Jihadis are Threatening Pakistan’s Existence; When will we act in Defense of Pakistan? It is Time to Challenge the Unreal Narrative in Pakistan

For the third time in less than a decade Pakistan and India are in the midst of a crisis precipitated by non-state actors. As in the past, Pakistani national pride and our national feelings towards India have overcome our ability to acknowledge the fact that our stance has little international support. In 1999, we fought in Kargil and described as lies the assertions of the international media about the conflict. “The Jews and the Hindus are in league,” proclaimed our Maulanas and their sympathizers in the media. We found out that while the Indian media had exaggerated things the basic narrative of the international community was less untruthful than what we had been led to believe.

Later that same year, after a coup d’etat brought General Pervez Musharraf to power, the hijacking of an Indian aeroplane from Nepal led us into angry denials of anyone in Pakistan having anything to do with it. But the subsequent emergence of those released as a result of the hijackers’ demand in Pakistan brought unwanted international criticism our way.

Then, in 2002 we had to face a massive military mobilization after the attack on the Indian Parliament. Once again, our media was full of loud noises about American and Indian collusion against Pakistan, ignoring completely that we were ignoring the world’s opinion at our peril. Now, in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, the debate is being diverted in the direction of “Why should we act under outside pressure” instead of recognizing that the world cannot be ignored.

Soon after September 11, 2001 there was a chorus in Pakistan that the US should provide evidence against Al-Qaeda before proceeding to war against the Taliban but that did not change the reality that the Taliban could not escape American military wrath. The processions by Maulanas did not stop war in Afghanistan and the complete international isolation of Afghanistan’s Taliban regime. Angry columns and flag-burning demonstrations are not a substitute for ground realities. Pakistan should not risk coercion by India again and we should certainly not risk international isolation.

Why should we wait for evidence from India or for that matter from the USA before we decide to take action against individuals or groups that are operating from our own territory against us and against the civilized world at large? Are we not fighting against Al-Qaeda, Afghan Taliban, Tehrik-e-Taliban, Lashkar-e- Jhangvi and the likes of Fazlullah and Sufi Mohammad in our tribal areas?

Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jamaatud Daawa, Jaish-e-Muhammad and other Jihadi organizations operate on the same ideology and philosophy as of Al-Qaeda and have let be known that they do not care about Pakistan’s foreign relations and have an agenda of their own. Why then must the State of Pakistan be soft with these Jihadis on grounds of perceived or real faults of the USA or even India?

Do we still think that we can have strategic depth in Afghanistan by keeping intact our Jihadi connections of the 1980s and keep alive the issue of Jammu and Kashmir by allowing militancy even when the militancy is hurting us everyday? We have suffered more than any other country including India and the United States at the hands of these merchants of death and destruction. Since 2001 as many as 1200 Pakistanis have been killed by these terrorists inside Pakistan. Over 450 Pakistanis lost their lives at the hands of the terrorists in the current year alone.

Is it not a stimulus for us to move and move fast if we want to save this nation from the killing sprees of sipahs and lashkars, whatever their cause or slogan is? We have seen the preamble of what might come in the future in our tribal areas of Waziristan everyday. The opponents of the extremist ideology are butchered and their bodies are hanged with lampposts. Do we want our cities and towns to follow suit? Most people would say, “Certainly not.” But we are postponing the inevitable by confusing the issue and turning the debate to the conduct of the United States or India instead of focusing on the actions of the butchers. How long will it take us to act against our biggest enemy – the militancy and extremism that is spreading like a cancer within the body of our beloved nation?

There is a growing consensus in the international community that the militants and Jihadi groups having links to Pakistan are instrumental in terrorist acts happening anywhere in the world. May it be London bombings, suicide attacks in Spain or terrorist act in any other country, Pakistan is the first to be blamed of harboring these international Jihadis. It is time to decide whether we want to be an adversary of our neighbors and the world or we want to be partners of the international community in confronting the challenges we have today from these militant organizations.

We should remember that we are the first victims of terrorism and militancy. Other countries have not suffered as much as we have during the last decade. We, as a nation, have to carefully choose our options. If we are wise then we would immediately act against individuals and groups propagating violence and the ideology of Al-Qaeda. Pakistan must act against those who are linked to the Mumbai attacks. All those who love Pakistan should rise to the occasion and support any effort that is targeted at eliminating terrorism and militancy from our ranks. This is not only the path to our progress but also to our survival.

Sadiq Saleem is a businessman and part-time analyst based in Toronto, Canada. This article was published in The News, Saturday, December 20, 2008

Messy Transition to Democracy is Preferable to Military Dictatorship Romanticism of TV Anchors Should Not Dictate Intelligentsia’s Political Analysis

Pakistan is passing through an uneasy transition from a quasi democracy to a participatory democracy. This uneasiness can be witnessed in the governance as well as the larger sections of the society and the media.

Only a year back Pakistan was ruled by a military general who had introduced controlled democracy and ruled the roost for almost nine years. For the better half of the last year President Musharraf was sitting in the presidency despite losing all moral, legal and political justification to do so.

Hardly four months into a fully legitimate civilian democracy where every office is occupied by a democratically and constitutionally elected civilian, have the prophets of doom and gloom started to weave stories as if the old political game of 90s is back and president and prime minister can be pitched against each other. Going a step farther these stories also try to evoke the specter of military – civilian rift steeped in the narrative of patriotism, often misplaced and driven by irrationality.

The unceremonious dismissal of the National Security Advisor (NSA) Major General® Mehmud Ali Durrani created a perfect platform for this brigade to hit the airwaves with all kinds of speculation. This culture of speculation and intrigue worked really well in the 90s to destabilize the democratic governments and allowing the jihad romantics to benefit from a musical chair of governments and increased interference of intelligence agencies in the politics of Pakistan. Sadly for them in the year 2009 this game may not be workable as the geo strategic dynamics of the world have changed completely and the national security apparatus itself is abandoning the course that was followed by some in its past leadership.

In effect the difference of approach that led to the dismissal of General Durrani was the approach of a technocrat and politician to the issue. In policy terms the major stakeholders appeared onboard that it was time that Pakistan revealed to the world that Ajmal Kasab was a Pakistani. The prime minister wanted to take domestic political mileage out of this by placing the information on the floor of the National Assembly and thus taking the representatives of the nation into confidence. This would have created goodwill for the government.

General Durrani as a technocrat could not understand that a political government has its own compulsions and needs to take on board a number of stakeholders. He in his own judgment thought that once the decision has been made the information has to be revealed and it was immaterial who did it. His judgment cost him his job. But the media onslaught that was unleashed to target General Durrani was totally uncalled for and unjustified.

It appears that anyone who differs with those insisting on a worldview based on tribal code of honour, should summarily be declared unpatriotic.

So strong becomes the speculation that the media anchors start believing in their own theories and start pursuing some convoluted agenda. One of the theories that kicked in immediately after the dismissal of NSA was that United States was upset over the development. One does not know how the media reached that conclusion but for almost a whole day all the TV channels ran the story and many so-called experts indulged in US bashing. One venerable academic Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi when asked a loaded question on one of the TV channels about USA’s reservations conveyed to the Government of Pakistan, was taken aback and had to express his disagreement with the statement. But the anchor remained insistent that this was true.

Another classic of the TV channel reporting was the claim that Admiral Mullen the US Armed Forces Joint Chief of Staff has asked Pakistan’s COAS General Ashfaq Kiyani to allow Indian Air force to strike some targets inside Pakistani territory. Between the two of them who talked to the reporter is anybody’s guess, because media has quoted neither of them. But despite that this continues to provide basis of many interesting theories.

Over the last few weeks “The hawks and the doves” play of the 90s when the political governments were accused of being doves and the military man was the classical hawk seems to have caught the imagination of most of the media again. They help project this image and bring in long time retired army generals to play up the sentiment. Hamid Guls and General Hamid Nawazs come on TV channels and talk ad nauseam. None of them has the courage to admit that Pakistan today is suffering from the fallout of their ill-advised strategic thinking. These retired generals speak as if they are representing the sentiment of the armed forces.

DG ISI General Pasha’s interview to Der Speigel has clearly reflected that it’s no more about being a hawk or a dove. It’s about correcting the state’s strategic direction and understanding today’s world. Some politicians, media and so-called analysts are failing to understand that Pakistan can ill afford the playback of 90s or even worse follow the strategic path of those years.

Admittedly the governance under the current dispensation is not smooth and flawless, but from that to deduce that the state organs have policy differences is unfortunate. Moving away from the division of hawks and doves I believe Pakistan’s state organs are now pursuing a policy that can be called a policy of realism. This augurs well for Pakistan.
This article is taken from The News of Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Army, ISI With Government; Super Hawks Spread False Stories Pakistan Military knows building democracy crucial to strengthening country; Civilian Super Hawks Want Military Intervention and Make False Claims of US pressure

By Sadiq Saleem

The clear message from the Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in his interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel was that Pakistan’s security establishment does not differ with the civilian leadership in their fundamental worldview.

The military, too, now considers terrorism as Pakistan’s major security threat and has no desire for conflict or confrontation with India. But the removal of National Security Adviser Mehmud Durrani by Prime Minister Gilani eclipsed that message of civil-military unity under civilian direction. The Super Hawks who dominate Pakistan’s electronic and print media immediately read into Gen Durrani’s removal signs of policy differences that do not really exist.

Gen Durrani’s removal related to a procedural matter, not a policy disagreement. As adviser to the prime minister he was required to seek the PM’s approval before acting. Instead, he spoke out publicly prematurely after consultations with the security establishment. The prime minister decided to send a signal that, as political boss and chief executive, it was his prerogative to determine the manner and timing of an important revelation like the nationality of Ajmal Kasab, the terrorist involved in the Mumbai attacks currently in Indian custody. Given that the Foreign Office and the information minister also confirmed what Gen Durrani had stated, the issue is not what the former national security adviser said but how, when and to whom he said it.

The CIA-sponsored Afghan Jihad of the 1980s has spawned a massive infrastructure of militancy in Pakistan that can best be described as Jihad Inc. During the 1990s, members of this Jihad Inc interfered openly in domestic politics, making and breaking elected governments with rumors and innuendo about corruption and alleged compromises over national security. Their actions earned the ISI the label of Invisible Soldiers of Islam. Even junior operatives of the political wing of the intelligence service became disproportionately powerful as they gave certificates of patriotism to politicians and shared stories with journalists that affected the political life of the country. As a result, a class of Super Hawks was created within the media, backed by retired military and intelligence officers who are either direct beneficiaries or ideological fellow travelers of the militancy machine.

The Super Hawks espouse a world view that essentially comprises three elements. First, that the United States is Pakistan’s enemy because of its close ties with India and it is now a demand of “Pakistani nationalism” that the country confront the US. Second, that militancy and Jihad are important strategic options for Pakistan and must be retained. To the extent that the US seeks an end to Jihadi militancy in and from Pakistan, it is acting in the interest of Israel and India. Instead of cooperating with the international community in the war against terror Pakistan must spurn the United States and stand up alongside Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. Third, any Pakistani diplomatic overture towards India is a sign of weakness and Pakistan must maintain a hard posture towards India at all times.

In the media, the Super Hawk view is manifested in false stories about US pressure on Pakistan and campaigns, such as the one unleashed in the aftermath of awarding of Hilal-e-Quaid-i-Azam to Richard Boucher, claiming that the elected civilians are pro-US and compromising towards India while the security establishment is not. Unfortunately for the Super Hawks, the military under General Ashfaq Kayani has no intention of repeating the political games of the 1990s. Each media campaign starts with much fanfare and then peters out until the next one. As far as the policy of the government is concerned, it remains one and is supported both by the government’s civilian and the military wing. The inability of the civilian government to efficiently run affairs helps the rumour mills as was the case with the erroneous notification regarding putting of ISI under the Ministry of Interior. But the military’s willingness to continue working with the civilians was manifested clearly when heavens did not fall after the episode.

These days the Super Hawks claim that the civilians were too accommodating towards India in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks while the military wanted a harder line. Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha’s interview to the German magazine, widely reprinted at home, should put the record straight. But that does not prevent a writer, a self-proclaimed supporter of former dictator General Pervez Musharraf, from claiming falsely that the US military chief Admiral Michael Mullen told General Kayani not to respond to Indian surgical strikes.

Similarly, another Musharraf backer has reported that General Kayani showed photographs of an Indian Mirage fighter locked in by a Pakistani F-16 and said that next time Pakistan would shoot the Indian plane down. Considering that only two people were present in the Mullen-Kayani meetings (Admiral Mullen and General Kayani) and neither narrated the two stories to the Super Hawk columnists it is safe to assume that their source was a fellow Super Hawk from amongst the retired military personnel that have become outspoken on foreign policy out of fear that Jihad Inc might soon go out of business.

Similarly, the television channel that reported after General Durrani’s removal that the US had “demanded” his reinstatement betrayed its reporter’s lack of knowledge of how nations interact or a simple willingness to fabricate to attract attention.

While the culture of respect for seniors in the military means that retired generals continue to be respected by their juniors there is little reason to believe that generals Hamid Gul, Aslam Beg or Hamid Nawaz speak for General Kayani. Indeed, the military under General Kayani has methodically disengaged from politics, patiently allowing civilians to make their mistakes in a learning process that is inevitable when democratic institutions are new and fragile.

In terms of policy, it is clear that the military is implementing the policy formulated by the elected leaders. The military operations in Bajaur and Mohmand, the continuing elimination of al-Qaeda leaders in cooperation with the US and the ISI chief’s clear statement that he was willing to go to India in the aftermath of Mumbai all show that in real policy terms Pakistan has only one policy. General Kayani has also faithfully implemented President Asif Zardari’s initiative in mending fences with Afghanistan.

That does not mean, however, that the political noise generated by the Super Hawks will subside any time soon. Poor political management will continue to give fodder to the Super Hawks as has happened in case of General Durrani’s removal. But let us be clear that Durrani was removed for speaking out of place and not for being pro-American.

The retired generals and their friends in the media, cultivated from the coup-making days, will continue to talk about civilian treachery in the hope that their golden days of the 1990s would return when they could serve as caretaker ministers after accusing elected leaders of being security risks. But the serving military knows the real threats faced by Pakistan and it considers building democracy as crucial to strengthening the country. The politicians have learnt their lesson and it is obvious that none of the major political parties, including the PML-N wants to rock the boat at a time of grave threats to national security.

President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani, too, understand the need for working together. The policy of cooperation with the international community, including the United States, is the policy of the Pakistani state. Fighting terrorism is a priority of both the civilians and the military as is shutting down the operations of non-state actors that threaten the state. General Kayani and General Pasha have made their stance known but given their decision to withdraw the military from the political arena cannot make statements every day. That leaves us with some confusion sowed by the Super Hawks with their rumors and insinuations against officials’ patriotism and calls for inviting America’s (or for that matter India’s) wrath.

The Super Hawks claim that they are acting to protect national pride. In fact, all they are doing is distorting facts so that they can continue to benefit from Jihad Inc. After all, some of the most hawkish of the hawks are still sad that they lost highly paid sinecures from the Musharraf days while others want again to be the centre of attention as they were when their media reports against civilian leaders resulted in changes of government.

Sadiq Saleem is a businessman and part-time analyst based in Toronto, Canada. This article was published in The News January 10, 2009

The Pakistani State, Dominated by Military & Intelligence Services, Bear Ultimate Responsibility for Benazir Bhutto’s Murder

Benazir Bhutto is dead, martyred by a hired assassin’s bullets in the cause of the struggle for the rights of the people and in challenging the hegemony of a coterie of vested interests that is feeding itself off the sweat and blood of the people.

State minions have blamed the attack on Baitullah Mehsud, the Taliban Amir in Pakistan, a charge that has been duly denied. Clearly, one side is lying and, under the circumstances, the Musharraf regime’s spokesmen do not command any more credibility than Baitullah Mehsud’s spokesmen.

However, it cannot be disputed that it is the duty of the state to protect every citizen. And the state failed to protect a citizen who a vast multitude of people regarded as their leader and saviour and who was under threat — by official accounts as well. To this extent, at the very least, the Musharraf regime is responsible and liable. However, the direct responsibility of state functionaries cannot be ruled out altogether. The pattern of attempts at concealment, diversion, contradictions and concoction in the official responses to the October carnage at Karsaz in Karachi and the subsequent murderous attack at Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi constitute disturbing pointers.

One clear case of concoction is perhaps discernable, namely the transcript of the ‘conversation’ between Baitullah Mehsud and his ‘maulvi’ field commander. Technology exists to trace calls to its location within seconds. Israel routinely uses such technology to locate Hamas freedom fighters and surgically target the particular vehicle, even while it is moving. It appears that the Pakistan military possesses this technology, as shown by its ability to pick up the ‘conversation.’ That they were not able or willing to locate either the ‘maulvi’ or Baitullah Mehsud during their alleged minute-long conversation smacks of incompetence or connivance.

Incompetence and/or connivance has now emerged as a hallmark of the Musharraf regime in different areas of policy. Most recent is the case of Mullah Fazlullah in Swat. Media reports of the operation of an illegal radio station by the mullah had been appearing for more than a year. No attempt was made to jam the broadcasts, although the technology to jam radio signals — used even during the Second World War — was available to Pakistani authorities. Possession of this technology is now proved, given that such radio signals have been jammed since the launch of the military operation in Swat. The question arises: is the Swat episode indicative of incompetence or connivance?

Earlier, Pakistani forces battled militants entrenched in the Lal Masjid/Masjid-i-Hafsa complex, suffering several casualties and causing between several score to several hundred deaths among the students. The Lal Masjid episode too simmered for more than a year before coming to a head. The question that arose then, and which no state functionary has cared to answer to date, is: how is it that the Ghazi brothers were able to amass sophisticated weaponry in the heart of Islamabad — a city where it is said that the number of intelligence operatives outnumber the total number of janitors, gardeners and taxi drivers combined? Once again, the question arises: is the bloody Lal Masjid episode indicative of incompetence or connivance?

Earlier still emerged the affair relating to Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan’s clandestine international operations in smuggling contraband nuclear equipment and material. The exposure of his illicit activities was made not by Pakistani authorities but by the United States. The official Pakistan explanation was that he was alone in running the smuggling ring and that Pakistani officials were neither involved nor aware.

Dr Qadeer Khan was a high-value national asset, protected by more than one high-powered security agency. Those who have experienced even one day of police escort know that the facility is double-edged. While the escort ostensibly provides protection, it also deprives the protected individual of a degree of privacy. That the nuclear scientist was able to carry out an international operation involving highly sensitive material — and allegedly use Pakistan Air Force C-130 planes to freight his wares around the world — without drawing the attention of his ‘escorts’ is inconceivable. Once again the question arises: is the Qadeer Khan episode suggestive of incompetence or connivance?

The issue of both, incompetence and connivance, is of critical importance. If incompetence is attributed to the above three cases — and they are by no means exhaustive — the implication is that the country has crossed the threshold of what defines a failed state. The government is unable to enforce its writ; it is unable to control illegal broadcasting stations; it is unable to stop the accumulation of weaponry at any location; it is unable to control individuals engaged in smuggling of dangerous materials; it is unable to protect the life and property of the citizens. By inference it should be considered unable to carry out the assigned task of assisting the United States in its war against terror.

Attribution of connivance is more worrisome. If the events of Swat, Lal Masjid and nuclear smuggling have been allowed to simmer or continue with the connivance of state functionaries, the implication is that there is a coterie of powerful individuals within the corridors of power who consider themselves above the law — national or international — and unaccountable to any principle or institution save their own definition of interests.

The demand for an international investigation into Benazir Bhutto’s assassination needs to be viewed in this context. It would be irresponsible to suggest that extra-legal operations are carried out under formal governmental auspices. However, the repeated and prolonged suspension of constitutional processes and the rule of law have created extra-constitutional and extra-legal power centers. These shadowy centers, embedded within and around the state apparatuses, have spawned a wide network of criminal and terrorist cells. This is an extremely dangerous situation. If the state allows itself to be manipulated outside the bounds of law, the implication is that it has allowed itself to be criminalized. If such a state closes its eyes to some of its functionaries — or those outside but close to power centers — collaborating with international or local smugglers, criminals, militants or terrorists, it can be suspected that this collaboration will at some future date extend to a wider range of criminal and terrorist activities in the country and abroad. The dangers inherent for civilized society in Pakistan and for the world community at large need to be recognised.

Clearly, substantive remedial measures are called for. If the murder of Benazir Bhutto is attributable to incompetence, there emerges an urgent imperative for correcting the failed state syndromes. If it is attributable to connivance, the corridors of power need to be cleaned up. In particular, the cobwebs shrouding sinister Ziaist forces in secret cells have to be cleared and the extra-constitutional and extra-legal power centers dismantled.

Full restoration of the rule of law is in the interest of the political community and civil society in Pakistan if other political or civic leaders are not to be subjected to the threat of elimination. It is in the interest of the international community to help the people of Pakistan restore the rule of law if Pakistan is not to become the focal point for lawlessness, criminality and terrorism worldwide.

With the Symbol of the Federation Dead, Sindh is Angry and Punjab is Not Helping

By Shaheen Sehbai

Deeply aggrieved, full of anger and passionately in mourning, Sindhis are baffled and confused at the strange reaction in Punjab, specially the ruling elite which has adopted an aggressively parochial attitude, not just against the PPP but against entire Sindh, after the death of Benazir Bhutto.

The accusations that large numbers of Punjabis have been forced to flee Sindh and become refugees in their province may help the PML-Q leaders rebuild their shattered election campaign but it is certainly not helping national unity and the cause of the federation of Pakistan.

A quick tour of the heart broken hinterland of Sindh, starting from Karachi to Jamshoro, Sehwan Sharif, Dadu, Larkana, Naudero, Garhi Khuda Bux, Sukkur, Khairpur, Nowshero Feroze, Moro, Hala, Hyderabad and back to Karachi by road, revealed many facets of the Bhutto murder fallout which cannot be imagined while sitting in cozy drawing rooms before TV sets.

It was quite baffling to note that while we were driving towards Larkana on the Jamshoro-Sehwan route, not one burnt vehicle was seen anywhere from near Karachi until we entered the constituency of Benazir Bhutto in Larkana, over 250 miles away, where we saw a skeleton of a bus. Neither could we see any burnt banks or buildings on this route.

But strikingly on our way back from Sukkur to Hyderabad, the damage was evident but not as widespread as was being reported or projected to be. Some 100 trucks, buses and very small number of cars were still presenting the scene of a battlefield, especially in Moro and some other portions of the National Highway. A few banks on the main road were also visibly damaged.

But the interesting explanation we got by talking to residents and locals was that most of the damage all along the National Highway was in areas and constituencies which were not PPP strongholds and were either represented by Muslim Leagues or other breakaway PPP factions like the Jatois and others. Many gas and petrol stations were still totally undamaged while just in front of them, on the road, cars and buses had been burnt. The protestors were either not interested in burning some property or were cleverly selective in picking their targets.

At one point in front of a huge CNG station, which was intact, several vehicles were burnt but right across the road was a Rangers headquarter and no one seemed to have noticed the violence or done anything to stop it. When we crossed it the Rangers were being guarded by a police picket and van, odd as it may seem.

So when the majority PPP dominated areas were relatively quiet, how would the violence in non-PPP areas be explained. The PPP leadership, rank and file have a ready made explanation that the reaction was orchestrated to blame Sindh and PPP and it was exaggerated to suit the establishment to counter the wave of sympathy for the PPP. It looks somewhat obvious that such an explanation would be given by the PPP but the sudden regression of the pro-establishment section of the Punjab leadership into a parochial mode has lent a lot of credence to the Sindhis’ complaints.

Talking to the deeply disturbed and extremely nervous PPP leadership in Larkana, Naudero and Garhi Khuda Bux, the clear impression that emerges is not good news for the federation. Mr Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto made extra efforts in their early appearances before the media to send the message across that the PPP still wanted the federation, as it did when Benazir Bhutto was alive. But this message has been distorted by Punjab.

The creation of a refugee centre in the heart of Lahore was almost hitting the federation below the belt. Some of the Punjabi small businessmen, roadside gas station owners and hotel stops whom we met on our journey were highly critical of this Punjab move. One of them near Hala said he was always a PML voter but would now vote for the PPP as Punjabi leadership, especially close to the establishment, was unfair. He was safe and doing his business without any fear though he admitted that for four days after the Bhutto murder, he did not come out of the house or open his business. His hotel and shops had not been touched by anyone during the riots.

A PPP student wing leader in Larkana was specifically moved by the huge ads in newspapers from the PML which isolated Sindhis and spoke of large-scale migration from Sindh. “What do they want now that they have killed so many of our leaders? Do they want to push us into the sea. This is all rubbish and meant to fan hatred against Sindh for political gains,” he reacted.

The PPP leadership is having a bad time in the sense that they have been pushed to the wall and now fears they have to take on the establishment which they fear would be a disaster for the country.

Senior leaders candidly admit that the death of Benazir Bhutto has landed the party into a crisis but unity in the ranks and swift transition of power from Benazir to Asif Zardari has helped the party leaders and cadres focus on the real issue of winning the elections, helped by the sympathy wave.

One leader said it was challenging for Mr Zardari to get into the shoes of Ms Bhutto but since she had passed on the leadership to him in her will, the party had accepted the decision and quickly converted the street protests and violence into a determined electoral mission to win the elections.

But February 18 was the cut off date for all practical purposes and it was impossible for any PPP leader, including Mr Zardari, to show any soft corner for President Pervez Musharraf or the establishment before the elections.

“We have to decide that if Feb 18 turns out to be a fraud with us and the nation, what we have to do and this is not an easy decision but this decision cannot be put off any more,” said one leader. “And this time President Musharraf will have to accept all our demands without any precondition or bargaining because we have already paid the highest price that could be asked in any bargain.”

Senior PPP leaders do not believe that the establishment would go for the elections even on Feb 18, if the PPP wave continues, which it will. “They are not prepared to hand over power through the ballot box and unless they are in a position to either manipulate the result and contain the PPP or strike a deal on their terms, they would not agree to a poll,” one leader said. “But the PPP is not in a position to offer anything now. If Mr Musharraf wants a deal with the PPP, he will first have to hold a free and fair election without asking for anything in return. This risk he has to take, or otherwise take much bigger risks.”

This PPP sentiment is reflected at all levels of the leadership which is now gearing up to accept the coming challenges. Whatever doubts and suspicions people may have about Mr Zardari, he has now been catapulted into a position where he has very little room for maneuver or go against the general party sentiment. People want revenge and he has to lead the party into getting one.

“The PPP candidates have been decided by Benazir so those cannot be changed. The PPP leadership all over the country is in place so no particular Zardari men can be inducted. The election is just around and no one can risk intra-party infighting. The mourning has been successfully converted into a fury to take revenge at the ballot boxes so the party has been saved from disarray,” according to a senior leader.

This transition from protests and fury on the streets to revenge through democracy has been remarkably smooth. As we drove hundreds of miles in PPP and non-PPP territory, life had come to almost normal and only the remnants of the burnt out trucks, especially NLC containers and car-carriers, reminded us of the angry reaction. The first hurdle has successfully been crossed by the PPP, headed by Mr Zardari to control the people and turn them into highly motivated and committed workers.