Jun 122008

Shuja Nawaz’s Crossed Swords is one of the most authentic accounts of the Pakistan Army ever written. Not only factually credible, it is a brilliant composition of historical facts. Asif Nawaz was always very proud of Shuja, AND this compilation is a tremendous tribute to that faith and confidence. In contrast to some motivated efforts, he has not woven facts with fiction, AND one commends his objectivity. Crossed Swords is a must read, particularly in view of the present situation.

In reducing the Army’s presence from the political milieu of the country, the present bearer of the “crossed swords” logo, Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, has been only partially successful. He is not the first COAS in the recent past to opt for professionalism over adventurism. In the 1990s Gens Asif Nawaz, Waheed and Jahangir Karamat tried the same. My bet is that he will be hard put to it to keep the uniform away, quite literally, from the streets of Pakistan, or from the corridors of power. With the situation unravelling as it is, he may be forced into the Gen Waheed-route, i.e., prop up democracy while keeping the Army physically out of power. A lot depends upon how the players in the present political game play their cards, the four major players being Asif Ali Zardari, Mian Nawaz Sharif, Pervez Musharraf and the Iftikhar Chaudhry-Aitzaz Ahsan combo.

Asif Ali Zardari’s major plus points are political accommodation with yesterday’s political foes in a genuine effort for national reconciliation, ability for governance by remote control and proven commitment to his given word. Minus points include putting those having an undeniable reputation for corruption into key governance slots while ignoring hardcore PPP politicos and hot and cold ambivalence about President Musharraf. Will he renege on the quid pro quo to the NRO deal?

After the tragic assassination of Ms Benazir Bhutto, Mian Nawaz Sharif is easily the most popular public leader in Pakistan today, particularly in the one province that matters, Punjab. Brother Shahbaz Sharif is a major plus, admittedly the finest administrator the country has produced since Nawab of Kalabagh, he has already brought a semblance of order into the province. Mian Sahib’s minuses include a penchant for confrontation and a fixation for vengeance. If he can control his urges, he can be the leader and statesman this country badly needs.

Pervez Musharraf’s pluses include keeping the international wolf from baying at our doorstep after 9/11 for several crucial years by agreeing quickly to becoming an ally in the “war against terrorism,” and the turning around of the economy after 9/11, Pakistan being a net economic beneficiary. His minuses include the rigging of the 2002 elections when there was no need to, at that time he was widely popular. Thereafter, it was mostly downhill, with occasional pluses. 2007 was forgettable for major blunders made, 2008 promises to be worse. His penchant for hands-on control reinforces a client-patron relationship syndrome, that of distributing largesse in the form of cushy public sector jobs among favourites (now mostly abandoning him and running for cover). This works against the concept of what he should be, a constitutional head of state.

The deposed chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, is at the same time both symbolic and real, symbolic because he represents civil society’s vocal assertion of the rule of law, and real because he has shown an unbending will to combat the odds. Senator Aitzaz Ahsan has long shown great promise without redemption, surprised friend and foe by sustaining a relentless and outstanding campaign. Iftikhar Chaudhry should not have been deposed (both times) or maltreated the way he was (both times). While eulogising his courage and fortitude, his recent speeches have raised a question mark on his neutrality once he becomes the CJ again. Aitzaz Ahsan’s “Long March” promises to be quite a potent weapon of influence, what happens if it does not restore the judiciary or dislodge President Musharraf? The “Long March” is a great gamble, with civil society at large joining in, it may well come off. If it doesn’t, it puts the whole movement into jeopardy by the perception that if it did not succeed, it was a failure. If the crowd becomes a mob, it will become a failure. The onus lies on Aitzaz’s head!

Using the time-tested formula of having the president personally face up to the media, Musharraf’s media handlers have assiduously followed a policy of appeasement of diehard critics on the one hand and molly-coddling sycophants on the other, choosing to generally ignore the not-so-silent majority in the middle. In the long run, this has proven to be a lousy strategy. In keeping with the saying in PMA’s Ingall’s Hall, “it is not what happens to you that matters but how you behave while it is happening,” Musharraf came across as quite relaxed and confident during his last meeting with a carefully selected media crew. However choosing only a selected few provided his detractors reason and space to go to town. Everybody’s having a fine time having a go at Pervez Musharraf when he is seemingly down and out, it is quite unfair that this includes even those who have benefited tremendously from his largesse. With the stars increasingly crossed for Pervez Musharraf, he is reduced to crossing swords with an ever increasing number of his opponents. Within the next 30 days or so he will be forced to take the right decision for himself, for the Army he loves, and for the country. As a friend, I would like him to stay with dignity, and when he so decides, to leave with dignity.

It is an irony that other events have overtaken Pervez Musharraf’s immediate fate, everyone is looking at the advent of the “Long Marchers” into Islamabad with increasing apprehension. There is no ambiguity about the aim, which clearly is to force Parliament to accede to their demands. By themselves the lawyers could have conceivably maintained order. With such a heterogonous crowd there is always room for mischief by third parties whose objective will be to take advantage of the situation to foment anarchy. This is the ultimate tragedy, the tremendous struggle of the lawyers being hijacked for selfish political ends, or being sidetracked by vested third forces. With the Punjab government now a party, this has further complicated into an open invitation for constitutional disaster. Essentially this pits a provincial government in a bid to topple the federal government at the very worst, at the least to force them to bow before their demands. If for any reason the demonstrators become a mob and the mob storms Parliament then the federation is in real trouble. Can any federal government in the world accept such a situation? What if the federal government calls on the forces under the federal structure to keep the demonstrators out? One stray shot could accidentally start a civil war! There is an old saying, “Those who sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind.”

Sooner than later and despite their genuine reluctance, the “crossed swords” may find themselves back into the fray. Is a “Bangladesh model” the solution for Pakistan?

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: isehgal@pathfinder9.com
Source: the News, 12/6/2008

 Posted by at 8:11 am

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