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August - September 2007

Political News

Inside Pakistan

Ever since the Red Mosque’s leaders and students at its seminaries began making a performance of their defiance of the rule of law in January, President Musharraf’s administration has been keen to avoid the kind of images that have charged the air waves. He told a media workshop in Islamabad that he was willing to take armed action against the mosque’s vigilantes, but on the condition that the media not air images of dead bodies.

Tuesday’s developments when initial clashes between madrassa students and the security forces left 10 dead, hundreds injured and the rest of the world agape at the kind of weaponry deployed from the mosque have made such hesitation academic.

Musharraf’s task is now to manage the apprehensionsthose images have heightened about his capacity to contain radicalism in Pakistan.

To do this, he will have to address a wider range of issues that have drawn alarm, both within Pakistan and abroad.

The ‘Lal Masjid’ has been a particular slight to Musharraf, especially since the span of this standoff has overlapped with the political crisis set off with the suspension of the chief justice of the Supreme Court. His incapacity to end the standoff raised questions about his promised “enlightened moderation” and, more specifically, his resolve to extend the writ of the state.

Lal Masjid is located in the centre of Islamabad, and declarations from its leaders that they were running parallel courts on their premises was cause for strong embarrassment.

However, allegations of Talibanic militants being associated with the mosque’s affairs - and Musharraf himself spoke of Jaish militants being present in the mosque premises - highlighted other acts of defiance against the federal writ.

Circumstances now make it impossible for Musharraf to limit the ambit of this week’s action by the security forces.

His decision to strike a deal with militants in

North Waziristan did not yield the normalcy desired. Subsequent violence in South Waziristan, especially involving foreign militants, has made urgent the debate on the rule of law in Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Vigilante and terrorist activities in Balochistan and the NWFP too are on the increase. Musharraf often makes a case for his indispensability in view of the Taliban challenge.

India-Pakistan Peace Process

by Colonel Dr Anil Athale (retd)

On May 26, a few Indians and four Pakistanis gathered at Mumbai’s MIG Club to commemorate the first anniversary of the Peace Process initiative by the South Asian Free Media Association, or SAFMA.

The initiative had the blessings of both governments and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, or SAARC. But the long shadow of recent events in Karachi fell on this effort and unlike last year, the guest list from Pakistan was very small.

The initiative, launched with much hope and hype last year, seems to be meeting the same fate as many such initiatives. It is thus a good time to take a long hard look at the peace process and examine likely scenarios.

On May 22 last year, a 33-member Pakistani delegation from Karachi arrived in Mumbai on a four-day visit. On the first day, the delegates kept mostly to themselves and seemed reluctant to even strike up conversations with Indians.

But from the second day, as they got used to freedom in India, all of them, with an odd exception, behaved as if they had just entered a ‘ de-compression’ chamber, doing all the things that are prohibited in a strict Islamic society, from eating ham and bacon at breakfast to guzzling down whisky.

The dominant impressions of the interaction were:

* Lack of understanding about Indian issues, systems and processes;

* Nostalgia for bygones;

* ‘Me too’ as a constant theme to show that Pakistan is at par with India;

* Hypocrisy on religious taboos;

* General dislike of the state of affairs in Pakistan including the domination of the military;

* Sense of envy about India and Indians due to the freedoms we enjoy and progress we have made.

An Indian delegation, led by Murlidhar Chaini, Chairman, Reliance Industries and President, Maharashtra Economic Development Council (a kind of state Planning Commission) paid a return trip to Karachi from June 10 to 14, 2006.

Other members of the delegation included Dr Ravi Bapat, former vice-chancellor, Medical University, Dr Nikhil Datar, a leading gynaecologist, Dr Sunil Deshmukh of Bombay University, Chandrashekhar Nene, VP, Kingfisher Airlines, Sulaxana Mahajan, an architect and three journalists from local newspapers. Some delegates were accompanied by their spouses. Loksatta Editor Kumar Ketkar of SAFMA was the coordinator of the delegation. I was part of the delegation as a representative of an NGO involved with the peace process.

Six other persons, mainly artistes from various fields (like poet Javed Akhtar, singer Faiyyaz) were denied visas by the Pakistani high commission in Delhi. All were Indian Muslims.

Conclusions from that visit:

* There is tremendous dislike of the army dominance while Musharraf is not unpopular.

* There is a sense of insecurity in city of Karachi; even by 7 pm the city streets are deserted.

* India is an object of envy for its freedom, independent judiciary, election commission and economic and educational progress.

* The civil elite is conscious of the fact that in a globalised world only peace and cooperation with India can lift their country out of its present morass.

* The army does not want the people to come in contact with Indian Muslims as that will give a lie to their propaganda.

* There is great reluctance to permit free flow of information media and people. The people to people contact is sought to be only confined to the elite, and not the masses.

* In Karachi the Muttahida Quami Movement’s dominance has ended the sway of the Jaamat-e-Islami, Masood Azhar and anti-India jihadi forces who seem to have shifted to Punjab. In the recent terrorists incidents in India there are hardly any links to Karachi-based groups.

Karachi is dominated by Pashtuns, with a common refrain being that there are more Pathans in Karachi than in Peshawar.

The overall situation in Karachi, and by proxy, Pakistan, is unstable and any trigger like the capture/killing of Al Qaeda chieftain Osama bin Laden or Musharraf extending his presidency could trigger events which could threaten the continuance of military rule. The ongoing violence in Waziristan, Baluchistan and Afghanistan only adds to the volatility

Benazir Bhutto’s interview with Sky TV

Here are some selected quotes from an interview with Benazir Bhutto, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan gave to Sky TV, in which she discusses the current volatile situation in Pakistan and the political and security implications of the Pakistan Mosque Siege with Sky News Presenter Colin Brazier.

Benazir Bhutto, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, told Sky News that she was “frightened for the future of the people of Pakistan.”

“If they’re [the Taliban forces] given five years more because elections this year are rigged, then we could really be facing the spectre of an Islamist takeover of Pakistan.”

“The red mosque siege showed us how dangerous parts of Pakistan have become.”

She said General Musharraf had made the right decisions in the red mosque siege:

“I’m glad there was no ceasefire with the militants in the mosque because ceasefires simply embolden the militants.. There will be a backlash but at some time we have to stop appeasing the militants. We can’t afford to keep appeasing them.”

However, she attacked the current government: “Unfortunately a military dictatorship needs the external crutch of a militant threat to justify its existence to the international community. So dictatorship, in my view, fuels extremism rather than contains it and nothing proves that more than the emergence of the red mosque complex in the last five years in Islamabad.”

On General Musharraf, she said: “Unfortunately the regime was unable to deliver on its promise of building a true democracy and instead it exploited the international community’s concern about terrorism...[militants] have thrived under the dictatorship of General Musharraf”

“Every Country has Army, Pakistan Army has a country”

Besides General Pervez Musharraf who is also President of Pakistan there are tens of thousands of Army Men working in political and bureaucraic posts, government-owned airline and other government-owned industries

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