Archive for August, 1998
Will a few days ago, Osama bin Laden was only known to the anti-terrorist and intelligence wings of the law enforcement agencies of the world. In a few days so much has become known, one doubts even Osama bin Laden can keep up with the flow of information about himself. As is normal for intelligence agencies over the world, fact is usually embellished with fable, the subject of enquiry seeming to appear in all odd places and involved in every terrorist incident, major or minor. All of a sudden he has become a threatening colossus with an extensive network all over the globe, one may well ask what were the intelligence agencies doing while the so-called “network” was being built-up?
Osama bin Laden started off as a freedom fighter, a Mujahideen, against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. In the early 80s this was not unusual since the Afghan movement attracted activists from all over the Muslim world, what was unusual was that this was a moneyed man, a scion of a famous construction family in Saudi Arabia, personally worth over US$ 300 million. That he chose to face the rigour and the risks was indeed worth notice — and praise. He was actively sponsored by the CIA and other intelligence agencies, soon making his mark by acts of bravery, leading his men in action from the front. As any person of any military consequence knows, the sound of a bullet is a great equalizer, it separates the men from the boys. As a leader Osama bin Laden earned the respect of men hardened in battle. The purity of his purpose symbolised his penchant for sacrifice, at that time suiting CIA and other handlers. As the Afghan War wound down, Osama bin Laden came into his own and started looking at horizons beyond Afghanistan, falling first out of favour in his own homeland for his rather “radical” views with respect to the established customs and traditions.
To the credit of Former President Sardar Farooq Leghari, instead of waiting at the sidelines till the present government succumbs to the consequences of attempting Hari-Kari every fortnight or so, he has adopted the legitimate route of political activism to try and come to power. On 14 August 1998 he launched his much propagated Millat Party, long on rhetoric but seemingly short of new ideas and/or a cohesive framework for political action from a still to be unveiled manifesto. Except for a handful of persons who one can label as electable or technocrats, a majority of those who attended the Convention do not inspire much confidence for the future. However that is the start of any Party, PPP began on Edwards Road Lahore in the late 60s with very few human assets. One agrees that the idea is right, fresh faces must be encouraged to come and clean up the political scene in the country. This will be an uphill task. In the sub-continent Moghul Emperor Akbar the Great set the trend of bucking the system when he tried to set up a parallel religion to amalgamate all those existing then. His “Din-e-Elahi” ultimately became the butt of jokes through history, Farooq Leghari will have to work really hard politically to avoid the “Zillat Party” tag that people have already started to label his new found political grouping with.
A year after celebrating our 50th year as an independent country, we desperately need a breathing space. The last three months beginning May 11, the day of the Indian nuclear blasts, has been a period of successive crisis. Locked into a no-win situation we had no option in the face of blatant Indian intransigency but to react, despite the dire warnings of the west laced with incentives, on May 28 we did. Whereas the sanctions imposed against India were at best a mockery of intention, in relative terms the strict enforcement against Pakistan is a travesty of justice. We have lurched from a serious geo-political crisis to an economic meltdown but none so potent a disaster as the erosion of national unity because of the nefarious exploitation of the Kalabagh Dam issue.
The obvious uncertainty pervading the country is whether the intense artillery duel across the Line of Control (LOC) in Kashmir will escalate into a battle localized to that area or into a full-scale war between India and Pakistan. The Indian Air Force (IAF) made some incursions, however, that came to naught except for their helicopter gunships strafing civilian targets. IAF Chief Air Marshal Sareen, visiting Kashmir, brushed aside the “Guns of August” as a “seasonal thing”. It is true that the LOC remains alive during August because August and September are roughly the best (and last) available period for cross-border activity, particularly for logistics. The Indians annually attempt to interdict such activity by sporadic shelling of possible infiltration routes. However, this time the coordinated nature of the artillery shelling and the quantum is much more intense and widespread, almost across the entire length of the LOC and by all accounts it is an Advani-initiated exercise with far graver implications. By all accounts, Pakistan Army’s 10 Corps was able to give an effective response, enough to silence their guns in a number of locations. Pakistan went through a very uncertain period after the May 11 Indian blasts, the Indian belligerency till the exploding of our own nuclear devices now seems almost unreal. In this day and age, for a country to threaten another with nuclear war and annihilation is rather extraordinary. Despite the economic consequences foreseen, Pakistan had no choice but to go ahead with our own nuclear blasts to even the military, and more importantly, psychological balance.
Now that the Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has come clean and conceded to what was widely known, that there are no US dollars left in the kitty, the freeze on May 28 begins to make much more sense. Having invited our expatriates abroad to send their foreign exchange earnings to Pakistan, our government used up that money to live in a life of luxury that we could ill-afford. When Shahid Javed Burki took over as Caretaker Advisor on Finance in November 1996, Ms Benazir and company had cleaned out more than US$ 7 billion during their tenure. To stay afloat the Mian Nawaz Sharif regime has probably seen through the balance, as much as US$ 2 billion of the US$ 9 billion in Foreign Currency Accounts.