Category Archives: Pakistan Politics

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?


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.

Pakistan: five years after Iraq invasion

Ishrat Saleem

The US invasion on Iraq in 2003 was disastrous in several ways. Apart from dealing a forceful blow to the international system of conduct among nations devised after strenuous efforts of over nearly six decades, it destabilised the entire region, with serious consequences for Pakistan. The US and its major ally UK completely bypassed the UN in attacking Iraq, spreading insecurity among the countries whom the US had labelled as its enemies in the past. The popular reason for attacking Iraq was that the Saddam regime possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). The US went on to attack Iraq despite testimony by United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission head Hans Blix that he had found “no smoking gun” during his inspections to suggest that Iraq possessed the WMDs. Instead of serving as a warning, it has strengthened the perception among smaller countries that in a unipolar world, without possessing the deterrent of nuclear technology, their survival is threatened. The American bully with war technology can go to any length to achieve its ‘strategic’ objectives.The occupation of Iraq and the break down of state structure has incredibly strengthened the considerably weakened al Qaeda and provided the most conducive environment for the growth of extremist groups within Iraq which have made their presence felt by holding the populace hostage to their archaic interpretation of Islam and deadly suicide attacks. Impartial observers view US invasion of Iraq as a move to preserve strategic oil reserves in the region and remove a grievous threat to Israel in the form of Saddam Hussain. The failure to discover any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has exposed that this war had less to do with terror, which was merely used as a ploy, and more to do with the vested interests of the US.The elements that were drawn into Iraq conflict from Afghanistan successfully experimented with improvised explosive device (IED) and suicide bombings in a power vacuum created by the fall of Saddam Hussein. The law and order breakdown presented them with a wonderful opportunity to strengthen their toehold. Iraq served as a laboratory for them to experiment with novel methods of guerilla warfare, which were essential for defeating a superior enemy in a hostile environment. The suicide bombings were refined through practice, increasingly inflicting heavy casualties on civilian population, causing embarrassment to the occupying forces and its handpicked Iraq government. This success gave al Qaeda elements the confidence to employ these techniques at other places where they were embattled. It took little time for the phenomenon of suicide bombing to be exported to Afghanistan. Since 2003, we have seen a steady rise in suicide attacks in Afghanistan.It is no coincidence that in later months and years, Pakistan, with military operation in the tribal areas at its peak, was hit in its soft underbelly by suicide bombers. Important public figures as well as strategic facilities were aimed at with precision. President Musharraf himself was a target of a suicide attack which he survived, as he did two other assassination attempts. In March 2006, a suicide bombing behind the US consulate killed an American diplomat along with three others. In April, an Eid Miladun Nabi congregation at Nishtar Park was attacked, killing more than 60, including the entire leadership of the Sunni Tehrik (of the Beralvi school of thought). In July the same year, Allama Hassan Turabi, head of Islami Tehrik and provincial chief of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, was killed along with his nephew outside his residence in Karachi. In later months, several attacks took place throughout Pakistan, including the capital. The sporadic but consistent suicide attacks that started in 2006 saw a sharp increase after military operation against Lal Masjid in July last year. Military installations, police personnel, and political rallies — whoever was seen as an opponent — were singled out and attacked with precision to give a strong message of resistance to the war against terror. Benazir Bhutto, who had taken and unequivocal stance against terrorism, became a victim of one such bombing in Rawalpindi. The head on collision of the the protege — the jihadists with their mentors — the military establishment —  seems to suggest that terrorists think they are strong enough to take over their own country.

Extremist violence thrives on a conducive environment in Pakistan. The terrorists’ outreach, number of casualties and success in targeting high profile figures are indicators of inadequacy of the Pakistan government in fighting this phenomenon, both in terms of will and human and technical capacity. Here, there are strong pockets of support for the jihadis in the establishment coupled with a confused public opinion. The government’s writ is thin in various parts of the country while the densely populated urban areas provide these elements the necessary cover to hit and run. The failure of Pakistan to pre-empt suicide bombings by busting terror networks from inside the way other countries like Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, Spain, Australia and Britain have done, speaks of its double-mindedness in uprooting the networks that it so carefully cultivated during the Afghan war and afterwards.

At the time of Iraq invasion, Pakistan was faced with the critical question of sending its troops to Iraq. Popular opinion against such decision compelled the leadership to refrain from any such move. With hindsight, it has proved to be a sagacious decision, because it would have given another cause celebre to the extremist forces within Pakistan bent on overthrowing the state.

If the US is contemplating attacking Iran even as a remote possibility, it should rethink. Any such measure will give a new lease of life to the al Qaeda and open another Pandora’s box of terrorism which the US it is trying to cap in Afghanistan and Iraq. Essentially, the law and order breakdown in Iraq provided the green pastures to the badly mauled al Qaeda after Afghanistan. If Iran too is attacked, it would stretch the conflict zone from Iraq right up to Pakistan, paving the path for a great war in which the US’s own long-term interests would be threatened.

Lawyers’ movement – one year on

Ishrat Saleem 

March 9, 2007 was the day when President Musharraf called the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, to his camp office in Rawalpindi and asked him to resign from his post. To the surprise of many, departing from the tradition of judiciary’s compliance, Justice Iftikhar refused. A bevy of high officials including the prime minister and the heads of intelligence agencies, set on the task of first coaxing and then threatening the Chief Justice with moving a reference against him in the Supreme Judicial Council. The CJ said that he would face the reference. Justice Iftikhar was prevented from going to his office and held incommunicado at his residence till the first hearing of his case on March 13, 2007. He was manhandled and humiliated when he tried to walk his way to the Supreme Court on his first hearing, the footage of which was taped and repeatedly run by several electronic media outlets. The judges and the lawyers were indignant. The military’s image crumbled in the minds of the people who saw it as an instance of ‘might is right’.

Our political parties may be confronting leadership crisis, which has been made more acute with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, but the lawyers were fortunate to have people like Munir A. Malik, Ali Ahmad Kurd, Hamid Khan and Aitizaz Ahsan among them. The immediate response of the lawyers’ community to their call and the admiration and enthusiasm of the general people throughout Pakistan made them aware of the historic opportunity that had presented itself, to settle the issue of supremacy of the constitution and the independence of the judiciary once and for all. The indefatigable resolve of these icons inspired millions and induced the hope that organised and sustained action holds the key to the people deciding their destiny. The first victory of the lawyers movement was the restoration of the Chief Justice, when a nine member bench unanimously dismissed the presidential reference.

The imposition of the emergency and deposing of about 60 superior judges was a major setback, but it did not dampen their resolve and reinvigorated the lawyers to take to streets. However, this time they were not alone. Students from across Pakistan spontaneously poured out on campuses and expressed their agitation. Pakistani students in foreign universities also networked and organised protests around the world against the illegitimate military regime. For the first time, the judiciary realised its strength and responsibility towards the people of this country. The judges who refused to take an oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) earned the honour and respect of the people. Nonetheless, the lawyers deserve the most credit. They united across the class divide and refused to appear before the PCO-judges, forgoing their livelihood. They were one against the establishment and called on the people and the political parties to rise against the illegitimate rulers.

Munir A Malik, the former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, who provided the essential leadership to the lawyers’ community in organising against the regime, shared his insights of the year long struggle. Last year, at the height of public campaigning for restoring the Chief Justice, Munir A Malik had stated that the objectives of the lawyers’ movement are raising awareness among the general public, the political parties and the superior judiciary itself on the issue of civilian supremacy and the supremacy of the constitution. When asked how far these objectives have been achieved, he said, “We have made considerable gains in the first area. The awareness that has been created among the public is irreversible. We have also succeeded in sensitising the honest and true judges to the plight of the people. There have been setbacks on November 3, but this was a defeat in a minor battle in a long drawn out war. We are confident that in whatever way the judiciary is restored, it will emerge as an independent organ of the state. As far as the political parties are concerned, we have to go a long way in that area.”

The elections held on February 18 have changed the political dynamics of this movement. Now, the lawyers will be dealing with the erstwhile opposition parties, who have earned majority in the assemblies and have decided to form a coalition government, to get their demand for the restoration of the judiciary fulfilled. The single largest political party, PPP, appears evasive on the question of the restoration of judiciary. The other prospective coalition partner, PML (N), has taken the other extreme position, that the judiciary should be restored and it should decide the fate of the president. With political parties failing to agree on this issue, the future of the lawyers’ movement seems to hang in balance. It remains to be seen whether the lawyers’ adopt the path of confrontation with the newly-elected government, which will also serve the purpose of those who would like to see this government weakened, or adopt another strategy to press for their demands.

Talking about the future of the lawyers’ movement Munir A Malik said, “The coming few months will be critical. Our movement was anti-establishment and for civilian supremacy. There has been a slight change, which is manifest in the recalling of serving officers working in civilian departments on deputation. However, we must not forget that we are fighting an entrenched system that is 60 years old. There are also foreign pressures, we cannot ignore the advice of our ‘friends’ abroad. The lawyers also do not want the system to collapse because that will be against the very objective that we have been advocating. We need to bring a change in the real power structure to empower the people.”

Post Benazir Bhutto – dark on your heels


Ishrat Saleem

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto has put a big question mark on the future of the country. Being leader of the largest political party of Pakistan that represents the left-of-centre political ideology, at least in theory, the person of Benazir Bhutto was one of the centres of gravity in a limited political spectrum of the country, which never grew beyond a few notable names and political organisations due to repeated military interventions. Among these political forces, a majority, at one time, was spawned by the establishment for its own parochial purposes and hardly meets the normative standards of the political leadership. Whoever has hit Benazir, has inadvertently rocked the very foundation of the body politic in this country. It will be after a great difficulty and long effort that the country would recover from the wound that has been inflicted on it. Or will the matters go worse?


With the country plunged in what could be described as civil war in two of its provinces and the extremist violence reminding us of its hideous presence every now and then through suicide bombings carried out every few days in one part of the country or the other, it was hoped that the elections would propel the political process and lead to a political solution of our problems, garner public support and generate consensus for the military action where it was essential. It is a foregone conclusion that the al Qaeda and Taliban extremists cannot be taken out without the use of force with a strong political behind this action. The extremists have gained such influence and outreach that they are almost confident of winning the war against the state of Pakistan. But, given the divisions in society, state agencies and political elite over this issue, it is not possible to launch an effective operation without building consensus. For its willingness to take on al Qaeda and Taliban operating from the Frontier province and its large public following, the PPP seemed a perfect candidate to do this job.

There are alarmist interpretations as well as uncertain analyses of the prospects of democracy in Pakistan when the fundamentalist extremist are hell-bent upon overthrowing the government through terrorism and force. A lot of questions are being raised about the ability of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), and by implication, the country, to survive this crisis. Is there any other force on the political scene, which would take up the gauntlet thrown by the extremists?

Having always been a loose organisation, its internal politics has revolved around personalities. It has maintained its dynastic character and more votes are cast in its favour in the name of Bhutto rather than its ideology and philosophy of governance. Benazir Bhutto was the ‘life-chairperson’ of the PPP, obliterating any prospects of democratic politics within the party. Likewise, the central, provincial and lower tier party leaders were nominated rather than elected. In the same manner, at the time of elections, party tickets were awarded to the close gamut of electables, which has always been very fluid except the top party leadership.

Despite these shortcomings, the PPP has a large following of staunch supporters, known as jayalas precisely because of this quality.

Regardless of the number of seats won by PPP, the total number of votes cast to it throughout the country has always remained somewhere around 25 percent of the net total. In a loose party structure, it is always a strong central leadership which acts as a binding force.

Benazir Bhutto remained the undisputed leader of the PPP for good 28 years after the execution of her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, at the hand of General Ziaul Haq, in 1979, despite her brother Mir Murtaza Bhutto. Although she had to wait for another eight year to come of age to be able contest for the slot of the prime minister, she ran party affairs with her mother as the ceremonial head of the party. Conforming to the tradition of dynastic politics, in her will, Benazir Bhutto nominated her husband Asif Ali Zardari as the chairperson of the party in the event of her death. In a wise move, keeping in view the sentiments of party supporters, who have deep affiliation with Bhuttos as their leaders, Zardari not only decided to make his 19-year old son, Bilawal, the chairperson of the party, he also announced that from now on, all his three children will add Bhutto to their names. Zaridari will look after party affairs till his son comes of age. The young scion has still 2-3 years to go to complete his education at Oxford and six years before he could run for elections. It will be 16 years before he would run for premiership. Although the Central Executive Committee of the PPP has unanimously endorsed the decision, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is still an unproven leader of a very big vote bank. He is still to get himself recognised as an independent political leader. In the meanwhile, Asif Ali Zardari, who is now the co-chairperson, will be the virtual leader of the PPP.

Riding on the wave of sympathy, the party may win majority in the upcoming election and form a government. However, how the party will conduct its affairs without a strong central leader for a long time to come, is a serious question.

Unfortunately, Asif Ali Zardari does not have spotless credentials. In the two stints of Benazir Bhutto in the office of the prime minister, Zardari was reported to have indulged in the most unscrupulous forms of financial corruption, which earned him the title of Mr. Ten Percent and corruption cases at home and several courts abroad. He remained incarcerated for 11 years, first during Nawaz Sharif’s rule, and later during the tenure of General (retired) Pervez Musharraf. The general not only continued to pursue the cases filed by the Nawaz government, he brought more cases against the couple through investigations by a special cell in the National Accountability Bureau, specially created for this purpose. With such a history, it would be a lot more easier for his opponents to discredit Asif Ali Zardari as the top leader of the party without Benazir at her aid. It is questionable whether Mr. Zardari possess the ability and political acumen to capitalise on the lady luck of mass support that smiles on the party fortunes due to the unfortunate death of its leader and strengthen party ranks. Once the wave of public sympathy subsides, Asif Ali Zardari may face serious challenges to his leadership from within and outside the party. In that event, the PPP will be practically paralysed to deal with the challenges confronting Pakistan. The PPP may form a majority government after the upcoming elections, it remains to be seen if it will be able to assume the political leadership of the country.

Political activist and Professor of Physics at the Quaid-e-Azam University, Dr. A. H. Nayyar commented, “Asif Ali Zardari will have to part from his legacy and show sagacity and poise if he wishes to win confidence of party leaders and the people and carve out a place for himself.”

Other than the PPP, no political party claims the same following among the masses nor leadership nor the ideology to assert that they can deal with the crises confronting Pakistan. President Musharraf’s handmaiden/protégé, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML) (Q), does not boast liberal credentials as is evident from the role it played in the Lal Masjid crisis. Comprising largely the remnants of the late General Ziaul Haq, important leaders within the party have deep sympathies with the jihadi elements. In riding on the coattails of President Musharraf, the PML (Q) leadership has been compelled to reiterate the “enlightened moderate” sentiments of fight against terrorism uttered by him on several occasions. But this has the potential to pit them against the extremists, who consider anyone who opposes them or does not support them, as their enemy.

There is leadership crisis across the political spectrum. Director Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and senior journalist, I. A. Rehman commented, “Leadership crisis is not confined to the PPP. Every party is a victim to this crisis. Military interventions has not allowed the political process to continue through which new leadership emerges and get polished.”

PML (N) is no different from PML (Q). It is clearly a right-of-centre party, which to date has failed to exhibit any trait of leadership that can understand the threat posed to the country and has the intelligence and ability to deal with it. With a trader class vote-bank, Mian Nawaz Sharif may not think it advisable to hurt the sensibilities his voters by taking a strident position against the jihadi extremists.

The only other party that has come out openly against the al Qaeda and the Taliban is Muttahidda Quomi Movement (MQM). However, MQM’s own credentials are questionable, because it has been operating as a mafia since its inception and only recently showed its armed muscle on May 12, when the Chief Justice went there to address the Sindh High Court Bar Association. Moreover, it is confined to urban Sindh and pursues parochial interests.

This leaves us with small nationalist parties which conduct their politics on ethnic grounds and lack a national base, and religio-political parties whose sympathies and role in training and promoting the jihadis are well known.

In these circumstances, the basic question boils down to the military supremacy over civilian discourse which has stultified the political process and landed us in the position we are in. We are in the grip of religious militancy which threatens to disintegrate the state and establish a Taliban-style regime. In the failure of the state to resolve this basic question, the issues of the development of the people have been completely sidelined. This winter, we are facing the worst-ever power crisis. The wheat is selling at exorbitant price, while the country which once used to export cotton, cannot meet the domestic need of its textile industry. But the logic of the circumstances is pointing towards the inevitable direction, where extremists will be on one side and the state and society on the other. As far as the emergence of genuine political leadership with the ability to take the nation forward is concerned, it seems that the people of this country may have to cool their heels for quite some time to come.

Nation turns the corner

Ishrat Saleem 

February 18 brought happy news to the nation. The reportedly immaculate rigging plan to give majority or at least plurality of seats to Pakistan Muslim League (Q) at the centre and a reasonable number of seats in the provinces could not be implemented for a number of reasons and the will of the people prevailed. Statements of political parties as well as several news reports suggest that the outgoing ruling party did its utmost to swing the election result in its favour. The list of complaints lodged with the Election Commission before elections numbers 2,166. With negligible interference in the polling process by interest groups on the election day at the national level, the pre-poll engineering could not bear fruit. Although Free and Fair Election Network, a coalition of 30 civil society organisations that monitored the election process, has stressed on the long-term electoral system reform, given the circumstances in which elections were held and our dismal electoral history, 2008 general election could be termed as credible and relatively fair. The results have taken the president and his allies by surprise, who were fully confident of winning. In the humiliating rout, majority of cabinet members and the president of the erstwhile ruling party were defeated in their respective constituencies. These are clear signs of the nation transforming the polity by sheer force of its will. Starting from March 9, incrementally, gradually, the regime has been brought to a juncture where it could no longer resist the ethical onslaught of the public as well as the political opposition. This is in line with the strategy proposed by the late Chairperson Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Benazir Bhutto, who is dearly remembered today. She believed in a peaceful democratic transition and did not opt for the path of confrontation with the incumbent regime. Her son Bilawal Bhutto, now PPP chairperson, vehemently reiterated her stance in his first press conference: “Democracy is the best revenge.” However, the role of the confrontationists (lawyers’ movement, All Parties Democratic Movement) cannot be underestimated in bringing about this transition, which has received the stamp of legitimacy by the people of this nation. This is the first time that the elections saw an issue-based vote. Throughout the struggle for democracy, the role of the public has been very significant. They have voted for the pro-federation, liberal forces in all the provinces and have eased concerns about the integrity of the state. The PPP and the PML (N), both moderate political parties, have received 88 and 66 seats respectively at the centre. Awami National Party (ANP) reclaimed the ground it lost to the Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) in 2002 and won plurality of votes in NWFP and 10 seats at the Centre. ANP by no means is a secessionist or isolationist party and favours the federation.  In Balochistan, due to boycott of the nationalist parties, PML (Q) and PPP have bagged the highest number of seats respectively. The religio-political MMA suffered a complete reversal of fate by winning only five seats from 65 seats in 2002 parliament. It would be wrong to attribute the vote of the people to the sympathy wave created after the death of Benazir Bhutto, as the apologists of the regime are trying to suggest. This is not the first time that the PPP has won majority in Sindh or, for that matter, in other provinces. Likewise, the result in Punjab clearly shows that it was pro-constitution vote in defiance to the ultra-constitutional forces, which went to PML (N) due to its clear stance on the issue of the restoration of judiciary, trounced on November 3 last year. People have rejected the electoral paradigm instituted by General Ziaul Haq in 1985 by giving development funds to members of legislatures. In an interview to a TV channel when Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain was asked why did he give so little time to election campaign in his constituency, he had replied that his party had done tremendous development work and the people will vote on the strength of that performance. However, they have demonstrated that they can distinguish between the politics of local bodies and national politics. These elections have resolved the pervasive crisis of legitimacy of governance that has marred democratic as well military dispensations since 1977. The regimes from 1985-2008 have lack genuine legitimacy and true conformity with the constitution. Speaking in purist terms, the government formed after 1985 was not a legitimate dispensation because the elections were held on non-party basis and the prime minister was later handpicked by the Zia regime. From 1988 to 1999, the patently democratic governments could, at best, be called quasi-democratic power sharing arrangement between the military and the elected representatives. Several key figures of that time have admitted to having been involved in intrigues and engineering of elections against a certain political party, in which the will of the people had little significance. The entire decade of 1990s is marked with infighting of the two major political parties who would go to any extent to down their rival to the benefit of the ubiquitous ‘establishment’, which fell the elected governments at its will, and the detriment of the political actors, which received the flak for decisions of behind-the-scenes actors. Neither the political leadership nor the system was at the level of maturity and patience where they could rise above their parochial interests and challenge the establishment. For the first time in 30 year are we going to have a government, which has the true mandate of the people. Arguably, relatively free and fair elections were in the institutional interest of the military, which had, of late, received quite some drubbing at the hands of the burgeoning civil society. The future scenario holds hope for the country. Burying all speculations of the parent party taking the PML (Q) in its fold to form the government, Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari made the announcement that they will join hands at the centre and the provinces to form government. Earlier, leaders of the PPP and ANP met and agreed upon making coalition at the centre and the NWFP. The joining together of the PPP and PML (N) has excluded the possibility of once again crafting an artificial alliance of disparate elements, which will start teetering at the slightest blow. The agreement of the two sides on issues of the restoration of judiciary, Charter of Democracy, provincial autonomy, revival of the 1973 constitution and extremism is a good omen. Individual statements by leaders of potential coalition partners are also sending out good signal. The other day Asif Ali Zardari expressed his wish for improved relations with India. The new government will assume the reins of power at a time when the economy of the country is in doldrums due to the ill-advised policies of the outgoing government. Rising inflation and energy crisis have falsified tall claims of economic growth. Although the services sector, particularly IT and telecommunications, have expanded, there has hardly been any investment in infrastructure, except in Punjab. The development of Gwadar does not promise to offer the promised benefits due to the explosive nature of the nationalist politics and the refusal to pay heed to the aspirations of the masses in the area. The autonomy of smaller provinces in the federation is another big issue on the plate of the new government. As a sign of hope, Asif Ali Zardari has said that his party is ready to take the militants in Balochistan on board. ANP has also made its demands regarding provincial autonomy known in which the issue of changing the name of the province tops the list. The new government will have to wait for a year for this change to take effect due to opposition majority in Senate. Meanwhile, it would be best to prepare the ground and build consensus. Moreover, the ANP will have to deal with more thorny issues once this matter is resolved. The other most crucial issue is the war on terror and rise of extremism in the country. A legitimate government with a public mandate will be in a far better position to build consensus on the option of military action if it is the only option left with the government to root out terrorism. The immediate issue that swung the elections in PML (N)’s favour is the restoration of judiciary. It may be argued that Nawaz Sharif’s insistence on the restoration of the pre-November 3 judiciary has more to do with the removal of President General (retd.) Pervez Musharraf than his commitment to principles. Impeachment of the president requires two third majority which cannot be achieved unless the government has two-third majority in both houses of parliament. With Senate still dominated with Musharraf allies, it will not be possible for the new government to make such a move successful. The other possibility is restoring the 60 odd judges who will then take care of Musharraf’s fate when the law takes its course.