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. firstname.lastname@example.org 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. email@example.com 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’. firstname.lastname@example.org rashed-rahman.blogspot.com
Sunday, November 13, 2016
IWT arbitration The World Bank (WB) has begun the process under the provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) for formation of a court of arbitration and the appointment of a neutral expert on requests received from Pakistan and India respectively for resolution of the dispute between the two countries over dams on the Chenab and Neelum rivers. The run-of-the-river 330 MW Kishanganga and 850 MW Ratle hydropower projects being constructed by the upper riparian India on these rivers have been the subject of a dispute for some years. Pakistan, after years of stop-go efforts to resolve the dispute bilaterally with India, has invoked the IWT arbitration process through a petition filed with the WB. India, on the other hand, had requested the appointment of a neutral expert for the purpose. The WB has acceded to both requests simultaneously. It is hoping for the completion of the entire procedure by November 28 this year, the date of the next hearing of Pakistan’s petition. According to Pakistan’s Commissioner for the IWT, Mirza Asif Baig, the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court and the Rector of the Imperial College London have been chosen to select the legal and engineering members respectively for the court of arbitration, while the WB president has been assigned the task of selecting the chairperson of the court. The court comprises seven members, of whom two each are to be nominated by Pakistan and India. Pakistan has already nominated its two members, but India has yet to despite various requests. Hardly has the arbitration process got off the ground, however, that it is mired in fresh controversy. Indian officials have rejected the WB’s decision of simultaneously setting up a court of arbitration as well as appointing a neutral expert. They consider this legally untenable. Pakistan on the other hand has welcomed the initiation of the arbitration process. Baig says the Indian response is totally unfounded as both parties had been informed repeatedly of the WB’s decision to initiate both processes simultaneously. To add to the maze of arguments, the WB urges both Pakistan and India to accept mediation on the issue/s, which the WB can help set up. The mediation, according to the WB, can proceed with the two countries agreeing to suspend the two processes during the mediation or at any time until the processes are concluded. The WB has clarified that it has a strictly procedural role. The IWT does not allow it to choose one procedure to take precedence over the other. Anne-Marie Leroy, senior vice president of the WB, has further clarified in a statement that this WB role and the limitations placed upon it by the IWT is why they drew lots and proposed three potential candidates for the neutral expert. She goes on, “What is clear, though, is that pursuing two concurrent processes under the treaty could make it unworkable over time and we, therefore, urge both the parties to agree to mediation that the World Bank Group can help arrange.” We therefore have a situation of three seemingly mutually exclusive paths. Pakistan desires the setting up of a court of arbitration, India wants the appointment of a neutral expert, and the WB, having accepted both requests, suggests a way out of the impasse through mediation. Which of these three, or even possibly the first two simultaneously, will be adopted finally is subject to further consultations. The IWT 1960 remains one of the few, if not the only agreement between Pakistan and India that has withstood the vicissitudes of time, wars, and bilateral tensions. Despite the procedural impasse, it has not lost its utility as a forum to resolve water disputes with the help and facilitation of the WB. Here international law too protects the right of lower riparians to their due share of the waters of rivers. Pakistan should not despair at this hitch at the initial stages of the arbitration process. It should pursue the process bilaterally with India if possible, trilaterally with the inclusion of the WB if necessary. Pakistan and India have locked horns of late because of cross-border tensions. They must not allow these tensions, hopefully temporary, to stand in the way of a lawful, peaceful and civilised resolution of their shared river waters dispute.
Wednesday, November 9, 2016
Trumped! After one of the most acerbic, bruising electoral campaigns in the US’s history, in which the personalities of the rival candidates were centre-stage and policy debate conspicuous by its absence, maverick candidate Donald Trump’s surprise defeat of Hillary Clinton upended all the pollsters, pundits and forecasters who were predicting a Clinton victory almost till the last minute. In the event, the ‘anti-establishment’ candidate, as Trump was labelled, has upset the political apple cart in spectacular fashion. At the time of writing these lines, Trump had 278 electoral college votes to Hillary’s 218, a clear victory even when some states’ results were still pending. For a candidate to be elected president requires 270 electoral college votes. Hillary finally acknowledged the inevitable and conceded defeat in a telephone call to Trump to congratulate him. The crucial factor in Trump’s upset was his winning a majority of the swing states, while traditionally Republican states voted solidly for him. Also, the high turnout failed to help Hillary, as most analysts had predicted. Eight of the 13 hotly contested states went to Trump. Incomplete but representative statistics show he garnered 51 percent of the male vote, a surprising 42 percent of the female (given his misogynist statements during the campaign), 40 percent of the 18-44 years old vote, 53 percent of the over 45 years old, 29 percent of the Hispanic (again surprising given his anti-minorities, anti-immigrant rhetoric), 53 percent of the white but only six percent of the black vote. The last, dubbed a ‘whitelash’ against a black president (Obama) and immigration (blamed in Trump’s campaign rhetoric as responsible for taking white working people’s jobs away from them), trumped the logic that minorities, ethnic and religious (especially Muslims), and women would deny a Trump win. The white working class (pejoratively dubbed ‘rednecks’) proved a big and crucial supporter of the Donald. Interestingly, given the peculiarities of the US presidential system in which candidates have to win on a state to state basis, the popular vote that elects the electoral college had a very narrow margin: 47.7 percent for Trump as against 47.5 percent for Hillary. To add salt to the Democrats’ wounds, the Republicans simultaneously retained control of both houses of Congress, an outcome that will make Trump’s task of bringing about the changes he promised that much easier. Obama’s legislative legacy, particularly healthcare, will probably be rolled back. The vacant seat on the Supreme Court, which Obama was unable to fill for a year because of the Republican-controlled Congress’ resistance, will see a conservative elevated, tipping the court’s balance in a definitely right wing direction. In a significant parallel with the Brexit referendum in the UK, at the heart of the US’s clear swing to the right after eight years of the Obama presidency was globalisation and its concomitant effects. Free global trade tipped the odds against the developed countries, including the US, not the least because cheaper labour and other inputs made manufacturing in the developed world more attractive and shifted industrial jobs out of countries such as the US to the developing world, of which China has shown the most spectacular results, becoming in no time the leading manufacturing workshop and exporter of the world. With no prospects of employment in sight, since they did not have the skill sets required for the high tech industry left on US soil, it should therefore come as no surprise that the blue collar class vented its rage and frustration against the establishment status quo and in favour of a candidate who at least rhetorically promised a reversal of the effects of globalisation such as free trade (NAFTA in the American hemisphere, similar accords the world over), shifting of manufacturing jobs abroad, and stemming the tide of immigrants (legal and illegal) blamed for stealing white jobs by being prepared to work for a relative pittance. The promised high turnout, women, youth and college educated vote proved inadequate to overcome the momentum generated by Trump’s populist rhetoric that touched a chord on the raw nerves of the unemployed and unemployable. Divisive as Trump’s campaign was, he has tried to soften the blow by sounding presidential in his first speech after being declared president-elect. He promised to be a president for all Americans. The markets, usually a good initial indicator of economic perceptions, reversed their early skittishness to stabilise after Trump’s attempt to soothe jangled nerves. Nevertheless, the US people as a whole and the world wait with bated breath the playing out of Trump’s term, wondering how and to what extent he will retreat from his most extreme and outrageous campaign statements. For Pakistan too the new president-elect’s stunning and unexpected victory poses real challenges, given US suspicions about Pakistan’s role in harbouring terrorists of all descriptions on its soil. All the more reason perhaps for getting our foreign policy house in order, starting with the appointment of a fulltime foreign minister.
Tuesday, November 8, 2016
‘Surrenders’ In what has become a ritual and recurring pattern of late, 202 Baloch ferraris (rebels) ‘surrendered’ to the authorities in Quetta on November 7. In attendance to take the surrender were Chief Minister Balochistan Nawab Sanaullah Zehri, Commander of the Southern Command Lt-General Amir Riaz, ministers and bureaucrats of the Balochistan government. According to media reports, these 202 insurgents had returned from Afghanistan, the majority having returned after a long stay in Nimroz province, Afghanistan. They reportedly belong to various Baloch nationalist insurgent groups drawn from different Baloch tribes, including Marri, Bugti, Muhammad Hasni and Mengal, and include seven commanders from these disparate groups. Of the 202 returnees, 127 reportedly surrendered to the security forces in different areas during the last six months. At the surrender ceremony on November 7, the former guerrillas received cheques for the second instalment of compensation announced by the Balochistan government for insurgents bidding a farewell to arms and were promised rehabilitation in society under the amnesty scheme named Pur-Amn (Peaceful) Balochistan announced some time ago by the provincial government. A senior official of the Balochistan government told reporters over 800 insurgents belonging to different Baloch nationalist ferrari groups had surrendered since the announcement of the Pur-Amn Balochistan policy and more were expected to lay down their arms soon. At the surrender ceremony, Commander Southern Command Lt-General Amir Riaz proffered an olive branch to all insurgents in exile or in the mountains, promising to accept them with respect and honour into the national mainstream, while at the same time unveiling the mailed fist at those who continue fighting for the nationalist cause. Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri weighed in with the message to all ferraris not to be misled by Brahmdagh Bugti, Hairbyar Marri and Javed Mengal, three prominent Baloch nationalist leaders in exile. While the Balochistan government and Sothern Command bask in the glow of their seemingly successful amnesty policy, which includes material blandishments, there remain some troubling facts and questions. The surrender ceremony on November 7 indicates that this was an ‘accumulated’ showcase ritual of surrendering ferraris gathered at different times and places and put on parade to garner the maximum propaganda advantage from the event. In this respect, it followed the pattern of the Zehri government’s keeping the door open to ferraris wishing to come in from the cold and using such occasions to advantage. Keeping one’s powder dry while leaving the door to talks with the insurgents open would be a wise policy in line with handling long running insurgencies. Very seldom are such armed resistance movements crushed by an outright military victory. Two that come readily to mind in post-Second World War history, a period characterised by mass agitational and armed struggles against colonialism, imperialism and neo-colonialism, are the Malaysian communist guerrilla struggle in the 1950s and the Tamil insurgency in Sri Lanka in more recent times. Most others, including the longest running insurgency in modern times, the FARC struggle in Colombia, eventually are resolved through political negotiations, which must naturally include give and take and compromises. In Balochistan, the fifth nationalist insurgency since Pakistan’s creation indicates recurring guerrilla struggles by virtually every generation since 1947. Relying on military force and repression of Baloch nationalism alone, a strategy more or less in operation over almost 70 years, is tantamount to following Einstein’s description of insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The ‘end’ of the four previous insurgencies did not prove long lived and the unsatisfied grievances and aspirations of the Baloch people proved the foundation for the next generation, frustrated by an indifferent state, to take up arms once again. While material blandishments and a divided insurgency may be factors in persuading some insurgents to embrace the amnesty on offer, the ritualised nature of these surrender ceremonies raises questions about their genuineness (the media cannot report freely from Balochistan). While these surrender ceremonies may be meant to validate the Zehri government’s claims of progress against the insurgency and foster the illusion of being on the road to resolving the problem, it does not appear to be resting on the critical pillar of talks with the insurgent leadership (collectively or, as appears more likely in the given situation, with discrete groups). In fact, even though former chief minister Dr Abdul Malik’s efforts in this regard ran aground on the insurgents’ scepticism whether he was sufficiently empowered to implement any commitments he may have made, the successor Zehri government seems to have abandoned this option altogether. This ‘one-legged’ policy may not be wise. In fact it calls for, at a minimum, revisiting the approach to resolving the Baloch nationalist insurgency by exploring the still critical factor of a political settlement with the ferraris, based on their historical and more current grievances.