Archive for March, 2007

Rule of constitution

It is common sense that an intoxicated mind can not make good decision. It is also said that power intoxicates and absolute power intoxicates absolutely. Apparently that is what happened when the President of Pakistan General Pervez Musharraf assumed that he can once again use the constitution to his advantage to depose the Chief Justice (CJ) of Pakistan to ensure his smooth re-election by the present assemblies for next 5 years. But he under estimated the reaction from the CJ as well as media and the legal community. That error in judgment was further fuelled by his puppet ministers equally intoxicated by the power derived from the military government. 

When the situation went out of hand so much so that an attack was carried out at the media outlets the President decided to come forward and clarify the situation. After listening to the interview it is apparent that the soldier has truly transformed into a politician. 

During the interview when asked about the reference against the CJ. The President complained that the opposition has tried to convert a judicial situation into a political struggle. First of all it is widely believed that General Musharraf took action against the CJ because he was perceived as too independent for the comfort of the government. It is also believed that General decided to get rid of the CJ to ensure his re-election by the present assemblies. If these scenarios are true then the action taken against the CJ has political motives and it is the right of the opposition to raise hue and cry against this action. In democracies opposition role is to operate as a counter balance to the sitting government. 

During the interview General Musharraf has categorically denied that the present situation will not be allowed to get out of hand so that a state of emergency is imposed and army is called out. He also said that army has nothing got to do with politics. How can these words be true when he himself is wearing a military uniform signifying the military involvement in the government? To symbolize the true power of the army in the affairs of state he went so far as to meet the CJ in military uniform at the army camp office on March 9th before filing the reference against him. If he truly believes army should not have any role in politics then he should first give up his military uniform and second ensure future generals do not abrogate the constitution in any situation. 

He has promised the nation that he will follow the law of the land and the constitution. If these words are to be true then he should resign from his current position as the President of the country as he took over the power from a constitutionally elected government. How can it be possible that a person so eager to defend the constitution abrogate it on October 12, 1999? 

He also mentioned that US Vice President and Secretary of Defense only came on fact finding missions to meet him in Pakistan. He did not care to elaborate what were those facts and what clarifications were provided. In diplomatic language fact finding is the cover word for pressuring a government.  

He commented during the interview that he believe the next elections will be fair and transparent. It is important to note that he did not make any effort to assure the nation that he will make sure the elections are transparent and fair. 

He also mentioned on many times, during the interview, that the country is surrounded by dangers from all sides and it is the question of the nation’s survival. These are the same words we hear from politicians when they know they have lost the grass root support and want to inspire the nationalist sentiment from the nation to gain support. 

Running a government is not a task for a light hearted person. It is difficult to run an ethnically diverse country like Pakistan which is also facing dangers from all sides. But to do this task requires a leader of Allama Iqbal and Quaid-e-Azam’s vision and resolve. To be able to achieve that depth in vision a person has to go beyond the self and form an ideology that can become a guiding light for the nation. 

A person who is inspired by personal ambition would have to make compromises to maintain their grip on power. General Musharraf when he assumed power promised many things including police reforms, educational reforms and political reforms. But no progress has been made on any of these fronts. Police reforms 2002 were abandoned a year before their planned implementation. Education reforms never materialized while Pakistan became the country with lowest child enrollment in all of Asia. This means that our next generation will also be illiterate. One sign of a committed to a cause is that the government allocate higher resources to it. During Musharraf regime government has spent over 200 billion rupees on defense while the education budget has been rupees 14 billion. Economic reforms resulted in Pakistan slipping from 169th position to 172nd position on the world poverty index. And Political reforms resulted in a constitutional amendment that allowed Musharraf to keep his military uniform while assuming the office of the President of Pakistan. 

We can not progress as a nation unless we stop accepting hollow words from our leaders. Leaders should be made accountable for their promises. General Musharraf is not different than other politician willing to bend the rules to get political advantage. Over the years army has emerged as the largest and most organized political party in the country. It is difficult for weaker political parties to beat this political opponent unless they really believe in the democracy and implement it in their parties first.


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Government within government

Shadow of army on the nationSince recorded history all proud nations would give their best sons to serve in the armed forces not only to secure its borders but also its way of life, values and beliefs. In Islam the importance of struggle for truth is so highly regarded that a soldier is considered immortal as Shaheed if they die for the just cause and honored as Ghazi if they survive the ordeal.
Pakistan is a nation of proud people who not only give their best to serve in the nations armed forces but also finance this organ through their hard earned income. But this ideal becomes a nightmare when the armed forces consider themselves better than the nation and behave like separate untouchable class of citizens. Ironically the pillars of sovereignty are defined as legislative, executive and judicial with no reference given to the military instrument.
 Throughout the history of Pakistan Armed forces have struck at the foundation of all three pillars for the benefit of their own institution at the social, economic and political cost to the nation. Through this access to power military has converted themselves into a government within the government. Military not only control positions in the law enforcement agencies but has become one of the largest industrial conglomerates in the country. Here is a partial list of military economic might: 

  1. Army Welfare Trust (AWT), according to its web site, is the largest industrial conglomerate claiming to be the largest employer in the country with a market value of its assets close to Rs. 50 billion. AWT manages projects ranging from real estate to cement to financial services. The organization is managed by a committee chaired by serving army officers. According to AWT organization chart and mandate all profits are provided to Army General Headquarters for appropriation.
  2. Fauji Foundation (“FF”) is one of the largest industrial/commercial conglomerates in Pakistan with investment and managements experience in diversified business such as production of fertilizer, sugar, cereals and cement, oil terminal operations, gas exploration, power generation, financial services and LPG marketing and distributions. Presently its assets stand at PKR 43 billion plus.
  3. According to Ayesha siddiqa Agha, an authority on military matters, a Major General has a legal worth of about Rs. 300 million [Rs. 30 crores]. These are conservative estimates. According to her estimates military’s business interest represent close to 7-10% of GNP which in many economies is defined as close to monopolistic powers.
  4. Defense House Authorities (DHAs) is the largest real estate enterprise with residential and commercial land holdings in all major cities around the country. According to conservative estimates the total land holding of army is estimated to be Rs. 1000 billion (1 trillion). This does not include farm lands controlled by army officers and cooperatives.

Besides being the largest industrial organization army officers have systematically gained influenced in many major public enterprises including WAPDA, Steel Mills, NADRA, PIA etc. There is not a single institution which does not have army influence through placement of retired or serving officers.

These economic interests explain the reason why Army needs political control to ensure that its enterprise keeps growing for the benefit of all its members. This also explains why Corps commanders stand behind one of their own to ensure their grip on power.

In an ideal society a soldier is considered beyond greed and ambition. He is a selfless being who is willing to give up his life for the motherland. But when that selfless person turns into a businessman it can not be expected that he is not motivated by profits or that he is not distracted from the affairs of his trade. Probably that is the reason that
Pakistan armed forces have failed in soldiering on many occasions.

As a nation we have to carve out the roles for all members of our society. A soldier should focus on his duty to guard the nation while politicians create laws that puts the nation in the right direction. An independent judiciary ensures implementation of the laws through professional law enforcement instrument that is well trained and well equipped. Private enterprise engages in business that creates the resources for the government to develop the infrastructure and ensure equal opportunity for all. Unless we create this balance the nation will be divided into different classes of ruling elites and poverty stricken masses. Technorati Profile

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Can a government stand on two pillars?

It is common knowledge that a government is supported by three pillars. These pillars also provide a counter balance against each other to prevent concentration of power in any one pillar. These three pillars are legislative assemblies, executive branch and judicial branch. It is interesting to note that military is not considered as a pillar of government. In Pakistan two of these pillars, that is legislative and judicial, have been hammered repeatedly by the executive to gain extraordinary powers. Ironically for most of Pakistan’s history military rulers have retained the executive powers through extra-judicial acts of abrogating the constitution and imposition of martial law. After gaining power these same rulers have erected legislative assemblies composed of their cronies. 

President General Musharraf is no different than any military ruler who can allow an individual or an entity to take power away from him. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary has presided over many controversial decisions that gave a semblance of the rising independence of the apex court. This shift in power may not be welcomed by a military ruler. First it was the decision to upturn the privatization of the Steel Mills, then came the decision to allow celebration of the traditional festival of basant. But the most embarrassing situation for the government was about ordering intelligence agencies to present information about mysterious disappearance of citizens. It is also quite possible that Musharraf feared the courts to give decision against his desire to be elected by the present assemblies. It is also becoming apparent that it is in the interest of the General to create a situation of uncertainty in the country to find reasons to postpone the general elections for one year. 

In the current crisis of removal of a sitting chief Justice it is once again obvious that we lack democratic and constitutional traditions which helps define a situation more than the wording of an article. Due to lack of any tradition all parties interpret the constitutional position according to their own understanding. The office of the President, whether civilian or military, has become source of all crises because the person assuming that office acts only when it is in their advantage. 

According to the media reports the President of Pakistan acted according to article 209 of the Constitution to suspend the CJ in response to the allegations presented in an open letter written by a media personality Naeem Bokhari, who is also a lawyer. There might be some truth in the miss use of office by the CJ but it should not come as a surprise to a nation where abuse of office is a norm rather than an exception. From a small clerk in a city council office to the highest office of the country corruption and abuse of power is normal. General Musharraf stepped over his power when he removed an elected Prime Minister from his office who exercised his authority to replace a Chief of Army Staff. The argument presented for marshal law by general Musharraf was that in removing the COAS the Prime Minister did not follow the constitution as well as risked lives of civilians by not allowing his PIA plane to land at Karachi airport. Much later General Musharraf broke his word to the nation by not giving up his military uniform at the end of 2004 as promised. As a uniformed officer General Musharraf can not assume the civilian title of President of Pakistan. But everything is possible as long as the 13 corps commanders are standing behind the General giving unconditional support to his military rule. 

The politicians can not blame the General for removing a CJ as they themselves have done the same when it suited them. Power hungry politicians are using this event to inspire an uprising against the military rule so that they can return to power. These self centered politicians are not motivated to strengthen judicial institutions in the country. They are only acting as opportunist to regain the popular support that they repeatedly lose to the military generals. 

As a nation we can not progress unless we strengthen all three pillars of stable government. It is important that we have a strong judiciary supplemented by a police force which is qualified and capable to enforce the will of the law as summoned by the decisions of the court. Can anyone imagine that a police officer can arrest a military general for the abrogation of the constitution? Unless we give powers to the civilian institutions military will continue to rule us for the foreseeable future. 

As a nation we are failing in all aspects of a civilian society. As individuals we are inspired, motivated, energetic and ambitious people but as a community we lose sight of our social, communal, civil and political responsibilities. Unless we can align our individual qualities with our communal responsibilities we can not become a progressive nation. To achieve that we would need selfless and enlightened leadership but that is not visible on the horizon so far.

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Pakistan: a friend or a deception?

In the last few weeks there has been debate, in US media, about sincerity of Pakistan in the fight against terror. Questions have also been raised about the efforts of Musharraf’s government to help control the resurgence of Taliban in Afghanistan. It was expected as democrats took control of the US Congress and Senate that they would question US policy in Iraq and Afghanistan from all angles. Pakistan, with Musharraf on the helm, was the first country to sign on to become a front line state in the US fight against terrorism. This alliance has now become a target by democrats like every other part of the Bush foreign policy. The real question is whether it is in the US interest to pressure Pakistan for more than it can offer.

South Asia and Middle East are going to be the focus of world attention for sometime to come. For many obvious reasons, it is home to two aspiring super powers i.e. China and India with huge armies and nuclear arsenal; it is home to an aspiring oil rich Muslim country Iran that understands the frustration of Muslim world with both Western powers and militant Islam; it is the region where US is deeply mired economically and militarily in Iraq and Afghanistan; it is in close proximity to a sleeping giant Russia that still remembers its status as a super power coming out of its economic morass supported by rising oil and gas revenues. In all this turmoil and uncertainty there are only few friends that have stood with USA through thick and thin. This minority of US friends include Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia which have risked their own integrity and sovereignty to help US in its fight against terrorism. Imagine a region where US looses two of these friends because the politicians in Washington doubted their sincerity. I think everyone can see that it will be an ugly picture.

After 911, from nationalistic point of view Pakistan should have remained neutral considering the social and political strain it would encounter to help US especially when these terrorist are labeled Islamist. With almost 95% Muslim population it certainly risked igniting emotions among the populace. And even more from a large number of Islamist political parties like Jamat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema Pakistan which constitute a strong opposition in the parliament. Despite these political risks Musharraf accepted the hand extended by the US.

As the time passed US kept asking for more and government of Pakistan tried their best to deliver whether it was tipping off British authorities to foil a terrorist plan to attack planes from London to US or helping apprehend Al Qaeda operatives including notorious Khalid Shaikh Mohammad. The government of Pakistan went so far to initiate a military operation against elements in North Waziristan reportedly losing close to 500 soldiers. Government of Pakistan even suffered embarrassment when US army fired missiles into Pakistani territory on two occasions killing many civilians including some terrorist suspects.

Pakistan by its social character is a moderate country which is evident from the popularity of Western culture, food and movies in all major cities. But this moderation has become a target of a small minority fundamentalist element in the last two decades. These elements gained prominence and power as a direct result of religiously motivated Afghan war against Russian occupation. Once that war was over those same Mujahideen became a problem for Pakistan by targeting its society through sectarian violence, bomb blasts and suicide attacks. Under the disguise of transit trade, Afghan warlords brought drugs, klashnikov and money laundering to Pakistan through their influence in North Waziristani people with whom they share the same ethnicity and culture.

Fundamentalist elements, in Pakistan, were further augmented by the lack of government focus on providing child education through secular schools. These children were instead enrolled by narrowly focused Islamic madarasas with no supervision from government regulators. This resulted in a generation of brain washed young men with no special skills to earn a decent living. These frustrations became a potent cause for Islamist parties to ignite anti US sentiments among them. It is worth while to note that North Waziristan region lies in a province governed by coalition of religious parties called Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal or MMA.

In the back drop of external and internal pressure faced by Pakistan it has tried its best to deliver on the promises made to United States. Instead of appreciating the efforts of the government of Pakistan, newly elected US congress has slapped it with a new bill HR1 imposing restrictions on military aid. Recent visits to Pakistan by Secretary of Defence Mr. Robert Gates and Vice President Dick Cheney were reported as getting assurances from Musharraf for more results. US should understand it is not possible for Pakistan to monitor a 1000 miles long mountainous border with its limited resources when Kabul keeps blaming it for their own failure.

The solution to the current rise of Taliban and Islamist fundamentalism does not lie in military action. In the short term a coalition force can be formed comprising of India, Pakistan, central Asian States and NATO. Presence of NATO forces will always be considered occupiers by proud Afghani population. The long term solution lies in introducing reforms in education systems so that next generation of Muslims are intellectually stronger with a deep sense of their history, has an understanding of the spirituality of their religion and social responsibility. These social reforms can not take roots unless US stop supporting autocratic rulers that abrogate constitutions and undermine building of stable political institutions. Musharraf can not deliver more as his government does not have a democratic mandate rather relies on military establishment and forming alliances with various undemocratic elements. Under Musharraf rule indices representing child education, law and order, social justice and poverty has deteriorated much more than ever.

A strong prosperous Pakistan is in the strategic interest of United States. But it can not happen unless US start supporting the people of Pakistan for a better future instead of an autocratic ruler to gain short term benefits. Blocking military aid sends a negative signal but US can help Pakistan in other ways by awarding most favored nation status to her to improve trade relations. Provide aid to reform education system especially primary education. US think tanks can also help develop institutions to guide the political leadership of Pakistan in creating stable political institutions that meet the expectations of the nation.

As they say all politics are local. A poverty stricken, ill informed and illegitimate population can not consider US a friend when the religious leader at the pulpit is labeling it as a reason for all their miseries.

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Democracy in 2007

The political winds are once again blowing hard in Pakistan. It is a familiar scene that the country has experienced repeatedly in its 60 years history a military General outsmarting the political lot. First military President Field Marshal Ayub Khan laid his own rules of the game to compete with the sister of the founder of Pakistan Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah, for the Presidency of the country. About two decades later the second military ruler President General Zia ul Haque out maneuvered the political Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy (ARD) by instituting a referendum to elect himself as the President of the country. Although only 15% of registered voters actually participated, the General got his way by stuffing the ballot boxes with sufficient bogus “yes” votes to claim victory as well as demonstrate that 45% of electorate participated. Now the third military ruler, President General Musharraf is playing the politicians against each other to get himself re-elected by the current assemblies to hedge his future against any newly elected parliament.

Among the current leadership Benazir Bhutto is probably the savviest, with deep knowledge of political maneuvering. She started her political game in May 2006 when she announced the signing of a charter of democracy with Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the second largest political party; Muslim League. It was obvious from the language of the charter that it was a political ploy put in place by Ms. Benazir to pressure the General for a possible deal to prepare ground for her return to the country and politics. The charter was a smart political move by Benazir as it was an all win situation for her. If the General did not come forward to form a deal with her she could continue with the charter and gain leadership of the house as it would have been too tall an order for the military machine to beat the two largest parties competing together. As she anticipated the General came forward with a deal which among other things includ her return to the country as well as dropping cases against her and her husband Asif Zardari.

As the rumors of the deal surfaced, Nawaz Sharif tried to keep her on his side by announcing an all parties conference in London. It was an ill timed and ill conceived effort by him to stay politically relevant in the upcoming elections. Choosing between General Musharraf and Nawaz Sharif is an easy task for Ms. Benazir. She will not hesitate even for a moment to side with General Musharraf as she knows well that she needs military support to rule in Pakistan. No government can ever be successful in Pakistan without the military support. She also knew that it was still not time for her to part ways with Nawaz Sharif so she once again out maneuvered him by agreeing to postpone the all parties conference for a month. This way she can keep the pressure on the General to get most advantage from the deal while keeping the charter alive, unless it runs out its usefulness.

General Musharraf also showed his political acumen to handle the situation by diverting the debate whether he can be elected by the present assemblies or not. The kings party, controlled by the Chaudhry’s, are struggling for their political life by appeasing the General to re-elect him for another term by the current assemblies. For their political benefits they don’t care if they break the constitution one more time as long as they keep the military on their side. From the statements made by Benazir Bhutto it seems she is not against the election of the General for another term by the present assemblies but she would not accept him in uniform. She knows too well that the General derives his ability to retain power from his uniform without any actual political base. If she can get him to give up his uniform for his re-election by the present assemblies then she can get rid of him later through political maneuvering. The General on the other hand also realizes this and is resisting giving up his power base. This is probably the reason the deal has not been formally announced so far.

During the rule of General Musharraf the unity of the country was seriously damaged by military action in two provinces namely NWFP and Balochistan. This, not only resulted in the loss of lives on both sides, but also damaged the image of the military as a national institution. A poor country does not pay a huge defense bill so that its soldiers can open fire on their own people. Never before in the history of Pakistan soldiers were made target by terrorists and suicide bombers. Political situations are not defused through trigger, but rather sitting around a table. It is true that tribal chiefs, in these provinces, have mostly been driven by greed and self-interest. But the power of a tribal leader cannot be undermined unless education is introduced in these areas. With an education budget of Rs. 89 per capita it is not possible to eradiate illiteracy to introduce a rule of law in these tribal areas.

In the international arena the General realizes that his honeymoon with the US is over since democrats took control of US congress and senate. This is indicated by a bill pending in the congress to limit military assistance to Pakistan. From the news articles it seems likely to pass without much resistance. The other development which did not catch much media attention was the invitation of Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari to attend the presidential breakfast in White House in January. It is also likely that the next US president will be a Democrat with a desire to correct past wrongs done in Afghanistan and Iraq. Lead by General Musharraf, Pakistan played a key role in US war against terror without much success to satisfy US despite seriously damaging its own federation. In their desire to change directions there is a probability that Democratic president will not be willing to give so much levy to Musharraf as was accorded by Republican President George Bush. The General realizes this shift in winds which is obvious from his desire to form an international forum of Muslim states to maintain his relevance on the international scene.

Enlightened moderation is a good concept but it should start from home. No country with ethnic diversity can maintain its unity unless civilian rule is allowed to prevail. Generals should be allowed to participate in the elections once they are retired from active service and a lapse of 2 years is allowed. If they keep abrogating the constitution to further the cause of their organization and personal ambition then there will be a day when armed forces will loose the respect of the nation. It will be a sad day and final nail in the efforts to keep the country united.

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