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Archive for June, 2002

Constitutional Proposals

The military regime last Wednesday solicited public opinion for the first batch of 29 constitutional amendments proposed by the National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB) to improve the performance of political and democratic institutions of the country. The National Security Council (NSC) and the Federal Cabinet will meet after a month to finalize the amendments in the light of suggestions received.

Nobody should have any problems with (1) reducing the term of the National Assembly (NA) and the Senate from five and six years respectively to four (2) increasing the existing 207 NA muslim seats to 357 and (3) reducing the voting age from 21 years to 18 years. It is better for the Assemblies to finish their natural terms (even though reduced) rather than having them artificially shortened by arbitrary authority. The population growth necessitated the increase in seats and the precocious nature of modern youth the decrease in age. The Provinces should be happy with the relative increases in seats, both in the NA and the Provincial Assemblies.


Arrogance and Corruption

Despite the dire predictions of his many detractors, Pervez Musharraf will be credited by posterity with a number of positive initiatives/actions, a few more than others, viz (1) having called the Indian bluff despite having the whole Indian Armed Forces camped for six months on our borders, remaining calm and cool in not blinking under the most hostile external environment in the history of the nation and (2) carrying out accountability, if not fully at least nearly across the board. Apropos of the President’s comment about nuclear potential giving Pakistan strategic balance with India the main reason for avoiding war, the Indians fell over themselves in calling it as “nuclear blackmail”. There was an embarrassed silence a day later, when the consensus candidate for the Indian Presidency Mr Abdul Kalam, soon after filing his nomination flanked by BJP’s Vajpayee and Congress” Sonia Gandhi, said that the reason why Pakistan and India did not go to war was because of “nuclear detente”. Already proving to be a bit of an unguided missile, how long before this muslim is labeled as an ISI operative?

The military regime’s calm under a flurry of ultimatums and outright threats avoided panic in our own population. My touchstone was the many up-scale farmhouses in Bedian adjacent to the border near Lahore, no one evacuated. Conversely India had built up such a war hysteria that when the Pakistan missiles were test-fired in early May, sheer panic swept through the Indian population at the belated realization that no Indian city was safe from a Pakistan counter-attack. The bulk of foreigners in India voted their confidence in India with their feet, clogging the airports in a rush to exit. Over the past few months, investment into India has dried up. For Pakistan where investment is confined to burgers, shakes, french fries and ice creams, not good for health in any case, it hardly matters. The Indians finally got their sums right, calculating that their commercial losses far outweighed their political and diplomatic profit in browbeating Pakistan and trying to label us a “terrorist State”. Before any sensor could be put on the LOC, Chief Monitor Fernandes surmised that infiltration cross-border had almost ceased! Thank you, George, for providing the comic relief during a period of extreme tension!


90 Minutes in an Hour of Crisis

In the first exclusive one-on-one comments made after the much-awaited Jan 12 speech, General Pervez Musharraf annunciated the parameters he set out for himself, “I wanted to address issues bedeviling Pakistani society and focus on priorities, confront internal problems damaging Pakistan’s image internationally and raise the morale of the Pakistani nation and, lastly, lay out support for the Kashmiri people without it being labelled as cross-border terrorism or compromising Pakistan’s sovereignty and self-respect, i.e. a good enough signal to India that I wanted to pursue the peaceful route in Kashmir but I wanted them to clearly understand that they could not bully us, we were ready to fight if we had to”.

Given not only a national but a world-wide audience, he said “I had no room for vacillation or empty rhetoric, I had my work cut out for me”. A day earlier, the Indians had tried to provoke him (and Pakistan’s manliness) through a rather strange Press Briefing by the Indian COAS Padmanabhan in which he virtually threatened Pakistan with nuclear extermination. Musharraf said, “militarily I can equate my speech as attacking across a minefield to capture vital ground, the danger very much visible from the enemy’s small arms and artillery fire but also the invisible ones like the mines planted just beneath the surface. I had to keep my cool.” With positive reactions flowing in from within the country and from outside, even the Indians gave grudging acceptance. Pervez Musharraf clearly achieved his “vital ground”, credibility in the comity of nations, quite something for any Pakistani leader.


Playing Nuclear Chicken

India played nuclear chicken with Pakistan and the world blinked. The President’s swift decision to go with the Coalition against terrorism, and thus against the Taliban in Afghanistan, gave the world (and many of our countrymen) a wrong perception that under pressure he was a pushover. Bureaucrats have it right when they caution new entrants from taking decisions expeditiously. You will be called “hasty”, they say, delay the decision-making, be “deliberate”. Pervez Musharraf was right in opposing terrorism emanating from Pakistan’s backyard and he was not going to allow hell to freeze over before taking a decision. The vast middle ground among the intelligentsia and the masses supported him then, and still supports him on this issue. The President gauged the west’s mood after 9/11 very correctly and he confounded friend and foe alike by being decisive for Pakistan’s sake at a moment of world truth. The religious parties took to the streets and even though the country waited with bated breath the fanatical lot failed to excite the masses, who while plainly aggrieved at the abandonment of the Taliban to their fate, knew that the President had done right by the country. A sustained Indian media and diplomatic campaign thereafter has successfully blurred “freedom fighters” from “terrorists”. One can only imagine to what lengths India would have gone to if Pervez Musharraf had delayed even by a few days. Putting it bluntly, we can resist and even counter an Indian offensive, would we have been able to simultaneously resist concentrated US and allied airpower? And to what purpose?


National Security Strategy

Like any organized entity, every nation needs a roadmap that clearly defines what we are, what we want to be and how to get there. Pakistan today is not the land of Islam the Prophet (PBUH) would have wanted, the vision envisaged by the great poet Iqbal and the nation the Father of the country, Quaid-e-Azam created it to be. We have been laid low by the bankruptcy of the policies that we follow, under pressure internationally from disparate forces with vested interest and under attack domestically by the forces of evil, their appetite for loot and plunder not yet satiated after more than half a century. While we are still far from being a failed State, and that mainly due to the intervention of the Armed Forces Oct 12, 1999, a new set of crisis, part diplomatic and part political, has put us into a near critical condition. At time like these one has barely any moment to reflect, and maybe the corrective measures may be a moot point at this time, however, we should take time-out to ponder what exactly went wrong and why it is still going wrong. While the problems are complex and cannot even begin to be addressed in one column or one day, we can take a cursory look at the failure of mechanics of governance.

Amazing as it may seem, there is no institutionalized decision-making process in Pakistan. True, decisions are made but these are not in strategic harmony, even though at the tactical level we may have been holding our own, but in a very slip-shod, fickle and disorganized manner, taking in the inputs of various public institutions but never turning to private think tanks for input on a whole range of issues. We have been at the mercy of the individual whims and caprices that make for arbitrary decision-making. Instead of a comprehensive examination of causes and affects for adequate analysis, comprehension planning and implementation thereof. The Head of State or the Chief Executive of the Government must have a permanent mechanism that can draw upon all Federal and Provincial resources for information gathering, collation of recommendations and preparation of option papers. This is only possible by having a permanent National Security Council (NSC) Secretariat staffed by the finest brainpower that is available in the country.


Media Strategy Failure

If one can orchestrate a barrage of lies to the media long enough, it will eventually be broadcast to the world as the truth. Take for example, the theory that India will do a limited strike in Kashmir as punitive action and hard-pressed Pakistan will be forced to react across the international border in an all-out war. The surmise is that since India has greater numbers in conventional forces and Pakistan has no strategic/tactical depth, Pakistan will eventually be forced into first use of nuclear weapons at the tactical level and such an exchange may well escalate very quickly into all-out nuclear war. This makes out Pakistan to be an irresponsible “rogue” State whose nuclear weapons are a menace to the world at large. This is far from the truth. In 1965 Operation Gibraltar was a brilliant plan but it had one major flaw, the conditions within Occupied Kashmir were not conducive to guerrilla warfare. Today, that situation is totally reversed, a full fledged guerrilla war mostly indigenously nurtured has been a fact of life for a dozen years even though they are badly outnumbered and outgunned by better trained and equipped Indian forces, the Kashmiris are hardened guerillas and can tie up the operations and logistics of Indian forces on the frontline. What will happen if a few thousand well armed totally motivated commandos infiltrate a number of locations across the “Line of Control” (LOC) to bolster their strength? This time motivation is at its height, and the Indians have created the right conditions by their inhuman behaviour, surrounded by a hostile population up in arms anything can happen. Remember what happened to the Indians when the Chinese got behind them in 1962 in NEFA. Who will then be ready to resort to nuclear weapons? This very likely scenario is ignored by the media.

Our media strategy failures started with the Kargil crisis when a brilliantly executed tactical military plan having strategic dimensions became a diplomatic disaster because of lack of strategic media harmony duly orchestrated by the government of the day. Despite the fact that on the ground a terrible toll was taken from the Indians sent to dislodge those occupying the mountain-tops, our credibility took a sustained pounding in the international media and the Indians had a field day. While taking at least 4 to 5 times the number of casualties we had, the Indians went on a media blitz to claim victory on the one hand, while successfully tarring and feathering whatever official line we dished out. The domestic reward for the BJP government was electoral success, enough for them to head a credible coalition.