DAWN - Opinion; August 15, 2008

15 Aug 2008

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Kashmir: the siege within

By Kuldip Nayar


WHEN religion is mixed with politics, the result is what is happening in Srinagar and Jammu. Several people have been killed, property worth millions has been burnt and life in both the regions has practically come to a standstill.

Leaders-turned-mobsters pushed for the allotment of 100 acres of land to the Amarnath shrine management board and subsequently its cancellation to such an extent that they have polarised the entire state to the last person. The Valley is separated from Jammu by the Pir Panjal mountains but now a wall of religious and regional jingoism has also come up.

Even liberal politicians in the Valley are wearing religion on their sleeves. They have buried Kashmiriyat, akin to Sufism, deep.

The Kashmir Valley was one area in the subcontinent where no communal incident had taken place after Partition. Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah was at the helm of affairs in Srinagar. Many Hindus and Sikhs had taken shelter there after travelling from Pakistan. Some among them felt insecure. The Sheikh arranged their transport by tongas to Jammu.

However, it is a matter of shame that when the refugees reached the Jammu side safely, the Muslim tonga drivers were butchered.

This partly explains why the all-party delegation which went from Delhi to Jammu and Srinagar to find a solution had to come back empty-handed. Positions have hardened beyond redemption. The two regions can continue to be yoked together. But they have been cut asunder emotionally, socially and otherwise.

Yet it would be an oversimplification if one were to conclude that the allotment of land or its cancellation was responsible for the agitation. The wounds that the two regions have inflicted on each other over the years have deepened. The land incident only provided the spark to the haystack of alienation which was there to burn.

The two regions have been moving apart from each other for a long time. Separatists and politicians in the Valley and Jammu have been widening the gulf to see if they can become separate states. Some straws have been floating in the wind in the shape of the demand for autonomy for Jammu. Some Kashmiri Pandits who wanted to return to their homes in the Valley have realised that there’s no going back.

What is disconcerting is to see well-read young Muslims participating in the agitation. Some of them have worked in India in important positions in the private sector. This is a message far beyond the allotment of land. It reflects anger and desperation. It is clear that the normality seen in Srinagar is far from real. Once the chips are down, practically everyone is on the streets. That religion has played a key role in consolidating the Kashmir community is something which should make the intelligentsia in the country realise that the status quo in the state cannot last indefinitely.

The agenda of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is to bring about the separation of Jammu and Kashmir. A few liberal Kashmiris who have contacted me suspect such a design because of the ferocity of the Jammu agitation. The BJP has already created a situation where it is difficult to imagine that the two regions can ever be united.

Remarks made by leaders of political parties in the Valley reflect a particular thinking. The Amarnath pilgrims’ huts were compared to the Jewish settlements in Palestine. Some said the land allotment was meant to change the demography, to turn the Muslim majority state into a Hindu one. This allegation is not true because New Delhi, even under the BJP-led government, has never tried to put Hindus from other states in Kashmir. The law prohibits non-Kashmiris from purchasing the land in the state. Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, was categorical in his pronouncement that no outsider would be allowed to settle down in the state.

I can understand the BJP exploiting the situation for its Hindutva ends because it has no faith in India’s ethos of secularism. But I have been greatly disappointed to find the Hurriyat leaders and the People’s Democratic Party trying to outdo the fundamentalists. It is well known that Mehbooba Mufti talks irresponsibly for the sake of effect. But this time she has beaten all records. Her observations on a TV channel reminded me of a jihadi who did not mind setting Kashmir on fire so long as she got applause from the fanatics of the community.

When religious frenzy takes over, people do not think straight. India’s politics is going to get more vitiated because of the coming elections. The central government is on its last legs and probably a long-term solution of Kashmir is not possible. But some exercise should begin. The Valley, Jammu and Ladakh should become a federation so that each unit feels that it has an identity of its own. The overall solution of the Kashmir problem should follow.

The idea of blocking the Jammu-Srinagar road, the only land link between the two regions, was that of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP’s mentor. Thousands of karsevaks were brought from different states to sustain the road blockade. It is another matter that the army was able to pierce the blockade and sustain the supply of essential goods to the Valley. For some reasons, the inept government in Srinagar and still more inept in Delhi did not think of measures to keep the road open from day one.

The threat of the Kashmir fruit growers to cross the Muzaffarabad border to take their produce to Pakistan should have made the RSS realise the repercussions of bandhs and blockades. The government once again woke up late to the threat. Police action began when the people took to the streets. The protest was bound to spread to other places because after a long time, people had a chance to ventilate age-old grievances. The bigger question of Kashmir has unfortunately been reopened along religious lines.

The whole situation is a lesson for New Delhi. India has a point that Hindu-majority Jammu and Muslim-majority Kashmir cannot be separated because it will tell upon India’s secular polity. However, after the recent happenings in the Valley and Jammu, the whole thing becomes a question mark.

The writer is a leading journalist based in Delhi.

State of the state

By Ayesha Siddiqa


THESE days there is a great sense of despondency regarding the state of affairs in the country. Even ordinary people ask questions about the viability of the Pakistani state and its ability to survive.

Such questions annoy those who feel greater ownership of the state and believe that the present environment is nothing but a global conspiracy to shut down the project of the Pakistani nation-state. This reaction does not take into account the fact that the question is being raised by ordinary people who have high stakes in Pakistan.

Apart from the core issue of problematic relations between the centre and the federating units and the institutional imbalance in the country, there is the question of how the state has systematically ceded authority or shared it with sub-organisations or non-state actors. The state, in fact, no longer enjoys a monopoly over maintaining control which is one of its core functions. Besides, there are many other tasks that the state has begun to subcontract to private entities.

Charles Tilly, a prominent theoretician on the state, gives a list of seven core functions that states perform: state-making, war-making, protection, extraction, adjudication, distribution and production. The state is a supra entity whose capacity is gauged according to its ability to deliver. The question is how does one treat a state that is unable to perform even some of its core functions if not all? What if despite the ability for state-making, war-making and production, its capacity to distribute is limited and to extract and protect is questionable, and it has a problematic system of adjudication?

There are three perspectives on the issue. First, from a realist paradigm, a state continues to exist and be effective as long as the international community and organisations such as the UN recognise it. Second, according to the liberal paradigm, a state continues to function as long as its bureaucracy has the capacity to deliver, money is invested and the economy is functional, even if barely so.

Finally, there is the human security perspective according to which a state remains meaningful as long as it meets the expectations of the people, makes them feel secure and has the capacity to deliver certain services to the population for which they initially opted to become part of the state. Here, the state’s ability to perform its core functions becomes important.

In Pakistan’s case, it is common knowledge that the state faces a problem in evenly distributing its resources among the people. While some parts of the country are satisfied with the performance, others are less impressed. Despite the fact that the government has an extensive system for extracting resources in the form of taxation, its ability to make citizens pay is problematic. Similarly, the inability to provide justice to the people has resulted in non-state actors resorting to other means of seeking justice. The Sharia courts in the tribal areas are one example of the state’s inability to adjudicate.

However, the focus here is the state’s ability to protect, which means its monopoly on maintaining control. A couple of developments in the past few years have raised eyebrows such as the authority given to non-state actors or non-state organisations to establish parallel systems of security which directly challenge the state’s authority. The first case relates to militant organisations and groups being allowed to operate in many parts of the country. The second pertains to the MQM’s decision to install defence committees in all districts and neighbourhoods of Karachi to impede the growth of Talibanisation in the metropolis.

The MQM’s decision comes in the wake of the resurfacing of various banned outfits in Karachi including the Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) which carried out a demonstration in the city after remaining underground for about eight years. The party which runs the city has projected itself as a secular and liberal force prepared to prevent militant forces from disturbing peace and law and order in Karachi.

The MQM, in fact, seems to have assumed the same responsibility as the Turkish military performs of keeping the socio-political culture liberal. Recently, the MQM leadership even summoned a meeting of the ‘begums’ of Clifton and Defence assuring them protection for their lifestyles.

What is even more interesting is the fact that such announcements have not been challenged by any segment of the state which is primarily responsible for providing protection to its citizens.

The fact of the matter is that Karachi on the whole is a good example of the weakening of the state. The increase in private security demonstrates that the state does not have the capacity to ensure law and order which has forced private citizens to employ alternative means of security. This means that an ordinary citizen, depending on his/her economic capacity, spends additional resources for protection and hence is not getting the expected output from the money he or she pays the state in the form of taxation.

Regarding the MQM’s move, there appears to be no entity to challenge the party’s assumption regarding the increase of Talibanisation in the city, which many believe is not happening but is merely an excuse to checkmate the movement of people, especially those from the Frontier province to Karachi. Given the increased insecurity in the Frontier, there is a demographic shift with people moving to other cities, Karachi being one which offers greater opportunities.

Also, there is a sizeable community of Pathans already living in the city which attracts a similar kind to the city. Surely, there is a difference in the style of living and social conditions of the Pathan and the Mohajirs whom the MQM claims to represent. However, this does not mean that the new migrants are Talibanising the metropolis.

So, what does one make of the MQM’s claim? The party probably wants to stop the flow of Pathans or any other community into Karachi which would challenge the current demographics of the city and have an impact on the MQM’s political authority. However, it is also a fact that some banned militant outfits have resurfaced in the city resulting in the setting up of defence committees by the MQM. Is it that those who control the militant outfits and are part of the state are connected with the MQM?

But a larger question is: why should a party be given the freedom to carry out functions which are the responsibility of the state? If indeed the state intends to subcontract one of its most important core functions then what does one make of the state itself?

The writer is an independent strategic and political analyst.

ayesha.ibd@gmail.com

Impeaching Musharraf

By Kaiser Bengali


IMPEACHMENT proceedings against Gen Musharraf are underway, with the provincial assemblies asking that he seek a vote of confidence.

A chargesheet is to be tabled in the National Assembly during its current session, which in all likelihood will be followed by a joint session of parliament.

The chargesheet is likely to list allegations that are specific violations of specific legal and constitutional provisions. That will be the legal requirement. However, the damage that the general and his collaborators have wreaked on the country goes far beyond legalities.

The general’s departure is now irreversible. However, his painful legacy will stay on. Of the many scars his regime has inflicted on the country and the people, two are fundamental. One is the damage to the institution of the rule of law and the other to the economy of the country as well as to that of households.

As regards the rule of law, the general treated the constitution and the law frivolously and manipulated their provisions to serve his expedient interests throughout his illegitimate reign.

Given the intention to manipulate the elections, it was decided to remove the two main political figures — Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif — from the political scene. The former was tied up in a web of court cases on trumped-up corruption charges and forced to remain in exile. The latter was persuaded to accept a deal that enabled him to go into exile.

Benazir Bhutto was on bail and had left the country with the permission of the court. Nawaz Sharif was under arrest and a defendant before more than one court in more than one case. His surreptitious departure, arranged by the Musharraf regime without reference to the courts, amounted to contempt of the judicial process.

Having ensured the absence of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, the general held elections in 2002, employing other sundry manipulative tactics to obtain a majority for his party of collaborators. The attempt failed and left his PML-Q without a majority.

The general was undaunted. He had more tricks up his sleeve. The constitution was restored — but selectively. Provisions that dealt with floor-crossing by National Assembly members were held in abeyance to enable the exercise of horse-trading and the defection of members of the opposition parties to the ruling side.

The general also tried to pre-empt possible challenges to his rule from the democratic duo by other means. His legal mandarins came up with the idea of changing the law to restrict any one individual to hold a maximum of two terms as prime minister or chief minister. The latter addition was made to provide the move with a degree of objectivity, given that neither Benazir Bhutto nor Nawaz Sharif were likely candidates for chief ministership.

However, the law proved to be an obstacle for Taj Mohammed Jamali, Gen Musharraf’s choice for prime minister, who had twice served as Balochistan chief minister. The general was not to be deterred. The said law was promptly amended to exempt chief ministers from its provision.

Perhaps, the most direct assault on the edifice of the law was one particular provision of the legislation pertaining to the National Accountability Bureau. The provision allows anyone arrested for embezzlement — a penal offence — to negotiate the withdrawal of the case on payment of a part of the embezzled amount.

The implication is that one can commit the crime of embezzling funds, but if caught, can escape punishment by paying back a part of the embezzled amount. The provision constitutes an important stone in laying the foundation of a lawless society.

The management of the economy was the second of the two damages caused to the country and the people. The general’s economic managers, led by Shaukat Aziz, appeared to be running the economy more for the benefit of foreign financial and oil interests than for the country or its people. Their culpability stands on efficiency as well as equity grounds.

The regime blatantly manipulated national economic data, severely impairing its integrity, and created a credit-financed, consumer-driven services sector-led growth façade. Consumer credit allowed the banking sector to reap massive profits. And, given that the bulk of the consumer credit was channelled into leasing automobiles, automobile companies and dealers too amassed profits.

Both sectors recorded excessively high profit-centred growth of 30-45 per cent for two to three years. At the same time, the major crops sector recorded negative growth in four out of eight years.

A three per cent average growth in agriculture and a 15 per cent average growth in banking did provide the apparently impressive six per cent average GDP growth over the eight years; however, the growth represented a hot air bubble rather than any strengthening of the productive capacity of the economy.

The result is stagnation in the commodity-producing sectors of the economy, stagnation in food supply, stagnation in export-GDP ratio, stagnation in tax-GDP ratio, decline in employment, increase in prices, and so on. The growth strategy was exposed at the very outset as unsustainable, with long-term damaging impacts. However, such opinion and advice was treated with arrogant contempt.

The regime’s monetary policy — in which the then regime-appointed State Bank of Pakistan leadership was complicit — explicitly enriched the largely foreign financial sector out of the pockets of the poorer sections of the population.Bank credit — loans, credit cards, etc. — is available only to those who can show evidence of sufficient regular income: either tax return or employer certificate. Anyone not earning more than Rs15,000 to Rs20,000 is not entitled to any bank facilities.

In other words, bank credit facilities are available to families above a certain income line; those below the said line — contract workers, piece-rate workers, home-based workers, unemployed, etc. — are kept out of the process.

However, while bank credit enabled the privileged class above the specified income line to enhance their quality of life, it also increased aggregate money supply in the economy. And given that credit was not being directed into investment in commodity-productive sectors, the result was supply shortages, heating up of the economy and high inflation since 2005.

With stagnancy in agricultural output, food inflation is even higher. And given that food comprises 50-70 per cent of the household expenditure of low-income families, the poor have been particularly hit hard. Ironically, the price for the improvement of the quality of life of the rich and the middle class has been paid by the poor.

The sheer injustice of the Musharraf regime’s policies may not find legal expression in the charges he will be presented with. However, the judgment on his legacy is being delivered everyday by women and men who have despaired enough and have chosen to end their lives. Will General Musharraf be charged for their deaths?

Prisoner No. 650 and a war on innocents

By Aijaz Zaka Syed


JUST when you think that Uncle Sam’s war of terror has no more surprises to spring on an unsuspecting world, it comes up with yet another gem. Take the case of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who grew up in the US and went to top universities including the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She appeared in a New York court this past week as a ‘top Al Qaeda’ terrorist.

She had to leave the US when the authorities began harassing her and her husband for their charity activities in the wake of the Sept 11 upheavals. The family lived in Karachi and one day in March 2003, this talented young woman went missing with her three children when she was on her way to Karachi airport to catch a flight to Islamabad.

This week, after five years, she resurfaced in a New York court. She was barely able to walk and speak, which was not surprising given the fact she had been involved in a “gunfight with FBI agents” in Afghanistan. The US authorities claim Dr Siddiqui was captured near the governor’s offices in Ghazni only last month with a bag carrying “suspicious liquids in tubes”. We are told Siddiqui assaulted a team of US troops and FBI officials with a highly sophisticated weapon when they went to quiz her in Afghanistan.

There are some basic questions that an ordinary mind like mine just can’t seem to figure out.

First, where was Aafia Siddiqui hiding or hidden all these years since she went missing in Karachi in March 2003? How did she turn up in the remote Ghazni province in Afghanistan, of all the godforsaken places? And what happened to her three children?Second, if the MIT-educated neuroscientist was indeed an Al Qaeda mastermind, why wasn’t she presented in a court of law all this while? Even today when she is facing the US law, she is not being tried on terrorism charges but for allegedly assaulting US officials. So what’s her original crime, if she has committed one?

Third, why wasn’t the Pakistani government informed about her detention in Afghanistan and her subsequent deportation to the US? Or is Pakistan also involved in this international enterprise against a 31-year old mom of three?

There are so many gaping holes in this ‘case’ that Elaine Whitfield Sharp, Siddiqui’s lawyer, believes she has been put on trial now because she has “become a terrible embarrassment” to the US and Afghan authorities.

The question is why has she been reinvented now? It is quite possible that Siddiqui has been found now because of a relentless campaign by British journalist Yvonne Ridley. Ridley herself had been a prisoner of the Taliban regime for 11 days just before the US invasion in 2001 and converted to Islam after her strange experience in Afghanistan.

Ridley has been running a campaign called Cage Prisoner for the release of a female prisoner who has been held at the Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan in total isolation and regularly tortured for five years.

The unknown female prisoner, known as ‘Prisoner No. 650’ and ‘The Grey Lady of Bagram’, was brought to the world’s attention after Ridley read about the woman in a book by fellow Briton Moazzam Beg, a former Gitmo and Bagram prisoner. In his book, Enemy Combatant, Beg talks of a woman’s endless screams for help as she was tortured. Beg first thought he was imagining his wife’s screams.

“However, we now know the screams came from a woman who has been held in Bagram for some years. And she is ‘Prisoner No. 650’,” Ridley disclosed at a recent press conference in Pakistan.

And I strongly suspect that ‘Prisoner No. 650’ is none other than Dr Aafia Siddiqui. It is quite possible that her captors decided to end her isolation after the Pakistani press and activists like Yvonne Ridley began increasingly talking of the mysterious ‘Prisoner No. 650’ and how she was tortured and abused physically, mentally and sexually for the past four years.

The Aafia Siddiqui case may have come to the world’s attention because of some conscientious activists. What about all those innocent individuals, who have just vanished down the black hole called the Guantanamo Bay, without a trial and without anyone looking for them?

The writer is a Dubai-based commentator.

aijaz.syed@hotmail.com