Monday, August 6, 2018

Pakistan and its Democracy: An Open Letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan


Pakistan and its Democracy:
An Open Letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan
By Shakil A Rai

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,
                                  The truth is known, but must not be spoken in order to avoid the inevitable conflagration. Your ascension to the high office has been made possible through a controversial election. The four-year long campaign, preceding this election is also well known and well documented. But we have little time to settle scores and do to your government what you and your faceless sponsors did to the previous one.
Stability and respect for the vote is paramount. So, we pledge full support to your government and hope you deliver on your promises and successfully face the serious economic, social, political, and challenges ahead. Here are a few suggestions to tackle the challenges lying ahead.
1-      From now on your sponsors are not coming to you rescue. Instead they will come with more and more demands to advance their policies. Up to the election time your world view dovetailed with theirs; now under pressure from the challenges of governance it will start to diverge, leading to strain and stress. Be prepared for that.
2-      Parliament, the institution on which you heaped much insult in the past, is the only place where you may try to find sustainable support to weather the storms ahead. It will not be easy to cultivate enough good will to turn it into support against the non-parliamentary forces, but you have no other option, if you want to succeed.
3-      The Opposition has cried foul in unison right from the day one of the election. It is important to listen to their grievances, real or imaginary. This will establish your legitimacy and cement your authority.
4-      The judiciary and the military have been the traditional neutral brokers among feuding politicians. This election has made both of them complicit in the alleged manipulation and rigging of the electoral process. Ironically this lends strength to the parliament. Please endorse the demand of the opposition that the Senate should hold open and full inquiry into the election.  
5-      The so-called Bajwa Doctrine is primarily aimed at undoing, or at least scuttling the implementation of the provisions of the 18th Constitutional amendment. It empowered the provinces more than the advocates of strong Central government would countenance. It was a consensus driven amendment; undoing it through legal means is virtually impossible. Scuttling its implementation will generate resentment against the Center among the provinces, especially the smaller ones. For the sake of the Federation and your survival stay away from it. Instead make sure to implement it fully.
6-      This calls for the Eighth National Finance Commission Award, which is now overdue. The advocates of strong Central government are there among the non-democratic forces and do not like the idea. The PMLN government failed to deliver the Award, and PTI cannot afford to dither and delay. Instead the new government needs to work on capacity building among the federating units to fully utilize the Award. NFC Award necessitates consensus among the Center and the provinces. To achieve this consensus the ruling party has to negotiate with the Opposition, and the provinces.        
7-      Therefore, no more solo flights, and please rid yourself of the notion that you are the only one who can solve all the problems. Reach across the aisle and demonstrate to the opposition and public that you are ready to take all democratic forces on board. If the opposition comes aboard it will establish your leadership beyond doubt. If they balk you still win in the eyes of the general public. The old ways of humiliating and insulting your political opponents will harm you more than anyone else.
8-      Pakistan’s economic woes are perennial, and woven into the structure of the economy. Without meaningful structural reforms there is no end to repeated requests for bailout money. Saudi Arabia, China, and IMF have been our traditional lenders of choice. We have been to the IMF for twenty-one times since 1958, and are now ready one more time to request yet another bailout. The Fund like any other money lender is not known for its generosity and kindness. They offer the lowest interest rate but put tough conditions to disburse the loan. Most likely the Fund would demand privatization of loss making state enterprises like PIA and PSM. They would demand substantial reduction in subsidies the government now provides. Increase in tax collection can be another demand. The US happens to be the biggest contributor to the IMF money wants to make sure we do not use their money to pay off Chinese debt. Really tough demands on a political government, but we have little room to maneuver.
9-      It’s unrealistic to think of a Welfare State, Islamic or otherwise, when you are living on borrowed money. Unless we undertake structural reforms these bailouts will always be temporary relief measures. Before we can have our promised Welfare State we have to make enough money to have surplus cash in hand to disburse to the needy. We have to have sufficiently tough tax regime and close loop holes in the tax code to increase tax revenue. In a country where only 1% people pay taxes solvency, let alone prosperity, will remain a distant dream. Conversely we have to offer tax breaks and other incentives to foreign and local investors. Not an easy situation for anyone.
10-   Have your plans ready to privatize the PIA and the PSM before you go to IMF. You are a tough athlete, and a team leader, both these qualities have to come in full display to ensure success for you and the country.
Good luck Mr. Prime Minister we stand united behind your leadership for the sake of democracy and the Republic.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Revenge of Democracy : Elections 2013

Revenge of Democracy: 
Elections 2013
By Dr Shakil A. Rai
Los Angeles, CA
 The just concluded elections-2013 is historic in many respects. It is the first democratic transition in more than six-and-a-half decades of Pakistan’s history; a point to be proud of that it happened in this country, and also a reason to be ashamed of that it took so long to see democracy take roots.
It was the bloodiest election campaign ever, where undemocratic forces tried to derail the process and create chaos. Democratic forces of all shades and shapes joined hands against the common enemy — the terrorists, and continued their election campaign against heavy odds. Those living in the safety and affluence of America have no idea what it takes to campaign for elections in an atmosphere of constant fear; and where more than sixty people have been killed while trying to carry their electoral message. It takes real courage to campaign in such a vicious environment.
On the Election Day the voters turned out in huge numbers (60%) in defiance of the warnings hurled by the forces of darkness and death. Men and women, young and old, rich and poor all lined up to exercise their right to chose their next government. Pakistani youth traditionally stayed away from electoral process. This time they turned out in exceptionally large number and exercised their right to vote.
Then there were attempts to inject undemocratic forces and derail or at least delay democratic process as envisaged in the Constitution. A self-styled Sheikh ul Islam with excellent skills in demagoguery was imported from Canada. He was helped to stage a mammoth public meeting in Lahore where he demanded postponement of elections and touted the favorite theme of the establishment that all corrupt, dishonest, and untrustworthy people in political offices should be eliminated first and only then electoral process could be allowed to begin. The people of Pakistan were able to see through the mischief very quickly and the man was dumped with the same haste and enthusiasm with which he was picked up earlier.
Then former military dictator General Musharraf returned to ‘save Pakistan’. He got no traction at any stage and eventually decided to boycott elections, wherein he had no prospect at all.
Election was boycotted before hand by two political parties, one led by the imported Sheikh ul Islam, and the other headed by General Musharraf. These political orphans who entered to sabotage the system were shunted out well in time, for democracy to claim success.
By and large the mass media played a constructive role in the process. Some projected one party and the other went for a different one. Yet, their overall performance strengthened the hands of democratic forces. Also, electronic media made good money from political advertisements. So for them democracy turned out to be a good business, as well.
For the first time, social media played an important role in the campaign. Tweeters and Facebookers gave a new dimension to the campaign. However, since its users were mostly urban based youngsters it briefly led to a kind of hype in favor of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and its leader Imran Khan. It masked the ground reality as it was unfolding in rural Pakistan and small towns.
Emergence of Imran Khan as an alternate political force with strong democratic credentials is a phenomenon to be reckoned with. PTI is the only political party that held intra-party elections which saw quite a few upset in the established order. This is a new tradition and other political parties which are woven around personalities and families will have to follow it, if they want survive in a democratic society.
Opinion polls held before elections, and political analyses given by ‘experts’ were closer to the actual outcome. Almost all of them had put PML(N) at number one, PPP second and PTI and MQM in third position. By and large this turned out to be correct.
Law-enforcement agencies did an excellent job in ensuring peaceful voting process and held the terrorists at bay, at least on that one day.
Elections were as free and fair, as possibly they could be. There are reports of fraud and rigging at the polling stations in some parts of the country. These complaints should be investigated vigorously and earnestly. Those found guilty should be punished, and re-election be ordered wherever necessary. This is important to keep the democratic process untainted, and to maintain the reputation of fairness and impartiality of the Election Commission of Pakistan.
The caretaker setup, though handicapped in some respects, put up a brave face and led the country through a challenging period. They deserve our thanks for undertaking an otherwise thankless job.
‘Democracy is the best revenge’ is a saying attributed to late Benazir Bhutto. Ironically democracy wreaked its revenge on a party that she inherited and led to victory more than once. In democracy this does happen, and it is not the end of the road for Pakistan Peoples Party. They can stage a comeback as they have done before.
Democracy triumphed and put those to shame who stage-managed a sham accountability process to weaken democratic leadership and strengthen their own grip on power. The accountability we witnessed on May 11 had not been seen since the election of 1970. Those who clamor for kangaroo courts to try and punish politicians for their misdeeds may take a cue that electoral process, when it is free and fair is a better tool of accountability than any judicial or administrative process.
Politicians are bad, politics is dangerous, democracy does not suit our psyche, and only a strong dictator can keep the country united and safe. This multi-pronged attack on democracy started with the first military takeover in 1958 and had gained significant traction among the affluent sections of society, and Pakistani diaspora, especially those enjoying the fruits of democracy in rich Western societies. The latest elections have, hopefully, changed their perception. According to media reports there were a few chartered flights from Europe to Pakistan that flew in hundreds of people to vote in the election.
Those who have been elected to power are now expected to deliver. The road ahead is long. It’s a hard climb on a steep slippery ascent. Problems are daunting and patience of the electorate has been worn thin.
PML has every right to celebrate victory, but they should know they have been put to a severe test. Failure is not an option, but if they do fail, the revenge of democracy will be as unforgiving as it has been to the erstwhile rulers.
Democracy is a great system that ensures smooth transition of power, and gives ordinary citizen the right to vote a government in or out. Thus, democracy works mostly in favor of the people and less in favor of the rulers. To that extent democracy is a dangerous recipe for the ones in power. They have to double down the road of recovery and delivery; there is no time to waste. The forces of democracy are at your heels, so hurry, and deliver before late. - drshakilrai@gmail.com

Monday, May 6, 2013

Who Is on Trial? Musharraf or Pakistan Army?

Who Is on Trial? Musharraf or Pakistan Army?
By Dr Shakil A. Rai
Los Angeles, California

 

There is a persistent effort in the media to portray Musharraf’s trial as an attempt to humiliate and disgrace the Pakistan Army in the eyes of the people, the world, and above all in the eyes of the military personnel themselves. They are trying to show as if the former Chief of Staff and the Pakistan Army are synonymous and the two cannot be viewed, or put on trial, separately.

A group of junior military officers from the Command and Staff College, Quetta, led by a colonel met the Chairman o f the Senate Standing Committee on Defense and “expressed their concerns over the treatment of Musharraf and the perceived humiliation of the military.” According to a media report attributed to the Senate sources, “The military officers were of the opinion that under the Constitution, the armed forces could not be criticized." They were concerned at the "ridiculing of the army as an institution". 

Those who think Musharraf can be saved from his legal troubles only by hiding behind the Army are warning of dire consequences. One of them said, “Pakistan's higher judiciary, the politicians and the media are entirely focused on their own narrow interests and settling of old scores….. If they continue their business as usual…., it's quite probable that they will see the first-ever bloody coup in Pakistan's history with very negative long-term consequences…” Dangerous words, betraying desperation! 

The Musharraf sympathizers do not realize, or may be, they do not care that by doing so they are holding the Pakistan Army responsible for all he did as civilian president of the country. Even those illegalities and political blunders he committed after relinquishing the command of the army are being placed at the door the Pakistan Army. Can Pakistan Army be held responsible when Musharraf signed his political death warrant by entering into a deal with Benazir Bhutto? And he felt confident enough to relinquish the Army command and become a proper civilian president. Not realizing that by giving up the uniform he was knocking down the very power base that had brought him there and sustained him in that position. Is army accountable for the emergency declaration of 2007, dismissal and incarceration of sixty judges of the superior judiciary? Was Pakistan Army responsible for the security or lack thereof for Benazir Bhutto, or the pursuit and death of Akbar Bugti? Musharraf’s legal troubles stem from these four cases, and Pakistan Army was not involved in any one of them in any manner.

Is anyone questioning Pervez Musharraf’s decisions in the military affairs as Chief of Army Staff? No. What is being questioned, investigated, and tried is all related to his decisions in the civilian sphere as a civilian ruler. How then the military as an institution gets involved in this saga? When a military officer has a legal dispute in a civil or criminal court, as a claimant or respondent, does his involvement amount to the involvement of the military of which he happens to be a member? No. When there is a property-related case, an inheritance dispute, a family dispute, or an injury or murder case that for example occurred in the officer’s home town, will it be treated as a military case? No. The officer is there in his individual capacity as a member of the civil society, and not as a military officer. And there he is at par with other civilian respondents. 

A case where the military high command could be held accountable, both collectively and individually, was the military takeover of October 1999. That issue is not being touched. The obvious reason is that it would bring the army high command before the court of law, and bring them into disrepute for overthrowing a lawful government in violation of the Constitution. We are pretending as if that coup d’├ętat never happened, and hence no question is being raised. 

There is no question that General Musharraf must face legal and logical consequences of his deeds if Pakistan has to get out of the vicious cycle of military interventions. If civilian chief executives can be arrested, tried, exiled, and even executed why there should be an exemption for someone who happens to have a military background. After all Musharraf claimed to have won presidential election through a free and fair democratic process. He insisted on his civilian credentials as head head of state, even when he was also an Army Chief. There is no justification to claim that by trying Musharraf in a civilian court for his alleged wrongdoings as a civilian ruler, the esteem and reputation of the Pakistan Army is being endangered. 

There is however danger in the manner the court proceedings are conducted, and the way the former president is treated by the bench and the bar. Humiliation, real or perceived, of General Musharraf can have negative consequences. The judges have to go an extra length to prove that they are not motivated by personal vendetta, and are only trying to uphold the law by giving a fair and transparent trial to the accused. 

To begin with Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, judge of the Islamabad High Court, should not have sat on judgment in a case where he had an accused in the dock who was his erstwhile tormentor. The judge cancelled General Musharraf’s bail, ordered his arrest, and asked the prosecution to add Section 6 of the Anti Terrorism Law to the case, thereby making the offense non-bailable. Attorney Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui as a leader of the Rawalpindi Bar Association was one of the leading voices against the dismissal and incarceration of the judges in 2007, and he was imprisoned by General Musharraf for his vociferous campaign. 
Judicial ethics demand that in a case like this the judge should have recused himself and had let another judge preside over. It is only appropriate that a judge should recuse himself if he has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party to the lawsuit. There is perceived bias not only in the case of the personal background of the judge and the accused, but also in the nature of the case. The case for which General Musharraf appeared before the court was the same dispute that had led to the imprisonment of the Attorney Shaukat Aziz, Siddiqui who is now a judge. The situation demanded to be doubly careful in the dispensation of justice: Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done. Perception of the truth matters as much as the truth itself. 

Second, the conduct of the ‘janissar lawyers’ is conduct unbecoming. Their rowdy behavior has won them no friends, nor enhanced their stature as upholders of juristic values. By adding insult to injury the boisterous bunch among legal fraternity may have proven their uncalled for loyalty to some on the bench but have served to sober purpose in advancing the rule of law. It is incumbent upon the bench to restrain the bar when the accused is harassed at their hands and that too within the court premises. 

The military leadership has conducted itself with a dignified detachment from the court proceedings. They have maintained their distance the former chief who is in trouble with the law for non-military matters. However, if the shadows of personal bias lengthen, and the perception of vendetta gains more ground, there can be more than a murmur in the ranks. It is imperative that the trial of General Pervez Musharraf is conducted in a manner which is fair, transparent, and proves his guilt beyond a doubt, or acquits him honorably. 
The trial of a former President of the Republic and the Chief of Army Staff is a great challenge, and an equally great opportunity. An honorable, professional, and fair conduct of this trial will win respect for Pakistan, and its judiciary, whose legal history is known for little more than inventing the law of necessity to cover every major act of illegality. 
A lot has changed since the execution of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, and the justification for the latest military takeover in 1999. At a time when the Pakistan Army is fighting terrorism and insurgency at home, bracing itself for a new situation that emerges in the region with the withdrawal of the NATO forces from Afghanistan, and when the country is so close to a historic general election, a military coup is unlikely. This perception and expectation should not be taken as a license to unleash our baser selves to heap insult on an accused whose word was law of the land, not so long ago. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

General Musharraf: An Unwitting Champion of Democarcy and Rule of Law


General Musharraf: An Unwitting Champion of Democarcy and Rule of Law

By Shakil A Rai
Los Angeles, CA 
General Pervez Musharraf has distinguished himself in many ways. He has the unique distinction of abrogating the Constitution twice, first to overthrow a lawfully elected government and next time to scuttle a political setup he had carefully crafted to suit himself.  
While others cajoled, threatened, and manipulated the judiciary to get the desired result, Musharraf took commando action against them; he dismissed all the judges of superior judiciary, and then imprisoned them. 
Like his predecessors he too usurped the highest political office with the power of the gun. His distinction is that unlike Ayub Khan and Ziaul Haq he came to believe that he was a popular leader in his own right and had a role to play in shaping the future of democratic Pakistan.
The latest distinction of the usurper-turned-politician is that he is the only one who is now on trial on charges of high treason, unlawful detention, and abetment in the murder of two leading political figures in Pakistan.
Among all the distinctions of the retired general his trial, revocation of bail, escape from the court house, and later arrest have created an electrifying drama of great excitement. The sheer sight of a former military ruler and chief of army staff being in the dock is shocking to some, and exciting to many. 
Those gloating at the prospects of the former strongman going to prison or still worse to the gallows believe this would establish supremacy of the law and forever close the door of military adventurism in domestic politics. The denouement of the Musharraf saga will put many a ghost to rest, and free up the country to pursue constructive and progressive policies of peace and progress instead of bungling from one military adventure to the other. 
There are those who caution against opening this Pandora’s Box which could lead to unforeseeable and dangerous consequences.  They argue the military will not allow humiliation of its former Chief and could take some drastic action in his favor. Gen Musharraf has hinted at it more than once and warned against conflict between pillars of state and destabilization of the country.
It is difficult to fathom the depth and intensity of the anxiety being felt in the military ranks, when they see their former chief of staff being humiliated in courts and suffering the travails of the laws delays like any ordinary Pakistani. Will they let Gen. Mushraff suffer the fate of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt? Allow the law to take its own course and decide the case on merit? So far the military leadership seems to have decided to stay in the background and not to take any action that would align them with Musharraf against the judiciary, political mainstream, and popular will. They seem to have realized that political landscape has changed so much that they cannot afford to side with their former boss in defiance of the collective will of the masses, and civil institutions.
 Judicial trial and political tribulations of General Pervez Musharraf have within them the potential to establish civilian control over the armed forces and secure a democratic future for Pakistan. 
That goal seems within reach for the first time in six decades, provided the judiciary and political leadership demonstrate the commensurate level of maturity, play by the rules not emotions, and make extra effort to show that the judicial process is not a peevish attempt at settling scores with their erstwhile tormentor. 
Rowdy behavior of the lawyers at Musharraf’s court hearings was undignified to say the least. Throwing shoes, yelling and shouting, and even trying to hit him physically reflect very poorly on the legal fraternity, that reminds one of street hooligans not of barristers-- the upholders of law. 
Political developments within Pakistan and changes witnessed in Turkey and Egypt in recent years point toward a trend of assertive civilian control and receding political role of the armed forces. 
Hosni Mubarak was abandoned by the military once they felt the heat of public fury. Before late they decided to sacrifice their supreme commander to save the institution of the armed forces and retain their public prestige. Mubarak is now in the same notorious prison where thousands were tortured, and held without trial for years during three decades of his dictatorship. Right now Egypt is going through a rather chaotic democratic process but the trend seems irreversible, and there is no going back to military rule or tolerance of dictatorship. The fear factor instilled by decades old dictatorial rule that intimidated the masses has now evaporated with the dawn of Arab Spring. It has given courage to the masses to question the rulers and not fear them.
 In Turkey, less dramatic but more fundamental changes have been wrought in civil-military relationship. Unlike Egypt, where military still holds some sway in political matters, Turkish military is now firmly under civilian control. Generals are being held accountable not only for what they did or tried to do under the present government but also for the interventions and coup d’eta they staged more than three decades ago. Hundreds of senior military officers including generals are behind bars right now. Socio-political transformation is so deep rooted that no one is looking up to the armed forces any more as saviors who can just march in do a quick fix.
 In the case of Pakistan a similar process is underway and if we do not trip this time, as we have so often in the past, the situation is ripe for a sustained democratic future where military, gradually, comes under civilian control.
Pakistan Army has not stepped forward, so far, to save their former Chief of Staff from the travails of legal challenges, nor have they shown any inclination to help him pursue his political ambitions. In an interview with BBC, just before he left Dubai for Pakistan he said that military knew what they were expected to do for him. He was obviously implying that military would come to his rescue and would not let him down. But the retired general did not realize that by returning to Pakistan at this stage he was putting Pakistan Army in an embarrassing situation. The Military cannot afford to side with a former commander in defiance of the express will of the civil society, judiciary, and political leadership. There are media reports that the military had advised him not to return to Pakistan at this stage with political ambition. His trip to Saudi Arabia also did not seem to have won him the desired support in the power circles of Pakistan.
Also there is reason to opine that the legacy of Gen Musharraf is quite controversial in the military. This can be gathered from what many army generals have said after their retirement. From Kargil to the so-called war on terror, and from the Lal Masjid to the detention of judges, all actions have made him a controversial figure within the forces.
The change in the political landscape that came with the second abrogation of the Constitution and detention of sixty judges, is there to stay. The second abrogation has become a millstone around the neck of the general and he cannot swim any longer in the turbulent political waters of Pakistan. 
Each previous abrogation of the Constitution was readily endorsed by the Supreme Court on the basis of the law of necessity. The legislature elected after the military takeover duly sanctioned the military regime. The coup d’├ętat of October 1999 had the blessings of the Supreme Court and for eight long years the legislature supported the military strongman as a de’ jure ruler.
The mood of compliance and subservience changed drastically when the second abrogation of November 2007 took place. The judiciary was the first to resist it, legal fraternity joined in, and political leadership made it into a mass movement. President Musharraf who was all powerful and looked invincible had to resign to escape the inevitable impeachment by the newly elected parliament, and then went into self-imposed exile stay out of trouble. 
 As often before the general miscalculated the mood of the people, the determination of the judiciary to pursue legal cases against him, and underestimated the strength of his political opponents, and grossly over-estimated his own political charm. Once an all powerful ruler could not appreciate how irrelevant he had become in the changing times, and how serious were the legal challenges he was faced with.
 In this miscalculation of the general lies a chance for Pakistan to charter a new democratic course for its future marked by balanced civil-military relationship and supremacy of law. If this comes true General Musharraf would deserve our thanks for ushering Pakistan into sustained democracy, putting an end to military adventurism, and leading the nation into the new age of peace and prosperity. The nimble hand of history works in a strangest of the ways and this Musharraf-way may be one such way. But, we have to be on the right side of history and show dignity and maturity of a nation that wants to come to grips with its disturbed past and lay down the ghosts that have been haunting it for too long. - drshakilrai@gmail.com

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Pakistan Army in National Politics

DAWN
21 July 2001 Saturday 28 Rabi-us-Sani 1422

Familiar pattern of military rule

By S. Akhtar Rai

The act of self-elevation by the chief executive to the office of president brings the wheel of the country's return to military rule to full circle. While the pattern and method of the latest move are familiar in so far as it follows the well-established script, its implications because of the peculiar conditions of the state and society and accumulative effect of long military rule are quite serious.

Pakistan may appear to be an isolated case in the contemporary world but it has many parallells in history where state as an institution fell under complete hegemony of its armed forces, where legislature, executive, judiciary, civil society, media, clergy, economic and political forces all progressively failed to articulate the elan vital of the state, and assert its existence as a collective institution.

The country seems to have reached a point in history as in Bismarck's Prussia, and the Janissaries' Ottoman Empire where the army assumes hegemonic control over the state and society whose creation it is supposed to be. This inversion of relationship between the creator and the creature leads to paradigms of malfunction, dysfunction, and eventual breakdown. The military comes to foist itself on all the institutions of the state and society and virtually declares itself the state.

It can be argued that today's Pakistan is not a state that has an army. It is, in fact, an army within which a state seems to exist. The compliance with which the latest travesty of law, morality and politics has been received in the country speaks volumes about the helplessness of the people and society in general.

Over the last few decades the military has steadily grown into the only factor to reckon with. It swallows up all radiance and drains energy from every component of the state and society, be it politics, economy, religion, media, academia, or bureaucracy. The process is ongoing and escalating with no signs of abatement. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary the military leadership has convinced itself that they are the saviours of this country and the only viable force that can keep the country united.

They have nurtured a belief that the state and civil society are incapable of maintaining and defending themselves against internal and external threats. Hence it falls upon the armed forces to defend the geographical as well as ideological frontiers of the country. This Messianic complex betrays a deeper tension in the collective psyche of the military leadership of Pakistan that needs to be discussed separately.

From the so-called Rawalpindi conspiracy case of 1951 there has developed a tradition among the military officers to blame politicians for all the ills, particularly military setbacks, and assume that they themselves were the best to put things right. Liaquat Ali Khan, assassinated by the police and intelligence, was blamed for letting the military down in Kashmir by agreeing to a cease-fire when Srinagar was about to fall to the advancing irregulars of Pakistan.

Truth of the matter is that had Liaquat Ali Khan not agreed to the cease-fire (as the military rulers did not agree in 1971) in the face of advancing Indian troops there would have been no Azad Kashmir today. Similar views were disseminated about the 1965 war. The refrain was that Ayub Khan had turned a great victory into a defeat by agreeing to cease-fire and then signing the Tashkent declaration.

From Ayub to Musharraf there is a familiar pattern of military take-over and its perpetuation. At the time of every take-over the country is supposed to be on the brink of the precipice, its very existence in danger, its economy ruined and the corrupt politicians seen bleeding the country white. Before the country could break apart, the armed forces live up to the challenge and very reluctantly depose political leadership and assume administrative control of the country temporarily.

The take-over is presumed to have been always forced upon the military leadership who, we are supposed to believe, had no political ambitions or axe to grind and are, in fact, keen to go back to the barracks. In practice this only meant that they wanted a free hand so that they could quickly fix the problems and then hand over power to a better political leadership nurtured in a manner they desired.

Regarding return to the barracks, it took Ayub Khan ten years, Ziaul Haq eleven years without producing any of the professed results. Yahya Khan had to leave early because he made the colossal 'mistake' of holding free and fair election that left him little room to manoeuvre; since then no military ruler has repeated this 'mistake'.

In the political vacuum created by each military regime and in the absence of any meaningful opposition it was inevitable that the coup leader would continue to secure and strengthen his position to be able "to serve the supreme national interests". Musharraf said on his self-appointment as president that it was the most difficult decision of his life "and, I bow my head in total humility for the bounties bestowed by the Almighty upon me... I feel in all humility that if I have a role to play for this nation I will not hesitate whatever decisions are involved. I hold national interests supreme... I think I have a role to play, I have a job to do here, I cannot and will not let this nation down..."

Having been imbued with a sense of destiny the first and foremost task has always been to eliminate political forces particularly the erstwhile ruling party to pave the way for 'true democracy'. That's how every military regime has held non-party elections at the local bodies level and refused to hold election at the national and provincial levels. Ayub Khan firmly believed that parliamentary democracy was not suitable for Pakistan therefore he had to make do with 'basic democracy' only. Ziaul Haq waited for eleven years to obtain 'positive results' and never held general elections as promised but did arrange local bodies election.

It's ironic that the people who are fit to rule and govern themselves at the local level are deemed unfit and unreliable to manage the affairs of the state. Both Ayub and Zia lived in mortal fear of the resurrection of 'the discredited political leadership' through a free general election. Unfortunately for them the very political forces they tried to destroy throughout their reign triumphed at the end, though only temporarily. But each resurrection proved the bankruptcy of controlled democracy, and the vitality and strength of parliamentary democracy. The present regime is following the same course and that the result may not be much different.

Hence, to avert it the only hope lies in an 'intellectual insurgency'. Like the proton and antiproton that escape from the gravitational attraction of the black hole and drain energy from it the intellectuals of Pakistan need to start a 'peaceful insurgency'. They may constitute a "conscience commission" to investigate 'crimes against the nation' committed by our rulers. We need to remind and remember that Pakistan came into being through a political struggle led by a barrister and not through an armed struggle as in case of Turkey and some other countries. Pakistan is not a Middle Eastern country where authoritarian tradition and military rule has a measure of historical legitimacy.

Pakistan is part of the South Asia where cultural-ethnic-religious pluralism, 'punchayat', and 'jirga' have always gnawed at authoritarian ego. The noise and chaos of the 'chowk', the bazaar, the 'autaak and the 'hujra' are more representative of Pakistan than the calm and quiet of the cantonment.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Astronomy and Theology of the Eid Moon

Astronomy and Theology of the Eid Moon
Shakil Akhtar Rai Los Angeles, CA

Once again we had multiple Eid celebrations, on two different days, in the same country, even in the same city. Multiplicity of Eid adds to the flexibility of modern-day tight schedule, and also gives a touch of democratic freedom of choice, and free market economy.

Therefore, personally I see nothing wrong with having two or three Eids in the same week, in the same neighborhood. At this time when 'freedom is on the march' as part of the neocon agenda in the Muslim world, isn't it encouraging seeing the American Muslims enjoy double gulp Eid celebrations; each masjid deciding on its own, and changing its decision at will, as to when the Eid will be.

Is this our version of the freedom of choice and democracy? So many Muslim students, workers, business people, professionals, and travelers would have missed the Eid prayer if it were on the same day, and more or less at the same time. Double gulp Eid enabled many more to join the celebration and enjoy the blessings. Despite this bright side of multiple Eids many a good Muslim was sour to see the unity of the Ummah damaged, and some wondered why on earth can't we see the moon the same day which is there on the horizon or it's not.

How is it possible that one group of the Muslims was able to see the moon on the horizon while others could not. And even those who had supposedly seen it later decided that actually they had not seen it. Or could it be that the moon deviated from its path and decided to delay or hasten its appearance on the horizon? Actually, Eid has two aspects - one astronomical, the other theological. The problem is I am not competent to venture my opinion on any one of them. (It's therefore better to leave the issue as it is and continue to enjoy multiple Eids.) There are, however, determined minds and disturbed souls who want to settle this question, right now.

They say appearance or absence of the moon on a particular day, on the horizon of a particular part of the globe is a question to be answered by astronomy. When, how, and where to offer Eid prayer is a theological question for which we turn to the ulema. Astronomy deals with the movement of heavenly bodies, which, as Muslims we believe have to follow a path determined by their Creator and Sustainer till the doomsday. Human endeavor through the centuries has been to find out the course and chemistry of the stars and planets. The science of astronomy evolved out of this human quest, and today has gone a very long way in demonstrating its knowledge of the universe.

Astronomy is thus an exact, verifiable, and demonstrable science. If an astronomer says the moon will appear on this part of the earth on this day he can demonstrate his claim by verifiable information. Unless we have equally verifiable and demonstrable arguments to show that it will be otherwise we should accept the verdict of the astronomer. Theology, like art and social sciences, is to a great extent inexact, non-demonstrable, and non-verifiable branch of human knowledge.

Religion and theology by their nature demand human belief in the unseen, deal with the realm beyond logic, and show us a path beyond this world to the hereafter. Viewed in this perspective the process of Eid has to be divided into two parts -- theological, and astronomical. When the two get mixed up or start intruding upon each other the trouble begins. When theology intruded upon astronomy Galileo was forced to retract and accept that the earth was indeed flat, it did not rotate, and was the center of the universe. When astronomy intruded upon theology the astronauts had the cheek to exult that they saw no god while circling around the globe in the upper space.

The first incident happened in deeply religious Rome, and the second in the godless Soviet Union. There is every reason to believe that the Muslim Ummah is lot more enlightened than the blinkered theologians of Rome, and the arrogant atheists of the Soviet Union. The wisdom (hikmah) bestowed upon the collective consciousness of the believers should enable the Muslims to draw a line between astronomy and theology.

Or we may continue to live with the fuss and confusion, making a mockery of an important religious occasion. Like all other branches of human knowledge theology and astronomy can supplement and complement each other provided they recognize their own limitations. It's not for theology to determine the chemistry, and the course of the planets, as it's not for astronomy to decided how to fast in the month of Ramadan and how and where to perform Hajj or offer Eid prayers.

By the way the neocon agenda that the current Administration is so keen to implement aims at conquering the lands, oils, minds, and hearts of the Muslims so as to bring them the fruits of peace and democracy, and rid them of terror and tyranny that has plagued them so long. If the consent of the recipients of theses blessings is not sought it's a matter to be discussed later. For the time being I wish to submit to the makers of this altruistic foreign policy that they may consider adding moon sighting for the Muslim people to their public relations measures in the Muslim lands.

The Administration in DC may like to open regional offices of NASA in the Middle East and beyond, to sight the elusive Eid moon for the Muslims, as they cannot see it for themselves. This may or may not bring the much-desired unity among the Ummah on the Eid day; it would, nevertheless, serve as an ample proof of the good intentions of the Administration towards collective well-being of the Muslim peoples. - drshakilrai@hotmail.com

US-India Nuclear Deal: More Divergence than Convergence of Interests

US-India Nuclear Deal: More Divergence than Convergence of Interests
By Dr Shakil Akhtar Rai
Los Angeles, CA


The US-India nuclear deal signed between the two countries on March 02 during President Bush’s visit to South Asia has far reaching implications for Asia and bilateral relations between the two signatories. There is limited and short-term convergence of economic and military interests but in the long-term the deal is marked more by divergence of perception and interests than convergence.
The deal represents a major policy shift on the part of the US, and vindicates the long-held Indian position that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is indeed discriminatory in nature and lacks moral justification. The US has, thus, climbed down on the NPT ladder for future strategic gains as perceived by the right wing hawks in Washington.
The USA has championed nuclear non-proliferation in the last three-and-a-half decades. Now it has reversed its policy and effectively declared that NPT is indeed discriminatory and immoral. The deal has left the legal foundations of NPT shaken, and moral pretensions blown off. The US has set a dangerous precedent for others to follow. It gives other nuclear powers an excuse to sign similar deals. One wonders what would be the American response if some years down the road China or Russia signs a similar arrangement with Iran or Pakistan?
India’s real gain is not access to American nuclear technology; their achievement is moral victory on NPT, virtual acceptance as a nuclear power, and expectation that the new partnership would lead to India’s permanent membership of the UN Security Council.
The Administration in its bid to sell the deal to the Congress is saying that by getting access to 14 of 22 nuclear plants the US has achieved something big in its quest for nuclear non-proliferation. The fact is India retains the right to decide which plants to declare civilian and hence open to international monitoring and which ones to keep away from any inspection for military reasons.
The architects of the deal visualize China and Islamic radicalism as the most serious security threat to the US and expect India to do the their bidding in containing China, and fighting Muslim extremism. They hope the supply of technology for civilian nuclear power plants would dissuade India from pursuing the gas pipeline from Iran to meet its rapidly increasing energy requirements. This would help strengthen the anti-Iran coalition and intensify pressure on Tehran to abandon its uranium enrichment program. According to David Frum the deal would also strengthen India's nuclear-weapons capability, which, will be a step toward punishing the world's two worst nuclear proliferators, China and Pakistan.
The assumption behind this scenario is that Indians would be so grateful to the United States for giving her access to civilian nuclear technology, and conventional weapon systems that they would take-on all the neighbors on behalf of America.
This is Cold War mentality. There is unwarranted obsession with the China threat, and even more unrealistic assumption that India would choose confrontation and not coexistence with neighboring China. The two Asian powers have different areas of interest in the Pacific and Indian Ocean. Their territorial disputes are well managed and are not likely to boil over.
History and geography of the two mature civilizations have taught them better lessons in coexistence than confrontation. The geography dominated by the Himalayas has effectively separated the two and yet provided enough cultural osmosis to learn from each other. Those who do not have the benefit of long history are at a disadvantage in comprehending the range of foresight anchored in the annals of history. If at sometime in distant future the two powers have a conflict of economic or strategic interests in say Central Asia they would take decisions in their own interest and not in the interest of a distant friend or foe. India and China would opt for peace or conflict for their own reasons, not for others pleasure.
The deal is not likely to diminish India’s thirst for oil. At present nuclear power constitutes only three per cent of electricity produced in India. According to experts even with 30 new nuclear plants that India plans to build in the next two decades nuclear power would be only five per cent of its electricity production and barely two per cent of its total energy requirement. Under the circumstances gas pipeline from Iran through Pakistan is an option India can delay but not abandon.
India has sided with the US in the IAEA meetings on the question of Iran’s nuclear program. But it is obvious that this coincidence of interests would go only a short distance. The deal has vindicated the Indian position on NPT and weakened the American stance. How then is India expected to pressurize Iran to not only abide by a discriminatory regime of non-proliferation, but also to abandon what she is allowed to pursue under the NPT, namely, the pursuit of a peaceful nuclear program.
The US-India nuclear deal and the subsequent visit of President Bush to Islamabad have demonstrated that in the new era Pakistan is not visualized as a strategic partner of the US. In the eyes of the US policy makers Pakistan because of her nuclear past, and relationship with militant Islamists, is more of a problem to be watched than a business partner to be trusted. This is a shortsighted view and may prove more problematic than realized at present.
The deal shows lack of understanding of Pakistan’s security interests, its importance in the region, and its future role in maintaining peace and stability. The situation leaves Pakistan little choice but to pursue its nuclear and missile program more vigorously to make up for the disadvantage it has in conventional forces against India. Cold-shouldering Pakistan so soon in the war on terrorism will only strengthen anti-American forces not only in the political field but also within the establishment. This likely scenario is not helpful to the US interests.
- drshakilakhtar@yahoo.com