Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Informed Comment: Global Affairs: Banned in Pakistan: Comedian of the Year, by Ahmad Faruqui (Updated 22 December 2007)

Informed Comment: Global Affairs: Banned in Pakistan: Comedian of the Year, by Ahmad Faruqui (Updated 22 December 2007)
Friday, December 21, 2007
Banned in Pakistan: Comedian of the Year, by Ahmad Faruqui (Updated 22 December 2007)

The Pakistani journalist Ahmad Faruqui (left) circulated the column below to a group of friends after his newspaper, The Daily Times, refused to publish it.

In his cover note, Faruqui wrote:

I have been writing for Daily Times since it began publication in April 2002. Attached is the first column of mine which they have rejected because it is too personal.

I expected that the column would be a personal reflection by Faruqui on some taboo social subject.... But it turns out that the "person" in question is none other than "President" Pervez Musharraf.

Faruqui wrote me:

What surprised me was that it was not my first column which was critical of Musharraf. What troubles me is that Daily Times is one of the most liberal papers in Pakistan. I find this very odd.

What's so odd? Musharraf wants responsible commentators, like Mulla Nasruddin:

"I shall have you hanged," said a cruel and ignorant king to Nasruddin, "if you do not prove such deep perceptions such as have been attributed to you." Nasruddin at once said that he could see a golden bird in the sky and demons within the earth. "But how can you do this?" the King asked. "Fear," said the Mulla, "is all you need."

Update: Subsequent to this note being posted, Ahmad Faruqui followed up with more information:

I have found out that the punishment for being "too personal" is two years in jail and a fine of $1,700. And this is after the emergency has been removed and the uniform "doffed."

Comedian of the year
Ahmad Faruqui

TIME magazine has declared Vladimir Putin as Man of the Year. We don’t know whether our own Pervez Musharraf was in the running. He did not make it to the short list. It is quite likely that they put him on another list and he ended up being declared “Comedian of the Year.”

On the global stage, Musharraf is the undisputed king of dark comedy. But mind you, this is very different from the slapstick humor you might see on the Monty Python show.

Musharraf’s comedic device is the utterance of non sequiturs with a stern demeanor. And it is this austere visage –almost bordering on anger –that imbues his acts with an inimitable touch.

Who else would say the following? “Against my will, as a last resort, I had to impose the emergency in order to save Pakistan.” You see, he is a man of many wills. The president in him did not want to impose it while the Chief of Army Staff in him did. Hah!

And what does it mean when he says, “As a last resort?” This is an admission, albeit a very indirect one, that without the emergency, he would no longer have remained president. Just the thought of Pakistan without him as president is enough to bring a smile to most people’s face.

The script continues, “The conspiracy was hatched to destabilize the country.” But the conspirators were never named. Dame Agatha Christie would not have approved of such an incomplete story but it is funny in an old fashioned way.

He goes on to say, “I cannot tell how much pain the nation and I suffered.” Alice would have said, “Goodness gracious, general, you had complete freedom of movement, you could go visit relatives, stop by your office if you were in the mood for working and, come to think of it, you could even go shopping. So what caused you to suffer?”

Maybe he felt the police would pick up him up because he was openly expressing his opinions on TV, which was contrary to his own diktats.

But wait. Maybe the suffering was moral. As he went to bed every night, he lay awake thinking of the people that he had put in jail that were lying awake in rotten surroundings. To relieve his suffering, all he had to do was release them.

But did he? Of course not! He had declared an emergency precisely to make them suffer. How dare they rise against him on the streets, agitate against military rule and file petitions in the Supreme Court. He was going to fix them once and for all.

The emergency was not entirely unexpected. For a while, he had been dropping hints that he might impose an emergency if (a) the senior judges of the country joined in a “conspiracy” to end his eight-year rule and (b) if street riots caused political chaos that would hobble the fight against Islamic extremism.

Musharraf went on to say that the Supreme Court, which had been poised to rule on the legality of his October re-election, was acting beyond the constitution. Now that calls for a good round of applause.

The person who suspended the constitution was acting constitutionally and staying within its boundaries but the apex court that was seeking to prevent the abuse of power by that individual were acting beyond the constitution. Says who? Perhaps the Mad Hatter at his tea party.

He concluded his 20-minute address triumphantly by saying that “Now [that] the conspiracy has been foiled … [i]t is my commitment to the entire nation and the world that the election on January 8 will be on time and will be absolutely free and transparent.”

He threw the gauntlet at those political parties that plan to boycott the polls because they feared that the polls would be rigged. Musharraf warned, “This is all baseless and they must desist from it.” To alleviate any doubt, he said the government would invite “any number” of foreign observers to come and watch the fairness of the polls. Whether the invitations have been sent out is an open issue. Whether they have been accepted is another open issue. And whether they will show up to monitor the polls is the $64 million question.

The dictator’s comments beg the question of what is free and fair. Pakistanis have had a few elections under military governments. Perhaps the fairest was held by Yahya in 1970 and the most unfair election by Musharraf 32 years later. In both cases, the results were disastrous because the military was not prepared to share power with the elected representatives of the people.

Yahya refused to hand over power to the Awami League and plunged the country into a disastrous civil war that ultimately dismembered the republic. Musharraf pretended to hand over power to parliament but never did.

In his speech during the presidential inauguration, he took a swipe at the West and lambasted it for seeking to impose democracy on Pakistan. He said it had taken the West centuries to get there and they should not expect a poor nation like Pakistan to get there in just a few decades.

So why was he proceeding now to hold free and fair elections? Pakistan is either fit for democracy or not fit for it. Perhaps he was telling us that he likes to hunt with the hound and run with the hare. That is Musharrafian humor for you.

Like the three dictators before him, Musharraf is exploiting the fact that Pakistanis have not had much success with democracy. When he says that he intends to bring “the essence of democracy” to Pakistan with the next elections, he forgets that India has been a successful democracy for the past 60 years.

It is true that the Indians under a single prime minister (Nehru) had better luck with democracy than the Pakistanis did under seven prime ministers in the 1950s. But the army has been in power for all but a decade since then in Pakistan. If feudalism was the barrier to introducing democratic traditions, the army could have eliminated it.

One has to conclude that there is no democracy in Pakistan because the army does not want it. It wants to be the prima donna. Chronic military rule has crippled Pakistan’s development, leaving it in a state of permanent adolescence. Musharraf concluded a recent interview with the Washington Post by saying that Pakistan was neither “small” nor “a banana republic,” probably leaving the interviewer speechless. The laugh is on him for reacting so defensively.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

HindustanTimes ePaper - Dr. Binayak Sen

HindustanTimes ePaper

Ten Days in Modi's Constituency by Shabnam Hashmi

Ten Days in Modi's Constituency
Culmination of Eight Month's of Save Democracy Campaign in Gujarat

by shabnam hashmi December 22, 2007
In December 2006 a colleague of mine and I started a journey from the Dangs in South Gujarat and traveled to Kutch covering on the way almost all the districts. The mission was simple: to meet civil society groups and friends and ask them to join hands to defeat the communal forces in the coming elections. Many of whom we met thought we were crazy and Modi was invincible and the opposition too weak. Many of these were old Gandhians, who felt absolutely betrayed by the only alternative that existed in the state and felt dismayed at the communalization of the opposition itself.
Our intention initially was to put up a resistance at the ground level irrespective of what the opposition looked like. For us it was clear that the results were very crucial and they will have an impact on the future politics of this country. During the eight long months that the Anhad team of young volunteers worked round the clock, the most interesting and challenging were the last ten days in Modi's own constituency. Anhad during its almost a year long 'Save Democracy Campaign' covered 630 villages ( Three Youth Aman Karwans traveled across 25 districts covering 4-5 villages everyday, performing, singing, holding public meetings, screening films and distributing leaflets exposing the myth of Vibrant Gujarat, one lakh copies of the preamble of the Indian constitution were distributed , thousands of people signed the pledge to uphold the values of the constitution), organized three major Youth Conventions attended by thousands of young people, the process involved selection of delegates through a debate competition, then training the selected ones into public speech and sensitizing them to all basic political and social issues, Anhad organized the first public screening of Parzania, organized innumerable demonstrations, seminars, workshops in various parts of Gujarat, produced innumerable kinds of leaflets dealing with issues of democracy and exposing the myth of Developed Gujarat, various posters, organized various music concerts and cultural evenings, culminating the Gujarat level programme with a motorcycle rally by 25 youth covering 22 district headquarters addressing media conferences and holding rallies and distributing leaflets. All these efforts were supported by over 20 Gujarat based organizations, networks and fellow activists and friends.
We conducted a small survey on December 1 and 2nd in Maninagar, Modi's constituency and the immediate response was to move into the constituency for the last 10 days of the campaign.

The decision was not easy because even though the earlier campaigns were also not risk free (and during these campaigns the activists were attacked in three different locations) but for the Maninagar campaign I wanted everyone's opinion and consent.
I explained to everyone that we could be attacked, injured, arrested at any time during these ten days. All the young Anhad activists emboldened by the success of the campaign across Gujarat were too enthusiastic to plunge into action.
We immediately left for Mani Nagar-Sanjay Sharma, Chandu Patel and I- in search of an office. I did not want to operate from Anhad's Ahmedabad office as it was half an away from Maninagar and we wanted to be there all the time. After a day's search we found an office near the Bhairav Nath Mandir, a small shop, enough to accommodate ten mattresses at night.
Immediately computers, tables, banners, stationary etc were shifted and we started working for the launch of the campaign. We decided to start our work with the release of an appeal to women to defeat the forces of hatred as the atmosphere of hatred had engulfed the whole society and worst hit were women with the crime rate going up everyday against them. The appeal was signed by ten women and we organized a small launch ..Opened an exhibition on the status of women, released the appeal, Mallika Sarabhai, Ila Pathak, Sheba George and Sofiya Khan came and spoke at the meeting. We released a CD of peace songs sung by children from across India. The launch was attended by almost 500 people from around our office and covered well in the media.
We printed one lakh copies of a special leaflet for the citizens of Mani Nagar exposing the myth of development. The ten days that we spent there our young volunteers reached out to 80,000 households directly distributing the leaflet, talking to people, sharing with them their sorrows and conditions.

We were shocked to see the condition of Mani Nagar. Mani Nagar has five wards: Maninagar, Amraiwadi, Hatkeshwar, Bagh-e-Firdous and Khokhra. Total voters in Maninagar are 3,28,000. The conditions under which the poor live is no different from the worst slums that the reader might have visited. A Chief Minister who boasts of the highest development in his state can not provide the basic necessities of life like toilet and water to the people of his own constituency is shameful.

On December 8th, 2007 we decided to organize a youth meeting and a cultural evening at Dakshini Chawk. This place is the BJP stronghold within Maninagar and doing a programme against Modi in Dakshini was unheard of. Sachin Pandya, Sanjay Sharma and I went to Dakshini Chawk around 11.10am to instruct the decorator and the sound engineer to start the arrangements for the evening programme.

As we stood there waiting for the decorator a white Maruti 800 arrived, there was a BJP scarf tied to the mirror inside. Our few posters were on notice boards at Dakshini Chawk and hundreds of leaflets had been distributed for the programme on the evening before. A man, who we were later informed was Parag Naik, came out from the car, very aggressively moved towards Sanjay took a leaflet, tore it off and threw it on the ground. I told him gently that it was easier to tear than to join. He moved towards me menacingly and started shouting, using extremely filthy and abusive language and threatening to repeat what was done to women in 2002. It was clear to us that we had to leave immediately from the spot.

We came back in the afternoon and with the help of friends who stood guard started the work. While the work was on ,Sanjay and I had to go back to office to finish some last minute arrangements. After sometime the PI (in Gujarat PI is like SHO of a police station) came and asked Sachin about the programme and while he explained the PI said:, ' agar koye lafda hua to sabko dekh loonga'. Sachin objected and said that we had the permission both from the Special Branch as well as from the corporation. He repeated,'ek ek ko band kar doonga'.

The programme went off well, a strong pro democracy programme asking people to defeat the forces of hatred. Mallika Sarabhai's group performed, she spoke, Digant Oza spoke, Gauhar Raza recited a poem, young speakers Manoj Sharma, Manisha Trivedi, Dev Desai, Sachin Pandya spoke, Sanjay Sharma and Keshu Bhai sang movement songs. There was stone throwing which we overlooked. After the programme the whole BJP gang surrounded us, shouting and abusing, we managed to leave, leaving all our exhibitions and banners at the venue. The choice was between getting physically attacked or leaving the stuff behind. Later the decorator charged us for a number of broken and missing chairs.

I filed a complaint against Parag Naik to the Police Commissioner next day for the morning incident. I asked in my complain if this can happen to a member of the National Integration Council , then what must be the condition of an ordinary person, who dares to dissent?. Nothing happened to him.

Our door to door campaign continued. Every morning three teams of 8-10 volunteers left and delivered the leaflets at doorsteps. In the evening everyone together went to the major crossings distributing a second leaflet. Late evenings were spent in organizing small corner meetings.

We sought permission to organize two more public meetings on 10th and 12th. The permission was not denied but it never came till well past the meeting timings so that we could not hold the meetings.

We asked for a permission to take out a rally on 13th. It was denied on the pretext that it will disturb law and order situation in Maninagar.

On 13th we organized a corner meeting at Hatkeshwar circle, sang secular, democratic songs, distributed roses to people and asked ten questions related to Mahatma Gandhi and the freedom struggle and the winners were given the Video CDs of Lage Raho Munnabhai. It was a great success. We then moved to the next circle and did a similar programme near the Khokhra circle.

While we were singing a song, suddenly Parag Naik appeared again. Parag Naik and his BJP goons again attacked us near Khokhra cicle- this time manhandling one of our fellow woman activist - they physically attacked, hit her on the chest, twisted her arm, caught her by the neck and threatened to tear her clothes, forcibly took away her camera and took out the memory card, kicked at a panel with Gandhi's photograph and a quotation, threw away the roses which we were distributing, use highly objectionable and abusive language. As we tried to leave we were surrounded in smaller groups. A media photographer from a major English daily was bashed up and his roll taken out.

We faxed a complaint to the Police Commissioner. The media photographer decided not to file a complain. I reported the matter to his paper -well known English daily. They did not deem it fit to report.

On 14th morning three of our young activists Paresh Desai, Dharmendra Rathore and Sanjay Raval were inserting leaflets in the newspapers at 3am when they were surrounded by Parag Naik and his goons again, BJP goons called the called police and illegally detained all three of them, impounded the Anhad vehicle and the leaflets. They were released only after 13 hours. A FIR was registered against Anhad under for illegally distributing the leaflets!

The details of the all the attacks were faxed to the media. We organized a Dharna on 14th at the Police Commissioner's office and gave him a memorandum. Parag Naik kept on moving freely and even the day we sat on a dharna outside commissioner's office he came and parked his car behind our vehicle to show that he is above law.

Next morning all Gujarati newspapers reported: 'three Anhad activists were arrested for distributing illegal leaflets and a case has been registered against Anhad. A Delhi vehicle belonging to the organization has also been impounded. Anhad is a Delhi based organization headed by Shabnam Hashmi' . (As all the activists were Gujarati and 'Hindu' it was important for the media to establish a non-Gujarati and a 'Muslim' connection. )

The English media refused to report. When one paper did after I spoke to the editor it printed the police version.

A DCP came to the office after Police Commissioner's intervention, recorded my statement refused to record anything beyond the 8th incident as it was not under his purview. Nothing has moved after that.

On 16th December we again spent the day in Maninagar. Modi reached Mani Nagar around lunch time, perhaps first time in five years, went to 16 different localities in 4 hours asking people to vote for him.

Today a very well respected journalist has written an article on how even the police are not with Modi and RSS has deserted him and poor Modi is fighting the battle all alone. Where is he alone? The police, the local administration, the industrialists, the local media and even a major chunk of the national media stand with him.

The people who are not with him are: the poor and the marginalized; the activists, the social reformers, artists, film makers, writers, poets, intellectuals, people who still believe in the dream that we saw in 1947, people who will give their lives to save the values of the Indian Constitution.

Those who are eulogizing Modi and not taking any chances just in case he comes back have totally forgotten the power of the poor, illiterate and marginalized citizens of this country. They have forgotten that people of India have rejected authoritarian rule many times in this country.

Poor and the marginalized do not have to see the development on television screens and news paper pages, they live and experience it. According to the latest NSS Report on "Household Borrowing and Repayment, around 21 % of rural population in Gujarat spend less than Rs.12 per day to survive and around five percent population manages with even below Rs. 9 per day.

Modi is loosing and his government is going. But his political defeat in elections is only the first step. The struggle to reclaim the hearts and the minds of the people is much more difficult. Will you join us ?
'Sabse Khatarnak Hota Hai Murda Shanti se Bhar Jana
Na Hona Tadap Ka Sab Sahan Kar Jana
Sabse Khatarnak Hota Hai Hamare Sapnon Ka Mar Jana'

Thursday, December 20, 2007



With normalcy returning to Nandigram, and with the heat generated over it in
intellectual circles somewhat subsiding, it is time for us to ask the
question: why did so many intellectuals suddenly turn against the Party with
such amazing fury on this issue?

This question is important because joining issue with them on the basis of
facts on the specificities of Nandigram, which is what we have been doing
till now, is not enough. It is not enough for instance to underscore the
fact, implicitly or explicitly denied by virtually all of them, that
thousands of poor people were driven out of their homes into refugee camps
for the only "crime" of being CPI(M) supporters; it is not enough to argue
against them that there was no semblance of an excuse for keeping Nandigram
out of bounds for these refugees and for the civil administration even after
the Left Front government had categorically declared that no chemical hub
would be built there; it is not enough to point out that the so-called
"re-occupation" of Nandigram in November was an act of desperation which
followed the failure of every other effort at restoring normalcy and
bringing the refugees back to their homes. All these facts and arguments
have been advanced at length, and are by now passé. But the phenomenon of
several intellectuals who till yesterday were with the Left in fighting
communal fascism but have now turned against it requires serious analysis.

There is no gainsaying that the Left Front government made serious mistakes
in handling the Nandigram issue; and Buddhadeb Bhattacharya has said so in
as many words. But disagreement with the LF over this could have taken the
form of friendly criticism, articles, and open letters, and not of such
outright hostility that even put the LF on a par with communal fascism.
Likewise disagreements over the LF's industrialization policy could have
been aired in a manner that had none of the ferocity which has been recently
displayed. Differences with the LF, even basic differences, therefore cannot
suffice as an explanation of what we have just witnessed.

Likewise, the fact that most of these intellectuals are in any case strongly
anti-organized Left, especially anti-Communist (and in particular
anti-CPI(M)), belonging as they do to the erstwhile "socialist" groups, to
NGOs, to the ranks of Naxalite sympathizers, to the community of "Free
Thinkers", and to various shades of "populism", would not suffice as an
explanation. After all, despite this basic hostility to the organized Left,
they did make common cause with it on several issues till recently. Why is
it suddenly so different now?

The context clearly has changed. With the perceived decline in the strength
of the communal fascist forces, a certain fracturing of the anti-communal
coalition was inevitable and has happened, and this no doubt provides the
setting in which it becomes possible for these intellectuals to express in
the open the hostility which they might have felt all along against the
Left. Indeed, this perceived weakening of the BJP may even encourage
attempts, on the part of intellectuals hostile to the Left but aligned to it
earlier owing to the pressure of circumstances, at establishing a sort of
intellectual hegemony over society at large at the expense of the Left. But
while the recession of the communal fascist threat certainly creates the
condition for these intellectuals to come out openly against the Left, the
manner of their coming out cannot be explained only by this fact. It
indicates something more serious, namely the process of destruction of
politics that the phenomenon of globalization has unleashed.

The crux of political praxis consists at any time in distinguishing between
two camps: the camp of the "people" and camp hostile to the interests of
"the people". This distinction in turn is based on an analysis of the
prevailing contradictions, and the identification of the principal
contradiction, on the basis of which the composition of the class alliance
that constitutes the camp of "the people" is determined. And corresponding
to this constellation of classes, there is a certain constellation of
political forces among whom relations have to be forged. It is obvious that
the relationship between the political forces representing the classes that
constitute the camp of the people at any time, and the nature of criticism
among these forces, must be different from the relationship and criticism
across camps. Not to distinguish between the camps, not to distinguish
between alternative constellations of political forces, but to club them
together on the basis of the identical nature of their presumed moral
trespasses, is to withdraw from politics. What is striking about the
attitude of the intellectuals arrayed against the organized Left at present
is their complete withdrawal from the realm of political praxis to a realm
of messianic moralism.

Such messianic moralism is not just politically counter-productive. The
withdrawal from the realm of politics that it signifies, strengthens
politically the camp of the "enemies of the people". (In India for instance
the attack inspired by messianic moralism that has been launched on the
organized Left at a time when the latter is in the forefront of an extremely
crucial but difficult struggle against the attempt of imperialism to make
India its strategic ally, weakens that struggle, and thereby plays into the
hands of imperialism). But messianic moralism, quite apart from its palpable
political consequences, is smug, self-righteous, self-adulatory, and, above
all, empty. An attitude that does not distinguish between types of violence,
between the different episodes of violence, that condemns all violence with
equal abhorrence, that places on a footing of equality all presumed
perpetrators of violence, amounts in fact to a condemnation of nothing. To
say that all are equally bad is not even morally meaningful.

This messianic moralism, this withdrawal from politics, is based
fundamentally on a disdain of politics, of the messy world of politics,
which is far from being peopled by angels. It constitutes therefore a mirror
image of the very phenomenon that it seeks to resist, namely the "cult of
development" spawned by neo-liberalism. Manmohan Singh says: politics is
filthy; rise above politics; detach "development" from politics. The
anti-Left intellectuals say: politics is filthy; rise above politics; detach
the struggle against "development" from politics.

This disdain for politics, this contempt for the political process, is what
characterizes substantial sections of the middle class in India today. It is
visible in the absolute opposition of the students of elite institutions to
the legislation on reservations passed unanimously by parliament. It is
visible in the persistent resort to the judicial process to overturn
decisions of legislatures, and the exhortations to the judiciary to act as a
body superior to the elected representatives of the people. This middle
class contempt for politics and politicians is apparent in the rise of
movements like "Youth For Equality" that make no secret of it and whose
avowed aim is to combat "affirmative action" which they consider to be the
handiwork of "opportunist" politicians.

The rise of messianic moralism is a part of the same trend, which is nothing
else but a process of "destruction of politics". Middle class moralism
upholds causes, not programmes. It flits from cause to cause. And it
apotheosizes the absence of systematic political alliances. Some may call it
"post-modern politics", but it amounts to a negation of politics.

Messianic moralism always has a seductive appeal for intellectuals. To avoid
systematic partisanship, to stand above the messy world of politics, to
pronounce judgements on issues from Olympian moral heights, and to be
applauded for one's presumed "non-partisanship", gives one a sense of both
comfort and fulfillment. This seductive appeal is heightened by the
contemporary ambience of middle class disdain for politics which the
phenomenon of globalization, subtly but assiduously, nurtures and promotes.

The answer to the question with which we started, namely why have so many
intellectuals turned against the Left with such fury, lies to a significant
extent in the fact that this fury against the Left is also fed by a revolt
against politics. The revolt against the CPI(M) is simultaneously a revolt
against politics. The combination of anti-communism with a rejection of
politics in general gives this revolt that added edge, that special anger.
It is the anger of the morality of the "anti-political" against the morality
of the "political", for Communism, notwithstanding its substitution of the
"political" for the "moral", has nonetheless a moral appeal. The venom in
the anti-Left intellectuals' attack on the Left comes from the fact that
this struggle, of the "morality of the anti-political" against the "morality
of the political", takes on the character of a desperate last struggle, a
final push to destroy the latter, since "our day has come at last!".

Ironically it was a group of US-based academics led by Noam Chomsky who
sought to introduce a political perspective to the anti-Left agitation of
the intellectuals on Nandigram. It is they who pointed out that in the
anti-imperialist struggle, which is the defining struggle of our times (the
struggle around the principal contradiction), the organized Left was an
essential component of the camp of the "people", and that nothing should be
done to disrupt the unity of the camp of the "people". But the response of
the anti-Left intellectuals to the injection of this political perspective
was a barrage of attacks on Chomsky et al for taking a "pro-CPI(M)"

A political position ipso facto was identified as a "pro-CPI(M)" position.
There could be no clearer proof of the proposition that the revolt of the
intellectuals against the Left was simultaneously a revolt against politics,
a disdain for politics that has become so prevalent a phenomenon in the era
of globalization that it affects as much the proponents of globalization as
its avowed critics. In fact these critics and the votaries of imperialist
globalization share in this respect the same terrain of discourse.

The hallmark of the organized Left lies precisely in the fact it rejects
this terrain of discourse, that it accords centrality to politics, that it
does not substitute an abstract Olympian moralism for concrete political
mobilization. It is for this reason therefore that the Left's attitude to
these intellectuals must be informed by politics; it cannot be a mirror
image of their attitude to the Left.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Daughter of the West - Tariq Ali

Arranged marriages can be a messy business. Designed principally as a means of accumulating wealth, circumventing undesirable flirtations or transcending clandestine love affairs, they often don't work. Where both parties are known to loathe each other, only a rash parent, desensitised by the thought of short-term gain, will continue with the process knowing full well that it will end in misery and possibly violence. That this is equally true in political life became clear in the recent attempt by Washington to tie Benazir Bhutto to Pervez Musharraf.
The single, strong parent in this case was a desperate State Department – with John Negroponte as the ghoulish go-between and Gordon Brown as the blushing bridesmaid – fearful that if it did not push this through both parties might soon be too old for recycling. The bride was certainly in a hurry, the groom less so. Brokers from both sides engaged in lengthy negotiations on the size of the dowry. Her broker was and remains Rehman Malik, a former boss of Pakistan's FIA, who has been investigated for corruption by the National Accountability Bureau and who served nearly a year in prison after Benazir's fall, then became one of her business partners and is currently under investigation (with her) by a Spanish court looking into a company called Petroline FZC, which made questionable payments to Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Documents, if genuine, show that she chaired the company. She may have been in a hurry but she did not wish to be seen taking the arm of a uniformed president. He was not prepared to forgive her past. The couple's distaste for each other yielded to a mutual dependence on the United States. Neither party could say 'no', though Musharraf hoped the union could be effected inconspicuously. Fat chance.
Both parties made concessions. She agreed that he could take off his uniform after his 're-election' by Parliament, but it had to be before the next general election. (He has now done this, leaving himself dependent on the goodwill of his successor as army chief of staff.) He pushed through a legal ruling – yet another sordid first in the country's history – known as the National Reconciliation Ordinance, which withdrew all cases of corruption pending against politicians accused of looting the national treasury. The ruling was crucial for her since she hoped that the money-laundering and corruption cases pending in three European courts – in Valencia, Geneva and London – would now be dismissed. This doesn't seem to have happened.
Many Pakistanis – not just the mutinous and mischievous types who have to be locked up at regular intervals – were repelled, and coverage of 'the deal' in the Pakistan media was universally hostile, except on state television. The 'breakthrough' was loudly trumpeted in the West, however, and a whitewashed Benazir Bhutto was presented on US networks and BBC TV news as the champion of Pakistani democracy – reporters loyally referred to her as 'the former prime minister' rather than the fugitive politician facing corruption charges in several countries.
She had returned the favour in advance by expressing sympathy for the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, lunching with the Israeli ambassador to the UN (a litmus test) and pledging to 'wipe out terrorism' in her own country. In 1979 a previous military dictator had bumped off her father with Washington's approval, and perhaps she thought it would be safer to seek permanent shelter underneath the imperial umbrella. HarperCollins had paid her half a million dollars to write a new book. The working title she chose was 'Reconciliation'.
As for the general, he had begun his period in office in 1999 by bowing to the spirit of the age and titling himself 'chief executive' rather than 'chief martial law administrator', which had been the norm. Like his predecessors, he promised he would stay in power only for a limited period, pledging in 2003 to resign as army chief of staff in 2004. Like his predecessors, he ignored his pledge. Martial law always begins with the promise of a new order that will sweep away the filth and corruption that marked the old one: in this case it toppled the civilian administrations of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. But 'new orders' are not forward movements, more military detours that further weaken the shaky foundations of a country and its institutions. Within a decade the uniformed ruler will be overtaken by a new upheaval.
Dreaming of her glory days in the last century, Benazir wanted a large reception on her return. The general was unhappy. The intelligence agencies (as well as her own security advisers) warned her of the dangers. She had declared war on the terrorists and they had threatened to kill her. But she was adamant. She wanted to demonstrate her popularity to the world and to her political rivals, including those inside her own fiefdom, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP). For a whole month before she boarded the Dubai-Karachi flight, the PPP were busy recruiting volunteers from all over the country to welcome her. Up to 200,000 people lined the streets, but it was a far cry from the million who turned up in Lahore in 1986 when a very different Benazir returned to challenge General Zia ul-Haq. The plan had been to move slowly in the Bhuttomobile from Karachi airport to the tomb of the country's founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, where she would make a speech. It was not to be. As darkness fell, the bombers struck. Who they were and who sent them remains a mystery. She was unhurt, but 130 people died, including some of the policemen guarding her. The wedding reception had led to mayhem.
The general, while promising to collaborate with Benazir, was coolly making arrangements to prolong his own stay at President's House. Even before her arrival he had considered taking drastic action to dodge the obstacles that stood in his way, but his generals (and the US Embassy) seemed unconvinced. The bombing of Benazir's cavalcade reopened the debate. Pakistan, if not exactly the erupting volcano portrayed in the Western media, was being shaken by all sorts of explosions. The legal profession, up in arms at Musharraf's recent dismissal of the chief justice, had won a temporary victory, resulting in a fiercely independent Supreme Court. The independent TV networks continued to broadcast reports that challenged official propaganda. Investigative journalism is never popular with governments and the general often contrasted the deference with which he was treated by the US networks and BBC television with the 'unruly' questioning inflicted on him by local journalists: it 'misled the people'. He had become obsessed with the media coverage of the lawyers' revolt. A decline in his popularity increased the paranoia. His advisers were people he had promoted. Generals who had expressed divergent opinions in 'frank and informal get-togethers' had been retired. His political allies were worried that their opportunities to enrich themselves even further would be curtailed if they had to share power with Benazir.
What if the Supreme Court were now to declare his re-election by a dying and unrepresentative assembly illegal? To ward off disaster, the ISI had been preparing blackmail flicks: agents secretly filmed some of the Supreme Court judges in flagrante. But so unpopular had Musharraf become that even the sight of judicial venerables in bed might not have done the trick. It might even have increased their support. (In 1968, when a right-wing, pro-military rag in Lahore published an attack on me, it revealed that I 'had attended sex orgies in a French country house organised by [my] friend, the Jew Cohn-Bendit. All the fifty women in the swimming-pool were Jewish.' Alas, this was totally false, but my parents were amazed at the number of people who congratulated them on my virility.) Musharraf decided that blackmail wasn't worth the risk. Only firm action could 'restore order' – i.e. save his skin. The usual treatment in these cases is a declaration of martial law. But what if the country is already being governed by the army chief of staff? The solution is simple. Treble the dose. Organise a coup within a coup. That is what Musharraf decided to do. Washington was informed a few weeks in advance, Downing Street somewhat later. Benazir's patrons in the West told her what was about to happen and she, foolishly for a political leader who has just returned to her country, evacuated to Dubai.
On 3 November Musharraf, as chief of the army, suspended the 1973 constitution and imposed a state of emergency: all non-government TV channels were taken off the air, the mobile phone networks were jammed, paramilitary units surrounded the Supreme Court. The chief justice convened an emergency bench of judges, who – heroically – declared the new dispensation 'illegal and unconstitutional'. They were unceremoniously removed and put under house arrest. Pakistan's judges have usually been acquiescent. Those who in the past resisted military leaders were soon bullied out of it, so the decision of this chief justice took the country by surprise and won him great admiration. Global media coverage of Pakistan suggests a country of generals, corrupt politicians and bearded lunatics: the struggle to reinstate the chief justice had presented a different picture.
Aitzaz Ahsan, a prominent member of the PPP, minister of the interior in Benazir's first government and currently president of the Bar Association, was arrested and placed in solitary confinement. Several thousand political and civil rights activists were picked up. Imran Khan, a fierce and incorruptible opponent of the regime, was arrested, charged with 'state terrorism' – for which the penalty is death or life imprisonment – and taken in handcuffs to a remote high-security prison. Musharraf, Khan argued, had begun yet another shabby chapter in Pakistan's history.
Lawyers were arrested all over the country; many were physically attacked by policemen. Humiliate them was the order, and the police obliged. A lawyer, 'Omar', circulated an account of what happened:
While I was standing talking to my colleagues, we saw the police go wild on the orders of a superior officer. In riot gear . . . brandishing weapons and sticks, about a hundred policemen attacked us . . . and seemed intensely happy at doing so. We all ran.
Some of us who were not as nimble on their feet as others were caught by the police and beaten mercilessly. We were then locked in police vans used to transport convicted prisoners. Everyone was stunned at this show of brute force but it did not end. The police went on mayhem inside the court premises and court buildings . . . Those of us who were arrested were taken to various police stations and put in lockups. At midnight, we were told that we were being shifted to jail. We could not get bail as our fundamental rights were suspended. Sixty lawyers were put into a police van ten feet by four feet wide and five feet in height. We were squashed like sardines. When the van reached the jail, we were told that we could not get [out] until orders of our detention were received by the jail authorities. Our older colleagues started to suffocate, some fainted, others started to panic because of claustrophobia. The police ignored our screams and refused to open the van doors. Finally, after three hours . . . we were let out and taken to mosquito-infected barracks where the food given to us smelled like sewage water.
Geo, the largest TV network, had long since located its broadcasting facilities in Dubai. It was a strange sensation watching the network in London when the screens were blank in Pakistan. On the very first day of the emergency I saw Hamid Mir, a journalist loathed by the general, reporting from Islamabad and asserting that the US Embassy had given the green light to the coup because it regarded the chief justice as a nuisance and wrongly believed him to be 'a Taliban sympathiser'. Certainly no US spokesperson or State Department adjunct in the Foreign Office criticised the dismissal of the eight Supreme Court judges or their arrest: that was the quid pro quo for Washington's insistence that Musharraf take off his uniform. If he was going to turn civilian he wanted all the other rules twisted in his favour. A newly appointed stooge Supreme Court would soon help him with the rule-bending. As would the authorities in Dubai, who suspended Geo's facilities.
In the evening of that first day, and after several delays, a flustered General Musharraf, his hair badly dyed, appeared on TV, trying to look like the sort of leader who wants it understood that the political crisis is to be discussed with gravity and sangfroid. Instead, he came across as a dumbed down dictator fearful for his own political future. His performance as he broadcast to the nation, first in Urdu and then in English, was incoherent. The gist was simple: he had to act because the Supreme Court had 'so demoralised our state agencies that we can't fight the "war on terror"' and the TV networks had become 'totally irresponsible'. 'I have imposed emergency,' he said halfway through his diatribe, adding, with a contemptuous gesture: 'You must have seen it on TV.' Was he being sarcastic, given that most channels had been shut down? Who knows? Mohammed Hanif, the sharp-witted head of the BBC's Urdu Service, which monitored the broadcast, confessed himself flummoxed when he wrote up what he heard. He had no doubt that the Urdu version of the speech was the general's own work. Hanif's deconstruction – he quoted the general in Urdu and in English – deserved a broadcast all of its own:
Here are some random things he said. And trust me, these things were said quite randomly. Yes, he did say: 'Extremism bahut extreme ho gaya hai [extremism has become too extreme] . . . Nobody is scared of us anymore . . . Islamabad is full of extremists . . . There is a government within government . . . Officials are being asked to the courts . . . Officials are being insulted by the judiciary.'
At one point he appeared wistful when reminiscing about his first three years in power: 'I had total control.' You were almost tempted to ask: 'What happened then, uncle?' But obviously, uncle didn't need any prompting. He launched into his routine about three stages of democracy. He claimed he was about to launch the third and final phase of democracy (the way he said it, he managed to make it sound like the Final Solution). And just when you thought he was about to make his point, he took an abrupt turn and plunged into a deep pool of self-pity. This involved a long-winded anecdote about how the Supreme Court judges would rather attend a colleague's daughter's wedding than just get it over with and decide that he is a constitutional president . . . I have heard some dictators' speeches in my life, but nobody has gone so far as to mention someone's daughter's wedding as a reason for imposing martial law on the country.
When for the last few minutes of his speech he addressed his audience in the West in English, I suddenly felt a deep sense of humiliation. This part of his speech was scripted. Sentences began and ended. I felt humiliated that my president not only thinks that we are not evolved enough for things like democracy and human rights, but that we can't even handle proper syntax and grammar.
The English-language version put the emphasis on the 'war on terror': Napoleon and Abraham Lincoln, he said, would have done what he did to preserve the 'integrity of their country' – the mention of Lincoln was obviously intended for the US market. In Pakistan's military academies the usual soldier-heroes are Napoleon, De Gaulle and Atatürk.
What did Benazir, now out manoeuvred, make of the speech as she watched it on TV in her Dubai sanctuary? Her first response was to say she was shocked, which was slightly disingenuous. Even if she had not been told in advance that an emergency would be declared, it was hardly a secret – for one thing, Condoleezza Rice had made a token public appeal to Musharraf not to take this course. Yet for more than 24 hours she was unable to give a clear response. At one point she even criticised the chief justice for being too provocative.
Agitated phone calls from Pakistan persuaded her to return to Karachi. To put her in her place, the authorities kept her plane waiting on the tarmac. When she finally reached the VIP lounge, her PPP colleagues told her that unless she denounced the emergency there would be a split in the party. Outsmarted and abandoned by Musharraf, she couldn't take the risk of losing key figures in her party. She denounced the emergency and its perpetrator, established contact with the beleaguered opposition, and, as if putting on a new lipstick, declared that she would lead the struggle to get rid of the dictator. She now tried to call on the chief justice to express her sympathy but wasn't allowed near his residence.
She could have followed the example of her imprisoned colleague Aitzaz Ahsan, but she was envious of him: he had become far too popular in Pakistan. He'd even had the nerve to go to Washington, where he was politely received by society and inspected as a possible substitute should things go badly wrong. Not a single message had flowed from her Blackberry to congratulate him on his victories in the struggle to reinstate the chief justice. Ahsan had advised her against any deal with Musharraf. When generals are against the wall, he is reported to have told her, they resort to desperate and irrational measures. Others who offered similar advice in gentler language were also batted away. She was the PPP's 'chairperson-for-life' and brooked no dissent. The fact that Ahsan was proved right irritated her even more. Any notion of political morality had long ago been dumped. The very idea of a party with a consistent set of beliefs was regarded as ridiculous and outdated. Ahsan was now safe in prison, far from the madding hordes of Western journalists whom she received in style during the few days she spent under house arrest and afterwards. She made a few polite noises about his imprisonment, but nothing more.
The go-between from Washington arrived at very short notice. Negroponte spent some time with Musharraf and spoke to Benazir, still insisting that they make up and go through with the deal. She immediately toned down her criticisms, but the general was scathing and said in public that there was no way she could win the elections scheduled for January. No doubt the ISI are going to rig them in style. Had she remained loyal to him she might have lost public support, but he would have made sure she had a substantial presence in the new parliament. Now everything is up for grabs again. The opinion polls show that her old rival, Nawaz Sharif, is well ahead of her. Musharraf's hasty pilgrimage to Mecca was probably an attempt to secure Saudi mediation in case he has to cut a deal with the Sharif brothers – who have been living in exile in Saudi Arabia – and sideline her completely. Both sides deny that a deal was done, but Sharif returned to Pakistan with Saudi blessings and an armour-plated Cadillac as a special gift from the king. Little doubt that Riyadh would rather him than Benazir.
With the country still under a state of emergency and the largest media network refusing to sign the oath of allegiance that would allow them back on air, the polls scheduled for January can only be a general's election. It's hardly a secret that the ISI and the civilian bureaucracy will decide who wins and where, and some of the opposition parties are, wisely, considering a boycott. Nawaz Sharif told the press that in the course of a long telephone call he had failed to persuade Benazir to join it and thereby render the process null and void from the start. But now that he is back in the country it's unclear whether he will still go ahead with the boycott or try and negotiate a certain number of seats with the Chaudhrys of Gujrat, who had betrayed him by setting up a faction of the Pakistan Muslim League, the PML-Q, to support Musharraf. Perhaps a shared bout of amnesia will bring them together again.
What will Benazir do now? Washington's leverage in Islamabad is limited, which is why they wanted her to be involved in the first place. 'It's always better,' the US ambassador half-joked at a reception, 'to have two phone numbers in a capital.' That may be so, but they cannot guarantee her the prime ministership or even a fair election. In his death-cell, her father mulled over similar problems and came to slightly different conclusions. If I Am Assassinated, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's last will and testament, was written in semi-Gramsci mode, but the meaning wasn't lost on his colleagues:
I entirely agree that the people of Pakistan will not tolerate foreign hegemony. On the basis of the self-same logic, the people of Pakistan would never agree to an internal hegemony. The two hegemonies complement each other. If our people meekly submit to internal hegemony, a priori, they will have to submit to external hegemony. This is so because the strength and power of external hegemony is far greater than that of internal hegemony. If the people are too terrified to resist the weaker force, it is not possible for them to resist the stronger force. The acceptance of or acquiescence in internal hegemony means submission to external hegemony.
After he was hanged in April 1979, the text acquired a semi-sacred status among his supporters. But, when in power, Bhutto père had failed to develop any counter-hegemonic strategy or institutions, other than the 1973 constitution drafted by the veteran civil rights lawyer Mahmud Ali Kasuri (whose son Khurshid was until recently the foreign minister). A personality-driven, autocratic style of governance had neutered the spirit of the party, encouraged careerists and finally paved the way for his enemies. He was the victim of a grave injustice; his death removed all the warts and transformed him into a martyr. More than half the country, mainly the poor, mourned his passing.
The tragedy led to the PPP being treated as a family heirloom, which was unhealthy for both party and country. It provided the Bhuttos with a vote-bank and large reserves. But the experience of her father's trial and death radicalised and politicised his daughter. She would have preferred, she told me at the time, to be a diplomat. Her two brothers, Murtaza and Shahnawaz, were in London, having been forbidden to return home by their imprisoned father. The burden of trying to save her father's life fell on Benazir and her mother, Nusrat, and the courage they exhibited won them the silent respect of a frightened majority. They refused to cave in to General Zia's military dictatorship, which apart from anything else was invoking Islam to claw back rights won by women in previous decades. Benazir and Nusrat Bhutto were arrested and released several times. Their health began to suffer. Nusrat was allowed to leave the country to seek medical advice in 1982.
Benazir was released a little more than a year later thanks, in part, to US pressure orchestrated by her old Harvard friend Peter Galbraith. She later described the period in her memoir, Daughter of the East (1988); it included photo-captions such as: 'Shortly after President Reagan praised the regime for making "great strides towards democracy", Zia's henchmen gunned down peaceful demonstrators marking Pakistan Independence Day. The police were just as brutal to those protesting at the attack on my jeep in January 1987.'
Her tiny Barbican flat in London became the centre of opposition to the dictatorship, and it was here that we often discussed a campaign to take on the generals. Benazir had built up her position by steadfastly and peacefully resisting the military and replying to every slander with a cutting retort. Her brothers had been operating on a different level. They set up an armed group, al-Zulfiqar, whose declared aim was to harass and weaken the regime by targeting 'traitors who had collaborated with Zia'. The principal volunteers were recruited inside Pakistan and in 1980 they were provided with a base in Afghanistan, where the pro-Moscow Communists had taken power three years before. It is a sad story with a fair share of factionalism, show-trials, petty rivalries, fantasies of every sort and death for the group's less fortunate members.
In March 1981 Murtaza and Shahnawaz Bhutto were placed on the FIA's most wanted list. They had hijacked a Pakistan International airliner soon after it left Karachi (a power cut had paralysed the X-ray machines, enabling the hijackers to take their weapons on board); it was diverted to Kabul. Here Murtaza took over and demanded the release of political prisoners. A young military officer on board the flight was murdered. The plane refuelled and went on to Damascus, where the Syrian spymaster General Kholi took charge and ensured there were no more deaths. The fact that there were American passengers on the plane was a major consideration for the generals and, for that reason alone, the prisoners in Pakistan were released and flown to Tripoli.
This was seen as a victory and welcomed as such by the PPP in Pakistan. For the first time the group began to be taken seriously. A key target inside the country was Maulvi Mushtaq Hussain, the chief justice of the High Court in Lahore, who, in 1978, had sentenced Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to death, and whose behaviour in court had shocked even those who were hostile to the PPP. (Among other charges, he had accused Bhutto of 'pretending to be a Muslim' – his mother was a Hindu convert.) Mushtaq was in a friend's car being driven to his home in Lahore's Model Town area when al-Zulfiqar gunmen opened fire. The judge survived, but his friend and the driver died. The friend was one of the Chaudhrys of Gujrat: Chaudhry Zahoor Elahi, a dodgy businessman who had ostentatiously asked General Zia to make him a present of the 'sacred pen' with which he had signed Bhutto's death warrant. The pen became a family heirloom. Zahoor Elahi may not have been the target but al-Zulfiqar, embarrassed at missing the judge, claimed he was also on their list, which may have been true.
It is the next generation of Chaudhrys that currently provides Musharraf with civilian ballast: Zahoor Elahi's son Shujaat organised the split with Nawaz Sharif and created the splinter PML-Q to ease the growing pains of the new regime. He still fixes deals and wanted an emergency imposed much earlier to circumvent the deal with Benazir. He will now mastermind the general's election campaign. His cousin Pervez Elahi is chief minister of the Punjab; his son, in turn, is busy continuing the family tradition by evicting tenants and buying up all the available land on the edge of Lahore. It has not been divulged which member of the family guards the sacred pen.
The hijacking meanwhile had annoyed Moscow, and the regime in Afghanistan asked the Bhutto brothers to find another refuge. While in Kabul, they had married two Afghan sisters, Fauzia and Rehana Fasihudin, daughters of a senior official at the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Together with their wives they now left the country and after a sojourn in Syria and possibly Libya ended up in Europe. The reunion with their sister took place on the French Riviera in 1985, a setting better suited to the lifestyles of all three siblings.
The young men feared General Zia's agents. Each had a young daughter. Shahnawaz lived in an apartment in Cannes. He had been in charge of the 'military apparatus' and life in Kabul had exacted a heavier toll on him. He was edgy and nervous. Relations with his wife were stormy and he told his sister that he was preparing to divorce her. 'There's never been a divorce in the family. Your marriage wasn't even an arranged one . . . You chose to marry Rehana. You must live with it,' was Benazir's revealing reply, according to her memoir. And then Shahnawaz was found dead in his apartment. His wife claimed he had taken poison, but according to Benazir nobody in the family believed her story; there had been violence in the room and his papers had been searched. Rehana looked immaculate, which disturbed the family. She was imprisoned for three months under the 'Good Samaritan' law for not having gone to the assistance of a dying person. After her release she settled in the United States. 'Had the CIA killed him as a friendly gesture towards their favourite dictator?' Benazir speculated. She raised other questions too: had the sisters become ISI agents? The truth remains hidden. Not long afterwards Murtaza divorced Fauzia, but kept custody of their three-year-old daughter, Fatima, and moved to Damascus. Here he had plenty of time for reflection and told friends that too many mistakes had been made. In 1986 he met Ghinwa Itaoui, a young teacher who had fled Lebanon after the Israeli invasion of 1982. She calmed him down and took charge of Fatima's education. They were married in 1989 and a son, Zulfiqar, was born the following year.
Benazir returned to Pakistan in 1986 and was greeted by large crowds who came out to show their affection for her and to demonstrate their anger with the regime. She campaigned all over the country, but felt increasingly that for some of the more religious-minded a young unmarried woman was not acceptable as a leader. How could she visit Saudi Arabia without a husband? An offer of marriage from the Zardari family was accepted and she married Asif in 1987. She had worried that any husband would find it difficult to deal with the periods of separation her nomadic political life would entail, but Zardari was perfectly capable of occupying himself.
A year later General Zia's plane blew up in midair. In the elections that followed the PPP won the largest number of seats. Benazir became prime minister, but was hemmed in by the army on one side and the president, the army's favourite bureaucrat, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, on the other. She told me at the time that she felt powerless. They wouldn't let her do anything. 'Tell the people,' was my advice. Tell them why you can't deliver on your promises to provide free education, proper sanitation, clean water and health services to improve the high infant mortality rate. She didn't tell them; in fact she did nothing at all apart from provide employment to some of her supporters. Being in power, it seemed, was satisfaction enough. She went on state visits: met and liked Mrs Thatcher and later, with her new husband in tow, was received politely by the Saudi king. In the meantime there were other plots afoot – the opposition was literally buying off some of her MPs – and in August 1990 her government was removed by presidential decree and Zia's protégés, the Sharif brothers, were back in power.
By the time she was re-elected in 1993, she had abandoned all idea of reform, but that she was in a hurry to do something became clear when she appointed her husband minister for investment, making him responsible for all investment offers from home and abroad. It is widely alleged that the couple accumulated $1.5 billion. The high command of the Pakistan People's Party now became a machine for making money, but without any trickle-down mechanism. This period marked the complete degeneration of the party. All that shame-faced party members could say, when I asked, was that 'everybody does it all over the world,' thus accepting that the cash nexus was now all that mattered. In foreign policy her legacy was mixed. She refused to sanction an anti-Indian military adventure in Kargil on the Himalayan slopes, but to make up for it, as I wrote in the LRB (15 April 1999), her government backed the Taliban takeover in Kabul – which makes it doubly ironic that Washington and London should be promoting her as a champion of democracy.
Murtaza Bhutto had contested the elections from abroad and won a seat in the Sind provincial legislature. He returned home and expressed his unhappiness with his sister's agenda. Family gatherings became tense. Murtaza had his weaknesses, but he wasn't corrupt and he argued in favour of the old party's radical manifesto. He made no secret of the fact that he regarded Zardari as an interloper whose only interest was money. Nusrat Bhutto suggested that Murtaza be made the chief minister of Sind: Benazir's response was to remove her mother as chairperson of the PPP. Any sympathy Murtaza may have felt for his sister turned to loathing. He no longer felt obliged to control his tongue and at every possible opportunity lambasted Zardari and the corrupt regime over which his sister presided. It was difficult to fault him on the facts. The incumbent chief minister of Sind was Abdullah Shah, one of Zardari's creatures. He began to harass Murtaza's supporters.
Murtaza decided to confront the organ-grinder himself. He rang Zardari and invited him round for an informal chat sans bodyguards to try and settle the problems within the family. Zardari agreed. As the two men were pacing the garden, Murtaza's retainers appeared and grabbed Zardari. Someone brought out a cut-throat razor and some warm water and Murtaza shaved off half of Zardari's moustache to the delight of the retainers, then told him to get lost. A fuming Zardari, who had probably feared much worse, was compelled to shave off the other half at home. The media, bemused, were informed that the new clean-shaven consort had accepted intelligence advice that the moustache made him too recognisable a target. In which case why did he allow it to sprout again immediately afterwards?
Some months later, in September 1996, as Murtaza and his entourage were returning home from a political meeting, they were ambushed, just outside their house, by some seventy armed policemen accompanied by four senior officers. A number of snipers were positioned in surrounding trees. The street lights had been switched off. Murtaza clearly understood what was happening and got out of his car with his hands raised; his bodyguards were instructed not to open fire. The police opened fire instead and seven men were killed, Murtaza among them. The fatal bullet had been fired at close range. The trap had been carefully laid, but as is the way in Pakistan, the crudeness of the operation – false entries in police logbooks, lost evidence, witnesses arrested and intimidated, the provincial PPP governor (regarded as untrustworthy) dispatched to a non-event in Egypt, a policeman killed who they feared might talk – made it obvious that the decision to execute the prime minister's brother had been taken at a very high level.
While the ambush was being prepared, the police had sealed off Murtaza's house (from which his father had been lifted by Zia's commandos in 1978). The family inside felt something was wrong. At this point, a remarkably composed Fatima Bhutto, aged 14, decided to ring her aunt at Prime Minister's House. The conversation that followed remains imprinted on her memory and a few years ago she gave me an account of it. It was Zardari who took her call:
Fatima: I wish to speak to my aunt, please.
Zardari: It's not possible.
Fatima: Why? [At this point, Fatima says she heard loud wails and what sounded like fake crying.]
Zardari: She's hysterical, can't you hear?
Fatima: Why?
Zardari: Don't you know? Your father's been shot.
Fatima and Ghinwa found out where Murtaza had been taken and rushed out of the house. There was no sign on the street outside that anything had happened: the scene of the killing had been wiped clean of all evidence. There were no traces of blood and no signs of any disturbance. They drove straight to the hospital but it was too late; Murtaza was already dead. Later they learned that he had been left bleeding on the ground for almost an hour before being taken to a hospital where there were no emergency facilities of any kind.
When Benazir arrived to attend her brother's funeral in Larkana, angry crowds stoned her limo. She had to retreat. In another unusual display of emotion, local people encouraged Murtaza's widow to attend the actual burial ceremony in defiance of Islamic tradition. According to Fatima, one of Benazir's hangers-on instigated legal proceedings against Ghinwa in a religious court for breaching Islamic law. Nothing was sacred.
Anyone who witnessed Murtaza's murder was arrested; one witness died in prison. When Fatima rang Benazir to ask why witnesses were being arrested and not the killers she was told: 'Look, you're very young. You don't understand things.' Perhaps it was for this reason that the kind aunt decided to encourage Fatima's blood-mother, Fauzia, whom she had previously denounced as a murderer in the pay of General Zia, to come to Pakistan and claim custody of Fatima. No mystery as to who paid her fare from California. Fatima and Ghinwa Bhutto resisted and the attempt failed. Benazir then tried a softer approach and insisted that Fatima accompany her to New York, where she was going to address the UN Assembly. Ghinwa Bhutto approached friends in Damascus and had her two children flown out of the country. Fatima later discovered that Fauzia had been seen hobnobbing with Benazir in New York.
In November 1996 Benazir was once again removed from power, this time by her own president, Farooq Leghari, a PPP stalwart. He cited corruption, but what had also angered him was the ISI's crude attempt at blackmail – the intelligence agencies had photographed Leghari's daughter meeting a boyfriend and threatened to go public. The week Benazir fell, the chief minister of Sind, Abdullah Shah, hopped on a motorboat and fled Karachi for the Gulf and thence the US.
A judicial tribunal had been appointed by Benazir's government to inquire into the circumstances leading to Murtaza's death. Headed by a Supreme Court judge, it took detailed evidence from all parties. Murtaza's lawyers accused Zardari, Abdullah Shah and two senior police officials of conspiracy to murder. Benazir (now out of power) accepted that there had been a conspiracy, but suggested that 'the hidden hand responsible for this was President Farooq Ahmad Leghari': the intention, she said, was to 'kill a Bhutto to get rid of a Bhutto'. Nobody took this seriously. Given all that had happened, it was an incredible suggestion.
The tribunal said there was no legally acceptable evidence to link Zardari to the incident, but accepted that 'this was a case of extra-judicial killings by the police' and concluded that such an incident could not have taken place without approval from the highest quarters. Nothing happened. Eleven years later, Fatima Bhutto publicly accused Zardari; she also claimed that many of those involved that day appear to have been rewarded for their actions. In an interview on an independent TV station just before the emergency was imposed, Benazir was asked to explain how it happened that her brother had bled to death outside his home while she was prime minister. She walked out of the studio. A sharp op-ed piece by Fatima in the LA Times on 14 November elicited the following response: 'My niece is angry with me.' Well, yes.
Musharraf may have withdrawn the corruption charges, but three other cases are proceeding in Switzerland, Spain and Britain. In July 2003, after an investigation lasting several years, Daniel Devaud, a Geneva magistrate, convicted Mr and Mrs Asif Ali Zardari, in absentia, of money laundering. They had accepted $15 million in bribes from two Swiss companies, SGS and Cotecna. The couple were sentenced to six months in prison and ordered to return $11.9 million to the government of Pakistan. 'I certainly don't have any doubts about the judgments I handed down,' Devaud told the BBC. Benazir appealed, thus forcing a new investigation. On 19 September 2005 she appeared in a Geneva court and tried to detach herself from the rest of the family: she hadn't been involved, she said: it was a matter for her husband and her mother (afflicted with Alzheimer's disease). She knew nothing of the accounts. And what of the agreement her agent Jens Schlegelmilch had signed according to which, in case of her and Zardari's death, the assets of Bomer Finance Company would be divvied out equally between the Zardari and Bhutto families? She knew nothing of that either. And the £120,000 diamond necklace in the bank vault paid for by Zardari? It was intended for her, but she had rejected the gift as 'inappropriate'. The case continues. Last month Musharraf told Owen Bennett-Jones of the BBC World Service that his government would not interfere with the proceedings: 'That's up to the Swiss government. Depends on them. It's a case in their courts.'
In Britain the legal shenanigans concern the $3.4 million Rockwood estate in Surrey, bought by offshore companies on behalf of Zardari in 1995 and refurbished to his exacting tastes. Zardari denied owning the estate. Then when the court was about to instruct the liquidators to sell it and return the proceeds to the Pakistan government, Zardari came forward and accepted ownership. Last year, Lord Justice Collins ruled that, while he was not making any 'findings of fact', there was a 'reasonable prospect' that the Pakistan government might be able to establish that Rockwood had been bought and furnished with 'the fruits of corruption'. A close friend of Benazir told me that she was genuinely not involved in this one, since Zardari wasn't thinking of spending much time there with her.
Daniel Markey, formerly of the State Department and currently senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, explained why Washington had pushed the marriage of convenience: 'A progressive, reform-minded, more cosmopolitan party in government would help the US.' As their finances reveal, the Zardaris are certainly cosmopolitan.
What then is at stake in Pakistan as far as Washington is concerned? 'The concern I have,' Robert Gates, the US secretary for defense, recently said, 'is that the longer the internal problems continue, the more distracted the Pakistani army and security services will be in terms of the internal situation rather than focusing on the terrorist threat in the frontier area.' But one reason for the internal crisis is Washington's over-reliance on Musharraf and the Pakistani military. It is Washington's support and funding that have given him the confidence to operate as he pleases. But the thoughtless Western military occupation of Afghanistan is obviously crucial, since the instability in Kabul seeps into Peshawar and the tribal areas between the two countries. The state of emergency targeted the judiciary, opposition politicians and the independent media. All three groups were, in different ways, challenging the official line on Afghanistan and the 'war on
terror', the disappearance of political prisoners and the widespread use of torture in Pakistani prisons. The issues were being debated on television in a much more open fashion than happens anywhere in the West, where a blanket consensus on Afghanistan drowns all dissent. Musharraf argued that civil society was hampering the 'war on terror'. Hence the emergency. It's nonsense, of course. It's the war in the frontier regions that is creating dissent inside the army. Many do not want to fight. Hence the surrender of dozens of soldiers to Taliban guerrillas. This is the reason many junior officers are taking early retirement.
Western pundits blather on about the jihadi finger on the nuclear trigger. This is pure fantasy, reminiscent of a similar campaign almost three decades ago, when the threat wasn't the jihadis who were fighting alongside the West in Afghanistan, but nationalist military radicals. The cover story of Time magazine for 15 June 1979 dealt with Pakistan; a senior Western diplomat was quoted as saying that the big danger was 'that there is another Gaddafi down there, some radical major or colonel in the Pakistani army. We could wake up and find him in Zia's place one morning and, believe me, Pakistan wouldn't be the only place that would be destabilised.'
The Pakistan army is half a million strong. Its tentacles are everywhere: land, industry, public utilities and so on. It would require a cataclysmic upheaval (a US invasion and occupation, for example) for this army to feel threatened by a jihadi uprising. Two considerations unite senior officers: the unity of the organisation and keeping politicians at bay. One reason is the fear that they might lose the comforts and privileges they have acquired after decades of rule; but they also have the deep aversion to democracy that is the hallmark of most armies. Unused to accountability within their own ranks, it's difficult for them to accept it in society at large.
As southern Afghanistan collapses into chaos, and as corruption and massive inflation takes hold, the Taliban is gaining more and more recruits. The generals who convinced Benazir that control of Kabul via the Taliban would give them 'strategic depth' may have retired, but their successors know that the Afghans will not tolerate a long-term Western occupation. They hope for the return of a whitewashed Taliban. Instead of encouraging a regional solution that includes India, Iran and Russia, the US would prefer to see the Pakistan army as its permanent cop in Kabul. It won't work. In Pakistan itself the long night continues as the cycle restarts: military leadership promising reforms degenerates into tyranny, politicians promising social support to the people degenerate into oligarchs. Given that a better functioning neighbour is unlikely to intervene, Pakistan will oscillate between these two forms of rule for the foreseeable future. The people who feel they have tried everything and failed will return to a state of semi-sleep, unless something unpredictable rouses them again. This is always possible.
30 November

Tariq Ali's The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power will be published next year.
Other articles by this contributor:
Pakistan at Sixty • The Trouble with Pakistan
In Princes' Pockets • Saudi Oil
Mullahs and Heretics • A Secular History of Islam
Bitter Chill of Winter • Kashmir
The General in his Labyrinth • Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US

Tehelka::Education is Integral To India's Big Dream Of Human Empowerment

Tehelka:: Free. Fair. Fearless
Education Is Integral To India’s Big Dream Of Human Empowerment

One needs to find reasons for the poor index of human security. Especially in a country like India that aspires to be one of the relevant powers of the 21st century


A FEW MONTHS ago India’s GDP crossed the one trillion dollar mark and if this was cause for some cheer, the more recent Forbes report, that on current individual fiscal worth, the number of Indian billionaires was greater than that of China seemed to burnish the image of a nation swiftly moving up the global ladder. However this feelgood mood was brought into sharp and unflattering context by two UN reports released last week. The UN Development Report for 2007 noted that on the Human Development Index (HDI), India had slipped from its rank of 126 in 2006 to 128 in 2007. And then, the UNESCO Education for All: Global Monitoring Report confirmed the downward trend when it announced that India had slipped from a rank of 100 to 105 over the last year.

While the UNDP Report this year dwelt more on climate change and its long term implications, taken together, these two reports and their assessment of India in terms of individual human security is cause for deep concern and should not be glossed over.
Illustration: NAOREM ASHISH

Some random figures as related to India and South Asia are deeply disturbing. India ranks 62 among 108 developing nations in the global Human Poverty Index . Despite the fact that India's per capita GDP has doubled in the 15 year period from 1990-2005, as many as 380 million Indians are afflicted by the DAD syndrome — $1 a day. It is equally shameful that as regards human security, India has had 2.5 million starvation deaths and 2 million sanitation-related deaths — and these are the more stark and visible indicators. China and Brazil with whom India is often compared have been placed at rank 81 and 70 respectively on the 2007 HDI.

To the extent that education is integral to human empowerment thereby creating more viable opportunities for improved individual security, India’s track record is patchy. While it has come down the global education ladder to position 105, it is appalling to acknowledge that for a country that is perceived to be an IT power and the back-office of the 21st century, a third of the world’s illiterates now live in India. Further disaggregated, the UNESCO estimates that India, Nigeria and Pakistan account for 27 percent of the world’s out-of-school children. What is most shameful — yes, that word again — is the fact that India’s deep socio-cultural bias against the girl child comes to the fore in the education domain. While official statistics take credit for a gross enrolment of 95 percent at the primary level, the drop-out at Class I is almost 15 percent — and the gender skewing is distressing. Among the drop-outs at this stage, up to 66 percent are girls and when combined with the gruesome statistics about female feticide, India as a collective stands deeply tainted.

WHAT ARE the reasons for this poor index of human security so unambiguously associated with a nation that aspires to be one of the more relevant powers of the 21st century? Resource constraints — yes, to the extent that India is able to spend only 4.1 percent of GNP for education. Here yet another report, the World Economic Forum and CII document Global Risk Network becomes relevant. Identifying six factors that can slow down the Indian economy, it makes reference to corruption and poor governance as being central to shaping India's potential growth. It may be recalled that when the late Rajiv Gandhi had become Prime Minister in late 1984, he bemoaned the fact that for every rupee that the government allocated towards development — which includes the spectrum of poverty alleviation, socio-economic improvement and education — only 16 paisa went towards the intended purpose with the remainder being siphoned off for personal gain. The grim reality 23 years later is that maybe just 6 paisa of the government rupee reach the sectors it is disbursed for and the rest is part of the corruption and graft malignancy that now engulfs India.

Unless this paradigm changes, it is more likely that next year, India will slip further down the global HDI end education ladder even while faring well at the macroeconomic front. Equitable and sustainable human security for one billion Indians, alas, remains elusive.
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 4, Issue 48, Dated Dec 15 , 2007

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Arise Awake Stop not till the goal is reached. - Swami Vivekananda Swami ji is my inspiration, not as a monk but as a social reformer and for his universal-ism.