Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pakistan’s prize bluffer

Daily Times Thursday, August 26, 2010

COMMENT: Pakistan’s prize bluffer —Dr Mohammad Taqi

“Mussolini is the biggest bluffer in Europe. If Mussolini had me taken out and shot tomorrow morning, I would still regard him as a bluff. Get a hold of a good photo of Signor Mussolini sometime and study it. You will see the weakness in his mouth that forces him to scowl the famous Mussolini scowl that is imitated by every 19-year old Fascisto in Italy. Study his past record” — ‘Mussolini, Europe’s prize bluffer’, Earnest Hemingway, The Toronto Daily Star, 1923.

While the discussion about who breached which river embankment and why goes on, Pakistan’s prize bluffer has attempted to breach the bulwark of democracy itself.

The undisputed leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Mr Altaf Hussain, has called for patriotic generals to take action similar to a martial law against corrupt politicians. Is this a cry for help from a bleeding heart or a vicious threat? The past record says it all. All the scowling, verbosity and thunder — part theatrics and part cheap imitation of the late Allama Rasheed Turabi — cannot hide an inherent insecurity that a chauvinist enterprise feels in a functional democracy.

Packaged to look like a statement made at the behest of the military brass, the sinister pot shot at democracy is a bluff by an arch-Bonapartist looking for a strongman to protect his fiefdom in southern Sindh. Add to it the August 20, 2010 meeting — a diplomatic routine — between Mr Hussain and the US State Department functionary, Bryan Hunt, and one has all sides thinking that the other wants a change of guard. But the timing could not be worse: Mr Hussain has added insult to the massive injury caused by the floods. On one occasion where the MQM had an opportunity to jettison its neo-fascist baggage and help the nation recover and rebuild, its leader has stuck to his myopic agenda pursued through intrigue.

The levels at which this call to topple democracy is heinous are too numerous to count. But consider Mr Hussain’s words: “If we have to choose between two evils, we will go for the lesser evil. If our generals are ready to take any initiatives against these criminals (politicians) who have looted and plundered this country, then we will welcome them.” Who is he appealing to, two generals, a few, or all the corps commanders? Is the recently reappointed chief of army staff (COAS) included or even the intended audience? If not, is he calling for a mutiny within the armed forces as well? And who is to certify the ‘patriotism’ of the potentially revolting officers? The demagogy a la Il Duce and the ‘captive’ audience of both glued to faceless speakers notwithstanding, Mr Hussain would have been well advised to think his too-clever-by-half instigation through. While Article 6 of the Pakistani constitution may not be of much consequence to such instigators, the top brass is not likely to look kindly at any turmoil within its own ranks.

While the disaster management efforts of the present government in the wake of the massive floods are shoddy at best, to call for a quasi-military rule in a country that has suffered four martial laws is to submerge it in a bigger deluge. Some have drawn comparisons between the current crisis and Cyclone Bhola in 1970 that devastated the then East Pakistan, the inept management that followed and the subsequent independence of Bangladesh. But the last straw that broke the camel’s back was not Bhola, it was the ruthless martial law imposed in East Pakistan. With bombs going off in South Waziristan and Kurram agencies, Balochistan completely alienated and more than five million Pakistanis without a roof, it is ruthless to inundate the nation with the threat of martial law.

Mr Hussain is not alone in pretending to be the bellwether for things to come. In the not so distant past his bitter rival, Mr Imran Khan, had claimed that he could ‘fix’ the terrorism issue, if given 90 days to lead the country. But 90 days by whom and under what mechanism, he did not elaborate. It may have been political bravado but his past credentials as the cheerleader of General Musharraf’s referendum certainly raised a red flag.

Tune in to a certain media outlet that has taken upon itself to undo the verdict of the 2008 elections, and one could hear the armoured cars roaring. After a relentless onslaught to discredit the elected government, this media group has organised a supposedly apolitical flood relief fundraiser in collaboration with Mr Imran Khan without any disclaimer about the latter’s highly divisive politics. Now, the flagship English daily of the group, in its editorial about Mr Altaf Hussain’s rant, has failed to categorically denounce the call to subvert the constitution.

Hemingway recorded in vivid detail the meeting he, along with other reporters, had with Mussolini, who was hoping to make headlines in thousands of newspapers the next day with his angry dictator looks. He reported for the Star: “Mussolini sat at his desk reading a book. His face was contorted into the famous frown. He was registering Dictator. I tiptoed over behind him to see what the book was he was reading with such avid interest. It was a French-English dictionary — held upside down.”

The changing dynamics of southern Sindh, especially Karachi, have got the MQM boss worried. The party that was about to ban the internally displaced persons (IDPs) from war-ravaged Malakand division from moving into Karachi and Hyderabad, has now been making muffled noises about the Sindhis taking refuge there. The MQM governor, who served under General Musharraf for five years, recently presided over a meeting to curb the influx of refugees, on security grounds. He would be hard-pressed to do so in a democratic set-up. The MQM is scowling to hide its weakness.

While the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has rolled over and is playing dead, Mian Nawaz Sharif has minced no words in condemning what is tantamount to high treason. Attempts to dislodge the elected civilian set-up in Pakistan will be met with stiff resistance and scorn at home and the world will not condone military adventurism. Holding the book of geopolitical strategy upside down, Mr Altaf Hussain has overplayed his hand; it is time for all democratic forces to call his bluff.

Postscript: Not surprisingly, Mr Imran Khan has now officially joined the seditious chorus to dislodge the elected government via unconstitutional means.

The writer can be reached at

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The river beyond

Daily TimesThursday, August 19, 2010

COMMENT: The river beyond —Dr Mohammad Taqi
Political leaders must take charge of shaping the narrative of this disaster and the recovery from it. They must articulate clearly and consistently that the gods are not in the business of unleashing havoc on innocent people and whole societies are not punished for the misdeeds of a few

It may sound like a cliché but the late Munir Niazi’s words ring truer today than ever before:

“Ik aur darya ka samna tha Munir mujh ko,

Mein aik darya kay paar utra to mein ne dekha.”

The translation of the above verse cannot fully capture all its connotations but the gist obviously remains that a bigger river is looking us in the eye when we land across the flooded rivers. The magnitude of the present disaster is such that all statements about the river beyond will remain understatements and every estimate an underestimate. What might not be an understatement though is that, without a cogent political leadership, a major slide backwards is inevitable for Pakistan.

After playing hooky for days, President Asif Zardari is back and, from the initial barbed exchanges, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) have moved on to talking to each other, which certainly is a good omen. However, the political leadership must realise that the tone, metrics and stage for recovery is set within the first few days of a disaster and they are already a fortnight too late.

The nations that have recovered successfully from massive disasters were able to do so through a resolute, optimistic and highly visible leadership, in addition to the resilience of their people. In most developed countries, the social psychology generally is that every disaster can be managed and at least the status quo ante restored, without reordering society in a fundamental manner. Contrarily, where cultural norms contribute significantly to a sense of resigning to fate, a cloud of pessimism can take hold quickly, with the expectations of recovery scaled down to a new lower normal. The 24-hour news coverage is a double-edged sword, which can literally make or break the will of a society in situations like these.

So, first things first: political leaders must take charge of shaping the narrative of this disaster and the recovery from it. They must articulate clearly and consistently that the gods are not in the business of unleashing havoc on innocent people and whole societies are not punished for the misdeeds of a few. No scripture prescribes repentance and supplication as the alternatives to human effort. In my conversations with a Chishti Sufi master from Peshawar, he would always drive home the point that ‘himmat-e-mardaan, madad-e-Khuda’ (God helps those who help themselves). Let us not allow the media rookies to tell the people that they brought this upon themselves.

But to be able to shape the disaster management discourse, the political leadership must put its money where its mouth is — literally. Addressing a joint press conference, Prime Minister Gilani and the PML-N leader Mian Nawaz Sharif have said that they would appeal to the rich to come forward to help the millions in distress. Apparently, Mian sahib also suggested names like the former Justices Rana Bhagwandas and Fakhruddin G Ebrahim and others to be part of the proposed fund-raising and relief panel, to make it credible. The two leaders also nominated Finance Minister Dr Hafeez Sheikh of the PPP and Senator Ishaq Dar of the PML-N to hammer out the details of the proposed federal body overseeing the relief and reconstruction effort.

There are two issues with this proposal. The problem is not the credibility of the fine men Mian sahib has named; it is that of the many among the parties ruling at the Centre and in the provinces. Landing on the top tiers of the world’s most corrupt states list, year after year, has not helped the country’s image. States and the organised and individual donors are shying away from contributing. Even expatriate Pakistanis want to know how their contributions will be spent and would much rather donate to a private charity than the government of Pakistan.

Instead of proposing that Rs 250 billion from the national exchequer be transferred to the new body, the political leadership would have been well advised to personally donate generously into this fund as the seed money. Dr Hafeez Sheikh — a US-educated economist — could have informed the leadership that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has an annual budget bigger than UNESCO and the bulk of its funding comes from an endowment by the Gates family. Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett, George Soros and many before them have devoted hundreds of billion of dollars towards philanthropic causes. The rupee-billionaires are well represented in the ruling parties. Leading by example and not cashing in on others’ good name is what they could do to boost the credibility of the relief commission. Also, instead of setting up separate bank accounts for flood relief, a contribution to the federal government fund by the military leadership would further bolster the effort.

Another issue that links directly with the credibility at home was the exclusion of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan from the initial decision-making. While the Council of Common Interests (CCI) is about to meet and the provinces obviously have representation there, respected leaders like Senators Hasil Bizenjo and Haji Muhammad Adeel from Balochistan and KP respectively could have been included in the announced team. Inter-province relations must not be bungled at the very outset of the disaster management.

A functional relationship between the vertical and horizontal layers of the government is a must for a harmonious relief effort and to present a unified front. Around the world, the armed forces are called upon to assist civilian governments in peacetime calamities. For example, the US National Guard has been under the state governors’ command since 1878 to help during catastrophes. The Pakistani armed forces have always served the nation well in a similar capacity and continue to do so with honour. There should be no reason to portray them as an outfit alien to the federal government.

All disasters have political implications and mismanaging one comes at a very high price for an elected government. While some in the west are even predicting the crumbling of the democratic set-up in Pakistan, a more likely outcome could be the de-politicisation of the people and disillusionment with the political forces. With their eyes on the river beyond, the leadership must get its act together; they have to catch up, and fast.

The writer can be reached at

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Such a long journey

Daily TimesThursday, August 12, 2010

COMMENT: Such a long journey —Dr Mohammad Taqi
Do we have the answers to why we are in such a sorry state? Can we at least ask the relevant questions, and in a timely manner? I must meekly submit that not all of us do

“I wiss you health, I wiss you wealth,

I wiss you gold in store;

I wiss you heaven on earth,

What can I wiss you more?”

The above was the toast proposed at a little girl’s birthday by Mr Dinshawji, a character in Rohinton Mistry’s novel, Such a Long Journey, that was later adapted into a film. I am not sure if it was Dinshawji’s perpetual difficulty in pronouncing the ‘sh’ sound, the simple yet wholesome wish or the blackout that plunges the house into darkness immediately after he proposes the toast, which first made these lines get stuck in my mind. But, somehow, I am reminded of these words around the 14th of August every year. I do wish Pakistan heaven on earth, and more.

However, I also cannot get the blackout that jinxed the birthday out of my mind. The toast, then, does not remain confined to what more one can wish Pakistan, but also involves how, and how to deal with the perpetual blackout that has jinxed its 63 birthdays.

In these pages, Dr Syed Mansoor Hussain and my dear friend, Dr Ali Hashmi, have alluded to the same issues. Deploying Lenin’s terminology, Dr Hashmi has put the question more bluntly: what is to be done? To arrive at this question, he has neatly deconstructed the narrative of the failed state, down to the state structures that have failed its citizens. At the very outset of our journey, Dr Hashmi’s illustrious grandfather, Faiz Ahmed Faiz had alluded to the failures in his poem, Subh-e-Azadi (The Dawn of Freedom):

“These tarnished rays, this night-smudged light,

This is not that dawn for which, ravished with freedom,

We had set out in sheer longing,

So sure that somewhere in its desert the sky harboured,

A final haven for the stars, and we would find it.”

This metaphor of the long, arduous journey somehow became a fait accompli for us. Whether Rohinton Mistry’s realist fiction was inspired by Faiz’s revolutionary romanticism is not known but his work is clearly inspired by Firdausi, Eliot and Tagore. It is during times like the present that one might seek inspiration from — or at least solace in — works of art; Lenin did. His work, ‘What is to be Done?’ was inspired by a novel with the same title by Nikolay Chernyshevsky. In fact, Lenin’s essay was a sequel to his ‘Where to Begin?’ By quoting Firdausi’s Shahnameh in the opening of his book, Mistry clues us in:

“He assembled the aged priests and put questions to them concerning the kings who had once possessed the world. ‘How did they,’ he inquired, ‘hold the world in the beginning, and why is it that it has been left to us in such a sorry state?’”

Could this be a eureka moment in our ‘what is to be done’ quest or at least be our ‘where to begin’ spot? Firdausi’s protagonist appears to have arranged a think-tank of sorts or a roundtable conference perhaps. I agree with Dr Hashmi that op-ed writers and keyboard warriors cannot deliver the goods. But perhaps they can help provide a start. We have been talking past each other for years. Could the 100 plus columnists writing daily be Firdausi’s aged priests, but communicate with one another? Do we have the answers to why we are in such a sorry state? Can we at least ask the relevant questions, and in a timely manner? I must meekly submit that not all of us do. But the ones who do, could they be brought onto one platform to formulate the travel plans for the onward journey? However, no such plan can work without the real protagonists — the people of Pakistan.

In Mistry’s novel, the protagonist, Gustad Noble, an ordinary man, is given to doing “something about the stink” next to his abode, aptly named the Khudadad (God-given) building. It is simply not possible for anything to get done about the stink around us without getting our very own Gustad Noble onboard. This is what needs to be done. This is what the modern high priests pontificating through computers must do.

Mistry’s choice of the surname Noble for the protagonist’s family was no coincidence — he believed in the noble nature of the people. But he also pointed out the instances where the Nobles fell prey to the pitfalls of everyday life in post-colonial states. Gustad inadvertently got entrapped in an establishment intrigue while his wife, Dilnawaz, resorted to black magic to ward off all the evil that had afflicted her family, specifically their son not living up to their expectations of going to a professional college and their daughter’s prolonged illness. Such are the situations where the real protagonists — the people of Pakistan — may benefit from some handholding by the opinion-makers. Enabling the people to see through the shenanigans of the power-players around them is the least that thought leaders can do.

The key influence on Mistry’s work, including the name of his novel, is T S Eliot’s poem, Journey of the Magi. Eliot, himself going through a transformation from agnosticism to faith, had noted in his poem:

“All this was a long time ago, I remember,

And I would do it again, but set down,

This set down,

This: were we lead all that way for,

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly.”

Eliot was right that no matter how bitter, hard and inhospitable the journey might have been, it certainly led to a birth: that of a multinational state. Given the deadly experiences — military rule, wars, suicide bombings and ravaging floods — the people may ask though, like Gustad did:

“Would this long journey be worth it?

Was any journey ever worth the trouble?”

The answer would be a subdued yet definite yes, for the alternative does not exist. An appropriate toast would be the conclusion of Faiz’s aforementioned poem:

“Night weighs us down; it still weighs us down.

Friends, come away from this false light.

Come, we must search for that promised Dawn.”

To the people of Pakistan, I wish a dawn not jinxed by blackouts.

(Note: English translation of Faiz by Agha Shahid Ali)

The writer practices and teaches Medicine at the University of Florida. He can be reached at

Imran Khan: a Taliban Goebbels?

Daily Times Thursday, August 05, 2010

COMMENT: Imran Khan: a Taliban Goebbels? —Dr Mohammad Taqi
The PTI and its leader are perhaps politically insignificant, but conceding space to such Ziaist propaganda has the potential to radicalise the nation, especially our youth. Fortunately, Mr Khan is not perceived as an American stooge — he is seen as a Taliban apologist

“The lowest form of popular culture — lack of information, misinformation, disinformation, and a contempt for the truth or the reality of most people’s lives — has overrun real journalism. Today, ordinary Americans are being stuffed with garbage” — Carl Bernstein, US journalist.

Perhaps ordinary Pakistanis are not much better off either. But it is not just the journalists embedded with the jihadists who are peddling nonsense. Among the politicians, Mr Imran Khan keeps outdoing himself in the craft of black propaganda. He has been stuffing people with this Goebbels-speak for years and, unfortunately, the western print media is one such avenue he uses to push his outlandish assertions.

While the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman, Muslim Khan, had the dubious courage to clearly own up to the savagery of his outfit, Mr Imran Khan, who is the head and de facto chief spokesman of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, stoops to the lowest levels of skulduggery in defending Taliban atrocities. Sheer disinformation, misinformation, contempt for truth, and an utter disregard for the realities of people’s lives, particularly of the Pashtuns, are what Mr Khan’s spoken and written words are all about.

He seems to have perfected the art of repeating half-truths and quite often just plain lies over and over again. In his article ‘Don’t blame Pakistan for the failure of the war’ (The Times, UK, July 27, 2010), he has some real gems to share. He writes: “Before the West invaded Afghanistan, my country had no suicide bombers, no jihad and no Talibanisation.”

Perhaps Mr Khan had been too busy playing cricket to take note of al Qaeda’s activities in the early 1990s at Abdullah Azzam’s Maktab-al-Khidmat — a base camp in Peshawar for Arab jihadists. Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden met each other in Peshawar courtesy Professor Azzam. Suicide bombings were not a norm then, but Azzam himself was killed in a car bombing in November 1989, allegedly orchestrated by his more extremist friends. He disagreed with their concept of takfir, i.e. declaring people who did not meet their definition of Muslim as infidels, who they believed deserved to be murdered. Benazir Bhutto, Dr Najibullah, several Arab rulers and Muslim minorities were placed in this category.

The early 1990s were the formative years of world jihadism and these men in Peshawar were not confined to just Afghanistan. The Afghan-Arabs, as they became known, worked hand in glove with all varieties of Pakistani jihadists and after 1992, Afghan territory was used for their cause. For example, training and sanctuary were provided at the Al-Badr camp in Khost to terrorists who unleashed havoc in Pakistan and around the world.

Mr Khan has completely glossed over the terrorist acts of the jihadists trained in the Pak-Afghan border regions. Riaz Basra of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi was one such figure who was involved in over 300 acts of terror on Pakistani soil, including an attempt on Mian Nawaz Sharif’s life, way before the US forces had set foot in Afghanistan. Along with Akram Lahori and Malik Ishaq, Basra had used the training facilities in Sarobi (near Jalalabad). This was the beginning of Talibanisation in Pakistan.

While the terrorist cadres were trained in Afghanistan, their leadership was groomed at various madrassas in Pakistan. However, Mr Imran Khan is either ignorant of this fact or is protecting such nefarious characters when he writes, “Until that point [army action in FATA in 2004], we had no militant Taliban in Pakistan. We had militant groups, but our own military establishment was able to control them. We had madrassas, but none of them produced militants intent on jihad until we became a frontline state in the war on terror.”

Only two entities from what is literally the Ivy League of the jihadist network need a mention to refute Mr Khan’s claim. Karachi’s Jamia Islamia aka Binori Mosque has produced hundreds of jihadist leaders that include Maulana Azam Tariq of Sipah-e-Sahaba, Qari Saifullah Akhtar and Maulana Fazlur Rahman Khalil, the leaders of Harkatul Jihad Al-Islami, and the founder of Jaish-e-Mohammed, Maulana Masood Azhar. The association of this madrassa’s patron (Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai) with the Afghan Taliban, especially Mullah Omar, is well known.

It might not have dawned on Mr Imran Khan but Jalaluddin Haqqani carries the title Haqqani for a reason — he had spent six years at Darul-Uloom Haqqaniah in Akora Khattak. Among the top 32 officials in Mullah Omar’s government, 11 — including six top ministers — were educated in madrassas in Pakistan. Out of these 11, seven were students at the Haqqaniah seminary. The US was nowhere in the picture when the alumni of these madrassas were on a killing spree in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Mr Khan betters himself still when he claims, “After the WikiLeaks revelations yesterday, reports are being floated that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is aiding the Afghan militancy. The fact is that the ISI is not that powerful, but certainly in an environment of chaos and uncertainty Pakistan will need to protect its interests through all means necessary.” Even the ISI may take serious offence to this, as it is positioning itself as the power that can deliver the Taliban, especially the Haqqani network, provided the new set-up in Kabul is to its liking.

These assertions by Mr Khan might even be amusing if he was not capable of even worse assertions. Blaming the US for all ills is one thing, but he has as easily blamed the victims of terrorism. Writing about the Karsaz bombing in ‘Benazir Bhutto has only herself to blame’ (The Telegraph, UK, October 21, 2007), he noted, “I am sorry to say this, but the bombing of Benazir Bhutto’s cavalcade as she paraded through Karachi on Thursday night was a tragedy almost waiting to happen. You could argue it was is different for me campaigning in public, even in the frontier region, because I am not perceived as an American stooge, or a supporter of the war on terror.” Benazir and not the takfiris were to be blamed as per Mr Khan’s views!

The PTI and its leader are perhaps politically insignificant, but conceding space to such Ziaist propaganda has the potential to radicalise the nation, especially our youth. Fortunately, Mr Khan is not perceived as an American stooge — he is seen as a Taliban apologist.

The writer can be reached at

The road to perdition

Daily Times Thursday, July 29, 2010

COMMENT: —Dr Mohammad Taqi
In the Obama lexicon, the word victory does not exist in the Afghan context. Indications are there that the Pakistani security establishment has been outsourced the effort to tame the Taliban to allow the US a face-saving withdrawal

“All praise is for the Almighty who bestowed sovereignty upon the army, then made the people subservient to the army and the army subservient to its own interests” — Justice Rustam Kiyani.

In his three-minute address announcing a three-year extension in the service term of General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Mr Yousaf Raza Gilani — not otherwise known for his eloquence — appears to have given perhaps the most detailed account of things to come in the region.

Announced like the sighting of the Eid moon, including the hour of the telecast, the army chief’s extension, prima facie, is an exercise in appeasement by an insecure head of the government. With conspiracy theories surfacing, Mr Gilani, in an Eid-like celebratory remark the next day, cleared any doubts about at least where he was coming from. Justice Kiyani was spot on; 40 years later, the people still remain subservient to the mighty armed forces.

In 1988, Benazir Bhutto’s government decorated the army with the Tamgha-e-Jamhooriat (Medal of Democracy) for its “grand services towards restoring democracy” only to be ousted in less than two years by the latter’s protégé Ghulam Ishaq Khan. The appeasement did not work then, it did not work in 1994 when Ms Bhutto let the army unleash the Taliban on Afghanistan, and it is not going to work now. To its credit, the army knows clearly what it wants in the region. A milestone at the end of the obstacle course in the SSG centre in Cherat once listed the distances to Jerusalem, Delhi and, of course, Kabul.

On the civilian side, the presidency is barely keeping its head above the water while the prime minister is out of his league in dealing with the rapidly changing geopolitical realities. The civvies have abdicated even their nominal role in foreign and national security policy-making. When ranking members of parliament’s Special Committee on National Security write articles toeing the military’s line and the foreign minister writes to the UN criticising its probe into the alleged role of Pakistani security agencies in Ms Bhutto’s murder, tenure extensions for the generals are a given. With such a bunch at the helm in Islamabad, a US nod, not a prod, was all that was needed here.

In the Obama lexicon, the word victory does not exist in the Afghan context. Indications are there that the Pakistani security establishment has been outsourced the effort to tame the Taliban to allow the US a face-saving withdrawal. The recent tours of Kabul by the Pakistani military top brass, removal of Afghan Intelligence Chief Amrullah Saleh and Army Chief General Bismillah Khan by President Karzai, the Kabul international conference with the UN belatedly taking centre-stage and, above all, the announcement by the Taliban spokesperson Yousuf Ahmadi point to the new realignment where Pakistan takes a lead role in getting the Americans out of the quagmire.

Mr Ahmadi has stated that the Taliban want the ‘independence’ of Afghanistan and if the western forces really wanted to withdraw, they would not hinder it and that they pose no threat to any person or country. This literally is music to American ears. This ‘success’ in prying away the Taliban from al Qaeda is a must for Mr Obama to retain his own party’s support.

In 1989, the US walked away from Afghanistan leaving the ISI — by default — to sort out things as it wanted. This time around, a hastily put together but apparently elaborate design is unravelling. In both instances though, the Americans have miscalculated the ground realities in Afghanistan and the role of the regional powers. The US assessment is that in a country used to decentralised rule, controlling the countryside helps control the cities and Pakistan can deliver enough ‘reconcilable’ Taliban to allow the US withdrawal with the Karzai government remaining in place at least through November 2012, when Mr Obama makes his re-election bid.

Admiral Mike Mullen’s difficult balancing act last week and his comments about the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba menace are an attempt to placate India. However, it is a matter of time before India, Iran, Russia and the Central Asian states rally together to support the anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan. In 1994, the Taliban were an unknown entity and when they took on the largely non-Pashtun Northern Alliance, most Pashtuns remained on the sidelines. This might not be the case on either side of the Durand Line now and the US cannot do much about this.

The discordant Afghans, including the Taliban, agree on one thing only: they do not want a de facto or de jure division of Afghanistan. Kabul is the symbol of united Afghanistan and the trophy in a ruinous victory. The diplomatic activity between Moscow, Delhi and Tehran and the rallying of the anti-Taliban forces within Afghanistan is the harbinger of the looming battle for Kabul.

As I reached this point in the column, I received the news that Mian Rashid Hussain, the only son of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain, was shot dead some 20 miles away from Cherat. I remembered Faiz’s lines as I did when Benazir Bhutto was martyred:

“Tujh ko kitnon ka lahu chahiay aiy arz-e-watan,

Jo tere aaraz-e-berang ko gulnaar karein,

Kitni aahon se kaleja tera thanda hoga,

Kitnay ansoo teray sehraaon ko gulzaar karein?”

(O Motherland, the blood of how many do you need,

Blood that may give a rosy hue to your pale face,

How many sighs would it take to calm your heart,

How many tears are needed to turn your deserts to oases?)

Mian Iftikhar’s party is the only irritant in the US-Pakistani plans for Afghanistan. The Americans have the luxury to cut and run but the Pakistani political forces do not. The road to perdition is short: Kabul is 266 kilometres from Cherat. The PPP must avoid becoming a party to the carnage ahead, as the blowback has already cost us not just Mian Rashid but Benazir as well.

PS: Mian Iftikhar Hussain’s residence has also been bombed now. We do not need WikiLeaks to tell us who supports the bombers to bring the ANP to its knees.

The writer can be reached at