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Master Of The Game?

Thirty six years ago almost to the day a good friend, Capt (later Maj Gen) Amin Ahmad Chaudhry (of Bangladesh), told me about Telemachus, a Christian monk who jumped into the ring at the Roman Coliseum to separate two gladiators fighting to the death with swords. The gladiators turned on him and he was run through by their swords. Shocked into silence at the tragedy, the crowd left the Coliseum. Some historians disagree, they say he was set on by the crowd, furious that he should prevent their entertainment they stoned him to death. Whatever the real version, because of his selfless act Emperor Honorius stopped all further gladiatorial events from Jan 1, 404 A.D. The moral of “Telemachus” is don’t try mediation, you will either be set upon by both the warring parties or by the bystanders. Normally one shoots the messenger bringing bad news, in the super-charged political atmosphere presently in Pakistan, the polarization is so defined and acute you shoot the mediator. As much as we decry President Bush for it, his doctrine is alive and well in Pakistan, “you are either for us or against us!”. Being even-handed and objective is not smart in Pakistan!


Trading Dark Horses

The process of the General Elections of Oct 12, 2002 was completed by Saturday Nov 2. Due to meet on Friday Nov 8 the National Assembly (NA) was postponed for a week at the request of some political parties to give them some time to shore up their coalition arrangements. A proposed alliance led by PPP-P and MMA is pitted almost equally against the grouping led by PML (Q). With the bogey of “hung Parliament” hanging in the air, one doubts whether a stable government could be formed in the Centre. Both the PPP-P (which privately had called for a delay) and the MMA immediately condemned the postponement, labeling it as a machination of the incumbent military government trying to contrive a PML (Q)-led government coalition.

Who are the main players in the power game? PML (Q)’s Ch Shujaat Hussain with the largest number of MNAs must be counted as a major player, followed closely by PPP-P’s self-exiled leader Ms Benazir Bhutto (and her incarcerated spouse Mr Asif Zardari). One must not forget Qazi Hussain Ahmad, the Jamaat-e-Islami chief who is the chief architect/planner of MMA’s strong showing, MQM’s self-exiled Altaf Hussain in London or the Jeddah-based exiled brothers Mian Nawaz Sharif and Mian Shahbaz Sharif of PML (N). The name of the game is acquisition of power, somehow! What is of consequence is that all the political parties are talking to each other i.e. except for PML (Q) and PML (N), an anomaly that needs to be corrected. And who are the contenders for the prized post of PM? The horses in contention are Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali of PML (Q), Makhdoom Amin Fahim of PPP-P and MMA’s Maulana Fazlur Rahman. While PML (Q)’s Khurshid Kasuri and Humayun Akhtar cannot be ruled out as possible choices, compromise candidates can be Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao of PPP (S) or Hamid Nasir Chatha of PML (J). In this world of horse-trading, is there a dark horse somewhere?


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.


Striking Out

The Opposition put on a very public display why they have failed to unite by themselves for over two years; it took the Government of Mian Nawaz Sharif a combination of a series of blunders and mis-governance to bring the Opposition’s act together. Having staged a successful strike on Saturday 4 Sept and a moderately successful one next Saturday on 11 Sept they had nothing to show for it except for a rush of adrenaline in playing hide-and-seek with the police near the Quaid’s Mazar in Karachi. On the shaky foundations of the protest against the GST by traders they decided that they had achieved omnipotence and grandly announced that the succeeding Sunday and Monday would see a continuation of their political protest by strikes. Except for Hyderabad the result was embarrassing, bad enough for us to keep hoping that in the face of a lack of credible alternates with any sense at all if not common sense, Mian Nawaz Sharif will at the very least feel sorry for the country he rules over as a virtual monarch and decide to govern it properly as per his promise and the mandate given to him, all 16% out of a voting populace of 50 million, 6% if one takes the whole population of 130 million.

Incurable optimists like me see silver linings even in the darkest of moments. The fact that MQM had to depend upon PPP and other allied Opposition parties to embark upon a strike call in Karachi is very significant. That it completely failed on subsequent days except in District Central should be of concern to the MQM. This is the same city which lived on the word of one man and his whims. The reality that Karachi as a whole belonged to the MQM has now become the subject of myth. One has no doubt about the MQM stamp on District Central but Malir District and District South are definitely out of the MQM camp, Districts East and West being marginal at best. While Altaf Hussain’s once dominant party continues to command the greatest majority in the city, its days of total control over the city are over. With sought-after (by the law enforcement agencies) MQM stalwarts surfacing in UK at frequent intervals, one expects that the coming Altaf initiative will be meant to be detrimental to the interests of Pakistan, however one believes we should welcome this now as we are far better equipped to deal with separatism rather than the early 90s, moreover Altaf Hussain is now increasingly out of sync with the mood of the vast mass of Mohajirs who remain patriotic mainstream Pakistanis. Leadership by remote control seldom succeeds particularly when the leader lives in luxury in contrast to those whom he professes to lead. Karachi is in for interesting times if any attempt is made to turn this city hostage to the anarchy we witnessed for a decade or so at the hands of MQM militants.


Governor’s Rule in Sindh Reaping the Whirlwind

Liaquat Jatoi was an unmitigated disaster as Chief Minister not only for the Province and PML(N) but also for the country. Stepping in as an acceptable compromise to keep Ghous Ali Shah’s grubby hands from the Chief Minister’s slot in Sindh, Liaquat Jatoi ruled over a fractious coalition. Assisted by two brothers, Salik Nazir and Shahid Nazir from the bureaucracy (known locally as the brothers Nazirov), Jatoi governed on the “Zardari” premise that all was fair game in the Province and his partners were deserving of sharing in the loot and booty. As the party that got the maximum seats in Sindh in 1973 elections, PPP could not muster enough strength to form a majority and a weak coalition came into being in which every faction functioned on the principle that every man was for himself in utter negation of duty and responsibility not only to the Province and the country but also to their own conscience. If Liaquat Jatoi was not being periodically blackmailed by Pir Pagaro’s Functional Group then there was a dissident group within the PML legislators who kept him running for cover to Islamabad. The only people he was comfortable with were the solid phalanx of MQM legislators who looked to their sole leader in London for advice in the obtaining of their pound of flesh and some, deriving maximum advantage from Jatoi’s misrule. Karachi is always a big economic cake where a lot of foreign-aided projects are on order. A triangular relationship developed between Liaquat Jatoi, MQM and the Brothers Nazirov to ensure that most of the projects went to companies of British origin. Investigation revealed that the scam started from the pre-qualification stage. By ensuring that major international companies stayed out of the bidding, one can always stack the deck and easily manipulate projects in favour of one’s favourites. As in Asif Zardari’s reign, huge contracts were directed towards the British or those aligned with them. This seemed to suit everybody and a constant stream of visitors became not-so-accidental tourists between Karachi, London (and back). Logistically it suited everybody, where MQM leader Altaf Hussain was living in comfortable self-exile and most of the British companies were headquartered there. With MQM all powerful in the Sindh Government, Chief Minister Liaquat Jatoi was content to remaining only as a puppet on a string. The Federal Government well knew all this but in order to sustain their provincial government in power they had to look the other way at the excesses being perpetuated by their coalition partners. As such they ignored all the clear indications about the Government, being in power in name only. The Kalabagh Dam issue set off alarm bells in the PML(N) hierarchy, particularly when Liaquat Jatoi came out in true colours to show that he marched to a different beat than that of the party.


The Thin Green Line

Gen Babar seems to have a born-again reputation in Karachi, many admire him openly, many more surreptitiously. He was derided and reviled when at a very bloody price he brought peace to Karachi and gave Ms Bhutto a tenuous respite to launch desperately needed economic initiatives. Unfortunately she only initiated cosmetic proposals, high on rhetoric, meagre in substance. The root cause of Karachi’s problems being economic, this fissure is being exploited for narrow selfish ends, mainly on ethnic basis. A major part of the populace being Mohajir face acute economic disparity, maybe in lesser quantum than in other parts of the country but in much more concentrated density. The Central District and other areas like Landhi, Korangi, Orangi etc, are at best ghettos. While other communities share similar backward localities deprived of basic socio-economic facilities throughout the country, the maximum square miles of misery are populated by Mohajirs — thus MQM fulfilled the need for raising a voice in protest, formerly Mohajir Qaumi Movement eventually became the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, change of name but no change of character. In a change of substance and direction inasfar as the leader, Altaf Hussain, seems to have made an individual transition from leader in Pakistan to gradually assuming the role of leader of all displaced Indian (and Pakistani Muslims of Mohajir origin) all over the world, particularly in UK, USA and the Middle East. Looking beyond the Pakistan identity is a most dangerous development — a subtle but deliberate cleavage created in the body politic of the Pakistani nation. Whereas the great silent majority of Mohajirs want to live in peace and harmony despite their misery, privation and travails, a vocal militant minority is hell-bent in holding both their own ethnic minority and the entire country hostage, Karachi being the economic jugular vein of Pakistan.

The MQM continues to command adulation and respect amongst the Mohajir supporters. There are reservations about their militancy. There are also deep schisms with splinter groups like the Haqeeqis and Goga’s crowd (BACK) becoming quite potent, not quite the size to counter the mainline MQM but neither insignificant enough to be shrugged off as of only nuisance value. Of deep concern is the fact that a large number of MQM cadres were trained in India as terrorists, it is now an open question which master’s voice they now listen to. There is open-ended danger to the Federation in allowing them to run scot-free, a fact well-known to the PML(N) leadership. Yet the PML(N) persistently attempts appeasement to keep the political alliance intact, to keep the Sindh Government nominally a PML(N) one. For the sake of the party politics, the fate of the country has been thrown as a dice into the ring.


Governor’s Rule

As Pakistan’s only functioning commercial port and as the hub of a major percentage of the nation’s commercial and industrial activity, Karachi commands an inordinate influence in domestic politics. The dominant ethnic community are primarily Urdu-speaking Muslim migrants (about 4.5 million) from India, followed by the Pathans (about 2.0 million). Punjabis and Bangladeshis are in fair number (1.5 million plus minus each) but they are not organised at all. These are followed by Afghans, Iranians, Burmese Muslims, etc. Other than the vastly Muslim majority violently divided in certain areas (other than racial) into Shia and Sunni communities, Christians are in significant numbers followed by Parsis, who though not large in number wield considerable commercial influence. History is witness to the fact that with such an ethnic, religious and sectarian mix, anything can ignite trouble on a fairly large scale. As the population has grown larger, conversely the economic pie has become smaller, leading to friction as the communities have got increasingly involved in battling for survival.

The recently re-named Muttahida (for Mohajir) Qaumi Movement (MQM) gained ascendancy in 1985 after the Bushra Zaidi incident when the Mohajirs united under one political vehicle. MQM legislators have been elected to Parliament, both for the Centre and the Provinces since 1988, but without the transfer of power at the grassroots level their hopes have been frustrated. As often happens, in the process of transformation from street power into governance, their militants came into cross purposes with each other and civil strife has gone on since. Trying to assert their supremacy through the gun, collecting “Bhatta” or protection money in the process, the MQM fell afoul of the population of Karachi in general. In addition, the deteriorating law and order situation (kidnappings, car snatchings, dacoity, etc) was tailor-made for the launching of “Operation Clean Up” in 1992. However, the then military hierarchy made a major mistake in (1) creating the Haqeeqi faction MQM(H) (2) targeting only the mainline Mohajir party, known as MQM Alpha in military circles after Altaf Hussain, the leader i.e. MQM (A) and (3) not dissolving it after its use as a Trojan Horse at the start of the campaign. No doubt MQM (A) had a very large number of militants, but militancy was fairly well sprinkled through the broad spectrum of all the political parties, this singling out was most unfortunate because it smacked of victimization, which it was. The other parties and groupings who had militants in their midst should have also been targeted. Public perception is a very fickle opinion medium. It will rail against a man who commits murder but will be mildly sympathetic to the murderer when he is brought out to the gallows for hanging. On the other hand, if the murderer is beaten or otherwise brutalised on the way to his hanging, public perception will radically go over to his side. While people in Karachi were genuinely afraid of the excesses of the MQM(A), they wanted others to meet their come-uppance as much as their more visible tormentors.


Karachi’s Problems Running Out of Time

The prime (and well-publicised) priority of every elected government since 1988 has been to restore peace and normalcy in the troubled city of Karachi. While none can be accused of lack of rhetoric, both the major political parties have followed a policy of a deliberate and benign neglect in the conceiving and implementation of any plan attempting to achieve the stated aims and objectives. A suspicion arises that the powers-that-be have given up thought of governing Karachi under the present political and economic conditions, that they are waiting for a cataclysmic catarrhasis to cleanse Karachi of its aberrations. The assassination of well-reputed Editor of Takbeer Mohammad Salahuddin, has been followed by well-known social worker, Maulana Sattar Edhi, seeking refuge in London. This brings us back to memories of a possible Pucca-Kila type operation attempted in Hyderabad in 1990, a spark that might ignite a chain reaction type explosion. The problem is that this purgatory way well engulf the whole country, thus the game plan of a studied indifference while showing great concern is not only morally bankrupt but may well backfire to the detriment of (1) all such leaders who tend to support this philosophy in general and (2) to the people of Pakistan in particular.

The Army’s move to roll-back Karachi’s penchant for weapons proliferation evoked a predictable response. Gen Babar, the Interior Minister, is right when he talks about making Karachi a weapons-free city. First of all, let us acknowledge that there is no other alternative to searching for illegal weapons, very few people will hand these in voluntarily. Though inconvenienced, the general public has for the most part accepted the need for the search operations in the larger interests of their own safety and welfare as well as the integrity of the nation. On the other hand no liberal-minded minority has ever accepted any amount of restraint whatever may be the circumstances or the consequences thereof. There is an unholy alliance among all those who have a vested interest in keeping Karachi aflame, albeit for a variety of reasons alien to each other. For example, it is in the interest of criminals to foment anarchy in this crucial port city so that they can, under the garb of ethnic and sectarian violence, indulge in dacoity, car snatching and kidnapping, drug smuggling, etc. It is understandable (though not acceptable) that ethnic and sectarian leaders want to keep the pot boiling because that is the one sure way of keeping their followers within the flock, it is the perception of a lack of serious intent of the Federal and Provincial Government that is of major concern. Allowing a policy of controlled anarchy where the Government is morally duty bound to perform its prime role of protecting the lives and property of common citizen leads to the feeling of social, political and economic bankruptcy as long as it helps the incumbents to stay in power, it does not matter whether it be the PML (N) or PPP.


The Intent of Fairplay

The Caretaker Government is committed to holding free and fair elections in Pakistan, to that end there has been a very deliberate choice of neutral personalities in forming the Administration at the Federal and Provincial level. Strict neutrality is a commitment of the Caretaker PM. Less than one month into the Caretaker period and less than two months before the October elections, the carefully nurtured perception of impartiality has taken a very hard knock in Sindh.

Independence Day 1993 was initially touted as the day of launching campaigns by the major political parties, knowledgeable speculation was that the two chosen symbolic points of departure would be the Quaid’s Mazar and the Pakistan Memorial by the PML (N) and PPP respectively. While the PML (N) applied for permission from the local Karachi administration on 5 August, requesting for a procession culminating in a public rally at the Quaid’s Mazar, the PPP immediately made a similar request. Faced with the possibility of clashes, the Civil Administration imposed Sec 144 and refused permission for both the rallies. In an advanced stage of preparation in contrast to the fairly low level of interest shown by the PPP, the PML (N) felt aggrieved that they had been badly treated. Notwithstanding the lack of permission, Nawaz Sharif did come to Karachi, did lead a long slow moving procession from the Airport to the Quaid’s Mazar and did address a 20,000 plus crowd at 3 O’clock in the morning of August 15, 1993, without any interference from the Civil administration, a benign indifference after the flat refusal that showed good sense in hindsight and stopped further erosion of the Caretaker’s moral authority about neutrality.


Death of a Moderate

Azeem Tariq, Chairman MQM and lately leader of his own MQM faction, was brutally murdered in his own house by unknown assailants in the early hours of May Day in a Gang land-type assassination reminiscent of the worst days of Chicago mob warfare. Remaining underground after the army action to restore law and order in the urban areas of Sindh in June 1992, he had emerged from hiding a few months ago and gradually distanced himself from his former colleague and charismatic leader of the MQM, Altaf Hussain, now in self-imposed exile in London. In the past few days before his death, Azeem Tariq had been vocally critical of Altaf Hussain, laying out facts hitherto suspected but not otherwise widely evidenced, that the MQM had been essentially a creation of our intelligence agencies and that he, along with Altaf Hussain, had been regularly receiving money from them particularly during the MQM’s formative years. In countries where democratic institutions are seldom allowed to flourish, intelligence agency sponsored political parties are not a strange phenomenon.