My choice today: Monday 9 June 2008

Islam and modernism

Musharraf – Munno Bhai

Zardari and Shahbaz – Aftab Iqbal

Musharraf’s fading oracle

The media has pretended surprise over President Pervez Musharraf’s assertion Saturday that he would quit only as envisaged in the Constitution and not in any other way — meaning he won’t be hounded out by threats and protests. This media “surprise” follows the propagation of the subjective idea that somehow it is time “legally” for him to go whereas legality has nothing to do with the media’s desire. And the truth is that President Musharraf has never given the impression that he is vulnerable to the pressure of negative atmospherics in vogue today. But in the final analysis, we all think that, “morally”, he should quit now rather than later. As for his taking the legal route, the PPP has responded by saying that parliament has the capacity to make him go away if he does not resign. That, of course, is exactly his own point.

Unfortunately, Mr Musharraf’s speech was treated as “hostile” in advance, a manifestation of passion over rationality. One TV channel brought General (Retd) Hameed Gul and his “American conspiracy” spiel to put Mr Musharraf in his place. Another channel arranged a chat in which the anchor kept insisting that Mr Musharraf was predicting doom for the country, which was an exaggerated assessment and made Mr Musharraf seem indispensable. Everyone agreed, however, that he was not about to use Article 58(2)(b) to overthrow the current parliament and re-impose something or the other which the anchor did not specify.

A lot of people are understandably angry that he is still around; and there are others who, on cool calculation, also think that he should go away. On the face of it, it seems as if the two groups are close in their positions. But, in fact the two could be quite hostile to each other and may represent the growing post-Musharraf polarity in Pakistan. The group that relies on the concept of “the mandate” as a “legal” device to oust him also inclines to the view that he should be held accountable for his deeds or tried for treason which means he could be hanged. But the group that thinks he should bow out is not in favour of any process that looks like accountability since in Pakistan this has never looked like anything more than revenge and victimisation.

By and large, there was nothing explosive about Mr Musharraf’s media interaction. It was carefully worded; it even contained an admission of mistakes. It warned against division in the ranks of the coalition and predicted chaos if that snowballed into confrontation. Mr Musharraf made some clever points, which was his right. He nailed the PPP government on burying the Kalabagh Dam because he thought it would sell nicely in Punjab and among the Punjabi-dominated media, but the media blithely ignored it since it is determined to get rid of him by hook or by crook. He trundled off all the energy projects he had got going, even those which his PMLQ buddies cannot count in their defence. But that doesn’t matter in the charged environment of today.

The media presumes that its interpretation of the electoral mandate of 2008 is immaculate. And this was repeated in the face of Mr Musharraf’s factual claim that the grand alliance supporting him had bagged more votes (not seats) than anyone else, and that the single PMLQ vote was only second to that of the PPP (and more than that of the PMLN). But of course facts can’t stand up and be recounted at the altar of passion and anger. Indeed, the channels have spread as gospel the view that the elections have decreed Mr Musharraf’s resignation even through there is no constitutional provision defining either the mandate or a presidential resignation on hearing that his party has failed to win. The only legal point against him is the wrong method of getting himself re-elected in 2007. But then everyone plumped for taking part in the elections after that and rejected the APDM’s call to abstain and thus withhold legality to his action, didn’t they?

The less said the better about the retired army officers’ society that is trying to scalp him. They are a shameless lot. And he took the high moral ground when he scaled them down a peg without going into the sordid details about their personal and professional omissions and commissions in the past. Unfortunately, the case of Dr AQ Khan remains in incubation, waiting to explode and hurt not just Mr Musharraf but the Pakistani state. The cultivated ambiguity about him in the state is that he is a “national hero” who had to stay under house arrest. But in politics such untenable statements cannot stand up for long. Dr Khan is known all over the world for his “network”. In fact, the people who bought his stuff, or had a contract with him, have spoken out. The state has to keep him in low profile because his “outing” can compel the IAEA to report the matter to the UN Security Council, and the Council will then have to impose sanctions on Pakistan. Ironically, however, Dr Khan is a candidate for the very job that Mr Musharraf is supposed to leave! That tells you how self-righteous passion is hurting us as a nation-state. In fact, the nation, distracted by the judges’ case, has yet to concentrate its mind on the threat to the state brewing in the Tribal Areas and Balochistan.

If one looks at the vengeful views expressed in the media, the political calculus goes against President Musharraf. That is why we recommend that he decide to quit now rather than risk impeachment later on when the parliamentary numbers are against him. Unfortunately, the case-history of antagonism among his opposition — read PMLN and PPP — is so strong that he may be deluded into holding on for some time longer. (Daily Times)

Sabotaged by hawks

THE PPP-led government ought to take notice of the revelation made by Mushahid Hussain Syed in the Senate on Friday. Speaking after Senator Sanaullah Baloch resigned his Senate seat, the PML-Q secretary general said that hawks in the military establishment had sabotaged the two parliamentary committees’ reports which had made valuable suggestions to the government for a peaceful solution to the crisis in Balochistan. Mushahid Hussain knows. He is an insider, for he headed one of the two parliamentary committees which were charged with the task of investigating the causes of insurgency in what is the country’s largest province territorially, and coming up with a solution. Though some ‘nationalist’ Baloch leaders on the committee boycotted it, the Mushahid Hussain panel, nevertheless, met a cross section of Baloch leaders and came up with some valuable suggestions aimed at alleviating the Baloch people’s grievances. Calling for a revision of the existing policies, the report paid special attention to minerals, including gas, and called for royalty to be paid to the districts where the mineral was exploited, recommended strict implementation of the 5.4 per cent quota reserved for the Baloch in federal jobs, and laid down priorities for jobs in Gwadar, shifting the headquarters of the port authority from Karachi to Gwadar, and building more highways and roads. If implemented, these proposals would have had a positive impact on the political situation in the province. The recommendations were made public in 2004 and then went into the deep freezer, and the nation never heard again about the Mushahid Hussain committee and its proposals. On Friday, Mushahid Hussain informed the Upper House of the reason why the recommendations had not been implemented.

Resigning his Senate seat, Sanaullah Baloch said he had done so on the recommendations of his party, because he wanted to see Baloch control over the province’s natural resources. Quite appropriately, PPP Senator Mian Raza Rabbani tendered his ‘unqualified apologies’ to the Baloch people for the past excesses of ‘the outgoing military government’. However, Senator Rabbani should have also apologised for the military action launched in Balochistan by his government in the 1970s. Sanaullah Baloch’s resignation will be regretted. The BNP (Mengal) leader could advance his people’s cause by staying in parliament rather than quitting it. Abandoning the democratic path strengthens the hands of those in the establishment who are ever so keen to find a military solution to Balochistan’s political problems. The PPP government has taken a number of positive decisions, including the release of a number of Baloch leaders, apologising to Balochistan for past excesses and pledging itself to a political solution to its problems. Mushahid Hussain’s statement should alert the Gilani government to the possibilities of the hawks sabotaging the PPP-led government’s policies on Balochistan. (Dawn)

Fruits of diplomacy

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s visit to Saudi Arabia, looking for an “oil supply arrangement”, seems to have kicked off nicely with the King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz promising that the request from Pakistan would be looked into sympathetically. No more details are available of the sort of arrangement that will be finally made but everyone knows that Pakistan’s oil bill today exceeds $11 billion and is expected to go up further as global prices spiral in the coming days. Pakistan’s dollar reserves can evaporate quickly unless some “deferment” is applied. Pakistan got one in 1998 when its economy went belly-up after testing a nuclear device.

Purists may complain that “Saudi influence” on Islamabad is excessive, but in the final count Pakistan is able to benefit too. After 9/11, both countries face the same variety of threats. From the Saudi point of view, Pakistan is a loyal friend which is also a nuclear power. It can’t forget that the Pakistan army came to its help when Iraq’s Saddam Hussein threatened it with invasion in 1990. No matter which party is in power in Islamabad, the diplomacy with Riyadh has remained steady. That is why Saudi financial help can be the difference between survival and chaos in Pakistan (Daily Times).