Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Benazir Bhutto: Her Headaches Continue

It appears that the regime is not altogether pleased with Benazir Bhutto now that she has returned.

The huge crowds gathered to receive her unnerved Musharraf and his stalwarts (most, if not all, of whom are in office by virtue of the cooked elections of 2002). Secondly, Benazir Bhutto has publicly hurled charges against some of Musharraf’s ‘nearest and dearest’ for planning the bomb that savaged her motorcade on 18th October killing and maiming hundreds of people.

So now the government has not only announced that the National Reconciliation Ordinance would not apply to cases pending against Benazir Bhutto in foreign courts but also that the government would provide necessary evidence and witnesses if sought by any foreign court.

Obviously the deal has suddenly been consigned to the rubbish heap and the gloves have come off.

Let us see if Bhutto crumbles or fights.


The BCC recently provided a synopsis of the foreign cases currently pending against the PPP leader.


By Richard Lawson
BBC News, London

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto is preparing for general elections shortly after returning to the country after years of self-imposed exile.
She came back after President Pervez Musharraf granted her a controversial amnesty from the charges in Pakistan.

The Supreme Court may yet rule that amnesty illegal. But even if it clears it, Ms Bhutto, who has been in talks about a power-sharing deal with President Musharraf, could still face several cases outside of Pakistan.

One of the most advanced is in Switzerland, where in 2003 Geneva magistrate Daniel Devaud convicted Ms Bhutto of money-laundering.

In his judgment, he found she and her close associates received around $15m in kickbacks from Pakistani government contracts with SGS and Cotecna, two Swiss companies.

Mr Devaud sentenced Ms Bhutto and her husband Asif Zardari to 180 days in prison, ordering them to return $11.9m to the government of Pakistan.

"I certainly don't have any doubts about the judgments I handed down [which] came after an investigation lasting several years, involving thousands of documents," he has told the BBC.

Ms Bhutto contested the decision, which was made in her absence, and the case is being reheard, with the former prime minister now facing the more serious charge of aggravated money-laundering.

Not automatic

Asked about the case, her officials told the BBC: "These allegations are part and parcel of a campaign of a character assassination. Ms Bhutto has not done anything illegal. She and her husband, Senator Asif Zardari, both have defended themselves in every court in every country."

Many in Pakistan assume the Swiss case will now collapse because of the deal struck between Ms Bhutto and President Musharraf.

Yet under Swiss law, even if the government of Pakistan stops co-operating, that would not automatically end legal proceedings in Switzerland.

Vincent Fournier, the Swiss judge in charge of the current case, told the BBC he planned to hand the case over to Geneva's attorney-general this week.

A second international case involving Ms Bhutto is under way in England.

In this case, the government of Pakistan alleged that Ms Bhutto and her husband bought Rockwood, a $3.4m country estate in Surrey, using money from kickbacks.

Ms Bhutto and Mr Zardari denied owning the estate for eight years. But in 2004, Mr Zardari suddenly admitted that it was his.

Then, in 2006, an English judge, Lord Justice Collins, came to an interesting, though by no means final, conclusion about the estate.

Whilst stressing he was not making any "findings of fact", Justice Collins said there was a "reasonable prospect" of the government of Pakistan establishing, in possible future court proceedings, that Ms Bhutto and/or her husband bought and refurbished Rockwood with "the fruits of corruption".

Asked by the BBC about Rockwood, Ms Bhutto's officials denied any allegations of corruption, but gave no detailed response, although her husband's lawyers told Justice Collins that Pakistan's case was speculative.

The London case is a civil one. That means it could collapse should President Musharraf's government decide not to pursue it.

Iraq questions

Ms Bhutto also faces allegations concerning the United Nations oil-for-food scandal.

In 2005, the Independent Inquiry Commission led by former US Federal Reserve head Paul Volcker found that more than 2,000 companies breached UN sanctions by making illegal payments to Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq before 2003.

Among them was a company called Petroline FZC, based in the United Arab Emirates. Mr Volcker's inquiry found it traded $144m of Iraqi oil, and made $2m of illegal payments to Saddam Hussein's regime.

Documents from Pakistan's National Accountability Bureau appear to show that Ms Bhutto was Petroline FZC's chairwoman.

If these documents are genuine, and the oil-for-food allegations are proven, this would be especially damaging for the former prime minister.

The Spanish authorities are investigating financial transactions thought to be linked to Petroline FZC. In addition, President Musharraf's amnesty dropping corruption charges against public officials only covers the period 1986-1999.

The Petroline FZC transactions came after that, which means that in theory a charge is possible.

Ms Bhutto has always denied all corruption allegations, and her supporters say the allegations against her are politically motivated.

But her legal difficulties may not be over yet.

Trouble in Swat

The crisis in Swat has gripped the attention of the nation these past few days.

The televised display of hovering helicopter gunships blasting away at militants, thousands of helpless civilians seeking refuge in the plains and crumpled bodies littering the countryside, has managed to numb most of us into a bewildered state of shock and grief.

Your Blogger who has over the years visited Swat three times, remembers it as a place of spectacular beauty painfully marred with human poverty. It is not a small area either - according to the 1998 census Swat had a population of 1,257,602, making it the third most populous district in NWFP. Area wise it is the fourth biggest district in the province.

Since its integration into NWFP in 1969, little has been done to improve the lot of the Swat's inhabitants. Geographic isolation combined with deprivation of progress allowed post-Afghan war fanaticism to make inroads among some of the populace.


To make some sense of the conflict your Blogger now attempts a look at Swat’s recent history.

In the last fifteen years Maulana Sufi Mohammed clearly emerges as a key player in Swat’s present state of chaos.

Sufi Mohammed quit the Jamaat-e-Islami in 1992 to form Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM). In keeping with the stern Wahabi variant of Islam the TNSM sought to impose Sharia rule in Pakistan.

In 1994, under Sufi Mohammed, the TNSM led an armed uprising against the Benazir Bhutto-led PPP government by seizing the civilian airport in Saidu Sharif, Swat and taking over district courts and police station. Some 40 people, including 12 security force personnel, were killed in a week of fighting before the government launched a military operation to quell the rebellion. Following a cease-fire, on November 8, 1994 TNSM released 50 government officials in Matta, and the government agreed to enforce Sharia in Malakand and parts of Swat district.

(Interestingly enough, during this 1994 uprising a religious scholar, enlisted by the government to negotiate with the rebellious Sufi Mohammed, noticed the presence of one particular man during his meetings with the Malakand district commissioner and later with Sufi Mohammed. The DC had visibly deferred to him and the TNSM chief referred to the intruder as one of ‘his own men’. The interloper subsequently turned out to be NWFP’s ISI chief. This led the religious scholar to the understandable conclusion that Sufi Mohammed's campaign for the introduction of Islamic law was not a real one; rather, it was a move fully sponsored by ISI to destabilize Benazir Bhutto.)

In late October 2001 Sufi Mohammed took 10,000 or so armed volunteers of the TNSM to fight the US-organised Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. This motley crowd of jihadis went armed with ‘Kalashnikovs, rocket launchers, missiles, anti-aircraft guns, hand grenades and swords’.

Much to Sufi Mohammed’s embarrassment the Taliban announced that the TNSM volunteers were not welcome in Afghanistan and suggested that they return to their homes, “seemingly out of mistrust for the true motives of Sufi Mohammed, whom they believe to have been in contact with the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan.”

Despite Taliban’s rejection the TNSM volunteers entered Afghanistan to be mowed down by US air strikes, using lethal Daisy Cutter bombs, and then slaughtered by the battle hardened Northern Alliance troops. A few hundred survivors were captured by various Afghan warlords, who subsequently sold them back to their relatives in Pakistan for huge sums of money. Only a handful of lucky ones, including Sufi Mohammed, who deserted the battlefield, were able to flee back to Malakand.

After his ignominious return the Pakistani government detained Sufi Mohammed. He was tried by the Kurram Agency assistant political agent who found the cleric guilty, under the Frontier Crimes Regulations, of ‘entering the country without valid documents’ and for ‘possession of unlicensed arms’. Sufi Mohammed was sentenced to imprisonment for seven years.

The death of thousands of illiterate TMSM volunteers caused a substantial drop in political support for the cleric. His disastrous incursion in Afghanistan had revealed his incompetence and complete lack of combat skills.

And then on January 15, 2002 General Musharraf banned the TNSM as a terrorist organisation.

The TNSM remained inactive for a period of four years until the devastating earthquake of 8 October 8 2005. The followers of Sufi Mohammed soon capitalised on the human catastrophe and used it to revitalize their organisation. Soon volunteers from the TNSM led the vanguard of the relief work in the devastated areas of the NWFP. Not surprisingly, in the absence of timely official help, the locals came to admire these volunteers for their selfless devotion in helping the quake victims.

However, there was a downside to all this. The TNSM began promoting the idea that the earthquake was divinely sent punishment for the misdeeds committed by the locals. Its followers called upon the quake affected families to destroy their televisions, VCD players and audio CD/cassette players to avoid further retribution.

Fazle Hayat, the son-in-law of Sufi Muhammad, took over the TNSM under the nom de guerre of Maulana Fazlullah. He soon began making broadcasts from an illegal FM radio station installed in his mosque at Imam Dheri, in the Mutta Tehsil of Swat district. Delivering two sermons a day, he preached his version of militant Islam.

Now known also as ‘Maulana FM Radio’, he began drawing huge crowds to the weekly Friday prayers held in his Imam Dheri mosque – estimated at 30,000 by some reports. In April 2007, the press reported that some 10,000 people had set their electronic equipment on fire as a result of Fazalullah’s FM broadcasts which had declared television and music to be un-Islamic.

Soon barbers were being directed not to shave beards and shops selling CDs and music cassettes were ordered to close down. Girls' schools and colleges in the area were warned that unless all their students began wearing burqas, they would face a violent reaction. Even the local polio-immunisation program came under attack for being American-Zionist plan to make Muslim children sterile.

Fazlullah soon formed his law and order agency as well, which began taking charge of traffic regulation duties in Malakand and Swat areas. Recently a TNSM group travelling in 15 machinegun-fitted vehicles announced a new structure of judicial dispensation and local administration. Having distributed cell-phone numbers members of this new force asked all public complaints, problems and disputes should now addressed to them. In the meanwhile the local police, in fear of their lives, locked themselves in their thanas.

For all intent and purposes, due to the inactivity of Islamabad, Fazullah had taken control of Swat. As late as last week Newsweek was reporting: Mullah Fazlullah rides a black horse and commands hundreds of men under the noses of a nearby Pakistani Army division that seldom leaves its barracks.

By ignoring the issue for so long Islamabad had allowed the militants to become entrenched in Malakand, Dir and Swat.

Violent action is never the surest way to success. Winning the hearts and minds of the locals should have been given precedence but that has never been Musharraf’s way.

Critics have already begun to question the timing of the action. With the Supreme Court verdict, on Musharraf’s legitimacy as a presidential candidate, due any day now, the Swat upheaval just adds the cherry to the existing state of disarray within the country.

By creating a perfect new storm in the NWFP, are we seeing an extra attempt to justify a martial law that may just be around the corner? Only time and the Supreme Court verdict will provide the answer.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Return (or Not) of Nawaz Sharif

This past week we have seen a ping-pong match of sorts in the press. There have been several reports in the newspapers indicating that Nawaz Sharif will soon be returning to Pakistan.

In return these reports have been vociferously contradicted by no less a person than Musharraf himself.

President General Pervez Musharraf has once again, and in authoritative and categorical terms, said that exiled former prime minister Nawaz Sharif will not be allowed to return to Pakistan before the general elections. His declaration before senior PML-Q leaders in Islamabad flies directly in the face of national and international demands that all political parties and leaders be provided a level playing field.


As Ziauddin Sardar mentioned in the New Statesman yesterday:
Musharraf's plans for the immediate future have two components. First, now that Bhutto has returned, he is determined to hold elections before mid-January. They will be "managed", just as he managed the 2002 elections, by "seat adjustment" - this time to the advantage of her party. He expects Bhutto to deliver her "blind" followers from Sind and Punjab, largely poor peasants at the mercy of feudal landlords. The intelligence agencies and the army will do the rest and ensure the desired results.

An early return by Nawaz Sharif will obviously lead to political turmoil in Punjab and put Musharraf’s plans for an engineered election favouring PML(Q) in serious jeopardy.

After Nawaz Sharif’s forced departure from Islamabad airport, few people expected him be out of Saudi clutches until after the elections. But there appears to be a serious change of heart in Riyadh.

As Newsweek reported two days ago:

It was the Saudis who took in Nawaz Sharif and his family when the Pakistani prime minister was deposed by

According to highly placed Pakistani sources, earlier this month Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah called on Musharraf to allow Sharif back into Pakistan. A source, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, said that the king had written to the Pakistani president urging him to permit Sharif's repatriation because of a ruling by Pakistan's Supreme Court and in deference to "the wishes of the Pakistani people." NEWSWEEK's source said that Musharraf's response was to insist that Sharif stayed in Saudi Arabia but that his wife, Kulsoom, could return sooner.

Asked to comment, Tariq Azim Khan, Pakistan's state minister for information, told NEWSWEEK that Sharif would not be back despite foreign pressure--including from the European Union. "[Sharif] is not a political exile," says Khan, "he signed an agreement and is in Saudi Arabia on that basis." Khan said he had no knowledge of any letter from the Saudi king on Sharif's behalf and a spokesman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington said he was unable to comment. However, Khawaja M. Asif, a close aide of Sharif's, told NEWSWEEK that the Saudi monarch had "committed to Sharif that if Benazir Bhutto were allowed to come back, they would not stop his return." According to Asif, the Saudis want to "wash their hands off this matter and are pressing Musharraf for Sharif's return.

At this stage, there is no clear indication about why the Saudis--lately vilified in Pakistan for agreeing to take Sharif back after his abortive return attempt--have changed their minds. One possibility: their concern about the show of public support for Bhutto--who is more secular than Sharif--on her return. "The Saudis have reacted to the personal advocacy of Sharif demanding a level playing field when he met the king after his deportation," says Parvez Hassan, a lawyer and political analyst who has worked with Sharif.

This Newsweek report was corroborated by Daily Times as well.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is pressing President General Pervez Musharraf to allow former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to return home before the upcoming general elections, Daily Times has learnt.

Highly-placed intelligence sources said that King Abdullah communicated this appeal to Gen Musharraf on October 15.

In your Blogger’s opinion the Saudis are probably perturbed by heavy criticism they have received in Pakistan for their direct interference in Pakistani politics. Generals may come and go, but the last thing Riyadh would wish is to be at the receiving end of loathing from ordinary citizens of Pakistan. It is likely that as the 'Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques' the Saudi King would much rather prefer to be loved than reviled by the Muslims of Pakistan.

Let’s see who wins this current battle of wits.

One may make out the regime's desperation from the following item in today's Dawn

LAHORE, Oct 26: Former prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif has refused to meet President Pervez Musharraf in Jeddah, a party leader said in a statement here on Friday.

Dr Saeed Elahi, who met the exiled leader at his residence in the port city, said on his return here that a leader of a brotherly country had told Mr Sharif that Gen Musharraf wanted to see him and offer concessions in the light of the National Reconciliation Ordinance. The PML-N leader was also told that he could also be allowed to return home like some other leaders.

According to the statement, Mr Sharif made it clear that he would neither meet the general nor accept any concessions.

The exiled leader, according to the statement, said the best formula for the national reconciliation was that he should be allowed to return home without any obstacles. Also, he said, free and fair elections should be held with a free hand to all parties to contest.

With Nawaz Sharif telling him to get lost, it's not surprising that Musharraf's denials are getting louder and louder.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Reconciliation and All-Out War

The so-called National Reconciliation appears to be all but dead. The PPP and PML(Q) are now involved in a no-holds-barred nationwide slanging match.

Just take the vivid example provided last night on Aaj TV’s ‘Live with Talat’. Viewers witnessed the representatives of these two parties engaged in a furious shouting match accusing each other’s leaders of gross corruption (while an amused Iqbal Jhagra of PML(N) looked on). Things got so bad on air that the host, a troubled looking Talat Hussain, had to put an early end to the show.

Benazir Bhutto has accused the remnants of Zia ul Haq - in other words the dinosaurs of PML(Q) – of attempting to kill her. In return the Chaudhries & Co have announced that the bomb ‘drama’ was engineered by the PPP leader herself.

While the political atmosphere heats up, it appears that Musharraf may have finally embarked on an all-out war in the tribal areas. If he fails the risks for the country will be enormous.

Instead of labouring pointlessly on the keyboard, it is easier for your Blogger to provide his readers with an accurate picture of the current situation provided by the seasoned Ziauddin Sardar in the latest edition of UK’s New Statesman magazine.

Ziauddin Sardar

Published 25 October 2007

Musharraf's attempts to control his country are just paper over cracks. The very unity of Pakistan is under threat, writes Ziauddin Sardar. Plus Rageh Omaar reports on the wild borderlands of Waziristan where allegiances are to the ultra-conservative, rigid tribal system and not to Kabul
Pakistan is about to descend even deeper into violence and chaos, as the front-line state in the war on terror prepares for an all-out offensive on the jihadi militants entrenched in Waziristan, the country's lawless northern province. In what amounts to total war on the Taliban and al-Qaeda, President Musharraf is planning to bring the whole region under military control. This is a high-risk strategy, as the consequences of failure could be devastating for Pakistan. They could even lead to the break-up of the country.

Behind the headlines, the state's contradictions and tensions are being tested to the limit. The arrival of Benazir Bhutto, supposed to help marshal the forces of moderation and reform, has increased political instability. Supporters of the other former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who plans a second attempt to return from exile to Pakistan in the first week of November, are preparing a mass campaign against Musharraf that could lead to political gridlock. And the president himself has given a general amnesty to corrupt politicians - an act seen as handing a tabula rasa to plunderers and murderers.

Bhutto returned to Pakistan on the basis of a "power-sharing deal" brokered by Washington and vaunted in the international media as a positive move towards democracy. But it is little more than a conjunction of self-interests. Musharraf describes the proposed arrangement as a "troika", involving the president, the prime minister and the army chief of staff. The powers of the president, including being able to sack the prime minister at will, are to remain untouched for the next five-year term. Any premier would thus have little real power and would be forced to do the bidding of the other two members of the troika. A pliant prime minister with selected political parties on board means Musharraf remains in charge. The status quo is preserved.

In return for joining the arrangement, Bhutto's two main demands are met: her Swiss bank accounts have been unfrozen and she gets to keep her skyscraper in Dubai and properties in England and the US; and the rule against her serving a third term as prime minister is waived.

Musharraf's plans for the immediate future have two components. First, now that Bhutto has returned, he is determined to hold elections before mid-January. They will be "managed", just as he managed the 2002 elections, by "seat adjustment" - this time to the advantage of her party. He expects Bhutto to deliver her "blind" followers from Sind and Punjab, largely poor peasants at the mercy of feudal landlords. The intelligence agencies and the army will do the rest and ensure the desired results.

However, after the bloodbath in Karachi at Bhutto's return on 19 October, it is difficult to see how in the current atmosphere elections can be held. "Political rallies will be open to both militant attacks and sabotage by rogue intelligence elements," says Rashed Rahman, managing editor of the Post, the Lahore daily. "With intelligence apparatus as prime candidate for the attack, all previous assumptions of Bhutto riding back to power are scuppered."

Fear of suicide bombings will be a potent inhibition to voters from venturing into the polling booths. And given that large parts of the northern provinces are virtually no-go areas, it will be next to impossible to hold elections in that region. "A limited voter turnout at around 20 per cent will hardly constitute a credible election," says Rahman - no matter how the elections are "managed".

Second, a fully fledged assault on Waziristan is due within days. "This has now become inevitable," a high-ranking military officer told the NS. "We are taking daily casualties. If we don't take the militants on with our full might, the morale of the army will sink even further." Unlike previous operations, which targeted specific militant bases or tried to block guerrilla movement between Pakistan and Afghan is tan, "the aim now is to pacify the entire province".

Forces would be deployed in all major cities, such as Mir Ali, Angor Ada and Magaroti, with the aim of establishing permanent army bases manned by thousands of military and paramilitary troops. The entire region will come under Pakistani military control, administered under the direct command of the newly appointed vice-chief of the army staff, General Ashfaq Pervez Kiani. (When and if Musharraf removes his uniform, General Kiani will take over as chief of the army staff.) "We estimate the all-out assault will destroy the centralised command structure of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, making their operations sporadic and largely ineffective," says the military officer.

Language of liberation
However, given the Pakistani army's poor record in Waziristan, this seems rather optimistic. The militants will almost certainly stand and fight to the bloody end. Pakistan has already lost more than a thousand soldiers; 300 more are being held hostage. The Pashtun fighters, including the Pakistani Taliban, know the region well. They are used to guerrilla warfare and see death in battle as a great honour and a direct route to paradise. Most of the local population supports them. The chances of the Pakistani army "pacifying" the region are therefore slim.

At issue is more than terrorism. The fiercely proud and independent Pashtun people see the American and British forces in neighbouring Afghanistan as invaders. Pakistani troops marching into Waziristan will also be seen as a foreign invasion. A civil war will turn into a war of "national liberation". Many tribal leaders are already speaking the language of liberating themselves from the "Pakistani administration". The end result could be a new wave of suicide attacks and acts of sabotage throughout Pakistan.

Musharraf began putting his strategy in place two weeks ago. He secured the passage of the national reconciliation ordinance (NRO), as it is called, on 5 October. This dropped all corruption charges against politicians from "all parties". "We decided to wind up those cases that were pending for the past 15 years," Musharraf said, claiming that it would bring to an end the politics of vendetta and victimisation in the country. The NRO cleared the way for Bhutto's return and wiped out the last remaining charges against her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, who was released on bail in 2004 after spending eight years in prison. The next day, Musharraf had himself re-elected as president for another term by the current hand-selected parliament.

But the amnesty granted in the NRO does not include Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Muslim League, Pakistan's second-largest party. A conservative, staunchly anti-American politician, Sharif believes democracy and military dictators do not go together. He commands huge support among both the middle classes and religious groups and is more likely to win a fair election than Bhutto. Sharif, deposed in a bloodless coup in 1999, is determined to engineer Musharraf's downfall. On his first attempt to return to Pakistan on 10 September, he was arrested at Karachi Airport and given two choices: prison, or return to exile in Saudi Arabia. The cases against Sharif are still pending before the Supreme Court. Yet, despite Musharraf's efforts, the courts have refused to issue new arrest warrants against him. If Sharif succeeds in returning, the Bhutto/Mush arraf deal will be in serious trouble.

"The chances of that alliance holding are also slim," says Rahman. To begin with, the two despise each other. The Pakistan People's Party is not so much a party as a feudal institution that Bhutto runs as her fiefdom. But even she may find it difficult to suppress dissent in the senior ranks. Many PPP stalwarts believe that the power-sharing pact with Musharraf is damaging the party's reputation and electoral chances. A number of Bhutto family members have openly stated their criticisms. The poet and newspaper columnist Fatima Bhutto, Benazir's niece, holds her aunt responsible for the deaths in Karachi because of her insistence on "political theatre".

Her ratings in opinion polls conducted after the NRO have fallen sharply. Some senior PPP members hoped she would give a new lease of life to the party by behaving like a senior states woman and allowing younger politicians to lead. But not many are willing to defend an indefensible deal. There is thus a real chance that the PPP may split, as it did at the previous elections. And if Bhutto fails to deliver at these elections, even after seat manipulations, Musharraf will drop her as easily as he has abandoned other parties.

So far, Musharraf has had it all his way. His only remaining obstacle is a case currently at the Supreme Court over whether he can continue as president in uniform. It is not much of an obstacle, however, as everything is now in place for him to retain his power even if he has to dispense with his military position.

The power-sharing arrangement was conceived as a ploy to paper over the gaping cracks in the country. After Karachi, it looks more like another contributory factor in a more turbulent and dangerous era for Pakistan. The intelligence services, elements of which may be responsible for the attack on Bhutto's motorcade, are out of control. Suicide bombings have become an integral part of the militants' strategy in Waziristan, both to undermine the political process and to demoralise the army. Whether one player, or even power-sharing players, ultimately subservient to Washington can retain control of this explosive situation is a moot point

Monday, October 22, 2007

PML(Q): Crowds are Dangerous

Following last Friday’s deadly bomb attack the regime has announced plans to ban public rallies.

Some commentators are already alleging that that ban is in large part due to PML(Q)’s chronic inability to draw crowds out in its support. With elections supposedly around the corner this deficit, they maintain, would have become even more glaringly obvious.

On the other hand the 1973 Constitution guarantees the right of free assembly. So are we going to see yet another case proceeding to the Supreme Court?

(The above cartoon was published today in Dawn )

Saturday, October 20, 2007

PPP Derailed by the Bomb

One point that seems to have been overlooked by most commentators on Karachi’s horrific carnage is the size of the blast was unprecedented for Pakistan. Yes, suicide bombers are now unfortunately no longer a new-fangled phenomenon in our country, but one who comes packed with enough explosives to kill 140 people and injure over 400 people suggests Baghdad and not Karachi.

I accept that the crowded conditions of Benazir Bhutto’s rally meant larger casualties but nevertheless the number of dead and injured points to an abnormal increase in explosive power and sophistication.

Talking to some senior journalists I came across an uncharacteristic consensus of ideas. According to them, whenever an extreme and unexpected event, such as this, takes place, the logical question to ask is: Who benefits?


Pakistani electoral politics has always been a game of numbers. Outside our ‘chattering’ drawing rooms, massive crowds have always mattered, as the game is all about perception. The party that draws the most crowds is commonly perceived to be the winner and gets the lion’s share of the votes. The general voting public obviously likes backing winners.

So should the number of people gathered for Benazir Bhutto on Drigh Road (and all the way to the Quaid’s Mazar) have come as a surprise to anyone?

Not really.

Those who had been monitoring the scene – which include even amateurs such as your Blogger – knew at least a week in advance that buses had been organised from just about every city, town and village in Sindh. Hundreds of more busloads were expected from southern Punjab and more than simply a few from distant NWFP as well.

Fact tell us - even after taking into account the police arrests and other barefaced attempts by the regime of political suppression - that the PML (Nawaz)only managed to muster some 5,000 people in Islamabad on the day of Nawaz Sharif’s arrival. As a result of this political fiasco the PML(N) leadership have had their political wind knocked out of them. The 'crowd failure' has also sent them to a period of media oblivion.

One should also recall that on 12 May even when the regime went into overdrive to produce ‘a sea of people’ for Musharraf’s rally at Islamabad, it could only assemble 35,000 that had been bussed from the much more populous province of Punjab. Even the MQM rally held that same afternoon in Karachi numbered, according to BBC World Service, no more than 25,000 to 30,000 people.

Even days before Benazir Bhutto’s arrival your Blogger expected at least some 200,000 people to turn up for the event. By that evening an impartial journalist suggested to your Blogger that if one roughly counted the buses and people, ranging from the airport terminal to the Mazar, the number was probably higher, perhaps somewhere in the region of 300,000 to 400,000.

Whether one loathes, detests, loves or simply tolerates the PPP leader, by 9 pm on the night of 18th October, the display of people power on the streets of Karachi confirmed that Benazir Bhutto had managed to completely disrupt the existing political equation.

But that was three hours before the scene of street carnage and destruction.

In the aftermath of the devestating bomb it is now almost certain that the electoral process has effectively been derailed.

Pakistani elections are all about rallies and meetings. The bigger and better the rally meant that rivals had to match them or else prepare themselves for electoral oblivion.

Now the chances of mammoth political rallies seem quite remote. Commonsense dictates that many people will now become averse to risking their lives just to see their political leaders in action. Why should anyone – excepting die-hard PPP jiyalas – attend a future Benazir rally knowing full well that there was more than a good chance of another bomb exploding?

So the answer to the question raised by the journalists about ‘who benefits?’ is not all that difficult to find. With the PML(N) playing defensively on a ‘Jeddah’ back foot and the agency-led Fazal Rehman causing implosions in the MMA, the derailment of PPP election campaign by the bomb is certainly fortuitous for Islamabad. But that doesn’t logically mean that the regime itself orchestrated the bombing. It is inconceivable to accept that any government would deliberately instigate the deaths of hundreds to prolong its stay in power.

However, if Benazir Bhutto’s accusations prove to be accurate then it means that there may be some people who have benefited – financially, ideologically or both - from the existing state of affairs and remain dead set against any political change. Obviously, if these people did exist, then they would have to have the wherewithal to recruit and assist jehadi ‘nutters’ to do the needful. If such turns out to be the case, then the finger could be pointed in only one direction.

Of course it always possible that it was the Jihadis themselves who were responsible. Nevertheless, there will always be those who will have to convinced that a Mahsud from remote tribal Waziristan would possess the sophistication and skill – with or without the help of Al Qaeda – to travel undiscovered to Karachi and merge with the throngs of PPP supporters and carry out such a deadly mission on his own (or just with the help of a few of his tribal colleagues).

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Here is Hoping!

Most of your Blogger’s readers should by now be aware of his disapproval of Benazir Bhutto. But that should not detract from his major bugbear – the ruthless military dictatorship in Pakistan. After all, Onlooker is, if nothing else, a democrat by creed and by conviction.

A country belongs to its entire people and not just to its self-aggrandizing elites – military officers, bureaucrats, feudal landowners, and business magnates and senior executives – who consist of less than 1% of Pakistan’s population.

Simply put it is time that the battered and bruised people of Pakistan had their say.

So if Benazir Bhutto’s arrival in Pakistan helps destabilise Musharraf and his corrupt, power-obsessed cronies I am all for it.

So along with many others I am counting the crowds. The more the better!



At 12:09 am there were two horrific bomb explosions as Benazir Bhutto's vehicle passed the Karsaz area of Drigh Road. While Bhutto was rushed off to the safety of Bilawal House, it is reported that there are some sixty dead and over a hundred injured.

Senior PPP party members were quick to blame the regime's secret agencies for carrying out these blasts. A successful return for Benazir Bhutto does threaten the Musharraf regime, so these accusations do have a logical basis, particularly when these agencies are known for carrying out such incidents.

However, it could also have been carried out by South Waziristan's Baitullah Mehsud's men or some other extremists.

With elections not far in the future, preventing Benazir Bhutto from addressing large gatherings and other public activities, also makes a lot of sense if one happens to be a die-hard regime supporter.

The next few days will reveal if she now takes shelter within Bilawal House – as her opponents would wish – or continues with her self-proclaimed mission of "bringing about democracy in Pakistan".

Readers I must confess the death and injury of so many innocents makes me sick to my stomach. All I can do is simply curse the callous bastards who carried it out.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Unusual Praise for Musharraf

These days it is rare to find anyone – with the exception of PTV and Ardeshir Cowasjee – praising Musharraf. However, there appears to be a new exception.

Jack Rosen, the Chairman of the American Jewish Congress-Council for World Jewry, had this to say in an Op-Ed titled In praise of Pakistani Pervez Musharraf published in yesterday's Jerusalem Post

As one who has developed a fairly close relationship with him over the past few years in my capacity as chairman of the Council for World Jewry of the American Jewish Congress, including hosting Musharraf's meeting with American Jews in New York in 2005 and visiting him in Islamabad several times, I have been dismayed by what I think is a lack of understanding of the very real dangers that would face Pakistan and the world if he were to be removed.

Intriguingly Jack Rosen not only refers to his 'fairly close relationship' with Musharraf but also mentions the fact of having visited him in Islamabad on several occasions.

Strangely these meetings were never shown to us on PTV…

The above picture has been borrowed from Saira Wasim’s collection of politically-charged miniatures which can be viewed on her website.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Country in Waiting

Everyone has a personal favourite.

In your Blogger's case, when it comes to TV journalists, it has always been that spry and often steely-gazed Canadian on BBC World - Lyse Doucet.

Doucet has toughed it out in several action-packed postings, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Israel and more recently Iraq. At times when bullets were flying and bombs were exploding she always appeared completely calm and reported the facts to us in a clear no-nonsense fashion. In all the years of watching her on TV your Blogger has never seen her display even a trace of bias.

As Pakistan awaits the arrival of Benazir Bhutto and two Supreme Court judgements, Doucet had this to say in today’s Toronto Star:

Oct 16, 2007, Lyse Doucet

KARACHI - "What's your definition of democracy?" A Pakistani journalist thrust his microphone through a noisy scrum of hacks besieging the information minister outside Parliament, minutes after General Pervez Musharraf was declared the winner in presidential elections in the national and state assemblies.

The minister, Ali Durrani, launched into an elegant treatise on the vote of the majority and the will of the people.

"Does it include the manipulation of democracy?" the journalist demanded again.

Such is the mood in Pakistan today as it struggles to move from military rule to a credible legitimate democracy. The press, with an explosion of local television channels, is vibrant and critical notwithstanding telephone calls that still come from the government's military and civilian offices.

Human rights activists continue to display the bravery and commitment they have deployed for decades on the streets – from the repressive military rule of General Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s to Musharraf's "enlightened moderation" that began with his widely welcomed military coup in 1999 to his controversial attempt to hold onto power.

And lawyers, recently emboldened by a more robust Supreme Court, have spearheaded legal and political battles to declare loudly and clearly a man in uniform cannot run for office.

Against all these remarkable strengths of civil society is the juggernaut of Musharraf's machine. "The electorate has spoken," emphasized the finely suited Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, "and that's democracy."

But will the general really keep his promise this time to remove his military uniform? "Absolutely," declared Aziz, his right-hand man.

Never mind that Musharraf got his mandate from assemblies packed with his supporters, whose terms are about to end. Never mind that the Supreme Court still has to rule on petitions challenging the general's decision to stand while still Army Chief. His supporters are blazing ahead with preparations for his next term in office.

Lawyers, who galvanized protests for months, could only take their campaign so far. They whipped up opposition to the president after he blundered in trying to dismiss the chief justice earlier this year. But a divided opposition proved unable to capitalize on this ferment in the streets.

The main opposition party, the Pakistan People's Party, has been focusing its energies on a deal to get all corruption charges dropped against their exiled former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and many others. Aziz called it an understanding to put aside the politics of victimization to make way for "national reconciliation."

Most of the country's commentators call it a cynical and sordid deal to allow Bhutto to come home to ease the political heat on Musharraf. It could still be overturned by the Supreme Court.

So for the next week or so, Pakistan is a country in waiting.

Waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on the deal between Bhutto and the general, and on the legality of the presidential election. Waiting for Bhutto to fly home on the morning of Oct. 18, even though Musharraf is now asking her to delay her return. She wants to fight in elections set for January, which she hopes will pave the way for her to become prime minister — if the general helps overturn a constitutional bar on more than two terms.

Backed by quiet support from Washington and London, Bhutto helps bolster Musharraf and sidelines the other ex-prime minister in exile, Nawaz Sharif, who recently tried to come home and was turned back.

Bhutto, whose previous terms in office are tainted by the corruption charges, admits she won't get the huge crowds, the millions who turned out to greet her when she ended her first exile in 1986. A general's fate also played into her hands then when a still mysterious plane crash killed the president, General Zia ul- Haq, and ended nearly a decade of martial law.

At a press conference after her resounding election victory in 1988, she was besieged by questions about how she would deal with a military that has always distrusted her and her Pakistan People's Party. When she confirmed she would meet the generals, I asked her then who had requested the meeting, "You or the generals?" In other words, who is really in charge?

Nearly 20 years later that is still the answer to the definition of democracy in Pakistan. Bhutto didn't answer my question then. She may not want to answer it now.


No one that I have met (and I've come across a fair few people in the past couple of weeks) expects the Supreme Court to spring a surprise on the legality of Musharraf's so-called 'election'. The full judgement, once it comes out, will make for an interesting read (as we will then be informed about the legal justifications for the court's decision).

As far as the National Reconciliation Ordinance is concerned the Attorney General has himself informed the press that he found it near impossible to defend this new piece of law in the courtroom.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Supreme Court: Things Back to Normal?

On the front page of today’s Dawn Zaffar Abbas expressed amazement at the Chief Justice’s selection of the nine-judge panel to hear the two constitutional petitions that were filed against General Musharraf’s candidature by Wajihuddin Ahmend and Amin Fahim.

Hmm … If one considers the fact that the CJ also chose the nine-judge bench that delivered last Friday’s unusual judgement, the makeup of this new bench should not really cause surprise to anyone.


For those interested, here is the composition of this new bench:

Justice Javed Iqbal
Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar
Justice Sardar Raza Khan
Justice Mohammad Nawaz Abbasi
Justice Faqir Mohammad Khokhar
Justice Nasirul Mulk
Justice Raja Fayyaz,
Justice Syed Jamshed Ali
Justice Ghulam Rabbani.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

A Pathetic Victory

Benazir Bhutto has been constantly belabouring us that her demands from Musharraf have been based purely on democratic principles, in that she has been negotiating for free and fair elections and the end of military involvement in politics.

All along most us have suspected that her most important ‘deal’ stipulatation was in fact related to the ending of the corruption cases against her and her family, followed by the cancellation of the two-term restriction on the re-election of past prime ministers.

Last Sunday a visibly desperate Benazir Bhutto told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer “I am under pressure and worried that the time is running out”. She admitted that she was facing pressure from both within her party and supporters to discontinue the talks and reach out to other political forces for a joint struggle for the restoration of democracy.

A day earlier she had appeased Musharraf by nominating Amin Fahim for the presidential election. Why so? Because now the PPP has an excuse for not resigning from the assemblies (on the pretext that they are committed to voting for their candidate), thereby providing a modicum of respectability to Musharraf's efforts to get 're-elected'from lame duck assemblies.

Fortunately for her Musharraf is also a desperate man these days. He is frantic in wanting his 6th October ‘re-election’ to become a fait accompli as soon as practicably possible.

As so as Bruce Loudon of The Australian informs us:

General Musharraf sent two of his top aides - including his newly appointed head of Inter Services Intelligence - to London for talks with former prime minister Benazir Bhutto to convince her to stop MPs from her Pakistan People's Party joining the walk-out from national and provincial parliaments.

The spymaster, General Nadeem Taj, accompanied by national security adviser General Tariq Aziz, were reportedly preparing to offer Ms Bhutto a power-sharing deal that would ensure her an unfettered return to Pakistan this month and immediate access to bank accounts frozen over corruption charges.

Ms Bhutto would be asked to "quietly help" ensure General Musharraf's re-election on Saturday by not joining other opposition parties to cripple the credibility of the presidential ballot due to take place in an electoral college that consists of members of the national and four provincial assemblies.

And so after all her bombast of winning 80% of her deal, in the end all she appears to have pathetically ended up with is a law (‘National Reconciliation Ordinance’ or a similar sounding artifice) which will be promulgated probably tomorrow, allowing her refuge from the multitude of corruption cases stacked against her.

While this move will put a possible end to her sleepless nights over the Swiss Case, little else was achieved from the much hyped deal of the century.

The appointment of Lt. Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani as the designated Army Chief comes as no surprise. Such a move was expected the moment Musharraf felt reassured that there were no further obstacles in achieving his goal.

Whether there will a further obstacle depends on the Supreme Court decision on Justice Wajihuddin Ahmed’s petition challenging the legality of Musharraf’s nomination as a government employee who has not been out of office for the constitutionally stipulated two-year term.

Perhaps Musharraf knows more than we do.

Meanwhile Strafor maintains that Musharraf had little choice but to select Lt. Gen Kiyani as his successor:

"It is unprecedented for an ISI leader to go on to become military chief, so Kayani's appointment demonstrates that Musharraf, even before he steps down as head of the military, has been forced to take into account the views of his senior generals.

The rise of Kayani and Majid is in keeping with Stratfor's June report that these generals would get the top two four-star positions, though we expected Majid to become the military's second-in-command and Kayani to head the joint chiefs. Our view was based on the fact that Kayani and Musharraf are known to disagree. In the last four months, however, Musharraf's grip on power has significantly weakened, which has allowed the top generals to more aggressively assert their positions with regard to the military's future -- a process that brought Kayani to the fore.

When Kayani does become military chief, his tenure as ISI head will put him in a better position to streamline the country's intelligence agencies and seal the leaks that jihadists are exploiting within the security network. Kayani already had used his positions as ISI head and Pakistan's top three-star general to become a player in the affairs of governance. For example, he has been directly involved in the president's negotiations with self-exiled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, leader of the country's largest opposition group, the Pakistan People's Party.

Another related development is the Sept. 21 appointment of Lt. Gen. Nadeem Taj as head of the ISI. Taj is considered a close ally of Musharraf, and his appointment could allow Musharraf to maintain a certain balance within the army, which will be crucial for him as he tries to settle into his position as civilian president.

The emerging system, in which a civilian Musharraf is forced to share power with an army chief and a prime minister, will ultimately depend on the president's ability to contain political unrest and the triangular balance. Musharraf's failure on either count will allow Kayani to step in and make the tough decisions.

Ultimately, the military institution, not its chief, is paramount. Therefore, the military will dominate the political system -- but with an increasingly assertive judiciary, civil society and media limiting its room to maneuver. But as long as political forces -- and hence, parliament -- remain weak, the military will have a significant say in the affairs of the state."

If one goes by this account then it would appear that Musharraf's key appointment would be in promoting and naming the loyalist (and his wife's nephew) Lt. Gen. Nadeem Taj as the head of ISI.

Your Blogger is off on a work assignment and will consequently not be logging on for the next few days.

Monday, October 01, 2007

An Imminent Crackdown?

With the much publicised self-seeking manoeuvrings of politicians, like Benazir Bhutto and Mullah Fazalur Rehman, their threat factor to Musharraf is considerably less than those offered to him by the media and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the lawyer community.

The media in the shape of TV news channels has on a daily basis continuously exposed the regime’s unlawful sins and omissions, as it plots and schemes to ensure Musharraf’s ‘re-election’ on 6 October.

It is these wide daily disclosures that have unswervingly led to the increasing unpopularity of the regime. Currently with the Supreme Court being percieved as 'behaving' itself, free dissemination of information is now being regarded in Islamabad as the biggest menace of all. It is widely believed that the violent thrashing of journalists outside the Islamabad office of the Electoral Commission was a deliberate message to the Fourth Estate that all levels of tolerance have ceased.

Rumours are now rife of an imminent crackdown on press freedom by use of a PEMRA legislation or ordinance that includes a law which will render the office of the president to be ‘above and beyond public comment’.

In this age of satellite TV, the internet and mobile phones censorship is extremely difficult to enforce. Nevertheless one should be prepared for a period of draconian measures as the dictatorship heads towards its well-earned twilight.