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Archive for September, 2001

Leading From the Front

Most Pakistanis have been aware since Agra that Pervez Musharraf’s boots were meant for walking on the world stage. The man who leads the country and the moment have come together seamlessly in a crisis, comfortable with his destiny and having the inherent ability to seize opportunity whenever and in whichever form it comes. Given Hobson’s Choice, damned if he will, damned if he won’t, the Pakistani leader went with his gut instinct, proving the description of leader who appears once in a blue moon, to quote Lord Wavell’s, “ having the unerring tenth instinct, like a kingfisher flashing across the surface of a pond”. Pervez Musharraf, General of the Army, President by default, but on merit Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (JCSC), did not vacillate, did not drag his feet as he followed Richard Nixon’s advice in not “debating a point to death”. With the country facing its gravest crisis since 1971, Musharraf took the hard but unpopular road in doing what is morally right. The recent terrorist attack in the US cannot be justified by any civilized society. Anybody who does so qualifies for being stark, raving mad.

The sound of a bullet is a great equalizer, it separates the men from the boys. The crisis of the magnitude that Pakistan is facing is the acid test of the character of our leadership. Faced with the rank injustices of the Radcliffe Award in 1947, the lawyer within our Quaid urged a legal battle, Choosing the race against time (now or never!) he went against the thrust of his personality and training to accept a “truncated, moth-eaten Pakistan” rather than no Pakistan at all. Musharraf put at stake his person, his reputation and credibility rather than put the nation to unlimited risk. The media propaganda has been so intense, any indecision or delay would have had long term adverse consequences for our very existence as a nation, (very quickly) Musharraf decided that notwithstanding the emotional display in the streets, overwhelming logic demanded that Pakistan came first. Going against terrorism is contrary to vocal public perception, not only in the streets but in some of the drawing rooms of the elite and educated (who should know better), Musharraf has taken a calculated risk with raw courage. An uncompromising fighter against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, wealthy Osama bin Laden may have captivated the public imagination but what manner of man is ready to bring misery to millions so that he himself can survive? Even now hundreds of thousands of apprehensive Afghans, mainly women and children, are walking in many columns towards safety in Pakistan.


Hares and Hounds

Gen Pervez Musharraf is not known as a man who will vacillate in taking a decision. Unfortunately this time he does not have the luxury of a choice, the stakes are too high for this country. While the President has condemned terrorism in very strong language, the US wants him to put his money where Pakistan’s mouth is, i.e. translate rhetoric into concrete measures in line with a US wish-list which, though not disclosed publicly, seeks to isolate the ruling Afghan government logistically (no fuel, no war material) while providing concrete military support in form of intelligence, logistics and troops. The world’s media seems to be taking its cue from the various statements of top US leaders in Administration and from the US Congress in labelling Osama bin Laden as the prime suspect. Almost gleefully, Indian PM Vajpayee has not wasted any time linking Pakistan to terrorism, that India supported the Soviets against the US during the Afghan War is forgotten. While it does look bad for Afghanistan, all the hijackers were of Arab origin, even a tenuous link with Afghanistan is yet to be established. Western intelligence agencies are desperately looking for “a smoking gun” linking Osama to the heinous crime in the US. If that should happen, Pakistan would have no choice but to be in the forefront of those forces that will act against this terrorist and his Taliban protectors. One cannot run with the hares and hunt with the hounds.


Great Aspirations, Missed Opportunities

The present military regime came to power with greater potential in its leadership to do good for the country than its predecessor three martial laws, the professionalism of the hierarchy being more potent than their counterparts in earlier regimes. For the most part the senior officers are sincere and dedicated people, well motivated to do their best for Pakistan. The agenda unfolded by Pervez Musharraf aroused great aspirations among the people of Pakistan, and while much has been accomplished in the way of establishing good governance, the past 24 months has seen many missed opportunities, as the clock winds down to Oct 12, 2002, these will haunt the legacy of this military regime.

The economic record, priority No. 1 is a mixed bag. There is certainly financial stability when compared to the dark days of Oct 1999, yet in the President’s own words, “we are not out of the woods”, unquote. The banking sector is doing well but the initiative for reforms of the nationalized financial institutions was one of Mian Nawaz Sharif’s few achievements, it was he who brought back expatriate Pakistanis like Shaukat Tareen and Zubyr Soomro to run Habib Bank (HBL) and United Bank (UBL) respectively. But even the Sharif regime looked the other way while Allied Bank Limited (ABL) was being looted in broad daylight. And why did State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Governor Ishrat Hussain wait nearly two years before ridding ABL of crooks like I A Usmani and Jawaher Hussain, even now he has left their close henchman Tahir Saeed Effendi in place? And despite their public intentions even the Sharif regime decided reforms was too much of a good thing when they (and their friends) were asked to also return overdue bank loans and pay due taxes, they then started to target their own appointees. As far the present meltdown at NDFC, SBP was quite aware about Asif Saeed’s reputation before approving him as Chairman, so after he had taken NDFC to the cleaners, who allowed National Bank (NBP) and UBL to acquire his services as a highly paid Consultant? Hundreds and thousands of small depositors have been running from pillar to post, mainly pensioners with their life savings, yet we persist in giving protection to a man who is most responsible for their miseries.


A Dastardly Act

The terrorist attack on the US in the morning of Tuesday Sept 11 was at once horrific and devastating. In the matter of minutes the terrorists inflicted far more damage in a well planned and coordinated attack than all the Japanese bombers and fighters did in a few hours on Pearl Harbour on Dec 7, 1941, clearly surpassing in sheer brutality and callousness “a day that will live in infamy”, to quote President Franklin D Roosevelt, Jr. The timing of the attack sixty years apart was the key, while the Japanese went in shortly after dawn, targeting mostly military targets, causing maximum casualties among uniformed personnel, this particular terrorist attack was deliberately timed for the early part of the morning office rush hour, inflicting maximum civilian human collateral damage, on innocents without any even a hint as to why their assailants had targetted them. Unfortunately these men, women and (even) children were simply pawns in greater game, one that is making monsters out of human beings, one that is threatening not only civilized society but the concept of civilization as well. The US will never again be an open society, and can one now blame them? The raising of the terror quotient was accomplished by inflicting grievous public damage on prime time TV on the most vulnerable. On the pattern of an “eye for an eye”, prima facie it seems to have been carried out by associates of Osama bin Laden. The Japanese tested US patience by their violent sneak attack, the ultimate reaction came in the form of atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. What will the US do this time?


Roadmaps and Mr FIXITS

An objective study of the recently held Local Bodies Election will show that politics is alive and well in Pakistan. Even though the elections were meant to be a non-party exercise, for the most part party stalwarts have come to power at the District level. While it may be too early to render a profound judgement about the new system ushered in by Musharraf and party, the hard fact remains that democracy of sorts at the grassroots level is now a fact of life in Pakistan. For the first time since the creation of the country, some power will have passed into the hands of the people, at least at the local level, provided of course that the elected ones do not abrogate either their authority or responsibility, exercising their mandate without over-dependance on the bureaucrats meant to “assist” them. Only time will tell as to who will actually wield power, the local politician or their bureaucrat advisors. This trial of strength will take part in each constituency and if the democrats are generally successful there will be a future for Pakistan of course, in some rural areas there is no hope in the face of feudal for other democrats or bureaucrats. Unless the people believe that power is really in their hands and that they exercise it freely without prompting or interference, their belief in the system will evaporate and with that the broad aspirations for this country. For the moment there is confusion across the board and that is not unusual, the administrative practice of a century plus cannot be changed seamlessly in a matter of weeks. What is satisfying is that there is an ongoing struggle to correct the anomalies and the dire predictions of complete breakdown have, in the immortal words of Mark Twain, been “greatly exaggerated”.

Those political parties who remain a political force of some consequence in Pakistan have shown considerable sagacity by entering alliances of convenience wherever necessary. Having more or less swept its traditional stronghold in the interior of Sindh, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is allied in places with its long-term nemesis Jamaat-e-Islami. But let’s not write off the other major political bloc, Pakistan Muslim League (PML), as yet. Split into two with Mian Nawaz Sharif’s ascent to power in the mid-80s, it has again split in two after he and his family’s departure to Saudi Arabia. An amalgam of heterogeneous forces having no relevance whatsoever except lip-service to the ideology of the founder of the country, and buffeted by this military regime, the PML (split) still remains a potent political machine. Among the two major regional parties, Awami National Party (ANP) has shown its strength in its traditional vote getting areas but the Muttahida Qaumi Mahaz (MQM) has lost out big by its surprising decision to stay out of Local Bodies elections, giving the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) a windfall by allowing them to move into the political vacuum after 15 years out in the cold in Karachi. Given a chance to do good for the people, and it is true that of all the parties the JI representatives are best motivated and equipped to make that sincere and honest effort at good governance, they will have to be really bad managers to blow this chance. MQM is in real danger of being marginalised by the bitterness of its exiled leader, their effort for rapprochement with ethnic Sindhis at the cost of the integrity of Pakistan has barely made headway. The Mohajir is a Mohajir because more than any other nationality in Pakistan, he voted with his feet for Pakistan, traversing through a trail of blood and death and despondency to come to Pakistan. Trying to undermine the two-nation theory will cut no ice with the broad mass of Mohajirs, only the extremists who have nowhere to go will remain in the field. MQM will continue to have nuisance value but Gen Babar put paid to this mass militant potential in 1985, it will take considerable repression by the military regime to build the nucleus of such an armed militia again, fortunately (1) the military rule has been extremely benign and (2) the present head of the armed forces belongs to the same constituency.