Thursday, 29 November 2007

On Musharraf's Resignation

Musharraf, as expected, and about 5 years too late, resigned from his post of Chief of Army Staff. W.H. Auden expressed it so much better than I:

Epitaph on a Tyrant

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

January 1939


You may have noticed a decline in my posting over the last week or so. I am currently rather busy both at work and at home which is why I haven't had the time to devote much attention to the news or my blog. Hopefully things will get back on track in another week or so.

In the meantime, if you want to see what kind of propaganda the supporters of our current regime puts out, have a look at this. Basically, it insists that America and India are involved in a joint plot to destroy the Pakistani military. Complicit in this plot are NGOs, liberals, lawyers, politicians, Afghans, the media and academics. I've heard these kinds of arguments countless times in the past couple of months, though not as sophisticated in their presentation as this article.

There's nothing new about these kinds of conspiracy theories. Anyone who is critical of the government has abuse and muck slung at him/her and is accused of being a foreign agent. Women seem to come in for particularly vehement mud-slinging. So Asma Jehangir, the human rights lawyer is said to be a mercenary in foreign pay, Mukhtaran Mai, the woman who was gang-raped by order of a tribal Jirga, is a pawn in the hands of foreigners, and Dr. Shazia Khalid, who was raped by an army captain in Baluchistan, was a liar who was trying to ignite ethnic violence. Rape victims who speak out are seen as unpatriotic troublemakers who are trying to "ruin the image" of the country. Hence, Musharraf's remark that Pakistani women want to be raped so that they can get a Canadian passport.

Now lest we take Musharraf to be an unusually bigoted and patriarchal Islamist, lets remember that he is an "enlightened moderate". Its not Islamic patriarchy that informs his ideas, its plain old nationalist, militarist elitistism - attitudes that are commonly found amongst the secular, rich, western-educated elite, whether male or female. Fascism, after all, is as misogynistic an ideology as they come. Thus a female acquaintance of mine, both an artist and university teacher, and a former resident of New York, was quiet ready to agree with General Musharraf's assessment of why women get themselves raped. For the elite that runs the country, these news items of violent gang-rape and tribal jirgas are far removed from their lives in air-conditioned boardrooms and drawing-rooms and are a cause of minor embarrassment when they hob-nob with their foreign and expatriate friends at cocktail parties. These women should just shut up, they insist, instead of giving the country a bad name.

Contrast this attitude with that of the good folks at the Lal Masjid. One of their most strident and vocal demands, was the demand for justice for rape victims - a call that resonated with many of the poor, who know they can get no recourse from a police and legal system that provides justice primarily to those who are able to grease its wheels with a little money. To these people it is starkly evident that the state will not provide them with any recourse to justice or protection. Of course the Lal Masjid prescription for improving things is flawed in the extreme. But at least they saw that the problem existed. For Musharraf, and much of the rest of the country's ruling elite, the only problem is one of "fixing" the country's "image". Secure in the knowledge that they have the connections and cash to secure justice for themselves, they fail to understand, or if they do understand, fail to care, that things are not so rosy for others.

Why does the media insist, they ask, on reporting these sordid tales of the goings-on in far-flung areas of the country? Why doesn't it focus on the positives of the country? The wonderful investment opportunities a country like Pakistan possesses? The tax-breaks on offer, the burgeoning stock market, the labour wages so low, they are practically free? Here is money for the making.

That's the true Pakistan, isn't it?

Isn't it?

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Journalists' Arrests: An Inside Account

There is an account of the demonstration and arrests of a group of journalists in Karachi on 20th December here at Red Diary. Here is an excerpt:
There were 27 of us in this van — seven women and 20 men. And boy did we raise hell!!! The van took us on a tour of the entire city, and we kept naarafying all the way. Passersby stopped to gape at us and then joined in the naareybaazi. In short, we conducted a State-sponsored anti-Musharraf rally. AHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!! Yes, I can’t get over this — this IS funny!!! They took us to the Boat Basin police station, only to realise that it was full. Ditto for Gizri and Darakhshan. They were then told to take us to the Docks police station, but the driver did not know the way (YUP!!! :-D). He took us to the Jackson police station instead, where his bum was kicked, and the correct raasta explained to him by officials concerned. LOL! All this while, we weren’t making life easier for him by continuously naarafying, jeering and heckling. Yes we’re mean.

It is in turns an outrageous, funny and even uplifting account. Have a read.

On Nawaz's Return

I was gearing up for a lengthy post on the much-touted return of Nawaz Sharrif, only to find that the 'Old China Hand' at China Matters has already done a great job in sizing up the situation. I recommend you go read his blog post. In the meantime, I'll go have a cup of tea.

(Source: Teeth Maestro)

Thursday, 22 November 2007

The Pot Calls the Kettle White...

"US President George W Bush said on Tuesday that President General Pervez Musharraf was a man of his word and truly believed in democracy." Thanks for that endorsement. Now I can sit back and relax. Its okay - Bush has reassured me about Musharraf's intentions and we know that Bush never lies.

"President General Pervez Musharraf on Wednesday introduced a set of seven constitutional amendments to give legal cover to his act of holding the constitution in abeyance, imposing emergency rule and issuing the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) on November 3." By now the constitution has been given so many face lifts in the space of a few years that, much like Michael Jackson's nose, it is now little but the fragile, crumbling structure perched atop an emaciated edifice no one believes in anymore. Why not dump it altogether?

In an article that claims that the opposition is falling into Musharraf's trap by taking part in upcoming elections, the News also gives "Full marks to our independent chief election commissioner, who in order to facilitate the government agenda [extended the deadline for Presidential candidates] to withdraw candidature but only few days to file the nomination papers" for parliamentary elections. Its great having an independent chief election commissioner.

Meanwhile speculation is rife that Musharraf's recent trip to Saudi Arabia was to discuss the rehabilitation of that other dinosaur of the previous decade's corrupt politics, Nawaz Sharif. Opinions seem to differ over whether or not Musharraf has consented to Nawaz's return, or whether negotiations are ongoing. However, Nawaz Sharif has announced he will soon be returning to Pakistan... again.

Its hardly worth mentioning that the newly assembled Supreme Court has now dismissed the final petition against Musharraf's candidature as President. I wonder if the CJ felt even a little sheepish at parroting the words dismissing the case before a world that knew they had been scripted in the Presidential house? Disgusting.

And as this article notes that while some media channels were shut down, "some private Pakistani news channels, including a channel owned by one of Musharraf's new ministers and another owned by his son's father-in-law, have been allowed back on the air during the emergency". Coincidence? No.

An article in the Daily Times, citing analysts at the London-based think tank, Chatam House observes that "Fragmented, outflanked by young militants and politically compromised, Pakistan’s mainstream Islamist leaders have only a side role to play in the crisis engulfing the country, analysts say." It goes on to predict a poor showing for the Islamists in upcoming elections. Now, my first observation on this article is that it is belaboring the obvious. The second is that it fails to draw the proper conclusion. The mullah establishment is deeply connected to the military establishment and depends upon it for its sustenance. Musharraf's government was promoting the mullahs to gain control of the provincial legislatures in Baluchistan and NWFP and for several years continued, foolishly, to believe that the mullahs would allow them to keep a handle on the militants - something they spectacularly failed to do. Once the sponsorship of the military is gone, they will subside to their rightful place on the fringes of Pakistani politics.

Perhaps I should say 'If the sponsorship of the military is gone'...

There has been much talk of a proposal floating around in America to arm the tribes of the NWFP against the Taliban. As this blogger notes, while discussing the plan, the idea is rubbish.
But the news also seems to be floating around that the U.S. will put in $350 million in training and rearm the Frontier Constubulary (FC) for a renewed campaign in Waziristan. It would seem as if this money is necessary because the previous $10 billion the U.S. government has provided Pakistan has gone against more immediate priorities in the war on terror, such as the threat of Al-Qaeda submarines attacking our ships, Al-Qaeda bombers bombing our cities, Al-Qaeda jamming our radar, Al-Qaeda stealing our nukes, and the lack of Barbecue restaurants in Islamabad. On a more serious note, training and arming the FC is a much better idea than training and arming the tribes. The FC is more likely to listen to the government about who to use their new weapons upon, and as the current heavy fighting between tribes from different sectarian groups in Parachinar the last few days shows, more weapons is not what they need at the moment. The country is still plagued by the effects of the last time the Tribes were armed and trained against the communists. I think we have learned our lesson on that issue by now.

The Moral High Ground

Talk about having the moral high ground...

Monday, 19 November 2007

Bibi, Kayani, Sharif, Mush and Bush: Round and Round They Go...

Over the weekend the recently engineered deal between Musharraf and Bhutto seemed to fall apart - apparently because Bhutto had taken to gleeful grandstanding while the anti-Emergency agitation was at its peak. Musharraf, a man with a legendary stubborn streak that does not respond well to pressure tactics, shoved right back. The deal brokered by the United States in an attempt to engineer a political solution to Musharraf's domestic woes and counter internal criticism that the Bush government was pandering to dictators while touting its "freedom agenda" elsewhere in the Muslim world was apparently under threat of collapsing altogether.

But it was essential to cobble some kind of deal together. Hence, the following sequence of events...

13th Nov: General Kayani's name starts being dropped in the American press as "a man widely admired within the Pakistani military and by members of Pakistani civil society." I'm not certain which members of Pakistani civil society they are talking about.

14th Nov: An article in the NYT, citing unnamed administration officials, says that the United States is looking at other options in Pakistan. The article not so casually name drops General Kayani.

14th Nov (Night-time) : Musharraf immediately amends the PCO to remove the power to lift the Emergency from the post of Military chief to that of President. It looks like transferring power from himself to himself. But it highlights and suggests a fear of the next Military Chief (Kayani) when he himself retires and becomes a civilian President.

15th Nov: State Department says that Negroponte will be going to Pakistan to "get Pakistan back on the road to constitutional democratic rule."

15th Nov (Night-time): The detention order for house-arrest of Benazir Bhutto is lifted hours before Negroponte arrives.

15th Nov: Analysts debate whether the United States is actually switching to support Kayani, or whether these leaks are orchestrated by the anti-Musharaf group in the Republican administration that has formed around Zalmay Khalizdad, trying to build pressure on the Bush administration to stop supporting Musharraf and switch to another power configuration in Pakistan.

16th Nov: Negroponte arrives in Pakistan for talks. He shuttles between various officials, meeting Musharraf and Kayani (twice) and talks to Benazir Bhutto as well.

16th Nov (Night-time): Nawaz Sharif calls on BB to "clarify her position" with regards to talks with Musharraf.

17th Nov: After a meeting with Negroponte, Musharraf agrees that all parties will be able to take part in elections, but that the Emergency will have to stay for the time being. Afterwards he flies to Karachi. Rumours of a prospective meeting between BB and Negroponte are dashed when BB also leaves for Karachi. Negroponte ignores a request for a meeting with lawyers.

17th or 18th Nov: Musharraf meets Benazir on Saturday night or Sunday.

18th Nov: Negroponte issues a statement from Pakistan calling for: elections, removal of uniform, release of political detainees and lifting of curbs on the media. No mention of the judiciary. In a pointed remark to BB, he calls for an end to political 'brinkmanship'.

18th Nov: Benazir gives an interview to CNN where she softens her stance and states that Musharraf is an honest man, and that she is 'waiting for' Musharraf to respond to Negroponte's message from Washington. She also says she was 'satisfied' by the U.S.'s message to Musharraf.

18th Nov: After the announcement that Musharraf intends to visit Saudi Arabia, speculation is rife that Nawaz Sharif may finally be willing to meet with Musharraf, something he apparently has refused to do previously.

19th Nov: In an article in the LA Times that boldly states that Musharraf resisted U.S. calls to end the Emergency is buried this little statement: "U.S. officials in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity out of deference to Negroponte's diplomatic efforts, said that although Musharraf didn't make any commitments Saturday, they believed he might in time yield."

19th Nov: Supreme Court kicks out 5 of 6 challenges to Musharraf's election as President. The case filed by the PPP leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim is withdrawn voluntarily, underlining the de-escalation in the war of words between Bhutto and Musharraf.

And so the road to Musharraf's assuming the Presidency, removing his uniform, and reforming some kind of modus operandi with the PPP has been cleared, thanks to the efforts of the United States. What's interesting is that in an interview with a reporter for the Sunday Times, Musharraf's Attorney General had also threatened to revoke the NRO that granted Bhutto immunity from corruption charges. This was, obviously, reported on Sunday (18th Nov) but the article doesn't specify when in the previous week he made this threat. I'm guessing around the 15th, when BB was still in captivity.

Whats interesting is that in the same article, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain claims that the immunity for Bhutto is a ploy to divide the opposition. I reckon the PML(Q) will continue to campaign on an anti-Bhutto agenda, presenting her as a depraved, corrupt agent of America (not far wrong), out to destroy Islam and Pakistan, with the only hope being the PML(Q). Having said that, if Nawaz were to return, that would be a serious blow to the PML(Q). Much of Punjab is united in its dislike of Bhutto, but in a fair fight, the PML(N) may still give Q a run for its money.

Our Great Military Victories

Looking through bits and pieces that I wrote over the last few months, but never went on to complete and post, I came across this unfinished piece about the Musharraf government's capitulations to militants and the largest loss of sovereign Pakistani soil after the loss of East Pakistan in 1971. The article remains unfinished, and perhaps in some ways, now outdated, but I'm posting it up anyway since very few people in Pakistan seem to know about or even acknowledge the carving out of an independent state in our northern areas.

As a soldier, Musharraf supposedly had an outstanding record. Unfortunately as a commander, his record seems to be rather woeful. Apart from the Kargil fiasco, which was a neatly planned tactical exercise, but dangerously foolish strategic blunder that ended in defeat on the battlefield, two separate campaigns in Waziristan have met ignominious ends, and Swat has been a source of severe embarrassment. Lets hope the current army "operation" there has better results. Initial reports from the military sound a positive tone, though I'm highly suspicious of these body counts of air strikes and artillery barrages. How can the army be sure of how many people they are killing, and, more importantly, whether they actually are militants or simply local civillians caught in the crossfire?

I suppose I am ranging far from the purported topic of this post, but I do want to add a little note about the Kargil war. I have heard some people defend the little adventure by stating that the war caused far more Indian casualties than it did Pakistani, that it "jolted" the Indians by showing them that the Pakistani army were still a force to be reckoned with, that it "internationalized the Kashmir issue" (whatever that means) and that it helped "bleed" the Indian army and economy.

These arguments remind me of the English generals of the First World War who defended the Battle of the Somme as a great victory for the British against the Germans, worth the cost of lives lost. The brainchild of the plan, General Haig threw wave after wave of British and French troops against the German trenches at the Somme. After four and a half months, a strip of land 25 km long and 6 km wide had been taken. There were 420,000 British casualties, 200,000 French casualties and 500,000 German casualties. The good General argued that he had won a great victory because he had "bled" the German army, diverted their attention from other fronts, and put them on the defensive. The public and media were appalled because they had been led to believe the promised "great victory" would result in something quiet different. The question some historians ask, is whether the political leaders of Europe would have been more willing to open negotiations if they had not kept being reassured of the coming "great victories" by their military generals.

The repeated attempts at an 'all-or-nothing' military solution to political problems have parallels with the clumsy attempts at directing Pakistan's foreign policy by the military. Perhaps most telling was how Kargill slammed the door shut on the negotiations over Kashmir that had been ongoing at the time between the Vajpayee and Sharif governments. These talks were based around the so-called Livingston Plan through which "a portion of the former princely State of Jammu and Kashmir should be reconstituted as a sovereign entity (but one without an international personality) enjoying free access to and from both India and Pakistan". This was the closest that India ever came in its history to a settlement of the Kashmir issue. According to the analyst, Hassan Abbas, these negotiations had started in March, 1999, and after being briefed about them, Musharraf had called them a good starting point. In May, the Kargil operation was launched, torpedoing the negotiations and till this day, shutting the door on any further negotiations on Kashmir by the Indians.

Truly a great military victory.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Tragedy in Bangladesh

I've been spending all the time I can spare from my work to read/blog/debate about the political situation in Pakistan, so I haven't had the time to blog about any of the various other matters happening around the globe that have caught my attention.

These are many and varied, from the apparent down-turn in violence in Iraq, the upcoming elections in the United States, the situation Afghanistan etc., none of which I have time for at the moment. But I do want to share some thoughts about the current tragedy in Bangladesh, which has been hit by Cyclone Sidr, the worst storm to hit the country for decades, according to the BBC.

I've been following reports mostly from The 3rd World View blog, which has constant updates, a variety of sources of information and links to numerous other blogs and websites covering the situation in Bangladesh. The confirmed death toll has crossed 2,000, and according to reports, will probably cross 5,000 as contact with remote villages is re-established. The devastation to livestock, homes and crops is enormous.

The last major cyclone of this type to hit Bangladesh claimed more than 140,000 lives in 1991. In 1970, when Bangladesh was still East Pakistan, a similar storm killed an estimated
500,000 people. The significantly lower casualties this time round have been attributed to the effectiveness of a Cyclone Preparedness Program (CPP) funded by the International Federation of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) bulletin which incorporates the services of over 34,000 BDRCS volunteers, reaching approximately 1.1 million people. In effect NGOs had created a grassroots, low-cost early warning network that could alert people to the coming danger of the cyclone in advance, so that they could get to shelter.

Still the scale of the devastation means that those who survived are still at risk. The devastating 1970 cyclone was followed by the dislocation of a large number of rural poor, which combined with other factors to produce a famine in 1974. The 3rd World Blog also lists ways in which people living abroad might be able to help.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Fighting Terrorism, Part III

The Musharraf regime continues its outstanding efforts in the war on terror. Imran Khan, who on his arrival at Punjab University was assaulted by Islamist thugs and handed over to the police has been charged with terror offenses. Here is a BBC report showing him committing acts of terror in Pakistan:

To top it off, a small PTI protest later that evening was attacked by a heavy police contingent who also proceeded to manhandle and arrest Imran Khan's sisters.

Meanwhile, we hear that the head of the TNSM is now out of the lockup and has been brought to Peshawar where he has been installed in the private ward of a hospital, apparently as part of continuing negotiations with the Taliban militants in Swat, who are led by his son-in-law. Here is an excerpt from a recent report in the media about the doings if this fine bunch:
Supporters of Maulana Fazlullah responded by beheading three paramilitary soldiers and a police officer and displayed their heads in a village near the town of Swat, according to a provincial official.

The pattern is clear: Show up at a university to speak to students and you are a terrorist , whose family members will be beaten up and arrested. Behead people and stick their heads up on poles and your murderous relatives are lavished with extra care and affection and released from incarceration. This is our government's keen-eyed strategy to win the war on terror.

Meanwhile, Musharraf continues to fool credulous sections of the foreign press. I watched a truly idiotic report on CNN yesterday which was entitled something like 'Extremist Opposition Gaining Ground' or the like (I tried to find it on but couldn't. If anyone does, please send me the link!). It seems as if Maulana Fazlur Rehman, stung by the criticism of his fawning relationship with the dictator decided that it was time to hold his own protest on Friday in Islamabad. The CNN reporter reported breathlessly on the 'anger' of the extremists against Musharraf and his policies. She also noted the heavy police presence, but observed that they watched the protest until it came to an end and dispersed peacefully.

So Fazlur Rehman, whose Islamist JUI-F has been working hand in glove with the military for the past three decades gets to have an undisturbed "anti-Musharraf rally" in front of the foreign press corps, thereby highlighting the 'dangerous' threat of Islamists to the country.

Meanwhile this is what happens if you are a bunch of school kids protesting against the Emergency (compiled from phone camera footage):

As Teeth Maestro blogs about the protest here, the students protest silently and do not disrupt traffic. When the police arrive and tell them to stop and wait for the Magistrate, they do so. When the magistrate arrives and tells them to go back the way they came, they agree with a naive "yes uncle". When the police block off the road and order them to move off to an embankment, they do so. They are then surrounded by police in riot gear and dragged off to prison. The youngest child arrested was apparently 12. They were eventually released without charge after the intercession of various NGOs etc.

Obviously peaceful school kids are a much more significant terrorist threat than the group who created the Taliban, even when (especially when?) the international media is not present.

So while much of the media outside Pakistan is wringing its hands over whether supporting democracy in Pakistan will strengthen the extremists, its worth asking, as one blogger at All Things Pakistan does, 'who is protesting and who is not'?

More Updates

Friday saw a second day of protests at Punjab University, once again targeting the IJT and the JI as much as the government. There is some video of the demo here.

Jailed lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan has become something of a national hero, and perhaps being the only PPP figure who could gain support from a public thoroughly disenchanted by Bhutto, has been conveniently forgotten by her ever since he was thrown into jail on there first day of the Emergency. There is a good article about him here.

The PML-Q has once again restarted the dirty electioneering tricks pioneered by the military intelligence in the 1990 elections. Then, as now, the military had cobbled together a coalition of parties - the IJI, with the now out-of-favour Nawaz Sharif at the head. In 1990 they had printed a fake letter said to be from Benazir Bhutto to an American diplomat, asking for help in destabilizing Pakistan and having the Indian army attack Pakistan. The same letter has now once again found its way into newspapers in Punjab. By the way, this wasn't the lowest the military went in the elections. There was the case of posters of a naked woman, with BB's face pasted on, which were distributed as "evidence" of her depravity. Such are the ways of our "enlightened" democratic military.

Speaking of BB, her niece, Fatima Bhutto has penned a withering condemnation of her in an article in the LA Times which is almost as good as the one Jemima Khan had written in the Telegraph a couple of weeks ago. Its worth a read.

There is a fine article entitled the 'Not Yet Nation' on Chapati Mystery which thoroughly skewers this disgusting notion that Pakistan is 'not yet' ready for democracy. I hold no illusions that democracy is instantly going to make things better in Pakistan, but I also don't see any other way to move Pakistan out of this morass it seems to find itself perpetually stuck in.

Throughout the last week it was obvious that BB and Musharraf were still engaged in their courting dance for forming the next government. On Saturday Musharraf held a meeting with his Corps Commanders in Islamabad to discuss the political situation. The next day came the combative news conferences that signaled a break between BB and Musharraf. So what happened in that meeting? The best source for the goings on in Pakistani military circles is, as always, Indian Intelligence agencies. Here is an account of the meeting. What is most interesting is that those who wanted to scupper the deal played on Musharraf's strong sense of loyalty (the PML-Q has always stood by you and now you are abandoning them) and sense of betrayal (the U.S. is betraying you, BB is betraying you). This squares with accounts of Musharraf's personality by those who have worked closely with him: an upright, honest but generally dimwitted man who places the highest value on personal loyalty in his political and personal relationships.

Speaking of personal loyalty, the caretaker cabinet was sworn in yesterday. Despite Musharraf's promise of having a neutral caretaker government, the ministers are mostly either PML-Q members, or were advisers to the previous government. No signs of reconciliation here.

The Pakistani government has also pressured the UAE government to shut down Geo TV's news channels. Its particularly sad because Geo TV was essentially the first independent news source in the electronic media in Pakistan, and it was definitely the largest and most highly regarded. Apparently ARY news has also been taken off the air by the authorities in Dubai.

There was an interesting article in this month's 'Herald' magazine about the role of the media in Pakistani politics. Unfortunately, the Herald is not online, so I can't link to the article, but here is a key quote:
If one were to sketch profiles of political parties based on recent media exposure, chances are the images thus formed will be fairly accurate depictions. Willy-nilly, the media has revealed the true traits of each party and its leadership. Today, voters - television viewers in particular - are taking stock of political parties, not through analyses and discussions in the media but rather through the sum total of images, body language and messages communicated.

I couldn't agree with the author more. As never before, one gets a real sense of who these people are and what they stand for - the controlled feeding of carefully tailored and crafted media personas that occurs in American politics has not taken root here yet. And the absurd attempts at blatant propaganda on the state run PTV has been failing to influence anyone since the late eighties. A stronger case for an independent media cannot be made than this.

Friday, 16 November 2007

On Musharraf and Imran

Ayaz Aamir writes in Dawn:
“Have you thought of (resigning)?” asks Sky News. The answer: “But should it be given up now and we will have better Pakistan, a stabler Pakistan and we could have very good elections, without me? Very good, maybe I take that decision, OK?” (No kidding, the very words.)

As the BBC Urdu Service’s Mohammad Hanif observes (in his hilarious “The case of Musharraf and the drunk uncle”), “Musharraf deserves our sympathy. Not because he has been forced to carry out a coup against his own regime, not because his troops are being kidnapped en masse by Pakistani Taliban and then awarded Rs500 for good behaviour, not because he himself has become a prisoner in his Army House and can’t even nip out for coffee and paan as he used to, but because he has utterly lost his grip over grammar.”

A hilarious article. He goes on to write about the IJT's handing Imran Khan over to the police:

If May 12 exposed the true face of the MQM, Nov 14 has revealed the ugly face of the Jamiat and the Jamaat. Qazi Hussein Ahmed’s populist posturing had led many simpleminded souls to believe that the Jamaat had changed its spots. The incident with Imran dispels such illusions.

There seems to be a lot of anger about the IJT's betrayal of Imran Khan. There was a major demonstration against the IJT at Punjab University, with many members resigning and some pretty fiery speeches. This is a major step because the IJT has come to dominate many government university campuses, particularly in the Punjab, usually with the connivance of the administration. Several of Punjab University's top administrative officials are former IJT members.

Hamid Gul Released

A view commonly heard over the last few days has been the assertion that the imposition of the Emergency will finally allow the government to move aggressively not just against the militants in Swat, but also against those supporters of the militancy within Islamabad. The arrest of former ISI chief and outspoken demagogue, Hamid Gul was presented as proof of the government's seriousness in pursuing this course.

I recall replying to one friend who had expressed such sentiments that placing these people under house arrest is no proof of a commitment to take on the extremists and that we have to wait to see whether they are actually prosecuted or simply released again as so often happens. It turns out I called it correctly, as Hamid Gul has been released, reportedly by order of Saudi Arabia.

I am unsurprised.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

On the Media, the Coming Elections and the Economy

Musharraf has launched his media blitz, giving interviews to newspapers and news channels from around the world. In an interview with Sky TV yesterday, he insisted that he is actually a democrat and that his rule is democratic (!!!) and is committed to holding elections. When asked how these elections can be considered fair when all the opposition party leadership is in jail or under house arrest, he insisted that this presented no problem:

AC: But all your main opponents are either locked up or under house arrest. Can't you see how the West finds that difficult to square?

PM: No they are not locked up?

AC: or under house arrest?

PM: The main political parties, the leader, you see them on the TV, the main leader you can see on the television.

AC: They're still locked up. I did see Imran Khan, I did see the head of the Jamaat-e-Islami but they're both under house arrest or on the run. Even Benazir Bhutto is now locked up in her house?

PM: Yes, but what do you expect?

AC: how can that be free and fair, Sir?

PM: You should get to the root of the problem...

Uh... well, perhaps it belatedly occurred to someone that in fact you couldn't see the opposition leaders on TV because of the media ban. Today it seems as if Aaj TV, Dawn News, CNN and BBC have all come back on air. Geo is still banned it would seem. CNN and BBC had returned briefly on Sunday when they aired Musharraf's press conference live, but of course were duly taken off air again when Benazir held a press conference later that evening. Lets see how long they stay on air this time.

So now that we have, more or less, access to the media again, what do we see? Well, first of all there is Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, the Chief Minister of Punjab holding an election rally. Hmm... doesn't seem unusual, except... wait! Didn't the very same Chaudhry Pervez Elahi warn of "specific information" that suicide bombers had entered Lahore and that it wasn't safe for the PPP to hold a rally? The same Chaudhry Pervez Elahi who when asked why he felt so secure in holding rallies, while at the same time citing "specific" security threats against rallies of his political opponents, answered that his rallies were "safe" because of the "prayers of the people"?

The same Chaudhry Pervez Elahi who was pushing Musharraf not to make a deal with the PPP and to hold elections early because "the PML was now better placed and well-entrenched to win the polls".

No wonder Elahi is so confidant about the PML-Q's ability to do well in coming elections. After all, all the political opposition has been detained. Opposition rallies can be banned due to 'security threats', political opponents and other agitators can be arbitrarily thrown into jail, where they are made to understand that their only way out is to become PML-Q members. And anti-graffitti and billboard laws only apply to the opposition.... One gets the feeling that Mr Chaudhry Pervez Elahi may well become our next prime minister. (Thats the slogan that was being chanted at the rally they were showing on the TV by the way).

Something else, one got to watch on TV was the adviser to the Prime Minister on finance, Dr. Salman Shah, harping on about the wonderful performance of the government's economic policies. He insisted vehemently that the Emergency had not hurt investor confidence (as he was speaking, the stock market was in free fall by the way - it lost 300 points today), and insisted that any reservations that investors had was because of the "bad image" that the media presented of Pakistan.

Now I really know nothing about Dr. Shah, except that he used to work in the World Bank, and is supposedly one of Musharraf's most trusted advisers. I have no knowledge of his achievements or ambitions but what he said convinced me that he is a man full of sh*t who is not averse to lying in his master's cause.

He went on about how he read some report about failed states that was issued 18 months ago, which ranked Pakistan as a number 2 failed state below Somalia and above Afghanistan and that being curious, he examined the methodology of the report and found that they came to conclusion by finding 'negative' media reports from the country's media, and feeding them into a computer, which tallied the results to give a list of failed states. Thus, Pakistan's high ranking was due to its media's "negativism". The implication was that Musharraf's muzzling of the media was justified because, it was tarnishing Pakistan's image and thereby hurting its economy.

A bigger crock of sh*t I have yet to see presented by one of Musharraf's lackeys. No such report exists. No such methodology exists. And really if this is the best the government can come up with, it deserves to be torn down in quick order. This is precisely why we need a free media - to hear our leaders in their own words so that we can expose their lies.

Oh, and on the note of the government's economic policies:

Pakistan's trade deficit is now $1.945 billion per month. And the ADB funded $1.8 billion governance reform programme is failing due to a lack of interest shown by the government in making it work. This programme was supposed to help improve governance on a local level, providing better access to justice, legal protection, and improve the ability of local government officials to understand and cater to the needs of their localities. As this jargon littered report in Dawn quotes:

The final outcome of the reform programme may not be different from the poor results of the Social Action Programme of the 90s, says the assessment.

Another argument, perhaps, that for the vast majority of people, the current government has had as little interest in making a positive difference in their lives as the much maligned governments of the 90s did?

The government has attracted a great deal of foreign investment. But don't think that this is some kind of charity. According to CNBC, in the first quarter of 2007-08, $180 million was remitted out of the country as profit on investment. And this is before massive, now foreign-owned companies such as PTCL have announced their profits. Yes, while it hasn't been too interested in bettering the lives of the people, our government has done well by the multinationals, hasn't it?

Phew. On a slightly lighter note, a fine article on 'The Divine Right of Army Chiefs' in Pakistan.

Oh, and if anyone is wondering why a student wing of the MMA would betray Imran Khan to the police? I refer you to this report in the papers about the fact that the non-jailed political leadership of the MMA is almost unanimous in feeling that it should not confront the establishment on the issue of the Emergency.


A message for Mush:

And in other news, about 700 lawyers rallied in New York outside the Supreme Court in Manhattan in support of the lawyers protesting in Pakistan. Personally, I feel that this is a much more important and worthwhile gesture than any of the two-faced mumbo-jumbo issuing from U.S. government officials. With the Musharraf regime unmoved and the protesters in sorry shape, its good to know their heroic efforts are being recognized.

On a similar note, the Harvard Law School Association has decided the honour the ousted Chief Justice with the Harvard Law School Medal of Freedom.

Concerning news in Pakistan, 'V' on the Lahore Metroblog has a very emotional piece on the Islami Jamiat Talaba's betrayal of Imran Khan to the police at the Punjab University campus yesterday. Here is the Guardian's more detailed and less emotional report of the event.

The Emergency Times has an article on this odd dichotomy that many in Pakistan (particularly those from military backgrounds) draw between military dictators and politicians. The tired old story goes that politicians are and have always been corrupt, feeble and ineffective rulers while military men are devoted, upright and efficient. It won't surprise anyone that this idea is a hangover from colonial times when the Anglo-Indian military and bureaucracy (the line between the two was always rather blurred) derided the corrupt, effeminate native politicians as well as the ineffective democracy back in Britain that seemed hellbent on "losing India" by introducing parliamentary forms and handing power over to the unwashed native masses who were easily manipulated and were unfit to govern themselves. Sound familiar?

After last weeks mock split between BB and Musharraf, it seems as if attitudes have hardened over the weekend. Increasingly it seems as if there may be a split between the two and the deal may well be moribund. It seems as if BB may have overplayed her hand. But my guess is that both BB and Mush have not yet shut each other out completely. The definitive proof of a final break will only come in Musharraf invalidates the NRO, or has his puppet Supreme Court do it for him.

The army officially took over operations from the Frontier Constabulary yesterday and finally launched a major operation against militants in Swat. There are conflicting reports about the death toll. The Corps Commander in the region blamed the MMA provincial government for allowing the build up of militants in Swat, saying that they did not allow a military operation earlier and had preferred appeasing the militants.

Now this is a very interesting assertion. The first question that comes to mind, is that if the MMA provincial government was obstructing the re-assertion of government control, why was it not dismissed and a caretaker government, imposed in NWFP earlier, or, since the military regime is fond of Emergencies, why wasn't an Emergency imposed in NWFP? The answer to this, of course, is that Musharraf needed the mullahs to be re-elected as President in the Presidential elections in October. When the APDM parties attempted to resign en masse in order to force a dissolution of the NWFP assembly, thereby making the holding of Presidential elections impossible till national elections were held, the JUI(F) - the Islamic party with the largest number of seats both in NWFP and the senate, blocked the dissolution of the assembly by refusing to resign. In this way, as in 2004, the mullahs and the military united to have Musharraf re-elected.

So its convenient for the Corps Commander to blame the burgeoning of militancy on the MMA, but lets not forget who had a vested interest in keeping the MMA government in power. The mullahs may have been appeasing the militants, but it was Musharraf who was appeasing the mullahs.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

We Are Mindless...

While discussing the political situation in the country the other day, a cousin of mine turned to that other great Pakistani obsession: cricket. Trying to describe her feelings, she quoted the ex-captain of the national team, Inzamam-ul-Haq, who, when once asked if he had minded batting first in the match replied in broken english in his usual dopey manner, “No… we are mindless.”

My cousin had earlier been arguing that she had refused to participate in any protests and supported the Emergency, because Musharraf, despite all his faults, was still better than Benazir. It’s a very common argument, and a powerful one. I have to confess at being struck by a strong feeling of despondency and hopelessness in the last few days. Even if, somehow, against all odds, the Emergency would be lifted and Musharraf should bow out gracefully, what did we have to look forward to? Would it be a return to the bad old days of the 90s, with its rampant corruption, ethnic violence and drowning economy? Is Pakistan really doomed to be stuck in a cycle of one disastrous regime after the other, differing only in the particulars of the grotesques in high office. What good would a return to democratic rule do? What is it that we should be striving for? One can’t help but feel stricken by a sinking feeling, a paralysis of indecision, because its hard to conceive of a future that offers much hope. How should one feel about these matters? Truly, one feels mindless.

For most people, those who struggle to make a living at subsistence wages, these political matters seem far removed from their immediate reality. What matters most is the fact that the cost of everyday staples such as flour, milk and sugar have risen dramatically in the last couple of years, a rise that has far exceeded any rise in wages. Their biggest concern is how to make ends meet. Its instructive that in the recent “sugar mill” scandal, where it was found that a small cartel of sugar mill owners were hoarding sugar in order to artificially drive up prices (by over 100%), the cartel included several ministers in the current pro-Musharraf government, it included Chaudhry Shujaat of the PML(Q), Shahbaz Sharif of the PML(N) and Asif Zardari of the PPP. So what does the average person care whether Musharraf, Benazir Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif come to power? All belong to the same class of uber-rich who are not averse to exploiting and cheating the common man whenever they can, and all, when in power, will exert every effort to continue doing so.

I think one answer to this line of questioning is that, right now, one has to push for the independence of the judiciary and the media – the two institutions that have been most blatantly undermined by the current Emergency. When Musharraf claims that his rule will create the conditions for “true democracy” in Pakistan, he seems to believe that this involves forcing everyone to go along with whatever he believes should be done. This rather absurd and limited understanding of “true democracy” will take us nowhere. One would have imagined that it was precisely in strengthening the judiciary and establishing an independent media (the second of which, up till recently, looked like becoming the crowning glory of Musharraf's achievements), that the conditions for a “true democracy” were being put in place. No particular leader or party will "save" Pakistan by coming into power. Rather, it is only when it will become exceedingly difficult for those in power to operate by whim, that matters will improve.

The sugar mill case is instructive in this regard. An investigation by the NAB (National Accountability Bureau) into allegations of price-fixing was killed by the government, with the excuse that the investigation itself was driving up prices. After an outcry in the media, the Supreme Court took suo moto notice of the case and ordered that the NAB should complete the investigation and present its report to the Court. This was duly done and the identities of those who were part of the cartel revealed, to the embarrassment of the government. Attempts to prosecute those involved, of course, floundered in the wake of the Emergency. So when Musharraf talks about the embarrassment of law enforcement officials summouned to the Supreme Court, and the unsound business environment being created by its suo moto notices, we know what kinds of cases were on his mind.

The point here is, given that our next government, no matter what its exact composition, or the quality of its democratic crededentials, is not going to be a ‘clean’ one, it is vital that there be a free and independent media, and an ‘activist’ Supreme Court to act as checks and balances on its actions. In this regard, the current civil society movement also has an essential role to play. Whether or not its goals are achieved in the current crisis, its very existence is a victory of sorts, and a harbringer for better things to come. It is essential to create awareness, to coordinate, organize and educate ourselves for the many, many battles we are going to have to face in the coming days. It is essential that we no longer be mindless, but make up our minds that there is a future we can hope for, and, though it may be a long journey, one we must work towards.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Pakistan's Media

This is, despite its terrible title, an excellent article, written before the Emergency, on Pakistan's electronic media. It explores both the achievements and challenges the media was facing before the imposition of the Emergency.

More Victories in the War on Terror

60 FC men surrendered in Swat. More posts and camps were abandoned by soldiers and police, including contingents working at refugee and rehabilitation camps set up after the 2005 earthquake. This in turns caused the pull out of NGOs and Chinese engineers working on hydel projects.

It appears as if the soldiers who surrender are treated to cups of tea and receive a small cash stipend from the militants before being sent on their way home. Obviously, they have learned that this is a better incentive than beheading to get the stalwarts of the Pakistani forces to surrender. Keen on further enhancing their skills in the hospitality business, the militants took over a Hotel-Management Training Institute yesterday.

But its not all tea and biscuits under the militant regime. A punishment of 15 lashes has been introduced for anyone who misses prayer time.

In Miramshah, a pro-government tribal elder's house was blown up. Recall, these are the same tribal elders on whom the government is counting to make all these peace deals work.

The Deputy Attorney-General has resigned in protest at the government's bulldozing of the judiciary. We should salute his honesty and courage. Meanwhile the Awami National Party (ANP) has announced that it will not take part in elections under the PCO. The ANP is a left-leaning party with its support base in the NWFP and has traditionally been an ally of the PPP. Contrast the ANP's stand with that of the contemptible JUI(F) which announced it had no problem contesting elections under the PCO. The head of the ANP, Asfandyar Wali Khan is also, by the way, the only significant public figure that I know of who has condemned the suicide bombing that killed over 40 people in Afghanistan a couple of days ago, including several Members of Parliament.

Because most courts are not functioning, or only functioning in a very limited manner, the Army Act is apparently going to be amended so that military tribunals can try civilians.

The government has finally started cracking down on PPP party workers, mostly in the Punjab, with a view of strangling attendance to the rally BB is set to hold today in Rawalpindi. This contrasts with earlier instructions law-enforcement agencies had received to take a "soft" approach with PPP, JUI(F) and ANP party workers.

The owner of the 'Geo TV' network, which had become the most popular TV channels in Pakistan prior to the emergency was arrested, kidnapped and "convinced" that the network should comply with the new ordinance on the media. This following threats he had received from intelligence officials such as this one:
"Pakistan Army is the backbone of Pakistan, don't try to damage it, if u do, u and your family who have looted billions would be hunted down like rats," it read. "It will just take a few hundred people to smash ur studios, offices, vans."

No mention of the billions looted by army officials or the fact that the army, as an institution is a gigantic leech attached to the throat of the nation and has been sucking it dry while growing fat and bloated. And if I were in the army High Command, I would have the person who wrote this message shot on general principles because of his use of the letter "u".

Needless to say, the army is acting much like the Taliban which has also issued threats to the press for printing photographs in which women are visible.

Of course perhaps the biggest news in this parade of disgusting capitulation by the military government came yesterday in the news that Musharaf's newly appointed caretaker Chief Minister in NWFP announced that the government is willing to give in to the Swat militants demand to "provide relief" for the incarcerated leader of the Tehrik Nifaz Shariat-i-Muhammadi, Maulana Sufi Mohammad (also the father-in-law of militant leader Maulana Fazlulla).

To understand the enormity of this step, one needs to know a little about the TNSM. It is basically, the group that inspired the Taliban and the first militant Islamist group to start terroristic activities in Pakistan. Quoting from Hassan Abbas' book, 'Pakistan's Drift into Extremism', in 1994, "This movement spread in malakand area of NWFP of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan, with many of its members boasting about their participation in the jihad in Afghanistan. They occupied the local airport (Saidu Sharif), forced government offices to close down, and blocked traffic on all major roads in the area, demanding enforcement of the Islamic law in Malakand. The government used the Frontier Corps to arrest Sufi Mohammad and restore order, but also succumbed to the TNSM demand of introducing Islamic law in the area."

If the military, and the military government is, indeed, Pakistan's backbone, then the country is obviously a spineless creature. Its no wonder that the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan is claiming that "Talibanisation is the real agenda of this government".

Of course, as the General was good enough to remind us in his address a few days ago, one shouldn't focus solely on the bad news. The News has an article praising the courage of the seven Supreme Court Judges who stayed on at the Supreme Court even as it was being surrounded by troops, in order to pass a motion declaring the PCO illegal. It also reminds us that an independent judiciary is not in Bhutto's interest since the National Reconciliation Ordinance which dropped all the outstanding warrants and corruption cases against her has been challenged in court.

Dawn notes that for the first time in years, there is a non-partisan political movement forming on university campuses. Its particularly important that the campuses which cater to the children of the rich and powerful are politically active, because students from humbler backgrounds are much more likely to get beaten up or jailed. The Emergency Times, has become a hub about which much of these protests are organized.

Finally I leave you with this parody of a famous Pakistani nationalist song, sung at a recent protest (linked from the Emergency Times website):

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Fighting Terrorism

The bodies of three executed soldiers who had been abducted several days ago were found lying riddled with bullets by the side of a road in Waziristan, a clear indication that Musharaf's latest peace deal with militants there is bearing fruit.

Meanwhile, the war against terror continued in Karachi where three leftist politicians and a labour union activist have been charged with treason, for "raising anti-government slogans", a crime which under the Emergency laws is punishable by death. This comes on top of other outstanding victories in the war on terror such as the arrest in Lahore of the lady who runs the Working Women Helpline, an advocacy group which helps women fight workplace discrimination and the Programme Manager of the Labour Education Foundation, which lists amongst its aims and objectives "To promote democratic norms and values" and even worse "To fight against the oppression of women". Clearly these terroristic ideologies were threatening the very foundations of Pakistan and extraordinary measures were necessary to remove the threat they represented.

God Bless the General in his wisdom, as well as his loyal aides and advisers for saving Pakistan from these extremists and miscreants. While they were running around free, destabilizing our society, we were all asking "what is going on?" and taunting the General, saying "What has happened to you now? Why can't you decide?" while he only watched in silence and disbelief as the country was taken in a negative direction.

To further strengthen our society and take it in a positive direction, the military government released 28 Taliban prisoners, including three who had been convicted of terrorism offences. One gentleman who had been working to relieve the government of its paralyzed state and help improve morale in the security forces was caught red-handed transporting suicide bomb jackets to suicide bombers. Thankfully he is now free to continue his good work and help bring forth a new age of political reconciliation and full democracy.

The Hijacking (Part II)

I had written yesterday about the how BB seemed to be trying to hijack the pro-democracy movement for her own ends. Its worthwhile trying to reconstruct what was going on in Islamabad yesterday. Bhutto had denied that she would be meeting with the government, but rather, had gone to Islamabad to meet with pro-democracy opposition groups at a meeting of the ARD.

The ARD was originally formed by political parties in opposition to military rule. Its main components were the PPP, the PML-N and the MMA. Imran Khan of the TPI was also a highly visible member and there were a host of minor parties involved. Its purpose was to coordinate the parties' opposition to Musharaf and help bring democracy back to Pakistan. However, it had little success in doing this. Early on, the MMA broke ranks to help Musharaf consolidate his grip on power in return for concessions in the NWFP (whose assembly they dominated). The MMA itself was a coalition of Islamic parties whose two major members were the JI and JUI(F). The JUI(F) in particular, with its deep links to the Taliban and the military was often wooed away to support the military government in parliament.

Once Musharaf and the ruling PML-Q started facing serious internal opposition and losing popularity, it needed to make overtures to another political party to shore up its position. Many in the PML-Q hierarchy favoured an alliance with the PML-N, but the Americans were known to favour Benazir Bhutto and the PPP. With the prospect of a political opening and the whitewashing of her corrupt past open to her, Bhutto broke ranks with the ARD and opened negotiations with the military. With the PPP and JUI(F) openly working with the military government, the ARD seemed moribund and the PML-N and other parties formed the umbrella APDM (the All Parties Democratic Movement) to take up its mantle.

Yesterday though, it seems as if the PPP has seen fit to revive the ARD. The question is, who was actually there at this meeting? The BBC reports that the PTI, the PML-N and the MMA were not represented at the meeting. This leaves a string of very minor players. BB used the absence of these major components of the ARD to boot out the chairperson, the president and the secretary general of the ARD (all in prison, in exile, or in hiding from what I can gather) and have herself appointed chairperson and her lackey, Makhdoom Amin Fahim appointed President. A Qazi Abdul Qadeer Khamosh of the Jamiat Ahle Hadith, an obscure religious party, was made the Secretary General.

In a sense, the ARD has now become composed of those parties that are looking to form the next government in partnership with Musharaf. As this report notes, the ARD had become moribund ever since some of its components had abandoned a policy of cooperation against the military regime in favour of talks for individual gain.

The PML-N, the MMA and the Awami Jamhoori Tehrik, an alliance of left-wing parties, have all offered to support the PPP's call for protests IF the PPP breaks off its talks with the government, an offer which BB has rejected. In Karachi, the Sindh Taraqi Passand Party (STP), whose chairman is in jail, the Awami National Party (ANP), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Pakhtoon Khwa Milli Awami Party (PMAP) have all called for the PPP and JUI(F) to unite with them against the government instead of working for their own (and the General's) benefit.

But that is looking increasingly unlikely. Also in Islamabad yesterday, the PPP and JUI(F) held talks where they "dwelt on the national political scenario and agreed to continue deliberations for exploring the possibilities of joint working in future". In other words, started divvying up ministerial posts in their coming administration.

Of course BB also had to take the time out to pay a visit to the American ambassador, no doubt, to express her satisfaction with how everything is working out.

And if there should be any doubt about BB's ascendency in the current political climate, she also seems to have managed to bring about the removal of the Director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), General Ejaz Shah, who is known to be the man who cobbled together the PML(Q). He is said to be particularly close to the Chaudhrys, and his removal would suggest the final burial of their ambitions.

Meanwhile, the oppositionless assembly rubber-stamps Emergency rule and the government considers removing the Supreme Courts' suo moto powers through a constitutional amendment.

Finaly I'll leave you with an exceptionally outstanding post on the American handling of the current situation in Pakistan.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

On the Lam!

Farooq Tariq of the communist Labour Party of Pakistan continues to post about life on the run. I couldn't help chortling over this part:
The plainclothes police came to LPP office in Lahore and checked if I was there. They went to the Good Books bookshop and remained there for some time on the pretext of buying books. They tried to ask about the whereabouts of the different comrades, pretending that they were LPP supporters and wanted to joint the party.

The comrade in charge of Good Books is an experienced comrade, and he immediately realised who they were. He cleverly convinced them to buy Tariq Ali’s book Clash of Fundamentalisms, while offering comradely hospitality, tea and a good political talk. Comrades proudly told me the story after they left the office: ``They came to look for you but instead took a book that may change their minds.’‘

I add my own recommendation to that of the comrade in charge of Good Books and endorse Tariq Ali's 'Clash of Fundamentalisms'.

The Hijacking

Finally, towards the end of the day came the news that Bhutto had ordered the PPP cadres to start protesting. To make up for lost time, a small bunch tried to storm the police barricades around the parliament building and some managed to make enough of a nuisance of themselves to get arrested. This pantomime has already worked wonders for Bhutto in the rather credulous foreign press, as this BBC report testifies. All this after Bhutto flew to Islamabad, met with "democratic opposition parties" (this is what reports in the Guardian, International Herald Tribune and BBC are all saying but I can't figure out yet just who these opposition parties are since the PTI, the PML-N, and the JI, all of whose senior figures are either in hiding or in jail, did not attend the meeting. Who does that leave exactly? I suppose I may find out more in the newspapers tomorrow), and held a press conference to which the world press was invited - all with no hindrance at all from the government. After the press conference, the gathered reporters and photographers were treated to the sight of a small bunch of PPP activists getting into a ridiculous tug-of-war with the police at the nearby parliament building.

This stretches credulity at Bhutto's "confrontation" with Pakistan's dictator to breaking point. Here is a photograph of Bhutto descending into the lion's den of Islamabad to risk life and liberty for the sake of democracy.

Looks rather tense and worried about the future of her country, doesn't she? (Source: The Guardian)

Finally, from the IHT comes this gem:
Earlier in the day, Syeda Abida Hussain, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States and a member of Bhutto's party, said that foreign officials have said that they saw little popular opposition to Musharraf's decree, but that the protests would demonstrate that this was wrong. "The international community is saying we don't see a popular protest," she said. "So now we're going to make a protest."

And so BB moves in to hijack the nascent democracy movement....

UPDATE: Its still tough to get a full sense of what BB was up to in Islamabad yesterday. The media blackout is so frustrating! This is what I can piece together from news reports in the press today. The PPP was in Islamabad to attend a meeting of the ARD (the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy which was a platform on which all opposition political parties are represented.) I try to untangle the mess here.

Bedtime Reading

Some interesting articles from the foreign press worth reading:

Arif Rafiq writing in the Baltimore Sun notes that "Mr. Musharraf’s dualism is contradictory and paralyzing. As chief of army staff, he needs widespread public and elite support to isolate and defeat the terrorists. As a partisan president, he needs to divide and conquer the opposition to maintain political power."

In a truly excellent article in the New York Times, M. Hanif notes that "Faced with increasing demands to give up his position as military chief and confront the complexities of civilian rule, General Musharraf decided to topple President Musharraf."

He goes on to note that by a happy coincidence, saving Pakistan from itself has been a particularly lucrative and profitable mission for the army. "Under his command Pakistan’s armed forces have become a hugely profitable empire. It’s the nation’s pre-eminent real estate dealer, it dominates the breakfast-cereal market, it runs banks and bakeries. Only last month Pakistan’s Navy, in an audacious move, set up a barbecue business on the banks of the Indus River about 400 miles away from the Arabian Sea it’s supposed to protect."

The Huffington Post notes that the Musharaf government has hired lobbyists in Washington to build support for his recent moves, to the tune of $55,000 a month. So that's where my tax money goes...

The Washington Post, comments on the incongruity of this image (source: Metroblogging Lahore):

"Man in Suit confounds the usual revolution images. In one photograph he is wearing glasses, his jacket is buttoned, he has something pinned to his lapel, and his cuffs peek out from his sleeves. These details make him an individual, even as a crowd is barely visible through the haze behind him. That individuality puts his anger on a different plane, it requires an interrogation of the image that we might not otherwise make."

Personally I am really taken with this photo. If anything it is even more incongrous. (I'm not sure about the original source - one of the Urdu papers I'm guessing. I found the image at Chapati Mystery):

Protests at Lahore Campuses

More on the LUMS protest can be found here. Photographs such as this one...

...can be found here. There is a mediocre CNN report on the LUMS protest on the 5th here (at least they didn't mention Bhutto in the report). Its possible that the authorities took a harder line today because that report made it to a major western news outlet. At least they aren't ignoring the protest. Thats success of a sort, right?

Today there were protests at a couple of other university campuses in Lahore. The Lahore Metroblog has some updates on whats happening there. FAST appears to have had a significant protest despite the fact that Musharaf is the Chancellor of the institution!!!

Metroblog Lahore also has links to Imran Khan's video messages.

Update: A good description of the LUMS protest can be found here. According to bloggers in Lahore the standoff at NUS-FAST has also ended peacefully. I get the feeling the cops were trying to frighten the students by demanding that the administration hand over anyone who was carrying a placard. (The administration, kudos to them, stood fast and refused to do so.)

Bread and Circusses, Part II

From The Washington Post, we learn:
"It's like the government is declaring war on civil society and they just wish we would all zone out and watch South Asian film stars dancing around, instead of the news. We aren't some huge danger to the state. Why don't they go target the suicide bombers?" said Romessa Khan, 20, a major in painting at the National College of Arts Lahore, where students gathered in a courtyard Tuesday, worried about family members and neighbors who had been carted off to jail.

But the NCA is not exactly a hub of pro-democracy activism (unlike, say, LUMS where a large demonstration has just been raided). As the article goes on to note:

A group of students at the National College of Arts chain-smoked, passed around headphones pumping out Urdu pop and riffed on the best way to protest emergency rule. In the end, they decided that any form of civil disobedience -- be it a protest song or an artistic rendering of jail scenes -- would be too dangerous.

Back to the news about LUMS. The administration really deserves praise and recognition for being the only university administration in the country to criticize the arrest of members of its faculty and express solidarity with those who wish to exercise "their right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression."

On Updates...

Teeth Maestro is providing some good minute by minute updates on the anti-emergency protests in Pakistan.

And if you are wondering what it is like to be on the run from the police, check this article out. Why doesn't Farooq Tariq (of the Labour Party of Pakistan (LPP)) want to go to jail? Because he has enjoyed the hospitality of the government before.

Kamila Shamsie glumly compares Musharaf's speeches after the 1999 coup with the more recent one.

Imran Khan is also in hiding and sending out messages to the public to "encourage" resistance. As usual, he is aiming most of his invective against the United States. Let us recall that he belongs to the 'everything is the United States' fault and if the U.S. would only leave well enough alone, all would be right with the world' school of thought. Oddly enough all the retired military types who pad out his political party's leadership are all still roaming about free.

As expected, the western media is now beginning to present BB as a fearless saviour of democracy taking on the evil dictator. Its vital that she hold her rally, even if it gets suicide bombed, so that she can claim to the west that she's bringing the people out into the streets in support of democracy!


Finally, perhaps one of the greatest drawbacks about the media ban is that we can no longer experience the fun-filled pleasures of watching Fox News and chortle over their expert analysis, such as this: Hamid Karzai is the leader of Pakistan... no, wait, its Nawaz Sharif!

Bread and Circuses...

Peace deal notwithstanding, militants in Swat have taken over another town. This comes as Indian intelligence analysts announce that Pakistan has pulled soldiers away from the border in Kashmir to deal with the militants. This article in the Guardian captures the extent of the militants ascendancy in Swat.

Incidentally, while the military has shut down all local private TV channels (the few exceptions include the the Dalda cooking channel and three music video channels -give us bread and circuses!) and have banned radio stations from making news broadcasts, it goes without saying the the militant Maulana Fazlullah's Jihadi radio station in Swat is still on air, along with a host of other Jihadist stations. I recall reading somewhere that there were up to 300 illegal short range radios transmitters in operation. I will try and find the link to that info. Meanwhile, this interesting article from last year gives an insight into how the illegal stations operate.

Benazir's conspicuous liberty while other opposition party members were being arrested in droves has led many to believe that the much ballyhooed 'deal' between BB and Musharaf may still be revived. One possibility was that the PML-Q, who were never terribly happy about dealing with Bhutto in the first place, had convinced Musharaf that he could settle the terms of the deal from a position of strength after imposing the Emergency. It was noticeable that , by her own admission, Benazir had been informed by the government about the imposition of the Emergency beforehand. Furthermore, while other parties called for protests etc., she merely made a lightweight pronouncement that Musharaf should keep his promise to resign from his military post and hold elections on time. No mention of the emergency. That other loyal partner of the military mascarading as an opponent of the regime, Maullanah Fazlur Rahman of the Jammat-e-Ulema-e Islami (JUI (F)) has announced that there is no harm in contesting elections under the PCO (where, for example, it is illegal to criticise the government or any of its members or policies, which would make campaigning an exercise in futility)!

But there seems to be some evidence that things are not all going according to plan. Speaking after the emergency was imposed, the Prime Minister announced that elections could be delayed for up to a year. This sparked off a furor abroad and the initial lukewarm announcements from the U.S. about 'reviewing our aid' to Pakistan were replaced with tougher statements. The E.U. similarly announced tougher measures and yesterday the Secretary General of the UN and the Pakistani ambassador got into a public spat about the emergency. This has led to some furious backpedaling in Islamabad with repeated assurances that elections will be held on time and that Musharaf will quit his post as army chief. Today Chaudhury Shujaat Hussain announced that the emergency would be over in three weeks.

Perhaps goaded on by her erstwhile backers in the west, seeing which way the wind is turning and perhaps realizing that her fuzzy stance on the emergency was at odds with her self-declared image of the "saviour of democracy", Benazir Bhutto has finally made a stronger statement of opposition to the emergency and the government's action against the judges. There seems to be an ongoing spat between the government and the PPP about whether a previously announced election rally scheduled to take place in Rawalpindi will go ahead or not.

While some western media outlets will no doubt present Bhutto as leading the fight to restore democracy in Pakistan, have a look at this article from the pro-PPP Pakistani Daily Times. This is the writer's description of the the PPP leadership flying to Islamabad to NOT have talks with the government (according to BB!)

During the course of the flight I spoke to all the PPP leaders travelling with her and the body language was relaxed and laughter was in the air. Something told me that there might be a chance of dialogue soon with the president.

The journalist went on to ask BB if she was going to become a care-taker prime minister, which she denied. This seems to be obvious, since the spectacle of running for Prime Minister while being the caretaker PM would be a rather odd one. Some people however are speculating that if Musharaf decides to dump the PML-Q once and for all, Amin Faheem, who was the titular head of the PPP when BB was abroad may be a good candidate for the slot. Some analysts are asserting that the emergency may have actually backfired and weakened Musharaf's hand vis a vis the 'deal' with BB.

In the last article I linked to, there is the interesting suggestion that Musharaf may well have achieved some of his limited goals if he had followed the constitutional route and used the support of BB and Maulana Fazlur Rahman to pass legislation in the assemblies curbing the power of the Judges and giving certain emergency powers to the government. The contours of the next government seem to have become pretty well defined by now. Here is my prediction: PPP, JUL(F), MQM alliance with the PML(Q) playing a larger or smaller role depending on how much of the pie they can secure for themselves.

It certainly doesn't leave much hope for any kind of significant positive changes in the country. Its the same old, same old... sigh...

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Protest at the Lahore High Court

There is something truly iconic about this photograph, taken at the protest yesterday at the Lahore High Court:

The poster they are all photographing shows Musharaf without his uniform(!!!) Read about the protest here. The photographer has uploaded a host of photos of the protest here.

Edit: And here is a comprehensive first person account of the crackdown on the protest at the Lahore High Court.

Stability, Stability, Where Fore Art Thou Stability?

Ahmed Rashid in the Washington Post on how the coup actually makes Pakistan less stable, not more.

Part of the reason Musharaf took his drastic step was to attempt to boost morale and confidence within the army. The interests of the army are always paramount in the minds of the officer corps and the fact that the army has been hit hard in recent months has become more and more apparent. The need to appear decisive and in-charge and put the harping civilians back in line (Pakistani officers are traditionally full of contempt for civilians and believe they have no business in trying to run the affairs of the state) needs to be taken into account as a major motivation for Musharaf's move. In fact, Musharaf alluded to this in his address to the nation. Here is a rough translation. I found this part particularly enlightening as to his state of mind and the pressure he was under:

Under great duress, based on all these reasons, the whole nation is depressed and uncertain. I am getting phone calls from everywhere ... my own acquaintances, private, from outside the country, from inside the country, asking, "What is going on?" I am being taunted, "What are you doing?" They are taunting me that I was the decision maker, "What happened to you now? Why can't you decide now?" I have listened to these taunts in silence, and watched in disbelief what has been happening to Pakistan, in Pakistan. I had hoped that the judiciary and the government establishment will deal with these challenges ... and in that hope I sat silently and watched ... for improvements. But in my opinion this didn't happen. And the situation was getting worse by the day. And Pakistan was going rapidly into a negative direction.

This section eloquently summarizes the feelings of helplessness in the army as they witness their own ineffectiveness in the fighting against the militants, in their loss of control over the Pakistani street, in the increasing ascendancy of raucous politicians and truculent judges. And like all those who have exercised authority through intimidation, in a questioning of their authority, they perceive "taunts" and personal humiliation. It was not so much the nation that was "under duress", "depressed" and "uncertain", as Mr. Musharaf himself.