Everything Under the Moon
On the evening of 15 Feb 1973, my unit 44 Punjab (now 4 Sindh) pulled out from Nabisar where we were concentrated for training close to our Forward Defended Localities (FDLs) in the southern desert and entrained pell mell the next morning at Mirpurkhas for Sibi enroute to Quetta. We were told that we had to cope with a sudden “internal security” situation arising in Balochistan. At Ibad Railway Station, a few kilometers short of Jacobabad, our troops special ran full speed into a stationary goods train parked on the parallel line. Sabotage? With four dead and over a dozen or so badly injured, we limped into Sibi late on 17 Feb.
At about 9:45 pm on Thursday June 17, 2004, a guided missile killed tribal militant and Al-Qaeda supporter Nek Mohammad in his hideout in village Dhok only 4 kms from Wana, a long way away from Shakai and Baghar, the two places where major military operation had been launched by the Armed Forces a few days earlier to flush out foreign militants. Virtually unknown till a few months ago, Islamic militant Nek Mohammad gained notoriety (or fame, depending on your point of view) by resisting troops engaged in hunting Al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects in South Waziristan adjacent to the borders with Afghanistan.
Armies usually change their character to keep pace with weapons development. To quote late Brig ZA Khan from his book “Weapons and Tactics”, “Changes in the methods of warfare occur when a better method of using an existing weapon is evolved or a new weapon is introduced”, unquote. In the 20th century the IT revolution has changed this into a three-way equation. Whereas good military knowledge is a must for the upper military hierarchy, knowledge per se about a whole number of disciplines is always must for soldiers of the modern Armed Forces. To quote Sun Tzu in “The Art of War”, “War is a matter of vital importance to the State: the province of life or death; the road to survival or ruin. It is mandatory that it be thoroughly studied”. There is a vast difference between the Army that went into battle on the 6th of September 1965 and the Army of today. Today’s professional soldier is far more educated, the challenge lies in keeping him professional.
Most of the country’s image problems stems from the inability of the governments in power to take timely action. When the Mian Nawaz Sharif regime enacted the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 it acquired enough powers to deal with terrorism per se. Notwithstanding all the laws in our statute books, the political will for serious implementation was non-existent till a few months before 9/11, and that too by a subsequent non-political regime. What is still mind-boggling is that the banned religious entities simply changed their name and carried on business as usual, this obviously cut into the credibility of the country’s commitment to root out militancy in religious organizations.
The business community says (i.e. if you discount the CVT misstep which led to stock brokers going on a rampage breaking things) the Federal Budget is a good investor-friendly initiative. Nothing innovative about it, mostly an adjustment of statistics giving to each audience what that particular audience wants to hear, viz (1) a populist commitment to the masses for alleviating their miseries and (2) for the benefit of the world at large and (particularly) international aid agencies, maintaining a high economic growth rate by not splurging on the social sector. Good in macro-economics there is no perceptible change for the better in the “misery index” (micro-economics) of the masses despite the Finance Minister’s (FM’s) insistence that the population below the poverty line has reduced by 4.2% overall, the common man’s buying power continues to be eroded by the rise in the price of essentials. The data from which the 4.2% poverty reduction figure was arrived at is a matter of doubt and controversy.
Budgets are not made in heaven, at least not for the poor. The unfortunate fact of life is that man-made budgets caters mainly for the rich, the hapless get by with lip-service and a lot of rhetoric force-fed down their throats in lieu of food and water. As someone employing, mostly khaki-collar workers, one can personally vouch that while the raising of the minimum salary to Rs 3000 pm from Rs 2500 pm is extremely welcome, it is not enough. For eking out the most meager existence in the prevailing rate of inflation (State Bank of Pakistan assessed it a double-digit 11% in comparison to the 9.3% claimed by the government), the very minimum a family unit of four requires for survival on the poverty-line is Rs 4000 pm. That is a ground reality as evidenced on hard fact, not based on the theoretical calculations of paper-shufflers confined to their air-conditioned offices who have to rely on inaccurate observations of others, they are fed what they want to hear. The minimum wage must be Rs 4000 pm, the alternative is that millions and millions of our countrymen will keep going deeper into debt (upto 1000 pm) just to stay alive.
Nearly 800 years to the day and only a few miles from the exact spot in an island called Runnymede in the River Thames near London, two of Pakistan’s more potent political leaders signed a somewhat similar “Charter of Democracy” in London on May 14, 2006 as the much amended Magna Carta, to seek restoration of genuine democracy and the 1973 Constitution in Pakistan. The Magna Carta was an agreement between King John and his rebellious barons, in our case the “rebellious barons” have signed it but “King John” in the person of President Pervez Musharraf has shown no inclination to assent to it. According to Ms Benazir Bhutto, they would leave no stone unturned for ensuring better and brighter future of the country, ensuring stability and regional peace, Nawaz Sharif called the signing of the document ‘historic’, maintaining it to be a milestone for the people and the country. An amended version of the original Charter signed on June 15, 1215 was circulated in 1225 and was far more pragmatic. Pakistan’s politicians are far more ambitious steering clear of self-accountability but far less pragmatic seeking an “instant Magna Carta”.
Announced in the National Assembly a few hours after it was deliberately leaked to the media, the thrust of Federal Budget points to a turn to populism. Not going the whole hog points to General Elections not taking place immediately but possibly later in late 2007, i.e. unless something drastic forces an early 2007 date. Predictably govt ministers and officials, as well as those who support the govt and/or have reason to do so, swarmed the electronic and print media to sing the Budget’s praises. Predictably the Opposition opposed it for the sake of opposition, in a singular feat of negative reaction not one soul in the opposition saw even one iota of good in the entire Budget document. Where has objectivity gone?
For a country with two seaports serving a population of 150 million (not counting the hundreds of millions in countries beyond) it is vitally important to have alternatives. Population congestion and possible economic factors because of the emerging markets of Central Asia require that a sea-land dimension along a separate south-north axis be added for expansion, otherwise all facilities and opportunities are likely to be clogged. A bird’s eye view of Pakistan’s coast from Karachi westwards gives us in succession at least three possible ports capable of processing ocean-going vessels. While retaining Ormara for purely military use, what is required now is a sustained effort not only at Gwadar but also Pasni. The long coastline with stretches of virgin beaches and adjacent vast empty spaces hinterland require well-planned commercial exploitation. It is personally satisfying that recommendations made in my articles, “Economic Exploitation of the Coastal Areas-1 and 2” (Jan 16 and Jan 23, 1990) and “Pakistan’s Gold Coast”(April 10, 1999) are now being implemented, better late than never.
All movements that start with religious connotations tend to end up far removed from their original aims and objectives. While religious activism is quite deep-rooted in religion, it can be manipulated by motivated interest. Through the ages charlatan-ism is endemic among the leadership cadre of such movements, pure unadulterated motives are easily overwhelmed by those who do not share the same altruism. Muslim protest, which started in sincere earnest against the publishing of the Danish outrage, now seems to be provoked by motivated interests to become an outrage by itself because of the violence it has given birth to. To add to this, the desecration of a most holy muslim shrine in Samarra in Iraq, has started another strife, this time sectarian between the Sunni and Shia communities. It has portents of spilling over the borders of Iraq to all the territories inhabited by the Muslim Ummah, crossing an already fragile fail-safe line that holds the balance between peace and strife.