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DAWN - Opinion; September 17, 2007

September 17, 2007


Exile and the ‘kingdom’

By Tanvir Ahmad Khan

“One cannot be happy in exile or in oblivion. One cannot always be a stranger. I want to return to my homeland, make all my loved ones happy. I see no further than this.” –– From Albert Camus

IT happened a long time ago but I still remember the pain of having to learn Anglo-Saxon, a language dead for centuries. I also remember gratefully that this dead language enabled me to read some ancient poems that spoke of the unbearable pain of exile, of separation from the tribe, of banishment for real or imagined transgressions and of the longing of the eternal wanderer to come home.

This was also when I discovered the six stories that make up Albert Camus’ Exile and Kingdom. In them the exile was not as physical as in the old Anglo-Saxon tale of the wanderer. It was about alienation in a seemingly absurd world and about overcoming that sense of the absurd by making an existential choice to act. For the exile, homecoming is such a decision. So the yearning of our two former prime ministers to come home may be more than just power play. They may be responding to a deep human impulse to return to the tribe. Human beings are lonely creatures. Very often they find meaning in their lives only when they are acclaimed by others.

In making exile alien to our Constitution and the right of return a sacred prerogative, the writers of the Constitution had gone beyond legalism and embodied in it human experience of thousands of years. On August 23, the Supreme Court ruled that these fundamental rights could not be compromised.

For many long years the entire machinery of the state has been geared to vilifying the two former prime ministers. It did create a problem of reputation for them but a vast majority of Pakistanis has lost faith in the state’s case and wants to make the final judgment about them in a fair and free election. It is time that political leaders submit their case to the majesty of the will of the people and be judged by it.

There are even weightier reasons for invoking the power of the people in a free and fair election. Deep fissures have appeared in the Pakistani federation. Not since 1970 has it been so vulnerable to the consequences of an extended period of arbitrary rule. The need of the hour is a healing touch.

Unfortunately, Pakistan has a long history of pre-determining the outcome of elections. So whatever residual wisdom the nation is left with should focus on a fair and free election as the only practicable way out of the current crisis. Restoration of authentic representative institutions may still bring contentious issues within the ambit of democratic mediation and accommodation and pave the way for national reconciliation.

National reconciliation warrants an inclusive approach to the country’s divided polity and a level playing field for the elections. If democracy is an antidote to the poison of centrifugal tensions in the federating provinces as well as to the deadlier venom of extremism, voices of dissent must be carefully listened to and not silenced by force.

Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif responded to the fast changing political situation in Pakistan with different strategies for their re-entry. Nawaz Sharif interpreted the Charter of Democracy signed by both leaders as a call to the ramparts for a final battle with General Musharraf. Benazir Bhutto, on the other hand, entered into complex negotiations with him to work out a power-sharing arrangement. Nawaz Sharif was portrayed as planning a return only to intensify the confrontation between the political class and Musharraf while Ms Bhutto was seen to be engaged in finding a pragmatic way out.

This perception led to a denial of a level playing field to Nawaz Sharif. His deportation has, however, raised some fundamental issues. He had journeyed to Islamabad after an unambiguous verdict by the Supreme Court that he was free to return.

In sending him into exile once again, the Musharraf regime may have deliberately resumed its battle with the higher judiciary which has to adjudicate diverse challenges to Musharraf’s right to another presidential term. Prospects of a democratic solution of the current crisis could fade if that battle turns ugly.

What awaits Benazir Bhutto when she returns to Pakistan on Oct 18 is the focus of national attention now. Arguably, this should have a different outcome. There has been much comment within Pakistan and abroad that Nawaz Sharif has been removed from the scene to facilitate an understanding with Ms Bhutto and to set the stage for a tranquil election. But how valid is this assumption?

The Nawaz Sharif episode may portend a restoration of the absolute power of the Musharraf regime. It may also be an implicit warning to Benazir Bhutto that she should not keep raising the price of her cooperation. Her bargaining power may have actually diminished, as some government circles claim, and she may now be offered only the shadow and not the substance of political power.

Her struggle is for the empowerment of parliament and the repeal of the constitutional provision that enables the president to dismiss elected governments and assemblies, but the support she enjoys from the international community for a sovereign parliament may not be decisive.

Similarly, the present effort to turn the Pakistan People’s Party into a junior coalition partner of the army, the Pakistan Muslim League (Q) and perhaps even the MQM, which is showing its muscle again in Karachi’s battles of turf, confronts her with difficult choices.

Benazir Bhutto knows only too well that a great deal of water has flowed down the Indus since April 6, 1999. Also the halcyon days of 1988 may have gone for ever.

A day before Ms Bhutto announced her decision to return on October 18 a number of soldiers died in an audacious suicide attack on a mess of Pakistan’s elite Special Services Group. Several soldiers lost their lives in pitched battles in South Waziristan. There was a cold-blooded murder of some members of the student wing of Jamaat-i-Islami near the Karachi University. The paramount need to arrest this slide into anarchy and insurgency will test Ms Bhutto’s political skills to the utmost.

She would find a blighted political landscape littered with fragments of parties systematically battered by a regime that tried to replace the entire political class with a new one of its creation. When it failed to do so, it cobbled together a King’s party that has a pathological distrust of Benazir Bhutto.

In the last six months or so, she has mostly been talking to people in western democracies, not to the people of Pakistan. She returns to face many cynical questions including her alleged willingness to give a new lease of life to the military’s dominance in national politics.

Back home she will also have to expand the linear theme of a contest between moderates and extremists into a far more comprehensive policy framework that addresses the underlying socio-economic causes of this polarisation. She has to provide what Sherry Rehman calls a new social contract. She needs to win back the confidence of the embittered provinces of Balochistan and the NWFP.

She has to find an answer to a near universal perception in Pakistan that Musharraf’s subordination of Pakistan’s foreign policy to the agenda of Washington’s neo-conservative empire-builders has greatly added to violence in the Pakistani society. She will have to take a clear position on Musharraf’s legacy in the international field if she wants to be acclaimed as a true national leader, finally come home to restore the lost sovereignty of the nation.

Stabilising the tribal belt

By Talat Masood

THE worsening situation in the tribal belt could be categorised as one of the foremost among the multiple challenges facing Pakistan. For all practical purposes, the state has lost its authority and is in full retreat especially in Waziristan and Bajaur. The Taliban and other militant groups having strong links with their counterparts in Afghanistan are in control.

Clearly, no government in the 21st century, more so after 9/11, can remain indifferent to this situation due to its serious implications for international security and its adverse fallout on domestic stability.

US intelligence agencies have recently warned that the resurgence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and the tribal belt poses a serious threat to homeland security. More than one US presidential candidate have threatened to send US troops into Pakistan to target Al Qaeda and militant sanctuaries, in case of actionable intelligence.

We are also daily witnessing the expanding influence of the Taliban in the settled areas, and the wave is travelling downwards unchecked. Incidents of burning of music and barber shops and blowing up of statues are a clear indication that religious fanaticism has returned with a vengeance.

The government’s initial efforts at countering this mix of terrorism and insurgency through military means and then later through peace deals have both failed in reasserting the writ of the state. Militant groups in Waziristan are intensifying their guerrilla tactics as their confidence grows. They are also resorting to vigilantism to assert social and political control in Waziristan and the adjoining settled areas.

The recent abject surrender of nearly 250 personnel of our armed forces to the militants is a huge embarrassment for the army which prides itself on its professional competence and high level of combat alertness. This incident is another reminder that the war on terror cannot be won with the same tools used in past conventional wars. Neither can it be won with the existing power structure or the one that President Musharraf is hoping to evolve through political “deals” and the use of state machinery.

Combating insurgency needs the support of the nation. Just as external wars cannot be won without the support of the people, as was clearly demonstrated in the 1971 India-Pakistan war, internal insurgency and terrorism cannot be defeated without the broad support of the nation. To say that democracies are also facing insurgencies such as in Nagaland in India or the one Britain faced in Ireland, and for that reason democracy is not a prerequisite, is a misplaced argument.

The United Kingdom was eventually able to resolve the Irish issue on the intrinsic strength of its democracy. Similarly, the Indian government is relatively better placed to tackle the insurgencies on its eastern borders, both in terms of drawing support from the country and engaging in political dialogue with the militants, due to its democratic credentials.

If Pakistan were a democracy and the government had greater legitimacy it would not have found the public to be as indifferent and opposed to the government’s policies in Fata as it is today. The lack of involvement of the people obviously has its impact on the morale and motivation of the armed forces.

Despite the deployment of 100,000 troops in Fata and the use of bombs, precision guided weapons and limited air power we have not been able to achieve any of our stated political objectives. The reason is that we are organised to fight conventional wars with guns, missiles, mortars and armoured vehicles. This is a war that has to be fought amongst the people, where there is no clear battleground. The state is fighting against non-state actors who are both indigenous and foreign and operate in a sympathetic and supportive milieu.

There is no concrete object to capture nor can the state suppress the will of its foes through the application of brute force. The government has to devise policies to win over the “hearts and minds” of the people.

In fact, there has to be only limited use of force and that too for creating conditions in which economic development, political evolution and social awareness can take place. Conventional wars and the use of nuclear forces have well-defined strategic objectives, and the “war on terror” is a more complex phenomenon.

The Americans are waging this “war” in Afghanistan and Iraq to create conditions which facilitate the emergence of governments that are friendly towards them and conform to their broad strategic objectives. Moreover, they also want to ensure that the state is functional to the extent that there are no sanctuaries to assist the operations of hostile forces.

Unlike past conventional wars, there is no desire to hold territory as long as these conditions are fulfilled. Apart from one or two major offensives, the US and the International Security Assistance Force have conducted mostly low-level tactical operations in Afghanistan.

So far, the use of military force has failed to achieve any of the stated goals. On the contrary, militant forces have gained considerable strength in the south and western provinces of Afghanistan, with adverse repercussions on the stability of Fata.The reason for the current resurgence of militancy is that the people are not supportive of US policies in Afghanistan and consider its presence there as foreign occupation. Moreover, President Karzai is perceived as an American protégé.

Besides, domestic factors, terrorism and insurgency are spreading in our region due to an unbalanced world order and the rapid diffusion of technology. The Pakistani establishment cannot afford to remain in a state of denial regarding the situation in the tribal belt. We have to accept the reality that there exist training camps and there are a large number of foreigners — call them Al Qaeda or fugitives from Central Asian and the Arab countries — operating from there. And these groups are supporting the Taliban across the border.

The government needs to develop a more coherent policy to counter them. The NWFP governor is all for peace jirgas and peace deals. But they have not helped and the militants are gaining ground. It is also obvious that the military operations are not succeeding and our forces are suffering maximum casualties.The foreign office has its own policy and the NWFP government takes an adversarial position on these issues. Lack of trust between Afghanistan and the Pakistani leadership is another factor that strengthens the militants. One only hopes that the follow-up of the joint jirga would help in building trust and developing a common vision for the two countries.

There are important structural factors too that are influencing the rise of militancy in the tribal belt. The fallout from the Afghan jihad and 9/11 have weakened the state structures. In addition, poor governance, deprivation and the drug economy have destabilised the region. The glorification of the militants by a section of the media is another factor that is promoting radicalism.

All this clearly illustrates that fighting the challenge of extremism and terrorism would require a sustained effort spread over years in multiple directions. Although international support is helpful, the struggle is essentially ours, and needs to be backed by a strong national consensus. Despite these efforts in the short term, militancy and terrorism can be expected to increase.

The writer is a retired lieutenant-general of the Pakistan army.

A history of failure

By Dr Athar Osama

IN October 1999, when General Musharraf came to power in a coup and declared himself the chief executive of the country, he was met by a silent nod of approval by his 150 million compatriots. Many of us thought, quite naively, that he would fix what was wrong with our political system. Today, as he wheels and deals to secure another term in office, he hardly has the support of the masses to lean on.

What has gone wrong in these last eight years for him is reminiscent of what went wrong with his predecessors. Today, as Musharraf seeks to have himself elected for a second term, it is useful to ask whether military rule is the solution to Pakistan’s problems and if Musharraf is any different to the generals before him.

Answering these questions is critical to charting a new course of democracy in Pakistan, for the response will address and counter the argument at the very centre of the ongoing political saga and the upcoming presidential elections in Pakistan.

If we look at history, there is a clear “pattern of failure” associated with military rule in Pakistan. Broadly speaking, each of the four episodes of military rule in Pakistan can be divided into three phases — each of these, quite predictably, leading to the other as the regime struggled to gain legitimacy and fell under its own weight. In totality, this pattern — true for all Pakistan’s military regimes — indicates the unsustainability and failure of the military experience in Pakistan.

The first phase of each episode of military rule in Pakistan is characterised by either the rolling out of a reform agenda (e.g. Ayub Khan) or promises to “clean up the mess” (as with Musharraf) or return to civilian rule (as with Zia and Yahya). The primary purpose of the regime is to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the masses and, more importantly, in those of the international community on whose support (and aid) the regime’s claim for economic progress generally rests.

International legitimacy for military rule did come in due course of time (e.g. Soviet invasion of Afghanistan for Zia and 9/11 for Musharraf), although through questionable means. Another predictable pattern of all three military regimes is the initial burst of development and economic growth that they create thus providing a measure of relief to the common man.

Here too, economic historians agree that the high economic growth rates seen during these periods have been financed, in major part, by foreign aid coming from western countries (most notably America) and other external sources (such as expatriate capital during Musharraf’s era and the narcotics-funded Afghan jihad in the Zia period).

Without foreign aid (the resultant loss of sovereignty notwithstanding), economic growth wouldn’t have been possible. In all cases, it went away as soon as foreign aid was stopped.In the second of the three phases, with the quest for legitimacy remaining largely elusive, the regime’s attention turns to providing a façade of civilian and democratic rule.

This is done through a series of three steps: 1) measures to eliminate political opposition to the regime by banning the “old guard” political leaders and parties (e.g. Ayub’s use of EBDO and Musharraf’s use of NAB) and co-opting others; 2) by elevating the general above the political fray through a pre-rigged referendum that ensures his control over the political apparatus; and c) by setting up alternate systems of governance (e.g. ‘basic democracies’ by Ayub and local bodies by Zia and Musharraf) to weaken the national and provincial political parties.

Why do these generals find it necessary to create the façade of democracy? Why can’t they simply rule under martial law in perpetuity, like the leaders of some other countries have done for years, even decades? The answer lies within ourselves. The people of Pakistan are inherently a democratic people who would like to make decisions about their affairs for themselves. True, their efforts are often frustrated but that does not negate the first assertion.By the time the general in question is at the mid-point of his rule, the regime is running out of steam. There is hardly a reform agenda left to implement. It is politics as usual with one set of corrupt stakeholders being replaced by another.

Even the army is not spared the signs and effects of weak leadership at the top. Ayub’s weakness during the 1965 war is legendary and so are many of the instances of neglect to the duty of COAS during Zia’s rule as narrated by none other than General K. M. Arif. Musharraf may be no exception.

With the “civilian-controlled” democratic experiment in a state of decline, the regime begins the last of the three phases of its rule. This phase is marked by intense and growing popular discontent and disillusionment with the artificial democracy that is being held together in place with the support and threat of a return to military rule.

It is also one where the general has become quite insulated from the pulse of the masses and is increasingly committing blunders — sometimes of immense magnitude — (e.g. Ayub’s celebration of the Decade of Development and his dismissal of his foreign minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Zia’s firing of his prime minister, Mohammad Khan Junejo, and Musharraf’s recent reference against the Chief Justice of Pakistan) in an attempt to perpetuate his rule.

It is at this point that the regime makes a last ditch attempt to buy more time for itself through political sloganeering (e.g. Islamisation by Zia, development by Ayub and enlightened moderation by Musharraf). However, each of these slogans is really meant to provide a few more years at the top to the generals in question and nothing else.

This pattern is predictable and clearly points towards the lack of sustainability and failure of military rule in Pakistan. Today, Musharraf stands at the end of the last of the three phases of his rule with all his energies focused towards merely elongating his rule — and Pakistan’s misery — for another few years. Should this happen — with or without uniform — it would only come at the expense of Pakistan and its people.

For 60 years, Pakistan and its body politic have been suffering from a political cancer of sorts whose causes include, in the following order, its inept and selfish political leaders, its adventurous military generals, its bureaucrats, technocrats and intelligentsia and its poor oppressed people who refuse to take charge of their destiny.

This cancer is silently eating away the body of this nation. The patient is dying a slow but sure death. The only thing that a period of military rule does is that it delays the inevitable. Death will surely come unless we Pakistanis resolve to treat this patient rather than leave it to die on a life-support system. Saving this patient will require energy and will power and the best team of doctors that we can assemble. The choice is ours, so can be the future.

The writer is a public policy analyst and the founding editor of

Furling the flag

By Saima Shakil Hussain

COME August, the green and white standard is unfurled everywhere; it adorns everyone and everything from newscasters on television to cars, public buildings and private houses.

The nation’s pride is available for sale in all sizes, and even all colours. In their enthusiasm, manufacturers overlook the need for accuracy as miniature red and blue flags are strung alongside the officially sanctioned green.

Come September and the flags still hang limply and lifelessly from the poles where they were put up a few weeks earlier. It is time those flags were taken down. Respect quickly turns into disrespect as the winds, sun and rain ravage the country’s pride. Discoloured and tattered they flutter at half-mast. The flag in September is a very sorry sight to behold.

Public buildings have always flown the colours with pride and wrapped themselves in garlands of bright fairy lights. The flag-flying tradition among the masses, however, is a relatively new one. We owe its inception to General Ziaul Haq. It was a desperate effort on his part to mobilise the people by appealing to their patriotism — and to give the populace something other than the Afghan refugee influx and the rituals of Islamisation to think about.

Those were the dark ages of dictatorship when public whipping was the norm and democracy lay in ruins. Ethnic and sectarian violence ravaged the country’s commercial capital. Public morale was low. By giving a populist twist to Independence Day celebrations the government hoped to raise the public spirit. Hence on Aug 14, 1981, on the occasion of the 34th Independence Day, President Zia got the people to celebrate the day with “exceptional fervour” because it also happened to be the first Independence Day of the 15th century of the Hijra.

It was the first time that people in Pakistan’s towns and cities participated in the celebrations. Main roads and many neighbourhoods wore a festive look, while an army helicopter flew over Rawalpindi and Islamabad with a cameraman on board to capture the images of gaiety.

At 8:55 am sharp sirens were sounded and the entire nation was expected to come to a standstill. Motorists, pedestrians, factory workers all observed some moments of silence; even the army helicopter stood still in the air, its megaphone playing the national anthem. The state-owned television and radio channel offered live broadcasts of the elaborate ceremony held on the lawns of the Aiwan-i-Sadar.

Today, the tradition introduced in 1981 stays on. The only difference is that the early morning state-organised extravaganza has been moved some hours forward. The nation is no longer in the mood to get up early on a holiday, or the present chief simply prefers to celebrate freedom at midnight.

But each Independence Day people continue to fly the national standard atop their homes, businesses and cars. But let September 1 be commemorated as Furling the Flag Day; let it be the day on which the green and white banner is respectfully brought down from rooftops and balconies, folded up and put away until the following August.

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007

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