Thursday, December 29, 2016
Zardari’s ‘surprise’ Former president and co-chairman PPP Asif Ali Zardari’s return to the country after a self-imposed exile of a year and a half set tongues wagging as to what the return portended. Zardari added fuel to the fire by announcing on his arrival in Karachi that he would deliver some ‘good news’ at the commemoration of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in Larkana on December 27. All eyes were therefore on him amidst heightened expectations of some ‘surprise’. However, the way things transpired, the ‘surprise’ turned out to be a damp squib. If there were expectations that Zardari would, in the light of his blood curdling cries against the government on his return, endorse Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s call for a long march on Islamabad after the deadline of December 27 had passed since the government had turned a deaf ear to the party’s four demands, these expectations were in for a disappointment. Instead of an all out agitational assault on the government as the long march proposal implied, Zardari pulled two rabbits out of his hat, announcing that both he and Bilawal would enter the National Assembly through by-elections on seats held by the PPP in Nawabshah and Larkana respectively. While the announcement was unlikely to set the house on fire, some conclusions can already be drawn from it. First, there is the speculation, unconfirmed, that some discreet agreement was reached on the eve of Zardari’s address in Garhi Khuda Buksh on December 27 between him and the government, which led to a ‘postponement’ of the long march proposal and instead, Zardari opted for carrying on his ‘struggle’ in parliament and, if necessary, outside it. Second, the former president’s decision to enter parliament was a message to the establishment that he could not be kept out of politics indefinitely despite his close colleagues and friends being targeted by the Rangers in Karachi, the latest episode of which occurred just hours before his touching down in Karachi. Third, it could be a signal that Zardari was positioning himself in the run up to the 2018 elections. Fourth, analysts are reading this development as Bilawal being relegated to the position of a ‘political intern’ to learn the art of parliamentary politics, meaning he will continue to play second fiddle to his father in a reversal of the recent trend where Bilawal seemed to be asserting himself in a militant fashion against the government. Last but not least, there may be hopes that Zardari’s entry into parliament will help lift the dwindling morale of his party workers. It appears now that the shape of the PPP’s political strategy in the run up to the 2018 elections is premised on avoiding a direct clash with the government while keeping up the pressure inside parliament and, if necessary, outside it for ‘consideration’ being extended to the party’s concerns and complaints. The all out assault option is probably considered too risky for the still fragile democratic system, in which all parties with a presence in parliament have a stake. This consideration draws a line of demarcation between the PPP and the PTI, since the latter has shown in its agitational mode in recent years a recklessness towards the fate of the democratic system. Does this mean no alliance is possible between the two main opposition parties? This conclusion may be premature since Imran Khan has indicated he could contemplate such an alliance. The government on its part has ‘launched’ its not-so-secret-weapon in the shape of Maulana Fazlur Rehman to mediate between the government and the PPP and thereby prevent any alliance between the PPP and PTI emerging. It remains to be seen whether Asif Zardari’s gambit will yield the results expected from it. If not, the option of agitation, or at least the threat of it, could once again be trotted out. We must wait and see.
Time for a rethink New COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s third visit to Balochistan since taking over command last month has yielded little that is new. His busy day attending various events in Quetta gave him the opportunity to address the issues that have plagued the province for long years. However, his touching on them left many questions unanswered. Stressing as he did the undoubted importance of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), General Bajwa repeated the arguments about the project’s importance. However, his stress on the benefits CPEC will bring to the province are likely not to convince those in Balochistan with long memories of past experience. The natural resources of Balochistan, whose abundance the COAS stressed, have not benefited wholly or sometimes even in part the people of the province themselves. Balochistan’s inherited underdevelopment remains unaddressed almost 70 years since independence. That and the denial of the rights of the Baloch people over their resources have fed into historically received grievances. Every generation in Balochistan has rebelled against these anomalies, the current nationalist insurgency being the fifth during the last almost 70 years. If today some or all the nationalist insurgents have veered towards separatism, this should be viewed as a cry from the heart born of frustration. CPEC is certainly important, but its results cannot be hoped for complacently while its major route through Balochistan and the critical port of Gwadar are located in a troubled province. The special security force being raised to guard the CPEC will be stretched to secure the entire length and multiple routes of the corridor. While the induction of Baloch youth into the military, paramilitary and law enforcement agencies may be appropriate, one should not be lulled thereby into thinking that this will deter the appeal to youth of the nationalist insurgency. The COAS pins the blame for all the troubles in the province and hurdles to its development on ‘enemies’. For the sake of argument if this logic is accepted, what is the way out of this long running quagmire? Is the present (and repeated) sole reliance on military force to quell the rebellion a sufficient condition for the desired outcome of peace and development? With respect, the history of this nationalist insurgency of some 70 years standing (punctuated by brief periods of seeming peace) as well as similar insurgencies elsewhere suggests that military solutions to such conundrums are the exception. The rule is that they are usually resolved politically. Former chief minister Balochistan Dr Abdul Malik’s efforts to talk to the insurgents made shipwreck on his lack of power to implement any commitments. His successor Nawab Sanaullah Zehri seems to have abandoned the talks option altogether. Since it is obvious that the military calls the shots in Balochistan, only it can with authority and credibility engage the rebels. At present, if we read between the lines of the COAS’s remarks, only the option of unconditional surrender is on offer. That is unlikely to persuade the core of the insurgency to lay down arms without their grievances being heard and addressed (albeit within the four corners of the constitution and law). The COAS has correctly pointed to the global geopolitical and geo-economic environment evolving in a manner that has brought our region into focus. This is precisely why a dynamic, forward-looking policy is needed to prevent the exploitation of local grievances by any inimical regional or global power, salivating at the prospect of Balochistan’s strategic location. A politically negotiated solution to the Balochistan insurgency would help cut the ground from under any such power’s ability to fish in troubled waters.
Saturday, December 24, 2016
Zardari’s return Co-chairperson of the PPP and former president Asif Ali Zardari ended his self-imposed 18-month exile by returning to Karachi on December 23. Zardari had hurriedly left the country after delivering a hard-hitting speech against the military establishment and the then COAS General Raheel Sharif on June 16, 2015. Some analysts therefore are linking his return to the change of military command. If so, the establishment seems to have sent a message through its raids on the offices of close friend of Zardari Anwar Majeed in Karachi, which yielded a claim from the raiding Rangers that they had seized some illegal arms, sensitive documents and five suspects. The message is read as underlining that there is no change in policy despite the change in military command and the Rangers’ actions against alleged illegal arms and corrupt persons will continue as part of the continuing Karachi operation. Not unexpectedly, the Sindh government has termed the raids “revengeful”, while the raided company has issued a denial of culpability and asked for an independent investigation into the matter. It should not be overlooked that the timing of the move, mere hours before Zardari landed in Karachi, has given rise to such interesting speculation. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar briefed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad regarding the raids, and reportedly assured him that the action was not politically motivated but based on solid evidence. This has not convinced the PPP or its supporters, and even many analysts are buying the PPP’s line that the prime minister and his controversial interior minister are conducting a ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine in the light of the fact that the former had publicly welcomed Zardari’s return just one day before. Be that as it may, Zardari addressed a big crowd of his party workers and supporters at the airport, underlining that he had returned with a message of hope not despondency. He argued that the PPP came to power after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in 2007 despite anomalies in the electoral constituency boundaries, amongst other obstacles. Having completed its full term, the PPP handed over power peacefully to the PML-N, the first time such a transition through the ballot box had occurred in the country’s history, despite reservations about Nawaz Sharif’s mandate. This was to strengthen democracy and ensure its continuity. He argued that it did not matter who was in power today, as with the support of the people, the PPP would once again come to power and form the government. He promised some ‘good news’ to his audience at the December 27 commemoration in Larkana of Benazir’s ninth death anniversary. Speculations are rife vis-à-vis the role of Zardari in the party now. One school of thought believes the PPP has decided that Bilawal will remain the public face of the party and continue with his aggressive anti-PML-N stance in Punjab, the stronghold of the ruling party and the critical province for any party’s electoral hopes. Zardari’s role will be that of the party’s ‘patriarch’, which means using his undoubted abilities in wheeling-dealing and cobbling together alliances with other political forces. This modus operandi will be especially focused on the smaller provinces, which translates as ensuring the consolidation of the PPP’s grip on power in Sindh while enhancing its strength in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan in the run up to the 2018 general elections. Meanwhile Bilawal is said to be exploring an alliance of progressive political parties to challenge the PML-N lion in its Punjab den. How this ‘division of labour’ between father and son works out in practice only time will tell. Nevertheless the challenges for the party remain formidable, both in its stronghold Sindh as well as the ambition to break out if its south Punjab straitjacket and make inroads into the Sharif home ground in central Punjab and Potohar. Certainly Asif Zardari’s return has introduced a new and consequential factor into the political landscape. This space needs careful watching for its implications for the polity’s future.
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
Musharraf’s indiscretion Once again, former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf has shown his penchant for shooting from the lip. In an interview with a television channel, Musharraf claimed that the Nawaz Sharif government had been pressurising the courts in the cases against him and recently retired COAS General Raheel Sharif came to his rescue. According to Musharraf, General Raheel played a role in having this alleged pressure relieved from behind the scenes. Once that happened, the courts allowed him to go abroad for medical treatment. In the same interview, Musharraf also claimed that his differences with Nawaz Sharif started because the prime minister wanted him to fire two major generals, which he refused to do. In response, the government, adopting discretion as the better part of valour, issued a mealy-mouthed statement rejecting the major generals charge, while remaining enigmatically silent on the issue of General Raheel Sharif. The government was obviously caught in an unenviable position on the second issue, as it risked being damned if it did and damned if it didn’t. It was left to Minister for States and Frontier Regions Lt-General (retired) Abdul Qadir Baloch on another television programme to render a ‘half-confession’ by confining himself to regretting Musharraf’s indiscretion regarding the former COAS without clearly refuting the charge of intervention in the judicial process. Legal and other circles have expressed their outrage at Musharraf’s maligning the institutions of the judiciary, army, and the latter’s recently retired COAS. They have demanded the Supreme Court take suo motu notice of a statement that amounts to contempt of the judiciary as an institution. Musharraf has been basking in the glow of his escape and freedom abroad. Despite commitments to the courts that he would return to face all the cases against him after his treatment, there is no sign he will make the same mistake again of returning to the country when treason and murder cases dangle over his head. As to the reasons for his falling out with Nawaz Sharif, who does not know the real reason? It was the ill thought through, badly planned and generaled ‘secret’ adventure in Kargil that queered the pitch between the two. Nawaz Sharif was busy mending fences with then Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee while Musharraf in his megalomania was not only sabotaging that historic effort through the Kargil war, but dreaming of subjugating India in Indian Held Kashmir by cutting off the Indian army’s supply lines in the disputed state. We also know how that adventure ended in a debacle, visiting nothing but ignominy on Pakistan. It should not be forgotten that the Kargil adventure came just one year after both India (again) and Pakistan (for the first time) had tested nuclear bombs. The risk of the Kargil conflict escalating into a full fledged war, with its concomitant nuclear weapons danger, was only avoided by international pressure. Musharraf clearly had no concern for the danger he potentially was pushing the country towards. Could there be a more irresponsible act by a COAS? Having said that, and with the greatest respect to the judiciary as an institution, Musharraf’s allegations may find resonance with those who have not forgotten the chequered history of the judiciary’s role in our past. When Musharraf sent 82 superior courts judges home because they refused to accept the PCO, many other judges stepped up to fill the void and served the dictator faithfully till the whole jing bang lot was dumped. That was only the last amongst the ‘sins’ of the judiciary in upholding military coups and extending legitimacy to military usurpers in our past. Hopefully those sordid days are behind us. A rejuvenated, independent judiciary that adheres to the constitution is one of the best guarantees against the man on horseback in future. Meanwhile, the authorities should find ways and means to compel Musharraf to return and face the music.
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
Commission reports Former judge of the Supreme Court Justice Javed Iqbal had an interesting day with the Senate Standing Committee on Interior on December 19. Justice Iqbal headed the Abbottabad Commission set up to probe the US Navy Seals raid that killed Osama bin Laden in a compound cheek-by-jowl with the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul. He is also the chairman of the Commission on Enforced Disappearances. There was an interesting exchange between Justice Iqbal and the members of the committee on the work of both commissions. As far as the Abbottabad Commission is concerned, Justice Iqbal told the committee that despite the passage of three years since the Commission’s report was submitted to the prime minister, it has yet to be made public or its recommendations implemented. He lamented that the shelving of commission reports after every important incident had left the impression that commissions are set up merely to ride out the immediate storm and their reports left to collect dust while the public forgets the issue. It turns out that one version of the Abbottabad Commission’s report was leaked by an international media organisation in 2013. However, one commission member, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi told the Senate Committee on Defence in 2013 that the leaked report was a first draft and not the final version. Reportedly, the final copy was a watered down version of the leaked draft, which was highly critical of the armed forces, particularly the ISI, both for its failures and stymying the growth of civilian intelligence agencies. The final report also reportedly carried a 40-page strongly worded note of dissent by Qazi, as well as Justice Javed Iqbal’s observations on the note. Qazi and another commission member, Lt-General (retired) Nadeem Ahmed wrote separate first drafts in the light of differences that cropped up among the members over fixing responsibility. It was left to Justice Iqbal to ‘reconcile’ the two drafts, but Qazi disagreed with the Justice over attempts to ‘play safe’, a disagreement that was reflected in Qazi’s dissenting note. The phrase “collective failure” was reportedly inserted in the report on Justice Iqbal’s suggestion since he did not want particular individuals or institutions blamed. The attempt was to show that all institutions of the state shared the ignominy that culminated in the May 2, 2010 debacle. On the missing persons issue, Justice Iqbal stretched credulity to the breaking point by claiming there were only 96 such persons in Balochistan, and most of them had fled to Afghanistan or Geneva. He pooh-poohed the figures of thousands of missing persons in Balochistan as “highly exaggerated”. This assertion was based on the premise that the commission had repeatedly asked all stakeholders to submit lists of the names and addresses of the alleged thousands of missing persons but no such list was ever given to the commission from any quarter. To add the icing on this cake, the committee chairman, Senator Rehman Malik made the absurd statement that Indian RAW agents were killing and dumping the dead bodies of people all over the province to destabilise Pakistan while camouflaging themselves in the uniforms of the FC or law enforcement agencies. On the first count, Justice Iqbal was taken to task by the Baloch members of the committee by pointing out that even reporting a family member missing was not free of risk in Balochistan. Hence the absence of ‘lists’. Only Rehman Malik however can explain how bullet-riddled dead bodies dumped all over the province can be explained by the ‘uniform’ ploy, since the perpetrators of such extrajudicial killings don’t exactly hang around to have their bona fides checked. In Pakistan the routine has been that commission reports are seldom made public, let alone their recommendations implemented. The mother of such reports, the Hamoodur Rehman Commission report on East Pakistan’s breakaway has still to officially see the light of day, and what little we know of it is through the good offices of a leak by Indian media some years ago. Needless to say, when a commission report is suppressed, it is reasonable to assume that no lessons have been learnt, recommendations remain unimplemented, and we are condemned to repeat the same mistakes ad nauseam. It is time to reverse this opaqueness. The public has the right to know what the findings of such reports are, and then to assess whether the authorities have carried out their recommendations in the interests of state and society.
Sunday, December 18, 2016
Census at last At long last the much delayed national census seems poised to see the light of day. It took a suo motu notice and order by the Supreme Court to compel the government to carry out the decennial exercise that should have been conducted as a matter of course. Now the Council of Common Interests has met and decided to go ahead with the census starting from March 15, 2017. According to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Council of Common Interests, which brings together the federal government and provincial leaderships, decided that the housing count and population census would be carried out in one go. The census will be conducted in two phases, each simultaneously in all the provinces and in close coordination with the respective provincial governments. The Council of Common Interests discussed the operational difficulties of the exercise and set up a committee comprising the secretary of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics and the four chief secretaries to address all such issues. The house listing will begin March 15, 2017 and be completed in 30 days. This will be followed by the census operation that will also be completed in 30 days. A total of 207,000 personnel will be involved, including 42,000 from the armed forces to provide security throughout the exercise. In the light of the huge task, international experts on enumeration supported the two-phase idea. A census is the primary long term planning tool. While the house listing exercise provides data on the actual number of houses, the population enumeration provides the comparison between dwellings and people, throwing up in relief the housing deficit. Needless to say, development planning is reduced to guesswork in the absence of current, accurate data on the size of the population, demographic spread, etc. These figures feed into a judicious sharing of national resources by different provinces and regions. What should be a routine task every 10 years according to the constitution has a chequered history in our past. The first census was conducted in 1951 and the next according to schedule in 1961. The 1971 census was delayed by a year because of the war but the 1981 one was conducted on time. The 1991 census was delayed by seven years and only conducted in 1998, reportedly for political reasons. From thereon the exercise was derailed. The due date for the next census was 2008 but did not materialise. An abortive exercise in 2010 had its results rubbished for unreliability. In violation of the constitution and in the absence of knowledge about the exact number of citizens, the estimate of the population in 2015 was 191.17 million souls. The house listing and population count is likely to reveal the landscape of how the country has changed. Not only has the population grown enormously since the 1998 census’ population figure of 130 million (plus another five million in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan), the last 18 years have seen rapid urbanisation (the highest rate in South Asia), which meant the exponential expansion of cities, rural-urban migration, and enormous changes in the patterns of life and work. Planning in the dark has probably created undiscovered pools of deprivation and gaps in delivery, exacerbating economic and social problems and conflict. In the case of the upcoming 2017 census, however bad a light it throws on the inability of our leaders to carry out this constitutionally binding task out of fear and uncertainty surrounding the implications of the number and distribution of the population for political representation and the distribution of national resources, the only polite way to view the ‘breakthrough’ is to fall back on the old adage: better late than never.
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Hate crime The incident on December 12 in Dulmial village, 35 kilometres from Chakwal, of a mob numbering about 1,000 people that attacked an Ahmedi place of worship, has a sickeningly familiar ring to it. The mob fired at the Ahmedis inside, occupied the premises by force and set fire to books, fans, carpets and other items. The thinly deployed police contingent was initially overwhelmed by the mob. Later, heavier deployments of police and Rangers allowed the vacation of the premises from the occupiers, the rescue of 40 Ahmedis trapped inside, and the control of the worship place passing into the hands of the authorities, who sealed the place. Two people died and dozens were injured. Although the alacrity of the administration and law enforcement forces after the arrack is praiseworthy, the initial response to a looming threat of violence reeked of too little, too late. The district administration had been approached by both sides, Muslim villagers and some outside hate preachers on the one hand, and the fearful Ahmedi community on the other. The former filed an application to have the place of worship turned over to them or they would be forced to take extreme measures. The latter pleaded for security in the face of impending attack and forceful occupation of the place of worship. The administration appears to have taken the warning signs of a build up of potentially violent action against the Ahmedis a trifle too lightly, relying on the assurances of the Muslim community and their hate mongering preachers (local and outsiders) that the procession celebrating Eid Miladun Nabi would not change its route and pass by the Ahmedi place of worship. But that is exactly what they did and the use of firearms, arson and violence indicated prior preparation. The simmering tension in the area has not abated despite the police guarding Ahmedi homes and the Rangers on alert in the village. In any case the Ahmedi families have fled their homes, fearing retaliation. The dispute over the place of worship dates from the early 20th century, when some members of the dominant Malik caste in the village converted to the Ahmedi faith. The mosque predated this development, having been constructed in 1860. It later became an Ahmedi place of worship, contested by some amongst the Muslim community. A case filed for giving the place of worship to the Muslims was dismissed by the Lahore High Court in 1997. But the dispute never flared into violence until now. The facts indicate a conscious mobilisation by some outside clerics of the mob involved in the attack. The Ahmedi community lives in fear in Pakistan since they were declared non-Muslims in 1974. Over the years since, they have been subjected to targeted assassinations, attacks on individuals and communities, and violent assaults on their places of worship. Being declared non-Muslim has not deprived Ahmedis of their rights as citizens. Such hate crimes against them cannot be tolerated by any civilised society, let alone one that overwhelmingly adheres to Islam, the religion of peace. The incident in Chakwal is said to have followed the naming by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of a physics centre in Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, after Dr Abdus Salam. Dr Salam has been ostracized and ignored because of his Ahmedi faith, despite his enormous contributions to science (including the nuclear programme) in Pakistan. The prime minister rightly tried to reverse this shameful behaviour by symbolically honouring one of the brightest scientific minds Pakistan has produced, and whom the world has not just recognised, but honoured with a Nobel Prize. For us not to celebrate the achievements of such a son of the soil because of his faith smacks of extreme bigotry. Whether there is a link between the Dr Salam centre in Quaid-e-Azam University and the Chakwal incident or not, state and society in Pakistan have to remain vigilant against the hate crimes being committed against the persons and properties of Ahmedi citizens by religious extremists and fanatics.
Sunday, December 11, 2016
Merit-based appointments The newly appointed Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Bajwa has initiated what looks like a major reshuffle amongst the top commanders of the army. Of course it is the privilege of any incoming COAS to have his own team in place. But what is significant about the current crop of promotions/appointments is that there can hardly be a finger pointed at ignoring merit in these changes. Part of the reshuffle became necessary when four Generals were superseded while appointing General Bajwa as the new COAS. As is the tradition, all four superseded Lt-Generals have decided to retire. Seven Major Generals have been promoted as Lt-Generals. Amongst them, Lt-General Nadeem Raza, the Commandant of the Pakistan Military Academy Kakul, has been posted as Commander of the important 10th Corps, headquartered in Rawalpindi and responsible for the Line of Control sector. His predecessor, Lt-General Zafar Iqbal, has been shifted to Director General Joint Staff Headquarters, a position that fell vacant upon the retirement of superseded Lt-General Najib. Lt-General Nadeem Raza brings to his new command field experience, having served as a commanding officer on the Line of Control. Lt-General Sarfraz Sattar, promoted to a three-star General in September this year and awaiting appointment, has been posted as Commander 2nd Corps, based in Multan, in place of Lt-General Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmed, who has belatedly decided, along with Bahawalpur Corps Commander Lt-General Javed Iqbal Ramday, to seek early retirement on being superseded. Three star vacancies in the top military command opened up with the promotion of General Zubair Hayat as Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, General Qamar Bajwa as COAS, and the retirement of the four superseded Generals. General Bajwa has now embarked on building the team of his choice. He has replaced the Karachi Corps Commander and the military secretary. This signals an even bigger reshuffle. Significantly, the crucial post of the Chief of General Staff is still vacant. The promotions notified so far superseded at least 24 Generals. How many amongst them may seek early retirement remains to be seen. As an aside, the unseemly, inappropriate, motivated campaign by sections of the religious lobby to paint some of the three star Generals shortlisted for elevation to COAS as Ahmedis was a typical obfuscatory effort by such elements to falsely muddy the waters and keep the dominance of reactionary ideas alive and dominant. Professional merit, not religious beliefs, has been the leit motif of the military. General Bajwa has not only adhered to and kept this tradition alive by ignoring the obscurantists, he has taken bold decisions while promoting and posting officers of the top command, based entirely on merit. Now that the military appears to have returned to its institutional principle of merit-based promotions and appointments, thereby leaving behind the deviations of the past (e.g. Generals Ziaul Haq, Pervez Musharraf and Kayani), the civilian side should learn the appropriate lessons from this turn towards unalloyed professionalism and merit and emulate this example in its own sphere as far as promotions and appointments to high office of state are concerned.
Friday, December 9, 2016
No longer missing Wahid Baloch’s case is typical of the rash of people going ‘missing’, mostly in Balochistan, but now increasingly in Sindh too, but with one important difference. Wahid is back safe and sound with his family after four anxiety-ridden months from the moment he was whisked away by security officials off a bus on the outskirts of Karachi on July 26. When he ‘disappeared’, the police initially refused to register an FIR, government agencies proved unable or unwilling to help trace him, and human rights groups took up his case. All this is a sickeningly familiar routine. The social activist, writer and publisher was widely believed to have been targeted by the security agencies because of his advocacy of the Baloch cause. Despite the long period of his secret incarceration, no charges were brought against him, he was never presented in a court of law, and there was no official acknowledgement that he was in custody. Happily though, his nightmare ended well. He is one of the lucky ones. While Wahid Baloch is free, many are still missing, untraced and untraceable. But at least their families can still hope that one day their loved ones will return to them, unlike those ‘disappeared’ whose bullet-riddled bodies continue to turn up all over Balochistan and of late even in Sindh. Even the intervention of the Supreme Court and the setting up of a judicial commission has failed to resolve the conundrum. One does not know if Wahid Baloch owes his good fortune to the recent change of military command or it is purely coincidental or circumstantial. But it is high time the powers that be revisit the growing practice of handling suspected militants by extrajudicial means. The arguments against the practice carry a great deal of weight. Not only is ‘disappearing’ people against the law and constitution, the lack of any checks on such clandestine measures means they are open to great abuse and injustice. In effect they deprive the state of any moral high ground, feeding into resentment and grievances and thereby hardening attitudes in the community targeted, leading to an exacerbation of the very security problems they are intended to deal with. There exists a controversy on the number of missing persons related to Balochistan. Activists claim the figure runs into thousands, human rights groups say they are not so many but still considerable, the state (including the Supreme Court set up judicial commission) unofficially concedes only a small number. This controversy is meaningless on the touchstone of the law, constitution and citizens’ rights. One missing person is one too many. Whatever the actual number, the problem has by now acquired intractability, fuelled existing Baloch grievances and arguably sustained the insurgency with hardened attitudes amongst the targeted community. For insurgencies such as the politically motivated Baloch one, there is no purely military solution. Unfortunately the establishment only views the problem through security lenses. About Balochistan in particular, its proximity to Afghanistan and Iran and its extended sea coast lends the province a geostrategic importance and sensitivity all its own. The India factor too impinges on the present approach to the problem. If for the sake of argument, the security establishment’s view that the insurgency is supported by India is accepted, the counter logic suggests that if we put our house in order, that would cut the ground from under any foreign interference, including India’s. The only way that is possible is a negotiated political solution to the Baloch insurgency, an endeavour that would be immeasurably helped by adherence to the tenets of the law and constitution, due process, and if found not guilty of any crime, reuniting all missing persons with their long suffering families.
Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Death of a popular icon The passing away of 68-year-old long serving Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram on December 5 evoked among her supporters the expected tsunami of grief. She had been ill in hospital since being admitted with a fever in September. Hundreds of people had mounted a round-the-clock vigil at the hospital since she was admitted. This crowd of supporters swelled on December 4 as her condition worsened. It was left to her party, the AIADMK, to mournfully announce the sad news that the “Iron Lady of India…beloved…Amma, is no more.” Jayalalithaa was known popularly in her home state as Amma (mother). Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his condolences. Jayalalithaa started her career as a popular Tamil cinema heroine. She was introduced to politics by her cinema screen partner M G Ramachandran, also an actor-turned-politician, and went on to serve as chief minister of Tamil Nadu five times. She enjoyed a god-like stature with her people, with her ministers on occasion prostrating themselves at her feet. The reclusive leader was said to run her party with an iron hand and has failed to leave any clear line of succession to govern the South Indian state that is home to major auto and IT outsourcing businesses. In the emotive atmosphere following her demise, some analysts fear the uncertainty surrounding who will inherit her mantle could lead to violence. Jayalalithaa during her long political career garnered the loyalty of many voters in Tamil Nadu through a series of highly popular schemes, including the well known “Amma canteens” providing lunch for just Rs three. She was also one of the most polarising figures in Indian politics, accused of being dictatorial and even being jailed for corruption. Her conviction in 2014, overturned later on appeal, evoked such emotion that several of her supporters resorted to self-harm and even reportedly some suicides amidst widespread mass protests. Jayalalithaa combined in her person the melding of art and politics, in both of which she was a high achiever. Her devoted supporters dismissed the corruption charges against her as the motivated work of rivals. In their eyes, Amma could do no wrong. This conviction sprang from her pro-people policies and welfare steps. As to corruption, the obsession with the issue by our Imran Khan notwithstanding, it appears inherent in politics, if not in human affairs generally. There is no cure for the malady except systemic erosion of all avenues for such wrongdoing, which must include the rule of law and a prosecution and justice system that works efficiently. In South Asia generally, and all over the world, such systems present a mixed picture at best. But such systems, despite flaws and warts, can only improve themselves and the situation over time if continuity in the political process and democracy are ensured. There are no short cuts in this endeavor, so long as greed and material acquisition define the human condition. In Jayalalithaa’s case, the charges of corruption were washed away by the adulatory worship she evoked amongst her supporters for all she had done for them in her repeated tenures. After all it was not for nothing that they kept returning her to high office again and again. In that respect therefore, the people’s welfare orientation trumped the corruption taint, whether deserved or not. Tamil Nadu is a highly educated state, but that did not prevent the extraordinary love reminiscent of worship she evoked in the hearts and minds of her diehard supporters. There may never again be the like of Jayalalithaa Jayaram on the political horizon of Tamil Nadu, India, or indeed the wider world. Her charisma fed off the Hindu cultural penchant for anointing deities with gifts of gold and other precious commodities. Whether that culture was at the heart of her alleged corruption is an enigma she takes with her to the funeral pyre. Love her or hate her, there is no denying the giant stature of Jayalalithaa Jayaram, who for so long defined her state and shone on India’s political firmament.
Monday, December 5, 2016
Heartburn at Heart of Asia Conference Rashed Rahman Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz did the right thing by attending the Heart of Asia Conference in Amritsar, India, despite the tense state of relations between Pakistan and the host country. Because the series of Heart of Asia Conferences since 2011 are focused on ways and means to restore peace in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s presence was necessary. Besides, absence was tantamount to shooting oneself in the foot. For better or worse, the world recognises that the goals of the Heart of Asia Conference cannot be reached without the participation of Pakistan. As expected, the issue of safe havens on Pakistani soil for the Afghan Taliban remained the main bone of contention. Both Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani criticised Pakistan on this count, with the former painting the issue in more general terms regarding combating all forms of terrorism to include India’s complaint of being on the receiving end of such activities in Indian Held Kashmir. Sartaj Aziz could not hold a press conference in Amritsar after the Heart of Asia Conference, ostensibly for security reasons. He therefore had to wait till he got back to Islamabad on the night of December 4. At the belated press conference in Islamabad, the Adviser expressed ‘serious reservations’ about Modi and Ghani’s remarks and attitude at the Heart of Asia Conference. He sought comfort in the fact that the final Amritsar Declaration of the Conference included in the list of the usual (and some new) suspects responsible for terrorism in the region, the name of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. However, that may prove cold comfort given that the list also included the Afghan Taliban, Islamic State, the Haqqani network, al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, East Turkistan Islamic Movement, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Jamaatul Ahrar, Jundullah and “all other foreign terrorist groups”. Pakistan finds itself in the dock for hosting currently or in the past all these with the notable exceptions of Islamic State and al Qaeda. It was predictable but counterproductive for Sartaj Aziz to dump Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s critique of Pakistan’s undeclared proxy war against his country in the Indian basket. Growing Afghanistan-India ties have the Pakistani authorities worried that the long investment in and costs of the Afghan wars may end up with a ‘coup’ to oust Pakistani influence in Kabul in favour of India. But this outcome is a self-inflicted wound. Pakistan began its long involvement and intervention in Afghan affairs in 1973. Sardar Daud’s Afghan nationalist (pro-Pashtunistan) anti-monarchy coup in that year caused a flutter in Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government. Bhutto feared Daud would support the Balochistan insurgency and the NWFP militant resistance that emerged after Bhutto dismissed the Sardar Ataullah Mengal ministry in Balochistan. He therefore gave the Islamist professors and students of Kabul University fleeng Daud’s expected repression under Naseerullah Babar’s wing for training and launch as the embryonic Mujahideen. By the time of the Communist coup in 1978, the humble beginnings of the Mujahideen had bloomed into a full blown armed resistance. The coup de grace was delivered by the Soviet invasion in 1979 that brought the US-led west in to bleed the Soviets in Afghanistan. For Gorbachev, the Afghan adventure proved too much to sustain and the Soviets withdrew in 1989. An intra-Mujahideen civil war erupted soon after, with the irreconcilable rival factions marginalised by the 1996 Taliban takeover (Naseerullah Babar reportedly nurtured this second avatar of Afghan fundamentalist extremism too). Al Qaeda queered the pitch by abusing the Afghan Taliban’s hospitality in attacking the US on 9/11 as part of a global jihad. The US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan should have given Pakistani policy makers pause for thought regarding the heightened risks of supporting extremist groups in Afghanistan in the teeth of US (and western) hostility to any such continuing adventure. But Musharraf in his infinite wisdom plumped for a duality of policy: give the Americans al Qaeda to satisfy their desire for revenge, save the Afghan Taliban (by now safely ensconced on Pakistani soil) for the rainy day when the US occupiers, like many before them, would tire of the ‘endless’ nature of Afghan wars. That dual policy continues till today. Not only did the Pakistani masterminds of the Afghan proxy wars not take account of the changed circumstances post-9/11, they invested heavily in the guerrilla struggle that had broken out in Indian Held Kashmir after the 1989 rigged election in the state. Secular nationalist leading group in the Kashmiri armed struggle, the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, bore the brunt of the Indian repression and the cold shoulder of the ostensibly supportive-of-the-Kashmiris Pakistani authorities. The latter’s penchant for supporting fundamentalist groups in the Kashmiri struggle instead (inspired no doubt by the ‘victory’ against the Soviets in Afghanistan) resulted in the collapse of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front’s armed struggle and, after splits and what have you, its reinvention as an open party struggling in the constitutionally sanctioned political sphere. The Kashmiri struggle in the meantime veered almost completely into the hands of the fundamentalist groups, where it nestles even today. Pakistan not only failed to correctly read the portents of a post-9/11 region and world, it remains committed to two proxy wars against its neighbours, west and east. One consequence of the hosting of all sorts of foreign militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas during the anti-Soviet struggle in Afghanistan was the presence of Uzbek, Uighur and other Central Asian extremist groups, who used their base in Pakistan to conduct their struggles back home. The Uighurs in particular caused embarrassment in our relations with close friend China, but until Operation Zarb-e-Azb exported the problem across the border into Afghanistan (where all these johnnies, including the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, are hosted by ‘our boys’ the Haqqanis), the Pakistani authorities did not even blush on this account. The long gestation and development of all these foreign groups on Pakistani soil, with additional nudging by al Qaeda, led to the spread of the fundamentalist extremist worldview and example to the Middle East and further abroad. Thanks to the post-Cold War triumphalism of the west’s interventions and regime overthrows, an arc of destabilisation has emerged, stretching from South Asia through North Africa into Europe. Where memory serves, the role of Pakistan as one of the ‘original sinners’ remains imbedded in the narrative, the others (the west in particular) having changed their spots after 9/11. That is why, “simplistic” (Sartaj Aziz’s formulation) or not, Pakistan is viewed more or less globally today as the ‘mother’ of all terrorism, particularly since it has failed to tack its sails to take account of the changed international geopolitics since 9/11. The only surprise then is the ‘surprise’ on Pakistani officials’ faces when the country is castigated for supporting terrorist proxies in its neighbourhood and reportedly in such hot wars as Syria and Iraq (thankfully we were spared a risky involvement in the Yemen sectarian quagmire). As far as the Afghan imbroglio is concerned, Pakistan has painted itself into a corner with few options except to continue to allow safe havens to the Afghan Taliban on its soil. It is either unable or unwilling to nudge these ‘guests’ towards peace talks with Kabul to turn the corner towards a political settlement in Afghanistan, the only feasible solution on the table. Until it revisits the policy of supporting proxies in its neighbourhood, an enterprise increasingly reaping diminishing returns, Pakistan should be prepared to invite the kind of critique its Adviser had to listen to in Amritsar. firstname.lastname@example.org rashed-rahman.blogspot.com
Saturday, December 3, 2016
PPP at 49 As the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) gathers the faithful to celebrate the 49 years of its existence and 50th Founding Day in Lahore where the party was born, there is much to reflect on. Looking at Pakistan’s political history in this period through the PPP’s prism is not without merit. In many ways, the party has been at the heart of great and momentous events during this time. It may be a reflection of the party’s trajectory that the Founding Day celebrations are being held in Bilawal House, Bahria Town, and both the venue and host of the founding moot, Dr Mubashar Hasan’s house in Gulberg, do not even merit mention. In any case Dr Mubashar and almost all of the left wing intellectuals who joined hands with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) in 1967 to create a new party have either passed away or are no longer within the fold of the party. The PPP came into existence after ZAB was sacked by Ayub Khan from the office of foreign minister as a result of differences arising from the 1965 war and the subsequent Tashkent Declaration. After casting around for an alternative from the existing political parties, ZAB was attracted to the ideas and programme proposed by the group of left wing intellectuals mentioned above. The result of their coming together was the formation of a party espousing a radical agenda of reforms, including among other measures the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy (thereby knocking out with one blow the infamous ‘22 families’ that had monopolised the country’s industrial and commercial wealth under Ayub) and land reforms to weaken feudalism and benefit the landless and poor peasants. Ostensibly Islamic socialist, then and later when in power the party was clearly espousing populist politics (e.g. its slogan of roti, kapra, makaan – bread, clothing, housing). None of the PPP’s ambitions could have been realised if circumstances had not favoured it. The 1968-69 revolt against Ayub was sparked and led by the Left, but a belated entry by ZAB allowed him to hijack a revolutionary upsurge in the direction of populism. The events before the PPP’s advent into power are too well known to bear repetition. But what ZAB and the PPP inherited in 1972 was a broken, defeated and demoralised Pakistan. Promising to pick up the pieces, ZAB started well by an inclusive approach to the opposition and consensus building around a new constitution. However, he soon turned on his adversaries as well as the left wing in his own party. It was to prove a fatal flaw as it led eventually to his overthrow and hanging by General Zia. The rest of the party’s history since that seminal event in 1979 revolved around the struggle against the Zia dictatorship, accompanied by a transition of leadership to his daughter Benazir Bhutto (BB). While justification could be found then for the succession to be confined to the Bhutto family given the circumstances, it became the harbinger of a dynastic culture in which her husband Asif Ali Zardari and then her son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari have inescapably been accepted as the only ones meriting the mantle of leading the party. Along with these sea changes in the political culture of the party came, incrementally, the watering down of the PPP’s erstwhile radical left wing programme, leaving its committed workers out in the cold. Bilawal’s foray into Punjab to revive the PPP’s lost main base can only succeed if he can translate the presence of the sea of workers who came to see and hear him once more into the tidal wave of revolutionary enthusiasm that once characterised the PPP culture. Unless the PPP returns to its radical roots, it will remain just another middle-of-the-road mainstream party largely indistinguishable from, and therefore unable to effectively challenge, its rivals. The sine qua non for such a rebirth though is for Bilawal to become his own man and extricate himself from the shadow of his father. Whether he is prepared or willing to do this the days ahead will determine, but without a break from the culture and politics of the recent past, the PPP’s reinvention aspirations must be looked at askance.
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Transition and challenges With General Raheel Sharif’s handing over command to new COAS General Qamar Bajwa, an assessment is in order regarding the landscape the new incumbent has inherited from his predecessor and the challenges he confronts. There is no denying General Raheel Sharif’s accomplishments. Operation Zarb-e-Azb largely cleansed FATA of the malign presence of extremists, although the threat from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) now ensconced across the border in Afghanistan remains. On counterterrorism, the situation is even more mixed. Karachi’s law and order is much improved, although the metropolis is still enshrouded in terrorism, crime and potential conflict in the aftermath of the MQM splitting into three factions. So while the overall situation is much improved, General Bajwa still has his work cut out for him. Three challenges in particular are likely to top the list of priorities of the new COAS. First and foremost, the internal terrorist threat, which General Bajwa reportedly recognises as even more dangerous than the threat from India, needs the consolidation of the counterinsurgency successes of Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Clearing FATA of any remaining terrorists, opening the door to a restored civilian administration and the return and rehabilitation of displaced people are the top priorities. The counterterrorism effort, despite some success, suffers from the lack of an overarching institution under whose umbrella the civilian and military wings of the campaign cooperate in an efficacious manner, with shared intelligence and a centralised data base. Second, arguably linked with the first challenge, is the lingering issue of the Afghan Taliban sitting on, and operating from, Pakistani soil. On the one hand, pressure from the incoming Trump administration is likely to increase to deny the Afghan Taliban their safe havens in Pakistan and nudge them towards the negotiating table for a political solution of the long running Afghan war. Pakistan cannot afford a return to sole power of the Taliban in Afghanistan, given the nexus between the Pakistani and Afghan variants of the extremist movement. Peace in Afghanistan through a political settlement is the only option to ensure peace in Pakistan once the Pakistani Taliban no longer enjoy safe havens in Afghanistan and can be dealt with easier. While Pakistan needs to abandon its proxy support to the Afghan Taliban in its own and the world’s interest, it must also revisit its allowing extremist groups fighting in Indian Held Kashmir and attacking India being given the run of the place in Pakistan. General Bajwa thinks the tense situation on the Line of Control (LoC) will soon ease, but the attack on November 29 on another Indian army base near Jammu that killed seven Indian soldiers promises the same sort of ratcheting up of conflict and tensions on the LoC as followed the Uri attack. Although Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz is attending the Heart of Asia Conference on Afghanistan in Amritsar, the chances of a dialogue, either on the sidelines of the conference or generally, seem to have been scuttled for the moment at least by the latest attack on an Indian army base. General Bajwa brings to his heavy new responsibilities exemplary professionalism and a wealth of experience. He will need all of that to tackle internal terrorism and law and order while abandoning for good the good-bad Taliban binary, making sincere efforts for peace in Afghanistan, and paving the way for a resumption of the stymied dialogue with India by defusing the hot LoC. To achieve these goals, there is an inescapable need to turn a corner from the state of civil-military relations during the tenure of his predecessor towards cooperation by these two institutional setups in the overall interests of restoring Pakistan to peace within and peace without, a sine qua non for development and prosperity.
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Carter’s reminder Former US president Jimmy Carter has penned an article in The New York Times on November 29 tracing the history of the peacemaking efforts in the Israeli-Palestinian-Arab conflict, centred on the Camp David Accords (CDA) of 1976 brokered by his administration. Timed to coincide with the International Day of Solidarity with Palestine, Carter argues that the CDA signed by then Israeli prime minister Menachim Begin and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat were based on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution 242 passed in the aftermath of the 1967 war. The foundational concepts of that resolution were the inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by war, the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every state in the area can live in security, and the withdrawal of Israel from the occupied territories. These concepts have been the basis for the US and the international community ever since. Outgoing President Obama reiterated these concepts in 2009 by calling for a complete freeze on the building of illegal settlements on Palestinian territory and in 2011 made clear that the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with two states, Israel and Palestine, having permanent borders between them and with neighbouring Egypt and Jordan. Thirty eight years after the CDA, Carter feels the commitment to peace is in danger of abrogation. Israel is building more and more settlements, displacing Palestinians and entrenching its occupation. Over 4.5 million Palestinians live in these occupied territories, most under Israeli military rule, which privileges the 600,000 Israeli settlers. This process, Carter argues, is hastening a one-state reality. Based on these ground realities and the Carter Center’s continuing efforts for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, he thinks President Obama should recognize Palestine as a state before leaving office, as 137 countries have already done. This would generate momentum and help persuade those countries that have not so far done so to follow suit. The UNSC should again get actively involved and pass a new resolution favouring a two-state solution. No doubt former president Carter’s motives while in office and ever since are sincere and well meaning. However, the ‘ground realities’ and trends he refers to are only the tip of the iceberg. Israel has been a rogue state since its very creation. In fact the creation itself was an act of utter injustice to the Palestinians, whose lands and lives were gobbled up by the new Zionist entity with the help of the US-led west. In 1956 Israel joined hands with the old colonial powers Britain and France to attack Egypt after Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal. In 1967 Israel launched surprise attacks on its Arab neighbours and captured Sinai (including Gaza), the West Bank and the Golan Heights. Syria’s Golan Heights have since been annexed, the West Bank virtually annexed by ever expanding settlements, and Sinai (minus Gaza) was only returned to Egypt after the 1973 war and the subsequent peace treaty signed between Israel and Egypt. Syria thus remained (along with Iraq) the only Arab neighbouring state with which Israel is still not at peace. Perhaps Saddam Hussein’s fate and the attempt to overthrow Bashar al-Assad are not unconnected to these ‘ground realities’. In 1982 Israel blatantly invaded Lebanon, ousted a besieged PLO leadership to exile in Tunisia, and despite the Oslo Accords of 1993 in which the Palestinians conceded Israel’s right to exist and accepted a two-state solution, has continued to pound the Palestinians into submission. In this unholy endeavour, Israel has enjoyed the tacit if not active support of successive US administrations. For all intents and purposes, the two-state solution has been killed by Israeli intransigence, the UNSC has put Palestine on the backburner, and the world has moved on despite the Palestinians having been admitted to the UN. Even if Obama, by now a lame duck, were to follow Carter’s advice, what are the bets on its passing muster with incoming president-elect Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress? Realism forces us to stop building castles in the air with concepts and principles that have been ground out of existence by the Israeli jackboot. For the Palestinians, these are dire times, with the PLO discussing Mahmoud Abbas’ successors. For them, the long trail of broken promises and extreme repression can only be turned if they can find the courage and means to hurt Israel in ways even its western supporters will not be able to ignore.
Monday, November 28, 2016
Fidel Castro’s legacy Rashed Rahman Inevitable as it had begun to appear since his serious illness in 2006 that forced him to relinquish power to his brother Raul, the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro at the age of 90 shocked and saddened the world, the ‘gusanos’ (worms) in Florida being the disgusting exception. Before we examine the record in revolutionary struggle and in power of this towering figure of the 20th century, I beg the readers’ indulgence for a personal note. As a young student in London in the 1960s, intellectual curiosity and a childhood voracious reading habit led me to the ‘discovery’ of the Cuban revolution. The trigger was the death (assassination after being wounded and captured) in Bolivia of Ernesto Che Guevara in 1967. Readers must be reminded that this was still the pre-internet, mobile phones, etc, world. To discover the facts about personages, events, etc, in distant lands was not as easy as it is today (at the click of a button). It required an effort to gather news, information and analyses regarding any such phenomena. Fortunately, the British media (especially print) came to my rescue. The more I read about the extraordinary life and death of this extraordinary man, the more my curiosity and appetite to learn about the Cuban revolution (from which Che’s name could not be separated) grew. Soon I had gathered and digested all that was available on the subject. My admiration for the Cuban revolution and its charismatic leader Fidel Castro became from then on an intrinsic part of my being and played a significant role in my subsequent path down the journey to revolutionary aspirations. Fidel came from a well off, landed family background, his father having emigrated to Cuba from Galicia, Spain. He studied law but soon found himself drawn to politics, joining the Ortodoxo Party. Fulgencio Baptista’s 1952 military coup persuaded the fiery young lawyer that the time for open, parliamentary struggle was over. Along with similar minded youths, he launched an armed assault on the Moncada military garrison in 1953. Although the attack was crushed and Fidel and his surviving comrades captured, put on trial, imprisoned and eventually exiled, the date of the event gave Fidel’s struggle its title of the July 26 Movement. From exile in Mexico, where Fidel and his comrades were joined by an Argentinian revolutionary called Che Guevara, an invasion by the boat Granma was organized with 62 fighters on board. The invading force was ambushed on the beach in Cuba, with most of the fighters killed or captured. Only 12 of the original contingent survived and eventually found their way to the Sierra Maestre mountains to wage a classic guerrilla war with the help and support of the rural peasantry, urban working class and progressive intelligentsia. Within two years, Baptista’s poorly motivated army was on the back foot, if not on the run. On January 1, 1959, Fidel led a column of his forces into Havana in a triumphal parade greeted by thousands of the city’s enthusiastic residents. Fidel’s July 26 Movement was left-leaning, but not entirely Marxist just yet. There were many in its ranks, and even a few in its leadership, who fought for a democratic revolution, one that would lead to a restoration of the Baptista-ousted parliamentary system. However, the experiences of the guerrilla struggle had a profound radicalizing effect on Fidel and most of his comrades. Nevertheless, despite resentment against the US treating Cuba as its offshore virtual colony and playground, Fidel at first tried to reach out to Washington. On his first visit to the UN, then US President Dwight D Eisenhower refused to see him, as did Washington’s officialdom. By 1961, it had become clear to Fidel and his revolutionary movement’s leadership that the status quo in Cuba could not continue. The regime nationalized US companies that dominated the economy and carried out land reform as had been promised to the poor peasantry. Fidel declared Cuba a socialist country. This earned the regime not just the hostility of the US, but set in motion its unremitting hostile acts, including an economic blockade (which still persists till today despite some recent diplomatic openings with Washington) and even a CIA-organized invasion by Cuban exiles. The Bay of Pigs adventure was routed by the Cuban revolutionary army and about a thousand invaders captured. Havana was left with little choice but to turn to the Soviet Union for help. Cuba’s economy at the time was virtually a one-crop creature. Sugar was its main product, hitherto a sector dominated by US interests and their local compradors. With the US blockade firmly in place, the Soviet Union came to Cuba’s rescue by buying its entire sugarcane crop, an act of international solidarity it continued with until its own implosion in 1991. Along with this economic cooperation, Moscow and Havana decided to defend Cuba against future invasions a la Bay of Pigs by installing Soviet missiles on Cuba’s soil. When discovered by US intelligence, this led the world to the brink of an all out nuclear war, a nightmare scenario from which retreat was made possible only by Moscow agreeing to withdraw the missiles from Cuba in return for a secret agreement for the US to withdraw its missiles from Turkey, a deployment that threatened the Soviet Union. Bitterness at this letdown did not deter Fidel from continuing good relations with the Soviet Union. At the same time, guerrilla movements in Latin America against the tide of military dictatorships across the continent found succour and assistance from Cuba. Across the Third World in particular, but also in the world generally, Fidel’s revolutionary government supported armed anti-imperialist struggles. That stance of revolutionary solidarity extended to actual military involvement by Cuban forces in Angola against a South African invasion and defence of the Marxist government in Ethiopia against armed invasion. However, things were changing even in the 1980s. The revolutionary wave of the 1960s and 70s in the Third World and beyond wound down after the liberation of Vietnam in 1975. Latin American military dictatorships incrementally gave way to left-leaning democratically elected governments in many countries of the continent. The wave of anti-colonial, anti-imperialist armed struggles in the rest of the Third World abated, sometimes in victory, often in defeat. Newly liberated colonies and neo-colonies ran up against the domination of the global system by capitalism. The socialist camp headed by the Soviet Union (with China a notable dissident) could only do so much and no more for countries like Cuba aspiring to escape the clutches of global capitalism led by the US. Cuba under Fidel continued to adhere to its socialist principles despite the odds. Advances in education (100 percent literacy, a skilled workforce) and health (cradle to grave care) paved the way for Cuban breakthroughs in science and combating disease (cancer, vaccine breakthroughs). Cuban doctors serve in many countries of the world, tending to their people. Pakistan too experienced their immense contribution after the earthquake in 2005. The greatest legacy of Fidel Castro will remain his brave and principled defiance of the hostile superpower on his doorstep. Despite the economic blockade, invasion, assassination attempts against Fidel by the CIA (600 by one count), he and his revolutionary government never wavered in their commitment to a socialist transformation of Cuba for the benefit of its people. Cuba remains a shining example in a post-Cold War world in which the transition to Raul Castro and new generations of revolutionaries prepared to take over the reins ensure the country will remain a beacon of socialism (albeit tempered because of necessity by minor concessions to capitalism) and the people’s rights. Well played Comrade Fidel. You will remain an example to successive generations in Cuba and elsewhere so long as mankind’s fight against the exploitation of man by man is unfinished. email@example.com rashed-rahman.blogspot.com
Saturday, November 26, 2016
End of an era Arguably the last of the iconic figures of the twentieth century, Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro’s passing away at the age of 90 on November 26 represents nothing less than the end of an era. A towering figure on the world stage, Fidel will always be remembered for the brave and unflinching defiance of the superpower 90 miles away since the revolution took power in 1959. Born in 1926 to a well off landed family, Fidel as an intelligent, conscious young man growing up in Cuba could not help but be repelled by the prevailing corrupt and unjust system prevailing in his country, with radical contrasts between the millions of his people in poverty and a privileged elite hocking Cuba’s sovereignty and independence to US interests and criminal mafias treating Cuba as an offshore playground. When President Fulgencio Baptista mounted a military coup and seized dictatorial powers in 1952, the fiery young lawyer Fidel came to the conclusion that the time for his adherence till then to peaceful political struggle from the platform of the Ortodoxo Party had passed. He and his radical comrades mounted an armed attack on the Moncada military garrison on July 26, 1953, a date that became the title of his revolutionary July 26 Movement. The attempt was crushed and Fidel arraigned on anti-state charges. At his trial, his historic speech, “History will absolve me” electrified Cubans, Latin Americans, and revolutionaries of many succeeding generations. Imprisoned in the maximum security prison on the Isle of Pines, Fidel was eventually exiled. He found refuge in Mexico, from where he launched the Granma (the name of their boat) expedition with 62 guerrilla fighters in 1956. The guerrillas were almost wiped out while landing, Fidel and 12 comrades (amongst whom was Che Guevara) managing to escape the ambush and make their way to the Sierra Maestre mountains from where a classic guerrilla campaign with the help and support of the peasants, workers and progressive intelligentsia succeeded in overthrowing Baptista in 1959. Initial outreach to Cuba’s powerful northern neighbour were rebuffed, driving Fidel to openly declare Cuba a socialist country by 1961. The Bay of Pigs invasion by Cuban exiles opposed to Castro’s regime organized by the CIA followed that same year, but was beaten with heavy losses by the Cuban revolutionary army. The open US hostility, economic blockade and threat compelled Cuba to move closer to the Soviet Union. The Cuban missile crisis of 1962 triggered by the US discovering Soviet missiles on Cuban soil brought the world to the brink of an all out nuclear war, only prevented by Soviet leader Khrushchev backing down and sealing a secret deal with the US to remove the missiles from Cuba in return for the removal of US missiles from Turkey, which threatened the Soviet Union. Castro was compelled to swallow this humiliating retreat, but this did not prevent him retaining cooperative relations with the Soviet Union while supporting revolutionary anti-imperialist movements throughout the world. This and his needling defiance of the US earned him many bizarre CIA assassination attempts over the years, all of which failed. Castro outlasted nine US presidents bending their backs to see the back of him. He was the longest serving leader of the 20th century (50 years). The accomplishments of Cuba under his leadership are all the more astounding when the economic blockade and hostility of the US is taken into account. Tremendous advances and achievement of global standards in education, health and the welfare of the people despite dire circumstances stand testament to Fidel’s inspiring leadership. The ‘Special Period’ following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 has been negotiated intelligently and successfully without abandoning the basic socialist principles of the revolution. The Cuban exile community in Florida across the water has once again badly exposed its counter-revolutionary character by celebrating the death of Fidel Castro. These exiles are from the Cuban elite that fled Cuba after the revolution or their progeny or economic migrants. Their (and Washington’s?) hopes for change in the direction of capitalism (under the guise of ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’) in Cuba are unlikely to be fulfilled, given that the transition to Fidel’s successor, his brother Raul Castro, occurred in 2008 after Fidel fell ill and the Cuban Communist Party is not only solidly in power but enjoys the support of the Cuban people.
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
IDEAS 2016 Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif inaugurated the annual International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS) in Karachi on November 22. Speaking to a distinguished audience including high civil and military leaders, foreign dignitaries and representatives of foreign and local companies participating in the four-day exhibition of weapon systems, the prime minister was at pains to underline Pakistan’s commitment to discouraging an arms race in its periphery and promoting the motto: “arms for peace”, meaning ensuring a balance of power to ensure stability. This year’s IDEAS is the ninth exhibition in a row, reflecting its establishment as a credible event in Pakistan and the global community’s calendar. This year has seen a greater than ever participation, with 55 countries and 480 companies, some of them local, attending the grand event. The prime minister pointed to Pakistan’s increasing self-reliance in defence production, given the 2,000 weapon systems on display, developed by both the public and private sectors. Nawaz Sharif emphasised the improved Pakistani environment for foreign investment, with law and order better, terrorism phenomenally decreased and the power sector’s deficit being incrementally met through new energy projects. He said Pakistan has an abundance of foreign capital and the lowest interest rates, which makes the prospects for trade and joint business ventures very bright. IDEAS 2016 is the bright culmination of the years of effort and organisation that have gone into making it a glittering showpiece for Pakistan’s indigenous defence industry. Like all such annual exhibitions, it offers opportunities for agreements to be arrived at on the sidelines between interested parties. IDEAS has been a magnet for buyers and sellers from all over the world. This year was no exception, with notable early results being the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed with Ukraine for the Al-Khalid tank’s engine and a deal with Turkey to export Pakistan’s Mushak fighter. Starting from the indigenous production of small arms, largely located in the state sector with Pakistan Ordinance Factories (POF) Wah being at the heart of the effort, Pakistan now can proudly put on show the indigenously produced K-8 aircraft, Fast Attack Craft Missile boats, Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) and the JF-17 fighter, apart from the big ticket items mentioned above. Although by the very nature of the industry, most defence production is concentrated in the state sector, this is slowly changing with the entry of the private sector in the field. Despite the great progress made from the early, humble beginnings of defence production, there is obviously still a long way to go before Pakistan can rest content that it no longer has to rely on foreign sources for high tech, advanced weapons systems. While the defence industry is inherently capital intensive and slow gestation, not to mention profitable only in the long run, incentives for greater participation of the private sector can be encouraged through outsourcing. Weapons systems whose production has reached surplus levels can offer attractive terms that compare well in terms of cost to many countries otherwise in thrall to the developed world’s suppliers. Entering into joint ventures with international companies can bring critical state-of-the-art know-how to our own soil. On the evidence to date, it seems clear that Pakistan is embarked on the road to incremental self-reliance in defence production, with the icing on the cake being the prospect of increasing export opportunities.
Monday, November 21, 2016
PPP revival? Rashed Rahman The passing away of PPP leader Jahangir Badar the other day could be considered another milestone in the decline of the party generally, and in Punjab in particular, since its halcyon days in the late 1960s/early 1970s. Badar was perhaps the last of the Mohicans (jiyalas, committed, militant party workers) amongst the current PPP leadership. His rise to the top of the party hierarchy began from his days as a student leader in Lahore in the 1960s. When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) fell out with his mentor Ayub Khan in 1966 over the 1965 war and the subsequent Tashkent Agreement, he first explored the existing political parties as an option to join and continue what he described as his abiding Muslim League politics. However, the opposition parties’ landscape did not attract him. By 1967, he had agreed to the approach by a group of left wing intellectuals to form a new party with a radical Left-democratic programme. Badar was one of the founding members and remained faithful to the PPP till his last breath. The trajectory of the PPP since its founding in 1967 has its fair share of triumphs, failures and disappointments. Its formation presaged the great storm waiting in the wings in the shape of the anti-Ayub 1968-69 general uprising. It proved the most widespread and sustained countrywide agitation in Pakistan’s history. Its effects and fallout were to change the landscape and destiny of the young state forever. After some initial hesitation when the student-led uprising broke out in October 1968, just when the Ayub dictatorship was trumpeting its Decade of Development (since the military coup in 1958), ZAB saw the opportunity and jumped onto the movement’s bandwagon, displacing at its head in West Pakistan Asghar Khan. In the East wing, the National Awami Party (Bhashani) (NAP-B) and the Awami League (AL) led the agitation. By the time Ayub saw the writing on the wall in April 1969 and handed over power to General Yahya, the uprising had exposed the dark underbelly of the state’s structure and lit the fires of nationalist and class struggle on an unprecedented scale. The Yahya regime attempted to cool down the agitation through a combination of repression and the announcement of reforms. Amongst the latter, the most significant were the breakup of One Unit, which dismantled inter-wing parity that had depreciated the value of an East Pakistani citizen’s vote by equating the more populous East wing’s total seats in parliament with West Pakistan’s; the announcement of general elections in 1970 on the basis of one man one vote, and a ceasefire agreement with the Baloch feraris (insurgents). Despite being held under the umbrella of Pakistan’s second military dictatorship, the 1970 elections are acknowledged as the freest and fairest elections in Pakistan’s history. The Yahya regime calculated it would throw up a fractured mandate and a hung parliament. Instead, after the NAP-B inexplicably boycotted the election, the field was left clear for Mujibur Rehman’s AL to sweep the polls in East Pakistan, while ZAB’s PPP won in Punjab and Sindh and the NAP-Wali (NAP-W) and Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) combine in NWFP and Balochistan. This presented the Yahya regime with a dilemma. On the basis of one man one vote, the AL had a clear majority in the National Assembly, but all its seats were garnered from East Pakistan. The hesitation of the Yahya regime to transfer power to the AL on the basis of its virtually confederal Six Points triggered a confrontation with the AL. The Yahya regime launched a military, genocidal crackdown on the AL, Bengali intellectuals, and the populace at large. A general rebellion followed while Mujibur Rehman and many AL leaders were incarcerated. ZAB’s dubious role in supporting the military crackdown remains a blot on the PPP’s history. Meanwhile the influx of Bengali refugees into neighbouring India presented Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi with a golden opportunity to invade and dismember Pakistan, an outcome helped more than a little by the country’s international isolation because of the butchery in East Pakistan. The surrender in Dhaka in December 1971 brought about the downfall of Yahya at the hands of another military junta, which then proceeded to install ZAB in power as the most popular leader with a clear majority in the remaining Pakistan. Seizing the opportunity, ZAB’s government enacted radical reforms under the umbrella of a civilian martial law. These included nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy and land reforms, as the PPP’s radical manifesto had promised. However, within six months of coming to power, ZAB turned on the working class in Karachi, incrementally sidelined or removed the left intellectuals in the PPP, and by 1975 had opened the doors to rightists and landlords, the latter succeeding in reversing the land reforms through muscle. In 1973 he had dismissed the Attaullah Mengal ministry in Balochistan, evoking the resignation of the NAP-JUI ministry of Mufti Mahmood and triggering a nationalist insurgency and militant resistance in Balochistan and NWFP respectively. The compact arrived at in 1972 by ZAB with the opposition to respect the mandate of the 1970 elections thus unravelled, plunging the country once more into strife. ZAB’s repressive treatment of the opposition in general also eroded trust in an increasingly rightward tending, repressive regime. These chickens came home to hatch in 1977 when the general elections were rigged by the incumbent PPP, stoking a new agitation by the opposition that eventually led to Pakistan’s third military coup by General Ziaul Haq. Although sections of ZAB’s opposition had collaborated with Zia to get their revenge on ZAB, his hanging by the military regime in April 1979 paved the way once again for a united opposition to emerge, the PPP magnanimously forgiving Zia’s collaborators for the bigger cause. The 1983 Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) was crushed by Zia, but this led to the outbreak of spontaneous armed resistance in ZAB’s home province Sindh. Unprepared and reactive as it was, this armed resistance could not sustain itself and soon degenerated into dharels (banditry). The Zia regime, alarmed by the depth of support for the post-ZAB PPP in Sindh, created the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) in 1984 as a counterpoint to the PPP and Sindhi nationalism, a move that mired the province in endless ethnic strife. Zia’s iron fist and sly moves seemed to leave him master of all he surveyed, with the religious parties benefiting most from his political and material largesse. But then the dark clouds seemed to part and Benazir Bhutto (BB) returned from exile. Her overwhelming reception in April 1986 in Lahore owed a great deal to the political and organizational skills of Jahangir Badar. Unfortunately though, during her exile BB seemed to have been persuaded to embrace real politik, which in the obtaining circumstances meant toning down anti-US rhetoric/actions and adopting the neoliberal paradigm instead of the Left-democratic original platform of the PPP. The rightward shift of the party under BB continued post-Zia and through the 1990s. It had perhaps attained its apex by the time BB returned from her second exile, only to be tragically assassinated in December 2007. The seal on this trend became apparent after Asif Ali Zardari’s takeover. Manzoor Wattoo, a political wheeler-dealer of the old Muslim League political culture was appointed Punjab PPP president, perhaps because he suited Asif Zardari’s temperament. However, as expected, Wattoo failed to take along, let alone inspire, the already disillusioned and dejected jiyalas of the PPP. Jahangir Badar never seemed to recover from the death of BB. His receding into the background in the last decade or so reflects the present trends in the PPP. The party has acquired a new young chairman: Bilawal Zardari Bhutto. The young man, in whom the PPP and its supporters’ hopes of revival reside, has still a long way to go to mature in the political battlefield and emerge from under the shadow of his father. Sindh remains in the PPP’s pocket because of its wadera (large landlord) political base in the province. It is in the lost heartland of its past support in Punjab that battle will have to be joined. Qamar Zaman Kaira seems a good choice as the new Punjab PPP president since he is in touch with the party’s workers and therefore still existing mass base, albeit the latter seems dispirited and quiet. For Kaira or anyone to succeed in reviving the PPP in Punjab, so critical to the restoration of its credibility of its position as a countrywide party, the new PPP Punjab leadership is advised to revisit the original PPP programme and, with appropriate updating/changes, take it to a mass support base hungry for the kind of hope the PPP offered the people in its early years. firstname.lastname@example.org rashed-rahman.blogspot.com
Saturday, November 19, 2016
Census travails The three member bench of the Supreme Court (SC) headed by Chief Justice (CJ) Anwar Zaheer Jamali hearing the suo motu case regarding the long delayed census has dismissed the government’s plan to conduct the exercise in March-April 2017 as “nothing but an eyewash”. The plan was presented in court by Attorney General (AG) Ashtar Ausaf Ali. The SC directed the government to submit a fresh report with a final and unconditional date. Visibly irked, the SC pointed out that it had taken suo motu notice of the census not being held as it should have been in 2008 in June this year, but despite the passage of five months, the government had done nothing in this regard. The SC took the government to task for the manner in which the country was being run. It said 70 percent of the cases before the SC pertained to implementation of its 2012-13 judgements. The country was being run on assumptions and hypotheses without knowing the exact ratio of women, men, children and the elderly. The AG in his reply told the court a summary had been moved to the Council of Common Interests proposing the March-April timeframe for the census. Further, that the original demand for 288,000 armed forces personnel to provide security to enumerators had been cut down to 48,000 as the armed forces had said they could not spare so many soldiers in the middle of their anti-terrorism campaign. Simultaneously, the AG explained, 167,000 teachers and other government servants were being trained for the task. But the CJ was not impressed. He described the AG’s submissions as ambiguous and vague, categorically rejecting any conditional report such as the present one, which laid down the conditionality that the census would be held subject to the availability of the armed forces personnel required. The court squarely laid the blame for the delayed census on successive governments, particularly the last two elected ones. They had failed to fulfil the constitutional requirement to hold the census after every 10 years, the last census dating from 1998. In addition, the court noted that the report said three months were required for the mobilisation of the armed forces personnel. The importance of the decennial census cannot be understated. In our setup, amongst other things, job quotas, the National Finance Award that distributes state revenues amongst the Centre and the provinces, parliamentary constituencies and therefore seats, all are affected by population. In the absence of a census for 18 years, clearly all these are operating on a false or erroneous basis. Besides, Pakistan has the highest urbanisation rate in South Asia. The dynamics of this process and their implications for planning and policy remain a mystery, or at best rely on guesswork. One suggestion that the NADRA record could be utilised for determining the population begs the question of that record’s comprehensiveness and reliability for this purpose. Obviously this unforgivable delay by successive governments to carry out the crucial population enumeration exercise, with its concomitant rich harvest of information on the demographic, economic and social dynamic, obviates any claims of good governance. This is no way to run a country. The SC’s frustration at the delay in implementation of its verdicts and the seeming unconscionable delay in the census can therefore be understood and sympathised with. The government, in tandem with the armed forces, would be well advised to consider conducting the census exercise in a phased manner. This could cut the task down to manageable piece-meal enumeration. This practice is followed in many countries, e.g. Canada, where a simultaneous enumeration faces formidable obstacles because of the distances involved and the dispersion of the population over a large territory. This manageable strategy could also reduce the size of the contingent required from the armed forces, rendering it possible for them to spare the necessary personnel despite the demands of the anti-terrorism struggle.
Thursday, November 17, 2016
The Qatari connection In a surprise twist on November 14, the Sharif family’s new lawyer in the Panamagate case before the Supreme Court (SC), Mohammad Akram Sheikh, pulled a rabbit out of the hat by presenting a letter from ex-prime minister of Qatar and a member of the ruling family, Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jaber Al Thani. The letter stated that the four London flats purportedly owned by Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif’s son Hussain Sharif were the final settlement of the real estate business his late grandfather, Mian Mohammad Sharif, entered into with the Qatari royal family. Further, that the Sharif elder had set up a steel mill in Dubai after losing his Pakistani steel mills in East Pakistan (when it became Bangladesh) and in West Pakistan (through Bhutto’s nationalisation). Eventually the elder Sharif had sold the Dubai steel mill and invested 12 million dirhams from the proceeds in the Qatari royal family’s real estate business. Hence the final payoff in the shape of the London flats, which were used by the Sharif family over the years and were marked to go to Hussain Sharif according to his grandfather’s will. This letter has opened a new Pandora’s box. The SC five-member bench, already irritated at the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s (PTI’s) counsel Hamid Zaman’s presentation of three volumes of ‘evidence’ that the judges found largely irrelevant, dismissed the letter as “hearsay”, since its text and the age of the writer clearly indicated that he had no personal, direct knowledge of the transactions referred to. The SC questioned Akram Sheikh whether the letter writer would be prepared to appear if the court summoned him, to which Sheikh could give no definite answer. The bench also noted that the letter’s contents contradicted the statement made by PM Nawaz Sharif in parliament, in which he stated that the London properties had been bought from the proceeds of a steel mill in Jeddah sold before Nawaz Sharif ended his exile in Saudi Arabia. The money trail spelt out by the PM as an explanation of the matter is at cross-purposes with the Qatari letter. This development and the volume of ‘evidence’ submitted by both sides in the case led the bench to remark that it seemed everyone was trying to spin out the proceedings indefinitely. On the one hand PTI has made no secret of its preference for the Panamagate affair to be decided by the SC itself, while on the other it has burdened the court and the whole process with ‘evidence’ that seems to rely more on quantity than quality. The Sharif family’s strategy, as Akram Sheikh’s new gambit seems to indicate, is to prolong the process till at least the next elections in 2018. Both parties are thus, advertently or inadvertently, pushing the matter towards the formation of an inquiry commission to conduct a forensic audit of the money trail and determine if the PM or any member of his family, past or current, has broken any laws and been guilty of money laundering. It is obvious that the SC cannot, and should not, conduct an inquiry or audit itself. If the matter logically ends up at the doorstep of an inquiry commission set up by the SC, who can say how long the process will take. It was obvious to experts and informed observers from day one that the Panama leaks presented an unfamiliar daunting challenge to the judiciary and all other institutions of state to determine the truth and arrive at the necessary conclusions for further action if any proved required. The inherent complexity of the task has been further exacerbated, if not the waters muddied, by the seemingly dilatory tactics of the Sharif family and its legal team, ‘aided and abetted’ by the incompetence of a PTI legal team unable to focus on the essential, dust off the dross, and convince the court on the basis of the ‘evidence’ presented. If this assessment is correct, the SC is faced with a seemingly insoluble obstacle which, without recognising its own limitations, the complexity of the audit/inquiry task, and the possible timeframe for concluding the same, cannot be easily untangled. An unenviable position indeed for the apex court to be placed in.
Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Shrines’ security The suicide bombing at the Shah Noorani shrine in Balochistan has once again focused attention on what is an obvious target. Obvious because Islamic State (IS) and other terrorist groups of its ilk hate the syncretic tradition of the Sufi culture that is so much a part of South Asia’s life and also because, as in any public gathering, the annual urs (commemoration) or weekly dhamaal (dancing) sessions at such shrines attract large crowds. Chief Minister Balochistan Nawab Sanaullah Zehri announced on November 14 the setting up of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to probe the incident. It may be recalled that the suicide bombing on November 12 left 54 people dead and 103 wounded. The chief minister also revealed that a forensic team would be invited from Punjab to visit the shrine and collect evidence. The shrine is closed until security can be assured, which may take time. Meanwhile for reasons of difficult access to the shrine, the Balochistan government has decided to place the shrine under the control of the Sindh Auqaf Department. This indicates that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of such shrines throughout the country that are locally managed and not under the control of any provincial Auqaf department. It may be wise to see that all, or as many as possible of such shrines re brought into the Auqaf net to ensure their security. Concerns about security at the ongoing Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai urs in Sindh are even graver, both because of the recent Shah Noorani incident as well as the fact that the urs attracts huge crowds. Though the police claim security at the shrine has been beefed up, with 2,000 police and Rangers deployed, 13 walk-through gates and 25 CCTV cameras in and around the site, security must still be considered precarious there. Shrines being soft targets have attracted the unwanted attention of the terrorists in the past too. Prominent examples of such incidents are the 2005 attack on Bari Imam and the 2010 incidents at Abdullah Shah Ghazi, Data Darbar and Baba Farid Ganjshakar’s shrines. Upper Sindh and the bordering districts of Balochistan (which is where Shah Noorani is located) have been a hotbed of terrorism for some time. Isolated, unprotected shrines like Shah Noorani are most at risk. Counterterrorism has its own best practices, based on experience. Europe too reeled from the recent wave of terrorist attacks in Paris and other locations. The exception in Europe appears to be Spain. Forty years of combating the Basque separatists had already honed the Spanish counterterrorism capability. The bombings of Madrid trains therefore did not require more than a further vamping up of the counterterrorism capability. Essentially, the Spanish counterterrorism model is one long advocated by experts in Pakistan too, but with only halting progress. Counterterrorism cannot succeed without intelligence-based pre-emptive strikes on terrorist organisations. There is no other efficacious way to prevent suicide bombers from plying their horrendous trade, especially not after a suicide bomber is launched. Even if he/she is taken down before reaching the intended target, there will always be considerable collateral damage. But all is not darkness. The Counter Terrorism Department of Punjab on November 14 foiled a plot to attack a shrine in Gujranwala, arresting in their pre-emptive raid the three terrorists, a treasure trove of explosives and IS literature. This is precisely the kind of operation required to scotch terrorism. However, no one should be sanguine that this will be a quick or easy task. What is important is not only this kind of intelligence-based pre-emptive action but, since the terrorists are no respecters of provincial or even international boundaries, close coordination amongst the provinces and the Centre, preferably under the umbrella of one organisation with a centralised data base.
Monday, November 14, 2016
Global rightward portents Rashed Rahman The surprise victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in the US presidential elections is a reflection of a global rightward trend visible in many countries. Before the US elections, the Brexit referendum in the UK indicated the shape of things to come. Now Trump’s victory has firmly established the trend. Beneficiaries of these developments include the far right Marine Le Pen in France in the upcoming presidential election in that country, as well as the right in various other countries in Europe. Are there deeper economic and political factors at work behind the rightward global drift? First and foremost, the collapse of the left in the 1980s, culminating in the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, left the field clear for a triumphalist capitalism to see now no obstacle to its horizontal global expansion, including into the former socialist countries of the Soviet bloc. That expansion proceeded in spectacular unfettered fashion, giving rise to billionaire oligarchs in Russia at one pole, and miserable millions deprived of even basic food and shelter at the other. The outsourcing of manufacturing to the developing world because of cheaper labour meant millions of traditional industrial manufacturing jobs in the developed world simply disappeared. This produced a working class whose older and new generations had no prospects for the future, not the least because they did not possess, nor were able easily to acquire, the skill sets for the remaining high tech industries that still remained on the developed world’s soil. To the historical and well recognised phenomenon of capitalism creating a reserve army of (unemployed) labour was now added an overwhelming army of unemployable labour. The collapse of the left globally also paved the path for the emergence of the ‘one percent’ of incredibly wealthy people. This reflected the logical continuation of the historical tendency of unregulated, unfettered capitalism to produce along with the unprecedented development of productive forces, increasing inequality and the concentration (if not monopolisation) of wealth by a very narrow elite (cf. the ‘robber barons’ of early capitalism’s rise after the late 18th century’s Industrial Revolution and the emergence of huge monopolies in the 19th to 20th centuries). Unfortunately, while there have been voices raised against the domination of global wealth by a few developed countries and the cross-countries one percent wealthy, they have not been as strong as the demagogic right. The systemic crises of 1997-98 and 2007-08 (reflecting the average ten year cycles of ‘boom and bust’) were resolved at the cost of shifting the burden onto the shoulders of working people (including the white collar working populace). The big banks, corporate sector and the wealthy not only got away scot-free, they were actually bailed out and even rewarded by governments and international financial institutions on the argument that they were simply ‘too big to fail’. Daylight robbery would be a mild description of this skullduggery. Unfettered globalizing capitalism since 1991 accelerated the historical (since the late 19th century) trend of the incremental domination of finance capital. Its deregulated avatar produced one of the most remarkable and spectacular phenomena in the history of political economy when a relatively minor sub-prime mortgage sector in the US’s inevitable (because of risky, unsecured mortgage loans) crisis sent such profound ripple effects through the financial system that collapsed and in turn, produced serious negative effects on the real economy (manufacturing and agriculture). How do such crises provide fuel for demagoguery, hate speech, misogyny and openly discriminatory attitudes such as were littered through Donald Trump’s election campaign? And why do such outrageous stances still find resonance in a considerable section of the electorate? First and foremost, in the absence of a credible case that demonstrates the real culprits and the underlying systemic tendencies that produce capitalism’s cyclical crises, the door is opened to misdirecting people’s discontent towards obvious, vulnerable targets that easily lend themselves to scapegoating (e.g. immigrants, non-white ethnic and religious minorities, etc). Manipulating public opinion has been by now honed into a fine art in an age of instant and global communication. The narrative is hegemonised and, in the immortal words of Marshall McLuhan, “The medium becomes the message.” What the political elite, pollsters and pundits in the US (and Brexit Britain) failed to see were the effects of the right wing, escapist, misdirected, scapegoatist narrative that also served to obfuscate the inherent systemic flaws of capitalism, which have produced the greatest contrasts of wealth and poverty the world has ever seen. That amidst the crises of capitalism, fraudulent demagogues can prevail should not come as a surprise as it is hardly a first. Just the example of what the Great Depression of the late 1920s to 1930s led to (fascism, world war) should be sufficient to understand what a can of worms can be opened in the wake of such crises. Donald Trump won the electoral college majority by a comfortable margin despite losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by a narrow margin. This is not the first time that the structure of the US presidential election process has produced this kind of contradictory result. This is because the rules of the US presidential election mean the election has to be won state by state. The popular vote is reflected in the electoral college makeup and numbers. However, if a candidate manages to win a majority of the electoral college votes in a particular state, all the electoral college votes of that state are awarded to the winner, irrespective of the popular vote. In this election, solidly Republican states voted for Donald Trump, while he managed to win a majority of the swing states in which the contest was at dead heat. Hence the upset result. Another factor was the inability of the Clinton camp to persuade a sufficient number of their own supporters and anti-Trump voters to turn out on D-Day. Democratic socialist and Clinton rival Bernie Sanders’ appeal to his supporters to turn out for Hillary after he lost the Democratic Party’s nomination to her failed to strike a chord with the young, female, college educated sections of his support. Some reports even say some of these disillusioned and uninspired by Hillary voters cast their ballots for Trump. Certainly the number of women who seem to have lined up behind Trump despite his appalling misogyny is a surprise. Some of them dismiss the criticism of him on this ground by arguing that even if he said or did some wrong things, his potential for doing good outweighed all this. For Pakistan, Donald Trump’s unexpected triumph may prove a cautionary tale. The chickens of our policy of duality on terrorism may well be coming home to roost. Our continued harbouring and utilisation of proxies to the west and east could prove costlier than we imagine. Trump is unlikely to adhere to successive US administration’s willingness to turn a blind eye to or criticise only softly softly this proxy penchant by Pakistan for bigger strategic considerations. There could, therefore be hard times ahead. Those convinced China can be an adequate replacement for an increasingly hostile US ignore the real power structures globally. The US may be on a slippery (but long) slope downwards from being the pre-eminent world power, but the tectonic shift in the global power architecture has still not matured to the point of such simplistic ‘substitution’. email@example.com rashed-rahman.blogspot.com