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Archive for September, 1997

US and Pakistan, the “Terrorist” threat

While the US State Department has not included the names of Pakistan and Sudan in the list of terrorist States notified this year to US Congress, on-going consideration for such an eventuality will not cease. Pakistan has been living for some time on a fine-line from such a distinction that would put us alongside Iran, Libya, Iraq, North Korea and Syria, notwithstanding the morality of an erstwhile ally, the US, in turning 180 degrees around from its own stance during the Afghan war with respect to their commitment to support freedom movements against oppression. One should not be under any illusion that Pakistan’s inclusion in “terrorist State” status will not cause great hardships to the country economically and politically. One must also not be under any illusion that the US does not know what is going on inside Kashmir, that would be insulting one’s intelligence (and that is not intended as a pun). We are, therefore, back to where we started in 1976 when US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, promised to make an “horrible example” out of us if we did not desist from our nuclear pretensions, US economic and military aid were then terminated forthwith. That brings us to the final loss of illusion that having been the frontline State in the successful prosecution of the “hot” war in Afghanistan (and by proxy the cold war against the Soviet Union) which led to the destruction of the “evil empire” (sic former President Reagan), the nation that opposed the US and its global interests tooth and nail in every forum and at every conceivable opportunity over four decades, India, should now reap the rewards of the various sacrifices that Pakistan gave, especially during the 80s decade.

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“Sohni Dharti” in Colombo

On Sept 12, 1997 my wife and I were privileged to be invited to Sri Lanka for an extraordinary occasion, the first get-together of the “Sri Lanka Alumni” of the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA), Kakul. Over 200 Army officers and their wives attended the “Inaugural Banquet” in the Galadari Hotel in Colombo which was graced by the Deputy Minister for Defence Gen Anuraddh Ratwatte and the Army Commander, Lt Gen Rohan Datuwalle. Pakistan was officially represented by the High Commissioner Mr Abdul Basit Haqqani and the Defence Attache, Group Captain Junaid Ameen. As a 34th PMA Long Course batch-mate of three Sri Lanka Army Major Generals (two serving, one having died in action), I was the “unofficial” representative from Pakistan. Sri Lanka Army had requested the Pakistan Army to send the Commandant PMA and one representative of each of the 6 PMA Courses that the Sri Lankans had attended. Because of an “economy drive”, the Government of Pakistan (GOP) had (in the infinite wisdom of its bureaucracy of which few parallels in this world exist) declined the invitation.

The first batch of 5 Sri Lanka cadets come to PMA in May 1963 to join 32nd PMA Long Course. Two of the original 5 are serving Major Generals in the Army, Maj Gen Lal Weerasuriya, the senior-most is presently the Deputy Chief of Staff, while Maj Gen Nomani has two hats, GOC of a Division and Commander of the Volunteer Reserve. One of my course-mates, brilliant Major General “Lucky” Vijayratna died when his jeep ran over a land-mine during operations. The second Sri Lanka batch comprised of 6 Gentleman Cadets, TD Rajapaksa from my Platoon, who retired as a Brigadier, Col Ratynayake, Master of Ceremonies (MC) for the Occasion, is presently commanding the Recruits Training School while Ananda Weerasekera and Siri Pieris are serving major generals. Ananda, who contrived to send me the personal faxed invitation had the distinction of knocking me out of contention for the Royal Military Academy (RMA), Sandhurst by knocking me out in Boxing in the Second Term (and probably put paid to my chances of winning the Sword of Honour which was eventually won by the most deserving cadet in our term, Maj Gen Khurshid Alam, Deputy QMG Pakistan Army). Ananda remains one of my best friends 33 years later. This friendship endures despite the fact that when I was unconscious on the stretcher inside the ambulance and saw his face hovering over mine, plaintively asking me, “Ikram, are you alright?” I hit him with my best punch of the day and broke his nose.

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Finally, the Swiss Connection

In Sept 15, 1997 the Ehtesab Cell in the PM’s Secretariat announced that the Swiss Government had agreed to the freezing of accounts in the names of Ms Benazir Bhutto, Begum Nusrat Bhutto and Mr Asif Ali Zardari on the basis of credible evidence about transfer of ill-gotten wealth. Their accounts, vaults and lockers were in the Union Bank of Switzerland, the Barclays Bank, Citi Bank S.A. and the Contrade Ormond Burrus Banque Privee SA. Senator Saifur Rahman, Chairman of the Cell, who was flanked by the Federal Law Minister Khalid Anwar, disclosed that the seizure order, effective from Sept 8, 1997 was conveyed to the Cell by the Federal Office for Police Matters (FOP), Berne. The Swiss have given Government of Pakistan (GoP) three months until Dec 7 to come up with more evidence. With this seizure, the Bhutto/Zardari duo take their rightful place in the history of the infamous and the corrupt, along with the likes of Marcoses, the Shah of Iran, Rajiv Gandhi and Mobutu, leaders who looted wealth from the countries and the people they professed to love. For the record, Ms Benazir has denied these allegations, her defence is ingenious, “who doesn’t have accounts abroad?” One may well ask, why not declare them then? And also where did all the money come from?

Obviously someone close to the Bhutto/Zardari clan has squealed. The obvious suspicion falls on Javed Pasha who benefited most from Zardari’s largesse and had intimate knowledge of his dealings or it could be Hamid Asghar Kidwai who had a bone to pick. Whoever has turned State’s evidence to spare his own neck is not important, the fact is that for the first time in the history of Pakistan illegally held assets abroad have been disclosed. Their existence in actual fact should mean automatic disqualification for the royal duo and the Queen Mother from Parliament and public life since these were not declared in their assets. The filing of assets being done under oath, it amounts to also committing perjury. Since CBR and SBP laws have also been broken, at the very minimum all their local assets should be confiscated. If indeed these foreign accounts are not really the property of the accused, then let them certify that its contents should be handed over to the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP). On the other hand, if the threesome want to contest the ownership then there is the question of where they got the undisclosed sum, ranging between US $ 65-80 million? There is also the problem of justifying as to why they needed six offshore foreign firms; among them Bomer Finance Inc, Mariston Securities Inc, Capricorn Trading SA, Cotechna Inspection SA, etc. The disclosure of details of all the transactions would allow private investigators to trace back the umbrella tree identifying all those “holier than thou” foreign firms doing business in Pakistan who benefited by the support of the royal duo and for which in return they received this illegal largesse. There would also be a catalogue of a number of Pakistanis who have been paying money to the royal couple for unspecified favours. More than the treasure trove available on the accounts, these links should provide clues to a number of mysterious transactions, some of these may have also bordered on the fail-safe line of national security. Persons who loot the country at will, normally have no qualms about selling the country’s secrets to the highest bidder. It is upto the Chairman of the Ehtesab Cell to commission private investigative companies without delay to trace out the origins of each transaction. It would also be very interesting to clear the air about the purported cheque of US $ 5 million given to the Government of Pakistan (GoP) in 1972 by the Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddafi, ostensibly to help Pakistan out in nuclear research. The cheque was supposedly in the name of late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and he is supposed to have deposited it into his own personal account with Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) in Geneva, purchasing (it is believed) about 10-12 tons of gold. Then there is the matter of the many boxes of Swat emeralds that disappeared without a trace from Pakistan in 1972, suppose they should turn up in some vaults?

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A Half Year Scorecard

For those fed up with the “civilian coup” that saw Asif Zardari virtually take over the affairs of governance in lieu of his wife, Ms Benazir Bhutto, great expectations are vested in the success of Mian Sahib, who came to office with the largest mandate, seat-wise, in this nation’s democratic history. These mainly centre around sound governance, the country having been reduced into economic apocalypse by acts of both commission and omission. Given the limitations of our leaders in matters of governance, expectation as to radical change is a pipedream that we must now grow out of hoping and longing for, unless we are masochists who revel in our frustration because that’s all we are likely to get. Public memory being notoriously short, perception usually overwhelms reality.

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The sixth of September

The bloody nose that the Indians got in the Rann of Kutch in April 1965 punched a time clock setting off a series of explosions culminating in the major detonation on September 6. Planners on both sides became engaged in virtual reality exercises that eventually led to an all out bloody conflict. Strong evidence suggests that, humbled badly in the Rann and already smarting at its 1962 drubbing at the hands of China, the Indian Army had planned a set-piece major offensive to destroy Pakistan soon after the rainy weather in July/August. The Indians were fully prepared to expect “infiltration” into Kashmir after mid-August, though not in such numbers or scale. The early launching of “Operation Gibraltar” on 6 Aug 65, the elongation of the mopping-up of operations in Indian Occupied Kashmir and heavy rains in the Punjab in mid-August delayed their offensive from being launched as had been meticulously planned by them for the last week of August. From the Pakistani side, the then Foreign Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the then Foreign Secretary, Aziz Ahmad and the then GOC 12 Div, Major General Akhtar Hussain Malik, the Pindi Club Group (so named because they would meet informally over drinks almost every other evening) were the “young Turks” who combined to convince President Field Marshal Ayub Khan on three crucial counts, the first two being viz (1) large scale “infiltration” into Indian Occupied Kashmir would provoke an uprising that would free Kashmir (WRONG) and (2) the Indians would not launch an offensive across the international border (WRONG). While the C-in-C and his Principal Staff Officers (PSOs) disagreed with this Assessment, the Foreign Office further convinced the President on the third and most vital point (3) if the Indians did cross the international border, the Chinese would militarily support Pakistan (also WRONG). Thus did “Operation Gibraltar” come into being, theoretically brilliant in conception but long on hope and for almost everything else, including the key question of operational management. A well conceived GHQ plan was dusted off and updated as Operation “Grand Slam”, the offensive to take Akhnur (and more vitally Akhnur Bridge) was envisaged, to slam the door to Kashmir shut in the faces of the Indian forces which would be tied down fighting the freedom fighters within the Kashmir valley.

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