the manipulation of local governments, visibly selective accountability, and the selective rejection of nomination papers for the October election, it no longer rivets public attention or gives the general the aura of legitimacy he craves. In fact, after three years of Musharrafics, Pakistan’s tainted politicians have been rebaptised into popularity. After the rejection of Benazir Bhutto’s papers, there have been protests in Karachi and Lahore, and Nawaz Sharif’s transparently disingenuous “gesture” of withdrawing his papers in sympathy with Ms Bhutto, has gone down well with the electorate. This is a measure of how much the general’s credibility has taken a beating.

Had General Musharraf been a romantic one would have accepted his statements. But he is highly pragmatic when it comes to removing threats to his power. Why then his posture of “not doing deals” with “discredited” politicians? The fact is that Musharraf is both things, pious and pragmatic, and this imbues his actions with ambivalence. Had he been as pragmatic at the beginning as he has been in manipulating the forthcoming elections, he could have got the Pakistan Muslim League and the Pakistan Peoples Party on board his proclaimed agenda to liberalise the country and put an end to extremism. But he was a “purist” of the Imran Khan variety at the beginning, refusing to have any truck with the tainted. However, he later rallied many of the same ilk to give shape to his plan of the post-2002 dispensation. But after the King’s Party had come into being, he once again allowed his habitual ambivalence to prevail. Amidst rumours of dubious envoys flying to Jeddah, the King’s Party was on tenterhooks: was he really with the PML (Q) or would he ditch them?

General Musharraf has created a huge political vacuum in Pakistan by decapitating the PML (N) and the PPP. Everyone is now clawing for supremacy in this space and chaos reigns even amongst the ranks of those who initially supported him. The Mutahida Majlis Amal (MMA), composed of many of the military’s favourite zealots, took the anti-American plank for some time, then developed cracks and now looks exhausted. Imran Khan and his Tehrik-e-Insaf thought the general was on the same wave length as themselves but they fell victim to the general’s ambivalence and moved aside accusing his principal secretary of collusion with the PML (Q). Following that, Imran Khan and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain of the PML (Q) publicly exchanged charges of corruption which did not redound to their electoral advantage. The Chaudhry, bemused by the many-sidedness of the general, first lashed out at what he thought was his secret deal with Shahbaz Sharif, then went public with his opposition to Musharraf’s Afghan policy. Imran Khan had already expressed his bitterness about the “betrayal” of the Afghan people by Musharraf. And a “liberalised” Allama Tahirul Qadiri doesn’t know where to go after breaking away from the rest of the parties under Islamabad’s tutelage.

It appears that the PML (N) has made a gradual comeback against its breakaway faction which many in Pakistan now consider contaminated by contact with the military. Similarly, the PPP (Parliamentarians) expect to do well while its two breakaway factions, led by Farooq Leghari and Aftab Sherpao, may win some seats. Thus, after the elections parliament will be populated by a motley crew with no single-party in a clear majority. This is supposed to suit the General-President down to the ground because parliament will look to him and his operatives to put together a strong majority to form a government.

What is likely to happen is that no one will be happy with the state of affairs, just as no one is really satisfied with the house that General Musharraf has built, not even, increasingly, the Americans, who think that he is half-hearted or simply duplicitous. Therefore, the next parliament will be an extremely noisy house in which cantankerous politicians will produce poisonous headlines on a daily basis, new press laws notwithstanding. General Musharraf’s new Afghan and Kashmir policies, which whet the American appetite without satisfying it, might well be the shoal on which the new dispensation could run aground. Politicians being politicians, the disgruntled ones will undermine the General’s paramountcy within the system by crying sellout to the Americans with no one to defend him in the cabinet to come. Not only will Pakistanis see this spectacle, the military and the international community too will clearly discern the confusion and lack of direction in Pakistan.

General Musharraf must guard against the rebuke he might earn in the US next week for manipulating the elections in Pakistan while he complains  about the coming “rigged” election in Indian-Held Kashmir. The international press is in lockstep over the way Pakistan’s two main parties have been disabled just before the October elections. Going it alone after October 2002 on the basis of a few constitutional amendments is going to be perilous both for General Pervez Musharraf and for Pakistan.

(TFT Sep 13-19, 2002 Vol-XIV No.29 — Editorial)

9/11 and after

9/11 is a defining time in American history much like Pearl Harbour. But because America is the sole superpower, its vulnerability and rage at the historical pinnacle of its power has had a blowback effect on the rest of the world. Afghanistan has been pulverized by “daisycutters” and occupied by American forces. But despite the “regime change”, a stable, pro-West, Afghan state is still nowhere in sight. The Al-Qaeda has been uprooted from Afghanistan but the enigma of Osama bin Laden continues to haunt America.

The world was one with America on that fateful day last September. But a year later, anti-Americanism is rife everywhere, from the “deep”, enraged passions in the Muslim world to the “shallow”, cynical mutterings among traditional western allies of the US. And as America prepares to attack Iraq and engineer another “regime change” in pursuit of its security obsession, opinion is seriously divided not just among the American people but also within the American government and its allies about the wisdom of doing so. Meanwhile, a brash new American doctrine of “unilateralism” or “pre-emption” is causing concern everywhere, leading to suspicions that America may seek to exploit 9/11 by embarking upon a longer term strategy to “redefine” the world by carving out new states and political systems in the Middle-East and beyond.

9/11 has also falsely pitted the West against the Muslims of the world by disfiguring the image of Islam, a religion of peace. In places like Kashmir and Palestine, especially Palestine, their “cause” has visibly suffered: Israel has exploited the American war against terrorism to equate the desperate suicide-bombers of Palestine with terrorists; and India has clutched at it to successfully redefine the Kashmiri struggle for liberation as “Pakistan-sponsored terrorism” even as the Hindu BJP went ahead and sanctioned an anti-Muslim pogrom in the state of Gujarat. Pakistan, too, has changed in significant ways as a result of 9/11. At first there was shock at the scale of the terrorist attacks in the US, then sympathy for the American people. But the sentiment seemed to change when Pakistan was forced to wean itself away from the Taliban and cooperate in the American attack on stone-age Afghanistan. Perceptions worsened when India sought to exploit the situation by making aggressive military deployments on the border. The renewed Israeli aggression against the Palestinians, the mounting civilian casualties in Afghanistan, the Gujarat killings, the mistreatment of Muslim prisoners of war by the Americans, all helped create the impression that America was bent upon making war against Islam.

Worse, amid the cacophony orchestrated by the religious parties, terrorism turned around and attacked Pakistan itself. The barbaric murder of the American journalist Daniel Pearl, followed by bloody attacks on Westerners and Christians, indicated not just the depths to which Pakistan had plunged during its years of Talibanisation but also the rage of wounded “Islamic” pride at its powerlessness.

Of course, there is no small irony in the fact that 9/11 probably “saved” Pakistan from failing as a working state. General Pervez Musharraf’s support to America’s war against terrorism has generated an American-sponsored economic reprieve for Islamabad – apart from billions of dollars worth of debt rescheduling, significant write-offs and fresh injections of financial assistance from donor agencies, the American crackdown on illegal or unofficial sources of capital transfers and remittances by Muslim and Pakistani expatriates has led to burgeoning surpluses in the forex reserves of the State Bank of Pakistan. In fact, 9/11 enabled General Pervez Musharraf to solicit support for the promise of a “moderate” Pakistan in which General Zia ul Haq’s legacy of violent sectarianism and religious terrorism would come to an end. It may be recalled that before 9/11, Pakistan was the official refuge and recruiting ground for the bin Ladens of Saudi Arabia, the Omar Sheikhs of Britain, the Abu Zubaidas of Egypt, the Namanganis of Tajikistan, the Hanbalis of Indonesia and the even the Dawoods of Bombay. After 9/11, however, not only have these troublemakers evaporated, the religious parties have been sufficiently discredited to embolden the Musharraf government to roll back some of the more repressive so-called “Islamic” practices against historically oppressed and exploited sections of society like women and non-Muslims. In fact, after the suppression of the extremist clergy and their militias, the judiciary has felt safe enough to issue “Islamic” verdicts based on humanism.

However, the unintended consequences of 9//11 continue to shape Pakistan and the world. At home, a pariah general has become a trusted friend and ally of America, enabling the military in general and him in particular to bid for political institutionalization and longevity at the expense of civilian supremacy and democracy. Abroad, the pre-emptive passions unleashed by 9/11 in America, in Israel, in India, have made the world more unstable by sanctioning double standards in pursuit of unilateralist national security obsessions. In particular, the imminent American attempt for a “regime change” in Iraq could be fraught with far-reaching geo-strategic changes in the Middle-East and beyond which might presage a new era of war, boundary change and ethnic, religious or cultural cleansing. Only time will tell whether the world is a safer and surer place after 9/11.

(TFT Sep 20-26, 2002 Vol-XIV No.30 — Editorial)

Friend today, foe tomorrow

The United States was Saddam Hussein’s biggest supporter during his long war against Islamic Iran in the 1980s. In fact, Western companies supplied key components of Iraq’s military arsenal and Western governments turned a blind eye to the deployment and use of chemical weapons by Iraq against Iran. But today, Saddam Hussein is the personification of “evil”, his “weapons of mass destruction” (for which there is no credible evidence) have to be “unilaterally” destroyed, and his “regime” must be “pre-emptively” changed by force. Where else have we witnessed such a cynical about-turn in international relations?

In Pakistan, of course. For forty years, Pakistan was America’s “most trusted friend and ally” in its war against the “evil” communist empire. This “enduring friendship” (an echo of the current “enduring freedom” campaign against “terrorism”) prospered especially in the 1980s when our then military regime embarked on building a nuclear arsenal and “jihadising” state and society — the very elements of extremism that today threaten the West. Then, one fine day when the cold war was sputtering out— on September 9, 1990, to be exact – America announced that Pakistan had crossed the “nuclear red light”. It cut off all assistance and demanded that Pakistan freeze, cap and roll back its nuclear programme. In due course, it heaped sanctions on Pakistan and nudged it to comply with the new Western buzzword of electoral “democracy”. In fact, less than three weeks before the civilian coup and military counter-coup in Islamabad in October – on September 26, 1999, to be exact – a “senior” State Department official in Washington warned against a military takeover in Pakistan, emboldening the then Pakistani prime minister to try and oust the army chief who had “sabotaged” his US-sponsored peace initiative with India by triggering Kargil. It was therefore understandable why, after he seized power, General Pervez Musharraf was regarded as a pariah by the West and his regime subjected to a strong dose of sanctions for derailing “democracy”. But the worst snub was delivered in May 2000 by an American president who spent five merry days in India praising its “great democracy” and its Hindu BJP government (which nuclearised the subcontinent and provoked religious passions in the region) and five tense hours in Islamabad castigating Pakistan’s military strongman for the country’s manifold failures and deficiencies.

Then came September 11, 2001, and the pariah Pakistani General became a “trusted friend and ally” (where have we heard that phrase before?) in the West’s “war against terrorism” (substitute for “war against communism”). Presidential waivers against nuclear proliferation were swiftly granted in Washington and Congressional sanctions were thoughtfully lifted. Soon thereafter, billions of dollars in outstanding debts were rescheduled by the West, fresh loans were offered, military supplies were restored, and a stream of long lost Western friends flowed into Islamabad for brazen photo-ops with our dashing military strongman for standing with them in their hour of need. Suddenly, “democracy” in Pakistan became a lost cause, with General Musharraf being warmly congratulated for brilliantly “empowering the people” by “restructuring” the political system of Pakistan.

However, with regard to civil society, insult was added to injury when Western diplomats gamely began to tick off the “plus” points of the military government (“good governance”, “economic restructuring”, “free press”) against the failures and excesses of previous “democratic” regimes of the 1990s (“corruption”, “economic meltdown”, etc), the bald conclusion being that a “good” military government was better than a “bad” democracy – a notion that turns conventional wisdom on its head and leads to absurd conclusions. India is hugely corrupt and inefficient, but would the West condone an army coup to despatch the world’s “largest democracy”? Much of Latin America is plagued by bad democracies and failing economic systems that are constantly seeking financial bailouts by Western financial institutions, but is the US harking back to the good ol’ days of Noriega and Pinochet? Indonesia is wracked by bitter ethnic, political and religious strife, but the US is not hankering for another Suharto, is it?

This new-found Western “love” for General Musharraf should not turn his head and lead us to greater tragedy. Remember General Zia ul Haq? When his services were no longer required, he was cast away. Don’t forget Osama bin Laden. He was once a great “freedom fighter” against communism. Today he is the most wanted “terrorist” in the world. And the Taliban? In 1995, the US was negotiating with Mulla Umar on behalf of Unocal for oil pipeline rights through Afghanistan. Today he is a “fugitive from justice” and his country has been bombed back to the stone age. Likewise, the international agenda requires the services of General Musharraf and he is part of their “solution” today. Tomorrow, the nuclearised, jihadised, anti-India, Pakistan army will revert to being part of their “problem” and another “regime change”, as in Afghanistan and Iraq, will be thought necessary. That is when Pakistan will need a strong democratic consensus to fortify itself against another cynical about-turn by the international community in pursuit of its vested interests. And that is why General Musharraf’s exclusivist “military democracy” will wither on the vine along with him if it isn’t swiftly transformed into an inclusive popular democracy based on truth and reconciliation.

 

(TFT Sep 27-03 Oct, 2002 Vol-XIV No.31 — Editorial)

In the eye of the storm?

Last Tuesday, two Muslim “suicide-terrorists” attacked a Hindu temple in India’s Gujarat state, killing 30 innocent persons. Mr L K Advani slammed General Pervez Musharraf for instigating the attack. “They had planned this for some time”, he thundered. Hindu extremist groups immediately called for a nationwide strike in protest. Next day, unknown terrorists attacked a Christian social welfare organisation in Karachi, killing seven. This was the sixth attack on Christian and Western targets in Pakistan this year, which have killed more than 40 people. Only two days earlier, Lt Gen (retd) Moinuddin Haider, the interior minister, had blithely stated that “India and not Al-Qaeda, was behind the spate of terrorist attacks” in Pakistan against Western and Christian targets, including the 200 or so cases of bomb explosions in different parts of the country in the last three years.

As India and Pakistan knock each other for sponsoring terrorism, the violence in Kashmir continues unabated, with the toll of “collateral” damage rising by the day. India accuses Pakistan of infiltrating jihadis across the Line of Control. Pakistan routinely denies the charge. Meanwhile, a million soldiers of two nuclear armed armies stare down their gun sights, ready to press triggers at the slightest provocation. How long can this “bloody” tit-for-tat “standoff “ last?

Two recent developments seem significant. The US ambassador to India, Mr Robert Blackwill, has confirmed that Pakistani infiltration has risen in the last month. Islamabad has howled in protest and suggested Mr Blackwill may be a “victim of Indian propaganda”. But this snub has backfired. The US State Department insists that Mr Blackwill’s observations were “cleared” by Washington. That means that the US accepts the Indian allegation against Pakistan. This could be ominous. It follows earlier claims by Mr Richard Armitage, the US deputy secretary of state, that General Pervez Musharraf made a private and public pledge to “permanently block” infiltration across the LoC. But that’s not all.

India claims that the first two rounds of elections in Kashmir have been “free and fair”, with a credible voter turnout of over 40% that vindicates its policies in the state. Pakistan and the All Parties Hurriyat Conference stoutly deny this claim. They say the elections are a “sham”, with turnout between 3 –10 % in most constituencies. Independent Indian sources like the Coalition of Indian Society confirm that there was “widespread coercion by the security forces on the people to cast their vote”, along with significant voting “malpractises”. But the problem is that the US doesn’t concur with this Pakistani view of “sham” elections. Instead, it has praised India for reviving the electoral process. So there are two disagreements between the US and Pakistan.

Behind these US-Pak differences lies a more fundamental divergence of approach on the matter of Kashmir. The US, like India, wants to make the LoC a permanent border between the two countries and let New Delhi sort out its Kashmir problem “internally” by an “election-cum-repression” strategy. Thus it wants Pakistan to permanently end its jihadi infiltration into Kashmir. But Pakistan views this approach as part of the problem and not the solution. It thus follows that while stopping infiltration can only be a temporary respite to enable a conducive environment for tripartite negotiations between India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris to change the status quo, it cannot be prolonged to enable India to spurn talks with Pakistan by consolidating its internal “repression-cum-election” solution. Thus if Pakistani infiltration had significantly diminished between March and June, this was meant to signal an opening for India by Pakistan in which to start the process of tripartite negotiations in search of a solution for Kashmir. And if infiltration has increased since June, this is meant to signal Pakistan’s determined opposition to any attempt by India to exploit the Pakistani gesture by “going it alone” via the “elections-cum-repression” route in the expectation that the US can “account” for Pakistan. But can the US do that?

Under the present circumstances, probably not. Washington’s alliance with Islamabad against Al Qaeda will hold in the short term, encouraging Islamabad to demand a quid pro quo from Washington in terms of mediating the Kashmir dispute with India (and executing policies that compel such attention) rather than agree to concede India’s unilateralist viewpoint. In the event, Washington may have no option but to assure India of its longer term strategic support for its status quo “solution” even as it is unable to effectively censure Pakistan for sabotaging such “solutions” during its shorter-term tactical alliance period.

But if the US plays a passive and balancing role rather than an active one in favour of either country in the short term, Indo-Pak relations are bound to deteriorate. Both will seek to advance their interests. This danger would increase if the US attacks Iraq and is diverted from keeping a lid on  Indo-Pak hostilities. Indeed, the situation could become perilous if India is emboldened to act militarily against Pakistan. Forget about the implications for South Asia. Coupled with the expected anti-American blowback from the war against Iraq, this would be the perfect setting to embroil the US in many new and dangerous wars at home and abroad.

(TFT Oct 04-10, 2002 Vol-XIV No.32 — Editorial)

Don’t do it, General Sahab

The press is up in arms against a package of “press laws” in the offing, one of which relating to defamation has been hastily promulgated. The All Pakistan Newspaper Society says these laws are “illegitimate, unethical, unconstitutional”. And now that General Pervez Musharraf is imperiously signing on the dotted line, we urge him to reconsider.

His government has garnered much goodwill at home and abroad by allowing a relatively free press to function and it would be silly, in fact stupid, to squander it on the eve of the government’s departure by provoking a bitter backlash – the APNS has vowed “to roll back these absurd, preposterous and uncivilised pieces of legislation masquerading as press laws”. After all, in a perverse sort of way, the Pakistani press has been a great “defender” of the military regime by constantly challenging the “sham” democracy of the “corrupt” politicians who “paved the way” for the generals to take over. To be fair, General Musharraf should admit that, by and large, he and his colleagues have had a “good” press personally, even though some journalists have not always agreed with the government’s political and economic policies. In fact, neither Benazir Bhutto nor Nawaz Sharif was as lucky, even though both had excellent personal relations with the leading owner-editors of the country and constantly showered them with assorted favours. General Musharraf would also do well to recall that when he overthrew Mr Sharif, the press played a significant role in telling the international community how repressive and autocratic the former prime minister had become, why no one was ready to shed tears at his sullied departure and why the military takeover was “welcomed” by many sections of society.

Regarding the press laws, the facts are as follows:

Senior representatives of the press sat down with top government officials over many months to hammer out a mutually acceptable compromise law aimed at regulating the printing and publishing of newspapers, books, etc. Why has the government now unilaterally decided to make amendments in the approved draft? This is a breach of trust and no excuse – that “these are minor amendments” – will suffice. Indeed, if these are minor amendments as claimed, all the more reason that the ministry of information should have sought the green light from the APNS before fiddling with the approved text. In fact, the “minor” amendment, which gives unacceptably sweeping powers to the newly formed District Coordination Officer, radically changes the spirit of the agreed draft law. But that’s not all.

There was also an agreed draft of a proposed Press Council to mediate conflict between the press and aggrieved parties, both government and private. Again, unilateral changes have been made in it sneakily which alter the bipartisan balance of the Council as originally envisaged and give the government a bigger say in deciding how many people and what sort of people will come to sit in judgment over alleged press indiscretions. As the APNS rightly put it: “Can the creation of a self-regulating and autonomous Press Council with one government representative out of 17 members merely exercising moral authority as originally agreed, be unilaterally converted by the Cabinet into a body in which the government appoints 9 out of 19 members and transforms it into a Press Court with wide ranging powers to cancel newspapers or ban them, constitute a ‘minor’ matter”?

Worse, much worse, the government has unveiled a new defamation act that hasn’t been discussed with the press at all, let alone approved by it. In fact, the press only got to know of it when it was leaked by some conscientious bureaucrat, implying that the government was hoping to give a departing kick to the press.

To be honest, this law smells very much like an anti-terrorist act aimed at getting “results” against the accused who are presumed to be guilty unless proven innocent. It mocks the law and blackens the faces of those in the ministries who drummed it up. Why do we need a new law when there is an existing defamation law that follows the strictures of other democratic countries and has been tried and tested in the High Courts and Supreme Court of Pakistan? And if the problem is not with the existing law but with the courts that take forever to conclude a case, shouldn’t the emphasis be on reforming the lumbering court system rather than fiddling with the law? Now that it has been enacted in the backdrop of our litigious culture, such a law will break the back of the free press in Pakistan. That is why even lay journalists across the country are joining hands with owner-editors to lay siege to it.

General Musharraf is about to hand over many powers to the very politicians he despises and accuses of being corrupt and irresponsible. He should therefore be thinking of empowering the press to help him hold the “new democrats” accountable. Instead he is seeking to cripple the press. Strange are the ways of simple, well-meaning soldiers. They still don’t know how to distinguish between friend and foe. They still don’t know how to distinguish between short-term contingencies and long-term interests. General Sahab, please don’t do it.

(TFT Oct 11-17, 2002 Vol-XIV No.33 — Editorial)

Whither Musharrafic democracy

General Pervez Musharraf promised to hold elections before the end of 2002 and he has kept his word. If he had so wanted, he could have deferred the polls on one pretext or another without worrying too much about the strictures of the Supreme Court (which takes a “pragmatic” view of the law of necessity) or censure of the international community (whose love for democracy is adulterated by practical considerations) or threat of political agitation (getting the voters out will be no mean task, forget about lighting fire on the streets). So let us give credit where it is due.

But the other side of the coin is smudged. General Musharraf had also vowed not to let Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif run for office and he has not relented despite the fact that both (Benazir more than Nawaz)  still enjoy mass support and on that count alone had a  right to contest the elections even if they didn’t  deserve to do so. In fact, he has gone to extraordinary lengths to deny their rights, including a constitutional amendment to bar them from becoming prime minister for a third time.

General Musharraf had also explicitly determined to refashion the political system to reflect “true” rather than “sham” democracy. While we share his sentiment regarding the sham democracy of yesterday, his “true” democracy of tomorrow stands the very notion on its head and make us apprehensive. The core element of democracy, irrespective of the presidential or parliamentary nature of the political system, is civilian supremacy. But “Musharrafic democracy” grants an  institutional political role to the armed forces by permitting the National Security Council to put a gun to the head of every parliament, prime minister and chief minister and order them to do its bidding. What if they still don’t?

“Musharrafic democracy” lays down a host of preconditions to preclude such a possibility. It requires that no political party or group, least of all the PPP or PMLN, should be able to get a majority in parliament and strike out on its own. This, in turn, requires a degree of pre-poll rigging – using the intelligence agencies, the NAB, the courts and the central and provincial administrations to split the PMLN, bar Bhutto and the Sharifs, prop up the PMLQ, and encourage dissenters from all the “opposition” parties to stand as pro-Musharraf “independents” – to produce “positive” results conducive to Musharrafic democracy.

Secondly, it requires that under no circumstances should any conceivable grouping of opposition parties, especially between the PPP and PMLN, be able to muster a 2/3rds parliamentary majority to overthrow the constitutional amendments that form its bedrock. This also means that the hand of the newly formed “internal security” apparatus will become  more and not less ubiquitous  after the elections in continually “managing” the parties and parliaments in defence of Musharrafic democracy.

Third, it requires the continuing financial and political support of the international community, especially the US, so that the constitutional instability built into such an unnatural structure is not allowed to adversely impact the economy and provoke a populist backlash against its creators. This, in turn, means that Musharrafic democracy must deliver the strategic requirements of the international community, especially the US, at home  and in the region and contend with its unpredictable consequences and backlash, or choose a more autonomous and conflictual path and risk a destabilising rupture as happened with previous military dictators.

This is a tall order. It involves continual juggling with slippery politicians, fickle foreign powers, unpredictable judges, argumentative journalists and restless masses, elements that combine to defy the Manichean black and white, managerial perspective of soldiers. What if the throw of the voters’ dice defies the “laws” of Musharrafic democracy and provokes a desperate numbers game in Parliament that discredits the whole process?

Our history shows that coalition governments in centralised systems have rarely been stable just as strong single-party governments in autocratic cultures have seldom been democratic. The problem with Musharrafic democracy is that it is fated to clutch at the worst of both such worlds for survival. If General Musharraf is to remain the real source of power, it will be necessary to fracture the polity so that no strong, organised political challenge can be mounted to him institutionally. But a fractured polity in a contentious political structure is a recipe for instability just as coalition governments under consensually built political systems are evidence of functioning democracies.

General Musharraf has been wrongly advised to marginalise the two mainstream parties for purposes of stability simply because they remain synonymous with their flawed leaders. It should have been the other way round. If circumstances have propelled him to Islamabad, he should have got the two errant but charismatic leaders to play by the agreed constitutional rules of the game (as General Waheed did in 1993). He should then have returned  to Rawalpindi instead of staying on to rewrite the rules and knock out the two leaders and parties from the new game. Sooner or later this core truth will out. When it does, we hope that the well-meaning, moderate and pragmatic General Musharraf is able to grasp it and make amends.

(TFT Oct 18-24, 2002 Vol-XIV No.34 — Editorial)

The buck stops at General Musharraf

For better or for worse, General Pervez Musharraf must pick up the tab for the MMA’s feast of votes. He allowed the mullahs to vent fire and venom at public rallies and exploit anti-American sentiment in the country. But he restricted the moderate PPP and PMLN from reaching out to their voters. He hobnobbed with the MMA leaders and boosted their political credibility. But he blasted the PPP and PMLN and forced their leaders into exile. He approved madrassa “graduates” even as he downgraded madrassa education. But he shaved off a large chunk of non-graduate moderates from the political scene. He bailed out sectarian militants and pitted them against the mainstream parties. But he dragged PPP and PMLN leaders to NAB prisons and blocked their electoral campaigns. Worse, he secretly nudged the religious parties to unite under one banner and cash in their votes but ruptured the PML and PPP so that their voters were rent apart.

In the event, the MMA mustered a maximum of 10% (2.9m) of the votes cast (29.5m) for the National Assembly, up from about 7% (1.4m for all religious party candidates) of the total vote cast (20.3m) in 1993 (in 1997, the Jamaat-i-Islami boycotted the polls). This suggests that although the total vote bank of the religious parties has doubled in numbers (by 1.5m) over 1993-2002, at least 40% of this 1.5m (600,000) is due to an increase in the number of their natural voters owing to population growth as well as to a reduction in the voting age from 21 to 18 years and only 60% (900,000) is due to the autonomous increase in the vote bank of the religious parties based on a shift of voter preferences from the mainstream parties to the religious parties. But a 60% preferential increase of the vote bank of the religious parties amounting to less than 1m voters out of nearly 30m (3.3%) has led to a situation in which they have upped their tally of NA seats from 9 out of 207 in 1993 (4.3%) to 45 out of 272 (16.5%) in 2002, which is an increase of nearly 500% in their total number of NA seats and a jump of nearly 400% in their political stake in the national assembly!

So there it is. Thanks to General Pervez Musharraf’s anti-PPP/PML and pro-America policies, coupled with his constitutional tinkering (an increase in constituencies and a reduction of the voting age), about 1 million voters have changed loyalties, jumped ship and created havoc for the mainstream parties. It may also be noted that, generally speaking, the voter turnout was lower in constituencies won by the MMA (average turnout in NWFP, Balochistan and FATA was 29.5%) than in those in which the mainstream moderate parties won (average turnout in Punjab and Sindh was 42.3%). This suggests that General Musharraf’s relentless harangue against “corrupt politicians” led many previous or potential supporters of the PPP/PML/ANP to stay at home in the borderlands of Pakistan and waste their vote, thereby indirectly giving a fillip to the MMA whose conservative but aggressive voters brushed aside the weak and splintered vote bank of the others.

In many ways, therefore, the MMA’s situation today is akin to the PML’s situation in 1997 when the bulk of the PPP vote sulked and stayed at home rather than switch to the PML while the PML voters came out in their usual strength and swept the NA with a 2/3rd majority in the lowest-ever election turnout (35%). But this also suggests that if the PPP was able to make a significant comeback and redeem the situation in 2002, the MMA need not be here to stay forever, especially since its “sweeping victory” is based on a shift of voter preferences of less than 1m out of 72m Pakistanis. So where do we go from here?

It is best to leave the MMA to its own devices in the NWFP so that both those who have voted for them and those who shirked their responsibility to vote should get a taste of the mullahs’ medicine. Elsewhere in the provinces, one should stick as close as possible to a healthy compromise between the wishes of the voters and the necessities of competitive rather than combative or manipulative politics. Similarly, the grand national interest as opposed to the miniscule mullah sentiment would seem to extrapolate a coalition government that excludes the mullahs from the federal government. They are entitled to sit on the opposition benches as behoves their contrary opinion and minority status without undue support from the chair in both houses of parliament. But will this happen?

Left to their own grubby ways, the mainstream politicians will ally with the devil if necessary to get a slice of the action, irrespective of the stability and welfare of the country. Therefore the buck will still stop at General Pervez Musharraf. If he doesn’t want Pakistan to reap the whirlwind of what he has sown, the cynicism and adventurism of the establishment must stop.

(Oct 25-31, 2002, Vol – XIV, No. 35 – Editorial)

Knocking heads

Who will be the next prime minister? Is this a matter of idle curiosity or does it matter in the larger scheme of things planned by General Pervez Musharraf & Company?

General Musharraf has recently avowed “neutrality” in the selection of the prime minister and the formation of the government in Islamabad. Indeed, he has absolved himself of responsibility for the delay in the formation of the new government and spurned the suggestion that various government agencies are working to promote or induce a prime minister and government of his choice.

This is a strange spin on his confessed role as Midwife-in-Chief of the new system in the offing. Surely, one can logically conclude that if he wants to stay in charge and ensure “continuity”, as he has insisted time and again, and for which reason he has gone to so much trouble to design and cobble a new political system and enable the PMLQ to win the most seats in parliament, he would be a hands-on president at all times, especially now when firm direction is needed to steer all the players in the “right” direction under the “right” leader.

Subterfuge is the order of the day. If that were not the case, the Legal Framework Order wouldn’t have been so careful in giving General Musharraf the right to stipulate when the first and second sessions of the national assembly will be held after the conclusion of the general elections. The first session will swear in the MNAs under the umbrella of the LFO and elect the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House and the second session will choose the Leader of the House (Prime Minister) by a majority of the votes of the assembly through a secret ballot. Should the first session prove unproductive because it cannot determine the Speaker and Deputy Speaker, there would be no reason to notify the second session and a constitutional deadlock would follow. And if the first session is productive but the second session is not – meaning that no party nominee can muster a majority – then there would be another constitutional deadlock. In the event, and in order to be failsafe, General Musharraf would either have to dissolve the assembly and order fresh elections or amend the LFO to enable himself to nominate a person, whether or not he or she is a member of the national assembly, who, in his discretion, is likely to command a majority of the votes of the assembly and give such a person a specified time frame in which to obtain such a majority.

Therefore, in order to avoid any constitutional deadlock which discredits his carefully constructed system at the very outset, it makes eminent sense to avoid setting a date for a meeting of the national assembly until General Musharraf has secretly nominated the right person for the job of prime minister and secretly helped him or her to obtain the support of a majority of MNAs before the national assembly meets for the first time.

But that is not General Musharraf’s only requirement. The political and economic edifice crafted by him needs stability for credibility and longevity. That means that the coalition federal government must not only stand the test of time under a wise and enduring prime minister but also that such a prime minister should see eye to eye with General Musharraf on all critical matters. Under the circumstances, how can General Musharraf risk the luxury of “neutrality” in the stitching up of the new coalition government under a new prime minister? How can he not take responsibility for the delay in the formation of the government when it is positively against his interests to give a free or ready hand to the various parties to make and break coalition governments and prime ministers, not just to mock his new system but perhaps to challenge it as well? No, the next national assembly cannot meet until the whole “workable” dispensation is in place – prime minister, NA speaker, Senate Chairman and Chief Ministers of all the provinces.

In the final analysis, however, the decision will hinge on General Pervez Musharraf’s assessment whether it is better to have the MMA in the federal government or out of it. And if the MMA is to be kept out, whether the PPP should be in or out of the loop. The question of who will be prime minister and what sort of government we will get will follow a resolution of these issues rather than precede it. Until then, heads will not be knocked together in parliament.

Dr Khalid Ranjha, the federal law minister, says there is no legal bar on anyone who has twice been a provincial chief minister to become prime minister. This may give Mr Zafarullah Jamali some cheer, particularly since he has obtained the backing of Chaudhary Shujaat, the king-maker in the King’s Party. But it is still too early to predict the outcome. Other scenarios favour Mr Farooq Leghari or Mr Khurshid Kasuri, both good candidates. The possibility of a dark horse winning the race cannot be ruled out either.

(Nov 01-07, 2002, Vol – XIV, No. 36 – Editorial)

Contemptuous and cynical

We have survived the nasty time of General Zia ul Haq. We have stumbled through the hopeless government of Benazir Bhutto. We have fought the despotic regime of Nawaz Sharif. Fortunately, General Pervez Musharraf’s administration is not as malevolent as Zia’s, nor as flaky as Bhutto’s, nor indeed as miserable as Sharif’s. But it is by far the most contemptuous and cynical of them all. Consider.

General (retired and resigned) Tanvir Naqvi’s constitutional amendment package ran into 86 full pages. The regime’s attempt to overhaul the constitution demonstrated its utter contempt for it. But when there was a public outcry, the proposals were cynically whittled down and the perpetrators of the outrage skulked away to bide their time.

The Election Commissioner had also explicitly stated that ministers should resign their posts well before the elections if they wanted to contest them. Some did, but others just didn’t give a damn, as for example, Sindh provincial minister Arbab Ghulam Rahim, who served on the Soomro cabinet until the very end and won NA-229 Tharparkar I. Now a clutch of serving federal ministers is contesting for the Senate elections and to hell with the EC’s orders.

General Musharraf has signed more Ordinances in the last two weeks than in the last two years. Some are fairly innocent, affecting industrial relations, health, banking, etc. But many impinge on important matters of public interest that have been promulgated without any public debate at all. We refer specifically to controversial amendments in the Criminal Law Reforms Ordinance, University Foundation Ordinance, Defamation Ordinance, etc. Worse, much worse, are cases in which stark political motivation has prompted extraordinary changes to facilitate General Musharraf’s sneering game plan. This, despite the fact that the Supreme Court had allowed General Musharraf to change the law only for the purposes of the “ ordinary orderly running of the state”. The record cries out for notation.

  1. The earlier law banning anyone from holding the office of CM or PM more than twice was Benazir-Nawaz specific. But this was buttressed as late as October 19, nine daysafterthe general elections, with an amendment making it mandatory for contestants to the Senate to apply in person to the EC, just in case Shahbaz Sharif and/or Kulsoom Nawaz (or any other personas non grata)got it into their heads to try and sneak into the Upper House in absentia at the nth minute.
  2. On the night of October 9, a day before the general elections, General Musharraf was pleased to decree an unconditionalextensionof three years in the tenure of all judges of the High Courts and Supreme Courts. No reasons were given for this act of unprecedented generosity. But it did create the perception that the judiciary’s back was being scratched for cooperating with the junta beyond the call of justice and fair play.
  3. The government amended the Legal Framework Order 2002 in the early hours of October 10, the day of the general elections, to allow independent candidates to join any political party within three days of winning the elections. “The move was calculated”, as one columnist put it, “to help the government-supported PMLQ party” which has since grabbed “18 out of 21” such independents, making a veritable mockery of the natural numbers game in parliament.
  4. Since October 12, when the legal writ of the regime may be assumed to have ended, a spate of amendments have descended upon Pakistan’s unwary and unworthy politicians to steer them along the true path. Mir Zafrullah Jamali’s ambitions to become prime minister have beenspecificallyaccommodated by amending the law that bans those who have twice held the office of CM and PM from filling either slot for the third time. The latest law that bans anyone who has lost the general elections from contesting for the Senate is aimed at knocking out many troublesome politicians from across the divide, not least a gang of Sharif loyalists including Raja Zafarul Haq and Tehmina Daultana, as well as a coterie of independent minded Sharif haters including Fakhr Iman and Abida Hussain, etc. For good measure, ineffectual “leaders” like Mian Azhar have been scuttled to clear the way for Mr Jamali while irksome nationalists like Asfandyar Wali, who thought they had a deal going with General Musharraf, have been carelessly discarded. Finally, fear of the MMA has led to a new decree banning FATA MNAs from joining any party or group, which goes against the new law enabling independent MNAs to join political parties.

The numbers game is not over by any stretch of the imagination. The next law will doubtless enable MNAs to switch party loyalties on “matters of conscience” so that “forward blocs” from the opposition can be facilitated for the smooth running of the next PMLQ government.

General Pervez Musharraf is marrying the much married and divorced Muslim League. He is also making a house of cards for his bride. But when the bridal suite begins to crumble, as indeed it must, the PMLQ will desert the general as surely and swiftly as she has done many past masters.

(Dec 27, 2002-Jan 02, 2003, Vol – XIV, No. 44 – Editorial)

Forgive us our trespasses

General Pervez Musharraf made a number of candid remarks at a speech in Islamabad recently. These comments open a window into the mind of the most powerful man in Pakistan. Unfortunately, some are ominously off target.

“Pakistan”, explained General Musharraf, “is an imperfect society”. “I am also an idealist … but when I see the imperfect environment I realise that idealistic solutions will not work … (thus) when idealism and pragmatism clash, I believe in following pragmatism”. This is a theme to which General Musharraf constantly returns, as if not just to explain some of his more controversial policies and somersaults but also to justify them. His earlier arguments were couched in the discourse of “changing ground realities”. The ground reality has changed, so policy must be changed. Perish the thought that the policy in question might have been wrong in the first place because policy makers hadn’t done their homework or because they had clutched at false assumptions.

Of course, pragmatism is a wonderful thing. It is pragmatic to rub shoulders with crooked politicians who do your bidding blindly but idealistic to hobnob with them if they don’t, never mind how “unfair” or “unjust” or “discriminating” or even “immoral” such political behaviour may seem, regardless of whether politicians or generals indulge in it. It is also pragmatic to change the law or suspend the constitution when it suits you and idealistic to entrench the law and uphold the constitution when it doesn’t, never mind what harm such capricious notions of justice and fair play do to the social psychology of the state and its institutions. And if the end always justifies the means, or if the end is to be determined by one man in his finite wisdom, however good and sincere his intentions, what is all the fuss about institutions, checks and balances and accountability?

Then there is the big bad press. From Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif to General Musharraf, it remains every ruler’sfavourite whipping boy. Of course, Mr Sharif simply adored the press when he was in opposition and Ms Bhutto was in government and vice versa. And of course, General Musharraf just loved it when the press informed the world just how bad Mr Sharif was and how good General Musharraf might turn out to be. Alas. Has the “ground reality” changed, as it inevitably does, and is it time to become pragmatic and crack the whip again?

“We have given maximum freedom to the media but it always paints a bleak picture”, said the good general. Then, warming to his theme, he muttered, “Sometimes I ask myself whether I should have given freedom to such an extent because newspapers distort the facts.” Here is the threat to reveal the iron fist beneath the velvet glove. “The enemy lies within” and it apparently includes journalists “who are sitting abroad and working against the interests of the country”.

A graver charge-sheet against the press than “the enemy within” has not been assembled. However irresponsible, the press has fought for its freedom and paid the price for it time and again. Nor is freedom anyone’sto give or allot like a corner plot of land. Freedom is humankind’s inalienable fundamental right. Autocratic rulers come and go but the cry of freedom remains undiminished and unvanquished. Sometimes soldiers used to taking and giving orders cannot understand how civil society is supposed to function, but that doesn’t alter the ground reality. It is also worth asking just how much “press freedom” actually exists under the Musharraf regime.

To be sure, there was greater press freedom in the first two years of the Musharraf regime than in the last year of the Sharif regime. It is also true that General Musharraf has “allowed” a relatively freer regime in the public sector than ever before. But whatever his personal inclinations, the fact is that Mr Sharif began to lean on the press when the going got rough for him and the press began to reflect the ground reality in 1999. Equally, the “free” press was General Musharraf’s best friend when he was flogging his “idealism” and promising to break with the unholy past in 1999. But now that he is being as “pragmatic” as his predecessors, doesn’t the press have a right to lament his loss of innocence?

The fact is that more journalists have been secretly whisked away and beaten up or warned under the Musharraf regime than under the Sharif regime. The fact is that the recent amendments in press laws are a step back from the freedoms enjoyed under earlier regimes. The fact is that the new anti-defamation law threatens to be the blackest law in the history of the press in Pakistan, not least because the editor-in-chief, editor and chief reporter of a leading paper have been dragged before an anti-terrorist court under it. Is this a record that does General Musharraf proud?

We believe General Pervez Musharraf is a decent, good, liberal and well-meaning man who has Pakistan’s best interests at heart. But if some of us don’t always reflect this belief, we may be forgiven our idealistic trespasses in the face of changing ground realities.

(Dec 06-12, 2002, Vol – XIV, No. 41 – Editorial)

Economic prospects and political alignments

Prime minister Zafarullah Jamali’s unthinking utterance about restoring Friday as the weekly holiday at the behest of the mullahs is most unfortunate. It shows how clueless he is about the ways in which our domestic economy and national well-being are critically integrated with and linked to the global market via trade and aid and why it is necessary to stay in tune with international financial practices.

Mr Jamali’s misplaced zeal for the MMA can create problems in the economic reform programme so painstakingly initiated three years ago by General Pervez Musharraf. The new prime minister, it seems, is all too willing to make untoward concessions to the MMA, including a commitment to implement various impractical recommendations of the Islamic Ideology Council, in exchange for its political support in Islamabad. Does he know, for example, how necessary and hard it was for the Musharraf government to manipulate a reversal of an earlier decision by the Shariat Bench of the Supreme Court that equated “interest” with riba and outlawed it at the behest of the IIC and Federal Shariat Court?

Let’s face it. The MMA is not good for business and the economy. Its leaders thunder about keeping women out of the work force in many sectors, discourage tourism, seek to institutionalise smuggling and gun-running, outlaw interest, encourage default on foreign debt, threaten to kick the IMF and World Bank out of Pakistan, and disrupt and censor the entertainment industry. These are all negative measures that don’t inspire confidence. And it’s not as if the mullahs are all work and no play – it’s more like all preachers and no workers. In fact, not one MMA-MNA or MPA has formulated a single positive policy proposal to spur trade and investment in the provinces under MMA control now. Nor, for all its moralistic sermonising, is “corruption” a real issue for the MMA. The stunning speed with which two MMA leaders convicted for corruption were sprung from NAB prisons in Balochistan even before the ink on the MMA’s accord with Mr Jamali was dry is noteworthy. Indeed, the MMA’s demand that the Frontier Corps should be subservient to the provincial government should not be construed as some principled requirement of provincial autonomy. It is solely aimed at ensuring that institutionalised smuggling of petroleum and other items from Iran should not be disrupted.

We live in interesting times. The stock market jumped at the conclusion of the elections peacefully but plunged when the MMA swept two provinces and grid locked government formation in Islamabad. Since then, the market has been nervously watching for signs of unease in international credit rating agencies, financial donors and Pakistan’s strategic partners like the USA and EU which have quietly expressed misgivings about the manner in which election results have been contrived. This is hardly a conducive environment for investing in the future. But there is much more at stake than meets the eye.

The “grand economic achievements” of the Musharraf regime flow from a political change in the strategic environment in which Pakistan is situated. Despite two years of Musharrafic economics, the fact is that until 9/11 forex reserves were barely US$1 billion, foreign debt was a whopping US$38 billion, debt payments amounted to a crippling US$4 billion a year, IMF assistance was barely US$500 per year, the fiscal deficit was as high as 7.5% of GDP, exports were hardly US$9 billion a year, remittances were under US$1 billion a year, the currency had fallen to Rs 68=US$1, privatisation had stalled, foreign direct investment was a trickle at less than US$250 million a year, large scale manufacturing growth was rock bottom at 1.5%, and domestic investment had shrunk to below 12% of GDP. Then came 9/11. When General Musharraf swiftly about-turned politically, the international community rewarded Pakistan by re-profiling US$12 billion in debt and nudged donor institutions to increase economic assistance by over 200%. The American anti-terrorist crackdown on money laundering and havala transfers led to a shift of remittances from unofficial to legal channels, burgeoning the forex balances of the State Bank of Pakistan, and the inflow of dollars from foreign bank accounts of Pakistanis liable to scrutiny by American agencies flooded the forex market and upped the value of the rupee. With a surge in economic confidence, foreign buyers now stepped into the market to buy United Bank Ltd and got ready to pick up PSO, HBL, etc.

The necessary conditions for economic revival are finally at hand only because the domestic political environment has been suitably aligned with the international community after 9/11. But the sufficient conditions for take off into self-sustained economic growth (rising domestic and foreign investment, employment and poverty alleviation) await appropriate confidence-building measures and consolidation of this political relationship. That is why it would be tragic not just from General Musharraf’s personal point of view but also from the point of view of Pakistan’s national interests if the budding relationship between the PMLQ and the MMA, or indeed the political and economic antics of the MMA on its own, were to cast a shadow on the hard-won prospects of the economy by alienating the international community or driving a wedge between Pakistan and the US that would lead to a reversal of Pakistan’s fortunes. Forewarned is forearmed.

(Dec 20-26, 2002, Vol – XIV, No. 43 – Editorial)

What a pity!

After three “comfortable” years at the crease, General Pervez Musharraf has handed over the bat to Mr Zafarullah Jamali. In the event, it is only natural that he should wish to tally his score while making sure that Mr Jamali is able to build on it. How did General Musharraf fare?

Ruling by decree is always less “problematic” than ruling by consensus. That is why General Musharraf had few difficulties promulgating nearly 300 Ordinances in three years. But the true measure of a leader or government doesn’t lie in any such dubious records. Nor is it incumbent on the ease or difficulty with which he or she is able to survive in a dictatorial dispensation. It is, in fact, measured by two yardsticks: the courage and efficiency with which hard but necessary economic choices are mediated and institutionalised in a longer term perspective of national power; and the ability and willingness to ground such economic restructuring in a stable and democratic political framework that is conducive with the broad aspirations of the people.

The Musharraf regime has heaped laurels upon itself by a favourable comparison of various economic statistics before it took power in 1999 and after it relinquished it in 2002. This exercise certainly has propaganda value. For instance, it is heartening to be told that the SBP’s forex reserves were barely equivalent to one month’s import bill in October 1999 but have now burgeoned to account for ten months of imports. Remittances have also ballooned nearly three times since 1999. But it is not terribly enlightening to flog such figures without putting them in a proper context. Much of the good news is a consequence of an unplanned political somersault by the military regime last year as a result of 9/11 which led to an unprecedented economic bailout of Pakistan by a grateful international community rather than any intended or direct result of economic planning at home. Indeed, if that hadn’t been the case, the one true barometer of the economy – the exchange rate – wouldn’t have depreciated from Rs 54:1US$ in late 1999 to Rs 68:1US$ in late 2001 before climbing back to Rs 58:1US$ in the last twelve months. Nor should it be necessary to point to short term “achievements” like these when, by its own admission, the Musharraf regime is only really concerned about the long-term nature of its reform programme and is exhorting people to bear with it until it delivers fruit.

Indeed, the true economic achievements of this regime are quite laudable by any standards. Certainly, the broad parameters of absolutely necessary economic restructuring in the last three years are writ large. The State Bank is more autonomous and efficient and transparent today than ever before. That is a great achievement. The Securities and Exchange Commission is setting new standards in establishing and enforcing its regulatory writ. That is a most critical development for strengthening the market economy. The ongoing reform of the banking structure, including a rationalisation of the loan portfolio, is noteworthy. The attempt to rationalise the tax structure and reform the CBR, however insufficient, is a step in the right direction. WAPDA’s ability to get private power producers to reduce the rate at which they sell power to the government has appreciably reduced the long-term burden on the exchequer. The opening up of the telecommunications sector to private initiative, however lumbered, is the need of the hour. The pruning of Pak Railways, however painful, was long overdue. And so on.

It is on the political front, however, that General Musharraf’s record is bad. Forget about the “over-killed” referendum. Or the much-flaunted local empowerment system that is already being downgraded. These things don’t much matter to the economy. What matters is the development of a stable democratic system which enjoys broad domestic and international legitimacy so that the good economic reforms initiated three years ago can find root in it and be institutionalised. And it is on this score that the greatest doubts persist.

General Musharraf’s “boys” have been instructed to prop up the PML(Q) by hook or by crook to the exclusion of other deserving contenders for sharing power. For instance, the PPP has got more votes than any party in the country, yet it has been kept out of the loop This is a repeat of past military follies that first led to the creation of the MQM, then the Nawaz League and later the Haqiqis, all of whom began as being part of the military’s solution and ended up as being part of the country’s problem. The religious parties, too, were originally part of the MMA (Military-Mullah Alliance) solution. Today they are part of the problem. This approach won’t work because it leads to a dead end. The need of the hour is to incorporate all the elements of national power, including the mainstream political parties and their leaders, into a coherent and workable whole in the long term rather than to dissipate them at the altar of political expediency in the short run as in the past.

General Pervez Musharraf’s economic reforms are worthy. His political opportunism is not. A sound economic base cannot be sustained by such a wobbly superstructure. What a pity.

(Nov 29-Dec 05, 2002, Vol – XIV, No. 40 – Editorial)

Good men all

Is General Pervez Musharraf pleased with the way his “boys” have managed to kickstart the new political system? We don’t know. But we imagine he must have misgivings at the very least, partly because of who’s in and who’s out, and partly because his dispensation lacks a moral underpinning. Unfortunately, too, General Musharraf cannot possibly be comforted by the fact that he has lost much personal goodwill since his disastrous referendum was followed by the most blatant micro and macro manipulation in Pakistan’s recent political and legal history.

The MQM is probably indespite its latest threats and the PPP is still outdespite its wishful thinking, even though the exiled leader of the former is charged with terrorism and murder while the exiled leader of the latter is only alleged to be corrupt. But the price that may have to be paid for the votes of the MQM in Islamabad could be prohibitively high. Never mind that the army’s intelligence agencies will have to bid farewell to the Haqiqi in Karachi (it was used by them to crack down on the MQM in 1992 and assiduously nourished since then); the real worry is that an opportunist alliance with the MQM at the expense of the PPP might degenerate into the same sort of unholy nexus that brought the city of Karachi and the province of Sindh to their knees from 1990 to 1992 and spawned violent terrorism, repression and instability until 1995.

The PPP is out, not just in Islamabad but also probably in Sindh, even though it was able to obtain more votes than any other party not just in the country but also in the province. This seems politically “un-natural” because General Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto share the same forward-looking, modern, internationalist agendas. It is even more intriguing when you consider the perception that the gulf of morality and righteousness that apparently separated them personally has evaporated in recent times, with the one looking worse and the other looking better than before. This is partly the fault of General Musharraf who seems to have developed some sort of unwarranted personal “fixation” against Ms Bhutto; and partly the fault of Ms Bhutto who may have coveted too much too soon. This relationship is hurting the PPP by forcing defections from its ranks, which is not a healthy political development. But it is also shoving General Musharraf into the arms of potentially dysfunctional allies.

The MMA, however, is both in and out. It is inwhere it matters to it – in the NWFP and Balochistan. In both provinces, it will have full political freedom to advance its holy agendas and undermine Pakistan’s international commitments. And it is outin Islamabad, where it will exploit its parliamentary platform to thunder against the “betrayal” and “treachery” of General Musharraf’s federal government and embarrass it domestically. Indeed, if the MMA can obtain the slot of the leader of the opposition in parliament, there are no prizes for guessing how it will use this privilege to gridlock the National Security Council so beloved of General Musharraf. More portentously from General Musharraf’s point of view, the MMA is determined to erode the sanctity of the two pillars on which his political survival depends: the office of the COAS and the LFO. Should General Musharraf be compelled to take off his uniform before the rules of the new game have been consolidated and institutionalised, or should he dilute the LFO before his political alliances have naturally evolved and matured, he would be a sitting duck before such motivated opponents. The irony is that just as General Musharraf seems to have taken a personalaversion to Benazir Bhutto rather than to the PPP, the leaders of the MMA have concluded that he personallyand not the army institutionally is unacceptable in their scheme of things.

The larger international environment in which General Musharraf’s domestic political agenda is rather precariously placed cannot be ignored for too long either. The coming war between America and Iraq is bound to stir deep and widespread rage in this country. But General Musharraf’s Pakistan depends on the economic and political support of the US while Pakistanis generally view Iraq as bearing the brunt of America’s hostility to Islam. If the MMA is able or enabled to exploit this sentiment, General Musharraf would be the big loser. The more the MMA rails against him and tries to destabilise him, the more the international community will question his political dispensation and alliances and lose confidence in his ability to run Pakistan effectively. This international perception would have repercussions far beyond the immediate, and highly dangerous allegations like transfer of nuclear know-how or technology to North Korea, or fears of Pakistan’s nuclear programme falling into the “wrong hands”, could acquire menacing proportions.

General Pervez Musharraf is a good man who started off well with much goodwill. Then he became infatuated with the dang fangled notions of the good man who conjured up a new political system for him. The advice of another good man plunged him into the referendum. A third good man has now shoved him into the lap of the hardworking Jats of the Punjab for political salvation. Need we say more?

(Sep 06-12, 2002, Vol – XIV, No. 28 – Editorial)

Dangerous political vacuum

General Pervez Musharraf says Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif wanted to make deals with him, which he piously shunned. There was a time when this spiel probably appealed to Pakistanis disenchanted with the country’s two main parties, but after the referendum, the manipulation of local governments, visibly selective accountability, and the selective rejection of nomination papers for the October election, it no longer rivets public attention or gives the general the aura of legitimacy he craves. In fact, after three years of Musharrafics, Pakistan’s tainted politicians have been rebaptised into popularity. After the rejection of Benazir Bhutto’s papers, there have been protests in Karachi and Lahore, and Nawaz Sharif’s transparently disingenuous “gesture” of withdrawing his papers in sympathy with Ms Bhutto, has gone down well with the electorate. This is a measure of how much the general’s credibility has taken a beating.

Had General Musharraf been a romantic one would have accepted his statements. But he is highly pragmatic when it comes to removing threats to his power. Why then his posture of “not doing deals” with “discredited” politicians? The fact is that Musharraf is both things, pious and pragmatic, and this imbues his actions with ambivalence. Had he been as pragmatic at the beginning as he has been in manipulating the forthcoming elections, he could have got the Pakistan Muslim League and the Pakistan Peoples Party on board his proclaimed agenda to liberalise the country and put an end to extremism. But he was a “purist” of the Imran Khan variety at the beginning, refusing to have any truck with the tainted. However, he later rallied many of the same ilk to give shape to his plan of the post-2002 dispensation. But after the King’s Party had come into being, he once again allowed his habitual ambivalence to prevail. Amidst rumours of dubious envoys flying to Jeddah, the King’s Party was on tenterhooks: was he really with the PML (Q) or would he ditch them?

General Musharraf has created a huge political vacuum in Pakistan by decapitating the PML (N) and the PPP. Everyone is now clawing for supremacy in this space and chaos reigns even amongst the ranks of those who initially supported him. The Mutahida Majlis Amal (MMA), composed of many of the military’s favourite zealots, took the anti-American plank for some time, then developed cracks and now looks exhausted. Imran Khan and his Tehrik-e-Insaf thought the general was on the same wave length as themselves but they fell victim to the general’s ambivalence and moved aside accusing his principal secretary of collusion with the PML (Q). Following that, Imran Khan and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain of the PML (Q) publicly exchanged charges of corruption which did not redound to their electoral advantage. The Chaudhry, bemused by the many-sidedness of the general, first lashed out at what he thought was his secret deal with Shahbaz Sharif, then went public with his opposition to Musharraf’s Afghan policy. Imran Khan had already expressed his bitterness about the “betrayal” of the Afghan people by Musharraf. And a “liberalised” Allama Tahirul Qadiri doesn’t know where to go after breaking away from the rest of the parties under Islamabad’s tutelage.

It appears that the PML (N) has made a gradual comeback against its breakaway faction which many in Pakistan now consider contaminated by contact with the military. Similarly, the PPP (Parliamentarians) expect to do well while its two breakaway factions, led by Farooq Leghari and Aftab Sherpao, may win some seats. Thus, after the elections parliament will be populated by a motley crew with no single-party in a clear majority. This is supposed to suit the General-President down to the ground because parliament will look to him and his operatives to put together a strong majority to form a government.

What is likely to happen is that no one will be happy with the state of affairs, just as no one is really satisfied with the house that General Musharraf has built, not even, increasingly, the Americans, who think that he is half-hearted or simply duplicitous. Therefore, the next parliament will be an extremely noisy house in which cantankerous politicians will produce poisonous headlines on a daily basis, new press laws notwithstanding. General Musharraf’s new Afghan and Kashmir policies, which whet the American appetite without satisfying it, might well be the shoal on which the new dispensation could run aground. Politicians being politicians, the disgruntled ones will undermine the General’s paramountcy within the system by crying sellout to the Americans with no one to defend him in the cabinet to come. Not only will Pakistanis see this spectacle, the military and the international community too will clearly discern the confusion and lack of direction in Pakistan.

General Musharraf must guard against the rebuke he might earn in the US next week for manipulating the elections in Pakistan while he complains about the coming “rigged” election in Indian-Held Kashmir. The international press is in lockstep over the way Pakistan’s two main parties have been disabled just before the October elections. Going it alone after October 2002 on the basis of a few constitutional amendments is going to be perilous both for General Pervez Musharraf and for Pakistan.

(June 07-13, 2002, Vol – XIV, No. 15 – Editorial)

Keep your fingers crossed

General Pervez Musharraf hopes his Almaty trip will yield dividends even though there was “no eye-contact”, let alone a handshake, with Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee. Pakistan, he said, was ready for “unconditional” talks with India. This offer follows an earlier commitment not to allow infiltration across the LoC. Together, the two commitments constitute an unprecedented peace package offering. How’s that?

Until now, Pakistan has always set the pre-condition that the Kashmir dispute should figure prominently in any dialogue. Also, Pakistan has never accepted the charge of cross-border infiltration, let alone commit itself to ending it swiftly. Indeed, the Agra dialogue was jettisoned by General Musharraf when the Indians countered with the demand to stop “cross-border terrorism”. Now Pakistan has conceded both Indian points unilaterally but India refuses to de-escalate and begin talks.

India says it will wait and see if General Musharraf makes good his promise. Meanwhile, it wants joint Indo-Pak border patrols across the Line of Control for verification purposes. This is a curious demand. Surely, if India can claim to know when cross border infiltration takes place, it should also know when it isn’t taking place. In fact, given that both armies are bristling with indignation and itching to have a go at each other, this is the sort of measure that may well provoke conflict rather than build confidence. So there is more to it than meets the eye.

This proposal was mooted after the Almaty conference declared a distinction between legitimate liberation struggles for self-determination against foreign occupation and illegitimate separatist struggles within internationally recognized territorial state boundaries. The Kashmir struggle falls into the first category for Pakistan and into the second for India. But if Pakistan were to accept joint border patrols along the LoC, India could argue that the LoC has been de facto treated like an international border, implying thereby that Kashmir is a part of India and the struggle in Kashmir is illegitimate.

This is not the first time India has floated such proposals. One such was the idea that India would offer visas to visitors from Azad Kashmir at border crossings along the LoC. If Islamabad had accepted this, its state practice would have legitimized Indian-held Kashmir as an undisputed part of India. Meanwhile, India continues to spurn international monitors along the LoC because it doesn’t want to internationalise the Kashmir dispute.

This Indian position has now become more untenable than ever before. The world is having nightmares about nuclear war in the region and international emissaries are rushing to South Asia to advise restraint. Yet India deludes itself into believing that the issue is still bilateral. Nuclear weapons and nuclear wars are international, global concerns. At the very least, a nuclear war between India and Pakistan would have a radioactive fallout on neighbouring countries. The irony is that it is India’s chilling threat of war that has internationalized the issue. Under the circumstances, India’s joint-border patrol proposal is aimed at shifting the goal post of dialogue rather than concretizing it.

Indeed, there are fears on at least two counts here. One, of course, is that India may shift the goal post and make a return to dialogue more difficult rather than easier. This could be done by offering unworkable or unacceptable formulas as pre-conditions for dialogue, e.g., a ceasefire by the Kashmiri insurgents, a repudiation of Pakistani involvement in a dialogue between New Delhi and the All Parties Hurriyet Conference, etc. In the event, Pakistan would be compelled to make its own demands and the whole effort at dialogue would be buried beneath a heap of pre-conditions and counter-preconditions. The second fear is that rogue elements in Pakistan and/or Indian-held Kashmir not in the control of General Musharraf’s intelligence agencies could strike out on their own and succeed in driving a blistering wedge between India and Pakistan. This has happened in the past – indeed is the very reason for the Indian troop buildup – whenever a foreign peacemaker of repute has descended on New Delhi to try and make it listen to reason. But India has always clutched at the “Pakistan-hand” theory even when the terrorist act has been patently against the interests of Pakistan. With senior American officials expected this week, it is anybody’s guess what lies in store for Indo-Pak relations in the short term.

Meanwhile, the post 9/11 world has concluded that Pakistan’s Kashmir policy of the last decade has “failed” because its reliance on militant Islamic jihad has shorn it of international support. In fact, the international community wants General Musharraf to take an immediate and unilateral about-turn on Kashmir policy as he did in the case of Afghanistan. Herein lies an acute dilemma not just for General Musharraf personally but also for the Pakistan army and the Pakistani nation. Can the quest for “ Kashmir banega Pakistan” be given up in any way? If not, what are the internal and external consequences for Pakistan? If yes, how is the process to be the successfully choreographed? If ever there was a turning point in Pakistan’s history, it has now arrived.

(Nov 22-28, 2002, Vol – XIV, No. 39 – Editorial)

Gen Musharraf must compromise with Parliament

When Mr Zafarullah Khan Jamali was elected Leader of the House by 172 votes on Thursday – a mere six votes more than the 166 needed out of the 330 who have taken oath – he seemed mightily relieved. Indeed, that is why he thanked so many people by name, including several two-bit party “leaders”, for helping him scrape through with the skin of his back teeth. But he could not muster the courage to name two critical allies without whom he would have been whistling in the dark: Mr Altaf Hussain, who is accused of terrorism, murder, etc, and suffers self-exile, but who agreed to hand over 19 votes to him; and Mr Faisal Saleh Hayat, who is weighted down by the NAB, but who provided 11 turncoat votes to tilt the scales in Mr Jamali’s balance at the last minute. Ironically enough, though, Mr Hussain and Mr Hayat have one thing in common: each is at the mercy of the man to whom Mr Jamali owes his greatest debt – General Pervez Musharraf , who broke every