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  #1591  
Old Sunday, June 11, 2017
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Default June 11th, 2017

Guidelines to curb terror financing


THE State Bank has just updated its rules for banks so they can be more diligent about handling funds that could be connected with persons or entities designated by the UN as terrorists. The move is obviously linked to the upcoming review of Pakistan’s compliance with global money laundering and anti-terror financing regulations that is due in July. It will be conducted by the Financial Action Task Force, the UN body tasked with developing the regulatory architecture to prevent the use of the banking system by terrorists and criminals. The costs of failing such a review can potentially be high and lead to the disconnection of the country’s financial system from the global financial system, making it impossible for the economy to transact with the outside world. There is little chance that Pakistan will land up there in the near future, but it is a slippery slope; one wrong step can have very damaging consequences — which could mean a terrible hit for our external trade and remittances.

A drama has always played out whenever Pakistan’s case has come up for review before the FATF — the last time was in February 2015 when the country was actually removed from the ‘grey list’ of jurisdictions whose financial system pose a risk to the global financial system. The drama preceding this was linked to the unfinished business of ensuring compliance with the regulatory framework created by the FATF, to which Pakistan is a signatory. The unfinished business has to do with certain individuals and entities that have been designated by the UN body as terrorists, but who roam freely, with some openly operating large organisations and charities that collect donations across the country — work that requires the use of the banking system.

Pakistan managed a step forward in 2015 because it gave a commitment to the FATF to move against these groups before the next review due in July. Of course, that commitment was never delivered on; a small step towards sensitising key stakeholders about the importance of the issue led to the outbreak of civil-military tensions that have only recently subsided. Now we are moving towards another review when Pakistan will be asked again whether action has been taken against the designated groups as it is committed to doing — perhaps, a long-winded answer will have to be furnished. It is in preparation for this review that the State Bank has apparently acted to update its regulations and guidelines, bringing in clauses that hew closer to the requirements mandated by international regulatory authorities. It seems the government is preparing to go back to the FATF with yet another ‘commitment’ to take action — at a later date — against designated terrorist groups, hoping this will be enough to get past the referee until the next review.


Chinese victims


THE kidnapping was a worrying enough sign. The victims were two Chinese nationals and the scene of the crime was a supposedly secure zone inside Quetta. Now, with both Chinese and Pakistani officials saying the two nationals could have been killed and the militant Islamic State group claiming responsibility, a decidedly more serious problem has revealed itself. Earlier in the week, the ISPR had claimed a major success against a Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and IS nexus of militancy in a remote warren of caves in Mastung district, suggesting that local militancy continues to evolve and that the IS is far from the marginal threat some sections of the state have tried to cast it as. It is not known if the Mastung raids and the Quetta kidnapping are linked, but what is clear are two things: Balochistan’s security troubles remain complex with seemingly no end in sight, and Pakistan remains an IS target. Before a strategy can be evolved to address both issues, there must be a frank acknowledgement of the realities.

Balochistan is an integral part of CPEC and there is no future imaginable in which the province is not rapidly opened up to Chinese and domestic investments and infrastructure projects. But the surge in economic activity was always likely to attract threats in a province that has myriad security challenges and therefore demands an approach that goes beyond further militarisation. The low-level Baloch separatist insurgency is more than a decade old; neighbouring Afghan and Iranian regions continue to pose security problems; Balochistan has seen the rise of sectarian and Islamist militancy; and now, with the expansion of the Chinese footprint in the province, pre-existing threats could fuse with new strands of militancy to create an unprecedented threat. There is no realistic scenario in which Pakistan can wage a full-scale war against all those threats at the same time in the same province. In the convergence of the IS and the anti-China threat, there is an opportunity for the state to craft a fresh strategy that politically stabilises Balochistan in order to focus on a militant danger that is spreading to other parts of the country. There must be no space for the IS in Pakistan. The current approach has failed to prevent the group from gaining space; institutional differences must be put aside for the sake of a joint and effective strategy to defeat it.

Pilgrims’ progress


SUCH is the level of hostility between Pakistani and Indian officials that even the most harmless of opportunities for exchange can fall prey to a resolute refusal to consider the bigger picture. Of late, India seems set to take the lead in this unsavoury competition. Some time ago, Pakistani artists working in India had come under intense fire. And now, Sikh pilgrims who were scheduled to visit this country to observe the death anniversary of Guru Arjan Devji on Friday at the Gurdwara Punja Sahib in Hassanabdal have fallen victim to their own administration’s myopia. Up to 300 yatris are able to visit the gurdwara to attend this particular event. This year, 96 pilgrims applied for a visa, 14 of whom were given permission to cross the border by foot at Wagah, with the rest left to travel on a special train sent across by Pakistan. On Thursday, with local authorities still not having been given permission by their Indian counterparts to send across this special train, Pakistan said that the yatris could travel on the Samjhota Express that was in any case scheduled to make the trip to Atari and back. However, the pilgrims were stopped from boarding by Indian authorities on the pretext that this was not the special train reserved for their travel. At this, Pakistan once again reminded India that permission for the special train to cross the border was pending. But in the back and forth, the day dwindled away and these pilgrims lost their chance to attend the event — which, as it turned out, was attended by only a handful of Sikhs who had successfully crossed at Wagah.

If such is the level of obstruction demonstrated by the bureaucracy, it is difficult to harbour much hope for a future where ties between the two countries will normalise. In acting as it did, the Indian authorities not only rebuffed Pakistan’s offer they also punished their own citizens by undermining their right to honour religious duties. In the future, better sense must prevail.

Source: Editorials
Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2017
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  #1592  
Old Monday, July 17, 2017
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Default Dawn, July 16th, 2017

PM’s accountability


THE next phase in the political fate of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif begins tomorrow.

The battle lines are now drawn, at least politically. The PML-N has vowed to fight corruption charges against its leader tooth and nail; the combined opposition, though in varying degrees, believes Mr Sharif should step down and let parliament get on with the business of electing a new prime minister.

Self-serving as the opposition demand may be, there is an undeniable logic to it. The PML-N’s claims are self-serving too, but they are less persuasive, at least from a democratic perspective. What remains to be seen is the PML-N’s legal strategy.

Thus far it has been a spectacular failure — an attempt to taint the proceedings against Mr Sharif as politically motivated without trying to address the allegations themselves.

As the JIT report has made clear, the Sharifs have continued to provide contradictory accounts of how the family apartments in London came to be in their possession. That is unacceptable, no matter what the concerns about the intentions and motivations of the JIT may be.

Surely, a decade into the latest transition to democracy, old excuses cannot stop the system from progressing towards a much-needed accountability of all. Unhappily, the JIT lived up to its reputation and delivered a report that is littered with unnecessary observations and distractions. It is almost as if the JIT were drawing up a political indictment for public consumption rather than strictly answering the questions put to it by the Supreme Court.

It must be remembered that the three justices of the Supreme Court who determined a JIT was necessary to answer certain questions about the so-called money trail of the London apartments did so with a relatively open mind. The JIT seems to have interpreted the questions as accusations and enthusiastically condemned Mr Sharif, his children and sundry allies.

The unnecessary and certainly undesirable approach of the JIT has prevented it from assembling a legally impregnable case against the Sharifs, something that will undoubtedly be exploited by the prime minister’s legal team in the Supreme Court.

Worse, the JIT’s undue aggression towards the prime minister and his family has cast a cloud over the whole proceedings, reinforcing arguments that the process is politically motivated. The Supreme Court ought to address the issue head-on and separate core facts in the report from unnecessary distractions. If Mr Sharif is to be shown the exit door, the process must be unimpeachable.

There is a further issue that the Supreme Court ought to consider. Some of the doubts about the true purpose of the proceedings against Mr Sharif can be removed if a clear road map is given for furthering the cause of accountability. It is right that Mr Sharif is being investigated first in the Panama Papers case, but accountability cannot and must not stop with him.

Sindh’s anti-NAB law

ACCOUNTABILITY has always been a flawed process in Pakistan. However, it makes no sense to do away with institutions responsible for ensuring accountability and replacing them with obedient rubber-stamp bodies that work to cover up the shenanigans of their political bosses. The PPP-led Sindh government, it appears, seems to be bent upon pursuing the latter course of action. On Friday, Sindh Governor Mohammad Zubair returned the National Accountability Ordinance 1999 Sindh Repeal Bill, designed to do away with NAB’s jurisdiction in Sindh, without signing it. In the weeks since the Sindh government passed the controversial law on July 3 in a stormy provincial assembly session, word on the political front was that the Sindh governor, who belongs to the PML-N, was going to do exactly that. However, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah has ‘regretted’ the action, and said that the law will be sent back to the Sindh Assembly. Due to the PPP’s majority in the provincial legislature, the party will have little trouble in getting the law passed without the governor’s assent, even though opposition parties in Sindh have cried foul over it.

Perhaps in the upcoming Sindh Assembly session the law can be further debated and reviewed to remove the opposition’s and critics’ objections. As things stand, the law is widely being seen as an attempt by the PPP to protect itself and its supporters from oversight of any kind. Indeed, NAB’s performance has left a lot to be desired. But instead of proposing to reform the body, the PPP’s attempt to remove the federal body’s jurisdiction from Sindh points to something more sinister. There are very few who would believe that Sindh’s administration is being run in a transparent, corruption-free manner. The province’s crumbling health and education infrastructure and lack of basic facilities for its people all indicate that a large portion of the billions of rupees allocated for public expenditure are not being spent on the people’s welfare, but are ending up in certain pockets. Defective as the accountability infrastructure may be, replacing it with a submissive body at the beck and call of Sindh’s ruling party may do away with whatever little oversight of government finances remains. The PPP would do well to heed the criticism and review the anti-NAB law in the assembly session, and work towards reforming the body instead of eliminating it in the province.

Beaten to death


AFTER days of back and forth over the cause of death of young Akhtar Ali, a post-mortem report has finally been prepared.

It confirms what the boy’s family had been claiming since the 16-year-old’s body was recovered from the house of his employers in Lahore’s Akbari Gate area: the child was beaten with a blunt weapon, resulting in his death.

Talking to the media, SSP Investigation Mubashir Maiken on Friday further quoted the post-mortem report as saying that the boy’s body bore old wounds as well as fresh ones.

Consequently, into the murder FIR that was registered when the case first came to light, the police have now inserted an anti-terrorism clause making reconciliation between the two parties difficult.


Suspected of the murder is the employer of Ali and his sister for the past four years, Fauzia, daughter of PML-N MPA Shah Jahan.

There are many aspects to this tragedy that must simultaneously evoke emotions ranging from shock to unbearable sadness.

One is the sort of poverty and lack of governmental intervention/support that produces large families and forces parents to put their children to work in the first place.

Recent times have thrown up case after case of such domestic workers — young, unaware of any rights and often cut off from their families — being horribly treated.

Often, the conditions under which they work are hardly different from slave labour.

Another is the callousness of society itself, where the issue of child labour and the mistreatment of minors is deeply endemic and there for all to see, yet invisible until death or serious injury occur.

Most depressingly, not even the potential vanguards of change always have their hands clean — consider how many of the country’s educated families employ children, and in particular, ponder the fact that the politician parent of Ali’s suspected murderer is a member of the National Assembly’s standing committee on labour and human resource.

In such circumstances, can there be anything other than despair?

Source: Editorials
Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2017
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  #1593  
Old Monday, September 04, 2017
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Default September 2nd, 2017

Rebuilding ties


ALL things considered, it appears to have been a cordial meeting focused on constructive diplomacy rather than mindless sabre-rattling. National Security Adviser Nasser Janjua and US ambassador to Pakistan David Hale were unlikely to achieve any major breakthrough in their meeting on Thursday, but the Pakistani side did take the opportunity to send a positive message: the state remains willing to engage with the US for the purposes of peace and stability in Afghanistan. The meeting came as the US State Department notified that it is withholding a further $255m in security assistance to Pakistan in a highly unusual manner. American officials may have hoped to signal to Pakistan that they are not yet looking to cut Pakistan off entirely, but dangling the $255m as an apparent reward for further cooperation by Pakistan will likely have angered and embarrassed officials here.

The US continues to remain tone deaf to Pakistani sentiment, and while that may be inadvertent or deliberate, the result is the same: further complicating an already fiendishly difficult relationship. There is a further problem, unique to the administration of President Donald Trump: it is not clear if the US leader is on the same page as his secretary of state and secretary of defence. With different centres of power speaking in different tones on the same issue, the real locus of US strategy on Pakistan, Afghanistan and the region generally is unknowable. Furthermore, the turmoil in the State Department makes it more difficult to stabilise the Pakistan-US relationship, with the job security of everyone involved in the Af-Pak policymaking chain from the secretary downwards in doubt. Given the uncertainty, perhaps the best course of action for Pakistan is to engage the US across the diplomatic, military and national security spectrums for an urgent explanation of Pakistan’s position on Afghanistan and its preferred path to peace and stability in the region.

What Pakistan must avoid is the temptation to pay the US back in its own coin, reacting petulantly to what is a manifestly frustrating approach. Particularly worrying are the signs that Pakistani public opinion is being mobilised against the US once again — a tactic that has only the most fleeting of benefits and that quickly grows in potential to hold the state itself hostage. Like the US has erred by viewing Pakistan through the prism of its flawed Afghan policy, Pakistan will err if it sees Afghanistan through the prism of a flawed American policy. Much as Pakistan has legitimate security concerns about encroachment in Afghanistan by other regional powers, especially but not limited to India, the greater threat to Pakistani security is an Afghanistan in a state of perpetual turmoil. If the Quadrilateral Coordination Group or Six-Plus-One process is revitalised, it should be possible to put diplomacy back at the centre of an eventual Afghan solution.

Rain havoc


FOR many families in Karachi, there are no Eid festivities today. The monsoon rains that began on Wednesday evening have created havoc, bringing death and misery to its citizens, and laying waste to their plans for a joyous holiday weekend. At least 23 people, including seven children, lost their lives on Thursday alone in rain-related incidents, mostly electrocution, while three deaths were reported yesterday. Overflowing storm water drains choked with garbage and an aging, dilapidated sewerage system have spewed their collective filth into low-lying areas: homes are flooded, possessions destroyed, and roads — dotted with submerged vehicles — have been rendered impassable. Many sacrificial animals, purchased with hard-earned savings, have drowned. The rising water level in the Lyari River even submerged the heavy machinery being used to construct the expressway running alongside, nearly claiming the lives of the two men who were operating it.

This season’s monsoon has highlighted once again with devastating clarity the consequences of the decades-long neglect of governance in Pakistan’s largest city, one whose formal economy generates nearly 25pc of the country’s GDP. The dereliction of duty by successive self-serving and corrupt ruling dispensations and their brazen violation of rules are directly responsible for the plight of its citizens today. Warnings about this week’s spell of rain and high chances of urban flooding had been issued well in advance, but that could not prevent the inevitable: the massive amounts of rain that fell on the city had simply nowhere to go. Karachi’s multiple natural storm water drains — over 30 — are choked with garbage or drastically narrowed by land reclamation, the last a symptom of the construction ‘boom’ that brings eye-watering profits for some people in high places. The PPP-led Sindh government, by playing politics with Karachi’s present and its future, has further aggravated the situation. In 2013, it brought in legislation that stripped the elected KMC and district councils — which have hefty MQM representation and are responsible for municipal services in Karachi — of virtually all their functions, and handed over municipal services to the bureaucracy of Sindh’s local government department under its direct control. Even the distribution of water, disposal of sewage or solid waste — of which this metropolis generates more than 12,000 tonnes daily — no longer remained under KMC’s purview. Matters have become untenable. Only a holistic, well-thought-out solution that takes into account technical aspects as well as governance issues can prevent Karachi from descending further into a dystopian nightmare.

A policy of inclusion


NADRA’S recently announced policy revision for transgender people is another sign that the trans community is well on its way to reclaiming the fundamental rights it has long been denied. The announcement demonstrates how policies and processes for marginalised groups ought to be — empathetic and accommodating, taking into account their life experiences and the systemic disadvantages they encounter. To that effect, the decision to allow those who have been abandoned by their biological parents to register under the guardianship of their guru is commendable. So, too, is the decision to create three gender categories in addition to ‘male’ and ‘female’ — recognising the fact that gender lies on a spectrum, and respectful of the terminology a trans person uses to describe their identity. But there are aspects that require further attention.

First, what of those trans persons who may have neither parents nor gurus? Ostensibly, they ought to fall under the new Child Registration Certificate, or B-form, policy that was announced for orphaned or abandoned children — which itself ought to extend to adults. The authority must act swiftly to provide clarity on this potential lacuna, not only for the transgender population but also for all those denied CNICs for want of documented parentage. Second, a policy is only as good as its implementation. While Nadra already allowed for gender identification on CNICs to be assigned solely “as per applicant’s appearance or desire”, many have argued that this is not the case in practice. Going by the provisional census results, there are 10,418 transgender Pakistanis and, according to Nadra, as of April only 1,681 have been registered, which means that at least 84pc of the trans population lack primary proof of identity. Reaching this underserviced group will require sensitisation of Nadra employees on transgender rights and related issues, procedural training on the updated policy and registration outreach initiatives. Policies that seek to mainstream disenfranchised groups must be wholeheartedly embraced, and enacted in both letter and spirit.

Source: Editorials
Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2017
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  #1594  
Old Tuesday, September 05, 2017
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Default September 5th, 2017

Extremists on campuses


A shocking attack that missed its target but claimed the lives of at least two others on Eid day in Karachi has revealed a dangerous and apparently growing dimension of militancy in the country.

Sindh MPA Khawaja Izharul Hassan, a senior leader of a faction of the MQM, survived the audacious attempt on his life on Saturday, but the alleged mastermind escaped the scene of the attack.

Believed to have been injured in the attack, the militant belonging to a new outfit, Ansarul Sharia Pakistan, was quickly identified by the Sindh police: Abdul Karim Sarosh Siddiqui, a former student of the University of Karachi.

The involvement in militancy of young individuals from the mainstream-education system is not a new phenomenon. Saad Aziz of the Safoora Goth carnage was a student of the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi, while Noreen Leghari, an MBBS student of Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences, Hyderabad, has been implicated in ties with the militant Islamic State group.

What is clear is that the higher education system in the country remains thoroughly ill equipped to either curb extremism among students or identify individuals before they are able to go on to commit violent crimes. In the wake of the latest Karachi attack, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Shah has claimed that a security audit and verification system will be introduced in the province to try and identify students with militant and terrorist leanings. That may be a welcome move, but it will need to be carefully implemented.

The blunt instrument of the state should not be used against young people who may simply have an educational interest in different ideologies or want to practise a different kind of politics to what the state condones. The focus must be narrow and precise: religiously inspired militants who are on the path of violence against state and society, be they so-called lone wolves or part of an established network of militancy.

The measures that need to be taken cannot be limited to the campus either. The physical and online networks of jihad must be monitored more closely. After more than a decade of fighting militancy, why is it still relatively easy for individuals seeking to join militant groups to do so?

Surely, as the militancy evolves, the state’s response in fighting it must evolve too. Finally, there is the original reality ie madressah networks through which a great deal of recruitment and facilitation of militancy occurs. The emergence of a new challenge does not mean long-standing threats can be ignored. More effort is needed on all fronts.

Rohingya exodus


THERE seems to be no escape from the cycle of violence and persecution the Rohingya suffer in Myanmar. In a tragedy last week, children were among the 17 people found dead after their boats capsized while they were trying to flee Myanmar and reach Bangladesh. The UN says that nearly 90,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh after violence broke out in Myanmar recently. Clashes have broken out a number of times over the past few years between the Buddhist majority in Myanmar and the Rohingya who are Muslim. The latest cycle of violence was apparently triggered when Rohingya militants launched attacks on police which left 12 security personnel dead. The response from the state as well as Buddhist mobs has been brutal, with Rohingya villages reportedly being torched. In the rush to flee the violence, a number of people have died in the waters between Myanmar and Bangladesh. The Rohingya — described by the UN as the world’s most persecuted minority — lead a miserable existence in Myanmar, with the state refusing to recognise them as citizens and insisting they are ‘illegal immigrants’ from Bangladesh. They have few rights, while a renewed wave of Buddhist nationalism has helped fuel violent attacks against them. In fact, former UN head Kofi Annan warned that if ethnic tensions are not addressed in Myanmar, there is a “real risk” of radicalisation. The attacks by militants on police, and the subsequent crackdown by the state and mobs, surely point to growing radicalisation on all sides.

In the immediate term, to prevent more tragedies such as incidents of drowning, Bangladesh must allow in those fleeing persecution and violence in Myanmar and not turn them back. Not only is blocking the access of those who are escaping death and injury inhumane, it also contravenes international conventions. While it is true that Bangladesh already hosts hundreds of thousands of displaced Rohingyas, allowing them to drown in the sea or return to face violence is unacceptable. The international community should come forward to lend Dhaka a hand in caring for the Rohingya refugees. However, the only long-term solution to the Rohingyas’ misery is for Myanmar to treat them humanely and with respect. While the debate about the community being genuine ‘sons of the soil’ may be inconclusive, compassion and humanity demand that they be treated as individuals with fundamental human rights. The world needs to put more pressure on Myanmar to stop its excesses.

Missing empathy


ON the surface, it would appear that Pakistan’s political elites hold only contempt for those in whose name they rule — those who must learn that, to adapt George Orwell’s searing words, all men are equal, but some men are more equal than others. Yet reflection reveals worse: a flint-hearted cynicism that makes these power brokers use to their advantage anything that might give their self-interest a fillip, regardless of notions of justice, humanity, empathy or even shame. These past weeks have presented enough evidence: last Thursday, a Rawalpindi anti-terrorism court finally delivered a judgement in the case of the 2007 murder of former prime minister and PPP leader Benazir Bhutto. The PPP was in government for five years after the 2008 elections, yet failed to pursue the case with any meaningful vigour. As the ATC proceedings slowed, party representatives stopped showing up altogether — even when the court started conducting day-to-day hearings. Not a single PPP representative was present outside Adiala Jail when the operative paragraph of the verdict was read out — this, from a party that has lost, over the course of years, so many of its supporters, as well as leaders, to the fight against anti-democratic forces.

But it is not just the PPP. After his recent disqualification, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif undertook a procession designed to demonstrate his popularity. As this spectacle was under way, in the Lalamusa vicinity, vehicles in his cavalcade struck and killed first an elderly man, and then a young boy — the latter, tragically, being crushed by following vehicles too — and failed even to stop. The PML-N leader, who proclaims such empathy with the masses, never bothered to visit the child’s parents. And the party — against all norms of humanity, decency and humility — had the temerity to hijack the family’s grief by proclaiming the child a ‘martyr’ to the PML-N cause. So easily is the hypocrisy of our political elites exposed. Perhaps it is time they stopped pretending.

Source: Editorials
Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2017
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  #1595  
Old Friday, September 08, 2017
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Default September 8th, 2017

Scrutiny of students unacceptable

A dangerous proposal, rightly opposed by Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani in a letter to the VC of the Karachi University, has been floated to encourage all universities to start sharing student records with intelligence agencies as part of an effort to counter the presence of extremist elements and ideas in these institutions.

The idea was debated after the attempted assassination of a senior political figure in Karachi by a former student of KU.

Any inroads that extremist and militant groups can make into universities and student bodies is a serious matter and must be countered vigorously. But opening up scrutiny of all student records to security and intelligence agencies will do little to help in the matter.

First, the records are not likely to contain anything that will help identify any radicalisation of students taking place. Second, the security forces have little idea of what to look for as signs of incipient radicalisation that might be contained in the records.

The idea takes us back to the Ayub Khan days when student groups were almost uniformly viewed with suspicion and state surveillance of campus life had a stifling impact on education. Today, too, opening up campuses to the invasive gaze of security and intelligence agencies will have the same result.

The reach of the agencies will go far beyond the admissions database, which has little more than what the Nadra database contains. Instead, if the agencies start asking about papers and examination records of individual students, library borrowing records, CCTV footage, as well as the teachers’ ‘candid’ assessment of potential radicals in their classrooms, the damage done to the educational process could be irreparable. Such scrutiny would be a dangerous precedent, especially considering there is already a track record of using access to such records for purposes other than pursuing terrorists.

There is little doubt, however, that universities and institutes of higher education have a role to play in the effort to counter the spread of violent ideas and groups in our society. But that role is best served through the central pillar upon which any university is built: the curriculum.

All higher education curricula should cultivate the critical thinking faculties of their students. Such critical thinking comes from exposure to history and its contentious details, the enormous diversity of the human race, the millennia-long conversation amongst philosophers, the complex arrangements of society, economy and polity through which social life articulates itself, and much more.

It is this exposure, and the deep appreciation of the complexities of life that it breeds, along with the suspicion of anyone who claims to have simple answers to all questions, that are blooming in the minds of the youth — that is the most potent endowment universities can confer upon their students. This is where the faculty should focus their energies.

IG’s powers restored


A DECISIVE blow has been struck against the politicisation of the police in Sindh. Ruling on a petition filed by civil rights campaigners against the PPP government’s notification for the removal of A.D. Khowaja from his post as the province’s top police official, the Sindh High Court ordered that the incumbent would continue as inspector general, Sindh. Neither can he be removed until at least three years after his appointment in March this year. In fact, the court held that the provincial government cannot remove the IG without compelling reasons, and restored to Mr Khowaja his powers over postings and transfers within the police department that the PPP government had withdrawn from him in June. Equally significant, it directed the Sindh government to enact rules ensuring the IG’s autonomy of command and independence of operation. Meanwhile, no transfers and postings of police personnel are to take place without the IG’s order. In short, the court’s verdict goes to the heart of the issue: the independence of the police force.

Aside from KP, where reforms have brought sweeping changes, political interference in the workings of the police is to some degree institutionalised in Pakistan. State functionaries and political heavyweights are accustomed to using the police as an instrument to advance their interests and protect their ‘investments’. The result is a corrupt and compromised police force that abets and profits from criminal wrongdoing; loyalty to those in power counts for more than competence and qualifications, and duty to the public falls by the wayside. That largely explains why Sindh’s political elite decided it needed to dispense with the services of a police chief considered more upright than most. One of the reasons that Mr Khowaja incurred the wrath of the Sindh government was that he took steps to make the recruitment process more merit-based and transparent, a vital component in building an effective law-enforcement agency. When the PPP’s attempt to have him removed — being a federal appointee, the IG can only be removed by the centre — met with failure, possibly because of pressure from the security establishment on the Nawaz Sharif government, it proceeded to try and render him powerless. The Sindh government’s Machiavellian efforts to sideline the IG have been dealt a humiliating defeat. For the people, however, the verdict gives reason to hope that the long overdue process of police reforms can now get under way.

New CEO for PIA


THE beleaguered state-owned airline may have a new chief executive officer after a gruelling search, but the problems remain the same. The airline’s top management has previously been shaken by resignations amidst messy attempts to prepare the airline for privatisation — something billed as a search for a ‘strategic investor’ — and sackings in the face of allegations of corruption. The unceremonious departure of some in the management has cast a shadow on the new chief, and pulling the airline out from under this shadow will be his primary challenge. The new chief himself is far too young and inexperienced to be a driver of any significant change, particularly considering that the energies of the top management are largely exhausted in dealing with the ailing carrier’s creditors. Couple this with the fact that with less than a year remaining for its term to end, the government is pressing ahead with its plans to conduct a divestment of a substantial chunk of its shareholding, mostly to shore up reserves and the fiscal framework — undoubtedly, the new chief has his work cut out for him.

The first big plan for the airline’s future sank the fortunes of his predecessors, but perhaps the new chief can successfully navigate his way through to implementing plan B: the sale of shares. However, in order to lift the share price of the airline to any meaningful level, some sort of long-term prospect for its return to profitability will be required. Prospective investors are less likely to be impressed with the PIA roadshow, whenever it gets going, if all they can see is a beaming face at the top with all the dysfunctions intact beneath. They will want to ask about the big plan to tackle the growing debt burden and mounting losses, as well as when an independent and professional management will be brought in. How will revenues be raised and costs curtailed? The new chief best start penning his answers to these queries now.

Source: Editorials
Published in Dawn, September 8th, 2017
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Time to reset foreign ties


NECESSARY and desirable, a reset of foreign policy is possible — if the government approaches the issue sensibly, cooperatively and with a genuine intent to effect change. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif has spoken candidly and persuasively about the key flaws in Pakistan’s foreign policy and the need for change. In truth, since the end of the Afghan war of the 1980s, the country’s foreign policy has been characterised by ad hoc decision-making and an excessive militarisation of national and security interests. Relations with neighbouring countries other than China have ranged from relatively cool to outright hostile, while the inconsistency in ties with the US is yet again on full display. Foreign policy experts would be hard-pressed to find an overarching constructive theme in Pakistan’s ties with the outside world; a logical trade and regional connectivity agenda has languished as security fears have dominated.

If a new foreign policy vision is to be developed, the principles underpinning the country’s approach to the outside world need to be fleshed out cooperatively across national institutions. In theory, the government’s approach of having the Foreign Office initiate proposals that will be debated by the National Security Committee and approved by parliament is sound. It contains the possibility of frank civil-military dialogue and a joint institutional response to the country’s challenges on the external front. But much will depend on how meaningful the engagement is on both sides. Experience suggests that sweeping public criticism of the military establishment’s worldview triggers reactionary condemnation of the civilians’ perceived lack of seriousness in matters of national security. The Constitution requires and democracy demands that civilians lead policy debates, a reality that must be acknowledged by the military establishment. In return, the civilians should demonstrate a more sophisticated understanding of national security and foreign policy considerations and accept that military input on policy matters can be helpful.

There is also a very real constraint: time. Having wasted four years by refusing to appoint a full-time foreign minister and failing to strengthen the civilian institutions that could develop a new approach on the external front, the PML-N government must now move swiftly. Army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa’s message on Defence Day recently in which he rightly asserted that the state must have a monopoly over violence — an implicit rejection of all non-state militant groups — can be combined with Foreign Minister Asif’s admission of past failures by the state to form a new platform for Pakistan’s engagement with the outside world. The platform must be an unequivocal rejection of any form of militancy and a firm commitment to regional cooperation and trade. Certainly, Pakistan’s desire for peaceful relations with, for example, India will not be immediately reciprocated or easily achieved. Nevertheless, a foreign policy reset is a necessity for Pakistan.

Ending load-shedding


ONE has lost count of the number of times government officials have set a date for the end of load-shedding in the country; in fact, people can be forgiven their scepticism when they hear, once again, the minister of state for water and power assert that the government will announce an end to load-shedding in November. It is not clear whether he means that the announcement will be made then, or that load-shedding itself will disappear in November. Either way, it is likely that the minister has jumped the gun. Power generation has increased in the past year, and he is right to point out that the threshold of 20,000MW has been crossed for the first time. But ending load-shedding is not about what peak power generation can hit. It is about straightening out the financials of power pricing, improving recoveries and strengthening transmission and distribution. Various government officials, from the last prime minister to the new one, as well as Punjab’s chief minister, have gleefully been cutting ribbons to inaugurate new power projects all year, but we are still waiting to see how far the governance of the power system has been improved. That is the lynchpin, and until that happens, no amount of incremental megawatts will help.

The minister should now be asked where our future plans for reform of the power sector stand. The last we heard the government was in the mood to bulldoze the power regulator, Nepra, and parcel out some of its crucial powers to the provincial governments and keep some for itself. More than raw megawatts, what matters here is the shape of the power sector that the government has in mind for the future. In the late 1990s, a set of reforms was being advanced that was transparent and that was supposed to be the framework for meeting future power needs. But this time we have no idea about what kind of a road map the government is following, and how much thinking has gone into preparing it. It seems to be a short-term push; adding a large amount of megawatts is the only thinking in town at the moment, and anything that stands in the way will be brushed aside. The minister owes the country an explanation about where things are headed in the power sector beyond the additional new generation capacity.

Removal of encroachments


IF anything rivals the chaos of traffic across the country, it is the endless line of encroachments and blockades on the same roads on which the vehicles ply. From large cities such as Karachi to smaller towns, often even rural settlements, everyone, it would appear, wants to appropriate some part of the street for themselves. Anti-encroachment drives have produced mixed results, and in many instances, the illegalities return as soon as the authorities’ attention is diverted. Now the traffic police in Lahore have launched a programme that tries to reimagine the way in which encroachments and illegal parking lots on the city’s roads can be dealt with. Launched on July 31, the One Week, One Road initiative involves eight of the department’s better qualified wardens who have been chosen to form two squads to visit various areas in the city to select one road where encroachments are to be cleared, engage with traders and shopkeepers to brainstorm ideas on how deficiencies can be rectified, and prepare assessments of the roads in the context of the availability (or absence) of traffic signals, street lights, U-turns, etc. On Thursday, Lahore Chief Traffic Officer Rai Ijaz told the media that earlier the Mughalpura Link Road and Allama Iqbal Road — both extremely high-density thoroughfares — had been cleared of encroachments and illegal parking lots. Now, he said, Queen’s Road and Bund Road — where obstructions to the free flow of traffic are often of legendary proportions — are being focused on, and warning notices have been sent to 148 shopkeepers.

One must hope that the Lahore initiative is successful; if the authorities are able to find a sustainable solution to one of the country’s most pressing problems, more power to them. Engaging with the encroachers, rather than simply razing their means of livelihood, and addressing issues such as the shortage of legal parking lots, may be the key to this solution. Other city administrations must look on with interest, for if it works, the programme can be replicated in their jurisdictions.

Source: Editorials
Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2017
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Growing internet use but slow results

AN improved infrastructure, lower costs and a vast array of productivity and consumption possibilities have transformed internet usage in the country. In the Information Economy Report 2017, released this week by the UN Conference on Trade and Development, it has been estimated that 16m Pakistanis went online for the first time between 2012 and 2015, nearly 50pc of the internet usage base in the country at the end of that period. That is unsurprising, perhaps even an underestimation: the advent of 3G, 4G and higher-speed internet in the country is attracting millions of new users as smartphones in particular proliferate. Clearly, there is potential for even faster growth. A recent report in this newspaper examined CPEC-related plans for a revamped communications network in Pakistan, fibre optic connectivity with China and a new submarine landing station in Gwadar.

Growing internet usage, however, is not necessarily translating into greater gains for the country in the global digital economy. Part of the problem is a policymaking logjam. The UNCTAD report notes: “In Pakistan, in 2015 the government constituted a high-level working group to develop a Strategic E-Commerce Policy Framework for the country. The group, which has the full support of the prime minister, is led by the commerce ministry, and comprises officials also from the ministries of information technology and finance, the State Bank of Pakistan and the Pakistan Software Export Board.” Laudable as that initiative may be, the results have yet to be seen — a bureaucratic morass from which few gains are ever realised. Progress on rationalising costs and tax structures, creating genuine, stable incentives for businesses, and promoting digital financial services is slow. The problem is especially acute in the fast-moving digital economy. The global advent of the ‘internet of things’, cloud computing, big data and 3D printing, for example, has already occurred while Pakistan is yet to implement global digital payment standards such as PayPal, though there are suggestions that it may finally be implemented.

There are also concerns about the government’s ability to treat internet-based companies fairly in a system where arbitrary decisions can be taken. The possibility of banning websites at a moment’s notice, without due process or advance notice, undermines the potential of e-commerce and stable rules that allow for the deepening of the digital economy. More generally, the Freedom on the Net 2016 report by Freedom House highlighted a danger of perpetuating existing socioeconomic imbalances in the country with rural and less-well-off areas left behind the more lucrative urban markets in the race towards digitisation. As ever, the potential for a transformative change in the economy exists, but only if smarter, business- and people-friendly policies are introduced.

US gun laws


IF there is one piece of news that emerges at regular intervals from the US, it is about gun violence.

It is a sobering thought then that the carnage at an outdoor country music festival on Sunday in Las Vegas may not have been so shocking but for the huge number of casualties. Otherwise, it would have been just another one of the six mass shootings — defined as those with at least four casualties — that occurred in the US this past week alone.

But in what turned out to be the deadliest such incident in modern US history, at least 58 people died and over 500 were injured when Stephen Paddock, from his vantage point on the 32nd floor of a nearby hotel, unloaded his weapons into the crowd below. The firing only ended with Paddock’s suicide, just as police stormed the hotel suite where he was holed up.

There they discovered an arsenal of 23 assault rifles, of which a dozen were fitted with a device that enables semi-automatics to discharge rapid fire rounds like automatics.

While Paddock’s motives may be unclear thus far, the incident has revived the debate in the US about its lax gun laws that allow unstable and violent individuals access to deadly weapons, often with terrible consequences.

Between 2001 and 2010, there were over 400,000 gun deaths in the US, of which more than 153,000 were homicides. The solution, although not black-and-white, points towards strengthening regulations on the purchase of firearms, a position that a majority of Americans support.

However, efforts to bring about even common-sense restrictions fail repeatedly because they come up against one of the most powerful interest groups in the country: the National Rifle Association.

With its enormous resources that it pours into the election campaigns of many politicians, the NRA exerts an outsize influence over Congress. Therefore, when demands are made for gun legislation to be tightened, usually in the aftermath of a mass murder, most lawmakers obfuscate the issue with tropes about the constitutionally protected right to bear arms or the fallacious argument that it is people, not guns, that kill.

Significantly, even when mass murderers are driven by extremist motives, the response centres around the politics of religious extremism and its international dimensions while the clear and present danger is neatly sidestepped. The stonewalling on gun laws is as much, if not more, about politics.

‘Disappeared’ Turks


ALREADY indifferent to the vanishing of its own citizens, the government now appears least concerned as the same ‘magic’ is applied to foreigners residing in this country. Late last month in Lahore, the mysterious disappearance of a Turkish family, whose head had worked for the Pak-Turk schools here, triggered a wave of fear across the country. An element of greater dread was added when sometime later reports came in from Khairpur about an alleged kidnapping attempt of the Turkish family of another man said to be working with the same organisation. The gravity of the situation has to some extent been captured by a petition moved in the Sindh High Court. Acting upon it, the court on Tuesday restrained the government from deporting Turkish teachers working with the schools — a fate many fear could befall them after the Lahore incident in which Mesut Kacmaz, a well-known senior executive working with the Pak-Turk system, went missing along with his wife and their two daughters.

The Kacmaz family had been residing in Pakistan by virtue of having acquired refugee certificates from the UNHCR. Their disappearance is a reminder of how security agencies in the country — and indeed in other parts of the world — often swoop down on suspects and whisk them away. It is difficult not to link their case to the aborted coup in Turkey last year for which the well-known cleric Fethullah Gulen was held responsible by Ankara. The events in Turkey led to Islamabad asking the staff of the Pak-Turk schools to leave Pakistan, and perhaps to warnings that their participation in political activities could annoy the PML-N government’s friends in Turkey. If that was a step which spurred calls for fair treatment and transparency, the latest disappearance of the Turkish family and accounts of the alleged hounding of Pak-Turk schools could result in harsh criticism of the government here — and deservedly so. Transparency is sorely missing. The authorities here must rectify the situation.

Source: Editorials
Published in Dawn, October 5th, 2017
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Default October 11th, 2017

Trade ties with China


A NEW paper from the State Bank of Pakistan draws attention to the implications that our growing trade ties with China have for Pakistan’s economy. Although CPEC commands all attention these days, the trade relationship between the two countries has largely receded into the background in the economic conversation. Yet it is here that both countries have taken the largest strides over the last decade, with Pakistan’s share of bilateral trade reaching $13.8bn in 2016, up from $2.2bn in 2005, a near six-fold increase and possibly the fastest-growing trade relationship that we have with any other country. At the heart of this is the free trade agreement that both countries signed in 2006, and which has been stuck in negotiations for expansion since 2012 with the talks continuing to the present day.

The document, which does not represent the official view of the State Bank but is part of its Working Paper series, notes the rapid increase in bilateral trade. However, it argues that the trade relationship “remained tilted in China’s favour” because the growth rate of Pakistan’s imports from the former country was more than double that of exports since the agreement went into force. Today, China is the single largest source of Pakistan’s non-oil imports, according to the paper. It is important to bear in mind that this is not uniformly a bad situation. It would be simplistic to measure the success of a trade relationship on the basis of the quantum of trade balance alone. As the authors of the report note, many of the imports coming from China consist of growth supporting capital goods, as well as ‘import substitution’ of those goods that were previously imported at higher prices from other countries but that now come from China. These are positive developments, and show that trade ties need not necessarily be in balance or surplus to be called healthy.

However, what matters is the future trajectory of this relationship, more than its past evolution. For example, at some point imports should either hit a plateau or enter into a decline as capital goods imported into Pakistan lift productivity and their output finds its way back into the Chinese market. Likewise, the substitution effect should not be expected to continue indefinitely. At the moment, 75pc of Pakistan’s exports to China consist of raw materials — cotton and rice — while the majority of imports consist of finished goods and machinery. This relationship can be healthy only for a period of time; if it becomes a permanent state of affairs, its effects on the domestic economy can be harmful. It is imperative, therefore, that the government remain alert and vigorous when formulating its own economic interests as it negotiates the future of Pakistan’s growing engagement with China.

Fata’s women voters

THE most striking aspect of the figures recently released by the ECP is the 36pc increase in the number of women voters in the tribal areas — the highest in any demographic across Pakistan. In fact, Fata as a whole has registered the highest increase in the number of people eligible to vote. Of the 97m now registered as voters — up from 86.1m four years ago — 23pc are from the tribal areas. The numbers that comprise the electorate are calculated by Nadra on the basis of CNIC details on its database and the names verified by the ECP before it finalises the electoral rolls. The increase in voters from Fata, including women, can be explained by the travails of the tribal population due to internal displacement induced by military operations in their native areas. Firstly, registration in the relief camps in KP was contingent upon the possession of CNICs, a technicality that caused many women-headed households considerable difficulty in accessing services, including cash grants. Secondly, with the cessation in kinetic operations up north, many Fata residents are making their way back home and CNICs are mandatory for receiving the compensation packages — sometimes targeted at the women — announced by the government.

However, the inclusion of so many more Fata women in the national database will not necessarily translate into a presence at the hustings, for they procured CNICs as a matter of economic necessity, that too in a context which was a departure from the norm. Such an ‘aberration’ in the eyes of many among their male compatriots may have been ‘tolerated’ under those circumstances, but the full weight of tradition is likely to assert itself when it comes to women exercising their right to vote. There are many instances of female disenfranchisement as a result of collusion, more tacit of late, between local chapters of various political parties. The huge spike in the numbers of women from Fata who are now in possession of CNICs also indicates how many of them have thus far remained excluded from the decision-making process of selecting their representatives. The ECP should push leaders of political parties to direct their local chapters to motivate these women to vote, and persuade men of the importance of their doing so. Moreover, if women’s votes comprise less than 10pc of the total cast in a constituency, the electoral watchdog should exercise its discretion and declare the polling void.

Criminal cops


CRIMINALITY within the ranks of law-enforcement bodies is a global problem. However, it would not be wrong to say that in Pakistan, the issue has attained chronic proportions, with the common citizen fearing the police force rather than reposing his or her trust in it. From demands of ‘chai paani’ to much worse, people are often shaken down by men in police uniforms. These black sheep eclipse the good work dedicated police personnel have done, often laying down their lives to protect others. One particularly galling example of police criminality came to the fore when it was reported on Monday that policemen had been booked for kidnapping a citizen for ransom in Karachi. A magistrate informed a court that he had raided the Ferozabad police station and got released a man who had been reportedly kidnapped from his house by two policemen and their accomplices in civvies. The culprits had demanded Rs2m as ransom, after which the victim’s family approached the court to ensure his release.

It is acts like these that help fuel the common citizen’s disillusionment with the police, and by extension the state. When those who are supposed to serve and protect indulge in such brazenly criminal behaviour, how can people be expected to trust the police force? Such activities reinforce the narrative that the state exists to exploit the citizen, not to serve him. The Sindh IGP has taken some positive steps in this regard, primarily by introducing the ‘9110’ helpline for citizens to register their complaints against police high-handedness. At the helpline’s launch in August, the Sindh police chief said complaints could be registered against officers who refuse to register FIRs, keep citizens in illegal confinement, etc. Along with such steps, there is a vital need to monitor the police internally and weed out elements that indulge in criminality. The police hierarchy must make it clear that there is zero tolerance for law enforcers who break the law.

Source: Editorials
Published in Dawn, October 11th, 2017
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