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Archive for April, 2005

Party Time

The government in power is really a national dissident coalition of sorts, with “rebels” from all the major political parties except the MMA and the MQM. The bulk comprises politicians who deserted Mian Nawaz Sharif’s PML when he needed them most, and he in turn evened that score by deserting those who remained faithful to him when they needed him most. A bunch of PPP stalwarts were clearly NAB-bed into joining the party hosted by the military regime, MQM as the remaining major political party in the Coalition rules over Sindh by default despite being a minority party in the Province. Rounding off the conglomerate in smaller numbers are Farooq Leghari-loyalists, Pir Pagaro’s motley grouping and a bunch of independents, almost all of whom joined the ruling PML (Q) with very little persuasion, and with mostly overblown ambitions.

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Passage To Delhi

Whatever took place in the two hour-plus one-on-one meeting on Sunday April 17, 2005 in New Delhi between the Pakistani President and the Indian PM must have been extremely satisfying to both the sides, the body language spoke volumes! And the Joint Statement said it all, “the peace process was irreversible”. The visit certainly had far more ramifications than the innocent façade of just watching a cricket match. In May 2001 the Indian leadership had split apart and resiled at Agra on the agreed draft on flimsy grounds, citing the mention (even) of the Kashmir problem by the Pakistani President at a breakfast meeting with Editors of the Indian print and electronic media. The atmospherics has changed enough nearly four years to the day for the Indians to now take in their stride the underscoring of Kashmir as a lingering problem to be solved for lasting peace in South Asia. When I had then made an innocent comment among a group of media persons that given sincerity on both sides a Kashmir solution was possible, a cynical MJ Akbar of Asian Age cut me dead, “he has the magic formula”, was his withering announcement to those around. Since he is a media mogul, they all snickered appropriately. This time around a born-again Akbar waxed eloquent on all cylinders on every conceivable channels, print and/or electronic, to whoever would or would not listen, a “Kashmir solution is possible given the sincerity”, Eureka!

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More Than A Bus Ride Or Cricket

Cricket-based initiatives seem to figure prominently in the diplomatic strategy of Pakistan’s military rulers, a la Zia in Jaipur and now Musharraf off to New Delhi. On the other hand buses seem to figure largely in the political forays of Indian PMs, following Vajpayee’s 1999 bus visit to Lahore India’s Manmohan Singh personally flagged off the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service. And that too only one day after the whole idea nearly came to go grief at the hands of suicidal militants hell-bent on destroying one of the more symbolic Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) in Indo-Pak History. The deadly attack raised the stakes, and the Indian PM’s presence, alongwith Congress Partly Chief Sonia Gandhi, was a profound enough statement of commitment at the India political leadership level. That the bus-ride actually took place in the backdrop of flames and automatic gunfire made it into gigantic milestone on the road to peace. This very symbolic personal act of resolve will go a long way in winning over those still sitting on the fence in India and Pakistan and still not comfortable with the ongoing peace process, if not actually against it. And while we are showering kudos all around, let us give one long cheer for the passengers on both sides who were brave enough to continue their journey despite being given such a violent live demonstration of the physical risks involved.

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Quetta Days

As one of the Schools of Excellence of the Armed Forces, Command and Staff College, Quetta, which held its Centenary Celebrations at the beginning of April has international recognition for maintaining above par standards. My earliest recollection of Staff College (as it is known in ordinary parlance) is rather vague, being only six years old when my father late Col (then Maj) Abdul Majeed Sehgal did the Staff Course in 1952. He must have done really well because he got a prize posting, as Brigade Major (BM) 53 Brigade in Comilla. When he returned to Staff College as an Instructor in 1955, I was nine and my memories were far more pronounced. Alongwith perennial sidekick Minhaj Ali Khan, son of late Lt Col (later Brig) Zafar Ali Khan and others, I would roam far and wide, going beyond the length and breadth of the Staff College, from Hanna Lake down to Seven Steams, climbing fir trees, playing cricket in the Clay Courts next to the Canteen on Hanna Road, learning to swim and being taught how to ride by (then student) Maj (later Maj Gen) Wajahat Hussain, himself the proud Commandant from 1975 to 1977, generally doing what boys do to live life as only they can at that age.

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