DAWN - Opinion; May 28, 2008

Published May 28, 2008 12:00am

The twin presidencies

By Cyril Almeida


AT noon on Jan 20, 2009, George W. Bush, the 43rd president of the United States, will cease to hold office. In reality, the Bush era is already over, swallowed up by the unfolding drama of an historic presidential election season.

However, good or bad, scorned or embraced, Bush has been consequential to the US and the world, and so, in the quieter moments of the race to succeed him, the media will trot out pundits, commentators and analysts to assess his presidency.

In Pakistan, where the consequences of the Bush presidency will resonate for a long time, the US president will be undoubtedly berated, belittled, ridiculed and disparaged. Deserved or not, lost in the opprobrium will be one of the stranger facts of 21st century politics: the presidencies of Bush and Musharraf have followed a remarkably similar arc and are embodied by matching approaches to issues of both substance and style.

The evidence is striking. Rewind to the presidents’ respective ascensions to power. Bush and Musharraf were mired in storms of controversy and shorn of legitimacy. Bush brushed aside hanging chads and cries of foul play in Florida to claim the presidency; Musharraf brushed aside the constitution and an elected prime minister. Ultimately, both had to turn to their supreme courts to validate their claim to power. The courts obliged, staining their good names in the process. Bush v. Gore was not quite at the level of Zafar Ali Shah v. Pervez Musharraf, but its infamy in the annals of US jurisprudence is assured. Musharraf would have to wait until 2001 to be sworn in as president, but that was a mere formality.

Once in power, both quickly turned their attention to the economy. The state of the Pakistani and US economies could not have been more different. The US was coming off the longest economic expansion in its history; the Pakistani economy was a disaster after a decade of low growth and sanctions. And yet, Bush and Musharraf chose the same economic paradigm: growth that favoured big business and rich individuals and relied on wealth trickling down. In both countries, the prescription seemed to work initially, but then the wheels rapidly came off. Today, recession fears stalk the US economy while inflation and stalled growth vex Pakistan’s economic managers.

The war on terror is of course the policy to which the presidents will indelibly be linked, the reason for the joint sobriquet of ‘Busharraf’. Yet, for all their enthusiasm for hard power, Bush and Musharraf have strikingly similar records of failure. Both have focussed on the wrong battles, allowing militancy to flourish before belatedly trying to change tack.

Of course, nothing the Pakistani president has done rises to the level of the Iraq invasion, but we will never know if that is only because Musharraf’s greatest military misadventure, the disastrous Kargil operation, was already behind him when he captured political power.

Despite being a central plank of their presidencies, for a long stretch of time the execution of the war on terror lacked focus in the White House and Army House. Bush was fixated on Iraq at the expense of securing Afghanistan; Musharraf was fixated on Balochistan and double-games with the Taliban at the expense of securing the tribal areas. Along the way, Bush gave the world Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, while Musharraf gave Pakistan missing persons.

Increasing concern in Washington and Islamabad belatedly refocused attention on Afghanistan, Fata and the northern areas. However, the genie was already out of the bottle, a result of over-reliance on military action and counterterrorism measures. Soft power — development aid and political reform — has never been a favourite of the two men who preferred to use a big stick against their enemies. But if Bush and Musharraf were taking a page from Machiavelli’s playbook, they forgot that by preferring to be feared rather than loved they could end up being hated.

In style, too, the presidents are similar. Bush and Musharraf are ‘ideas’ men, content to leave the nuts and bolts of implementation and governance to others. Democracy has been Bush’s grand narrative; enlightened moderation has been Musharraf’s. By all accounts, both have been spectacular failures. There is more. When Bush was asked a year after the invasion of Iraq to name a mistake he had made since 9/11, the US president could not think of one. The more expansive Musharraf has admitted tactical errors, but none when it comes to his favourite non sequitur: the national interest. Little wonder then that the two men share a bond beyond the requirements of office.

It is only now, in the autumn of their presidencies, that Bush and Musharraf have charted different courses for themselves. Bush is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term but, unlike Bill Clinton, has never shown any longing to occupy the presidential White House beyond eight years. On the contrary, Bush has talked about relaxing on his Crawford ranch and earning easy money on the lecture circuit. Eight years, however, have not proved enough for Musharraf, with dangerous consequences for national stability.

What then of these men’s legacies? Bush’s place in the history books will be debated fiercely in the US, but it’s safe to say that the argument will largely be about whether he was bad for the country or worse. Here in Pakistan, Musharraf’s legacy is a more complicated issue than the current environment may suggest. Think about Ayub. He was nudged out a deeply unpopular ruler but his image as a moderniser has survived, a benevolent dictator who built the country’s industrial and infrastructure base.

Musharraf has made a similar bet: he hopes to be remembered for the next big phase in Pakistan’s economic history, the middle-class revolution. Read the statements emanating from the presidency today — political stability is demanded to ensure continuity of economic policies. Musharraf knows his legacy is in jeopardy, the gains of the last few years engulfed by inflation, deficits and rising poverty. And he knows that the blame will be placed squarely — and rightly — on his shoulders. Which is why the country is stuck with a relic of the past: he’s trying to salvage how he will be judged in the future.

cyril.a@gmail.com

Ten years later

By Pervez Hoodbhoy


IT’S May 1998 and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif congratulates wildly cheering citizens as the Chagai mountain trembles and goes white from multiple nuclear explosions. He declares that Pakistan is now safe and sound forever.

Bomb makers become national heroes. Schoolchildren are handed free badges with mushroom clouds. Bomb and missile replicas are planted in cities up and down the land. Welcome to nuclear Pakistan.

Fast-forward the video 10 years. Pakistan turns into a different country, deeply insecure and afraid for its future. Grim-faced citizens see machine-gun bunkers, soldiers crouched behind sandbags, barbed wire and barricaded streets. In Balochistan and Fata, helicopter gunships and fighter jets swarm the skies.

Today, we are at war on multiple fronts. But the bomb provides no defence. Rather, it has helped bring us to this grievously troubled situation and offers no way out. On this awful anniversary, it is important that we relate the present to the past.

Some say that India forced Pakistan to test. This could indeed be true. India lied about its ‘peaceful’ nuclear programme, India tested first, India then hurled threats at Pakistan, India jeered as Pakistan agonised over its response. But once Pakistan followed suit, it forgot that it had done so reluctantly and under provocation. The bomb immediately generated its own dynamics.

Post-Chagai, it was a different Pakistan. A euphoric nation felt the expected pain of international sanctions but shrugged it off. In retrospect, the high cost of the weapons programme, as well as the flight of capital, are almost irrelevant. A historical accident fixed this problem: after Pakistan’s 9/11 U-turn, the West rushed to fill the state’s coffers and avert its imminent collapse.

But the gravest damage was psychological and political, not material. It could not be undone. The official celebration of violence, and the encouragement of public joy at successful bomb-making, proved to be the most lasting and pernicious legacy of the May 1998 nuclear tests. They changed the national psyche. Most significantly, they changed the way in which military and political leaders thought, spoke and behaved.

The bomb turned into a fantastic talisman, able to ward off all evil. For military men, Pakistani nukes were not just a counter to Indian nukes but also the means for neutralising India’s larger conventional land, air and sea forces. For diplomats and politicians, the bomb was a sure way to guarantee that the world would make India negotiate. Flushed with success, the Pakistani leadership hit on what, in their view, was a brilliant strategy for confronting India — jihad by Islamic fighters protected by Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

Kargil followed. This secret invasion in early January 1999 was conceived and implemented by General Pervez Musharraf. But to blame only Musharraf — a fashionable thing to do in these times — is to sacrifice truth for convenience. Blinded by nuclear euphoria, there was scarcely a voice in Pakistan against an adventure that, six months later, left over 1,000 dead and dealt the country a humiliating defeat.

But Kargil was just one consequence. More significantly, the bomb fed a culture of violence that eventually grew into the hydra-headed militancy now haunting Pakistan. Some Mujahideen, who felt betrayed by Pakistan’s army and politicians, would ultimately take revenge by turning their guns against their sponsors and trainers. The body parts spattered across Pakistani cities by suicide bombers, Taliban-bombed schools and colleges, or the now-frequent lynching of thieves and bandits and roasting them to death, flow from the social acceptance of violence and brutality in conflict situations.

Terrorism and fanaticism, not India, shall be the real threats to Pakistan in the forseeable future. The writ of the Pakistani state has already ceased to hold in parts of the country. Terrorists have repeatedly targeted Pakistani officers and soldiers and their wives and children. Even their fortified residential compounds are not safe. Officers are now understandably afraid to drive in official vehicles, to wear uniforms in public, or even to stop at traffic lights.

It was a lie that the bomb could protect Pakistan, its people, or its armed forces. The bomb cannot help us recover the territory seized by the Baitullahs and Fazlullahs. Our nukes certainly give us the ability to destroy India — and to be destroyed in return. But that’s about it. The much-vaunted nuclear dividend turned out to be empty.

Some might ask, didn’t the bomb stop India from swallowing up Pakistan? Even if India wanted to, this would be impossible. Conventional weapons, used by Pakistan in a defensive mode, would be sufficient defence. If mighty America could not digest Iraq, there can never be a chance for a middling power like India to occupy Pakistan, a country four times larger than Iraq.

Others believe that nuclear weapons earned international respect for Pakistan. Indeed, in the aftermath of the tests, Pakistan’s stock shot up in some Muslim countries — before it crashed. Recently, a poll carried out by the BBC in 17 countries showed that Pakistan belongs to the five most disliked countries in the world: Iran (54 per cent), Israel (52 per cent), Pakistan (50 per cent), United States (48 per cent), and North Korea (44 per cent). Nukes for popularity or respect don’t work well either.

The bomb was also supposed to unite all Pakistan, build a nation out of disparate peoples. The tumultuous, officially organised, 1999 celebration of ‘youm-e-takbir’ across the country was supposed to do exactly this.

But the bomb failed as national glue. Today, it is true that many in Punjab still want the bomb. But angry Sindhis want water and jobs, and they blame Punjab for taking these away. The Baloch resent the fact that the nuclear test site — now radioactive and out of bounds — is located on Balochistan’s soil. Many have taken up arms and demand Punjab’s army get off their backs. The Pathans, trapped in a war between the Taliban and the US-Pakistani armies, principally want protection against suicide bombers as well as American Predators and the Pakistan Air Force.

How can Pakistan be made a more normal, more secure country? What can persuade our people, and the world, that the country has a future?

The threat to Pakistan is internal. Therefore, churning out more nuclear warheads, or test-launching more missiles, or buying yet more American F-16s or French submarines, will not help. Pakistan’s security problems cannot be solved by better weapons. No ill-fed, ill-educated nation can be secure. No viable nation can discriminate between its citizens for reasons of ethnicity, religious faith or economic status. Force and violence cannot summon a sense of citizenship.

The way forward lies in building a sustainable and active democracy, an economy for peace rather than war, a federation in which provincial grievances can be effectively resolved, and a society that respects the rule of law.

The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

Bard of Stratford-upon-Seine

By Zafar Masud


ALMOST adjacent to the Notre Dame cathedral, across the Seine on the Left Bank in Paris, is a bookshop that could well have been an impressionist painting done by, say, Van Gogh himself.

All the vivid colours are there and the dark lines that hold together the composition respond more readily to the imagination of the onlooker than to any classroom geometrical rules.

Coming here is also paying homage to the Bard of Stratford-upon-Seine.

The original Shakespeare & Co. was opened not far from here, near the Odeon theatre in this intellectual heartland of Europe, just after the First World War in 1919, by Sylvia Beach, a maverick American expatriate who had loved poetry, writers and France.

The bookshop was an immediate success and attracted not only such luminaries of English literature as Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein, but also French writers such as André Gide and the poet Paul Valéry, just to name a few for lack of space.

Sylvia Beach was also the one who first saw genius material in Joyce’s Ulysses and decided to publish it against all odds in 1922 after the manuscript was turned down by many publishing houses on both the sides of the Atlantic. In the years that followed, she would continue printing many editions of Ulysses in defiance of the fact that the book was proscribed in both England and the United States.

The exhilarating experience came to an end in December 1941 after the German occupation of Paris. The Nazis closed the shop and arrested Sylvia Beach. She never had the heart to return to business after her release a few months later.

Ten years following the closure of the legendary bookstore, another American by the name of George Whitman, who was a friend and admirer of Sylvia Beach, opened his English bookstore at the present address in 1951. This once again became a literary watering hole for writers like Lawrence Durrell, Henry Miller, Anäis Nin and the beat generation poet Allen Ginsberg. Whitman had originally called his place Le Mistral but later, at Sylvia Beach’s death in 1962, changed it to Shakespeare & Co. in her honour.

The experience has lasted for 57 years now, and the only change in Shakespeare & Co. has been the acquisition of adjacent space to make room for the ever-growing towers of old and new books. In the words of George Whitman who is 94 today: “Over the years I have combined three shops and three apartments into a store that Henry Miller had called ‘a wonderland of books’.”

This writer had discovered Shakespeare & Co. 35 years ago when he rented a small room facing the Panthéon, hardly a five-minute walk from the bookshop. What better prospect for a dreamy young fellow with no urgent agenda and a lot of time on hand but to squat somewhere in this fortuitous wonderland and spend the whole day reading all he could? That’s what he did for months to come.

When it rained, and it did rain all the time, the early 17th century roofing of what once used to be a monastery would leak, and George Whitman’s strategically placed teacups and bowls on the floor, in the corners and on the shelves, would patiently gather the drip from the ceiling offering not an unpleasant, soothing music to the ears of the forlorn bookworms that we all were.

George’s private residence upstairs never was, and still isn’t today, entirely literally private. When you had successfully negotiated the labyrinth of bookshelves, you were rewarded with a climb upstairs where more books and often a cup of tea awaited you.

For those with no place to sleep, about a dozen beds were available, as they are today, among rows and rows and the sweet redolence of books. Guests, 40,000 in these past 57 years according to George’s estimate, never complained when they were told the price: you make your bed in the morning, help out in the shop and read a book a day from a wide choice of more than 100,000 tomes in the collection!

“Looking back at half a century as a bookseller in Paris it all seems like a never-ending play by Shakespeare where the Romeos and Juliets are forever young…” says George Whitman.

For the past three years, Shakespeare & Co. is also organising an annual literary festival in Paris. This year’s is to be held under the theme ‘Real lives: exploring memoir & biography’ from June 12 to 15 under a marquee to be put up on the square next to the shop. You are most cordially invited to attend if you happen to be in Paris on those dates.

George’s daughter Sylvia Beach Whitman, who was named in honour of the creator of the original Shakespeare & Co. and is the living force behind the festival, says the theme is inspired by the increasing popularity of memoirs and biographies and by the questions these genres never fail to provoke, namely: where is the frontier between fact and fiction, truth and interpretation? How does one construct a perspective without constructing a lie?

Among the well-known writers who are attending this year are the man-and-wife couple from the US, Paul Auster and Siri Hustvedt and former Granta editor Ian Jack.

So near the shop’s 60th year in business (and his own 100th birthday!) George Whitman philosophises: “I may disappear leaving behind no worldly possessions save a few old socks and love letters, my windows overlooking the Notre Dame for all of you to enjoy and my little rag-and-bone shop of the heart whose motto is: be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise!”

The writer is a journalist based in Paris.

Oil and the Arctic

By Gwynne Dyer


WHAT connects oil at $135 a barrel with last month’s discovery of huge cracks in the Ward Hunt ice shelf off Ellesmere Island at the top of Canada’s Arctic archipelago? And what might connect those two things with a new, even Colder War?

The cracks in the ice, further evidence that the ice cover on the Arctic Ocean is melting fast, were discovered by scientists tagging along with a Canadian army snowmobile expedition that was officially called a “sovereignty patrol.” The army was showing the flag because Canada, like the other Arctic countries, suspects that valuable resources will become accessible there once the ice melts. And the most valuable of those resources are oil and gas.

The strongest evidence for accelerated melting is the fact that more and more of the Arctic sea ice is thin “first-year” ice. Only about a metre (three feet) thick, it spreads across the ocean each winter, but tends to melt the following summer.

Melting has taken big bites out of the edge of the much thicker “permanent” ice in most recent summers, and unless some of the “first-year” ice that replaces it lasts through the following winter, then the melting really is speeding up. So everybody is watching to see what happens this summer, explained Dr Jim Maslanik of the University of Colorado — Boulder.

“If we see all the first-year ice melt out again, then probably we will have another record reduction in ice cover,” said Maslanik. “If we see this a couple of years running, that tells us...that we are about twenty or thirty years ahead of where we are supposed to be based on the climate models.”

If we are heading for an Arctic Ocean that is mostly ice-free in the summer, then drilling for gas and oil beneath that ocean can soon begin. Hardly a week goes by without somebody pointing to the US Geological Survey’s report that the Arctic basin contains a quarter of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas. But the event that did most to trigger this new concern about sovereignty was Artur Chilingarov’s publicity stunt last summer.

Chilingarov is a polar explorer of the old school (he was made a Hero of the Soviet Union in the old days for saving an ice-bound ship in Antarctica), but he is now deputy speaker of the Russian Duma (parliament) and Vladimir Putin’s personal “envoy” to the Arctic. Last summer, he took a three-man submarine down to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean precisely at the North Pole, and planted a Russian flag in the seabed.

“The Arctic is Russian. We must prove the North Pole is an extension of the Russian landmass,” he said afterwards, and affected surprise at the fact that other countries with an Arctic coastline saw this as a challenge to their sovereignty. Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, for example, flew to the Arctic the following week, and subsequently announced that Canada would build six to eight new “ice-strengthened” warships for Arctic patrols.

Moscow claims that the Lomonosov Ridge, the subsea mountain range that goes straight across the middle of the Arctic Ocean, is an extension of the Russian territorial shelf, and therefore belongs to Russia all the way to the North Pole. Alternatively, if the Law of the Sea tribunal does not ultimately accept that claim, Moscow may have an even broader claim in reserve.

In the early 20th century seven countries laid claim to parts of Antarctica on the basis of “sectors”: pie-shaped slices running along lines of longitude (which converge at the poles). The width of those slices depended on where the various claimants owned territories near Antarctica, mostly islands in the Southern Ocean. Those claims are dormant because of a subsequent treaty banning economic development in Antarctica, but the precedent has not been forgotten.

By that precedent, Russia could lay claim to about half the Arctic Ocean on the basis of lines of longitude running from the far eastern and western ends of the country up to the North Pole — and in 1924 the old Soviet Union did precisely that.

Nobody else accepted that claim then, and they wouldn’t now if Russia raised it again. But Russia has the big Arctic ports and the nuclear-powered ice-breakers to make its claim stick, and nobody else does.

That is where the current panic comes from. It probably won’t end up in a new Cold War, but it has certainly got the hens in the chicken coop all stirred up.

As is often the case with hens, they are over-reacting. Russia is in a more assertive mood than it was a decade ago, but there are no signs that it intends to pursue its claims by force. Moreover, there is no serious basis for the claim that a quarter of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas reserves lie under the Arctic Ocean.

It always seemed implausible, given that the Arctic Ocean only accounts for slightly less than three per cent of the Earth’s surface, but in fact the US Geological Survey never said anything of the sort. Neither has any other authoritative source, yet this factoid has gained such currency that it even influences government policy. Isn’t it interesting how readily people will believe something when they really want to?

—Copyright Gwynne Dyer

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