THE EXTENT OF OUR TROUBLE

It is often wise that even during the worst of crisis it is sobering to carry out an evaluation of one’s circumstances as a nation.  A static picture sometime helps to measure the emerging trends and suggest solutions.

            So what are we confronted with today?

–       Money shortage. Pakistan is requesting Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to supply oil to us either free or on deferred payment basis.  I am not privy to the type of pleas put forward in this beggar of a request, but it surely is related to shortage of funds. Pakistan’s earnings and cash flow must have reduced drastically for it to make such a demeaning plea for help.

–       Reduction of foreign investment. During the last one year FDI has been reduced and investors are pulling funds out of Pakistan. They must have concluded that either their money is unsafe or the return on investment will decline in the future owing to the emerging troubles.

–       Pressure from the U.S. The U.S. at the non-government level is critical about our military performance in the war against terror.  If the past is an indicator, then the media’s views will be converted into official policy in the near future. By making Pakistan a front line state in the War against Terror, the U.S policy has led her into a precarious situation. It raises a serious question. Does the US really care what happens to Pakistan as a nation? Or is Western security the only concern? The answer to these questions will dictate policies and strategies.

–       Security over nuclear weapons. The IAEC has showed its concern about the security of our nuclear weapons. This is extremely worrying as it comes from the nuclear security watch-dog which I presume will be motivated by professionalism and not politics. However, we don’t seem to understand the message. It is not about how well we have protected our nuclear assets today! The worry is thus not about the possibility of a rogue launch but more about the takeover of these assets by those who support the Islamists.

–       Conflict between the government and civil society. The current configuration of the ruling elite composed of the military, the PML (Q) and the district Nazims is under challenge by civil society  including the mainstream political parties.  It is a confrontation between the praetorian state supporters and those who believe in civil rights, rule of law, human rights and democracy. In a way this division within society and between the elites is disturbing since it makes us divisive when Pakistan is confronting grave challenges. However, it is a well proven theorem of sociology that the old class does not permit the birth of the new without resistance and pain.

 

–       Loss of administrative control. In tribal territory especially in Waziristan, Pakistan has lost control over territory and people and we are witnessing episodes of increasing Taliban power with each passing day.  The Taliban now have weapons (captured from the army) and the training to fight against the best that we can throw against them. Their capture of the Sarrarogha fort in South Waziristan, the first of its kind is just an advance release of script which will be repeated in larger segments in the future, http://www.dawn.com/2008/01/18/ed.htm. It could force Pakistan to ask for the introduction of U.S forces on the ground, if the conditions continue to deteriorate, notwithstanding the sovereignty arguments, http://www.dawn.com/2008/01/18/top3.htm.   I hope that I am wrong, but I have a sinking feeling that we are witnessing the slow degradation of our military.  This will indeed be a disaster brought on ourselves due to our shortsighted policies.

–       Re-thinking of strategy by the new military chief. In Swat the military has very sensibly declared a virtual victory and called it quits.  What they achieved was a flushing out of a Taliban group from their stronghold in Matta  Kalam area.   Most of the hostiles have fled to Kohistan and the upper reaches of the region.  They will regroup and will be back in action before the summer is over. Their support is the people and the general anti-U.S feelings. It was these same men who fought alongside the Taliban under Sufi Mohammad of the TSNM, when the U.S attacked Afghanistan in December 2001. The military has reasoned that if it stayed they would be radicalizing the region and creating conditions similar to those in Waziristan. However, the security gap needs to be filled by the Frontier Constabulary and a return of the magistracy system as soon as possible.

So what was the reason for the withdrawal of the military when the hostiles are alive and kicking?  My speculation is that the new army Chief Gen. Kiyani wants to re-strategize. He has so far being dealing with what was handed to him; he wants a breather and return to the task after re-grouping and devising a fully fledged counter-insurgency strategy which is missing at present. So far the previous policy of action followed by reaction under Gen. Musharraf was in vogue.

–       Reign of staff officers. As every senior official would no doubt know, managing institutions is not an easy job. Such responsibilities are managed best by a team of good staff officers.  For the past eight years Pakistan’s destiny was in the hands of staff officers. The reason for this is simple. It is not humanly possible for anyone to do justice to two huge tasks like running a country as well as running the world’s sixth largest army! Besides the issues of conflict of interest there will be a problem of time prioritization. At the apex level if one does not have the time available to examine an issue closely, the issue and decisions relating to it are captured by aspiring staff officers, who thereby would increase their influence and power.

In time competing power centers are created which de-grade the leadership quality of the top man.  I am not saying that the staff offices are not intelligent.  But if power to manipulate policies is with staff officers then the state becomes a play thing of competing cliques and groups. The officers become more involved in extending personal power than providing solutions.  I am positive that the crisis of state, arising out of the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry sad episode was due to such mishandling. 

–       Level of insurgency. In the last three months Pakistan has witnessed more than 22 suicide bombings.  That is a very high number.  We are also now seeing sectarian cleansing taking place in NWFP and tribal areas like Kurram. The Shias attacked the Sunnis and now the Sunnis are taking revenge. As a result on January 17th a human suicide bomber attacked a Shia congregation in Peshawar.  The body of a slaughtered Shia later identified as Manzoor-ul-Hassan from Village Dodha in Kohat was also found.  Few months ago a Shia school teacher of village Baluch near Tank had his neck cut; these gruesome acts are being distributed in video. Shias living in southern NWFP have begun to shift to Bakhar and other places in the Punjab. 

So we are not only witnessing political murders like the assassination of Benazir Bhutto but are also seeing sectarian cleansing and population shifts.  One does not know how to describe the brutal slaying of military personnel after they have surrendered in fights with the Taliban. Such gruesome executions transcend Islam. It can only be the work of psychopaths. 

Some of the reasons for this increasing lawlessness have been indicated by Ayaz Amir, http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=91692, who has held Gen. Naqvi of the National Reconstruction Bureau and Gen. Moenuddin Haider, the then Interior Minister partly responsible for throwing the Pakistani people to the wolves by demolishing the district administration and fidgeting with the structure of the police and magistracy.  This was done without any rationale to permit the military to enter civilian space. It has been a totally mindless destruction of a state asset with serious consequences for the safety of Pakistan.

Yes, I agree that the military has a very important role to play in state protection and of defense against attack.  But it has little role in day to day administration.  The PCO may for the time being have resolved the crisis between the executive and the judiciary but it will take years to restore an independent judiciary, without which there can’t be a rule of law.  It has been found that where there is an absence of rule of law in a country foreign investment avoids that nation.

We are witnessing the consequences of state decay and the diminishing abilities of the state to provide basic services. The back of the common man and the middle class is broken.  Before the postponement of elections in December, a 20 kg bag of wheat cost $4.30.  Today’s price is $7.80 per bag.  Electricity supply has collapsed with a severe downturn in industry and public water supply systems.  Gas and petrol is becoming scare.  The damage caused to assets after Miss Bhutto’s death in Sindh reportedly amounts to more than Rs 70 billion. Government economists are already reducing GDP growth target by 1.5% to 2% this year.  We will be lucky to have a GDP growth of 4 & 5% this year.

This has been an extremely painful narration of what is happening. But what is the solution?  There is no easy answer, because major social dislocation has been caused. However, if someone asked me to list six immediate priorities which would make Pakistan healthy again they will be: 

–       Immediate and fair elections under the 1973 Constitution and under a neutral Election Commission and neutral care-taker governments.

–       An agreement between the military and the major political parties based on the understanding that the war on terror can only be won if conducted both by the political and the military organs. The premise is that both have a role to play for the protection and revival of the state. It cannot be done single handed by any one organ.

–       Revival of the police – magistracy system which will deal only with protecting and enhancing writ of the state. The delivery of services and nation building will remain with local government. Reform of the Frontier Constabulary will also be made to make it more effective.

–       The hostile forces should be invited for talks with the next government as soon as it takes office.

–       The political Parties Act should be extended to tribal areas and they should be merged into the NWFP

–       A plea to Pakistan’s friends to build bridges with civil society, and assist in the reduction of poverty. Every effort should be made to improve the level of social services and to better the livelihoods of the poor and the declining middle class. That’s where the future lies.

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