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Archive for March, 2002

Soldiering and Politicking

The October 2002 elections should see the Army, if not it’s Commander, back in the barracks, hardly surprising the rumour machines are working overtime and the “the natives (read “politicians”) are getting restless”. Having spent 30 months out in the cold, they have watched fitfully as the contorted manner of politics in Pakistan they were happy with has sought to be changed by the military regime in an attempt to convert democracy from the farce it was into a realistic exercise. To an extent the Local Bodies elections accomplishes that purpose but indirect elections for Nazims and Naib Nazims made that effort meaningless. Any post in the world, first world or the third, where the vote can be manipulated, does not truly represent the electorate it serves. Citing cost, the country’s present rulers have reverted to the practice of attempting “selections” instead of allowing those representative of elections. With all the apathy among the voters, the fact that even this military regime with all sincerity in their intentions, have not been able to bring about pragmatic and meaningful change, will further dissipate voter interest in the electoral process. Every elected post must be subject to universal adult franchise, or we will reap the consequences of another military coup post-Musharraf, and it will not so far be away in the future. We have been lucky with Pervez Musharraf, there could be a Sani Abacha down the line.

During the past year the President’s modus operandi has been routine. Before officially announcing a decision already made by him earlier but not announced, he first summons “the college of cardinals” ie. the Corps Commanders to plug any loopholes and then goes into a round of very public consultations with groups comprising political parties, intellectuals and academics, media personalities, etc, ostensibly to seek their advice and counsel, actually to lobby for and drum up support. To his credit he has modulated his decisions from time to time to reflect informed criticism, he has used the process quite successfully and effectively to build consensus, particularly since the period leading upto the Agra Summit in July. This time around since the consultative series initiated by the President is politician-heavy, he is finding the going difficult. The problem arises not only because of a whole set of detractors but also those who wish him well. They have built up a crescendo, both for and against a referendum on the President’s continuity post-elections. Aside from the fact that he will get bogged down in a legal minefield in attempting the referendum, the politicians who count have suddenly discovered a rallying point that gives them hope of revival of their dissipating fortunes. And the politicians who do not count are counting on the referendum to display to the President they are “more loyal than the king”, they will wait to gouge out their pound of flesh later. For the first time since Oct 12, 2002, Pervez Musharraf is on ground which is not of his choosing and one hopes that the political morass does not engulf him.


Another Outrage

The grenade attack on the Protestant International Church in the Diplomatic Enclave on Sunday last was a disaster waiting to happen, that in the prevailing security environment the law enforcement agencies did not carry out proper “threat perception” and take the necessary counter measures is a surprise. What is more surprising that the diplomatic community’s own security analysts did not see the Church and the regular Sunday gathering as a potential “vulnerable target”. Professionalism in any cadre, whether Pakistani or foreign, involves far more effort than can be put in during duty hours, security is a full-time 24 hours discipline that requires constant monitoring, collection and collation of information, analysis thereof, and pre-emptive action when and where necessary. For the most part the foreign security personnel are very professional, only the odd one stands out as the perennial bureaucrat engaged in protecting his own job at the detriment of his prime responsibility. Find out a security manager who is sarcastic, overbearing and ready to put the blame on others for his own weaknesses and you will know the person who does not know his job.

As for the terrorists who carried out the atrocity, it is now an accepted fact that cowards will always target the innocent and the vulnerable wherever, whether in Pakistan, India or even the US. A place of worship is a soft target, an ideal force-multiplier for spreading fear and panic when anarchy is the ultimate objective, killing and maiming of women and children now being a recognized terror formula. The perpetrators can be any number of individuals and organizations with hate as their creed and murder as their philosophy. The Church incident was an absolute outrage, the only way of assuaging the pain of their taking the life of innocents is to hunt down those involved, expeditiously. A terrible price has been paid by the innocents, it is a debt that can only be re-paid by taking heavy toll of the terrorists who conceived and carried out the atrocity. They can run but they must not be allowed to hide!


The Election Process

The election process is seen by the people according to their perception of things as they should be. Politicians see an October date as the end of their three years-drought in the cold, most intelligentsia see the approaching date as impending doom. There is even talk of a 1971-like situation post October 2002. The business community is somewhat ambivalent, caught between the devil and the deep sea. The Amjad-NAB was focussed on big business, the Khalid Maqbool and Munir Hafeez-NABs follow different pursuits, taking the heat off the mercantile community. Leading to the question, would big business be comfortable with the Army’s continuing governance in some form or go back to the barracks? For the broad expanse of the public the impending Elections evokes mixed reaction, people do want elected representatives, but more than that they want bread on their tables and a roof over their heads. It would be nice also to have money to pay for electricity and other utilities.
Maj Gen Rashid Qureshi denied flatly that the military regime had any preferences among politicians, so what is the trio of political amateurs led by Tariq Aziz, Principal Staff Officer to the President, upto directing political traffic? They would be well advised not to enter where angels fear to tread, history has shown that bureaucratic manipulation is a short term solution which invariably boomerangs. While the military cannot be deaf, dumb and blind about those who will guide the nation’s destiny in the years to come, especially when politicians remained deaf, not-so-dumb but blind to the travails of the country and its people in the past, instead of manipulating an “acceptable result” by getting the “like-minded” elected surreptitiously, it would be far better to create a transparent level playing field.


Provocation and Patience

Barely one week of the Ahmedabad carnage taking human toll of hundreds of muslims in India, the Alice-in-Wonderland speeches at the SAARC Information Ministers Conference in Islamabad about the need for amity and friendship in South Asia provides small solace for the dead and dying in Gujerat. Apropos of Nero fiddling while Rome burned, we are hypocritical about how we wish each other eternal bliss. Given that the bulk of India’s Armed Forces are on our doorstep with intentions of grievous bodily harm (or at least threatening it) for over two months now, this charade we could have done without. Only morons would wish war with India but we must be joking if we are happy to see L K Advani’s pet guided missile Pakistan. As hopes and aspirations among the assembled media persons rose to a peak on the second day of the Agra Summit last June, “iron butterfly” Sushma Swaraj was sent by the “hardliners” to do a mid-morning “walkabout” Press Conference through the corridors of the Agra Sheraton, making it quite clear to whosoever would listen that notwithstanding whatever Atal-ji and Jaswant Singh might promise to Gen Pervez Musharraf on Kashmir, it cut no ice with her (and India’s) real boss, the Home Minister. By late the same night, contrary to all expectations, a rather astounded Pakistani President was in the air on his way home without any agreement.

It started with a muslim mob at Godhra Railway Station setting fire to a train carrying slogan chanting VHP activists back home from Ayodhya, the site of the destroyed Babri Masjid. Kindly explain how a mob got onto a moving train before it reached the railway platform? Try these facts for size, the train pulls into Godhra, the chanting pilgrims, on a high after their Ayodha visit, demanded tea from the 6 or 7 tea-sellers. The tea-sellers, all muslim, refused the tea and a verbal brawl turned into a free-for-all, the fracas turned into a riot. Outnumbered by the local muslim mob, the driver backed the train off from the Station. The tea-sellers hurled burning kerosene stoves through the compartment windows. The momentum of the train fanning the flames, it spread rapidly and the Hindu pilgrims were trapped inside. The provocation notwithstanding, the muslim action setting the train on fire was atrocious, condemnable and led to a far greater tragedy. They lacked the common sense to realise they would be condemning hundreds of their helpless fellow muslims, outnumbered badly in the BJP-ruled State, to death. The extremists needed a plausible excuse, the tea-sellers at Godhra Railway Station provided that excuse.


Media and Combating Corruption

With the technological advances of the 20th century, and those anticipated in the 21st, media has become a most potent weapon both in peace and in war. However its role as the guardians of the oppressed carries most relevance for civilization. Working without any fear or restraint a free media is the best check on excess of any kind by anyone or any entity having the potential and the inclination to inflict excess. What to talk about individuals, even nations feel the heat that the media can generate on any wrongdoing. Conversely, influence over a “free” media allows the generating of excess without undue hue and cry.

The mass media, in particular the printed press, enjoys a special status which gives them protection against conventional social policies. This freedom is a vital element a safeguard of human rights in a democratic and civil society, media autonomy must be respected and defended. The exceptional degree of autonomy carries duties and responsibilities that calls for regulation both on legal and ethical levels i.e. the media must also be accountable. It would be both sociologically and politically naive to place media outside of any social controls. Accountability can conceptually be divided into various levels and aspects, including law and ethics. The mass media is regulated by legal and financial means to a degree determined by the political balance of power prevailing in each society. And there is little that the professional and academic community can do about it, but there is an untapped potential for indirect participation in the democratic process of media accountability through media criticism. The media criticism called for is not the kind of politically motivated interest group advocacy that is well known everywhere but scientifically based description and assessment of media performance, carried out by methods of content analysis. The reasoning follows the correspondence theory of truth: comparing media coverage with extramedia data. However, truth checking can be left aside, why pay so much attention to content, especially at a time of media concentration and globalization? The mass-mediated content constitutes a strategic part of broader reasoning about freedom and accountability, and ultimately media’s role in democracy.


Shame and Resolve

If the fact of Daniel Pearl’s kidnapping was senseless, the act of his murder was inhuman. While we Pakistanis may never be able to live with the shame of Daniel Pearl’s brutal killing, being battle-inoculated by two decades of terrorism we will eventually come to terms with this ghastly atrocity. Skeptical about Pakistan as a viable entity when he (and his wife Marianne) first flew in on Sept 16, 2001 from Mumbai where he was based as “The Wall Street Journal” (WSJ)’s Bureau Chief, he would comment quite frequently about how wrong he had been about Pakistan, how one could never discover the real truth without personally visiting the area and inter-acting with the people. Tragically a vicious minority proved Pakistan otherwise. Refined and sensitive, Daniel had been filing material in WSJ favourable to Pakistan, his confidence in moving about freely without any personal security reflected how much he was at ease in Pakistan and with Pakistanis, unfortunately that trusting approach was his undoing. Danny was inquisitive but unlike many of his professions he was not cynical, or for that matter naive, he was simply far more ready to believe. That he was a Jew and his grandparents lived in Israel made him no less a good human being and a friend. Jews are people of the Book and our only difference with Israel should be the status of Al-Aqsa, the mutual terrorism unleashed against each other by the Israelis and Palestinians is a matter to be settled between them. Can anyone refer me to when Yasser Arafat last mentioned Kashmir favourably with Pakistan? Danny’s frank, candid comments showed an absolute lack of prejudice that was not only refreshing, it made Daniel Pearl much more, a friend to cherish, both in life and in death.