Roll of voters
"Resignations to be decided by APDM"
By Yousaf Ali
As President Musharraf has been forced into a blind alley, the rumours about imposition of martial law abound. The options he is likely to exercise are: get himself re-elected from the current assembly, imposition of emergency or martial law. In this situation it depends on the strategy of the joint opposition to foil all these options.
On its part the joint opposition has the option of resignation from the assemblies and it is up to the joint action committee of All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM) to utilize this weapon, if and when it deems proper.
"MMA would abide by every decision of the joint action committee pertaining to resignations, but the weapon should be used at a proper time so that it could bear desired results." These views were expressed by the central leader of the conglomerate of six religious parties, Muttahidda Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) and leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Maulana Fazlur Rehman in an interview with The News on Sunday.
The News on Sunday: Where does MMA stand in the prevailing political situation of the country?
Maulana Fazlur Rehman: MMA is the biggest force of opposition and it has been playing a leading role. MMA does not oppose the government merely because it's headed by a military person. But it has been opposing the government on political, constitutional and ideological grounds. We oppose the secular ideas of the incumbent government, its support to the international coalition on US dictates against Islam and aggression on Muslims in the name of war on terrorism.
We have been opposing Musharraf and his regime on many issues. The foreign policy has failed; the rulers have retreated from the stated position on Kashmir and are leading towards disputing the Western borders of the country. Musharraf and his men want to do away with the Islamic and cultural identity of the country. And for that purpose they intend to secularise the education system.
On the other hand there is lack of democracy in the country. The constitution has been put on the complete discretion of one man, who is all-powerful and can restore as much part of it as he wants and suspend as much.
TNS: MMA is openly accused of providing a safe passage to President Musharraf. MMA continuing as coalition partners in the Balochistan government has been criticised too...
MFR: We take all decisions from a political point of view and not under anybody's pressure. I may not care about Musharraf but I am concerned about the problems of the country. And Musharraf has been sitting at a place where we had to decide the modus operandi for the opposition. We could take a position where we pushed the country further towards martial law and intensify tension in the tribal area to create Afghanistan-like situation in the country. If we don't take such a position, it would it be interpreted that we are providing a safe passage to Musharraf.
As for our inclusion in the Balochistan government, only Peoples Party has made it an issue. Even the Baloch nationalist parties that are in opposition in the province have never raised the demand that we should quit the government at any forum -- neither at All Parties Democratic Movement nor at All Parties Conference.
TNS: How effective would APDM be without PPP?
MFR: The formation of APDM is really a great development. Actually the ranks of the government are being shaken, while those of opposition are strengthened. A feeling of confidence is being created among the nation. And it is this confidence and unity among the people that could hamper the dictatorial designs of Musharraf. The successful congregation at Liaquat Bagh was an ample proof of the fact. Similar, demonstrations would be witnessed at Peshawar on September 6 and Karachi on September 9.
As far as Pakistan People's Party is concerned, it has been bracketed with the military dictator which has weakened its political as well as public position. Therefore, it won't impede the effectiveness of APDM. The main aim of the opposition is to stop military intervention into politics once and for all. The question, however, that is yet to be answered is if PPP refuses to tender resignations, how effective is the weapon of resignations? I think before using a weapon one must thoroughly think about its effectiveness.
TNS: Don't you think that MMA quitting NWFP and Balochistan governments would break the electoral college for the presidential polls?
MFR: We can look into the matter from two perspectives -- constitutional and political. Constitutionally we shall see whether this step breaks the electoral college or not. The political perspective is: If Musharraf gets re-elected, what would be his credibility? However, the matter of resignation shall be decided unanimously by the APDM. Whenever it decides, we would sit and discuss its utility or otherwise. If resignations could put an end to dictatorship and stop the way of Musharraf, this option should then be definitely utilised.
TNS: It is reported that you maintain secret contacts with the government?
MFR: One thing I want to make crystal clear is that we have no contacts with the government whatsoever. The Chief Minister of NWFP, who is the chief executive of one of the federating units, often participates in various meetings in Islamabad like the chief ministers and governors of other provinces do, which is their constitutional obligation. If anyone gives it the name of contacts, it will be wrong. It is astonishing, if I go for a medical check up, reports appear in media about my meeting with government functionaries. Meetings are not held in hospitals. I had gone to Lahore for a routine check-up. I didn't inform the media though.
TNS: What future setup do you foresee in the country?
MFR: It depends on elections. I don't think elections would be free and fair, but I say elections are the only way out of the prevailing situation. Whoever is mandated by the people should form the new set-up.
TNS: Do you think elections would be held on time?
MFR: I can't give a final opinion on it.
TNS: What future do you see for MMA particularly in the next elections when the component parties of the alliance have declared their own candidates?
MFR: No party of the MMA has unilaterally declared its candidates. Each party has held its meetings at lower levels and forwarded proposals. Those proposals would come to the institution of MMA, which would then take a final decision. There is no threat to the the alliance. It would stand united in the next polls.
TNS: You played a role to avert the Lal Masjid operation, but your role proved futile?
MFR: It is a fact that the government had already taken the decision of going ahead with the operation. Whatever role anyone played, the government was determined to go ahead with the bloody drive.
TNS: There were allegations that the 'vested interests' of some ulema resulted in the operation?
MFR: No, this is not true. It was actually a game of government agencies. These agencies on one hand destroyed the seminary and killed innocent people and are now trying to divert the anger of the people, particularly the youth from the government towards their own leadership. They want to get many goals achieved from the incident, like creating differences among the activists of religious parties and seminaries and their leadership, break up Wifaqul Madaris -- the central board of religious institutions -- and malign madrasas. Weakening madrasas is a US agenda. The government agencies help US in fulfilment of its agenda. Therefore, we urge our youth to have trust on their leadership and control their sentiments.
TNS: What do you say about the activities of local Taliban in the tribal belt as well as settled areas of NWFP?
MFR: This is actually a reaction to the flawed policies of President Musharraf and impacts of the situation in Afghanistan. The untoward situation in Afghanistan affects the tribal belt, which further affects settled areas of the Frontier province.
TNS: What is your opinion about the extreme steps of Taliban in the tribal and settled areas of Pakistan?
MFR: We are opposed to war of weapons inside Pakistan. And the people should thank MMA's government in NWFP. It is because of them that things here are under control; otherwise the situation would not be different from Iraq. It was President Musharraf's policies that allowed foreign agencies to fish in troubled waters.
TNS: Do you think the Pak-Afghan peace jirga was a successful moot?
MFR: I don't think so. There were no specified targets before the jirga. It was not clear whether the jirga was aimed at making a compromise between the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan or rectifying the situation inside Afghanistan. If it was for the latter purpose, who were the parties involved -- Karzai or US? And who was their rival? Besides, the people invited to the jirga were either under the influence of the government of Pakistan or that of Afghanistan. The main event we witnessed in the jirga was dance.
Young Pakistanis have mixed views about the upcoming elections, state of politics and the future of Pakistan
By Amna Yousaf
Four friends out on a Saturday evening, the food is sumptuous, the conversation is flowing, and the atmosphere is relaxed though the mood is serious. Sharing their whole week's experiences -- personal issues, future plans, gadgets, new trends. One topic that doesn't come up is 'politics'.
There are hundreds of other young people of Pakistan, who are more rhapsodic about their status, education, and finances as compared to their predecessors. But when it comes to politics some rarely talk about it. Others never do. "Why talk about politics? Can we do anything about it? So what's the point in discussing or getting involved", said Hamid Lateef, a sales executive in a multi-national company. Hamid was not even sure whether he will be casting his vote in the forthcoming elections or not.
"Honestly speaking, I am not at all interested about politics and casting a vote in the coming elections is a wastage of time in my view", said a young executive of a Dubai-based Bank.
However, unlike Hamid there are many who are very much concerned about the prevailing political situation of the country but a black and thick cloud of disappointment has encircled them that has not only weakened their trust in the political parties but also put kibosh on their participation in the politics.
"I will cast my vote. However, I doubt that it would make much difference unless the judiciary starts putting these corrupt gangsters and politicians in jails and gives room to some new blood," said Erij Aslam, a consultant. "The media has created such a hype that it has forced all to take interest in the political condition of the country," said Jaweria Manzoor, Lecturer at Kinnaird College Lahore. "I will definitely be casting my vote," she said confidently.
"This young lot is well equipped with awareness in politics and this time the turnout is definitely going to be healthier," predicted a senior government official.The general elections are likely to be held later this year in the country. The Election Commission is spending millions of rupees on the voter registration campaign and so far has registered 52 million voters, according to the figures provided by the commission.The Election Commission is expecting to register 10 to 15 million more voters during the revised voter registration campaign. However, people's co-operation remains a big question.
"People are not at all taking any interest in the elections," complained a government officer involved in the registration campaign. "Only about five per cent of new voters have been registered in the new voting list," he said while blaming people for it. "About 50 per cent of the voters did not return their forms, some said forms could not be filled, some missed them and others said that the head of the house was not at home," he said. "People seem to be least bothered about the elections". Another official said 35 to 38 per cent of voters were registered in 2002 and the percentage is not likely to budge an inch for the forthcoming elections. The list includes those hundreds of voters who have been registered twice because of their settlements in other areas.
Secretary Election Commission expressed optimism over the elections turnout while dismissing any notion of vote rigging and the related double voting problems. When conducted a small survey about the younger generation's interest in politics and elections in three major cities, about half said they will cast their votes and half said no to the voting. Though, all said they were concerned about the prevailing political condition of the country but when it came to playing a role in politics, all were haunted by the same question "What can we do?".
Also, they all wanted the military out of politics and favored giving a chance to Imran Khan. "Though I do have an interest in the country's politics but there is less hope since we could change nothing in last 60 years," said Talha, a software developer. "More than half of the history is already ruled by unelected leaders," he added. "I will not caste a vote, as all the politicians are the same in one or the other way, the system is not trustworthy," said Samia Najeeb, a lecturer. "Unfortunately," she added, "we can't do much about it as we have no choice to choose the rightful president or the PM. We are all frustrated but no one is doing anything."
"Well since the polling booth is always right across the road. I wouldn't bother if it was any further than that!," said Riaz Khan, an MBA student who is also doing a part time job in a leasing company. "I will vote but I am hopeless that my vote will make a difference," said Farooq Ahmed, who runs an import and export business. "It is a matter of choosing the lesser evil, so I will prefer casting the vote," said Fayaaz Khan, a young businessman. "I am deeply concerned about the political development of the country especially after the judicial crisis but being concerned does no good to the situation," said a Human Resource Manager of a company. "What we need is a revolution," he said
By Shoaib Hashmi
I don't really remember who first said "A picture is worth a thousand words". It could have been Lewis Carroll because his heroine, Alice of Wonderland fame did say, "What is the use of a book without pictures?" Or it could have been Mark Twain who was a master at dishing out such homilies.
Or it could have been Henry Luce the founder of 'Time' and 'Life' magazines. Certainly he was the one who made the most of it. At one time in the forties and fifties 'Life' was arguably the most well known, and celebrated magazine in the world. If you got an assignment from 'Life' you thereby joined the ranks of the leading photographers anywhere. And the assignments could be a treat. I remember one in which photographer Richard Avedon got to dress up Marilyn Monroe as all the greatest vamps and seductresses in history. Scrumptious!
After a long innings of fifty years change caught up with 'Life' and they decided to shut down; only to discover that there was such a nostalgia for the magazine that they were forced to bring out a kind of retrospective, a collection of all their most memorable pictures called 'Fifty Years of Life', and they made such a good effort of it that public pressure forced them to start publication again.
The chief rival to 'Life' was the 'Saturday Evening Post' which was also a large format picture magazine, but somehow always played second fiddle to 'Life', somewhat like 'Time' and 'Newsweek'. This despite the fact that in many ways 'Post' was a more imaginative venture, with much more text and being the original home of some of the best cartoon strips including 'Hazel'; also it exclusively patronised that wonderful American artist Norman Rockwell and many of his unique and evocative pictures that first appeared as 'Post' covers.
So in a sense it was the final bridge between the age of the photograph, and the older methods of newspaper and magazine illustration which were hand-drawn sketches, paintings and wood-cuts. One wonderful example is a rendering of the Taxali Gate, the last of Lahore's great gates still left standing which was pulled down to make way for the De Montmorency College of Dentistry and the Lady Willingdon Hospital and caused a big furore around the middle of the nineteenth century.
The thing is that the stuff about a picture being equal to a thousand words really applies only to the photograph. Hand drawn illustrations, whatever their artistic merits never had the kind of impact of a photograph, and in that role one landmark has already been reached in the form of the twentieth century which really saw the photograph come of age.
One reason for this is that many 'original' copies of a photograph can be made, and preserved, and clever people have built up vast archives of them. I know only their names but over years I have seen acknowledgements of the 'Bettman Archive' and the 'Hulton Picture Library'. Next time you must remind me to visit these places and browse through their treasures, they must be fascinating.
Anyway this was brought home to me first by a wonderful new book called 'The British Century' which is huge compendium of pictures all showing up Britain as the world leader through the century, which may be true only of the first half of the century, but no point going into that, it still makes fascinating viewing.
Now I have come across an even bigger one, a huge tome -- more than eleven hundred pages -- simply called 'Century', edited by Bruce Bernard and published by Phaidon taking in every photograph you could think of over the whole century. They are sequentially divided up into six epochs, and constitute a visual history of the century as complete as you could ever wish for.
I must confess that I have come by the book easily courtesy of my favourite bookshop, which I shall not name for fear of being thought partisan, but it is easily found on the Gulberg Main Boulevard and is the largest display of books in town. Also the owners are nice and kind and generous people, at least to me! Hoho!
Judicial activism by the superior judiciary has been greeted with jubilation. Concerns remain about its practicality and long term implications
By Zeenia Shaukat
During the 50 years of its existence, there have been numerous occasions when the proceedings of the Supreme Court have stayed at the centre of public attention. However, this has mainly been in the cases that involved high profile political actors and decisions. Almost all through its 50th year, the Supreme Court managed to stay in the top news as much for the developments in the Chief Justice's case as for its judicial activism, an exercise that is being viewed with interest, post July 20 ruling of the SC reinstating the Chief Justice.
A brief look at the SC website gives a fair insight into the range of issues the Court has taken action against, exercising its power to take suo moto notice. These are as diverse as rape, torture, pensions, vacant post of the Chairman of the Federal Service Tribunal, increase in prices of daily use items, and open sale of mobile connections. The constitution of Pakistan grants the apex court the power to take suo moto actions and public interest litigations over issues pertaining to human rights and administrative deficiencies. While the Superior Court, under the Article 184 (3), has been exercising these powers over the years, sometimes more actively than others, the rise in the instances of suo moto notices taken by the Court has led many to conclude that the SC's actions needs to be seen in a broader context.
"In developed countries like the US and the UK, social justice is achievable through an efficient and accountable system of governance. This does not happen in the third world, and especially the South Asian countries where executive, legislation and other agencies of public service have repeatedly failed to perform their duties efficiently. People therefore expect the courts to bring about a socio-economic change for the benefit of the poor," says Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid, former Chief Justice of the Sindh High Court and a judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Justice Zahid, along with former CJ of Pakistan Justice Mohammad Afzal Zullah, Justice Saleem Akhtar and Justice Wajeehudin Ahmed, both former judges of the Supreme Court, have been described to be the leading proponents of judicial activism in Pakistan.
According to Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid, suo-moto notices and public interest litigations feature prominently in the exercise of judicial activism in Pakistan, unlike western countries where the judges will only go so far as to make their personal views about public policy as the basis for their decisions, in the name of judicial activism. "In Pakistan, the judges can take a note of a newspaper story related to a violation of human rights or any other concern of public interest and take a suo-moto action in the regard."
The series of suo-moto notices, a part of the judicial activism exercised by the Supreme Court, comes in the wake of serious political developments in the country. It also rides on the back of the landmark ruling by the 13 member larger bench reinstating Chief Justice, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry after he was suspended by President General Pervez Musharraf following a reference filed against him with the Supreme Judicial Council in March this year. While there is a sense of relief in the public over the SC's explicit interest in solving its problems, political observers warn against the idea of getting over-excited about the SC's drive especially in the post July 20 judgement scenario. "The higher judiciary is in a confrontational mood on the back of the growing unpopularity of General Musharraf. The Chief Justice is leading the pack. The judiciary sees this as a great moment to stand up and redeem its long lost honour at the altar of the executive," says Najam Sethi, political commentator and the editor of Daily Times, while describing the political context of the judicial activism.
"We all know that the events triggered by the March 9 developments are the basis of the current political context of judicial activism. Things would never have reached this point if the issue had not been so mishandled by the executive. It also needs to be seen in the specific context of the personality of the judge involved who dared to say no because he saw himself as a Baloch and Rajput. Indeed, if the legal community and the CJ had not have been driven to a confrontational point post March 9, things would have been very different," added Najam Sethi.
Observers point out that judicial activism is an optional exercise for the superior judiciary and for the Chief Justices involved. "Not every judge is inclined to take it up," says Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid who recalls that on his retirement from the service he found his successor turning down the idea of undertaking the exercise. Justice (retd) Wajeehuddin believes that the current CJ and Justice Javed Iqbal have always been inclined towards taking actions in public interest matters. "The Chief Justice seems to be actively following up on that," says Justice Wajeehuddin. Hence, in a way judicial activism appears to be more of an option adopted on the basis of a judge's personal inclination than his professional obligations.
Amid the cheers over the judiciary's new found independence, are concerns about the limitations of the courts in pursuing public interest litigations. "This cannot continue without being regulated," says IA Rehman, Director Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. "The problem is that at this point, the government has collapsed and the public is running to the SC for all their problems pertaining to poor governance. The Supreme Court is an apex court, not a police station, or a regulatory authority or a disaster management cell. The SC should not forget that it has a whole load of tasks to carry out. It has a responsibility to supervise the High Courts and the lower courts. The SC has to regularise the entire system. It cannot take up each and every application that comes its way."
Questions are also being raised about the practicality of the exercise of judicial activism. "The courts normally do not have the time to deal with so many cases," says Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid who recalls that during his stint as the Chief Justice, the number of applications he would receive drawing his attention towards injustices increased from 10-15 per day to over a hundred a day. " During my two year stint as the CJ, I realised that despite the fact that I was giving relief to the people, I could not change the system. It is for the legislature and the politicians to do that," he says.
There are also concerns about the repercussions of judiciary's active pursuance of public interest litigations. At the moment, the public and the judiciary have formed a strong alliance as they seek to support each other against a system that has earned the ire of the judiciary and has antagonised the common man for long. However, analysts believe that the ride may come to a halt and may even take a reverse turn as the unilateral stand of the judiciary gives in to the realities of the time. There are fears that the SC's judicial activism itself may lead to division within the judiciary.
Analysing the few judgements passed in the case of the suo-moto notices taken by the SC, Najam Sethi says that "these judgements have been passed following the spirit of the constitution rather than the text. This is unprecedented. It is quite possible that the judges will continue with the trend for some time to come. The judiciary, however, needs to tread carefully between the two paths as these are extremely sensitive times. The judiciary has to maintain a balance to ensure that the country and the system are not derailed."
The most pertinent question that arises in the backdrop of a super-active judiciary is that its actions may lead it to gain more powers than the other two organs of the state. The country has already borne the brunt of a disbalanced system as one organ of the state or a state authority tends to seek and exercise greater range of power than others. Justice Wajeehuddin dismisses the fears insofar as the judiciary is concerned. "There has been a revival of the constitution. This needs to be safeguarded jealously. The newfound freedom of the judiciary should be seen as self correcting and is likely to undergo the routine trial and error process. This, along with peer pressure and the presence of an active media is most likely to check that the judiciary does not overstep its limitations."
The need for an active parliament has also been described by analysts as essential to ensure balance in the system. "At the moment, we do not have (an active) parliament," says IA Rehman. "An active and efficient parliament can devise an effective mechanism (to set the boundaries for) judicial activism."
The opposition parties would either have to accept questionable electoral rolls based on doubtful NICs or demand an exhaustive revision of lists
By Naveed Ahmad
With its all-powerful constitutional status and the nation's appetite for independent and transparent electoral process, the best ECP could do is to waste Rs 1 billion in the name of computerisation of fresh electoral rolls. The sorry tale of inaccurate electoral rolls began with the removal of Computerised National Identity Cards (CNICs) as its basis for being enrolled followed by an alleged 'strategic delay' on the part of the army run national database agency over electronically sharing eligible voter database.
Senior officials at the Election Commission told TNS that over a dozen letters were written to Nadra asking for access to its database for speedy preparation of voters' lists for the general elections 2007 but no clear cut reply was received. "They were only applying delaying tactics by asking the ECP to contact the interior ministry for access to the database or simply refusing to sharing a single data entry with the Election Commission," says a senior ECP official at the ECP headquarters.
However, under the Constitution, the Election Commission can seek any information for executing free and fair electoral process in the country. The Article 220 clearly states: "It shall be the duty of all executive authorities in the Federation and in the Provinces to assist the Commissioner and the Election Commission in the discharge of his or their functions."
In a rare display of arrogance, Nadra, a subordinate department of the interior ministry, vehemently refused to cooperate with the Election Commission. The Election Commission could have saved thousands of man hours and millions of rupees by simply getting soft copies of the adult citizen database. Had the database been made available, the Election Commission would send enumerators to households but only for confirming the temporary and permanent residential addresses of the citizens against the ones mentioned on the CNICs.
At the same time, the ECP could have spent a portion of its allocated Rs 1 billion on speedy completion of CNICs across the far flung areas of the country. However, the Election Commission suddenly decided to take an altogether opposite route by abandoning the CNICs as the only credible document, and patronising the obsolete National Identity Cards (NICs).
With scores of on-record admissions by the interior ministry of having little data about the number of NICs, the whole process of voter registration had derailed with little prospects for course correction. Unexpectedly yet, the draft electoral rolls failed to satisfy even the likes of PPP who opposed CNIC and favoured any sort of identification document for voter registration and vote casting as the total number of voters fell far shorter than anybody's guess.
Contrary to the statisticians' forecast of voter strength at over 82 million keeping in mind a 2.8 per cent increase in the population, the provisional lists shrank to around 52 million voters. Added to the discrepancy was minorities' claim of 20 per cent shortfall of their voters in the fresh electoral rolls coupled with decrease in female votes by 96 per cent in Fata, 41 per cent in Sindh, 37 per cent in Punjab and 19 per cent in Islamabad. In NWFP, female voters were showing a decrease of 45 per cent from 3.92m in 2002 to 2.17 million in 2007, according to a study by the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency.
The ECP officials blamed underpaid and over-worked enumerators for doing a bad job while the opposition parties alleged the government of deliberately manipulating the voter registration process through the district nazims et al.
Now that the Supreme Court has ordered the ECP to only enroll missing voters after comparing the fresh list with that of 2002 in 30 days time, the number of voters may exceed the calculations of statisticians. It goes without saying that 2002 electoral rolls are marred with fake and duplicate voters possessing multiple NICs. As per a very recent press release of the Election Commission, "it was decided that after comparing both the electoral rolls i.e. the electoral rolls, 2002 and the draft Computerised Electoral Rolls, 2006-07, the names which are not appearing in the draft Electoral Rolls and exist in the Electoral Rolls, 2002, may be incorporated and the additional lists may be prepared by the verifying officials, under the supervision of the Registration Officers i.e. Assistant Election Commissioners and Deputy Election Commissioners within 15 days."
The exercise for comparison of electoral rolls has already commenced from August 21, which is set to be completed on September 4. The fresh lists would also have to include the citizen reaching the adult franchise age. The inherent systemic and administrative weaknesses in the Election Commission are not only failing the bid for error-free computerisation of electoral rolls which might have led to electronic voting, but also raising bigger question marks over the whole electoral process.
Analysts wonder as to how could the revised electoral rolls 2007 be more credible if the enumerators would still be the same underpaid and over-worked part-timers, and the basic registration could be faked by simply using a scanner and a colour printer. Moreover, the nation may have no option but to accept the revised electoral rolls with all their recklessness for want of time. The controversies such as enrollment of female voters in remote tribal areas of all the four provinces and even settled parts of Balochistan and NWFP can only be miraculously addressed in a 30-day time frame. Analysts tend to believe that Nadra's denial to share its electronic database with EC was deliberate. Caught between the devil and the deep sea, the opposition parties would either have to accept questionable electoral rolls based on doubtful NICs, or demand an exhaustive revision of the lists at the cost of forthcoming general elections, which would serve none other than the army-chief president of the country.
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Politics of confusion
By Omar R. Quraishi
A lay observer of the political scene in Pakistan will find it difficult to comprehend what is going on in the country these days. First came news of an apparently ground-breaking meeting between President Pervez Musharraf and PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto in Abu Dhabi some weeks ago. But then both sides began to act very coy and no one would officially even confirm that the meeting took place. Then came stories in the print media which said that this meeting was the culmination of months of behind-the-scenes contacts between the two sides and that a deal was in place. This probably alerted the anti-PPP section in the PML-Q (which would be much of the party, especially those legislators that look up to the Chaudhries of Gujrat as their godfathers) who then began their own series of behind-the-scenes-machinations.
The whole emergency thing happened presumably on the advice of these anti-PPP politicians who thought that this would be a good way for them to avoid falling by the wayside -- which is what is likely to happen if a deal between the president and the PPP does materialise. The other option, of course, is as mentioned in some news analyses on the subject a possible imposition of martial law. However, if one reads between the lines, this possibility is coming more from those segments who stand to lose the most out of any PPP-military deal. No wonder then reports of a possible imposition of emergency reached a crescendo after none other than the PML-Q chief confirmed them to a meeting of his party's MPs. Quite ironically, Chaudhry Shujaat then went around blaming the media for these 'exaggerated stories', but later it turned out that this 'option' had not been ruled out -- neither the imposition of martial law. One can only wonder the point of having such options in the first place and how they reflect on those who propose them.
Following the meeting in Abu Dhabi, the president decided -- or perhaps was coaxed into this -- to meet groups of MPs from the ruling party in Punjab. In one of these meeting with legislators from the Multan region, he was asked about the deal between the PPP and himself to which he reportedly replied that there would be no need for such a deal if the party were to gain a majority on its own in parliament.
Whether this is something what the president actually means and that it reflects a change on his part from the Abu Dhabi meeting or whether he is indulging in these meetings merely to hedge his bets and to pre-empt, as some recent reports have suggested, desertions from the PML-Q camp remains to be seen. Juxtaposed with this, recent comments by Ms Bhutto have only -- again, if taken at face value -- added to the confusion. For instance, she is now saying that there is no deal but that there have been talks. Also, the line now is that these talks with a military dictator were only being pursued in the country's larger national interest and to further democracy. Of course, here one could argue that the best way to further democracy in any country is by preventing military interventions and this can be done in Pakistan if politicians stop running to the military and beseech it to intervene and by ensuring that the armed forces stick to their role as outlined under the Constitution.
Several foreign newspapers (but not too many domestic papers) carried reports of recently declassified US government documents that showed the extent of involvement of the Pakistan government in helping the Taliban in the mid-1990s. Obtained by George Washington University's National Security Archive (available at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/), the 35 declassified documents also reveal an interesting behind-the-scenes look at how America and other major powers operated in the area and in Pakistan during this period. For instance, one document dated November 26, 1996, cites an unnamed British journalist who after visiting what she claimed were training camps in Khost in Afghanistan sought a meeting with US embassy officials in Islamabad.
In this meeting, attended, according to the document, by the embassy's political officer and the USIS information officer, the journalist told them what she saw and made of the camps. She said that she was told by the Taliban (she went to interview the local governor Mullah Sayed Abdullah but was refused) that the camps were no longer being used by anyone and that she not visit them. However, she did that anyway and was told by a "Taliban source" that one was occupied by the now-defunct Harkatul Ansar and another was by "assorted foreigners, including Chechens, Bosnian Muslims, as well as Sudanese and other Arabs."
Another document dated October 2, 1996 cites an informer (a euphemism for a spy) telling the political officer of the US consulate in Peshawar that a convoy of 30-35 trucks and 15-20 oil tankers was seen entering Afghanistan from the Torkham border checkpost. The informer claimed that he was certain that the trucks were connected to the ISI -- s/he claimed that this could be gauged by the type of licence plate that the trucks were using -- and were part of an aid convoy to the Taliban government. Other interesting -- but impossible to verify independently -- information contained in the declassified documents suggested that Iran was helping the Northern Alliance and Ismail Khan in Herat much more than Pakistan was ostensibly helping the Taliban. This was in fact cited as being said by an official of the Russian Embassy in Pakistan, so it would have some credence given that it came from a reasonably neutral observer.
Also, other than Iran and Pakistan, India was said to be "supplying weapons to anti-Taliban forces", Uzbekistan was providing assistance to fellow Uzbeks and the leader of the Jumbish-e-Milli Rashid Dostam, while Tajikistan was "supplying arms and ammunition to the Jamiat Militia".
Another document said that the ISI was using a private transportation company to send aid to the Taliban and that in some cases even regulars of the Frontier Corps had been used to supplement the ranks of the Taliban, because their Pathan features made them easy to blend in, as opposed to the regulars of the "mainly Punjabi Pakistan Army". One confidential document on the outlawed terrorist (and now defunct) organisation Harkatul Ansar also claimed that the ISI was providing it financial assistance of $30,000-$60,000. A general reading of the documents also suggests that contacts between US officials and the Taliban were far more frequent than is otherwise thought about the period.
The writer is Op-ed Pages Editor of The News.
Email: [email protected]