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

 

 

 

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.”

Pakistan: women in parliament

Ishrat Saleem

 The 2002 parliament was a revolutionary in terms of the presence of women in the legislature. There were a total of 73 women in the National Assembly, out of which 60 came on women’s reserved seats, 12 were directly elected on general seats, while one woman was returned on minorities’ seats. Nearly 17 percent seats were reserved for women in Senate as well as provincial assemblies. This time the situation is even more encouraging. Fifteen women have won election on general seats this time. The Election Commission will shortly announce decision on the 60 reserved seats on the basis of the seats won by each party in the National Assembly. Political parties have already submitted the list of their nominations on women’s seats in order of priority. Several women who won elections on general seat were contacted to get their views on the changing pattern of women’s participation in elections and its prospects.

Although there is a section of opinion which argues that women who are not elected directly from constituencies by the people have only a cosmetic presence and are incapable of playing any significant role in the legislative process or for the rights of women. There is truth in this assertion, as is testified by a member of the National Assembly who was elected on a reserved seat in 2002, but the counter-argument is that in a highly conservative society where social dictates tend to confine women’s role in the house only, it is through measures like this that they will be encouraged to participate in political decision-making. This is precisely what Tehmina Daultan argued.

She said that the presence of a large number of women in the National Assembly on reserved seats is a very positive development. “I personally feel it has encouraged many women to contest elections on general seats.” Tehmina Daultana, one of the six vice-presidents of PML (N), was first elected to the National Assembly in 1993 from NA 169, Vehari-III, and became one of the four women, including Benazir and Nusrat Bhutto, in the National Assembly. She won this seat again in 1997 elections, which returned six women to the National Assembly. Tehmina feels that it is important that women get representation because laws are made for all citizens, of which 50 percent are women. But she felt that if a woman wants to join politics, she had to work doubly hard. She has to run her house as well as negotiate her way in a male-dominated power structure and prove her worth. She too believed women’s participation in politics was curtailed by their economic dependence. Politics is a full time job and also requires an election hopeful to be economically sound.

Samina Khalid Ghurki, who has been elected on NA 130, was of the view that contesting on a general seat is really tough. “In addition to the support of the party, women need support from the entire family, which has to work as a team. Then there is the issue of expenditure. Contesting an election in this country costs a lot of money. Reserving seats for women helps to overcome these hurdles and bring those women to the legislature, who have been affiliated with the party but do not have the wherewithal to contest elections.” Samina defeated another woman candidate Sadia Shabir who was contesting on the ticket of PML (N).

Samina Khalid Ghurki is correct to note that without family support women cannot run their election campaign. In reality, several women got a chance to enter politics when their male relatives were barred from running for election due to graduation condition. Samina herself was propelled into politics due to this very reason, because her husband did not meet this condition. Likewise, Hina Rabbani Khar was fielded as a candidate when her father Noor Rabbani Khar, an influential of the area and previous MNA, could not stand due to graduation condition. Saima Akhtar Bharwana is another example, who was fielded on a general seat when her father, Akhtar Bharwana, could not fulfill the graduation condition. In most areas, women’s campaign was run by their party and male family members. Even the election posters did not carry the pictures of the candidate herself but that of the father or husband.

Fauzia Wahab, Central Coordinator of PPP’s Human Rights Cell, emphasised that most women elected on direct elections are not career politicians and are young and inexperienced. Fauzia is a candidate of PPP on women’s reserved seats and was also elected an MNA in 2002. In fact, one news report in a national daily carried a headline, “Public-shy women win Toba bout”.

The report said Begum Farkhanda Amjad Warraich of PML-Q, running for NA-92, Gojra, and Begum Nazia Raheel of PML-N from PP-88, Kamalia, never joined the election campaign. However, we must not ignore the large number of women who may not have won, but stood for elections. This time, 64 women contested for the National Assembly, 33 as independent candidates, while a total of 116 women stood for the four provincial assemblies, with an overwhelming majority (81) as independent candidates. This is certainly an indicator, as Tehmina Daultana suggested, that many women have been encouraged to enter this profession as career politicians.

Fauzia Wahab pointed out several other positive aspects of women’s large presence in decision-making bodies. She said that this has helped bring women into mainstream politics. “They got important positions within the party. For instance, three women are serving as information secretaries in the PPP, one federal and two provincial.” In Fauzia’s view, the large public presence of women had helped in bringing down instances of women-specific crimes and improved their profile as capable of serious jobs. For the first time, a woman was appointed as Governor of State Bank of Pakistan on merit. “This was the imperceptible impact of women’s presence in the legislature and not due to any action taken in this regard.” Fauzia feels the most important task before the new government regarding the rights of women is their economic empowerment. “We want to enhance the quota of women in both public and private sector upto 20 percent. After the establishment of First Women Bank in 1988, many women have become successful entrepreneurs. More women need to be encouraged to become economically independent.”

Most women legislators elected on general seats feel they represent both men and women. Tehmina Daultana said her focus is not gender-specific. She would fight for the rights of the disempowered, both men and women. However, being a woman she is more accessible to women, who come to her office without hesitation and share all kinds of problem. “If there is some issue concerning a woman, I feel it more acutely and have always taken a firm stand,” she said. “But men don’t feel uncomfortable either in interacting with me because as an elected representative, one tends to lose one’s gender and is looked upon as a person.”

When Samina Ghurki was asked if women in parliament should work across party lines to work for the cause of women, she said that earlier her party was in opposition and its efforts to introduce women-specific legislation did not meet success. However, the PPP supported the passage of Women’s Protection Act 2007, which was introduced by the ruling party. “The new government will be a broad-based coalition and women will have the opportunity to work across party lines on the many issues concerning them. In some areas, women have not been allowed to vote, at others they are the victims of various customs. Our party will support legislation for improving the status of women.”

On the issue of reserved seats for women, Dr. Firdaus Ashiq Awan gave an interesting perspective, which testified to the problems indirectly elected women face. Dr. Firdaus was elected on a reserved seat in 2002 on the nomination of PML (Q). She said that the party did not give them a political identity. Indirectly elected women are expected to be grateful to party officials who nominated them. Bureaucrats’ attitude is also very discouraging. She said, “My proposals for the development of my area could not materialise because the party leadership listened to the directly-elected MNA and MPAs of my areas.” She said that she faced the tough decision of choosing between the label of an MNA and real power through the people’s vote. “This prompted me to join the PPP to be able to fulfill my agenda. I faced great difficulties, but in the end I was successful due to the people’s support.” Dr. Firdaus won election from NA 111 Bajwat-Sialkot, beating the outgoing speaker National Assembly, Chaudhry Amir Hussain.

Her top priorities are protection of working women from harassment at workplace; ensuring that women get their due share in property with dignity; career counselling and employment generation for youth and safe delivery and ante- and post-natal care for every woman. Asked if women legislator can work to develop a women’s caucus in the assembly, she said: “This is a good idea. But at the moment women legislator are not confident of their political standing and identity and cannot act independently. They are beholden to the male members of their respective parties. Hopefully, they will gain confidence with time and we see this idea materialising.” Fauzia Wahab agrees to this view that the idea of a women’s caucus is premature at the moment.

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?

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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.