Issue No 69, Nov 30-Dec 6, 2003 | ISSN:1684-2057 |



When Nancy Powell Just Stopped From Interference in Pakistan's Internal Affairs

By Muhammad-Najm Akbar

DIPLOMATS SPEAK in undertones. So did Nancy J. Powell, the US Ambassador to Pakistan when she addressed the Council on Foreign Relations in Karachi on November 13, 2003. I would not wish that she had said a little more because then she would be accused of interference in our internal affairs.

I am positive, nonetheless, that she could say a lot more and hope the combined opposition would state what she left out of the speech. I am acutely aware of the unfortunate fact, however, that they are not doing much on this count.

The MMA has different plans from the others and the General's Iftar conference of 20 November shows that he is interested in talking to them alone as the others, who are thumping desks, he said, are not worth talking to because "some of the opposition groups received their instructions from abroad", the army's standard line of dealing with the opposition of all sorts. The General did not name names but we all know that the leaders of all three major political forces in the country live in exile.

Organizationally, therefore, the Presidents of the PPPP, PML-N and the General's Governor of the Sindh have to seek instructions from abroad. His remarks were thus highly lamentable. It would be good if an independent Parliamentary Commission one day determines who was taking instructions from abroad and what.

We are all witness to the Army's 360 degree twirl on the Afghan policy following 9/11, a change that the mainstream political parties and intelligentsia had failed to bring about despite their best efforts. It seems that instructions from abroad did play a role there.

In the aftermath of attack on the Indian Parliament on 13 December 2001, several steps were announced to combat sectarian terrorism. The people of Pakistan had been perpetual victims to this carnage but the military government had not taken substantive steps. Did instructions from abroad play a role there? Already, the President of ARD is facing Mutiny Trial for seeking an inquiry into what happened in Kargil and how it led to a situation where instructions from abroad had to play a decisive role.

Our Generals live in a glass house. It is a shame that they denigrate public opinion on flimsy grounds despite their humiliating defeat in 1971 for similar reasons. A retired civil servant, an ex-COAS, unconstitutional usurper of power has the audacity of accusing the people of Pakistan that they have chosen wrong representatives simple because they are demanding restoration of 1973 constitution including Article 6.

Helping Pakistan strengthen its economic, social, political, and democratic development, was the third priority area for Nancy Powell. We need to tell her that it should be the cornerstone of the policy otherwise the whole edifice is likely to collapse. President Bush' speech on the forward strategy provided the punch line. She could safely quote the passage about the definition of successful societies. Up to us now to determine where do we stand.

General Musharraf contradicted every element of the forward strategy during his Iftar conference of 20 November. He defined the Pakistan Army as "a national army" and "a unifying force". We know that it is our army because we pay for it, the largest chunk of our revenue without any questions asked. Second element of the definition is superfluous. Political parties provide the "unifying force". We remember that in the creation of Bangladesh the Army was not the unifying force.

The General was unnecessarily worried that the opposition was trying to create dissent in the Army ranks and among the military commanders. He reminded us that in the Army the boss is the boss: "I laugh at reports that my commanders are not with me or that my vice chief of army staff and chairman joint chiefs of staff committee are conspiring against me." He was confusing and confounding the issue.

The Boss is appointed for a term. There is no provision for extension there. So, in fact we are dealing with a problem where the Boss has lost all elements of legitimacy. In view of the strictly hierarchical order, he might never know what are the real views of the officers who have been deprived of legitimate promotions because of his power lust. The danger is that they might express themselves in a different language throwing the country into yet another crisis.

Our General also gave the people of Pakistan a lesson on the constitutional evolution. He conceded that he might agree "to the principle that the offices of the president and the army chief should not be held by one man..." This does not mean that by vacating the office of the COAS he would vacate the office the President he usurped using that position. The country will have to live with the consequences and accept the formal role of the armed forces in the political power structure through NSC and the Army's right to dissolve the assemblies vide 58(2)b. Press reports indicate that having conquered Pakistan, he is now thinking of patronizing the Islamic world as well.

I am not sure which side of the democratic ideal Nancy Powell is nurturing in Pakistan. Our General is working to demolish it one way or the other. The major political forces are fighting the pernicious idea of sharing political power with the generals. The PPPP President said this week, again, "It cannot be the destiny of the generals to make the constitution or rule the country. It will not be." The General does not care.

Nancy Powell could not go far. President Bush did, pushing the forward strategy further in his address at the Whitehall Palace on 20 November. He underscored that both the United States and Great Britain seek the advance of freedom and the peace that freedom brings. Amongst the pillars of security, he counted the US commitment to the global expansion of democracy, and the hope and progress it brings, as the alternative to instability and hatred and terror.

Lasting peace, he understood, is gained as justice and democracy advance. He rejected many precepts that our Generals have been propagating. To the first coup maker in post Dhaka fall era, he enlightened that Islam was not inconsistent with a democratic culture and reminded him in his grave that more than half of the world's Muslims are today contributing citizens in democratic societies: "It is not realism to suppose that one-fifth of humanity is unsuited to liberty; it is pessimism and condescension, and we should have none of it." For our rulers he countered suggestions that the poor, in their daily struggles, cared little for self-government.

A warning for our generals: President Bush admitted that both the UK and USA "in the past have been willing to make a bargain: to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability." This bargain, he conceded, "did not bring stability or make us safe. It merely bought time while problems festered and ideologies of violence took hold."

He gave us some hope affirming that "we cannot turn a blind eye to oppression. No longer should we think tyranny is benign because it is temporarily convenient. Tyranny is never benign to its victims, and our great democracies should oppose tyranny wherever it is found."

In order to make his point forcefully, he applied the forward strategy to the closest American ally as well and stressed that Israel should freeze settlement construction, dismantle unauthorized outposts, end the daily humiliation of the Palestinian people, and not prejudice final negotiations with the placements of walls and fences.

Nancy Powell served in Ghana before her assignment in Pakistan. There is a subliminal link between Ghana and Pakistan in the State Department's career planning theology. Early 1990s, John Holzman and I were counterparts in the Embassies of the United States and Pakistan, across the street in Accra. He transited to his post in Pakistan through PAB. Nancy Powell took a direct and in fact urgent flight. The linkage is in the contours of the two societies wrestling either directly with the military regimes or their aftereffects.

Nancy Powell knows that she has a common cause with the opposition in Pakistan. Sure, she cannot articulate it but the opposition must look for an incontrovertible evidence of the unheard and the unsaid.

The writer was till recently a senior Pakistani diplomat

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