North Korea’s N-test
BY carrying out an underground nuclear test on Monday, North Korea has crashed into the exclusive nuclear club comprising the five permanent members of the Security Council, besides the three unrecognised, de facto nuclear powers — Pakistan, India and Israel. Conducted in defiance of the Security Council’s appeal, the test effectively seals the fate of the six-party talks which Beijing had been hosting, creates new tensions in the Korean peninsula and increases the danger of nuclear proliferation. The test has been condemned in strong terms not only by the US, Japan and South Korea but also by North Korea’s close ally, China, which calls it “brazen”. However, Mr Kim Jong-Il’s decision to go nuclear should come as no surprise, since he had been moving in that direction gradually, with his government announcing last week that it intended to test a nuclear device. In 2003, he had his country pull out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty after the US accused it of pursuing a secret nuclear weapons programme, and for a year the Pyongyang regime has refused to attend the six-party talks whose aim is to find a peaceful solution to the problem.
Unlike the nuclear tests by Pakistan and India, which were carried out within South Asia’s power equation, the North Korean test is likely to have wider repercussions, especially for two of America’s major allies in the Far East — South Korea and Japan. The occasion gives America an opportunity it has long been looking for — to convey a message to Iran, whose nuclear programme has been an anathema to Washington. The Security Council, which had not yet met while these lines were being written, imposed relatively soft sanctions on North Korea in July following several missile tests by Pyongyang. This time, prodded by America, the UN council could take harsher measures. The major question, however, is: of what benefit is this test to North Korea?
Pyongyang might have thought that the time for a nuclear test was ripe because of the disarray in which the Bush administration finds itself today. The American troops are hopelessly bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Bush’s popularity rating was never lower, and the Mark Foley sex scandal has come as a blow to the Republican Party at a time when the mid-term congressional elections are round the corner. Still, the test does not advance North Korea’s strategic interests, nor does it hide the poverty under which the North Korean people have been groaning long after the Cold War has come to an end and the world has moved into a new era. While the official North Korean news agency called the test “a stirring time” in which the people are making “a great leap forward in building a great, prosperous powerful socialist nation,” the truth is that the country cannot produce enough food to feed its 23 million people. Its government-controlled agricultural system collapsed in the mid-nineties, and since then it has relied on China for food.
Pakistan must, of course, brace itself for a new wave of accusations from unfriendly sections of the western media, which would try to find a Pakistani or A.Q. Khan link to the North Korean test. The Pyongyang test, nevertheless, highlights the dangers of nuclear proliferation. The behaviour of the western powers, America especially, is not above board, because they themselves have contributed to nuclear proliferation by aiding Israel in its clandestine nuclear project.
Tackling drug addiction
THE precise number of drug addicts in Pakistan is hard to ascertain. Surveys are difficult in towns and cities and more so in remote areas. Given the taboo and criminality attached to substance abuse, not all addicts are willing to own up to their habit, resulting in flawed data. Also, contrary to the popular image of addicts on the pavement, drug use occurs largely behind closed doors and cuts across socio-economic lines. Then there is the wilful distortion of figures, sometimes inflated by organisations seeking funding for narcotics-control programmes and, in the past, downplayed by regimes quick to deny ‘moral’ blemishes in the image of a conservative society.
Keeping these grey areas in mind, the number of chronic drug abusers in the country is estimated at between three and five million, of which roughly half are said to be heroin addicts. Even at the low end these are shocking statistics, made all the more alarming by the fact that more and more addicts are now injecting heroin and other addictive substances — a practice that carries serious health hazards. It is encouraging that ground realities are being acknowledged in official quarters. On Wednesday, a Senate committee on narcotics control urged the government to set up additional drug rehabilitation centres and upgrade existing facilities. According to the committee, there are just 75 government and private-sector rehabilitation clinics in the country for an addict population of 3.4 million. Emphasis was also placed on vocational training so that addicts can become productive members of society once they are cured of their affliction. Rehabilitation is known to fail when former addicts return to the same environment that had bred addiction in the first place. Since the drug demand-reduction strategy can work only in the long term, the immediate priority must be to check the easy availability of narcotics. Here too the task is complex. While honest policing can contain supply, experience has shown that the drugs trade and turbulence go hand in hand. Without peace and stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas, the drug trade will continue to flourish.
Principal’s arbitrary orders
THE new principal of the Government Postgraduate Girls’ College in Kohat should be reminded that she does not have the authority to order her students to wear the scarf or veil. In passing this order, she has ignored the fact that no other college in the Kohat district has introduced any such compulsory practice. She has also warned that disciplinary action will be taken against those who violate her orders. This is strange for it shows that the principal is adamant on imposing what she believes to be the ‘correct’ thing to do. Her reason for imposing such an order is that she believes that the college’s non-faculty staff — like gardeners, watchmen and peons — roam around the premise freely and that students should cover their heads and faces in their presence. This warped logic is somewhat typical of the antediluvian mindset which believes that women should veil themselves simply to avoid being seen by men. Nor is any importance given to a person’s right of choice.
If a group of students had lodged a harassment complaint against male staff members, the principal should have done the sensible thing and addressed the staff and ensured that those who did not conduct themselves in a responsible manner were reprimanded. Sexual harassment of any kind should not be tolerated. However, if no such complaint was made by anyone, what was then the basis of the principal’s arbitrary action? Education authorities would do well to look into the matter and decide on the appropriateness of the principal’s action. Public morality is not an issue to be enforced through arbitrary edicts but is better left to individuals to act according to the norms and values they believe in and practise.
Musharraf’s version of events
GENERAL Musharraf is not the first Pakistani military ruler to publish an autobiography. Ayub Khan was the first. The two books, In the line of Fire, 2006, and Friends Not Masters, 1967, have many parallels. First, both are “spoken books”. Ayub Khan says this in the preface. General Musharraf gives the name of the man who recorded his: Brigadier Asim Bajwa.
Ayub’s memoirs are associated with the name of Altaf Gauhar (said to be the ghost-writer) and, ironically enough, Musharraf’s are associated with Altaf Gauhar’s son, Humayun Gauhar, who is said to be one of the editors. Both the authors wrote their books as sitting presidents and display very similar perceptions about matters of state interest.
They begin with their family life which, in both cases, is not elitist. Family values regarding hard work, respect for achievement and similar principles associated with the middle class inspired the two figures. Both joined the army and did extremely well, rising to the top of their profession. Ayub and Musharraf show contempt for civilian supremacy and the kind of discipline democracies impose on the high command of the army. Ayub expresses this as contempt for politicians; Musharraf through his notion of the army’s ‘honour’, the attempted violation (dismissal of the army chief) of which led it to seek revenge.
Both Ayub and Musharraf give an account of the coups d’etat that brought them to power. Ayub presents his diary of 1958 which has nothing more serious than rumours. However, for Ayub this is a crisis in which he has certain “responsibilities”. He glosses over the fact that Iskander Mirza, the great plotter, would lose power in the coming election and that his constitutional duty was not to support the plotter. Instead, he justifies martial law. Without much of an apology, he then removes Mirza. Democracy, such as it was, is killed in Pakistan.
In Musharraf’s case there is a prime minister who feels powerful because he has forced the resignation of an army chief. In democratic countries this would be routine stuff. Civilian chief executives, presidents and prime ministers, can and sometimes do remove army chiefs. In Pakistan, the army considers this an insult to the institution itself. Thus Musharraf says he told the army that “We would not allow another humiliation to befall us in case the prime minister tried something like this again, but we would never only react, never act unilaterally” (p. 86).
However, in democratic countries where civilian supremacy is taken as the norm, the army does not feel insulted when its chief is removed. Chief executives do make mistakes. They do remove functionaries of the state for the wrong reasons or for no reason at all. But all that those functionaries can do is to challenge the wrong done to them in a court of law or a services tribunal. They cannot think of removing their civilian rulers. In Pakistan, the high command of the army thinks differently.
This becomes clear in General Musharraf’s memoirs. It also becomes clear that Nawaz Sharif acted with singular stupidity and callousness when he delayed the landing of the aircraft carrying the army chief, but this was the act of a man in tremendous fear of the army. In a country without this kind of a history of military intervention, the chief executive would have been confident enough to dismiss his army chief at any time and without resorting to such desperate measures.
If one starts with Ayub Khan and reads every memoir by every general or air marshal, this trend becomes perfectly clear. On whatever else senior military figures differ, they agree on seeing the military as distinct from the civilian government. Their world view is not that they are employees of the state with the compulsion to carry out orders given by a civilian chief executive however wrong these orders may at times be. They believe they know what is best for the state and that the civilian chief executive is to be judged by them.
To begin with, General Gracey refused to obey the Quaid when he was ordered to move the army into Kashmir (though in his case Gracey merely threatened to resign and to force the resignations of the British officers and not to dismiss the government). Ayub refused to obey Mirza and forced him into exile. General Gul Hasan refused to obey Bhutto when he ordered him to move the army against the striking police.
On the other hand, when a general orders the army it obeys with perfect discipline as in the case of the military action in Dhaka in March 1971, Ziaul Haq’s actions against the MRD in Sindh and the more recent military action in Balochistan and the tribal areas. The central issue is distrust of civilian authority which the book makes amply clear.
There are many comments about the Kargil episode. The account given in the book suggests why both General Musharraf and Nawaz Sharif may be right. General Musharraf and the army high command may have briefed the prime minister. However, the language of the briefings might have been as General Musharraf says in the book: “there was no deliberate offensive operation planned, and moving to the unoccupied gaps along the Line of Control was not a violation of any agreement and was well within the purview of the local commander” (p. 96). It is possible that Nawaz Sharif never really understood that armed fighters would penetrate the territory India considered its own. If this interpretation is true it shows Nawaz Sharif as being rather slow in his thinking but saves him from the charge of being a liar.
Two things about the Kargil conflict need to be taken into account. First, the fact that it caused unnecessary bloodshed does not seem to have crossed General Musharraf’s mind. Second, it might have caused an unnecessary war. This fear is dismissed by Musharraf as beyond the realm of possibility. Yet the 1965 war was the result of a similar scenario. In that case, too, Ayub Khan did not seem to have considered that any intrusion across the LoC might invite an attack.
It is a pity that Ayub’s book stops just before the Kashmir war, otherwise we would have had his version, but we do have General Musa’s version, Asghar Khan’s version and Altaf Gauhar’s version — all of them agree that the basic concept was wrong. Kargil is a repetition of this basic pattern. Moreover, Kargil created much anti-Pakistan hatred in India, as dead bodies always do, and this pushed the peace process several years behind. It was General Musharraf who revived this process and he can justly claim credit for it. But he would have been far more credible in his desire for lasting peace if he had dismissed Kargil as a blunder. His defending it is not in the interest of confidence-building.
There are two disturbing trends in the book. First, that General Musharraf trusts the army more than any civilian institution in the country. He does not point out any of the faults of the army, or its intelligence agencies, throughout the book. The military action in Dhaka and the brutality of the army is not touched upon though Bhutto is blamed as if he ordered all this. Ziaul Haq’s imposition of laws which have created the narrow-minded fanatics which are out to kill Musharraf himself is not blamed. The role of the army in creating “strategic depth” in Afghanistan and supporting armed incursions into Indian-held Kashmir are not discussed. Musharraf reversed some of these policies but he does not blame the army or its intelligence agencies at any stage. Ayub also had the same attitude because of which he handed over power to the army chief and not to the civilian apparatus of the state.
Second, General Musharraf thinks that aggressive actions like Kargil can be useful. This is really alarming because aggressive policies on Kashmir, or any other issue, can lead to war. General Musharraf’s own motto in the wake of the 2002 confrontation with India was ‘Pakistan First’. That is true. But that implies that all kinds of military adventurism must be completely eliminated. Praise for Kargil makes one apprehensive that perhaps there is still faith in this kind of adventurism. Many are critical of the book because of its revelation of the doings of Dr A.Q. Khan. I believe that, if true, the world stands to gain by these revelations. However, once again the author is being protective of the military. The point is that if the military allowed heavy material to be flown out of Pakistan on an air force plane then either it knew what was going on; or, even worse, it did not have a foolproof system of ensuring security. In both cases, heads should have rolled along with A.Q. Khan’s. Did that happen? Why is General Musharraf quiet on this issue?
On the whole, the writing is very effective. The short sentences evoke the image of the plain-speaking soldier he wants to convey. The value of such memoirs is that they give the contemporary historian an insight into the world view of the most powerful decision-makers. As such they should be welcomed and if they go against some laws then those laws should be amended to enable more serving officials to write their account of important decisions. Any criticism of General Musharraf for having written the book is irrelevant. One hopes others also write their versions of events they disagree with so that historians have more material to construct their own accounts.
Documents like this stay forever and the only thing we want from them is the truth. The parts which are disputed will have many versions. That, too, is a blessing. Let everybody speak and then the historian might sift the credible from the less credible and we might come close to the truth.