Archive for April, 2007

Genesis of NWFP

Recently North West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan has been the focus of world media but mostly for wrong reasons. Everyday there was bad news coming out of South & North Waziristan or Tank or D I Khan. Most of the news involved tribal militants fighting either with para military forces or unidentified foreign fighters. Reading thaese news makes one wonder what kind of society we have in NWFP. It also raises questions about the origin, psychological make up and human element of these tribal people? 

NWFP lies at the cross road of civilizations on one side is the Indian civilization while on the other it is a gateway to Central Asian states. For centuries ambitious Central Asian leaders have passed through its alleys to invade rich lands of India. These marching armies forced the local population to carry weapons not only to protect themselves but also to demonstrate their independence. The flow of foreign forces has also made them accept diversity of cultures as well as instill a sense of hospitality as long as the foreigner does not have an evil intent. Although belonging to same linguistic group of Pashtuns many different tribes emerged over time with their own unique identity represented in their last names like Afridi, Kundi, Khattak, Durrani etc. As a community Pathans have always been idealistically romantic people keeping a fine balance between their family, religious and social life. Professionally Pathans have been mostly engaged in government jobs, military service, transportation industry and merchandise trade. Except for some dry fruit producton, agriculture and industry has never been the hall mark of their livelihood. Disputes among tribal groups have always been resolved by a council of elders called Jirga. The decisions of the jirga are binding on all members of the tribes without any recourse to an appeal. NWFP is an integral part of the federation of Pakistan but for all practical purposes the responsibility of maintaining law and order fell on the shoulders of tribal Jirgas which successfully played that role until late 1980s. 

The centuries old social fabric of NWFP came under stress when former USSR invaded Afghanistan in 1979 which has a pathan majority comprising of 60% of population. Russia claimed that they have entered Afghanistan at the request of Afghan government which meant that certain segment of Afghan society was sympathetic towards them. At that significant time in Pakistan’s history a military General, General Zia ul Haq, was at the helm of the government. He was in desperate need of getting his marshal law government accepted by the international community to keep his hold on power. Russian invasion of Afghanistan at the height of cold war provided an ample reason for the general to not only attract foreign aid but also present himself as the final line of defense against the expansion of communism in South Asia. To organize the resistance Zia formed an alliance with US to create a tribal militia from among the Pathans of Pakistan. 

Tribal population of Pakistan had no reason or desire to join Afghan resistance movement but General Zia knew too well that Pathans are devout Muslims. He knew that by using the religious card he can motivate the local tribes to become part of the Afghan resistance. No sane human being would engage in a foreign war unless he is brain washed since early childhood that it is the war for the survival of the religion. That is when General Zia covertly encouraged narrow minded religious teachers to start establishing madrassas that could brain wash poor recruits from among local tribes and Afghan refuges to prepare them as soldiers for Afghan war. They obliged the government without giving much thought to the effects it could have on the social structure of NWFP. 

In late 1980s at the end of the war when Afghan war veterans returned home they refused to accept the centuries old hierarchy of Jirga system. They also refused to subjugate their muslim Ummah identity to their cultural tribal identity. The attitudes of these battle hardened tribals were further fueled by lack of job opportunities as well as political ambitions of religious political leaders. 

Until 911, the brewing trouble in NWFP was an internal issue for Pakistan with no interest shown by US or other Western countries. But 911 changed all that, the problem in NWFP suddenly became an important front in war against terrorism. Incidentally another General was at helm this time. General Pervez Musharraf was asked to keep the tribes in control or else face the wreath of US. The General dutifully obliged and turned the guns on to the same people who were considered bravest people to fight the Russian super power with primitive weapons. As para military troops incur heavy losses the result naturally has been not only weakening of federation but also break down of psychological fear of armed forces. This has resulted in almost civil war type situation in some parts of NWFP including Tank and D I Khan. 

Politics of NWFP are dominated by religious parties especially Jamat-e-Islami of Qazi Husain Ahmed and Jamiat Ulema Islam of Maulana Fazl ur Rehman. Both these individuals have been instrumental in promoting the Afghan war among their followers. They have contributed in damaging the social fabric of the province without helping their people by creating job opportunities, attracting investment or promoting education for girls the building block of a civil society. Maulana Fazl inherited the principality of the madrassah, established by his father, on purely inheritance basis without any scholarly work to his credit. With no other source of income religion has been the source of financial and political power for him. As an incumbent Member of Parliament from D I Khan Maulana Fazl ur Rehman, should be held accountable for the break down of violence in his constituency. 

Like any other crime, in almost all instances, the reason for terrorism is lack of opportunity, lack of education and deep sense of injustice. It is unjust for the government to use the tribal youth for their political agenda whether it is Afghanistan or Kashmir. But once the objectives are achieved abandon them as a spent power. Religion is a private affair between an individual and his God. Converting religion into a political agenda not only affects the spiritual element of the faith but also produce intolerance of other religions. To fight terror in NWFP the only solution is to institute educational reforms, improve infrastructure, increase investment and create opportunities for the youth.


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Three lives

In Islam there is no concept of reincarnation but apparently in Pakistani politics a person can get as many lives as they want. Few years ago in Houston Ms. Bhutto spoke about Pakistan, her return to the country and democracy. At that time if anyone had taken a poll about the possibility of her return to power it would probably be a big no. But the lady luck is once again knocking at Ms. Bhutto’s door for a third life as leader of the parliament. How did all this happen? 

A look at General Musharraf’s government makes it quite clear that it is a patch work of army to give their government a civilian face. There is not a single person in the present regime that can claim to be a national figure. Most of these leaders can hardly win in their own constituency without the support of an invisible hand. None of them have a vision or an independent voice. Their ability to run a government is directly proportional to the popularity of General Musharraf. As the popularity of the general goes down the stool on which they all are sitting also starts shaking miserably. The political storm raised by the reference against the chief justice has proved this point. 

General Musharraf derives his right to power from the support provided to him by the military establishment. This institutional support started moving away from him when he published his biography while in active service. It was unprecedented for a serving public figure to publish a book in which he criticized the decisions made by past and present military leadership. His second mistake was using military force in NWFP and Baluchistan for purely political issues. He forgot lessons learned in East Pakistan as well as from his predecessors Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Zia ul Haq who made the same mistake of solving political problems with force. His third mistake was signing an agreement with pro-taliban tribes in Waziristan thereby annoying his US supporters. After these developments it was only a matter of time when the forces against him would find a reason to ignite public uprising. General Musharraf provided that reason when he summoned the sitting Chief Justice of Pakistan to the army camp office on March 9th. 

The political storm raised from this incident is gaining momentum and will only settle after inflicting damage on the government. At minimum it could force the General to relinquish his army uniform while the opposition agrees to his re-election by present assemblies. A less likely scenario will be for him to leave both Presidency and COAS positions. 

In any situation the star of Ms. Bhutto seems to be rising. She has proved to be true to her pedigree of generations of political acumen. Her first trump card was signing a charter of democracy with the second largest party in the parliament, PML (N). Her second trump card was balancing her negotiation with General Musharraf’s government while maintaining Nawaz Sharif on her side. Her third card will be timing her return to the country to ensure her accession to power. The government has removed the impediments in her way by disbanding the NAB cell dealing with her cases as well as revoking the warrants issued by Interpol at government’s behest.

There is no doubt that Pakistan needs a moderate leader that can arrest the rising tide of fundamentalism, sectarianism and ethnicity. Ms. Bhutto can fill that void but she needs to develop a second tier leadership which can execute her plans at the grass roots level. She is surrounded by political opportunist who does not have the courage or intellectual depth to give her frank advice on matters of national interest. Speaking to her party officials makes a person feel that loyalty to Ms. Bhutto is the prime qualification to rise in PPP hierarchy. This not only breeds cronyism but also shield true patriot from gaining a voice in the organization. In her last two attempts at government she relied more on her party’s strength in Sindh and Punjab than form governments in all provinces. The defection of Aftab Sherpao to form his own faction of PPP has substantially weakened her party position in NWFP province. Even if he decides to come back to the fold it will be an uphill task for him to make a dent on MMA’s strong grip on NWFP politics. 

As two terms Prime Minister it is expected that Ms. Bhutto has learned her lessons. But her political maneuvering does not suggest that her third attempt at the helm will be any different. It is still not clear how she will contain the influence of army to ensure establishment of political institutions in the country. Although she signed a charter of democracy with Nawaz Sharif, it is quite clear from her later actions that she is not willing to share power with him. This personal egotism is the biggest hurdle she has to overcome to be able to govern a fluid country like Pakistan. 

It might be true that General Musharraf has not offered any deal to Pakistan Peoples Party. But it is quite obvious that government will allow Ms. Bhutto to participate in the elections to form a government that might be able to make some progress on the vision of enlightened moderation. There is also a possibility that military establishment will support PML (Q) to form a government in Punjab. This will be a similar situation to the one when Nawaz Sharif, as a military candidate, became Chief Minister of Punjab while Ms. Bhutto ran the government as Prime Minister after the 1988 elections. The recent activism of Punjab Chief Minister Pervaiz Ellahi makes him an ideal candidate for this role. If that happens there is a possibility PML (Q) or at least some of its members will be made part of the PPP government to keep their influence in check. It is in army’s favor that inept politicians form a government in the upcoming elections so that they lose popular support soon and provide them ground to once again grab power. 

Politicians and army generals will keep struggling for power but it is the common man who has to wake up and take hold of the situation. As masses we can not stay passive any longer. All of us have to wake up and stop the exploitation by ambitious generals and politicians. Unless we take hold of our own destiny we will continue to be spectators of the power struggle while our children will suffer from lack of education and opportunities for a decent life.

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Building institutions

For any nation to progress it has to build institutions representing the ideals of the community. A nation that fails in building these institutions is faced with chaos, confusion and ultimately breakdown of the society. Pakistan is one of the two nations in the world that were founded on ideological grounds. The founding fathers of the nation Allama Iqbal and Quaid-e-Azam envisioned a society where high morals preached by the religion of Islam are exercised in all spheres of life; where appointments to government posts were based on merit; where free market economy allowed talented people to exercise their talents; where no discrimination was allowed based on religion, caste, color or sex. Allama Iqbal saw the dream while Quaid-e-Azam led a constitutional struggle to make it a reality. This was also the difference between Mahatma Gandhi and Quaid-e-Azam. Gandhi believed in resorting to peaceful unconstitutional means like refusing to pay taxes or non-cooperation movement to gain independence from British while Quaid-e-Azam believed that independence could be achieved through democratic and constitutional struggle. Gandhi’s approach produced riots and violence while Quaid-e-Azam won the debates in the constituent assembly for formation of India and Pakistan as two independent sovereign nations. Ironically the dream turned sour as soon as the independence was achieved when the nation lost its visionary leader soon and opportunists gained control of the nation. 

In a sovereign state armed forces, specially a voluntary force, plays an important role of shielding the nation from external aggression. Nation provides their hard earned income to finance such a force while mothers allow their sons/daughters to join the armed forces taking an oath to shed their life to protect the nation. In Islam it is considered a highest honor to serve in the army to protect the ideals of the faith. For a professional soldier charged with zeal of faith it is disgraceful to be inspired by material possessions, position and social status. In Pakistan first institution that was destroyed by politically ambitious generals was the army itself. Today our armed forces have to keep one eye on the borders while the other on the seat of power. This lack of focus is not only destroying the morale of a large number of professional soldiers but also creating a gulf between the nation and the army. Army has become an elite class of ambitious generals who have no regard for constitution or the masses. For the first time in the history of Pakistan militant groups have taken up weapons against their own soldiers. This is evident from the heavy loss of soldiers in Balochistan and NWFP. In both these provinces the situation is more political than militant. Poverty stricken people in both these provinces are tired of empty promises made by the successive military government. Tribal leaders that were strong allies of one military general are now considered traitors by another general. If we do not radically change this situation so that professional soldiers are not used for political purposes we will further undermine this institution. 

Police is an institution that imposes the writ of law according to the constitution as well as implements the decisions carried out by the judiciary. Without a highly trained and resourceful police force it is a fantasy to believe that law order can be maintained in mega cities like Karachi and Lahore. Military government, considering police as a threat to their dominance, has ensured that police as an institution is deprived of merit, resources and pride. A police officer does not have the courage and moral authority to question an army officer or arrest them for breach of law. During the British rule police was used as an official channel for extortion and keeping the populations in control through extra judicial means. The same practice has carried on as government officials use police to punish political opponents. We have seen this element come into play when police was ordered to attack a TV channel office and later when the situation got out of hand those same low level policemen were blamed and punished while the politicians who were behind all this remained unaffected. If we want to strengthen our society we have to reform the police on modern lines and give them resources to implement law without prejudice or pressure.

Judiciary does not have the right to write laws but once a law is passed by the constituent assembly it is the right of the judiciary to interpret that law fairly for all citizens of the state. A free and independent judiciary is one of the basic requirements to create a civic society. Throughout our history all governments have tried to subjugate this august institution for their own political advantage. Appointments of judges were inspired by political affiliations to ensure they will interpret the law in government favor. Recent reference against the Chief Justice (CJ) of Pakistan by a military government is widely believed to be politically motivated. But the government has blamed the opposition for politicizing that event when they know that their own actions are politically motivated. It is the democratic right of the opposition to agitate against too much executive influence. Government ministers on live TV have blamed the opposition for same actions during their rule. But they forgot that two wrongs don’t make one right. If we want to maintain the social fabric of the society we have to ensure our judiciary is free and independent by appointment of judges on merit to the benches. 

Government is tricky business where many competing ideas struggle for dominance. It is citizen’s right to choose which ideas gets implemented when they freely vote for candidates of their choice. Existence of political parties is an efficient way for like minded people to come together to form a government by securing votes from people. The key ingredient of any political party should be democracy so that qualified and deserving people can come through the lower ranks of the party to claim nomination for representation in assemblies. That ingredient is missing in almost all political parties in Pakistan. All parties are dominated by personalities who are not willing to relinquish power at any cost. This not only result in cronyism in the parties but also result in weak assemblies dominated by greedy and ambitious people. If we want to build strong democratic institutions we have to first build democratic political parties that have grass root support from the people only then it will be difficult for army generals to stage a coup. 

Pakistan is struggling for its survival. It is pressured from both inside and outside to maintain unity which is getting weaker by the day. The reason for this weakness is directly related to our inability to build strong institutions. We still have time to get hold of our affairs and embark on a journey of creating a civil society governed by institutions created on solid foundations. If we fail we can not blame it on any external force but our own selves. When all else seems impossible we can pray “May God bless Pakistan”.

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