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Collateral Damage

Pakistan stands adjacent to the ground zero of terrorism, any book by Pervez Musharraf, written well or otherwise, would be an outstanding source for much of the facts since before 9/11, a hot selling item with or without publicity. With Humayun Gauhar, having about the best English among Pakistani columnists at this time, helping Musharraf write his autobiography, the book should not suffer for want of lucidity and/or expression. The stating of facts is a different proposition, there are always many sides to a story, once in print its credibility can be called into question depending upon the facts themselves and/or the motivation of the beholder. Given that those coming out second best in the best will have no love lost for him, the autography is bound to be extremely controversial.

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Geo-Political Fail-Safe

With the US demanding after 9/11 that its friends stand up and be counted, Pervez Musharraf came through at risk of personal life and limb, not to speak of the credibility of Pakistan as an independent sovereign entity. The weekend at Camp David recognises the Pakistani President’s pre-eminent role (and performance) as a US ally at a very troubled time, it is also a brilliant US diplomatic sleight of hand meant to keep everyone happy. While bestowing a rare privilege meant for the most trusted of US friends, it avoids receiving a Head of State still in uniform with all the pomp and show associated with the White House. This mechanism assuages domestic US sensibilities about democratic mores, externally it salves India’s feelings in the light of the developing US-India relationship.

Musharraf expects the US to “reward” Pakistan more for its still continuing support for the war in Afghanistan and against the cells of international terrorism imbedded in Pakistan. A generous US gesture is expected with about $1.8 billion debt forgiveness (and some debt re-scheduling) besides outright grant and aid, this will shore up Pakistan economically and Musharraf politically, mollifying those critics who feel Pakistan has been short-changed. Trade bargains are also in the works, these could eventually lead to a Free Trade Agreement. The icing on the cake would be two squadrons of F-16s to bring the PAF to a credible conventional air defence capability. The relatively “small” economic support that we did get earlier was a good enough signal for other western donor countries as well as Japan to give us succour across the board. Pakistan’s economy became a net-gainer because of 9/11, a few more days and we would have been in the “default” category.

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Jihad Against Terrorism

The beginning of the 21st century has seen advances in science and technology force-multiplying terror as a deliberate creation of man. Terror was previously the domain of the unknown, the perception was that of animals in the jungle and of spirits in the night. High-tech equipment rapidly becomes obsolete as sophisticated terrorists innovate circumventing of their potency. What to talk about individuals and communities, entire nations can be held hostage to terror, case in point presently the mightiest nation on this earth, the US of A. Terrorism is a potent weapon for those who lack numbers and weaponry, money may be important but innovation overcomes that deficiency. The targetting of soft targets put forces of law and orders initially in disarray because of the variation in the threat perception, the level and mode thereof. Organized criminal activity desires anarchy i.e. the collapse of the State’s machinery. The international terrorist has a far bigger canvas, the collapse of world order as is evident from the present dangerous split in the UN Security Council and NATO. The globalization of terrorism makes it difficult to counter terrorism, dominating it altogether is almost impossible. Countries without resources must depend upon each other for precise sharing of intelligence, denial of funds, sanctuaries and/or supply of weapons/equipment to terrorists as well as promptly addressing requests for extradition. On the negative side, countries like India are using the bogey of terrorist groups as either surrogates or motivated propaganda to achieve their own motivated objectives against adversary States like Pakistan, India has now started targeting Bangladesh also.

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Another Outrage

The grenade attack on the Protestant International Church in the Diplomatic Enclave on Sunday last was a disaster waiting to happen, that in the prevailing security environment the law enforcement agencies did not carry out proper “threat perception” and take the necessary counter measures is a surprise. What is more surprising that the diplomatic community’s own security analysts did not see the Church and the regular Sunday gathering as a potential “vulnerable target”. Professionalism in any cadre, whether Pakistani or foreign, involves far more effort than can be put in during duty hours, security is a full-time 24 hours discipline that requires constant monitoring, collection and collation of information, analysis thereof, and pre-emptive action when and where necessary. For the most part the foreign security personnel are very professional, only the odd one stands out as the perennial bureaucrat engaged in protecting his own job at the detriment of his prime responsibility. Find out a security manager who is sarcastic, overbearing and ready to put the blame on others for his own weaknesses and you will know the person who does not know his job.

As for the terrorists who carried out the atrocity, it is now an accepted fact that cowards will always target the innocent and the vulnerable wherever, whether in Pakistan, India or even the US. A place of worship is a soft target, an ideal force-multiplier for spreading fear and panic when anarchy is the ultimate objective, killing and maiming of women and children now being a recognized terror formula. The perpetrators can be any number of individuals and organizations with hate as their creed and murder as their philosophy. The Church incident was an absolute outrage, the only way of assuaging the pain of their taking the life of innocents is to hunt down those involved, expeditiously. A terrible price has been paid by the innocents, it is a debt that can only be re-paid by taking heavy toll of the terrorists who conceived and carried out the atrocity. They can run but they must not be allowed to hide!

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Dissolution of Credibility?

Fresh from one of the greatest peacetime successes of Pakistan’s international history and basking still in Agra’s media glow, the military regime’s exercise in devolution of power is a possible future disaster in the making. While the devolution plan by itself has very big holes in it, the electoral process at the Local Bodies level has shown that “horse trading” is alive and well in Pakistan. There is always a temptation to manipulate favourable results in any competition but “match fixing” has its limits, that manipulation took place not only under the noses of the military regime but had their fingerprints all over the place, undercuts the credibility of a generally very clean military government. To put it bluntly, anytime there is an indirect election for any post, it is not the peoples’ will but the ability of the manipulators that will always emerge triumphant. For any elected post there must always be direct elections. On the other hand, devolution down to districts is more than acceptable in the urban areas, in the rural areas Local Government rule by a Nazim below that of a Division is asking for trouble. At the District level enhanced powers for the Nazims is a plus point for the citizens in cities and towns, in the rural District areas the same powers giving to the tribal Sardars absolute legal authority over the resident citizens makes them no better than bonded slaves at his will and whim.

One cannot condemn the whole electoral process leading to self-governance at the base level out of hand. One must be fair in observing that any self-rule is better than bureaucratic control. As such on a pro-rata basis, the “Naqvi model” of basic democracy that will come into effect on August 14, 2001 will certainly be better than what we have been suffering for the last 54 years under a very prejudiced and biased bureaucratic control. Whether democratic or military rule, the people of Pakistan have lived with only a semblance of freedom, bureaucracy remaining in actual power while giving lip-service to whoever were the rulers supposedly exercising power.

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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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A Half Year Scorecard

For those fed up with the “civilian coup” that saw Asif Zardari virtually take over the affairs of governance in lieu of his wife, Ms Benazir Bhutto, great expectations are vested in the success of Mian Sahib, who came to office with the largest mandate, seat-wise, in this nation’s democratic history. These mainly centre around sound governance, the country having been reduced into economic apocalypse by acts of both commission and omission. Given the limitations of our leaders in matters of governance, expectation as to radical change is a pipedream that we must now grow out of hoping and longing for, unless we are masochists who revel in our frustration because that’s all we are likely to get. Public memory being notoriously short, perception usually overwhelms reality.

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First Major Blow for Accountability?

On March 22, 1994, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) took significant action to restore the credibility of the Pakistani banking system by removing the top management of Mehran Bank and replacing them with an SBP-appointed Chief Executive. At the same time, FIA arrested the real owner of the Bank, Yunus Habib. To support the case against this gentleman, the Governor SBP laid out the findings of a Committee headed by a Deputy Governor of the Bank, viz. (1) Mehran Bank had been repeatedly violating the statutory liquidity requirement by failing to maintain the liquid assets as provided under Section 29 of the Banking Companies Ordinance 1962, (2) Mehran Bank had been extending loans and advances far in excess of the credit limit set by SBP in clear violation of SBP directions, (3) Mehran Bank had been issuing false certificates in various areas, (4) the management in clear violation of commitments, had given liberal export refinance to defaulters, and (5) the Mehran Bank has committed a breach of trust by not depositing rupee equivalent of US$ 36.7 million (Rs.1.1 billion) to the SBP against the sale of Dollar Bearer Certificate (DBCs) within the stipulated time frame.

On Feb 1, 1994 in an article in THE NATION entitled “DETERIORATION OF FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS” we wrote that, “The overall environment is one of lack of accountability. In this wild-west atmosphere financial cowboys ran riot. One esteemed gentleman as Provincial Chief of a major NCB advanced hundreds of millions of rupees to fake companies owned by his associates. When this was discovered and he was removed from office, he twice made a comeback on the strength of pressure from authoritative quarters. Instead of being brought to trial he was “permitted” to “honourably” resign. Subsequently he was given permission to open a private bank by the Nawaz Sharif Government, to the credit of SBP they refused to let him become either Chief Executive or Chief Operating Officer, this restriction being made on the basis of the SBP reference to his original bank. However, it is widely rumoured that he is on his way back into the financial corridors of one of the remaining NCBs, this is certainly not on the basis of his reputation but on other “considerations”. He symbolises a pattern of survival manifest in all those engaged in malfeasance, these men are good for conducting financial mayhem in all political seasons”, unquote. Continuing to record the saga of this gentleman in an article entitled “Money and Power”, in THE NATION on Feb 15, 1994, to quote “With bureaucracy letting control slip somewhat to some politicians, a new class of senior banking executives ran riot in the wholesale plunder of the banking system in collaboration with them. If any non-governmental organisation (NGO) with investigative experience is given a mandate (and an incentive as bounty, say 10% of the plundered total they manage to locate), Pakistan’s financial coffers can be refilled dramatically. Excellent data may also become available to the Income Tax and Wealth Authorities e.g. the gentleman who plundered over Rs.4000 million from the banking system. The present modus operandi has become so blatant that people of known dishonesty are increasingly put into control of some financial institutions with impunity, their lack of credibility and reputation makes them insecure and thus totally dependent on their masters for their continued existence, a solid insurance for their continued loyalty. Even the last bastion of financial integrity in the country, the universally esteemed State Bank of Pakistan is now under attack”, unquote. While one must not condemn a man without giving him a chance to have his say in court, the fact of the matter remains that Yunus Habib’s financial misdemeanours were widely known throughout the Pakistani banking system. How ISI’s foreign exchange funds came to be parked in Mehran Bank is another story that one may not press for media disclosure in the national interest but why was Mehran Bank reluctant to part with the ISI’s money and where did it get the courage to hold such powerful institution as the ISI ransom? Enough smoke exists to focus on the source of the fire in a closed-door enquiry.

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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.

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