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Archive for August, 1995

A Chat with Altaf Hussain Abyssyania Lines to Mill Hills

An early recollection as a teenager is of being beaten up by an elder for putting Ms Fatima Jinnah’s election flag atop his house in Abyssynia Lines in the Presidential Elections in 1964, “did he want his father to lose his government job?” Another was the Rs.14,000 his father collected after years of hard work to pay for the ownership of the house in Azizabad now known far and wide as “Nine Zero”. “My father was a Railway Station Master in 1947, a man of some means in those days, he gave that up to migrate to Pakistan, working as a clerk for many years in a distantly located factory”, he says proudly, adding that in many ways his mother did more, not only the back-breaking normal house-keeping chores but also sewing clothes single-mindedly to ensure that the children got education. From such humble non-political roots is today’s Altaf Hussain born, says Altaf Hussain, a political symbol for millions of his ethnic brethren. Loved by many, indeed also despised by many, it is unfair to pass judgment on him without a face-to-face meeting to assess the man and his politics.

Considerably more mellow than he is made out to be, the firebrand and orator in him emerges from time to time whenever a subject and theme he favours or frowns upon surfaces. Gen Babar is one such current favourite object (of hatred), “how can a man without any issue himself, have any feelings about ruthlessly persecuting the children of others? The Mohajir youth are being brutalized, their childhood has been taken away by this self-styled “conqueror” of Karachi”, he asks. Maybe Gen Babar is acting in such fashion, one suggests, as a lightning rod meant to draw the widespread criticism of Ms Benazir after her “cowards and rats” Kasur speech away from her and on himself? This line of reasoning is obviously new to Altaf Hussain, he gives this a little thought before disagreeing since it “tends to exonerate Gen Babar”. He does not condone terrorism, on the contrary he condemns it, “Agencies and hired killers do many of the dirty deeds for which MQM gets the blame”, he protests but questions what is the Mohajir youth supposed to do, uprooted from hearth and home, hungry and hunted, without leadership and out of control? Why cannot he control them through the mesmeric hold he exercises over the broad mass of his constituency? “What is the threshold of pain and endurance they have to bear? Consider their plight and answer me what choices are left to them?” he counter-questions. One concedes it is difficult but that it is the “Karma” of all leaders, to lead their flock through dire straits to the right choices. Silence and then a wry smile!


Pakistan’s foreign policy – Going somewhere?

Given that “war is too important to be left to generals,” to quote George Clemenceau, it is also true that foreign policy is too important a subject to be left to diplomats only. The Mandarins of the Foreign Office would have us believe that the intricacies of external relations require experience and sophistication in the art of diplomacy which is well beyond the intellectual capacity of lesser mortals like us, that issues are not so simple as they seem and behind-the-scenes activity is the prime contributor to relations between nations and as such are much more complicated than they would appear to be. Frankly, this is both true and false. It is true because there are always issues between nations that are best debated and solved without public scrutiny but false in the sense that the basic relationship between nations is very much like that between human beings, it is a simple equation where necessity transcends likes and dislikes.


The crumbling face of terrorism

Over the past few weeks, the law enforcement agencies (LEAs) have had a number of successes in counter-urban guerilla operations in Karachi. While some middle level terrorists have been paraded before the media individually but of crucial importance to the urban war was the “ambush” of Farooq Dada and his associates as well as the capture alive of Fahim “Commando” along with his gang. These are positive factors of which the LEAs can be proud of. Despite his penchant at going off on a tangent to the bewilderment of all concerned, the PPP regime’s pointman in the war against terrorism, Maj Gen (Retd) Nasirullah Khan Babar, the Federal Interior Minister deserves kudos. For any fighting entity to lose its key sector commanders is always a severe setback, hardened cadres can never be replaced in a short spell of time. It would be crass to deny the Ms Benazir Government their first flush of success in what has been a frustrating (and savage) battle against urban terrorism.

Without any doubt, the major part of the success can be attributed to the closing down of the cellular telephone services. Mobile telephones provided a tremendous communications capability to the terrorists, allowing them freedom of movement and thus an ability for concentration of effort at vulnerable points in the city. The disruption of their communications meant that both for operational and administrative purposes they had to come out of the shadows more frequently, making them more vulnerable to surveillance and detection. Except perhaps in Grozny (Chechnya) by the Chechens, there has been no commensurate use by urban guerrillas of mobiles with such devastating effect. With communications gone, the command and control channel of the urban guerrillas was completely broken with a commensurate decrease in their lethal potential. The initiative has now passed on to the LEAs. As anyone with cursory knowledge of guerilla warfare will know, those who retain the initiative will always have the upper hand. With terrorists on the run and with those who have been caught singing like canaries, the tide in the battle to curb terrorism has turned somewhat and one would be crass to deny GOP’s pointman Gen Babar his due. For the past several weeks, the Federal Interior Minister has taken direct command of counter-terrorist operations and despite his many detractors, he has lived upto his reputation for being result-oriented. After all if he fails he will take the blame, so why not give him credit where he certainly deserves it.


Pakistan’s foreign policy – A passage to nowhere

Pakistan’s 48 years since independence from British tutelage can be divided into two equal 24 year segments, the period before 1971 and the period since. It was during our hour of greatest need that we had the maximum support of our friends, 24 years later we do not have the same close relationship with any of the nations that then stood by us. Theoretically we hold that only democracy can strengthen external relationships, paradoxically our foreign relations have been strong during periods of dictatorship in comparison to the periods of democratic rule. This has mainly been because of circum-happenstance rather than any logical policy. While remaining an anti-communist (for communist read Soviet Union) bulwark in the Cold War (SEATO and CENTO), our relationship with Communist China expanded till reaching a symbolic peak during the 1965 war with India. During 1971, we had overwhelming support of China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and others.


The last refuge

Discipline is what differentiates the Armed Forces from a mob, the strict and constant application of it ensures that the difference remains. Before an officer reaches field officer status i.e. a Major (or Squadron Leader equivalent in the Air Force and Lieutenant Commander in the Navy) he must pass the “Captain to Major Examination”, among […]