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Archive for October, 2001

The Talibs

Assuming the war with the Soviets would be a long drawn out one, CIA funded many of the Madrassahs through the ISI in the 80s as a future source of recruits. The Soviets packed up from Afghanistan far earlier than anticipated, Talib detachment with the various Mujahideen factions went home or back to the Madrassahs to continue their education. Pakistan did not really try convincing the Americans about their post-war responsibilities. Having seemingly defeated a Superpower by themselves, the then ISI bosses did not want the US to disturb their vision of a crescent of Pan-Islamic Countries. This naked individual ambition has contributed to the problems of this region today, the perpetrators still hiding behind “Islamic” garb and unbridled rhetoric as a convenient smoke screen. Only too happy to oblige, the Americans abdicated as paymasters in further financing the war or the peace to follow. Our then military rulers were not unduly worried, after all the Muslim world, led by the rich Arabs, would move in with massive funding, or so they thought! The net result, no post-war plan for Afghanistan, arrangements for economic aid and / or political rehabilitation, even in the pre-planning stage.

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Abandoning the Bride at the Altar

Already faced with enough troubles economically and politically, Pakistan now has a full-scale war on its western borders that we did not want and a religious call to arms within our frontiers that we certainly did not need. Compounding our problems, frustrated at seeing years of meticulous planning to isolate and Balkan-ize Pakistan literally go up in smoke on Sept 11, India is like a frustrated bride abandoned at the altar by the bridegroom to return to his original mate. India seems hell-bent on provoking a conflict on our eastern front which both India and Pakistan may well live to regret, if it escalates into a nuclear exchange both may well not live to express those regrets. Lobbying the US for the last decade to get the freedom fighters in Kashmir declared “terrorist”, and Pakistan a “terrorist-State” for good measure, it must be galling for the Indians to have their well-laid plans come to naught. Though he seemed to retract a little when in New Delhi, US Secretary of State Colin Powell may have inadvertently added insult to injury by calling “Kashmir the central issue between India and Pakistan”, “core issue” are code words normally used by Pakistan. Pakistan has returned to doing what it does best, being the front line State for the US in a war against somebody or the other. Indian intelligentsia and commentators have had real fun over the past year gloating over how Pakistan was on the ropes geo-politically, and economically was about to go under. Well, to paraphrase Mark Twain, “rumours of Pakistan’s demise seems to have been greatly exaggerated”, unquote.

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War Without End Begins

The wonders of modern warfare will never cease! Three cities were targeted in US air attacks against Afghanistan Sunday night, most of the damage took place in Pakistan. Where the bombs destroyed is still generally unknown but Quetta in Pakistan was worst hit by violence, the mob made up of quite a few Afghan refugees as well as religious party activists. Two cinema halls (showing US movies), several banks, a police station and assorted vehicles, etc were torched by demonstrators protesting the US attack and Pakistan’s tacit support of it. Other cities saw roads blocked, buildings attacked and vehicles damaged, stoning and burning of tires and effigies, by small bands of youthful protestors, mostly in their teens. Protests were expected and were fairly widespread throughout the country, were negligible relative to South Asia’s normal standards. Overall (1) they rioted in small groups and (2) religious activists were not joined in by the other parties. The administration did well in allowing them to let off steam in a controlled fashion. An exchange of fire between our Frontier Corps (FC) troops and Taliban guards took place when some enthusiastic refugees tried to break into banks in a border town. What gives reason for concern was an armed 1000 plus mob (mainly Afghans supported by Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s JUI) attack on vehicles, some commercial, on the road leading to Chaman. Given the purity of their noble purpose, what is driving these religious zealots to such crass commercial motives as looting banks and commercial vehicles? The TV clip of the Afghan protestor in Quetta shouting on prime-time CNN, “we will first destroy Pakistan, and then America”, should be re-run again on Pakistan TV to show our public how grateful the Afghans are for the help and support by Pakistan over the years.

With very little to write about, journalists from all over the world became unduly excited by the sporadic brickbats being thrown at the government. Rumours of a military coup swept through Pakistan on Wednesday, sparked by a routine fire in a storeroom in GHQ, Rawalpindi and the round of posting/promotions of Lt Gens necessitated because of the vacancies created by Usmani and Mahmood’s suppression and retirement, and Musharraf’s giving up of the Chairman JCSC post. Well, the Pakistan Army is fairly monolithic and stands together, very firm and united behind their Chief. Some facts are blatantly misrepresented, the news item that a major English newspaper carried about Lt Gen Mahmood was outrageous. I have never liked Mahmood personally but he is a fine, upright professional. “Aabpara” happens to be Islamabad’s Hyde Park, a small crowd there is hardly of consequence, as at Regal Chowks in Lahore and Karachi, etc. The protests may still be miniscule but the anger is very much there, too widespread to simply ignore. Evidence can always be manufactured, and in power games between nations usually is, but Bin Laden vowing to make “more” suicide bombings against the US helped the western case by giving due credibility to their cause. That “smoking gun” will turn off a great many Osama sympathisers. As the bitter truth sinks in that their “hero” has tacitly (if not directly) acknowledged the killing of innocent civilians drawn from almost 80 countries, there will be reaction among the faithful. Every religious party in Pakistan has condemned the Sept 11 atrocity, incidentally so has the OIC Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Qatar, is Osama in step with them? Osama bin Laden was once a “freedom fighter”, he is now a terrorist, pure and simple, caring two hoots whom he targets as long as it fulfils his convoluted logic, he is simply using Islam to camouflage his perverted ideology. If our Ulema have the courage (and the character) they should face the truth, Osama is turning our religion into a violent travesty of what it really is, a peaceful one which forbids violence and which abhors killing. If our intelligentsia does not act now, different sects and factions within Islam could be further polarized, already a divide is taking place between haves and have-nots, this could lead to a full scale conflagration. It will certainly create more terrorists, some having access to weapons of mass destruction.

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Choosing Merit over Friendship

Lt Gen Mohammad Yusuf Khan, Chief of General Staff (CGS), and Lt Gen Mohammad Aziz Khan, Commander 4 Corps at Lahore were respectively appointed Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS) and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (JCSC), both promoted to the rank of General in keeping with their new appointments on Oct 7, 2001. General Pervez Musharraf’s tenure as COAS had expired the same day but his retirement as COAS could have created a legal imbroglio due to the Supreme Court (SC) Judgement mandating him by name to complete the democratic process before Oct 12, 2002. A five-day gap between Oct 7 and Oct 12, 2002 necessitated an extension without a time limit instead of the “one year” mandated by the Constitution.

Gen Pervez Musharraf’s penchant for clearing the decks for battle and his timing thereof are both exquisite. Very much as he did immediately on taking over as COAS in 1998, he removed the weak links in his chain of command. In a way he has used one crisis to control the other. In choosing Lt Gens Yusuf (37th PMA) and Aziz (1st war Course) to supersede Usmani (36th PMA) and Mahmood (37th PMA), Pervez Musharraf made an agonizing choice as not only the leader of the Army, but as the leader of a country facing its gravest crisis since 1971. Mahmood has been one of his closest friends and a regimental colleague from 16 SP (Self-Propelled) Regiment (of Artillery). As Comd 10 Corps Mahmood led 10 Corps troops (111 Brigade) into the PM’s House (closely following SSG troops heli-lifted earlier from Mangla Airfield on orders of the CGS Aziz) on the fateful 12th day of October 1999. It was Muzzafar Usmani as Commander 5 Corps Karachi, who took over the Airport to allow the PIA aircraft in which the COAS was travelling, and which was dangerously low on fuel, to land. Usmani has again been his close friend and colleague for many years, first as a student and then fellow instructor in both Command & Staff College, Quetta, and the National Defence College (then at Rawalpindi). Yusuf was probably the odd man out of the loop in Multan on the fateful day as Aziz as the CGS masterminded the counter-coup which brought Pervez Musharraf back as COAS and de-facto ruler of Pakistan. But when it came to replace Aziz (who needed experience as a Corps Commander) he chose Yusuf as CGS, arguably the CGS-slot is the most powerful in the Pakistan Army after that of the COAS, particularly because the elite SSG Brigade plus is under his direct control. Aziz was the one who denied control of GHQ to the new team hastily selected by then PM Mian Nawaz Sharif’s COAS-designate Lt Gen Ziauddin Butt. Some feel that putting Aziz (who is junior to Yusuf) as Chairman JCSC means that he is being kicked upstairs, unfortunately they are ignorant of the many changes in the JCSC’s working that Pervez Musharraf has brought about in the two years of his incumbency, bringing the Armed Forces into an integrated command as envisaged in the creation of JCSC in 1976, 25 years earlier, at least in military minds if not in the political one of late PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who invented it more as an anti-coup device.

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Which Plan, Martial or Marshal?

To protect itself from both internal dissent and a foreign war, the then French Government imposed “Terror” as the order of the day on Sep 5, 1793. Targeting opponents within its own midst, almost 17,000 being executed in less than a year till July 27, 1794, courts across the country were given a rather stark choice, “Execution or Acquittal!”. Encyclopedia Britannica describes “terrorism” as the “systematic use of terror as a means of forcing some political objective. A government may use it to signal efforts for stifling dissent, insurrectionists or guerillas may use terror as part of an overall effort to effect desired political change”. Commercial passenger aircraft were employed as flying bombs to destroy the twin towers of the World Trade Centre (WTC), the terrorists denying benefit of a trial to the many innocent passengers on the flights or the many thousands of almost 80 nationalities making their living in the prime commercial square mile of the world. A sentence of death was carried out by a “kangaroo court” knowing well that those they were executing so brutally had nothing whatsoever to do with the crimes that the terrorists were fighting against. Supposedly for the glory of Islam, the terrorists struck Islam perhaps its most grievous blow in the many centuries of its existence. With such “good” Muslims in our midst, does Islam need enemies?

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Hasina Khaleda-ised

Defying expectations of a great many analysts who predicted a close race, Begum Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led Alliance routed the ruling Awami League (AL) in the general elections held on Oct 1, 2001, putting Bangladesh founding father Sheikh Mujib’s daughter, Shaikh Hasina Wajid, out to pasture for the next five years. The BNP already has a two-thirds majority with at least 30-40 seats still to be declared. Showing a good head for arithmetic, Hasina Wajid lost no time crying “foul” in announcing a boycott of Parliament, acutely aware that her party has often used brute majority to amend the Constitution to suit its narrow interests rather than national ones. More than 200 foreign observers present to observe the elections have disagreed with Hasina Wajid, unanimously calling the polls generally free and fair. The lady is out in the cold without any credibility to cloak her.

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