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Archive for September, 1995

Europe-East Asia Summit – The Forgotten Middle Kingdom

Some extraordinary men symbolize the rise of economic power in East Asia today. Today’s success can be attributed directly to outstanding leadership provided by the likes of Deng Xiaoping of China, Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore, Suharto of Indonesia, Mahathir of Malaysia, etc. This is not to discount successive successful leaders in Japan, South Korea, Thailand and even in the Crown Colony of Hong Kong, who have taken their countries pell mell into making the 21st century East Asia’s very own. Second only in size and importance to the Annual DAVOS Summit of the World Economic Forum (WEF), the Europe-East Asia Summit has become a recurring future of some note since it regularly continues to attract Heads of State and Government, business leaders, senior academics, public figures, etc not only from the region but also from Europe on a single platform to analyse and advise, this year the focus was on the strengthening of relations between Europe and East Asia, regretfully it seems, to the exclusion of all the other peoples of the world except for the North America Region.


Thinking the Unthinkable

Almost 250 years to the day a lady named Mughlani Begum was installed as the Governor of the Province of Lahore, succeeding her deceased husband, the Viceroy of Lahore, Moinul Mulk, popularly known as “Meer Mannoo”. A compromise between several opposing factions who did not want anyone strong and powerful from any of the other sides in that seat of power, she ruled Lahore between 1754 and 1756 with such authority that the factions who had agreed to a woman in the first place out of a misplaced conception that she was the weaker of the sexes, united out of convenience to depose her (and the favourite Eunuch she had subsequently married), installing in her place another puppet. Mughlani Begum emulated many Lahorites (before and after her) who sought refuge in Kashmir whenever Ahmed Shah Abdali ventured from Afghanistan. With the Kashmir valley inaccessible to Pakistanis, the place of political exile presently is Model Town, today’s Mughlani Begum being succeeded as Chief Minister (CM) by another nobody (at least on a sliding scale basis) named Sardar Arif Nakai, giving company in the political cold to his former mentor, Mian Nawaz Sharif. Like the retired US general given the assignment by US President Lyndon Baines Johnson to assess the war situation in Vietnam, who advised “just declare victory and go home”, Ms Benazir Bhutto and the State-controlled media has declared victory in dislodging Wattoo from his CM’s perch and gone off to Islamabad, conveniently forgetting that the whole exercise was meant to install a PPP person as CM according to the burning desire of the PPP rank and file in the Punjab who struggled mightily to be rid of Wattoo but are still left out in the cold. The exercise of constitutional farce continues, whereby a minuscule minority, in the form of Chattha and party, have emerged much stronger while Ms Benazir, a brave front notwithstanding, has been severely wounded politically, using up many of her rumoured nine lives — and her near and dear ones that much poorer for having doled out millions to the greedy and undeserving in a no-win game of horse trading.

Pakistan today is in a deep crisis because of the farce that is practiced in this country in the name of democracy, having no relation to constitutional logic or morality. The wonder is that educated men prefer to ignore this reality. In Sindh there is an urban-rural divide that is gradually fostering an economic crisis. While one or two-day strikes hurts petty businesses, the frequency of strikes has started to paralyse commercial activity on a wider scale, particularly those dependent on daily cash flow, such as various services, vending, etc. Children stayed away from schools, shops remained closed, office attendance was thin, Karachi Stock Exchange was closed, port activity was minimal, but most important since the cash counters of the banks and the Central Clearing House of State Bank of Pakistan did not function, money movement which is the oil of the economic engine was shutoff. The result is that the engine that revs up the economy in the form of livelihood of the middle class and the poor, is grinding to a halt, no matter that certain areas of Karachi had transport plying on a reduced basis. The gradual wearing down of Karachi’s commercial life is having a domino-like effect on the rest of the country, we are not many miles from economic midnight. Sharing of the ever-decreasing economic pie by competing ethnic groups, makes Karachi’s problem very political. While Gen Babar has had success in his single-minded campaign against the terrorists, the Administration is losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the people, only possible through a dual track socio-economic package meant to alleviate the miseries of the common Karachi citizen. Without such an initiative, the schism is going to get deeper, instead of trying to re-induct the alienated Mohajir Community back into the mainstream of Pakistani life, we are making them more estranged from our national ethnic melting pot. Everybody agrees something has to be done to stop this polarisation, why doesn’t somebody do it then before the country goes to pieces? While the awaited revolt in the NWFP against Aftab Sherpao has not taken place, it is lurking dangerously near the surface. In Balochistan, the government of Zulfikar Ali Magsi is only surviving by pragmatic exercise of the art of compromise but this delicate balancing act can be undone by the re-settling of the rebel Bugti clan of Kalpars in Sui, what it will do to the supply of gas if a conflagration between the warring clans breaks out is left to one’s imagination! As it is the Taliban movement in Afghanistan may well spill over into the areas bordering Pakistan in both NWFP and Balochistan, with disastrous consequences for our more liberal society.


Head-Hunting and the President

Acting on the advice of the Federal Government, President Farooq Khan Leghari suspended the Punjab Government for a period of two months, asking the Governor to assume all powers. A day earlier, all the PPP ministers in CM Manzoor Wattoo’s Provincial Cabinet had resigned as an orchestrated move to create “suitable” conditions to justify Presidential action. While no tears can be shed (without resorting to hypocrisy) for the Wattoo Coalition which was unnatural in the first place and overdue for demise, democracy could have been better served by asking Wattoo to take a “vote of confidence” route or better still, to have moved a vote of no-confidence against him while he was in power. Twice now, the President has used his powers to intercede and interfere in the principle of provincial autonomy by causing the demise of the NWFP and Punjab Governments to facilitate the entry of a PPP-led Coalition Government. Technically within Constitutional parameters, as far as the norms of democracy he is constitutionally pledged to uphold the President stands on rather shaky moral grounds. Another round of manipulation and horse-trading by both major political groupings was set in motion, this shameless exercise denigrates the entire democratic system. While his partiality and judgement can be called into question, the President is a decent human being and he should have adopted a more neutral stance so as not to call his partiality and judgement into question. The President must not forget he was a victim of “Mehrangate”, the scam perpetrated by Mehran Bank’s unscrupulous Younus Habib (remember him?) and others to maliciously defame his character. Haji Nawaz Khokhar, the then PML (N) MNA, was most vociferous in demanding an “egg and tomato” assault on the President in the NA during his address. It was only when he jumped ship and went across to the PPP that it became clear his this “more loyal than the king” cheerleading, ostensibly on behalf of Mian Nawaz Sharif, was part of a master scam devised to dupe (and ensure) that the Opposition remained in confrontation with the President lest his known upright nature lead him to “positive neutrality” as per his Constitutional role. Who was behind this conspiracy? Before those of us led astray by the scam could render an apology of sorts, we were rudely awakened to reality by the Punjab Blitzkrieg led by the Governor, Lt Gen (Retd) Raja (Von) Saroop. Those of us who had seen (and maybe fantasised) about the President becoming independent for the good of Pakistan, have to live with the fact that the widely awaited transition of Leghari from PPP stalwart to being the President of all the peoples of Pakistan has suffered a setback.


Shooting to kill

A few days ago, ASF air-guards on a scheduled PIA flight shot and killed two persons who were trying to slit the throat of another passenger, an MNA from the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party. One can only imagine the mid-air drama as the murderous attempt was made. The two ASF men had split seconds to take a decision, whether to attempt to overpower the two assassins or shoot to kill in the greater interest of the safety of not only the person attacked but indeed the whole aircraft with its full complement of passengers. Any indecision and/or delay would have had the same end result. At that point of time years of training and resultant professionalism took over, the two ASF air-guards responded in the only way they were expected to, they shot the two assailants and shot not to maim but to kill. Any other course would have been dereliction of duty that could have had unfortunate consequences down the line.

Regretfully, the whole episode has been approached negatively by the national media for the most part and the ASF has been pilloried from pillar to post for endangering the safety of the aircraft and passengers far (1) not discovering the “weapons” (a razor and a scissor) prior to the boarding of the aircraft (2) firing in mid-air and thus risking bullet holes in the pressurised aircraft and (3) using excessive force inasfar as “shooting to kill” rather than to incapacitate. Understandably the ASF has been obliged to answer its critics and go on the defensive in a situation where one feels they deserve kudos.


The sixth of September (1965)

History is witness that the sixth of September symbolizes a day of heroism and sacrifice for Pakistan, the rank and file of the Pakistan Armed Forces paying the price for our freedom with their blood. When the very existence of the country depended upon their motivation and bravery, they stood up and were counted, many giving the supreme sacrifice of their lives. We eulogise their courage, without being generally aware of the chain of events that led to this near catastrophe for Pakistan. As has been the norm throughout history, obfuscation has been the order of the day to protect vested interest.

In keeping with their penchant to occupy and seize any territory wherever and whenever their neighbours’ vigil seems to be lax, Indians occupied a few desert posts in the Rann of Kutch clearly within Pakistan territory. Para-military skirmishes turned into regular troops facing off each other. In short order, Pakistani troops in May 1965 stormed the desert posts in the supposedly oil-rich region and expelled the Indians. Among those who conducted themselves above and beyond the call of duty were (then) Lt Nadir Parvez, now PML (N) stalwart and MNA. The Rann of Kutch was a stinging Indian defeat in the first-ever confrontation in strength of unit PLUS level after Asalong Mouza, when Indians were expelled from our side of the meandering Feni River in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in 1962. Coming after India’s China debacle in 1962 the Rann of Kutch acted as a catalyst to a future all-out war in the region.