Friday, September 23, 2016
Book Review Lessons and fallout of the Lal Masjid episode Rashed Rahman Adam Dolnik and Khuram Iqbal: Negotiating the Siege of the Lal Masjid Oxford University Press, 2016 Price Rs 1,095 The increasing incidence of situations all over the world where groups or individuals barricade themselves, take hostages, and put forward demands related to their grievances has given rise over the last four or so decades to the ‘science’ of negotiating desired outcomes to such standoffs. Adam Dolnik and Khuram Iqbal are scholars in this increasingly important field in an age of terrorism, organized or ‘lone wolf’. In their study of one such standoff that unfortunately ended in bloody fashion, titled Negotiating the Siege of the Lal Masjid, they have made an incisive and educative contribution to understanding the principles of handling such conflict situations that have evolved over time, based on the accumulated experience of managing the tickly negotiations aspect of such potentially explosive confrontations. They have also researched the evolution of the Lal Masjid crisis as it played out in Islamabad in 2007 in the full glare of media and public scrutiny. Applying the general principles delineated by them as a theoretical basis for managing such crises, the authors critically examine the actual playbook of the Lal Masjid siege, drawing critical lessons from the failure of the negotiations process to produce a peaceful resolution. This failure and the factors that led to it form the bedrock of their conclusions regarding the errors of omission and commission that informed the authorities’ approach to the crisis. First and foremost, the authors stress the criticality of (preferably) private and reliable communication channels between the authorities and the barricaded group or individuals. Avoiding a condemnatory stance can help government negotiators to gradually win the trust of the barricaded party. Buying time through lending a seemingly sympathetic ear to the besieged group or individual’s grievances not only satisfies their perfectly human desire to be heard, it also allows the authorities to utilize the time factor to wear down the group or individual’s focus on broad or generalized demands (e.g. in the Lal Masjid case, the initial maximalist demand for the imposition of Sharia in Pakistan) to more ‘doable’ steps or even mundane, everyday needs such as food, water, sleep, etc, these needs increasingly looming as more important than the initial ‘universal’ demands by the besieged. Critical to this tricky and delicate negotiations process in such confrontations is the presence on the authorities’ side of trained and experienced negotiators well versed in the trajectory of such standoffs, who also provide at the same time important ‘distancing’ of the government’s decision makers from the continuing exchanges. This implies the expert negotiator’s insertion between the authorities and the besieged, which yields the additional space and time to deal with the barricaded party’s demands by pleading the necessity to refer all these demands to the higher decision making authorities. Over the course of the negotiations process, the expert negotiator may be allowed to express to the other party his/her endorsement of the demands in principle, while disagreeing with the method/s chosen to achieve them. In situations where hostages have been taken and are being used as human shields or bargaining chips by the besieged, it is very important to nudge and persuade the latter that their cause would be damaged if harm is caused to the hostages. The authors warn against the insertion of third party negotiators in the process because such elements may or may not be in harmony with the government’s stance, priorities and policy, may agree to demands or even offer concessions beyond their limited mediatory mandate, thereby complicating if not producing an impassable impasse in the negotiations efforts. If the above is a shortlist of what to do and what to avoid in a standoff of the kind that emerged when Maulana Abdul Aziz and his brother Rashid Ghazi decided to defy the writ of the state by seizing the Children’s Library next to the Lal Masjid as a protest against the government’s steps to demolish mosques built on encroached land in Islamabad, the authorities violated just about every one of these precepts. Even earlier, the Lal Masjid and its attached madrassa Jamia Hafza’s militants had launched a ‘moral policing’ effort in the capital against video shops, beauty parlours, etc, as dens of vice and (spiritual) corruption. These vigilante moves could be considered in hindsight as the opening salvos of the Lal Masjid brigade’s intent to pressurize the government on their central demand of the implementation of Sharia in Pakistan (needless to say, according to the mullahs of Lal Masjid’s interpretation). Observers of this burgeoning vigilante activity at the time, whose ranks boasted hundreds of women militants, thought that if the mischief had been nipped in the bud through a police action, things may not have spiralled to the point of an armed standoff at the Lal Masjid. But whereas such speculations belong in the ‘what if’ category, the facts speak for themselves. The siege of Lal Masjid lasted weeks, during which some developments are noteworthy. Initially, the authorities seemed to vacillate between threats to use force against the defiant mullah brothers and their followers and backing down to try to reach a peaceful settlement. To this end, the ulema were used as negotiators/mediators (the Wafaq al Madaris for example) but it soon emerged that they neither fully agreed with the Lal Masjid brothers nor the authorities on whose behalf they were supposed to be interceding, and in fact had ambitions of their own to take over the Lal Masjid, Jamia Hafza, et al, once Maulana Aziz and Rashid Ghazi had been ‘removed’. Needless to say, once these facts were revealed in the public space, the chapter of ulema mediation was closed. Similarly, the public (Religious Minister Ijazul Haq, Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao, et al) and not so public (Chaudhry Shujaat, for example) negotiations with the militants did ostensibly produce a peaceful solution through the militants’ surrender of arms and the mosque/madrassa premises in return for the authorities’ promise to restore any demolished mosques and close the campaign against mosques built on encroached land (a malaise that afflicts the whole country) and allow Rashid Ghazi safe passage to his home in Rajanpur (Maulana Aziz had already been arrested while trying to escape in a burqa). The terms of this ‘agreement’ were summarily rejected by President General Pervez Musharraf when the ministers in the authorities’ negotiating team presented them to him, and he insisted on a strict compliance with the authorities’ demand for unconditional surrender of the militants holed up inside the mosque on pain of military action against them if they did not do so. The die was thus cast. The authors of the book state this fact blandly and without comment. They may have been better served, and served their readers better, had they reflected on how Musharraf similarly rejected an agreement negotiated by the redoubtable Chaudhry Shujaat with Nawab Akbar Bugti when that particular standoff was in progress in Dera Bugti a mere year before the Lal Masjid episode. There too, Musharraf’s haste in use of military force rather than allowing negotiations to deliver a peaceful solution resulted in Nawab Akbar Bugti’s death and as a consequence a widespread acceleration of the Baloch nationalist insurgency, which continues, despite ups and downs, till today. Similarly, the procrastination initially against the Lal Masjid’s vigilante activities by Musharraf’s government, and his decision to use military force when a peaceful resolution seemed tantalizingly close, fed into the outbreak of a homegrown insurgency/terrorism that despite successes in FATA, continues to bleed the country to date. To Musharraf’s ‘commando’ instincts, therefore, much of the country’s woes are owed.
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Afghanistan’s unending woes War-torn Afghanistan’s decades old woes remain unending. On September 5 and 6, back to back bombings at the defence ministry and charity CARE International in Kabul left at least 41 people dead, 10 wounded. Forty-two people were rescued, including 10 foreigners, amongst whom were six injured. Three attackers were finally gunned down on the morning of September 6, leaving behind a scene of utter horror, with bodies and body parts scattered all over. No claim of responsibility for the CARE raid has come forth so far, but the defence ministry attack has been claimed by the Taliban. In that incident, a twin bomb targeted soldiers, policemen and civilians rushing to rescue the victims, in a pattern we in Pakistan too are becoming familiar with. The dead included high defence officials. It is not clear whether the CARE office was the intended target or a neighbouring office of an intelligence agency. Amnesty International has condemned the attack on the CARE facility as a war crime for deliberately targeting civilians. But in the context of the bloody, and increasingly bloodier, conflict in Afghanistan, such nuances mean little. The Taliban have incrementally mounted a countrywide offensive that continues long after the traditional fighting season of spring and summer. The worsening security situation has exacted a heavy price from civilians since the US-led NATO forces ended their combat mission in end-2014. Not the least of the emerging problem is the Taliban’s spreading simultaneous offensives in their traditional strongholds in the east and south of the country combined with the northern part. In the east, the Afghan military and security forces have rolled back the threat to some extent in provinces such as Paktia, close to the Afghan-Pakistan border. In the south though, the Afghan government forces, backed by US troops and air power, are desperately trying to head off a Taliban takeover of Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand. In the north, the Taliban are once again closing in on Kunduz, which they held briefly before being winkled out by a combined Afghan government forces-US riposte in which US air strikes caused considerable collateral damage, including a hospital run by Medicines Sans Frontieres. This multi-front Taliban strategy has badly stretched the Afghan government forces. The US’s reiteration of support to the Afghan government in response to these developments rings increasingly hollow. One related development is the US Congress’ increasingly negative view of Pakistan’s role. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding hearings on the matter by inviting experts to dilate on the topic: ‘Pakistan: Challenges for US interests’. This is part of an ongoing and increasingly hostile review of the part Pakistan is playing in the war. Earlier, Congress had withheld $ 300 million aid to Pakistan because the US defence secretary was unable to certify whether Pakistan was fulfilling the conditionality attached to the release of the aid of acting against the Haqqani network, which former Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen had characterised as “a virtual arm of the ISI”. A subsidised sale of F-16s to Pakistan also fell victim to the mood in Congress. Pakistan’s inability to persuade Washington that its actions against the Pakistani Taliban included those attacking Afghan and US forces in a reversal of the past ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban binary means that further cutbacks of US assistance may be expected. Whether Pakistan’s increased reliance on China to fill the gap will do the trick only time will tell. Meantime this alienation in the US Congress, despite the ritual statements by the administration that the relationship with Pakistan is still critical to its interests in the region, has spawned a quiet exclusion of Pakistan from the new triangular configuration of the US, Afghanistan and India discussing the Afghan imbroglio. That imbroglio owes a great deal of its origins to the anti-communist, anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s. From there, through complex twists and turns, the arrival of the Taliban in power paved the path to 9/11 and its aftermath, which has transformed the world we live in. President Bush’s riposte to 9/11, the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, proved the kind of blunder that can only be compared to trying to kill a fly with a sledgehammer. The ensuing splatter has helped create the global terrorist threat. The overthrown Afghan Taliban being able to find sanctuary on Pakistani soil sounded the death knell for the US attempts to reorder Afghanistan to its liking. Pakistan naturally came in for stick (‘do more’) because of Musharraf’s dual policy. That duality (continuing in Washington’s eyes) has eroded US-Pakistan trust. President Obama added another blunder of premature withdrawal to add to the original Bush one, condemning the people of Afghanistan to their present, and unending, woes. Those woes are shared by now by Pakistan, the whole region, and the wider world, with ‘peace’ President Obama adding his two cents with two fresh wars in Libya and Syria. The global and regional powers have to wake up to the common threat of terrorism, shed their mutual differences and suspicions, and align their policies against the common enemy if the world is to be returned to relative stability.
Tuesday, September 6, 2016
War of the references The 2014 confrontation between (principally) the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and the government is receiving a rerun. This time round, the arena is not a dharna (sit-in) in Islamabad but a more nuanced and multi-tracked assault through various forums and ultimately on the streets. To this end, the PTI has moved four references to the National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq seeking the disqualification of Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif and some members of his family for concealing their offshore assets as revealed by the Panama papers. The Speaker has also received similar references against Imran Khan (two in number), Jahangir Tareen and Mehmood Khan Achakzai. The Speaker has decided that all but one reference against Imran Khan and the other against Jahangir Tareen deserve to be rejected for “insufficient evidence”. The two references above have however been forwarded to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for action. This step by the Speaker raised a veritable mini-storm in the house on Monday, especially when the PTI members were not allowed by the Speaker to raise a point of order on his ‘partisanship’ in the matter, an attitude the Speaker maintained rock-like even in the face of desk thumping by the PTI MNAs and the intervention by the Leader of the Opposition, the PPP’s Syed Khursheed Shah, in an attempt to persuade the Speaker to let the PTI members have their say. This led to the inevitable token walkout by the entire opposition. When the issue was finally taken up by the Speaker after the prayer break, he attempted to justify his decision and soften the blow by adding that despite lack of actionable evidence, he had nevertheless seen fit to forward the other six references too to the ECP for its information. This neither convinced nor mollified the opposition, and now the Speaker is being castigated for toeing his party’s line rather than acting as the custodian of the house. Speaker Ayaz Sadiq has not done his office or the issue in the midst of the ongoing PML-N government-PTI confrontation any good. As it is, had he adhered to masterly inactivity, all eight references would automatically have landed in the ECP according to Clause 2 of Article 63. That would have saved Ayaz Sadiq all the opprobrium he is now suffering, and perhaps will continue to suffer in the days ahead. How the house will be run smoothly in these circumstances beggars the imagination. Miffed by the Speaker’s behaviour, the PTI is also appealing the rejection of its petition for the disqualification of the PM and his family by the Registrar of the Supreme Court (SC). The Jamaat-i-Islami’s similar petition too was rejected by the Registrar, and they too have appealed against the rejection on September 3. A battle royal awaits in the apex court too therefore. Last but not least, Iran Khan is threatening a march against the PM’s Raiwind residence in Lahore after Eid, having failed to set the city on fire through his Ehtesab (Accountability) Rally in Lahore on Saturday last (even Maulana Qadri and Sheikh Rashid’s auxiliary rallies on the same day in Rawalpindi failed to bring the roof down). The PTI and its two ‘allies’ want to bring the government down by hook or by crook, and as soon as possible. Like 2014, Imran Khan’s hopes from the third umpire have failed to bear fruit so far. The multi-tracked approaches to the various forums being approached, institutions like the FBR and NAB being castigated for non-action against the PM and his family and the resort to street agitation are all intended to increase the pressure on the government, if possible make it dysfunctional, and then wait for the low hanging fruit to fall into the PTI’s lap. The government’s strategy on the other hand is one of procrastination, delay as long as possible and muddying the waters by so widening the scope of the inquiry into the Panama papers revelations (and more) as to make the whole process impossible to wind up before 2018. Who will succeed in this tussle of wills is difficult to say with certainty, but so far the chances of the PTI upsetting the applecart by achieving critical mass through a combination of legal means and street agitation seem distant. The government is gritting its teeth to see out the challenge. Meanwhile governance, the economy and the business of the state are bound to be adversely affected by the conflict.
Monday, September 5, 2016
An elite flirting with annihilation Rashed Rahman Marc-Andre Franche, the outgoing country director UNDP for Pakistan for the last four years, has delivered a damning indictment of Pakistan’s elite in a ‘parting’ interview with this paper, published on August 24. Let us first examine what he says (comments in parentheses are this writer’s): the elite needs to decide whether or not it wants a country. He makes reference to Pakistan’s history, a reading of which indicates it was not obvious the country would survive (given the mountain of troubles it faced at birth). There was a lot of criticism swirling around at the time and a great many people doubting it will. Yet it has (against the odds), come very far and achieved a lot. But it is also very frustrating to see a country and a people so capable and intelligent not making more progress in poverty reduction, inequality, modernisation of the state (and society), functioning institutions, etc. ‘Even’ in 2016, Pakistan has 38 percent poverty (scepticism about official statistics abounds, and not just among independent economists); districts that resemble nothing more than sub-Saharan Africa (the people of those regions may find the comparison odious, such is the state of deprivation of even means of survival in many of our neglected areas); no respect for the basic human rights of minorities, women, and the people of FATA, the last, because of the lack of promised reforms, institutionally trapped in the 17th century, and the absence of a (critical) census since 1998 (which reduces all planning to guesswork). The only way critical change will happen is when the elite, politicians and the wealthy sections of society sacrifice their short term, individual and family interests for the benefit of the nation. Monsieur Franche is critical of the by now powerful (but conformist) media’s role in failing to educate itself or its audience about the critical issues confronting the country. He also deplores the (by now clearly visible) dependence of the government on the military. In answer to a question about inequality being touted as the greatest challenge of the 21st century and whether in Pakistan there should be more concern about inequality of income and wealth or inequality of rights and opportunities, Franche argues that the one issue that will determine whether the global sustainable development goals can be achieved is what the world does about inequality. This, he underlines, is not only a developing world problem but a global issue. He concedes that it is much harder to tackle inequality than poverty (but we should not overlook the relationship between the two). The apartheid of opportunity in Pakistan is forcing many young people to seek their fortunes elsewhere (although the current global recession leaves them floundering abroad too). In answer to another question why the elite would want to reset the game when historically it only concerns itself with poverty and inequality reduction when threats of revolt by the poor or inter-elite rifts arise, forcing the elite to make strategic alliances with the poor, Franche was candid enough to state that he doesn’t see those circumstances emerging in Pakistan at the moment. Eventually, however, he asserted that this would happen one way or the other. You cannot have (sustain) a country where nearly 40 percent (and rising) people live in poverty (howsoever defined). The elite, he pointed out, will not be able to survive in gated communities with ghettos at one end and huge malls for the rich at the other. This delineation of the ground realities and the risks they could entail (which this writer has quoted at some length to frame the problem clearly) should, logically, ring alarm bells in the corridors of power. However, if the readers will bear with me, I will try to explain why this is unlikely. The well-intentioned hopes of Franche from the elite fly in the face of historical experience. No ruling class (or an elite composed of different classes) has pre-empted a looming revolt of the ‘shirtless unworthy’ unless forced by a rising tide of resistance and collective assertion of rights by these victims of an unjust system. Short of that, expecting the rich and powerful to appreciate the need for reform to head off a (theoretical) revolt by the wretched of the earth is to ascribe to them a farsighted vision and wisdom that has seldom been in evidence in history, and the idea would probably be viewed by most members of the elite as asking them to commit hara-kiri. Reflect on the views of PML-N Senator Sardar Mohammad Yaqoob Khan, who delivered this piece of profound wisdom the other day that some people were born to be poor and others rich, this being the God-ordained nature of things, and any attempt to disturb this ‘natural’ order would result in anarchy, chaos and the breakdown of productive society (there being no one left to play the role of the hewers of wood and drawers of water). This smug and deluded view may not reflect the ideas of the elite entire, but would, in its pro-status quo thrust, find broad acceptance amongst them. As to the question raised by Franche whether the elite wants a (sustainable) country or not, the real answer is, yes, so long as the goose continues to lay golden eggs for them. After that, lacking any form of determining affinity with the soil of the country they have squeezed the life out of, the world out there is their oyster (particularly Dubai, London, New York, et al). As to the state and functioning institutions in Pakistan, it appears a no-contest between the civilian and military setups. The latter not only has dominated the state’s internal and external policies since only a few years after independence, they today enjoy a virtual monopoly of power in the critical areas of security and defence (and by extrapolation, foreign affairs) as well as almost unchallenged dominance over the national narrative, having ‘tamed’ the mainstream media into resembling more and more an ISPR chorus. The issues of poverty and inequality Franche places centre-stage could bear with some explication. Capitalism, the dominant cold war victor system the world runs under, by its very dynamic engenders inequality (the popular notion these days of the one percent rich versus the 99 percent deprived reflects this). The best the ‘reformers’ of this system have to offer is ‘manageable’ (fending off all out revolt) inequality, given the tendency of capitalism, and especially late capitalism, to reproduce and exacerbate the concentration of wealth and poverty at opposite and irreconcilable poles because of the capital accumulation process. This inherent dynamic therefore guarantees the existence and exacerbation over time of social conflict (class struggle). This process of social conflict (class struggle) has been mediated in the developed world by the social contract, in which the state ensures or tries to ensure an acceptable level of basic needs for the people. This social contract breaks down, and is currently under great stress, because of the periodic cyclic crises of the system’s production process (the ‘boom and bust’ of modern economic theory). In Pakistan, however, the social contract enshrined in the Constitution is practiced more in the breach. The conditions for a revolt of the poor currently do not seem reflected in the ground realities. The weakening of the Left and its concomitant decline of the workers and peasants’ movements, unions, collective organisations to struggle for their rights means that one at least of the conditions for a revolt (or revolution) is absent. The traditional wisdom is that a radical overthrow of the ruling elite is not possible unless the ruling elite is brought to a point where it is unable to rule in the old way, and the people are no longer willing to be ruled in the old way. Weaknesses, faults and anomalies in the rule of the elite and the military’s dominance notwithstanding, the people have yet to find a voice and organisational strength to mount an effective challenge to the system. But this should not, in its own interest, produce complacency in the ranks of the ruling elite. Consider, and if you have the wisdom, tremble before the coming storm. Reform, before it is too late and nemesis in the form of revolts or even a revolution overtakes you. email@example.com rashed-rahman.blogspot.com
Saturday, September 3, 2016
COAS’s ‘options’ A report in the media says Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif is anxious to get a final decision on Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif’s future after his scheduled retirement in November. The report says General Raheel Sharif has been offered two options: either to be elevated to Field Marshal or promoted as Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC). The former is a largely ceremonial designation and the latter less than the all-powerful post in the US armed forces, on which the structure is modelled. In our specific setup as it has evolved, the COAS is still the most powerful post, with the CJCSC’s role largely that of a coordination command amongst the three defence arms, the army, air force and navy. The PM would like the issue settled before he leaves for the US in the middle of this month, and certainly does not want to prolong the matter. The report in question says federal Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif were the conduit through which the PM’s offer was conveyed to General Raheel Sharif when they met him not so long ago. Both options convey the PM himself is not too keen on extending the COAS’s tenure beyond his three-year normal term that ends in November. The COAS on the other hand attempted to quash all the media speculation regarding his future plans by categorically turning down an extension months ago. This has been reiterated the other day by ISPR DG Lt-General Asim Bajwa during a media briefing, in which he said there was no change in the COAS’s stated intention to retire and go home and that the media should stop speculating about the same. To be fair, the media is not entirely to blame for its seeming obsession with the question of the looming transition in the post of COAS, given our history. The report quoted above states that judging from the repeated statements of ministers over the last few months since the question gripped public and media attention, it appears that neither the COAS is interested in an extension nor is the PM keen on offering it. The report ascribes the PM’s reluctance to his uneasiness regarding an extension, given General Raheel Sharif’s tremendous public respect and admiration in the context of tackling terrorism and lawlessness. Unlike his predecessor General Kayani, General Raheel Sharif has firmly grasped the nettle and shown the world unprecedented success against terrorists and criminals. It may also be recalled that it was General Raheel Sharif’s determination and clear headed approach after the Karachi airport attack (which triggered Operation Zarb-e-Azb) and the APS Peshawar massacre (which produced the civilian-military consensus on the counterterrorism National Action Plan) that not only endeared him to a hapless public but also helped nudge the political class away from its illusions regarding the possibility of a negotiated peace with the terrorist fanatics and towards the required firm action. The rules regarding the appointment of a new COAS lay down that the outgoing chief nominates three successors from amongst the senior most Generals to the PM, whose prerogative it is to appoint one of them or reject them all and appoint someone else of his choice. On the face of it this seems eminently acceptable, but the wide discretion it leaves in the hands of the PM has, if the past is any guide, proved risky and full of pitfalls if the appointing authority gets it ‘wrong’. To substantiate the point, three examples from the past should suffice. Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto appointed General Ziaul Haq COAS by superseding six senior Generals. Nawaz Sharif appointed General Pervez Musharraf in similar fashion. We all know how both those decisions panned out. PM Nawaz Sharif has in addition the ‘ghost’ of his treatment of COAS General Jahangir Karamat, which led to the latter’s resignation, to reckon with. Arguably it was the manner and circumstances of General Karamat’s departure that hardened the military’s determination not to allow any other COAS to be so humiliated, and may have fed into the coup that overthrew Nawaz Sharif in 1999 when he attempted to dismiss General Musharraf. The aspiration for civilian elected PMs’ authority over the military and its commanders’ appointments may be unexceptionable in principle, but we cannot ignore the real, and continuing, balance of civilian and military power. Ideally, given this history and the ground realities, it may be advisable to stick to the seniority principle when it comes the appointment of the COAS. Any deviation from this principle should be the exception rather than the rule and for good, cogent reasons, which the appointing authority should reduce to writing and make public. Although this may seem humiliating for senior Generals bypassed thus, and may seem a reversal of the tradition whereby senior Generals having a legitimate expectancy to be promoted COAS resigned quietly if bypassed, it may well be the best way forward to avoid unnecessary speculation and even ruction whenever a new COAS is to be appointed. In other words, what may be needed is an institutionalisation of the process, with the rules clearly set out and known to all, and discretion kept to a minimum.