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Archive for February, 1997

Analysing Defeat, Absorbing Victory

Field Marshal William Slim commanded the 1st Burma Corps during the retreat up the Irrawady River following the Japanese invasion of Burma in World War II. Later he went on to command the British 14th Army which inflicted a series of defeats on the Japanese, forcing them down the Irrawady River to Rangoon. Turning “Defeat into Victory” (incidentally the name of his autobiography), Slim was a very lonely man. Sitting outside his tent contemplating his next move during the drive back into Burma, he overheard two of his sentries talking. When one of them wondered aloud where the next battle would take place, the other very confidently named a location. On being asked as to how he knew, the second sentry told the first, “the old man is definitely going to choose to fight in all the places on the way in that he got badly beaten on the way out”, or words to that effect. So much for strategy!


Ordinary People, Real Commitment

The PIA flight from Jacobabad to Karachi is usually not an event of any note. On Feb 12, 1996, PK 546, on way from Nawabshah, aborted landing at Jacobabad at 4:30 pm because of aircraft tire pressure falling “below the permissible limits”. PK 546 went back all the way to Karachi, 40 passengers on board, 40 aspirants for PK 547 waiting on the ground at Jacobabad. Noor Lashari, Manzoor Ahmad and Mahesh Kumar are ordinary people but they are respectively PIA’s District Sales Manager (DSM), CAA’s Airport Manager and PIA’s Station Manager (SM) at Jacobabad. As 4:50 p.m. passed (the PK 547’s scheduled departure), at least a dozen or so of who were not resident of Jacobabad or the surrounding area, had reason to worry, John Henry Jacob’s town is not so comfortable a place for “accidental tourists” to spend the night, at least without proper notice.


A time to fight and a time to unite

The signing of the Afghan Accord represents the first step in ending the untold miseries and the barely bearable hardships associated with largest movement of human population within a small geographical span. Hounded by helicopter gunships, more than 3 million unfortunate Muslims, men, women and children, voted with their feet their profound antipathy to the Godless Society being thrust upon them through the barrels of Kalashnikovs and the gun-sights of T-62 tanks, electing the rough and meagre comforts of refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran. History will record with admiration the hospitality and patient civility of the people of Pakistan, living not only adjacent to the areas of conflict but also along the arterial lifeline of the roads from Karachi to the Afghan borders. Mr. Gorbachev has bitten the bitter bullet of withdrawal and other than acknowledging his sagacity, one should also accept that it was a brave act of a man with a back to watch because the psychological defeat inflicted on the Russians by their pullout will not go well with the Soviet civil and military hierarchy who will get him, sooner or later. Incidentally, this also applies to clandestine adventures against Pakistan, rather sooner than later.


The external state of the Federation

Pakistan stands at a particular crossroads of both history and geography. Primarily we belong to the South Asia, being geographically within the boundaries of the Hindu Kush and the Himalayan mountain ranges in the West North-West of the Sub-continent. History’s transient political status has also made us part of both Near Asia and the Middle East, with the fall of the Soviet Empire we went back to our historical connections with Central Asia. We are at the very nexus of four important regions in Asia and as such economically and geo-politically we should occupy a far greater niche on the world stage than is accorded to us. Part of the reason is that we have failed to build up our strengths, on the contrary the greed, incompetence and ambition of our leaders has made us the slave of our weaknesses.


The internal state of the Federation

The easy part for Mian Nawaz Sharif was to win the elections hands down after almost three years out in the political cold. Among lessons learnt, the first must be that “pragmatism” does pay, the second must be that “naivete” does not. In the order of priorities the economy has pride of place. The good news is that the Pakistan Muslim League (PML), it being time we dropped the “N” symbol, has a full spread in all the Provinces, a strong base in two major Provinces and a moderately useful one in the other two. Even better was the fact that though there was a tilt for regional parties, it was nowhere near a majority. Whenever there is unfair sharing of an already inadequate economic pie, regional tendencies tend to surface. Instead of shoving issues under the carpet they must be addressed on a national basis in order to adequately satisfy all the partners in the federation, economic disparities and perceived discrimination have had unfortunate consequences for this nation before.

The first and foremost task is to put together an effective economic team led by an experienced person having an inherent command of an overwhelming bureaucratic machine engaged in choking the economy instead of running it. “Kitchen Cabinet” insiders may prefer someone amenable to their beck and call, if that should happen, Mian Sahib would have lost the battle for economic Pakistan before it even begins. The “Asif Zardari Syndrome” would come back with a vengeance with a change in name and style only. The chosen Economic Czar has to ensure that along with reforms, accountability is a dire necessity to rid this country of very real demons. Institutions that have been destroyed have to be restored and rejuvenated. Instead of depending upon the FIA, the exorcism must be put in the hands of a focussed team of professionals capable and motivated.


Good soldier, sincere patriot

Gen Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan was born on 4 Feb 1917 in Chakwal. He was commissioned at the age of 21 in 1938 from the Indian Military Academy at Dehra Din. He had the honour of being the King’s Cadet and was the runner-up for the Sword of Honour, which incidentally was won by noted polo-player (later Brig Effendi). From the IMA, he was sent for “orientation” (the usual attachment for Indian native officers) to the 2nd Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment (Queen Mary’s Own) for a period of two years. Thereafter he was posted to the 3rd Battalion of the 10th Baloch Regiment (now known as 10 Baloch). However, during the war he was sent to 4th Battalion 10 Baloch Regt (later 11 Baloch) which joined the 8th Indian Division in the North African theatre of operations in World War II. After the surrender of the German Afrika Corps, 8th Indian Division moved to Italy where in the deadly struggle around Mount Cassino, a part of the Division was decimated with many British Indian Officers and other ranks either killed or captured by the counter-attacking German para-troops thrown into battle under the direct orders of Marshal Kesselring.

In the POW camp in the mountains of North Italy, the POWs were kept lightly clad (silk shirts) in order to discourage escape attempts. Among the POWs in the camp were Effendi (later Brig Pakistan Army), Yahya Khan (later Gen C-in C Pakistan Army and President of Pakistan), Sahibzada Yaqoob Khan (later Lt Gen Commander Eastern Command Pakistan Army and thrice Foreign Minister Pakistan), Kumarangalam (later Chief of Army Staff Indian Army) and Tikka Khan (later Gen and Chief of Army Staff). Effendi, Yahya and Kumarangalam escaped from the Camp but Kumarangalam was later recaptured. Effendi and Yahya were hidden by local womenfolk, living off the countryside in the cold mountains, in small caves acting as hideouts, till finally they reached safety as the advancing Allied troops reached them. Very coincidentally, Yahya Khan and Kumarangalam were appointed Commanders of the opposing armies of Pakistan and India in 1966 (after the September 1965 Indo-Pakistan War).


An overwhelming mandate

Mian Nawaz Sharif has been asking the people of Pakistan for a clear mandate, what he got was a tidal wave, a clean sweep that even his most ardent PML (N) supporter could never have dreamed about. The PPP got such a drubbing at the electoral hustings, particularly in the Punjab and the NWFP, that it has put the entire future of this once proud entity as a national party. What late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto proposed as a new and enduring concept for the nation in 1967 in the form of a left-of-centre political party devoted to lofty socialist ideals, his daughter and son-in-law have contrived to dispose of three decades later in a purely capitalistic welter of greed, deceit and scornful arrogance that brooks no criticism and accepts no defeat with grace. Ms Benazir is on record that she would not accept the results if she did not win, a screwed up logic that only a Bhutto could devise. Post her TV performance in Election Hour after the Supreme Court of Pakistan verdict, did she honestly expect her disheartened and demoralized supporters to come out and vote for her? The PML (N) has got almost a million more votes than in 1993, on the other hand more than two million PPP voters either deserted the Party or simply stayed at home, voting with their feet for a leader who has begun to believe her own falsehoods and misrepresentations. In 1993 there were 50.38 million registered voters and 20.29 million voted ie. 40.28%. PML (N) got 7.98 million votes (39.32%) while PPP got 7.57 million (ie. 37%). Despite the PML (N) majority in votes, PPP made the government in the Centre. In 1996 the registered voters are now about 56 million and actual votes cast is expected to be 20 million ie. about 36%. Part of the reason for the low turnout is that while PML (N) votes went up about a million to about 9 million ie. 45%, PPP voters stayed away in droves or deserted to (also-ran) Tehrik-i-Insaaf and is projected to drop by almost 2 million total around 5.5 million votes ie. 27.5%, a fall of over 12%.


The 21st century man?

All the opinion polls clearly indicate that Mian Nawaz Sharif and his PML (N) is heading for a clear victory. Of the 195 NA seats being contested today (other than the 8 FATA, 10 Minority seats and some postponed because of the death of candidates), the PATHFINDER POLL taken before the Supreme Court (SC) decision on Jan 29, 1997 indicated that PML (N) would get 88 NA seats and ANP 6 i.e. a total of 94 or slightly less than half. However, in this total there were at least 9 seats which were closely contested but were all given to PPP in the POLL on the premise that it is better to error on the side of caution. After the stinging rebuke to the last PPP government rendered by the learned judges of the SC in their verdict for dissolution, it is an even bet that most of the marginal races too close to call will now go to PML (N). If there was any doubt about the outcome, the relaxed but forceful performance of the PML (N) leader in Election Hour on Pakistan TV was a sheer contrast to the defiant but evasive Ms Benazir who excelled in remaining scornful and sarcastic of her opponents as is her wont. With a plethora of conspiracy theories to bank on instead of explanations (or even apologies) for her conduct, she expects the broad mass of the intelligentsia and the public to be taken in by her act of innocence. The lady insults their intelligence, the people may be fooled by her act some of the time but not all the time. Unfortunately for those of her partymen locked in close electoral races, her TV performance was the final nail in their political coffin, at least for the foreseeable future. A combination of the factors aforementioned should bring the Mian Nawaz Sharif tally up by another 6, bringing the PML (N) total along with ANP to 100, clearly more than 50% of the NA seats being contested i.e. a simple majority without counting the FATA, Minorities and Independents (at least 18 of them expected to win) most of whom traditionally opt to join the winning team. PML (N) will not need the crutch of a coalition in the Centre as they should have a comfortable simple majority, enough to make a stable and secure government not subject to intermittent political blackmail as Benazir was by her various uncles, Nawabzadas and Maulanas.