Giving up too much
OUR history will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, history will take revenge. This is as much true for India as it is for other countries. Fear has got hold of us and we have compromised with the harshest laws and the most blatant human rights violations.
Our focus on security concerns actually generates repression. Terrorism has made us cast our society in a mould where we justify the excesses of central forces and the state police. We are giving up too much.
In many states in India, the repressive POTA has come back in one form or the other. The centre, which included POTA’s dictatorial part in the Unlawful Activities Act, is using it with a vengeance. As the shadows of intolerance lengthen, the state discards even simple values. Terrified citizens have nothing to say except that the government knows best.
Thank God, the lieutenant-governor of Delhi withdrew the order which made it compulsory for every resident of the capital to carry a photo identity card. This, as the order said, was meant “to ensure that terrorists or anti-social elements don’t sneak into the city”.
They do not want an identity card because they know how to fudge papers. The order would have meant harassment for hundreds of thousands of people, particularly those from Bihar who do not possess any paper to prove that they are residents. They have been here for years doing odd jobs. When even the Delhi chief minister reads about the order in the press, it means that the establishment wants to convey that big brother is watching you.
After all, it was the Congress government which had imposed the emergency (1975-77) to suspend even fundamental rights. The order’s withdrawal does not come as a relief to me. I feel that the central government which directly rules Delhi has something up its sleeve to restrict the individual’s liberty and free movement that the constitution has guaranteed. No society can prevent all threats. Some element of risk will always be there.
We should take normal precautions but never make such intrusive rules which actually undermine democratic principles. Democratic nations slip into dictatorships when citizens are not vigilant. Without the awareness of what is right and a desire to act according to what is right, there may be no realisation of what is wrong.
In fact, the manner in which the right to liberty is being flouted is worrisome. The University Grants Commission wants to prescribe a “homogeneous curriculum” for all Indian universities. This will squeeze out even the last drop of creativity and independent thinking. Finally, the report to find out the reasons for the furor over the “obscene painting” at Baroda’s MS University is out. The three-member committee has recommended the reinstatement of acting dean Shivraj Pannikar who had defended the painter, his student, against an attack by pro-Hindutva students.
Yet, the committee appears to be afraid to come out openly on the side of the painter. It says that the painting would have been “obscene” if it had been displayed in public but since it was shown within the university premises, it was not. What an apologetic approach. But then the university is under the Gujarat of Narendra Modi fame.
The case of paintings by M.F. Hussain is still pending before law courts. He is staying out of his country because the hooligans who call themselves “the people” are after him. The government is too timid to intervene since the BJP is involved. Agreed, nobody has any right to hurt the sentiments of others, but matters should not be stretched to a point where the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression is restricted.
The same is more or less the case with Taslima Nasreen, the Bangladeshi author living in India. I would like to see what she had written against Islam because all that is known is that she criticised Muslims in Bangladesh for victimising Hindu women. Her book, Lajja (Shame) says all that. Information Minister P.R. Dasmunsi has demanded that she should apologise to Muslims. What is that has hurt them?
At present it appears as if Taslima has been penalised for her liberal views. The extremists have made so much noise that the government has confined her to a house. India’s traditions do not tally with the treatment meted out to her. Even the few visitors and friends allowed to meet her are harassed by the authorities. I only hope that her visa ending next month is renewed for a permanent stay. But then, the way in which she has been sequestered suggests that the government is looking only for a short-term solution.
When it comes to basic rights, the Naxalites are the worst sufferers. An unequal society does drive people to desperation. Still, I abhor violence and favour a democratic solution to the problem. But it looks as if the government is not making way for even such Naxalites who want to return to democratic ways.
One case is that of Dr Binayak Sen, PUCL vice-president from Chattisgarh. Presuming he is a Naxalite, there should be no bar if he wishes to pursue democratic methods to deal with his case. He wants to get bail for the crime of “carrying a letter” from one set of Naxalites to another. Even that has not yet been established. Yet his application for bail has been rejected 22 times. Bail is the right of an accused. The supreme court has said so in several judgments.
Maybe, the law under which Dr Binayak is detained needs to be amended. He is only an “accused”, not proven guilty. In a climate where even bail is not granted, desperation is the natural fallout.
And what about someone’s right to live? Hindu extremists led by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a member of the Sangh Parivar, have killed scores of Christians and burnt their houses in the Khandamal district of Orissa. Even communist leaders were stopped from visiting the area. A committee of Christian intellectuals which has visited the area has said in its report that the whole affair — the killing of people and burning of houses — was pre-planned and executed with the blessings of the administration.
My purpose of putting together these different incidents is to point out how the spirit of accommodation, a basic need for a democratic culture, is lessening day by day. There is a lack of engagement in the country. New rules and regulations are made regularly. But they are meant to punish — and not to encourage a dialogue.
Democracy is nothing but a dialogue. We should never adopt such measures which may kill the basic principles that we want to uphold. The lieutenant-governor of Delhi nearly did that.
The writer is a leading journalist based in New Delhi.
Cry of the wounded
“NA KHAPAY, na khapay, Pakistan na khapay” (We don’t want, we don’t want, we don’t want Pakistan.) The shocking slogans raised by enraged activists of the Pakistan People’s Party from Sindh were a manifestation of popular sentiments.
The horrifying assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the fourth in the Bhutto family, has intensified the gnawing feeling in the province that it has been betrayed and repeatedly stabbed in the back by its own creation, Pakistan.
Sindh is proud of being the birthplace of Pakistan’s founder Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the fact that after East Bengal it was the only province of pre-Partition India whose assembly passed a resolution supporting the creation of Pakistan. Sadly, many here believe that in return the politically and culturally rich province of Sindh has been marginalised in the sharing of power, resources and government jobs and treated like the younger brother referred to in the Persian proverb: “Be a dog rather than a younger brother.”
Sindh had not recovered from the setback caused by the demise of the father of the nation in not too congenial surroundings when the assassination of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan (at the same venue in Rawalpindi where Ms Bhutto was killed) took place. These incidents were interpreted here as meaning that any leadership at the centre hailing from Sindh would not be tolerated by the establishment.
In 1955, when the One Unit system was introduced, Sindh lost its separate identity. Later, Ayub Khan’s martial law regime shifted the country’s capital from Karachi to Islamabad, a city specially built near Rawalpindi for this purpose. This meant that Sindh’s stakes at the helm of federal affairs were remarkably reduced.
Then the military dictatorship rigged the general elections of 1964 to keep Quaid-i-Azam’s sister Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah away from the corridors of power. Had the elections not been rigged, the subsequent elections of 1970 might not have produced a split mandate with Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s Awami League sweeping the polls in East Pakistan and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s PPP winning a majority of seats in West Pakistan.
The establishment’s refusal to accept the poll results and hand over power to the victorious Awami League stirred armed resistance among the marginalised Bengalis and prompted India to take benefit of the situation and declare war upon Pakistan. We not only lost the war but also half of the country as East Pakistan was separated and emerged on the world map as Bangladesh.
The demoralised military handed over the reins of power of a truncated Pakistan to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who secured the release of 90,000 soldiers languishing in Indian jails and POW camps and revived the self-respect of the country as well as its military by gaining atomic technology.
Sindh saw in the election of a Sindhi prime minister the restoration of its share in power and the socialistic PPP government put balm on the wounds of the province by setting up the National Finance Commission to gradually introduce a more judicious sharing of resources and revenues among the federation and the federating units and opened the doors of government employment to its people on a large scale.
But this joy was short-lived. Amid the tug of war between the PPP and the Pakistan National Alliance over the results of the 1977 elections, the military again staged a coup and imposed martial law in the country. Gen Ziaul Haq promised the army’s return to the barracks in 90 days but such promises are not made to be kept. Instead, the days of dictatorship lingered on and Mr Bhutto was executed after a highly controversial murder trial. A helicopter brought his body — the corpse of the Sindhi people’s happiness and hope — to Garhi Khuda Bukhsh Bhutto.
Twenty-eight years later, the helicopter brought the body of another Bhutto to the sobbing and traumatised Sindhis who reacted like a wounded lion. In the flash of a moment, angry crowds invaded the province by blocking roads and highways from Karachi to Kashmore and Kammon Shaheed and uprooted the already frail railway tracks, and burned railway stations and trains. Administration offices, courts and government installations were attacked. Police stations were set on fire, with policemen taking to their heels. Jails were broken. It resembled a revolt.
President Pervez Musharraf, his political allies and a section of the press are giving the impression that the Sindhis are pitted not only against the state but also against people belonging to other ethnic groups. There is no denying the fact that state symbols did come under attack. According to Dr Inayat Magsi, a psychiatrist, the deprived and frustrated people returned the fire that state and society had infused in them over the years. Criminal gangsters were involved in looting people, banks and goods-laden trailers and trucks as happens in such circumstances in any part of the world.
But, was there any kind of ethnic strife? No. True, the houses and offices of pro-establishment political leaders and parties were particular targets of the rioters. But these included the houses and offices of Sindhi leaders like Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim and Salim Jan Mazari. Not a single house, business concern or property was attacked or looted on the ground of the ethnic roots of its owner, a fact verified by the federal minister for justice and human rights, Ansar Burney.
That the violent protest did not contain any ethnic element is evident also from the fact that trains were burnt only after ensuring that passengers had safely disembarked. And thousands of stranded train and bus passengers from upcountry were taken care of by local people till the resumption of the train/bus services a couple of days later.
Protests against the murder took place across the country — even on both sides of Kashmir. Naturally, it was more intense in Sindh but here too it was joined by non-Sindhi PPP workers and sympathisers. Nevertheless, the Musharraf camp is trying to paint the whole thing as a Sindhi affair because they know that the sympathy wave is bound to entice many of their voters to vote for the PPP.
This is a very dangerous manoeuvre as it can culminate in ethnic violence. But perhaps this is what they want and ethnic strife is the next move of this provocative strategy. The polarisation might compartmentalise society and compel common voters, particularly in Punjab and the urban areas of Sindh, to vote on an ethnic, and not party, basis.
More disastrous would be poll rigging through the use of force or manipulating election results as the PPP and Sindh seem to be in no mood to put up with this. Similar actions in the past have produced fatal results for the country.
Recognising the truth
THE Pakistan government seems to be under a lot of pressure, deflecting as it is the various statements and opinions published in the western media regarding the security of its nuclear weapons. Recently, the head of the UN atomic agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, also talked about his concern for the security of these weapons.
Considering the political instability in Pakistan, many fear that the weapons could fall into the hands of religious extremists.
Such fears seem to have increased, especially after the death of Benazir Bhutto who the government claims was killed by Al Qaeda. After all, if she could be killed for her liberal views then why couldn’t someone get Musharraf whom the foreign press has popularised as the most liberal human being on Pakistani soil, or scores of generals?
One must not forget the two assassination attempts on Musharraf by the Jaish-i-Mohammad, an organisation whose leadership is sitting comfortably inside the country and will probably never be caught. Now we know that even if the Jaish leadership is caught they might just escape from police detention as Rashid Rauf did some weeks ago. All of this makes Pakistan extremely insecure and its 50-odd nuclear warheads dangerous.
One of the news reports published in the last couple of months relates to reports of the American military’s plan to take out or secure Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in case of an emergency. What if something happens to Musharraf or the head of the army? Then the US would feel too insecure to let Pakistan retain control of its weapons. Any logical mind would certainly raise the question about the possibility of US forces finding out where these nuclear warheads are. Maybe it is difficult to locate all weapons but they could have a general sense of the activities of Pakistan’s security establishment.
Since 9/11, Pakistan has played host to many foreign visitors, including members of various covert and overt foreign agencies. Furthermore, the key organisation responsible for maintaining, deploying and securing these weapons, the Strategic Plans Division, has had a long and deep interaction with the US. Its officers get regular training from American think-tanks. Surely, these officers have the interest of their country at heart. But one cannot rule out the possibility of information slipping through the cracks.
Thus far, Islamabad has vociferously condemned any mention of a plan to take control of its nuclear weapons. The US, it is stated, must realise the opportunity cost of any action inside Pakistan. In fact, such claims are also made regarding rumours of American plans to carry out attacks against suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban strongholds in the tribal areas.
The Pakistan government’s version, of course, is that direct action by foreign forces will be highly unpopular and will make people angry. It would not even be surprising if the ranks of Al Qaeda and the Taliban ballooned after such military action. Moreover, it is stated that the Musharraf’s regime would be totally destabilised as a result of a direct military strike, meaning that the US would lose the last bastion of liberalism in the country.
It would be foolhardy to argue against the aforementioned claim. The US must understand that there will be repercussions in case it attacks inside Pakistan. But let’s critically evaluate if Musharraf’s regime would actually be destabilised due to American intervention. How could anyone, for instance, destabilise an inherently unstable or unpopular regime? The general-turned-president is not popularly elected, even though he might make such claims. He is not part of the political process. In fact, all he does is condemn the political process as a base activity which he cannot indulge in since he is a great warrior.
Many analysts support his claim without considering that politics is the mother of all arts and sciences put together. Politics is not about dirty tricks but about negotiating relative power and position. His main support comes from the upper middle-class and segments of the new corps of educated middle-class urbanites who themselves are least concerned about the poor man’s Pakistan and only think about personal material gains. Musharraf is popular amongst those who have enriched themselves due to the economic policies of Shaukat Aziz and his economic team.
The general acquired clout and has sustained it due to the power of the gun. When he felt pressure from civil society he clamped down on it and the media. The police of the presently militaristic state happily crack down on demonstrators to save the regime. The government has even killed the judiciary and locked up icons like Aitzaz Ahsan and the deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry to safeguard its control of the state.
The larger issue, however, is that what happens to the bombs does not make a regime more or less popular. Currently, Pakistan is facing a major shortage of basic necessities like wheat, sugar and cooking oil. The country faces load-shedding and the scarcity of water. There is a growing danger of starvation for the poor due to the unavailability of basic food items. The poor would have starved anyway considering that food inflation has increased — thanks to the ‘wonderful’ economic policies of the regime and its economic managers like Shaukat Aziz and the current caretaker finance minister Salman Shah.
The other day there was a statement by Salman Shah claiming that wheat prices in the country would have to be brought on par with those of the international market, and that the government could not afford to subsidise wheat. The question which one would like to ask him is why does paying subsidy for wheat bother him more than what the government pays for other things, for instance, the bomb and the bomb-keepers.
Islamabad pays heavily to subsidise military security. The overt and covert portions of the defence budget, the millions of rupees spent on paying for the officers’ civilian batmen who have now replaced soldiers, the billions spent on purchasing weapons and paying kickbacks to those involved in the transaction, and the trillions worth of land and other resources used by military officers as post-retirement benefits are nothing but subsidy by the state.
In our case, even official defence spending is a subsidy since we have no noticeable performance to show for the resources spent. We have engaged in losing battles and poorly conceived operations. Military expenditure becomes more of a subsidy especially when the bigger concerns of the common man are not fulfilled and he is left to die of hunger. Economic and social securities are larger ‘public goods’ than defence.
Considering what is happening in Pakistan’s socioeconomic and resources distribution scene today, one wonders whether the present rulers would become more popular or less in case of foreign military intervention. Also, if there is a threat of American intervention, is the regime to blame for supporting the idea of the existence of a major threat from militancy?
Perhaps, the repercussions would be much less if they were to reveal the truth about Benazir Bhutto’s death or apprehend the heads of different militant organisations. In any case, evidence suggests that religious parties, mullahs and militants have always come out on the streets in connivance with higher and hidden powers in the country.
The writer is an independent analyst and the author of the book “Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy”.
Musharraf’s post-election troika
STATEMENTS made by President Musharraf after the tragic death of Benazir Bhutto clearly indicate that he intends to remain a key player in the post-election power structure.
Notwithstanding the tall claims made by the president that he was a true democrat, serious doubts exist about the credibility of such assertions. The reason for mistrust is clear: there is a big gap between declaration and reality.
Most glaring is his determination to introduce the concept of a ‘troika’, in which power is to be shared between three power centres — the president, prime minister and the COAS. In this way, President Musharraf intends to leverage his influence by institutionalising a system that informally existed during the 1990s when Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were prime ministers.
The thinking goes that in implementing this concept and sharing power with the army giving it a permanent role in running state affairs, a certain power balance would be maintained that would provide stability and strength to the country. In fact, President Musharraf wants to be the ruler in a new garb by reconsolidating his control over society and relying on the loyalty of an elite structure that he nurtured.
Apart from being against the substance and spirit of the Constitution and legally untenable, it is a piece of architecture that is intrinsically unstable and that constitutes a frontal assault on democracy. Moreover, Pakistan would be the only country in modern history where an elected prime minister must be answerable to an unelected body. The closest parallel would be Iran where the elected president is subordinate to the clergy. But even in Iran the election of the president is direct, free and fair. Instead of politicians drawing strength from the power of the people, a troika would make them lean on the armed forces. With parliament and the judiciary subservient to the troika, the country would once again be subjected to military dominance as has been the case in the past. The will of the people would be subordinate to the will of the troika and Pakistan would continue to be a security state.
Firstly, the fatal flaw in this system is that the troika is accountable to no one and brings in non-representative elements in major policy formulation as well as in the crucial process of national decision-making. This results in marginalising parliament, reducing the authority of the cabinet and over-awing the judiciary thus preventing it from taking independent decisions.
Moreover, in this power configuration, the military in general but particularly the COAS become pivotal and are dragged into politics. On the contrary, national interest dictates that the military give undivided attention to the challenges on the internal and external fronts.
The importance of the COAS further increases because the president has to be dependent on the army chief to invoke his discretionary powers of exercising Article 58 (2b) to dismiss the prime minister.
The other serious problem with the military’s centrality is that foreign and domestic policy is highly influenced by its thinking which, over the years, has turned Pakistan into a security, instead of a democratic welfare, state.
The military by virtue of its training develops a stereotype world and domestic vision. Some of the ill effects of this are the growing militancy and the Talibanisation threat that is emerging from the border belt and sweeping downwards. This is a classic example of how terrorism often devours its creators. Other failures include the great tragedy of 1971 and the Kargil episode.
President Musharraf has further empowered himself by establishing the National Security Council and the National Command Authority. Although on paper these organisations have broad civilian representation, decision-making is primarily the prerogative of the military leadership. This is just another example of lack of democratic control over national security issues. We have witnessed the consequences of that in the A.Q. Khan episode.
Military-dominated governments try to achieve stability by imposing conformity and a closed political environment. Any influence on the citizens from the outside world or from within the borders leads to instability in such societies. The recent judicial and media crisis is a classic example of this mindset. President Musharraf repeatedly remarked that he had to impose the emergency to prevent Pakistan from sliding into anarchy.
Civil society with lawyers in the vanguard is agitating for the rule of law. The question remains if, in this age of globalisation, we want to be part of a society that is stable precisely because it is open and democratic and not the converse.
Democracies like India, South Africa, the UK, France, Japan, the US and the Scandinavian countries are stable because they resolve their internal political, economic and social problems with the help of institutions peacefully. In these countries it is institutions that are important and individuals do not matter.
If state institutions are to assert themselves, even under the mutilated Constitution, then the president’s powers must diminish and correspondingly that of the prime minister and other civil institutions should grow. Will President Musharraf let this happen? President Musharraf’s view of himself as the embodiment of the state, coupled with his determination to keep the army involved in politics, has given rise to serious doubts about the integrity and fairness of the entire election process and the future of democracy.
Besides, President Musharraf in order to clear the constitutional pile-up may be compelled to manipulate matters during and after elections. For this too he would have to enlist the support of the state machinery.
To what extent can he keep relying on the establishment? Have we not reached a point where any further involvement of the armed forces and the intelligence agencies in politics would seriously impair the professional competence and public support that is crucial especially when the country is facing serious internal insurgencies, external threats and growing protests by civil society?
The only way President Musharraf and the nation can get out of this imbroglio is if he allows the return of genuine democracy. The time and space for President Musharraf to incubate his version of democracy is now over.
The writer is a retired lieutenant-general of the Pakistan Army.
|© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2008|