Losing rapidly

I have already commented in my previous column on the pivotal position that has suddenly been accorded to Nawaz Sharif in the national political horizon; simultaneously with greater exposure President Zardari is losing rapidly. The President's inability to gauge the highly subtle evaluation criteria applied to public officials in his lofty class by the international community, and the continued touting of now worn-out mantra which is really embarrassing for any sovereign state when it is repeated ad nauseum, uniformly and with consistent theme of aiding the western war effort; the espousal of getting more money, presumably for the country, for fighting this current war against terrorism has not gone well with the people who think that makes it look as a mercenary war. Whether or not these wars are of Pakistan's choosing or if it is simply the inability of current Islamabad leadership to speak up to the powers that may be, external or internal, there is really no credible evidence which might suggest that people in the country are convinced that it is not Washington's war that the army is fighting for a heavy and pricey quid pro quo. This point is really reaching scandalous proportions when one sees the articulations of several key members of the US Congress; it is maintained by leading Congressional Members, particularly of the Republican Party that it is naive for Washington to hand over a billion plus dollars to Zardari whose reputation in this respect is hardly enviable. No wonder the conditionalities attached to the current aid package which the Congress debated included strange and unheard of oversight provisions. In sum, Zardari has had a run of poor rating by Washington despite his recent hosting by the US Presidency. What is more perplexing to me as constitutional jurist is that Office of the President is not expected by conventional norms or indeed by the letter of the Constitution to undertake any such maneuvers. It is the country's government and the Prime Minster who is supposed to carry such negotiations. By adhering to the pretense that he alone should be seen as running the country's power show and the holder of the greatest influence in it shows that complex which people would not like to be associated with them. In addition there is scant evidence of his successfully negotiating the domestic political issues with aplomb. After acquiring the country's presidency he made serious efforts to acquire Punjab and to keep Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry from becoming the Chief Justice. It was only the Lawyer's long march which turned the tables on his acquisition drive for greater power. Then recently the decisions seen by many as at least controversial against Sharifs were set aside by the Supreme Court against them but which were used by the President to try abortively to get Punjab from his adversary PMLN. Then be it the Army's war or that of Zardari, he has nevertheless to own it being the President of the country. There in lies the real difficulty. To begin with any war and its natural consequences can hardly be avoided by the president of the nation waging such wars. The US had announced amongst huge fanfare and glittering buntings through the American President on 1st May 2002 "Mission accomplished" How wrong he was soon enough proved to be by circumstances Many winters since that statement emanated, the US still trying to get out of that war having suffered enormously. In Afghanistan too after wiping out by the superior air power at its disposal, in early phase of the war in October Novembe2001, the Taliban are back in control of most that country. It is a lesson of the classic variety. It has to keep in mind that unless there is real rapprochement, the timely winning of war is neither here nor there. The locals, whether they be contemporary Taliban or the erstwhile Mujahadeen of the eighties decade of the last century, they are more than likely to stay there knowing in the end it is their land and outsiders would have to leave one day some time. Great Britain learnt this lesson long time ago when it fought the two Afghanistan wars in 1842 and 1844. Afghanistan and Pathans have amply demonstrated this phenomenon through annals of recorded history. In the process of this current wave of fighting the insurgency, the army has been definitely put in a position to gain nothing except ascendancy in national affairs. It was really bewildering when the entirety of national column writers of any note were citing with tremendous appreciation the briefing given by the COAS to the Prime Minister and then to other leaders of the nation May I ask what the purpose of such pretense is when it is trite knowledge that if the army is genuinely under the civil leadership as proclaimed by the Constitution, this kind of charade would hardly be necessary? Clearly the civil government must initially order the action by the army and then get its reports of what it is doing or have done. In the most recent of such briefing, a number of political leaders in the government coalition protested publicly, albeit somewhat timidly, that this briefing was simply in the nature of being told that this is what we have done and you better endorse it For those who still adhere to the fiction of democracy in Pakistan, these are ominous signs that not only this war is being conceived and carried on by the forces at least on the same pattern as we did in 1971 when the first PPP government was eventually installed; there is the dedicated public dissemination of this matter every day, entirely self serving by news briefing conducted by the ISPR itself. The armed forces are thus now committed, one hopes, to the elimination of a military threat to the civilian authority of the country. But in this process it is civil society that has to erode and then eliminate the ideological threat that has been allowed to grow. Few questions however must be raised. One cannot cite many illustrations when the country's army launched a war against its own people and territory and then created over two million refuges within the country? Topping it further is the enigma about the rest of the people of this impoverished land rising to offer the refuges place of shelter and food. It is very difficult not to fault the Government in this operation since their own forces are responsible for this terrible messy calamity. It may be sheer coincidence but I must also point out that in the international field, the matter of internally displaced people has been taken quite seriously since the last year I may further note that the international community's key humanitarian agencies had already done some basic number crunching for how they would deal with the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) crises towards the end of 2008. It may be coincidental that this was done with Pakistan in view They estimated that the armed conflict in Bajaur and Mohmand agencies would likely drive the numbers of these Pakistanis who are refugees in their own country to about 600,000. To cater to those folks, it was estimated that roughly $36 million would be required to provide for the shelter, water and sanitation, food, and basic health care and schooling needs of the IDPs. As I write these words, and the long overdue military operation to eliminate terrorists from Swat, Buner and Dir scorches more and more of the earth, that original estimate of 600,000 is exploding into ever larger numbers is becoming a reality. The end result looks very uncomfortable to me from any perspective. Despite the fact that there is a Parliament, action against the Taliban has been undertaken on the consultation of APC and three big parties JI, JU and Tehrik-i-Insaf said that they did not support the War effort of the present regime. Then just this week the JI brought out a major anti operation procession. This fact has been ignored by western media. However, let me raise the following pertinent and troubling questions. Would the Parliament debate and review the commitments and statements made by Zardari in USA during his recent Washington visit? Will he recall what President Obama told him in the brief one-on-one meeting? Will the members of Cabinet be apprised of the discussion that took place between the two and whether the question of drone attacks was addressed? Was Zardari authorized to endorse the Memorandum of Understanding on transit trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan and "beyond?" Why was the US Secretary of State so very keen about this MOU - so very concerned that she literally presided over the meeting attended by the two presidents? Why did she call it a "historic event" and "an important milestone?" Why were the two presidents practically downgraded to the level of a foreign minister, Hillary herself being one? How did Zardari accept to be at par with the humble Karzai in the talks in Washington? The All Parties Conference (APC), held here only a week ago, remained divided on the issue of endorsing the ongoing military operation in Swat, but was unanimous in condemning the US drone attacks. There is again confusion about the degree of unanimity achieved in the APC. The PM unannounced that this is the case but at least against the government policies the major parties are being intentionally not mentioned. But equally important is the fact that the same matters are not even mentioned by any major foreign Media either as I was viewing them closely this week being in Cairo to lecture on the current Pakistani issues to knowledgeable specialists. How convinced the government is of the correctness of its policies can be seen from this fact alone that its proposed draft resolution in the Parliament on this war operations, which was clearly endorsing the ongoing military operation, was changed later, rewritten hurriedly in view of certain political leaders' clear stance that they would not support the military operation. So it remains to be seen how far this matter gets resolved and other issues mentioned above are able to be overcome by Pakistan whose continued ability to survive is being questioned by even Muslim scholars I have talked on this tour of Islamic specialists. President Zardari own political survival is inextricably bound with these matters. In sum, the more the pubic and media know about the President, the more doubts they have of his future.

The writer is barrister at law (US and UK), senior advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and professor at Harvard University.


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