Thursday, October 26, 2006

One step forward, two back

I continue to be impressed with the press in Pakistan. This is not a free country, as can be surmised from the article below, and yet some of their news outlets describe the reality of power politics in Pakistan in devastating ways. Surely the generals, and of course especially Musharraf, are embarrassed by such blunt descriptions of the Machiavellian machinations of Pakistan's several power blocs, each working to its own ends, virtually none of them actually displaying a concern for the country. There is, however, little sign that the religious establishment is embarrassed by revelations of what they do. Below are excerpts from an article by an intrepid professor at the Quaid-e-Azam University in
Islamabad that appeared in the Karachi-based newspaper Dawn. Pray that he and the newspaper will stay safe.


One step forward, two back
Published: October 12, 2006 (Dawn)

[T]he present regime … has a single-point agenda - to stay in power at all costs. It, therefore, does whatever it must and Pakistan moves further away from any prospect of acquiring modern values, and of building and strengthening democratic institutions. … On the one hand, the army leadership knows that its critical dependence upon the West requires that it be perceived abroad as a liberal regime pitted against radical Islamists. On the other hand, and in actual fact,to safeguard and extend its grip on power, it must preserve the status quo. The staged conflicts between General Musharraf and the mullahs are, therefore, a regular part of Pakistani politics. … In a nutshell: provoke a fight, get the excitement going, let diplomatic missions in Islamabad make their notes and CNN and BBC get their clips - and then beat a retreat. At the end of it all, the mullahs would get what they want, but so would the general. … [T]he blasphemy law … under which the minimum penalty is death, has frequently been used to harass personal and political opponents. [But] under the watchful glare of the mullahs, Musharraf hastily [abandoned attempts to rescind it]. … [In another instance,] even before the mullahs actually took to the streets, the government lost nerve and announced its volte-face on March 24, 2005. … [Worse was] the astonishing recent retreat over reforming the Hudood Ordinance, … unparalleled both for its cruelty and irrationality. … These laws prescribe death by stoning for married Muslims who are found guilty of extra-marital sex (for unmarried couples or non-Muslims, the penalty is 100 lashes). …Rape is still more problematic. A woman who fails to prove that she has been raped is automatically charged with fornication and adultery. … [S]he is considered guilty unless she can prove her innocence. [which requires her] to provide "at least four Muslim adult male witnesses, about whom the court is satisfied" who saw the actual act of penetration. General Musharraf, and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, proposed amending the Hudood Ordinance [but] outraged the fundamentalists of the MMA, the main Islamic parliamentary opposition, …. The government cowered abjectly and withdrew. ...[Another case:] In 2002, presumably on Washington's instructions, the Pakistan army established military bases in South Waziristan which had become a refuge for Taliban and Al Qaeda fleeing Afghanistan. It unleashed artillery and US-supplied Cobra gunships. By 2005, heavy fighting had spread to North Waziristan and the army was bogged down. The generals, safely removed from combat areas, and busy in building their personal empires, ascribed the resistance to "a few hundred foreign militants and terrorists". But the army was taking losses … and soldiers rarely ventured from their forts. Reportedly, local clerics refused to conduct funeral prayers for soldiers killed in action. In 2004, the army made peace with the militants of South Waziristan. It conceded the territory to them, which made the militants immensely stronger. A similar "peace treaty" was signed on September 5, 2006, in the town of Miramshah in North Waziristan, now firmly in the grip of the Pakistani Taliban. [The treaty] met all the demands made by the militants [and] the financial compensation demanded by the Taliban for loss of property and life … [was] "astronomical". …[T]he locals have been left to pay the price. The militants have closed girls' schools and are enforcing harsh Shariah laws in both North and South Waziristan. Barbers have been told "shave and die". Taliban vigilante groups patrol the streets of Miramshah. They check such things as the length of beards, whether the "shalwars" are worn at an appropriate height above the ankles and the attendance of individuals in the mosques. And then there is Balochistan. In 1999, when the army seized power, there was no visible separatist movement in Balochistan, which makes up nearly 44 per cent of Pakistan's land mass and is the repository of its gas and oil resources. Now there is a full-blown insurgency built upon Baloch grievances, … The crisis worsened when the charismatic 79-year old Baloch chieftain and former governor of Balochistan, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, was killed by army bombs. Musharraf outraged the Baloch by calling it "a great victory". Reconciliation in Balochistan now seems a distant dream. Musharraf and his generals are determined to stay in power. … No price is too high for them. They are the reason why Pakistan fails.

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