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Archive for July, 1994

Breakdown of a City

A fortnight of rain devastation has made Karachi into a city under internal siege, beset by electricity and water problems. As the civic infrastructure collapsed past the point of overload, irate citizens have been protesting violently in front of KESC and KWSB sub-units. A gradual erosion of civic discipline over the past few weeks has been manifest in the masses venting their increasing frustration on a whole range of issues on the more visible and immediate causes leading to their present misery. On Friday July 22, 1994, a massive power shutdown paralysed most of the Province of Sindh for over six hours, some areas in Karachi came on line after 24 hours in some cases. Worse was to follow! On Saturday July 23, 1994, a “flash” led to a fire in the Gizri Grid Station blacking out almost the entire South of Karachi. Many areas (including this scribe) are still without electricity or water for over 48 hours later despite Herculean efforts by the KESC to effect emergency repairs. Not to be outdone in compounding the situation, anti-State forces, ever ready to fan ethnic and religious disturbances, lobbed a grenade into a bus, killing eight and wounding many others. But for the presence of mind of the bus driver, who drove the carnage vehicle straight to a hospital, the casualty list would have been much higher.

The power shutdown symbolically represents a greater breakdown psychologically, that of the social and economic fabric of the nation. As the civic facilities go past the fail-safe line, the seething frustration of the masses is coming to a boil. While all this was fairly predictable, the shocking aspect of the whole affair seems to be that nobody seems to be incharge of this great port city, the economic lifeline to the nation. Indeed despite Ms Benazir’s best efforts, there seem to be a crisis of leadership in the entire country. As far as Karachi is concerned, the Sindh CM seems to have abdicated responsibility. Since the elected Mayor and his councillors have been largely sidelined, a grey area exists between the civil administration and the LEAs. The LEAs are responsible for law and order problems but the civil administration is adrift for the most part, responding half-heartedly to both the political and military leadership, unsure as to whom to turn for central direction. The tragedy is that no single entity exists to organise and coordinate civic relief to the masses of Karachi, whether in crisis or normal times. During the rain devastation the civil administration was totally dependant upon individual dedication and initiative rather than any coordinated, cohesive countering of the catastrophe. In modern cities, a central CRISIS CONTROL automatically takes over most of the TV and radio time to give directions (and relief) to the public, here PTV remained an oblivious bystander, giving only passing mention to the unfolding tragedy. Over a 100 lives have been lost in Karachi due to the unprecedented rains and related problems, why is the administration sitting on its haunches, if not its hands?


A growing crisis The system in trouble

Seventeen years after July 5, 1977 it is easy to dismiss Martial Law as the brainchild of one ambitious general. Military rule came about because the democratic system failed to address its own shortcomings, thereafter circumstances created a domino effect that saw political power slip into the hands of soldiers much before the actual day of the military coup. It seems that while those at the helm of military affairs at that time seem to have been certainly nursing their own ambitions, professional soldiers down the line sincerely believed that the political polarisation would lead to civil war and a cooling-off period was necessary to prevent anarchy and bloodshed. The main reason why the late Dictator was able to carry the Army beyond the 90-day initial period was his promises that the entire system would be overhauled and accountability made an institutional part of the process so that the nation would not continue to be in peril in the future due to internal strife. In effect, the late Dictator played a confidence trick in fooling the Army into going along with his ambitions while repeatedly promising change in the system. By the time late Ziaul Haq inadvertently left the national stage in Aug 1988, he had not done anything to reform the system except tinker with it in order to perpetuate his rule. His only saving grace was to stand upto the Soviets in the decade long Afghan war. Over the years accountability became an endangered species along with a handful of honest, motivated persons dedicated to a truly democratic system. In the earlier Bhutto regime some such people were his closest aides like J A Rahim, Mairaj Mohammad Khan, Shaikh Rasheed, etc.

One may disagree with Ms Benazir on any number of counts but on one issue there is no disagreement, she has acted as a force-multiplier in the process of democratization in Pakistan. Though she would like to project otherwise her father short-circuited the system to perpetuate a democratic form of dictatorship on the pattern in vogue in the world of socialistic democracies of the 60s and 70s. As his closest advisors became disenchanted with him and his autocratic rule, the antipathy became mutual, till ultimately he became what he had set out to overcome, a dictator but in civilian clothing. There is a fallacy that dictators cannot be popular, in the mould of populist leaders like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto they certainly can be! Even late Ziaul Haq had his measure of mass popularity that continues after his death despite the aberration of martial rule. Having brought unfettered democracy to Pakistan, Ms Benazir Bhutto was fettered by the remnants of the forces that had emasculated democratic norm over the years. However, despite bad advice to the contrary, Ms Bhutto took the one very important step to sustain democracy by insisting upon and ensuring Press freedom. A free Press is necessary for safeguarding democracy because it provides a medium for accountability, that being the cornerstone for controlling excess of any kind. This freedom of the Press ensured that the Fourth Estate, more particularly the English language Press, gave Ms Bhutto massive support during the interim period in the cold and in the run-up to the 1993 Elections.


The “Reverse” trap

The situation in Afghanistan is going from bad to worse. Instead of reaping the rewards of a decade plus of struggle and sacrifice, Afghans are choked with the bile of a bitter victory over communism, their hopes of an Islamic way of life destroyed by endless conflict between former allies. Instead, Communism’s agents are showing signs of being alive and well, this time in a Russian garb without the socialist ideology, as surrogates for their master’s so-called “near abroad”. For all its troubles (and festering wounds), Pakistan is repeatedly getting a kick in the teeth from friend and foe alike, or should we say former friends and implacable foes? We are caught in the vice of a classic “Heads I lose, tails you win” situation (with apologies to the original phrase).

Throughout the Afghan war, Rashid Dostum kept his mercenary forces composed of the Jumbish Milli fighting on the side of the Soviet forces. Once it was clear that Soviet forces would withdraw, he turned against communist strongman Najibullah and allied himself with former arch-enemy Ahmed Shah Masood, thus affording the Jamaat-e-Islami the opportunity to take control over Kabul in preference to Gulbuddin Hikmatyar and the other Mujahideen faction. Since dominance over Kabul bears the stamp of Afghan State’s authority if not the actual power, this was a significant shift in allegiances at a crucial time in recent Afghan history. A few months ago Dostum again changed sides, going across the divide in allying himself with another implacable foe, Hikmatyar, whose dislike for the Rabbani/Ahmed Shah Masood combine seems to be deep enough for him to swallow his Islamic qualms and embrace former communist Dostum in an “unholy” embrace. Since Dostum happens to have the bulk of the Afghan Air Force based in Mazar-i-Sharif and Shaberghan, the cities of Kabul and Herat are being bombed at will, civilian and military material and human beings are targeted without distinction. While the subject of the present fracas would occupy much more than a column, we propose to confine ourselves to bringing into focus the evil designs of Russian (and allied) vested interest to turn their historic defeat at the hands of the Mujahideen into victory.


Games People Play

Without a clear majority in the 1988 NA elections but with 90 seats plus, Ms Benazir anxiously (and successfully) sought the Army’s nod in making the Federal Government. Less than two years later, she was ill-advised in trying to retire the then Chairman JSCS, Admiral Sirohey, and kick the then COAS, Gen Aslam Beg, upstairs into this largely ceremonial post. Technically Chairman JCSC is senior in rank to the COAS but toothless in the measure of actual power. Even with her own nominee as the DG ISI, Lt Gen (Retd) S.R.Kallue, a very competent professional soldier, she was caught by complete surprise by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan in an operation for her removal as PM overseen by the then DGMI, Maj Gen Asad Durrani, in collaboration with an Election Cell within the Presidency comprising luminaries such as Roedad Khan and Ijlal Haider Zaidi. One messes with the internal working of the military hierarchy in a third world Muslim country at one’s peril. There are some games one does not play.