An ostrich mentality

30 05 2008

http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=115304

Thursday, May 29, 2008
Ikram Sehgal

Whenever the economy is in trouble, central banks the world over take measures to ease pressures on the business community by lowering discount rates, as done recently by the US Federal Reserve Board and the Bank of England. Intervention is normally anathema to “free market” theory but the fear of a domino effect on the economy evoked a rescue effort. Raising interest rates and tightening monetary policy does fight inflation. In Third World countries with large blue-collar workforces fighting unemployment must be the moral objective. This is at variance with IMF practices and beliefs. While inflation lowers the buying power of salaries, it is still preferable to be employed and have some food on the table for the family than not have any money to buy food.

The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has woken up from years of slumber, raising the discount rate and banking charges. And that is meant to control inflation? Manufacturers and merchants will simply pass the rate rises onto the consumers, the common man has had it. Did Governor Shamshad Akhtar consult the government-in-power, what will the PPP answer to the populace? She should have anticipated the rise in inflation. The last SBP Quarterly Report was oblivious to it. Lack of anticipation also failed to prevent a run on the Pakistani rupee and enact pre-emptive measures when the world economic situation was staring us in the face for months. The US dollar was already taking a pounding because of oil prices, and food shortages worldwide were front page news. While the sudden SBP frenzy is not by itself responsible for the stock market downturn, it is certainly a contributing factor. Her recent “Asia Banker” award notwithstanding, is Dr Akhtar up to facing national economic crisis on this scale?

There are signs we may weather the “atta” crisis because of (1) early measures regulating the internal flow (2) reducing smuggling to Afghanistan (3) a bumper wheat crop expected shortly and (4) staggered wheat imports for bolstering buffer stocks. Despite protests from the NWFP and Balochistan, we must keep on hanging tough about internal movement of wheat and atta stocks while keeping supply pipelines open. Why are we being generous in giving Hamid Karzai 50,000 tons of wheat when he badmouths us all the time?

The US is impatient with the peace initiatives in FATA and Swat. While one must not negotiate with terrorists, we must differentiate between terrorists and militants. Those crossing the border into Afghanistan are mostly militants but could also be “equal opportunity” terrorists, Baitullah Mahsud’s forays reaching innocents in cities and towns deep inside Pakistan. Since he has publicly boasted about sending his fighters across the border into Afghanistan, with what credibility do we oppose “hot pursuit” and Predator strikes on locations in FATA’s terrorist-infested areas? The unfortunate Catch-22, further radicalism and virulent anti-Americanism. Both the US and Pakistani interest lie in stopping militant activity on either side of the border, with Mahsud’s terrorists faction isolated from other militants. This fine balancing act is a calculated risk, requiring both understanding and patience from the US. Incidentally our media are accessories to murder, giving media time to terrorists. Pakistan’s must be the only fourth estate in the world that helps spread the terrorist message of hate and suicide bombings. We must act more responsibly, the blood of innocents pays for the media space given to terrorists.

Maulana Fazlullah and his “holy army” in Swat terrorised the local population, imposing brutal authority with great savagery in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. They had to be militarily eliminated; this was done in brilliant fashion by the Army. Maulana Sufi Mohammad, Fazlullah’s father-in-law, has been in government custody since returning from Afghanistan (of his own choice for self-survival because he got his “volunteers” slaughtered by the Coalition air strikes and Northern Alliance during the short, sharp Afghanistan war post 9/11). Rashid Dostum buried thousands of surviving Pakistanis, handed over by Mullah Dadullah in Konduz during Ramzan in 2001 for his own freedom and that of his Afghan followers, alive in containers in Shebergan. Estranged from Sufi Mohammad, Fazlullah took over the TSNM during his absence. The ANP government in the NWFP acted pragmatically in releasing Sufi Mohammad and entering into a peace deal with him to counter Fazlullah’s residual influence.

Trying to push the 62-clause Constitutional package through Parliament in one go is not advisable, some points will likely get short shrift. Can the PPP muster a two-thirds majority? Even in a joint session of Parliament the numbers don’t add up! The major stumbling block is the proposal to reduce the Chief Justice’s tenure to three years, making him retire before he becomes active, in effect the “minus one” formula. The president will hardly agree to giving away his powers to appoint the Chief Justice, the Chief Election Commissioner and the services chiefs.

We should not allow Musharraf-specific emotion and prejudice overwhelm our good judgment, Article 58 (2) (b) and the National Security Council (NSC) should be retained. Without these the Armed Forces would have to declare martial law (thus committing treason technically) when the situation spins totally out of control. Any presidential move should be qualified, if imposing 58 2(b) fails due judicial scrutiny, the president should resign. The appointment of the services chiefs should not be politicised in the manner Mian Nawaz Sharif did when he was prime minister. Even though Musharraf certainly had merit, two course-mates senior to him, Ali Quli and Khalid Nawaz, had no less. The choice of Musharraf was political for Mian Sahib’s own personal benefit, it rebounded in his face. The president should forward three choices to the prime minister for public scrutiny by a joint parliamentary committee. If their recommendations are in variance to his, the president should consult with the prime minister and the committee. The same process can be followed for the post of the chief justice, as well as for the CEC.

When denials to outlandish rumours without any foundation are not handled professionally, the perception will be “the lady doth protest too much,” as my good friend and colleague Kamran Shafi has duly noted. The ISI’s political cell undercuts (in public perception) the Army’s firm (and welcome) resolve to stay away from politics. Col Skorzeny, Germany’s “Commando Extraordinary” during World War 2 had it right when he said, “Politics is the soldier’s curse!” Deviation from the ISI’s primary mission is not only a waste of public money, time and effort, it undermines this national asset’s tremendous potential (and successes) in keeping the country secure from external dangers, demeaning the achievement of the vast majority of the agency’s magnificent rank and file who get a bad name simply by association.

With its political wing transferred lock, stock and barrel to the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the ISI must be actually (not theoretically) under the prime minister’s control. Rather than honestly facing unpalatable facts, this country excels in burying its head in the ground and circumventing the truth as they did in 1971. For the sake of the country we profess to love, stand up and be counted, instead of continuing to put our heads in the ground and closing our eyes and ears to existing realities.

We do not need an ostrich mentality!

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: isehgal@pathfinder 9.com

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The unseemly politics of terrorism in India (Commentary)

25 05 2008

The unseemly politics of terrorism in India (Commentary)

May 25th, 2008
Courtesy: thaindian.com

By K. Subrahmanyam
Following the Jaipur terror blasts resulting in over 60 deaths, there is an intense debate in the country on how to deal with terrorism. As is very characteristic of the political culture of this country, this outrage, instead of bringing our political parties together in a united effort to fight terrorism, has led to mutual recrimination. This would give a great deal of comfort and encouragement to the trans-national and intra-national terrorist organisations that target this country. The debate is about the policies towards terrorists advocated by different parties, the laws available to counter them, the jurisdiction of various central and state agencies, adequacies and capabilities of organisations at centre and states etc. All these are very legitimate issues needing to be debated constructively. Instead of using those arguments to score points against political rivals there is an imperative need for political parties to get into a meaningful dialogue among themselves.

Contrast the behaviour of Indian political parties with that of parties in other mature democracies such as the US, Britain and European Union countries. In no other country claiming to be a democracy do we see as much acrimony in facing what is recognised as a national threat. This is the situation in a country that has been engaged in fighting terrorism for well over a quarter of a century.

This calls for a serious introspection among our people, academia, media and politicians on the basic features of our society and political culture that makes this country so vulnerable to terrorism and so difficult to unify in countering it.

Though the UN may not have succeeded in formulating an agreed definition of terrorism, there is commonly accepted definition largely acceptable to the social scientists. Terrorism is the unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence against people or property to coerce or intimidate governments or societies often to achieve political, religious or ideological objectives.

While explosions like those in Jaipur, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Malegaon, Bangalore and Varanasi are recognised as terrorist acts, the killing of people during the election violence (as in West Bengal recently) has been happening routinely and is not considered as terrorism for some inexplicable reasons. Similarly, when civilians are killed in ‘bandhs’ called by political parties, they are also not described as terrorism.

But since terrorism is violence or threatened violence against people and property to coerce or intimidate governments or societies to achieve political, religious or ideological purposes, in fact all such violence should be treated as terrorism. Further, when the presiding officer of a legislature is prevented from discharging his legal duties by members storming into the Well of the house or through various moves such as shouting, that too amounts to violence to intimidate the presiding officer to achieve political objectives.

In other words, the behaviour of legislators amount to terrorism. One does not see such behaviour of parliamentary terrorism, bandh terrorism and electoral terrorism in other mature democracies. It is submitted here that all these categories of terrorism form a continuum and to arrive at the place and role of religious extremist terrorism, one must look at the whole spectrum of terrorism.

When parliamentary terrorism, bandh terrorism and electoral terrorism are tolerated by the majority in the country, that too often in the name of democracy, freedom, right to protest — all of which are permissible only if violence is scrupulously avoided — then some others push the envelope further and resort to political, religious and ideological terrorism.

It must also be clear that violence does not necessarily mean inflicting bodily harm to another person. It also means preventing and intimidating the other person’s legitimate freedom of action or legal functions. Preventing the presiding officer from discharging his legitimate duties by slogan shouting and storming the Well of the house are clear cases of violence. Stopping traffic on roads and compelling shopkeepers to shut down through intimidation are also acts of violence. They are being undertaken for political, ideological or religious purposes. Therefore they are all acts of terrorism.

While in some other parts of the world it has been argued that one man’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter, it would appear in India that one man’s terrorism is projected as another person’s legitimate democratic political activity: Often it becomes a matter of double standard that one’s own terrorism is permissible political activity the other person’s is not.

Which decent democracy will need hundreds and thousands of police and paramilitary personnel will be required to guard the elementary right in democracy — voting in the election — to be exercised? We take pride that the country has held successive free and fair elections under such conditions of strict policing to avoid largescale political terrorism being resorted to by our political parties. Our Election Commission is not in a position to assure our people that they will be in a position to hold a one-day poll all over the country without terrorist violence resorted to by political parties. There is yet no sense of shame or remorse among our political parties on this kind of political culture nurtured in this democracy.

In other genuine democratic countries, it is easier for security services to gather intelligence about preparations to resort to terrorism from the common citizen since such activities involving potential violence will be an aberration in the society. In India there is no rapport between the common citizen and the police force as the latter has been politicised and made an instrumentality of the ruling party.

Secondly, given the Indian political culture where local dons turn into ‘netas’ and often enjoy political power and patronage, the common citizen is not willing to take the risk of communicating to the police or security services such aberrant activities.

The politicians themselves have denigrated the reputation of the police and security services with their charges that all cases against political persons are foisted ones at the instigation of the parties in power. We have situations in which political dons are able to run their criminal empires dealing with extortion (which invariably involves terrorism) from jail cells.

While terrorism is a specific threat in other democracies, in India it is part of our present political culture. In these circumstances it is difficult to expect terrorism of the Jaipur, Bombay, Hyderabad type to be overcome before the country is able to cleanse our parliament of the scourge and to a significant extent our electoral process. But there is not even adequate awareness in the country about the nature of terrorism that is afflicting the country.

It is extremely unlikely the present generation of senior political leaders can be expected to be de-conditioned from their mindsets that accept terrorism of certain categories as part of politics. It is now up to the civil society to bring about a basic change in the perception of our politicians.

(K. Subrahmanyam is India’s pre-eminent analyst on strategic and international affairs. He can be contacted at ksubrahmanyam51@gmail.com)