Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bhutto's assassination: who were the Brutuses and Mark Antonyes?

Ever since I have heard the news of late Ms. Bhutto's assassination, I have been puzzled as to why in the world she would expose herself to danger by coming out of the roof of her vehicle? This is a million and a half dollar question.

BB understood the risks. She understood the danger and she took all the precautions. She was not naive, she was intelligent. How could she be so naive to fall victim to such an amateurish plot to assassinate her?

The plot was quite simple as it appears from the media reports: make her feel good by a successful day, relax her, let her come out of the rally feeling relieved, stop her by gathering pretending PPP workers pleading for her to come out of the car, and if she comes out attack her.

The question is: was there a Brutus within her vehicle who convinced or urged a reluctant and fearful Bhutto to stand up in the vehicle?

I am willing to bet my life that there was.

So who was it?

We know who were in the car: Naheed Khan, Amin Fahim, a security expert and the driver?

So who was it? Who took Caesar to his death? There are witnesses. We can ask them. Who was susceptible to the lure and greed for money and power? What conversation took place in the vehicle before Bhutto stood up?

Brutus might have thought that he or she will be the beneficiary of Caesar's death, but not to be and Mark Antony took the benefit. Will our Brutus meet the same fate? I guess he or she will.

The Mark Antony will emerge soon. Make a speech of a demagogue and then lead the PPP to the elections.

Will the masses accept that that non-royal Mark Antony as their new leader is a moot question.

I have my doubts.

The royals are well advised to take care!

Friday, December 28, 2007

The King is dead, long live the King: Do not boycott or cancel the elections

In the history of nations there are some defining moments. The murder of Ms. Benazir Bhutto has landed us at one! With her murder, we as a nation have been shocked to our core. We have been through the worst of times. Now, my dear friends is the test of our steadfastness and resolve. Humans no matter whom are mortal. Leaders come and go. The test of the nation is how they survive their departures.

There will be those who will advocate the boycotting or the postponement of the January elections as a protest against the assassination of Ms. Bhutto. That will be a folly.

We must hold the elections and let the system work. Let us put our trust in the people in this grave crisis.

If there are elections' boycott or if the elections are postponed then it will only create opportunities for more chaos and allow the powers that be to fuel the fire even more.

Lets hold our nerve and do the unthinkable. Lets have the elections. The PPP knows what its leader stood for. Her policies and priorities are all known. They should immediately elect a new leader and contest the elections on the agenda set by their ex-leader.

The PPP has done its homework and is ready. It was BB's decision to contest the elections. Even she would not have allowed her party to boycott the elections. Let us honour her memory by taking part in her most cherished ideal, namely the political process.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Should we mourn Shaukat Aziz?

It has become fashionable to discredit the Ex-PM Shaukat Aziz and his policies. Towards the end of his tenure he was accused of being the central player in all the scandals that hit the Federal and Provincial governments. These accusations included, inter alia:

(1) the privatisation of the steel mill;
(2) the stock market crashes;
(3) the flour prices;
(4) the judicial crisis;
(5) the sugar scandal;
(6) the cement prices rise; and
(7) the backing of the highly profitable banking cartels.

Now those who understand economics know that all the above economic issues are linked with world economy, rise in energy cost, the fast pace of development, the increase in money supply and the principle of the demand and supply. And, for those who understand politics, it is clear that the Shaukat Aziz was made a scapegoat in the judicial crises. He did not benefit an iota from the judicial crises.

It seems there was a character assassination campaign against him. Perhaps it was his own party leaders which wanted him to be discredited and thus replacing him with one of their kin.

Thus, no one, is speaking of his merits. The recovery of economy and the increase in the pace of development, the emergence of a strong banking sector, independence of regulatory authorities, the rise in the investment in stocks and the real sector, low interest rates (in the early part of his tenure as finance minister), the privatisation of poor performing government owned industrial and service sector units and the rest are not mentioned to the credit of our banker-Prime Minister. And if any credit is due, it is either taken by the President Musharraf or the consequences of the 9/11.

At the time of his swearing in as the Prime Minister, I welcomed it and termed it as a best thing that could have happened to Pakistan in the given circumstances. Shaukat Aziz was educated, civilised, rational, without any misplaced ego clothed as political agenda, without any notion of vendetta, without any taste for the politics of thana and kutchery, without a flair for demagogy, credible, honest, upright, and above all competent.

He presided over Pakistan's best economic period. He presided over the most politically stable period in recent history. He took the insults and the blames, where they were not due. He kept his cool amidst all the crises and conspiracies. He gave the people the economic power. With the improvements in banking and availability of the credit to all the ex-PM brought about a small revolution for the would be entrepreneurs. His legacy is credibility, a robust economy and rationality in politics.

Given the current contenders for the slot of Prime Minister, I mourn for the departure of Shaukat Aziz. With him goes rationality, civilised manners, enlightened economic management, out of the window.

The PML(Q) has a made a colossal mistake in giving short shrift to the their previous Prime Minister. If anyone was believable amongst them, it was Shaukat Aziz. He was someone that could be trusted by the voters. It was his right to lead the PML(Q) in the 2008 elections on the basis of his management and performance.

All the good done in the last eight years was represented by the person of Shaukat Aziz. His departure and absence from the political scene should be mourned by all of us. He was without doubt the most successful Prime Minister of Pakistan.

It is unfortunate that the ruthless politics and his gentlemanly behaviour have taken its toll and I am sure the Pakistanis will suffer by his absence.

I have one message for Shaukat Aziz: do not leave the field of politics, there is a place for civility, rationality, integrity, honesty and above all credibility!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Attack on Benazir Bhutto: setting the 'agenda'?

The attack on Ms. Bhutto may be an attempt to set the agenda for the new government that she is expected to form. It will be unfortunate for the masses if her pro-people agenda is hijacked by the so called war on terror!

There is a trend in the world wherein the newly elected governments or the parties and persons expected to form new governments are targeted through bombs or other violent means. Following are some of the examples:

(1) Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz was attacked in Attock by a suicide bomber when he was all set to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

(2) Madrid train bombings in Spain coincided with the expected victory of the socialist protagonists.

(3) British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was welcomed by the attempted bombings in London's heart and the Glasgow Airport.

(4) President Musharraf was attacked twice in December 2003 just a few days before he was to reach an agreement with the opposition parties over the Seventeenth Constitutional amendment and was to become a more secure president.

One can add to this list the 9/11 attacks in the incumbency of a new American president who was yet to set his agenda!

It seems that the powers that be intentionally or unintentionally goad the new and the expected new governments towards a tough policy against the Islamic militants by influencing their thought processes through violent spectacles.

The attack on Ms. Bhutto should be seen in this light. Reportedly, Ms. Bhutto had unemployment, inflation, education and other social issues has her priorities. She was to become the 'nurturer in chief'. The attack on her may change all that. She may now rethink are priorities and may be goaded to the tough stand against the insurgency in the Tribal belt. I am sure Ms. Bhutto will see through the smoke and keep her priorities intact. However, the danger will then remain of more attacks to force her to change her policies and priorities.

If Ms. Bhutto does form the new government and her policies are affected by the bombing incidents on 19 October 2007 then she will be playing into the hands of those who carried out or prompted these incidents.

It is said the socialist movements were hijacked by nationalism in early twentieth century. Are we seeing hijacking of pro-people policies by the so called 'war on terror'?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Partition of Iraq

There are many parallels between the present circumstances in Iraq and the circumstances that led to the partition of the sub-continent in 1947 and of Pakistan in 1971. Just to cite a few example consider the following:

(1) In all three instances different sub-nations were or are present to challenge the one nation notion.

(2) After the 1937 elections the Hindu dominated Congress Party formed the governments in many provinces of India and their working was such that it alienated the Muslims to an extent that they were ready to accept the idea of Pakistan. In Pakistan, the West Pakistani dominated central government ignored the sentiments of the Bengalis for too long which resulted in their going their own way. In Iraq, the Shia dominated central government has not done anything or shown its willingness to do anything to win over the Sunnis. On the contrary by making decisions such as the execution of Saddam Hussein, it is sowing the seeds of separatism in the Sunnis. The Kurds had already been alienated from the idea of Iraq by the brutality of the Saddam regime against them.

(3) In both the earlier cases, the partitions were preceded by mass violence. Iraq is also immersed in violence.

(4) Furthermore, both in the partition of 1947 there was and in the case of Iraq there is, a foreign power which did or which can decide to divide the country. In the 1971 case, there was also a foreign power in the shape of India backed up by the Soviet Union which could and indeed did "facilitate" the division.

With these striking parallels, the question arises that will the Iraq head in the same direction which became the fate accompli of the united India and of Pakistan?

Or rather, is the solution to the violence in Iraq the same that brought peace to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, namely, its partition?

To answer the first question one will have to conjecture and all that can be said is that the circumstances are ripe for another partition whether or not that will happen will depend on the intentions and effectiveness of the incumbent regime and perhaps to an extent on the international circumstances including the choice of the United States between the unity or the partition of Iraq.

The fundamental question is though that should Iraq be divided until the Iraqis that is to say the Shias, the Sunnis, and the Kurds, can and are willing to live together as one nation? The answer to such question has to be yes. Partitions brought peace to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It met the desires of the sub-nations for self-preservation and national self-determination. The partitioned countries are key members of world community and can concentrate on their development rather than be kept embroiled in a fatal struggle for their survival. All these advantages can be obtained by partitioning Iraq at least as a loose confedration if not as independent countries of the Iraqi Shias, Sunnis and Kurds.

The partition of Iraq may also help to stabilise the Middle East. Turkey should be happy with a Kurd State as it will solve the Kurdish question in that the Kurds will have a country of their own and their demand for a separate country of their own from the territories of Turkey will weaken if not die down. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will be more than happy to see buffer states of the Sunnis, Kurds and Shias between itself and Iran and so will Israel. In addition, Israel will be relieved to see the end of one of the main threat to its survival. Iran will also welcome a Shia neighbouring country which in addition to being Shia can act as buffer state between it and the hostile Sunni rivals.

There is only one argument in favour of Iraq?s unity and that is of the perpetuation of a historical accident by which Iraq became one country in its present form. Surely, the advantages of partition far outweigh the arguments against.

As the both Quaids, Pakistan has been bestowed with realised, that it is better to part ways at least until such time that the people can learn to and are willing to live as one when unity means anarchy and perpetual violence, so should the Iraqi sub-nations go their own way until they want to live together by choice and not by virtue of some historical accident.

Three stable countries are far better than one unstable country. Stability in the territories now comprising Iraq will mean a stable Middle East which will in turn mean a stable and safer world for all.

(The article was written in July 2006)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Freedom's Cry in Pakistan?

There is a debate taking place in Pakistan as to whether our current civil strife is foreign sponsored or homegrown. In the lines below, I argue that it may be both, in that, human yearning for freedom and our habit of authoritarianism are pulling us in different directions. And those two ideas are epitomised by the American and the Chinese cultures, respectively. We will reach an equilibrium sooner or later but at what cost will depend upon our choice of weapon i.e. brute physical force or reason and argument!


Engineer Gulbadin Hekmatyar has stated that the USA wants Pakistan to have the same fate as Iraq and Afghanistan and hence it is fuelling the insurgency in the Tribal Area on the one hand and 'encouraging' the Pakistani forces to take tougher actions on the other hand!

On reading or rather hearing the above statement on television my mind was cast back to the history of the Second World War. Apparently, the Nazi Germany was ready to concede defeat with some face saving far earlier than when it actually was allowed. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (of whom I am a great admirer) on learning the news of the potential surrender convinced the Allies that no surrender should be accepted until the complete and utter defeat of the Nazi Germany. Now that may have been well intentioned but the result was that all the great powers of that time, except the USA, were aghast and completely ruined by the time the complete victory came. That made it easier for the USA to assume the leadership of the world affairs.

The point is that whether or not the USA intended to weaken its allies, its policies did have that effect. It seems that the USA has a tendency to overkill. But because it is placed at a safe distant from the rest of the world, the consequences of the overkill are faced by the more proximate and unfortunate populations!

Without questioning the intentions of the USA in demanding from the Pakistani government to do more, we must stop to ponder if and when we reach the complete victory in our Tribal Areas, what price we would have paid by then? Will we have been weakened to a point that we will not be able to survive, hold our country together or unable to ward-off any foreign aggression? Whether the bitter memories between the tribals and the rest of us go away for generations?

We must also stop to ponder whether the protagonists of our internal strife, in the form of anti-Musharraf movement and his stubborn stance to hang on to power, are being egged on by their own convictions or by those who want the matters to worsen? By encouraging the so called 'democratic' lawyers, PML(N), MMA and PTI to stop at nothing short of the removal General Musharraf from power, and at the same time telling General Musharraf that he and his uniform are indispensable for Pakistan and his opponents are foreign stooges, the nature or the powers that be are leading us to internal weakness and chaos? Both factions sincerely believing that the other is deliberately acting contrary to national interest on foreign instructions, it will be impossible for them to compromise and they will continue to fight until the very arena they are fighting in or for will be shaken to its core or one of them is no more! This explains the harshness of the government in subduing its critics as government considers them to be 'traitors' and vice versa.

Now, it is this context, which rationalises and explains the politics of Ms. Benazir Bhutto recently. It is not about her but about national interest. This also explains the glaring political mistake in the propaganda war that she has made: believing her purpose to be pure and of high moral substance, Ms. Bhutto instead of reaching an agreement with General Musharraf through a scapegoat, and sacking and blaming that scapegoat for the alleged sell-out while also taking advantage of that agreement, she took it upon herself to take the credit and the blame! Call it naivety? The realists of the right wing are taking full advantage of this mispolitication!

Freedom's arguments:

Now it can be argued that the dictators always hide behind national interest to prolong their stay in power and General Musharraf is doing the same and all this talk of internal strife is government propaganda. May be, but what options does the opposition have? It is clear that the political change in our country will not come about through political or legal process. It will come when General Musharraf thinks that it is time to go. Any other option to force him out of power will run the risk of rocking the ship. To this the revolutionaries will argue that since we are going to be suffocated in the dungeons of this ship, it may as well sink, that will at least free us to take our own chances and become masters of our own destiny, in life and in death!

My dear readers, the arguments on both sides are persuasive and I am, for now, leaving it open to conclusion! But beware!

An after thought, the Polish when shrugging of the communist regime at the end of the cold war were asked that why are they risking assured bread and butter for a risky capitalism? Their answer was freedom, economic and political. They wanted to make their own choices rightly or wrongly. Human spirit yearns for freedom.

Perhaps it is not the foreign hands, but our own home grown desire to be free, to be free to experiment, to take charge of our own lives, deaths and destiny, free to be a proud Baloch, a proud Pushtun or a proud Urdu speaking person, to have it our own way, rightly or wrongly that is at the heart of our present strife.

May be it is our primordial urge to compete with others. I suspect that is. That is what differentiates us Pakistanis from the other authoritarian societies of Asia. We do not enjoy others having authority over us. We are more egalitarian and perhaps that is why we shunned our old faiths in favour of Islam as it 'promised' more freedom. Actually, we are more Americans than Chinese and those two nations need not be egging us on, we ourselves are being pulled in two different directions by historical and civilisational forces that stem from something deep within all of us: General Musharraf's harmony is facing resistance from the Baloch, the Pushtun, the Sindhi and the Punjabi egos. They say you can have harmony with our consent but that will be a different harmony from your own notion of it, or you can have your harmony over our dead bodies.

In the final conclusion for this post, for now, it seems that the two civilisational forces of freedom and authoritarianism, manifesting themselves in our times in the forms of the USA and China, are pulling us in opposite directions. Sooner or later an equilibrium will be reached. The stronger idea will win and thus we can hope there is nothing to fear! The march of civilisation will continue, we being its fuel.

Deception of Middle Classes:

An afterthought, the final point should be that why we have to resort to physical force to reach a civilisational equilibrium, can we not argue our way to that position. Let reason and argument be our weapons of choice?

The fact that the reason and argument failed in the face of brute physical force in our recent past has made the nation and especially the middle classes despondent. The fact that the house of reason i.e. the court is still under and weaker to the gun is irritating because it means you cannot 'safely' bring about a change, you will have to up the ante! The middle class will have to adopt the risk taking traits of the lower and the upper classes and by doing so they will have to say farewell to the middle class morality and decency. Unless of course our middle class
General realises that by winning through the gun, he is only beating his own class! It is a first when a middle class protagonist has deceived and beaten his own class. Mao deceived his own upper class, Bhutto deceived the lower class (as is alleged but I am not sure) and our General has deceived the middle class! I am sure he did not want to but he had to! Nixon had tried it but had failed!

Political Insurgencies: Causes and Remedies

The political theorists and others hold that an unrepresentative government which does not pay heed to the aspirations of the general population is inherently unstable and risks agitation, political strife and the use of violence to achieve political goals. Many examples are cited as proof of this theory. These include the conflicts in Kashmir, Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq.

There is, however, evidence to the contrary as well to negate this theory.

For instance, based on the above theory, many writers and thinkers have been predicting an uprising or political instability in Pakistan. These writers emphasise that General Musharraf’s government is unrepresentative in essence and its policies are not in accordance with the aspirations of the majority of the populace. These predictions have proved right, as one gathers from the news reports, in parts of the Tribal Areas and of Balochistan. However, the said predictions have failed as far as other areas of the country are concerned. Furthermore, there are other counties of the world where the governments are prima facie unrepresentative in so far as they are un-elected but there are no visible or at least no unbearable political insurgencies in those countries. These include most of the Middle Eastern Kingdoms and some other second and third world countries.

The above observations leave one to conclude that that there is something amiss in the theory because not all unrepresentative governments face political strife and insurgencies.

By comparing the prevalent conditions in the two sets of countries, one can come up with the following three general statements to qualify the above-mentioned theory.

(1) That the political strife, agitation and violence are generally a law and order situation and even an un-representative but talented and effective government can control.

(2) That the people generally tolerate unrepresentative and authoritarian governments in order to avoid risking anarchy as a result of their retaliation unless the governments are so alien and brutal that the people take that risk. In other words, people rise when it becomes rational for them to risk their life, limb and property because the alternative is just as bad if not worse.

(3) That there has to be a powerful enough protagonist (often a powerful foreign country) which can fuel and exploit the sentiments against the un-representative government and supply the political activists with, inter alia, violent ideas, weapons, logistical and financial support to carry on an insurgency against the government.

Now in case of Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir and Palestine all three factors are self-evidently present. However, these factors or at least all of them are not present in Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and in the countries with un-representative governments but which are relatively stable. The conformity of these examples with the qualifications cited above is a general proof of their correctness.

In my humble opinion, there may be policy lessons for the governments dealing with political insurgencies in their countries:

Firstly, the governments should put talented and effective people in charge of the political and the law and order situation.

Secondly, there should be a peace dividend. That is to say that the governments should avoid being unjust or brutal so that people have an incentive to tolerate them.

Thirdly, the governments should either reach an understating with the foreign power involved or limit its influence through other means.

In the case of Balochistan and our Tribal Areas, General Musharraf may start by asking:

(1) Are there effective and talented people in-charge of the situation?

(2) Are the policies of the government so brutal and against the general genre of the populace that the people prefer insurgency to get rid of the government by risking everything as they perceive the alternative to be just as bad if not worse? Incidents such as killing of Mr. Akbar Bugti and that of Bajaur can exasperate the situation rather than remedying it.

(3) Are there any foreign powers involved in exploiting the situation? In the case of both Balochistan and the Tribal Areas, there have been rumours of such exploitation and that should be dealt with. It may appear on surface that no country has an incentive in exploiting the situation in those areas. However, a deeper analysis will, I suspect, bring up few names which can help the government change its policies accordingly. The foreign exploitation and involvement in the insurgency in Balochistan and the Tribal Areas is the most important but the least debated issue and must be looked into without more ado.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the USA and the allies should also think about the talents and the effectiveness of the incumbent regimes. They should also create credible and large enough incentives for the people to prefer peace and incumbency of regimes over anarchy. In other words, the regimes should avoid using excessive force and violence to enforce their writ.

Israeli government, which has made life so brutal and harsh for the Palestinians that they consider that they have no option but to fight and defeat Israelis to survive, should reduce the brutality from its policies and cultivate a credible policy of peace dividends. The Palestinians must not fear for physical, cultural and economic survival with Israel as their neighbour or as the hegemonic power in the region.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Breakdown of Judicial, Military and Landlord Nexus

Pakistan from its inception had been held together by, inter alia, a nexus between the judiciary, the military, the industrial elite and the landlords. The connections amongst them helped stabilize Pakistan even in times of greatest perils. Thus, constitution or no constitution, democracy or martial law, Pakistan survived and continued to exist largely due to this nexus.

Even before the formation of Pakistan and since then this nexus played an important role in the formation and functioning of all governments except perhaps in Nawaz Sharif’s second tenure. Thus, when General Pervez Musharraf overthrew Nawaz Sharif as the Prime Minister in 1999, he received tacit support from the parties to this nexus. The relatively stable period that Musharaf government enjoyed until 8 March 2007 was largely because of this support.

However, ever since the ouster of Mr. Jamali as the Prime Minister the signs started to emerge that Mr. Musharaf was ready to compromise the delicate balance which sustained the nexus between the landlords and the military. The landlord class started to see compromises over its interests in form of land mafias, imposition of Capital Value Tax on all things land, the dismissive attitude of the President and the 'banker' Prime Minister towards them and finally the imposition of the MQM in Punjab. The distasteful killing of Mr. Bugti sent a clear message that nothing was sacred to this government and the perceptions of Pakistan's national interest in the heads of Messers Musharaf and Aziz were to over ride the individual interests of the Pakistanis no matter whom.

Now, it must be remembered thatu the top judicial and military officers have close connections with the landed classes. Alarm bells were ringing in these circles as the news started to circulate firstly about the policies of encouraging corporate farming and secondly that the government was ready to compulsorily acquire land in order to sell the same to commercial interests at a fraction of a price in the name of economic development.

In fact, the whole of the Pakistan appeared to be on sale to the so called multinationals be those be the oil rich Arabs, the influential Chinese or anyone with some dimes in their pockets.

It was in this backdrop that the decision of the Supreme Court against the privatization of Pakistan Steel Mills came and challenged the government.

The present judicial crisis must be seen in the above context. The Chief Justice comes from the heartland of Punjab although he practiced in Balochistan. His family has an agricultural background. A large part of his supporters stem from the same background.

Thus, the current agitation by the lawyers is not surprising at all. Though what is surprising is the silence from the other two elements of said nexus.

Why is Pakistan’s old guard silent is anyone’s guess. But it is certain that it will not be silent for long. Meer Zafarullah Khan Jamali’s formation of a new party and its support by Pir Pagaro are very significant. Also significant is the President’s vehement endorsement of Legaharis and his meeting with Pir Pagaro. Perhaps he too has realized that the nexus must be sustained in order for him to survive in the power.

The old guard is shaking and so is Pakistan. Perhaps it is time to trust and show some respect to the Natives and their interests!

(This article was written in June 2007)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Forthcoming elections: abuse of governments funds and discretions

The incumbent governments always abuse their powers to influence the elections to the disadvantage of the candidates who do not have its backing.

These include: the disbursement of the public funds just weeks before the elections; abuse of the discretion in transfers and postings for putting the "right officials" at the "right places"; awards of government contracts to contractors who can promise a certain number of votes; undertaking new development works and accelerating the existing ones; abuse of police to harass the opponents and reward the supporters; abuse of police, revenue workers and officers and other lowly governments officials for "arranging the transport" before and on the election day and to attend the political rallies of the government candidates to show strength; abusing the "rightly placed" officials to get the ballot papers prior to the election day and to use these officials for looking the other way when those ballot papers are being put in the ballot boxes. The list of the abuse of the governmental powers is far too long to be listed.

Keeping up with these traditions the Chief Minister of the Punjab has announced a package of Rs. 3.5 billions for the teachers in his province. I am glad for the teachers and would like to give the benefit of the doubt to the cheif minsiter, but the teachers are the most important officials on the election day and can easily influence the elections. Should this package be allowed to beannounced at this time? Prior to that there were rumours that the son of the same chief minister had decided to run from a certain constituency in Lahore. He forced on the constituency a new underpass although none was urjently needed and having seen the Northern By-pass bridge collapse, God help the users of that underpass once it opens as haste makes waste.

There are a countless examples of the said abuses all over the country. One can hope that the Honourable Chief Justices of Pakistan and the Lahore High Court, the Chief Election Commissioner and other concerned upholders of the law and morals will put a stop on the abuse of government powers immediately. This should, inter alia, include: a ban on transfers and posting immediately, no new announcements of any projects or disbursement of public funds without the prior approval of the Honourable High Courts; equal TV and radio time for the candidates on government channels; and the free availability of transport on the election day for all voters by the election commission.

Monday, August 13, 2007

USA-Pakistan relations: 1960s revisited?

The recent tension in the US-Pakistan relations can be detrimental to Pakistan. Pakistani policy makers should not allow US-Indian strategic relationship to dictate its foreign policy.

The early 1960s saw a deterioration in US-Pakistan relations. This coincided with John F. Kennedy becoming the US President. Mr. Kennedy had a soft corner for India and wanted to make India the strategic partner of the US in the region. The US rapprochement with India was seen in Pakistan as a betrayal as the Pakistani establishment believed in a zero-sum game at that time vis-à-vis Pakistan i.e. one’s gain was perceived to be other’s loss. The change in US policy also hurt Pakistan as it had allied itself totally with the US in its cold war against the Soviet Union. Pakistan had joined Baghdad Pact, SEATO and CENTO and had risked USSR’s wrath as opposed to India which in Pakistani establishments view was only non-allied on surface and was indeed in Soviet camp.

The Kennedy administration’s tilt towards India resulted in a far-reaching change in Pakistan’s foreign policy. Pakistanis felt cheated and frustrated at the change of mode in Washington. In a series of reactions the Pakistani establishment made important decisions including to bolster its ties with China and later on to take on India in the 1965. It will be worthwhile to undertake a cost-benefit analysis of those reactionary decisions. Here it will suffice to say that Pakistan was wrong to allow Mr. Kennedy’s sympathetic approach towards India, which was against the grain of the US foreign policy, to dictate its foreign policy. At that time the correct approach would have been to see through the Kennedy anomaly in the US foreign policy. However, Pakistan being a new state its leadership can be forgiven for taking a myopic view of the situation. It’s a moot question that whether or not Pakistan could have benefited like Western Europe, Japan and South Korea if it had resisted the temptation to react to the American fling with India.

We are once again at similar crossroads: The USA is once again having a fling with the Indians and Pakistan is once again faced with a dilemma of how to react. I chose the word fling deliberately because of the tendency in the USA of not liking countries who claim cultural superiority over it, which India certainly does have and will claim sooner or later, thus, leading to deterioration of their relationship. Furthermore, India as a whole is not ready to become a US strategic partner. Indian national aspirations are not in consonance with those of the Americans. Their world views are different and so are their cultures. Sooner or later, Indians are going to part their ways with the Americans as history foretells.

Pakistan is again showing signs of reactionary foreign policy. Some such decisions can be interpreted as contrary to the US interests. Simultaneously, there have been signs of hostile use of language on both sides between USA and Pakistan. The anti-American sentiment is apparently growing in the establishment and the people. The question is what is to be done?

In statecraft, the most important virtue is self-preservation. Realpolitik considerations demands a pro-American or at least an independent policy which should not be in conflict with vital US interests for the simple reason that the USA has the firepower to damage, disintegrate or destroy us and we do not have a reciprocal ability. We neither have the sea power to threaten the American coastline nor the air-power to reach the USA mainland. If we did, there might have been a case for anti-American foreign policy but since we do not so let us be friends!

Pakistan and the USA had far more in common and our temporary deviations towards other countries should not make us abandon each other. Our relationship has benefited both since our inception 1947. On the Pakistani side, we were the most allied ally of the USA in the cold war and opened up China for it and helped in the disintegration of the USSR. Remember the U2 incident or the Afghan resistance against the Soviets and the on-going war on terror in which Pakistan has paid and is still paying dearly with blood and resources? On the American side, Pakistan has received much economic, technological, military, diplomatic and social sector support. Many Pakistanis live and work in the USA. It was the USA which insured Pakistan’s survival against India in the early years and helped in building Pakistan’s armed forces. These things should not be under-estimated or neglected. The American friendship has helped us more than we give it credit for.

Both our countries are modernistic in the sense we have both shun the old cultures: USA shunned the European eighteenth century values and Pakistanis shunned the old Indian culture of castes. On lighter side, both our people are consumption oriented and love their capitalisms. Both are vane, arrogant and easily become reactive because of their newness on the world stage. Both our countries have much to offer to each other and this is not a time for going our separate ways. It will hurt both and perhaps more to the disadvantage of Pakistan.

The apparent strain in relations between the USA and Pakistan should be avoided at all costs. The USA will dominate the twenty first century. Pakistan should stay on its side. Pakistan has endured the costs of sustaining the relationship and now when the time is ripe for getting benefits, it is once again marching off in some other direction. The correct approach is to see others through and making the relationship resilient enough to survive temporary mode swings.

The US must also start to give credit to its allies for their past friendship. It is very well to think that old ties do not matter in foreign affairs and it is the current national interest which should determine foreign policy, however, if all the great empires of the past are analysed, then it transpires that they have stood by their allies merely to reward loyalty. This is what moral authority and leadership is about which the USA lacks and the lack of which makes the USA an object of hate for those who feel used and cheated. On a more pragmatic note, the Americans will be wrong to put all their eggs in the Indian basket. The Indians are too big and proud to be America's proxy in the region. The Indian nationalism is strong and is certain to effect the US-Indian relations. Lastly, if the basis for the US conflict with Asiatic societies (read China) is the difference in cultures i.e. the Americans are egalitarian and the Asiatic societies authoritarian and hence incompatible then the same should apply to the US-India relations. Indian culture traditionally has been far more authoritarian than other Asiatic societies and the assumption of incompatibility with the USA should apply to it more than it does to others.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Strategic objective of revolutionary terrorism and response against it

“A … strategic objective of revolutionary terrorism is to provoke ruling elites into disastrous overreaction, thereby creating widespread resentment against them.” Carlos Marighella, a Brazillian guerrilla leaders whose writings influenced many political terrorists…explains its rationale as follows: ‘It is necessary to turn political crisis into armed conflict by performing violent actions that will force those in power to transform the political situation of the country into a military situation. That will alienate the masses, who, from then on, will revolt against the army and the police and blame them for this state of things.’…The Israeli-Palestinian struggle during the so-called Second Intefada of 2001 and 2001 illustrates this goal: terrorist attacks elicited powerful and disproportionate Israeli military reactions that led to an escalating cycle of more attacks and more retaliation, completely militarizing relations between the two groups.” This is an extract from Chalmers Johnson’s book “Blowback”.

The Pakistani government may well have played into the hands of the political terrorists by overreacting in its reaction to the recent wave of terrorism especially under escalating foreign pressure to act militarily. The Musharraf regime was right to follow political process to induce peace in our tribal area. This was not acceptable to the terrorists who intensified their campaign of terror to sabotage the process and thereby induce the government into military action. This will increase the resentment against the government in the innocent and neutral segment of the society and the blame for the hardship will be on the government, thus leading to more potential recruits for terrorists. The government must understand this and trust its rationality and also convince the USA and other interested entities of the need for a just and proportionate response to terrorism.

Those who are pressuring us “to do more” should either disapprove the above theory or show some restraint in putting pressure on Pakistan. Pakistan’s policy of political engagement is not as foolhardy as it is being made out on the Western Media. It is based on proper theory and proven practice. So let us heed reason and not emotional overreaction.