Archive for October, 2007

The Benazir deal

 In any country there are two sides to an administration’s strategy, approach and governance. One side is the public face which comes on the stage and speaks the language masses wants to hear. The other face is much darker and clandestine. It is the interaction of administration with the intelligence arms of the country to put wiretaps on citizens, create files on corrupt practices of politicians that can be used in times of political manipulation and sometimes take certain actions that can change the political winds in a country. Administrations would like to believe that they fully control their intelligence apparatus but the reality is that many times the field officers have their own views of the situation and can act independently without proper approvals from their supervisors. This creates embarrassing situations for public representatives who are responsible for the control of these units. It can go so far that it destroys relations between two nations when the information leak out about the involvement of intelligence agencies in certain events. Like the Iran contra affair during Regan administration or wire taping without proper authorization by Bush administration. This phenomenon also gives rise to conspiracy theories further complicating the efforts for the truth to come out into broad day light. Let us analyze the current situation in Pakistan in the light of this theory. 

After the end of cold war with Russia (formerly USSR) in 1989 there has been a debate in US policy making circles about the next threat to US national security. There seems to be wide spread agreement between neocon and liberals that extremist elements in Muslim societies from Sudan to Indonesia might create problems for the West. But they seems to be to be disagreeing on the approach to handle these extremist elements. On one side are conservatives lead by Henry Kissinger and Richard Perle who believe in preemptive strike at rouge Muslim states like Iraq and Afghanistan to curtail extremism at the grass root level. During 1990s President Clinton was able to contain the ambitions of this neocon group by focusing more on improving the economy and quality of life for the people. President Clinton’s approach is now questioned by these conservatives who blame 911 attacks on his indifference to handle Al-Qaeda after the first attack on World Trade center in 1993. 

Liberals, on the other hand, lead by former President Carter and his National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinksi believes that negotiations at multilateral platforms are the only means to achieve greater cooperation between West and Muslim countries. They believe that fear of military action is a better instrument than the action itself. In their view it is important to solve long standing grievances of the Muslim community particularly solving the Palestine and Kashmir issues. They point to the success achieved in cold war through the policy of containment while dealing with Soviet Union.  It is unfortunate that traditionally liberal Democratic Party’s presidential hopefuls are marching to the war bands and commenting they will pursue preemptive strikes inside Pakistan and Iran at their discretion. It is a set back to pro-peace leaders like Carter and Brzezinski. 

After the events of 911, neocons were able to take control of US policy makers, media and mass appeal to channel all resources available to pursue the policy of preemptive military action without direct provocations by the targeted nations. Britain, a close ally of US, has experience in dealing with Muslim populations through their colonies in sub-continent, Africa and Middle East. British understand that the best approach to subjugate large number of people by a small force is to ensure divisions on ethnic, sectarian or even social lines. But divisions can not occur unless there is widespread hatred among different sections of the community. Prolonged violence prepares people’s psyche to accept divisions to attain the normalcy in their communities. 

Clandestine operations play a pivotal role in promotion of division in an occupied territory. Nature of clandestine operations is such that governments have to give unusual financial and operational liberty to the field force. These largely independent operators create an action plan taking hint from the broader policy approach adopted by their governments. These plans sometimes include working with both fighting factions to ensure widespread chaos and damage of the social fabric. We are probably witnessing the same environment in Iraq where all kind of forces are at play. It will be foolish to think that energy hungry China and dignity seeking Russia will stay out of Iraq to allow US to take control of second largest oil reserves in the world without at least maintaining some kind of intelligence presence. 

The evidence that West is pursuing the approach of divide and contain is demonstrated in policy research prepared by think tanks and academics. US Senator and presidential hopeful Joe Bidden has presented plans to break Iraq into three units with or without a confederate structure. In case of Pakistan, an analyst writing for a defense journal, in a 2006 article, sketched the future by predicting the break up of the country in probably three or four pieces. Similarly, recent bill to classify Turkish action against separatist Armenian’s, almost century ago, as a holocaust could be construed as a signal to separatist Kurds to legitimize their separatist claims as a nation. Media classification on Iraqi national insurgency as Shiite and Sunni is an effort to create ethnic division in Iraqi society which was non existent even during the cruelty of Saddam Hussain. 

In the light of this theory the recent comments by Benazir Bhutto that she is targeted because of her ethnicity indicates that she is becoming an instrument of division instead of unity. She has also fueled ethnic divisions by naming the Chief Minister of Punjab being responsible for the bombing attacks in her Karachi. She has appealed to the international community to investigate the events rather than seeking domestic support. The UN resolution to condemn the Karachi bombing incidents as international events rather than domestic issue should ring an alarm bell for Pakistani foreign policy makers. This could mean that UN might use this precedence to authorize, if the situation arises, a pre-emptive strike inside Pakistan because of presence of international terrorism and inability of the local government to deal with it. 

If we can take a lesson from history, it is evident that wars can not solve issues between civilizations. Negotiation and promotion of shared values is the only sure way of achieving global peace. Majority of Muslim countries are ruled by autocratic or proxy rulers supported by the West. These rulers create social disorders that promote extremism and become breeding ground for radicals. To provide voice for Muslims UN should provide fair representation of Muslim interest at its security council so that they can plead their case in international conflicts. This could be achieved by expanding the permanent membership of the council to include a Muslim state. Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) should also be made a member of the UN administration with powers equal to the Secretary General of the United Nations. 

Sometime complex issues are solved through simple measures. West’s offhand approach to allow Muslim societies to develop their home grown democracies without meddling in their affairs could curtail the rise of extremism. In the short term there might be disturbances and disputes but in the long run it will enable Muslim societies to modernize and liberate themselves from conservative forces. Use of weapons creates collateral damage which enable extremist to find recruits. Let’s stop fighting and start talking to achieve world peace.

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Benazir has delivered

Two-time former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, landed in Pakistan. Her entry into Pakistan was at the cost of 135 lives- Pakistani citizens who became victims of her political ambitions. Whoever is responsible for this heinous crime will once again defy the law and roam free in the country. But the person indirectly responsible for this loss of lives is Benazir herself. She accepted in her interview with BBC that there is a chance of violence in her welcome procession. The question then is that if Benazir knew this why did she allow a large number of people to gather for her reception. The second question is why people risk their lives and participate in these political processions? The third question is the motive and objective of the perpetrators to conduct these crimes against humanity. 

There are many probable answers to the first question. One explanation could be that civilian politicians have to rely on masses to show their influence to force the military rulers to give them access to power. Only psychological pressure of mass appeal can force a military ruler to relinquish or share power with people’s representative. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Shaikh Mujeeb-urrehman successfully used this strategy. Or, maybe Benazir saw the treatment accorded to former Prime Minister Nawaz Shariff when, despite claims, people did not turn up for his reception in Islamabad. This lack of public support resulted in his exile back to Saudi Arabia despite clear orders from the Supreme Court to allow him to come back to Pakistan. It is also possible that in her limitless political ambition, Benazir does not care if few lives are lost in the process.  It is not possible for any administration to control a large crowd through police presence. Violence has been witnessed in developed countries despite heavy presence of police. Benazir knew that there is a possibility of violence and she decided to use this as a political card to uplift her sagging  reputation after signing a deal with General Musharraf. Not once did she warn her supporters to be cautious or stay home until safe arrangements were made to address them. 

As to why people turn out in such large numbers for political processions, lies in the social make up of Pakistani society. A large metropolitan cities like Karachi and Lahore have a big  population of poor people who lack access to entertainment. The names and faces of the injured and the dead in the blast show that most of them belonged to poor segments of the society. Those on the lower strata maintain a rural lifestyle where fairs and public gatherings are an important part of life. These powerless people feel that by  participating in these political rallies they count in the destiny of their nation and feel worthy of their lives. But time and again they are made to give sacrifices for the ambitions of political leaders who have no real interest in their well-being. These leaders use the shoulders of these poor people to ride high, to make themselves look invincible; discard them after getting their votes, and then get busy extorting the nation’s wealth. It is a common pattern. 

To understand the people and their motive behind these crimes against humanity, we must reflect on the fact that Pakistan is at cross roads of finding a new order for its society and simultaneously acting as a fighting arm in the US war against terror. During British rule sub-continent soldiers fought along side allied forces against the aggression of German, Japanese and Italian forces. But in this war on terror US is  demanding Pakistan to raise arms against its own people. The US seems not to care about the damage that might be inflict on the fabric of the Pakistani society. 

Musharraf’s unwavering support for US war on terror has made him enemies among tribes. These same people were motivated to fight against mighty Russian armies at the prodding of another military ruler General Zia ul Haq with financial support from USA. These people, once hailed as Mujahideen, are now called terrorists who can only be dealt with force. Then there are religious parties who are not happy with the Musharraf and Benazir deal. There is also MQM who could not appear to be weak and could not afford to lose control of their stronghold Karachi by allowing a large procession of PPP to pass through. MQM’s militant element is widely known and feared. If PPP leader’s claim that lights were switched off along the passage of the procession then that implicates MQM who are undisputed masters of the city. Foreign   elements are also believed to be widely active in Pakistan. Intelligence elements are also considered to be moving away from Musharraf for orchestrating a deal with Benazir. There could be a combination of all these elements but once again we will never find out who is behind these attacks on the people of Pakistan.

The most important question to answer is what is the solution to these issues? The current situation is a result of decades of bad policies and decisions. It will take us decades to solve these issues so we have to take a long-term view. But some common sense solutions are that the power of the people be restored so that over a period of time people can use their votes to elect sincere leaders. Leadership in all our parties does not exhibit an ideology that they can present to the nation to pursue. New leadership should be  allowed to emerge under the umbrella of a well thought out ideology to unite and lead the people in a new direction. Sincerity and commitment to common cause is the most important ingredient for these new leaders. 

In the end we have to remember what Quran said, “God does not help those who don’t help themselves”. We have to unite and find a way out of this darkness. Until then all we can do is pray that “God bless Pakistan.”

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The Pakistani Impasse

On October 10, 2007 US Congress’s Armed Services Committee held a hearing to understand the political situation in Pakistan. It does not bode well for Pakistan that this hearing was conducted by armed services committee instead of foreign relations committee. This suggests that US policy of preemptive military strike inside Pakistan has broader appeal inside US congress. The panel invited to the hearing included among others Hussain Haqqani, a scholar from the Carnegie center for international peace. The panel was asked probing questions by the committee to understand the political situation of Pakistan and to formulate the future approach towards it. American scholars presented a dooms day scenario for Pakistan where the hope had less chance to succeed. Mr. Haqqani, a Pakistani scholar, on the other emphasized that long held US approach to support military rulers has to be blamed for the current crisis. He advised US to focus more on providing assistance to ensure provision of basic needs of the people including healthcare, education and job creation. As an intellectual with political ambitions Mr. Haqqani used the platform to lobby for the ascension of Benazir Bhutto as a Western friendly liberal who might be a better alternative to a military ruler. 

On October 11th Najam Sethi, editor of The Friday Times, in his op-ed piece in Wall Street Journal advised the US policy makers that military-civil coalition in the form of Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto is their best bet at current time. Sadly he also remarked that free and fair elections might not be in US interest as it might give religious parties greater political powers. This could result in Pakistan pulling out from the deeply unpopular war on terror leaving US alone to tackle in the region. This is the scenario witnessed in Turkey, Algeria and Palestine where Islamist parties have gained popularity among the voters to gain majority in recent elections. 

For large part of its history Pakistan is ruled by military rulers who were supported and aided by successive US governments for one reason or the other. It is obvious that a soldier will always aspire to have the best weapon on his side rather than consider farm equipment for an agricultural society. US have always feed this greed for best weapons by selling billions of dollars of equipment. US have also lost his credibility with Pakistani people by not responding adequately in the times of crisis. In the 1965 war US stopped supply of spare parts for fighter jets much needed by the air force. Then in 1971 when India intervened in Bangladesh (former East Pakistan) to support the separatist, promised US 7th Naval fleet never arrived on the horizon to support Pakistan despite assurances. After the collapse of Soviet Union in 1992, US left its strong ally Pakistan to deal with the Afghan crisis on its own. In the 1990s US also closed its US AID’s offices in Pakistan which was supporting projects in the social sector. And recently US signed a nuclear treaty with India despite strong reservations from Pakistan that it could tilt the balance of power in the region and result in an arms race. 

A policy focusing on an individuals can not produce deep rooted friendship between any two countries. USA has openly supported coalition of Benazir Bhutto and General Musharraf. This has further tarnished the image of US in the eyes of Pakistani people as it is no secret that previous Benazir governments have been engaged in corrupt practices. Armed forces of Pakistan have been a symbol of unity for the nation but they have lost credibility among its own people because of continued pressure from USA to fight its own people. US can either continue to support proxy rule through their puppets or facilitate formation of a popular government elected by the people. Popular leaders can go back to their constituents seeking help to fight extremism. History shows puppets do not command mass support and eventually fail jeopardizing the strategic interest of their allies as well.

It is quite apparent that in the foreseeable future Pakistan will continue to play an important role for the US in the region. This demands that US take a long term view of its relationship with Pakistan and instead of relying on military rulers develop grass roots level contacts with local politicians and policy makers through the exchange of delegations. US should also consider a free trade agreement with Pakistan which could provide much needed economic boost to the country to alleviate poverty. To counter the infiltration of conservative religious seminaries US should provide help in development of modern education system in the country. Almost three quarters of Pakistan’s population rely on agriculture which lacks capital investment in modern farming. US could reach out to the rural masses to initiate a farming revolution that will not only uplift the economic well being of the poor but also create a positive image for the US. In last few decades the cultural exchange between US and Pakistan has been non-existent. US could support cultural exchange between the two countries to create better understanding between the nations.

Pakistan faces internal and external threat to its solidarity as well as a young population struggling with poverty and dignity. Extremism is still on the fringes but wide spread poverty can fuel its spread to whole of Pakistan. We all have to take a long term view and offer a better ideology to the nation nurturing our deeply routed values of family, dignity and mutual respect. Failure is not an option this time.

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