President General Pervez Musharraf played his cards well till his hand was pressed to let go of his uniform, which, practically, was the beginning of the end for him. He is seen in the photograph above with Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani (right), the man who replaced him as the chief of the army staff, a day before Musharraf was to be sworn in as a civilian president. | Photo by Tanveer Shehzad.
By S. Akbar Zaidi
LEST it be forgotten, General Pervez Musharraf was always a military dictator who, to start with, overthrew an elected government, which is a treasonable offense punishable by death according to the Constitution of Pakistan. The epithet added to him being a ‘liberal dictator’, a crucial fallacy committed even by otherwise smart and intelligent academics, glosses over and partially legitimises the fact that he was, once and always, a military dictator.
The fascination by Pakistan’s anti-democratic elite, particularly its neoliberal, globalised elite, who partied long and hard with Musharraf and entertained him (and his hand-picked prime minister Shaukat Aziz), of imagining Musharraf as being some type of ‘liberal’, was limited to his westernised lifestyle which they shared.
There was nothing ‘liberal’ about his dictatorial politics, an incipient style of anti-democratic conduct, which the westernised elite also supported wholeheartedly. Whether Musharraf’s personal lifestyle-liberalism did any good in opening up social spaces to this elite (and non-elite) – being more tolerant of certain cultural and social practices, allowing women to occasionally find greater political agency and so on – is an important, though secondary, consideration.
The fact that dictators can be, when they so choose, benevolent and do some social good, needs to be sharply contrasted with their anti-democratic, authoritarian interventions that often have serious consequences in the long run.
One so-called liberal dictator of a very different era, General Ayub Khan, was partially responsible for the separation of East Pakistan; Musharraf, three decades later, left a legacy of violence, killings and suicide bombings under the guise of militant Islam and jihadism, which are perhaps only now being addressed.
Despite the best of lifestyle-liberal intentions, political consequences of decisions taken by dictators, leave their mark. Envisaging himself first as an Ataturk, and often as a Jinnah, by the end of his reign in 2008, as numerous events in 2007 were to reveal, Musharraf became another uniformed bully, hungry for personal power ... just another military dictator dependent on the largesse of the United States.
Since General Yahya Khan, unlike Pakistan’s three coup makers, was more an accidental and make-shift military ruler rather than a military dictator, Musharraf needs to be viewed against the experiences provided by Generals Ayub and Ziaul Haq. And, unlike his two military predecessors, General Musharraf’s nine-year-long presence on, and dominance of, Pakistan’s political scene was far more colourful and riddled with far greater contradictions. While Ayub and Zia were ideologically opposites of each other, only sharing their distaste for civilian politicians, one could argue that their agenda and their politics were far more straightforward, simple and uncomplicated compared to Musharraf’s brand of lifestyle-liberalism mixed with a different brand of dictatorial politics.
One must also emphasise that the regional, global and domestic contexts – in terms of ethnic politics, social classes, global linkages and capitalist accumulation – of all three were also markedly different, though some similarities could be drawn.
From the Cold War politics of the 1960s to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, to the US intervention in Afghanistan in the last decade, one could argue that Pakistan’s three military dictators shared some global and regional similarities, but the 1960s, the 1980s and the 2000s were all considerably different.
One major starting point to their coups which indicates how much the world and Pakistan had changed over the 40 years since 1958, was that, unlike his predecessors, Musharraf did not declare Martial Law when he dismissed and subsequently banished prime minister Nawaz Sharif on October 12, 1999. In fact, that he chose the title of Chief Executive as he wanted “to serve people, rather than rule” was clearly indicative of the sensibilities of a new generation and a different world.
Pakistan’s higher judiciary, in all its wisdom and based on many decades of its institutional experience of endorsing and working with military dictators, gave Musharraf three years after his coup to hold elections. As Pakistan’s chief executive, supported by the westernised elite, backed by numerous formerly radical members of civil society and NGOs, with a finance (and later, prime) minister specially invited from Citibank, Musharraf set up a technocratic government based on his Seven Point Reform agenda, which would make any autocrat proud.
The first three years of the Musharraf regime were troubled, although it was popular in some domestic circles, with Pakistan still a pariah state internationally as a result of sanctions that had been imposed after the nuclear tests in 1998. Things were made worse by the Musharraf coup in an era when military interventions were no longer fashionable. This international isolation, with consequences on Pakistan’s economy, lasted till the fateful day in September 2001 when much of the world changed.
Just as Gen Zia was rescued by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Musharraf found after 9/11a longevity which he could not have expected in 1999. Once Musharraf decided that he was with the US rather than against it, and was far secure of his future, he began to unravel new interventions in the political and governance structures he had prepared.
He started by building a new system of local government (prior to 2001), doing away with the urban-rural divide and reducing the powers of bureaucrats. He increased considerably the number of seats reserved for women at all tiers of electoral representation. Having moved on from being a non-descript chief executive to being the president of Pakistan in July 2001, he called for a referendum in April 2002 to seek legitimacy from the people for his efforts, receiving a ‘Yes’ vote, in true dictator style, of 97.5 per cent.
Unlike Gen Zia’s never ending ‘90 days’, to his credit, Musharraf did hold elections after the Supreme Court’s three-year moratorium was over, in 2002. Yet, one must recognise that after the US attack on Afghanistan, with his future secured, he could easily afford to do so. With George Bush in the White House backing his ‘buddy’ in Islamabad fighting the War on Terror, Musharraf could get away with a great deal at home. And he did.
Meddling with the Constitution after creating a King’s Party of former tried and failed politicians from Nawaz Sharif’s party, he enforced electoral reforms which specifically barred both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif from becoming prime minister again. He also lowered the voting age to 18 years, believing that Pakistan’s millennials would endorse his vision of Enlightened Moderation and vote for candidates he approved of, making graduation a requirement to contest elections.
Always under pressure from the religious right, however, he had to give in to their demands of allowing religious non-graduate, seminary-trained individuals to contest his graduate-only elections.
The result was that while he got a subservient parliament in Islamabad and Lahore, he was forced to give away the NWFP [since renamed KP] to the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), an alliance of religious parties opposed to Musharraf’s pro-West agenda and to his, and the GHQ’s, U-turn on the Taliban. Nevertheless, Musharraf learned to use the MMA presence in the NWFP as a bargaining chip with the Americans to his significant advantage.
From 9/11 onwards, thinking that he was assured of a tenure reminiscent of Ayub Khan, backed unequivocally by the US, pumped up by the hubris and bravado of a commando that he once was, Musharraf unfolded another experiment in praetorian democracy in the country that was different from what the country had under Zia. Musharraf’s experiment, having been initiated in 2002, imploded in 2007. If ever there was a year of supreme significance in Pakistan’s political history, with consequences well into its future, it was 2007. In March of that year, Musharraf dismissed chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. It was an event which resulted in not just the lawyers’ movement, but played a key role in bringing Musharraf down eventually, and in rebuilding Nawaz Sharif’s political future.
On May 12, Musharraf showed his true colours and demonstrated his vicious streak in Islamabad that left many killed in Karachi as they awaited the arrival of the deposed chief justice. Then in July, an attack on Lal Masjid by the army – shown live on Musharraf’s gift to the Pakistani people, a free-for-all, independent, electronic media – led to the killing of an unknown number of militants. The incident resulted in the country’s worst wave of domestic terror which continued for at least a decade, killing, by some accounts, up to 70,000. In October, Musharraf signed the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), granting amnesty to many prominent politicians, a further sign of his weakening grip on power. On November 3, Musharraf imposed a desperate mini-martial law, an Emergency, as an uncertain future stared him in the face.
Elections had been announced by then, and both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif had returned to the country and were challenging Musharraf under the banner of a Charter of Democracy they had signed a year earlier in London. Having survived an assassination attempt in Karachi on her return in October, Benazir Bhutto fell victim to an assassin’s bullet on December 27, bringing to an end an extraordinary year.
Pervez Musharraf was forced out by democratic forces in 2008. A decade later, he threatens to return to Pakistan to contest elections, but remains an absconder from the courts where he is under trial, among other cases, for treason. Given Pakistan’s political history, this is clearly a unique situation for a former president who also happened to be the army chief.
Good intentions are one thing; eventual outcomes something else. Whatever Musharraf thought he would leave as a legacy, he actually left Pakistan far more unstable, more violent, less tolerant, and in further disarray.
The Balochistan crisis, on which news continues to be suppressed, was a creation of his regime, where the killing of Akbar Bugti stands out as yet another case of state murder. Failure or success need to be evaluated in terms of what could have been achieved, and what wasn’t in assessing opportunities that were floundered.
Musharraf and his technocratic whiz kids are to be held responsible for not achieving a number of key reforms when they had undisputed power, with key sections of the political class either in disarray or bought over, with support from some key constituencies, and when those in power were awash with capital from abroad. Just the fiscal space created on account of postponed debt repayments on account of 9/11 amounted to an extra $5 billion each year which could have been spent on social and infrastructure development. Yet, most was squandered in speculative property and stock market machinations which produced nothing tangible except making many of the cronies of the regime very rich.
Musharraf had a dictatorial model of politics, with crony capitalism his sense of economics, and lifestyle-liberalism his social agenda, all backed up by huge dependence on the United States.
A decade after his ouster, much of what Musharraf did has been undone, reversed by popular and political mandate, been put aside completely, perhaps a sign of maturity of the country’s democratic transition and transformation.
While his regime left behind consequences that survived well beyond 2008, history will prove Musharraf and his interventions to be far more fickle and fleeting than he could have ever imagined. No wonder he is remembered only as a lifestyle-liberal or ‘dictator chic’ (as Edward Luce of the Financial Times has used the phrase in a different context), who just happened to be Pakistan’s third military dictator.
The writer is a political economist based in Karachi. He has a PhD in History from the University of Cambridge. He teaches at Columbia University in New York, and at the IBA in Karachi.
This story is the thirteenth part of a series of 16 special reports under the banner of ‘70 years of Pakistan and Dawn’. Visit the archive to read the previous reports.
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By Jahanzaib Haque
THE challenge journalists face today is immense, and, so far, we are fighting a losing battle in a space that remains beyond editorial control: the internet.
In the past, journalists were responsible for sifting the truth from lies. Today, due to information overload, it is the news consumer’s job to ‘curate’ what they believe is true from the thousands of sources they have access to – and this is not an easy task.
In a survey conducted on Dawn.com this year, 57.5 per cent of 1,705 respondents felt fake news was a major problem in Pakistan.
Additionally, 44.8pc said they had been tricked into believing a fake news story was true, while a further 34.3pc said they believed they may have been tricked. A total of 29.9pc of respondents said they had shared fake news believing it was true.
Where does the blame lie? When asked which medium carried ‘a lot of fake news’, social media was ranked highest by far, with 87.2pc of the respondents in agreement. This was followed by websites (excluding social media) at 50.3pc, TV at 26.2pc and print at 14pc. While non-scientific, this snapshot is telling, and reflective of a global trend.
The ‘fake news’ phenomenon exists in two forms. One is the creation of news content that is built off a lie, with the intent to deceive. The other is the use of the term as a label to attack and discredit mainstream media or political opponents; we have Team Trump and the US elections to thank for that.
While the use of the ‘fake news’ label as a means to attacking opponents is yet to kick off at the scale it has in the West, the more basic practice is having a daily impact in Pakistan. Fake news ranges from the mundane to issues of national and regional significance that cannot be ignored. To share just a few recent examples:
News attributed to the ISPR spreads on WhatsApp, warning that suicide bombers plan to attack large public venues in Karachi and Hyderabad. The alert is distributed/disseminated by thousands, causing a panic. But the ISPR never sent out such an alert. It was fake. The ISPR responds, saying: “There are fake messages being circulated on social media attributing to Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), conveying fake threat warnings or emergency contact numbers. It is clarified that ISPR communicates only through official website/accounts. Nothing is shared through WhatsApp. All are suggested not to circulate fake messages without cross-checking it on official ISPR website/accounts.”
National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq is about to file a complaint against Justice Asif Saeed Khosa in the Supreme Judicial Council – or so it is believed, as a copy of the document is circulating online. Traditional media picks up on this and soon the document is the story of the day. Except the document is missing a vital page and bears no signatures, and the NA denies any such reference has been filed. The information is out there though, and what goes viral is the complaint, not the later investigation and denial.
A Dubai-based newspaper publishes a news report alleging that former COAS Raheel Sharif has been stopped at a Saudi airport. It is widely read and shared in Pakistan, but, as it turns out, the news is fake.
Someone created a URL to the story that looked identical to the newspaper’s own URLs, with just one letter changed, thus leading to a completely different site that hosted the fake story dressed up as authentic.
The fake news examples cited above range from simple-to-execute (sending a WhatsApp message), to difficult (faking an official document) to complex and elaborate (creating a fake replica site to host a fake story). All of the above and, indeed, most examples of fake news in Pakistan are rooted in the internet, which is why Dawn.com survey respondents marked social media and websites as most untrustworthy.
In just one sense, this is good news: the value of traditional media as a gatekeeper of information is apparent. In all other ways, this is bad, and part of the blame for this situation rests with the journalist community. We have constantly been late to acknowledge the fact that what happens online greatly shapes reality today, even in Pakistan, where internet penetration ranges at a very low 15-20pc of the population.
We resist learning the rules that govern online ‘content’. In fact, the very word ‘content’ is looked down upon, lending to our denial of the fact that terms such as ‘news’, ‘feature’, ‘analysis’ and ‘opinion’ have lost their meaning in a vast universe of information. And when the audience doesn’t understand and doesn’t respond as expected, we shift blame to the audience’s lack of intelligence and/or good taste.
Snobbery is one part of our undoing, yet we stand by it while fading to irrelevance, beaten out by Snapchat, Ludo Star and Netflix, because, as already established, our ‘content’ competes for limited attention, making everything the competition. And this is just as true for Dawn as it is for The New York Times and the BBC.
With journalists falling two steps behind, we are losing out to those forces who would like to distort the truth for their own purposes. The nature of the internet lends to a post-truth world. Any user can create fake news cheaply, and spread it at a speed and scale that can match and often surpass news generated by traditional media. Due to the volume and scale online, it is also next to impossible to regulate fake news, except that generated by legacy news organisations that can be easily identified and held accountable.
In Pakistan, instead of the internet having a ‘democratising effect’ we have seen a manifold increase in power to the state through censorship, surveillance, manipulation of information and the spread of lies to maintain the status quo.
Dawn has experienced this directly over the last year after publishing a scoop by Cyril Almeida that exposed a deep civil-military rift. Aside from attacks from all sides in the mainstream, a series of coordinated attack campaigns were run on social media. The first such campaign framed the report as ‘fake news’.
This narrative was forced to shift, however, after it became hard to claim the report was fake once accountability was demanded for those who had leaked the news. The fallback was to frame Dawn as an ‘anti-Pakistan, India-loving’ establishment.
Perhaps worst of all, instead of a ‘global village’ we have ‘internet bubbles’ of like-minded users who will fight anything and anyone against their views. The loudest voice or the one the majority agrees with defines the truth. Anything uncomfortable is rejected.
In a society as fragmented as Pakistan, these bubbles range from PTI supporters harassing Twitter users critical of their party and leader to banned outfits spreading sectarian hate on Facebook. At all times, members of the bubble assume their reality is the ‘truth’. And so we have a steady growth in ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’.
Thankfully we have transitioned to a point where the problem is a globally recognised issue. With enough fake news, and the consequences of being duped piling up, the public will return to the sources they can trust. This is where an institution like Dawn is so vital. Equilibrium will be restored when access to infinite content is balanced off with relying on a trusted voice that contextualises information and reduces it to what is important and true.
Dawn.com’s role is to be that voice on a global level.
Those who attack this organisation for “bringing a bad name to Pakistan” have only one point correct in their infantile arguments: Dawn.com defines Pakistan and gives shape to what is happening in the country for many. Millions of visitors rely on the site for their news, and a majority (sometimes as high as 70pc) are visitors from outside of Pakistan.
This raises many challenges and greatly increases the weight of responsibility on every staffer in terms of ensuring that mistakes or fake news do not find space on the site, and, resultantly, avoiding the label of ‘fake news’ being applied to Dawn.
One key issue is that of content permanence. TV is ephemeral. Print lasts a day or two before being tossed or placed into archives that are hard to access and browse. What goes online lasts forever, and is always one search away. Each mistake lasts forever too; even if a correction is run and edits made, readers will have created their own archive of the misstep. A screenshot takes one swipe. And this applies not only to original content being created by the team of online journalists, but to all print and TV content that comes online.
In this way, all journalists are working for the web, and are doing so without being aware of it or aware of the dynamics that come into play once their stories come online. As just one example, many websites rely on citing Dawn.com to build their reports, with some outright copy-pasting. When a mistake is made, it travels across these sites too, greatly amplifying a mistake and making it impossible to correct.
This is the reality we live in; turbulent, troubling and dark for truth-tellers. But the battle to counter fake news will continue. The most pressing need is for media groups and journalists to embrace the internet fully; to take ownership of their work in this space; to avoid treating it as enemy territory or dismiss it as inconsequential.
Beyond that, we need only keep doing what we have been doing all along. Report the truth, however unpopular or uncomfortable. Let this era of fake news play itself out. This stage will be short-lived. Hopefully.
The writer is editor of Dawn.com
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NAWAZ GOVT DISMISSED
DAWN October 14, 1999 (Editorial)
At the crossroads yet again
IT was a strange and confusing day on Tuesday [Oct 12], to put it mildly. Another democratic interlude had ended. The general has moved into an extremely grey area. He has not yet declared martial law nor has suspended the Constitution or the elected assemblies. He has not sought to justify on legal grounds his ouster of an elected government, probably because such things have no basis in law. Since the Zia dictatorship ended, all government changes before Tuesday’s, although carried out with the military’s concurrence if not at its instigation, had the fig-leaf of the 8th Amendment. That is no longer available, and the military, unless it declares martial law, will have to act quickly to devise some formula that is both politically and legally sustainable. It has to do so not merely to placate domestic liberal and democratic sensibilities, which flinch at the prospect of military rule, but to satisfy the power centres abroad on whom the country depends for financial help.
The situation is indeed altogether confusing, and Mr Nawaz Sharif’s contribution in precipitating it is immense. One can defend the principle of an elected government being allowed to complete its term, but it is difficult to defend Mr Sharif and his associates.
It is obvious that Pakistan must speedily move towards fresh elections and a semblance of constitutionality. How polls are to be arranged and how the inevitable calls for accountability before elections are to be handled are just two of the vexed questions that confront the present decision-makers. The possible response of the higher judiciary to any pleas flowing from Tuesday’s events reinforce the urgency of getting out of the present limbo, which should not be allowed to persist for a day longer than necessary. The COAS’s very brief statement says nothing about the nature of the army’s role or about how long the current interregnum will last. Any suspicion that we are headed for a long period of unrepresentative rule must be quickly dispelled.
89 SUPERIOR COURT JUDGES TAKE OATH UNDER PCO
DAWN January 28, 2000 (Editorial)
DEMANDS of practicality will be seen as providing the only real justification for the military rulers’ sudden decision to require all superior court judges to take a fresh oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order issued after the October 12, 1999, takeover. Otherwise, it is a definite deviation from the Constitution, just as last year’s army takeover was, and it has, moreover, created something of a crisis in the ranks of the judiciary, with some judges, including the Chief Justice of Pakistan, refusing to take the new oath and some not being asked to do so and thus effectively being told to go. But the overwhelming majority of judges have agreed to work under the PCO and, where the regime in power is concerned, its immediate problem will be to fill in the posts now falling vacant.
The superior court judges will now be under public scrutiny to see how they meet this challenge: the previous record of our judiciary is marked by decisions providing a legal cover to extra-constitutional acts. The reasons which prompted the regime to seek a new oath also underline another basic issue. The government continues to give the impression of proceeding on an ad-hoc basis. The task which it has set for itself is daunting, but it will itself feel easier in its mind if it flashes out its proposals and lays them before the public. It will then, among other things, be possible for it to announce a definite timeframe. This will prevent it from wasting its energies in extricating itself from one new problem after another through controversial means.
LIFE SENTENCE FOR NAWAZ
DAWN April 7, 2000 (Editorial)
MR Nawaz Sharif was convicted yesterday [April 6] to a life term in what had come to be known as the plane hijacking case. His property was also ordered to be seized and he was asked to pay compensation to the passengers of the PIA flight (PK 805) he was charged with having attempted to divert. His co-accused, including his brother, Mr Shahbaz Sharif, were let off, although they have many other cases waiting for them outside.
Irrespective of the legal interpretation of the matter, there will be relief that, in view of Pakistan’s delicate internal and external situation, the judge has chosen to disregard the prosecution’s plea for Mr Nawaz Sharif to be awarded the death penalty. A state struggling to prevent an economic collapse, and with its civil institutions seriously weakened and diminished, cannot afford to face further upheavals.
A question that immediately arises is the far lesser quantum of punishment awarded to the other co-accused. Perhaps the court did not find the evidence against the others convincing enough, but some will argue that this may be seen as indicating that the main case also was not without its weak points. However, it must be remembered that Mr Nawaz Sharif and his counsel had time and again expressed their full confidence in the trial judge and the independent and open manner in which the trial was conducted, and they will find it difficult now to cavil at the verdict.
PRESIDENT PARDONS OUSTED PREMIER
DAWN December 11, 2000 (Editorial)
Nawaz’s dramatic exit
AFTER the events of the past 24 hours no one can say that Pakistan does not live in interesting times. After all the show of defiance on the part of Mr Nawaz Sharif, and all the stern talk of accountability from the military government, to think that it should have come down to this: a deal steeped in high mystery and a fair amount of cynicism. And what are the essentials of this momentous deal? To put it rather baldly, the Sharif family has saved its skin at the price of forfeiting its claim to national leadership. Whatever the gloss that Begum Kulsoom Nawaz may have put on her family’s departure for the more congenial climate of Saudi Arabia, few people in Pakistan would be fooled by it. When they see someone running for cover they can usually make out what is happening.
With the willing exile of the Sharif family, it is not far wrong to say that the roar has left the PML-N tiger. In a way perhaps there is something good for the country. Even though Mr Sharif was in prison, his presence here was a constraint for the government. The military should feel more at ease and better placed to open up the clogged channels of democracy. Gen Zia was consumed by the fear of an avenging Bhutto. For Gen Musharraf everything was permissible except a resurgent Sharif. That problem having been taken care of, few excuses remain for holding up the return to democracy.
DELHI BLAMES LASHKAR FOR ATTACK ON PARLIAMENT
DAWN December 20, 2001 (Editorial)
PAKISTAN has done well to remind the world that the recent Indian accusations against Islamabad lacked credibility because they are “motivated by animus and hostility.” In a statement, Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar rejected Mr Advani’s charge that the aim behind the Dec 13 attack was to wipe out the entire Indian leadership. Speaking in Indian parliament, the superhawk home minister said New Delhi would not “rule out any option.”
It is now becoming increasingly clear New Delhi is interested more in creating anti-Pakistani hysteria than in establishing the truth behind the attack. What is laughable is that India began involving Pakistan in the attack even before preliminary investigations had begun. One can contrast this paranoia with Pakistan’s attitude, which has been sober and characterised by self-confidence stemming from the justness of its position. It has reacted coolly to the Indian accusations and asked India to offer concrete evidence of the involvement of Lashkar-i-Taiba and Jaish-i-Muhammad in the attack. It has even offered to cooperate in the investigation and hold a joint inquiry. India has rejected this. Nothing, however, provides a greater proof of India’s duplicity than its rejection of the American suggestion of involving the FBI with the investigation.
In the wake of persistent threats of war, Pakistan has been forced to tell India not to think of any misadventure. In a television interview, President Musharraf merely cautioned India not to take any “precipitate action.”
Accusing Pakistan of trying to “wipe out” the Indian leadership is something that no government in New Delhi has done previously. It is time the Indian leadership sobered up. Previously, too, it saw Pakistan’s hand where it was not. The massacre of Sikhs when President Clinton was in India and the hijacking in 1970 of an Indian airliner come to mind immediately. It is now widely believed that both crimes were masterminded by Indian intelligence agencies. Let India respond to Pakistan’s reasonable offer of a joint or impartial inquiry and of America’s suggestion of the FBI’s association with the investigations. Creating war psychosis will hardly serve the cause of peace in South Asia or help normalise relations between the two countries.
PAKISTAN-INDIA SUMMIT FAILS
DAWN July 18, 2001 (Editorial)
Bang & whimper at Agra
THE deadlock at Agra on the wording of an Indo-Pakistan joint statement comes as a shocking anti-climax to a summit that began on such an upbeat note. Expectations had been raised to euphoric proportions by the media hype, there being too much of it which must have hampered the work of the negotiators. But even a bland statement would have been a face-saver. It is too early to say how the leadership on both sides will now proceed. Will the dialogue continue? Will Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee pay a return call to Pakistan? Will the negotiating framework, which had been tentatively agreed upon, remain in place? Or are we back to square one after a high-profile summit which has led us nowhere?
It is plain that the breakdown of the talks has been a victory for the hawks on both sides. They were the ones who opposed tooth and nail any negotiations between India and Pakistan. It goes to the credit of President Pervez Musharraf that he proceeded to New Delhi and Agra in spite of strong reservations expressed by the hardliners and militant parties and factions which are in some way involved in the fighting in Kashmir. They found obliging allies among the Indian hawks led by the hardliners in the BJP, namely the L.K. Advani faction, which finally scuppered the draft of the joint statement which had been agreed upon by the foreign ministers of the two countries. So strong was the hold of this faction that it overruled its own Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh thrice to make changes in the agreed draft. This goes to prove how the BJP government in New Delhi has become hostage to the hardliners, who now constitute the core of the ruling party.
One only hopes that the intense disappointment the two sides are now feeling will give way to some pragmatism as the dust settles. This is a time when the international community’s attention is focussed on South Asia. This is also a time when a new pattern of global politics is emerging. In this situation, it is not wise for India and Pakistan to remain locked in their confrontational posture.
NOOR JEHAN DIES
DAWN December 25, 2000 (Editorial)
End of an era
THE voice that has been the pride of popular music is now still. With the death of Madam Noor Jehan, a golden chapter in the annals of South Asian music has come to an end. One of the most gifted vocalists, she made a memorable contribution to film music, enriching it in many ways. Endowed by nature with a beautiful voice which she artistically used for conveying a wide range of moods, Noor Jehan enthralled millions of music lovers for more than half a century. She used her natural talent in the service of the finest of fine arts which required a high degree of cultivation and training. From the backwaters of rural Kasur, she became a legend in her own lifetime.
Great poetry, it is said, is the combination of what is the ‘emphasis of sound’ and the ‘emphasis of sense’. Noor Jehan blended both sound and sense to a nicety. She combined melody and imagery into a complete and composite whole. Noor Jehan was one of the senior most playback singers of the subcontinent with the possible exception of Shamshad Begum, who is languishing in obscurity in Mumbai. Noor Jehan has passed into history but her inimitable voice will endure.
US SEEKS HELP FROM PAKISTAN
DAWN September 16, 2001 (Editorial)
Responding to US demands
THERE is no word yet on what Pakistan’s response in concrete terms will be to America’s request for help in the fight against terrorism. The American demands have not been made public. But press reports speak of at least four major requests: one, sharing information on Osama bin Laden; two, sealing off the border with Afghanistan; three, cutting off fuel supplies to Afghanistan; and, four, allowing the use of air space.
In a hurry to act it may be, the US nevertheless is taking time to mobilise support and prepare for striking at the objects of its mad fury which are as good as known by but which have not been officially specified yet. Without doubt, Pakistan is caught between the devil and the deep sea. On the one hand is the US and its determination to get at the elements behind last Tuesday’s [Sept 11] terrorist attacks. On the other are those sections of the domestic opinion which have a soft corner for the Taliban.
In all this, the need clearly is for Washington to take Pakistan into confidence about the precise nature and extent of the military operation and also show a proper understanding of the limitations impinging on Pakistan’s efforts to provide cooperation.
FIVE MILITANT OUTFITS BANNED
DAWN January 14, 2002 (Editorial)
PRESIDENT Musharraf has finally taken decisions that most people inside and outside Pakistan thought had long been overdue. Even though both friends and foes had expected him to act with firmness to check lawlessness in Pakistan under religious cover, even his most ardent admirers had not expected him to act so swiftly and decisively. In one go, he has banned no fewer than five religious militias, put a sixth on watch, laid down rules for regulating and regularising madressahs and mosques and declared emphatically that Pakistan would not allow anyone to use its territory for terrorism anywhere in the world. Characterised by bluntness, and supported by solid arguments and references to Islamic principles, the speech came across to his listeners as honest and well-meaning and one that gave a well-measured response to the nightmarish law and order situation in the country. Moreover, the speech served to address international concerns about the activities of some terrorist organisations in Pakistan.
Most of the organisations banned had made no contribution to Islamic causes, whatever they were; instead, their leaderships were responsible for assassinations, bomb blasts, and attacks on places of worship. More reprehensibly, these organisations were guilty of exploiting the people’s attachment to their religion by inciting them to violence and sedition. Last year alone, as the president pointed out, no less than 400 people fell victim to these parties’ terrorist actions. There is no doubt that the banning of these five parties and militias — Jaish-i-Mohammad, Lashkar-i-Taiba, Sipah-i-Sahaba, Tanzim Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammadi and Tehrik-i-Jafria Pakistan — should have a salutary effect on the law and order situation in Pakistan and lead to a return to socio-economic normality the people have long been yearning for.
However, while reining in these militias — they had become a state within state, as he put it — President Musharraf averred that the crackdown on the militants was motivated by Pakistan’s national interests and that he was acting under no foreign pressure. Nor should anyone believe that a hard line against terrorists meant a compromise on Pakistan’s foreign policy objectives, especially the cause of the freedom of the Kashmiri people. The president did not refer to the massing of the Indian army along Pakistan’s border and its war-like moves, but seemed to call India’s bluff when he said the Pakistani armed forces were quite capable of defending the motherland.
The president’s speech was wide-ranging and dealt with a number of specific problems. It would be childish for anyone to expect that the measures announced would right a situation that has existed now for more than two decades. Initial reaction in Washington and London has been favourable, though clearly world capitals will take time to react officially. One hopes India would study the president’s speech cool-headedly and grab the opportunity to make a move towards easing the present state of confrontation. Any negative Indian reaction is bound to disappoint those who hope for peace in South Asia.
MUKHTARAN MAI EPISODE
DAWN July 3, 2002 (Editorial)
Shocking beyond belief
THE report of a teenaged girl having been subjected to gang-rape by a tribal council in Meerwala Jatoi, district Muzaffargarh, is shocking beyond belief. What is still worse is that the police have not made any arrests even though the barbaric atrocity took place more than a week ago – on June 23 – in the presence of some 1,000 villagers. A council of the elders of the Mastoi clan ordered the outrageous ‘punishment’ for the girl belonging to the Gujjar clan whose 14-year-old brother had dared to court a “higher caste” Mastoi woman. The girl’s father was forced to present his 18-year-old daughter for rape by four Mastoi men to save all other women in his family from facing a similar fate. The incident is a shameful reminder of how horrid tribal customs continue to make a mockery of the rule of law by running a parallel system based on primitive notions of honour, vendetta and so forth.
The rights groups across the country are naturally outraged at the criminal audacity of the said council and its success in having its savage verdict on the innocent girl carried out. They must also be appalled by the authorities’ apathetic attitude to such happenings. Surprisingly, no mainstream political or religious parties ever take a stand on such reprehensible acts of violence against women. Just goes to show how cosmetic their commitment to civil society and human values is.
MUSHARRAF IN BANGLADESH
DAWN July 31, 2002 (Editorial)
Regrets over ’71 excesses
PRESIDENT Pervez Musharraf has done the right thing by expressing regrets over “the excesses committed” during the 1971 civil war and referred to the traumatic events as “unfortunate.” The president was certainly voicing the feeling of the entire nation when he said that “your brothers and sisters in Pakistan share the pain of the events of 1971.” Correctly did he remark that it was time both sides buried the past. In keeping with the occasion — while laying wreaths at the National Martyrs Memorial near Dhaka — the president was sombre but articulate. He wrote in the visitors’ book, “Let not the light of the future be dimmed. Let us move forward together,” because, as he put it, the “courage to compromise is greater than to confront.” The president repeated his remarks at the banquet later that day when he said the two peoples once constituted “a family town faced by a whirlwind of unfortunate events.”
There is no doubt the events of 1971 constitute a sorry chapter in Pakistan’s chequered history. The “excesses” to which the president referred are a matter of historical record, with both sides guilty of massacres and horrendous human rights violations. It would be futile to lay all the blame on one side while exonerating the other. Apologists on the side of Pakistan have often blamed the violence against non-locals as the beginning of the crisis, while for those on the other side it all began with the Pakistan army’s crackdown on the night of March 25, 1971.
The situation was compounded when India took advantage of what was basically Pakistan’s internal problem and saw this as “an opportunity of the century” to dismember Pakistan. However, time is a great healer, and perhaps it will be quite some time before people on both sides begin to see things in their correct perspective or realise that the separation of East Pakistan was the inevitable result of the decades of misrule and autocracy, the absence of civil liberties and democratic rights, the denial of provincial autonomy and the perpetuation of an unjust economic order.
Nevertheless, in spite of all that happened then, peoples in both countries are prepared to forgive and forget. Any Pakistani visitor to Bangladesh cannot but note the fund of goodwill that exists for Pakistan and its people. It is this goodwill that needs to be deepened and given concrete shape.
AQ KHAN SEEKS PARDON
DAWN February 6, 2004 (Editorial)
After the apology
WITH the unqualified apology tendered to the nation by Dr A.Q. Khan, the high drama surrounding Pakistan’s nuclear programme seems to have moved toward a denouement. Even though this by no means is the end of the story, the apology by the living legend and its acceptance by the federal cabinet should, nevertheless, serve to lessen the intensity of the trauma to which this country has been subjected for several months. The people now at least know where things stand with regard to the allegations appearing in the foreign press about Pakistan being a source of nuclear proliferation. In what indeed was an act of courage and a demonstration of large-heartedness, the man honoured as the father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb, took full responsibility for his actions, though he said he had acted in good faith. Nevertheless, he sought the nation’s pardon “to atone for some of the anguish and pain” the people of Pakistan had suffered.
The public apology over television was significant from three points of view. First, Dr Khan accepted full responsibility for what he admitted were “unauthorised proliferation activities.” Two, he made it clear that others involved in unauthorised proliferation activities had acted on his instructions. Three, he declared in categorical terms to the nation that there was “never ever any kind of authorisation for these activities by a government official.”
While the government has accepted Dr Khan’s apology, the critical issue is how the world would view it. Obviously, to the international community, Dr Khan’s carefully worded statement has not only bailed out other Pakistani scientists accused of proliferation activities; it has also exonerated the government of Pakistan of blame for irresponsible conduct. However, the issue is one of Pakistan’s long-term interests and how seriously the world would take Islamabad’s commitments to non-proliferation for the future. In other words, will Pakistan’s non-proliferation vows be deemed credible by world opinion after all that has happened?
The issue is no more Dr Khan and other scientists but the very image of Pakistan as a responsible nation that can be trusted with a finger on the nuclear trigger.
Proliferation of nuclear technology enhances the already existing grave dangers to humanity’s survival and cannot be tolerated on moral or political grounds. The international community has so far accepted Pakistan’s possession of the nuclear bomb as a weapon of deterrence very grudgingly. Any suspicion that Pakistan remains a possible source of the spread of nuclear technology will render the country vulnerable to severe international pressure to roll back its nuclear programme. The problem of a credible assurance to the world is compounded by the lack of democratic traditions in Pakistan.
Led by the government party, a move could be made to secure an all-party agreement of opinion in the National Assembly for a cast-iron constitutional guarantee against proliferation. The aim should be to insert in the Constitution a clause that would make the spread of nuclear technology a crime, entailing severe penalties for the violator.
THOUSANDS DEAD IN KASHMIR
DAWN October 9, 2005 (Editorial)
WITH a death toll that could go into the thousands, yesterday’s massive earthquake which hit the northern half of the country as well as regions in Afghanistan and India has the makings of a tragedy of immense proportions. Even initial reports of the devastation caused are chilling and indicate the magnitude of the challenge posed in terms of rescue and rehabilitation. The quake registered 7.6 on the Richter scale, making it one of the most powerful temblors ever to rock South Asia. The one in 2001 which struck the Indian state of Gujarat, killing over 20,000, had registered 7.7 and Saturday’s [Oct 8] is greater in magnitude than even the earthquake of 1935 which destroyed Quetta, killing nearly 60,000. According to the US Geological Survey, the quake’s epicentre was just northeast of Muzaffarabad in AJK’s Neelum valley and was described by experts as “shallow” (meaning that its origin was close to the earth’s surface) which explains why it was felt so intensely by those who experienced it.
The death and destruction shown on TV screens, especially the collapse of a luxury high-rise complex in Islamabad, could be just the tip of the iceberg. Since most of the affected area in Pakistan is mountainous with poor communication and road links (many of which have now disappeared or remain badly disrupted), it may take days for the extent and nature of damage and the actual death toll to emerge. As footage of the collapsed apartment building in Islamabad showed, the government’s ability to cope with such a catastrophe was found extremely wanting — the IG police of Islamabad in fact appealed to private construction firms to lend heavy equipment to remove the debris. And if that was the case in the federal capital, one can well imagine what might have happened in distant villages in the mountains further north.
The immediate priority for the federal government should be to use all possible resources to get to those trapped, especially those in the more remote regions, so that lives may be saved. Hospitals, government as well as those in the private sector, should be co-opted to treat the injured and an emergency should be sounded for blood donations. In addition, a comprehensive survey needs to be undertaken on a war footing to assess structural damage to buildings to order evacuations if necessary: aftershocks were still being felt hours after the first jolt. Those who are able bodied and can help should come forward to aid the government and relief agencies.
AKBAR BUGTI KILLED BY SECURITY FORCES
DAWN August 28, 2006 (Editorial)
Tragedy with a price
IT is distressing to find the president congratulating the country’s security forces for their “successful operation” that killed Nawab Akbar Bugti and several of his companions in the Bhambore Hills of Balochistan on Saturday [Aug 26]. Every sensible person should be filled with deep foreboding at this critical development. The repercussions may not be immediately visible but they will appear in time, as our troubled political history has shown whenever force has been employed to solve a political problem. Nawab Bugti was a headstrong, politically erratic person and a tribal sardar to the core of his being, with all the characteristic harshness and also some of its paternalistic mellowness. He had lent his services to various governments, compromising relations with even some of his own fellow Baloch leaders to become both governor and chief minister of his province at the expense of old party comrades. His politics could hardly be described as being always very consistent.
But, outspoken as he was, Bugti also articulated the nationalist aspirations of the people of his province and was respected by almost every ethnic group there. Indeed, it is mystifying why this operation, reminiscent of the targeted attacks carried out against Al Qaeda suspects, was carried out now when a Bugti tribal jirga was arranged only the other day with such fanfare by the government.
Nawab Bugti had fallen out with Islamabad on previous occasions too, but there was always a sullen reconciliation later. Why the break this time went so deep and led to such a bloody end is not immediately clear. Perhaps ultimately the epitaph will be couched in the immortal lines of Muneer Niazi: “the denizens of the city were cruel, but we too perhaps had a wish to be killed.”
CHIEF JUSTICE CHAUDHRY SUSPENDED
DAWN March 11, 2007 (Editorial)
A big blow to the judiciary
WITH the Chief Justice of Pakistan having become “non-functional”, another sordid chapter has been added to the judiciary’s chequered history. One is appalled to see the photograph of a general in uniform calling the country’s Chief Justice to his “camp office” as if the latter were a ‘suspect’ in a case of embezzlement. Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry was then not allowed to return to his office and was “escorted” home. While SJC will, no doubt, decide upon the case, the nation is appalled that those who impose accountability on others and imprison politicians are accountable to no one. Is not the nation justified in wondering why the men in khaki consider themselves above accountability? He who seeks justice must come with a clean hand is an old axiom. The generals seek to dole out justice to others, but they themselves are not prepared to present themselves before an impartial, civilian tribunal to defend their actions. It is for this reason that, since Zia’s days, the word ‘accountability’ has acquired a strange connotation because it is hard to dispense with the notion that the military uses the shibboleth of accountability to persecute the regime’s political enemies. A larger question is Pakistan’s image. Friday’s [March 9] treatment of the chief justice is hardly the episode that will cast Pakistan in a better image abroad. In fact, it will have a negative impact on the world and add to the impressions abroad that Pakistan is just another Muslim country where the ruler’s word is the law.
MAY 12 INCIDENTS DISRUPT CALM
DAWN May 13, 2007 (Editorial)
AS most people dreaded, Saturday’s [May 12] ‘peaceful’ rallies turned Karachi into a battlefield, leading to a tragic loss of life and limb. The full casualty toll will of course be known later, but it appeared at times as if there was no government in Karachi and it was gunmen who ruled the nation’s biggest city.
The administration had claimed that it had taken all possible measures, deploying 15,000 security personnel, to ensure that the activists of the two sides would not come face to face with each other. However, by mid-day political activists armed to the teeth were often found locked in confrontation, and those who fell were mostly innocent citizens. Millions of TV viewers saw gunmen roaming the streets with impunity and firing from positions taken on buildings and bridges, with some unashamedly waving party flags.
As the day ended, one could see that there wasn’t much of ‘processioning’. Caravans coming from the interior were few and far between, and even the MQM rally was not its usual self. The violence stemmed from two causes: an inexplicable desire on the part of the governing Sindh coalition, which has the MQM as a major partner, to ‘discourage’ the CJ from visiting Karachi. The CJ camp could have backed off; it too did not. Two, the law and order machinery completely failed to do its job, the Sindh governor and the chief minister’s tall claims notwithstanding.
DAWN October 7, 2007 (Editorial)
Reconciled to expediency
A LAW may be deemed necessary by those who frame it but that consideration alone doesn’t make it right. While questions of constitutionality are best answered by the experts, bad laws stick out a mile and can be identified even by the untutored. The National Reconciliation Ordinance promulgated on Friday [Oct 5] is a prime example of a bad law even though it meets the yardstick of enforceability. It favours select individuals or groups and discriminates against others. In the case of NRO 2007, the prime beneficiaries are Ms Benazir Bhutto and her Pakistan People’s Party as well as Mr Altaf Hussain’s Muttahida Qaumi Movement. President Pervez Musharraf also gains indirectly because the ordinance wins him new supporters and rewards existing allies, thereby making his future prospects more secure. While some are favoured, the amnesty’s conviction clause and its 1986 to 1999 time frame have been so devised as to exclude Mr Nawaz Sharif from the list of beneficiaries.
Friday’s ordinance is all about personal gain and has little to do with ‘national reconciliation’. The ordinance strengthens the view that crime goes unpunished in Pakistan, and that too with official blessing. This is not the right signal to send to a public that is on the verge of losing all faith in the system. Perhaps the only positive in all this is that in terms of future accountability, elected representatives have been extended privileges similar to those already in place for military officials and members of the judiciary.
ALL OVER AT LAL MASJID
DAWN July 11, 2007 (Editorial)
A gruesome end
“EIGHTY per cent of the operation,” to quote an army spokesman, had been completed to expel the terrorists from the Lal Masjid when these lines were written, and Abdul Rashid Ghazi had been killed, though resistance from hard-core militants was still going on, with the death toll in the vicinity of 150. While no tears will be shed over the death of the well-armed militants gathered around him by Ghazi, our hearts go out to the families of those innocent men, women and children who were killed during Tuesday’s [July 10] operation or in the fighting earlier. The responsibility for the death of the innocents and the trauma of those who have survived rests with the extremists who held hostage those whom they had lured into the mosque for giving them lessons in Islam. Instead, in a most perfidious way and in a way that behoves perhaps hardened criminals, they used men and women as a human shield to save themselves. This was the reason why late-night talks which had aroused hopes for a peaceful solution failed. The government’s mistakes in the entire drama notwithstanding, one has to admit that it exercised the utmost restraint.
The Ghazi band’s isolation from the nation was total, for no madressah leader anywhere in the country came to their support, and the little bit of support they received came from the politically motivated ulema and those pro-Taliban elements in Fata who are already in a virtual state of war with Pakistan’s security forces. There is no room for complacency, and the government must relentlessly pursue terrorists and criminals masquerading as ‘soldiers of Islam’. Talibanism has destroyed Afghanistan. Let it not harm Pakistan.
MUSHARRAF’S SECOND COUP
DAWN November 4, 2007 (Editorial)
Another move towards absolutism
SO we are back to square one. Back to Oct 12, 1999. All the gains over the years have gone down the drain. In a nutshell, one-man rule has been reinforced, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. The reports about emergency rule were denied umpteenth times by president and prime minister. The denials were bogus. From now on it would simply be a waste of newspaper space and channel time if ever a denial by this government is printed or aired. In a sense this is Gen Pervez Musharraf’s second coup. All private channels had gone off air, and only the state-controlled PTV released the proclamation of emergency order which spoke of the ‘visible ascendancy in the activities of extremists’ as the reason for imposing the emergency. Not even the most naïve amongst us would buy this line. Already, the president enjoys all the powers. But we ask: can a general who does not enjoy the people’s mandate really carry the nation along and fight the terrorists alone?
DAWN December 28, 2007 (Editorial)
A dream snuffed out
BENAZIR Bhutto is dead. She died amidst her supporters who revered her, and her father before her, and from whom she derived her strength, her legitimacy as a leader. She died because the state proved inadequate in protecting her.
She died at the hands of an assassin, a suicide bomber, God knows at whose behest. She epitomised courage and courted death because she said it was important for her to reclaim the political space lost to the extremists by the current government’s policies.
Among sinking hearts, an emptiness, and doom and gloom many questions will need to be answered. Did she die because she was a woman politician swimming against the tide of obscurantism? Did she die because she was in the process of staging a comeback after being dismissed twice on charges of corruption and misconduct? Did she die because she represented the aspirations of millions of her supporters — supporters so committed that they refused to blame the party leadership for many unfulfilled dreams?
The reception accorded to her as she returned home, ending years in exile on October 18, was a demonstration of such selfless dedication by several hundred thousand supporters. More than 150 people, mostly PPP activists, died in the bombing aimed at her that night in Karachi. Her supporters knew very well she was the target and yet thronged each venue she appeared at. Such was their bond. While we appeal for restraint, the anger and the frustration of PPP supporters is understandable. The sniper’s bullet has snatched their dreams from them. Will we ever know who killed her?
She died literally yards from where Liaquat Ali Khan was felled by an assassin’s bullet and probably a mile from where her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had his life snuffed out by the hangman’s noose. We know nothing about Liaquat Ali Khan’s murder and very little about Z.A. Bhutto’s killing beyond what his supporters say was a judicial murder.
No amount of condemnation will compensate for the sense of loss that fills millions of hearts across the land today. We can’t even begin to imagine the grief of her family who have been robbed of the jewel in their crown.
It is a tribute to the tenacity of Ms Bhutto, the politician par excellence, that she kept her father’s political legacy alive in a male-dominated society. He had championed the popular cause and had given a sense of dignity to the common man in Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto had the mettle to do the same.
The repercussions of her murder will continue to unfold for months, even years. What is clear is that Pakistan’s political landscape will never be the same having lost one of its finest daughters.
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