Editorial: Curb this vindictive hype!
Discussion is hitting a new low in decency as the coalition government moves towards the impeachment of President Pervez Musharraf. People calling in to register their opinion during TV debates are shouting phaansi (hanging) for him while anchors regale the nation with triumphant smiles. This is their way of “persuading” the president to quit. While sane and temperate advice is indeed that of abdication, this sort of vindictive hype may be counter-productive by challenging him to dig in his heels and weather the storm. Is that the right way to go about exercising the constitutional right to impeach the president?
Mr Asif Ali Zardari has charged that the president may have embezzled large sums from the American anti-terrorism assistance to Pakistan. But no evidence has been provided. He has piled more charges of the criminal sort to make the prospects for the president daunting in the extreme. While Information Minister Sherry Rehman says the contents of the charge-sheet against him will be kept confidential until the last minute, her leader is mincing no words to air them, saying that his accusations will form a part of the charge-sheet. Clearly, there is no serenity in the project of impeaching a president of Pakistan. Instead, there is a lot of crude intent to take revenge.
Justice was invented by civilisation to curb the crudity of revenge-seeking. The Constitution seeks to base the process of impeachment on justice. This means that simply a counting of heads in the joint session of parliament will not be enough. The charges now being shouted by all and sundry will have to be proved and the president will have the right to defend himself. If the charge-sheet simply reflects the passion that now engulfs the nation, it may not stand up in the eyes of law. It is quite clear even in the one-sided debate now unfolding in the media that the jurists are divided on the modality of impeachment.
In the great emotional catharsis that has descended on us we may forget to examine the calls of collective revenge being made from all sorts of different quarters. An Al Qaeda charge-sheet against President Musharraf has also hit the media market. Second in command Ayman Al Zawahiri’s audiotape condemns him for “the proliferation of narcotics, rising Indian influence in Afghanistan, maltreatment of Dr AQ Khan and the killing of the madrassa seminarians at Lal Masjid”. According to him all this was done to please the United States. More significantly, the Al Qaeda tape points to the perils of accepting its simplistic charges as a part of the “national drive” against the president. It accuses him of proposing “a solution of disputed Kashmir that was actually aimed at giving up Pakistani claim on the valley”. It accuses him of accepting the Israeli state on Palestinian territory. It takes to task the country’s politicians, claiming that “Pakistan was being controlled by the US Embassy, while they were destabilising their own atomic-power nation to please the US”.
This kind of “meeting of the minds” on the president hurts Pakistan. As the newspapers reported the contents of the tape, militants assisted and directed by Al Qaeda surged back in Khaar in Bajaur Agency to besiege the retreating Pakistani security forces. The terrorists swearing allegiance to Al Qaeda have burnt hundreds of girls’ schools in Swat and the Tribal Areas; and in south Punjab threats to girls’ schools have also been administered by people increasingly drawn to the worldview of the terrorists. The PPP is particularly at risk as it ignores the threats being made by the Taliban about “taking over” Sindh.
Political theory tells us again and again that alliances made on the basis of negative emotions seldom prosper. Once the impeachment is over and the president meets the end he meets, this “consensus” will fall apart. The state doesn’t have the ability to impose its writ on more than half the territory, and areas under normal administration also are fast slipping into the zone of “ungoverned spaces”. There are big national decisions to be made not only in the Tribal Areas and the NWFP but also in Balochistan, both relating to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the state.
This hype has its dark side too. Normally impeachment is not a zero-sum game. If the impeachment fails the legislature doesn’t fall, and the government survives to live another day. But if the process is exaggerated to such an extent that it looks like a duel unto death, then in the case of a lapse of impeachment, the government may have to bear an extremely unpleasant popular backlash. There is also the possibility that in such circumstances the permanent establishment might ask the president to use 58-2(b). It is therefore advisable to tone down the blood-curdling aspects of the pre-impeachment rhetoric and go about it in a civilised way. *
Second Editorial: Terrorism in Xinjiang
The western Xinjiang province of China has experienced two terrorist attacks in a week. The first killed 16 policemen in Kashgar and the second has now killed 11 in Kuqa (pronounced Kucha) in the central regions of the province. The separatist movement among the Uighur Muslims of Xinjiang has been imported from the north where the province abuts Kazakhstan, but the use of suicide-bombers in the latest case points to an Arab connection. The idea behind the latest spurt of violence is highlighting the cause of independence during the Beijing Olympics. The Chinese organisation of the games is so fool-proof that the terrorists can’t get inside the cordon of security around them.
The separatist elements in Xinjiang have not been able to make themselves popular in a society that is generally upwardly mobile. China has dealt sensibly with the problem, pre-empting any mischief from the neighbouring countries. The Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) is five years old and contains China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. One of its objectives is to contain Muslim extremism and its spillover across borders. Pakistan has been invited to SCO and has helped in eliminating some Uighur rebellious elements taking terrorist training inside Pakistan. Thankfully, as far as Pakistan is concerned, the general public has more sympathy for China than for its rebels. *