Thursday, July 31, 2014
Eyeless in Gaza Eid did not stop the relentless offensive by Israel in Gaza. If anything, its bombardment incrementally is increasing and becoming more and more indiscriminate. The latest atrocity at the time of writing these lines is the UN school where families were sheltering, including many children. At least 20 were slaughtered, bringing tears to the eyes of a UN spokesman during a press conference on the incident. Those may be the only tears (apart from those of Palestinian victims) being shed anywhere for the massacre Israel is perpetrating in Gaza, seemingly unhindered and undeterred, with the criminal silence of the Arab, Muslim worlds, western governments, the global community and the UN amounting to complicity in the virtual genocide visited on the Palestinians in Gaza. This is neither the first one-sided assault on the Palestinians by Israel, nor does it look like it will be the last. Palestinians in Lebanon, the West Bank, and particularly Gaza, have tasted this bitter fruit before repeatedly. Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu responds to the feeble calls for a ceasefire with the threat that attacks will continue even if (in the unlikely event) a ceasefire is agreed. Could there be a more blatant arrogance of power in an unequal fight? The ‘right of defence’ claimed by Israel and backed from the start of the offensive by Washington has no basis in reality. Consider the sequence of events leading up to the current round of Israeli aggression. Three Israeli teenagers are kidnapped and eventually killed. Tel Aviv blames Hamas without a shred of evidence. In spite of Hamas’ denial of responsibility for the incident, 500 Hamas members are arrested by Israel, the salaries of 40,000 employees in Gaza are stopped, followed by an all-out assault on Gaza, the largest open air prison in the world with one of, if not the highest, population densities in the world. This is because the Strip is chock a block with Palestinian refugees who have fled Israel’s repression over the years. How then can Israel claim that Hamas is using women, children and families as ‘human shields’ in defending itself against charges of indiscriminate killing of non-combatants? There is nowhere for the Palestinians in Gaza to run or to hide. Nowhere is safe, no one is safe from Israel’s murderous spree. Sadly, the only adjoining country that could have come to the aid and succour of the trapped Palestinians in Gaza, Egypt, is currently led by a military regime that hates Hamas as it sees it as an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood whose government the military has overthrown in Egypt and is engaged in the suppression of. Egypt therefore is currently helping Israel in its unholy designs of pummelling the Palestinians in Gaza into the dust by keeping the Rafah crossing into Egypt firmly shut, even for the wounded. Israel is thereby ‘freed’ to pursue its ostensible aim of taking out the tunnels Hamas is supposed to be using to attack Israel, a post facto trotted out argument that hardly justifies the scale and intensity of the bombardment it is subjecting Gaza to. Israel’s purpose, stripped of all the self-justificatory propaganda, is to demolish Hamas because it forged a unity government with Mahmoud Abbas’ PLO just before the Israeli offensive. Israel broke off peace negotiations with Abbas soon after since the new unity between rivals Hamas and the PLO meant the former would now be directly or indirectly part of the negotiations. In sum, the Israeli position now boils down to no ceasefire, no peace talks, no compromise two state solution. All hope of a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict therefore is history. Israel hopes to consolidate the status quo, which translates as demolishing Hamas, sidelining the PLO, carrying on the expansion of its illegal settlements in the West Bank, and suffering from the illusion that all this will offer it peace and security. Instead, all that can be envisaged from the present scenario and trends is virtually permanent conflict and bloodshed. With hardly any voice or pressure from any direction on Israel to halt its massacre, nothing better describes the condition of the Palestinians than the title of a famous piece of literature: Eyeless in Gaza.
Thursday, July 17, 2014
Anti-terrorism strategy Nothing underlines the critical need for a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy better than Thursday’s encounter with terrorists in Raiwind, Lahore, close to Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif’s residence. The encounter is not without a touch of irony, given the PM’s instructions to COAS General Raheel Sharif and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali on Wednesday that the militants should be hunted down all over the country. From reports, it appears the militants were conducting surveillance of the PM’s residence for months from a rented house in the vicinity guarded by armed men and whose inhabitants kept themselves aloof from the surrounding community. One terrorist was killed and one critically wounded in the raid, for the loss of one police officer. Explosives and other weapons were discovered at the house, some of which were destroyed on the spot. In a parallel vein, nothing underlines the critical need for a comprehensive counter-insurgency strategy better than the trajectory of Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) since its launch about a month ago. Between the lines, a tacit admission by the military can be read by informed observers that its cordon around North Waziristan may have been too little too late, allowing terrorist guerrillas to move away before the start of the offensive into adjoining tribal Agencies or even into Afghanistan. Whether the attack from across the border on a check post in Bajaur Agency the other day was the work of the militants from Swat under Mulla Fazlullah who had earlier taken refuge across the border or of the later fighters of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to have escaped across the border does not matter as much as the fact that Pakistan now faces hostile guerrilla forces just across its western border that seem bent upon mounting cross-border raids every so often. To deal with terrorist fighters who may have escaped from NWA to Bajaur and stop any repetition of the recent cross-border raid that cost the lives of an army captain and two soldiers, the military was poised to start an offensive in Bajaur Agency. However, the offensive has now been postponed on the request of a local jirga that has set up a peace lashkar (militia) to defend the area against cross-border incursions and suppress any terrorist presence or support network of the militants within the Agency. In this regard, the tribal elders and tribesmen have reverted to their traditional role of the first line of defence of the western border. However, given the dire fate of similar tribal lashkars set up in the past in this and other Agencies, appropriate steps are necessary to provide support and backing to the lashkar in the fight against the enemy. The contemplated, now postponed military foray into Bajaur Agency serves to highlight the necessity to treat the FATA theatre as a whole if the terrorist threat is to be eliminated. Nothing underlines the critical necessity of the coordination of both the comprehensive counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency strategies better than the timely success of the intelligence-led encounter with the terrorists spying on the PM’s residence. The success was underwritten by better coordination amongst all the intelligence agencies and law enforcement forces. Ideally, a central command and control mechanism should have been created to coordinate the various strands of the anti-terrorist struggle. NACTA was considered for such a role, but, toothless as NACTA is, and given the tug of war over its command being under the (present) PM’s Secretariat or the interior ministry, it no longer provides a credible template for a centralised command and control with a common data base that is still critical for the anti-terrorist campaign in both its counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency facets. A long struggle lies ahead against a determined and elusive enemy capable of melting away in the face of overwhelming force or other danger and living to fight another day. For asymmetrical warriors, survival in the face of a superior force itself is a victory. For the state, nothing short of annihilation of the terrorist threat, now that the die has finally been cast, will do.
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Triangular political rivalry An interesting simultaneous distancing and convergence of erstwhile political ‘friends’ and ‘enemies’ has emerged in recent days. PPP Co-chairman and former president Asif Ali Zardari, whose party was widely viewed as a ‘friendly’ opposition to the incumbent PML-N government (justified by the PPP as its support to the continuance of the democratic system), has delivered a broadside against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Zardari has ‘reminded’ Nawaz Sharif that he has been elected a prime minister and not an absolute monarch. Further, he has said that he is at a loss to understand why the government has been resisting Imran Khan’s demand for a vote recount in four constituencies. According to Mr Zardari, the heavens would not fall if four constituencies saw a vote recount. In fact, he went on, a vote recount could be conducted in any constituency where there are complaints, be they even 40 instead of just four. The broadside appears to stem from Zardari’s annoyance at Nawaz Sharif’s ‘authoritarian’ style of ‘dictating’ to the Sindh government led by the PPP on issues such as law and order. Zardari and his party may also harbour serious apprehensions that the PML-N government’s ‘combative ‘ style (especially some of the statements of its hawkish ministers), may lead to a serious crisis and even the derailment of democracy if more and more opposition parties are alienated by the government on perfectly avoidable irritants. Whatever the reasons or motivation for Zardari’s bitter diatribe, Imran Khan has pounced upon it in classic opportunist style and used Zardari’s statements as ammunition to continue his own broadsides at the government. Even that may have been forgivable given that Zardari’s criticism brings grist to Imran Khan’s alleged rigging mill. However, for Imran Khan to wax lyrical as a result about the PPP government being better during its five years than Nawaz Sharif’s government in just one year, smacks of nothing but political opportunism considering that Imran hardly ever had a kind word for the PPP government throughout its five year tenure, let alone its Co-chairman, whom Imran had over the years cast in a lurid light. So, in a classic case of my enemy’s enemy is my friend, Imran Khan embraces Zardari to do down Nawaz Sharif. Let no one even breathe the word ‘principle’ here. Encouraged by Zardari’s ‘conversion’ from friendly to angry with the incumbent government, Imran Khan has taken advantage of the opportunity to resort to what appears to be a strategy of escalating demands. He now says the days of demanding a vote audit/recount in four constituencies s are long over. What he wants now is a total audit/recount of all constituencies as is being carried out in neighbouring Afghanistan in the wake of the controversial presidential run-off elections. The suspicion raises its head here that the PML-N government either wanted the four constituency demand to be decided y the election commission, tribunals, etc, or anticipated that Imran would up the ante at the first opportunity to demand what he has now: a total recount and possible mid-term elections. Either may explain their lack of interest in ‘helping’ Imran get what he (initially) wanted. Nawaz Sharif on the other hand, is still plying his mantra of shunning ‘negative’ politics and allowing the government to pursue its development agenda without unnecessary obstacles. So now the country is witness to the new emerging scenario of unlikely ‘friends’ the PPP and PTI, and even unlikelier ‘enemies’ PPP and PML-N. If the head swims by now, blame it on Pakistan’s Byzantine political culture. Does any of this have anything to do with the serious and grave problems the country faces? Trying to find such a connection would be a stretch. Imran Khan has ‘conceded’ his August 14 rally in Islamabad will be an evening affair and therefore not clash with the government’s planned Independence Day parade in the morning. One should be grateful for the small mercy of Imran Khan not raining on the government’s parade. The shenanigans of the political class at a time when the suffering of the people knows no bounds because of unemployment, inflation, the energy deficit and sundry other issues, not the least of which is security of life and limb, can only weaken its credibility, turn more and more people off ‘democracy’ because of its perceived failure to deliver anything of value to the people while providing no end of perks, privileges and ‘opportunities’ to the political class to make merry. And then some innocent souls ask why the demand for an authoritarian (or worse) dispensation refuses to die.
Sunday, July 13, 2014
Cross-border attack Two soldiers and a captain were killed and two more soldiers wounded in an attack on a check post in the Bajaur tribal Agency from across the border by about two dozen militants armed with sophisticated weapons on Saturday. The pre-dawn attack was reportedly initiated by a rocket attack that hit the check post and led to the deaths and injuries. Although an unnamed senior government official bravely claimed that the militants were forced to flee after troops resisted, the truth probably lies in the very nature of such guerilla attacks, which are broken off after the element of initial surprise is exhausted and before the military can call for an effective response locally as well as through reinforcements, including the possibility of air power. The way such attacks play out therefore is more likely to be a swift, short assault, followed by a breaking off and retreat before the military can bring its superior force to bear. Although there is so far no claim of responsibility, it is reasonable to assume that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is behind the attack. The reason this assumption has weight is that such attacks are not new. After Mulla Fazlullah fled Swat in the wake of the military operation in 2009 and found refuge across the border in Afghanistan, reportedly thanks to the ‘generosity’ of the Haqqani network, cross-border attacks by much larger contingents have been mounted from time to time. If the reports about thousands of TTP fighters having crossed over into Afghanistan in anticipation of Operation Zarb-e-Azb are correct, it is logical to assume that the Haqqani network may have extended their hospitality to the new arrivals like the old and offered them safe havens from which they can operate against the Pakistani military across the border. It should not be forgotten that Mulla Fazlullah, formerly the leader of the Swat Taliban, today is the anointed chief of the TTP. As far as Operation Zarb-e-Azb is concerned, the initial euphoria regarding the military’s long overdue offensive has quickly dissipated because of concerns regarding the manner in which the operation has been mounted and is being pursued. The loud announcements of the offensive even before it began lost for the military the element of surprise. The cordon thrown around areas of concentration of the Taliban suffered from being too little too late and unable to completely close the trap. The result was that many TTP fighters moved into other tribal Agencies, just like they did during the 2010 South Waziristan offensive, or made their way across the Afghan border in order to live to fight another day. Like in previous military campaigns in FATA, the failure to secure and cut off escape routes for the guerrillas on a theatre-wise basis may turn out once again to prove a fatal flaw in the strategy. It can be surmised that the reported falling out of the military establishment with the Haqqani network may have had something to do with the latter’s earlier protection accorded to Mulla Fazlullah, and now the current crop of fleeing fighters. If this analysis is correct, Pakistan must brace for more such attacks, perhaps on a bigger scale and with increasing frequency, a campaign helped immeasurably by the long, porous border and the forbidding terrain. Given the above, this promises to be a long war, irrespective of the military’s claims that it has by now cleared Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan. If the pictures of the main bazaar of Miranshah after the military’s endeavours are perused, it looks like a shell-shocked moonscape, with no sign of human or any other form of life. Retreat in the face of superior force is a sine qua non for guerrilla warfare. One more reason why cross-border attacks may increase is the situation inside Afghanistan in the run up to the withdrawal of foreign troops. As that presence thins incrementally, the Taliban will mount probing attacks on the Afghan army as they have done in recent days in Helmand and Kandahar. Not only is the Afghan army’s resilience a big question mark, the current impasse over the Afghan presidential run-off elections, despite the mediatory efforts of US Secretary of State John Kerry in getting the rival candidates to accept a UN-supervised recount of the disputed results, can feed into ethnic divisions that may eventually impact the ranks of the Afghan army too. With already tenuous control over most of its territory, including the Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas, it seems ironic if not laughable for the Pakistan foreign office to wax indignant over the attack and ‘call’ upon the Afghan authorities to prevent such attacks and cooperate with Pakistan’s ongoing operation against the TTP. Even were they able, it is not clear the Afghan authorities have any love lost for what they see as their Pakistani tormentors of long standing. Pakistan therefore will have to rethink its defence of its western border on its own.
Sunday, July 6, 2014
PPP’s dire straits Although this year too, as usual, the PPP held seminars to condemn the July 5, 1977 military coup against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government, it was inescapable that the party commemorated arguably one of the most important days in its history more with a whimper than a bang. Seminars reiterating the party’s adherence to the democratic system, going to the extent of promising support to the incumbent PML-N government against all attempts to destabilise democracy and replace it with some ‘doctored’ dispensation that would be essentiality a back door anti-democratic dispensation, were held in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Quetta. The PPP reiterated its stance despite what it described as differences with the government. Senator Raza Rabbani stretched logic by arguing that the recent revelations of the US’s National Security Agency’s (NSA’s) spying on the PPP when it was in power in the last government proved that not only reactionary internal forces but also foreign imperialists were behind Bhutto’s overthrow and eventual hanging by General Ziaul Haq. Whereas the argument that the US was hostile to Bhutto because of his efforts to unite the Muslim world and give Pakistan a nuclear deterrent hold weight, to extrapolate backwards in a completely different context and time the NSA’s ‘universal’ spying on governments, political parties, organisations and even individuals as proving the point of imperialist hostility is a tenuous case. Of course the PPP’s argument that the country is suffering from religious extremism, sectarianism and terrorism because of General Zia’s ‘contributions’ to these phenomena is difficult to disagree with. The thrust of the PPP leaders and speakers' speeches on the day centred on proving the credentials of the PPP as a democratic, anti-imperialist party. The first part is proved by the track record of the PPP since the restoration of democracy in 1988 and again in 2008. However, the latter description, including what was once the PPP’s progressive or even socialist bent, would be difficult to trace in the party’s pronouncements or practice for long years now. That bent owed much to the spirit of the 1968-69 movement against Ayub Khan’s dictatorship in which the demand for the restoration of democracy was underlined with very many radical formulae in the direction of a socialist order. All that has been history for a very long time now and the PPP currently, despite its exertions, would be hard put to it to establish itself as a party of the left currently. The main reason for this decline, and the weakening of the party generally, is the loss of its once redoubtable fortress of Punjab. How the mighty have fallen if one recalls that in the 1970 elections, the received wisdom was that even if the PPP put up a lamppost as a candidate in the 1970 elections in Punjab, it would win against all comers. Bhutto’s overthrow in 1977 and subsequent hanging by General Zia in 1979 was of course a body blow to the PPP and forced it to struggle for survival against the military dictatorship’s repression as well as struggle for the restoration of democracy, the high point of which was the MRD movement of 1983. The crushing of that movement sounded with hindsight the death knell of the PPP’s left wing orientation as well. The PPP’s subsequent political trajectory under Ms Benazir Bhutto reflected a pragmatic acceptance of the currents of the time, centred on liberal democracy and neo-liberal economics. That of course left little or no room for left wing ideas. Not only did the PPP as an organisation decline in its stronghold Punjab since 1977 because of extreme repression, its subsequent leadership in Punjab never proved equal to the task of survival, revival and dynamism required in Punjab on the basis of the original programme of the rights of workers, peasants and the common man. Incremental abandonment of the party’s left ideology has rendered it, apart from leadership issues, weak and ineffective in Punjab. The results of last year’s elections prove the point, in which the PPP was virtually wiped out in Punjab, where the contest was largely between the right wing PML-N and the PTI. The party has been reduced to a rump party with support only in Sindh. To restore its glory days, the PPP will have to return to its left roots, especially in Punjab, and bring in a leadership in the province capable of inspiring the demoralised ranks of its workers and supporters.
Friday, July 4, 2014
July 5, 1977 and how we got here It is 37 years to the day today when the process of altering state and society in a retrograde direction took off. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s (ZAB’s) PPP had won a majority of seats in what was then West Pakistan in the 1970 elections, but to ZAB’s chagrin, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s Awami League had won a simple majority because of its popularity in then East Pakistan, assisted by the boycott of the elections by progressive parties such as National Awami Party (Bhashani). The inherent contradiction in denying the majority of the people of united Pakistan their right to form a government of their choice led inexorably towards a bloody civil war, foreign intervention, and the breakup of an internationally isolated Pakistan, relegated to virtual pariah status because of the cruelties heaped on the people of what became Bangladesh. The military junta that overthrew General Yahya Khan’s inept military coterie installed ZAB in power on the basis of his majority of seats in the remaining Pakistan’s National Assembly. The PPP had swept the elections in Punjab and Sindh on a radical programme of ‘Islamic Socialism’. The latter half of this slogan was implemented in the shape of nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, land reforms (infructuous in the end), and gestures in the direction of rights to the people. This aroused a coalition of private property owners affected by the reforms, right wing political parties and the religious lobby against ZAB. The first half of the slogan translated into concessions to religious reactionaries, such as the anti-Ahmedi law, banning alcohol, changing the weekly off to Friday, etc, in what turned out to be a vain effort to appease the right wing religious forces. ZAB’s authoritarian ways in Balochistan and (then) NWFP and against any and all political opposition ensured this coalition’s life and effectiveness, particularly in the aftermath of the 1977 massively rigged elections. The opposition’s Pakistan National Alliance, once invited for negotiations with the government, came tantalisingly close to settling matters with ZAB for fresh elections. But COAS General Ziaul Haq struck that very night of July 4-5, 1977, with later accounts from participants in the negotiations process pinpointing differences over Balochistan as being at the heart of the military’s coup against ZAB’s government. The nightmare had begun. General Zia turned out to be so Machiavellian as not to hesitate to misuse the emotional attachment of Pakistan’s Muslim majority with their faith to twist and turn state and society in a direction that was inherently rigid in thought, intolerant in essence, and willing to open the door to first religiosity, then extremism, and finally terrorism in the name of Islamic jihad. Of course this project was ably and fundamentally helped by the Afghan wars. Pakistan today reflects these developments and suffers from the depredations involved in releasing the religious genie from the bottle, to the detriment not only of what the founding fathers of Pakistan envisaged, but also what enlightened, liberal, democratic and progressive individuals and forces see as the only possible future that offers any hope of wrestling control of the minds of large numbers of the people of Pakistan out of the cul de sac of blighted religious narrowness. The reason why this is proving an uphill struggle is because this necessary coalition of forces opposed to the negative trends that have set in over the last 37 years is itself scattered, weak, disorganised, and without the capability of giving effective voice to their ideas. There have been voices heard of late bemoaning the fact that in the current context of the anti-terrorism struggle, military means alone will not suffice. What can and must strengthen the hands of the antiterrorist front is the counter-narrative to the ides of the fanatics and terrorists. That counter-narrative is conspicuous by its absence. Appeals to the government to make efforts in this regard seem to have fallen on deaf (or even incapable) ears. It is therefore the duty of the enlightened, liberal, democratic, progressive camp to take up this task in earnest. Governments come and go. The timeline of this effort is not and cannot be confined to one government’s tenure. Rooting out reactionary ideas and attitudes may take years. All the more reason that a beginning be made now.