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  #11  
Old Saturday, November 20, 2010
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NATO and the exit from Afghanistan

November 21st, 2010


Addressing the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) summit in Lisbon, Portugal, US President Barack Obama has reaffirmed that the US and its allies “will move towards a new phase, transition to Afghan responsibility, which begins in 2011, with Afghan forces taking the lead on security across Afghanistan by 2014”. He will start withdrawing American soldiers from Afghanistan next year, just as the ‘surge’ of American troops he allowed is beginning to have effect in the eastern theatre of war in the country.

The US is in Afghanistan together with 42 other countries out of which 28 are Nato members. There are nearly 140,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan under the Nato rubric of the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) and the US, but many member countries either want out or will stay clear of the combat zone. After 600 deaths suffered this year at the hands of the Taliban — the highest yearly toll since 2001 — and the economic downturn in Europe, enthusiasm for war has significantly dampened. No one talks of ‘victory’ anymore and that means that Nato will have to change the way it is operating.

It certainly means withdrawal. Countries that have received the brunt of the Taliban assault — the UK, Canada and Denmark — want to leave much before 2014. Others have not agreed to be in harm’s way, keeping their forces in areas where there is not much fighting going on. Holland and Canada are in the process of bringing their soldiers back home as public support for this ‘collective defence’ venture, evoked after 9/11 under Article 5 of the Nato charter, dwindles. The American public is no less unenthusiastic but politicians in the US are more agreed about the need to retain some presence in Afghanistan even after 2014.

There is not much the US can do about the lack of enthusiasm among its Nato allies. Yet, President Obama was successful in getting the member states to send in 10,000 additional troops. There is no doubt that Nato states are worried about the threat of international terrorism radiating from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Hence there is some dissension among politicians responding to public pressure, on the one hand and strategists counting the number of times the European Union has been attacked or could have been attacked by al Qaeda cells, on the other.

One thing is certain. Nato members have become sharply aware of the failure of a purely military strategy in Afghanistan which ignores such ancillary civilian functions as reconstruction, local employment programmes and health aid, etc. After 61 years of what its supporters have called a successful existence, Nato has found itself bogged down in a season of bad economic news. One expert in the US says: “Although Nato still has value as a regional alliance, for demographic, economic and cultural reasons, it will be increasingly hard-pressed to generate substantial useful military capability.” It is also being made more abstract in its thinking by more European states wanting to join for reasons that hardly gibe with the founder members.

A German think-tank has put forward suggestions for the next phase of the Isaf presence in Afghanistan: “The foundation of our policies must be what the people want locally, not what we in the West see for Afghanistan and Pakistan. We need a new thought and solution approach from the bottom up and no perception of our designs in the hearts and minds of Afghans.”

It goes on to propose: “A new emphasis of German developmental aid policy should be in the particularly important tribal areas (Fata) in Pakistan, close to the border to Afghanistan, because these areas are significant for al Qaeda and the Taliban. From here, Afghanistan and Pakistan are attacked and terrorists are trained for missions in Germany.”

The Americans plan to stay during President Obama’s tenure in office. Till then, events on the ground are going to acquire more importance than most Pakistanis realise. Nato may be in the mood to flee today but its nucleus is worried about the region because of Iran which it perceives as a global threat. The Republicans now dominant in the US Congress agree. Pakistan’s importance will increase in the days to come but, if the mood in this country is any index, the relationship will become increasingly problematic. Pakistan lacks the ability to do what Nato wants it to do, but it puts up a posture of defiance based on a mistaken assessment that it can project its power into Afghanistan to offset the presence of India.

Pakistan’s threat of power projection into Afghanistan is clearly based on its presumed capacity to manipulate the Taliban and their master, al Qaeda. It sees a dichotomy of intent among the Taliban where there is none: the Taliban who kill Pakistanis are the very Taliban that have attacked Afghanistan and continue to do so. Pakistan has repeatedly demonstrated that the non-state actors it uses against other states don’t necessarily take orders from it at all times. As in the case of Hekmatyar, it is also amply proved that the Afghan elements it uses to spearhead its power-projection also don’t follow its instructions when it clashes with their own objectives. There is increasing evidence that it is Pakistan, through its so-called ‘peace deals’, that actually takes instructions from its proxies.

Pakistan will be the most threatened state in the region after Nato withdraws from Afghanistan. Because of policies related to its military India-centrism, the state in Pakistan has become extremely weak. Its lack of writ in about 60 per cent of the territory has been compounded by the rise of criminal groupings, ready to align with local and foreign terrorists found in Fata and some big cities like Karachi. Governance across the years of war in Afghanistan has become problematic, encouraging many to flee the country with their investments. The Darwinist dictum was not that the weakest will die but that the one unable to mutate will die.
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  #12  
Old Sunday, November 21, 2010
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New man at the CII

November 22nd, 2010


After a long interval following the retirement of Dr Khalid Masood in May this year, Senator Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani of the JUI-F has been appointed chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII). A commitment to this effect had been made months ago to the party. The decision to implement it comes as a means to appease an ally angered by the appointments to the parliamentary committee for the appointment of judges. There can be no greater contrast between Dr Masood and Maulana Sherani. This has already been pointed out by NGOs and a host of other persons concerned by the appointment. As a scholar, Dr Masood had a sound grounding in Islam and all its many dimensions. During his tenure some of the decisions taken marked extremely important steps forward. For instance, women were given greater guarantees of rights to property and recommendations made for changes in other laws that had a negative impact on their status in society. The same liberal interpretation was taken forward to other areas of life.

Many fear that under Maulana Sherani just the opposite will happen. He is known to be a hard-line conservative who adheres to the same retrogressive views with which the JUI-F is associated. This does not augur well as far as a move towards more enlightened times is concerned. The government may have a point when it says that the Chairman of the CII does not have a veto power and that all decisions within the body are taken collectively by persons representing all schools of thought. However, symbolism also has an important part to play in the way things are perceived by people. It is also true, as we have seen in the past, that the chairman does indeed play a role in setting the direction taken by the CII. It would be a pity if we saw the good work of the past reversed for the sake of political point scoring especially when this move comes from a party that prides itself on its progressive credentials.

Political principles


November 22nd, 2010

The petition put before the LHC by PML-Q MPA and son of party chief Pervaiz Elahi, Moonis Elahi, seeking a permanent ban on Google Blogger as it contained ‘hate’ material against him, offers us a telling insight into the minds of our political leaders. They need a reminder that around the world lives in the public sphere, notably as a politician, leave individuals open to all kinds of attack. Seeking a ban on websites used by millions does not offer an acceptable solution. Highly offensive material against US President Barack Obama can be found on many websites. He has not sought their closure.

The reply to the court by the director for telecom that links on sites can be blocked but that ‘globally useful’ websites cannot be shut off entirely is a sensible one. However, even closing down certain links amounts to a form of censorship. The internet offers an entirely free flow of information; this is its strength. Tools allow parents to prevent children from accessing unsuitable material. Beyond the childhood years, it is questionable if such material should be censored. Net users can decide which sites they choose to view. In this respect, the precedent set in the past by authorities is unfortunate. The temporary banning, a few months ago, of websites that included Facebook and YouTube served no useful purpose. The continued denial of access to many Baloch nationalist websites by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority is even more disturbing.

Mr Moonis Elahi, who in his petition has also sought that the owners of the website be asked to remove the material he objects to, should also keep in mind that in some cases certain actions lead to strong, perhaps inappropriate, reactions. He must attempt to assess if this is true in any way, and if it is, to reconsider conduct, assess why various actions surface and consider remedies that focus on himself rather than a demand that hugely popular websites be banned.
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  #13  
Old Tuesday, November 23, 2010
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Unholy pligrimage

November 23rd, 2010


Massive corruption and mismanagement in the conduct of Hajj affairs would seem to be the very bottom of the abyss anyone can sink to. It seems all the more ironical that the Hajj scandal that has been hitting headlines for some weeks now should take place in a country like ours — where a great display of public piety is often put on and claims of religiosity made by people everywhere. This is matched by what appears to be a growing lack of morality. The allegations of wrongdoing have been particularly widespread this year. We have already heard complaints made publicly by a Saudi prince who alleged that apartments given to pilgrims from Pakistan had rents that were exorbitant and that they were located much further from the Kaaba compared to other available housing. He further alleged that the reason for this was that officials had made money on the side and that he was willing to furnish evidence to this effect. The director-general in charge of the operation was asked to come back to Pakistan and eventually arrested — but only after the Supreme Court intervened. The matter did not end there. Hamid Saeed Kazmi, the religious affairs minister, has been accused of mismanagement and even one of his colleagues, the science and technology minister, has stepped in and suggested that Mr Kazmi cannot claim innocence.

In some ways ,of course, all this is hardly new. We have heard much the same many times before. It is, after all, no secret that corruption is rampant everywhere. But if we can sink to depths in matters that hold a central place in our religion, if we can so ruthlessly exploit poor people who have saved for years to make the pilgrimage, then what does all this say about us as a people? We are told the matter is being investigated. It has indeed created some embarrassment in Islamabad. But whatever comes of this inquiry nothing will change the fact that thousands have suffered during an occasion of key importance to their lives due to the unscrupulous actions of various individuals. We can only hope — and pray — they receive the punishment they deserve so that such acts are not repeated in the future, at least as far as the conduct of Hajj affairs goes.


The shame of Aasia Bibi’s blasphemy charade


November 23rd, 2010

Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer has gone to a Sheikhupura jail where a poor Christian woman bhatta mazdoor (brick-kiln labourer) has been sentenced to death by the sessions judge. She was accused of having blasphemed against the Holy Prophet (pbuh). The governor, unexpectedly for a politician, called it an outrage and has pledged to draft an amnesty letter to the president asking him to pardon Aasia Bibi. Most other politicians have kept quiet while human rights workers and NGOs working for women’s rights have protested at yet another shameful prosecution under the universally condemned blasphemy law in Pakistan.

Aasia Bibi did hard labour for the local bricklaying industry in Nankana Sahib and had the usual complaint about unfair and violent labour practices. She, however, also ran the gauntlet of living in the midst of an increasingly narrow-minded Muslim community of poor labourers presided over by a bigoted blasphemy law-loving cleric. Two reasons are related to why she was entrapped by an equally colluding police: that she was provoked by other women drawing water when they said that she was ‘napaak’ (impure); and that she had asserted to other women that the meat of Muslim qurbani (sacrifice) was haram (prohibited) for her.

Whatever the reason for her entrapment, the politician was stunned into silence. Only the Punjab governor proved that he was not a mere drawing room liberal but had the courage to rise to Aasia Bibi’s defence. No one from among the big politicians from small parties like the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, Tehreek-i-Insaf and the Awami National Party raised their voice even after there was international outrage led by the Pope at the Vatican. The PPP, which had just handed over the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) to a cleric of the pro-Taliban ferocious variety, was loath to follow Governor Taseer’s example.

The PML-N was expected to stay out of it — because of its past role in stiffening the accursed law further — reaping mileage when the clergy was to bare it fangs at Governor Taseer, although Nawaz Sharif had gone to a Christian charity school and had probably seen members of his family visit the city’s Christian charity hospital. Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah criticised the governor’s action with his ear cocked to what the Sipah-e-Sahaba would say about the case. The clergy did not take long to respond. There was a collective frog chorus saying the blasphemy law could not be changed after a column appeared in this newspaper in which it was argued that the law be repealed. The Barelvis, crushed by the Taliban in numerous suicide attacks, came out saying Aasia Bibi could not be pardoned because pardon itself was un-Islamic.

It takes eight to nine years for a person convicted under the blasphemy law to get out of jail after a final benign judgement by the Supreme Court. The sessions judge, in most cases himself a bigot, is usually scared into handing out a conviction by the hostile madrassa clergy standing outside his court and baying for blood. Aasia Bibi, while agreeing to ask for pardon, has also appealed the case at the High Court; but the bitter truth is that finally it is the Supreme Court where ‘justice’ is delivered in the midst of a most defamatory campaign by concerned states at the international level. With their hopes at an end, human rights workers led by the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Asma Jahangir, have recommended that all blasphemy cases be heard at the High Court level instead of the sessions.

After the massacre of the Gojra Christians on the charge of blasphemy in 2009, the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Human Rights had urged the government to re-examine the blasphemy law and improve its procedure. No one in the committee was convinced that anything could be done. In the past, procedural changes such as making blasphemy cases subject to the scrutiny of the divisional commissioner before making arrests and registering FIRs have been ignored. Minorities are increasingly under pressure from the mischief of this deeply-flawed law and there is no one who would agitate the way some of us are agitating for the release of Aafia Siddiqi from an American jail.
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  #14  
Old Wednesday, November 24, 2010
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Privatisation through IPOs

November 24th, 2010


The decision by the government to use the stock exchanges to privatise state-owned enterprises is one that deserves to be welcomed. President Zardari indicated this the other day in a statement that he made on the subject saying that government organisations could be sold off using initial public offerings (IPOs) via the country’s bourses. If this plan is realised, it will turn out to be an important one in helping to develop avenues for small investors in Pakistan. State-owned enterprises are some of the largest companies in Pakistan. And while most of them make losses, they are all likely to attract substantial investor interest. If the administration follows through on this suggestion, then it will mean that foreign investors will have to channel their investment through the local exchanges.

Any foreign investment banks involved in underwriting the transactions will have to increase their presence in Pakistan, or create a presence from scratch. Local investment banks will also have a chance to burnish their credentials and add revenues. There may even be room for healthy collaboration between local and foreign banks, as was the case during the heyday of privatisation during the Musharraf era. So in addition to getting troublesome assets off the government’s books, the government would promote Pakistan as a destination for global financial institutions to invest.

There is a second, and perhaps more significant, advantage to privatisation through KSE listings. Local investors will have the opportunity to take advantage of initial public offerings that tend to be highly profitable. This will promote the idea of capital markets as an investment avenue for ordinary Pakistanis while also ensure the most lucrative returns are not restricted to highly connected insiders. A more transparent, functioning capital market that has the confidence of the public is in the national interest and this policy would go a long way towards ensuring that. In short, we welcome the president’s suggestion and hope that the administration will make it official policy. Pakistan’s economy needs a financial system that can help it grow.


The way of justice

November 24th, 2010


he acquittal of lawyer Chaudhry Muhammd Naeem and his family accused early this year of the brutal murder of their 12-year old maid Shazia Masih in many ways adds to the risks faced by other domestic workers and especially children working in homes. The sessions court which heard the case in Lahore ruled that the girl had died of natural causes. It based its judgment on the evidence presented before it including a medical report from a local Lahore hospital. The courts of course are bound to go on what is presented before them. We have no way of knowing the accuracy and quality of investigations by police and other findings in the case. However it is apparent that the matter perhaps needed stronger inquiry and a greater desire to obtain justice for the underdog. At the time of the death there had been a public outcry over the death to the maid who it was alleged had died as a result of torture. A campaign by lawyers in favour of the accused appeared to tilt matters his way as far as police were concerned.

More worrying is the plight of all domestic workers across the country. Surveys have found up to 80 per cent of female workers in homes suffer harassment or other forms of abuse. It now seems this occurs not only in the citadels of feudal overlords but also in the residences of educated, and presumably civilized, professionals. Just days ago a horrendous account came forward of another young maid being sacrificed by her employers as part of some bizarre ritual. There is quite obviously a need for laws to better protect domestic workers who are not covered by any regulation or the rules that guarantee at least some rights to workers in other categories. There also needs to be a crackdown against domestic work by children who are least able to protect themselves, to draw attention to their plights and as such have been repeatedly subjected to the most brutal crimes.


Watan cards fiasco

November 24th, 2010


There seems to be a significant disconnect between what Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani announces and what the government is actually able to deliver in terms of services to citizens. This became especially apparent on the prime minister’s recent visit to Dadu where he was forced to explain the delay in the distribution of Watan cards. The scheme is a good idea in that it allows the government to efficiently disburse aid while minimising the chances of theft and helping to document the undocumented. However, all of those benefits rely on the government actually distributing them amongst flood victims, which seems to be beyond the capabilities of the bureaucracy at the moment. While the prime minister distributed some in Dadu, the task of aid disbursement cannot be accomplished by him alone.

The prime minister has on several occasions expressed his frustration at the inability of the bureaucracy to follow through on his orders. One can understand his frustration and appreciate it as a sign of sincere effort. However, as prime minister he has powers beyond expressing frustration and he can order disciplinary action against any official. There also seems to be a certain adhocism to the government’s relief efforts. For instance, eight newly-wed couples were given Rs200,000 each as part of the flood relief effort. But there have not been any reports of any other flood victims being given the same. Such discrimination serves to further the impression that the current administration takes care of only well-connected supporters. Of late, the prime minister has often spoken that the government will complete its term and those who want to see a new one in power could then use their vote at the next election. The performance of the ruling party at the next polls depends to a great extent on how it oversees the flood aid and relief distribution.
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  #15  
Old Wednesday, November 24, 2010
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Corruption in India but…

November 25th, 2010


The opposition in India has asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to resign for lack of action against ministers guilty of corruption. India’s Supreme Court also earlier asked Mr Singh to explain why he had failed to act against the person responsible for a case of massive corruption in the telecommunication sector of the economy. Former telecommunications minister, A Raja, since ousted, came under the scrutiny of the national audit, which reported that he had probably walked away with $40 billion.

Other reprimands on how the Congress government has misgoverned have surfaced too. A US-based research group says India lost an estimated $462 billion taken out illegally in the past 60 years. Significantly, tax evasion and corruption have increased after India got rid of its low-growth ‘licence-raj’ economy in 1991. Unlike Pakistan, however, the corruption has surfaced mostly in the private sector where tax evasion and under-invoicing (exports) and over-invoicing (imports) are rampant.

Some other India scams are worth mentioning. The recent Commonwealth Games exposed India to global ridicule when the arena was found to be defective because of corruption in the award of contracts. Ashok Chavan, chief minister of Maharashtra, was involved in the Adarsh scam worth billion of rupees, a housing programme meant for the families of the martyrs of the Kargil war of 1999 but where the flats were sold to undeserving individuals. If one were to think that the Pakistani judiciary is corrupt then they should hear this: in 2008, the then Chief Justice of India Justice KG Balakrishnan wrote to the prime minister recommending that proceedings be initiated for the removal of Justice Soumitra Sen, judge, Calcutta High Court, for corruption.

Justice Nirmal Yadav of the Punjab and Haryana high court was found indulging in forgery and abuse of his official position as a judge while buying land in Solan in the adjoining state of Himachal Pradesh. In 2008, a sum of Rs1.5 million in cash was mysteriously delivered at the residence in the same city, Chandigarh, of another judge of the high court, Justice Nirmaljit Kaur. This could be just the tip of the iceberg of corruption in India’s 28 high courts.

Comparison with Pakistan is inevitable but we undertake it usually for two purposes: one, to satisfy our ill-will against India as the ‘enemy state’ apparently going down the tubes; and two, to lighten the burden of guilt of our own corruption in Pakistan saying so what if we are corrupt, India is corrupt too. Tragically, there is a third way of looking at it: corruption is rampant in both India and Pakistan but India is steadily seen as a successful state while Pakistan seems to qualify as a ‘failing state’. Transparency International has ranked India 87th out of 178 countries on its 2010 International Corruption Perceptions Index. Pakistan was the forty-seventh most corrupt state in the world in 2009; it has become the forty-second most corrupt in 2010. In two years, we have broken some past records of our own. The scale, no doubt, is different when framed against the growth rates posted by the two countries.

There is more to read about India if we want to correct our perspective on Pakistan. The corrective is aimed at the Pakistani obsession that every case of scam must lead to collapse of the state at the highest point of imagination and a mid-term change of government at the lowest. The mind is so used to ‘toppling’ of elected governments by the army in the past that we have lost our faith in democracy and want to return to a military or quasi-military rule where we perceive less corruption. India, like Pakistan, is a non-exporting country. Its taxation system is as defective as Pakistan’s. Its infrastructure is abysmal just like Pakistan’s and service delivery and other issues of outreach are as poor, if not more.

The economist in Pakistan complains that the retail sector pays hardly any tax. The retailing sector of India can be split into two segments — the informal and the formal — and the former, comprising small retailers, pay no taxes. In terms of value, the Indian retail industry is worth $300 billion and its contribution to India’s gross domestic product stands at 10 per cent, the highest compared to all other Indian industries. What about loss-making in the state sector of the economy? In Pakistan all state-owned corporations account for a whopping Rs400 billion loss to the exchequer every year because of the frequent bailouts when there is debt-overhang from money payable to the oil sector.

Not all of India’s state sector economy is something to write home about. Out of the 48 units deemed “troubled”, seven have been identified as loss-making and fit for closure, while divestment is seen as the only option to revive another batch of 11 in the red. There are nine profitable companies that won’t be touched. About 17 units are under scrutiny for options of revival ‘by inviting support from private sector’. Yet what is it that makes the world think India is ‘shining’ while Pakistan is experiencing a never-ending eclipse?

Pakistan is different from India only in its problem of law and order which is undermined by terrorism which, in turn, appears to the world as embedded in the state structure itself. Why does the world think the state in Pakistan is the epicentre of terrorism radiating threat to other states? Because the state in Pakistan has used non-state actors in its policy of jihad and will not — or is unable to — act against the UN-banned terrorist organisations on its soil. Furthermore, because of its earlier policy of deploying jihadi organisations, it has created centres of power inside the country it can no longer control. Some observers, and this may include a few inside Pakistan as well, are of the view that the writ of the state no longer works or is absent in a large chunk of the country’s territory. That is definitely not the case with India.

The darkest regions represent the most corrupt countries and the the lighter regions represent the least corrupt countries in the CPI. PHOTO: TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL
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Old Friday, November 26, 2010
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‘Weak’ state and ‘disappeared’ people

November 26th, 2010


The attorney general of Pakistan has told the Supreme Court that the country’s intelligence agencies “could not be made respondents in any case.” He was speaking in connection with the ‘disappearance’, from Adiala jail in Rawalpindi, of 11 men acquitted by an anti-terrorism court (ATC) before they could be released. There was some evidence that they were handed over to the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Both the ISI and Military Intelligence (MI) have denied that they took away the acquitted men.

Significantly, the men had been arrested and tried on the charge of an attack on the GHQ earlier this year, as well as an attempt on the life of former president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf. Now it is a case of habeas corpus, similar to the case of the ‘disappeared’ people that the honourable Court is pursuing, given the fact that habeas corpus is the foundation of criminal law and ensures legal process. If there is no habeas corpus, the state allowing people to be arrested without being presented before a court of law is often called fascist.

In Pakistan, ‘disappearance’ is said to be of two kinds. The first is the incompetence of the prosecuting agencies — the 11 men of Adiala jail were improperly ‘sued’ according to the attorney general — which has caused the release of known terrorists who have been killed after being released. The courts are not to blame: they must apply the principle of guilty beyond a shadow of doubt to all comers. And that applies to ATCs as well. The second reason is that terrorists are able to intimidate the legal and executive bureaucracy in letting them go. There are numberless cases where known killers were let off because the witnesses either mysteriously died or were cowed into reneging. There have been, no doubt, cases where the magistrate, unsure of state protection, saved his life by acquitting the killer.

The Supreme Court’s effort at putting the country back on the rails of habeas corpus is meritorious, but is increasingly coming up against the state’s much weakened writ in the face of terrorism. It has particularly faced a tough situation in Balochistan where the ‘disappeared’ people have belonged to all kinds of categories — members of private armies involved in acts of terrorism; people scared into escaping into Afghanistan during the insurgency; and those picked up by the security agencies — backed not so much by the legal community as by sub-nationalism in the province. Wherever in the world there has been uprising against the state, disappearances have been experienced.

The largest disappearances in per capita terms have been in Sri Lanka: 3,000. In Indian Punjab, thousands of secret cremations of individuals killed in police custody throughout the 1980s have been uncovered in just a single district. This is true of Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh too. In Kashmir, in 1989 alone, some 7,000 people disappeared at the hands of Indian security forces. The United States organised the Guantanamo Bay camp to avoid habeas corpus. Aafia Siddiqi was not charged as an abettor of al Qaeda because that would have obliged the American government to produce 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Muhammad — currently at Guantanamo — in a New York court. Cases proliferate in Afghanistan, Bhutan and in the Chittagong Hills in Bangladesh.

Letting terrorists go can be lethal. Abdullah Mehsud, let off from Guantanamo Bay, went on a killing spree in Pakistan, abducting and killing Chinese engineers working in Tribal Areas. Shia leader Hasan Turabi was killed in Karachi in 2006 after he warned that terrorists let off recently by the Sindh High Court will kill him. Speaking to Newsweek Pakistan (November 15), Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer complained that “the people suspected of involvement in the murder of the surgeon-general of Pakistan, the attempts on Musharraf, the attack on the GHQ and the attack on the Danish embassy have all been released”. There is the quaint example of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi killer Malik Ishaq whom the Punjab government keeps in custody but pays his family for it because he has been released by the court!

Demanding habeas corpus is the court’s effort to bring the country back to normal. But the process of bringing this ‘weak’ state back to normalcy requires fighting the armed terrorist who thrives on the basis of intimidation. There are two kinds of states in the ‘weak’ category: the ones that belong to the Third World roll call of disorganisation; and those that have lost their writ to embedded terrorists. Pakistan’s writ is lowest among the Third World category of disorganised states, and that too after counting Afghanistan and its warlords. There is practically no writ outside a couple of cities in Balochistan; there is no writ in most of Tribal Areas, federal and provincial; there is partial writ or ‘shared writ’ in such settled areas as Kohat and Hangu in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

There are alarming comparisons here, and they outmatch other states in South Asia. Cities like Peshawar and Karachi are at the mercy of terrorists and criminals who have adopted the modus operandi of the terrorists. They have no-go areas where security agencies too are attacked. There are no-go areas in a part of interior Sindh where tribal wars take place while the police stand aside and watch. There is a 75-kilometre long stretch of River Indus before it falls into the Indian Ocean where only dacoits rule and make people disappear in Karachi for money. The dacoits from this no-man’s land actually own entire communities in Karachi where some of the ‘goths’ they established have been regularised as towns by the government.

Yet the Supreme Court’s campaign to make state agencies answerable for the people they pick up is praiseworthy and the support it has in this regard from the entire world is justified. There are additional matters pertaining to the competence of state authorities, hardened by past immunity, that are also coming to the fore. Intelligence agencies have agreed to talk to the Supreme Court to explain their position. That is the right way to go. No one is above the law.
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The submarine affair

November 27th, 2010


The issue of kickbacks involved in the grant of a contract on Agosta submarines by France to Pakistan in the late 1990s refuses to die. Indeed, there seems to be a growing sensational dimension to the story which involves the death of 11 French naval engineers and three others in a suicide bombing in Karachi in 2002. The attack, blamed at the time on extremist elements, marked one of the first suicide attacks of this kind in the country and was widely believed to represent an assault against westerners.

Investigations in France, that suggest this may not quite be the case, lead us along a fascinating, if frighteningly dark, road. Relatives of the victims have demanded French President Nicholas Sarkozy, thought to be a party in the kickback deal, and other former French leaders to testify in the matter. The conjecture goes that, in a mafia-style murder, the Frenchmen died as punishment for failure to pay the kickbacks following a crackdown on corruption by a new government in Paris.

On the home front, some things are obvious. An attack of this nature could take place only with the involvement of the military and the agencies. No one else is capable of enacting it. This is all the more true as it took place during the height of power of a military regime. As we have become accustomed to hearing at every turn, the name of the president has been mentioned. But it is questionable quite what part he could have played in a sophisticatedly designed terrorist operation while in exile and with no known power within the country. The military has for too long been exempt from inquiry in wrongdoing of every kind. It is time our obsession with civilian politicians and with one man in particular, ended and was expanded to those institutions that have so far known immunity during every era. In the case of the Agosta deal in particular, the results could be quite fascinating, We owe it to our country, our citizens and to the Frenchmen who died here to get to the bottom of the matter.


A stroke of patience

November 27th, 2010


Pakistanis are impatient. For us, success needs to be instant. Every time one of our teams takes centre stage, the result should go in our favour. No one cares about a transition period or gradually building a team towards eventual success. Earlier this year knives were out for the hockey team that fared its worst in a World Cup — a dismal bottom place finish in New Delhi. Protests, retirements and new appointments followed but the results stayed the same. There were calls for the federation to undergo a revamp. Petitions were signed, press conferences organised and effigies burnt. Some players opted for a temporary break and some went into self-improvement mode, opting to rekindle the spark by turning their backs on Pakistan and participating in foreign leagues.

The Pakistan Hockey Federation insisted the Asian Games gold — and the 2012 London Olympics berth that accompanied — remained their primary target. Not many were prepared to listen, especially after fifth place at the Azlan Shah Cup and sixth at the Commonwealth Games. Worse than the results were the losses against India that complemented the humiliation. Even the hiring of a Dutch coach, with a whopping salary, failed to turn the fortunes around.

The voices still urged patience for the results that matter which, according to players and officials, were in the making. And as experience made a comeback to the squad, courtesy meek opposition, a rush of goals, and the oozing confidence that accompanied, allowed the nation to dream of the impossible. Pakistan edged past defending champions South Korea to play the final for the first time since 1990. The mighty neighbours suffered a shock defeat, presenting us with an easy ride to the podium.

With the achievement however, Pakistan hockey, similar to cricket, has set itself a dangerous precedent: to win every time they play.


Oil tanker encroachments

November 27th, 2010


It is deplorable that, despite the Supreme Court’s judgment six months ago that oil tankers vacate encroachments in Clifton Block 1, the transport mafia is still using the residential area as a parking terminal. Oil tankers in Shireen Jinnah Colony have illegally encroached on public property and are a nuisance to residents of the area. Parked on both sides of the road, these tankers and trucks leave only one lane for the movement of vehicles causing frequent traffic jams. Meanwhile, transporters blithely carry on repair and maintenance, oblivious to the inconvenience they are causing citizens. As a result, auto workshops have opened in the area and residential property prices have plummeted.

When a judgment given by the Supreme Court of the country is so flagrantly disregarded, it goes to show how weak rule of law is and how feeble the institutions meant to uphold it. In April, the transporters agreed to abide by the Court’s ruling, but they appear not to have taken their commitment seriously and are now complaining that the alternate parking site provided by Karachi Port Trust (KPT) is ‘muddy’. The fact of the matter is that these law and order transgressions point to the rampant graft and corruption present in the system and occur with the connivance of local government and police officials. In the meantime, the KPT has failed to do its duty by not removing the encroachments or facilitating the transporters with appropriate parking space.

In a welcome move, the Supreme Court has now directed a probe in the matter, asking the Secretary of the Oil Companies Advisory Committee to submit a compliance report on its verdict. The registrar of the Sindh High Court has also been ordered to inspect the suitability of the parking site provided by KPT. Hopefully, this will be a wakeup call for civic service providers and bring some relief to citizens who know only too well the futility of laws and judgments without on ground implementation.
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Mumbai’s 26/11 and later revelations

November 28th, 2010


On November 26, 2008, ten terrorists rampaged across a well-known section of India’s commercial city, Mumbai, for three days and killed over 100 people before nine of them were gunned down. The one terrorist not killed was captured and has been talking to the Indians about his background. More revelations to prove Pakistani involvement in the attack have since come to light and now stand in the way of a dialogue of normalisation between India and Pakistan.

That is what Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was talking about when he said in Multan on November 26 that Pakistan had “strongly condemned” the Mumbai attacks and now hoped that the stalled dialogue with India over Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek and river waters would resume soon.

The Mumbai attack is yet another case in which Pakistan finds itself alone. The surviving terrorist was Ajmal Kasab, a trainee of Lashkar-e-Taiba (later Jamaatud Dawa), and a resident of a town in south Punjab. Lashkar-e-Taiba was banned by the UN Security Council. It then changed its name to Jamaatud Dawa, only to be banned again under that name by the same committee of the security council. Pakistan has been forced to run a trial against the military commander of Lashkar-e-Taiba and his cohorts but the process is taking long in the midst of a back-and-forth of the usual India-Pakistan inquiries for ‘more information’.

Meanwhile, more damning evidence has been provided by another individual, an American of Pakistani origin, David Headley, who was used by the plotters as an advance reconnaissance agent. He has spilled more beans, denied by Pakistan, but more or less believed by the entire world. Credibility leans the way it leans because of an earlier 1993 attack in Mumbai mounted from Pakistan with the help of a Mumbai don, Dawood Ibrahim, who is supposed to be currently living in Karachi. Here too, Pakistan’s response in the shape of a denial has been laughed away by the world.

We know Ajmal Kasab, but who is David Headley? People who knew him as he grew up in Pakistan have written that he is the son of a former director-general of the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation and his American wife. Daud Gilani (the surname of his Pakistani father), or David as he is called now, was a perfect US-Pakistan physical and mental hybrid. He was caught while planning an al Qaeda attack in Denmark along with another Pakistani, Tahawar Hussain Rana.

Rana was born in Chichawatni in Punjab. According to one report, he was educated at Cadet College Hasan Abdal before becoming a citizen of Canada. It was in Hasan Abdal that he developed a friendship with his class fellow Daud Gilani and got to know other boys who were to rise within the military hierarchy of Pakistan and were allegedly a link in the chain that bound Pakistan to the Mumbai attack. Headley, now ‘singing’ to American intelligence officials, has named two retired army majors whom he claimed helped him in planning his reconnaissance work. He also alleged that these two officers, when in service, had worked in intelligence. No wonder, then, that the families of the Americans killed in the Mumbai attacks have asked the court in the US to summon the ISI. What is new and what actually puts Pakistan in deeper hot water is the revelation that it was al Qaeda — and Osama bin Laden personally — who thought up the Mumbai attack.

According to details revealed in a report, “Osama himself named the fedayeen team chosen for the terror strikes on Mumbai”. Headley has also said: “Lashkar commander Abdur Rehman, alias Pasha, is directly in touch with the top brass of al Qaeda, including Ilyas Kashmiri who is now number three in the al Qaeda hierarchy in Pakistan. Abdur Rehman has met Osama a number of times.”

Pakistan has not properly banned Jamaatud Dawa. Its leader Hafiz Saeed faced a trial at the Lahore High Court and was able to prove that he was improperly indicted and, after being freed, is now once again throwing challenges to India. He was allowed to hold a ‘mammoth’ rally in Lahore earlier this year to warn India against cheating Pakistan out of its waters — a false allegation — and was later allowed to hold another mammoth rally in Islamabad-Rawalpindi for the cause of Kashmir in the wake of the declaration of India-centrism at the highest military level in Pakistan.

The latest from Washington on the subject is the following statement: “Assistant Secretary US Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Robert O Black Jr, in an interview with Times Now, (a TV channel in India launched as joint venture by the Times of India and Reuters), has said that the US has been serious about the Lashkar-e-Taiba since 2001 when it was involved in the parliament attack in India. US experts have identified the outfit as the single most serious threat to the United States after al Qaeda.”

Pakistanis were greatly put off when the British prime minister said something about Pakistan being involved on the wrong side of the war against terrorism. On the other hand, our Interior Minister Rehman Malik — if one can correlate his various statements made while trouble-shooting in Karachi — thinks that attacks inside Pakistan too are planned and executed under one authority.

The concept of the ‘good’ Taliban who will get us the status of kingmakers in Kabul is completely wrong and misleading. By not taking action against declared terrorist organisations, Pakistan is actually signalling where it stands in this war. Once again we are in a war we can never win, although most of us accuse the world of waging an unwinnable war in Afghanistan. The 42 states fighting terror in Afghanistan will survive but Pakistan will have a tough time prospering under its current policy.
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Farcical talks

November 29th, 2010


The element of farce that marks the effort to tackle the Taliban and win peace in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region is sometimes hilarious but also immensely disturbing given the gravity of the situation. We have heard accounts recently of the totally inept and confused attempts by the American administration to find a means to tackle the situation. Problems of a different nature exist in Pakistan and now it seems that the Afghan government, which has for some time been promoting peace with the Taliban as a bid to win much-needed peace in a country that threatens to crumble into anarchy, may have been duped by an imposter who portrayed himself as top Taliban commander Mullah Mohammad Mansoor, a member of the Quetta Shura, who reportedly met the top Aghan leadership, including President Hamid Karzai, in Kabul.

To rub salt — and a spot of chilli — into the wounds, Mansoor was stated to have been flown into Kabul by Nato — which has publically claimed it has no role in advocating peace with the Taliban, but is said to be tacitly involved. Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke has been the latest to harp this line, which not everyone believes. The embarrassing story of the arrival of the convincing imposter has appeared in the US press and in the International Herald Tribune. President Karzai has denied meeting Mansoor, a man once tipped to take over as deputy head of the Quetta shura, but then the Afghan president’s credibility is not the best among world leaders.

Is it possible Pakistani intelligence had some role in all this? Their links with the Quetta Shura have been commented on often and it is hard to believe they would not know Mansoor. But this is only conjecture. What the latest little side story from a war, that simply refuses to end, tells us is that quite a lot is amiss. Till it is remedied we will see only more chaos, more disarray and, as such, a growing sense of the panic we now see in Washington and also Kabul.

Violence against women

November 29th, 2010


According to a report in this paper on November 24, 80 per cent of Pakistani women are victims of domestic violence. This is corroborated by the clinical experience of senior psychiatrists and by data collected by the Aurat Foundation, which showed that reported incidents of domestic violence have increased from 281 to 608 from 2008 to 2009. Overall, violence against women rose 13 per cent in 2009. The news report highlighted that while wife beating is generally associated with alcoholics and the less educated, the fact is that it is pervasive in pretty much all segments of society, including the so-called ‘educated’ ones.

Unfortunately, this kind of violence is difficult to monitor and almost always goes unreported, taking place as it does in a sphere of private life not open to scrutiny. Often, the victim herself becomes an accomplice, making excuses and covering up for the behaviour of the abuser. Lawmakers have a crucial role to play as far as equalising gender relations is concerned. The Domestic Violence (Protection and Prevention) Bill, introduced in 2004, has yet to be adopted as a law. In 2009, the opposition of the Council of Islamic Ideology to the bill came as a blow to those who had hoped for a level playing field for men and women.

It is fallacious to draw validation of domestic abuse from the Holy Quran, and it is time that the mullah brigade changes their stance and advocates civilised spousal relations to those who follow their teachings. Having said that, the pervasiveness of domestic violence shows that it is not merely the blind faithful who deem it appropriate to use force against the ‘weaker sex’ — members of the enlightened class, who may not necessarily ascribe to Islamic values, behave exactly the same way as their more ‘faithful’ counterparts. It is time we stop turning a blind eye to domestic violence and recognise it as a crime.

Ruckus over the RGST

November 29th, 2010


It is impossible to raise new taxes without minor inflationary consequences. And it is evident that the government of Pakistan needs to raise new taxes. One would therefore conclude that debate over new taxes would revolve around which taxes would minimise inflationary impact. Instead, the opposition is convinced that while the government must raise taxes, it must do so with no impact on inflation. This is nothing short of highly irresponsible populism which may win them some votes but at the unacceptable price of jeopardising the financial future of the republic.

We understand that the government has been deficient in making the case for the value added tax, including renaming it the reformed general sales tax (RGST), which fails to explain what the tax is: it replaces an older tax and reduces the rate of taxation. It raises more revenue for the government by bringing more people into the tax net and helping to document an otherwise largely undocumented economy.

There will inevitably be a slight increase in the rate of inflation. But the experience of other countries suggests that the inflationary effects of the VAT are lower than those of most other taxes. And the administration seems to be actively designing the tax to minimise its impact on the poorest segments of society. If the opposition disagrees with the specifics, they should outline their arguments. But yelling populist slogans in parliament without presenting an alternative will not do the country any good.

It is also time to debunk the myth that the RGST will be more inflationary than the MQM’s proposed alternative: the agriculture tax. Food constitutes over half of what ordinary Pakistani household spends money on. To assume that it is possible to tax agriculture without an inflationary impact on food prices (which are exempt from the RGST) is folly at best and deliberate dishonesty at worst. The country deserves better from our elected leaders.
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Three crashes in four months

November 30th, 2010


With three planes having crashed on our soil in the last four months, Pakistan is fast becoming the new Bermuda Triangle of aviation. The latest incident took place in the early hours of the morning on November 28, when a Russian-made cargo plane crashed in Karachi, just minutes after taking off. Investigations into the causes of airplane crashes can take months, sometimes even years, but the initial assessment by the operator of the plane says that the crash was most likely caused after the plane was hit by a bird. As yet, there is no reason to believe that this crash was caused by either pilot error or the negligence of airport authorities.

The same cannot be said for the other two plane crashes in the past few months. On November 5, a small charter aircraft crashed in Karachi, killing all 21 people on board. Given that engine failure was suspected to have caused the crash, this points to a lack of oversight by the Civil Aviation Authority whose responsibility includes that airlines comply with flight safety standards. Similarly, many questions were raised as a result of the Airblue crash in the Margalla Hills. From the performance of air-traffic controllers to the age of the pilot, it seems that a series of errors and oversights led to the tragedy. However, the investigation report into the accident has yet to be made public and relatives of those who lost their lives have had to form an association to lobby for early release of the compensation that airlines are required to give after such incidents.

Quite understandably, the International Civil Aviation Administration has criticised Pakistan for its lack of qualified inspectors which it says leads to a lack of regulation of private airlines. As a long-term measure, the government needs to increase funding for training of inspectors and ensure they have the independence to operate without hindrance. As a more immediate step, all aircraft need to be carefully inspected to insure they meet international aviation safety standards and any planes that are not up to the mark should be grounded. The airlines will surely protest as this will lead to a loss of revenue at a time when the aviation industry in the country is struggling financially. But the government must start to put people over profits.


More WikiLeaks damage

November 30th, 2010


here is more damage to the US coming from the latest secret information released by WikiLeaks, the website that apparently obtained millions of secret ‘diplomatic’ messages downloaded by an anti-war US soldier. In October, much unsavoury information was revealed through 400,000 messages put out by Swedish WikiLeaks owner Julian Assange. Sensing that what the anti-war crusader might have in the shape of these diplomatic cables would be seven times more in volume and may contain more content embarrassing to the US, the Obama administration has swung into action.

In order to foreclose the imminent airing of US diplomacy, the Obama administration has called the leaks illegal, but that hardly matters since secrecy laws all over the world are now more observed in breach than in obedience — they don’t apply in the US except to officials from whose possession the information has leaked. But Mr Assange has taken the precaution of approaching US officials with the even more discomfiting request that it should point out the damaging items. It seems there is nothing the Obama administration can do but to approach all the governments on whom its diplomats were sending ‘frank’ secret assessments and beg them to ignore the revelations. This effort too will come to nothing.

The earlier batch of WikiLeaks had already embarrassed American diplomats trying to keep the US-Pakistan relations on an even keel. The lack of trust among the Americans dealing with Pakistan reflected Pakistan’s own ambiguities and strengthened the quarters in Islamabad that wanted the double-dealing to end in favour of a clear-cut anti-American policy articulation. The leaks further intensified the anti-US feeling in Pakistan born of the perception that America was in Afghanistan to nurture the Indian hegemonic designs in the region as a counterforce to the growing Chinese influence in Asia. They had also affirmed the scholarly studies made in the US about Pakistan’s concealed dealings with the Afghan Taliban.

The latest leaks focus on the Saudi king who dislikes President Asif Ali Zardari and wants the US to attack Iran to defeat its designs in Iraq which the king wants saved from the Iraqi leader Nouri al Maliki, whom he considers an Iranian proxy. There is confirmation in the leaks that terrorism in Pakistan is funded by Arab donors and that Qatar, where the Americans have their military-strategic headquarters, leads in this activity. The dispatches included in the leaks are embassy assessments of local leaders and their involvement in corruption. They also reveal lack of agreement with policies ostensibly followed by the host countries, which might affect relations currently based on expressions of trust. For instance, the leaks call in question the frequent American announcement that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are safe and under no threat of acquisition by the terrorists.

American secrets are never kept. There are two kinds of ‘unbuttoning’ that goes in the United States. There is the ‘instant bestseller’ source that is a kind of running commentary on pronounced policy telling us what the policymakers actually think. It happened to former US president Bush while he was busy fighting the Iraq war; it has happened to President Obama while he fights his ‘wars’ in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then there is the second kind of ‘airing’ of secrets carried out by insiders of all sorts in the form of bestselling ‘memoirs’ while safely in retirement. This is how ‘open government’ is achieved in America after a ‘not-so-open government’ has handled world affairs and caused events to take place in distant lands.

Pax Americana has unfolded in our times in the midst of an unceasing stream of ‘illegal’ and damaging information. America has survived disclosures in the past; it actually may have benefited from them. It has learned to disavow and even apologise. Will it survive the current unprecedented virtual Niagara of information? Working on the basis of realism, the world will roll with the punch and allow America to bounce back too. All empires were hated by their competitors but tolerated because they imposed an order on an otherwise anarchic world. Till the hegemon was replaced by another.
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