Pakistan under Nawaz Sharif, 1990-1993

(TFT August 09-15, 1990 Vol-2 No.22 — Editorial)

The Show is over

The democracy show has been closed for renovation. We are promised by the management that it will be reopening in October. There will be some, as yet announced, changes in script and cast. For your amusement in the meanwhile we present in the foyer the Jatoi government….

While democracy remains but a show, and power but a spectacle for the people to behold but not wield, this nation will remain shackled by fatalism, ignorance, and indifference. The votes we cast just 18 months ago have now been declared valueless by the President. In doing so, he has also declared the democratic process null and void.

He has done so by failing to preserve a distinction between the democratic system and the democratic process. Democracies are not born in all their splendour, they strive for it. And it takes time; time for the judiciary to gain the confidence — and the stubborn arrogance — to stand up to governments, time for the media to find a balance between its responsibilities and its freedoms. Democracy is not just an elected assembly, it is made up for a whole host of inter-linking institutions, institution, and perceptions, all acting as checks and balances on the exercise of power. And these cannot be magicked out of thin air; they come only with experience — and with mistakes. This is the democratic process. A process we only started in November 1988.

Progress since then has been slow, painfully slow. But it was progress down the only path we can take if we want a prosperous and stable Pakistan. Freedom of expression and jails devoid of political prisoners were achieved. Yet old habits of political corruption, uninhibited by institutions like the police who remain in thrall to political power, continued unchecked.

While one could only sit and nod at most of the President’s indictment of the present democratic system, his failure to allow for the democratic process leaves grave doubt as to the future of democracy in this country. For our history teaches us that there are no bureaucratic or military short cuts to a mature democracy.

And if there are no short cuts, and if the President cannot institute an efficient, corruptionless, and blameless democracy within 90 days, as surely he cannot, where can he step next if he remains blind to the democratic process? He will find himself in the same spot as General Zia found himself 90 days after he dissolved the assemblies, desperately thrashing about for a legitimacy to cover the nakedness of his power.

The President clearly does not envisage finding himself in such a situation. He is an experienced operator who probably knows the intricacies of Pakistani politics better than anybody. He must surely recognise that a mature democracy cannot be brought about by 90 days of Presidential rule, not even by 900. Respect for his intelligence and experience must surely bring one to doubt that he intends an election on the model of the ’88 polls. Already there are intimations that he will not be an impartial actor in the drama to come.

Lacking from his address to the nation was any indication that the horse-trading and corruption that infected the National Assembly was just an instance of a wider epidemic that infected all the Assemblies, including those of the Punjab and Balochistan. The fact that these two houses were allowed to dissolve themselves is significant. It releases the new federal government from any duty to proceed in corruption cases against either the Punjab or Balochistan governments.

If we are now to be spectators to a persecution of one party, the PPP, then we must accept that the President has not taken our democracy in trust but has robbed us of our hope in the future. Whatever criticism we might make of the PPP, and there are many to be made, its existence offers the only chance that the military and the bureaucracy might be induced to lessen their influence on power. If Ishaq Khan’s dissolution of the assemblies turns out to be a reassertion of that power after a two year struggle with an infant democracy, then his name will join that of General Zia’s on the list of people who have kept this country from its future.

(TFT August 16-22 1990 Vol-2, No.23 — Editorial)

Settling accounts

Perhaps frustrated that our young — some might say infantile — democracy lacked the maturity to tackle the issue of political corruption, the President has dispensed with it and launched his own accountability process. Tribunals under the judiciary are to be set up with the brief to quickly try cases of corruption relating to our elected representatives, both provincial and federal. After this short sharp shock, the President promises to set democracy back on its feet again. Some might describe this as a surgical operation on a sick body politic, an operation which need leave no scars nor have any long term side effects. They would be wrong to do so. Democracy will be so weakened by the exercise that it may need leading by the hand for years to come.

The first mistake of those who believe this to be a scarless operation is to ignore the unhealthy precedent the President has set by so readily sweeping aside an elected government. Despite invitations from a very few politicians for him to do so, their was no clamour from the people, no demonstrations, no riots, no sign that they had recanted of their votes. Sindh, of course was an exception, but it has always been so. The country was generally at peace with itself, and with its government.In dissolving the assemblies against such a background, the President has given the name of democracy a hollow sound.

Their second mistake is to disregard the damage that will be done to the judiciary by dragging it once more into politics. It is now to sit in judgement on the MNAs and MPAs presented to it by the President’s government. As the judiciary becomes more and more entangled in political issues, it becomes less and less able to stand as an institution independent of government, a prerequisite of stable democracy.

Their third mistake is to assume that the cancer of political corruption can be treated in an apolitical manner. This is not so. Corruption is essentially a political issue, and can only be dealt with on the political plane. Actions that the President and his caretaker government take now on this issue will have political repercussions for years to come. The President knows this, those who plead ignorance are either dangerously naive or simply deceitful.

The political nature of the President’s accountability operation becomes more obvious with each passing day. The latest report that ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was offered indemnity from prosecution in return for her departure from the country only confirms a trend that is worryingly evident: concentration on the sins of the PPP to the exclusion of the corruptions of the opposition. It is looking increasingly as if the President is using this hiatus in the democratic process to indulge in some political engineering.

It is too late to council caution in halting the democratic process, too late to argue that democracy must be allowed to find its own balance. It is even too late to urge against the introduction of a divisive accountability process or to argue that it should be left to the people to judge the conduct of their politicians. However, there is still time to request that the President and his caretaker government refrain from persecuting the PPP. We are still struggling with the divisions caused by previous attempts at guiding — or circumscribing — the electorate’s choice. Let us not repeat this mistake.

As the process of accountability is to go ahead, let it be governed by one over-riding principle: that the elections set for October 24 shall be free and fair. The pursuance of this principle demands that the forth-coming trials be over within 50 days so that no candidate must go to the hustings under the cloud of suspicion. Further, it requires that no political party be so damaged by the President’s process of accountability that it can no longer effectively get its message across to the people. So long as our political parties emerge from the trials to come with their ability to engage the electorate unimpaired, then we can be confident that the damage that the President has inflicted on the democratic process is not irreparable.

(TFT August 16-22 1990 Vol-2, No.23 — Article)

Some like it hot!

If you think it’s hot and horrid back home and that the grass is greener in London, you probably have another thought coming. The most absorbing conversation I have had with a perceptive Londoner went something like this: “Phew! It really is a scorcher. But I don’t think cabbies should screech around the West End wearing sawed-off shorts, not the done thing, you know”. “Quite”, I demurred, and silently thanked God for small mercies. At least, when it’s 115 in the shade in Lahore, we don’t have to worry about starting forest fires while picnicking in Jallo Park.

It hasn’t yet topped 100, but already the tubes and trains are running late, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has warned motorists not to leave their pets in cars for fear of roasting them alive, and melting tar and traffic jams are a sight for sore eyes. As one newspaper reported, even “Tower bridge was stuck in the up position for a time last night … [and] the London Fire Brigade was summoned to the rescue to spray the spans with hoses in an attempt to cool them down … Worse things were infesting the countryside. In the Highlands of Scotland, a plague of adders was reported.”

The Pakistanis on holiday here are having a rotten time. Since they cannot quite warm to the idea of Steak and Kidney Pud with boiled potatoes and continue to find sizzling home cooked Aloo Gosht and Karahi Chicken liberally sprinkled with green chillies irresistible, they’re staying indoors and sweating it out. The Harrods sale is over, so there is nothing much to do anyway. Apart, of course, from cursing the fact that their flats and Alpha Romeos are without air-conditioners. One Karachi gentleman, who owns a fleet of Ferraris, Rolls and Jags, is especially upset at this lack of sensitivity on the part of the British. “Why”, he reminded us all, “even our Suzukis are air-conditioned”, and off he went to Harrods to order a couple of Westinghouses.

Alas. The weather is not the only thing on their minds. It appears that the Philippino maids they lugged all the way to Knightsbridge have flown the coop, leaving passport and clothes behind. “Well, what can one except? We treat them like serfs anyway”, opined one resigned richie rich, mopping his brow as he nursed his scotch.

The raw deal, apparently, begins at Heathrow airport when PIA Jumbos disgorge their insides. All the passengers are rudely herded into a shabby room and humiliated by racist Customs officers. Vicious dogs sniff for drugs among the petrified Pakistanis, while apologies are offered only to those who joined the flight at Paris or Frankfurt and whose colour is white. “No”, darkly mused one irate friend, “England is not what it used to be”. “But we have only ourselves to blame”, added a colleague ruefully. “The prison near Heathrow is overflowing with Pakistanis caught smuggling heroin into England. I gather there is a sizeable congregation for Friday prayers”. Upon which I immediately sensed the possibility of a good story and walked off to call Moni Mohsin.

But there is a bright side to all our woes. I refer, of course, to the colour, or rather lack of it, on the sidewalks and in the cafes around town. The cabbies aren’t the only ones in shorts and vests. At the risk of sounding like an MCP, I must confess to a good deal of aesthetic delight at the sight of long legs, tanned midriffs and peachy cheeks of the fairer sex. All of which is in glorious super-abundance these days.

I am also heartened to discover that one particular play is celebrating its twentieth anniversary in the West End. When it first arrived here two decades ago, (that is when I saw it) Oh Calcutta was attended by much gleeful speculation that the producers, director and even possibly the actors would be thrown into jail under the Theatres Act of 1969. The critics were at once aroused and divided. By the end of the first decade, it was calculated to have paid back 600 percent to the 60 people who had invested about Sterling 50,000 in it. The freewheeling time of the late sixties was evidently ripe for something “classically erotic,” as Kenneth Tynan wrote at the time, “it smashed barriers for ever”. Among those who sketched for it were Tennessee Williams, Samuel Becket, John Lennon, Sam Sheppard. It was never about seeing a couple copulating on stage, and one critic wasn’t particularly excited by, what he wrote, “seeing a limp dick on state”. I wonder what audiences in the 1990s have to say about it today?

(TFT August 16-22 1990 Vol-2, No.23 — Article)

Two steps backwards, one step forward

The deed is done. But the real tragedy, for actors and audience alike, may lie in mistaking the beginning for the end of this drama.

The President’s avowed reasons for sacking Ms Bhutto lack credibility just as much as his promise to hold fair elections on October 24. Of course, the PPP government was corrupt and inept. But this is hardly sufficient to merit the boot. Indeed, which government in the past 43 years was significantly different, except that this time round the press was free to write about it (and the PPP seemed to be in great hurry). The President’s choice of interim Prime Minister, Governors and Cabinet has also served to reinforce doubts about his real concerns and intentions.

The fact is that, frustrated by her captivity in Islamabad, Ms Bhutto was visibly beginning to flap her wings in desperation. She increasingly resented the power-sharing formula imposed upon her in November 1988, which severely curtailed her ability to mould domestic and foreign policy. Even her feeble attempts to restore some credibility to the office of the Prime Minister (like recommending candidates for the superior judiciary and refusing to give the army unlimited powers in Sindh) were viewed by the President and the military as dangerously provocative and ominous. Her opposition to the Shariat Bill, which sought to erode the republican spirit of the constitution in much the same fashion as the 8th amendment, and her efforts to diminish the chances of war with India over Kashmir were clearly unpopular with the hawks in the establishment. Nor did she make things any easier for herself by appearing to be at odds with the military’s intentions to install a fundamentalist regime of its own choice in Kabul.

In short, at stake was which of two powerful legacies — those of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Ziaul Haq — finally triumphs in Pakistan. To the pro-Zia establishment, Ms Bhutto could not be tolerated any longer because she had flaunted her disapproval of the Zia legacy without sufficiently disclaiming the attitude and rhetoric of her party in the 1970s. Corruption and inefficiency simply undermined her self-righteous image and made matters worse.

Many generals apparently have been convinced for a long time that the democratic system envisioned in the 1973 constitution is unsuitable to our fragmented genius. Ideally, they would like to run the show, no holds barred. Small wonder, then, that a willful Prime Minister like Ms Bhutto was even less acceptable than a relatively compliant on like Mr Junejo. Unfortunately for them, many domestic and foreign compulsions make it necessary to pay lip service to the electoral process and representative government. Martial Law is still second choice, but only just.

Consequently, it looks very much that we are once again on the threshold of radical constitutional restructuring. In theory, that unpalatable objective can be achieved in two ways.

On option is to go ahead with the promised elections, but only after ensuring that Ms Benazir Bhutto and the PPP cannot possibly win in October. This can presumably be done by buying off PPP supporters and provoking splits in the party; arresting and embroiling Ms Bhutto, her spouse and her colleagues in corruption cases and excluding them from the electoral process; or even by forcibly exiling her and banning the PPP. Once a timid, coalition government is in office, the constitution can be legally amended to give the military a de jure role in politics. As, for example, in Turkey, or some variation of the theme. The air is rife with discussions of proportional representation, Presidential system etc.

The other route is via a short and surgical martial law which amends the constitution suitably and then paves the way for the military’s “guided democracy”.

Mr Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi and his cohorts have been entrusted with the task of eliminating the threat of Ms Bhutto and the PPP. Appropriately enough, the interim cabinet makes no pretense at being natural or representative. It is bursting at the seams with two-bit politicians who loathe the PPP and its leader and are prepared to sell their souls to see the back of her for all times to come. So we are in for a nasty campaign in which the pot will cry itself hoarse calling the kettle black, while the establishment sniggers in the background and readies to reassert itself in times to come.

But Mr Jatoi will soon  confront the full measure of his bed o roses. t will take more than his conspiratorial strengths to knock out Ms Benazir Bhutto and also keep at bay ruthlessly ambitious pretenders to the throne, like Mian Nawaz Sharif et al. Nor can he pretend, even with Mr Soomro and Jam Sadiq on his side, to be able to control for long the volatile situation in interior Sindh. We are sceptical too about the extent of damage which can be done to the ousted Prime Minister’s credibility by the anticipated revelations of the new information minister Syeda Abida Hussain and the President’s press advisor Mr Hussain Haqqani. Try as they might, they may eventually have no option but to unfairly bar her from the polls, on one pretext or the other. Unfortunately for them, the problem will become more intractable if the public sees Ms Bhutto as a martyr. Of which, needless to add, the chances are great.

Which, of course, brings us back full circle to the tragedy which began in 1977. Pakistan cannot afford to relieve the experience of the last decade and make it worse by adding to the list of martyrs. All our problems of today owe their origins to the disastrous decisions taken during long years of unrepresentative rule. It would be madness to take that suicidal route again. Elections must be held. Ms Benazir Bhutto should be allowed to test her credibility once again with the people. Our best bet remains a democratic system which, via trial and error, can be expected to produce a mature political leadership and institutionalised stability in times to come. President Ishaq, Gen Beg, Ms Bhutto and all our disgruntled oppositionists must each retract two steps backwards so that the country make take one step forward. If ever the time was ripe for burying the ghosts of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Ziaul Haq, it is now.

(TFT August 23-29 1990 Vol-2, No.24 — Editorial)

A poisonous concoction

Information is a valuable commodity. Journalists make their living from it. Politicians draw sustenance from it. Establishments try to build regimes on it.

All are active in Pakistan. All are to be heartily welcomed. But with one reservation: that they respect the sanctity of truth. Admittedly, this is not an easy concept to pin down, but flagrant violations are obvious enough. And PTV’s re-reporting of ‘news’ gleaned from an Indian tabloid that implicated the ex-Prime Minister in an attempt to encourage an Indian invasion is as clear an example of the defiance of truth as one is likely to find.

The original story, later to be projected by PTV, reported that an emissary from Benazir Bhutto “suggested to the [Indian] external affairs minister that India could divert the Pakistan army’s attention from the internal problems by launching a united [?] military action along the border. It was argued that apart from diverting the attention of the hawkish generals, a short-term offensive would also lift the image of the embattled Prime Minister in the eyes of the Pakistani public, which would eventually stabilise her position in power.”

Since when did Pakistan’s most influential medium — television — take the word of a third rate Indian tabloid when it comes to important matters of state? The answer is glaringly obvious: when it became a weapon to consciously deceive the public in the battle for power. And this is what we were watching on the Khabarnama that evening: blatant disinformation to vilify an opponent.

Of course this was not the first instance of a concocted and deliberately planted story being given prominence by the state media. Nor will it be the last. It was remarkable only in its viciousness and crudity.

But disinformation rarely expects to impress you with its validity; it works on the principle that if you throw enough mud at someone, some of it is sure to stick. Many politicians swear by the principle as could be seen at Nawaz Sharif’s infamous Mochi Gate rally last year. Even the Republican campaign in the last American elections was tainted by it. The successive claims of Benazir Bhutto that the Military Intelligence and then the drugs mafia were to blame for her downfall were informed by it.

This is bad. But worse, far worse, is the use of the official state media to peddle this calumny. It can only confirm suspicions that the state is waging a battle to elimintate the PPP as a significant electoral force and cast an ominous question mark over its determination to hold free and fair elections. Fairness at the very least demands that the state media refrain from slander, for that is what PTV presented in re-reporting the laughable story from New Delhi.

On the positive side, PTV under the new information minister has tried to improve on the dismal standards of political reporting set by the previous government and offers the PPP more coverage than the PPP offered its opposition. This would be a cause for optimism if one could remain confident of the new minster’s good intentions, or alternatively, of her desire to remain in the job, after this Indian intervention story. Certainly, the BBC will be losing no listeners.

A faint optimism can also be drawn from Nawabzada Nasrullah’s attempt to forge a consensus among an influential section of ex-COP leaders against the vilification of political opponents.The support of Fazlur Rehman must unfortunately be balanced against the opposition of Wali Khan and Chaudhry Shujat which effectively scuppered the endeavour. This is a shame; an agreement within the old COP grouping to avoid the worst excesses of vilification would have done much to lessen the dangerous polarisation in our politics.

And nothing will serve better to widen that fracture than the use of the state media in the witch hunt — with all the attacks on shadows and illusions that a witch hunt entails. That the PPP is the opposition for today’s PTV is clear, but that it is the enemy — as the piece from New Delhi would imply — is a frightening thought indeed. If this is so, then we have left the democratic discourse far behind.

(TFT August 23-29 1990 Vol-2, No.24 — Article)

At home abroad

The Iraqi crisis has dominated the British press these last few weeks and relegated Benazir Bhutto’s predicament to the inside pages of most newspapers. The first news about the “constitutional coup” was filed by Reuters,along with a summary biography of Mr. Jatoi. Apart from The Independent, served admirably by its man-on-the-spot, the indefatigable Ahmed Rashid, most papers had to rush correspondents from London and Delhi to cover events in Pakistan.

Reuters’ profile of Mr. Jatoi was quite pathetic, not least because they erred in describing him as “Cambridge educated” as opposed to the Oxonian Ms. Bhutto. Reuters was also off the mark when it said that Mr. Jatoi’s son had been a member in Ms. Bhutto’s government in Sindh. The Sunday Times leader writer, unfortunately, didn’t know any better.

By all accounts, the best newsreports came from Ahmed Rashid who, two days before the government was sacked, wrote of its imminent departure in the near future. Subsequently, he broke the news that the interim government had offered a deal to Ms. Bhutto whereby all charges against her would be dropped if she chose to voluntarily go into exile. Although Ms. Bhutto vigourously denied this report earlier, she has since changed her stance and said as much to an American national network. Again, it was Ahmed Rashid who reported that Islamabad was seriously considering Saudi and American requests to send troops to Saudi Arabia, much before the Pakistanis officially acknowledged the move.

Most Britishers, especially women, were saddened by Ms. Bhutto’s departure, and sought consolation from how she had been shackled by the establishment and cornered by the mullahs. However, the perception that Ms. Bhutto’s government had been both corrupt and inefficient has taken root abroad as well. While most people tended to be sympathetic to her plight, they were critical about what they described as “her inability or unwillingness to check corruption, especially in her own family”. Mr. Asif Zardari, notwithstanding his glowing profile in Tatler magazine, was widely seen as the villain of the piece. The British are extremely touchy about nepotism. They were also concerned about the fundamentalist credentials of Ms. Bhutto’s opponents and are convinced that the interim government’s intentions are not honourable. As one editor put it, “it’s a case of the pot calling the kettle black.”

Most informed Pakistanis were critical about Syeda Abida Hussain’s decision to join the cabinet. “Chandi (as she is fondly called by her friends) has made a grave mistake. She refused to join Bhutto’s cabinet, she opposed Zia, she abused Junejo, she turned down Benazir, why has she become part of this most hypocritical arrangement?”, asked many of her friends and well wishers. The answer, which they promptly supplied themselves, went something like this: “She’s allowed her personal hatred for Benazir to cloud her political judgement.”

Mr. Ejaz ul Haq has also been hitting the foreign pages of the press. Barbera Crosette profiled him in The New York Times, as did The Financial Times in London. To foreign journalists he comes across as a new dynastic challenge to Ms. Bhutto and confirms their their suspicions that politics in the subcontinent is in essence “a family business”.

Mrs. Nusrat Bhutto, unfortunately, lent credibility to this apprehension when she was interviewed in The Times, shortly after her arrival in London. If there is one impression that the Bhuttos should be careful not to cultivate in the foreign press, it is that they are arrogant, feudal and distanced from the realities in a Third World country like Pakistan. Unfortunately, Mrs. Bhutto’s comments might have been thought laughable if they weren’t meant to be deadly candid. A PPP sympathiser, who couldn’t control her irritation, burst out, “Someone should tell her to shut up!” Indeed, why ever not.

Mr. Hakim Ali Zardari, who lived an unobstrusive life in a small but elegant Knightsbridge flat with his second wife Timmy Bokhari, gave two reasoned interviews, one to The Independent and another to Jang, London. In both, he came across as a seasoned politician whose denials and rebuttals merit consideration. He admitted that his party may have made mistakes but he attributed these to inexperience rather than malafide intentions. He accused Jam Sadiq, Jatoi, Shujaat Hussain et al of widespread corruption, while denying that he had been nepotistic in heading the Public Accounts Committee. He said he would return to Pakistan to face charges only if the government allowed the superior courts to hear the charges. Mr. Zardari thinks that elections will be postponed on some pretext or the other. He believes that both Ms. Bhutto and Asif will stand and fight, as indeed they should.

(TFT Aug 30-Sep 05 1990 Vol-2, No.25 — Editorial)

The killing fields

When a crowd is out for killing it becomes possessed of a strange fever. The victim is always weak and unprotected, it carries no threat of revenge. The powerless victim liberates the crowd from the fear attached to killing. The blows that before could only be dreamed can now be struck with impunity. The crowd acts as if caught in a delirium, unaware of the world about it.

The interim government is such a crowd, the PPP is its victim and the political system of constitutional democracy its killing fields. Events since the dissolution of the National Assembly have confirmed this: the establishment of an interim government whose credibility as a neutral umpire evaporated in the time it took to read through its list of ministers; the dissolution on the grounds of corruption of only the three PPP held assemblies; the setting into motion of an accountability process that is legally arbitrary and politically directed; and the discriminate arrest of PPP ‘terrorists’ in a city infested with armed party workers of all political hues, Karachi.

The killing crowd draws confidence from the fact that the victim is destined to die. And our men of destiny, the army, have quietly made this clear: the PPP as a pretender to power will be killed. As an electoral force, it will be destroyed.

And so the crowd starts baiting the PPP secure in the knowledge that it is only consummating destiny, not committing a crime. True, the countless others who were expected to recognise this destiny and join the crowd have not done so. The ordinary voters seem as yet to be blind to destiny, and the lack of a stampede from the PPP’s ranks indicates that its ex-legislators remain insensitive to it. But the killing crowd remains protected by providence.

However, it is a strange fever that consumes the killing crowd. when the killing has been done, and the delirium has passed, a sudden fear seizes those who had made up the crowd. They recognise themselves in the victim, and they scatter in panic. Those who use such killing crowds to achieve their political ends often fail to understand that the public execution of a dangerous enemy may cut deeper into their own flesh than into that of the enemy. The disintegration of the PNA, the subsequent formation of the MRD and the ensuing isolation of the army was the flight of a killing crowd horrified by the implications of its own actions.

For in the death of Z.A. Bhutto they came to recognise their own deaths, just as in the political demise of the PPP, the politicians of the interim government are fated to see their own political demise. All of them are as threatened by summary dissolution of the assemblies and arbitrary ‘accountability’ processes in the future as the PPP is now. Most are corrupt, and more dangerous in this context, most desire to wield real political power. The very actions that the interim government takes now against the PPP can be repeated by a future killing crowd, but a crowd which sees the members of today’s interim government as its victims. And this they will come to realise just as soon as they break the PPP, just as their forebears in the PNA came to realise it.

But it gets worse. The fevered killing crowd is engaged in an act of self-mutilation — for this is what we are watching. And when the polity itself proudly displays this act of self-condemnation as an act of salvation, who are we to search for the deeper causes of their failure. Yet if we do not do so — and remain content with the simple diagnosis presented to us: greed and corruption — then political maturity will ever elude us.

As a nation we have always been attracted by solutions that appear quick and final. That they never are so is a lesson our people, who stick to their memories of 1977 and remain deeply sceptical of the accountability process, seem to have learnt. But not our politicians, who seem intent on repeating those same mistakes. If this repetition is farce then it certainly has a gallows humour to it. And this humour leaves us cold.

(TFT Aug 30-Sep 05 1990 Vol-2, No.25 — Article)

Game plan to endgame

Islamabad — The more forcefully deposed Pakistani prime minister Ms. Benazir Bhutto demonstrates that her support base among the people is solidly intact, the more likely it is beginning to appear that the establishment will bar her entry into Islamabad on one pretext or another in the foreceeable future.

Three weeks after President Ghulam Ishaq Khan in tandem with the armed forces booted her out via a constitutional coup and promised free elections October 24, the interim caretaker government of former leader of the opposition Mr. Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi has discarded all pretense at neutrality and firmly embarked upon a detailed plan to crush her party and marginalise her from power.

The interim government’s campaign against Ms. Bhutto is clearly focussed on harassing her party’s top leadership, arresting PPP workers and unleashing a disinformation campaign (which includes charges of treasonable conduct) in the state-controlled media. Within the next few days, specially constituted tribunals armed with terrifying powers, pushed through hurriedly via Presidential Ordinances, are expected to formally try Ms. Bhutto and at least 15 top former PPP ministers and members of parliament on charges of corruption and misuse of governmental powers, with a view to disqualifying them from participation in elections for the next seven years.

Mr.Jatoi, the caretaker prime minister, has also been partly successful in wooing influential feudal members (like the Makhdums of Hala and the Pir of Ranipur) of her party in her home province of Sindh, in order to weaken her base in key electoral constituencies. His efforts to align with smaller parties with little previous electoral support, like the Tehrik Istiqlal, which are also opposed to the PPP may also bear some fruit.

Benazir Bhutto, however, is once again drawing massive welcoming crowds wherever she goes and her rhetoric against the government is becoming more shrill with each passing day. “We consider the dissolution of the assemblies illegal …. we will not bow down before these special tribunals and disqualification Ordinances which are unconstitutional….” she has repeated time and again. Ms. Bhutto has also accused Mr. Jatoi and several members of his cabinet of corruption dn malafide intentions. Because the caretaker government is widely perceived as being partisan in the extreme, her counter-attack is falling on sympathetic ears. “Members of Jatoi’s cabinet are no less corrupt than her ministers. There is no neutrality here. If President Ishaq meant what he said, he would not have brought such people in. So, what’s the big deal? Clearly, she is being unfairly victimised because she is Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s daughter. Ishaq betrayed her father in 1977 [when, as Z.A. Bhutto’s top aide, he is alleged to have warned Zia ul Haq of Bhutto’s intention to fire him and thereby triggered the coup which brought Zia to power] and he has done it again to the daughter”, are everyday sentiments which are strongly expressed by ordinary folk everywhere.

The PPP has challenged the President’s dissolution orders in the High Courts of three provinces and also rejected the legitimacy of the special courts and disqualification ordinances. A murder case against Benazir Bhutto has also been registered at the behest of the MQM in Hyderabad. Several former members of her cabinet, including the previous interior minister, have obtained bail-before-arrest. Increasingly, the superior courts are being dragged into the heated political battle by all the protagonists in the struggle for power.

Both sides are feverishly doing their electoral arithmetic, seeking allies, preparing lists of candidates and gearing up party machines for the promised elections on October 24. “We will try and disqualify Bhutto and her party’s top leadership in the special tribunals so that a crippled PPP cannot muster more than 50 seats in a total of 207 in the national assembly”, said one minister in the interim cabinet. “If she escapes the net, we will, of necessary, rig about 30 seats to defeat her at the polls”, candidly admitted another. “There is absolutely no way she can be allowed to come back into power. We have had enough of her”, spat one senior bureaucrat who owes his recently elevated position in the interim information ministry to close contacts in the army.

There are also contingency plans to postpone elections and continue with the caretaker arrangement or even to install a martial law regime if she cannot be stopped by the courts or defeated at the hustings. Meanwhile, the army junta which pressurised the President to sack her is watching and waiting to see how the action unfolds in September before ‘it makes its next move. “If Mr. Jatoi is unable to deliver that is the end of the line for all politicians”, warned one senior journalist known for his close contacts in the GHQ, adding that “she should forget about the Americans bailing her out this time round. They’re going to to be too preoccupied with Saddam Hussein to have any inclination or time to rethink strategy on Pakistan. Anyway, they’ll probably go along as some form of democracy is visible. They’re more interested in the appearance of a democratic system, however moth eaten it is in reality, than in any individual now”.

Ms. Bhutto, meanwhile, shows no indication of relenting her past mistakes or attempting to build conciliatory bridges with the establishment. Nor has she made meaningful gestures to win the support of those parties with whom she was allied in the 1980s in the struggle against Zia ul Haq but whom she subsequently antagonsied while she was in power. In various interviews and at numerous public rallies, she has thundered on one theme only: “We have been kicked out not because we ran a bad government or were corrupt but because we did a good job…. we were on the verge of resolving all our outstanding problems with Mian Nawaz Sharif (her main opponent for the past two years) when they hurriedly dissolved the assemblies…. the military intelligence agencies are responsible for overthrowing us…. the President has acted unconstitutionally…. we will fight all the way….”

“If she could see the writing on the wall, she might have been persuaded to quietly sit on the opposition benches for the next five years, gain experience and assess her strengths and weaknesses. But her foolishness will provoke another long period of martial law in this country” says a former member of her entourage now sidelined by Ms. Bhutto because of his outspoken views. “They are hoping that she plays into their hands by either boycotting the polls or provoking violence in Sindh. It is perfectly possible for them to arrest or deport her out of Pakistan if she looks about to upset their gameplan”, he added grimly. Senior members of the interim government nod in grim agreement with this assessment.

In the meanwhile, Mr. Jatoi is pulling out all the stops to unite her opponents under one united front so that the army can be reassured of the PPP’s defeat at the polls. Thus far, however, he has met with limited success. The IJI, under former Punjab Chief Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif, which successfully opposed Ms. Bhutto’s ambitions to extend her writ over all the provinces when she was in government, is bitterly feuding with its chief component the Muslim League over the award of electoral tickets to various constituent members. Mian Nawaz is also locked in a battle for power with Mr. Jatoi over who should be prime minister in the new arrangement after the elections. Most political observers, however, dismiss these as teething problems and insist that once the army is ready to go ahead with the elections, they will thump the politicians into coming in line. “When the junta is ready, the new ISI chief, Gen Durrani, will firmly tell them all to get on, or else. Mr. Jatoi and Mian Sharif have no choices”, said one federal advisor with close links to the GHQ. As they quarrel, politicians continue to discredit themselves before the public and play into the army’s hands.

While the conservative establishment conspires to hasten the political demise of Benazir Bhutto, there is talk also of amending the constitution to install a Presidential system in place of the present Westminister-type democracy in the country. “A strong presidential system backed by devolution of power to local bodies is best suited to our genius. In such a system, politicians can be entrusted to look after local politics while the state can go about restructuring the economy, giving concrete direction to foreign policy and providing stability to the country,” says a retired army general active in politics and known to echo the prevailing view among senior officers of the armed forces. A  senior journalist concurs: “They want to change the rules of the game. The armed forces seek a de jure role in the constitution, as in Turkey”. “Wait for it, before Gen Beg retires late next year, a new system will be in place. That is also another reason why Benazir Bhutto is unacceptable to them”, adds a senior retired army officer.

Various scenarios are being put forward for the next two months. One analyst thinks that if Ms. Bhutto is disqualified by the special tribunals, her party may boycott the polls in protest. The establishment will go ahead with the elections and she will stay out in the cold for years to come, as in 1985. “If she provokes violence, they will arrest her and crush all resistance.”

If she is not disqualified, “they will plan on selectively rigging the elections so that she is unable to effectively contend for government in October”, says a respected editor.

If she looks unstoppable and threatens to ride into power on a wave of mass sympathy again, “under the present state of emergency elections may be postponed on some pretext or the other, as for example, violence in Sindh or a hot border situation with India over Kashmir, the period between September to November being most propitious for was as in 1965 and 1971”, says a professor of defence studies.

If postponement is legally or physically problematic, the army could impose martial law, ban all political activity for a given period, amend the constitution to bar her way and open up political space only for the more compliant politicians who are prepared to fully cooperate with them. Once again, the law of necessity could be used to legitimise usurpation of power.

As things stand, Pakistan seems to have come full circle to 1977. The generals imposed martial law precisely when Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had come to an agreement with his political opponents over the future course of political development. Benazir Bhutto, too, appears to have been ousted when she seemed to have finally got the upper hand over most of her political opponents. In 1966, the generals were determined never to allow Mr. Bhutto back into power and relied upon the judiciary to eliminate him once and for all. Now, too, it looks as though the daughter may be marginalised through the courts. Then, Zia ul Haq exploited the politicians to retain his grip on power, amend the constitution and crush the spirit of the people for ten long years. Now, too, it looks as though the generals are on the verge of foolishly trying to repeat history. But much can happen between now and October 24,the date set for elections, and few are willing to bet on what the political profile of Pakistan will look like in 1991.

(TFT September 06-12 1990 Vol-2, No.26 — Editorial)

You can’t shoot the economy

If Pakistanis are deeply cynical about their leaders, it is with good reason. In 43 years, we have been herded into three futile wars, battled three internal insurgencies and resisted three military dictators. Two prime ministers, one president, three chief ministers, several generals, many MPs, and countless political and religious leaders have been assassinated. Three constitutions, thirteen federal governments and dozens of provincial ones have been chewed up and spat out. The shadow of dictatorship and martial law has darkened two thirds of our lives. In the process, we have lost over forty billion rupees to numbered accounts abroad, a fifth of our area and one half our population.

Small wonder, then, that the air is thick with a sense of deja vu, tempting us to dismiss the present parody with a surly shrug which says we’ve been through it all before. But there’s the cursed rub. If we sit back and allow this farce to continue, the past will surely seem like a pleasant dream compared to the nightmarish future.

Our creaky economy has been sent cartwheeling by Saddam Hussain’s ambitions. By next year, remittances from the Gulf may shrink by US$ 500m. Rising prices of oil and importables could add US$ 2b to our import bill. A recession abroad will hurt our exports. Money is needed also for elections. Kashmir-related defence expenditures cannot be avoided. By 1991, we are faced with a balance of payments shortfall of US$ 3b. The budget deficit is poised to go through the roof.

Where are we going to find the money to plug these gaps? Reserves are down to one week’s import bill. The Americans have no vested interest left to bail us out yet again: with the evaporation of the cold war, Pakistan’s raison d’etre as a front line state has ceased to excite President Bush’s imagination. If anything, he is irked by our defiant posturing on Kashmir and Afghanistan.

The full blast of looming austerity measures will hit the man on the street next year: rapid inflation, shrinking real incomes, shortages of “necessary goods”. Strikes, lockouts, dacoities, street violence. When the working and lower middle classes are thus squeezed, not all the 7 marla plots in the country nor all the justifications for the military’s budgets will help diminish their anger. This will be especially so if their favourites are foiled at the polls.

Taken in stride, however, a democratically elected government might just hope to middle through the crisis. Frustrating the electoral process by disqualifying Benazir Bhutto and marginalising the PPP would, in this context, be diabolical. It would hasten the hour of reckoning and deepen the crisis. Postponing elections and giving this cockeyed caretaker government a fresh lease of life would further test the state’s plunging credibility. And if, horror of horrors, martial law is unleashed upon us, Pakistan’s goose will be well and truly cooked.

Those gentlemen who stack the cards in Rawalpindi should forswear their sense of outrage and pause to reconsider. True, the PPP has done much wrong. But it is undeniable that the credentials of our self-proclaimed redeemers are no less dubious than those of the party they are bent on persecuting. And no amount of patriotic thundering is going to persuade our people to the contrary.

Ms Benazir Bhutto’s many voters, by all accounts, believe this accountability process to be blatantly rigged. If This farce continues for much longer, the highest and most respected institutions of the state, especially the office of the President, the armed forces and the judiciary, will suffer incalculable and irreversible harm. No country, least of all Pakistan, can afford the luxury of disavowing these pillars of national stability.

Searching for political permutations and combinations today is misplaced concreteness. There is only one strategy which offers us any exit at all, albeit a bumpy one. That is to repose trust in the people and have free, fair elections. Messrs Jatoi and Sharif against Benazir Bhutto. And let the winner grapple with the unenviable task of appeasing the masses.

(TFT September 13-19 1990 Vol-2 No.27 — Editorial)

Losing out on history

Many disgraced prime ministers have wandered this earth. But in modern times fee, very few, have been condemned in law. Concerns of state have over-ridden the desire for vengeance; stability is too high a price to pay for legal satisfaction.

With references now lodged against deposed Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and the question of state stability thrown to the fourth winds, we may ask whose vengeance and whose satisfaction is to be served by these proceedings.

Certainly not justice. The inequity of destroying a few carefully selected political careers with charges of sifarish and incompetence should banish any thought that justice is being served by this sudden outbreak of accountability.

Nor is democracy fostered by this desperate bid to circumscribe the electorate’s choice and engineer a ‘positive result’. In tracking down and bringing to ground the last Prime Minister, President Ishaq and his government have torn apart democracy’s first rule: that outgoing government leave office safe to fight another day. If prosecution and persecution is that price of vacating office, no defeated government will willingly surrender power to its opposition.

So, just as Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s hanging condemned us to eleven years of martial law and blackened the name of our judiciary throughout the world, the trial of his daughter will disfigure democracy and drag the courts back again into the political mire.

And the winners of before will be the winners again: the generals and the bureaucrats who cannot abide the encroachment of the democratic state onto pastures on which they have long grazed.

Even among the politicians of the opposition who in their short sighted greed for power called for dissolution of the assemblies, many are now distancing themselves from the accountability process. For in it they too now see the weakening of the democratic state and the eclipse of their own roles.

This they had not bargained for. Yet it is inherent in the process that the President initiated when he over-rode the democratic system and dissolved the assemblies. The prosecution of ministers and then the Prime Minister is the unfolding of the same logic; it is demanded by the need to justify the original action. Yet the logic cannot be stopped here, it cannot be dropped when its job has been done.

The fundamentally undemocratic logic is now determining our political future. It says that the people’s choice cannot be trusted; that a higher authority must vet their decision. It i the logic of a past age.

It is of the age when repression was cheap, before economies demanded educated workers determined to have their say in how their country was run. The nations of the modern world have long discarded it. All those who seek to enter it have thrown it off — witness Eastern Europe.

Even under the provocation of a President caught bugging and burglarising his opposition, the United States refrained from prosecution. Nixon was pardoned and the democratic process ran on.

For democratic legitimacy is a valuable commodity. And its value is rising just as we undermine that legitimacy in our own country by taking our last Prime Minister before a special tribunal. Elections held while the leader of the largest party is either held in jail or watching from the sidelines, disqualified from standing, will reduce us to the level of Burma. There, a democracy languishes — with the Prime Minister-designate in prison — while the generals ponder and the economy, deprived of foreign aid, falls deeper into depression.

By prosecuting Benazir Bhutto we align ourselves with countries like Burma, countries cut off from the democratic mainstream and the benefits it brings. Worse, we fly in the face of history. We not only repeat out own mistakes but those of all the nations which have kept themselves backwards. It is a sad irony that we have decided to walk backwards through history just at the moment when so many other nations have just leapt forward to claim a place in a new age.

(TFT September 13-19 1990 Vol-2 No.27 — Article)

Pakistan at the stake of accountability

As the country edges uneasily towards October 24, Najam Sethi surveys the confused political landscape in which the only thing transparent is the blatant partisanship of a discredited interim government determined to crucify a discredited Benazir Bhutto

A foreign journalist, bewildered by the maze of confusing “facts” laid at his door, was reassured to discover a week after he landed in Karachi that his predicament was not unique. Most Pakistanis, including their political leaders, also appear to be totally at sea with what is happening in their country.

The press these days is overflowing with news, analysis, interviews and statements. These are more likely than not to be denied or overtaken by “fresh political developments” the next day. The run-up to the elections promised on October 24 is marked less by campaign speeches or manifestos and more by feverish activity to make and break apolitical alliances, revise lists of potential candidates, engage in complex constitutional battles in the superior courts obtain bail-before-arrest and instigate or defend charges against one another.

Behind the scenes, in the meanwhile, every politician worth his salt is valuating the 20 km distance between Islamabad and Rawalpindi, seeking interviews with the President or contacting the men in khaki, led by the shadow-in-waiting General Mirza Aslam Beg, Chief Of Army Staff.

Forty days after he dismissed Benazir Bhutto and installed an interim government led by Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan’s credibility has fallen to such an all time low that many politicians are seriously questioning his ability to survive this crisis. Some senators have openly congratulated the Chairman of the Senate, Mr Wasim Sajjad, who is the constitutional encumbent should Mr Ishaq vacate his seat for one reason or another, on the probability of becoming the next President of Pakistan.

President Ishaq’s much trumpeted corruption charges against the PPP government have failed to produce the quick dividends he expected. Benazir Bhutto has successfully exploited her image as a woman “wronged by the established”. Her vote bank is at least as strong as it was in 1988 and thousands of people have been turning out to greet her wherever she goes, to listen to her lambast the President and his notorious “under-taker government”.

The President, though, may be in deeper trouble than he is prepared to publicly accept at the moment. His great white hope, the Muslim League, is in desperate straits. Patching up “differences” between Nawaz Sharif and Muhammad Khan Junejo, Muhammad Khan Junejo and Pir sahib Pagaro and Pir sahib Pagaro and Nawaz Sharif is seemingly impossible, for the time being at any rate.

The dozen or so special courts which he set up to try and disqualify Benazir Bhutto and her partymen from participating in the forthcoming elections have yet to get cracking and produce results for him. Although the Ministers of Information and Interior are working overtime to “leak” stories of corruption and misuse of power by the PPP, the interim government has to date managed to lodge charges against only a few former PPP ministers. In these special disqualification tribunals, the onus of proving innocence is upon the accused rather than one the prosecution’s ability to prove its case “beyond all reasonable doubt” as under established criminal law.

In one case the presiding judge considered the government’s charge sheet so lacking in evidence that the threatened to throw the case out in the second hearing unless the prosecution was able to provide justification for a trial. Another minister is accused of not providing adequate safety protection to the workers in his factory. The former interior minister has been accused of treason for “giving away state secrets to the Indians.”

The harassment of Benazir Bhutto and her party has become so obviously motivated and tacky that few are prepared to believe the President or his hand-picked prime minister any more.

State news coverage continues to be blatantly one sided. Matters have been made worse for President Ishaq Khan by the bumbling and contradictory approach of his band of care-takers. Although Syeda Abida Hussain, the interim Information Minister, has reiterated her “determination to be fair so that people do not depend on the BBC for objective news”, the state-controlled media is hysterical about the “misdeeds of the PPP”. The information minister is also on record as saying that the accountability process covers all former politicians stretching back to 1982 while the interior minister Mr Zahid Sarfraz (who was involved in a notorious car deal scam some years ago) openly admits that accountability is only for the PPP government.

The interim government’s partisanship can also be gauged from the publicly avowed intentions of the chief minister of Sindh, Mr. Jam Sadiq Ali. Mr. Al, who recently switched sides from the PPP to Mr. Jatoi, is remembered for being the most corrupt minister in the PPP government of Benazir’s father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s, when he is alleged to have doled out urban property worth tens of millions of rupees to his friends, relatives and supporters. Mr. Al recently announced the formation of a special cell in his official secretariat comprising five current ministers to promote the anti-PPP Islamic Democratic Alliance (IJI). The chief minister of Sindh as well as the federal interior minister have both accused the PPP of fomenting the recent ethnic violence in Sindh in which over two dozen people were killed. Neither has bothered to produce any evidence in support of their claims and both have ordered the arrests of PPP workers in different part of the country.

The President’s partiality was made abundantly clear on August 6 when he dissolved the National Assembly and the two PPP led provincial governments while allowing the two opposition-led assemblies in Punjab and Balochistan to resign. The distinction s important. Corruption charges can only be brought against the dismissed PPP governments.

In his first pres conference as acting prime minister, Mr. Jatoi told newsmen that his appointment was “only logical because when the government of a country fails, the opposition automatically moves in to fill the vaccum”. This argument, apparently, was not applicable to the provinces of Punjab and Balochistan, where the PPP was in opposition at the time of dissolution of the assemblies. In the Punjab, the chief minister Mian Nawaz Sharif was replaced by his right hand party colleague Mr. Ghulam Hyder Wyne while in Balochistan Nawab Akbar Bugti handed over power to his son-in-law Mr. Hamayun Marri. All four governors of the provinces are hand-picked by the President for their proven hostility to the PPP; one is a former interior minister under Zia ul Haq and brother of the millionaire businessman-lobbyist who ran the opposition’s public relations campaign in Washington during the Bhutto interregnum from 1988-90.

Apart from being charged with “the murder of MQM workers in Hyderabad last May by police firing”, Benazir Bhutto has also ben accused of treason for soft-peddling on India. However, Mr. Ghulam Mustafa Khar (formerly PPP) has been appointed a senior minister in Mr. Jatoi’s cabinet despite the fact that a case of treason was registered against him under Zia ul Haq’s regime in 1986 for “being an Indian agent” (he is still on bail). Mr. Khar has ben thrust upon Mr. Jatoi by the army so that he may help the interim government weaken the PPP’s base in the Punjab. Thus far, thirteen former PPP parliamentarians, of whom two are now ministers in the cabinet, have been persuaded to desert Miss Bhutto. One jumped her ship and joined the new cabinet a day after the caretakers lodged a criminal case against him.

The interim chief ministers of the four provinces are touring the countryside and spending hundreds of millions of rupees from the public exchequer to buy votes and promote their electoral campaigns. Hundreds of thousands of small plots of government land are also being hurriedly distributed to prospective electoral constituencies.

The Senate, or upper house, which escaped the President’s wrath because it is solidly anti-PPP (elections to it were last held under Zia ul Haq) has now been adjourned. In recent days it was being effectively used as a platform by two PPP senators to thunder against the excesses of the caretakers.

Three weeks ago, the interim government ordered the seizure of all the records of the Development Finance Institutions in the country and forbade its heads from leaving the country. The PPP is accused of sanctioning DFI loans to supporters against insufficient collateral. The practice of giving loans became an integral part of political patronage under Zia ul Haq and continued under his protege Mohammad Khan Junejo throughout the 1980s. However, the investigating agencies have been told to search for evidence of misconduct only during the two years of PPP rule, 1989-90.

During the month of August, prior to the announcement of the electoral schedule on September 7 by the election commission of Pakistan which disallows dismissal or transfer of public officials till after October 24, the government dismissed over 23,000 people from service in the province of Sindh and shuffled the police and superior bureaucracy in all the provinces. The police has a history of playing a crucial role before and during elections by helping mobilise voters, “capturing booths” and harassing opponents of the regime in power. Close friends, aides and associates of Mr. Asif Zardari have been arrested and forced “to confess crimes of corruption” implicating him. Mr. Zardari, like many former PPP ministers, has obtained bail-before-arrest.

By all accounts a relentless witch hunt is on to destroy Benazir Bhutto and her party. However, the former prime minister’s resolve to fight her way back to Islamabad shows no signs f weakening. She has refused to step aside in return for various deals offered by the establishment. Nor has her husband been cowed down to take a back seat during this time. On the contrary, he is playing a more up-front and aggressive role in deciding the political fate of his wife and her besieged party. His secretariat in Bilawal House, the Zardaris’s fortress-like abode in Karachi, is taking all decisions pertaining to the award of tickets in the forthcoming elections, suing the media for stories against him, planning strategy and whipping up morale. He has said he too will contest the elections from Sindh and lead the party back to power.

His party, however, s terribly confused. Should it boycott the special tribunals or not? Will “they” bring charges against Benazir Bhutto? Can they succeed in disqualifying her from contesting the polls? If she is eliminated, can the party survive? At what stage should she consider boycotting the elections? Can the PPP repeat its performance in the Punjab? Who should be awarded tickets? What are the Americans saying?

Indeed, all these questions may become insignificant or irrelevant and all our confusion disappear overright if we knew for sure what the Americans have said to the establishment and the establishment’s response to their views. Understandably, the PPP would like to see reassuring signals from Washington which indicate that Benazir Bhutto will not be disqualified and that elections will be free and fair.

Thus far, however, there is no confirmation of such American “advice” to the President or the armed forces. A low level team of US democrats is visiting Pakistan to assess the political situation. It is in no way connected formally to either the US Congress or the State Department. The President has assured the delegation, as indeed he has the people of Pakistan on countless occasions, that free and fair elections will definitely be held on schedule. But is that all there is to the American role in Pakistan today?

In all this confusion, one veteran politician at least is insistently clear: “By hook or by crook, either the PPP will be inwarted from furthering its ambitions via the ballot box or else elections will be postponed”.

For Benazir Bhutto, unfortunately, the fog is unlikely to lift completely for the next week or so. The establishment cannot postpone its crucial decisions to October when election fever will be at a pitch. Before the end of September, therefore, we should know the answers to most, if not all, our questions. In the meantime, Pakistanis have little choice but to remain glued to the media and clutch at straws. The men in khaki are still in conference.

(TFT September 20-26 1990 Vol-2, No.28 — Editorial)

Voice of Pakistan

It is curious that when the Bhuttos are pushed into a corner they tend to become melodramatic. In 1977, after ZA Bhutto assailed the generals for bouncing him out of Islamabad, he was obviously looking for more trouble. In the treacherous world of Pakistani politics no one forgives or forgets in a hurry, least of all a deadly coup-making junta.

Last August, when the daughter met the same fate as her father, we were dismayed. Democracy was off the rails again. We sympathised with her conundrum. We condemned the President: the way to hell was apparently not paved with good intentions. And we wondered whether or not this nasty jolt might have a sobering effect on her.

Good politicians weight their words, especially when they’re in trouble. If you shoot your mouth off, there is no respite. Miss Bhutto, sadly, is still desperately long on rhetoric. And we have been at a loss to understand her precise strategy. What did she hope to gain last month by focussing her wrath upon the invisible hand of “military intelligence”? Gen Beg was bristling with contempt when he smashed her back handed lob out of the court. Yesterday, she atoned for her impulsiveness: “I cannot blame anybody because levelling allegations without proof is un-Islamic and unethical”. Well, well.

Against all the rules of the game, Miss Bhutto has often demonstrated a penchant for jumping out of her political crease and having a go at the establishment’s fearful pace attack. Despite many self-inflicted misfortunes, she has been painfully slow to learn. Now she has unleashed a hail of missives at President Ishaq Khan. Speaking before a charged crowd in Larkana last Wednesday, she denounced him and demanded a judicial commission to “enquire into his activities since the time he was finance minister in the Zia-Junejo regime”. Yesterday, she thundered again: “Ishaq should resign. He too should be held accountable, especially for patronising his friends and relatives.”

Which, of course, prompts a diffident query: Pray, who, dear Benazir, is going to hold the President accountable? Gen Mirza Aslam Beg?

Is Miss Bhutto whistling in the dark again? Or does she seriously believe the President has been so thoroughly discredited his time is running out faster than hers? In either case it is a dangerously skimpy peg upon which she stakes her chances. Ghulam Ishaq is a fiercely stubborn survivor. Despite the legal snags, the references pile up. Obviously, this mess has to be cleaned up and a few heads will roll. But whose? No one, least of all Miss Bhutto, can afford to miscalculate.

If benazir Bhutto wants to piggyback it to Islamabad next October, in much the same compromising circumstances as in 1988, she might be advised to concentrate on building bridges instead of trying to blow them up. As matters stood last August, there was no love lost between her and the President. Since then, both have drifted apart almost irrevocably. And her latest attempt to attack the President and woo the General is fraught with doubtful consequences.

Part of the problem, we suspect, lies in Benazir Bhutto’s religious belief in her own propaganda. Which is why her rhetoric is fierce and she is very good at whipping up a crowd. But her tragedy lies in allowing herself to be swept away by it, in imagining she is storming the barricades like a true republican heroine, which she is not. The metamorphosis is thankfully brief but acutely problematic: her delusions do more harm to her own political career than to anyone else’s.

Her momentous struggles in opposition apart, the ebullient Miss Bhutto is definitely not the stuff of history. Not even, if she should insist upon it, as a patch upon the fiery father who fluttered briefly in 1968. The sooner she comes to accept this, the easier she will find it in herself to serve her own unexceptional purpose of being prime minister of this country again.

Which is why all this bitter posturing may not help matters much. For sure, the mohtarma has been wronged and deserves better, if only because the crowds chant she is Pakistan Ki Awaaz. But she should remember that in a tunnel the Voice of Pakistan can sound ominously like a voice in the wilderness.

(TFT September 20-26 1990 Vol-2, No.28 — Article)

Uncle Sam Tests the waters

As confusion surrounding the political future of Pakistan thickens, Najam Sethi analyses the recent controversy over the American role in Pakistan

As the run up to the elections promised next October gathers momentum amidst a cacophony of ‘Foul Play!’, Mr Robert Oakley, the US Ambassador to Pakistan, has clearly put the cat among the pigeons.

“In my view”, he said, “if there is to be ‘accountability’ for those holding political office it should not start from the November 16, 1988 elections which brought in the PPP, but should also include the 1985-88 period when the IJI parties and politicians ran the government. Otherwise the proceedings will inevitably be seen as partisan and further divide the country. Any proceedings must also meet strict judicial standards of fairness and due process”.

Mr Oakley added he “was confident that President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, a man who puts greater emphasis on the law, will make every effort to ensure that proper judicial standards are followed.”

However, he felt that “declaring a regional or national state of emergency or adopting other measures to limit democracy and political participation and putting paramount focus on law and order and cessation of protest before political dialogue begins is often practised but has shown little success.”

Speaking in Washington before a distinguished gathering of academics at the Asia Society, September 11, Mr Oakley’s lengthy prepared text surveyed US perceptions of the Cold War, the Middle East imbroglio and the enhanced role of various Western donor agencies before touching upon South Asia, the internal situation in Pakistan and Indo-Pak relations.

He warned, “the region must play catch-up ball before the clock runs out and current serious problems become dangerously worse. I want to emphasise that US relations with Pakistan and India should not be seen in South Asia as a Zero-sum game.”

Although Mr Oakley also discussed American views on nuclear non-proliferation, Kashmir, Afghanistan and the Pakistani economy, some of which are at odds with current Pakistani policies, his candid remarks on the various dimensions of the present constitutional crisis have drawn the most comment in the media from both sides of the political divide.

The Prime Minister, Mr Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, has said he did not think the Ambassador’s remarks constituted any interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan. But his interior minister, Mr Zahid Sarfraz, in a hard hitting press conference specially called for the purpose, has not minced his words. Referring to the US Ambassador’s Viceroy-type attitude he thundered, “Mr Oakley does not deserve to be the US Ambassador to Pakistan…he has acted in a totally undiplomatic manner”. The usually gruff minister just stopped short of calling for Mr Oakley’s expulsion.

While the minister for production Mr Rafi Raza and a foreign office spokesman had earlier routinely called the Ambassador’s remarks “an interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan”, after Mr Sarfraz’s outburst the foreign office immediately told the Americans that the minister’s acerbic comments were not shared by “the government”.

Mr Robert Oakley left Pakistan on ‘personal leave’ shortly after the government of Benazir Bhutto was dismissed by the President last month. Although the US embassy let out that he would return to Pakistan on Wednesday 19 September, in actual fact the Ambassador was already in Lahore, Sunday, September 17, a day before Mr Sarfraz called his press conference in Islamabad.

There is also speculation in the media that Mr Oakley, who is back in the country for a few days to “obtain his personal update on a wide variety of bilateral issues”, may have a meeting with the President to deliver a ‘special message from President Bush’.

Mr Oakley is reported to have had two meetings with ex-prime minister Miss Benazir Bhutto after August 6 before he left Pakistan for the USA. While this fact did not catch the attention of the press earlier, it may not have been a pure coincidence that the Ambassador was incognito in Lahore the very night Benazir Bhutto came to the city Sunday, September 17.

Events in the past few weeks have unfurled with such rapidity that it is becoming increasingly difficult to gauge the confusing signals emanating simultaneously from several quarters.

Most Western diplomats have apparently conveyed their serious doubts to President Ishaq about his ‘accountability trials’ and the caretaker government’s unabashed partisanship in blatantly discriminating against the Peoples Party of Benazir Bhutto. However, none among them has any reservations about the certainty of elections on October 24. There is a consensus, too, that Miss Bhutto will be allowed to participate in the elections despite the President’s insistence on filing fresh cases against her and her ministers in the special courts. It is also well known that most senior foreign diplomats are not impressed by the substance of the President’s charges against the PPP, especially since the courts have generally tended to frown upon the prosecution’s arguments and returned at least two cases back to Mr Ishaq Khan for review. There is increasing disquiet also about the fact that the President has thus far refused to file charges against the caretakers or other members of political forces arraigned against Miss Bhutto.

Mr Robert Oakley’s comments come at a time when the President’s credibility in his own country has fallen to an all-time low and there is talk in Islamabad about his imminent departure from the political scene in the not-too-distant future because “he has failed to deliver the goods” and brought the office of the President of Pakistan into disrepute.

Miss Bhutto, it seems, has also changed track recently. Her attacks against the person of Mr Ishaq Khan are no longer couched in vague constitutional generalities signifying ‘malafide intentions’. In the past seven days she has openly called for Ishaq Khan’s accountability and charged him with nepotism and favouritism, the very same charged which he has heaped upon her. For the first time since August 6, she has demanded his resignation saying that he is no longer qualified to sit in the Presidency because he has completely lost the confidence of the people.

Miss Bhutto has also begun to woo afresh the military high command. She is now emphasising the “sensitive nature of the institutions of the state” and arguing that all talk about the military’s political role should cease “in the larger interests of the country”. This is a far cry from her barbed remarks about the role of military intelligence agencies in effecting her ouster from government last August, which prompted a caustic rebuttal from the COAS Gen Beg at the time. Several PPP leaders have also been recently making noises about the desirability of coming to terms with the army’s role in politics. The PPP information secretary Mr Qayyum Nizami said two weeks ago that “there was no harm in studying the system of government in Turkey” where it is assumed the armed forces have certain constitutional, political duties over and above those defined in the present Pakistani constitution.

Political analysts discern in this volte-face by the PPP an obvious attempt to isolate Mr Ishaq Khan and build bridges with an estranged GHQ. It is argued that the political crisis can be resolved best by ditching Mr Ishaq Khan, bringing in the present chairman of the Senate Mr Wassim Sajjad in his place, and opening up political space for the most popular party in the country which is now sufficiently chastened to accommodate the military’s point of view. “As long as Ghulam Ishaq is around, it will be difficult for the establishment to backtrack on its charges against the PPP” comments a well-connected establishment insider. “If he becomes the fall guy, the road is clear for the army to proceed in consolidating the sort of arrangement it wishes Benazir Bhutto to accept”, says a senior retired army officer. “He has botched up the whole show. His caretakers have made a royal mess of things. The army is deeply worried and searching for solutions. Someone or something has to give, and quickly. Time is running out on this man and Bhutto is knocking on the doors of Islamabad again”, warns a senior bureaucrat in Islamabad. American diplomats, too, quietly admit that “the old man is in serious trouble”.

Like the armed forces, the American role in Pakistani politics has always had a high profile. After the death of Gen Zia ul Haq, the Americans were credited with helping pave the way for fresh elections in November 1988. At that time, remnants of the Zia regime, including all those who are today part of the President’s blundering caretaker government, were hysterical in demanding a postponement of elections. It is common knowledge too that the US brokered the entry into Islamabad of Benazir Bhutto two years ago and persuaded her to compromise with the establishment by supporting the candidacy of Ghulam Ishaq Khan for President. “The Americans are naturally concerned that, having helped foist Ishaq Khan on Bhutto in 1988, they should not now be seen as doing nothing while he proceeds to create unnecessary hurdles in the way of democracy in Pakistan”, explains a professor of International Relations at the Punjab University.

Fearing another American ‘intervention’ in domestic politics which might adversely affect their vested interests, certain elements in the establishment and among the caretakers have launched a determined effort to neutralise American pressures for fair play and credible elections.

Last week, the federal ministry of information officially wrote to some senior editors of newspapers requesting the publication of an article titled The people of Pakistan and America’s cultural invasion written by Seyyed Hassan Mirdamadi and earlier published in the daily Jamhouri-i-Islami on July 23, 1990. The article virulently attacks the ‘Great Satan’ for foisting an alien culture on the youth of Pakistan through the international news channel CNN. It appeals to the ulema to act under the “Principle of Interdiction of Unlawful Things” and forcefully resist this invasion of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. it quotes the late Imam Khomeini treatise on “Amaliyeh” in his list of Don’ts for Muslims. As an anti-American diatribe, the article is extremely inflammatory and objectionable.

The question, however, which arouses the interest of political pundits is this: why was the article, written three months ago, taken out of cold storage and pushed upon a largely unsuspecting media today? Confronted by the Americans, the information minister Syeda Abida Hussain could not satisfactorily explain how and why her ministry had officially tried to plant this article in the media.

“Like Mustafa Khar, Abida Hussain and Hussain Haqqani, the interior minister Zahid Sarfraz is in close contact with those in the establishment who abhor Bhutto and are determined to bar her way”, explains a senior journalist in Islamabad. “These are the same gentlemen in khaki who also do not see eye to eye with the American position on Afghanistan and Kashmir. Mr Jatoi had no hand in the appointment of all these ministers and advisors, that is why his perceptions are different and that is why the caretakers are pulling in so many directions.”

Elements in the Pakistani military are reportedly also licking their lips in anticipation of a greater role for the Pakistani armed forces in the Gulf.They believe that in the establishment of any future military force to protect the Gulf Kingdoms the Pakistanis will inevitably play a dominant role. “An American umbrella will never be acceptable to the Arabs once the immediate conflict has been resolved”, explains a caretaker advisor. “The only viable peace keeping defence security arrangement for the Gulf is a pan-Islamic one and in that Pakistan will play a major role. Remittances and Afghanistan bailed us out in the 1980s. The Gulf will bail us out in the 1990s. The Americans need us more than we need them. So why should Oakley tell us how to run this country”.

It only remains to be seen to what extent, in the next few weeks, such elements will succeed in getting their way. As pronouncements become more vitriolic and positions harden on all sides, the country slides into its worst crisis since August 17, 1988, when the unexpected death of a military dictator allowed democracy to be reluctantly ushered into Pakistan.

(TFT Sep 27-Oct 3 1990 Vol-2, No.29 — Editorial)

Facing reality

The Establishment is a clever euphemism for the thekedars of Pakistan. This is a breed of ambitious, self righteous, opinionated, status-quo hardliners in the unyielding secretariats of the army and bureaucracy. Governments have come and gone with embarrassing frequency but the establishment has forever ruled this country.

Conventional wisdom has long dictated that politicians should respect the unwritten preamble to democracy in these parts. This is embedded in the distinction between ‘office’ and ‘power’. Politicians are supposed to run for office; power is strictly reserved for the establishment. When democracy has overreached its ‘mandate’ in office, the establishment’s response has been swift and powerful.

Z.A. Bhutto rode into office on the backs of the establishment. Then he ‘usurped’ its power. Six years later, ‘they’ had no qualms in coldbloodedly restoring the equilibrium.

Poor Mr. Junejo. Goaded on by the foolish ‘young Turks’ surrounding him, he lost his head for a brief, flawed moment. And that was the end of the line for him.

Ms. Benazir Bhutto’s cavalcade into Islamabad owed as much to fortuitous circumstances as to her own brave struggles in opposition. The establishment was wary. Could she be trusted to keep the brokered peace? Sure enough, soon she was transgressing her ‘official’ writ and chipping away at ‘their’ power. Centre-state relations, ISI affairs, appointment of senior judges, retirement of Admiral Sirohey, section 245 Vs 147, promotions of senior army officers — all were viewed as audacious attempts to encroach upon ‘their’ territory.

These were irrefutable ‘offenses’. Worse, she was much too ‘soft’ [their euphemism for treason] on India, they said. Hadn’t the father betrayed the heroic Kashmiris at Simla? And now, here was the daughter positively glowing in the company of arch-enemy Rajiv Gandhi, conducting secret negotiations and bartering away state [read ‘establishment’] secrets. As for Afghanistan, the woman was denying them a free hand. Eight years of ‘national sacrifice’ could not now be swept away merely because the fickle Americans had betrayed the glorious jehad. Enough, they said, why, the woman threatens our very raison d’etre! Benazir must go, and never return.

Despite its avowed abstraction the establishment, however, is also human, and therefore fallible. In its unpropitious haste to get rid of Miss. Bhutto, it has seriously overestimated its own power just as much as it has underestimated her credibility. Unlike the hapless Mr. Junejo, she lives s charmed life in the hearts of ordinary people. And these millions of ordinary people, with their ordinary hopes and votes, are doggedly scrambling to line up behind her.

If ‘they’ could find the intellectual, economic and political resources to satisfy the hunger of these faceless masses,Miss. Bhutto might be reduced to nought before long. But, as we say, these times, they are a’changin. Freedom is becoming indivisible. It can no more be rationed out. And the establishment cannot fly forever in the face of stark realities.

The cold war is over. We are on our own. No more the luxury of a parasitic existence clutching the skirts of a superpower. No more the dubious purposes of a front line proxy state. No more living on borrowed time. Or money. The establishment must now pay its debts. And it must begin at home.

Such are the facts of life. The gaps are too many. Economic crisis, conflict in Kashmir and Afghanistan, political impasse, ethnic violence, provincial aspirations, sectarianism and a surging sea of aspirations which will not be thwarted for ever. Even the ubiquitous establishment, with all its tentacles, cannot hope to plug all of them. Which is why its desperate search for a formula to nourish its vast appetite for power is doomed.

With all her faults, whether or not Benazir Bhutto can provide a transitory breathing space, we cannot say. She has much to learn and more to prove. But there are no shortcuts. No postponement of elections, no martial law, no guided democracy. It won’t work. Everyone has to confront the pangs of growing up and squarely face reality.

(TFT Sep 27-Oct 3 1990 Vol-2, No.29 — Article)

A diet for Pakistanis

Forced to chose between eating a hundred onions or suffering a hundred lashes as punishment, a criminal opted for the onions. But after eating half a dozen, he thought the lashes might be more palatable. Half a dozen stinging lashes later, he switched back to the onions. And so on, until eventually he was forced to suffer both. That sums up our dilemma today: democracy is like onions and martial law like whip lashes.

But with less than a month to go before elections, most Pakistanis are still wondering what fare the establishment will finally serve: onions or lashes.

President Ishaq has reiterated that he is determined to provide onions, “come what may”. The good general has gone a step further: “Let them eat onions every six months”, or words to that effect. Bob Oakley too is rooting for the same dish. Mr. Jatoi is desperately running around to rustle up a sizeable crop in Nawabshah and Mian Sahib’s warehouses are bursting at the seams.

But if everyone is so reassuring, why are we decidedly sceptical? It is clearly Mr. Ishaq’s intention to deny Miss.Bhutto safe passage to Islamabad. The judiciary is going to be sorely tested. If the erstwhile prime Minister is found guilty of the President’s charges even on one court, the PPP will surely boycott the elections. In which case more than half of Pakistan can expect to be whipped while the rest are forced to munch on onions. But if she is cleared, she might land up in Islamabad and Mr. Khan could end up with egg on his face. Neither option looks too appetising.

Take Gen Beg. He is in no mood to salute her again. His hands are full, as it is. Kashmir has hotted up. Afghanistan is next. The Gulf crisis is taxing his constituency and the US Congress is making threatening noises about his pet nuclear project. A born-again Bhutto is absolutely the last thing he wants.

The Americans, as usual, want to negotiate a package deal. They would like the establishment to lay off Benazir, the nuclear programme, Kashmir and Afghanistan. They would also like a helping hand against Saddam Hussein. In exchange, they offer foreign aid and a lucrative deal in the Gulf. But if Gen Beg drives a hard bargain, what will they do? Forced to chose between exporting onions to Pakistan or importing troops into the Gulf, there may not be much choice. As one senior administration official in Washington confided to a journalist recently, “however much congressional pressure is exerted on the US administration to write off Pakistan if democracy is not restored, it is more likely that the Pentagon and the CIA would try to maintain close ties with the Pakistani military establishment… because its involvement in the Gulf would make it an invaluable asset in any multi-national force desired by President Bush.”

What about Mian sahib and Mr. Jatoi?, Well, their profound aversion to a diet of onions precedes their recent lukewarm pronouncements to the contrary. By meekly submitting to the will of the establishment, they can hope to flog onions another day.

Which leaves us with Benazir Bhutto and most Pakistanis. Unless there is a radical and unexpected change of heart in more than one quarter, they may be fated to suffer the anguish of our petty criminal who was forced to swallow the onions and the lashes.

(TFT October 4-10 1990 Vol-2, No.30 — Editorial)

Mockery of justice

Three cheers for General and Mrs. Mirza Aslam Beg. Where the husband has forcefully reaffirmed his faith in the electoral process, the wife too has spoken out courageously about the state of religion and politics in this country. Of course, we are a cynical, suspicious lot, but their words are enormously comforting for those who clutch at straws.

We wish, though, we could be emphatic in praising President Ghulam Ishaq Khan. Although he has said that elections will be held “come what may”, it is precisely these three words which give cause for second thoughts.

Indeed, “what is coming” is clear enough. And there are no two opinions about it. The President’s accountability trials are so thoroughly inequitable as to border on the farcical. Yet every morning brings a dismal, fresh Presidential reference against the beleaguered Peoples Party. His caretaker government, too, makes mockery of the constitutional provisions for a neutral interim government.

The decision of the Peshawar High Court to restore the NWFP assembly was as breathtakingly lucid as it was short-lived. Of course, the President had every right to appeal in the Supreme Court. But the way he went about it has definitely left a bad taste in the mouth. It is unprecedented that a stay order should have been granted by the Supreme Court in less than the time it took to peruse the High Court’s landmark decision. What is even more shocking is the President’s sacking, just three days later, of Justice Qazi Jamil, one of the five judges who struck down the dissolution orders of August 6. Along with six others, the President appointed Justice Qazi two years ago. Last Monday, he confirmed the appointment of the other six (of whom only one, Justice Ibne Ali, sat on that particular bench and cast the single dissenting vote) and fired Justice Jamil, prompting a former Advocate-General of the NWFP to remark that “after this, nobody would be inspired to become a judge”. Quite so.

Despite the exalted status of the office of the President of Pakistan which he now occupies, courtesy of democracy, it seems Mr. Ghulam Ishaq Khan is unable to strip off the bureaucratic straightjacket he has got used to wearing all his life. His cavalier approach to complex political issues smacks of an unaccountably stubborn bureaucrat. By dragging the judiciary into the political mire he is eroding the credibility of the one institution which has narrowly escaped the ravages of state authoritarianism and opportunism. By trying to protect his hide and disqualify Benazir Bhutto from contesting the elections, he could well end up hammering a few more nails into the judiciary’s coffin.

The storm the President has kicked up will surely pass, just as all the vicious others in the last forty three years. But it is bound to scar our constitutional landscape in much the same fashion as the wounds inflicted by Gen Zia ul Haq. History is a fickle mistress It will quickly forget all about the stolid Ghulam Ishaq Khan of the first two decades and remember only the unrelenting arrogance of power by Ghulam Ishaq Khan in the last two.

It is sad we have come to such a pass that Benazir Bhutto should be forced to openly demand a President’s resignation or ouster. And that in so doing she increasingly echoes the views of countless others who are unable to ignore the prejudice of his policies. This grand mess was not inevitable. All it required was what is normally expected from a President: political detachment and fair play. In other words, a neutral caretaker government and accountability for all the rascals. Having failed to provide the latter, Ghulam Ishaq Khan has lost all pretense at the former.

It is just as well that the armed forces, notwithstanding their original compulsions, have maintained a discreet distance from the President’s transparent game-plan. At least this way they can affect a compromise with one half of Pakistan, when that becomes necessary, without losing face.

Which is why we are glad that General Mirza Aslam Beg hasn’t blown his bridges. And that Mr. Waseem Sajjad, the Senate Chairman, is a lawyer of good standing without mud on his face.

(TFT October 4-10 1990 Vol-2, No.30 — Article)

The Judiciary under pressure

With the President and his caretaker government in shreds and Benazir Bhutto riding the waves again, Najam Sethi details the political pressures on the judiciary which is once again unfairly expected to show the way ahead

When the President of Pakistan recently reiterated his determination to hold elections next month, the key words defining his statement were: “Come what may”.

In fact, as the battle between Benazir Bhutto and the Pakistani establishment moves into high gear before the courts and at the hustings, these words have begun to acquire a menacing tone. Certainly, most Pakistanis do not see free and fair elections ahead. And despite Gen Mirza Aslam Beg’s firm commitment that elections will be held positively on the promised date, the spectre of martial law refuses to disappear from the political horizon.

While doubts about the President’s credibility have persisted from the day he dismissed the assemblies, everything he has done since, including his construction of a caretaker government, has merely reinforced the widespread impression that free and fair elections were probably the last thing he actually had in mind.

Last week the President’s special disqualification tribunals sent a third notice to Benazir Bhutto asking her “to present herself before the special courts and show cause why she should not be held guilty of the charges levelled against her”. Three days later, Bhutto’s father-in-law Mr. Hakim Ali Zardari and three former PPP leaders including Faisal Saleh Hayat were also charged with similar offenses before the special courts, making a total of ten PPP leaders charges thus far. One former PPP minister, Mr. Akbar Lalsi, has already been sentenced to imprisonment for “spending more than the legally allowed sums on his last election campaign”. His appeal before the Balochistan High Court is pending.

In view of the President’s discriminatory onslaught on the PPP, Ms. Bhutto has recently changed her political tactics. Where she had earlier only debunked Ishaq Khan’s charge-sheet and called her ouster a “constitutional coup” engineered by “military intelligence”, she is now publicly accusing the President of corruption and nepotism, asking for his accountability and forcefully demanding his resignation. She is also trying to woo the military by prodding PPP leaders to praise the armed forces and build bridges with them.By focussing her attack on Ghulam Ishaq she is obviously hoping to drive a wedge between the President and the armed forces so that a compromise with the Generals can be facilitated later without any loss of face to either.

Although Ms. Bhutto has said she does not accept the legal validity of the special courts, she has appeared before the Special Tribunals to defend herself because, she told the judges, “she respects the judiciary”. It is also expected that she will challenge the constitutionality of these tribunals and try to obtain a ‘stay order’ from the High Courts to that proceedings can be halted until the elections are over.

The judiciary has now become the main battleground of the two protagonists. When the PPP petitioned the High courts of Balochistan, NWFP, Sindh and Lahore to reject the constitutionality of the President’s order dismissing the national assembly August 6, the federal government reacted by getting the Supreme Court to transfer the four petitions to full benches of the High Courts of Lahore and Sindh only. The PPP then succeeded in challenging the legality of the Governors’ orders dismissing the provincial assembly of the NWFP.

The first major decision, hailed as a great victory for the PPP and a stinging slap in the face of the President, was handed down by the Peshawar High Court on September 26. The Court held as invalid the dismissal of the NWFP provincial assembly by the Governor and ordered its immediate restoration. But, using powers under the national Emergency in force, the federal government obtained an unprecedented ‘stay order’ from the Supreme Court in just 30 minutes after the decision was announced.

A day earlier, in the major writ before a full bench of the Lahore High Court challenging the dissolution of the national assembly, the press reported the court as commenting that “in the light of the Supreme Court’s earlier decisions, an interim caretaker government can only undertake the resolution of everyday matters. It’s work is limited to the extent of the objective of holding elections”. Although the press was later hauled up before the court for misreporting its comments, the press has stuck to its reportage and the contempt case is also pending. In view of the blatant partiality of the caretaker government, senior lawyers believe that if the caretakers were challenged in the superior courts they would not last beyond the first hearing, so obviously is the law being flouted by the President’s men.

Two weeks earlier, one of the special tribunals rejected at first glance the President’s charge sheet against a former PPP minister.

After the Peshawar High Court’s September 26 decision to restore the NWFP assembly, most analysts believe the other courts will take their time in closely examining the merits of each case. The President, however, has reacted to the decision of the Peshawar High Court by refusing to confirm one of the judges on the bench, Justice Qazi Jamil, who voted in favour of restoring the assembly. Of the seven judges appointed by him in 1988, the other six have been confirmed in their appointments to the Peshawar High Court. Of these six, only one other was a member of the bench, Justice Ibne Ali, and his vote was cast as the lone dissenting one.

In December 1989, a conflict arose between President Ishaq and Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto over the issue of appointment of judges to the Supreme Court. Bhutto’s contention was that under the constitution the President could only appoint such judges as were recommended by the Prime Minister. The President argued that he had discretionary powers to do so without consulting her. The matter was taken to the courts for review but Bhutto withdrew her petition just as it seemed that she might indeed score a victory over the President. She later admitted she had done so because she did not wish to antagonize the President.

In the end, all decisions taken by the High Court or the Special tribunals in the ongoing trials and writs will land up for review before the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The Chief Justice of Pakistan, as well as several other SC judges, were either appointed or confirmed last year by President Ishaq Khan. Benazir Bhutto may yet come to regret her decision in 1989 to relinquish her right to appoint judges.

The judiciary in Pakistan has a long history of being dragged into the political mire. In 1955, the Supreme Court legitimised the overthrow of the Constituent Assembly by Governor-General Ghulam Mohammad. In 1958 the Court legitimised General Ayub Khan’s martial law. In 1972, it declared Gen Yahya Khan a ‘usurper’ and his martial law illegal, but it did so only after Z.A. Bhutto had taken power. In 1977, the court allowed Gen Zia ul Haq legitimacy for “a temporary period… for a limited and specific purpose”, but martial law was allowed to continue after the court was sworn in afresh following Zia ul Haq’s Provisional Constitutional Order in March 1981. In 1979, the court upheld Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s death sentence. But in June 1988, the court upheld Benazir Bhutto’s petition challenging the Political Parties Act which disqualified the PPP from participating in the forthcoming elections. Then in September 1988 came the Haji Saifullah case in which the court held Prime Minister Junejo’s dismissal as well as that of all the assemblies by Zia ul Haq to have been illegal. However its decision came after Zia ul Haq had departed and elections were in sight.

Although the Peshawar High Court’s decision to restore the provincial assembly is based on a technical, rather than a political, flaw in the federal government’s case, it is being seen here as a great moral and political defeat for the President. Since there are similar technical problems with the procedures followed in dismissing some of the other provincial assemblies, it is argued that the federal government will have a hard job convincing the other courts to decide in its favour.

“There is likely to be a snowballing effect. The judicial resolution of the conflict over the constitutionality or legality of the President’s orders and the raison d’etre of the caretaker government is fraught with serious implications”, warns a top legal expert. “How can the President and the army sit back and allow the judiciary to confound their plans”, asks a retired judge.

Theoretically, of course, there is still a long way to go before the President’s “Come what may” resolve passes into history. Bhutto could still be disqualified before the elections or even, if the cases drag on, after October 24. The scenarios are endless, including one in which her party may eventually be forced to boycott the elections or parliament, depending on when the decisions are announced by the judiciary.

But as things stand today, the judiciary is unfortunately under tremendous political pressure from both the adversaries — the President and the PPP — to uphold their particular view of the constitutional way ahead. And while the armed forces have discreetly maintained their distance and reiterated their resolve not to interfere in the electoral process scheduled later this month, the spectre of martial law continues to haunt the country.

In this uncertainty, a whole new package of short and long term scenarios and rumours is emerging. And many Pakistanis, despite their avowed loathing of uncertainty, are cheerfully playing the guessing game again with gusto, instead of concentrating on the hustings.

(TFT October 11-17 1990 Vol-2, No.31 — Editorial)

State Vs The Rest

After 43 years of obsequious bowing and scraping in Washington, Karakulli cap in hand, our establishment has suddenly woken up to ‘demand’ an end to American ‘interference in the internal affairs’ of Pakistan. If this sudden perception of our ‘sovereign’ rights were to presage a nationalist-democratic revival in the country, we would, of course, welcome it with open arms. But our establishment’s plummeting credibility all round makes its long lost anti-American sensibility most suspect.

We are told that Benazir Bhutto’s government, like that of Muhammad Khan Junejo, was corrupt and inept. We agree. But then so are Mr Jatoi’s caretakers, including the brothers, Sharif & Co. Further, Zia ul Haq and his cronies weren’t exactly paragons of virtue and legitimacy either. So what are we to make of the motivations behind the establishment’s selective accountability?

We are told that the judiciary is held in great esteem by the executive. But then Justice Qazi Jamil of the Peshawar High Court is booted out three days after he expressed a disagreement with the executive’s point of view.

We are told that Benazir Bhutto is neither patriotic nor a good Muslim because she did little for the cause of Kashmir or the Shariat Bill. But then, can anyone honestly believe that Zia ul Haq and his successors succeeded in ushering us into an Islamic Kingdom or in liberating Kashmir?

We are told that Ch Aitzaz Ahsan sold state secrets to India. But no one cares to focus on the dalliance of Mr Mustafa Khar and Mr Jam Sadiq with the Indians. We are told that Mr G M Syed has been a ‘traitor’ all his life. Yet his patriotism is now flaunted by the caretaker Governor and Chief Minister of Sindh.

We are told that India continues to provoke ethnic violence in Sindh. But what we are to make of Indian allegations of the Pakistani hand in East Punjab and Kashmir?

We are told that there is an insidious conspiracy by Al-Zulfiqar to disrupt the electoral process. But no one bothers to explain what the PPP hopes to gain by these tactics when it looks set to romp home in free and fair elections.

We are told by the President and the COAS that elections will be held, ‘come what may.’ But what does Prime Minister Jatoi means when he says he ‘hopes’ they will be held, and then qualifies his ‘hope’ by adding that he has no control over ‘external factors’?

We are told by Mr Jatoi that the American ambassador isn’t interfering in our internal affairs. But his Interior Minister says he most certainly is.

We are told by the President that there will be no war between India and Pakistan. Then he holds out a ‘timely’ warning to neighbouring India to desist from heating up the borders.

For simpletons like us, there is only one bare explanation for all these meanderings: Benazir Bhutto must be marginalised, ‘come what may’. And what may come, if necessary, could be a disqualification before or after the elections, rigging or postponing them or even imposing martial law. In its desperation to control the surging wave of sympathy for her, the establishment has trampled on everything and everyone, left no distinction unimpaired between friend and foe.

However we look at it, Benazir Bhutto’s economic programmes and political outlook are remarkable only for their similarity to those of all her opponents. But there remains one crucial qualification. While she has been and remains totally dependent for her political sustenance on the support of the people and their votes, the establishment has long demonstrated its contempt for electoral systems, representative government and democratic institutions.

All of which leaves us wondering what the real issues are: Benazir Bhutto Vs The Rest or The Establishment Vs The Rest?

We may be headed for a grave national tragedy if the reality of this extraordinary breakdown of the ‘social contract’ between the rulers and the ruled continues to be mistaken for the illusion of praetorian permanence and infallibility. Which, we rather suspect, is what this apposite post-cold war American ‘interference’ in Pakistan is all about.

(TFT October 18-24 1990 Vol-2 No.32 — Editorial)

Loading the Dice

The air is so thick with much and the dice so heavily loaded against Benazir Bhutto, can we expect free and fair elections next Wednesday?

Take a slice of the sludge, first.

Mr Navid Malik of the Malik Navid variety has released a ‘letter’ to the press, dated 29-4-90, purporting to demonstrate the ‘anti-state activities of Ms Bhutto’. Mr Malik claims it was written by ‘Mrs’ Benazir Bhutto to her friend Mr Peter ‘Gailbraith’, thanking him for his favours and begging his good offices to halt US aid and ‘squeeze’ the Government of Pakistan. Among other things, the ‘letter’ welcomes the ‘suspension of F-16 and its pares” and says that it “will bring the army to its senses”. It asks Mr ‘Gailbraith’ to use his influence on V P Singh to engage the Pakistani Army on the border so that they do not impede my way”.

Ignoring Mr Malik’s dubious credentials, it appears that when he sat down to draft his mischief, he forgot certain elementary rules of letter-writing: names should be spelt correctly, especially if one is writing to a buddy-wuddy. As Ms Bhutto knows only too well, her dear friend’s name is Galbraith, not Gailbraith. Strange, isn’t it, that she should also type-off as ‘Mrs’ Benazir Bhutto rather than ink the maiden name she uses so effectively elsewhere? It is curious, took that she should appear to welcome the suspension of the F-16s at least two weeks before an unconfirmed report filtered in from Washington to, that effect! Perhaps, if the clumsy Mr Malik had allowed himself to be tutored in the sordid business of dirty-tricks by an indefatigable experts like Mr Hussain Haqqani, he might have produced a less incredible document in which the English, at least, could have been more worthy of the Oxford educated Ms Bhutto.

Take, now, just one face of the treacherous dice.

Mr Asif Zardari is in prison, unable to campaign against Mr Jatoi or stand by his wife in her hour of tribulation, which the government is desperately trying to extract a ‘confession’ against him from Mr Ghulam Hussain Unar. Hundreds of PPP workers in Sindh are in prison. Ms Bhutto is weighed down by ‘special cases’, with regular court appearances spread across 900 miles, in between the hustings. PTV is reportedly giving the PDA just 8% of the time allotted to the IJI. The Punjab caretakers have overdrawn Rs 3 billion from the poor State Bank to buy votes: the local bodies and lumbardars have been stuffed with Rs 130 crores and IJI candidates have sprinted away with Rs 75 lacs apiece, all from the pathetic Treasury. The ‘irregularities’ of Mian Nawaz and Mr Jatoi (voting lists, polling staff, etc) are the buzz of the country. Nawab Bugti’s administration is before the Election Commissioner, defending its deviations. The President is passing Ordinances, transferring cases, firing judges, all at his much flaunted ‘discretion’, of course. The Holy Quran has been dragged into the muck of portray the Coppers as the ‘chosen ones’. And the spectre of Al-Zulfiqar and Indian designs has been raised to muddy the run-up to October 24.

In the meanwhile, the shady Sihala Rest House near Pindi is being feverishly dusted for prospective VIPrisoners.

Despite this, however, reports suggest that Benazir Bhutto is going great guns in three provinces. TFT estimates give her PDA a minimum of 79 seats, the IJI 35, others 19 with tough fights in 65 constituencies.

Why should a party condemned by our lofty President as corrupt, inept and unpatriotic still claim a hold over the hearts and minds of the people of Pakistan?

The answer is blowing in the wind. A recent independent poll shows that a minority of only 27% of the people think BB is corrupt while a majority of 52% believe Mian Nawaz Sharif to be a crook. Only 34% agree the President’s sacking of her government was justified, just as a minority of 37% is convinced that the accountability process is fair. A mere 22% say the President’s caretaker government is ‘better’ than the PPP government. And, thank God, no more than a miniscule 7% support the idea of martial law.

In view of all this, can we expect free, fair and peaceful elections next week?

(TFT October 18-24 1990 Vol-2 No.32 — Article)

The Law of Necessity

Three weeks ago, a foreign correspondent, bewildered by all the political cases before the superior courts, asked me to speculate how the judges would view the President’s dissolution of the assemblies last August and the outcome of the various references before the special tribunals. For an answer, I referred him to some historical signposts.

Like the other institutions of the state, notably the bureaucracy and the army, the judiciary carries many baggage-tags from the days of the British colonial state in India. The legal system they set up here differed in at least one crucial way from the one they established back home. Since the colonial state was an executive extension of the British metropolitan state, the judiciary too in India was never separated from the executive. That is why the District Magistrate was also the chief federal government executive, the Deputy Commissioner, of the area, and the sessions courts were his headquarters. That is also why the judges of the superior courts, appointed under the executive authority of the Viceroy and his provincial Governors, were invariably ‘loyal’ and ‘white’. The colonial state’s security concerns and political ambitions could never have survived without this institutional arrangement.

But the British, concerned for the efficacy of the judiciary, were careful to separate the political from the civil functions of the judiciary. While the outcome of serious political cases affecting the state’s discretionary powers was more often than not a foregone conclusion, the judiciary was fearlessly incorruptible and fair in all matters relating to civil cases involving disputes between the citizens of the country, or even sometimes those between the administration and the citizen or corporate body. Since the daily business of the courts had everything to do with the everyday life of citizens — property entanglements, criminality, bureaucratic inertia, etc — the judiciary came to be enormously respected and feared over the decades for its forthright, impartial and exemplary justice.

If you look at the post-independence practise of our judiciary, you will understand how little it has changed since the colonial days. While it has been fair and impartial in dispensing civil justice to the ordinary citizen, and that is why it is held in esteem despite its workload, it has been wary of confronting the discretionary authority of the top executive organs of the state. Here is some post-1947 history.

In 1955, the Federal Court of Pakistan legitimised the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly by Governor-General Ghulam Mohammad. In 1958, the court upheld Gen Ayub Khan’s martial law. In the famous Asma Jilani case in 1972, while it declared Gen Yahya Khan an usurper it did so only on the last day of the outgoing martial law administration. In 1974, the court upheld the executive’s ban on the National Awami Party. In 1977, the court struck down Z A Bhutto’s martial law in Lahore, but Mr Bhutto’s executive authority had considerably waned and he looked to be on the way out. Thus, later in 1977,  the court upheld Gen Zia ul Haq’s martial law. And although it did so “for a temporary period… a limited and specific purpose… a phase of constitutional deviation”, it did not specify how long the temporary period would last, nor did it make illegal the amendment of the constitution for purposes of maintaining martial law or indicate which parts of the constitution could specifically be held in abeyance. By 1981, therefore, when Zia ul Haq promulgated the Provisional Constitution Order barring the court from challenging the extension of martial law, all except three judges of the Supreme Court were guided to take a fresh oath “in accordance with their conscience and the law”. In the Haji Saifullah case in 1988, challenging the dissolution of the assemblies under Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo, the court held Zia ul Haq’s orders as invalid, but he had since perished; it stopped short of restoring the assemblies because new elections were in sight.

New elections are again in sight today. And the law of necessity is still going strong.

Which brings me to two related issues still remaining to be resolved. The first is the general legality of the special tribunals hearing the Presidential references against Ms Bhutto and her partymen. And the second relates to the particular merits of each reference before the special courts. Going by the writing on the wall, it shouldn’t be too difficult to imagine the court’s inclinations on the first issue and the judicial space available to the tribunals on the second.

The Courts are attuned to the political ‘necessity’ of these times. It seems to me the results of the elections should indicate which way the wind is likely to blow.

(TFT October 25-31 1990 Vol-2 No.33 — Editorial)

Cold war blues

For four decades, our liberal-democrats have opposed the overbearing American ‘interference’ in Pakistan. And for their patriotism, they have been castigated, banned and imprisoned by successive pro-US right-wing regimes in this country.

It is curious that while these liberals are silent today our right-wingers are trying to drum up anti-American hysteria. Suddenly, the anti-imperialist vocabulary of the one has been usurped by the other. Why should this reversal of roles have taken place now?

The end of the cold war has something to do with it. When Pakistan became a client-state of the USA soon after independence, the interest of the right-wing Vice-Regal legatees of the anti-democratic colonial state — army, bureaucracy and landed elites — coincided exactly with the regional ambitions of the United States to ‘contain’ the Soviet Union. It was a perfect relationship tempered by a simple philosophy: you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours, and to hell with notions of democracy and sovereignty.

The communist system has now crumbled, capitalism has triumphed and the American think they have arrived at the “end of history”. So now is obviously a good time for them to emphasise the winning virtues of American apple-pie: freedom, democracy and free enterprise. In pursuit of a new global blueprint, now is apparently also a suitable moment to reverse the regional aberrations necessitated by the political compulsions of the last four decades. Thus, Saddam Hussein has overnight become the Thief of Baghdad, Hafiz al Assad has been transformed from a ‘terrorist’ into a valuable ‘friend’ and the good King of Jordon is at a loose end.

Since the front line has been rubbed out, Pakistan is not required to defend it any more. So a quick solution acceptable to all its neighbours, not just Pakistan, is desirable in Afghanistan. And, as per Mr. Oakley, “the US feels strongly that an accelerated arms race between India and Pakistan would bring both parties less security rather than more — as in the Middle-East…. the rush to spend more for defence… needs to stop before it creates more regional instability… it will also devour the resources so badly needed for economic development… there should be greater emphasis and effort directed at the development and strengthening of democratic institutions and more popular participation in government: greater respect for human and civil rights, greater effort to resolve ethnic and regional grievances…”.

This must surely be music to the ears of the liberals. But by the same criterion, and more important, it must positively be anathema to the rightists. Having gorged themselves on quite a contrary diet for 43 years, they are now being tutored by the US on the virtues of slimming down and making space for others on the bus. No wonder, they are all hopping mad.

In its hysterical rage, the powerful right-wing will most certainly thrash about in the desperate years ahead. For too long it has dreamed of possessing Kabul and Soviet Central Asia to abandon these visions without a whimper today. For too long it has trampled upon freedom, democracy and human rights to embrace them willingly today. For too long it has gobbled up the national cake to allow more than crumbs to the people today. For too long its raison d’etre has been fuelled by its enmity with India. How can it suddenly abandon its nuclear programme, trim down its defence budgets, relinquish the chance of a lifetime to liberate Kashmir and avenge East Pakistan?

Benazir Bhutto seems to have stumbled on the political scene at a most unpropitious time in the militocracy’s transition. By force of personal circumstance (she is Bhutto’s daughter) rather than by political choice (her programme is hardly different from anyone else’s), she finds herself pitted against the Ziaists and supported by the new-look Americans. Unfortunately, her problem is exacerbated by the fact that her survival is dependent upon the democratic process precisely when the praetorians and their hangers-on are determined to protect their ambitions and privileges by scuttling it.

That is why, with Benazir in the middle, the liberals are silent and the rightists are screaming over the American ‘interference’ in Pakistan these days.

(TFT October 25-31, 1990 Vol-2 No.33 — Article)

Damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t

Lahore — “What will happen if we win a majority”, asks a worried PPP insider, reacting to reports that his party is poised to win many more seats in the National Assembly than in 1988.

In a nutshel, this sums up the agonising dilemma of Benazir Bhutto: damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t.

If she doesn’t secure a majority and is unable to form a government, she will have to sit in the opposition and behave like a good little girl. Otherwise the sword of judicial accountability could strike at any time and disqualify her from holding public office for seven years.

In such an eventuality, would the PPP walk out of the assemblies and slug it out on the streets, thereby provoking a fresh crisis, or would it ‘elect’ a new leader of the opposition and bide its time considering new strategies for the future?

Will the PPP survive as a party if she is disqualified? Will there be internal divisions and desertions from the ranks? Who will take charge in her absence? Will the PDA split up?

If she does, indeed, win a majority, will she be able to form a government? President Ghulam Ishaq Khan has pulled out all the stops to prevent her from doing exactly this. He has also refused to pass any ordinances against potential horse-trading because he might be forced to resort to it himself to keep her out, in the final analysis. What will he further do to thwart her? How can she accept him when she has forcefully demanded his resignation and said she will not work with him?

Take the armed forces. General Aslam Beg has recently exhorted voters, in so many words, not to support her party. A serving corps commander, quoted last week by the Financial Times, London, said bluntly: “We can’t stand her. We don’t even want her in the country or the parliament”. Will she want, or be able, to convince them to accept her, even as a mere rubber stamp? Will they agree to ditch the President for her sake? And if the President resists, are there any constitutional remedies available which are not extremely messy and problematic?

Or the Americans. Having prodded the establishment to hold elections and allow her to participate, will they quietly take a back seat in the post-election scenario? Or will they exert further pressure to have her accommodated? The establishment is already smarting under such ‘interference’ and openly instigating anti-Americanism in the country. How far will it go along with them in the near future? Can either Pakistan or the Americans, or both, ‘afford’ to jeopardise the comfortable relationship of the last 43 years for the sake of Benazir Bhutto?

What about the provinces? If she wins Sindh and loses Islamabad, how soon can we expect Governor’s rule and a violent nationalist backlash? If she wins Punjab and loses Islamabad, when will the no-confidence moves against her begin? Or alternatively, if she wins Islamabad and loses Punjab, will we go back t square one?

If she wins a majority and explores the prospects of a national government, will Mian Nawaz Sharif support her? Will he accept her as Prime Minister? Won’t such a government pull in as many directions as the participants and become a self-defeating exercise?

Whichever way one looks at it, Benazir Bhutto is damned if she wins and damned if she doesn’t.

(TFT November 1-7 1990 Vol-2, No.34 — Editorial)

Foul is Fair

The funereal mood in the Punjab betrays the sordid story more tellingly than all the convoluted intellectual post-mortems in the media. We were all ‘proven’ utterly wrong — journalists, pollsters, you and me, everyone.

Like blinkered fools, we heard them shout and dance, we saw them vote, but no, they were not for real.

We saw fake ID cards, we saw bogus registrations, we saw ballots without serial numbers, we saw the red cross brigade stamping ballots in the woman’s polling stations, we even saw Mian Sahib ejecting a polling officer from a women’s booth in Lahore. We heard the Chief Election Commissioner remark about the lower turnout in the Punjab. But alas, we must have allowed our fertile imaginations to distort the reality.

We know that signed result-sheets from Presiding Officers were denied to innumerable candidates on polling day. We know that the announcement of results was inexplicably delayed. We know that administration officials vetted the results before sending them to Islamabad. But apparently that ‘proves’ nothing. How many government servants will stand up to testify that they buckled under the weight of the state?

In our guts and in our bones, in the anguished cries of the vanquished, in the smirking faces of the victors, we sense a great betrayal. We feel we have been robbed of our citizenship. From somewhere out of the Heavens has come an invisible thunderbolt and laid us low.

What empirical proof do you require to reaffirm that foul was fair in all the fated days between August 6 and October 24? Must we litter the streets of Lahore with 200 dead bodies and thousands of angry young men screaming for martial law, as in 1977, before we can ‘prove’ that these elections were not lost fair and square? Indeed, what ‘proof’ of rigging did we ever demand from Mohatrama Fatima Jinnah when she was routed by the invisible forces of General Ayub Khan in 1965?

In the final analysis, it is self-serving to seek causes (voter swings, charges of corruption and treason, anti-Americanism) which are more complicated than the fact that both the government in power and the state apparatuses, including the President and the Armed Forces, had determined to keep Benazir Bhutto out. After all, a party which forgets the crucial distinction between office and power, between those who preside and those who rule, which lumps government and state together as one adversary, and transgresses the ‘rules of the game’ can hardly expect to be treated ‘fairly’.

No, we are not grieved that Benazir Bhutto has lost nor happy that Nawaz Sharif has won because, quite frankly, there wasn’t much to chose from.We are sad because so many of us have been effectively disenfranchised in this electoral farce and will surely distrust the electoral process for a long time to come. The loser isn’t the PPP, it is our right as citizens in a representative system. And the winner isn’t the IJI, it is the praetorian state. In that sense, the worst form of democracy may not, indeed, prove to be more beneficial than the best form of martial law.

Looking ahead, are we justified in fearing a further erosion of the democratic system? Benazir Bhutto is down but not out. While her tremendous support base is not exactly kicking, it is very much alive and no amount of victimisation or repression will undo it. Nor is there, unfortunately, any other leader anywhere on the horizon who can harness it for more constructive purposes. If Mian Nawaz Sharif choses the path of reckless authoritarianism, which his dubious two-thirds majority in the national assembly might propel him towards, he will simply hasten the day of national reckoning rather than advance the cause of stability and political maturity.

But, unlike Ms. Bhutto, Mian Sahib has a totally free hand to grapple with all the economic, sectarian and regional crises upon us. If he should devote his abundant energies to reconciliation and crisis-management rather than tinker with the constitution and try to suppress legitimate dissent, he could yet succeed in burying the national divide and convincing us that the foul could, indeed, turn out to be fair enough.

(TFT November 8-14 1990 Vol-2, No.35 — Editorial)

Mian Sahib’s options

Although we are unlikely to easily forget how this election was stolen from us, we could be persuaded to forgive Mian Nawaz Sharif and his stately benefactors for swindling Ms. Benazir Bhutto of another term in office she did not, in all honesty, deserve. But it all depends upon our new Prime Minister’s capacity to fulfil his promise of stable, clean, efficient and equitable government in the next five years.

Mian Nawaz begins his stint in Islamabad without any of the encumbrances of Ms. Bhutto in 1988. On the contrary, his assets are enviable. He has a formidable majority in Islamabad and Punjab. He has ten years of valuable experience driving Punjab, the largest, most dynamic province where the new CM is his hand-picked, trusted aide. Elsewhere, he is in a good position to oversee his coalition partners and colleagues. The Opposition benches in the National Assembly are thinly populated by a party which is disorganised, demoralised and quite defenceless. He has an excellent relationship with the Saudis, which should pay handsome dividends in our hour of financial need. Finally, and this is where the crunch normally comes for incumbents, he is the Establishment’s chosen one, its visible, voluntary front at home and abroad.

These credentials are unprecedented in our history — even the bonapartist Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had to contend with irritants in two provinces in 1972. But just as Mr. Bhutto had the wherewithal, in theory, to create a ‘new’ Pakistan, so Mian Sahib has the means to deliver us from our conundrum. But if history has still not forgiven Z.A. Bhutto for screwing it up, it is likely to take a harsher view of Mian Sahib if he should fumble this last, golden chance. The 21st century beckons Pakistan to catch up before time runs out. If Mian Sahib recklessly violates the rules of modern discourse, the country he is leading could end up in a ditch and become unserviceable.

Item No:1 on his agenda should be to heal the wounds in society — sectarian, ethnic, political, regional — for which a democratic consensus is a prerequisite. Item No:2 is to get the economy moving, dismantling bureaucratic obstacles and encouraging the private sector to take off. Item No:3 is to lay the foundations of a modern system of education which nourishes a creative, participative culture.

There are pitfall,s for sure, ahead. Take sectarianism. Without wholesale amendments in Senator Samiul Haq’s Shariat Bill, Mian Sahib would be foolish to grant it legitimacy. Ethnicity will raise its ugly head again if there is no genuinely acceptable devolution of power and privileges to underdeveloped areas and destitute groups. Political scars will only heal if victimisation is consciously shunned and the Opposition is allowed freedom to dissent in Parliament and the media.

Rash privatisation, too, can precipitate chaos. When it is undertaken, it should be studied, selective, clean and fair. People will not accept the anarchist forces of the market which propelled the iniquitous Robber Barons of the 1960s.

Our system of education, if we can call it that, during the last two decades has spawned a whole generation of unemployable, semi-literate and wayward ‘political activists’ rather than capable managers of economy and society. To hand over the modern reform of this department to precisely those ideologues who destroyed it in the past would be to unforgivably defeat the purposes of science and technology in the 21st century.

The regions of South Asia and the Middle-East are in flux. Our legitimate quest for leadership of the Muslim world should not be confused with dangerous military ambitions of a hegemonic role for some sort of Greater Pakistan. Mian Sahib will have to tread cautiously here. Kashmir and/or Afghanistan have the potential to abruptly halt his budding career.

There is ominous talk of constitutional amendments to usher in a Presidential system. If Mian Sahib succumbs to this unholy pressure, apart from chopping his own foot off he will antagonise the smaller provinces to the point of alienation. He has also said he does not intend to halt the process of accountability (victimisation, really) of Ms. Bhutto and her PPP. A quick rethink is in order here. In the critical months ahead, the foreseeable option to an unworkable two-party system (IJI Vs PPP) is not one-party rule. It is absolute martial law in which Mian Sahib has the most to lose and would be the first to go.

(TFT November 15-21 1990 Vol-2, No.36 — Editorial)

Shaking them off

The crunch is upon us. If he doesn’t already know it, Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif will soon discover the veritable bed of thorns he has inherited in Islamabad.

It is all very well to talk, during an election campaign, about ‘Islamisation’ and that sort of thing. But when he gets to the nitty gritty implications of the various ‘Islamic’ Bills, he will find it altogether a different business. It wasn’t without good reason that both his mentor Gen Zia ul Haq and his ally ex-premier Mohammad Khan Junejo were wary of pushing their case for ‘Islamisation’ beyond carefully defined limits.

Now a group of obscurantists have again determined to rush a Shariat Bill and other ill-conceived, so-called ‘Islamic’ laws through Parliament. Where Mian Sahib dreams of a vigorous, modern welfare state in Pakistan, at par with the dragons of Asia, a few of his belligerent allies are bent upon dragging us into the dark ages.

The transporters’ strike, which paralysed the country, was merely the tip of the iceberg of public opposition to unrealistic demands by religious fundamentalists. At the very least, these gentlemen know next to noting about how the modern economy works and couldn’t care less if their unthinking provisions wrecked it irreparably. Shorn of the detailed, rational system of criminal codes and financial procedures which has thus far governed Pakistan, and fearful of irresponsible, arbitrary reprisals parading under the guise of so-called ‘Islamic’ justice, every modern profession and vocation in society is threatened with chaos. Today it is the public transport system which is protesting the Qisas and Diyat Ordinance, tomorrow these laws could as unexpectedly provoke the health, education, banking, finance, foreign investment and assorted sectors. Thereafter, the independent press, judiciary and legislature will become helpless. They might find that they have no prerogatives left to review, report, adjudge or legislate upon. And so on. Until confusion is absolute and breakdown imminent.

In effect, a tiny minority of religious extremists are trying to blackmail the rest of us Muslims to validate their sectarian views of Islamic law and justice. In truth, senseless ritual has become such an integral part of their mistaken religiosity that it has robbed Islam of its liberating spirit of equality and freedom. And we, the majority of Muslims, are being forced to meekly acquiesce to their hollow interpretations of a religion and way of life we have practised and cherished for centuries.

Indeed, we should ask why, instead of mouthing muddled pieties and branding everyone who disagrees with them as ‘un-Islamic’, the fundamentalists have never demanded positive, remedial measures to alleviate the everyday sufferings of tens of millions of ordinary Muslims in this country. Measures like land reform, health care, free education, cheap transport, electricity, roads, subsidised housing, sanitation, clean water, universal literacy, population control, maternity welfare, minimum wages, etc somehow never seem to figure in their inventory of urgent societal requisites.

Instead of concrete approaches to create a just social order, upon which Islam positively insists, we are enjoined by them “not to do this and not to do that.” It is precisely this sort of negativism which has brought us to this pass.We are no good at laying foundations, building institutions, creating consensus and stolidly getting on. But we are peerless at quibbling, obstructing and dismantling everything in sight.

Mian Nawaz Sharif has a stunning mandate, as he forcefully acknowledged last week, to guide Pakistan into the 21st century. But he cannot make his first move in that direction without extricating himself from the clutches of these desperados.

For too long, governments in Islamabad have been pushed on to the defensive by the outpourings of a tiny, unrepresentative section from the fringes of society. The weight we give them is totally out of proportion to their numerical strength in parliament. It is time we told them where to get off.

Mian Sahib has reiterated time and again that he is a modernist and not a mullah or a fundamentalist. Excellent. But then he must quickly shake off his, and our, detractors and confidently lead the way forward.

(TFT November 15-21 1990 Vol-2, No.36 — Article)

Freedom, Fairness, State and the Party

“Let’s get on with life and forget about the elections”, a colleague recently advised, adding that “post mortems of a fait accompali are simply academic now”.

While I wholeheartedly agree with the first half of his statement and with the new government well, I must confess I have grave reservations about treating post mortems of this election with “academic” disinterestedness.

On the contrary, I believe there are important lessons to be learnt from the future credibility of the democratic process by understanding the nature and implications of what probably transpired from August 6 to October 24, 1990. It is also necessary to draw the bottom line for future electoral practices in the larger interest of our quest for a democratic way of life.

We are all agreed that elections must be “fair and free”. But this is not simply a cliche tagged on for good measures, to be quickly forgotten in the heat of controversy and prejudice. Indeed, an election which is visibly neither fair nor free is quite, quite illegitimate. And no amount of theorising about “ends justifying means” or “freedom being a recognition of necessity” will make it any more acceptable as a financial fait accompali.

“Fairness” has to do with the credentials of the caretaker or interim government and/or administration which conducts the election. It is expected to demonstrate complete objectivity, neutrality and impartiality during the period from the day elections are announced to the installation of the assemblies and the appointment of a prime minister in the country.

Were these conditions even remotely met by the caretakers from August 6 to November 8, 1990? Consider, for a moment, just the bare facts.

Ms Bhutto was bundled out ignominiously. She was threatened with disqualification and imprisonment. Her husband was incarcerated. A campaign of vilification was unleashed. The President and the COAS portrayed her as unpatriotic, corrupt, inefficient — in hort, unacceptable.

The caretaker-candidates didn’t even bother with the formalities of pretension. They commandeered nearly 90% of each province’s remaining Annual Development Plan bundgets for their personal campaigns. They distributed state lands to sway voters. They tore around in official transport. More ominously, (explicitly breaking Election Commission Rules) they planted hand-picked state officials to ever-see their electoral campaigns in key constituencies.

For example, in Punjab, at least eight, DCs and six DIGs were selectively moved around on August 6 and 7 to control ‘trickly districts’. In addition, at least six retired army officers from 10% army quota in the DMG cadre, of the rank of Commissioner and DC, were placed to manage “sensitive areas”. Out-of-turn promotions became the order of the day. Each IJI candidate in the Punjab was allowed to recuit 30 police constables and assign them to “approprate duty” on election day. And so on.

“Freedom” had to with practices on polling day. It means each registered voter must be free to exercise his choice, without restraing, coercion, fear, guilt or obligation. If three bogus votes are cost per hour in each polling both across the country, an addiktional one million votes can turn up to swing the election from one party to another. Put it another way. An increase in ‘turnout’ of as little as 2-3 percent can make the difference between victory or defeat. And we can forget about a “free” election after that!

Apolosists of the IJI argue that their party’s One-to-One strategy paid off in clinching countless seats. They claim, also, that their campaign to discredit the PPP as an unpatriotic, corrupt corrupt and inefficient contender for power yielded rich dividends. While such propaganda was certainly fierce and must have swayed some uncommitted voters, it doesn’t necessarily follow that this phenomena was translated into a swing away from the PPP large enough to tilt the the balance in the IJI’s favour.

If you look at the results in each constituency, you can identify only 30 seats out of 206 in the country where the IJI’s One-to-One strategy actually triumphed and translated into NA seats. In 20 of these (17 in the Punjab), the IJI trounced the 1988 PPP winners, while in 10 it retained the seats it had won in 1988.

Now examine the extent of its reliance on the swing factor. In only 16 seats (14 in the Punjab) was there a switch of votes from the PPP to the IJI. In Sindh, Mr Jatoi apparently pocketed close to 50,000 votes from the PPP’’ kitty.

Therefore, out of a total of 206 seats nationwide, the IJI won 46 (36 in the Punjab) seats on the basis of its combined One-to-One strategy plus a swing against the PPP. Since the IJI won a total of 105 seats in the NA, we can say that these two factors account for these two factors account for 44% of its success rate.

How, then, did it win the remaining 59 seats?

If you assume, as does the PPP, that new voter turnout was, in fact, all fictitious and thus bagged by the IJI, you can conclude that it played a crucial role establishing the IJI’s ascendency. The IJI’s win in about 35 seats (30 in the Punjab) can actually be attributed exclusively to the higher turnout (between 4%-6% an average in each seat) shown by the statistics. And in the remaining 20 seats, the determining factor was essentially the IJI candidate’s inherent strength and organisational capacities.

Putting these statistics together, the picture is like this. If the IJI had only banked upon its One-to-One strategy and the expectant swing of votes away from the PPP to its own kitty, its tally countrywide would have been 70 seats while that of the PPP would have been 78. Independents and others would also have picked up an extra 2 seats.

It is necessary to do this exercise in order to sift the chaff from the wheat. An increase of only 3% in voter turnout can swing the balance of political power in the country dramatically, provided there is a caretaker administration which is geared to channel it suitably.

In stable, Western democracies, voter turnout is generally quite low for elections to Parliament. For example, in the recently concluded elections to the US Congress, it was less than 33% of the registered vote. While voter turnout is normally stable, a swing of about 3% of the floating vote tends to determine the winners and losers.

In our elections last month, however, neither the swing factor nor the much-touted One-to-One strategy apparently accounted for the IJI’s resounding victory. The handling of voter turnout by the caretaker administration was crucial in routing the PPP and giving Mian Nawaz Sharif the prime ministership.

And for those who emphasise the organisational capacities of the IJI and its tightly knit campaign as an explanation for this high turnout. it might be just as well to remember one significant indicator of voter behaviour in another part of the country where the IJI wans’t contesting. In Karachi, which was swept by the highly organised, disciplined and literate MQM, voter turnout fell by about 4% compared to 1988. This tendency squares perfectly with the low turnout actually witnessed and reported by neutral observers and journalists in the rest of the country, especially in Punjab.

Die-hard IJI supporters or ‘objective analysts’ who seek “hard evidence and solid proof” of rigging can draw cold comfort from the fact that such evidence is unlikely to ever surface. No government servant involved in electoral fraud, wittingly or otherwise, is every likely to stand up and testify how he or she aided and/or abetted mischief.

Also, in the one general election alleged to have been rigged, in 1977, the PNA backed its accusations by taking to the streets and disrupting the provincial elections. Teh ‘proof of the rigging, apparently, lay in the fact that over 200 people died protesting the results and the caretaker government was overthrown by martial law.

That didn’t happen last month. On the contrary, the PPP consciously decided not to boycott the provincial polls and provoke a violent response. But the gist of the peoples perceptions and response was the same as in 1977. An overwhelming number of voters, especially those of the PPP, boycotted the polls on October 27 and stayed at home as a mark of protest. In their guts and in their bones, in the anguished cries of the vanquished, in th smirking faces of the victors, they felt totally betrayed and alienated.

It is necessary to make these observations about caretaker governments and turnouts if we are to ace to preclude a repetition of this farce next time round. The sanctity of the ballot must be protected religiously. It is our most cherished proof of citizenship, our stake in the country and its future. If the rights and choices of millions of ordinary people, who form the backbone of this country, are reduced to naught, the nation cannot grow or prosper into the next century.

Electoral reforms to ensure that such practices do not take root and are repeated again, especially those governing the scope of caretaker administrations, must be seriously considered and implemented before we embark up a “free and fair” election in the fiture.

(TFT November 22-28 1990 Vol-2, No.37 — Editorial)

Playing with fire

“War,” declared Clausewitz, “is the continuation of politics by other means”. Given the horrors of war in the nuclear era, most statesmen today take a somewhat less casual attitude towards the business of armed combat between two nations.

Mr. Mumtaz Hussain Rathore, the Prime Minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, apparently sees this question of war from a different perspective. In a recent interview, he announced that he was no longer willing to hide his support for the freedom fighters in Occupied Kashmir behind a smokescreen of diplomatic doublespeak. Instead, he has declared an open “jihad” against the Indian forces in Occupied Kashmir and says that he is willing to spend all of the 43 crores in the state’s treasury to fund this “jihad.”

If by “jihad”, he means open interference in the affairs of a neighbouring country, provoking revolt and supplying arms to secessionist rebels, than his announcement can safely be construed as a casus belli. In other words, if the Indians so want, they will be legally, if not morally, justified in attacking Pakistan.

Mr. Rathore has been the Prime Minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir for over six months now. During that time, the Indian forces have committed every atrocity and injustice possible. And yet, despite all the international outrage, despite all the public support, it never occurred earlier to Mr. Rathore to declare war against the Indians. Why then, we might ask, this sudden rush of blood to his head? Was it some particularly brutal incident that finally served as the proverbial back-breaking straw? Or was he prompted by needs that were far more parochial than he dare acknowledge?

The fact is that the continued existence of Mr. Rathore’s PPP government is a thorn in Mian Nawaz’s flesh. We have recently reported how Sardar Qayyum has already won over almost all of Mr. Rathore’s support in the AJK Legislative Assembly. WE also believe that the IJI’s ‘restraint’ in getting rid of Mr. Rathore is not because of its inability to win over enough MLAs but because of the embarrassment this would cause the federal government. Nevertheless, reports are still reaching us that a “Get-Rathore” operation is in the works, and that following a no-confidence move and much horse-trading, Mr. Rathore will be ejected from the Prime Minister’s seat.

While the success of Mr. Sharif’s operation is yet to be seen, it is quite obvious that Mr. Rathore has panicked. As such his emotional appeal for a “jihad” is not based on any altruistic concern for the Kashmiris, but in his desire to protect his position by acting the role of a populist leader. What we see here is an extremely delicate issue being dragged into the realm of petty politics. And given the dimensions it has already assumed, it may soon run out of control.

However, even if one leaves aside the unpleasant thought of war, Mr. Rathore’s efforts at self-glorification have hardly been in Pakistan’s interests; Pakistan’s credibility in the international arena has been damaged considerably. From now on, India will always be able to point to Mr. Rathore’s indiscretions as proof of our involvement in Occupied Kashmir as they did when Sardar Qayyum talked of raising a commando force of 100,000 men.

Finally, it is time for Mian Sahib to refrain from the destructive politics that were so visible during the PPP’s tenure in power. At that time, Mian Sahib’s vehemence in protesting his heartfelt approval for concepts such as “peaceful co-existence” and “non-interference” was much admired. It is time that he implemented a few of those impressive declamations.

As for Mr. Rathore, he should have realised by now that there are times, when discretion is the better part of valour.

(TFT Nov 29-Dec 05 1990 Vol-2, No.38 — Editorial)

Who’s in charge?

Is Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif his own man or is he simply the fig-leaf behind which our thrusting establishment hopes to consummate its own far-fetched schemes? Is it fair to say that Mian Sahib’s triumph may prove to be illusory if he doesn’t assert the authority of his office to get the country moving in the right direction again?

The cabinet was hardly of Mian Sahib’s making. At least half the members, including a few who have not even been elected, flaunt the Presidency’s branding irons with impunity. Then there are those who scornfully dismiss the capabilities, or rather the lack thereof, of their new leader. It is telling, too, that despite his best efforts the Prime Minister should not have been able to reserve a first class berth either at Islamabad or Lahore for his talented younger brother and right-hand man, Mr. Shahbaz Sharif.

It is a sign of the times that the PM is clueless about goings-on in the provinces at the periphery? Given half a chance, the former tiger of Balochistan would surely love to sink his teeth into his old chief-ministerial, Punjabi soulmate for supporting Mr. Taj Jamali today rather than his chum of yesterday. In the Frontier, his unlikely partners — the Jamaat-i-Islami and the Awami National Party — are slugging it out, no-holds barred, just as in the good old days when the Wali Khan was his usual treacherous self. In Sindh, crime has reached epidemic proportions. Dacoits have acquired rocket-launchers and kidnappings are as much a way of everyday life as water shortages, pollution and traffic jams. And the political repression unleashed by the other sort of Jam has only made matters worse in the interior.

The euphoria over Mian Sahib’s privatisation plans has been replaced with serious misgivings. Apparently, the Presidency doesn’t think speed is of the essence on this front. Nor do senior bureaucrats who lord it over these powerful fiefdoms or the trades unions who make hay while the subsidies shine. So now the talk is only of “examining and studying” those state enterprises which are unprofitable and flogging them to the private sector at 20 paisas in the rupee, after a golden handshake has been offered to thousands of redundant workers and all loans written off at state expense.

The fundamentalist storm is gathering outside parliament. Mian Sahib says he is not a mullah. Yet he shows no signs of preparing to resist the wholesale encroachments of the Shariat Bill upon parliament, the economy, the judiciary and the press. If this attitude persists, it will most certainly be a case of too little, too late.

Mr. Sharif is destined to be the fall guy. A mini-budget is in the offing which will leave everyone, except the rich, poorer. He will have to take the rap for the establishment’s bravado and hypocrisy in bad-mouthing the Americans. And while the President sits pretty or walks stridently, he’s got Mian Sahib hopping around begging for alms from the Saudis, the Emirates, Iran and the rest of the Muslim world. Unfortunately the quality of brotherly mercy is strained in these times: “any sacrifice is too little for our Muslim brothers”, say the Arabs, “but a bit of money, ah, well, we’re really sorry.” Apparently, they’re having to scrape the barrel themselves these days!

So, after some gallivanting in the abstract air of sovereignty, it’s back to the drawing board and more grovelling before the Americans. And while the President and the COAS continue to thunder in public about self-reliance and national pride, in private they are prodding poor Mian Sahib to sort out the mess they have helped create.

Question is, will Mian Sahib come to be judged as even more ineffectual than Benazir Bhutto, after the establishment has had its way? Mian Sahib has the President’s cabinet, the President’s governors, the President’s chief ministers, the President, foreign policy, the President’s economic policy….. blah blah blah. All of which, you will agree, sheds some doubt about who is really in charge and what sort of system we run in this country: Presidential or Prime Ministerial.

 

(TFT December 6-12 1990 Vol-2, No.39 — Editorial)

Fair weather friendships

In any contest for the most equivocal personality in the province of Sindh, Mr. Jam Sadiq Ali, the Chief Minister, would surely win hands down. Behind the dark glasses, limp handshake and obsequious shuffle lurks a wily feudal with a sinister political disposition. No wonder, in a province where the authority of the state has to be continuously and violently revalidated, Jam Sahib is the sharpshooting maverick most Sindhis love to hate.

In his rush to quench a voracious thirst for authority, the Jam has broken every sterling rule in the book, and some more. As a caretaker CM, he was peerless at flouting the law. More opponents were locked up in Sindh for minor indiscretions and more horses traded on the Jam’s estate than in the other three provinces put together. Rightly did the CM’s house become notorious as the Jam’s full-time office, residence, club, prison, what have you, all rolled into one.

Come election-time and the Jam couldn’t even be bothered with the form advised in the other provinces. Not for him the formality of registrations and ID cards, or even discriminate administrative arm-twisting. No sir. Where the Jam had a strong vested interest, it was the rough and tumble of booth capturing, kidnapping and ballot stuffing in broad daylight. If truth be told, Chicago in the 30s isn’t a patch on the Jam’s Sindh in the 90s.

Or take his devious efforts to patch together a coalition government and keep the PPP out. No problem, this, for our conniving stalwart. An appropriate number of opposing MPAs were rounded up to cool their heels at the CM’s house while a vote of confidence was whipped up in the provincial assembly. Likewise, during the Senate elections, he couldn’t have cared less about the conspicuous absence in the assembly on voting day of a number of PPP MPAs; the poor fellows’ protestations were heard loud and clear from the direction of the CM’s prison/house. No, you cannot get more brazen than that.

At a superficial level, of course, everything seems hunky dory: Altaf Bhai and Jam Sahib are born-again best friends; the PPP oppositionists are either in prison or in hiding; the local corps commander, notwithstanding his known distaste for the CM’s personality and methods, is pleased to be calling the shots; and there has been no recent outbreak of ethnic violence. But you cannot run a province like Sindh in such a cavalier fashion for any length of time. Repression and administrative dictate may relieve immediate pressures, but cannot substitute for clean, efficient and representative government.

The tensions inherent in the sort of forced, ad-hoc solutions engineered by Jam Sahib are bound to surface and snap in the near future. Take, for example, the matter of his differences with the stolid Sindh Governor, Mahmoud Haroon, who has expressed his grave displeasure at the way the chief minister is running his province. Here we have a situation in which the two top officers of the most volatile province in the country don’t see eye to eye on most matters. They have markedly contrasting personalities and political styles: one is a respected, long-standing pillar of the establishment, the other seems more like a hired gun doing a spot of dirty work. Can these two work together at the same purposes for any length of time? Who will be the first to go?

Or take the MQM’s relationship with Jam Sahib. Any number of agendas and agreements can be noted but implementation is quite another matter, as earlier chief ministers found to their great discomfort. The minute Jam Sahib is ordered by GHQ to clean up Sindh, especially Karachi and Hyderabad, he can say bye-bye to his buddy wuddy Altaf Bhai.

Jam Sahib should pause and take stock. People say that, like former party colleague Mustafa Khar in the Punjab, his utility exists only in direct proportion to the amount of dirty work that still remains to be done on the establishment’s behalf. In the meantime, the law and order situation has, if anything, deteriorated since the Jam took charge: Kalashnikovs are now being supplemented with rocket launchers and the kidnappers are doing roaring business. Watch it, Jam Sahib, in one’s old age one shouldn’t be hanging around fair-weather friends, especially in a province like Sindh.

(TFT December 6-12 1990 Vol-2, No.39 — Article)

No pressing matters for PM

We should learn to be self-reliant although this cannot be done overnight…. When I came to Islamabad they told me the economy was in such bad shape we couldn’t survive without loans and grants from foreign countries, that our F-16s could be adversely affected in the coming months if US military aid wasn’t restored quickly…. but if we have to start, we should do so now before it is too late…. being totally self-reliant is a difficult objective but it’s not impossible…. we should begin now….

Most new Prime Ministers can’t wait to meet the press and tell their side of the story first. Not Mian Nawaz Sharif. He probably thinks he doesn’t have much of a story to tell anyway. Be that as it may, “Mian Sahib has been so busy flying all over the Middle East, he hasn’t even had the time to chose his own cabinet, let alone give a few pointers to the haughty press”, remarked one scribe.

So we weren’t exactly cribbing when we landed up at the house on the hill at the foot of the Marghellas, also known as Sindh House in the good old days, for a chat and a cuppa with Mian Sahib, nearly a month after he took over from the luckless Mr Jatoi.

It was a novel arrangement. About 100 editors, columnists and assorted hacks from all over the country were made to bask in the benevolent glow of the afternoon sun, along the circumference of a lush circular garden with a radius of at least 15 feet. So unless one happened to be ensconced a couple of feet away from the great man, like the charming Ms Maliha Lodhi, most of us were so far away we couldn’t tell one expression from another. And Mian Sahib has the habit of wringing his hands a lot, looking around as though he’s doing yoga exercises on the quiet, and generally retaining a marvelously expressionless visage.

Naturally, one couldn’t help suspecting that the whole affair had been deliberately contrived by Mr Hussain Haqqani or Dr Safdar Mahmood (none of whom, incidentally is the PM’s press secretary, which unenviable position has gone to my friend Mr Pervez Ahmed) so that the PM could be spared the trouble of responding to too many silly questions! Apparently, people tend to be less expansive in wide open spaces.

The proceedings began with an unobtrusive round of handshakes between the participants and Mian Sahib’s own A to Z, who is none other than the respected, competent, and admirable chief secretary, Mr Anwar Zahid. Mian Sahib walked in soon afterwards and spent a good fifteen minutes pumping hands, smiling and making reassuring noises with each of the hacks present. Clearly he was in a good mood. So we all relaxed and decided not to give him a rough time. After all, it’s not everyday one gets an invite to the PM’s house for a cuppa tea and finger-licking good samosas.

“Perhaps you gentlemen can tell me if my government is treading the right path” said the PM, “after all, we have a mandate and we must fulfill all the requirements of the masses”. Preamble over, he came straight to the point. “Let’s get away from the past, let’s set new traditions. People have already lost a great deal of confidence in the political system, let us not disappoint them any more. We should forget the bitterness of the elections. I have already appealed to the opposition to help us in rebuilding society and healing wounds. There will be no victimisation. I want to create an atmosphere in the country which is conducive to amity, growth and progress.” Or words to that effect, because he was speaking in Urdu and I was scribbling in English and ignoring the repetitions.

The rhetoric continued. “Jam’s regime recognises merit…. the days of permits and plots are over…. tension between the provincial and federal government is a thing of the past, we’re calling the CCI and the National Finance Commission later this month to sort out the question of autonomy in our federation…. we’re concerned about the law and order situation, therefore the death penalty for kidnapping and speedy trials for quick justice… blah blah blah.”

Finally, a few words about the economy. “We want clean and efficient administration…. deregulation committees have been set up, the results will be before you soon…. our biggest problem is unemployment, hence the need for more industry…. we’re denationalising the MCB, we’re setting up a Highway Authority to establish a self-financing system of roads and communications based on tolls and road taxes….every citizen of this country will have a telephone in three years time…but we should learn to be self-reliant although this cannot be done overnight….When I came to Islamabad they told me the economy was in such bad shape we couldn’t survive without loans and grants from foreign countries, that our F-16s could be adversely affected in the coming months if US military aid wasn’t restored quickly….but if we have to start, we should do so now before it is too late….being totally self-reliant is a difficult objective but it’s not impossible….we should begin now……” etc etc.

There were the usual noises about amicable relations with neighbours but “I told the Indian PM Mr Chandrashekhar that without first resolving the Kashmir issue, which is an extremely emotional question in my country, our two countries could not hope to progress any further in establishing good relations. But we’ve restored talks at the secretary level anyway”.

Finally, question time, or so we thought. Someone got up and had a go at the Qadianis, someone thought CNN ought to be censored or banned because it was wasting scarce energy (smirks and frowns among the participants), Mr VA Jaffree thought the parallel currency in the Bearer Bonds ought to be abolished and the State Bank of Pakistan removed from political control (nodding of wise heads all round); there was some mumbling about the importance of agro-based industries; the editor of The Muslim drew Mian Sahib’s attention to victimisation in the senior bureaucracy; some beard stood up to remind the PM of the urgent and historical necessity of implementing the IJI manifesto, especially the Shariat Bill. The best question, needless to say, came from Ms Lodhi: Who’s in charge, she wanted to know, in so many words, of course.

Mian Sahib couldn’t be bothered about responding to many stupid questions. However, he positively ignored the question about Islamisation just as he deliberately commented on the power-sharing arrangement in the country. “It’s perfectly constitutional and I don’t mind keeping a low profile. If the need arises, I am capable of assuming a higher profile”. Touche, Ms Lodhi! Smiles all round.

And I was reminded of his opening words: “We are not here to save the government, come what may, but to see how we can run the country”.

Brave words these, I said to someone as we sipped lukewarm tea, munched the over-rated samosas, and milled around Mian Sahib without pushing and shoving too obviously.

But there’s no pretense about our new Prime Minister. He walked us to our cars casually and quite a few of us drove off without formally saying bye-bye. Mian Sahib clearly didn’t mind. He was much too busy beaming and listening. “What a good speaker he is”, someone remarked knowingly.

(TFT December 13-19 1990 Vol-2, No.40 — Editorial)

Defining the elements

Independence, Sovereignty, Self-Reliance, Privatization, Industrial Revolution. These are, reportedly, the key words in vogue today. For our continuing good health, we are advised to swallow each of these new, sugar coated pills at least three times a day, once each on behalf of the COAS, the President and the Prime Minister. Fortified thus against the chilling post-cold war winds from the West, we should have no problems marching into the twenty-first century.

Yet we may be excused for doubting the efficacy of these “revolutionary” prescriptions for robustness. In truth, our dilemma is that the gentlemen, groups, classes and interests who are flogging the virtues of nationalist self-reliance and privatisation so religiously today are precisely those who, over the past four decades, have consciously worked to cripple our economy, wreck our pride and hustle our self-respect in pursuit of personal r parochial political gains. Tragically, this is what makes high talk of “putting lead in our knees and learning to stand on our own feet” so painfully undigestible.

Such had taste aside, we might justifiably seek concrete evidence of the goodies our leaders have in store for us. Mian Nawaz Sharif’s “economic package”, dusted in the Presidency, pledges a veritable “industrial revolution” which will solve all our problems. But a scrutiny of the economic incentives and measures announced by the PPP on 31st May, 1990, suggests that much of what is being proffered by the new government is simply old vinegar in new bottles. In any case, as per past experience, bureaucratic plans such as these are a dime a dozen and no proof at all of any puddings to be laid on in the future.

A perceptive comment, however, on the state of our national health has come not from President Ghulam Ishaq Khan but from “his old friend” Mr Moeen Qureshi, senior Vice President of The World Bank. Speaking in Lahore the other day, Mr Qureshi thought “the gravest flaw in Pakistan’s achievements is not strictly economic. It is the absence of political and social institutions capable of binding the nation together and mobilizing its great talents for development…. Pakistan has failed to define acceptably the relations between different tiers of government and between government and grass-roots organisation, has failed to resolve ethnic and cultural conflicts, has failed to agree on how to raise and distribute domestic resources.”

Mr Qureshi reminded the luminaries present that “Pakistan is a more personalized and less institutionalized society than at the time of independence…. we are unlikely to resolve the issue of domestic resource mobilization without a national consensus grounded in political realism about the necessity for a devolution of economic and financial power and based on a social contract that is forged among the different social and economic groups…. Pakistan needs to establish an understanding between the centre and the provinces, between the provinces and local bodies, between industrialists and workers and between landlords and tenants…. the armed forces too should be part of this social contract.”

The defining elements here, in contrast to those hypocritically bandied about in Islamabad, are Consensus, Devolution, Institutions and Social Contract. It is interesting that a professional economist like Mr Moeen Qureshi should emphasize the redeeming elements of political discourse in nation-building while politicians like Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Nawaz Sharif should focus only on narrow, bureaucratic reforms. It is remarkable, too, that the former should be concerned equally with the necessary and sufficient conditions for national development while the latter seem ignorant even of the distinction between the two notions.

Unfortunately, our immature ruling elites remain incapable of distinguishing between notions of nationality and nationhood, state and nation-state, nationalism and patriotism, self-reliance and dependence, independence and sovereignty, deregulation and privatization, control and management, in short between the cart and horse. That is why the solutions they advocate are half-baked and inconsequential.

President Ishaq Khan could, indeed, do worse than heed a few words of advice from his old compatriot, Mr Moeen Qureshi, who, interestingly enough, works in Washington!

(TFT December 20-26 1990 Vol-2, No.41 — Editorial)

No more sacred cows

In this country little, if anything, of substance ever gets done right in public life. Or at least so runs the common perception. Hence, a manifest need to appoint worthy Commission to investigate and advise upon matters of concern to millions of ordinary citizens, issues like corruption in high office, assassination of political leaders, ethnic or sectarian riots, public calamities or national disgrace and so on.

Unfortunately, however, our leaders’ professed purpose in uncovering the full facts f any case is matched only by their cold resolve to conceal the truth from people at large. And all this, we are informed, is in our larger “national interest”. What is this cryptic national interest, who defines it and why it is invariably at odds with our right to know in a democratic society has never been satisfactorily explained or justified.

This, apparently, it is not even in our self-interest to know why, for example, a particular bus, train or air disaster should have occurred, nor who should be held accountable and why. Certainly, we are presumed to be much better off remaining clueless about the assassinations of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan or President Zia ul Haq and have no business seeking to know who sought to benefit from their exits. Even more inconceivable it is that we should be burdened with the wretched details of the Ojri camp explosions — why hundred of innocent people lost their lives, who was responsible for this savage negligence, and what deterrents were provided subsequently to avoid such a catastrophe again.

Imagine our start, therefore, at waking up one fine morning, nearly two decades after the event, and peeking into some of the conclusions of the elusive Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report on the tragedy of East Pakistan in 1971. For which small, belated mercy, we may rightly suppose, the public should be singularly grateful to an outspoken journalist like Mr Mushaid Hussain rather than to those political leaders who commissioned this report and later conspired, one after the other, to suppress its findings.

From the few paragraphs of the Report which have seen the light of print, we might reasonably ask what is so sacred or startling about the infractions or privatisations in battle of some Generals of the Pakistan army in 1971. Indeed, if truth be told, much worse is known about our armed forces in times of peace than in times of war, and that too is no more alarming than some of the shameless misdemeanors of certain of our civilian stalwarts. But by protecting the black sheep in their ranks, our men in khaki have done themselves, and the country whose honour they defend, irreparable harm — the fiction of speculation in a closed society is more corrosive than the fact of truth in an open one. Gen Mirza Aslam Beg’s commendable policy of glasnost is unfortunately a case of too little, too late.

By burying the Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report, the state has shielded the principal actors who are instrumental in destroying the country and traumatising our psyche. Its publication in full will serve a most important role: the earnest debate which will inevitably erupt is as likely to highlight the strengths of the Report as its more glaring inadequacies. Thus, while we can expect to confirm no more than our worst suspicions about the military junta of those times, we are certain to uncover new facts and evidence about the role of certain politicians who have thus far escaped censure at the expense of the armed forces.

All this will doubtless be to the country’s good. It is never too late to set the record straight. As part of the social contract between the state and the people, government should be demystified, responsibilities fixed, public debate encouraged and confidences rebuilt.

In a functioning democracy, there should be no sacred cows, no select accountability trials, no secret reports about matters which affect the moral fibre of a nation. Good government is open government in which the state serves the people rather than the other way round. Protecting felons or condoning corruption are, if anything, more unparadonable than proven acts of treachery or criminal commission.

(TFT Dec 27-Jan 02 1990 Vol-2, No.42 — Editorial)

The road not taken

It is time to pause, moan about the wretched decade that has passed, groan about the cheerless one which is beginning — time to take fresh stock of the Quaid’s vision.

In plain Mr Jinnah’s dream of Pakistan Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense but in the political sense as citizens of the State, in which we could belong to any religion, caste or creed without impinging on the business of the state.

Enter, on Mr Jinnah’s frail shoulders, a new son of the soil, Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif, who claims he will deliver the Quaid’s promised land. We’ve heard that one before, we say, but give the man his due. How can things get any worse?

Indeed, they can. If the Shariat Bill is passed, the carefully codified statutes of our traditional law, upon which the Quaid staked the future of this country, will come to be judged on the basis of an ill-defined jurisprudence that has, for hundreds of years, been gathering dust in the heads of religious dogmatists. Their unfettered application would release a dust storm that would cover the Quaid’s venerable law with a blanket of obscurity that few will be able to penetrate. The State envisaged by the Quaid will be struck with a force as destructive as an earthquake. The obscurity of the bill makes it impossible to imagine what the ruins will look like. But they will be ruins all the same. Mian Nawaz Sharif could not do much worse than make this Shariat Bill the supreme law of the land.

Or take the Quaid’s parting words of advice: If we want to make this great State of Pakistan happy and prosperous we should work in cooperation, forget the past, bury the hatchet, work together in a spirit that everyone of you, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges and obligations.

It is true that the drama of Benazir Bhutto, who also promised so much but delivered so little on the Founder’s dream, has dissolved without a whimper. But she retains the support of 37% of the Pakistani electorate. Will Mian Sahib bury the hatchet and work together with her in a spirit of cooperation?

Mian Sahib has said that he would personally like to see the leader of the opposition and her deputies work with him amicably in Parliament. But there are seven judicial cases seeking to disqualify her from sitting in the assembly. Her husband is in prison. Her party is hounded from pillar to post in the province of Sindh. There are rumours the President is preparing four additional cases against her. Is this any way to lay the foundations of the democratic, consensual society which the Quaid believed so necessary for the welfare of his country? Where are the rights, privileges and obligations the leader of the opposition so deservedly craves?

Finally, although we have lost one half of the Quaid’s Pakistan, we have yet to undertake a post-mortem of the debacle of 1971. In that tragedy, there were clear lessons for all. For one, it is a reminder that military rule is a disastrous substitute for even an imperfect, unstable representative government. It also indicates that without decentralisation of power to the provinces [the Pakistan Resolution’s states], there will be no end to the instability in store for us.

The conspiracy to manufacture a collective amnesia of the events surrounding that period continues unabated. The full publication of the Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report will doubtless uncover many sordid skeletons in our stately cupboards.

Is Mian Nawaz Sharif powerless to scuttle this conspiracy of silence? How can we allow these criminal distortions of the Quaid’s dream to continue unchecked? The Prime Minister has the peoples’ mandate to tell us the truth and practise it. He must purge our textbooks and our minds of the lies and confusions which abound. The Quaid belongs to the people. Mian Sahib must rescue him from the clutches of dictators, bureaucrats and religious obscurantists before they succeed in completely demolishing the man and obliterating his vision.

We have not taken the road charted by Mr Jinnah. And that has made all the difference.

(TFT January 10-16 1991 Vol-2 No.44 — Editorial)

Writing on the wall

The new year has broken with a vengeance. Sooner than expected, the IJI has been marked by an embarrassing rash of squabbles. This could prove tragic.

Take the recent statement by former caretaker PM, Mr Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, which amounts to admitting that the 1990 elections were, as suspected, indeed rigged by the “powers-that-be”. Despite his marginal backtracking, the damage has been done. His forceful words carry more weight than all the authoritative reams of paper inked by analysts attempting to ‘prove’ widespread rigging; indeed, the PDA’s forthcoming ‘White Paper’ on electoral malpractices has already become redundant. Whatever his tensions with the regime in power, and these are not inconsiderable, Mr Jatoi has, in effect, seriously eroded the legitimacy of his own Alliance government under Mian Nawaz Sharif.

As if this was not explosive enough, another electoral partner of the IJI, Senator Pir Pagaro, has been equally candid in denouncing the election results. Even the most belligerent among Mian Sahib’s detractors could not have been more trenchant. Surely, we all know perfectly well who the “IJI’s rescuing angels”, as Pagaro put it, were last October.

Not to be left behind, of course, is Mr Zahid Sarfraz, MNA, also of the IJI. Mr Sarfraz is fielding his own independent candidate in the by-election in NA-62, Faisalabad, against the official nominee of the Prime Minister. Who is cause for concern is not so much Mr Sarfraz’s implied dissension with his erstwhile leader but the fact that he is extremely worried of rigging by the Punjab Chief Minister’s administration. Furthermore, Mr Sarfraz seems to be saying that he knows how this rigging is to be effected, almost as though he knows the practise t first hand. That is why he has instructed his polling agents not to leave their booths until after they have all received signed result-sheets from the presiding officers before 7:30 pm on polling day.

Curious, isn’t it, how all these remembrances of things past — by a former Prime Minister, the head of one section of the Muslim League and the former Interior Minister, all members of the ruling party, all people who were in excellent positions to know what transpired on that fateful day of October 24, 1990 — tie in so beautifully with that the PDA and notable sections of the free press have charged from day one: that the last elections were the most rigged elections in our history.

As if all these deleterious observations by his partners weren’t shameful enough, Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif has also to contend with the tippling confessions of his Chief Minister in Sindh, the inimitable Jam Sadiq Ali. “Yes, I drink”, he has proclaimed, leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind that he’s preferring to Johnny Walker, Black Label, and not to the daily tablespoons of Waterbury’s Compound that his good doctor in London recommended. No wonder President Ishaq, in his infinite wisdom, took mercy on the new regime he has so painstakingly erected and hastily prorogued the National Assembly just when it was girding up its loins to discuss the promised Shariat Bill in all its transparent glory.

It is begging the issue to try and discover a conspiracy theory behind all these developments. The IJI is an artificial construct put together by the ubiquitous establishment to destroy the Peoples Party in particular and the democratic aspirations of the people of Pakistan in general. Increasingly, Mian Sahib’s government, notwithstanding his competence or good intentions, lacks legitimacy, even in the eyes of its own members.

The writing on the wall for both Mian Sahib and Benazir Bhutto is clear enough. Democracy can only survive if these two shun their personal antagonisms and put their shoulders together to thwart the machinations of the establishment. Neither Jam Sadiq in Sindh, nor the Shariat Bill, nor indeed the much flaunted privatisation plans for reviving the economy will come to Mian Sahib’s rescue when the establishment thinks he has become dispensable. All these revelations, and the many others to inevitably follow, will be viewed in time to come like so many shots across his bow, much like all the complaining letters the President wrote to Benazir Bhutto as a prelude to booting her out last August.

(TFT January 17-23 1991Vol-2, No.45 — Editorial)

Bridging the Gulf

Former British Premier Edward Heath has warned of cataclysmic consequences approximating those of a “third world war” with the explosion of the Gulf Apart from fearful death and destruction, war may change the map of the Middle-East, play havoc with the environment and impose a crushing economic burden on the third world.

One insight into Saddam’s present frame of mind is provided by a prophetic speech he made in 1975: “Oil for the USA today has become a decisive element in American global politics…. the USA will not rest content with the present ‘status quo’…. America will have the lion’s share of the joint oil wealth of Arab countries…. It may be that the future will favour the US for some time, but in the longer term it will favour the peoples ….[who] will turn towards an anti-American stand, regardless of the strong grip of America’s local allies….”

The historical background is confirmed by a French scholar: “Just before being toppled in 1958, the master of Baghdad, the pro-Western Nouri al Said, had planned with the British and Americans, to stage an entry of the Iraqi army into Kuwait. This project proved abortive [because Brig Kassem’s army overthrew the pro-Western government of Nouri al Said] but it gives a touch of irony to the present Anglo-Saxon reaction to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.”

Last summer, Saddam Hussein was in desperate straits. The Iran-Iraq war had depleted his economy. The Kuwaitis refused to write off his war debts, they refused to negotiate his historical claims on some oil well,s they refused to give him access to two islands in the Gulf for shipping his oil. He wanted to increase oil prices; they, along with the Saudis and the West, were planning to reduce it.

First, Saddam complained bitterly to the US. Then he ordered large scale military manoeuvres on Kuwaiti borders. The US didn’t respond. Emboldened, or provoked, if you will, the Iraqi dictator sent his tanks into Kuwait. His decision had nothing to do with the Palestinian cause.

Amidst echoes of the “white man’s burden”, the US reacted swiftly. Within a couple of months, the US cobbled a Coalition under the UN umbrella, backed by an armada of half a million troops, unprecedented since the second world war, to demand an “unconditional Iraq withdrawal” from Kuwait.

Saddam Hussein’s motives were purely mercenary; if he retains Kuwait, he will control nearly 40% of the world’s oil and dictate OPEC’s pricing policies. For precisely the same reason, because their economies are in the trough of a recession, Western powers are up in arms against him. But the US’s uncommonly militant reaction is explained by another, perhaps more compelling,dialectic: in the post-cold war world, the US views this occasion as providing an excellent opportunity to establish the “new rules of the game”, President, Bush’s “new world order”, after the collapse of yesteryears’ superpower, the USSR. No wonder, after refusing to clear its financial dues to the United Nations earlier, the US has now hurriedly beefed it up to claim a perfect legitimacy for its strategy.

The destruction of Iraq will unleash sombre consequences. King Hussain’s Hashemite Jordan could disappear. The Iranians might seize Iraqi territory. The Turks might have to contend with a Kurdish state. Syria would be tempted to gobble up Lebanon. In due course, a Muslim backlash against the West and its Arab allies might hasten their demise. And a doubling in oil prices would impose a crippling burden of US$ 150 billion per annum in much of the third world. Israel apart, it is difficult to visualize any winners in the Gulf. Both Saddam and Bush are victims of misplaced concreteness, one for violating the sovereignty of an independent stat and the other for thrusting his warped policies upon the rest of the us.

As for Pakistan, its foreign policy is really up the creek. Civilian and military opinion frowns upon the destruction of Iraq. Yet, we have sent 12000 troops in aid of the coalition and more are to follow. Islamabad thinks, wrongly, that in the aftermath of this conflict, Pakistan stands to reap the rewards of participation in a Pan-Islamic peacekeeping force in the Gulf.

This is wishful thinking or rank opportunism. There is no treasure buried beneath a holocaust in the Middle-East.

(TFT January 17-23 1991Vol-2, No.45 — Article)

Tensions in Pakistani Gulf Policy

Najam Sethi says the recent tensions between the Americans and the Pakistani establishment have contributed to the confusion which marks Pakistan’s foreign policy responses to the Gulf crisis

With nearly 12,000 Pakistani troops in Saudi Arabia and another 10,000 on their way to the Emirates to back up the 400,000 strong anti-Iraq Coalition led by the United States of America, and mass protests and rallies erupting all over the country against the US involvement in the Gulf, organised largely by the Prime minister’s own IJI partners, Pakistan’s foreign policy appears to be contradictory and out of tune with the situation on the ground.

From the outset, there has been a curious ambiguity and uncertainty about Pakistani intentions and policies regarding the conflict in the Middle-East. When Kuwait was invaded by Saddam Hussein last August and the Americans went round soliciting support against the dictator, Pakistan appeared only too keen to contribute a contingent to the allied forces stationed in Saudi Arabia. There was at the time much talking the corridors of power about the possibility of a Pan-Islamic military force, largely comprising of Pakistanis, to police the Gulf and reap the economic and political benefits consequent upon such an involvement.

Consequently, the caretaker government of Prime Minister Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, who rushed off to reassure Pakistan’s Saudi benefactors, pledged 5000 troops t the “defence of the holy land”.

Shortly afterwards, approximately 2-3000 troops were hastily assembled and packed off to the Gulf with the promise of another 3-4000 to follow in September. About that time, however, the Americans informed the Pakistanis that US assistance for fiscal 1990-91 was being cut in view of Pakistan’s rapidly developing nuclear programme. The Americans were also insisting that the scheduled elections be held on time and deposed prime minister Benazir Bhutto be allowed to participate without any encumbrances.

The caretaker government of Mr Jatoi, prodded by the President and the military establishment, overnight acquired an anti-American stance, prompting the then Interior Minister Mr Zahid Sarfraz to formally blast the American ambassador Mr Robert Oakley for interfering in Pakistan’s internal affairs. As a measure of Pakistani resentment over what it construed to be bullying by the US regarding the restoration of democracy, the role of Benazir Bhutto, and the cut off in US military and economic assistance, the caretaker administration began to drag its feet over despatching the remaining troops to the Gulf.

It was not until after the elections had been satisfactorily concluded and new prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif had taken over and after he too had made a trip to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, that the government airlifted the promised balance of 3-4000 troops. In between, however, there was some confusion about the nature of the equipment the troops were expected to carry along with them and what the Saudis were expected to give them financially when they took up armed duty in the Kingdom.

While Pakistan’s stance on the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait has been principled (we condemn it inequivocally), it appears that there are strong and articulate voices at GHQ who would be most unhappy to see the total destruction of the Iraqi military might at the hands of the US-sponsored allied force. As a matter of fact,the COAS, Gen Mirza Aslam Beg, has, on more than one occasion, publicly expressed his candid view that Pakistan has no business siding with the US in its professed aim of going to war with Saddam Hussein and destroying the Iraqi armed forces.

It was also evident earlier that the Americans were not terribly interested in encouraging the Pakistani-mooted idea of a Pan-Islamic force, which includes a large contingent of Pakistanis, to police the Gulf, if and when US forces withdraw, partially or in whole, from the region at some time in the future.

Part of the ambiguity, of course, in our foreign policy regarding the Gulf stems from the fact that we are in dire straits financially, especially after the cut-off in US aid and the rise in the price of oil. On the one hand, therefore, we are more than ever dependent on the goodwill of the Saudis and the Emirates to bail us out of our financial crisis by giving us cheap oil and soft loans. On the other, our relationship with the military partners of the Saudis, the Americans, has plunged to an all-time lo and our government has actively encouraged an anti-American backlash in the country for blocking our nuclear programme and appearing to have a soft corner for the out-of-favour Benazir Bhutto.

Another aspect of our tensions with the US, which has also affected our Gulf policy, has to do with our perceptions of post-cold war US foreign policy in the South Asian region. The Americans would like to settle Afghanistan in a manner which permits the establishment of a genuinely neutral government in Kabul. The Pakistani military, however, remains committed to installing a puppet Afghan regime comprising only certain sections of the Mujahidin. Further, the Americans would like to see Pakistan normalise relations with India and keep its hand out of Kashmir and East Punjab. The Pakistani establishment, instead, is vociferous in its support for the Kashmiris and suspicions abound in Washington that we are militarily aiding the Kashmiri and East Punjabi militants to try and secede from India.

While the establishment has been trying to sort itself out vis a vis its sentiments regarding the Americans on the one hand and Pakistan’s allies in the Gulf on the other, the Prime Minister’s alliance partners among the religious parties, especially the Jamaat-i-Islami, the Jamiat-i-Ulema Pakistan and the Jamiat-i-Ulema Islam, have all come out in open protest at the American role in the Middle-East. But these religious groups have their dilemmas too. On the one hand, all of them support the monarchies in the Middle-East, especially the Saudis, and would like to extend all possible support to them at this critical juncture. On the other, however, they cannot resist attacking the Americans and supporting the cause of the Palestinians which Saddam Hussein has so cleverly espoused in recent weeks.

The dilemma of the Pakistani establishment and religious parties can be put thus: the best friend (the USA) of Pakistani’s Gulf allies is also the bet friend of their worst enemy (Israel), and Saddam Hussein, the present best friend of the Palestinians, is the worst enemy of the best friend of the Pakistanis, Saudi Arabia!

Pakistan has now agreed to send another 6,000 troops to Saudi Arabia (an armoured brigade without the armour, which is to be supplied by the Saudis) and 10,000 to the Emirates. In the streets outside and within earshot of the GHQ, the PM’s secretariat and the Foreign Office, Mian Nawaz Sharif’s alliance partners are raising slogans against America and burning President Bush’s effigies, while proudly holding aloft Saddam Hussein’s larger-than-life portraits, in full battle-dress, for what is being billed locally as “the war against the infidels”.

In the meanwhile, the Pakistanis are also desperately trying to put together an alliance with the Iranians and the Turks in the Gulf. The problem here is that the Saudis don’t trust the Iranians and the Turks are belatedly dragging their feet vis a vis their NATO allies concerning their active military participation against Iraq in the event of war. The Turkish foreign minister and Armed Forces Chief has recently resigned over disagreement with President Turgat Ozal’s policy of total support to the US in the Gulf. The Iranians, meanwhile, have undertaken military manoeuvres on the borders of Iraq, doubtless with a view to capturing Iraqi territory in the event of Saddam’s conflict with the USA slipping into full-fledged war.

As if all this isn’t confusing enough, the stance of the PPP led Opposition too appears to be in great disarray. On the one hand, Ms Benazir Bhutto has criticised the government for rushing troops to the Middle-East on the side of the Americans. On the other hand, she appears still keen to cosy up to the US despite the adverse publicity generated on this count during the last few months, especially during the election campaign last October.

While the Americans are gearing up to reduce Iraq to nought, and anti-US feeling is running at an all-time high in the country, Ms Bhutto has announced her intention to visit the United States on what is claimed to be a personal “lecture tour” of six US and two Canadian cities, starting January 17. She is also scheduled to meet with US congressmen to discuss “matters of mutual concern”.

The timing of this trip, coming as it does at the height of what is perceived in this country by ordinary people as a Holy War against the US infidels, could not have been worse from her point of view. And it is almost certain that her detractors at home will point an accusing finger at her for hobnobbing with the Americans precisely when she ought to be distancing herself from them.

(TFT January 14-30 1991 Vol-2, No.46 — Editorial)

Thinking beyond Saddam

The US and its warmongering allies say they are fighting to uphold moral principles, “waging war today to strengthen peace latter”. This smacks of the “white man’s burden” all over again. And it is nonsense. If facts and figures are required afresh to disabuse this hypocritical delusion we refer readers to Noam Chomsky’s lucid rebuttal on page 7 of TFT.

Saddam Hussein says he is crusading for the glory of Islam against the infidels. He’s a liar just as much as George Bush. And his belated effort to inscribe Allaho Akbar on the Iraqi flag and send his pathetic Scuds scurrying into Tel Aviv mocks our intelligence and strains our integrity.

As for all this enthusiasm elsewhere for the elusive Muslim Ummah, the less said the better. There is no civilisation more creaking at the moral joints than the so-called Islamic one today. To support a tyrant, thief and megalomaniac just because he is a Muslim by birth is beyond the realms of credibility.

But there is more to the Gulf war than this. While Saddam Hussein certainly provoked the present crisis for purely mercenary reasons (just as much as the militant response of the Western powers) such motives are of purely academic interest now, five months later. What needs understanding today is that he is himself the creation of a larger injustice imposed upon the Middle-East after the breakup of the Ottoman empire when the Europeans reneged on their promise, brought Arab provinces under their own rule, divided them into artificial entities and in the greatest humiliation of all, foisted the militant state of Israel on the Palestinian segment of the fractured Arab homeland.

Saddam’s present mindset probably derives some sustenance precisely from the repeated humiliations and deepening sense of impotence and frustration inflicted upon the Arabs by Western powers in over decades of history. It has also been argued that the role of the underdog probably fits into certain strands in crescent Arab traditions of preferring to absorb bloody punishment and pain rather than knuckling under a vastly superior foreign enemy. Such decisions reflect a cultural machismo in the Arab mindset in which standing one’s ground, fighting and being bloodied gains respect from allies and enemies alike. Examples of this are Gamal Abdul Nasser over Suez in 1956 and Sinai in 1967, the PLO under Arafat in Beirut and Hafiz al Assad in Lebanon against Israel in 1982. All three were defeated but each emerged, in the eyes of the Arab people, as a hero. In military defeat against a conspiratorial foreign enemy, Nasser inspired the PLO, just as the defeated PLO in turn inspired the Intifada in the West Bank and Gaza. Similarly, yesterday’s Western ally King Hussein is today’s gallant Arab hero because he stands proudly against a vastly superior foreign force.

Thus, even if he is eventually defeated militarily by the Western powers, Saddam Hussein has already acquired the mythical status of a winner in the Arab world, a modern day Saladin for Muslims all over the world.

The real tragedy, of course, is not that a tyrant like Saddam Hussein should emerge victorious in defeat by claiming the hearts of Arabs and Muslims, but that the Western mind should persist in refusing to grasp the obvious linkages in the Middle-East and undo the historic injustice perpetrated in the region.

After August 2, there was never any question of going back to the status quo ante — the Kuwaiti-Iraq crisis had already transcended its unscrupulous origins and become, instead, part of the larger crisis of security and stability in the Middle-East. The ‘linkage’ to the question of Palestine which the West so foolishly and adamantly denies Saddam Hussein has become all the more real and inextricable in the larger conflict in the Middle-East after the invasion of Kuwait. And the Iraqi Scuds on Israel, more than on Saudi Arabian soil, are additional proof, if any is still required, to drive home this point, just as much as the violent backlash of widespread Muslim and Arab public opinion in support of Iraq is evidence of it.

The parallels and linkages between the fate of the Palestinians and that of the Kuwaitis are obvious to all except the US and Britain. In both cases, a grave injustice has been done to the Arab cause, once earlier by the West and now by an Arab himself. But it is equally clear that this Middle-Eastern war is unlike any of the previous six in the region — no Arab country has hitherto conquered and annexed another.

Which is why, without a political settlement to the question of Palestine, the war to destroy Saddam Hussein will not lead to the liberation of Kuwait or to the protection of Western interests in the Gulf, including those of its Arab allies. If anything, the destruction of Iraq might unleash, in the long run, a string of Saddam Hussein all over the Middle-East and much of the Muslim world and devour all efforts to achieve lasting peace in the world.

(TFT January 14-30 1991 Vol-2, No.46 — Article)

“A Bodyguard of Lies”

During war, propaganda and psychology play a crucial role in shaping perceptions of victory or defeat. Western reporters, including those of CNN and BBC, unfortunately, have lapped up the Pentagon’s claims and “misinformed” the public about Iraqi losses and Allied successes.

Going by what was reported in the first two days of the war, an impression was created that 80% of the Iraqi air force, military installations, airbases and missile launching pads had been “effectively” destroyed in the 1800 sorties carried out by Allied aircraft and 100 cruise missiles fired at Iraqi targets. The Pentagon buttressed its briefings by claiming that nearly 18,000 tons of explosives (equivalent to the tonnage of the first atom bomb on Japan) had been unleashed against the Iraqis in the first 24 hours.

When Iraq retaliated against Israel and Saudi Arabia a couple of days later with its Scud missiles, the boot was on the other foot. A few days later, at a US congressional military debriefing, detailed cross-examination suggested that in fact “no more than 11 Iraqi aircraft had been conclusively destroyed” in the opening blitzkrieg, rather than the 500 or so which the Pentagon had claimed earlier, and that Iraqi missile launchers were largely untouched.

First reports also suggested that the Iraqis had no more than 30 such Scud launchers. A week later, war correspondents are talking of figures ranging from 30 to 200 Scud mobile launchers. We are now also coming to realise that, apart from the Iraqi airforce which remains largely intact, the Iraqis have not yet unleashed their arsenal of Exocet air-to-surface missiles.

Peter Pringle, The Independent’s correspondent in Washington, has recently given us an insight into the “facts” of the situation.

According to Pringle, when the Pentagon says its bombing missions were “effective”, it does not necessarily mean that the bombs disabled the target. When it says that the Tomahawk cruise missiles “performed excellently”, it does not necessarily mean that the missiles disabled an Iraqi Scud missile or its launching pad. Indeed, as General Schqarzkopf has belatedly admitted, finding Iraqi mobile missile launchers is like trying to find “needles in haystacks.”

Thus, when the Pentagon says that its initial strikes on Day 1 “were 80% effective”, it is simply saying that of all the sorties undertaken by fighter-bombers, 80% got close to their targets and off loaded their bombs. Whether or not any or all of the targets were destroyed is quite another matter.

For a missile, for example, “good performance” simply means that it got off the ground, flew to within “a circular error probable” (CEP) distance of the target and exploded. It doesn’t mean it disabled the target, let alone destroyed it.

Similarly, the amount of bombs dropped during the strikes present yet another area of potential deception. Putting it in perspective, 18,000 tons in one day is a huge amount. In eight years of war in Vietnam, the US dropped 6 million tons, which was twice the amount dropped by US forces in all theatres in the Second World War. This figure suggests that if this tonnage was indeed dropped in 24 hours, then the US will have dropped 6 million tons of bombs on Iraq in one month of battle!

This is ridiculous, according to Western defence experts. A quarter of all missions, as the Pentagon has admitted, were aborted for one reason or another. The average fighter bomber is loaded with 3 to 4 tons of bombs, the B-52s with 40 tons and the Tomahawks with half a ton. Say, the first 1,000 sorties included 700 armed fighter planes and 100 B-52s, a generous estimate. These would carry a total of 3,200 tons, a far cry from the Pentagon’s 18,000 tons!

Robert Fisk, one of the most brilliant war correspondents in the Middle-East, has talked with US air force crews and Marine pilots “off the record”. According to the pilots, perhaps only a third of the Iraqi Scuds — now estimated at 200 batteries by intelligence officers — have been destroyed. Fisk thinks that “even this statistic may be an exaggeration”. The US pilots also acknowledge that “the absence of any serious operational activity by the Iraqi air force cannot be attributed to timidity or lack of equipment”. US pilots have noticed Iraqi planes flying on a non-combative status around them in Iraq, ‘learning about the Americans’.

Take also the reputed inaccuracy of the Scuds, as propagated by the Americans. According to US air force technicians, however, talking off the record to Fisk, “the Scud can hit within 200 yards of its aiming point”.

Or examine the Allied claim that “the Iraqi army’s morale is collapsing” and that large numbers of Iraqi soldiers (“a steady stream” according to the BBC) have been deserting and crossing over into Saudi territory from Kuwait (the Egyptians reported 50 Iraqi tank crews defecting to Egyptian forces recently). Yet, in all this time, not one defector has ever been produced before the press.

All this reminds John Naughton, The Observer’s television critic, of what William Randolph Hearst told his photographer Frederic Remington, during another war on another front many decades ago: “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war”. Much the same deal seems to have been stuck between General Schwarzkopf and ted Turner of CNN, according to Naughton.

CNN’s video footage has proved irresistible to Western journalists. They have seen cross-hair and gun-sights superimposed on targeted buildings, followed by satisfying puffs as another ‘surgical strike’ went home, with gung-ho commentary from the broadcaster’s resident military correspondent. But as Naughton laments, “nobody seemed interested in knowing, for example, whether this dramatic footage was statistically representative of the aerial assault. And of course nobody asked whether it was the genuine undoctored article. If it’s good enough for Stormin’ Norman, then it’s good enough for us”, is how the logic went.

According to Naughton, “Here we are, several days into the war, and we still have no objective assessment of the effectiveness of the Allied aerial bombardment, no information about civilian casualties, little idea about what has been destroyed… we know very little beyond what the military PR boys want us to know.”

The Western media’s coverage is biased because the story has been led by the pictures. Truth and skepticism, however, haven’t been the only casualties: “As reporters salivated over arcade videos of laser-guided bombing, archive footage of fragmentation bombs and a Patriot missile seeking and destroying a Scud missile, they spoke the language of computerised warfare — in which ‘assets’ are ‘taken out’, buildings ‘plugged’ and launchers ‘neutralised’. In this war, Western networks are clearly calling the shots.”

Before the war began, Gen Schwarzkopf spoke of war as profanity: “You’ve got two opposing sides trying to settle their differences by killing as many of each other as they can … That is short of a profane thing to do when you get right down to it. So if there’s going to be a war, it’s going to be just as profane as any other we’ve had.”

One week into war, the tune has changed after reassessing his lack of quick success. The General is now stressing the moral cause which his young men and women are fulfilling — and his pride in their work!

As it becomes clear that the war is not going to be over in a few weeks and Allied casualties are bound to rise when the land battles begin later, the theme of Allied “morality” and “justness” is also increasingly cropping up in the columns of political pundits, editorials, and press conferences. Unfortunately for the Western powers, as Noam Chomsky has so brilliantly explained most people are able to see through such hollow pieties.

Winston Churchill once talked about the need for a nation at war to surround itself with “a bodyguard of lies”. As the Gulf war enters only its second week, the evidence is all too clear about Allied intentions.

(TFT Jan 31-Feb 6 1991 Vol-2, No.47 — Editorial)

Right and wrong

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may be in big trouble. In his first press conference in Islamabad last Monday since becoming PM, just hours after his return from an abortive Gulf peace mission, he cut a sorry figure under the relentless barrage of questions, each more pertinent than the other. And if Mian Sahib had even a single answer, he certainly didn’t provide it, preferring instead to sweat it out as bravely as he could.

The poor man could hardly have done otherwise. He was confronted with the most hard-hitting speech on the Gulf crisis to date by the COAS, Gen Aslam Beg, earlier in the day, in which the General’s crux seemed to fiercely undercut the current position of the civilian government in Islamabad.

Mian Sahib’s position is that Iraq must unconditionally withdraw from Kuwait as per the original UN Security Council Resolution. Mian Sahib has also told Pakistanis that Saddam Hussein has been no friend to Pakistan in the past while the Saudis have always stood by us through thick and thin. In other words, that Pakistan’s position is a principled and legitimate one. As for the grand Coalition built by the United States and what it is doing to Iraq, including the disastrous and far-reaching consequences of war imposed on the region, the PM’s silence has spoken volumes.

Not so, General Beg. The Western powers, he believes, provoked the Iraqi intervention in Kuwait, didn’t give peace a fair chance and have now unleashed a war not merely to vacate Kuwait as per the UN resolution but to destroy Iraq’s economic and military strength and impose an unstable solution to the myriad problems of the region, including South Asia. Further, that the war is undermining the unity of the Muslims and may end up re-enacting the tragedy of Karbala. No wonder, thunders Gen Beg, Saddam Hussein is now viewed by Muslims all over the world as a great defender of the Faith.

As opposed to the Prime Minister’s compulsory dirge, Gen Beg’s words must surely come as sweet music to the ears of most Pakistanis. Which prompts an urgent question: why has Gen Beg chosen to say what he has said, and why has he said it precisely a few hours before the Prime Minister’s scheduled press conference on the Gulf crisis?

When Mian Sahib was asked to confirm his approval of Gen Beg’s opinions, the PM dithered. And understandably so. Apart from not having any knowledge of the General’s utterances,and therefore lacking an appropriate brief, the PM could hardly have backed his Army Chief without overturning his government’s foreign policies in more ways than one. And if truth be retold, he couldn’t have openly disagreed either, such is the measure of Pakistan’s uncomfortable political realities.

All this was evident enough. But more to the point, the episode highlighted the object failure of the Prime Minister to articulate a Gulf policy in tune with the emotions and aspirations of the people of Pakistan, a matter which should no longer give at least General Beg any further sleepless nights.

In one fell swoop, General Beg has brilliantly distanced the armed forces from the civilian government’s unpopular Gulf policy without at the same time providing the concrete contours of a new, more popular, one. For nothing in General Beg’s speech suggests that there may indeed be a viable alternative at hand, for the moment at any rate.

As things stand, it might be well to remember that when the first troops were committed last August the armed forces assessed war as being highly improbable and risking Saudi displeasure as most undesirable. Subsequently, doubts crept in as the January deadline approached. But the new PM then went and committed a fresh batch of troops to Saudi Arabia and, knowing him, he couldn’t have done so without GHQ’s acquiescence. Now, of course, everyone is having serious second thoughts about it as public outcry and anguish acquire threatening proportions.

But the problem is that while the civilian government is stuck with these decisions the armed forces appear to be subtly extricating themselves from this mess. This is most unfortunate. Everyone knows where power lies. If Gen Beg genuinely wants to reverse or change the government’s policies, he should say as much in the proper quarters and help bring his political colleagues into conformity with public thinking on this issue. If he doesn’t, he might be advised to choose his words and audience with greater circumspection. His latest analysis, notwithstanding its strategic vision, has sadly only served to undermine the credibility of an elected government and sowed suspicions about his own, true, long-term intentions.

(TFT Jan 31-Feb 6 1991 Vol-2, No.47 — Article)

Turkey unlikely to support OIC peace efforts

As Pakistani Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif shuttled around the Muslim world chasing leaders of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) to lend an ear to his peace proposals for a cease-fire in the Gulf. Pakistan’s so-called strategic regional allies in Turkey were quietly committing themselves more solidly on the side of the US-backed Coalition which seeks through war not only the withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait but also the destruction of the Iraqi military machine, including its nuclear installations and intermediate goods industrial base. As for the Prime Minister’s belated efforts which fly against the proclaimed US policy in the region, Ambassador Robert Oakley commented acidly that the “US recognises no peace missions”.

President Turgat Ozal of Turkey, who has ignored considerable criticism from his political opposition led by Bulant Ecevit of the Democratic Left party, (there have been at least five bomb blasts against US targets in Turkey in the recent past) which has accused him of “opening a second front against Iraq”, and disquiet within the armed forces over Turkey’s overtly interventionist stance in the Gulf war, has forcefully stated that “Turkey has been in the region for 400 years. It should have sent troops to the Gulf”. He added that his policies would ensure that “a powerful Turkey will emerge from this crisis”.

Although nearly 89 per cent of the Turkish people are opposed to Turkish military intervention in the war, Mr Ozal has taken Turkey, step by step, closer to the brink of armed conflict in the Gulf. In August, shortly after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Turkey cut two Iraqi oil pipelines and sealed off the trading border with Iraq in order to apply the full force of the UN sanctions; then Parliament was pressed to grant Ozal war powers. This was followed a month later by allowing 42 NATO fighter-bombers to be stationed in the country. In due course, by December end, another 48 US warplanes were allowed to use Turkish airspace and bases, finally culminating on the eve of the war in January with permission to the allies to use Turkish bases for combat missions against Iraqi targets which include chemical weapons factories and the eight Iraqi divisions in the sector. At present, at least half of all daily US air missions against the elusive Iraqi Scud launchers in Western Iraqi originate from the Turkish base of Incirlik, 310 miles from the Iraqi border. To date over 500 flights of fighter-bombers, including B-52s, F-111 Stealths, AWACS, F-15s and F-16s have originated from there. Reports also suggest that Turkish bases like Batman in the south east are being used for refuelling by allied aircraft on bombing missions.

Despite this evidence, duly recorded by the Western media, Mr Ozal has made determined efforts to keep the truth about Turkish involvement from his own people. Turkish censors routinely blot out from CNN any mention of the air raids on Iraq from Turkish territory just as quickly as mention of the Iraqi scud attacks on Tel Aviv and Riyadh are soaked up by the Turkish authorities.

Turkish troops, armour and artillery continue to be built up in the border areas “in order”, as President Ozal put it, “to pin down 8 Iraqi divisions”. Strict restrictions are imposed on the movement of local and foreign journalists in these areas.

President Turgat Ozal has said that “Turkey supports the actions taken by the multinational forces to meet the objectives set by the United States (sic)”. The fact that US objectives now transcend those originally set up the United Nations has clearly not been lost on President Ozal.

What does Mr Ozal hope to achieve by way of such “cooperation” with the US, which borders on opening another front against Iraq? One answer is provided by the large military and economic aid package the United States has been putting together for the Turks. In 1991, US Military aid will increase from US $500 to US $700,. An extra US $36m in economic aid is due this financial year as well as gifts of at least US $75m in military equipment. Mr Ozal is also claiming that Turkey will receive US $7b worth of equipment from the European arms reduction cascade under NATO.

Mr Ozal may also be dreaming of a Turkish future built partly on Ottoman foundations. “Turkey is a power that can bring stability to this region. We must play that role”, says Mr Ozal, talking of a post-war stage in which new regional security systems may be set up. Mr Ozal has been pursuing a regional alliance through a Black Sea Economic Cooperation Zone and lavishly entertained visitors from the newly awakened Turkic republics of the Soviet Union.

More worrying, especially for Iran and Syria, are suspicions that Turkey wishes to retake Mosul and Kirkuk, two oil rich provinces taken by British-mandated Iraq in 1926, where there is still a Turkoman minority. “Turkish state television stresses the point by interviewing recent Iraqi war refugees almost entirely in Turkish”, say a UK-based journalist in Ankara.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mr Ali Akbar Velayati was recently quoted as saying that “any change in the map of Iraq might be a cause for war against Turkey”. And Iranian emissaries from Iranian President Rafsanjani have recently held emergency meetings with Turkish leaders in Istanbul and Ankara and publicly warned that “Teheran does not want to see any further expansion of the war”.

Turkey, on its part, has said that in the aftermath of Iraqi defeat, it cannot accept the foundation of any Kurdish state in northern Iraq for fear that it would destabilise Turkey’s already troubled Kurdish south-east. Suspicions that Mr Ozal would back alleged US plans for a federal post-war Iraq with Arab, Kurdish and Turkish provinces have been dismissed by the Turks.

Amidst all these suspicions between Turkey, Iran and Syria about who gets what in the post-war period, come reports from Iraqi Kurdish leaders that about 3000 Kurdish guerrillas have returned to northern Iran and are preparing to strike against Saddam Hussein’s regime. It might do well to remember that more than 1 million Kurds live in north-eastern Iraq where rebel groups have repeatedly engaged in conflicts with Baghdad in recent decades. Turkey, which has nearly 4 million Kurds, has long denied them a cultural identity separate from the Turks by describing them as “mountain Turks”. For more than six years, Ankara has fought Marxist Kurds fighting for s separate homeland. Indeed, if it looks as if the Kurdish movement might be tempted t explore its prospects further in the shadow of the raging conflict in the Gulf, it is not beyond the realm of the possible that Turkey could actively intervene to “protect its interests”. If that should happen, a conflict with Iran and Syria is bound to follow “over the spoils of war”.

Turkey’s regional and strategic interests lie with NATO and the United States. In pursuit of their Pan-Islamic goals, Pakistani military and political strategists have been barking up the wrong tree in their efforts to woo the secular Kamalists in Ankara.

(TFT February 7-13 1991 Vol-2, No.48 — Editorial)

Fight on the home front, PM

Gen Mirza Aslam Beg is increasingly being viewed as the proverbial cat among the pigeons. Certainly, his provocative statements on the genesis and consequences of the Gulf war have ruffled many important feathers in Islamabad, not least on account of his timing.

It is, of course, possible that his intention was simply to quell the rising disquiet among his own ranks. But given his habit of periodically prodding official government policies at critical times over the last two years, it is more than probable that his message was intended for a much larger audience. In consequence, the General has cemented behind him the support of a majority of his powerful corps commanders and junior officers as well as cannily putting his hand on the pulse of many Pakistanis’ emotional, and therefore disturbing, opposition to the Prime Minister’s Gulf policy. Because the civilian constituency is justifiably reserved for civilian governments, his remarks have sparked fears of an imminent threat to the civilian order in Islamabad. Which is why President Ishaq, who has judiciously remained tight-lipped for the most part, has been compelled to refer to “the disastrous consequences of military rule” as an oblique warning to the armed forced not to entertain any political ambitions now.

In all likelihood some of Gen Beg’s Gulf perceptions are shared by the two other members of the ruling troika. But, as foreign minister Yakub Khan has so cogently argued, the rules of diplomacy and considerations of national security suggest a public emphasis on other salient issue. International legitimacy and historically fruitful friendships cannot be sacrificed impulsively at the alter of emotions, no matter how powerful, except at great cost of Pakistan.

A review of what the governments of Iran and Turkey are doing to safeguard their particular national interests, notwithstanding countervailing popular sentiments, suggests that, in the crunch, Pakistani statesmen would be properly advised to relinquish any illusions of a regional Muslim “strategic consensus” elaborated by certain quarters in the recent past. Secular Turkey is all set to become NATO’s new linchpin by eventually picking up a few billion dollars worth of NATO arms for free as well as hundreds of millions of dollars of US aid with which to modernise its armed forces and vitalize its economy. Iran’s pragmatism is destined to prove rewarding; surely, in the aftermath of the Gulf war, it is poised to emerge as a dynamic power with mutually productive relations with the Western powers. Pakistan can hardly afford to ignore this dialectic and would be extremely foolish to isolate itself in the international community and think only of banking on its relationship with Iran for a place in the sun, when Iran is looking forward towards the international community rather than backwards to Pakistan for its own good health.

A majority of politicians accept this logic, albeit reluctantly, but does the military, which has been most visibly pricked by the recent cut-off in American aid? The significance of the military’s perception becomes important when the armed forces begin to flex their muscles in the civilian arena.

The All Parties Conference called by Nawabzada Nasrullah has thankfully ended with a whimper. The Jamaat-i-Islami, whose public position these days has echoed with rhetoric not very dissimilar to that in certain military quarters, has wisely pulled back from the brink because it is understandably fearful of weakening Mian Nawaz Sharif’s civilian government. So, too, apparently have saner elements in the Pakistan Peoples Party, although Ms Bhutto seemed earlier to be leaning to one untenable position while her militant ranks were pushing in another equally preposterous direction. The Muslim League, despite internal splits and personal ambitions, has also maintained a credible political stance.

Everything, it hardly needs pointing, should be geared to protecting the civilian order while simultaneously pressurizing the government to formulate an even more credible foreign policy. By and large, President Ishaq and Mian Nawaz Sharif have done well for Pakistan on this count. But we shouldn’t have any illusions about the Prime Minister’s Peace Missions which are in cloud cuckoo land. These are meant merely as a sop to local public sentiment, no more. That is the best he can do while hoping, like most of us, that this terribly unjust and bloody war comes to a halt quickly without gobbling up Iraq.

There is one last thing. The civilian order needs strengthening, too, by the establishment of a loyal and strong opposition. If the PPP’s leadership now lends its shoulder to Mian Sahib’s efforts, the IJI government should cease its persecution of Ms Bhutto. As a reciprocal gesture, the PM should nudge the President to withdraw his reference against her and the cases against Mr Zardari. In the meanwhile, Mian Nawaz Sharif needs to address his defences on the home front more self-consciously. There could be no better time to bury inter-party hostilities and shore up civilian legitimacy than now when the rumblings in Rawalpindi can be heard loud and clear.

(TFT February 7-13 1991 Vol-2, No.48 — Article)

Humour in uniform

The Western press has gone to town on Saddam Hussein for “using humans as shields” in the Gulf war. There is concern, rightly, about the fate of PoWs in Iraq because Saddam has said that the PoWs will be held captive in places potentially targeted by the Allies.

Of course this practise militates against the Geneva Conventions and should be condemned unequivocally. But sometimes the reaction in the Eastern press is quite hysterical. For example, one leading British columnist wondered fearfully on the editorial pages of The Daily Telegraph, London, about the fate of the single female Pow recently captures by Iraqi forces. How will she fare, the columnist asks, “when under Islamic Shariah laws women who commit adultery are punishable with death in Iraq’. As if, with all the death and destruction held in abeyance, the shrill columnist rather suspects the lone female US marine of contemplating a sexual dalliance with her captives!

Nor have many journalists highlighted the fate of the hundreds of thousands of expatriate Pakistani, Indian, Sri Lankan and Philippine workers held captive in Saudi Arabia by their hosts. Afraid that the war might be extended to the cities of Saudi Arabia, especially Riyadh, Dhaharan and Jeddah, most workers desperately want to return to their respective homes but their Saudis employers refuse to return their passports. Under Saudi law, expatriate workers’ resident permits do not allow them to move even to another city, let alone quit work and move on, without the permission of their ‘sponsors’. Many also complain that while they have paid for their gas masks they have still not been provided one, in sharp contrast to the Saudi populace which is more than adequately provided for by their government.

Not everyone, however, is suffering on one count or the other in the Gulf war. American toymakers are reportedly having a field day churning out ‘weapons’ by the crates for American children hooked on media hype. Favourites include Persian Gulf maps, air-to-air radio control missiles like the Patriot, Operation Desert Shield line of planes, tanks and APCs.

Sales of G.I. dolls and accessories, which had fallen in recent times because of an upsurge in demand for Mutant Ninja Turtles, are up again. One American toy company is now producing 14 different types of US war planes in use in the Gulf. Another toymaker is delighted at his prospects: “We don’t normally advertise on TV, but who needs to these days?”.

American children will now be able to ‘fire’ their radio-controlled anti-missile missiles from Stealth-111 bombers. The Patriots in their hands have a range of 180 metres and are aimed at an Iraqi MiG-25 Foxbat model. A new board game — Iraqattak — is on the shelves. It pokes fun at Iraqi forces by renaming the Scud missiles as Scums and Saddam Hussein is dubbed as the “Bully of Baghdad”.

Even Barbie is now decked in a variety of military outfits. And fathers are eagerly taking out time to play with their kids. One problem, however, remains. No one wants to play the Iraqis!

Even in war, US soldiers are never far from a whiff of home. No, not centrefold pin-ups of MM lookalikes, but junk mail, and lots of it. “Special Desert Shield Center Section!”, reads the cover of mail-order catalogue sent out to over 250,000 US soldiers in the Gulf which is crammed with goods which “might appeal to them” — like sun-wind-dust goggles, Italian-style Monster Stillettos, “When Diplomacy Fails” tie-dyed T-shirts, nylon pocket hammocks, and dress-uniform soldiers bears.

Mail, phone and faxes were pressed into service to flog, for instance, 20,000 copies of “Christmas in the Desert” catalogue which features sun block, snake-bite kits, face veils, and field coats in tan and beige desert camouflage patterns.

A “Desert Shield Edition” with singer Whitney Houston on the cover went out to 15,000 US marines presumed to be interested in listening to music in between sorties on Baghdad. Guess who’s the favourite? None other than Madona’s new album and several blues recordings. US Cavalry, an aggressive mail order supplier, is rushing special desert camo sleeping bags, anoraks, field jackets, bandanas and lightweight battle-dress uniforms, all at US$59.95 a piece. With 400,000 US soldiers on its mailing lists, business is soaring. Hot sellers include knives and boots which are lighter than official handouts.

But on soldier, with his head screwed on right, recently wrote off to the US Brigade quartermaster thus:

“Help! We’re stuck here in Saudi Arabia and as usual the Army supply system… can’t supply us with some of the little things which make life in the field more tolerable — camp stoves, cook kits, hammocks, flashlights”!

Guess which is a runaway best-seller in the Desert these days? No, it’s not Sidney Sheldon, nor even Harold Robbins. It’s none other than an English translation of the 2,000 year old Chinese classic now reprinted by an astute American publisher especially for the US Marines in the Gulf — The Art of War by sun Tzu!

From Gen Powell to Dirty Joe, dog eared copies of the famous book on military strategy are now feverishly doing the rounds of US army camps. Everybody who’s anybody is quoting extracts, two liners and military tactics from the book. But as long as the bombardment continues and the Allies refuse to commit their ground troops against Saddam Hussein’s entrenched Republican Guards, there isn’t much scope to put Sun tzu’s classic to real test.

The irony is, of course, that the Chinese political philosopher was a great favourite of communists like Mao Tse Tung and Gen Giap. In fact, the latter won the Vietnam war against the Americans in the 1970s precisely on the basis of guerilla tactics espoused by Sun Tzu!

While Kuwait’s deposed Al-Sabahs have doled out at least US$50 Billion tot he US war effort to re-install them in their devastated homeland, what, pray, are young richy-rich Kuwaitis in Cairo and elsewhere doing for their country?

While the bombs hit Iraq in the Gulf, our concerned Kuwaitis are hitting the dance floor at Cairo’s newest five-star luxury, the Semiramis International. As the night gets younger, the neon-lit dance floor is crowded with fashionable Kuwaiti youths who celebrate each report of victory by ordering a new round of drinks and hor d’oeuvres. When morning breaks, they get into their cars and roll through the streets of Cairo honking gleefully in their Mercs.

“They start their day at 2 in the afternoon and stay out until five in the morning” says an irate Egyptian. “There are many Kuwaiti families who wait out the war in US$3,000 a month apartments in Cairo. Now we have a real disco problem at hand. Instead of dancing and boozing, why don’t they enlist in the war” he asks.

Indeed, why don’t they? “Because Kuwait was never a country, it was a country club”, replies another. With a population of about 2 million, of which only 75,000 are native Kuwaitis, the country’s armed forces were all of 7,500 troops. Kuwait’s ambassador to Egypt, whose task it is to advise nearly 30,000 Kuwaitis in Egypt at the moment, put it like this: “I’ve advised our people not to feel so happy”. In the meantime, the war on the disco front continues unabated. As one scantily clad Kuwaiti young thing looked on admiringly, she declared, “Kuwaiti men have the best style”. One look at the gyrating figures in the flashing lights in enough to convince anyone of how damned right she is!

While it lasts, the war can be real fun.

(TFT February 14-20 1991 Vol-2, No.49 — Editorial)

A precipitous situation

Nawabzada Nasrullah’s heroic efforts at corralling a motley crowd of unemployed, confused and rather desperate sounding politicos have come to pass. But it is worth asking what concrete purpose, if any, has been served by the All Parties Conference last week and the “nationwide” strike a few days ago.

Take the APC. When you put the PPP, MQM and JI in one cauldron, and garnish the brew with the spicy likes of ANP and QMA, you can only end up with an unpalatable concoction. And so it was. At the fag end of a day spent thundering about how the infidels are destroying the Muslim Ummah, our “principled” leaders couldn’t even bring themselves to demand a withdrawal of Pakistani troops from the wicked Sheikhdoms of the Gulf. As the benign Nawabzada later admitted sheepishly, “We’re not in government. We don’t know all the compulsions behind this policy”. Indeed. Every one of the participants had already given us more than an earful in the obstreperous run-up to the APC. And not one has told us in the APC what concretely Mian Nawaz Sharif should do in the circumstances. So, pray tell, what then was all this fresh ruckus about, unless of course, the intention is yet again to destabilize a civilian government on some pretext or the other? Clearly, the Nawabzada is whistling in the dark when he hopes that the APC might eventually develop into a workable opposition alliance.

As for the partial strike last Sunday, apart from disrupting business, which has become a trademark of sorts for bumbling politicians in and out of government, all we have to show for it are wrecked vehicles and burnt tyres. Bravo. Although the government’s strike call earlier may conceivably have had some semblance of rationality to it because it drew attention to the plight of the Kashmiris which has been all but totally engulfed by the war in the Middle-East,it is really time to put an end to these enforced holidays. We simply cannot afford to take this sort of loadshedding to such preposterous lengths.

Ms Benazir Bhutto is finally back from her untimely, ill-advised, gallivantings abroad. It matters two hoots to most people at home that she had a tete-a-tete with Mr Yasser Arafat, whose own position and initiatives in the Gulf crisis have become increasingly irrelevant. What does matter, indeed is of crucial import, is the dangerous turn some of her party stalwarts seem bent on taking under emotional pressure from their ranks. One insane lot has allowed its personal hatred of Mian Nawaz Sharif to publicly spill over into backing for the COAS; they’re clearly angling to play footsie with the very brass which booted them out not so long ago. Quite a few seem to have become so alienated from their leaderene’s way of thinking, as espoused in Washington, that they have become unwitting appendages of the Jamaat-i-Islami. Some, like the respected Malik Meraj Khalid, are openly disavowing Ms Bhutto and saying they are ready to call it a day.

Before she opens her pretty mouth to lay down the unchallengeable party line, Ms Bhutto might be advised to listen, for a change, to the many voices in her party before formulating any response to the rapidly changing scenario in the Gulf. She should also rap the more frustrated elements in her hierarchy who foolishly think they can exploit Mian Nawaz Sharif’s current predicaments to their own good by cosying to the armed forces.

As for Mian Nawaz Sharif, all this zooming around for half-hour chats with nervous Arab leaders is going to lead nowhere. His priority should be to take leading politicians into confidence and try to articulate a policy which is, by consensus, in Pakistan’s best long-term national interests. It is not enough to neutralise the Jamaat-i-Islami by flogging Professor Khurshid Ahmad’s “simultaneous withdrawal” thesis, although we dare say it’s a damned sight better than Mian Sahib’s original “three words” advice to Iraq!

Rumours about the mood in the armed forces continue to cast a shadow over the staying-power of this civilian government. Apparently, the khakis are irked by the PM’s disclosure to IJI parliamentarians of the minutes of a confidential meeting last August in which the armed forces pushed for sending Pakistani troops to Saudi Arabia. Sahibzada Yakub is being openly bad-mouthed by the brass for “pro-West sympathies”. And although Gen Beg appears to have informally backtracked on the timing of his recent statement, there is no evidence of any dilution of views on foreign policy at GHQ.

This is, inherently, a precipitous position. Mian Nawaz Sharif could not do much worse than refuse to huddle with supporters and oppositionists alike to find an acceptable equilibrium to the crisis at hand. The President, too, needs to move swiftly to lay all this dangerous speculation at rest about extensions and appointments in the armed forces. It is muddying the national waters and unnecessarily diverting attention from the real issues in contention. What is needed right now is a national consensus on the desirability, or otherwise, of concepts like “strategic defiance” for Pakistan in the post-cold war ear.

(TFT February 21-27 1991 Vol-2, No.50 — Editorial)

Kiss and make up

What, in heaven’s name, is the PPP up to? Why is the serene leaderene mute while her gadfly mother and a host of smaller fries are shooting their mouths off?

While abroad, it appears Ms Bhutto went the extra mile to appease the Americans, and failed dismally. Congressman Robert Lagamarsino of the Asia Sub-committee showed her a log list of vitriolic statements made by senior members of her party. Did she approve, he curtly asked? Bhutto tried to absolve herself by weakly admitting “she didn’t understand it herself” because the remarks had been made after she left Pakistan. What about her criticism of the Nawaz Sharif government for its willingness to accept safeguards on a small nuclear reactor provided by China to Pakistan, asked Mr John Kelly, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs? How did she square these views with her pledge before a joint session of Congress in 1989 that Pakistan neither possessed nor had any intention of acquiring a nuclear capability, the State Department’s Margaret Tutwiler insisted on knowing? Bhutto’s sorry explanation suggested that her criticism was not so much against safeguards as against those in Pakistan who castigated her in the past for contemplating safeguards but were now agreeable to opening up Pakistan’s nuclear facilities to international inspection.

When Bhutto pitched her concern about Kashmir on Capital Hill, she was reportedly brushed aside: the US supports the 1972 Simla accords, and that’s it. When she implored Congress to at least approve the economic components of the aid package so that US-Pakistan relations wouldn’t be irreparably damaged, Ms Tutwiler responded firmly: “As far as I know, no new assurances about Pakistan’s nuclear programme have been given and the status quo remains.”

While Ms Bhutto was being coolly rebuffed in Washington, her militant jeealas in Islamabad were giving party loyalist Mr Shafqat Mahmood a hard time. “No, how can you discuss the Gulf crisis with her on the phone”, the besieged fellow implored the mob. Fearful of their testy mood, he suggested Mrs Nusrat Bhutto might be amenable to an earful.

Enter, thus, the mother into the daughter’s class slippers. Thus, too, the first CEC meeting in Karachi under Mrs Bhutto which unanimously blasted the Americans and roundly ticked off Mian Nawaz Sharif’s pro-Allied Gulf policy. As for the dejected leaderene, she has limped back home and retreated into a deafening silence.

Meanwhile, Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, who is madly in love with his own loud voice, has exploded inside the Assembly t regale all and sundry about the immorality of the Americans and how this “defining moment in history” is pregnant with possibilities. Mr Salmaan Taseer, the articulate loner in the Punjab, too has gone to town, reserving his choicest invective for the man he most loves to hate, Mian Nawaz Sharif.

We must presume Benazir Bhutto has acquiesced in this particular attack on Mian Sahib and the Americans. Ms Bhutto’s silence and her mother’s new credibility also suggest that, perhaps, she is keeping her council for a more opportune moment when the PPP may consider changing track in order to exploit the rapidly changing scenario at home and abroad.

All this is quite fishy. Why, for instance, does Mr Taseer now think “there is no harm if the COAs speaks his mind in public”, when all his adult life was spent cursing those ‘interfering men in khaki’? Why does Mr Ahsan suddenly feel the need to compliment the COAS for articulating his strategic visions when not so long ago he was advising the same gentleman to take a copy of the Pakistan Constitution home and catch up on his bed-time reading?

In Islamabad, there is growing talk of the desirability of a “national government” with a National Security Council to accommodate the military. We hear of Messrs Jatoi, Junejo and Khar tearing around in search of launching pads for their soaring ambitions. Malik Meraj Khalid, we are told, is about to return to Parliament after the disqualification of the candidate who defeated him last October. Mr Altaf Hussain is biding his time in hospital, a sure sign that something is afoot. Are disgruntled politicians up to their nasty tricks again, trying to sweep the carpet from one another’s hated feet, regardless of whether it is the ubiquitous military which may eventually trounce everyone all over again? Because the PPP leaders claim to be responsible democrats, we have a right to expect greater restraint from them in such a charged atmosphere.

A meeting between Mian Nawaz Sharif and Ms Benazir Bhutto may be on the cards. They represent the only two organic forces in this country. As we have advised repeatedly, these two should kiss and make up. Otherwise, they may both rue the day they allowed their personal contradictions to knock each other out and paved the way for Bonapartists waiting to pitch their tents on a terrain that doesn’t belong to them.

(TFT February 28-March 6 1991 Vol-2, No.51 — Editorial)

State terrorism

The Chief Minister of Sindh, Jam Sadiq Ali, has proved beyond any shadow of doubt that he is the top-notch exponent of state terrorism in the country. His unrelenting wrath is directed at the hapless Peoples Party of Pakistan. A survey of what is euphemistically refered to as an “administrative clean-up” of the unhappy province since he took control reads like a dismall, unending list of Who’s Who on his PPP hit-list.

A preliminary report on state terrorism, political victimisation and gross violation of human rights in Sindh from August 12 to December 31, 1990, published by the central secretariat of the PPP in Islamabad, meticulously chalks his sordid ‘achievements’. The Chief Minister has not dared to rebut any of the damning allegations levelled therein because thy are all apparently true.

Beginning with the associates of the Zardaris last August, the CM had hauled up more than 200 PPP ‘leaders’ before the October elections, despite which the beleaguered party won nearly 47 out of 100 seats in the province. Subsequently, another 300 or so disappeared from their homes. Most are still in prison. In order to wrap up the forthcoming Senate elections next month, the Jam is now hunting for 22 PPP MPs, including the former Chief Minister of Sindh, Mr Qaim Ali Shah, who have gone into hiding in the province of Balochistan. Of the remaining parliamentarians, 10 are already in his clutches. Scores of ordinary workers too have felt the paroxysms of state fury. The man is a Pakistani caricature of the Pinnochets of Latin America.

His objectives were uncelestial enough. As caretaker CM in Sindh, he simply had to win the October elections — his neck was on the line. Now he cannot even countenance 4 or 5 PPP Sindhi seats in the Senate. The competition must be rubbed out. What better way to do just that than by unleashing the naked power of the state and forestalling the entry of PPP MPs into the Assembly on voting day. There can be no greater outrage than this ferocious attack on freedom, human rights and civil liberties in an ostensibly democratic dispensation.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Ishaq Khan cannot absolve themselves from the rape of Sindh. Unlike Mr Gauhar Ayub, the Speaker of the National Assembly, and Mr Mahmood Haroon, Governor of Sindh, the PM and President have not even feigned to blink at the Jam’s excesses. Which speaks volumes of their bonafides to uphold democracy in these parts.

The PPP has been crying foul for five months. But most Pakistanis have been passionately involved in the fate of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to care too much about the Jam’s rough and ready manner; the PPP’s anguish has been drowned in a flood of Muslim blood in the Gulf.

Unable to bear its suffering any longer, the PPP has been finally forced to boycott Parliament in protest. It is a measure of its commitment to the stability of the civilian order that it did nor register its agony earlier when it was robbed of two elections last August, nor when its leader Ms Bhutto was incapacitated by the promulgation of special laws and references, nor even indeed when her husband was arrested, charged with embezzlement, then kidnapping and now, much later, murder. Ms Bhutto deserves praise for backing Mian Nawaz Sharif’s foreign policy at a time when any other political leader in opposition might have been sorely tempted to exploit the sentiments of the masses to weaken his position. And if now a segment of her party is taking a more militant stance, it is only because it fears that Mian Sahib is not prepared to negotiate a quid pro quo and will go to any lengths to rub out the Bhutto constituency.

That is precisely where the regime’s fatal error lies. Applied selectively, short-term incarceration of political opponents may conceivably yield some crumbs in dividend. Applied indiscriminately, continuing repression hardens attitudes, provokes violent emotions and more often than not cruelly rebounds on the perpetrators of such state violence. By definition, state terrorism tends to institutionalize itself over time until it recognises only its own legitimacy. That is when a halting civilian structure, shorn of its lawful shell, is in danger of being trampled underfoot a rampant authoritarian order.

We have argued along these lines for the last two years, pleaded that democracy will only last as long as government and opposition both play by the rules of the game. We said this when Ms Bhutto, as PM, attempted to marginalize Mian Nawaz Sharif, as Punjab CM, in February 1989. We reiterated it when Mian Sahib tried to pay her back in the same coin in November of the same year. And we have been saying it with renewed concern since starting all over again last year.

Now, more than ever before, when tensions within the ruling troika threaten to extinguish the flame of democracy, there is an added urgency to our pleas. It would be tragic indeed if both the Jam and his civilian mentors in Islamabad came to rue the day they lashed out at their natural civilian allies in the PPP.

(TFT March 7-13, 1991 Vol-2, No.52 — Editorial)

Plunging into the Gulf

Till last week, Saddam Hussain wore the mantle of Salauddin Ayubi and threatened to become the Wizard of Oz. Angry Muslims all over the world licked their lips in anticipation of American body bags galore.

In the event, the Scuds disintegrated into thin air. The mother of all battles turned out to be the mother of all routs. And Saddam Hussein reverted overnight to a military charlatan who, the Believers now believe, was probably in cahouts with the Zionists to humiliate the Ummah! Well, well.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has spent many uncomfortable weeks pursuing spin-control and defending the Allies. The lengthening cracks in his ruling IJI alliance must have been positively unnerving. Indeed, there were moments when it seemed touch and go, especially when Gen Mirza Aslam Beg thundered his displeasure before the Rawalpindi garrison last month.

The PM has also been forced to part company with the chief architect of his foreign policy, Sahibzada Yaqub Khan. And if now he has manoeuvred the exit of Maulana Niazi, his most vocal critic in government during those difficult times, surely he may be forgiven for crowing about the vindication of his stance and reasserting his authority.

If the PM, however, thinks the past was simply a bad dream and that good times are about to roll again “because Pakistan has a significant role to play in rebuilding and protecting the Gulf”, a word of caution is in order.

The fate of Saddam Hussain has been settled but not yet sealed. The Allies are in no hurry to exit from Iraq, let alone the Gulf. The Sheikhdoms, toting up their losses, are in no mood for handouts. Their first priority is to reward their comrades-in-arms — the Western powers, Egypt and Syria — who are queueing up for the goodies. Pakistan, which is counted among the also-rans, should think itself reasonably fortunate with what it has thus far scraped together — 50,000 barrels of crude per day for three months from the Saudis and a lenient interpretation of the Pressler Amendment by the Americans which allows for certain military agreements on spares and leasing to run on unchecked.

As for Pakistani businessmen and workers rushing to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in droves, the prospects of fruitful employment are not terribly bright, notwithstanding the tall claims made recently by Mr Ijaz ul Haq, Minister for Overseas Pakistanis. More likely, in view of the distrust generated among the states of the Gulf by our peoples’ pro-Saddam sentiments, we may find ourselves outstripped in the race for jobs and contracts by the Egyptians, South Koreans, Philippinos Indians and Sri Lankans. Even the Chinese people, who remained stolidly pro-Allies during the conflict, are looking to edge us out.

How else can Pakistan play a “significant role in the Gulf”? If the PM is alluding to the possibility of Pakistani participation in an American-Saudi sponsored security arrangement for the future, he might be advised to think again before leaping into Western arms. If such an arrangement does materialise in the future, it is pertinent to ask one question: from whom will the Gulf states seek protection? If Iran is seen as the potential regional threat and thereby excluded from such an arrangement, will it not take the view that Pakistan is an American Trojan horse in the region? Iran has said that Pakistan has no role to play in the Gulf. If we try and prove otherwise, what, then, will be the fate of our newly-flogged doctrine of “strategic consensus” with Iran?

Which, of course, brings us full circle. The disquiet among a section of the corps commanders led by Gen Beg and forcefully articulated by him recently relates to the future dynamics of Pak-US relations. This is a body of opinion which strongly believes that our buddy-wuddy relationship with the Americans is now at the end of its tether. If the rupture is fated to come because of our determination to proceed full steam with our nuclear programme, then it should come sooner rather than later, and preferably on our own terms rather than those dictated by the Americans. Gen Beg’s doctrine of strategic consensus with Iran, notwithstanding its fundamental limitations, comes into play precisely at this juncture. It is not without ominous significance that, irrespective of whether or not he retires next August, he is consciously pulling out all the stops to quickly place his key men in positions of authority within the top echelons of the armed forces. Nor is all this talk of upgrading the post of the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, and creating a National Security Council without portend.

Although the war in the Gulf has ended, Mian Nawaz Sharif’s hopes of reaping long term political dividends for himself and for Pakistan from his foreign policy are largely misplaced. There is no significant role we can play in that region. Even if one were conceivable, it ought to be prefaced by careful construction of a national consensus.

An unthinkingly plunge into the Gulf is the last thing Mian Sahib should be talking about. It could land him in seriously troubled waters.

(TFT March 14-20 1991 Vol-3 No.1 — Editorial)

Privatize or perish?

Call it what you will — privatization, deregulation, denationalization — it amounts to one thing only: the conquering force of the market has returned. State controls are out, private initiative is in.

In principle, this belated development is to be heartily welcomed. The collapse of bureaucratic socialism is best exemplified in the failure of a superpower like the Soviet Union to provide bread for millions of citizens. But before we prostrate ourselves in front of the market, dreaming of pots of gold for everyone at the end of the rainbow, we might pause to consider some nagging means and ends.

Mr Sartaj Aziz intends to ‘privatize’ 115 public sector corporations in the space of eighteen months. Considering that a tenacious privatizer like Mrs Margaret Thatcher could only manage 14 companies in as many years in the UK, this is breathless pace indeed. Which, of course, is precisely the occasion of a new set of nasty problems.

The Muslim Commercial Bank deal provides a perfect instance of thinking before leaping. Stonewalled by the law courts on account of bumbling governmental methodology, this show-piece case has unnecessarily breached public confidence and embarrassed the Prime Minister. Another 10 banks are lined up for delivery into private hands. But the recently established ‘point-system’ method for privatizing these inadequate and doesn’t preclude further controversy.

In its headlong rush to flog a good idea, the government has paid scant attention to a plethora of complexities which lie ahead. Unlike other countries also attempting to moderate their lumbering state sectors, our government has carried out no preliminary investigations or detailed case studies. The thinking clearly is that we should get on with it, and cross the bridges when we come to them.

This is dangerous reasoning. A host of major consequential and practical questions remain unanswered. In what way is the ‘denationalization’ of certain companies going to differ from the ‘privatization’ of others in the kitty? What will be the status of the original owners’ vis a vis new bidders? Is the government building-in secure guarantees against private monopolization in any region, province or sector? What is the appraisal system for different projects? Are there any simultaneous plans to retrain and absorb the resultant pool of labour released in the wake of privatizing certain industries? In short, what are the rules of the privatization game?

If, for one reason or another, the government is inclined to fudge or ignore these rules, a bureaucratic logjam of disastrous proportions may be on the cards. High expectations will flounder on the rock of poor performance, implicit faith diminish in the context of specious methodology.  All the PM’s good intentions could drown in a murky sea of unsavoury suspicions of political favouritism and broken promises.

Assuming, however, that the government does manage to stumble through a large chunk of its bare ‘marketing’ plans without too many deleterious effects, we must still ask ourselves whether such a policy will provide the sufficient conditions for growth of our economy. And here, regrettably, there is even less room for optimism.

Left to itself, in the absence of institutional and financial discipline, the market is a notoriously inequitable and wasteful allocator of scarce resources. Efficient profit maximisation in the short-term conflicts with equitable growth maximisation in the long-run. Regional disparities are exacerbated, labour loses out to capital, the environment is threatened and squalid unbarnisation is the result. If anarchic privatization is unleashed without the framework of a comprehensive plan, without an accompanying rationalisation and enlargement of the resource base of taxation, without large scale investments in the infrastructure of roads, communications and energy, without a pruning of wasteful expenditures, its potential gains can all too easily be frittered away.

Marketing the profitable state sector is easy. Marketing the unprofitable units will require ingenuity. The bureaucracy will create hurdles. But, by hook or by crook, it will certainly make for tons of money in the PM’s treasury. If the exercise is limited to marketing the industrial units rather than marketing the concept of planned, long-term, rational economic development, all is lost already. The government may succeed in mopping up billions of rupees in FEBCs and ‘black’ money. But if the idea is to use this one-shot in the arm to opportunistically combat the current budget deficit rather than construct an elaborate savings and investment climate in the country, we are doomed.

If the ‘privatization’ dividend of billions is squandered away, within a couple of years the deficits will loom larger and we will be forced to borrow afresh. The economic mess will be worse than ever before. We will have nothing to fall back on. And the expected bonanza from a long overdue restructuring of the economy will have perished prematurely.

(TFT March 21-27 1991 Vol-3 No.2 — Editorial)

Presidential decisions

As originally envisaged in the 1973 Constitution, the office of the President of Pakistan was largely ceremonial. Not so today. President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, mainly on account of the government but also by virtue of his own historical profile stands at the apex of power. Consequently, a great deal of responsibility rests upon his shoulders. The system, even as it stands today, cannot afford a partism or capricious President, especially one who owes his position to couple of hundred members of the lower house rather than to the 30 million electorate at large.

The Senate, too, was supposed to be much less powerful or relevant than it is now, not least because its Chairman is only a heart beat away from the Presidency.

Can we therefore review the Presidency and the Senate and say with equanimity that office holders of both institutions have played the role expected to them with due conscientiousness?

Take first the Senate. It is a happy omen indeed that it has survived the buffetings of political misfortune which have afflicted other institutions. Barring the ill-advised private member’s Shariat Bill which threatens to usurp the powers of the National Assembly, the Senate remains a useful sounding board for legislation and scrutiny. That is its proper function, and that it what it should confine itself to, no more. Mr Wasim Sajjad has done a good job. We should count ourselves lucky if he is able to continue as Chairman of this body.

Take now, President Ishaq Khan. We might begin by counting his blessings. Mr Khan has kept the brass at bay on more than one tricky occasions. First, in 1988, after the demise of Zia ul Haq when many politicians weren’t too keen on elections and would have been perfectly agreeable to a Majlis Shoora type of arrangement with a new dictator. In truth, few can complain about his neutrality and fairness in conducting free elections in 1988 and affecting a fair transfer of power to Benazir Bhutto.

Then again last year when the PPP made a royal mess of Sindh and foolishly precipitated a showdown with the army. If Mr Khan had so chosen, we might today be living under martial law. Finally, a month ago when his judicious intervention probably prevented a prickly army chief from jumping the gun and sending Parliament home.

The other side of Mr Khan’s face, however, is less than attractive. Notwithstanding some silly pin-pricks by Bhutto, Mr Khan’s conduct leading up to and during the no-confidence move against the former premier was questionable. If he had chosen to dampen the spirits of the COPpers rather than appearing to condone them, we might have been spared the unsavoury innovation of horse-=trading, kidnapping and the enforced holidaying in Murree and Swat that ensued. And if today, his hand-picked Chief Minister of Sindh shamelessly packs off his precious cargo of MPs to Bangkok at state expense or impunely arrests, kidnaps, cajoles or bribes, where should we in all honesty look to pin the blame? The President’s charge sheet against Bhutto last August and the anti-horse trading Ordinances appear to get thinner by the month. On this score, at least, his silence bespeaks his intentions and reflects more candidly then all his actions to date.

Further, the President’s decision to boot out Bhutto was probably not half as controversial or ill-conceived as his selection of an interim cabinet which was crooked in the extreme. No wonder, the 1990 elections have left such a bad taste in the mouth. History will doubtless hold Mr Khan partly accountable for this fraud.

Also the Presidential references against Ms Bhutto undermine Mr Khan’s credibility much more than they do hers. Yet, the pathetic facade continues, at state expense of course. Not content with mocking the very process of democratic opposition he is supposed to protect, Mr Khan sees nothing amiss in the reign of terror unleashed by his less than charming Chief Minister in Sindh. And to what end? So that every single squeak of dissent is muzzled?

In order to redress his own balance sheet and set the democratic process solidly on the rails again, the President could dismantle some of the more grave injustices against the leader of the tiny opposition, Ms Benazir Bhutto, and allow her to function with honour and dignity. What is also left now is to see Gen Beg safely off, as per the rules, and instal another General in his place who will also respect the rules of democracy. If Mr Khan abides by the criteria of experience, professionalism and seniority, the choice is obvious enough.

With Mian Nawaz Sharif as PM, Mr Wasim Sajjad as Chairman of the Senate, and Gen Asif Nawaz Janjua as COAS, we might just make it without too many hiccups.

(TFT March 28-03 April 1991 Vol-3 No.3 — Editorial)

Defending ourselves

At a lunch in his hour hosted in Lahore by the Council of Newspaper Editors shortly after he became Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mian Nawaz Sharif’s attention was drawn to increasing acts of violence and intimidation — terrorism — against the press by armed thugs of various political parties. What steps do you intend to take to protect our freedom, asked the Editor of The Herald, Sherry Rehman.

The PM feigned ignorance. But he assured us, nonetheless, that he “would look into it”.

Since then, a number of serious injuries have been perpetrated against our community. Last week, armed terrorists of the MQM attacked Mr Zafar Abbas (BBC correspondent and staffer on The Herald) and his family in Karachi and sent him reeling to hospital. The distribution of Pakistan’s leading daily, Dawn, was chocked in the city and a number of poor hawkers who resisted the gangsters met with Mr Abbas’s fate. A day later, the offices of Taqbeer were ransacked and its expensive typesetters destroyed.

Needless to say, there has not even been a squeak of protest from the Prime Minister. We may rightly presume that he is still “looking into it”. However, his foreign press adviser, Mr Hussain Haqqani, who is a past master of the art of adding insult to injury, says he has sent a bouquet of flowers to Mr Abbas wishing him a speedy recovery. Until next time, that is.

As for the Chief Minister of Sindh, Mr Sadiq Ali, the less said the better. How can his alliance partners possibly get up to any misdemmeanors, he wants to know. We may assume, therefore, he is not even inclined to give us the time of day.

In private, members of the CPNE and the APNS have thundered against these excesses. In public, however, they appear to have meekly yielded before the mighty Altaf Hussain who hectored them into a refresher course on the do’s and don’ts of responsible journalism. Lamentably, too, they have sought to convey the erroneous impression that perhaps The Herald was at fault for misreporting news.

A couple of important issues are at stake here.

First, the attitude of the chief executive. Far from initiating measures to preclude such brutalities against the press, the Prime Minister has seen fit to fire a couple of broadsides against us himself. He thinks we are wrong or irresponsible or sensationalist most of the time, especially where news about his doings and undoings are concerned.

The curious thing is that he didn’t always think thus. When the press was muzzled under the long years of martial law, during which he enjoyed his Chief Ministership of the Punjab without having to worry about the press, the question of any transgressions on our part didn’t arise, of course. Later, however, when he was doing out plots to a bunch of greedy hacks and successfully urging urging them to have a go at the PPP, a ‘free press’ was absolutely the first world in his refurbished public vocabulary. But it seems now that those long years of life under the umbrella of the Generals has left an indelible mark on his politics. She he is rapidly reverting to form. And we may have to wait a long time before someone else arrives on the scene and “looks into it”.

Now, examine the pitiable nature of our ‘press barons’. Having lives off the fact of government advertisements and newsprint quotas all their lives, they have lost all sense of integrity and courage. Weak-kneed and weak-willed, they cannot even drag themselves to effect a nominal response to the thuggery about them. For sure, no one expects these ‘freedom fighters’ to take up arms against the terrorism. But an itsy-bitsy one day strike in protest, merely to draw attention of our pathetic plight? A token news boycott of the MQM, or of those who are shielding the terrorists, like Mr Sadiq Ali? No. Nothing of the sort. Apparently, the press lords were reluctant even to point a finger at the MQM. It’s a wonder how they plucked up the courage to beg for an audience with the Great Man himself.

If they can no longer expect protection from the state or from their bosses, working journalists must look to themselves for their personal and collective well-being. The fact is that it is their necks which are on the line. Literally. So what we need is a formal body of working journalists which is not as insecure or constipated as the several which exist today. If we could assemble such a country-wide group and demonstrate an active, civil front against the excesses of politicians, we might succeed in stemming the high tide of violence which threatens our profession.

The ‘press barons’ may not find this idea totally misplaced. After all, if journalists succeed in taking the heat off their bosses in potentially violent situations, leaving them free to make their money, what more could they possibly want?

(TFT April 04-10 1991 Vol-3, No.4 — Editorial)

A sticky affair

Peculiar business, this hijacking affair. But with far-reaching consequences.

The four young men were all travelling on meticulously forged documents pretending to be former Al-Zulfiqar activists who, it turns out now, are alive and rehabilitated in London, Dubai and in the NWFP.

They were ‘armed’ only with a couple of firecrackers, a pen knife and some Singapore Airlines cutlery. In desperation, they threatened to set the plane on fire by sprinkling Scotch Whisky and Vodka in the cabin. Behaviour most unbecoming of desperados.

They demanded the freedom, amongst 9 others, of Mr Asif Ali Zardari, who is universally disliked by Sindhi extremists and PPP hardliners. Most incomprehensible.

Within 24 hours of the hijacking, thousands of posters of Mr Murtaza Bhutto were plastered all over Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The foreign press advisor to the Prime Minister who sits in the PM’s secretariat was already geared up to fax old details of Al-Zulfiqar to newseditors. The Sindh Chief Minister, who had earlier inexplicably cancelled a foreign trip along with an entourage of 60 friends and officials, was at hand to accuse the PPP of perpetrating this crime. The Interior Minister, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, as well as the Information Minister, Sheikh Rashid, too, were more than quick to point a finger at Ms Benazir Bhutto. Most suspicious.

On the face of it, it appears the objectives of those who planned the hijacking were twofold: (1) to spirit Mr Asif Zardari out of Pakistan and consign him to the same useless fate as Mr Murtaza Bhutto. This is credible because in 1981 the Pakistan government acquiesced to the demands of the hijackers and exchanged political prisoners for the safety of the passengers. (2) to thoroughly discredit the PPP and knock out Ms Bhutto from the political game for all times to come.

Certainly, the assured, concrete, fleet-footed response from high government functionaries in lambasting the PPP suggests a conspiracy hatched in some invisible dirty-tricks department somewhere. It is also worth recalling that two weeks before the elections last October, when reports indicated that the PPP could sweep the polls, certain officers of a particular agency went round newspaper offices ‘planting’ incredible stories of a potential threat from Al-Zulfiqar to unleash a chain of violence in Punjab and Sindh in order to sabotage the electoral process. Why a long-defunct Al-Zulfiqar should resort to such tactics precisely when the PPP appeared to be gaining ground was left unexplained.

It is also clear that the four naive hijackers were set-up. anyone who knows a bit about Mr Lee Kwan Yew knows that if the hijackers had hung around at Singapore airport for some length of time, they wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of surviving. Well and good, someone must have thought, if they succeed in spiriting Mr Asif Zardari away; if not, no skin off our backs if they’re rubbed out and leave no tell-tale evidence behind. Whatever happens, the PPP will get it in the neck, the thinking must have gone. Imagine  the fallout if Ms Bhutto had been woken up and unwittingly trapped into talking with the hijackers. There is no point in speculating about what she might have said; but the fact of simple communication would have established a ‘linkage’ of some sorts. And this surely would have undermined her credibility.

Even as it turned out, an already beleaguered Ms Bhutto has nevertheless had to defend herself aggressively. The PPP leadership has publicly singled out Brig Imtiaz who runs the Intelligence Bureau in Islamabad. While no proof of our chief spook’s involvement is available, the gentleman’s enviable reputation, at least in PPP quarters, precedes him — as Mian Nawaz Sharif’s right-hand trouble-shooter, he masterminded the IJI’s election campaign which sent the PPP reeling amidst allegations of rigging.

The net result of this wretched episode is the undesirable mudslinging which has followed. It has thrown a spoke in the negotiations underway between the government and opposition to end the PPP’s boycott of the National Assembly. As if all the cases against ms Bhutto and Asif Zardari and the terrorism against her party in Sindh were not enough to satisfy hr detractors, it appears that some people are bent upon precluding a rapprochement between the civilians.

The PM should realise that this policy of continuously tightening the screws on Ms Bhutto can harm him more than the PPP. Bitter, frustrated and cornered, the PPP could easily be tempted to grasp at straws. ms Bhutto says she is willing to support a no-confidence move against Mian sahib. But what if hr persecution forces hr to acquiesce to a martial law which throws Mian Sahib out and promises to redress the balance? All this ominous talk of a ‘national government’ under a Presidential system should not be shrugged away easily.

The PM has constituted a commission to investigate the hijacking. he should welcome representatives of the opposition to be part of it. Otherwise the mud will stick. And only the civilians will lose out.

(TFT April 11-17 1991 Vol-3, No.5 — Editorial)

A no-win situation

Delusions of grandeur are an occupational hazard for our leaders. And Mian Nawaz Sharif, it seems, is no exception.

Prodded out of his comfortable reverie at the government-sponsored seminar on the media by Mr Arif Nizami’s hard-hitting speech, Mian Sahib ditched his prepared response, rolled up his sleeves and waded into the fray.

The Pakistani press, charged the Prime Minister, is “irresponsible and sensationalist”. It indulges in criticism merely for the sake of criticism, it prints stories which are fabricated, it abuses its freedom, avoids its responsibilities and generally refuses to play a constructive role. Mr Sharif then warned that even though he would prefer to avoid a confrontation with the press, his government would not allow anybody to “sabotage” his efforts. And in case anybody there had missed the barely veiled threat, he added that since newspapers were always complaining about the government’s heavy-handed distribution of advertisements, perhaps he might solve the problem by stopping government ads altogether.

Mr Nawaz Sharif’s concern about criticism may be well-intentioned, but he is fundamentally mistaken if he believes that the press in Pakistan functions only at his discretion. Freedom of the press is not a boon that he has granted out of the goodness of his heart. It is our right, and one which we have earned the hard way: last year alone, five journalists died on the job.

This does not mean that there is no substance to Mr Sharif’s accusations. It is unfortunately correct that the press has in many cases deviated from its task of being a fair and neutral source of information. Many regional newspapers, especially in Sindh, have become embroiled to such a degree in ethnic or sectarian disputes, that they often twist facts to suit their shade of the political spectrum. The recent Gulf crisis is another example of the media manipulation the facts. It is equally true that there are far too many stories being published which are based on nothing more substantial than a whispered telephone conversation. Also, it holds that parts of the press have forsaken their neutrality in favour of aggressive politicking on behalf of the party of their choice.

But these are not sins of our own making alone. If journalists are reduced to quoting “unnamed sources”, should we not also blame.a bureaucracy which insists upon hiding the most innocuous detail? If the press seems to spend most of its time speculating about impending change in the political setup, then aren’t the politicians who spend their time plotting pointless no-confidence moves also responsible? And if the press has become so politicised that articles are being reworked in accordance with the “official” line, then why should one acquit those parties which have so sedulously bribed, cajoled and coaxed journalists into forsaking their integrity?

Mr Sharif has warned the press that he does not want a confrontation. The problem is, the confrontation is not ours to avoid. The press in Pakistan is only a growing part of a growing society. To expect us to function with utopian maturity with environment still unfamiliar with democratic norms is unrealistic. We are simply fulfilling our duties to our readers to the best of our ability. If this be treason, then make the most of it. We have faced autocrats before.

But matters need not come to this pass. Mr Sharif must realise that he has everything to lose and nothing to gain in a confrontation with the press. For example, Mr Sharif has talked often about his plans to encouraged private enterprise. However, as a businessman himself, he must be aware that one cannot liberalise the economy without simultaneously allowing the free and unfettered flow of information. It must be remembered that the communications revolution which has taken place in the West over the last twenty years was predicated above all by the stock market’s insatiable appetite for information. Shackling the press in Pakistan will only retard Mr Sharif’s economic initiatives.

The Prime Minister also has a more personal stake in the freedom of the press. As the leader of a democratic government, he is obviously interested not only in ensuring that his government should stay in power for as long as possible, but also that the foundations of democracy in Pakistan should be as strong as possible. He cannot do more to strengthen his position than to give the press the freedom to fulfill its role, and to tolerate its occasional lapses from propriety.

Thomas Jefferson once remarked that given a choice he would prefer newspapers without a government to a government without newspapers. Mr Sharif might disagree, but he should realise that if he attempts to have a government without newspapers, he will be left with neither newspapers nor a government.

(TFT April 18-24 1991 Vol-3 No.6 — Editorial)

A very mixed blessing

No, the Prime Minister is not a fundamentalist, and his Shariat bill bears testimony to this. The judicial orthodoxy that formed the core f previous bills has, thankfully, taken second place to the requirements of consensus as Nawaz Sharif attempts to bring a democratic state under the law of Shariat.

Unlike previous bills which have sought to usurp the sovereignty of Parliament by inducting religious scholars onto the courts of law to sit in judgement on those who beat them at the hustings, the present bill seems to recognise the unique role played by the National Assembly in forging the consensus needed for government today. A point long argued for by Allama Iqbal.

It also appears to recognise that expertise from all field, not just that of Islamic jurisprudence, will be needed if any progress is to be made in solving the nation’s many problems. The bill’s conception of the relationship between Islam and the state rejects the narrow and radically inflexible ideal of the Islamic jurists in favour of a broader vision of Islamic government.

In its attempt to bring forward a plurality of voices to answer the questions of Islamisation and to deny the mullah his claim to sole responsibility, this bill is to be welcomed. However, in proclaiming the Quran and Sunnah the supreme law in Pakistan, as opposed to requiring all law to be consonant with them as stated by the ’73 Constitution, the bill runs the danger of vitiating  this broadening of the debate. For in Pakistan, interpretation of the Quran and Sunnah remains strictly with the mullah. And as supreme law, their interpretation will have implacable force, leaving no opportunity for debate.

Although conceding the principle, the bills seeks to avoid such an eventuality by making no provision for legislation outside of the National Assembly. This seems a contorted logic, especially as this issue was elegantly dealt with in the ’73 Constitution.

Further, while this bill attempts to keep the National Assembly’s power to legislate unfettered by the clergy, much of its rhetoric, obscure and imprecise as it is, raises the fear that the rest of society may be surrendered to them and the confusion that they bring.

The bill promises reforms in the education sector, in the lower judiciary and introduction of controls on the media among other sectors. The committee on the Islamisation of education to be set up under the bill will make its recommendations to the National Assembly just as the reforms announced recently by the Federal Education Minister, Fakhr Imam, are being implemented. Given the committee’s emphasis on Islamisation rather than on education, the freeing of schools from the obscure ideological obsessions of the textbook boards hinted at by the minister may no longer be forthcoming. This would be to confirm Pakistan in its backwardness for decades to come.

The reform of the lower judiciary being considered as part of the Shariat package involves two new tiers of courts, the munsif court and the naib munsif courts. No indication is offered as to which tradition of law, Anglo-saxon or Islamic, the new courts will follow, nor is their relationship with the existing legal system explained. As an answer to the present unacceptable delays in justice, this very uncertainty does not bode well. Nor will the complexities of setting up two new tiers of courts be conducive to speedy justice.

The phrasing of the paragraph of the bill which deals with the media is unnervingly familiar. False imputation and character assassination, long the blanket terms used by governments and their servants when seeking to protect themselves from criticism, are again to be stamped out by legislative and administrative measures. The bill offers nothing constructive on the media.

These committees and reforms promise nothing but confusion. The reason is simple. They are predicated on the naive belief, taught by the mullahs, that Islamisation can happen immediately and completely. As they think that they hold all the answers, this belief is understandable. But they don’t, and the belief is false. It is just another variant of the utopian vision that has cursed makind through communism, fascism and now the mullah.

The Prime Minister’s Shariat bill, in its insistence on the need for a wide debate and its recognition of the essential role of the National Assembly in a process of Islamisation, is opposed to such visions. However, while the Prime Minister is no fundamentalist, he is still a politician. And there is much in his Shariat bill that reeks of political expediency.

The Prime Minister hopes that his bill will bring to an end the tension between Islam and democracy that has haunted Pakistan since its inception. It would be a shame if such a lofty aim were brought low by this expediency.

(TFT April 25-01 May 1991 Vol-3 No.7 — Editorial)

Back to parliament

Nawaz Sharif has moved fast in his first five months as Prime Minister. He hardly let the ink dry on the long sought after Indus Water Apportionment Accord before announcing the second National Finance Commission (NFC) award. This was no mean feat. But has he been running on a wing and a prayer, sure to trip up sooner or later, or has he achieved a real momentum which will carry him through the buffeting to come?

For trouble is sure to come. The budget is still a month away, but people are already grumbling about the price rises in flour, electricity and gas. The Prime Minister’s budget woes ar liable to be compounded by the fundamentalists, who, after their Shariat shock, will be looking for angry crowds to lead on the National Assembly. The hefty interest repayments on foreign loans that will have to be announced by the Finance Minister offer them a powerful and emotive focus for agitation, and they know it.

If the Prime Minister’s aura of stability is a bluff, then the budget must surely call it. his record so far is mixed. The Prime Minister showed maturity in his handling of the tricky Gulf crisis. While all those around him were losing their heads, he offered steady leadership and resisted the temptation of heady populism.

He displayed a grasp of the delicate politics of consensus in engineering the signing of the Indus Water Apportionment Accord and agreement on the NFC awards. While the consensus achieved may have been manimal, Nawaz Sharif has at least got the state’s federal structure working again after years or bickering between the provinces and the centre. But the cost of realistic ambition? That the real issues of the Indus delta and revenue generation have been fudged.

He applied a similar tactic to the Shariat Bill, trying to find an acceptable minimum and fudging the rest. However, as the Prime Minister is discovering, the various fundamentalist parties are not as amenable to such an approach as four tame Chief Ministers.

Where the spirit of tolerance and compromise has been signally lacking has been in his dealings with the opposition PPP. In its place has been an ugly vindictiveness. While the Prime Minister may not be directly responsible for the repression of the PPP, his recent statement reported in Time Magazine that he had not forgotten what Benazir Bhutto has done to him while she was Prime Minister but that he “would like her to help me forget it” displayed either a total lack of sensitivity or else spite for a woman whose husband, however deservedly, is on trial for capital offenses and who must herself face regular court appearances on politically motivated charges.

Persecuted in Sindh and with its leaders hounded through courts across the country, the PPP sometimes threatens to act with the irresponsibility of a party that feels it has nothing left to lose. Talk among some PPP leaders of agitating against any agreement with the US on the nuclear and aid issues is a sign of their desperation. So is the possibility that the PPP will try to block the labour shedding that must be consequences of any successful privatisation drive. This desperation can only rebound on the Prime Minister.

For political stability is the sine quoa non of Nawaz Sharif’s economic policies. Even universally hailed measures such as the easing of foreign exchange controls could end up damaging the economy if investors feel that Pakistan is returning to a period of political turbulence. Reforms aimed at facilitating capital inflows could just as easily pave the way for a massive flight of capital.

Belatedly, Nawaz Sharif seems to be recognising this. Tentative efforts are being made to end the isolation of the PPP. It has returned to the assemblies and its MNAs have been inducted onto committees constituted to report on the Shariat bill and to investigate the repression in Sindh. Hopefully the Prime Minister has come to recognise the importance of a “loyal opposition” — not that the PPP has given much sign of being one, but as yet it hasn’t been given the chance.

As the Prime Minister’s economic policies begin to erode the privileges of the bureaucracy, as they surely must, his reliance on the National Assembly will increase. Sections of the establishment which have long treated the state sector as their own fiefdom, deriving power and advantage from it, will not give up their influence easily. And that influence has political clout. Only if the Prime Minister has a cross party body of opinion behind him can he hope not to be moved on, or out.

A National Assembly with a cooperative opposition will also help to diffuse popular resentment as the bitter medicine of job losses and price increases slowly purges the economy of the excesses of the past decades. If the Prime Minister can move from a relationship of antipathy with the opposition to one that recognises the consensus that they share, he will surely have proved his political weight. And given himself the momentum to push part the hurdles that will be put in his way.

 

(TFT May 02-08, 1991 Vol-3 No.8 — Editorial)

Time to break free

It was too good to last. In a few short months, Mian Nawaz Sharif had roused he state’s administrative machinery from its customary torpor, tackled a series of tricky issues including the Indus water apportionment and the NFC award, and most importantly, taken the first few steps in creating a relationship between the IJI and the PDA< which if not exactly congenial was at least several degrees removed from their customary vituperation. Democracy looked to be on the move.

No more. With the conviction and subsequent disqualification of the former law minister, Syed Iftikhar Gilani, on charges of misconduct and misappropriation of funds, rapprochement is dead, the two parties have gone back to trading insults, and a country which has grown weary of being a political battlefield is now being forced to prepare for another clash.

The PDA has already indicated that if Mr Gilani’s appeal is turned down, it will resign en masse and take its politics to the streets. Indeed, if Benazir Bhutto is also disqualified — as is quite possible — it will be left with no other option. It remains to be seen how effective the PPP’s once fabled street power will now be, but at the very least there will be a considerable increase in the degree of hostility and confrontation. And that is not likely to be all. Ethnic tensions compounded by Jam Sadiq’s heavy-handed tactics and no-holds-barred persecution of the PPP have already turned Sindh into a volcano simmering on the edge of civil war. One needs no great presence of mind to foresee that the addition of widespread political agitation tot hat province’s many woes could be costly indeed.

It should have occurred to Mian Nawaz Sharif by now that he is the leader of a democracy and that his continued occupancy of the Prime Ministerial post is very much dependent upon the continued health of that democracy and indeed of the House of which he is the leader. As such, the presence of the parliamentary opposition and its active participation in legislative affairs is something which he must ensure, if only to safeguard his own legitimacy. A parliamentary decision acquires its peculiar validity because it is assumed that the decision has been reached after a debate involving all shades of the political spectrum. Remove the opposition, and you also remove the seal of democratic legitimacy that would otherwise dignify the government’s actions.

This issue is not just an abstract matter of theory. If the PPP is driven to the streets, Mian Nawaz Sharif will be reduced to being a bit player in an autocratic set-up. He must ask himself if he can go back to that rather ignominious point at the beginning of his political career. We think not. Today, Nawaz Sharif’s power base is the Parliament and if it goes down, it will take him with it. The time has now come for the Prime Minister to stand up and be counted. He must indicate that he can no longer be held hostage to the President’s vendetta against the PPP, or Jam Sadiq Ali’s for that matter. he must lead the hawkish elements within his own party away from the precipice. If he truly wishes to play the politics of consensus which he seems to indicate with his relatively innocuous Shariat Bill, he must rebuild his bridges with the Peoples Party. In thus fortifying his democratic credentials, Mr Sharif will find himself better able to bargain with his competitors.

One concrete method of damage control might be the tabling of a recommendatory resolution in the National Assembly. Mr Sharif and his colleagues could thereby petition President Ghulam Ishaq Khan to have the references against leaders of the PDA transferred from the special tribunals set up under P.O. 16 to regular High Court benches. Such a resolution would make eminent sense given the ostensible reason for the formation of these tribunals which was to administer speedy justice. After the passage of seven months, the tribunals have only succeeded in producing one verdict and that too is currently being appealed. As such, the continued existence of these courts lends credence to the PPP’s claim that it is being victimised.

Since it is the contention of the PPP leadership that it is willing to be tried for its crimes, as long as it is by the regular courts, the transfer of these cases is a tactic which cannot but reap benefits for the Prime Minister. Both ways he wins; either in enjoying the fruits of the opposition’s co-operation or in arguing convincingly, that they were deservedly convicted and had ben afforded every possible protection under the law. At this critical moment, will Nawaz Sharif come into his own or will be continue to be saddled with the bitter and divisive legacies of the past?

(TFT May 09-15, 1991 Vol-3 No.9 — Editorial)

Do the honest thing

The sigh of relief that greeted Nawaz Sharif’s Shariat Bill became a shocked exhalation of breath when a draft of the obscenity bill found its way into the press. The man who prefaced his Shariat Bill with the claim that he was not a fundamentalist had just formulated a bill that could not be faulted even to a comma by those he seemed to be dissociating himself from. It shouldn’t have surprised us.

The initial sense of relief came from a belief that Nawaz Sharif intended to find — and would be able to find — a broad consensus on Islamisation beyond the narrow vision of the ultra-orthodox. The pre-eminent position of the National Assembly under his bill seemed a guarantee of his good intention. This belief, however, was a triumph of optimism over reason. For no such consensus exists.

Scour the newspapers for informed analysis of Islamisation and you will find none. Visit the universities in search of incisive debate on the relationship between Islam and the modern state, and your visit will be in vain. The tradition of Islamic modernism upheld by the founders of Pakistan has also but died out here. The forces of progressive Islam are weak and scattered. Only the fundamentalists, rigid and unyielding in their barren orthodoxy, remain on the battlefield.

And just as fools go where angels fear to treat, Nawaz Sharif has stepped onto that battlefield under the banner of a new consensus, a banner so threadbare that his IJI could not even manage a qourum in the National Assembly on the first day of the session dedicated to the discussion of his bill.

The bill itself, as a vehicle for Islamisation, is a finely crafted piece of legislation. It provides the framework within which a coherent legislative programme can be prepared and launched. Sharing many of the features of an enabling bill, it permits the government wide discretion in the application of administrative action, bypassing the National Assembly in the interests of speed and efficiency.

Backed by a national consensus, the bill would be a powerful tool for the legislative expression of the people’s will. Without such a consensus it becomes like a loose canon, crushing all those who fall in its way. With wide discretionary powers, a brute majority in the House, and cry of Islam on his lips, Nawaz Sharif under this bill would be dangerously powerful. For without a perception shared across the nation, as to the discretion of Islamisation, Nawaz Sharif’s power would be brute strength based on a deep insecurity; it would be power without legitimacy.

And within the context of Islamisation, with the modernists mute, only the fundamentalists can offer Nawaz Sharif a cloak of legitimacy. So he tries on their clothes. A draft obscenity bill, recently disowned, which denies any right t privacy and imposes a morality held only by a minority on the majority. Wild statements by his law minister on the role of woman in politics, or the lack of it, under Shariah.

As if he feared being ridiculed in these ill-fitting clothes, Nawaz Sharif’s government hints darkly that the press will have to be brought under stricter control. The declaration, or permission, to publish may again become a tool of government in its dealing with the press as it was during the days of Zia. Under Article 17 of the Shariat Bill itself, the state shall take measures against character assassination and false imputation, a wording so loose that the law minister occasionally seems to feel that he can outlaw the use of unnamed sources. This, in effect, throws the press back onto government sources.

When this bill was presented in the House, over three weeks ago, this paper welcomed Nawaz Sharif’s recognition of the need for a new consensus, but warned against the possibility that while protecting the legislative role of the National Assembly, he might let the rest of society fall into the hands of the fundamentalists. Over the intervening three weeks, we have seen this latter possibility loom ever closer. Meanwhile, we have failed to see any consensus emerge.

Without a broad consensus, the bill is a monster. The government should do the honest thing and admit that there has been no convergence of views over the Shariat, and remove the bill from the House. And let the legislation that it wishes to introduce to the House to meet with the difficulties faced by the country be judged on its own merits, not as some part of a divine plan.

(TFT May 16-22, 1991 Vol-3 No.10 — Editorial)

Imagine peace

With the melting of the snows on the passes of Kashmir, comes the Indian army. Confrontation, and bloodshed, follow not far behind it. Already villages in Azad Kashmir have been shelled and upto 3,000 residents have had to move to safety away from the line of control. In one recent incident, a pick up travelling from Muzaffarabad was fired open by Indian troops killing two passengers and seriously wounding six. As tensions mount, a Pakistan army spokesman describes the firing as provocative.

A year ago we were in the same position. In the intervening time the Indian Army has managed only to blacken the name of India as the brutality of its repression of the Kashmiris has become apparent to the world. The uprising continues unabated, indeed it has strengthened.

The war-threatening rhetoric of last year has also started again. Indian Prime Minister, Chandrashekar, warned last week that Pakistan would “pay a heavy price” for its “meddling” in Kashmir. The rhetoric is likely to get shriller yet as the Indian elections near. Thankfully despite the bombast, war remains a remote possibility. The costs of such an adventure, both diplomatic and monetary, would be prohibitive.

Yet the present state of affairs — some like to call it the phony war — also has its costs, and they are heavy. For the Kashmiris, the price they pay is in blood, ad it is only their spirit — and the feeling that they have nothing left to lose — that allows them to continue paying.

For the Indians and the Pakistanis the main cost is the festering state of relations between the two countries. And this hurts. It hurts our economies as tanks are built instead of schools. It hurts our security as both countries wage a low intensity war against each other. It hurts our trade and it hurts our culture, so much of which we share.

For Pakistan, with the diminishing of the Soviet threat, our tense relations with India are the only rationale behind our massive defence spending. The cost of sustaining this effort weakness the economy and gobbles up government funds that could otherwise be spent on health and education — one reason for the country’s appalling literacy rate. Our present rate of defence spending simply precludes a healthy economy. Yet while tensions with India remain, chances of a cut in defence spending are less than negligible.

Defence spending increase last year as a direct result of the tensions over Kashmir. With the suspension of US military assistance, which until recently has been running to the tune of $250 million a year, the demands of the military on this year’s budget will again be substantial.

It is against this background that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s low key policy on Kashmir is to be criticised. While his reticence avoids aging of old platitudes on UN resolutions, however worthy, moves us not one iota towards a solution of this lingering problem. His policy is so low key as to be almost invisible.

As the other extreme, calls for active support for the Kashmiri freedom fighters in terms of training and arming them are downright dangerous. If acted upon they would destroy the Kashmiri cause for such a policy would ensure that India never felt confident enough to allow the Kashmiris their right to self determination.

Both policies lack imagination. And it anything is to break the stalemate over the lingering Kashmir issue, it will be imagination. As the Indians have shown a singular lack of it, perhaps Pakistan could provide it.

And one such imaginative idea is Benazir Bhutto’s idea of a Camp David like process. The crass choice of term should not blind us to the possible usefulness of a third party acting as a mediator. India must be persuaded that the loss of Kashmir will not weaken its hold over other secessionist states. The historic uniqueness of Kashmir’s position within India is recognised by its own Constitution. Yet India will still have legitimate security worries. A third party may help to sooth them.

Standing on its own, this suggestion is likely to make little headway. For without international recognition of Pakistan’s place in this dispute, and confidence on the part of India that its security is not threatened by Pakistan’s interest, this idea cannot take root. On both these counts, Pakistan’s foreign policy has failed in the past. It has remained confused and ineffectual, and in the Prime Minister’s recent statements on Kashmir, it has reached its anodyne apogee.

It is as if the problem could be wished away. It can’t. And by ignoring it, we harm not only ourselves. We hurt the Kashmiris for more. Although the main responsibility for solving the problem rests with the Indians, we must do what we can do help and facilitate a solution.

(TFT May 23-29, 1991 Vol-3 No.11 — Editorial)

Budget Politics

Mr Sartaj Aziz is a wily politician rather than an economic wizard. He was skillfully extracted more political mileage than is really his economic due from the privatisation programme, the Indus Waters Accord, the NFC Award and now the Aid to Pakistan Consortium. He is also credited with engaging the Prime Minister’s ear while remaining the President’s confidant.

The forthcoming budget should test his true mettle. Juggling facts and figures to conjure quick and painless remedies will not work. Inflation and unemployment are rising ominously. The fiscal deficit has hit the roof. Foreign aid donors say they will monitor his package carefully before disbursing their pledges. Expectations are high all round.

Mr Aziz was left in no uncertain mind about the emerging mood in Paris and Washington. New layers of political and social condionalities are on the cards. Since Mr Aziz has been reluctant to admit these in public, it may be worthwhile to lay Western terms and conditions on the table.

Consortium delegates took a decidedly dim view of the lack of progress on institutionalising “good government” and better aid utilisation in Pakistan. Significantly, most Consortium members remain acutely apprehensive about the new Shariat laws and wonder how these will effect Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s economic policies and social programmes, particularly those relating to education, population and women. One member sought “an early assurance that the new Shariat Bill will enhance the government’s policies and financial commitment to social progress, and will not impede the liberalisation”. Another delegate wanted to know what effects the Shariat legislation would have on the finance and banking sectors and “not least on the role of women in society”. Mr Aziz made apologetic noises which didn’t convince anyone.

The discrepancy between defence spending on the one hand and expenditure on education and health on the other was roundly criticised. The Pakistanis were bluntly told that military budgets of 17 per cent of GNP, equivalent to development expenditure, were unsustainable. “A first step to address this problem in Pakistan” advised one delegate, “would be to set out military expenditure more clearly in the budget, with a view to containing and reducing it in the medium term, so as to be able to use these funds for development purposes instead”. He stressed that his government would “not fail to raise this question with other fora and other relevant Governments”. Others warned Mr Aziz that Pakistan risked losing all Western support if it continued to ignore the mood in the US Congress in particular and the world community in general by stubbornly insisting upon enlarging its nuclear programme. In defence, Mr Aziz referred lamely to the regional constellation which binds Pakistan and shrugged off suspicions of Pakistani interference in Kashmir and East Punjab.

The Pakistanis were also ticked off for not doing enough in the fight against drugs. One delegate noted that “the government of Pakistan is urgently required to step up its efforts to control drug production and trafficking”, adding sarcastically, “One may ask whether the well-equipped and trained armed forces of Pakistan could not be used to good effect in this fight against drugs.”

The World Bank is stressing its proposed Social Action Programme to reduce poverty and improve basic social services by increasing the share of budgetary expenditure going into health, education, family planning and shelter. Particular attention is not being demanded with respect to women’s participation in the Bank’s various projects. Consortium members urged Pakistan to accord women a higher status in society in order to enhance their productive capacities and to pursue greater integration of family planning into health-care systems. (That explains Syeda Abida Hussain’s recent entry into government).

Western donors are also anxious to see a reform of the present system of direct taxation. They are insisting upon a more elastic and equitable system of tax collection, including determined efforts to broaden the tax base. They see no valid reasons why direct taxation should not include the big agricultural incomes and properties as is the practice in developed countries.

Mr Sartaj Aziz represents a government run by feudal landlords. The defence budget and the nuclear programme are jealously guarded by the armed forces. Islamic fundamentalists underpin Mr Sharif’s regime, loathe the West and seek greater control over society and economy. Drugs sustain a vast underground economy and drug barons sit comfortably in parliament despite requests for extradition. Clearly, the new conditionalities constitute a tall order.

All the more reason, therefore, that Mr Aziz should brief his Prime Minister and President quite thoroughly. Western donors are rightly determined to nudge Pakistan into setting a new pace for political and economic reform in the 1990s. And it will take more than a sleight of Mr Aziz’s hands to deliver a budget which corresponds to the political tasks ahead.

(TFT May 30-05 June, 1991 Vol-3 No.12 — Editorial)

Social Contract Disintegrates

A terrifying siege i raging within South Asia. It is most evident in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka which have been continuously racked by civil strife and crises of governance.

India was different. Or so we thought. Under Nehru, India was a model of stable government and institutional development. But with his heirs, Indira and Rajiv, this process began to stall. The tragic assassination of Rajiv and the bloody violence which has gripped India in recent years is only the latest and most dramatic manifestation of this siege as it envelopes India.

This siege is characterised by an unrelenting breakdown of law and order. Rising ethnicity, casteism, sectarianism, regionalism and return to religious fundamentalism threaten to rip apart the secular, democratic, post-colonial state structures bequeathed by the founding fathers of most countries in the region, including India. The crisis of government throughout South Asia in fact suggests an ominous disintegration of the social contract between the rulers and the ruled, the state and society.

The social contract between state and society defines the basis of political association and public authority in modern times. It involves the citizen’s voluntary submission to the authority of the state in return for certain guarantees of life, liberty and the common good. Over time, it is expected to mature into a host of participatory institutions and social policies designed to ensure the welfare of the individual.

In much of S Asia, the state has all but abandoned its citizens. Bouts of martial law, prohibitive defence expenditures, crumbling social infrastructures and the corruption and political opportunism of ruling elites have consciously sabotaged the social contract. Citizens have been forced to retreat into ideologies, subnationalism and faiths in order to fend for themselves. The state is unable or unwilling to provide employment, education, health, housing and transportation. As a consequence, the social psychology of the people is characterised by insecurity, uncertainty and aggression.

In India, the state became unduly ambitious and aggressive over time. Under Mrs Gandhi, it sought to secure India as the fifth largest power in the world. In consequence, beginning with India’s test-explosion of a nuclear device in 1974, there were several developments of far-reaching significance.

First, the Congress Party’s collective leadership was decimated to accommodate Mrs Gandhi’s overriding ambitions. Second, there was a rush to overly centralise the Indian state in order to make it more powerful. Third, the stat was provided with the military hardware with which to flex its muscle in the region and establish its political hegemony.

Inevitably, there were disagreeable repercussions. Dynastic tendencies were strengthened and alternative leaderships thwarted. Second, the federal structure of India was brutally compromised by blatant interference in the affairs of provincial governments, most notably Punjab. Third, India began to meddle with its neighbours, Pakistan and Bangladesh.There was little left of resources to cope with the grinding problems of mass poverty and unemployment or the rising claims of India’s burgeoning but insecure middle classes.

Under Rajiv, the civil strife in East Punjab, Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram and elsewhere, unleashed by his other in the 1980s, was extended to include Kashmir and Tamil Nadu. Secularism was weakened for short term political gains. Neighbouring Sri Lanka and Nepal were also harshly alienated. The Indian military acquired a blue water fleet to patrol the coastline from the Persian Gulf to East Africa, indigenous missile technology was perfected, nuclear reactors were set up and the army was buttressed to nearly 50 divisions.

In 1947, Nehru had referred to the unity and diversity of India as its enduring sources of strength. Under his dynastic successors, the wealth of Indian diversity was foolishly sacrificed at the alter of an illusive unity thrust from above. That is when the social contract began to break down. The costly ambitions of the Indian state and the minimal requirements of the impoverished masses became increasingly incompatible.

Today, India is torn by militant Hinduism, soured by caste prejudices and threatened by violent separatism. The country is rudderless without the anchor of dynasty. Is India capable of throwing up a new leadership which renews the social contract in all its necessary dimensions?

Two decades ago, American scholar Selig Harrison prophetically warned of the dangerous decades which lay ahead for India. Rajiv’s tragic death, even more than that of his mother, is a painful but urgent reminder that India can only survive as a dynamic and modern nation of its leaders consciously attempt to revive the forgotten pledge between the state and its subjects.

(TFT June 06-12, 1991 Vol-3 No.13 — Editorial)

Tell us what happened

We have been promised that a report on the Nowshera blast will be presented before the National Assembly within the week and that it will be available for public discussion. It will probably be so, despite the obscure fate of the report on the Ojhri disaster and the elusive findings of the Hamoodur Rahman Commission. We ar now, after all, supposed to be living in a democracy which respects the public’s right to know.

If this report is comprehensive in its scope and incisive in its recommendations, then those killed in Nowshera and its surrounding villages will not have died in vain. An informed public is unlikely to allow a third name to be added to those of Nowshera and Ohjri on the list of preventable tragedies.

For both these incidents were avoidable. The hundreds killed in Rawalpindi after munitions stored at the Ohjri camp ignited died because an ammunition depot — “not equipped with the usual level of anti-fire precautions” according to an army spokesman — had been cited in the centre of a major city. At Nowshera, the devastating explosions need not have happened; according to Aslam Khattak who headed the Ojhri probe, had the measures outlined in the final report on Ojhri been implemented by the army.

But as the report remained unpublished, the army could treat it as an internal memo, to be filed away and forgotten. When Nawaz Sharif asked to the Chief of Army Staff last week why the lessons of Ojhri had not been learnt, many shared his anger and exasperation. If we are not to have to ask this question a second time, the Prime Minister must ensure that an exhaustive report on the Nowshera blast gets a full public hearing.

However, the portends are not good. The army’s immediate reaction to the explosions at the ammunition dump in Nowshera was swift and predictable; cordons were thrown around the affected areas and journalists prevented from inspecting the damage. While the government media tried to hush up news of the disaster, the free press found its attempts to discover the true extent of the destruction impeded by the civil and military authorities.

The army’s damage limitation measures in the hours following the blast seemed more concerned with hindering journalists than with helping those rendered homeless by the blast.

So much for the army’s much vaunted glasnost. Even the committee appointed to prepare the report on the Nowshera blast is to be headed by a brigadier. An enquiry under a judge of the Supreme Court would seem more apposite. And frankly, more credible. The choice of an army officer perpetuates the dangerous assumption that only those of the army are qualified to judge the army.

For although we have been a democracy for over two years, the army remains a sacred cow. Few feel free to hold the army to account. Nowshera has been one cost of this deeply ingrained habit. But the full price is far higher.

Despite its unending appetite for funds, the military’s huge budget allocation is rarely questioned. Even the simple argument that defense spending at its present economy crippling level is itself a violation of national security is never heard within Parliament and rarely seem on the pages of newspapers.

Let us state it here, just for the record — The present defense allocation, at 41% of the federal budget, ensures that spending on development is woefully inadequate, with education presently getting an appalling 23%. These skewed spending priorities ensure that an uneducated and ill-maintained Pakistan will never follow in the footsteps of the Asian Dragons. Yet without their rates of economic growth and technological innovation, Pakistan’s defenses will be unable to match India’s growing offensive capabilities.

Even though this argument is based on the popular, if questionable assumption that our national security must be defined in opposition to India, it is rarely aired. For it cuts at the very roots of the military’s claims on the exchequer.

The reluctance to debate our national security interests is seen most sharply in the National Assembly’s abdication of its responsibility in this regard in favour of the army. While there are obvious reasons for hesitancy on the part of our politicians in dealing with issues that directly effect the military, the destruction in Nowshera is a reminder of the high price we pay for their reticence.

Yet it is also offers an opportunity for a new beginning. A comprehensive report on the disaster, exhaustively debated in the National Assembly and in the media might encourage an atmosphere of openness, and strip the army of its aura of inviolability. It would help the nation, and it would help the army. Nawaz Sharif must use all his influence to ensure open and informed debate on the Nowshera blast.

(TFT June 13-19, 1991 Vol-3 No.14 — Editorial)

The vicious rumour-virus

What is our politicians’ favourite, vicious pastime? Backstabbing, speculating, theorising, gossiping, rumour-mongering. Predicting the untimely demise of Prime Ministers and civilian governments.

Mr Nawaz Sharif’s detractors have claimed, with baffling certitude, that his days were numbered. We weren’t so sure. Nor did we think much good would come of it in the event we were proven wrong.

Now, of course, there is little to be said for the “doom and gloom brigade.” The President has confirmed the appointment of Gen Asif Nawaz as COAS with effect from the date that Gen Mirza Aslam Beg, who was at the centre of this tug-of-war, will retire on August 17.

One measure of the poor PM’s anxiety can be gauged from his hopeless response: “Necessary action can be taken against these rumour-mongerers who are enemies of democracy and Pakistan”, he threatened the other day. Leaving aside his silly threat, let us review the disgruntled rumour-mongerers.

There is, first, Mr Jatoi, the man who would be King if only the Heavens would part at the distant rumble of jackboots and let him in through the back door. Then there is Mr Zahid Sarfraz, our unemployed maverick from Faisalabad. Usually given to ridiculous out outbursts against the Americans, he has rather absurdly trained his peashooter on the prime minister. Not to be left behind is the indefatigable conspirator for democracy, Nawabzada Nasrullah. And never to be forgotten is Pir Pagara who, though defunct, has long monitored the constellations for signs of “double march and family planning”.

More worrying, however, than the mutterings of such has-beens ar new shouts in the cacophony of would-be vandals, which include Mr Meraj Khalid and Mr Rao Rashid. By suggesting a constitutional role for the army, these gentlemen have opportunistically muddied the arena of political discourse.

Most worrying, of course, is the meaning we are expected to attach a change of tack by Ms Benazir Bhutto’s Peoples Party. Admittedly, Bhutto has had the rawest of all deals in recent times and she has every reason to be hopping mad. But what, in God’s name, does her party hope to achieve by rising the spectre of a trial of Gen Beg (for complicity in Zia ul Haq’s demise) after the General’s retirement next August? Her slippery loudmouth, Khwaja Tariq Rahim, has now gone the whole hog and spilled the beans, on record, if you please. “It is the duty of all institutions in Pakistan — the President, the superior courts, the army — to get rid of Nawaz Sharif & Co”, he has been exhorting of late, while advising us improperly that “the army has a role in politics…. and it should be institutionalised”.

What ar we to make of all this? That the PPP has foolishly ganged up with the stale conspirators of yore of oust Mian Nawaz Sharif’s government by hook or by crook?

Since 1988, we have seen the back of one President and three prime ministers. The Muslim league under Mr Nawaz Sharif conspired against the PPP in 1988, 1989 and 1990. The PPP returned the compliment in 1989 and is suspiciously, though ineffectually, inclined to improve its score in 1991. While the politicians have been stupidly slugging it out among themselves, the army has quitely consolidated de-facto control over crucial areas of foreign and domestic policy. This is ridiculous. No wonder Mian Sahib is not the only one who is extremely vexed.

The rumour-virus thrives in chaotic and controversial situations. Its breeding ground is societal anxiety which it continuously recreates and heightens. New mutations follow rapidly to fit new conditions and circumstances.

Mian Nawaz Sharif was installed and survives as PM in circumstances no less chaotic and controversial than those in which Benazir Bhutto was ousted. The lady has every right to protest, doubly so, given the arbitrary and ruthless nature of her subsequent victimisation at the hands of his government. If Mian Sahib doesn’t relish being repaid in the same coin he has been dishing out to his political opponents in the past, he should be stretching out his hand in friendship rather than threatening to try them for treason.

By announcing the new COAS the President has removed one dimension of anxiety and uncertainty. The PM can rid us all of this vicious, nail-biting rumour virus by concentrating on battling the visible chaos about Pakistan — the disintegrating social contract between the state and its subjects — rather than trying to notch up false kudos at everyone’s expenses.

(TFT June 20-26, 1991 Vol-3 No.15 — Editorial)

Cool it

The United States and Pakistan once had a very good equation. Not because of some inexplicable, mutual infatuation but because both countries were locked into separate, stable equations with other countries — Pakistan with India and the US with the USSR — which determined their relations with each other. Equilibrium in such a complex problematic could only be maintained so long as all elements of the political matrix remained unchanged.

This equilibrium was threatened when the cold war parameters in the US-USSR equation collapsed in 1989. That’s when the US told Pakistan that the original equation would be jeopardised if Pakistan decided to monkey around with certain sensitive variables affecting US-Pak relations.

We ignored the advice. Nor did we set out to explore new options to write a fresh equation. In any case, when tensions with India over Kashmir threatened a war last year, we are reported to have upgraded our nuclear programme, thereby effectively putting paid to our old equation with the US. The US responded by cutting off aid.

So, in essence, what has happened is this: last year, Pakistan decided to change its tack with India because it felt that Simla had been overtaken by the revolt in Kashmir which Pakistan was duty-bound to support. Because this policy lead to heightened tensions between the two countries, with war not ruled out, Pakistan is presumed to have readied a nuclear deterrent and scuttled its understanding with the US.

The impetus to change both equations — Pak-India and Pak-US — has thus come from Pakistan. That is why cursing the US for “unfairly” cutting off aid will not wash. We have to do better. If we intend to stick to our new positions, we have to negotiate a new equilibrium with a testy neighbour as well as a resurgent superpower.

Mian Nawaz Sharif has done well to send Mr Wasim Sajjad to Washington. The PM is suggesting that a new US-Pak relationship can be built on the basis of a fresh dialogue in the region which establishes new, durable and more equitable equations all round — US-Pakistan, US-India and India-Pakistan.

The US administration may not be averse to exploring the new avenues suggested by Pakistan in pursuance of long-term solutions. But its hands are fairly tied by a stubborn Congress determined to micro-manage US foreign policy and control global nuclear proliferation. Thus, instead of trying to understand the regional compulsions which propel Pakistan, Congress may well end up by trying to put pressure on India and antagonising it as well.

If the US seeks to control nuclear proliferation in South Asia, such Congressional methods will most certainly not work. India has lived without US largesse for over four decade and it will manage to do without it in the future. Pakistan may find it more difficult, especially since it is dependent on US spares and supplies of conventional weapons, but no Pakistani government can hope to survive if it is seen as rolling back on its nuclear programme under foreign pressure, without first having removed the fundamental causes of the country’s insecurity. If Congress persists with its approach, the US may end up losing all leverage in South Asia while simultaneously pushing both India and Pakistan to the brink of proliferation.

It is safe to assume that the US administration, as well as most American South Asia experts, recognise the validity of a regional approach such as the one which Mian Nawaz Sharif has advocated. But it will take some time for President Bush to effect a change of heart in Congress. his efforts to remove the Pressler constraints have been rebuffed by Congress. So we shall probably have no wait until after he is re-elected next year before we can expect any new and positive initiatives from him.

In the meanwhile, it would be extremely foolish for Pakistan to provoke matters any further. Our proposals are sound and sensible. We should continue to push for their adoption. But that means allowing time for the regional approach to be understood and digested in New Delhi and Washington.

It is therefore imperative that Pakistan should mend all its fences quickly as well as doing everything possible to avert the threat of a fourth round with India. Western fears of an impulsive Pakistan brandishing nuclear weapons should positively be set at rest. It is Pakistan which has upped the ante in New Delhi and in Washington, and it is Pakistan which stands to lose Western sympathy and support. We could do much worse by not making genuine efforts to cool things down all round.

(TFT June 20-26, 1991 Vol-3 No.15 — Article)

The rise and rise of Mian Nawaz Sharif

It is not quite business as usual at Karachi International Airport. These days the Green Channel at Customs is learning to live up to its true function. Potted plants have displaced the suspicious, surly customs inspectors who used to harass incoming passengers with nothing much to declare. This change may appear cosmetic but in fact reflects a measure of Mr Nawaz Sharif’s fairly open, businesslike style of government.

In a country run by lethargic, patronising feudal politicians or self-righteous, incompetent army generals for 44 years, the fact that Sharif is Pakistan’s first businessman-Prime Minister was bound to impress. In his first six months as chief executive, Sharif has run the country like a Managing Director would a public limited company. Taking decisions left and right and trying to gear up the economy, the man’s speed has left many doubters dazed.

Take privatisation. Benazir Bhutto talked about it a great deal but got nowhere. In sharp contrast, Sharif has already sold off the Muslim Commercial Bank, invited bids for two other banks, earmarked dozens of public sector corporations for disposal and is nudging businessmen to invest in infrastructural development. Every day, government ads announce the sale of public sector shares or solicit private capital to help develop the social sector.

Or deregulation. Foreign exchange controls have been scrapped. Bureaucratic permissions to set up new industrial projects are no longer necessary. Several ministers are due to be trimmed for duplicating work. Although the bureaucracy is smarting from loss of privilege, businessmen say they have never had it so food. On decentralisation and provincial autonomy, a seemingly intractable, on-going problem, there has been no shirking. The National Finance Commission, which hadn’t met for years, was convened to sort out financial matters: greater freedom as well as fiscal responsibility was allowed to the provinces. An agreement on water distribution, which had defied solution for decades, is now in place.

On the Islamic front, the man has been as good as his word. “I’m not a fundamentalist”, he had declared earlier, “but Islamic Shariah must be the supreme law of the land”. The government’s watered-down Shariah Bill, which allows Parliament to retain its exclusive prerogative to legislative, has passed both houses of Parliament and awaits the President’s signature. Even Zia ul Haq, whose pet these it remained for over a decade, couldn’t have done a better job at fobbing off the fundamentalists without seriously alienating the liberals. Now, businessmen have been lumped with a “bitter sweet” budget which is about the best any government could do, under the circumstances. As if all this wasn’t enough to silence his critics, he has clinched matters by affecting important changes in the army.

True, there is a great deal lacking in all these “historic achievements”. And the tall claims of “good government” flogged by his information ministry should be taken with a pinch of salt. But few people are now prepared to shrug off all his proclamations by exclaiming “we’ve heard it all before”. Official notifications follow in quick succession, leaving little doubt, at least, about his intentions.

As a Zia protege for ten years, Sharif has learnt the political art of moving two steps forward, one backward, to appease everyone. Compromise and settlement characterise his workmanlike approach. As a lifelong, successful businessman used to assessing risk and taking bold decisions, clinching deals is second nature with him. His political cost-benefit analysis and entrepreneurial skills appear to be serving him admirably, thus far at any rate.

His style is different from his predecessors in other significant ways. The system of patronage, upon which politicians thrive, has also been dented. Soon after taking over, Sharif banned new recruitments into the public sector which is brimming over with unwanted labour thrust upon it by earlier generations of feudal politicians keen to appease rural constituencies. Finally, unlike other leaders, especially Benazir Bhutto, he is personally short on rhetoric and longer on action.

Nawaz Sharif’s critics say that he is moving too fast for his own good. They argue that wholesale privatisation and unthinking deregulation will eventually be stalled by corrupt practices, lack of planning and a hostile bureaucracy; that political favouritism will lead to a form of crony capitalism in which drug barons will rush to launder their illegal money; that the central government is bound to retract on its various accords with the provinces; that the budget is a dangerous prescription for galloping inflation and unemployment; that the religious fundamentalists will soon wise up to the inadequacies of the Shariah Bill and desert him; that the conspiratorial feudal politicians in Parliament will surely stab him in the back jut as soon as they get a nod of approval from ambitious Generals who wait in the wings. It is also pointed out that sycophancy, bribery and corruption remain functional to the system.

Such fears may not be altogether misplaced. Critics say the prime minister’s younger brother, Shahbaz Sharif, is beginning to look and act like a new Asif Zardari in the making — he wields enormous influence in government and is  known to pull strings and patronise cronies. Law and order, especially in Sindh, is precarious; dacoits plunder at will and kidnapping for ransom has now enveloped foreigners as well, forcing the army to seek extra judicial powers in order to control the province. Economists are forecasting budget-released trouble ahead. There is rising dissent within his alliance government; at least on group of feudal politicians, led by former prime minister Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, is still biding its time to affect his ouster.

All this may have given Mr Sharif many sleepless nights in the recent past. But after weeks of nail-biting suspense, President Ghulam Ishaq last week designated Lt Gen Asif Nawaz Janjua to be Pakistan’s new army chief chief with effect from August 17 when the current chief, Gen Mirza Aslam Beg, is scheduled to retire. The President’s announcement, though brief, has at least doused wild public speculation about how Gen Beg’s presumed political ambitions, which he has always denied, were expected to unfold to the detriment of Nawaz Sharif in the months leading up to August.

During this period, Pakistanis have woken up to find their morning papers plastered with baffling scenarios of doom and gloom. Fed by disgruntled politicians and over-reaching hacks, the country has been rife with rumours certifying the imminent demise of Pakistan’s third civilian government in three years.

The rumour virus has thrived on allegedly rising tensions between the outspoken army chief and the new prime minister. And it was now being suggested that, after Gulf war fiasco, the two don’t see eye to eye on the on the future of US-Pak relations, especially when Pakistan’s nuclear programme may be affected by US policies in the region following a cut-off in US aid last September.

En route to D-Day in august, a coterie of unemployed politicians began to make rather desperate attempts to enlist Gen Beg’s help in ousting the civilian government. A few have publicly demanded a constitutional role in government for the army. Others predicted that after his retirement Gen Beg would be arrested for complicity in Gen Zia ul Haq’s air crash three years ago. When a former minister from Benazir Bhutto’s Peoples Party went on record to demand the removal of Nawaz Sharif by the army for allegedly “compromising on Pakistan’s nuclear programme”, a visibly disturbed Sharif responded by threatening to try agitators and rumour-mongerers for treason.

The virus, meanwhile, spread to the Pakistan army where intense lobbying on behalf of the leading contenders for the top slot was much in evidence. Also, the elite ISI, under Gen Beg’s control, was rumoured to be at odds with the IB under the prime minister’s wing. To clinch the deal, the opposition then announced its intentions to launch a street movement focussing on rising inflation and threats to “national security” under Mr Nawaz Sharif’s government.

Enough, President Ghulam Ishaq must have thought. This is playing with fire. Time to nominate a successor to Gen Beg who will get on with his job and not meddle in politics.

Gen Asif Nawaz Janjua is a Sandhurst man with impeccable professional credentials. More to the point, as the Punjabi Corps Commander of the volatile province of Sindh for over two years, he also learnt to deal cooly with civil strife involving two warring ethnic communities, the Sindhis and Muhajirs. The other seniormost general in the running was Lt Gen Shamim Alam, a Muhajir, but his stint as Corps Commander, a necessary qualification for this job, is less than that of Gen Janjua. Gen Alam, however, has also been promoted to full General by the President and nominated to become the new Chairman, Joint Chief of Staff Committee, in November when Admiral Sirohey retires.

The President has promoted two of the ablest generals in the Pakistan army, a Punjabi and a Muhajir, who are senior in line to all others. because both are highly rated for their military competence and neither it sullied by political controversy, the appointments are likely to be received with satisfaction within the army as well as the public. Justice has not only been done, it will also be seen by everyone to have been done, which is probably more relevant.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should emerge stronger and more confident now. The President is solidly backing him up. The Islamic Shariat Bill, sans its fundamentalist teeth, is behind him. The furore over the budget, no more than usual, is already dying out. Shrif has just put forward new proposals for a regional conference involving India and Pakistan, backed by the US, USSR and China, on nuclear non-proliferation in South Asia. the idea is to strengthen President Bush’s hand in persuading Congress to support a regional approach to such issues rather than discriminate against Pakistan. This approach is in line with current American thinking aimed at promoting world peace by negotiating regional settlements as in the Middle East. The new initiative is widely seen as a serious attempt to break the current deadlock in US-Pak relations on account of Pakistan’s nuclear programme.

Secure in the knowledge that the Pakistani army under the new chief is less likely to hamper his businesslike style or openly interfere in government, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif seems all set to play a fruitful innings.

(TFT June 27-July 03, 1991 Vol.3, No.16 — Editorial)

Going, Going, gone for a six

Mian Nawaz Sharif is right when he says his estimable reforms will be “hit for a six” if the serious erosion of law and order is not checked swiftly. But he is absolutely wrong if he thinks he can sort it all out by strengthening administrative measures and backing Jam Sadiq Ali to the hilt.

When Mian Sahib became PM, his first administrative response was to issue an ordinance prescribing the death penalty for kidnapping. Since then, we have had more kidnappings than in all the years Pakistan has been in existence.

Then there is his favourite device, the special, speedy court. Many more such tribunals are on the way. Ms Benazir Bhutto, for one, can probably tell us a thing or two about how speedy they are or the sort of justice they dispense. At any rate, they have done precious little to dam the torrent of lawlessness which threatens to engulf us all.

Then, of course, Mian Sahib has given Jam Sadiq a free hand to do much as he likes. For nine months we have been fed lies about how the law and order situation in Sindh has been improving while it has progressively gone from bad to worse. Jam Sahib has been much too preoccupied trying to save his seat by brutally settling scores with the PPP, to care two hoots about anything else. If he is the PM’s prescription for controlling kidnapping and dacoity in Sindh, then Heaven help us. When last reports came in, the Sindh CM had bunged over 3000 workers of various Sindhi parties and groups into prison. But he was blissfully oblivious to the fact that a certain Mr Chandio, of Chinese-kidnapping notority, was meanwhile flaunting his hard earned ransom money by leading a celebratory motorcade of Pajeros in his constituency in rural Sindh.

Now, we are informed that yet another dubious Operation-Cleanup has been launched in Sindh under the care of Jam Sadiq Ali. We are most apprehensive that the Sindh CM will use it as a pretext to post select police officials of his choice in crucial areas where his autocratic writ has hitherto run into political opposition. The forthcoming by-election in Jacobabad, where he is pitted against Mr Hafiz Pirzada who is supported by the PPP, is clearly item no 1 on his agenda.

It appears that Mian Nawaz Sharif is determined to make matters worse by arming Jam Sahib with new and awesome powers. According to the proposed amendments in the Qanoon-i-Shahadat, via yet another ordinance, “if a person has been at a place in any terrorist-affected area, at a time when firearms or explosive substances were used, at or from that place, to attack or resist members of the armed forces or the forces charged with the maintenance of public order, he shall be presumed, unless the contrary is shown, to have committed such offence”. In layman’s terms, this means that if you or I simply happen to be bystanders or passing through or living in an “affected area” when fireworks erupt between Jam Sahib’s friends and detractors, we shouldn’t rush to count our blessings for having narrowly escaped being shot to death. No, for according to this law we would be in deep trouble already if Jam Sahib happens to dislike us. “Guilty of terrorism unless proven innocent”, he would thunder, relying on the new law.

If we are lucky enough to escape his clutches, he can always haul us up on the basis of yet another new law. This law says that if anyone, byword or deed, is seen to oppose “the ideology of Pakistan”, then it’s curtains again. Since most of us don’t quite know what ideology is, let alone the ideology of Pakistan which remains the subject of an intense debate between the 265 different fundamentalist sects and everyone else, we cannot claim immunity from the tentacles of this law by pleading ignorance. Before long, anyone who is not in the IJI or related to the President, Prime Minister, COAS or Jam Sadiq, or is not a real down-to earth dacoit or terrorist, will find it getting extremely hot under the collar.

No, Mian Sahib, this strategy is doomed to fail. And not all your privatisation reforms and historic accords and special courts and special laws will save you in the end. Sooner or later, you will have to accept political solutions to political problems. And the sooner you get rid of Jam Sahib and shake hands with Benazir Bhutto, the sooner you can rest at ease and comfortably finish your first full term as Prime Minister of Pakistan.

(TFT June 27-July 03, 1991 Vol-3, No.16 — Article)

India: the dangerous legacies

Consider some bare facts about modern-day India. Separatist insurgencies in Kashmir, Punjab, Nagaland, Mizoram, Assam and Tamil Nadu have tied down over half a million “paramilitary” troops armed with special laws to detain and arrest people without trial. The death toll in Punjab and Kashmir alone approximated 10,000 people this year. Relations with neighbouring Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Chine and Bangla Desh are strained. Bloody communal riots between Hindus and Muslims are more vicious and widespread than ever before. The sprawling states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are racked by religious, caste and class strife.

Consider then the recent elections. These have been by far the most violent in Indian history — over 400 dead, elections countermanded in 11 constituencies and repolling ordered in over 15,500 booths in eight states (Punjab and Kashmir is another story).

Consider also the fact that India’s largest, most secular party, the 106 year old Congress, is rudderless and without the anchor of dynasty. Hindu fundamentalists, backed by an aggressive, alienated middle class which seeks to secede from Nehru’s secular legacies, are the only other serious contenders for state power. Three coalition governments and two national elections in less than three years isn’t exactly a hallmark of stability.

Can we still continue to bill India as “the greatest democracy in the Third world”? Calling this the “biggest cliche in the world”, British scholar David Selbourne suggests that such characterizations have begun to sound increasingly hollow in recent years. Gripped in a violent state of siege, India could more aptly be described, to paraphrase John Kenneth Galbraith, as “the biggest functional anarchy in the world”. Nirad Chaudhuri, one of modern India’s most brilliant men of letters, would concur; “Anarchy has always been endemic to Hinduism”. At any rate, India’s smaller neighbours have come to regard it more appropriately as “the biggest bully in the region”.

Time was when, under Jawaharlal Nehru, India could justly claim the respect of the West and the envy of other post-colonial states struggling with the myriad problems of self-government. Nehru’s India was a model of democracy — stable and secular government, institutional development, non-alignment and planned economic growth. His dram of transforming its vast diversity into an enduring source of unity and strength seemed all too pressing and real. Thus, if there were no qualms about forcibly annexing the princely states of Hyderabad and Junagarh at the time of Independence, there were certainly no hiccups when he ordered the Indian army to “liberate” the Portuguese protectorate of Goa many years later.

The war with China in 1962 changed all that. Beginning as a border skirmish thoughtlessly provoked by the Indians in disputed no-man’s land up in the Himalayas, the conflict ended in a rout of the Indian army. Crushed by this humiliating defeat, Nehru retreated into a shell to nurse his vision of India and died not long afterwards, a shadow of his former confident self.

By the time his daughter, Mrs Indira Gandhi, took over in 1965, India under prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri had already fought another war with Pakistan without gain, in 1965, over Kashmir.

Mrs Gandhi determined to embark upon the strategic goal of building India’s military might and establishing its hegemony in South Asia. And when in 1971 Pakistan became embroiled in a civil war in the eastern half of its territory, she seized upon the opportunity to strike at the Pakistani army and midwife the birth of a new state, Bangla Desh.

In just one decade (1960s), India had fought three wars with two neighbours; henceforth, there would be no brooking its stately ambitions. Mrs Gandhi sought to secure India as the fifth-largest power in the world. As a measure of such muscle-flexing, India exploded a nuclear device in 1974, thereby provoking the Pakistani nuclear programme and triggering off a dangerous arms race in the sub-continent.

The price India’s ruling elites have had to pay for their over-reaching political and military ambitions has been crippling. To begin with, Mrs Gandhi’s attempts to consolidate state power necessitated a decimation of all political opposition to herself or to her party. The Congress, which had remained united for over three quarters of a century, split into pro-and anti-Gandhi factions.

Consolidation of state power also meant centralizing it in New Delhi; provincial governments at odds with her writ were ruthlessly put to the sword. Inevitably, simmering provincial dissent was followed by militant revolt against the centre. Mrs Gandhi revoked constitutional guarantees and sent the army in. By the time Rajiv Gandhi took over, the peripheral areas of Punjab, Nagaland, Mizoram and Assam were in flames.

More crucially, in her rush to build an overpowering state, Mrs Gandhi forsook the social contract between the state and India’s teeming, poverty-stricken masses. The Indian military has long gobbled up the country’s scarce resources, leaving hundreds of millions unemployed, illiterate, hungry, homeless and diseased. The private sector and market economy became subservient to the huge, bureaucratic, public sector which all but ignored social welfare — a recent UN index of human development puts India way down on its list (123rd position), below neighbouring Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Deprived by the state of the guarantees of life, liberty and the common good, the citizens of India are in turn refusing to honour their part of the social contract. Forced to fend for themselves, they are retreating into sub-nationalisms, caste-isms, sectarianism and religious fundamentalism. The siege within India, no wonder, is characterized by an unrelenting breakdown of law and order, increasing resort to violence and a social psychology marked by insecurity, uncertainty and aggression.

Rajiv Gandhi strengthened his mother’s dangerous legacies. He further devalued the federal structure and the social contract by undermining state governments and ignoring the basic needs of the people. Kashmir and Tamil Nadu are now also seeking independence. Secularism was weakened for short-term political gains — no efforts were made to stem the rising Hindu-Muslim emotions over the temple-mosque affair.

India’s neighbours were consistently alienated. First, the Tamil Liberation Tigers were trained and armed in India to partition Sri Lanka along ethnic lines. Then the Indian army got bogged down trying to enforce a settlement acceptable to Gandhi. Nepal was humiliated, then crippled by an economic boycott because it dared to get friendly with China. Bhutan was bullied into submission while Bangla Desh’s water supplies were threatened to force it to kneel. Acute border tensions with Pakistan over Kashmir forced the Pakistanis to accelerate their nuclear programme. Even the tiny Maldives were aggressively reminded of India’s formidable reach.

Equipped with a modern blue water fleet which patrols the coastline from the Persian Gulf to East Africa, the Indian state’s ambitions have raised disquiet in countries as far off as Australia. Indigenous missile technology has been perfected, nuclear reactors activated and the Indian army buttressed to nearly 50 divisions comprising 1.5 million men under arms.

More significantly, the Indian army’s professionalism and apolitical stature has been grievously harmed. Martial values and virtues have been stressed, the military has emerged as a symbol of national honour and a military-industrial political complex has emerged on the scene.

“Operation Bluestar” against the Sikhs in 1984 was a crucial turning point for the army: ordered to storm the holy Golden Temple in Amritsar, hundreds of soldiers broke discipline and deserted ranks. Later, the Indian army forayed into the northern heights of Siachin and has since been bogged down in a needless conflict with Pakistan. In 1987, India embarked on “Operation Brasstacks”, a military exercise involving half a million men carrying live pouches, meant to intimidate its neighbour again. Soon thereafter, the Indian army was embroiled in Sri Lanka where it lost over 1100 men defending Rajiv Gandhi’s misadventure.

In much the same fashion, military intervention in the non-Hindu states of Punjab and Kashmir has inevitably eroded the secular ethos of the Indian army. Once worrying manifestation of the increasing Hinduisation of the Indian soldier is provided by the swelling numbers of retired senior army officers who are rushing to join the Hindu Bharatya Janata Party (BJP). In one exceptional incident, Lt Gen KP Candeth, who also joined the BJP recently, severely criticized what he referred to as the army’s “five political disasters” — India’s military adventures in the region since independence. Referring to another dangerous tendency, the recently retired army chief, Gen VN Sharma expressed his concern over the “frequent use of the Indian army in quelling internal unrest”.

The costly ambitions of the Indian state under the Nehrus and the Gandhis have precluded good relations with India’s neighbours just as much as they have undermined the Indian federation. Further, by sabotaging the social contract between the state and society, the purposes of India’s ruling elites appear increasingly at odds with the minimal requirements of the impoverished Indian masses for bread and shelter.

Commentary on the post-Rajiv period has tended to concentrate on the dynamics of electoral politics, coalition-building and corruption in Indian politics. Sadly, however, there is still little informed analysis about the nature and implications of state power, how the Gandhian-Congressite state has persistently debased Indian polity and culture.

The India which Rajiv has left behind has progressively diluted the image his grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru dreamed of and cherished. “Separatism has always been the weakness of India”, Nehru warned more than thirty years ago, “it is ingrained in our background, in our up-bringing and in our social structure… where our culture strikes at our social habits, we have been and are intolerant people”. India’s future as a working democracy, much less as “the biggest democracy in the world, is uncertain today precisely because his pretentious heirs forgot the lessons he hoped they would well remember.

(TFT July 04-10, 1991 Vol-3, No.17 — Editorial)

Two can play

Ethnic rage, brazen dacoities, impudent kidnappings and political vendettas in Sindh have merely served to draw long yawns in Islamabad. Bloody drug wars, ugly assassinations, tribal feuds and hot border skirmishes in Balochistan and the NWFP may have yielded a sigh or two. No, we were told, “law and order” was rapidly improving under the new government.

Pakistanis may have become reconciled to the increasing violence and degeneration of everyday life, but many will not forget last June in a hurry. Hundreds died in train crashes, bomb explosions and terrorist murders all over the country. The armed strife within the MQM and between warring political factions laid low dozens of young men in Sindh. There was even the scandalous spectacle of a couple of errant Punjabi MPs slugging it out with the police in Lahore. Not much later, we heard of thousands being arrested on the eve of polling in Jacobabad. And then we read of rigged elections in Azad Kashmir and wondered how much more punishment democracy in Pakistan would take before its carcass could be hauled away for good.

Now the sick chickens of our uncaring state have come home to roost. The slaughter of 22 citizens of two trading families in the Punjab has jolted our top dogs out of their slumber and forced a cancellation of the PM’s trip to Japan. New laws, including public hangings, we are informed, are the answer to the crisis of law and order in the country. There is also talk of rolling some important heads in Sindh and maybe even bringing a military man back in the saddle.

This is a hopeless response. We need to focus on two separate aspects of this crisis of “law and order”. First, there is the question of blatant illegalities committed by the state in foisting unrepresentative and unpopular governmetns on the people of this country. Second, we must seriously consider the domestic implications of our foreign policy which seeks to (a) install a govenment of its choosing on Afghanistan, (b) undermine India by fueling the fires of insurgencies in Kashmir and East Punjab, (c) defy the United States by continuing our not-so-secret nuclear programme.

Take the first issue. The writ of the state has eroded not least because of the brutally divisive legacies of Zia ul Haq’s long military rule. Matters have been made worse in Sindh recently by foisting Jam Sadiq on the people and thwarting their will by rigging the elections. It is necessary, though by no means sufficient, to sort out this mess by immediately getting rid of Jam Sahib and installing consensual and representative political leaders who genuinely command respect from, and are equally firm towards, the warring factions in the province.

The second issue is more thorny and more pressing. The Pakistani state, it seems, is determined to take on the Soviet Union, India and the United States, all at a time when its writ is wearing thin even on its own home ground. The price of fingering a powerful neighbour and two superpowers is beginning to exact its toll. The recent outbreak of terrorism in the country, including the bombs, train disasters and the butchery of innocent people in their homes, is not a law and order problem. It is a direct consequence of our policies in support of insurgencies in India and Afghanistan. Not all the laws and punishments in the world, nor any of the transfers of administration officials, will effect a halt to such reciprocatory state terrorism. In fact, we might be better advised by the government to prepare for many more such acts of terrorism in the near future.

The real tragedy is, of course, that our foreign policy makers are in firm control of our domestic cirumstances rather than the other way round. And because it is Rawalpindi rather than Islamabad which aggressively pulls all the foreign policy strings, elected civilian representatives have been slotted to become the unhappy fall guys from its devastating consequences at home.

That said, we may well speculate about the fate of Pakistan if our state is determined to push ahead, regardless of reverberations, with its existing set of covenants. At the end of the corky road, there is more death and destruction, and a war of incalculable consequences with India cannot be too far off.

We could jsut as easily proffer the benefits of a change of tack, at least where Afghanistan and East Punjab are concerned. By backing a durable political settlement in Kabul through negative symmetry and removing our finger from the Khalistan pie in East Punjab, we might find it easier to promote the cause of Kashmir and effect an enduring nuclear balance in the region.

It might then also become possible for civilian politicians to accept the validity of the democratic impulse at home and get on with the business of tackling unemployment, illiteracy, disease and poverty — all of which form the real backdrop to lawlessness and rising alienation in society.

(TFT July 11-17, 1991 Vol-3, No.18 — Editorial)

Beware the millstones

Shortly after Ms Benazir Bhutto was axed in Islamabad last year, Mr Mumtaz Rathore was audocious enough to lay out the red carpet for her in Azad Kashmir, complete with guard of honour and a 21 gun salute. He was obviously not only relishing the illusion of being an all-powerful chief executive but also cocking his thumbs at the establishment.

Coventional wisdom might have suggested a more diplomatic stance. One simply doesn’t to silly things like that and expect to get away with it. Sooner or later, they wil l cook your goose. Surely, if Ms Bhutto can be hounded from pillar to post for being her father’s daughte,r a mortal PPP follower like Mr Rathore should have known better. I=As it is, he is now threatened with charges of treason. And not all the white papers about rigging and threats about  peoples power will make the slightest dent in the Presidency GHQ.

In fact, Mr Rathore’s bravado is symptomatic of the desperate confusion in his party. The PPP has made a fine art of moving one step forward, two steps hackward at crucial moments in recent history. Consider its unfrtunate backslidings. Ms Bhutto supported Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan for President and gave the armed forces a medal for democracy, then accused them both of launching a constitutional coup against her government. Now the suspicion is that a frustrated PPP is lending its shoulders to the efforts of precisely those forces which were its own undoing in the past and which remain determined to erase its very existence in the future.

As for Mian Nawaz Sharif, he is in the disagreeable, process of finding out what it means to be given a dose of the same sort of poisonous medicine he has been dishing out to his political opponents all these years. Shady deals with the establishment can only be clinched at the expense of democratic institutions and practices. They also exact a heavy personal price. In Mr Sharif’s case, it means that while he has little control over crucial areas of domestic and foreign policy he must nevertheless take the rap for them when things get nasty and out of hand, as at the moment.

There is no real reason why Mian Nawaz Sharif should be forced into an early departure from Islamabad. He is even more subservient to the President and GHQ then any of his predecessors. But if terrorism and dacoities have laid this country low, the establishment is hardly likely to take responsibility for such mishaps. And if new conspirators are counting the hours for D-Day and giving Mr Sharif sleepless nights, he has only himself to blame for having so indiscriminately and unfairly displaced them in the first place.

These are the unfortunate facts of life. Mr Junejo, Mr Jatoi and Mr Sharif all came to office after stabbing everyone else in the back and making scandalous deals with the establishment in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Ms Bhutto too, despite her overwhelming legitimacy, was forced to bend before the ubiquitous establishment. Once there, however, every PM has found it difficult to change the establishment’s wayward policies or hold it accountable for its failings. In the end, both Mr Junejo and Ms Bhutto were given their marching orders not because there was anything out of the ordinary about their corruption or inefficiency but because they were fated to be the fallguys for the establishment’s erroneous ways. Likewise, Mian Nawaz Sharif is now expected to pay for Islamabad’s vendetaa against the PPP and Pindi’s foreign policy priorities regarding India and the United States.

Somewhere along te line this vicious circle has to be broken. Clearly, the initiative must come from the politicians who, more often than not, have found themselves pitted against the establishment.

Unfortunately, it appears that this logic is once again on the brink of being lost. Those politicians who are ready to do yet another shady deal with the powers-that-be have learnt nothing from their collective misfortunes in the past. If the present government is overthrown, we shall have so many Jam Sadiqs and Sardar Quyyums to contend with, let alone budding successors to Zia ul Haq, we won’t quite know what has hit us for a long time to come.

Consequently, Mian Sahib must get off his high horse and build bridges with the politicians whose redundancy he has so offensively manipulated. A round table conference to hammer out a consensus for governing the country should be a priority instead of all the stupid ordinances he is passing.

A beginning can be made by releasing Mr Rathore and talking to the PPP. It would be tragic if AJK or Sindh were to become millstones around Mr Sharif’s neck just as Punjab and Sindh became millstones around Benazir Bhutto’s neck in 1989.

(TFT July 18-24, 1991 Vol-3, No.19 — Editorial)

Panic buttons

Mian Nawaz Sharif has visibly panicked. That is more than obvious from his feisty censure of the combined opposition to his government, from the cancellation of his trip to Japan and from his television address a couple of days ago in which he blew hot and cold in the same breath. The radical new laws on the anvil, ostensibly to control terrorism, are yet another pointer in the same direction; they are more likely to abridge fundamental rights, throttle dissent and sap the constitution than to even scratch the law and order situation. Ch Nisar’s desperate dash to Azizabad, followed by Mr Altaf Hussain’s carefully rehearsed statement, in support of the PM and warning “ambitious undemocratic forces” to beware the wrath of the MQM should they persist in their treacherous conspiracies, merely served to clinch the argument that the PM is in serious trouble.

No wonder, Mian Sahib is grasping at foreign straws. The information ministry has paid large sums for a great deal of advertising space in several foreign journals and newspapers extolling the virtues of Sartaj Aziz’s privatisation and deregulation policies.

The interesting observation is that only last month, he was looking quite comfortable. The President had announced the imminent retirement of COAS Gen Mirza Aslam Beg and quashed rumours about the General’s presumed ambitions. Mr Wassim Sajjad’s trip to Washington had got fair billing and the PM’s proposals for a regional solution to nuclear non-proliferation had received an obliging nod in Washington and Beijing.

It is true that terrorism and crime have taken a sharp turn for the worse in recent weeks. But, while most Pakistanis are naturally worried sick, many would still absolve the new government of much responsibility for the outbreak of terrorism. Of course, the government is expected to formulate a proper response, but it is generally recognised that this brand of lawlessness is a legacy of the past and may have more to do with Pakistan’s foreign policy priorities, which are controlled by the establishment, rather than domestic policies which are within the PM’s purview.

The crucial point, however, remains that the opposition to Nawaz Sharif is fairly smelling blood. from Pir Pagaro to Nawabzada Nasrullah, from Messrs Jatoi and Khar to Maulana Fazlur Rahman, from Junejo to Leghari and Tariq Rahim, everyone, it seems, is hitching up his trousers for a spot of action. Clearly, if Mian Sahib felt that the cacophony raised against his government did not have the explicit backing of powerful elements within the establishment, he would hardly have deigned to bother.

As a matter of fact, it is not too difficult to guess at Mian Sahib’s problem. We have all known for a long time that Nawaz Sharif’s meteoric rise has had more to do with the active backing of an important section of the establishment than any great intrinsic merit to his own leadership qualities. Most of us have long suspected that, without such covert assistance, he couldn’t have put up such a solid opposition to Benazir Bhutto’s government from 1988 to 1990. More to the point, he could hardly have swept the last elections and succeeded in decimating the PPP without leaning heavily on the invisible soldiers of Islam.

Now it appears that these soldiers of Islam may be on the verge of withdrawing their support to Mian Sahib and linking up with a long line of disgruntled politicians who have been screaming for his head. Since Nawaz Sharif is already familiar with the breadth of their power, from first hand experience, he is not jittery without good reason.

What has happened in the recent past to effect this switch of allegiance which has put the Nawaz Sharif on the spot? One factor could be disagreements with the COAS over Pakistan’s overtures to the United States. Another may well be tensions in certain quarters triggered off by the appointment of Gen Asif Nawaz Janjua as COAS-designate rather than Gen Shamim Alam or even Gen Hameed Gul. Some people say that Gen Beg would have liked to sit as Chairman of a more powerful JCOS Committee rather than fade away in retirement and that by denying him a power-sharing arrangement, the PM has screwed up the chances of the survival of representative government. Of course, the simplest and most naive explanation is that the law and order situation is getting to be so bad that a long dose of martial law is in order.

(TFT July 25-31, 1991 Vol-3, No.20 — Editorial)

Despair and Dread

Battered beyond recognition by a dictator named Zia ul Haq, the Pakistani constitution has taken another thrashing, this time at the hands of a democratic prime minister named Nawaz Sharif. The twelfth amendment was rammed through last week in a manner which has left us all reeling with despair and dread. Despair because no public airing of the draft proposals was allowed and the opposition was gagged from uttering a single parliamentary word in protest. And dread because the new amendment sets up yet a third confusing, parallel system of laws (the Shariat bill being the second) without provision for due process or checks and balances against the arbitrary exercise of power by government.

The drastic constitutional amendment originally envisaged was meant to control terrorism. But, leave alone the screaming opposition, even the IJI was in no mood to let Mr Sharif get away with murder No wonder the PM had to backpedal furiously to save his skin.

The 12th Amendment will remain on the statutes for three years. It empowers the government to establish “speedy courts for heinous crimes” in any area where, in the opinion of the executive, law and order is threatened. Such courts will deliver their judgements in thirty days and there will be only one appellate court of appeals which too must decide within the month. The police can now arrest or detain anyone in an “affected area” without being challenged.

As the new laws stand, there are serious misgivings. How will they effectively combat crime when countless existing special courts, armed with terrifying powers to order public hangings, have failed to do so in the past? Does the PM think that he can get away by accusing Sindhi political workers of terrorism and hanging them in the local town square? Or is he trying to throttle dissent? As it is, the Sindh IGP has admitted arresting over one thousand alleged terrorists only in one district of Sindh; yet dacoities, kidnappings and ethnic strife are rampant and the province remains as ungovernable as ever.

Naturally, suspicions abound that Mr Sharif’s real motive may have been very different from his avowed objectives. Was he, in fact, trying to send a message to the “undemocratic forces” he alluded to in his address to the nation last week? Was he telling them that his government was strong and united, that he wouldn’t be a pushover because he could demonstrate a two-thirds majority in parliament? If so, the concessions he has had to make and the conspiratorial, almost autocratic manner in which the amendment was rammed through, leaves much to be desired. Certainly, the message, if any, could already be lost.

Of course, there is something downright sinister about the fashion in which opposition politicians, of all persuasions, appear to have hitched up their shalwars for a spot of action, much as they did in 1977 and 1990. The PM’s panic also lends a degree of credibility to the rumours that certain “powers” may well be urging the unruly bandwagon on.

Who, conceivably, might these invisible patrons be? Everyone suspects that Gen Aslam Beg doesn’t exactly relish the thought of having to take off his uniform and head into the Brunei sunset. He might have been happier presiding over a more powerful Chief of Staff Committee. Also, for a successor, he might have preferred Gen Shamim Alam or even Gen Hameed Gul. Certainly, if he had been given an extension of at least one year, an ambitious soldier like General Hameed Gul might have had better long-term prospects. The President, on the PM’s advice, said no on all counts.

General Beg remains as hawkish as ever on relations with America and couldn’t possibly be too pleased at Mr Sharif’s recent overtures to Washington. Now, the Chief if warning of war clouds over Kashmir: “In sheer desperation, India might launch an adventure against Pakistan”. As proof, he is pointing to the massing of Indian troops along the border with Pakistan in Sindh and exhorting his soldiers to be “prepared for any eventuality”.

Hopefully, fears of Indian designs will prove to be misplaced. Hopefully, too, suspicions about Gen Beg’s presumed ambitions are not grounded in facts. But it is still three weeks to go before the army affects a change in guard. Until then, at least, Mian Nawaz Sharif cannot afford to relax.

(TFT August 1-7, 1991 Vol-3, No.21 — Editorial)

Friends not masters

Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) is called Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) by India while we refer to its elder brother, the state of Jammu and Kashmir across the border, as Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK). While the brutal assassination of thousands of Indian paramilitary forces has left little doubt about the “occupied” status of that state, what are we to make of the farcical occupation of AJK’s parliament by Islamabad-backed Sardar Abdul Quyyum and his cohorts?

If there is any doubt about the “esteem” (more properly, a lack of it) in which “Pakistan” is held in Muzaffarabad these days, a quick reading of our first-hand report on page 3 will reveal the extent of disillusionment and despair with “Pakistan”. Not so long ago, a visitor to Azad Kashmir from Lahore had simply to say he was from “Lahore”. Rarely “Punjab”. Now, when you say it, they are more likely to respond with a stinging correction: “Pakistan”.

It is a long and sad story. How Islamabad progressively mocked the “Azad” status of the Kashmir on this side of the cease-fire line. How its elections were rigged by successive generations of Pakistani politicians, bureaucrats, policemen and generals. How it has remained a backwater in the development strategies of Pakistani planners and economists. And how, recently, conspiracies hatched in Islamabad have all but destroyed the Kashmiris’ aspirations to take charge of their lives and make them more free and meaningful.

But it takes two hands to clap. If General Zia and his successors could manipulate the politics of Muzaffarabad to further their dubious ambitions, then Sardar Abdul Quyyum, a Kashmiri to boot, who happily partook of their delusions, must also share the blame. The Sardar’s politics has been flawed from the outset. He has always been on the “right side” of every regime in Islamabad and he couldn’t care two hoots about his peoples’ enduring aspirations for democracy, participation and representative government.

Along comes Mr Mumtaz Husain Rathore, a man who likes to boast that he stands tall among his many followers. Nudged into power in Muzaffarabad by the same wave of emotions and longings which swept Benazir Bhutto into Islamabad, Mr Rathore couldn’t weather the conspiratorial storm which knocked Ms Bhutto out last August. He appears to have fallen victim to the same self-destructive drive for personal aggrandisement and opportunism which has been the undoing of so many politicians in the past.

When Mr Rathore dissolved the AJK assembly, to all intents and purposes he did not consult with the leaders of the Peoples Party. Instead, it now looks that he did a sly deal with the establishment in Rawalpindi whereby he agreed to become “their man” in Muzaffarabad and share power with Sardar Abdul Quyyum. In return, he was offered the prospects of a free and fair election to consolidate his position.

Of course, it didn’t work out as he had planned. Compared to an untrustworthy maverick like Mr Rathore, Sardar Abdul Quyyum’s stolid credentials carry immeasurable weight in Rawalpindi. The elections were suitably rigged and Mr Rathore is now out in the cold. He is distanced from Ms Bhutto and at loggerheads with his erstwhile friends in the Pakistani establishment.

It was a bad game-plan, doomed to fail. Anyone could have told Mr Rathore, if he had cared to listen, that his PPP tag would never really be acceptable to those who are hostile to the legacies of ZA Bhutto. His best bet would have been to trudge on heroically, nurse his integrity, and sit it out of his government had fallen through a vote of no-confidence engineered via horse-trading and threats. At least, that way, he would have retained the undiluted sympathies of the Kashmiri people who would have known where to point an accusing finger for the loss of their enfranchisement. Truth will out, as they say, and in time Mr Rathore could have returned as a conquering hero.

Instead, he hastened his departure by thinking he could manipulate those who have no patience with democracy and fair elections, let alone PPP smartalecks like Mr Rathore. The deed is done. All hi histrionics will not bail him out now.

As for Pakistan’s Mian Nawaz Sharif who has determined to hog the show, it seems he has learnt no lessons at all from the fate of his predecessors. The recent electoral fiasco in AJK is only marginally less provocative and damaging to institutional politics than the one last August or the new laws and amendment which were rammed through parliament some days ago.

Mian Sahib has ousted Mr Rathore through the devices of hidden masters. A gang of politicians is urging these very masters to give the Mian a quick dose of his own medicine. Everyone should pause to reconsider. They have all relied for too long on masters, not friends. In the end, all the chickens come home to roost. And it is friends, not masters, who matter.

(TFT August 8-14, 1991 Vol-3 No.22 — Editorial)

Waylaying the press

Mian Nawaz Sharif’s precious reptiles are at it again.

The Prime Minister’s overbearing advisor on information claims rather unconvincingly that all this speculation about a proposed new Ordinance to restrict press freedom “is a figment of the imagination of sick minds”. No such nefarious designs are afoot, he says, struggling to mask his sneering attitude towards the press.

Others less brazen in the PM’s secretariat, however, admit quite candidly that the press is marked for suitably clipping as soon as Mian Sahib is feeling a little less uncomfortable that at the moment. When TFT asked the Prime Minister to give a categorical statement on record that he would not lay his hands on the press, Mian Sahib dithered and looked decidedly uncomfortable. “Don’t worry”, he muttered, “nothing will be done without first consulting the press”.

All of which, in the doublespeak jargon of politicians and bureaucrats, implies that something sneak is definitely on the cards.

There are other troubling signs. The PM recently invited a select group of newspaper owners and editors for a dinner-briefing in Islamabad. It inspires that an effort was originally made to keep out certain editors known for their outspoken views. But wiser counsel prevailed and the list was enlarged at the last moment. However, what is more disquieting, not one of the senior editors present on the occasion, who were seated within the PM’s earshot, thought fit to question him about his views on the press and the reported leaks of drastic new laws on the anvil to control information. At best, the dinner-dialogue, if it can be called that, was desultory and bordered on the meaningless. Because the PM’s candid confessions on matters of national security were off-the-record, one might have expected a more aggressive approach on matters of public concern like the 12th amendment, privatisation and social welfare.

But no, that one of the PM’s many sweeping assertions in seventy minutes of monologue was even marginally challenged. One disgruntled editor remarked later that it was as though we had been transported to the days when Zia ul Haq used to fete editors and later usher them out after a hearty double-handshake. Certainly, in Benazir Bhutto’s meetings with editors, it was no uncommon for sparks to fly.

What ar we to make of this charade? That most owner-editors have decided to silently fall in line so that government pipelines continue to gush advertisements to a group of favoured bigwigs in the media? That, perhaps, the new proposals have already been vetted and approved behind closed doors and the little talks we have seen in newspaper columns is meant merely for the sake of form?

Of course, colleagues assure us that even if the PM is disposed to curb the press the President would never give his assent since the original unfettering ordinance of 1988 was of his making. But if that is indeed so, we may well ask why that particular ordinance has been allowed to fade away, without as much as a murmur from the Presidency, by a government which proudly claims to have passed more legislation in eight months than all other governments put together in eight years.

No, we should be gearing ourselves up to expect a new, restrictive information policy. And, as is the fashion with this government, it will probably be disguised in “Islamic” garb to deflect criticism. One of its more ominous clauses is expected to remove the powers of the superior courts to review any decision of the federal government to disallow publication on any ground. Once again, as in the case of the speedy courts and the 12th amendment, we may be lumped with special laws which by-pass the established judiciary. In other words, the press could be put on the same dirty, blood-stained mat as dacoits, murderers and terrorists.

The Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors needs to make its position heard loud and clear before Mian Sahib’s ill-advised advisors spring untoward surprises on us all. We are all too familiar with Mian Sahib’s style. He loves to huddle together with his immature kitchen cabinet and conspire endlessly. He loves a fait accompli, even a fait accompli which makes virtue out of vice. He loves the sound of his own voice thundering that he is a man with a mission who loves to notch up deeds. If he is to be stopped from encroaching upon the freedoms of the press, we must act before it is too late and another Ordinance is thrust upon us.

It is to Benazir Bhutto’s enduring credit that even while the press was attacking her government relentlessly in the last month of her regime, abetted to no small extend by Mian Sahib’s dirty tricks department, she never once threatened to the press. It will be to Mian Sahib’s everlasting shame if he now succumbs to the counsel of his advisors and lays a grubby hand on the press in Pakistan.

(TFT August 15-21, 1991 Vol-3 No.23 — Editorial)

A farewell to arms?

What do Gen Zia and Gen Beg have in common? Apparently little. Zia overthrew the constitution and ruled dictatorially for eleven years; Beg is expected to retire as schedule on August 16. Where Zia seized the first opportunity to propel himself to naked power, Beg studiously refrained from following in Zia’s footsteps. Zia had no patience with politicians and openly despised them. Beg, however, appeared to endure their improprieties, pulling powerful strings behind the scenes.

Significantly, however, the two generals manifested differing approaches to the world of real-politik and international relations. Zia flogged Islam as a legitimising ideology and knowtowed to the Americans’ Beg articulated an appearing ideology of ‘nationalism’, backing it up by a doctrine of ‘strategic defiance’ of the USA. Zia prostrated himself before the Saudis while Beg has tended to look towards their nemesis, Iran, for Pakistan’s strategic requirements. Where Zia could afford to ignore the signals of changing new world order, Beg has reacted peremptorily to a perceived US role in South Asia. AT a personal level, Zia all but sidelined Beg. Gen Beg, however, has lived uncomfortably in the shadow of Zia’s mysterious death three years ago.

More important, it is pertinent to ask which of the two legacies and styles, Gen Zia’s or Gen Beg’s, might conceivably be followed by Gen Asif Nawaz Janjua in time to come. Or will the new chief, perhaps, fashion a completely new logic on the collective will of the armed forces?

Take the domestic front. Gen Zia despised politicians and representative institutions. Although he reluctantly allowed them some political space, he closed the narrow corridor not long afterwards. Before he died, he was in a real fix because his system was patently unworkable. Gen Beg’s approach was markedly different. he nurtured a system of government in which politicians held formal office while effective power remained with the army. In retrospect, however, this approach divided and weakened civil society and eroded the social contract between the rules and the ruled, between state and nation, no less than Gen Zia’s. Will Gen Janjua be tempted to follow in Gen Beg’s footsteps, propping up certain parties and undermining others, for dubious short-term gains? Or will the new chief lend his shoulders to institutionalising fair play and consensus?

On the international front, Gen Beg’s legacies may be no less consequential. For forty years, while many emerging nation-states jealously guarded their sovereignty by joining the Non-Aligned Movement and cleverly playing off one superpower against the other, ruling establishments in Pakistan progressively narrowed their options by blindly lining up behind the Americans. Now, paradoxically, with the cold war over and a considerably reduced number of viable options on the horizon, Gen Beg’s Pakistan seems in Western eyes to be on the verge of defying the global compulsions for a new, more orderly world based on economic rather than military strength. Will Gen Janjua try to enlarge the scope of his predecessor’s doctrine of “strategic defiance” and fly in the face of new realities created by the West? Or will he, like the new leaders of the USSR, Eastern Europe, Middle-East, South Africa and even China, help dismantle the violent legacies of the past and build on economically dynamic and politically democratic country that is able to speak with honour among the new comity of nations?

The armed forces under the new chief must face the issues squarely. One side of the Pakistani coin is hunger, disease, unemployment, population growth and illiteracy. The other is national security. Neither can be ignored except at great peril to the other. An ideal situation would, of course, be one in which a suitable military deterrent could be effected with India which allow us to divert resources from military expenditures to the social sector. Gen Janjua has the unenviable task of presiding over a resolution of the Kashmir conflict with India and the nuclear stalemate with the US without dragging the country into a disastrous war with our neighbour or isolating it (like Burma) as a pariah in the world community.

Neither Gen Zia’s nor Gen Beg’s legacies may be of much help in the complex and formidable tasks ahead. A nation up in arms against itself, against a powerful neighbour and against an aggressive superpower is primed for trouble. What is needed is democratic consensus at home and determined diplomacy abroad. There is absolutely no reason why we should not succeed in reconciling the demands of national security with those of national prosperity. As a matter of fact, the two go together and we have no choice. But if Gen Janjua is to emerge as the man of the hour, he must have the courage and foresight to be able to distinguish between an unacceptable policy of laying down arms from the necessary policy of bidding a farewell to arms.

(TFT August 22-28, 1991 Vol-3 No.24 — Editorial)

Mr President, Wake up

We were brought up to believe that August 14, Independence Day, was a day of rejoicing and thanksgiving, of introspection and hope. Alas. So huge is the burden of hate, discord and pessimism in society today that even the rhetoric of unity, faith and discipline, long the cynical fare of politicians on such occasions, seemed sadly to be missing. The speeches of our leaders last Wednesday put paid to any illusions we may have cherished on that score. Mr Nawaz Sharif spat venom when he shouted how his “blood boiled at any mention of the PPP” and he felt like “shredding it into tiny sea”. Never one to be outdone, Ms Benazir Bhutto screamed murder, accusing him of being “a coward who should quit because he had sold out on Kashmir and the nuclear questions”.

Of course, it is perfectly understandable why there is no love lost between them. With justification, Sharif can point to his persecution by Bhutto when he was chief minister of the Punjab two years ago. He can also fairly charge the opposition of ganging up against him and trying to provoke the army to get rid of him in recent times.

As for Bhutto, her rage against Sharif stretches back to when he lined up behind her father’s executioner a decade ago. Nor can she easily condone his desperate efforts to thwart the electoral process in 1988 or his running conspiracies to oust her from power and subsequently deny her an electoral victory in 1990, abetted by the President and the army chief, of course. At the very least, the many disqualification-references against her and the vicious treatment of her husband by the government are ideally designed to raise her blood pressure by several points.

It is clear, however, that their mutual hostilities are geared to knocking each other out rather than allowing either to savour the fruits of a dubious victory over the other. Frankly speaking, if that were all that might result from their menacing clash and the option of choosing an alternative political leadership were available, we could have relaxed an enjoyed the grisly spectacle. Unfortunately, we have no choice, and as they slug it out the country is slowly wasting away from neglect and mismanagement.

More important, we might ask how the President, who is supposed to be above it all, can sit twiddling his thumbs while this dangerous farce continues. For one, he is probably more responsible for this situation than any of them. Didn’t he set the wobbly ball rolling in the first place by dismissing Bhutto unfairly last year? We could let that pass because there wasn’t much to write home about that government anyway. But even more patently, didn’t the President rig up the most partisan interim government in history as well as the most unfair accountability trials against Bhutto, all of which made the results of 1990 elections a foregone conclusion and created the perfect backdrop for her prickly reaction?

In a recent interview Benazir Bhutto has admitted that her government erred in failing to accept the pluralistic compulsion of Pakistani society and thereby antagonised Nawaz Sharif when he was chief minister of the Punjab. Likewise, she was acknowledged her faulty handling of the Sindh situation., Privately, however, her supporters argue that in order to survive she must, however reluctantly, learn to be a politician in the nasty mould of her detractors. So she will oppose the Sharif government by every means possible, much as Sharif did when she was in power, and the devil take the hindmost. Her recent utterances of a sellout on Kashmir, the nuclear question, privatisation etc. could be seen in this context.

Here in a nutshell, we have the crux of the problem and on outline of a solution. If both Mr Sharif and Mr Ishaq Khan were to recognise the error of their singular ways, much as Ms Bhutto has had the courage to do, there might not be any compelling reason to push the opposition to the wall while the government itself is forced to retreat into corner.

The outgoing army chief’s parting words of advice to politicians have a distinctive permanence about them just as the incoming chief’s first Order of the Day has an historical transience about it. That is why it is time to call a spade a spade.

The President should get off his high horse and he man enough to withdraw his references against Benazir Bhutto and set Asif Zardari free. That will create the necessary space for an honourable dialogue between the government and the opposition. He might also lean a bit on Mian Sahib every time the PM is tempted to flex his muscles dramatically. At least, once the opposition is given its democratic right to breathe, we may be able to dilute the political bitterness which sours the system. If we could start to move in this direction now, we might hope to wake up to a more meaningful Independence Day next August.

(TFT Aug 29-04 Sept, 1991 Vol-3 No.25 — Editorial)

The last hurrah

There was an awkward haste about the unthinking obituaries of Mikhail Gorbachev from many Pakistanis following news to a coup on August 19. Some even appeared to derive perverse pleasure from predicting the demise of the “new world order” and a resumption of the cold war, even as the tanks in Moscow were being halted in their tracks by the people and president of Russia shortly after the coup. What is more remarkable, not one of our local ‘experts’ considered the possibility of the coup’s failure.

On August 20, one analyst asked: “With Gorbachev gone, can Yeltsin be far behind”? On August 23, a columnist argued that “the coup had been well planned and that Yeltsin would meet the same fate as Gorbachev even if several thousands died resisting the state”. A third concurred: “It may be just wishful thinking to expect that the hardliners …would get could feet in the wake of adverse reaction at home and abroad”. Yet another pundit thundered how “it would be unwise, if not foolish, to suppose that the 70-year old system could be washed away just like that… And now, with one giant somersault, the New World Order of the United States has been thrown away …The cold war is already once again on.”

These myopic gentlemen were not the only ones dancing in the quadrangles. One respected politician said that “the military coup was in the interest of third world countries…millions of Pakistanis were happy over the change in the USSR…Most of Gen Beg’s predictions had come true”. We were also duly informed by one hack how an army general had warned during the Gulf war that a coup was imminent which would undermine American hopes of an “hegemonic new world order”. Others who were positively thrilled at the ghost of the cold war climbing out of its grave included the remnants of history like Libya’s Gadafi, Iraq’s Saddam and Sudan’s Omar el Bashir.

Why did these leaders and opinion-makers display such misplaced concreteness? Part of the reason may be attributed to ignorance of recent history. The USSR has changed much sine Khruchev’s overthrow by Brezhnev. The 1964 coup was a “coup within a party” which “was an island of power in a largely alienated and suppressed Soviet society”. The August attempt, on the other hand, was one within an “educated country (a “normal country”, as Gorbachev claims) whose whole population, including the army, has been irredeemably politicised in the last six years”. Today’s USSR is pluralistic, not hermetic. The virtues of ‘democracy’ — freedom of speech, social mobility, employment, communication — are no longer invisible. This new political culture has taken root in an age of mass demonstrations, elections, national movements, even political self-determination. Such ideas are most intensely felt because they are so newly established. The seeds of a new democracy, including changes in attitudes and self-consciousness, which Gorbachev began to sow six years ago cannot easily be wrenched out. It has been a classic case of winning precious time to develop a will of resistance to the old order, time to cherish liberty, time for elections to take place and give Boris Yeltsin the mandate he employed so effectively last week. Some years ago a roll back was possible; today even a temporary one was more likely doomed. Neither the necessary conditions (an passive population) nor the sufficient requirements (a unified army) for a successful coup were available.

A more pernicious reason for which analytical blunders is related to the emotional, psychological and political mindsets of many authoritarians elites in the third world. Having manipulated issues for so long, many third world political leaders, army generals and intellectuals are now feeling increasingly insecure and irritable at the prospect of braving the chilling winds of popular democracy, accountability and freedom. No wonder, then, they are cloaking their ambitions, angers and frustrations behind the facade of outraged ‘nationalism’. Because the problem is accentuated by the racism, arrogance, hypocrisy and double standards of the West, the underdeveloped-elite mindset is ready to clutch at straws in opposing a US-dominated “new world order”, regardless of the intrinsic merits of democracy and popular government.

The momentous events in Eastern Europe demonstrated the irresistible urge for freedom; the abortive putsch in the USSR has done the same to perestroika, turning it into a revolution. Although history rarely moves without twists and turns (fresh coup attempts cannot be ruled out as the revolution begins to devour hundreds of army generals, hundreds of thousands of KGB officers and millions of CP members), a new, more powerful dialectic has already seized the Soviet state.

Born-again Pakistani ‘nationalists’ would do well to think rationally rather than wishfully. As in the Soviet Union, they should shout their last hurrahs and make way for the people. What is good for ‘Pakistan’ (read ‘Pakistani state’) might not, in fact be good for ‘Pakistan’ (read ‘Pakistani nation and people’). The third-world state can only frustrate the compelling demands of society at irreparable cost to itself and the nation.

(TFT September 5-11, 1991 Vol-3, No.26 — Editorial)

Who is culpable?

When, ten years ago in Karachi, several ‘finance companies’, disguised as ‘Islamic banks’, milked thousands of middling depositors dry, Zia ul Haq wasn’t too bothered. Later, he calmly wrote off billions in bank loans to political cronies, friends and relatives. However, when PM Junejo stepped out of line, he was sacked for being ‘corrupt and inefficient’.

Benazir Bhutto cannot count herself as ‘lucky’ as her predecessor. When she began to spread her wings, President Ishaq booted her out citing much the same reasons, but went one step further. He also filed disqualification references against her in special courts for allegedly misusing privileges of office.

Mian Nawaz Sharif, of course, need fear no such unjust retribution from his mentor, even as anguished thousands now become victims of Co-ops in the biggest scan yet. Apparently it matters two hoots to the President that his PM, interior minister and many other IJI politicians are responsible for the current financial mess by ‘borrowing’ billions from cronies in these finance societies. Perhaps the President’s views are echoed by his law minister who wonders what the hoo ha is all about when “depositors are largely crooks who deserve what they have got”.

Bhutto has levelled serious charges against the President and PM. The current Co-op crisis originated when Mr Sharif was CM Punjab: one errant financier is an IJI MPA who admits paying Rs 26 million for an IJI ticket; the wife of a Punjab IJI minister is seriously involved; the Auditor-General, Punjab, noted financial misappropriation and embezzlement of billions in Sharif’s government last year; Sharif was one of the biggest borrowers (Rs 300 millions) from one Co-op.; the interior minister Ch Shujaat, the PM’s cousin Javed Shafi, IJI Minister Pervez Elahi’s father Manzoor Elahi, IJI MPA Malik Sadiq — were all recipients of Co-op largesse.

It is also alleged that the Mians misused the powers of high office. For example, they bought at least 400 acres of land in Chunian in 1986 just before land prices shot up when it was declared a duty-free industrial estate; the import duty on scrap iron was recently reduced from Rs 1500 per ton to Rs 500, thereby allowing a windfall profit of Rs 500 million to the Ittefaq Group at the expense of the public sector’s Karachi Steel Mills; Indus Motor Co was victimised to bolster the prospects of the Honda Motor plant being set up by the PM’s family.

Ms Bhutto says President Ishaq is guilty of nepotism and willful negligence. Why, for instance, was a foreign national, now at the centre of the BCCI scandal, allowed to purchase an oil company? Why were loans to the President’s son-in-law written off and why were the Gokals (of BCCI notoriety) handed untendered shipping contracts when Ishaq Khan was the financial Czar of the Zia regime? Why was another son-in-law, after being drummed out of a multi-national, appointed Advisor to the Sindh CM and how has he suddenly become si rich?

We are entitled therefore to ask Islamabad, first, why is there no effective mechanism to guard against such crooked excesses by the private sector? Second, why are politicians allowed to take undue advantage of office to enrich themselves at the cost of the public exchequer?

The PM has been decidedly gungho about the virtues of private banks. Admittedly, some new banks will be run professionally by eminent businessmen. But what is to stop others from playing a political role in times to come by covertly funding the electoral campaigns of their current benefactors? There is already evidence of considerable hanky-panky in the selection of some of the new owners. Of the ten new sanctions, the PM vetoed the objections of the Selection Committee of the State Bank to five. In at least one case, a former BCCI manager with less than professional credentials was accommodated at the last minute. Furthermore, the finance ministry infringed its own prescribed criteria by allowing certain industrial giants to sneak into the financial sector.

How, then, will the public’s interest be safeguarded? Both the President and the Prime Minister have always been quick to draw their guns when their political interests are at stake — witness, for example, the indecent haste with which a number of ordinances and the 12th amendment were passed — but stern laws to combat financial misappropriation or misuse of governmental powers are nowhere on their agenda.

The President’s stony silence may be construed as an admission of culpability just as much as the prime minister’s ‘I don’t give a damn’ approach. Sadly, the loss is entirely ours, the public’s. The tragedy is compounded by the fact that the judiciary — special courts, Ombudsman et al — is not in the least inclined to take suo moto notice of all these corruptions around us.

(TFT September 5-11, 1991 Vol-3, No.26 — Article)

“Oakley asked Ishaq to dismiss Bhutto on August 6”

The United States suspected Benazir Bhutto of tipping off Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein about US plans in the Gulf and was so furious at the Pakistani prime minister that it “gave the green light to the Pakistani president to dismiss her government” just four days after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait last year.

US Ambassador to Pakistan, Mr Robert Oakley, met President Ishaq Khan just five hours before she was dismissed and asked him to fire her. The US government was angry at Bhutto for not agreeing to send Pakistani troops to Saudi Arabia after August 2 and consequently became the first foreign government to accept the new interim order in Pakistan.

In a new book on the Gulf war titled ‘From the home of war: John Simpson in the Gulf’, the author argues that “Saddam believed strongly that the Americans were planning to put US Marines into Kuwait in early August, much as Britain had put Royal Marines into Kuwait when President Qassem threatened it in 1961.

“A senior source close to the PLO leadership suggested later that Benazir Bhutto, then prime minister of Pakistan, had warned Saddam that the Americans had this plan in mind. Two weeks earlier, Ms Bhutto had visited Baghdad and Kuwait in an attempt to mediate. The source claimed that the United States, furious at the tip-off, gave the green light to the Pakistani president to dismiss the government of Ms Bhutto. She was forced to step down only four days after the Iraqi invasion.”

The author, however, clarifies that “Ms Bhutto did not tell Saddam Hussein this; though she may have told him that Kuwait would ask the United States to send in the US Marines. Since Saddam feared this would happen, he now had to decide whether to send in his own troops before the Americans could comply with any Kuwaiti request.”

The author explains how Ms Bhutto’s “dismissal came five hours after the US Ambassador in Islamabad, Robert Oakley, met President Ghulam Ishaq Khan. Washington was the first foreign capital to endorse the new government and it seems certain that Oakley made it clear the US would like to see Ms Bhutto out of office.”

According to the author, however, the real reason “seems to have been Ms Bhutto’s deep reluctance to send troops to join the Allied force in Saudi Arabia.”

The book details “the curious lassitude in Baghdad in the last days before the invasion. Tariq Aziz later told ‘The New Yorker’:

“We expected an America military retaliation from the very beginning… As foreign minister, I was convinced that in April 1990 the Americans had stopped listening to us and had made up their minds to hit is… We felt fatalistic. That is the mood that governed our judgement here”.

Simpson goes on to argue that “Given the expectation that the Americans would attack Iraq no matter what he did, Saddam Hussein characteristically decided to take over the whole of Kuwait rather than just the northern strip which Iraq claimed. His interest in the efforts of people like Benazir Bhutto to negotiate a settlement was minimal”.

This brief circumstantial evidence may help to explain the readiness with which Bhutto’s surprise dismissal was accepted by the Americans in public and their cool attitude towards her since then.

It would also explain the hurry with which the interim government of Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, without a full-fledged discussion in a cabinet meeting, committed Pakistani troops to Saudi Arabia at the request of the Americans. According to TFT sources, only a few days after taking over as interim-prime minister, Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi simply informed four cabinet members of his government’s decision to send Pakistani troops to Saudi Arabia. No discussion was allowed.

No wonder, too, prime minister Nawaz Sharif, on the advice of the President, was determined to support the US-led coalition in the Middle-East, despite tensions with Chief of Army Staff, Gen Mirza Aslam Beg.

Army sources confirm Gen Beg’s position that the armed forces had not been adequately consulted by the interim government before it first publicly committed troops to the US-Coalition against Saddam Hussein.

The decision to eventually get rid of Bhutto was probably taken by the President some time in July although no exact date was fixed. However, the present Governor of Sindh, Mr Mahmood Haroon, who was in London around the end of July en route to the US, was suddenly recalled by the President to Islamabad on or about August 2. Apparently, the August 2 invasion of Kuwait by Iraq triggered Bhutto’s dismissal four days later on US prompting.

(TFT September 12-18, 1991 Vol-3, No.27 — Editorial)

How the other half dies

More than in most countries, women are brutally oppressed and exploited in Pakistan. They are oppressed by men because they are considered much less than their equals. They are exploited because they are either not paid for the work they do at home or paid a great deal less than men for the same sort of professional work.

But the burden of fifty million women isn’t confined to social and economic discrimination alone. Of a more menacing and immediate proportion than their daily toil and sweat is the crass violence in their lives.

This brutality against women takes many bizarre forms in this country which are far removed from the ethos of any civilised society. To focus on only the most vicious of these, there is this flourishing business of trading in poor women who have desperately trudged hundreds of miles from Bangladesh or Bihar to find a home for their families here; then there is the gruesome ‘fact’ of ‘stove-deaths’ — hundreds of young women are murdered or pushed to committee suicide every month by disgruntled in-laws or incensed husbands and their ‘cases’ are callously abandoned in police files marked ‘Accidents’; the most base incidents are those in which women, forced to bear the brunt of societal tensions, are stripped, paraded in the streets and gang-raped in front of kith and kin. In all cases, the police is either a silent spectator or willing accomplice of those who perpetrate such dastardly acts.

But it still comes as a shock when the highest police officer of the province can coolly remark that perhaps the brutalised victims were asking for trouble — a despicable line of argument no less villainous than the lawless rationale for ‘police encounters’.

Women’s organisations, though they are too few to be terribly effective, are absolutely right in demanding an unqualified apology from the Punjab Inspector-General of Police. Sadly, however, it appears that the gentleman (sic) in question has complied with orders from above rather than affected a change in heart or attitude by seeming to backtrack.

There is also talk of establishing some sort of a cell in the Crimes Branch of the Punjab Police Department to monitor such crimes against women. We are informed that this cell will comprise officers of the police and members of various women’s organisations. We should be thankful for small mercies — at least the police has been forced to acknowledge that there is indeed a serious problem which needs to be addressed. Nor should cynics be allowed to shrug this development away by arguing that not much will come if it. To identify a crime means being able to publicise it and the press has always responded by pressurising the police to do something about it. This is a small step for society but a big one for millions of helpless women who have no one to plead their agonies.

It is perfectly understandable why Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been in a reckless hurry to pass the 12th amendment to the constitution. A deteriorating ‘law and order’ situation — dacoities, kidnappings and terrorism — spells trouble for the longevity of his regime and his pet project of privatisation. But there is little, if anything, by way of any serious government resolve to combat increasing incidents of crime and violence against women in this country.

We are opposed to special courts with special laws which undermine due process. We are also opposed to the death penalty, much less public executions and hangings.We do not believe widespread crime can simply be deterred by harsh punishments and a more powerful police force. A more fruitful approach might be to strengthen civil society by making the social contract between the rulers and the ruled, between men and women, more credible.

One aspect of the social contract is to emancipate the lives of women in this country. The state should encourage women to work, to be educated, independent, assertive, creative and self-reliant. Once they are on the road to economic and political equality with men, some of the more blatant forms of violence against women will not be sustainable. Women will be better able to stand up and fight for their rights rather than remain a cowering half of humanity.

Unfortunately, this government is a prisoner to the most hypocritical, illiterate, sectarian and backward elements in our political spectrum who are determined to drag everyone — men and women — into the dark ages. Even as he promises to deliver us the new century, the prime minister opportunistically cowtows to all their absurd and reactionary demands in the name of ‘Islamisation’.

We commit violence not merely against women when we reduce them to the level of primitive beings but against all of humanity. How one half of Pakistan dies everyday should be of greater concern to us than how the other half manages to survive.

(TFT September 19-25, 1991 Vol-3, No.28 — Editorial)

Histrionics in Islamabad

Christina Lamb, the British femme fatale before whom countless barefaced Pakistani politicians queued up to reveal their darkest secrets, says that Mian Nawaz Sharif fancies himself a Mughul king. Last week, her words seemed to ring true. Mian Sahib’s new retinue of ministers (28), ministers of state (18), advisors (3) and parliamentary secretaries (20) is the largest in Pakistan’s history. Benazir Bhutto, who was lambasted by the press for packing her cabinet, now appears to have been a victim of our misplaced concreteness.

Ms Sharif has given a job of sorts to ever second MNA in the IJI kitty. Clearly, he distrusts “unemployed politicians” in his ranks and fears their disgruntlement could become a potential source of instability for his government. That may be so. But why should we get unduly agitated merely by the unwieldy size of his spanking new cabinet? What is more relevant is the conduct of this government to date and a hard assessment of where it is headed. And in that context, we should ask whether or not such changes will help steer the democratic system in the right direction and allow the prime minister to get on with the job of good government.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much scope for credibility on this front. The much-flaunted privatisation campaign has petered out amidst charges of incompetence, blundering and nepotism in Islamabad. The private sector is simply not interested in picking up the debris of the public sector. The IMF’s back is up — our fiscal deficit is running at 7.5 per cent and there is no possibility of reducing defence expenditures or increasing spending on the social sector. Meanwhile, inflation and questionable tax reforms are threatening to sour Mr Sharif’s honeymoon with the urban middle classes and businessmen.

Our foreign policy initiatives have thus far amounted to nought. India is bristling with hostility over Kashmir; the United States is in no mood to condone our nuclear programme and restore military aid; in Afghanistan, despite Secretary-General Akram Zaki’s heroic efforts, an enduring political settlement looks far-fetched as the Saudis, the Pakistani ISI, the Jamaat-i-Islami and the American CIA feverishly set about planning a new military offensive against Kabul. And all this rush to establish a Pakistan-Iran nexus is, quite frankly, neither here nor there.

Worst of all, the IJI government’s credibility has been worn thin by the Cooperatives scandal in which the prime minister and senior members of his cabinet are seriously involved. Many more skeletons will doubtless tumble out of their cupboards in the months to come, thus ensuring an ongoing, ready-made, militant agenda for Benazir Bhutto. The fact that the Jamaat-i-Islami and the MQM, two IJI stalwarts, are at daggers drawn doesn’t help matters much either.

In view of all these intrinsic disadvantages and setbacks, a large cabinet, with so many ministers and advisors and secretaries hankering for privilege, cutting corners and pushing in different directions, is more likely to undermine issues than to provide good government.

What the prime minister needs is not more accommodation within the IJI but more warmth towards the opposition. In the past three decades, Governments in Pakistan have not fallen victim to disgruntlement or palace intrigues within the ruling party. One the contrary, the threat has always emanated from political oppositions hounded by autocrats in Islamabad to conspire with the gentlemen in khaki.

Mr Sharif may look comfortable at the moment. But this is an illusion desperately nurtured by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan. Although the President may not much care for many of the corruptions and bunglings in Islamabad, he is unlikely to do to Nawaz Sharif what he did to Benazir Bhutto because the alternative to Sharif is only Bhutto. By becoming obtrusively partisan, the President has ensured that co-existence with Bhutto, who commands the burgeoning forces of the opposition and is determined to recapture power, is impossible as long as he is around.

So we are back to square one. As with Zia ul Haq, an irresistible force (Benazir Bhutto) is pitted against an immovable object (the President). One of them will have to give way for the political system to move forward. On this crucial score, there is as yet no light at the end of the tunnel.

While this particular drama unfolds, Mian Nawaz Sharif’s histrionics in Islamabad may only amount to a bit of an interlude. The prime minister may succeed in signing-up all the politicians in Pakistani but there is nothing he can do to erode Bhutto’s enduring populist base. A political system which seeks to define the rules of the game by altogether excluding the Peoples party is bound to collapse sooner or later. That is what should concern us rather than all the Prime Minister’s rather transparent concerns in Islamabad.

(TFT Sept 26-Oct 02, 1991 Vol-3, No.29 — Editorial)

The Great Game revisited

For centuries Afghanistan was a backwater of the sprawling empires of history. Even the Great Game of the 19th century which later triggered the creation of many new states in this region largely ignored this land mass because it had nothing to offer anyone. It was not located on any of the trade routes of contiguous continents. It was landlocked, lacked an agricultural economy and offered no raw materials which could be exploited for imperialist purposes.

Left to fend for itself, Afghanistan’s multi-national tribal mosaic remained inimical to the rapid development of modern state structures. Under the shadow of the USSR, however, a beginning was made by the tribal monarchy in the 1950s. But the deepening cold war put paid to that. Convinced that the Soviets would eventually use Kabul as a stepping stone to the ‘warm waters’ of the Arabian sea and threaten its Middle Eastern oil, the US buttressed the countries in the crescent of containment — Turkey, Iran and Pakistan — and focussed on a new, Greater Game to contain the Soviet bear in Afghanistan.

In consequence, Raza Pahlavi’s overtures to President Daud coupled with Henry Kissinger’s visit to Kabul in 1976 with offers of aid created the perfect backdrop for the Soviet-inspired coup in 1978 which was followed by direct military intervention. The eruption of the Iranian revolution which deposed the Pahlavi policeman in the region only made the situation more desperate for the US.

Zia ul Haq’s longevity was thus immediately assured. A rag-tag band of Afghans was cobbled to create a resistance, fueled by the most ambitious pipeline of arms and funds the Western allies and ever assembled in recent decades. The doubly-threatened oil rich states of the Middle-East, led by Saudi Arabia, were also nudged to pitch in for the greater glory of the Islamic Ummah’s ‘jehad’ against the infidels.

With the demise of communism and the end of ideology, the Greater Game is now over. But the ‘Jihad’ is apparently alive and kicking. Consequently there may be no respite for the Afghan state — it seems fated to be the victim of an ‘Islamic Game’ at the hands of opportunistic neighbours and squabbling internal factions.

The recent agreement on Negative Symmetry between the US and USSR will end the supply of military and economic aid by both superpowers to the warring Afghan protagonists. Clearly, the logic of this development — by making war more difficult — is to strengthen the efforts of the United Nations to affect a negotiated, peaceful solution acceptable to all vested interests in the Afghan conflict.

But there is another, more powerful, logic in contention. According to this, now is the moment to continue politics by other means — war — because the Saudis and the Pakistanis are not bound by the accord on Negative Symmetry to withhold assistance to the Afghan mujahideen. By militarily backing their favourites among the mujahideen, these powers say they should be able to secure a decisive edge over a relatively handicapped Najibullah and oust him from power. Accordingly, a military offensive to capture Gardez is already underway with the objective of provoking rebellion in Kabul.

This is a dangerous move. Chances are that, as in the past, a divided resistance may fail to capture Gardez. But even if the capture of Gardez acts as a catalyst to provoke a successful coup d’etat against Najibullah, we might ask ourselves: where do we go from there? To the negotiating table with a transitional regime in Kabul which is willing to talk to the United Nations on its terms? Most probably not. In the flush of victory and the scramble for power and territory, it is more than likely that the proponents of war will be recklessly spurred on to try and take Kabul.

Such a military strategy would undoubtedly derail the UN’s peace plans by sowing greater discord among the already fractious Afghan groups jealous of Messrs Hekmatyar & Co. It would also terminate Mr Akram Zaki’s painstaking Tripartite initiatives.

Neither Iran nor the other Afghan commanders, especially the powerful group led by Ahmad Shah Masoud in the north will countenance the capture of Kabul by the forces of Messrs Hekmatyar & Co. And Afghanistan will mot likely be partitioned among a number of warlords backed by ambitious neighbours like Iran, Pakistan and Soviet Muslim republic of Kazakhistan. In a new civil war, the enfeebled Afghan state may then disintegrate with a violence which will make Lebanese passions look like child’s play.

If Afghanistan is to survive as a country, its people must be given a reasonable chance to establish a new state structure according to the tribal pluralism of its society. Peace, not war, is a prerequisite for that. That is why Pakistan should exclusively support the Tripartite approach under the umbrella of the United Nations as the only way out.

(TFT October 3-9, 1991 Vol-3, No.30 — Editorial)

The White Paper’s logic

The PDA’s impressive White Paper on electoral rigging is compulsory reading. It lays bare the massive manipulation and fraud which accompanied elections last October. It also helps clarify the driving logic of President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, the linchpin of an elaborate plan by the state to exclude Benazir Bhutto from power.

Tensions between Mr Khan and Ms Bhutto have existed at the personal and institutional level from day one. Long a mainstay of the dictatorial regime of Zia ul Haq which remained at extreme odds with the compulsions of the PPP, Mr Khan arrived at the Presidency in rather desperate circumstances. The armed forces, reeling from a sudden depletion of their high command, were keen to open up political space, not least because a burgeoning popular movement for the restoration of democracy was also banging at the doors of Islamabad and threatening to break them down.

Within weeks of the transfer of power, the President had summarily pre-empted the rules of the game. The Balochistan government was dismissed by Governor Musa, a Presidential nominee, but Bhutto was heaped with ignominy and blame. Soon thereafter, the CM Punjab, Mr Nawaz Sharif, also a remnant of the Zia regime, was encouraged to flout the writ of the federal government. Bhutto responded by determining to strip Mr Khan of his extraordinary powers under the 8th amendment. As a necessary first step, she sought to overthrow Mr Sharif in the Punjab assembly.

This unfortunate strategy merely served to confirm allegations that her party was inimical to democratic pluralism and wished to hog the show.

Tensions with the President inevitably grew — over the scope of his discretionary powers, rules of government, appointment of judges to the superior courts and foreign policy initiatives.

The President retaliated by encouraging the Ziaist opposition to vote her out of parliament. Although she survived the no-confidence motion, she mishandled the ethnic strife between Sindhis and Mohajirs following a split between the MQM and the PPP. Neither the armed forces nor the President were prepared to offer a helping hand. Because she also ran a corrupt and inefficient government, it was time for Mr Khan’s coup de grace.

This is where the White Paper steps in to fill an analytical void. It confirms what many have long suspected — that the dismissal of the Bhutto government last year was part of an elaborate plan by the state under President Ishaq to exclude the Peoples Party from power. The Paper meticulously documents the “malafide intent” of the President in the intimidatory and discriminatory manner of the dissolution of the national and provincial assemblies. It highlights the partisan objectives of the interim cabinet. The President’s intentions are revealed by his statements and speeches during the run up to the elections. It proves the establishment of an “election cell” in the Presidency and alleges that it “was used on election night to alter certain results” and to “disseminate anti-PPP propaganda in the press”. It explains how the judiciary was manipulated by the President when it was petitioned to overturn the dissolution orders. It shows how the President rigged the Election Commission by staffing it with officers known for their “anti-PPP bias”.

In short, the White Paper is damning indictment of how the President acted “capriciously, vexatiously and for political purposes” in ousting Bhutto and subsequently “preparing and filing seventeen references” against the PPP and rigging the elections in order to thwart her quest for power.

The White Paper’s publication is timely for several reasons. While it removes nagging doubts about the President’s intentions, more important it helps explain his stony silence in the wake of recent charges of corruption, patronage and misuse of power by the Sharif government. How can the president possibly countenance action against this government or hold it accountable when his own long-term survival depends on the longevity of this regime? No wonder, too, because the President has painted himself into a corner, Mr Jam Sadiq and son-in-law Irfanullah Marwat are allowed to get away with blue-murder in Sindh.

The White Paper lays bare the crisis of legitimacy which haunts the Pakistani state. Unable to come to terms with the democratic demands of our times, the Ziaist state is flouting the forms of democracy and robbing them of their true content. President Ishaq has donned the ceremonial robes of Zia ul Haq and brought the evolution of a democratic political culture to a halt.

The way ahead is blocked by the logic of his actions. If Bhutto is disqualified in any of the Presidential references, the PDA will most certainly quit the assemblies, take to the streets in frustration and court arrest. So we will be thrown back to the beginning of political time, with the spectre of martial law once again beckoning us as the only way out of a historical logjam. That is why the President could do much worse by not holding the current prime minister to accountability and insisting upon a referendum to ascertain the legitimacy of his government.

(TFT October 10-16, 1991 Vol-3, No.31 — Editorial)

“It’s raining, it’s pouring, The old man is snoring”

Old habits die hard. Twenty seven minutes into the 9 pm news on Sunday 6th October, Pakistan Television finally relented and put us out of our agony by leaking news of the four bombs which shook Karachi. The briefing, which came 9 hours after the events, took exactly 58 seconds. Days earlier, the government-controlled media had consumed hours of prime time and gallons of ink to proclaim that the prime minister had toured Jam Sadiq’ flefdom and given him a clean bill of health.

Benazir Bhutto was kicked out because she was corrupt and inefficient, because she couldn’t control law and order. Or so we were told. Take a look around you now. Sindh is already another country. Balochistan is run by drug warlords. The Frontier is paying the price of our Afghan ‘jehad’ long after the ‘jehad’ has come to an end. And Punjab has been bled dry by a new breed of robber-barons who lord over federal ministries and government committees while doling out billions to themselves from the public exchequer and the poor man’s hard-earned kitty.

And what of all the tall premises made by Mr Nawaz Sharif to catapult Pakistan into the 21st century-economy? The Japanese ambassador’s surprising lack of inscrutability says it all. If you don’t believe him, ask any businessman who funded Mian Sahib’s election campaign last year and you will get more than an earful. Sure, finance minister Mr Sartaj Aziz has cajoled the IMF to bail him out temporarily. But, by surreptitiously invoking the agenda of mini-budgets and raising utility rates, he has lost his bet with Benazir Bhutto several times over. Sure, ten new private banks are on the anvil. But who’s going to stop certain BCCI-indicted crooks from grabbing the money and running? Sure, there’s a grand clearance sale on 115 state enterprises. But businessmen aren’t exactly tripping over themselves to steal the goodies. Sure, sugar and textile mills are sprouting like mushrooms. But who can tell the difference between the sellers and the buyers?

As for law and order, the pigeons are coming home to roost, notwithstanding all the special courts and threats of hanging criminals in public squares are over the country. Gen Fazle Haq has paid his dues but his son is gunning for the TNFJ and the Iranians. The ASS is on the loose. The prime minister’s partners, the Jamaat-i-Islami and the MQM, have rolled up their sleeves and are itching to have a got at each other. Even the unscrupulous Mr Sadiq, who suffers from a nasty form of diarrhoea called ‘PPP-bashing’, has tired of pinning his woes on his avowed enemies — in the first few seconds after the recent bombs went off, he didn’t jump down their throats and arrest the few who remain under siege. Meanwhile, journalists are getting it in the neck for daring to tell the truth.

What about the health of our so-called democratic system? The PDA’s white paper has nailed the lie about electoral fairness. The references against Bhutto, the persecution of the PPP in Sindh, the manner in which the 12th amendment t the constitution war rammed through — all testify to its ailing condition. And even to his supporters, the President appears to have chucked neutrality to the wind and donned the garb of Zia ul Haq.

Welcome, Mr Tanvir Ahmad Khan, to your new post as Secretary Information and Chairman, Pakistan Broadcasting Corp! We appreciate your dash to Karachi recently to enquire after the health of journalist Mr Kamran Khan who was mauled by the forces of terror. But take our advice. At the rate at which people are being rubbed out, you should get on to your green line pronto and order an uninterrupted supply of wreaths from the local flower shop.

Chairman Mao once referred to himself in his old age as a philosopher with a leaky umbrella. Clearly, he isn’t a patch on our own home-spun Wittgensteins, with President Ishaq, PM Sharif and CM Sadiq taking the cake. The country is going to the dogs but it is business as usual in Islamabad. What was that nursery rhyme? “It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring.”

(TFT October 17-23, 1991 Vol-3, No.32 — Editorial)

Desperate times

We have seen the world’s political landscape alter decisively between two television news bulletins. The Soviet Empire has crumbled and all power has at last gone to the people. A full scale civil war rages in the heart of Europe. Democracy and development are the new buzz words for Latin America. The Arab world is about to change incontrovertibly, with the Middle East peace conference due later this month. Heady times, for some.

But not for Pakistan. For Pakistan, these are desperate times. The Americans have abandoned Islamabad and Europe seems to be following suit. The world’s only well-stacked creditor, Japan, is so distressed with the government that the Japanese Ambassador’s statements have turned him into a local celebrity. For most Asian countries, Japan is the new power and even before that era has properly dawned, Mr Sharif’s credibility in Tokyo is hovering around zero.

Is there any chance that Pakistan will respond sensibly and in it’s greater national interest to the new world that is upon us? There has been a great deal of running around, on the part of the Foreign Office, cabinet ministers and even the ISI chief. And it has all gone to show one thing. That Pakistan’s political establishment is as divided over foreign policy as it has ever been. That Nawaz Sharif has proved incapable of giving the country either a vision or a direction.

Look at the facts. We are still stuck in a war in Afghanistan, about three years after the rest of the world has lost interest. The recent offensive against Gardez demonstrates that although the Foreign Office is ostensibly pursuing peace, the military still wants to talk tough. Pakistan’s credibility on this issue stands at its lowest ebb, because we have lied about our intentions for too long. The more protracted the Afghan war, the more military successes the fundamentalist Mujahedin notch up, the greater will be the suspicion in Moscow and Washington that we are not serious about peace.

For those who may be in doubt, we are mired in a war in Kashmir. As the Indian army intensifies it’s repression, Pakistan increases it’s help to the Kashmiri militants. In the past few months there have been a number of serious scares that cross border shelling could escalate into a full scale war. There is nothing new or ingenious about Pakistan’s Kashmir policy. It lacks coherence and seems not to take into account the fact that we need peace with India, not just to prosper but to survive.

And as if all that were not enough, we are bang in the middle of a tug of war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. This played itself out first in Afghanistan and now perhaps more seriously, in the bitter and bloody sectarian strife between Pakistan’s Shias and Wahhabis. Witness the violence and blood-curdling proclamations from both sides. Witness the chaos in once-peaceful backwaters like Jhang in the heart of the Punjab. Where in all of this is a serious effort on the part of the government to prevent outside funding of sectarian parties?

The cold war is over and with it has gone our ‘front line’ status. It is time to rid ourselves of the 1950’s mindset which confirmed us in our station as a linchpin of American strategy in the region. The West and its allies have paid our bills for 44 long years. They are not interested any more. We need to look to ourselves for our salvation and to neighbours closer home. We need to re-examine our bomb-in-the-basement mentality for something more feasible. We cannot wish the New World Order away. It exists and we have to look it squarely in the face.

Today, you cannot avoid the conclusion that Pakistan’s foreign policy is adrift. While President Ghulam Ishaq Khan waxes eloquent about a new imperialism in such well known anti-imperialism in such well known anti-imperialist capitals as Riyadh, foreign diplomats in Islamabad snigger at his naivete. The new Islamic block that will somehow turn the world around, is actually lining up behind the West as fast as it can. Even Iran has beaten us at the pragmatism game. More to the point, there is no resonance between Mr Khan’s proclamations in Saudi Arabia and those of the Foreign Office or even the Prime Minister. Is it true then that the Foreign Office is not immune to the national malaise of fragmentation? Has our country’s foreign policy been divided into fiefdoms by the warlords of present day Pakistan?

 

(TFT October 24-30, 1991 Vol-3, No.33 — Editorial)

Cricket in topsy-turvydom

In the Red Queen’s topsyturvy world behind the looking glass, the people had to run as hard as they could in order to stay in the same place. In the uncharted domain of Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif and Co. all their befuddled running seems contrived only to lose rather than gain ground. The objectives, if any, get further by the day. Mr Sharif claimed the other day that he was not a man of the ststus quo. He has not yet given much practical evidence of that, and whatever breaks from the so-called status quo he has caused to happen, or given moens of being in store, hold no promise of leading this benighted nation into the future. They make the past, the 50s, 60s, and even in some part the colonial years, look a shade or two like Shangri-La.

In politics, the small-mindedness of what is current is bewildering. The style, the tactics, the manner of speech the PM and, no doubt at his bidding, his satraps have adopted towards the opposition has, in less than a year, made politics an obscenity. This attitude of the government has inflicted wounds that look impossible to heal. It has set precedents that only a worse catastrophe might help erase. Last week’s speeches in the National Assembly or the PM’s earlier campaign assaults in his public rallies were only the latest exhibition of this consuming passion.

While Mr Sharif plays cricket, a myopic pettiness becomes rampant. Messrs Jam and Marwat in Sindh, for instance, are only tools, if shrewdly chosen for their boundless malice, ruthlessness and absence of scrupled. It is the choosing and assigning of the mission to them that merits all the credit that is due. Similarly, IJI’s cohabitation with the MQM may be normal politics, but doesn’t the purposes this has been put to fall in the category of thuggery? Consider the seeds of poison this cynical politics of convenience has sown. There can only be a whirlwind of disasters to reap. In tackling the alarming law and order situation, too, the government has shown a similar lack of imagination. In a society notorious for police excesses and for its liability on one procedural count or another to miscarriage of justice, the government’s paroxysms of bloodthirstiness promise no progress towards a millennium. It only augments the repressive levers of a repression-prone government without doing anything at all to control lawlessness.

The drum-beating over the NFC and water accords has not ceased and already both are threatening to come unstuck. Above the loyal back-thumping, a distinct grumbling about having been short-changed can be heared from all the provinces. There is also griping within the ruling coalition over such aspects as the royalty for NWFP electricity and who should pay it and whether or not the Kalabagh Dam will have to be built over somebody’s dead body.

As for the privatisation spree — it does promise to fill a part of the states empty coffers. The juma bazar held the other day for 100-odd units did not exactly cause a stampede, but there were a few bids for about 80 profitable concerns. However, the manner in which the process is unfolding threatens an even worse disarray in future. In the absence of infrastructure and institutional facilities, industrial power will again, as in the 60s, begin increasingly to get concentrated in a few hands, more so given our present rulers’ tendency to heap favours on their chosen few.

In the public sector, longer term development planning remains on ice. The annual development plans, such as they are, are haredly being pursued with any earnestness. And the much-touted Tameer-i-Watan programme seems designed to do tameer only of the political future of some loyalists. As for sectors like education and health, housing and labour welfare, even the government’s statement-issuing machine is at a loss.

Where in all this is there evidence of a desire to break from the status quo? A government whose principal pre-occupation is to paralyse if not eliminate the opposition, a government which governs to the extent that it can politically shore itself up, cannot really cultivate the vision or the resources for an imaginative break from the abominable past. It cannot advance towards a harmonious and reconstructive national order. It can only create a topsy-turvydom like the Red Queen’s, where, among other things, punishment came first, trial next, and crime last, if at all.

(TFT Oct 31-06 Nov. 6, 1991 Vol-3, No.34 — Editorial)

Having his cake and eating too

It has taken President Ishaq Khan one full year to tell us that he filed the References against Benazir Bhutto on the advice of interim prime minister Mustafa Jatoi. The President’s argument is apparently like this: (1) the scope of his discretionary powers does not extend to this area and he can only act on the advice of the PM (2) that therefore the responsibility for the cases against Bhutto falls squarely on Mr Jatoi’s shoulders rather than his own (3) that unless PM Nawaz Sharif advises him to withdraw the cases against Bhutto or file references against him (Nawaz Sharif), he cannot do so off his own bat (4) that since this latter option is not even remotely possibe as long as Mian Sahib remains PM and fears a resurgent Bhutto, the President is duty bound to ignore any possible indiscretions of power committed by the sitting PM.

The President is, in effect, saying that he is not responsible for the current political mess and that without a revolutionary change of heart and mind in Mian Nawaz we are doomed to slide into political anarchy!

With due deference to the President, we canot buy his defence. Nor do most Pakistanis any longer. First, using his discretionary powers, the President dismissed Bhutto; then, using his discretionary powers, he appointed Mr Jatoi as PM. As his hand-picked PM, Mr Jatoi duly asked him tofile references agianst Bhutto and the Presidetn dutifully obliged. when Bhutto challenged the dissolution of the assemblies, the courts followed the logic of the Haji Saifullah case and asked the President to furnish ‘evidence’ justifying his action. The President’s handpicked comrade, Mr Roedad Khan, did just that. Since the references were already before the Special Courts created by a Presidental Ordinance, the judges hpheld the President’s orders.

This is very neat, isn’t it? Mr Khan appears to acquire an all-powerful mind of his own when it suits him. And when it doesn’t, he conveniently retreats into a deaf and dumb posture signifying all and nothing.

Mian Nawaz Sharif leads a chamred life. Having chosen him to replace Bhutto, the President can hardly tick him off in public for, inm so doing, he would only be casting serious doubts upon his own judgement (which, of course, must remain infallible to the disastrous end). Nor can Bhutto be allowed to win back her lost office. That would be tantamount to accepting a public rebuke of many of his actions and of course the public has no business rebuking the President, whether through elections or otherwise.

So, if Bhutto isn’t conceivably an ‘option’ to Mian Sharif, who, pray tell, fits the Presidential bill if it should come to that? Muhammad Khan Junejo? Possibly, but the man had the nerve to annoy Gen Zia and who knows, maybe he hasn’t learnt from that particular experience. Mustafa Jatoi? Probably. You cannot find a more docile and compromising candidate in the country — with him as PM, the President and the COAS could run the country while he busies himself cutting ribbons and looking good on TV. Small wonder then that Mr Jatoi didn’t waste any time getting the President off the hook.

The President is clearly in no great hurry to give Mian Sahib a dose of the same cavalier treatment he dished out to Bhutto last year. But if Mian Nawaz Sharif doesn’t get his act together, might we soon see an action-replay of the no-confidence motion against Bhutto in 1989?

Even if we do, chances are that Mian Sahib, loaded as he is to the brim, will easily buy off the rats who threaten to leave ship. A vote of no-confidence against him could be misplaced — apart from disrupting the business of government it is no real solution to the deep-rooted problems at hand. Nor can we afford the charade of another round of rigged elections and the inevitable acrimony that is bound to follow.

What we do need desperately, in the larger national interest,is some sort of introspection in the Presidency. For one, the opposition has a legitimate role to play and it should not be hounded to the wall. For another, the reckless Mian Sahib needs a rap on the knuckles — some of his blunders and scandals cannot be tolerated any more.

President Ishaq Khan would do well to get off his wooden horse and play the role of senior statesman that is expected of his office. He cannot have his cake and eat it too. His explanatory logic is self-serving and circular. And the costs to democracy and stability are far too high for us to ignore the continuing ramifications of his patent stubbornness.

(TFT November 7-13, 1991 Vol-3, No.35 — Editorial)

Illusion and Reality

“The Arab parties have entered the Middle East Conference bearing white flags” wrote one respected Pakistani scholar, “the outcome, if there is one, shall be Israel’s confirmation as the nuclear-powered hegemon of the Middle-East”. True. But this is hardly a startling revelation; we have known this fact since 1979 when Egypt’s Anwar Sadat ditched the Palestinians and signed on the dotted line at Camp David.Surely, a US-dictated Middle East conference was not required to reaffirm this reality.

Another local commentator noted the “key assumptions of the American-Israeli strategy” thus: “the Arabs can no longer present a united front against Israel… they are in no position nor have the political will to take on Israel… they are tired of the Intifada and are willing, ready and able to ditch the Palestinians… the balance of power now stands firmly in Israel’s favour… Camp David can now be replayed”. But surely these are not questionable US-Israeli assumptions, these are cold realities for all, players and bystanders alike.

It is surprising therefore that the same commentator should indulge in some fancy wishful thinking: “Collective economic and political pressure”, says he, “could have been mounted by the Arabs on the US, a pressure that could have translated into a tighter American screw on Israel. The role of Arab states as spoilers, as countries that are able to deny the US some of their key objectives, should not be underestimated. Now, it seems, such a role will be played…. by those actively engaged in the struggle, particularly in Lebanon and in the Intifada”.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The crippled Lebanese factions are under the thumb of Syria while the Intifada is umbilically linked to the PLO. And both Syria and the PLO, despite their thrill rhetoric of the past, are desperate participants in this Conference. As for the “collective economic and political pressure” which the Arabs could have been expected to mount upon the US, the less said the better. For too long, we have been blind to the real politik realities of the Middle-East. The reactionary, authoritarian Arab states are irredeemably bankrupt, the Arab peoples are demoralised, dispirited and fragmented. It has taken many futile wars with Israel, including one recently between the Arabs themselves, to come to this realisation. That is why, as the brilliant Palestinian intellectual Edward Said says, “no Palestinian can remain immune to the challenges and achievements of this conference”.

Of course, the US-sponsored Conference is patently unjust. Among other things, the UN has no role to play, the PLO is not formally represented and the Arabs of Jerusalem are without a voice. And of course, no great hopes should be entertained on the immediate outcome of these meetings in Madrid. It is impossible to undo in one round of talks the insecurities, horrors, suspicions, enmities and postures of whole generations of Israelis an Palestinians, of Jews and Muslims (though Jews and Muslims are not synonymous with Israelis and Palestinians respectively, despite the propaganda of the apologists of an illusionary “Islamic Ummah”).

But does it follow that one should outrightly condemn, as the Islamic fundamentalists of Iran have done or the “radical” and “extremist” Palestinians are doing, such a tainted peace conference as the one in Madrid? We think not.

A recklessly intransigent Israel has, at last, been forced to talk to a delegation of respected Palestinians whose vision is both moderate and reasonable: it is based on the 1988 Palestine National Council resolution calling for a two-state solution of land for peace according to UN Resolution 242 and 338. furthermore, Israel’s maximalist demands — no withdrawals, no recognition of the PLO, no Palestinian state, no self-determination, no discussion on Jerusalem — appear to be, for once, unacceptable even to its staunch Western supporters.

What, in fact, is a radical new development is the presence of the Israelies in Madrid, face to face with the Arabs for the first time in history. What is new and most welcome is the American pressure on Israel to exchange land for peace.

We should not spend too much time worrying about the maximalist position taken by Israel. That was to be expected. Instead, we should be elated that the Palestinians have finally succeeded in crossing the treacherous line in the sand drawn by the imperialist backers of Israel and, as the chief Palestine delegate Mr Haider Abdel-Shafi put it, “are finally able to narrate their own story”. That is exactly how all histories with an ending begin.

(TFT November 14-20, 1991 Vol-3, No.36 — Editorial)

Fiddling while Rome burns

Forget Mian Nawaz Sharif’s rhapsodies in praise of himself. Forget his pathetic performance on TV last week, even if it reminds you of Richard Nixon during Watergate. Focus instead on what PPP Senator Yahya Bakhtiar has said recently.

Mr Bakhtiar cautioned Nawabzada Nasrullah & Co from urging the President “to take matters into his own hands and dismiss the government of Nawaz Sharif”. His argument is that by so doing the opposition will only confer such powers on the President as have not even been accorded under the controversial 8th Amendment. “One cannot allow the President to become Hobbes’ Leviathian”, he observed, “no matter how pressing temporary political objectives may be”.

Mr Bakhtiar also pointed out that these demands are inconsistent with the legal position taken by the PPP that the Presidential references against PPP leaders were “illegal, malafide and unconstitutional”. The proper course, he argued, is for the opposition to try and get rid of Mian Sahib, if they can, through a vote of no-confidence.

We agree with this line of constitutional reasoning, although we might suggest that “Thatherising” Mian Sahib might be preferable to “Bhuttoising” him. As for Nawabzada & Co, this is not the first time they have tried to jump the constitution. Not so long ago, they were exhorting Gen Aslam Beg to “save the country” from the clutches of Mian Nawaz Sharif.

The President may or may not relish the idea of becoming more powerful. But all these recipes for greater Presidential powers (including Senator Tariq Chaudhry’s scheme) are unhealthy. As it is, the current crisis is an outcrop of the controversial use of ‘discretionary’ powers by the President. It all began with his disputes with Bhutto which led to her dismissal last year. Next, the President unleashed a blatantly partisan process which led to the formation of Mr Jatoi’s interim government and references against Bhutto. Inevitably, what followed was the most rigged elections in Pakistani history. If the President had been neutral and less powerful, we might have avoided the whole mess.

The current situation is fraught with perilous consequences. The organs of the state are not prepared to countenance a quick return to power of the PPP after its rather dismal performance earlier. Bhutto, in turn, clings to some of the legacies of her father which are unacceptable to large chunks of public opinion. On the other side, Nawaz Sharif’s IJI has exposed itself rather quicker than expected as inefficient, corrupt and intolerant. Finally, Ishaq Khan has run out of options by openly siding with the IJI brigands. In short, the prime minister, leader of the opposition and the President are all stripping themselves of their relevance and, dare we say it, legitimacy.

The probability is that we shall hiccup along until the rumblings in Rawalpindi become audible. Fortunately, that may not  happen for some months to come; the new army chief needs time to consolidate his power base and spread his wings. Also, the army is in no rush to act prematurely; there are too many contentious issues — tensions with India, deadlock with the US, the Afghan problem — which are better left to be tackled by elected representatives than by a military dictatorship.

When, however, the military does decide to flex its muscle, as indeed it inevitably must if the politicians continue to squabble, it could conceivably act to change the system. Instead of a controversial President, we could then end up with a powerful National Security Council in which the armed forces directly call the shots.

Surely, no politician can accept such constitutional tinkering. Yet, that is exactly where we are headed if the three topdogs do not get off their high horses.

The prescription is clear. First, the President must redress his wrongs: withdraw the references against Bhutto, restrain or replace Jam Sadiq so that the necessary conditions for restoring Sindh to democratic rule can be obtained and caution Sharif to rein in his towering ambitions. Second, Sharif should concentrate on running a good government and learn to live and let live. Third, Bhutto should play the role of an honourable leader of the opposition until it is fairly time for the next elections. Nothing can be gained by all the kettles on the boiler calling all the pots in the oven black.

Without suitable prodding and adjustments, however, we can hardly expect Sharif or Bhutto to stop clawing at each other, so great is their mutual sense of self-righteousness and outrage. That is why the ball is fairly in the President’s court. Rather than playing silly games with Senator Tariq Chaudhry and Nawabzada Nasrullah, rather than driving Bhutto to desperation and giving a long rope to Sharif, he should put his act together, within the space allowed by the constitution, and set the system on the rails again. Or, if it is way past his bedtime, the octogenarian should hand over his responsibilities to younger, less branded man.

(TFT November 21-27, 1991 Vol-3, No.37 — Editorial)

Cart before the horse

Pakistan is currently involved in complex negotiations with US Undersecretary for International Security, Mr Reginald Bartholomew, over its status as a nuclear power. The final outcome of these crucial talks, which is some ways off, should determine whether Pakistan is accepted as an honourable member in the comity of democratic nations or is ultimately branded a “rogue regime” and isolated internationally.

Therefore, whatever decisions we take on untying the nuclear knot without jeopardising our genuine security concerns should be rational, enlightened and perceptive. Equally, for such decisions to be implementable and enduring, it is necessary that they be based on a consensus in society which, it should not be forgotten, is pluralistic in nature with several centres of power vying for supremacy.

Pakistan has three options. It can retain its status of “nuclear ambiguity”, it can test a nuclear device and put its bomb on the shelf or it can agree to a “temporary restraint” in its nuclear programme pending the acceptance by India of the 5-Nation proposals. Pakistan, of course, is committed to signing the NPT on equal-terms with India.

Clearly, it is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain our ambiguous posture for much longer. The fact is that our nuclear programme is not hidden from the Americans — that is why US aid was cut-off last year — and we have already lost the moral high ground. Consequently, economic, political and military pressure on Pakistan is likely to increase if we refuse to budge. A logical outcome over time would be for Pakistan to be isolated internationally, shorn of economic assistance and crippled in conventional defence capabilities. Since diminishing returns have set in, sticking to this position cannot be advocated.

We could, alternatively, test a nuclear device and push for stocking a nuclear deterrent against India. Apart from attracting all the international penalties of being a “rogue regime”, an exhausting arms race with India beyond the “multiple-nuclear deterrent” stage (which is what it would logically amount to) is absolutely the last thing any rational Pakistani would want.

A third option merits serious consideration. Should Pakistan agree to a “temporary restraint” (rather than an unambiguous “roll-back”) on its nuclear programme which allows it to “skirt” the Pressler Amendment (thereby restoring sorely-needed economic and military aid) and gives the Americans sufficient elbow-room to pressurise the Indians to accept a non-discriminatory non-proliferation regime in South Asia?

This is an attractive proposition. It depends, of course, on our ability to sit with the Americans and hammer out the technical modalities of such “restraint” so that we can remain a screw-driver’s turn away from our present position yet allow them “sufficient” space to waive Pressler and shore up our conventional defences. The Americans would also be expected to lean on India and negotiate our 5-Nation proposals. We might be also advised, in the bargain, to insist on debt relief from our Western friends.

There is, however, one major problem with this approach. How can Mian Nawaz Sharif “sell” this idea to the public at large, in particular to the leader of the opposition Benazir Bhutto, without being accused, however unfairly, of “selling out” on Pakistan’s security concerns? Mian Sahib has hurled the most vile abuse against Bhutto =. His government has unleashed a horrible campaign of repression against her party. His mentor, the President, is seeking to dismember her party and disqualify her for seven years. How can anyone reasonably expect a legitimate response from an opposition denied all legitimate forms of expression?

No, if the sufficient condition for obtaining international legitimacy is to appropriately “restrain” our nuclear programme, a necessary condition to sell such “restraint” at home is to cobble together a national consensus in support of the cause. Without mending fences with the opposition and taking it into confidence, much as former prime minister Mohammad Khan Junejo did before Pakistan signed the Geneva Accords, talking to the Americans on the nuclear issue would be akin to putting the cart before the horse.

The real irony is that Mian Sahib has publicly accused Ms Bhutto of “leaking” nuclear secrets to foreign journalists (which is a load of rubbish) while he is secretly negotiating with the Americans to find a way out of Pakistan’s nuclear impasse. He did much the same thing during the Gulf war — while publicly supporting the Allies against Iraq he accused Bhutto of pandering to the Americans!

The Americans should not be oblivious to the spite with which the government and the opposition in Pakistan treat each other. As things stand, there is no possibility of any national consensus on how Pakistan should deal with the US in order to untie the nuclear knot. Mr Reginald Bartholomew would be advised not to put all his nuclear eggs in the basket proffered by Messrs Ghulam Ishaq and Nawaz Sharif. Pakistan desperately needs to put its own house in order before it should be taken seriously by its friends abroad.

(TFT November 21-27, 1991, Vol-3, No.37 — Article)

Tough agenda for US-Pak talks on nuclear question

Despite the secrecy in which current discussions between Mr Reginald Bartholomew, US Undersecretary for International Security, and the Pakistani establishment are likely to be shrouded, because of the sensitive nature of security issues involved, it is nevertheless possible to raise the curtain on the tough agenda for these talks.

Mr Bartholomew’s visit to Pakistan comes after the exploratory visit to Pakistan in October of Ms Teresita Schaffer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for South Asia. Gen Joseph P Hoar, Commander in Chief of the US Central Command has also held informal talks with the Pakistani brass November 16-17.

Mr Bartholomew was scheduled to visit Pakistan earlier but the trip was postponed for unspecified reasons. It may, however, be reasonably speculated that the Americans were keen to assess Indian and Chinese positions on certain regional issues before initiating detailed talks with Pakistan.

Mr Bartholomew’s visit now comes after the visit to India last week by Mr Edward Abington, Director, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh Affairs at the Department of State in Washington. Mr Abington, who is also in Pakistan these days to assist Mr Bartholomew, served in the US Embassy in Islamabad a couple of years ago and is a seasoned “Pakistan hand”. The visit is also timed to come after the important trip some days ago to China of US Secretary of State Mr James Baker.

The Americans, in the interim, have also sounded out the leader of the opposition, Ms Benazir Bhutto. The US Ambassador in Pakistan, Mr Nicholas Platt, along with Mr Edward Fugit (chief political officer in the US Embassy) met with Ms Bhutto and a couple of her lieutenants recently to explore how far the PPP would go in supporting joint Pakistan-American initiatives to resolve the nuclear knot.

Mr Bartholomew, who is proceeding to India after talks in Pakistan, is therefore suitably geared up to negotiate with both Pakistan and India on a whole range of regional issues. He will hold separate discussions with the President, Prime Minister, Foreign Office officials and the Chief of Army Staff.

Although he is expected to touch on all aspects of US relations with Pakistan and India including Indo-Pak relations (drugs, human  rights, Kashmir, etc) it is clear that his brief will concentrate on nuclear-related perceptions and proposals which affect the resumption of US military and economic assistance to Pakistan.

Accompanying Mr Bartholomew, but expected to maintain a low public profile, is Mr Steve Aoki who is the nuclear proliferation technical expert attached to the State Department. For the first time a technical expert on nuclear science will be on call to assist a senior US official in high-level and sensitive talks with the Pakistani establishment.

According to sources, the US is also seeking to ascertain the extent to which the Pakistani government, opposition and establishment are able to speak with one voice on the nuclear issue. The Americans are expected to pay particular attention to the approach, emphasis, form and content of the positions taken by the President, the Prime Minister and the Army Chief on Pakistan’s nuclear options.

The presence of a technical expert on nuclear proliferation as an aide to Mr Bartholomew also suggests that they are keen to examine (1) scientific matters relating to the stage of Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons programme, including the possibilities of a sufficient “roll-back” of Pakistan’s programme to pre-April 10, 1990 positions (2) how the conditionalities imposed by the Pressler Amendment can be waived and military aid restored to Pakistan (3) how Pakistan’s 5-Nation proposals for regional non-proliferation can be advanced under a US-USSR-China umbrella.

Understandably, therefore, there is some speculation that Mr Bartholomew may bring with him a “package” of proposals in which a give-and-take modus operandi between the two countries can be arrived at satisfactorily. Although US and Pakistani sources rightly insist that no “package deal” is in the offing and that Mr Bartholomew is only here to explore “ideas”, it might be worth discussing the conceivable contours of such a mutual “exploration” of “nuclear options”.

The first option is for Pakistan to retain nuclear “ambiguity”, refuse to “roll-back” and continue to press for the 5-Nation regional proposals put forward earlier. The advantages of sticking to this position are (1) Pakistan would retain its nuclear “deterrent” (fear of the unknown) without losing the “moral” high ground of being a non-nuclear state (2) Pakistan could simultaneously stake a claim for a nuclear umbrella from the big powers in the event of a conflict with India (3) Pakistan would be able to build up its conventional defence forces in return for “not going the whole way” with the bomb.

Over time, however, such a position could become untenable, especially if the US perceives Pakistan to be secretly shoring up its “not-so invisible” nuclear deterrent. In actual fact, the moral high ground is already wearing thin while the conventional arms buildup has been dangerously threatened by a cut off in new US weapons and spares. Pakistan’s 5-Nation regional proposals have been dismissed by the Indians as a “propaganda ploy” and “gimmick” and further progress has been stalled pending a real “signal” from Pakistan that it is serious about non-proliferation in South Asia.

Consequently, if Pakistan refuses to budge, the pressure o it could conceivable increase. Although the US administration is inclined to view Pakistan’s case with some sympathy and would like to retain leverage with it, the US Congress is in a nasty mood. Given that Pakistan has no strong lobby on Captal Hill, unlike the Indians, the US might eventually be pushed to take punitive measures against Pakistan. These could include any or all of the following: (1) cancel existing leases of ships to the Pak navy, cancel orders for F-16s temporarily on hold and sell these aircraft to some other country (2) foreclose Pakistani options to buy weapons and spares on the open market (3) put Pakistan on its list of “terrorist” countries (for covert assistance to the Kashmiris and Sikhs (4) pressurise international economic aid donors to halt aid (5) secretly team up with India and/or Israel to “take-out” Pakistan’s nuclear research facilities (6) look “the other way” while India embarks upon a war with Pakistan for the same purpose (7) get tougher with China vis a vis its supply of ballistic missiles to Pakistan.

The logical outcome of such pressure over time would be to isolate Pakistan internationally, starve its economy, cripple its conventional military capability and “take-out” its nuclear deterrent.

The second option for Pakistan is to go ahead and formally “test” a nuclear device, claim that it is a “peaceful” explosion much as India did in 1974, and then agree to sit down with India to sign the NPT as an “equal” nuclear power.

This line of argument by the pro-bomb lobby has adherents in the Pakistani armed forces and among sections of the Pakistani intelligentsia, notably the pressure group led by Gen (Retd) Mirza Aslam Beg which includes former foreign minister Mr Agha Shahi.

Th arguments of this “pro-bomb” lobby hinge on the assumption that the US is determined to reduce Pakistan to the status of Iraq, that it is backing India as the emphatic power in South Asia and that Pakistan will be no worse off than it is at present. On the contrary, they maintain, once Pakistan has become a nuclear-weapon state, its bargaining position vis a vis the US and India will improve and the chances of a non-discriminatory regional non-proliferation regime for South Asia will become brighter.

Critics, however, are quick to point out that once Pakistan becomes an overt nuclear-state, it will immediately lose the advantages of “nuclear ambiguity” and attract all the penalties of being a “rogue regime” — the West can and will get tougher. If the idea behind putting our bomb on the shelf is to provide a strategic deterrent against Indian ambitions, this is misplaced concreteness. Beyond the “multiple-nuclear” deterrent stage, an arms race with India is simply not feasible, says the anti-bomb lobby. At any rate, Pakistan has consistently supported a non-proliferation regime for South Asia and such a course of action would inevitably doom its 5-Nation proposals and push the world community into India’s lap.

A third option merits serious consideration. Can Pakistan agree to a “temporary restraint” on its nuclear programme in order to “skirt” the text of the Pressler Amendment and conform to its “spirit”, thereby giving the Americans greater elbow-room in nudging in the Indians to sit with the Pakistanis and hammer out an equitable non-proliferation regime in South Asia?

This is an attractive idea. It would enable Pakistan to retain its “nuclear ambiguity” (hence “nuclear blackmail” by India can be ruled out and Pakistan can truly occupy the moral high ground) as well as reinforce its conventional defences with American support.

A great deal, however, would depend on how the “technical modalities” of such “temporary restraint would be worked out between Pakistan and the US. Pakistan would need to assure itself that it would remain only within a screwdriver’s turn away from the bomb while the American administration would need to be able to demonstrate to Congress that the Pakistani gesture was “sufficient proof” of its commitment to non-proliferation in the region on equal terms with India. It would give the Americans time to work on India while ensuring that Pakistan’s defence insecurities are allayed by the restoration of the arms pipeline.

As for the meaning of “temporary restraint” in order to “skirt” the Pressler Amendment, Pakistan could “restrain” its nuclear programme only for as long as it takes to acquire US technology, reduce reliance on the US for its strategic defence and to determine if India will come round to its proposals for regional non-proliferation in South Asia. If the Americans are successful in negotiating Pakistan’s 5-Nation proposals with India, Pakistan could sign the NPT on an equal footing with India. If India remains intransigent, Pakistan could then fairly turn the screwdriver appropriately and return to its desired position.

What would such “restraint” mean in technical terms? Reportedly, Pakistan has the raw material and expertise to shape the core of nuclear weapons. If Pakistan agrees to “reform” or “cap” its weapons so that they become “un-useable” in the short-run, Pakistan would need to have the know-how to “re-shape” or “restore” its programme within a given time-frame, thereby allowing it to return to its “pre-reform stage” on its own steam if it so required later.

If the complex technical problems of “temporary restraint” can be sorted out, the US would be expected to reciprocate in a number of ways, (1) Put pressure on India for a regional solution to the nuclear question which is non-discriminatory and acceptable to Pakistan (2) give explicit and credible American commitments to defend Pakistan in the event of war with India (3) restore military and economic assistance to Pakistan, including an increase in military grants and state-of-the art technology (4) help to wipe out a sizeable chunk of Pakistan’s foreign debt.

Clearly, the idea behind this approach would be for Pakistan to retain its “bomb option” while becoming a recipient of US assistance. Equally significantly, it would put the ball squarely in India’s court and demonstrate Pakistan’s serious commitment to a non-discriminatory regional solution on nuclear-non-proliferation.

The second, perhaps most significant question, of “temporary restraint” relates to the ability of the Pakistani establishment to “sell” such an “idea” to its public on grounds of defence considerations. Without a national consensus on the desirability of such a course of action, it is unworkable. No sitting government can afford to be attacked by its political opponents for “rolling back” on the nuclear question. As in the case of the Geneva Accords, the government will be compelled to take the opposition into confidence.

Notwithstanding the obvious merits of “temporary restraint”, it is not going to be easy to work it out in practice. On the one hand, there are a host of complex technical issues to be sorted out. On the other, the current political situation in Pakistan is hardly conducive to a genuine rapproachment between the opposition and government. Although Ms Bhutto has declared her support for non-proliferation, it is understood she has told the Americans that she has no intention of letting Nawaz Sharif off the hook if he appears to be “rolling back” on Pakistan’s genuine security concerns in order to comply with American conditionalities.

In the meanwhile, India’s intransigence is becoming increasingly untenable. The Americans have reportedly told New Delhi that Indian Gandhi’s “Three-Tier” proposal no longer merits serious consideration and that India’s past performance and current foot-dragging on the NPT is out of step with a rapidly changing international environment. In this context, the recent support for a non-nuclear South Asian region by the Soviets and French should bring added pressure to bear on the Indian position. It is in this context that Indian moves to improve their bargaining position vis a vis the Americans — as for example the attempt to leak stories about the supply of nuclear technology to Iran — should be examined and countered.

As things stand, however, the likelihood is that in the current talks between Islamabad and Washington, the Americans will begin by insisting on an unambiguous “roll-back” on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme while emphasising the great significance of Pakistan coming into compliance with the Pressler Amendment. The Pakistanis, on the other hand, may be expected to adamantly push for the acceptance of their 5-Nation proposals by India and reject any attempt by the Americans to “freeze” an “imbalanced nuclear situation”.

The Pakistanis may also wish to incorporate into such regional proposals the idea of establishing a Nuclear Risk Reduction Centre under the umbrella of the Americans, Soviets and Chinese which would be broad enough in scope to take into account all potential crises between India and Pakistan, including troop movements, airspace violations etc.

Although no immediate solution to the US-Pak nuclear knot is in sight, the talks in Islamabad are expected to be frank and cordial. It is in the interests of both countries to explore ways and means of restoring mutually beneficial relations. A certain flexibility on both sides is the need of the hour.

(TFT Nov 28-04 Dec, 1991 Vol-3, No.38 — Editorial)

“Goodbye, goodbye, parting is such sweet sorrow”

As an opening batsman for the President’s Punters, Jam Sadiq Ali has played a scruffy innings against Bhutto’s Bounders. As per Presidential orders, the Governor and Corps Commander of Sindh stood as non-neutral umpires. For a runner, the Jam took Mr Irfanullah Marwat, the patron’s foxy son-in-law who preferred to carry a gun rather than a bat. Before the match began, the opposition’s bowlers were thrashed all over the place and forced to cool their heels in the clink.

One might have been forgiven therefore for predicting a rather one-sided match in which the Jam carried his bat through t the winning end. In the event, no such thing has happened. The rowdy crowd has lost patience. It has turned nasty and is set on pelting the President’s Punters back into the dressing room. Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan is now faced with the gloomy prospect of his star batsman having to retire hurt, leaving the match wide-open.

No cricketing metaphor can, however, describe the political anarchy into which Sindh has been plunged by Jam Sadiq Ali’s brand of state terrorism. If Benazir Bhutto allegedly had a hand in precipitating ethnic strife between Mohajirs and Sindhis during her eighteen months in power, Jam Sahib may have done more in one year to push Sindhi separatists into the lap of India than G.M. Syed and Qadir Magsi have been able to do in all their barren lives.

The response in Islamabad to this spectre has been predictably pathetic. Once again, the carcass of Al-Zulfikar was dragged out and flogged. Once again, an accusing finger was pointed at India for instigating unrest in the province. No one in the capital seemed to care two hoots about the root cause of the anguish of Sindh.

In fact, the breakdown of state authority in the province originates much earlier, to the time when Zia ul Haq nourished the MQM and pitted it as a fifth column against the ghost of the prime minister he so unjustly executed in 1979. Over time, the MQM has become an uncontrollable armed state within the state of Pakistan. And as long as every government in Islamabad is held hostage by the MQM, there can be no enduring peace or stability in Sindh.

That said, it needs to be emphasised that some, not many, of the demands of the MQM may be fair. By the same token, many, not some, of the demands of the PPP in Sindh are valid. But nothing can be resolved as long as Islamabad remains determined to reverse the orders of legitimacy. By crowning Messrs Jam Sadiq Ali, Irfanullah Marwat and Altaf Hussain as arbiters of the fate of Sindh, Islamabad has tried to drown the tragedy of Sindh in a sea of farce.

That Jam Sadiq’s dismal performance has all but failed to deliver may, however, be dawning on Islamabad, albeit belatedly. That is probably why some new brokers are now hedging their bets. The House of Hala has obviously got an approving nod from somewhere to try and bridge the gulf between the PPP and the MQM — how else does one explain the apparent warmth with which Makhdum Amin Fahim embraced and chatted with Mr Altaf Hussain the other day. On the other side, Makhdum Khaliquzzaman is also trying to make up with Benazir Bhutto. Whether or not the Hales can succeed in mediating between Benazir Bhutto and Altaf Hussain remains to be seen. Certainly there is no love lost between them — Ms Bhutto believes Mr Hussain to be a terrorist and he is convinced she is an Indian agent.

On stop-gap measure could be the installation of a compromise candidate as Chief Minister of Sindh. Such a person would be required to demonstrate absolute neutrality between the PPP and the MQM in Sindh. He would also be expected to allay the suspicions of the President and the fears of the army chief on several counts, not least among them being considerations of stability at the centre and peace in the province.

Although he carries a PPP tag, Makhdum Amin Fahim is not a controversial or ideological figure given to outbursts of rage or rhetoric. The House of Hala has survived for so long as a central fact of Sindhi political life precisely because of its robust pragmatism under martial law and democracy. It is just possible that that is the very virtue Sindh needs at this moment of outraged passions.

As for Jam Sahib, he is in the twilight of life. If he refuses to make way for a more sober and less branded man, we should spare no effort to show him the back door. But if he is ready to pack his bags and retire, parting could be such sweet sorrow.

(TFT December 05-11, 1991 Vol-3, No.39 — Editorial)

Only one way out

Nawabzada Nasrullah is an indefatigable foe. Despite his advancing years, he never gives up, does he? Having notched up the dismissal of two democratic governments under the Bhuttos, he is now seeking the demise of a third under Mian Nawaz Sharif. After the Nawabzada’s dubious success in 1977, we were saddled with eleven devastating years of Zia ul Haq. Now we are reaping the bitter harvest — rigged elections, corrupt government, persecuted opposition, a press under attack and a breakdown of law and order — of the booting of Benazir Bhutto last year in which he played no mean role.

That the Nawabzada’s ire at Benazir Bhutto was due in no small measure to her inability to support his quest for the Presidency in 1988 is no secret. That President Ghulam Ishaq has incurred the Nawabzada’s wrath today by speaking his mind, no matter how inopportunely or undiplomatically, is obvious. But such vindictiveness is not the sort of response on national issues one expects from a politician of long standing like the Nawabzada. The President’s views are clear. If the Nawabzada is interested in persuading him otherwise, no opportunity should be lost in seeking him out. Far from sulking, the Nawabzada should keep his avenues open to the Presidency.

Of course, we admit to the litany of charges levelled by the opposition against the government of President Ishaq. Yes, the President has been extremely partisan. Yes, Mian Nawaz Sharif’s government leaves much to be desired. Yes, the opposition has been dealt a rotten deal, especially in Sindh. But is that sufficient reason to agitate the downfall of the present government by hook or by crook? If Benazir Bhutto believes that the President dismissed her unfairly, she should apply the same yardstick and reject demands for the dismissal of Mian Nawaz Sharif. If she believes the President’s discretionary powers are misplaced, she should hardly be demanding that he exercise them again. Two wrongs never made a right.

That said, it takes two hands to clap. Early in the game, Bhutto appeared willing to come to terms with her short-term political fate. Despite her conviction that the elections to the national assembly were rigged, she refused to give in to party pressure to boycott the provincial polls. Soon thereafter, she declared she was reconciled to letting Nawaz Sharif govern provided the opposition was allowed its legitimate role. She even went so far as to congratulate Mr Sharif on the Shariat Bill.

From the other side, however, there has been no let up in the pressure to banish her from politics altogether. Apart from the one-sided Presidential references which have sapped her political energies, her husband has been brutally victimised. In Sindh, Jam Sadiq has tried to decimate her party by a policy of state terrorism. In between, she has been accused of being anti-state for allegedly betraying nuclear secrets to foreign journalists. Hardly the sort of treatment one metes out even to one’s sworn tribal enemies rather than to the leader of the opposition with only fractional less voter support than the government in power, even if we go by the controversial results of the elections of last year. No, neither President Ishaq nor Mr Sharif have been ready to concede an inch where, in all fairness, much more should be expected and demanded.

No wonder, there is such bitter polarization. And President’s Ishaq’s stubbornness, for that is exactly what it is, has created an untenable situation. On one side, he is prosecuting the PPP for alleged corruption. On the other, he seems blind t the havoc Mian Sahib and his cronies have wrought with the banking system in amassing such huge fortunes.

What, then, should the President do? Dismiss Nawaz Sharif, initiate references against him too and call for fresh elections? No. It would serve no realistic purpose. Logically speaking, he would end up disqualifying every second politician in sight without guaranteeing that we would not be stuck with another lot of crooks. Nor can we afford another round of elections, especially if, in the absence of a consensus on electoral reform, these are also likely to be rigged as in 1990 and lead into another cul-de-sac.

No, the only way out is to withdraw the cases against Bhutto, release Zardari and get rid of Jam Sadiq and Irfanullah Marwat. In return, the opposition should allow for a compromise candidate to preside over Sindh, one who is acceptable to the MQM and the PPP, and let Mian Nawaz Sharif get on with the job of government.

I Islamabad does not pull back now, the scenario is all too clear. The disqualification of Bhutto for seven years is on the cards. After she has no stakes left in the system, what option is there for her but to pull out from the assemblies and take to the streets. What follows then is equally predictable: civil disobedience and disruption; arrests, exile and more persecution. Back to the MRD in 1983. Hardly the picture we want to paint of an authoritarian and divided Pakistan as it take its first precious steps into the new century.

(TFT December 12-18, 1991 Vol-3, No.40 — Editorial)

The price of press freedom

During the dark years of Gen Zia ul Haq, journalists were publicly flogged, imprisoned or went into exile. When in 1988 The Frontier Post in Peshawar printed ten lines about how the General had dipped into the state exchequer (Rs 80 lacs) for his wife’s medical treatment in London, Gen Akhtar Abdur Rahman of the ISI pressurised the paper’s owner to dispense with the services of his editor and 17 other journalists.

Then, long with a muddled transition to democracy, came press freedom. Mohammad Khan Junejo removed controls on publishing and the press began to boom. Benazir Bhutto went some steps further: she curtailed the obnoxious practice of “press advice” and abolished the system of newsprint quotas which had hitherto kept the press in line. While she constantly complained about being misquoted and hated the tags attached to her husband, she never lifted a finger against the Pakistani media. In the event, a free press played no mean role in exposing the bunglings of her government.

As chief minister of Punjab, Mian Nawaz Sharif learnt the strengths and limitations of the press early and quickly. He used his discretionary fund to bribe weak-willed journalists with plots and loans in return for attacking the Bhutto government. When he came to power, however, he was inclined to be less than tolerant. That is why the newsprint quota system is back in vogue. That is also why editors now have to contend with press advice and thinly-veiled threats.

In recent months, the press has done well to expose corruption in the IJI government. But the prime minister likes to lecture editors on the virtues of press responsibility and ethics. He also believes that it is unpatriotic to criticise his government because he is doing such a fine job of it. That is unacceptable. No one has a monopoly on patriotism. At any rate, it is the job of the press to act as watchdog for the public interest, especially in a country where politicians are corrupt and accountability is a much abused word.

The mainstream newspapers are timid and malleable because they depend on government advertisements for a large chunk of their revenues. One reason why Mian Sahib is reluctant to privatise the advertising policy of the autonomous, public sector corporations, despite all his market-oriented flauntings,is that he does not want to relinquish control over the press. Fortunately, however, a small band of liberal, English language periodicals are propped up by the private sector and can thus afford to be fearless, despite increasing physical intimidation of their editors.

The case of the Editor of Facts International, Mr Ghulam Hussain, illustrates these points well. Mr Hussain was not so long ago an outspoken ally of Mian Nawaz Sharif. His paper raked up all the dirt it could find or contrive against Bhutto. Yet no one laid a hand on him. Now he has fallen foul of Mr Sharif for reasons best known to the two of them. Mr Hussain was beaten up and is now languishing in prison on a trumped-up charge after his bail was unprecedentedly cancelled. And he has all but been ditched by his erstwhile colleagues who are sympathetic to Mr Nawaz Sharif.

Notwithstanding the quality of the journalism practised by Mr Ghulam Hussain, his treatment at the hands of his former mentor is totally unjustified. So too is the pressure on The Frontier Post by the Ittefaq Group, on The Herald by Mr Marwat and on this paper by goons of the Punjab heirarchy.

From 1965 to 1991, 181 cases of violence against the press were documented. Last year, five journalist were murdered, 20 newspaper offices were ransacked, one editor and two reporters were kidnapped and four journalists narrowly escaped death. This year, there were at least 50 such cases, of which about 40 occurred in strife-torn Sindh. In most instances, it is true that the government of the day was not involved. But it is also true that it enjoyed seeing the press in trouble.

The worst enemies of the press are armed ethnic and religious parties who have much self-righteousness but no sense of tolerance. Thus the MQM and Jamaat-i-Islami, apart from fighting each other, can be fairly charged with harassing the press when it refuses to toe their line. That both antagonistic groups are ironically allied to Mian Nawaz Sharif’s government makes the task of the press all the more difficult.

But the press is learning to stand on its own feet. Despite the recurring violence, it is not likely to crumble before authoritarianism or fanaticism. Fortunately, the age of censorship is drawing to a close — satellite dishes and booster-antennas carry the message of freedom far more effectively than the jammers can shut them out. Fortunately, too, a handful of local journalists are now writing for the foreign press and cannot easily be silenced. The government-controlled media is consequently destined to suffocate itself. The sooner governments accept this logic, the better they will be in addressing their strategy vis a vis the press in Pakistan.

(TFT December 19-25, 1991 Vol-3, No.41 — Editorial)

The rape of Pakistan

Thousands of poor women are raped every year in this country. They are raped in their homes and in the fields; they are raped in prisons, asylums and in hospitals. These women are the brutalized victims of political feuds, tribal vendettas, communal frenzy, ethnic savagery and ‘peacekeeping operations’ by security agencies.

Notions of shame and family honour or lack of resources force most women to bear their trauma in silence. Some commit suicide. Those wretched few who scream out must reckon with the political and social clout of the transgressors. As for the law, in particular that damning version which parades under the cloak of Shariah, it is designed to thwart the ends of justice: women who confess to rape but cannot legally ‘prove’ it can be arrested and tried for fornication and adultery.

The agony of this miserable half of our population is sustained by a crushing conspiracy of silence among our ruling classes. Even for Miss Raheela Tiwana or Khurshed Begum, both middle-class, both savaged by the CIA recently, there were no thunderous editorials calling for the sack of Jam Sadiq and Irfanullah Marwat; nor were there any hunger strikes by grieving upper-class women or angry demonstrations by opposition politicians. Yet, when Miss Veena Hyat is raped, there is public outrage and newspapers are blackened with disgust and despair and demands for immediate retribution echo everywhere. Why is this so?

First, because Miss Hyat belongs to a most distinguished, Punjabi ruling family. When members of the ruling classes are violated, or their rights are trampled upon, they are bound to be outraged. They are also bound to exact justice or revenge.

Second, there is uproar because the highest echelons of government are implicated in this crime. When the Home and Chief Ministers of Sindh are accused of transgressing the law they are deputed to uphold, when they are believed to have dishonoured the very class they are supposed to especially protect, it becomes more than just a crime. It becomes a matter of serious public concern. The fact that Mr Irfanullah Marwat is the President’s son-in-law compounds the offense to public sensibility and reinforces the demand for accountability.

Third, this incident is grist to the mill of a desperate political opposition confronted with an increasingly authoritarian government. The politicians of the ruling classes in opposition would find it difficult even to contrive a more damning incident than this to indict the politicians of the ruling classes in power.

Mr Marwat and Jam Sadiq have broken more laws in Sindh than anyone else in recent history. Yet many amongst us have shrugged away their crimes. President Ghulam Ishaq has been patently unjust for months, yet many amongst us have continued to excuse him. Now, after their transparent implication in the Hyat case, they have been shorn of all credibility and shown to have eroded the legitimacy of the state. It is our nation’s tragedy that the collective guilt and shame of our ruling classes should only have been provoked by the nightmare of a personal tragedy.

In any democratic system, the proper course would be for Mr Marwat and Jam Sadiq to resign and allow the judicial process to prove their innocence or guilt. Failing that, the President would be expected to put the interests of the state before his own and fire them both. But it appears that President Ghulam Ishaq lacks the uprightness, wisdom and foresight to do just that. He has chosen to lay down one set of rules for the PPP and quite another for the IJI.

Unfortunately, if it were simply a question of having to live with a stubborn personality in the Presidency, we might have been able to muddle along. But that is not the case. As the constitution now stands, the President is the repository of the dignity and well-being of the state and the chief executive of all its powers. When the state comes to be viewed as prejudiced and highly personalised, it loses its legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens and provokes the sort of tribal revenge Sardar Shaukat Hyat now wants to exact. In the event, a legal system which lacks conviction and a political system which lacks consensus is doomed to fail. Instead of shoring up the law and giving the opposition a stake in the democratic system, the President seems bent upon sheltering his political favourites from the law and excluding the opposition from politics. His pathological aversion to the PPP can only lead to a culde-sac — a one-party, authoritarian system which, as we know from past history, is unworkable in a pluralistic society such as ours.

Miss Hyat’s ordeal has rightly served to focus on the plight of women, the inadequacy of law and the hypocrisy of the ruling elites. But it must also draw careful attention to the flawed logic of the President which is eroding the legitimacy of the very state he represents.

 

(TFT Dec 26, 1991-01 Jan, 1992 Vol-3, No.42 — Editorial)

What a beautiful country

Chief of Army Staff, Gen Asif Nawaz, told a correspondent that he was happy to be back in his “beautiful country, Pakistan” after his recent visit to the UK. He is also reported as saying that the Parliamentary session on December 19 “was good education for a hard core soldier like me”.

Whatever does the good General mean, wonder our intrepid COAS-watchers. Certainly, given the country’s depressing fragmentation, disarray and instability, it requires a measure of audacity to call Pakistan “beautiful”. Does the General, perhaps, mean to imply that the country is intrinsically “beautiful” provided its rotten veneer can be scraped off? If so, pray tell, what exactly is the despoiling factor and who precisely is equipped to scuttle it and restore the country to its pristine beauty?

As for being suitably “educated” by the ruckus in the Assembly, we are duly baffled. There is nothing novel in the sight of politicians literally at one another’s throats; in the past, they have broken chairs over one another’s head, scuffled like rogues and abused each other ad nauseum in parliament. While we may be amused or disgusted, (depending upon our sensibilities and political affiliations) we can hardly pretend to the shocked, let alone claim to be “educated” by such incidents.

It is then possible that Gen Asif Nawaz was alluding to some deep “educational” content in President Ishaq’s lecture which merits a fresh look by the brass?

The President said that democracy has eluded us because we are not good Muslims and have cut ourselves off from our “ideology”. The President is perfectly within his rights to comment on the strength or lack of his own faith. But he is hardly the Compleat Muslim to lecture us on ours. As for his laments about a lack of “ideology” to guide us along the true path, we might well question the bonafides of the particular ideology the President is talking about. As Zia ul Haq’s right-hand man for over a decade and his true authoritarian disciple, Mr Khan has done more to cynically deride the notion of the “ideology of Pakistan” than anybody else.

The President believes that the turmoil in Sindh has almost ended. As everyone knows, especially Gen Asif Nawaz, this is a blatant falsehood meant only to protect Mr Ishaq’s son-in-law Mr Marwat and protege Jam Sadiq Ali. The President is pleased with the way his government has handled the Co-ops crisis. As the millions who lost their lives’ savings and you will get an angry opinion to belie this assertion. And so forth. Mr Ishaq Khan may think these statements to be earth-shattering revelations. But the cold fact is that he has failed to impress even his diminishing band of die-hard supporters, let alone “educate a hard-core soldier” like Gen Asif Nawaz.

If anything, the President’s lecture is conspicuous by the flaws in his philosophy and the points he has consciously omitted. The central facts of political life today revolve on Ishaq Khan’s blinkered vision and his tacky role as a biased umpire in the system. Corruption in government is another issue which demands immediate redress. The fact that the opposition has no stake left in the President’s brand of accountability and democracy is a third dangerous omen.

So what exactly was Gen Asif Nawaz driving at? Has he, perchance, begun to believe that parliament is good-for-nothing and has outlived its utility or relevance? Is he now convinced that the authority of the Presidency has been so eroded that an office which personifies the state lacks legitimacy and cannot guarantee any consensus on the rules of the political system? That as long as an ageing, stubborn man sits in the Presidency and as long as a corrupt prime ministerial coterie rules in Islamabad, there is no great hope for stability in the country?

We cannot pretend to know how the good General’s mind ticks. But for their own sake in particular and for the sake of democracy in general, Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Nawaz Sharif need to seriously reflect on the answers to these questions. They have created a mockery of democracy by conspiring to dismiss the government of Benazir Bhutto and by rigging the interim government, elections and accountability trials of opposition leaders. Between the two of them, they have scaled the heights of moral and financial degeneration.

Benazir Bhutto is fated to stay out in the cold for some years to come. Depending on if and how they redeem themselves, one can only hint at what fate may have in store for Mr Ishaq Khan and Mr Nawaz Sharif. But if the story of “How the Great Liberator of Central Asia was reduced to being a factory manager in the blinking of a eye” is anything to go by, both gentlemen should draw the proper conclusions. Although the “education of hard-core soldiers” is a continuing process, we know from past experience that good soldiers are quick to learn and quicker to act when their “beautiful” country is in trouble.

(TFT January 02-08, 1992 Vol-3, No.43 — Editorial)

Art of stealing elections

“Non-party” elections to 2720 local bodies for 41,837 councillors in the Punjab have run their predicted, pathetic course: with 14 dead, hundreds injured and arrested and credible charges of official rigging souring the atmosphere, over a dozen factions of the Muslim League have won about 60 per cent of the seats. However, when prime minister Nawaz Sharif says the results are a “strong reiteration of the peoples’ support for the IJI”, he may not, as usual, be telling the full, sordid story.

Originally, elections to local bodies in all the provinces were scheduled for last November. But the government had second thoughts. The “law and order” situation in Sindh remained beyond the control of Jam Sahib. In Punjab, following the misappropriation of billions of rupees from the Co-ops by IJI stalwarts, the government was naturally worried of a public backlash. Nor could a weak coalition government in Balochistan be relied upon to control rising ethnic tensions between the Baloch and Pathans, especially since political temperatures are high during elections.

So elections were postponed. It was also decided to hold “non-party” elections so that the IJI could not be effectively targeted by Benazir Bhutto for running a corrupt government.

In the event, correctly fearing that the government would resort to foul means to win these elections, the PDA accused the prime minister of “lacking courage to hold ‘party-based’ polls” and lost interest in the whole exercise. Meanwhile, the IJI split into many parties, groups and factions reflecting local pressures and constituencies, with cabinet ministers throwing themselves shamelessly into the fray on behalf of their factions, often at violent odds with one another.

Government officials say that voter turnout was high and that the elections were fairly conducted and won. The press thinks otherwise: voters were less than enthusiastic with no more than 25 per cent turning out on polling day; the “non-party” sticker was farcical, with ruling party parliamentarians openly campaigning for candidates while the Punjab CM allegedly spent billions of rupees from state funds promoting his favourites.

The unfairness of the polls was never in doubt. The Lahore High Court accepted over 340 pre-poll petitions alleging illegal interference in the electoral process by senior members of the Punjab government, including the chief minister. Said the Court after examining evidence of official tampering with electoral lists to help government-supported candidates: “If this is not pre-election rigging, then what is?”. A couple of days earlier, Election Commission officials had warned the Punjab government against the practise of registering “bogus or fictitious voters” in all the districts of the provinces. Matters didn’t improve any when the press discovered the existence in print of 5 million ballet papers in excess of those legally required for the polls.

Some people aren’t too worried about the controversial results. They believe that local issues have cut across party lines as indeed they should; that the control of the centre over local politics is bound to diminish because a younger and more independent leadership has emerged; and that this is a healthy development in the long-run especially if it leads to a devolution of power.

That may be misplaced concreteness. At least three developments provide food for fresh thought. First, there is the issue of the sanctity of the electoral process. Mian Nawaz Sharif has knocked another nail into the coffin of democracy for short-term, dubious gains. The low turnout indicates the deep cynicism with which millions of citizens view their progressive disenfranchisement at the hands of the IJI. At the rate at which Mian Sahib is going, he should put Gen Zia’s referendum to shame by the time the next elections come round.

Second, scant attention has been paid to an unprecedented series of advertisements in the press sponsored by international agencies warning citizens not to vote for drug barons and narcotics agents newly flush with money. Such misgivings were not without foundation. Scores of drug-pedlars and crooks have been ‘elected’ under the banner of the Muslim League. It is apparently not enough that we should have several drug-warlords strutting about in the Baloch assembly. Now we have to open the doors of the Punjab government to them also so that they can safely step into the provincial and national assemblies in a couple of years time. Instead of implanting the Crescent of Islam over this region, our ruling elites seem instead to be bent upon stamping the skull-and-bones over future generations of Pakistanis and Afghans.

Third, the politics of factionalism and biradari are disastrous from the point of view of a stable, two-party system. The fact that the Muslim League has succumbed to its inherent weaknesses should strike a note of deep pessimism in Islamabad rather than elicit the sort of ridiculous, crowing response which the prime minister has thought fit to deliver.

(TFT January 09-15, 1992 Vol-3, No.44 — Editorial)

Live and let live in ’92

Mian Nawaz Sharif’s hugely enterprising reforms in deregulating the economy and unburdening the public sector must be applauded. This has been his singular success. He must, however, understand that a liberal economy’s sine qua non is a liberal society. And that is where he has failed. In that sense, Mian Sahib’s first year in office evokes disturbing images of bungling, corruption, false promises, intolerance and political crises.

Looking ahead, a number of problem-areas can be identified. Foremost is the need for a consensus on the rules of the game. If Mian Sahib is unable to mend his fences with the opposition and push the President on the back foot, a political crisis of unmanageable proportions is on the cards. Although Mian Sahib’s recent overtures to Benazir Bhutto are most welcome, doubts persist about his willingness or ability to deliver on the just demands of the opposition. That public sentiment and international opinion is also urging him to strengthen democracy and put a premium on tolerance and institutional growth should not be lost on him. In turn, the opposition should give up its demand for a ‘national’ government and play an honourable, stabilising role in the assemblies.

Once a ‘live and let live’ agreement is in place, the PM should swiftly dismantle the dangerous legacies of the Zia ul Haq era, notably the distortions in foreign policy and ‘Islamisation’ which threaten to isolate Pakistan from its friends abroad.

Take foreign policy. (1) The Afghan solution is within grasp. For over on year, we have bent over backwards to accommodate certain stubborn elements of the Mujahidin. If they still refuse to see the logic of new realities, they should be told where to get off. (2) Relations with the United States need to be handled with subtlety. We should temporarily freeze our nuclear programme and thereby give the American administration greater elbow-room to nudge the Indians into accepting proposals for a nuclear-free zone in South Asia. India would like nothing more than for US-Pak relations to take a nose-dive, for Pakistan to be branded as a ‘rogue regime’ and for military spares to be denied in order to weaken Pakistan’s conventional defences. Therefore, our efforts should be directed at persuading the Americans to restore military supplies, isolating India in the international community (by focussing on human rights violations in Kashmir and Indian unwillingness to sign the NPT) and propagating the view of Pakistan as an open, forward-looking, democratic country. (3) Relations with India should be improved. Several confidence-building measures can be initiated: opening up trade, facilitating travel and cultural exchanges, encouraging private dialogues between the media on both sides, resolving Siachin, pushing for an agreement on ‘no-first use of nuclear weapons’ and no-war pact, etc. If the Indians drag their feet, we should promptly acquaint the international community of Indian rigidity.

‘Islamisation’ policies need urgent and bold review. From time to time, ‘Islamic’ laws impinge on our Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence, often with disquieting results especially in the arena of criminal punishments and cases relating to zina. When that happens, the superior courts are expected to bail us out by reverting to Anglo-Saxon procedures. But the existence of two parallel bodies of law is fraught with dangers. It is also patently unfair and unwise for the legislature to make certain ‘Islamic’ laws for politically opportune reasons and then expect the judiciary to do its bidding and overrule or sidetrack them in everyday life. This sort of double-dealing or hypocrisy by government fools no one, yet it can become a source of instability at home and adverse publicity abroad. One potentially troublesome area relates to the increasing encroachments of the Federal Shariat Court into financial matters, as for example in outlawing ‘interest’. Instead of challenging the FSC’s decision boldly, the government has sought to meekly seek ‘clarifications’, thereby sweeping the issue under the rug. It is precisely this sort of ostrich-attitude which is likely to hurt Mian Sahib’s sound economic policies. By all means, let the FSC retain its advisory powers. However, to allow it to acquire supra-legislative authority (the FSC is on the verge of effecting such powers today) would undermine the prerogatives of an elected parliament and erode the vitality of a modern democratic system.

Mian Nawaz Sharif is fortunate that his foreign policy agenda, which is to all intents quite proper, is backed by the new army high command. So 1992 may indeed yield long overdue dividends. The weakness, and there are many, are on the home front where government is perceived to lack legitimacy and where the writ of the state is wearing thin. Accommodation with the opposition can create the framework in which to move forward and consolidate reform. A failure to do so will reinforce the PM’s unfavourable image, sabotage his efforts to inject liberalism in society and eventually jeopardise the political system.

(TFT January 16-22, 1992 Vol-3, No.45 — Editorial)

Prove your credentials, Mr Wyne

The perversion of power and patronage remains the hall-mark of politicians in Islamabad. Unsecured bank loans, debt write-offs, discretionary land-grants, favouritism in awarding lucrative contracts — the list of prevalent transgressions in government is endless. Realistically speaking, though, we can learn to live with some of these corruptions, albeit uneasily, give or take certain limits.

However, when politicians try to encroach upon the rights of the state — as, for example, when they insist upon the right to recommend people for jobs in the public sector — they do irreparable damage to the structures on which civil society rests. Not only should diverse organs of the state be politically bipartisan, it is expected that recruitment to the administration will be based on transparent merit and academic qualification only.

Politicians, as past experience demonstrates so vividly, have been singularly inept at this task of nation and state-building. Previous regimes have flouted the rules of government with impunity, stuffing the lower and middle echelons of the executive with undesirable or unsuitable elements. Even under the present regime, despite an avowed ban on recruitments into the administration until now, there has been an insidious seepage of political favourites into certain public departments, most notoriously in the police in Punjab and Sindh.

Mr Hamid Nasir Chatha is a sensible, upright man who is reported to advocate healthy government policies. He correctly believes that all recruitments into government service — whether provincial or federal — above grade 10 should be entrusted exclusively to the various autonomous Public Service Commission (PSCs) set up for this purpose. Only the best suited and most capable men and women should do in public service, he says.

The Chatha Committee has already effected this policy in the federal government but is faced with stiff opposition in the Punjab where dishonest politicians are not prepared to relinquish their most important source of power and patronage.

At present, recruitment into the senior echelons of the provincial bureaucracies (Grades 16 and above) are in the hands of the provincial PSCs which ensure that only qualified persons can be accepted .However, entry into the lower grades 11 to 15 — which includes pivotal posts in the police, customs, excise, food etc — are outside their domain. The problem is that it is precisely in these areas where massive infection and favouritism exist to corrode the foundations of the state.

Politicians will naturally insist upon retaining their privileges of largesse. They would like to be able to stuff their own people into these posts, irrespective of merit or their suitability for the job. In other words, they would like to perpetuate a hugely malevolent and thoroughly inefficient system of local government which hurts us all.

How can this be allowed? We have seen the disastrous consequences of this practice as it has undermined government in Sindh and Punjab. We have seen, for example, how such appointments to the police can influence the results of elections and how they can become an obvious source of harassment for political opponents of those in power.

Mr Chathas, we understand, has been able to persuade all provinces except Punjab to allow the provincial PSCs to take charge of recruitments to grades 11 and above. Mr Ghulam Hyder Wyne is apparently not strong enough to resist the pressure of his MPs. If Mr Wyne refuses to heed Mr Chatha’s advice, the other provinces too may be expected to backtrack and follow the ruinous path of Punjab.

At stake in the province of Punjab in grades 10 to 15 are approximately 65,000 jobs this year. For each vacancy, there are at least 400 applicants. If merit and academic qualification are to be ruled out as acceptable criteria because the Punjab PSC is excluded from vetting the applications, there will be continuing havoc in local government. There is nothing more distasteful or damaging to the state than unscrupulous politicians vying to promote the most unsuitable candidate in their constituency.

We simply cannot afford such forms of state-corruption any more. Law and order are in a shambles and citizens have been abandoned by the state. And all because our ruling politicians are bent upon perpetuating themselves in power.

It is our right as citizens to be provided with good, clean and efficient government where it matters to all of us. If Mr Chatha can think of providing it in Islamabad, which is another country, the very least Mr Wyne can do is to try and provide it in Punjab which we live. The same logic holds for the other provinces. For that to happen, the provincial PSCs should be empowered to do the groundwork in selecting all those thousands of public-servants around whom the lives of ordinary citizens revolve. This is one easily enforceable measure which can strengthen the social contract between the state and its people. It is now up to Mr Wyne to prove that he is as well-meaning and concerned about the welfare of his provincial subjects as he claims to be.

(TFT January 16-22, 1992 Vol-3, No.45 — Article)

Globetrotting with Najam Sethi

The leading Urdu papers got it wrong as usual. Maybe it was wishful thinking, considering how anti-Bush the vernacular press has been since the Gulf war, but one look at President Bush on the floor and they jumped to the conclusion that he had had a massive heart attack. Of course, he had merely been laid low by an unholy alliance between a touch of flu and a stomach bug as he was about to toast his gracious Japanese hosts.

In fact, so gracious are the Japanese that they don’t take too kindly to anyone who messes around with their sense of propriety. If you want first hand confirmation of this quaint attitude, ask the Japanese ambassador in Islamabad who became the fallguy when Mian Nawaz Sharif abruptly cancelled his trip to Japan some months ago.

So furious is the Japanese government at the Japan Broadcasting Corporation for showing President Bush in a state of deflation, it has accused the TV network of violating its agreement to broadcast  only official speeches and toasts and banned it from showing live broadcasts of official banquets in the future. An official said that it was “impolite” to show pictures of a dishevelled Bus being cradled by Mr Miyazawa and rising to his feet some minutes later.

As soon as Mr Bush got back home, he was confronted with poll results indicating that a majority of Americans disapproved of his trip abroad: he has done it for only for show, they said. The NYT called it a “fiasco” while the Washington Post described it as an “awkward flop”. Which is exactly how Pakistanis feel about Bush after Senator Pressler’s threatening ‘double-standards show’ a couple of days ago.

The US President isn’t the only one with feet of clay. Back in the Philippines, Mrs Imelda Marcos (she of the 500 pairs-of-shoes-notoriety), her daughter Irene and her son-in-law Araneta are facing charges of murder for the deaths of two youths killed when troops opened fire at a squatter shanty in 1985. The charges, which come two days after Mrs Marcos declared her candidacy for the presidential elections, are riled by a former aide to President Aquino who says he finds the idea of Mrs Marcos running for the Presidency “obscene”.

Mrs Marcos, who has been to hell and back since she fled into exile many years ago, simply laughed away the allegations when she heard about them. Reminds you of Pakistan, doesn’t it, where every second opposition leader has been slapped with murder charges at some stage or the other and dreams of becoming President.

The Philippines First Lady isn’t the only one around with high hopes. Haiti’s provisional president, Joseph Nerette, is all set to retain his post indefinitely despite the expiry this week of his temporary term.

Observers point out that no agreement is in sight to resolve the constitutional crisis that has divided Haiti since the military overthrew the democratically elected President, Jean-Baptiste Aristide, last September. The puppet parliament is unable to come to any understanding with Mr Aristide and Mr Nerette is taking full advantage of it to consolidate himself. The acting prime minister, Mr Honorat, who was once a respected human rights activist, has proved to be utterly uncompromising over the return of Mr Aristide: “The Haitian country is based on intolerance”, he said, “The word compromise has a very negative connotation. So does the word negotiation. To compromise is to sell yourself”.

This is too close for comfort, don’t you think? When was the last time Mian Nawaz Sharif’s went to Haiti?

Talking of divisions and unity, compromise and negotiation, Mr Nelson Mandela called January 8 for the installation “of an interim government of national unity” by the middle of 1992 in South Africa.

Mr Mandela, however, warned that President F.W. de Klerk did not share this objective. “The government”, he said, “entertained a more sinister scheme” to perpetuate white rule de facto for as long as possible. “The regime is talking of peace on the one hand while colluding in the war against its opponents on the other”.

Take Mr Mandela’s name out and put Benazir Bhutto’s name in, take de Klerk out and substitute Ghulam Ishaq, leave the word ‘regime’ unchanged and what country fits the quotations beautifully? You guessed it — Pakistan!

(TFT January 23-29, 1992 Vol-3, No.46 — Editorial)

Exaggerated response

Senator Larry Pressler actually came to Pakistan to explore prospects for trade in soya beans. He ended up instead as seeming to trade insults with his reluctant hosts.

This was to be expected: the maverick Senator, who is an obscure figure at home, continues to be portrayed here as the bane of our life since he tagged the notorious Pressler Amendment several years ago to all US foreign assistance to Pakistan.

To be fair to him, the Senator clarified that he did not represent the views of the US State Department or the Bush administration. he also tried to backtrack, albeit quite unsuccessfully, on some of the rather indiscreet statements he made against Pakistan and Islam in, of all places, New Delhi. That he was undiplomatically gushing in support of India before landing in Islamabad didn’t exactly endear him to President Ishaq or PM Sharif, which is probably why they refused to meet him.

In all this hullabaloo, both India and Pakistan have largely ignored what the Senator has been mumbling all along: that he intends to push for the application of the Pressler Amendment to all recipients of US foreign aid rather than leave it as a piece of discriminatory legislation against Pakistan only. This, despite the fact that President Bush would like to get rid of the controversial Amendment altogether because it undermines his management of US foreign policy and hampers US leverage with Pakistan.

In his formal press conference in Islamabad on 13 January, after he had been rebuffed by the government, Senator Pressler explained the purpose of his less than charming visit: “I have emphasised that I have come here to listen”. That circumstances were not propitious to listening, however, was evident in the next breath: “I’ve got to be off in twenty minutes”. In those fleeting minutes, he tried unsuccessfully to set the record straight on two largely misunderstood or misrepresented points.

First, the Senator correctly reminded us that when the US determined in the mid 1970s that Pakistan had launched a nuclear programme, Congress proposed to cut off all aid to Pakistan under the Cranston Amendment. In the event, Mr Pressler had proposed his own amendment to bail Pakistan out whereby Pakistan could escape the harsh penalties imposed by Senator Cranston for as long as the American administration certified that Pakistan did not possess a nuclear device. The Pressler Amendment, which was supported by Pakistan and its lobbyists in Washington, therefore allowed Pakistan to receive US aid for many years more until the tap was finally closed in 1990.

Second, Senator Pressler drew attention to the fears in Washington about the spectre of aggressive, fundamentalist Islam in a region which could well be armed with nuclear weapons. The fears are well grounded, given the West’s experience with Ayotollah Khomeini’s brand of militant Islam. Although many people in Pakistan would share such concerns, they are justifiably annoyed at the Western portrayal of all Islamic values as ‘backward’ or ‘barbarian’. Unfortunately, Senator Pressler did not demonstrate any sensibility on this issue and arrogantly shot his mouth off.

The US government has distanced itself from some of the Senator’s unpalatable utterances. There is little doubt also that his visit has embarrassed the US ambassador in Pakistan who is involved in negotiating some extremely sensitive and prickly matters with the Pakistan government.

What is surprising, however, is the emotional reaction to the Senator in both New Delhi and Islamabad. Both governments know only too well that Mr Pressler is a bit of a non-entity in Washington. Yet the Indians crawled all over him and clutched at his words as though they were nuggets of American wisdom. And in Pakistan we hit the roof as though we had been suddenly scorned by a passionate lover of yore.

Whatever the credentials of Mr Pressler, however, the US government’s position vis a vis India and Pakistan is abundantly clear: friendship with both countries based on their acceptance of nuclear-free zone in South Asia and  no exports of nuclear technology. Although the hiccups in Pakistan are louder today because we have been critically dependent on the US in the past, it is only a matter of time before India begins to scream tomorrow as it becomes more dependent on the US in the future. China is also learning that it cannot have its US $15 billion cake and eat it too. Before long, Iran should be coming to realistic terms with the US as well.

The post-cold war reality is not obscured. We would do well to make candid reassessments of what our long-term national interests are and how and with whom to best enlarge them. Nothing can be gained by clinging to the past and reacting testily to the future.

Unfortunately, the mindsets of policy makers and mediamen in both India and Pakistan remain out of step with these realities. That is why Senator Pressler received grossly exaggerated responses in both countries.

 

(TFT January 23-29, 1992 Vol-3, No.46 — Article)

‘Dialoguing’ with India

Najam Sethi highlights the contradictions in the Indian position on nuclear questions and suspects the purposes behind the pro-bomb lobbies in both countries

How transparent are the nuclear programmes in India and Pakistan? How many atomic bombs can Pakistan and India put on the shelf at short notice? Can peace in the subcontinent be built on the basis of “nuclear terror”? Alternatively, what is stopping both countries from signing the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty now that both France and China have agreed to do so?

According to American nuclear experts, Pakistan has sufficient quantities of enriched uranium to make six or seven primitive atomic devices. If it wanted to, Pakistan could quickly assemble a couple of devices and stick them on the F-16 fighter-bomber. Reportedly, Pakistan came pretty close to doing so in April 1990 when tensions with India over Kashmir almost provoked a fourth round of war.

India, on the other hand, may have the raw material (plutonium) to assemble upto 50 or 60 such devices and equip its Prithvi ballistic missiles to carry the load. There is no doubt that, given sufficient provocation (like a Pakistan test-explosion), India would immediately put its bombs on the shelf.

Despite contrary assertions, there is no opaqueness about either country’s potential nuclear armour: because both are ‘de facto’ nuclear powers, a balance of “nuclear terror”, if that is what the hawks want, in fact already exists. Why then should the Indian and Pakistani hawks join hands to advocate that Pakistan should test an atomic device for the whole world to see?

The position of the pro-bomb Indian hawks is full of contradictions. Like the Americans, they accuse Pakistan of having several atomic bombs;  but they also claim that “there is no transparency about Pakistan’s nuclear programme” — hence, they say, how can India talk to Pakistan about de-nuclearising South Asia? From this convoluted logic follows the Indian argument that “Pakistan is not sincere in advocating its 5-Nation proposals for a nuclear-free South Asia. Once Pakistan puts its bombs on the shelf, following which India should do the same”, the argument continues, “both countries can address the question of the NPT”. In other words, both should take the bombs out of their basements and put them on the shelf before any meaningful dialogue can begin on de-nuclearising the region.

This sound ridiculously like saying: “Both of us must have the bombs before we can get rid of them!: Why, when both are already presumed to have the bombs, they cannot get rid of them from the basement, no one cares to answer. Unless, of course the real purpose of the hawks on both sides is to have a nuclear arms race in the subcontinent rather than a nuke-free zone.

But a nuclear arms race is not feasible. Neither country has the economic wherewithal to sustain one: given the pace of technological change, neither can afford to continue updating and increasing its stockpiles. At what point will a balance of nuclear terror be established to affect multiple deterrence? When Pakistan has 10 bombs to India’s 100? Or 15:150 or 20:200? There are no answers. At any rate, second-strike scenarios, which is what an arms-race implies, can be effectively ruled out: Pakistan would not survive a first strike by India. Given the instability in the region (spectre of militant Islam Vs arrogant Hinduism) and unresolved border disputes, who would care to trust either country with nuclear bombs?

Which leads one to question the real purpose of the hawks behind their advocacy of nuclear weapons. Clearly, the Indians would be delighted if, as is most certainly bound to happen after a Pakistani test explosion, Pakistan were to be branded as a “rogue regime” and totally isolated internationally. The crippling of Pakistan would doubtless be a prelude to its disintegration. How is it then that the Pakistani hawks cannot see through the Indian game? It is difficult to escape the suspicion that, perhaps, the concerns of Pakistani hawks may have less to do with the security of Pakistan and more with some, as yet, hidden Islamic agenda for West Asia in which Shi’ite Iran plays a pivotal and catalytic role.

Pakistan says it won’t sign the NPT unless India does, which is perfectly understandable. India says it won’t do so because the NPT is globally discriminatory. This is a remarkable twist: on the one hand, India stresses bilateralism in all its regional and international disputes; on the other, it pulls out multilateralism from the hat when bilateralism is unsuitable. Why cannot both India and Pakistan sign the NPT simultaneously and on the same terms? If both admit that they are already nuclear powers, together they can persuade the international community to allow them to sign the NPT as nuclear powers on the same terms as China. If they say they are not nuclear powers, why then should they get the same treatment as China? No one in India has any answers to these questions. Which suggests that no Indo-Pak dialogue on this issue is possible as long as India remains determined to have its nuclear cake and eat it too.

Globetrotting with Najam Sethi

Algeria has thrown a nasty spanner in the workings of democracy. The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), whose avowed aim is to establish an un-democratic, anti-pluralist system, chose to participate in democratic elections and subsequently won them hands down. The question now arises: should the FIS be allowed to form a government, dismantle the trappings of liberal democracy and establish an Islamic state? In other words, is it fair to embrace the democratic system in order to stab democracy in the back? Or alternatively, as has happened, should democracy retreat behind one form of military dictatorship in order to thwart another form of Islamic dictatorship?

Algeria has also posed a new question for Islamic revolutionaries the world over: Is it possible for them to seize state power by peaceful, evolutionary means rather than through violent civil war and revolution as in Iran?

For the moment, at least, no answers are available. On the one hand, the FIS remains determined to enforce its Islamic agenda and install a dictatorship, notwithstanding over 50 per cent of the electorate which has given no firm approval of it. On the other, its march appears to have been temporarily halted by a coup d’etat and the secular army is in no mood to hand over power to the FIS and sign its own death warrants.

Because the military regime is unstable and lacks legitimacy, we can expect, sooner or later, to see the FIS form a government. When that happens, new questions will arise. Will the FIS try to undertake revolutionary changes in the structure of state and civil society and build an Islamic dictatorship? Or will the democratic route of seizing state power and the exigencies of real-politik in order to hold on to it (as, for example, affecting a modus operandi with the armed forces and the secular opposition) compel some sort of a historical compromise in its sweeping agenda?

While we wait and see, the West is already alarmed by the spectre of another Islamic dictatorship in the fashion of Iran: Algeria and could become a domino and spark the downfall of secular, democratic regimes in N Africa. Can the West come to terms with such a possibility?

Going by initial Western reactions, it does seem that powerful opinion makers there are inclined to give the FIS the benefit of doubt. Their hope is that, once in power, the FIS will become more realistic and respect pluralism rather than incur international isolation and domestic turmoil.

Speaking editorially, The New York Times had this to say: “Algeria’s army did its best… to destroy democracy in the name of saving it… Western governments, the Bush administration included, have been shamefully reluctant to condemn an illegitimate and unwise move sure to heighten political tension… The FIS is no paragon of pluralist virtue but the democracy movement now belatedly lapping at the shores of the Arab world offers the best hope for managing the growing political tensions of a region long misgoverned by unrepresentative, self-perpetuating regimes… If the Bush administration is sincere about encouraging democracy… it has a responsibility to press Algeria’s army to reverse its reckless course before the damage gets worse”.

The Washington Post commented thus: “The constitutional coup forces an embarrassing dilemma upon those who have celebrated the global move to democracy. Is this notable tendency going to be cut short, more or less with an international wink, at times and places of special inconvenience to the local powers that be?… There is a case for crossing one’s fingers, hoping the experience will domesticate the FIS and honouring a democratic opening no matter where it leads… Outsiders have no business trying to dictate the outcome in Algeria, but the United States and its friends are entitled to expect the parties there and elsewhere — the army no less than the fundamentalists — do demonstrate respect for accepted international standards in democratic procedure…”

Algeria has posed, in a nutshell, all the fundamental and complex issues of today. Corruption and mismanagement by Westernised elites have undermined the attraction of democracy everywhere in the Muslim world, forcing people to retreat “to the sacred” for salvation. But Islamic revivalism has not yet proffered any plausible solutions to the myriad problems of underdeveloped societies on the threshold of a new century.

(TFT Jan 30-05 Feb, 1992 Vol-3, Vol.47 — Editorial)

Heroes and villains

The profane chronicle of Sindh is getting murkier. No one quite knows who the villains and heroes are any more.

For much of 1990, Benazir Bhutto was portrayed as the wicked witch of Sindh with Altaf Hussain as her dubious nemesis. Then President Ishaq, who was simply a member of the gaping audience till August 1990, suddenly jumped into the fray. He radically altered the script, introduced Jam Sadiq and Irfanullah Marwat as auxiliary foils to Bhutto and began to pull the strings from Islamabad. But, in the heat and dust of battle, Bhutto was ironically transformed from an uncaring villain into a forlorn heroine pitted against the President’s black-guards led by Jam Sadiq Ali.

Now comes an ominous twist to the plot: Bhutto has faded into the background and the President’s men are merrily thumping one another. The eclipse of Jam’s vicious right-hand man, Mr Irfanullah Marwat, the demise of his protege, the dreaded DIG CIA Mr Samiullah Marwat and the incarceration of Sindhi ideologue Mr G.M. Syed suggest that the sordid drama is spinning out of the President’s control.

The prime minister and the army chief appear to be less than appreciative about the prospects of the President’s team in Sindh. Foreign diplomats in Islamabad, who were solidly behind the President six months ago, are shaking their heads and clucking in disbelief at his partisan meanderings. Even the US Senate, never one to mind its own business but powerful enough to have its way even in foreign lands, is thinking aloud of human rights abuses and Bhutto’s persecution in Sindh.

With Mr Ishaq Khan clutching at straws, the situation is Sindh is becoming more intractable by the day. The recent fiasco regarding Mr G.M. Syed is a case in point. First Mr Syed was billed as a patriot, then he was branded as a traitor and bunged into house-prison.

Mr Syed, as everyone knows, is the oldest, most self-proclaimed separatist in Pakistan. He has been shouting himself hoarse since 1947 but to no avail. Left to his own pathetic devices, Mr Syed would have remained in relative obscurity and harmed no one. But, by being foolishly provoked to arrest him, every regime to date has only succeeded in making him larger than life. Now in the twilight of a largely barren life, he is back in the limelight for no other reason except perhaps to demonstrate the hopeless contradictions in the President’s political strategy, based as it is exclusively on Jam Sadiq’s brutal instincts for survival.

Jam Sadiq’s philosophy is tragically flawed: he will sup with the devil if it helps in keeping Bhutto at bay. So he has mustered all the felons in town to further his dark designs. Grovelling before Mr Syed recently, the Jam signed a certificate of patriotism in exchange for the dubious loyalties of a couple of Sindhi MPs who profess to be supporters of Mr Syed. Thus emboldened, the Syed naturally took the unprecedented opportunity to flog his brand of Sindhi separatism in Nishtar Park in Karachi, seemingly under the auspices of the very state he openly abhors.

Mr Syed was immediately arrested under orders from Islamabad. Jam Sahib, of course, took the hint and weighed in with the arrest of his own advisor Mr Ghazi Salauddin who partook of the celebrations marking the illusion of Sindhu Desh.

This is ridiculous. Jam Sadiq’s politics is visibly bankrupt. He cannot deliver Sindh. By sticking with him, the President is alienating the province, fertilising the ground for extremists like Mr Qadir Magsi and harming the federation.

What are his options? One way out is to impose a neutral administration under Governor’s rule and clean up the province. This means finding a Governor who can disarm both Urdu and Sindhi-speaking thugs, which is easier said than done. Jam Sahib is reported to have distributed over 17,000 arms to his supporters in the province, most of which are in the possession of the MQM. When prime minister Nawaz Sharif ordered the confiscation of these arms last month, he was openly snubbed by Jam Sahib.

The second option is to revert to fair-play and allow democracy to explore a long-term solution based on consensus. The PPP and the MQM must be brought together for a modus vivandi. If Bhutto can put together a coalition government in Sindh, she should be allowed to do so. If she cannot, Islamabad should send Sindh to the polls again and let the real winners try and form a government. Both the MQM and the PPP have presumably learnt from past experience that it doesn’t pay to be intransigent. There can be no better time than now to test the maturity of both sides in matters of statecraft.

We do not need heroes or villains. What we need is good government. The sooner we get it the better. If the President insists upon playing fast and loose with the fate of the province, the charge of villainy will stick to him and erode whatever little goodwill there still remains for him.

(TFT February 06-12, 1992 Vol-3, No.48 — Editorial)

Unravelling Afghanistan

It was good to see Islamabad at last grit its teeth and cut itself loose from the hardliners on Afghanistan. Said Mr Siddiq Kanju, in the first words of categorical sense spoken by a Pakistani minister on the issue in 13 years: “We cannot make Pakistan’s Afghan policy hostage to the wishes of a few”. That bold declaration is going to be rigorously tested in the coming months as the UN Secretary General’s envoy, now in the region, strains for a breakthrough on an intra-Afghan dialogue and the making of an interim government. Already there have been clumsy bids from other official quarters to steal a retreat into the sterility of the past — including one from the president, who has vehemently argued that there was really no change in the Pakistani stand.

Pakistan needs genuine peace in Afghanistan — now. Whether or not the Islamabad troika will be pulling the Afghan policy in the same direction in the coming days, the central element that will make for Afghan peace should be clear to all. In simple terms, the central element is a broad-based government in Kabul initially, and a truly representative one when a free and fair election can be held. This clearly means that neither party to the conflict should hold a veto over who from the other side will participate in the intra-Afghan dialogue or in the interim government to follow.

To continue to insist, as the president has done, that no ‘controversial’ figure should be included in the process and that the interim government should have an ‘Islamic’ character is only to pursue the hardliners’ war objectives by other means. It can lead nowhere. First, who is not ‘controversial’? Every ranking figure of one-side is not just a controversial but a brutally villainous figure for the other. Will it then be fair and practical to permit the mujahideen to bar the Watan Party leadership from the future of Afghanistan without reference to the people on both sides, any more than it was fair and practical to allow Dr Najibullah to block the mujahideen factions in the past?

Secondly, a country doesn’t become Islamic by simply calling itself that. Is Turkey today, or will the Central Asian republics tomorrow, be any less Islamic for not being ruled by the likes of Mr Gulbadin Hekmatyar? It should be enough for today that Afghanistan is composed of a population of Muslims and therefore it is, and shall remain, Muslim. How exactly that Muslimhood is to be expressed in political and constitutional, social and economic terms will be for the Afghans to decide. The party of Mr Najibullah, and Mr Babrak Karmal before him, were not allowed to dictate that to the rest of the Afghans in the past; neither can the mujahideen factions abroad claim the privilege to do that today.

If Pakistan still has a vital role to play in Afghanistan it can only be in a contrary direction to that of the past. It has to exert a moderating influence on the rejectionists who claim a monopoly on holy right. It has to goad them in the face of todays’ changed realities towards a policy of flexibility and accommodation. They have to work, if not for a national reconciliation, at least for the broadest possible consensus in shaping their war-torn nation’s future.

It has to be remembered that the war — even though it was caused and fuelled largely by outside interests — was, in the end, on of Afghans against Afghans. The labels devised to divide them against each other no longer apply. There are as good Afghans and as good Muslims on one side as on the other. They are both equally sick of the war and tired of mutual hatreds. The jehad was long replaced by sheer fratricide. Nothing can now justify any obstacle to its end.

It is not enough that the guns are silenced. The invisible firing line that has been made to pass through the hearts of the common Afghans has also to be finally erased. No attempt should be made to impose an order unacceptable to either section of the population. The self-determination of the Afghans that had been urged throughout the war as a primary condition of peace has to be genuine and all-embracing. The common Afghans should be allowed to decide on their rulers and representatives. No one, but no one, can arrogate to himself the right to that decision on their behalf. Islamabad too will serve itself well if it abides by the one sound foreign policy decision it has been driven to make in a long time.

(TFT February 13-19, 1992 Vol-3, No.49 — Editorial)

Seize the opportunity

Having somersualted 360 degrees, PM Nawaz Sharif must now reap the bitter harvest of his seedy policies of yesteryear when he was CM of Punjab. Mr Sharif was decidedly feisty when Benazir Bhutto sought a political solution to Afghanistan and tried to oust Gen Hameed Gul. Now he is scurrying about taking shelter from the fallout of Gul’s forced departure and the Jamaat-i-Islami’s wrath over a change in Afghan policy. He accused Bhutto of selling out to the US on Pakistan’s nuclear programme. Now he is squirming in his seat after having frozen the bomb in the basement in order to appease Washington. He needled Bhutto to ‘Islamise society’. Now he is seeking to escape the clutches of the Federal Shariat Court. He accused Bhutto of pandering to India by dragging her feet over Kashmir. Now he is in desperate straits with India over the JKLF’s attempt to violate the Line of Control.

The PM’s Afghan policy is belatedly moving in the right direction. But there are pitfalls ahead, not least because the fundamentalists remain a potent force and Mian Sahib’s infatuation with Qazi Hussain of the Jamaat lingers unnecessarily. Likewise with ‘Islamisation’, which threatens to scuttle the PM’s flagship of privatisation. The biggest problems ahead, however, have to do with nuclear policy and Kashmir, both of which involve bristling foreign powers and require a consensus at home and subtle diplomacy abroad.

Of immediate concern is Pakistan’s Kashmir policy which lacks cohesion. No attempt has been made to define short-term tactics and long-term strategy. In Switzerland Mr Sharif told Mr Rao that he was keen on a dialogue with India. But in the same breath he jeopardised the dialogue by announcing a protest-strike on February 5 against Indian atrocities in the Valley. In consequence, the government sat back smugly while the JKLF went on to organise its long march to cross the Line of Control. When the Indians threatened war, however, he called in the army to rein in the JKLF. Having raised the level of hysteria all round, the PM is now finding it difficult to effect restraint.

Thanks to Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, Kashmir is today a more potent issue than ever before. But certain realities demand careful consideration. The Simla Pact, with its obvious compulsions for Pakistan, all but buried Kashmir in the 1970s. In consequence, the Cease-Fire Line became the Line of Control. That is why, in international circles, the Indians have been successful in flogging the argument that Kashmir no less than Siachin is a bilateral issue between the two countries.

The fact is that while Pakistan accepts the implications of the LOC, Kashmiri leaders on both sides don’t. Pakistan must therefore define a fine line between its positions under the UN Resolutions and those under the Simla Pact. If we are seen as aiding and abetting violation of the LOC under the Simla Pact, India ca accuse us of violating the Pact by sponsoring violent “terrorism” in its backyard. And if such a charge is made to stick, Pakistan’s “moral, political and diplomatic” support of the Kashmiris under the UN Resolutions will fall on deaf international ears.

India has already approached the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to complain that “Pakistani inspired terrorism in Kashmir” is destablising New Delhi and warned of “suitable action”. If Pakistan is unable to quell JKLF emotions, it will play into Indian hands and erode its moral high ground.

But Pakistan has unwittingly stumbled into a potentially advantageous position, provided it plays its cards well. India, which has long determined not to allow the Kashmir dispute to be internationalised, has been compelled by recent events to do precisely that. Because its human rights record is so bad in Kashmir, it could end up with egg on its face if Pakistan is able to demonstrate its commitment to the Simla Pact while stressing the “international” nature of the Kashmir dispute.

By provoking India into a knee-jerk reaction to run to the UN, the JKLF’s Mr Amanullah Khan has already succeeded beyond his wildest expectations in drawing the world’s attention to the desperate plight of the Kashmiris. But the JKLF has much to lose by provoking violence across the LOC and embarrassing Pakistan. India has internationalised the issue. It must not be allowed to get away by diverting attention tot he alleged “terrorist interference” of Pakistan.

Mr Sharif is presented with an, excellent opportunity to show his commitment to the cause of Pakistan and Kashmir. He can do so only by suitably harnessing the tactics of the KJLF and encorporating them into a Pakistani strategy of keeping India on the back foot in the international arena. If India were to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council, as envisaged by its new Secretary-General, before the Kashmir issue is adequately internationalised, all will be lost. Now is the time to take the opposition into confidence and define a long-term strategy.

(TFT February 13-19, 1992 Vol-3, No.49 — Article)

Milking the nuclear cow

Najam Sethi says that past Pakistani leaders have grossly mismanaged our nuclear policy and created a desperate situation for the new regime

Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary has finally let the cat out of the bag. Mr Shehryar Khan told The Washington Post a couple of days ago that Pakistan has the components to build at least one nuclear device but that it does not intend to explode such a device or transfer its technology to any country. Mr Khan also confirmed that Pakistan last year permanently ‘froze’ its production of enriched uranium and weapons ‘cores’.

The world has never doubted that Pakistan’s nuclear programme was weapons-oriented. Unlike India, which built indigenous nuclear reactors and took the plutonium route which is also the route for generating nuclear energy and, in the face of it, not sufficient proof of weapons intentions,the Pakistani research facility at Kahuta to enrich uranium was exclusively weapons-oriented. That is why no one believed Pakistani leaders when they claimed that their country was not making the bomb. In defence of the present regime, Mr Khan said that President Ishaq had, in 1990, inherited the problem of “what to say” and “how to resolve” the issue in order to allay US concerns.

Now that the issue is out in the open, we are surely entitled to ask some pertinent question. Who in Pakistan, after the demise of Gen Zia ul Haq in 1988, controlled and managed the nuclear programme? When prime minister Benazir Bhutto assured the US Congress in 1989 that Pakistan would not proceed to upgrade the programme, she did not in fact have the authority to make such a commitment stick. Who took the disastrous decision to upgrade the programme in 1990 and risk the cut-off in US aid which subsequently followed?

President Ghulam Ishaq Khan is the only common denominator linking the past with the present. After Zia, he has been the pivot around whom all major domestic and foreign policy decisions have revolved. it is difficult to imagine that he did not oversee nuclear policy let alone remain ignorant of what was going on. But if, as Mr Shehryar claims, the President simply “inherited the problem in 1990” and didn’t control the programme between 1988 and 1990, who then took the decision to defy the US and upgrade the programme in 1990?

The unerring finger of logic would seem to point in the direction of Gen Aslam Beg, aided by the scientist who likes to be billed as “the father of the Islamic bomb” — Dr A Q Khan. That both gentlemen have consciously strived to kick up a storm — Dr Khan in 1987 over the Kuldip Nayyar affair and Gen Beg during the Gulf War in 1991 — lends credence to this belief. If true, it is fearful to imagine how and why the nuclear cow was milked by two individuals without as much as a nod from the civilian establishment, let alone the elected representatives of the people of Pakistan.

Since 1988, the American point of view was made abundantly clear to the Pakistani leadership — “freeze your programme or else”. No attempt was made by the then army chief or the President to come to grips with the consequences for national security of American reprisals in the event of ignoring that advice. On the contrary, our so-called ‘visionaries’ seem to have embarked upon a hollow policy of “strategic defiance” of the West.

In the event, Pakistan has lost over US$ 500 million in new weapons and spares for the armed forces with few prospects for the future. The Pakistan Air Force has been crippled, the Pak Navy cannot even afford a two-week ‘exercise’ and all the plans to upgrade the army’s weapons-systems with new American kits have been halted. Pakistani scientists can no longer go to the US to study nuclear science. And the French, who were prepared in 1989 to give Pakistan a nuclear reactor under international safeguards, have now refused to do so unless we sign the NPT; even the meagre compensation they are giving is in the form of a write-off in debt rather than in weapons or cash.

That Pakistan has grossly mismanaged its nuclear-cow is all too evident. We now say that we have frozen our nuclear programme but that we will not dismantle it and sign the NPT unless India does so too. Why couldn’t Pakistan have proposed this course in 1989 when the Americans were prepared to accept it as a genuine compromise in return for continuing US assistance? Gen Asif Nawaz and prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who are now expected to make what they can of a desperately bad situation, are in all fairness entitled to ask a lot of relevant questions. Certain of their predecessors and contemporaries have thrown the baby out with the bath-water and left them holding the empty tub.

(TFT February 20-26, 1992 Vol-3, No.50 — Editorial)

New agenda for new Chief

The new army high command is trying to dismantle many of the tragic legacies of the Zia-Beg regime. About time. It has finally signalled a change in Afghan policy in conformity with the UN peace-plan. Excellent. It is keen to mend fences with the US over the question of nuclear proliferation and weapons for Pakistan. Good. There is a perceptible attempt to clip the terrorist wings of the MQM. Better late than never. Fundamentalist ‘Islamic’ groups which have long blackmailed society and governments now find the going tough. Which is as it should be. In particular, the army chief is backing the policies of the elected government rather than thinking of taking over. Thank God for that!

These are potentially far-reaching developments. But we are entitled to ask whether they are sufficiently rooted in the institution of the army to sustain a liberal, more realistic posture in the years ahead. Or are these changed cosmetic because they are hitched to the personality of Gen Asif Nawaz as COAS rather than to the evolving ethos and political outlook of the officers’ corps?

Gen Ayub Khan’s cosmopolitan demeanor and political philosophy appropriately reflected the concerns and attitudes of the officers’ corps of his times. By and large, senior officers came from rural, economically self-sufficient, land-owning gentries in the Punjab and the NWFP with liberal, Westernised value-systems. The army fitted in well with the anti-communist agenda of the cold war. That is one reason why Ayub lasted ten years.

By the time Gen Zia ul Haq departed in the late 1980s, however, the liberal army elites had rapidly thinned. They were progressively replaced by officers recruited in the late 1950s and 60s with urban, middle-class backgrounds and relatively conservative, home-spun views emphasising upward mobility and cultural autonomy. Zia himself was an early forerunner of this trend though his rise to the top slot in the mid 70s had more to do with his personality and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s flawed vision than to any intrinsic merit or rootedness in the senior officers’ corps of the time.

All that changed radically in the 1980s. Zia discovered that a new officers’ corps was now at hand as a developed constituency on which to base his middle-class ambitions and ‘Islamic’ predilections. Fortunately, too, for him, the ‘Islamic nationalism’ of this home-spun elite sat comfortably with the new exigencies of the cold war, in particular the ‘Islamic jihad’ in Afghanistan. That is one reason why Zia lasted 11 years.

Gen Aslam Beg was not so fortunate. Although he too belonged to the new, indigenous officers’ corps, his Muhajir background wasn’t exactly conducive to building a personal base among his predominantly Punjabi-Pathan colleagues in a national mood pre-occupied by caste and ethnicity. Beg was also at odds with the requirements of the post-cold war world dominated by the US which demanded from Pakistan an open, liberal response rather than the anti-West, inward-looking stance espoused by him. That is why he lasted only three years.

Gen Asif Nawaz is among the last of a vanishing, liberal breed, circa 1950s. He is a Punjabi, Sandhurst-trained soldier whose professionalism conforms to the requirements of the new order in which Pakistan desperately seeks to find a passage t the new century. In that sense, he has much going for him and is exactly what Pakistan needs at this juncture.

But his task is no easy one. He has inherited an army whose officers’ mindset is suspiciously encumbered in the cultural milieu and ‘nationalist’ rhetoric of the 1980s as evidenced by soldiers of the new breed like Gan Hameed Gul. When Gen Beg articulated an anti-West, pro-Iraq position during the Gulf War, reflecting public hysteria in much of the Muslim world, he found considerable support within the army. When Gen Gul was abruptly transferred, eyebrows were raised again. It is also no secret that several senior officers in critical positions, who were promoted ruing the last two years, share many of the concerns of soldiers like Beg and Gul. Therefore, unless the new COAS is able to persuade his senior colleagues of the compelling wisdom of these times and institutionalise extensive reforms and re-education within the army, he will not be able to make his political initiatives stick.

Gen Asif Nawaz’s task is all the more difficult because fundamentalist groups who oppose his outlook have acquired a strong foothold in the IJI government which is out of all proportion t their electoral strength. Such individuals and parties have already succeeded in diminishing the liberal impact of the elected government and daily threaten it with reprisals unless it tows their line.

Neither Mian Nawaz Sharif nor Gen Asif Nawaz can singly hope to charter the frontiers of a modern, new Pakistan without shedding much of the dead wood of the past. Both are in danger of being left stranded if they do not clean up their respective houses first. There is much to be gained by taking the opposition into confidence and together straining to show the way forward. Otherwise an unholy alliance of fundamentalists and disgruntled generals which threatens to undo all the positive intentions in Islamabad and Rawalpindi cannot be ruled out.

(TFT February 20-26, 1992 Vol-3, No.50 — Article)

India is isolated on NPT

Najam Sethi says India is being prodded to think again about Pakistan’s five-nation proposals for a nuke-free zone in South Asia

Is a rift between India and the United States in the offing on the issue of the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty which India refuses to sign? Although it may be too early to talk in terms of a ‘rift’ because US leverage on India is not as significant as on Pakistan, certain recent developments suggest that New Delhi’s elation at the US aid cut-off to Pakistan may have been short-lived.

In a speech at the Security Council on January 31, Mr Narasimha Rao reiterated the Indian position that the only logical route to the NPT was to pursue a global regime. President Bush, however, told Mr Rao that India should respond positively to proposals for a nuclear-free zone in South Asia.

Mr Rao also had problems with the speech on human rights and the role of the UN given by the Security Council Chairman, British PM Mr John Major. Mr Rao admitted that Mr Major’s statement did not reflect “one or two” crucial Indian concerns,by which he was surely referring to issues of human rights and nuclear proliferation where India is out of step with the perceptions of the global community.

Mr Major’s first draft contained formulations on nuclear non-proliferation, human rights, the disarmament role of the Security Council and ‘preventive diplomacy’ which were not acceptable to India. The final, tougher draft sought t invest the Security Council with authority to take action against those countries involved in nuclear proliferation.

In the event, India failed to remove a reference to the NPT from the Security Council resolution which was finally passed. Despite vigorous efforts by Indian diplomats, not a single of the nine non-permanent members nor any of the five permanent members of the Security Council was prepared to support the Indian viewpoint. Western diplomats pointed out that this underlined India’s increasing international isolation on the nuclear issue.

In recent weeks, US officials have lost no opportunity to drive their point home to India. Two weeks ago, CIA Director Mr Robert Gates told a congressional committee that the arms race between Islamabad and New Delhi was a major US concern. “Not only do both countries have nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes,they have recently pursued chemical weapons programmes as well”, he said. The reference to chemical weapons was clearly meant for India. Earlier, Senator Larry Pressler had stressed that he intended to bring all recipients of US aid under the umbrella of the Pressler amendment.

The message was forcefully driven home to India by Dr Robert F Lehman, Director of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) who visited New Delhi Jan 31. Dr Lehman told Defence Minister Mr Sharad Pawar and Foreign Secretary J N Dixit that if India and Pakistan could not subscribe to the NPT, they must at least arrive at an “equivalent regime” as is the case with Brazil and Argentina and subject themselves to full International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.

Dr Lehman observed that the NPT is the keystone of global security. He singled out India as the country which was proving to be a stumbling block in arranging a five-power regional dialogue in South Asia. He believed the situation was hotter in South Asia than in West Asia where peace talks had at least begun. Dr Lehman said the US was working through this process for a nuclear-weapons free zone in the region and for a verifiable freeze on fissionable material, even while persuading the parties concerned to sign the NPT.

Considering that Dr Lehman’s hard-hitting statements cam at a time when Mr Rao was in the UN and Foreign Secretary Mr Dixit was scheduled to go to Washington for talks on nuclear proliferation, the point has registered i New Delhi that Washington’s punitive measures against Pakistan, which generated a great deal of back thumping in India, are part of a global philosophy which should not be ignored by India.

Writing in The Tribune of February 1, Mr K Subrahmanyum, a well-known hawk who reflects sensibilities within the Indian establishment, said: “There is no doubt that India has been placed at a diplomatic disadvantage … and we have to look at alternatives. Such an alternative will be for all five powers to agree that they will not use or threaten to use their nuclear capabilities in the S Asian region… It would therefore be worthwhile for India to participate in a five power conference and work for a solution along these lines.”

Of course, this advice is a far cry from agreeing to sign the NPT. But it is also a more realistic starting point on that route, considering that some months ago India was absolutely adamant on rejecting the Pakistani proposals. Mr Dixit’s talks with Washington, no less than Mr Shehryar Khan’s before him recently, may indicate the extent of flexibility we can reasonably expect from India in the months ahead.

(TFT Feb 27-04 Mar, 1992 Vol-3, No.51 — Editorial)

A pack of jokers

What the hell is going on? Either the government is deliberately speaking with a forked tongue or its left hand doesn’t genuinely know what the right one is doing. Consider the doublespeak in vogue these days.

On Afghanistan: Mr Ijaz ul Haq, a cabinet minister, appears to be striking out with an agenda all of his own. He is still flogging the ‘jihad’ in Afghanistan long after it has come to an end and been signalled as such by Mr Akram Zaki and Gen Asif Nawaz. President Ishaq also told Qazi Hussain Ahmad, an IJI partner, that the rationale for ‘jihad’ had ceased to exist following Pakistan’s change of track behind the UN peace-plan. But PM Nawaz Sharif, who also says that Pakistan supports the UN peace plan, is shaking hands under the table with Qazi Hussain Ahmad and Gulbudin Hekmatyar and reassuring them that “there is no change in Pakistan’s Afghan policy”. Talking to the BBC in Teheran recently, Mr Sharif sowed further confusion when he declared that “only an Islamic government in Kabul without Najibullah would be acceptable to Pakistan”. By so saying, Mr Sharif has not served the cause of Mr Akram Zaki’s efforts to back the UN negotiator, Mr Benon Sevan.

On Islamisation: Maulana Sattar Niazi, a minister, says that Riba is Interest and that the Federal Shariat Court has justly banned it. Finance Minister Sartaj Aziz, however, says that he doesn’t know whether Riba is indeed Interest and that is why he has nudged the private sector to challenge the FSC’s decision in the Supreme Court. Mr Aziz is also counselling foreign investors and aid donors to ignore the FSC’s ruling, promising them that it will be overturned or buried shortly. Meanwhile, Sardar Assef Ali, another minister, has been branded by Maulana Niazi and Qazi Hussain as a “kafir’ and threatened with death for saying that Riba is not Interest and that the FSC’s decision is disastrous.

On Kashmir: President Ishaq confirmed before Kazakh President Nazerbayev recently that Pakistan is sticking to its positions under the UN resolutions of 1947-48 in which the option of an independent Kashmir has been ruled out. A few days earlier, however, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif acknowledged before the BBC that the third option of an independent Kashmir might have to be considered if the Kashmiris so desired. What is poor Sardar Abdul Quyyum to make of this, except perhaps to rush in support of the Simla Pact (at the expense of the UN resolutions) in the hope that Kashmiris can have the right of self-determination, including the choice to be independent and free? How can the Sardar sit back in isolation and see Amanullah Khan ride the wave in Muzaffarabad and Srinager while the President and Prime Minister either over the issue?

On the Bomb: Until recently, the Pakistani position was a perfect example of having its cake and eating it too: ‘We will never compromise or roll-back on the bomb which we don’t have’. Then Foreign Secretary Shehryar Khan told the Americans some weeks ago that Pakistan had the components to build a bomb but that it had frozen its nuclear programme in 1991. Not so, said Mr Akram Zaki, visibly disturbed at having lost the thunder in Washington to his subordinate: ‘We froze our programme in 1989 and not 1991’. So, no one in government really knows when we ‘froze’ our nuclear programme. Nor is anyone admitting whether or not a ‘freeze’ amounts to a ‘compromise’ or a ‘roll-back’.

On Sindh: The PM has confirmed that the Sindh CM Jam Sadiq has been incapitated by ill health. But he is at pains to clarify that the Jam remains in command and all is as it should be in the province. What then is Mr Muzaffar Shah doing acting as de facto Chief Minister? Gen Asif Nawaz, abetted by Deputy Prime Minister Ch Nisar Ali Khan, is all set to clip the wings of the MQM. Why then is President Ishaq going out of his way to woo the MQM by issuing certificates of loyalty and patriotism to Mr Altaf Hussain? Why is production minister Islam Nabi openly flouting the efforts of Gen Sahib to clean up the mess in the Karachi Steel Mill? Why is Irfanullah Marwat occupying the most powerful ministry in Sindh when the Prime Minister is desperately unhappy about his presence there in the first place?

This government just doesn’t look or act like one. What we have instead is a pack f fumbling, grumbling, dithering jokers who make the PPP look good in hindsight, which is saying a lot. The PM’s ‘problems’ ar all of his own making. If he were cool, clear-headed and firm, he would realise that he has so much going for him that he doesn’t need to play footsie with the likes of Ijaz ul Haq or the Jamaat-i-Islami or indeed the MQM. In the final analysis, if a sitting, elected PM can count on the support of the armed forces, like Mian Nawaz Sharif, he should be in the enviable position of telling every blackmailer in sight to go to hell. This is exactly what is required and expected.

(TFT March 05-11, 1992 Vol-3, No.52 — Editorial)

Get going, Imran

The Pakistan cricket team is not firing properly on any one of its 11 cylinders, including the three in reserve. From all accounts, the boys seem demoralised, listless and wayward. Of the matches played thus far, we were badly mauled by the Windies and deeply humiliated by the English. As for the one against Zimbabwe, our exploits were nothing to write home about. What, in God’s name, is going on and why?

Even before the team left, it was abundantly clear that Waqar Yunus was unfit. He couldn’t bowl a single over during net practise. Where the expert doctor diagnosed a stress fracture, our selectors thought otherwise. In the event, he had a free ride to Australia and back.

Then, no one thought it worthwhile to import some white balls and give the boys a chance to check them out. The shine on the white ball lasts longer than on the red and it also seams more. As it is, our batsmen and bowlers are all at sea with it now.

The selection of the team was undoubtedly bungled. Saleem Jaffar and Akram Raza were declared non trata and sent back post haste. How did they change their colours overnight and become unsuitable for Australian pitches? Now we have two second-rate leg spinners and are sorely missing out on an off-spinner like Iqbal Qasim.

As for captain Imran Khan’s ‘fierce motivation’ to win the cup, we don’t like it one bit, Khan says that his motivation is of a purely private nature. He is concerned about the fate of his cancer hospital and has been advised to stay in the limelight if he wants to raise funds for it. No one has the courage to tell him plainly that his private motivation is adversely affecting the morale of his team. If every player were to follow suit and play for himself, as Imran is doing and as Rameez Raja did against the Windies, rather than for team and country, we might as well ask the boys to pack their bags and call it a day.

Then there is the issue of who should lead the team. Saleem Malik is properly in line to become captain after Imran and Miandad retire. When the team left,Miandad was thought a non-starter ad Malik was appointed vice-captain. When Miandad was desperately recalled, Malik lost his due and sulked. What a royal mess this is.

If both Imran and Miandad are ageing, unfit warriors, wouldn’t it have been proper to appoint star batsman Saleem Malik and star bowler Wasim Akram as captain and vice-captain respectively and tell Khan and Miandad to groom them in the jobs under their tutelage in the World Cup? A leaf from the Windies’ book might have been taken. After Vivian Richards voluntarily retired as captain, he said he was available to play in the World Cup under Richardson. Although the Windies foolishly didn’t take Richards up on his generous offer, Imran Khan could well have responded in the same spirit in the twilight of his grand career. After all, aren’t former captains Kapil Dev and Vengsarkar playing under Azharuddin in the Indian team? Isn’t former captain Botham playing under Gooch? Pity the Pakistani selectors who must eve now scrape and grovel before the whimsical Great Khan.

Imran Khan now says he won’t play in a match unless he can bowl also. This is ridiculous. Khan has an honourable place in the team as a batsman, not as a bowler. Why doesn’t he get off his high horse and stop farting about? As it is, he stands out like a sore thumb among his middle-class playmates who are beginning to resent his standoffish ways and authoritarian behaviour.

It isn’t too late to sort out things, have a determined go at the Cup and give us our money’s worth. The captain needs to establish a line of communication with the boys. What is missing is a sense of comaraderie. This should be followed by continuous pep-talks. Some important cricketing lessons, too, should be drummed into them after their private irks and kinks have been ironed out. (Did you see how the England bowlers fruitfully sacrificed pace for seam, swing and accuracy while Akram and Jawed were hopelessly panting in to the wicket and spraying their balls all over the place?)

Imran Khan is the greatest cricketer Pakistan has ever produced. He made a mistake in announcing his retirement some years ago. But he was wise enough to repair his error and return to cricket when his country needed him. His country still needs him, immediately as a batsman and strategist of high quality and later as a guiding force behind efforts to build a new team to take on England in the gruelling 5-Test series in the summer.

But Khan must put duty to Pakistan first and his private obsessions second. And this change of heart and mind must be immediately and clearly reflected before the team. Otherwise, he will have only himself to blame for a bitter end to a truly glorious career.

(TFT March 12-18, 1992 Vol-4 No.1 — Editorial)

Grasping cynics of Islamabad

The passing of Jam Sadiq Ali will not be mourned by many. The Jam had a typical Sindhi wadera’s contempt for democratic form and morality. In one year, he did more to erode the fabric of Sindhi society than all the nasty feudal and military dictators put together in a decade. He was a wanton agent of the grasping cynics in Islamabad. And they clung to him selfishly even as he lay gasping in the clutches of death.

The political vacuum in Sindh is, if anything, more awesome and daunting today than when the Jam took over as chief minister eighteen months ago. By night, the provincial government should have gone to Benazir Bhutto in 1990. But Islamabad determined otherwise and handed it to Jam Sadiq. But what the Jam has delivered will surely rank as the most bloody, repressive and divisive policies in the annals of Sindh. The fumbling PPP Sindh government from 1988-90, by comparison, looks angelic in retrospect.

Mr Muzaffar Hussain Shah, the new CM, has inherited the Jam’s mantle without any of his predecessor’s devilish attributes. The new CM has only a tenuous hold on office and it is ironic that he should now have to depend for survival on the cooperation of the very PPP that the Jam nearly hounded to death.

The PPP’s support is understandably conditional: get rid of Irfanullah Marwat, halt the MQM’s terrorism and blackmail and stop the repression. Can Mr Shah do it?

Hardly. If Mr Marwat is ordered to pack his bags, the father-in-law will feel slighted. And Mr Shah cannot afford to antagonize the President. If Mr Altaf Hussain is told where to get off, the MQM may unleash ethnic strife all over again. Gen Asif Nawaz won’t like that and Mr Shah can hardly countenance the displeasure of the army. If the MQM is provoked to desert the PM in the National Assembly, Mr Sharif will be most annoyed. And that is the last thing Mr Shah would desire.

How then is Mr Shah going to make his government click? Some obvious jugglery can be contrived in the short term by giving Mr Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi a slice of the cake. But Mr Jatoi’s sights are set on more substantial, medium-term goals in Islamabad. When he receives an appropriate nod, he will stab Mr Shah in the back and precipitate a suitable crisis to be exploited by his mentors. As for the PPP, it is quite clear what the game is: some breathing space is necessary in Sindh in order to marshall its bruised forces before launching a frontal attack later. Consequently, the dissolution of the Sindh assembly is on the cards. In due course, such a crisis could herald an unwelcome fate for the political system in Islamabad.

Which, of course, would bring us squarely back to August 1990 and confirm what many have long argued: that the President cannot sacrifice national interests at the alter of his personal ego, that Islamabad’s dictatorial writ has worn thin in the provinces and a genuine measure of democracy and autonomy should be allowed, that the MQM’s poisonous fangs must be yanked out so that it cannot hold the country to ransom.

The Sindh tragedy has been compounded by the brutalities of Jam Sadiq and the prejudices of Islamabad. Unfortunately, there seems no end in sight to this madness. Mr Marwat is still running amuck with the blessings of President Ishaq. The PM hates the PPP so much that he cannot bring himself to say good-bye to the MQM. Islamabad is so stupidly self-conscious of its centrality that it will not allow for a devolution of power.

Behind the scenes, a dangerous scramble for power is unravelling. The President is playing the COAS off against the PM. The PM is playing the President off against the COAS. And the COAS is matching their every move with an appropriate one of his own. The IJI is on the verge of splitting up, with the Jamaat-i-Islami threatening to sabotage foreign policy. And Mr Jatoi is not playing footsie with Benazir Bhutto for nothing.

If Mr Shah is indeed doomed to falter, will President’s Rule work? No. The President’s flawed logic has brought Sindh to its current impasse. Direct rule from Islamabad will deepen old wounds and draw fresh blood. If the government in Islamabad thinks it can use the intelligence agencies to deliver the province into their laps, they are sadly mistaken. As in the case of the Karachi Steel Mills, they will find they cannot rule without a significant input from the army.

There’s the unfortunate rub. If the army has to be called in to prop up a failing civil administration and curb the corrupt and power-hungry instincts of discredited politicians without a popular base, as well as restrain the opposition and government from clawing at each other, it can only reinforce one obvious historic conclusion. And no one need spell that out.

 

(TFT March 12-18, 1992 Vol-4 No.1 — Article)

Powerplays in Islamabad

Najam Sethi reviews the appointment of Gen Javed Nasir as the new head of the ISI and explains how it impinges on the struggle for power within the ruling troika

As The Economist pointed out, cynics have good reason to refer to the powerful ISI as the Invisible Soldiers of Islam. Both Gen Akhtar Abdur Rahman and Gen Hameed Gul, former ISI chiefs, had powerful ‘Islamic’ ambitions. They fueled the Afghan ‘jihad’ against Kabul in the hope of exporting ‘radical Islam’ to Central Asia. They also undermined democratic, secular oppositions in Pakistan.

Gen Javed Nasir, the new ISI chief appointed March 3 by prime minister Nawaz Sharif, apparently fits the ideological mould. He is a member of the Tableeghi Jamaat and army sources describe him as a “rigid preacher of Islam”.

But does this mean that the Pakistan government is edging closer to the “Islamic vision” of Gen Zia ul Haq and abandoning its forward-looking stance in domestic and foreign policy? Or should the new appointment more properly be viewed in a broader political context, one in which the struggle for distribution of power within the ruling ‘troika’ rather than the outcome of any ideological battle is at stake?

Reliable sources in Islamabad describe the new move as a “balancing act” by the civilian government for greater stability. They say it should help shore up Mr Nawaz Sharif’s faltering government, quieten Islamic critics of his foreign policies, dampen an increasingly emboldened political opposition and restrain the new army chief from encroaching on civil sources of power. That is quite credible.

Under Gen Zia ul Haq, the three intelligence agencies — Intelligence Bureau (IB), Interservices Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI) — worked closely together to formulate and implement domestic and foreign policy. Since his exit, however, the three agencies have drifted apart and often worked at cross purposes with one another.

Under Benazir Bhutto, acute tensions between the civilian IB and the semi-military ISI led to the sacking of Gen Hameed Gul as DG ISI. Benazir Bhutto appointed Gen (retd) Shamsuddin Kallu as head of ISI. But Kallu couldn’t deliver: solidly entrenched military interests in the ISI didn’t cooperate with him and the ISI became weak and ineffectual.

This led to two significant developments which had a bearing on the future of the Bhutto government. (1) Gen Hameed Gul, with the support of army chief Gen Aslam Beg and MI, continued to pull the strings from his position as Corps commander Multan, directing Afghan policy and undermining the PPP government. Gul’s right-hand man, Brig Imtiaz Ahmad, resigned from the ISI an teamed up with Mr Nawaz Sharif in order to topple the Bhutto government. (2) More significantly, under gen Aslam Beg, MI got into the act, quitely usurped many of the functions and practises of the ISI, and came into conflict with the IB. No wonder, after she was overthrown, Benazir Bhutto accused MI of conspiring with President Ishaq Khan and plotting her downfall.

In the interim government of Mr Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, Gen Beg was able to regain control of the ISI. He transferred Gen Asad Durrani, then head of MI and the man allegedly behind Bhutto’s ouster, to the ISI and brought in Gen Javed Ashraf Qazi (former GOC, Hyderabad) as head of MI. Together with former ISI chief Gen Hameed Gul and Brig (retd) Imtiaz, the ISI and MI cobbled together the IJI’s election strategy in 1990 to keep Bhutto out of power by hook or by crook.

Soon after Mian Nawaz Sharif became PM, however, the ISI and IB began to drift apart again. Under Brig Imtiaz, the IB’s main concerns had to do with strengthening the civil government and undermining the opposition. But the ISI under Gen Durrani didn’t play ball. Instead, when Gen Aslam Beg began to spread his wings and severely embarrassed Mr Sharif over Gulf policy in April 1991, the ISI reportedly teamed up with MI to further Gen Beg’s political ambitions. Tensions came to a head between new IB chief Brig Imtiaz and ISI chief Gen Durrani around June 1991 when Mr Sharif suspected Gen Beg of wanting to effect a coup and take over. The IB also informed the PM that Gen Beg’s MI was “in contact” with the PPP and instigating it to launch a movement against the civilian government, as a pretext for a coup.

However, soon thereafter, the President made a calculated move to save the civilian system from an impending coup by Gen Beg. He announced the appointment of Gen Asif Nawaz as army chief-designate. By so doing, he was killing two birds with one stone: he dashed the hopes of Gen Hameed Gul for the top army slot and made Gen Beg a lame-duck COAS. If Gen Hameed Gul had become COAS as a quid pro quo for his support to Mr Sharif in getting rid of Bhutto and ensuring an IJI win in the 1990 elections, he would have certainly joined the PM to make for a lame-duck President.

After Gen Asif Nawaz became COAS, it is reliably learnt that he wanted his former right-hand man in Sindh, Gen Naseer Akhtar, to be appointed head of the ISI. But the President and the PM conspired to deny the new army chief access to the ISI. Although Gen Asad Durrani’s days were indeed numbered, because he was a legacy of the Gen Beg era and his “loyalty” couldn’t be assured to either the civilians or the new army chief, Gen Asif Nawaz was persuaded by the President to allow a change in Afghan policy to be effected under Gen Durrani before replacing him.

Meanwhile, Gen Asif Nawaz has been in hurry to dismantle many of the legacies of the Zia era and consolidate his own power base in the army. Gen Hameed Gul, who had lost his clout in GHQ after the departure of Gen Beg, was the first to go. Gul’s departure was followed by other GHQ appointments and transfers.

The President, with the connivance of the PM, countered the COAS’s growing power by appointing Gen Javed Nasir as head of the ISI, thereby denying control of the agency to Gen Asif Nawaz. The COAS has now moved swiftly to “balance” the odds: he has appointed Gen Naseer Akhtar, originally GHQ’s ISI-chief designate and lately GOC, Kharian, as Corps Commander in the sensitive province of Sindh and transferred Gen Beg’s appointee in Sindh, Gen Bangash, to the post of Quarter-Master General. Gen Javed Ashraf Qazi, the current head of MI and also a Beg appointee, will predictably be transferred soon to make way for some other General whose loyalty to Gen Asif is assured.

The COAS has also quickly moved to reinforce his authority over the para-military Rangers in Sindh, forcing the government to backtrack on an earlier decision to put them under the control of the Sindh civil administration. The PM has subsequently had second thoughts: he now wants the Rangers to be under civilian control again. As for Gen Durrani, his new post in the Recruitment and Evaluation division of the army is sufficient evidence of being sidelined from command positions.

Only two months ago, Gen Javed Nasir was sent to take charge of the Pakistan Ordinance factories. Clearly, if he had been earmarked by GHQ for going to the ISI, his transfer from the Frontier Works Organisation to Wah would not have been effected at that time.

Although the army is at pains to point out that the appointment of Gen Javed Nasir as head of ISI meets with the approval of GHQ, the military is hardly likely to admit publicly that its own short-list of three candidates sent to the Ministry of Defence was scrapped by the government.

Gen Nasir’s appointment has been contrived by the President and Prime Minister on the advice of IB chief, Brig Imtiaz, who is fiercely loyal to Mr Sharif, hates the PPP and understands how powerplays in the army affect the longevity of civilian governments. Brig Imtiaz and Gen Nasir are old course mates, having served in the same corps for some time. The IB chief will now find the ISI more amenable to civilian pressure and manipulation and is undoubtedly hoping that the two agencies — IB and ISI — can work together to strengthen the Sharif government and undermine the political opposition.

The new move is also likely to strengthen Mr Sharif’s hand in dealing with Islamic critics of his domestic and foreign policies. Gen Durrani had lost the support of the Jamaat-i-Islami over the new Afghan policy in line with the UN peace-plan. Gen Nasir, whose Islamic credentials cannot be doubted, will be better able to persuade the Jamaat-i-Islami that the interests of Islamicists like Mr Gulbudin Hekmatyar will be protected in the new arrangements ahead. Gen Nasir should also be able to reassure the Jamaat that Mr Sharif has no intention of undermining the Jamaat’s interests in Kashmir. Finally, in the troubled province of Sindh, the PM and President can expect cooperation between the IB and ISI to yield dividends, though conflict between the IB-ISI and MI over Sindh policy is likely to spill over into acrimony before long.

Ordinarily, one should not dramatise the significance of such powerplays. But these are not stable times and much is in flux. What makes them significant is the feverishness with which each member of the ‘troika’ is looking over his shoulder to consolidate himself and weaken the other. In the long-run, this can prove detrimental to the cause of stability in the country.

(TFT March 19-25, 1992 Vol-4 No.2 — Editorial)

Fudging the Report

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has not released the full text of the Coops Commission Report. And for good reason. If the complete report had been made available, instead of a rigged press release prepared in the PM’s secretariat, its transparent falsehoods might have restrained the press from publishing screaming headlines favouring the PM and accusing the PPP.

In a Public Notice on 15 November, 1991, published in all the papers, the government announced the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry under section 3 of the Pakistan Commission Inquiry Act, 1956, to investigate the Coops crisis, fix responsibility for the public’s losses and recommend measures to re-pay all genuine claims. In this Public Notice, the Commission’s responsibilities and scope are noted in details running into 11 sections (a to g and f(i to v). The Notice also entitles anyone to submit sworn affidavits or appear in person before the Commission in reference to its full terms.

Yet, the Commission’s full report (which TFT has had the nerve to persue secretly) has conveniently ignored section g(i to v) of the Public Notice which relates to (1) measures required to be taken for repayment of the amounts due to depositors (2) “recommend and fix responsibility on all relevant quarters…”. Says the Commission Report on page 167: “The proceedings being inquisitorial rather than adversarial and life span of the Commission being of a few weeks, any attempt to find the answer in the circumstances and the legal position obtaining in the matter, would have been impossible”.

If that is indeed so, we might well ask how, as per the press release, the Commission has then absolved Mian Nawaz Sharif and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain of any culpability in the scandal and pointed an accusing finger at the PPP. If this is the Commission’s definition of “inquisitorial” and “adversarial”, the learned judges might well be advised to look up the Dictionary for the meaning of these words. Certainly, it very much seems as though the PM and the Commission have had their cakes and eaten them too. The Report is, if anything, adversarial towards the PPP and inquisitorial towards all other issues.

The PPP, as represented by Messrs Aitzaz Ahsan, Tariq Rahim and Salmaan Taseer, went by the Public Notice and applied before the Commission to be heard. The Attorney-General, Punjab and the Ittefaq Group’s lawyers opposed their presence in the hearings despite the publicly announced terms of reference. For the sake of form, the judges relented later, but only to hear the PPP view (2 hours in all) of the financial cause of the crisis and not to entertain remarks or facts about Mian Nawaz Sharif’s responsibility in the affair!

If you examine the press release, you will note some obvious statistical tinkerings conjured by a would-be trickster in the PM’s secretariat. We are told that the Ittefaq Group took loans from two Coops amounting to only 5 per cent of their total ‘deposits’. Surely, we would like to know what these loans amounted to as a percentage of all ‘loans’ (not deposits) taken. Looking at it that way, it turns out that between them, the PM and Interior Minister’s family took nearly 40 per cent of all the loans advanced by the biggest Coop of them all — NICFC — in one year!

We are also informed about the Ittefaq Group’s magnanimity in paying billions in ‘taxes’ to the public exchequer. This is the blatant lie. Ittefaq may have paid import and excise ‘duties’ as a measure of its total turnover, but we are more interested in knowing how much it has paid in ‘income tax’ on net profits. Of course, the Commission is conveniently ignorant of accounting terms.

A blow by blow account of the Commission’s failings and deviations would run into as many pages as the Report itself. There will be time enough for that. For the moment, we should simply like to make some general points.

(1) The Commission retracted on its terms of reference no sooner than the ink on the Public Notice of its scope had dried on November 15 (2) The Commission has unfairly condemned the PPP and absolved the IJI of their respective responsibilities in the matter. While the loans sanctioned by the Coops to members of the PPP did not amount to more than Rs 50 crores while the PPP was in power, those given to IJI stalwarts while Mian Nawaz Sharif was Chief Minister of the Punjab and then Prime Minister run into billions (3) The Commission has compromised its independence and authority by allowing its offices to be manipulated by the Law Department of the government (4) The crooks who ran the Coops and also borrowed from them — who swindled the public — belong to the IJI. But the Commission has thought it fit to concentrate on a handful of Piplias who borrowed the odd crore or ran the odd Coop.

It is a sorry exercise and we are saddened to see the Commission lending itself to such practices. We are sorrier still to see the press lending its front pages to currying favour with the government in power rather than fulfilling its responsibilities to the public by critically examining the full report.

(TFT March 26-April 01, 1992 Vol-4 No. 3 — Editorial)

Chronicle of a crash foretold

Mian Nawaz Sharif’s bandwagon is resolutely splitting at the seams and running out of steam. Mr Zahid Sarfraz departed with a good measure of spite early in the innings. Not much later, Maulana Sami ul Haq sexcaped it in a whiff of scandal. Maulana Sattar Niazi has huffed off more than once and will surely leave when the ship is about to sink. Ijaz ul Haq is cunningly biding his time, if he doesn’t up and about soon enough he might well be thrown overboard. Qazi Hussain Ahmad comes and goes aft his pleasure, says and does what he likes and remains a desperado in Islamabad respected only for his nuisance value. Pir Pagara hates the PM’s guts and is appropriately nowhere in sight. Mohammad Khan Junejo may be hanging around but only just; once he has worked out where he must go and when, go he will and fleet-footedly. And now, Mr Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, the perennial pillar of the establishment, has bid a bitter farewell. Clearly, the PM has bitten off more than he can chew. It doesn’t look good, does it?

The Finance Minister says that the economy is teetering on despair. Privatisation has stalled and businessmen are no longer in love with the PM, not least because of corruption and cronyism. The IMF is downright angry because the fiscal deficit of over 6 per cent of GDP is still hugging the roof despite our tall promises last year. The Aid-to-Pakistan Consortium which meets next month is not going to give us a cent more than US$ 1.4 billion, which is sufficient to cover debt repayments of US$ 2.5 billion we need. Millions of Punjabis are hopping mad because there is no sign of the Rs 20 billion owed to them by members of the IJI in the Coop scam. The scandalous Rs 24 billion Motorway looks to be a non-starter. No one really knows where the money is going to come from and to whom it will go; nor is President Ishaq Khan terribly enamoured of the PM’s whimsical justifications for his pet project. On top of it all, the official FCBC’s floated abroad have bounced back with a nasty stench which makes the BCCI affair aromatic in comparison. It doesn’t look good, does it?

Sindh is on a potboiler and fresh Jam Sadiqs are in short supply. Mr Muzaffar Hussain Shah is hardly the man to match wits with the likes of Mr Jatoi, sooth the frayed nerves of Mr Altaf Hussain and even the odds against Ms Bhutto. The bombs which knocked out the gas pipeline also suggest it is only a matter of time before Mr Shah’s house of cards crumbles to the dust. Then what? Perish the thought of President’s rule for it can only serve as an introduction to an ominous chronicle foretold. It doesn’t look good, does it?

Powerplays in Islamabad make a mockery of government and constitution alike. The President’s pause is problematic. Reduced to a personal clique, the bureaucracy in Islamabad is grumbling aloud. Meanwhile, the diplomats in Islamabad are undiplomatically clucking their displeasures. And the GHQ remains primed to hone is where duty beckons. It doesn’t look good, does it?

And what is Mr Nawaz Sharif up to in the meanwhile? Sunny weekends are spent playing cricket at the Lahore Gymkhana, Fridays are reserved for Abbaji’s inexhaustible pearls of wisdom. In between funerals, marriages, flower shows and gallivanting abroad, the PM has time only for cutting corners, building an Ittefaq empire, huddling with his fumbling kitchen cabinet and harassing an increasingly united opposition. It doesn’t look good, does it?

Come May, and a ferocious budget will be upon us. Unlike the Coop Commission report, this most certainly will require more than just a PR job to be swallowed hook, line and sinker. When the PM bites the hand that voted him to power, as indeed he must to sustain his crony-capitalist policies, the end cannot be too far off. It doesn’t look goo,d does it?

So, what can Mr Nawaz Sharif do to redeem his position? Begin at the beginning, we say, live and let live. Mend fences with Bhutto, ditch the parasitic legacies of Zia ul Haq, halt the spiralling inflation of his private economic empire and restore the constitution to its pristine excellence. But that’s a tall order for so meagre a man, you say, he can’t do it. So we can expect more of the same. A tale of sound and fury signifying nothing. It doesn’t look good, does it?

What was that about the man who knows that he knows not? He’s a wise man, befriend him. And what about the man who knows not that he knows not? He’s a foolish man, shun him.

(TFT April 2-8, 1992 Vol-4 No.4 — Editorial)

Surgery needed

Pakistan is at a critical juncture in history. It can either remain a prisoner of the crushing legacies of Gen Zia ul Haq or boldly move forward to tackle the demands of the post-cold war age. Any government which runs with the hare and hunts with the hound is bound to falter. In the process it will do incalculable harm to economy and society.

Zia’s legacies are many and pervasive. To begin with, there is no societal consensus over his enforced constitutional amendments. On one side, not only is Nawaz Sharif abiding faithfully with his inheritance, he has also hastily appended an amendment of his own which would have done Zia proud. On the other, Benazir Bhutto has drifted further apart by calling for a “new social contract” which envisages wholesale changes in the original 1973 constitution itself.

Then there is the pathological hatred of Messrs Ishaq Khan and Nawaz Sharif for Benazir Bhutto which brooks no rationality, common sense or considerations of national interest. Both will go to any lengths, including provocation of martial law, to ensure she is denied power. Like the Bhutto-Zia problematic of an irresistible force pitted against an immovable object, the Bhutto-Ishaq conundrum has acquired ominous proportions.

Foreign policy is another area where hard-core Ziaists continue to mess around. One day, the Foreign Secretary tells the world that Pakistan will not put its bomb on the shelf. Then defence minister Ghaus Ali Shah chimes in to claim that we have all but readied our bomb for delivery. Yesterday, the PM was gung-ho about a pro-AIG Islamic solution to Afghanistan. Today he’s right behind the neutral interim government proposed by Mr Sevan Benon. Tomorrow, he will be setting his sights on a military victory over Najibullah. Overtly, the PM is restraining the JKLF from precipitating a crisis across the LOC; covertly, he continues to fund the Jamaat-i-Islami to fuel the war in Srinager.

On Islamisation, the PM is at pains to tell the world that he is no fundamentalist, that his Shariat Bill is a sham designed to keep the fundamentalists at arms length. Yet, he is desperately clinging to the likes of Qazi Hussain and Satar Niazi and pandering to their obsolete obsessions as though life would be unbearable without them. Economics minister Sardar Assif Ali is crying himself hoarse over the Federal Shariat Court’s decision to outlaw interest; yet the PM shows no inclination to wrench out the fangs of the FSC and muzzle it from biting again.

The crisis of population growth, which threatens to wreck economic progress, is marked by a contradictory policy of appeasing the mullahs (go-slow, no forceful publicity, paucity of funds) while deceiving the donor agencies (“we’re really serious this time”). The education system, too, retains the sickening, ideological stamp of Ziaism: our children are being taught a poisonous, revisionist version of history which bears no relation to reality. While the government’s privatisation policy is creating a network of liberal-arts, English-medium schools for the upper-middle classes, official rhetoric and syllabi continue to stress the primacy of Urdu and religious orthodoxy in opposition to English and liberalism as fodder for the labouring and lower-middle classes. Thus, the system is geared to create a society of haves and have-nots, denying upward-mobility to the toiling millions.

The judiciary, too, is a victim of such ontological dualities. Although Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence remains the pillar of the state, its foundations have been considerably eroded by the creation of a parallel structure of Islamic laws not based on Ijtehad. Where the lower courts are under official pressure to conform to Hudood laws, the superior courts are under pressure to reverse their decisions or resort to evasive, delaying tactics.

Ethnic passion and sectarian strife, assiduously cultivated as Zia’s fifth column in the 1980s, remain potent destablising forces. The MQM holds Karachi, Sindh and Islamabad to ransom. Yet, instead of boldly disarming its terrorist wings, Mian Nawaz Sharif is mollycoddling Mr Altaf Hussain no end. In Balochistan, the spectre of sectarian strife (persecution of the Zikkris) and ethnic violence (Pathans Vs Baloch) is looming larger than ever before. But the PM sees no reason to crush the trouble-makers. In Punjab, the fanatical ASS has been let loose in Jhang and elsewhere pitted against the TNFJ. But the PM will not allow his anti-terrorist courts to focus their energies on militant obscurantists.

Pakistan’s struggle to hitch a ride to the 21st century is, to all purposes, a struggle between orthodoxy and modernism, obscurantism and scientific enlightenment, perverse diversity and rational assimilation, fundamentalism and liberalism. Zia’s legacies are a painful drag on progress in the right direction. A clean and swift break with the past is wanted. If Mian Nawaz Sharif cannot quickly come to terms with the pressing requirements of the new order which beckons, surgery may be eventually needed to root out the cancer. And, as everyone knows, there is no shortage of impatient surgeons pacing in the wings.

(TFT April 9-15, 1992 Vol-4 No.5 — Editorial)

Assault on the judiciary

The state of law is in a royal mess. Last week, the Lahore High Court struck down the Special Courts established in 1987 by a Presidential Ordinance. The LHC also held all their decisions since then to be invalid. It did so because the Ordinance in question had ‘lapsed’: it had neither been extended nor enacted as law by parliament. So much for all the public time, effort and money expended on those decisions in the last fours years!

This is only one example of the cavalier treatment of law by Islamabad since the times of Gen Zia ul Haq. It took us 26 years to forge a national consensus and frame a constitution. But Zia knocked it out of shape by forcing the politicians and judiciary to indemnify all the martial law orders and proclamations issued from 1977 to 1985. Mr Junejo’s parliament meekly put its stamp on all Presidential Ordinances issued from 1986 to mid 1988.

After Bhutto was overthrown, President Ishaq Khan donned the mantle of Zia and issued countless Presidential Ordinances. It appears that the Law Department was so overwhelmed by the President’s persistent demand for wholesale, though whimsical, new laws that it clean forgot to remind him that the Special Courts had become redundant in the meanwhile.

On another front, the status of hundreds of amendments to the penal code ordered by the Federal Shariat Court is still unclear. This refers to those laws struck down by the FSC which have neither been challenged by the government in the time allotted nor officially notified by the Law Department as new laws. So we have a situation in which the judiciary continues to base many of its decisions on sections of the old law which have been struck down by the FSC. All that is required to cripple the legal system is for some smart lawyer to challenge the hundreds of decisions taken by the judiciary in ignorance of the FSC’s judgements and have them declared void.

The recently promulgated Shariat Bill and the Hudood Ordinances have sowed further confusion by creating an ill-defined, parallel structure of law challenging the 200 year old corpus of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence upon which the state is based. In consequence, three disastrous policies have materialized. One, the minorities are more discriminated against than ever before — the application of the Zina laws against women and the persecution of the Christians under the Gustakh a Rasool (Insult to the Holy Prophet) Ordinances, spring to mind immediately. Two, the lower courts have been pitted against the superior courts, especially where enforcement of Islamic punishments under the Hudood ordinances is concerned. Invariably, the lower courts have taken recourse to the Hudood Ordinances while the superior courts, mindful of the implications of enforcing such punishments, have desperately sought technical grounds to reverse these decisions. Take the recent case against the two American brothers in Peshawar who converted to Islam, were convicted by sessions court under Islamic law for theft and awarded Islamic retribution. The Peshawar High Court acquitted them on technical grounds. Third, the government’s credibility has been eroded when it has not had the will or ability to enforce some of these Islamic laws: the application of the Qisas and Diyat Ordinance was effectively blocked when the Transporters Union threatened to cripple the economy if its members were forced to pay Diyat to victims of road accidents.

These are not the only consequences of incompetent, hasty and politically opportunistic legal policies followed by Islamabad. Equally damaging has been overt executive interference in the appointment, transfers and retirement of judges to the superior courts in order to influence their decisions. Beginning with President Ishaq’s tussle with Benazir Bhutto over the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court in 1989 to the retirement of a judge of the Peshawar High Court because he dissented with the order to dissolve the NWFP assembly in 1990 and culminating in the recent appointment to the Sindh High Court of a senior Muslim League office-holder, it has been a sorry tale. There was also a time when, during the interim government of 1990, the Sindh Governor took a holiday to Jeddah so that the Chief Justice of the Sindh High Court could become Acting-Governor and allow another judge to take his place and constitute an appropriate bench to hear Bhutto’s petition challenging the dissolution of the Sindh government in August 1991!

The assault on the law and the judiciary is nothing new. Every martial law dictator has forced the law to bend to its writ and sent the judiciary scurrying for cover. What is everlastingly shameful and tragic is the continuing debasement of our legal structure at the hands of politicians and bureaucrats. That the people, by and large, still pin their hopes on justice speaks of their respect for the judiciary and not about the fairness of the law.

(TFT April 16-22, 1992 Vol-4 No.6 — Editorial)

Who’s getting too big for his boots?

The Doom & Gloom Brigade, which comprises perennially disaffected politicians and journalists based in Lahore and occupies itself with wishful predictions of the fall of civilian governments, is at its favourite pastime again. Mian Nawaz Sharif, says the Brigade, has only a short lease of life left. Is there in fact any basis to this ‘prophecy’?

There is certainly some merit in the observation that President Ghulam Ishaq is no longer as enamoured of PM Nawaz Sharif as he was a year ago. Apart from the usual disagreements over continuing policy matters, part of the real reason may be informed speculation about Mian Sahib’s long-term ambitions which may seriously conflict with those of Mr Ishaq Khan. Sources close to the Presidency confirm that Mr Khan would like to be re-elected as President next year for another three-year term but believe that Mian Sahib’s advisors are telling him that it is time for Mr Khan to call it a day.

More significantly, they are reportedly telling Mian Nawaz to stand for President himself next year and install a pliant non-entity as PM in his own place. This way, the argument goes, Mian Nawaz should be able to take all the reins of power in his hands and rule for another decade. If this sort of irresponsible talk has reached the Presidency, and there is no reason to doubt that it hasn’t, Mian Nawaz is on a slippery wicket for sure.

There is greater credibility in the news that relations between the PM and the COAS have rapidly soured in recent times. The PM has been unhappy about the three ‘meetings’ between Gen Asif Nawaz and Benazir Bhutto, especially the ‘dinner meeting’ before the Chief left for the United States in January. The fact that the Chief was able to sweep the decks and quickly negotiate a fruitful relationship with the US — thereby hogging the limelight in Washington — could not have been lost on Mian Sahib who is known for his reluctance to share kudos with anyone.

The PM was also displeased with the sacking of Gen Hameed Gul who has secretly been a pillar of support for the IJI government since he engineered the formation of the Alliance and chartered its ‘winning’ electoral strategy in 1990. Nor could the PM have been terribly overjoyed by the intervention of the COAS with Benazir Bhutto and Mustafa Jatoi to prop up Muzaffar Hussain Shah’s government in Sindh to the exclusion of any mediatory role for the PM’s ‘Panj Pyarey’ team of trouble-shooters.

On the other side, no COAS could possibly welcome civilian interference in the army’s internal military matters. Take the case of Gen Hameed Gul. The GHQ decided to transfer Gen Gul from a command position in Multan to a managerial slot in Pindi. Gen Gul refused to move to his new appointment. Instead, he applied for leave and approached the Defence Ministry to ‘intervene’ with GHQ on his behalf — Defence Minister Mr Ghaus Ali Shah reportedly met with the Chairman, Joint Chief of Staff Committee, Gen Shamim Alam, to persuade him to ask GHQ to change its orders. Gen Alam correctly advised Mr Shah to drop the matter. But because Gen Gul had disobeyed army orders, he was promptly sacked by GHQ. When Gen Gul gave an interview to a newspaper recently in which he obliquely criticised GHQ policy on Afghanistan, the military protested to the Foreign Office and sought public clarifications from the government. None were forthcoming, reinforcing GHQ suspicions that Mian Sahib was sheltering a renegade General who was continuing to meddle in politics from behind the scenes.

On the heels of the Gen Gul affair comes the Gen Javed Nasir affair. As per norms for the appointment of the DG, ISI, a list of three Generals was forwarded by GHQ to the Defence Ministry which was expected to exercise its prerogative to chose one of them. In this particular case, the PM rejected all three GHQ nominees and appointed Gen Nasir whose name was not on the list. The GHQ, which had only two months ago promoted and appointed Gen Nasir to another post where he was expected to stay for the duration of his service, must naturally have felt slighted.

Significantly, too, speculation that the PM is keen to appoint a Vice-COAS to look over the shoulder of the COAS cannot have been well received in Pindi. The army tradition excludes the necessity of such a post in normal times. Gen Zia created a VCOAS because he had the dual responsibility of President and COAS. Many administrative matters, which could not be dealt with appropriately by Gen Zia because of his Presidential preoccupations, were consequently shouldered first by Gen K.M. Arif and then by Gen Aslam Beg. When Gen Beg became COAS, he immediately dispensed with the requirement of VCOAS and reverted to army form. So the appointment of a VCOAS by the PM, if it should come, is likely to be viewed by GHQ with the same mistrust in which the appointment of the DG, ISI, is currently held.

For reasons of national security, GHQ remains unhappy about the continuing lawlessness in Sindh in which different terrorist and extremist groups have taken advantage of the political opportunisms of governments in Islamabad to become stronger and better armed over time. Where Bhutto turned a blind eye to the extremists on the fringe of her government in Sindh, Mian Nawaz has done much the same for the MQM, an alliance partner. The army is concerned that national security continues to be compromised in Sindh because Islamabad’s political compulsions do not acknowledge the necessity of a Clean-Up Operation in which extremists all of shades — PPP or MQM-affiliated — are disarmed and arrested.

So a situation has arisen in Sindh today which is similar to that which prevailed on the eve of Bhutto’s ouster in 1990. The only difference is that whereas Bhutto sought protection of Sindhi nationalists and was hostile to the MQM, Mian Nawaz Sharif is hostile to the PPP and is protecting the MQM in the same one-sided manner.

The tensions between Pindi and Islamabad over the running of the Pakistan Steel Mills in Karachi, which is presided over by a no-nonsense General and held to ransom by the MQM simultaneously, is a case in point. The controversy over whether the civilians or the armed forces should control and direct the Mehran Force (MF) is another — the MF was set up exclusively for the purpose of controlling law and order in the province so that any untoward interference in its workings by politicians could be excluded. The army would rightly like to improve law and order in Sindh without directly getting involved in any Clean-Up Operation. The obvious solution is to let the MF, along with the Rangers, do the needful without political interference or bias. Mian Nawaz, like Bhutto earlier, is reluctant to let the army direct the MF and Rangers to do so impartially.

Gen Asif Nawaz was selected by President Ishaq to be COAS. Detente with the USA and support for the UN’s Afghan policy are initiatives that the Chief has accomplished. But he has done so only with the firm backing of President Ishaq Khan. If the Chief met with Bhutto before embarking on his trip to Washington and if the Chief prodded Messrs Jatoi and Bhutto to give Muzaffar Shah some breathing space in Sindh, it was not without the explicit approval of President Ishaq in the national interest. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s suspicions that the Chief might be already playing off his own bat and therefore may be politically ambitious are unfounded.

That said, it may be relevant to shed some light on the dangerous implications of some of the PM’s recent policy changes as well as those which may be on his cards. It is understood that the military will brook no political meddling in its internal affairs, especially those which have to do with the professional conduct of the army and involve appointments, transfers and promotions by GHQ. The PM would be well advised to steer clear of these. Such interference would merely increase suspicions about his Bonapartist intentions and increase animosity without yielding any particular dividends.

Take the case of the ISI. It is widely assumed that the PM has appointed Gen Nasir to keep an eye over the COAS. In the first place, Gen Nasir is hardly likely to be foolish enough to do anything which may incur the wrath of his Chief. Secondly, the Chief is likely to retaliate by personally effecting the appointments of Gen Nasir’s No 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 men in the ISI so that any personal initiatives against GHQ which the PM may be planning via Gen Nasir are effectively neutralised.

Or take the case of the Mehran Force. If the PM intends to use it arbitrarily for the protection of his party-political interests rather than for a genuine, even-handed Clean-Up Operation as advocated by the military, he will find that the General in charge of the Mehran Force will quickly by reigned in the GHQ and neutralised by the Corps Commander Karachi, who is the Chief’s hand-picked man.

The PM could do worse by not recalling the fate of Bhutto’s initiatives to disarm Gen Aslam Beg: although she appointed Gen Kallu as DG, ISI, Gen Beg enlarged the scope of Military Intelligence and completely neutralised the ISI; when she utilised the Rangers in Sindh for party-political purposes, Gen Beg retaliated by seeking special powers for the army in Sindh and failing that engineered the downfall of her government. If the PM were now to install a Vice COAS against the advice of GHQ, he will only antagonise the Chief further without achieving any purpose: the Chief will give the VCOAS a clerical job in GHQ and put him out of business.

Given this background, it is perfectly understandable why Pir Pagara should once again become functional and publicly conjure up visions of marching jackboots and family planning. Mr Jatoi’s sudden departure from the IJI is a pointer in the same direction. Ms Bhutto’s Eid overtures and warmth towards the Chief are not without a ray of hope. Nawabzada Nasrullah’s post-Ramadan activation, just before the budget crunch, cannot also be without implications. Mr Mustafa Khar, too, is up to his old tricks again and seems to have wormed his way into the PPP.

Mr Muzaffar Shah’s hapless province of Sindh may provide some clues to what is likely to transpire ahead. If Pir Pagara does a deal with Mr Jatoi, Mr Shah cannot survive. If Mr Shah rigs the bye-election in Sanghar to ensure a victory for Jam Sadiq Ali’s son, Messrs Jatoi & Bhutto will go on the warpath and move heaven and earth to get rid of him, thereby leading to a fresh round of arrests, recriminations and instability. If Mr Shah loses, he will have to face the prospects of a serious challenge from Mr Jatoi. Either way, he cannot hope to last for long. Then What? Will President Ishaq send everyone packing home and tell the army Chief to run Sindh? and if the Chief takes charge and deals even-handedly with the warring factions in Sindh, will the MQM desert eh PM in Islamabad and leave him stranded at the mercy of the oppositionists in the PDA and the Muslim League?

Clearly it is in the PM’s interest to mend fences with the COAS. These tensions between the two of them are totally unnecessary and will cloud the satisfactory outcome of matters of national interest. Each has his own job cut out for him. Any initiatives which the Chief has taken and might consider in the future may be reasonably presumed to have the backing of President Ishaq, who is not only the fountain-head of the political system in play today but also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

The PM is perfectly within his rights to run the civilian government with the President’s help just as the Chief is perfectly within his rights to command the army with the President’s blessings. Any interference by the PM and the Chief in the other’s domain, without the support of the President, could spell serious trouble in the delicate balance of power within the troika.

In the final analysis, political power flows from the barrel of a gun. So the PM may be especially advised to take it easy and refrain from stepping on the toes of the Chief. He might also take his over-reaching colts in hand because they are becoming much too big for their slippers. Any dangerous thoughts of trying to repeat the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto-Gen Gul Hassan drama of twenty years ago should be banished forthwith in the present circumstances. Otherwise the Doom & Gloom Brigade will have much to rejoice about.

 

(TFT April 16-22, 1992 Vol-4 No.6 — Article)

Who will stop Sindh from going to the dogs?

Najam Sethi doesn’t hold out much hope for Muzaffar Hussain Shah. The army has a plan to sort out Sindh and it will act sooner or later

To prosperous, secure Punjabis in the north, the southern province of Sindh looks decidedly like another country. In the last month, over 100 people, including a leading Karachi businessman, were kidnapped and held for ransom. A passenger train on the main Karachi-Lahore line was rocketed and robbed by dacoits. Several time bombs uprooted sections of the main gas pipeline from Balochistan to Karachi. The leader of a powerful trade union was gunned down in broad daylight in Karachi.

But that’s just for starters. The national highway — Pakistan’s only artery linking the port of Karachi to the hinterland — is deserted after sunset; trucks which risk the night journey travel only in caravans escorted by security forces. The universities are closed or only half-functioning. Farmers are too scared to cultivate their lands, as they have done for ages, in the cool hours of the morning before sunset; so productivity has suffered. Even the influential feudals rarely step out to inspect their own holdings, and never without armed escort and prior “clearance” from the thousands of dacoits who command the rural areas.

Islamabad couldn’t care less about the anarchy so long as Benazir Bhutto’s People Party is kept out of power. In the 1980s, President Gen Zia ul Haq pitted the Muhajirs against native Sindhis by nourishing the Mujahir Qaumi Movement (MQM) as an armed, countervailing force against the PPP. In the 1988 elections, the PPP swept rural Sindh but lost to the MQM in Karachi and Hyderabad. What followed was a period of the worst ethnic strife in Sindh’s history — Muhajirs and Sindhis attacked each other at will, mass migrations from rural to urban areas took place in search of safety and cities came to be divided into Mujahir and Sindhi fortresses. President Ghulam Ishaq cited Bhutto’s inability to govern Sindh as a major factor behind his decision to remove her from power.

In the event, however, the President’s recipe for Sindh has turned out to be a greater disaster than Bhutto’s. Jam Sadiq Ali, a PPP renegade, was hoisted by Islamabad as Sindh Chief Minister and duly proceeded to knock out the PPP. He rigged the 1990 elections, made an alliance with the MQM and ruled like a state terrorist. Bhutto’s spouse, Asif Zardari, was arrested, her friend Miss Veena Hayat was gang-raped (she accused the Home Minister, President Ishaq’s son-in-law Mr Irfanullah Marwat, of instigating the crime), many PPP MPs were incarcerated, kidnapped or browbeaten (a standard technique was to burn down their standing crops) to desert their party. At one time over 4000 PPP workers were locked up in prisons across the province. Brutalised like never before as the chief minister’s personal fiefdom, Sindh broke out in a rash of ethnic warfare (Sindhis versus Muhajirs), dacoities, kidnappings and assassinations.

Jam Sadiq Ali died of cancer on March 4. The troika which rules Pakistan — the President, Prime Minister and Army Chief — has now thrust a suitably malleable successor, Mr Muzaffar Hussain Shah, on Sindh. The soft-spoken Mr Shah is the exact antithesis of the Machiavellian Jam. Can he, perhaps, bring sanity to Sindh and heal its gaping wounds?

It won’t be easy. Mr Shah claims the support of about 65 MPs. Of these, a dozen are PPP dissidents who had hitched a ride with the Jam when he was galloping along. Thanks to a nod from Islamabad, Mr Shah also has the backing of 28 independents and 25 MQM MPs. By any reckoning, it is a slim majority in a house of 109.

The PPP dissidents and independents can’t be trusted. They tend to sway with the wind and are always available to the highest bidder. But Mr Shah has more urgent things to worry about.

In a totally unexpected move, Mr Mustafa Jatoi, the former prime minister, has cunningly manoeuvered to become the rallying point of the opposition in Sindh. He has the personal support of 12 MPs. Having kissed and made up with Bhutto, Mr Jatoi can now lay claim to the backing of at least 46 MPs. And he makes no bones about conspiring for power. In a fit of pique, prime minister Nawaz Sharif has expelled Mr Jatoi from the ruling IJI. Mr Sharif has also chicked out Mr Jatoi’s son from a ministerial slot in Islamabad. So the daggers are fairly drawn.

The test for Mr Shah will come on April 28 when bye-election to the Jam’s seat in Sanghar district is held. Mr Shah’s candidate is the Jam’s son, Ashiq Ali. If the seat is won by the opposition — and their candidate is strong — Mr Jatoi will gain in stature and credibility. Many fickle MPs will doubtless rethink Mr Shah’s long-term prospects and start flirting with Mr Jatoi.

No one in Sindh has great expectations of Mr Shah or the present parliamentary arrangements. The province remains ungovernable, so deep rooted have ethnic hatreds become and so comprehensive is the breakdown of law and order. Even while the Jam was King of all he surveyed, Islamabad toyed with the idea of sending the provincial assembly home and ruling through a Governor appointed by the President. If Mr Shah is unable to deliver, that option cannot be ruled out. The army has a plan ready to take over the province.

Many people think that Mr Jatoi and Ms Bhutto are playing for bigger stakes than just Sindh. After the 1990 elections, the former had hoped to be chosen prime minister instead of Mr Sharif. He remains cut up with Mr Sharif for belittling him in Islamabad subsequently. Ms Bhutto is biding her time to regroup her party and strike at Mr Sharif when he is most vulnerable, maybe after the budget crunch in June. Both would welcome the devil himself if he got rid of the prime minister.

Mr Sharif has continuing problems with several IJI partners, notably with the fundamentalist Jamaat-i-Islami in the Punjab and the Pathan nationalist Awami National Party in the NWFP. His relations with the MQM have also soured in recent times. But Sindh remains the crucial sticking point. Like Bhutto in 1990, could the province seal the fate of Mr Sharif in time to come? One respected editor in Karachi remains cynical: “President Ishaq is so obsessed with keeping the PPP out of power, he doesn’t care what happens in Sindh”. True. But the army does care and, sooner or later, it will act to stop the province from going to the dogs. When that happens, the politicians will have no choice but to tag along, no matter what the consequences for the IJI which rules in Islamabad.

(TFT April 23-29, 1992 Vol-4 No.7 — Editorial)

Bhutto’s Social Contract

Benazir Bhutto is warming to an interesting theme these days. The “social contract” between the state and the people has broken down, she says, so radical reforms in society are needed, including suitable changes in the Constitution.

Among her concerns, she lists the ‘abolition of feudalism’ (“because democracy and feudalism cannot co-exist”), and the establishment of an institutional mechanism for ‘public accountability’ and ‘fair elections’ (based partly on proportional representation). She favours the “egalitarian policies of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto” (“excluding indiscriminate nationalisation”) which necessitate state intervention. She also believes that ‘privatisation’ is “a worthy national goal” but argues that “it should be conducted step by step, without haste and in good faith” (she says this is not the case at the moment).

Ms Bhutto also accepts the fact that she made mistakes when, as Prime Minister, she failed to acknowledge the “plurality of Pakistani society” and foolishly antagonised important sections of society. What we need, she passionately advocated in Lahore recently, “is a liberal, progressive, genuine and dedicated leadership in Pakistan”.

Who would disagree with these grand observations? TFT has been pleading for a new “social contract” since 1988 when Ms Bhutto became PM and opened the floodgates of expectations all over the country. Unfortunately, like her father, she failed to deliver. Instead, like him, she created the perfect opening for a gang of adventurers who will not let go easily.

To be credible now, Ms Bhutto has to go beyond the pale of rhetoric and spell out the “social contract” she would like to implement. She must also tell us how she intends to go about creating the political conditions in which a meaningful beginning on this front can be made.

Regrettably, she has not done her homework. Not one of the many eminent lawyers in her party has sat down to detail the constitutional changes she wants to accomplish and why. The PPP has no ‘position paper’ on how the economy should be run, what sort of policies will mobilise resources, how public expenditures should be pruned, what role market forces can legitimately play, how the social sectors can be enlarged, etc. Nor is the PPP prepared to talk confidently about the real meaning of provincial autonomy (we’re up to here with all this talk of how the PPP is the only ‘national’ party in Pakistan). More significantly, the PPP’s bluster about “ending feudalism” fools no one while Ms Bhutto remains wedded to the feudal lobbies in Punjab and Sindh. Even if we accept the facile argument dished out by the Piplias (‘we weren’t ‘allowed’ to govern’), Ms Bhutto’s ‘team’ in and out of office doesn’t inspire much confidence.

Her political strategy to return to the heady climes of Islamabad has been even more problematic. It is based on exploiting the blunderings of her opponents rather than on the value of her net worth. If President Ishaq had held the elections under an impartial administration 30 days after he booted her out in 1990, she might never have made a rapid comeback as a ‘wronged heroine’. If Mian Nawaz Sharif had run a good government, people would have forgiven the IJI for stealing the election and stayed the full course with him. That she is still a long-term contender for power is thanks mainly to the political bankruptcy of those who currently wield it in Islamabad rather than on the invisible merits of the new “social contract” she is flogging these days. No, this will not suffice, Ms Bhutto.

Furthermore, if the PPP wants to see the back of President Ishaq Khan, it is clearly asking for martial law. And if it wants to get rid of Mian Nawaz Sharif, Ms Bhutto had better make up with the President who intends to be around for longer than most of us would care to imagine. At any rate, whether there is martial law or a ‘national government’ in the months ahead, it is certain that there will be no elections in the foreseeable future which allow Ms Bhutto to make a legitimate bid for power once again.

For Ms Bhutto it is obviously good strategy to opt for a ‘national government’ which gives the PPP some breathing space from the yoke of IJI oppression. Mian Sahib’s relations with the COAS have deteriorated recently. Every months brings a fresh package of blunderings from Islamabad. But all this will not amount to much for the PPP so long as the President remains hostile to its leader.

It is true that President Ishaq has gone out of his way to harm Ms Bhutto. But no legitimate purpose can be served by continuing to focus her wrath on him unless she means to instigate a coup against the system. But if the PPP is genuinely interested in working towards a ‘National government’ in which Ms Bhutto personally will not hog the limelight and which is prepared to consider a new “social contract”, it might be advised to rethink its political strategy afresh.

(TFT April 30-May 06, 1992 Vol-4 No.8 — Editorial)

Don’t take sides

Each passing day in Afghanistan brings a fresh bout of hope and despair. All Afghans are weary and crave peace. But they are being propelled towards war by fierce emotions of ethnicity, language and region.

That it has turned out this way is largely Islamabad’s fault. Ironical, isn’t it, when Pakistan has always had the most to lose from continuing instability in Afghanistan.

The Russians left three years ago. That should have been the end of jihad and the beginning of a search for peace. But no. For Gen Hameed Gul and the ISI nothing short of a military victory over Najibullah was acceptable. Consequently Gul chose Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to deliver his flawed ‘vision’ of liberating Central Asia for Islam. Three years later, Gul’s ‘strategy’ has turned out to be as misplaced as the man himself. In the process, however, Pakistan has distanced itself from the other players in the game, especially Ahmad Shah Masoud, and undermined prospects for leverage.

In January the new COAS drummed out Gul for subverting legitimate authority. A dramatic change in Afghan policy followed. Pakistan lent its shoulder to the UN and persuaded Najibullah to quit. Suddenly, it seemed a peaceful settlement was at hand.

Alas. Prodded by Qazi Hussain Ahmad and Gul, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif wasted six crucial weeks mollycoddling Hekmatyar. Benon Sevan’s peace plans began to go awry last month when Najibullah announced his intention to quit after a UN-Pakistan sponsored interim council was in place. Immediately, his opponents in the Watan party, along with elements of the Afghan militia and the squabbling Mujahidin, scrambled to fill the power vacuum by making new alliances and seizing towns and territory. Najibullah warned Pakistan that he couldn’t hang on for long. He urged the UN to constitute an interim government quickly.

What did Mian Nawaz Sharif do? He squandered another three critical weeks in April talking aimlessly with Hekmatyar & Co. instead of arm-twisting them to fall in line. The dissidents refused to nominate their candidates to the council of “neutral Afghans” proposed by the UN. On April 16, a junta of mainly Persian-speaking Afghan generals and militia leaders deposed Najibullah and seized power.

For two years Najibullah’s political intransigence and military strength were seen as the only stumbling blocks to peace. After him, it was striking how quickly the Afghan state splintered along ethnic, linguistic and regional lines. That events on the ground would quickly outrun the peace process should have been anticipated in Islamabad. But it wasn’t. The PM was blissfully traipsing in Geneva and Austria while Masoud and Hekmatyar were digging in for war.

Pakistan has paid a heavy price — refugees, drugs and guns — for supporting the 14 year Jihad. Most troubling, if Pushtu nationalism revives in Afghanistan, there could be a spill-over effect on Pakistan’s large Pushtu population in NWFP and Balochistan. A more assertive cross-border Pushtu nationalism could revive calls for a separate state, a threat that has been submerged in Pakistan since independence.

Early this year Pakistan seemed poised to emerge as the leading beneficiary of any post-Najibullah arrangement. A peaceful Afghanistan would reopen the ancient trade routes to Central Asia which have much to offer Islamabad. Today, however, Pakistan is looking very much like a loser by default. Despite the fitful impulse for a stable government in Kabul, the compulsion for long-term strife remains the dominant threat ahead.

Unavoidably, a fiery debate is sure to be triggered in Pakistan over “Who lost Afghanistan?” Already, people question the wisdom of persuading Najibullah to announce his departure before the UN plan was operational. Mian Nawaz’s prolonged honeymoon with the Afghan spoilers backed by Qazi Hussain Ahmad has not escaped censure either. At the very least, Pakistan should have reached some form of cooperation with Masoud earlier, instead of blindly backing Hekmatyar to the hilt.

Pakistani fundamentalists, especially the Jamaat, have played a murky role. It is in Pakistan’s national interest not to take sides in the current intra-Mujahidin conflict. At the end of the day, there will indeed be an Islamic government in Kabul. But Qazi Sahib is backing Hekmatyar because of his Pushtu origins and particular brand of fundamentalism. Clearly Qazi Sahib is fueled not by his country’s national interests but by his party’s political programme.

Here is yet another example of how Nawaz Sharif’s alliance with the fundamentalists is costing Pakistan dearly. Why is he hanging on to them? Their ‘threat’ to any government in Islamabad has always been bloated out of all proportion to reality. It is time they were told where to get off. Afghanistan is as good a place as any to ditch them.

If internecine conflict remains on the agenda of Kabul mainly because of Mr Sharif’s inexplicable relationship with particular fundamentalists, Pakistan’s relations with Iran and Central Asia will certainly sour. Each Muslim country bordering Afghanistan would then be tempted to stake a claim to its own zone of influence. And that is absolutely the last thing Pakistan wants.

(TFT May 07-13, 1992 Vol-4 No.9 — Editorial)

Winners and Losers

News of fast and furious events in Afghanistan has swamped the front pages of newspapers recently. One serious casualty has been information about the widespread protests in Sindh over the naked rigging in the bye-elections in Sanghar.

Jam Ashiq Ali won with a whopping 61,035 votes against Shahnawaz Junejo’s paltry 5425. The provincial election commissioner, Mr M H Zaidi, said that “polling had been smooth and unexpectedly peaceful”. By any reckoning, this is an unbelievable result and the official statement adds insult to injury. Mr Zaidi is on record before the elections as saying he expected a turnout of between 30 to 45 per cent. Yet the “statistics” reveal that over 70 per cent votes materialised from out of a hat! How were the polls rigged?

Polling agents, journalists and photographers were beaten up or kidnapped. Over 200 political workers of the PDA were arrested, including a sitting MP. Most polling booths were ‘captured’ by Ashiq Ali’s armed thugs early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Other polling cordoned off to restrict the entry of PDA voters. Armed convoys roamed from station to station threatening and browbeating the electorate. 11 SPs with a massive police force were deployed in the constituency to harass Shahnawaz Junejo and his supporters. Two women were raped.

Why should we worry unduly about what happened in a solitary constituency somewhere in the wilderness of Sindh? The answer is devastatingly simple. The Chief Minister of the province, Mr Muzaffar Hussain Shah, has also got into the act of hammering nails in the coffin of democracy. By so doing, he has reaffirmed the convictions of an increasing number of people who are now openly saying that the existing political dispensation doesn’t work, that democracy is a farce, that we need a new system that suits out anarchistic genius better. In other words, “a dictatorship is better than a defiled democracy”, so let’s get on with martial law and put our house in order.

Much was therefore at stake in this election. Mr Shah was elected unanimously because he promised to start on a clean slate and respect the rules of democracy. Instead, he has launched himself in the footsteps of his terrorist predecessor Jam Sadiq Ali. So we can expect more of the same poison ahead.

More ominously, Mr Shah has foolishly played right into the hands of the cunning Pir Pagara. How is that? Through Jam Ashiq Ali, Pir Sahib has made an unholy alliance with Jam Sadiq’s parliamentary constituency. Effectively, the Pir now holds all the cards in Sindh. When he decides the time is ripe to trump Mr Shah and plunge Sindh into a crisis, he will simply team up with Messrs Jatoi and Bhutto to do the needful. When will that be? After Pir Sahib has collected sufficient Muslim Leaguers in the PUnjab and NWFP to mount a campaign against Mian Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad. What does the Pir want and why has he become ‘functional’ just now? Having camped out in the cold for so long and knowing he cannot even win his own seat in a fair election under a democratic system, Pir Sahib is rooting for martial law so that his “historic’ connection with GHQ can be fruitfully restored. After clinching the deal in Sindh, the Pir has zeroed in to Lahore. His ‘Ghapla’ went off nicely, than you, it is time to watch and wait for his next move. Intezaar Farmaye.

Mr Muzaffar Shah is astoundingly naive to have walked straight into the jaws of the Pir. Or else he has delusions of grandeur which blind him to the consequences of his political opportunism. As for the MQM, Mr Altaf Hussain hates the PPP so much that he doesn’t care what happens just as long as Bhutto is kept out. Either way, Messrs Shah and Hussain are headed for a collision with Messrs Pagara, Jatoi and Bhutto. When the latter get a nod from the powers-that-be, it will be curtains for democracy in Sindh. What then? If the military’s appetite is whetted in the province, it is a short hop to the federal capital. Bhutto learnt this tragic lesson in 1990. Are Mr Nawaz Sharif and others of his ilk fated to learn it too?

History not only repeats itself sometimes, it also moves forward in decisive ways. Slowly but surely, the stage is being set for an overhaul of the system. Some of Zia ul Haq’s crushing legacies have already evaporated or been dismantled forcefully. More along the same lines is on the agenda. When that happens, the tables will be reversed. The winners of yesteryear will become losers and vice-versa.

For better or for worse, the amended 1973 constitutional system is all we have got for the moment. If the likes of Mr Shah are callously going to knock it about, they will be the first to fall by the wayside. The real tragedy, though, is that we, the people, may be worse off in the end. As always.

(TFT May 14-20, 1992 Vol-4 No.10 — Editorial)

Let the talks begin

Qazi Hussain Ahmad and Mian Nawaz Sharif have never been birds of a feather. One is compelled by Islamic ideology and leads the most disciplined political party in the country. The other is motivated by capitalist ideology (“Profits! Profits! That is Moses and the Prophets”) and fronts a most disparate crowd of opportunists called the Muslim League. Yet their ‘alliance’ goes back years and has weathered many crises. How is that?

The Jamaat’s long-term strategy has been to infiltrate the institutions of the state and harness them for the purposes of its ideology. Mian Tufail’s alliance with Zia ul Haq served that end perfectly. Qazi Sahib, however, has added a new plank — electoral politics — to be Jamaat’s agenda. And Mian Nawaz has provided Qazi Sahib an IJI umbrella under which to conduct his business. In the bargain, the Jamaat has sponsored Mian Nawaz and lent muscle to his battle against the PPP. Each has scratched the other’s back for purely mundane reasons.

Recently, their relationship has hit a bad patch. Mian Nawaz has thundered against Qazi Sahib, accusing him of undermining ‘national interest’ at the alter of Jamaat politics: over the Gulf crisis, over Islamisation of the economy and now over Afghanistan. Qazi Sahib has retorted by calling him “an agent of imperialist USA”. The Jamaat is also threatening to revert to form in the event a street-movement is launched by the APC against the government.

To protect his flank, Mian Nawaz has held out the olive branch to archenemy Benazir Bhutto and facilitated the return of Mr Asif Zardari to Islamabad. Is the JI out of the IJI for good?

We’re not convinced. Both Mian Nawaz And Qazi Hussain hate the PPP of Benazir Bhutto to their back teeth. Also, both have much to lose from relinquishing Islamabad to a military regime or to a ‘national’ government. If either comes to pass, Mian Sahib will lose everything he has got. And the best Qazi Sahib could hope for would be to graze in oblivion if he agreed not to make trouble. No, the deep blue sea out there is far less welcoming than the devil each one knows. We would be surprised, therefore, if the two of them don’t get back to business as usual.

What, then, should we make of Mian Nawaz’s conciliatory gesture towards Benazir Bhutto? It has come at a time when Mian Sahib is in considerable trouble. His Afghan policy has backfired, relations with the President and COAS have plumbed new depths and the economy demands a budget which is sure to incur the wrath of people across the class divide. Naturally then, Nawaz Sharif is looking to diffuse

(TFT May 21-27, 1992 Vol-4 No.11 — Editorial)

Fiddling while Rome burns

There is nothing extraordinary about the Budget measures. Some people like it, most do not. Some people will become richer, most poorer. The rich already know what’s in it for them; the poor don’t need to know, they can feel the crushing burdens of everyday life in their bones.

What is extraordinary, however, about the Budget is that it totally lacks in credibility and authenticity. Rich or poor, no one believes w word or statistic dished out by the Honourable Finance Minister. Why is that?

It is absolutely unprecedented for a Budget to be “leaked” before it is presented to parliament. But there is exactly what happened this year. The Muslim’s Budget “scoop” on the morning of May 14 is remarkable only because it strips the government of all credibility in formulating and presenting its package. After such a damning fiasco, no government would cling to power anywhere in the world. At the very least, the Budget would be scrapped and the Finance Minister would resign.

Instead, with the straightest face in town, the Honourable Mr Sartaj Aziz presented revised estimates of tax revenues and the Annual Development Plan to a confused press corps the day after the Budget. Overnight, the expected tax yields had shot up by nearly Rs 2 billion and the ADP had plummeted by Rs 6.5 million! In the next 24 hours, the excise duty on cotton announced earlier was hastily withdrawn. (It seems APTMA rushed to Islamabad and leaned on the government).

Without going into the economic logic or wisdom of such revisions, these events suggest an opportunistic propensity in government to yield to certain pressure groups and a cavalier attitude to budget-making which is frightening.

Fiddling the statistics to distort reality has progressively become something of an art with Mian Nawaz Sharif’s government. Last year, in the 91-92 budget, Mr Aziz said the fiscal deficit during 90-91 was 5.8 per cent of GDP and that his budgetary proposals for 91-92 were based on this figure. Three months later, when the Statistical Supplement to the Economic Survey 1990-91 was published, revised estimates on page 160 confirmed the 90-91 deficit at 5.8 per cent of GDP. Now the Economic Survey 91-92 tells us on page xvi that the 90-91 deficit was in fact 8.8 per cent of GDP! (In real terms, the 3 per cent difference amounts to over Rs 30 billion). It is remarkable that three months after presenting the 91-92 budget, when all the figures had undoubtedly come in, the finance minister was reluctant to reveal the true extent of the fiscal deficit in 90-91 and to revise its 91-92 budgetary assumptions accordingly.

Has such an unbelievable exercise been carried out again this year? The Economic Survey’s Statistical Supplement 90-91 also informs us that the 91-92 Budget had estimated the fiscal deficit for the year ahead at 5 per cent of GDP. Yet, according to Mr Aziz’s brief to the press two days before the May 14, 1992 Budget, the deficit in 1991-2 was 6.1 per cent. (Actually, if you calculate the figures, it comes to nearly 6.5 per cent). What are we to make of this? That in 1993 we will be told the deficit in 1992 was not 6.5 per cent but 9 per cent?

The worst is yet to come. On May 12, Mr Aziz told us he expected the 1992-3 deficit to be about Rs 72 billion. The budget he presented two days later says it will be Rs 89 billion. What will the government in power in 1993 tell us? That it was about Rs 110 billion? If you add the expected borrowings of autonomous federal corporations like WAPDA, PTC, etc, the real deficit would be even higher.

“The Budget-At-A-Glance” doesn’t tell us at a glance how Mr Aziz has arrived at this fiscal deficit. Nowhere can we find a small table showing Total Expected Revenues minus Total Expected Expenditure to yield the true fiscal deficit. Nor are details of how the deficit is to be met from different forms of borrowings given anywhere in intelligible form. Unless you have a pen, paper, calculator and a degree in Economics, you cannot begin to imagine the true picture!

What can we conclude? Either that the finance ministry is grossly inefficient and hasn’t done its homework or that the government is deliberately concealing facts by juggling figures. Which is it?

Bitter experience at the hands of Islamabad inclines us to believe the latter explanation. Hundreds of thousands of people have been cheated of their life’s savings of over Rs 20 billion at the hands of the IJI Coops. And the prime minister’s promise to redeem their losses has evaporated into thin air. The government made a huge fanfare of “self-reliance”, yet it is shamelessly begging for more foreign assistance. Only recently, the prime minister shed crocodile tears over the state of the economy, yet we are being constantly deluged by vision of paradise under his government. And so on.

This government is besieged by a crisis of no-confidence. Are we not within our rights, hen, to ask why it continues to govern us?

(TFT May 21-27, 1992 Vol-4 No.11 — Article)

What is going on in Islamabad?

Najam Sethi Argues that the necessary conditions for Nawaz Sharif’s ouster now obtain in Islamabad. However, the sufficient conditions to push him over the brink are still lacking. The President and Benazir Bhutto are confronted with agonising dilemmas: one cannot win without the other losing. Meanwhile the prime minister continues to lead a charmed life by exploiting their differences

The Nation’s headline on 16 May warned: “Capital on the boil”. For those of us who recalled it black headlines on the morning of August 6, 1990, predicting the dismissal of Benazir Bhutto’s government later that evening, the message seemed ominous enough.

The following day, however, The Nation’s editorial calmly dismissed such speculation: Now that the President has deigned to drive 200 yards from the Presidency to the Prime Minister’s house and denied with him, it seemed to suggest, all was well that ended well.

In a nation where an odd lunch or dinner can make nonsense of politics, where newspaper headlines scream one thing and editorials cooly tick off quite the opposite, what can one say? That the press conjures mountains out of molehills and then tramples upon them without a care in the world? Or that the press is a prisoner, like the rest of us, of the confused, muckraking, hysterical situation that defines our political genius?

What exactly is going on in Islamabad? Sift the facts from fiction, rumour from truth, and we might just get a glimpse of reality.

The key players in the power game are President Ishaq Khan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, COAS Gen Asif Nawaz, opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and former prime minister Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi. Muslim Leaguers like Pir Pagara and Muhammad Khan Junejo are also in the scene.

The “news” floating around these days is that the President and the COAS have taken a decision to get rid of Mian Nawaz Sharif’s government sooner or later because it is corrupt, inefficient and autocratic. Further, that they are seeking ways to cobble together a “national government of consensus” which will clean up Pakistani politics before holding fresh elections a year or two down the line. And that such an “interim government” will not include Benazir Bhutto or any “discredited” politicians in order to appear even-handed and fair. What is the basis for such speculation?

That Mian Nawaz Sharif’s troubles seem to be mounting is beyond doubt. His credibility has been eroded by a number of scandals, in particular the Coops fiasco, and the lack of transparency or soundness of many of his economic initiatives like the Motorway Project, privatisation, FCBC advertisements, etc. His efforts to build a private financial empire by bending the rules have not escaped censure either.

Matters have been made worse for his ruling IJI coalition by the departure, first of Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, and recently of Qazi Husain Ahmad. Mr Jatoi is certainly keen to see the back of Mian Nawaz. He believes that both the President and the COAS owe him a favour each. Mr Jatoi reluctantly backed down before the President and didn’t contest the prime ministerial slot in 1990 against Nawaz Sharif. At the request of the COAS, he also stayed his hand and allowed Mr Muzaffar Shah to form a government in Sindh. Mr Jatoi wants his pound of flesh and will not rest until it has been delivered.

Qazi Hussain Ahmad is hopping mad. he believes Nawaz Sharif has betrayed the Jamaat by toeing the US line on the Gulf war, Islamisation and now Afghanistan. His party is threatening to sit on the opposition benches and says it will consider whether or not to bail Nawaz Sharif out of his current troubles. Although efforts for reconciliation are on, the Jamaat will certainly take stock of the developing situation and not bury the hatchet in haste or without due recompense.

Pir Pagara has added duel to the fire in the Sharif household. He has, at long last, become “functional”. He is fishing about for disgruntled Muslim Leaguer who have not received a slice of the cake from Nawaz Sharif. He has also got a firm grip on the Sindh government. If he were to tie up with Mr Jatoi and Benazir Bhutto and together they were to agree to precipitate a crisis in Sindh. Mr Muzaffar Shah would go in the blinking of an eye and the President’s house of cards in Sindh would tumble down. Pir Sahib hates Nawaz Sharif and is openly advocating martial law which would restore his long-lost “historic link” with GHQ.

The prime minister’s relations with the army chief could certainly be better: GHQ was annoyed at the appointment at Gen Javed Nasir as head of ISI. It also sees no merit in the idea of a Vice COAS floated by Islamabad. The irritating suspicion in Rawalpindi is that the prime minister is meddling in the army’s internal affairs and could create “other” problems.

Although President Ishaq has said nothing in public to express disenchantment with Nawaz Sharif, reliable sources confirm that the prime minister’s performance on many fronts leaves much to be desired by the President. When Benazir Bhutto made a racket in Parliament to drawn out the President’s speech early this year, he was most distressed that the prime minister sat quietly in his chair instead of jumping to his defence. The President is also not unaware of Mian Nawaz Sharif’s long-term ambitions; there is credibility in the rumour that Mr Sharif has toyed with the idea of becoming President one day. Nor is the President overjoyed by widespread allegations of corruption and mismanagement in government. He dismissed the Bhutto government for precisely this reason in 1990 and has launched efforts to disqualify her from politics for seven years. he can be done the same thing in Nawaz Sharif now and rest easy?

So, there, in a nutshell, you have it. All the main power brokers in the “establishment” are unhappy with Mian Sahib for one reason or the other. Nor is Mian Sahib ignorant of the slippery ground on which he stands: his TV “confessions” about the dismal state of the economy and his offer for talks with Bhutto suggest he is trying to hide his vulnerability. To that extent, therefore, the “necessary” conditions for his exit already obtain in the country. But what about the “sufficient” conditions required to push him over the brink and clinch the argument?

That is where a number of problems remain. Take, first, the President’s dilemma. He didn’t kick out Bhutto and bring in Sharif only to find himself in the position of having to kick out Sharif and open the door for Bhutto again. That is one side of the coin: No Bhutto. On the other hand, the President is all too aware that his own credibility as a neutral head of state has seriously been eroded by his partisan attitude towards Nawaz Sharif. How can he not be aware of what people by and large are increasingly saying: that “if Bhutto was a ‘burglar’, Sharif is a dacoit!” That “if the President could hold her accountable, all the more reasons to hold her accountable, all the more reason to hold Sharif accountable!”

Even if the President is convinced that Nawaz has to go, he is confronted with a host of thorny questions. Should he dismiss Nawaz and order fresh elections? Should such elections be held before or after accountability? Should the constitution be tampered with in the interim in order to ensure a more workable system of government in the future? How can Bhutto and Nawaz be both kept out of the new government? How should the interim arrangement be constituted and for how long? Who is acceptable as the prime minister of such an interim national government? Who should be selected as members of the cabinet of such a government? Should he dissolve just the National Assembly or all the Assemblies? If too many known politicians are ditched, how will they react to such a new government and what will be its chances of success? On the other hand, if too many known faces troop back into Islamabad again, won’t the government slide into corruption and ignominy soon thereafter?

The President has always been keen to emphasise that he will abide by the constitution. An interim government, under special conditions, could last for months, not years. Unless the President were to tinker with the constitution, he would not be able to establish an interim government which gives him time to “clean-up” the politics of Pakistan. But he cannot tinker with the constitution unless he agrees to formally work under the umbrella of martial law.

It is a painful dilemma. The alternative to the PPP in 1990 was available in the form of the IJI. What is the alternative to the IJI if the President is ruling out quick elections in which Bhutto is allowed to participate? Further, of the prime ministerial contenders in an interim government like Mr Jatoi or Sherbaz Mazari or Balkh Sher Khan Mazari, none can pull on without constantly having to lean on the President’s shoulder. Can they deliver? As for the leaders of the APC, they may look good on papers but that’s all there is to them. Only a few would be lucky to get a berth in the interim government, there is so little to commend them. There are no easy solutions.

Now consider Benazir Bhutto’s problematic. Of course, she would like to see Nawaz go as soon as possible. She has cried herself hoarse yelling that he stole the 1990 elections from her. But she also realises that his departure at the hands of Presidential discretion may spell further trouble for her, leave alone a chance to have a shot at government again. If the President ousts Nawaz much as he did Bhutto earlier, he will decidedly try him for much the same reasons as Bhutto. So instead of escaping the wrath of the disqualification references, she is sure to be convinced along with Mian Sahib so that justice is not only done but seen to be done to both by the President. This is an option she can only view with considerable concern.

Furthermore, she has to contend with the nature of the interim administration if and when it should come into being. Even if she agrees to supply some of her less controversial and more credible PPP stalwarts to the “national government”, like Mr Farooq Leghari, there is the certain likelihood that she will have to ask them to leave government in the event of her disqualification. In that eventuality, she will have bailed the President out at a different moment without easing her own situation in the longer run. Alternatively, if she decides to accept the verdict of disqualification without pulling her men out of government, she runs the risk of making them larger than life and diminishing her own power base within the PPP. For Bhutto, it’s clearly a case of “Damned if I do and damned if I don’t”!

Mian Nawaz Sharif senses Bhutto’s dilemma as acutely as he senses that of President Ishaq. So he is making every effort to keep his channels of communication open to both of them. To the President he is saying that he will mend his errant ways, that he is not interested at all in revoking the 8th amendment or interfering in the President’s Sindh policy even if it means allowing the army to invoke Section 245 to clean up the province. To Benazir Bhutto, he says he is ready for a dialogue, including talks on how to remove the 8th amendment and ensure that the next elections are free and fair. One moment he is at the President’s feet and blasting away at Bhutto (AZO case, thousands arrested in Sindh), next he is secretly dangling the prospects of live and let live before Bhutto.

Presidential and Prime Ministerial aides continue to insist there are no “problems” between the two of them. Yet everyone knows the President hasn’t been talking to Sharifuddin Pirzada about the the weather, nor merely exchanging common courtesies with Mir Balkh Sher Khan Mazari and other credible “hopefuls”. Equally, Mr Jatoi is snot dashing about without rhyme or reason. Something is definitely in the air.

But, asks a source in the Presidency, “Why should President Ishaq do anything at all? He has no options but to stick it out with Nawaz Sharif and hope the prime minister will weather this storm as he has done others in the past”. Then comes the catch. “Of course, if the national assembly is able to get rid of Nawaz Sharif in a legal, democratic fashion through a vote of no-confidence and elect another leader of the House, what possible objections could the President have? He has always been a man of the constitution”.

Those who have first-person experience of the events of that fateful day of August 6, 1990, recall that Benazir Bhutto rang up the President at 4.30 to ask if the rumours of her pending dismissal were true. “I would never do anything unconstitutional”, he replied without a tremor in his voice. Benazir Bhutto believed him. Although Mian Nawaz Sharif’s exit may not be imminent because some Presidential dilemmas remain to be resolved, the last thing he should take comfort from is a sumptuous dinner with the President.

(TFT May 28-June 03, 1992 Vol-4 No.12 — Editorial)

Walking into a trap?

The seeds of anarchy in Sindh were sown by Gen Zia ul Haq. He executed Z A Bhutto, made him a martyr, and created a fertile environment for militant Sindhi nationalism. When the Sindhis reacted by fueling the MRD against Zia in 1983, he sent the army in to crush them. Then he launched the MQM as a countervailing third force and encouraged G M Syed’s Jeay Sindhis to erode the PPP’s base in the province. The MQM fought the Pakhtuns, the Punjabis and the Sindhis. In due course, ethnic strife came to scar the political landscape of Sindh.

Lately, President Ghulam Ishaq has stepped into Zia’s boots. Obsessed with keeping Benazir Bhutto out of power, he thrust Jam Sadiq upon the province. The Jam terrorised his opponents and wreaked havoc on the social fabric of civil society. Alienated and frustrated, hundreds of Sindhi youths became outlaws or embraced Indian-sponsored separatism. By the time the Jam died, the writ of the state had ceased to exist.

Here was an opportunity for President Ishaq to redress the error of old, authoritarian ways. But the stubborn Pathan refused an offer by Mustafa Jatoi to put together a government in Sindh with the backing of Benazir Bhutto, the real force in the province. Instead, Mr Muzaffar Shah, a non-entity, was arbitrarily hoisted upon Sindh. Now the President has called in the army to “clean up the mess” made by years of Islamabad’s economic neglect and political adventurism.

What should be the army’s proper role? Clearly, if it must be involved, in an emergency, “in aid of civil power”, there should be no ambiguity or anguish about the terms and conditions attached to its intervention.

First, “civil power” in Sindh must be genuinely and democratically constituted to reflect the wishes and aspirations of the people so that the army is welcomed and not abhorred. Second, the constitutional provisions under which the army acts should be clear and uncontroversial. Third, the army’s objectives, motives and modus operandi should be perceived as fair and just. Fourth, the army’s image as a “national institution” of the state must not be tarred by Blue-Fox. Are any of these conditions available in the present context?

They are not. A majority of Pakistanis and political parties don’t accept the legitimacy of “civil power” in Islamabad, let alone in Sindh. Rightly or wrongly, they believe that Mr Sharif didn’t win the 1990 elections fair and square. Nor is the President seen as a neutral, bipartisan head of state. As for Mr Muzzafar Shah, he doesn’t have a democratic leg to stand on in Sindh. If the army is seen to be solely engaged in propping up such an illegitimate “civil power”, it will antagonise the Sindhis as in 1983 and do irreparable harm to state and society.

To confound matters, it is still not clear under what constitutional provisions the army will act. To be even-handed and effective, the army will require Article 245. That is what Gen Asif Nawaz, as 5th Corps Commander, wanted from Bhutto in 1990 and that is what Gen Asif Nawaz, COAS, needs from Sharif today. Yet, like Bhutto, Sharif is not prepared to play ball. Will the COAS eat humble pie, undermine his professional integrity and jeopardise the stature of his institution by diluting the scope of Blue Fox even before it has begun?

The army says its modus operandi and motives should not be questionable. It says it won’t spare anyone involved in criminal activity. Fair enough. But will “civil power” accept the consequences of this policy? The army will certainly flush out Sindhi dacoits and arrest hundreds of Sindhi “nationalists” on the fringe of the Peoples Party. But what about the MQM terrorists in Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukhar? What about those of Mr Shah’s parliamentarians and administration members (including the police) who shield the dacoits and terrorists and thrive on their loot? If the COAS is even-handed, Mr Shah’s government cannot hope to survive the fallout of Blue-Fox. Will the President accept that? If the MQM is also targeted, as it should be, won’t it threaten Mr Sharif’s coalition in Islamabad? Will Mr Sharif allow that to pass? On the other hand, if both the President and the Prime Minister over-rule the COAS, Blue-Fox is doomed to fail. Inevitably, also, it will drag the army’s name into mud in Sindh.

Under the present circumstances, Blue-Fox is fraught with dangerous consequences. Even allowing for Article 245, Mr Shah and Mr Sharif may be expected to undermine the army’s operations. Tensions between civil and military authority are consequently unavoidable. If the military succumbs to political pressure and acts unfairly or unevenly, its “national image” will be tarred beyond redemption. If it doesn’t, it will precipitate a political crisis in Islamabad with far-reaching political implications.

The army’s intervention in Sindh can only be predicated upon a legitimate and stable civil-order in Islamabad and Sindh. The province has proven to be a Waterloo for many politicians and governments in the past. It would be tragic indeed if the army were to now walk into a political minefield and do irreparable harm to itself and the nation. At the very least, it must demand a legitimate “civil order” in Sindh before it comes to its aid.

(TFT June 4-10, 1992, Vol-4, No.13 — Editorial)

Press Accountability

More than any other politician, the press is prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s favourite punching bag. If he could have his way, only the National Press Trust would live to see the light of print. Unfortunately for him, however, he is committed to privatisation and must learn to live, as best he can, with a world without his public sector mouthpieces. Unfortunately, too, he seems to be having great difficulty coming to terms with this reality.

Shortly after assuming power, Mr Sharif secretly tried to draw up a draft of sinister new laws “to deal with the press”. He was abetted in this villainous plot by none other than the foulmouthed press-basher Sheikh Rashid, his former information minister and erstwhile Punj Pyara. Fortunately, the draft was leaked by discerning bureaucrats. Outraged editors closed ranks and forced the prime minister to beat a hasty retreat. But Mr Sharif did the next best thing he could think of: he called in the editors, dined them at his sumptuous new abode which is on a hill higher than the President’s, and lectured them on the dos and don’ts of patriotic journalism. He also got himself a brand new information secretary and principal information officer to peddle his point of view.

Alas. The tactic has misfired. If anything, relations between his minions in the information ministry and the press seem to have gone from bad to worse. Despite dangling the carrot of advertisements and brandishing the stick of press-advice, which are much in evidence today and desperately hard to resist, the press refuses to buckle down and resents encroachments on its freedom. Things are so bad these days that even the prime minister’s personal friendship with the top owner-editor in the country appears to have taken a tumble.

Mr Sharif has now embarked upon a new strategy. He says he is going to ask “the people” to hold the press “accountable” for its sins of commission. Well, well. Here is a new word in the prime minister’s glossary. Isn’t Mr Sharif is a fine one to talk about “accountability”? Without going into the merits or otherwise of “accountability” in this country, he might be advised to watch out for his own accountability if he is not careful.

The press is nobody’s private property, least of all the government in power. Its proper job is to report the news and help analyse it. Two questions arise here: one, what is “news” and, two, who makes the “news”?

The government of the day is the most important source of news. When people elect a government, they expect it to deliver on its many promises. If it does, that is “news”, and if it doesn’t, that is also “news”. But there is a free-market caveat here. By definition, newspapers have to sell in order to live. Thus readers think “Dog bites man” is no “news” while “Man bites dog” certainly is. What does this mean?

It means that some “news” is more urgent, interesting or meaningful to readers than other “news”. It means people are more interested in finding out what the government is actually doing rather than what it says it is doing. It means that when something out of the ordinary or expected happens, like when the prime minister flies out to Austria for no apparent rhyme or reason while the crisis in Afghanistan is crying out for an urgent solution, it is “news”. However, it is not “news” when he dashes off to the USA to briefly attend to an ailing relative. It is “news’ when the prime minister is reprimanded by the President and not “news” when he is ticked off by his wife. It is “news” when Qazi Hussain doesn’t invite Nawaz Sharif to his son’s wedding and not “news” when he invites Ghulam Ishaq Khan. It is “news” when Nawaz Sharif cajoles John Major to give him an hour of his time at the Lord’s cricket match on June 16th and not “news” when Mr Sharif cracks a few boundaries at the expense of the lads at the local Gymkhana every Thursday. And so on.

Truth, as everyone knows, is stranger than fiction and sells better. And truth will out in the end. If the truth is that Mian Nawaz Sharif is in trouble, readers want to know who says so and why. If the truth is that Mian Nawaz Sharif’s family fortunes have soared, readers will want to ask how and why. And so on.

The press has its job cut out for it. It must push on relentlessly, without fear or favour, in search of the truth. If the prime minister wants to instigate “the people” to hold the press “accountable”, by all means let him try. By the same token, however, the press owes it to “the people” to expose the corruptions of power, greed and hypocrisy in Islamabad.

In fact, the real complaint should be that the press isn’t doing enough to ferret the truth. That many journalists are paid by the government not to write the truth. That only a handful of small journals are independent. To be truly free, the press must indeed hold itself accountable. But the prime minister should be the last person to give such advice.

(TFT June 11-17, 1992, Vol-4, No.14 — Editorial)

Clean-up the fanatics

Every government diminishes civil society when it allows the mullahs to loom larger than life. Where Zulfikar Ali Bhutto capitulated under pressure, Zia ul Haq invoked them with a vengeance. Where Benazir struggled to hold them at bay, Nawaz Sharif has conceded to them willingly. Over time, the mullahs have stretched every concessional inch into yards and every unbearable yard into miles. And as the mullahs sledge away at the foundations of civil society, governments wrings their hands in mock despair and assume a state of helplessness. Why is that? Surely, the power of the mullahs is totally out of proportion to their electoral strength?

Precisely. Mullah-power and civil-power are inversely related. A weak civil-power spawns a strong mullah-power. The less the legitimacy of civil power, the greater the legitimacy of mullah-power. Ideology and dictatorship have made common cause. Gen Zia ul Haq’s reign was characterised by an abject weakness of civil-power; it also led to the resuscitation of mullah-power.

The Anjuman i Sipah Sahaba Pakistan (ASSP) and the Tehrik i Nifaz i Fiqah Jafria (TNFJ) are Pakistan’s most militant sectarian organisations. Both are rooted in the authoritarianism of the 1980s. Both also draw sustenance from the clash of ideological dictatorships outside our frontiers — the ASSP from Saudi Arabia and the TNFJ from Iran. The mindless sectarian violence in Quetta, Gilgit, Jhang, Gugranwala, Lahore etc can all be laid squarely at their door.

Now we hear that the Jamaat i Islami may be behind the sectarian provocations in Karachi. Although the Jamaat has generally ignored petty sectarianism, a change of heart may be due to its perception of political gains in Karachi if the violence can be attributed to the MQM.

The religious parties, clearly, are determined to further their vicious interests come hell or high water. How should government and civil society respond to this threat?

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has done absolutely the right thing by saying good-bye to the Jamaat. His friendship with Qazi Sahib has exacted a heavy price from the nation: Afghanistan has been messed up beyond repair (Sunni and Shia guerilla factions are warring in Kabul), parliament is besieged by the Federal Shariat Court (not least over the legitimacy of ‘interest’), and important Western allies have been antagonized by the erosion of civil and human rights under the guise of a sham ‘Islamisation’. In exchange, Mian Sahib’s Islamic partners have only given him the illusion of safety in Islamabad. In actual fact, of course, the prime minister’s survival depends upon the President and the COAS and his efforts at reconciling Benazir Bhutto rather than the fractional support the fundamentalists can muster for or against him in parliament. At the end of the day, even the nuisance value of the Samiul Haqs and Niazis of this world is highly exaggerated.

The lessons of this experience should be extended. Mian Sahib’s policy towards sectarian unrest should override the compulsions of bowing before ‘friendly’ but interfering foreign powers. He should order the administration to disarm the religious sects and put them in their place as soon as possible.

Should sectarian parties be banned? We’re not sure what a ban will achieve. They’re hardly likely to queue up and deposit their weapons peacefully or stop their murderous sermons from the pulpit. A two-fold approach might be preferred: one, if they break the law or threaten to do so, they should be punished severely without caring two hoots about what their foreign supporters say; two, the protection and strength which is afforded them by the vagaries of ‘Shariat’ law and ‘Hudood’ punishments should be withdrawn. We need to prompt the judiciary and civil administration to take special note of any violation of the law and the harassment of citizens by these self-appointed and illiterate guardians of our morality.

In fact, much more needs to be done if Pakistan is not to go to the dogs. In many ways, the pollution of civil society begins in the environs of Islamabad. It begins when bigoted mullahs are given time on television to air their jaundiced views; it is encouraged when the education ministry inspires the various Textbook Boards to print a perverse and distorted view of our history and culture; it is sanctioned when press freedom is misunderstood to allow the purveyors of hatred to print sectarian filth. It becomes unbearable, finally, when the state turns a deaf ear to the frequent doses of venom blared from mosque loudspeakers.

For too long, the sacred name of Islam has been bandied about and exploited by the worst and most corrupt practitioners of the faith. That they have extended their murderous tentacles into every nook and corner of civil society is largely due to the cynical blunders of Islamabad. Clutching at Qazis or brandishing Maulanas is no measure of a government’s credibility. Sectarian or religious strife is as poisonous to the modern nation-state as ethnic warfare. We need another Operation Clean Up to rid society of this gnawing menace of militant sectarianism.

(TFT June 18-24, 1992, Vol-4, No.15 — Editorial)

Army’s Catch-22

Nine villagers near Jamshoro were executed on the night of June 5 by the “law enforcing agencies”. On June 7, prime minister Nawaz Sharif told the press in Sukkhar that they were “terrorists” in cahoots with India. Islamabad was hoping that the matter would be buried thus.

It wasn’t — fortunately, the press didn’t buy the cock-and-bull story. On June 11, however, chief minister Muzaffar Shah was quick to apportion blame: yes, he ‘admitted’ in the Sindh assembly, the “law enforcing agencies” (read ‘army’) had erred in killing the innocent villagers. He said he would compensate their families forthwith. There was, obviously, no merit in rolling any civilian heads!

On June 14, the army felt compelled to redress the situation. A Major-General, two Brigadiers and a Colonel were relieved of their duties while the Major directly responsible for the cold-blooded murder was hauled up before a court-martial. Is that the end of the matter?

No, it isn’t. Ghulam Mohiuddin, the chief accused in the Jamshoro massacre, has mysteriously died in custody. When will we know what happened to him and why? Mr Yusuf Jakhrani, the head of the NDP Sindh, also died in custody on June 12 as did another civilian, Mr Ali Haider Shah, on June 10. The full facts of both cases have yet to be revealed. The army admits that 33 dacoits have been killed and 88 arrested, including 39 ‘Patharidars’, since Operation Clean-Up began three weeks ago in the rural areas. How many of these are ‘innocent’ Sindhi villagers and how many are terrorists? How will the army react if, at some stage of rounding up MQM terrorists in Karachi or Hyderabad, there is an unforeseen incident in which ‘innocent’ people are killed in some mohalla or the other and Mr Shah is again quick to absolve himself of any responsibility? Is there any guarantee that the army operation will not be progressively perceived as a travesty of justice which irrevocably alienates large masses of the Sindhi people? How many more officers will GHQ transfer before it dawns on it that the army has been propelled into a no-win situation?

“We will take our time, ensure that Jamshoro doesn’t happen again, nudge Islamabad to provide a socio-economic package to alleviate the problems of Sindh”, say the Generals. Deep down, however, their fear is that President Ishaq’s perceptions about what should be done in Sindh differ from those of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and that the army could be eventually entrapped in a web of civilian intrigue and contradictions which do irreparable harm to its status as a national institution.

GHQ has been at pains to point out that its intervention in Sindh is at the request of the civilian government, that all its acts are in cooperation with and under the jurisdiction of civilian authorities led by Muzzafar Shah. That is the legal position. But the ground position is markedly different — GHQ insists that the army will be ruthlessly impartial in dealing with all lawbreakers, irrespective of political affiliation, and that, in fact, it is the Corps Commander Karachi who is actually “calling the shots”.

Between these two positions — that is, between appearance and reality — there is an ominous, in-built contradictory dialectic. The more evenhanded the army’s operation, the greater the likelihood that Mr Muzzafar Shah will resist it. What will the army do when the contradictions between civil and military authority become antagonistic, as they inevitably must in the near future? If it bows before civil authority and is less than fair, its name will be mud in the country, let alone in Sindh. It can hardly allow that to pass. If it doesn’t, it will compel the demise of the Sindh government and prove the bankruptcy of the President’s strategy for Sindh. If the President is then forced to ask the army to run Sindh directly, why shouldn’t the army be provoked to conclude that it is time instead to run the country directly from Islamabad?

The army is not politically or psychologically trained to deal with a situation in which long years of socio-economic injustice, political authoritarianism and criminal victimisation of society have contributed to lawlessness and terrorism in Sindh. From its point of view, nothing could have served the state’s interest better than for President Ishaq to have relented his vendetta against Benazir Bhutto and allowed Mr Jatoi to form a coalition government in Sindh with her support after the demise of Jam Sadiq Ali. A democratic, popular government, which reflected the ground situation in Sindh and compelled the PPP and the MQM to come to realistic terms with each other, might have served as a better platform from which to come to the aid of civil power. Instead, the President thought fit to lean on the COAS and thwart such an arrangement in Sindh. Now the dialectic of his errors has compounded the situation: he is asking the army to deliver Sindh when it is patently ill-equipped to do so.

Sooner or later, the army’s Catch-22 dilemma will dawn upon the Generals and their current frustrations will be transformed into angry resolve. When that happens, we should also expect the unmentionable to follow.

(TFT June 25-02 July, 1992, Vol-4, No.16 — Editorial)

Put Pakistan first

Gen Asif Nawaz, Chief of Army Staff, has been better than his word. For the first time in living memory, army heads have rolled for an anti-public act — a Major-General, two Brigadiers and one colonel were sent packing and a major will most certainly face a court-martial for the Tando Bahawal tragedy. The COAS has now moved into second gear and demonstrated his resolve to be ruthlessly fair. The dreaded terrorist wing of the MQM was defanged in the blinking of a fearful dusk in Karachi last Friday.

A fortnight ago it seemed that Tando Bahawal would scar the Sindhi landscape for all times to come. Last week it was all but forgotten and forgiven. Ask ordinary Sindhis about their current sentiments and their eyes brim with grudging respect. Yes, they admit, their worst fears about the army appear to be unfounded. This doesn’t look like the Punjabi army battering a province as in East Pakistan in 1971 or Balochistan in 1974 or Sindh in 1983. It’s more like the Pakistan army finally doing its duty in Sindh.

Turn to the citizens of Karachi. Suddenly, there is a mood of hope rekindled after a decade of despair. yes, maybe now we can breathe again, say Karachi-ites rich and poor, Mohajirs, Punjabis, Pathans, Baloch and Sindhis alike. The press too has heaved a sigh of relief. The MQM monster, which Karachi had foolishly begotten and which had tragically turned to devour it, is now on the run, its deadly tail between its usurperous feet. This is certainly the Pakistan army doing its duty in Karachi.

Here is the army chief’s philosophy: Violence is not the way for political parties or groups to settle political differences; ordinary citizens are tired of being coerced, intimidated and surrounded by fear; political factions are a fact of life, they should live amicably with one another; the army will not take sides.

Spoken like a true politician, this is surely music to many ears. But tread softly, softly. It must sound like a dirge to those who have lost the confidence of the people. And there’s the rub. With every passing day, the politicians’ noses are being rubbed in the dust and the army chief is beginning to sound and look infallible. What will the politicians do when there is a clamour for him to sweep away all pests and do “his duty” to people and country?

The way out is all to obvious. To all intents and purposes, the army is primed to march forward with nary a look over its shoulder. Yet Mr Muzaffar Shah pathetically clings to office when power has already seeped from his grasp. This is an untenable position. President Ghulam Ishaq’s bloody-mindedness, which is what is propping u Mr Shah, must come to an end. What the province clearly needs today is a temporary suspension of politics to clean up the mess and heal the human wounds. It needs a Governor who is backed by the army and who is able to bring all the warring parties and factions to the negotiating table as soon as possible. Dialogue and compromise, without fear or favour, should become the watch-words of a new order for Sindh, in which a chastened MQM and a sober PPP jointly inherit the mantle of power and responsibility. There is no other way. Not all the Zia ul Haqs and Ghulam Ishaqs and Jam Sadiqs and Muzaffar Shahs and Altaf Hussains of this world can deny the bankruptcy of their misguided solutions for Sindh.

Now revert to Islamabad. With the departure of Mr Jatoi and Qazi Hussain from the IJI, Mian Nawaz Sharif’s vote bank has diminished and levelled out with that of Benazir Bhutto. Yet the prime minister is unable to accord even the status of an ‘honourable’ opposition to the Peoples Party. What sort of a democracy is this in which, as the army chief of all people is forced to remind us, live and let live is not possible? Even the Jamaat-i-Islami, the PPP’s oldest and most implacable foe, has now declared that Bhutto’s party is “a national political party which strongly believes in the integrity and solidarity of Pakistan”. Will Mian Sahib dispense with the pathological PPP-haters around him and strike a workable deal with Bhutto?

As for President Ishaq, he has already usurped too many powers for the good of his office and taken too many decisions to the detriment of this country. He has in truth stepped into Zia ul Haq’s boots. This is unacceptable. If he cannot bring himself to call it a day, the might at least consider the grave error of his ways and try to redeem his pledge of neutrality to the nation.

The chief of army staff has given his first interview to the BBC. As expected, he hasn’t minced his words. However, it is not a practice which should be encouraged. If the politicians don’t want him to hog the news, they might knuckle down and reckon with the moment of truth. It is still not too late for them to put Pakistan first. A couple of months down the line, the people of this country will settle for nothing less than that. But by then it might be too late for them to deliver.

(TFT July 2-8, 1992, Vol-4, No.17 — Editorial)

The last laugh

The army’s clean-up in Sindh has bared all the flaws in our political system and the odious political leadership it has spawned in recent times. Consider.

The MQM has been conclusively proven to be the most fascist political party in Pakistan. Torture cells, premeditated murders, kidnappings, ethnic violence were the order of its days. Benazir Bhutto cried herself hoarse telling us that the MQM was up to no good. Her bitter experience at its hands notwithstanding, President Ishaq thought fit to boot her out and thrust an alliance of two prime terrorists — Jam Sadiq and Altaf Hussain — on the hapless people of Sindh. PM Nawaz Sharif duly became buddy-wuddy with the Pir of Karachi. Many are the occasions when Mian Sahib rushed to pay homage to Pir Sahib in Azizabad and the prime minister’s PTV minions proudly panned the two of them in joyful embrace.

If today it is ironic that neither the President nor the PM is prepared to touch Altaf ‘Bhai’ with a barged pole as though he were the Plague himself, it is tragic still that neither gentleman has the courage to own up to his disastrous opportunisms. Instead, Punjab CM Ghulam Hyder Wyne mocks our credulity by berating the army for not being even-handed and chasing the PPP-AZO and Jeay Sindh!

The President’s formula for Sindh is in shreds. A majority of MQM parliamentarians have sent in their resignations. His chosen one, Mr Muzaffar Shah, lies at the mercy of his sworn enemy Benazir Bhutto. Yet the old man clings to delusions of righteousness and hopes of redemption. Maybe the MQM dissidents will inherit Altaf Bhai’s precious rump, maybe the resignations of the MPs and MNAs can be stalled, maybe old vinegar can be proffered in new bottles, maybe the COAS can be prevailed upon to sway Bhutto and let Muzaffar Shah off the hook, maybe Operation Clean-Up’s fallout will not blow Islamabad’s way, maybe, maybe …

No, Sir, it won’t work any more. Parliamentary practises and judicial reviews have already been bent to breaking point. When Altaf Hussain sent the resignations of the original band of dissidents to the Speaker of the Sindh Assembly last year these were accepted in order despite protestations to the contrary by Amer-Afaq & Co. When Bhutto did the same for one of her turncoats, she was rejected out of hand. What sort of parliamentary convulsions are we fated to witness now? At any rate, the MQM is so thoroughly infested with the philosophy of terrorism and its leaders and parliamentarians are guilty of so many crimes, it will be a naive COAS who considers for one moment the possibility of somehow salvaging the party instead of crushing it for all times to come.

The 1973 constitution and the hopes attending it have been dashed beyond repair. We have as a President a man who, when he was Finance Minister and Chief Bureaucrat for many, many years, wrecked the market economy and mortgaged several generations of Pakistanis to the West. In 1990, he dismissed the first democratically elected government (Benazir’s) in our history. Then he conducted the most rigged elections (1990) in our history. Today he is the Lord Protector of the most corrupt government (IJI) in our history. Now it has been revealed that he has been a patron saint to the most vile terrorist party (MQM) in our history.

Fortunately, Pakistanis are no longer prepared to believe a word the President says, let alone support any of his deeds, because he is so thoroughly discredited. His PM doesn’t have a clue about anything and doesn’t care that he doesn’t. Between the two of them, they have run out of explanations, let alone solutions. The only person who seems unflappable these days is their nemesis, Benazir Bhutto. What does she want?

Ms Bhutto says President Ishaq and PM Sharif should both go home. Well and good. She says this is Pakistan’s darkest hour and the country should be “saved” from ruination. True enough. But since neither of the two accused is in any mood to quit, who in God’s name is going to send them packing? More to the point, who is going to “save the country”? Bhutto thinks she knows the answers.

So does an increasing body of public opinion which now favours a final bout of martial law to “cleanse the system”. The argument is that for the first time in our history, such a martial law will be in popular response to objective reality rather than conspiracy or intrigue. Fair enough. But what guarantee is there that the army will be able to hack its way through the political marshland and lead us to our destined pot of gold?

None whatsoever, given past experience. Far better that President Ishaq should voluntarily make way for a younger, neutral man and that Bhutto and Sharif should bury the hatchet and quickly affect a workable compromise. If this solution doesn’t materialise soon, few will blame the army for running out of patience. And Altaf Hussain, for once, could be proven right. “It is my turn today. Tomorrow it will be yours”, he cautioned Mr Khan and Mr Sharif recently. How right he is. Bhutto could yet have the last laugh.

(TFT July 9-15, 1992, Vol.IV, No.18 — Editorial)

Contending with Bhutto

When President Ishaq dismissed Benazir Bhutto for corruption and inefficiency, many people believed him. They supported his action in the hope that the demise of her government might usher in a period of clean, stable, consensus politics.

But no, we live and learn. Today, the reputations of President Ishaq and PM Nawaz Sharif are in shreds, Bhutto’s stature has been partly vindicated and political power is up for grabs once again.

The President’s credibility began to sour soon after he set up an interim government designed to defeat Bhutto at the polls. The references against her followed, and her husband was imprisoned on charges or terrorism and murder. After the most controversial polls in Pakistan’s history, the President unleashed Jam Sadiq and the MQM on the PPP in Sindh, hounding it to distraction and laying waste to the province.

The Veena Hayat episode put paid to the hopes of those who still believed in the President. As his son-in-law ran amuck, the President put on his blinkers and retreated into a bunker. When Nawaz Sharif launched his plans to plunder Pakistan, the President’s stony silence didn’t fool anyone. Now his chickens have come home to roost: no less than the COAS has branded the MQM, a party the President has mollycoddled endlessly, a terrorist organisation. How can anyone pin an iota of faith on President Ishaq any more?

As for Mian Nawaz Sharif, one by one, his alliance partners — Messrs Jatoi, Qazi Hussain and Altaf Bhai — have departed, disillusioned and bitter, harbouring thoughts of vengeance. If he is still in Islamabad, it is only because he is desperately clinging to the coat-tails of an increasingly wayward President.

Two years ago, Benazir Bhutto didn’t know whether she was coming or going. She fended off conspiratorial assaults by Nawaz Sharif, dueled with President Ishaq and Gen Aslam Beg over power-sharing, and got no respite from the MQM in Sindh. Since she was kicked out into the cold, it has been a long, hard grind for her. But, at the end of the day, she seems to have been vindicated and is fighting fit.

The Presidential cases against her in the special courts have not amounted to anything in 21 months and have lost credibility. Her husband has been acquitted in two of the four cases against him while in the third the main accused is scot free even as Zardari languishes in prison. The charges of corruption against her have paled into minor indiscretions compared to stories of plunder against Nawaz Sharif. Her resilience, and that of her husband, in the face of naked oppression by Jam Sadiq and victimisation by President Ishaq has begun to evoke sympathy.

Bhutto’s strategy to improve her footing after Gen Beg’s retirement is no secret. Realising that Gen Asif Nawaz is a professional soldier unfazed by the political acrimony of the past, she has seized the opportunity to make up with the army. She supported Gen Nawaz’s efforts to rebuild relations with the US and backed his efforts to revise Pakistan’s Afghan policy. After Jam Sadiq’s death, she has laboured to consolidate her contacts with the army. When President Ishaq asked the COAS to persuade Bhutto to accept Mr Muzaffar Shah as chief minister of Sindh she read the situation correctly and agreed. When the army cracked down on Sindhi separatists and dacoits, she didn’t oppose the action. When it targeted the MQM, she was delighted. Muzaffar Shah’s majority has evaporated and left him at her mercy. More significantly, with several Sharif loyalists bitterly critical of Gen Asif Nawaz, cracks have appeared within the ruling troika and Bhutto thinks she is in with a chance again.

“This is Pakistan’s darkest hour”, says Benazir Bhutto, “Ishaq and Sharif should resign”. She is calling for fresh elections and supports the idea of a constitutional role for the army in any future power sharing arrangement. She is also threatening to resign from all the assemblies if her demands aren’t met, which could provoke a crisis for both President Ishaq and PM Sharif.

Bhutto is looking good mainly because the President and PM are both looking bad. The President’s stubborn partisanship has embarrassed even his most loyal supporters. “Maybe it is time for the old man to call it a day”, they say. As for the IJI, it has lost its raison d’etre and Nawaz Sharif’s parliamentary majority is looking decidedly thin.

“Bhutto retains her vote bank while Nawaz is rapidly losing his”, admit IJI loyalists privately, “the only way out is for him to affect a working compromise with her otherwise there will be martial law in Pakistan”. The Generals think that Bhutto has learnt her lessons and is being quite sensible now. Even the Jamaat-i-Islami, formerly a resolute PPP foe, has changed its stance: “The PPP is a patriotic party which believes in the integrity and solidarity of Pakistan”. This is a far cry from August 1990 when the Pakistani establishment and the religious lobby conspired to keep Benazir Bhutto out of politics for all time to come. But it is a reality our rulers must contend with, and quickly.

(TFT July 16-22, 1992, Vol-4, No.19 — Editorial)

Get rid of 8th Amendment

It would seem President Ghulam Ishaq and PM Nawaz Sharif have a ball playing snakes and ladders. For proof, take a look a our mangled constitution. We see that it is becoming increasingly impotent in the face of new political crises. People are getting acutely frustrated with, and alienated from, this so-called system of democracy in which there is one set of rules for the government and another for the opposition. The crisis in Sindh demonstrates the cavalier attitude of Islamabad in all its decadence.

The Sindh assembly is trying to determine Who’s Who in the province. If the PDA is eventually able to elect its own Speaker, it could topple Mr Muzaffar Shah at will. Even if Mr Shah resorts to force and horsetrading, his survival will be short-lived. When the army targets some of the errant Sindhi MPs in his coalition, as it is bound to do, his coalition will fall. And we will be back to square one.

In the meanwhile, the army still has no proper constitutional cover for its actions, with the President having to consider yet another Ordinance to cover his dirty traces. Then there is the sordid matter of the MQM. The resignations of 12 MQM MNAs have been accepted by Mr Gauhar Ayub, the Speaker of the National Assembly, and the Chief Election Commissioner has announced bye-elections in 60 days. But MQM Minister Islam Nabi has now been prodded to withdraw his resignation and the Speaker has kindly obliged with nary a glance over his shoulder for legal niceties. On the other hand, the resignations of 24 MQM MPAs have not yet been accepted. The Speaker of the Sindh Assembly, whose resignation is also a matter of record, was, according to last reports, being persuaded by Islamabad to show up in the Assembly and take his seat. All we need now is for Mr Gauhar Ayub to retract and say he has not accepted the resignations of the MQM MNAs and to join the Chief Election Commissioner in accusing the press of conjuring up the resignations and bye-elections as a figment of its imagination. That such opportunistic manipulation amounts to a royal cock-up of the constitution is clearly lost on Islamabad. And as President Ghulam Ishaq and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif play havoc with the constitution, the political system is looking patently ridiculous and becoming increasingly untenable.

The real problem, of course, derives from the existence of a “troika of authorities” following the application of the 8th Amendment to the constitution in the post Zia ul Haq period. The 8th amendment was relevant only for the purposes of Gen Zia who was both COAS and President. In effect, it gave the armed forces a de jure role in political decision-making. That is why, despite its overtly undemocratic nature, it lent itself to stabilising the political system. A logical follow-up to Zia’s exit would have been for the then Vice-Army Chief, Gen Aslam Beg, to become COAS while stepping into the office of the Presidency and allowing the scheduled elections to take place for the appointment of the prime minister.

But, of course, that couldn’t happen, given the other provisions of the constitution which placed the Senate chairman,a civilian, in line for the all-powerful Presidency. so the 8th amendment overstayed its purpose and became a mill around the neck of the constitution. It legitimised the existence of two competing centres of power in Islamabad without undermining the conclusive source of power in Rawalpindi.

A troika, rather than a duality, of power is inherently unstable. By definition, it compels the political system to disequilibrium. And as long as it stays,there is no given way to resolve political crises.

We make a grave mistake by focusing on the various permutations and combinations of a solution to the Sindh problem. The crisis is not in Sindh, it is in the twin cities of Rawalpindi-Islamabad. The President ha gotten too big for his boots. If you remove the 8th amendment, nature will take its stable course.

The PDA would like to get rid of the 8th amendment and give the army a constitutional role in decision-making through a powerful Defence Committee of the Cabinet with its own full-time secretariat. This proposal merits careful consideration. By knocking out the third source of power, it will help the system acquire an equilibrium of power. It will also eliminate the possibility of misunderstanding between an elected and representative civilian government in Islamabad and the national security state apparatus of the army in Rawalpindi. It will lends stability to the system.

But the problem is this: as the system now stands, it is incapable of encorporating such changes on its own steam. So, realistically speaking, where is the solution to come from? Not from the President or the PM. The solution lies with the very institution which burdened us with Gen Zia ul Haq and is now finding it impossible to own up to his many treacherous legacies. The army brought in the 8th amendment. The army must now bid good riddance to it.

(TFT July 23-29, 1992, Vol-4, No.20 — Editorial)

Urgent: Brokers Wanted

On 17 July, Benazir Bhutto said the PDA was ready to cooperate with President Ishaq if he dissolved the assemblies, formed a government of national consensus and held elections under an independent election commission. The PDA resolution, however, took a different position. “There is no other course for the nation but to force President Ishaq’s resignation”, it said, while demanding the trial of the President on charges of treason for supporting a terrorist and separatist organisation like the MQM. The PDA also announced its intention to resign en masse from the assemblies after launching a movement to get rid of the government.

That there is a contradiction in the positions taken by the PDA is obvious. On the one hand it says it is prepared to work with President Ishaq if he agrees to its demands. On the other, Bhutto is saying that “the situation has already reached a stage from which there can be no escape from the ‘inevitable'” because President Ishaq “is a usurper” who must be ousted. If President Ishaq is a treasonable usurper, why then is the PDA ready to cooperate with him on certain conditions?

The PDA is being foolish and opportunistic. When it accuses the President of everything under the sun and warns of the “inevitable”, what is it trying to achieve? The President can be impeached or removed by martial law. There is no other way of sending him home. Since impeachment is out of the question, is the PDA fingering the armed forces to boot him out?

For the sake of argument, let us be charitable to the PDA. Let us assume that Bhutto’s intention is simply to bring so much pressure to bear on the President that he is forced to dismiss the assemblies. What then? Will the PDA accept an interim government and election commission constituted by the President? “Only”, says Bhutto, “if they are both genuinely neutral”. But going by President Ishaq’s record in 1990, is that likely to happen? What if the PDA should find his arrangements unacceptable? Will the PDA then launch a movement to have the President removed through martial law? Even if we assume that President Ishaq can be prodded to dismiss the assemblies and hold genuinely fair elections, what will the PPP do if it doesn’t get a majority? Will it revert to accusations of “rigging” and demand the whole scenario all over again? And if the PPP wins, will it be prepared to forget all the bad blood between Bhutto and President Ishaq and hope to start on a clean slate again? Clearly, the PDA’s formal position is a non-starter.

So what exactly is the PDA playing at? Hints of “inevitability” suggest that Bhutto might, after all, be comfortable living with a short martial law which dispenses with President Ishaq and PM Nawaz Sharif, knocks out the MQM, rages against sectarian parties and religious fundamentalists, addresses the law and order situation and puts Pakistan on the rails again before calling for fresh elections and handing over the country to Bhutto.

This is a dangerously tall order. Even if (and it’s a big ‘if’) the armed forces had the will and ability to fulfil it in part, there is no reason to believe that, having sorted out the problems of Pakistan and collected kudos for it, the Generals would be disposed to hand over power to Bhutto on a silver platter. Having squandered a marvellous opportunity in 1988, Ms Bhutto is hardly likely to be given exclusive charge of the country again in the future.

In many ways we are back to the 1980s when President Zia was immovable, Bhutto was irresistible and it was left to fate to open up political space. But fate is a fickle mistress, so it is up to the politicians to find an answer to the mess they have created.

One way out is to broker a deal among the power- players, as in 1988. The President should dismiss the discredited assemblies, forge an acceptable interim government of ‘clean’ politicians who will not be eligible for elections which should be held within six months under the joint supervision of a revitalised election commission and the armed forces. Mr Ishaq Khan should also announce his intention not to contest for the Presidency in 1993. Whoever forms a government in Islamabad should join hands with the opposition to amend the constitution to get rid of the 8th amendment while simultaneously legalising the existence of a supra-body composed of the Prime Minister, Defence Minister, Interior Minister, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Chief Ministers of the four provinces, the heads of the armed forces and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. Call this watchdog what you will but give it some teeth and for the sake of form get the President to chair it (in the absence of the 8th amendment it shouldn’t matter who the President is).

If, at the end of all this, we are still unable to address the problems of democracy, power-sharing, national identity and economic backwardness, we don’t deserve this God-given country.

(TFT July 30-05 August, 1992, Vol-4, No.21 — Editorial)

Begging the issue

Ask any senior western diplomat in Islamabad about Mian Nawaz Sharif’s prospects for survival and the response will be as follows: “Benazir should not trifle with threats of resignation and protest movements. The cause of democracy should come first. The present government should be allowed to last its full term. It doesn’t matter if it’s corrupt, which government isn’t? Destabilising Sharif means encouraging martial law and that would be disastrous for the country”.

How times have changed. In July 1977, the same breed of foreign diplomats was saying quite another thing. “Thank God ZAB has gone. The party’s over. Democracy doesn’t work in third world countries. Good government rather than representative government is what people want”. Gen Zia ul Haq, of course, provided neither good government nor adequate representation. In fact, quite the contrary. He mortgaged the economy and devastated the social fabric of society. Thanks to him, we are reaping the bitter harvest of sectarianism and ethnic strife and our landscape is pocked by drugs and guns. All the while, of course, there wasn’t a murmur of protest from the Diplomatic Enclave in Islamabad about the erosion of democratic institutions and human rights in Zia’s Pakistan.

Or take the matter of Benazir Bhutto’s ouster by President Ishaq Khan in August 1990. What did these gentlemen say? “Shame, really, because we had great expectations. But, really, the old man had no choice. God, but her government was corrupt and inefficient. At any rate, it’s all perfectly constitutional, of course”. Not a word about democracy, not a hint about Mian Nawaz Sharif’s running conspiracies to destabilise her government, not even an allusion to Gen Aslam Beg’s well known endevours to undermine legitimate civilian authority.

All of which leads to the question of the day. Why should powerful foreign powers be interested in the continuation of the present government when it is corrupt beyond redemption and is openly flouting all the rules of decent, constitutional behaviour?

For an answer, look at the situation from the vested point of view of western powers. Mian Nawaz Sharif’s privatisation and deregulation policies, notwithstanding bunglings and profiteering, fall perfectly in line with the “end of ideology” mood in the West. The market can do no wrong and a free market crusader like Nawaz Sharif is bound to get high marks from Washington and London. If you add to the prime minister’s “considerable achievements ” in this area his belated willingness to toe the line in Afghanistan, freeze the nuclear programme, sever his relationship with the Jamaat i Islami and tone down his rhetoric on Islamising the economy and liberating Kashmir, what more could any western friend want from Pakistan? At the end of the day, one Nawaz Sharif in hand is worth more than Benazir Bhutto and Gen Asif Nawaz in the bush. It makes eminently good sense, therefore, to pooh pooh any hint or suggestion of change in Islamabad.

But that is not the way Pakistanis should view things. We should be concerned that capricious privatisation and wanton deregulation may do more harm than good to the economy. We should be worried when constitutional rules and norms of political bahaviour are flouted with impunity, when amendments to the constitution are tabled and passed in a mere 40 minutes, when Presidential Ordinances trip over themselves in a mad rush to bypass a sitting parliament. We should be alarmed when volatile Islamisation policies erode the consistency of our laws and lead to instability. And, as citizens, we should stand up and say ‘no’ when we feel that the value of our vote will not be worth the paper it is printed on tomorrow. These things should matter to us, even if they don’t mean a hoot to our foreign friends.

Of course, no one wants martial law. But the choice is not between ‘bad’ or ‘defiled’ democracy on the one hand and ‘soft’ or ‘hard’ authoritarianism on the other. It is between good and bad democracy or, if you like, between better or worse democracy. The choice is not between suffocating public regulation and dynamic private enterprise. It is between a free wheeling market that leads to monopoly or restrictive practices and a responsible market than spawns free, healthy competition. The choice is not between one set of elusive Shariat laws and another corpus of inflexible Anglo-Saxon codes. It is between ignorance and enlightenment, between backwardness and progress, between the twilight of a past era and the brilliance of a future century. It is not between foreign aid and self-reliance, it is between dependency and independence.

If we are entitled to make these choices, we are entitled to criticise our leaders when they go astray and change them if their misdemeanors so warrant. On that count, we should have no qualms about seeing the back of Mian Nawaz Sharif’s bad government. Democracy is not strengthened by accepting its transgressions in the name of ‘stability’, it is fortified by challenging its violations and trying again and again to make it better. What remains is to negotiate a responsible and acceptable way of running and changing governments. That is what we should be talking about, rather than begging the issue by fearing martial law.

(TFT August 6-12, 1991, Vol-4, No.22 — Editorial)

Absurd realities

Will she or won’t she? Benazir Bhutto’s threat to resign en masse from the assemblies and precipitate a political crisis must have dawned on Nawaz Sharif. He may sound confident in the assembly and look good on PTV, but the facts suggest that the moment of truth for him may be near.

Mohammad Khan Junejo, the ML president, is certainly keeping his options open. He thinks that Bhutto’s resignations will pose serious problems for the government. He is also in no mood to vacate his formal authority over the ruling party in favour of the prime minister. So what is he playing at?

If Bhutto’s resignations are followed by a show of strength at rallies and lead to a disruption in everyday life, one wrong move by the government, out of nervousness, arrogance or sheer incompetence, could rebound with terrible consequences. Mr Junejo obviously thinks Mian Sahib could well botch it. So he wants to be able to offer a sensible way out of the crisis. What he has in mind is this: Thatchering Mr Sharif in the national assembly and holding out an olive branch to Bhutto by cobbling a ‘consensus’ government. What an irony of fate that would be. After all, Mr Junejo was dismissed by Gen Zia precisely because he seemed to have all the ingredients of a sensible, understated, Sindhi prime minister: ability to get along with the opposition (Geneva Accords), refusal to cow down before an almighty, unaccountable President (Ojhri disaster), good relations with the press (repeal of the notorious Press and Publications Ordinance) and a relatively clean record of running a government (no significant corruption charges).

The other person who is watching and waiting is, of course, the evergreen Mr Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi. Mr Jatoi was clever enough not to lend his shoulder to Bhutto’s proposed demonstration outside the Sindh assembly on 30th August. He sensed or knew that the army would frown on it. In the event he was right and Bhutto had to backtrack. If all signals are green for launching a movement against Mr Sharif, we should find Mr Jatoi’s resignation next to that of Ms Bhutto. If it isn’t, watch the man. He may have a better idea of what’s what.

Why has Benazir Bhutto chosen this moment for a showdown with Mr Sharif? Bhutto can say with some justification that, despite electoral rigging in 1990, she chose to stay within an imperfect system in order to give democracy a chance to work. But the government hasn’t reciprocated. On the contrary, it unleashed Jam Sadiq on her supporters, falsely arrested her husband and is now trying desperately to disqualify her from taking part in politics for seven years. Far better that she should resign now when the government’s callousness and corruption stretches mass disbelief than after she has been exiled by the Presidential references in the special courts. At least this way her decision can be sold to the public as a principled, rather than a personal, one.

Of course, this will be as big a gamble as the one she took in 1985 when she boycotted Zia ul Haq’s ‘partyless’ elections. There was no going back then and there will be no going back now. If fate hadn’t intervened to send Zia packing when it did, she might have grown wrinkles despairing at her miscalculation. Could the same sort of thing happen today? Could Nawaz Sharif, lucky devil that he is, happily ride away into the sunset, leaving Bhutto to flounder in the wilderness behind?

We think not. Nawaz Sharif can beguile some people some of the time, but not everyone all the time. Barring fate, whatever he does, motorways and all, he can never forcibly take away Bhutto’s vote-bank from her in Sindh and Punjab. Nor, in the final analysis, can he outwit the foxy Ghulam Ishaq whose game is not yet done. And if it should come to a clash between the two Nawazs, the one in khaki Vs the one in black and white, no one is likely to hedge his bets.

The game of cricket, as always, provides a memorable metaphor. Imagine Mian Nawaz Sharif at the crease, at the fag end of a tiring, last day of a One Day limited-overs match, with an overcast sky threatening rain and a formidable run rate to chase. A fiery Bhutto is running in to bowl to him from the Sindh End, with the roar of the rabble in the stands urging her on. There is Gen Asif Nawaz, stretching his back and loosening his shoulders for a Waqaresque stint from the GHQ End. With openers Qazi Hussain Ahmad and Sami ul Haq back in the pavilion after an agonisingly slow start, with star batsman Gen Hameed Gul out for a duck, and a long tail — the two Chaurdrys, old Ghaus Ali Shah, Kanju, Laleka et al — to wag, what are the chances of the man in the white overcoat, President Ishaq, saving the match? If it weren’t so absurd, the scene might reflect the ground realities better than anything else we can think of right now.

(TFT August 13-19, 1992, Vol-4, No 23 — Editorial)

Without fear or favour

What generals do, or don’t do, is rarely inconsequential in Pakistan. Having ruled for 24 out of 45 years since independence, the army has continued to call the shots even from the barracks. Fears for ‘national security’ provide a rationale for its size (500,000 men), whet its appetite for scarce resources (40 % of yearly budgets or 6 % of GNP) and reinforce its interest in government and politics.

On August 14, Gen Asif Nawaz will have served as COAS for one year. Hailed for his integrity and professionalism when he came to the job, the general’s subsequent deportment in the corridors of power is a fit subject for annual review.

Gen Nawaz inherited an army command hopelessly out of step with changing domestic and regional realities. Under his predecessor, Gen Aslam Beg, the army had connived with the ruling clique of discredited politicians led by Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Mian Nawaz Sharif to cripple law and order in Sindh, nourish a fascist party like the MQM and hound the largest political party in the country — the PPP — to distraction. The ISI bossed the Afghan mujahideen, played favourites among them and rigidly pressed ahead for a military victory against Kabul long after the Jihad had ended. It also had delusions of exporting Islamic revolution to the Central Asian republics. Gen Beg’s mistaken concreteness during the Gulf war sabotaged the government’s efforts to resuscitate US-Pakistan relations after Washington cut-off military aid in September 1990. Long years of martial law had made the army flabby, indisciplined and opportunistic. Its reputation was sullied by the vaulting political ambitions of a clique of self-righteous generals backing an indefensible status quo.

On most of these counts, it is an altogether different story today, thanks to Gen Asif Nawaz. Gone is General Hameed Gul, the soldier who openly meddled in politics, destabilised governments, ran election campaigns and disobeyed orders. Gone is blind support for Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and pipe dreams of conquering Kabul for the “strategic defence” of Pakistan. Thankfully too, some US military aid — desperately needed spares and kits — is beginning to seep in. And within the army, discipline has been enforced, morale is up and unprecedented accountability has become a watchword of the day: a general and three senior offices were publicly ticked off over the Tando Bahawal tragedy, a major is being court-martialed, 35 junior officers were demoted for hooliganism in the NWFP and henceforth officers will go abroad for training only on merit rather than on the ‘sifarish’ of senior colleagues. These are no mean achievements in such a short time.

That said, Gen Asif Nawaz’s biggest challenge remains in Sindh. He promised the people of Pakistan that he would be ruthlessly fair in ‘cleaning up’ the province. Thus far he has kept his honourable word. The dacoits are indeed being knocked out in the interior of the province. The MQM’s fangs have been dented. And it is heartening to learn that the general doesn’t subscribe to the conspiracy theory of pathological PPP haters in the IJI that every Sindhi miscreant is an AZO separatist or terrorist.

But surely this is just the tip of the garbage heap. Six weeks ago, Gen Asif Nawaz publicly referred to the MQM as a “terrorist” organisation which would not be spared. Why then, people want to know, are most of its criminal leaders still at large, regrouping and reorganising in Karachi? Criminal cases have been lodged against Altaf Hussain, Azeem Tariq, Imran Farooq, Salim Shahzad, Safdar Baqri et al. When will the army haul them up before the special terrorist courts set up for exactly the sort of crimes they are alleged to have committed?

Then, there is the matter of those patharidars who are known to shield criminals and abet violence. Are we to take it that they are outside the army’s net because many among them belong to the government in power? Everyone knows that dozens of such people figure in General Nawaz’s hit list. Why has it been put into cold storage by GHQ? Are supporters of the government above the laws of this country?

There are other apprehensions too. The army seems to be propping up a government in Sindh which is, by all accounts, an illegitimate offspring of Islamabad. How long will this farce continue? And what about the fate of the most notorious son-in-law in Pakistan’s history? Is there one set of considerations for some well-connected people and quite another for ordinary citizens like us?

These are hugely embarrassing questions. But there is no way Gen Asif Nawaz can skirt them. If he hadn’t raised our expectations, we might have remained our usual cynical selves and never asked them in the first place. Now everyone expects the good general to match the quality of his words with deeds. The armed forces have been out of step with the aspirations of the people of Pakistan for a long, long time. It is time they redeemed their honour and actively pledged themselves to uphold the laws of the land without fear or favour.

(TFT August 20-26, 1992, Vol-4, No.24 — Editorial)

Stand up and be counted

Speaking in the National Assembly on Monday 11th August, religious affairs minister Maulana Abdus Sattar Niazi called Ms Benazir Bhutto an infidel who should be executed for criticising a man-made law — Gustakh e Rasool. The following day, a swarm of ‘ulema’ duly screamed their ‘fatwas’ against Ms Bhutto.

If Ms Bhutto had been some poor, forsaken woman from nowhere, she would have been doomed to a horrible fate. But she is a former prime minister and leader of the largest political party in the country. So there was an uproar in parliament and Maulana Niazi was forced to eat his words.

In 1984 Gen Zia ul Haq amended the Pakistan Penal Code Section 295-C to hold that: “Use of derogotary remarks etc in respect of the Holy Prophet — Whosoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by imputation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammad (Peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall be liable to fine”.

In 1990 the Federal Shariat Court (Mohammad Ismail Qureshi V Pakistan) decreed that the punishment for the offence of Gustakh e Rasool should be death. It deleted the clause “or punishment for life” and instructed the government to enforce the death penalty by April 1991.

Ms Bhutto is only one among many who believe that the law is vague and could be used to victimise innocent people. By all means, punish the proven infidel who dares to wilfully dishonour the name of the Holy Prophet (pbuh). But what, for God’s sake, is an ‘innuendo’ or ‘insinuation’ whose ‘representation’ ‘indirectly’ ‘defiles’ the Holy Prophet (pbuh)? Which Muslim in his right senses would dare to insult the Prophet (pbuh)? And if he isn’t in his right senses, he needs to be sent to a psychiatrist ward rather than to the gallows.

A number of people have already been hauled up for alleged Gustakh e Rasool. Most of them belong to the non-Muslim minorities, in particular the Christians, and one has already been mysteriously killed in prison while awaiting trial. Pakistan’s most respected social worker and rural sociologist, Mr Akhtar Hameed Khan, is also charged with the same offence. He wrote a nursery rhyme which, the mullahs allege, has an objectionable ‘indirect’ ‘innuendo’. Ms Bhutto’s misgivings are therefore entirely proper. The law is vague in relation to such a severe penalty as death. It should be reviewed.

Citizens have a right to criticise existing laws and agitate for amendments in them without fearing a fatwa consigning them to hell. Appeals can be lodged before the Supreme Court even against decisions of the high and mighty FSC. Such rights apart, parliamentarians have a special duty to critically appraise legislation by the government. Thus Ms Bhutto was perfectly within her rights and duties. Maulana Niazi was not. His holier-than-thou approach is a figment of his false consciousness or misplaced concreteness or a bit of both.

Or is it? It has been speculated that Maulana Niazi’s motives for attacking Ms Bhutto were mundane enough. Was he put up to it by the prime minister’s dirty-tricks department to divert public attention from the humiliating cancellation of the IJI’s Minar i Pakistan rally on August 14 because of fears that the crowds wouldn’t come? The so-called ‘anti-Islam’ card is one that PM Nawaz Sharif loves to play against the PPP whenever he is in trouble. That it has backfired this time is due mainly to the PPP’s robust counter-attack against these hypocritical ‘thekedaars’ of Islam.

There are lessons to be learnt from this episode. For one, give such hypocrites an inch and they will take a yard. That is how, over the years, they have built up their nuisance value. So we should speak up with courage rather than be cowed into submission when they wrongly presume to interpret the teachings of Islam on our behalf. They don’t have a monopoly on our faith. So we shouldn’t be defensive about taking them on when their motives are questionable. Two, the hypocrites have no vote bank. Elected representatives should have greater faith in the wisdom of the people who elect them rather than cringe before those who are rejected at the polls.

This episode has also served to focus upon the Quaid i Azam’s vision for Pakistan. Did the Quaid envisage a theocracy or not? Did he want the state to be run by mullahs? Would he have allowed the supremacy of an elected parliament to be undermined by a Court whose judges are appointed by a capricious President who is not directly elected by the people nor answerable to them? For too long, we have begged these central issues. Now we should stand up and be counted among those who will not allow these hypocrites to knock the foundations of our state.

Whatever else we may think of her, Benazir Bhutto’s recent bout of courage is exemplary. In the face of truth, such hypocrites are paper-tigers. They opposed the creation of Pakistan in 1947. Now they want to exploit democratic freedoms to butcher democracy in this country. It would be a monumental tragedy if we were to hand it over to them on a silver platter.

(TFT August 20-26, 1992, Vol.IV, No.24 — Article)

A President who doesn’t pull his punches

“Do you think Baba is going gaga”? a general asked me recently. “No sir”, I replied, “far from it. The old warhorse is ticking away nicely, thank you”.

As if to prove my point, and that too in a Persian couplet, President Ishaq Khan quipped to the press on Independence Day, August 14, that: “If you didn’t deliver a punch to your opponent during the bout, you should now smash your head with it”.

The President had been asked to comment on the implications of the transcripts of Director General Intelligence Bureau, Birg (retd) Imtiaz Ahmad’s phone conversations in 1989 ‘proving horsetrading’ by the IJI during the vote of no-confidence against Benazir Bhutto. These transcripts were released to the press by Mr Salmaan Taseer, Central Information Secretary of the Peoples Party, last week. Mr Farooq Leghari, the deputy leader of the PPP, told the press on August 13 that Mr Taseer had sent the transcripts to the Supreme Court and the President: “Now Mr Ishaq Khan needs no further proof of the ‘horsetrading’ of the IJI. These tapes reflect the fascist attitude of the IJI to subvert democracy in Pakistan. If the President and the Supreme Court can say that ‘horsetrading’ by the PPP is one major reason for dismissing our government, then these tapes should lead them to the same conclusion about the IJI”.

President Ishaq has clearly told Mr Leghari where to get off. “You can see how the present system is working. In my opinion democratic institutions are running smoothly and effectively”, he said. ‘The tapes which the opposition have now sent to the Supreme Court were also available with them when they were governing the country. As far as I am concerned, the opposition has failed to use these tapes at an appropriate time and now the time has passed for their effectiveness”.

The President was also asked why the special courts trying Benazir Bhutto for disqualification under the 8 references filed by Mr Ishaq Khan are taking so long to arrive at a decision. “I don’t want to comment on a matter which is subjudice”, he said. However, the President couldn’t resist adding that “It is the usual method that the person who considers himself innocent prefers to cooperate with the court so that the court can adjudicate upon his case as quickly as possible. You can see and judge for yourself who is responsible for the delay”.

In effect, the totality of the President’s remarks imply the following conclusions: (1) The President doesn’t deny the authenticity of the tapes. On the contrary, since he seems to know that the PPP has had them in its possession for some time, he probably has also known for some time what is in them (2) He has referred to the tapes as “a punch”. That means the President accepts the fact that they relate to meaty issues. Nevertheless, he believes that since the evidence wasn’t aired earlier, it is meaningless now (3) The President is leading the courts in suggesting that the PPP is delaying the course of justice in his references against Bhutto. Accordingly, it must be guilty as charged.

Mr Ishaq Khan’s logic is thus scrutinised by the editor of The Muslim: “The President’s analogy of a punch not delivered at the appropriate moment in a boxing context is a dud punch is enchantingly beguiling. The punch would certainly be dud if the bout were over and over for ever. That is not the case. The battle is going on… the punching business goes on as long as the bout goes on. No punches are time barred”. In other words, the President is misplaced in arguing that the punch has lost its meaning and effectiveness. “Truth has no age… The idea of evidence… becoming stale, time-barred or invalid must be the most novel in the world of law, courts and judiciary”, concludes The Muslim. As for the judges trying Benazir Bhutto, “None of the courts have so far… expressed any overt dissatisfaction with the speed of the disposal of the references”. In other words, although the courts haven’t given an opinion on the delays because it is likely to be misconstrued, the President has no such compulsions.

Turn to any other editorial in the papers and you will find an echo of these views. According to the editor of The News: “The argument implicit in the President’s response is really quite spurious. Since this evidence was not disclosed at an ‘appropriate time’ it apparently holds no meaning for the President. By this token, a murder discovered after a few years is of no significance. Surely this line of reasoning defies both logic and morality. A wrong is a wrong regardless of when it comes to light”. Commenting on the President’s attitude, the editorial adds that “it smacks of partisanship” and that “while he makes it his business to sit in judgement of political conduct, he conveniently abdicates moral responsibility over what he finds politically inconvenient”.

Why is this matter of the tapes so important? Why should the President’s remarks be dissected so meticulously? For an answer, consider Mr Ishaq Khan’s position. The office he holds is that of the Head of State. His political judgements should be absolutely neutral and above board. The sanctity of the Presidency demands exemplary behavior from the person occupying it. If it isn’t, the authority of the state, constitution and all the laws governing the nation are eroded. How can we build a stable nation-state if its very foundations are constantly being pummelled by a mercurial President?

There is another aspect too. The Supreme Court has recently judges President Ishaq’s dissolution order of August 6 to be valid. It has taken the President’s charge sheet against Benazir Bhutto and held ‘horsetrading’ to be an integral part of the President’s allegations. And the learned judges have argued that it is one of the three most important grounds for upholding the dissolution order.

Now the PPP has provided evidence that the IJI was guilty of the same sin in 1989. The PPP has also marshalled proof of the corruption of the IJI regime since 1990. If the evidence against the PPP was good enough for the President to seek their ouster in 1990, why isn’t it good enough for the same President to boot Mr Nawaz Sharif’s government out today?

It is a powerful argument. Why then does the President refuse to acknowledge it? The answer is simple. Mr Ishaq Khan hates the PPP and will not countenance the possibility of its return to power. He has condoned electoral rigging, propped up Jam Sadiq’s terrorist government in Sindh, abetted a terrorist party like the MQM, protected his son-in-law from the arm of the law and will go to any lengths to side with Mian Nawaz Sharif. Having made a fatal mistake in August 1990, he has piled one lie upon another to hide his original sin.

The President’s critics say he has become senile in old age. They are wrong. Senility is a state of feeble minds. The President’s mind is anything but impotent. All his actions have been solidly, predictably anti-democratic and there is no inconsistency or frailty about them. He remains committed to the demise of the largest political party in the country as an article of blind faith rather than as a consequence of muddled thinking. These are the trademarks of a willful dictator who prefers to take the country down with him rather than call it quits when his time is patently up.

(TFT Aug 27-02 Sep, 1992, Vol-4, No.25 — Editorial)

Doing his mentor proud

The fourth death anniversary of Zia ul Haq on August 17 was an occasion for much public flogging. Prime minister Nawaz Sharif assured the dictator’s followers that he too was a “devotee’ of the man whose “jihad in Afghanistan had borne fruit” because “Afghanistan was now a free country”. Mr Sharif prayed to Almighty God to “give him strength to follow in the footsteps” of his leader.

Few people in this country will join the prime minister in offering such prayers. Thanks to Zia ul Haq, the MQM has grown into such a monster that even the army cannot tame it; violent sectarianism is rampant, the country is awash with drugs and guns, the Constitution is in tatters and Parliament is besieged by a Shariat Court. Thanks to Zia, the Afghans are killing one another even as their country verges on disintegration. Thanks to him, too, we have been lumped with a President who wants to dish out more of the same poison to Pakistan.

The prime minister seems to be especially enamoured of the mullahs these days. His zealous chief minister in the Punjab, Mr Ghulam Haider Wyne, took a great leap forward last month when he blatantly revised history to ‘prove’ that the Mashaikh supported the Quaid’s struggle for Pakistan. Then Maulana Sattar Niazi upped the stakes by calling Benazir Bhutto an infidel who should be eliminated. Now Mr Sharif has exhorted the ‘ulema’ to “expose anti-Shariat elements in society” so that Zia ul Haq’s Islamic dreams can come true.

Why has Nawaz Sharif suddenly become an Islamic zealot? When the Shariat Bill was passed last year, he was careful to reassure everyone, especially foreign journalists, that he was not a ‘fundamentalist’. Mr Sartaj Aziz, his finance minister, has repeatedly assured foreign investors in confidence that the IJI government is not serious about ‘Islamisation’. Sardar Assef Ali, the economics minister, continues to heap scorn on the views of those who want to “Islamise the economy”. The prime minister himself has ordered the isolation of the biggest fundo of them all — the Hizbe Islami leader Gulbudin Hekmatyar — and publicly rebuked the thekedars of Islam, the Jamaat i Islami, for harming the national interest.

Mr Sharif’s compulsions are pretty obvious. The IJI government is in trouble and needs bailing out. Privatisation is floundering amidst allegations of favouritism and corruption. Inflation has reared its ugly head. The MQM and the Jamaat i Islami have deserted the IJI; Mr Jatoi et al are sitting on the opposition benches; there are grumblings within the Muslim League and talk of “Thatchering” the prime minister; a significant number of Senators want to disassociate themselves from the IJI and set up their own ‘dissident’ group; Benazir Bhutto is threatening to bring the government down by a combination of parliamentary resignations and mass-movement pressure; and tensions within the ruling troika have undermined confidence in Mr Sharif’s ability to survive for long. When Mr Sartaj Aziz admitted before a public forum of businessmen recently that the IJI had lost its two-thirds majority in parliament, he was making the understatement of the year.

So Mr Sharif has devised a cunning strategy to prove that he is still very much in charge. He has come up with the idea of amending the Constitution to make “the Quran and Sunnah the supreme law of the land”. He knows that the Jamaat i Islami and other dissidents will vote for it in both houses. He thinks the PPP will not have the courage to oppose it openly. Since such an amendment will require two-thirds strength in the assembly, if passed it will show that Mr Sharif enjoys the overwhelming confidence of parliament and disabuse speculation about any impending change in his status as prime minister.

This is constitutional abuse of the highest order. It is a cynical exploitation of Islam for opportunistic political reasons which would have done Mr Sharif’s mentor Zia ul Haq proud. It amounts to conjuring an illusion of legitimacy when all other ploys have failed. If it works, Mr Sharif will undoubtedly derive enormous satisfaction at his own cleverness. But will it give his government a longer lease of life?

We remain sceptical. The Constitution’s credibility will be further eroded by such callous maneuvering in Parliament. There will be fresh debates and confusion about the validity, scope and application of such a law. The Federal Shariat Court will spring into action again and strike down something or the other, with repercussions possibly far more damaging than those relating to its orders on ‘Riba’ or the ‘quota’ system. The parallel structure of Anglo-Saxon and Islamic laws will become even more unworkable. The state will be up for grabs and Mr Sharif will become a prisoner of his own handiwork.

The real crisis is not about the place of Islam in this country. It is about how to accommodate pluralism, autonomy and democracy in the system. As long as Mr Sharif refuses to address these issues, he will only deepen the crisis. The Constitution is not worth the paper it is printed on if it is mocked so imperiously for short term gains. The prime minister is not only deluding himself by playing such games, he is jeopardizing the very system which brought him to Islamabad in the first place.

(TFT September 3-9, 1992, Vol-4, No.26 — Editorial)

Stopping to conquer?

The quality of political discourse has sunk to new depths. Unfortunately, Benazir Bhutto has taken to openly calling the President “Ishaqa” and the Prime Minister “Nawazu”. While such terms of endearment may serve the dubious purposes of TFT’s outrageous back page, they should not be viciously bandied about in public by leaders of national stature. How would Bhutto feel if “Ishaka” and “Nawazu” began to call her “Kuri” or “Mai” or even “Ghaddaar” on PTV?

More to the point, when national leaders stoop to conquer, they bring into disrepute the institutions they represent and erode the legitimacy of the state. Surely, the office of the Leader of the Opposition should be no less esteemed than that of the President or Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Of course, there is an unfortunate history of histrionics to contend with. The keeper of the President’s conscience in Sindh, Mr Jam Sadiq Ali, used to frequently refer to the Bhutto ladies in unspeakable terms. The prime minister, too, has often gone over the top. “I want to cut the PPP into bits and throw it to the sharks”, he frothily declared not so long ago. Then there was this preposterous spectacle recently in parliament when a member of the prime minister’s cabal accused Ms Bhutto of being a “kafir” who should be killed. Of course, both sides hurl the word “Jew” at each other when they mean “Zionist” and are oblivious of their shameful racism.

Significantly, too, both Mr Sharif and Ms Bhutto have reverted to the language of two antagonistic legacies which have brought the country to its present impasse. Nawaz Sharif is flogging Zia ul Haq’s exploitative and sham version of “Islamisation” while Benazir Bhutto is thundering Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s long lost cry of Roti, Kapra aur Makaan, the great betrayals of both Bhutto and Zia notwithstanding. One seems to be promising an Islamic paradise on Earth; the other is invoking the socialist God that failed. Neither has a clue about what he means or what she wants.

In practice, of course, their policies have been uncannily similar. When Ms Bhutto was prime minister, she wanted good relations with India. But Mr Sharif accused her of “soft peddling” on Kashmir and “selling out” to a bully. She fairly accuses him of the same ‘crime’ today. Bhutto wanted to freeze the nuclear programme and make up with the Americans. “Over my dead body” said Mr Sharif then and has done exactly that now. “Gulbuddin Hekmatyar should be rapped” said Bhutto, “there can be no military solution in Afghanistan”. Never, said Mr Sharif, “we will wage a jihad until Kabul falls”. Naturally, he thinks he has done the sensible thing now by isolating Hekmatyar and pressing for a political settlement in Kabul. “We have a right to bring in our own man into the ISI” said Bhutto in 1989. “You’re meddling in the affairs of the army”, retorted Sharif. The boot is on the other foot these days. “You’re a bunch of crooks”, screamed Mr Sharif, “your husband is Mr 10 %”. “You’re a gang of dacoits”, shrieks Ms Bhutto, “your brother is Mr 90 %”. “We’ll huff and we’ll puff, we’ll bring your house down”, roared Nawaz Sharif. “Likewise, I’m sure”, claims Benazir Bhutto today.

Conspiracies, doublespeak, a live and die attitude have all served to debase politics. No one talks of real issues anymore. The prime minister is obsessed with jazzy airports, smooth motorways and bullet-trains for the rich even as the grinding poverty, ill-health or unemployment of tens of millions drives them to abject despair. There’s a pittance for education or population control and even spending that is problematic for this government: the ministers can’t press ahead because they’re scared of the mullahs.

Ms Bhutto is hardly offering any better. She is full of sound and fury signifying nothing. When she thunders about “the politics of the people Vs the politics of the industrialists”, she doesn’t know what feudalism is all about. When she says “privatisation aims to starve the poor to death”, she doesn’t have a clue about capitalism. Her “social contract” hasn’t been spelt out, her line on deregulation and market-forces is confused, her proposals on electoral reform are half-baked. She has no solutions to offer Sindhis and Mohajirs. She has no foreign policy initiatives to talk of. Talking of Roti, Kapra and Makan is all very well, but how, in Heaven’s name, does she propose to go about delivering them?

There is a visible recklessness about our politicians. They are extravagant in their promises, excessive in their corruptions, obsessive in their hatreds. They are totally oblivious to the questions of the day, wholly ignorant of the answers to the agenda. By turns, they have made a farce of democracy and a tragedy of government. Can anyone knock some sense into their wooden heads?

Most political parties are pathetically short on intellectuals and long on rabble-rousers. And even where intellectuals exist, they remain on the fringes, denied communication with the leadership and cut off from the rank and file. It is time this deficiency was addressed. The PPP boasts many progressive and educated people in its leadership. Benazir Bhutto should make an attempt to raise the level of discourse within her party and help show the way forward.

(TFT September 10-16, 1992 Vol-4 No.27 — Editorial)

Third Force Vs Third Solution

Conventional wisdom says that a ‘troika’ has ruled this country since the exit of Gen Zia ul Haq. While the current President and PM derive their powers from the amended 1973 constitution, the Army Chief is de facto “arbiter of the last resort” by virtue of the law of “historical necessity”.

There is, of course, much evidence to support this view. Gen Aslam Beg was a hands-on COAS from day one, as Benazir Bhutto discovered to her discomfort. In early 1989, she tried to overthrow Nawaz Sharif in the Punjab. But a couple of ‘innocent’ sentences from Gen Beg (“nothing is going to happen”) to newsmen on the eve of the no-confidence motion sent the horses galloping back into Mr Sharif’s stables. Later, when Mr Sharif tried to trounce Bhutto, Gen Beg delivered the MQM to him. He refused to court-martial Brig Imtiaz and Maj Aamer. He refused to clean-up Sindh (“I won’t chase shadows”). He connived with President Ishaq to chuck Bhutto out after vetting his charge-sheet against her before his corps commanders. He didn’t even spare Mr Sharif after he became PM. Gen Beg publicly opposed the government’s Gulf policy and played footsie with the Peoples Party to destabilise the government shortly before he retired.

In contrast, the new army chief, Gen Asif Nawaz, has shown a marked reluctance to thrust his own opinions on the government. If anything, he has backed Islamabad to the hilt. For instance, after Jam Sadiq Ali’s death, President Ishaq ordered the army chief to ‘persuade’ the opposition to give Mr Muzaffar Shah a lease of life. Similarly, when Mr Sharif wanted to cosy up to the United States, Gen Asif Nawaz reassured Washington that Pakistan’s nuclear programme would fall in line behind the PM’s five-nation proposals for non-proliferation in South Asia. The same is true for Mr Sharif’s Afghan policy — the army has abandoned any ambitions of conquering Kabul for the “strategic defence” of Pakistan.

Of course, nothing illustrates this point better than the army’s operation to clean-up Sindh. At every point, Gen Asif Nawaz has balked at taking decision-making out of the hands of the civilian government. He didn’t quibble too much when, after much prevarication, the government gave the army legal protection under section 147 of the constitution rather than section 245 which his predecessor had demanded. Similarly, the army has thus far stayed its hand in arresting top supporters of Mr Muzaffar Shah’s government in Sindh.

Unfortunately, however, the civilian players have been true to form. Islamabad has all but ignored the army’s pleas for an even-handed operation against all law-breakers in Sindh. Because the army’s credibility is on the line, it is relevant to ask how long this civilian charade will endure. For how long will the army chief restrain his generals from demanding greater freedom in hauling up criminals in the province?

Time may be running out. The third member of the troika could get impatient. His generals are pressing him to move ahead at full throttle, clean up efficiently and get out before the quicksand envelops the army. Alternatively, they say, if Islamabad is adamant in having its way, let’s pull out now and leave the civilians to handle the mess: “Why should we play Russian roulette, put a gun to our head and risk a loaded chamber?”

This is a valid question. Why, indeed, should the army stake its reputation on the bankrupt policies of a stubborn President and corrupt Prime Minister who have lost all moral authority to govern the country?

The answers may be already at hand. One option in Sindh is Governor’s Rule. The idea would be to dissolve all assemblies and local bodies and order fresh elections in six months time. In the meanwhile, both the PPP and the MQM would be given a good scrubbing and prodded to settle on a modus operandi in Sindh. Then what? Optimists would like to believe that the domino theory would come into play, with Islamabad falling squarely in the eye of the gathering storm. But is this likely to happen?

Much depends on how the two civilian members of the troika perceive the thinking in the army. If Islamabad is convinced that Gen Asif Nawaz doesn’t have the ace of spades to play as a card of the last resort — martial law — the President may decide to ride roughshod over the army’s concerns. Some people think the army wouldn’t take such a step because world opinion led by the Americans would condemn it roundly. Does that, therefore, mean that the “theory of the troika” doesn’t work any more in the changed circumstances?

It would be foolish to think so. The “law of historical necessity” coupled with Gen Aslam Beg’s legacy is not about to be washed away in a hurry. A few appropriate ‘signals’ from GHQ to Bhutto or to Junejo, or some plain talking to the President, could achieve a great deal without having to play the ace of spades. That Gen Asif Nawaz hasn’t resorted to such tactics, despite provocation, is a tribute to his professionalism. Islamabad shouldn’t push the third force into desperation. It could, more profitably, concede a third solution instead.

(TFT September 17-23, 1992 Vol-4, No.28 — Editorial)

Pass the buck and praise the Lord

There is a tragic dimension in Mr Nawaz Sharif’s preoccupation with Islamising state and society. It is almost as though he sees it as a panacea for all our problems of poverty, illiteracy and underdevelopment.

While the PM has been harping on this tune and taking time off for ‘umra’ to cleanse his soul, he has not bothered to take any steps to avert the rising peril of floods. Hundreds of villages have been swept away, a million people are homeless, roads and bridges have been destroyed, the cotton surplus has been wiped out. And, pray tell, what does Mr Sharif propose to do about it? Take a joyride on a helicopter and announce a consolation fund to alleviate the untold losses and sufferings of the people.

Unforgivable, you say? Imagine how the Chief of General Staff, Gen Farrukh, must have felt when he, along with the army’s Engineer-in-Chief, were called last Sunday to brief the cabinet about the floods and found all the ministers dumbfounded about what had happened and clueless about what to do. “Why don’t you brief parliament also”, suggested one crafty loyalist, hoping to pass the buck on to the army.

It is the same story all over again. Pass the buck and praise the Lord. Verily, Mr Sharif leads a charmed life, or so he must think, at any rate. He has survived one crisis after another and lived to create a new one. Unrepentant, he continues to gush about Islamisation even as the country lurches from one tidal wave to another.

But where does the IJI place Islam in relation to the state? Who in government properly reflects its Islamic concerns? Going by what different functionaries of Islamabad have to say on this subject, it seems the prime minister’s left hand doesn’t know what the right one is doing.

Time and again, Sardar Asif Ali, the IJI’s minister of state for economic affairs, has come out loud and clear. By banning ‘interest’, he argues, the Federal Shariat Court has threatened to wreak havoc with the financial system. But for six months after the FSC’s judgement, Mr Sharif dithered over what to do. At the last minute, however, the government persuaded a couple of private sector banks to appeal before the Supreme Court. The nature of their prayers, however, leaves much to be desired. Yes, they bleat, we don’t dispute that ‘riba’ is indeed ‘interest’, your Lordships, but could we please have some breathing space in which to explore alternative systems of finance before ‘interest’ is banned?

This is ridiculous. Unless the hypocritical intention is to call ‘interest’ by some other name like ‘mark-up’ or ‘profit’ and carry on as before, these convulsions are totally unnecessary and meaningless. And it is absurd to pretend that we can tinker with the global capitalist system and tailor it to our fancies.

Now the FSC has declared that the ‘quota system’ is also repugnant to Islam. In other words, ‘affirmative action’ by the state to redress historical inequities or imbalances between regions, groups and communities is unlawful. If implemented, this decision is primed to alienate the smaller provinces further and erode the spirit of federalism. The Sindhis, for example, will resist it violently because it would amount to handing over the province’s administrative, educational and public sector system to the MQM. The Baloch will take up arms against the more assertive, qualified and entrenched Punjabis and Pashtoons in Balochistan. Women all over the country, too, will suffer. Their quotas in medical colleges and institutions of learning will disappear; they may even lose their special seats in parliament. And so on.

Yet there hasn’t been a squeak from the IJI. No one in Islamabad has thought fit to challenge a decision which threatens to corrode the modern nation-state.

Instead, the prime minister has been keying up to amend the constitution and make the Quran and Sunnah “the supreme law of the land”. Along with the chief minister of the Punjab, he has been exhorting the mushaikh to support this endeavour. If passed, this amendment will strengthen the jurisdiction and claims of the FSC to make and unmake laws at the expense of an elected parliament and restrict the scope of the Supreme Court’s powers of judicial review. It is a perfect recipe for unmitigated disaster.

Thankfully, though, not everyone in the IJI is in step with Mr Sharif’s opportunism. Apart from Sardar Asif, the minister of state for population planning, Rana Nazir Ahmad, has had problems with the mullahs. In trying to implement a rational policy to reduce population growth, he has spoken out against the narrow, literal interpretations of the thekedars of Islam. Punjab Governor Mian Mohammad Aslam and the ANP’s Haji Bilour have also taken a swipe or two at them recently. There are other dissenting voices too. We understand a group of at least 20 IJI MNAs have told the PM that they will conveniently absent themselves from parliament should he decide to present the proposed bill.

Nevertheless, Mr Sharif may exploit the susceptibility of Muslim Leaguers to the carrot and try to ram his amendment through parliament. If so, we are surely entitled to pray that ‘someone’ with a stick will rap him on the knuckles and send him packing.

(TFT September 24-30, 1992 Vol-4 No.29 — Editorial)

Wrath of Allah?

Has the wrath of Allah descended upon the Islamic Republic of Pakistan?

Punjab has been devastated by the worst floods in a century. There has been a fearful loss of life and property. Thousands of people are dead or missing, hamlets and villages have been swept away, many small towns are still knee-deep in water. Communications between the urban and rural areas have broken down. Cash crops have been ravaged over a million acres. Experts say that the province is wading in hundreds of billions of cubic feet of water.

The Punjab government’s initial assessments of losses are as follows: 4097 villages inundated, 3.8 million acres of land under water, 3.7 million people displaced. The loss to the Railways is Rs 100 million, to roads and bridges etc Rs 5.2 billion and to the irrigation system about Rs 1.25 billion. We still don’t know how many have died.

According to financial experts, eventual losses could run into tens of billions of rupees. Apart from large scale destruction to property, livestock and foodstuffs, over 15 per cent of Pakistan’s cotton may have been wiped out. (Raw cotton, yarn and cloth account for over 50 per cent of exports). Other cash crops like high-quality rice for export and sugarcane are also badly hurt. In the 1973 floods, 160 people died and losses were about Rs 5 billion. This year, the figures are going to hit the roof.

Although the army’s entire corps of Engineers, Aviation and Signals have been called in, they remain pressed to affect large-scale evacuation and relief quickly. It’s no joke looking after the millions displaced and simultaneously strengthening embankments, restoring bridges, building roads and airlifting food and medicines.

When the government claims that it couldn’t possibly have managed the situation any better, it is not being truthful. August and early September are normally months of heavy rainfall, especially in the northern catchment areas of the rivers. This year, the downpours were particularly savage, especially after September 5. The Meteorological department says it warned the government to anticipate high floods, especially in the Jhelum and Chenab rivers. Why, then, didn’t the authorities take precautionary measures?

Much of the early devastation on September 10 and 11 was due to the Jhelum river which flows into the Mangla Dam. Mangla officials say “the flood in the Jhelum was sudden and totally unexpected. We saved the dam by discharging the flood waters urgently”. A couple of hours later, the sleeping city of Jhelum was 10 feet deep in raging water. In order to relieve it, the authorities quickly blasted breaches on the left embankments and consequently flooded hundreds of unsuspecting villages. And from then on, the story is much the same at every barrage to the south. There was no respite. The countryside was “sacrificed” to “save” the cities.

Is WAPDA at fault? Yes. As our investigations prove (see page 5), by earlier dithering over what to do and when, WAPDA panicked on September 10 and flooded the province by discharging nearly 16 billion cubic feet of water from the Mangla Dam in just 6 hours, from 6 am to 12 noon! If they’d gradually released more water than they actually did from the reservoir from September 8 onwards and warned the people of what lay ahead, the floods would certainly have been contained and the resultant losses minimised.

The government remained clueless till September 13 when the cabinet first met to take stock and was briefed by the army’s Engineer-in-Chief. Even now, the prime minister has only announced a pittance in relief and balked at appealing for international assistance.

Mr Sharif says there will be drastic revisions in the Annual Development Budget to pay for relief and restoration. So little new development work will be done. Social sector allocations, already meagre, may also be cut. If so, it would seem to be a most irresponsible strategy. Why not scrap the luxurious Rs 24 billion motorway project and divert funds to urgently needed development work?

Does the government realise how millions of rural folk feel about its belated relief efforts? The Punjab chief minister was stoned at one place. Other ministers have been officially warned not to stray in the path of the angry masses.

Mindful of the potentially explosive situation, President Ishaq Khan has advised the opposition not to fan the simmering fury of the people. Hah! Fat chance that they’ll listen after all the clobbering they’ve received from him. At the very least, the government could have accommodated Ms Bhutto’s request for a helicopter to tour the areas. If one could be placed at the disposal of the BBC, free of cost, surely the opposition leader deserved better. But no. Instead, we have been swamped with TV replays of ministers shedding crocodile tears and handing out consolation packets to the needy. If it weren’t so tragic it might be farcical.

“Allah helps those who help themselves”, cry the bereaved, “and the government has let us down badly”. While the poor will take years to rebuild their wretched lives, we shouldn’t be surprised if they explode in the face of this wretched government sooner.

(TFT October 01-07, 1992 Vol-4 No.30 — Editorial )

Plants and other stories

Just how “free” is the press these days? Ask politicians in power and you’re likely to get an earful: “Free press?”, they croak, “They’re a bunch of anarchistic blackmailers!”

Before some of you cluck in sympathy, dear readers, consider what the press has to put up with. The government hands out advertisements and newsprint quotas. If the press doesn’t tow its line, it can hardly make ends meet. But this is just for starters. The press is often pressurized to carry stories which it suspects to be motivated and malicious or knows to be false. These stories, in newsspeak, are called “plants”. The purpose of “planting” them is to dis-inform readers for political ends. Harassed editors and lowly paid reporters are easy prey for the machinations of those who run the dirty-tricks department of the government in power.

The phenomenon of “planted” stories isn’t new. But of late the papers seem to be overflowing with them. Here’s an example. Last week, the government was reported as saying that the army would be withdrawn from flood-relief work because it was hogging the show. This week we’re informed that the PM has decided to let the army carry on, despite advice to the contrary from his ministers. Both stories were

“planted”. The idea was to send a message to the army: “I am solidly behind you, my dear armymen, despite what my ministers say — Yours, as ever, PM!”

Or take a recent interview with Murtaza Bhutto. Although this was exclusive to The News, most papers carried an extracted version of it, along with acknowledgements to The News for purposes of authenticity. This is decidedly strange. Even when some papers occasionally “lift” a story from a local competitor, they never credit it for doing the original homework. Instead, references are made to un-named

daily” or “weekly” sources. In the case of the Bhutto interview, the government’s news agency, APP, made a ‘suitable’ summary of the text and sent it poste haste on the wires. Half a dozen phone calls by the dirty tricksters in Islamabad to journalists and, hey, presto, the APP story” was at every reader’s doorstep next morning!

The art of “planting” stories was perfected single- handedly by a former journalist-turned-adviser in Mian Nawaz Sharif’s cabal during 1988-90. The youthful adviser first gave away dozens of “plots” to deserving hacks and then began a daily routine of ringing them up at around mid-night to dictate the headlines. Ms Benazir Bhutto could never find anyone who was a patch on Mian Sahib’s “adviser”. That’s how she “lost” the battle for the hearts and minds of newspaper readers.

The “planting” technique has now been usurped from the former “advisor” by our chief spook at the Intelligence Bureau, Brig (retd) Imtiaz Ahmad, who likes to flog his image as a modern-day, Pakistani version of Bond, James Bond, 007, as per an Islamabad daily. The Murtaza Bhutto interview, say his friends, is 007’s stinging reply to the

Midnight Jackal” tapes which portray the good ol’ Brig as a treasonable conspirator par excellence. This was followed by Chaudhry Anwar Aziz’s defence of Maj (retd) Amir. Ch Sahib is a rebel without a cause. The poor fellow has a couple of murder cases pending against him for incurring the wrath of Brig Sahib during the last elections. At the least, we expect, Ch Sahib will extract a fair price from Brig Sahib withdrawal of cases) for speaking on his behalf. Now, there’s another “plant” by “our correspondent” in a Lahore daily. “Operation Midnight Jackals is a conspiracy by the PPP against the ISI” it says, “sources revealed that the PPP had no video film of this scandal”. Nonsense. There is, indeed, a film of the whole drama. The only reason the PPP hasn’t shown it is that all the conspirators in it seem to be sitting on the ceiling! (the spy cameras were fixed upside down — so much for the PPP’s efficiency!).

Is this a picture of a “free” press, we ask you? Hardly. The APP, PPI and other “agencies” are not free souls. If they don’t tow the line, it’s curtains for them. Many small papers and periodicals are especially vulnerable because government ads are their sole means of survival.

“Planted” stories are therefore the stuff of everyday compromises. Not every journalist can tell 007 to go fly a kite.

Meanwhile, the press remains under attack. Now Mir Shakil ur Rehman and Dr Maleeha Lodhi of The News have been charged with sedition, thanks to arch-patriot 007, for publishing a short Urdu poem from a reader. The idea is to teach the press “a suitable lesson”. Other journalists and papers may be targeted in due course.

No matter. The press has survived the ravages of Ayub Khan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Zia ul Haq. If Islamabad thinks it has a monopoly on ‘patriotism’ and ‘constitutionality’, it is sadly mistaken. The people and the press will have the last laugh on the new warlords.

So we say, give us a break. It’s a vicious world out there. We may not always deliver. But thank God we manage to survive.

(TFT October 08-14, 1992, Vol-4, No.31 — Editorial)

Battles yet to be won

Before the sedition episode is consigned to the archives, let us pause and think. One of the assumptions doing the rounds is that the government’s sudden backtracking is a vindication of the freedom of the press, the result of the justness of the cause. This is wishful thinking.

The history of government-press relations in Pakistan is littered with just causes; rarely, if ever, have they provided cause for celebration. Zamir Niazi has earned a reputation painstakingly and painfully compiling books about the flouting of these just causes and his labours aren’t done yet. Even so, an Amn editor is unceremoniously picked up and grilled in a police station and reporters in Sanghar are arrested and tortured for recording the rigging of a by-election. And yet the injustice of these causes finds few campaigners, leads to no victories.

Have times suddenly changed since? No. It is simply that the circumstances of the present case happened to be different. Consider this: had it been a lesser paper than The News, or had the owner-chief-editor himself not been dragged in, would the campaign have been launched and built up as lustily as it was? Would the APNS-CPNE have been persuaded to respond as solidly as, at least in outward appearance, they did? And would the opposition, the lawyers, the human rights activists and others have rallied as readily? What if, say, reporter Saeed Ahmad alone had been charged?

These are not wholly hypothetical questions. Answers abound in a mass of precedents. Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain may thus be right, for the wrong reason, in snubbing the press for crowing over its victory — except if that victory is now used to light up the path for the future. If, in other words, newspapers and press organisations, recognising the real factor in the present outcome, decide to act firmly and in unison whenever and at whatever level the authorities again overstep the limits. Now that would be something to rejoice over.

The government oversteps the limits not just when it brings a formal charge of sedition against an editor, which in fact has the seeming merit about it of a certain openness and a veneer of recourse to the legal process for a stated offence. It also does that when it sends goons to sort out lesser editors, or frames them on trumped-up charges, or subjects reporters in remoter towns, an Ishaq Tunio, Shafi Bejoro or Shabbir Bhutto, to the third degree.

The press has tended to be divided against itself by its professional and political rivalries, and some employers have been willing to offer the head of a smaller employee in order to assuage, rather than challenge, the wrath of the mighty. Until that changes little else will. We have to understand that whenever the bell tolls it tolls for all; any diminution of the freedom of one diminishes some part of the freedom of the other.

It is spurious also exult in that the government has come out of the sedition episode with egg all over its face. That again may only be half true in the long run. Had it not been that the poem the government objected to seemed a cry from the heart of a genuinely aggrieved mass of common people, graphically symbolised by the aging poet himself, the government might even have won some popular understanding for itself. It might then have appeared to have been defeated by the combined might of a truculently self-regarding press on the one occasion that it had resorted to the seemingly legal process. People are not easily convinced that the press deserves a lot very different from their own.

It is important that the press ponders this aspect too. After everything that needs to be said has ben said about the colonial character of the sedition law, about its irrelevance in the present case, and about the special courts not fulfilling the requirements of due process, questions still remain.

And these are to do with the Press establishing in the public eye its moral right not to be interfered with, its not having to tender nervous apologies, and its creating its own credible channels of redressing complaints against itself. This requires the Press to evolve known and acknowledged norms for itself and to develop an auspices of high probity along the lines of an oft-talked-about press council. In order to be legitimate, the drive for these will have to be voluntary and it will have to come entirely from within the profession.

The freedom of the Press will remain an uncertain commodity so long as in practice it exists by sufferance. And so long as any resistance to an assault on it is an exception rather than the rule, born of a fortuitous combination of circumstances. Last week’s public reaction to the sedition charge against The News has to become a standard, dependable response to all kinds of interference with the Press. That is far from certain yet. It will take a lot more than high rhetoric and individual resolve to become a reality. Rejoicing, at the moment, is premature.

(TFT October 15-21, 1992, Vol-4, No.32 — Editorial)

The charade goes on

The inevitable has happened. Gen Asif Nawaz says that the army’s mandate has been fulfilled and it is ready to withdraw from Sindh. Sindhis, from Ms Bhutto to Messrs Jatoi and Junejo, do not agree. meanwhile, the high and mighty in Islamabad confront reality with mere assertions. They affirm with the zeal of recent converts what citizens have believed for decades: that civilians have primacy in politics and that it is the army’s duty to obey them. Priceless, coming from them. Perhaps in their new-found wisdom they can address the questions that remain.

How can the army’s mandate have been fulfilled if, in the first place, it wasn’t all defined? If it was to restore Sindh’s peace, who was disturbing that peace? What made its environment so hospitable to lawlessness? What powers and what policies will it take to bring to heel those who hold as hostage Pakistan’s second largest province and its economic and strategic jugular? These questions were not asked when the army was ordered into Sindh. As a consequence, its ‘mandate’ was so tenuous that it was as easy to fulfill as to leave unfulfilled. so Gen Asif Nawaz, Miss Bhutto, and Messrs Junejo and Jatoi are all correct: The army has completed/not completed its job. What was the job?

Had the government — which, in this case, is the President more than the Prime Minister — asked these questions, created a framework for deploying the army, and formulated policy without regard to personal or political convenience, Sindh could have begun to heal. And civil authority would have earned the army’s respect which is a prerequisite of stable democracy.

This episode reveals the weakness of our highest officials’ grasp of and commitment to the democratic process. The army should be called to civilian duty only in cases of emergency so great as to be beyond the police or para-military forces. These latter exist in order to prevent the necessity of deploying the army for internal security. There is a reason for this: armies which are thus used eventually become politicised, corrupt, and disdainful of civilian authority.

Pakistan, where the civilians’ recourse to the army has in the past prepared the stage for putsch, presents a classic case of the costs of ignoring this rule. In a country which has only recently achieved deliverance from a long and arduous military dictatorship, the civilian government bears a special responsibility to exercise care in asking the army to police a province. It is that spirit of caring which was thrown to the wind.

The rule of law has undoubtedly collapsed in Sindh. The process began under Zia; it was completed under Jam Sadiq who was chosen less to govern Sindh than to torment the PPP. The consolidation of the MQM’s terrorist network, and criminalisation of government and politics were aspects of this development. A nearly complete alienation of Sindhis from the State was its byproduct. The resulting power vacuum was filled by ‘dacoits’ who are linked to the rich and famous.

Public outcry that something must be done about Sindh has been sustained and nationwide. The issue in this case was of wisdom and integrity more than principles. Only purists would argue that the army must never be called to aid civil authority in domestic matters. But responsible governance requires that the army should not be invited to enforce the law until the government has first created the political framework for its intervention. And second, it must be politically committed to letting the axe fall where it must. It is that framework and that commitment which the President and Prime Minister failed to deliver.

What we have seen over the last four months is not policy but a charade into which the army has been drawn. The dacoits vanished as the army and the rains came. They shall return when the khakis and the floods recede. The MQM was ‘exposed’ as a terrorist organisation. Yet its leaders remain comfortably underground. They too shall return at a time of their choosing. The ‘official mafia’ which had so enthusiastically embraced the Jam’s mandate of criminalising Sindh’s government was also left largely untouched. Despite detailed, and authoritatively supplied reports, the President’s notorious son-in-law evaded the law. The army clung in vain to its reported list of 71 politically precious culprits; to no avail. As if by magic, the malleable Muzaffar Shah stayed in his chair while its legs broke and the bottom fell out. The provincial assembly lost a good third of its members who resigned on orders from their ‘exiled leader’ in London. As if this were not damage enough to the democratic process, Mr Shah proceeded to dismiss the elected local governments across the province.

The opposition remains the dominant force in Sindh. All means continue to be used to harass its leaders and cadres, without regard to its effects on Sindh’s isolation from the Federation; without a thought that when law is used politically to harass opponents, it is devalued and the foundations of the state are undermined; and despite the fact that the courts, in their wisdom, have been throwing the “references” out, one by one.

There has been no applause for a long, long time. But the charade goes on. For how long, though, for how long?

(TFT October 22-28, 1992 Vol-4 No.33 — Editorial)

Freedom from fear

“We are going to ban sectarian parties” thundered prime minister Nawaz Sharif last month. Last week, however, he meekly submitted to the blackmail of sectarian parties and ordered the inclusion of a column for ‘religion’ in our National Identity Card. There was no discussion in parliament, the minorities weren’t consulted, editorials and moderate public opinion criticising this amendment were blithely ignored. This is playing with the fate of the nation in a most callous manner.

The government’s argument is that its decision will facilitate the separate-electorate system. Rubbish. We’ve had elections with and without ID cards and nobody has ever complained that the form of the ID card has led to unfair practices. If anything, injury has been caused by the widespread use of false ID cards, by the existence of multiple cards for the same voter, by allowing votes to be cast without cards or by deliberately registering bogus votes. And it is the preponderantly Muslim electorate, rather than the miniscule non-Muslim minorities, which shamelessly cheats at the polls. At any rate, the IJI is accused of the most blatant electoral rigging in Pakistan’s history. Thus its sudden concern for ‘flaws’ in the separate electoral system is ironic, not least because the government continues to pour scorn on all reasonable demands to overhaul the election commission.

An ID card, by definition, simply establishes a person’s identity as a citizen. For its purposes, the holder’s name, father’s name, address and gender are sufficient. Citizenship has nothing to do with religion, ethnicity, tribe, caste, region or language. By bringing in ‘religion’, when over 95 per cent of the country’s population is Muslim, the idea suggests that a majority of citizens are more equal than a minority in the eyes of the law. This is unconstitutional and derides the Quaid i Azam’s vision of Pakistan (“You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the state”). More ominously, it threatens to rupture civil society further by allowing religion to be used for discriminate political ends.

The mullahs are bitterly divided into scores of sub-sects and groups. Unfortunately, Justice Munir Ahmad’s observation that not one among them could agree to the other’s definition of what constituted a Muslim is truer today than it was nearly four decades ago. In fact, according to the most vicious sectarian group of them all — the Sipah i Sahaba — the Shias (who constitute nearly 25 per cent our population) aren’t Muslims at all. By noting a person’s religion on an ID card, aren’t we pandering to the worst prejudices of such marginal groups against the minorities of this country? Overt discrimination against the Ahmadis and Zikris is already a dismal fact of life. Are the Christians, Hindus, Parsees, Buddhists, etc. also doomed to become second-class citizens? If we give in now, how shall we resist subsequent political demands from other vested interests to highlight caste, regional or linguistic affiliations? Once the genie of sectarianism is out of the bottle, and the government’s decision on the ID card issue is yet another attempt to uncork it, there is no knowing where and when it will next infect the body politic and erode the basis of nationhood. Modern nation-states are formed on the basis of a voluntary and equitable assimilation and association of different peoples, not on the basis of policies designed to emphasize religious differences and promote discrimination and divisiveness.

“We are now on a slippery slope”, wrote Dr Eqbal Ahmad recently, “The scope of sectarianism is vast, unending. Our religious parties are inheritors, unfortunately, not of the Islamic traditions of humanism, universalism and aesthetics as they developed over the centuries but of sectarian disputes and textual contestation. Given a chance, they shall reduce Islam to an imagined and harsh penal code and plunge this country into an Afghanistan-like civil war. If moderate, thinking people do not intervene to stop the trend, it will devour us all”.

Truer words weren’t spoken. The tragedy is that this wisdom may fall on deaf ears. Mian Nawaz Sharif is a self-made victim of a siege-mentality. Like his predecessors, he too is not prepared to share power and is therefore clutching at the mullahs for survival. It is a strategy which has failed in the past and will not succeed today. In 1977, a besieged Z A Bhutto pandered to the mullahs but failed to save his skin. Gen Zia ul Haq flogged Islamisation but couldn’t clinch legitimacy. Benazir Bhutto adopted a hejab, refused to shake hands with men and took to fiddling with her “prayer beads”, yet the mullahs refused to accept her as a legitimate prime minister. In their own ways, Zia conclusively more than the others, not one was able to enhance the sources of legitimacy while flouting the premises of democracy and pluralism. Why should Nawaz Sharif’s hypocritical gestures prove any different?

In the end, sadly, demands for ‘Islamic’ purges, punitive action and witch-hunts diminish our freedom from fear. In an increasingly schizophrenic environment, we are being asked to live under one set of values while intellectually and materially we are expected to subscribe to quite another. How a country treats its minorities is becoming a universal yardstick for entry into modern nation-hood. By that barometer, we have fallen way behind in the race to catch up with a new century.

(TFT Oct 29-04 Nov, 1992 Vol-4 No.34 — Editorial)

Full marks to everyone

Full marks to Sardar Ibrahim, Amanullah Khan, et al. They have helped raise the consciousness of Kashmiris in Pakistan and Azad Kashmir and forced the timid, status-quo oriented Kashmiri parties to fall in line. When Amanullah Khan first launched his headline-grabbing long march to the LoC last February, some people accused him of being an adventurer. Far from it. The fact that there were many more people surging towards the LoC on 24th October than on February 11 suggests his tactics have fired the imagination of the Kashmiri people. Even Sardar Qayyum has been forced to acknowledge Mr Khan’s ingenuity and discreetly, though joylessly, allow him to have his way.

Full marks, too, to prime minister Nawaz Sharif. His administration handled the affair with the required subtlety. The federal government made all the relevant noises for international consumption — that it was opposed to the march, that it didn’t want to create new tensions with India, that it would use force, if necessary, to stop the marchers from crossing the LoC. In the event, however, no real attempt was thankfully made by Mr Sharif or Sardar Qayyum to stop the Jammu & Kashmir Democratic Front of over 36 parties and groups from planning, organising and assembling for the occasion. Only on the day of the march, a couple of leaders were detained and no serious hurdles were created in the path of the spirited masses until they strayed dangerously close to the LoC. Once there, the 5000 or so para-military forces of the Punjab and Frontier constabularies spread across the four routes did their job reasonably well. Unlike on the previous occasion when confusion reigned supreme in Islamabad and Muzaffarabad and the army had to be called in to control the mobs, when several lives were needlessly lost, this time round the civilian administrations have put up a much better performance.

The Kashmiris have once again successfully drawn the attention of the international community to the brutalities of the Indian government in Srinager. Islamabad can also say with a poker face that it thoroughly disapproved of the whole affair and has at least one dead Kashmiri to prove its claims.

But before everybody starts thumping one another other for a job well-done, the Kashmiri leaders have to put their heads together and think of new ways to forge unity and plan ahead. Clearly, two things have to happen before the cause of Kashmir can be elevated to beyond the plateau on which it rests currently. One, the various Kashmiri parties and groups in Srinager, Pakistan, Muzaffarabad, Washington and London must demonstrate a common strategy to raise their issue effectively on the international agenda. Two, the Pakistan government must help them unite and stand solidly behind, rather than work at odds or at be tangents with their aspirations. Nor must Islamabad try and browbeat one or the other into toeing its line. More significantly, if Afghanistan is anything to go by, Islamabad should not play favourites, either in Muzaffarabad or in Srinager. This is not the time for ideological internal struggles and power-plays. This is not the time to chose Sardar Qayyum over Sardar Ibrahim or Amanullah Khan, to give Syeda Abida Hussain in Washington an exclusive voice while gagging the likes of Air Comm (retd) Ayaz. Also, it is perfectly in order for one lot to agitate for an independent Kashmir and for the Pakistan government to play on the UN resolutions while both work hand in hand behind the scenes to free Kashmir from the murderous clutches of N Delhi. Once India has been forced to consider parting with Kashmir, and that is still some ways off, there will be time enough to gauge the real feelings of Kashmiris about independence or joining Pakistan. In the meanwhile, it is inexcusable for the Kashmiri liberation forces and their spokesman, wherever they, are to squabble among themselves over final goals and objectives. The need of the day is to affect a united front over tactics, strategy and agit-prop, with the Pakistan government discreetly colluding to ensure their efforts bear fruit.

That said, it should be acknowledged by the Kashmiri leaders that they will now have to devise new stratagems to capture international headlines. Long marches, as in the past, which fizzle out before they get to the LoC, are no longer such a novel idea. It is time also for Sardar Qayyum to relinquish his monopoly on power in Azad Kashmir and invite the other leaders to sit with him and democratically chalk out a concerted plan of action with the covert blessings of the Pakistan government.

Mr Amanullah Khan is no longer the odd-man out, railing of an independent Kashmir. Excluding, obviously, the Kashmiri militants in Indian-occupied Srinager who have heroically laid down their lives, Mr Khan has done much to hoist the Kashmiris’ cause in the capitals of the Western world. That is why his name is more familiar to the Western press than that of any other Kashmiri leader. That is why, also, it is time his services to the cause of Kashmir were recognised for their full worth in Islamabad and Muzaffarabad rather than dismissed as the egocentricities of a loner or maverick. He deserves, at the very least, to be formally rehabilitated by Muzaffarabad if he cannot, for good reason, be accommodated overtly by Pakistan.

(TFT November 05-11, 1992 Vol-4 No.35 — Editorial)

Politics abhors a cul-de-sac

The army has held Capt. Arshad Jamil and 13 other ‘faujis’ guilty of murdering nine villagers in Tando Bahawal, Sindh, last June. A Court-Martial has sentenced Captain Arshad to death and the others to life imprisonment.

When the incident was first reported, the COAS was quick to pin responsibility. The main culprits were arrested, four senior officers, including a General, were stripped of their career-prospects and transferred to the backwaters of GHQ. That isn’t all. Some months ago, when 35 officers were found to be involved in hooliganism in the NWFP, they were all demoted.

Meanwhile, on the civilian side, the police and administration officers who connived in the murders at Tando Bahawal or tried to cover them up, are still unshackled. It appears they have yet to be brought to trial before the courts.

This sort of severe internal accountability by the army is unprecedented. It is especially welcome because all these cases impinged on civil-military relations and army officers were at fault for jumping the gun. We have come a long way. Time was when the army was such a sacred cow that no civilian could ever point a finger at it without feeling guilty of undermining national security or having sleepless nights in fear. Salutations to Gen Asif Nawaz and his colleagues!

That said, a passing comment on another score may be in order. This relates to the matter of our defence budgets. Why isn’t Parliament “allowed” to debate the army’s revenues and expenditures? The argument that considerations of “national security” preclude such “parliamentary scrutiny” doesn’t wash. If, during the long years of the cold war, Western superpowers, obsessed with notions of security and secrecy, could allow their parliaments to take a magnifying glass and examine their defence budgets, we have had even less reason to resist such democratic practises. Are Pakistan’s armed forces reluctant to open up their ledgers because there may be much wastage and misappropriation of public money? Why does GHQ go up the wall every time such a demand is made? It is made in all sincerity and its purpose is not to undermine the legitimate needs of the military nor to interfere in its internal professional affairs. Even if there are certain genuine “Eyes Only” transactions, why cannot GHQ be more transparent elsewhere?

The COAS, Gen Asif Nawaz, says the army believes in discipline and accountability. Good. Then he should also be prepared to air the military’s financial accounts for auditing. Such a gesture will open the floodgates of goodwill and prove the military’s commitment to democracy and nation-building.

The COAS has also expressed the hope that, following the army’s accountability at Tando Bahawal, “others” should set an example too. We couldn’t agree more. But who, pray tell, are these ‘others’ the good general is alluding to?

Fortunately, unlike Gen Asif Nawaz, we don’t have to mince our words. These ‘others’ are the rakes in power who want to hold everyone except their own kith and kin accountable to the law. At the top of the heap sit the President and Prime Minister of Pakistan. For them, accountability is the edge of a sword with which to try and scuttle the Peoples Party. They remain conveniently blind to the corruption and criminalities of their own supporters. The President will not allow the accountability of Muzaffar Shah’s government nor of his son-in-law Mr Irfanullah Marwat. The PM will not punish many of his malignant ministers who have plundered the treasury and abused the perquisites of power.

Gen Asif Nawaz’s words and deeds carry much weight. They also suggest a deadlock over civil-military perceptions of what ought to be done to clean-up Sindh. Although the army’s view has once again been thwarted by Islamabad, (a ‘review’ will be forthcoming next year, we’re told) it is clear that GHQ is at the end of its tether. Damned if they do and damned if they don’t. This is a precipitous situation, as everyone knows. Why then is Islamabad so blinkered in ignoring the signals emanating out of Rawalpindi?

Lest anyone missed the import of the last meeting in the Presidency between the civilians and the army on the question of Sindh policy, it may be worthwhile to note who was present and why. Apart from the President, PM and his defence and interior ministers and their secretaries, the COAS was accompanied by anyone who’s anyone in the army high command: CGS, V-CGS, Commander 5th Corps, DG-MI and DG-MO. Most surprisingly, the chief of the air force had also accompanied the COAS. Was this a simple meeting on law and order in Sindh or one of a Council of War in a grave National Emergency?

The message is clear. The military has unanimously decided it will not become a scapegoat for unfair and specious government politics. Although the PM and his ministers did all the talking while the President maintained a long silence during this meeting, the army knows that President Ishaq and not PM Sharif is calling the civilian shots. The army’s judgement on Capt Arshad was postponed till after this meeting so that their intent could be drummed in with force yet again in case it was lost during this meeting. Now the COAS has nailed the lie. “Others” must also have “accountability” within their ranks. Will “they” or won’t “they”…?

(TFT November 12-18, 1992 Vol-4 No.36 — Editorial)

No more games, please

Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan, it seems, wants to lord it over Pakistan until the good Lord determines otherwise. And this, despite the fact that neither Mr Nawaz Sharif nor Ms Benazir Bhutto, nor indeed any other politician of repute, is terribly keen on the idea.

GIK’s strategy is transparent enough. Divide and rule, and to hell with the country. This is how the drama has thus far been enacted. Act 1 (How GIK weakened BB and eventually got rid of her). Scene 1: GIK exploits 8th amendment to usurp BB’s powers. Scene 2: GIK helps sow dissension between BB and Gen Aslam Beg (GAB). Scene 3: GIK promises GAB an upstairs slot in exchange for helping boot BB out and bring NS in.

Act 2 (How GIK got rid of GAB). Scene 1: GIK persecutes BB, strengthens NS. Scene 2: GIK helps NS get rid of GAB. In exchange, NS ditches Gen Hameed Gul and allows GIK to bring in Gen Asif Nawaz (GAN).

Act 3 (GIK’s tactics to win another term as President) Scene 1: GIK undermines NS by not allowing him to patch up with BB; he also fosters discord between NS and GAN. Scene 2: Pressure on NS mounts as GIK plays footsie with NDA, BB is persuaded to stop attacking GIK and concentrate on NS who goes up the wall by GIK’s latest remark: “When have I said that NS’s regime is all right?”

Act 4 is enveloped in tension and mystery. Will NS promise to elect GIK as President next year? If so, how then will GIK defuse BB, NDA and GAN? If not, will GIK boot NS out? How? When?

While we acknowledge that Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan is the most tenacious player of a cynical power-game, the quintessence of high drama is its unexpected twists and turns. It is this, at the climactic end, which makes it a non sum-zero game. There is therefore no certainty that NS, GAN, BB, and NDA will all duly enter and exit on GIK’s cues. That’s when the winners of today may unexpectedly be scuttled by the villains of yesterday.

As the sword of Ishaq Khan dangles over his head, Nawaz Sharif’s whiz kids must be feverishly working out their own strategy. How about this one for starters? Go along with GIK now by promising to elect him as President next December. That should relieve the immediate pressure. By late next year, GIK will be a lame duck; that’s when it will be a perfect moment to ditch him, elect a pliant President, get rid of the 8th amendment and start planning on a new, more amenable COAS. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Nor should BB’s autonomy be underestimated. She wants to get rid of both NS and GIK. If she can produce some fireworks either now or later, she may yet provoke GAN to think unthinkable thoughts and jeopardize all of GIK’s and NS’s well-laid counter plans.

Will the Drama end with Act Four or will it be extended to include Act Five and Six at least? There is, as wise men say, many a slip between the cup and the lip. GIK could so easily end up being clever by half.

This tension is totally unnecessary. The people of this country are fed up with one political drama after another. All they want is good, clean government, a semblance of law and order, education for their children, health for their families and employment for all. They have seen through the shallow performance of Benazir Bhutto, they are angry about Nawaz Sharif’s corruptions and they are fed up with Ishaq Khan’s immoral machinations. Progressively, too, they are becoming disenchanted with “democracy”. After all, the freedom to speak, which is what “democracy” amounts to at the moment, doesn’t fill empty stomachs or warm cold hearths. Is it too difficult to imagine why they shouldn’t welcome someone who comes along and offers to give them what they want in exchange for depriving some of “us” of the right to speak our minds on a full stomach?

Why then shouldn’t President Ishaq Khan stop playing games, effect a national reconciliation, clear the decks and go home in peace, if not honour? Maybe then, our politicians will learn to make “democracy” work by concentrating on issues and not conspiracies.

We’re not the only ones who want Mr Khan to quit. One lot of critics wants him out because it hopes Nawaz Sharif can have an even longer joyride at the nation’s expense. Another is concerned with paving the way for Benazir Bhutto’s return to power.

Our concerns are different. We believe Mr Khan’s obdurate behaviour is inimical to necessary political reform and long-term stability. That he, more than anyone else, is responsible for the political anarchy which plagues these transitional times. That any “change”, if it is instigated by him and leaves him in a powerful position, is bound to be self-defeating and purposeless.

It would be a cruel joke on this country if this dramatic farce is allowed to mock our integrity and intelligence. Mr Ishaq Khan should show statesmanship, make up with Bhutto and persuade Sharif to hold genuinely free and fair elections in 1993. Then he should go home and let the two young politicians match their wits before the people of Pakistan.

(TFT November 19-25, 1992 Vol-4 No.37 — Editorial)

Sharif’s siege

Whether Benazir Bhutto’s “long march” to Islamabad ended with a bang or whimper doesn’t much matter. What matters is that, even before the “long march” kicked off, she had already succeeded in enforcing a psychological siege of Islamabad. This siege is not about to be lifted in a hurry and may manifest itself in different forms in the days and weeks ahead.

Mr Nawaz Sharif therefore has a running crisis on his hands. Evidence of his panic last week cannot be doubted. For days before the march, the government stopped functioning and went into a huddle to diffuse the challenge. It left no stone unturned to thwart the gathering crowds. Thousands of police, commandoes and para-military forces were called out to block the marchers everywhere. Hundreds of PPP workers were arrested in preemptive swoops. Route-permits for buses were hastily cancelled. Since Ms Bhutto has just begun her “long march”, will Islamabad grind to a halt every time she threatens to kick up a storm? Logic, therefore, would suggest that some sort of “change” may be unavoidable sooner or later.

Ms Bhutto is decidedly gung-ho. If she has received a “signal” from somewhere, as conspiracy theorists insist, she certainly isn’t letting on. Anyway, her reasonsing is simple. (1) Mr Sharif is in no mood to live and let live. On the contrary, if he consolidates power it is almost certain that he will try next year to see the back of the President and the COAS in order to establish an autocracy. As for Bhutto herself, she would probably be “ripped up into pieces and thrown into the sea”, as Mr Sharif once proclaimed and as Mr Ghulam Haider Wyne never tires of threatening. With disqualification a hair’s breadth away and Asif Zardari’s ordeal showing no signs of abating, she has everything to bid for by standing up and being counted. (2) Therefore she will try to exacerbate existing tensions within the troika (and the ones between the PM and the COAS are something to write about) in the hope that something or someone will give way and open up some breathing space for her.

Is that likely? Option One is for the President to send the assemblies packing. However, we doubt he will consider this seriously. It has happened twice already in four years and only served to sharpen the political divide. Option Two is martial law. True, the armed forces are sick and tired of constantly having to sweep the dust after the politicians have slugged it out and made a royal mess of things. But a coup would seem to fly in the face of post cold-war realities. At any rate, apart from seriously undermining the army’s professionalism, the Generals must know that martial law is not a panacea for teething political strife. Option Three is for the President and COAS to put their heads together and jointly effect a “neutral” government, sans Messrs Sharif and Bhutto. Is this plausible?

It is, if you consider what the pliant Mr Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi has to offer: (1) a “national” government which disarms Bhutto by withdrawing the references against her, frees her husband and orders a thorough clean-up of Sindh followed by free and fair by-elections. (2) a reprieve for Mr Sharif by not holding him accountable for all the corruptions of the last two years. (3) a commitment to the people of this country to ruthlessly weed out crime, corruption, terrorism, drugs and sectarianism before ordering genuinely free and fair elections in 1994 or ’95.

But there could be a couple of snags. First, the powers-that-be might want a clean break from the murky past in order for the new regime to be credible. Second, Mr Sharif might object to becoming a non-entity overnight. He could conceivably throw a spoke in everyone’s wheels by asking the President to dissolve the assemblies and order fresh elections under his premiership.

Mr Sharif will fight to the bitter end, naturally. But if the crunch comes, he may be counselled to seek a safe exit rather than to incur the unmitigated wrath of the President and the COAS, which would leave him in the unenviable position of his nemesis, Benazir Bhutto, in 1990.

It is, however, worth asking whether or not such an “interim-national” government will work under the circumstances? Not if President Ishaq Khan is still around to chaperone it as he has done so dreadfully in the past. So, for the scheme to work, we need to persuade not just Ms Bhutto and Mr Sharif to take a back seat but also to nudge Mr Ishaq Khan to honourably retire next year. If a truly “national” government is to guide us out of these recurring crises, we might for starters justifiably consider dispensing with the legacies of the past, the “elected” wallahs temporarily and the “unelected” ones permanently. That said, if the route to Islamabad is still via Washington as some people argue, Bill Clinton’s victory should help the “liberal” Benazir Bhutto more than the “Islamic” Nawaz Sharif in the future.

(TFT Nov 26-02 Dec, 1992, Vol-4, No.38 — Editorial)

Change of scene

Thanks to a couple of psychopaths in and around the prime minister’s cabinet, Mr Nawaz Sharif is in a soup. Damned if he bends before Benazir Bhutto and damned if he doesn’t. If his hawks were resolved to turn Parliament Square in Islamabad into Tienanmen Square in Peking before the “long march”, they’re beginning to sing quite a different tune after the event. “We won” thundered Ch Nisar on Nov. 19th. “No one won” he declared on Nov. 23rd. But the question is: Can he bring himself today to admit that his team lost the game yesterday?

What about Benazir Bhutto? If she was apprehensive on Nov 18th, she’s decidedly cock-sure today. And why shouldn’t she be? Her street-fighting mobs sense a kill in the air.

Despite the risks, however, Mr Sharif’s best bet might be to let her have her way and lead her marchers to Islamabad. If Mr Sharif knows what he is talking about, maybe the crowds might never materialize in large enough proportions to constitute any significant threat.

If, on the other hand, the government does arrest her and strengthen her image of a martyr, then Mr Sharif & Co might as well forget about niceties like parliament, human rights and democracy and go the whole hog. That is, turn the rest of the country into another permanently armed camp like Sindh.

Can they do that? Maybe, in their desperation, they might make some more authoritarian blunders, like try Benazir Bhutto and her companions for subversion. But for how long can such madness go on? The army, the President, the Americans and other power-brokers are aghast at the turn events have taken already. And they’re in no mood to sit back and shrug off Mr Nawaz Sharif’s follies at the cost of the country.

No, this is the end of Mr Sharif’s ambitions to become another Ferdinand Marcos. If he wants to live, he will have to let live. And quickly, before some more teargas is shelled.

What concessions might a democratic alternative conceivably exact from Mr Sharif? The bottom line is this. Mr Sharif will have to unilaterally announce the following executive decisions: (1) Immediate withdrawal of all references and cases against Peoples Party workers and their leaders including Ms Bhutto and Mr Zardari. (2) Dismissal of Mr Muzaffar Shah’s government in Sindh and a public commitment to hold free and fair elections there under the supervision of the army and an independent election commission after Operation Clean-Up has been concluded to the satisfaction of GHQ. (3) A public commitment to constitute a new and independent election commission immediately with the approval of the opposition. (4) A public commitment accepting the principle of mid-term elections.

Once these actions are taken, Mr Sharif has to invite the opposition for immediate talks to hammer out the exact modalities involved in the transition period. He has to be willing to discuss issues like the 8th Amendment, National Security Council, proportional representation etc.

If this should seem like a tall order to Mr Sharif, which it is in reality, then the poor fellow’s goose is as good as cooked already, despite any desperate flights of fancy he may indulge in for some time more at the behest of the hawks and PPP-haters around him. What then?

The army, despite Gen Asif Nawaz’s avowed reluctance to meddle in politics, might be compelled to counsel the President to save the system in one of two ways. That is, to engineer a revolt within the Muslim League so that we can have a brand new prime minister and cabinet which is prepared to play ball with whatever opposition is left. Or to send all the assemblies packing and call fresh elections.

The first option will be resisted by Mr Sharif with all the billions at his disposal. If it doesn’t work, what will the powers-that-be think of next? At any rate, if Mr Sharif manages to hang on with the skin of his teeth, Ms Bhutto is not likely to call off her movement. So we will be back to square one.

The second option is equally problematic and raises as many questions as it answers. What legal justification will the President give which can stand up in the Supreme Court? What sort of an interim government should there be? Who will head it? Will it have credibility? How soon will elections be called? Under whose supervision? Who will be barred from contesting? What will the President’s own decision be regarding a second term, the 8th Amendment etc? Will it sharpen the political divide as it did in 1990? Will it also require the President to swallow his pride and implicitly admit the error of his ways in 1990? Is he man enough to accept his failings and rectify them now?

No, we’re afraid, it doesn’t look good at all, the questions outnumber the answers. Are we then fated to end up with the simplest solution of all? It is a matter of days not months before we will know whether either Mr Sharif or President Ishaq Khan or neither of them have a solution for us. We wait with bated breath for a change of scenario.

(TFT Nov 26-02 Dec, 1992, Vol.IV, No.38 — Article)

The ball is in Nawaz Sharif’s court

Whatever Chaudhry Nisar may say, the fact is that Benazir Bhutto’s “long march” has succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations, including hers. True, Bhutto’s courage and determination were exemplary and her jiyalas put up a dogged show. But if it hadn’t been for Nawaz Sharif’s massive overkill, the “long march” would never have caught the world’s headlines. If Islamabad looked like an occupied city on November 18, if the government seemed to be in a state of siege, if Sharif has boxed himself in, he has only himself to blame. Certain conclusions follow from the government’s reaction.

First, such a massive show of force suggests that Sharif was nervous and panicked. This is the response of a regime which is inherently brittle. Sharif’s overkill is based on three psychological factors: guilt, awe and fear. Sharif knows he is guilty of having rigged the 1990 elections and therefore lacks moral legitimacy. He is in awe of peoples’ power because he knows it is capable of overthrowing governments. Consequently, he greatly fears the Peoples Party which has always demonstrated considerable street clout.

Second, his government has progressively broken down. There are two symptoms of this breakdown: indecisiveness and resort to unpredictable violence by the organs of the state. Consider, for example, how Sharif’s confusion led Benazir Bhutto to seize the initiative on November 18th. Armed barricades were established outside Bhutto’s residence, presumably to deny her exit. But the police was actually clueless about what to do when she determined to walk through. In fact the violent riot which ensued, in which several people including Bhutto, Jatoi and Leghari, were attacked while she was making her get-away, was completely manufactured by the police. Then there was a mock chase. Even after she was picked up in Rawalpindi later in the evening, it wasn’t clear to the police whether they’d “arrested” her or not. A formal warrant wasn’t served until 1 am early next morning. In between, she was driven about aimlessly by a DSP for an hour or so until someone in the kitchen cabal thought she should be bundled off to Karachi. Frantic efforts were then made to put her on the 7 pm flight. When the police missed that flight, she was packed off to the State Guest House and then put on the night coach to Karachi. Banned from entering Rawalpindi, Islamabad and Peshawar the government is waiting for her to make the next move. Since she has resolved to continue her campaign, there is nothing the government can do except to eventually arrest her for good. And then what? No one in Islamabad has a clue.

There was no method in Islamabad’s madness. The same sort of stop-go tactics were used to sort out other “trouble-makers”. The police let some opposition leaders go, then arrested them and released some again. They have all been arrested again. Quite inexplicably, journalists and human rights activists were also rounded up or bruised (Miss Mariana Babar of The News had a tearful story to recount).

On the other side, Bhutto’s resolve has hardened. She has now formally upped the ante. The “long march” was initially billed as a peaceful and legitimate form of protest. Now she is saying it is nothing short of a “peoples rebellion” which aims to topple a “terrorist regime”.

This confrontation between “state power” and “peoples power” can only have two dangerous consequences. The transparent vulnerability of Nawaz Sharif’s government has cast a shadow on the stability of the political order. Pakistan’s history suggests that whenever state power in the hands of a civilian government is wayward, misguided or indiscriminate, as it is today, it is time for the military to think of flexing its muscle.

The other outcome has to do with the controversial limits of Presidential discretion. The violent confrontation between Sharif and Bhutto has made Ishaq Khan even more powerful. Where political stability demands that both protagonists should join hands to diminish the executive authority of the President, one has now completely put himself at the mercy of the 8th amendment while the other is actively encouraging recourse to it.

It won’t be easy for either of them to pull back from the brink. They have both burnt their boats by staking everything on the moment. Further, there is no transparency in their motives. Sharif strongly suspects she has got a nod from somewhere; Bhutto believes he means to disqualify her for seven years and hound her out of the country. Each is trying to lean on either the President or the COAS.

If the confrontation continues, even sporadically, on its reckless path, it is bound to breed public frustration with government. Sharif has therefore more to lose than Bhutto. His flagship of privatisation will flounder on the rock of instability and uncertainty. And, sooner rather than later, the public’s growing disenchantment with lawlessness, sectarianism, corruption and bungling will catch up on him.

Benazir Bhutto has been hounded to the wall. While some people find her tactics of toppling Nawaz Sharif unjustified, there are many more who say she was cornered and that is why her fightback is perfectly understandable. The ball is in Nawaz Sharif’s court.

(TFT December 3-9, 1992 Vol-4 No.39 — Editorial)

Cat among the pigeons

Why has Benazir Bhutto launched her long marches at this time? Can she topple Nawaz Sharif through such tactics?

Ms Bhutto’s calculations probably rest on the following assumptions. (1) If Nawaz Sharif consolidates himself, he could again rig the next elections and deny her power for a long, long time. Therefore she should try and get rid of him as soon as possible. (2) Nawaz Sharif is no longer the prima donna of the “establishment” because cracks have appeared within the troika. Relations between the PM and the COAS have soured. The army is annoyed with government meddling in its internal affairs. It also disagrees with Islamabad’s Sindh policy which is seriously flawed. Why shouldn’t she try to exploit these tensions much as Mr Sharif did between her and Gen Aslam Beg when she was in power? (3) President Ishaq is jockeying for another term. If he suspects that Mr Sharif may ditch him next year, he might be susceptible to the idea of dispensing with him quickly. (4) Pakistan’s foreign friends are increasing disenchanted with a “reformer” who has reduced the status of women, advocates public hangings, flogs a harsh, penal version of Islam, discriminates against the minorities and allows the Federal Shariat Court to impinge on financial matters. They might not oppose a suitable change of face and pace in government. (5) Given Ms Bhutto’s bleak future at the hands of an increasingly repressive regime, she must desperately believe that she has nothing to lose and possibly something to gain from whatever “change” takes place in Islamabad. (6) Ms Bhutto thinks she could be a hair’s breadth from being disqualified. Also, under the present circumstances, Mr Asif Zardari is fated to remain in prison. Far better, she must reason, to try and force “change” now on the basis of “political principles” than after she has been disqualified, her husband convicted and her party crushed, when she could be accused of seeking to protect her “personal interests”.

Mr Sharif’s panicky response to her first “long march” must have heartened Ms Bhutto. But can she mobilise the crowds again and again and create further instability?

Ms Bhutto obviously thinks she can. She knows that every angry or frustrated PPP stalwart who unfairly lost the last local bodies and general elections is prepared to fork over hard cash to organise the masses for many more long marches. The PPP “jiyalas”, too, will back her to the hilt. In fact, as the protest movement kicks up dust, she is hoping that other disgruntled smaller groups may jump in for a slice of the action.

She also suspects that Mr Sharif may have boxed himself in. If he chooses to repeat his repressive measures of Nov 18th — block the marchers and arrest everyone in sight — he will expose his authoritarian tendencies and attract worldwide censure, especially if there are some more dead bodies to explain away. If he doesn’t, she can afford to become bolder and more aggressive, thereby hastening the day of reckoning. At any rate, she is hoping that divisions within Mr Sharif’s cabinet will lead to a revolt in the fickle Muslim League which puts pressure on President Ishaq to change its leaders in order to “save the assemblies and the system”.

While Ms Bhutto’s logic may appear reasonably sound, what are the prospects for a change of heart in President Ishaq? The President’s recent comments, which have been badly rendered in the English press, suggest he holds both sides guilty for not playing by the rules of the game. He says each side wants to begin the game by starting with two goals chalked up in its own favour as opposed to nil for the other side. Significantly, he says he is prepared to use his discretionary powers to dissolve the assemblies should the conditions arise. The President disapproves of Ms Bhutto’s tactics. But he is equally unhappy with Mr Sharif’s intransigence. More ominously, he is worried about the fate of democracy lest the confrontation between Mr Sharif and Ms Bhutto continues in its present aggressive manner.

Is the game already out of the control of the two elected players? While they grapple with each other, the ball has visibly slipped out of their grasp and all formal rules have been forsaken. One of the umpires seems to be toying with the idea of having a jolly good dribble while the other is wondering whether it is time to blow the whistle and end this charade of democracy.

This is an unhappy state of affairs. The run-up to December 22, when President Ishaq Khan is scheduled to address a joint session of both houses of parliament, could be nasty. But Ms Bhutto has succeeded in finally putting the cat among the pigeons. If she is still outside the National Assembly on that day instead of being in it, she might not be too worried. But Mr Sharif will certainly rue the day he enforced a hollow victory.

 

(TFT December 10-16, 1992 Vol-4 No.40 — Editorial)

Stand up and be counted

Apart from the solemn and sole survivor, Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan, and with the possible exception of Benazir Bhutto who wouldn’t be guided by him and paid a price for not doing so, what do most Pakistani rulers have in common with one another?

All have come to power by dubious and controversial means. All have had an authoritarian bent of mind and method. All have consolidated themselves in power by courting and corrupting the institutions of the Pakistani state. Over time, consequently, the civil and military bureaucracy has progressively usurped the functions of the political party. Bureaucrats have became party-political, judges have spread their wings to accommodate the executive, Generals have joined Cabinets and the army has been used for ruthless political ends.

This process of the politicisation of the state for partisan ends has been extended to unacceptable limits in recent times. Officers who were forcibly drummed out of the army today run the country’s elite Intelligence Bureau and Federal Investigation Agency. The head of the Interservices Intelligence Agency was appointed after considerations of professional suitability for the job were overruled in favour of the officer’s ideological leanings and close personal relations with the head of the Intelligence Bureau. The Privatisation Commission is in the hands of a General, so too are the National Highway Authority and the Pakistan Steel Mills. The list goes on and on.

The police force has been criminalised by the infiltration of hundreds of political cadres in its ranks. Local and provincial politicians of the Muslim League jostle with one another in their bid to buy police stations. SPs, SSPs, DIGs and even IGs are appointed, promoted or transferred on the basis of their political affiliations. Even Commissioners and Deputy Commissioners are liable to be shunted depending on their willingness and ability to deliver the political agenda of the regime in Islamabad. The civil services have been transformed into so many arms of the ruling party. They no longer look or act like pillars of the state.

The most blatant political interference in the institutions of the state concerns the judiciary. Hand-picked judges lord over the Special Courts and Shariat benches. When their decisions do not meet with the approval of the executive, they are transferred, packed off on enforced holidays or simply told to fall ill. In one appalling case, a senior judge of the Peshawar High Court was retired after he aired a dissenting view on the dissolution of the 1990 assemblies. On another occasion, a judge was transferred when he allowed bail to Mr Asif Zardari in one case. Sometimes, it seems, some judges do not even have any qualms making ideological speeches or attending political forums. How many times have we seen certain members of the judiciary queuing up to welcome political leaders of the ruling party at airports, marriages and debating forums? How many times have some of them shared a public platform with politicians breathing fire and venom at their opponents? How many times have they asked themselves whether such conduct becomes the dignity of their profession as laid out in the constitution of Pakistan?

Policemen have become politicians, civil and military bureaucrats act like warlords and judges see no great indiscretion in acting like chief executives. Such wholesale privatisation of the state is fraught with fearful consequences.

When the State’s powers of function are transformed exclusively into powers of exploitation, the avowed social contract between the people and the state breaks down and anarchy follows. When the state becomes politically partisan, the system of democracy breaks down and dictatorship follows. Our increasing misfortune is that the state is not only becoming ruthlessly exploitative, it is also providing evidence of being shamelessly partisan and subjective.

There is, of course, no shame attached to being rich and influential. But what should one say about lowly paid functionaries of the state who, after retirement, live in grand houses, drive expensive cars, go off on holidays abroad, send their sons and daughters to expensive private universities in the West, marry them in five-star hotels amidst thousands of glittering guests and, if it catches their fancy, conduct expensive election campaigns ever so often?

A number of top bureaucrats can no longer be referred to as “civil servants”. Although they are ostensibly still in the “service” of the state, they have all too readily offered their “services” exclusively to our billionaire politicians. Now there are credible rumours that some serving Generals may also be on the “Golden-Handshake Hit List”. If the proposed privatisation of the Pakistan army should come to pass, we can surely say good-bye to the country.

Are there any honest, bipartisan, and fearless state functionaries left in this country? Or have they all gone to the dogs? Increasingly, the people of Pakistan are having a hard time trying to identify such men of integrity in the crowds milling about the centres of power. The very least they could do in these despairing times is to please stand up and be counted.

(TFT December 17-23, 1992 Vol-4 No.41 — Editorial)

Killing fields of fundamentalism

The destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya on Sunday December 6th by Hindu extremists has raised the spectre of fundamentalism in a sub-continent armed with nuclear weapons. If India is reeling from the killing fields of communal passion, so too is Pakistan where violent anti-Hindu outrage threatens to rupture ties between the two countries.

Relations between India and Pakistan have never been good. Since the communal partition of the Indian sub- continent, there have been three wars between them, two over Kashmir and one in which India abetted the secession of Bangla Desh in 1971. For several years, armed conflict over Siachin has claimed scores of lives on both sides. The two came precipitously close to another major war in April 1990 after India accused Pakistan of fueling the insurgency in Kashmir.

Since then, there have been periodic beatings and expulsions of each other’s diplomats by both sides. Last month, Islamabad accused New Delhi of killing two Pakistani tourists and demanded that their bodies be returned to Pakistan. The Indians refused. Islamabad protested and enforced visa restrictions. New Delhi responded by roughing up a Pakistani diplomat and expelling him.

Religious fury has now exacted a terrible revenge from the opportunist governments in both countries. Certainly, the many confidence-building measures launched in recent years to diminish tensions between the two countries have been reduced to nought overnight. And the people-to-people contacts so favoured by liberals on both sides have probably been buried for a long time to come.

Pakistanis believe that the Congress government of prime minister Narasimha Rao has succumbed to the politics of expediency before the rising tide of Hindu fundamentalism. They’re convinced that Rao is shedding crocodile tears after giving the Babri Masjid a stormy burial, that the besieged Muslims of India may now be forced to consider their fate as being no different from that of the Sikhs.

The fear on this side of the border is that if Indian secularism has finally capitulated to Hindu fundamentalism, how will Pakistan stem the retaliatory wave of Islamic extremism which threatens to engulf it. There is much anger too at the West’s discriminatory attitude towards the two countries. While Pakistan has been roundly ticked off for hiding “seven Islamic bombs” in its basement and is accused of being a “terrorist” regime for supporting the cause of Kashmir, India has escaped censure despite possessing “seventy Hindu bombs” and killing thousands of Kashmiris. Is the West so blinkered and hypocritical that it can only see a secular, democratic profile of India while it rages about the fundamentalist and authoritarian side of Pakistan?

Even so, tens of thousands of Pakistani Muslims need to seriously reflect upon their own savage behaviour last week. In mindless retaliation against the outrage at Ayodhya, hysterical, rampaging gangs have destroyed scores of Hindu temples and shrines in Pakistan. While the fanatics were targeting innocent lives and gutting property, the government of Nawaz Sharif stood by and twiddled its thumbs. On a number of occasions, it actually seemed to fuel the carnage against the Hindu minority. For example, Raja Nadir Pervez, a federal minister, led the shameful onslaught against a temple in Faisalabad. In Lahore, the Municipal Corporation lent its bulldozer to the crazed swarms who razed a temple in Shahalam market. Elsewhere, the omnipotent police and security forces, who are given to ferocious enforcement of Section 144 against the opposition periodically, didn’t raise a finger to stop the marauding mobs.

Like his counterpart in India, Mr Sharif’s behaviour last week was pathetic, if not downright appalling. If the PM’s cynical attempt to dialogue with the opposition was transparent, his promise to rebuild the temples was so hollow that it doesn’t merit a second thought. This IJI government doesn’t give a damn about our minorities. All its actions — enforcing the “blasphemy” laws or insisting upon the inclusion of religion in the ID cards — confirm that it is pandering to the worst prejudices of the lowest denominators in Pakistan.

The Babri Masjid episode and its fallout in Pakistan may be fated to stick out as two bloody, accusing fingers in the contemporary history of the sub-continent. The people of both countries have verified their worst fears, suspicions and prejudices of each other. Where the scars of the Partition have barely healed, new horrors have been brutally carved into their communal memories. For this tragic denouement, both Narasimha Rao and Nawaz Sharif, no less than the minority, fanatical hordes on both side, are culpable.

There are compelling reasons why the horror of Ayodhya should now force the West not to mistake illusion for reality. Fundamentalism, Hindu or Muslim, feeds on itself. There can be no greater boon for a fundamentalist than another fundamentalist implacably opposed to himself. All the signs say that militant Hinduism will push Pakistani Islam towards fundamentalism in the same way that Zionism has provoked Arab Islam to extremism. If the Western powers are once again taken in by more glib talk from India’s “secularists”, surely much more than the future of the 1 billion people of India and Pakistan is at stake.

(TFT December 24-30, 1992, Vol-4, No.42 — Editorial)

An extraordinary situation

All roads lead to the Presidency. A lone, cold war-rior, it seems, is still in charge of post cold war Pakistan. No one knows how to make him budge. The current prime minister, a former prime minister, the leader of the opposition and the army chief are all at sea. Even the old route to Islamabad via Washington has been temporarily shut down for repairs. What an extraordinary situation!

Ms Bhutto was the first to cross swords with Mr Khan. To her everlasting grief, she was scuttled comprehensively in 1990. Banished to the bleak marshes of the special courts, she has cried herself hoarse at the great injustice done to the cause of democracy in the last three years.

Mr. Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi was next to walk the plank. After delivering on Mr Khan’s interim agenda in 1990, he was hopeful that the old man would reward him with the PM’s slot. But Mr Khan had other ideas. So Mr Jatoi swallowed hard, switched tacks and began to angle for the top job in Sindh. But, no sir, Mr Khan had his heart set on the wicked Jam Sadiq Ali. Even so, Mr Jatoi waited patiently for the Jam to kick the bucket before staking his claims on Sindh again. Why ever not, purred Mr Khan obligingly, even as he determined to make Mr Muzaffar Hussain Shah the very apple of his eye. Mr Jatoi could hardly demur when the COAS, on behalf of the President, asked him to kindly take a back seat again. So Mr Jatoi waited until Ms Bhutto was ready to launch an assault on Islamabad. Then he convinced her to spare Mr Khan and focus her wrath on Mr Sharif. The idea was to soften up Mr Khan so that he might be amenable to parting ways with Mr Sharif and recognising Mr Jatoi’s sterling qualities as a consensus candidate in a “national” government of unity. Alas. Mr Khan’s unrepentant attitude was all too evident from his speech on December 22nd to a joint house of parliament.

Then there’s Gen Asif Nawaz, a soldier to boot, who is indebted to Mr Khan for choosing him over the Prime Minister’s candidate, Gen Hameed Gul. If Mr Sharif hadn’t ruffled the General’s feathers quite unnecessarily, Pakistanis might never have had occasion to speculate about the change of the COAS netting a political scalp or two in the days to come. But the good General can hardly match wits with the foxy Mr Khan. Nor can he afford to ignore what Mr Nicholas Platt, the former US Ambassador to Pakistan, never tired of saying. “I came to Pakistan because I did such a damn good job of nipping the army in the Philippines”, or words to that effect. No, the “red light” hasn’t even blinked for GHQ since 1990 when the former COAS, Gen Aslam Beg, triggered the alarm bells in Washington.

Finally, there’s the prodigal son, Mian Nawaz Sharif. Prodded by Mr Platt, Mr Sharif was secretly fishing for a rapprochement with Benazir Bhutto not so long ago. Not out of any sense of fair-play, decency or democracy but only because Mr Sharif would dearly love to break the umbilical cord with his Pathan Godfather and install a pliant Ghaus Ali Shah in the Presidency. It makes eminent sense. With a Sindhi on the Hill, many Punjabis would think twice before voting for another Sindhi as prime minister of Pakistan in 1995. But Mr Khan was quick to smell a rat. So he has dangled his sword over a misguided son and won’t let him go astray.

Mr Khan is keen on another term. He also believes what’s good for him is good for the country. That’s not true. While Mr Khan is exhorting the government and opposition to respect the rules of democracy, he is making doubly sure that no meaningful dialogue is possible between the two sides. While he raves about the constitution, he mocks it at every step. See, for example, how brazenly he has dumped the obnoxious ordinances at Mr Sharif’s doorstep even as he praises the IJI government for its excellent performance and chides the opposition for protesting on the streets.

Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan is a stumbling block for democracy in Pakistan. Mr Sharif won’t cooperate with Ms Bhutto to get rid of him because he fears she might be the sole, long term beneficiary of such a strategy. Ms Bhutto can’t get rid of Mr Sharif as long as Mr Khan is around. The army can’t get rid of either as long  as Mr Platt’s words continue to echo in the corridors of GHQ. At any rate, it is dubious whether democracy can be saved from itself by a military regime.

Yet, it is equally dubious whether such a conundrum can be allowed to cripple the country. Ms Bhutto’s options are running out. Therefore we shouldn’t be surprised if, at some stage in the not too distant future, by taking one step forward, she risks throwing democracy two steps backwards. Mr Platt’s parting advice notwithstanding, Pir Pagara may yet be vindicated for predicting an extraordinary situation.

(TFT Dec 31-06 Jan, 1993 Vol-4 No.43 — Editorial)

President’s Game-plan

Does the new year threaten more instability and political strife? On the face of it, yes. Mr Nawaz Sharif is digging up all the “treasonable” evidence he can lay at the door of Ms Benazir Bhutto. She, in turn, is doggedly churning out an unending list of “criminal charges” against his regime and gearing up for fresh “long marches” in the Punjab. In Sindh, Gen Asif Nawaz says he is ready to ditch Mr Muzaffar Shah even as the poor fellow desperately clutches at the Chief’s flannels. In Balochistan, Mir Taj Jamali is hanging on by the skin of his teeth while Nawab Akbar Bugti is oiling his musket. And in the backdrop, neighbouring Afghanistan is on the brink of renewed civil war, India wants to make Pakistan a scapegoat for its mounting internal troubles and the United States is looking at us more warily than ever before.

For the moment, only President Ghulam Ishaq Khan seems sanguine about his prospects. Are the main players nibbling at his hand? Is Mr Sharif ready to grant him an extra term? Is Ms Bhutto ready to forget and forgive? Is Gen Asif Nawaz prepared to stay in line?

Mr Khan, say the wags, has hired Mr Sharifuddin Peerzada to package a surprise New Year’s gift for the nation: a “working truce” between government and opposition which leaves him as the most powerful man in the country. All the tell-tale signs are there. An increasing number of voices within the ruling party are calling for a “rapprochement” with the opposition, Mr Junejo and Mr Bijarani being only the most vocal. The government has also been persuaded to amend the Ordinance aimed at Mr Asif Zardari’s continued incarceration. On the other side, Messrs Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi and Mahmood Achakzai have succeeded in silencing Ms Bhutto’s heavy guns: she hasn’t uttered a harsh word against Mr Khan for a long time and the opposition (sans the Bhutto ladies) would most probably have attended the President’s address to parliament on December 22nd if it hadn’t been for a last minute revolt by PDA backbenchers provoked by some fiery oratory from the indefatigable Mr Aitzaz Ahsan. If this seems like a far cry from the opposition’s ringing accusations against the President in the last two years, the same can probably be said of the President’s denunciations of Ms Bhutto earlier. Certainly, on the occasions Mr Khan has recently spilled his mind, he has been careful not to appear totally one sided. What could he be up to?

Two simple equations could be offered to the two sides and they might yield a matrix like this: If Mr Sharif guarantees Mr Khan a second term, he can hope to be protected from the wrath of the President’s discretionary powers in the immediate future. If Ms Bhutto, too, can be brought around to endorse his candidacy, she can be reunited with Mr Zardari and relieved of pressure from the Presidential references as a quid pro quo. Both she and Mr Sharif might then expect to slug it out squarely in a new round of polls a year or so later, after mutually acceptable amendments to the electoral system have been negotiated. Sounds plausible, doesn’t it?

But, having prodded both the stallions to the water, can President Ishaq Khan make them drink from his chalice? Ms Bhutto has been bitten by Mr Khan on so many occasions it will be difficult to persuade her of his sincerity without giving concrete and unconditional evidence of a change of heart on his part. This would mean that, apart from releasing her husband and withdrawing the references against her and her party members, Ms Bhutto may also seek concrete assurances of a major role for her party in governing Sindh and free and fair elections as early as possible. Such a tall order might not quite square with Mr Khan’s immediate plans. Nor might some of Ms Bhutto’s PDA/NDA partners, who are hoping for a neutral government in which they have a role to play, allow her to strike a deal with the President which leaves them out in the cold.

On the other side, Mr Sharif might not warm to the idea of taking on Ms Bhutto in a fair election, and that too before some of his economic reforms have matured to yield an election dividend. He may also be swayed by some strong PPP-haters in his kitchen clique to sabotage the President’s intentions. Certainly, from the PM’s tone in recent times, which could be based on suspicions about the President’s game-plan, it does look as though he is no mood to sit across the table with “the enemies of Pakistan” and grant “concessions” to them.

Whatever the chances of the President pulling it off, we should know soon enough. Mr Khan’s election is not till next December. Even if he bends the law to hurry it up, there is no assurance that the hard liners on both sides won’t throw a spoke in his wheels. In which case, we will be back to wondering what GHQ thinks of it all.

 

(TFT January 07-13, 1993, Vol-4, No.44 — Editorial)

Tyranny cannot endure

Mr Majid Nizami, President of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society, is right: the press should expect rough weather ahead. Mr Nawaz Sharif’s government is in a nasty mood. It is out to “teach” journalists a lesson in “patriotism”, in particular their “patriotic” duty to support him in power for the next decade or so.

When MNA Ch Altaf Hussain told parliament a couple of months ago that Mr Sharif’s dirty tricksters had prepared a “Hit List” of journalists, everyone scoffed at the poor fellow. Why, the very idea was preposterous, we thought, surely Mr Sharif would never act in such an irresponsible manner. Well, it turns out we were all wrong. The list which Ch Altaf Hussain had vouchsafed is just the tip of the iceberg.

Ghulam Hussain, editor of “Facts International” and “Siyasi Log” has been imprisoned twice and forced to stop publishing his papers. Abbas Athar of the Nawa i Waqt and Aasir Ajmal of The Muslim say they have been threatened with dire consequences. Hamid Mir of Jang has been accosted by unknown thugs. Nusrat Javed, formerly of The Nation and currently of The News, has been rapped on more than one occasion. Jawad Nazir of The News was warned of the consequences of a “fan dropping over his head” or “being run over by a truck”. Azhar Sohail of Jang fears for his life. Shaheen Sehbai of Dawn has had his house ransacked and his sons roughed up. Javed Haider of Musawaat was taken to a police station and accused of being a “terrorist”. Athar Masood, the editor of Lahore’s Jang, was chased by thugs on a motorbike, his house was “burgled” and intelligence officials went round to harass his father. Ghani Jafar, the executive editor of The Muslim, was beaten up by the police and hospitalised. Mariana Babar of The News was manhandled by the police and has lodged a complaint in the courts. Maleeha Lodhi, the editor of The News in Islamabad, has received threatening calls and letters. She was forced to apprise President Ishaq Khan of her “difficulties”. Only recently, she was charged with “sedition” for allowing a poem to be published. Countless journalists in Sindh have many serious complaints.

We at The Friday Times, too, have had more than our share of troubles. The Punjab government threatened to take action against us in 1991. Our printers were harassed. We were warned by the DIG early this year to lay off Mr Sharif or else. Following a stream of obnoxious and threatening phone calls, a gang of goons paid us a surprise visit. A complaint to President Ishaq Khan relieved the pressure but only temporarily it seems.

Now the government has embarked on another strategy to browbeat the press. Islamabad has unleashed the Income-Tax department to dig into the files and drum up incriminating charges against the owners of newspapers and printing presses. Take the case of the Jang/News Group. It is common knowledge that the government has charged the Jang Group with “smuggling” paper, seized its newsprint warehouses and stopped the public-sector banks (UBL and HBL) from allowing them to import newsprint. Reduced to handouts of paper on a daily basis, the Group is being allowed to continue publication as long as it “behaves” itself.

Or look at what Islamabad is doing to muzzle The Friday Times. Within the last fortnight, three trumped-up cases have been initiated by the income tax authorities against us and more are being planned feverishly. The government is demanding millions of rupees. The tax authorities are also leaning heavily on our printers.

It may be premature to go into the details of such harassment because we are hoping that Islamabad will see the folly of its ways and call off the hounds. But if it doesn’t, TFT’s position should be crystal clear. We don’t have any business “empire” to protect. We’re a small paper which is fiercely determined to guard its independence. So we will not be silenced. We will not be intimidated. We have nothing to hide or fear. Not from the income tax authorities, not from the police, not from the agencies. And we will present our case in all arenas, before the CPNE, the APNS, the superior courts of appeal and in the highest forum in the country — the public. We will name names, publish documents and give evidence to the foreign press and to human rights organisations all over the world. If it is to be David vs Goliath all over again, so be it. If Islamabad is set upon making TFT a heroic cause, we are ready to join battle.

We therefore urge the Prime Minister to call off the goon squads before there is more bitterness. Governments are fated to come and go but the press is destined to forge ahead in the new democratic order. Human rights and press freedom are universal causes. They are the hallmark of civilised nations. Mr Sharif cannot flout these values with impunity and hope to escape widespread censure. In any case, the law of nature dictates that injustice may last a while but tyranny cannot endure.

(TFT January 14-20, 1993, Vol-4, No.45 — Editorial)

A true son of the soil

The enormity of the nation’s tragic loss at the unexpected demise of Gen Asif Nawaz — a true son of the soil — is beyond description. His passing is deeply mourned by Pakistanis because they saw him as an upright, just and courageous man — virtues which are singularly lacking in our rulers today.

Under Gen Nawaz’ leadership the army, which was long out of step with the aspirations of Pakistanis, finally began to redeem its honour and uphold the laws of the land without fear or favour. Its morale went up, discipline was good, and unprecedented accountability became the watchword of the day. It was poised to confront the challenges of a new, post-cold war era.

Gen Asif Nawaz’ brief stint was significant in other ways too. The army gave up pipe dreams of conquering Kabul, it mended relations with the United States, it defanged the MQM and freed Sindh from the clutches of terrorists and dacoits. These are no mean achievements in only sixteen months.

President Ishaq Khan’s choice of the new army chief, Gen Abdul Waheed Kakar, is an interesting one. Gen Waheed, Quetta Corps Commander, was due to retire in June. He now supercedes 6 Generals, all of whom are also due to retire this year. Of these, one is a current Corps Commander (Gen Mohammad Ashraf) and three have commanded Corps in the past (Gen Rehamdil Bhatti, Gen Arif Bangash and Gen Farrukh Khan). Seniority clearly was of no significance to President Ishaq. But this is not unprecedented. Gen Yahya Khan superceded a couple of Generals and Gen Zia ul Haq upstaged many more. So the President cannot be faulted on that score.

As far as professionalism is concerned, the President’s choice is a good one. Gen Waheed Kakar has both command and administrative experience. Before commanding the Quetta Corps, he served as General Officer Commanding in Panu Aqil, which means he is a Sindh-hand like his predecessor Gen Asif Nawaz. He has been Adjutant-General too, which suggests he will be a strict disciplinarian. As an infantry man, he hails from the Frontier Force regiment, one of the three oldest regiments of the Pakistan army. These are impeccable military credentials.

The two front runners, Gen Mohammad Ashraf and Gen Farrukh Khan, were bypassed for obvious reasons. Gen Ashraf was thought to be close to the prime minister’s business friends in Lahore, so he must have been ruled out on that score by the President who surely wanted to preclude any future PM-COAS grid against him. As for Gen Farrukh, he was known to be Gen Asif Nawaz’ right-hand man and confidant, which probably disqualified him in the books of both the President and the Prime Minister. Since the PM was at loggerheads with Gen Asif over a number of issues, and the President too was becoming jealous of the late General’s rising popularity and impartial policies, Gen Farrukh could not be trusted to toe Islamabad’s political line unhesitatingly.

Of the others, two Generals were ruled out because they lacked command experience. Gen Javed Nasir, DG ISI, lacks it too; at any rate, he is too close to the PM for the President’s comfort. Which left Gen Rehamdil Bhatti, Gen Arif Bangash and Gen Abdul Waheed.

In the end, the Pathan President was bound to look upon the two Pathan Generals more favourably than upon the Punjabi. About time, too, he must have thought. Pakistan has had nine army chiefs to date, of whom the first two were British, Gen Ayub was a Hazarawalla, Gen Yahya was Persian-speaking, Gen Gul Hassan, Tikka Khan, Zia ul Haq and Asif Nawaz were Punjabis while Gen Beg was an Urdu-speaking mohajir. So it was “Eenie Meenie Mina Moe” between Gen Waheed and Gen Bangash.

President Ishaq must hope to get along famously well with his Pashtu-speaking compatriot in Army House. He must also hope the new COAS will be indebted to him and not question the wisdom of Presidential discretion in matters as diverse as the ‘Sindh problem’, the ‘Benazir Bhutto problem’ and the ‘Islamic Bomb’ problem. Naturally, too, President Ishaq will want the new chap to approve wholeheartedly of his bid for a second term.

All this may come to pass. President Ishaq may yet succeed in dumping the theory of the ‘troika’ into the dustbin and become All in All.

But we would like to strike a note of caution to all those who are secretly hoping to lead the new chief by his nose. Pakistan’s political history and the army’s centrality in it suggest that whosoever becomes COAS is eventually going to be no one’s “man” except his own. When you sit in Army House and know you can move half a million in arms by gesturing with your little finger, you have to be your own man. So let’s hope that instead of being the President’s “man” or the PM’s “man”, the new COAS will turn out to be as true a son of the soil as his predecessor.

(TFT January 14-20, 1993, Vol.IV, No.45 — Article)

The tragedy of Gen Asif Nawaz

Gen Asif Nawaz was a soldier’s soldier. In his first meeting with President Ghulam Ishaq Khan when he became Chief of Army Staff, he made a commitment which he kept to his dying day despite all the provocations which followed: “I will not meddle in politics.”

In return, he wanted the President to promise that the government wouldn’t “poke its finger in the internal affairs of the army”. The tragedy lies in the fact that Islamabad went back on its word and broke the General’s heart.

The story of Gen Asif Nawaz’s trials and tribulations in his brief stint as army chief is a story of undue governmental interference in the professional affairs of the army. It shows how, soon after Gen Asif Nawaz was installed as COAS, he came under pressure from Islamabad to tailor his military thinking in conformity with the opportunistic political requirements of the civilian order.

The first issue on which the COAS and the PM didn’t see eye to eye had to do with the transfer orders of Gen Hameed Gul issued shortly before Gen Asif Nawaz left for a visit to the United States in January 1992.

Gen Hameed Gul was bitter at being ordered to relinquish command of the Multan Corps and take up a managerial position at Wah. He refused to obey orders and sought leave. He also complained to the PM. The PM saw Gen Gul’s transfer as a slight to his own authority. After all, the PM owed his own position in no insignificant manner to Gen Gul who had helped cobble the IJI, destabilised Benazir Bhutto, chalked out the IJI’s One-to-One election strategy (and much more besides) and prevailed upon the establishment to choose a Punjabi prime minister (Nawaz Sharif) instead of a Sindhi one (Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi) in 1990. How dare Gen Asif Nawaz shunt my man about, the PM thought out aloud.

The PM asked defence minister, Ghaus Ali Shah, to intercede with Gen Asif Nawaz so that Gen Gul could be accommodated in a more “respectful position”. Mr Shah discussed the problem with the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, Gen Shamim Alam. Gen Alam advised Mr Shah not to pursue the matter any further. The gist of what Gen Alam said to Mr Shah was this: What’s done is done. It’s the prerogative of the COAS, don’t meddle in the army’s internal affairs. Gen Shamim Alam also informed Gen Asif Nawaz of his discussions with the defence minister.

The matter might have been buried if Gen Gul had accepted his fate. Indeed, if he hadn’t openly questioned the COAS’s decision nor subsequently sought early retirement, Gen Gul would have been the prime candidate for the post of COAS today. But Gen Gul’s bitterness was consciously leaked to the press with the approval of Islamabad. Gen Asif Nawaz expected the government to quieten down Gen Gul. Instead, he found to his consternation that the Intelligence Bureau run by Gen Gul’s best friend, Brig Imtiaz Ahmad, was adding fuel to the fire. Thus was the first stone cast against the authority of the COAS. The government had meddled in the army’s internal affairs in no uncertain terms.

The second incident which soured relations between the PM and the COAS happened to take place during Gen Asif’s visit to the United States in February 1992. The Pakistan army chief was given an unprecedented red carpet treatment by the Pentagon. At one stage, the US defence secretary Mr Dick Cheney asked to talk to Gen Asif in private. The Pakistan ambassador, Syeda Abida Hussain, who was accompanying the COAS, could hardly demur. A report was subsequently sent to Islamabad. Sycophants among the PM’s “punj pyaras” made a great deal about the COAS’s trip to the US. The Americans have some nerve, they whispered to the PM, “first they invited Benazir Bhutto to the US in 1989, now they have invited the COAS and held ‘secret’ parleys with him, yet there is no sign of any invitation for you. This fellow is getting too big for his boots, he should be cut to size immediately before it goes to his head.”

And how did Islamabad plan to go about doing that? The COAS had sent a proposal and a plan of action to clean-up Sindh to the President and PM in January 1992. He had also asked for funds to raise a special paramilitary force for the forthcoming operation in Sindh. The PM sat on the file interminably. He also showed a marked reluctance to attend important briefings at GHQ. On one occasion, the PM cancelled an important GHQ briefing at the last minute, leaving the Generals to twiddle their thumbs in anticipation. The message wasn’t lost on Gen Asif Nawaz. His irritation began to show.

The third incident sent him up the wall. It transpired that one among the PM’s Pyaras was given to some reckless talking in a moment of weakness. “We should make a Gul Hassan out of Asif Nawaz”, thundered the Pyara. The reference to Gen Gul Hassan was clear enough: Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had kidnapped Gen Hassan and replaced him with Gen Tikka Khan in 1972. Naturally, the story did the rounds and ended up at Gen Asif’s doorstep. “If that’s what they want to do, they don’t have to go to such lengths. It’s fine with me. I won’t allow the army to be humiliated like this. I’ll simply retire and go back to my village”, he shrugged bitterly. But being an uncomplicated soldier, he bluntly raised the issue in a meeting of his Corps Commanders and put his colleagues on notice.

Although the Pyara in question quickly made a beeline to the General and assured him of his “loyalties” to the army (“My family has always been an ally of GHQ”, he bleated, “how could you believe I’d said anything of the sort”?), the damage had been done. Gen Asif Nawaz was now consciously on the look out for Islamabad’s many ploys.

Credibility between the civilian government and GHQ plummeted rapidly thereafter. The PM over-ruled GHQ in the nomination of a new DG ISI. Instead, while the serving DG ISI Gen Asad Durrani was away on a trip to Balochistan, the PM abruptly appointed Gen Javed Nasir as his successor.

Gen Asif Nawaz was upset on two counts. First, he felt that Gen Durrani had been belittled by the government. The announcement of Gen Durrani’s departure could have awaited his return from Balochistan and a suitable transition period allowed for the sake of form. Instead, one of the COAS’s “boys” had been snubbed by Islamabad. Gen Asif wanted to defend Gen Durrani but couldn’t do so since Islamabad was in such an embarrassing hurry to stamp its unwitting writ on GHQ. Second, the COAS felt that the DG ISI’s appointment should have gone to a serving Maj-Gen, as was past practise, so that the DG ISI would look to the COAS for his next promotion and report to him accordingly. The PM had now given it to a Lt-Gen who had only recently been promoted by the COAS and transferred to managerial duties at Wah prior to retirement in 1993. There was no mistaking it. It was a slap on the face of Gen Asif Nawaz.

Worse was to follow. The PM floated the idea of a Vice-Chief of Army Staff. The COAS gritted his teeth and thought: “If you think you can spy on me through a VCOAS, you’ve got another thought coming”. Then, the PM wanted GHQ to give the Ministry of Defence a list of Brigadiers with Kashmiri origins, leaving the COAS to wonder why they wanted to destroy the army by fostering ethnicity in its ranks.

By mid-1992, relations between Gen Asif Nawaz and the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were at a low ebb. No matter, thought Gen Asif, I must get on with my job.

His job was to clean up Sindh. Operation Clean-up had been stalled already for months. When Jam Sadiq Ali died, the COAS thought it a good time to begin on a clean slate. But the government had other ideas. Although the announcement of the army’s operation had been made in May, GHQ was put on hold for weeks. When it did start in June, it was told not to lay its hands on supporters of the government. In other words, the COAS was expected to be partisan.

Of course, Gen Asif Nawaz would have none of it. He had committed himself not to meddle in politics and he now saw his job as being impartial and ruthlessly fair. What followed is history: When the MQM was cleaned-up, Islamabad was outraged. Ch Nisar and Ghulam Hyder Wyne thundered against targeting the MQM. But Gen Asif Nawaz wouldn’t be swayed. He had served as Corps Commander in Sindh and understood the problem only too well.

In his view, the problem of Sindh had two aspects. One was military — taking the terrorist teeth out of a fascist party, eliminating the dacoits and purging secessionist elements. The second was political — allowing democracy to sort out the political impasse. “The Sindh problem can only be solved when the PPP and the MQM sit together”, he used to say in private, “my job is to remove the extremists and terrorists in both parties”. He envisaged a time in the not-too-distant future when fresh elections in the province would allow the PPP in partnership with a “new” MQM to govern Sindh amicably and democratically. But Islamabad thwarted his objectives at every turn, forcing him to consider pulling the army out of the province rather than risk accusations of political partisanship which would have done irreparable harm to the image of the army as a national institution.

For the latter part of 1992, Gen Asif cancelled all his trips abroad. Problems of Sindh preoccupied his mind. He was determined not to allow the army to become a pawn in the hands of a callous and opportunist regime in Islamabad. He was determined to be fair. If he was ready to hold his own “boys” accountable (Tando Bahawal, etc.) how could he condone lack of accountability elsewhere? He was determined to restore the image of the Pakistan army as a “defender” of the country in the last resort.

His dilemma was this: How to achieve his military objectives without impinging on the political policies of the Nawaz Sharif regime. There was no answer. The simple soldier that he was, he grappled with his dilemma and failed to find a way out. He was determined to be a post-cold war warrior and shunned the advice of those who urged him to “save the nation” by scuttling democracy. He clocked tens of thousands of miles shuttling back and forth from Sindh. He met with the PM and the President countless times, always hoping they would find a political solution to political problems, not only in Sindh and but in Islamabad as well, and he always returned in despair at finding them unapproachable.

Those who knew him and met him frequently say Gen Asif Nawaz aged several years in the last few months. The soldier who wanted to soldier on wasn’t allowed to do so. Even so, his mind refused to countenance the “solution” of a martial law. In the end his heart gave way.

This callous nation has consigned its finest soldier since independence to the dust of a grave in a remote and inaccessible corner of the land. There can be no greater tragedy than this.

(TFT January 21-27, 1993, Vol-4 No 46 — Editorial)

Byzantine intrigues

On th face of it, it would seem that PM Nawaz sharif may be sincere in offering the olive branch to opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. He has decided to withdraw the ordinance which sought to deny the Sindh High Court powers to grant bail to Mr Asif Zardari. Ms Bhutto has also been persuaded by Mr Shahbaz Sharif to chair the parliamentary standing committee on foreign relations. More significantly, the PM’s recent statement that only “elected representatives” have the “mandate” to take decisions regarding the fate of the country should be welcomed by all, especially the elected representatives of the opposition who share in the “mandate” of the people.

On the face of it, Ms Bhutto also seems keen on burying the hatchet. She stopped attacking President Ghulam Ishaq Khan some months ago and has now obviously instructed her arch-dove Mr Iftikhar Gillani to extend the hand of friendship to both the President and the PM. Once Mr Zardari is out, we could expect these gestures to culminate in a meaningful dialogue which stabilises the political system.

Have Mr Sharif and Ms Bhutto then taken President Ishaq’s advise to shun confrontation and concentrate on building a political atmosphere conducive to good democracy?

Unfortunately, cynics are not impressed by this flurry of cooing noises and warm embraces. Reality is obscured by appearances, they say; in  fact, a sophisticated and ruthless power-game is afoot which may yield another bumper crop of uncertainty in 1993. The fact of the matter is that while the new army chief, Gen Waheed, takes time finding his bearings and becoming his own man, the other power-players are manoeuvering to improve their positions and advance their respective ambitions.

Take President Ishaq Khan. He can hardly welcome Mr Sharif’s recent dallying with Ms Bhutto in the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, followed as it was by the PM’s rather forceful assertion that he wanted to make up with the opposition because “only elected representatives had the mandate to take political decisions about the country”. The reference to “elected representatives” could hardly be lost on the President: Mr Ishaq Khan is indirectly elected and his “mandate” (8th amendment) rests on the fiercely disputed legacy of a military dictator rather than that of any popular constituency. By all accounts, too, he should be increasingly concerned with the matter of his second five-year term. Surely, he would like to be elected with the votes of both the treasury and opposition benches as in 1988 so that he can flaunt his legitimacy. But that will require much cunning and greater ingenuity. So he has begun by trying to woo Ms Bhutto through the good offices of Mr Jatoi while retaining the references against her — a classic carrot and stick policy. In the same fashion, he keeps Mr Sharif in line by dangling the 8th amendment over his head and threatening to do a deal with the opposition.

Take Benazir Bhutto. Her ‘long march’ has fizzled out, there is considerable infighting and confusion within her party and her alliance-partners are getting increasingly disenchanted with her confusing ‘stop-go’ tactics and turn-abouts. Yet, ironically enough, she may have some crucial cards up her sleeve. The more warmth she affects for the President, the more suspicious Mr Sharif will feel about the likelihood of a “deal” between the President and her which involves getting rid of him. By the same token, the more friendly she is with Mr Sharif, the more the President will suspect the PM of trying to undermine the 8th amendment and undoing his ambitions for a second term. By playing footsie with both, she is hoping to create misunderstandings and suspicions between Mr Khan and Mr Sharif.

Take Mr Nawaz Sharif. Everybody knows that he would like to escape from the clutches of Mr Khan by installing Mr Ghaus Ali Shah in the presidency (without the 8th amendment) if he cannot himself become President (with the 8th amendment). Mr Sharif must also realise that his best chance to achieve his goal will come later this year. As the months tick away to the President’s re-election date, Mr Khan will progressively look like a lame-duck. Having lost out on his choice for the new army chief, Mr Sharif must want to clinch his objective quickly before the president and army chief gang up against him. So it makes eminent sense to make up with Ms Bhutto and undermine the President.

Yet another player has now jumped in to confuse matters further. Air Marshall (retd) Asghar Khan says he is a presidential candidate in 1993. The more the merrier, as it were. According to another conspiracy theory, Mr Ghulam Ishaq has decided to call it a day and will back Mr Asghar Khan as President and Mr Jatoi as PM. In other words, both Mr Sharif and Ms Bhutto will have to sit out until new elections can be held in 1994 or 1995.

Unfortunately, the games these people are playing have little, if anything, to do with the real problems of ordinary people. Is it too much to expect these Byzantine intriguers to put the country first?

(TFT Jan 28-03 Feb, 1993, Vol-4 No.47 — Editorial)

Sindh agenda for new COAS

COAS Gen Abdul Waheed seems to have got his priorities right. Less than ten days after taking over, he hopped across to the troubled province of Sindh on Friday January 22nd for a first-hand appraisal of the complex situation. As if on cue, several bombs went off in Hyderabad on Saturday leaving 25 dead and scores seriously injured.

Gen Waheed is an old Sindh hand. He should know what’s what and who’s who. He should know that the Sindh state apparatus, in particular the police and civil administration, is corrupt to its very roots. He should know that many Sindhi politicians, especially those in power, stink to high heaven; that some parties and student groups are breeding grounds for ethnicity and bloody terrorism; that among the million illegal “immigrants” in the province who have incensed the locals, there must be many RAW agents out to exploit the tensions.

In short, apart from the army’s military operations to nab dacoits, terrorists and foreign saboteurs, the COAS must be acutely aware of the ingredients of a clean-up package: political fairplay, economic justice and a ruthless weeding of the civil bureaucracy and police.

These latter prerequisites, however, are outside the pale of the army’s jurisdiction. They can only be implemented by the government of Sindh. And there’s the rub. Mr Muzzafar Shah’s government is predicated on patent unfairness — repression, horsetrading and immorality. If Mr Shah’s civil administration wasn’t so malevolent, he would be on his backside in a jiffy. Even if Islamabad gave him the financial wherewithal to alleviate socio-economic deprivation, which it hasn’t and probably can’t, he would have no choice but to squander it away on the criminals who fortify his regime.

Gen Waheed must seriously ponder the implications of this dilemma. His predecessor, Gen Asif Nawaz, was so frustrated by having to fight with one hand tied behind his back that he determined to pull out the army from the province rather than risk tarnishing its image of neutrality and professionalism at the behest of mischievous politicians. What will the new Chief do?

According to newsreports, Gen Waheed has extended the army’s engagement in Sindh. Whether this is for an indefinite time or pending a thorough review in Islamabad shortly is not yet clear. What is clear is that the COAS has got to do some straight talking with both President Ghulam Ishaq and PM Nawaz Sharif in the coming weeks. If he does that, he can expect to reap solid kudos not only from the people of Sindh but from all Pakistanis.

Gen Waheed may, however, prefer not to tread on too many toes in Islamabad just yet. In that case, he should know that with each passing week he becomes more vulnerable to the sort of mishap which occurred in Tando Bahawal last June. In fact, reports of innocent villagers being rounded up, harassed or even being knocked off by the army have begun to filter in. No one can anticipate or plan to preclude such incidents altogether. Nor can the Chief hold his boys always accountable without fretting about the chances of an internal backlash against the manifest lack of accountability all around them. The longer Gen Waheed keeps the army in Sindh under its present incongruous dispensations, the more he risks dirtying its hands.

Such disquiet is reinforced by recent reports about secret manoeuverings in Islamabad. For example, we hear that political grounds are being prepared for the return of Mr Altaf Hussain. If the gentleman is coming back to face trial as a terrorist, which is what Gen Asif Nawaz told us he was, that’s fine. But if Islamabad is hoping to dupe us into rehabilitating him, Gen Waheed owes it at least to his late “brother” and to the institution he leads to publicly stamp out such callow conspiracies.

Then there is talk of trying some Sindhi nationalists, who are alleged to be separatists, in army-led courts. Why these people should be singled out for special trials while the alleged MQM terrorists get the benefit of the doubt remains inexplicable and indefensible. If Gen Waheed unwittingly becomes a party to such tactics, a Sindhi backlash is going to put paid to the “heroic” image of the army so painstakingly constructed over the last six months.

Doubtless, Gen Waheed is not unaware of all these pitfalls. In fact, what little we know of him suggests that when the crunch comes, as it inevitably must sooner or later, he will acquit himself more than honourably. We do not expect him to overtly push for a fair political settlement in Sindh. That may be a pre-requisite for restoring the supremacy of law and order but it is, after all, the duty of our politicians to do that. But what we do expect from Gen Abdul Waheed is that he will not lend his shoulder to propping up an illegitimate political order in the province. We also hope that the COAS will not be led into discriminating between one brand of terrorists or extremists and another.

Gen Waheed’s best ally at the moment is the Pakistani press. We applauded the last Chief for his untiring efforts in Sindh. It would be tragic if we were to lose faith in the new Chief in the future.

(TFT February 4-10, 1993 Vol-4 No.48 — Editorial)

A tainted “image”

Few people would begrudge prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s efforts to encourage investment in Pakistan. Deregulation, privatisation, foreign exchange reforms, infrastructural improvements in telecommunications, roads, ports and power — all these are laudable initiatives. Mr Sharif is also trying to encourage foreign investment by holding “investment conferences” and advertising new opportunities in Pakistan. Why then are foreigners still shy of capitalising in Pakistan?

There is, of course, nothing extraordinary about the economic incentives offered by Pakistan. In fact, many other developing market economies in the region are probably flogging much better terms than us. At best, we may be at par with them on this score. Unfortunately, however, Pakistan is rock bottom on another scale which crucially matters to foreign investors. This is the credibility of the host country’s political, social and cultural environment — in other words, of its “image”. This “image”, regrettably, is a “negative” one. It makes Pakistan a most unappetising party with which to do business.

The world sees Pakistan as hopelessly trapped in the prism of drugs and guns and mullahs. It is frightened when it hears about businessmen and foreign technicians being kidnapped for ransom. It is anxious about the adverse impact of “Islamisation” on the country’s financial and legal system, on universal human rights, on women’s emancipation, on programmes for modern education and population control — all of which seem to emphasise backwardness rather than modernisation. It abhors the political uncertainty which propels the country from one crisis to another. It panics when it reads about the sleaziest bank in financial history — the BCCI — being patronised by the leaders of Pakistan. It is dumbfounded when it confronts the total breakdown of law and order in most parts of the country.

This “image” is not a false one. It conforms to much that is deplorable in our country. True, this is the price we paid for fighting the West’s cold-war with the USSR. But the cold war is over, the West is trying to cash in the “peace dividend”, yet we remain hopelessly out of touch with new realities. It is these unpalatable realities which must change before we can present an alternative, more enterprising and dynamic “image” to the outside world.

Mr Sharif’s problem is that he is concentrating on marketing a product — Pakistan — whose brand name is tainted in the eyes of the world. If he were, instead, to focus on genuinely improving the quality of the product he is marketing, he would have greater success.

Mr Nawaz Sharif cannot free the economy without also freeing the polity. Democracy and good government is a sine qua non for political stability and economic certainty on the basis of which significant investment decisions are made by international capital. As a businessman, Mr Sharif must surely know that. Why then cannot he create conditions conducive to political stability and good government?

Then there is this business of “Islamisation”. Why must Mr Sharif show the world that he has a soft corner for the mullahs who want to drag the country down? For every iota of confidence generated by Sardar Assef Ali, the PM is losing tons of goodwill at the hands of people like Maulana Sattar Niazi and courts like the Federal Shariat Court. The same holds true for those who wield the gun or push drugs. Why can’t the PM clean-up Punjab, allow the army to clean-up Sindh, and put paid to all the disastrous legacies of Zia ul Haq?

Time is running out. Pakistan is being censured as a “terrorist” state. If that label sticks, we could be in very deep trouble. Our approach has been to argue that India is a bigger “terrorist” and a greater “fundamentalist” than us, why is the West picking on us? This is patently true, yet both East and West are bending over backwards to appease India. Is it only because the West is immoral and hypocritical or is there another more fundamental reason for this partiality?

The “image” that India has historically marketed to the outside world is markedly superior to ours. It is one of democracy and secularism, values much cherished by the West because they are integral to modern capitalism. Even when Hindu fundamentalism runs rampant and communal frenzy creates chaos, the Indian ruling classes and government continue to insist on the virtues of secularism. In Pakistan, it is the other way round. The mullahs are a miniscule section of society, “fundamentalism” is a marginal phenomenon, yet our government and ruling classes go out of their way to paint Pakistan as “an Islamic ideological state”. Instead of reassuring the world that we are a modern nation-state capable and desirous of doing business with them, we consciously give succor to the mullahs and wave the red rag of “Islamisation” to the bulls.

No, Mr Nawaz Sharif must change Pakistan’s ground realities and produce a high-quality product before he can think of marketing it in Tokyo or Davos. All the public-relationing and economic incentives in the world will not succeed in flogging an “image” which is basically tainted.

(February 11-17, 1993, Vol-4 No.49 — Editorial)

Symbiosis of state and society

Two major issues confront us this year: the election of the President and the fate of the 8th amendment. Symbiotically related since 1985, these issues have led to two controversial sackings of elected governments. Thus a larger question is at stake: is such a symbiosis compatible with the spirit of democracy?

Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan has said that he will resist attempts to repeal the 8th amendment. The symbiosis between the Presidency and the 8th amendment means that Mr Khan expects to defend his incumbency next December. On the face of it, there is nothing wrong with that. Didn’t the combined opposition actually provoke President Ishaq to oust Benazir Bhutto’s government in 1990? Didn’t the Supreme Court validate the President’s action? Didn’t Ms Bhutto try to pay Mr Sharif back in the same coin last November? If so, the new consensus between government and opposition against Mr Khan and the 8th amendment requires explanation.

Ms Bhutto’s argument that President Ishaq has personally dealt her a rotten hand is credible. But Mr Nawaz Sharif’s studied silence is equivocal. Perhaps he is being a trifle ungrateful, considering everything President Ishaq has done to make, and keep, him prime minister.

Of course, it might have nothing to do either with Mr Sharif’s thankless nature or with Ms Bhutto’s personal ire. Maybe the present system is really unworkable, maybe the concentration of such power to hire and fire in the hands of a person like Mr Khan is genuinely problematic. How credible is this view?

To all intents and purposes, Mr Khan is an autocratic, cold-war warrior in a post cold-war Pakistan which is desperately seeking its democratic moorings. So it might be sensible to have a younger, more forward-looking and less stubborn man sitting in the Presidency. But the question of the 8th amendment is an altogether different matter.

It is true that the 8th amendment smacks of a dictatorial legacy that most Pakistanis abhor. But simply repealing it and thereby making the office of the prime minister all powerful could very well make the system more, not less, unaccountable.

Consider how the exploitation of unchecked power went to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s head, how it debased democracy and made the country ungovernable, tempting Gen Zia to step in and overstay his welcome. Or how Ms Bhutto treated Mr Sharif so unfairly when she was PM and he was CM Punjab. Or how, given a free rein, Mr Sharif’s voracious appetite for financial empire-building coupled with vaulting political ambition would undoubtedly make him the most oppressive ruler in history.

No. Our politicians must be accountable, we need checks and balances on them because they have an in-built propensity to be despotic, corrupt and inefficient. The 1973 constitution, which was drafted after the Westminster model in which the office of the PM is more powerful than the office of the President in the US system, is not equipped to suitably mediate the pluralistic claims of our state and society. If the device of the 8th amendment has proved to be an untrustworthy intrusion, we need to replace it with something which is more organic and less capricious. What might that be?

Instead of the office of the President, a body comprising all the pillars of state and society might be better entrusted with the powers of the 8th amendment. Such a body, call it what you will, might be comprised of the following 12 members: 7 Representatives of Society — PM, Federal Defense Minister, Federal Interior Minister and the four Chief Ministers of the provinces; 3 Functionaries of the State — CJ Supreme Court, Chairman JCSC and COAS; and 1 Head of State — President (Chairman).

Such a body would eliminate the possibility of any misunderstanding or tension between the organs of the state and the representatives of society, in particular those between the armed forces and civil society. It would make for greater cooperation between the federating units. It would relieve the Supreme Court of a profusion of embarrassments attendant upon the legitimacy of overly political matters. And it would allay the fears of opposition politicians that the ruling party is not accountable as well as those of representative government which may rightly resent the heavy hand of an indirectly elected President.

The 8th amendment was the handiwork of a particular military dictator who wanted to perpetuate himself in power indefinitely. The dictator is gone, thank God, but his patchwork remains. It remains because the conditions of political insecurity which provoked the adventurer into overthrowing a civil government have not withered away. Nor are they likely to do so for years, maybe decades, to come, such is the immaturity of our nationhood.

But that is no reason why Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan must cling to a dictator’s legacies. If Mr Khan insists on remaining President for another five years, he may by all means be accommodated. However, the symbiotic relationship between the Presidency and the 8th amendment must come to an end. For democracy to succeed, the symbiosis between state and society needs to be less personalised and more organic.

(TFT Feb 18-24, 1993 Vol-4 No.50 — Editorial)

ECO or What?

Some Pakistani commentators have gushed about the recent Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) moot at Quetta as being “momentous”, “historic”, “imaginative” and “bold”. We might be more circumspect. The region’s geopolitics could conceivably reduce all the grandiose “bonding” plans of the ECO to nought.

Successful “economic cooperation” between countries is premised on a number of crucial factors: (1) a commonality of stable, institutionalised state structures which lend themselves to “bonding”. (2) a world outlook which transcends the burdens of a messy historic “past” and supplements the modern capitalist urge for economic assimilation and political uniformity. (3) a complimentarity of economies which sustains equitable trade and aid rather than economic imperialism. The EEC and ASEAN countries fulfill these requirements. SAARC does not. How do the ECO states fare on this scale?

Rather dismally, we fear. The driving forces behind the ECO are the “Big 3” — Turkey, Iran and Pakistan. The economic and political structures of these countries, as well as their security concerns and alliances with the US, were not too dissimilar nearly three decades ago when they launched plans for Regional Cooperation and Development (RCD). Yet, they didn’t make much headway. Today, by contrast, Turkey’s state is as avowedly “secular” as Iran’s is “Islamic”. Turkey is a solidly behind the US. Iran is implacably opposed to it. Pakistan is lost somewhere in-between. Despite the pious rhetoric, chances are they will push and shove, rather than cooperate with, one another.

Or consider the problems of the Central Asia states. Newly independent, their freedom was determined not by any indigenous movement with conscious goals and political structures but by the disintegration of the USSR. Such a sudden route to nationhood makes construction of viable state structures difficult in the short term and makes “bonding” impossible.

This is their current status. (1) Their borders were artificially drawn when they were assimilated into the USSR. These cut across 100 ethnic and national groups spread over five states. Major inter-ethnic conflicts haunt them, making rapid state-consolidation impossible. (2) Their military, police and administrative forces — state apparatuses — exist only in an embryonic form. The security environment is compounded by the fact that the CIS retains military bases and defence interests in all of them. (3) Their political parties, systems and leaders are hangovers from a communist past — authoritarianism struggles with religious ideology and democracy for primacy. Notions of civil society and political stability are hard to come by. (4) Russia remains an overbearing factor in all calculations. Each country has sizeable Russian minorities (9 million out of 55 million). Significant numbers of Russian troops are still stationed there. Their economic continue to depend on backward and forward linkages with Russia. Consequently, Russia will remain a paramount influence on their states and societies for years to come. (5) Their economies are stagnating, production structures are severely distorted, they have no independent currencies or hard cash reserves. They know nothing of economic management or market forces. These are serious obstacles to economic “bonding”. (6) Russia and the West are determined to promote secularism and democracy in Central Asia. They will now allow Islamic Iran or non-secular Pakistan to establish strategic footholds in the region.

Now come to Afghanistan. Here is a country devastated by 14 years of continuing civil war and blood-letting with no end in sight. There is no government to speak of, much less a state. It remains a victim of interfering neighbours seeking territories and warlords of influence. How can it play any meaningful rule in the ECO?

In fact, the motives of Turkey, Iran and Pakistan are mundane enough. They are all seeking desperate extensions of their home markets which, in the old days, was called “imperialism”. Turkey has taken a flying start. It is secular and has Western backing. it has earmarked over US$ 1 billion in soft loans and commercial credits spread over 40 bilateral agreements. Iran is also putting in men and money. Both offer, in due course, direct overland routes to the sea.

Interestingly enough, Turkey and Iran know the score. It is Pakistan which is deluding itself. We do not have the financial resources to match those offered by Turkey and Iran. Even the US$ 60 million in credits to Central Asia committed by Economics Minister Assef Ali a year ago has not yet been coughed up. We are also crucially dependent on Afghanistan for giving us access to Central Asia. But that may not materialise for years to come.

Is it any surprise then that, behind the lofty talk of “momentous” initiatives being taken at Quetta, the Big 3 could only bring themselves to commit a paltry US$ 100,000 each for preparing feasibility studies for a host of ambitious economic projects? The ECO is doomed to meet a fate worse than that of the RCD. It is going to be every country for itself and the devil take the hindmost.

(TFT Feb 25-03 Mar, 1993 Vol-4 No.51 — Editorial)

The day of the General

Gen (retd) Mirza Aslam Beg is an intriguing, brash, ambitious fellow. By his own admissions, he was a defiant army chief with definite political views. But his bluff opinions were often at odds with those of the government in power. If he had kept his counsel and obeyed orders, there wouldn’t have been any controversies. But he didn’t Indeed, he may have left a distinct imprint on the course of political developments since 1988. And by the look of it, he thinks his job isn’t done just yet, even though he no longer wields the fearful clout of the post he once held.

Gen Beg’s entry into the establishment in 1986-7 was known to have ruffled a few important feathers. He was in obscure officer when prime minister Muhammad Khan Junejo overruled President Zia and appointed him as VCOAS. Gen Zia was understandably furious and never forgave Mr Junejo for slighting him. it must have weighed with when he finally decided to get rid of Mr Junejo in 1988.

When Gen Zia perished in an aircrash, Gen Beg was an immediate beneficiary. But from Day One, a controversy has dogged his role in the whole affair. A full report has yet to be made public. Indeed, Gen Beg’s evidence before Justice Shafi ur Rehman’s enquiry commission was taken in camera.

In early 1989, when Benazir Bhutto launched her “Get Nawaz” campaign to oust the IJI government in the Punjab, Gen Beg is thought to have effectively scuttled all her plans. On the eve of the PPP’s no-confidence move against Mr Sharif, Gen Beg’s forceful assertion to the press in Lahore that “nothing would happen” was a signal to the wayward Muslim Leaguers that the army was opposed to Islamabad’s devious stratagem and that they should hurry back into Mr Sharif’s lap.

In 1990 Bhutto wanted Gen Beg to clean-up Singh. No, he said, unless you give me Section 245, “I won’t chase shadows”, a point of view disproved so effectively by Gen Asif Nawaz in recent times. Later, as Gen Alam Jan Massoud has revealed, Gen Beg teamed up with President Ishaq in manoeuvering the exit of Bhutto from power.

Gen Beg has also recently implied that the 1990 election results were contrived by some invisible “angels”. Maybe he will tell us more about these “angels” in due course. Even so, there is no doubt that he played a crucial role in selecting the new prime minister in 1990. Gen Hameed Gul, his lieutenant at the time, was known to have lobbied furiously for the view that it was time Pakistan had a Punjabi PM (Nawaz Sharif) rather than a Sindhi (Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi). That Gen Beg’s Military Intelligence Agency had a hand both in toppling Ms Bhutto and in installing Mr Sharif cannot be doubted.

By the time the Gulf War erupted, however, Gen Beg was ready to destabilise the Nawaz Sharif government. His “strategic defiance” of the US severely strained US-Pak relations, alienated Saudi Arabia and isolated Pakistan in the post-War scramble to pick up lucrative contracts to rebuild the Gulf states.

Mr Ijaz ul Haq says that Gen Beg thought of imposing martial law on three occasions but shied away at the last moment. Maybe he is sensationalising Gen Beg’s histrionics. But one thing, at least, is clear. Gen Beg was in no hurry to retire. In fact, by all accounts, he wanted to go “up-stairs”, into the office of CJCSC after it had been suitable empowered to conform to his requirements. No wonder then that Mr Sharif was so nervous a couple of months before Gen Beg was finally nudged out in August 1991.

But id didn’t take long for Gen Beg to bounce back into the limelight. Ensconced in his new, though conspicuous, abode in Rawalpindi beside the Army House and chauffeured about in a spanking new Mercedes (MAB 1), Gen Beg launched FRIENDS shortly after retirement.