THE lack of coordination between Pakistan security authorities and the US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan is to blame for the death of 10 civilians out of the 60 people killed in Fata on Friday. The fact that a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force should have expressed regrets over the deaths shows that the responsibility was theirs. As on many other occasions in the past, the ISAF forces crossed over into the Pakistani side “mistakenly” and fired on some militants who were preparing to attack. In the resultant exchange of fire, 18 artillery shells and six missiles hit a hotel and seven houses on the Pakistani side in the Mangrotai area of North Waziristan. The spokesman claimed that the attack had been carried out in coordination with Pakistani authorities but that it was not always possible to determine that the border had been crossed because “there is no line drawn in the sand”.
Whether it is Friday’s tragedy on the Pakistani side or the death of 25 Afghan civilians, including nine women and three children in an ISAF attack in the Helmand area on June 22, civilians have been the main victims of the war whose end does not seem in sight. The precise number of civilians killed during the last many years of constant war is not known. But it is safe to assume that since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and what followed — the anti-Soviet resistance, civil war among Afghan factions, the Taliban victory, the end of their regime following the American attack, and the ongoing Taliban insurgency — millions of men, women and children have been killed, maimed, rendered homeless or forced to flee to neighbouring countries, mostly to Pakistan. Afghanistan’s infrastructure stands totally destroyed, and there is no sign yet when the ‘post-war’ reconstruction will begin, because the war still continues.
The current situation is full of anomalies. While the ISAF commanders and their governments speak of a Taliban summer offensive, President Hamid Karzai said the other day that the Taliban posed no long-term threat to Afghanistan. In an interview with the BBC, Mr Karzai said that the Taliban might throw bombs here and there but they did not have “the guts to confront us”. According to him, it is the civilians who are getting killed, and therefore every effort has to be made to stop this. The question is: what step has Mr Karzai himself taken to end the misery of his people? He has left the fighting mostly to the coalition forces, and this has aroused his people’s traditional hostility to foreign troops on Afghan soil. The administration he heads is thoroughly corrupt, the warlords have turned the provinces into their fiefs, and Afghanistan has once again become the world’s biggest poppy producer. More regrettably, besides expressing the need for ending the war, he has done nothing concrete to try to find a peaceful end to the insurgency. The Afghan refugees in Pakistan prefer to remain here than to return to their country, and this shows their lack of trust in the Karzai administration. But, instead of improving the economic conditions so as to encourage the return of his people to their country, the only mantra dear to Mr Karzai is to blame Pakistan for covering his incompetence. Unless there is a negotiated solution to the insurgency, incidents like the one on Friday will continue.
Storm havoc in Karachi
STILL nursing the psychological scars of May 12, Karachi suffered another crippling body blow on Saturday afternoon. This time it was the full fury of nature unleashed, not the tyranny of man, that rocked the metropolis to its very core. Many had never seen anything like it, lending weight to the argument that the weather is becoming increasingly erratic and extreme. Loss of life and property in a poorly planned mish-mash of a city was inevitable as twisting winds bordering on hurricane strength ripped off roofs, demolished walls, uprooted trees, snapped electricity wires and brought down several of the 17,000-odd billboards blighting the urban landscape. Shocking as it was, the original toll of 44 dead proved to be a serious underestimation as the full scale of the destruction became known. Over 200 had died according to the Edhi Foundation, which carried out the bulk of relief operations, while the Sindh health minister put the figure at 228 dead. However, the nazim of the city government maintained on Sunday that 65 had been killed in the violent storm. At this time of misery, shameful scenes were witnessed as activists of the MQM staged an armed takeover of the Edhi morgue on Saturday night, ostensibly to prevent bodies from being shifted to the cold-storage facility. The motives behind the siege can only be surmised — it could have been an attempt to downplay the death toll by thwarting data collection by a widely respected organisation, or a move by elements wanting to take credit for the relief work done selflessly by the Edhi Foundation.
On Monday evening, Karachi was bracing for more rain and stormy weather triggered by a cyclone building up in the Arabian Sea. The track record of the city administration and the private-sector KESC has never inspired much confidence and the worst was being feared by the most vulnerable. Saturday’s storm was also a stark reminder of the potential destruction in a city situated on or near a major seismic fault line and four minor faults. Also, the law of averages suggests that Karachi could one day take a direct hit from a severe cyclone. What will then be the fate of a city where corruption takes precedence over building control?
IT is disappointing that months after an avalanche and heavy snowfalls struck Chitral, roads there have yet to be cleared of boulders and debris. This negligence is deplorable and hard to comprehend. On the one hand, the government is keen to develop tourism in Chitral and spends on advertising campaigns promoting it. But on the other, it does nothing about repairing the infrastructure there. How are people supposed to travel to Chitral if the roads leading there are in bad shape? This is especially true of the upcoming Shandur polo festival, an event which has also been widely advertised as a tourist attraction. According to a report on Monday, the Chitral-Shandur road is in ruins and it is unlikely to be repaired in time for the festival which is just two weeks away. It is precisely this flawed approach that is responsible for the tourism industry being in the doldrums. Ambitious plans are made like Visit Pakistan 2007 year, but little attention is paid to ensuring that once here, tourists have a comfortable experience. Hotels are ill-managed, law and order a serious problem, and there is generally little to do in the northern areas other than to see the scenery. The Shandur festival is one exception and that too has not been well planned.
It will be unfortunate if people are unable to attend the Shandur festival because they cannot get there by road, especially as not many can afford to fly. President Musharraf recently ordered the National Highway Authority to ensure the timely completion of major roads, including the Lowari Tunnel in Chitral. While this is necessary as the area is virtually cut off from the rest of the country during its harsh winters, it is equally important for the existing roads to be repaired as soon as possible.
Seizing the moment before it is late
SOME voices — the loudest being that of Qazi Hussain Ahmad — from different quarters are asserting that no military dictator will be acceptable after General Musharraf’s exit. We all want it, but can we ensure it? Is our civil society organised enough to break its own anti-revolutionary steel skeleton? Are we even willing to mobilise ourselves beyond wishful thinking or transitory effervescence? Can our traditional wait for miracles ever yield to some practical measures?
This is not the first time that an individual (Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry) has generated huge waves of emotionally charged crowds across the country. It has happened once before. In 1968, another ex-chief, Air Marshal Asghar Khan, similarly crawled at near zero speed amidst oceans of ecstatic crowds. The people wanted a change with the same sincerity, spirit and slogans then as they are demanding now.
As a non-feudal, Asghar Khan was considered qualified to change the prevailing socio-political system like an external invader riding on internal discontent, but he failed, because he delayed the launching of Tehrik-i-Istiqlal for more than a year.
In the meanwhile, the momentum generated by him was hijacked by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Peoples Party, launched in 1967. Being a feudal, however, Bhutto cleverly took the people back into the old loop by luring them with popular slogans of roti-kapra-makan, and then abandoning them without any qualms.
A revolutionary moment for genuine change had appeared in 1968 but was not utilised by a sincere and simple Asghar Khan for lack of an organised set-up. The insincere and bright Z.A. Bhutto, on the other hand, caught it mid-air because he had the network of the PPP at his disposal. This moment has reappeared again after 39 years (one generation), and is likely to be lost again if the lawyers community repeats the mistake of Asghar Khan. If lost, it may not reappear again for many generations.
Occasional marches along the highways, howsoever mammoth and recurring, will not be able to arrest this elusive moment, capture its spirit of freedom and integrate it in our national psyche or political culture. For that, we need an institutional arrangement on a permanent footing.Crowds can only destabilise an existing order. They cannot bring about a new order, unless regulated into well-coordinated, thinking and acting political units. Asghar Khan did the former in 1968 and Bhutto did the latter soon after.
Let there be no doubt that March 9, 2007, marks the beginning of a long fight between the newly-emerging reformist elements in Pakistani civil society and the firmly dug-in vested interests of the system. The current absolutism of General Musharraf plus the supporting corps commanders and the rent-a-party type politicians are bent on discrediting, undermining, reversing and demolishing the reformist movement even at the cost of national security.
The end justifies any means for such a ruling elite as has the soul of a monarch, contempt for dissent and history for destruction. We need a solid, sustainable, multi-dimensional and democratic counter-system to fight against such a ruthlessly dictatorial system.
Time is ripe for the creation of such a counter-system. The lawyer community has been very successful in occasional, ad hoc and sporadic demonstration of peoples’ power during the last three months, and has now reached the next stage.
The foremost demand here is to harness this force into the permanent mould of a new political party with a different character, credentials and properties. It should be fully democratic in structure, procedures, thinking process, words and deeds. It should be a primary school for democracy for a nation which has never tasted democracy nor is aware of the basic package of its essential ingredients comprising the rule of law, balanced operation of four pillars of state and other institutions, strict accountability by public, fair and transparent elections, open competition of merit, amalgam of rights and responsibilities, role of the individual and the concept of peoples’ sovereignty.
Sceptics may question the need for a new party when 99 political parties (including 22 religious parties) were awarded election symbols by the Election Commission in the 1997 elections with a further increase since then. But there are many reasons for inviting a new initiative.
First, there is one political culture for so many parties. Their number may be large, but their characteristics are amazingly similar, if not the same e.g. personality cult, lifelong and/or hereditary leadership, autocratic, non-democratic style of operation and organisation, nominated office-bearers, aversion to transparent elections within the party, dependence on patronage from the establishment, distribution of patronage within the party, disregard for issues and, last but not the least, brazen-faced opportunism as their political philosophy.
Out of more than 100 parties, not one can be considered democratic in outlook and practice. The members are trained in sycophancy, palace intrigues, selfishness, horse-trading, loyalty for a price and ways to auction one’s soul — everything that is not democratic. Such parties are genetically incapable of fighting for, or introducing, democracy in the country. We need a new party without these faults. There is no justification for the additional venture if it is not totally different from the existing political culture.
Second, these characteristics have made these parties an integral part of this corrupt system, glued together by intelligence agencies, around the central piece of a military or civilian dictator. Those in power enjoyed its fruits, and those out of power kept on inviting the army to “intervene and do its duty” and were invariably obliged.Both the categories had a wonderful time for over half a century reaping heaps of visible and invisible benefits, and amassing tons of wealth for generations to come. They are such stakeholders in this system as have been forced to march with the lawyers (in the opposite direction of the stake) under irresistible public pressure.
Some of them can be suspected as the Trojan horses of the system in this movement. Their track record strongly suggests that their future steps will rise with the stronger side without any change of the flirtatious heart. This calls for the lawyers to secure their own track by the vigilantes of their own new party.
Third, the lawyers community is a mixed lot having a variety of political affiliations with different political parties. An overwhelmingly common cause has brought them together by pushing the variations down. Twists and turns in the course of this struggle, and possible manipulations by the establishment through deals with politicians can dilute, or break, this unity if party lines resurface in the bar rooms due to certain compulsions.
The national elections, if ever held in the near future, are bound to scatter the bar. A new party floated by the lawyers will create another united forum far above, and beyond, the underground differences.
Fourth, a vast majority of well-meaning, patriotic and progressive Pakistanis are too disgusted with the present set of political parties to join them. That is why the dubious figures of voting percentage in various elections have been ranging between 26 per cent to around 40 per cent of the registered voters. Even the “heavy mandate” of Nawaz Sharif in his second tenure was based on 16 per cent of registered votes in favour of his party.
The uncommitted majority of registered voters are, therefore, in search of a party run on principles, rather than controlled by personalities. A new political party by the lawyers on the above-mentioned democratic principles (as a primary school for democracy) will meet this pressing popular demand.
If the lawyers really want the rule of law in the country, with an independent judiciary to act as the guardian of the Constitution and of human rights, then they should stand clear of all those who knowingly and deliberately trampled on this land for the last half a century. Military dictators and civilian dictators (who headed our political parties) can be seen in this portrait gallery of shame with almost equal notoriety. Let our lawyers start raising a new portrait gallery of honour.
The golden dream of Pakistan came true but began to go sour soon after the death of the Quaid. Since then, all Pakistanis have been vainly dreaming for a political party and a set of politicians who could follow in the footsteps of Jinnah. The angry and outraged lawyers, who are raising constitutional slogans in front of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in Islamabad, and elsewhere, are in a position to do that by putting democratic principles into actual practice and pursuing a fresh start in a direction different from the one in which our current political culture is headed.
If this dream comes true, it would be a real revolution, much bigger than the still distant independence of the judiciary. The doctrine of democracy carries a death warrant for the doctrine of necessity.
|© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007|