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  #481  
Old Thursday, April 12, 2012
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Resetting US-Pakistan ties

April 12th, 2012


The much-delayed parliamentary review on ties with the US is now facing further obstacles in the form of the unreasonable stance taken by the opposition political parties. Despite the fact that the parliamentary committee that produced the recommendations on re-engagement with the US comprised members of all parties and produced a report that was unanimously signed by the members, debate in parliament has been acrimonious. The main hurdle in the path to re-establishing ties with the US has been the uncooperative stance of the PML-N and the JUI-F. Some would say that their demands have been a bit unrealistic and that they may be trying to extract political mileage out of the situation.

Their main proposal is to link the transport of Nato supplies through Pakistan to a halt to drone attacks, an unrealistic demand that ignores the multi-layered dynamics of Pakistan-US relations. The reality is that the US, as shown by the May 2 raid, has not often cared about Pakistan’s sovereignty. But even if that was a concern for it, the US already has the military’s permission to carry out drone strikes. Parliament has essentially been cut out of that process. That it is now trying to reassert itself in the decision-making process is laudable but it needs to tread carefully. If it overreaches, as the PML-N and the JUI-F appear to be doing, there is a chance that it could be overridden by circumstances outside of its control.

Strategic powerplays aside, normalising relations with the US is a goal worth attaining. With the military sometimes unable to take on the militants in parts of the tribal areas, drone attacks have proved the most effective — if also the most controversial — method of eliminating militants. Holding that hostage to a fit of anti-American pique is a self-defeating exercise. The original Parliamentary Committee on National Security recommendations had also called for an end to drone attacks but did not link it to the resumption of Nato supplies, instead saying that the latter should be allowed only if the US pays its duties and taxes. This original formulation was far more sensible and the opposition parties should get on board with it. Relations with the US are far too vital to be held hostage by political demagoguery.



Death in a cylinder

April 12th, 2012


We hear a great deal about drone attacks; even now the issue remains a top priority for political parties. But there is a small matter — in fact rather a big one — that is too often ignored. Few of us realise that more people have been killed in CNG cylinder blasts than in attacks by the unmanned US aircraft. While that issue has led to protests of every kind, and today threatens our relations with the US, no one seems concerned by the deaths caused by CNG cylinder blasts.

Yet, according to a report released by the Civil Society Front (CSF) of Pakistan, 2,000 people were killed in cylinder blasts in 2011. This, according to the CSF, is four times more than the number killed in drone attacks. Indeed, we do not even know what the actual figure for deaths caused by drone attacks is — with the ever-present possibility that they may have been exaggerated for propaganda reasons. Lack of access to remote tribal areas makes it impossible to estimate what the actual figure is. The CSF has also expressed the apprehension that the figure for cylinder deaths may rise this year, given that nothing at all is being done to direct any kind of official attention to the problem. While deaths in cylinder blasts are regularly reported by the media, the matter has not been taken up as a serious issue or any attempt made to stop them. The CSF deserves credit for its pioneering role in taking up the matter.

To resolve the issue and prevent a death toll which the CSF fears may double over the next year as the number of deaths continues to rise, the organisation has suggested laws to regulate the use of low quality cylinders. This is obviously essential. At the very least we need regulations to prevent the use of sub-standard cylinders in public transport vehicles. Too many people have died as a result of explosions in the vehicles they were travelling in. The issue needs to be taken up before more people are so needlessly killed, simply as a result of administrative indifference and inefficiency.


The consumer strikes back
April 12th, 2012


After decades of enjoying very little rights, the consumers of the country have now found a means to strike back through the consumer courts. In Lahore, the court has issued arrest warrants for the manager of a bakery after he had failed to respond to several court orders to appear before it. The court is hearing a complaint filed by a customer of the bakery — regarded as one of the leading ones of the city — for “causing him embarrassment” in front of his guests after it failed to provide a 12-pound cake, exactly according to the design he had ordered. Hassan Jamil, who had bought the cake to mark his son’s first birthday, claims that the cake in question did not match the sample pictures he had shown the manager of the bakery, while also claiming that it weighed less than 12 pounds. For this, Jamil is seeking nearly Rs600,000 in damages — Rs500,000 of it for the mental agony he had suffered — and the rest for the legal and transport costs, and the loss in earnings that he has borne as a result of pursuing the case, as well as for the price of the cake.

The bakery has not commented on the design issue, which stands at the heart of the matter, but has said that Jamil would have been compensated had he brought the cake back to the bakery and had it been proved that it was under the specified weight.

The outcome of this case will be interesting to see. In the past, consumer courts have ordered retailers or manufacturers to pay up considerable sums of money to those who have complained about being sold defective products. The positive aspect of this development is that the previously hapless consumer now has a forum to which to file a complaint to. In time, this should help establish a tradition in which more care is taken about what is provided to consumers and create more awareness about their rights.
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  #482  
Old Friday, April 13, 2012
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Matters before the court

April 13th, 2012


Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has responded to the scandals of corruption attached to himself and his family by taking his cabinet into confidence about the details of the allegation (now before the Supreme Court) that his son, Ali Musa Gilani (who was recently elected to the National Assembly in a by-election) had caused a narcotics drug quota to be awarded to two companies of Multan in violation of government rules and regulations. The cabinet has accepted the prime minister’s defence and has decided to stand by him. Thus, yet another case of corruption has been politicised and the plea taken is that of ‘victimisation’. The public has seen a lot of such cases in the recent past. The other ongoing case before the country’s apex court involving the prime minister is on the charge of contempt. The Court of Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry is popular with the media and most Pakistanis because it has broken with the past practice when courts were supine in front of the executive and the military. This activism has focused on governance and found the government erring on many counts — and no one can really fault the Court on that score. Unfortunately, the opposition has used this suo motu-based activism to push forward their own agenda of toppling the government before its term in office is up. The world over, critics often ask a head of the government to resign because a member of his cabinet has been found involved directly or indirectly in corruption.

In this case, however, the charges, if an affidavit filed by a senior official of the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) is to be believed, the principal secretary of the prime minister allegedly told the ANF that it should not probe the prime minister’s son because that could cause “chaos” and “upheaval” and because civil-military relations were on the mend (the ANF is headed by a serving army officer). The bureaucrat has now denied saying any such thing. The media, by and large, has been very active in unearthing scandals; and the details that have been made public have convinced most people that the present government is tainted as far as corruption is concerned, notwithstanding the fact that many of the problems it has faced may have been inherited. All over the world, the judiciary faces problems of implementation when it comes to dealing with the accountability of the executive. The judges interpret the law and hold the government to its own rules of the game under the Constitution, but getting their orders obeyed by the ‘erring’ party is always problematic. The dilemma faced by the Supreme Court today arises out of the crisis of confidence between the PPP government and the military on the one hand, and the PPP government and a vengeful opposition comprising the PML-N and others, and at times reinforced by those sitting inside the PPP coalition, on the other. The PPP understands the implications of this and has exploited it by playing the so-called ‘Sindh card’ by accusing the military — and the Court — of victimising a Pakistan-wide party led by a non-Punjabi family.

Mr Gilani has pleaded not guilty to his cabinet saying that the ephedrine drug scandal was investigated by a competent authority which found the accused innocent. The statement emerging from the cabinet says that “Ephedrine, the drug in question, is to be dealt with under the Drug Act, 1976 and not under Control of Narcotics Substance Act, 1977 because it is a locally-manufactured, controlled chemical, distributed yearly by the Ministry of Health under Drug Act 1976”. Whatever may be the truth in the latest case, the final verdict on it will come from the Supreme Court; and Mr Gilani is already facing charges of defying the orders of the honourable judges in other cases. It is unfortunate that justice in Pakistan has become politicised — thanks to the politicians, rather than the Court— and Mr Gilani may prefer to go out as a martyr rather than as an upright citizen armed with the right to defend himself.


The enemy within

April 13th, 2012


The idea that the militant enemy we strive to eliminate is not a distant one based in the north, but one that exists right in the midst of the very force intended to hunt it out is a terrifying one. Yet this, it seems, is the reality that stares us in the face. In an astonishing development some days ago, the SSP Malir district Anwar Ahmed Khan, who was targeted in a suicide attack on April 5, has accused an inspector of police in Karachi, Azam Mehsud, and his brother Sherzaman, of being involved in it. Khan escaped only because he had been using an armoured personnel carrier after having received death threats. The Taliban had immediately claimed responsibility for the suicide blast, which had claimed four lives.

The development in the case indicates how deep the Taliban penetration into our security infrastructure has been and the risk that this poses for us. Sherzaman Mehsud, who was till recently in jail, has been arrested and his brother Azam booked, following the lodging of multiple FIRs by Khan. But right now, we can only wonder where others with the same kind of sympathies for the Taliban, and a willingness to act on the basis of their convictions, lurk. The gunning down in January last year of former governor of Punjab Salman Taseer, by his own police guard, is yet another reminder of what can happen when those intended to hunt down terrorists or protect others from them, instead enter into a pact with them.

It is known that during the 1990s in the Punjab, groups which have since been banned, notably the Sunni extremist Sipah-e- Sahaba Pakistan, made a conscious effort to influence the police force and bureaucracy. Their efforts are believed to have succeeded to a considerable degree. It is clear that the infiltration by the extremists into the security and administrative set-up goes deep. We need to find a way to conduct a purge, detect these elements and oust them from the heart of our police and other security set-ups before they strike again from the inside, using their positions and knowledge to inflict maximum damage.
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  #483  
Old Sunday, April 15, 2012
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Parliament gets to decide — finally
April 14th, 2012


In finally passing the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) recommendations on resetting ties with the US, our lawmakers have asserted their authority in directing the future of our foreign policy. This needs to be warmly welcomed because — at least on the face of it — foreign policy (or significant parts of it) seems to have been extracted from the preserve of the GHQ and has been formulated by parliament. This is good in itself because it, at the very least, signals that for once the legislature is determining, perhaps the most important of the country’s bilateral relationships with a foreign power. The revised PCNS proposals represent a bold attempt to change the power balance between Pakistan and the US by calling for a halt to drone attacks and refusing to allow Pakistani airspace to be used by the US. That said, the proof of the pudding, so to speak, will lie in its eating, as in the extent to which America abides by them — especially with regard to the bete noire of the Pakistani public, drone attacks. On matters where the government coalition and the opposition parties could reach no agreement, they simply ignored the matter and left it to the executive to make a decision. Such was the case in the hotly-disputed matter of the resumption of Nato supplies. By passing the buck to the executive, the opposition parties have provided themselves cover should the transportation of supplies resume and anything untoward happens.

Even if these proposals are never fully implemented, the hope is that it sets a precedent for the future, where our elected representatives have a say in the conduct of foreign policy. Previously, the US has simply ignored parliament in its negotiations with Pakistan; now it may have to take into account the views of those who should be responsible for formulating laws in the country. That is a welcome development and does, in fact, suggest that the days where foreign policy was the exclusive preserve of the men in khaki may be gone forever, with elected civilians asserting themselves more. Perhaps, next to follow should be the country’s policy with India, where much could be done if a decision was made to break from the past.



The wheat glut

April 14th, 2012


Trust the government’s bad management to turn good news into bad. Despite two years of devastating floods, Pakistan is about to have a record crop of wheat, unto itself very good news in an economy that has otherwise been struggling. Yet, what should have turned into a year where farmers make record incomes for their wheat crop, may well turn into a disaster for the country as the government’s overflowing wheat reserves create a massive glut in the market, which will likely drive down prices and result in highly inefficient consumption. Given the higher wheat support price this year, farmers could reasonably have expected to look forward to a rise in their income levels. Yet, the cost of ploughing an acre of farmland has risen sharply over the past year. Farmers need prices to remain steady to make up for rising costs with their rising productivity. If the government had adequately forecasted this year’s crop using scientific methods, it would have reduced its wheat reserves in time to prepare for the harvest. As it turns out, the government did nothing and now wheat will be dumped into the market at very low rates, discouraging farmers from planting wheat next season and may even result in Pakistan having to import it next year.

We understand the government’s worries about wheat. Food security is an important government responsibility. But maintaining gigantic, unmanageable reserves and indiscriminately subsidising production seems to be a highly inefficient way of going about achieving this goal, especially when one takes into account the fact that the World Food Programme says that half of all Pakistanis remain food insecure. Surely, there must be a better way to do this. As it turns out, Brazil seems to have discovered a way to do so. In the 1970s, Brazil phased out almost all subsidies on agriculture and replaced them with research into raising agricultural productivity. There is no reason to believe that this model cannot be applied in Pakistan.
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  #484  
Old Sunday, April 15, 2012
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An even bigger cabinet

April 15th, 2012


It seems as if the age of austerity is dead in Pakistan. Forced by international donor agencies as well as the devolution of many powers to the provinces under the Eighteenth Amendment, last year the government cut many ministries, most of which served no discernible purposes other than offering cushy jobs to friends and allies. Now, many of them are back to head newly-created ministries. The government inducted 11 new ministers on April 13, bringing the total number to 49 — a 20 per cent increase in the size of the federal cabinet. The expansion in the size of government is unnecessary, with many of the new ministries simply duplicating work that could be done by others. Pakistan is not yet out of the economic woods and the government is still operating at a considerable budget deficit. Thus the prime minister needs to explain why austerity is no longer needed in government.

No matter what the government may say, it is evident that these new ministers have been appointed simply to reward those who lost their posts last year. One such man who has been handed a plum new ministry is Raja Pervez Ashraf, who in his capacity as minister for water and power has been credibly accused of corruption in the rental power projects. Indeed, the Supreme Court has ordered his name to be placed on the exit control list. It’s bad enough that nearly a dozen new ministers have been foisted on the nation; but that those ministers themselves do not have a clean reputation only makes their appointment worse.

The fact is that the PPP is entering an election year for which it is using the levers of power to aid its re-election. Eleven new ministers means eleven more opportunities for shovelling funds that the party hopes will attract new voters. Bringing back those who had been left out in the cold also ensures that none of these new ministers will ditch the PPP for opposition parties. It seems this is more important to the ruling party rather than ensuring sound governance and bringing the country back to a solid financial footing. It may help the PPP in the short-term but will only end up causing further damage to the country.


More good news on India-Pakistan relations
April 15th, 2012


A Pakistani trade exhibition in New Delhi and the opening of an integrated trading check post at the Attari-Wagah Border (enough to handle 600 trucks a day) has been the occasion for announcing a breakthrough between Pakistan and India, including allowing Pakistani direct investment into India. Other agreements are significant and make clear the intent on both sides to “normalise” relations through crossborder economic activity: 1) a second integrated check post on the border at Attari connecting the two Punjabs (which was inaugurated on April 13. 2) Opening of each other’s bank branches in their territories to facilitate financial transactions; 3) review by India of the sensitive list of tradable items from Pakistan; and 4) opening of negotiations in hospitality, education and tourism sectors. Of course, this will take time in reaching fruition as India is slow in opening itself up commercially and Pakistan slow in leashing its non-state actors as gestures of confidence-building. Another India-Pakistan get-together on the Punjab border was even more promising because it indicated a big green signal from the main opposition party that rules in Pakistani Punjab. Reopening Attari means an opportunity to overhaul the infrastructure for the easing trade and tourism that is on the cards as the two sides undertake liberalisation of the visa regime. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif who was at Attari said something revolutionary given his party’s conservative leanings: “If Western Europe can have a single currency after decades of enmity, why is it impossible for India and Pakistan?”

It is the two currencies that will likely produce delays on the India side as far as the real free trade is concerned. The Indian rupee is almost double the value of Pakistani rupee which means a lot of Pakistani goods will find easy market in India and anything brought into Pakistan through normal channels will not sell easy, as we may discover during the negotiations over import of Indian electricity. Yet on the other hand, India is residually protectionist as far as the Indian bureaucratic instinct is concerned and there are other formidable non-tariff barriers as well. India’s thinking about possible Pakistani investments into India is probably based on the Pakistani trend of seeking foreign safe havens after despairing over the future of law and order in the country. With the situation in Afghanistan far from certain, and with the Americans leaving in 2014, the expected blowback from the jihadi enthusiasm of Pakistan’s non-state actors, it is possible that capital will flow out of the country.

But will India make itself as open to foreign direct investment (FDI) as China and other Asian economies? So far the picture is not promising. Last year, a report on FDI in India was very critical on the basis of what foreign companies came up against: corruption and bureaucracy, obtaining land, exclusion from railways, legal services, majority stakes, insurance, domestic airlines, retail business, etc. The big foreign complaint is about lack of complete ownership of businesses. But the Indian bureaucracy is said to be waking up from its introverted slumber as global realities dawn and India becomes aware of the benefits it will reap by becoming the central engine of growth of the South Asian market. India’s neighbours, too, are waking up as well to all of this. Bangladesh has moved quickly to offer the infrastructure India needs to reach across Bangladesh. In Pakistan, both the PPP and the PML-N are in favour of opening up in the face of the activities of Pakistan’s non-state actors.

India’s energy crisis is going to stay as its economy requires steady growth and seeks to avoid the cycle of boom and bust, which means it will look to sources of energy in Central Asia with the help of territorially median Pakistan. On the other hand, Pakistan will have to learn to avoid jihad in neighbouring states or face a gradual failure of the state. It is already late given the dire state of Pakistan’s economy. The real rulers of Pakistan must think of survival now. Of course, the non-state actors are beyond redemption but the Pakistan military, one hopes, is on board.
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  #485  
Old Monday, April 16, 2012
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Slide into anarch

April 16th, 2012


Balochistan’s slide into veritable anarchy and chaos is hardly difficult to ignore. There has been much comment on it everywhere. But it is rather frightening when a top official of the land himself concedes that the province is in a state of anarchy, and asks why the government is doing nothing about this. The Governor of Balochistan, Zulfikar Ali Magsi, appeared genuinely upset by the situation as he spoke to a delegation of the Hazara Democratic Party, which had called on him to protest the repeated incidents of targeted killing in the province. Six more members of the besieged community, as well as a police constable were killed on April 13, taking the toll to over two dozen dead in the past few weeks. That these killings continue to happen again and again means that either the law-enforcement agencies are completely inept, or complicit. The governor’s warning that civil war could lie ahead is a frightening one. Certainly the warning appears to be one that carries weight.

The fact that the governor has spoken openly, without restraint or the mincing of words, may perhaps have a silver lining. He has asked why the deaths continue in the presence of the Frontier Corps and police, deployed across Quetta and also other cities. This is certainly a question many of us would like to ask, and also get good answers to. The state of affairs in Balochistan is worsening as we watch. This is not something that can be tolerated — with distrust and hatred worsening by the day. The governor has warned that if things do not improve the army will need to be called out. This is something we need to avoid given the Baloch distrust for the military, as well as the paramilitary FC. While it is clear the killing spree needs to end, the question arises also of the need to think out a longer term solution for the province. They need to be dealt with in an organised manner, with all parties involved, so that a way can be found to restore the calm Balochistan so badly needs and restore peace to a province in chaos. A first much-needed step will be a halt to the abductions of suspected troublemakers.


Violence and mayhem

April 16th, 2012


By now, everyone in Karachi is used to regular bouts of violence interspersed with periods of calm. Except now, the moments of peace seem to be getting ever shorter. After being spared violence for 10 days, Lyari exploded yet again on April 13, when police engaged in a day-long gun battle with members of the outlawed People’s Amn Committee (PAC), leading to the deaths of at least three people with another dozen injured. Easy as it is to blame either the police or the PAC, depending on where your political sympathies lie, the fact remains that violence in Karachi is not monopolised by any one group. Every political actor in the city has used the threat and reality of bloodshed to further its own interests.

As is always the case in Karachi, the shootout in Lyari could quite possibly take on an ethnic dimension. The Baloch community that resides in Lyari will take the violence as a sign that the police is targeting it. It is most likely to respond by taking out its anger on other ethnic groups in the city, and that could lead to another round of violence, and so on. And who suffers the most in all of this, as the provincial government stands by idly and does nothing? The ordinary residents of the city. Political differences quickly become more combustible because of the ethnic component and feed an already-waging conflict that may otherwise die out in a few days.

An added problem is the fact that the police, which should be studiously neutral in ethnic conflicts, usually ends up (or is pressured to) taking sides. This only adds to the sense of injustice felt by the aggrieved parties and leads to even more violence. In Karachi, a feeling of victimisation is present in all political parties, who feel that they are being repressed in some way or the other. Their list of complaints is as long as their list of solutions is short. For the sake of the city, though, we continue to hope that they will eventually realise that politics can be practised without needing to pick up guns.


A hero’s final fall

April 16th, 2012


Group captain (retd) Cecil Chaudhry, 70, who died in Lahore on April 13 after battling lung cancer for over a year, was a man of many dimensions: war hero, educationist, human rights activist and social worker. He stood out as a man who cared deeply for his country and its people. The treatment he received in return for this from the military exposes a great deal about our country, and the distortions that exist within it.

Many of those who served with Chaudhry in the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) or knew him in other capacities, believed he could have risen to the very top of the Force; this was not to be. Despite the fact that Chaudhry — as a dashing young fighter pilot — had won the Tamgha-e-Jurat and the Tamgha-e-Basalat for his heroics in the 1965 and 1971 wars, he was informed in 1983 that he could be promoted no further, given his religion. In 1985, he sought a release from the service he loved.

During interviews given after this, he spoke bitterly of the discrimination against minority religious groups in the country, and of how this had first taken root under General Ayub Khan in the 1950s and then grown under General Zia in the armed forces. The manner in which he was treated by the PAF — after serving it with such extraordinary valour whilst almost losing his life in the process in 1971 — was an invisible scar he carried with him for the remainder of his life. But this unhealed wound did not prevent Chaudhry from serving his nation in other capacities. As a highly respected principal of St Anthony’s School in Lahore where he had himself been educated, as a council member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, as an articulate spokesperson for minorities and as an advocate for the rights of disabled children, Cecil Chaudhry proved himself a hero in more ways than one. He showed through the example he set that patriotism and belief are not linked despite a widespread notion to the contrary held by many in the country as a result of warped thinking and distorted policies that over the years served to indoctrinate ordinary people.
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Brazen attacks in Kabul

April 17th, 2012


The April 15 attack on Kabul by the Taliban looked ominously like a replay of the assault on the Afghan capital that took place after the Soviet troops left Afghanistan in 1989-90. The attackers focused on Western embassies, Nato’s headquarters and the parliament building in Kabul, while carrying out similar attacks in three other provinces: Nangarhar (which borders Chitral district), Logar and Paktia (which borders Kurram Agency). The aggression was the biggest since 2001 when Kabul was attacked by the US-Nato forces in collaboration with the warriors of the Northern Alliance. All the Kabul attackers were killed after the Afghan forces fought back. All this is ominous and points to the coming war in Afghanistan after the US-Nato forces start leaving in 2013-14.

The US ambassador in Kabul has said something that foreshadows the nature and extent of the coming conflict: “The Taliban are really good at issuing statements, less good at actually fighting. My guess, based on experience here, is this a set of Haqqani network operations out of North Waziristan and the Pakistani tribal areas. Frankly, I don’t think the Taliban are good enough.”

Of course, Islamabad will and should vociferously deny any such accusations, if they are made publicly and officially. The problem, however, is that the world stopped believing what we say on the issue of safe havens, the nature and scope of the engagements of the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban in general, a long time ago. The way the Afghan Army fought back on April 15 signals yet another future calamity for Pakistan: additional non-state actor warriors will be required to engage in a cross-border war, which may not be an accurate repeat of the victory over the Soviet Union. Pakistan still has to comprehend the ‘victory’ over the Soviet Union that it facilitated by supporting the mujahideen in rejecting pre-withdrawal talks. The blowback from this ‘victory’ transformed Pakistan while it broke up the Soviet Union. It would be a misdiagnosis to say that Pakistan progressed after that if one looks at the instability and violence that held the country hostage. Now, as the Taliban stand at the portals of another ‘victory’, they may be seen as delivering a coup de grace to Pakistan’s fragile internal order where terrorism has taken a daily toll of human life. And the possibility is that this ‘victory’ may not follow the lineaments of the American defeat in Vietnam and the Soviet one in Afghanistan.

Pakistan is internationally isolated. Even as it claims that it is no longer interested in ‘strategic depth’ vis-a-vis Afghanistan, its non-state actors are not in its control and are openly agitating in favour of war. On the other hand, the Afghan National Army (ANA) that the US is leaving behind is 250,000 strong — the largest ever in the country’s history. The last big army was fielded by the post-Soviet withdrawal ruler Najibullah: it was just 43,000-strong and it defeated the mujahideen at Jalalabad. At the peak of their rule in Afghanistan, the Taliban had just 25,000 soldiers. Today, the ANA is dominated by the Northern Alliance and it is going to fight till it is internally fissured and gives up. Unlike the post-Soviet withdrawal situation, this time the US will be there to back the ANA with drones and other assistance. The warriors will have to go from Pakistan to match the numerical strength of the ANA, and it will not be the Afghan Taliban alone resting in the safe havens of North Waziristan. The Haqqani network controls the Pakistani Taliban, the Punjabi Taliban and a number of al Qaeda-related warriors. In addition, the non-state actors will come together from all corners of Pakistan, seeking strength from isolationism. The blowback from this ‘victory’ — which means the establishment of another Taliban government in Kabul — may be beyond the capacity of Pakistan to endure. One documentary shown by a leading TV channel of Pakistan last week, predicted that this ‘victory’ will stretch across Pakistan and may inflict territorial loss on the state. Already the state of Pakistan is helpless to control acts of terrorism in vast stretches of its territory.


Bannu jailbreak

April 17th, 2012


The audacious Taliban attack on a jail in Bannu that allowed nearly 400 prisoners, including hardcore militants (among them a former Pakistan Air Force technician convicted of an assassination attempt on former president Pervez Musharraf), represents a security failure of unimaginable proportions. In the days ahead, we are sure to see various actors trying to explain their incompetence. The federal government will likely claim that since prisons are a provincial subject it holds no responsibility for the attack. This rationalisation should not be accepted. With militants being housed in prisons, it becomes the responsibility of the centre to ensure that all prison officers are properly trained in counter-terrorism. As we have previously seen with the attacks on the Lahore police training school, militants are ready to strike police forces at any time and so police officers need to be ready for such attacks. It is clear that they are in no position to fend off militants right now.

Law-enforcement agencies — civilian as well as military — cannot be let off the hook for the prison break. Intelligence is chiefly the responsibility of the agencies and they have failed in this instance. Planning a raid of this magnitude requires a lot of time and planning, which should have given the intelligence agencies sufficient opportunity to detect and disrupt it. Furthermore, given numerous reports all suggesting that the escapees were driven away in buses, would suggest complicity at some level among the prison security staff. The raid is also a reflection of the failure of the military to defeat the Taliban despite the operations it has carried out in the tribal areas.

Apart from the intelligence failure, the Bannu break-out will also make the Taliban stronger because some of its most valuable planners are now free to resume their militant activities. Not only was this attack an indication of how strong the Taliban remains, its success has made it even stronger, as it has brought many militants back into its fold. This bodes ill for a government and security establishment that has been made to look weak and ineffectual in front of the daring and coordination of the Taliban. The fight against militancy is looking tougher than ever.
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A matter of PR

April 18th, 2012


At a time when the military is facing many challenges, not least of which is fighting various militant groups, it is hard to understand why it needs to venture into the propaganda business. As reported recently in this newspaper, under the auspices of the military-controlled 96 International Radio Network, the institution now wants to run a nationwide network of FM radio stations in an effort to promote “social harmonisation”. Exactly why this is needed to run parallel to the state-owned Radio Pakistan and Pakistan Television (PTV) — which are tasked with the same goal — has not been explained. The worry is that the military is bypassing the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) and will use this network of radio stations to promote its own agenda and objectives.

Initially the military got into the media business after carrying out operations in Swat and Fata. In those cases, its radio activities could be defended on the grounds of national security, since militants had successfully used FM radio to propagate their venomous ideology. A counter to that was needed immediately and the military was in the best position to offer that. However, to expand those efforts to the rest of the country is unnecessary given the presence of a ministry of information, Radio Pakistan, PTV and the military’s own public relations arm, ISPR. Even if the military-run FM stations are completely benign, they will simply lead to a duplication of effort parallel to state-owned radio. Furthermore, having a network of military-sponsored radio stations could give the impression that the institution is somehow independent of the government.

As always, the best way to have a positive public relations interaction with ordinary people is for a government institution — be it the military or any other — to do its job to the best of its capabilities, as defined/mandated by the Constitution of Pakistan. If an institution does a job well, its actions speak for themselves and there may be no need for any PR exercise at all. The obvious example that comes to mind is the missing persons issue, particularly with regard to the situation in Balochistan. Holding those accountable in the intelligence agencies responsible for involvement in this matter would be the best way of garnering some good PR rather than setting up a network of radio stations.


Justice without meaning

April 18th, 2012


It is clear that the criminal justice system in Pakistan has lost all meaning. There is, in fact, no sense of law and order left and with people taking matters into their own hands, only might prevails. We have seen such incidents before — we see them now again. An 80-year-old man, acquitted by a court late last year on blasphemy charges, and recently released, was shot dead in his hometown of Sheikhupura, apparently by the same man who had accused him in 2011.

According to the family of the victim, octogenarian Iqbal Butt, the accusation of blasphemy arose after a sharp verbal exchange between him and the cleric Maulvi Waqas, the khateeb of the local mosque; as has happened time and again before, protests by local clerics who were instigated by Waqas, led to charges being brought against the old man, which in turn led to his arrest. After hearing the case, he was found innocent by court, while a committee of ulema in Sheikhupura — who examined the matter — reached precisely the same verdict.

Despite all this, Iqbal Butt suffered the ultimate punishment — death. It came at the hands of fanatics who were unwilling to accept the court’s verdict or show mercy for an old man, who had already spent months in prison, despite the fact that he had committed no offence. We have seen such happenings occur repeatedly, with men accused of blasphemy having been killed in courts or in jail cells. Human rights groups have repeatedly established that most blasphemy cases in our country arise as a means to settle petty scores — over property, over business or over other matters. This trend continues. Trifling attempts to improve matters have failed, and it seems that swift change is unlikely. Certainly, too little is being done to bring this change about, which is why we continue to see tragedies of the kind most recently enacted in Sheikhupura, with Maulvi Waqas and his accomplice, who shot Iqbal, having so far escaped arrest — like so many others responsible for similar crimes in the past.


Giant loss

April 18th, 2012


The 2006 military operation that led to the death of Nawab Akbar Bugti, which involved the bombing of the hills and hamlets across the Dera Bugti region may — apart from so many other things — also have cost us one of the most important paleontological findings of our time. According to a recent report in this newspaper, in 1999, a team of French scientists had uncovered, in the sandy hills of Dera Bugti, the fossilised remains of what they believed was the largest mammal to ever walk the earth. The hornless, rhinoceros-like creature, which lived some 30 million years ago, is called Baluchitherium, after it was named as such by the British scientist, who in 1910, found evidence of its existence. The French team, which nearly 90 years later, put together its bones, believed it weighed as much as four elephants, stood some 18 feet high and measured 21 feet in length.

It is now feared that this discovery — made after the late Nawab granted permission for the Dera Bugti hills to be excavated — may have been lost forever following the bombing of the region. It had been agreed at the time that the bones would not be removed from Balochistan, but after some hesitation, Nawab Bugti had allowed them to be shifted to Karachi so that they could be assembled in a more suitable setting. Funding for shifting the bones to Karachi was being sought, and meanwhile, they were stored at the Nawab’s mansion. The scientists also made discoveries, which indicate the barren Dera Bugti area was once a tropical forest.

The French team believes a key discovery has been destroyed forever. However, local paleontologists are more optimistic that some of the remains may have survived. The discovery of Baluchitherium also proves —they say — that Pakistan hosts a treasure trove of fossilised history of immense scientific value. What is lacking is the interest, the funds and the will to explore this heritage further, and by doing so, making a key contribution at the global level to what we know about the past of our country and the territory that it stands on today.
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Nawaz Sharif on Siachen

April 19th, 2012


The PML-N leader, Nawaz Sharif, has visited the Gayari sector of the Siachen Glacier to express his solidarity with the Pakistani troops performing duty there and to commiserate with them over the victims of the April 7 avalanche. He delivered a statesmanlike opinion about what Pakistan should do to prevent future tragedies. He said: “the Pakistani government should take the lead and withdraw its troops from the Siachen Glacier; let’s not make it a matter of ego. Pakistan should take the initiative”.

Mr Sharif should know a little bit more about the issue of Siachen than others because in 1999, as prime minister, he suffered the humiliation of a botched offensive — the Kargil Operation — to get the Indians down from the Glacier. It is clear that he no longer buys the military argument that focuses on the revisionist strategy of responding to challenge with counterchallenge. No one in the world approves of what India and Pakistan are doing at 21,000 feet, losing their soldiers to frostbite and avalanches. Common sense says if Pakistan climbs down, it will lose nothing.

Neither would the skies fall if Pakistan gets the Indians to climb down by agreeing on a map with the current placement of troops on both sides. On TV, an ex-general lost his cool when this was put to him, but his response was more emotional than rational. Just because Pakistani troops are at a lower height than the Indians he lost sight of the fact that India will come down from an area where human life is not tenable; and if Pakistan-India relations improve, there will be no need for anyone to return to Siachen. In 1962, India fought a war with China after the Chinese built a road through Aksai Chin, a part of the Kashmir territory under Indian control. The former lost the war but learned the futility of fighting for a ‘strategically unimportant’ piece of frozen real estate. Now India’s trade with China is worth $100 billion.

India began by first redefining the Aksai Chin territory it lost to China as ‘territory of no strategic value’. Then it took the stance of ‘isolating’ the dispute over this territory while moving in the direction of normalisation with China in the 1980s. Pakistan became upset when China rewarded India by supplying it with heavy water. It periodically gets upset in editorials in the national press when a fresh China-India effort at normalisation comes to fruition.

Ashley J Tellis in his India’s Emerging Nuclear Posture (OUP, 2001) tells us that India has rationalised its anti-status quo stance by unofficially accepting that the territory it lost in Aksai Chin in the Jammu and Kashmir sector was of more strategic value to China (because of the route connecting it with Tibet) than to India. It has ‘compensated’ itself with the thought that the 90,000 kilometre territory claimed by China in Arunachal Pradesh in north-eastern India was still under India’s effective control and was of more strategic value to India. This ‘adjustment’ has allowed India to normalise trade relations with China and minimise its contradictions with its militarily and much-superior neighbour in the north.

The Indian army is interested in the big budget it receives for being on Siachen — a million dollars a day — and has linked its presence there to glacier research, which it says will help in exploring the South Pole for minerals, and possibly oil.

Our army is brave but why should it prove right the adage that it is better to be “unbrave” because it teaches us to live on the basis of wisdom rather than emotion.

Also, after visiting the Gayari site, army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani in response to questions from journalists said that the army was at Siachen because of India’s actions — but that both India and Pakistan needed to resolve the issue so that resources could be used elsewhere.

Mr Nawaz Sharif has rightly chosen wisdom rather than ‘national honour’ by advising a “unilateral” withdrawal from Siachen. He remembers the year 1999 when his approach to India was sabotaged by ‘freedom-fighters’ at Kargil. A ‘nuclear’ Pakistan erred by waging a conventional war and endangered the world and was roundly condemned by all countries. Now let us earn some praise.


Reopening the Nato supply route
April 19th, 2012


The government knows that reopening Nato supply routes in the country is a prudent course of action to take but unfortunately the rest of Pakistani polity is too fearful of public ramifications or too frozen in its ideological obsessions to make the right decision. A news report indicated that Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar has expressed his willingness to allow Nato supplies to be transported through Pakistan but meetings on the issue are still ongoing between US Ambassador Cameron Munter and government officials. At this point, it seems that the question is not if Nato supplies will be resumed, but rather when it will happen and what price Pakistan will extract for the concession.

It is appropriate that the matter is now being decided by the executive since parliament had its opportunity to give its recommendations but took the safe option of deferring any decision on the subject. After initially trying to link the opening of the supply routes to a complete halt in drone attacks, opposition parties opportunistically stayed silent in the final resolution and punted the matter to the government. This will allow them to claim plausible deniability and attack the government should the supply routes be opened to Nato trucks. The trick for the government is to make the correct call but also convince the public that the opposition parties are complicit in the final decision since they opted for political point-scoring rather than resolving the conflict.

It’s not as if the government has any choice but to reopen the supply routes. The US could simply take the more costly option of using Central Asia as a more expensive alternative route and then deduct the difference from Pakistan’s total aid package. With our economy still shaky, that is a course of action we should avoid at all costs. Instead, we should use negotiations with the US to work out a better deal that would allow us to collect greater tolls and taxes to pay for the damage done to our highways by Nato trucks. The final decision should be a practical, not emotional, one. For the sake of better relations with the superpower and to stay financially afloat, the government needs to bite the bullet and give in to the US.
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Saluting wisdom

April 20th, 2012


The comments made by Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani after he visited the site of the devastating avalanche at the Gayari sector are a rarity and rather pertinent to the needs and interests of Pakistan. General Kayani needs to be saluted for suggesting that Siachen, with its virtually inhabitable terrain be vacated by troops from both sides and progress towards peace be made with India. Such a proposal, coming from the army chief, is virtually revolutionary in terms of its content. The army has traditionally been regarded as a body dominated by hawks, unwilling to consider friendly ties with India. Against this backdrop, General Kayani’s call for peace and a resolution of all issues is no small matter.

Just as important was his suggestion that the defence budget should be cut and more ought to be spent on development. His acknowledgement that the strength of a country lay in its people indicates a vital change in outlook towards relations with India. For decades people have pointed this out at various forums and spoken at length about the benefits this would reap. The realisation that our nation will progress, not through military might alone, but also through developing the tremendous potential of our people, is a significant one. Many nations have discovered that the will and strength of their people count more than the power of arms. We must capitalise on this notion immediately.

A window of opportunity has been provided by the army chief’s comments. We must now take advantage of the comments made by Kayani. The cooperation of the military in building a system where more resources can be allocated for development and taken away from defence would be invaluable. The power of the army has long been seen as an obstacle to reallocating resources and also to building peace with India. It now seems that an impediment may have been removed and the path for greater institutional cooperation may have been laid. Let us not allow this opportunity to go to waste.


Domestic violence

April 20th, 2012


Echoing the opposition of the religious political parties, clerics at the Wafaq-ul Madaris al-Arabia Pakistan are now insisting on a ‘review’ of the Domestic Violence Bill. The proposed law has become a slow-burning issue, sharply dividing opinions in areas where, in fact, there should not be cause for debate. After all, this ostensibly controversial Bill simply outlaws any form of violence against women — surely, a basic duty of the state and in line with a largely accepted view of what a civilised society is.

Still, clerics and the right wing claim that its passage would not only be detrimental to the family structure, but would also undermine family values. Do they really believe that violence against women is acceptable in Islam? Or do they think that shielding an abuser from justice promotes family values? Given that nearly 1,000 women were murdered in the name of violence in the country in 2010, according to the HRCP, these parties need to drop their superficial religious rhetoric.

Sadly, it is not just the religious parties but also the PML-N that opposes the proposed law. It maintains that they are against some specific clauses in the Bill, with JUI-F’s Maulana Fazlur Rehman claiming that parliament simply cannot pass a bill, which is the exact copy of the one passed by the Indian parliament. Part of the backlash also comes from a feeling that it is ‘foreign-funded NGOs’ which are shoving a ‘Western’ ‘anti-Islam’ agenda down their throats. However, these parties have not articulated an Islamic solution to acid attacks, amputations, burnings, abuse and killing of women in Pakistan. What has been particularly disgraceful is the disrespectful language used by the JUI-F, with its media coordinator calling women’s rights activists “senseless women”.

While the Bill has not been thrown out, the activists who had pushed for it seem to have lost hope. For the sake of the downtrodden, one can only hope that it is passed in the near future.
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Justice and politics

April 21st, 2012


Hearing the contempt case against Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in respect of the implementation order on the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), a seven-member special bench of the Supreme Court (SC), headed by a highly-regarded member of the judiciary, Justice Nasirul Mulk, ran into the same old argument on April 19: Is writing of the letter to the Swiss court the same thing as exposing the president of the country to litigation that the Constitution gives him immunity against?

Another three-member bench of the court, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, is hearing the scandalous chemical quota allotment case in which the Anti-Narcotics Force has formally named the prime minister’s son Ali Musa Gilani an accused in its investigation report on the illegal allocation of import quotas for a controlled drug. Of course, the prime minister’s son has not helped his case because he did not return to Pakistan to attend a court hearing on April 20 and his lawyer has now sought more time. One can also talk about Memogate exposing President Asif Ali Zardari and other relevant persons to the charge of treason. Counting the encounters between the judiciary and the executive in the past months, one can say that an acknowledged dysfunctional government is being relentlessly pursued by an acknowledged independent judiciary.

One will be remiss if one ignored some other aspects — which have nothing to do with the judiciary — that serve as a negative accompaniment to the process. The opposition, led by the PML-N, seems to be in the mood to get rid of the government, come what may, and is drumming up its own campaign of character assassination and abuse over the media. This has polarised the viewing public and obscured the correctness of the even-handedness of the judges trying their best to maintain impartiality. Since most of the media is opposed to the government in its role as a conscientious ‘adversary’, the impression overwhelmingly is that the people of Pakistan are already decided about how the court should find. Those who vote for the PPP and its allies are listening to Prime Minister Gilani openly challenging the court’s impartiality. This is what is called ‘politicisation’ of the judicial process. And it is poison for an independent court trying to concentrate hard on the merits of the cases it is hearing. On top of it all, there is the morally unclear understanding of the appearance of the army being, once again, at cross-purposes with the elected government, as it was understood by most non-professional observers during the unfolding of Memogate. The court conducted itself with utmost caution, but the latest stance of the army reminded the partisans of the PPP — and those who condemn the military’s interference in governance — of the past when the party’s leaders were persecuted by military rule.

That the Memogate case became politicised was bad enough; but the way it unfolded inside the judicial commission — mostly because of the antics of the principal prosecution witness Mansoor Ijaz — has further given excuse to the critics of the Court to raise procedural objections. The roughest criticism to-date is based on the partisan observation that once again the apex judiciary, the army and the opposition, find themselves on the same page as they make ready to get rid of an elected government. Most unjustified is the charge that, far from being ‘independent’, the apex Court has slipped back into its menial role vis-à-vis the army. Instead of praising the judges for having agreed to hear the infamous Asghar Khan Case against a former army chief and ex-ISI boss, the difficulties of prosecuting and punishing two retired generals are not being appreciated.

Prime Minister Gilani, much encouraged by the aggressive stance the PPP took at Garhi Khuda Baksh recently, is openly accusing the judiciary of interfering in the constitutional functioning of the executive. The cases against him are consequently politicised. Renowned judges of the past, advising avoidance of partisan issues, have warned against this distortion of justice through politics.


Cricket disappointment

April 21st, 2012


Just as cricket fans in the country were getting ready to witness international cricket on home turf for the first time since 2009 — when the terrorist attack on the visiting Sri Lankan team brought an international ban on fixtures in Pakistan — the tour has been ‘postponed’ on security grounds. The lights at the Gaddafi stadium for the day-night one-day international will not take place at present after all and the plans being made by families and groups of youngsters to watch the matches have had to be cancelled.

This comes after a court in Dhaka asked the Bangladesh Cricket Board to explain why it had scheduled the trip to Pakistan, putting the lives of national cricketers at risk given the security situation in the country. The court is hearing a petition moved by two citizens. While Pakistan has reacted with predictable dismay, the court’s ruling can hardly be described as unjust. The fact that we have to live with is that Pakistan is perceived as a highly dangerous place by people all over the world. There is good reason why people fear travelling to this part and likewise, the anxiety of the Bangladesh cricket team is justified. The numerous terrorist attacks that we have seen over the last few months are one reason for this. The most daring of these has been the recent raid on Bannu prison by some 200 Taliban militants who were able to free around 350 prisoners including highly-wanted persons such as ex-air force technician Adnan Rashid, accused of being involved in an attempt on the life on General Musharraf. Such reports do little to assure people that Pakistan is a safe place.

The truth is that Pakistan is unlikely to see international cricket being played again on its soil until it can improve the existing turmoil within the country. Bangladesh’s outgoing cricket coach Stuart Law had already expressed concern over the tour even before the court ruling. We need to act against terror and wipe it out if we are to persuade foreign teams to visit our shores. The Bangladesh episode should act as a reminder of this and as an example of how miserably we have failed thus far in the war on terror.
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