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Archive for April, 2003

Parliament and Musharraf

Pervez Musharraf’s military regime has been exceedingly ill-served by legal advice as to the mode of transition to democracy, half measures cannot paper over problems, either have full democracy or military rule, nothing in-between. Trying to run the country by liberal quasi-democratic means is a non-starter, Indus culture respects only absolute power. As the only military rule in history where media has been allowed to function freely, and even flourish, given grudging respect in some quarters, what else has the military got? Pakistanis want democracy and were comfortable with the fact that the process had started with elections to the Local Bodies but the Referendum was mismanaged, comparable to the Ayubian 60s PR disaster “Decade of Reforms”, a popular President (and Musharraf remains popular even today among the masses) was made “unpopular” in media-served perception.

Having contested the general elections under the Legal Framework Order (LFO), the Opposition has called into question the basis of these elections. Why not oblige them and scrap the results? As a major sticking point the LFO incorporates the proposal for a National Security Council (NSC) and Presidential powers to dismiss the Prime Minister (PM). While the transition from military to civilian rule needs to be eased through a staggered exit strategy, why should the President voluntarily become a lame-duck civilian incumbent in the present internal and external environment? With the Opposition behaving as it is, would not that put us from the frying pan into the fire? The Opposition cannot swallow the fact of Pervez Musharraf’s retaining the post as COAS in a democratic set-up. As one of those who strongly believe that the military must be subservient to civilian rule and that a serving uniformed person cannot be a Head of State of a democratic country, one cannot close one’s eyes to the fact that we are passing through extraordinary geo-political and domestic circumstances, can we gamble with the sovereign integrity of the country as we did in 1971? Creating a precedent may be unwise, do we have a choice? The use of abusive language in the Upper and Lower Houses desecrates the sanctity of Parliament and stokes the military’s recurring fear, the politician will take this country down the drain. The President’s stance that he would not address the Joint Session of Parliament in the face of the “uncivilized behaviour” of the Opposition-created ruckus is justified. Why should the President subject himself to abusive behaviour by a mob that forswears universally accepted “Parliamentary language”?

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Re-shaping Maps and Minds

People in Pakistan have fallen prey to the Indian-propagated canard that we are next on the US hit-list. Force-multiplied by irresponsible rhetoric of some of our “fire and brimstone” leaders, this apprehension has become deep-rooted through the broad spectrum of the population. Having been “sanctioned” against intermittently over the years for various reasons, more like a rap on the knuckles of an errant child. we have never been on any US “terminate-with-extreme-prejudice” list. All roads lead to Damascus as the mostly likely contender for that dubious “honour”, so why this sudden death-wish? Only a few months ago USA and UK hailed Syria’s backing of Resolution 1441 against Iraq, in a macabre turnaround will the next UN Resolution be Syria-specific? In the meantime Syria has categorically dismissed suggestions of Iraq-type UN inspections. The Coalition declared the war in Iraq to be officially “over”, portents are that unless Jay Garner (Lt Gen Retd, US Army) can tap-dance his way through a myriad number of emerging problems of various-kind, the US may become stuck in a peace quagmire.

Re-building Iraq cannot draw on the Afghan experience, who will do it, and barring the cash on the barrel for oil, where will the rest of the money come from? This, when not counting Iraq’s estimated debt of over US$ 300 billion? The US and UK are calling the shots at the moment, the European Union (EU) and Iraq’s Arab neighbours will want to have some say in both the economic and political future of Iraq, using the UN as their stalking horse to get a piece of the action. For the sake of the Coalition’s credibility, UN Chief Inspector Hans Blix has some unfinished business, where indeed are the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)? A few days post-Saddam have shown up the various (and vicious) divisions in Iraqi society in full public glare, particularly among the Shia and Sunni communities, the Kurds remaining distinctly apart, their nationalist ambitions in any case viewed with suspicion not only by fellow Iraqis but also by the adjoining Turks, Iranians and Syrians alike. “The exiles”, except for Iran-based Shia clerics, have not been exactly received with open arms. The Pentagon front-runner Ahmed Chilabi, (and a personal friend of US Vice President Richard Cheney,) returning home after 45 years is already controversial, the subject of vociferous street protests in many cities. US Marines had to open fire directly in Mosul into the mob violently shouting down a newly appointed (by the US) “Governor”. For the moment a weak and divided Iraq will be ruled by “guided” democracy, a strong, unified country very much a distant hope in the future. Some incidents notwithstanding, coalition have leaned over backwards to be seen as “liberators “ rather than “occupiers”. There are not enough Coalition troops on the ground for law and order functions, a major success story has been joint patrols including partially (and hurriedly) “cleared” former Iraqi’ police. Such Iraqi participation will give confidence to the populace. Some of the law-enforcers may become “catchers in the rye”, targetted by the public for their Saddam-era excesses. Too early to predict how the general population will ultimately view the US, Iraqis are not inclined to being ruled by those imposed upon them. The search for Saddam Hussain, his sons and close associates, i.e. if alive, must be intensified, however the “hot pursuit into Syria” idea has to be re-thought. A major success has been the US Special Forces capture (with US Marines help) of Barzan al Tikriti, Saddam’s half brother and brutal Interior Minister of the 80s, earlier another half-brother was held. Accounting for all of the regime’s leaders has to be brought to a swift and successful closure, otherwise the war will be judged to be only “partially” successful, a la Afghanistan sans Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar.

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Consigning Saddam to Eternity

While mopping up will continue for some time, Saddam Hussain’s regime is now history, taken violently out of contention by Coalition forces. The dictator’s bronze statue in Baghdad’s Shaheed Square was symbolically pulled down by an American Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) lending a helping hand to a small but cheering crowd who had failed to take it out with hammer and cudgel. With sporadic fighting continuing in smaller pockets of Baghdad, the public response to the Coalition’s presence is still understandably muted. Notwithstanding the ferocity of the fighting in cities like Nasiryah, Karbala and Najaf, Baghdad crumpled like a paper tiger. Even those who have no love lost for the Saddam regime felt demeaned by the lack of resistance in the city itself by the vaunted Special Republican Guard, the Saddam Fedayeen and the myriad number of units of the security apparatus.

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Shock and Woe

Propagated across the electronic and print media of the world, Donald Rumsfeld’s blatant psy-war term “Shock and Awe” projected an overwhelming and cataclysmic high-tech strike, its precise and surgical nature meant (1) to take out the regime’s leaders (2) drive raw fear into the psyche of the masses and (3) thus destroy the Iraqi will to fight. Psy-ops is a legitimate weapon of war, if successful the Coalition could have won the war without firing a shot. While the whereabouts of Saddam and his sons Qusay and Uday are still unknown after the one-off surgical hit marking the start of Gulf War-2, the Iraqi regime did not disintegrate like a house of cards as programmed by the Pentagon’s computers. The rapid (and spectacular) Coalition ground offensive reached Najaf and Karbala 80 kms on the approaches to Baghdad before being slowed down by determined Iraqi conventional resistance in key urban areas all along the route of advance as well as harassing “hit and run” tactics on the lines of communication (L of Cs). With food, water, fuel and ammunition getting through in far less quantities than the required optimum, US Central Command seemed to opt for reinforcements (130000 more US troops) and for shoring up the L of C protection before investing Baghdad. But the Coalition did not pause, there was no “operational pause” as suggested by all and sundry. After capturing Karbala and Najaf, elements of the 3rd Infantry captured the “Saddam International Airport”, 18 kms from the city center of Baghdad and renamed it “Baghdad International Airport”. All of Baghdad is now within artillery range. The “real surprise” will probably come from the west i.e. along the Amman-Baghdad road, probably a major armoured thrust. After all, those who seized H-2 and H-3 airfields are not out on a picnic.

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