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Back to the Future, with Hope

Four years ago, despite the devastating floods of late 1992, 1993 had started with the hopes of a vast majority of the nation firmly rooted in the promise of economic Valhalla promised by then PM Mian Nawaz Sharif. The death of the COAS Gen Asif Nawaz in the first week of January set loose latent fears and ambitions putting into motion events that saw the exit, return and re-exit of Mian Nawaz Sharif as PM in the space of three months beginning April and ending in July 1993. The year’s end saw the contrived return of Ms. Benazir, the ensuing Zardari dominated nightmare running a full course till her exit as PM less than 60 days ago. In less than a month, the people of Pakistan are to go to the polls and while election fervour is muted because of the constant public refrain for accountability, the masses are gingerly hoping to pick up the threads of the economic aspirations lost four years ago. A crude and early rough poll shows the people’s mandate presently running clearly in Mian Nawaz Sharif’s favour. Having lost considerable ground economically as a nation since 1993, anyone who becomes Pakistan’s PM must first make the nation financially stable before energizing the various economic sectors to the same level as was obtaining then.


A Chat with Altaf Hussain Abyssyania Lines to Mill Hills

An early recollection as a teenager is of being beaten up by an elder for putting Ms Fatima Jinnah’s election flag atop his house in Abyssynia Lines in the Presidential Elections in 1964, “did he want his father to lose his government job?” Another was the Rs.14,000 his father collected after years of hard work to pay for the ownership of the house in Azizabad now known far and wide as “Nine Zero”. “My father was a Railway Station Master in 1947, a man of some means in those days, he gave that up to migrate to Pakistan, working as a clerk for many years in a distantly located factory”, he says proudly, adding that in many ways his mother did more, not only the back-breaking normal house-keeping chores but also sewing clothes single-mindedly to ensure that the children got education. From such humble non-political roots is today’s Altaf Hussain born, says Altaf Hussain, a political symbol for millions of his ethnic brethren. Loved by many, indeed also despised by many, it is unfair to pass judgment on him without a face-to-face meeting to assess the man and his politics.

Considerably more mellow than he is made out to be, the firebrand and orator in him emerges from time to time whenever a subject and theme he favours or frowns upon surfaces. Gen Babar is one such current favourite object (of hatred), “how can a man without any issue himself, have any feelings about ruthlessly persecuting the children of others? The Mohajir youth are being brutalized, their childhood has been taken away by this self-styled “conqueror” of Karachi”, he asks. Maybe Gen Babar is acting in such fashion, one suggests, as a lightning rod meant to draw the widespread criticism of Ms Benazir after her “cowards and rats” Kasur speech away from her and on himself? This line of reasoning is obviously new to Altaf Hussain, he gives this a little thought before disagreeing since it “tends to exonerate Gen Babar”. He does not condone terrorism, on the contrary he condemns it, “Agencies and hired killers do many of the dirty deeds for which MQM gets the blame”, he protests but questions what is the Mohajir youth supposed to do, uprooted from hearth and home, hungry and hunted, without leadership and out of control? Why cannot he control them through the mesmeric hold he exercises over the broad mass of his constituency? “What is the threshold of pain and endurance they have to bear? Consider their plight and answer me what choices are left to them?” he counter-questions. One concedes it is difficult but that it is the “Karma” of all leaders, to lead their flock through dire straits to the right choices. Silence and then a wry smile!


A Chance for Accountability?

Only days after the President of Pakistan issued an Ordinance giving police powers to the para-military Rangers to arrest and prosecute law-breakers, seven of Mir Murtaza Bhutto’s bodyguards armed to the teeth were apprehended by the Rangers near the Jinnah Terminal of the Karachi International Airport for displaying arms in public inspite of Sec 144 which prohibits such public display. A week or so before this incident a half mile radius area around 70 Clifton (The Bhutto family residence) had been cordoned off by about a 150 plus rather aggressive youthful gunmen wielding automatic weapons as a protective measure for the Convention organised by the PM’s brother to convert the splinter faction of the PPP into a separate new party. Since the gunmen were brandishing automatic weapons (claimed to be legal by Murtaza Bhutto) and were stopping/diverting traffic on a public thoroughfare, one expected possible police action at this heaven-sent opportunity to round up some of the militants suspected to be contributing to the bloody mayhem and carnage in Karachi. However it seems that though he is publicly estranged from his PM-sister, Mir Murtaza remains the first brother, with the laws of the land not applicable on the same basis as for other citizens, bureaucracy on the spot deciding that discretion was the better part of duty. A deep sense of frustration pervaded the intelligentsia and the masses at the inaction of the law enforcement agencies (LEAs), the subsequent disarming of Mir Murtaza’s armed escort was thus a significant milestone in the process of accountability, giving the Rangers a boost in credibility that they were sadly lacking in the public perception. It must be said in all fairness that Mir Murtaza does have a major security problem from enemies near and far, a via media establishing a safety measure for him and his family is necessary.

Accountability can only be credit-worthy if the process is fair and transparent with an even application on everyone irrespective of the person’s influence and connections. A moral high ground is necessary for ensuring that the force of authority is totally dependant upon the integrity of the process. Equal justice may be the bedrock of western civilization today, the fact remains that the foundations of Islam were laid solidly on the basis of equality and justice which were sadly lacking in practice in the existing religions at that time, viz. Christianity and Judaism. Both society and religion demand even-handedness, the responsibility for which is clearly incumbent upon the conscience and sense of duty of those meant to implement the law on behalf of society. One cannot equate actions to be directly proportional to the influence commanded by the people who break the law, bend it or circumvent it at their discretion. One cannot say quote, “after all, Murtaza is the PM’s brother”. Any senior law enforcement officer would expect that even at the street level a constable or soldier on duty will apprehend anyone breaking the law, irrespective of the person’s status and connections. Since the Rangers have been given the same powers as the police in apprehending and prosecuting law-breakers, albeit in support of the police, they have an onerous responsibility to ensure that they will exercise their authority with absolute even-handedness. In this process there is no doubt they will have to bear pressure of all types on their person and their institution, some of it can be overbearing in the matter of career and reputation, both of which can be held to blackmail by administrative action or media campaign or a combination of both. To counter such pressure the process must be so transparent that it will elicit mass public approval and support, in a democracy this is supposedly a vital factor as opposed to a dictatorship where the guardians of law care little about public opinion in deference to the whims and caprices of the dictator.


Divided, We Shall Fall

The germs of the whole range of present day crisis were really laid about 500 days ago with the failure of Ms Benazir’s first Long March in November 1992, the facts thereafter being so well-known that it serves useful purpose in referring to the salient features only. That was the symbolic high watermark from where we have been reduced to the dire straits that we find ourselves today. It would be macabre humour to put it down to poetic justice that Ms Benazir’s government has to face the present travails affecting the country in the sense that “those who sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind”. However, Nawaz Sharif’s government must also take its share of blame, having dispersed the Long Marchers Mian Nawaz Sharif did not take heed of the warning signals and made only half-hearted moves for rapprochement with the then Opposition. As this scribe wrote in THE NATION in November 1992, he chose to become like “the wind which cannot read”. While it is true that one must negotiate from a position of strength, once our leaders feel omnipotent their penchant is to shun negotiations. Ms Benazir does not seem to have learnt this lesson. How wise were Rome’s leaders who would place a man at Caesar’s shoulders even while he was triumphantly basking in the accolades of a hero-worshipping crowd, to repeatedly intone, “Remember, thou art mortal”!

On the eve of our 38th Republic Day, most of the wide range of problems we are facing have come to a head in reaching crisis proportions. The foundations of our economic woes were laid by the artificial limbo created by GIK to perpetuate his own rule, he held the nation hostage to his own ambitions. Till November 1992, Pakistan was moving pell mell towards economic emancipation, the flood devastation of Sept-Oct 92 and certain enthusiastic but questionable schemes of the Mian Nawaz Sharif Regime notwithstanding. The death of then COAS, Gen Asif Nawaz, was the first precursor of things to come. In short, by April 1993, the economic gains of the past two years had been brought to a jarring halt. The worsening political climate dampened, the boom climate necessary to attract the continued inflow of the massive input of foreign investment that would keep the economic locomotive humming. There was a virtual hiatus till the Moeen Qureshi Caretaker Administration took over but the Caretaker Government was hamstrung by the limited period of their reign and their non-elected status. The seeds of their non-success, if not failure lay in the public perception that their rule was temporary. Even then, one must commend Moeen Qureshi for a number of initiatives, marred only by his Administration’s studied tilt for the PPP in an election which was to have been played on neutral ground. In an holier-than-thou stance, then acting President Wasim Sajjad did nothing to ensure that the playing field remained even for his party. However, this underdog status suited Mian Nawaz Sharif politically, who by the end of the election campaign had become the first political person in more than two decades to not only stem the PPP floodwaters but give the populace of Pakistan the first genuine political alternative to the Bhuttos, late father, daughter and (now) Prodigal Son.


The Last Hurrah

Someone should mark 4 Nov 93 as a red letter day in the country’s democratic history. Ms Benazir, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, stood her ground on two points of relentless pressure, viz. (1) from her mother with respect to the arrest of her brother, Murtaza Bhutto, as soon as he stepped on Pakistan soil and (2) the return of GIK to demand support for the Presidential elections on the basis of what he thought to be an encashable IOU. One can be crass and say that she took the cue from Mian Nawaz Sharif who, in his maiden speech as Leader of the Opposition, encouraged her not to succumb to blackmail by smaller parties, independents and what have you (comprising the Establishment) but one should not take credit away from where credit is due, after all it is she who is in the PM’s hot seat with something to lose. For the record, it is the second time this year, a PM of Pakistan has stood his/her ground, “even to the peril of his/her throne”, that is an auspicious occasion for democracy in Pakistan against any scale.

Murtaza Bhutto kept the people of Pakistan guessing about his arrival the whole of Wednesday 3 Nov. Since he is charged with heinous crimes not only against the State but against a virtual plethora of individual Pakistanis who have died (and have been wounded and maimed) due to assassinations, bombs and other violent means at the hands of a terrorist organisation known as Al-Zulfikar, his entry into Pakistan should interest a lot of people, politics or otherwise. After all, he has been indicted many times by the print media (on the basis of confirmed intelligence reports) that he, having been aggrieved at the demise of his late father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had engaged in what he terms as “a genuine movement to overturn dictatorship” but that happens to be behaviour what the State calls anti-State. So we have a contradiction whether the individual is right and all that the intelligence agencies have been claiming is wrong or the individual is what he is labelled to be. However, the bigger paradox arises if the pro-Indian RAW label does not stick to Murtaza, in that case a whole generation of our intelligence hierarchy have been lying through their teeth. On the contrary, if they feel that they have been speaking the truth, then it will become a test of character of various individuals, whether they have the in-built strength and courage to stand for the truth in the face of losing their careers, Murtaza being the brother of the PM. At least, Murtaza has a redeeming feature, knowing that he faced certain arrest and maybe long incarceration, he has had the guts to stand up for his convictions. Not many people have that special courage to face what could turn out to be a fight for his life.


The Sindh Cauldron

The Federal Government ordered the Pakistan Army in May 1992, at the “request” of the Sindh Government, to restore the rule of law in the Province. Rather than giving them powers under Article 245 of the Constitution as demanded by the Army during the Beg era, Article 147 was mandated as being enough to accomplish the mission. The complexities of the situation demanded that the first phase was to physically eliminate the various marauding gangs in the urban and rural areas. Their potential to foster anarchy having been destroyed, the second phase was to eliminate those who were actually responsible for controlling, aiding and abetting crime. While the first phase was a success, the ground rules laid down by Article 147 (notwithstanding the amendments made later) and divergence from the substance of the original mission frustrated the efforts of the Army in eradicating the root cause of the trouble in the Province.

Formerly Commander 5 Corps before he became Chief of General Staff and then COAS, late Gen Asif Nawaz was best equipped to disseminate his inherent Sindh knowledge in the successful tactical execution of Operation Clean-up but why are we still at square one (except in interior Sindh) as far as the strategic results are concerned? Gen Beg had been far-sighted in refusing to “chase shadows” with powers less than comprehensive to deal with criminals through the whole strata of society. The compelling circumstances being absolute anarchy around the corner in a crucial Province, late Gen Asif Nawaz had hardly any choice but to bite the bullet. The Army hierarchy was extremely naive in assuming that having had their chestnuts pulled out of the fire, the Establishment politicians in the Provincial Government had any sincere intention of allowing justice to take its natural course and allowing their supporters in the Army’s famous list of 72 “Untouchables” to be picked up. In American parlance, the Army was used, the military hierarchy was had, taken for a ride.