Salmaan Taseer: a legacy of resistance

Ishrat Saleem

Last year, on this day, Pakistan lost one of the most outspoken politicians of Pakistan. The murder of Salmaan Taseer and its aftermath offered chilling insights into the state of affairs in Pakistan. Just a few weeks prior to the incident, Salmaan Taseer had visited a Christian peasant woman, Aasia Bibi, who had been sentenced to death by a lower court for committing blasphemy, and criticised the blasphemy laws for their tendency and track record of being abused to implicate innocent people. Despite knowing that it was a highly emotive issue, Taseer stood by his conviction and defended his position, only to be gunned down by his own guard in broad daylight. It might have flabbergasted saner perceptions to see the murderer, Mumtaz Qadri, being deified as a defender of Islam by sections of the media, lawyers and religious lobbies alike, but viewed in the context of the general trend of the rise of extremism in Pakistan, it was but a logical happening. One year down the line, things have only got worse.

Religious extremism, spawned by the state to promote foreign policy interests, has gradually shrunk the space for dissent and debate. It is a whole enterprise, involving as diverse elements as the state, madrassas, mosques, the public education system, the political class and the media. Thousands of madrassas opened to train the jihadi proxies to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s became entrenched and continue to churn out thousands of graduates each year, who are the mainstay of religious lobbies in pushing for their agenda. No democratic regime since 1988 could undertake the overhauling of the curricula of the public education system of Pakistan that were contaminated during Zia’s regime with texts that promote prejudices and hatred toward non-Muslims and inculcate a narrow worldview among students. Mosque loudspeakers through the length and breadth of the country continue to spew poisonous speeches against the Ahmedis, Shias, Hindus, Jews and anyone they consider an outsider. In his article, ‘Remembering Salmaan Taseer’ (January 1, 2012) in a national daily, Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy has aptly pointed out how mosque sermons psychologically condition the people and make them disposed to celebrating murder, lawlessness and intolerance. Instead of standing up to this wholesale incursion of an extremist mindset, the political class has adopted a policy of appeasement of the religious lobby out of fear, or genuine conviction. Salmaan Taseer was one of the very few exceptions. Attempts to justify the murder of Taseer by a section of the media exemplify how the extremist mindset has become entrenched in various levels of society.

Pakistan has paid a very heavy price for the ill-advised policies of the state. Countless people have lost their lives or live in constant insecurity at the hands of self-styled defenders of the faith. The diversity and culture of the country are on a constant decline and it seems we are gradually turning into a nation of yahoos unable to think and behave in a civilised manner.

Following the murder of Salmaan Taseer, Pakistan’s society stood starkly divided among those who supported the murder, or justified it in some way, and those who did not. While the proponents of extremism are highly organised and are using all means at their disposal to perpetuate their views and maintain control, those that espouse a vision of an inclusive, tolerant, progressive and secular society in Pakistan are too few in comparison, unorganised, and powerless.

This does not mean that there is nothing that can be done to reverse this wave of extremism. The history of social movements tells us that even the most powerless people can take on entrenched institutional powers through organisation. In his essay ‘Why David Sometimes Wins: Strategic Capacity in Social Movements’, Marshall Ganz writes, “Strategy is how we turn what we have into what we need to get what we want. It is how we transform our resources into the power to achieve our purposes. It is the strategic link we make between the targeting, timing and tactics with which we mobilise and deploy resources and the outcomes we hope to achieve.” Those who believe in a tolerant Pakistan must find ways to employ their resources strategically to push for what they want.

All it requires is overcoming frustration, having a firm conviction, and a belief that even our small bit will help in transforming the situation. Each of us must start by not just criticising and preaching to others, but practicing the message of tolerance. We must educate ourselves and answer the religious extremists in their own idiom. An overwhelming majority of Pakistan’s population comprises people between the age of 15 and 25. They are disillusioned and deeply frustrated by what they see around them. Their search for an alternative leadership is visible when they flock to the rallies of Imran Khan. All of them are not convinced that anyone who does not agree with you should be eliminated. Even if their perceptions are clouded by the media propaganda, they are still searching for an alternative narrative. It is not a coincidence that songs like ‘Aaloo Anday’ or ‘Jhoot ka Ooncha Sar’ are produced and become instant hits. It is because these challenge the dominant narrative. Youth could become a valuable resource if educated and mobilised.

Salmaan Taseer lived by his convictions and went down as a martyr. We must continue his legacy and challenge those that have pushed Pakistan into this abyss.

(Published in Daily Times on January 4, 2012)


Americans against Amercian policies

Despite boasting a highly sophisticated security apparatus, the US continues to be haunted by the spectre of terrorist attacks on its soil. Today, an attack within the US without the involvement of Americans looks like a farfetched idea. In spite of having within their grasp the ‘American dream’ of a better, richer and happier life, that has lured millions around the world to this land of opportunity, it is fascinating to see how naturalised or American-born citizens of Muslim origin feel attracted to a militant ideology that espouses terror and violence as its primary means to achieve its objectives. Thus, on more than one occasion, American citizens have been found involved in activities that constitute the gravest of crimes in the American lexicon — terrorism.

The recent botched attempt to bomb Times Square, New York, and the arrest of an American citizen of Pakistani origin in connection with the bombing calls for introspection why would a happily settled individual do something that could potentially destroy life for him and, most likely, his family. It is not to suggest that only Americans are involved in such activities; the spread of militant extremism has emerged as a global phenomenon, which continues to inspire individuals around the world, including Americans.

The most recent cases of Americans indulging in terrorist activities are those of Nidal Malik Hasan and David Headley. Hasan was a US Army major serving as a psychiatrist at a military base in Fort Hood, Texas, where he opened fire at his colleagues, killing 13 and wounding more than 30 in November 2009. Of Palestinian origin, Hasan had been born and brought up in the US. David Headley, formerly Daood Sayed Gilani, was born in the US in 1960 to an American mother and a Pakistani father and spent his early years in Pakistan after his parents split. Headley has been charged with conspiring to launch the 2008 attack in Mumbai and providing material support to Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT).

It boggles the mind what is there in the seemingly mindless frenzy of Islamist violence that lures perfectly sane and educated individuals into its fold. But the fog gradually dissipates as one looks at the broader picture. Western countries’ policies generally and the US policies particularly have caused anger and resentment in the Third World for decades now. Although the US had projected a relatively better stance in supporting decolonisation since 1918, when US President Woodrow Wilson backed the right of self-determination of colonised countries in his Fourteen Points, its real motives behind this policy became apparent once the old order was dismantled and the new order gave a pre-eminent place to the US. The objective was to expand US influence and control in a neo-colonial system. This was the great transition that took place after World War II.

One aspect of the neo-colonial US policy was very aggressive military campaigns and invasions during and after the Cold War, and toppling of foreign governments through covert support. From Latin America and Indo-China to the Middle East and South East Asia, overt and covert US military interventions have left their scars and invoked anger throughout the Third World, regardless of religious, cultural and ethnic affiliations and geographic location.

Is the American military posture an accident or aberration? Contrary to what the US would like us to believe, this posture is part of the American system. The US military and defence industry is a major component of the economy. No less a person than President Dwight D Eisenhower, who can hardly be accused of being a radical, said in his farewell speech in 1961: “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” Who could know this better than the ex-Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe who later became the Supreme Commander of NATO in 1951? The American system requires wars and foreign arms sales, which also spark off wars, in order to keep its economy going. The inherent contradiction in that economy is that the productive capacity is more than the market demand, which fuels the constant need for more weapons and more wars.

Armed struggles, political movements and other kinds of resistance to American hegemony and its aggressive military posture have taken place throughout the neo-colonial period. Issues like Palestine have specifically angered Muslim opinion against blatant US support for repeated Israeli aggressions against the Palestinians and Arab countries on its periphery. The bruised Muslim sentiments have been aggravated by the senseless invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq at the turn of the new millennium.

The rise of militant ideology, seen in this background, makes perfect sense. It is not surprising then that Americans themselves become influenced by this ideology. It has past precedents. Even during the Vietnam War, arguably, without the increasing support of the American people, especially young people, who revolted against that war, the Vietnamese would not have won. Draft-card burning, going underground, and radical movements such as Students for a Democratic Society and Black Panthers were a reaction to the aggressive, military posture the US had demonstrated in Indo-China in the most brutal fashion.

When the US indulges in military adventures abroad, it is not free of reaction at home. People within the US have been influenced by an increasing appreciation of what their country represents to the outside world. The US aggressive policy is systemic, not accidental, and the injustices that have followed in the wake of that aggressive intent are being exposed. It should not come as a surprise that Americans resent this. There was reaction against the Iraq war and increasingly people are fed up with American involvement in Afghanistan.

Whereas the majority opposition to the Iraq war is very much in the American democratic mainstream, there will always be radical offshoots of such resentment. Why are these radical offshoots opting for a completely different path? Why are middle class, seemingly removed Americans influenced by Islamic extremism? Because in the marketplace of ideas, currently militancy and extremism are the only available items, which have filled the existing vacuum of ideas. The perception is that the old ideas, be they national liberation, socialism, or non-alignment, which informed resistance movements post-World War II, have failed. People seeking some way to express their anger, resentment and resistance to the American posture are increasingly influenced by the Islamist militant ideology. This is the periphery of the general rejection of American imperialism and explains the phenomenon of the Americans turning against America in a violent manner.

Should we abolish death penalty?

Ishrat Saleem

The decision of the federal cabinet to commute death sentence of 7,000 prisoners on death row in different jails across Pakistan into life imprisonment has been met with both fierce opposition and welcome relief. Prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani had announced on the occasion of the birth anniversary of Late PPP Chairperson Benazir Bhutto that the government would recommend to the president to commute the death sentence of convicted prisoner into life imprisonment. This concession will not include the Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh and those involved in other crimes of grave nature. The major supporters of death penalty are religious parties, who believe that abolishing death sentence will remove the deterrence which is helpful in preventing crime. The opponents of death penalty, however, believe that the matter is not that simple. Flaws and weaknesses in the judicial system make it possible that an innocent person is awarded death sentence. Moreover, data from countries which practice death penalty shows that it does not contribute to the prevention of crime in any way. Several organisations around the world and within Pakistan have done exhaustive work which suggests that more often, death penalty becomes a tool in the hands of the state and the powerful sections of society to exploit the disadvantaged and the poor. Apart from the hue and cry being raised by religious factions, another development in this regard is the suo mottu notice by the Supreme Court, demanding the government to submit a written explanation for this action till July 14.

The cabinet decision coincided with the visit of Executive Director of Human Rights Watch Kenneth Roth, who met Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani as well as Nawaz Sharif, leader of the second largest party in parliament, the PML (N). One his contentions was that Pakistan should abolish death penalty from the legal system, or at least put a moratorium death penalty. Had it not been for the international pressure, it is questionable whether the Pakistani rulers would have been moved to take this measure, which is cosmetic to say the least. Barring a few human rights organisations, there is little or no awareness among the Pakistani public on the international discourse on the death penalty. But the fact is that a large number of countries around the world have come to the realisation that death penalty carries the chance irrevocable error and hence miscarriage of justice.

In December last year, the United Nations passed a resolution which asked the member states for “a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.” According to Amnesty International, as of June 1, 2008, 92 countries abolished capital punishment altogether, 11 have done so for all offences except under special circumstances, and 34 others have not used it for at least 10 years or under a moratorium, while only 60 countries in the world actively retained the death penalty. In 2007, Pakistan was the second country in the world after China which awarded most death sentences. However, the number of executions in Pakistan is far less, as prisoners on death row keep languishing in jails due to flaws in the justice system.

The supporters of death penalty believe that it deters criminal elements in society from committing heinous crime. However, the deterrence value of execution has been established neither in Pakistan nor anywhere else in the world. In the words of the US Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, “The death penalty is no more effective a deterrent than life imprisonment… It is also evident that the burden of capital punishment falls upon the poor, the ignorant and the underprivileged members of society.” In the context of Pakistan, this is all the more true because of high expenses involved in achieving the ends of justice. As a matter of record, in Pakistan there was a 20.1 percent increase in crime last year, including those crimes that carry death penalty, thus falsifying the claim that it has a deterring effect. Moreover, in the presence of Qisas and Diyat laws, which allows the two parties to settle dispute outside court, death penalty becomes an enterprise in the hands of the wealthy, who could buy their freedom by paying blood money to the victim’s family in murder cases, while the poor have to pay by giving their lives. Moreover, submissiveness of the judiciary to the executive, corruption and political pressure all combined often lead to discrimination against the weaker party.

The basic argument of campaigners against death penalty is that it carries the chance of irrevocable error, because once an innocent person is hanged, it is impossible to correct that mistake. While the spirit of justice dictates that executing one innocent person is worse than letting a hundred guilty go scot-free. This is to suggest that there are other forms of punishment with which criminals could be dealt. Instead of eliminating those guilty of crimes, the focus should be on rehabilitating them. Moreover, without addressing the socio-economic factors that lead to crimes, the government cannot take the path of killing criminals to improve law and order.

Several cases in the judicial history of Pakistan are evidence of the fact that judicial and administrative weakness often lead to errors. The case of Mirza Tahir Hussain, who was sentenced to death for the murder of a taxi driver, clearly showed that our justice system is full of lacunae and contradictions. According to reports, Mirza Tahir Hussain, a Briton of Pakistani origin, then 18, came to visit relatives in Pakistan in 1988. Here he was charged with murdering a taxi driver and sentenced to death in September 1989 by a sessions court in Islamabad. He pleaded that the taxi driver, whom he had hired, had pulled out a gun and physically and sexually assaulted him and in the subsequent scuffle the gun went off, fatally injuring the driver. The Lahore High Court (LHC), however, overturned the sentence in 1992 due to serious discrepancies in the prosecution’s case, and sent the case back to the sessions court for retrial. The sessions court sentenced him to life imprisonment in 1994, but the LHC, on second appeal, again dismissed his sentence and acquitted him of all the charges in May 1996. A week later, the case was referred to the Federal Shariat Court (FSC) on charges including robbery involving murder. The entire case was reopened and the FSC sentenced Mirza Tahir Hussain to death in 1998, despite their acknowledgment that no robbery had taken place due to the taxi being hired. The FSC bench was split two to one and the dissenting judge, Justice Abdul Waheed Siddiqui, strongly recommended that Hussain be acquitted on the grounds that the prosecution case was inherently weak. Fortunately, after spending 18 years in jail, Mirza Tahir Hussain was pardoned by the president on the intervention of the British government.

Although the government’s step to commute the death sentence of 7,000 prisoners into life imprisonment is commendable, it has not introduced any change in the legal or judicial procedures of the country, nor will it prevent the judiciary from awarding death sentence in future. Given that the matter is subjudice, it is not even certain that this decision will take effect at all. However, it is hoped that a fruitful debate will follow among the supporter and opponents of death penalty and the public will be made aware of why death sentence does not meet the ends of justice in a country like Pakistan. This may lead the government to sign a moratorium on death penalty, which will halt the use of death penalty in Pakistan. The second step after that would be to minimise the number of offences that carry death penalty, which currently stand at 27.

The Frankenstein’s monster


Ishrat Saleem


One may find stark similarities between the story of Frankenstein by Mary Shelly and the current situation obtaining in NWFP. In the novel, Victor Frankenstein builds the creature through science and alchemy. The creature is so repulsive and ugly that Frankenstein flees from it in horror and disavows his experiment. Abandoned, frightened, and completely unaware of who or what he is, the monster wanders through the wilderness searching for someone who would understand and shelter him. All his attempt to find a friend are met with horror and disgust at his ‘accursed ugliness’. Heartbroken, he renounces all of humankind and swears revenge on his creator, Frankenstein, for bringing him into the world.A stream of news reports appearing in the press reveals that the situation in the NWFP is extremely alarming. Sixteen Christians were kidnapped by the Taliban from Banaras Town in Peshawar (later released on the intervention of a jirga). Ten girls’ school were set on fire and a soldier was killed and three injured in Swat. Eight drivers who were part of a food convoy were found dead in Kurram Agency last week. The Tehrik-i-Taliban are handing out leaflets warning transporters and drivers of grave consequences if they truck supplies to the Christian army in Afghanistan. Militants in Khar, Bajaur Agency killed two Afghan nationals in public on charges of spying – these are just a few of the recent incidents. Precisely, we are reaping the harvest of what we have sown over the years.
Finding it weak and vulnerable, the Taliban seem bent upon overthrowing the state. They have been carrying out their activities with ease and confidence in Swat, Khyber Agency, North and South Waziristan, Parachinar, Mohmand Agency, Bajaur Agency, Kurram Agency, Khyber Agency, Orakzai Agency, Darra Adam Khel, Tank district and even Peshawar. The other day a news report suggested that the fall of Peshawar into the hands of militants was a matter of time and once that happens the rest of districts will fall like ninepins.
When the military establishment headed by General Ziaul Haq decided to become part of the ‘great game’ to defeat the Soviets, who had invaded Afghanistan in 1979, it could never have imagined that one day it would have to face the demons it helped the US create back in 1980s. Having been compelled to withdraw from Vietnam in 1975 after facing defeat, the US had chosen to fight a proxy war in Afghanistan. The US as well as some countries in Middle East funded a network of militant jihadi organisations. A worldwide campaign was launched to induct recruits from the Muslim communities for jihad against Soviet infidels. These would-be jihadis were brought to Pakistan and trained to fight the invading army in Afghanistan. Finally, when the Soviet forces withdrew in 1989 and the Soviet Union collapsed shortly afterwards due to internal political and economic weaknesses, a huge victory was celebrated. Smug to emerge as a sole superpower, the US left the mujahideen in the lurch and spared little thought to rehabilitating war-ravaged Afghanistan. Infighting between various factions raged during most of the 1990s.
Numerous accounts confirm that the ISI, with chests swelled that its intelligence had brought a superpower down to its knees, believed that India was a fair game and could be bled to death in the same manner, hence the sudden upsurge of militancy in the Indian-held Kashmir. There were simultaneous insurgencies in countries of origin of the mujahideen, including Xinjiang province of China, Central Asia, Africa, Philippines and elsewhere. With militant networks intact, Islamabad decided to facilitate the installation of a friendly regime in Kabul acting on the doctrine of ‘strategic depth’. Thus the Taliban government was installed which was recognised only by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE. The Taliban were the children of the madrassas. Indoctrinated in extremist Islam, they had little exposure to human values of modern society and believed in the archaic interpretation of religious texts, which favoured returning to the social set-up of the 7th century which saw the advent of Islam. They believed in imposing their narrow interpretations of Islam through the force of the gun.
The tailor-made madrassah students were good for fighting jihad in Afghanistan, but nobody seems to have spared a thought that they were innocent people, who had the right to education and a chance to lead a normal life. Even after they went out of business, these elements were used by one party or the other to promote their cause. But promoting retrograde values to serve vested interest has its own costs. Feeding a monster also runs the risk of its turning against one’s own self, and this is what seems to have happened.
The Soviet withdrawal had a deep ideological impact on the jihadis, making them believe that they were responsible for this feat. Internationally, militants networks consolidated, the leading being al Qaeda, and carried out successful terrorist attacks around the world, the most notable being one in the US on September 11, 2001. Finding itself under attack, the US decided to take out al Qaeda hideouts in Afghanistan, which had the Taliban government’s protection. It was then that Pakistan had to take a difficult decision of severing close links with the Taliban and throw in its lot with the US. Pakistan was also compelled to launch an operation in the tribal area to take out militants using the area as a base to launch attack across the border.
There may have been many tactical as well as strategic mistakes in a U-turn in this policy, which has landed us into the current situation. Lt. Gen. (retd.) Orakzai, who oversaw the first deployment of troops, was in favour of negotiations to carry out the operation in collaboration with local supporters. However, this strategy was abandoned in favour of a full-fledged military operation, but soon the military found itself surrounded by the hostile populace and no sources of intelligence. It suffered heavy casualties and bombed indiscriminately whenever it did. Anti-American sentiments raged in the area and the local breed of Taliban systematically decimated the pro-maliks, who were crucial to the system of governance in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA). While on the one hand, the government was busy making enemies of its erstwhile friends, on the other hand, after the initial crackdown on militant outfits in the country, the government allowed them to resurface and operate with new names. It also embarked upon a campaign to defend the institution of madrassa in the West. Analysts and close watchers of the situation argued that the government followed a dual strategy – saving the Taliban (with whom it had close ties) and taking out al Qaeda (the foreign elements). The government failed to calculated that touching al Qaeda would automatically evoke reaction from their hosts, the Taliban. The Lal Masjid incident in Islamabad should have served as an eye-opener that the erstwhile protégé had become independent of the mentor’s tutelage and was out to take on its creator. The much-delayed and the ill-conceived military operation on Lal Masjid and its fallout in the form of suicide bombings throughout the country have revealed that the mosque administration was closely associated with Baitullah Mehsood in NWFP. They were armed with sophisticated weapons and were confident that the government would not dare touch them. It was due to this confidence that they openly kidnapped ordinary people as well as security personnel in the heart of the capital. The situation is made much more complex by the fact that the militants in NWFP have been accused of using the area as a base to launch cross-border attacks on the coalition forces in Afghanistan, which has irked the US and Afghan government to issue threats of hot pursuit.

Unfortunately, at the time of Soviet-Afghan war and subsequently during Kashmir insurgency, so much investment was made to prepare the people to support and volunteer for jihad within Pakistan that they are still unable to make a distinction between lawful and unlawful. There are deep fissures in government, the media as well as the people’s perception on the issue of militancy. The jihadis have support among religious and right-of-centre political parties, the media, the government institutions, including the army itself. This is evident in their outreach and ratio of success in suicide bombings, which saw a steep rise after the Lal Masjid operation. They have struck at the place and time of their choosing, including the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. They have taken the entire society hostage. But the Pakistani public in general has still not been able to make up its mind that militancy is unlawful and dangerous. It runs the risk of decimating moderate sections of society by the force of gun, just like the Taliban rule in Afghanistan. There is also the perception that Pakistan is fighting a foreign war. This inherent confusion about the role of militants and now a fear of their demonstrated ability of persecution seems to be weakening the resolve of law enforcement agencies to fight them.

In this situation, the elected government finds itself in a fix. This is exhibited in the lack of coordination between the central and the provincial governments and conflicting statements by various government functionaries. The government is still holding out an olive branch to the militants in the province, who know they are negotiating from a position of strength. One may find solace in the government’s announcement of a three-pronged strategy of using political influence of elected representatives for holding peace talks, military effort to deal with recalcitrant elements and socio-economic uplift of the militancy-prone areas to isolate extremist elements. However, it is difficult to say whether the inherent confusion and divisions among our state institutions, political parties, media and the public will allow any efforts to curb militancy to succeed.


To conclude, it is the responsibility of the state to provide security to the citizens against militant activities. But do the powers-that-be recognise the dangers they have posed to the society and even the state itself by letting the monster of militancy grow out of proportion? One might ask whose interests are the militants serving when they go out and burn girls’ schools and CDs and barbers’ shops? Is the government (read the establishment) sincere in its resolve to fight extremism and militancy it once promoted with zeal?

Long march: a symbol of hope or a fading struggle?


Ishrat Saleem



The issue of the restoration of judges waiting the elected government’s action does not concern restoring individual judges. It is no longer the issue of the independence of judiciary only. The question is whether or not the government installed after the election of February 18 considers the measures taken by the president on November 3, 2007 when he imposed emergency – as a result of which 60 judges of the high courts and the Supreme Court, including the Chief Justice, refused to take oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) – as illegitimate.


Even after the passage of about four months since coming to power, it is unclear that the government led by the PPP has the will and power to undo actions taken on November 3, compelling the lawyers to march up to the capital. The purpose of the long march that started on June 10th and came to an end peacefully in the wee hours of June 14, 2006 was to compel the coalition government to fulfill the promise it made in the Murree Declaration on March 9. Lawyers, students, political activists, civil society members and ordinary citizens participated in the march with great zeal to demand the restoration of the judges through a resolution of parliament. The participants of the long march exceeded by far the numbers that were present in a gathering called by Musharraf cronies on the same venue on May 12, 2007, where the president had claimed that the killing of 42 innocent citizens was a ‘reaction’ of the people on the arrival of the Chief Justice of Pakistan in Karachi. State machinery had been employed to herd people, mostly staff of government institutions and people who wanted a free meals and free ride to the capital. However, more than the numbers, the long marcher’s commitment and passion and the initiative of organising such a huge protest without any political organisation or state machinery at their back deserves the highest praise. People of all hues and backgrounds tried to capitalise on this occasion to make their point. Thus the issues of provincial autonomy, missing persons, power shortage, unemployment and inflation resonated during the march along with the restoration of judges.


As the long march coincided with the presentation of the national budget, it captured the media spotlight that is usually reserved for the discussion of the budget. The government quietly used this occasion to introduce an amendment in the Judges Act to increase the number of judges from 17 to 29 through the Finance Bill. When President Supreme Court Bar Association Chaudhry Aitizaz Ahsan announced the end of the long march without staging a sit-in before parliament, bigwigs of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) heaved a sigh of relief. The long march had managed to send a very strong message to the ruling party. It remains to be seen whether the political forces have their fingers on the pulse of the people and act accordingly or prefer behind-the-scene dealings over the mandate of the people.


There is no dearth of cynics who dismiss the momentous struggle sustained by the lawyers as the handiwork of the vested interests. There are also those who think that the entire lawyers’ movement is a matter of ego of one person, i.e. the deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. But the consistency and commitment with which the lawyers continued their struggle in extremely hostile conditions, being beaten by law enforcement personnel and even forgoing their incomes by boycotting the courts have earned them credibility and the respect of the people.


Talking to Vista in March last year, then president Supreme Court Bar Association Munir A. Malik had said that the leadership of lawyers wanted to raise awareness at three levels: first among the masses, second among the superior judiciary and third among the political forces. The lawyers’ leadership wanted to educate the masses on the concept of the rule of law, the supremacy of the constitution and their rights as stipulated in the constitution. The superior judiciary which colluded with unconstitutional governments and legitimised their rule throughout the history of Pakistan needed be made aware of its independent position and power to be able to stand for the people and uphold the sanctity of the constitution. The lawyers’ movement also sought to push the political forces to become the true representatives of the people, respect their rights and exercise the authority vested in them by the people rather than playing second fiddle to unconstitutional forces.


The lawyers’ struggle seems to have succeeded in the first two of its three goals to a great extent, as evident from the surfacing of an ‘activist’ class among students and young professionals throughout the country. The media too has played a crucial role during the struggle by disseminated the news, opinions and objectives of the lawyers’ movement to a wider audience. One may compare it with the consciousness of identity and self worth that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto inculcated among the masses when he launched the PPP during the anti-Ayub movement of 1968-69. Harking the revolutionary programme of the PPP, the people associated their hopes and aspirations with the party, despite the fact that the leadership of the PPP failed them more than once. At a time when people were completely disillusioned with political parties, the lawyers’ movement raised a voice against the illegitimate rule of one man and induced a hope among the masses. However, the political forces failed to take cue. It seems that the lawyers have a long way to go before they could convince the politicians to rise above their vested interests and steer the nation towards progress and prosperity.


By all measures the PPP-led government has failed to come up to the people’s expectations. It has now become abundantly that the PPP’s conduct is all but transparent. So far the government has not fulfilled any of its commitments it made to the nation since it was sworn to the office. The PPP has launched a constitutional package, which includes a formula for the restoration of judiciary, but in the absence of the requisite majority in Senate, it may well be an attempt to postpone the matter indefinitely. Moreover, the recent statements of the PPP co-chairman bespeak of an egotistic, feudalistic style of politics unsuited to the genius of the people of Pakistan. He dismissed the long march by stating that his party could put up a better show of strength. On the one hand, he say Musharraf is a ‘relic of the past’, on the other he refuses to impeach the president. More recently, addressing a public gathering of party activists at the Governor House in Lahore, he claiming that soon the presidency will be controlled by the PPP. This lack of consistency is strengthening the perception that the PPP is once again busy in negotiation a deal with the establishment. However, it is not without a cost; the PPP is fast losing its credibility.


Although Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leadership expressed support for the long march, it lacks the requisite numbers in parliament to annul the decisions of November 3, 2007. Smaller parties such as Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf and Jamat-e-Islami, which have no stakes in parliament since they boycotted the elections, found it expedient to make their presence felt. Apart from the PPP, conspicuous by its absence from the long march was Awami National Party (ANP). Being a coalition partner and holding the reins of the provincial government in NWFP, which is in the grip of an insurgency-like situation, ANP’s stance on the restoration of judges is of crucial importance, and for the moment it seems to be riding along with the PPP.


The other day, Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari met for what now appears to be umpteenth time to iron out their differences over judges’ restoration, but failed once again. After a second meeting in three days between the two leaders, Asif Ali Zardari was able to convince Nawaz Sharif to support the Finance Bill introduced by the PPP, seeking amendment in the Judges Act to increase the number of Supreme Court judges from 17 to 29. The inclusion of the amendment in the Finance Bill circumvents the normal legislative procedure to amend a law that requires passage by simple majority in both houses of Parliament. The Finance Bill contains budgetary provisions and is voted only in the National Assembly. The controversial amendment is being hotly contested as the lawyers’ leadership has rejected it on the ground that it is meant to accommodate the judges who took oath under the PCO. Nawaz Sharif too now seems to regret his decision as he has been disqualified from contesting elections by the full bench of Lahore High Court.


The failure to settle the basic question associated with the restoration of judges – what kind of political system Pakistan is going to have post-Musharraf – is distracting attention from other aspects of governance. At this point, it is essential to decide whether we want to continue with the old system of the elected government sharing power with the ‘establishment’ or shift the balance of power towards the people.

Continuing disagreements among political parties on the issue of restoration will benefit the unconstitutional forces, which want to maintain their hold over power. In the current scenario, if the political actors think they can carry on by pandering to the invisible actors rather than working to alter the configuration of power in favour of the people, they are heading for a disaster. It was hoped that time in exile/incarceration had induced some maturity among them to unite against the extra-constitutional forces, whose prime strategy has been to keep the political forces, disorganised, weak and subordinate. At least initially, this was the message that came when the PPP and PML (N) decide forget past rivalries and join hands to form the government. But if political parties give an impression that they are trying to fool the masses and in reality pursuing the vested interests once again, they will lose face in public.

Had these events happened a decade earlier, it would have been perfectly easy for the government to hoodwink the public outcry, but not this time. It is going to be difficult for both the elected government and the invisible, but ubiquitous ‘establishment’ to ignore the biggest stakeholder in the power configuration – the people. The successful holding of the long march on Islamabad should leave no space for doubt that people are alive to their stakes in the political system that governs the country, they are organised and ready to fight for their cause. Whether or not the lawyers sustain the struggle for the restoration of judiciary, the very fact that there are sizable numbers among the populace who are keenly watching and discussing the government’s conduct leaves little space for manoeuvring.







Ex-servicemen’s activism

Ishrat Saleem

President General (retd.) Pervez Musharraf’s graph of popularity has been on a constant decline since he moved the presidential reference against the Chief Justice; it received a fatal blow when he imposed a state of emergency on November 3, 2007, clamped restrictions on the media and deposed more than 60 judges of high courts and the Supreme Court to save himself from being disqualified as the president by the court. General (retd.) Musharraf’s influence considerably declined when the party which he had built as his political face was routed in the elections. Although the president still persists that he will react if parliament tries to slash his powers or impeach him, several recent developments attest to the fact that politically President General (retd.) Pervez Musharraf is on a ventilator.

The most interesting among these is an expression of favour for democratic values by the ex-servicemen, who have been part of many a contentious decision during the current and previous military regimes. In January this year, prominent generals came under the banner of Pakistan Ex-Servicemen’s Society (ESS) and asked the newly retired President General Musharraf to resign in the “supreme national interest”. This initiative was spearhead by Lt. General Faiz Ali Chisti of Ziaul Haq regime fame. Their demands have crescendoed of late and offer some food for thought. On June 2, Lt. Gen. (retd.) Jamshed Gulzar Kiyani gave an interview to a television channel and made some stunning revelations along with demand for probe into the Kargil Operation, plane conspiracy case, missing persons, Lal Masjid Operation and imposition of emergency on November 3. On June 7, the ESS demanded a judicial trial of President General (retd.) Musharraf for the Kargil debacle in a press conference. The ex-servicemen have also expressed support for the lawyers’ movement and made it is a point to mark their presence in the long march. In fact, they announced they would set up a permanent camp outside parliament – even if the lawyers had decided to end the long march – and demand the ouster of President Musharraf.

It would be interesting to analyse the credentials of these luminaries who suddenly found is expedient to put on the mantle of ‘civil society’ and look for the reasons that prompted them to make this move now. Lt. Gen. Jamshed Gulzar Kiyani was serving in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) at the time of the Kargil Operation. Immediately after the successful military coup against the elected government on October 12, 1999, he was made commander of the 10th Corp. After his retirement in 2004, he was made head of the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC). In November 2007, through the provisional constitutional order, the president made an amendment in the constitution to reduce the tenure of the head of FPSC from five years to three year, effectively sending Lt. Gen. (retd.) Kiyani home. By this time, Musharraf had already weeded out most of his fellow coup-makers from the system he was heading.

Many of the things Lt. Gen. (retd.) Kiyani said in his interview call for a closer examination. He said that his real differences with Musharraf started after 9/11. One might argue that the differences between Lt. Gen. (retd.) Kiyani and the president started when, as head of the government, Musharraf took decisions which hurt the long-term interests of the military, e.g. a U-turn on Afghan policy that was based on the doctrine of strategic depth and a reduction in militancy in Kashmir. On the other hand, it also means that Lt. Gen. (retd.) Kiyani tacitly supports the illegitimate act of overthrowing an elected government in a coup in 1999. During the interview he went so far as to suggest that the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should have waited for Chief of Army Staff to return from Sri Lanka to remove him from office. While religious parties and a dominant part of the vernacular press have hailed Lt. Gen. (retd.) Kiyani’s statement that instead of surrendering to the American threats after September 11, 2001, Pervez Musharraf had the option of holding a referendum to ascertain the will of the people, it is questionable if such a thing was possible at that time. It easier said than done that after 9/11, Musharraf should have stood against Washington, given the intensity of international pressure and the kaleidoscopic speed with which the events were taking place. The UN Security Council had passed resolutions on September 12 and September 28 calling for a stance against terrorism and anti-terrorism respectively. India had already offered support to the coalition for war against terror. The tremendous pressure under which the Musharraf regime decided to go along can also be gauged from the excerpts of exchanges between General Musharraf and Secretary of State Collin Powel as well as those between US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Lt. Gen. Mehmood Ahmad. Therefore, Lt. Gen. (retd.) Kiyani’s assertions in this regard should be interpreted as nothing more than appealing to popular sentiments against the US and the war on terror.

It is unfortunate that ex-servicemen’s explanation of religious extremism as presented by Lt. Gen. (retd.) Jamshed Gulzar Kiyani derives its inspiration from the logic put forth by the Musharraf coterie in delaying the Lal Masjid operation and failing to tackle extremist outfits throughout the country. In the interview, Lt. Gen. (retd.) Kiyani said that the suicide attacks escalated after operation on Lal Masjid in July 2007, in which many innocent students were killed. In calling for a probe into the operation, he conveniently ignored the activities of the students of the twin seminaries from January to July and the very fact that they started openly challenging the writ of the state in the heart of the capital when the Lal Masjid administration was issued notices for vacating the madrassah built on encroached land. Musharraf supporters as well as his opponents fail to mention – for their own expedient reasons – how the Lal Masjid administration used innocent children as hostages during the operation. Lt. Gen. (retd.) Kiyani’s call for a probe could again be interpreted as a populist stance meant to resonate with the public rather than a principled and honest opinion on the issue.

Analysts believe that the damage to the image of army as an institution during Musharraf’s nine-year rule is being viewed with grave concern by the serving and retired military officials. To keep an upper hand in the political process in the country, it is necessary to restore a positive image of the army in the eyes of the public. With Musharraf’s rule going through its last leg, when he does not enjoy support in any section of society, his stay in power can cause further damage to the army’s reputation. Therefore, sacrificing Musharraf for saving the institutional interests of the military would not be a bad deal. It is not then a coincidence that going by popular sentiment, the ex-servicemen have joined the chorus of ending army’s intervention in politics. Since assuming charge as the Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani has paid special attention to restoring the image of the military. The calling of serving officers from civilian institutions was a step in this direction. The statement of Lt. Gen. (retd.) Jamshed Gulzar Kiyani that Musharraf should be made an example to prevent the emergence of future dictators should be taken with a pinch of salt. Interviews such as these appear to be a PR exercise rather than a change of heart of these gentlemen.

Since the struggle for the restoration of judiciary took off last year, many questions have been asked regarding the role of military in politics. It is for the first time in the history of Pakistan that the military’s misdoings have been so consistently and openly condemned in the public with the call to end military’s intervention in national affairs. The ex-servicemen’s organisation could well be a reaction to the lawyers’ movement. The latest recruit to the society is the former governor of Sindh and the former Minister of Interior, Lt. Gen. (retd.) Moinuddin Haider. Commenting on ex-servicemen’s activism in her article (‘The wannabe heroes’ Dawn, June 13, 2008), Dr. Ayesha Siddiqua, author of Military Inc. Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy, argued that this is the natural consequence of entrenchment of military in politics. According to her, the serving and retired officers and a few civilians, whose interests are associated with it, are all part of the ‘military establishment’. In the absence of institutional mechanisms for internal dialogue, opinions of different lobbies within the military establishment are given voice through the media and ex-servicemen. These do not represent the independent views of these individuals but reflect a deepening of friction within the military establishment. The retired officers serve as the informal conduit for reaching out to the public or conveying views of one section of the establishment to the other through the media. She cautions the discerning onlooker to analyse the real intent of these people, which is not upholding of democracy. They struck when Musharraf is most vulnerable and sat silent when the incidents on which they are showing their reservations now were taking place.

Here, a brief look at the credential of members ESS and would be in order. Lt. Gen. (retd.) Faiz Ali Chisti, the author of Betrayal of Another Kind, was the Corp Commander based in Rawalpindi at the time of the coup in July 1977. In his book he claims that “he was in charge of planning the take over in the capital and it went off like clockwork.” Another prominent name is General (retd.) Mirza Aslam Beg, who has publicly admitted to his role in manipulating the election of 1990 (although he is now rumoured to have left the ESS on the plea that it is headed by a lower ranking ex-servicemen!). Then there is Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul, former head the ISI, whose ties with the Taliban are well known and who has also admitted to political manoeuvring. General Lt. Gen. (retd.) Asad Durrani is also the former head of the ISI. These gentlemen have an entrenched view of Pakistan as a security state as opposed to a welfare state. Their views on terrorism, national security, regional peace, human development, economic globalisation, provincial autonomy, etc. conflict with those of liberal democratic forces. Their model of an ideal state favours constant external frictions and an authoritative state structure. In the face of the fact that Musharraf is counting his days in the president’s office, the signs of the presence of a powerful military establishment that is not ready to let go of the power it has exercised in national affairs for long does not bode well. Pakistan ill-affords to continue with this configuration of power, as people are becoming more organised and aware and would not put up with a weak elected government for long, which is unable to take decisions on issues of critical importance.

Cluster munitions: a harrowing aspect of modern warfare

Ishrat Saleem

Where advances in technology have unimaginably eased the life of people by providing modern gadgets and means of communications, they have also produced fearful weapons for militaries. Cluster munition is one such kind of weapons, which helps the military to achieve its objectives with precision, but pose a grave danger to the population of the area. Cluster munition has earned this name because each such bomb, artillery shell, or rocket eject a cluster of small bomblets, which are spread over a wide area. However, wherever they have been used, civilian populations have paid a heavy price over many years after the conflict ended. The main threat of cluster bombs does not come from bomblets that exploded. It comes from those that did not explode and, like landmines, pose a long-term danger to unsuspecting civilians, who may hit them unwittingly and cause an explosion. It is extremely expensive to locate and remove unexploded munition left by cluster bombs.


The increasing number of victims and the scale of use of cluster munitions prompted Norway to take initiative to gather support again the use of cluster munitions and start what is now called ‘Oslo process’ a year earlier. This process matured after meetings in Lima, Peru, and Vienna, Austria last year and yielded a draft declaration at a meeting in Wellington, New Zealand in February this year. The draft was again taken up again in Dublin and after 12 days of intense negotiations, members agreed on the final draft. On May 30, 2008, the United Nations approved the draft of a convention to ban on cluster munitions. Delegates of some 111 countries were present in Dublin, Ireland, to approve the draft of Convention on Cluster Munitions (called Wellington Declaration). The convention bans the use of cluster munitions, requires the destruction of stockpiles within eight years and provides for helping victims and clearing contaminated areas within 10 years. This convention will be opened for signature in December. However, like all UN conventions will come into force after a specific number of signatories ratify it. In this case, the number is 30.


Although major cluster bomb stockpilers and producers – United States, China, Russia, Israel, India and Pakistan – did not participate in negotiations, those campaigning for ban on the clumber bombs described the adoption as hugely significant. They hope to stigmatise cluster bombs as much as landmines and shame the non-signatories into not using them. This treaty has been hailed as a real contribution to humanitarian law. Among the supporters are important nations such as Britain, France, Australia, Norway, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, South Africa and Ireland. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has confirmed that Britain would discontinue its use of two cluster munitions: an Israeli-designed artillery shell and a US-made rocket system for use on Apache attack helicopters.


Cluster munitions have been used by as many as 14 nations since the creation of the United Nations. These include former Yugoslavia, Russian, Eritrea, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and United States. The nations that have used cluster bombs but now support Convention on Cluster Munitions are France, Netherlands, Sudan, United Kingdom, Monaco, Nigeria, and Tajikistan. About 28 countries, including Pakistan have produced cluster munitions, while about 75 countries have stockpiles of these weapons on their soil.


The United States has refused to be a party to this treaty on the plea that elimination of its stockpiles would endanger the lives of its soldiers and coalition partners. It may be remembered that the US extensively used cluster munitions during attack on Afghanistan and Iraq, leaving hundreds killed or maimed, while unexploded bombs still pose danger to whoever steps upon them. Likewise, Israel rained Lebanon with cluster bombs during the war in 2006. You would wonder why vast tracks in Southern Lebanon had not been sown, as is the centuries-old practice. The reason is that they have been sowed by enough unexploded bomblets that it is extremely dangerous to even walk through the area.

The statistics about unexploded submunitions lying dormant in the fields and roadsides of Southern Lebanon are frightening. About 40 percent of the bomblets dropped on Lebanon did not explode. In early 2007, the United Nations put the number of unexploded bomblets present in Southern Lebanon at about a million – more than the number of people. They lie in tobacco fields, olive groves, on rooftops, in farms, mixed in with rubble. Several people have lost their lives or got injured by these munitions.


It is encouraging that the 111 nations across the globe realise the danger that these weapons poses to the population. The treaty, however, leave the door open for the future production and use of this kind of munition (if the number and weight of submunitions meets the criteria laid out in the treaty and it contains auto-self-destruct mechanism). The Convention allows military cooperation of member countries with non-signatory nations and is silent on the presence of a foreign nation’s stockpile of cluster munitions on a member country’s soil. Despite these drawbacks, the Convention is a significant achievement. Cluster munitions ban campaigners should keep on working to gather more support and also address the loopholes in the treaty to make the world a safer place.


Countries that ratify the convention are obliged “never under any circumstances to”:

(a) Use cluster munitions;
(b) Develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer to anyone, directly or indirectly, cluster munitions;
(c) Assist, encourage or induce anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Convention