Archive for October, 2004
In the most significant policy initiative for any Pakistani leader since independence in 1947, Gen Pervez Musharraf seemingly abandoned Pakistan’s long-standing demand for a plebiscite, something enshrined in the UN Security Council Resolution on Kashmir. In a major speech to media bigwigs recently, the President encouraged both India and Pakistan to move away from their oft stated positions for the sake of peace in South Asia. India’s response has been rather cool, saying such negotiations should be confidential and through diplomatic channels rather than being debated in the media. Pakistan’s major departure of policy, coming from a soldier, is a 180-degree change of direction in the Army’s thinking. While recognizing the harsh ground realities, this is certainly a courageous move to settle this outstanding dispute with India, one has to agree with the India’s contention that using other than quiet diplomatic channels is a risky proposition. On the other hand what about the personal risk the President is taking domestically for having dared to touch a national sacred cow? Musharraf has thrown down the gauntlet to friend and foe alike, both domestically and externally. On the one hand friends have been told line up and be counted or be counted out, on the other hand enemies have been provoked to come up with a better alternative to solve this bloody impasse. Above all, India has been challenged to respond with ideas of their own to untangle the proverbial Gordian knot over Kashmir.
According to Comd 11 Corps, Lt Gen Safdar Hussain, 246 militants have been killed during the course of military operations in the last few months in South Waziristan, at least 100 foreigners (Uzbeks and Chechnyans among them). He claimed that 579 militants have been arrested. And then came the shocker, 171 of our Pakistani soldiers (regular and paramilitary) have also died during the operations, 21 because of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). As a company commander of an infantry battalion (44 Punjab now 4 Sindh) which suffered the maximum casualties (some of it in hand-to-hand fighting) during counter-guerilla operations in Balochistan in 1973, for me the high casualty rate is alarming. The Corps Comd estimated several hundred tribal militants are operating against our forces, 100 plus being foreigners. Ruling out the presence of Osama Bin Laden in the area, he confirmed indications that Tahir Yuldash, a leader of the Independent Uzbekistan Movement (IUM), could be operating with the hostiles. What this successor of renowned Uzbek Mujhahideen leader Juma Namangani (killed fighting alongwith the Taliban in Konduz in Oct/Nov 2001) is doing in Pakistan is anyone’s guess!
After a relatively smooth transition, Shaukat Aziz completes his first 50 days in office on or about today, time enough to assess the trend of his governance mode and analyze thereof what we can expect (of him and the country) in the future. In an eloquent recent article he has spelt out his vision of Pakistan for the future and where all he intends to focus concentrated attention not only to alleviate the many prevailing miseries of the people but provide meaningful economical emancipation on the way to becoming “Pakistan Inc”.
Military spending, security and economic development are interrelated variables. A typically Keynesian argument is that military spending stimulates economic growth like any other fiscal expenditure, benefiting the economy by viz (1) training manpower for future insertion into the labor market (2) modernization of the economy through technologically advanced Defence industries and (3) the construction of highways and other infrastructure. The military is said to promote entrepreneurial leadership qualities in its personnel, presumably scarce among civilian elites, particularly developing countries. All of the aforementioned can be said to be true of Pakistan.
Lt Gens Ehsan ul Haq, DG ISI and Ahsan Saleem Hyat, Comd 5 Corps have both been promoted to the rank of Gen and appointed Chairman JCSC and VCOAS Pakistan Army respectively w.e.f Oct 7, 2004, the date the present incumbents of those offices retire. The President (and COAS) has persisted with the formula he opted for Gens Aziz and Yousuf, Aziz the nominally junior was in the “technically” senior post of Chairman JCSC, similarly Ehsan is junior to Ahsan. For the record, and in this he deserves plaudits, the President has chosen professionally competent soldiers, both with excellent reputation, they deserved their promotions. For someone who waited with bated breath (read “KNIGHTS OF THE LONG TABLE”, the Nation Oct 2, 2004) both are excellent choices. Despite the exigencies of his political life, the President has again proven once again that he is, and will remain for the foreseeable future, a soldier. As a professional, he has taken a decision based not only on merit but, by extension, has opted for what is good for the Army, and that is in the country’s supreme interest. These promotions give an clear signal to the hard working officers of mettle and calibre, primarily that merit matters, and the factor that will matter most for advancement will remain “professionalism” thereof. For an army drawn mainly from the middle class for its officer corps and the rural areas mostly for its other ranks, this is a very important consideration.
The first US Presidential Debate between incumbent US President George W. Bush, Jr and the challenger Senator John Kerry took place on Thursday Sep 30, 2004 at the Convention Center in the University of Miami, Coral Gables in Florida. The first of the three debates in always an important one, either candidate could make a serious gaffe or give a knockout punch that would not allow recovery in the less then five weeks left to the US Presidential election on the first Tuesday of Nov 2004. A record number of Americans (about 60 million) watched the debate and even though one quickie Gallup Poll of 600 viewers showed Kerry beating Bush 53% to 37%, more deliberate poll results will not be available for 48 hours yet. Watching from Pakistan, one came away with the impression that though neither was a clear winner Kerry gained stature by looking Presidential while Bush did not give any way on his home turf of “war on terrorism”, the adverse facts on the ground should have put him under pressure on Iraq and Afghanistan. Where Bush lost ground was that after 45 minutes he seemed to get testy and irritated. This gave an adverse media perception to viewers. On the immediate available evidence Kerry may have gained enough ground to give his campaign a fresh start, he stopped the inevitability of a Bush victory by coming across as a credible contender. The next two debates therefore become that much more important for both, it has now become a more of a dog fight. The advantage will shift slightly to John Kerry as the subject of the first debate “Foreign Policy and Security” is President Bush’s strong suit, on domestic issues the Democratic contender is far more credible and coherent, particularly given his 20 years in the Senate.
King Arthur had his knights of the Roundtable, the closest thing to that in Pakistan are the Army’s Lieut Gens, Corps Commanders and Principal Staff Officers (PSOs), all accommodated on a long, rectangular table in GHQ with the COAS Gen Pervez Musharraf at the head. One could possibly equate the Army Chief (even though Musharraf has far more powers) with King Arthur but Sharifuddin Pirzada is certainly the closest thing to Merlin the Magician that there is (with apologies to Ardeshir Cowasjee who calls him the “Jadoogar of Jeddah”). Army Commanders-turned-President need a Merlin of sorts, Pirzada has been excelling in the witchcraft he has successfully practiced in manipulating the hapless Pakistani Constitution at will to suit his Army Chief clients, four of them starting with Ayub.