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Geo-Political Fail-Safe

With the US demanding after 9/11 that its friends stand up and be counted, Pervez Musharraf came through at risk of personal life and limb, not to speak of the credibility of Pakistan as an independent sovereign entity. The weekend at Camp David recognises the Pakistani President’s pre-eminent role (and performance) as a US ally at a very troubled time, it is also a brilliant US diplomatic sleight of hand meant to keep everyone happy. While bestowing a rare privilege meant for the most trusted of US friends, it avoids receiving a Head of State still in uniform with all the pomp and show associated with the White House. This mechanism assuages domestic US sensibilities about democratic mores, externally it salves India’s feelings in the light of the developing US-India relationship.

Musharraf expects the US to “reward” Pakistan more for its still continuing support for the war in Afghanistan and against the cells of international terrorism imbedded in Pakistan. A generous US gesture is expected with about $1.8 billion debt forgiveness (and some debt re-scheduling) besides outright grant and aid, this will shore up Pakistan economically and Musharraf politically, mollifying those critics who feel Pakistan has been short-changed. Trade bargains are also in the works, these could eventually lead to a Free Trade Agreement. The icing on the cake would be two squadrons of F-16s to bring the PAF to a credible conventional air defence capability. The relatively “small” economic support that we did get earlier was a good enough signal for other western donor countries as well as Japan to give us succour across the board. Pakistan’s economy became a net-gainer because of 9/11, a few more days and we would have been in the “default” category.


Indispensable or Indefensible?

The President and the country are both at a crossroads, partly because of Pervez Musharraf’s own making in accepting convoluted legal advice complicating the constitutional situation but mostly due to the drastic changes in the geo-political circumstances since 9/11. While the full details of the deadlock on the LFO talks are still to be publicly aired, the crunch really lies in the President being the constitutional Head of State while hanging on to the office of the COAS. There is ample evidence to suggest there is room for compromise on all other issues but a major part of the Opposition bloc has shown no inclination to budge unless the comprehensive package includes the shedding of his Army uniform by the President. The Opposition have shown a penchant for freezing all Parliamentary work by making a violent nuisance of themselves in the Assemblies.

In any democracy the President cannot be the Army Chief concurrently. As long as Pervez Musharraf is COAS, this is not democracy but a continuation of the military regime, to suggest otherwise would be a farce. The democratic institutions may have been put in place but it would be incongruity to suggest that while one man holds power through the barrel of the gun we are a democracy. The gradual democratization process will not be complete until the COAS doffs his uniform. What the Opposition is suggesting is not wrong, theoretically.



Having spent 18 months on the knife-edge of a nuclear war, the result of a unilateral decision by India, for reasons that are still mind boggling, to put almost its entire Armed Forces on our doorstep, and only a week or so after Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha was advocating a pre-emptive strike against Pakistan a la Iraq, Atal Behari Vajpayee offered unconditional talks on all issues including Jammu and Kashmir. There is a “blow-hot blow-cold” situation here since Sinha’s tone and tenor remains aggressively anti-Pakistan despite the peace moves, one is rather skeptical about the very sudden sea-change of heart.

Minding his political back by neither accepting Jamali’s spontaneous invitation or rejecting it, the Indian PM reciprocated Jamali’s further initiatives by announcing resumption of full diplomatic relations (by appointment of a permanent High Commissioner) and allowing of overflights. An Indian Foreign Office spokesman went to great lengths to emphasize that “overflights” was a part and parcel of any air transit agreement. A suspicion therefore arises, could the whole objective of the Indian diplomatic overdrive be only to re-open “overflights”? The Indians had themselves suspended “overflights” in the first place, and have been economically repenting ever since. The westward operations of Air India were seriously disrupted, devastating the Indian aviation industry. SARS has caused all Air India flights to the East to now cease, a few more weeks without overflights permission from Pakistan would bankrupt the prime Indian air carrier. Indians have a habit of camouflaging their faux pas by grand gestures, can anyone forget their “generosity” last year in recalling the Indian Navy as a “goodwill measure” from the Indian Ocean where it was positioned to blockade Karachi in case of war, this had been coupled with loud talk of “quarantining” Pakistan during peace, i.e. not allowing any sea traffic to and fro our ports. The badly maintained Indian Navy took a massive beating during the storm-ridden Arabian Sea’s summer months, it takes no genius to work out why the Indians needed to get their seasick sailors (and their ships) to the relative safety and comfort of their home ports. That is why the focus on overflights in supercession to everything else among confidence-building measures (CBMs) is rather suspicious. If the Indians are serious, call their bluff by requesting Vajpayee’s presence at an overdue SAARC “Heads of State” Meeting in Islamabad.


Changing Times

Pakistan’s constitutional crisis will soon come to a head, in the meantime no business will be transacted in the houses of Parliament, which is about par for the democratic course anyway. An 11-member Committee comprising both Coalition and Opposition representatives (five members each) was due to assemble to sort out the LFO impasse. Opposed tooth and nail by the Opposition, Ch Shujaat Hussain resigned as Chairman and gave way to Ch Amir Hussain, Speaker of the National Assembly. Very coincidentally and thanks to Yashwant Sinha’s “pre-emptive strike” gaffe, there were dramatic developments because Vajpayee’s sudden offer on talks on all issues including Kashmir, whether the India-Pakistan de-freeze goes any distance is still a matter of conjecture that depends upon the prevailing mood of India’s Parliament, there are enough mixed signals going around to confuse even the most adroit and knowledgeable of analysts. While fully engaged in domestic and external issues, what are the primary lessons we have learnt from Iraq i.e. if we have learnt any lessons at all?

The first lesson must be that things are not what they seem to be, that perception must not obscure actual facts. The Coalition went to war, ostensibly to (1) emasculate Iraq’s capacity to wage war using its suspected cache of “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (WMDs) (2) to effect regime change and (3) to destroy a perceived nexus between WMDs and international terrorism. Most muslims, and primarily Arabs, felt that these objectives were simply camouflage meant to hide the Coalition real aims i.e. (1) seize Iraq’s rich resources of oil wealth and (2) establish a long-term presence in Iraq that would facilitate dominance of the oil-rich region. The Coalition felt that the “liberation of Iraq” would cause a spontaneous outpouring of gratitude in the streets, on the other hand the Arabs hoped that the Iraqis would keep fighting a guerilla war long after actual combat operations were over, they did not expect the war to end so suddenly. Both assumptions were proved incorrect. The Coalition’s pronounced successful strategy was a high-tech “shock and awe” cataclysmic strike followed by a blitzkrieg cutting through the Iraqi Army like knife through butter, the blitzkrieg did happen but only against token resistance, most of the fighting was done by individual units and stray Fedayeen groupings. It is now clear that commanders up the line had been bought over by a combination of fear and the green of US Dollars, Tommy Franks may be clairvoyant but even he could not know that all highways and bridges would be usable and that not even one stretch of road would be mined. The war can be labeled as one of “shock and stealth”, right upto capturing Baghdad without a fight, far earlier than expected. With very few US troops available for policing, the resultant looting has been catastrophic for Iraqi society. In retrospect it is a good thing that the much-promised Iraqi warfare remained a figment of imagination, the ensuing destruction would have been meaningless in relation to the end result.


Good, Bad and Ugly

The death of the PAF Chief alongwith his wife and colleagues in an air crash was a tragedy that Pakistan could have done without. Of humble background, Air Chief Marshal Mushaf Mir rose by dint of sheer merit to the very top of his profession. The two Air Vice Marshals who died with him, Abdur Razzaq and Salem A. Nawaz, were upwardly mobile professional air warriors, the PAF’s loss was accentuated by their demise. While speculation will remain about the possible reason for the Fokker accident till an official enquiry is complete, prima facie it seems to be pilot error, the wrong height at the wrong place at the wrong time i.e. the approach to Kohat airfield was wrong. The mass out-pouring of grief confirms that this nation still recognizes and respects excellence and integrity. Because of the constant modernization that every Air Force needs, the development of our air war machine has been hampered by sanctions and shortage of funds. Of the three Services PAF has seen very hard times certainly because of lack of resources but more due to diminishing sources for acquisition of new equipment. Every one of its Chiefs, except for the much unlamented Shamim, provided the driving leadership necessary for a Service like the PAF to keep its cutting edge. Mushaf Mir had the hardest job of all, husbanding our meager (and constantly depleting) resources to keep the PAF in fighting trim. The PAF lost an outstanding leader, Pakistan lost one of its more illustrious sons. One can only hope and pray that Mushaf Mir’s successor will carry on his mission with the same spirit of dedication and integrity. One must also spare a prayer for Col (Retd) Sajid Ali, an old friend from Army Aviation, piloting the twin-engined Cessna that crashed in the Arabian Sea a few days ago close to Karachi off Cape Monze with foreign luminaries on board, including the Afghan Minister for Mines, Mr. Mohammedi. While Pakistani navy divers have brought up part of the wreckage from the sea, three bodies still remain unaccounted for.


Parliament and Musharraf

Pervez Musharraf’s military regime has been exceedingly ill-served by legal advice as to the mode of transition to democracy, half measures cannot paper over problems, either have full democracy or military rule, nothing in-between. Trying to run the country by liberal quasi-democratic means is a non-starter, Indus culture respects only absolute power. As the only military rule in history where media has been allowed to function freely, and even flourish, given grudging respect in some quarters, what else has the military got? Pakistanis want democracy and were comfortable with the fact that the process had started with elections to the Local Bodies but the Referendum was mismanaged, comparable to the Ayubian 60s PR disaster “Decade of Reforms”, a popular President (and Musharraf remains popular even today among the masses) was made “unpopular” in media-served perception.

Having contested the general elections under the Legal Framework Order (LFO), the Opposition has called into question the basis of these elections. Why not oblige them and scrap the results? As a major sticking point the LFO incorporates the proposal for a National Security Council (NSC) and Presidential powers to dismiss the Prime Minister (PM). While the transition from military to civilian rule needs to be eased through a staggered exit strategy, why should the President voluntarily become a lame-duck civilian incumbent in the present internal and external environment? With the Opposition behaving as it is, would not that put us from the frying pan into the fire? The Opposition cannot swallow the fact of Pervez Musharraf’s retaining the post as COAS in a democratic set-up. As one of those who strongly believe that the military must be subservient to civilian rule and that a serving uniformed person cannot be a Head of State of a democratic country, one cannot close one’s eyes to the fact that we are passing through extraordinary geo-political and domestic circumstances, can we gamble with the sovereign integrity of the country as we did in 1971? Creating a precedent may be unwise, do we have a choice? The use of abusive language in the Upper and Lower Houses desecrates the sanctity of Parliament and stokes the military’s recurring fear, the politician will take this country down the drain. The President’s stance that he would not address the Joint Session of Parliament in the face of the “uncivilized behaviour” of the Opposition-created ruckus is justified. Why should the President subject himself to abusive behaviour by a mob that forswears universally accepted “Parliamentary language”?


Re-shaping Maps and Minds

People in Pakistan have fallen prey to the Indian-propagated canard that we are next on the US hit-list. Force-multiplied by irresponsible rhetoric of some of our “fire and brimstone” leaders, this apprehension has become deep-rooted through the broad spectrum of the population. Having been “sanctioned” against intermittently over the years for various reasons, more like a rap on the knuckles of an errant child. we have never been on any US “terminate-with-extreme-prejudice” list. All roads lead to Damascus as the mostly likely contender for that dubious “honour”, so why this sudden death-wish? Only a few months ago USA and UK hailed Syria’s backing of Resolution 1441 against Iraq, in a macabre turnaround will the next UN Resolution be Syria-specific? In the meantime Syria has categorically dismissed suggestions of Iraq-type UN inspections. The Coalition declared the war in Iraq to be officially “over”, portents are that unless Jay Garner (Lt Gen Retd, US Army) can tap-dance his way through a myriad number of emerging problems of various-kind, the US may become stuck in a peace quagmire.

Re-building Iraq cannot draw on the Afghan experience, who will do it, and barring the cash on the barrel for oil, where will the rest of the money come from? This, when not counting Iraq’s estimated debt of over US$ 300 billion? The US and UK are calling the shots at the moment, the European Union (EU) and Iraq’s Arab neighbours will want to have some say in both the economic and political future of Iraq, using the UN as their stalking horse to get a piece of the action. For the sake of the Coalition’s credibility, UN Chief Inspector Hans Blix has some unfinished business, where indeed are the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)? A few days post-Saddam have shown up the various (and vicious) divisions in Iraqi society in full public glare, particularly among the Shia and Sunni communities, the Kurds remaining distinctly apart, their nationalist ambitions in any case viewed with suspicion not only by fellow Iraqis but also by the adjoining Turks, Iranians and Syrians alike. “The exiles”, except for Iran-based Shia clerics, have not been exactly received with open arms. The Pentagon front-runner Ahmed Chilabi, (and a personal friend of US Vice President Richard Cheney,) returning home after 45 years is already controversial, the subject of vociferous street protests in many cities. US Marines had to open fire directly in Mosul into the mob violently shouting down a newly appointed (by the US) “Governor”. For the moment a weak and divided Iraq will be ruled by “guided” democracy, a strong, unified country very much a distant hope in the future. Some incidents notwithstanding, coalition have leaned over backwards to be seen as “liberators “ rather than “occupiers”. There are not enough Coalition troops on the ground for law and order functions, a major success story has been joint patrols including partially (and hurriedly) “cleared” former Iraqi’ police. Such Iraqi participation will give confidence to the populace. Some of the law-enforcers may become “catchers in the rye”, targetted by the public for their Saddam-era excesses. Too early to predict how the general population will ultimately view the US, Iraqis are not inclined to being ruled by those imposed upon them. The search for Saddam Hussain, his sons and close associates, i.e. if alive, must be intensified, however the “hot pursuit into Syria” idea has to be re-thought. A major success has been the US Special Forces capture (with US Marines help) of Barzan al Tikriti, Saddam’s half brother and brutal Interior Minister of the 80s, earlier another half-brother was held. Accounting for all of the regime’s leaders has to be brought to a swift and successful closure, otherwise the war will be judged to be only “partially” successful, a la Afghanistan sans Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar.


Raw Spirit and Body Language

Hospitalized several weeks ago with severe kidney pain in Abu Dhabi while attending a Conference, the doctor’s advice was to come back immediately for a pain-killer injection on recurrence of the pain. When the pain returned in strength at 1 a.m. the following night, the Pathan taxi cab driver who took me to the hospital a few minutes car-ride away would not take the taxi fare. He refused to leave me alone unless either I was admitted or ready to go back to the hotel. When I did come out, he was stubbornly refusing a couple who wanted to hire his taxi (few taxis being available at that time of the night). When the pain came back again the next night, the taxi driver (another Pakistani) insisted on going into the hospital with me and stayed till he dropped me back to the hotel. My Pakistani colleagues had left strict instructions that I should not go alone to the hospital, the “Reception” staff at the Hotel had to be stopped from waking them up. This was symbolic of pure Pakistani spirit, a Pakistani was in some trouble, colleagues or utter strangers, everyone responded unitedly quite selflessly.

One can understand the Pakistan-bonding with each other but why do we as a nation, volunteer to be the champions of all Muslim causes, particularly when some of those affected have no love lost for us? One can understand the religious aspect, Iraq is home to a major number of muslim holy places, fourth in emotional muslim religious issues, after Haram Sharif in Mecca, Masjid-e-Nabvi in Madinah and the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. With Iraq astride a vast reservoir of oil and Iraq surrounded by half a dozen countries, anyone sitting in Baghdad can call the shots as the geo-politically dominant force in the region. That’s what the suspicion is among the Muslim countries, i.e. apart from the usual Israeli bogey. A million-man protest march in Karachi against a US-led war against Iraq was tall on organization but short in number of participants, less than 150,000, the same as the Rawalpindi million-man march a week later. Nevertheless the public sentiment was impressive, the largest by far in the country for over two decades, matching the return of Ms. Benazir to Lahore from self-exile in 1986 but far less than the non-denominational universal protest witnessed in London and Paris a few weeks ago. The Iraqi people have been oppressed by more than three decades of Saddam Hussain’s tyranny, war would only add to the misery of innocent civilians, Saddam will quite deliberately and callously put them in harm’s way by having his Army fight in urban areas. One has to target Saddam Hussain, not Iraq; that about sums up the world’s message.


Jihad Against Terrorism

The beginning of the 21st century has seen advances in science and technology force-multiplying terror as a deliberate creation of man. Terror was previously the domain of the unknown, the perception was that of animals in the jungle and of spirits in the night. High-tech equipment rapidly becomes obsolete as sophisticated terrorists innovate circumventing of their potency. What to talk about individuals and communities, entire nations can be held hostage to terror, case in point presently the mightiest nation on this earth, the US of A. Terrorism is a potent weapon for those who lack numbers and weaponry, money may be important but innovation overcomes that deficiency. The targetting of soft targets put forces of law and orders initially in disarray because of the variation in the threat perception, the level and mode thereof. Organized criminal activity desires anarchy i.e. the collapse of the State’s machinery. The international terrorist has a far bigger canvas, the collapse of world order as is evident from the present dangerous split in the UN Security Council and NATO. The globalization of terrorism makes it difficult to counter terrorism, dominating it altogether is almost impossible. Countries without resources must depend upon each other for precise sharing of intelligence, denial of funds, sanctuaries and/or supply of weapons/equipment to terrorists as well as promptly addressing requests for extradition. On the negative side, countries like India are using the bogey of terrorist groups as either surrogates or motivated propaganda to achieve their own motivated objectives against adversary States like Pakistan, India has now started targeting Bangladesh also.


Strategic Options

It was not comfortable being either an American or a Pakistani, for widely differing reasons, in Davos this year. The World Economic Forum (WEF) is normally a love-fest, antagonism is almost never aired in the aura of optimism that is normally prevalent. Because of the aversion of most Europeans towards war in Iraq, Americans (constituting a fair percentage of the 1500 persons attending WEF) found themselves in defensive mode even though the much-respected US Secretary of State Colin Powell made an eloquent case for war to topple Saddam Hussain. While one is used to Indians reacting in an offensively defensive manner to our bringing Kashmir on the table, this year the Indians took a back seat orchestrating a world consensus against Pakistan’s very existence as a responsible member of the comity of nations. Speaker after speaker recommended coordinated action against Pakistan’s nuclear potential, there was no fig leaf of innuendo anymore. The straightforward allegation put us in the business of exporting terrorism. The general consensus was that Pakistan’s nuclear facilities were a potential threat to the world, the premise being that if Musharraf was overthrown, the 650000-man Pakistan Army would be overwhelmed by “200000 dedicated Jehadis”. Instead of waiting to be subjected to “nuclear terrorism” their convoluted logic was that the world would be far better off launching a pre-emptive strike against Pakistan, even in priority to Iraq! These were no ordinary persons, they happen to be the world’s top leaders in government, business, academics, etc the elite of the elite! More depressing was to see the blissful ignorance we are living in on returning from Davos. This country is in a state of permanent Basant, God help us!