Thursday, January 31, 2008

Why Secure Only Pakistani Nukes?

By Adnan Gill

For last few months, Pakistan's sovereignty and the security of her nuclear arsenal has become the lightning rod for the American opinion-makers, especially for its presidential hopefuls. Pakistan has become the litmus test to grade the foreign policy expertise of the White House hopefuls. Impending presidential elections are only increasing the hysteria of nuclear-armed Pakistan becoming a ‘failed state’ vis-à-vis its nuclear weapons falling in the hands of blood-thirsty Muslim fundamentalists. The candidates are trampling over each other over who can scare the dickens out of Americans the most?

The Republican candidate, Mike Huckabee made a fool out of himself, when instead of commenting on Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, he decided to scare the Americans of the Pakistani bogeyman. He warned, “There were more Pakistanis who illegally crossed the border than of any other nationality except for those immediately south of our border. 660 last year. That’s a lot of illegals from Pakistan.” Such an irresponsible and baseless xenophobic alarm was sounded by a candidate who preaches tolerance.

For his part, the Democrat hopeful Barack Obama warned that he might use force in Pakistan to root out terrorists in their country. But the cake for upping the scaremongering goes to Hillary Clinton. Last year, she refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons against Osama bin Laden or other terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Then this year she went even a step further by proposing a joint US-British team to oversee the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, as if they were Iraqi oilfields.

The threat to Pakistani sovereignty hardly comes from the irresponsible statements of the presidential hopefuls. These politicians are only capitalizing on the steady drumbeat of American media and the think-tanks (mostly funded by the special-interests). The systematic ratcheting up of hysteria started when a new map of the Middle East, making circles among the opinion-makers, was leaked to the public. Among other nations, it showed a fractured Pakistan too. Soon thereafter, American news media was buzzing with the statements of undisclosed American officials about plans drawn to secure Pakistani nuclear weapons. Then out of nowhere, the Newsweek declared Pakistan as the most dangerous nation. The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other American media outlets started their own fear-derbies to win the race of ‘who can make Pakistan look the scariest?’ If we didn't know any better, the fear mongers would make us believe that the Taliban armed with the captured Pakistani nukes are on their way to the American continent.

If we were to look beyond the political rhetoric and empty bravado of the White House hopefuls we come to a sad reality, that American presidents are enslaved to the advice of special-interests, who actually form the American foreign policies. These special-interests range from oil industry mega giants to the defense conglomerates. President Bush had virtually nil foreign-policy experience when he became the president, but thanks to these special-interests, as soon as he became the president, isolating China became the focus of his government's foreign policy. Soon after, it shifted to an obsession with the oil-plush Iraq.

Even when the American establishment seemingly shows its confidence in the stability of Pakistan, it leaves a door wide-open for fear mongers. Recently, in an interview with the Washington Post, the CIA director Michael Hayden said, "We've always viewed [al-Qaeda and insurgents] to be an ultimate danger to the United States, but now it appears that it is a serious base of danger to the current well-being of Pakistan." Translation, Pakistan has become an unstable nation.

Lately, Pakistan has experienced an unprecedented number of terrorist attacks and unrest in its historically volatile tribal-belt. But how these law-and-order situations make the Pakistani nuclear arsenal accessible to the terrorists or tribals is a mystery at best? If a parallel could be drawn between the terrorist activities and the insecurity of Pakistani nuclear weapons, then arguably, the nuclear arsenal of virtually every nuclear power should be secured by a global authority.

In the last 15 years, thousands of Americans have lost their lives to the terrorists, does that mean, thousands of American nuclear weapons are about to fall in the hands of terrorists? In the 80s, when the IRA attacks on both British civilians and government were at their height, why the US did not secure Great Britain’s nukes? Maybe the fear mongers could also explain why the French nuclear weapons were not secured when the North African insurgency against the French was at its peak? Conversely, the US and its European allies should also secure Indian nuclear arsenal too; as India is bleeding from at least 50 separatist movements, and over 45% or 2/5 of Indian territory is literally under the influence of Naxalite or other separatists. Similarly, they may also want to explain, why tens of thousands of Russian nuclear weapons are anymore secure than Pakistan's; as Russia is mired in the Chechen insurgency and thousands of its jobless nuclear scientists are in the market willing to work for anyone, for as little as $100 per month?

Last but not least, the tiny nation of Israel experiences far more suicide bombings, separatist attacks, and assassinations from ultraconservative Jewish groups than anyone else. This begs the question, which American will dare to even suggest securing Israeli nuclear arsenal?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Pakistan’s Curse

Adnan Gill, Arab News

Pakistan is cursed in many ways; rampant corruption, religious and ethnic divisions, religious extremism, feudalism, social disparity, frequent military rules, corrupt bureaucracy, and the worst, most corrupt politicians. This is not to pin blame on any one politician; rather it’s to highlight the inefficiencies of seemingly rudderless Musharraf government and the rest of political leadership. Their torpid inefficiencies range from opening Pandora’s box by needlessly igniting cover-up theories, to failing to protect public and personal properties throughout the Pakistan.

Just when seas appear to be calming down for clear sailing, somehow, someway, the Musharraf government manages to steer up a storm. Musharraf government has developed a knack for snatching the defeat out of hands of the Angels of Mercy. Since March 9, the Musharraf government can’t tell the head from the tail. Its, one after the other, blundering decisions have won it utter embarrassment and notoriety of the worst kind. The latest feathers in Musharraf’s cap are the back-to-back reversals of his Interior Ministry’s statements on what caused Benazir Bhutto’s death. President Musharraf had to address the nation to cover Interior Ministry’s humongous faux pas. The blunder forced him to grudgingly invite Scotland Yard to investigate Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, which he would have never agreed to, had his top-heavy bureaucrats hadn’t shot his feet off so thoroughly.

The Musharraf government could have weathered the storm by simply laying low for a few days. But the government stirred the hornets’ nest by unnecessarily hairsplitting and disputing the pervasive theory on what killed Benazir Bhutto? Had Musharraf’s overzealous bureaucrats kept their mouth shut, his government would have been criticized for incompetence and dereliction of duty; but now it has to defend itself against the allegations of its hand in the murder of Benazir Bhutto and then the ensuing up. On the morning of Dec., the day after Benazir Bhutto was assassinated the Interior Ministry told the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) that she died of a gunshot wound to her neck. Later in the evening, the Interior Ministry changed its earlier statement. It told APP that flying shrapnel from a suicide bomb killed her and that she suffered no injuries from bullets shot at her. At this point, the government could have still caught its balance by refusing to give out any more details on the possible causes of her death, till after a bipartisan investigation submits its initial findings. Yet hours later, in yet another reversal, Interior Ministry’s spokesman Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema declared that Benazir Bhutto died after fracturing her skull on a sunroof latch.

Rule of thumb is, stop shooting if you have already shot one of your feet off. Apparently, the government wasn’t satisfied with playing musical chairs with its statements, Brig. Cheema decided to open and shut the case by pinning the blame on the Baitullah Mahsud and his motives behind murdering Benazir Bhutto.

Probably, by trying to belittle the gravity of the situation, Musharraf’s panicked bureaucrats vainly tried to assert control over how the history would be written. But what remains unclear is how the middle-tier bureaucrats could have gone to such an extent of holding press conferences without the consent, or at minimum, without the knowledge of the highest leadership? It is quite understandable, that the president cannot and does not micromanage investigations every time a suicide bomber strikes, but this was no ordinary act of violence. The Musharraf government insulted our intelligence by releasing the so-called audiotapes of Baitullah Mahsud.

Not to be left behind, the successors of Benazir Bhutto’s party have also done their own best to expose their own incompetence and selfish attitudes. Citing Benazir Bhutto’s living will, the PPP crowned her 19-years-old son Bilawal as the successor. Pakistanis are now questioning the wisdom behind bringing a party in power, which is more of a monarchy, whose leadership does not practice the principles of democracy themselves. Finally, the PPP did a great disservice to the nation when, in a deafening silence, it failed to ask its workers to remain calm when faced with sorrow and grief. For his part, Nawaz Sharif showed his true colors when he ordered his media manager Pervaiz Rasheed to seize tapes of an interview in which, when faced with hard questioning, he made a fool of himself by losing his cool and composure.

Whether the Musharraf government will survive the latest storm remains to be seen, but one can already see how it has left humongous cracks in the foundations of his government, which can be reduced to rubble even by the slightest tremors.

Naturally, Pakistanis wonder, what have we done to be cursed with such an incompetent and self-serving leadership?

— Adnan Gill is a freelance columnist living in the US. He writes on US foreign policy, Middle East and South Asia.

Who is the Boss?

By Adnan Gill

Pakistani media widely reported that during his fruitless charm-offensive in Europe, President Musharraf had a two hour long meeting with MQM’s undisputed leader Altaf Hussain and other MQM Bosses. President’s desperation to please the MQM Bosses became obvious when he ardently rolled out the red carpet for them after hastily canceling a prescheduled visit to the Cambridge University.

Apparently, instead of MQM Bosses showing the courtesy of opening up their schedule for a State dignitary, President Musharraf was so keen to meet Mr. Hussain that he bent backwards to accommodate the MQM leadership into his hectic schedule; as if MQM Bosses enjoyed a stature deserving a higher protocol.

Why Musharraf has developed a taste for making deals with politicians of unsavory character, should be a matter of serious concern. But what should be alarming to the Pakistanis is why their President is holding meetings with a person who runs his party in Pakistan through a telephone and who proudly poses for the cameras with his British passport? Altaf’s own party had been in power since 2002, and still this British Boss -- who voluntarily left Pakistan for good in 1991 -- is conspicuously living in self-exile. Naturally, a question arises, what is keeping Boss Altaf from ending his self-exile? Of course for now, he is enjoying his British citizenship and his party funds more than suffice to support his luxurious lifestyle in the UK, but sooner or later, he will have to come-clean with his followers, as to why they should risk their lives for a voice on a black phone surrounded by microphones? Critics allege, descending voices within the MQM are already questioning the wisdom of staying loyal to a leader who most of them have never seen, and who is too afraid or has no interest in returning to his own constituents? They ask, what is in for them to rot in jails for a leader who constantly demands sacrifices from them, but doesn't believe in parting with the luxury and security he has accustomed himself to?

It was nauseating to see a President of a Nuclear Power bowing to a convicted MQM Boss who has forsaken his Pakistani nationality, and even worse, who has questioned the creation of Pakistan! If we didn't know any better, it must have looked like President Musharraf was begging for mercy, or at minimum, begging for a favor from the Bosses. Why? That would be a million-dollar question. Hopefully, one day General Musharraf will enlighten his nation, why in his infinite wisdom he bent his knees in reverence to the MQM Bosses?

It was heartening to see the Commando President promising to the Bosses that the coming elections would be fair, free, transparent and peaceful. Only to see the Bosses foreordaining the submissive Musharraf to arrange compensation for those who lost property during the violence that followed Ms. Bhutto’s assassination. Then as if afraid of the wrath of the Gods, the servile President sheepishly tried to sooth the anger of the Bosses by informing them, he already ordered the setting up of a commission and directed it to process the compensations at the earliest.

Oddly enough, such a display of courage and concern for the victims of violence came from the same President, who upon learning of the loss of hundreds of lives in the May 12 Karachi-Carnage, triumphly threw his fists in the air, as he asserted, “today [MQM has] shown the real power.” It is the same president who also plainly dismissed any possibility of holding an inquiry or any possibility of finding the killers of unarmed civilians whose only crime was coming to the streets to welcome the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Instead of giving assurances to Boss Altaf, maybe President Musharraf should have dared him to step into Pakistan to monitor the elections himself. And if he did not, then we have to wonder, why not?

Nevertheless, the mystery remains, who is the Boss; Altaf or Musharraf?