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Archive for January, 1998

Countering terrorism

Even before the Afghan War of the 80s opened the floodgates of terrorism in Pakistan, we were already the target of mayhem and violence inspired by our neighbouring countries. Al-Zulfikar, which was initially the brainchild of the Afghan secret agency KHAD and its late unlamented Chief Najibullah, eventually found its niche in India, after traversing through Libya and Syria, in the many training camps run by Indian Research and Analytical Wing (RAW) for the Sindhi separatist militants of Jiye Sindh, etc in the early 80s. The Afghan conflict created its own dynamics of anarchy, with the advent of drugs and proliferation of arms (mainly Kalashnikovs) in the major urban cities of Pakistan, the worst affected being Karachi. With ever increasing population and decreasing job opportunities, by the late 80s, in addition to being a conduit for outward flow of drugs, it became the focus for political militancy on the one hand and car snatchings, kidnappings for ransom on the other. By the early 90s, every political party, except perhaps the Muslim League, had militant wings, not only for self-protection but for generating protection money. The situation became further murky when internecine quarrel, superficially over ideology but mainly over the sharing of the spoils, divided them further into splinter groups. The largest political movement in the urban areas of Sindh, the Muhajir Qaumi Mahaz (MQM) tried to shed its militancy soon after it came to power in late 1988 as an ally of the PPP. Having become used to freebooting and denied that as well as fearing retribution from the State a large section of its militant wing became dissidents and left for upcountry or abroad. Within a couple of years they came back as a vengeance as an intelligence supported Trojan Horse, the MQM (Haqeeqis). The winding down of the civil war in Afghanistan saw the religious parties prudently strengthening their militant wings and as so often happens, with power flowing through the barrel of the gun manifest some of them became extremist and out of control of the mainliners. With a neighbouring Muslim country generally favouring the Shia factions and another extremely friendly one the mainline Sunni ones, a stage was set for a proxy war to be waged in Pakistan. The Mominpura massacre is simply gory another milestone the ongoing conflict. During the Afghan War, the Deeni Madrassahs (religious schools) provided the foot soldiers making up almost 25-30% of the Mujahideen, the so-called Taliban have now banded together and are now in control of almost 80% of Afghanistan, with the control of Kabul they are recognized as per centuries-old tradition as the de-facto government. The internecine sectarian quarrel is best illustrated in the deep division between the mainly Sunni Taliban and the Shia Hizb-e-Wahdat.


Strangers when we meet

Despite the obvious warmth of the reception by the Bangladeshis to the Pakistan delegation to the Bangladesh-India-Pakistan Summit, the meeting on January 15, 1998 only underscored how far apart we were on substantive issues. For the record, a 15-point agenda to enhance business cooperation was adopted, it was heavy on substance but in the absence of addressing core issues like Kashmir, this excellent initiative will be still-born. The Indians did not want even to mention in the Dhaka Declaration that there were any problems, with that stance no Pakistani, let alone the PM, can go further than give lip-service to proposed trade initiatives. In that spirit, while Ms Hasina Wajed and IK Gujral made concrete proposals to make South Asia a viable economic one-unit on the pattern of other regional communities, Mian Nawaz Sharif spoke of the need for cooperation but in keeping with the Pakistani stance did not make a single proposal. In effect, he filibustered and very rightly so.


Tripartite Trade Talks

The three nation South Asia tripartite talks in Dhaka on January 15 will be long on rhetoric but terribly short on substance. More than Pakistan and Bangladesh, it is India that needs to augment her trade within the sub-continent to give a choice of economic amelioration to her teeming millions. Pakistan and Bangladesh do get residual benefits but not on the same scale as our large neighbour. While Prime Minister Hasina Wajed’s excellent initiative to get us talking on such lines must be appreciated it must also be clearly understood by all concerned that there are two major inhibiting factors that will govern the future of trade and commerce in the South Asian sub-continent, viz (1) the core problem of Kashmir and (2) the fear that India’s industry may overwhelm that of its neighbours because sustained protection over the years and economy of scale because of numbers makes its products much more competitive.

History is witness to the fact that not only was the South Asian sub-continent the crossroads of commerce but its raw material and products provided for the shifting of the focus of industry to the western world. Strange as it may seem now, Bengal, which encompasses modern Bangladesh and India’s west Bengal, was once the granary of the sub-continent and for many East Asian countries. The Sultan of Istanbul would get the hull of his warships made in the islands of Hatiya and Sandwip. The commerce was so frequent that piracy flourished in the Bay of Bengal as Dutch and Portuguese pirates joined in with locals to make the islands of the coast as safe havens from where to operate. Piracy was only less frequent in the Arabian Sea, off the coast of what is now Pakistan and that only because of the strength of the Arab naval forces in the area. To the exclusion of the rest of South Asia, the historical silk-route passed through territories now comprising Pakistan. As everyone knows crime only flourishes off lucrative targets and there was no more lucrative target than the trade and commerce off the coast of the South Asian sub-continent and in the mountainous areas of the North. This situation has now been totally reversed, from a net outflow of goods and produce there is almost a one-way inflow of goods and produce. Because we were mercilessly exploited by the British, who denuded us systematically of our resources (and our skills), for the past fifty years after independence the countries of South Asia have been playing catch-up with the rest of the world. Because of a myriad number of reasons we got left behind in the throes of the Asian miracle. Now with the Tiger economics becoming pussycat, it may not have been a bad thing after all. The unfortunate fact remains that the peoples of South Asia need to cooperate to better their economic conditions very much as other regions have done or else we will be left so far behind the civilized countries might as well put a “CHINA WALL” around us to contain the anarchy that will ensue and become the order of the day. Already we are showing signs of that savagery in refusing to live as amiable communities.


1998 – Reason to Hope?

Having lived through a traumatic 1997, do we have reason to hope for a better 1998? If we continue to repeat the mistakes of the past year then 1998 will certainly be far worse. If our political leadership learns from their own mistakes as well as those committed by their predecessor PPP coalition and the Caretakers who followed them (albeit for a short period), we certainly have reason to hope. One can live on the fountain of hope, one cannot survive on hope alone. There has to be positive activism with a constant check kept both on the style and content of governance that will feed our hopes and aspirations. Given parliamentary brute majority, PML candidate Justice (Retd) Rafiq Tarar was duly elected and sworn in as President. The Courts have still to pass judgment on his alleged contempt of court. One does not see him evading disqualification, condoning his remarks may set an unhealthy precedent for the judiciary future. The PM will be far better off if the President survives only shortly otherwise he will remain a focus of controversial attention that will distract the functioning of the government to alleviate the economic sufferings of the people of Pakistan. If Justice Tarar survives as President, Pakistan will be hard put to survive Tararism.

The country desperately needs macro and micro reforms across the broad spectrum of the whole structure in Pakistan. The macro reforms must follow a comprehensive national census, the most important being, viz (1) local bodies elections (2) majority vote, run-off elections (3) proportional representation and women participation (4) direct elections (5) dovetailing education with population planning (6) smaller government (7) reducing and decentralization taxation (8) direct linkage between taxation and spending and (9) accountability/justice at grassroots level. With respect to micro-reforms, the most important are viz (1) restructuring the police station and the police (2) bringing private sector participation in all the service sectors and (3) private sector monitoring of all government functions. A myriad number of other reforms are needed but these must take precedence.


Local Bodies elections

Very wisely, the Federal Government decided to put off the scheduled non-party Local Bodies Poll from February 7 to April 18. At the same time it was decided to hold the much awaited long delayed national census from March 2 to March 18. Keeping in mind both the immense increase in urban population and the time lag in demarcation and delineation of new constituencies thereof, the Government should have put the polls back by another couple of months. When we have waited so many years for effective local government, 60 to 90 days would hardly matter but the important thing would be to get it right. The country desperately needs good governance, particularly at the local level, and that can only be provided when representatives elected at the local level get involved and are (and can be held) accountable for their actions. At this time we follow the imperial concept of governance in vogue pre-independence 1947, except that governance in the hands of our administration officials has become a sorry model for system abuse.