Archive for pakistan

President Zardari: what it means for Pakistan?

The year 2008 is proving to be an eventful year for Pakistan, first in February the nation elected new parliament through an election that are largely considered free and fair. The election produced a fractured parliament which needs cooperation among various parties to ensure continuity of democracy. The election also forced President Musharraf to resign and give way to a new president. PPP then decided to nominate Mr. Zardari as their candidate for the office of the President of Pakistan. Is it a surprise pick or it was on the horizon throughout this political turmoil? The answer lies in the history of Mr. Zardari and the organizational structure of PPP. Before Benazir Bhutto decided to return to Pakistan, Wall Street Journal ran a full page story on Asif Ali Zardari, when he came to US immediately after his release from prison. The story outlined that Mr. Zardari feels it is the birth right of Bhutto family to rule Pakistan and no other option is acceptable to him. It is no secret to any of his associates that he savors power and likes to accumulate it at any expense. All political parties in Pakistan, including PPP, are ran by influential individuals rather than an elaborate democratic process where leaders of the party are elected through a process of voting by members. It was in the interest of these leaders to accept Zardari as heir to Benazir Bhutto instead of allowing other senior leaders to compete for the chairmanship of the party.

The symbolism used in PPP press conferences gives insight into the thinking of the party leadership. When Senator Raza Rabbani announced the candidature of Mr. Zardari the back drop was pictures of Mr. Bilawal Zardari in middle while Mohtarma Benazir and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto on each side of it. It means that anyone sitting in front of these pictures are accepting the patronage of Bhutto family to announce a key decision without much regard to the country and its ideals. It is only a matter of time when the formalities are completed and Mr. Zardari becomes the next President of Pakistan. What will be the role of power brokers in the country on this election?

During his 2 years stay in USA, Mr. Zardari held many meetings with US policy makers and leaders, brokered by current ambassador to USA Mr. Haqqani, to form his power base in the US. The concerned showed by US was the tarnished reputation of Mr. Zardari and its effect on US image if they supported his accession. But the turn of events in Pakistan after the assassination of Benazir, Mr. Zardari’s successful hold on PPP leadership and dwindling popularity of Musharraf forced US to look for a new partner. Mr. Zardari has to balance between the competing interest of US, military and Saudi Arabia. It will be unlikely that he stopped cooperating in US war on terror in the foreseeable future. All he can hope for is that Democratic Presidential Nominee Barak Obama wins elections and changes his war policy to include dialogue.The military on the other hand may not welcome this appointment and undermine the rule of PPP. Saudi Arabia historically supports Muslim Leaque, JUI(F) and military rulers in Pakistan. This means that they could play a positive role by forcing PPP to have a working relationship with PML (N) to complete the term of this assembly. PML (N) can not afford to jeopardize their relationship with Saudi Arabia by opposing them to an extreme position.

What would be the effect of President Zardari on Pakistani nation? The supreme court judges will be restored after oath of presidents office  as it will ensure that Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry will not be able to indict Mr. Zardari as he will have presidential immunity during his presidential term while repeal of NRO can be used to twist arms of his opponents. The separatist movements in Balochistan and NWFP will continue to gain strength as PPP does not have the moral authority to solve these issues as Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was the first political leader to authorize military operation in Balochistan. PPP has never been popular as a business friendly party. Their socialist views are quite apparent from the current budget presented by them. The economy of Pakistan will continue to rely on oil subsidies from Saudi Arabia and economic aid from USA.

Considering Mr. Zardari’s desire to have absolute powers the repeal of 58 (2) (b) will also not happen under his watch as it will take away an important element of his presidential powers. Zardari is guardian of a party founded by Chairman Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who himself was a creation of a military ruler General Ayub Khan when he was appointed as a foreign minister in the marshal law administration. Mr. Zardari fully understands the political cycles in Pakistan which oscillates between civil and military rulers. It is the civilian cycle and if he does not gain control of the presidency it will be difficult to create foundation for the next generation of Bhutto family, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. We can hope that he will remember that without Pakistan there can not be a parliament or a prime minister.

To resolve Pakistan’s problems, she needs a leader of Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s stature. Unfortunately the current leadership of all major political parties come with a baggage which cracks their resolve to stand up to vested interest in the country. The people of Pakistan have demonstrated time and again that they want to live together as one nation but the decisions of their leaders have worked against these feelings of unity. It seems that the leaders want to have their will imposed on the nation without much regard for the integrity of Pakistan. We need fresh ideas and a new start from our leadership at all levels. Unless we are ready to change, the situation will not improve and we will not gain dignity in the comity of nations.


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Fair and free elections

Pakistan is slowly albeit grudgingly moving towards general elections on February 18th, 2008. All major parties are agreeing to participate in the elections while maintaining a pressure on the government by demanding fair and free elections. The statements made by PPP, PML (N) and PML (Q) leadership suggest that elections will not achieve the end which is a stable political environment in which people can feel safe and advance their lives. PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari has gone so far as claim that the next government will be formed by PPP by winning the elections. PML (N) Chairman Main Nawaz Sharrif has repeatedly demonstrated that they will not accept the leadership of President Pervez Musharraf. PML (Q) leadership is targeting their opposition with negative campaign slogans which are reciprocated by Asif Ali Zardari. In this environment the nation is nervously watching the next phase of their volatile life while the prices of basic commodities are sky rocketing beyond the reach of common man. The question no one is willing to answer is how do they define fair and free elections?

In a nation where there is no balance of power between various institutions it is quite natural that various parts of the government will strive to gain maximum advantage from any future set-up. Military leadership abusing their powers use Inter Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) to maintain a dossier on civilian political leaders which is not part of its mandate. These secret files are used for political maneuvering whenever a General grabs power. Since the military leadership abuse this institution it is unnatural to assume that the officers in the field will not try to have their own view included in the equation. It is beyond doubt that the new generation of army officers are more inclined to be religious and conservative in their lifestyles. To conduct fair and free elections it is important that the political wing of ISI should be rolled back. It is also important that the Chief of Army Staff ensure that it will focus more on fight against terrorism and prevention of external threats.

Election duties are performed by lowly paid education department and district officers. These subsistence level people are already stressed for the mere survival. It is hard to believe that these officers will jeopardize their jobs if a higher officer in the civilian and military establishment demands certain unfair actions from them during the elections. Unless election staff is fused with certain nationalist ideology it can not be expected that they will risk their livelihood as well as their life for an election result that do not matter to them much.

Elections are not an end in itself. It is a means to elect leaders that can provide law & order, institute a viable economic policy and protect the sovereignty of the nation. No political leader is presenting an ideology that will solve the social, economic and political crisis faced by the nation. Most of the leaders are looking outward by seeking help from other countries to gain political clout. It is believed that the return of Nawaz Shariff was orchestrated by the Saudi government which wants to maintain a certain clout in the future political set-up of Pakistan. It is not a secret any more that Benazir Bhutto signed a deal with Musharraf brokered by US and UK. In this environment of mistrust when leaders are not in synch with the nation, the fair and free elections can not be expected.

Foreign powers operating in Pakistan are well aware that fair and free elections might produce results that are not in their interest. They have already experienced this scenario in Algeria, Palestine, Lebanon, and Turkey where Islamic political parties gained widespread support in the elections. For these powers it is better to maintain their grip on the government through a distorted democracy resulting from election rigging rather than face the prospect of dealing with a conservative force which has people’s mandate. In a poverty stricken country it is not difficult for them to spend small amounts of money to buy people who are willing to interfere with fair elections. These foreign powers have enough networks in the country comprised of locals that executing this strategy is not too difficult.

Fair and free elections are responsibility of an independent judiciary. On November 3rd President Musharraf fatally struck at the independence of the judiciary by removing the dissenting judges. Now nation has no institution available that can work as an arbiter among political parties if they want to seek justice against unfairness in elections. On the other hand judiciary needs a strong police force that can execute its decisions. The morale and condition of the police force is so deteriorated that it can not be expected that they can with stand the pressure exerted by the establishment, military or powerful landlords.

Independent media plays a pivotal role in maintaining transparency of the electoral process. Media also plays a significant role in disseminating the message of different political parties. In last 6 years media has strengthened its role as a bridge between the rulers and the ruled. The open debates between differing political factions have contributed in education of the people about the views held by their representative. During his struggle for re-election President Musharraf has struck a serious blow at the independence of media by forcing the cable operators to pull plug on many channels. In order to continue their operations media outlets have to agree to an amended Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) ordinance which imposed many strict broadcasting conditions on the channels. In this hostile environment it can not be expected that media will be able to point finger at irregularities during the elections.

The tradition in Pakistan is such that winning party assumes that they will stay in power for ever and take revengeful actions against the losers. We have seen this play out during the two terms of Nawaz Shariff and Benazir Bhutto when both of them went after the throat of the other. When both these leaders decided to work together there was a feeling that at last there will be some decency after elections but it seems that the old tradition of revenge will be repeated. This feeling of survival of the fittest creates an environment where losing an election is sort of a death warrant. Unless this kind of hostility is defused we can not expect to create stable institutions. Our leaders have to learn to live with loss and wait for their term in the next elections.

In this environment, when there is no ideological agreement between leaders and constituents, it is hard to believe that fair elections are the solution to nation’s problem. We have to agree that the country belongs to all of us and we have to work together to build it. A stable government is one of the necessary components for a nation’s prosperity and progress. All of us whether a policeman, a teacher, a leader and a solider have to understand that any unfair actions under their watch is going to damage the nation. After that if the leaders do not accept the results we can all stand up to make it clear to them that enough is enough. Either they work together or the nation will get rid of them to make room for leaders that can work together.

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Failure of educated middle class

Pakistan is a country with only 32% of the population considered literate out of which a small portion has a bachelor’s degree. This means that these about 20% people are the elites of the country controlling effectively the whole machinery including military and civil bureaucracy, media, education, business and diplomacy. The other 68% so called illiterates have been doing their part by producing the food and constructing infrastructure for the country. This indirectly implies that the current state of affairs in the country is the failure of the elite literate class to unite the country. The division of the country is the direct result of conflict between the various segments of the educated classes, whether it is the capitalist, military, civilian bureaucracy or Harvard educated zamindar, to gain larger share of the pie for itself. Educators, judges, journalists, lawyers and other white color educated people have mostly tried to please the ruling classes in a hope to raise their social status to become part of them.

On March 9th, when the Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Mohammad Chaydhry, refused to succumb to the pressure, from the military leadership, to resign from his post so that a more complaint judge can be promoted to his position. This created false expectation in the eyes of the masses at last the educated middle class would rise up against the exploitation of the nation. But that hope is dying with each passing day as some members of the judiciary once again decided to sell the interests of the nation to get a chance to promote their self interest. These judges decided to support the military rule by accepting to take oath under the Provisional Constitution Order (PCO) which General Musharraf himself accepted to be an illegal act during his interview with a foreign media. These judges duly obliged their benefactor by confirming his re-election as the President of Pakistan for the second term thereby serving the purpose for which they were appointed. By this confirmation the judges became part of an illegal act further tarnishing the image of the judiciary which for most of its history has lived with the stigma to be the supporters of military dictatorships.

On the other hand, political leaders instead of supporting the cause of the independent judiciary used this situation to gain political ground against the government. Benazir Bhutto, although prophesying to be a moderate and liberal, did not lend her support for the reinstatement of deposed judges or requiring it to be part of the 14 points demands prepared by the joint committee of APDM and ARD. She seems to actually prefer the new bench as it could approve the reconciliation order issued by the government before her return to the country. If the reconciliation order is ratified by the court it could her new lease of life with no cases of corruption and bribery against her. Nawaz Sharif does not command the moral authority to join the struggle for independent judiciary as he himself struck at the judges during his second term in office. In the absence of these two major parties there is no influential political party left to support deposed judges. Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) long presents itself as a bastion of secularism and liberty decided that justice is not something important for the nation and erected barricade to refuse the entry of the Chief Justice in the city while at the same time he was allowed entry by smaller cities like Rawalpindi and Peshawar.

Freedom of speech is another symbol of a progressive open society. Role of media is never to praise the government but rather inform people on whatever is wrong in an establishment. This enables people to make better decisions about politicians at the time of elections. It is surprising to see that a person of Nisar Memon’s stature could allow gagging of media while he is serving as the information minister in the interim set up. Nisar Memon is a person with extensive business experience working with blue chip company IBM as a Country Manager. During his professional career he has traveled widely around the world to understand how liberal and moderate societies function. In developed countries of Europe and America governments are severely criticized in the media for their failure without fear of retaliation. Even Nisar Memon despite his education and exposure feels it is necessary that media should not have complete freedom of speech. In authoritarian governments it is a common occurrence to label dissidents and critics as traitors and unpatriotic. Praise of a military ruler is probably the most unpatriotic thing an educated and enlightened person could do.

Similar was the case with Shaukat Aziz who lived most of his professional life in Far East, Middle East and America as a senior executive of CitiBank. But when he decided to join General Musharraf’s team it did not matter to him that a military ruler could severely damage the social fabric of the society as they are not qualified to develop democratic institutions in the country. During his watch the incidents of May 12 happened in Karachi, reference was filed against the Chief Justice and unconstitutional steps were taken by the government but he never came forward to resign in protest. As swiftly as he came to power at the back of a military dictator he will walk out into the darkness of oblivion.

Educators and journalist have also complied with the wishes of rulers to allow the exploitation of the nation. Small number of intellectuals and educators who tried to dissent were either passed over for promotion or if they were too radical were thrown out of their jobs without any recourse to justice.

The same situation is prevalent in all spheres of the civil society where the educated middle class has refused to understand their significance for the development of the nation. In reality it is the uneducated labor class which has so far been sustaining the country by providing the necessary energy to produce agriculture and manufactured products. These masses of illiterate labor are the ones suffering the most under the burden of rising cost of living while the elites are strangling each other to gain access to the political power.

Pakistan is slowly progressing to the brink of total chaos. The dying movement of the lawyers is the chance for the educated classes to unite for the nation. The movement can demand to impose rule of law applied equally to all without their social status. It could create an environment to offer equal opportunity for all citizens to improve their social condition. It could impose strict rule of merit in hiring and promotion of people in all spheres of public and private organizations. It could demand implementation of democracy in all political parties instead of stronghold of individuals or families. Any party that can not demonstrate implementation of democracy in their own party should be totally rejected by the educated classes.

All this may sound like a dream but then dreams are something that helps create optimism and generate energy for action. In the end I remember a comment made by a foreign friend: “Each country has an army. Pakistan army has a country.”

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Musharraf as a civilian president

The storm that started brewing on March 9th after General Musharraf filed a reference against the then chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhary has at last claimed the uniform of the military president. But the storm is still not over and seeks further sacrifice from the now retired general. Musharraf’s rise to power was on the back of his military credentials which means as soon as he gave up his uniform he also lost support of the very institution that brought him to power. A retired general does not enjoy the same military tradition of unquestioned obedience as a serving general. The institution is now behind its new chief General Ashfaq Kayani whose political views, ambitions and contacts will slowly reveal itself with each passing day. The only support left behind Musharraf is US and its western allies. But US public opinion is slowly turning away from supporting an individual to restoration of democracy in the country. This does not bode well for the retired General who just sworn himself in for the second five year term.

Political leaders from PPP and PML N, two large political parties in Pakistan, have refused to accept Musharraf as President and are demanding restoration of the judiciary and constitution to its pre Nov 3 position. Major political parties, although talking of boycott, are submitting nomination papers for the upcoming elections. It is obvious that both Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto need the door of election to gain access to political power. They are threatening to boycott January 8th elections because they want to buy time to reorganize their parties whose local leadership has withered during their 8 years exile from the country. In this scenario they would prefer that a limbo is created by questioning the legitimacy of General Musharraf’s re-election. They would prefer that he is forced to resign thereby elevating the chairman Senate to occupy the position which incidentally is interim Prime Minister Mohammad Mian Soomro. We have precedence of this scenario when Ghulam Ishaq Khan took over power after the demise of General Zia ul Haq. This will produce a new interim government and delay of election up to Spring 2008. This will provide ample time to both parties to create an election organization to ensure their rise to majority positions in provincial and national assemblies. 

Chaudhries of PML Q on the other hand will prefer elections to be held on January 8th as they had all the time to prepare themselves for this situation. They know that it will be difficult for them to form a government in Islamabad but they will strive to maintain their hold on Punjab with help from military establishment. Despite dissolution of previous assemblies they still enjoy considerable power over the provincial establishment to use it in their favor. This is their sole reason for still supporting a retired General who used their allegiance to legitimize his rule for 8 years. But they face a formidable competition in the form of PML N. It is quite likely that PML N emerge as a leading party in the province. 

In NWFP, socialist ANP has a natural tendency to align with Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and hope to achieve slight majority in the province. PML N has long history of political alliance with Jamat-e-Islami (JI) which is falling out from MMA after the true face of Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI) leader Maulana Fazl ur Rehman came to light during the current crisis. MMA has substantially damaged the political standing of JI which is historically a religious moderate organization as compared to extremist elements of JUI. Although JI leadership is insisting they will boycott the elections but they fully understand that staying out of the elections could be a political paralysis for them. JUI and PPP Sherpao both benefited from supporting the military regime. They can once again form an alliance to not only soften the image of JUI in the province but also improve their chances of forming a government. It is likely that they would need more allies to have any majority in the province. 

In Sindh, Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) understands that they are at best a regional party which means they have to align with whoever has the best chance of forming a government. They have already started sending feelers to PPP to ensure their participation in the future Sindh government. MQM needs to still recover from the political damage inflicted upon them by the Chaudhries of PML Q during the judicial crisis of May 12th when PML Q was celebrating in Islamabad as Karachi shed blood of its citizens. PPP/MQM alliance should not have any problem in forming a majority provincial government. 

Balochistan once again will produce a patch work of religious, socialist and ethnic parties. This does not bode well for the province. Balochistan voters should decide which major party serves their interest best and align themselves with it to get some resources for the province. 

In final analysis it seems that Musharraf will be forced out from the Presidency and elections will be delayed until spring 2008. But then again politics in Pakistan does not follow any pattern and the winds of change could produce a totally unforeseen scenario.

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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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