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Archive for October, 1995

Two women — and a funeral?

Bangladesh has been through its longest strike in recent history, a four-day (96 hrs) event called by the Opposition that paralysed the country. Awami League’s Hasina Wajed, supported by jailed former President Gen Ershad’s Jatiya Party (JP), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), etc have been agitating for early elections for the past year or so. The prolonged (and frequent) stoppage in the workplace is affecting the economy, a sector that was just beginning to see light at the end of a rather longish dark tunnel.


Alarm Bells!

The Annual Report of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) for the year 1994-95 seems to have created a stir in financial circles, certainly much more than one can recall in the recent past. However the full impact of the financial implications on the economy as enunciated in the Report has not yet become general public consumption, the common man remains unaware of the catastrophe likely to befall him. The Government reaction has been subdued enough to be called as non-reaction. Maybe they are all “Infantry-men” in the Finance Ministry and know that when under fire to keep their heads down. While the detailed reaction from professional economists and other experts of the country is still awaited, the layman should expect the worst, our financial sins have finally caught up with us. Some aspects of the Report beyond the cold statistical data and figures must be brought out for the benefit of the general public.


System Failure?

A low-key but intense national debate has been initiated because of the comments of some foreign observers expressing doubt about Pakistan’s survival as an entity. In the immortal paraphrased words of Mark Twain, “rumours of our demise may have been greatly exaggerated”, a cursory analysis does show that the “doom and gloom” clouds are much more dense in Karachi, even among sincere, dedicated citizens, than up-country. In the face of continued insecure environment for the city’s citizens, this is not surprising. The creeping anxiety in the psyche of the intellectuals and the entrepreneurs should ring alarm bells for those who are genuinely interested in the continued sovereignty and integrity of the country.

An extremely bright, young ISI major in the then East Pakistan in November 1990 gave his visiting boss from Islamabad a presentation in Dhaka as to what was likely to happen if events continued to follow an uncertain and erratic course. He ended his detailed submission by commenting that those who strongly believed in a united Pakistan felt very insecure as they would be left in the lurch if the worst came to pass. Having said his piece with courage, the field officer waited with bated breath for pearls of wisdom to emanate from the great man. It was not long in forthcoming, “if you are feeling scared, let me shift you and your family to West Pakistan”. That astonished young man, who later rose to high military rank in Bangladesh, decided in sheer frustration at that point of time that despite his personal convictions about the survival of Pakistan, his ethnic background left him no choice but to go with the growing synergy among the masses in then East Pakistan for a separate country. Whereas the intent of the individual was to bring into focus the strategic relevance of the times, his boss, whose appointment and vision thereof should have taken in the measure of the situation, reduced the implications to that of a petty individual requirement. Of such faux pas by the high and mighty is secession born! Today if you go to Islamabad and aspire to get the attention of those who matter in between office routine, afternoon nap, golf, riding and/or tennis and before the usual evening reception (i.e. business as usual), the answer to your repeated entreaties to please focus on Karachi in supersession to everything else is, “shift your family to Islamabad!” When you pester them repeatedly in the hope that maybe your persistence would break through their veneer of calm, the telephone operator (or bearer or whoever) has a repeated message for you, “Sahib has just left for a reception”. If this was confined to one person one would dismiss it as an aberration, unfortunately the exasperation with the bearer of bad tidings about Karachi is universal in Islamabad. While the country was burning in 1970-71, the leadership was out to an extended lunch, no wonder our world collapsed around us. Such is the irony of fate that when it did collapse, all those who had gone from pillar to post predicting dire straits unless remedial measures were taken, immediately became “traitors” for having stated the obvious. Twenty-five years later this is the same labelling for those who now dare to talk (and write) about growing Mohajir alienation from the Pakistan mainstream. The tragedy is that now almost, all except some myopic parochial diehards (with what goes for brains in their shoes), accept that gross mistakes across the whole spectrum were committed in the East Pakistan, dereliction of the norms of leadership and statecraft being directly responsible for the disaster.


Combating urban terrorism

Agents of the British SAS (commandos) killed 3 suspected IRA gunmen in the streets of Gibraltar in 1988. The reasons given by the British Government for this “elimination with extreme prejudice” was the apprehension that the trio were about to set off an explosive-laden car, later found to be speculation. Very recently, the International Court of Justice (at the Hague) gave a verdict against the Gibraltar killing (far away from Northern Ireland) as grossly violating human rights, arousing reaction from the British Government and the public in support of the SAS action. Since the British Government happens to be one of the original draftees of the Human Rights Convention (and usually very vocal about human rights in third countries), there is a surprising discrepancy between theory and reality. Therefore Northern Ireland example is a good role model to understand why even holier-than-thou countries, acutely sensitive to human rights, rarely seem to practice at home what they preach to the world at large when society as they perceive it is endangered by terrorism.

No civilized society can afford to stand by and allow urban guerilla warfare to be waged in its streets, the problem arises in the escalating level of response that is considered enough to contain the terrorism. A friend of mine in the LEAs maintains that the only way to counter terror is by terror. The Superpowers followed the same balancing act in a far different canvas in the practice of nuclear detente, “Mutually Assured Destruction” or MAD. In combating urban terrorism, psychological warfare is used to alienate the population from terrorists but this is a double-edged weapon that may well backfire if not accompanied by socio-economic measures. In Northern Ireland, British SAS undercover agents instilled a balance of terror among the urban population rivalling that of IRA gunmen, safe havens among the urban population therefore became that much scarce. The British Government always followed a two track “carrot and stick” policy, containing social, political and economic initiatives for the people of Northern Ireland. While the Sinn Fein represents the vast majority of the voting Catholic populace, the IRA gunmen have been reduced over the last decade or so to a hard core of less than 100 terrorists, who nevertheless have been successful in keeping the peace process in Northern Ireland hostage. The only reason that the Irish are now sitting at the negotiating table is because the LEAs have maintained their tough attitude, the hardcore terrorists have been decimated to the stage that they have had to give way to the politicians to settle the matter through peaceful negotiations.