18 Jul 1999


WHY blame our stars? Why blame others and not ourselves? We are responsible for our own actions. We should blame our apathy, unconcern, indifference, impassivity, callousness, heedlessness, ignorance, and, above all, our selfishness combined with greed.

Senselessly, in 1993 the country brought in Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari to rule for the second time. Ridding ourselves of them with great difficulty in 1996, after they had caused irreparable harm, there remained at the top, heading a caretaker government, President Sardar Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari, landlord to the manor born, man of wealth, who had served with honesty as a civil servant and was thus well versed in the rules of governance. Overtaken by power and greed, he closed his ears to reason and to the advice of the few who advocated that he undertake the process of accountability before holding elections. In this, he had the support of the army, the judiciary, our external supporters and providers, and even of the influential international media. Knowing well that once a political party sat in the saddle it would not look into its own misdoings, Leghari insisted on elections, and in 1997, with his backing, Nawaz Sharif and his incompetent corrupt men were brought in by their 'heavy mandate' for their second round.

Leghari and his caretakers surely knew the intelligence level of these men, their appetite for power and pelf, their capacity to ride roughshod over all to stem the voices of dissent, their shamelessness, their ability to amend laws and avoid repaying to the nation what they had robbed in their first round and even earlier. What they may not have known was that these men were capable of going to the extent of storming the Supreme Court of the land to save themselves from being adjudged.

In rapid succession Nawaz Sharif pushed through his 13th and 14th constitutional amendments by which he converted himself into a supreme autocrat. The president was made a puppet, the power to appoint the service chiefs was his alone, the judiciary was rendered helpless, and now, with all institutions of the state at his mercy, Sharif wields sole power and is answerable to no man, woman or child of this country.

Having done sufficient wrong, his sense of self-preservation should perhaps have made him aware that he was riding a tiger from which he might fall and be eaten up. But no, his instincts and reactions are those of mediaeval despots. Why are you surprised, 'they' ask, that when one talks of the hunger and thirst of the people he replies that he has given them yellow cabs and motorways? Did not Marie Antoinette, when told that the French had no bread to eat, ask why they did not eat cake? Why are you surprised, 'they' ask, that he flies in a 400-seater aircraft to go begging for money, that he takes his family with him for a photo-opportunity and to go little-mall shopping when he flies to Washington to beseech help to avoid war? Did Nero not fiddle whilst Rome was burning? Apocryphal may be the sayings about Marie Antoinette and Nero, but you are witnessing reality.

India suspects that when Sharif received Vajpayee in February and made overtures to settle all differences through dialogue, the Kargil operation was already underway. The preparation for the climb would so suggest. The army was assured that once its men entrenched themselves on the heights of Drass-Kargil the government's diplomats and media machine would step in and successfully mobilize support for their version of the Kashmir issue, leaving the army holding advance positions.

That the incursionists, Mujahideen, freedom fighters, patriots, defenders, zealots, or regular army (call them what you will) climbed the heights and entrenched themselves is a proven tactical feat. But what convinced them that the Indian forces would not strike back, that they would not react as they did having been caught napping? When Sharif realized that his miscalculation was likely to develop into an all-out war he retreated and sued for peace. That is the one right thing he did do - he did not compound his mistake. Possessing the qualities listed in the opening paragraph, we allowed him to become an autocrat. What right have we now to grumble about whatever he may do?

On Monday evening, post-PM-speechtime, Mushahid Hussain rang to tell me the answer was 'Yes.' To what, I asked. To the question asked in your last column, 'Has a lesson been learnt?' Surely that is not the purpose of your call, I said. What is it you want to know? Had I heard Mian Sahib's speech, and if so what did I think of it? Old hat, was my response. It is high time that you, Mushahid, vary the string of cliches with which you load your master's and your fellow ministers' speeches. We have heard enough about the Kargil assault being "popular, spontaneous and indigenous", and the government merely giving "diplomatic, moral and political support " to the Mujahideen.

But, following form, the next day the PML parliamentary party voiced to the press Mushahid's description of Mian Sahib's decision : "courageous, wise, sagacious, and far-sighted".

The attorney-general, the first law officer of the land, has also spoken up, but sensibly. On July 16, justifying the Washington communique, he stated that Pakistan is completely isolated and economically could not have sustained a full-fledged war. The country is already 50 years behind the developed world and would have been thrown another 50 years back had there been a war. (Dawn, July 17)

As for our war-mongers and zealots, the uneducated and ignorant majority, they should be informed by the government in power that India makes a formidable foe. Its armed forces are twice the size of ours, making it impossible for us to sustain a military conflict. Economically, if reserves are anything to go by, India is forty times our size. It is of no use us propagating the myth that one Pakistani soldier is equal in strength and courage to five Indian soldiers. Our retired generals, colonels, air marshals, wing-commanders, admirals and commodores do us a disservice when they air their views on the national media and relate how, whenever Muslims have gone to war, it has been against a foe far superior in number but their spirit of sacrifice and their valour have always made them victors. Wars now cannot be won without global sympathy and support. Propaganda must have credibility behind it.

The Indian propaganda during the Kargil conflict has been sympathy-weaning, clever and insidious. Take this excerpt from 'The Times of India' editorial of July 12:

"... Islamabad's recidivism has led some people in India to believe that unless Pakistan is punished severely for its aggression - and unless that punishment sinks into the consciousness of the Pakistani population - another aggression might be initiated a few years down .... there must be reasoned policy on how to deal with the post-Kargil situation. India has no quarrel with the Pakistani people. Our problem is with the rulers.

"There are ways of conveying to the people of Pakistan the pain and humiliation the rulers of that country have subjected them to for no rhyme or reason.... An army which does not acknowledge its own dead is not likely to keep up its morale as a fighting force. India should compile a detailed list of the identities of the Pakistani soldiers killed in action in Indian territory and publish it in our print and electronic media and on the Internet ... the families of the dead Pakistani soldiers may come to know about the fate of their loved ones felled in battle and whom their rulers have - to their eternal shame - disowned .... A nation which repudiates its war dead will have little credibility among its own people ... Already, sections of the Pakistani media are denouncing the rash adventurism of their rulers. With TV, Internet, satellite telephones and fax machines available to the Pakistani population, they cannot be deceived for long."For the present, war clouds have receded, with our side admitting to the loss of 250 lives (do we double, treble or quadruple that figure to get to reality?), and with India admitting to the loss of around 2000 (which must also be multiplied), losses which we feel with equal grief. The monetary cost to us has been over $100 million and the fact that India admits to having lost double that amount can be no consolation.

Mian Sahib is satisfied with what he has achieved and is now taking off for Saudi Arabia on a thanksgiving pilgrimage to perform Umra. Ghous Ali Shah and other PML acolytes have been asked to board a special flight at Islamabad, fly to Lahore to pick up their Leader plus family and friends, and then speed on to Jeddah. They are scheduled to return to the homeland, cleansed and blessed, on Wednesday.