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Pakistan: Living On Borrowed Time -- Syed Kamal

Living On Borrowed Time

By Syed Akbar Kamal

Amidst scenes of chaos, violence and mayhem emanating from Pakistan after the assassination of Pakistan's People Party chief Benazir Bhutto, the 5000-odd Pakistani community living here in New Zealand is stunned and shocked.

Coming close on the heels of the first attempt, the assassin's success amidst renewed high security cordon proved fatal for Benazir who was perceived by the people of Pakistan as the hope for democracy in a country ravaged by military rule in the last 60 years of its existence.

Dr. Ashraf
ChoudharyDr. Ashraf Choudhary Labour's List MP and the first South Asian member of NZ Parliament is in Pakistan since one week meeting family members on a private visit watched the whole deadly drama unfold on television screen during the course of the political rally that was being televised Thursday 3 pm. Speaking to this reporter from Sialkot he condemned the killing and termed it as "shameful".

"It's very tragic and unfortunate incident for the people of Pakistan. It takes Pakistan backwards especially now that the elections will be postponed for quite a while. I only hope that the looting spree and violence is contained at the earliest."

Elections were due to be held in Pakistan on January 8th after the state of emergency was lifted recently. US pressured the embattled President Musharraf in lifting the emergency and Benazir had played a vital role in forcing the military establishment in conducting early elections.

"Buildings are torched and shops looted and the senseless destruction has left me gutted. There's total chaos especially in Karachi and Sindh area, "he said.

When reminded that the Sindh Chief Minister had gone into hiding and taken shelter at the military base immediately after the orgy of violence escalated, he said "I am not surprised. With so much of arson and violence, the people are directing their anger at anything. The whole atmosphere is dangerous and passions are running high. I hope better sense will prevail and people will learn some lessons..."

He pointed out that it was in Rawalpindi that all the three Prime Ministers, Liaqat Ali Khan, Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto and his daughter Benazir Bhutto were killed and incidentally all three come from the Sindh region.

The government there has declared 3 day mourning and appealing for calm.

To a question whether he had the opportunity to talk to President Parvez Musharraf, he answered such a possibility did not come about as he was in the middle of paying a private visit but was planning to talk to the Prime Minister of Pakistan in the coming days. "With violence and chaos ruling the roost, I don't see it happening."

He condemned the extremist forces and said "it's too early to say anything" but feels it is the handiwork of extremists.

Irfan Shoukat acting High Commissioner of Pakistan in Wellington strongly condemned the killing and said the elements of extremist forces are bent on perpetrating destruction in the country through such violent acts and "now is the time to unite to defeat the divisive forces of extremist and terrorists."

"Never undermine the spirit and unity of the nation and we will come out strongly from the quagmire of chaos to defeat the aspirations of the extremists," he added.

When asked whether the identity of the culprit had been established, he said "investigations are underway and very soon the government of Pakistan will make an announcement in Islamabad."

Mr. Shoukat pointed out that around 100 to 200 New Zealanders of Pakistani origin are there in the country. He stressed that there is no underlying immediate danger to their safety but should an eventuality arise "they must contact the local authorities for provisioning of security net."

Nadeem Ashraf a Pakistani car dealer based in Papatoetoe echoed the feelings of his community and said "this is the time for reflection and patience but not violence."

"We feel very sorry for her and strongly condemn this act."

"Violence is not going to solve our problems over there. The terrorists want Pakistan to disintegrate through these cowardly acts. The government of Pakistan should come down hard on extremists and must take this matter seriously."

Mr. Ashraf pleaded that while the common man on the street is struggling for daily necessities of life, the authorities should contain the cycle of violence and ensure peace prevails.

While articulating the turmoil's of the masses he said the people are "fed up of corruption and abuse of power by the politicians".

"The people of Pakistan want stability to return and not be deflected from the path of restoration of democracy."

Dr. Paul
BuchananNoted security expert Dr. Paul Buchanan says the Bhutto assassination spells serious trouble for Pakistan and the region as a whole. Asked how he sees the spectre of Pakistan emerging out of this assassination of Ms. Bhutto, he said "the prospects are very dim. This will increase the political disorder and has definitely killed Musharraf politically. His plans for an orderly transition are in trouble and the elections will have to be delayed."

"The only hope is what is known as a political pact between the military, Nawaz Sharif and the new leaders of Bhutto's Pakistan People's party on what the features and policies of the next government will be, and that may be impossible to achieve."

He observed that after years of self imposed exile living in London and Dubai, the US wanted to see her return and compete in elections, but it is also clear that the US also wanted to continue to support Musharraf as the transitional leader.

"The US basically wanted to help stage manage an orderly transition from military to civilian rule using these two leaders."

The veteran security expert added "the idea was to broker a deal between the two of them--one as the most popular political figure, the other as the respected leader of the armed forces. It did not work."

Dismissing the military establishment involvement in the incident, he maintained that while it is incomprehensible for an assassin to penetrate and breach such high security around her armoured vehicle, the intelligence wing ISI and the military may have looked the other way but feels "they were directly not involved." He reminded that "Musharraf has a lot to lose if she died, as did the more moderate elements in the military and security services, so it is improbable that the order came from the leadership."

He said the perpetrators would most likely be the extremists, be it Taleban or Al-Qaeda who also have connections with militant elements within the security services or ISI. Elaborating further he said the promised security simply did not materialize or was ineffective against a determined attacker.

He observed that "democracy has never obtained in Pakistan. There has been a kleptocracy in place regardless of whether the military or civilians rule. It is an elite or oligarchical political system in which the elites settle their differences via coups rather than real elections, and in which corruption and demagoguery go hand-in-hand."

With Nawaz Sharif announcing the boycott of elections on January 8th, Mr. Buchanan noted that "Sharif needs to be part of the political pact wherein leaders of all the main secular parties need to be involved in order to save the transition and maintain secular rule."

He added "secular rule is required both for security and economic reasons since foreign direct investment--and investment of any kind--has all but dried up in Pakistan and in fact capital flight out of the country is increasing."

"With economic downturn added to political instability, the situation amounts to what is known as an organic crisis of the state, which opens the door for more extremist solutions. Thus only a secular state and government can ameliorate both the security and economic problems."

Commenting on the emerging pockets of rising Hindu militancy especially in the Western state of Gujarat where the radical Hindutva leader Narendra Modi was returned to power with overwhelming majority, and whether he foresees the entire Indian sub-continent as a hot-bed of violence with no rule of law in sight, Mr. Buchanan cautioned "the Indians have the most to lose if Pakistan sinks into chaos or reverts to extremist rule. Thus the Indian government has an interest in suppressing militant Hindu claims. If they do not and Hindu militancy escalates then yes, the prospect for regional violence is great."

He added "the issue is two-fold if Pakistan is thrown into chaos: firstly it will add to the problems of stabilizing Afghanistan and secondly a nuclear armed Pakistan under extremist control or in chaos will force India to act, and in order to prevent an Indian strike against Pakistan's nuclear facilities the international community (read US and UK) will be forced into armed intervention in Pakistan to secure their nuclear weapons. For its part China will not stand by and watch its western borders come under threat and will want to act to counter-balance any Indian action. All of these scenarios are terrifying and could lead to a regional war."

When asked for his comments on the hardcore Hindu fundamentalist party BJP recently endorsing L K Advani (responsible for Babri Mosque demolition) as the Prime Ministerial candidate for the next general elections in India and what it bodes for its future, the seasoned security expert quipped "Advani's candidacy, much less his prime ministership, would be a major setback to the prospects of national as well as regional peace and could in fact be a portent for war."


Syed Akbar Kamal is Producer/Director of Darpan-The Mirror, a current affairs programme on Stratos.


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