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Archive for August, 2008

Bapsi Sidhwa is the internationally acclaimed and award-winning author of five novels, including The Bride, The Crow-Eaters, and An American Brat. Her book, Cracking India, tells the story of India and Pakistan’s 1947 partition through the eyes of a young Parsi girl, Lenny, who was inflicted with polio. The novel, which won the NY Times Notable Book of the Year Award, was later adapted into the 1998 film Earth, directed by Deepa Mehta. In 1991, she was the recipient of the Sitara-i-Imtiaz award, Pakistan’s highest honor in the arts. Born to Parsi parents in Karachi, Sidhwa soon moved to Lahore. Bapsi Sidhwa currently resides with her family in Houston, Texas, although she returns to Pakistan often. Below, she tells CHUP what inspired her to write, how Pakistan has changed since Partition, and her opinion on the current state of women’s rights in the country.

Q: What inspired you to become a writer?

As a child, I read non-stop. When I went on my honeymoon to the Karakoram Highway, I heard this story of this little girl from the Punjab, who was taken across the Indus River into the un-administered territory. I was living in a little remote army camp at the time and they told me the story of how, after she’d been taken there, she had run away. And I realized in that area, she was obviously bought. And a runaway bride who is bought and the runs away is like stealing – the village chased her and killed her at the Indus. When I came back to Lahore, I wanted to tell her story [referring to her novel, The Bride] because I thought it reflected the lives of so many young girls in the Third World who have no control over their lives at all. And I also wanted to describe these absolutely gorgeous, mighty mountains and the mighty Indus River and what I saw there. I lived there in a state of [spiritual] exaltation because it was so beautiful and I felt that release of creativity to descibe my experiences, the people in the area, and the story of this girl. The novel wrote itself at this point. The writing of many of my novels [since then] have been instinctual.

Q: Your novel, Cracking India, was later made into the critically acclaimed film, Earth. Were u involved in the making of the film?

I was involved in the sense that I was there and I had a very good time. While everyone was working I was having a picnic and talking to the stars. They would shoot a scene and sort of look to me for approval. And in the very end, I appear briefly from a distance as the grown-up Lenny.

Q: The novel is ultimately about India and Pakistan’s Partition in 1947, but it also tells the story of Lenny, a young girl inflicted with polio from the Parsi community in Lahore. Given that you had very similar personal experiences, [Sidhwa, from a Parsi family, also contracted polio at a young age] how much of Lenny’s character is based on you?

Lenny is very different from me. If she was like me, I would have been very self-conscious and couldn’t have written the book because it would have become autobiographical. Someone once said that autobiography is always sort of a lie, whereas fiction has much more truth. You lose your inhibitions in fiction and you can therefore be more revealing. I was a very different child from the way I portrayed Lenny – that’s how I created distance from myself and that child. However, I did give her a lot of incidents from my life – like the polio, and I somewhat portrayed my parents, as I’ve done in most of my books. Some of the characters were people I knew while some are totally created.

People just did not talk about the kidnapping and the ravages that happened to women [during Partition], and it wasn’t until very much later when I did research while I was writing this book that I realized how many women were ravaged. And that became a center point in that book because at times of such anarchy, women seem to bear the brunt of the attack – they attack a woman because they are attacking a man’s honor. A woman is often used and misused for these purposes. A lot of Cracking India was imagination, research, and some of the memories I could build upon.

Q: You previously worked for the late PM Benazir Bhutto on the advisory committee on Women’s Development. Given this background as well as your experiences as a female writer, what do you think of the current state of women’s rights or gender affairs in Pakistan? How can the country progress on that front?

50% of the country has always been underprivileged and underutilized – so how can we really progress? What is happening with the Talibanization is really frightening [in the FATA and NWFP] – it’s scary because the brunt seems to fall on the women. When people talk of religion they often think in terms of “a woman shouldn’t do this or shouldn’t do that.” It’s not only Islam or in Islamic countries – in America the issue becomes the “woman doesn’t have right over her body,” etc. And in Pakistan, we go through a cycle of hope and despair. Right now we are in a place where we don’t know where we are headed.

Q: What would you advise the government?

Well they are not even functioning as a government as of yet. Let them function first, because even with Benazir, she didn’t have time to show herself there [on gender rights]. Naturally, its not easy to govern a country and address those issues. And although we tried at that time to weaken the Hudood Ordinances, none of the women in her cabinet had the power to do anything. The only person who did something was recently, when Pervez Musharraf under the Women’s Protection Act diluted the Hudood Ordinance. We must take away that whole Ordinance.

Q: You were in the country during the time of Partition in 1947. How has Pakistan changed since that time?

I was about eight years old then and my awareness during that period was the chant of the mobs. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but it was a threatening sound and I knew they were burning places and killing people. Our neighborhood totally changed, our Hindu neighbors went away. Although I have written about how the color of Pakistan changed later, at that time, of course, I was not as aware of what happened because I was very young. As I got older, [in the 1960s], I could go to college wearing a dress on my bicycle – but after that time, the country got more and more stern. Women are being restricted more and more.

To visit Bapsi Sidhwa’s official website, click here.

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An interesting update on the controversial Dr. Afia Siddiqui case, the Pakistani woman currently held on U.S. federal charges in New York but who is also suspected of being Prisoner 650, a prisoner-of-war who was held in U.S. prison in Afghanistan for the past few years, [see related posts]. Siddiqui allegedly disappeared in Karachi along with her three children in early 2003. Although Dr. Siddiqui only reappeared after her reported arrest in Afghanistan last month [she was accused of assaulting and attempting to kill U.S. officers], the whereabouts of her children were still unknown. However, the Daily Times reported today that U.S. authorities said an 11 year old boy who was captured with Siddiqui last month is her son Ahmed. According to the Washington Post, “The boy was detained July 18 when Afghan police arrested Siddiqui in what they described as a shootout near a government compound in Ghazni.”

The Daily Times cited Siddiqui’s attorney, Elizabeth Fink, who said that Siddiqui will petition a federal court to have Ahmed placed in the custody of her brother in Texas. Until then, human rights groups have responded strongly to news of Siddiqui’s young son in U.S. custody. In a press release, Human Rights Watch asserted, “Whether or not his mother is implicated in criminal acts, Ahmed Siddiqui should not be held responsible. Under both Afghan and international law, he is too young to be considered criminally responsible for his mother’s alleged acts.” Moreover, the organization “expressed concern not only for Ahmed Siddiqui, but also for two siblings, Mariam, age 10, and Suleman, age 5, who have been missing since March 2003.”

CHUP will continue to cover developments related to the Afia Siddiqui case. Her court hearing will continue on September 3, 2008 at 2:00 pm [EST] in New York City.

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The recent negative developments in Pakistan has dominated media coverage of the country, with headlines focusing on coalition splits, impeachment debates, and the deteriorating economic and security situation.  However, the inspirational work of the Pakistan Disabled Cricket Association (PDCA) merits an opportunity to highlight something positive that is occurring in the country. On Monday, the PDCA announced that it “hoped its first-ever national league would pave the way for more world recognition as they eye a tour to neighbouring India.” According to a piece by the AFP, “The PDCA has just staged the first eight-team National League, which Rawalpindi won by beating Multan by two wickets in the final in the southern port city of Karachi on Sunday night.” The association’s president, Salim Karim, told the news agency, “We think it’s a huge leap for us, and the first-ever league would help us form a strong Pakistan disabled team and (make) our dreams of touring India next year come true.”

Karim, who can barely walk, (his right leg was affected by polio as a child while a motorcycle accident seriously damaged his left leg), has been called “the driving force behind disabled cricket in Pakistan.” He, along with Ameerudin Ansari, a former cricketer, and Mohammad Nizam, established the PDCA in 2006 with a vision “to make all physically impaired people realize that they can live a life without any worries.”  Ansari previously noted about the cricketers, “They come on crutches but leave their support to show they can play and give a lesson to all those who believe that life in imparity is useless.” A separate news piece noted, “The determination to overcome their physical impediments is a common theme amongst the teammates and they play an important role in a country where health facilities and opportunities for disabled people are rudimentary at best.”

PDCA’s achievements have caught the eye of Pakistani cricket stars, including Younus Khan, who said he was amazed at the enthusiasm of the disabled cricketers. He told the AFP, “I am amazed at their courage and passion…I was behind forming the Peshawar team, and when we announced trials we thought some 10 to 20 players would come, but there were over 100 players in the trials.” Khan has urged both the International Cricket Council (ICC) as well as the media to take time out for the cause and contribute to its development. He emphasized, “It is eye-catching to see a player with just one hand hitting sixes, and that was on display during the league…I think ICC must support this type of cricket and give encouragement by arranging series for them.” Last month, Shoaib Malik, captain of the Pakistani national cricket team, also voiced his support for this cause, and called the formation of the PDCA, “a great achievement.”

The mission and work of the PDCA is significant because it allows us to look beyond these people’s handicaps and focus instead on their achievements. Howzzat for inspirational?

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Today, I ran across an interesting article in the Financial Times. Entitled, “Doubts Cast on Zardari’s Mental Health,” the FT’s Michael Peel and Farhan Bokhari reported, “Asif Ali Zardari, the leading contender for the presidency of nuclear-armed Pakistan, was suffering from severe psychiatric problems as recently as last year, according to court documents filed by his doctors.” The co-Chairman of the PPP was reportedly diagnosed “with a range of serious illnesses including dementia, major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder in a series of medical reports spanning more than two years.” Zardari, noted the FT writers, spent 11 of the last 20 years in Pakistani prisons, where he claimed he was tortured. The FT cited a NY-based psychiatrist, Phillip Satiel, who said in a March 2007 diagnosis that Zardari’s imprisonment had left him suffering from “emotional instability” and memory and concentration problems. [Image from the AP]

Despite this diagnosis last year, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan’s High Commissioner in London and a longstanding ally of the Bhutto family, told the FT yesterday that Zardari’s subsequent medical examinations and his doctors “declared him medically fit to run for political office and free of any symptoms.” He added,

You have got to understand that while he was in prison on charges that were never proven, there were attempts to kill him…At that time, he was surrounded by fear all the time. Any human being living in such a condition will of course suffer from the effects of continuous fear. But that is all history.

However, despite Hasan’s assertions, such reports of mental illness were publicized at a significant time – less than a week from today, Zardari is slated to run for the country’s presidential elections, a development that has sparked questions and skepticism among many Pakistanis, [so far, 78% of those who voted in yesterday's CHUP poll deemed "President Zardari" the worst decision for Pakistan]. In an op-ed in today’s Dawn, Kamran Shafi asserted,

Bad idea, Asif Zardari putting himself up for election as president, and worse, to do it without consulting the PML-N…Yes, sirs, a very bad idea indeed as Asif will find to his own and the party’s cost sooner rather than later with Nawaz Sharif stalking out of the coalition. It will be interesting to see how the PPP runs the country without the help of the next largest political party.

According to The News on Tuesday, Zardari, “who till Sunday was quite comfortable in the presidential race, has now certain hurdles to cross to clinch the top slot.” Following yesterday’s decision to exit the coalition, the PML-N announced its own presidential candidate will be former chief justice of Pakistan, Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, and media outlets have indicated the party is attempting to “woo” the PML-Q over to their camp.

Officially, the United States has been neutral in the contest over who succeeds Pervez Musharraf. However, a piece in today’s NY Times reported that Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations [and former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq], is facing angry questions from other senior Bush administration officials over what they describe as unauthorized contacts with Zardari. The Times noted, “Mr. Khalilzad had spoken by telephone with Mr. Zardari…several times a week for the past month until he was confronted about the unauthorized contacts.” U.S. officials, including Asst. Secretary of State for South Asia, Richard Boucher, reacted with outrage to such news, fearing such reports “could leave the impression that the United States is taking sides in Pakistan’s already chaotic internal politics.” [Image from the NY Times]

Ultimately, today’s developments – from reports of Zardari’s mental state to the PML-N’s presidential candidate – may show that the PPP co-Chairman’s ascendancy to the presidency will not be without its obstacles. As political infighting continues, other issues facing the country are ever-increasing. Media outlets reported the stock market reacted negatively to the recent political developments – slumping four percent on Tuesday, and severe load shedding in Karachi, Quetta, and Peshawar has drastically affected daily life and business activities.

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UPDATE [930 EST]: Media outlets reported Monday that former PM Nawaz Sharif announced he is withdrawing his party from the ruling coalition. The Associated Press reported, “Sharif said Monday that he is pulling out of the five-month-old alliance because it has failed to restore judges ousted by ex-President Pervez Musharraf.”

Original Post Below:

There was a great deal of speculation this weekend over the future of Pakistan’s ruling coalition government. On Saturday, PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari emerged as the party’s official candidate for the presidential elections next month, reported media outlets. Although an AFP report Saturday noted that PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif said “he was ready to accept” Zardari as president “if he does away with powers to dissolve parliament,” other media outlets, including Dawn and the UK’s Guardian, provided slightly different accounts. The Guardian reported, “Nawaz Sharif, leader of the other major party in the coalition, is furious that he was not consulted over Zardari’s bid for the presidency.” Dawn noted in its coverage, “Nawaz linked his party’s support for Zardari’s candidacy “to the restoration of the judiciary by Monday and also called upon the government to repeal the 17th Amendment [slashing the presidency's powers] before the presidential elections.”

However, such demands are unlikely to be fulfilled, “putting the future of the coalition at stake within a week after the ouster of president Pervez Musharraf.” The Associated Press cited an aide to Nawaz, Pervez Rashid, who told the news agency Sunday that “general opinion” in the PML-N “favored an exit from the coalition and that party leaders would meet on Monday to decide.” Moreover, noted the AP, a PML-N leader, Javed Hashmi, indicated that “he was willing to run in the Sept. 6 election to succeed Musharraf if his party asks him to.” Currently, news sources have implied that Zardari “is almost certain” to win the presidential election, since his party has the required votes in parliament to get him elected. However, a collapsing coalition will surely complicate the already volatile political environment in the country.

With nomination papers for the September 6 election due Tuesday, much hinges on Monday’s judiciary deadline and the slated PML-N meetings [on whether or not to exit the coalition]. A PML-N spokesperson said Sunday, “There is no need for the party to be part of the coalition government, if one party is taking decisions unilaterally.” For further coverage of this developing story, watch this space.

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On Thursday, two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside of Pakistan’s main army munitions factory, killing 59 people, reported the Associated Press. News sources (as is expected after major attacks) varied in their reports of casualties and few identified which group perpetrated the bombings. However, the Associated Press, Reuters, BBC News and Dawn all reported the attackers were from the Pakistani Taliban. According to Dawn’s coverage, “Pakistani Taliban militants have warned in recent days that they would launch attacks on the military in revenge for an ongoing army operation in the troubled tribal region of Bajaur on the Afghan border.” Speaking to the BBC, Mullah Omar, the spokesman of the Tehreek-e-Taliban [the umbrella organization headed by Beitullah Mehsud] further affirmed that today’s bombings were in retaliation for the deaths of “innocent women and children” in Bajaur. The news agency added, “He said more attacks would take place in Pakistan’s major urban conurbations unless the army withdrew from the tribal areas.”

Today’s bombings, noted the AP, “hit one of Pakistan‘s most sensitive military installations”  and was framed by news agencies as, “the deadliest attack on a military installation in the country’s history.”  The factory is located in the town of Wah, located just 18 miles outside of the capital, Islamabad. Wah, the BBC noted, “is a strategically important town normally under heavy security as it is home to a large industrial complex producing conventional arms and ammunition.” Reuters also quoted Mullah Omar, who justified today’s attack by asserting, “The Wah factory is a killer factory where arms are being produced to kill our women and children.”  

Officials tell news agencies that casualties are likely to rise. Just prior to the bombings, PM Yousaf Raza Gilani had appealed to Pakistani lawmakers to urgently draw up a national strategy against terrorism “even if you have to sit together for a week.” Addressing a ceremony for police officials who received counterterrorism training through the U.S. State Department, the PM said, “The threat that we are facing today has no precedent…Our enemy lurks silently within our society. This is our war.” Today’s attacks therefore, should further affirm such commitment. It should also emphasize to Pakistanis that a fight against terror within our own borders is not a U.S.-driven policy, but a strategy by our government and the military for the protection of its people. A successful anti-militancy policy will therefore not only require the support of the Pakistani people, but also a coordinated effort by both the government and its security forces. Only then can we have any hopes of success. [Image from BBC News]

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According to the Associated Press today, a major opposition party, the Muttahida-Qaumi Movement (MQM) voiced their backing for PPP co-Chairman, Asif Ali Zardari to become Pakistan’s next president, “as the power struggle following the resignation of Pervez Musharraf intensified.” The news agency added,

Zardari has played down speculation that he covets the top job. However, opposition backing will strengthen his hand in a struggle with coalition partner Nawaz Sharif over a compromise candidate to fill the post and the even more urgent issue of restoring judges purged by the former army strongman.

The AP cited a leader of the MQM, Haider Razvi, who said the party “wanted Zardari as president because of his past sacrifices and for his ‘wisdom and vision’ in handling Musharraf’s ouster.” The official advocated the next president be from outside Punjab, and noted that Zardari – a Sindhi – was “most eligible” for the job. The MQM, added the news agency, “dominates Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city, and other urban areas in the southern province of Sindh and recently buried its long animosity with Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party.”

An article released by Geo TV’s website today reported that Zardari thanked MQM chief Altaf Hussein for his “positive role during the political developments over the last few days.” In a statement released Wednesday, Zardari asserted, “I am thankful to all democratic forces including MQM that helped coalition government achieve key objective of forcing President Musharraf to resign.”

As speculation over Pakistan’s next president is likely to increase, news of clashes within the coalition government continues. According to the NY Times on Wednesday, “Political order in Pakistan frayed further on Tuesday, the day after President Pervez Musharraf resigned, raising questions about who in the deeply divided civilian government would be in charge and for how long.” The news agency added:

The instant deterioration in relations within the government became evident when Nawaz Sharif, the leader of one of the two major parties in the governing coalition, the Pakistan Muslim League-N, walked out of a meeting here over the restoration of the chief justice of the Supreme Court, who had been dismissed by Mr. Musharraf. He then headed back to his home in Lahore, a four-hour drive away.

An article in The News today seemed to affirm these reports. According to the piece, “Because of the recurrence of their [the PPP and PML-N] differences on the judges issues, the situation at one stage was so tense between the two leading coalition partners that some of those present in the meeting room of the Zardari House feared that the coalition might collapse sooner than later.” Dawn, in its coverage, echoed that coalition leaders failed to resolve their differences on the judiciary restoration, since both sides “refused to relax” their stance on the issue. The news agency added, “Sources told Dawn that Awami National Party president Asfandyar Wali Khan saved the day for the coalition by offering to play the role of a mediator between the two parties.”

What exactly is the issue over the judiciary? While Nawaz Sharif centered his political campaign around the reinstatement of the judges suspended by Musharraf, particularly Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Zardari “has made it clear that he does not want Mr. Chaudhry back on the bench,” noted the NY Times. The news agency added, “He prefers the chief justice installed by Mr. Musharraf after he imposed emergency rule in November, Abdul Hamid Dogar.” Given the iconic status of Chaudhry for the lawyers’ movement, compromising on his reinstatement seems unlikey. In fact, noted the Times, the movement regards Mr. Dogar as an illegal appointee. However, noted the news agency, “Mr. Dogar comes from Sindh Province, Mr. Zardari’s political base, and the two men are friendly.” [Image from Dawn]

Zardari’s reported unease with reappointing Chaudhry lies in the fear that the chief justice might undo an amnesty agreement that absolved the PPP co-chairman of corruption charges, part of a package arranged by Musharraf when Zardari returned to Pakistan with his late wife, former PM Benazir Bhutto. Such a development would of course complicate Zardari’s reported aspirations for the presidency.

Although officials like the ANP’s Asfandiyar Wali Khan and Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States Hussain Haqqani have played down the disputes between coalition members, it seems we may be headed towards yet another political deadlock, a development that has serious ramifications for the future of this government. That is, of course, unless a miraculous compromise is reached during the next coalition meeting, slated to take place Friday. Dawn reported today that the ANP leader and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman “are expected to come up with a solution” for that session.

Meanwhile, the security situation remains increasingly volatile. According to media coverage, a suicide attack in the FATA region Tuesday, for which the [Pakistani] Taliban claimed responsibility, killed 32 people and wounded 55 in Dera Ismail Khan, a town near Waziristan. The NY Times cited a police chief who said the bombing “was part of continuing sectarian strife between Sunni and Shiites.” Many of the dead were Shiites, media sources reported, although two police officers were also killed in the attack. The NY Times also reported, In another unexpected move after Mr. Musharraf’s resignation, the chief of staff of the Pakistani Army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, visited the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Tuesday…the first time the Pakistani general had attended a meeting of the commission in Kabul since assuming command of the Pakistani military in November.” [Image from NY Times]

How do issues related to security and economic problems factor into the political environment? Simple - The longer this coalition government argue over the current judiciary issue, the more distracted they are from these other problems. Moreover, a fracture in the coalition, as has occured in the past, would create a power vacuum that would inevitably have dangerous repurcussions for Pakistan’s volatile political, economic and security environment.

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News of President Pervez Musharraf‘s surprise resignation yesterday prompted many media outlets and people to ponder the question, “What next?” The overwhelming response to Monday’s development motivated me to sift through the various assessments of the president’s exit.

From the Western Press:

The NY Times editorial discussed the challenges currently facing Pakistan’s coalition government in the wake of Musharraf’s exit, including choosing the next civilian president and tackling the security problem. The editors asserted, “For seven years, the Bush administration enabled Mr. Musharraf — believing that he was the best ally for the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. He never delivered on that promise. And Pakistan’s people deeply resent Washington for propping up the dictator. With Mr. Musharraf finally out of the picture, it is time to focus American policy on his dangerous and dangerously neglected country.”

A feature piece in today’s Washington Post reported that Musharraf’s resignation “signaled the beginning of a new round of political uncertainty.” The news agency added, “…with the country’s economy at an all-time low and a radical Islamist insurgency based in the country’s tribal areas gaining in strength, the civilian coalition faces challenges that will not be easily or quickly sorted out.” An op-ed piece in the Washington Post by Ahmed Rashid also echoed this sentiment. Rashid, a Pakistani journalist and recent author of Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, emphasized:

Three of Pakistan’s past four military rulers have been driven from power by popular movements, but the politicians who followed the military all failed to take advantage of the people’s desire for democracy and economic development and were eventually forced out by the military on charges of corruption and incompetence.

Will that occur? While Rashid does not explicitly predict that history will repeat itself, he did note, “Most Pakistanis see the coalition government as the country’s last chance for democracy, and they want it to work.” However, the coalition must work hand in hand with the Pakistani army and the international community to begin tackling the country’s real problems and not succumb to the political wrangling we have seen too often in the past.

The Wall Street Journal’s Mary Kissel questioned whether the “young coalition government can consolidate a wobbly democracy” in the aftermath of Musharraf’s resignation from office. In the six months since the February 2008 elections, Kissel noted the coalition has “performed poorly, especially in dealing with the growing jihadist insurgency.” Moreover, she added, the political risk is having economic effects – from the weakening Pakistani rupee to the stock market plunging over 30% since April. With inflation at nearly 24% and unemployment increasing, the government must tackle these issues, and soon. However, Kissel wrote, “Without a strong democracy, Pakistan will continue to swing from civilian to military to civilian control, never finding the moderate middle ground its people deserve. To get the process rolling, the new government needs to move quickly to show that it is competent at basic governance. Getting serious about fighting the war on terror is an essential first step.”

The UK’s Guardian included an op-ed by Kamila Shamsie, entitled, “Musharraf Was the Last to Read the Writing on the Wall.” She wrote, “Although he [Musharraf] has finally bowed out – there remained no other option once both the army and the U.S. refused to back his bid to stay in power – Pakistan is not really in any condition to be euphoric. Suicide bombings are rampant, the Taliban have control over parts of the country, and the economy is in free fall. To add to this, Zardari and Sharif have given the nation ample reason in the past to deeply mistrust their governance.” Shamsie added,

In fact, so great is their unpopularity that there exists a vociferous segment of Pakistani society that continues to believe that Musharraf was the better option – “This is Pakistan, not Oz,” a friend angrily wrote to me when I voiced approval of Musharraf’s departure. She meant that in a fairytale world democracy might be an ideal solution, but the corruption and infighting of Pakistan’s democratic leaders still made Musharraf the better choice.

According to the BBC News’ Ilyas Khan, however, there is one big reason the two coalition leaders, Zardari and Sharif, cannot afford to fail in Musharraf’s wake – “Both have been victims of military coups in the past, and it is only through joint action that they can hope to survive another attempt by Pakistan’s powerful military to keep a civilian government under its influence.”

From the Pakistani Press:

The News’ assessment of Musharraf’s farewell speech was critical. The editorial asserted,

His speech on this occasion, bordering towards the end on the maudlin, explains a great deal of what went wrong. Not because the many allegations leveled by Musharraf against the elected government are accurate; nor because, he, as he claims, is the nation’s sole savior, but because his assessment of his tenure contains so much evidence of delusion and a refusal to acknowledge that one man alone cannot have a monopoly on altruism and good intention.

His departure, noted The News, also “brings with it great hope.” The editors added, “… now that the field has been cleared, the alleged conspiracies that hampered governance ended, it is time for the elected government to show people their ballots were not wasted. The coalition partners must demonstrate they are capable of insightful leadership, political wisdom and can live up to the task of guiding the country onwards along the path of progress.”

The Nation also welcomed the end of Musharraf’s tenure in office, but noted, “After Musharraf’s exit, the ruling coalition will have to accept the responsibility of running the government because from now on it would not be able to find anyone else to shift the blame for its failures. Its first test will be the nomination of the new President and the faster it can find a candidate, who is acceptable to a broad spectrum of political and social circles, the quicker it can move on to tackling other challenges.”

What is incontestable, echoed today’s Dawn editorial, “is that the country must move on from this crisis quickly.” The news agency added, “the four-party coalition at the center told the country in no uncertain terms that governance would be impossible in the shadow of President Musharraf.” Although the issues seem clear, the solutions appear more elusive. However, noted Dawn, the politicians must show the same purpose and focus in dealing with these problems that they have demonstrated in taking on the president.”

Many predicted Musharraf’s eventual exit, including those at the Daily Times. All in all, the editors noted, his announcement yesterday was “a good swan song,” adding, “He was in control of himself, he was confident and assured, neither bitter nor crowing. He did not fumble even in extempore mode, a remarkable achievement in view of the charged environment and subject of his speech.” While the news agency did note the president’s negative achievements in office, they did acknowledge the positive things he accomplished. The editorial noted, “One ugly blowback in the post-Musharraf period may be the rolling back of some of the good he did. One hopes that this will not happen. Politicians will not have the luxury of blaming him any more. His legacy is undeniably there and the good that he did must stand, even though this is too emotional and passionate a moment to dwell on it with any degree of objectivity.”

From the Pakistani Blogosphere:

Pakistanis blogged furiously following the announcement of Musharraf’s resignation. Adil at All Things Pakistan presented four critical questions that must be addressed in the aftermath of Monday’s development, including Who will be the next President of Pakistan, When will the judges be restored, What is the future of the ruling coalition, and What about the survival issues of the Pakistani awam? The answers the coalition government come up with “will impact what happens to Pakistan politics as well as what happens to Pakistan’s political leadership itself,” he noted.

AKS at Five Rupees praised Musharraf’s “last hurrah,” noting the speech “was a rather balanced and conciliatory affair, which says a lot about the man.” He added, “Musharraf came off as a man proud of his achievements, a patriot who was sincere with the country; this farewell speech will certainly help in remedying Musharraf’s lately tainted reputation.” His departure, however, has created a “massive political vacuum and only time will tell us how effectively this is filled. In the mean time.”

According to Teeth Maestro, the bottom line “is that Musharraf is out – that’s naturally one hurdle that needed to be crossed…” However, he added, “Zardari is in – now that’s one thing I mourn – Run for the hills – the cats out of the bag.” The blogger asserted, “Pakistan now needs to hold strong, it is genuine honest Pakistanis that need to get together and rebuild Pakistan - we cannot continue to be held hostage by corrupt leaders and dictators who walk away when they are done cleansing our country – history repeats itself for the umpteenth time when our leaders get up and walk out of the country when its a sordid mess.”

In the Pakistani Spectator‘s opinion, the next four months leading up to December are crucial. Farid Masood added, “Leadership must avoid political confrontation, as this time is to sacrifice many things for the nation and the country.”

So essentially, it’s over. Musharraf has stepped down. And, I, like many others who have assessed this situation (as seen above), are relieved that the coalition government can no longer use the president’s presence as an excuse anymore. Political wrangling must be put aside to tackle the issues that are actually important to the country and the Pakistani people: the economy, the militancy problem, the restoration of the judiciary, to name just a few. Otherwise, the witch hunt is likely to ensue once again. [Image from the AFP]

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CHUP on BBC World Radio

I was really honored to take part in a dynamic discussion today on BBC Radio’s “World Have Your Say” program, where the topic was, “Will the world be a more dangerous place now that Musharraf is gone?”  The discussion started off a bit catty with PPP politician Syeda Abida Hussain insulting my accent and saying my name wrong (for the record, I somehow got my accent from being in the international school system in Pakistan and was unable to lose it), but I think some of the points made by the callers were interesting. Anyway, visit this link and download the episode for August 18 near the bottom of the page to listen.

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