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Old Tuesday, November 09, 2010
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Post Editorial: The Express Tribune

READING OBAMA RIGHT


November 9th, 2010

By and large, headlines in Pakistan regarding US President Barack Obama’s visit to India have been positive. The president was primed with advice on what to say in India. Hence, the good headlines: “Be a good neighbour, Obama tells India”; “Stronger Pakistan in India’s interest”; “Obama pushes India to talk to Pakistan”; “Stable Pakistan best for India”, etc. There was only one exception: “Carrots for India, sticks for Pakistan”.

Given the generally morose Pakistani reaction to Pakistan’s own strategic dialogue with the US earlier, one expected that the mere idea of Obama’s visit to India would be off-putting. But the newspapers in Pakistan have interpreted the presidential words in a moderate manner. Given the high level of anti-American feeling among the public in general and media men in particular, this is a good augury and presages a period of objective analysis of what is happening in Pakistan and the region.

The news anchor of one TV channel that specialises in the economy had to calm down one of its reporters, who insisted that the US was never a sincere friend of anyone in history and that India was not a good neighbour of anyone in South Asia. He compared America’s refusal to let Pakistan ply concessional trade with it while giving India trade worth $10 billion. It was sad to note that an economic reporter did not know the difference between what Pakistan wanted and what President Obama has promised India. The other thing that could have rubbed us the wrong way was the spectacle of the top couple of America dancing with children to popular Indian tunes. The ease the world feels with India is owed to India’s ‘soft image’ which our ideology and our weak state situation do not allow us. The truth is that our hard ideological environment repels global capital as investors feel jittery visiting Pakistan. These days, even expat Pakistanis don’t visit readily for fear of being kidnapped for ransom.

What should help us overcome our paranoia are some of the things President Obama said. He said it is in India’s interest to have a stable Pakistan next door. If you don’t decide to wave that aside as a picayune gesture, it should address our not always honest plaint that India is destabilising Pakistan in collusion with all sorts of unlikely partners. President Obama also recommended normalisation of relations and an India-Pakistan dialogue that would resolve the outstanding issues between the two. It is unfair to pretend to feel angry that he did not say the word Kashmir. Not many heads of state visiting India say that.

When it comes to India, we think black and white. The world appears to us in all sorts of political distortions through the prism called India. We are already hurting from the nuclear deal that the Republican administration – traditionally closer to Pakistan than India – gave to New Delhi. We are hurting even more that America is not only not giving us the nuclear power stations we desperately need but is opposing China’s decision to give us a few. Aren’t we the front line state in America’s war against terrorism? Instead, President Obama hinted in New Delhi that Pakistan needs to show more enthusiasm in fighting terrorism. Here comes the problem of an inward-looking state that no longer cares how isolated it is in the world. The news going out of Pakistan says the country hates America and the West in general because it is pushing Pakistan into a war that is not its own. There is a stream of news about how the terrorists – home-grown and imported – are killing innocent Pakistanis and that these terrorists are, at times, described by Pakistan’s own media as Islamabad’s ‘strategic assets’. Lacking objectivity and relativism grown out of realism, we ignore the difference of approach between the American president and the British prime minister while in India.

If the Americans hold on to pledged funds, much of it must be linked to our own fair assessment of the abysmal level of governance in Pakistan, and the confession by Musharraf about what he did with the aid he received. The Obama visit has been carefully orchestrated not to offend an excessively sensitive Pakistan.

For the coming days, Pakistan must learn to develop a more differentiated and supple approach to the world outside. Habituated to a confrontational foreign policy – because of the subordination of our Foreign Office to the military point of view – Pakistan has been adopting postures that gratify the domestic urge for ‘ghairat’ (honour) rather than its economic interests. In a recent speech made by a retired foreign secretary, the US was described as a state unfriendly to Pakistan’s interests with a history of going against Pakistan at crucial junctures. This attitude will be of no benefit to Pakistan, given its inherent domestic weaknesses.

In today’s world, defeat can be described in one way only: international isolation. Yet the concept of honour can only be realised through standing alone and fighting for a cause. Be it Kashmir or any other issue, principles don’t help if they cause isolation, pointing to martyrdom as justification for national honour. We must learn from China’s non-confrontational approach to its rival, the US. Beijing knows that the US is looking at South Asia as an arena where China could be challenged but its relations with Washington remain mostly intact. In our black and white Manichaean mind, we can prove our loyalty to China by vociferously opposing the US. The ambiguity of benefiting from maintaining friendly relations with both China and the US at the same time does not appeal to us. We prefer keeping things clearly defined; for instance, the US and India on one side and China and Pakistan on the other. That is not how China looks at India, nor India at China. Pakistan must learn to be more objective about the crisis it is facing internally because of its past operation of foreign policy in the region. Ironically, today Pakistan can sort out this crisis through self-correction.
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Old Wednesday, November 10, 2010
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A permanent UN SC seat for India?


November 10th, 2010

US President Barack Obama, in New Delhi, has reconfirmed his country’s support for India’s nomination for a permanent seat in an expanded UN Security Council. His exact words on November 8 were: “I look forward to a reformed UN Security Council that includes India as a permanent member.” This is read as a ‘full endorsement’ of India’s candidacy and a new salience in India-US relations.

Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesman has politely opposed the endorsement, saying it will complicate the process of expanding the UN Security Council and increasing the number of its permanent members. He has referred, as has been done on several past occasions, to India’s bad record on human rights, unsatisfactory relations with its neighbours etc. But the question does not devolve on what Pakistan says.

It is not clear to many why the Security Council should be reformed and how. It was squeezed after the Second World War after learning some bitter lessons from the failure of the League of Nations where the Council had an unlimited number of members and all of them had the power of veto. Such was the dominance of the idea of state sovereignty that the League could take no action during most crises. The UN was based on the ‘realist’ principle of ‘preferred’ sovereignty of a few states.

Under former UN General Secretary Kofi Annan, a document called the Razali Plan (2004) proposed enlarging the Security Council by a further nine seats and presented two alternative models (A and B) outlining how this could be done. Model A responded to Africa’s demand for a region-based increase; Model B was more complex and soon lost support. The new 22-member Security Council will have to be endorsed by a two-thirds majority from over 190 members of the UN. After that, the veto-bearing current permanent members of the Security Council will have to pass the plan.

If the US wants to set up India as a rival of China in Asia, the Chinese veto will block the expansion plan and India’s entry. If India moves to counter China and looks at China’s cooperation with Pakistan as a hostile act, the realpolitik of this expansion will go haywire. Yet the India-China equation is not all bad. Indians have invested in China and visits by Chinese leaders to India have been without any big complications because India does not practically challenge Beijing on Aksai Chin the way Pakistan challenges India on Kashmir.

India has a good international image and has a lot of support even from countries that Pakistan habitually considers its friends — in 2003, Pakistan’s big Arab friends wanted India in the OIC. India has secured the backing of three serious regional contenders for the Security Council — Japan, Germany and Brazil. Among the five permanent members it had France, Britain and Russia already backing it. Now the US is on board too.

India has a democratic system that most Pakistanis now openly envy. Its economic reform under Manmohan Singh since 1991 has succeeded and its variation on the free market doctrines has saved it from the more lethal fallout from the 2008 global crisis. Pakistan’s view of India will not mean much to the international community because of its exaggerated bias. But there are other complications.

Expanding the Security Council means making the UN less able to act in crises needing immediate collective response. It will be like going back to the League of Nations and its incapacities. It will be an acceptance of a multi-polar world, going ideally horizontal but losing the realistic vertical system that delivered. This expansion will take long in realisation because our multi-polar world, with its proliferation of regional rivalries, will not be able to agree readily on a region-based new permanent membership.

If India-China rivalry grows in the region — if that is what America wants — then the expansion plan will be further delayed. But if India and China handle their contradictions well — and that also means Pakistan sorting out its ‘non-state actor’ problems with a more pliable India — then a new 22-member Security Council will become feasible.
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Old Wednesday, November 10, 2010
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Sugar price manipulation

November 11th, 2010.

The influence of industrial lobbyists on the government appears to be getting out of hand. The latest example of this is the rapid rise in sugar prices, an increase severe enough to have a noticeable effect on the overall measure of inflation: the consumer price index. While consumers struggle to cope with the rising prices shrinking the purchasing power of their incomes, the government seems content with taking only cosmetic measures.

The Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP), the regulatory body charged with preventing collusive behaviour amongst industrial groups, has on more than one occasion pointed to oligopolistic behaviour amongst the sugar industry. It is alleged that the sugar industry creates deliberate shortages of supply by hoarding sugar in large warehouses in a bid to create an artificial price increase. Consumer lobbyists allege something further: that the Trading Corporation of Pakistan was pressured to deliberately mistime its purchases of sugar in order to ensure higher import prices so that domestic prices remain high. These are serious allegations indeed and given the CCP’s earlier misgivings and litigation regarding the sugar industry, they deserve to be investigated.

We would also like to point out some of the techniques that the government has used in the past to create the illusion of action. Perhaps the most commonly used one is that of price controls. Even the courts have been persuaded to establish a legally binding price at which it is declared that a given commodity must be sold. The problem with this approach is that, to the common man, it sounds like a solution whereas it does absolutely nothing to address the underlying problem. As proof, sugar is retailing for Rs120 per kilogramme when its legally mandated price is Rs45 per kilogramme. Prices are not high simply because the sugar industry deems it so. They are high because market conditions have been manipulated to force buyers to pay more. The difference may seem subtle, but it is critical. In order to bring prices to normal levels, collusion within the sugar industry must be effectively banned. It is time for the government to swing the regulatory bat of the recently passed Competition Act.

Learning from India

November 11th, 2010

Two top Indian politicians were asked to resign on November 9 by the country’s ruling Congress party, due to corruption charges, while investigations were launched to look into accusations against them. Suresh Kalmadi, the infamous chief organiser of the Commonwealth Games held in October, was asked to hand in his resignation as Congress party secretary due to the embarrassment India suffered under his management of the Games. From falling bridges to human excrement found in the flats set up for visiting players, it seemed Kalmadi could do no right. India was pounded by the media whilst visiting teams gave ultimatums of cancelling their participation.

The second politician asked to step down,by Sonia Gandhi, according to Indian media, is the Maharashtra chief minister, Ashok Chavan, for allegedly selling apartments reserved for war widows to politicians and military officers. In both cases, the crime has not yet been proven but the politicians have resigned to preserve the sanctities of the positions they held. India’s record for tackling corruption is by no means stellar but these actions are a step towards transparency and accountability, the hallmarks of democracy.

In Pakistan, we ignore corruption charges. Recently, several politicians were accused of diverting floodwaters into unprotected areas to save their own lands. Calls for an independent inquiry to ascertain what happened were resisted by the Sindh government. Measures to ensure that flood management guidelines are followed in the future may be too much to hope for. And herein lies the contrast with India.

Though corruption is endemic in both South Asian neighbours, India has lived up to its status as an emerging major player, ready for bigger and better things, by holding its leaders accountable. Pakistan must do the same to ensure that the cycle of corruption is broken once and for all.
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Old Friday, November 12, 2010
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Karachi’s Brazen Attack — Many Questions


November 13th, 2010

We ask the same questions over and over again after every terrorist attack. We ask why security remained helpless — even in zones where barriers and police pickets stand along every street; why there was no intelligence to warn us of the risks; why such daring attacks continue even when military authorities say terrorists have been virtually eliminated in the North. We wonder if this is actually the case, or if we are being told only half-truths.

The attack on the Crime Investigation Department (CID) offices in Karachi’s main (apparently) high-security zone, a stone’s throw from at least two five-star hotels, the chief minister’s house and several other highly secured locations has added to the sense of insecurity across the country. There are fears that with some 140 people among the injured, the death toll of 17 could rise. The attack — predictably enough claimed by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan as revenge for killings in the North — mimics what we have seen before in Islamabad, Lahore and other cities. The gun attack which preceded the bombing, carried out by ramming a vehicle laden with over a thousand kilogrammes of explosives into the building, was intended to engage guards and open up the way for the attackers to unbar gates and enable the van they used to make its way past barriers. We have seen exactly the same methods used in attacks on the Marriot Hotel in Islamabad in September 2008 and later in bombings targeting government and security forces buildings in Lahore. It should not be too much to ask that a strategy be developed to counter such tactics, those on guard duty forewarned to watch out for the use of this game-plan and the requisite training and equipment provided to them to prevent terrorists from succeeding.

As things stand now, the security in the cities really serves only limited purpose in that it seems to be more cosmetic than anything else. While the rows of policemen or personnel from other security agencies standing behind heavy-duty barricades may make it seem as if we are safe, it is quite obvious that they can do little to prevent attacks. Karachi’s brazen attack goes to show that simply placing barriers and barbed wire around sensitive areas does not deter the terrorists, who always seem to be two steps ahead of the security and law-enforcement agencies. Indeed, by striking at locations inside high-security areas in major cities with seeming impunity, the TTP seems almost to be mocking the claim of the government that it is winning the fight against militancy and terrorism. They must be laughing too at a vast intelligence apparatus that apparently remains unable to penetrate the terrorist groups or gain any kind of advance information as to their plans. We ask then what the purpose of such agencies is or why we retain them at considerable cost. This aspect of the problem needs to be assessed and analysed.

The attack in Karachi reminds us that we are still in the grip of terrorists. At best, their grasp has been slightly loosened. But they quite evidently retain the capacity and the manpower to plan and carry out operations of the kind seen at the CID offices. Do these bombers and their handlers get information or assistance from the inside? How are they able to scout for locations with such ease given that the targets are usually in areas teeming with law-enforcement personnel? How come none of the attackers who opened fire before the attack were caught? Why aren’t our intelligence agencies — some of whom are said to be among the best in the world — able to penetrate the terrorist networks which finance and plan such operations? Why can we not learn undercover techniques from other countries where they plant agents inside organisations and then take out the senior leadership?

Surely, there must be a fair number of senior officials trained in these matters to be able to draw up some kind of plan to break into these networks because that is really the only way that such attacks can be prevented.
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Tax reform in a season of turmoil


November 12th, 2010


A besieged government has been forced by its creditors to enforce the ‘reformed general sales tax’ (RGST) to raise its tax-to-GDP ratio and have enough money devolved to the provinces to help an economy that is in the process of contraction but under high risk of inflation. The cabinet, on November 11, also gave concrete shape to an earlier warning by Finance Minister Hafeez Sheikh, that the well-to-do will have to be taxed to lessen the burden of compensations the government has to make to the flood-affected population. But the well-to-do also include salaried people who believe, and perhaps rightly so, that they already pay more than their fair share in tax.

Needless to say, the measures have been immediately opposed from within the ruling coalition and the powerful Punjab government. This is not a good augury for a state that is definitely in for a period of belt-tightening while resting in the oxygen tent of the IMF. Tragically, Pakistan’s resort to the IMF too has been politicised and a very ill-informed and isolationist rhetoric is being unleashed by TV commentators on the ‘slavery’ of the Fund which is ‘determined to destroy Pakistan’. The truth is that if Pakistan is not on the IMF roster no one will do business with it and it will not have enough dollars in the kitty to buy its imports.

The ongoing sugar crisis, ill-advisedly interfered with by the Lahore High Court and the Supreme Court in 2009, is still with us and being exacerbated by TV coverage showing people, who should be abstaining to bring the prices down, actually announcing ruefully that they are buying it at Rs110 per kilo as against the price of approximately Rs50 by the courts in 2009. Last time when the suo motu courts got the provinces to clamp down on the ‘sugar chain’, it caused the private sector trucking business to stop plying, which the state was simply in no position to replace.

Luckily, there are young people in the business programmes of TV channels saying that the RGST is unavoidable, IMF or no IMF. That is true, even in these days of massive economic contraction. The general sales tax (GST) had simply withered away as an efficient taxation tool with the passage of time. The taxation gap continued to linger and the tax-to-GDP ratio actually declined during its operation. There were exemptions in it that spared the agricultural sector — where income tax stayed uncollected because of the incapacity of the provinces — and the fast growing services sector was allowed a holiday.

This gradual failure of GST as a revenue collection device kept Pakistan’s retail sector out of the tax net; the economy remained unregistered and those not announcing their business to the Federal Bureau of Revenue were able to accumulate wealth that undermined the economy. Over the years the GST system was adversely affected by the ‘concessions’ that various powerful lobbies were able to extract from the government. And the system of refunds that came with it persisted in its malfunction and will now have to be massively reformed if the RGST is to succeed.

The RGST will target consumption, barring food and education, and therefore will fall on the well-to-do in the population. It will be collected at various stages and at each stage the seller will charge ‘output tax’ from the consumer on the value of supply of goods or services and will deduct the ‘input tax’ he has paid earlier on a monthly basis. At each stage, the economy will become ‘registered’ and this will make it easy for the state to impose a better system of collection in the future. The retail sector, which is out of the tax net altogether, will thus become a source of revenue, even if this will not happen fully in the first year because of the exemption given under the present RGST to a large segment of it.

The RGST will net an extra Rs200 billion, but the government is in dire straits for the post-flood subsidy it wants to give to the flood-affected. Another Rs70 billion is targeted through a 10 per cent tax for six months on those who earn over Rs300,000 annually. As per the conditionalities it has agreed with the IMF on, not subsidising oil and gas — and removing the old subsidy gap — the government is also ratcheting up petrol prices. If you count all the money the government wants to squeeze out of an economy being made to contract with high interest rates, it looks like a bombshell that the people won’t survive.

Even if the economist tells you that the RGST is not going to hit the poor and the middle class, the scenario is tailor-made for the politics of toppling governments in Pakistan. The most ominous reaction has predictably come from the MQM, whose leader Altaf Hussain has put on the war paint on the RGST and has warned that his party will campaign against it. If Karachi doesn’t pay up — and segments of the economy there are already protesting the tax — then Sindh will have less revenue to work with and the centre will come under pressure. Luckily, the MQM boycott of the RGST can be watered down with political concessions that the party would like to receive.

The revolt of the PML-N is also in high gear in parliament. And despite Nawaz Sharif’s low-tone aggression the party seems to be gearing up for a mid-term change of government, with its leader in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan saying ‘removal’ is possible even if the army doesn’t intervene. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has raised the standard of revolt against the petrol price hike, hoping that unrest among the transporters and the common man will strengthen his hand. He could actually be responding to yet another move by the PPP and the PML-Q to deprive him of his majority in the Punjab Assembly after the 18th Amendment has made it impossible for PML-Q rebels to bail him out.

Nowhere in the Third World does economic discipline sit well with democratic politics, unless it is leveraged with some mixture of authoritarianism, as happened in Indonesia, where the army stands behind the elected government. In Pakistan, we have an army that has not yet been sensitised to the economy.
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Evading corruption charges


November 14th, 2010


Anyone who doubted the maxim that it pays to have friends in high places will surely have their minds changed by the case of Ayaz Khan Niazi who, as chairman of the National Insurance Company, was accused of massive corruption. According to a report in this newspaper’s November 13 edition, Niazi is hiding in the home of an unnamed politician while another accused, Mohsin Warraich, has managed to flee to Dubai. Additionally, considerable pressure is being put on the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to turn a blind eye to this whole matter. The director of the FIA, Zafar Ahmed Qureshi, was removed from his post and only reinstated after the intervention of the Supreme Court.

This case seems to provide further proof that accountability is a one-way street in Pakistan, with only those who aren’t close to the levers of power being held responsible for their crimes. Niazi has been accused of corruption on a breathtaking scale, with figures in the billions of rupees being bandied about. Yet, because of his political connections, he has managed to evade capture. Even with Mohsin Warraich, whose father was a federal minister, it has been suggested that political connections facilitated his escape from the country.

However, unlike with past administrations, this time the government has to deal with a Supreme Court that is antagonistic to it. Indeed, it was the Supreme Court that, by taking suo motu notice of the alleged fraud that Niazi, Warraich and over half a dozen others had perpetrated on the National Insurance Company, ensured that an investigation was carried out. Then, by reinstating the FIA director to the post, they made sure that the investigation would not be derailed and buried under the carpet. Now, it is up to the judiciary to ensure that Naizi is located and anyone who played a role in helping him hide is also brought to task. While the Supreme Court has often been criticised for involving itself in political battles, this is a clear example of when its supposed activism can serve a useful purpose. By taking on a case that the sitting government does not want to pursue, one branch of the government can serve its function by acting as a check on another branch.
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The plight of the Khwaja Siras


November 15th, 2010


Though the November 11 report in this newspaper on Khwaja Siras — a catchall term for the population of transsexuals and transgender people in the country — being denied medical checkups may not shock the average reader, who is used to much more violent news regarding their harassment, it is a telling illustration of how difficult life is for this community. The court has summoned the chiefs of Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Hospital, Civil Hospital and Nadra on a complaint filed by Khwaja Siras from the Gender Interactive Alliance saying that they are being denied medical care. It is distressing that public hospitals, which exist to serve citizens, should reject patients merely on the grounds of their gender. Difficult as it is for ordinary citizens to get a response from state institutions, it is infinitely more gruelling for a community which faces rejection, ridicule and physical abuse on a daily basis.

Despite the media spotlight on them following Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s interest in their welfare, not much has changed. Action on the court’s 2009 injunction that they be issued national identity cards specifying their gender as ‘other’ has been sluggish, mainly because of the insistence that they be medically examined to determine their gender. This has been opposed by many in the community since it can potentially stigmatise them further. Without ID cards, employment options for these eunuchs are few and they carry on working in degrading conditions.

The persecution of Khwaja Siras will persist as long as society endorses their treatment as second-class citizens. Recent developments such as the employment of Khwaja Siras as tax collectors points to a welcome shift in attitudes but more needs to be done. The only thing more worthy of condemnation than a state which does not care for its citizens is a society which does not care for all its members.


Deeper divide


The PML-N’s altered line of a more aggressive policy against the government continues. In an unusual move, parliamentarians have been stopped from holding ‘direct’ meetings with the prime minister or members of the Cabinet. We wonder what the PML-N is scared of and why it has such little faith in its own members. Rather like school boys who require to be kept in strict line, they will now be required to inform top party leaders if ‘unavoidable’ contact was made. It is unclear if these orders will apply to encounters at wedding receptions or other social occasions when PPP and PML-N leaders are likely to meet. The inter-linkages between political families whose members hold seats in parliament are well-established and in a number of cases relatives are aligned with parties who now stand on opposite sides of the fence.

The PML-N chief, Mian Nawaz Sharif, has said he does not wish members of his party to seek ‘favours’. We would imagine that this is possible anyway, over telephone lines or through messages, and is a matter of party discipline or ethics. A simple instruction to members to avoid doing so should have been sufficient. The new hostility from the PML-N is, however, disturbing. While the opposition is free to criticise government policies, it should not be necessary to openly display animosity in the manner adopted by the PML-N. Cooperation between opponents is a hallmark of mature democracy. The agreement on this between Democrats and Republicans after the recent setback suffered by President Obama’s party at polls is an example of this.

In 2008, the PML-N had promised to play a constructive role. It can do so whether as a government ally or in opposition. However, petty measures of the kind adopted now only bring back bitter memories of the 1990s and the role played by political parties to bring down the government, in order to propel themselves to power. In the process, both the PML-N and the PPP suffered damage. The biggest loser, though, was democracy. As things stand now, everything possible must be done to avert a repetition of such a scenario.
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Al Qaeda and terror in Karachi


November 16th, 2010


The November 11 terrorist blast that destroyed the Sindh Police’s Crime Investigation Department (CID) offices has understandably evoked shock at the national level; and one is not surprised that the Sindh and federal governments have reacted to it energetically. The officials of the investigative agencies, whose knowledge is considerable even though stymied by political obstacles, have been swooping down on the strongholds of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and are expected to get to the origin of the plot that matured into the destruction it caused.

Investigators in Sindh and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) are on the scent of the killers while Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik is in his usual over-confident mode about how the terrorists will soon be caught and punished. His remark that he was betting his ‘smart money’ on the TTP being ‘solely responsible’ for the deadly attack appears to emanate from a lack of understanding of how the TTP operates and in combination with what other elements. Anyone who has followed al Qaeda’s spoor in Pakistan will tell you that the TTP cannot be ‘solely responsible’ for an action as big as the CID blast.

There is a general consensus among the public that our politicians and officials should not repeat the mantra ‘no Muslim could do it’ because it sounds hollow. If the TTP has announced its complicity in the blast, it should be accepted as such unless our own investigation proves that it was some non-Muslim organisation sent in by our enemies, the US, India and Israel. When Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah said it, the nation already knew that it was not a non-Muslim terrorist but our own TTP who, together with al Qaeda, claims to be better Muslims than the government of Pakistan which is a ‘mere slave of America’. That al Qaeda and its adjuncts like the TTP are accepted as ideal Muslims is proved by the circulation of Al Zawahiri’s ‘constitution’ for Pakistan through the madrassa network of the country, including the Deobandi madrassas of Karachi.

The investigators also refer to Jandullah, the Karachi-based terrorist organisation that surfaced some years ago with a family of doctors taking care of the al Qaeda wounded in their hospital. Dr Akmal Waheed and his younger brother Dr Arshad Waheed were convicted in 2005 by an anti-terrorism court and received rigorous imprisonment totalling 18 years. The officers who say that Jandullah has been ‘restricted’ by them in Karachi should explains how Akmal Waheed succeeded later in transferring himself to South Waziristan to join his masters and then how he was allowed to escape to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) after the Pakistan Army attacked the tribal area in 2010.

First, let us end the confusion of seeing TTP, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jandullah and al Qaeda separately. Someone has to get all the investigative officers together and run before them the information being spread by al Qaeda itself. Better still, the investigative agencies have to end their mutual insulation and allow the more informed officers to brief those who speak to the media and create a bad impression because of their indifference to facts. A website connected to al Qaeda’s military arm in Pakistan sprang up on the Internet around June 2010, and became active in early July. It is called The Brigade 313 website and blazons a flag with words “Al Qaeda Brigade 313” in the centre, while the text describing Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jandullah, and the “Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan” occupies the four corners of the flag.

The killers in Karachi are highly centralised in their planning and we know that Brigade 313 is being led by someone who once fought our war in Kashmir with great distinction, Ilyas Kashmiri. He is also a walking lesson on how not to create non-state actors because he has killed more Pakistanis than anyone else, and his victims have been many army officers, including a former chief of the Special Services Group Major-General Faisal Alvi in Islamabad, through another retired army officer, Major Ashiq, who also filled the coffers of al Qaeda through kidnappings for ransom. Ilyas Kashmiri has arisen in the ranks of the al Qaeda hierarchy and sits in on all the meetings of the Arab terrorist top brass. He is now being named the ‘next bin Laden’ by the followers of the terrorist ‘republic’ in North Waziristan.

By several accounts from various sources including the usually well-informed blog “The Long War Journal”, Brigade 313 is al Qaeda’s military organisation in Pakistan, and is made up of Taliban and allied jihadist groups. Members of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Jandullah (the Karachi-based, al Qaeda-linked group), and several other Pakistani terror groups are known to have merged with al Qaeda in Pakistan, and the group operates under the name of Brigade 313. It is absurd, after absorbing this information, to ignore al Qaeda while surmising about the terrorists who perpetrated the CID outrage, Karachi’s biggest to-date.

Who is abetting Brigade 313? That too has become clear repeatedly in the past incidents. There is an involvement of ethnic politics in it, which means the anti-ANP Pashtuns emanating from the Afghanistan and Waziristan diaspora filling the madrassas of Karachi; it also means a large number of boys from South Punjab who went to Karachi madrassas while Karachi was the world’s most significant headquarters of al Qaeda headed by Khalid Sheikh Muhammad; and it also means the human fodder keeping alight the intra-madrassa conflict in the mega city, with al Qaeda arrayed against the Barelvi school of thought.

Lastly, it will take a much better organised force with a healthy ratio to the population to face the Frankenstein we are up against. Since Brigade 313 also contains non-state actors that the state is protecting as proxy warriors against India, the institutions of the state — including the intelligence agencies — will have to be cleansed before we are on an equal footing with our foe. As far as the nomenclature ‘non-Muslim’ is concerned, it is we who are non-Muslims under al Qaeda’s doctrine of ‘jahiliya’, not the terrorists.
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Eid and happiness


November 17th, 2010

For many years now, our Eids have been sad occasions overshadowed by events that deter us from expressing happiness. Both Eidul Fitr and Eidul Azha pass with people trying their best to look as if they are celebrating, not spontaneously but in obedience to the Divine edict. Eidul Azha has the extra dimension of sacrifice which bares the growing economic weakness of the masses to anyone who cares to take note. This year, it is being observed amid an extra load of sorrow: the mega-flood still has millions of affected people in its grip and terrorism, perpetrated by Muslims against Muslims, is on the upswing.

There are certain economic laws that the media wants to defy when it depicts the negative side of the holy occasions of Hajj and Eid. Ever since the country’s creation, the price hike is portrayed as a shock that should be prevented. Yet, because of the entry of some young and knowledgeable journalists into these business programmes of TV channels, the hike is now described as helpful to farmers who raise sacrificial animals. The economy of sacrifice — from the rearing of the animal to its sale — is in complete conformity with the laws of economics; it is the common man who benefits on the production side and the charities who gain from the sacrificial spinoff of hides.

Media hype portraying the market negatively, however, cannot be ignored. Every Eid, there is a general rise of the price graph because of the spurt in demand when people feel like spending. Looked at closely, the chain of many sellers cannot be called profiteers. (In Ramazan, too, rising prices also benefit the makeshift handcart salesman who appears just for the duration of the month when even the poor consume a bit more than usual.) One can say that our Eids elevate the economy through heightened marginal consumption. But taking the camera to the market of sacrificial animals and making the buyer complain about how the ritual has gone out of his reach shows only half the picture of the economy of Eid.

There was ‘shock’ coverage of the goat that sold for a million rupees in Lahore. Why denigrate the occasion and portray Pakistanis as selfish and profiteering persons? If the market is thin on the supply side and demand is healthy why shouldn’t the livestock farmer make his extra buck? So what if a rich man has walked away with the prize goat, leaving the poor kibitzer standing by in despair? This time it is the not-so-rich livestock farmer who looks like he is ripping everyone off. Let it be said, however, that some media coverage also highlighted the risk the farmer took in travelling with his expensive animals through various official and unofficial bottlenecks on the road where he had to shell out ‘security’ money. The poor man, however, who brings in fodder for the animals has the post-flood market on his side.

Some awkwardness cannot be ignored no matter how optimistically you scan Eidul Azha. The railways issued salary cheques that bounced, as a result of which the railwaymen struck work which, in turn, left a number of Eid-related trains stranded. The economy is still on its way down and opinions differ sharply on how this downward slide can be stopped. Gloom results from the wrong portrayal of crises by our leaders and TV anchors telling people that defiance of the IMF conditionalities is the right way to go, and that any taxation enhancing the revenue of the state in these troubled times is an extortion.

If it is any consolation, the entire Islamic World has been described in the khutba of the chief cleric of the Kaaba as a polity in trouble of one sort or another. If you count Eid Milad also, our three Eids make us sad, which invariably concentrates our minds on where we have gone wrong. The chief cleric this year spoke less of the unfairness of the world against Muslims and more of the cruelty of Muslims against Muslims. Eid Milad has more often than not been marred by one major sect slaughtering the other. Let us hope that this Eid passes without violence.


Budget cuts


Perhaps somewhat belatedly, the government has decided to reduce its budget by as much as Rs300 billion, which represents 9.1 per cent of the combined federal and provincial fiscal outlays. This newspaper has consistently asked the government to put itself on a fiscal diet, as a measure of good faith, before asking the public to pay more in taxes. It is welcome to note that the government seems to be willing to take tangible efforts on that front. In the aftermath of the flood, it makes sense for the government to divert at least some part of the development expenditure towards reconstruction efforts. There are, of course, risks to this course of action, not least of which is the economic slowdown that is to be expected from reducing development outlays. Having said that, there is a strong case to be made for prioritising reconstruction over further development, especially given the scale of devastation.

Much of the revised budget relies on the imposition of new taxes as well as a revised mechanism for the sales tax. The finance secretary, Salman Siddique, has made it clear that if the government fails to gain parliamentary support for the newer taxes, it will reduce its own expenditures. This is the right approach and we applaud the finance ministry for stating the policy clearly.

Yet the revised budget is not entirely without its failings. Development, for instance, seems to be the only segment of the budget that has been cut. There has been no attempt by the finance ministry to reduce the operating budgets of what is described by many economists as a bloated government machinery. It seems that the finance ministry stands ready to sacrifice, so long as the budgetary privileges of bureaucrats and politicians remain intact. While there is a baseline below which it is difficult to cut government expenditure without reducing services, most economists seem to agree that the government of Pakistan is nowhere near that level.

Unless the cutbacks are visibly affecting both elected officials as well as senior bureaucrats, it seems unreasonable of the government to ask the citizenry to pay more taxes, such as the flood tax currently being contemplated. While we applaud the current effort to reduce government spending, more clearly needs to be done.
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Pakistan’s ranking in terrorism


November 20th, 2010


A recent ‘ranking by death’ study conducted by a ‘global risks’ advisory firm, Maplecroft, has listed 10 countries ‘at extreme risk’; and Pakistan is second in the count after Somalia. The list has the following countries in it: Somalia (1), Pakistan (2), Iraq (3), Afghanistan (4), Palestinian Occupied Territory (5), Colombia (6), Thailand (7), Philippines (8), Yemen (9) and Russia (10). Out of the 10, six are under threat from al Qaeda or its subsidiaries. Barring the Philippines, the killers and the killed were Muslims. Somalia killed soldiers from neighbouring states Ethiopia and Burundi, sent in by the African Union.

Somalia experienced 556 terrorist incidents, killing a total of 1,437 people and wounding 3,408 between June 2009 and June 2010. In the same period, Pakistan experienced nearly 1,500 deaths including some attributable to the ‘mafia’ and ethnic wars in Karachi. In Somalia, where al Qaeda is behind the youth organisation Shabab, deaths were caused by ‘foreign’ warriors too, thought to be 4,000 in number including some Pakistanis sent into Somalia after training in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Somalia may have beaten Pakistan in the ranking because of the virtual non-existence of the state there, but it is less of a trouble to the world — the Somali pirates are a problem but they fall in another category. On the other hand, Pakistan has a state structure with an army capable of taking on any external foe on the basis of its nuclear deterrence. Many in Pakistan would have thought that Afghanistan would beat Pakistan as a ‘high risk’ country. What, however, has to be taken into account is the quality of the presence of terrorist groups and the nurture Pakistan provides to foreign terrorists often killed by CIA drones in the ‘ungoverned spaces’ of Pakistan.

Yemen has been equally tumultuous with a population divided by religion and troubled by financial and physical interventions from Iran and al Qaeda, and complicated further by an ‘Iran versus the Arabs’ situation in the region. Its growing identification with al Qaeda was signalled recently when two Pakistanis — a British national girl who stabbed her local MP and the other American national Faisal Shahzad who planted a bomb in Times Square in New York — were persuaded on the internet by a Yemen-based terrorist to become a part of al Qaeda’s war against the US and its allies. Yet Yemen is not as much the global magnet for terrorists as Pakistan is. Foreign terrorists proliferate in Pakistan. A group of American-Pakistani boys was recently arrested before they could access the al Qaeda stronghold of North Waziristan.

The study has been done for businessmen interested in investments at the global level; therefore the risk is computed with ‘capital sensitivity’ in mind. For Pakistanis, however, the long-term implications of the presence of al Qaeda on its territory are more important. Judged by that yardstick, Pakistan is far more at risk than Somalia and Yemen or even Iraq. Trouble in these two small states is containable in the long run; in Pakistan trouble is sustained over the long-term by the level of development of the state, its economy and its growing religious nature. It is now accepted by scholars that a terrorist organisation like al Qaeda would be less interested in making its home in ‘thin and weak states’ with little financial capacity than in states where money and manpower are available from local sources.

There are ‘ancillary organisations’ in Pakistan that resonate to the message of al Qaeda. Even in cities like Islamabad, where Lal Masjid was attacked by Pakistan army commandos in 2007, the pro-al Qaeda madrassas have mushroomed. During Musharraf’s so-called anti-terrorism drive the capital city saw the setting up of 80 madrassas; it has since gone beyond 100, with most legal and illegal mosques functioning as recruiting grounds for terrorist organisations. (The boys who carried out the Parade Lane massacre in Rawalpindi this year mostly came from Islamabad.) After that, count the vast regions where there is no writ of the state, and the persistence of the ‘non-state actor’ militias which Pakistan refuses to ban, and you have a far more endangered state than either Somalia or Afghanistan.
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