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Archive for September, 1992

The present Sindh situation – The stabilising force of democracy

It would be a pipe-dream to assume that by the end of Operation Clean-up, Sindh would be completely rid of the present law and order problems. Invoking the adage that “discretion is the better part of valour”, recalcitrants of all ilk have taken off for various sanctuaries, going underground within and outside Sindh. While the Army will have gone a fair distance in starting the process of eradicating the twin menace of terrorism and dacoity, as soon as the Army is back in the barracks, the evil down below is bound to resurface, maybe even with a vengeance. To say that the populace is terrified of this eventuality is to make an understatement.

Having restored peace and tranquillity in the Province in the first phase, the second phase would involve the reinvoking of the writ of Constitutional authority vested in the elected representatives. Only they should be the arbiters of the people’s destiny who have been so designated by the electorate through an election rather than a selection process. The criminals who target society get their sustenance from society itself, this cycle is born out of the combination of ills that all sections of the Sindhi populace has been subjected to over the years represented by repression, unemployment, poverty, bitterness, frustration etc.


Vital ground

The unfortunate elongation of the 1977 Martial Law destroyed the fabric of many national institutions sustained by unfettered democracy and which inculcate built-in safeguards to cope with the social problems accompanying the spill-over of the Afghan war, millions of refugees, arms proliferation and the drug menace. Compounding the 80s decade, the two major Sindhi communities of ethnic Sindhis and Mohajirs felt dispossessed and discriminated against respectively, blaming each other mostly but also the majority Province of Punjab as being representative of Martial Law (and thus the Federal Government) in their eyes. Though Martial Law benefited only a select few, the image of the Army as a whole suffered. The lack of democracy created a ready-made vacuum for the ethnic parties to flourish, in the long run ethnicity is anathema to nationhood. Because of the sagacity of the Army leadership led by the then VCOAS, General Aslam Beg, the military opted for the democratic route in August 1988. The routine changeover to a new COAS, General Asif Nawaz, who was part of the process of the return to full democracy, added to the restoration of the credibility of the Pakistan Army.

The Pakistan Army remains almost the last remaining institution, other than the superior judiciary, still invoking universal respect among the masses, if not so much among the intelligentsia (and despite them). Sindh is our vital ground and as much as we cannot afford that Sindh is lost, failure on the part of the Army and loss of credibility thereof in restoring the writ of constitutional authority would be an unbearable catastrophe. To quote Edmund Burke, Sindh was “in such a strait (that) the wisest may well be perplexed and the boldest staggered.” For the most part, Pakistan has been dogged by a succession of poor leaders, a luxury that poor nations cannot afford. These leaders of Pakistan opted for short-term solutions, pursuing policies suited to their vested (mostly in the continuance of their rule) rather than the national interest. Those myopic policies continue even today and somebody someday will have to bell the cat in the higher interest of the nation. Before analysing the problems, we are obliged to follow Edmund Hodnetts’s advice, to quote, “a problem statement often includes (a) what is known (b) what is unknown and (c) what is sought,” unquote. Not much being left unknown, the corrective sequence invokes three distinct phases viz, (1) the first phase involves bringing peace and tranquillity to the Province with the objective of restoring the constitutional authority of the civil administration, (2) the second phase would be devoted to bringing back democratic rule by genuinely elected representatives and (3) once the environment is conducive, the third and final phase must initiate far-reaching socio-economic changes that will bring social justice and economic amelioration of all the populace residing in the Province. In contrast to previous internal security operations in Pakistan and the rest of the region, particularly India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and recently in Afghanistan (Kabul), the urban area phase in Karachi has been successful in achieving the initial objectives without any bloodshed. History will record this as a magnificent performance. To quote Sun Tzu from The Art of War, “To subdue without fighting is the acme of skill” the intention being “to overthrow without bloodying swords.” In avoiding a BLUE STAR-type blood cycle, the Pakistan Army has had to absorb unfair criticism. Better that criticism than a Vietnam-type body count any day!


The rule of the law

The Islamabad Police recently arrested several PPP women activists who were staging a sit-in for the release of Asif Zardari, the husband of PPP Co-Chairman Ms Benazir Bhutto, and lodged them in Aabpara Police Station (PS). Hearing about this on her arrival at Islamabad, Ms Benazir went straight to the concerned PS. The sight of the excited crowd accompanying her was enough to evoke discretion among the police personnel and they threw valour to the winds in taking smartly to their heels. The incarcerated ladies thereupon walked out into freedom. Legally speaking Ms Benazir may get off on a technicality as she probably did not physically assault the PS to free the ladies in question but ethically speaking by the show of force she has set a precedent which may become an anathema to the rule of the law.

Ms Benazir may well argue that Asif Zardari is wrongly confined, that the government strategy is to put pressure on her to ease off on her Constitutional role as an Opposition leader — and that by itself is a clear violation of the fundamental rights of an elected representative, what to talk of a common citizen. Without commenting on the merit of the cases for which he is being prosecuted or the mode of prosecution and thereby straying into a contempt-of-court situation, the cases being subjudice, one does opine that the nature of the cases do entitle him to bail, particularly since he is an MNA and has to discharge his duties as an elected representative of his National Assembly Constituency, the people of which have become an innocent victim of political crossfire.


Prejudice and myopia

Of all the races in Pakistan, the ethnic Sindhi feels the most dispossessed, followed closely by new Sindhis. Whereas the ethnic Sindhis had greeted the new Sindhis or Mohajirs (term here denoting Urdu-speaking refugees from India) with open arms in 1947 and less effusively in 1971, the violent Mohajir reaction in the urban majority areas of Sindh to the ill-advised imposition of the Sindhi Language Bill in July 1972 alarmed the Sindhis, they never expected the normally submissive Mohajir community to react. The Sindhis also became alive to the fact that though they were basically a majority they were becoming an endangered species in the major towns of their own Province in which demographically speaking they were already a minority. Despite that fine urban-rural democratic balance, the PPP Provincial Government of “Talented Cousin” Mumtaz Bhutto rubbed in the Sindhi edge of that electoral authority despite the fact of substantial Mohajir presence in the PPP. Successor Mustafa Jatoi’s general evenhandedness notwithstanding, the ethnicity of Sindhis came on very strong during the 1972-77 period. While the Mohajir elders went on accepting their “Karma” with some semblance of equanimity, the student community became the core of resentment that was built up against the blatant discrimination and outright humiliation meted out to the Mohajirs.


Passion and prejudice

(The FIRST article in a THREE PART series on the present SINDH situation)

The Pakistan Army was ordered by the Federal Government, ostensibly on the request of the Sindh Government, to restore the rule of law in the Province of Sindh in May 1992. With powers under Article 147 of the Constitution, the Army commenced operations on a low-key basis in the rural areas of Sindh almost immediately. Moves in the urban areas were delayed because the MQM, political allies of the Federal and Provincial governments, were reluctant to give up their undisputed authority, there was understandable hesitation on the part of the PM. Some of the MQM’s leaders publicly vowed to violently resist any Army move into “their” areas. The Army had a freer hand in the rural areas, though here also its freedom of action was restricted by the requirement of the Federal Government that potential targets who were allies of the already tottering Sindh Government (including a handful of Provincial Ministers) should not be touched.