Governor’s rule in Balochistan

The last few days have seen the explosion of so many crises in Pakistan that there hasn’t been a lot of time to stop and take a considered look at individual events and evaluate them with a cool head. The biggest casualty of this lack of analysis has been the imposition of governor’s rule in Balochistan under article 234 of the constitution in the aftermath of the bombing in Quetta that killed over a hundred Hazara Shias. 

The series of events that led to this is obviously a very sensitive one. Moreover, the provincial government was dismissed as a result of an unprecedented public outpouring of sentiment against anti Shia terrorism the likes of which have never been seen before in Pakistan. Clearly, this public activism is a very, very positive development. But the question in my mind is, is the the outcome of the activisim – i.e. the imposition of governor’s rule – a positive outcome? I would like to suggest for two reasons, that it was not. 

The first reason is – did this dismissal contribute in any tangible way towards ending the problem of anti-Shia militancy in Balochistan? Anti Shia groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi have been operating in the Quetta area with impunity for several years.  

In this article Mujahid Hussain provides a link to a letter distributed by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Balochistan Unit in which they promise to eradicate the Hazara Shia community just as their comrades – the Taliban – did in Afghanistan. As Mujahid Hussain puts it, “Quetta, for all practicl purposes, can be called a second Qandahar.”. This is not surprising given that post 9/11 the leadership of the Afghan Taliban was moved wholesale, under the protection of the security establishment to be housed in Quetta. As Malik Siraj Akbar points out in this article the security establishment has pursued a policy of encouraging religious extremism in Balochistan as a counterweight to Baloch nationalism. This is in keeping with the state’s strategy of supporting the most extreme elements of society rather than even considering the demands of what it considers sub-nationalism in both Balochistan and KP.

So the question arises – will dismissing the provincial government – however incompetent – have any impact on changing what’s been a pretty longstanding approach towards Balochistan of fostering extremism + using Balochistan to harbour friendly Taliban? Of course not. Clearly, the presence of anti-Shia militancy in Balochistan is part of the larger problem of the state’s ambivalent approach to religious extremists. The LeJ leader Malik Ishaq’s release from prison in September 2012 has given the LeJ a boost throughout the country. Here is Amir Mir on recent developments within the LeJ in Balochistan. Reading over the sordid details documented by Mir, I really have to wonder why the “key intelligence agencies investigating the non-stop killings of Shia Hazaras in Quetta” required the dismissal of the provincial government in order to begin their investigation of the LeJ killers? Shouldn’t federal intelligence and investigative agencies be taking action against these military groups and investigating their bombings irrespective of whether there is an elected government or governor Raj in the province? The LeJ in Balochistan is not a widespread insurgency – it is a group of highly trained killers launching targetted attacks. Surely this is a matter for federal investigation especially since the reahc of the LeJ transcends provincial boundaries. My question is, why did the state need the provincial government to be dismissed in order to begin this investigation?

The second reason that I think that the imposition of governor’s rule was a mistake was that the Balochistan “law and order situation” as many like to refer to it, is not a situation that can be neatly categorized into one root cause. There are multiple factors at play in Balochistan – there is the rise of religious extremism and there is also the fact that the Baloch are in a state of complete disillusionment regarding the federation. So in my opinion, it is unwise to ignore the second issue and to give in to some sense of symbolic “action” on the first issue by dismissing the provincial government. Governor’s rule is something that the framer of the Indian consitution, BR Ambedkar referred to as a “dead letter” that should be avoided by the President at all costs. It is an article in complete contradiction to the principle of federalism. You can either respect the sanctity of a provincial assembly, or you cannot. Supporting governor’s rule, especially when the assembly was so close to completing it’s full term was a clear sign of the center’s complete lack of respect for the political entity that is Balochistan. Of course supporters of the invocation of article 234 will say that the federal government was left with no choice because of the Chief Minister’s refusal to resign gracefully. However there are less dictatorial ways of influencing the outcome including supporting a no confidence vote against him in the provincial assembly. If that failed, there were many actions that the federal government could have taken to help with the law and order situation, the main one being the deployment of resources within federal intelligence agencies to track down and eliminate the target killers and leadership of the extremist organizations. Many will argue that the Baloch assembly was a lame duck that had lost all its credibility. The question I have for these people is – why is that? Why is it that most of the important stakeholders of the nationalist persuasion have boycotted the political process and taken to armed revolt? Could it possibly be because they are fully aware of the lack of respect that the centre has for the province as a political entity within the country as a whole? Doesn’t the imposition of governor’s rule prove that they were completely right to begin with?

Every time that the centre deals with Balochistan with a heavy hand reminiscent of the worst kind of colonial practices, we lose another generation of men like Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo who are willing to risk the contempt of their fellow nationalists and take a risk on cooperating with the centre. The impact of this degradation of quality of leadership is clearly visible in the fact that we had a political joker like Raisani as the Chief Minister of Balochistan in the first place. Of course decisions in Pakistani politics are seldom well-considered and deliberated but it is doubly disappointing that an action like this was brought on by public pressure. The only thing that distinguishes civilized politics from the kind of barbarity that passes for politics in Pakistan is respect for institutions. The provincial assembly, in a country as divided by ethnic and linguistic faultlines in Pakistan is arguably the most sensitive institution that the political system possesses. To sacrifice it in the name of some misguided symbolic gesture of “doing something” is a giant mistake and it’s not hard to predict that this will come back to haunt the federal government in years to come.


The death of politics

Since it is Benazir Bhutto’s death anniversary I thought I would post my favourite youtube clip of her’s

It’s from the 1993 elections when BB was campaigning for the NA-1 seat for Zafar Ali Shah of the PPP. In the 1990 election, BB had contested this seat and she was defeated by Ghulam Ahmed Bilour. In 1993, Zafar Ali Shah would actually go on to win the seat for the PPP.

To me this clip shows BB at her very best as a pure politician. The best part is the bit right at the end where she says (addressing Bilour): “Aap dekhain ge ke 6 October ke baad Zafar Ali Shah, People’s Party aur teer tumhe aise shikast daygi ke aap apne cinema hall me chhup kar ke purani filmon dekhne par majboor ho jayenge”.


She was referring to Ghulam Ahmed Bilour’s ownership of various cinema houses where movies of questionable taste are shown.

I really like this clip because it shows what an unbelievable phenomenon BB was. Her urdu was so bad and yet she was really able to work a crowd just through the sheer force of her personality. One can only imagine what a formidable politician she would have been had her urdu been a bit better. There are a bunch of clips of BB saying far more politically correct things about ending terrorism etc but this is BB the politician, not above playing dirty and doing what she did best.

It’s a very sad clip, for another reason. If someone had told me that we would look back at the 90s as a period of relative political stability and civility I would have laughed. Living through that decade it felt like democracy was something that was perpetually on the verge of being replaced. But in retrospect, consider the fact that in 1993, both ANP and PPP were free to campaign against each other, out in the open without fear of being blown up by a suicide bomber the way that Ghulam Ahmad Bilour’s brother was just a few days ago and the way that BB was 5 years ago.

Politics, in any traditional understanding of the word, and certainly politics as we see in the clip above, is dead. It’s been replaced by the politics of the suicide bomb and the threat of the suicide bomb. As Khaled Ahmed bluntly puts it terror works better than any ideology. At this point it doesn’t really matter what fiery debates go on in the senate or the national assembly or in the English or Urdu press and even on the talk shows. All that matters is that politicians of a certain inclination – and their supporters – are more likely to get blown up every time they step out of doors. And that is how a debate is won.

Strengthening the system?

I was thinking about this article by Nadir Hassan yesterday and I ended up posting this huge comment on the tribune site. I thought I might as well post it here. Nadir argues:

To support the constitutionality of the Supreme Court’s actions does not mean, to preempt a likely criticism, that I support the army’s campaign against the PPP. It is possible to be against the illegality of a military coup while finding nothing to object to in a Supreme Court finally asserting itself. Their aims might be the same but by staying within the confines of the law, the Supreme Court may end up strengthening the system in the long run.

I disagree. There is no question, at this point, of strengthening the system in the long term. What we are seeing is merely more of the same in which multiple sections of the elite are colluding with each other to cut another section of the elite down to size.

Basically what the author is arguing here is that the Supreme Court should have the authority to arbitrarily make a decision that affects another branch of government. Once it makes this decision, the other branches of government are obliged to abide by this decision or face prosecution for contempt of court.

Taken to its logical conclusion, this situation results in a crippled government in which the executive and legislature are in constant fear of being declared in contempt of court whereas there are absolutely no checks and balances on the ability of the Supreme Court to make whatever decision they like. No matter what they decide, defenders of the Court will argue that since they are the highest court in the land, they have the right to act as they are acting. Tomorrow, for example, the court could declare that the entire Constitution be re-written to be in line with the Objectives Resolution. Any government that refuses to enforce this will immediately be declared to be in contempt of court. Is this a situation that we are willing to accept? More importantly, is this a situation in which the system will be strengthened?

Anyway, this is only an issue because since we have a parallel government in the form of the Establishment, the Supreme Court feels no obligation to stay within the limits of its power. As Alexander Hamilton said of the US Supreme Court in Federalist no. 78, “it may truly be said to have neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment; and must ultimately depend upon the aid of the executive arm even for the efficacy of its judgments.” Of course this is not an endorsement to the executive to disobey the Supreme Court – but in a state like the US in which the various arms of government aren’t constantly trying to expand their limits of power, it’s merely a statement of reality – the Supreme Court knows that it cannot force the executive to enforce a decision that the executive violently disagrees with, which is an incentive for the court to practice a degree of judicial restraint. However in Pakistan, there is a parallel government in the form of the establishment. The Court knows that in the case where the executive is unwilling to enforce its decision, it can appeal – or make common cause with – the parallel government and have its decision enforced by it. This bypassing of the executive to enforce its decision essentially disempowers the executive and leads to – as we see – a breakdown of the functioning of the state which is where we are right now.

The ultimate guardians of the national interest

Following the remarkable events in Egypt over the last five days has been truly a paradigm changing experience. Even a cynic like me can’t help being taken in by the idea that this is a genuine revolution, contrary to the CNN and Fox news tickers of chaos, crisis, etc. Egypt and Burma have always fascinated me in their similarities in various ways to Pakistan. I guess growing up in post-Ziaist Pakistan, I have a morbid fascination for countries with a political vacuum. Almost a year ago, I remember reading a brilliant article by Adam Shatz about Egypt’s political vacuum and thinking that Pakistan was lucky, by contrast, in that it at least had a political class and a political tradition, no matter how flawed.

This paragraph in Shatz’s article (in which he quotes the Egyptian journalist Hani Shukrullah) has stayed in my mind over the last year:

As Hani Shukrallah, an editor at Al-Shorouk, one of the new independent papers, points out, ‘the regime has pursued a deliberate policy of selective repression based on class.’ Shukrallah, a veteran of the student left of the 1970s, illustrated this by describing an aerial photograph of a Kifaya demonstration in downtown Cairo. ‘You can see three circles: the first is composed of the demonstrators, a few hundred people. Around them is a circle of several thousand police officers, and around the police is the people. The people are onlookers, spectators. The middle-class professionals in Kifaya can chant slogans like “Down with Mubarak” because they risk, at worst, a beating. But most Egyptians live in a world where anything goes, where they’re treated like barbarians who need to be conquered, and women are molested by the security forces.

It reminded me a lot of the pictures you see from the protests in places like Lahore and Islamabad against the emergency rule. What it made me realize is that ultimately, every authoritarian regime rules, not by force, but by the tacit consent of a small but influential class of urban opinion-makers. (When Musharraf lost the support of this class, he was doomed). I remember reading a quote by Anatol Lieven in which he made the observation that dictatorship in Pakistan has always been a relatively “soft” one. I don’t know whether Lieven was right or wrong. Certainly, the arm of the Pakistani state has not been soft on those it has – at various times – perceived to be outside the limits prescribed by Pakistani nationalism. But it is correct to say that the brilliance of the Pakistani military regimes has been that they have always left a great degree of breathing room to those whom it accepts as part of the class whose own institutional interests the Pakistani army represents. The kinds of opinions that the Pakistani English newspapers are able to express are an example of this. And this is what came to my mind when I read Shukrullah’s description of the three circles – the inner circle of the privileged, well-connected urban middle class, surrounded by the arms of the state and surrounding both of them, the rest of the population.

Maybe what we are constantly complaining about as the moral failure of the military is really just the destiny of resource-poor, post-colonial states with a small but well-connected class of modernist nationalists at the helm. Maybe it’s not really worth complaining about because it’s a structural issue. It fascinates me that the Egyptian military, for example, is looked at, by the protestors, as a saviour or at the very least as a potential arbitrator against the current regime. In a way, the army’s arrival to save the Cairo Museum from looters and the collective sigh of relief at this arrival symbolizes the basic dilemma – the military is always seen as a saviour because it is better organized and more developed. Here’s a (terrible) analogy: As the youngest in a family of five, I was always resentful of everyone else’s ability to make better decisions for me. I always wanted to do things by myself but had this strange, rebellious streak where I would rebel to be contrary, make really stupid decisions and then breathe a sigh of relief as someone smarter and older took control of the situation for me. Structurally, the situation is that the political class is so stunted, so far behind in development to the overdeveloped, nationalist military that the modernists always end up running back into the warm cocoon of the military’s embrace. The alternative is just too horrifying to contemplate. What is this but a form of colonialism? It’s no coincidence then, that political transitions often consist of the various actors courting the military’s good favour for a temporary shift in the status quo.

But it’s not good to be so pessimistic. It’ll be interesting to see how Omar Suleiman’s appointment as Vice President will go down.

“What concerns us now is this is clearly a military takeover,” said Mr. Shahin. “I would not be surprised if Mubarak disappears tomorrow or after tomorrow.

Dysfunction chronicled

The Pearl Project’s report on the killing of Daniel Pearl and the botched trial of his alleged killers is a remarkable piece of journalism. Every section of it is worth reading closely, but the section that really stood out to me and which I wish could have been expanded on, was section 10, titled “Rushing to judgment” which chronicled the trial of the four individuals accused of killing Daniel Pearl in Pakistan’s ATC II. The details of this trial are very important for anyone trying to understand the dysfunction that is Pakistan’s terrorism prosecution. There are three broad categories of failure here, each of which deserves to be studied in depth. The first is the actions of the infamous “agencies” which basically killed the chances of a proper trial before it even began. The second is the utter incompetence and dishonesty of the prosecution in building a case against the accused and the third is the atmosphere in the courtroom which is a reflection of the larger question of the public attitude towards terror prosecution.

According to the report, the ISI chief at the time, Gen. Ehsanul Haq, has admitted that Omar Saeed Sheikh surrendered himself, on February 5 2002 to the home secretary of Punjab and Musharraf’s close associate Brigadier Ejaz Shah and remained at his house for 7 days before he was “officially” handed over to the Lahore police on February 12. Because of Omar Saeed Sheikh’s high profile status as a famous terrorist, it is tempting to interpret this surrender as evidence of Sheikh’s links with the ISI. (Benazir Bhutto famously termed Ejaz Shah as Omar Saeed Sheikh’s handler in the ISI). However, the fact is that such “lost time” in the custody of the ISI is not limited to high profile terrorists only. It is extremely common in the case of terrorism suspects. In an excellent report in the Daily Times, Vidya Rana describes the frustration of the police with the interference of the intelligence agencies with their terrorism investigations. Here is a quote by a police official interviewed by Rana

We are being used as a ‘pick-n-drop’ service to terrorist-suspects. Police usually arrest a terrorist on tip-off of intelligence agencies. The little information we gather during preliminary investigation, it goes to media to justify the arrest. After taking physical remand, the arrested is handed over to those who provided tip-off for further investigation. But after submitting the challan, police find it difficult to substantiate the charges with evidence deemed concrete by the court,” the police officer said adding that it all happens because investigating agencies do not provide complete evidence to police which can land the terrorist in serious legal trouble during the court proceedings and the subsequent judgment.

In the Daniel Pearl murder trial, the original discrepancies in the arrest of Sheikh haunted the prosecution from day one. According to the report:

What suspects and witnesses told investigators was at direct odds with what police and others testified in court. Indeed, Pakistan police officials acknowledged in interviews that prosecutors and police fixed the trial by fabricating a story to place Sheikh at Pearl’s abduction and inducing witnesses to lie to corroborate the fabrication on these points.

For example, it appeared that the taxi driver who had dropped off Daniel Pearl to the Village restaurant had been coached by the police to make an incorrect statement about what he say that day. Whereas previously he had stated that he had seen nothing, he then stated that he saw a white Corolla pull up next to his taxi and saw Daniel Pearl get into it and drive off. In a State Department cable, US Consul John Bauman wrote:

, “As noted in previous trial reports, in its zeal to convict Sheikh Umer despite meager physical evidence and no eyewitnesses, the prosecution apparently induced at least two witnesses to perjure themselves.”

In a letter to Daniel Pearl’s family, Bauman wrote:

Bauman, U.S. consul general in Karachi during Pearl’s kidnapping, referred to the missing days in a May 22, 2002, e-mail to Pearl family members and Wall Street Journal reporters. In the e-mail, Bauman noted the testimony of a prosecution witness, Zaheer Ahmed, a local carpet-maker: “Zaheer claimed that the raids took place on the night of February 11-12, whereas they actually took place on February 4-5. This is an obvious attempt to gloss over the week of February 5-12 when [Omar Sheikh] claims he was in ISI custody.”

It wasn’t just the timeline which the prosecution lied about. According to the report, the “handwriting expert” Ghulam Akbar who was brought to the stand to prove that the handwriting of the handwritten texts of what would become the hostage emails matched the handwriting of the suspects on trial. Unfortunately, under cross examination, Akbar admitted that he had no training on handwriting at all. Another discrepancy was that a police investigator admitted that the serial number of the laptop siezed by the police did not match that of the laptop examined by an FBI expert.

The final, and, in my opinion, most important aspect of the trial is the level of religious hatred directed towards the prosecution and its witnesses. It’s very tempting to blame prosecution failures purely on incompetence and on the discrepancies in the arrest caused by the interference of the agencies but that is ignoring the elephant in the room which is that the climate in Pakistan makes it almost impossible for terrorism trials to take place in the first place. In this Washington Post article written on May 12 2002, the atmosphere surrounding the Pearl trial is vividly described.

The defendants, Sheik Omar Saeed, Salman Saquib, Fahad Naseem and Sheik Adil have shouted insults at witnesses and made obscene gestures at government attorneys. Two of the four men on trial have made threatening gestures at the lead prosecutor. One of their attorneys accused a witness of working for the CIA and the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency.

Earlier this week, the attorney, Rai Bashir, warned the presiding judge that unfit jurists will be condemned to hell. Then, outside the courtroom, he accused the lead prosecutor, Raja Qureshi, of blasphemy.

“He ridiculed Islamic laws and the sayings of the prophet Muhammad, and he did not show any respect in mentioning his name,” Bashir told reporters, who published the allegation the following morning.

The heroic public treatment given to Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of Salmaan Taseer is an all-too-telling example of the skewed nature of the public discourse on the issue of prosecution of those who are perceived to be acting in the name of God. One of the most telling aspects of the Pearl Project’s report was the statement read out by Omar Saeed Sheikh’s lawyer after the guilty verdict was announced:

He read a statement from Sheikh saying: “We shall see who will die first: either I or the authorities who have arranged the death sentence for me. The war between Islam and kafirs [non-Muslims] is going on and everybody should show whether he is in favour of Islam or in favour of kafirs.”

While I am not trying to minimize the sheer incompetence of the prosecution or the clearly unlawful actions of the intelligence agency, the impact of this third aspect – the violently skewed nature of public discourse on the issue of terrorism prosecution – cannot be overstated. In this brilliant satirical article on the trial of Mumtaz Qadri, Junaid Sahibzada illustrates this dilemma perfectly.

MQ: ” God instructed me to kill and hence I killed. Which part of my sentence you don’t understand?”

A lawyer from the crowd, jumps to MQ’s rescue and helps MQ by using his legal expertise and argues.

Lawyer: “The constitution of Pakistan says that Sovereignty belongs to Allah alone but He has delegated it to the State of Pakistan through its people for being exercised within the limits prescribed by Him as a sacred trust.

This proves that God exists and if He exists then he can also ask MQ to do a small task as well. If you do not accept MQ’s claim that God instructed him to go for the kill then you are rejecting the constitution which has empowered you as the judge of the supreme court of the Islamic Caliphate, I mean the Islamic republic of Pakistan in the first place. And you are also becoming an apostate at the same time since you are rejecting God”

I hope I am wrong when I say this but it does seem that Pakistan’s legal system cannot prosecute terrorists because Pakistan’s legal system, as a subset of Pakistan’s overall state structure is fundamentally unequipped to act against those committing acts of violence in the name of God and religion. In fact one can take it a step further and say that the Pakistani state and constitutional structure is practically designed to allow freelance acts of violence to be committed with impunity and without fear of retribution. The same combination of a weak state structure superimposed with a strong state ideology that allowed Pakistan to create its jihadi “proxies” is what leaves these same proxies free to kill and maim Pakistani citizens at and go unpunished for it. As the post 1997 history of the Anti-terrorism Act and its various iterations have shown, no amount of change in the penal code will change the nature of this stalemate.

Some thoughts on Naseerullah Babar

Whatever Naseerullah Babar’s contributions in his decades-long political career, it was interesting to see how quietly the news of his death was received. This was partly due to his long illness in the last few years and partly due to the tumultuous events of the last few days. But it is interesting that the response was so muted, nonetheless, given how intertwined he was with so much of the PPP’s politics from the 70s through the 90s. Perhaps one can say that the era of a certain hawkish mindset within the PPP is dead. It was instructive, a few months ago, to see Masood Sharif Khattak doing the talkshow rounds criticizing the performance of the current Interior Minister’s performance. Rehman Malik, he said, hasn’t even visited Naseerullah Babar on his sickbed in the last two years that he’s been ill. But beyond that, there’s been a fundamental shift in approach which is best demonstrated by the change in the policy towards Karachi. Rehman Malik’s policy of cooperation with the MQM could not be more different to Naseerullah Babar’s (and Benazir’s) hawkish approach.

It was interesting to listen to one of BB’s interviews in 2007 in which she talked about her government’s commitment to security and gave the example with which her party put down ethnic terrorism in Karachi. In a way it showed that she was somewhat out of touch with the political changes that had occurred since 2002 when MQM’s political image had been rehabilitated and moved back into the mainstream. It would have been interesting to see how Naseerullah Babar handled this changed reality. Even before he became ill, he had distanced himself from BB on her return to Pakistan, because of his objections to the NRO and because, possibly, of BB’s changed attitude towards the Taliban. Remember, before BB’s death, Naseerullah Babar was supposed to have arranged the phone conversation between her and Baitullah Mehsud in which he assured her that he would not attack a woman.

In the final analysis, one wonders whether PPP gained or lost from its association with its hawkish elements of whom Naseerullah Babar is surely the most interesting example. It is true that the hawkish tendencies of Naseerullah Babar and General Tikka Khan led to the same strategic mis-steps that the military establishment is infamous for. In fact, there was a sort of competition netween Babar and the military establishment about who would get the glory for the Afghan policy which in retrospect is really fascinating:

40. What was the isi role in Afghanistan in the period 1974-77?

It was a top secret affair and the isi had no role. The secret was shared between Mr Bhutto, myself, Aziz Ahmad and the then Army Chief Tikka Khan. This was for obvious reasons. The Foreign Office could with, nonchalance deny if raised at un or any other forum.

Conversely, Naseerullah Babar’s comments on the Ayub and Yahya military rule shows on which side he stood, when it came to civilian vs. military rule:

Very few officers were involved in martial law duties. In retrospect I would say that it was the most unfortunate event in Pakistan’s history. Corruption was institutionalised from 1958. Initially senior officers started from buying dinner sets and proceeded in allotment of agricultural land and urban refugee property. Presently, it is in mega millions. It is most ironic that it was initiated by the Ayub martial law.


He joined the Pakistan People’s Party in 1977 after the arrest of Bhutto. He famously threw away his Hilal-i-Jurat (with bar) and other army medals at the presiding officer of a military tribunal, when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged by the military regime of Gen Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq.

One can see a sort of twisted logic in ZAB and then BB using figures such as Babar and Tikka Khan. Consider Operation Midnight Jackal of 1990, the counter-operation launched by Masood Sharif Khan Khattak the then DG IB chief to counter an ISI plot to overthrow BB’s first government. In the crudest of terms, and stripped of all romantic illusions, politics is about consensus building between various elite groupings. That means that when a section of the elite plays a dirty game, an equally dirty game is required to counter it. Of course this is the classic ethical dilemma raised by Gandhi.

For Gandhi the means-end dichotomy lying at the heart of the traditional revolutionary theory was fundamentally false. In human life the so-caned means consisted not of implements and inanimate tools but of human actions, and by definition these could not fall outside the jurisdiction of morality. Furthermore the method of fighting for an objective was not external to but an integral part of it. Every step towards a desired goal shaped its character, and utmost care had to be taken to ensure that the steps taken to realize it did not distort or damage the goal. The goal did not exist at the end of a series of actions designed to achieve it; it shadowed them from the very beginning. The so-called means were really ends in an embryonic form, the seeds of which the so-called ends were a natural flowering. Since this was so, the fight for a just society could not be conducted by unjust means.

I realize, a more incongruous paragraph could not have been quoted in the midst of an article about the realpolitik of Naseerullah Babar and his hawkish colleagues. But it’s useful to analyze the quest for civilian parity with the military in light of Gandhi’s rejection of the means-end dichotomy of political violence. In this case, the question is, are hawkish political maneuvers, i.e. the idea of beating the establishment at its own game, justified in the process of rebalancing of Pakistan’s civil-military divide? Personally, I see very little different, qualitatively between Naseerullah Babar’s heavy-handed (and in my mind unjustifiable) approach in Karachi and the military establishment’s approach to Balochistan in the last 4 years. Similarly, for Babar, the Afghan policy was simply a race to take credit for the same flawed policies. And while Babar attempts to absolve Bhutto of the debacle of the Balochistan military operation of 1974-1976 by passing the buck to Abdul Qayyum Khan and his intrigues, it’s interesting that Tikka Khan, the “butcher of Balochistan” and the main executor of the disastrous military policy was himself such a PPP loyalist. Moreover, as Babar himself admitted, moves like the Balochistan military operation and the Hyderabad Tribunal, in which ZAB’s civilian government increasingly took on the form of the oppressive military establishment, were used by Zia-ul Haq to ultimately bring the Bhutto government to an end. One can see the same pattern reoccurring with the collapse of BB’s second government and the extra-judicial killings and security situation in Karachi being used as the justification.

However, it is interesting to consider that at the height of its popularity, PPP did have an appeal to, and made use of, such hawkish figures who, today, would consider it toxic. To me, it’s a reminder that all political groupings spring from the same elite, the only thing which defines them is how they stand against each other and how they balance each other out and from that, society is shaped. In other words, politics makes for strange bedfellows.


Unfortunately I am going to be really busy with work so won’t be able to keep up with this blog anymore. I do use twitter and you can also email me at grandtrunkroad at I learned a lot and met a lot of really interesting people from writing this blog over the last two years – if only real life didn’t have that annoying habit of getting in the way of the internet!

Does this sound familiar?

It’s a description of the tea party movement, but it describes quite well the conflict between the rural and urban elite within Pakistan:

I am persuaded by Pareto’s and Mosca’s analysis that political conflict always results from a difference between two competing elites or elite factions. Other groups may be involved as sources of support for one or the other, but below the elite level, people are too busy trying to survive to be very much engaged in politics.

The anonymous comment to the effect that mediæval peasants had almost no contact with any recognizable state government is true. Their government was that of the baron on whose land they lived, of the church, and (on those occasions when they travelled to a burgh of regality on a pilgrimage, or to trade for what they could not make for themselves) of whatever burghal authorities had jurisdiction there. Kings and royal courts were remote.

The political conflict of this era typically arose between two elites, just as Pareto and Mosca suggest. They were, on one hand, the landed interests (noblesse de l’épée, Uradel) who held their feus by virtue of military service in time of war, and on the other, the courtiers whose rank was conferred in recognition of their civil service (noblesse de la robe, Briefsadel). These differences appeared at a very early period, and remained operative well into the eighteenth century, when the typical European political division was still between court and country factions.

Maybe it is not apparent to someone living in San Francisco like MM, but not all “gentlemen” are progressive-universalists. There are people who correspond, to a “country party” that, if not aristocratic, is at least plutocratic, here in the vast center of the country – business owners, regional and community bankers, landlords, and rentiers. Indeed, many of them have emerged unscathed from first-tier universities – not so much because their propaganda was rejected, as simply ignored. I grew up among such people, and can attest that they are instinctively conservative. You don’t suppose, do you, that someone like Michelle Bachmann raised her astonishing campaign fund from “peasants”? To be sure, large contributors to such politicians are under no illusions; they simply support what appears to be the lesser of evils.

Opposed to these people in the “court” party are of course the usual crowd of parasites, sycophants, and hangers-on of government, who derive their social and economic position from their proximity to power. Behind these, however, are the state-capitalists whose fortunes are dependent on the rent-seeking opportunities afforded them by politicians.

Broadly speaking, then, the political conflict of the present day really lies between the millionaire country elite (whose money, though smaller, is typically older) and the billionaire court elite (jumped-up, nouveau riche) of New York, California, and the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

The country elite, like the provincial noblesse of the Vendée, is closer to its peasantry than to anyone in the capital – they are natural companions in arms. On the other hand, the court elite allies itself with the urban canaille. So far the latter have prevailed, largely because the former, like their counterparts centuries ago, do not completely understand the nature or the magnitude of their enemies.

Weird situation

One of the weird things about 1999 was that the government had a strange policy of alternately appeasing and then suddenly confronting (in really irrational and unlikely to succeed ways) the military. Like for example, in January 1999 the government handed over WAPDA and a whole bunch of other areas of civilian governance over to the army

ISLAMABAD, JAN 15: Bypassing parliament, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has handed over whole chunks of civilian administrative functions to the Pakistan army.

The army’s new jobs include collecting electricity and water dues, running the country’s much tom-tommed autobahn from the capital city Islamabad to Lahore, Sharif’s hometown, and administering rough-and-ready justice.

In Karachi, the army has been given judicial powers to try civilian criminal offences and deliver a verdict in a maximum of eight days. Its first victim, a man charged with killing a policeman, was executed on December 31.

But the biggest peace-time mobilisation of the army has been to run the country’s largest public sector utility, the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA). Army personnel on duty will receive an additional 50 percent of their basic salary as wages.

Even under military governments — Pakistan has been ruled by the army for 25 of its 51 years — army personnel have never been so widely involved incivilian affairs as they are now, political observers say.

At the same time the second-tier leadership of the PML-N was seen to be getting increasingly close to the military – Gohar Ayub Khan, Mushahid Hussain, Khurshid Kasuri.

You can see the same sort of thing happening right now. The government has surrendered even symbolic role in foreign and security policy. Nusrat Javed, the other day, said that there’s no point considering anything Zardari says about security policy as anything but a ‘parrot’ speaking its designated lines. Just in the last two days Kayani has been on a “short visit” to UAE where met the following:

During the visit, the COAS will meet General Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces and Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council.

Today, he’s in Kabul where he’s been meeting Karzai and will then attend the tripartite commission of senior military officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US.

Then you have the 2nd tier leadership of PPP moving increasingly closer to the army. Apart from the obvious moves by Shah Mehmood Qureshi, you have Hussain Haqqani becoming closer to the army and defending the army on the Charlie Rose show, you have Sherry Rehman (who is a member of the Parliament’s National Security Committee) writing justifications of the army’s hands off policy in North Waziristan, etc.

Finally you have the party leader in both cases making crazy and irrational moves which come across as desperate acts of rebellion achieving nothing. Zardari going ahead with the Birmingham rally, Nawaz Sharif trying to appoint Gen. Ziauddin Butt as COAS while Musharraf was in Sri Lanka.

So what’s the connection between the pissed off second tier leadership and kamikaze act of the person at the top? I guess it’s a sort of vicious cycle – in the case of Nawaz Sharif, the more he tried to empower himself, the more he seemed to have pissed off his own parliamentarians. Khurshid Kasuri (along with 30 PML MNAs) famously revolted against the fifteenth amendment in late 1998. Hawkish Gohar Ayub Khan was replaced as foreign minister when Nawaz Sharif was attempting to normalize relations, Shahbaz Sharif made statements like “Only a general can manage WAPDA”, etc. There’s also the case that in times of political crisis and impending collapse of the government it makes sense for the second-tier leadership to make overtures to the establishment. That’s clearly what’s happening in the case of the current Foreign Minister but it’s also clear that they are being alienated by the weird decisions of the party leader.

I guess the big difference between Nawaz Sharif and Zardari is that in 1999 Nawaz Sharif was focused on amassing power for himself whereas Zardari has done the opposite. But as both of their government’s get weaker, they both did some some really strange and suicidal things.

Interestingly, this scenario is also paralleled by Musharraf and his alienation of his own base in the army from 2006 onwards.

Is it simply because the imperatives of the very highest position are unique from every other member within the ruling party? Or is it because there is a lot of pressure to split the base from the top? Or is it because the person at the top ends up being the only one interested in maintaining the status quo? Not sure. Any ideas?

Anyway, apologies if this post doesn’t make too much sense – I don’t really remember 1999 that well.

Natural Justice

Many people ask how and when and who will make Nawaz Sharif fall. I say, have faith in natural justice. Most of our prime ministers have arisen from their beds in the morning not knowing that they would not go to sleep in the prime ministerial bed that night – one went to bed as prime minister and was awoken to be told that he had been deposed.

So sez the wise old man of Karachi in pre-coup 1999. His words are relevant as Pakistan seems to be entering into a similar stage of crisis right now. Of course Natural Justice is simply euphemistic-speak for “army coup” as can be seen by earlier paragraphs in the same op-ed (“Jilani, who died last week, did us a good turn when, as Bhutto’s favourite chief of the ISI, he kept his COAS, General Zia-ul-Haq informed of the destruction planned by Bhutto and gave him enough warning for him to act as he did on July 5 1977”)

Anyway, let’s focus on the phrase natural justice. Natural justice suggests that their exists some politically neutral custodian to administer it. Quite clearly, the Cowasjee of 1999 did believe that this custodian does, in fact, exist. And therein lies the problem you see. The issue is not THE ARMY. The issue is the role of the army as the custodian of the national interest (interestingly in the eyes of groups and individuals with widely differing views on what the national interest is!), prepared to administer natural justice whenever necessary.

[In any case, the irony is that the situation which Cowasjee compares to the outbreak of World War I was of course engineered by the very person he is not so subtly calling on to topple the PML-N government which surely was incidental to Kargil at best! ]