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Archive for December, 2000

The jury is out

For the foreseeable future the Musharraf regime seems to have weathered “the perfect storm” that threatened to sweep through the intelligentsia and the masses in the wake of sending the Sharifs into a gilded royal exile in Saudi Arabia. In the first few days of the “Family Sharif” mass exodus, with servants in tow more in number than masters (and mistresses), a virtual plethora of rumours raged through the land, the mongers working overtime to discredit the government for giving us an Eid and Christmas “bonus” rolled into one. With the settling of the proverbial dust, our resilient masses are now busy in gauging for how much the others could be similarly bartered and if that would be enough to reduce a major part of the debt burden from our shoulders. The Pakistani masses have been bravely shouldering the dead weight of increasing national debt but have reached the message theme of Ayn Rand’s book “Atlas Shrugged”.

The present regime was certainly taken aback at the public reaction. To the credit of the government, they did not panic or react in haste as many expected them to. The rulers did seem upset that even those whom they counted as their steadfast friends became publicly critical. The regime should have done its homework by now on as to who constitutes a real friend and who is an opportunist, a real friend is someone who will bluntly tell you for your own good what is correct and what is wrong, however unpalatable. One expects the Musharraf regime to be different from the rulers before them, not to be susceptible to flattery and/or prone to labelling foes and friends alike as black or white respectively, blind to any shades of grey.


Anything Goes!

Two events of far-reaching consequences took place this week, one concerning Pakistan directly and one not so directly. Mian Nawaz Sharif and his entire family (Abbaji included) went off into political exile and Vice President Al-Gore finally conceded the US Presidential elections to the Republican candidate Gov George Bush. Gore was extremely gracious in his concession speech, seeking to unite the country under the new US President-elect. Undercurrents of bitterness notwithstanding, the possible rot within the US democratic polity was brought to a dead halt. To quote Gore, “that which unites us as Americans is far greater than that which divides us” unquote. We were not so lucky, ours is not a win-win situation as the administration media spin-masters would have us believe. The military regime has bought time, it may have been at a price whose instalments the nation may not be able to pay.

Why on earth did the military regime, steeped in an aura of accountability, let the Sharif family out of their hands when they had clear proof of corruption? Why this sudden benevolence for committed opponents? Theories abound starting with the Chief Executive (CE)’s statement that the pardon has been extended at the request of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Other reasons could well be, viz (1) financial pressure from friendly countries in withholding the funds necessary to stave off impending default in Jan 2001 (2) the threat to the military regime by the formation of the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD) (3) ill-health of Mian Nawaz Sharif and his father, the possible demise of the former in custody could have sparked off an unmanageable crisis (4) by accepting a pardon the Sharifs tacitly accepted their guilt and (5) by having leaders of both major political parties (and one not so minor) in exile, a clearing of the decks by the military regime to bring back politics in a graduated manner, by either restoring the Assemblies and/or making a national government, etc, etc. It could well be simply what the CE said and/or any combination thereof or all of the above. Needless to say, the Godfather i.e. Abbaji, without whose sanction the Sharifs will probably not go to the toilet, “RAIWIND, WE HAVE A PROBLEM”, The NATION October 10, 1998, must have decided to cut his losses and evacuate from Pakistan, very much like the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) evacuating Dunkirk early in World War 2, allowing Britain to keep on fighting. He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day. Late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto must have had similar offers but he stuck to his guns and went to the gallows, very brave and very stupid. Of course it is a moot point whether Ziaul Haq, knowing Bhutto’s vindictive nature, would have ever let him go. Writing about Abbaji ‘THE GODFATHER” The NATION on August 26, 2000, I noted, “The Army would be well advised to make the Godfather an offer he cannot refuse”. Obviously someone in Musharraf’s think tank took this advice seriously and Abbaji on his part must have decided discretion was the better part of valour.


The reaches of democracy

The general perception about what’s been happening in the US of A since the Nov 7 Presidential Election is that it’s bad for the US and bad for democracy. One daresays that in the first flush of the confusion that followed the divided count, that perception stayed with most of us. Four weeks later, with the endgame in sight we come away with a far different perception, despite the travails the rule of law prevails in a civilised society. A recent cartoon said it all, a contested election in Russia would have had tanks coming out in the streets to influence the outcome, in Sierra Leone machetes and knives would ensure the result, but in the US an army of lawyers waded into the breach. And what a contest for democracy! With 50 million voting for each candidate (with about 3 million lawyers probably on either side) across the length and breadth of the land, the battle finally raged in three Counties in Florida (Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Brawar), slightly more than 537 votes separating Bush from Vice President Al Gore. The Democrats waged a last-ditch guerilla warfare, their wild card is to try and to toss out 25,000 absentee ballots in Seminole and Martin Counties. That would erase about 8,000 votes for Bush and hand the Presidency over to Gore. All the pillars of democracy, the legislature, the judiciary and the administration, are inter-acting with each other in a contest where there may have been technical irregularities, no hint of fraud or intent thereof. Strident voices on the extreme edges notwithstanding, Republicans and Democrats have remained civil to each other, never even raising their voices in Court. Even on the streets protest has been muted, the odd exception notwithstanding. This speaks volumes for a real democracy, a rare privilege in this world of the unhampered right of vote for every individual citizen.


Private Security

The prime requisite of good governance in any society is the safety and well-being of its citizens but peace and harmony cannot be imposed in isolation by law enforcement agencies alone. A sound economy, an equitable system of justice, affordable utilities, employment opportunities etc are only some of the factors directly contributing to good law and order. The security of the individual may be the general responsibility of the regime in power, personal security whether by guards or by electronic means, remains the responsibility of the individual, group, corporate body, establishment, etc in any country of the world. Increasingly government departments are turning to private security as a cost-effective means in the same manner as individuals and entities. In a historical sense, private security has come a full circle. In a feudal society the concept of private security has not changed in thousands of years, in today’s modern world the same principles apply. Tribal, clan chiefs, etc had private bodyguards paid out of their own pockets, it is the same today. The Swiss Guards at the Vatican were formerly called “mercenaries”, in fact they exist as a living model for private security through the ages. Most monarchs and absolute rulers preferred “mercenaries” from other countries to protect them against their own people. These mercenaries sometimes took control of the State itself, e.g. as recently as in Comoros Island in the Indian Ocean. To distinguish between private security and private armies, that fine line may be blurred. It is therefore understandable why any government would like to regulate the private security services industry, in the wrong hands a weapon designed for personal protection could well become a weapon for coercion or destruction. This business can be a double-edged sword for some entrepreneurs, more often than not those who have reasons to be afraid and/or jealous of will move Heaven and Earth to damage the success of the enterprise as well as the individual himself. Merit will always remain a disqualification in the eyes of the inferior and the incompetent.