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DAWN - Opinion; March 22, 2002

March 22, 2002

The task before Musharraf

By Sayeed Hasan Khan


RELIGIOUS militancy in this volatile subcontinent has strange parallels that project the contribution of rank opportunists no less than that of the orthodox clerics.

When General Musharraf took over he started projecting a secular and liberal image for himself by praising Ataturk. The orthodox clerics reacted against it and concessions on relaxing the blasphemy law were quietly shelved.

Mr Liaquat Ali Khan, the first prime minister of Pakistan, sponsored the Objectives Resolution under the pressure of the clerics. This happened immediately after the demise of the Quaid-i-Azam, who had laid down secular guidelines in his speech to the Constituent Assembly.

In the following decades there was a conflict between the secularists and the clerics. This conflict made the task of Constitution making difficult particularly since the Bengalis wanted to keep some secular clauses like joint electorates. Under their influence a compromise constitution did come up in 1956. But it was not allowed to work as it was overtaken by the declaration of martial law in 1958. Ayub Khan, though secular, alienated the Bengalis through his misrule and arrogance.

The alienation of the Bengalis and the corruption of Ayub”s regime brought another martial law headed by Yahya Khan who ordered general elections in the country which resulted in the total defeat of fundamentalist parties. But other factors developed which resulted in the 1971 debacle and creation of Bangladesh.

Bhutto became the president of what was left of Pakistan. His People’s Party had won elections mainly in Punjab, on mixed slogans of socialism and Islam. A thousand-year war with India was also a part of his rhetoric.

Balochistan and the Frontier provinces backed the secular parties. It was under their influence that Pakistan got a reasonably secular Constitution. But Bhutto soon started fiddling with it. His end came at the hands of the very obscurantists whom he tried to appease.

Zia took over after deposing Bhutto. He became a major proponent of jihad in Afghanistan. Americans and their allies spurred him to this holy war. Apart from this, Zia, through a rush of ordinances changed the basic laws of the state. Hudood and blasphemy ordinances changed the political culture of the country. Pakistan was on its way of becoming a theocracy.

Both Zia and Bhutto used Islam for political purposes. Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif who came after Zia also exploited Islam for their own benefit. In fact emergence of the Taliban and profusion of the fundamentalist elements were the landmark of their rule. This was the turbulent state of affairs that General Musharraf inherited.

The Indian Congress, which led the independence struggle, produced a secular Constitution, which is still working well. There are constraints on it but the progressive elements in the Indian society are fighting to keep it intact. A couple of years after Nehru’s death, the leadership passed into the hands of Indira Gandhi who carried the mantle well. But the family charisma could not continue forever. She tried to establish the family dynasty and became arrogant and dictatorial. Facing unpopularity in the country she declared emergency. A movement was launched against her which was led by the leading Indian socialist leader Jayaparkash Narain.

The movement was secular but it also gave platform to the Hindu nationalists. A new government led by the rightwing leader Morarji Desai brought some Hindu radical elements into the cabinet. This was to give them a foothold for future takeover of the administration. Desai’s government consisted of moderates as well as extremists. This coalition did not last the whole-term of parliament and Indira Gandhi returned to power in the mid-term elections. The following decade was to be the period of sectarian and communal strife. Indira played the communal game in Punjab and Kashmir, which ultimately resulted in her assassination by her Sikh guard. The massacre of Sikhs followed in which Congress members participated.

Her son Rajiv, who was an airline pilot, succeeded her. There was a paucity of leadership in the Congress of Nehru and Gandhi.

Because of the brutal killing of his mothers Rajiv managed to get emotional support from the masses but he started playing opportunistic politics.

The Supreme Court of India issued a ruling in favour of a destitute divorcee ordering her ex-husband to give her a monthly allowance. This was the famous Shah Bano case, which enraged the Muslim opinion. According to the Muslim leadership, which started the agitation against the judgment a divorcee has no right on her ex-husband’s money or property.

Rajiv played the opportunistic card and amended the Constitution to block the judgment. This was a ploy to win Muslim votes. General opinion all over India was in favour of the judgment. He played another card and opened the gates of (the now demolished) Babri Mosque for the entry of Hindus. His saner predecessors had put a lock on it to keep peace between Hindus and Muslims. Hindus were claiming it as the birthplace of Rama.

In the meantime, BJP, the Hindu nationalist party, was gathering support on its Hindutva policies which resulted in the destruction of Babri Mosque.

In spite of the close parallel between the militants in the two countries, there is an obvious difference in the nature and magnitude of the countervailing forces on the two sides. On one side, there are scholars and parties to resist the thrust of dark forces. On the other side, there is just a silent majority that has lost its nerves through decades of internal harassment by the ruling forces aligning themselves with the fundamentalists. These groups are involved in the target shooting of individuals. Even organizations receiving threats from killer groups can barely protest publicly.

President Musharraf is trying his best to restore sanity in the political culture of the country, but his task will become more difficult if he does not get a favourable response to his peace initiative to India.

Why distort history?


By Akhtar Payami

“I AM chief of army staff, chief martial law administrator and president of Pakistan — in that order.” These were the exact words of Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan who had just landed at Jessore airport flying from Kurmitola cantonment.

The general was talking to a small group of Dhaka journalists who had travelled to Jessore to cover the arrival of the Burmese Muslims and see for themselves their plight. The Muslims were driven out from their land by extremist elements. When Yahya Khan was informed about the professional assignment of the newsmen, he made a meaningful gesture by pointing towards a crowd which had assembled on the fringes of the airport and said in plain Urdu, “Pahle inko Musalman karo” (First make them Muslims).

This brief encounter took place a few months before the infamous crackdown on the Bengali population of East Pakistan on March 25, 1971.

On that occasion, the general had made two significant observations. First he made it known in clear terms what was the real source of his strength. It was not the popular will of the people. He did not derive any inspiration from the democratic norms and principles that are universally recognized all over the world. He was fully aware of the wisdom of the dictum that power always flows from the barrel of a gun.

And secondly, by making a deregatory remark about the Bengali Muslims’ loyalty to religion and sense of patriotism, he was indeed questioning their integrity.

But Yahya Khan was not the first military ruler who had bluntly expressed his contempt for the people of East Pakistan. Many before him including several top bureaucrats had ridiculed them on their way of life. In the early stages, in radio talks, their cultural roots were criticized. The revered poet of Bengal, Rabindranath Tagore, was banned by Radio Pakistan. A section of the Pakistani media also contributed a lot towards disseminating hatred between the Bengali and the non-Bengali segments of society.

The final blow to the unity of Pakistan came on March 25 ,two days after the celebrations of Pakistan Day. But there was really no rejoicing in the eastern wing of the country. What was most surprising was the appearance of hundreds of flags of sovereign and independent Bangladesh. A witch-hunt started on that fateful day. The local population, irrespective of its political creed and affiliation, was targeted. In that chaotic situation, even the ardent supporters of Muslim League were not spared. Several top Muslim League leaders and firm believers in the unity of the country were killed only because they were Bengalis.

It was on March 26 that the radio stations of Dhaka and Chittagong started operating independently. Amazing, however, was the fact that Dhaka radio station did not discontinue its Urdu broadcast even after the March 25 assault. Only the word “Pakistan “ was dropped from the announcement. A free Bengal Revolutionary Radio was set up at Kalurghat where the transmitter of Chittagong was located. This rebel radio made two major announcements formally declaring independence of Bangladesh. One such declaration was made by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman himself on March 26 and the other by Major Ziaur Rahman on March 27. It was the same Ziaur Rahman who later became president of Bangladesh and was subsequently assassinated. (His widow, Begum Khaleda Zia, is now the prime minister of the country).

By that time, the exiled government of Bangladesh had been formed in Kolkata.

The seed of discontent which was sowm much before was allowed to germinate without any let or hinderance. In the early sixties, it was realized that the two parts of the country could not live together on the basis of their present relationship. It was in October 1961 that Rahman Sobhan, a distinguished economist and academician, suggested at a seminar on ‘Greater National Integration ‘ organized by the Council of National Integration in Lahore. He said, “Instead of having two regions perpetually quarrelling over the share of resources, let the economy be split up not just for analysis but functionally into two economies.”

This two-economy theory which was much despised by the leaders of West Pakistan formed the basis for the famous Six Points of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. In fact, when the draft of the Six Points was presented to Mujib, he was overwhelmed by its implications and carried the proposals to Lahore where he was proceeding to attend a meeting of the Opposition leaders.

It would be preposterous to think that a large section of the Bengali population had not reconciled to the idea of Pakistan and from day one it wanted to opt out of it. History records that the Six Points formula and its subsequent amendments always claimed the East Pakistani people’s allegiance to Pakistan. The Point No.1 of the original formula affirmed that the constitution of the country should provide for a federation of Pakistan in its essense on the basis of the Lahore Resolution.” It also suggested that the federal government shall deal with only two subjects viz defence and foreign affairs and all other residuary subjects shall vest in the federating units.

All these facts go to prove that the people and the politicians of the eastern wing were eager to have links with West Pakistan. There was no move for secession. But the unhelpful attitude of the federal government and the short-sighted approach of the political leadership of West Pakistan destroyed all hopes for the survival of a united Pakistan.

The mere fact that the founder of Bangladesh stayed back in Dhaka after March 25 while all the top leadership of the Awami League had crossed over to India explains many things. It would be wrong to assume that Sheikh Mujib was opposed to the unity of Pakistan. He was deeply hurt when his party was denied the right to form the government. But a time came when it became impossible for him to remain the master of the situation and the extremist elements took over.

The military debacle in East Pakistan should be an eye-opener for us. Wrong policies and faulty decisions can cause grievous harm to a just cause.

BJP reluctant to read the message


By Swami Agnivesh and Valson Thampu

THE unmistakable message from Ayodhya is that the government can, if it wants, control the unruly elements who invade our streets and sacred places in blatant disregard for the rule of law. Aydhya 2002 puts Ayodhya 1992 in perspective and robs the then players of the excuse of helplessness in the face of popular fervour.

That not enough was done then to protect the mosque and to honour the undertaking given to the Apex Court is now a glaring reality. This also unmasks the carnage in Gujarat for what it is. The good news from Ayodhya, as from the rest of the country, is that people are fed up with the periodic political belabouring of this non-issue. The people of Faizabad, a district already bursting with some 6000 temples, are utterly indifferent to the mandir issue; a fact that was largely responsible for the climb-down of the VHP.

The feed-back from the rest of the country is no different. Such restlessness as was witnessed in karsevakpuram in Ayodhya was largely due to the realization by the karsevaks that they have been used as pawns in a political game that would honour Ravana, rather than Lord Ram. “Even in 1992,” recalls Nirmala Deshpande, the noted Gandhian who was in Ayodhya when the mosque was destroyed, “one did not hear the so-called Ram-bhakts chanting the praise of Lord Ram. They were, without exception, shouting anti-Muslim slogans all the time.”

The people of Ayodhya have had to put up with the disruptiveness of this communal agenda for too long. It is now increasingly clear to them that the VHP and RJN are doing a Taliban with their life. Prior to the ascent of the Taliban, Kabul was famed as the Paris of the East. In less than a decade, this communal outfit hijacked that beautiful city back to the middle ages.

It is inevitable that communal politics and religious fundamentalism perforce devastate the development of a nation and aggravate the misery of its people. The ring-leaders of religious fundamentalism prosper, but the people lose out heavily in the process. The mandir movement enabled Advani to become the Home Minister of India. It enabled the likes of Singhal and co. to hog the media limelight. Mahant Ramchandra Paramahans was at the centre of the world media attention for a few days.

All these being achieved, shouldn’t the people of Ayodhya pay for it in terms of their economic well-being, freedom of movement and peace of mind? There is no such thing as a free meal. And if the mandir mandarins won’t pay for their political banquet, shouldn’t the people of Ayodhya and the victims of criminal communalism in other parts of the country, foot the bill?

It is incredible that the BJP refuses to read the message from its electoral setbacks one after the other. The voters in various states are rejecting the Parivar brand of communal politics, with its accompaniments of violence, corruption and inefficiency. The UP results, one would have thought, would knock the party out of this wilful self-delusion. That does not seem to have happened. It may well be that Vajpayee and Advani are now helpless before the communal Frankenstein they have devised. Whether it is clear to them or not, there is no room for uncertainty here: the days of communal politics are over. If the BJP refuses to read the writing on the wall, it will expedite its political extinction through an exclusive dependence on the communal card.

Ayodhya must also be a warning to all other political parties; for none of them is above board in respect of communalism. The Indian voter is no longer naive or ill-informed. He is no longer going to be swayed by communal appeals or political gimmicks or ideological loyalties. People today demand improvement in the quality of life. And it is here that the BJP, through its zealous espousing of the cause of globalisation, has hurt itself most. Through the last two budgets the party has betrayed the middle-class and slanted the economy in favour of the economic elite. Given the burden this has imposed on the common man, championing the cause of a thousand temples is not going to wash away the popular frustration with the BJP.

BJP may pat itself on the back and brag of success in de-fusing of the Ayodhya stand-off. But it has a lot of explaining to do as to why the stand-off was allowed to aggravate to this extent in the first place. You cannot bring the life of a whole nation to a stand-still through a bogus crisis, negotiate face-saving terms for yourself, appease the agents of anarchy and then take the credit for preventing bloodshed. In other words, you cannot kill your parents and also claim the benefits for being an orphan.

By any standard of secular governance, the NDA government has disgraced itself and the nation in the way the communal challenge at Ayodhya was handled. Respect for the rule of law required that the VHP be dealt with firmly in the wake of its stated intention to defy the court order, especially on March 14. Mahant Paramahans should have been taken into preventive custody, given his threat to immolate himself or end his life ‘chemically’ (cyanide capsules of LTTE fame?) in view of the holocaust it portended for the entire country in a communally surcharged atmosphere.

By what norm of secular governance can the Centre justify a high official in the PMO receiving a carved pillar from Paramahans, meant for constructing a temple at the disputed site while the case is still sub judice? This utterly objectionable step can have only one interpretation: the one given by the VHP spokesman. It proves, he claims, that the government has accepted that the RJN-VHP combine has the ‘right’ to build a temple at the disputed site.

One does not know if this amounts to contempt of court in a technically legal sense. Surely, it is not far from being a stratagem to slant the disposition of the court in a certain direction. With this the credentials of the Vajpayee government to be an interlocutor between the two contending parties are totally lost.

Ironically, the blame for this sorry state of affairs will be more upon the NDA allies than the BJP itself. The reason for this is simple. The temple has been the sole political plank for the BJP. So it is understandable if that party ventures to take calculated risks on this count. The case is entirely different for the coalition partners, who have been taken for a ride, as is obvious even to themselves.

What the BJP has done in this process is to foul the secular credentials of its NDA partners. This helps in compromising their option to walk out of the government. No matter how much Mamta may demure and Naidu may protest, the fact remains that their secular credentials are in tatters today. Though this is a tactical achievement for the BJP for the time being, none should jump to the peremptory conclusion that the loss of the partners will be an automatic gain for the Big Brother.

Andersen defence fund


I AM starting the Arthur Andersen Defense Fund, to fight the government’s unreasonable and excessive action to indict the company for obstruction of justice.

All Andersen did was shred tons of records that were clogging up their office. I maintain it was not a white-collar crime, but a crime of passion, because I can prove that at that moment, Arthur was in love with Enron.

If Andersen is found guilty, it will have to pay a $500,000 fine and serve a five-year probation — one of the stiffest sentences ever laid on a company.

This is why the indictment is unfair. There is no evidence that Andersen did anything illegal. As a matter of fact, there is no evidence it did anything at all, because everything was shredded.

Why was it shredded? That is a good question.

Andersen’s defenders, and I am one of the most vociferous, say the company only did what Enron wanted them to do, and at that moment it wanted them to cook the books. Having gotten their orders, Andersen subtracted the labor and hired a fleet of shredding-machine trucks.

The question everyone is asking is why wasn’t the shredding company indicted instead of Andersen? They were the ones who turned the records into spaghetti.

An Andersen accountant said, “Actually, the reason we had to shred was that there was a parade through downtown Houston for an Olympic Gold Medal winner and Andersen was short of tickertape to throw out the windows.”

A lawyer for Andersen said, “If the government is going to go after anyone, it should start with the whistleblowers at Enron. They had no business looking at Enron’s books and then going on the ‘Larry King Show.”’

So far the Andersen Defense Fund has not raised as much as we had hoped. This is not a good time to request money for accounting firms. We hoped to get a large contribution from Enron, but they have been nickel-and-diming us.

The reason we need the defense fund is because all the hotshot lawyers have refused to defend Andersen for nothing.

By pursuing Arthur Andersen, the government is determined to put the auditors out of business. The Andersen executives describe the action as the government’s firing a howitzer to kill a mosquito. I know what you are saying. What can you do to help Andersen at this time? First, you can e-mail your congressman and tell him or her not to change our system of auditing.

You can also participate in a “Free Arthur Andersen” parade I’m organizing in Washington using any leftover tickertape from their shredding.

To keep them afloat, take your income tax business from H&R Block and give it to Arthur Andersen.

And finally, take a shredder to lunch.—Dawn/Tribune Media Services