Another pot of rumours ruined by facts…

Also see Pakistan Media Watch about the dangers of speculation and rumour being presented as truth: “…there is a petition before the Supreme Court that is based on media reports that selectively summarise a foreign media report that paraphrases the speculation of unidentified people. As a result, the people’s perception of events may have been manipulated, and what they believe is reality may actually be a carefully designed version of reality that better serves a political end.” Complete article at: Media, Rumours and ‘Public Importance

See what Nawaz Sharif stymied… Zardari’s speech that never was

The proposed Constitutional amendment package that Nawaz Sharif backed away from at the 11th hour (after having promised to support it) was to have restored federalism, provincial rights, and Parliamentary sovereignty, besides doing away with the President’s powers to dissolve assemblies.

Here’s a front page report from The News, Saturday, March 27, 2010:

Zardari’s speech that never was

By our correspondent

ISLAMABAD: President Asif Zardari was all set to deliver the speech before a joint sitting on Friday to take the lead in announcing the omission of Article 58(2)b, empowering the president to dissolve the National Assembly.

The draft of the speech (available with The News) nullifies the rumours that the president may have been reluctant to give away his power to dissolve the Assembly. Sources say that the president did not even interfere in the affairs of the constitutional committee leaving its head Senator Raza Rabbani absolutely independent in deciding things. Continue reading

TED and Compassion, India-Pakistan joint defence, Zardari and conspiracies

Several links and news items I’ve been wanting to share and finally managed to compile – as well as a belated bit of good news and congratulations to Dr Hassan Abbas, a journalist and then police officer in Lahore before becoming an academic and blogger at Watandost. He has been selected for the QAU Chair at Columbia U, well deserved. He has for years been stressing the need to deal with many of the problems in Pakistan as regular law and order issues, rather than blanketed under the ‘war on terror’, and has suggested reforms to the police sector including better training, pay and equipment – see his recent police reforms paper at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU)

Meanwhile, conspiracy theorists are having a field day in Pakistan, with much unease at how some journalists are (mis) conducting themselves. I say let them fulminate and froth. We’ve had fighting words from Zardari in his latest speech, and he has come out swinging (to use Bilal Qureshi’s term) in his interview to Express TV, posted at Pkonweb

The bottom line is that Pakistan army does not want to be under civilian control – see report by Saeed Shah: ‘Pakistan’s military seen moving to undercut Zardari over his close U.S. ties

One of Zardari’s ‘faults’ in the ‘establishment’s’ eyes is his insistence that India is not the enemy. Continue reading

Zardari: two articles and a comment

Meant to do this earlier but didn’t get around to it – two interesting articles about Zardari and a comment

July 12, 2009 ‘The advent of Asif Zardari’ by Kunwar Idris

Shaheryar Azhar posted this to his group The Forum with the comment: “A very good article. This moderator to the dismay of some forum members has not focused on the ‘governance’ issue in Pakistan ever since the departure of the Musharraf government. This, of course, was by design.

“We must first decisively emerge victorious in our civil war – as long as Zardari’s government is doing a credible job on this front they deserve our full support. There will, however, come a time when we will shift our complete focus on ‘governance’, ‘corruption, ‘efficiency’ etc.-type make-or-break issues. Here we must acknowledge that what is different from the 90’s is not just more maturity being shown by the politicians or the existence of the Charter of Democracy or the working coalitions in all the four provinces or much greater consensus amongst politicians of consequence on key national issues – all of which individually and collectively is the big and surprise story of 2008 and 2009 but the existence of two empowered institutions, which were conspicuously missing then – independent judiciary and media. So rest assured, there will be time (soon inshalla) when our focus will shift laser-like to the bread-and-butter issues.

“There is one big caveat: as always military dictatorship, including military manipulation from the background will always be fought against. In Pakistan what is true is the following: Corrupt democracy anytime over any kind of military dictatorship.”

A follow up article at –

July 15, 2009, ‘Meeting the president’, by Sayed Naseer Ahmad, Dawn:

“Never before had a head of state invited so many retired bureaucrats and asked them to speak their mind on national issues. The mere fact that several dozen retired bureaucrats, who could no longer influence decision-making, were invited to the presidency for a frank discussion showed that the incumbent valued good counsel.

“…Zardari said he thought that the militants and extremists had emerged on the national scene not because the civil bureaucracy was weak. In fact, they had been deliberately created and nurtured with the help of the international community as an instrument of policy in the 1980s. He then went on to advise the former bureaucrats to be “truthful to ourselves and make a candid admission of the realities”.”

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.


POLITICS-PAKISTAN: Court Ruling May Deepen Political Crisis

"Nawaz Sharif disqualified" reads the headline

Analysis by Beena Sarwar

KARACHI, Feb 26 (IPS) – The political chasm in crisis-riddled Pakistan has deepened after a Supreme Court ruling barred from political office opposition leader Nawaz Sharif and his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif, chief minister of Punjab – the country’s most populous and powerful province.

The Sharifs’ Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) party had joined hands with President Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to defeat political parties supporting former president Pervez Musharraf in elections last February, and force his resignation six months later.

But the alliance between Pakistan’s two main political parties fell apart, mainly over the restoration to office of chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Choudhry – whose dismissal by Musharraf in 2007 sparked unrest led by the legal fraternity.

“The move [Wednesday’s apex court ruling] plunges Pakistan back into familiar territory,” said PML-N parliamentarian Ayaz Amir, talking to IPS on the phone from the capital Islamabad. “Another crisis, another round of turbulence… We seem to be cursed with the Chinese saying, ‘may you live in interesting times’.”

For most, the Supreme Court ruling – which upheld a lower court verdict, last June, that made Nawaz Sharif ineligible to stand for elections on airplane hijacking charges – has come “like a bolt from the blue,” as Asha’ar Rehman, resident editor of the daily ‘Dawn’ in Lahore put it.

“The political repercussions will be horrific. We were hoping they would show some maturity and let a reconciliation happen,” added Rehman, talking to IPS from Lahore, capital of the Punjab and the stronghold of the Sharifs.

Iqbal Haider, advocate and chairman of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, termed the decision as being “against democracy, not against the Sharif brothers’’.

In a no-holds barred press conference at his Lahore residence, shortly after the court ruling, a belligerent Nawaz Sharif said he had no problems with the PPP, but held the party head, Zardari, directly responsible for the contentious judgement.

Sharif, a former prime minister, also accused Zardari of offering a “business deal” to Shahbaz Sharif, asking him to support the government in extending the tenure of the current chief justice in return for which the court would provide the brothers with relief.

Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar dismissed these charges as a knee-jerk response. “The allegations that PML-N chief has levelled against President Zardari are far from reality and are based on ill intention,” he told a press conference in Islamabad later that evening.

Information Minister Sherry Rehman called for examining the court ruling dispassionately while admitting it had created a problem for the government in its efforts for reconciliation.

Many PPP parliamentarians, although unhappy about the decision, say there is unfortunately nothing the party can do in this regard.

The ruling is seen a “technical knockout” for the Sharif brothers who now also stand barred from contesting elections.

“More than anything, it undermines the democratic legitimacy of the government,” political analyst and economist Asad Sayeed told IPS. “Nawaz Sharif is a popular political leader. This decision will push him to the wall and perhaps further towards the religious parties.”

Within hours, President Asif Ali Zardari imposed direct central rule in the Punjab for two months. Defending the decision, a PPP spokesperson cited potential “anarchy” as angry activists took to the streets after Sharif in a press conference exhorted people to come out in protest.

The government wisely refrained from using police force to prevent the protests, as angry activists in various cities burned tyres, blocked traffic, and attacked property. In Rawalpindi, some even destroyed posters of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and damaged the memorial at the public park where she was assassinated on Dec. 27, 2008.

‘Religious militants’ are widely believed to be behind her murder, barely two weeks before the scheduled polls which Bhutto had convinced her former rival Nawaz Sharif to contest, instead of boycotting them as he was planning to do.

Both twice-elected and twice-removed prime ministers had then returned from several years of exile abroad. During this time, army chief Pervez Musharraf headed Pakistan, after ousting Nawaz Sharif from the prime ministership in 1999.

Sharif had tried to replace the army chief and prevent the civilian flight bearing Musharraf back from an official visit to Sri Lanka, from landing in Pakistan. This was the ‘hijacking’ case for which Sharif was convicted, grounds now for his disqualification from public office or contesting elections.

Bhutto’s return to politics in Pakistan in October 2007 was widely seen as part of a ‘deal’ brokered by Washington to restore civilian rule in Pakistan in order to better handle the ‘war on terror’ – for which policy makers were by now prescribing a political rather than a military solution.

The widespread secular movement led by lawyers to restore chief justice Choudhry had also presented the possibility of progressive political change in Pakistan.

After the general elections of Feb. 18, 2008, the PPP and PML-N had agreed to form government as well as to restore the judges whom Musharraf had removed when he imposed emergency rule on Nov. 3, 2007.

“What people forget about the agreement was that it was also about government formation – the other two clauses were how the federal and the provincial governments were going to be formed,” said Asad Sayeed.

“Nawaz Sharif insisted on the judges’ restoration in order to undermine the PPP. They could not have moved towards forming government if Zardari had not agreed on this clause because Sharif was not willing to talk about it.”

Sharif continued to push for the restoration of chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Choudhry. Most of the other judges ousted after Musharraf’s November 2007 emergency have since been reinstated after taking fresh oath of office.

The country was bracing for a lawyers’ ‘long march’ to restore Choudhry, scheduled to kick off on Mar. 12 and ending with a sit-in or ‘dharna’ in Islamabad. The PML-N has enthusiastically supported the move.

Ayaz Amir, who has warned against making the restoration of Choudhry the “be all and end all” of politics, told IPS he felt his PML-N party had “stuck its horns too much into this one issue”.

The planned long march, Amir predicted, ”will get more momentum now, but it won’t restore the judges. There will be more instability and tumult, with politicians being further discredited in the public eye”.

More ominously, widespread unrest could also leave the army with “no choice” but to step in – something it is, at this point, clearly reluctant to do.

Amir hopes it will not come to that. “We’re not at that point yet. We have to wait and see what happens when the situation plays itself out.”

Bitter political acrimony is not new in Pakistan. However, so far both the PPP and PML-N have kept their main shared goal before them -to keep the army out of politics and let the political process continue. Observers hope that this long view will prevail.

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