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Archive for January, 1997

D Minus 5 Countdown or meltdown?

The third and final PATHFINDER POLL (16-25 Jan 97) ascertained the preference of the electorate in 75 cities and towns on a much more comprehensive basis, including most of the rural areas not fully covered in the two earlier polls confined to only 30 cities and towns. Two vital queries had been added, viz (1) whether elections or accountability first? and (2) the voter preference for candidates in different constituencies? In Punjab, Sindh and NWFP a majority did want accountability first but overall a slight majority (52%) of the populace favoured elections first, mainly because in the urban areas of Sindh, mostly the deprived MQM, wanted elections first in overwhelming numbers. The translation of voter preference to seat acquisition by political parties remains a somewhat inexact science in Pakistan, particularly because of the “first past the post” system. Imran Khan’s Tehrik-i-Insaf (TI) displays nationwide support of almost 16%, averaging about the same in all the Provinces, but has only 3 seats projected in the National Assembly (NA) to show for it.

In the NA seat for the Islamabad Capital Territory, Benazir’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is ahead at 38% to Mian Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML (N)) at 32% with TI a distant third at 22%. The PPP vote has been buoyed by PML (N) turncoat MNA, Haji Nawaz Khokhar’s vote bank going to PPP as well as the fact that PPP candidate Nayyar Bukhari has always been a strong candidate even in previous NA elections. However, there are indications that Khokhar’s supporters may not toe his line and will still vote PML (N).


People are willing to march with Nawaz

Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif addressed the nation on TV and radio on February 23, 1997. The speech was short on rhetoric and long in substance, it laid the ground-work for a comprehensive plan to take Pakistan into the 21st century. Investor confidence is an abstract quality built up on public perception, what the PM said was well received by the anxious masses. Unlike Benazir Bhutto, whose main focus at present is to rant and rave about horses, the people of Pakistan had the good sense to give an overwhelming mandate to Mian Sahib.

The PM outlined a number of pragmatic steps among them, viz (1) guaranteed protection for foreign investment, (2) private detective agencies allowed, (3) ban on extravagant spending on marriages, (4) no concessional plots, (5) no more duty-free cars for VIPs, (6) Sunday to be weekly holiday, (7) restriction of use of Government transport, (8) all police guards withdrawn, (9) National Health Scheme for the poor, (10) no flag car except VVIP, (11) submission of assets by government employees and confiscation of undeclared wealth and (12) Accountability Committees all over the country. In fact there were 28 far-reaching initiatives in total, out of which 16 not mentioned are not any less important. Taken together they herald real change as never seen before in this country.


The judgement of Solomon

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has confirmed that the judgment in the former PM’s case against Dissolution of the National Assembly of Pakistan would be given on or about Wednesday Jan 29, 1997, less than a week away. As the nation waits with bated breath, it is time to take stock of the various scenarios that could emanate from the verdict and the options available with permutations and combinations thereof. While it is expected that the Honourable Justices would go strictly according to the letter of the law they cannot remain isolated from society or oblivious of what is happening around them, the aspirations of the people of the country and their perceptions, evidence of malfeasance or lack of it notwithstanding. If the world is a global village in this information age, the nation is not more than a village meeting hall.

In the first scenario, we have the National Assembly (NA) being restored. Like in the Nawaz Sharif case in 1993, the Ms Benazir government comes back into power and the Caretaker government goes into oblivion as if it never existed, confined to being an aberration that lasted less than 90 days (81 days to be exact, 43 days more than Balakh Sher Mazari Caretaker Government that never was). Because of the many more days that the Meraj Khalid Caretaker government has been in place, many more changes have taken place than during the 38 days Mian Nawaz Sharif was out of power. Furthermore there was much more wrong to right this time than in 1993. At the same time public defections have taken place from Ms Benazir’s camp registering the widespread anger within the PPP about Asif Zardari and his cronies. For Benazir to reverse major decisions of the Caretaker regime would be next to impossible, just putting loyalists back in place in government will take some doing. Remember what a supposedly chastened President could still manage to do in 1993 after the Supreme Court. The next scenario is the one that we are on course at this time, i.e. having the Feb. 3 elections by denying the former PM any relief on the grounds that the President was right in his application of Article 52(2)B of the Constitution. The NA would remain dissolved and the Benazir government remain dismissed, elections would be held in less than 10 days. Unlike Khalid Anwar’s submissions in the Mian Nawaz Sharif grounds in 1993 whether the President could exercise such absolute powers in a democratic parliamentary governance, the Plaintiff’s counsel has been reduced to fighting the case mostly on the merit of evidence, most of it overwhelmingly against the Plaintiff. There are technicalities that invite the Court’s attention but would trivialities be enough to stay the hand of the Honourable Justices in the face of widespread public knowledge about wrongdoing? An independent POLL conducted in 93 cities and towns of Pakistan barely 20 days before the elections shows that 45% of those questioned feel that accountability should come before elections, while 31% of the 55% majority asking for elections first feel corruption was a most important issue but that elections should take place first. One may well ask, why is such a major part of the electorate demanding accountability unless there was good reason to believe that wrongdoing on a massive scale took place? Why was there no such demand when the Moeen Qureshi Caretaker Government took office after the Nawaz Sharif regime? A majority of the public believe that the Benazir regime indulged in systematic criminality and misuse of office, that is why they are keen to have accountability in such numbers? The only reason that PPP is surviving, even though as a semblance of itself, is because Asif Zardari is not on the scene and Ms Benazir remains a very potent electoral force.


D Minus 10: Issues vs muck-raking

With 10 days to go before the people exercise their right of adult franchise one would expect the “Accountability Brigade” to give way to the people’s mandate but muck-raking has not only given them a fresh lease of life but also a new dimension to democratic mores in Pakistan.

Ikram Sehgal writes from Karachi INSTEAD of taking the moral high ground on issues our leaders seem to specialise in travelling the low road in assuming that character assassination would gain them electoral victory on February 3. Instead of being apprised of what our candidates can do for the nation, what we are getting to hear mostly is how awful the other person is and how unsuitable for holding office. From time to time issues do surface to be beaten down by the media, hungry for what one can safely label as the “Sita White syndrome” of tarring and feathering one’s opponents. We are stuck in the freeze-frame of negative politics whereas we should be engaged in wholesome debate on issues of importance to the nation both internally and externally. This has given further ammunition to the detractors of holding the elections at all, propounding the advisability for having accountability (Ehtasab) first. With 10 days to go before the people exercise their right of adult franchise one would expect the “Accountability Brigade” to give way to the people’s mandate but muck-raking has not only given them a fresh lease of life but also a new dimension to democratic mores in Pakistan. It is already frustrating to envisage the post-elections period when the losers will have nothing further to lose and the winners will have full control over the official media. If all our leaders have feet of clay where do we go to seek leadership that will take Pakistan safely into the 21st century?


The reverse trap-II

Consider this for a Rubic’s Cube Northern warlord Rashid Dostum is ousted by his erstwhile No. 2, Lieut General Abdul Malik, officially Director Foreign Affairs Directorate, Jumbish Militia, who ostensibly defects to the Taliban and invites them to the Uzbek Capital, Mazar-i-Sharif. The Taliban race to the city and set about trying to enforce their edicts on a very reluctant Uzbek population. When elements of the Shia Wahdat refuse to surrender their weapons and on the contrary kill some Taliban, forces are sent in to flush them out of their stronghold within the city. Outraged Jumbish Milli, Malik’s Uzbek militia, already smarting under orders to surrender their weapons, then attack the Taliban forces from all sides within the city and proceed to decimate the force, the most resounding setback forced by the Taliban by far. Coincidentally and almost simultaneously, Ahmad Shah Masood appears from his Panjsheer stronghold and closes down the Salang Tunnel and thus interdicts the Taliban Lines of Communications (L of Cs). For good measure he also takes Jabal Seraj, a key town on the road from Kabul to the Mazar-i-Sharif. For their part, the Shia Wahdat isolate the Taliban at Pol-i-Khumri and the other elements of the Anti-Taliban alliance take over Golbahar, both important towns on the L of C. While we would like to believe that all this was an amazing coincidence, the presence of Malik, a known former KGB operative, who on available evidence at hand still takes orders from the Russians, makes it more plausible a “reverse trap” into which the Taliban are led by their nose. The Taliban delegation headed by Mullah Ghaus, the Afghan foreign minister who along with the designated Taliban commander for the North-West, Abdul Razzak, had gone to Mazar-i-Sharif on the invitation of Malik for parleys, have been taken as hostages and remain Malik’s prisoners.


Council for Defence and National Security – Formalizing unofficial watchdog mechanism

For the past 50 years we have been engaged in the search for a system that will make this country governable. That the forces inimical to our survival as a country label us as a “failed state” only adds salt to our wounds, more so because this motivated piece of disinformation is meant to give truth to that lie. Despite all our vicissitudes we are manpower-rich and resource-rich, Pakistan remains very much a dynamic, potentially prosperous country, with resilience enough to survive the likes of the Zardari duo who mercilessly looted this country and are directly responsible for the financial emergency that we are passing through. That the loot was engineered in the name of democracy under the cover of the Constitution only underscores the necessity of a definitive check and balance in the system. Trying to put in place such a mechanism has been an inexact science based on such selfish motives that any sincere effort to make positive corrections in the system release fears and raises doubts about the motives.


Danger signals

It has been reported that PPP has contracted with Zee TV of India at a cost of Rs. 2.2 million to project the election results ONE hour before they are officially declared on Pakistan TV. While using anything Indian by a major Pakistani political party would make this exercise an extraordinary event anyway, using this particular medium makes it absolutely amazing for any number of reasons.

Zee TV has ostensibly been financed by the former Defence Minister of India and present Chief Minister Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar. While Sharad Pawar is a well known Pakistan-hater, what is especially troubling is the fact that he is actually a front, in fact Zee TV is a long term project of the Indian Research and Analytical Wing (RAW) to beam a subtle Indian message over a wide audience much beyond the shores of India in a more sophisticated manner than the official media. Instead of the blatant propaganda of All India Radio (AIR) or Indian TV (Doordarshan) which creates a backlash of revulsion among audiences, the first phase of media projection on Zee TV has involved getting the attention of the masses by making them into a captive audience through a wide range of suggestive entertainment. Once the audience attention is thus held in thrall, the second phase would involve a steady projection of the Indian line. In short, Zee TV is a sophisticated PsyWar weapon whose first target seems to be to break down the social and cultural walls of the citadel of Pakistan.


Measuring public opinion It’s the economy, stupid

An analysis of the polls show that economic issues dominate the public mind and it is their perception that PML (N) leader Mian Nawaz Sharif has the ability to deal with economic issues that make him the most popular leader presently and thus makes PML (N) the leading party.

Perceptions aside, the real feeling of the people can only be gauged by evaluating the results of a poll across the country. In trying to measure public opinion pre-elections, Research and Collection Services Ltd. (RCS), a private company engaged in market analysis, targeted two age groups in both the sexes, male and female, to determine the answers to a number of questions some of which are politically operative in the context of the Feb 3 elections viz (1) what do you rate is the two most important political issues in the country among (a) unemployment (b) inflation (c) corruption (d) illiteracy (e) poor health system (f) restricted freedom of expression and (g) aristocratic ruling class ? (2) your favourite political party? (3) why? (4) what do you like about the leader most (a) honesty (b) personality (e) political views (d) ability to speak (e) ability to manage the economy and (f) religious views? (5) what party are you likely to vote for? and (6) comment on the political system. The age groups targeted wise (1) “age 18 to 30” and (2) “age 31 and over” in both the sexes.


Back to the Future, with Hope

Four years ago, despite the devastating floods of late 1992, 1993 had started with the hopes of a vast majority of the nation firmly rooted in the promise of economic Valhalla promised by then PM Mian Nawaz Sharif. The death of the COAS Gen Asif Nawaz in the first week of January set loose latent fears and ambitions putting into motion events that saw the exit, return and re-exit of Mian Nawaz Sharif as PM in the space of three months beginning April and ending in July 1993. The year’s end saw the contrived return of Ms. Benazir, the ensuing Zardari dominated nightmare running a full course till her exit as PM less than 60 days ago. In less than a month, the people of Pakistan are to go to the polls and while election fervour is muted because of the constant public refrain for accountability, the masses are gingerly hoping to pick up the threads of the economic aspirations lost four years ago. A crude and early rough poll shows the people’s mandate presently running clearly in Mian Nawaz Sharif’s favour. Having lost considerable ground economically as a nation since 1993, anyone who becomes Pakistan’s PM must first make the nation financially stable before energizing the various economic sectors to the same level as was obtaining then.