Thursday, October 26, 2006

This One Hits the Right Spot...

Ardeshir Cowasjee’s poorly written Sunday rambles are well-countered in the daily Yawn by the likes of Ayaz Amir (on Fridays) and Irfan Husain (on Saturdays).


Irfan Husain’s latest piece is worth poring over:

‘The Seven-Year Itch’

IN the mid-1950s, ‘The Seven-Year Itch’ was a huge hit. Starring the unforgettably delectable Marilyn Monroe, the film revolved around the theme of marital infidelity. The title comes from the idea that after seven years of marriage, the eye wanders, and partners get bored of seeing the same face on the pillow next to each other every morning.

Perhaps we do not see Musharraf quite so intimately, but for many Pakistanis, the TV screen is close enough. The big mistake people in power make is that they develop a taste for the limelight, and soon this hunger for publicity becomes an addiction that has to be fed by daily newspaper headlines, TV interviews, and in Musharraf’s case, book launches. But while they revel in this hype and hoopla, pity their poor audiences: blitzed by this self-serving propaganda, who can blame them for getting fed up after a time? And the Lord knows seven years is time enough for even Musharraf’s most ardent fans to feel bored.

Although I oppose military takeovers on principle, I must admit that I cautiously welcomed Musharraf’s coup seven years ago. My reason was simple: had he not overthrown Nawaz Sharif, the ruling Muslim League would have secured a majority in the Senate elections due the following March. Once the upper house had been won, Nawaz Sharif was determined to carry out his avowed threat of making Shariah the law of the land.

A number of Pakistanis, including this one, were concerned that given the different schools of Islamic thought active in the country, this legislation would be divisive to the point of civil war. Hence I considered a short military intervention to be the lesser of the two evils.

But as I should have known, military interventions in Pakistan are never short. The pattern has been for coup-makers to convince themselves that they are indispensable, and then bend all their energies and resources to hang on in power in the belief that their departure would spell disaster for the country. But ultimately, they all leave, one way or another, and the nation staggers on, weaker for their extended presence. Another thing we have learned is that generals last longer in power than politicians. Not because of their superior performance, but because they have the army behind them. And lending them a fig- leaf are the motley crew of political hacks who could not get into power through elections.

Beyond the obvious weakening of political institutions, what else do Musharraf’s seven years in power teach us? For starters, even for a military dictator, there are strict limits to power. As we have seen time and again, Musharraf has been forced to retreat where a politician might well have succeeded. So although I have few doubts about his good intentions on a number of issues, his ability to follow through is decidedly shaky.

Take his praiseworthy desire to dilute the more vicious aspects of the Hudood Ordinance. Like any decent person, he was motivated by the shocking injustice of this Zia-inspired, anti- woman law. Indeed, most of the civilised world is appalled by this unique piece of legislation. Although he was supported by the PPP and the MQM in his effort to amend the law through a bill in parliament, he was thwarted by both the MMA and ultimately, by his own faction of the PML. While the opposition from the clerics was expected, the stab in the back from his own creation must have penetrated even his Kevlar flak jacket. But he has had to put up with this double-cross because he has no alternatives, and the opportunistic Muslim League members know it.

Or take his oft-repeated decision to build the controversial Kalabagh dam. Here, after a major campaign on every front, he simply could not force the smaller provinces to go along with Punjab on the issue. This is despite the fact that Sindh is being run by a coalition that reached power only thanks to Musharraf. Nevertheless, they said ‘no’ when it came to this highly divisive issue because it would have been political suicide for them to have agreed. So when push came to shove, Musharraf was unable to convince the smaller provinces to drop their deep mistrust of Punjab.

His loudly proclaimed concept of ‘enlightened moderation’ lies in tatters, hacked to bits by the mullahs of the MMA whose support he has courted so assiduously. Part of this stillborn policy was the registration of madressahs, and the introduction of modern subjects there. One growl from the mullahs was enough to lay this ambition to rest. Then there was the debacle over the decision to drop the religion column from the new machine- readable passports. Even this innocuous step to bring our travel documents in line with international norms was blocked by our religious parties, and Musharraf had to back down yet again.

On the international front, Musharraf has had limited success, despite his enhanced profile after 9/11. Although he made a U-turn on Pakistan’s pro-Taliban policy, he continues to be pressed to do more on the Afghan border. And more than ever, he is under pressure to rein in the ISI. In spite of his efforts to present a progressive view of Pakistan to the rest of the world, he is frequently frustrated by his own party, courts and intelligence agencies.

The problem he faces is a common one for military dictators around the world. Lacking legitimacy, they make deals with groups and parties to broaden their base beyond GHQ. But as they face resistance from legitimate political forces, they squander their time, energy and the little moral authority they possess to hang on to power. In Musharraf’s case, he has had to curry favour with fundamentalists to win their support. He cannot then take on their militant wings with any conviction or credibility. It is this politics of expediency that neuters the most well-meaning dictator.

One major aspect of the seven-year itch is the intractable nature of problems faced by developing countries like Pakistan. Leaders, whether elected or not, simply cannot meet the rising aspirations of a growing population. So they are forced to repeat promises they cannot keep, and the rest of us can only sit back and yawn each time they appear on TV to offer us pie in the sky tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Pakistan Hits Near Bottom on Press Freedom List

Fact: Pakistan came at 157 out of 168 countries in Reporters Sans Frontières Worldwide Press Freedom Index for 2006.
Now note the slide over the past five years:

In 2002 Pakistan came 119 out of 139 countries

In 2003 Pakistan came 128 out of 166 countries

In 2004 Pakistan came 150 out of 167 countries

In 2005 Pakistan came 150 out of 167 countries

In 2006 Pakistan came 157 out of 168 countries


Our regime leadership has made it a habit to effusively praise the ‘press freedom’ that it claims exists in Pakistan. ‘’ At the 2006 awards ceremony of the All-Pakistan Newspapers Society Musharraf blithely announced : ‘I am for total freedom of the media, which is the fourth pillar of the state and is the first line of defence in today’s world.’

Not to be out done, Shaukat Aziz regularly blathers on about our press freedom. On one occasion the Business Recorder quoted him as saying, "There is a democratic environment in the country and that the press is free. We believe in the freedom of the press." But then inadvertently Shaukat Aziz came closer to the truth by adding, "We give permission for criticism…."

Yup, you are right Shortcut, but we also know that this permission is often forcibly withheld.

Now many readers of daily Yawn and some other English-language newspapers will probably disagree with me and point to the trenchant criticism of the military regime found in many of the Op-Ed columns.

My rejoinder to them is that there is no such ‘animal’ as part freedom. Either you have press freedom or you don’t. Here are some realities about the freedom of the English language Press:

  • Of a country of over 165 million people, due to shockingly low literacy rates, only some 2 million read newspapers and English language papers account for only a fraction of those readers. Take Dawn for example, according to one of its own editors, M. Ziauddin, the newspaper ‘can write whatever it wants these days, but that's because hardly anybody reads it’.

  • Secondly, the regime does not regard potentially hostile views of the English-speaking elite as posing any threat to its existence. And so allowing the English language press to be relatively free makes little difference as far Islamabad is concerned.

  • On matters sensitive to the regime - such as AQ Khan, the Balochistan insurgency, etc. - even the English language press is regularly prevented from printing newsworthy stories.

While the regime may largely leave the English language newspapers alone, the same is not the case for the vernacular press and the local TV news channels.

According to Reporters Sans Frontières’s 2006 Report:

Pakistan remains attracted to control and censorship. Omnipresent military secret services continue to harass investigative journalists, while the Urdu-language press is closely watched.

A former editor of The News Beena Sarwar has described the activities of these agencies:

Among the tactics of intimidation used are phone taps, surveillance, threatening or interrogating phone calls, or visits from intelligence agency personnel.

At times the regime moves swiftly to prevent ‘harmful’ news from spreading, as was the case in late 2005 when it closed a local FM Radio relaying a BBC World Service Programme, which began providing independent news on the earthquake relief efforts.

However the coercive effort of the regime to control the large number of TV news channels is much more significant.

Unlike the newspaper circulation which is restricted by high rates of illiteracy, cable TV news channels, such as Geo, ARY, Aaj, Roshini, KTN, etc., are watched widely in urban areas and have acquired viewership running in tens of millions.

Consequently all these news channels are very closely monitored by the secret agencies. As the news editor of GEO News TV once told your Blogger, “Agency control is always just another phone call away”.

To illustrate this rigid control I need just give one glaring example.


Look at the photo up above. It was taken at the Grand Baloch Jirga which took place in Kalat, Balochistan on 21 September this year.

It was the first time Baloch tribal elders have all gathered together in 125 years.

And what prompted the Jirga? The killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti - a leading tribal chief, politician and possibly the best-known Baloch in Pakistan – at Musharraf‘s behest.

In view of Bugti’s death and the ongoing Baloch insurgency, the Jirga was a major news breaking story.

Now examine the picture closely. The man in the centre of the photo is the Khan of Kalat and in front of him are some two dozen microphones from every TV news channel in Pakistan - with the unremarkable exception of PTV. (Later from a person present at the Jirga confirmed that there were at least 25 to 30 news cameras present at the scene).

That evening the Baloch Jirga was the lead story on BBC Urdu News service. It was covered live by an on-the-spot BBC newsman. Listening to his radio your Blogger was startled to hear live chants from a reported assembled crowd of hundreds of armed Baloch youth loudly demanding ‘Azadi, Azadi’- much, I imagine, to the fury of Islamabad.

This certainly was news as far as I was concerned.

But did any of the news channels play their Jirga recording on their news programme that night (or even, for that matter, the next day)?

Not one.

The story was aggressively killed by a military agency and there wasn’t a peep from anyone of the two or so dozen channels.


The irony is that it has been recently announced that Musharraf plans to hold a counter-grand jirga of the Baloch on 8th November. At first it was to be held at Quetta but subsequently The News reported that the venue was as yet undecided:

It would be either Islamabad or Quetta, an official told this correspondent. However, he said, its holding in the federal capital would not send out a good message. He said the president was being counselled to chair the Jirga in Quetta…Invitations are unlikely to be issued to chieftains confronting or criticising the government. All guests would be supporters of the government. However, the official effort is to wean away maximum number of tribal heads, who had attended two Jirgas, hosted by the Khan of Qalat, Mir Dawood, in the wake of killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti in a military operation in Kohlu mountains on August 31.

Umm...I like that bit about the effort underway to ‘to wean away maximum number of tribal heads, who had attended two Jirgas, hosted by the Khan of Qalat’.

Most likely it will be case of a plenty of stick rather than any carrots.

The latest news now is that the Grand Jirga will be held in Islamabad and the pressurized
‘Sardars, nawabs and tribal elders would be arriving in Islamabad on November 6 via a special plane from Quetta’.

One thing your Blogger can guarantee is that unlike the earlier media-throttled and genuine Baloch Jirga, this Hollywood-Jirga in Islamabad will take place in the full glare of press publicity and every TV news channel will be ordered to cover it extensively.

That, my readers, is the freedom of the press in Pakistan today.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Balochistan Revisited Yet Again

Many years ago in the 1970s Henry Kissinger famously said, ‘I wouldn’t recognize the Balochistan problem if it hit me in the face’.

Much to the chagrin of Baloch nationalists the situation largely remains the same as the focus of Western governments, driven by international terrorist concerns, has sidestepped the Balochistan issue almost completely. However, unlike the 1970s, there are a number of NGOs and foreign specialists keeping a much closer eye on the latest rebellion in Balochistan.

One of the best known experts on Balochistan is Selig S Harrison, formerly a senior correspondent of the Washington Post and senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment and currently director of the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy. To his credit twenty-five years ago he authored a book on the previous Baloch insurgency (In Afghanistan's Shadow: Baloch Nationalism and Soviet Temptations, Carnegie Endowment, 1981).

In his most recent article
Pakistan’s Baloch Insurgency published in the Le Monde Diplomatique Harrison has this to say about the current situation:
  • In the current fighting, which started in January 2005, the independent Pakistan Human Rights Commission has reported that indiscriminate bombing and strafing by F-16s and Cobra gunships are again being used to draw the guerrillas into the open. Six Pakistani army brigades, plus paramilitary forces totalling some 25,000 men, are deployed in the Kohlu mountains and surrounding areas where the fighting is most intense.
  • Musharraf is using new methods, more repressive than those of his predecessors, to crush the insurgency. In the past Baloch activists were generally arrested on formal charges and sentenced to fixed terms in prisons known to their families. This time Baloch spokesmen have reported large-scale kidnappings and disappearances, charging that Pakistani forces have rounded up hundreds of Baloch youths on unspecified charges and taken them to unknown locations.
  • The big difference between earlier phases of the Baloch struggle and the present one is that Islamabad has so far not been able to play off feuding tribes against each other. Equally importantly, it faces a unified nationalist movement under younger leadership drawn not only from tribal leaders but also from an emergent, literate Baloch middle class that did not exist three decades ago. Another difference is that the Baloch have a better armed, more disciplined fighting force in the BLA. Baloch leaders say that rich compatriots and sympathisers in the Persian Gulf provide money needed to buy weapons in the flourishing black market along the Afghan frontier.
  • President Musharraf has repeatedly accused India of supplying weapons to the Baloch insurgents and funds to Sindhi separatist groups, but has provided no evidence to back up these charges.

In his final analysis Harrison warns that:

unless the military regime is willing to grant the provincial autonomy envisaged in the 1973 constitution, which successive military regimes, including the present one, have nullified… the prospect… is for a continuing, inconclusive struggle by the Baloch...against Islamabad that will debilitate Pakistan.


While on the topic of Balochistan today’s Daily Times (hardcopy October 21, 2006, page B3 – no link available) carried a statement from Akbar Bugti’s missing grandson Brahamdagh which evidently was given to Online [News?] via telephone.

According to this report Brahamdagh denied that he had left the country and declared that ‘I am amongst my people and endeavouring for the defense of my motherland’ and that ‘governmental claims of control over Marri and Bugti areas are baseless and false, because resistance has gained intensity more than ever before’ and a ‘large number of Baloch youth is gradually becoming part of the resistance’.

If Brahamdagh Bugti’s claim, that a ‘large number of Baloch youth’ are joining the resistance movement is true, then it would tend to support Selig Harrison’s assertion regarding ‘a unified nationalist movement under younger leadership drawn not only from tribal leaders but also from an emergent, literate Baloch middle class’.

The future is looking distinctly troublesome.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Ex-ISI Chief on Elections: We Rig 'Em

Okay, most of us know that the Army has been involved in rigging elections in Pakistan ever since Ayub Khan’s electoral tussle with Fatima Jinnah in 1964.

In the 1970 elections, which are widely believed to have been the fairest, Yahya appointed Minister of Information, Major General Sher Ali Khan of Pataudi, did tinker around by funding handpicked political parties but did nothing of great magnitude under the mistaken belief that the Awami League would not sweep the polls quite so outlandishly. Not surprisingly an incensed Yahya sacked General Sher Ali from his ministerial post during the brief interim period between the holding of the National Assembly elections and the Provincial Assembly elections.

Nothing much need be said of Zia-ul-Haq’s infamous ‘partyless’ 1985 elections.

The former Army Chief Mirza Aslam Beg is on public record for not only having publicly admitted that the ISI spent Rs. 140 million financing his chosen candidates but also for creating the Islamic Jamhoori Alliance in his efforts to prevent the PPP from winning the 1988 election. For the record Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi was the Establishment’s chosen candidate for the post of Prime Minister. Jatoi’s failure to win his home seat proved a valuable lesson for the Establishment as it showed that the funding candidates was not enough to swing elections their way.

After the dismissal of Benazir Bhutto’s government the 1990 elections were now blatantly rigged to ensure that Nawaz Sharif and Muslim League were swept into power.

But as luck would have it, Nawaz Sharif had a bitter ‘I will not take dictation’ falling out with President Ghulam Ishaq Khan. This time the 1993 elections were purposely skewed to ensure that Benazir Bhutto returned to power. As PPP already had a solid vote bank, the rigging effort was not quite as strenuous.

The same cannot be said for the 1997 elections. While Benazir Bhutto had, by then, lost most of her charm with the general public, the ‘heavy mandate’ electoral mandate was not as genuine as Nawaz Sharif would like us to believe.

The 2002 elections were of course an utter farce. In his recently published autobiography General Musharraf himself admits that PML (Q) was very much his own creation. And your Blogger himself witnessed a voter being openly offered 60 ballot slips to vote with in one National Assembly constituency. The candidate being supported here had previously been personally interviewed by General Ehsan-ul-Haq, the ISI chief, and had obviously passed muster.

With this history before us it is refreshing when a former ISI chief comes out in the open and tells it like it is!


This is what Lt. Gen. Asad Durrani, former ISI chief, told an assembled crowd at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC on 18 October 2006.

(Your Blogger has directly extracted the following points from news reports in
Dawn and Daily Times newspapers).
  • ‘The military…only takes over when there’s a general resentment against the government and “they know that the takeover will be generally accepted.’
  • ‘one reason for military takeovers is that the army gets impatient with the pace and style of civilian-run governments and disrupts the process through intervention when it should learn to let it continue, which is the only way it will improve. Once the military takes power, within its own ranks, it is loyalty to the coup-maker that becomes the norm. After some years in power, army regimes begin looking for an exit strategy but do not always find it.’
  • ‘According to him, the biggest question confronting a military ruler is: “I am in power, now I must also have legitimacy.” In Pakistan, he said, this legitimacy is acquired through courts and after some time “efforts are made to get some politicians on board”.’
  • ‘ a military government is forced to create [a] ‘civilian façade’ to legitimise [its] takeover.’
  • ‘Some of those politicians who become part of this façade have a murky background. Some cannot win elections on their own. Some have skeletons to hide. Some do it for benefits’.
  • ‘Talking about the thought process that guides a military government, he said: After the takeover, the military government believes that things will be OK in a couple of years but they don’t. The government, however, comes with an agenda and believes that if implemented, this agenda will pull the country out of its troubles…The situation begins to deteriorate and the ire gets directed at the military. The politicians chosen to support the military also become unpopular and there comes a time when “you realise if you want your group to win, you must rig the elections.’
  • ‘an army regime only digs itself deeper into its hole as time passes and it has to rig elections to perpetuate its power.’
  • ‘Meanwhile, a military ruler’s agenda of “cleaning up the political mess” prevents him from “getting off the tiger”. Thus the military government “keeps digging deeper into the hole”.’
  • ‘The general then used an Urdu idiom to describe the situation: “Main kambal ko chorta hoon, kambal mujhey naheen chorta.’
  • ‘The military’s meddling in politics, he said, affects “the normal flow in the higher ranks” and ultimately “loyalty to the coup makers also peters off”.’

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Mush & Pinky – The New Dance Partners?

Benazir Bhutto is known for her survivalist instincts and pursuit of self-interest. As your Blogger has been suggesting in recent months, the PPP leader has been surreptitiously engaged in negotiations with Musharraf’s envoys to save her skin from the Swiss Courts, who have found her and Asif Zardari guilty of money laundering.

Having appealed the verdict of the Swiss lower court, she now finds herself facing an additional charge of aggravated money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in jail as well as a fine of about one million Swiss francs if found guilty. (See Blog:
Dancing Peacocks & the Quaking Lady)

The killing of Akbar Bugti provided a unique opportunity to take down Musharraf’s democratic façade by a mass resignation of opposition members in the assemblies. Benazir’s decision not to confront the regime when it was momentarily at its weakest, clanged bells loudly for her newfound policy of appeasement.

For this ‘good’ behaviour she has now been apparently rewarded - the
Swiss Court had suddenly adjourned its 26th September hearing at the request of the government of Pakistan. So far, quite interestingly, no new date has been set for a future hearing.

But that is not the end of her problems. Yesterday a UK High Court dismissed Asif Zardari’s application to set aside the Pakistan government’s action against him which accuses Zardari of having purchased Rockwood Estate in Surrey with money obtained by corruption.

The UK judge held, in his 49 page judgment, that “Zardari had concealed his ownership of Rockwood Surrey Palace and now it is time for him to show that the Surrey Palace was not purchased with corruption money” adding that there was a reasonable chance that the Pakistan government would be able to prove its case that the Rockwood Mansion was purchased by Asif Zardari and Benazir Bhutto using money obtained from corruption.

It goes without saying that the noose is fairly tight around her throat these days.

Now if Benazir Bhutto concedes to Musharraf on the vital issue of the uniform – which she is likely to do – then she will be jettisoning the much- hyped ‘Charter of Democracy’ to the toilet bowl of political history. By disavowing on her publicly stated commitment she runs the risk of being exposed as a politician devoid of any shred of principle or integrity.

But then what else is new?


And now onto Musharraf.

After seven years of verbal abusing Benazir Bhutto at every turn, he will have to swallow his words.

It is an obvious sign of his political weakness.

Musharraf, like Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif before him, seems now to be purely motivated by the desire of clinging to power. Gone are his heady days of ‘Pakistan First’. Like all military dictators he has come to enjoy the trappings of power, so now it is all about ‘Musharraf First’.

While there has been criticism from the US and its allies for Musharraf's rejection of democratic practices and the marginalization of the mainstream forces in Pakistan, the military strongman has also reached the end of the track with his dependence on the religious right, which has helped prop his regime in power these past few years. The failure of the Hudood Amendment bill has widely exposed Musharraf’s political inability to ‘walk the walk’.

Another obvious reality that may finally dawned on the General is that he is no longer popular. Reality states that the 2007 general elections can be won by him only through massive and blatant pre-rigging (which is already underway (See Blog: The Coming Farce is Already Upon Us... ). But the consequence of winning this election dishonestly presents the great unknown.

As an Op-Ed commentator noted:
Given the Talibanisation of tribal areas, and extension of Taliban’s influence in the adjoining settled districts, continuing military operation and insurgency in the Baloch areas, deepening alienation of Sindhis, sustenance of jihadi and sectarian outfits, overall exclusion and sufferings of the general masses and increasing isolation of and resentment against the military rule, Pakistan presents a volcanic situation that can potentially burst out in many directions and at numerous levels.
Rigging of the 2007 elections could possibly set off a mass protest movement that could quickly get out of the control of the democratic forces and pass into the hands of organized extremists, ensuing nationwide mayhem and chaos.

Not only will such an event weaken the General in the eyes of his twin constituencies (the mentor in Washington and his own generals) but as night follows day, any errosion in Musharraf’s political power will also lead the famed turncoats that comprise tha PML (Q) to desert him without a second glance.

But all that is in the possible future. To prevent this from becoming a reality the move to bring PPP back in the political fold will ensure Musharraf’s prolonged stay in power, providing he keeps his uniform.

The unusual but not unexpected headline of the day is from The Daily Times: Coalition Government with PPP possible – Ch. Shujaat Hussain.

Indeed these are deperate times for some desperate people!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Islamabad Rockets – The Stratfor Version

Here is another take on the Islamabad rocket ‘attack’. This time it is from Strategic Forecasting Inc. (Stratfor), a leading US corporate think-tank that advises major government agencies and Fortune 500 companies.

Interestingly Stratfor suggests here that Air Chief Marshal Mushaf Ali Mir - who died along with his wife and fourteen others in a mysterious crash of a PAF Fokker plane near Kohat on February 20, 2003 - was an Al Qaeda supporter.

Ummm….possible shades of Zia’s C130 in this crash?

Somehow I don’t think that we will never get to the bottom of these mysteries but suffice to say bumping irritants off has never posed a problem in Pakistan from the days of Liaquat Ali Khan onwards.

Anyway here is Stratfor's report:


STRATFOR :Pakistan: Rockets, Coup Rumors and Musharraf
October 13, 2006 23 30 GMT


Pakistani authorities announced Oct. 13 the arrest of eight militants with ties to al Qaeda, being held in connection with attempted rocket attacks in and near Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. The incident comes amid growing talk of discontent within the military with President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and amid criticism from senior military intelligence officials -- signaling that Musharraf's support within the military could be waning. Though Musharraf is not faced with the prospect of losing power any time soon, opposition parties will try to take advantage of this situation, possibly creating political instability in Pakistan.


Police and intelligence agents apprehended eight al Qaeda-linked Pakistani militants in raids on undisclosed locations in Pakistan, seizing weapons, ammunition and explosives, Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao told reporters Oct. 13. The same day, Asia Times Online reported that a coup plot against Musharraf had been uncovered soon after the Pakistani president's return from the United States. According to the article, more than 40 people have been arrested, most of them mid-ranking air force officers. Officials uncovered the conspirators when an air force officer used a cell phone to activate a rocket aimed at the president's residence in Rawalpindi. The rocket was recovered, and its activating mechanism, also a cell phone, revealed the officer's telephone number.

Although the reported coup attempt (which would require the involvement of senior army officials) is unlikely, it is possible that air force officials may have been arrested, some of whom might have been junior officers. Moreover, the rockets, which were all found, probably were more of a
warning than anything else. Even so,these developments indicate Musharraf might be slowly losing support from his core constituency in the military establishment -- especially given the criticism of Musharraf from former heads of the country's premier spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Musharraf's political opponents will try to take advantage of this situation, which could lead to instability in the South Asian country.

Musharraf's recent statements show he is under a lot of strain. In comments during a dinner gathering with journalists, the day before the seventh anniversary of the coup in which he took power, he said that if moderates do not prevail over extremists in upcoming elections, then Pakistan as envisioned by its founder will be no more.

These remarks come as senior ex-ISI officials continue to express displeasure at Musharraf's accusations that former officials of the intelligence directorate continue to support the Taliban. In an Oct. 10 appearance on GEO TV's program Capital Talk, former ISI Director-General and retired Lt. Gen. Hameed Gul described Musharraf's statement as "shameful," and said it would have "harmful results" for the president, the country's intelligence services and the military. Another former ISI director-general, retired Lt. Gen. Asad Durrani, said Afghan government allegations the ISI was supporting the Taliban could only be halted if Pakistan honestly told Kabul that it was "not in a position to control the Taliban from its borders." And former ISI official and retired air force squadron leader Khalid Khawaja said Musharraf had "endorsed" foreign allegations by giving such a statement. (Khawaja is well known for his ties to the murky al Qaeda-Taliban network.)

The recent story about mid-ranking air force officers is only the latest in a series of interesting accounts of links between Pakistani air force officials and al Qaeda. Musharraf himself acknowledged that noncommissioned air force personnel took part in plots to kill him in 2003. Moreover, former al Qaeda military commander Abu Zubaydah told interrogators that one of his high-ranking contacts in the Pakistani military was former air force chief Mushaf Ali Mir. Shortly thereafter, Mir died in air accident. Stratfor also has learned that many former midlevel ISI officials with the rank of major and colonel have familial ties with Islamist militants who are veterans of the 1979-89 war against the Soviet army in Afghanistan.

Word of links between the ISI and Islamist militants has generated a great deal of controversy -- to the extent that there was a media leak of report prepared by a think tank affiliated with the British Ministry of Defense calling for the ISI's dissolution. Clearly, the pressure is rising on Musharraf regarding the ISI controversy, but most significant is that he is being criticized from within. This is something his civilian political opponents will be looking to exploit. Should this situation lead to political unrest, his fellow generals may not be very keen to continue supporting him.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Islamabad Rockets – An Elvis Connection?

The discovery, last week, of rockets supposedly targeting Army House, the Presidency and the ISI Headquarters have caused much private debate.

Discussing it with a senior journalist or two, your Blogger noticed a strong vein of cynicism among them. Apparently the timing of this multiple attack so soon after Musharraf’s US visit, during which there was much self-propagating hype about him being heroically ‘in the line of fire’ from international terrorists, was too much of a coincidence for some to swallow.

And so it may possibly be as Elvis Presley once immortally crooned:
Well it's One for the Money, Two for the Show, Three to get Ready, Now Go, Man, Go!


Here is a piece by Amir Mir which highlights this particular point of view:
Rocket attempts on Musharraf’s life stage-managed?
Amir Mir

LAHORE: The sudden rash of attempts on President General Pervez Musharraf’s life since his return from the US has become a subject of intense speculation, with many detractors saying that recovery of live rocket launchers from three sensitive spots in Rawalpindi and Islamabad were stage-managed by the agencies.

Musharraf claimed on Wednesday at a gathering of journalists in Islamabad that the recovery of rocket launchers outside the Army House, the Presidency and the Inter Services Intelligence Headquarters was a crude attempt to assassinate him.

“The perpetrators were religious extremists, perhaps linked to a group having contacts with Al-Qaeda, but they were not fully trained in carrying out such a task,” said Musharraf, while adding that the devices were so crude that they were bound to fail.

The recovery of rockets connected to mobile phones and fitted with launchers created panic across Islamabad, giving credence to Musharraf’s recent claim that the threat to his life from Al-Qaeda and Taliban extremists is far from over.

However, his critics smell a mischief saying every time there is an assassination attempt, the General missed the bullet or bomb by inches or minutes. They say the recovery of rockets was a crude attempt on his part to address increasing US concerns about the seriousness of his efforts in the war against terror, and to win back the American confidence.

Says Jahangir Badar, the secretary general of the Bhutto-led Pakistan Peoples Party, “By stage-managing recovery of live rockets from the federal capital, Musharraf actually wanted to rectify the mess created by his recent admission in Washington that he was not a willing US ally but was forced to join hands with the Bush administration post the 9/11 terror attacks. He was threatened that Pakistan could be bombed back to the Stone Age unless it cooperated with the US against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.”

Similar views were expressed by Zafar Iqbal Jhagra, a former federal minister and the central secretary general of the Sharif-led Pakistan Muslim League.

“The recovery of live rockets from close to the ISI building was meant to convey a message to the West that on contrary to their oft-repeated allegations that the Pakistani ISI was aiding and abetting the Taliban and assisting the jehadi mafia, it was actually under threat from the same elements.”

However, Jhagra pointed out that Musharraf has elaborated on how he had first weighed the option of fighting the US before finally taking a foreign policy U-turn and dumping support for Taliban. “I war-gamed the US as an adversary to assess whether Pakistan could withstand the onslaught. The answer was no,” he quoted Musharraf from his book.

A Dose of Unenlightened Immoderation

LAHORE - October 12: Policemen beat supporters of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) during a demonstration held here on Thursday to mark the anniversary of the 1999 military takeover.—Dawn


Nothing like a good dose of Unenlightened Immoderation.

How dare ordinary civilians protest against the great Musharraf. Break their heads and then lock ‘em up I say.

Better still pack the lot off to Guantanamo, at least then some individuals from the Government of Pakistan can make an honest zillion from the deal.

Minister Nabbed Smuggling Diamonds

This is what the latest issue of The Friday Times (October 13-19 2006) has to say about Musharraf’s Minister for Defence Production:

A high-powered federal [minister] recently narrowly avoided a stint in the clink and huge embarrassment for the government of Pakistan. The [Minister for Defence Production] travelled to South Africa and was on his way back to the Land of the Pure when the machine went beep-beep-beep as he passed through it. Alerted, the special security squad at the airport took the minister aside to frisk him good and proper.

And what did they find on his person but diamonds worth a fortune. The gems were in loose form, divided into neat packets, stored all over the minister’s person. Airport security told the minister that he was committing a crime in smuggling gems out of the [sic] South Africa and that and that they would have to report the matter to the authorities. The minister, frantic, called the Pakistan mission in Johannesburg which tried to intercede with the airport security staff wielding lame excuses like ‘diplomatic immunity’ etc.

The security staff then passed the matter on to their superiors and the South African authorities were having none of it. The mission then made contact with the highest and mightiest in Islamabad who pulled some hefty strings and got the minister off the hook…


The Minister for Defence Production is one Major (retired) Habibullah Waraich (pictured above).

To be honest I have never even heard of his name before (considering there are some 50 plus ministers that is not at all surprising).

Perhaps some reader could help us out with some background on Waraich and perhaps even offer us some explanation as to how a retired major cum noveau minister can afford to purchase diamonds ‘worth a fortune’?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Glasshouse nominated for Award

Much to your Blogger’s astonishment, he has belatedly learnt that ‘The Glasshouse” has been nominated as a contender for best the South Asia Blog (ex-India, ex-Bangladesh) for 2006.

The official nominees are:

Chapati Mystery (Pakistan)
The Glasshouse (Pakistan)
Metroblogging Lahore (Pakistan)
KO (Pakistan)
United we Blog! (Nepal)
Democracy for Nepal (Nepal)
Deepak’s Diary (Nepal)

Hopefully without sounding too churlish, your Blogger would request his regular readers to visit the
Asian Blog Awards website and vote. How you vote is of course entirely up to you.

The award nominating site requests that readers “review all the above sites before proceeding to vote, as you will be required to rank all of the nominated sites in order of preference.”

The site also informs its readers that:
E-mail registration is required to participate. Your address will not be sold, given away or used for spamming. All collected addresses will be destroyed within one month after the close of polling.

The poll remains active until 17 October.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Sold for a Glass (or two) of Blue

Prior to departing Pakistan for his international book tour, Musharraf had a tête á tête with an English-language newspaper editor. Much to this journalist’s professed astonishment Mush made him a Blue label special with his own fair hands.

Now the editor, having swooned with pleasure at having received such personalized hospitality from the Khaki-emperor, is finding it somewhat confusing to criticize his cocktail-mixing benefactor.


Your blogger once actually praised this editor for introducing some backbone into his long supine newspaper.
Imagine the disappointment.

Some Pakistani journalists have been known to sell their objectivity for a piece of property or a briefcase full of ready cash - but to do so for simply for a glass (or two) of expensive but eminently quenchable liquid?

I just don’t know editors like this fellow are up to
… but a display of childish excitement at a glass of uisge beatha proffered by a military dictator is - in your Blogger's view - quite pathetic.

No Thanks For The Memories

(I’d like to apologize to my regular readers for my prolonged absence. The truth is that after coping with my daily responsibilities I find fasting during Ramazan seems to sap my ability to perform additional tasks such as blogging.

I promise things will be back to normal after Eid!)


The great bard Shakespeare told us:
‘There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune’ (Julius Caesar)

How apt in Musharraf’s case.

From an ignominious start where a US President (Clinton) refused to be photographed seen shaking hands with him and a US president-elect (Bush) who had no clue as to his name, Musharraf has come a long way.

The tide came his way with 9/11. For the past five years he has basked in it, and used it to fortify himself at the cost of all else. To my mind this tide peaked during his US publicity tour for the ‘In the Line of Fire’

And now the tide has begun to recede.

Thanks to the headiness which comes with fasting your blogger is feeling rash enough to make a forecast. I give Musharraf 15 more months at the most. The road to the 2007 elections will in all probability politically finish him and his chumchas in PML (Q).

What follows I can only hazard a guess but whatever it is, it will be bound to have a khaki-tint of sorts. Reality states that our generals will resist all moves to be herded back to the barracks.

In the meantime I leave you with an op-ed piece that I wish I had written myself:

Op-Ed from The News : Flying high

President General Pervez Musharraf is at his peak. Regardless of huge controversies generated by his best selling memoirs, in fact a thriller combined with his quite provocative and controversial account of recent history, he is at the centre of everything around us. In a typical sense he has entered a stage where he now thinks he can make things work to his advantage, come what way. He perceives himself infallible, omnipotent, indispensable and fated with delivering the nation whatever he thinks is good for it. Enlarging himself bigger than the size of a mortal life, he in his perception is synonymous with, and even larger than, the state. Under him everything else is lost in the oblivion of the overarching shadow of his personality. Will the king really last the challenges he faces?

There is no doubt that from Brussels to New York, and from Washington to London wherever he went he remained in the headlines, preceded or followed by controversies and doubts about whatever he is doing. Yet he remained firm in his resolve, questioning one report or the other, responding to one critique or the other and defending his record on one score or the other. The most daunting task was to defend the Wana accord with the pro-Taliban tribal elders in North Waziristan and woo the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh back on the India-Pakistan peace track. And of course he could not miss the opportunity to promote his book.

The massive coverage he got wherever he went should be enough to intoxicate even a most balanced person. Back home he is now unequivocally asking votes in his name, even though the elections are to be held more than a year from now, that is if they are to be held at all under him with all the powers of the state in his possession.

And look at the fantastic façade he has put together: there is a cabinet and a prime minister, representative institutions at all levels and the whole paraphernalia of the state and government. So far, no scandal or instance of corruption is attributed to his person or his family. On the other hand, the opposition and its alliances remain divided both within and among themselves, accusing each other of not being steadfast against the 'common enemy'. A backchannel contact by the government with this or that faction of the opposition, even if it is quite clear that it is nothing more than a tactical manoeuvre, is enough to throw a spanner in the works of a grand alliance.

Consider how, in the wake of the gruesome killing of Akbar Bugti and the massive backlash against it in Balochistan, the so-called women protection bill distracted the whole opposition from that burning issue, and how Maulana Fazalur Rehman and the government salvaged the situation by raising a storm over Sharia in the hapless parliament. The dust settled down with the JUI still in the Balochistan government and the sword of the Hudood laws hanging as menacingly as ever. And before the opposition could overcome its stupidity and close its ranks, the stories of backchannel contacts between the government and Benazir Bhutto proved enough to keep the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy (ARD) and the Muttahida Majlis-i- Amal (MMA) in doldrums.

At the dizzy heights of fame abroad and with his opponents in disarray at home, would Musharraf get a bit more ambitious and bring forward the date of elections while he is still in uniform? But the situation is not as rosy as our Bonaparte and his entourage may think. There are brewing problems that may get out of hand in the months to come and on many counts. How could the situation be so satisfactory as Musharraf makes it out to be? No one should know more than him how bad it is when he has to travel through the capital in a helicopter?

If the situation is well in control at our borders, how come all these rockets are being discovered every other day in Islamabad--one day in Rawalpindi, the other day close to the presidency and the next day in the vicinity of the ISI's headquarters? If the accord in North Waziristan is working well, why are the NATO commanders crying wolf? After the commander of US Central Command General Abizaid, General David Richards, the commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is coming with 'evidence' of the ISI's alleged backing and training of the Taliban, at a time when the Wana accord is being looked at with great suspicion.

Despite our repeated pleas that the Dr A Q Khan chapter be closed, new quarries are being made and will be made more vigorously in the days to come, as North Korea announces its plan to explode a nuclear device and the Iran nuclear proliferation imbroglio worsens. To make matters worse, the Taliban are now estimated to be emerging once again as a resistant force backed by many Pakhtuns with very serious ramifications and spillover in our tribal areas and beyond. Not all is well on the Indo-Pak peace front even if dates are being fixed for the resumption of the composite dialogue process. New Delhi has put Islamabad on the most crucial test of proving its innocence and extending cooperation in nabbing culprits from this side of the border allegedly involved in the Mumbai rail bombing.

The post-earthquake rehabilitation work has run into serious snags. Investors are now shying away from the only mega project in the country, i.e., the Gwadar port, on account of the law and order problem in Balochistan. With the trouble in Balochistan, the grand jirgas of the Baloch demanding review of their accession to Pakistan, their alienation running too deep, the tribal areas gradually slipping into the Taliban's hands and the simmering nationalist resentment across Sindh, what would happen if all this converged into a political storm. Yet those in power actually believe that everything is hunky-dory. They are extremely confident that they will get even greater popular endorsement not only in Punjab but also in Balochistan in the general elections which they say will be free for all except two former prime ministers.

Pakistan is, perhaps, moving towards yet another round of turmoil. The Musharraf era has passed its zenith and it is now on the decline. Yet he wants to perpetuate its control beyond what it was during the 2002 elections. That was the time for the regime to open up for compromises and accommodations at home and engage the main political stakeholders. But this was not to be. The regime is running high on self-glorifying assumptions and is totally cut off from the ground realities. If the regime makes more such mistakes there is a possibility that the pent up anger and frustration borne silently by the people will show its visage either before the elections or immediately after if they are held under the present framework and design.