DAWN - Opinion; August 08, 2008

Published August 8, 2008

Dreaming of revolution

By Ayesha Siddiqa

PEOPLE in politically troubled lands often begin to think nostalgically about the idea of a revolution even though they might not have experienced one.

Such a longing indicates the level of frustration with their own ability to change conditions.

Then there are others who seem more hopeful than others. An army officer was recently of the view that the current food crisis and price inflation problems could be solved if the government agreed to subsidise three basic things — food, electricity and water — which it must guarantee to the people. Since the gentleman was too forceful it was difficult for others to draw his attention to the fact that a country that is busy buying major weapons systems might find it difficult to find the money to subsidise food. This applies to not just Pakistan but other countries as well including our next-door neighbour. It is a matter of simple arithmetic.

There are a few who would argue that there is never a dearth of resources in the country but that the civilian sector lacks the capacity to properly utilise resources. The poor capacity is not an incorrect assumption except that civilian capacity can never build up in a country where frequent military takeovers are a reality. The ‘good soldiers’ do not realise that their show of efficiency always comes with a huge cost to the civilian sector. Ours, unfortunately, is maimed at present and cannot improve unless political conditions stabilise. Could one call it a coincidence that the officer himself had joined the civil service and left a much-coveted military job?

The other side would argue that political stability can never come with the kind of political leadership we have. In fact, as the gentleman I am referring to argued, people will have to get up and march against bad politicians. He was probably suggesting a mass movement, which can be a precursor to revolution. Furthermore, his argument was that things would not improve if people did not shake off their slumber and rise up against the questionable political leadership. There are many in this land of the pure who argue that the problem with Pakistan is not with its leadership but the kind of people we are: absolutely fickle in behaviour and prone to electing poor leaders.

Not that anyone can dare instruct a military man in history but it would make a lot of difference if this gentleman and many others like him take a few lessons in world history. If they do so they would see that mass movements become difficult where states are extremely strong and societies weak. Moreover, mass movements become difficult where the elite are not only predatory but also rent-seeking and dependent on external forces for their survival.

Pakistan has a history of external dependency which has traditionally allowed foreign forces to dictate their agenda to the Pakistani leadership. Usually the justification for pleasing outside forces is the country’s financial dependency. We are told that if certain countries and the multilateral aid donors influenced by the foreign powers do not provide financial assistance the country would capsize or receive a poor credit rating, which means that no one would willingly lend Pakistan money for business or development ventures. Furthermore, foreign assistance is necessary so that we can arm ourselves to strengthen national security.

Interestingly, our security has always remained under threat because of the embargo imposed by our foreign patrons. Surely the external patrons are not entirely to blame if we do not agree with their agenda because they provide aid to have their agenda followed rather than our own. This has become all too obvious in the past few months. However, neither the military nor the civilian leadership has the courage to refuse foreign assistance.

What is even worse is that our ruling oligarchs tend to use rhetoric regarding the need to maintain sovereignty to muster support from the general public when they are the ones who constantly sabotage the country’s political and diplomatic independence. The elite also fail to tell the people that the country’s endemic political and financial dependence on foreign powers is due to the rulers’ personal concerns rather than national security or integrity.

It was interesting to read in Shuja Nawaz’s book Crossed Swords how Gen Ayub Khan, Pakistan’s then ambassador to the US Amjad Ali, and Governors General Iskander Mirza and Ghulam Mohammad had established independent lines of communication with the US seeking Washington’s support and friendship for personal benefits. The situation today is exactly similar. Any nation that allows foreign forces to intervene so willingly cannot produce good politics.

One of the consequences of this global system of patronage is that it creates a strong, top-down state where the elite benefit from pursuing foreign agendas at home. The state then extracts resources, develops a security framework and conducts other functions to satisfy its foreign patrons instead of pursuing policies to satisfy society.

A glance at Pakistan will prove the point. The state’s lack of capacity to reorganise relations between the centre and the federating units or amongst its various institutions is due to the fact that it has to constantly shuffle to fulfil the requirements of its patrons and its own oligarchs. For instance, the phenomenon of the ‘disappeared’ stems from the need of the ruling elite to satisfy its various external clients including the Americans, the Chinese and many more. Understandably, the state has failed to provide any satisfactory answer regarding the whereabouts of the missing people.

A strong state and a weak society, which is a ramification of the above-mentioned equation, is an unhealthy combination which generates greater socio-political instability. For one, it creates a strong system of domestic patronage in which various ruling classes or groups ape the system we observe at the global level. So the political parties, civil and military bureaucracies, financial groups and even the clergy have their own independent systems of patronage which cater to the needs of the chosen few. Facilities are provided to those that support a certain group once it is in power while others are ostracised. The amount of authority or repression that is generally used under a regime also depends on a particular government’s ability to use violence and power.

This behaviour saps the people’s energy to protest. In our case, the marriage between global and domestic patronage has also killed or subdued all major sources of an alternative ideology that could arouse the people and give them hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel. So can we really blame the ordinary people for being spineless given the collusion between the international and domestic oligarchies?

The writer is an independent strategic and political analyst.


A storm that blew over

By Kuldip Nayar

A PAKISTANI wrote a letter to this paper exhorting readers to recall the “10 million Muslim refugees who made immense sacrifices to make the country a reality, besides nearly one million who got massacred” at the time of Partition.

He has taken exception to the words that Tahira Mazhar Ali Khan, a well-respected Left activist, used in a letter to the same paper: “I now realise with ample pain that our land was butchered and aimlessly cut into pieces. We cannot reach out to those we love in times of stress and grief.” One of her old friends had died in Mumbai and Tahira had found herself helpless in contacting her friend’s relatives.

I too feel like Tahira, cut off from those with whom I spent the early years of my life. I am from Sialkot city where I was born and brought up. I love my friends in Pakistan, not many of them left now, and their children in the same way as I do my friends and their children in India. I am at home in their company as much as on this side. I do not find any contradiction. It does not make me less Indian.

Maybe it is the emotional baggage of history. Maybe it is nostalgia. But persons of my generation cannot efface the memories of youth spent in each other’s country. We represent the culture which transcends borders and religions. I have no doubt that one day the wall of hatred between the two countries will come down. While retaining our sovereignty, we shall be moving from one country to the other as people do in Europe.

In fact Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan, wanted India and Pakistan to be like the US and Canada, with facilities to travel without any fuss. Since the writer of the letter mentioned Jinnah, I thought he should know the Quaid-i-Azam’s vision.

Yet I want to remove the impression given in the letter that the Muslims who went from India were alone in undergoing sacrifices and losing their dear ones. We, Hindus and Sikhs, too were victims of a similar type of frenzy verging on fanaticism. The number of those killed on one side would probably match that on the other. The uprooted from both the countries totalled nearly 20 million; half of them were from India and half from Pakistan.

I saw murder and worse while travelling from Sialkot to the Amritsar border. I can assure you that it was the same drama of blood and butchery, force and ferocity, on both sides. The only difference was that the victims up to the Amritsar border were non-Muslims and from there onwards they were Muslims. There were similar types of atrocities — the killing of passengers in trains, raping of women and kidnapping of young girls and children. When I migrated to India on Sept 13, 1947, one month after Partition, most of the killings in both Punjabs had subsided. I still saw piles of bodies on both sides of the road, half-burnt vehicles, strewn luggage and empty trucks which bore testimony to the murder and looting that had taken place.

Yet I cannot forget one touching scene while crossing into India. It was still daylight when I passed the white-washed drums with India’s flag atop a pole that demarcated the border. Some of us stopped to see a group of people — just to see — going to Pakistan. None spoke, neither they nor we. Both had left behind home and hearth, their friends and neighbours and the relationship of living together for centuries. We could relate to each other. It was a spontaneous kinship. It was that of pain and loss. Both had been broken on the rack of history. Both were refugees.

What exacerbated the situation were two complications: one, the announcement by Britain that it would withdraw on Aug 15, 1947 instead of June 6, 1948 as declared earlier; two, the failure of the Boundary Force which was constituted to curb the rioting. Many years later, when I was writing my book Distant Neighbours I asked Lord Mountbatten at his residence in Broadlands, near London, why did he change the date, a move that resulted in the massacre of two million people.

He did not contradict me. He argued that he had to advance the date because he could not hold the country together. “Things were slipping from my hands,” Mountbatten explained. “The Sikhs were up in arms in Punjab. The Great Calcutta Killing had taken place and communal tension prevailed all over. On top of it, there had been the announcement that the British were leaving. Therefore, I myself decided to quit sooner.”

The Boundary Force, formed on Aug 1, did little to stop ruthless and well-armed persons from killing innocent men, women and children. It merely recorded what it saw. It said in a report: “Throughout the killing was pre-medieval in its ferocity. Neither age nor sex was spared: mothers with babies in their arms were cut down, speared or shot … Both sides were equally merciless.”

In terms of men, the Boundary Force had a strength of 55,000, including Brig Mohammad Ayub Khan who later became Pakistan’s president. The force had a high proportion of British officers. In fact this proved to be its undoing because they were interested in repatriation to Britain, not in an operation which might tie them down to the subcontinent for some more time. The British commander of the force, General Rees, had instructions to protect only “European lives”.

Looking back, one cannot but blame Mountbatten for doing so little to ensure the protection of minorities on both sides despite his assurances. When rivers of blood flowed in Punjab and other parts of the subcontinent, when destruction engulfed habitations, and when Jinnah begged Mountbatten (June 23) to “shoot Muslims” if necessary and Nehru suggested handing over the cities to the military, Mountbatten’s response was feeble. He appeared more interested in becoming the common Governor General of India and Pakistan — an office which Jinnah did not let him have — than in curbing the lawlessness. He should have been tried.

The writer is a leading journalist based in Delhi.

Abortive convalescence

By Razi Ahmed

THE Gilani government’s order to rein in the Inter Services Intelligence and Intelligence Bureau augured well for Pakistani democracy, but in less than 24 hours the triumphal order was revoked by none other than the government itself.

Fiasco though it was, in intent the order was a milestone attempt to empower the elected government to hold accountable the increasingly self-governing intelligence cadres.Had the reversal not occurred, the event would have inarguably been one of the most significant markers of Pakistani democracy — like the 1971 election, 1973 Constitution, 1988 elections and the grand coalition government formed in 2008. The PPP-led government would have burnished its democratic credentials if it had battled for its principled move to wrest the political space from the military’s murky descent into affairs beyond its writ.

Within hours of the issuance of the order, the Pakistani leadership heralded it as a watershed in rooting democracy in the country, marking the Gilani government’s first bold commitment to nurture Pakistani democracy. “No one will now be able to say that this agency is not under the elected government’s control,” said PPP co-chairperson Asif Zardari. “The interior ministry will now be able to respond to allegations against the ISI.” But alas, the emerging sense of civilian triumph was short-lived, suggesting that the ‘invisible hand’ of the intelligence agencies is too entrenched to be extricated from the civilian realm.

In the absence of incremental confidence-building measures, the Gilani government’s quest — redolent of the late Benazir Bhutto’s own struggle — for civilian supremacy over the military backfired because of its alacrity. A gradualist, and perhaps stealthy, approach would have surely led to greater success in dismantling the intelligence network node allegedly connecting the professional cadres, rogues, ex-servicemen and born-again Islamists. These are the forces that are seemingly protecting the ‘ideology’ of Pakistan via the ISI.

Fearing a threat to the nation, self-appointed and invisible ideologue-guardians emerged in response to the state’s militarisation in its infant years with Iskander Mirza’s overthrow of an elected government in 1958. Since then the country has seen stunted bouts of democracy. Two wars with India only served to cultivate a siege mentality that became part of the country’s self-image, inexorably promoting military interests over civilian. This set a pattern of divergence from Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s avowed welfare state.

The militarisation of the nation state eventually led to the intelligence agencies assuming a supra-agency role during and after the Afghan war. Gen Zia’s kleptocracy and kalashnikov culture mothballed the state’s welfare project and what we got instead was the Ojhri camp explosion, a CIA- and Saudi-sponsored version of jihad, violent ethno-nationalism in Karachi as well as the political and social tyranny unleashed against the PPP, the minorities, women and workers. And who was behind those ‘exploding mangoes’ aboard the ill-fated C-130?

Propaganda, subversion and espionage underpinned the workings of the country’s intelligence agencies, marring the nascent democratic politics of the 1980s. With her electoral triumph in 1988, Benazir Bhutto soon became a target of choice. The invisible forces at hand schemed to unseat her through horse-trading and ultimately pulled of Operation Midnight Jackal. Maligning her government and drumbeating the Zia legacy imprinted on their psyche, the agencies then rigged the 1990 elections to resurrect Zia’s protégés in the form of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad, the precursor to Nawaz Sharif’s original PML.

Distorted civil and military relations on the one hand darkened hopes for a sustainable and viable democracy in the country. And on the other, they raised the ineluctable question as to how a military-run intelligence apparatus, nominally reporting to the prime minister, could never authoritatively account for the motives behind and circumstances of Liaquat Ali Khan’s death, or Fatima Jinnah’s or Benazir Bhutto’s. Chiefly responsible for unearthing the unknowns, the intelligence agencies have rendered little or no concrete service in unravelling the mysterious deaths of Pakistani heads of government and state.

Even in war, their usefulness has been questionable as was demonstrated in 1965 when Gen Ayub presided over a gung-ho intelligence apparatus whose glaring misjudgements led to unintended consequences for the soldier and the state alike. This fiasco came after repeated interference in the political process by the intelligence agencies in the run-up to the 1965 presidential election, where Gen Ayub was ‘guaranteed’ victory over Fatima Jinnah. But the dictator’s megalomania further fuelled his paranoia, resulting in even greater surveillance of political opponents and East Pakistanis. Thus personal considerations overshadowed state security.

These repeated forays into civilian terrain have meant that the performance scorecard on core, constitutionally mandated intelligence activities has been poor. How could did Islamabad’s incendiary Red Mosque brigade — and the ongoing activities of militants — elude the web of the intelligence watchdogs? And yet these same watchdogs do so well, incognito, in the political milieu, conscripting mercenaries in political parties fashioned by the military.

The agencies have run, as the cliché goes, a state within a state. From Siachen to Kargil to nuclear proliferation via A.Q. Khan to the Taliban to 9/11 to 7/7 and 27/12, the agencies have somehow or the other — rightly or wrongly —stood accused. Restoring the July 26 order can help put an end to the blame game and renew citizens’ faith and trust in the country’s intelligence agencies. The need for secrecy notwithstanding, nothing should take precedence over an accountable intelligence cadre that is responsive and sensitised to the people’s welfare.


Retaining death penalty

By David Usborne

ON Tuesday night, a lethal injection was administered to a Mexican national in Huntsville prison, Texas, convicted in a case of gang rape and strangulation of two teenage girls in Houston 15 years ago.

The death of Jose Medellin brought an instant diplomatic protest from Mexico, which had demanded that he and 50 other Mexicans on death row in America be allowed consular access, as required by a treaty to which the US is a signatory.

The International Court of Justice in The Hague has twice in the past five years ruled that the US should hold hearings on the status of foreign nationals on death row. The White House had asked Texas at least to delay the execution. But on Tuesday night, Texas defied George Bush and the world after a last-minute appeal to the US Supreme Court on behalf of Medellin was turned down.

As of the end of last year, there were 123 foreign nationals awaiting execution in the US. Although Mexicans make up the largest single contingent, 38 other countries are represented, including Germany and France, but not, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, any currently from the United Kingdom. Most are in California.

Most countries balk at allowing the extradition of prisoners to the US where a possible capital offence is involved and if the state seeking extradition has the death penalty on its books. The British citizen Neil Entwistle was extradited and recently convicted of murdering his wife and daughter in Massachusetts, one of a minority of US states which do not execute prisoners.

Currently 36 states in the US have the death penalty on their books, including liberal states such as New York and Maryland, while only 14 are without death rows (plus Washington, DC). Since 1976, when a ruling by the US Supreme Court allowed states to begin reintroducing capital punishment, a total of 1,115 people had been executed in the country as of August 1 this year. Of those, 38 per cent were African-Americans, far disproportionate to their share of the population (about 13 per cent). The busiest year for executioners was 1999, when 98 condemned men and women were dispatched.

Texas has executed four times more inmates over the past three decades than any other single state. The second most assiduous has been Virginia. It’s true that the region loosely termed the South is far more likely to execute than other parts of the country. Not every state that has the option of killing its prisoners actually exercises it. New Hampshire is a capital punishment state but has not executed anyone in decades.

Isn’t there a move to scrap it? Yes, fuelled in part by a growing acknowledgement that the risk of sending an innocent person to the death chamber cannot be ignored. This, in turn, has been spurred by rapid improvements in forensic technologies and the use of DNA to prove guilt and innocence.

While death row inmates were exonerated at a rate of 3.1 a year until 1999, the rate has since leaped to about five a year today. Opponents of the death penalty have also underscored the heavy cost to the taxpayer of every capital case. But it’s going too far to suggest that there has been a real change of heart.

Death-penalty opponents seem to take one step back for every two steps forward. They were disappointed most recently when in April the US Supreme Court ended a brief nationwide moratorium on executions while it debated whether death by lethal injection (overwhelmingly the preferred method of execution) constituted cruel and unusual punishment. It said it did not, and Texas became the first state to resume executions. But even the fact of the short hiatus might be considered a sign of progress. But most polls show most Americans still support the death penalty even though the strength of that support is slipping some.

An important moment came in 2003 when the outgoing Governor of Illinois, George Ryan (since convicted on corruption charges) commuted the death sentences on all inmates on the state’s death row. He had earlier declared a moratorium on executions, citing mistakes and unfair racial discrimination in the process. Hopes, however, that Illinois would then move to abolish the death penalty have not been answered.

But in an important milestone, New Jersey last December became the first state officially to remove the death penalty from its books since the Supreme Court reinstated it in 1976. Legislatures in four other states — Maryland, New Mexico, Montana and Nebraska — have also debating ending the death penalty in the past year. Maryland just this month announced the formation of a special panel to report on the feasibility of ending executions to the governor.

China tops the world’s executions league table (officially it used the death penalty 470 times last year, though Amnesty International believes the true figure is far higher), followed by Iran and Saudi Arabia. Among developed industrialised nations, only the US, Japan and South Korea persist in retaining capital punishment. None of the United States’ European allies entertain it nor do its neighbours, Mexico and Canada.

Persuading the US to drop capital punishment has become a major issue for human rights activists worldwide. But as this week’s execution of Medellin demonstrates, what the rest of the world thinks is not something many Americans lose sleep over.

— © The Independent, London



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