Question of substance over form - Shafqat Mahmood - Friday, July 30, 2010

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First, a moment of silent prayer for the victims of the catastrophic air crash in Islamabad. Each death is a story, each one a tragedy. May God rest their souls in peace.

Also, deeply felt condolences to Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the information minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This brave man has been at the forefront of the fight against terrorism. Even the terrible heartbreak of his son's murder has not dented his resolve. How many among us would have such courage?

These dreadful events give one pause. The wheel of life, with all its colours comes to a halt as the realisation seeps in of how temporary this world is. But for the grace of God, anyone of us could have been on this plane. Or find ourselves the target of someone's mad, demented vengeance.

In the backdrop of these terrible events, the continuation in government service of one individual may seem less important. But, given the difficult state we are in, it is critical.

Democracy, in a conceptual sense, is the best means to keep a nation together. In theory everyone gets a share, everyone is co-opted. The facts on the ground these days are more complicated, however, with insurgencies in Fata and Balochistan.

The war in Afghanistan with the presence of Nato forces on our borders makes the situation even more difficult. Pakistan has virtually become a neighbour of not just one country but over thirty. Every major nation in the world has an interest in what happens there, and that adds to the complexity of the challenge we face.

Pakistan's armed forces are at the forefront of these multiple tests because the problems are military as well as political. Its leadership is the principle interlocutor for the international community because our role has a bearing on the Afghan war.

Internally, it is engaged in facing serious threats to national integrity. It would be fair to say that today the armed forces are guaranteeing the country's survival. Who commands its vital component, the army, is therefore of great importance, perhaps never more in our troubled history.

It is commonly said that the army is the only functioning institution in Pakistan. I can count a few more, but let us go with this. It is then argued that a viable effective organisation is not and should not be reliant for its success on any particular individual.

The point is also made that an effective institution has or should have orderly succession mechanism in place. The change of command thus should not make much of a difference to the role and effectiveness of the organisation.

There is little to quarrel with these arguments on a conceptual level. Systems that are in place in the army must work, and this includes a change of leadership after the prescribed period. But there is a huge difference between the real and ideal, between the form and substance.

The form dictates that Gen Kayani should retire on the prescribed date and a new commander should assume office. But while the form will be catered to, what about substance?

From whatever little knowledge I have about the functioning of the Pakistani army, very few senior generals today have the experience of dealing with broad strategic issues or of interacting with the military and political leaderships of other countries.

The only two I can think of are Gen Kayani and the director general of the ISI, Gen Pasha. This is not to denigrate the capabilities of any other senior officer. I know some of them and they are outstanding. It is the deep knowledge that comes out of actually doing something, rather than visualising it, that may be missing.

It is for this reason that I welcome the extension to Gen Kayani. He brings not only an outstanding record of military accomplishments, such as the Swat and South Waziristan campaign, but a long experience, three years in the ISI and three as army chief, of directly dealing with difficult security issue facing the country.

He has also accumulated wide knowledge of international negotiations, having interacted with political leaders and military commanders of all the major nations. Some may not understand the significance of this but it is these interactions that often determine the trajectory of our international relations.

The wide understanding we see today of Pakistan's point of view on the Afghan war is largely, if not exclusively, due to the efforts of Gen Kayani. His detailed presentation of Pakistan's point of view to NATO commanders in Brussels has gone a long way in shaping these countries' view of our concerns regarding Afghanistan. The result is greater acknowledgement of Pakistan's role and warmer relations with the Afghan government.

Although some people criticised his role in shaping Pakistan's viewpoint in the strategic dialogue with the US, the fact is that had he not intervened we would have been in trouble. It was Gen Kayani who advised on the methodology of the dialogue and then made sure that we were prepared for it. If this involved interacting directly with senior civil servants, so be it. National interests dictate going beyond the correct form.

The decision of his extension has unleashed an avalanche of criticism and has brought into a strange partnership the ultraliberals and the right wingers who want this government to be sacked by the military. The liberals, because form to them is everything and rightwing media types because they think that after Kayani's extension the government has become more secure.

Both need to transcend these fixations and understand the difficulties that Pakistan faces today. In these testing times, a steady experienced hand is not only essential but critical. This is even more important when we look at the calibre of the top political leadership in the country. A greater bunch of nincompoops would be hard to find anywhere.

I hope, however, that Gen Kayani would over time, play his role to develop a higher command structure for the armed forces that works better than what we have today. In this, I entirely agree with Ikram Sehgal. There is a need to review the efficacy of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Headquarters.

While many senior and competent military officers are assigned to it, this organisation's ability to coordinate apex defence institutions is sorely lacking. The result is that every force is pulling and pushing its own agenda. There is a sort of organised chaos at the top, and that is not desirable.

Gen Kayani can perhaps initiate a move to have a chief of defence forces on the pattern of the British armed forces. This office can then become the overall coordinator and virtual boss of all the services.

And Gen Kayani can move up to this position, ensuring that the promotion chain in the army continues as before. If this is done soon, even those who were now hoping to succeed him can be accommodated.


VIEW: Idealism versus pragmatism —Mohammad Jamil - Saturday, July 31, 2010

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Pakistan is at war with terrorists and there are internal and external threats to its security. In such circumstances, extension of the army chief is justifiable. The Pakistan Army has avoided politics and one should appreciate an army chief who performs his duties within the parameters of the constitution

If idealism is pursued, no extension of extension of service should be given to the army chief, but for continuing the counter-terrorism measures, the extension can be looked upon as logical and inevitable. Ideally speaking, ad hoc judges should not be appointed, as it is against the established norms and principles, but after the PCO judges were shown the door, the chief justice sought appointment of ad hoc judges to ensure quick dispensation of justice. Also, in the case of the extension of the chief of army staff (COAS), pragmatism has taken precedence over idealism because of the dire conditions and the existential threat to Pakistan from local and foreign-inspired terrorists. But the debate continues to rage in the media, and many analysts oppose it on the grounds that individuals are not as important as institutions. Secondly, they state that it will deprive many officers of a promotion, which automatically comes with the retirement of the COAS. One has to remember that Pakistan is at war with terrorists and there are internal and external threats to its security. In such circumstances, extension of the army chief is justifiable. Similarly, in the US, Admiral Mike Mullen has been given a one-year extension because the war on terror has entered a very crucial stage.

But the problem is that our leaders have the penchant of making good decisions look bad by implementing them in a dubious manner. The prime minister’s remark that all major stakeholders — the president, the prime minister, the Supreme Court, chief justice and the army chief — were in a ‘secure position’ until 2013 is a case in point. On the other hand, detractors of the government and a few media personnel, who had supported the appointment of ad hoc judges, are opposing the extension of the army chief. By highlighting the ‘heartburn’ of the military officers who will lose their promotions, efforts are being made to undermine respect for the chain of command, a hallmark of the Pakistan Army. These groups do not realise that by doing so, they are wittingly or unwittingly trying to sow seeds of dissension among the army personnel, who are known for their sacrifices. Forgoing a promotion would be a trivial matter for them. Nonetheless, there was no dearth of patriotic media persons who wrote appreciatively about the extension, which they considered to be imperative in order to take the military campaign against terrorists to its logical conclusion.

Almost all political parties have supported the move or given comments like those given by PML-N. Some PML-N leaders complained that the prime minister did not discuss the matter with Mian Nawaz Sharif. Maulana Fazlur Rehman also hinted that he was not taken into confidence. If we walk this road, then other questions emerge. Did Mian Nawaz Sharif take the late Benazir Bhutto into confidence when he showed the door to then COAS Jehangir Karamat? Had Mian Nawaz Sharif consulted Mohtarma Bhutto when he appointed Pervez Musharraf as COAS, superseding General Ali Quli Khan, who immediately resigned? Knowing Mian sahib’s temperament, one could say that no such matters were discussed in the cabinet. According to reports, at the sacking of Pervez Musharraf, Mian Nawaz Sharif called the then Defence Secretary General Iftikhar and discussed the matter. General Iftikhar had reportedly suggested letting Pervez Musharraf return from Sri Lanka and then be shown a ceremonial exit, but the suggestion was ignored. The problem with our leaders is that they do not want to consult others on issues of national importance but expect others to take them into confidence.

There is no denying that General Kayani has conducted himself admirably during the last three years and stayed away from politics. He salvaged the situation when the government and opposition were on a collision course during the movement for the restoration of the judiciary. He is perhaps the first army head that strictly directed all officers of the Pakistan Army to avoid politics in line with the established rules and did not call any politician to GHQ. In a letter written to officers, he stated the role of the armed forces was already defined in the country’s laws and constitution, adding that the officers should not indulge in any profit-making venture other than their salary and perks as per their ranks. Following his directives, army officers deployed in civil departments were recalled to their units, a move that was appreciated by the people at large. The point here is that while people have often welcomed the promulgation of martial law, the writers and intellectuals have criticised and condemned it because the constitution is thrown to the winds. Nevertheless, one should appreciate an army chief who performs his duties within the parameters of the constitution.

Except for pseudo-intellectuals, who have a passion for Pakistan-bashing and wish to see clashes between the state’s pillars, all other groups will admit that the military is not involved in politics today and, according to reports, the political wing of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was also closed three years ago. The self-righteous and ‘paragons’ of scruples should not offer suggestions to the army chief to not accept the extension, which reportedly has been done. It is noteworthy that when General Kayani took over as COAS, terrorists had traumatised the people of the northwest and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The writ of the state did not exist in Swat and Malakand, as the civil administration was on the run. Even political leaders had abandoned their abodes to find safe havens. In FATA, extremists had either killed political agents or forced them to quit the region. Today, however, Swat and Malakand have been cleared and the operation in South Waziristan has been completed. A lot still has to be done, which justifies the extension of the COAS. It is hoped that he will lead the military to higher pinnacles of professionalism and preparedness during his next three years.

The writer is a freelance columnist. He can be reached at

A carnival atop a volcano - Roedad Khan - Friday, July 30, 2010

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In the farcical system we have today, things are not what they appear to be. Realism does not exist in Islamabad because life in Islamabad is itself a fiction. The Constitution says one thing. What happens on the ground is something quite different. Behind the constitution, there is an unwritten constitution which governs the state.

Prime Minister Gilani, known for his sartorial elegance, is obsessed by externals and is addicted to appearances with a passion for clothes, collar and cuff. He shocked the nation when, just before midnight on July 22, he appeared on television, looking quite bedraggled, visibly nervous, overwhelmed by the "momentous" decision he was about to announce. His address lasted for a little more than two minutes. All he wanted to tell his people was that he had decided to extend Army Chief Kayani's term by three years in recognition of his services to the nation or words to that effect! Many questions come to mind. Gilani says it was a simple administrative matter. If so, why did he have to make the announcement on TV at that late hour in such a terrible hurry? Was it his own decision? Was it the supreme commander's decision? Was it their joint decision? My answer is no. Everyone knows where such decisions are made. Everyone knows where the true pole of power lies in this country. But more of that some other time.

These are dangerous times in our country. These are also anti-elitist times. Angry mobs are howling for retribution. Pakistan is seething in ferment and in disarray. This is dangerous. Under an imbecile and feeble government, as we have today, there is but one step from discontent to revolution. A sad situation, but true. The country appears to be adrift. Nobody knows where it was headed without wise and mature leadership to guide or direct it. Pakistan, a fractured and despondent society, unable to imagine a decent future for itself as it plunges into listless desperation and radicalisation, stands on the edge of the abyss. Signs of danger abound, but like the proverbial boiling frog, we seem unable to rouse ourselves. In our political life, we wait until things reach the emergency room.

What is most intriguing is that the rhythm of life remains, more or less, unchanged. "Everything seems", as Goethe said, "to be following its normal course because even in terrible moments in which everything is at stake people go on living as if nothing were happening". In Pakistan, as in geology, things can look perfectly stable on the surface - until the tectonic plates shift underneath. The straws in the wind are there. Time will show whether there are enough of them to make a bale of hay.

Sixty-three years after independence, are we really free? Are the people masters in their own house? I am deliberately putting the case with all its bluntness to highlight what is at stake. Today say "Pakistan" and what comes to mind – military coups, sham democracy, an accidental and powerful president, a non-sovereign rubber-stamp parliament, and a ceremonial prime minister. Today Pakistan is not just a "rentier state", not just a client state -- it is a slave state, ill-led, ill-governed by a power-hungry junta and a puppet government set up by Washington.

If you want to see the chasm between the grotesquely rich and the abject poor, come to Pakistan. The privileged few own the country and all the sources of life; the rest just pray or die. Pakistan today is a land of opportunities for corrupt, unscrupulous, unprincipled politicians holding fake degrees, dishonest civil servants, smugglers and tax-evaders who have bank accounts, luxurious villas, mansions and apartments in the west. A great divide, a yawing chasm – some call it a new Iron Curtain – separates them from their less fortunate countrymen, whose life is "nasty, brutish and short". They have a stake in the status quo or the system as they call it. While life at the top gets cushier, millions of jobless people and those at the bottom of the social ladder are forced to resort to crime merely to survive. Many of them are fleeing the country and desperately trying to escape to the false paradises of the Middle East and the west. The rich are getting richer, while the poor are sinking deeper and deeper into a black hole of abject poverty.

If you want to see how a free nation is stifled by authoritarian corrupt rulers through its own apathy and folly, visit Pakistan. Today Pakistan – battered, its pride bruised – is a pretty pessimistic place. One by one, the lights are going out. But there is still time for those to whom liberties, supremacy of parliament, the rule of law, the independent judiciary, democracy and civilian government mean something, to get together to decide how to meet this challenge. Submission to corrupt rulers is no option. I call it treason. The strong are strong because we are on our knees. All the philosophers tell the people they are the strongest, and that if they are sent to the slaughterhouse, it is because they have let themselves be led there. Tyranny is retreating everywhere except in Pakistan. The rule of law marching everywhere except in Pakistan.

One man, one man alone, my countrymen, is responsible for the mess we are in today. Zardari is the fault line that has fractured our country. Corruption at the summit of power is eating away the fabric of the nation. Zardari is at the apex of a deeply corrupt state apparatus. But he feels confident that as long as the army could be relied upon, the Supreme Court or public discontent presented no real danger to his rule. Time will show. We have to wait and see. The world failed to foresee the tidal pull of events in 1979 that swept away the Shah of Iran. The Iranian army, one of the best in the region, could not save him or itself from the wrath of the people. The world may soon see this historic event repeating itself in Pakistan.

The state of things has been so insufferable that one longs for it to be decided, as it must be now, one way or another. Unfortunately, the tyranny of the status quo is too strong and only a major crisis can produce a real change. When we organise with one another, when we get involved, when we stand up and speak out together, we can create a power no government can suppress. We live in a beautiful country. But people who have nothing but contempt for the people and no respect for democracy, freedom or justice have taken it over. It is up to all of us to take it back. And as Margaret Mead said, 'Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has'. Those who support the corrupt order are standing against the irrevocable march of history and are doomed to failure.

Who is in charge of this sad country today? I recall from my memory some lines from an unknown writer about a railway accident:

Who is in charge of the clattering train / And the pace is hot, and the points are near / And Sleep has deadened the driver's ear / And the signals flash through the night in vain / For Death is in charge of the clattering train.

I end this article with one of Prime Minister Chou en Lai's poems written in the early days of the struggle when Chinese faced similar problems as we do in Pakistan today.

A whirlwind pounds / Our heartsick land / The nation sinks / And no one minds.

Look where the Chinese are today. Citizens! No nation on earth has ever maintained its independence or its political institutions without a struggle.

The writer is a former federal secretary. Email:,

COMMENT: Would the media kill democracy? —Elf Habib - Friday, July 30, 2010

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A free, fair and independent media is undoubtedly an inalienable instrument for the existence, essence and advancement of modern democracies. However, many futurists in Pakistan, while espousing the need for an independent and intrepid media, are haunted by the ominous impact of its misdirected zeal and outbursts

The Punjab Assembly resolution seeking a reasonable restraint by media persons in reporting the errors and omissions of the elected representatives ignited ire, angst and protests among some media circles. The acrimonious debates and accusations stirred by the two sides, which jointly endured the excruciating burden of the judges and generals’ might and machinations during dictatorships, has now apparently subsided. Yet the miasma of bickering leaves some serious questions to be pondered on and resolved by the protagonists. The media, having managed an almost instant quantum leap by importing the latest equipment, adopting a fast track style of reporting, and introducing torrid talk shows and rapid response roving teams, is really galloping rather too fast. Blinded by its reckless race of being the first in news breaking bouts, it would really have to pause and probe if the politicians falling prey to its attacks are also sufficiently evolved, stable and sturdy to withstand its scrutiny and scalpel.

A free, fair and independent media is undoubtedly an inalienable instrument for the existence, essence and advancement of modern democracies. However, many futurists in Pakistan, while espousing the need for an independent and intrepid media, are haunted by the ominous impact of its misdirected zeal and outbursts. The fire and fury of its newfound freedom fielded against the elected representatives, for instance, could stigmatise and scrub the system, an idea aptly captured in the couplet: Mujhay khauf atish-e-gul say hay/Kaheen yehee chaman ko jala na dey (I fear the glow of the flower/Lest it set fire to the garden).

Democratic periods have invariably been drubbed by the establishment, superior courts and adventurist generals. Politicians have been the weakest players and the worst sufferers in the grandiose power games dominated by the remaining trio. They are mercilessly hounded and humiliated by the special as well as superior courts under the cloak of accountability and chastisement. Even when the generals, being the real, unchallenged and ultimate sovereigns of our system and statecraft, tacitly slide behind the curtain to orchestrate the short surrealistic symphony of civilian rule, the courts created by them move at an inexplicably fierce pace to exorcise the elected representatives. Most of the media also, as if stirred by some strange subtle cue, ignore the darker deeds of the judiciary and dictators and become obsessed with the vivisection of the elected representatives to highlight their most sensitive spots for judicial bombardment. The way the court’s onslaught on the National Reconciliation Ordinance and degree credentials was manoeuvred by the media resembles a well-organised war plan in which selected signallers spotlight the most susceptible and damaging targets in the territory intended for invasion.

A deliberately selective slant in sifting the aberrations of the legislature and sparing the other main perpetrators like the judiciary, generals, khaki-cum-mufti bureaucracy and the media moguls is a brazen violation of the minimum basic legal, ethical and journalistic niceties. It negates the established historic trends and traditions of the illustrious democracies to dig out the details, causative factors and agents for the darker episodes they endured and ensure a proper retribution to the perpetrators to prevent their recurrence.

Fake degrees were certainly a dubious device to circumvent the strictures set by a dictator but the conduct, perhaps, as declared by Shahbaz Sharif, “was not as egregious as the Kargil crime”, which evidently alluded to the entire catalogue of defiance and defilation of the constitutions. Some other leaders would, likewise, find it less horrendous than the oaths recanted by our superior judges. Yet the media never dissected the defiled oaths, the ancillary illegality of the incumbents and the dilemma of a democratic dispensation stuck against the dictator’s judges. It never portrayed the alleged partiality of the present judiciary, doubts clouding its legality as raised by Irfan Qadir, or the desirability of a new judiciary radiating really impeccable democratic antecedents and ordained through a transparent system approved by the elected representatives. It has similarly failed in digging up the deeds of dictatorship and the sources of the fabulous whopping fortunes of their families, friends and favourites. Qazi Hussain’s barbs about the assonance between “the corps and crore commanders” and Altaf Hussain’s assertions regarding “more corruption being coupled to more funds” were never investigated.

The media has similarly failed to foster popular support for proper resource generation and distribution, without which even the most fervent faith in democracy is bound to wither and vanish. Democracy is about an equitable sharing and participation by all to stimulate a surge of innovation and creativity in the crafts, commerce, industry, science, arts and culture. It is nurtured by adequate investment in skill building, and making human health, happiness and habitat as the prime focus of the state. Yet, the media never debated the highly excessive and unjustified allocations to the defence sector, including the sudden latest escalation of Rs 105 billion. It excoriates the government for failure on these fronts without pointing out the real reason for its helplessness, while pleading and pressing for the exigency to rationalise the defence budgets. Its furore against the Kerry-Lugar Act and the civilian control over state agencies exposes its adamant alignment against a genuine pre-eminence of parliament. It has rather propagated a morbid passion for the war and armaments potential, touting the Taliban and nuclear weapons as prime national assets. Presently, it does portray the horrors and havoc wrought by the Taliban but never talks of those who created this curse. It has built cloyingly magical mountains of national honour, which are so tenuous that they are torn apart even by the most trifling comments about Kashmir, nukes and defence capabilities, but are exceptionally immune to the ignominy of our indicators of ignorance, hunger, and development. It rather feeds us on the mediaeval notions of greatness measured by grandiose armies, armaments and annexations.

Its entire penchant, unfortunately, spawns suicidal ignorance, irrationality, emotionalism, jingoistic isolationism and an overblown role of religion in international relations and economic resurgence. It nonchalantly smothers any unbiased self-evaluation, painting us as the paragon of perfection being paralysed by western conspiracies. Yet it prompts them to extend more aid and weapons. It conjures a strange megalomaniacal fantasy about our unique strategic location, spinning a myth that a diplomatic wand would make the world remit our loans, end our economic woes and grant us an unparalleled, ever-expanding empire. Its impetuous irrationality and partiality are bound to drown democracy or the evolution and existence of any other equitable system.

The writer is an academic and freelance columnist. He can be reached at

Archivists keeping history alive - By Peerzada Salman

KARACHI, July 28: Who wouldn’t like to have a look at a poem written by Raees Imrohvi or Ibn-i-Insha in their own handwriting? Who wouldn’t be interested in a 1942 copy of Dawn, headlined in all caps, screaming the need for withdrawal of the British from India? Who wouldn’t like to go through a series of documents related to the 1857 mutiny, entailing some intriguing details?
Sadly, the answer to the three questions would be: not many. It goes to show the kind of intellectual bankruptcy that modern-day Pakistan has to put up with.
The Sindh Archives Department, Government of Sindh, has been filling its drawers, shelves and cupboards with valuable documents, manuscripts, books and files. Established in 1976, the department has come a long way, going through troughs and peaks vis-à-vis administrative issues. Things are relatively settled now, save for the matter regarding a block of building that was initially meant to be an auditorium. Work on that block is yet to finish and according to the special secretary for information and archives department, Iqbal Nafees Khan, if that block hadn’t been affected by delays, he would have set up a freedom gallery and transferred a section of the always-burgeoning archival documents there.
Giving a brief historical background to the department, Mr Khan says: “It was Bartle Frere, commissioner in Sindh, who started collecting records in the first half of the 19th century. He was a man who had a deep interest in development projects. Frere would always crib and grouse about lack of funds, so much so that he was labelled ‘importunate widow’.
“We’ve been constantly collecting precious scripts. It’s not an easy job. For example, we’ve recently had some really valuable stuff from Prof Shariful Mujahid. It’s a delightful mix of pamphlets, documents and newspaper clippings. The thing is that we don’t have enough people to sort out the thousands of newspaper snippets. We have also obtained from journalist Shafi Aqeel nazms and ghazals by legendary Urdu poets in their own handwriting. Then in the near future we wish to establish a sound and picture archives section as well which will require special attention,” says Mr Khan.
Visiting the Sindh Archives Complex demands passion and patience in equal measure.
There’s a constantly expanding treasure that needs undivided attention. If you’re interested in Sindh High Court records, a full day at the complex might not suffice. If you want to know more about the 1857 mutiny, you’ll get hooked to the user-friendly, digitised software that the department has developed. One click and the uprising will unfold before your eyes. Talking of the events of 1857, there’s an extremely interesting document titled Shabha Ram’s Prayer in which Hindus and Sikhs are asked to pray for the success of British troops during the mutiny.
“The software that we have developed for (1,200) manuscripts is multilingual and is in five Oriental languages. One of the problems that we face is of prioritising, that is, which particular manuscript to take care of first, etc. To tackle that issue, we’ve formed a committee that will lay out principles for prioritising. Our website is also up and running, but we need to make our own data centre because there are certain limitations with the current web host,” says Mr Khan.
Among the recently obtained old records by the department are the 5,429-old official or government publications, files and books of, or belonging to, Sindh acquired from Punjab.
The collection (gazetteers, administration reports, conference proceedings, censure reports, assembly debates and memoirs) was shifted to Punjab during the One-Unit period.
There’s no less material for literature buffs at the complex. From the masnavi Daqaequl haqaeq by Ahmed Rumi (gifted to Emperor Shahjahan) to Sirajjudin Zafar’s poignant couplets to Faiz sahib’s black & white photo with a Daghistani farmer… the archives department is fraught with priceless items. It fills you with elation when you read the following two lines written in blue ink by Sirajuddin Zafar:
Mahvishon say khush-khayali keejyey
Phir koee bay-aitadali keejyey
Let’s get back to a lesson in history, and that too not of distant past. Prof Shariful Mujahid’s collection of news clippings has a fair chunk of old pre-partition editions of Dawn. One on Aug 2, 1942 is headlined: DEMAND FOR BRITISH WITHDRAWAL— Culminating Point in Gandhi’s Policy of Blackmailing. A supplement on Aug 15, 1947 has the headline DAWN PAKISTAN SUPPLEMENT. They’re worth reading over and over again… if you have the time for it.
“What we’re doing will perhaps benefit the future generations more than the current one,” says Mr Khan.

Here we go again! - Ikram Sehgal - Thursday, July 29, 2010

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In another major attack on Pakistan's credibility as a responsible entity among the comity of nations, among the 92,000 secret US documents about the Afghan war leaked to the media by WikiLeak, a number of reports accused Pakistan's premier intelligence agency of being in collusion with the Taliban. The "war logs" also alleged ISI involvement in plots to kill President Hamid Karzai as well as planning strategy for attacks against US and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Independent analysts warned that most of the intelligence material was of questionable value, coming from sources inimical to Pakistan.

Clearly fabricated, inconsistent and certainly not verified, it was not surprising that most emanated from the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan's premier intelligence agency, which was taken over lock, stock and barrel by India's RAW when the Northern Alliance came to power.

As director general of the ISI in the late 1980s, Lt Gen (Retd) Hameed Gul was actively working with the CIA in aiding the Taliban. His views are well known and have not really changed. His extreme stance is presently at variance with the moderate nature of the "great silent majority" of Pakistanis. One does not agree with him on any number of issues, however one does respect his integrity and patriotism. To suggest that he would support the Taliban actively in any way, particularly when the army that he loves and served with distinction is at war with them, is, in his own words, "preposterous."

There is a radical difference between the ISI that existed during the Afghan war and the ISI that exists today. Clandestine organisation like the ISI, the CIA, MI-5 and the former KGB, of necessity operate in grey areas. But that any would work against the best interests of the state is ridiculous. The Pakistani army shields Pakistan from its enemies, the ISI provides the outer shield for Pakistan and the army. Our enemies' motives in their constant attacks on the ISI are well known: reduce the shield and you compromise the security and integrity of Pakistan.

The documents leaked by WikiLeak include details of war crimes by US and coalition forces and the involvement of Karzai's family in drug smuggling, yet these got only cursory media attention. Nowhere in the 92,000 documents does there seem to be any mention of India, good or bad. One may well ask: why this golden silence on India? True to form, the Afghan presidential spokesman, Waheed Omar, studiously focused on Pakistan, saying the "documents could help raise awareness on the sanctuaries Islamabad provides for militant groups." That about sums up Afghanistan's hostility to Pakistan and its ingratitude for all the sacrifices Pakistan has made (and is making) for Afghanistan. Only the week before, the Pakistani government had signed a memorandum of understanding under which the Afghans will receive most-favoured free access to Pakistani ports as well as to roads/railways communications infrastructure.

It is time our foreign policy to discover self-respect. One is forced to use language that is not diplomatic: till they learn to shut up and keep shut, we should allow only food essentials for Afghanistan to transit through Pakistan, and nothing else. As regards transit facilities for India to Afghanistan, either through Karachi port or Wagah, somebody in our government needs to get their head examined for even agreeing to talk about it. We do not need Afghanistan, they need us.

The US has forcefully condemned the leaks as harmful to their national security interests. However, there is a hint of a "wink" and a "nod" to put Pakistan under further pressure "to do none." One has great respect for Admiral Mike Mullen. What he has achieved in calming the suspicions and fears of our armed forces is remarkable but this doublespeak in the US establishment is shocking. One is heartened by comments by US lawmakers who have taken into account the tremendous sacrifices rendered by Pakistani security forces in dealing with the militants. They rightly say that the leaks do not represent facts as they exist on the ground today.

Richard Haass, chairman of the Council of Foreign Relations appeared on a show (hosted by CNN's Fareed Zakaria) to announce blithely that Pakistan allows Al-Qaeda to roam about freely in Pakistan and manipulates Afghanistan in its designs against India. While Indian Muslim Fareed Zakaria (an original "Uncle Tom") has a vested interest in showing himself as being more loyal than the king, these accusations were mind-boggling. We are the ones suffering most at the hands of Al-Qaeda and, to correct Haass, just look at the geography. It is the other way around: it is India that manipulates Afghanistan for its own purposes against Pakistan.

With experience in the White House working with both the younger and elder Bush, Haass was an insider in the making of decisions affecting millions. In his Essay "Dilemma of Dissent," Haass disclosed that "very frequently the rulers and their close aides made important (decisions) without proper enquiry, analysis or debate." Those facilitating such decision-making Haass calls "enablers." One way to avoid becoming an "enabler" was to resign. That unfortunately requires a conscience. Richard Haass became an "enabler" rather than risk "being ignored or overruled."

Bluntly put, many American soldiers and Iraqis across the board have died (and are dying) because people like Haass wanted to stay within the reaches of power. If any order is unlawful, further action is a matter of morality. People like Haass sacrificed morality at the altar of their own careers. To quote from my article "Defining Character" published on May 28, 2009: "Richard Haass may be brilliant, he is also a self-confessed intellectually dishonest person." Yet, people like Haass proliferate in the upper reaches of US decision-making and can rule the airwaves to spread false perceptions.

Perception is nine-tenths of media law. To quote from my recent article "Pie in the sky": "Propaganda is a deliberate attempt to persuade people by any available media to think and then behave in a manner desired by the source, it is really the means to an end. There could be individual Taliban sympathisers in the ranks of Pakistan's intelligence agencies and other official circles, but to say that Pakistan provides concerted institutional support…is nonsense, it demeans not only the blood that our soldiers have shed fighting the Taliban but that of our innocent civilians also."

As a coherent platform for our national security strategy, our present media policy is quite impractical and is tilted inwards, rather than being focussed externally. The stakes are high, a comprehensive media strategy must incorporate the new ground realities and must project Pakistan abroad by coalescing and force-multiplying the talent and potential of the private sector. The attacks on the army and the ISI have grave national repercussions for us, and they will happen again and again unless we do something.

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email:

COMMENT: WikiLeaks fiasco —Ali K Chishti - Thursday, July 29, 2010

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Although the WikiLeaks fiasco is embarrassing for both the US and Pakistan, as it reflects the mistrust between the two closest allies in the war on terror, without each other’s support they cannot win the war on terror

WikiLeaks, a Swedish whistleblower project, consists of activist journalists who have previously leaked videos and articles embarrassing the US government. Only a couple of days back, it leaked more than 90,000 top secret documents of the US military, consisting of cables, internal memos and e-mails sent out to various Department of Defence (DoD) officials related to Afghanistan, revealing: i) how the coalition forces have killed thousands of civilians in unreported incidents; ii) Taliban attacks have soared; and iii) how NATO commanders fear neighbouring Pakistan and Iran are fuelling the insurgency.

While President Obama’s national security adviser, General James L Jones deplored the disclosure of classified information on the plea that it “would put the lives of Americans and US partners at risk”, a top Pakistani diplomat responded that “the leaks are troubling and shows the nature of alliance and trust between the US and Pakistan, which could only be termed as ‘damaging’ to Pakistan and Pakistani military.”

The most disturbing aspect of the WikiLeaks is the ISI’s “working alongside al Qaeda” to plan attacks and, as the New York Times puts it, “The behind-the-scenes frustrations of soldiers on the ground and glimpses of what appear to be Pakistani skulduggery contrast sharply with the frequently rosy public pronouncements of Islamabad as an ally by American officials looking to sustain a drone campaign over parts of Pakistani territory to strike at Qaeda havens.” Another document on WikiLeaks points towards how the ISI trains group of insurgents and has a pool of suicide bombers, who are used to destabilise peace in Afghanistan. One such report from December 18, 2006 describes how suicide bombers are recruited and trained in Pakistan and sent out on missions where the Afghan National Police (ANP) helps them to carry out their missions.

The ISI and Pakistan would seriously have to do a lot of PR to get out of this latest scandal. The “word ISI in 90,000 document leaks appeared more than 50,000 times,” said a source from WikiLeaks who himself admitted that “the American soldiers and CIA seem to be ISI-phobic”. Accordingly to WikiLeaks: “We are not helping make an opinion about anyone — we are just interested in transparency.”

In what is the most direct allegation on the Pakistani top spy agency, the ISI, WikiLeaks gives an insider’s view of how top American defence officials view the ISI’s role, “which is a rigidly hierarchical organisation that has little tolerance for ‘rogue’ activity”. It is worth mentioning that, according to WikiLeaks, ISI’s S Wing, which deals with external operations, had been given “broad autonomy”. In another disturbing account, CIA’s deputy director Stephen R Kappes confronts Pakistani officials with evidence that the ISI helped plan a deadly suicide bombing on the Indian embassy in Kabul in July 2008. Yet another leak alleges that, in August 2008, a presumably “gone rogue” ISI colonel plotted to assassinate President Hamid Karzai, news which could potentially disturb Pakistan’s newfound relationship with Hamid Karzai.

More documents released by WikiLeaks suspect how PAKMIL, a word used to describe the Pakistan Army, helps the Taliban to destabilise ISAF/NATO in Afghanistan, describing the networks of Pakistani assets and collaborators that run from Pakistan’s tribal belt along the Afghan border through southern Afghanistan all the way to the capital Kabul.

And, finally, damaging details have come to the surface about Pakistan’s former top spymaster and general, Hamid Gul, who after almost two decades of retirement from the ISI, “does not seem to be out of work”. WikiLeaks documents indicate in detail that Hamid Gul still works tirelessly with the Haqqanis and Hekmatyar to destabilise Afghanistan. In some instances, the leaks give an impression that Hamid Gul acts as a ‘front man’ and a ‘proxy’ for the ISI. One report gives details of Hamid Gul meeting with the Afghan Taliban and “three older Arab men” to plan and avenge the death of Zamarai, an important al Qaeda leader, who was killed by a drone attack. According to another report, General Gul urged the Taliban commanders “to focus their operations inside Afghanistan in exchange for Pakistan turning a ‘a blind eye’ to their presence in Pakistan’s tribal areas”. General Hamid Gul, as usual, dismissed the reports, terming them as “another conspiracy” and “absolute nonsense”. A source from an intelligence agency confirmed that Hamid Gul had “always been in radars” and is known to make “random trips and communications to the tribal areas”.

To conclude, if WikiLeaks is to be believed (they have a reputation of being reliable), Pakistan has a lot of cleaning up to do. The timeframe of over 90,000 documents leaked was between 2004-2009 before the whole Af-Pak Policy was laid down by the new administration in the White House and prior to the US-Pak Strategic Dialogue in which General Kayani himself gave a long presentation winning many admirers within the US administration. Although the WikiLeaks fiasco is embarrassing for both the US and Pakistan, as it reflects the mistrust between the two closest allies in the war on terror, without each other’s support they cannot win the war on terror. Where the Pakistan military needs to come clean on folks like Hamid Gul, the US must realise that Pakistan has a legitimate concern in Afghanistan and try to stop such embarrassing leaks.

The writer is a political analyst. He can be reached at

WASHINGTON DIARYWaris Shah’s battle against mullah shahi—Dr Manzur Ejaz - Wednesday, July 28, 2010

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In his first encounter with Heer, Ranjha teaches the arrogant and pampered daughter of the feudal chief that ‘human love’ is not based on good looks but on being humble and serving the needy

If I were the US ambassador I would have certainly made it to Waris Shah’s 212th anniversary because he is the most adored Punjabi poet and was the most articulate ideologue against ‘mullah shahi’. He used the epic story of Heer Ranjha to critique the entire system of the feudal era in which mullah shahi played a key role. Waris had an ideological edge over his competitors like Damodar Das who, being the pioneer of the poetic version of Heer Ranjha, was much more skilful in dramatic depiction.

If Waris Shah could look at the world today, he would be smiling to see that in many countries women can wed the person of her choice irrespective of caste, creed or economic status. However, he would weep at the sight of contemporary Punjab, where he might be killed for criticising mullah shahi within hours of the critique. He would also be howling to witness honour killings and all other kinds of tortures meted out to women in his beloved Punjab. He would be astonished to see that in most areas of his land the Heer of today does not enjoy the freedom that his Heer of the medieval period was granted.

Though Waris Shah wove his story around a disaffected artistic-minded Ranjha, a flutist, and Heer, a strong-willed daughter of a feudal chieftain, he critiqued the key institutions of society that do not respect individual choice. Waris Shah expanded the horizon of the folktale of Heer Ranjha by explaining the core issue: that a woman cannot marry a person of her choice because of a system plagued by tribalism, caste discrimination, religion, corruption and other prevailing regressive forces. Therefore, Waris Shah makes it clear in the beginning that he is creating a new version of Heer (qissa Heer da nawan banaaiye ji).

Unlike his predecessors who started the tale on idealistic notions, Waris Shah concentrated on the role of property in society. After the death of his father, Ranjha’s brothers are jealous of him because of the deceased’s affection for him, manoeuvre the system of justice and give him barren land. The qazi, who used to have control over the revenue and system of justice along with the village panchs — headmen — were bribed by Ranjha’s brothers.

Wadhi de ke bhoin de banay waris banjar zimin Ranjaithe noon aai hai (They became the owner of the cultivable land through bribery while Ranjha was given the barren land).

Throughout the story, Waris Shah depicts the qazis as the most corrupt persons who always collaborate with the feudal lords against the common people. In fact, Waris was harshly criticising the Mughal era system of justice that was based on a network of qazis, appointed on the basis of religious education.

After criticising the corruption-ridden society of Takht Hazara, Ranjha’s native village, Waris Shah takes him to a mosque, which sheltered travellers. Ranjha plays the flute in the mosque to attract everyone in the village but the mullah. A very few historians mention that the mosque was a contested place between mullah shahi and sufis from Baba Farid to Khawaja Farid. The qazi of Pakpattan had lodged a complaint against Baba Farid alleging that he listens to music and dances in the mosque. Most probably Waris Shah was an affectionate follower of Baba Farid and must have had him in mind through Ranjha debating the mullah. Waris Shah, through describing the long detail of curriculum taught to the mullahs makes it certain that he is debating not only a village mullah but also the entire system of mullah shahi. He concludes that mullahs are evil forces clinging to the house of God.

“Waris Shah, Khuda dian khanian noon eeh mullah bhi chambray hain blain” (Waris Shah, mullahs are evil forces clinging to God’s place).

Waris Shah does not spare the greedy business class that worships money. Through Ranjha’s encounter with the boat owner, who declares that “we give a damn about God and we only work for money”, Waris Shah shows how the mullah and the mallah (boatman) say the same thing about common people, though one uses God’s name and the other negates it. For Waris Shah, the mullah was a parasite and the mallah was a vulture, playing a similar role in society.

In his first encounter with Heer, Ranjha teaches the arrogant and pampered daughter of the feudal chief that ‘human love’ is not based on good looks but on being humble and serving the needy. In the opening dialogues between Heer and Ranjha, Waris Shah defines what real human love is and how to achieve it.

Through Ranjha’s servitude to Heer’s father, the chief of the tribe, Waris Shah exposes the contradictions of the feudal system. For example, Heer’s father dismisses Ranjha when her daughter’s love story starts making the rounds but when his herd of buffaloes cannot be managed he tells his wife that they have to overlook the affair till Heer is married. Depiction of the villain, Kaidoo, is also used by Waris Shah to taunt the hypocritical feudal boasting about honour but ignoring it when his self-interest is at stake.

While criticising the system, Waris Shah rejects the institution of jog as well, which teaches the abandonment of the world. When the head jogi, Balnath, asks Ranjha to go beg and consider every woman as his mother or sister, Ranjha rebuts: “I have adopted jog for the love of a woman, how can I consider every woman as my sister or mother?” For Waris Shah the individual has to fight the system and giving up is not the solution. In this backdrop, through a debate between Ranjha and Sehti, Heer’s sister-in-law, Waris Shah criticises the theories of social science, clichés and commonly held beliefs.

Waris Shah’s tomb has been upgraded from a neglected grave where the anniversaries were celebrated by busloads of activists from Lahore. Now, the Waris Mela has become very huge but his message has been ignored: there are even fewer people in the rural areas that read Waris Shah’s Heer. Waris Shah has been embraced as a ‘pir’ but not as a thinker. But Amrita Pritam’s wailing is still haunting:

“Aj aakhaan Waris Shah noon, kiton qabran wichoon bol” (Today I would beseech Waris Shah to speak from the grave).

The writer can be reached at

COMMENT:Social media Web 2.0—Aliya Anjum - Tuesday, July 27, 2010

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Social media is a game of innovation and creativity requiring fecundity of the mind. It has no place for me-too products, which the Pakistani corporate sector thrives on

The internet is perhaps the only equitable tool of globalisation. Only in a virtual world are people truly the citizens of the world with no borders. Global migration barely represents two percent of the world population, essentially an alarming brain drain. Globalisation has a heavy tilt towards the global North (popularly called ‘the West’). In a world where globalisation is synonymous with McDonaldisation, social media, or Web 2.0, is perhaps the only arm of globalisation where the playing field is level. The juggernaut of technology can be our true friend if Pakistanis have the prudence to ride on this wave as it hits us with full force.

The spread of the internet is astounding. The international Telecommunication Union statistics published by Nielson Online state that, as of December 2009, there were 1.8 billion global internet users, which translates into 26 percent of the global population. It took only 15 years since 1994 to enlist five-year-olds and 75-year-olds alike. This is unprecedented in history. In Pakistan, the World Bank’s World Development Indicators estimated 18.5 million users in 2008.

The next generation of the web is sites such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Wikipedia, etc. These sites have created enormous social networking opportunities. Pakistanis in the US thrive in Silicon Valley, yet Pakistanis in Pakistan fail to make any waves in the world of social media. The biggest issue facing the use of the internet and social media in Pakistan is the language barrier. The Centre for Research in Urdu Language Processing (CRULP), based at National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences, has developed solutions for content and interface localisation not only in Urdu but also in other regional languages. Students of the Institute of Information and Communication Technology (IICT), University of Sindh, introduced a Sindhi version of Google. This work can be extended to the social media.

The use of the internet in Pakistan is limited to search engine usage and email communication in addition to chatting. Pakistanis, both on a professional and personal level, need to catch up with the times and employ social media for maximum outreach.

Twitter is a unique medium to create a social following via SMS alerts giving status updates. As yet, no meaningful tweeting is done from Pakistan. Given the geometric progression of tele-density in Pakistan through cellular phones, this medium can be employed by the public sector to send out public service messages. The ministry of health can tweet immunisation campaign schedules and warn about viral infections. Energy and water conservation tips can be tweeted. City nazims can coordinate cleanliness campaigns around Eid-ul-Azha by tweeting to the citizenry. The opportunities offered are immense. Citizens’ action committees and media watch groups can manage letter, phone or email-based activism through tweets.

The social networking site Facebook was an instant success reaching out to 500 million users in barely five years. It offers opportunities to connect with friends and family in a one-stop shop where users can have a glimpse into the lives of their connections through picture albums, status updates, chatting, emailing and much more. Facebook also offers extremely economical marketing opportunities aimed at specific sub-segments on unprecedented levels using algorithms. Pakistanis have joined the Facebook bandwagon quite successfully for personal and professional use. There has even been a copycat model created by a Pakistan-based Muslim social networking site, although that could not attract many members for obvious reasons. Social media is a game of innovation and creativity requiring fecundity of the mind. It has no place for me-too products, which the Pakistani corporate sector thrives on. One recent initiative of two friends in Karachi on caring for animals in the form of the Pakistan Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) has already gained momentum through Facebook alone. Pakistanis, disillusioned and tired of hearing of doom and gloom political scenarios predicted ad nauseam on TV, were quick to rally behind a worthy cause. Thus, those who can take the lead may soon find a pied piper following.

Community engagement and generating goodwill are other avenues for social media. Social activism through online communities, called social entrepreneurship, has gained momentum in the US. In Karachi, two such ventures are and, both of which actively lobby for issues related to urban planning. Their activism built public opinion that halted the Karachi Elevated Expressway project on social, economic and aesthetic grounds. However, they do not employ social media through blogging, tweeting or Facebook to gain an audience for their cause. If they were to engage the public through these available means, the citizens would be empowered and the cause would gain momentum.

Blogging is a very convenient medium to reach out to people. Blogs generate discussions. Bloggers can share personal experiences or indulge in geeky discussions about Google’s new android phone ‘Nexus’. Travel junkies around the world unite in blogs to share tips on sightseeing, hotels, commuting and money saving. There are hardly any popular blogs from Pakistan that generate a constructive dialogue. The Muslim psyche remains greatly misunderstood after 9/11 and Pakistan bears the brunt of this unfortunate development. Yet, voices of moderation reaching out from Pakistan are few and far between. Blogging is one avenue to dispel myths, create dialogue and pave the way for a peaceful coexistence. Blogs by Pakistani men and women can go a long way in correcting stereotypical images of Pakistan. University students should be encouraged to write blogs to make the Pakistani voice heard internationally. It may be noted that one of the world’s most popular blogs,, began as an MBA course project.

Doctors in the US have created an online community at reaching out to peers covering 68 specialties in medicine. Pakistani professionals, especially researchers and academics, can build upon the idea to create synergies in their respective professions.

Collaborative, open source information sharing sites such as Wikipedia allow quick and easy access for reference purposes. Students, professionals and teachers find Wikipedia convenient for a quick reference as it is quite reliable despite the fact that it is open for public addition and deletion. An Urdu version of Wikipedia would go a long way towards expanding the knowledge base of students in Pakistan.

The writer is an academic and can be reached at

VIEW:US decline is China’s opportunity — II—S P Seth - Tuesday, July 27, 2010

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There is a wide chasm between rural and urban China in terms of incomes and socially, creating a lot of resentment and protests in different parts of China. There are reportedly more than 100,000 cases of protests and demonstrations in China annually

Although China was hit by the global financial crisis with a significant fall in its exports, the situation has largely been retrieved. Even though western economies are in bad shape, they have no real options except to buy cheap goods from China. Therefore, the US and European countries have been pressing China to revalue its currency to (1) regain the competitiveness of their manufactures and (2) to reduce their respective trade deficits with China.

China has lately responded with some small appreciation of its currency but, unless the Chinese currency appreciates significantly, it will not make any dent in China’s trade surpluses with much of the world. And there is no sign that China will significantly appreciate its currency to the satisfaction of the US and its other western trading partners. However, China wants to reduce its dependence on exports and has taken some steps to stimulate its domestic economy. But there are dangers that this could create inflationary pressures. This has been evident in the real estate market where prices have simply ballooned to make it unaffordable for most Chinese people except the very rich.

Notwithstanding its counter-measures to rein in the economy, the hybrid nature of China’s capitalist economy and the Communist Party’s (CP’s) monopoly of power is creating serious contradictions. It is difficult to reconcile the two irreconcilable elements. For instance, an uncomfortable nexus has developed between the CP and the new economic class spawned and controlled by the CP. Some of the major strategic industries, like power, transportation, etc, are either owned or controlled by the children (dubbed ‘princelings’) of the top former and present party leadership.

A similar picture is replicated at the lower rungs of the power structures in regions, local areas and so on, which has led to widespread nepotism and corruption nationally, causing great resentment among the people, even though dissemination of such information defaming China’s power elite is prohibited, except in cases where the defamed party leaders have fallen foul of the dominant power group at different levels. Which brings up the question of lack or absence of accountability, leading to the perpetuation of the same old rot for want of remedial avenues through open airing of corruption in relevant political and judicial structures.

Another serious problem arises from a relatively depressed rural sector of the economy. Indeed, the first sector to gain from a relatively open economy in China was the agricultural sector where communes and collectives were dismantled, with peasants energised to work on their farms (though still owned by the state) with increased production and improved earnings. However, from the 1990s, the emphasis shifted to an industrial economy, with the rural sector providing a supportive role. In other words, the farming sector increasingly came to subsidise the urban economy.

The primary shift to an industrial economy affected the rural sector in a number of ways. (1) There was the relative neglect from the state, with very little new investments in the rural sector; (2) this led to depressed economic conditions with no new employment opportunities; (3) the influx into urban areas of rural migrant labour with no legal status and hence denied whatever state benefits accrue to those with legal urban residency; (4) cheap migrant labour, with staggered and delayed wages, and (5) the perpetuation of urban tales of rising crimes attributed to the new rural work force.

China is believed to have a floating rural migrant workforce of anywhere between 120 to 150 million and always on the move. Worst still, because of the needs of urban construction of housing and industrial plants, more and more rural land has been acquired legally with grossly insufficient compensation, or simply illegally, depriving its occupants of their living and occupations. In other words, there is a wide chasm between rural and urban China in terms of incomes and socially, creating a lot of resentment and protests in different parts of China. There are reportedly more than 100,000 cases of protests and demonstrations in China annually.

Out of China’s total population of 1.3 billion, its rural proportion is estimated at around 800 million. And these are the people who have either missed out or only partly gained from China’s industrial transformation, and are not terribly happy about the glaring inequalities and inequities of new China.

While China has opened up economically and socially in so many ways, its political system remains tightly controlled. The CP has largely co-opted the urban middle class into the glitter of moneymaking and upward mobility, thereby neutralising its political aspirations and thus leaving the party to exercise its political monopoly. But almost all Chinese people hate the systemic and ever-growing corruption involving the party bureaucracy and political elite. There is, therefore, always the danger of a spontaneous combustion of popular anger at some point in time.

However, as things stand today, China is increasingly emerging as a new superpower, although the US still remains the world’s most powerful military power, with the world’s largest economy. The US economy, though, is plagued with all sorts of problems, with China emerging as a major creditor by investing close to one trillion in US securities. Indeed, China is emerging as a creditor to a number of countries, including some European countries.

China is investing and making deals all over the world (Africa, Middle East, Asia, Latin America) to secure the supply of oil, gas, metals and other resources to keep up the momentum of its growing economy. These deals sometimes reek of a neo-colonial pattern. For instance, these countries will not receive any share of profits until all the Chinese loans have been paid off with the newly discovered resources. At the same time, China is developing new markets in these countries for its manufactures, with damaging effects on local industry.

Such dependent relationships, where even labour is exported from China to work on Chinese-funded projects, is already creating resentment in some countries. But China has the ready money, and is not concerned about the nature of the political regimes it is cultivating. This gives Beijing an edge over the US and other western countries, enabling it to expand its economic presence and political influence at the expense of the US and Western Europe.


The writer is a senior journalist and academic based in Sydney, Australia

Tidy or messy endgame? - Dr Maleeha Lodhi - Tuesday, July 27, 2010

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The writer is a former envoy to the US and the UK, and a former editor of The News.

The message from last week's Kabul conference was unmistakable. It was the desire signalled by virtually all the NATO nations to embark on a path of 'managed withdrawal' from Afghanistan. But the unanswered question is whether an orderly exit can be achieved on the basis of the present faltering strategy. Can the transition of power take place absent a negotiated political settlement?

The conference set 2014 as the target for handing over security responsibilities to the Afghan national army. This was aimed as much at reassuring sceptical and war-weary publics in the west about the future of a foundering US-led Afghan mission as to indicate to President Hamid Karzai what the coalition expected of him.

The carefully choreographed conference attended by representatives of about seventy countries announced hopeful deadlines and ambitious pledges. But this did not mask the uncertainty about Afghanistan's future which was heightened rather than diminished because key questions were left unanswered.

One indication of this was the fact that the 2014 deadline was understood differently by NATO leaders. Was this a conditions-based deadline contingent on progress made by that year or a time limit? Tactical divergences were reported among coalition members on how accelerated or phased the troop drawdown should be and the speed of the handover.

A reference to the transition on a province-by-province basis that could begin at the end of this year was apparently removed from the conference's final communiqué at the insistence of the new NATO commander in Afghanistan General David Petraeus who wants more time to subdue the insurgency. European nations had wanted the reference so that the provinces could be announced at a summit in Lisbon in November.

The conference did little to allay regional and international concerns about whether by 2014 the Afghan national army and police will be capable enough to take charge of security duties. Serious problems continue to plague efforts to build a professional and representative army. These include inadequate Pashtun representation, high rates of desertion, illiteracy and drug-addiction among recruits and a level of competence that has fallen short of the target. However, even if in the next four years Afghan security forces can miraculously be built up to act independently of western forces it will take more than this to ensure an orderly endgame.

A viable exit strategy can only be assured by a negotiated political solution that ends a war that has now entered its tenth year. This turns on talks with the Taliban, which President Karzai has sought by announcing his 'reconciliation' plan. But while Washington has backed the re-integration process – to wean away low-level Taliban foot soldiers – it is still not ready for talks with the key elements of the insurgency despite its declared support for Afghan-led reconciliation efforts.

The Obama administration has spelled out the terms for 'reconciliation': disavowal of Al Qaeda, cease fighting against the Afghan government and respect for the Constitution. But it has remained purposively vague on whether these are pre-conditions or part of a reciprocal deal that can emerge from negotiations.

While Washington struggles to evolve its position on a 'reconciliation' process it remains intent on pursuing a strategy of military escalation in southern Afghanistan. Dictated by its military commanders the planned action seeks to establish battlefield ascendancy in order to strengthen the hand for talks later with the insurgents.

The appointment of General Petraeus as allied commander in Afghanistan has further reaffirmed this approach. Petraeus' views are more hard line than those of his predecessor. He is firmly opposed to 'reconciliation' before military gains are made by ramping up the campaign in the Taliban's heartland. This is aimed at creating the so-called "conditions" to force the Taliban into talks and enable negotiations from "a position of strength".

Preparations are underway to pursue what is a tactical goal despite the widespread recognition that a military victory is not possible. Meanwhile there are more vocal doubts in Washington itself – in Congress, the media and within the administration – about whether the military option being pressed by General Petraeus can succeed. Few among America's NATO allies believe the much-postponed Kandahar operation – whatever the tactical changes made to this by Petraeus – can alter the course of war or secure the scaled-down US goal to "reverse the momentum" of the Taliban. Even America's closest ally Britain does not see this as a likely outcome.

In fact a string of recent setbacks point in the opposite direction and signify how grim the prospects are for progress because of both military and political reasons. These indicators include a) the dramatic rise in the coalition death toll – twice this year over last year – in the face of a strengthening insurgency; b) the failure to fully secure Marjah, a small area in Helmand; c) the collapse in public support: over fifty per cent Americans are now against the war and 153 Democrats recently voted in Congress for a firmer withdrawal deadline. A record seventy-seven per cent of the British public want their troops out of Afghanistan; and d) the sacking of General Stanley McCrystal which signified deep rifts among Obama's national security team and the lack of consensus over the course to follow in what is now America's longest war.

The political pressure to show "results" to shore up crumbling political support for the war effort seems in part to be behind an approach that is counting on a last-shot military operation to produce an outcome that can serve as the basis for a 'dignified withdrawal'.

Meanwhile there is endless discussion about what shape talks with the insurgents can take, how these can be undertaken and the mechanism for negotiations. Questions of modalities will be debated ad nauseam. But until the US shows readiness to abandon the path of military escalation and opt for a political settlement the Afghan endgame can turn into a messy affair holding out the prospect of chaos.

It may be that President Obama wants to put off taking such a decision until after crucial mid-term Congressional elections in November. The entire House of Representatives is up for election and a third of the Senate. Given the present anti-incumbency mood among voters at a time of economic pessimism the Democratic Party risks losing control of the House even if it manages to retain the Senate.

The war in Afghanistan is not an issue in the upcoming election which is expected to be dominated by the economy and the rising jobless numbers. As President Obama is on the defensive on these issues he may want to avoid another issue that the Republicans could exploit to attack him for being "weak" on national security or "too compromising" towards America's enemies, themes that the right-wing has been playing on.

Moving towards negotiating with the Taliban now rather than later would therefore magnify the political risk for him. Dialogue with the insurgents may be easier for the Administration to sell to the American public once the military option has been exhausted. The review of Afghan strategy that President Obama has announced for December may then offer the opportunity to shift gear.

Other than these political factors there may be another consideration for the US: how to avoid the impression of defeat when switching course from a military to a political strategy of accommodation with the Taliban. Persisting with a failed policy hardly addresses this dilemma. Nor does this in any way assure a tidy exit of Western forces from Afghanistan.

Only a negotiated settlement can do this and the sooner efforts to forge this get underway the better the chances of an organised withdrawal. Such a settlement will not be easy. If reconciliation is to succeed it will have to overcome the opposition to such a plan from among Afghanistan's non-Pashtuns. Such a settlement will also need to elicit the backing of the neighbouring powers and their agreement to guarantee it. The time to start on this process is now, not after elusive battlefield success.

VIEW: US decline is China’s opportunity — I —S P Seth - Monday, July 26, 2010

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While the US has been busy in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the war against terrorism in general, China has steadily built up its image as an emerging superpower

While terrorism continues to hog the limelight as an international issue, there is much more happening in the world that is not receiving due attention. One is the progressive decline of the US’s power in global affairs. Indeed, there is a correlation between the two. The 9/11 tragedy in 2001 was also the beginning of the US war on terrorism, leading to its invasion of Afghanistan.

As if Afghanistan was not enough, the US opened another front in Iraq in 2003 to rid it of Saddam Hussein, and foster democracy in that country. Indeed, the ‘shock and awe’ military campaign announced the practical workings of President Bush’s pre-emptive war strategy, with Iraq as a demonstration model of what might be in store for other regimes in the Middle East (like Iran, Syria and others) if they stood in the way of the US ‘vision’ of the world. But, as we know, things did not work out quite like that and the US is seeking to extricate itself from these disasters.

The new Bush administration, at the turn of the new century, was keen to remake much of the world to suit its strategic priorities. There was a sense that the previous Clinton administration had squandered the US power and opportunities to remake the world. The leading figures of the Bush administration already had a blueprint ready to make up for the lost time under Clinton. This was an administration in a hurry and convinced that the US should behave and act like the sovereign of the world. Because, in the ultimate analysis, what was good for the US was good for the world.

The 9/11 tragedy, horrible as it was, simply spurred the new Bush administration to fix the world. Their invasion of Afghanistan, against the backdrop of 9/11 and the Taliban and al Qaeda link, seemed understandable to many countries. And the follow up in Iraq was an opportunity to solve the US’s Middle Eastern headaches by making an example of Iraq.

But its long involvement in these two wars, particularly in Afghanistan, with no satisfactory conclusion in sight, has damaged its global image as well as the reality of its power. It has overstretched its resources, both militarily and economically. That a superpower, with all its military muscle, has failed to produce a successful outcome against the Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan is an invitation to all the ragtag irregular militias anywhere in the world to pinprick the US and its allies.

The Somali insurgents of al-Shabaab are an example in point. They recently struck in Uganda, killing 75 people watching a World Cup Soccer match. Al-Shabaab sees Uganda as a US proxy in Somalia. And by killing Ugandans they were, in a way, challenging the US power. The US, at times, appears like a giant groaning under its own weight and unable to turn around to reposition itself to its changing situation.

At the economic level, the war has seriously drained the US treasury. The cost of these two wars varies from $ 1 trillion to $ 3 trillion. The latter estimate tends to include all the societal, medical and related expenses resulting from the war operations.

Aside from the two wars, the Bush administration’s free market fundamentalism has also contributed to the US decline. For instance, it has brought the US economy to its lowest point since the 1930s’ depression and infected most western economies that bought into sub-prime US housing loan packages of dubious value. The merry-go-round of almost limitless cheap credit seemed to have created the illusion of a new economy, where all the assets (secured or unsecured) seemed to have only an upward trajectory.

And when the bubble burst, as it was bound to at some point, the American economy (and other western economies) found themselves without any shock absorbers. With no rational solutions in sight, they all took recourse to huge borrowings to stimulate their downbeat economies to prevent a precipitous rise in unemployment, to revive failing and failed banks and so on. By socialising private losses of banks, financial institutions and insurance companies, the crisis is now assuming the form of sovereign debts. Greece is the leading example of this, with others to follow.

The US is struggling with all these economic issues, while still mired in Afghanistan and, in a limited way, in Iraq. How this will all end is anybody’s guess. But it certainly has created an image of a US that is struggling to find its feet, while still acting as the global sheriff.

While the US has been busy in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the war against terrorism in general, China has steadily built up its image as an emerging superpower. In a sense, terrorism created a shared concern between the two countries with China eager to brand the Uighur separatists in Xinjiang as terrorists. It won an important concession from the US on this by labelling the East Turkestan Islamic Movement as a terrorist organisation.

Uighur separatism, alongside Tibet, was a major issue of human rights violations that the US had often raised with China to its discomfiture, and as an exercise, Beijing believed, in encouraging separatism in China. After the US declared war on terrorism, it softened on the human rights question in China as well as on trade and political issues.

The trade between the two countries expanded, and the general tone of exchanges between them was marked by cordiality. China appeared to have gained a certain respectability, buttressed further by its rapid rate of economic growth of about 10 percent annually. China was becoming the factory of the world, with its exports of manufactured goods rising and creating sizeable trade surpluses in its favour. For instance, China’s trade surplus with the US is reportedly at about $ 200 billion a year, and another $ 100 billion with the rest of the world. It has amassed around $ 2.45 trillion of foreign currency reserves and rising.

(To be continued)

The writer is a senior journalist and academic based in Sydney, Australia

Poles apart - Chris Cork - Monday, July 26, 2010

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Two events, one of which I attended in person and the other which I attended from the comfort of my own house, define the week. A hurried visit to a hot and sticky Islamabad and a meeting with fellow writers was a depressing experience at several levels. It is rare for me to meet other writers but this was a collection of famous names and faces, and an opportunity to share a few thoughts and ideas – except that there were very few ideas on offer, not many had thought about much that is worthy of repetition here and an awful lot of entrenched positions were on display. Mostly, I kept my mouth shut and listened – which is what you do if you are a member of a minority in Pakistan.

One conversation of a positive nature concerned a possible interview that I might give in the future about how I find it, living here in this desperately unsafe place among people some of whom would happily cut my throat. Apparently I am now one of the very few westerners living here ‘in the wild’ and as such have become an object of minor interest. My questioner wanted to know if I was frightened, if I was not able to travel, if the community I lived in were hostile to me. My reply was as usual – most of the country is safe to travel in, my local community seem not to give two hoots for me anymore and my greatest daily fear is getting crushed to death in a rickshaw pileup.

He looked a bit disappointed, my colleague.

Later in the week, exchanging perceptions of the evening with another colleague, they commented that I should not be so surprised, as the people I was meeting were products of the time and place. They were of the age, and the narrowness of the vision of some of them was more a function of how they were educated than any inherent flaw. Hope springs eternal, as they say.

Attending a second event in Islamabad on Friday was both frustrating and fulfilling. It was a conference on climate change, a subject I have a particular interest in. Had I been in Islamabad for real I would have attended but I had to make do with a video link, a Twitter feed and various messenger systems. Whilst at one level it was irritating to get good streaming visuals but poor sound quality – a problem with wi-fi in the hall where the conference was held – at another it was profoundly uplifting. Here was a group of people who had brought together some prestigious speakers who made interesting and thought-provoking presentations; and they were able to communicate the event to anybody in the entire world who had an internet connection.

Just think of it. Ten years ago there were a few thousand internet connections in Pakistan – today there are millions and growing fast.

It’s not all porn and sleaze, either. The conference I cyber-attended may not have been a triumph of production values but it was certainly a triumph of determination over adversity, of thinking out of the box.

The two events could not have been more different. On the one hand there was a group of mostly self-absorbed scribblers grumbling into their glasses of orange juice, many of them steplocked into a kind of narrow parochialism. (No, not all, and apologies to those who were otherwise.) On the other an event organised by bright innovators with a passion to communicate. The technology might have let them down but there was no failure of vision.

The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email:

VIEW: Towards the ‘quartet’? —Imtiaz Alam - Sunday, July 25, 2010

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Enforcing the writ of the state in every nook and corner of Pakistan is General Kayani’s primary job that he must focus on rather than allowing it to dissipate at the hands of the so-called strategic assets turning against their benefactors due to their anti-state paradigm

By conceding a three-year-term to Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani thinks the continuity of the “quartet”, consisting of the president, prime minister, chief justice of Pakistan and the chief of army staff (COAS), has been secured till 2013. For the first time the office of the chief justice of Pakistan has been added to a quasi-constitutional power equation, which was known as a ‘troika’ in the 1990s — president, prime minister and the COAS. Contrary to the expectations of a non-Napoleonic conduct by an apparently apolitical COAS, every army chief who got an extension or out of turn promotion staged a coup, except General Musa Khan. The “quartet” may have the illusion of being secured, but what about democracy?

As compared to 12 Pakistani army chiefs who had on average over five years of tenure and four military rulers who ruled on average for over eight years, Pakistan had 16 prime ministers whose average tenure did not last two years. This shows a precarious equation of civil-military relations that did not let democracy and constitutional rule work. With the activation of new civilian institutions, a hyperactive judiciary and highly dramatic media, the erstwhile equation of the troika now faces a powerful judiciary-media combine that can potentially exploit the cleavages within the troika and can be manipulated by the strongest among the troika to its advantage at the cost of the president-prime minister combine.

With the induction of PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari into the presidency, the civil-military establishment lost its traditional leverage against the executive prime minister. In the post-Musharraf power structure, General Kayani was instrumental in making the security establishment retreat into its forte while consolidating its strong hold over both the internal and external dimensions of national security affairs, which involved strategic areas of foreign policy, including US/NATO, Afghanistan and India. But it took time and through a very interesting interplay of forces a new civil-military equation emerged.

Thanks to a policy of reconciliation between the major political parties, in the spirit of the Charter of Democracy (CoD) signed between Ms Benazir Bhutto and Mr Nawaz Sharif, and sharing of power at federal and provincial levels, the elected leadership, especially the president, tried to expand his space in the power structure. Exploiting his support among the parliamentary forces, Mr Zardari succeeded in ousting General Musharraf and capturing the presidency equipped with the powers of the 17th Amendment. That sent worrying signals all round and soon President Zardari had to face pressures from various quarters, including his CoD allies, the bar-bench-media combine and the establishment. His reluctance to restore Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry brought him in conflict with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) that in combination with the bar, media and civil society pushed him into a tight corner that allowed the first intervention by the COAS to get CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry restored — paving the way for a judiciary up in arms against the executive, the president in particular.

An overconfident Zardari tried to expand his area of influence by directly negotiating with the Americans, culminating in the Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation that tended to strengthen democratic oversight of the army, and by sending most friendly overtures to India and President Karzai. Benefitting from the media-judiciary onslaught against the president, the army openly frustrated Zardari’s moves to expand his writ to the national security matters and institutions. His move to place the ISI under civilian control, his olive branch to New Delhi and efforts to build a direct equation with the Americans met with tough resistance from the security establishment. He lost the first round of this power struggle, not as much to the judiciary or big media tycoons but to the security establishment, which succeeded in keeping its traditional turf under its belt with the helping hand of an aggressive media and assertive judiciary.

In the meantime, parliament exerted its authority and expanded its writ by unanimously passing the 18th Amendment that deprived the president of all those powers that General Musharraf had usurped, devolved greater power to the provinces, restored all executive powers of the prime minister and expanded its oversight in some crucial constitutional appointments, sans the armed forces. The expansion of the war on terror in the north-western frontier regions increased the army’s role, which found the American military establishment only too eager to directly line-up with its counterpart. This encouraged General Kayani to exclusively define Pakistan’s national security interests and the civilian leadership had to concede a lot of ground to the military establishment, which the latter has been trying to expand.

Against this background, the extension of General Kayani had become foretold, despite speculations for and against. Although it was not in the interest of a fragile democracy to grant a full tenure to a quite powerful incumbent, the civilian leadership tried to make a good bargain out of it with the active mediation of the US, which needs him the most. His extension has in fact taken place under the imperatives of extremely conflicting forces and increasing demands of the war against terrorism that has become the core issue for Pakistan as much as it is for the west and the region.

No doubt General Kayani had proved his worth and from the institutional standpoint of the army he balanced the demands of the allies in the war on terror with what he thought to be the pivotal national security interests. After getting another tenure his role in national security matters will tremendously increase, depending on how he plays it out with the elected leadership and the international community. Before him are quite challenging strategic tasks. He will be under increasing obligations and pressures to revisit some of the beaten tracks of Pakistan’s national security paradigm as the war on terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan enters a crucial stage and the potential threat of an Indo-Pak war, provoked by yet another Mumbai-like terrorist attack in India, is being feared. Two immediate demands of the US will seek his immediate attention — taking on the Haqqani group to make the American troops surge in southern Afghanistan a success and restraining Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and other militants groups on the Kashmir front from attempting yet another terrorist attack in India. Both Holbrooke and Admiral Mullen have strongly spoken about it in London and New Delhi.

Most importantly, a moderate and seemingly apolitical General Kayani is in a unique position to redefine Pakistan’s national security interests while breaking with the legacy of Bonarpartism, reversing General Zia’s legacy of ‘jihadification’ and General Musharraf’s dualism. He will have to clean up the security establishment of all those elements who have their own private agendas and allegedly flirt with the non-state actors. No state can afford to abandon its monopoly over coercive power to private militias, which was allowed during General Zia’s and General Musharraf’s tenures. Nor can a state allow the non-state militant actors or rogue elements within to dictate their terms or plunge it into war with another state. Enforcing the writ of the state in every nook and corner of Pakistan is his primary job that he must focus on rather than allowing it to dissipate at the hands of the so-called strategic assets turning against their benefactors due to their anti-state paradigm. A nation state cannot reconcile with the supra-national ideology of international terrorism, which binds all hues of ‘Islamic’ terrorism.

Imtiaz Alam is Editor of South Asian Journal. He can be reached at