Pakistanis Must Focus on Political Issues

Gulf News, October 16, 2006

One year ago, Pakistanis responded in an unprecedented manner to the tragic earthquake that killed tens of thousands of their countrymen and made over 2.5 million homeless.
Thousands of civilians mobilised to lend a helping hand in relief efforts, digging victims out of the rubble with bare hands.

Hundreds of doctors, both inside the country and abroad, left their lucrative practices to volunteer medical care in makeshift hospitals. Contributions worth millions of dollars flowed from better off Pakistanis around the world.

In terms of national unity and caring for fellow citizens, the aftermath of the earthquake brought out the best among Pakistanis and was described as Pakistan’s finest hour.
But one year later, the optimism generated by the people’s response to the earthquake appears to have dissipated. The anniversary of the earthquake was marked by a demonstration by victims against the corruption of relief officials.

It is not difficult to believe that officials have started pocketing relief funds, now that the spotlight of the media is gone and the sense of urgency created by the earthquake has subsided.

After all, Transparency International’s 2006 National Corruption Perception Survey for Pakistan indicates that 67.3 per cent of business people in Pakistan view the present government, with General Pervez Musharraf as president and with the parliament elected in 2002, as the most corrupt government to hold power since 1988.

While observing the anniversary of the earthquake, official Pakistan kept its audacious face, taking credit for the contributions of ordinary citizens, but the painful reality is there for all to see.

The squabbling of religious leaders and politicians is back where it was before the earthquake. Retired generals are rushing to prove the current ruling general wrong. The ruling general is keen to rewrite history to create justification for his rule, without seeking forgiveness for sidestepping the constitution. The political stalemate continues, with the wielders of power lacking legitimacy and those claiming legitimacy lacking any power.
Violence in Balochistan and the resurgence of the Taliban along the Afghan border have once again highlighted Pakistan’s predilection for internal warfare.

On the international front, the shenanigans of Pakistan’s invisible government, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) are being widely discussed with little belief in Islamabad’s denials. Relations with the United States and India are both following a familiar pattern of surface improvements, coupled with sub-surface tensions.

Why has the opportunity of unifying the nation and moving forward in a new direction that followed last year’s earthquake been squandered? Pakistanis have repeatedly demonstrated national unity in the face of adversity. But Pakistan’s lack of institutional government and the inflexible preoccupations of the permanent state (which is not the same thing as the Pakistani nation) have repeatedly let Pakistan down following moments of unprecedented national unity and unselfishness.

In the final analysis, the functionality or otherwise of a state is a political question. Recently, a group of young Pakistanis in North America launched a new website called

While defining their mission, they summarised Pakistan’s crisis in the following words: “Pakistanis can rightfully be proud of several accomplishments and achievements. But overall the world does not see the Pakistan experiment as a successful one.”

Pakistan was not meant to be a military dictatorship or, for that matter, the breeding ground for religious extremism. It has become both. In 59 years, Pakistan has undergone a second partition in the form of the separation of Bangladesh and has been plagued with ethnic or sectarian disharmony. For more than half the period of Pakistan’s existence, the country has had either no constitution or a suspension of the constitutional order. Transfers of power have almost always been the result of military or palace coups.

Increasing misery

Pakistan is a nuclear weapons power but is unable to provide clean drinking water to a majority of its citizens. The wealth of a few has increased but so has the misery of the many. Educated Pakistanis sometimes get tired of what they see as constant criticism of Pakistan in the international media. Some respond by blaming Pakistan’s enemies for painting a stark picture of the Pakistani situation.

Others try to point towards the softer side of Pakistan. But the success or failure of a nation or state, both of which are political concepts, cannot be measured by recounting the poems of poets, the songs of musicians, the mystical dances of Sufis and the score of sportsmen.

In the final analysis, the value of a political ideal can only be assessed by political criteria. Pakistan’s political evolution (or lack of it) is the real reason Pakistan is seen by the world as the sick man of South Asia.

Thoughtful Pakistanis must dedicate themselves to political issues, and not be content with doing good at an individual or non-governmental level as they did in the aftermath of the earthquake, but because politics is where Pakistan needs to make a new beginning.

Mush’s cheap shot: General 1, Pakistan 0

Indian Express, October 5, 2006

There is a reason why heads of state and government avoid writing tell all memoirs until after they are out of office. Writing the whole truth while still at the helm can undermine current policies. Diluting the truth with spin creates a credibility gap that affects the ability of the ruler/writer to negotiate in good faith with the various interlocutors at home and abroad.

General Pervez Musharraf’s recent international trip that took him to Cuba, the United States, Canada, and Britain coincided with the publication of his memoir In the Line of Fire. As a writer for Forbes magazine put it, “When it comes to the spotlight, Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf is a pro, and his skills were on display while marketing his memoir from the world’s most public platform last week.” Musharraf talked about his book at a White House press conference. He appeared on many TV shows and got written about in every international newspaper. But were these numerous media appearances a major achievement, as Musharraf’s apologists claim, or have they raised Musharraf’s profile at the expense of how the world perceives the Pakistani nation?

An autobiography is often a book of self-justification. But in justifying his actions and projecting his own image as a great leader, Musharraf’s book has stoked the fire of several controversies about Pakistan. Suddenly, the responsibility of Pakistani scientists in nuclear proliferation and the role of the ubiquitous Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) have once again become topics of global discourse with the publication of Musharraf’s memoir.

Musharraf’s account portrays him as one man sitting atop a time bomb, the only person preventing the disaster that (according to him) is Pakistan. He decided to forge an alliance with the US in the aftermath of 9/11 even though several generals within the army opposed him. He discovered that the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, Dr. A.Q. Khan, was illicitly selling nuclear weapons technology to third countries. He is giving Pakistan democracy. He is empowering women. He has laid the foundations of a system for Pakistan.

According to In the Line of Fire, Pakistan without Musharraf is a rudderless ship, a state without any functioning institutions. Even the myth of the Pakistan army’s functionality as an institution is shattered. Musharraf saw his personal record after becoming army chief and noticed how it was full of red ink, based on negative and critical reports but these reports from his days as a lieutenant did not prevent him from rising to the rank of a general.

General Musharraf makes no distinction between himself and Pakistan or see himself as someone above the rest of Pakistan. During his rebuttal to Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the UN General Assembly, Musharraf spoke of how “I have done all I can” to stop Taliban attacks across Pakistan’s border into Afghanistan. Even the Queen of England speaks of herself as “We” because of the harsh egocentricity of the first person singular.

Some of my American friends have pointed out that the omissions in Musharraf’s book are more intriguing than what is included. There is a lot about Kargil, but not a word about the India-Pakistan peace process that preceded and that was undermined by the Kargil misadventure.

There is a line about how any “accomplishments on Kashmir” were due to Kargil but no explanation of what these accomplishments might be. The two assassination attempts on Musharraf are narrated in detail without a word on the military personnel who were charged with involvement in the plots and some of whom have been convicted and condemned to death.
Musharraf also fails to tell us why Pakistan supported Afghanistan’s Taliban regime and attributes the entire failed policy of that era to “wanting to change them (the Taliban) from within.” But more significantly he raises serious questions about Pakistan’s reliability as an ally in the global war against terrorism from the US point of view.

In Chapter 20 of his book titled, One day that changed the World, Musharraf says nothing about joining the war against terrorism on the basis of the immorality of terrorism. According to him, his decision was based on a calculus of Pakistan’s military disadvantage. When Musharraf says “I war-gamed the United States as an adversary,” he seems to be suggesting that if, in his calculation, Pakistan could have fought the US and won, he could have chosen that option. That is hardly a point that would win Pakistan — or Musharraf — any long-term friends in the US.

There are other assertions in Musharraf’s book that generate more heat than light. Musharraf blames Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for the break up of Pakistan in 1971, conveniently ignoring the fact that Pakistan was then under military rule and Bhutto, the elected leader of West Pakistan, was not installed into any position of power until after the Pakistan army surrendered to Indian and Bangladesh forces on December 16, 1971.

The account of the 1999 coup is also inaccurate. Musharraf speaks of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s “coup against the army.” How can the decision by a lawfully elected head of government to replace the chief of the army be described as a coup? If the prime minister was, in Musharraf’s opinion, not lawfully entitled to remove the army chief why could not the matter have been resolved through an appeal to the country’s judiciary?

History repeats itself in Pakistan

By Husain Haqqani

Journal of Democracy Vol. 17(4) (2006) pp110-124

General Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 military coup, has made it clear that he intends to continue running Pakistan, combining the offices of army chief and president in his own person. Musharraf’s political system revolves around his personality and is dependent upon the army’s position as the final arbiter of Pakistan’s politics. If Musharraf is to leave a legacy different from those of previous military rulers, he must tackle the contempt for civilians and the prejudice against politicians found in the higher military ranks. Not until the army’s institutional thinking changes or its hold becomes weaker can Pakistan be expected to make a transition to democratic rule.

Click here to read the journal article.