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Default Editorials from DAWN (01-07-2013)

Need for restraint: Altaf Hussain`s speech


IT was, in the end, the briefest of resignations, and very much in keeping with previous such episodes. But there was also something new about Altaf Hussain`s early morning speech and quick change of heart yesterday. For the first time, the MQM supremo acknowledged that the London police consider him a suspect in the Imran Farooq murder investigation. Mr Hussain also confirmed that British authorities recently raided his home in London and confiscated unspecified material.

While railing against an international conspiracy against his person, Mr Hussain pledged to cooperate with British authorities and defend himself in a trial, if he is eventually charged in relation to Mr Farooq`s murder in September 2010. This is a good sign: the MQM boss, while denying any involvement, has indicated his willingness to respect the judicial process. The protracted telephonic back-and-forth between Mr Hussain and MQM activists and supporters also had an important essence: the workers` demand that Mr Hussain take back his resignation reflected just how much he is still the core of the party and how unforeseeable and unmanageable an exit by the MQM boss is.

Beyond that, however, there are many uncertainties and fears, particularly for Karachi. A basic reality needs to be kept in mind here: the investigation thathas riled Mr Hussain and outraged the party is being conducted by British authorities and is a nearly threeyear-old process. The thoroughness of that painstaking process is matched by its fairness: no one has yet been charged, not even Mr Hussain yet, many days after his home was extensively searched and evidence presumably gathered. So to decry that process as a witch-hunt or a political vendetta of some kind is to stoke an extreme partisanship that in the context of Karachi in particular can have potentially very dangerous repercussions. The emotionalism that was on display yesterday when the media was subjected to yet another verbal lashing by the MQM exemplifies the problem: little good ever comes when the heart starts trumping the head.

Difficult as it may be to maintain equanimity and poise in the face of an unprecedented test for the MQM leadership, there is the unhappy reality of Karachi Hyderabad and other pockets of Sindh too to consider. Violence, that can start on a mere rumour, has brought a once vibrant city to its knees, triggering uncomfortable reminders of the horrors of the late `80s and early `90s.

Karachi needs a political hand and it is very much in the MQM leadership`s control to ensure that legal troubles for its chief in London do not spill over into unrest on the streets of Karachi.

Are we prepared?: Flood measures


WHILE Pakistan is no stranger to the devastating effects of floods, the recent inundation of homes, in fact whole villages, in the Indian state of Uttarakhand is a grim reminder that preparations for the monsoons should start early. The figure for the dead and missing is in the thousands despite the meteorological department`s claim that it had given the state authorities prior information of what to expect. Pakistan`s own experience with the floods of 2010 in the four provinces and in other parts of the country, as well as the 2011 deluge that mainly ravaged large parts of Sindh, both events affecting millions of people, are still fresh in memory. The following year also saw rain damage. As the monsoons approach, parts of the country are already witnessing heavy showers.

Flash floods in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, for instance, have caused some damage to infrastructure and dwellings. While the authorities there have been warning riverine communities to move from their homes, not much has been done to remove encroachments orto instal flood warning systems. In Sindh, while reportedly considerable work has been done to strengthen embankments, the encroachments along the river and canal banks remain a concern, although the provincial authorities have said that these would be removed. The weeks ahead will tell us to what extent the authorities have learnt their lesson from the previous catastrophes.

But besides the physical impediments there are other factors such as food insecurity, disease and the loss of livelihood that are an outcome of natural calamities. How well are the authorities prepared to deal with these? For example, is there a plan to have children immunised? Childhood vaccinations are necessary in any case but for communities vulnerable to natural disasters they could prove the difference between life and death. True, the dreaded floods may never strike or at least not with the same intensity as they have in preceding years. But having a coordinated plan and strategy would prove invaluable in case the trend sustains itself.

Red herring: Suspension of officials


IN Pakistan`s context, the suspension of a subordinate is best described as a responsibility-shedding tactic. Unfortunately, the political bosses find this a nifty way to divert attention from their own incompetence. We can see this in the aftermath of the attack on the Ziarat Residency and the Nanga Parbat tragedy. The Ziarat attack had stunned the country, but all that the people got as a sop more than a week later was an announcement by Balochistan Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch that he had suspended the deputy commissioner and five police officials because they had `failed to protect the Quaid-i-Azam`s Residency`. Up in the north, the mountaineers` murder may not have caused emotions to be as bruised, but the cold-blooded slaughter of a peaceful group of trekkers nevertheless sent shockwaves across country.

They were tourists and had no motive other than that of scaling Pakistan`s daunting peaks. Then Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan sprang into actionwhich saw the federal government suspending the Gilgit-Baltistan chief secretary and the inspector general of police, causing the GB chief minister to criticise the move.

In similar fashion, after acts of terrorism in Karachi, high-ranking police officials have often enough found their services being suspended by the government. Certainly, suspensions and transfers may be necessary where dereliction of duty or abuse of the law is detected. But unfortunately, our politicians appear to use this tactic to absolve themselves of the blame. They must realise and feel themselves responsible for the sober truth: tens of thousands of Pakistanis have been killed or wounded by the militants over the years, but neither the Musharraf government nor the PPP-led dispensation that followed managed to formulate a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy. Merely suspending police and other officials does not cause people to forget where the buck stops.
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02.07.2013
Realisation dawns: PTI’s call for anti-terrorism plan

AS the sprawling militancy and terrorism complex continues to rain down violence across Pakistan, a slight shift in political perceptions was witnessed on Sunday when PTI chief Imran Khan called for a joint civil-military strategy to fight terrorism. Until now, Mr Khan has talked more about drones and talks with the TTP than about the threat that militancy poses to the stability and security of Pakistan. But with the PTI’s government in KP rocked by a series of attacks in the province and violence in other parts of the country continuing unabated — in addition to Peshawar, Quetta and North Waziristan also suffered serious attacks on Sunday — there is perhaps the beginnings of a realisation within the PTI that the internal threat is real and serious and can only be countered by a firm resolve and coherent plan. So while Mr Khan did repeat on Sunday his standard trope of a ‘political settlement’, he appeared to acknowledge, by seeking the input of the army chief via the prime minister, that a military response is also part of the overall solution.

Perhaps in seeking the input of the army chief, Mr Khan and the other politicians who seem to discount the threat of militancy will be able to get a clearer picture on the scope and magnitude of the danger. While the right-wing political parties may prefer to focus on conspiracies and exaggerated external threats because of expediency or perhaps even out of sympathy for the militants’ explicit goal of overthrowing the state and replacing it with a severe so-called Islamic model, there is a sense that mainstream centrist and right-of-centre politicians do so largely because they are ignorant of the facts. After all, until returning to power in Islamabad last month, the PML-N leadership had been out of the national security loop for more than a decade — in which much has changed on the security front. And Mr Khan had been a fringe, or non-existent, parliamentary figure until the recent elections — meaning his knowledge of the threat that militancy poses will have been accumulated almost entirely outside official channels. An authoritative briefing by the leader of the institution on the frontline in the fight against militancy could do a world of good for the present political leadership of the country.

Drones and the possibility of talks eventually with elements of the TTP can be part of the overall, long-term strategy to fight militancy — but first, clarity is needed on what the threat of militancy means for Pakistan.

Economic revival: Cameron’s offer

THE main focus of British Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to Islamabad was on encouraging Pakistan’s new political leadership to cooperate with Afghanistan to facilitate the Doha initiative. Mr Cameron correctly observed that “a stable, prosperous, peaceful, democratic Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s interests, just as a strong, stable, peaceful, prosperous, and democratic Pakistan is in Afghanistan’s interests”. Mr Cameron also used his visit, the first by any foreign head of government since the PML-N took over last month, to remind the Pakistani leadership that the battle against terrorism “requires a tough and uncompromising security response”. It should, however, be appreciated that he also realised that several other measures were needed to boost the efforts against militancy. These included “countering extremism and radicalisation, investing in education, tackling poverty, dealing in all the issues that can fuel extremism and radicalisation”.

Mr Cameron was eager to provide technical support to Islamabad to shore up its security response to terrorism and he pledged his government’s willingness to help it in the revival of its economy; without the latter terrorism cannot be effectively combated. He vowed to revise upward the bilateral trade target from £2.5bn to £3bn by 2015 and support Pakistan’s quest for greater, duty-free market access for its goods to the European Union. Importantly, the second annual Pakistan-UK trade conference is to be held later in London where among other areas, the energy sector must get the much-needed emphasis. Pakistan’s efforts in the war against militancy cannot be overstated. Thousands of Pakistani lives have been lost and the country’s economy has been badly affected. They may not be the only factors, but a deteriorating economy and rising poverty are major contributors to the increase in radicalisation in the country. Extremism cannot be curbed through the use of force alone. The effort needs to be diversified with improvements in sectors such as education and health and with the provision of jobs. The world should realise that a stable Afghanistan needs a stable Pakistan. Mr Cameron is well-placed to drive the message home.

After the revolution: Anti-Morsi demonstrations

DISILLUSIONMENT with revolution is a universal phenomenon, so is the jealousy with which every revolution guards itself. That the hopes of the Egyptians have not been realised since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster goes without saying. President Mohammed Morsi’s government has failed to address any of the problems that had led to the Tahrir Square uprising. Mr Morsi has accumulated more powers than he should, the economy is in tatters — tourism has especially been hit — and he has behaved in a way that has often aroused judicial wrath and annoyed the media. But Egypt is not the only Arab country where the fall of dictators has been followed by restlessness among large segments of the masses who feel they have been denied the fruits of revolution. This restlessness may be justified, but it must be seen against the backdrop of the legacy of decades of authoritarian rule.

Whether it was Ben Ali, Muammar Qadhafi, Ali Abdullah Saleh or Hosni Mubarak, the strongmen had lent phony stability to their states by crushing all opposition and silencing the media. While the liberals went into hibernation, Islamist parties used the time to organise themselves, spread their message and extend relief services to the deprived. This helped them both during the agitation for democratic reforms and at the polls. As elections results show, Islamist parties have become a major force in electoral politics in these countries. President Morsi’s mistakes are many, and he has yet to indicate he accepts pluralism. Nevertheless, the dissidents must realise that he is a democratically elected ruler. While protest is their right, they have no moral authority to seek his ouster through violent means, such as yesterday’s attack on the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in Cairo, and create conditions that may tempt the army to abort Egypt’s nascent democracy.
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Date: 06-07-2013

Tougher days: ahead IMF loan

THE government and the market are jubilant over the ‘successful conclusion’ of a new loan of $5.3bn from the IMF. And why not? The loan will ease pressure on diminishing foreign exchange stocks and relieve the government of worries of how to repay over the next 12 months what the country already owes to the Fund. But is it really a ‘step forward’ for the new government, which had promised voters so much? Although the announcement of the agreement on the loan hides more than it reveals, from whatever has so far been divulged it is clear the people should brace themselves for greater hardship. When Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said a “better tomorrow dawns only when the requisite pains are borne today”, he was signalling towards a tougher future for the people in whose name the loans are secured and who must repay these generosities with sacrifices.

The help from the IMF is necessary not only to repay its existing debt but also to obtain budgetary support from other multilateral lenders. However, the government has not lived up to its pledge of not accepting tough conditions, such as the ones which would raise the energy prices to prohibitive levels, stifle investment and fuel inflation. All the high talk that Mr Dar had indulged in over the last few days was little more than rhetoric to begin with. Some of the steps demanded by the IMF had already been incorporated in the bud-get — raising tax revenues (albeit through the old practice of burdening existing taxpayers), liquidation of the power-sector debt, etc. Others, like a hike in borrowing costs and increase in electricity and gas prices, have also been initiated and now the gap will have to be met before September when the Fund holds its meeting to give the final nod.

Still Mr Dar is not sure if the Fund will give him the additional $2bn — over and above the amount agreed on so far — he desperately needs to match the foreign exchange outflow. Nor is anyone certain if all the provinces —– especially Sindh and KP where the PML-N’s opponents rule — will agree to cut their expenditure to cut fiscal deficit to 6pc from the budgetary target of 6.3pc when the minister takes the agreement to the Council of Common Interest for broader political ownership, which is another condition for the loan. The IMF loan and support from the other lenders will provide only some breathing space for the government. It will have to take measures that hurt if it wants to fix the economy.


Quality needed: Pakistani missions
AS part of the government’s recently announced cost-cutting measures, the Foreign Office is set to pare down its international footprint with the closure of up to a fourth of the country’s present 70-odd missions across the world. Good idea or bad idea? The raw numbers can make a case either way. With fewer than 500 career officers and a staff complement that is roughly three times that size, the Foreign Office is not quite the overstaffed entity that other institutions have become. Then again, for a country with a small international economic footprint and a relatively narrow foreign policy, the case for consolidation can appear straightforward. For example, in Africa and Latin America the closure of a few outposts may be more than manageable if other missions regionally are made to pick up the slack.

Numbers alone, however, are a misleading yardstick. For one, it is not the size of the officer corps but its competence that matters more. The dozens of economic and commercial officers at Pakistani missions abroad, for example, may be a good idea in theory, but a performance evaluation may suggest that few economic benefits have accrued to Pakistan because of these posts. Merely stating that economic and trade dip-lomacy are priorities, as the newly installed government claims, without developing a coherent strategy and installing quality officers to implement it is largely meaningless. If across-the-board cuts have been mandated by the government, then the Foreign Office too must learn to tighten its belt. But within that paring back is an oppor-tunity to rethink how the Ministry of Foreign Affairs goes about its overall business. From recruiting a better quality of officer to ensuring adequate career opportunities and training to formulating policy that goes beyond the talking points dictated by GHQ, there is much room for improvement. Ultimately, though, it is the product itself, not just the image, that has to be fixed: if Pakistan is to be better regarded internationally, it will first have to put its own house in order.


Lack of perspective: Tirade against KP police
WHILE the political leadership’s dithering and mixed signals on the fight against terrorism has left confusion worse confounded, there is no retreat into the comfort of demurral for the law enforcement agencies on the frontline. The nature of their work — and the ruthlessness of their adversaries — makes it a battle starkly drawn in black and white, one in which their lives are at risk every hour, every day. The KP police are among the LEAs most directly impacted by the militancy raging in the tribal areas that abut the province and further north. Sixty-five policemen have been killed in the first six months of this year alone. The perils they contend with on a daily basis cannot be overstated. This is what makes the KP chief minister Pervez Khattak’s scathing denunciation of the force, that too at a public forum — a workshop organised by the police on thana culture — so perplexing and ill-advised. Granted, he acknowledged their sacrifices, and his criticism was specifically concerned with corruption in the force, but the vehemence of his tirade overshadowed his earlier positive observations regarding the police’s performance.

Aside from the fact that corruption in the force, while undeniably present, is widely held to be not as endemic as among police elsewhere in the country, the chief minister’s outburst betrays a lack of perspective in appreciating the crucial role played by the KP police as the first line of defence in the fight against militancy. The force is already reeling from continued onslaughts that have depleted its strength. It is also reported that police personnel are increasingly seeking appointments in sectors that do not confront the militancy head on, such as the motorway police, FIA, etc. The last thing the beleaguered force needs is further demoralisation.
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09.07.2013
No more secrecy: Abbottabad Commission report

IT was, perhaps, inevitable: a high-profile report on a hugely damaging, and embarrassing, episode in the country’s history was unlikely to remain shrouded in secrecy forever. After this newspaper reported on some of the Abbottabad Commission’s findings and recommendations yesterday, Al Jazeera published the report last evening — and the report appears to pack quite a punch. Did it have to turn out this way, though? Where once the Hamoodur Rehman Commission’s report on the events leading up to the secession of East Pakistan could be suppressed for decades, today there is no such luxury. In the era of WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers who can use the global megaphone of a semi-regulated internet, the age of excessive secrecy and the suppression of information that is of legitimate public interest has passed. Indeed, the Hamoodur Rehman Commission’s ultimate fate underlined the changing times — when an Indian publication began to serialise extracts from the report, Pakistani authorities were forced to do what they long avoided, ie publish the report.

Why was the Abbottabad Commission report, handed over to prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf in January, not made public? It is fair assumption that responsibility for the secrecy lay with the military leadership. An institutional culture that focuses more on the embarrassment that will be caused nationally and internationally by a comprehensive official account of any episode that is deemed to undermine national security ends up compounding the original errors. Whether it is Ojhri camp or Kargil or militant attacks on military bases in recent years, the approach is always the same: spill no secrets and promise that the necessary corrective measures have been taken, with no proof of whether that is the case or not. A high-stakes version of ‘trust us, guys’. But ‘trust us, guys’ has only led to bigger mistakes and the fact that Osama bin Laden spent years in Pakistan undetected and that US troops were able to kill him on Pakistani soil and leave undetected is surely one of the more staggering national-security lapses in the country’s history.

Now that the report is out and will be pored over nationally and internationally, there is still time for the government, and the army leadership in particular, to get at least one thing right. A leaked report cannot be the basis of accountability or any prosecutions deemed necessary. The government must — yes, must — officially release the report. Only then can the official narrative begin to be set right.

Contentious issue: Job quota formula

IT is once again time to take a decision on the quota formula for provinces regarding government jobs in the country. Aug 13 is the date when the legal cover given to the constitutional clause introduced in 1973 expires. Under the formula, only 7.5pc posts are filled on merit. The rest are — or should be — distributed among the federating units. Originally in place for 10 years, the provision was given extensions by two military-led dispensations in 1983 and 1999. For a period during 1993-1999, the matter of extension was left pending and the status quo maintained. Both the treasury and opposition now appear inclined to keep the arrangement for another few years. In March this year, the PPP government announced it favoured legislation further extending the formula by 20 years and in recent days a PML-N minister has also favoured an extension. The agreement, however, cannot in itself bar a heated debate over the issue in parliament in the coming days.

Job quota is a contentious point in all discussions about getting the balance in the federation right — one which has routinely defined politics. So it is likely to be this time. Even when calls for merit are the loudest right now, the voices asking for more meaningful representation of the smaller provinces in the federation are no less vociferous. Matters get more complicated because in power at the moment is a party which draws its support overwhelmingly from Punjab. Unevenness has existed between the provinces as also between regions within a province, as manifest in the example of Sindh which has a rural-urban job quota formula of its own as a kind of protection against discrimination. However, the very fact the quota was time-barred from the moment it was introduced is evidence it was at that time a necessary provision that would have to be done away with later. That principle stands and the conditions have to improve fast in favour of merit. But first, the gaps between regions have to close — faster than they have over the last 40 years.

Complaints linger: Allegations of rigging

IT has been nearly two months since the May 11 polls were held, yet complaints about electoral malpractices persist. On Sunday, the heads of the PTI and BNP-M called for an investigation into electoral mismanagement which, they say, resulted in the “theft” of their mandates. The JUI-F has also issued a ‘white paper’ on the alleged irregularities that occurred on election day; the document contains some serious rigging allegations. Indeed, from a neutral standpoint it appears that some irregularities did occur on May 11. For example, one can recall images of ballot papers and books left in rubbish dumps and other questionable places in the days following the election. However, it is difficult to accept there was a grand scheme to subvert the electoral process. For the most part, the polls were free and fair and the question that needs to be addressed is that of where mismanagement genuinely occurred, and how to resolve the issue.

Where there is serious evidence that rigging or other irregularities occurred the election authorities must investigate, though the onus is on the parties to provide the proof. Also, while it is the parties’ right to protest against irregularities, care must be taken to avoid jeopardising the democratic project. In this regard it is welcome that Imran Khan has said “the PTI doesn’t want to derail the democratic dispensation”. The key perhaps lies in the complainants pursuing the matter through election tribunals and providing them with solid facts and figures to back up their rigging charges. For its part, the ECP and the tribunals must ensure that the grievances are uniformly redressed. Democracy is a work in progress in Pakistan; all stakeholders need to play constructive roles to ensure the electoral process is continuously improved.
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10.07.2013
Civil-military: mistrust National security

NOW that the leaked Osama bin Laden report has been parsed over and a few new details have come to light, there is an aspect of the report worth dwelling on: the state of civil-military relations in Pakistan. The contempt with which retired Gen Pasha spoke on the record about the civilian side of the state — intelligence, law enforcement and political — will hardly appear surprising to some. But to read it in black and white drives home the chasm that still exists between the civilians and the army-led security establishment. To Mr Pasha’s credit, he did acknowledge failures in his own organisation, the ISI, and within his parent institution, the army. Yet, it is the army that drives national-security policy and, for all its protestations to the contrary, it is the army that jealously guards its pre-eminence in that domain. So, if the civilian, non-military side of the state is ever to develop the capacity to deal with security issues, attitudes in the army leadership too must change.

Unhappily, arrogance on one side and incompetence on the other still prevails in the overall civil-military relationship. The irony in Mr Pasha’s allegations against the civilian set-up was almost certainly lost on him: everything he said can be and has been said about his own institution. Sympathy for some militants, a leadership so mired in parochial interests that it cannot connect the dots between national failures and the policies from which they originate, and strategic, operational and tactical inadequacies — all of that can fairly accurately be said about the military itself. A typical, defensive reaction may be to dismiss Mr Pasha’s comments as the opinions of one, albeit senior, military official. Yet, it is reflective of an institutional mindset, of decades of training and education that has created a senior-officer corps that regards everyone else as a little less patriotic than itself. And from that absolute certainty has stemmed decades of tragic policy.

Ultimately, though, the objective of civilian control of the armed forces and of national security and foreign policy will only be realised if the civilians themselves rise to the challenge. The failings of the civilians so harshly depicted by Mr Pasha before the Abbottabad Commission are all too real. Without systemic improvement on the civilian side, the army is unlikely to ever voluntarily cede control. The alternative is some kind of state implosion from which a new national order can be crafted. But that is the nightmare scenario that is too awful to contemplate.

Lyari’s exodus: IDPs seek shelter elsewhere

KARACHI has played host to Afghan refugees for around three decades, while IDPs from more recent conflicts in Swat and Fata have also sought refuge in the metropolis. So it is indeed tragic that a city that has sheltered those fleeing conflict and disaster is today seeing its own citizens seek sanctuary elsewhere. As reported on Tuesday, families affected by the recent Lyari violence have sought refuge in parts of Sindh’s Thatta and Badin districts. The IDPs have taken shelter at Sufi shrines while some families are staying with relatives. People have left their homes and businesses in Lyari to safeguard their lives. Reportedly their properties have been occupied by criminals. Many of those who have fled belong to the lower-income bracket; in other words, these are ordinary working-class people caught in the crossfire of violent, well-connected forces. The current spate of violence has been sparked by turf wars between rival criminal gangs while the conflict also has ethnic and political undertones. Members of both the Kutchi and Baloch communities have been affected.

It is not easy to leave everything behind and relocate to a safer location; the plight of Lyari’s IDPs is a telling indication of just how dire is the situation in Karachi’s most neglected and violence-prone locality. The Sindh government needs to address the situation before it gets further out of hand. The foremost priority should be restoring order in Lyari. A secure environment must be created so that the IDPs feel confident enough to return. In the meantime, the properties people have left behind must be kept safe from marauders and encroachers. Until the situation normalises the provincial authorities must ensure that those who have fled to other districts are provided shelter, food and other basic needs. It is important that the matter is addressed as it may set a negative precedent, for if tomorrow another part of Karachi suffers a bout of ethnic or communal violence residents may be forced to flee.

Headed towards anarchy: Bloodshed in Egypt

LESS than a week after the coup, the Egyptian army must have realised the falsity of the two basic postulates on which it had acted: demonstrations are no indication of a nation’s political choice, and rampaging crowds do not give the army the mandate to subvert the democratic process. Highly charged protesters are still there at Tahrir Square and elsewhere but what they are demanding is anything but music to the generals’ ears. The protesters want Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first elected president, back in office, and the army believes it has no choice but to use force. Maybe, the army didn’t fire on the protesters at the sit-in on Monday, and the ‘provocation’ came from the crowd, but in any case the 500 dead and injured give us an indication of the pro-Morsi demonstrators’ determination to stay in the streets and defy the military. The constitution is being amended, and it will be put to a referendum, followed by parliamentary and presidential elections. But who gave the generals and Adly Mansour, the army’s choice as interim president, the right to change the constitution?

Algeria was bled white when the results of an election were repudiated by the ruling party, backed by the army. Can there, then, be any other result of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s July 3 coup? During the long Mubarak rule, the Muslim Brotherhood managed to spread its message and won new converts to its cause by reaching out to society’s deprived sections. It is highly unlikely that it will acquiesce in the generals’ constitutional nostrums and wait for an election, that many believe will not be truly transparent. The Brotherhood and its supporters will fight back, and that could throw the Arab world’s most populous and frontline state into anarchy or perhaps civil war.
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11.07.2013
Valid criticism: Abbottabad Commission report


THE Abbottabad Commission report is in many ways a watershed moment. Blunt, to the point and critical in ways that few thought possible for a Commission operating in the shadow of an omniscient security establishment, the report has laid down a marker for serious and sober analysis of the country’s national security troubles. The Commission’s recommendations in particular form a sensible road map to putting Pakistan on an internally and externally more secure footing, and as such should be read with great interest by the powers-that-be. First and foremost, the essen-tial recommendation that comes across is the need for intelligence coordination between the various military- and civilian-run agencies. The present situation of shambolic ad hoc cooperation is too well known to bear repeating. The mistrust is deep and the turf wars intense, and the predominant intelligence agency, the ISI, is simply unwilling to accede to civilian control or work with the civilian side of the state as a genuine partner. This must change, though it is far from clear how exactly to proceed.

Perhaps a sensible starting point would be strong civilian leadership. The PML-N government appears willing to try and knock heads together where necessary and cajole when required, which is a necessary but not sufficient condition. Beyond that what is required is a meaningful strategy. What, for example, can the government do when a strong and assertive interior ministry is the starting point for a coherent intelligence coordination strategy but the previous ISI chief contemptuously dismisses the possibility of subservience to the interior ministry, as retired Gen Pasha did in his testimony to the Abbottabad Commission? The answer appears to lie in the true principals, the prime minister, the army chief and the DG ISI, sitting down and rethinking the de facto chain of command. Civilian supremacy is not just a theory, it is a necessity.

The second step at the outset is for parliament to begin to take on a greater role in intelligence oversight. With a second consecutive credibly and acceptably elected parliament in place, the long process of establishing parliamentary oversight is already overdue. Parliament is greater than the sum of the government and as such has more collective weight to bring to the table. Parliamentary committees on intelligence would necessarily comprise a cross-section of political parties and would lay the ground for expressing the collective will of the electorate. Again, however, the road that has to be walked is before us; will the people’s representatives develop the will to walk down it?

Professionalism needed: Ex-Ogra chief in custody

THE long chase has ended. Tauqir Sadiq, the main suspect in what is being termed as the Ogra corruption scandal, was finally brought back home from Dubai on Monday. An accountability judge has since remanded him in the custody of NAB for investigation over his alleged role. Mr Sadiq and others accused of involvement are said to have caused the national exchequer a loss of Rs82 billion by issuing licences for new CNG stations and allowing other licence-holders to relocate their stations despite a ban. Moreover, he is also alleged to have allowed gas companies to incorporate 7pc of unaccounted for gas in their billings for 45 days instead of the permitted limit of 5pc. Investigators say that by apparently showering such financial favours on companies and individuals, the former top regulator of the country’s oil and gas sector has not only helped others make money but also managed to keep some for himself.

How far these allegations are true is not known. Only a thorough and honest probe can determine the veracity of the accusations and the amount actually lost by the government and gas consumers. So far Mr Sadiq has denied the charges against him and has blamed the investigators for putting pressure on him to become an approver against certain politicians who ruled the country during the last five years. Mr Sadiq and others accused of involvement in the Ogra scandal deserve a fair trial and the government must see to it that NAB does not make a mess of matters as it has in previous cases in its eagerness to implicate high-profile politicians without solid evidence. In fact, with some other institutions also dogged by scandal, the Ogra case will test the accountability bureau’s level of professionalism in not being selective in its probe. The Ehtesab Bureau, set up under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during his second tenure, was notorious for persecuting the government’s political opponents. The accountability sleuths should not blemish the PML-N government’s reputation once again.

Rethinking charity: Deadly stampede

CHARITY distribution events are a common occurrence during Ramazan, with both individuals and institutions distributing food and other items to the needy during the fasting month. But lack of planning can often turn well- intentioned exercises into disasters. Two women died during a charity food distribution event organised by a marriage hall owner in Karachi’s Gulshan-i-Iqbal area on Monday. Ration packages had been arranged for 250 deserving families yet things got out of control when around 3,000 to 4,000 women turned up at the venue. The death toll was mercifully lower than 2009’s Khori Garden tragedy, in which around 20 women died in a stampede during a similar charity exercise in Karachi’s old city area.

Monday’s event was obviously mismanaged as the organisers did not inform the authorities while no arrangements were made to post women volunteers or police officers who could have helped in crowd control. Having large numbers of people gather in a congested or closed space where supply of charity goods is limited and demand is far too great is a recipe for disaster. The tragic event is also an indicator of how widespread poverty is in society. Many families who find it difficult to make ends meet grab hold of any opportunity to help put food on the table. Yet the mode of distribution at such charity events is questionable not only from a safety standpoint, but also because it is against human dignity. The philanthropic spirit of Pakistanis must be appreciated, but there should be more tactful ways to distribute charity. Philanthropists must make proper arrangements for distribution; perhaps a better idea would be to deliver food packages to needy families at their homes instead of making people form queues in public. Or funds could be channelled through reputable charities working towards the alleviation of poverty and hunger.
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12.07.2013
Dangerous nexus Kidnapped policemen


UNCERTAINTY surrounds the fate of eight of the nine policemen kidnapped by the notorious Chhotu Mazari gang from two checkposts in the floodplains (katcha) of the Indus near Rajanpur on Sunday. One policeman has already died of his injuries in the custody of kidnappers who have now fled their hideout on a river island together with the hostages. The kidnappers also have with them three civilians kidnapped from Rahimyar Khan. The gangsters, who are said to be linked to the banned Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, had kidnapped the policemen to use them as a bargaining chip for the release of three arrested gang members and the annulment of criminal cases against them. Police were negotiating the freedom of their men with the kidnappers through a provincial PML-N legislator from the area ever since the incident took place. But the talks broke off when the authorities refused to free one of the arrested men.

Police say they preferred negotiations over use of force against the criminals to ensure the hostages’ safe return. ‘Lack of easy access’ to the hideout was another reason that prevented them from carrying out the operation to free their colleagues. The failure to secure the release of their kidnapped colleagues will strongly hurt the morale of the policemen working in the area in difficult conditions and without enough resources. In the meanwhile, the incident has brought public focus back on the lawlessness prevalent in the katcha areas along the Indus in south Punjab and the close links between criminals and banned militant groups. Police have tried to clear the area of criminals a few times previously but such gangs re-emerge after some time. The authorities should take firm action to purge the area of criminal gangs in order to provide security to the people.

Intelligence failure President’s aide killed


THAT Karachi is no stranger to lawlessness is an understatement; violent crime, bombings and targeted killings have become routine. Each day ordinary citizens are killed in acts of violence. However, it is when a victim with significant security is targeted that the fragility of the city’s law and order situation is truly exposed. Such a victim died in Wednesday’s apparent suicide attack in the city’s congested Guru Mandir area. Bilal Sheikh, a senior security aide to President Zardari and a member of the president’s inner circle, was killed, along with three others, as a bomber struck when the driver stopped the vehicle in order to allow Mr Sheikh to buy fruit. Mr Sheikh had survived two previous attempts on his life; one attack was believed to be carried out by criminal elements from Lyari. However, suicide bombing is not a method used by Lyari’s gangsters and no group has so far claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack. The bombing is a major intelligence lapse, particularly on the part of the civil security apparatus. It shows that militants are way ahead of the state’s security set-up and that when they plan to carry out acts of terrorism, they do their homework thoroughly. Targeted attacks often happen near the victim’s home or workplace, but in this case the perpetrators seemed well aware of Mr Sheikh’s routine and movements. The killers had performed proper reconnaissance; the police and intelligence agencies regrettably lack such efficiency when tracking down militant elements.

The attack also exposes the vulnerability of those in sensitive positions such as Mr Sheikh. Suicide bombings can happen anywhere, hence it is important to track down the nurseries where bombers are produced and to neutralise the infrastructure of terror. Wednesday’s bombing should also prompt greater introspection in Sindh’s law and order circles as currently it seems that anybody — even those with significant security detail, as in Bilal Sheikh’s case — is an open target for violent forces in Karachi, with the state unable to control the bloodshed.

Still the ‘Wild West’ Fata’s development


PRIME MINISTER Nawaz Sharif’s meeting with Fata representatives on Thursday was a much-needed one. The meeting touched upon the need for long-term, sustainable efforts for peace, which the legislators made clear had been missing till now. Coincidentally, this meeting was held the same day as newspapers published an ad pertaining to a citizens’ initiative that includes more than 300 tribal elders, religious clerics, political and social activists, and other citizens, asking for wide-ranging reforms. These include the right to local government, education and the repeal of old and draconian laws. Consequently, it was clear that Fata needed far more from Islamabad than a decision on the choice between war and negotiations.

At the heart of the matter is the manner in which the tribal areas have been governed — with no representation; no legislative powers and ruled by draconian laws deemed unacceptable in a modern, democratic polity. Tragically, in the last five years, the FCR provisions have remained in place while another harsh law — Aid of Civil Power Regulation 2011 — has been added to further erode the rights of the tribal people. Undoubtedly, the war against militancy that has plagued Pakistan has brought nothing but anguish to Fata’s residents — they have suffered the brunt of the violence exercised by the militants and the state; lost lives and been displaced from their homes; and seen a further erosion of their already non-existent human rights.

The government needs to realise that militancy in the tribal areas has erupted due to a number of political and historical factors. Fata is our ‘Wild West’ where the state never tried to establish institutions. In a region with little economic opportunities, what would the youth do but get involved in ‘jihad’, smuggling and other criminal activities? These issues have to be addressed if militancy is to be eliminated. The latter is a many-headed hydra which is kept alive by criminal gangs, smuggling and drug mafias and economic underdevelopment. If militancy is only addressed via an army-led operation, the result will be an unending military presence in these areas. A long-term, nuanced strategy has to be put in place to integrate the region into the country, give its residents the same rights as the rest of Pakistan and wean the area’s economy away from the murky activities in which a menace such as the Taliban breed. Anything short of this will be nothing more than a band-aid on a festering wound.
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13-07-2013


Hard questions National: security policy

AS optics and perceptions go, it was a significant gesture. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif himself making the short trip across Islamabad to the headquarters of the organisation, the ISI, that nominally reports to him underscored Mr Sharif’s intention to try and improve in both substance and form the historically fraught civil-military relationship. Now that the prime minister has decided to turn his attention from the energy crisis to the security crisis, the real challenge has begun. In essence, the problem is two-fold. One, the state must methodically bring to an end the era of non-state actors systematically operating from and controlling pockets of Pakistani soil. Two, civilian supremacy over the armed forces and its intelligence apparatus must be established, and, flowing from that, national security and foreign policy must be turned into a civilian-led domain.

To begin that long process, Mr Sharif has embarked on a round of consultations that will in all likelihood lead to a multi-party summit on national security and counterterrorism policy. If that sounds reasonable enough in theory, the problem is that the path that has to be walked has been known for a long time. Will the prime minister have the political will to set definite goals and then task his subordinates to do what it takes to achieve them? And, for all the army’s protestations that it genuinely wants to work together with the civilian leadership, what level of subordination will it be willing to accept in which policy areas? Sensibly, though, the prime minister and his circle of advisers appear to have honed in on two areas for immediate reforms: the police and intelligence coordination. Both are significant to securing the cities and rooting out shadowy terrorist networks that may plan their attacks in remote parts of the country but focus on the urban centres for maximal publicity of their cause and psychological damage.

Nevertheless, at the core of the state contradiction is a civil-military imbalance that must — yes, must — be righted. Anything less and the country is unlikely to get the security-centric policy it actually needs and arguably deserves. Mr Sharif has the mandate and does appear to take the issue of national security seriously. But consultations and summits and meetings cannot be a substitute for meaningful policy. That must come from Mr Sharif’s office, and relatively soon. And to truly deal with militancy, terrorism and extremism, the prime minister cannot keep his home province, Punjab, out of bounds. A national policy must touch all parts of the country.


Post-devolution challenge: CCI’s importance

WHILE the Council of Common Interests did hold fairly regular meetings during the last government’s tenure, the forum recently constituted by the new government must continue to meet frequently considering the gamut of subjects confronting it as the process of devolution continues. In the post-devolution era, the importance of the CCI, a constitutionally mandated body tasked with formulating and regulating policies on subjects in the second part of the Federal Legislative List, has increased. After the passage of the 18th Amendment several grey areas remain regarding which subjects are purely federal matters, which fall under the provincial domain and which require a collaborative approach between the centre and the federating units.

With the rise of terrorism — arguably the nation’s biggest problem — increased coordination is needed between the provinces and Islamabad. Apart from terrorism, many key issues require uniformity in state policy. For example, water, more specifically the judicious sharing of it, especially between Sindh and Punjab, has the potential to become a major cause of provincial disharmony. Similarly, while Thar coal may fall under Sindh’s jurisdiction, the electricity that will potentially be produced from it will be added to the national grid. Power and gas distribution are also areas that can cause critical disagreements among provinces unless a clear consensus over their fair usage exists, while gas exploration also needs to be speeded up. Then there is health; while it is a provincial subject, greater coordination is essential when it comes to national-level programmes such as the anti-polio drive and the control of infectious diseases. There was considerable acrimony between Sindh and the federal government after the recent measles epidemic, with both sides accusing each other of mismanagement. In short, any subject that will have an impact beyond provincial borders can come under the CCI’s purview. The council’s scope can be expanded to include counterterrorism and the CCI can be used to coordinate national-level policies and mediate disputes that crop up between the centre and the provinces, or between provinces.


Unlawful behaviour: FIR registration

ISLAMABAD is riveted by a court case involving the head honchos of the KP and Islamabad police. In May, a woman died in Peshawar while visiting her parents. The same day, her estranged husband’s father Bani Amin, the inspector general of police in Islamabad, had a case registered in the capital. But after some weeks of silence, the deceased’s mother approached the Supreme Court, accusing her own husband and son of killing her daughter. The court took the Islamabad police to task for registering a case in Islamabad when the death happened in Peshawar, forcing Mr Amin to argue that he had been left with no choice as the Peshawar police had refused to register the case — ostensibly under pressure from the deceased’s family. Now thanks to the Supreme Court’s intervention an FIR has been registered in Peshawar and the victim’s brother and sister-in-law have been arrested.

The high-profile case has once again highlighted the state of the police in Pakistan. Politicisation, corruption and nepotism are now so intrinsically linked to the law-enforcement personnel that hardly an eyebrow was raised on the inappropriate and illegal behaviour of the police in Peshawar and Islamabad. The discussion focused on the unnatural death and the motives behind it. It has brought home once again the problems ordinary citizens face simply getting FIRs and complaints registered with a force that only springs into action to do the bidding of the rich and the powerful. It no longer functions as an institution established to uphold the law and serve the people. How can a society function properly and develop respect for the law when people have to approach the highest court in the country to get an FIR registered — let alone ensure that the investigations will be carried out?
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14.07.2013
Courage and clarity: Malala’s UN speech

ON her 16th birthday, Malala Yousufzai made her country proud once again. The composure, poise and maturity of Malala on display at the United Nations were truly a sight to behold. Leave aside her age, the fact that she had been shot in the head less than a year ago infused the moment with a great deal of poignancy. As ever, though, Malala sought to move the subject away from herself. “Malala Day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights,” the young activist said. Malala is truly the pride of Pakistan. And yet, even as perhaps the sole beacon of hope in this country where hope and inspiration are all too difficult to find, Malala’s speech, and her mission, will perhaps not gain the kind of attention and sustained coverage it deserves.

The reason why Malala has not reached the iconic status inside Pakistan that she deserves is dis-piritingly familiar: at age 16, Malala has the kind of clarity and sense of purpose that a divided Pakistani society simply does not. And therein lies the central challenge to putting Pakistan on the road to a stable and secure future. How exactly and who exactly will provide the leadership to drag society from its state of confusion towards coalescing against some clear and coherent principles? In particular, how will Pakistan inch towards a zero-tolerance policy towards non-state actors, the very forces that tried to kill Malala and have killed many thousands of Pakistanis over the years?

The answer to those questions is much murkier. The obvious candidates are the political leadership and the army high command. But it is difficult to know if they can ever truly be brought on the same page given the long and treacherous history of institutional tensions in Pakistan. Unhappily, while the urge is to suggest that they must somehow provide the leadership the country deserves, there is little historical evidence, nationally or even internationally, to suggest that will necessarily be the case. In the absence of that clarity, however, Pakistan’s drift towards extremism, militancy and terrorism and a declining state seems to be a near certainty. The only unknown there is the timeline: will it happen sooner than later or will a slow-motion downward spiral play out? The trend, though, can be checked and reversed even. Whether cataclysmic events act as the trigger or statesmanship prevails before that, the slide towards chaos is only inevitable if Pakistan and Pakistanis let it become so.

Serious allegations: MQM in the spotlight

THE MQM’s activities, particularly that of the party’s chief, have been in the news recently after a British TV programme revealed various details that have emerged in the course of MQM leader Imran Farooq’s 2010 murder investigation. As reported in the BBC Two’s Newsnight programme, Altaf Hussain is being investigated after a large amount of money — around £400,000 in cash — was discovered in raids conducted by the London Metropolitan Police from two properties connected to him. While it is normal for parties to raise funds from supporters for political activities both in Pakistan and abroad, the discovery of such a large amount of cash in a foreign country is bound to raise eyebrows. Some experts are of the view that this may lead to money laundering charges, though no one has been formally charged yet and the MQM has denied all accusations of wrongdoing. However the broadcast has opened up a Pandora’s Box. Many of the points raised in the programme were already being discussed in the public domain, though perhaps in hushed tones, while other revelations were new.

It is quite possible that the funds in question were personal donations or money meant for party use. For most Pakistanis it is understandable, and perhaps even acceptable, to have such a large amount of cash without declaring it for tax purposes. But the British authorities, who follow a very strict tax regime, may not understand this practice. Therefore, the MQM and its leadership need to move very carefully in this regard. Instead of describing the investigation as a conspiracy or criticising media reports as “character assassination” of its leader, the MQM needs to cooperate with and satisfy the London police because what is important here is for the party to clear its name in the eyes of the British law enforcement authorities, not just its supporters in Pakistan. Full cooperation must also be extended in the Imran Farooq case as the MQM leadership has also said it wants the killers to be brought to justice.

Syrian dissidents’ infighting: Al Qaeda making inroads

THE murder by a jihadist militia on Thursday of a powerful Free Syrian Army commander highlights the country’s drift towards anarchy. Commander Kamal Hamami belonged to the FSA’s supreme command and wanted to discuss military operations with rival leaders when an Al Qaeda-linked group shot him. The killers belonged to the ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Levant’, which later said it would kill the entire leadership of the FSA’s supreme military council. Originally confined to its country, the Islamic State of Iraq merged a few months back with extremist Syrian groups to acquire its present nomenclature. This infighting among the rebels has helped President Bashar al-Assad, whose government has gone on the offensive and gained some important military victories, including the capture of Qusayr from the rebels. His government could now concentrate on wresting Homs from the dissidents.

Even though the Syrian civil war is more than 27 months old, its character underwent a radical change over the last year, with the spirit behind the Arab Spring giving way to a sectarian conflict. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are lending political, financial and military support to extremist elements at a time when around two-thirds of Syria is not under the Assad government. This has enabled Al Qaeda to make a major effort to turn Syria into a base of operations. As a report says, even Pakistani Taliban have managed to find their way to the country and work in tandem with those having a larger Islamist agenda. This could destabilise the entire Middle East. While there is a split in the Western world over arming Syrian rebels, America and Russia should try to revive the Geneva peace conference move, now in limbo, to end the slaughter which has so far cost 100,000 lives.
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15-07-2013

New fears: TTP in Syria


THE problem with a head-in-the-sand approach to fighting militancy is that the rest of the body is left exposed. For a while now the TTP has been an enemy of the Pakistani state but there is hardly a faction within that umbrella organisation that at some point over the years has not been in the good books of the army-led security establishment. But the good Taliban/bad Taliban dichotomy never made sense to begin with and as time has gone by, the contradictions have become apparent. The TTP in all its forms has always been bad news for this country’s internal stability and external relations. Just how bad has been underlined in recent days with two foreign news services reporting that the TTP has claimed to have sent men to Syria to fight alongside rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.

The Arab nexus, including links to Al Qaeda, has always been apparent in the arc of the TTP’s relatively short history. Unlike, say, the Afghan Taliban who by and large have hewed to a purely domestic agenda, ie ridding Afghanistan of foreign ‘invaders’, the TTP’s overall agenda has leaned more towards the concept of a global jihad. In the past, that has meant offering sanctuary to foreign militants who arrived in Fata for training or to escape more hostile environments in their home countries. Eventually, however, a resilient TTP was always likely to seek to contribute directly to so-called jihadist struggles outside the Pak-Afghan region. As with all things, TTP claims made by various commanders take time to be established but if the Syria claims are verified, it would mark an alarming new phase in the militant network’s existence.

Syria may be an epic mess on its own, but other countries that could be potential destinations for the TTP’s battle-hardened cadre of fighters will surely be alarmed by the possibility. Pakistan is already fairly isolated in the international arena because of its inability to systematically curb the activities of non-state actors on Pakistani soil and this latest development will only add to the pressure. But it is in the domestic arena that the repercussions will be the most severe. The TTP has proved to be far more resilient than originally thought, though perhaps that is in no small part aided by the lack of a coherent strategy on the part of the state to fight militancy. If the TTP is confident enough to be sending fighters abroad, does that mean the network believes it has enough resources locally to successfully fend off the Pakistani state? That is an enormously worrying possibility.



An equal justice: First-ever female jirga


IT is difficult to believe that in a country that boasts of female fighter pilots, not to mention a twice-elected female prime minister, women and girls can still be parcelled out like chattel to settle scores in tribal feuds. Yet that is so, despite the practice — usually known as swara or vani — having been declared illegal through a criminal law amendment in 2005 and again in a subsequent piece of legislation in 2011. The Supreme Court on Thursday took notice of a recent jirga in south Punjab which had decreed that three girls be handed over in marriage to settle a case of murder. Fortunately, timely intervention by the police prevented the decision from being carried out. It’s heartening to note that through a combination of legislation, judicial and civil society activism, and media reportage, the inhuman custom is reportedly on the decline.

This shows that even the most entrenched patriarchal traditions can be countered with persistence backed by institutional support. And so a group of women in Swat has decided to shake the foundations of the definitively male bastion of tribal culture — the jirga — by forming Pakistan’s first-ever female jirga.

A particularly gruesome case of domestic violence, in which a 16-year-old girl died of acid burns inflicted by her husband, was the catalyst for the women to defy local convention in which public space and the right to dispense justice belong to men alone. Their objective is to counter the typically misogynistic decisions that, in the absence of the female perspective and coupled with women’s low status in society, are often handed down by the traditional jirgas. Unfortunately, weak systems of civil administration allow the anachronistic jirgas to survive in many parts of the country as a means of inexpensive and speedy ‘justice’. Although they must in time be replaced by the formal justice system, for now jirgas could certainly do with a shake-up to their male-centred approach that treats women as little more than dispensable bargaining chips.




Now, something new: Tax on old clothing


FOR the cynics accusing the young government of trying a series of second-hand remedies, this is truly an ingenious move. And this time the government has begun where everyone wants it to, at the grass roots. The federal government has lent greater respectability to the merchandise by levying a five per cent tax on the import and local supply of worn clothing. This clearly betrays vision. The government has the ability to tap new areas to increase revenues. The silver lining for the people here is that a government which is aware of the deals at the stalls in the old clothes lunda bazaars might one day end up looking deeper into the lives of the always pitied low-income groups.

As usual, this five per cent tax is accompanied by statistics. The import of 354,895 metric tonnes of worn clothing worth $137,315m in 11 months must be a sign of good business, which the Federal Board of Revenue has sought to cash in on through an order with immediate effect. The figures can be used to argue that the sales are actually falling. A decline of 4.3pc was recorded between July 2012 and May 2013 just as the value of these clothes rose by 0.84pc. This indicates increase in prices. The next time someone tries on a shirt at the stall down the street, he might have to haggle with the seller just a little more. Five per cent on pieces starting at Rs50 or even below, the government must be hoping, will be bearable. But while we might not see the traders’ appeals in the papers for withdrawal of the levy, the step does unclothe a strange official mentality in a country where many of the privileged remain untaxed.
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