Friday, March 13, 2009

Suppressing human dissent

History is replete with examples of instances when dissenting opinions and voices in a country have been suppressed by the state through all means at its disposal. Sometimes use of force, utilizing all state resources at hand, has been done. The tolerance level of the state towards such people having such difference of opinion has been particularly low when authoritarian regimes were in existence. This is predominantly because authoritarian regimes neither ascribe nor believe in the fundamental rights of the people which includes a basic premise that everyone is born equal and is entitled to freedom to express his views. However, this does not bestow on that individual, or a segment of that society or a large proportion of the populace (if the regime is extremely unpopular) to resort to practices which are violent in nature or which disturb the rights of others. For example the protestors should not destroy or damage property or endanger the lives of others.

The democratic governments are more open to allowing such dissent to be observed. This so because there exists a dialectical opposition between rules of military or authoritarian organization and principles of governing a society through democratic system. One relies on command; the other on consensus. Changes of government by ballot create mechanisms for reform and modifications. In office, elected governments can be challenged and called to account by a responsible opposition, an alert press and a vigilant public. The judiciary as an organ of the state, amongst other important functions of dispensing justice, ensures that the mandate of the government is not abused and the government does not go beyond the point that its acts become unconstitutional and illegal. A balance between the power of the enormous power of the state and the citizens of a country is guaranteed by an independent judiciary which is composed of judges free from any coercion, duress or threat of removal. In Pakistan, the Constitution gives the judges as well as protects the fundamental rights of the people including the right to assemble and freedom of movement.

Unfortunately however, the legal fraternity of this country as well as members of the civil society, scholars, experts and the intelligentsia feels that in the present situation an imbalance of the very fundamentals of the whole system is disturbed and violated. To correct the judicial imbalance created by a power hungry General (r) Musharraf who had no regard for judicial and democratic systems and the rights arising therein, the lawyers’ movement, backed by all ‘democracy loving’ political parties launched a movement for the restoration of deposed judges who had for the first time committed themselves to provide people with protection of their rights as well as put an end to the usurpation of power by armed military dictators in future.

Today, we see a political party departing from its past promises to provide the people with such a judicial system which was promised to them, in a quest to maintain control over the judiciary, which is an impulsive wish for such breed of politicians who forget who they are, and whose mandate they exercise and have sworn to protect once they taste power. In the latest bid to mute the voices of people who stand for the protection of such a judicial system as well as demand an end to the undemocratic behavior of such a government which has until recently dislodged a provincial government (which also demanded the same principles (PML(N)))

Today, dissent is being equated to an act of treason and sedition. The long march planned by the lawyers is seen as a threat to the government itself when in fact it stands for a principle which would lengthen the lengths of such governments through ballots and many more to come in the future hopefully. What the protestors seek is nothing but the right to assemble and seek a rightful objective: the declaration of the coup of General (R) Musharraf on November 3, 2007 as unconstitutional and illegal and the natural corollary would be restoration of the judicial system as it stood before that day. Although the government has publicly decried on more than one occasion that the act was illegal and signed written agreements with PML(N) as well as promised to the nation that it will restore the status quo as it stood prior to that day, its acts defy all norms of sanity and good governance as well as negate the very concept of democratic system and balloting conducted on February 18, 2008.

Section 144 has been imposed in all major areas of Punjab as well as other parts of the country and all gatherings of five or more persons are prohibited. The purpose of dislodging of the Punjab government and imposition of Governor’s rule was designed to unfold these kind of restrictive measures to prevent the amassing of hundreds of thousands of protestors flocking to the Federal Capital and staging a sit in until Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry is reinstated. The issue is being portrayed as a Punjab issue only and regional nationalism is being provoked at an unimaginable level which is not consistent with the image of the PPP as a federal party which has in the past strengthened the federation at all levels. Supreme Court Bar President Ali Ahmed Kurd has been disallowed from entering Sindh from Balochistan which is a meaningful step having damaging message and consequences for the future politics and political harmony.

Dissent, whenever suppressed, has had disastrous consequences and longlasting consequences. As an extreme example, it was seen how the killing of protesting students by the Chinese army around Tiananmen Square in 1989 sowed the seeds of permanent discord and hate for the Chinese amongst the Taiwanese. The government says that long marches are not welcome or part of the rights of the people when a Parliament exists to instigate debate over the relevant issues. This is a wrong perception. What then of the long march which Benazir Bhutto organized in 1992 against the government of Nawaz Sharif who was duly elected? What about the various long marches and protests we see in democratic countries of the West be that protest in England or New York against the decisions of the respective governments of Bush and Blair to go to war in Iraq? Did not history prove that the democratically elected President and Prime Minister of their respective countries were wrong? It is also stated that ‘dharnas’(sit-ins) are not welcome and undemocratic. How does one explain then the sit ins and protests by Greek students against the reforms in the education system introduced by the Education Ministry of the Greek government? The reforms would have required students to gain a degree within a fixed period of time whereas previously they could have pursued it indefinitely. This measure was in part also meant to implement an EU deadline to ensure common standards for all member countries’ education systems. If the Greek students could protest without any hindrances, as are being set up in Pakistan, against a move perceived to be a good one by most EU nations, can the lawyers and PML(N) and APDM not protest against a much broader issue which touches upon the vitalities of the state itself?! It is pertinent to mention that the killing of a student by the police led to much greater protests, riots and destruction by the students and Pakistani authorities must learn an example from this. It is only one instance which is cited in this case to remind the authorities that the suppression of dissent through administrative measures results in unrest, discord and glorification of the cause of the lawyers which can turn into something not intended either by the protesting parties or the administration itself.

Our history is replete with examples how third parties are allowed to intervene in such a scenario, when circumstances are seen to go outside the control of the politicians and a gap exists between the people and those who govern them. To suppress political dissent and disturb the mandate of a province is a prime example of a step in that direction. Just as the government is justifying all unconstitutional acts on the pretext of ‘necessity’ and ‘constitutional duty’ and ‘regrets’ over taking extreme measure to maintain ‘law and order’, the army has intervened in the past using similar phrases such as ‘intervention was necessary’ in the ‘national interest’ and to maintain ‘law and order’. Instead of either inviting the army ourselves as a stakeholder in a political arena and try to diffuse the situation (as General Kiani has already done so) or providing an opportunity to self-professed stakeholders in Pakistan who are from the Western hemisphere United States of which we have become a ‘proxy-state’ of late (the communications through U.S. ambassador, U.S. special envoy and U.K Foreign Secretary are shameful to say the least in that they demonstrate the inability of our leaders to express faith in their own person as peoples’ representative to take decisions affecting this sovereign country), we must resolve our internal situation in a graceful way ourselves. Benazir Bhutto, a great stateswoman and Mian Nawaz Sharif, a gifted nationalist leader signed the Charter of Democracy for this very time and for this very purpose that it contains the solution for all the conflicts and problems that we face today. We must go back to that and implement it if we want to save the fate of this country, respect the will of the people and establish ourselves as a sovereign and proud Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Dangerous times for Pakistan

The bold attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team and its convoy has large-scale repercussions for the strife and violence struck Pakistan. Previously known for its relative calm and peace, an attack in the heart of Punjab at Lahore has sent shockwaves to the habitants of the city as well as struck a huge blow to the image of Pakistan as a safe venue for foreign visitors. The planning and execution of the incident amplifies the resolve of the executors to tarnish the nation’s stability and image. When the Sri Lankan team took the field earlier this year in the first one-day, it had raised new hopes for restoration of cricket in this part of the world. Pakistan had fought its case hard before the International Cricket Council as well as before cricket boards of member countries that it was a safe venue for cricket and it was only upon the welcome response from the Sri Lankan Cricket Board and its players led by former captain and chairman of the board Arjuna Ranatunga that we finally saw a foreign team visit Pakistan.

It is obvious however that there were glaring security lapses which led to the breach in the ‘security cordon’ of the convoy of the Sri Lankan team and resulting in injuries to the players as well as loss of innocent lives. It is horrifying to note that we had promised the visitors ‘Presidential-level’ security and they took our word for it and as it has transpired the security was nowhere close to the promised level. Every prudent man amongst us realize what that level of security implies in this country and traffic and all kinds of vehicles and pedestrians are barred during the entire length of travel in such cases whereas no such protocols were observed by the Punjab government.

It is implausible that such a brazen ambush could take place at a plain and level terrain where no advantages such as cover was available to the terrorists and elite professionals who are trained to reach within seconds were caught by surprise and were dead before they could react. Even the bullet proof vests which are mandatory were not worn by the security cover which endangered the lives of these people as well as their guest Sri Lankan team.
Being not privy to any sort of investigation results, nothing can be said conclusively about the perpetrators except from the surrounding circumstances of the attack and its aftermath. The security forces (with due respect to the sacrifice of lives that they have offered) were unable and unwilling to respond to the situation despite having a headquarters stationed quite close to the crime scene and one could see the terrorists almost strolling by and riding off on the bikes without any hindrance. Even a passing police vehicle which could have easily intercepted them took no notice of the dangling weaponry that they were carrying while fleeing.
Perhaps the Punjab government, after the imposition of the Governor’s rule and the agitation that followed, was entangled in other unnecessary matters including the political crises in the province and forgot about its corresponding duties for the provision of security to the Sri Lankan cricket team. It is quite natural that having undergone tremendous reshuffling in the administrative and security personnel and deputation of fresh officers to high level posts in the Punjab government, the transition in command may have been an added advantage for the attackers who had perhaps taken this factor to their advantage.

Pakistan, which already faces intense political strife due to the disqualification of the popular Sharif brothers and imposition of Governor’s rule in the densely populated province of Punjab, has suffered a huge blow to its credibility and image in the international arena. It has been dubbed as a greater threat to international stability than Afghanistan by an American official and has been dubbed by some British newspapers as receding quickly into the list of countries which are declared failed states. India, taking advantage of the situation has dubbed the country as one which is fast becoming a failed one after the attack. Her Interior Minister, cognizant of the recent attacks as well as the political confrontation between the two major political parties in the region, has stated that one does not know whether Pakistan is controlled by the President, the government or the Army. The recent proclamation of Ordinance by the President and the subsequent withdrawal on the advice of the Prime Minister must have also been on his mind when he made such an allegation since it brought confusion in the affairs of the government and raised question marks over the influence of the President’s office in the functioning of the government as well as lack of coordination between the President and the Prime Minister and his cabinet.

Pakistan must seek the path of cohesion and national unity at this moment in time to respond strongly to such allegations and dispel such rumors as misperceptions. The government, having given its word on certain issues must provide solutions to the present political crises in the country and return Punjab to democratic rule. The PML (N) and the lawyers on the other hand, while having full rights to protest and demand for the restoration of the judges must do so peacefully and while demonstrating their resolve and determination over the issue must understand that the PPP is there to stay and any attempt to destabilize the government may harm the democratic and economic future of this country. The PPP has broken its promises but it must not pay for this through the destabilization of the entire democratic system. Let the stakeholders and the civil society show their resolve and determination for the reinstatement, but the PML(N) and the lawyers must understand that the PPP will not do it and has taken the decision not to reinstate Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. It must face the music in the next elections and the people would hold them accountable for their flawed policies and cheap methods of politics. The PPP must however restore democratic rule to Punjab if it itself believes that democracy should not be hijacked in the center. This should be an unconditional act and it is the right of the elected people to run the government through the elected provincial legislature and government. Any conditions attached to such return to democratic rule would be fatal to PPP’s interest and future politics.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Pakistan in chaos

It is a coincidence that whenever dictatorship has ended in Pakistan, Pakistan People’s Party has assumed power in a democratic system through the ballot. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto did so following the resignation of General Yahya Khan, Benazir Bhutto following General Zia ul Haq’s disappearance from the scene in flames and Yousaf Raza Gillani following General Musharraf’s resignation amidst impeachment proceedings against him. It is a pity that all the dictators, save General Zia who died in the plane incident, none have been tried for breaching their constitutional duty to prevent a recurrence. Even more worrying is the fact that this time the PPP, which has strived to reduce the powers of the President’s office which has been used by dictators to exercise excessive powers contrary to the parliamentary form of the government, has sidelined the issue of repealing these powers after the February elections and even wanted to increase them through a constitutional provision. In the past, Zardari had promised to get rid of all excessive powers in his maiden address to the parliament but has unfortunately not directed PPP to move such a bill and has instead issued the first major controversial order using his powers.

The reluctance of PPP to reduce the powers is because its co-chairman, President Asif Ali Zardari stepped into President Musharraf’s shoes, thereby politicizing an office which in the ordinary course is supposed to be impartial since powers such as the emergency proclamation and Governor’s rule are available to the office holder and which have to be used as a last resort and not a purpose other than what it is intended for. It is being alleged today that it has been used to change the elected mandate of a province and President Zardari has brought credence to this allegation by announced that the next government in Punjab would be PPP-led..

Today, Governor’s rule has been enforced in Punjab through the emergency proclamation under Article 234 and the PML(N) led government has been rendered impotent, at least for the time being. Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer had predicted that the PPP would soon rule the province and soon thereafter Sharif brothers were declared ineligible by the Supreme Court of Pakistan the Governor rule was imposed. Surely, the verdict did not deprive the PML(N) of its ability to form the government and the purpose behind the Governor’s rule is self-speaking. The crucial event which led Zardari to press the button was the announcement by Nawaz Sharif that he would fully support the lawyers’ long march and ‘dharna’.

The months leading up to the imposition of the Governor’s rule are also important. Salmaan Taseer had been continuously sending letters to the Punjab Government and the President, expressing the inability of the Punjab Government to carry out the governance in accordance with the Constitution, without providing any logical and legal reasons. The PML(N) was thus not caught off guard however it had failed to neutralize this attempt and only until the very last minute contacts were established with the leaders of the PML(Q), who look intent to form the next government in the province with the PPP in the province.

Today, Pakistan stands on the brink of a showdown between the old arch rivals and already much protest and damage to property has taken place by angered PML(N) supporters as well as miscreants who seek to benefit from such agitations. The PML (N) has declared an all-out war and refused to talk to President Zardari. Although Prime Minister Gillani has regretted the decision of the Supreme Court and also pointed out that the review of the decision was still an option, perhaps it is too late for reconciliation on the issue and the Sharifs feel disillusioned, cheated and humiliated. It is hoped that efforts by parties like ANP and JUI(F) towards reconciliation bears fruit otherwise the future is not very bright for the country and the lawyers’ movement headed by the popular Pakistan Muslim League (N) as well as the movement of the PML(N) for restoration of democratic rule in Punjab will create mayhem in national politics as well as shake the powerhouse in Islamabad.

At the onset of movements, it is difficult to predict its success. At the next stage and beyond however, it cannot be stated for sure whether the outcome would be achieved or may perhaps be the same as envisaged by the movement leaders. When the PNA started a movement for fresh elections during Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s tenure, on the basis of allegations of rigging, nobody, including the slain premier knew that the agitation and mass protest in favour of fresh elections would eventually result in his judicial execution by a military dictator and a prolonged period of barbaric martial law would follow and fundamental and democratic rights would be taken away by Zia ul Haq. The Pakistan Peoples Party must ensure that being in power; it must discharge its responsibility for fulfilling its promises and returning the province of Punjab towards democratic rule and it must do so quickly. It must not follow in the footsteps of its founder Z A Bhutto and like him, take the desired steps towards reconciliation too late and sow the seeds of confrontation and another movement. For failure to do so will not only hurt its own interest, but of us all as Pakistanis.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Is Pakistan a sovereign country?

Sovereignty is the absolute power to govern a country. In Islamic jurisprudence, sovereignty belongs to Almighty Allah and during the early years of Islam, the caliphs used to denote Allah’s representative on earth. Democracy has its roots in the belief that all men are born equal and the people collectively, as a nation, form a democratic system through procedural systems and institutions in place. As per the classical theory of democracy on the other hand, the people are sovereign and delegate the elected representatives the right to exercise powers on their behalf. The concept is justified in part on the analogy that since the people who form a nation should not be bothered with the day to day running of the state and instead their representatives do this on their behalf and the citizens pay taxes for example as their obligation to the state and may for example enjoy the benefits (often called rights) of protection of their property.

Pakistan’s sovereignty means in essence therefore, the complete hold of the state over its affairs. The conduct of state business should reflect the will of the people and the affairs of the state should not be such so as to negate sovereignty or give the impression that our government is unable or unwilling to exercise complete control over its affairs. Unfortunately, the revelation by Senator Dianne Feinstein, who is the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee of the United States revealed how close Pakistan was from becoming a proxy state or a satellite of the United States of America and how alienated the present government is from the will of the sovereign people of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Senator Feinstein disclosed during testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee by U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair that the drone attacks that were being carried out inside Pakistan’s sovereign soil were not conducted by drones originating from the neighboring Afghanistan (as was being speculated before), but from Pakistan itself. She made these disclosures whilst commenting on the protests lodged by the Pakistani government against these attacks to the visiting newly appointed U.S. envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke. She expressed her surprise at the fact that the Pakistani government had protested at the drone attacks, when in fact Pakistan had actively permitted the U.S. to operate a base for such drones. These drones regularly carry out sorties killing many innocent civilians along with a handful top Al-Qaeda leadership.

While the Pakistan government rejected the allegation and amongst others, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi denied the presence of the bases inside Pakistan used for the operation of these drones. On the other hand, top U.S. officials have confirmed that what Senator Feinstein had stated was true. While satellite images taken in 2006 on Google, have been released in the media showing the presence of three drones at the Shamsi airbase which is less than 200 miles southwest of Quetta, the Pakistani government remain in a state of denial. However, the matter does not rest here as I would have honestly wanted to believe that the government was right since the images were dated prior to the present government’s accession to power. On top of this however, unnamed top officials of the U.S. as well as its counterterrorism officials have spoken to the western media (Fox News for example) and confirmed Pakistan’s explicit approval for the ‘project to kill’ as well as provision of infrastructure, including airstrips, to execute citizens on the basis of U.S. intelligence. A former CIA official familiar with the Predator (a drone having the capability to create massive destruction) operations said Pakistan’s government secretly approves of the flights because of the growing militant threat. An investigation by The Times, a U.K. daily, revealed that the CIA was secretly using Shamsi to launch the Predator drones that observe and attack al-Qaeda and Taleban militants around Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.

According to a senior NATO military official, Pakistan, the US, and other NATO member countries have had an ‘unwritten agreement’ for the past three to five years to allow the CIA to fly unmanned drones out of airstrips in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region. Moreover, the NATO official while speaking to CBS news increased the level of anxiety of Pakistanis when he stated that the Shamsi base is not the only one used for the purpose.

The present government had broken from the practice of the Musharraf policy of staying quiet whenever drone strikes took place and occasionally claiming that the strikes were being conducted by the Pakistani forces. However the present government started condemning the strikes in a bid to win popular support. What has emerged however has now clarified that the government has refused to repudiate the agreement with the U.S. and NATO to allow such bases to be present in Pakistan. By protesting at the official level, it tried to win over domestic support as well as tried to create a false impression that the strikes were being conducted against Pakistan’s will. To this extent the government followed a policy of deceit and hypocrisy.

Whilst the Kyrgyz parliament voted this week to close a U.S. airbase over growing public hostility towards the base, the Pakistani government seems bent upon befooling its own people rather admit the presence of such bases and its acquiescence in the drone attacks and take remedial steps. It is also pertinent that U.S. had refused to pay more for the base which Kyrgyzstan had demanded. Additionally, another cogent reason for the closure of the base is that a U.S. soldier had fatally shot dead a Kyrgyz truck driver during a security check and the U.S. had refused to revoke the soldier’s immunity to prosecute him. In sharp contrast to the high price the U.S. had to pay for the killing of a single innocent citizen, Pakistan is willing to acquiesce in the killing of hundreds of innocents. We have been unable to even get reimbursed for the coalition support for the so called “war on terror” which have increased to more than 1.5 billion dollars as per Finance Adviser Shaukat Tareen, what to speak about negotiating for a better deal (keeping aside the arguments against being a U.S. partner for a moment). Up to 75 percent of U.S. supplies to Afghanistan travel through Pakistan yet the government had to beg to the IMF for loans (what to speak of write-off of previous ones) to keep the economy from crashing.

The good news is that it is still not too late. The government must restore its credibility as well as sovereignty of Pakistan by repudiating all secret agreements made with the U.S. and NATO for conducting the drone attacks. Sovereignty may be undermined for a time period. It can however be restored provided the will and the courage like a small country such as Kyrgyzstan having a population of just over 5 million and area of 200 thousand square kilometers exists. Having a far greater population of over 170 million and area of more than 800 thousand square kilometers, we need to have a greater fervor and apt leadership which values our sovereignty on top of anything else. To achieve that, the leadership must be more sensitive to the public sentiment since at the end of the day, in a democracy, the people are sovereign and in a sovereign country, there is no “collateral damage”. It is the loss of innocent lives that matter.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Pakistan admits its soil used for Mumbai carnage

Interior Adviser, Mr. Rehman Malik has accepted the use of Pakistan’s soil in the planning of the Mumbai terror attacks. He has also disclosed that a case was registered on Thursday against eight suspects. Significantly, he has posed questions on behalf of the Government of Pakistan to India which would allow further investigation into the incident as well as help uncover other actors who may have facilitated the attacks.

It is important to note that some of the questions that were drafted are regarding details of other incidents of terrorism that have occurred in the past in the region. The role of Indian officials in the Samjhota Express blasts in which Indian Muslims were targeted as well as the Malay village blasts are amongst the issues that Islamabad has raised in these questions. Quite evidently, this implies that these and other acts of terror and killing of civilians in the past were interlinked and may have provided the impetus for the planning and execution of the Mumbai attacks.

The ball is in India’s court now and it must reciprocate in the same manner as Islamabad has by coming out openly and in a transparent manner and not irrationally as it has in the past. It must not try to evade the questions, which seems probable, given that it has in the past tried to dissociate other acts of terrorism in its soil from the Mumbai attacks and blamed Pakistan solely by branding it as a ‘safe haven for terrorists’.

It is noteworthy that the disclosure comes following Islamabad’s continued denial into the whole affair in the past which had endangered its credibility as well as international prestige and repute and it looked like it stood alone over the issue at one point. The disclosure however is a positive omen for the region as well as Pakistan itself since it shows its willingness and resolve to bring the perpetrators of such crimes against humanity to justice. It is also foreseeable now that the tensions in the region would lower following the inclination of the government to pursue the matter earnestly.

The visit of the FBI team from the United States of America following the Mumbai attacks and Pakistan’s denial emphasized the importance attached to the issue by the United States following the raised tensions amongst the nuclear armed countries. Instead of sharing the dossier or evidence with Pakistan, India had succeeded in isolating Pakistan internationally and had presented its version of the evidence to the United States who then led the pressure on the Islamabad government after being satisfied that the attacks did emanate in some manner from Pakistan. The findings of FBI, which included details of tracking through GPS of the phones used by the culprits were irrefutable evidence and Pakistan had to go through a review of its active denial policy and first the nationality of Ajmal Kasab was recognized as a Pakistani and now the planning has been also partially been accepted as having been conducted from this country. It is regrettable that previously, statements from the highest officials of this country, the Prime Minister being no exception had one way or the other suggested otherwise. It was said by Mr. Gillani earlier that India had merely provided information and not evidence and similarly it was stated that the planning of the attacks bore the footprints of the foreign country.

Perhaps the decision makers of this country were confident that like they have so often done so in the past in national politics, they can play the game of cat and mouse and hide and seek vis-à-vis India. International relations and international diplomacy is a totally different arena from national politics and the conduct of state actors through non-professional tactics and power play can significantly alter the role of that nation for many years to come. It is hard to see how our decision-makers overlooked the fact that the terrorists of 9/11 belonged to countries which were not blamed for the terrorist activities themselves. Similarly, the fact that they received training in Western piloting schools did not indict the Western countries themselves. We could have seized the opportunity in a different manner and our credibility level would have been that of a cooperating state and not one where only international isolation and threat of war coerces us into submission. Unfortunately, many pundits are writing us off like this now.

One hopes however that following Pakistan’s disclosure some damage control has been done and we must endeavor now to offset some of the pressure that was put on us through our own misdoings and restore our credibility. The Western media, controlled in large part by the Zionist influence as well as the Indian media and their respective leaderships had even prior to this incident painted a dangerous, yet far from reality, picture of Pakistan as a country on the edge of falling into the hands of extremists who would be the next breed of terrorists possessing ready-to-use nuclear weapons. We must not, through our reckless statements, which have to be subsequently ‘clarified’ play into their hands and make their task easier.

Dr. Qadeer is free at last

After a prolonged period of placement under house arrest, for five years, Mr. Abdul Qadeer Khan who is considered to be one of the pioneers of Pakistan’s nuclear program, has been freed by virtue of an order of the Chief Justice of Islamabad High Court, Mr. Justice Sardar Akram. He is allowed to roam freely within the country but his movements outside are expected to be barred by the Government.
Dr. A. Q. Khan had acquired an international repute, for good and some controversial reasons subsequently, when Pakistan’s nuclear program got publicized. His international fame, in the Islamic world particularly, reached its high water mark when Pakistan successfully detonated six nuclear tests in response to India’s five in a quest to acquire a minimum deterrent level vis a vis India. Whether Pakistan’s security was enhanced as a result has been the subject of various debates but one thing which is clear is that Indian leader’s threatening mood after India conducted its own nuclear test subsided somewhat and the high spirits of the extremist Hindu leaders who had repeated their calls for assimilations of Pakistan into “greater-India” through force were subdued.
In Pakistan itself, Mr. A. Q. Khan’s stature and personality was acclaimed nationally and he was viewed as a national hero. Pakistanis knew that the country’s nuclear program had survived despite serious efforts by the U.S. to derail it and we were penalized through sanctions and rumours surfaced, about possible pre-emptive strike by Israel similar to “Operation Opera” during which a surprise Israel air strike had destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor, Osirak in 1981. According to U.S. intelligence services, in the three months leading up to the 1981 Israel air strike, at least three Iraqi nuclear scientists died under mysterious circumstances. What pressures, inducements and intimidations Pakistan and its nuclear scientists may have had to live up with during Pakistan’s nuclear program and its completion has not been known but it is clear that Israel and U.S. have never been comfortable with any Islamic country possessing nuclear weapons.
Dr. A.Q. Khan enjoyed deep respect in the Muslim world and remains one of the most iconic figures alive today who are models for Muslims all over the world. Muslims generally, lack scientific expertise and knowledge in comparison to their western counterparts and spend heavily on hard foreign currency to purchase expensive weapons systems as well as other technological devices. Being largely indigenous in nature, Pakistan’s nuclear program is therefore looked at by many western countries as an Islamic bomb although our nuclear and missile program is directed to match the ambitions of our biggest adversary, India, which threatens our eastern border and has acquiesced and encouraged the break up of Pakistan in 1971.
These are some of the various reasons which led to Dr. A.Q.Khans detention under U.S. pressure by former General Mushrraf who had merely received some briefings and some blueprints of centrifuges plants from the U.S. to establish his role in allegedly providing nuclear technology to Iran, N.Korea and Libya to succumb to their demand of playing Dr. Khan under house arrest. He was coerced into accepting sole responsibility for allegedly transferring nuclear technology to these countries and had been under detention since 2004. It is preposterous that the transfer of nuclear weapons system technology to Israel by the U.S. and the west remained unquestioned and is a topic which is sidelined by both the western media and the western governments, while the founder of nuclear Pakistan has to suffer miserably in his own home country.

The confession that Mr. Khan made, which he subsequently retracted from, is also seriously questionable since such transfer of technology is virtually impossible without the assistance of state apparatus and the armed forces and intelligence agencies of Pakistan, who have retained control over the nuclear program under a rigid and strict control system. One should be surprised if such alleged sole proliferation by Dr. A.Q. Khan went unnoticed by them and surely their role or the role of their agents, if such proliferation did indeed take place, was not investigated and even people who seriously believe that the proliferation did indeed take place have dismissed the idea that Dr.Khan could have done this on his own. Moreover, if our missile technology was acquired from N.Korea in partial exchange for our nuclear technology, it is implicit that strategic decision markers in Pakistan knew about it.
It is a good sign nevertheless that Dr.Khan has been released by a democratic government, which can be seen as a break from the authoritarian past of Pakistan where fundamental rights were under attack, Since now even a Swiss suspect, Mr. Urs Tinner, who was suspected of being part of the international network of Dr.Khan, was released by Swiss authorities last December after 4 years in prison without trial, to keep Dr. Khan under detention without only legal justification was undesirable. The incarceration of Mr.Tinner was described by his lawyer in a complaint with the European Courts of Human Rights as "worthy of Guantanamo". It is only natural that when the condemned Guantanamo prison itself is being closed by the new Democratic President of the United States, all governments worldwide denounce and restrain from the practice of captivity without trial. The Swiss and the Pakistani governments are no exceptions. What seems even more absurd and stupid in Pakistan is that one such man who was held under such captivity was no one but a national hero, not just for this country but Muslims all over the world.
It is a pity that as per Dr. A. Q. Khan it was only through the intervention of Mr. Rehman Malik, Advisor to the Prime Minister on Interior, that his release orders were announced. This speaks volumes about the defects inherent in our legal system.
India would try to potray Pakistan as a terrorist state with even grater vigour it has already reacted to the release by claiming that the scientist is a threat to world pea. Mrs. Hillary Clinton, the new secretary of state of U.S. has indicated U.S’s reservations over the release and the British Foreign Office has reiterated the demand to allow IAEA to question him. We must seek new diplomatic overtures to prevent our isolation in this matter. Consensus building between friendly countries over the issue is necessary. Dr. A. Q. Khan must also refrain in the national interest from speaking about the details of the proliferation or technology exchange in future.

The absence of reaction of Muslim leaders to the detention by Pakistani government in the past speaks volumes about the western influence that encapsulates their autocratic and corrupt leadership. Dr. A.Q. Khan, although much older now, suffering from cancer and bearing strains of captivity can perhaps still work to provide the Muslim Ummah what is needed the most-unity and a sense of brotherhood which revives the days of reign of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto when he was the Prime Minister. In those days for the first time in modern history, when a Muslim soul suffered, the whole Muslim world cried in pain. Perhaps such days would come again, hopefully in the writer’s life.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Is the "lawyers' movement" just the lawyers' movement?

As one of the longest and most popular movement in the history of this country continues amidst calls for a long march and ‘dharna’ on March 9, 2009, a frequent number of questions have been asked by my readers. I would try to answer some of the most frequent questions with reference to past actions of the pre-November 3 judiciary and the significance of such actions in the lives of those who feel that the issue is not paramount to them. It is clear that the present government is unwilling to reverse the actions of a usurper, Mr. Musharraf, and his illegal martial law. This is a dangerous message by our democratically elected government to those who may seek to subvert the constitution for their own interest in the future.

Some of the questions that I was referring to earlier are regarding the veracity of the claim of the present government as well as the incumbent regime led by Mr. Musharraf that the lawyers’ movement means little for ordinary citizens of this country, who allegedly have other priorities that do not seem to co-exist with the lawyers' movement and its agenda which calls for reinstatement of the judiciary as it existed on November 2, 2007 as well as supremacy of rule of law and independence of the judiciary.

I have always impressed upon such fellow citizens the significance of an independent judiciary which touches upon every problem that they have, whether it is economic in nature or relating to the law and order situation or to the freedom that they are entitled to enjoy under the Constitution.

We seem to forget that during Mr. Musharraf's reign, at a time when the administrative limb of the government was obnoxious and indifferent to the sufferings of people, it was the judiciary which took it upon itself to address their grievances and those who were holding power by virtue of their office felt accountable and hence vigilant since the judiciary was insistent that rule of law as opposed to rule of men should be the order of the day. The government was completely oblivious of its task to provide security to ordinary citizens and instances of corruption and nepotism had reached a record level. For the first time, the judiciary was trying to reassert old established legal principles as well as the constitutional safeguards which for example prevent a person from being held in prison or detained indefinitely without any charges. Moreover, the personal benefits that Mr. Musharraf and his cronies, aided by intelligence agencies, accrued upon themselves by extraditing people to the United States, many of who were held in Guantanamo prison, were being reprimanded by the judiciary. Time has proved that the stance of the judiciary in Pakistan was correct as now in the United States itself, Mr. Barack Obama, the new President has underlined the inherent violations of laws that took place by such a process and almost all Guantanamo prisoners are expected to be released.

It is also a fact that Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani was also handed over to the Americans aided by the Pakistani intelligence agencies and had the same judiciary been in place today, the government would have been under pressure to explain the actions of its predecessor as well as bring them to a court of law, including former President Musharraf, who cannot deny his involvement in the whole process since he has admitted agreeing to extradite innocent fellow citizens of his country to the United States for money in his book. Such people have subsequently been tortured illegally. Not only this, all those who aided in her extradition from Pakistan would have been facing the music in a court of law as their action was illegal.

However, this was not to be so. On the other hand, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, amongst many other Pakistanis are stranded in foreign prisons without any pressure on the government by the judiciary to ensure her return or at least attempt to relay the concern of us all to the United States forcefully. Mr. Musharraf and his friends continue to enjoy the millions that they made by ‘selling’ these people like ordinary commodities to the United States. They roam freely while their sisters and brothers are trying to figure out what sin they had committed to deserve such agony and pain. What if, anyone of us, was in her place?

How then can we neglect the importance of an independent judiciary which, without being concerned about the ‘class’ or ‘influence’ of people, who sell people like animals, brings them to justice?

Some questions are also asked as to how the economic woes of people can be resolved by the reinstatement of an independent judiciary. Some people have asked me whether the need to improve the economy of the country, as well as the plight of the poor, should not be the priority of all of us, including the lawyers? Some also ask how reinstatement of a few judges would ensure an independent judiciary and supplant this question with the argument that the majority of the judges have already been restored so the lawyers should not persist with their demand for a full reinstatement. My answer to them is that an independent judiciary goes beyond the matter of reinstatement of certain judges and ouster of others. It is the institution which has to be looked at collectively and if any single judge is retired prematurely or barred from performing the functions of a judge, the sanctity of the whole institution does not remain above board. The only way to restore the sanctity of the institution is to restore the position as it stood as it were prior to the unlawful act of removal of the judge or judges at the earliest.

We forget the significance and implications of the infamous case when billions of worth of Pakistan Steel Mills was being sold at a throwaway price. Surely if this attempt had succeeded, the national exchequer, which is the collective wealth of all of us as Pakistanis, would have been literally looted. In macro economic terms, it would mean deprivation of billions of rupees which if in our national exchequer, would perhaps enable us to retire some of our debt or not seek new ones and which would in turn decrease the inflation for ordinary people when the benefits trickle down (the direct connection may some how seem remote to some economists). How then can we disassociate the economic plight of this country, be that poverty alleviation, employment generation from an independent judiciary?

Similarly there are other instances where the country's national exchequer was stopped from being looted and plundered. The housing project planned by the PML (Q) top leadership in Murree, which was stayed by the Supreme Court is another case in point. Besides other misappropriations, the project was believed to be an environmental disaster in waiting which would have led to severe deforestation. There are many other examples which will not be cited here to avoid repetition as they have been reported numerously in the newspapers and columns. I ask all my respected questioners to think about these questions before they even start thinking that the lawyers' movement is not their own. To the contrary, the lawyers' movement is more the movement of all Pakistanis as the cause of the lawyers of this country is greater their own cause. Is it not true that lawyers have suffered economically as a result of this movement? Would it then be just to say that this movement is for their own benefit? Apart from those who choose to defect and were accommodated by this government and its predecessors, are not the lawyers the biggest losers in material terms as their boycott has resulted in tremendous economic slump in their conditions and many are not even in a position to live a decent life?

We should also not forget how the independent judiciary ensured the independence of the media and allowed masses to view the criticisms of the government and know where the money they pay through taxes was being spent. Had an independent judiciary existed between the martial law imposed by Musharraf and the elections, the millions of rupees spent illegally from the national exchequer to support the electoral campaign of the PML (Q) would have also been checked by that judiciary. It is pertinent to mention that there was video evidence how state officials had supported the PML (Q) campaign and the post-martial law judiciary had chosen to neglect such irregularities. In the hypothetical event that the pre November 3 judiciary been present it would have saved our precious national wealth from being spent to support a campaign of the political power closest to Mr. Musharraf and our country would have certainly been better off. Consequently, the poor and the ordinary would have suffered less since the depletion of resources of the state means the decreased ability of the state to intervene for their interest as well as decreased economic strength which in turn leads to lesser resources being devoted for developmental projects and investments.

To illustrate this point, for example, would we not have been in a better situation to pay off the Independent Power Producers and decrease the electricity deficit and power shortage in the country? It is worth noting that the non-payment to the private power companies was one of the reasons why we faced prolonged power shortages even when the new government took power. Would an independent judiciary not ensure transparency in the new contracts being granted to new power generators to overcome the present energy crises and avoid the repetition of the previously bad contracts with power companies which also patently resulted in a long, expensive and embattled legal battle with Hubco in the past, increased electricity cost for us as consumers as well as the industry, and which also harmed foreign investment amongst the disadvantages already outlined?

To summarize, the plight of a nation, in every sphere of life, improves if strong institutions exist. The importance of the judiciary, being one of the institutions, cannot be understated. An independent judiciary, directly and indirectly, helps establish good governance as well as ensures that rule of law as opposed to rule of men exists. Rule of law ensures transparency, accountability and a sense of participation Rule of men is the pillar stone of corruption, misappropriation and leads to irregularities which in turn burdens the ordinary people of the country. So lets join the lawyers like myself, who seek to preserve and restore the sanctity of the judiciary which is only possible when the assault on it by a usurper like Mr. Musharraf is undone by reinstatement of the judiciary as it stood on November 2, 2007. By supporting March 9, 2009, physically by our participation in the long march, or morally if for one reason or the other the participation is not possible, we should give a message that we as a society have not degenerated and would struggle to establish our rights and the principles the founding fathers laid for us. If we do not stand up collectively, who will?