Before the deluge
THE PPP has traditionally enjoyed the singular distinction of coming to power at times of crisis. The present stint will have proven no exception.
Domestic maelstroms aside, the country is faced today with nothing short of a crisis of confidence emanating from the White House.
This relates to Pakistan’s controversial role in the war on terror. Not so long ago, questions were reportedly raised at the highest level in the US about the nature of Pakistan’s performance and, inevitably, its ability to deliver to date in this regard. The result was a subtle paradigm shift in US policy towards Pakistan, entailing the apparently official sanctioning of ground attacks by US forces on Pakistani territory.
There was, rightly, a furor over this in Pakistan. Indignation was heard among opposition parties and civil society alike. The COAS took up the gauntlet, responding, as he should have, to the challenge to the country’s sovereignty when the first ground incursion by US commandos into Pakistan took place near Angoor Adda in South Waziristan on Sept 3. This was followed by reports of our troops firing at intruding US choppers on Sept 15 in the same area.
Pakistan’s government reacted with greater circumspectness, committing itself to a ‘soft’ response to the issue. Asif Ali Zardari engaged in his first spell of shuttle diplomacy after assuming the presidential mantle by accepting an invitation for informal talks with Britain’s prime minister, Gordon Brown and disingenuously giving away little of substance to the media in their wake.
The exercise was impeccably orchestrated. What did it matter if there had been numerous casualties in a single month in the tribal belt at the hands of both our own and US forces? Or if a few more Dr Aafias were to be sacrificed? While the military was doing the correct ‘nationalist’ thing, our government was being politic and aggressively pursuing peace. This was evidence of realpolitik in full flower. And the nation was expected to go with the flow.
However, the nation is mystified and explanations are surely called for. One of the obfuscations that we are beset by is the fact that, shortly after the recent assurance to our civil and military top brass that Pakistan’s sovereignty would be respected by the US, missile attacks on South Waziristan continued. One is tempted to ask in the most basic of terms: who is kidding whom?
But, in any case, the one step farther from unmanned missile attack to embodied incursion was, from the start, integral to the compact between the two countries. Our former president would seem — inadvertently, if he is to be given the benefit of the doubt — to have compromised if not actually written off our sovereignty when he literally put his hands up and unconditionally agreed to make Pakistan a frontline state in the war on terror.
The war was always about give-and-take. And, in US eyes, there is, clearly, some problem involving factual reciprocity in the context of this equation. In other words, to the world’s sole superpower, Pakistan has been a more than willing recipient of its largesse under the head of ‘counter-terrorism’ though without coming up with anything like proportionate results.
Of course, there is a catch here. Producing such results means accepting the crux of the US policy on the war on terror in the region as spelt out by Admiral Mullen. According to the view, as cited by newspapers, Afghanistan and Pakistan are “inextricably linked in a common insurgency that crosses the border between them”. Abhorrent — and indeed frightening — as it may be to us as Pakistanis, the logic underlying this is all but irrefutable. It posits what we may be mentally resisting or not have completely grasped: the community of terrorism on both sides of the ‘porous’ border necessarily overrides the sanctity and relevance of sovereignty.
US pressure on Pakistan to ‘restructure’ the ISI is in effect about restructuring our national political will and abandoning our historical obsession with ‘strategic depth’. It has to do with dismantling the strategic alibi — or what some US analysts call ‘hedge’ — made available to us after the ouster of the Taliban from Afghanistan in the shape of an uncontrollable and rampant militancy.
Despite all the mixed signals coming out of the US, the threat of ground assaults on Pakistan’s tribal belt should consequently be taken as a sort of tactical benchmark against which to shape our own future policies. There should be no doubt in our minds as to the options at our disposal. These are already very limited and merely threaten to grow more so.
Much depends on what transpires at the meeting expected to take place between the US and Pakistani presidents in the wings during the forthcoming General Assembly session at the UN. The wisdom of our leadership will be put to the test at the time. It is being said by those in the know that we will not be disappointed since it was ‘providence’ that brought about the current democratic dispensation.
The bewilderment and dismay of the common man notwithstanding, our civil-military combine has so far proven a credible match to the US for sheer savvy. Its equivalent double-speak would, at least for the time being, seem to have worked. At the same time, our leaders must guard against being over-optimistic and, with it, indulging in tactical overkill. Our sovereignty is indeed at stake. And we cannot afford to forget that.
For all that his sympathisers may say, Musharraf’s precarious nine-year balancing act apropos of the war on terror had brought us dangerously close to the brink. As a result of his policies and near the end of his tenure, Pakistan had been reduced, for the US, to being an ally with almost sub-zero credibility.
That is no longer quite the case. Even so, we cannot afford to be smug or fall for fanciful talk. There is, for instance, an affable insidiousness about some clever diplomatic teasers currently in circulation. The ‘wink-wink nudge-nudge’ coinage purporting to sum up the US-Pakistan relationship courtesy the Washington-based South Asian expert, Sadanad Dhume is among these.
It is precisely this sort of thing that can easily blind us to the gravity of the configuration of our existing relations with the US, lulling us into a sense of false security and imperceptibly facilitating something like a duly sweetened, phased invasion of our motherland.
Six months are enough
SIX months is long enough for any government to settle down and start the process of governing. After this period, every new government must stop blaming its predecessor for all the ills that afflict the country and show that it is in control and has a plan and a purpose to put its mark on different sectors in the country.
The responsibility placed on a new government inheriting numerous structural problems and weaknesses in key sectors is greater as are the expectations.
This is further accentuated when a government is brought in after yet another round of prolonged military rule, and hence, has far more to prove. Under such transitions, it is not just that one particular government’s future is at stake, but also that it carries the burden of having to prove that a democracy offers far better possibilities and solutions than does a military dictatorship. Clearly, the responsibility on the shoulders of the Zardari-Gilani government is far heavier than on many democratic governments of the recent past.
Yet, sadly, the one consistent factor which defines the performance of the People’s Party government since March this year has been the absence of any clear thinking or vision in key areas, many of which are deteriorating as the months go by. It is important to emphasise the point, however, that no one expects any government, especially one which has had to bargain hard in order to establish its writ and control over the institutions of the state, to start fixing all the ills that affect governance and state structures within a few weeks. Far from it.
However, there is certainly the need and expectation that after six months the government will have a clear plan and purpose about what it wants to do and how it intends to go about it. Whether these plans succeed and how they are implemented is of secondary concern. The most important need is to give clear signals to establish the fact that the government is concerned about things, that it has a strategy, and that it is beginning to put it into place. While there are many areas and sectors where it is quite clear that this government has no plan, vision or strategy whatsoever, the one critical sector where this is most apparent, is with regard to the economy.
Most economists were aware that from some time early in 2007, Pakistan’s economy had taken a downturn, with key indicators showing signs of weakening. Not that the economy was anywhere near collapse or meltdown 18 months ago, but there were clear signs that the party was coming to an end and that critical measures would have to be taken to deflate, or even manage, potential crises.
The fact that the Musharraf-Aziz government did not take any corrective measures, or that the caretaker government also procrastinated and made matters far worse, was not surprising. Living largely in denial about what was happening, and quite sure that many members of the predecessor government would be back in power after the elections, these two governments avoided confronting emerging concerns, such as fuel and food price rises.
What is equally surprising, however, is that it seems that neither the PML-N nor the PPP expected to form the government, for if they did, they surely had no game plan once in power. One also wonders why any political party bothers to produce and launch election manifestos. If a manifesto is meant to be a document of any consequence which lays out the party’s strategy and vision once the party is elected to power, experience from numerous previous elections proves that promises made prior to the elections are quickly forgotten. Nevertheless, once in power, governments are expected to have a policy, a strategy and a vision and are held responsible for how the country functions. However, even after six months in office, this government has neither a vision nor a strategy of dealing with deteriorating economic conditions.
This absence of any vision regarding how to address key economic issues even six months after being in office, has only made the economic crisis worse. One had not been expecting solutions or reversals to the numerous economic problems faced by the country, for six months is too short a period to reverse the meltdown.
However, the government must be criticised for not producing a plan soon after coming into power. It seems that not only is the government not really concerned about how bad the economy is — hoping, it seems, to be bailed out by the Americans, the Saudis or the IMF — it really has no understanding of the scale and urgency of the problems confronting it either. For investors, consumers and for democracy, these are dangerous and worrisome signals.
There is a concern that the Zardari-Gilani government may not break clearly with the past and may continue many policies from the Musharraf-Aziz government and not address key structural issues related to the constitution, the army, politics or the economy. Six months is long enough for a new government to state where and how it differs from the previous government and what it stands for. It needs to state clearly, what its vision is about key issues affecting Pakistanis, and to start putting a strategy into place. The continuing delay in a clear vision regarding a strategy for the economy, and other sectors, will only make matters substantially worse.
The case against Musharraf
IN the last six decades a significant number of so-called state leaders have been prosecuted and brought before various domestic and international courts and tribunals for their official and unofficial crimes against humanity and genocide.
Unfortunately, the most unpopular state leaders have enjoyed lifetime immunity in domestic and foreign courts for their sanctioned and unsanctioned crimes. Many of them enjoyed personal immunity that lasts during their tenure for all unofficial acts such as looting state coffers or murdering political rivals.
After creating political and economic disarray and committing atrocities, the majority of detested world leaders moved to different countries that offered them protection and pleasure. But, including Pakistan’s former military dictator Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf, a great number of the world’s reviled state heads have remained in their countries, benefiting from their institutional connections, an incapable judicial system and the state’s lack of will to try former and sitting rulers for unlawful and inhuman acts.
The lack of legal and institutional capacity and willingness to try dictators and corrupt civil-military bureaucrats has resulted in an endless crisis of governance and trust in Pakistan. Deliberate ignorance by the legal and state institutions have benefited human rights violators, corrupt and criminal prime ministers, presidents, and miscreant dictators to escape justice, to live in cosy retirement, often with wealth dishonestly accumulated.
But internationally a positive change of approach has been experienced, to try rogue leaders for their crimes. Consensus also has been developed among the legal community around the world that all those involved in crimes against humanity must be prosecuted domestically and internationally, because some of these crimes are so disgraceful they can never be considered a part of any leader’s official duties. The statutes of the International Criminal Court and other international tribunals specifically declare that an official capacity or rank by itself is no defence against prosecution.
This month in Poland the country’s former communist leader and head of state, Gen Wojciech Jaruzelski, who is now 85 and in poor health, has gone on trial accused of committing a crime by imposing martial law in 1981. Reading the charges, the prosecutor said the men had violated their own communist constitution when they created what he called a “criminal military organisation” to implement martial law in Dec 1981. Eight other former officials will also be tried for the clampdown against the opposition Solidarity movement, during which dozens of people were killed.
However, there is little hope among the marginalised people and victims of Musharraf’s rule that the former military dictator will be persecuted for looting, treason and grave human rights violations. No doubt, there is a general perception among the marginalised people of Pakistan that ethnically dominant and superior leaders in Pakistan are above any law and protected for all their crimes. This time round there is a need that an ex-army man must be held accountable for his evident and committed crimes.
There is little disagreement among Pakistani citizens that the Musharraf era is marked with state highhandedness against citizens. Undermining the constitution, bombing Balochistan, killing and persecuting Baloch veteran leaders, kidnapping political activists, sacking judges, killing lawyers, promoting centre-province confrontation and corruption are enough to prosecute Mr Musharraf in domestic and international courts.
In the recent past, a number of the world’s errant leaders have been brought before the domestic and international courts for human rights abuses. Some have been convicted, others are on trial.
Internationally there is a growing trend to make all leaders accountable and prosecute rogue rulers. Radovan Karadzic has been recently arrested and shifted to ICC at Hague to face criminal charges. Sudan’s president Omar Al-Bashir has also been summoned by the International Court of Justice for his human rights crimes and genocide in Darfur.
We have an entire history of cases where war criminals and human rights abusers have been brought before tribunals and convicted for their sins. During 1945-49, the Nuremberg trials, the largest in history, that lasted four years, brought the Nazi regime and the engineers of the Holocaust to justice. Major war criminals were sentenced to death. In the 12 other cases that followed, 65 defendants were convicted and more than 20 executed.
In 1948 under the watch of US Supreme Commander Douglas MacArthur, an international military tribunal prosecuted and executed Japan’s former Prime Minister Hideki Tojo and 28 high-ranking Japanese leaders for war crimes. In 1989 after almost 25 years of communist reign in Romania, President Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, were found guilty of crimes against humanity by a secret military tribunal. The two were executed on Christmas Day 1989. Rwanda’s former prime minister, Jean Kambanda, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life imprisonment by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Argentina’s military dictator Captain Adolfo Scilingo (1976-1983) was convicted in April 2005 by the Spanish court (1995-2005) almost 10 years after his alleged human rights crimes. The late Chilean leader Pinochet was prosecuted by the country’s supreme court in 2004.
The UN-Sierra Leone joint tribunal was set up in 2002 to try Liberia’s former President Charles Taylor and those most responsible for crimes against humanity, for war crimes and attacks against UN peacekeepers. Musharraf including his team must be put on trial before domestic and international courts for official and unofficial crimes. All victims must be provided an opportunity to come forth with evidence before the judicial institutions. This process will not only assist the overall failed state system to improve its stained image, it will also strengthen the people’s trust in institutions.
The Supreme Court Bar Council of Pakistan, the HRCP, vibrant civil society and other concerned organisations need to go for a fresh strategy, to discourage human rights violators and take their cases to world bodies. The legal community must activate its professional capacity to surround the high-profile culprits taking them before domestic and international courts of law for their unforgettable crimes.
The writer is a former member of senate.
The politics of names
NAMES of people, places and areas carry great evocative power and meaning. When people give names to their children they take great care that an appropriate name is chosen. Names also create a personality for themselves. For example, I once heard someone explain to a stranger in Lahore that the name ‘Lahore’ was Punjabi for ‘bring more,’ and as such it explained the relative prosperity of the city as compared to the rest of the country. Lahore might be named after Loh, the son of Rama, but for this person it was the land of plenty and its name exhibited the same.
In the last century as countries gained independence from colonial rule, names gained currency as emblems of nationalistic pride. Hence, Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, Bombay became Mumbai, and Burma became Myanmar. Pakistan too went through a phase where names, especially street names, were changed overnight to show the change of hands and nationalist sentiments.
The politics of renaming engulfed Pakistan in different phases. Some place and street names, which were established by the British, were changed in the first decade after independence. After that nothing much happened for a long time, till the government of Zulifkar Ali Bhutto when there was a lot of urban reordering. Gone was the statue of Empress Victoria which adorned Charing Cross in the centre of Lahore, and even the jewel of the canal colonies, Lyallpur, was renamed Faisalabad in a bid to please the Saudis. Bhutto also pulled Pakistan out of the Commonwealth — a mistake which his daughter rectified 16 years later.
Dictator Gen Ziaul Haq also embarked upon name changing and in his free moments was quite glad to see that street names in Lahore and Karachi now sounded a lot more Arab (and at times unintelligible to the common man).
The case for these name changes was simple: the old rulers had left and so the new ones had to change the names of places and streets to flaunt the new rulers. As most decolonised countries were in the Third World, they had little to show in terms of economic and social development in their first few decades of self-government to demonstrate that their independence was worthwhile. Hence, the change of names exhibited, in some ways, a ‘development’ of sorts — at least in nomenclature.
The more sinister reason for the change of names was (and is) the goal of rewriting history. By changing names, some governments deliberately try to obliterate chapters from their past. Therefore, in a generation or so, residents of Lahore might hardly know that the vast green expanse in the middle of the city resembling Kew Gardens was established in the memory of John Lawrence, the architect of modern Punjab, and Jinnah, whose name it now bears, had nothing much to do with its establishment or upkeep.
Similarly, if in the future Frere Hall is renamed in Karachi, few will remember in 50 years’ time who Frere was, and why a hall was erected in his name. Hence through the renaming process, the work and person of many illustrious people who spent their whole lives toiling in the subcontinent is edged out.
For some unexplainable reason, though, Lahore seems to have bucked the trend of the large-scale acceptance of name changes. As compared to other cities in Pakistan, and even in India, where after about a decade or so the new name firmly settled in, in Lahore hardly any new name has stuck. So if one comes to Lahore and asks for ‘Faisal Chowk’ nearly every resident will give a blank look. However, ‘Charing Cross’ will get an immediate response.
Similarly, ‘Sharah bin Badees’ might sound alien to most of Lahoris, but ‘Empress Road’ will immediately get one directions. I am sure sociologists will have a better explanation for this phenomenon, but for a historian like me, this exemplifies that in some embryonic way the people of Lahore still want to retain some sense of history, and are rather proud of their mixed heritage.
This sense of accepting and even being proud of one’s chequered history is what is required in Pakistan. The people of Lahore, perhaps through their forgetfulness or through their sense of history, are correct in their rejection of new and unrelated name impositions. After all, there are enough new roads, parks, buildings and other public constructions which can be named after national figures. And if there are not enough, then we should create them!
I am sure that the national heroes will be more proud if their name is associated with a new project than as a rechristened name of an old one. I am certain that Sir Mohammad Iqbal would be happy to see a new medical college bearing his name, rather than King Edward Medical College being renamed Allama Iqbal Medical College (as was the proposal some 30 years ago, when a grant in reaction to the renaming project led to the founding of Allama Iqbal Medical College).
I began writing this article when Nawabshah was still Nawabshah and as such kept alive the memory of the person in whose name it was established. I was also going to applaud the current government for not renaming random things in memory of Benazir. But I was wrong. Nawabshah has now become Shaheed Benazir Bhutto district for no apparent reason. This is just a stunt for public consumption and even in that it has brought about the expected mixed results. Pakistan is an overpopulated country, and every day new housing projects, colonies and even small towns are being established. So why not create a new colony in the memory of Benazir Bhutto, say on the outskirts of Karachi, to alleviate its overpopulation problems?
The establishment of this new colony would not only be beneficial for people, it would also allow for better town planning and thus better facilities for its residents in the long term — something which Benzair Bhutto would have very much liked to do. Benazir Bhutto was a very vibrant, modern and forward-looking person and the petty political act of renaming a district with such a distinct history in her memory actually does disservice to her legacy.
Benazir Bhutto should have a lot more things named after her, but let us create and develop new and dynamic projects in her memory and not try to wash away the work of the past.
The writer is a historian at Keble College, University of Oxford.