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Old Sunday, December 19, 2010
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Default On celebration and introspection - Sher Afgan

On celebration and introspection

Sher Afgan


Two recent articles in The News (August 12 and August 24) have prompted me to comment on Independence Day celebrations. Let me begin by stating that the former is known to my family since 1958 when he was posted as Deputy Commissioner in Dera Ismail Khan; the latter is a friend from 1971, when the newly inducted officers of the Information Service of Pakistan (ISP), joined us in the Civil Service Academy – Lahore.

The contents of the article by the redoubtable Roedad Khan make for sombre and realistic reading and end on an optimistic note expressing the hope to get the country back on track. The fact that Khan was Information Secretary at the time does not necessarily make him solely responsible for the expulsion of foreign journalists from Pakistan — especially when the country was under martial law and decisions were being taken elsewhere.

Also, at a time when the new practice of embedded journalists has been introduced by the greatest democracy in the world, the 1971 action does not seem that draconian after all. Let me also mention that Roedad Khan is not known for lionising or projecting General Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan as was done in the case of General Pervez Musharraf when Mahmood was at the helm of the Information Ministry. As mentioned by the latter, limitations do exist on the freedom of action of senior bureaucrats working under military regimes, but keen observers have a fairly good idea about the degree of loyalty exhibited by some civil servants towards leaders of the day — whether they were legitimate or otherwise.

My friend Mahmood goes on to say that he does not agree with Khan’s contention that Pakistan’s independence is a myth. This can only be when one refuses to see the ground realities. What independence and sovereignty is being talked about when drone attacks are the order of the day and US civilian and military advisors come calling at will to accommodate their demands, disregarding Pakistan’s own long-term interests and stability of the region. In such an environment, what is there to celebrate anyway?

It is good that Mahmood has not taken issue with Khan’s scathing comments on our parliament and the case of failed leadership. He talks about the sacrifices made by our officers and soldiers. This is gratefully acknowledged. He, however, objects to Roedad Khan’s billing of the military action in Malakand and Swat as a proxy war. May one ask who has brought this war upon us? Is it not because of the NATO-ISAF action in Afghanistan? Are we not furthering the interests of the US? The brunt of this military action is being borne by the hapless and poor people of the NWFP. It can only accentuate the sense of alienation felt by the local population.

It is very pertinent to recall the meetings of former President Musharraf with the OIC leaders that I covered as Additional Secretary MFA, at the Doha Summit in November 2000. The former President would never tire of praising the Taliban for ushering in a period of stability and how unwise it would be to topple them. Such an action, he said, would bring back the days of warlordism and internecine warfare in Afghanistan, thus threatening the stability of the region. Perhaps he was clear about the consequences of dislodging the Taliban but could not say no to Colin Powell. Therefore, he readily agreed to facilitate America’s attack on Afghanistan. We are now reaping the consequences of the US action.

Mahmood writes that “retrospection and self-criticism is helpful only if they (these) are blended with a recipe for improvement.” His wise counsel has already been heeded by Roedad Khan when he clearly gives a recipe for improvement and writes that “today we need a leader who has the vision, the skill and the courage to pull Pakistan together as one nation and inspire the people. We need a president whose hands are clean and who has the capability to steer the ship of state through the rockiest shoals our country has ever known. Our nation has the heart of a lion. But who is there to give it the roar? Pakistan is not a case of failed state. It is a case of failed leadership.”

Let me end by saying that Roedad Khan took a leading part in the struggle for the restoration of the judiciary. He has a very clean reputation and a distinguished service record. He is a fearless person who speaks his mind even if it entails the censuring of the high priests of temporal power. People from the NWFP know that his late brother Raziq Khan was a leading light in Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s PPP, but this has not deterred him from being critical of the party’s leadership.

In my view Roedad Khan will not be remembered only as a great environmentalist of Islamabad as Mahmood has hinted in his article, but he will have a place in the pantheon of outstanding civil servants of Pakistan. Keep up the great work, Sir.
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