Reaching out to Russia

By Tariq Fatemi

IT was a most appropriate coincidence that on the very day that Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov was visiting Islamabad, the Russian stock exchange was registering one of its most successful performances. In fact, the former superpower that had literally fallen into the dustbin of history and was the victim of an economic meltdown has not only staged a remarkable recovery but is showing growth rates that would be the envy of any country.

It was, however, somewhat disappointing to note from the manner in which Fradkov’s visit was handled that as yet there appears to be a lack of planning and vision in Islamabad’s approach to relations with Moscow.

Not surprisingly, Fradkov’s visit occasioned fresh questions as to why Pakistan and the Soviet Union, though with no history of bilateral dispute or difference, were not able to establish the kind of cordial and cooperative relationship that both were desirous of. This has always intrigued political observers. The strange twists and turns of the Cold War and Pakistan’s alignment with the US in the 1950s and with China from the 1960s onwards, provide only a partial explanation.

In the aftermath of the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union, hopes were raised that the two countries would be able to find common ground and cooperate on issues of mutual concern. However, Pakistan’s deep and insidious involvement in Afghanistan and in particular its support for the Taliban did not allow the kind of relations that would have benefited both countries.

Admittedly, there has been some improvement in relations between Moscow and Islamabad in the past five years. There is now hardly any area of contention between them. Moscow has acknowledged Pakistan’s contribution to fighting the war on terror. It also recognises that Pakistan is a major player in the politics of the region and that it needs to be carried along on important issues that have an impact on the region. This explains its support for Pakistan’s observer status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Wisely, Pakistan has reciprocated by extending its support for Russia’s desire to gain observer status in the Organisation of Islamic Conference.

Given this background, there was great expectation in those quarters that want a healthy balance in our foreign policy that Fradkov’s visit would provide both sides an opportunity to hold in-depth exchanges on where they wished to take Pakistan-Russia relations in the coming decades. The two sides did sign three understandings relating to narcotics, culture and railways, but these understandings were not in the nature of major agreements, nor did they cover strategic areas.

There was no effort by Pakistan to explore how its exports to Russia could be enhanced, particularly as trade between the two countries currently totals a mere $520 million a year and that too in favour of Moscow. Nor was a serious offer made to entice the Russians to enter Pakistan’s power and energy sectors where the country’s need is the greatest and Russian expertise most pronounced.

The government should have gone further than merely discussing the prospects of joint collaboration in sectors such as oil and gas, coal, thermal and hydropower generation. Pakistan needed to show imagination and initiative to get the Russians here, by offering them special concessions and incentives as have been rightly offered to China and the Gulf countries.

Even the signing of two MOUs, one on automobile and the other on fertilisers, took place in the cramped premises of a local restaurant where arrangements left much to be desired, leaving the Russians clearly upset at the casual handling of the event. That we were not able to take advantage either of the presence of a large delegation from Russia’s energy giant, Gazprom, in Islamabad for nearly a week was disappointing as well.

On the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project, Moscow has taken the position that it should be seen as an economic project that could provide much needed energy to Pakistan and India and also help reinforce the peace process in South Asia. But both sides know that the IPI, though technically feasible and financially attractive, cannot take off until the US abandons its opposition to it.

During his call on the president, Fradkov told Gen Musharraf that Pakistan occupies an important place in Russia’s foreign policy and that his country appreciated Islamabad’s endeavour for peace and prosperity in the region. At the lunch hosted in honour of Fradkov, the president underlined the vast opportunity that existed for collaboration between the two countries in diverse sectors.

All this was most welcome, but the meagre results of Fradkov’s visit left many with the distinct impression that Islamabad does not as yet fully appreciate the tremendous advantages that could accrue if it were to make a sincere effort to court Moscow.

It would also be appropriate here to dwell briefly on what a confident Russia is doing to restore global balance and order. Washington is so confident of its military prowess and the superiority of its ideas that it has showed scant respect for the concerns of Russia. Nato was expanded right to the doorsteps of Moscow, thereby resurrecting for the Russians their historic fear of “encirclement”. That the Russians did not lash out at their neighbours’ rush to embrace the western military alliance was more a testimony to their misplaced belief that Washington would soon realise the folly of its policies than of its inability to react to these developments.

The situation has, however, undergone a fundamental change. As Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister stated recently, “Russia’s consolidation has become a catalyst for positive change. Now it is capable of taking part in the development and implementation of the global agenda on a par with other countries.” More importantly, Lavrov warned “no international problem can be resolved without Russia or against its interests.”

This remark was occasioned by the debate on Russia’s role in global affairs since the collapse of the Soviet Union which ended the concept of balance of power. It was only the disappearance of the Soviet Union that permitted President George Bush to proclaim the ‘New World Order’ and encouraged the neo-con philosophers to proclaim that America’s “victory” in the Cold War meant an “end to history”. But America’s unbridled ambitions shattered mankind’s expectation that this would usher in a period of global peace and prosperity.

In this context, Putin’s speech at Munich earlier this year was a landmark event. He blasted the Bush administration for its “almost uncontained hyper-use of force.” Yet his tone was one of resentment, rather than of belligerence when he appealed to the West that Russia should not be taken for granted.

Russians tell me that the country feels unloved and unappreciated and this has generated tremendous frustration among the Russian elites and it is their anger that Putin is now giving expression to. A Russian official did not mince words when he told me in Moscow that “Russia will never accept the US as the world’s sole superpower.”

It is, therefore, not surprising that the Russians have been calling for the restoration of a balance of power in international affairs. At Munich, Putin asserted that “global security” was ensured by the “strategic potential of the two superpowers.” At the same time, Putin is aware that Moscow lacks the economic, military and even demographic means to challenge the US as it did during the Soviet days. It, therefore, advocates coalitions of countries with similar views and orientations.

This explains why Moscow has been assiduously courting China while wanting to retain its historic ties to India, why it wants to preserve its nuclear cooperation with Iran and even insist on its right to supply arms to Syria.

Does all this mean that Putin favours a return to the superpower rivalry of the Cold War days? This may be the West’s fear, but available evidence would refute such a conclusion. Putin is much too smart not to know that he has neither an ideology nor an economic theory to offer as an alternative to the US. Nor does he believe in an existentialist clash with the United States.

But he does believe that the emergence of a single superpower and, therefore, the destruction of the historic balance of power has encouraged Washington to pursue policies of unilateralism. This means that in the past years the US has been able to do pretty much as it pleases. This is dangerous and in Putin’s words “not only unacceptable, but…also impossible in today’s world.”

The Russian president has appealed to the global community to ponder over the fact that “we have reached that decisive moment when we must seriously think about the architecture of global security. We must proceed by searching for a reasonable balance between the interests of all participants in the international dialogue.”

The US has reacted negatively to Putin’s call, accusing the Russian leader of wanting to return to the Cold War. But such an attitude would be regrettable, for it would defeat the very purpose of this appeal, which is to understand the underlying reason for the growing frustration and anger at the US.

Vladimir Putin’s call should be understood for what it is — a call for a healthier, fairer, more equitable international system, based on a balance of power and underpinned by adherence to the Charter of the United Nations as the only legitimate instrument for the resolution of inter-state differences.

This is not something that only a few, such as Iran and Syria, will welcome because Moscow has opposed the US desire to bring about a regime change in them. Others, including many of Washington’s friends, are so exasperated by its arrogance and disdain for the views of others that they too will welcome this approach.

While Pakistan cannot afford to damage ties with the US, the government needs to monitor closely the increasing opposition to Washington’s unilateralist policies and the growing support for the establishment of a new architecture of international relations, based on a multipolar world. It should, therefore, initiate a gradual but sustained effort to bring Moscow into the economic plans of the country as a first step towards the eventual goal of forging strong political linkages with that country.

This would give greater balance to Pakistan’s foreign policy and provide its leadership with more room for manoeuvre. It would also bring foreign policy more in tune with the wishes and aspirations of the people of this country than has been the case so far.

Moscow is aware of the important contribution made by Pakistan in the global war on terror. Without Pakistan’s participation, it would have been extremely difficult to dislodge the Taliban regime from Kabul without major losses for the coalition forces, and the Taliban would have found it easier to resurrect themselves but for the steps taken by Pakistan.

The writer is a former ambassador.

Making judiciary answerable

By Kuldip Nayar

IT is an anniversary of sorts. Thirty-four years ago, on April 25, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi appointed A.N. Ray as chief justice causing him to supersede three supreme court judges. This was the first incident of its kind in post-independent India.

Such was the arrogance of the executive that the announcement was made by All India Radio through an afternoon news bulletin. The gazette notification was issued three days later.

The response by the three judges — Justice K.S. Hegde, Justice J.M. Shelat and Justice A.N. Grover — was bold and defiant. All three resigned within 24 hours. That was the watershed. Since then, relations between the executive and the judiciary have never been the same. Both have aggressively protected their independence. In the process, both have usurped what was the grey area. The present sniping at each other is because there doesn’t seem to be more territory left to occupy.

During her rule, Mrs Gandhi went on to impose the emergency in 1975 when the Allahabad high court cancelled her Lok Sabha membership for poll malpractice. This did not deter her from appointing a judge to supersede the senior-most supreme court judge, Justice H.R. Khanna. He had given a dissenting judgment on the emergency which nine other judges had endorsed without any qualms of conscience. In fact, the executive’s wrath had begun long before the super session. Mrs Gandhi had coined a phrase, ‘commitment’ as her yardstick to measure the loyalty of a judge, legislator or civil servant to her.

Those were the days when India was seeking to establish the socialist pattern of society. The superseded judges, including Khanna, were not considered ‘progressive’ enough to be in Mrs Gandhi’s good books. It is another matter that 15 years later, when the Congress returned to power at the centre, it began to demolish most of what it had established in the public sector to implement the theory of laissez-faire, a free economy which sounded the death knell of self-sufficiency.

When the criterion of ‘commitment’ was still in use, I asked Mrs Gandhi whether it meant leftist leanings but she stoutly denied that. She said that ‘commitment’ meant ‘loyalty to the constitution’. She did not put her cards on the table, something which came to her naturally. The judges were superseded because she considered them to be in the way of her ‘progressive laws’.

The grievance she nurtured was the judgment on the Golak Nath case in 1971 when the supreme court held that the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution could not be amended, abridged or abrogated by parliament. She did not like the three senior judges restraining parliament from making her ‘commitment’ come true. There was also politics in the super session because one of the judges was ideologically with the old guard in the Congress whom she opposed.

Things went on simmering and came to the boil when the supreme court held in the Keshavanand Bharti case that parliament could not change the basic structure of the constitution. Secularism, democracy and India’s federal structure came within the ambit of the basic structure. Although the supreme court gave freedom to parliament to amend fundamental rights except those concerning the basic structure, the executive was not happy. The judiciary still remained the last word on what constituted the basic structure.

Former Chief Justice Hidayatullah did suggest a way out — the referendum — but the executive did not fancy the proposal. Probably, it is healthy in a democracy not to spell out everything. Certain concepts gain content as the executive and the judiciary come into contact or conflict. Some kind of friction is necessary, as Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan said in Delhi at the annual conference of high court chief justices.

The point to ensure is that the equilibrium is not disturbed either by the executive in the name of the people or by the judiciary in the name of review. Activism by either side can upset the applecart — something a democratic structure cannot afford. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has rightly reminded the judiciary and the executive not to cross the dividing line.

Most neighbouring countries have played with the judiciary and tried to make it subservient to the executive. This has turned out to be disastrous for them. An over-active military has aggravated the situation. Even if there were to be an effort not to dictate, the very presence of men in uniform would make most judges fall in line. India experienced that when the emergency was imposed; the magistrates signed even blank warrants of arrest.

Ultimately, the rhythm of democracy depends on the quality of judges. The nation cannot stop the election of undesirable members to parliament or state legislatures because of the nexus between criminals, moneybags and politicians. At least, the appointment of judges can be independent. The judicial commission, proposed by the government, comprises judges alone.

Eminent citizens have to come in to keep the appointments above politics. The current practice of collegiums of four to five senior judges selecting the appointees is like the nomination of office-bearers by trade unions themselves. This is neither fair nor judicious.

The constitution on the appointment of judges says that the executive should consult the chief justice of India before making any appointment. But the executive played havoc with this provision. The judiciary was a party when the word, ‘consultation’ included ‘concurrence’. Now it is the other way round. The judiciary makes all the appointments and transfers and the executive is nowhere in the picture. But there is no way to make the judiciary accountable.

Before amending the constitutional provision on appointments, the experiment of judicial commission should be tried. But the insidious campaign to have the ‘leader’ among the judges as the chief justice is motivated. Even after 34 years we have not got rid of the poison injected by the suppression of judges. Anything done to tinker with the judiciary, however abrasive, may turn out to be a fatal blow to the system itself.

India is still seeking equilibrium between the judiciary and the executive, a sort of equation, so that one upholds the obligation and responsibility of the other. That parliament represents the people goes without saying because they are the ones who elect it. Their voice has to be pre-eminent. But it cannot get away with legislation which is against the basic structure of the constitution or does not measure up to judicial scrutiny.

A public debate can help. The judges have to be made answerable. Members of parliament and assemblies go back to the people to face their approval or rejection. The judges cannot be removed without a motion of impeachment passed by parliament. Not even one case has made the muster since the implementation of the constitution in 1950. Some way has to be found to put the fear of God in the minds of the judges.

The writer is a leading columnist based in New Delhi.

Massacre and mayhem

IT has been a disastrous week for Iraq, and for the country's prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki. On Monday six ministerial supporters of the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr walked out of his cabinet over Mr Maliki's refusal to set a timetable for the withdrawal of US-led foreign troops. On Wednesday a salvo of bombs in Baghdad killed some 200 people, hitting the Shia community in its underbelly and bringing inevitable calls for revenge.

On Thursday, the US defence secretary, Robert Gates, warned Mr Maliki that US patience was running thin, and that its commitment to a military build-up was not open-ended. Staying the course, the mantra that George Bush and Tony Blair have used since the troop surge was announced in January, may not last much longer.

Only three of the five extra brigades Mr Bush announced that he was sending to Baghdad have arrived, and evidence of their ability to affect the security situation is mixed. Three US soldiers were killed in the city yesterday. There have been fewer murders by Shia militias, but the security clampdown in the capital has only shifted Sunni insurgents beyond Baghdad.

Mr Maliki's spokesmen pleaded yesterday for more time for his troops to fan out, saying that new areas too would be "cleansed" of insurgents. According to Iraq Body Count, regarded as cautious witnesses, 73 civilians have died on average each day over the past year.

If events are slipping out of Mr Maliki's control, they are even less under Mr Bush's. On Wednesday he met congressional leaders for the first time in weeks. It was an encounter which failed to bridge the gap between executive and legislature. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have set dates for the withdrawal of US troops. One says September 1, 2008 at the latest, and the other calls for phased redeployment to begin in four months' time and sets a pull-out date of March 31 next year. Mr Bush has said that he will veto any spending bill that sets a date for withdrawal. But even he must now realise that he is running out of political road.

With the start of presidential campaigning in the autumn and support for pro-war candidates such as Hillary Clinton and John McCain slipping against clearly anti-war rivals, Mr Bush could lose control of Iraq policy to the Senate. Mr Bush bridled when Senator Harry Reid, the Democrat majority leader, said the president should not continue with the war simply to protect his legacy.

But the reality is that what US troops are doing now is too late. General David Petraeus, the senior commander in Iraq and Mr Bush's last hope, may say otherwise when he comes to Washington next week to plead with increasingly sceptical senators.

— The Guardian, London

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007


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