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Archive for June, 2001

The President Who Never Was

On the afternoon of June 20th, a confident but unsmiling Gen Pervez Musharraf embraced and saluted Rafiq Tarar as he showed him out of the door of the Presidential Mansion in Islamabad. Tarar had ceased to be President a short time earlier vide Chief Executive’s Order No. 3 called Succession Order 2001. To his credit, Rafiq Tarar showed some spunk and did not “resign for personal reasons” as he was most probably encouraged by the Khakis to do. Thereupon legal niceties dictated that Pervez Musharraf assume the office of the Presidency, in his own words at the subsequent oath-taking ceremony “reluctantly but in the supreme national interest”. With that transition, an aberration that had occupied the august President’s office for more than three years rode off into the sunset, in the words of Tarar’s son-in-law, Maj (Retd) Mubassharullah, “there is no need to scandalize when everything has been settled amicably in Islamabad”. In going into oblivion, Tarar joined almost all the former Presidents of Pakistan in failing to travel the whole course. Iskander Mirza was ousted by Ayub Khan, who in his turn was sent packing by Yahya Khan, the events of 1971 did Yahya in. Bhutto remained an executive President and a “Civilian Martial Law Administrator” for only a few months before he became PM, at his own volition, under an Interim Constitution. He was PM under the 1973 Constitution, amended beyond recognition, till ousted by his COAS Ziaul Haq in 1977, who himself died in a yet unexplained air crash eleven years later. Senate President Ghulam Ishaq Khan who succeeded Zia in 1978, outsmarted himself in 1993 and along with the PM was shown the door by the then COAS Gen Waheed, who honourably chose not to elevate himself to the Presidency despite the “call of destiny”. Farooq Leghari resigned honourably because he could not accept the dictation of “democratic” PM Mian Nawaz Sharif. Now Tarar has ridden off into the sunset and like any good Subaltern will probably never be heard of (or from) again, i.e. if he has the guts to risk losing his pension and the comfort that taxpayers will keep in coughing up to keep him comfortable in Presidential retirement for the rest of his life. To paraphrase Shakespeare’s Marc Antony during the funeral oration for Julius Caesar, “the good that men do is oft interred with their bones, the evil lives after them. So let it be with Tarar!”


Budget Dynamics

When all the hyperbole and semantics of stabilization and growth are done, Pakistan’s many problems can be traced back to one basic issue, poor revenue collection. What would happen if all of a sudden Pakistanis decided to pay even 30% of what they are supposed to pay in taxes? To start with there would be no Budget deficit, what to talk about meeting the gap by begging for loans. Then, we would be able to pay back some of the hefty debt (and commensurate interest thereof) we have managed to acquire in a dozen or so “democratic” years, successive Finance Ministers running from pillar to post to acquire even more debt to pay for the servicing alone what to talk of returning the principal amounts due. We would then be able to allocate a substantial sum for upgrading/modernizing the socio-economic infrastructure which is falling apart fairly rapidly. Next, more money would be allocated for development expenditure, giving priority to those areas which are still living in the dark ages even in the new millennium. In a country where the main business of government is business instead of governance and the biggest employer at all levels is government, the increased cash flow into the economy will force-multiply the economic opportunities — that in turn, along with a myriad more pluses, would allow the government to decrease taxes and thus increase the revenue collection. This is the stuff dreams are made of, being an incurable optimist and with a genial nature that does not accept reverse as a permanent feature, Shaukat Aziz, Pakistan’s Finance Minister for the past two budgets, must be dreaming this recurring dream. And what would happen if the revenues doubled to 60%? Fantasy?


Unit Durbar — Circa 2001

By each unit having regular monthly Durbars the army inadvertently trains its leaders on how to address captive audiences. Pervez Musharraf’s delivery normally ranges from good to excellent but when an audience reminds him of his days as a Commanding Officer of a Regiment of Artillery, the Chief Executive excels, he is outstanding. The assembled holy men who came to the National Seerat Conference were unlucky to be caught on one of Musharraf’s “Unit Durbar” days, and to be read, what amounts to, the “riot act”. Independent observers confirm that Musharraf comes across as a credible leader who will not be blackmailed by any vested group, religious or otherwise. He is not a hypocrite, neither would he be mistaken for a graduate of Harvard’s “Fletcher School of Diplomacy”.

One feels sorry for the “Holinesses” used as “fillers” of the empty spaces of the Conference Hall by the minions of government, in their wildest imaginations they would never have anticipated such a blunt and focussed tirade. Mostly “friendlies”, the Maulanas were expecting to hear sweet nothings, then depart full of tea and samosas (and maybe a few government perks), the blistering speech stunned them into silence. The message was unambiguous, Musharraf was not going to be a holier-than-thou “Mr Nice Guy” any longer, “join the mainstream of civilization or “bug” out”. One revelled in the dressing down Musharraf meted out but felt sorry for the recipients since they had braved the anger of the extremists to attend the event in the first place. Shell-shocked, they have been left in limbo between a rock and a hard place even though the CE’s message was mostly meant for the rather militant extremists who were not present. Such militants, who are in a minority, are out of sync with real Islam, a moderate religion preaching peace and harmony.


Complete Nuclear Lunacy?

Since May 5 an Indian strike force of 60,000 plus is conducting Corps — level exercise code-named “Poorna Vijay” (Complete Victory) in the Bikaner sector of Rajasthan, the final assault on “enemy positions” (believe it or not, that’s us) is scheduled for Thursday May 10, 2001. Armour might in the form of T-72 tanks make up the centre-piece of the manoeuvres, supported by mechanized infantry, self-propelled artillery and about a 100 combat and transport aircraft which will launch mock ground attacks. Even though not stated, heliborne assault forces are certainly making up an integral part of the deployment. The exercise “aims to evaluate concept and practice, battle procedures during defensive and offensive operations on the future battlefield, with a nuclear backdrop”. The Indian Government further states that “the operation’s aim is to enhance the army’s operational preparations through the conduct of a number of tactical exercises with troops under simulated battle conditions. Drills and procedures to meet challenges of a nuclear, chemical or biological strike will also be practiced”. Air Marshal (Retd) Kak, a noted defence analyst, opines that “the exercise also aims to prove India’s nuclear deterrent is indeed credible and that our (i.e. Indian) retaliation will be massive. Our doctrine is to escalate conflict beyond battlefields to strategic targets in case of nuclear war”, unquote. In violation of the ground rules agreed upon in April 1991 about exercises conducted in the proximity of each other borders (i.e. within 75 kms) and in the presence of the hotline between each other’s Military Operations, India conveniently failed to inform Pakistan that it was carrying out offensive manoeuvres so close to our borders. This deliberate omission signals a provocation of sorts, such manoeuvres will certainly lead to friction if Pakistan chooses tit-for-tat escalation.


Remembering my Mother!

An early vivid recollection of my mother is in Shalwar Kameez riding a bicycle, my infant sister on a basket on the front handle, my father and myself pedalling furiously on either side on separate bicycles, during my father’s postings in different cantonments from 1949 to 1953, successively Sialkot, Kurmitola, Jessore, Quetta and Comilla. My mother was always an original whether teaching classical dancing or music, playing cards or just socializing, etc proud of being Bengali and proud of being Pakistani, never afraid to say what she felt and without a care to whom she said it or how she said it. To those who saw the frail, shriveled person in semi-coma for about four months till she died peacefully in my presence at about 9:30 pm on Saturday May 19, 2001 at the age of 76, all this may sound rather incongruous.

Ruby Bano Zia Paiker Sarwat Ara Sehgal, daughter of late Magistrate Badruddin Ahmad and granddaughter of Khan Bahadur Mohiuddin Ahmad of Bogra, Boga, Paanch Bibi and Sukanpukur (to name the parameters of the Nawada Boga Estate, spread over 65 villages in Northern Bengal, (Paanch Bibi being famous as Moulana Bhashani’s home village), the heartland of Bangladesh, was married in September 1944 to a Punjabi Army Officer from Sialkot, the heartland of Pakistan. Too long a story to be told in a few paragraphs, suffice that her two uncles late Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy and J A Rahim had something to do with their vision of the Pakistan-to-be. The powers-that-be in GHQ Rawalpindi decided in 1949 in their infinite wisdom that her Bengali lineage was enough reason to post my father (then a Major and die-hard of 7/16 Punjab, now 19 Punjab), kicking and screaming in protest, to lead a Company-sized contingent from “Sat Sola” to raise 2nd Battalion The East Bengal Regiment (2EB), he went on to command the JUNIOR TIGERS in Comilla from early 1956 to 1958. Two of his adjutants Shafiullah, Ershad and another officer Ziaur Rahman, rose to Chief of Army Staff rank in the Bangladesh Army post 1971, Zia and Ershad went on to become Presidents. At least six others became major generals in Bangladesh. In Pakistan, Maj Gen (Retd) Nasrullah (his 21C in 2EB) and former Governor Balochistan Lt Gen (Retd) Sardar F S Lodi (who came to him in 2 EB as a subaltern) were present on May 22 on the “Dua” for my mother. Late Gen Iqbal Khan, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, was attached as a Captain with 2EB for over six months time in 1957 with two companies of 2 FF and also functioned as his Adjutant during anti-smuggling “Operation Close Door” in then East Pakistan.


Dilli Hanuz Dur Ust

Within days of a most pleasant invitation for talks by the Indian PM to his Pakistani counterpart, the Indian External Affairs and Defence Minister back-pedalled furiously at a televised Press Conference. Had the hardliners in BJP succeeded in bringing Jaswant Singh into line or was the live charade stage-managed to convey the real message, that India had no intention of bargaining over (Indian-Occupied) Kashmir, and that the Kashmiris themselves had no role in the proposed talks? As an afterthought nail in the coffin of peace, Jaswant Singh added that inviting Pervez Musharraf did not mean that India was recognising the Pakistan’s military regime. So why was the invitation made in the first place, was the Pakistani Chief Executive (CE) only meant to be an “accidental tourist to New Delhi”? “The talks are meant to forget the bitter past between the two countries and begin a new chapter for the future”, said Jaswant Singh, and perhaps to drum it into Pakistan at the highest level to forget Kashmir.