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Archive for January, 2001

Untangling the Kashmir knot

Some hometruths in any difficult situation cannot be avoided. After two decades of painstaking brick-by-brick approach to peace in the Middle East, two immovable objects still remain and can well retard the whole process, igniting a conflagration, viz (1) the Palestinians want full sovereignty over the Dome of the Rock because of Muslim religious sensitivities while the Israelis will never give up the Wailing Wall, considered one of the holiest places in Judaism and (2) the millions of Palestinian refugees, uprooted first from hearth and home in 1948 when Israel came into being, then through the years intermittently because of subsequent wars and civil strife, and living in squalid conditions in semi-permanent refugee camps, want the right of return to their homeland. On the other hand Israel will not (and probably cannot) allow this reverse migration to change the Jewish demography of their State to their disadvantage. Outgoing US President Clinton made a last ditch effort to exact concessions for peace, both the sides remained firm on their respective stances, with that all hopes came to a dead halt. With impending Israeli elections favoured to bring hawkish Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon to power as PM, the doomsday clock has started ticking, or has it? It took Likud hard-liner Menachem Begin to start the process of Middle East peace, is it possible that Sharon the Ruthless, expected in theory to be far more intractable than present Prime Minister Barak, will in actual practice be more amenable to a lasting solution?

The same analogy can be applied to Pakistan and India. India cannot ever hope to negotiate the difficult Kashmir problem with any civilian leader in Pakistan, only a military regime can do that. Similarly Pakistan cannot ever hope to make any headway if the Congress Party or a Janata Dal-type alliance of Centre-Left is in power, the only hope it has of negotiating with conviction over Kashmir is with the Hindu-extremist BJP and other right wing Parties. Unless the hardliners of both countries are an integral part of the process, dialogue will be meaningless. And to complicate issues, because of continuing atrocities by the occupying Indian Army there has been a proliferation of disparate freedom fighter groups with widely differing thought processes and objectives. Given that they could be made to settle differences between themselves, will they be prepared to accept the logic of sensible argument? On the other hand, the same Hindu chauvinism that holds the BJP together with its disparate coalition partners will hardly be amenable to Indian PM Vajpayee’s sane logic stated in a visit to Kashmir, that “Insaniyat” (humanity) was more important than the Indian Constitution. Both sides will have to sacrifice their egos as well as material positions for a solution, the hard rock on which all peace moves may well collapse will be sovereignty over the vale of Kashmir with millions of refugees scattered in Azad Kashmir and all over Pakistan who will, Palestinian-like, want the right of return to their homeland guaranteed in any agreement.

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Give the army a break!

The Hamoodur Rahman Commission (HRC) Report has been used for three decades to blackmail the Pakistan Army, the eventual publication of this Sword of Damocles was an anti-climax, confirming what we already knew, no startling revelations. Read minutely it completed the denouement of the leadership of Pakistan in 1971, both political and military. A natural self-cleansing process has ensured not one among the present military hierarchy is a veteran of Indian captivity, in any case the then junior leadership, rank and file, came out alright. The HRC Report was meant to give the Army a killing blow, dutifully exploited by those with vested interest, politicians in Pakistan and in India the Establishment, an unlikely alliance with widely differing aims and objectives. Let’s not be selective about reading between the lines, no one came off looking good, in Pakistan and in Bangladesh, or for that matter, in India.

Soldiers straying into civilian life while in uniform delude themselves they are masters of the political game, forgetting Col Otto von Skorzeny’s maxim, “Politics is the soldier’s curse”. Soldiers imposing martial law start by pulling the strings but end up as puppets on a string themselves. The 1970 Elections exposed the polarization between the two wings of Pakistan, the Awami League (AL) bidding for greater autonomy in the East with its “Six Points” and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) encouraging the mass psyche in West Pakistan to aspire for “Roti, Kapra our Makan” (Food, Clothing and Shelter). The Quaid’s Muslim League, a Party that he would have hardly recognized, had remained afloat on the diminishing returns of its lost glory, slipped virtually into oblivion. According to Air Marshal (Retd) Asghar Khan, once the 1970 elections, considered the most fair in Pakistan’s history, were over, power should have been transferred to the majority party but wasn’t. A minority that for nearly a quarter of a century had usurped the powers of the majority was in no mood to behave like a minority. Across thousand miles of hostile territory and in a population alienated by misrule till in 1971 East Pakistan, March 25 dissolved into the brutality of civil war making the entire Bengali population bitterly hostile. The Army’s mission in 1971 was a lost cause before it even began to fight. After March 25 and the forcible separation of its Bengali units by the actions of those with myopic vision, the Army ceased to be national in its 1947 Pakistani character and became (and behaved) in word and deed as an occupation force.

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Leadership on Merit, not Patronage

Pakistan is home to conceivably the finest manpower in the world, it has also been proven many more times over that barring the solitary and unique magnificence of the Quaid we have had a succession of terrible leaders, only a handful can be counted as being above par. One wonders why when blessed with such positive potential on the one hand, we have repeatedly gone down the path of destruction by those whose negative attributes far outstrip their better qualities. The natural emergence of leadership is stunted because we only give lip-service to the merit system, relying mainly on a client-patron relationship to influence the choosing of our leaders, comparable to marriages among blood relations, the mating of similar genes leading to retardation and deformity. Choosing only from the narrow confines of one coterie rather than selecting from the vast reservoir of talent waters down the quality of leadership. This causes frustration among those with aspiration to rise on their merit, the upwardly mobile, causing a talent drain as people leave service or even the country for greener pastures where merit is recognized and rewarded.

Not recognizing merit and giving it its legitimate due is bad enough, worse is when merit becomes a disqualifier. From very early on those with merit are earmarked for getting “special treatment” meant to never let them rise in their profession, unless of course they have mastered the quality of being double or even triple-faced. The system forces people to have dual personalities, one face for your seniors and another for your subordinates. The best Annual Confidential Reports (ACRs) can only be written by your subordinates, those who see the true self of the individual, not the contrived one. Blunt people can never be appreciated in our society. For the company commander of an infantry unit there is no better judge of character and abilities than his soldiers, they are the best referees. In the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) a “Mutual Assessment System” is used (or was?) but this is only true in the initial stage, as cadets settle down into military life, they tend to be competitive and jealous, that sullies the purity of the exercise.

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A difficult road ahead

All military governments seek legitimacy on coming to power. Given that no Constitution in the world allows any form of military rule except under the aegis of elected authority, martial laws can be legal in the moral but not in the technical sense. Contriving a patchwork of legal niceties to legitimize martial law has no morality and is, therefore, an exercise in futility, why subvert the sanctity of our superior judiciary by making them a party to legal subterfuge? However a situation may well arise without alternative, the Armed Forces either impose martial law to preserve the integrity of the country or go the road to destruction (into history) holding the constitution aloft, that would be very moral but very stupid. The integrity and sovereignty of the nation must always come first in this Hobson’s Choice. Those who have taken an oath to defend the country even to the peril of their lives can have only one clear mission, the country above anything else, including the Constitution if it comes to that. Soldiers opting for “the doctrine of necessity” will be protected by the sincerity of their actions while in power. There is no need to get bogged down by legal shenanigans, they will be protected by the final arbiters of the destiny of any country, the will of the people.

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