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.