In a war of attrition, the militants are calling the shots
The ongoing terrorism in the north western region carved up in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and federally administrated tribal region is an overstretching of what has been going on in the neighbouring Afghanistan. The devastation in Peshawar and other Pakistani towns and cities is what has been wrought because of what has been happening in Kabul, Kandahar and other cities of Afghanistan during the last few decades.
Fazle Subhan Abid, a young and popular Pashtun poet laments the happenings in Peshawar in his popular ballad sung by Hashmat Sahar as
“Pa Pekhawar ke parhar ma jodawa, La da Kabul parhar war ghaley na de,
Dalta la bal da veeney jam dakawey, Hagha dak jam de laa ghutaley na de”
Do not bleed Peshawar, for Kabul’s wounds have not healed yet, you haven’t finished gulping the blood of one, and yet you are planning another (Translation courtesy: Zalan Alam)
Alas! The entreaties went unheard; Peshawar has been bled for years and the wounds have been passed around the other parts.
The city has braved the bomb blasts and suicide attacks targeting secular politicians, civilian and security officials, assaults on police stations and RPG attacks on residential areas. Hardly a day passes by when it doesn’t go through the trauma, sound of the bomb blasts and noise of sirens rushing towards the scene and the news flash on the TV screens with Google maps imagery to identify the location and competing with each other on the scores of people killed and wounded in the incident
Surviving through the existential fear, some people may obliterate it with the catchy term ‘resilience’ but for most when feelings of despair are high, having barely any choice or alternative left, they will hardly find themselves in agreement with this. There underlies a deep sense of desperation among the people, which emanates from the inability of the security apparatus to forestall most of the attacks.
It is quite unrealistic to expect an overall preclusion of the terrorists’ attacks as fighting terror or withstanding their demands may have a political cost attached to it, and the political parties who have corroborated with military offensives against the militants are bearing the brunt of that support. But what perturbs many is the insistence of the higher military echelon for a consensus or more broader ownership of the ongoing war. Perhaps it is a case of without a will, there being no way.
The security apparatus has constrained itself to proportional responses to various act of terrorism. Small incidents of terror are pushed aside while some are responded with raids and surgical operations by the law enforcement agencies with claims of nabbing the alleged masterminds of a particular attacks, while at military level, casual bombing of the militants’ hideouts in various tribal agencies or direct clashes resulting in killing of adherents of Taliban make it to the news.
The territories known for Taliban concentration and presence are ‘no go’ areas. Military deployment around the entry and exit points does make it hard for the militants to pour out towards the settled areas. The repeated attacks on military check posts reflects the militants’ frustration with these arrangements. But these arrangements have been challenged on various occasions when militants came in large number to attack a police station and took away the severed head of a Police officer Khursheed Khan or the recent Peshawar grid station attack when militants fired dozens of RPGs at it from a distance, and then entered the premises, tortured and killed WAPDA officials, policemen and security guards, destroyed machinery worth tens of millions and took along four officials to the neigbouring Bara areas.
The leadership and the hardcore elements of Taliban are alive, well and safe in their dens and lairs planning and perpetrating assaults against their adversaries at the political front, issuing video footages and threatening messages lashing out at the ANP, the PPP and the MQM and making phone calls to the TV channels after every aggression
While political elements in good books of the bad Taliban either justify or ignore their assaults on liberal political forces, the Taliban have been elevated to the status of some rating agency, which has the discretion to award peace and immunity from the attacks on performing well or punish harshly with blasts and assaults on the basis of bad administrative performance.
The way militancy was dealt with during the last five years has been criticized by various quarters, each having a different set of arguments. The pro-Taliban political parties or religio-political groups have criticized the military offensives against the militants with the false assertions of Taliban representing the general populace of the areas they occupy, or the notion of revenge emanating from the mishaps and misgivings during the military offensives or by the drone attacks targeting militants using civilian populations as a human shield. The losses incurred to the militants or civilian populations at the hands of security forces are disproportionately lower than the losses and suffering of the civilians and law enforcement agencies at the hands of terrorists.
The liberal circles criticized the previous governments for lack of multipronged and comprehensive strategy regarding militancy, and of ceding space to religious groups bowing to their demands on many issues, while persisting nature of military influence in issues of national security has credence at the political and intellectual fronts. The overarching influence has been demonstrated well at different occasions to show the restraints on the role of political government i.e. Mumbai attacks, Kerry Lugar bill, the COAS extension suggested at Corps commander meeting and the Memogate scandal.
The threats to secular and progressive forces have not been responded to by the state institutions and the outcry of the ANP, the MQM and the PPP for a level playing field too has fallen on deaf ears.
The timid response to the terror attacks has dragged us into a war of attrition against an enemy which has aimed to wear us down over a period of time by using urban warfare causing civilian losses, propaganda tactics to create friction and dishonorable means of combat against those at the first line of defense, that is the Police and LEAs and political forces whose ideology and interests are in conflict with them. The rest are abiding by the rules determined by the militants.
Ali Arqam is journalist and researcher based in Karachi. He can be contacted at [email protected] interacted on twitter at @aliarqam
Is to tell them you’re satisfied with your belief system
Following a decade of global terrorism, our country is increasingly facing a growing tide of conservatism that has swept over everything from the legal system to educational institutions. In a survey conducted by the British Council on the youth vote, an overarching majority has voiced support for religious, conservative parties. Although we commonly associate fundamentalism with men in beards and ill-fitting shalwars, it discreetly manifests itself in many different forms—housewives sticking to the parameters of their homes, young children who are taught not to question, unsuspecting individuals inducted into religious cults, legislators who believe in the absolutism of law, amongst many others. There have been innumerable instances when I have come across seemingly sound people but when the conversation challenges their beliefs they become defensive, dismissive and angry. Fundamentalism is not only about the symbolic or the performative, it is rather about the mindset that adheres to absolutism and enforces that certain beliefs/principles are beyond question. The rigid adherence to a set of principles and the supposition that they are exclusively correct, breeds intolerance towards any opposing views and stigmatizes the anyone who dares to digress.
Before coming face to face with a fundamentalist, it is essential to understand how their mind works—and rest assured, it is at a tangent with the thought process of a liberal progressive human being. What they believe in is of far less significance that how they come to the realization of their established ‘truths’. Regarding religious and moral matters, fundamentalists have binary brains. There is no grey area in their minds when it comes to God or the Quran or much else for that matter. To a fundamentalist, everything is black and white, yes or no, truth or lie which explains why they are able to speak with such assuredness about their beliefs even when facts indicate otherwise. If you use grey relativistic talk, situational, tentative, hypothetical—it will translate to black. They claim to be 100 percent certain of their beliefs and they will demand the same for you. For this reason, fundamentalists are as dismissive of liberal Muslims as they are of atheists or other “non-believers.” If you offer an interpretation that is slightly different from their literal reading they will take that opportunity to point out your inferior understanding or reiterate that you are alienated from the truth. For them, natural disasters are the wrath of God, women are temptations and whatever the Mullah is saying must be right because, despite his inferior intellect, lack of education and sup-par Arabic, he, by some divine mechanism, is able to understand the word of God better than us plebeians. Fundamentalists are people who respond to most questions about their beliefs by the proclamation—“because God said so.” Rationality and logic are eradicated from in their day to day discourse and they would rather stick to their moral code, like slave soldiers, no matter how archaic, discriminatory or unwarranted it seems to be. They fail to grasp the power of their own minds—if God wanted to create clones who behaved and believed in the same way, he won’t have endowed humanity with a mind altogether.
The agenda of a fundamentalist is to homogenize thinking and subsequently convert you—or eradicate your kind altogether. This contempt towards difference is apparent through their need to establish an uncontestable moral code and label behaviors as intrinsically wrong- all people from other sects, non-believers, liberals, secularists, drinkers, gamblers, music enthusiasts, dancers are all on the wrong path, no matter what their reasoning is: “because God said so.” By showing a disregard for their agenda, you have already won. The simplest way to counter a fundamentalist, and one that I personally ascribe to, is to tell them you’re satisfied with your belief system—“No thank you, I do not believe in what you do. I am perfectly happy with my life. You follow your religion and I will follow mine.” After a few attempts, they will hopefully back off and at most pass a snide remark or say “tobah.” If you indulge in conversation, however, be careful. You might be opening yourself up to lengthy a monologue of wherein they attempt to display their knowledge and reassure themselves that they are important servants of God. If you display any uncertainty in your argument, fundamentalists will view that as a weakness and insecurity, consequently strengthening their resolve. If you simply walk away, you are ignoring them and their attention seeking tactics.
The way to deal with fundamentalists on a day to day basis, whether it is a preacher or a strict aunt, is to know that there are happy, well-informed people in the world who do not think like them. Don’t worry about changing their minds— that is a hard and nearly impossible task to carry out. You are not the one with the issue and you do not have to be burdened with ‘correcting’ the world—that is a fundamentalist’s mission.
The writer is a staff member of Pakistan Today and holds a degree from Mount Holyoke College.
Through the election bullet
On May 1, 2013, 22,000 troops and 50,000 ‘law enforcers’ entered 12 districts of Balochistan to “conduct a free-and-fair election”. The existing number of troops in the areas shall not be revealed to us, nor the fact that de facto these areas had been no-go areas for the military since the current Baloch insurgency started in 2005. With the entry of troops, the possibility of free-and-fair elections in the province has ended. Rather the Baloch people shall have elections shoved down their throats with a gun to their head.
It does not matter if the Baloch people want to give their stamp of approval to the selection processes of the Pakistani state. Rather, the pretense, or the formality, that ‘the Baloch people’ confirm their stamp of faith in the State, shall be obtained, under the sound of the boots of the fine men in khaki. If it wasn’t quite obvious when the operation was announced, the Balochistan home secretary made it clear the day before the operation: the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), the Balochistan Republican Army (BRA), the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLA), the United Baloch Army (UBA) and the Lashkar-e-Balochistan (LB) would be targeted.
No one seems to recall that the outrage over the kill-and-dump of missing persons – or “kidnapped Baloch” as Muhammad Hanif chose to clarify – by state agencies was about individuals from the same groups. Over 300 bodies of these missing persons had been recovered since 2011 – all the killings blamed on the Pakistani state. The calls for the past three years, since the announcement of the token Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan package in 2009, had been for the withdrawal of army troops from Balochistan and accountability of the agencies, neither of which could be delivered during the PPP-era.
Back in 2008, President Zardari also issued a token apology to the Baloch people. But with nothing changing on the ground, with one after the other Baloch nationalist being killed-and-dumped, the resentment amongst the Baloch people has grown deeper. Bodies have been returned to each district.
Nothing has also changed about the conception of development being applied to the province. The great hallmark that the 18th amendment was supposed to be was circumvented with imprudence. The control of the Gwadar Port was handed over to China and the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline started in the two month period the Balochistan government had been dissolved earlier this year. The so-called failure of the never existent Balochistan government was in fact that failure (or complicity) of the state apparatus in the spate of Hazara killings – duly stopped the minute the establishment’s aims in the province were achieved.
But the joke about the current military operation in Balochistan runs much deeper. It comes on the back of five years of the PPP-led coalition governments at both the province and centre denying accusations that a military operation was underway in Balochistan. It is a bit strange that the caretaker government has taken it upon itself to take on the mandate of announcing a full-blown military operation in Balochistan.
This is not to say that the fears expressed by government schools teachers are not well-founded. The discontent with the Pakistani state is such that government schools in a number of districts in Balochistan have not been able to display the Pakistani flag for a number of years.
The Balochistan caretaker setup has pointed to security threats to candidates and election officials in Balochistan as reason for announcing the current military operation. But the question is how important are the political parties contesting polls in Balochistan to the Baloch people? Let us name them: the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the Pakistan Peoples Party, the Jamaat-i-Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl, the National Party and the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M). Only two of these parties have any credentials so to speak of in Balochistan. Of these, the National Party leadership, including Dr Malik and Hasil Bizenjo, spend the bulk of their time in Islamabad, while the BNP-M chief Akhtar Mengal was in self-exile from the country until the interim setup took over. However, the bulk of the nationalist movement has chosen to keep itself outside the trapping of the upcoming polls.
Apart from the dismissed NAP government of the Bhutto era, Balochistan cannot be said to have ever had any semblance of ‘representative government’. Nor does there appear to be any serious resolve on part of the Pakistan establishment to give Balochistan representative government. Sources from within the state say that, as a lesson from the separation of East Pakistan, they now fear any nationalists coming into power through the ballot and presenting something akin to Sheikh Mujib’s Six Points.
This is why there are army men in nine districts, including Dera Bugti, Kohlu, Awaran, Washuk, Khuzdar, Kalat, Mastung, Kharan and Gwadar districts. The question is what will the cleanup operation mean on the ground? “Not a single militant will be spared by May 11” is what the caretaker provincial home minister said. Bullets and arrests have been promised. It is another way of saying: expect more kills-and-dumps, unreported raids on villages and more anger from the Baloch.
When national newspapers continue to express worries that “there is no election excitement in Balochistan”, it appears they are delusional. Elections are a celebration of a belief that participating in the processes of the state can offer deliverance. Barely anyone in Balochistan believes such. If the Baloch people, as a whole, feel disenfranchised from the processes of the state, then why bake up this cosmetic drama of an election in the province?
Let us learn to call a spade a spade: these are not measures to secure the elections, this is a full-blown operation against Baloch nationalists.
For Baloch nationalists, the province was made to join Pakistan at gunpoint. Now, it appears, after a sixth decade long insurgency, it will be made to enter elections at gunpoint. The consequences, it must be said with regret, are fated.
With the military presence in Balochistan, there cannot be a ‘free-and-fair’ election. Let us not subscribe to any such mistaken notions. Another farce is about to be created in Balochistan in the name of representative government. All the efforts at reconciliation of Baloch nationalists should be considered abandoned. Balochistan is being held hostage in the name of the elections. The consequences will not be pretty.
The writer is the general secretary (Lahore) of the Awami Workers Party. He is a journalist and a researcher. Contact: [email protected]
How perception trumps facts at any given time
Sometimes perception is almost more important than the reality. This is exactly the case in Pakistan’s political minefield. Righteousness is tearing apart our country and it does not seem to matter what the facts are. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, but not facts. Perception is created and twisted so effectively that if the facts do not coincide with perception, conspiracy theories are produced to correspond to it.
It is the function of all-powerful media to renew or reverse our perception. The media pundits shake up the familiar situation, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.Once the perception is built, nothing can undo it. Take for example Fakhruddin G Ebrahim, the man in charge of the transition of power in Pakistan. He has stainless decades of service to the nation, shining with honesty and integrity. That is the general perception but let us take account of what the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has actually achieved under his auspicious leadership.
According to news reports, ECP has simply failed to prevent 55 candidates from Punjab, belonging to 10 different sectarian groups, from contesting the general elections despite the fact that intelligence agencies had warned the ECP. After a 14-day period during which the eligibility of nearly 25,000 candidates were examined under the criteria laid down in articles 62 and 63 of the constitution, no one has been disqualified for tax evasion, non-filing of tax returns, defaulting on payment of bank loans or for false declaration of assets and liabilities. At least 35 former members of national and provincial assemblies who failed to get their degrees verified from Higher Education Commission (HEC) are running for May 11 elections.
The TTP is targeting the liberal parties like PPP, ANP and MQM in election campaign. On the other hand, there are no threats to other parties including PTI and PML-N. How can Fakhrudin G Ebrahim term these elections as free and fair, since level playing field is being negated to the three important political players?The only response from ECP on this alarming situation is nothing but deafening silence.
Recently, I had a chance to interact with and observe the operations of ECP officials. I was utterly surprised to see that, Farkhru Bhai, as he is called among his close circles, is treated as merely a symbol of integrity and his subordinates don’t even trust him to talk to the media. “He sometimes doesn’t know what he is saying. We don’t want him to make any factual errors while talking to the media,” said an ECP official while denying us the interview Fakhru Bhai had earlier cordially committed to give. After that, he was not even allowed to speak to us. It left me consternated if the octogenarian election commissioner was even allowed to take his own decisions or he was being manipulated and is too weary to stand up for himself. I personally feel he just wants the elections to be held on time, by any means, so that he can go home triumphant.
The perception about him, however, is that of an upright man, struggling to fix all ills for ‘free and fair’ elections.
Talking about perception, one cannot ignore the myth of Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry’s incorruptible omnipotence. An epitome of justice and integrity, as goes the perception, but a quick glance at the facts without going into the details of the decisions taken in our national interest, reveals uncomfortable truths.
Iftikhar Chaudhry is an institution in himself, literally. There has been no dissent in any major constitutional case in the past years. During the days of Lawyers’ Movement, courts have somehow assumed themselves to be the representative of the people. Judicial activism has gone to an extent of populism. Judges, along with media, have formed a parallel establishment, sending elected prime minister home while ordering the arrest of another, as was done in the past by the military dictators. The double standards, exhibited during the Memogate case and the way Arasalan Iftikhar case was dealt with, is no secret. At one point, it was even difficult for the media to defend the courts. According to a report by the US State Dept, ‘every three out four terrorists are acquitted by the courts’. Judges have issued contempt notices to the politicians for not obeying their orders while keeping hush when the agencies did the same in missing persons’ case.
As for the perception, he is the messiah, the righteous one, the saviour.
The real test case of this curse of perception is President Asif Ali Zardari. Nothing has benefited media more than his notorious image, which was sold to the nation round the clock, for five years. The stamp of Mr 10 percent is still wet on him and obviously, according to some, he had Benazir Bhutto murdered so that he could become the president of Pakistan.
Contrary to the perception, his achievements are historic and unprecedented. From the passing of 18th amendment bill and giving away of his powers to the parliament to the first ever completion of the democratic government’s tenure, Zardari has made history while others have merely made headlines.
His smart handling of party and state affairs during the ongoing judicial activism, smear campaign by the media, pressure from the military and other political opponents, natural calamities and the pugnacious wave of terrorism in the country have visibly unnerved and frustrated the harbingers of his doom.
There is a lot of hullabaloo about corruption but even a journalist like Ansar Abbasi or Kamran Khan cannot point out one corruption scandal that involves presidency. Credit must also be given to his nerves for listening to such callous criticism against him and remaining neutral and dignified.
Other than that, his sharp focus on foreign policy has set Pakistan’s position right on the international front. Our relations with UK and US are excellent, so are our ties with China. We have achieved much access into EU and its markets. We are back in the Commonwealth and playing a positive role. We have no disputes with the Muslim world. Gwadar port agreement and Pak-Iran gas pipeline projects will go down in the history as a turning point for our economy and regional stability. Let us also not forget the immense pressure from the US government to halt this deal. Zardari’s most laudable achievement is a gradual shift in the relationship between India and Pakistan and a policy shift in the strategic depth doctrine in Afghanistan.
Although, the above-mentioned and several other steps are not popular among masses and media, the fact remains that Zardari has proven himself to be a successful and visionary statesman. But then again, as Gustave Flaubert once said, “There’s no truth in the world. There is only perception”.
The author is a senior producer in a news channel and can be reached on twitter @zeekhan_
Every country where the US has intervened has been worse off because of it
It is surprising how US intelligence agencies’ inability to differentiate between Taliban and al Qaeda – despite 12 long years of war in Afghanistan – is confounding the road to disengagement in late 2014. It has also complicated shutting down Guantanamo Bay, something President Barack Obama promised on his first campaign trail. And much worse, it has led to near-complete breakdown in communication with the most important partner in the war – Pakistan. Hence the recent scramble towards a workable solution in Brussels.
Yet Brussels was predictably, perhaps deliberately, vague. Kerry thought, after “extensive talks”, that “results are what will tell the story, not statements and press conferences”. And Karzai’s “let’s hope forward for the best” was pretty much the same as our foreign secretary Jilani’s “We are looking forward to a very productive and forward-looking session”. If the past provides any insight into the present, Karzai and Pakistan’s foreign office exchanged accusations, Kerry sat wide-eyed, and Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani chain-smoked. The result? More power to the Taliban.
After ISAF lost steam on the field some years ago – British forces in Helmand even bribed local Taliban to the tune of some millions to point their guns the other way – the new approach has been reconciliation with certain pockets of Taliban. But which former Taliban chieftains to take on board and what to offer them, has only increased differences within the coalition. First the Americans and Afghans pressured Pakistan into releasing high profile detainees, then the Americans flew a few to Qatar, and then Karzai got upset over being kept in the dark about the Doha initiative, and then the process unraveled. All the while, Washington refused to entertain Kabul’s requests regarding Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo, even after the CIA cleared them of serious charges.
The lumping together of Taliban and al Qaeda is a throwback to the days when George Tenet headed the CIA, from a little before till a little after 9/11. And while the Americans could be forgiven for confusing the two groups back then, adhering to the same thesis shows they expect the on ground narrative to fit their understanding of things, instead of the other way around. This inflexibility has also led to sharp differences with Pakistan, and harmed Islamabad’s counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy, which has focused on pitting militant groups against each other.
The Afghan Taliban, though subscribers to the same Wahabi extremism as al Qaeda, do not share the latter’s expansionism. Their “war with the West” is limited to Afghanistan, and will last only so long as foreigners occupy their country. The Americans still do not understand their widening cleavage with al Qaeda, especially since the ‘foreigners’ expanded the theatre of war into Pakistan and bankrolled the TTP. Mulla Omar forbade the Taliban from engaging with the Pakistani military. And the TTP, despite public allegiance to him, favour al Qaeda’s tactics.
The Pakistani intelligence realises that a post US withdrawal clash between the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda is imminent, which is why it has exploited differences in the two groups, and their proxies, to contain al Qaeda advances in the tribal area. And the Americans, showing little appetite to such developments, have targeted both camps with drone strikes. Some of their initiatives, like focusing exclusively on ‘good Taliban’ pockets bolstered by Pakistan, indicate the CIA might even be deliberately sabotaging the ISI efforts of five or more years. The only outcome can be stoking the insurgency on the Pakistani side till at least the American drawdown.
More recently, the NYT’s report, and Karzai’s admission, of the CIA bringing “millions of dollars”, sometimes in plastic bags, to the Afghan presidential palace, only confirms doubts that the Americans have been without a workable strategy ever since they realised the limits of the military offensive. And since much of the money has gone to tribal chiefs as well as Taliban commanders – as per Kabul’s own admission – the disconnect between Washington’s stated goals and the ground reality has become more apparent.
This failure to really understand the war-on-terror enemy also led the Americans into far worse adventures in the Middle East as it tried to take control of the so called Arab Spring. Libya descended into Salafist chaos as soon as NATO strikes dislodged Gaddaffi, and Washington’s Gulf darlings spared little time in funneling jihadi armies into Syria as world focus shifted to Damascus. Again sticking to the old paradigm – that the old anti-Israel Iran-Syria axis is the biggest enemy – led the Americans to ignore the jihadi threat, and it turned a blind eye to Saudi/Qatari initiative of using religious extremists to unseat the Alawite Baathist regime and weaken their Shi’a nemesis Iran.
The GCC and US/Israeli interests may have been aligned initially, but if the al Qaeda aligned al Nusra front is able to dislodge the Assad regime, Israel and America will have the most to lose, placing them in the same camp as Iran. In one of modern geo-politics’ greatest ironies, the Israelis and their American friends will realise, as soon as petrodollar funded Salafi rockets start landing in Tel Aviv and Tehran, that they have more in common with the biggest regional enemy since the fall of the Shah’s peacock throne than oil monarchies they have held so dear all these years.
In all the wars and ‘interventions’ since 9/11, the Americans and their allies have left every country they have targeted worse off than before, be it Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya. And little will change if they decide to indulge militarily in Syria. And in all these adventures, they have failed to realise that the biggest threat has come from al Qaeda fanatics, and those fanatics have had their bread and butter, and their arms, come from the Saudi establishment and its friends. Yet Washington continues to cajole Riyadh and its allies. It seems America does not understand who its real enemies are.
The writer is Middle East Correspondent, Pakistan Today, and can be reached at [email protected]
Election Diary - 5: Dissecting the high-sounding, catch-all party programmes
Election campaign and the disposition of political parties can be judged at two levels: the election manifesto and the statements of the top party leaders, and the issues and questions that get highlighted in the constituency-based electioneering. It is important to examine how do candidates project them to the voters and what kind of demands the voters make on them. The issues at the two levels, the leadership and the constituency, are not necessarily identical which often cause problems for the parties in the post-election period, especially for the party that assumes power.
The party manifestos are high-sounding, catch-all documents that attempt to sell the dreams of a better future. The impression that the manifestos create is that the political parties have workable solutions of the problems of the state and society.
The manifestos are important because they reflect the top leadership’s perspectives on national and global issues and their preferred political, economic and administrative direction for the political system. The manifestos for the May 2013 elections are strong on promises and visions of the future but weak on giving the plans of action to realize the goals. There is a noticeable absence of understanding of the ground realities of Pakistani politics, economy and society. There is no recognition of the declining capacity of the Pakistani state to perform its basic function. Its effectiveness and implementation capability has declined.
Therefore, the notion of increase the tax-to-GDP ratio from 9 to 15 percent, as claimed by the PMLN, appears unrealistic in view of the undocumented nature of Pakistani economy, increased political power of the business and trader community, especially their capacity to shut down markets and block main roads in the urban centres. Further, the PML-N depends heavily in the political domain in the Punjab on the business and trading community it says it wants to tax.
There is hardly any clear-cut ideological divide among the political parties when one examines the socio-economic agendas of major political parties. In fact, ideology is missing from the electoral context. Islamic political parties, especially the JUI-F, are focusing on worldly socio-economic agendas similar to other parties. However, Islamic parties often raise the issue of implementation of the Sharia and making Pakistan into a genuine Islamic state without giving the details of institutions and processes they want to establish in order to realize their version of Islamic state. Some of them raise the slogan of ‘Islam is in danger’ and that they would not allow secular system in Pakistan.
Ideology surfaces in the election campaign when we look at the violence employed by the Pakistani Taliban and their affiliates in the course of the election campaign. The Taliban are targeting liberal-left and democratic parties, i.e. the PPP, the ANP and the MQM. Their election meetings, party offices and leaders are being targeted by bombings and suicide attacks. Islamic parties and others on the right like the PML-N and the PTI that are known for sympathetic attitude towards the Taliban are relatively free to engage in electioneering, although these parties adopt security measures for their election meetings.
On shortages of electricity, the PML-N leader, Shahbaz Sharif, promises to overcome this problem in two years and the PTI would need three years to address this problem altogether. The PPP blames the PML-N for sabotaging its efforts for power generation in the past. However, no party provides the plan of action for generating more power or saving wastage and line losses. Above all, how would they mobilize resources? How would the PTI and the PML-N get Western, especially the US, assistance when they want to completely revise the current U.S-Pakistan relations? The PTI wants to end ‘American slavery’ and withdraw from ‘American-sponsored’ war on terrorism.
With the exception of the PPP, the MQM and the ANP, the political parties have a vague stance on terrorism in Pakistan. All parties condemn terrorism but none other than the above named three parties are willing to criticize any group involved in terrorism even when a group takes the responsibility of the terrorist attack. The Jamaat-i-Islami and Islamic parties subscribing to Wahabbi/Deobandi and Ahle-Hadith (Hadees) Islamic traditions either support or strongly sympathize with the Taliban. The groups and parties associated with the Barelvi and Shia Islamic traditions are publicly critical of the Taliban and sectarian groups.
The PTI treats terrorism as an internal security issue and wants to abolish militant wings of political parties but its silence over the militant Islamic groups using violence is rather surprising. In fact, the PTI’s perspective on war on terrorism and security operations in the tribal areas overlaps with the Pakistani Taliban point-of-view.
The PML-N maintains ambiguity on the violent activities of the Taliban and other militant groups, although it condemns terrorism in principle. Both, the PMLN and the PTI are talking of changes in government policies on terrorism and the long term socio-economic development of the tribal areas. These parties are not addressing the immediate threat of terrorism by the Taliban and other militant-sectarian groups. Given the strong presence of conservative and hard line Islamic groups and sectarian organizations in the Punjab, the PMLN and the PTI are courting them for votes.
The PMLN has offered a detailed set of guidelines for salvaging Pakistani economy. It also talks of revamping and privatization of the state enterprises that are suffering perpetual losses. How practical is the suggestion of privatization when the labour unions oppose it? The PML-N will not get any support from the PPP or the PTI for this purpose. All political parties do not talk of land reforms with fixed maximum land ceiling.
The manifestos of the major political parties want to pursue friendly interaction with the international community, especially the neighboring countries. There is no manifestation of hostility towards India. In the public meetings and statements of the political leaders there is hardly any reference to India and Kashmir. Even Islamic parties are not talking about Kashmir, although they may refer to Kashmir and water issue in formal statements. India and Kashmir do not appear to be on the political radar of the political parties. The attempts to play up anti-American sentiments by the PTI and Islamic parties have not got much response. The focus is on domestic issues.
When we compare the leadership discourse and manifestos with election campaigning in constituencies these appear to be two worlds far apart. No high policy matter is being taken up there. Only local, constituency related issues are discussed. We will discuss this aspect of election campaign in some later article.
The writer is an independent political and defence analyst.
Throw out legal treatises and experts’ writings and read Farea’s testimony
Earlier this week, a US Senate subcommittee held hearings on the use of drones. Most of those who testified were Constitutional law professors or terrorism experts. In what was an emotional highpoint of the proceedings, the committee also heard from a young US educated Yemeni, Farea Al-Muslimi, whose village had been hit by a drone attack just one week earlier. With his powerful and personal testimony, Farea put his finger squarely on the problem drones should pose for American policymakers.
After recounting his time in America, what he learned and how he came to love our country and its people, Farea told the committee how he returned to Yemen committed to serving as an ambassador for America to ordinary Yemenis. It was only then that he learned first-hand of the impact drones would have on his self-proclaimed mission.
Farea described how: “Late last year, I was with an American colleague from an international media outlet on a tour of Abyan [a region in southern Yemen]. Suddenly, locals started to become paranoid. They were moving erratically and frantically pointing toward the sky. Based on their past experiences with drone strikes, they told us that the thing hovering above us – out of sight and making a strange humming noise – was an American drone. My heart sank. I was helpless...I was standing there at the mercy of a drone...
“That feeling, multiplied by the highest number mathematicians have, gripped me when my village was droned just days ago.”
Farea went on in his testimony to note how he was “devastated” by the attack fearing that the use of drones “would empower the militants”, while putting his life at risk making him “look like someone who had betrayed his country by supporting America.”
The Constitutional lawyers can argue until they are blue in the face whether there are legal justifications for using drones, and tacticians can similarly make the case for the relative ease with which this new technology can help us target and eliminate “bad guys” without putting American lives at risk. But the consequences of using this technology are real, as are the dangers.
First and foremost, is the feeling of helplessness drones create not only among the “bad guys”, but among entire populations in the countries where they have been used. As we have seen too many times in history, air power creates enemies. People aren’t cowed by unseen overwhelming force, they resent it. And when the calm of their daily lives can be shattered by destructive force beyond their control, they hate the source of that disruptive power.
In the West we can marvel at the technology involved in a process by which one man thousands of miles away can spot, identify, target, and destroy an alleged enemy. But at the other end of the line, there is fear, a loss of control, helplessness, and hatred – precisely because that unseen hand has made me afraid, has the power to bring instant death and destruction, and has rendered me helpless.
The experts can boast of the drone’s efficiency and speak casually of “limited collateral damage”, but for the populations at the point of impact, every innocent killed is a victim with family and friends, and even the successful strikes create a widespread sense of terror and resentment.
There are, of course, other reasons to be deeply concerned about the use of drones – especially when used in areas where we are not in a declared state of war. No matter what fancy terms we may now use to describe these attacks, in using drones we are engaged in assassinations, plain and simple. We can try to make the case for our actions, as we have, when the targets have been major figures in al Qaeda. But when we “take out” lower level, lesser known figures, who may or may not pose an “imminent threat”, our justifications ring hollow. Making the case, after the fact (especially when the ‘fact’ is death), is a weak case, indeed. And finally, we should be concerned that while at this time we are the sole power possessing this technology, we must know that, in the not too distant future, other nations and non-state actors will also develop drone technology. In operating as we have, we are writing new “rules of the road”, that others will claim the right to apply in their own conflicts. I fear we will live to rue the day we threw out the rule of law, opening the door to the “law of the jungle”.
Back in October, 2003, as it became clear that the Iraq war would not be a “cake walk”, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wrote a memo to his staff, in which he famously asked “[a]re we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?” As we now know, he may have asked the right question but, in the end, he came up with the wrong answers.
At the close of his testimony, Farea Al-Muslimi observed “the American and Yemeni governments are losing the war against AQAP [al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula]. Even when drone strikes kill the right people, it is at the expense of creating... more strategic problems”. Our strikes, he notes, creates hatred of America, undoing all the positives generated by our remarkably effective aid programmes. The strikes also perversely create sympathy and support for the very enemy we are trying to eliminate.
My advice: throw out the legal treatises and the writings of the experts and read Farea’s testimony, and, in light of that, try to answer Rumsfeld’s question.
The writer is President, Arab American Institute.
Many new factors shaping the environment
Election Day is May 11 and everyone across the board wants elections on time with no delay. Even the parties that are at the receiving end of the TTP’s election disruption plan have vowed to take part in the elections. The TTP has however become a factor in Pakistan’s elections. Their selective targeting of political parties has created the perception of a right and left wing divide and led to speculation that by restricting the activities of the targeted parties – the PPP, the MQM and the ANP – they are indirectly giving an advantage to the PML-N, the PTI and the religious political parties whose campaign goes on unhindered. This in turn has spawned rumours about who else could be supporting the so-called right wing grouping – speculation ranges from ‘establishment’ to the US and the UK – but these are rumours and nothing else.
Many new factors shape the environment for the May election. The media is free and if it is fragmented and biased then it is so by choice and not under any compulsion – and this is by no means an unusual happening. The judiciary is free, impartial and active – really active. The ECP (Election Commission of Pakistan) selected by consensus is impartial, and though under some criticism for the scrutiny procedure, is fully in control of the process and prepared for the big day. The caretaker government has been accepted by all and is keeping itself restricted to its role of caretaking till the elected government takes over. The military or more comprehensively – the ‘establishment’ as it is called – is remaining strictly neutral with not even a whiff of its involvement in any manner. The Qadri intervention focused attention on the ECP and the scrutiny of candidates and perhaps served a purpose. The return of the former president did create ripples but has morphed into a drawn out judicial process as have many other happenings. What more could Pakistanis want? This truly should be the mother of all elections.
The one factor that casts a long shadow is the specter of unmanageable violence. Against the backdrop of recent sectarian attacks, attacks on security personnel, bombings in urban areas, the ongoing TTP insurgency in the western areas, its linkages with militant outfits and threats to disrupt elections and the cross border attacks from Afghan territory all combine to make the threat of violence very real. So far state power has not been orchestrated to confront the threat but it will be and the timing for this is important – too soon and you have running battles, too late and you have lost critical space. The perception is growing that militant violence is not just about elections – it is a threat to the state’s survival and must be defeated. There could be an impact on voter turnout though Pakistanis have shown enormous resilience in the face of the threat. Candidates being assassinated or polling booths attacked could also create issues. The threat in all its dimensions has been analyzed at the appropriate level and the indications are that it will be contained. The military stands ready in an over watch role.
Crystal ball gazing can be tricky and difficult. There are, however, some figures that are persistent. Voter turnout is expected to average between 45 and 55 percent. It was 44 per cent in the last elections and if the traditional non voters – women and youth – step out it could be higher. Voters especially in rural areas expect transport and nourishment and do not want to spend to vote. There are restrictions on such support being provided by parties and candidates but there are safe and legal ways to circumvent the restriction. The magic figure that can result in a ‘good’ functional coalition is 110 or more seats by a party – short of this and the inevitable coalition can be messy. As of now the PML-N is expected to get 80 to 90 seats, the PPP and its allies between 50 and 60 – they had 92 in the last elections – and the PTI about 30 to 40 seats. The smaller parties and the Independents will be important commodities once the post election coalition forming activity gets underway. A possibility is that PML-N gets more seats or that PTI sweeps the polls as its leader is incessantly predicting – these can be the surprises.
Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual.
Machiavelli sends Caesar Musharraf of Pakistan behind bars
“Considerations of the welfare of the state must outweigh any considerations of individual or group welfare,” Professor D R Bhandari quoted the 15th century political philosopher Machiavelli as advising the then Prince Caesar Borgia of the City State of Florence (Italy) in his monumental book: “History of European Political Philosophy”, printed first in 1937 in the Indian state of Bangalore.
“In the interests of the state he (the prince) must be ready to sin boldly,” Machiavelli goes on to spell out his, what the political scientists later termed as, “realpolitik” in his book “The Prince” while teaching the Caesar the art of the government.
Going through this inhumane, highly desensitised and state-centric Machiavellian political philosophy, I found, time and again, the image and statements of the dictator-turned-politician Pervez Musharraf flashing in my mind.
Under his self-proclaimed notion of Pakistan First, Musharraf served the state interest well by belittling individual and group interest through, as Machiavelli suggests, sinning boldly in the face of wiping out Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti, an individual, and the students of Lal Masjid, a group.
Greatly inspired by Aristotelian philosophy, Machiavelli (1469-1527) idealised his “new prince” as a leader who had seized a state with force. The Oct 12 coup in 1999 makes Musharraf a perfect mirror image of Machiavelli’s new prince who had grabbed the power of the state with the unparalleled (internally) might of Pakistan Army.
If media reports are to be cited, Musharraf, the ex-army chief who ruled Pakistan with an iron fist for nine long years, has been in a deep trouble ever since his homecoming from self exile.
The former president is sub-jailed in his farmhouse in Chak Shehzad to undergo a fortnightly judicial remand by a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing the APML chief for his alleged house-arresting of 60 members of superior courts for over five months post Nov 3, 2007, emergency.
As is evident from the retired general’s facial expressions visible in almost all of his news photos, Musharraf, a tested proponent of use of force as a head of the state, sees no quarter extending him an olive branch, something that makes his fate highly uncertain. And vulnerable in the worst case.
The atmosphere surrounding him is increasingly hostile with politicians, media, judiciary, lawyers, civil society and even army not ready, seemingly, to extend the most desirable helping hand to the former dictator.
What makes things worse for the “Pakistan First” fame former army chief is the fact that some of his past political allies from the now-electioneering PML-Q, MQM, PML-F, NPP and other political parties which ruled the country for years under his autocratic regime, have distanced themselves from the judicially-embattled general.
Instead, the senators from PML-Q and MQM extended a “silent support” to a couple of PPP-PML-N-backed resolutions calling for Musharraf to be tried under article 6 of the constitution during proceedings of the upper house.
To the discomfort of former general, this sudden change of political loyalties substantiates the proverbial impression that there is no permanent enemy and permanent friend in politics, but permanent interest.
The lawyers, who had waged a nationwide movement against Musharraf regime for the restoration of judiciary, also gave a cold shoulder to the retired general when the latter, reportedly, tried to pass on a friendly smile to a group of lawyers present at last Saturday’s proceedings at the ATC. Apparently, a confidence building measure taken by the former statesman, as his fast-depleting admirers still call him, this uncalled-for smile and the response thereof speak volumes about the level of antagonism the black coats harbour for the ex-dictator. Not to mention the earlier shoe-throwing at the Sindh High Court.
His former colleagues in uniform, once dubbed by the proud general as his “skin”, also appear to be indifferent to, what an APML spokeswoman Saturday claimed “judicial terrorism” a judge of the Islamabad High Court had committed against Musharraf on April 18 by ordering his arrest after the dismissal of the APML chief’s petition for pre-arrest bail.
Given the serious nature of other high-profile cases and the public sentiments attached to them, one can aptly surmise that the path ahead for the self-declared ex-commando is extremely rocky.
His detractors whereas want him to be punished for all the alleged wrongdoings he had committed during his reign, the former president and army chief insists that he only had acted in the national interest as a head of the state.
And here is where one can see the ruthless Machiavellian philosophy at work. By attributing his past unpopular deeds to the ill-defined national interest, Musharraf, like most of the rulers in contemporary world, wants to convey the message that his bloody use of force against Lal Masjid students, Nawab Akbar Bugti, agitating lawyers and even the media persons during Nov 2007 emergency was justified.
Put a cursory glance at the contemporary human history and you would find scores of Musharrafs committing crimes against humanity in the name of broader national interest, an ill-defined, ambiguous term mostly used, rather misused, by the rulers to justify their unpopular deeds.
This is the 15th century, out-fashioned, Machiavellian approach that made the biggest champions of international human rights in Obama regime assassinate international fugitive Osama bin Laden on May 3, 2011, in Abbotabad, extra-judicially. The Boston police just followed the suit by killing, in an overnight shootout, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of two Chechen brothers suspected for Monday’s deadly Marathon blasts.
It is unclear as to what extent Caesar Borgia of Florence had put into effect the Machiavellian guidelines. One thing, however, can be said with surety that if alive today the Italian political philosopher would have been overwhelmed to see many of his followers sitting at the helm of affairs. Musharraf would be a special pupil to Machiavelli who in his world famous book defines an ideal ‘new prince’ as an “enlightened despot” of an “unmoral” and not immoral type.
The former autocrat’s slogan of “enlightened moderation” whereas still has not set well with the predominantly ideological society of Pakistan, his successor General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, in his recent speech to military cadets at Kakul, has kick-started another intellectual debate by unveiling his own interpretation of the creation of Pakistan that, the army chief said, was “created in the name of Islam and Islam can never be taken out of Pakistan”.
This untimely rhetoric, as critics called it, of General Kayani, whose perceived all-powerful influence in the country’s political affairs makes him a de facto head of the state, seems to have set another theoretical tone for the crises-hit nation state of over 180 million.
So it’s the states, and not individuals, be it Musharraf, Basharul Assad, Saddam Hussain or Kayani for that matter, which require heads of the state to, as Machiavelli put it centuries ago, “sin boldly” to protect interest of the state.
All said and done, the crimes against humanity at the hands of Machiavellian states would go unabated unless the world senses the longstanding and pressing need for making the state humane.
The rulers, while formulating policies, would have to do away with the barbaric Machiavellian thoughts that might have conformed to the political paradigms of 15th century but are completely out of fashion in today’s globalised, pragmatically enlightened and questioning international society.
Or else, awakening societies like Pakistan would continue to witness more trials of these military, as well as civilian, dictators.
The writer is a researcher and a working journalist. He can be contacted at: [email protected]
All parties court their electorate, and minorities are part of the electorate
This month six Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) pipelines were blown up in Balochistan; otherwise, a pipeline has been blown up every month over the past three months, proving that terrorists, like mobs, possess passion, not brains. All told, this society appears to be given up to self destruction, and not only where fuel is concerned; the people of Pakistan themselves, every way you look at them, are destroying themselves.
Pakistan had a diverse ethnic population at the time of Partition. Aside from the mainstream Muslims, Sunni and Shia, Christians, Hindus, Baha’is, Ahmadis, Parsis, and even Jews lived here, and were meant to continue living here. But, like the country’s other resources, these minorities were ill-managed. So, even from among the Muslims who think they have first rights to Pakistan, many Shias, have migrated for reasons of personal security while a merciless genocide is being conducted against the Hazaras. It is a tremendous loss, because like any other resource, diversity fuels progress, and enriches the culture it exists in, as in the US.
On the eve of elections, there has been a predictable escalation of violence. The ANP, PPP and the MQM, considered ‘more secular’ (read ungodly) by terrorist organisations appear to be the favoured targets, along with some independent candidates. A spokesperson of the Tehreek-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan (easier on the tongue when called the TTP, but never easily swallowed), declared his party’s ‘indifference’ to the PTI, PML-N, JI and JUI-F, saying that targeting those others was the decision of his party’s Shura (they love these Arabic terms and use them to label their institutions; others with similar functions are BAD because they have non-Arabic names, such as the dreadful, democratic, secular, satanic parliaments.)
There were about 1,500 Jews in Karachi and Peshawar at the time of Partition, but there is now only a mention of a Pakistani Jew living somewhere in Israel.
Approximately a million Hindus are the largest minority in Pakistan, mostly in Sindh, closely followed by the Christians. There are only about six thousand Pakistani Sikhs.
The former Acting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Rana Bhagwandas, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan Justice A R Cornelius and Cecil Chaudhry, of the Pakistan Air Force, belonged to these communities.
Parsis, never a large community anywhere, number about four thousand, mostly in Karachi, and Lahore. Jamshed Marker represented Pakistan as Ambassador; Byram Avari’s businesses include the Avari hotels. The human rights activist Justice Dorab Patel, another Chief Justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court (really, the Supreme Court of Pakistan wasn’t too bad, once upon a time), and also Bapsi Sidhwa , Ardeshir Cowasjee, Aban Marker Kabraji, writer, columnist and scientist respectively are/were all Parsi.
Apparently 33,000 Baha’i still call themselves Pakistani, and 1,500 Budhists, and in spite of all that they’ve been through in recent years, there are over 125,000 Ahmadi CNIC holders.
Pakistan’s first Foreign Minister Sir Zafrullah Khan, probably the most illustrious Ahmadi, drafted the Pakistan Resolution, which makes the treatment meted out to his fellow community members more ironic, also considering that Prof Abdus Salam, Pakistan’s best known scientist, and the first and only Nobel Laureate was Ahmadi. Pakistan is home to the largest Ahmadiya community, but is also the only country in the world to have officially declared Ahmadis non-Muslims, although demands are growing in Bangladesh to follow suit.
It was reported that Imran Khan’s PTI had reached out to the Ahmadiya community for support in the elections, a report that was denied by a PTI spokesperson with unseemly haste, and public venom against the Ahmadis in comments to the news has to be seen to be believed.
It would have raised the PTI considerably in my opinion if they had accepted this ‘accusation’. All parties court their electorate, and minorities are part of the electorate. But probably such things make the TTP ignore the PTI. Nevertheless, the PTI rally in Karachi has been cancelled, just in case. Interesting, who wields the real power here.
According to Pervez Hoodbhoy, “‘The ‘Islamising’ of Pakistan’s schools began in 1976’ when the government curriculum for Social Studies asked students to ‘acknowledge and identify forces that may be working against Pakistan, and India’s evil designs on Pakistan; to make speeches on jihad, and collect pictures of policemen, soldiers and national guards.’
But where are the lessons of tolerance learnt from that other minority leader, the one who led a party of one and then of just a handful for years in Mecca? We lay terrible deeds to his account, but what of his patience and relations with those who disagreed with him, and his persecution and eventually the Divine verdict against the man and wife who persecuted him and his followers most? Remember Abu Lahab?
The writer is a freelance columnist. Read more by her at http://rabia-ahmed.blogspot.com
Who really is playing that role for Musharraf?
The army chief of Pakistan, accompanied by a general, shouts out at the air traffic controller on October 12, 1999, from the cockpit of the PIA plane he is on board, and orders the CAA regime to sanction an immediate landing of the plane coming home from Sri Lanka.
The plane lands, but only after Jinnah international airport gets taken over by the foot soldiers of Pakistan army, in reaction to the detestable act of not allowing their boss to land in the jurisdiction of a state over whose borders his army mostly enjoys a monopoly of ‘violence’ and pays for the same in blood.
With the army boasting plenty of experience in governing over Pakistan and experiencing no shortage of lawyers and politicians boasting of their aristocratic blood and hence as they reckon, knowledge over everyone else with a pinch of racism, reinforced for themselves by the fact that they are monetarily superior and can woo opportunists towards themselves with fiat currencies and Musharraf being no genius, it was but natural that writing about Mush would not have had been any different.
I hail Musharraf for coming back to Pakistan. His exile was doing more harm to his commando credentials than his return would ever hurt or dent his self esteem. It is being rightly said that Mush is playing in the wrong hands. The tougher things get for him, the more isolation he witnesses from those who clowned around him, enjoying his patronage when he was the most powerful man in and of the polity we call Pakistan.
Article 6 is no joke and I respect it. However, listening and reading dozens of articles hell bent against Mush with an underlying thesis that “it’s great to go around and bad mouth a man when it is in fashion and no one would come and kill you for the same” is ridiculous.
Try Taliban for a change. Try hanging those who kill in the name of religion.
The Lal Masjid episode was the right thing to do and even the Supreme Court judges, inhabitants of Islamabad, would vouch that repercussion of allowing the students to do what they were doing then, would have been a decree for mutating Islamabad into Kabul. Lal Masjid case would not land Mush into legal troubles, nor would Bugti hang Musharraf. BB’s ghost may haunt him.
In a nutshell, the 1999 coup won’t harm him as it was later sanctioned by the Supreme Court and the sanction bears the sign of the current Chief Justice of Pakistan. That’s not a worry of mine for Mush too.
The promulgation of emergency in 2007 naturally attracts the bias of our judiciary and if Mushrraf has got to fend himself against an illegal act of all “illegal” acts, given he enjoyed a general immunity as president, he should immediately show the door to Ahmed Raza Kasuri. Kasuri is no great a brain, let alone an able or an honest lawyer. He is just a below average lawyer who enjoys his status due to unfortunate twists of history in the 70’s. He has been more of a trouble for the country than a good. He treats the judges as paid clerks of a polity of whom he is a delusional royal. He is representing Mush to have his name on the ‘mother of all constitutional cases’ so far. He won’t care if Mush is somehow hanged. He cares for his money and his fame. After Mush escaped the Islamabad High Court that day, something which he was ill advised to do, Kasuri went to the Supreme Court and mocked the judges saying ‘Mush is enjoying cigars and coffee at his farmhouse despite your orders’. The next day the SC orders to lock up Mush in two of the rooms of his huge farm house with the Adialians managing his kitchen.
Moreover, Kasuri should not have blurted “Pandora Box, Pandora Box” in public. The judges know that they are part of the Pandora Box and hence any sane mediator between the ex-general the SC would know that the only “win-win” solution for the two is to burn the case out rather than cover up for one’s legal shallowness by shouting like a rogue on TV with the Supreme Court in the background.
Lastly, Kasuri crying on TV: either he has realised that he cannot go on fooling Musharraf that his lawyer is good for nothing and hence is getting desperate, or if he played a prank, he missed the mark by a mile. Mr Kasuri, why should Mush be allowed to go meet his mother when Mian sahib was not even allowed to attend the last rites of his father and why should Mush be allowed to go when Zardari four days before the death of his mother requested to meet her but was not allowed?
Zardari was allowed to attend the funeral of her mother for two hours though.
What precedents, Mr Kasuri? And as for you, Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf, a man is known by the company he keeps. Wake up. Show the devil’s advocate a door.
THE PPP’s media apparatus has an MQM situation on its hands. You see, the MQM, despite its considerable media management, simply cannot get around a particular problem. That inactionable variable: its leader. Whereas the spin machine operators of other parties work hard to get their leaders some screen time, in the MQM's case, whatever goodwill it tries to cultivate outside its turf dissipates every time the London Nightingale sings his arias on TV. Despite his breathtakingly good looks, the content of Altaf Hussein’s speeches are the sort that could appeal only to those completely and utterly in love with the man. And this demographic is only a sliver of even those who do “vote” for the MQM.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, though not an Altaf, is a bit of a problem in his own right. A recent video of his, where he tries to rally support for the elections, has been shared on the social media by PPP-haters many more times over than the PPP itself. The more people see it, the more they hate the boy, the party and everything they represent, at least to them. The video comes in the so-bad-that-its-good category, which explain its viral nature.
Bilawal does not know how to speak Urdu. At a time when even speaking chaste Urdu, one that does not have the twang of a regional accent, is considered elitist, speaking pidgin Anglicised Urdu with much effort really hits the wrong notes on the populist register.
Bilawal really is a lost opportunity. If his role in life was clear earlier on, which it probably was, there was time to groom him. Sort of like the princes of yore. No, not teach him how to duel with swords but by now, he should have not only been fluent in Urdu but also be able to speak at least two regional languages, Punjabi and Sindhi in his case.
As things stand now, even in the languages he does know how to speak, he probably won’t be able to hold his own in the sort of talk shows where the lesser mortals of his party do battle day in and day out. In fact, in a fair fight, a sub-district president of his PSF would be able to run circles around him.
BUT one thing certainly does rankle. The public has no issues with the Quaid-e-Azam’s speeches. And his Urdu wasn't really in the impeccable region. Bilawal at least does not have anything to say about the language issue. Jinnah was adamant that “Urdu, and only Urdu” should be the national language of the new republic, much to the chagrin of East Pakistanis. It was – some historians argue, if rather simplistically – the beginning of the Bengali freedom struggle.
Why compare Jinnah to Bilawal, you ask? If this is an apples-and-oranges thing, then it should be pointed out that no two leaders are quite the same. But if there are some universal, objective characteristics with which to weigh a prime ministerial candidate and a guy running for the president of a market association in a small city alike, one assumes assessment of language skills is one of these.
Furthermore, if the language issue is so very important to – if one were to surmise from the internet alone – PTI supporters, then, would they grudgingly concede that Asif Zardari has addressed crowds in more languages than their own leader? Would they accept this one positive attribute of the Prince of Evil, the reason why there are earthquakes in the country, President Evil Asif Zardari?
AT the end of the day, however, the PPP is not the MQM. Jiyalas can be critical of the head honcho if they say it to his/her face in private. There isn’t that much of a fear factor here. The boy who would be king could have been told his speech just doesn’t cut it. He was probably forced to record it in the first place. Speech therapy is the order of the day. It just might produce a leader who is not laughable by the time of the election after this one. Which – yes, this will hurt some of you – might belong to the PPP.
Why there is no steam in PPP poll campaign
Of the three mainstream national parties hoping to win enough seats to form a likely coalition, the Pakistan People’s Party is the odd one out. Both the pundits and hoi polloi are baffled at why it has not hit the campaign trail in its signature style.
For the country’s largest — and actually only nationally represented political force in the last parliament — not to even be seen as a contender as if having given up is intriguing to say the least.
The party may be hemmed in by several limitations — losing one prime minister to judicial outreach, and carrying the baggage of his dubious replacement now — but it is highly inconceivable for a student of Pakistani politics to associate electoral surrender with the PPP.
All that we have seen thus far is a squeamish campaign restricted to a few TV adverts and an uninspiring recorded speech of chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, whose body language, just gave the party’s current level of fidgety confidence away.
Even the paid content is mostly driven by negative energy. Leave alone detractors, of which there is no dearth, it makes even loyalists question the protracted state of mourning in whipping up sepia tones of frenzied reaction to Benazir’s assassination.
The unkindest cut of all has been a tribute song, which has been trailed to the disbursement of notorious secret funds, a disclosure of which was made recently in a list handed by the Ministry of Information to the Supreme Court.
Ironically, mournful Benazir eulogies make the spectacular failure of the PPP government led by her widower and President Asif Zardari to bring the culprits to book even more pronounced and painful for jiyalas.
It doesn’t cut ice with either party workers or non-PPP populace that the likes of former interior minister Rehman Malik claimed to know whodunit, but was stopped by the party leadership from making it public. It just might be that the leadership may be underestimating the fury of the average Bhutto loyalist — with elections just 11 days away.
From what one has gathered from several interactions recently, including party sources and independent analysts, the PPP leadership is not unaware of the general discontent with its just ended five-year rule, and knowing the pitfalls of what awaits the next government, may have resigned itself to a stint in the opposition.
The adverts, one has learnt, are not really aimed at general voters or meant as a rallying cry for re-election at the Centre; rather, these are directed at the party cadres in general, and those in Sindh, in particular to secure home turf. The southern province is the only one where the party thinks it has a safe bet despite the convergence of an opposition alliance — and, at least on paper, a clutch of seats in southern Punjab.
To be fair to the PPP, the democratic transition that will hopefully, manifest itself soon in the change of hands from one elected government passing the baton to an interim set-up for onward succession by another elected government, did not come to pass easily.
The last government deserves some credit for staying the course under demanding circumstances — it is hard to conceive, for instance, the PML-N being locked in a maze of four-pronged hostility: from the security establishment, the judiciary, the opposition and the media, not to say highly unreliable partners within the coalition (read MQM) and yet survive the guillotine.
The PPP achieved this and more — whilst looking over their shoulders — to consolidate Project Democracy. The net gain, from the country’s perspective, were constitutional reforms that considerably defanged the security establishment, and have since come to redefine the rules of the game to the benefit of democratic forces.
Where the PPP failed however, and like none else before it, was in good governance — some suggest, not without justification, there was no governance at all — with the result that the average Pakistani has had a miserable time coping with rising inflation, draining energy crisis which has literally, sapped his/her energy, and in a worst case scenario, even food insecurity.
The general decline in the standard of living contrasted with unending stories of massive corruption whose levels rose to abominable proportions in the last days of the government when there was a virtual free-for-all.
Rauf Klasra, a journalist of merit, has gone on record with unchallenged evidence — before PPP parliamentarians in talk shows — about how the last nail was driven in the coffin so-to-speak.
But even if he didn’t, the massive unethical undertakings were visible in how the PM diverted massive funds more than once to his constituency despite there being a bar on doing so by the ECP; the failed attempt to change the CDA chairman to draw huge favours from his blue-eyed replacement; the swift approvals for dozens of CNG stations as well as disbursement of whopping sums to oblige allied MPs; the whimsical transfers and postings to queer the electoral pitch for vested interest and what not.
For a long time now, both friends and foes have acknowledged the sharp survival instincts of President Zardari. He may have been largely “bunkered” but that did not prevent him from “teaching” his rivals political lessons with deft moves they could never have countenanced in their wildest nightmares.
But perhaps, the quota of political tricks is now finally drying up, and the PPP may be reconciled to losing power — perhaps, with the consolation that it will be playing the opposition’s role where it is traditionally, at home.
Agreed nothing can be said with finality in politics, least of all, the Pakistani kind. But even if either of PML-N or PTI does not make a killing on its own, and consequently, the PPP finds itself with a look-in, it would be well advised not to seek shortcuts. For its own survival in the long run there is a dire need for it to dig deep and get its act together — in opposition.
The writer is Editor Pique Magazine based in Islamabad. He can be reached at [email protected]
Who stands where in Elections 2013?
In the run-up to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s (PTI) first jalsa in Lahore, the marketing machinery for PTI went into overdrive to draw analogies between their own event and the All India Muslim League’s general session of 1940, which passed the Lahore Resolution. Held at the same venue that hosted the historical gathering some seventy odd years ago, the most obvious rhetoric used by PTI enthusiasts urged Lahoris to come out and show their support for an event that promised to lay down the foundations for a ‘New Pakistan’ in a manner similar to how the Lahore Resolution sowed the seed for the creation of the ‘original’ Pakistan. The analysis and discussions that followed the October 30, 2011, jalsa, now a historical event in its own right, principally focused on two things; firstly, how Imran Khan had come of age as a leader and a politician and that his party could now prove to be a menacing challenge for the established political powerhouses; and secondly, the significance and importance of Lahore on the political landscape of our country.
It has been over 545 days since that memorable October Sunday when the people of this great city were told to wake up from their slumber and become the catalysts for change themselves. With the polls now only 11 days away, how much of a change can be expected in Lahore?
Lahore boasts 13 seats in the National Assembly of Pakistan. The 2008 Elections resulted in two seats for Pakistan Peoples Party-Parliamentarians (PPP-P) (NA-129 and NA-130) and a whopping 11 for Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Obviously, the circumstances are different today from what we had five years ago; Imran Khan, who was a political lightweight at that time, and other usual contenders from Lahore (most notably the Jamaat-e-Islami) boycotted the last polls in protest and the PML-N cashed in on the support for its pro-judiciary stance. Even if Mr Khan and Co had participated in the 2008 polls, the only possible difference in outcome would have been that PPP would have won one more seat from Lahore in the form of Mr Aitzaz Ahsan who himself had to give up the chance to defend his seat from NA-124 because of his leading role in the Lawyers’ Movement. Today, however, PTI seems to have some momentum going into the polls with their promise of change and accountability apparently hitting the right notes with all those who either want someone new or are new to the electoral process themselves. We hear that there will be 30 to 40 million new voters all across Pakistan going to the polls this May. It is these very individuals that PTI seems to be banking on. But how much will this help them make an impact in Lahore? Unfortunately for PTI supporters, very little. What the supporters and strategists of PTI need to realise is that while they may have tremendous passion and fervor for their party’s cause and a second to none social-media presence, the ground reality is that they severely lack the electoral machinery the likes of which PML-N has at its disposal in Lahore.
Another reason which leads one to believe that the PML-N might still walk away with the lion’s share of the seats in Lahore is that the balance of the direct head-to-head battles between the candidates heavily tilts in PML-N’s favour, much to the dismay of a PML-N critic like myself. Granted that PTI candidates plan on riding on Imran Khan’s coat-tails but we still need to assess the individual candidates trying their luck and it is this assessment that leads one to believe that PTI has stronger candidates in the rest of Punjab than in Lahore. It is safe to assume that both Mian Nawaz Sharif (NA-120) and Hamza Shahbaz Sharif (NA-119) should have no problem disposing off comparatively light candidates in the form of Dr Yasmeen Rashid and Mohammad Madni respectively. I do not mean any disrespect to the honourable doctor but she would have stood a much better chance against any other candidate or from any other constituency while Hamza Shahbaz should face more competition from Malik Suhail (PPP) than Madni.
Mian Shahbaz Sharif plans on throwing a monkey wrench into the plans of Advocate Tariq Shabbir Mayo of PPP from NA-129 who won the 2008 elections largely because of his fellow cast members. PTI, however, will be more conspicuous by first failing to nominate a candidate to contest against the former chief minister as per earlier reports only to later throw their weight behind Mansha Sindhu. NA-118 would also become a duel between the incumbent Malik Riaz of PML-N and Faraz Hashmi from PPP who plans on cashing in on his father’s reputation and social work in the area. It would be fair to say that the PTI candidate Hamid Zaman faces an uphill task to make a dent in the polls and is the rank outsider here.
Similarly, PTI hopefuls will struggle to win against other strong PML-N candidates who are generally well-liked in their constituencies or have strong mechanisms to ensure they don’t lose their existing vote bank such as Malik Pervez (NA-123), Kh Saad Rafique (NA-125), former Anarkali Nazim Waheed Alam Khan (NA-127) and Mohammad Afzal Khokhar (NA-128). It would also take a herculean effort on the part of Talib Sindhu to displace Samina Ghurki from NA-130, the sole guarantee of a seat for PPP in Lahore. NA-121 promises to be an interesting contest for the heavy Arain vote in the constituency where PTI’s young Hammad Azhar, son of former Governor Punjab Mian Azhar, should be a tough match for Mehar Ishtiaq Ahmed of PML-N who is taking a step up from being an MPA from the area. Imran Khan himself should trump Sardar Ayaz Sadiq from NA-122 on paper at least. Even though the latter enjoys staunch supporters in this constituency but if Imran Khan struggles to win his own seat then there really isn’t much hope for the rest of the party in the capital of Punjab.
This leaves NA-124 and NA-126 up for grabs. Aitzaz Ahsan’s boycott of the last polls hugely benefitted Sheikh Rohale Asghar who got elected from NA-124 and also helped him to establish a footing in a constituency which has never been one party’s stronghold. However, alarmingly poor performance and failure on the part of Mr Asghar to tend to his constituents give hope to Mrs Bushra Aitzaz Ahsan of PPP to pip him to the seat. Allama Iqbal’s grandson and fellow Penn alumnus Mr Walid Iqbal is PTI’s candidate in the area who just started campaigning this last week and may be a little late to the party. NA-126, the most literate and well-off constituency of the city which on paper should be a cinch for PTI as per the general perception, too shall produce a fascinating battle. Had Imran Khan himself contested from this area, it would have been a walk in the park for him. Withdrawal of his own nomination papers will make it tougher for PTI’s nominee Mr Shafqat Mahmood, who will be up against Khwaja Ahmad Hassan (PML-N) and Liaquat Baloch (JI). While the heart may want PTI’s candidate to win from here, I won’t be surprised even if any of the other two candidates wins from here as Mr Baloch too seeks to retake the seat he has held in the past.
Three words are enough to explain PPP’s detailed position in Lahore; they have none. It must be extremely painful for a die-hard Lahori ‘jiyala’ to see his city not getting the same attention from the PPP high-ups as it used to. Lahore once boasted names such as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto on its ballot-papers. This time around, with the exception of above-mentioned ladies in NA-124 and NA-130, it appears that the PPP is content to fold their hands pre-flop.
The writer is an advocate of the high courts, a guidance and career counselor and a public-speaking coach. The views expressed in the opinion are his own.
Understanding the intents and interests
Another round of trilateral meetings between Afghanistan, Pakistan and US have started. After the latest get together in Brussels last Wednesday, John Kerry commented, “It’s fair to say that there is a good feeling among all of us that we made progress in this dialogue. But we have all agreed that results are what will tell the story, not statements at a press conference.”
Speaking to the media a day earlier, Kerry had reiterated the future US role: “The mission (of US) will be to support, advise and train the Afghan military on an ongoing basis as well as to engage in counterterrorism activity.”
The success of this mission is dependent on good ties between Karzai and Islamabad, to jointly keep a tab on the extremists. The challenge being, ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan keep swinging between amicable to really tense, and Karzai’s relations with US are faced with pretty much the same unpredictability.
The truth is that the regional approach to Afghan conflict has now morphed into a global one. And too many cooks is a recipe for failure. For example, in addition to the three core parties, discussions on Afghanistan have also recently taken pace between Pakistan, India, China and Russia. The most interesting track being the India-China bilateral discussions. The latest round was held on April 18th, which stressed, “working with regional countries and the international community to help Afghanistan achieve objectives of peace and stability, independence and development”.
To think that Russia, China and India are simply trying to help the international community, or NATO more precisely, would be naïve. The correct wording is perhaps that they are seeking to protect their own interests in Afghanistan that may or may not rhyme with the other players.
At a fundamental level, even the interests of the three principals are still misaligned. On the one hand, Karzai keeps blaming US for civilian deaths, but on the other hand, the country wants NATO forces to stay longer. Every time Afghan Security Forces are criticised for poor performance, the nation starts blaming Pakistan. In fact, there is a danger the border skirmishes between the two countries may transform into something larger, especially if Karzai decides to exploit the nationalistic sentiments. Until these incongruities are addressed, progress will be hard to come by, and no matter how many players are involved, finding a common ground will be difficult.
The basic question is what the Afghan government would gain from a speedy reconciliation. The answer is not much. While the US is striving for a quick withdrawal from Afghanistan, this will put the onus of fighting on the Afghan Security Forces. Despite the hype, doubts about the fighting capabilities of Afghan forces on its own persist. Its commitment to carry on the fight against Taliban will really be tested once NATO forces leave. The interests of Karzai government are best served by keeping NATO forces engaged while stoking up nationalism, and blaming US and Pakistan for what ails the country.
While Afghanistan has generally projected Pakistan as the villain in the whole affair, the longer the conflict sticks around, the steeper the price for its neighbour. Accelerated political reconciliation in Afghanistan will have a direct impact on improving the security and economic situation of the country, including regional trade. In this, the US and Pakistan’s interests are more aligned.
As the reconciliation process drags on, the responsibility for bringing the Afghan Taliban to the table may squarely fall on the shoulders of Pakistan, if it has not already, while it is also being blamed for maintaining ties with them. On the other hand, Pakistani officials have repeatedly claimed that while it can assist in bringing various warring Taliban factions to the table, the country cannot ensure a certain outcome. The challenge boils down to if Afghan Taliban think they are wining, why would they want to reconcile with Karzai, or listen to Pakistan for that matter?
As far as Afghan Taliban are concerned, they have questioned the credibility of the Karzai government, claiming it to be a puppet of the West. At least publicly, the Taliban have even refused to talk with Karzai, who wants to control the political talks. President Karzai has also accused US of holding direct talks with Taliban, while keeping him in the dark. Furthermore, while Afghan government is insisting on keeping some level of US and NATO presence in Afghanistan, the Taliban want a complete withdrawal of foreign forces.
This raises the most elementary question of all: who has the upper hand? The answer to this query is linked with the reasons why the principals to the conflict decided to seek a political solution. The anomaly being the military campaign to resolve the conflict has continued as well.
Big powers have global repute to protect. Accepting weakness or failure in one part of the world has direct implication for interests in other regions. This particular aspect has created unique challenges for both NATO and US. In addition, the assessment of Afghan policy has included what is achievable and what goals are simply beyond reach. The war there has dragged on for too long, at a huge cost, and it is simply not possible economically to continue the course.
While Afghan Taliban have been difficult to manage, reports suggest the threat from Al-Qaeda, in this part of the region, has been contained for the most part. This premise provides the basis for an exit strategy.
Ironically, the Afghan government may only get serious about reconciliation, if US sticks to its timeline for withdrawal. Jumpstarting the political talks may require a temporary cessation of a military campaign; with the commitment that Taliban will enter a serious dialogue with the Afghan government. The stipulation of removing foreign forces could be conditioned to Taliban terminating ties with Al-Qaeda, agreeing not to attack Afghan and coalition forces, and respect other international human right conventions. In other words, an interim peace accord leading to a permanent cessation.
The writer is chief analyst at PoliTact, a Washington based futurist advisory firm (www.PoliTact.com and http:twitter.com/politact) and can be reached at [email protected]