Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Now that its AfPak policy has begun to hurt it, the Americans are wiser. The Kerry-Lugar Bill sets out the conditions on which alone the US will give $7.5bn economic assistance to Pakistan over the next five years together with an undisclosed but substantial quantum of military assistance to fight terror.

Taming Pakistan’s Military

As the noose tightens around Pakistan’s military over missing billions, it is time for the country to doff its camouflage green and return to humanistic Sufi Islam.

By B G Verghese

New Indian Express, 12 October, 2009

Is Pakistan’s rogue Army in the process of being tamed at last? Hopefully so. A few “nationalist” commentators and angry men in khaki have suddenly voiced anxiety and anger over the Kerry-Lugar Bill adopted by the US Congress last month and now awaiting Presidential signature to become law. The story in a nutshell is that you can fool some people all of the time, all the people some of the time, but not all the people all of the time. Someone in Washington at last appears to have blown the whistle after years and even decades of political fraud and military double cross in Pakistan that has brought the country to its knees and strangled democracy. So maybe one or even two cheers for now but let us reserve the third until we see the report card on implementation.

Dossiers seem to make for light reading in Islamabad these days. But one such American dossier currently doing the rounds has been wounding. It says that of $12 billion given to Pakistan in aid between 2002 and 2008, including $6.6bn of military assistance, only $500m reached the military to fight terror. The rest was diverted to strengthen the military, bolster terror against India and subsidise Musharraf’s failing economy to make the dictator look good. The Americans cite Pakistani generals, bureaucrats and ministers as sources. More culpable they as they willingly turned away from the truth to prop up the “frontline state” in all its ugly capers for decades – something US Secretary, Hillary Clinton, termed as the “incoherence” of US AfPak policy. India bore huge collateral damage in blood and treasure and was repeatedly advised “restraint” by Washington.

Even as Pakistan stabbed India in the back at Kargil with practiced ease and the usual diversionary tales repeated since 1947, while A.Q. Khan cheerfully proliferated to all and sundry, not least, China, Bill Clinton sold his biographer, Taylor Branch, a grim fairy tale as reported after the volume was released in New York last month. He said India and Pakistan were very casual about talking about nuking one another during the Kargil war. According to the Associated Press version, Indian officials spoke privately of “a doomsday nuclear volley (first strike) by Pakistan that would kill 300 to 500 million Indians, while India annihilated 120 million Pakistanis (in a return strike), thus claiming ‘victory’”. This is gratuitous nonsense.

Now that its AfPak policy has begun to hurt it, the Americans are wiser. The Kerry-Lugar Bill sets out the conditions on which alone the US will give $7.5bn economic assistance to Pakistan over the next five years together with an undisclosed but substantial quantum of military assistance to fight terror. The conditions are spelt in the Pakistan Enduring Assistance and Enhanced Cooperation (PEACE) Act. This calls for annual certification by the US Secretary of State that Pakistan is abiding by nuclear non-proliferation norms and provides “relevant information” and direct access to nodal players and agencies (like the notorious A.Q.Khan). The Secretary must also certify Pakistan’s remaining commitment to the war on terror and has ceased supporting terror groups striking at US forces and neighbours (India). The terror groups and hubs listed in the Act include the Al Qaeda and Taliban as also the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad whose focus is India, Mudrike (the LeT campus near Lahore) and Quetta, where Mullah Omar and others of the Taliban leadership are believed holed up.

More galling, annual certification will assess whether any resources have been diverted to nuclear proliferation, the degree of civil control over military and defence expenditure and the extent of any military nexus with the civil administration. The clear purpose is to shield governance from military dominance and to break the military-mullah stranglehold over civil-democratic rule. While President Zardari and his government are for the PEACE Act, the military and sundry ideologues are agitated. Unfortunately, the ML(N) of Nawaz Sharif is reported to be lukewarm. Pakistan must shed military dominance once for all and shed the obscurantist tyranny of its rabidly Islamist Wahabi mullahs and return to the humanistic sufi Islam of the sub-continent.

Meanwhile, the second bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul follows General MacCrystal’s warning that India’s growing popularity in Afghanistan on account of its beneficial reconstruction and humanitarian aid might invite Pakistani “countermeasures”. Close on its heels, the Southern Taliban in Punjab struck at GHQ in Rawalpindi in an embarrassing standoff.

Back home, the Maoist offensive has reached new heights of barbarity and mindless violence epitomized in the bestial beheading of a police official in Jharkhand. No theory of “class annihilation” can explain or extenuate this kind of savagery. Suggestions that the anti-Naxal operations be militarized have been firmly rejected and the Home Minister has stated that the Maoists will be firmly dealt with and rooted out but that the Government is ready to open a dialogue on grievances and development issues if they lay down arms. This is the right course.

The Government’s approach, however, continues to lean towards prioritizing law and order in the belief that unless areas and communities are secure, development cannot move forward. This is only partly true. There is still an imperfect understanding of the underlying problems at many levels, official, political, media and public. Poverty and deprivation hurt, and widening disparities anger. But what rankles most is the denial of dignity and social justice, both solemn constitutional promises. The Fifth Schedule and PESA, which constitute a social contract with tribal India, have been blatantly violated in letter and spirit to this day and the elaborate machinery established for their implementation, monitoring and evaluation callously disregarded. Governor’s reports, as mandated, are routine, low grade documents written by lowly functionaries to satisfy a constitutional requirement. There is little evidence of ground truthing, analysis and application of mind. The reports are often delayed by years and are never debated. The whole exercise has been reduced to a farce. Administrative structures and personnel in the Fifth Schedule areas are often unsuited to the tasks in hand and incapable of delivering development. These issues have simply not been addressed. The failure has been comprehensive, continuing and criminal. No one has been held accountable for this despite desperate appeals by commissions, concerned individuals and groups.

The Centre cannot pass the buck to the States. Both are equally responsible. Nor can or should each blame the other. They have a shared responsibility and need to act in concert. NGOs should now come forward to try and promote reconciliation, starting, if need be, in limited peace zones, so designated by mutual agreement and subject to certain ground rules, with no display or use of arms by the Naxals, and monitored by independent, non-partisan peace committees composed of men and women of goodwill who enjoy trust and respect on all sides. Schools and health centres would be natural foci of such peace zones.

Why not the Centre take the initiative through a national broadcast by the Prime Minister followed up by a more specific invitation to dialogue by some chief ministers, Such broadcasts would obviously need to be preceded by discussion and formulation of a strategy to develop peace, justice and development with informed civil society inputs. This would be a policy of democratic strength, not of weakness.

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