Musharraf’s trial and Pakistan

Musharraf and the famous fist. Photo T. Mughal/EPA

Musharraf and the famous fist. Photo T. Mughal/EPA

Below, my (un-populist) take on the Musharraf treason trial, in an opinion piece published in International Business Times, London, Jan 23, 2014. N.B. The recent attack on the bus in Mastung, Balochistan, that killed some 30  Hazara Shia Muslims, including women and children returning from pilgrimage in Iran is an example of the result of Musharraf’s policies of letting the home-grown ‘jihadis’ function. Plus I forgot to mention his role in the murder of Akbar Bugti… Continue reading

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Pakistan army should butt out of politics: Asma Jahangir says it like it is

Clip from Crossfire in which Asma Jahangir, the indomitable Chairperson Emeritus of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and President of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan, says it like it about the Pakistan armed forces, in a talk show with the  ever sensationalist Meher Bokhari, on Dunya TV on May 26, 2011. View the full programme at the PkPolitics website. The clip posted here starts with Meher Bokari summing up the current discussion – the demands on one hand to support the army, and on the other for army accountability.  Continue reading

Conversations 13: Meeting point

I forgot to upload the last three Conversations published in The News on Sunday, Aman ki Asha page in Political Economy. The entire archives are also up at the Aman ki Asha website

Conversations 13: Meeting point

June 3 2010

Dear Beena,

Right at the start of this missive, I have been wondering just how we will ever reconcile our diametrically different views on what we call POK/what you call AJK. (Let alone reconcile the names). You are taught that it “joined Pakistan voluntarily”. We are taught that Pakistan grabbed it from us in ’47. What’s the meeting point between these two perceptions? How do we resolve this disagreement? Continue reading

CONVERSATIONS-5: Dream on

Fifth installment of Dilip and my weekly email exchange, published in The News on Sunday (still the best weekly English language paper in Pakistan) Political Economy section, Aman ki Asha page, March 21, 2010.

CONVERSATIONS: Dream on

March 18 2010

Dear Beena,

To begin with, my salaams to the memory and spirit of Aziz Siddiqui, whom you mentioned in your last letter. He’s right, of course: is giving up the fight for your beliefs even an option?

The interesting thing about this exercise is that we agree about a lot of things. Which might raise the question, are we the right people to be doing this exercise at all? But that raises another question: why not? Why should voices that tend to agree on some things not be raised and heard? Continue reading

Neighbours in peace – or pieces?

My monthly column for Hardnews, India, August 2009 – http://www.hardnewsmedia.com/2009/07/3122. Also published in The News on Sunday, August 9, 2009

Karachi, July 26 2009

Personal Political

Neighbours in peace — or pieces?

Beena Sarwar

The auditorium was full of women from far-flung, poor localities of Karachi. One of them plonked herself next to me in the second row along with her daughters, a toddler and a six-year old. A gigantic banner featuring a photo of the late activist Nirmala Deshpande formed the backdrop to an array of speakers from India and Pakistan seated behind a long table on the platform. ‘PROMOTING PEACE IN SOUTH ASIA AND REMEMBERING NIRMALA DIDI DESHPANDE’ it read.

Mumtaz, the young Pahstun mother next to me, had studied up till the eighth grade, unlike most of the other women present. The toddler nuzzled against her to breastfeed from time to time.

The speakers included prominent Urdu writer Zahida Hina, peace activist and educationist from Lahore Syed Diep, parliamentarians from  the PPP and MQM and Indian activist Sandeep Pandey from Lucknow, journalist Jatin Desai from Mumbai, and Kavita Srivastava of the Peoples Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) from Jaipur. Two other Indians weren’t given ‘clearance’ from Islamabad in time for the visit, meant to further the aims of a joint signature campaign for peace launched earlier this year.

Mumtaz and the other women, mostly wives of daily wage labourers, had been brought there by various ‘bajis’, women activists working in their areas. “I don’t understand everything they’re saying,” Mumtaz told me, “But I know they are talking about the need for peace between India and Pakistan. That is what we all want.”

Her immediate concern was to feed her family. “Maybe if these two countries stop fighting, our lot will improve,” she said optimistically.

“Let the people meet, all other matters will sort out,” a cyclist told Sandeep Pandey and other peace marchers who went from Delhi to Multan in 2005, demanding that the governments of India and Pakistan resolve all matters of dispute through dialogue.

Such basic wisdom is at odds with the justifications for continued animosity presented by ‘intellectuals’ on either side of the border. “India/Pakistan wants to destroy us”; “Stop appeasing India/Pakistan”; “There is no point in talking to them”.

If we listen to this babble of voices whose sole aim seems to be to present their own country’s case as better than the other’s, we’ll never get anywhere. There is an old saying in our part of the world, ‘Taali donoN haathoN se bajti hai’ – it takes two hands to clap.

Let’s stop these blame games and accept that there are problems on either side – of varying degrees and natures, and try and understand the complexities of the problems.

Those with access to the Internet have increased the potential for such understanding. But because we’re not used to talking to each other, the un-moderated exchanges posted on blogs are often crass and offensive. Direct interaction involving basic civility and an open mind is more meaningful.

Some time back, a Mumbaikar emailed saying, “Frankly, with Pakistan itself is in such a mess (Lal Masjid, Swat valley, Taliban, regular suicide attacks and of course the numerous Muslim organisations ranting about Jehad), do you really feel safe in your own country? And the most amusing thing is when Pakistan tells that India is its enemy number one. Wait for a few more years, am sure the Taliban will take over Pakistan. And what pains us, is what did we do to Pakistan. Kargil was Musharaf’s misadventure.”

I replied, yes, Pakistan is in a mess, due largely to the continual disruption of the political process, with no democratically elected government being allowed to complete its terms. “This is the biggest difference between India and us, and what I most envy about your country”.

Still, women do get around here too, carry on with their work and their lives. And at least elements within Pakistan’s establishment no longer consider India as enemy number one.

Kargil was indeed Musharraf’s misadventure. Many of us spoke out against it (were labelled as Indian agents). Pakistan’s military must be accountable and answerable to elected civilian governments. This will only happen if the political process is allowed to continue.

Rocky as politics in Pakistan currently are, with a floundering democratic process, it is only more democracy on a sustained and continuous level that will in the long run yield positive results.

(ends)

See also:

‘HRCP urges Pakistan, India to resume prisoner swap, stop arrests for minor violations’, Aug 5, 2009 – http://hrcpblog.wordpress.com/2009/08/06/hrcp-urges-pakistan-india-to-resume-prisoner-swap-stop-arrests-for-minor-violations/

Why not hang Sarabjit Singh, March 2008

http://www.chowk.com/articles/why-not-hang-surabjit-singh-Beena-Sarwar.htm

POLITICS-PAKISTAN: Long March – A Long View

POLITICS-PAKISTAN: Long March – A Long View

Analysis by Beena Sarwar

Lawyers and police clash in Lahore - photo by Rahat Dar

Lawyers and police clash in Lahore - photo by Rahat Dar

KARACHI, Mar 12 (IPS) – Barely a year after being elected, the Pakistan government faces a political storm involving a street agitation spearheaded by lawyers and opposition political parties allied with religious parties.

Lurking on the sidelines is an army unused to civilian command even as religious militants create havoc around the country.

None of this is new to Pakistan but many find it all the more painful given the hopes built up by last year’s general elections. On Feb 18, 2009, Pakistani voters overwhelmingly supported non-religious parties and rejected those that had been propped up by the army.

The electorate’s rejection of the religious parties and the joining hands of the late Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and her former rival Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) raised expectations of an end to political confrontation and religion-based politics – and the army moving away from politics.

These expectations followed decades of misrule and exploitation of religion for political purposes. The Pakistani establishment, at Washington’s behest, strengthened armed militancy, exploiting religious sentiments to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan during the 1980s. In the process they created ‘Jihad International’, as the late scholar Dr Eqbal Ahmad termed it.

This may now be the biggest threat facing Pakistan – and the world – since the attack on the World Trade Center on Sep. 11 2001. Since then Washington has pushed Islamabad to fight the very forces of militant Islam that both together had fostered and strengthened.

Resultantly, this country has, as Pakistanis point out, suffered the most from militant attacks.

In this situation, political instability is distracting at best and dangerous at worst. The ‘long march’ demanding the reinstatement of chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Choudhry, spearheaded by the legal fraternity and sections of civil society, has ready allies among the right-wing political opposition.

This includes Sharif’s PML-N and the Jamaat-e-Islami, a mainstream religious party sympathetic to militant Islam, as well as others sympathetic to the Taliban, like ex-chief Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and anti-India hawk Gen. (retd.) Hamid Gul, retired bureaucrat Roedad Khan who brutally quashed political opposition during the Zia years, and cricket hero-turned politician Imran Khan, chief of the Tehrik-e-Insaaf (Movement for Justice).

All these forces boycotted the 2008 polls, except Sharif who rescinded his boycott decision after Bhutto convinced him that elections were the only way forward.

Long-festering tensions between the PPP and PML-N came to a head with a Supreme Court ruling of Feb 25 barring Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif from holding elected office. Bhutto’s widower, President Asif Ali Zardari is widely believed to be behind this controversial ruling.

The disgruntled Sharifs, already pushing to restore Chief Justice Choudhry, have flung themselves wholeheartedly into the long march – a move that observers do not see as entirely altruistic since their stated aims include effecting regime change.

“Sharif’s attempts to paint himself as a radical, grassroots activist are at odds with his political origins,” commented former lawyer and Australia-based analyst Mustafa Qadri, writing about the opportunity Pakistan’s politicians of all hues have wasted in their “refusal to look beyond personal power games and provincialism to develop the nation’s still embryonic democracy”.

The Sharifs gained prominence as businessmen patronised by General Zia -ul-Haq who was behind Pakistan’s “transformation from majority-Muslim nation to Islamic state with more conservative religious seminaries per capita than any other country in the world,” as Qadri put it (‘Long march to nowhere’, The Guardian, Mar 10, 2009).

The current imbroglio comes on the heels of loaded statements by Gen. (retd) Pervez Musharraf who during a visit to India last week, gave several talks and interviews in which he hinted at a possible political comeback.

Curiously Musharraf, who stepped down as president in August 2008, urged New Delhi to stop ‘bashing’ the Pakistan army and the shadowy ISI since, according to him, they were the best defence against the growth of the Taliban and militancy in Pakistan.

President Zardari has invited comparisons to Musharraf because of his government’s use of police force and mass arrests to prevent the long march, as Musharraf did after suspending Choudhry in March 2007 and imposing Emergency rule in Nov 2007.

The irony is illustrated by the recent three-hour detention of the firebrand women’s rights and political activist, Tahira Abdullah, who has been mobilising the lawyers’ movement from her home in Islamabad.

She faced police batons and tear gas in the Zia and Musharraf eras. A day before the long march began, a police contingent arrived at her house and virtually broke down her kitchen door.

However, her arrest attracted media attention, embarrassing the government into quickly ordering her release. An undeterred Abdullah immediately resumed mobilising for the agitation.

“It is sad and ironic that the PPP government has come to this,” she told IPS. “They said it was preventive detention. They can’t catch people like (Taliban leaders) Baitullah Mehsud and Maulvi Fazlullah but they send police after me, a very ordinary person.”

There is also irony in progressive, secular activists like Abdullah joining hands with the emerging right-wing coalition to achieve a shared goal, the restoration of Choudhry.

Civil society activists privately admit that otherwise their numbers are too small to reach the critical mass needed to effect political change.

“There are only a handful of us,” one of them told IPS. “And there are no more than 100,000 lawyers in the country. So we have to join hands with political forces who agree with us on this matter even if we don’t agree on other matters. We know they are using us, but we are also using them.”

Observers like the political economist and former student activist S.M. Naseem fear that this kind of mutual ‘using’ could push Pakistan further towards right-wing forces.

Disappointed by the performance of the government as well as the opposition, he holds that the lawyers’ movement has missed the opportunity of creating a new polity in the country. “They should have broadened the agenda to create a new political system,” he told IPS. “Two years for the restoration of one person (Choudhry), however, honest and bold, is a bit too much.”

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani has said that he cannot, in all conscience, oppose the long march. “We have also participated in street agitations and long marches,” he said. “How can we stop anyone else from exercising their democratic right to do so?”

This stand appears to pit him against President Zardari, holding an office strengthened by past military dictators. The President’s powers include being able to dismiss the prime minister and dissolve government – as several presidents before him have done. This is unlikely to happen now. For Zardari to take such a step would mean dismissing his own government.

Having recently obtained a majority in the Senate, the PPP can conceivably push through the constitutional amendments it proposed in May 2008 for which a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly and the Senate is required. These amendments include the removal of the 17th amendment that allows the President to dismiss government.

Moves towards reconciliation between the PPP and the PML-N continue behind the scenes, even as the long march kicks off with lawyers and political activists from various cities heading towards Islamabad to converge by Mar. 6 for a dharna (or sit-in) ‘until the Chief Justice is restored’.

Observers fear a breakout of violence even though the long march leaders have promised to keep matters peaceful.

(END/2009)

http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=46083

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