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Between the line

Protest, not rebellion
March 18, 2009


COMPARISONS are odious. Yet Nawaz Sharif has made the same call to rebel against President Asif Ali Zardari government as Gandhian Jayaprakash Narain had done in 1975. Hee too, like Nawaz Sharif, had asked policemen not to obey “illegal and unconstitutional” orders. Mrs Indira Gandhi then imposed the emergency, gagged the press and detained more than 100,000 people without trial. Two years later, when elections were held, she was routed. Nawaz Sharif is, however, talking about the 1971 situation when East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, seceded from Pakistan. The situation is, indeed, somber because the Long March of the lawyers already has Nawaz Sharif, his Muslim League and others participating in it.

However, this has not curbed ebullient General Pervez Musharraf. Like an evangelist, he has been stirring up jingoistic feelings in favour of Pakistan’s army and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). His display horrified the intelligentsia at a conclave in New Delhi a few days ago. He was still louder in praise of the armed forces and ISI on return to Islamabad. His swansong sounds motivated at a time when some vested interests in Pakistan are proposing the army’s take over. People cannot be happy over this development because they have tasted democratic rule after the nine-year-long military rule of Musharraf. The cat is, however, out of the bag when he says that he is ready to be the President of Pakistan.

True, the political parties have not acquitted themselves well. They are fighting among themselves even when the threat of the military takeover looms large. Yet this scenario is far better than the rule by the khaki. It may quieten things but will amount to putting them under the carpet, not sorting them out. The initial effort by political parties may well be shoddy, reflecting opportunism and misuse of power. This is any time superior to the army rule. The consensus reached by the elected representatives of people would be democratic, a product of give and take, not a diktat.

Within 10 months of the democratic government’s return, the mess that the parties and their leaders have created is distressing. They do not seem to have learnt any lesson from their mistakes. What they lack is the democratic temper. Still if the military is to bring ‘order’ it would be the same exercise which Pakistan has gone over many a time before.

In a democratic polity which the nation cherishes, members of state assemblies and the National Assembly are expected to govern within the precincts of the constitution. They are the custodians of power. They do not have guns for defence but they have the consent of people behind them. What the world expects from Pakistan is that all parties, however inimical against one another, would close ranks when the very democratic structure is in danger. It is the duty of rulers to listen to the demand of marchers. But it is equally important that the protest does not take the shape of rebellion. If necessary, the country can go back to the electorate for a fresh verdict. In no case can the army become an arbiter.

That America is at the back of the army is not a secret. Washington, capital of the most powerful democracy in the world has been cajoling, influencing and forcing Islamabad for the last 50 years to adopt a particular policy. It has been an indirect rule without responsibility. But America has always supported dictators and martial law administrators because it feels comfortable in dealing with them, instead of parliaments. However, the people in Pakistan are well awakened by this time to realise where their interest lies. Why should they allow America to impose its will on them? If ever the story of Pakistan’s troubles is written, Washington’s support to the perpetrators of coup de’tas would figure most prominently.

Washington’s proposal to contact ‘moderate’ Taliban means it wants to buy peace. The fight is against the ideology of fundamentalism. Both moderates and the extremists are stirred by the same feeling. There is no basic difference between the two. The ‘moderate’ Taliban would be allowed to gain in strength which they may well use to expand their area of influence. They, moderate or extremist, are terrorists and they have to be eliminated.

Despite New Delhi’s allegations that Islamabad is “not serious” about curbing terrorism, there is no option to a joint, concerted action by all South Asian countries. A Taliban’s gain in Pakistan is a loss for the entire region or, for that matter, the world. The sooner America which has a piecemeal approach realises this, the better it would be for this part of the world. Doubts over Washington’s intention have arisen because Major General Tariq Khan, head of paramilitary force, had reached Bajour, and had Baitullah Mehsud, the Taliban main man, within his grasp. But America reportedly exerted pressure on Islamabad to withdraw.

How out of tune Musharraf, a stooge of America, is when he says that he is available or that he could be an “umpire between India and Pakistan”? What can be done to convince him that he is mainly responsible for the bad blood between India and Pakistan? He is the one who encouraged Azhar Masud, the Laskhar-e-Toiba man, to send infiltrators into Kashmir and other parts of India. When Atal Behari Vajpayee undertook a bus journey to Lahore, Musharraf was one of the three service chiefs who refused to salute the Indian Prime Minister, exhibiting their anger over the efforts at conciliation.

Again, when the two sides were close to a solution over Kashmir through the back channel—Naiz Naik representing Pakistan and R.K. Misra India—Musharraf initiated a mini war at Kargil. The then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif came to know about it only when Vajpayee telephoned him from Delhi. Thousands of soldiers died on both sides. Pakistan would have lost many more if Nawaz Sharif had not rescued Musharraf. At the latter’s request Nawaz Sharif flew to America where President Clinton used his good offices to persuade India to accept the ceasefire so as to allow the Pakistani soldiers to withdraw.

Musharraf’s assertion that he has helped anvil a Kashmir solution which makes the borders between the Valley and the Azad Kashmir ‘irrelevant’ is only a claim. Earlier, his foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri made a similar assertion during his visit to India. But, according to authentic sources at New Delhi, the ‘solution’ has yet to cross a few hurdles to be acceptable to India and that there is no question of constituting a joint control mechanism in the proposed arrangements on Kashmir. At this time, terrorism should have full attention of the two countries, not Kashmir on which they have reached some basic understanding.

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