Little hope for stability or progress as Pakistan slides into lawlessness

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Pakistan turns 60 this year, yet there are few signs of the kind of maturity one would expect of a polity of such age. Its political elites continue to behave like juvenile delinquents and the military, in power for more than seven years in its latest turn at the helm of affairs, has clearly failed in the one area that should have been its strongest point: law and order. The country is sliding into lawlessness in which no one feels safe any more: even judges, political leaders and police officers have been attacked and killed. The one sector where the government can arguably claim to have made some progress–”the economy–”is stymied by the rising uncertainty, which keeps most foreign investors at bay and drives locals to hedge their bets.

Here is a list of terrorist incidents that took place on one day, February 20. Punjab’s social welfare minister, Zille Huma Usman, a mother of two young boys, was shot dead in Gujranwala as she greeted people before addressing them. Her assailant, one maulvi Muhammad Sarwar Mughal, was overpowered and arrested. He had been acquitted of murdering four women four years earlier due to insufficient evidence. In Baluchistan, the federal minister for the Frontier Region, Sardar Yar Muhammad Khan, survived an attempted assassination in the Sani area of Bolan district but saboteurs elsewhere blew up the railway-track linking Quetta, the provincial capital, to the rest of the country. The gas pipeline in Akhtarabad area of Quetta was blown up, depriving residents in a large part of the city of their gas supply.

Three days earlier (on February 17), 15 people were killed and 25 injured in the suicide-bombing of a district courthouse in Quetta. Judge Abdul Waheed Durrani, six lawyers and eight relatives of the defendants, whose land dispute case was being heard, were killed. The Quetta killings were preceded by an even worse crime in Peshawar, capital of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), which killed 15 people, including the police chief, Malik Saad. He was a dashing young officer who led from the front and brooked no interference in police affairs from anyone; his death is greatly lamented by all segments of the population. Both the provincial governor, Ali Muhammad Jan Aurakzai, a retired general, and interior minister Aftab Sherpao, said that a foreign hand could not be ruled out. Some observers suspect that it was an inside job because the police chief was far too honest; this is a characteristic that does not sit well with the corrupt culture of the police, or indeed of the rest of the country.

On January 26 a bomber killed a guard at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad. Another bomber killed a policeman in the town of Dera Ismail Khan on January 29, and a car-bomber killed two soldiers in the town of Tank, near the tribal area, last month. The common thread among all these attacks appears to be the government’s support for US policy in Afghanistan. A clear majority of Pakistan’s people oppose this support, and suicide-bombers have struck all over the country. The government’s iron-fist approach has not solved the problem because the root cause–”its joining America’s murderous campaign against Muslims–”remains unaddressed. Muslims everywhere are extremely upset about the US’s policies in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine in support of the occupiers of the Holy Land.

Commenting on the spate of bombings, Dawn, a Karachi daily, wrote on February 18: “One can understand the constraints that Pakistan faces in ‘doing more’ to halt such attacks, especially when the government in Kabul appears to be utterly powerless to prevent violence on its side of the border. But one must also question the rationality of the approach that Islamabad has so far taken in countering terrorism. By launching attacks on so-called jihadi camps and allowing intelligence agencies to arbitrarily pick up people believed to have links with religious militants, it has often ignored legal norms. This only provides more fodder for the Taliban and other religious elements to promote their cause among those who are already unhappy with the state’s high-handedness. Needless to say, this is not the best way of enlisting the people’s support for defeating terrorism and reining in extremist elements.” To understand its true significance, one must bear in mind that Dawn is a secular paper that has little or no sympathy for Islamic sentiments.

Pakistan, however, appears to be another victim of the US’s “war or terror”, which many people already consider a war against Islam. As US and NATO difficulties in Afghanistan increase, the temptation to blame Islamabad for their failures escalates. Pakistan has already paid a heavy price for its support of America’s war in Afghanistan. The recent spate of bombings is clear proof of this. Pakistan’s president, general Pervez Musharraf, prime minister Shaukat Aziz, and a former corps commander in Karachi, general Ahsan Saleem Hayat, have been targeted by suicide-bombers but survived. For two years, Pakistani troops fought the tribesmen in Waziristan, losing at least 700 soldiers. Last September NWFP Governor Aurakzai, who himself is from the tribal area, brokered an agreement to prevent the fighting from escalating. Islamabad finally realised that it is not wise to fight one’s own people. Fortunately this policy is holding, although Pakistan now faces pressure from the US to “do more” amid mounting allegations that Taliban and al-Qa’ida elements are operating from bases in North Waziristan. The Pentagon is reported to have drawn up plans to attack these “bases” inside Pakistan, according to a report in the New York Times on February 19. Within the government as well as among US congressmen, there is a growing chorus of condemnation of Pakistan for “not doing enough”. This is what Pakistan gets for befriending the US.

In Pakistan there is at least one person–”Governor Aurakzai–”who does not mince words about the true state of affairs across the border. On February 17 he told a group of foreign reporters, who called on him at his official residence in Peshawar, that he believes the roots of the insurgency are in Afghanistan. “There are maybe five percent, 10 percent, okay 20 percent [of the Taliban] from this side but 80 percent of them are in Afghanistan,” he said, adding that the insurgency is turning into a “liberation war” against the foreign occupation. He pointed out that the Pashtuns in Afghanistan feel alienated because their villages are subjected to NATO military strikes and that their areas have received little or no development aid. Almost all posts in the Karzai government are occupied by members of the Northern Alliance, most of whom are Tajik, although the president is a Pashtun from the Qandahar region.

If Pakistan’s foreign policy is dominated by events in Afghanistan and their fall-out in the Pakistani provinces of North West Frontier and Baluchistan, its domestic policy is held hostage by the question of Musharraf’s uniform and how the next election will be conducted. Political parties beholden to Musharraf support his desire to retain the all-important post of military chief, where the real power resides, and also to retain the presidency. This is a delicate balancing-act that he must perform. Politicians opposed to him insist that Musharraf must choose between the two. Their demand is logical, but its purpose is to deprive Musharraf of his real power base, the army, if he relinquishes control of it. He is no fool; aware that without the army under his control he will be thrown out of the presidency, Musharraf refuses to give up the military post. But why is he keen to remain president? The simple answer is that he wants to control the government machinery as well to make him supreme in Pakistan. Power is addictive; the more one has, the more one craves. The top echelons of the military despise politicians and want to have their own hands on every lever of state power. Even without direct control, the military is the pre-eminent institution in the country; state policies have long been subordinated to its interests. Under Musharraf, the military’s grip on power has tightened.

Among well-informed political circles, there is a feeling that Musharraf will spring a surprise by calling snap assembly elections to catch them off balance. The air is thick with speculation; politicians of every stripe are scrambling to place themselves in the most favourable position. Whenever they are called, elections will lead to alliances of convenience that will disintegrate once the process is over. Few people, however, repose much confidence in the elections to usher in any meaningful change in Pakistani society.

Pakistan’s other tragedy is that political parties operating under the Islamic flag have offered no programme to gain people’s confidence. There are several “Islamic” parties, but none is above wheeling and dealing for short-term political gain. One of the leading parties, the Jami’atul Ulama-e Islam (JUI) led by maulana Fazlur Rahman, enjoys considerable support in the NWFP and Baluchistan, but few people would trust the maulana to keep even their shoes. He is known to indulge in smuggling, horse-trading and every other political chicanery that politicians are fond of. The maulana has perfected the art of speaking from both sides of his mouth. Given this sorry state of affairs, it is not surprising that no Islamic party has ever garnered significant support from Pakistan’s people in elections.

Highly talented and hardworking, the people of Pakistan are led by a sorry bunch of politicians whose sole purpose in life appears to be to get into power to plunder the resources of the state. They do not care for the welfare of the people and never have. It is a miracle that Pakistan has made even what progress it has with such an unscrupulous and incompetent bunch at the helm.

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