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Archive for September, 1999

Cross border terrorism

As if we did not have enough problems on our plate already, what is happening as far away as Dagestan and Moscow is being laid at our doorstep, albeit indirectly. Russia’s Caucasian problems go back many centuries but they are keen to forget history and find new scapegoats. Imam Shamyl fought a 30 years war before he was subdued by the Tsar, nonetheless the Imam’s Chechnyan kinsmen took due revenge a hundred odd years or so later, humbling the once mighty superpower during the 1994-96 Russo-Chechnyan war. While Afghanistan was an independent State until it was made to “invite” aggression from Russia’s predecessor communist State, the Soviet Union, which was ultimately brought to its knees. The Russian unconditional withdrawal from Chechnya gave it de facto independent nation status but was humiliating and left deep scars on the Russian people who have neither forgotten the freedom fighters of Chechnya and Afghanistan nor forgiven them. Both the nations now seem to Russia to have come together in a new holy “Islamic” alliance to oust them from Dagestan. What started as a simple border incursion by a band of guerrillas led by the Chechnyan warlord, Shamyl Basayev, seems to have ramifications far beyond the normal. Unfortunately for Pakistan, we are being drawn into this controversy by events and personalities most of which (and whom) are not within our control. However, this has given a golden chance to India to try and pin the “terrorism” label on us by linking the Muslim freedom struggle in Kashmir as only a part of a wider “Islamic terrorism” initiative. On the eve of the United Nations General Assembly session they are propagating that Osama bin Laden has announced a holy war (Jehad) against India, this neatly coalesces with the fears of the United States and with that of Russia. Having priorities of terrorism, nuclear proliferation and drugs smuggling, US concerns as a Superpower coincide with that of Superpower-that-once was, Russia. If you add Chinese concerns about Islamic activism among the Uighurs of Sinkiang Province, Superpower threat perception came a complete circle. Or so you think!

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Striking Out

The Opposition put on a very public display why they have failed to unite by themselves for over two years; it took the Government of Mian Nawaz Sharif a combination of a series of blunders and mis-governance to bring the Opposition’s act together. Having staged a successful strike on Saturday 4 Sept and a moderately successful one next Saturday on 11 Sept they had nothing to show for it except for a rush of adrenaline in playing hide-and-seek with the police near the Quaid’s Mazar in Karachi. On the shaky foundations of the protest against the GST by traders they decided that they had achieved omnipotence and grandly announced that the succeeding Sunday and Monday would see a continuation of their political protest by strikes. Except for Hyderabad the result was embarrassing, bad enough for us to keep hoping that in the face of a lack of credible alternates with any sense at all if not common sense, Mian Nawaz Sharif will at the very least feel sorry for the country he rules over as a virtual monarch and decide to govern it properly as per his promise and the mandate given to him, all 16% out of a voting populace of 50 million, 6% if one takes the whole population of 130 million.

Incurable optimists like me see silver linings even in the darkest of moments. The fact that MQM had to depend upon PPP and other allied Opposition parties to embark upon a strike call in Karachi is very significant. That it completely failed on subsequent days except in District Central should be of concern to the MQM. This is the same city which lived on the word of one man and his whims. The reality that Karachi as a whole belonged to the MQM has now become the subject of myth. One has no doubt about the MQM stamp on District Central but Malir District and District South are definitely out of the MQM camp, Districts East and West being marginal at best. While Altaf Hussain’s once dominant party continues to command the greatest majority in the city, its days of total control over the city are over. With sought-after (by the law enforcement agencies) MQM stalwarts surfacing in UK at frequent intervals, one expects that the coming Altaf initiative will be meant to be detrimental to the interests of Pakistan, however one believes we should welcome this now as we are far better equipped to deal with separatism rather than the early 90s, moreover Altaf Hussain is now increasingly out of sync with the mood of the vast mass of Mohajirs who remain patriotic mainstream Pakistanis. Leadership by remote control seldom succeeds particularly when the leader lives in luxury in contrast to those whom he professes to lead. Karachi is in for interesting times if any attempt is made to turn this city hostage to the anarchy we witnessed for a decade or so at the hands of MQM militants.

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The Opposition Unites

Mian Nawaz Sharif has done for the Opposition a favour the lately lamented Opposition could not do for themselves, he has united them and given them a fresh lease of life. Only the Jamaat-e-Islami remains outside “the Alliance”, determined to go solo in trying to remove the government in power. As everyone knows, only the religious parties and the regional ones like ANP and MQM have cadres that can face off administrative power in the streets. Qazi Hussain Ahmed is a good tactical leader but has a history of wrong strategic decisions and JI’s remaining aloof may mean success or failure on the part of forces inimical to the PM, particularly in stage-managing strikes in the urban cities of Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and the twin cities of Rawalpindi-Islamabad.

How has the “heavy mandate” like the one Mian Nawaz Sharif obtained in 1997 (approximately 8 million votes out of a population of 130 million, registered voters being 50 million it comes to 16% only) come to grief in less than 18 months? Why has the print media that had united to decry Ms. Benazir and support his cause now almost united against him? Why are people who believed in his sincerity now doubting even his credibility? Why are people who used to believe that with a businessmen background he was most suited to re-invigorating the economy, now shudder at such economic initiatives that have brought this country close to flirting with economic doom? Enemies of Mian Nawaz Sharif can easily do a hatchet job on him, only a person who remains a friend of his can do an objective study of his predicament and how he has single-handedly managed to bring it about. Whatever crisis the PM now faces is of his own making. One can blame the economic ills the country faces on previous governments, notably that of Ms Bhutto who in good eastern tradition let her husband Asif Zardari run riot, the fact remains that inconsistent policies and lack of real commitment has further eroded our economic infrastructure so that we now have to thank our parallel economy for remaining financially afloat.

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The spirit of September 6 Peace or war?

Thirty-four years ago almost to the day, India forced a full-scale war on this nation, the end result of a debatable initiative on our part. Having sent infiltrators into Occupied Kashmir (Operation GIBRALTAR) without accompanying conditions on a virtually suicidal mission, we tried to cover that blunder by trying to seal the entrance to Kashmir (Operation GRAND SLAM) at AKHNUR. Naively we accepted the contention of the brilliant Foreign Office duo (Minister late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Secretary late Aziz Ahmed) that India would not dare retaliate across the international border. Coincidentally the Indians seemed to be not only prepared for the Pakistani initiative but were also operating on a different beat, that of a set-piece military invasion, planned well in advance of our faux pas. Their offensive to capture the two key cities of Lahore and Sialkot and thus inflict total defeat caught us by surprise, almost all along the line. That they could not succeed was due on the one hand to sacrifice far above the ordinary by the rank and file of the Armed Forces and on the other the failure of the Indians to press home their attacks in the face of this determined resistance. Since we took on a far superior force numerically and beat them to a standstill, it counts as a victory of sorts. We inculcate that spirit in remembering September 6 as the “Defence of Pakistan” Day.

Not that we learnt any lessons as one should from every experience. We suffered thereby to our eternal regret in 1971 and in 1999, fully 28 years later, we still find ourselves unwilling to benefit from our mistakes. On the verge of a new millennium the spirit of Sept 6 represents sacrifice more than anything else. One should incorporate that sacrifice in our aims and objectives in dealing with the 21st century. For too long, half measures and rhetoric has led us up the garden path in dealing with vital issues. We should stop fooling ourselves with fantasies and come to grips with the realities of living as a nation in one of the most dangerous regions of the world. To that end we should not fool ourselves anymore with the routine and the ordinary but spell out goals and the means thereof of reaching our stated objectives.

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