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When Tigers Become Maneaters

Karachi became a battleground on Saturday May 12, 2007, for a few frightening hours the citizens got a bloody taste of Baghdad and Beirut becomes when perpetrators of senseless violence take over the streets of the city. Everyone is casting blame on each other, and they are not wrong, all of us are culpable in our own ways. The tragedy that ensued is a severe indictment of the government for abdicating its responsibilities in not deploying the forces of law and order, the political parties used the occasion callously to further their own political objectives even when anarchy was looming in their faces and finally the lawyers persisted with the CJ’s Karachi procession despite ominous signs that it would cost lives, and that too mostly of innocents. There was a moral obligation for all to heed independent warnings of imminent violence. The government lost considerable moral authority in not enforcing their writ for hours, the hands-off policy seemed deliberately designed to aggravate the situation for a single purpose, prevent the CJ’s cavalcade from riding into town.


Preserving Internal Peace

Three decades (or so) ago almost to the day on April 13, 1975, unidentified gunmen killed four Phalangists during an attempt on the life of Pierre Gemayel, founder of the Lebanese (Maronite Christian) political grouping called the Phalangist Party. Suspecting that the assailants were Palestinian the Phalangists retaliated later in the day by ambushing a bus passing through the Eastern Beirut suburb of Ain al Roumanneh, killing more than two dozen Palestinian passengers. This incident initiated a cycle of revenge killings that led to all-out civil war that was supposedly between the Palestinians and Maronite Christians but in fact became a religious strife between the Sunnis, Shias and Druze Lebanese aiding the Palestinians and the heavily Christian Lebanese Army (alongwith their heavy weapons) splitting mainly in favour of the Maronites and Catholics.


Idealism versus Pragmatism

In matters of State objective idealism always gives way to rank pragmatism. Gen Pervez Musharraf articulated his seven-point agenda within days of taking power, the vision was that of an idealist. In preparing the nation for real democracy, his solution is that of a pragmatist. And by the way there is no duality of personality here, over the past 38 years one has seen it to be in consonance with his character. Between the idealism the President embodies and the pragmatism he has adopted, the fault-line is blurred by the doctrine of necessity. In the hard world of realities and given the adverse circumstances, pragmatism is perhaps the only course that any leader of a beleaguered nation, such as ours could have adopted, not only for the sake of the nation, but being inexorably linked with the reforms he has enacted, for his own continuity. The starkest example was his swift decision in Sep 11, 2001 to abandon decades plus of foreign policy alignment to seek security for the State in a region made suddenly untenable for countries like Pakistan to continue civilized existence. Musharraf’s decision was certainly not popular, it was hugely unpopular among the masses, but in the given environment it was correct, Our heart may have been with the Taliban but it was neither logical nor right, we stepped at just the right time away from an extremism to which our masses have never subscribed to.


Tidal Wave 2002

A few days before Referendum 2002 a crude poll conducted by Research & Collection Services revealed that, viz (1) the turnout would be less than 30% and (2) 65% of those responding to the queries would support the President. This poll was conducted over 93 cities/towns and adjacent rural constituencies, there was plus/minus 5% margin for error in this poll. By 12:30 pm on Referendum Day the feedback from the staff in the field concluded that the poll was spectacularly wrong on both counts. Except for Quetta, some parts of interior Sindh and a few places in Karachi, the polling throughout the country was brisk, the turnout already crossing the 30% mark. In exit polls, slightly more than 90% were openly favouring the President, only 2-3% demurred. Between 2 pm and 4 pm voting slowed considerably because of the intense mid-afternoon heat, by 5 pm there was a rush to meet the 7 pm deadline. The 60% plus turnout claimed by the government is therefore credible.

Where and why did the pre-Referendum forecast go wrong? First and foremost the voters were well motivated towards the President. Even while complaining that the present governance was far from satisfactory, many did not want Ms Bhutto or Mian Nawaz Sharif misgoverning them again. Third, almost 15 million voters are under the age of 21, voting age being reduced to 18. Owing no allegiance to any political party and brought up on political horror stories, they cast their vote en bloc for the President. His hard stance towards the militancy of the religious parties was another factor. Lastly the increased number of polling stations, 164000 in all, almost 6 times the normal electoral day average, increased the voter turnout manifold as it allowed easy voting throughout the day. As someone remarked, everyone and his mother-in-law went out to vote, many had never voted before. The same refrain remained throughout the country. There were certainly voter irregularities, mainly, viz (1) voters not having their identities properly checked (2) the indelible ink coming off and (3) repeated voting. These did not have official sanction much and were not in such large numbers as to affect the voting turnout, which hovered around 60%. Of the 40% who stayed away, at least half were hard-core supporters of the opposition political parties.


Roadmaps and Mr FIXITS

An objective study of the recently held Local Bodies Election will show that politics is alive and well in Pakistan. Even though the elections were meant to be a non-party exercise, for the most part party stalwarts have come to power at the District level. While it may be too early to render a profound judgement about the new system ushered in by Musharraf and party, the hard fact remains that democracy of sorts at the grassroots level is now a fact of life in Pakistan. For the first time since the creation of the country, some power will have passed into the hands of the people, at least at the local level, provided of course that the elected ones do not abrogate either their authority or responsibility, exercising their mandate without over-dependance on the bureaucrats meant to “assist” them. Only time will tell as to who will actually wield power, the local politician or their bureaucrat advisors. This trial of strength will take part in each constituency and if the democrats are generally successful there will be a future for Pakistan of course, in some rural areas there is no hope in the face of feudal for other democrats or bureaucrats. Unless the people believe that power is really in their hands and that they exercise it freely without prompting or interference, their belief in the system will evaporate and with that the broad aspirations for this country. For the moment there is confusion across the board and that is not unusual, the administrative practice of a century plus cannot be changed seamlessly in a matter of weeks. What is satisfying is that there is an ongoing struggle to correct the anomalies and the dire predictions of complete breakdown have, in the immortal words of Mark Twain, been “greatly exaggerated”.

Those political parties who remain a political force of some consequence in Pakistan have shown considerable sagacity by entering alliances of convenience wherever necessary. Having more or less swept its traditional stronghold in the interior of Sindh, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is allied in places with its long-term nemesis Jamaat-e-Islami. But let’s not write off the other major political bloc, Pakistan Muslim League (PML), as yet. Split into two with Mian Nawaz Sharif’s ascent to power in the mid-80s, it has again split in two after he and his family’s departure to Saudi Arabia. An amalgam of heterogeneous forces having no relevance whatsoever except lip-service to the ideology of the founder of the country, and buffeted by this military regime, the PML (split) still remains a potent political machine. Among the two major regional parties, Awami National Party (ANP) has shown its strength in its traditional vote getting areas but the Muttahida Qaumi Mahaz (MQM) has lost out big by its surprising decision to stay out of Local Bodies elections, giving the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) a windfall by allowing them to move into the political vacuum after 15 years out in the cold in Karachi. Given a chance to do good for the people, and it is true that of all the parties the JI representatives are best motivated and equipped to make that sincere and honest effort at good governance, they will have to be really bad managers to blow this chance. MQM is in real danger of being marginalised by the bitterness of its exiled leader, their effort for rapprochement with ethnic Sindhis at the cost of the integrity of Pakistan has barely made headway. The Mohajir is a Mohajir because more than any other nationality in Pakistan, he voted with his feet for Pakistan, traversing through a trail of blood and death and despondency to come to Pakistan. Trying to undermine the two-nation theory will cut no ice with the broad mass of Mohajirs, only the extremists who have nowhere to go will remain in the field. MQM will continue to have nuisance value but Gen Babar put paid to this mass militant potential in 1985, it will take considerable repression by the military regime to build the nucleus of such an armed militia again, fortunately (1) the military rule has been extremely benign and (2) the present head of the armed forces belongs to the same constituency.


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.


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.


The Majority Vote

Over 30 million French voters went to the polls in the first round of Presidential elections to decide their preference in a full slate of 9 candidates. In a major upset that stunned political pundits, Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin secured nearly 7 million votes (or 23.24% of the votes cast) to come out first in the pack while the favourite Jacques Chirac, a Gaullist, was grateful to scrape through to the second round with about 6.2 million votes (20.64%). Chirac was just ahead of his former friend, fellow Gaullist and handpicked PM Edouard Balladur, who had deserted his mentor in a bid for the Presidency but fell just short by 600,000 votes, getting only about 5.6 million votes (or about 18.54%). Not to be denied his place under the French sun Jean Marie Le Pen, the Far Right candidate, secured 15.15% of the vote, translated into 4.6 million votes, slightly above par than his previous performances. Next came Communist Robert Hue with 2.6 million votes (3.72%), then Trotskyist Arlette Laguiller with 1.6 million votes (5.34%) followed by Nationalist Phillipe de Villiers (1.4 million votes 4.78%) and Ecologist Dominique Voynet with 3.33% of the vote representing 1 million votes. At the very tail was the Extreme Right candidate Jacques Cheminade with 83,472 votes (about 0.27%).

Since none of the candidates got an outright majority (50%), a second run-off election will be held on May 7, 1995 between the Socialist Party Candidate Lionel Jospin and “Rally for the Republic (RPR) Party” Candidate, Paris Mayor Jacques Chirac. Contrary to pollsters’ speculation a few months ago that pitted Conservatives Chirac and Balladur against each other, the early front runner French PM Balladur self-destructed in the final weeks to make it a straight Left-Right contest. On the surface, the Right (Chirac, Balladur, Le Pen, Villiers and Cheminade) picked up about 18 million votes (60%) to 12 million votes of the Left (Jospin, Hiz, Laguiller, Voynet), about 40%. However, this is rather a simplistic calculation as not all the voters of the Right will vote for Chirac or for that matter Jospin will not automatically sweep up all the votes on the Left. A fair estimate is that a vast majority of each side may still favour their ideological inclination (and a fair amount may stay at home) but most voters react to individual candidates in preference to their political leanings. The inaccurate French Polls had shown Chirac getting nearly 27% of the vote or about 8 million votes, he fell short by a massive 1.8 million votes, nearly 25% less than predicated by pollsters. On the other hand Jospin did better than expected by about 1.6 million votes and Balladur was short of the projections by about a million votes. These represent very wide margins of error and expert analyst are of the opinion that Chirac almost got clobbered because of (1) voter apathy inasfar that they expected him to win anyway and stayed at home (2) the Right-Right split of the Gaullist vote and (3) desperate Socialist attempt to keep their candidate Jospin alive by concentrating the left vote. At the same time Le Pen, who had no chance anyway, profited from his rabid rhetoric against immigrants, the symbolic backlash maintaining his performance of the past. The Extreme Left (in Hue, Laguiller and Voynet) got a better than expected 5 million votes (about 17%).


Back Home All is Not Well

Even her detractors do not attempt to deny that Ms Benazir is a charismatic figure tailor-made to exploit the best out of the western media. Given a gift of the rhetoric, Pakistan’s PM is also a forceful advocate of Pakistani causes when she puts her mind to it. As a well educated, intelligent leader of international acclaim, it was always an even bet that she would vow her hosts in the US. What goodies she comes back with will make a considerable impact on her fortunes at home which are dependant upon a more cynical lot who tend to be impressed more by the birds in hand (F-16s) rather than promises in the bush.

Ms Benazir’s festering problem is Karachi, Pakistan’s major and only port city. While every shade of public opinion recognizes that it is imperative to restore democracy at the grassroots level, she was recently quoted in an interview to NEWSWEEK as dismissing the Local Bodies election option in Karachi for 2 or 3 years. While she may be right in speaking about the prevailing conditions in the city as an obstacle of sorts, the fact remains that any solution requires democracy as a pre-requisite. The leadership vacuum at the street level has become too dangerous to ignore. Unfortunately since her electoral base is in rural Sindh, the PPP is heavily dependant upon the quota system to safeguard the interests of its prized constituents, that is directly in confrontation to the merit factor which is the main component of the urban-based MQM platform. While the ideological divide is such that though a temporary marriage of convenience is possible, Rudyard Kipling’s “the twain shall never meet” adequately describes the possibility of an MQM-PPP rapprochement. However one lives in hope and given the Mandela-De Klerk meeting of the minds in South Africa and the Arafat-Rabin patch-up of sorts in the Middle East, it is quite possible that our leaders will take into account the devastation that will continue to happen if an agreement of sorts is not hammered out soon. The problem for the PPP is that while MQM is central to Karachi’s quagmire, the PPP is as much incidental to the city’s present and future as the PML, as such the option is very much available to the MQM to choose either. While practically it may make sense to the MQM to come to a compromise with the rural majority, given historical connotations their preference would be the PML. We thus have an eternal triangle of sorts with no one prepared to come to terms by giving some leeway.