The deaths of 18 women of Karachi in a stam pede would not seem to have a nexus with President Asif Zardari's admission that his predecessor had his departure guaranteed by foreign powers, but both tend to show the present government as not being in control of the country. To take the Karachi incident first, it occurred because a private citizen was playing at being the state. It did not occur because of an act of private charity, because the action had gone beyond that of charity. This was a case of someone trying to fill in a crevice that the state had left, that of the flour crisis and the consequent hunger that was being caused. But because this was not a mere crevice, the result was the stampede, and the unfortunate deaths. Because it is Karachi, it is assumed that the event will be exploited by the MQM even though the other political parties would love to somehow get in on the action. However, the flour crisis is a state responsibility. What was more noticeable was that the event occurred in a province controlled by the party ruling at the centre, so there was no excuse of a divided mandate, as in the Punjab, which would allow either government to claim that the issue belonged to the other, and thus wash its hands of the whole affair. Admittedly, the city government was controlled by the MQM, but the city government did not own to any responsibility. In fact, it does not seem to figure in the whole episode, for there was no price fixing involved in a free distribution, except insofar as the episode developed into a law and order situation, and law and order is supposed to be a city responsibility. However, the basic failure is of the government, which allowed there to be takers for the free distribution. That is supposed very much to be a state responsibility, the availability of a substance which is the national staple, not a luxury good, not a product of occasional use. It is possible to draw parallels here with the sugar situation. Sugar is not a staple in the sense that the majority of the populace does not depend on it for their calories, but it is so widely used that it is a highly pervasive product. The Lahore High Court decision fixing the sugar price was upheld by the Supreme Court, but it was still not being sold by the government at that price. The finance minister admitted that the sugar price determined by the sugar millers, who were cartelised, and the cartel had enough of a presence on the Treasury Benches, to ensure that they were left alone. By the naked exercise of their clout, the sugar cartel has illustrated one of the problems of democracy down the ages, that law-making if left to itself, favours the moneyed interest. However, the Karachi events should serve as a belated warning, as to what might happen, if the sugar crisis is not checked. It should serve as a warning especially to the Punjab government, which has yet to face a food crisis. The flour crisis is probably chronic, but the sugar crisis is locally solvable. In fact, both crises could be alleviated if not solved entirely, if neither flour nor sugar were smuggled into Afghanistan. However, stopping that smuggling would upset the moneyed interests there. That is a smaller moneyed interest, both in geographical spread and in money possessed, but stopping them would still cause the NWFP government difficulties it would not like to face at a time when it bears the brunt of the War on Terror. Whereas the central government has appeared singularly inept in the wheat and sugar crises, particularly its attempt to shift the blame to the provincial governments, there is no problem of jurisdiction in President Zardari's statement about Pervez Musharraf, which has been denied by both government and party spokespersons. The admission that Musharraf's resignation as president, underwritten by foreign powers, was meant to explain why it was not possible to try him under Article 6 of the constitution for the sacking of 60 judges of the superior judiciary, for high treason. PPP reluctance to try him had become obvious ever since a Supreme Court verdict in July had made such a trial more or less an open-and-shut case, and the PML-N had made an issue of the trial. It has not let up pressure on the president, with its Rawalpindi members moving a privilege motion on the issue on Wednesday. The first barrier it must cross is that of Speaker Fehmida Mirza, who could kill the motion in chamber for discussing the conduct of the president, and thus prevent it from ever being debated. President Zardari has, by this statement, merely confirmed the rumours that were flying around, that Musharraf was given guarantees at the time of his resignation by foreign powers, including the USA, the UK and Saudi Arabia, that he would not be tried. Though there is now a fresh controversy, whether he said what he is supposed to have said, Zardari (if the denials are merely to save face) did not start the rumours. However, his admission has proved damaging to the parliamentary authority. It is also being seen, and rightly so, as an admission that national sovereignty was not so much violated, as ignored, and not just by the foreign powers, but by the then president, and all those other Pakistanis, including the present president, who were party to the deal. The credibility of not just the president is at stake, but of the entire state itself, for it would be a short step to admitting that there have been other violations of sovereignty, by the same parties, in the War on Terror. Then would have to come the admission that changes of government, including the present one, had been brought about by other foreign interventions. These lie behind the vehement denials and claims that the president's words had been twisted. Apparently, the government is nowhere to be seen. The old solution was to shoot the messenger: newspapers would be banned, and the government would try hard to pretend that nothing had happened. However, that is so obviously counterproductive a strategy, especially in the presence of the electronic media, that not even bureaucrats would suggest it. The obvious solution is for the government to end both the wheat and sugar crises, and to end any policy of surrender of national sovereignty. However, that would reveal another fallacy of the War on Terror, that it is about defending any nation's right to sovereignty. It would soon be made rudely clear that the War is only about US sovereignty, or the security of its citizens, even if the Pakistani state looks bad. E-mail: