Archive for  November 2007

Home / November 2007
125 Posts

Wajahat Ali: The Volatile Mistress

An Interview with Javed Jabbar, Pakistan’s Former Minister of Information

The Volatile Mistress

By WAJAHAT ALI

Javed Jabbar served as General Pervez Musharraf’s Minister of Information. Here he talks to CounterPuncher Wajahat Ali about Pakistan General Musharraf, the nation’s relationship to the United States, and the current State of Emergency.

ALI: What was your initial impression of Musharraf when you were Minister of Information in 1999? Did you believe him, back then, when he said he would make Pakistan a democratic nation?

JABBAR: First of all, I happened to know him from 7 years before joining his cabinet. I had a personal friendship with him. I knew him as a person and thought he had a progressive view of the world. He is strongly in favor of women’s right and empowerment. And, at that time, he genuinely wanted to help improve the political value system and political practices so that Pakistan’s democratic process could be subject to ethical and more accountable frameworks that had been practiced in recent years.

I shared that vision, and I think he was genuine in that conviction.

ALI: Do you think that same conviction motivated his recent declaration of the State of Emergency, which some claim is essentially a mini Martial Law?

JABBAR: You’re taking a giant leap of 7 years. (Chuckles.) First of all this process went through phases. The first year I served with him as advisor on National Affairs and Minister of Information, I saw the process partially implemented but there were signs of variation in those lines of vision and long term objectives I initially shared with him. Which is why in October 2000, I decided to resign from the cabinet.

Over the 7 years from 2000 to 2007, he took several actions which were progressively at variance at where we started out from. First of all, in April 2002, he made the decision to hold a Referendum and assume the office of President for 5 years after that date. Secondly, the manner in which the results of the 2002 elections were not allowed to be accurately reflected was a problem. The results were reflective of fairly free and general elections, because the People’s Party of Benazir Bhutto secured the highest number of votes in the party. And it was only after several members of her party deviated from the party leadership’s direction and agreed to support Musharraf that his chosen prime ministerial nominee, Mister Zafarullah Jamali, was elected with the barest of margins. He had a one vote majority in the National Assembly ­it came down to a single vote. That’s how narrow it was.

Therefore, when people say the October 2002 elections were entirely rigged, I beg to disagree. If it was rigged, then it would be on a much bigger scale, then the People’s Party could not have been shown to be the party that owned the highest number of votes. So, a major point of disagreement was how the results of the 2002 election were manipulated or distorted.

Then, between 2002 and 2007, there was the decision to work with elements who were clearly not part of the ethical and the more accountable political value system with which he came into power ­ this had become very apparent. So, my disagreement grew sharper.

ALI: What is an example of that element?

JABBAR: I would not like to name individuals. I do not as a matter of policy make references to specific personalities. Everyone knows who these people and those elements are.

ALI: Ok, fair enough.

JABBAR: Therefore, last year in July 2006, I was involved in part of the process called the Civil Military Dialogue, including several former generals of the Pakistan Army, several former Cabinet Ministers, and leaders of civil society and scholars. We are a group of about 20 people. We decided to address an open public plea to General Musharraf and to the heads of the political parties, because we felt firmly that the post of President and Chief of Army Staff should be held by two separate people. The Presidency is a political position, and we urged the General to retire from the Chief of Army Staff.

Secondly, we called for a truly independent commission and genuine enforcement of accountability and not selective accountability. We also urged political leaders to avoid polarizing the situation and using extreme rhetoric. We also urged the forces of liberalism and tolerance and moderation to unite to fight the threats of extremists and fanatics who use violence.

Unfortunately, our call was ignored by Musharraf. [Musharraf recently stepped down as Chief of the Army, however the State of Emergency has not been lifted.] The results became horrendously evident in 2007 beginning with his very considered action against the Chief Justice in March. It has been a rapid and progressive decline since then.

It has been a progressive deterioriation; however allow me to say that on the other hand his major contribution has been the allocation for deserved seats for women to the extent of 33% [representation] in all local government levels and village levels, which is a revolutionary change. This leaves far behind many other Western countries. Even they don’t have this abundance of women’s participation at the grassroots level. Equally, he assured that 17 seats are reserved in the provincial and National legislature for women. Now, reserved seats are not the ideal way to improve the participation of women, but in a society where there are so many barriers, it has had a salutary or symbolic effect. Over the coming years it will help to significantly improve women’s developments and women rights.

A second major contribution has been the introduction of private and independent television channels and radio stations, with which I was associated and I had written the original law in 1997. But the elected government of Nawaz Sharif had scrapped the law. During my cabinet tenure with Musharraf, it was revived. And finally after I left the cabinet, it was enforced. There has been a dramatic transformation of Pakistan’s media landscape from a state monopoly of electronic media to a situation where there are at least 35 television channels and 70 private radio stations.

Tragically, Musharraf’s latest acts [The State of Emergency resulting in the sacking of judges, the shutting down of private media outlets, the arrests of activist lawyers and human rights members] have banned or suspended a significant achievement of his own tenure which was fairly unique. Nowhere else in the world was private media so openly and daily critical of a serving Chief of Army Staff. So, these are two major credits. Third, there was a significant improvement in the macro-economic indicators by which the size of the Pakistani economy increased, foreign investment increased, market capitalization increased, and business activity increased. Also, there were vast phenomenal increases in higher education, and also an opening of access to telecommunications for the average citizen.

So, I’ll conclude my very long response. I went into detail to give you an idea that while one strongly condemns what has recently happened, one should retain a sense of balance and see what the credits have been. He should have resisted from the steps he had taken, because those progressive elements that resulted from the measures that I have just listed, have now being alienated. On the one hand, he is already fighting irrational indoctrinated fanatics, and now those who are progressive in their approach, those who are liberal and tolerant, even they have become alienated. It is a very dire situation to end up alienating both extremes.

ALI: I wanted to ask specifically then what is your take on his current State of Emergency, and what are the potential blowbacks resulting from it?

JJ: First of all, the consequences will be extremely negative in the long term for Pakistani’s institutional development and cohesion. It has been a terrible blow to the process to strengthening the independence and autonomy of institutions: the media, the judiciary, the checks and balances. The second consequence will be a degree of introspection in the media itself. Sometimes, not always, but sometime private media have used new freedoms in a somewhat unbridled, if not excessive, way. All freedoms should be subject to some sense of moderation. To show for example during live telecasts the killing and willful gratuitous violence is, on one hand, reporting what you are seeing, but on the other hand it is inciting people to revenge or apathy or insensitivity. On the long term basis, more important, the General should make distinctions between what suits his interests and what is in the country’s interests. For example, while The Supreme Court was listening to a case that dealt directly with his eligibility, there was no basis for him to take this action [Declaring a State of Emergency that sacked all the judges who were following the Constitution and ruling against his wishes]. As far as the threat from terrorists, the State of Emergency may arbitrarily give more powers to government, but this is not an effective response. The cure, the attempted cure, was from the same disease.

ALI: Many say this might be the last throng of his power. If there is a power vacuum as a result of his actions, who will fill it up? Bhutto? The military? The extremists? This is a main concern for America.

JJ: We must go to history and realize that Pakistan’s constitution offers many rational options and ways to respond to a power vacuum. On the 17th of August 1988 when Zia died in an air crash [General Zia al Haq was Pakistan’s military dictator from 1977 to 1988] , immediately thereafter as per the constitution, the Chairman of the Senate took over as President of the Country and as per the Constitution, elections were held within 3 months in November. I fervently wished that Musharraf remains alive and well, but if there is any change in the status of who remains President or Army Chief, then we should look to the Constitutional process. I am absolutely confident that the people of Pakistan are capable of producing alternatives. Some of them might not be ideal, but eventually we are capable of producing the appropriate alternatives.

ALI: What are the motivations of the U.S. in dealing with Musharraf and Bhutto right now? Many, in U.S. at least, are suspicious of Pakistan’s motives, and many in Pakistan of course believe Musharraf is merely a tool of the U.S. So, how does this relationship play in the current geo-political climate, specifically between U.S., Musharaff, and Bhutto.

JJ: Yes, on the face of it there is the interest of the U.S. to align themselves with elements whom they think are in tune with their ideals and values. This is a superficial reading. Yes, certainly, Musharraf and Bhutto represent those parts and citizens of Pakistan that abhor violence, that are against extremism and fanaticism. Equally, however, the degree to which Pakistan has collaborated and cooperated with the U.S. has clearly alienated the people in Pakistan who have these same liberal values. There is a need to assert Pakistani autonomy and identity, and it has been done to be fair. Even while collaborating with the U.S., it is unfair to call Musharraf a complete tool of U.S. Policy because on Nuclear Proliferation charges, he has not allowed A.Q. Khan [The Pakistani scientist known as the “Father of Pakistan’s Nuclear Program” alleged to have sold nuclear secrets and information to neighboring countries] to be interviewed by either the IAEA or by representatives of the U.S. Government. He has very clearly said “No.” So, Pakistan is not just putty in the hands of the U.S. government. No Pakistani will simply say, “yes, sir” to whatever the State Department or U.S. Government wants.

ALI: How real is the threat of extremism, specifically Pro-Taliban parties taking control of Pakistan?

JJ: The threat is very real. Second, the threat emanates from a small, microscopic number of people. It does not represent the overwhelming nature of the Pakistani people whose nature is peaceful and hospitable. Third, we have to guard against the ease with which a small minority can derail a whole process whether through violence or through political power. Fourth, one indicator is the religious parties in Pakistan, who not always are the violent ones since there are many non-violent religious parties as well. In the only province in the federation where they had unqualified power in the past 5 years in the NWFP [The North West Frontier Province of Pakistan known for feudalism, tribalism and religious conservatism] , in the October 2002 elections the religious alliances gained only a small part of the vote, because only 34% of the electorate in the NWFP casted votes. Out of the 34%, the religious alliance got only 15-20% of the votes.

So, 80% of the province which is supposed to have dominance of religious forces didn’t even bother to express their allegiance to the religious parties! But, the threat from extremism is real and it is real like anywhere else in the world. It needs to be combated vigorously without qualification on several fronts.

ALI: Last question – What are the key steps for Pakistan to gain some proactive grounds towards a functional democracy? Is there hope?

JJ: The best step would be the restoration of the Constitution without any dilution of it democratic, political nature. Number two, a distinctive and clear separation between the civil political process and the ole of military. Number three, a genuinely independent and powerful election commission with complete executive authority at the grassroots level to ensure truly authentic elections. Finally, number four, maturity and strength from the leadership of the political parties to cooperate and prevent the situation from further deterioration.

Wajahat Ali is a playwright, essayist, humorist, and J.D. whose work, “The Domestic Crusaders,” (www.domesticcrusaders.com) is the first major play about Muslim Americans living in a post 9-11 America. He can be reached at wajahatmali@gmail.com

Informed Comment: McCain blames Rise of Hitler on Ron Paul <br> Not Invading and Occupying other Countries Branded ‘Isolationism’

McCain blames Rise of Hitler on Ron Paul
Not Invading and Occupying other Countries Branded ‘Isolationism’

In a new low of despicable looniness, at the Republican debate in St. Petersburg, John McCain equated those Americans who want to stop militarily occupying Iraq with Hitler-enablers. He actually said that, saying that it was ‘isolationism’ of a sort that allowed Hitler to come to power.

It gives a person a certain amount of faith in one’s fellow Americans that McCain was booed by the Republican crowd for this piece of calumny. Comparisons to Hitler should be automatic grounds for a candidate to be disqualified from being president.

But then McCain is the same person who joked about bombing Iran. He thinks that killing all those children from the air would be funny?

McCain also repeated his standard lie that Iraqis would attack the United States if US troops were withdrawn from that country. He contrasted the Vietnamese Communists, who, he said, just wanted to build their workers’ utopia in Vietnam once the US left, with Iraqis, who he continues to confuse with Usamah Bin Laden (a Saudi living far from Iraq who never had anything to do with Iraq).

Of course, back in the early 1970s, if you had asked McCain, he would have said we have to fight the Vietnamese because of the Domino effect, and if we lost there then International Communism would be in our living rooms. Now, he says the Vietnamese Communists weren’t expansionist at all, and just wanted socialism in one country.

So then, John, if that was true and there was never any danger of a domino effect, why did we sacrifice 58,000 US lives and kill a million to two million Vietnamese peasants? You just admitted we weren’t in any danger from them, even if they defeated us.

But since you were wrong about the domino effect with regard to Vietnamese Communism (which I remember arguing in a class debate as a teenager in 1967 was just a form of nationalism), how do we know you aren’t just as wrong or wronger about your fantastic Muslim domino theory? After all, international communism was a big important political movement to which many governments adhered. Al-Qaeda is a few thousand scruffy guys afraid to come out of their caves, who don’t even have good sleeping bags much less a government to their name.

McCain is so confused that he thinks Shiite Iran is supporting “al-Qaeda.” When I think that people who say these crazy things serve in the US senate and are plausible as presidents of our Republic, I despair a little. (When I see a nut job like Tancredo on the podium, he of ‘let’s nuke Mecca,’ I despair a lot, but that is a different story.)

McCain also insisted that we never lost a battle in Vietnam. He still doesn’t understand guerrilla war. What battle did the French lose in Algeria? You don’t lose a guerrilla war because you lose a conventional set piece battle. Then it would be a conventional war and not a guerrilla one. You lose it because you cannot control the country and it is too expensive in treasure and life to go on staying there.

Ron Paul was only allowed to reply briefly to McCain’s outrageous and mean-spirited diatribe. Although the transcript says he was applauded for saying that it was only natural that the Iraqis would want us out of their hair, just as we wouldn’t want somebody invading and occupying us– I heard a lot of booing in response to that point.

At another point, Paul made the point that the quiet parts of Iraq — the Shiite deep south and the Kurdistan area in the north– are the places where there are no foreign troops to speak of. Unfortunately, he forgot the name of the Kurds and seemed to get confused, so I’m not sure he got the point across.

Here is the exchange.

“McCain: . . . I just want to also say that Congressman Paul, I’ve heard him now in many debates talk about bringing our troops home, and about the war in Iraq and how it’s failed.

(Applause)

And I want to tell you that that kind of isolationism, sir, is what caused World War II. We allowed…

(Applause)

We allowed …

(Audience booing)

Cooper: Allow him his answer. Allow him his answer, please.

McCain: We allowed — we allowed Hitler to come to power with that kind of attitude of isolationism and appeasement.

(Audience booing)

And I want to tell you something, sir. I just finished having Thanksgiving with the troops, and their message to you is — the message of these brave men and women who are serving over there is, “Let us win. Let us…

(Applause)

Cooper: We will — please. We will get to Iraq…

(Applause)

All right. Let me just remind everyone that these people did take a lot of time to ask these questions, and so we do want direct questions to — the answers. We will get to Iraq later, but I do have to allow Congressman Paul 30 seconds to respond.

Paul: Absolutely. The real question you have to ask is why do I get the most money from active duty officers and military personnel?

(Applause)

What John is saying is just totally distorted.

(Protester shouts off-mike)

Paul: He doesn’t even understand the difference between non- intervention and isolationism. I’m not an isolationism, (shakes head) em, isolationist. I want to trade with people, talk with people, travel. But I don’t want to send troops overseas using force to tell them how to live. We would object to it here and they’re going to object to us over there.

(Applause)”

The rest is here. This is what Ron Paul said about Iraq:

“Paul: The best commitment we can make to the Iraqi people is to give them their country back. That’s the most important thing that we can do.

(Applause)

Already, part of their country has been taken back. In the south, they claim the surge has worked, but the surge really hasn’t worked. There’s less violence, but al-Sadr has essentially won in the south.

The British are leaving. The brigade of Al Sadr now is in charge, so they are getting their country back. They’re in charge up north — the Shia — the people in the north are in charge, as well, and there’s no violence up there or nearly as much.

So, let the people have their country back again. Just think of the cleaning up of the mess after we left Vietnam. Vietnam now is a friend of ours — we trade with them, the president comes here.

What we achieved in peace was unachievable in 20 years of the French and the Americans being in Vietnam.

So it’s time for us to take care of America first.

(Applause) “

Wish I had enough money to buy one of those!

Ananova – Robot helps with breakfast

Robot helps with breakfast

Japanese scientists have developed a robot that can help people get out of bed and bring them their breakfast.

Humanoid robot Twendy-One carries a breakfast tray during a demonstration at the university laboratory in Tokyo /PA pics

They claim the 4ft 10ins robot, which has soft hands and fingers, can become even more like its human inventors.

The Japanese humanoid – called Twendy one – has enough strength to support humans as they sit up and stand, and can make supple movements that respond to human touch.

It can pick up a loaf of bread without crushing it, serve toast, help lift people out of bed and even lend a hand with the housework.

Shigeki Sugano, professor of mechanical engineering at Waseda University, Tokyo, said: “In our super-ageing society, both strength and delicacy are required for robots. Twendy-One is the first robot that can meet those conditions.”

Twendy-One is designed to help around the house in a country with an ageing population. The professor said his team aims to have the robot on sale by 2015.

Robert Fisk: A different venue, but the pious claims and promises are the same

Robert Fisk: A different venue, but the pious claims and promises are the same

Published: 29 November 2007

 

Haven’t we been here before? Isn’t Annapolis just a repeat of the White House lawn and the Oslo agreement, a series of pious claims and promises in which two weak men, Messrs Abbas and Olmert, even use the same words of Oslo.

“It is time for the cycle of blood, violence and occupation to end,” the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Tuesday. But don’t I remember Yitzhak Rabin saying on the White House lawn that, “it is time for the cycle of blood… to end”?

Jerusalem and its place as a Palestinian and Israeli capital isn’t there. And if Israel receives acknowledgement that it is indeed an Israeli state – and in reality, of course, it is – there can be no “right of return” for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled (or whose families fled) what became Israel in 1948.

And what am I to make of the following quotation from the full text of the joint document: “The steering committee will develop a joint work plan and establish and oversee the work of negotiations (sic) teams to address all issues, to be headed by one lead representative from each party.” Come again?

We went through all these steering committees before – and they never worked. True we’ve got a date of 12 December for the first session of this so-called “steering committee” and we have the faint hope from Mr Bush, embroidered, of course, with all the usual self-confidence, that we’re going to have an agreement by 2008. But how can the Palestinians have a state without a capital in Jerusalem? How can they have a state when their entire territory has been chopped up and divided by Jewish settlements and the settler roads and, in parts, by a massive war?

Yes of course, we all want an end to bloodshed in the Middle East but the Americans are going to need Syria and Iran to support this – or at least Syrian support to control Hamas – and what do we get? Bush continues to threaten Iran and Bush tells Syria in Annapolis that it must keep clear of Lebanese elections, or else…

Yes, Hizbollah is a surrogate of Iran and is playing a leading role in the opposition to the government of Lebanon. Do Bush and Condoleezza Rice (or Abbas or Olmert for that matter) really think they’re going to have a free ride for a year without the full involvement of every party in the region? More than half of the Palestinians under occupation are under the control of Hamas.

Reading the speeches – especially the joint document – it seems like an exercise in self-delusion. The Middle East is currently a hell disaster and the President of the United States thinks he is going to produce the crown jewels from a cabinet and forget Afghanistan and Iraq and Iran – and Pakistan, for that matter. The worst element of the whole Annapolis shindig is that once again millions of people across the Middle East – Muslims, Jews and Christians – will believe all this and will then turn – after its failure – with fury on their antagonists for breaking these agreements.

For more than two years, the Saudis have been offering Israel security and recognition by Arab states in return for a total withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied territories. What was wrong with that? Mr Olmert promised that “negotiations will address all the issues which thus far has been evaded”. Yet the phrase “withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territories” simply doesn’t exist in the text.

Like most people who live in the Middle East, I would like to enjoy these dreams and believe they are true. But they are not. Wait for the end of 2008.