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The Opposition Unites

Mian Nawaz Sharif has done for the Opposition a favour the lately lamented Opposition could not do for themselves, he has united them and given them a fresh lease of life. Only the Jamaat-e-Islami remains outside “the Alliance”, determined to go solo in trying to remove the government in power. As everyone knows, only the religious parties and the regional ones like ANP and MQM have cadres that can face off administrative power in the streets. Qazi Hussain Ahmed is a good tactical leader but has a history of wrong strategic decisions and JI’s remaining aloof may mean success or failure on the part of forces inimical to the PM, particularly in stage-managing strikes in the urban cities of Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and the twin cities of Rawalpindi-Islamabad.

How has the “heavy mandate” like the one Mian Nawaz Sharif obtained in 1997 (approximately 8 million votes out of a population of 130 million, registered voters being 50 million it comes to 16% only) come to grief in less than 18 months? Why has the print media that had united to decry Ms. Benazir and support his cause now almost united against him? Why are people who believed in his sincerity now doubting even his credibility? Why are people who used to believe that with a businessmen background he was most suited to re-invigorating the economy, now shudder at such economic initiatives that have brought this country close to flirting with economic doom? Enemies of Mian Nawaz Sharif can easily do a hatchet job on him, only a person who remains a friend of his can do an objective study of his predicament and how he has single-handedly managed to bring it about. Whatever crisis the PM now faces is of his own making. One can blame the economic ills the country faces on previous governments, notably that of Ms Bhutto who in good eastern tradition let her husband Asif Zardari run riot, the fact remains that inconsistent policies and lack of real commitment has further eroded our economic infrastructure so that we now have to thank our parallel economy for remaining financially afloat.

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High Noon in Sindh

In dismissing the petition before the Supreme Court against Governor’s Rule in Sindh, Chief Justice Ajmal Mian articulated the wishes of the masses if not of all the intelligentsia in stating, “everybody wants peace in Karachi and the interest of the country and its citizens is of paramount importance instead of a particular individual or party”, unquote. During the course of the hearing, the Chief Justice repeatedly observed that the Supreme Court had already upheld the government’s move of proclaiming Emergency as a consequence of which the Federal Government could invoke any clause of provision of the Constitution under which the Emergency had been imposed.

For the past 10 years Karachi has gone steadily downhill in all senses of the word. Living under the shadow of the gun of different mafias with varying vested interest, one could excuse the MQM’s initial need for a militant wing. Gaining power by the ballot was impossible without having the cover of weapons to get to the ballot box. The gun soon became an addiction, an aphrodisiac as well as a means of enforcing one’s will for what is politely known as “Bhatta”, collecting “protection money”. On joining government, the first split within the Party was natural, the broad mass separating from the hard-core militants, most of the whom went and made the “Haqiqi” faction, nurtured and funded by the ISI, starting an internecine war that has outlasted two Benazir regimes and is well into the second Mian Nawaz Sharif regime. When Ms Benazir as PM, wanted the Army to come in under Article 147 of the Constitution and deal with her allies now-turned foes, the MQM, the lack of adequate powers led the then COAS, Gen Aslam Beg, to decline politely since he did not want the Army to be engaged in “chasing shadows”. During his first tenure Mian Nawaz Sharif also fell out with his MQM allies and “Operation Clean-Up” was launched in 1992 on a massive scale but again without the powers requested by the then COAS, Gen Asif Nawaz. While a lot of terrorists were caught, almost all walked free because prosecution witnesses were intimidated and the Courts lacked the will to convict them. Operation Clean-up, which promised much was left in confusion and frustration with Field Intelligence Teams (FITs) running amok and giving a bad name to the Army. Affected by paralysing strikes and complete shutdown of economic and social activity, the second Benazir regime handed matters over in 1995 to Gen Babar the then Federal Interior Minister.

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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.

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Heeding Lessons Learnt

During the years Mian Nawaz Sharif was out of office, one got the distinct impression that he was willingly embarked on a “learning curve”, that in keeping with the fundamental principles of leadership he was taking into account his own mis-steps and failures in order to benefit and not make the same mistakes again. Out in the cold from government he was an interested observer to the full range and complement of Benazir’s misdoings from which to draw lessons from for a possible future tenure of government. For any student of politics, which one should always be before becoming a full-time practitioner, the last decade provided a virtual plethora of instances of bad governance, none so potent as the misrule of the last 3 years. Has Mian Nawaz Sharif really learnt from the mistakes made or is he caught up in the strait-jacket that usually cocoons our leaders in an aura of self-delusion and despite their obvious leadership qualities, drags them into failure at governance, unfortunately at the cost of the country? Field Marshal Slim of Burma’s “Defeat into Victory” is an epic saga of the lessons he drew from his mistakes that led to his drubbing by the Japanese, the analysis of which took his 14th Army to eventual total victory. However, it is his “Unofficial History” that is recommended for every subaltern in the Army to read as an example of learning from one’s own mistakes and the reinforcing of success rather than failure, maybe it should be also made mandatory for our top political leaders before they don the mantle of high office.

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Missed Opportunities

It is May 26, 1993. The Supreme Court has just restored Mian Nawaz Sharif as PM of Pakistan. On the hill a lonely (and suddenly beleaguered) President waits with apprehension about his former protege’s next move. Ms. Benazir Bhutto similarly waits anxiously with her worry beads. If Mian Nawaz Sharif should choose to go to the President and make up as any politician in his place would have done in similar circumstances, showing magnanimity in victory, the game is over for her for some time. On the outside chance that the PM expands on his confrontation, there is hope yet. Riding the crest of success, Mian Sahib chooses the path of confrontation and thus takes the “laurels from his (own) brow and casts them into the dust”, to quote Churchill about Wavell after his defeat at the hands of Rommel in the desert. Next, having formed the Government after the 1993 elections and thus displaying its coalition majority, the PPP shows signs of political accommodation over the election of a compromise President, maybe even someone like Senator Sartaj Aziz from the PML(N). Again Mian Sahib’s hawks prevail, the PML(N) stands firm about a PML(N) President of their choice, seesawing between Gohar Ayub and Wasim Sajjad. Net result, PPP goes for its own candidate and we see the non-controversial and generally liked PPP stalwart Farooq Khan Leghari elected as President. Third flashback, President Leghari immediately resigns from the PPP in an effort to display genuine neutrality in his new role as President and journeys to Lahore, inviting Mian Sahib to tea in the Punjab Governor’s House and if not, requests to go over himself to Mian Sahib’s house in Model Town to call on the Leader of the Opposition, in fact leaning over backwards beyond the limits of protocol. Peevishness persists and discourtesy aside, the meeting has not yet materialised, two years later. In Mian Sahib’s political history, the field is strewn with missed opportunities, so many and so crucial that it would require much more than one single article to recount them. Teflon-like hide aside, one cannot keep on passing the buck to his Advisors.

Given the present Karachi situation and the grave danger that it poses to the existence of the country, the Leader of the Opposition has taken the initiative and called a Conference of all parties on Karachi. Given the foot-dragging of the PPP regime as far as negotiations with MQM are concerned, this is indeed a most welcome proposal to draw the MQM(A) back into the national mainstream. One should take the analogy of the ultimate symbol of terrorism, the air hijacker. Does one stop talking to the hijacker or does one immediately start talking to him in order to gain time and wear down his demands? While labelling MQM as terrorists may be a moot point in a city full of terrorist groups of various ilk and creed, the PPP should certainly not stop talking with the majority party in Sindh’s urban areas. To circumvent PPP’s obduracy on this issue, Mian Sahib took a political lead of great significance by calling this Conference and then proceeded to shoot himself in the foot by refusing to invite PPP.

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