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DAWN - Opinion; March 30, 2003

March 30, 2003


What led to his downfall

By Anwar Syed

IF General Musharraf sent Nawaz Sharif away to get rid of him and his politics, he has succeeded only partially. Sitting in Jeddah, Mr Sharif still directs his faction of the PML to some degree. Those who still stand under his banner in PML-N keep contact with him through visits, telephone, and e-mail. He appointed Javed Hashmi as his party’s acting president. Proceedings of the PML convention on May 28, 2001, that re-elected him as president for another 3-year term, were relayed to him on mobile phone.

A few weeks before the last general elections, he patched up his differences with Benazir Bhutto. They conferred on the telephone and regretted the victimization they had visited upon each other when in power. According to some reports, Benazir took him in as a “real” brother, and he adopted her as a sister. Later, Nawaz Sharif withdrew his own candidacy in the elections, ostensibly, as a gesture of solidarity with the PPP. He has had some impact on the awarding of his party’s tickets to candidates who wished to contest the elections as its nominees. More recently, he has been making statements on issues of public policy, including Pakistan’s stance with regard to the American war against Iraq.

Mr Sharif’s present role may give him the good feeling that he retains a measure of political efficacy. But that may be more of an illusion than a reality. Those who have turned away from him may have reasoned that the “show” must go on, and that Mr Sharif’s absence from the country for an indefinite period of time has made him irrelevant to their goals. They may have calculated also that in view of our military establishment’s hostility toward him, their continued attachment to him would be both dysfunctional and hazardous.

Those who have decided to stick with Nawaz Sharif may have been moved by their traditional notions of friendship and loyalty, or by the feeling that he had done well as a leader and as a ruler. Let us take a quick look at his record. At a first glance, he would seem to be a reasonably well-educated man: matriculated from St. Anthony’s in Lahore, a decent missionary school, graduated from the celebrated Government College in the same town, and then got a degree from the Punjab University Law College. Unless he passed all his examinations in the third “division,” he should have come out as a pretty smart fellow. But this is a moot point and we shall come back to it later. He has had extended experience in government and politics. General Ghulam Jilani, governor of Punjab at the time, “borrowed” him from the Sharif family and installed him as the provincial finance minister in 1981. In that role he is said to have substantially increased the allocation of funds for rural development. He served as chief minister of Punjab for more than five years, beginning April 9, 1985. He is remembered especially for having beautified Lahore — built parks, roads, bridges, and monuments — and undertaken a massive uplifting of Murree.

During his tenures as prime minister (November 1990 to April 1993; April 1997 to October 1999), his government initiated the Lahore-Rawalpindi motorway, Ghazi Barotha, and Gwadar mini-port projects, and distributed some land to the landless peasants in Sindh. He tried to improve Pakistan’s relations with India and, to that end, he entertained Prime Minister Vajpayee in Lahore, ordered the withdrawal of the “mujahideen” from Indian-occupied Kashmir and that of Pakistani forces from Kargil (partly under American pressure). He cannot be said to have done anything spectacular in the economic domain, for, according to most economists, the economy remained depressed throughout his and Benazir Bhutto’s rule.

The catalogue of negatives can be much longer but, instead of listing everything that went wrong, let us focus on one of his passions that did serious damage to our political system and brought about his own downfall. We need not even dwell on the corruption that pervaded his government, for that is quite well known.

Mr Sharif would seem to have been possessed of a lust for power that recognized no bounds which considerations of proportion, balance, appropriateness, and decency might have suggested. As chief minister of Punjab, he mounted a revolt against Benazir Bhutto’s government at the centre and, with some help from President Ghulam Ishaq, repudiated her writ.

In his second term as prime minister, after the PML’s huge victory in the 1993 elections would seem to have gone to his head, he decided that his power and rule must be absolute, and that there must not be any countervailing centres of power in our system of governance. He pushed through a constitutional amendment that took away the president’s authority to dissolve the National Assembly and, thus, dismiss a prime minister. Another amendment provided that any assembly member who spoke or voted contrary to his parliamentary party’s directives would lose his seat in the legislature. This was intended to make all PML legislators do his will.

He pushed President Farooq Leghari to give up his post in December 1997, and in October 1998 he forced General Jehangir Karamat, the army chief, who had proposed an institutionalized role for the military in government decision-making, to step down. Sajjad Ali Shah, the chief Justice of Pakistan, insisted on acting independently of Mr Sharif’s wishes. A bunch of PML musclemen assaulted his court; Punjabi judges of the Supreme Court were persuaded to constitute themselves as a bench and annul the appointment of their chief; the government decertified his appointment; and the Chief Justice was sent home. Mr Sharif denounced the Senate as a law-making body because it would not go along with his move to make the Shariat the supreme law of the land (proposed 15th amendment).

Reacting to the killings in Karachi, Mr Sharif dismissed the elected government in Sindh, imposed governor’s rule, and set up military courts. It should be noted that he was also the one to have established the anti-terrorist courts, one of which, ironically enough, was to sentence him to life imprisonment a bit later in the day. In January 1999 Mr Sharif’s agents asked the Jang group of newspapers to dismiss sixteen of the journalists on its payroll, and stop criticizing the “first” family. When Mr Shakilur Rahman, the proprietor, resisted these demands, he was accused of “sedition,” his group’s access to newsprint was stopped, and its bank accounts were frozen.

Mr Sharif developed differences on policy and operations with General Pervez Musharraf, whom he had appointed to succeed General Karamat on October 7, 1998, after bypassing two more senior officers, namely, Lt. General Ali Quli Khan and Lt. General Khalid Nawaz. Almost exactly a year later, he sought to dismiss General Musharraf while he was away in Colombo, and tried to prevent the PIA plane, that was bringing him (and about 200 others) home, from landing at Karachi even after being told that it was short of fuel. The army did not take kindly to these moves and overthrew Mr Sharif.

Most political observers would regard Mr Sharif’s inclinations and actions, mentioned above, as having been wrong-headed. It is puzzling why any intelligent person would then endorse his political plans or ambitions. Yet, quite a few of our citizens do still approve of him. On the other hand, it is apparent also that his support base in the country has shrunk very substantially. Let us look at his PML faction’s recent electoral performance. (The following figures are the ones initially announced and may have changed slightly since then.)

Of the 342 seats in the National Assembly, including all categories, Mr Sharif’s faction (PML-N) ended up with 16 contrasted with PML-Q’s 122. Their respective winnings in the provincial assemblies (excluding the seats reserved for women and minorities) appear to have been as follows: Punjab: N: 46, Q: 117; Sindh: N: 2, Q: 12; NWFP: N: 5, Q: 8; Balochistan: N: 0; Q: 13. Had there been no electoral rigging at all, it is conceivable that PML (N) would have won twice — or let us say even three times — as many seats as it did in the rigged election. That would have given it 32 (and in the most optimistic third circumstance 48) seats in the National Assembly.

Thirty-two, or even 48, seats in a house of 342 following a free and fair election could, by no means, have been reassuring to Mr Sharif regarding his political standing in the country. If he is still away when the next elections come along, his faction may shrink even further, and he himself may have to enter the ranks of Asghar Khan, Imran Khan, and Tahir-ul-Qadri (no offence to these gentlemen intended). Why does he then continue to be an actor in Pakistani politics? Is he expecting that the old days will return, that his associates and supporters will swing back to him, once Musharraf goes away and he is able to return? If so, he is not being entirely realistic.

A few of the factors likely to work against him may be noted. Notwithstanding his formal education, those who have worked with him, including close associates, do not think of him as a bright man. Some combination of circumstances, notably his family’s wealth, put him on top and folks gathered around him. Second, a lot may have changed by the time he returns — political terrain, players, issues, groupings and alliances — and he may not be accepted as one of the captains in this new ball game. Third, the family may simply not have the money to throw into politics that it used to have. All things considered, it may not be a bad idea for Mr Sharif to release his followers from their perceived obligation to him. It may work out to the greater advantage of our political system and all others concerned.

The writer is professor emeritus of political science at Massachusetts University, Amherst, US.

E-mail: syed

The murder of Pundits

By Kunwar Idris

SPECULATION abounds on who murdered the Pundits of Nadimarg on Sunday night a week ago and, inevitably, charges are also being traded between India and Pakistan.

Who could have committed this foulest of deeds in lining up 11 men, 11 women and two children in the village square at dead of night to gun them all down? Were they the freedom fighters, the militants backed by Pakistan, the Indians themselves or some other elements unknown to all three?

The Hurriyat Conference demonstrated its grief and anger on the murders by a total shut-down in Srinagar and elsewhere in the valley. Pakistan was prompt and forceful in condemning it, yet India’s home minister, L.K. Advani, blamed Pakistan as he routinely does for every act of terrorism not just in Kashmir but anywhere in India. Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri’s denial and suggestion for a neutral inquiry is unlikely to be heeded. The militant among the Mujahideen, Syed Salahuddin being one, have accused India of staging the gory drama as routinely as Advani accuses Pakistan.

The prejudices and preconceived notions have prevented the discovery of truth in all crime committed in the decade-long insurgency in Kashmir. So will it be this time. While the contending parties — India, Pakistan and Hurriyat — protest or play politics, the culprits escape unidentified, unsuspected, uncaught and unpunished — only to strike again.

India concedes the existence of a widespread and unremitting insurgency in Kashmir despite the presence of half a million troops but militant acts there, it insists, is sponsored only by Pakistan. Pakistan on its part admits extending “moral, political and diplomatic” support to the freedom fighters but denies training or arming them. It also denies sending its own warriors but concedes that the government is unable to seal the Line of Control, running through a long and rugged terrain, to stop the crossing volunteers or mercenaries.

The Hurriyat Conference claims to be the sole and true spokesman of the freedom fighters but claims its struggle is defiant but peaceful; the incidents of violence are but a reaction to oppression.

The three parties know, as does the world at large, that their contentions represent their political positions but not the whole truth. One need not go into the extent of deviation from the truth in the stand of each party, for that would reflect national bias and yet lead no where as it has not in 55 years. However, the one point on which all three should try to agree, despite their mutual deep-seated mistrust, is that the Nadimarg kind of tragedy helps the cause of none but blemishes all.

Killing of Pundits would not bring India to the negotiating table, which is all that Pakistan wants at the moment, nor will blaming Pakistan routinely for all acts of violence there bring an end to the insurgency in held Kashmir. India would not kill the Pundits who are revered and not opposed to its rule only to discredit Pakistan. It is an atrocity beyond the limits even of a despaired occupation force. Hurriyat, undoubtedly, loses public sympathy with every innocent death and would not perpetrate it.

Pakistan has asked for an independent inquiry and has all along been pleading for UN surveillance of the LoC because its support to the insurgency in Kashmir and the humiliation it imposes on India has cast it in the image of a terrorist state.

But neither an independent inquiry nor a UN force would help remedy the situation to Pakistan’s advantage. So long as the dispute festers and insurgency lasts and Pakistan supports it, it will remain a suspect more than India or the Mujahideen of the Hurriyat for any crime committed in Kashmir. So it is with the murder of the Pundits. The reaction of some world leaders to the Nadimarg carnage bears it out. More relevant and important is Colin Powell’s assurance to Yashwant Sinha, India’s foreign minister, that he would speak to Pakistan leaders again about the cross-border activity.

In the war of accusations arising out of Kashmir’s human tragedy Pakistan thus is the biggest loser, freedom fighters come next and the advantage is all India’s. The consequences of living on the edge of terrorism and under its shadow, the emerging events and alliances suggest, would soon get more serious for Pakistan. President Musharraf seems to have sensed the urgency of it when he said that not India, not Pakistan but some unnamed forces, which want the two neighbours to remain at loggerheads, had instigated the Nadimarg massacre.

Pakistan now needs to give a new direction to its policy on Kashmir and its relations with India. In the 55 years of smouldering dispute, often erupting in hostilities, the people’s right of self-determination has been losing both validity and world sympathy. It has come to a stage where India is willing not even to talk when at one time it was too happy to accept a referendum or international mediation on Kashmir under the relevant UN resolutions.

Every effort made to enforce self-determination, ranging from Operation Gibraltar of 1965 to Simla accord of 1972, has made India more stubborn in denying this right to Kashmiris. The belligerency generated at Agra in 2000 has extinguished all hope even of an equitable settlement.

For the plebiscite envisaged in the early years of the dispute, the state was treated as a whole and the choice was restricted to accession either to India or to Pakistan. Since then the state has split into many parts, the complexion of the population has changed, insurgency is confined to the valley and the option of independence has come to the fore. The prospect of a new independent state emerging out of a plebiscite on the eastern and northern borders of Pakistan with Azad Kashmir and Gilgit as its parts may be remote but would be nightmarish because our politicians and generals alike believe that Kashmir is Pakistan’s jugular vein.

Once a principled stand, now little more than rhetoric, that Pakistan will never compromise on the right of self-determination or that there can be no peace in the region without it, thus, need not now form the main plank of Pakistan’s policy in seeking a peaceful and constructive relationship with India. The current trends and impending dangers advise against it. India’s defence pact with Iran and its growing influence in Afghanistan should awaken us to the reality of national interests taking precedence over common faith.

This shift in policy should in no manner compel the people of Kashmir to choose and pursue whatever course they consider best for the vindication of their fundamental rights and political status. Pakistan’s support over the last 55 years has given them no solace, won them no rights.

For two generations now the people of Kashmir have lived in despondency and terror. The 12 years of revolt have brought them death and more privations but the goal of freedom has been receding ever farther. Every morning one has to contend with tears on the sight of the splendid-looking Kashmiri women wailing for their dead sons or husbands.

It is not a question of who is killing whom but one of saving all the people of Kashmir from brutality. The Pundits are children of no lesser god that two hundred thousand of them should be driven out of their homes and the remaining few should be left to die a gruesome death.

America’s cost of Iraq war

IN the not-so-distant past, Defence Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld described the costs of war in Iraq as “not knowable.”

A few weeks ago White House spokesman Ari Fleischer agreed that “it is too soon to say with precision how much this war will cost.”

Earlier this month the president himself refused to discuss the costs of the war, while calling the benefits “immeasurable — how do you measure the benefit of freedom in Iraq?” Nevertheless, Monday — just five days into a war whose length, shape and final outcome remain unknowable — the administration managed to produce an admirably precise figure: $74.7 billion.

Two things are interesting about this number. One is the timing of its appearance. Why was this precise figure, unknowable last week, magically produced this week? Last week the House and the Senate were debating the latest tax cuts the administration has proposed; the House voted to lock them in, and the Senate is on the verge of doing so, both acting on a fictitious spending figure that took no account of the war.

Now that key votes on the tax package are behind it, the administration apparently feels it is safe to start telling Congress and the American people what the real size of this year’s budget may be. For there should be no misinterpretation: This “supplemental” package is not the same as the amendment the Senate passed last week (which could still be overturned) to limit the $726 billion tax cut by $100 billion to pay for the war.

This $74.7 billion is additional spending, which the administration does not intend to offset through budget cuts, caps on the tax cuts or anything else. No one is being asked to tighten his belt to pay for this war: Instead the spending will enlarge the deficit for this fiscal year, next fiscal year and well into the future.

The second interesting thing about this number is its size. It seems that this money is meant to cover only the war’s first 30 days, not subsequent fighting or occupation. It includes only $500 million for humanitarian aid and $1.7 billion to rebuild Iraq. These sound like high numbers, but they are far lower than what will be needed.

At the same time, the $74.7 billion figure appears to include funding for other projects that are more distantly related to the war, such as assistance for Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Afghanistan, as well as $500 million for the FBI and extra funding for the Coast Guard.

In other words, the administration — under cover of warfare — appears to be using this wartime “supplemental” to tack a few more big items onto this year’s budget, which is already spiralling into deficit. This bodes ill not only for the size of the debt but also for the budget process itself. If Congress is to conduct a meaningful debate about government spending, all the real figures have to be on the table, at the time members vote on them. — The Washington Post

Consequences of the Iraq war

By M.P Bhandara

The sands of an expiring epoch are fast running out; and the hour glass of destiny is once again turned on its base.

— Lord Curzon

IT IS a strange war. The victor is destined to be the loser; the defeated are likely to bask in the halo of victory. How do we explain this paradox?

The Iraq war was unleashed on the premise that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD). But what if these alleged weapons are never used or discovered by the Anglo-American invaders? What if Saddam’s secret weapon is urban guerilla fighting? It makes good strategy from his point of view to hit the enemy’s Achilles heel. Bleed him. Drag the war for 50 days instead of the promised five. The allied forces were said to number a quarter million on Day One of the war; this number is likely to double before the 50th day of this war. Brutally translated, it means a stream of body bags going home.

The British and American soldiers are fighting a highly unpopular colonial war. The roaring protest of millions in the 300 big cities of the world will have a decibel count higher than the ‘daisy cutters of America’. The Iraqi with his back to the wall is fighting for his life, for his little patch of desert in which he has dwelled from time immemorial. The sympathies of the world are with him. All shades of Vietnam, deja vu.

If no WMD is found, Bush and Blair will some day — yes some day — be arraigned for waging war on presumptive or speculative grounds. This is a war of pure aggression, 19th-century colonial style. The redoubtable Mr. Hans Blix, (the chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq), will be the star witness in the court of international crimes. Mr. Milosovic (charged with ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Bosnia) might have company in the Hague.

In a strange twist of fate, Saddam Hussein, an Arab Hitler who mustard-gassed to death over 3,000 men, women and children in the Kurdish village of Halabja on March 16, 1988, to mention only one of his very many atrocities, an unrelenting aggressor, whose war on Iran, aided and abetted by the US, devastated both countries; whose invasion of Kuwait was yet another piece of blatant aggression, which ended in Iraq losing its sovereignty of its own skies in the Kurdish north and the Shia south; and yet this man — mass murderer and warmonger — is destined to end his career as the defender of the holy land of Iraq; a brave soldier - nay a hero to his people and many in the world — defending the salt of his earth against the mightiest military force of humankind today. The only caveat to this misbegotten fame is that he will not use chemical or biological weapons he is assumed to have.

And Mr. Bush Jr. — the red neck of Texas — who will be long remembered for fanning the so-called “civilizational conflict,” has introduced a new political category: democratic fascism.

In a quieter season, America will have to self-analyze how and why it went so wrong. To fight the wrong war for a spurious reason. A war that has reduced ‘western morality’ to its nadir. This inquiry we leave to the Americans and wish them good luck. Indeed, is there any difference between Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the current assault on Iraq? Like Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939, it is not the invasion that will be remembered but its consequences that we will all rue.

What will this war do to the world? Some good, some bad. It seems likely that the world power structure is likely to move from unipolarity to multipolarity. France and Germany form the core of the European Union (EU) with an economy that matches the ten-trillion-dollar economy of the US, but not its muscle power. The Iraq war has alienated the French, the Germans and most other “old Europeans”, who the Americans hold nowadays in undisguised contempt.

The Iraq war has loosened the sinews of the post-World War II alignments of power. True, the balance of power was profoundly shaken in 1991 with the demise of the Soviet Union and the subsequent emergence of the US as a ‘hyper power’. To understand what a ‘hyper power’ is to know that the US expenditure on arms and warfare research is about equal to that of the 15 most powerful states of the world today combined.

Ever since modern times there has been a balance of power in the world. Since the 15th century this balance has swung between Spain, Austria, the Ottoman Empire, England, France, Germany and Russia. And in the 20th century, the US and Japan were added to this paradigm. Post-WWII the power blocs were centred round Nato and the Warsaw Pact countries; but in the last 15 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall there has been none. Only one ‘hyper power’ dominates the stage. We are at the threshold of a reshuffling of the cards. We can see the emergence of triple polarities in the coming decade: the US, UK and Japan confronting France, Germany and Russia, with China as the third leg of this tripod. The rest of the world will have to pigeon-hole itself as before in one or the other corner.

Apart from the explosive power of change let loose by the emergence of a new global situation, the Iraq war is likely to alienate Turkey. Turkey the historic odd man out in Europe, is now likely to be the odd man out with the US. This may have consequences for Palestine and the Arabs, as we shall presently see.

The US envisages a federated Iraq after Saddam’s overthrow with Iraqi Kurdistan as one of three federating units and the Shia south and the Sunni middle being the two other parts. In practical terms, this exercise in ‘democracy’ means that Iraq will virtually cease to exist as a unified state and Kurdistan with its oil-rich lands will emerge as another Kuwait.

The de facto emergence of Kurdistan is anathema to Turkey and Iran. The Kurds in southern Turkey and Iran will gravitate to the pull of such an entity. Kurds, who are Sunni Muslims, have never been comfortable in the Iraqi state ever since its founding in 1920-22. They are as distinct and homogeneous an ethnic group as are the Palestinians, living in the mountain diaspora where Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria meet. They were promised a state of their own after World War I.

I believe the emergence of a de facto Kurdistan in north Iraq is one of the war aims of the US. Kurdistan sits on the third or fourth largest oil reservoir in the world. Turkey has sent troops into north Iraq and the Americans have followed suit: two Nato powers in virtual confrontation! A Kurdish state will shake the Middle East equation in more profound ways than Palestine. If Kurdistan goes its own way in a federated state, so will the Shia Marsh Arabs of the south who also sit on oil and at the gateway to its shipment.

To avoid facing two fronts in the Muslim world, Bush will be compelled to find a solution to the Palestine problem — from where it was left by the Clinton administration in January 2001. The basic outlines of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement have been clear for long. In the aftermath of Iraq the US is likely to force a settlement overriding the residual objections of Israel and the Palestine.

And how does the emerging constellation of forces affect us? On one issue there is no difference of opinion between the hyper power and the emerging superpowers — that they will all side with India on the issue of alleged Pakistan acquiescence in terrorism in Kashmir.

On terrorism export, we assume a Saddam-like posture that the state is in no way involved and the world should take our word for it. Sorry, says the world, it will not. Pakistan’s word is not of 22-carat quality. If we really wish to be free of the stigma of terrorism, we may consider requesting the secretary-general of the UN to send Dr. Hans Blix — currently unemployed along with his team — or some such eminence to Kashmir to check out the “twenty-two” terror training camps that the Indians allege exist in Azad Kashmir and Pakistan.

If we are really serious about finding some solution to this intractable problem, we have to come clean with world opinion. We will have to confront our jihadists some day, better now than never. The jihadist mentality was tried once before in East Pakistan with disastrous results.

The writer is a member of the National Assembly. E-mail:

A less-mighty mouse mind

WELL, they’ve finally done it. Scientists at world-renowned Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions have invented a forgetful mouse. Now if only the humans could remember why they did that.

What these well-educated people did was manipulate a gene to prevent a certain molecular event from occurring in a mouse’s brain cells required for storing spatial memory. As everyone watched, the tiny rodent, whose pals quickly learned and remembered precisely how to exit a pool of water, seemed befuddled.

Talk about abuse. Little guy spends a life getting good at mazes in a laboratory with bright lights, just hoping for a few crumbs of cheese, maybe a little positive reinforcement. Large creatures in white coats fool his brain so he stands, lost and alone, in a puddle of water right next to a dry platform crowded with long-tailed cousins with functioning memories. The pestilential humiliation of it all.

This resembles a pilot for reality TV. Prize-seeking participants lose their memories and minds before rollicking audiences with genetically altered senses of humour. There is science behind this laboratory tomfoolery. — Los Angeles Times