Posts Tagged ‘military rule’

Pakistan in Uncertain Times

August 27, 2008

The Military Waits in the Wings

By DEEPAK TRAPATHI | Counterpunch, August 23/24, 2008

Old enemies seldom make easy bedfellows. This is what we see in Pakistan today. Now that President Pervez Musharraf, once the military strongman, has been forced out, the shaky alliance of the two most powerful civilian politicians, Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, is unraveling. The euphoria over the defeat of Musharraf’s party in the February parliamentary elections has evaporated. The aim which had brought Zardari and Sharif together has been achieved. And their old hostilities are, once again, coming to the fore.

I have been an observer of Pakistan’s troubled and unhappy journey for over thirty years. And I must say that the sudden outbreak of hope after the victory for the democratic forces last February had not been seen for a long time in the country. The election result had clear messages from the electorate to those it sees as controlling the destiny of Pakistan. First, to the military, which has ruled the country for more than half of the period since independence in 1947; and which, under General Musharraf, subverted the judiciary above all. Second, to America, whose role in shaping Pakistan’s policies is seen by the electorate as unacceptable interference, exercised through the Bush administration’s proxy, Musharraf.

With Musharraf gone, Washington’s plans in the region are in disarray. Bush, in his final few months in the White House, seems to have decided to deal with Pakistan’s military chief, General Ashfaq Kiyani, on matters of collaboration in the ‘war on terror’. After ruling Pakistan from the front for almost a decade, the military has had enough and retreated into the background. However, it continues to be the real center of power behind the cover of a civilian government that survives from day to day.

Earlier, I referred to Zardari and Sharif being old adversaries. So I should give a brief explanation of what lies at the root of their antagonism and distrust. They belong to very different political clans. Sharif was a protégé of the military dictator, General Zia-ul Haq. Under his martial law administration, the Sharif family enjoyed a dramatic rise in its business and political fortunes. Zardari belongs to the Bhutto clan by marriage to Benazir, who was assassinated in December 2007. Sharif is from Punjab, the most populous and wealthy province, which dominates the military hierarchy of Pakistan; Zardari from Sindh, a province with about half the population of Punjab.

In the 1980s, Nawaz Sharif’s political fortunes rose dramatically, starting with his appointment as chief minister of Punjab with the blessings of General Zia. Sharif’s rise continued after Zia’s death in a plane crash in 1988 and, two years later, he rose to be the prime minister of Pakistan. Zia, during his military rule, deposed and then executed the head of the Bhutto clan, Zulfiqar Ali, the elected prime minister of the country. Before Sharif and General Musharraf fell out with each other and Sharif’s government was deposed in a coup in 1999, it was Sharif who was close to the military establishment. The Bhutto clan was the outcast and Benazir and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, spent years in jail.

Memories of his overthrow, and subsequent exile to Saudi Arabia, by Musharraf have made Nawaz Sharif distrustful of the army. Zardari, acknowledging the army’s paramount role in the country’s politics, and encouraged by America, would like to work with it. The two are far more mature, suave and no longer as impetuous as they were in their youth. But that the political fortunes of one were made at the cost of the other remains a fact of history and difficult to forget.

Against that difficult-to-forget episode of history is the new reality of Pakistan today. The People’s Party led by the Bhutto clan, Benazir’s widower and their teenage son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, is the larger party in Parliament and its character is truly national. The main stronghold of the Muslim League faction of Nawaz Sharif is essentially Punjab, the most important province, but not the whole country. It matters at a time when rival forces are pulling the country apart. Some represent Islamic fundamentalism, others secularism; some support a strong center while others demand greater provincial autonomy. Pakistan is more volatile today than at the time of its breakup in 1971, when East Pakistan seceded to become Bangladesh.

As Zardari and Sharif maneuver to consolidate their positions after years in the wilderness, Pakistan struggles with the insurgency that grows day by day and the economic crisis worsen. New questions arise. As Zardari embarks on his quest to become the next president of Pakistan, will he turn the post into that of a constitutional figurehead? Or insist on keeping the powers to dismiss the government, dissolve the parliament and meddle with the judiciary? Will the next president side with the all powerful military and cooperate with the United States in the ‘war on terror’ that caused the downfall of Musharraf? Or work to reduce the role of the army in the running of the country? Will the judges who were dismissed by Musharraf by illegal means be reinstated? Or is the integrity of the judiciaryto remain in tatters? Above all, will the hopes, which the people of Pakistan pinned on the elected politicians, be realized? Or they will, once again, be disappointed. As these and other questions linger, the military will be waiting in the wings.

Deepak Tripathi, a former BBC journalist, is an author and a researcher, with reference to South and West Asia, terrorism and the US. His website is http://deepaktripathi.wordpress.com and he can be reached at DandATripathi@gmail.com.

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End of the two-state solution

July 29, 2008

A multicultural state can offer Jewish Israelis and Muslim and Christian Palestinians a future free of discrimination, occupation, fear and violence

By Saree Makdisi | guardian.co.uk, Monday July 28 2008

In order to try to create an exclusively Jewish state in what had been the culturally diverse land of Palestine, Israel’s founders expelled or drove into flight half of Palestine’s Muslim and Christian population and seized their land, their houses, and their property (furniture, clothing, books, personal effects, family heirlooms), in what Palestinians call the nakba, or catastrophe, of 1948.

Even while demanding – rightly – that no one should forget the Jewish people’s history of suffering, and above all the Holocaust, Israel has insisted ever since 1948 not merely that the Palestinians must forget their own history, but that what it calls peace must be premised on that forgetting, and hence on the Palestinians’ renunciation of their rights. As Israel’s foreign minister has said, if the Palestinians want peace, they must learn to strike the word “nakba” from their lexicon.

Some must never forget, while others, clearly, must not be allowed to remember. Far from mere hypocrisy, this attitude perfectly expresses the Israeli people’s mistaken belief that they can find the security they need at the expense of the Palestinians, or that one people’s right can be secured at the cost of another’s.

Little wonder such an approach has not delivered peace. The only way to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to end the denial of rights that fuels it, and to ensure that both peoples’ rights are equally protected.

For some years it was thought that peace could be obtained by sidestepping the central fact of the nakba, and creating a Palestinian statelet in what remained of Palestine after 1948, namely, the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in 1967.

But such a two-state solution is no longer possible. The inescapable fact is that one state controls all of the land, and it has done so for over 40 years, affirming one people’s right to live, marry, work and settle by negating another people’s right to do the same, on land that two peoples – not just one – call home.

The only question now is how much longer this negation can go on, and how long it will be before a state premised on it is superseded by its opposite, an affirmative, genuinely democratic, secular and multi-cultural state, the only kind that can offer Jewish Israelis and Muslim and Christian Palestinians alike a future free of discrimination, occupation, fear and violence.

The question, in other words, is not whether there will be a one-state solution, but when; and how much needless suffering there will be in the meantime, until those who are committed to the project of creating and maintaining a religiously exclusivist state in what was historically a culturally and religiously heterogeneous land finally relent and accept the inevitable: that they have failed.

This last point is especially important, because the conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians is – and has always been –– driven by the notion that hundreds of years of cultural heterogeneity and plurality could be negated overnight by the creation of a state with a single cultural and religious identity.

It hardly matters that that identity was never as homogeneous as Zionists like to claim: witness Israel’s methodical de-Arabisation of its Mizrahi (Arab-Jewish) population in the 1950s and 1960s, or the perennial debate over “who is a Jew” – an unseemly question that in Israel is not merely a matter of arcane theological exegesis but tied directly to matters of citizenship, nationality, and law.

Israel’s claim to an exclusive Jewish identity – as symbolised by its flag – has been sustained ever since 1948 by denying the moral and legal right of return of those Palestinians expelled during the nakba, by forms of legalised discrimination inside the state, and by the maintenance of a much more violent system of apartheid in the territories Israel has militarily occupied since 1967.

Palestinian citizens of Israel – officially referred to by the state as deracinated “Arabs” because it cannot bring itself to acknowledge the fact that they are Palestinian – face institutionalised forms of discrimination far worse than those once encountered by African Americans. For example, while Jewish Israelis who marry non-citizens (or residents of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories) are entitled to have their spouses come live with them, Israeli law explicitly denies that right to Palestinian citizens who marry Palestinians from the occupied territories. Palestinian citizens are also denied various other privileges, including access to state lands, reserved exclusively for Jews.

Meanwhile, Israel maintains two separate infrastructures in the occupied territories, and it subjects the two populations there to two distinct legal and administrative systems. Indigenous Palestinians are subject to a harsh form of military rule, whereas Jewish settlers enjoy the protections of Israeli civil law, even though they have been transplanted -– in violation of international law – beyond the borders of their state.

Indeed, Israel’s intensive settlement of the occupied territories is the primary reason for the demise of the two-state solution. Not only is the settler population increasing at a rate three times greater than that of Israel itself, but, according to a UN report published last summer, almost 40% of the West Bank is now taken up with Israeli infrastructure to which Palestinians are denied access. The remainder of the territory has been broken up into an archipelago, each little “island” of territory in effect a small-scale Gaza, cut off from the outside and completely vulnerable to Israel’s whims. Under such circumstances, an independent Palestinian state is inconceivable.

Even if it were conceivable, the creation of a Palestinian statelet in the occupied territories would do nothing to safeguard the rights of the 20% of Israel’s citizens who are Palestinian; on the contrary, its existence would further empower the likes of former deputy prime minister Avigdor Lieberman, who wants all Palestinians removed to make room for Jewish immigrants (like himself). Nor would it address the right of return of the Palestinians who were deliberately expelled to make room for a Jewish state in 1948, who have been kept out and living in limbo – or in the prison that is Gaza – solely in order to preserve Israel’s tenuous claim to Jewishness.

Negation, denial and imprisonment have run their course. The future should be built on affirmation, cooperation, and the constitution of a democratic and secular state that guarantees the rights of Israelis and Palestinians, of Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike.

• Saree Makdisi is Professor of English Literature at the University of California, and the author of Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation, published by WW Norton.


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