Archive for April, 1994
Two important visitors have come from Washington this month, US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and former Pakistan Caretaker PM, Moeen Qureshi. The mission of the first visitor was clearly defined, to discuss the verification of “capping” done to our nuclear ambitions, Moeen Qureshi’s purpose seemed to be more subtle but unambiguous nevertheless, to nudge the present government towards a more amenable position (translation, scrapping) with respect to our nuclear deterrent. For the record, the PM Ms Benazir Bhutto stoutly denied that any “rollback” or “verification” would be accepted. All this time, the government’s media spin-masters, both official and unofficial, have been preparing the public for a gradual acceptance of an obvious policy, that Pakistan is ready to accept verification of both “capping” and “rollback”. One learned gentleman even went on TV to theorize quite knowledgeably that since we do not have a “second strike” possibility, why compete with India at all? One would hope that any Air Force in the world would not discuss its air strategy (strike capabilities) in public let alone with such luminaries who have regaled the public with late Gen Asif Nawaz’s “murder” and went on to predict in a sophisticated disinformation campaign a lop-sided election result in PPP’s favour, both in which they have been proven spectacularly wrong.
Former Caretaker PM Moeen Qureshi, flew into Pakistan in the early hours of April 14, 1994, almost 6 months to the day after he handed over power to the elected PM, Ms Benazir Bhutto. For those addicted to conspiracy theories, his visit seems to have been synchronized with that of US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott as well as carefully orchestrated to invite attention. It raises a pertinent question, what is MQ doing here at this time? For the Ms Benazir regime, this is certainly not a happy period. Given that a very bad precedent had been set in July 1993 for future Constitutional sleight-of-hands by forcing out an elected PM who commanded a substantial Parliamentary majority, speculation is rife that MQ is here to personally gauge the situation and if the political environment is conducive for a “national” government, indicate to the powers-that-be his availability to be of service to Pakistan in taking our chestnuts out of the ever-spreading quagmire. Unlike last time, when his credentials were only that of an international technocrat and he was an unknown quantity to the public-at-large in the field of governing third world countries, MQ’s Curriculum Vitae (CV) is now much more credible for any concerted sales effort by vested interests. Whether anyone likes it or not, there are many in this country who believe that an interim period of national government is necessary and for them MQ remains a very distinct possibility as a PM in-waiting. It is also true that no political government can survive a nuclear “rollback”, at least publicly, MQ has no such problem in delivering.
Less than 180 days after MQ handed over the reins to Ms Benazir, Pakistan is in much deeper trouble economically, politically, socially and externally than when he took over from Mian Nawaz Sharif. Some of Pakistan’s problems were inherited by Ms Benazir as they were inherited by Mian Nawaz Sharif before her. To cast a broad brush in apportioning blame on PPP alone would not be fair, however on one important count Ms Benazir’s PPP surpasses Mian Nawaz Sharif’s PML (N) by miles, most of her problems are either self-created or occasioned out of designed neglect. Caretaker PM Moeen Qureshi stemmed the rot that arose out of the civilian coup that had paralysed the Federal Government. By the time he left the country was on its way to a more or less stable economic condition with hopes for building adequate foreign exchange reserves. The present situation may not be one of extreme economic apprehension despite the fact that the price of atta is slowly edging past the reach of the common urbanite. However, it is nowhere as rosy as the government’s rhetoric presents. On paper, the country’s foreign exchange reserves has gone up to US$ 1.9 billion, unfortunately it seems the same bureaucrats who served Mian Nawaz Sharif “loyally” do not seem to be informing the PM that almost US$ 1.5 billion of these so-called “Reserves” are short term borrowings by different government and semi-government corporations. To test MQ’s intellectual honesty, one could well ask this technocrat what is his analysis of the state of country’s present foreign exchange reserves?
Rather than re-hashing the mistakes made in the past that has made the uniformed Army vulnerable to any number of contrived accusations, it is time to come to grips with the present situation so that the city of Karachi (in particular) and the Province of Sindh (in general) has something of a future. Leaders of all ilk must provide outstanding leadership, rise above themselves for the greater good of the nation, providing a platform of reconciliation that will not waste time in baseless and/or negative vilification but engage in positive initiatives to draw together our deeply polarized society. Above all, we must recognize that the Pakistan Army remains the best guarantor of our freedom from Indian occupation and slavery. Increasingly it is becoming the target of Indian RAW-inspired controversy to besmirch its reputation and shake the faith that bends this country together while making the Army gun-shy of internal security flashpoints in future, thereby compromising its much-needed deterrent status in this respect. People seem to forget that the Army was requested to launch Operation Clean Up to prevent civil strife, are we confident that if the Army moves back to the barracks today civil war conditions will not re-emerge?
The Army and the MQM are now in a state of confrontation and because of that the entire Mohajir community has become bitter and aggrieved, let us first accept this fact. The second fact is that the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is the majority party in the Province of Sindh even though its solid base is in the rural areas as much as the second largest political force is the MQM with its authority largely in the urban areas with swing votes in crucial urban-rural constituencies. The third fact is that the PML (N) under Mian Nawaz Sharif has emerged (like the PPP) with a large vote bank in both the Sindh urban and rural areas though the PML (N) choice of most candidates in Sindh in the last general elections was atrocious. The fourth fact is that since 1977, but more particularly since 1985, the Province has been gradually polarized because intermittently unelectable so-called “people’s representatives” (potential PML (N) defectors) had robbed the Sindh roost over which they ruled and are now scurrying for cover from criminal prosecution, as is their usual practice, to the party that wields power. The fifth fact is that no serious concerted socio-economic initiative has been undertaken in either the urban or rural areas to ameliorate the distress of the common man and this has contributed to creeping anarchy settling into society for which the civil forces of law and order are not equipped morally or materially to deal with. The last and most important fact is that a combination of bad faith and bad judgement has created a situation tailor-made for the enemy to exploit, this is now being undertaken with such ruthless vengeance by RAW that if the volcano that is brewing in Sindh explodes, 1971 in comparison will be a Sunday church picnic.
Given that Gen (Retd) Aslam Beg, formerly COAS and lately PML (J) recruit, has recently said that the Army and the MQM are not in a state of confrontation in Sindh, one may well ask, where is the beef? After two years of “chasing shadows” (a direct phrase from the ex-COAS circa 1990), the Army hierarchy remains seemingly convinced that the MQM leadership prefers its own narrow ambitions in preference to the greater national interest, this suspicion has been further heightened because of the Human Rights initiative taken internationally by MQM. Conversely, why should not the MQM get that feeling that the Army is out to do them in, given that all urban area operations seem to be focussed on them? In 1990, the then COAS Gen Beg declined to take army action to quell criminal elements in Sindh unless he had sanction under Article 245 of the Constitution, with its refusal Ms Benazir regime punched its own time clock to extinction. Two years after stepping into the Sindh cauldron, other than the fact that Gen Beg and PPP are now uncomfortable but nominal allies because of the Wattoo factor, the Army has achieved spectacular results in the interior but in the urban areas their success has been of mixed blessings for a myriad number of reasons. Cleansing the MQM of its militants, the Army’s continued presence has become a media disaster, not unsurprisingly given that most welcomes tend to wear off in due time. Forced into a role that was not in keeping with their prime mission, the Army has performed a thankless task with increasing apprehension that the situation has taken on the life of a hydra-headed monster, you deal with one urban problem, other problems crop up in its place.
Mohajirs comprise a sizeable segment of the population in Pakistan. Though the MQM is representative of the main population blocs in Karachi and Hyderabad, a greater majority lives in various numbers in all the towns and cities of Pakistan (even upto 20-22% of the populace in some cases) while a sizeable percentage is settled in the rural areas of the Seraiki belt, a geographical reality that cannot be denied. In the 1993 elections Mian Nawaz Sharif would have swept into power with an overwhelming majority except for several political missteps, the most crucial being vacillation in the getting of active support from the MQM. That would have certainly given him a sizeable swing vote in every urban constituency in Pakistan (not that critical since he was fairly well placed in urban areas) but more importantly in the Seraiki belt that went almost solid in default to the PPP and its PML (J) allies, in many cases by narrow margin. The lack of MQM’s NA seats because of the MQM boycott also meant that the decisive bloc of a potential ally was lost to the PML (N) in the National Assembly. Lesson learnt from this exercise is that the MQM represent a segment of the populace that cannot be denied its place in the sun to whoever wants to retain Federal power. Down the line another fact to emerge is that isolating a vocal minority cannot be ever possible in a major urban city.
Pakistan’s Beverage Manufacturers have got a stay order from the Court preventing CBR from implementing the GoP decision to replace capacity tax imposed on 01 July 1990 and revert to the levy of central excise duty at the factory gate on actual manufacture as was once the practice. It may be remembered that it was during the first Ms Benazir Regime that the Beverage Manufacturers lobby had capacity tax implemented. To quote Seth Mohammad Aslam, then Member Provincial Assembly as well as owner of Leghari Beverages (Pvt) Ltd and Multan Beverages (Pvt) Ltd, from his letter of May 11, 1990 to the then Finance Minister, “Simple taxation system will ensure government revenues and will facilitate the tax payer also. It is requested that summer season is on, kindly survey the present installed capacity in the Industry and levy tax per operating valve. By adaptation of this simple system of taxation, the Government revenues should increase between 25 — 30% in the first year. This simple taxation system will not only enable the government to increase the revenue but will also relieve a large number of staff members from all the beverage factories and vigilance and intelligence agencies. I hope all these relieved staff members will be utilized on creative jobs i.e. finding new assessees for the government or assisting people to understand new forthcoming general sales tax”, unquote. In short, the Pakistan Beverage Manufacturers’ Association lobby maintained that they would be liable to pay Rs.1291.60 million, an addition of Rs.200 million which they were paying as “bribes”. Besides the fact that it is amazing for Pakistan entities of US companies to accept that they were in violation of the US “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act” or had knowledge thereof making them accessories, the fact that anyone would openly confirm the corruption within the system seems to have gone unnoticed in the laissez-faire attitude of GoP toward accountability.
Two recent incidents show up in stark relief the magnitude of the Catch-22 problems that have polarized society in Sindh into a seemingly unbridgeable divide. The first was the murderous set-piece ambush in Baldia that resulted in the deaths of a Ranger Captain, an SHO Police and four other policemen. Since the location was nominally an MQM majority area, the immediate reaction of all concerned was to blame it on the MQM, hundreds of suspects being picked up for interrogation. The other incident was the claim of a girl of Kashmiri origin, Naheed Butt, that she had been strip-searched during the search of her home by law enforcement agencies (LEAs) looking for an MQM activist named Taqi.
Baldia is inhabited by Mohajirs who originally belong almost evenly to a Baloch sub-tribe called Patni and “Turks” originating from Turkish sea-faring class that had settled in Kathiawar. Even there pre-partition these two communities had rivalries that had degenerated into gangland-type warfare which continued post-partition on a sporadic on-off basis in Karachi. The Patni-origin criminal gangs tended to lean towards the MQM post-1985 but remained quite independent, the “Turks” on the other hand aligned themselves with local crime syndicates drawing most of its members from the Punjab Pakhtoon Ittehad (PPI), mainly the Pathan “Swabiwal” drug gangs. As per prevailing practice all over Karachi, the local police took a percentage as “Bhatta” (or protection money) from all the gangs. Baldia’s great silent majority of Mohajirs remain MQM sympathizers but the local MQM leaders do not have the same control (or for that matter, clout) as the MQM has in other MQM-majority areas. Being involved to an extent, the local police left the criminal gangs on both the sides alone while keeping the vast majority of the population in line through intimidation, not a new modus operandi for corrupt enforcement agencies all over the third world. The deceased SHO was believed to have developed animosity with the Patnis and was seen to be favouring the “Swabiwal” Pathans in their on-going feud. As a sequel to an earlier incident where a Pathan youth had been killed in a drunken dispute, that late Sadiq needed to restore his authority in the area by a “show of force” with the inadvertent help of the Army. It seems quite clear that Late Capt Amir of the Rangers was totally innocent of the greater manipulation in which he and his sub-unit were being used as a pawn. In short order, a deadly ambush decimated almost the entire party, whether the masked assailants were aware that a Ranger officer was part of the group being ambushed is a matter of conjecture that can only be confirmed after anyone who took part in the ambush is caught and confesses.