Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Bugti and the Baluch insurgency

In the aftermath of the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti one of the casualties has been informed commentary. Sifting through the slew of articles does, however, unearth the Nawab's background, his role in the present Baluch insurgency and the regional impact of the insurgency.

From Time magazine's Pakistan's Other War, a look at the complex, contradictory Nawab:

"Bugti symbolizes Baluchistan's character. He says he killed his first man when he was just 12, and his life ever since has been a series of unending blood feuds with other clans and with the Pakistani military. Bugti sees himself as a warrior fighting a noble cause. He is self-taught and an avid reader—until March, the library in his rambling, earthen castle was lined with hundreds of books on philosophy, Western and oriental religions and the European classics. Then the castle, and the library with it, were destroyed by army cannon fire. Bugti is a vegetarian, a rarity among the meat-chomping Baluch, and sups every night on a bowl of green chili peppers, according to a frequent guest."

On Bugti becoming the face of the current insurgency, Imtiaz Alam writes in The News:

"Ironically Akbar Bugti had never joined the nationalist movement or the alliances of various nationalist groups formed in Pakistan ... He became chief minister during the first tenure of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and ran the province like an authoritarian patriarch. However, he developed serious differences with Islamabad over the issue of royalty which he said that the government needed to pay to him for the Sui gas field.

"His survival depended on making a larger nationalist cause out of this dispute, especially when he was engaged in a battle with the rival Kalpar Bugti clan and at a time when the military authorities were bent upon constructing a garrison in the area.

"The fact of the mater is that after losing his sons Akbar Bugti had taken refuge in his home town, Dera Bugti, to evade retaliation from the clans locked in a bloody feud with him on the one hand and to put up resistance to the Musharraf government and the military's plans to establish a cantonment in the area on the other. The construction of the cantonments became the main irritant to Bugti who wanted to keep his tribal-feudal fiefdom unchallenged."

On the possible transnational impact of Bugti's killing, The Christian Science Monitor reports:

"Bugti's death could also reverberate in the region, some analysts say. The Balochis are spread across several countries, with millions living in parts of Iran and Afghanistan that border Pakistan."

The CS Monitor's report also adds the following on the fight against the Taliban:

"The province also shares hundreds of miles of unmanned border with Afghanistan, giving the Taliban a sprawling front for their operations.

"The solution, such as it exists, masks a potent irony. The most effective counterbalance to the Taliban, observers say, are the very people the Army is targeting in its military operations.

"Baloch nationals have acted as a countervailing force to extremists, espousing democratic and liberal political values, observers say. In the arena of the provincial assembly, Baloch leaders argue, they regularly battle against measures that create an amenable atmosphere to the Taliban."

Lest one assume that the regional dimensions of the current insurrection are exaggerated, consider this report from GlobalSecurity.org on the last insurgency in the 1970s:

"A long-dormant crisis erupted in Balochistan in 1973 into an insurgency that lasted four years and became increasingly bitter. The insurgency was put down by the Pakistan Army, which employed brutal methods and equipment, including Huey-Cobra helicopter gunships, provided by Iran and flown by Iranian pilots. The deep-seated Baloch nationalism based on tribal identity had international as well as domestic aspects. As the insurgency wore on, the influence of a relatively small but disciplined liberation front seemed to increase.

"External assistance to Bhutto was generously given by the shah of Iran, who feared a spread of the insurrection among the Iranian Baloch."

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Sex, lies, and beards

When is a rape not a rape? When it is committed by a husband, according to Aamir Liaquat Husain a.k.a. Dr. Fake, Minister of State for Religious Affairs in this government of enlightened moderation. Mr. Liaquat made his assertion in response to a demand that marital rape be recognised as a crime. The demand was made by Kashmala Tariq, member of the National Assembly Select Committee on Women’s Protection Bill, citing a woman's right not to be treated as a 'buffalo'.

ISI and Jenna Bond?

Camera rings. Fervent speculation. Massive manhunts. Rafata, a Kashmiri woman, has Indian Punjab in a tizzy: police are desperate to locate the alleged ISI spy who 'heads one of the biggest spy networks for Kashmiri militants'. ISI: An equal opportunity employer.

He said, she said

With the explosion in the number of op-ed contributors in the country's dailies, the quality of the commentary has often been criticised. In an op-ed column for The Nation, Wajahat Latif began by attacking Dushka Saiyid, wife of Mushahid Hussain and a current Allama Iqbal Fellow at Cambridge, for allegedly ignoring the military's role in the country's brief experiments with democracy.

I e-mailed Dr. Saiyid and requested a response to Mr. Latif's claim. The following are excerpts from the e-mail exchange:

Cyril Almeida
To: Dushka Saiyid
Dear Dr. Saiyid,

I am writing to you to seek your response to an op-ed piece in The
Nation by Wajahat Latif that started off by referring to you:

'Ms Dushka Syed did not have the courage last night (19th August) on a
private TV channel to blame military coups for the mess Pakistan finds
itself in today. She blamed the political leadership for corruption
and failure of democracy and justified army interventions without
naming the army.

According to her, the failure of the political leadership forced "a
well organized body of people of the middle class to take over the
government from time to time".'

I don't know who Mr. Latif is and I haven't seen the show in question,
so is it true that you 'blamed the political leadership for corruption
and failure of democracy and justified army interventions without
naming the army'? To my mind that would be disingenuous and I would be
interested in reading your opinion, as a Pakistani scholar, on the


dushka saiyid
To: Cyril Almeida
Dear Cyril,

The following is what i said on the program:-
a)that the failure of the political system and
weakness of the political institutions is because of
the dialectical relationship between the two, military
and civil both. Political leadership fails, hounds the
opposition, and the latter run to the military to

b)Democracy flourishes where there is a strong
middle-class. Pakistan has a strong landed class and
tribal heads and so the constituents are captives and
can vote for either one regressive feudal lord or the

In other words my comments were very nuanced as an
academic, and I certainly did not eulogize the army or
its takeovers. I DO NOT believe coups are the answer,
but i also believe that our country is hostage to
corrupt political leaders.
Best wishes, Dushka

Friday, August 25, 2006

Mo' money, no problems

500 million. That's what it costs to ferry Musharraf and his sidekick, Shaukat Aziz, to and fro on their mission to drag Pakistan into the 20th century - yet, it's already the 21st century, but they would do well to keep us only a few decades behind modernity.

From the government's website comes this list of journalists allotted plots in Islamabad. Dawn, The News, Daily Times, The Nation and Business Recorder all have successful candidates.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A new father of the nation?

If the beards had their way, Jinnah would likely be erased from Pakistan's history. But since their time has not yet come to pass, they have to make do with excising the memory of Jinnah from their personal lives. So it is that Fazlur Rehman, leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, has taken down the portrait of Jinnah in his parliamentary chambers - and replaced it with one of his father, Mufti Mehmood.

What values did the late Mufti Mehmood espouse that make him a better role model than Jinnah?

According to Aijazz Ahmed: 'Both Mufti Mehmood and Maulana Maodudi played vital and central roles in the politics of Pakistan after partition and they provided their weight to general Zia ul-Haq's toppling of a democratically-elected government for a military coup in 1977.'

The arch constitutionalist discarded in favour of a father who supported the country's most regressive military dictator - sometimes a son's love is a nation's fear.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

An unhappy marriage, but no divorce

The alleged London airline terror plot has prompted a slew of commentary in the American and British press on Pakistan's role in global terrorism.

The key concerns are summed up by an Aug. 14 article in the New York Times:

'A series of planned terrorist attacks with links to Pakistan as well as a sharp rise in crossborder Taliban attacks in Afghanistan have prompted renewed debate within the Defense Department about Pakistan, according to two people involved who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly.

They said that in particular, the sharply rising American casualty rate in Afghanistan had increased skepticism among some American military officers about the Pakistani intelligence service’s efforts to rein in the Taliban.

“There is an increasing view in the United States that Pakistan isn’t very helpful,” said one researcher involved in the debate, referring to frustration among some officers. “There are people who are really thinking twice about this relationship with Pakistan.”'

Lest one be tempted to think that support for Gen. Musharraf is ebbing, an op-ed column co-authored by Richard Armitage in today's New York Times dismisses that notion:

'We believe General Musharraf continues to stand for these principles (enlightened moderation) and deserves our attention and support, no matter how frustrated we become at the pace of political change and the failure to eliminate Taliban fighters on the Afghan border.'

So despite being caught in, according to Sengupta in her Aug. 14 article, 'one of the most serious political binds of his nearly seven-year tenure', Gen. Musharraf still has the support of his chief patrons. For Pakistanis, the 'war on terror' can more aptly be described as the war on democracy.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Musharraf the real target of London airline plot?

According to John B. Roberts II, an official in the Reagan White House, the alleged terrorist plot uncovered by British and Pakistani intelligence agencies was aimed squarely at Musharraf:

' The objective of those who backed the British plotters was to pull off a terrorist spectacular that would demonstrate the strength of the Islamic militancy and spark popular uprisings against the Musharraf government. The symbolism of Pakistan breaking away from its close alliance with the West on its 59th celebration of independence would have resonated throughout the Muslim street. Pakistani officials are probing whether there was an inside coup plan to complement the terrorist plot and planned street agitation.'

Hyperbole? Probably. But if true, it may be the best news Musharraf has heard in a while. Lashed by domestic crises and faced with political opposition that is increasingly united, another assassination attempt would ensure virtual carte blanche in domestic politics for the general from his American supporters.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Vermont to Pakistan

Pakistan just can't cut a break. When a white American woman, Catharine Mayo, became unruly on a London-to-Washington D.C., leading to a security scare and an emergency landing in Boston, a Pakistani connection seemed improbable.

But when the Associated Press sent a reporter to Mayo's hometown of Braintree (population: 1,200) in Vermont, the improbable became fact: Ms. Mayo has been a frequent visitor to Pakistan since 9/11. But unlike most of the visitors to Pakistan in the news lately, Ms. Mayo was neither a guest of one of the country's estimated 14,000 madressas nor did she meet any terrorist mastermind; instead she came to Pakistan to visit her boyfriend who was unable to secure a US visa.

Described by her son as a peace activist, Ms. Mayo published her views on American democracy in the Daily Times in 2003.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Absentee democracy

As the country's political elite gear up for next year's general election, 'democracy' is this political season's hottest accessory - everyone wants a piece of it. The government led by a serving uniformed general claims it has already given the people democracy; nonsense, cry the opposition, pointing out that parliament is parody of itself.

Who is right? Absentee ministers and a helpless speaker tell their own tale; the claims of democracy ring hollow when the government's ministers bluntly remind the country that power lies not with the people, but with Musharraf. 7 years into his rule, on the eve of Pakistan's independence, the General has not led us out of the wilderness. Indeed, he seems eager to continue for another 33. But on the evidence before us thus far, even a miracle of Biblical proportions may not be able to deliver democracy then.