Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Does Benazir want the Chief Justice back?

Just a quick post to add to what's already been said by Ahsan and Kabir, I apologize for the grammar in advance.

I just heard Benazir's press conference on Geo-Uk. She's given Musharraf till the 13th of November to declare that he will doff his Uniform on the 15th as promised, otherwise shes promised to take out a "long march" in Rawalpindi (an interesting venue), or in Lahore if Rawalpindi is blockaded by the police. She has also demanded that Musharraf and the Election Commission stick to the timetable for elections (or as close to it as possible), and withdraw the state of emergency.

To state the obvious, those are pretty much item for item the same demands that have been made by the United States thus far.

However, neither the US nor BB have demanded:
1. That Musharraf quit both posts (i.e his position as President as well)
2. That Musharraf reinstate the judges he removed upon declaring the emergency, most notably the Chief Justice .

Personally, I seriously doubt that BB was particularly sorry to see the Chief Justice go. The Chief Justice himself was not particularly constrained by his judicial remit and was often compared to a judicial thana-dar of sorts (though let me qualify that for institutional reasons, that is in no way an endorsement of Musharraf's decision to sack him and the rest of the senior judiciary).

It is therefore possible that BB considered him a serious obstacle/spoiler for any future Government she formed, a likelihood which could be evidenced by her refusal to call for his reinstatement.

If that is the case, and if both BB and the US are, in part, happy to see the back of the Chief Justice, it could help to explain why neither immediatley/instictivley took a hard stance with respect to the Emergency itself, which his dismissal would have necessitated.

Just a further point with respect to the what could follow the emergency. Stephen Cohen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and author of "The Idea of Pakistan", wrote in this article that Musharraf is seeking a quick emergency so as to oust the judges, confirm his presidency and then:
"if things go as well as they can, carefully controlled elections will be held, Benazir will come to office, Musharraf will be able to retire from the army, leaving it in the hands of close and trusted advisors, and the army and Benazir, together, will tackle the extremist problem."
He then identifies two problems with this "reasonably rosy scenario".
"First, the terrorists and insurgents of Pakistan may not cooperate, and surrender meekly to Pakistani forces. Recent battles over the Lal Masjid, in FATA, and now in Swat show that there is a large and dedicated cadre of true militants who are more than a match for the Pakistan army in a tactical environment. The PPP is weakest where the militants are strongest, and cannot be counted on to provide the political guidance to tackle them. The militants are not interested in ministerial bungalows in Islamabad, they want to turn Pakistan into a base from which they can attack other soft Muslim and Western states (and India), and even lay their hands on Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Musharraf may have sidelined the journalists, lawyers, and judges, but he has yet to demonstrate that Pakistan has the will, or the capacity, to develop a comprehensive counter-terrorist and counter-insurgency strategy. The recent operations in Swat, once a tranquil backwater but now under the control of Islamist fanatics, was done, according to press reports, without any regard for the refugees and innocent civilians; if past experience is any guide, the Pakistan army’s operations will merely serve to increase recruitment to the ranks of the militants.
Second, bringing Benazir in to the “system” will be bitterly opposed by Musharraf’s civilian supporters. They detest her populist approach, they have no rejoinder to the developmental and educational agenda that she has set out, and only talk of how many roads and bridges Pakistan has built under this and previous military regimes. It is hard to imagine that they will work with a Bhutto government, and she may find it hard to work with them. As one Pakistan general remarked to me several years ago, the first preference of Pakistani politicians is that they govern the state, their second preference is that the military rules."
True, but both of the obstacles mentioned above existed pre-emergency, and would have posed a problem even in the realisation of the pre-emergency rosy scenario of a Mush-BB deal.

In my opinion, if the post- emergency "rosy scenario" comes through the costs of the emergency will likely be mostly long term, in terms of the institutional precedent set and the serious damage done to a decapitated and neutered judiciary. The short term costs will be that people are less likely to back either BB or Mush, the only two leaders in Pakistan who are keen to address the issue of Islamic fundamentalism and militancy. The short term benefits, if any, are that the next government will not have to deal with an interventionist judiciary and an ambitious Chief Justice.


Anonymous said...

all these posts... but doesnt a part of you always think 'who the hell cares?'.

i mean for the average, destitute and poor pakistani (majority of the country) is life really any different under benazir or musharraf or chaudry or zia-ul-haq or anybody for that matter? you go out, you sweat hard, you earn your roti and thats it. (sure some feudal lord gets you to pledge allegiance to him and his sponsored political party, but thats just incidental to life rather than life itself)

politics is for that minority of the nation that actually has time to think about it. the guy who sells bun kebabs for a living will be doing no different under anyone.

who cares and what difference does it REALLY make? discuss (or not...)

NB said...

If the status quo of some people remains the same/stagnant during different regimes, its because of Pakistans politics, not despite it.

Besides, youd be hard pressed to argue that the outcome of the current political situation doesnt matter a great deal to people living in swat.

Ahsan said...

also, i guarantee you the bun kebab vendor has EXTRAORDINARILY strong views on politics, easily stronger than any of the posters on this blog. it's the bun kebab wallahs who join rallies, vote and raise their arms aloft when their leaders return from exile. nb, kabir and i, on the other hand, write 800 words of bullshit that no one reads anyway. who do you think is more committed to the idea of politics?

Ahsan said...

i should also add that after writing this previous comment, i developed a (presently insatiable) urge for chicken rolls from A-One in defence market.

i miss home.

Anonymous said...

on a side note, that bun kebab walla description of yours only applies to mqm bun kebab wallas...

(i'll expand on my actual point in the above post when i have bit more time later)

Anonymous said...

yeah im back.

actually, historically the people of swat and nwfp have never really cared what happens politically and, no, i dont believe the current situation warrants their interest for two reasons

1) mainly - these people have seen much harsher times go by and have never really cared whats going on around them (the brits, the mughals, ranjit singh and the punjabis, even as far back as the mongol hordes) - they've always held their own (beating the shit out of everyone) and actually prefer not to have any interference from islamabad or anyone else in their matters. yes, the mullahs are an inconvenience - but not one that'll get the locals backing govt intervention.

2) (might make the first point pointless) - it isnt actually any outsiders imposing anything on the swatis. the pakistan taliban phenomenon is indigenous (as the name suggests) - channel 4 news in the uk today addressed this with a report from the swat region (where they said many villages are now flying the black&white banner of the mullahs) - but more importantly met with the fighters, all of whom were from swat speaking the local dialects of pashtun

to even suggest that the government should do anything in swat given both of the above is a bit of a suicide mission (no pun intended) - keep in mind also the other issues plaguing the country (and im not talking political - im talking health, education, social mobility and corruption from the lowest levels up)

i have side-tracked from my original issue of the kebab walla - i think his story sums up pakistani politics quite well. he might be highly politicized and vociferous in his support, but its usually because he's been misled or bribed in one way or another. in the end, nothing much will change for him - which is the saddest part. even when pakistan has done amazing well economically (relatively) - the benefits have never, ever even trickled down to the masses. the same 500 or so families + army + govt 'thanadaars' get the loot.

fair comment or not?

NB said...

Well ill set out where i think we disagree, and where we do agree.

I agree with you in practical terms, for a lot of people, their standard of living on a day to day basis varies more according to their own effort, rather than as to whos in power, be it BB or Zia or whoever. Like you say, they go out, they sweat hard, they earn their roti and thats it. That is a fair point.

But while that may be the case now, it doesn’t Have to be in the future, which was my point. The reason political matters in the center sometimes don’t matter to individuals is because said individuals are disenfranchised due to the manner in which things are currently structured. If our political system changed (hypothetically at some distant point in the future), the dude may go out, sweat, be denied an opportunity of some sort, get pissed off, raise a hullabaloo about it in the media/with their local representative, make a change, try again, and succeed, and then earn their roti with an additional sweetening bit of satisfaction. This does happen in other countries, it is possible for ours.

Following on from that point, I disagree with you in what you define as 'politics', in that health, educaton, social mobility and corruption are separate and distinct from politics. If politics is about who governs, then those issues, and the manner in which they are addressed, constitute an essential part of political activity in any society including ours.

I agree that the region of swat has historically seen tougher times. But Im of the opinion that thats not a strong basis to contend that its current inhabitants are therefore indifferent as to their fate in this current struggle. If anything, it matters, and as you alluded, that’s why some of them are willing to fight and die for their political/ religious beliefs.

With respect to another point you made, that the government shouldn’t do anything in swat, i will admit that it is an opinion that is espoused by many. As you have argued, it is indigenous, and many people support Fazlullah.

But I think that opinion is incorrect, to put it mildly. Firstly, its about the writ and integrity of the State of Pakistan, which has implications for all Pakistanis, not just swatis. Gun toting militants simply cannot be allowed to declare a separate dominion over any part of the Country. To not intervene in Swat would be to permit them to do just that. If they want different laws in their region, they’re just going to have to suck it up and campaign for them peacefully and politically like the rest of us, even if it means fruitless efforts for the foreseeable future. There are no shortage of parties who are there to represent their views.

Secondly, as to those views themselves, I am firmly of the belief that Pakistan cannot cede any more ground to Islamisation. If someone wants to behave a certain way in their personal life, they are entitled to do so, but no authority, be it the State of Pakistan or any dominion established by Swati Taliban, should be imposing their religious beliefs on anyone else through the mechanisms of the state. I know that some would argue that its not imposition, the Swatis want to live in that manner. In reply I would say that they can live as individuals in whatever manner they want, but as a Pakistani, I do not want to see any more Pakistanis being compelled by any state Authority in their beleifs, be it towards relgion or 'away' from it.

As for your original point about the Kebab Wallah, yeah Im definitley inclined to agree with you in terms of what does happen (but as ive said above, not as to what Could happen. But maybe Im an optimist)

Ali Kabir said...

@ Anon

I'm not sure if you can call the militants in Swat indigenous. A colleague at work is from Swat, his entire family still lives there, and he's returned from there after a month only a week back, and he disagrees on this point.

The Taliban have their roots in the Waziristan and Kohistan regions and not Swat.

Secondly Swat has not known to face harsh times but these are the harshest times for Swat. The region (including Kaghan, Kalam, etc) differs from the rest of NWFP in that it attracts (ed) a large number of tourists, thus making it much more prosperous then say Bannu or Kohat. It is also more fertile than the dust bowls of western NWFP.

However, what is happening now is that locals are coming into the 'Taliban' fold because:
a) it makes economic sense - fighting means no tourists, and no tourists means no money and the Taliban have money;
b) they want Shariah;
c) they dont like being bombed to smithereens;
d) they are joining the militants under duress.

Anonymous said...


so let me get this straight, even if the people of swat want to live under shariah they should suck it up and go through the due political process? thats questionable for several reasons, a few:

1) when have the people of nwfp ever gone through due political process. the writ of the state of pakistan was never meant to extend to nwfp (or balochistan) for that matter - it was a mutual understanding at the time of pakistan's conception that these could (loosely) be termed as part pakistan -- it was very much a compromise by all parties involved, (by my understanding)

2) surely that beats the purpose of democracy - people of that region want it, why not let them have it - and if they truly dont want it, they'll fight it like they've fought for centuries (i personally feel they probably do want it)

3)as you said 'but as a Pakistani, I do not want to see any more Pakistanis being compelled by any state Authority in their beleifs, be it towards relgion or 'away' from it'
- the people of nwfp can easily argue that the absence of shariah is compelling them to live under a set of religious beliefs different to their own.

4) what due political process?

i agree with you in that politics should entail health, education, etc etc - but in pakistan it doesnt. in pakistan politics is a rotten game for rotten people with no benefits whatsoever for your kebab wallah. i can see no progressive path to this changing unless we do a clean sweep, top-down purge of people that run this country. everyone with any baggage will have to go... otherwise the rot just festers...

i know my solution is wholely unrealistic (but not impossible)...

NB said...

Your right in that they havent been part of due political process in the past, but thats no reason why that state of affairs should be allowed to continue. Sure its the wild west, great. But thats not a reason why it should stay that way.

As for your point as to Democracy, ill illustrate my point with an example. What im saying is that theres a natural limit to the subjects a local authority should be permitted to legislate upon, before it becomes a state within a state. For example, Bradford in the UK cant have shariah officially imposed by the Bradford county court, just because everyone in Bradford wants it (though they dont really, im just using it as an example). Bradford is part of the UK. They should have some local autonomy and funding with respect to some subjects (maybe sorting clean water in their area or organising vaccinations or something akin), but they cant impose Shariah smack in the middle of the UK contrary to the Law of the State.

Individuals from that region should have representation at the provincial and state level, and they should be able to agitate politically for legislation at the national tier. They cannot be permitted to use violence to create a state within a state, and then expect to be accomodated or left alone in return. They have to be identified for what they are, namley secessionists. The state should tackle them head on.

The absence of shariah does not result in a situation where people are compelled to live under a differnet set of beleifs. The absense of a state enforced beleif means just that, people can beleive whatever they want and practice their faith whatever way they want. No one is currently preventing individuals from acting in accordance with their interpretation of the shariah on a personal, day to day level.

The militants on the other hand are the ones policing free thought, shutting down barber shops and preventing people from getting polio vaccinations, because of what THEY beleive. The Militants version of Shariah means the state has a proactive role enforcing religious beleifs rather than a permssive role where everyone can beleive as they want. Theres a HUGE difference. Under a permissive political system without relgious affiliation, if Fazlullah wants to abstain from gettng a polio vaccination, thats his wish, but he cant force anyone else or their kids to abstain from it due to his own views.