DAWN - Opinion; March 09, 2008

Published March 9, 2008

Leaders by inheritance

By Kunwar Idris

PAKISTAN’S political parties have always been, now more than ever, vociferous in demanding, as the Benazir-Nawaz Sharif charter of May 2006 puts it, ‘undiluted democracy’. But the parties themselves hardly ever had even a semblance of democracy in their own organisations – now less than ever.

There was a time when the top leadership of the parties arose from the landlords, heads of castes and clans and, later, from the urban nouveau riche. Now, the leaders come by inheritance or, if it is the first generation, by kinship. The mantle of the PPP’s leadership has fallen on Benazir’s widower Asif Zardari till their son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who is at present too young for succession, comes of age. Sibling Shahbaz Sharif will head the Muslim League’s parliamentary group until Nawaz Sharif is constitutionally eligible to become prime minister for a third term.

Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi is succeeding his ageing cousin and brother-in-law, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, as the president of his faction of the Muslim League while their sons Wajahat Hussain and Munis Elahi wait in the wings. The leadership of Wali Khan’s NAP and Samad Achakzai’s MAP has also been inherited by their sons. Amir Haider Hoti, who has been nominated to become the chief minister of NWFP, is also a youth of Wali Khan’s family.

The religio-political parties are no exception to the rule of succession by inheritance. The JUP supremo Shah Ahmad Noorani (in death deified as Imam) was succeeded by his son Anas Noorani. Maulana Fazlur Rahman has inherited the leadership of JUI from his father Mufti Mahmud. This succession rule also prevails in lesser known but more militant religious groups. However, Jamaat-i-Islami is an exception. Its Emir, like socialist dictators, stays for his entire lifetime unless disabled by age as was Mian Tufail. The party stalwarts of the time, to their credit, successfully resisted the challenge of inheritance by the son of the founder Maulana Maududi.

Altaf Hussain created the MQM and has the same status in the party as Mao had in the communist party of China. All authority emanates from him and his vigilance, despite distance, is constant and complete. The succession issue is not yet in sight but when it does arise it will be indisputably his choice.

The councils or caucuses of parties have hardly ever shown any inclination to elect their leaders for they themselves are nominated by the party bosses and not elected by the general body of members. It should thus surprise no one that the recent assumption of leadership by Asif Zardari, Shahbaz Sharif and Pervaiz Elahi in their respective parties caused not a whimper of protest. In fact the parties went a step further and gave them full authority to nominate whomever they thought fit to be the prime minister or chief minister. The governments that come into being through this process are thus unable to stand up to authoritarian presidents or intrusive military commanders.

The parties which are not democratically organised, quite obviously, are neither qualified nor inclined to establish democracy in the country. They cannot safeguard the fundamental rights of the citizens (as the London charter commits they will) when their own members do not have them. Resultantly, the party chief or the prime minister does whatever suits his fancy or he thinks is in the best interest of the people.

The difference between a prime minister and a military ruler is one of origin and not of values or accountability. If Musharraf could import Shaukat Aziz from America, get him elected from places where he was hardly known and then install him as prime minister, Nawaz Sharif did the same by making a friend of his father, who had no record of public service, the president of the country. Instances of such whimsical actions by prime ministers abound and their parties are either acquiescent or openly hail each decision.

Though in a different culture and under a different system, our leaders would do well to observe the role party primaries and conventions play in selecting their candidates for the post of the president of the United States. And how candidates run gruelling, exorbitant campaigns to win the support of the delegates.

The threat to Pakistan’s next elected government is however of another kind. The party leaders – Asif Zardari, Nawaz Sharif, Asfandyar Wali, and Altaf Hussain – will be hectoring their nominee prime minister and chief ministers from outside. The centre of power is already visibly shifting from the parliament to party chiefs and their advisers. The selection of chief ministers, already made for Sindh and NWFP, appears to suggest that the party bosses are taking no chances in their home provinces. At the national level, Asif Zardari has already pre-empted the policies on Kashmir and trade with India which lie in the domain of the parliament, the cabinet and, realistically speaking, also with the military command. In an extensive interview on CNN-IBN he told Karan Thapar that he would not hold trade with India hostage to the Kashmir dispute which can be left to the next generation.

One may agree, which I do, or disagree as many will with Mr Zardari but the point to emphasise is that this decision does not lie with him. Surely, Sonia Gandhi whom he considered “too great” for him would not ever think of making such a glib statement on a dispute over which the two neighbours have gone to war three times. The tough times that lie ahead require cool consideration, which is free of any bravado on matters of foreign policy, law and order, employment and price hikes. Chaudhry Shujaat may soon be advertising, as did Nawaz Sharif on the eve of the elections, the marked difference between the prices of food and other commodities under his government and the present one.

When a propagandist such as PPP’s Sherry Rehman says that her government will review (meaning reverse) the recent increase in petroleum prices, it may also feel compelled to increase them further.

The PPP and PML have many lessons to learn from the dismissal of their governments in the 90s. But the foremost lesson to learn is that public affairs are best managed by following the laws and rules of business. The people have forgiven but not forgotten the excesses and inanities of their past rulers.

The war of drones

By Pervez Hoodbhoy

DRONES, machine and human, have drenched Pakistan with the blood of innocents. On the one side are US-made drones such as the MQ-1B General Dynamics Predator – a remote controlled, self-propelled, missile-bearing aerial system. On the other side are the low-tech human drones, armed with explosive vests stuffed with ball bearings and nails.

These lethal engines of destruction, programmed by remote handlers, are very different. But neither asks why it must kill, nor cares about the death and suffering it causes.

On Jan 13, 2006, a bevy of MQ-1Bs hovering over Damadola launched a barrage of ten Hellfire missiles at the village below. They blew up 18 local people, including five women and five children. Such cold statistics say nothing about the smashed lives of the survivors, or the grief of the bereaved. The blame was put on faulty local intelligence.

Then, on Oct 30, 2006, a Hellfire missile hit a madressah in Bajaur killing between 80-85 people, mostly students. Even if those killed were allegedly training to become Al Qaeda militants, and even if a few key Al Qaeda leaders such as Abu Laith al-Libi have been eliminated, the more usual outcome has been flattened houses, dead and maimed children, and a growing local population that seeks revenge against Pakistan and the US.

The human drone has left a far bloodier trail across Pakistani cities. From six suicide attacks in 2006, the tally went up to 62 in 2007. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, at least 1,523 civilians were killed in terror-related violence in 2007 and more than twice that number injured. The average is now more than one per week – the last week saw three in a row. Those praying in mosques, imambargahs, or at funerals have been no safer than others at political rallies or while crossing a road.

It is possible to imagine how an American soldier or CIA operative controlling a Predator drone can distance himself from the death and destruction it causes in a remote country on the other side of the world that they imagine is full of enemies. For them, it is a job and a way to defend their country. What is harder to understand is how the Pakistani suicide bomber can kill people who are so close to him in so many ways.

A spine-chilling suicide bomber training video, one of the several videos that freely circulate in Pakistan’s tribal areas, offers the beginning of an explanation. About 30 masked fighters are filmed in this video, speaking a language that is not any of Pakistan’s regional languages, Arabic, or Persian. They are training in some barren, mountainous area. One fighter, randomly selected by their leader, proceeds to climb a huge rock, perhaps 100 feet high. He reaches the highest point, and then stands motionless. His arms are outstretched as though on a diving board. On a signal from the leader below, without hesitation, and without closing his eyes, he hurls himself into the void.

The camera cuts to the body lying on blood-soaked ground. It slowly pans over the faces of the other masked fighters. Their eyes betray no emotion. A second signal from the leader, and they trot military-style to the body, dig a shallow grave, toss their dead comrade into it, and cover it up. Then, amazingly, they march over the grave several times, chanting Quranic verses. This is astonishing, because to trample a grave is the ultimate mark of disrespect in a Muslim culture.

Why sacrifice a human life for a few minutes of footage? English sub-titles reveal that this is obviously a propaganda video. Its message: the group’s fighters have overcome the fear of death, and have willingly surrendered their lives to the group leader, and their individual powers to reason and decide.

As troubling as the murders is the response of Pakistanis. While the murder of innocents by the MQ-1B has rightly led to condemnation in Pakistan, the even greater carnage by suicide bombers has provoked less criticism. Some editorials, mostly in English language newspapers, have been forthright. But there are few full-throated denunciations to be found in Urdu newspapers.

On the other hand, implicit justifications abound. In January 2008, 30 leading Deobandi religious scholars, while declaring suicide attacks “haram”, rationalised these as a reaction to the government’s misguided polices in the tribal areas. They concluded that “a peaceful demand for implementing Shariah was not only rejected but the government was also not willing to give ear to any reasoning based on the Quran and Sunnah in support of the Shariah demand. Apparently, these circumstances led some minds to the frustration that manifested itself in suicide attacks.”

What are these ulema telling us? That we should adopt the Shariah to avoid being attacked? This amounts to encouragement and incitement, not condemnation of the suicide bombers’ actions. But even civil society activists, who have bravely protested against the dismissal of the Chief Justice by Gen Musharraf, have not held any street protests against these ghastly crimes.

Why do so many Pakistanis who should know better suddenly lose their voice when it comes to condemning suicide bombings? Is it because the bomber kills in the name of Islam? Are people muted in their criticism lest they be regarded as irreligious or even blasphemous?

Or, is the silence political? Many choose to believe that the suicide bomber is a consequence of Pakistan’s acquiescence to being America’s junior partner in its war against terror. Conversely, there is a widespread opinion that suicide attacks will disappear if Pakistan dissociates itself from this war. But, few admit the brutal fact that even if America retreats or an elected government calls off the army, the terror of ‘jihadism’ will remain.

It is true that suicide bombings were a rarity in Pakistan until the army acted against Islamic militants in the tribal areas on US prodding. Army action against the Lal Masjid militants was another turning point. But the majority of today’s dead and wounded are perfectly ordinary people. Many were pious Muslims, and some were killed in the act of prayer. They had absolutely nothing to do with American or Pakistani forces.

Even with evidence staring them in the face, most Pakistanis seem locked into a state of denial. They refuse to accept the obvious fact that more and more mullahs have created cults around themselves and exercise control over the lives of worshippers. An enabling environment of poverty, deprivation, lack of justice, and extreme differences of wealth is perfect for demagogues.

As the mullah’s indoctrination gains strength, the power to reason weakens. The world of the follower becomes increasingly divided into absolute good and absolute evil. Doubt is replaced by certainty, moral sensibilities are blunted. Reduced to a mere instrument for murder, the human drone is left with no room for useless things such as judgment, doubt, or conscience. As other human beings become mere objects rather than people deserving of love and compassion, the metamorphosis from human to drone becomes complete.

The last thoughts of a suicide bomber cannot be known, but remorse or doubt is unlikely. There is no lower depth to which humans can fall to. Except, perhaps, those who control them – and towards whom we still dare not point a finger at.

The writer teaches physics at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad.

Building a peaceful Pukhtunkhwa

By Adil Zareef

THE recent bloody attacks on the peace jirga in Darra Adam Khel and the funeral in Swat represent the worst aspect of terrorism. It defies both logic and Pukhtunwali – the ancient code of the Pukhtuns. Never in history did Pukhtuns kill unarmed and innocent civilians – but the factors behind the present grisly events are beyond imagination – and beyond the scope of this report. How to give Pukhtunkhwa a peaceful, non violent and benevolent face of the bygone era is the question vexing the incumbent government.

Art, culture and heritage represent a vibrant society – its past, present and future. These were ruthlessly extirpated by the MMA government – the self proclaimed defenders of faith – and in its wake it has left a trail of bigotry, bloodshed, violence and intolerance. “The Buddha rock images and statues that had survived over two millennia of history were blown away in Swat only recently. What a shame!” rued Mr Zahoor Durrani who manages Sehrai Travels. Its famous guided tour of the walled city of Peshawar and the steam engine safari chugging along the Khyber Hills were abandoned during the MMA government as security hit rock bottom. “Tourism industry is almost finished and there seems no hope for the future as the conflict rages,” he remarked.

“This province needs a healing touch and the first priority should be ‘image-building’. A proper cell with professionals is needed to enhance and project Pukhtunkhwa forcefully and positively. The goal should be sustainable development through improved natural resource management, preservation of cultural (tangible and intangible) and archaeological heritage,” says Dr Ali Jan an ardent conservationist.

Not only extremism but flawed ‘development’ lacking adequate monitoring mechanisms, besides, mushrooming of big business cartels, monopolies, and timber and building mafias have spelled doom to traditional societies worldwide. Pakistan is no exception. Pukhtunkhwa lacks legal framework, or Provincial Antiquity Act: listing of sites by the provincial directorate of archaeology and museums and culture department to notify such sites as heritage property and restrain potential encroachers or developers. Considering so much has been lost owing to official apathy, especially during the MMA government that deliberately erased all historic and cultural sites predating Pakistan, the need is to move swiftly and prepare a list of these sites by the provincial government.

The foremost step should be to have the new provincial assembly pass an Antiquity Act on the lines already adopted by Sindh and Punjab two decades ago. Baseline work and identification of many sites has already been done by Sarhad Conservation Network (SCN) and Frontier Heritage Trust (FHT). The 1997 Provincial Antiquity Act 1997 is seriously flawed and cannot possibly be implemented.

Its mandate needs to be refined and broadened and conflicts resolved. This can only be achieved if the farcical 1997 Provincial Act is done away with and a new broad based act or law is introduced. “The provincial archaeology and tourism departments are so ineffective, unprofessional, lethargic (and corrupt) it is baffling,” complains Ali Jan.

Maureen Lines who heads FHT is a member of the recently constituted technical committee of civil society, headed by the dynamic ACS Mr Ghulam Dastagir, to assist the government in implementing ideas, projects and to raise money for restoration. “The government now seems genuinely motivated and is at present photographing and documenting historical sites, but I do think they need our help. And for that we need to be organised and united!” argues the indomitable Ms Lines.

The incumbent government will face a challenging job to implement a new cultural, heritage and tourism policy. After persistent demands, Unesco has now included Peshawar for documentation and listing project of all cultural/heritage assets in the existing six districts of the province. SCN and FHT have already submitted lists and are working to identify more sites.

The culture department needs to involve local stakeholders and NGOs for speedy results. Devolving the culture and heritage cells at the district level for prompt action and follow up would resolve matters. Besides, standing committees on culture and heritage at district level and coordinating all development activities with their approval — especially in the heritage notified areas, sites and locations. These should include public representatives, elders, culture and heritage experts, artistes, writers and journalists.

On ANP’s request, CWC, SCN and FHT outlined the following heritage policy objectives recently:

1. Removing lacunas in existing heritage legislation. New legislation (Antiquity Act) at provincial level on provincial heritage. Proper implementation by legal notification of heritage sites as protected and endangered monuments.

2. Identification and documentation of built heritage: To identify, locate, catalogue and preserve all historical, built, architectural, cultural, and archaeological heritage.

3. To identify, locate and preserve all endangered documents, photographs, maps, historic and rare books and other archives of the Northwest Frontier (Pukhtunkhwa) area.

4. To define and demarcate original boundaries of all heritage sites and monuments, public parks, natural drainage areas, green belts, protected mountains and various species of trees, shrubs, flowers, birds and animals found in such areas.

5. To prescribe procedures and techniques for tree plantations and care and maintenance/ protection of mature trees and historic landscapes.

6. To establish ways and means where Federal Environmental Protection Act 1997 and various federal (federal Antiquity Act 1975) and provincial cultural and antiquities acts (the so called NWFP 1997 Antiquity Act), ordinances, rules and local laws are enforced effectively.

7. To enhance and strengthen the functioning of provincial archaeology and tourism departments. Widening the scope of the archaeology department to include other eras besides Gandhara civilisation as archaeological treasures; for instance Hindu Shahi structures, those belonging to Sikh and British period and also preserving the history of our freedom fighters Abdul Ghaffar Khan and others who have been denied due recognition.

This is certainly not an easy task to accomplish, but at least we are back on track after five dark years of the MMA rule!

The writer is general secretary Sarhad Conservation Network


© DAWN Media Group , 2008



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