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IDEAS 2006

The 2006 version of IDEAS came back to town, as usual with a bang. Due to heightened security, we thankfully avoided bangs of the real kind. This Exhibition of defence equipment, both indigenous and foreign, is well worth the effort. It is a logistics feat that takes some organizing, not possible without commitment and dedicated effort. Defence Export Promotion Organisation (DEPO) and PEGASUS have, through a consistent team effort made IDEAS a fixture on the Defence equipment display map of the world, an event that has now come to stay. The general public not having access to the Exhibition notwithstanding, those invited certainly found the display of hardware and services interesting. To have professionals explain the function and effectiveness thereof, is invaluable, icing on the cake.

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The Making of the President

One does not have to be clairvoyant to predict that barring a major upheaval, natural of man-made, the next President will either be a PML person or a PML nominee from one of the smaller provinces. Less than two days before the filing of nominations, the PML leadership has yet to declare the candidacy of what should have been a certainty in the minds of the PML hierarchy, given their happy position as regards the game of numbers. Being a democratic party heading a “rainbow” coalition of smaller, regional parties, one assumes the PML hierarchy is leaning over backwards to ensure that their partners do not feel left out of the decision-making process, articulating their preferences and given suitable advice as to who would make a good President. The concept of a Federation requires that the smaller provinces must play an active part in the coalescing of consensus, democracy enjoins that the voices of all the constituent units be heard and taken into account.

PML has no party leader from Balochistan for the Presidency, the only person having some credibility being Zafarullah Khan Jamali but till very lately he has not shown any great political consistency with the mainstream PML. Balochistan at least finds representation through the Deputy Chairman of the Senate and Sindh has the National Assembly (NA) Speaker’s Sarhad has nothing. Therefore, the province having the greatest claim for representation among the ruling hierarchy is Sarhad. There is a lobby that feel that the post of Speaker NA is not enough for the Sindhis and that to assuage Sindh’s qualms there should be a President from Sindh and that in return Sindh should leave the NA post for Sarhad. The factors thus taken into account in the making of the President are, viz (1) whether the potential candidate to be supported be from Sarhad or Sindh? (2) whether a credible PML nominee is available from Sarhad? And if so (3) whether it makes sense to move the NA Speaker to the Presidency and find a suitable NA Speaker from Sarhad?

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The Ugly Face of Fascism

On Friday Nov 28, 1997 the Supreme Court of Pakistan Building was attacked by an unruly mob that broke through the restraining police cordon. According to reports the mob was chanting slogans and epithets against the Chief Justice (CJ) and almost reached the door of the Courtroom where he was presiding over a Contempt of Case hearing against the PM, Mian Nawaz Sharif. Inside the Courtroom the protest by the PM’s lawyers was civilized and couched in legal language, lawyers cited the decisions of the Quetta and Peshawar Benches of the Supreme Court (SC) in holding the CJ’s appointment as illegal and requested the CJ to step down till the matter was decided by a Bench comprising all Judges of the SC less the CJ.

Nobody of sane mind will condone such an incident as happened in the SC on Friday. Any courtroom in any civilized society must be treated with dignity, honour and respect, it is neutral ground whose decorum must be maintained. We can never allow street power to coerce the norms of justice, allowing street power into the vicinity of the courtroom spells doom for any civilized society. Judges are human beings and as such will react as all human beings to intimidation, whether it comes in sophisticated form or in crude fashion. However, the issue is not whether they are scared or not, the issue revolves around the sanctity of the courtroom. While protest is an acceptable part of the political process, entering Court premises in violent fashion in an uncontrolled manner is almost unheard of and violates the sanctity of the Court. What we are talking about is not a normal courtroom but of the SC itself which is the paramount place of justice in the country. The incident on Friday smacks of Fascism, closely resembling the outrages through which courts of law and judges were subjugated by Hitler in the early 30s. The storming of the SC is an unacceptable incident, one is aghast as to the display of crude street power. Is this the future for our children, that we should influence the course of justice by forcible means of mob force? If we cannot differentiate between the rough justice delivered by a mob or vigilantes and that flowing from logic and norms of society descended from a constitution, then we are doomed. We decry martial law because it envisages swift, abridged justice that does not give enough right and time for defence to the accused as available in normal courts, yet what is the force that drove this mob to break into the very symbol of justice in Pakistan and try to impose their collective will on the Supreme Court? One is ashamed that elements in the PML stooped so low as to use such bully-boy tactics. In the history of Pakistan this must be one of our blackest days, a day of infamy and regret.

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Time Out

PM Ms Benazir Bhutto has recently offered unconditional cooperation to the Opposition provided they agree to give up confrontational politics. She seemed to be generally mystified as to what the Opposition hoped to achieve by pursuing its present course of agitation, forgetting her own trailblazer role from Day One of the Nawaz Sharif regime in bringing down the then elected government. On the other hand, saner elements within the Opposition have counselled their own leadership to avoid the roller-coaster road of opposition for the sake of opposition lest it became a violent confrontation fatal for democracy. Even if the government of the day is brought down, what is the surety that it would be replaced by another democratic alternative? Such a situation would be tailor-made for adventurists and/or their frontmen third forces. The same day that platonic thoughts were being aired about by the PM, the residence of Mushahid Hussain was being raided to apprehend that famous “terrorist”, Khalil Malik, who going by the number of policemen employed for the operation, seems to be a combination of Carlos and Pablo Escobar with a little bit of Che Guevera thrown in for good measure. Since our agile policemen had scaled the roof of his house to take up position for several hours, one can well understand the trauma of the whole episode for Mushahid’s family. Not to say that the beating up of Azhar Sohail, Editor of Daily Pakistan, by his own staffers, which had occasioned this ham-handed retaliation, was anything less unsavoury. However, one outrage cannot be set right by another, except off course if civilization degenerates back to medieval feudalism with its Machiavellian overtones.

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The Campaign Commences

Over the past few months the Quaid’s Mazar has been the subject of more attention than usual what with governments falling and forming. The Mazar makes for a good photo-opportunity, transient dignitaries find it necessary to do homage on Prime Time TV. To launch their election campaign, PML Nawaz Sharif Group chose the Mazar as their point of departure to coincide with Independence Day celebrations. While it was widely believed that PPP would launch their campaign from the Pakistan Memorial at Lahore, as soon as they heard about the PML (N) decision, they also decided that the Mazar would be their choice also. Frankly, it is unfair that they are being equated even for consideration but one supposes the Administration can read the PPP writing on Sindh’s walls.

While it is too early to really see anything emerging from the political kaleidoscope before the full list of candidates comes before us and electoral alliances/adjustments are complete, the PPP has got off to a fast start as they have been working towards a mid-term election for some time and have the necessary grassroots organisation. With their own shakedown now complete after taking stock of the breakaway factions, the PML(N) is putting together an extremely comprehensive and potent campaign mechanism. Spearheading the effort is the indefatigable Senator Sartaj Aziz as Acting Secretary General and Mushahid Hussain as Information Secretary. With these capable and hand-picked Nawaz loyalists as the nucleus, the PML campaign is now taking form and shape. One is struck by the sophistication of the effort being organised, in contrast to the disinformation and negative exercise that was conducted the last two times around, the present set-up gives an assured and mature complexion to the hurly-burly of the projected campaign ahead. Nawaz Sharif has shown an unerring instinct for choosing the right persons for critical posts (barring one or two glaring exceptions) and the Sartaj Aziz/Mushahid combine is in stark contrast to the better organised but frenetic appearance of the Bhutto campaign.

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The Merchants of Disinformation

Aspate of advertisements from both the major political groupings, the PPP and the PML (N) have started to appear in the newspapers. A list of promises are contained in the messages being beamed at the citizens, the constant refrain of the pledges made are that they will be fulfilled. Nawaz Sharif delivers, Ms Benazir also delivers! Negative advertising has still to make its appearance but what is appearing in the media is more eloquent, a titanic struggle at spreading disinformation about each other. Notwithstanding the electoral battle, the stakes are enormous for those engaged in the business of it, if their principal candidates win they will be in line to roam the corridors of powers as Senators, Federal Ministers, Special Assistants, Advisors etc.

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