By Kazi Anwarul Masud
The British newspaper The Guardian has made scathing remarks over the sacking of Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on the charge of contempt of court and disqualifying him as a member of the Parliament. Traditionally it has been the army’s role to throw out politicians and install itself as the protector of the people from “foreign invasion”. Now the army’s job is being done by the Supreme Court. The paper wrote “Since being restored to his job after being sacked by President Musharraf in 2009, the chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, has been betraying an evangelical streak in his pronouncements. May be, he feels that, with a country full of self-righteous zealots, he needs to adapt their tone. Or perhaps he is one. He doesn’t wait for the petitioners to come to the court, he watches TV and acts on his own cognizance.” Accusing the court of selective justice Guardian continued that “the same supreme court that has been sitting on an ISI corruption case for 15 years, the same judiciary that can’t look a retired general in the eye or force a serving colonel to appear in court, feels it perfectly constitutional to send a unanimously elected prime minister home…. The Supreme court’s reckless pursuit of government politicians could pave the way for a caretaker setup that will suit the military establishment.
The military, indeed, sulking after a series of humiliations at home and abroad, is watching from the sidelines”. The Supreme Court has now given two weeks’ notice to the newly appointed Prime Minister to ask the Swiss authorities to reopen the alleged bribery case against President Zardari. The result of the SC directive remains to be seen. Meanwhile the new Prime Minister told the press that his party’s position on the Swiss question is clear and he would be willing to follow the footsteps of his predecessor. Is it possible that Ifthikar Ahmed Choudhury, a Baluch, is playing for the army to restrain army’s persecution of the people of Baluchistan, rich in energy resources but few in number? The on-going Baluch nationalism, wrongly projected as Islamic terrorism by the intelligence services, which has sprung from deprivation and dissatisfaction of the Baluch already feeling colonized by the Punjabis. It would be prudent to remember that in unified Yugoslavia the slogan that what is good for Serbia is good for Yugoslavia ultimately led to the separation of Montenegro which was the last bastion of the old Yugoslav republic. Baluchistan accounts for 43% of Pakistani territory, 36% of Pakistan’s total gas production, holds large quantity of other minerals and is a potential transit route for gas pipeline from Iran and Turkmenistan to India. But the province’s gas and mineral deposits are being expropriated and the people are feeling marginalized and dispossessed.
Or is it that Choudhury is fighting a Don Quixihote struggle against corruption that envelops Pakistan society as many other societies in developing countries? While it is difficult to determine the aim of the wrinkle he has produced in Pakistani politics one should not ignore the on-going Baluch nationalism. While an independent Baluchistan cannot be a desirable outcome of the existing trouble there for Pakistan, South Asia or the international community, “Pakistan today” writes Ashley Tellis (of the Carnegie endowment), “ is clearly both part of the problem and the solution to the threat of terrorism facing the United States”.This wrinkle in Pakistani politics must be worrisome to the US and NATO when relations between them has soured and reached a very low level. As it is the US and its drone attacks are extremely unpopular in Pakistan. In 2009 80% of the Pakistanis approved the Pakistani government’s February 2009 truce with the Taliban but the Taliban brutality in areas under its command reduced considerably Pakistanis’ approval rating of the terrorists.
Till today the US remains hugely unpopular in Pakistan evidenced by a piece by Zahra Nasir in The Nation late this month in which she castigates “double standards, double ideals, double vision and double morals are the law in this, ‘the land of the hypocrites’: a land rapidly becoming a dangerous place for anyone who dares to tell the truth let alone stand up for human decency and, in such an atmosphere of putrid falsity, expecting, nay even going so far as to plead for their ‘fellow countrymen and women’ to publicly cry ‘foul’ when yet more innocent men, women and children are killed or maimed by the American drones is, shocking to say, a terrible waste of time”. It is almost an unnecessary iteration to say that the US-Pakistan relations have reached their lowest ebb. The drone attacks, the operation leading to the death of Osama bin Laden who was safely tugged in the garrison town of Abottabad for years when the US and her allies were out looking for the most important fugitive of modern time, and the possibility that the US is considering raids into Pakistani territory to combat militants, and the State Department allegation that Pakistani authorities are making life difficult for American diplomats stationed there are not helping the situation.
Legality of drone attacks have long been debated. Recently Christopher Haynes, UN special rapporteur on extra-judicial killings, summary or arbitrary executions told a conference in Geneva that President Obama’s attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, carried out by the CIA, would encourage other states to flout long-established human rights standards. In his strongest critique so far of drone strikes, Heyns suggested some may even constitute “war crimes”. Meanwhile the issue was moving rapidly up the international agenda after China and Russia jointly issued a statement at the UN Human Rights Council, backed by other countries, condemning drone attacks. Heyns told the meeting: “Are we to accept major changes to the international legal system which has been in existence since world war two and survived nuclear threats?”Some states, he added, “find targeted killings immensely attractive. Others may do so in future … Current targeting practices weaken the rule of law. Killings may be lawful in an armed conflict [such as Afghanistan] but many targeted killings take place far from areas where it’s recognized as being an armed conflict. Heyns ridiculed the US suggestion that targeted strikes on al-Qaida or allied groups were a legitimate response to the 9/11 attacks.
Claims made by the US about the accuracy of drone strikes were “totally incorrect”, he added. Victims who had tried to bring compensation claims through the Pakistani courts had been blocked by US refusals to respond to legal actions. The US has defended drone attacks as self-defence against al-Qaida and has refused to allow judicial scrutiny of the drone program.” It is estimated that as many as 4,000 people have been killed in US drone strikes since 2002 in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Of those, a significant proportion were civilians. The numbers killed have escalated significantly since Obama became President. The USA is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or many other international legal forums where legal action might be started. It is, however, part of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) where cases can be initiated by one state against another. Ian Seiderman, director of the International Commission of Jurists, told the conference that “immense damage was being done to the fabric of international law”.
This tension in the US-Pakistan relations is as old as the ultimatum given to then Pakistan military ruler Pervez Musharraff by a senior official of then Bush administration immediately after 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US soil. The ultimatum was in the form of either to join in the US sponsored so-called war on terror or to be bombed to the stone age. Parvez Musharraf naturally joined forces with the US and made his country an ally. Leon Hadder of Cato Institute) warned Washington that Pakistan should be regarded “as a reluctant supporter of US goals at best and as a potential long term problem at worst”. He did not see President Musharraf’s decision to join the US on its war on terror as reflecting a structural transformation in Pakistan’s policy but a tactical move to cut losses resulting from the demolition of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Political analyst Matt Thundyll compared the US policy of cooperation with Pakistan as an alliance with a lesser evil against a greater evil. In reality, wrote Thundyll, like the Soviet threat in 1945 the Pakistani threat is extant. While in the case of the former it was communism in Pakistan’s case it is Islamic extremism. Pakistani newspaper Dawn (25th June 2012) has advised that time has come to tackle the safe heavens in North Waziristan if the Pak army is to dissuade the US forces to take up the job. US frustration was publicly displayed by Admiral Mike Mullen at the time of his retirement as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when he accused Pakistan of double dealing i.e. helping the Taliban while cooperating with the US forces. Pakistan’s logic in such duplicity is to have the Haqqani group to ensure Pakistan’s “strategic depth” after the evacuation of NATO troops from Afghanistan because Pakistan considers India to be her mortal enemy and would do everything possible to prevent increase of Indian influence in Afghanistan. In the latest series of Pak bashing has been that of the US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Leon Panetta’s lashing out at Pakistan from Delhi and Kabul for allowing the Haqqani group safe bases inside Pakistan from where they mount terrorist raids against the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan has brought anew US-Pakistan relations to a new low. Panetta publicly said that the US is “reaching the limits of our patience” and the 1st June attack on the American forces, the most recent one by the Haqqani group, was termed by Panetta as “an intolerable situation”. At Delhi Panetta reiterated that the US drone attacks on militants in Pakistan tribal region would continue despite complaints from Islamabad that the drone attacks violate Pakistani sovereignty and adds to the already increasing anti-Americanism in Pakistan. One may recall that the Haqqani group who maintained headquarters at Miran Shah district in North Waziristan for more than three decades are accused of several attacks on US forces and of last year’s assault on the US embassy in Kabul and NATO hq in Afghanistan. David Sanger (of New York Times) in his book CONFRONT AND CONCEAL reports that at the height of the surge Haqqani net work’s cross border attacks in Afghanistan increased fivefold over the previous year. Pakistani response to Leon Panetta’s harsh criticism was been given through the Pakistan ambassador in the US. She criticized that “this kind of public messaging from a senior member of the US Administration is taken very seriously in Pakistan, and reduces the space for narrowing the bilateral differences at a critical time in the negotiations”. But then one has to realize the frustration of the US exemplified by the refuge given to Osama bin Laden at Abottabad for years, ostensibly with the connivance of the Pakistan authorities, though denied by them that Pak authorities were not aware of his existence at the garrison town of Abottabad when the entire Western intelligence was looking for Osama and the Pakistanis were giving the West a run around. One also has to take into account the forthcoming Presidential elections late this year and President Barak Obama’s pledge to withdraw gradually US forces from Afghanistan.
Top US commander General John Allen has to withdraw 23000 American troops by the end of September leaving about 68000 US military personnel and then to advise President Obama on how troops withdrawal will proceed next year. But the war fatigue has already set in among the NATO allies. Britain and France have already announced their plan for troops withdrawal with the result that the US will continue to shoulder the burden of the Afghan war. US efforts to transform Cold War alliances into post-Cold War partnership has been of limited success and Obama’s call on the international community to relieve the US from the total burden of policing the world is unlikely to be heeded by the Europeans now faced with potential financial bankruptcy. Emerging economies like China and India may agree to play a global role provided if it suits their interest and their military and financial capacity permits. Though both the countries are posting impressive growth rate they also house millions of people who live with $1.25 a day thus straining their socio-political cohesion inside the country. Pakistan has not been an easy ally of the US if one recalls that immediately after 9/11 Bush administration’s message given by a senior emissary to then military ruler General Parvez Musharraf. “Pakistan today” wrote Ashley Tellis (of the Carnegie Endowment), “ is clearly both part of the problem and the solution to the threat of terrorism facing the United States”.
Indeed the 9/11 commissions had more or less highlighted Pakistan’s deep involvement with international terrorism and recommended a long term US commitment to provide comprehensive support to Pakistan . Daniel Markey (of the council of foreign relations) in an article (foreign affairs- July/August 2007) suggested that the choice facing the US “between supporting Pakistan’s army and promoting democracy has always been a false one. Both are necessary. Only by helping to empower civilians and earning the trust of the army at the same time will the United States successfully prosecute the long war against extremism and militancy”. It had been claimed that the future of Pakistan would be better served by a choice between the military and the democrats and not the military and the mullahs as constantly propagated by the vested quarters.
French political analyst Frederic Grare debunked the fear of the West, particularly of the US, that an overthrow of then Pakistani President Parvez Musharraf, his replacement by an Islamist regime and consequent control of nuclear weapons as “myth of an Islamic threat” deliberately propagated by the Pakistan army to continue its stranglehold on Pakistani state power. He argued that an Islamist threat was neither great nor autonomous as it was thought to be nor the Islamist had any possibility of capturing power through free and fair elections. Pervez Musharraf is now long gone and Pakistan has an electoral democracy, albeit with tension existing with the judiciary and the powerful army. David Karl President of Asia Strategy Initiative (Glimmer of hope in Pakistan-June 5th 2012) writes in glowing terms of the Pakistani media that have become “forums challenging hard line anti-India policies, government malfeasance and societal extremism”. US State Department in its latest report on human rights voiced concern over extra-judicial killings and religious intolerance in Pakistan, including in the restive province of Baluchistan. The use of notorious Blasphemy laws against Christian minority has remained a thorn in Pakistan’s image as a modern nation. Glimmer of hope, seen by David Karl, includes a recent poll that show 67% of Pakistanis favor trade with India with 29% being opposed to the idea. 45 percent of the people believe that increased trade will have positive impact on Indo-Pakistan relations. All said and done the question remains whether it is possible to have a modern secular, but not atheist, Pakistan that has religious extremism, sectarian killings, Taliban insurgency aiming to establish their brand of Islamism in the country without continuing US monitoring of the potential threat to international security.
One must recognize the worry of US security officials over the possibility of nuclear device slipping out of Pakistan governmental authorities and into the hands of Islamic extremists. Early in Obama administration such a report was given to the US President and at the insistence of the US Pakistan agreed to survey its nuclear arsenal and reported to the White House that all had been accounted for. But the fear remains and Obama is determined on heavy use of drone strike in Pakistan, its legality remaining questionable, till this scourge of veiled religious extremism remains a clear and present danger. Leon Panetta’s anger and frustration is understandable and the US is likely to pursue variants of Monroe, Truman and Brezhnev doctrines adjusting to the prevailing situation in post-colonial and post-Cold war period with burden sharing with NATO allies and emerging economies keeping in mind the thoughts of leading South Asian analyst Stephen Cohen who considers Pakistan as “a case study of negatives a state seemingly incapable of establishing normal political system, supporting radical Islamic Taliban, and mounting jihadi operations into India while its own economic and political systems were collapsing and internal religious and ethnic based violence were rising dramatically” (the nation and state of Pakistan). But can Pakistan remain or be allowed to remain on the brink posing a threat to South Asian nations and to the international community? Acquisition and use of ethical competence in national and international affairs is now being insisted upon by global actors as the definition of national sovereignty has undergone sea changes in the latter part of the 20th century. It is now recognized that political actors must have ethical skill–skill necessary to protect freedom and diversity in modern world– in dealing with nationals of their own countries and be accountable to the people. As the earth is becoming flatter by the day despite the gulf reflected at the climate conferences and other international meetings between the developed and the developing world, authoritarian/ totalitarian rule is no longer acceptable to the international community if a country is to be regarded as a responsible member of the global comity of nations.
This insistence on respect for law by all citizens in society translated through punishment in case of waywardness by political leaders, as in the case of others, forms the core of ethical behavior. Pakistan Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) that had given slain Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, President Asif Ali Zardari and many others, politicians and bureaucrats, amnesty who were accused of corruption, embezzlement, money laundering and other crimes between January 1, 1986, and October 12, 1999- the time between two states of martial laws – threw the country into chaos. The NRO was framed under pressure from the United States and Britain in order to allow assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to return to Pakistan for elections on a power sharing basis with then military ruler Parvez Musharraf. The validation of the NRO by the Parliament for it to become a law was opposed by most of the political parties in Pakistan. It fell upon the Supreme Court to declare the NRO null and void as if the ordinance had never been promulgated. President Zardari retains his immunity from prosecution as long as he holds the office of the President. The Pakistan Peoples Party decided to fight the corruption charges leveled against its members in court. Pak Supreme Court’s ruling resurfaced the eternal debate on separation of powers among the three wings of the state. Abraham Lincoln in his first inaugural address admitting the power of the US Supreme Court on constitutional questions stated that if the policy of the Government upon vital questions, affecting the whole people, was to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, “the instant they are made the people would have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their government into the hands of that eminent tribunal”.
A former Indian Chief Justice A.S.Anand advised caution to ensure that judicial activism did not become judicial adventurism because otherwise it might lead to chaos and people would not know which organ of the State to look for to stop abuse or misuse of power. On the other hand the tyranny of the majority can be instituted through an open, free and fair election that Samuel Huntington thought to be the essence of democracy. But tyranny of the majority can be avoided through “coherent majoritarianism” which requires not simply the most votes that signal legitimate outcome but the most votes produced by the best arguments. “The means by which a majority comes to be a majority” writes John Dewy “is the important thing: antecedent debates, the modification of views to meet the opinion of the minority… The essential need in other words, is the improvement in the methods and the conditions of debate, discussion and persuasion”. Situation facing Pakistan is more the threat emanating from terrorism than the corruption in high places that Pakistanis, like many Third World countries, are used to live with. The global war against terror will not abate regardless of the cost to Pakistan. The question facing Pakistan today is not whether to keep on a “tainted” President but in its preferential schedule whether fighting the Taliban has a higher priority than having a President who may have considerably lost his popularity. While the issue at hand is purely for the Pakistanis to decide, a destabilized Pakistan with its international security ramification has to be taken into account.
About the author: SATP
SATP, or the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) publishes the South Asia Intelligence Review, and is a product of The Institute for Conflict Management, a non-Profit Society set up in 1997 in New Delhi, and which is committed to the continuous evaluation and resolution of problems of internal security in South Asia. The Institute was set up on the initiative of, and is presently headed by, its President, Mr. K.P.S. Gill, IPS (Retd).