Friday, June 29, 2007

Dear Pervez: Beware The Mangoes Of July!

General-President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan appears to be riding two horses going in different directions; you have to wonder how long he can stay upright.

A few days ago Carlotta Gall reported on one of the dangers he faces:
Speculation has been rife in political circles for three months that Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, may not survive his wrangle with the chief justice and hold on to power. But a great silence emanates from the one place that may count the most: the barracks and the mess halls of the armed forces, the other great part of Pakistan's ruling equation.

What the army thinks about the political logjam and what it decides to do in the event of continuing stalemate, instability or violence will be the defining factor in Musharraf's future, most commentators agree.

If and when the army feels it is being damaged by its association with Musharraf, and his insistence on retaining the dual posts of president and chief of army staff, it will act to safeguard the reputation of the army, they say.

Historians and columnists have been outlining the precedents, recalling how Pakistan's three previous military rulers exited from power. None were under happy circumstances, and none bode well for Musharraf.

The longest-ruling general, Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, who seized power in 1977, died in 1988 in a plane crash, the cause of which remains a mystery. The strongest possibility is that the plane was sabotaged, possibly by a bomb - or even, according to one theory, by a knockout gas - hidden inside crates of mangoes, a gift that was put on board the presidential plane at the last minute.

This being mango season, the old story has gained a lot of currency lately. "He either goes the mango crate way or he goes gracefully," as one serving military officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The General-President understands the power of the army and he's not usually very subtle about it.
Well aware of the importance of backing within the army, Musharraf called a meeting of his Corps Commanders and principal military staff earlier this month, apparently to ensure their support. The military public relations service issued an unusually long press release in that vein. "The Corps Commanders and Principal Staff Officers of the Pakistan Army affirmed to stand committed for the security of their country under the leadership and guidance of the President and the COAS," it read, referring to the chief of army staff.

Issuing such a statement is unusual and brings to mind the vote of confidence that often presages the end for a cabinet minister, or, in sports, for a manager or coach. In effect, several former members of the army said, such assurances only underscore the general's insecurity.
Of course. He's so insecure he's trying to round up all the friends he can coerce.

Musharraf also understands the power of the media. And he's not too subtle about that, either. According to Dawn:
President Pervez Musharraf said that the media has a vital role to play in protecting and promoting national interests and responsibility towards safeguarding national sovereignty, integrity and security.

Speaking at the conclusion of first National Media Workshop organized by the National Defence University here Friday, the President warned that any effort to damage integrity, security and sovereignty of Pakistan would be countered massively.

How well will this approach work?

Dawn also reports on the aftermath of the monsoons that have been pounding large areas of the country:
QUETTA, June 28: As heavy to moderate rains continued to lash different parts of Balochistan on Thursday, nine people died in Harnai and Turbat. The rainfall hindered a massive rescue and relief operation launched by the army and the Frontier Corps in worst-affected areas.

Provincial Home Secretary Tariq Ayub said that over 400,000 people had been displaced by this week’s cyclone and flash floods. Troops were carrying out rescue and relief work in the affected areas and helicopters were moving the marooned people to safe places.

Hill torrents triggered by torrential rain wreaked havoc in Chagai and Naushki districts, disrupting rail and road communications between Quetta and Zahidan and causing breaches in the main railway line.

Local officials confirmed the death of three people in Harnai when the Nari River devastated the downstream area in the Kachhi plains, mainly in Jhal Magsi and Jaffarabad.

The Mula River was also in high flood following intermittent rains in its catchment area of Khuzdar and Kalat districts. Paddy and cotton crops were under more than two feet of water in Jhal Magsi and Jaffarabad. Some breaches have occurred in the Right Bank Outfall Drain, damaging crops in the area.

Local people themselves plugged some of the breaches and the government machinery was nowhere to be seen, a local resident told this correspondent.

The worst-affected area is Turbat and district Nazim Mir Abdul Rauf Rind confirmed six deaths on Thursday. More rain has been forecast for the region.
USA Today is also reporting about the aftermath of the monsoons, with a special emphasis on rioting in southwestern Pakistan.

According to Zarar Khan of the AP,
TURBAT, Pakistan — Hungry victims of monsoon-spawned floods in southwestern Pakistan rioted Friday, protesting slow, meager aid reaching their marooned villages where many feared the receding waters would yield numerous bodies.

Police fired tear gas and shots into the air but failed to disperse a crowd of several thousand villagers who broke into and ransacked the mayor's office in this city in southwestern Pakistan ringed by floodwaters.

The widespread flooding struck after Cyclone Yemyin dumped torrential rains on the area Tuesday.

Protesters said they had waded through chest-deep water from outlying areas to voice their anger about the dearth of relief aid. Only packets of biscuits and bottles of water had been received, they said.

"Every family is looking for one or two members. They are all missing," said Chaker Baloth, who walked more than 25 miles through the night to reach this city of some 150,000. Others feared they would never see their missing family members again.

The government said the official death toll in Baluchistan province was 14, with more than 24 missing, although local media reported much higher numbers.

Khubah Bakhsh, the relief commissioner for Baluchistan, estimated that 200,000 houses had been destroyed or damaged.

In one of the hardest-hit areas — Turbat city and surrounding villages — the first relief supplies only began arriving Thursday, about 48 hours after the cyclone hit, driving the mayor to resign and angry residents to protest.

"We have been saved from the flood, but we may die of starvation," said Mohammed Kash, a teacher at a rural school.

From a helicopter, an Associated Press reporter saw only the tops of palm trees protruding from vast sheets of water in some areas.

People, cows and goats were stranded on rooftops without water or food, in sweltering 109-degree heat.
As far as I can tell, Dawn hasn't said anything about the rioting, and I was just wondering whether this has anything to do with the General-President's speech.

Perhaps nobody wants to find out what Musharraf means when he says "massively".

But perhaps this has more to do with mangoes.