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Archive for August, 2001

Soldier and gentleman

Last week the Musharraf regime lost one of the prime reasons for its being considered by public perception to be the most decent government in recent memory in Pakistan. While the graveyard is full of indispensible people, for this government “GA”, as the late Lt Gen Ghulam Ahmed was known, may yet prove to be so. A man of mild and pleasant demeanour, he symbolized all that is fair and good in this military regime’s governance mode. A professional soldier to the very core, he was required to be the focal point for inter-action between the military and the civilian establishments, given the mutual suspicion not an easy fit even in normal circumstances. As the Chief of Staff (COS) in the Chief Executive’s (CE’s) Secretariat, a seamless liaison with Islamabad’s hard-nosed bureaucracy as well as effective coordination with the various Provincial Governments, he personified the nouveau image of Martial Law fostered by Musharraf and his colleagues, benign governance depending upon logic and reason to motivate performance rather than the use of brute force. To its credit this military regime has convinced the superior judiciary to willingly devise a mode of swift justice that Army normally abrogates to itself through military courts. This unusual partnership has helped maintain the perception of the rule of law. An honest man not afraid to voice his opinion, GA was respected by his mentor, his colleagues and subordinates alike. In a very real sense he had managed to curb (and if not curb then camouflage) the aberrations that all authoritarian regimes are afflicted with, something his immediate predecessor had been displaying with real-time arrogance till the selector-in-chief sent him off to greener pastures, the loss of absolute power compensated by the US$ 10000 plus in UN pay and allowances per month. Civilian establishments are normally averse to the uniform, giving only lip-service and perfunctory loyalty while actually hating the Army’s guts, but they gave GA grudging respect as a fair and tough interlocutor. Pervez Musharraf will be hard put to maintain the credibility of the working environment his COS had fostered. In the President’s own words at GA’s Qul in Punjab House, Islamabad viz (1) he had no ego problem (2) spoke on everything with very strong conviction (3) had a great desire for justice being imparted and (4) he was the Chief’s confidante, a colleague and friend.

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A Time for Decision

The more endearing features of the Musharraf regime are its relative transparency and patience when compared to previous military and civilian regimes over the past 50 years and so. For a nation that is generally pessimistic about promises made, indeed cynical about the rhetoric that goes with it, someone actually keeping to the pledges made, is a novelty. Military regimes and a free press have never co-existed in history, the present Pakistani example of maintaining a honeymoon of sorts, is rather difficult to comprehend for most observers, friend and foe alike. As the clock winds down to October 2002, this liberalism on the part of the uniformed ones will be severely tested, particularly by the dual personalities who will have something to hide.

The President’s sincerity in unveiling a roadmap for a return to democracy has been tarnished somewhat by the conduct of the Local Bodies elections. The military regime’s detractors point to ham-handed manipulations as evidence of the military’s ill-intentions, to stage-manage a controlled democracy rather than seemingly allow the unfettered type that had brought us close to apocalypse. If ever “the doctrine of necessity” needed to be applied, “ground zero” was Pakistan in October 1999. One can understand the military’s apprehensions about returning to the bad old ways, but one cannot correct the system by imitating the perpetrators of wrongdoing and misconduct.

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Dissolution of Credibility?

Fresh from one of the greatest peacetime successes of Pakistan’s international history and basking still in Agra’s media glow, the military regime’s exercise in devolution of power is a possible future disaster in the making. While the devolution plan by itself has very big holes in it, the electoral process at the Local Bodies level has shown that “horse trading” is alive and well in Pakistan. There is always a temptation to manipulate favourable results in any competition but “match fixing” has its limits, that manipulation took place not only under the noses of the military regime but had their fingerprints all over the place, undercuts the credibility of a generally very clean military government. To put it bluntly, anytime there is an indirect election for any post, it is not the peoples’ will but the ability of the manipulators that will always emerge triumphant. For any elected post there must always be direct elections. On the other hand, devolution down to districts is more than acceptable in the urban areas, in the rural areas Local Government rule by a Nazim below that of a Division is asking for trouble. At the District level enhanced powers for the Nazims is a plus point for the citizens in cities and towns, in the rural District areas the same powers giving to the tribal Sardars absolute legal authority over the resident citizens makes them no better than bonded slaves at his will and whim.

One cannot condemn the whole electoral process leading to self-governance at the base level out of hand. One must be fair in observing that any self-rule is better than bureaucratic control. As such on a pro-rata basis, the “Naqvi model” of basic democracy that will come into effect on August 14, 2001 will certainly be better than what we have been suffering for the last 54 years under a very prejudiced and biased bureaucratic control. Whether democratic or military rule, the people of Pakistan have lived with only a semblance of freedom, bureaucracy remaining in actual power while giving lip-service to whoever were the rulers supposedly exercising power.

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Corporate and Individual Safety

Whether it is Shaukat Raza Mirza in Karachi or Siddique Khan Kanju in Multan, the elimination of human beings by violent means is almost always for a purpose, whether or not they have a standing in society. Except for those targeted by the totally insane, there is always motivation for murder. The assumptions for Siddique Khan Kanju (and his former MPA Joya) are reasonably straightforward, political violence created a blood cycle, for those who tend to live by the sword it is only a matter of time before opponents discover a chink in the armour. Shaukat’s was a far different proposition. Was it a cold blooded attempt to create economic disorder in the country given that before taking over as MD Pakistan State Oil (PSO) he had been a high profile executive of a US company? Was it a Shia-Sunni thing? Was it linked to employee unrest because of the downsizing of PSO? Or simply a hit ordered by a combination of overseas corporate entities with their local employee collaborators who stood to lose billions of rupees annually because they ran up against an honest man who tightened the rules of the game to their detriment? In picking Shaukat Mirza for a professional hit by what are almost certainly hired assassins at a carefully chosen ambush point, the perpetrators of the dastardly act not only covered their tracks but succeeded beyond measure in terrorizing a whole range of corporate executives, some of them expatriate Pakistanis who had left far safer (and better paid) jobs abroad to serve their country. Even if they should choose jobs linked to now be controversy they will be averse to rocking the existing boat. In Karachi, the nation’s commercial capital, the corporate individual is now a person besieged physically, in fending for his safety and that of his family, and psychologically, out of the apprehension of impending doom without any warning. Abraham Maslow’s theory of a hierarchy of needs of a human being includes self-actualization, esteem and love, but has at its very base, safety and survival.

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The Media Success Story

The Agra Summit had not even finished when the Indians launched a full scale analysis of what had gone wrong with their set gameplan to expose Pervez Musharraf the military dictator as a showcase of autocracy in sharp contrast to the relative freedom enjoyed by the world’s “largest democracy”. In New Delhi on the way to the Summit at Agra, Musharraf succeeded in one short day in becoming a media darling in the eyes of the Indian public in contrast to his Kargil-monster painted image. Belatedly the Indians woke up to the fact that things were not going according to script. While 15 July was a relative lull, they pounced on the now famous breakfast meeting on 16 July with Indian editors/publishers as a blatant Pakistan ploy to pressurize India by conducting diplomacy through the media. Short shrift was given to the fact that it was not any Pakistani devious plan but a Pranoy Roy initiative to air the breakfast meeting on Star TV, and that the other Indian TV Stations just picked it up so as not to remain behind. The Indians conveniently also forgot that it was Sushma Swaraj who had gone on a fishing expedition a day earlier with depth charges meant to scuttle the peace process. Much was made of Secretary Information Anwar Mahmood’s public disclaimer about Sushma’s claims that there were no discussions about Kashmir at Agra in the one-on-one between President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee.

While preparing a set-piece battleground for complete diplomatic and media victory, India had not counted on the rebellious nature of the Pakistani print media which fights each other and the government in power at all times but invariably come together in a time of crisis (or on hostile territory) behind whoever is the ruler. Agra was a Pervez Musharraf success story, he won the media war hands down. He was ably supported by a galaxy of media personalities from Pakistan, for once Pakistan came away from an important international event with the sweet smell of success. This success can be laid squarely on the military regime’s free media policy. It seems India badly miscalculated that the Pakistan print media would badmouth an unelected President of a military regime and embarrass him no end in a foreign land on international primetime. They did not count on the solid support he had painstakingly generated by the biggest gamble of all, he took a calculated risk in conceivably being the only military regime in history to have a free media. What he got back in return is a grudging legitimacy normally denied to military rulers. By the time the Indians realized they had badly miscalculated and belatedly attempted damage control, Pakistan’s media was ruling the Indian airwaves. One must commend the freedom and sophistication of the Indian electronic media, their potential is nothing short of tremendous. This freedom was used to maximum effect by Pakistani print media-persons, who in turn benefit from being far freer than India’s print media.

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