Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Pakistani Coup Makers in Jang Group/GEO TV (2008/2009)

For all the fevered discussion about Memogate, one of the most arresting claims to emerge seems to have evaded even the faintest scrutiny. In the very evidence Mansoor Ijaz marshaled before the Pakistani public, he says there was a second, rival plot, set in train during the very same days in early May. It, too, involves a senior Pakistani official reaching out to foreign allies in a similarly abortive bid to take on a powerful institution back home. About a quarter of the way down the purported BBM exchange between Ijaz and Husain Haqqani, the American businessman proffers an eyebrow-elevating tip. Some hours after the memo was delivered, Ijaz tells his alleged co-conspirator that he has learned of a clandestine effort to evict Asif Ali Zardari from Islamabad’s presidential palace. “I was just informed by senior US intel,” Ijaz writes in a message on May 10, “that GD-SII Mr P asked for, and received permission, from senior Arab leaders a few days ago to sack Z. For what its worth.” It’s worth a great deal, if only because it carries the same weight as what else appears in the apparently incriminating exchange. In his hasty typing, where he manages to turn “DG-ISI” into an anagram, Ijaz was saying that top American spooks have told him that Lieut. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha secured a green light from Gulf potentates to overthrow the government. Intrigued, I asked Ijaz to furnish some context. When the memo was being crafted, he told me in a telephone interview some days ago, he wanted to independently verify whether the Zardari government was truly imperiled. “One of the things I had done,” he explained over his London cell phone, “was to make sure that a senior person that I know in US intelligence would have had the opportunity to review what was about to sent over.” This, he added, was why Leon Panetta came to know of the memo, hinting at a CIA link. Ijaz said he felt the measure was necessary “to make sure that there was nothing we were doing that was against US interests.” The well-placed source got back to him about a day later. “And the person told me,” Ijaz said, “that their information was that Pasha had traveled to a few of the Arab countries to talk about what would be necessary to do in the event they had to remove Zardari from power and so forth.” Did he find the information credible? “Of course I thought it was credible,” Ijaz replied, slightly exasperated by the question. “I wouldn’t have repeated it if I didn’t. When I say, ‘a senior intel source,’ I mean senior,” he said, laying stress on the last word. Based on what his source told him, Ijaz said he had “confirmation that there was a real threat there at some point.” REFERENCE: Pakistan’s “Memogate”: Was there ever going to be a coup? By Omar Waraich The Foreign Desk - International dispatches from Independent correspondents - Tuesday, 13 December 2011 at 7:35 pm

Dr Shahid Masood Exposed in Dr Shazia Khalid Rape Case (Bolta Pakistan 13th July 2011)

November 27, 2009 - DUBAI: When I had reported from Abu Dhabi on Nov 7 that the talks between a high level MQM delegation led by Anwar Bhai and Governor Ishratul Ebad and Rehman Malik and Zulfikar Mirza of the PPP were deadlocked on MQM’s demand for President Asif Ali Zardari’s resignation to save democracy, many PPP eyebrows were raised and the campaign to target me and the Geo TV was seriously launched. On Wednesday and Thursday when the Sindh interior minister almost declared full war on the MQM, revealing that all the closed criminal cases of the MQM were done fraudulently, the reality has now come to the surface. This is the final showdown the PPP is trying to start so that if President Zardari is disqualified, the Sindh Card, as it is generally known, could be played effectively. I delayed my response to President Zardari’s tongue in cheek attacks, dubbing me as a “political actor” in his famous speech from the bunker because it was in my knowledge that it is not just an anchor or a newspaper editor who were bothering the country’s president, it was the fact that whatever we were writing or saying was the truth and things were playing out exactly as it had been narrated in our programmes on the Geo TV or in columns of The News. The problem with President Zardari and his cronies is that they don’t know how to defend their past corruption and how to convince their coalition partners and the relevant players in the establishment that they have changed their ways. This lack of defence is driving them into desperation and as officially announced by Zulfikar Mirza, the ultimate weapon they have is the Sindh Card to save themselves, or, if they fail, to take the entire system down if they fail. I am a proud Pakistani and also a proud Sindhi, but I don’t believe in the Sindh card. I am sure that such a card does not exist anymore. It is again wrong to suggest that father of the nation Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah used the Sindh card for creation of Pakistan. It is simply childish to say that adoption of resolution in favour of Pakistan in the Sindh Assembly in 40s was an exploitation of the Sindh card. It shows lack of sense of history. The passage of resolution by the Sindh Assembly establishes the negation of the Sindh card. The Thursday’s outburst by Mr Mirza at a news conference that if the NRO cases were reopened against PPP leaders, he would provide official files to the Supreme Court that would prove that the 3,500 criminal cases of MQM were not legally and properly closed and the MQM had committed a fraud, showed that he wanted the Supreme Court to take suo moto notice of what he was saying. I know for a fact that in the Abu Dhabi talks between Rehman Malik, Mirza and the MQM leaders, these issues were discussed threadbare, and the MQM had refused to oblige the PPP. President Zardari had realised then and there that the NRO was going to be the noose around his neck, and thus a strategy was devised to show that the infamous law had benefited so many people that if it was struck down, the country would descend into a turmoil. When my TV programme highlighted the NRO and kept it into focus, the PPP leadership was upset because they wanted to divert the attention from the NRO and the president to the larger ramifications if the law was struck down by the Supreme Court. This is the strategy of the party even now. They want to step up pressure on the SC to consider the ramifications of declaring the law null and void ab initio. They also want to bring the establishment under pressure because the president believes that the NRO will ultimately be the tool to force him out of the office, not by holding a gun to his head but by making political life impossible. The basic “crime” of my TV show has been that it has not diverted a bit from the main focus of discussing the NRO and its ramifications. That is what has hurt Mr Zardari the most and that is why he has decided to single me out for his vicious threats and by using the authority of the State to close my show in Dubai. This is petty thinking and even worse, defeatist politics. What has he gained by asking the Dubai government to ban my show, the denials by the Presidency or the Islamabad government notwithstanding? That the ban was imposed by Dubai on the specific request of Pakistani president was confirmed by the major newspaper ‘Khaleej Times’ where it is universally known that all local news, especially about the government, are published after they are officially cleared. So while the show was banned in Dubai, it was still on air on Geo from a different location, and it will continue to be aired. Why then rake up so much dust for nothing? A point that has always been overlooked by the rulers is about the difference between private and official TV channels. The private channels, which keep their freedom and independence dear to them, can’t afford to become the trumpet of the government. They have to maintain their freedom for the sake of their viewers. It is not possible for a free channel to ignore the sentiments of the people and national interests at large. The private channel can’t toe the official line. If someone is very keen to watch the official point of view, he or she is free to watch the government run TV channels, but private channels, despite the government desire are helpless in this regard. I have always kept in mind that the government should be allowed equal opportunities to place its viewpoint on contentious issues, and for the purpose federal ministers and the government spokespersons have always been invited by me to offer their comment on such issues. If the people appearing on behalf of the government have no case and fail to convince the viewers of their point of view, the anchor must not be cursed for that. The fact is that Nov 28 is approaching fast, and it would bury the notorious NRO forever. Then the Supreme Court will hear the petitions of Roedad Khan and Dr Mubashir Hasan to determine whether the NRO was ever a good law. This stage is being dreaded by the PPP leadership and before that stage comes, they want to create a political deadlock in the country, starting from Sindh where a PPP-MQM confrontation could spell disaster for the battered business and economic environment of the country. This is exactly in line with what I have been discussing in my programmes – that President Zardari is determined to not only go down fighting but will try to take the system along with him as well. This is a suicide bombing strategy and before any political leader wearing a suicide jacket blows him up, he must be stopped. Benazir Bhutto, had she been alive, would never have gone this route. The amount of respect and affection shown by her to me is my valuable asset as a journalist, and the lengthy meetings with the late lady in which she used to share with me her personal miseries are sacred trust of her that I would resist to divulge at least for the time being. She was a great leader and a visionary who had far-reaching vision, but her personal life was full of miseries, as she had been denied the comfort ever since her great and illustrious father opted to fight for the people and their comforts. The role of the Awami National Party is also crucial in this situation as its role in any clash between the PPP and the MQM in Karachi will be pivotal as thousands of Pathans, with arms, could play havoc. All this is leading to a breakdown of the political system as it appears from outside. The PML-N is waiting in the wings for the PPP to collapse under the weight of its own follies. This is not a sane approach because as a responsible party leader Mian Nawaz Sharif should start talking to all the political leaders and discuss these issues in an effort to bring some sanity to the PPP thinking. No one wants the system to go down, but if Mr Zardari is prepared to blackmail the country with the Sindh and Karachi Cards, he must be stopped now, by political means. REFERENCE: The desperation of PPP to shoot the messenger Dr Shahid Masood Friday, November 27, 2009
Live With Talat - Part 1 (30-11-09)

October 29, 2009 KARACHI: Events that will unfold in the next one month may prove critical for the future of Asif Ali Zardari as the President of Pakistan, according to several knowledgeable politicians, well-placed officials and an important presidential aide. President Zardari is currently juggling with the option to either accept the position of a ceremonial president with no executive authority whatsoever, a remake of Rafiq Tarrar and Fazal Elahi Chaudhry or face ouster under political pressure. In return, Zardari is expecting some face-saving on the issue of the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) at least in parliament next month, a difficult proposition because the PPP lacks political support on this issue in parliament. President Zardari’s political problems are compounding rapidly as the key players, such as the Army, the judiciary and political allies who had facilitated Zardari’s ascent to the presidency despite PPP’s lack of majority in parliament last year are now having second thought that borders on repenting their earlier decision to let Zardari combine the powers of the supreme commander of the armed forces, the president and the PPP chief in one office. Dwindling faith in President Zardari’s capacity to act as a neutral, corruption-free, nationally respected leader of Pakistan waned further early this month when the Washington-based International Republican Institute (IRI), a pro-democracy group financed by the US government, reported in an in-depth survey that only about two in 10 Pakistanis carry any favourable opinion about President Zardari. As opposed to President Zardari’s terrible approval rating, the same IRI survey revealed that a big majority of Pakistanis, close to nine out of 10, hold the institution of the Pakistan Army in the highest esteem followed by the judiciary that won the support of seven out of 10 Pakistanis. Immediate concern facing President Zardari, knowledgeable officials and a personal aide said, is not his sinking public image but the growing unease in relations with an increasingly assertive Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

Gilani now wants unhindered authority on matters of government that include foreign relations, meaning no role for president in the external and national security affairs of the state. The prime minister, enjoying full confidence of the military leadership and the cabinet, has set on an independent course, often confronting President Zardari’s closest allies like in November last year when he removed the president’s blue-eyed retired civil servant Salman Faruqi from the important post of deputy chairman Planning Commission. He followed that by sacking Mahmood Ali Durrani, the president’s handpicked national security adviser in January this year, and reinforced his position by neglecting Zardari’s preference for Dr Shoaib Suddle, a professional police official as the head of Intelligence Bureau, who was replaced by Javed Noor, an equally honourable professional police officer in May this year. Gilani went on to consolidate his image of an independent and assertive prime minister in August this year when he asked President Zardari’s closest friend and important associate Dr Asim Hussain to resign as the prime minister’s adviser on petroleum and natural resources. And early this month, he sacked Latif Khosa, President Zardari’s nominated attorney general of Pakistan, whose case of allegedly accepting Rs 3 million as bribe was referred to him by the Chief Justice of Pakistan. “The president fully understands that all critical actors of power play in Pakistan, along with almost full spectrum of political parties, are putting their act together to launch a final salvo against him soon,” conceded a personal friend and a close aide to President Zardari.

The same aide and a Pakistan Muslim League (N) leader, who had met President Zardari along with Nawaz Sharif at the largely symbolic banquet meeting at the Presidency on Tuesday, confirmed that during the meeting Nawaz Sharif’s message to Zardari was loud and clear: “Act fast on each and every promise you made with the nation or count your days in the Presidency.” An important PML-N leader insisted that Nawaz Sharif’s last statement before he met Zardari was extremely important in which he had stressed preference for democracy but not for an individual-based politics and leadership. Nawaz Sharif’s visit to the Presidency on Tuesday, the PML-N sources boasted, dashed any hope that Zardari might retain any powers under Article 17 of the Constitution. But President Zardari’s political predicaments are not confined to the opposition parties, whose leader in the National Assembly, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, refused to meet him on Tuesday, the political parties aligned with the PPP at the Centre are also having a second thought on Zardari’s sincerity in dealing with their genuine issues. Ch Nisar Ali Khan, it is learned, will now lead the PML-N’s efforts to defeat NRO in parliament and he fired the first salvo by protesting over a decision by the speaker National Assembly to change the composition of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Law, which is now examining the NRO bill.

The disillusionment of erstwhile and present political allies, particularly the MQM, was most telling when President Zardari met with the MQM chief Altaf Hussain in London last month and later with an important MQM delegation at the Presidency early this month. “There is limit to receiving vague and broken promises and making complaints. We’re being pushed to the wall,” said an important leader of the MQM, whose leader Altaf Hussain had first proposed Asif Ali Zardari for the President. The MQM, despite being in the government, took a cautious position on the Kerry-Lugar Bill and is actively debating in favour of not supporting the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) in parliament. President Zardari, though, loves to project himself as the democratically elected president but his complete disconnect with public and his decision to restrict all presidential activities to the four walls of the Presidency in Islamabad is contributing to his miserable approval ratings, his aide agreed. President Zardari has not attended any public function outside the Presidency so far this year. His last visit to the NWFP was in February and to Balochistan in March this year. He went to the Punjab for three hours in July to attend a luncheon meeting with Nawaz Sharif at the latter’s Raiwind residence.

“Almost, every night that he had spent outside the Presidency this year was on a foreign soil,” a senior official at the Presidency confirmed. President Zardari’s worsening ties with the military leadership has also contributed to a widespread desire in the country to return Pakistan to a solid parliamentary democracy where the prime minister exercises full powers. Zardari’s image in the military took another jolt this month when the Presidency publicly disdained popular reaction in the country against some of the controversial clauses of the Kerry-Lugar Bill. “The GHQ noticed with shock that the Presidency saw no problems with the controversial clauses of the Kerry-Lugar Bill that were declared mistakes even by the United States ambassador in Islamabad,” a senior official source said. Though the Kerry-Lugar Bill gave an impetus to serious difference of perception between the president and the military leadership on issues of national security, the problems had persisted since Zardari’s ascent to power after the elections. Zardari, it seemed, triggered the trouble when in May last year, only a few weeks after the change of government, at a briefing arranged for him and the new prime minister at the ISI headquarters, he lectured the military leadership on strategic issues and delivered his action plan to deal with problems concerning India and Afghanistan.

He apparently tried to give a practical shape to that plan when in July last year the Prime Minister’s office issued orders to place the entire administrative, financial and operational control of the ISI under the Ministry of Interior i.e. Rahman Malik. This triggered an immediate response from the Army and the notification was withdrawn within a few hours. President Zardari’s relations with the military received another blow when the New York Times broke the story in the last week of August about US diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad’s secret contacts with Zardari in his bid for Afghan presidency. Khalilzad was on warpath with Pakistan’s establishment during his tenure as the US ambassador to Kabul and revelations of his secret contacts with Zardari was no welcome news for the GHQ. President Zardari made cardinal mistake when he invited Afghan President Karzai, disliked by the security establishment for allowing India to use Afghanistan as an intelligence outpost against Pakistan, to join him in the maiden press conference Zardari held after taking oath as the president of Pakistan in September last year. In the same press conference, President Zardari shocked the civil and military leadership alike by making stunning statement of a major breakthrough on Kashmir within a month. Neither the prime minister nor the Army was aware of any such development. President Zardari’s declaration at an Indian media event that Pakistan backs a policy of ‘no first use’ of nuclear weapons shocked both Pakistani and Indian establishment as it ran contrary to Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine and represented a major shift in Pakistan’s stated policy. His interview with the Wall Street Journal in October last year where he described the Kashmiri Mujahideen as terrorists and mocked former president Musharraf for calling them “freedom fighters” added to Zardari’s strained ties with the military leadership. A month later, in the wake of terrorist attack on Mumbai, President Zardari, without any consultations with national security establishment, instantly agreed to the demand of the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to send the ISI chief to New Delhi, a move that was later back-peddled on Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s intervention. But the real battle for his future in the Presidency would still be fought in parliament where he appears to be losing support, at least for now, notwithstanding strains in his ties with the military establishment. REFERENCE: Beleaguered Presidency left with single option Kamran Khan Thursday, October 29, 2009

Live With Talat - Part 2 (30-11-09)

 June 01, 2008 Lack of confidence, and initiative, both in the political and military leadership, has pushed the country into a blind alley while a defeated but stubborn president seems determined to avenge his humiliation by destroying the political system which he has failed to control. The political leadership is failing dismally to grasp the damage being caused to its own capacity to take control of matters as a flip-flop coalition of all kinds of apples and oranges muddles through, directionless and clueless. Every student of politics can visualise the logjam that has been created by the Feb 18 results. While the mandate was absolutely clear and resounding against President Pervez Musharraf, he has refused to admit it and continues to assert himself, hoping that the others would commit mistakes and give him the opening to regain his lost power and credibility. That this fatalistic approach is against the national interest and could cause grievous damage to the country is beyond his imagination or understanding. The political parties have formed a wishy-washy coalition but their commitment and sincerity is tested every day and with each passing day its capacity to take decisive action diminishes. The mistakes being made by the political leaders, especially Asif Ali Zardari, are already costing him his credibility and image. The flip-flop cavalier manner in which he is conducting the affairs of the State will soon turn into a laughing stock with no one to trust his word or capability. As soon as the stoned and somewhat dazed PPP leadership wakes up and realizes that Zardari was not fit to lead the party or the coalition, as he has tried to play too many clever tricks with too many people, too many times, the revolt from within will destroy the PPP itself. That realization has not yet dawned on Zardari yet. The military leadership, which has the heaviest responsibility and the biggest stake in the system, and the country, is going too easy or avoiding taking tough decisions just to show that the Army is no longer involved in politics. It is politics of sorts.

The fact is that its non-involvement may cause more harm than good to the country because the crunch time is already here and not much would be left if tough and collective decisions for the country are not taken now. A political coalition fighting a desperate president with a divided establishment and a sidelined Army will mean that no decisions will be possible. The volume and size of the economic, social and political crises about to hit the country is catastrophic but neither the political leadership seems aware, not the military generals are worried and both seem to be silently shifting the blame and responsibility of handling it on each other. For instance, the World Bank and other Western donors have already started squeezing the country making such tough demands that even a government of national unity, with complete harmony, would find it hard to oblige or implement, given the total despondency and helplessness among the crushed masses. One example is the ultimatum given by the World Bank to the economic managers to raise the electricity tariff within a few months by almost 110 per cent, from Rs 5.50 a unit to almost Rs 12.50 a unit. This is not a suggestion but an order. What would this hike mean politically is clear. Likewise, the political games President Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz played with the country by postponing every tough decision so that the jokers of the PML-Q could win, or made to win, the polls, have left the new government with no options but to dish out enormous petrol and gas price increases, devalue the rupee against the dollar, manipulate the stock exchange and still have no room for manoeuvre. The Western powers, especially the US, are still confused on whose side to throw their weight. The easier option is to continue with the status quo and support President Musharraf but the US does not realise that as long as Musharraf stays in his seat, stability will not return to the country. In that confusion instead of helping the new and unsettled democracy, Washington is tightening the screws. It has stopped cash reimbursements for the war on terror. It has twisted the arms of the Saudis not to bail out Pakistan with cheap or free oil, as it used to do for dictators in the past. The World Bank/IMF have also been unleashed. Even our own State Bank, which should have been guarding against all these system failures, has started raising alarms, warning of impending disasters. So if Washington is interested in an unstable Pakistan, this may be the right strategy but if it thinks that by pushing Islamabad to the wall the democratic experiment will soon fail and another general will impose military rule to carry further its war on terror against the people of Pakistan, it may be thinking too far. The fleeting hours, days and weeks require a strong and stable government which can tackle the real issues but the recipe which is being tried is a mish-mash of a discredited president on the top, deeply obligated and compromised political leadership in parliament and a pliant judiciary to cover up every misdeed. This is not going to work. But those who have to make the decisions, President Musharraf, General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani, Asif Ali Zardari and Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry are not on the same page, with each player on his own ego trip and in the process making a mess of the so called democracy that everyone was yelling for. This is the big conspiracy against the people. Dillydallying by all sides must end, and now. The president has ultimately to go, as he has already played his innings, so he must quit now to let the system find its own stability. Zardari must start saying things that he means and not lose more face and credibility. Chief Justice Iftikhar should be restored by annulling Nov 3 but then he should indicate he would move on, so that he plays a bigger role. General Kayani must make up his mind where he stands and clearly and quickly let the nation know it. It is him who is keeping the pot boiling and not letting the new system settle down. REFERENCE: Will someone stop this rot? Shaheen Sehbai Sunday, June 01, 2008

Live With Talat - Part 3 (30-11-09)

September 02, 2008 KARACHI: The sudden prospect of Asif Ali Zardari sitting on the most powerful and sensitive political hot seat in the country has shaken everybody. There is a greater sense of uncertainty in the political class as well as the civil and military establishment, although the presidential election should have removed the clouds of doubt hanging over the political scene. Yet no one has any clue how to handle this situation as Mr Zardari has an absolute right to contest for and claim that hot seat, his controversial past and spotted career notwithstanding. But stepping back a little and trying to get an overview of the situation, two facts should become crystal clear about who is responsible for this mess and who is being asked to clean it. No one can deny that Gen Pervez Musharraf’s nearly nine years rule, or misrule, landed the country in the political turmoil that we are facing. During this period political parties and leaders were hounded, persecuted, terrorised, exiled, abused and deprived of their genuine rights. Musharraf played havoc with the system, it is obvious. Political parties and leaders were on the run in exile, never being allowed to settle down, organise or prepare for taking over the state responsibilities. As an individual Mr Zardari was the last person expected to climb the political ladder so fast that within eight months of Benazir’s assassination, he is now poised to be the country’s head of state, master of the nuclear button and supreme commander of the armed forces of Pakistan. In short, the leaders and parties are not prepared, or capable, of handling this mess. It would, in fact, be unfair and totally unjustified to expect them to clear the nine-year year old backlog, in less than nine months. Basically, though, the responsibility of correcting the situation is on the elected representatives who should chalk out a plan, call an all-party conference, invite the Army leadership to reach a consensus or whatever, but they seem either not interested or not too involved in petty politicking. So then who should do it? After the politicians, in all fairness, it is the prime responsibility of the Pakistan Army, which under Gen Musharraf created this situation and which should now undo the wrongs that Musharraf perpetrated for years. When Musharraf decided to quit as Army chief, he did not, and could not, absolve the rest of the Army generals from the blame they must share. Just by walking away under the pretext of “neutrality” and protecting their ex-commander by giving him a Guard of Honour, as if he was leaving after performing tremendous feats for Pakistan, the generals who collaborated with Musharraf cannot get away from their national duty and responsibility to undo the wrongs. But Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has walked away from everything and the poor politicians, led by Asif Zardari and Mian Nawaz Sharif, have been left with the dirty task of sweeping the stables and washing the left over dirty linen. It would have been fair for the Army after Musharraf had quit to undo his decisions, all taken to prolong his own power, so that the politicians had a clean slate to start their innings. That did not happen and now we are left with the prospect of a massively intricate political situation, with no one having a clue how to untangle it. Still it would be a right thing if the Army decided to correct the situation even now, unless they do not want to take the heat to a point in a few months when the generals will be sucked in, walking in like saviours to save the situation, like it has been happening in the past. Honesty and sincerity demands that the present Army generals put in their bit to help correct the distortions left over by Musharraf. They are the ones with guns to implement decisions. This time their efforts would be in the interest of Pakistan, as against using that power to perpetrate the interests of one man, one general or one junta. Risking the charge that will instantly be thrown at me that I am inviting the Army to intervene again, like the PFUJ secretary-general Mazhar Abbas did rather unjustifiably after my last article, I am prepared to offer the following sequence of steps that the Army must take before the politicians are handed over the full reins of the country, the presidency and the Prime Minister house included:

1) Since Gen Musharraf had imposed an emergency on Nov 3, as COAS, to suspend the Constitution, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani should find a way to undo all that was wrongfully done. It is his responsibility.

2) Kayani should use his influence to restore the judges to the Nov 2 position, because Musharraf threw them out fearing a judgment against him and as the politicians would never be able to reach a consensus in view of their own insecurities and vulnerabilities. It is also a known fact that Gen Kayani did not appear in the Supreme Court to give testimony against the deposed chief justice when the Supreme Court was hearing the case before July 20, 2007. It has been reported, and not denied, that Kayani was against the sacking of Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry when he was ISI director-general.

3) He should get the NRO repealed to revert the white-washing of thousands of alleged criminals, mostly those who had struck deals with Musharraf, or whose support Musharraf needed to prolong his rule. These people should be made to face normal process of law and clear themselves, as Asif Ali Zardari had done in almost all of his cases. I still cannot figure out why he had to get himself tainted with the NRO when he had been cleared by the courts any way.

4) Kayani should cancel all the secret deals that Musharraf had made with politicians or foreign powers as these deals are not binding international agreements signed between governments. Gen Kayani or his Army is not supposed to be bound by them.

5) He should persuade others to set up a National Accountability Commission, with men of undisputed credibility, strength of character and certified competence so that all the corruption cases, past, present and future, are sent to it and anyone cleared by it is genuinely considered an honest and clean person. At present the NRO has cast more doubts on its beneficiaries than helping clear their image.

6) While all the politicians, bureaucrats and others are made to appear before this commission, Gen Musharraf must also be brought before it and made to face the charges, instead of providing him a blanket amnesty.

7) When Army power can be used to thrust a one man rule and perpetuate his interests, why can’t Army power be used to undo the wrongs for which the entire institution of the army is facing the blame and Kayani has been forced to push it into the background. Let the power of the guns and barrels be used, for a change, in the interest of the nation and the people. It is obvious that the politicians cannot clean the dirt as they are neither visionaries, nor that tall, nor experienced, nor prepared nor motivated to look beyond their noses. But the unfortunate thing is that this is the crop of politicians we have and this is what we have to work with. Neutrality is a very pious concept but after throwing all the mud and muck in the political pond, standing on the side as neutral observers would only be a poetic injustice to the nation. REFERENCE: How to clean up the bloody mess Shaheen Sehbai Tuesday, September 02, 2008

November 23, 2009 KARACHI: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and the Asif Zardari-led PPP set-up have reached a dead end on their political highway to nowhere. After the official release of the NRO list, it has become impossible for Gilani to sleep in the same bed with boggy and smutty crocodiles and cockroaches when he was about to quit his lucrative job if just a speck of the NRO dirt had hit his real life partner. This is how outsiders see it. But those sitting inside the secure PM House have no different view and it is now widely known that the Syed from Multan is no longer prepared to take public or private snubs and insults anymore. His many travels outside Islamabad have often left his hosts in a daze. Recently in Sindh, he was almost in tears recalling to some dear friends what huge burden he was facing on his conscience and how humiliatingly he was being treated by the party high command. In the recent CEC meeting, there was repeated mention of rebirth of Farooq Legharis within the PPP, arrows thrown at the PM by Zardari loyalists meaning that he was a traitor.

It was in this desperate state of mind that Gilani took his revenge and forced his law minister to go out and announce to the world the notorious list of thieves and crooks who had first robbed the country dry and then had taken refuge behind a disgraceful deal with a dictator. He was paying back his critics, in kind. Once PM Gilani crossed that red line and made the shame and ignominy of even his top leaders officially public, he has left no room for a retreat. It would be the world’s most exciting conversation when President Asif Zardari and PM Gilani sit down again in the Presidency for another of their frequent one-on-one talks. There is no one present when they talk, but there are walls and there are flies on these walls, if not of the biological kind, of the electronic species. Of course, it is generally known that whatever is said within the four-walls of our big secure houses is not only heard by our own spooks and spies but sometimes by even listeners with headphones sitting thousands of miles away. Interestingly, when President Zardari meets anyone, a huge grandfather clock between him and his guest is always ticking. Electronic bugs could always sneak into that clock. According to one such fly, a recent tense talk between the big two of the country was in such a bad taste and in such foul language that the Syed from Multan may have resigned and left for his hometown directly from the House on the Hill, if anyone else had been present to watch his humiliation. That he did not do so was because he did not want to surrender without his revenge. That was before the NRO sh— had hit the roof.

The situation as it stands today reminds me of a news analysis that I had written under the same headline as this piece, almost 15 months ago. It was on Sept 2, 2008, before Asif Zardari had become the president that I had said: “The sudden prospect of Asif Ali Zardari sitting on the most powerful and sensitive political hot seat in the country has shaken everybody. There is a greater sense of uncertainty in the political class as well as the civil and military establishment, although the presidential election should have removed the clouds of doubt hanging over the political scene.” Another para had stated: “In short, the leaders and parties are not prepared, or capable, of handling this mess. It would, in fact, be unfair and totally unjustified to expect them to clear the nine-year-old backlog, in less than nine months. Basically, though, the responsibility of correcting the situation is on the elected representatives who should chalk out a plan, call an all-party conference, invite the Army leadership to reach a consensus or whatever, but they seem either not interested or not too involved in petty politicking.” It was in this piece that I had politely asked the Pakistan Army to play its role, from behind the scenes, to clean up the mess which General Musharraf had left at the doorstep of unprepared politicians. There was a massive uproar in the country over my article and I had counted 29 columns and numerous TV talk shows attacking me for “inviting the Army to take over”. It was a preposterous charge. But look at what happened in the last 15 months.

I had suggested that General Kayani should use his influence to restore the judges to the Nov 2 position. The politicians made him do that on Mar 15. I had proposed that he should get the NRO repealed so that its beneficiaries should be made to face normal process of law and clear themselves. Again the failure of parliament has led to this now being done whether Asif Ali Zardari likes it or not. I had suggested that Kayani should cancel all the secret deals that Musharraf had made with politicians or foreign powers as these deals were not binding. The Kerry-Lugar fiasco and the GHQ reaction hinted at this approach. It was also said that a National Accountability Commission, with men of undisputed credibility, strength of character and certified competence be set up so that all the corruption cases, past, present and future, are sent to it and anyone cleared by it is genuinely considered an honest and clean person. This is the next likely step to happen.

It was argued that Gen Musharraf must also be brought before it and made to face the charges, instead of providing him a blanket amnesty. Things are moving in that direction without any visible resistance from the Army. Instead of stabilising the political system, giving a clean and effective government and supporting the Army and security forces to fight the menace of terrorism with full political backing and support, the arrogant and lop-sided governance style of President Zardari has messed up everything. Within a year he has reached the point where everyone is asking and discussing “what after him”. Musharraf took nine years to reach that stage when the Americans dumped him. Zardari was fast. He has now dug into his bunker and is ready to fight. But fight for what? Fight with his own self against his own failures? Today’s mess is not for the Pakistan Army to clean, as it was 15 months ago. The Army has already played its behind-the-scene role to keep the system going. Today the failure is of the politicians and they should not blame anyone else, as is now becoming a habit in pro-Zardari circles. No one wants to destabilise the system. But the blunders and egocentricities of the PPP leadership is going to do that.

A very mischievous impression is being given that criticism of Zardari, and sidelining him, would mean another attack on Sindhi rights. He should be sidelined because he has failed as a politician and not as a Sindhi. He should pay for his acts of omission and commission, the rampant corruption unleashed all around and the failed policies that he has forced on everybody. All this has nothing to do with Sindh or the Sindhi card. In fact, all reports from Sindh say people in Larkana and Nawabshah would be more than happy if the tyranny of these newly unleashed feudals is ended. The decades old servants and workers of Mr Bhutto’s ancestral homes would like to come back to their jobs and not live in wilderness any more. The heavy onus of correcting the situation thus lies on the prime minister and the PPP, or whatever part of the organisation which can come out of the scare spell of the presidency. Gilani is considering many options, including his own resignation if he does not get his way. But right now the centre of power has shifted to his office and the presidency is in a lame-duck mode. As a starter Gilani can slash his cabinet and remove all the tainted NRO hit ministers, advisers and ambassadors. In one go, he will boost his image and credibility and deliver a fatal blow to the one-man style of governance that has led the PPP into a corner in just two years.

The PM should then move with super speed to get the 17th Amendment repealed, get the competent and popular PPP leaders back into the party fold, take Mian Nawaz Sharif and others on board, even in his cabinet, as in the early days of the coalition. Get a political consensus on major issues, start a dialogue with moderates in the ranks of militants and then lead the country with a focus on ending the miseries of the poor harassed masses and crushing the militancy. He should keep the president informed and on board if he wants to play along. But it should be clear that the buck would stop at the PM House. If this does not happen and Mr Zardari creates hurdles, plays his dirty tricks, unleashes his ‘Ghairat’ or ‘Izzat’ brigades against the PM, the media, the security establishment or all of them, he would be the one responsible for demolishing the system. No one else should then be blamed. REFERENCE How to clean up the bloody mess-2 Shaheen Sehbai Monday, November 23, 2009

Live With Talat - Part 4 (30-11-09)

November 04, 2009 ISLAMABAD: In a week of intense behind the scenes political and diplomatic activity in the federal capital, key new lines have been added to the so called ‘script’, the unofficial, unwritten roadmap drawn up and preserved in the minds of the concerned people, to get rid of the despicable grip on the country of a few powerful highly placed individuals and their friends. After my meetings with most of the main stakeholders in the present system during the last few days, including top people sitting in the Presidency, the PM House, Senate, National Assembly, Raiwind, the highly charged drawing rooms of Islamabad and the excited corridors ruled by career bureaucrats, the broad contours of the script have become identifiable. This assessment will purely be an analysis and conclusions drawn up by a journalist, but it will have many elements which have either come directly from the people I have met or from circles associated intimately with the real wielders of powers, political and non-political. Even before I started writing these lines, some elements of the new script had started becoming visible publicly. The key indicators now out in the open include the shocking debacle for PPP on the NRO; the somersault of the MQM to oppose the NRO; a direct demand by Mr Altaf Hussain asking President Zardari to resign; the extra confidence in Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani to practically take over matters in his own hands; the emergence of Nawaz Sharif from his friendly opposition bunker; the significant stand taken by Fata MPs; the calm and cool but ever persuasive demeanour of the army chief to discuss “matters of national security” with the prime minister (not the president); the nervousness in some camps over the “messages and ideas” Lady Hillary Clinton has taken back to Washington; and the unusual multi-country tour of our ISI chief, starting with Saudi Arabia, which some government spokespersons hilariously described as a visit in which he had taken a message to the Saudi King from President Zardari. In the previous script the role of the judiciary and the superior courts was well defined but before that stage could arrive the presidential edifice crumbled under the weight of just a couple of smart political moves by pro-establishment forces. So a calculated fine-tuning had to be done. What has already happened is known but what is likely to come is more important. All stakeholders agree, and this I can claim after meeting almost all of them in the last few days in Islamabad and Lahore, that President Asif Ali Zardari will have to either step down with dignity, hand over his presidential powers to the PM through a fast-track constitutional amendments process, or become a figure head and stay within his bunker for as long as he does not create any nuisance. Some apologists for the presidency have already publicly indicated that Mr Zardari is seriously thinking about this course because that would keep him in the top most position, immune to the unpleasant hardships of defending himself in civil courts, a process he has endured for years, and wait for his time to strike back as a relevant PPP leader, with the active aid and presence of son Bilawal and daughters Bakhtawar and Assefa. This could be the easier way out for him but it involves humiliation and embarrassment on a daily basis as his cronies and confidants, those who do not get away from the country in time, will be dragged in cases and in the media, presenting before the entertained nation a spectacle which Mr Zardari would not like. They will be paying for their sins, of course. So my analysis is that he will fight back. Some who still have access to him claim that he has expressed these defiant views many a time saying he would never resign and if someone wanted to remove him, he should send an ambulance because he would not walk out on his own two feet. But this fighting spirit and belligerent posture, although part of his psyche and state of mind, will not be beneficial politically. It is almost certain, and a senior Sindhi politician who knows the PPP and Sindh like the back of his own right hand, openly admits, that for Zardari there would be no “Sindh Card”, as it was available to Benazir Bhutto. In fact when I asked the Sindhi politician what may happen in Sindh, and the heart of PPP country, if Zardari and his 12 friends were removed from their offices, the answer was: “Only these 13 people will protest, no one else will.” He explained that there are no PPP cadres with fires in their belly left in the interior of Sindh who would rise for Zardari. There is a growing sense of hatred because the Zardari clan has taken over all what was loved by the Bhutto jiyalas. “If today Nawaz Sharif stages a public meeting in Larkana, the country will be surprised at the turnout,” the mainstream Sindhi politician belonging to the PPP told me. So chances for Mr Zardari to rekindle his political fortunes, once he gives up his powers or if he resigns, are genuinely limited. The PPP would split into factions with the bulk going to a collective committee of PPP stalwarts, seniors and juniors who have remained, or have been kept, on the sidelines by the Zardari coterie. This will also bring the much-needed democracy and openness in the party, breaking the shackles of feudal hold. This PPP committee, contours of which are already shaping up, have strong arguments to describe the Zardari-led PPP era, which started with the 2008 elections. These arguments start with the failures of Mr Zardari ever since he presented the will of Benazir Bhutto to the PPP CEC. All that the CEC members have done ever since is to take his decisions and policies with a pinch of bitter salt but have gone along because the party had won seats in the name of Benazir Bhutto and they had got a chance to rule after years of wilderness. The corrupt among the party made a mad rush to make money because they realized that this set up will not last long, hence the stigma of corruption not only stuck but intensified. The Zardari era, the argument goes, consists of broken promises, colossal mistakes in assessing the mood of the people, taking decisions with arrogance, taking on the establishment and institutions which were needed to survive, taking gigantic U-turns when under pressure and smiling about them, claiming unabashedly as if it was a considered policy (like the restoration of judges, sacking and restoration of the Punjab government of PML-N, surrender on the Kerry Lugar Bill and eventually running away from the NRO). Conversely, if it has been any sign for anyone to read, the PM has always been making politically correct statements, never making a commitment which he knew he would not be able to deliver and most importantly, he has received the “asheerbaad” (blessings) of those who matter on all critical junctures. This is no longer true for Mr Zardari. So when the judges were to be restored, the Army Chief called on the PM to deliver the quiet message. When the March 15 decision was taken General Kayani called Aitzaz Ahsan to inform Nawaz Sharif. When the Supreme Court was about to give the initial short order on the PCO judges case, the meeting between General Kayani and Aitzaz Ahsan was considered necessary. When things were getting out of hand on the Kerry Lugar Bill, a similar meeting between Shahbaz Sharif and Chaudhry Nisar was held. The army chief also met the chief ministers of NWFP and Balochistan. When NRO erupted on the face of Mr Zardari, another meeting between the Army Chief and the PM was essential on Monday night so that the right message was conveyed. And it was. Then we saw the surrender. These were domestic developments but the most important external factor which has now been added to the miseries of the presidency is the conclusion Hillary Clinton is believed to have drawn after her eye-opening three-day visit to Pakistan. She was actually on a fact-finding mission as the diplomatic channels in Pakistan and Washington had never informed her about the real situation. When the KLB exploded, State Department was taken aback and when Hillary saw with her own eyes and heard the people, her entire perceptions changed. Her almost three-hour meeting with General Kayani may have sealed many fates. A shift in Washington’s policy, statements and emphasis would now be expected. She already took pains to ensure that none of her public and private utterances gave the impression that she was supporting any particular individual or any particular coalition government. She talked about the process of democracy and the people of Pakistan and that means faces can change but the Pak-US ties will stay. The scriptwriters interpret this as a signal that Washington is no longer interested in protecting or prolonging Mr Zardari’s rule, if the people of Pakistan do not so wish. An official in the presidency quietly whispered in my ear that Mr Zardari has reached the point in just one year which General Musharraf took eight years to reach, vis-‡-vis the American support. “It is now for him to survive, the Americans have pulled the rug.” On the domestic front again, the focus and all eyes would soon shift to the PM House where an hitherto out-shadowed PM was trying to cope and survive. Now the responsibility of making and owning all decisions would be his. Delivering results people expect from a sovereign parliament and a powerful PM under the amended constitution will be an onerous burden on Mr Yusuf Raza Gilani. My interactions with a broad spectrum of important people reveal that Mr Gilani has not yet prepared himself to shoulder this responsibility. His administrative team is pretty weak and there is a growing sense of disconnect between the people around Mr Gilani and the rest of the top echelons of bureaucracy. A senior bureaucrat told me the recent mass scale reshuffle in the officialdom by PM Gilani has made many officials nervous. They do not have direct and free access to the PM and a coterie of sorts is also beginning to surround the PM, like the one around the president. But this group is of professionals and civil servants who want to keep the PM under their thumb. It would be a big challenge for Mr Gilani to get a competent and effective team if he were to take charge and show the difference to the nation between a powerful PM and a one-man show which went wrong. He would have to sack high profile ministers, change cronies controlling the state organizations like the Pakistan Steel Mills, PSO, PIA, KESC and many others tainted with corruption. REFERENCE: The contours of a changed, unwritten script Situationer Shaheen Sehbai Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Live With Talat - Part 5 (30-11-09)

November 05, 2009 ISLAMABAD: The much abused and widely discussed minus-1 formula, which in other words means either safe or a violent exit of Asif Ali Zardari from the political scene, started taking shape in the power corridors of Islamabad and Rawalpindi when coupled with political failures, there was a torrent of reports of corruption, mainly by people associated and appointed by the presidency on key government and corporate positions, with a turnover of billions in shady deals. What was going on in the presidency was unprecedented. Crooks and cronies of all hues were being offered lucrative positions in state-run corporations and money minting departments. There was no one on top of the hill to take note and the prime minister was too weak to raise any objection. Important decision makers quietly admit that Yousuf Raza Gilani was repeatedly told to intervene but he was too meek and had been tasked to keep the politicians, coalition partners and the opposition, engaged and happy with his continued sweet talk, public appeasement and cash incentives for as long as he could. A fly on the wall said a Maulana would appear regularly in the PM House to take what he needed and this was no secret. “The energisers and vitamin tablets Gilani was being given by many quarters, in hushed tones, were not working until by the end of last year and early 2009 the PM made some high profile moves to sack some bureaucrats, in close consultation with Zardari, to beef up his image. The PM slowly gained confidence. He surprised the president when he visited Karachi and secluded in the private quarters of the Sindh Governor’s House he finalised the list of his top bureaucratic reshuffle, away from the ears and eyes watching the PM House and his office all the time,” an associate revealed.

When Zardari protested, he was quietly told that if he had been informed in advance, the shuffle would not have been possible. A Presidency insider narrated the story of how the lifestyles of people around the president had transformed within weeks and months. “One close aide, working without any official position or a salary, had started wearing shoes costing over Rs300,000 a pair and this guy had no shame in showing off his shoes to anyone and everyone, even those who march in big boots.” Such stories travelled far and wide and the consensus started developing that if the Presidency was to be used only for making deals by cronies, with the president either shut in his bunker or making trips round the world, this state of affairs could not be sustained. How and when to change it then became the key question. When pressure started to become unbearable for the PM, he finally talked quietly to Zardari and told him about who, and where, people were getting so upset. This was taken as a direct interference and there was a lot of talk of teaching some people a lesson. A minus-1 option in Rawalpindi was discussed in private sittings. Secret meetings with uniformed star officers were held in the wee hours of cold nights. But as the presidency in Islamabad is the most watched and wired real estate in the country, this secret was soon out. Political amateurs, who had grabbed the high place coming from tiny bit jobs in hospitals, jails, and stud farms or from apartments in exile, could not keep the secret.

Then the presidential camp devised a scheme to turn around the Minus-1 formula. Publicly its existence was acknowledged, reactions were generated to create a mock political storm, and the idea was to use it against the original target. Before this could be done, decision makers at all stations started thinking about removing the president as it appeared to be the only viable option if the system had to be saved, cleansed and stabilised.
But still there was no operative mechanism. The president was bunkered in so physically he was safe but politically he was committing major blunders eating up his political capital, or whatever was left of it. By the middle of March, when the judges were restored, his political influence was almost finished yet his business dealings and property acquisition plans were on full steam. The latest report about the 300 acres of land in Islamabad proves he completed the deal in June 2009, oblivious of the disastrous image that he would get. Tragically, the deal also involved Bilawal, whose political career would now start as a partner in a shady deal with his father.

One recurring question that came up almost at every session I had with politicians, retired and working civil and military bureaucrats, journalists and businessmen was whether the democratic set-up and the political system was under any kind of threat if the ‘Minus-1’ formula, was implemented. And almost everywhere the consensus was a big ‘No’. It was a ‘no, no’ because except democracy Pakistan has no other option, the military option being the most talked about alternative. Mian Nawaz Sharif is the strongest believer that the military may not intervene now, but 3-4 years down the line, he thinks it may come back once the threat of terrorism is under control and some stability is achieved. His fears are genuine but he also believes that politicians have to perform, earn respect and credibility, provide relief to the suppressed masses and continue the process. If they succeed, no one will try and no one will allow a military intervention. The military establishment has tried hard under General Kayani and General Pasha to wash the black paint General Musharraf had splashed around the Army uniform. From a position where officers were told not to wear that uniform in public, the image has been restored to an extent that people praise their effort in Malakand and their sacrifices in the war on terror. Only a naive commander would want to fight a war with unconventional and murderous terrorists on the one hand and run the civilian affairs of a totally collapsing society on the other.

So the only option is continuation of the system and to let the process take its course. When I argued with many in the top houses where decisions are made, as to what was wrong with a change of face in a ministry, or the PM house or even the Presidency, as there was a mechanism to elect or appoint a replacement through the process, the presidential camp always saw it as a conspiracy against the person of Zardari. But others agree that to take the process further and to make the corrective mechanisms strong, political turbulence should not be taken as a threat to the entire system. It is generally felt that Zardari has, through his inept handling of major issues and multiple setbacks, almost lost all his chances of stepping down from the Presidency and reach the PM House as leader of the house and PM. Initially, this was one of the acceptable options but now the script does not figure any role for him in the government and he would be left to manage the party, that is if he can do so. This leaves the PM almost on his own and his major challenge would be to come out of the shadows of Zardari on the one hand and keep the loyalties of as many PPP MPs as possible so that his government’s majority in parliament is not threatened. The Opposition is helping him out, to a degree.

Everyone understands the dilemma facing Prime Minister Gilani as everything that he does which has a stamp of President Zardari’s personal approval is considered to be shady and stinks. So when the cabinet takes a sweeping decision to privatise all big corporations like the PIA, PSO and such other giants, immediately the red flags start going up. The fear is that all these assets will be sold to friends and business partners, even if the process is claimed to be transparent. The PM should, therefore, stop all such deals and decisions until he becomes a PM in his own right and the decisions are seen as collective decisions to be implemented in a transparent manner and not dictated to suit the deep pockets of presidential friends who have already made billions. The PM, when he gets out of the shadows of the Presidency, will have to catch these big fish to establish his credibility. Nothing short of a massive hunt for such wheeler dealers with a criminal mind will bring Gilani some credit. He has lived too long as a sheepish lame duck. PS: A fly on the presidential wall told me the first part of this series was faxed by Altaf Hussain from London to President Asif Zardari on Wednesday with the note that you should read it personally as it had come from a journalist who used to meet you in jail. Hussain also ensured that the fax was seen by the president. REFERENCE: Where did the minus-1 formula come from? Shaheen Sehbai Thursday, November 05, 2009 

November 2009 WASHINGTON: When an elected head of the state, who is also the head of the largest political party of the country, the Supreme Commander of the country’s armed forces and (at least on papers) the man with his finger on the country’s nuclear button, cannot venture out of his bunker in the presidency, a five-star prison of sorts, and attacks a TV channel, a newspaper editor or a talk show anchor, he must be seriously in trouble or scared to death with insecurity. It was a great day in my professional career to get so much attention on live TV, nationally and throughout the world, with the country’s president talking about me (why did you not name me) in a furiously threatening tone, foaming and frothing as if he would shoot me if I had been somewhere close to him at the time. I have just landed in Washington to spend a few days with my family on Eid ul Azha and the first thing I hear on TV is my head of state calling me names. It was a unique welcome to the festival of sacrifices. I heard Asif Ali Zardari’s speech, his first major political address in months, which dealt with no other burning issue of the country, many times wanting to find out what message he had for the country, other than saying that he was a brave man, he was ready to offer sacrifices and he would not be coweddown and would prefer to leave in an ambulance rather than walk out of the presidency under duress. The more I heard his rants, the more loudly I laughed, again and again. Here is the strongest man in the country so rattled by a few reports and articles by me, or a few talk shows by Dr Shahid Masood, that he forgets to mention anything about the infamous NRO, the shame of the Kerry Lugar Bill, the gross charges of corruption, money laundering or misuse of power against him and his cronies. He did not mention the issues of sugar, atta, electricity and unemployment. He did not praise the soldiers and people fighting the deadly terrorists. He and his few people now sharing power were only worried about their own fate, with the loud spoken Zulfikar Mirza declaring to the world that he would use the Sindh Card, if worse comes to worst.

Zardari referred to me by frequently mentioning someone with “an American passport”. He also said I was not a Pakistani national. He has to get his facts right. But carrying an American passport is not something he would like to turn into a disqualification as bulk of his own cronies are exiles who have acquired foreign passports, including US passports, and they would be the ones to jump the ship first. I am a Pakistani and work in Pakistan and will continue to do so. His biggest accusation against me was that I wanted him “to leave the presidency in an ambulance”. I think he knows better as he has been telling many who meet him in his bunker that he would not quit and people will have to take him out. This is what he reiterated in his speech on Wednesday night. But he is wrong on this count as well. I had only quoted his own words on Nov 4 in my column: “The contours of a changed, unwritten script” in these words: “This assessment will purely be an analysis and conclusions drawn up by a journalist....So my analysis is that he will fight back. Some who still have access to him claim that he has expressed these defiant views many a time saying he would never resign and if someone wanted to remove him, he should send an ambulance because he would not walk out on his own two feet.” This is where ambulance was used. In his speech he confirmed what I had written that he would not go away. In the same article, my opinion was: “All stakeholders agree, and this I can claim after meeting almost all of them in the last few days in Islamabad and Lahore, that President Asif Ali Zardari will have to either step down with dignity, hand over his presidential powers to the PM through a fast-track constitutional amendments process, or become a figurehead and stay within his bunker for as long as he does not create any nuisance.” I was seeing him as a figurehead as long as he behaves. This does not mean his murder, though it could mean a political suicide. His party leaders have also been objecting to my use of the word ‘martyr’ for Zardari and one Minister, Dr Babar Awan, had the temerity to ask me in a TV show to name the people who would kill Zardari, as if I had been plotting his murder or martyrdom with these people. There has to be a limit to sycophancy and toadyism.

My words in my Nov 7 article were: “Zardari will have to make his decision very quickly on whether he wants to exit with dignity or become a martyr. The days, as they say, are in fact numbered.” It is clear for anyone who understands English what is meant here is a ‘political martyr’ and not dead in the physical sense. If someone cannot understand the language, a very handy Prof Husain Haqqani can help any time. Other than these references in Zardari’s speech about me, what I can guess is that he is rattled because I have been criticising his style of governance, his failures in taking successful political decisions, his U-Turns at every critical time, his arrogance and stubbornness and lately his indecent manner of speech with his own prime minister. Neither the president nor the PM have denied any of the contents of my article about Zardari using insulting words against Gilani. In fact, my sources say, when PM Gilani was asked about my article and whether there was a tiff between him and the president, Gilani’s very diplomatic reply was: “I am not angry with the president.” He decided not to comment on what he had heard from Zardari and in what tone.

It is the right of every writer and journalist to criticise the rulers on their policies, their decisions and their actions. This is exactly what I have been doing during my 42-year-long career. I have criticised every ruler, without fear or favour and whenever the political rulers were out of office and struggling to come back, I happened to be one of their most favorite journalists and had even developed personal friendships with them. This is also true in the case of Zardari. When he was arrested in 1990 by Jam Sadiq Ali and thrown in the Landhi jail, I and my friends Nusrat Javeed, Mohammad Malick, Shakil Sheikh and a couple of others had confronted Jam Sadiq and forced him to allow us to visit him in the jail. That was the first move in his political comeback. Then I wrote a series of seven articles in which I had questioned Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Jam Sadiq. When in 1993 Benazir and Zardari again came to power, he offered me political jobs and only one journalist, Azhar Sohail, accepted his offer. Sadly he then paid for his life and his family’s ruination three years later.

Once again when Zardari was in power I wrote against his corruption in 1994-95 and then as well he had threatened me and others. I did what I had to do then and faced the consequences. It was Zardari and Benazir Bhutto who became very friendly to me during their days of wilderness in the Nawaz Sharif/Musharraf eras. In his years in New York, Zardari was particularly friendly and even attended my son’s wedding in Washington. He should be ashamed of now pointing accusing fingers at me for holding a US passport. Can’t he come up with anything better to accuse me? What he was doing in US himself during all those years is also known to people who were in the knowledge. My fault is that I again refused his offer to join his government in 2008 although it is totally wrong that I was ever offered to become Pakistan Ambassador in Canada. Neither had I ever asked him for a political or diplomatic job. I am totally satisfied that even despite such anger and frustration that the president has expressed against me publicly, without any reason, he has not been able to point any single small or big finger of accusation against me for misusing my professional position or getting any benefit from his or any other government. The charge of dubbing me and others as “political actors” is ridiculous and laughable because if this is all he can come up with, it is pathetic case against me with no legs to stand on. His speech was 90 per cent rhetoric, based on shallow looking claims of pursuing Bhuttoism and the rest 10 per cent was attacks on me, Geo TV and Dr Shahid Masood.

If his corruption, amassed wealth and grabbed lands are questioned, it is pure and simple journalism in the interest of the people and the country and no one can deny us that right. He says he will not listen to any criticism except from his political rivals. What a lame statement is that. Where does he place the others pillars of state, the judiciary, the media, the civil society, the ‘ghairat’ and ‘izzat’ brigades? His political colleagues are easy for him to handle because many of them are in the same boat of looted wealth and plundered resources. But he will have to listen to all of us and hiding in a bunker while claiming to be a brave man, will not wash away his sins or wish us away from the scene. The real issue is that since the previous government I and my colleagues in the Jang group have been highlighting important issues concerning the constitution, governance, independence of judiciary, rampant corruption and ever-increasing prices. These issues have made miserable the life of common man in Pakistan. Neither the previous government nor the present government could tolerate the Jang Groups’ decision to highlight those issues that affect the lives of ordinary people. REFERENCE: Have a heart, you are the president, Mr Zardari! Shaheen Sehbai Thursday, November 26, 2009
Live With Talat - Part 6 (30-11-09)

November 07, 2009 ISLAMABAD: The crumbling presidential edifice in the bunkered palace with two green flags on the Constitution Avenue is giving rise to numerous stories, some fiction, some wishful thinking, and some partly true. The man inside the house is reported by some to be collapsing while others say he is in a defiant mood and will fight till the last. One thing is clear though that a psywar is going on and President Asif Ali Zardari has not many friends who have unflinching faith and commitment to defend him. The key role is being played by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and it is hard to figure out on whose side he really stands. His own political future is also at stake but his role has assumed the all critical importance because everyone is looking up to him, the civil and military establishment has put its power eggs in his basket as against the president, while his party remains confused and divided. The opposition and most of his coalition partners have abandoned the president but continue to back his handpicked prime minister. The few who are still standing with Zardari include the Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer, whose latest brag that there would be no ‘minus-1’ but that if anything happened it would be a ‘minus-342’ (reference to total strength of the National Assembly) is considered by many as the final defeatist declaration that Zardari will not go alone but will take the entire house with him. There are not many takers for Taseer’s threats. On the contrary, the party which President Zardari considered to be his most dependable ally, the MQM of Altaf Hussain, has gone many steps forward to seek his removal from the top office. Almost everyone I met and talked to was surprised at the leap Altaf Hussain had taken from just opposing or abstaining from voting on the NRO to demanding the resignation of Zardari. It was like the last straw on the heavily loaded camel’s back and Zardari was stunned, those around him reported.

His attempt to save the sinking ship by calling Governor of Sindh Ishratul Ebad to Islamabad and then authorising Interior Minister Rehman Malik to fly to Dubai for urgent talks with an MQM delegation from London could be the last desperate effort but as someone who knows the scene reported, “The MQM has closed the doors and has gone to sleep,” meaning that it is no longer interested in seeing Zardari sitting in the Presidency.

Nice words wrapped in high sounding moral logic are being said by MQM to urge Zardari to make his exit dignified but Altaf Hussain is not backtracking from his demand of a resignation. He probably knows more than many in Islamabad. Even when Governor Ebad was rushing to Dubai on Wednesday night after meeting the president, the MQM made it a point to include the resignation issue in the agenda of the Dubai talks expected to begin on Friday.

Conspiracy theories have been weaved around the Dubai talks as well. One analyst who knows the extremely cordial and friendly relations between the MQM and Rehman Malik thinks one positive outcome of the Dubai talks could be that Malik could get a chance to take a leave of absence from Pakistan at a time when his presence in the country is needed more. But MQM negotiators are not in a mood to step back from their resignation advice to the president.

This political pressure is causing one-sided fueling of the countdown theories. The wild ones go far with some, claiming to be well informed, saying it was a matter of days not weeks or months that Zardari will hang his gloves, just like General Musharraf did. Some MQM circles bet on weeks. The divergence of views appears limited only to when, and not if.

The intense argument in all circles is the mechanics of his exit from the Presidency. The MQM wants him to become a Sonia Gandhi, running the party from behind the frontlines. Others want him to disappear into foreign downtowns and enjoy his billions in the manner Benazir Bhutto had practically forced him to do for years after his release and exit from Pakistan in 2004. Yet others want him to be dragged again in the newly liberated courts and bring back the money he may have stacked outside.

Senior PPP circles have a confused mind because they do not know how the party would react. But all agree that the PPP, and for that matter Sindh, could react in different ways, depending on the mode and manner of his exit. If there was an impression that he had been forced out at gunpoint, there may be a different reaction. If the exit is through a process and publicly justified and explained, the reaction may be milder. If a judicial and constitutional method was applied and Zardari failed to defend himself properly, no tears may be shed.

What these circles cannot defend and what makes them hide their frustration with sheepish smiles are the stories of corruption, which are not forcefully and convincingly being denied by the Presidency, the PM House or the jumpy party spokespersons. Many PPP leaders privately describe their pathetic situation as the ‘Silence of the Lambs’.

In such a crumbling state of affairs, the PPP leadership is missing a dynamic leader who could take charge and take on the opponents with the force of integrity and commitment. The prime minister is yet to declare himself the de facto leader of the party, though he is technically the leader of the House in parliament. There is no Bhutto who could motivate the cadres. The chairman is absent from the scene and understandably so. The co-chairman is in a bunker and fighting the psywars and trying to stay cool. The party has been left to rot in a smoky aura of uncertainty and lack of direction. The opposition has claimed high moral ground, although many in that camp also belong to the same caste and creed which has eaten up the PPP from within.

Sindh, the bastion of the PPP, is quiet and has been practically taken over by the shrewd politics of MQM.

For months, the PPP has been trying to replace the Nazims of Karachi and other urban centres under the MQM control pending the local bodies elections but the MQM has successfully thwarted their attempts. Now the MQM has come out openly and has joined the anti-Zardari camp but the PPP government in Sindh is unable to take any decisive action against Altaf Bhai’s cadres. One notable achievement of the MQM, which has made it almost impossible for the PPP to touch it, has been the tight security control of the MQM in the city against terrorist attacks. MQM vigilantes monitor and patrol almost all neighbourhoods and keep a watch on all suspicious people, thus denying the suicide bombers the space to hide and strike. The Pathans, led by the ANP in Karachi, are also on the same side on this issue and this has made Karachi the safest city in the country in the context of terrorist attacks. While the PPP runs the government, the credit has to go to the MQM and the ANP and this is also an unusual situation. President Zardari, of course, cannot take any of the credit. In fact the PPP stronghold in Karachi, Lyari, has been the most troubled area in the city for weeks and months and fingers are again being pointed at gang leaders who have been getting support, or claiming to have the backing, of Bilawal House. So while the options for President Zardari are diminishing by the day in terms of his political survival, his party is not in a position to provide him any strength or support to face the fierce onslaught.

The majority view in Islamabad circles is that Zardari, looking at this gloomy picture, inside his bunkered Presidency, in drawing rooms of his party leaders and outside on the streets, would ultimately be pushed to call it a day himself, saving himself the grief and rigours of a forced exit. Some even fear a desperate panic move like sacking the Army chief while the president is on one of his visits abroad. A reverse replay of October 12, 1999. The logic being that in case his orders are implemented then he returns home a strong and rejuvenated president, and if plans go awry then he is at least at a safe distance from his nemesis. Another suicidal advice indeed. A stronger view is that his personality, his so called street wisdom, his political acumen, which so far have miserably failed him, would urge him to keep fighting and go down as a political martyr, if need be, so that his political heirs and the party could claim that the PPP had not abandoned the tradition of making sacrifices. If he could manage it, he can also make his exit a ‘Punjabi conspiracy’ to force out yet another Sindhi leader and play the so-called Sindh Card. Yet the perplexing question in all minds is why has he not changed his ways of the past, not stopped the shady deals by his cronies, has made highly questionable appointments, has gone on junkets worldwide for deals which should have been transparent, has bought properties and lands and has eyed businesses belonging to others with greed. All this leaves the sick impression that he is running a corporation and not a country. The dichotomy many cannot resolve is that if his target is only to earn more profits, why would he like to become a political martyr and not enjoy the riches that he has collected.

Strictly in legal or constitutional terms, Zardari has not done anything as yet which may compel the forces that have the power of the gun to force him out. But his overall failures, his deceptive ways to hoodwink power centres, keeping around him friends of the days in exile who have annoyed almost every institution that matters — the judiciary, the media, the Army, the bureaucracy, have created the aura that he is unfit for the job and has not grown in the big shoes that he stepped into last year. For these failures, an impeachment in parliament is not possible but his mistakes will haunt him in courts, in parliament, in the media and the civil and military establishment may not forgive him. But he can hit back with some radical moves -- sack his cronies, repeal the 17th Amendment in a day or two, give an extension to the Army chief, bring back angry PPP stalwarts after due apologies and go before the courts instead of seeking shelter behind the NRO. Otherwise, the political countdown, which began some months ago, continues. The establishment joined in a few weeks back. His coalition broke up days ago. Rats are said to be preparing to abandon the sinking ship as these lines are being written. The momentum cannot be stopped. Zardari will have to make his decision very quickly on whether he wants to exit with dignity or become a martyr. The days, as they say, are in fact numbered. REFERENCE: Has a countdown begun in Islamabad? Shaheen Sehbai Saturday, November 07, 2009

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