Friday, February 27, 2009



Cunning, devious, erratic.

2.These are the allegations increasingly being used about President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan inside the coalition formed by BenazirBhutto before her assassination in order to fight for the restoration of democracy as well as inside his own Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

3. Well-informed sources in the PPP say that ever since he took over as the President in September last year, he has sought to marginalisethe loyalists of Benazir Bhutto and have them replaced by loyalists of the Zardari family. The Bhutto loyalists have been shocked by thedisinterest allegedly shown by him in pursuing vigorously the investigation into the assassination of his wife. Instead of doing so, he hasallegedly asked Rehman Malik, the Internal Security Adviser, to suspend any further investigation on the ground that the UNSecretary-General has already initiated action for the case to be investigated by a team appointed by him. It is alleged that anyone, whoraises the question of the lack of progress in the investigation, incurs Zardari's wrath and is subjected to harassment by the police. A typicalexample is that of Mumtaz Ali Bhutto, of the Sindh National Front (SNF), who is a cousin of the late Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto and a founding-fatherof the PPP. The police have allegedly been set after him and other members of the SNF after they raised the issue of the investigation inpublic.

4. These PPP sources claim that Bhutto loyalists have started raising doubts about the genuineness of the so-called political will of BenazirBhutto on the basis of which Zardari took over the interim leadership of the PPP till their son Bilawal, designated in the so-called will as herultimate successor, came of age to be able to take over the leadership. There has been no demand so far for an enquiry into thegenuineness of the will, but there are increasing insinuations that the so-called will was the idea of Rehman Malik. Malik used to be incharge of co-ordinating physical security arrangements for Benazir Bhutto and many in the party accuse him of negligence which, accordingto them, contributed to her assassination. To the surprise of many, who were close to Benazir, not only no action was taken against him byZardari, but he was appointed as the Internal Security Adviser with the rank of a Cabinet Minister and has emerged as a close personaladviser of Zardari. It is alleged in party circles that Malik, himself a retired police officer, has been misusing the police officers of theFederal Investigation Agency (FIA) in which he had served during Benazir Bhutto's second tenure (1993-96) as the Prime Minister formonitoring the activities of the critics of Zardari.

5. Speculation about differences between Zardari and Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani continue to gain currency despite repeated denialsby both. These PPP sources say that Gilani is unhappy that important decisions are being taken by Zardari and his close group of adviserswithout consulting him or keeping him in the picture and instructions issued directly over his head to senior bureaucrats to have thedecisions executed. Gilani was also excluded from the committee set up by Zardari for selecting Party candidates for the elections to fillup vacancies in the Senate, the upprer House of the Parliament.It is said that Gilani was taken by surprise by the press conference held byRehman Malik at which he admitted that there was partial involvement by certain elements in Pakistan in the conspiracy for the Mumbaiterrorist attack. Only a day before Malik's press conference, the Cabinet Committee on Defence had discussed the Indian allegations and itwas reportedly decided that a set of questions should be sent to India and that Pakistan should await India's replies before deciding on thenext step.

6. It is alleged that Zardari, who was under tremendous pressure from the US to co-operate with India, advised Malik to admit partialinvolvement without awaiting India's replies to the questions. The PPP sources claim that even Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the Chief of theArmy Staff (COAS), who was present at the meeting of the Cabinet Committee, was surprised by Malik's press conference.

7. During Benazir Bhutto's second tenure as the Prime Minister, many PPP workers known for their loyalty to Zardari had been recruited intoGovernment Departments, including the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the FIA. After dismissing her in 1996, Farooq Leghari, the thenPresident, had sacked all these people who had been recruited without following the civil service recruitment rules. It is said that Zardarihas been keen to have these people re-taken into the jobs from which they were sacked by Leghari, but Gilani has been strongly resistingthis.

8. Senior officials of the Foreign Office are mystified by Zardari's decision to visit Wuhan and Shanghai in China from February 20 to 24,2009, without an official invitation from the Chinese Government. He did not visit Beijing. Nor did he meet any Chinese leaders. He onlyspoke to President Hu Jintao over phone from Shanghai before returning to Islamabad. The Chinese had reportedly told Zardari that sincethey would be busy in connection with the first visit of Mrs.Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, to China after assuming office, theywould not be in a position to receive him in Beijing during February. In spite of this, he decided to go ahead with his visit and restrict his visitto Wuhan and Shanghai only. His advisers projected his decision as part of the plan announced by him after taking over as the President tovisit different provinces of China once a quarter to learn from China's experience in economic development. Foreign Office officials havebeen saying that it is not in keeping with the dignity of the office of the President of Pakistan to keep travelling to other countries----even ifit be to China---- without a formal invitation and without taking into account the convenience of the hosts.They project this as an indicator ofwhat they allege as the erratic and flippant streak in him.

9. Zardari has also come in for strong criticism inside his own party as well as inside the ruling coalition for what they see as the lack oftransparency in matters relating to co-operation with the US in its fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Reports carried by sections of theUS media alleging that the increasing Predator air strikes on suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban hide-outs in Pakistani territory are beingcarried out with the knowledge and tacit consent of Zardari have added to the suspicions that he has a huge debt to pay to the US for itsrole in persuading Gen. Pervez Musharraf, when he was the President, to issue the National Reconciliation Ordinance to withdraw thepending cases against him and Benazir to enable them to return to Pakistan from political exile and contest the elections.

10. His decision not to take any action against Musharraf for his repeated violations of the Constitution when he was in power and not toreinstate former Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhury, who was sacked by Musharraf, are also seen by many of his critics asmotivated partly by his own interests and partly by US desires. It is alleged that Zardari is worried that if he reinstated the former ChiefJustice, the latter might question the validity of the National Reconciliation Ordinance and order a retrial of the case relating to the allegedmurder of Murtaza Ali Bhutto, the younger brother of Benazir, at Karachi in September 1996. Zardari was an accused in the case, which hassince been closed. The US also feels uncomfortable with the former Chief Justice because of the interest taken by him in looking into thecases of a large number of Pakistanis, who were picked up by the Pakistani intelligence agencies and handed over to the US intelligencewithout following the due process of the law because the US suspected that they were involved with Al Qaeda. Many of them are reported tobe in the Guantanamo Bay detention centre.

11. Nawaz Sharif is bitter with Zardari for the way he has gone back on every commitment made by him before the elections to the NationalAssembly in February last year. He first went back on the commitment made regarding the reinstatement of the former Chief Justice. He then took Nawaz Sharif by surprise by manipulating to have himself nominated and elected as the President and then went back on thecommitment to do away with the various constitutional amendments introduced through decree by Musharraf to restore to the Presidentthe powers to dismiss the Prime Minister and dissolve the National Assembly. He also went back on the commitment to review the variousaspects of co-operation with the US in its so-called war against terrorism in order to remove those aspects which were not in Pakistan'snational interests.

12. When Nawaz Sharif announced his support for a fresh agitation by the lawyers to demand the reinstatement of sacked Chief JusticeIftikhar Mohammad Chaudhury, Zardari allegedly sent Rehman Malik to meet him and his brother Shabaz Sharif, till recently the ChiefMinister of Punjab, to warn them that if Nawaz Sharif supported the fresh agitation by the lawyers, he (Zardari) would not oppose any rulingby a bench of the Supreme Court to disqualify Nawaz and his brother from contesting any election and holding any public office.

13. Whereas Zardari and Benazir were the accused in many criminal cases which had not ended in any conviction, Nawaz Sharif had beenconvicted on a charge of attempted hijacking of the aircraft in which Musharraf was travelling from Colombo to Karachi in October 1999,which provoked the coup against Nawaz. His brother was the accused in two criminal cases, but not a convict. While the US-supportedNational Reconciliation Ordinance led to the withdrawal of the cases against Benazir and Zardari, it did not affect the conviction of Nawazand the cases against his brother.

14. Despite this, the Election Commission allowed Shabaz Sharif to contest the election. He became the Chief Minister of Punjab with thesupport of the PPP. Nawaz was not able to contest the election because of his conviction. He was hopeful that if Iftikhar MohammadChaudhury was reinstated as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court he would have his conviction reviewed and set aside. Zardari hadreportedly promised Nawaz that the Government would take the initiative to have his conviction set aside, but he went back on the promise.Nawaz and his brother refused to appear before a bench consisting of Judges appointed by Musharraf to argue their case. The result: thebench's ruling on February 25,2009, declaring them as ineligible to contest elections and to hold any public office.Shabaz Sharif hasresigned as the Chief Minister and Governor's rule has been proclaimed in the province for two months. The PPP hopes to form the provincialGovernment with the help of Musharraf loyalists in the PML ( Qaide Azam) and possible defectors from the PML of Nawaz.

15. Though Zardari's advisers have been strongly denying that he had anything to do with the ruling, Nawaz and Shabaz are convinced thatthe ruling was induced by Zardari. There has already been public agitation on this issue. Presuming that Zardari had a role in inducing thisruling by the bench of the Supreme Court, this could prove to be as unwise and as damaging as the decision of Musharraf in 2007 to haveIftikhar Mohammad Chaudhury sacked. Zardari is not Benazir. He is seen by many in his own party as a political upstart. His confrontationwith Nawaz could set in motion a chain of events which may ultimately discredit once again the political class in Pakistan and prepare theground for another spell of military rule.

16.The US has reasons to be concerned over the developments in Pakistan. There is a trust deficit between it and Nawaz. It continues toback Zardari who has shown himself to be as amenable to US wishes as Musharraf, if not even more. It continues to encourage Gen.Kayanito back Zardari. But Zardari's mishandling of the political situation could come in the way of the US operations against Al Qaeda and theTaliban at a time when the Obama Administration is re-tooling its Afghan strategy. (28-2-09)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institue For Topical Studies,Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )



Tibetans in China and abroad have started a boycott of the Tibetan New Year (Losar) fortnight, which started on February 25,2009. They are observing the fortnight as a period of mourning in homage to the Tibetans who were killed by the Chinese security forces during the uprising in the Tibetan-inhabited areas of China in March and April last year. Their observance of the period of mourning consisted of prayers and processions. In some places, they also burnt the effigies of the Chinese leaders in keeping with the Tibetan tradition of burning the effigies of demons during the New Year.

2. In the Qinghai province, over 100 Tibetan monks of the Lutsang monastery took out a silent procession in the Mangra ( the Chinese call it Guinan) county on February 25,2009. The procession terminated at the country centre, where the local Government offices are located. They presented a petition to a representative of the local Government calling, inter alia, for an international enquiry into the violent incidents of last year. The petition also appealed to the Chinese leaders to respect the wishes and feelings of the Tibetan youth. After observing silence for 30 minutes at the county centre, they went back to their monastery peacefully. The local Chinese authorities did not try to prevent the procession and accepted their petition.

3. However, on February 26,2009, vans of the Public Security Bureau went round the county asking the leaders of the procession to surrender to the police and the local population to help the police in the identification and arrest of the leaders. They warned of legal action against those not carrying out the orders and not co-operating with the police. A few hours later, a contingent of the People's Armed Police (PAP) raided the monastery and took away a number of monks for interrogation at the police station.

4. The Chinese authorities in Tibet and other areas having a large Tibetan population organised singing and dancing in public squares and street plays, showing how the Chinese vanquished serfdom and what was portrayed as the feudal rule of the Dalai Lama. A large number of Han Chinese living and working in these areas attended the State-sponsored celebrations, which were largely boycotted by the Tibetans despite the payment of a cash gift by the Chinese to Tibetans attending the celebrations. However, there are no reports of the Chinese forcing the Tibetans to attend the celebrations, which could have led to violence.

5. Coinciding with the beginning of the New Year fortnight, the Chinese authorities suspended the issue of permission to foreign tourists and journalists to visit Tibet and the Tibetan-inhabited areas. They have indicated that this ban could continue till the end of March.

6. However, Edward Wong of the "International Herald Tribune" managed to visit Qinghai--- presumably with a permit issued by the Chinese before the imposition of the temporary ban. His despatch, which was carried by the IHT on February 25,2009, stated as follows: "The most prominent act of Tibetan resistance to Chinese rule since an uprising last March, unfolded quietly in towns across western China on Wednesday (February 25), as monks, nomads and merchants refrained from holding festivities and instead used the occasion of Losar to memorialize Tibetans who suffered in China's military crackdown last year. Many Tibetans forsook dancing and dinner parties for the lighting of yak-butter lamps and the chanting of prayers. The result of a grassroots campaign that began months ago, the boycott of Losar signifies the discontent that many of China's six million Tibetans still feel toward domination by the ethnic Han Chinese nearly one year after the uprising and almost six decades after Mao Zedong's troops seized control of the high deserts and grasslands of Tibet. Although more passive than the protests and riots of last year, the boycott has raised tensions. Tibetans here (in Tongren) and in other towns, including Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, say Government officials have handed out money to Tibetans to spur them to celebrate. On Wednesday, the government was eager to show festive Tibetans on state-run television: It broadcast footage of Tibetans in Lhasa dancing, shooting off fireworks and feasting in their homes. But no such activities were in evidence in this part of Qinghai Province, near the birthplace of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, except for a flurry of firecrackers set off at noon by Chinese officers outside a paramilitary compound. The boycott of festivities began even earlier, during Chinese New Year, which ran for two weeks from late January and which Tibetans here tend to observe alongside Losar. "The government thinks we should celebrate this holiday properly," said Shartsang, the abbot of Rongwo Monastery. "Certainly this year people haven't celebrated it in the same way they did in past years." The Government has stepped up security across Tibet and shut off access to foreigners. Here in the town of Tongren, called Rebkong by Tibetans, more than 300 security officers with riot shields were seen training in the stadium on Wednesday afternoon. On Monday night, a unit of officers marched in formation along a road cordoned off with yellow tape. Like most of the people interviewed for this article, the monk asked that his name not be used, for fear of government reprisal. The monastery is under tight surveillance: Cameras have been installed throughout, monks say, and security officers dressed in monk's robes wander the alleyways. Nevertheless, the monks have put photographs of the Dalai Lama back up in prayer halls and in their bedrooms. One monk from southern Qinghai held up an amulet of the Dalai Lama dangling from his neck. "The Chinese say this is all one country," the monk said. "What do we think? You don't know what's in our hearts. They don't know what's in our hearts," he said, and tapped his chest. Some of the greatest hostility comes from 30 or so monks from Drepung and Sera monasteries in Lhasa who have sought refuge here, even as some monks from Rongwo have tried fleeing across the Himalayas to India. Last spring, after the uprising, security forces in Lhasa cleared out monasteries and jailed monks for months. About 700 monks were sent to a camp in Golmud in Qinghai Province for four months of patriotic education, then ordered to return to their hometowns for three months, said three young monks who were shipped to the camp. The three are now studying here. "We want to go back to our monastery in Lhasa, but the police would check our ID cards and evict us," one of the monks said over tea in a bedroom stacked with Buddhist texts. "We came here because we wanted a good opportunity to study."

7.While the Chinese have prevented all foreign journalists from visiting Tibet, N.Ram, the Editor-in-Chief of "The Hindu" of Chennai, was a privileged visitor to Tibet for two days to observe how the Tibetans are observing Losar. The official Xinhua news agency (February 26) reported as follows after his visit: "Mr. Ram’s latest visit coincided with the run-up to the Tibetan New Year. He said: “We witnessed fewer people in work places as they went back home to celebrate the New Year.There was no sign of strain or suppression there as people were filled with excitement and the atmosphere was festive. There were plenty of signs of prosperity on my long drive from Lhasa to Nyingchi.The contrast between the old and the new is very powerful, demonstrating what the Chinese Government and the system have done for Tibet.”

8. On February 26,2009, "The Hindu" disseminated a report of the Xinhua describing how the Tibetans were celebrating the Losar. (27-2-09)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )