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Archive for August, 2010

A dying man trusted you to save his baby

Pakistan celebrated its 63rd birthday yesterday. It

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Zardari urf Jootay Ka Yaar

The gods have a choice in the matter of destruction. Whom they would destroy they first make mad or ridiculous. Pakistani ‘strongmen’ usually end up as mad, their actions when twilight approaches explainable only on the plane of madness. The more hilarious alternative is reserved for special beings.

Most of us were aware of the rumours that President Zardari had some sort of a chateau in France. But details were hard to come by. Now, thanks to the president’s magnificently-timed trip to Paris and London, the veil has been rent asunder. President and family, the Lord be praised, are proud owners of the Manoir de la Reine Blanche — Manor of the White Queen — a 16th century chateau, as we’ve been informed, built for the widow of Philippe Fourth.

For most people in Pakistan this would be their first lesson in French and the first they would have heard of Philippe Fourth. Fauzia Wahab, the PPP’s tempestuous spokesperson, can always be counted on to put up a defence of anything, no matter how outlandish. I am dying to hear her say that the Manoir de la Reine Blanche is a figment of the opposition’s imagination.

Any fool could have told the president not to visit his chateau because it was bound to draw fire. But he just couldn’t resist it. So he took a helicopter ride to it, courtesy his French hosts, and we are all in on the secret. Good for us but not very smart of the president.

In other circumstances a French chateau would be something to boast about, something even to be proud of. But associated with the president of a country whose international distinguishing mark is its permanent begging bowl — Pakistan always with its hands stretched out — the chateau is a reminder like nothing else of the president’s enterprising spirit, the same huge talent which long ago earned him the imperishable title of Mr Ten Percent.

Just when the president was thought by many in Pakistan to have secured his position, and to have matured a bit, he goes and blows it all by inviting attention to his shining reputation and his equally-shining past. The one thing the president should shun is history and here he has invited the world to a study of history.

Pakistan’s leading property tycoon — you’ve guessed his name — once told me that the president had a sharp eye for property. He could have saved his breath. Regarding the president’s prowess in this field there were never any doubts, Zardari and property being an unbreakable combination. Now with the helicopter ride to the Manor of the White Queen we are reminded of the nexus once again. This has to be public relations at its glowing best.

If he was the Minister of Housing, or the Minister of Property Investment, perhaps it wouldn’t matter so much. Indeed, he was Minister of Investment in his wife’s second term as prime minister, a circumstance not without its share of high comedy. Zardari and investment, Zardari and property — this was the subject of never-ending jokes. But he is the president of Pakistan and even if he doesn’t mind making himself the laughingstock of Europe, Pakistan — unhappy country, great as our sins may be, what have we done to deserve this? — too gets tarred in the process.

Pakistan and terrorism, Pakistan the land of graft and corruption, and now this: a president with a taste for stately homes in different climes. It is not hard to imagine the wry looks on the faces of our foreign friends when next time we turn to them — nay, implore them — for money.

As floodwaters overwhelm different parts of the country, it is not unreasonable to expect the world to come to our assistance. After all, this is the worst flood disaster to hit Pakistan in living memory. But when we ask friends for assistance somewhere at the back of their minds will lurk the brooding image of the president’s French chateau.

True, we never expected much from President Zardari. Just as some leaders are victims of high expectations — we expect too much from them — President Zardari was always a victim of low expectations. We expected nothing from him. We just marvelled at his good fortune and we asked ourselves what we had done to deserve him. Even so, the least he owed Pakistan was to keep his head below the ramparts. The timing of his present visit apart, the revelation about his French chateau is less an embarrassment for him as it is a discomforting thought for Pakistan that it is blessed with such leadership. To suffer injuries is one thing. We are used to this. But to have salt poured over open wounds is an unnecessary exercise.

Yes, Zardari is a democratically elected president. But this is no excuse for behaviour that wouldn’t be condoned anywhere. Indeed, a democratically elected leader is under a greater obligation than a usurper not to insult his office and his people.

But this fulmination is to forget where all this comes from, the antecedents of the fortune we are talking about. God knows we’ve had plenty of buccaneers in our history, men who have used their position to rob, nay pillage, the state and enrich themselves. But the phenomenon before us is unprecedented in our history. It has no equals, no rivals.

There have been no domains this buccaneering has not ventured into, no limits to the extent of its grasping ambition. A billion dollars is easy to say. But a fortune of this size is not easy to amass. Even with the resources of the state at one’s disposal, it requires a special kind of skill to think in these big terms and then to go about implementing that vision. We’ve always said our leaders lack vision. We should be looking afresh at this proposition.

Robber barons was a term used to describe Pakistan’s first generation of depredators. But it is a term wholly inadequate to take in the scale of what we have before us. The Swiss bank accounts (60 million dollars) which figured in the NRO case are really small change in this calculation. The Cotecna commission — on a contract for pre-shipment inspection of goods given to the Swiss firm of this name — was really the first, hesitant step in a journey that was to become progressively more subtle and sophisticated. The Cotecna affair left an embarrassing trail. No such mistake was to be made subsequently.

Surrey Palace was bought for 4.5 million pounds. How much did the chateau cost? How much the apartment in Manhattan? How much the whispered property in Spain? We are talking of big money here. Where did it all come from? We are also talking of a creative vision not seen in Pakistan before. But there is nothing new in any of this, it’s an old and oft-repeated story. But something must have been at work, something hidden in the dark reaches of the soul, to impel a helicopter ride that defies common sense and has set the rumour and conspiracy mills to roll again.

If culture is destiny, then some form of culture is at work here. An educated mind, a cultivated sensibility, would have shied away from such exhibitionism. This does not mean that educated minds are immune from corrupt habits. But at least educated minds, even if guilty of the worst, try not to put the products of their prowess on public display. It is the parvenu or the upstart, still insecure about his wealth and position, usually guilty of such a lapse of taste. For it is tastelessness above all which explains, and does justice to, that helicopter ride to the White Queen’s palace.

Don’t we have enough on our plate? We are being hit by terrorism and we have been hit by the worst floods for the last 100 years. And Karachi is in flames. President Zardari would have done nothing had he remained at home. He hasn’t once visited the frontlines where our soldiers have fought and died. It is too much to expect he would have done anything to ease the plight of the flood-hit. But at least he could have spared the nation’s feelings.

The good thing is that he has also made himself more ridiculous in the process, the only silver lining in a very dark mass of clouds.

Friday, August 06, 2010

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Some Reflections on 1971:A Different Perspective

Even a school child in today’s Pakistan condemns the army, General Yahya and Mr Bhutto for  the 1971 fiasco. This has become fashionable. The recent declassification of the Hamood ur Rahman Commission Report has added fuel to fire.
This brief article is an attempt to see things in a different perspective. It is neither a defence of the army nor of any individual but an attempt to see things as they were.
Pakistan as it was till 1971 was not  a geographically coherent state. Its defence was the strategist’s nightmare. Even drafting its constitution keeping in view its ethnic and cultural makeup was a politician’s nightmare! The politicians of the first decade must, however, be commended for creating a constitution in 1956! This constitution was, however, not allowed to be implemented by the civil-military clique who took power in 1958. Once the Ayub dictatorship  finally overthrown in 1969 the army once again was forced to set the house in order. No one in today’s Pakistan realizes that the Army under General Yahya successfully held the first general election of Pakistan in just one year while Pakistan’s first elected prime minister had failed to do the same in four years!
The alienation of East Pakistanis was not a suddenly mechanical knee jerk reaction that started with the enforcement of Pakistan’s second martial law in 1969. It started right from 1948 over the language question and successively intensified after the army under Generals Iskandar Mirza and Ayub usurped power in 1958. The process gained the momentum of an invincible avalanche by 1971.
Even dispassionate observers agree that in 1971 the East Pakistanis wanted complete autonomy and adoption of the Six Point Programme of Sheikh Mujeeb which would have led in any case to Pakistan’s political disintegration. It was in these circumstances that the Pakistan Army intervened in March 1971. Even a hostile observer like an Indian military historian admitted that ‘Mujib’s Six Points would have meant a virtual dismemberment of Pakistan’.1
General Yahya who led Pakistan in the dual capacity of political and military chief had three broad options after the bloody military crackdown in East Pakistan in March-April 1971; i.e (1) arrive at a political compromise with the East Pakistani political leadership (2)  start a pre-emptive war by attacking India in response to Indian active military aid to the Bengali rebels before the Himalayan snowfall blocked the passes thus closing any chances of Chinese intervention (3)  merely save West Pakistan.
Yahya attempted  to do the first but failed because of various reasons including determined Indian attempts to sabotage any attempt at arriving at a political settlement, delayed initiation of the process of political rapprochement and bitter feelings created in the East Wing as a result of excesses committed by the army.
The second option was not exercised since the US leadership lulled Yahya into a false sense of security into thinking that India would not start an all out war. Pakistan’s only sincere friend and ally China warned Pakistan and repeatedly asked its leadership to arrive at a political solution.
It will be worthwhile to quote an Indian military observer at this point. Brigadier Jagdev Singh thus wrote ‘Yahya showed a good sense in taking decisions and his command decisions were generally well deliberated upon and sound. He had been thrown into a rotten situation which had come into being the day Pakistan with its two wings was born; it was a  totally unnatural alliance..but Yahya faced the situation with tact and intelligence, and made a damn good try to keep the Eastern Wing within Pakistan’.2
In Pakistan the military crackdown of March 1971 is much criticized. Even an Indian admitted that ‘the only course open was to hold on to the military rule and restore the law and order, if necessary by force’.3
Once the war finally started in 1971 Yahya had two options. Start a counter-offensive from day one in an attempt to reduce Indian pressure against East Pakistan or to save West Pakistan from being overrun by the Indians in phase two after the Indians had captured East Pakistan.
The main criticism against Yahya has been that he did not start a counter offensive  immediately after the war started. First of all we will discuss why this may have happened and what would have happened in case Pakistan had started an all out offensive from day one on the Western Front.
All Indian accounts  prove that by November 1971 the Indian Army opposite West Pakistan was well poised to meet any Pakistani attack on the Western Front. Had Pakistan’s main strike force the 1st Armoured Division been launched it could not have gone beyond ten or twenty miles since the Indian 1st Armoured Division was concentrated opposite it in Muktesar-Ganganagar area. Thus an attack by the 1st Armoured Division would not have relieved the Indian pressure on the Eastern Front and Eastern Command’s chances of surviving as a credible military entity were bleak.
The Indians were well prepared to meet Pakistan’s Northern Strategic Reserve i.e the 6 Armoured Division/17 Division in the Shakargarh Bulge and any attack by this formation could not have possibly influenced the war in the Eastern Theatre.
Later the Pakistani High Command was much criticized for having been led by drunkards who did not launch an offensive in 1971. If we keep the above background in mind any sane and dispassionate reader would agree that it was not the question of being drunk or not drunk but a simple strategic reality that a counter-offensive launched by Pakistan Army in December 1971 could not have saved the Eastern Commander from the ignominy of surrender.
Long ago Carl Von Clausewitz beautifully summed up Yahya Khan’s dilemma once he said ‘There are two considerations which as motives may practically take the place of inability to continue the contest. The first is the improbable, the second is the excessive price of success’! 4
Did Pakistan Army had the ability to continue an unnecessary contest defending an area whose people were irrevocably alienated. The price of success which was impossible in any case in December 1971 was excessive! It later became fashionable in Pakistan with the benefit of hindsight to criticize Yahya alone as the principal culprit of 1971.
It goes to Pakistan Army’s credit that they saved West Pakistan without committing its strategic reserves ! Today this fact is not understood at all! If the Bengalis got their independence in 1971, the West Pakistani Muslims were saved from Indian slavery through the ceasefire of 1971! Today with a nuclear capability the Indians will have to think 1000 times before attacking Pakistan! Today we forget that by swallowing the bitter pill of defeat in 1971 our elders saved us to be able to fight in a better manner in future !
The men who died in 1971 gave their lives so that the future generations may have a better tomorrow. The Hamood ur Rahman Commission Report was unfortunately drafted with the help of some retired military windbags who could do anything for a ‘crate of Whiskey’!
 Bhutto or Yahya were no angels but so was Mujeeb! These men, all of them acted rightly in their own manner, none was an angel as I earlier said but none was great a villain as he is today made out to be. Yahya is still remembered by those officers and soldiers who saw him. Mujeeb, whatever we may say was the founder of a nation. Bhutto whatever anyone may say was a great man who did many things which made Pakistan stronger than it was in 1971!
What more can I say but repeat that excellent verse ‘Never set a squadron in the field, nor knew the division of battle, more than a spinster’!
1Page-44- Dismemberment of Pakistan-1971-Indo Pak War- Brigadier Jagdev Singh-Lancer International – New Delhi-1988.
2 Ibid.
4Page-125-On War- Carl Von Clausewitz-Edited by Anatol Rapport-Penguin Books -London-1974-Reprinted by National Book Foundation and distributed in the Pakistan Army during Mr Bhutto’s Prime Ministership by the National Book Foundation in all units/libraries  of Pakistan Army in 1975-76.

February 2001

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Pakistan floods may have killed 3,000 people: official

Pakistan struggles to reach flood survivors as death toll rises to more than 800 in flash floods that the UN estimates have affected one million people

Islamabad: As many as 3,000 people may have died in floods that have devastated Pakistan’s northwestern region, the local head of the country’s largest rescue service said.

Disaster management official Adnan Khan said that the death toll from massive floods in the northwest has risen to 1,100 people. He expects the death toll to rise further since there are areas in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa province that rescue workers have not been able to access.

Authorities are struggling to save more than 27,000 people still trapped by the flooding that has plagued the northwest in recent days following heavy monsoon rains. Khan said more than 20,000 people have been rescued so far.

A million people have been affected by the flooding, the United Nations said.

“The death toll could go as high as 3,000 because the level of destruction has been so great,” said Mujahid Khan, chief spokesman for Edhi rescue service.

Homes and bridges have collapsed in the rain, live electric wires have fallen into the waters and families have been swept away in the floods.

“We can see people drowning but we can’t go into the water because of its high pressure,” Khan said. “The relief efforts of everyone combined is only 5 per cent of what’s required.”

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani ordered the government to rescue people and provide food supplies to those at safe locations.

Floods may reach the southern province of Sindh within the next few days, said Information Minister Sumsam Bokhari. The Sindh government has ordered the evacuation of residents along the banks of the River Indus.

Pakistani television channels showed images of people on flooded roads grabbing wreckage to keep from being swept away, drowning goats and buffalo, and makeshift boats.

Pakistan’s weather bureau said an “unprecedented” 12 inches of rain had fallen in 36 hours in the northwest but predicted only scattered showers during coming days.

In neighbouring Afghanistan, flash floods have killed at least 65 people and affected more than 1,000 families, officials said.

“All the houses in my village have been destroyed and now it’s simply a fight for survival,” Mahmoud Khan, a tribal elder from South Waziristan.

The districts of Nowshera, Charsadda, Peshawar, Swat, and Lower Dir are the worst-affected, according to the government.

The army said it had sent boats and helicopters to rescue stranded people and its engineers were trying to open roads and divert water from key routes.

The European Commission said it had given $39 million in humanitarian aid to help the most needy.

“Pakistan has been hit by terrible floods and more rain is forecast. Our thoughts are with those affected by them,” said Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva.

The flooding capped a week of tragedy for Pakistan after an airliner crashed into hills near Islamabad on Wednesday, killing 152 people on board.

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Musharraf Ready to Jump into the Political Arena

There is a new political party ready to jump into the tumultuous political arena of Pakistan. It is nomenclatured

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