Slide into Anarchy

What a week, a low intensity explosion went off near a KPT gate followed next day by staggered explosions outside the PACC designed to inflict maximum casualties, rounded off within days by the assassination of Mufti Shamzai. The civil disturbances, including an attack on the Quaid Academy, to protest this horrible murder had not died down when a bomb went off in an Imam Bargah in the evening of May 31 off Karachi’s main arterial M A Jinnah Road, killing 18 and wounding countless others and setting off another chain reaction of violence in Karachi. The present spate of terrorism had started a fortnight or so earlier with the horrific suicide bombing in the Shia mosque in the Quaid’s alma mater Sindh Madrasatul Islam. Given the paralysis of government in Sindh, someone somewhere is playing a deadly game with Karachi’s future, we are rapidly sliding into anarchy. It goes without saying that this will seriously affect the country’s economy.

In the early 1990s, Karachi (and by extension Sindh) had a severe law and order problem. The situation was so bad that the army was commissioned to launch “search operations” in the city to ferret out militants, simultaneously the Special Services Group (SSG) was deputed to work with the police and the Citizen Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) to break the back of kidnapper gangs that were targetting the wealthy elite of the city for ransom. While the kidnappers were effectively decimated, the Army had only moderate success in eliminating militants. The untimely death of Gen Asif Nawaz Janjua saw the new COAS, Gen Abdul Waheed, extricate the Army from the morass of “aid to civil power” and hand responsibility for law and order back to political authority. In power in the Federation and in Sindh, Ms Benazir gave a clear mandate to the Federal Interior Minister, Maj Gen Naseerullah Khan Babar, rid the problem of urban militancy in Karachi and Hyderabad so that governance (in some form) could be applied in the Province.

One has no hesitation in saying that this was Ms Benazir’s finest hour. Gen Babar has always been a no-nonsense person, even if one may differ with him on issues, his logic is never tainted by personal motives. Gen Babar was fortunate on two counts, as the Rangers boss he got Maj Gen (later Lt Gen) Muhammad Akram, a dedicated die-hard professional soldier, as boss of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) Maj (Retd) Masood Sharif was a most fortuitous choice. With good on-time operational intelligence provided by IB, the Rangers and Police proceeded to eradicate militancy from Karachi. This nation owes a lasting debt of gratitude to Babar, Akram and Masood Sharif for saving Karachi from becoming another Beirut, the effect of this surgical cleansing lasted almost a decade.

The Province of Sindh is today without any government, Chief Minister represent only the trappings of it, whether this is by deliberate choice one doesn’t know. Karachi’s city government headed by Jamaat-I-Islami (JI) is virtually powerless because of political polarization between the JI and Karachi’s main political party, the MQM. The result is that we have both a Province and a city where being either non-existent, infrequent and/or erratic, governance has become an endangered species. The result is a near anarchy situation in the interior of Sindh and in Karachi, rapidly sliding into one. The government cannot be blamed per se for rampant terrorism, that is a world-wide phenomenon and not a regional one. Yet because Al-Qaeda was epi-centered in Afghanistan and came about as a direct result of the Afghan War of the 80s, the primary conduit being the port city of Karachi, it will take time and dedicated effort to rid the city of this menace. The police are certainly trying, without effective intelligence they are mostly groping in the dark, only infrequently penetrating the terrorist cells. The root causes of failure of law and order may be economic disparity and social injustice, the immediate reason is the failure of coordinated intelligence. This can only be delivered by professionals, not gasbags posing as security experts! To quote a senior foreign diplomat from my article entitled “ANOTHER OUTRAGE” published in THE NATION on March 23, 2002, “I don’t trust my security to my drinking buddies!”. The success of the law enforcement agencies (LEAs) in 1994-95 was not capitalized upon by Ms Benazir’s government, lack of sustained governance at the Provincial level led to failure of instituting political (and economic) initiatives to mitigate ethnic and sectarian polarization. Sindh (or any other Province) cannot be run by remote control from Islamabad, for good governance Provinces must be self-governing.

Democratic principles mandated that the majority party in Sindh, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) should have formed the government in late 2002, it was their right. Having negated this principle for a hotchpotch coalition with the urban-based MQM as the major partner, power has been so defused that it is impossible to nail down the center of power. Even when the coalition led by Ali Mohammad Maher as Chief Minister took power in the Province in a democratic façade, Commander 5 Corps Lt Gen Waseem Mohammad Ghazi retained absolute authority. When Ghazi departed unlamented to the NDC early this year, power passed into the hands of the MQM-nominated Governor Ishrat-ul-Ibad and his all-weather Advisor Brig (Retd) Akhtar Zamin Naqvi, for them Ali Mohammad Maher was a suitable figurehead as a Chief Minister, duly kept in line with any number of his own cabinet ministers openly vying for his job. Maher’s rule (or the lack of it) has successfully undone all achievements of Governor’s rule from 1999 to 2002, particularly the balancing of Sindh’s finances and gradual stability in the law and order situation. An uncertain economic barometer in Pakistan, the stock market nevertheless recognizes dangerous portents, the deteriorating situation will soon start to erode the economy. If the city reverts back to frequent closedowns because of political or crime-related trouble, the city’s economy (and with that the country’s) will certainly crash. Are we prepared for economic apocalypse now?

Is the President reading the overall internal situation correctly? Other than the gloom-and-doom scenario in Karachi and interior Sindh we have problems on the Pak-Afghan border and peripheral areas, the WANA situation being the most dangerous. One had to expect some reaction through proxies and un-related targets in the urban areas to divert the attention of the Federal Government. With regular attacks on Sui gas installations and terrorist attacks in Quetta, the situation is not too good in Balochistan either. While externally we are on a favourable course given the improving peace with India scenario, the assassination attacks on the President have been too close for comfort. The President cannot keep on running the situation by remote control twice-removed, ambiguity in authority breeds insecurity. He must do what he does best, take charge of the situation, or conversely allow his Prime Minister to do so. The options for Sindh are viz (1) have a new effective CM from the existing coalition (2) hand power over to a PPP-led coalition or (3) impose Governor’s rule, with an ethnic Sindhi as Governor, and with adequate powers, not a puppet on a string. There is an increasing public perception that Gen Musharraf is becoming too dependant upon the likes of Ch Shujaat Hussain for his future political longevity, this is mind-boggling. Ch Shujaat Hussain may be a good politician but there are scores like him, even in their hometown of Gujrat Chaudhrys are confined to one and a half constituencies, the others belong to PPP’s Ch Mukhtar and Aitzaz Ahsan. It is Ch Shujaat Hussain who is where he is because of Gen Pervez Musharraf, not the other way around. The President owes the Chaudhry nothing. In fact the association with the Chaudhrys has cost the Pervez Mushrraf considerable credibility. Were he to drop them as the political hot potatoes they are today, they would not be news (except for negative National Accountability reasons) past the coming week. One respects Mushahid Hussain’s intellect and ability but putting him as the Secretary General of the PML was fitting a square peg in a round hole, signaling to all and sundry that a Presidential system with a technocratic government is in the offing. Will this be acceptable to the people of Pakistan? In 1999 yes, in 2004 certainly not! While it is in the nature of Pervez Musharraf to look after those who have been loyal to him, his innate patriotism must dictate his future choices, the national interest taking precedence over mediocrity. He must get on with choosing the right people for the right slots.

To start with, let’s get the Cabinet right. Instead of backroom stabbing, Zafarullah Khan Jamali needs to be shored up, the man has the ability if given a free hand. Put Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh in Finance and Shaukat Aziz in Foreign Affairs so that they can do for the country what they can do best. I want Pervez Musharraf to succeed as almost every thinking person without motivation in Pakistan does, yet one is disturbed by an extremely frustrating thought, does the President hold loyalty to self above the national interest, if not what prevents him from jettisoning his obvious liabilities? The President must act while he can, the Autumn of 2004 will be far different from the Autumn of 1999, when he was master of all that he surveyed, decision-making will gradually become increasingly complicated, convoluted and subject to cynosure. He must not let the initiative he still enjoys because of his stature and personality become synonymous with the Chaudhry-types and their mentors. He needs to cut his losses and institute damage-control. Pervez Musharraf has an inherent ability to turn things around, we need to see a demonstration of this power in shuffling his key subordinates, putting some out to pasture while putting the right people in places where they can perform for good of country and Musharraf, preferably in that order.