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DAWN - Opinion; February 08, 2008

February 08, 2008


Mid-term polls on cards

By Kuldip Nayar

HOWEVER strong the statements to the contrary, I still expect a mid-term election this year. It may not be in April or May as anticipated earlier, but would perhaps take place in October or November. The political situation in the country is developing in such a way that the ruling Congress may itself dissolve parliament and opt for polls.

Once the party clinches a favourable agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and proves that the assurances given by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to parliament have been met, the Congress believes it will be on a firmer ground to take on the opposition parties.

Its plank may well be that the opposition is in the way of development which the party will link to the nuclear deal with America.

There is no doubt that the deal is popular with civil society constituting roughly 300 million people who make up the consumer class and who influence opinion, with the media at their command.

The Left will suspect America’s hand in any favourable outcome involving the IAEA. It is not going to take an agreement with the IAEA at face value. It would like to probe and re-discuss the whole gamut of the nuclear deal with the purpose of picking holes.

The problem with the Left, particularly the Communist Party of India (Marxist), is not the deal so much as the suspicion that it will be yet another loop in the string that America is tying around India.

The Left suspects New Delhi is tilting towards Washington in foreign and economic affairs as the West thought during the Cold War that India was pro-Soviet Union.

I expect the discussion between the Left and the government to take long. Both may knowingly extend their talks until after the budget. The Left does not want to rock the boat so long as its own credibility is not affected. And in any case it does not want the BJP to step in after the fall of the government.

The danger is that many parties supporting the Congress can switch over to the BJP’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA), not wanting early polls.

Since civil society is pro-West, the sympathy factor may work in favour of the Congress. Civil society was not upset when Russia wanted to sign a pact on the installation of nuclear reactors and New Delhi changed its mind at the last minute.

Russia is no longer on civil society’s radar. Nor has it taken any notice of India not signing the gas pipeline contract with Iran. Both India and Pakistan were to sign the contract but only Pakistan has done so.

Knowing well that no issue other than the failure of the nuclear deal can revive the sagging fortunes of the Congress, the party may go over the full exercise of losing a majority in the Lok Sabha and quitting. The purpose will be to show that for the sake of ‘development’, the Congress did not compromise and went down fighting.

The more the Left and others hit out at the Manmohan Singh government on the nuclear deal, the bigger will be the support of civil society for the Congress. How far this strategy will help the party is difficult to say. But it will certainly win over elements which are focused on the growth rate of nine per cent. Apart from the corporate sector, civil society constitutes a strong lobby. It has all the money to finance the costliest election that the Congress may face.

The BJP, the main party in the opposition, is not oblivious to Congress thinking. But it believes that after winning in Uttrakhand, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh in a row, the party is on the recovery path. Until a few years ago, not even the most optimistic gave the party more than 100 seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha. Today, even the pessimists will concede it more than 100.

The BJP has nothing against America. The party feels that it overplayed its card in the opposition to the nuclear deal. Now it is stuck.

In fact, the non-resident Indians in America, the biggest source of funds for the BJP, have conveyed their dislike for the party’s stand on the deal. Therefore, it was not even mentioned at the party’s National Council conference. But if the question of the nuclear deal is raised by the Congress during the elections — as it will do to placate civil society — the BJP may argue that it is not opposed to the deal but to the restriction of sovereignty it may bring in its wake.

The CPM’s idea of a third force is a non-starter because there is hardly any party left in the field after Congress has formed the United Progressive Alliance and BJP the National Democratic Alliance. The only party the CPM has in its tow is the Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav.

The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam may come along because it has no alliance to go with when its rival, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, has joined hands with the BJP.

The CPM’s old favourite Lalu Prasad Yadav from Bihar would like to stay with the Congress for the help it has rendered to him in the cases of corruption and excess assets. Telugu Desam may be on the BJP side after elections but the party chief, Chandrababu Naidu, tends to go with the winning combination. Regional and sub-regional parties will do better if they go it alone. Most of them will, as was the case in the last general election.

The Congress does not expect the pendulum to swing back to its side. But it will hate to see it slip further from the territory it occupies. It wants to cash in on the unpopularity of the BJP in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh, going to the polls later in the year.

Mayawati is a big factor against the Congress. The Dalits, the Harijans, once its ardent supporters, are moving rapidly towards Mayawati, a Dalit who gives them a sense of identity. Their increasing preference for the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which she heads, is cutting into Congress votes. The BSP divided Dalit votes in Gujarat to make the Congress lose some 12 seats.

The same thing has happened in Himachal Pradesh, costing the Congress as many as six seats. On the other hand, the Congress has to put its house in order. Party president Sonia Gandhi has cut every leader in the party down to size to stand out as the tallest. But in the process, even former chief ministers of Congress-run states have become pygmies.

Waiting until May 2009 for elections does not yield anything except the depressingly slow progress of Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi’s son. The Congress does not know how to combat communal forces. This is its minus point.

The writer is a leading journalist based in Delhi.

Fighting Afghanistan’s war in Pakistan

By Mohammad Qadeer

THE Taliban ‘s stubborn resistance to Nato and American forces in 2007 has led to a rising chorus of voices blaming Pakistan for not ‘doing enough’ to curb the support the militants receive from its territories.

American and Canadian ministers, commanders and journalists visiting Afghanistan often conclude their tour by calling for pressing Pakistan for more action.

Not infrequently, such demands have a threatening tone suggesting military strikes at the Taliban’s infrastructure in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Mr Stephane Dion , the leader of the opposition in the Canadian parliament and the Liberal Party, is the latest to join this ‘press Pakistan’ parade.

The question to be asked is: can Pakistan seal its border? Does it bear the responsibility for the difficulties of Nato forces? Undoubtedly, people and goods move across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border almost freely.

The border itself is poorly demarcated and loosely controlled. It is long, crossing high mountains and parched deserts. The same tribes live on both sides of the border and they have historic rights of unhindered passage.

Paradoxically, it is Afghanistan that does not recognise the Durand Line, the British demarcated border between the two countries, and has irredentist claims on Pakistani territories. To better control the border, the Pakistan government has proposed erecting a fence.

It is the Afghan government that strongly opposes this idea. There are huge numbers of Afghan refugees still living in Pakistan, mostly in camps along the border — at the height of the civil war in that country three million had taken refuge in Pakistan where they lived for decades. They go back and forth, many on a daily basis, for work, buying and selling, family visits, marriages and deaths, etc.

The Taliban come from these Pashtun tribes who straddle the border. Their movements would be almost impossible to control without uprooting Afghan camps near the border and disrupting centuries-old social patterns.

Pakistan is the lifeline of supplies for the landlocked and highly dependent Afghanistan. Daily, hundreds of trucks cross the border from Pakistan carrying food, fuel and materials. If Pakistan restricts this movement, daily life in Afghanistan will be disrupted.

Recently, Pakistan cracked down on the smuggling of flour to Afghanistan, stopping 60 loaded trucks in one day. The Afghan government strongly protested against this restriction because of the impending bread crisis in Kabul. Even Nato forces depend on overland transport through Pakistan for their supplies. The Taliban are indistinguishable from the thousands who cross the border daily for these purposes.

Afghanistan is not alone in suffering the insurgency. Pakistan is also being racked by the Taliban and Al Qaeda networks. Its tribal areas are aflame with insurgency inspired by the Islamic extremists and anti-American ideologies. This insurgency has spawned suicide bombings, attacks on the army and police, assassinations of leaders and other acts of violence and disorder all across Pakistan.

In 2007, there were 56 suicide bombings in Pakistan. This is largely the spill-over from Afghanistan.There is a flow of militants and insurrectionary technologies, such as suicide belts, car bombs, etc, into Pakistan from Afghanistan and beyond. This is the price Pakistan is paying for joining the war on terror.

Pakistan has 80,000 troops along the Afghan border and is suffering casualties everyday in battles with militants in the tribal areas where the Taliban are said to receive support. Even Benazir Bhutto is said to have been targeted for espousing the American agenda.

The point is that Pakistan is not a bystander in the Afghan war. It is fighting to suppress the militants and clear its territory of extremist infrastructure. It is doing its part.

Pressing Pakistan further, lecturing and hectoring, will be devaluing its efforts. Any thought of injecting foreign troops in Pakistan’s territory should be banished. Such an adventure will only expand the theatre of war and entangle Nato/American troops in a quagmire of a regional scale. It will drive the insurgency into the heartland of Pakistan and arouse nationalist resistance.

The Afghanistan-Pakistan border needs to be stabilised. It should be done by the joint efforts of the two countries with the support of Nato/American forces.

The Taliban’s support structure can only be broken by a comprehensive political and economic strategy of meeting people’s needs and honouring their nationalism, while at the same time isolating and suppressing the insurgents. The national governments, not the foreigners, should lead in these efforts. Threats and invasions will only prolong the war and increase the instability all across the region.

The writer, a professor emeritus of Queen’s University, Canada, is author of the book, ‘Pakistan: Social and Cultural Transformations in a Muslim Nation’.


More than ordinary

By Ayesha Siddiqa

BENAZIR Bhutto is gone. For many months and years to come we will read comments about her personality. Her friends will praise her and her enemies will criticise her. Sadly, people on both sides will forget a vital and extraordinary side of Benazir Bhutto in the form of her relationship with Naheed Khan.

Before people forget, it is important to pen a deep and intense relationship between two women: one who was the leader and the other who must be remembered for her unflinching loyalty. The relationship between the two PPP women was multi-dimensional and must be analysed accordingly.

At a personal level, the relationship was based on trust and having struggled together at a time when faithful people were a rarity. The two women had met in London at a time of desperation for both. During the early 1980s, when Benazir Bhutto could not think of returning to Pakistan then ruled by General Zia, party resources in terms of finances and people she could trust were scarce.

Reportedly, Naheed struggled day and night with Benazir Bhutto to raise funds for the party and to keep it together until her return to Pakistan in 1986. These tough years brought them together. Naheed earned the confidence of her party leader due to her dedication and, perhaps, honesty in handling the financial and other affairs of the party.

Admittedly, Naheed Khan is a controversial personality in PPP circles. There are many who remember her as the PPP leader’s gatekeeper who often blocked access to Benazir Bhutto. The woman had risen from the lower-middle class to become a key player in party politics as one of the closest aides of the PPP leader. Even the most powerful landlords and business tycoons, hoping to get close access to Benazir, had to go through Naheed Khan, which they certainly did not like. Their problematic egos could tolerate waiting upon Benazir but found it harder being routed through an ordinary woman remembered by many as the PPP leader’s lady-in-waiting.

Although many of Benazir’s friends and foes can be extremely judgmental about her politics, which they have a right to be, it is vital to also look at her as a woman and a human being who was pushed into politics at the early age of 26 and that too in a tragic way. Can one blame that young woman for finding a worker and a confidante at a time when there were very few she could trust?

Politically, Naheed served as a vital point of contact between the party leader and the people. She was the one who would round up the women, bring them out on the streets and lead the agitation. Her dedication to Benazir Bhutto was immense. In the years the two women were together, Naheed proved to be Benazir Bhutto’s ‘right hand man’ who would gather people, muster support from amongst the masses, and get them to agitate. Some one commented that politically, Naheed was to Benazir what Mansab Khan was to Emperor Akbar.

How can one forget the table-thumping woman who would create a rumpus from the benches of the opposition and stage walkouts on the orders of her leader? She would translate the wishes of her party leader sitting thousands of miles away in Dubai and London. Although she was close to the party leader, there was never the presumption of her being elevated much further in the hierarchy of the PPP. In short, there was never the danger of Naheed Khan challenging Benazir Bhutto’s authority or leadership. This confidence is probably what kept the women together.

While many in the PPP will take no time to forget what the two women meant to and did for each other, it is important to point out the hard work which Naheed did to prepare for Benazir Bhutto’s return to Pakistan on Oct 18, 2007, not to forget the manner in which she was always there with her despite the threats to Benazir Bhutto’s life. Naheed will not be forgotten for keeping up the tradition of loyalty, which is fast disappearing from our political life, a tradition that she had acquired from her in-laws, especially her mother-in-law, Begum Ashraf Abbasi, who never let down her leader, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Naheed Khan also represents the rich political tradition of the PPP workers who struggled and grew with the party for decades. While many, who later laid claims to leadership left the PPP, it is the workers who suffered during the hard times. For those, who argue that training is necessary for politicians, does the enduring connection not represent hard core political training?

One has indeed come across many reactions in letters to the editor in this paper and many others suggesting that politicians should, in fact, be sent to training academies. Such a suggestion draws upon the American model of politics in which presidential candidates have the experience of serving as state governors before they even consider the idea of becoming presidential candidates.

However, serving in a position of authority and government does not necessarily produce better politicians, a fact borne out by looking at leaders such as George Bush. If the experience of making policies and conducting negotiations were the main criterion, then all the bureaucrats in the world would have become politicians. Bureaucrats, be they civil or military, are public servants meant to implement decisions taken by politicians. Politics is about negotiating divergent interests to reach a consensus.

The other approach to training politicians, which is a much better option, is to groom them through a rigorous process of working within the party system or at the grassroots level. So, there is a possibility of having a writer like Vaclav Havel as president of the Czech Republic or Nelson Mandela as president of South Africa. Political struggle taught these men to feel the pulse of the people they represented and to negotiate on their behalf. PPP workers and the party’s diehard supporters, who have gone through the hardships and rigours of mass politics, represent that tradition.

Many have heard of the friction between the two women towards the end of Benazir Bhutto’s life. Unlike many powerful men, who would be resentful of the party leadership’s decisions but would still go along, Naheed at least had the courage to return the party ticket. Although the popular perception is that this was done for personal reasons (which is not true) Naheed’s decision was an honourable political protest that many on the higher rungs of the party might not do.

But what is more important is the manner in which Naheed kept the personal and political separate. Despite her political differences, she did not abandon her leader and was by her side until the end.

Lest conspiracy theorists think of this piece as one that is pushing for Naheed Khan’s name on the list of those who now aspire to push their way up in the party, this is just to condole with her on losing a leader and a friend. And this is also to say, thank you, Naheed Khan, for your years with Benazir Bhutto. Your loyalty to the party and its leader and your self-respect are rich traditions which will be remembered.

The writer is an independent analyst and the author of the book ‘Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy’.

Balochistan on the brink

By Zulfiqar Shah

THE absence of a democratic dialogue between the people of Balochistan and the authorities in Islamabad has resulted in protracted violence, widespread human rights abuses, mass internal displacement and the deaths of hundreds of civilians and armed personnel.

Due to Islamabad’s attempt to impose a ‘national identity’ upon the Baloch and the latter’s long-standing resentment towards federal policies the four major insurgencies in 1948, 1958, 1963 and 1973 have become a part of the political history of Pakistan.

The first guerilla movement ended in July 1960, when Nauroz Khan, commander of the movement, died during his detention and five of his companions were hanged. Thereafter, the Pakistan army started building new garrisons at key points in the province, triggering another guerilla movement.

The armed Baloch revolt comprised left-leaning militants led by Sher Mohammad Marri who set up a network of base camps spread from the Mengal tribal areas of Jhalawan in the south to the Marri and Bugti areas in the north. The sporadic fighting ended in 1969, when General Yahya Khan withdrew the ‘One Unit’ plan and the Baloch agreed to a ceasefire. In 1970, Balochistan was granted the status of a ‘province’.

In 1972, Baloch nationalists and the National Awami Party allied with the Islamist Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam to oppose President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. In 1973, Bhutto dismissed the Balochistan government on charges of treason and governor’s rule was imposed on the province.

A large number of Marri tribesmen and Baloch students fought against the government and attacked Pakistani and American oil companies leading to the halting of drilling and survey operations. The Pakistani army deployed 80,000 soldiers, used helicopter gun-ships provided by Iran and $200m as financial and emergency aid, to put down the revolt that continued until 1977 in which more than 5,000 Baloch and 3,300 army men lost their lives.

In the post-1988 democratic phase, the Baloch tribes were represented in the governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, and ethnic tensions subsided. Baloch nationalist parties were given an opportunity to articulate their grievances through national and provincial legislatures. In the 1988 elections, Akbar Bugti led the Baloch National Alliance — a coalition of tribal leaders and left-wing nationalists that won a number of seats in the provincial assembly.

Sui gas, which was first discovered in 1953, was first supplied to Multan and Rawalpindi in Punjab in 1964, but Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, waited until 1986 for its own supply. This too was possible only after the federal government set up a corps headquarters in Quetta. Dera Bugti received gas in the mid-1990s when a paramilitary camp was set up there. Even today only four of the 26 districts of Balochistan are supplied with gas from Sui.

Sui accounts for 36 per cent of Pakistan’s total gas production. However, Balochistan receives only 17 per cent of the gas produced in the region. The remaining 83 per cent is sent to the rest of the country. Moreover, Balochistan receives no more than 12.4 per cent of the royalties due to it on gas. The province supplies more than 40 per cent of Pakistan’s primary energy needs. The example of the Saindak copper project illustrates the discrimination Balochistan is being subjected to. The Chinese manage the project with 50 per cent of the share going to them, 48 per cent to the federal government and only two per cent to the government of Balochistan.

In 1992, Nawaz Sharif’s government decided to build a seaport at Gwadar on the Makran coast. Initially, Baloch nationalists supported the project but subsequent developments like the creation of a land market, a planned military base and the expected massive inflow of non-Baloch in a province with a total population of six to seven million, disturbed indigenous political elements.

These issues had not been discussed in the Balochistan Assembly. The small population of the province means that a massive influx of outsiders will swamp the locals, deprive them of a share in the opportunities created by these mega projects, and wipe out their identity from the face of the earth.

Gwadar has only one intermediate college and no technical school. No major steps have been taken to improve health facilities or access to safe drinking water. Most of the locals rely on fishing for a livelihood and have lost prime fishing grounds after the port was constructed.

According to an estimate, 89 per cent of rural Balochistan and 49 per cent of Sindh’s rural population live in high-deprivation areas. Over 50 per cent of the population subsists below the poverty line in the province. According to the Labour Force Survey 2003-2004, urban unemployment is 9.7 per cent in Pakistan, and 12.5 per cent in Balochistan.

Between 2001 and 2003, unemployment decreased from 8.3 to 7.7 per cent in Pakistan but went up from 7.8 per cent to 8.2 per cent in the province. The literacy rate is low in Balochistan as compared to the rest of the country. According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2006-2007, in Balochistan 54 per cent men and 20 per cent women (with a total of 38 per cent) are literate.

Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, as the interim prime minister in 2004, had constituted a parliamentary committee on Balochistan. There were two sub-committees to look into current as well as constitutional issues. The current issues committee led by Mushahid Hussain dealt with issues such as the building of military cantonments, mega development projects and violence, whereas the constitutional committee led by Wasim Sajjad dealt with issues related to provincial autonomy.

The sub-committees recommended a 15 to 20 per cent increase in gas royalty, 20 to 30 per cent resource allocation for local development, and 5.4 per cent quota for Baloch workers in the federal government. Moreover, they recommended social sector development and constitutional changes for providing greater provincial autonomy to Balochistan.

The Wasim Sajjad Committee also recommended a complete revision of the concurrent list and distribution of federal resources on the basis of poverty, backwardness, unemployment and the development level of provinces, instead of using the criterion of population.

Conflict between the army and the insurgents has taken the lives of Nawab Akbar Bugti and Balach Marri further alienating the Baloch from Islamabad. The uprising in Balochistan goes on unabated. It is rooted in the structure of the federation. The recommendations of both the committees mentioned above and the 15 points communicated by Akbar Bugti during his talks with Tariq Aziz have still not been addressed.

Today, the danger of the dismemberment of the country is greater than ever before. The time has come for Pakistan’s civil-military establishment to change its attitude towards the people and their problems. Let the federating units be given provincial autonomy so that a just socio-economic contract may be implemented.

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2008