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DAWN - Opinion; November 06, 2007

November 06, 2007

Fight against militancy

By Kaiser Bengali


THE suspension of the Constitution has stripped away the democratic façade from General Musharraf’s military rule. In the process, the US-led ‘liberal enterprise’ in Pakistan stands frayed. The ‘liberal enterprise’ was the West’s response to the worsening situation in the Pashtun belt in northwest Pakistan, which has finally begun to ring alarm bells in world capitals.

After supporting military regimes for almost a quarter of a century in order to achieve short-term goals and, by consequence, allowing civil institutions to decay, the West appears to have woken up to the dire state of affairs and the implications for regional and global security. There seems to be some realisation that the absence of democratic space has enabled religious extremist forces to mobilise and gain ascendancy.

The sharp negative reaction of the international community to events in the country prompted moves to launch a ‘liberal enterprise’; namely, an effort to cobble together a coalition of forces outside the religious orthodoxy in order to challenge the rise of religious extremist forces. Needless to say, this endeavour is led by the United States. The liberal enterprise is, however, unlikely to succeed — unless two key requirements are met.

The US naively assumes that all elements that are not part of the religious orthodoxy have common interests and objectives. The fact is that the sociopolitical fault line in the country is not defined by the degree of religious commitment or zeal, but by social and economic stratification. There is a broad conservative coalition that encompasses the religious right as well as the secular right. Both belong to the socially and economically privileged class and both have a common agenda in disallowing democratic politics.

At the other end of the spectrum are the common people, who have endured social exclusion and economic deprivation for centuries. Some among the latter are now beginning to convert their despair into anger. Religious militancy is an expression of this anger.

Evidence of the class factor in the rise of militancy is provided by a number of research studies. An analysis of the religious extremist uprising in parts of the Pashtun belt of the country indicates the presence of a class factor. Seen from western lenses, the conflict appears to be a part of a global struggle to establish an anti-western Islamist world order. However, the local perception is that this is a conflict between the hujra and the masjid, with the former representing the land-owning Khans and Maliks and the latter representing the underprivileged classes.

The former families have traditionally held social and political leadership positions, are well entrenched in the country’s civil and military bureaucracy, and have made successful entries into modern professional fields. The latter are generally bereft of modern educational facilities and face social barriers to entry into professional positions in the public or private sectors.

There are hundreds of miles of territory in the northwest with no agriculture or industry worth the name. Almost every family depends on remittances sent by male members working as menial labour in the cities. This is the multitude that has been relegated to the madressahs, where the mullahs hold sway and which have emerged as the mobilisation points for religious extremists.

Till recently, the mullah was subservient to the Khans and Maliks and subsisted on their meagre payroll. With organisation and weaponry and a growing supply of recruits to the madressahs from economically hard-pressed families, the mullah has acquired the political power to confront the Khans and Maliks. The systematic assassination of Maliks in Fata can be seen in this context.

Inequality in social status and in income and wealth distribution is an age-old phenomenon. However, two factors have tended to sharpen these inequalities. One is the emergence of the military corporate empire as a parallel — and privileged — sub-economy, resulting in significant transfer of state resources to the military officer class. The other is the imposition of the neo-liberal doctrine.

The last decade has been particularly brutal. The macroeconomic policy structure is now such that the increase in national income is obtained largely from low employment elasticity sectors and is profit-centred rather than wage-centred. In other words, growth in national income is generated more from capital-intensive sectors than from labour-intensives ones and, further that, national income is accrued largely from growth in enterprise profits than from labour wages.

The tax regime too is regressive, with the richest 10 per cent of the population paying 12 per cent of their income in taxes, and the poorest 10 per cent paying 16 per cent. It is, thus, not surprising that paid formal sector employment is declining and every additional rupee of national income accrues 34 paisas to the richest 10 per cent of the population and a mere three per cent to the poorest 10 per cent.

The neo-liberal agenda required the withdrawal of the state from the economic spheres and its replacement by the market. However, it was assumed — rather inanely — that market forces were strong and ready and waiting to take over from the state and would generate growth in investment, employment and incomes to meet the needs of the populace.

This was certainly not the case in Pakistan, where the organised private sector is largely a product of state protection and subsidies and is in no position to survive in a competitive environment. Under the circumstances, the unilateral withdrawal of the state created a vacuum that was filled in, not by the market, but by the masjid-madressah apparatus.

The neo-liberal paradigm placed the poor at the mercy of the market, which by definition responds to purchasing power and not to need. Abandoned by the state and ignored by the market, the poor tended to drift to the madressahs, which have emerged as the provider of social protection to the poor.

Studies of madressah enrolment have quoted parents to the effect that they put their children in madressahs as they will be assured of regular meals, some education, a certain degree of job security at the end of their education — and a measure of dignity and respect in society. Empirical evidence shows that three-quarters of madressah students come from families that earn less than Rs10,000 per month or less than US$5.50 a day or less than 85 cents per person per day. Two-thirds of these families earn less than Rs5000 per month or less than $2.75 a day or less than 42 cents per person per day. The madressahs have provided a measure of social security.

Clearly, the distributive structure of the economy will need to be reformed. The first requirement in this respect is the dismantling of the military corporate empire. The second is the abandonment of the neo-liberal agenda and the creation of a welfare state that is able to subsume the welfare provisions of the masjid-madressah apparatus. The state will have to take upon itself the social responsibility for meeting the basic needs of the people. It will have to ensure some minimum level of employment and wages, housing, education and healthcare.

Given the budget constraints, meeting the welfare agenda will require the reallocation of current expenditures. And, given that the sociopolitical fault line exists between the forces of status quo and the forces of democratic, egalitarian change, the secular right component of the conservative coalition is unlikely to permit such a course of action.

This component has greater interest in protecting its spoils than in combating religious militancy. The military crackdown on the judiciary, political parties and civil society is testimony to this resistance. The US and the West will have to account for the real divide if they are serious in ensuring the success of their liberal enterprise.

Ramifications of emergency

By Syed Mudassir Ali Shah


THE proclamation of emergency rule by President Gen Pervez Musharraf, who seems to have lost the plot, is in effect a throwback to authoritarianism, which will unquestionably have wide-ranging consequences for Pakistan — hemmed in by a number of domestic problems.

Its troubled transition to democracy, painstakingly orchestrated by Washington, will certainly decelerate. That the much-anticipated general election — due in early January — will be set back is just a foregone conclusion and so is Pakistan’s deep international isolation.

Political turmoil that may ensue in the country will ineluctably impinge on its far from normal relations with uneasy neighbours like India and Afghanistan — at least for the time being. With its key institutions in a state of flux, Pakistan will find it extremely difficult interacting with a world that sets great store by democracy, human rights and a vibrant civil society.

In a show of spine, senior Supreme Court judges flatly refused either to endorse the extreme measure or take oath under the new Provisional Constitution Order (PCO), a decree they rejected as illegal. The price they paid in the form of removal from office came as no surprise to Pakistan watchers.

The summary dismissal of the Chief Justice, suspension of the Constitution, sweeping curbs imposed on media outlets and the arrest of opposition leaders distinctly smack of a desperate presidential attempt at reasserting a flagging authority.

Seen as a gambler’s last throw, the emergency has purportedly come in response to a sharp rise in extremism, interference by the apex court with the war on militancy and a wave of suicide attacks. The judiciary has become politicised and inefficient, impeding the fight against terrorists, according to the general, who did not bother to explain how he would contain the trends single-handedly in a shrinking democratic space.

The timing of the totalitarian move — apparently guaranteeing the re-election of the 64-year-old but thoroughly shorn of any justification — implies the ‘closest US ally’ is bent on strengthening his grasp on power as president and army chief. More than anything else, he sought to pre-empt a negative Supreme Court verdict on petitions challenging his candidacy for another presidential term.

Whatever his game plan and regardless of the end-game, the emergency will provide the trigger for widespread public protests plus a precipitous breakdown of frail state institutions as a consequence of muzzling the judiciary and the media. If history is anything to go by, dictators tend to go aground while democracy prevails over the longer haul despite all its imperfections.

As things stand, the possibility of the latest Machiavellian stroke bringing about the military strongman’s fall could not be ruled out. Unified agitation from lawyers, civil society organisations and genuine opposition parties — particularly the Benazir Bhutto-led PPP — has the potential to stir the streets to an extent that will eventually dragoon the president into relinquishing his army job and redeeming his pledges of a return to full civilian rule. A limp response from pro-establishment rightists will conversely help the government in its time-buying tactics.

With chaos engulfing the nuclear-armed South Asian country, neighbours — notably India and Afghanistan — will rationally be chary of proceeding with important pre-scheduled negotiations with it. Putting the talks on ice will surely spell more trouble for the region that needs a joint fight against the plague of terrorism.

The maiden session of a Pakistan-Afghanistan sub-jirga, pencilled in for the first week of the current month in Islamabad, seems to be a casualty of the state of emergency. Called jargagai (smaller jirga) in the archetypal Pashtun tribal parlance, the committee is charged with overseeing the implementation of decisions taken by the Joint Peace Jirga and firming up the agenda for talks with the Taliban, Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) and other dissidents.

The expansion of Taliban-linked violence from the lawless tribal zone to the scenic northwestern valley of Swat has wrenchingly spotlighted a significant but inverse correlation between the situations in Afghanistan and Pakistan: at a given time escalating attacks in one country denote a noticeably waning level of terror in the other.

An exact date of the session is still up in the air. Who will be showing up on the much-anticipated occasion and when is also kept under wraps. Whoever the participants may be, they will be on trial in agonising over how to grapple with the complex issues of our times. Their approach will largely be viewed as a telltale tick of their ingenuity, willingness to work for achieving shared goals and the stamina to keep at it for as long as it takes.

If a number of districts changed hands in Afghanistan’s south and west this last week, major Pakistani cities including Rawalpindi, Sargodha and Karachi were rocked by a string of suicide bombings. The war-torn nation is already at a tipping point, but its immediate neighbour is no less vulnerable to the menace of expanding militancy, equally unnerving urbanites and villagers.

Likely to be postponed indefinitely and convened under less-than-optimal conditions because of the mini-martial law in Pakistan, the inaugural sitting may not throw up a major breakthrough in realising the objectives outlined in a declaration issued at the end of the grand tribal gathering. At subsequent meetings, however, the body could inch its way towards the aims cited above.

During a visit to Islamabad last month, a delegation led by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Dr Farooq Wardak — the moving spirit behind the August peace forum organised in Kabul — handed Pakistan a list of the 25 Afghan members of the committee. The visiting delegates played their cards well in sending out the message the Afghans — beset by misfortunes too numerous to catalogue — did not want the exercise to be a non-starter.

Pakistani officials, who assured nominations for the jirgagai in a couple of days, have yet to redeem their pledge, giving rise to insinuations that Islamabad is more interested in stitching up pre-poll deals than in a follow-through on recommendations of the grand tribal gathering.

Given that most Nato states are reluctant to render more sacrifices or share the troop burden for a cause they overtly doubt, the Karzai administration will have to go the extra mile for confidence-building with the neighbours and peacemaking with its foes. This is precisely where and when bilateralism should be given a fair chance for resolving common problems.

The writer is a Pakistani journalist based in Kabul.

Ballot, not bullet

By Murtaza Razvi


GEN Musharraf cannot be doubted when he sees a frightening spectre of disorder. From the remote Waziristan to Balochistan, Bajaur Agency, Malakand and Swat, to the garrisons of Rawalpindi, Tarbela and Sargodha, to Islamabad, Quetta, Peshawar and Karachi, violence holds sway. The country has never been this ungovernable.

People now wake up with bated breath, fearing more violence; today it may be distant, tomorrow it could be too close for comfort. The cliché ‘anti-state elements’ — that much-abused euphemism for political opponents in government annals — rings true. Call them religious fanatics, self-styled messiahs or monsters of the state’s own creation, the jihadi squads come underwritten by years of misrule, political brinkmanship and apathy to the people’s needs and their aspirations.

The jihadists are the prodigal sons fattened on years of state mischief. They have returned to reclaim their lost territories, with compounded interest. It is time to sober up to the smell of the deadly brew they are offering the people in their respective areas of influence as the antidote to the authorities high on absolute power.

The threat to the state and society is unmistakable. The political vacuum created by year after year of proxy rule by the establishment, and to the detriment of a political culture based on the ballot, has to be filled.

The US-led ‘war on terror’ and its fallout on Pakistan have helped organise the Islamist militants, but the way they have been pursuing the agenda of establishing fiefdoms in their appropriated territories is part of a bigger, political juggernaut.

It cannot be that the jihadists’ onslaught caught the state intelligence apparatus unawares, for the former began flexing their muscles a long time ago. Nor are the intelligence agencies unaware of the gravity of the situation on the ground today. The way security forces sent into troubled areas to fight off the militants have been surrendering to their ‘brethren’ is a telling sign of the helplessness in which the jawans find themselves.

They are virtually surrounded by a hostile population — the new converts to the cause of the militants are sold on the promise of justice and some order here and benefaction in the hereafter. If you take the Islamist thrust out of the militants’ quest for power, the situation in areas controlled by militants is reminiscent of the crisis faced by the soldiers of the eastern command, stranded as they were, in East Pakistan, post-1970.

Tribal nationalism has redefined itself through religion. It will settle for nothing less than running its own dominions, unobstructed by the federal make-up of the state. This is because the federation stands discredited in the eyes of many, and for good reasons. The establishment’s allergy to a workable democracy based on the will of the people as ascertained by the ballot is no secret.

Over the years, the state’s peddling of religion, combined with extra-constitutional measures dogging the political process, has rendered both Islam and the process controversial. The liberal and the orthodox are two extremes that have alienated the silent, moderate majority. There is, thus, a serious crisis of governance, and a void that is being filled by violence as an agent of change.

In his proclamation of emergency speech, General Musharraf vowed to root out violence. He also pointed a finger at actions by a proactive judiciary and certain media organs which he accused of bailing out and projecting the perpetrators of violence. Now, with both the irritants i.e. a non-compliant judiciary and an independent media removed, the people expect decisive action against those holding them hostage to a medieval, tribal interpretation of religion and justifying violence to effect change.But in doing so, members of civil society, opposition leaders and the media must not be seen as the bete noire and subjected to violence by the state machinery.

These are the natural allies the government needs as it sets about rooting out militancy. The electoral process too must continue in order to isolate those who advocate and practice violence as an agent of change.

Unless an unequivocal will is shown to ensuring that a political culture based on the ballot, and not the bullet, prevails and remains unobstructed by autocratic tendencies, extremism will continue to gain strength. Let politics defeat the demons which the state’s political adventurism has failed even to contain.


“When extra-constitutional steps are taken then those taking such steps are responsible, not the judges.”

Justice Rana Bhagwandas of the Supreme Court decrying the PCO but absolving the judges who took oath under the order of any blame.



© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007