Monday, December 24, 2007

Who will lead the New Pakistan Freedom Movement of Jinnah?

(Courtesy Information Press

By Ayesha Khan

At his book launch in New York, Pervez Musharraf mocked a definition of democracy which was fixated on elections, praising himself instead for initiating a free press and stressing the importance of institution-building. Yet, barely a year later, there has been a merciless attack on the vital organs of the Pakistani state that could nurture a sustainable democracy, as the Mush regime desperately seeks an electoral exercise to validate its illegal actions.

Few have pinned hopes on the January 2008 parliamentary elections as a means to enhance participatory governance. To the contrary, the will of the people is perhaps best represented by those who have opted for a boycott. As the two sides emerge, on the one hand, the high and mighty bullet-proof elite deciding to contest, and on the other hand, the lawyers, accessible to the masses, jailed with the masses and boycotting for the masses. It is an interesting phenomenon and one that deserves our further attention.

In 1986 - the year that a single, young Benazir had come to Pakistan to stand for change and battle the harsh General Zia-ul-Haq - I was a schoolgirl in Islamabad fascinated by the prospect of a woman becoming Prime Minister in a Pakistan where PTV newscasters were fired for a mere slip of the dupatta and the late Nazia Hassan was banned from television for swaying to a rhythmic number she sang.

In November of that year, I could not believe my luck when I reached Islamabad Airport and discovered that Benazir Bhutto was on my Lahore-bound flight. In the departure lounge, she was surrounded by a crowd of burly men, so I, desperate for her autograph, planned to dodge the PIA stewardess in-flight and trespass from economy into business so that I could obtain the much-desired inscription. But once I boarded the aircraft, I realised that Ms. Bhutto, like me, was flying economy and was seated just a few rows from me.

There was a feeling of resurgence in the economy cabin of the airplane that day, a notion of people power, of a leader travelling with the public for a common cause. A sensation that we in economy class were better off than those up front, in the wider business seat with greater leg room and better food, because Benazir Bhutto had chosen us over them.

How much has changed since then. How many hopes dashed. On short-hop trips to Dubai, Ms. Bhutto is whisked away in Bentleys from the tarmac. Luxury bullet-proof vehicles are imported or gifted into Pakistan from elitist sheikhdoms ahead of the Bhuttos and Sharifs. Not surprisingly, they are contesting elections. They have much to gain from the status quo, not to mention the alluring prospect of chartered state airplanes for Hajj and Umrah visits.

Contrast that with the lawyers’ movement. A beleaguered Aitzaz Ahsan carries the dual burden of not just lead counsel but also chauffeur to the Chief Justice of Pakistan. They travel in a 1994 Pajero with no fanfare, no motorcade, certainly no VIP movement inconveniences. Only common folks line the streets, in solidarity, for commonality of purpose, dancing to the beat of independence.

On the day that they advance to the Election Commission to file nomination papers for Justice (R) Wajihuddin Ahmed and contest those of Pervez Musharraf, the collective leadership of the lawyers’ movement marches in unison with civil rights advocates. The esteemed Muneer A. Malik, Tariq Mehmood, Ali Ahmad Kurd and others, who have protested on principle, make no attempt to distinguish themselves from the masses that follow them. They bear batons, bricks and police brutality, humbly, for the greater good of the Pakistani nation. They display to us that public service is an honour and privilege, but not a birthright.

Not far from them, are the ministers in a fleet of tinted-glass Mercedes. They travel speedily, restricting the movement of all other lesser humans in their wake. As they approach, doors to the Election Commission fling open, and hastily, they dash in, from one air-conditioner to another. Their purpose is to show solidarity with the ruling General. As they exit, a sit-in of angry media persons victimised by the police blocks their way. But how can unarmed civil society compete with the powerful Mercedes tires willing to trample over any average citizen standing in its way?

Protests continue but the bullet-proof few remain safely secluded, exclusively comfortable in their bubble. Every now and then, they fashionably offer twisted examples from American history to justify their pitiless treatment of the commoners. The contrast between the two sides is so glaring that even some of the more dubious sympathisers of the lawyers’ movement reluctantly acknowledge its popularity. After a number of undecided editorials and Wall Street Journal pieces that read as if written by a Musharraf loyalist rather than an objective analyst, Najam Sethi, in a recent piece, finally gives Aitzaz Ahsan the credit he deserves. For a change, I find myself in agreement with Mr. Sethi when he makes the point that much of the goodwill Mr. Ahsan has cultivated may be eroded if the necessary steps are not taken to channel this positive energy into an independent political movement.

Aitzaz Ahsan is uniquely placed to lead such a purist political party. That he is one of Pakistan’s best legal minds is without question. But, there is more good news. His decision to boycott is not the first time he has taken a principled stand. He refused to join government service during General Ayub Khan’s military rule, even though he stood first in the CSS exam. Later, he resigned from the PPP under protest when police opened fire on a lawyers’ rally demonstrating against the alleged rigging of elections by the PPP. As a competent and sincere man, he is not insecure, and therefore likely to encourage other great minds to work with him. More importantly, he is also a symbol of unity in a painfully divided Pakistan. With support in all provinces and bar rooms across the country, he appeals to conservative and liberal alike.

Lately, he has been recognised globally, with The Seattle Times reporting in a profile piece, for instance, that the “biggest threat to Musharraf stands 5-foot-7.” It is not just 38 American Senators who have called for Aitzaz Ahsan’s release, but also human rights activists Tighe Barry and Medea Benjamin, heartlessly deported from Pakistan without due process of law. In a recent Washington Post article, Mr. Ahsan teams up with U.S. Congressman John Tierney, asking both Musharraf and Bush critical questions. He is clearly cognisant of the fact that we face a global struggle if we try to bring about a new world order. It appears he will not shy away from that struggle or bow down to influential external actors, but is willing to join with Pakistanis and non-Pakistanis alike to bring about effective and meaningful change.

There is only one problem, however. Aitzaz Ahsan is still officially a member of the PPP. The PPP was once undoubtedly an “anti-status quo” party. It was also once a socialist party that attracted liberal, left-leaning Pakistanis. But failed promises and opportunism have left the people searching for suitable alternatives. The fact that Mr. Ahsan is President of the Supreme Court Bar Association and a member of the PPP did not initially present a problem. After all, Mohammad Ali Jinnah had held joint membership of the Congress and the Muslim League for six years, and between 1916 and 1919, he was President of the Muslim League and still a Congress Party member. But there came a point when the conflict of interest surpassed other conditions. That’s why Mr. Jinnah had to choose and he chose the League and went on to do great things for the Muslims of the South Asian subcontinent.

A boycott call by Aitzaz Ahsan is a step in the right direction. I trust that, like M.A. Jinnah, he too will announce his choice soon and lead Pakistan to a better future.

[Ms. Ayesha Ijaz Khan - a lawyer, author and human rights activist - is a Member of the Pakistan Justice Forum (PJF) - - of the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) based in London, UK.]

Details on Legal Relief Fund

Lawyers' who spoke out to protect our constitution have been hardest hit in this hour of trial since November 3rd. Their crime being making the effort to uphold the rule of law and reminding everyone of their fundamental rights and the way these have been usurped over the years. The lawyers' biggest crime has been to raise a voice against wanton destruction of a pillar of the state, the judiciary.

They have borne the brunt of state repression as a result. Cases are arbitrarily being decided against these lawyers' clients to put further financial pressure on them. There are still many in Sahiwal who have been physically abused with lasting burn and other injuries. Several other stories can be told of lawyers' suffering from almost every city of the country.

An account has been opened to host a relief fund to help members of the legal community who are facing hardships. This account is operated under the supervision of luminaries such as Justice Wajeehuddin Ahmed and Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid among others.

Account details:

Bank: Habib Bank Limited
Branch: Sind High Court Branch (branch code 0606)

Account Title: Legal Relief
Account number: 0606-7900027203

For international funds transfer (wire transfer):

Swift code: H A B B P K K A A 0 0 7

Cash donations in Pakistan:

Simply visit any HBL Branch nearest you and give account details (as above) and send money using the bank's facility. In case of any problems, reply to this email and ask for instructions.

Cash donations outside Pakistan:

Simply collect the money and send wire transfer direct to the fund using swift code given above. No intermediaries required.

Let us know the amount sent so that we can confirm whether it has been received in the account. The reason we will do this is because, occasionally, State Bank of Pakistan stops a few remittances and you will never get to find out unless you ask from your local bank.

Formation of Student Action Committee in Karachi

After the huge success of SAC chapters in Lahore and Islamabad, SAC is looking for students, lawyers, doctors, and other members of the civil society in Karachi who can assist in the formation of a Student Action Committee Chapter in Karachi. For this reason one of the SAC members from Islamabad is in Karachi and will be holding meetings with people there. If you are interested in assisting the formation of SAC here please get in touch with S.K. He can be contacted at 0300 5599085 for the next few days.

The NAB Diaries - Part One

Courtesy Teeth Maestro (

By Amer Nazir

My name is Amer Nazir. I live in exile in London. It is a forced exile. I left Pakistan as soon as NAB took my name off the Exit Control List after a period of three years. If I had not left, probably I would have also disappeared forever like my best friend Ahmed Shujaudin – a leading architect.

God willing and the Teeth Maestro permitting, I intend to write about my journey from a modest middle-class background to one of the top IT entrepreneurs of Pakistan before I fell to the extent that I became homeless. Once a familiar face in the so-called corporate social circles in Karachi it came to a point where no one was willing to take my phone call – after all, I was a NAB accused. I was never to be convicted but it did not matter. The logic was straight forward. If Shuja had been kidnapped then surely Shuja must have done something terrible to cause it or else at least deserve it…

The scope of these four narrations hopefully to be published during the next four weeks is to narrate a very brief account of my business journey, my labor of love, after a briefest possible introduction of myself, the major space will be given to my NAB experience, the actual inside account, and the behavior and the attitude of our kings of the castle.

The hope is that some of you may see a part reflection of your own lives in this account and it may perhaps help you in some way. Another hope is that once it reaches the Free World and once fully investigated the world will realize that the common Pakistanis have never had the chance and that they deserve an honest break. There is also this hope to try and shame the shameless. And last but not least, and though it is a long shot, perhaps even Musharraf may realize the extent of damage he has done. He may finally understand, that although it is true for every institution, but especially when it comes to matters of justice, a self-designed system, a crude accountability set-up which is from day one formed on principles that are outside universally accepted rule of law – is soon bound to become abusive and corrupt itself…

For the non-Pakistanis, NAB is the acronym for The National Accountability Bureau. The flag ship of Musharraf. The main reason he gave for assuming power. He said that the nation had become too corrupt. NAB is composed of serving and retired army officers with unlimited powers. They are answerable to none. Present in every major city, each NAB office has a jail within its compound where prisoners are kept without any possibilities of bail. Some of them picked up from the streets, most from their beds at dawn. Several have died during interrogations…

And lastly, my narration will detail how a proud Pakistani was forced to claim asylum in his wife’s homeland. Who although married to a British national for twenty years had never applied for the British nationality and had instead sponsored his wife for the Pakistani nationality instead…

I belong to an educated middle-class family which never had sufficient savings in the bank. I studied in Cathedral School and then Cadet College Hasanabdal and finally Government College Lahore. Now in retrospect, when one has a 20 by 20 vision, I think I was naive from the outset. I was not ready to compromise. I could never reconcile to the fact that I could actually be less than any high and mighty that I came across. I rejected constraints. I could do anything… as long as nature was just…

And then however it happened, starting from a salary of Rs. 1800 after graduation, I eventually became the Founding Director of Hi-Tech Business Machines at the age of twenty-four and few years later it’s Chief Executive. This company was the first IBM dealer in Pakistan and it later re-launched Compaq in the country as well. With offices in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad it employed 100 personnel which were to increase to 250 over the years.

Hilinks Pak was my next venture which launched the first international portal from Pakistan that was accessed in 56 countries. The first cyber based financial instrument the e-card was also launched by this company prior to Citibank. The next milestone was the first Telco-grade ISP in Karachi called Hinet which had twenty-five thousand users before it was forcibly closed down one day.

Collectively, the companies were called the E-Tech Group of companies. This set-up was the only one of its kind in the country. With an ISP, a hardware and software company, and an advertising company in the portfolio, and with products such as a portal and an e-card about to be granted credit and debit function by participating banks – all this enabled the group to conduct the first B2B and B2C transactions in Pakistan in local currency. Along with many other firsts in the market, the Group also successfully managed remote trading for the first time on Karachi Stock Exchange on a trial basis. It was already providing access to KSE at zero delay free of cost to the visitors on with the assistance of Reuters.

The final glory of the group was the mutual co-branding of the e-card and the PIA frequent flyer card with PIA. This was announced in a press conference by the COO of PIA and myself. We had already re-launched the PIA site and had signed an agreement that gave the E-Tech Group rights to sell PIA cargo space and passenger seats on-line and on a worldwide basis, manage the last minute auction of seats, and establish the PIA call centre. Several international travel related industry partners including hotels and banks showed their interest to join the alliance which would have brought PIA at par with modern airlines in terms of customer services. It is worthwhile to note here that the E-Tech Group did not charge any fee to PIA for the services rendered. All profits were based on new and increased revenue streams because of the turn key solutions that we had offered to implement. In fact, the group saved PIA one million dollars to start with which otherwise would have gone to a foreign company when it linked the sabre system with the frequent flyer database.

And this was the stage when NAB came in… and since then PIA has struggled to follow the vision that we gave them… the actual outcome of which is for the people to judge themselves.

A burning ambition is an excitement that does not let you be. It sets you out on strange adventures. On a lonely path that promises great fortunes in terms of wealth, satisfaction, and recognition. The concept of being self-made seems as the ultimate prize, a dream – at the risk of waking up one dreary morning to discover that it is at best only a rationalisation which is suppose to somehow justify the precious time that has gone by unnoticed, when it may even seem like a half-hearted consolation, perhaps even self-deception, with the rewards coming too late if they do come at all and when too much cost has already been paid in advance. And yet the yearning of a good life, of a purposeful and eventful life can still be felt in the wake. Even when one is forced to think that perhaps inherited wealth is the only solution – that it is the only wealth that can be truly enjoyed since it may not demand much sacrifice or responsibility… but yet there will remain people like me who will never draw a line, who will never learn, who will never be content with whatever they are born into, and they will still attempt, they will do it all over again no matter what the cost until the very end…

I did manage to have my share of excitements. My group provided the first internet connectivity to ICTN Asia and Musharraf gave me a trophy, the photograph was carried by all the major newspapers. I had met Musharraf earlier also at parties when he was the Corps Commander Mangla – but that is another story… I was also frequently invited to dinners at the Governor House when Soomro was governor. We had contributed financially and technically to his Caravan Karachi endeavour and he had given me a trophy in recognition at a public event at the Governor House…

However, the worse aspect of entrepreneurship especially in a non-structured economy is raising capital. The only form of capital available is through equity participation and I don’t think there is any need for me to say more… this tells a story by itself…

On assuming powers Musharraf had declared IT as a major sector for development that his government would pursue. Perhaps, he had been told by his advisors that IT had the potential of becoming the cottage industry of Pakistan and that we will soon beat India at her own game – but that did not mean that the banks were ready to invest in intangibles with there being plenty of tangible plots and textile loams available for mortgage and re-mortgage. The banks did not find any consolation in the human collateral either – it being the most inconsequential especially when it comes to Pakistanis.

But there was no stopping the Presidential courtiers. On the last day of the first ITCN, I was approached by the convenors of the exhibitions and was told to declare at a press conference that I had signed foreign contracts worth US 35 million. I refused… A month later, when I returned from a presentation to the Pakistani/American IT entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, the first few newspapers that my secretary placed on my desk had screaming headlines that included my group having signed major international contracts for the said amount… the statements came from our Minister Dr Atta Ur Rehman… this must have pleased the President tremendously even though not even ten percent of this revenue was ever expected to realize and it did not also in the end…

Coming back to raising capital, a classmate from Cathedral, a PIA captain, had approached me several times in the past to make PODF which stands for Pilot’s Occupational Disability Fund and which is the financial arm of PALPA as my partner – but I had refused each time… I had personal reasons. My elder brother is a PIA captain and an ex-air force officer. And I had walked out on him several years ago, the reasons for which I have so far refused to publically discuss in spite of much provocation by the NAB officers… I always told them to ask my brother instead… but his version was already known and that too officially and on paper… I was a financially corrupt man beside the several other major flaws in my character… which even to this day, when not much has been left of me and my family, he insists on forwarding to newspaper editors..

However, in 2002, just when I was close to a partnership deal with Faisal Investment Bank which was later absorbed by Faisal Islamic Bank, my captain classmate insisted day after day that I should not allow a project of national importance to fall into the hands of foreigners… and finally I succumbed once he and the PODF board assured me that my brother will never have anything to do with it…

I was burning with ambition as usual. I was willing to do anything that could make my group achieve what I had envisioned. The terms of the new partnership were unconventional but I was willing to go to any extent to see my dream come true. PALPA did not pay me for my fifty percent equity in Hilinks that I passed on to them – but it did not matter to me, I was overjoyed that they would invest to take the project forward and that they will also act as the Lender Of Last Resort to the group. However, they did pay me for half the share holding of Hi-Tech, and that entire amount I deposited as my equity in Hinet the next day – the new company that we formed immediately and which owned the ISP… And as time was to tell, subsequently, PALPA also refused to pay me salary for the next two years as the Chief Executive… for the entire period of our partnership. It is therefore no wonder that having put everything in a group that I believed in, including the proceeds from the sale of my thousand yard house in Defence Society, into a business that I had nurtured for eighteen years… I was bound to become penniless and homeless soon after…

My brother did not take the news well when he heard about the new partnership. The events that were to unfold in the next two years therefore were a result of some serious manoeuvrings. The PALPA board came up for elections every two years. And this time, a very senior captain named B was not sure whether he would be able to win or not. He had been elected a few times in the past and now wanted a last stint as President before he retired – but he was not confident about winning this time around since he had just been acquitted from a rape case… But there was good news as well. The entire country was excited about the accountability initiative in Pakistan and the Chairman NAB was Captain B’s personal friend, while the Vice Chairman was my brother’s colleague from Air Force. It was a comfortable setting – rather perfect in fact, almost impossible to ignore. Accountability was the war cry in the streets of Pakistan at the time. People had developed fresh hopes due to Musharraf’s promises of eradicating corruption forever. In their minds they hoped to see the corrupt swinging from trees from their bedroom windows when they got up in the mornings – and at the same time, it was also easy to accuse anyone and be counted amongst the moral… and thus, it should not take much imagination to guess what happened next…

My brother and Captain B declared in front of the PIA captain community that the current trustees of PODF ( serving captains) were embezzling huge amounts of money from the Group along with me… and that they had solid evidence. They also declared that the Chairman NAB had promised to put all the culprits behind bars and recover all the money… It was to be honest a rather battered old election slogan but which now possessed a fresh breath of life due to the nation’s leader whose own bread and butter depended on it. And therefore, it should not come as a surprise that the panel of vigilantes won the election rather easily and it now came upon them to make good their election promise…

There were a few technical problems though. Firstly, the case was outside the mandate of NAB since government, public or bank funds were not involved. Secondly, the Group had signed arguably the biggest co-branding in the country and a contract that could return the entire investment within perhaps even a year, and thirdly there were these several audits… the latest, a third-party audit, conducted by Ferguson only few weeks ago accounted for each and every penny. And then ironically, Ferguson was also the auditor of PALPA and PODF as well at the time… there could not have been any valid basis for suspecting foul play.

Moreover, there could also not be any doubts on any other aspect such as the viability of the project in case even if someone was blind to the PIA alliance since there was present a three-week old evaluation report from Ferguson Consultants in their capacity as the local partners of PriceWaterHouseCoopers. The report concluded that the value of the group had increased five fold even prior to the PIA alliance…

The above was a difficult preposition for NAB but the command came from the top. It had to be executed. And therefore, the only weapons in their arsenal, to start with and for the next three years, were the almost fantastic stories by their captain friends and the personal testimony of an estranged brother. Perhaps, there was also this overwhelming hope that I might have made a mistake somewhere which would eventually be discovered. Nonetheless, this was enough for NAB to come into action. They entered the picture ruthlessly, and though for the first year they out rightly refused to hand over any documentation in spite of the fact that my name was continuously on the Exit Control List throughout this period in later years they became either too reckless or else too arrogant and started to leave a massive paper trail as evidence. I yet kept on challenging them and once at a juncture of extreme frustration, they even opened a new and completely un-related case against me and my wife since she was also a director in the companies. And though they blatantly refused to charge us for any specific crime once again or take us to a court, they often threatened to have my wife extradited from UK since she had left for London taking our daughters to safety. As usual, in this particular case as well, the onus remained on us, the accused, to prove our innocence… at times against unspecified crimes – rather than the other way around.

But Brigadier Abassi,’ I once pleaded. ‘It has been three years now. Metaphorically speaking, no dead body has been found so far, neither has a murder weapon been discovered, nor is there any missing person whom one can presume as having been murdered, whose body has been possibly disposed and buried somewhere – so can you please tell me my crime?’

If we knew the exact details… do you think you would be sitting so comfortably in that chair…’ was the reply.

Imran Khan's Letter to Congressman Bruce Braley

Mr. Bruce L. Braley
Member, Congress of the United States
U.S. House of Representatives
1408 Longworth Building
Washington, DC 20515 USA

Dear Congressman Braley:

( - I refer to your letter of November 20, 2007 to President Bush.

I am writing to express my gratitude for your strong stance on ending the state of Emergency, restoration of Constitution, release of all political prisoners and protection of Opposition leaders in Pakistan. I was deeply touched by your words, especially demanding my release from prison.

As you know, Pervez Musharraf has announced that his government will be holding general elections in Pakistan in January 2008. I would like to bring to your attention factors that will render the elections farcical resulting in a non-representative and ineffective Parliament.

1. Consolidation of Powers in the Office of the President. In the last eight years since taking over the government through a military coup, Musharraf has systematically removed all systems of checks and balances that are essential to the working of a [real civilian] democracy. Specifically, through the [illegal] 17th Amendment in the Constitution, he has also taken over many powers that should be resting with the Prime Minister in our parliamentary form of democratic government. A recent Gallup poll suggests that 82% of Pakistanis want Musharraf to go.

2. Subversion of an Independent Judiciary. The only thing standing in the way of Musharraf and absolute power was an independent judiciary under [Pakistan Supreme Court] Chief Justice Iftikhar [Muhammad] Chaudhry. By illegally declaring Emergency rule (actually Martial Law), Musharraf [unlawfully] removed all the independent judges (60 out of a total of 95) from the senior judicial system of Pakistan and replaced them with relatively unknown people who are widely perceived as his allies. With all the independent judges under arrest, who will monitor the elections and provide justice to the aggrieved parties?

My political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf [PTI] - along with several other major political parties in Pakistan and civic groups all over the country - have decided to boycott the upcoming elections until and unless [all] the independent judges are restored to the pre-November 2, 2007 status.

Congressman Braley, I request you to educate and inform your colleagues in the United States Congress that without the restoration of an independent judiciary, elections in Pakistan will neither be fair nor acceptable to a majority of Pakistanis and will lead to further unrest and turmoil.

I write to you, not as a politician, but as an individual concerned about the fundamental rights of a people of the world to another who shares his concerns.

Once again, thank you for your efforts in requesting for my release.

Warmest Regards,

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)
(Movement For Justice)

Pictures from the Mazar-e-Iqbal Rally on Sunday