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  #101  
Old Thursday, March 26, 2009
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Back on the bench


Thursday, March 26, 2009

The moment that had been awaited by tens of thousands since November 3 2007 has finally come. Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has resumed charge. He has vowed on his first day back on the bench to eradicate corruption in courts. The euphoric welcome he has received, with even police guards joining in impromptu celebrations as he appeared at the Supreme Court to resume duties, indicates just how big a moment this has become for ordinary people across the country. But they are obviously problems that must be faced. The apex court is divided between judges who took oath after November 3 2007 and those removed on that day. A petition challenging the appointments after that date has been moved. The outcome is awaited.

But we must remember that what we need at present is an end to dissention and a return to order. The main challenge for the CJ must be to demonstrate that he is capable of setting up a system that can meet the widespread demand for efficient justice. The extent to which people believe that this is essential to their well being has been demonstrated in the extraordinary turn-out of citizens from all walks of life in the rallies seeking the restoration of the deposed judges. The fact that men, women and children from across the social divide joined in this movement took two presidents by surprise. Neither former president Pervez Musharraf nor President Asif Ali Zardari had expected quite so much public passion for a cause that is seen as one unlikely to move the masses.

In the past, Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry had built his connections with people by taking notice on his own accord of all kinds of cases of injustice reported in the media and elsewhere and bringing it to the apex court. This doubtlessly helped some obtain justice. But the real task must be to remedy the flawed functioning of the lower courts. The role of the Supreme Court cannot be to intervene in matters that should have been resolved at the district level. Through the past two years, the CJ, unusually for a man who holds the highest judicial office in the land, has had plenty of opportunity to interact with ordinary people. More than ever, he is aware of their needs and desires. He must then make the task of repairing a judicial system that, particularly at the lower levels, has fallen into complete disarray with cases delayed for months, years or even decades. By doing so he will have taken an enormous stride towards serving the cause of people who have stood by him month after month, braving tear-gas, police batons and barricades in their struggle to restore him to his post.

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Women bombers


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Female members of an entity that calls itself the Balochistan Republican Army (BRA) have claimed 'credit' for a bomb planted at a café in Quetta that injured four people. This new twist to the act of terrorism is dangerous in several ways. For one it indicates that Baloch nationalists, who had till now not directed their wrath towards civilian targets, are re-thinking tactics and adopting methods used by extremists. The audacious kidnapping of a UN aid worker was one indication of this. The fact also is that for reasons rooted in our social traditions, women are likely to present a security threat that is especially difficult to deal with.

It is also true that despite the initial promises made by the PPP government, there has been a failure to address the problems of Balochistan. Frustration and anger lurk everywhere in the country's largest province. The latest act of apparently random bombing is just one manifestation of it. There is also a threat that the situation in the area could grow still more complex, with talk of a takeover of Quetta by the Taliban or of drone-bombings conducted by the US. The issues of Balochistan must be tackled head-on. Otherwise we will see only more acts of violence and more unrest in the territory, where there has been far too much violence already for decades adding to the sense of instability we face as a federation.

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No escape



Thursday, March 26, 2009

No matter which way we turn in these troubled times it seems there is always somebody pointing an accusatory finger at us. Today it is the turn of the British, the country with which we have perhaps the closest ties. Britain is home to a large Pakistani population that contributes to its ethnic and cultural diversity and has roots that go back generations before partition. Britain also has a significant problem with some people of Pakistani origin who live there, because of their links to terrorism. This is not some half-heard tale, some over-boiled conspiracy theory, there is a real and present threat to the UK, its people and its institutions from people who have their origins here, receive training here and are operationally tasked from here.

The UK has just updated its counter-terrorism strategy and it was introduced to the wider world last Tuesday. In the press conference at which the report was launched British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith expressed serious concerns over the impact in Britain of the situation in Pakistan where Al Qaeda and groups affiliated to the Taliban are rapidly gaining influence in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. She said the strategy had noted that in some cases terror cells in the UK had received training and direction from Pakistan-based groups, and in many of the important attempted operations (as in operations that had been detected) conspirators had travelled to and from Pakistan as part of preparations. The updated strategy says that changing technology has meant that the prospect of a chemical or biological terrorist attack on Britain was now more real. Terrorists of all nationalities move with the times, and the modern terrorist is a master of new technologies and weaponry.

An interesting aspect of the new strategy is called the Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) programme. The government intends to challenge radical views that "reject and undermine our shared values and jeopardise community cohesion". Smith said that the government had no intention of outlawing such views or criminalising those who held them, but she added: "We will not hear these views in silence. We should all stand up for our shared values and not concede the floor to those who dismiss them." The document defined those who rejected "shared values" as scorning the institutions and values of parliamentary democracy, dismissing the rule of law, and promoting intolerance and discrimination on the basis of race, faith, ethnicity, gender or sexuality. Here, we have no shortage of people who reject democracy, live above the law and promote intolerance and discrimination. The difference between the British government and ours is that they have put their foot down, said 'enough is enough' – whereas our own government is happy to do deals with those whose bitter prejudices and iconoclasm threaten the very fabric of the state itself. 'Enough' is not something our government is going to be saying any time soon, and the British have every right to be worried.
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  #102  
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IDPs and dissent


Friday, March 27, 2009

The clash between displaced persons from Bajaur and other northern areas protesting the lack of facilities at the Jalozai Camp near Nowshera where some 3,000 are housed, once more draws attention to the plight of these persons. Some 1,500 protesters also blocked the road, leading to action by the police using teargas and batons. It has been reported that in response, some persons from the crowd began firing back, with one person killed and several others injured. This is not the first protest of its kind at camps housing displaced persons. Several months ago, the death of a child and injuries to another due to a fire that set alight tents had triggered a similar, violent protest. The internally displaced persons (IDPs) have also refused an offer from the Bajaur administration to return there until complete peace has been restored in the area and Sharia enforced.

Terrible conditions prevail in many areas where they have been housed. They also claim they have been given no form of compensation for the losses of home, land and livelihood caused by the war being fought in and around their home villages. What authorities seem not to realise is that in order to win the war against terror in the longer term, they need the support and backing of ordinary people. Some of the IDPs have horrific stories to tell of sufferings caused by the raging conflict. Their contact with the government at camps established for them should have served as an opportunity to persuade them that the state could offer them far more than the militants; that it cared about their well-being and wanted to build a safe future for them and their children by rescuing them from lives led in poverty. This, sadly, has not happened. Indeed the brutal encounter with the police in Nowshera has only added to the perception that the state is an uncaring one, unconcerned about the plight of people who have already suffered so much. This will in the longer term have an extremely negative impact on the overall situation in tribal areas where fighting rages on. Ordinary people who live here have become caught in a vice-like grip between militants and troops. They see, for the most part, both forces as enemies. It is only if they can be persuaded to see the state of Pakistan in a friendlier light that this can change. The opportunity to help them see it as such has, for the present, been lost. The consequences of this failure will become clearer only in the days ahead.
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Head-hunting


Friday, March 27, 2009

Hiding in plain view is something that occurs in nature all the time – creatures camouflage themselves either for protection from a predator – no pun intended – or as predators in hiding and waiting for prey. We have a fine example of the technique here amongst us, a certain Mr Baitullah Mehsud, who is visible to millions via the medium of television, but apparently invisible to those agencies searching so diligently for him. So visible is he that he recently gave a press conference that was attended by numerous print and electronic media journalists who had presumably arrived at his location by conventional means; and were not tele-ported in as we see travellers move around space and time in science-fiction films. All these media persons were presumably in possession of that essential adjunct to modern life – a mobile phone. Mobile phones emit tracking signals, signals which are regularly followed by intelligence-gathering agencies when they are hunting for the bad guys. Journalists are chatterboxes by nature – surely one of them must have made a call either from Mehsud's location or en-route to it? No? It stretches our credulity far beyond snapping point that no agency with an interest in the whereabouts of Mr Mehsud was apparently aware of this tête-à-tête. Had it simply escaped their notice, busy as they are with so many other things? Or did it just happen that they were distracted momentarily and looked in another direction?

The mystery of the invisible Mehsud is all the more perplexing when viewed in the light of the generous bounty recently offered by the American government for his capture. The United States has offered $5 million for information leading to the capture or death of Baitullah Mehsud. The US has offered large cash rewards for terrorism suspects in the past, but until recently they regarded Mehsud mainly as a threat to Pakistan and unworthy of their attention. Previous US drone attacks had avoided targeting Mehsud's hideouts but this changed earlier this month when US drones also began to target Mehsud and his men. The US State Department has identified Mehsud as a key leader of the Pakistani Taliban and an Al Qaeda 'facilitator' in South Waziristan. He is also fingered as a suspect in the killing of Benazir Bhutto and the Marriott bombing, plus he has made no bones about his intention of attacking the US if he can – and he probably can. All of this should qualify him for an early visit by Mr Predator and Mrs Hellfire -- if only he can be found, that is. It should not be difficult to find Baitullah Mehsud, any number of media persons knows where he is and so do others. Five million dollars is a lot of money and head-hunting via a bounty has loosened tongues in the past, so the technique is proven and the five million is peanuts as far as the US is concerned. It remains to be seen just how long hiding in plain view is an option for the elusive Mr Mehsud.
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No right to childhood


Friday, March 27, 2009

Despite the presence of laws that ban it, child marriages continue across the country. Most cases take place in Sindh with one of the latest emerging from a village near Jacobabad, where a policeman rather unusually intervened to halt the marriage of a seven-year-old to a man nearly four times her age. Her mother had sold the child to pay medical bills for her sick husband. Other little girls are of course not as fortunate. Reports of child marriages come in from many places, particularly Sindh and southern Punjab. There is evidence that growing poverty plays a part in the continuation of the practice, with impoverished parents sometimes feeling they have no options but to sell off daughters to pay debts or simply to survive. Often, the buyers are relatively elderly men.

There is, however, another reason that lies beyond poverty for the practice. The failure to punish those who play a part in arranging child marriages is a key factor. The impunity they enjoy encourages others to commit similar crimes. There are, unfortunately, too few policemen willing to step in and ensure a child is not robbed of her right to childhood or sold into a life that almost invariably brings immense hardship and often a risk to life posed by early pregnancy. The young constable who took so bold a stand to save a girl in his area needs to be applauded. We must also hope others will emulate his action and adopt it as a precedent. Only such initiatives from those on the ground can bring an end to an evil practice and ensure the law assumes meaning that expands beyond the sheets of paper it is written out on.
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  #103  
Old Friday, March 27, 2009
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Islamabad diary Battle for Pakistan


Friday, March 27, 2009
Ayaz Amir


This battle -- now a simmering war of attrition -- has been on for some time and we are losing it. The Pakistan army was always meant for wars against India. It hasn't a clue about fighting the Taliban in Swat and Waziristan. Indeed, the army's less than brilliant interventions in both these regions have been a powerful factor in making the Taliban more powerful.

We must understand the nature of this war. It is not between two armies. It is between two world-views and unless the world-view that the Pakistani state seemingly stands for is more powerful and makes more sense, the Taliban will win and the Pakistani state, as represented by its increasingly decrepit administrative machinery, will lose.

We should make no mistake about it: this is the mother of all battles, more grave and far-reaching in its implications than our lost war against India in 1971, and on its outcome hinges the future of what's left of Pakistan.

What's our world-view? Let us not get ensnared in the metaphysics of something we have been unable to define since the blood-laden circumstances of our fitful birth. To come straight to the point, to win against the Frankenstein brigades created by our past follies -- baptismal games at which our American friends played the role of Godfather -- the Pakistani state in all its functions must perform better, and must be seen by the wretched of the earth (or rather the wretched of Pakistan) as a better alternative, than the Taliban.

The Taliban have empowered the poor, the dispossessed, and the out-of-work in both Swat and Waziristan. Those in the service of the Taliban are better paid and have a better sense of their worth, and go about with a grander swagger, than those in the service of the Pakistani state. If they get killed in combat, or as a result of a strike by a CIA drone, their families are looked after. So if the shirtless and the out-of-work in those embattled regions, where life is tough and choices are limited, choose to serve under the banner of the Taliban, would management gurus dub it an irrational choice?

The Americans can pour in all the arms and money they choose into this bizarre conflict, of whose spin-off ramifications they had not the remotest idea when they attacked and occupied Afghanistan post-Sept 11, 2001, but they won't win because they have learnt no lessons from Afghan history and they have chosen to ignore what happened to the Russian army when it tried the same thing in Afghanistan 25-30 years ago.

And if the Americans are doomed to fail in Afghanistan -- indeed, President Obama already sounds as if he is looking for an exit door through the mountains -- the Pakistan army, and by extension the state of Pakistan, are doomed to fail over here if they confine themselves to the same tactics and the flawed strategy the Americans are employing in their chosen battlefield.

We must be smarter than the Americans if we are to succeed where they are failing. Key to this smartness lies in two things: (1) reforming the Pakistani state and making its administrative structure more efficient; and (2) burning some of the fat around the Pakistan army and turning it into a more efficient fighting force. This last won't be easy but there is no other way out.

Pakistan is suffering from administrative paralysis. The administrative system is able to deliver very little: neither law and order nor health and education. It can't preserve the peace and it can't collect taxes. It can't fight corruption and bribery. It is helpless before the plastic shopping bag (which will overcome Pakistan sooner than Baitullah Mehsud). How can it fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban?

We have one of the biggest armies in the world and maintaining it is the biggest drain on our budget. The mantra is unexceptionable: national defence must come before everything else. Very true. But the army could do with a better advertisement of its usefulness than its performance in Swat and Waziristan.

The Battle for Pakistan will not be won, and the Taliban not eventually defeated, if the culture of luxury and undue privilege at the top of the military -- a culture symbolised by the multiplicity of residential plots appropriated by the topmost ranks -- is not drastically curtailed.

The size of the federal cabinet is a scandal, and rightly so. But what about the number of senior ranks in our armed services? There are more than 130 major generals and lieutenant generals in the army. In the air force there seem to be more air marshals and air vice marshals than the number of fighting squadrons and in the navy more vice admirals and rear admirals than the number of fighting ships. This may be an exaggeration but not much.

In short, braid, and too much brass, and luxury limos and generals acquiring, while still in service, the mentality of real estate agents is no way to fight the Taliban and rescue Pakistan from the predicament into which it is slipping.

But to go from the general to the particular, on two individuals is history currently placing the heaviest responsibility: Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif. President Asif Zardari, sadly, does not count. He has proved himself a washout. No more need be said of him. As for Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, he is cut out for a supporting, not a leading, role.

If the Battle for Pakistan is to be won Iftikhar Chaudhry and his fellow judges in the Supreme Court must rise above themselves, and above the din and bitterness of the trials they have been through, and make not only the Supreme Court a fount of justice but also rid the judicial system as a whole, from the high courts to the lower courts, of delay and corruption. Maulana Sufi Muhammad of Swat will be defeated the day better and quicker and fairer justice is dispensed in the courts of Islamabad and the other provincial capitals than the Qazi courts of Swat.

If the Supreme Court, now blessed with public acclaim but also burdened with the weight of public expectations, acts wisely not only will the judiciary come into its own -- and not only will the public's faith in the institutions of Pakistan be restored -- but democracy will also be strengthened. A Chaudhry-led Supreme Court is bound to be hyper-active, responding to public needs and grievances. This should encourage a competitive spirit of sorts to come into play so that parliament and the executive, both federal and in the provinces, also become more active in addressing public concerns.

For example, why did it have to take the Supreme Court to revisit one of its old orders and call upon the Punjab government to regularise the services of 96 ad-hoc lecturers within three days? Why couldn't the Punjab government have done this on its own? Why didn't Shahbaz Sharif do this when he was chief minister?

One caveat, however, may be in order. The Supreme Court's suo motu jurisdiction should be exercised sparingly, reserved only for issues for which there is no other recourse or redress. It should not become a joke or be seen as an unnecessary intrusion into the domain of executive authority.

After leading the agitation for the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and the other deposed judges, Nawaz Sharif has become Pakistan's most important and popular political figure, dominating the national landscape. He is not about to become prime minister tomorrow but he is very much the leader-in-waiting. The PPP is a national party but with Zardari proving true to himself and shooting himself in the foot it has no national leader.

This leaves Nawaz Sharif. He may not be the Salahuddin Ayyubi we are looking for but he is the only one in the market, the only one available. This is his challenge and opportunity: his call to greatness or his invitation to another damp squib of a stab at national leadership. His last stint as prime minister (1997-99) was largely a record of opportunities wasted. If Pakistan is to be saved it must be different this time.

It would help, however, if in Punjab, the PML-N's power base, reliance was placed more on the party than the bureaucracy when it comes to exercising power. In adversity it is the party which counts. But in the season of wine and roses the party takes a back seat and the Punjab bureaucracy, for some odd reason, takes centre stage. To strike the right note, and take people along, a balance has to be kept. Shahbaz Sharif must not just sing Habib Jalib's verses. He must be guided by Jalib's spirit and passion.

It would also help if something could be done about the prevailing culture of butter in our political parties (I am deliberately refraining from naming names). In the kingdom of flattery we could teach North Korea a thing or two. Those who can't talk in measured tones, how can they be expected to perform in exemplary fashion?

As a long-standing observer of such tamashas (shenanigans) I always think I have seen the ultimate in flattery. But at every fresh turn when flattery has an opportunity to come into its own I am always taken by surprise because the leading masters of this timeless art invariably manage to go one better than their last performance.

A bit easy on the butter: not a bad way to begin fighting the Battle for Pakistan.

Last edited by Predator; Friday, March 27, 2009 at 12:32 PM.
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Old Monday, March 30, 2009
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Death by bombing


Monday, March 30, 2009

Once again the image of us, our faith and our country that goes around the world is one of violence and intolerance. Between 48 and over 70 people were killed on Friday as they prayed at a mosque – and more than 170 injured according to most reports. The explosion was probably caused by a suicide bomber and he struck just as the Imam began to recite the opening prayer. The mosque was a popular stopping point for people travelling between Afghanistan and Pakistan and was always crowded on a Friday – the softest of soft targets. Tariq Hayat Khan the administrator of Khyber Agency opined that the blast was the work of the supposedly-defunct Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. Who knows? There are very rarely arrests subsequent to the bombing of a mosque or imambargah and it is almost as if the agencies of law enforcement have given up even trying to prevent them, never mind catching those responsible for the planning and logistics of such an attack. This is unlikely to be something which can have the label ‘hidden hand’ attached to it. This butchery is entirely home-grown and springs from either the internal denominational conflicts or a local dispute, a struggle for power, by one group or another in the area where the blast happened.

Almost inevitably, given the culture of eye-for-an-eye that prevails here somebody will already be plotting a reprisal. It may not come tomorrow or next week or next year, but come it will. The cycle will continue and breaking the circle becomes ever more difficult as the numbers of dead rise and with them the numbers of fathers and brothers and cousins seeking revenge for the death of their relative. The world watches this. We live in a time of globalized instant communication to the most remote places on the surface of the earth. The world watches and judges, it sees things in black-and-white and is mostly unaware of the inflections and nuances that lie behind even this most barbarous of acts. We should not be surprised when our northwest borderlands are talked of by President Obama as ‘the most dangerous place on earth’ – because on the evidence of this blast and many other incidents, it is. We have only ourselves to blame if others see us a nation of barbarians and should not be surprised if, as a consequence, they sometimes treat us accordingly.

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Shall we dance?


Monday, March 30, 2009

Spring the world over is a time of budding and sowing, with the chill of winter past. Nauroz is a festival celebrated across much of the Muslim world but in few places more enthusiastically than in Iran. To coincide with the beginning of Nauroz President Obama recently continued his policy of change – on which he was elected – by trying to do things a little bit differently with Iran. The country has in the past suffered because of US interference; and its move to being a theocracy after the fall of the US backed Shah has led to decades of sabre-rattling and sparring. Iran is currently working on what it stoutly maintains is a civilian nuclear resource - a move eyed with deep suspicion by America and Israel as well as much of the Arab world which is doctrinally and theologically at odds with it as well. The change that Obama has initiated is the sending of a message to the Iranian people and its ever-suspicious government, a message delivered in Farsi by the thoroughly modern medium of satellite television and the internet.

The message spoke of reaching out, of the need to redefine the relationship between the two countries and on Saturday we saw the first Iranian response to it, and at first glance it appears to be negative. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dismissed the overtures from Obama saying Tehran does not see any change in US policy. Khamenei said there would be no change between the two countries unless the American president put an end to US hostility toward Iran and brings “real changes” in foreign policy. “They chant the slogan of change but no change is seen in practice. We haven’t seen any change,” Khamenei said in his speech, which was broadcast live on state television. Obama had said in his message that the United States wanted to engage Iran and improve decades of strained relations, but he also warned that a ‘right place’ for Iran in the international community “cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization.” Seemingly, a re-iteration of familiar mantras on both sides, with the only difference being that Obama gives the impression of being more conciliatory than his predecessor whilst actually holding the same policy position - the ‘message’ being nothing beyond a repackaging of old goods.

We have to look behind the message and the response of Khamenei. The real change is that America is for the first time almost thirty years making a direct approach at both the highest and the lowest levels to the Iranian peoples and their government. Obama has demonstrated in his relations with our own government that he really is doing it differently. It is too early to say just how much ‘difference’ this is going to bring between us, and far too early to take at face value the dismissal of the Obama message by Khamenei. Invitations to dance are not always accepted first time around, but patient repetition sometimes see the shy couple take to the floor.

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Dangerous times


Monday, March 30, 2009

The shooting of a senior reporter, killed outside his home in Rawalpindi, is shocking and tragic. The police have no idea what the motive for the crime may be. The family of the slain journalist claims he had no enmity and had faced no threats. There are no clues yet as to whether the killing was linked to his professional duties. Raja Asad Hameed is not the first journalist in the country to meet a violent death. Over the past five years, others have been murdered in tribal areas and elsewhere. Musa Khan, shot dead earlier this year in Swat, was among them. There are no indications if the truth behind his killing will ever be discovered.

What is certain is that for many the profession of journalism is becoming an increasingly hazardous one. In some cases at least people have been targeted simply because of the information they brought to the public or at least attempted to bring. This is a situation in which professional bodies, media organizations and human rights groups need to think. The right to information belongs to every citizen. It is the duty of reporters and other media professionals to bring it to them. But these professionals themselves deserve protection. If it is not offered, others will shy away from the often difficult task of bringing out uncomfortable truths. In the past many who have done so have faced harassment and threat. Mechanisms to more effectively protect journalists need to be developed. We live in violent times. The degree of threat faced by everyone has increased. But when this danger involves journalists it also infringes on the people’s right to know. For these reasons we must do more to safeguard those bringing in news. This will be possible only if the murders we have seen in recent times are properly investigated and the real facts behind them uncovered.
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What change?


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

There was a comment in the UK Sunday press to the effect that the new Obama Af-Pak strategy had very little that was new about it, and that it was the same old deal but rather more prettily packaged and with a heavier box. This may be a little unfair. There is considerably more 'face-time' as the Americans like to call it, time where representatives of both sides actually sit down together and try to reach some commonality. There is also a much more robust and direct approach, much more 'hands on' direction and nothing, but nothing, is going to come free of a whole bundle of strings in the future.

British Defence Secretary John Hutton has said that the UK supports targeting Pakistan-based Taliban and Al Qaeda positions, and urged Europe to begin offering assistance to eradicate insurgents in the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan. This sounds uncommonly like a rallying call to other of the UK's allies and partners to join in the widening conflict that covers two countries with a single snappy acronym. Hutton also said that the military objectives in the region must now have…"an equal focus on both countries. AQ [Al-Qaeda] is in retreat, scuttling across the border into Pakistan. Trying to buy time. Desperate to regroup. That is why there must be no letup... there can be no escape, no hiding place." This last comment may well be made up more of wishful thinking than operational and strategic reality, and we should be careful not to take it too literally. 'AQ' may have suffered from the sting of the drones, but it has proved to be a remarkably durable entity over the years.

Just what the UK is going to put into the pot is as yet unclear, but it is going to be a mix of diplomatic, economic – and military – support. The UK is already heavily committed in Afghanistan and is unlikely to immediately be physically able to offer much by way of military help to the Americans, but it can field considerable diplomatic clout and has a tradition of regional engagement that stretches back centuries. No UK boots on the ground but a little gentlemanly arm-twisting behind the scenes bolstered with modest financial aid for the institutions of governance would seem to be the order of the day – and in that sense no real change from what has gone before. It is not so much that the content of the package is very different, but the method of delivery clearly is. There is a sense of purpose and momentum in the way America is now moving, and like a magnet it is attracting other players towards it – and the 'special relationship' between the two old allies just clicked into gear. Again.

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Another outrage


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Just as it seems nothing can shock us anymore, terrorists and whatever forces back them, prove us to be terribly and tragically wrong. Just a few weeks after the attack on Sri Lankan cricketers that drove cricket away from our shores, the Police Training School at Manawan has come under attack. The siege that began early Monday morning ended nearly eight hours later as the Police Elite Force was reported to have re-taken control of the building. Initial reports said some, or all, of the militants had either blown themselves up or been shot dead in the final minutes of the bloody drama. Thirty deaths are being confirmed at the moment – the figures could rise sharply as bodies continue to be removed from the building. Some eye-witnesses say the final toll could run to hundreds. Given this reality, it seems an absurdity to term this final operation a 'success'.

There are aspects about this outrage that are almost impossible to believe. We are given to understand that some 15 to 20 heavily armed terrorists, some at least in police uniforms, simply walked into the Manawan School. There is some talk of vehicles with police markings having been used. Quite evidently the attack was extremely well-planned and backed by strong financing. Initially it was thought the terrorists might have attempted to take hostages. In the hours that followed, a gun battle erupted, leaving bodies strewn across the police school. Most of those who died were young men, seeking to bring in an income to support impoverished families. They did not deserve such an end. The sight of families searching for relatives amidst the chaos at Lahore's public hospitals was heartbreaking.

Instantly, members of the government have pointed fingers at 'external elements'. Given that Manawan lies just a few kilometres from the border with India, such insinuations are obvious. But there are other facts that must occupy place in the very centre of our field of vision. Surely, since the events in Mumbai last November we should have been prepared for such an event – whether carried out as an act of retaliation or by 'copycat' terrorists raised and trained at home. The March 3 attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers, executed by experts with immaculate training, should have strengthened our resolve to tackle terrorists. This has not happened. The policemen and over 400 recruits trapped at Manawan obviously had little idea how to react to the audacious assault. Our police remain ill-equipped to deal with the urban guerilla warfare that is being fought in our cities. This lack of preparedness has already cost us hundreds of lives. Who knows how many more will die. The security short-coming is combined with a failure of intelligence. Our adviser on interior, who has astonishingly retained his post, unshaken by the security debacle that has seen increasingly audacious attacks being staged across the country, tells us he had information that Uzbek suicide bombers had set out from FATA. It is unclear what we are to make of this or what use the intelligence is, given that the terrorists have been able to strike again and kill dozens.

We need a drastic change in our approach to terrorism and militancy. Our entire security strategy needs to change. We need too to assess the status of our intelligence apparatus. Our allies must assist in this. It appears that full advantage of the offers to extend this training was not taken in the wake of the events of 9/11. We must face up to the fact that well organized militant outfits exist in our midst. They have established many inter-connections and unparalleled expertise. The use of 15 or more attackers at Manawan shows their growing capacity and high motivation. It is significant that they continue to strike even as peace deals are signed in NWFP. Clearly, their actions are not intended to protest a particular policy but to seize control of the country. Pointing fingers at others will not eliminate them.

The scenes in Lahore as people and police pounced on suspected militants, threatening to beat them to death, indicates the mood that prevails. People are desperate. They have lost all faith in the ability of the state to protect them; and this is nothing short of a disaster.
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20/20 vision


Thursday, April 02, 2009

The G-20 conference is about to start in London and it would be wise to take note of its proceedings and outcomes. The G-20 is a group made up of the finance ministers and central bank governors of the 19 largest economies in the world plus the EU. Collectively, the G-20 economies comprise 85 per cent of global gross national product, 80 per cent of world trade (including EU intra-trade) and two-thirds of the world population. Muslim representation at the G-20 is significant with Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey in attendance. India is also present - the country with the largest Muslim minority population in the world at around 160 million. As hosts the British have set the agenda, which in very brief form come down to three key issues :- better coordinated macro-economic action to revive the global economy; reform and improvement of the global financial sector and its systems and thirdly the reform of international institutions such as the IMF, World Bank and Financial Stability Forum (FSF).

The firestorm that has engulfed the financial institutions and subsequently the economies of many industrialized countries has to an extent passed us by – we did not own any of the toxic debt that lay at the heart of the problem, but we cannot escape from the global recession that is going to – is already – hitting our manufacturing sector. Things are going to get worse – perhaps a lot worse – in the developed and industrialized world according to the most recent survey published by the influential OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). The 30 most advanced economies in the world will see a slump in GDP of 4.3 per cent in 2009; the IMF says the world economy as a whole will shrink by 2.7 per cent, the worst decline in 60 years. Japan is at the bottom of the major economies' growth league, with a catastrophic decline of 6.6 per cent in GDP this year. Germany, predicts the OECD, will see a contraction of 5.3 per cent this year – by far the worst in the federal republic's 60-year history. German unemployment has jumped to 3.5 million, a jobless rate of 8.1 per cent, compared to 6.5 per cent in Britain. The American economy will contract by 4 per cent, France by 3.3 per cent and the UK by 3.7 per cent – which would be the worst year for economic growth since 1931. It is against this background that we go, begging bowl in hand, to the The Friends of Pakistan – some of them G-20 members - to help us out of our latest difficulty. In hard times even good friends have to make hard choices. We could make those choices a little easier for them by putting our political house in order.

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Danger in Dir


Thursday, April 02, 2009

The situation in Dir remains tense, three days after a clash between militants and police resulted in five deaths. The police had been attempting to rescue a bank officer kidnapped by the militants. The district police officer and a former nazim were among those killed. There is, as yet, no clue as to the safety of the bank official; we do not know if he is dead or alive.

There are some especially dangerous dimensions to this situation. Reports from Lower Dir, a district that lies adjacent to Swat, say there has been a distinct increase in militant activity in the area since the peace deal was reached in Swat. The implication is that militants from Swat may have now drifted into Dir, seeking new territory to conquer in their quest to take control of all they can. The fact that the leader of the TNSM, Sufi Mohammad, belongs to Dir adds to the risks. He has been present in the area for some days but insists this is merely a recreational visit. It is though not difficult to imagine a situation in which militants at their meetings contemplate repeating the tale of their conquest in Swat in other tracts of NWFP. After all they have emerged victorious in Swat, forcing the authorities to bow down to them. It can only be expected that they will, buoyed by this triumph, be eager to repeat the experiment elsewhere.

People in Dir have, in the past, made a valiant effort to push militants out of their villages and towns. The attacks on schools for girls in Dir, apparently carried out by militants from Swat, have been greeted with anger by communities who had struggled hard to bring education to their remote district. The situation unfolding now has given rise to similar sentiments. A strike to protest the kidnapping of the bank official has been held across upper and lower Dir. But the latest sequence of events goes only to show how dark the shadows of militancy that hang over Dir really are. It seems quite clear that the forces that rampaged through Swat, creating terror and fear as they enforced their arcane version of Islam, are now eager to do the same in Dir. It is time the provincial government roused itself from its slumber, gave up its pretence that all is well in Swat and began a real effort to tackle the militants who have in Dir once more proved just how deadly they can be.

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The PM's promise


Thursday, April 02, 2009

The PM has now told us that he is a 'force', apparently willing and able to make his mark on governance. It is unfortunate of course that it has taken Mr Gilani over a year to exert himself and make it clear he differs with the president, primarily on the question of how Punjab is to be run. What we had suspected for many months has now in fact been confirmed – the country, through this time, had been running on a kind of auto-pilot with no one really in charge. It is only now that the PM seems ready to play his constitutional role, take firm hold of matters and decide what kind of political environment he wishes to put in place.

As that familiar saying goes, late is however better than never. Punjab seems set to return now to some kind of stability. The PM has made it clear he opposed governor's rule and the clumsy effort to install a PPP government. He has emphatically stressed that the majority party deserves to run the province. With the PM now putting on record his divergence with the president, it is to be seen how this relationship is managed over the weeks ahead. But it is becoming obvious that Prime Minister Gilani is now emerging as the main decision-maker. He quite obviously has the backing of others who wield a great deal of power and have lost patience with the presidency. His vision for the future seems to be a constructive one, with plenty of appeal. We must then wish him luck in his new role as a PM that matters and hope he can bring in the changes we so urgently need to pull out of the crisis that still faces us on so many fronts.
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No quick bucks


Friday, April 03, 2009

Getting foreign money into the sclerotic veins and arteries of Pakistan is something of a tedious process. For all the cries of 'America out' (with slightly quieter shouts of UK, Japan, Germany, the Netherlands - all donors – 'out') the grim truth is that without foreign aid we would be in terminal decline rather than bouncing along the bottom. Were it not for the dozens of nations and institutions that periodically and consistently transfuse cash into Pakistan it is possible that the state would have failed long ago – which is a point worth pondering for those who would have us cut all our foreign ties. Currently there are two financial opportunities – one a certainty the other less so – in the offing, and we need both of them. The more doubtful of the two is the upcoming meeting of the Friends of Pakistan in Tokyo. Japan has been one of our major donors, especially for infrastructure projects, for many years. The Japanese economy is currently in freefall as a part of the collection of disasters that are engulfing the world's financial institutions and processes. The Friends mean us well but may have less in their pockets than in the past.

The more 'certain' money is that which comes with the Kerry-Lugar Bill currently before the US Congress - but there are hurdles. The US Congress is unlikely to complete legislation tripling US non-military assistance to Pakistan before late April at the earliest. Kerry and Lugar will shortly introduce their plan for increasing aid by 7.5 billion dollars over the next five years. Both senators have described the package as urgent, but it could be weeks before the Senate and House of Representatives send US President Barack Obama legislation he can sign into law. The legislation would first have to clear Kerry's panel; and this is unlikely to happen until after a two-week congressional holiday due to start April 6 - then it has to get through the full Senate. The next hurdle is the House of Representatives which would have to pass 'companion' legislation and finally the two chambers would have to reconcile their versions before putting the finished Bill in front of the President for signature. It could be May or even later before it is signed into law. For Pakistan, there is no such animal as 'a quick buck'; and when the bucks do finally get here be assured of conditionalities. And remember, money solves nothing without political will.

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A bigger battle zone


Friday, April 03, 2009

The first US drone strike in Orakzai Agency has killed 12 people. Reports say the victims were all militants, including a close associate of Baitullah Mehsud. The strike may have come as a response to a threat by the TTP leader of attacks on the US just 24 hours before the attack. But what is clear is that the US is determined to continue its strategy of drone strikes.

There has indeed been some acceleration in the number of the bombings by unmanned aircraft since Barack Obama took up reins at the White House. It is also clear that the attacks, this time hitting a militant camp in the heart of Orakzai Agency, are also quite evidently backed by immaculate intelligence information. There is another element to the drone strike that is significant. Orakzai Agency is the only one of Pakistan's seven tribal territories that does not border Afghanistan. The implications then are quite clear. Washington has every intention of stepping up its war, and quite clearly believes it is essential if there is to be any success in eliminating the militants who remain entrenched in these areas. Pakistan has over the past few days made it clear on more than one occasion that it does not see eye to eye with the US line of thinking. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has stated his objection to Pakistan being equated with Afghanistan, arguing that his country has working institutions and a government. This last point is open to some debate. There are many who are dissatisfied with the levels of governance we have seen so far and ask what the point is of having institutions that simply do not function.

But there is another issue here. The key problem seems to be a failure on the part of Islamabad to put forward a clear alternative strategy before Washington. While it has consistently opposed drone attacks, possibly as part of a strategy agreed on with US decision-makers, it does not say what the options are. Beyond rhetoric, there has been no detail of plans or strategies. There can be no doubt the drone strikes have inflicted much damage – on Pakistan's sovereignty, on innocent citizens and on the war against terror itself given the anger the bombings generate. We are convinced of this. But what we need to hear more of are viable options, so that the strikes can be replaced by other means to deal with militants. In Islamabad, members of the government and their advisors need to haul their thinking hats out of closets, dust them off and put them on, so that we can come up with a suitable plan to put before the US and persuade it that drone attacks are not the only solution to the militant menace that lurks in our tribal areas.

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The Sharifs' rise


Friday, April 03, 2009

Since the events of the long march, it has become clear that Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif have emerged as the rising stars of Pakistan's politics. Western allies are said to be looking on them with a new eye, and perhaps conscious of this, Mian Nawaz Sharif has emphatically denied that he or his party has any links with extremists. What he does need to do though is explain how he proposes to tackle terrorism – an issue that the PML-N has as yet shied away from even while vociferously opposing the current US policy.

It is quite obvious that the Sharifs, back in control in Punjab, will be key players in the future. Indeed, according to a report in the New York Times, there has already been a serious re-think in Washington about the standing of President Asif Ali Zardari.

Following the long march and the defeat inflicted on the president -- who even now refuses to admit he made mistakes, instead resorting to the glib but often meaningless spiel he has become known for -- there is in fact conjecture that Mr Zardari's days in the presidency may indeed be numbered. Prime Minister Gilani, who has made a formal offer to the PML-N to rejoin the cabinet at the centre, seems to know quite well which way the wind is blowing. His good relations with the Sharifs are also important. In the new order of things that seems to be evolving, this partnership could become very significant indeed. For the present, it is obvious the Sharifs' fortunes are ascending. Shahbaz has quickly re-exerted his hold on Punjab, restoring his administrative team, and there are those who forecast that in the weeks and months ahead this realm of influence may grow wider still.
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Kickbacks and dirty money


Monday, April 06, 2009

Everywhere in Islamabad, and indeed in other places, we hear allegations of corruption and kickbacks. These stories have added significance given that our president has in the past faced many charges of corrupt practices. Whether or not these are true, the fact is that corruption will be a word that in the public mind remains associated with certain figures accused of wrongdoing in the past.

In this context, the allegation from Talal Bugti, the son of the late Nawab Akbar Bugti, stating that he was asked for Rs500 million in kickbacks by a state official, in return for clearing royalty for the Bugti gas fields that had not been paid for six years, is startling. This is especially so as Talal Bugti has given details of how the chain of corruption works, involving officials at various levels. His charges have been denied both by the federal set-up and the Balochistan governor.

But the fact is that they come in an environment where other such accusations also hover. Almost anyone in business circles or those who deal with government can come up with them. It is becoming increasingly difficult to believe all these accounts are fabricated – and this can lead only to the conclusion that the ugly shadow of corruption once again hangs over our democracy and could in time inflict on it the same kind of damage that we have seen in the past.

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Big numbers


Monday, April 06, 2009

You have to be very sick indeed to require a trillion dollars-worth of treatment, but this is the cost of what the world has just prescribed itself to tackle the self-inflicted wounds caused by gross fiscal irresponsibility. It is perhaps worth reflecting on precisely what a trillion is – it is one thousand billion, a number beyond the comprehension of most of us who are not economists or mathematicians. President Obama said that “the patient had stabilized and was in good care”, claiming that the London summit was historic. He added “It was historic because of the size and the scope of the challenge that we face and because of the timeliness and the magnitude of our response.” Gordon Brown, British PM and conference host, said … “This is the day that the world came together, to fight back against the global recession. Not with words, but a plan for global recovery and for reform and with a clear timetable.” Politicians are good at coming up with fine words for occasions such as this and it is to be hoped that the remedy fits the malaise, but what might we in Pakistan expect from this meeting of dollar giants?

Our own poverty as a nation meant that we were not invited to the table, but our neighbour India was, and for good reason. In his closing speech Obama made a comment that had nothing specific to do with money but everything to do with perceptions of wealth and power. He said … “The USA sees India as a global power”. Words like this do not fall glibly from presidential tongues. Obama was speaking for the state of which he is president and with his words indicated that whilst not at the top of the batting order, India was at least in the same team as America. This is a significant shift in how America views our neighbour – and by extension how it views us. India is not a problem for America (well, not much of a problem) but Pakistan is. Obama has now moved on to the NATO summit in Strasbourg – where he will be presented with a report that says that our own instability threatens the entire region.

The money that will – eventually – come to us courtesy of the Kerry-Lugar bill has nothing to do with the G20; that is America investing in its own regional interests. Where we might see a direct benefit is that after years of US opposition the IMF is finally seeing its core funding bolstered to the tune of $500bn, raising its resources to $700bn. The IMF is currently and has been in the past, our port of last resort, as it has been for other impoverished nations. Our neighbors China and Saudi Arabia are putting significant sums into the pot. We may be future beneficiaries of their generosity. For the rest of the G20 outcomes it is not going to have an immediate impact on us directly, but an indirect impact as the global economy recovers. The world has changed with the G20, most significantly in that it is the defining post-Bretton-Woods moment. It was the French President Nicholas Sarkozy who recognized this saying…“Since Bretton Woods, the world has been living on a financial model, the Anglo-Saxon model. It’s not my place to criticize it, it has its advantages (but) clearly today a page has been turned.” He’s right.

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Corruption and the courts


Monday, April 06, 2009

The Supreme Judicial Council has taken suo motu notice of allegations regarding the links of a high court judge with a notorious underworld don who died in a police encounter. The reporter who had broken the startling story in this newspaper has been asked for details as proceedings begin in the case. There is hope that a case of grotesque wrong may be righted.

This of course is an important precedent. Till now, judges have been accountable to no one and have used their powers to protect themselves – in a few cases even to cover up wrong. Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry had alluded to the existence of just such corruption and his desire to root it out as he returned to the bench. The real facts in the matter must come to light. According to published accounts, a senior police officer in a letter written to the chief justice of the LHC, had provided details of a confession made by the multiple murderer in which he had also boasted of his connections with the said judge and other figures in key places. This evidence must not be ignored. It is possible the criminal’s allegations are untrue – but the fact that they may be accurate points to the dangerous criminalization of society that has taken place. This can be eradicated only if anyone found involved is acted against under the law. Corrupt courts cannot of course deliver relief to people or win their respect. The SJC’s action is therefore welcome and will help unravel the details of a sordid case that has shocked everyone. We hope the judge will be exonerated. If not, justice must be done so we can all be confident that our judicial system does and can truly function effectively.
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Facing reality


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The suicide blast outside an Imambargah in Chakwal on April 5, killing 22 and adding to the rising toll extracted by sectarian violence, is another terrible atrocity we find ourselves subjected to. What is though a positive development is the admission by the adviser on interior that the bombing and other recent terrorist attacks, including that on a police check post in Islamabad that killed eight FC personnel, are the work of Pakistanis. It is not clear how, why or when this light has suddenly dawned on the man responsible for safeguarding our security, but certainly it makes a change from the past tendency to immediately point fingers in the direction of neighbouring countries.

We all know that most, if not all of these, are carried out by young Pakistanis. In some cases at least these teenagers are as much the victims as the hapless people whose families live forever with the grief of a life so aimlessly lost. But the key fact is that it is Pakistanis, citizens who may at their schools have sung the national anthem or, like many of us, waved green and white flags on key occasions, who are behind the wave of terrorism that has overtaken us. The sectarian conflict that Chakwal never knew has taken a hold there. This is the doing of our own people. Cover-ups and a refusal to face what is happening to our country will take us nowhere. We must hope the interior advisor's admission can lead to action to deal with the elements who have set up base everywhere in the country and today threaten its very survival.
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Safe and sound


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

John Solecki came back in to the world in the darkness, bound hand and foot, and calling for somebody to help him. Somebody did and he was quickly whisked off into the night to be cared for and recover from what by any standards will have been a dreadful period of captivity. By now he is probably back in his home country and will, it is to be hoped, begin to reassemble his life. Whether he will ever return to his job as director of the UNHCR office in Quetta is a moot point. Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki Moon has thanked President Zardari for his help and support in securing Mr Solecki's release. There is talk of 'back channel' negotiation with his kidnappers but little by way of hard facts; and the story will disappear from the media leaving us none the wiser as to who kidnapped him and what the deal was that finally got him released. The kidnappers claim to have released him on 'humanitarian grounds' hardly has the ring of truth about it; there does not appear to have been a mass-release of Baloch women allegedly held by government agencies and who knows if a bag of cash was handed over to some anonymous go-between?

We are thankful that John Solecki has survived. He was lucky; as some high-profile kidnap victims come to a grisly and miserable end. Kidnapping in general terms, usually by criminals and not by persons who claim to be ideologically or politically driven, is on the rise across the nation. As the moral fabric decays ever more quickly and criminality is the career of choice for an increasing number – there being few other options in a country starved of jobs, power, infrastructure and education – humans become increasingly commodified. Kidnapping can be turned into a profitable business. John Solecki was taken because he had a redeemable value – be it cash or kind. The Canadian woman journalist (and Muslim convert) taken at the end of last year is still held, her future as uncertain as Solecki's was until a few days ago. Her kidnappers make various claims and demands that are impossible either to verify or fulfil. The line between what is a 'criminal' kidnapping and what a 'political' kidnapping is drawn by people who seek to justify their actions – but it is delusional at best and a barefaced lie at worst. All kidnapping is criminal. We wish Mr Solecki a long, happy and peaceful life. He's earned it.

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Nightmare in Quetta


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The sight of body after body pulled out from a container in Quetta and laid out along the roadside has been shocking. We are told most of the 50 or so who died are Afghan nationals; a few are of Central Asian origin. The victims packed into that airless container, who died a death indescribable in its horror, were waiting to be taken into Iran and then to Europe.

That those who died in this case are for the most part non-Pakistanis is irrelevant. The human smugglers they paid to transport them to what they hoped would be a better life somewhere in the west are quite obviously based in Pakistan. They must have operated from here before; they will invariably do so again. We assume the truck driver who escaped the scene, leaving behind a vehicle packed with sweltering bodies, is also Pakistani. It is a fact that Pakistan, and particularly districts like Gujrat, has become a regional hub of human smuggling. While in cosmetic terms at least the scale of the effort against traffickers has been stepped up over the past seven years, and there has indeed been some successes in breaking up gangs, the suspicion is that those at the very top of the smuggling hierarchy have never been touched. There has been consistent conjecture that top political figures or others with influence are involved in some way. These people need to be identified and brought to justice.

The terrible discovery on a Quetta roadside is a reflection on just how evil the human smuggling racket is. It lives on the despair of the poor, their dream of somehow creating a better future for their children and rescuing them from ceaseless deprivation. Like the young Afghans, some mere teenagers, who died so far from home on a dusty Quetta roadside, there are people from our towns and cities and villages who have made similar attempts. We do not know how many succeed, or how many die in the attempt. Even now there are families who have not heard for months from relatives who scraped together the money demanded by smugglers to make a bid to reach the Middle East, the Far East or Europe. Many of these illiterate villagers are duped and dispatched by smugglers to another destination – in some cases dumped no further away then on the islands that stand off the Karachi coast.

We need to do more to stop this business. In the short term we must capture and act against those behind the latest case of smuggling. They are guilty of mass murder. But in the longer term we must also contemplate changes that can make our country and our region a better place to live in and prevent so many setting out on a road that so often leads only to death and more despair for families left behind.
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Subtle shifts


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

America's special envoy to our region, Richard Holbrooke, is a busy man. Prior to his appointment by President Obama he had been working with, among other organisations, the New York-based Asia Society's Task Force; which he both set up and led. The group had a distinctly heavyweight feel to it and included Barnett Rubin, Thomas Pickering (a past ambassador to India) and General James Jones, a national security adviser. Holbrooke and Jones have stepped down since their appointment to the Obama administration but the report that they both have had a hand in is set to generate a frisson of unease in India. Titled "A Strategy for Stabilising Afghanistan-Pakistan" it is reflective of the willingness of the Obama presidency to consider 'other options.' The task force which prepared the report is recommending that the Obama administration find ways to incorporate Pakistan into the global nuclear non-proliferation regime and enter into a dialogue with it to discuss how its nuclear status could be acknowledged.

The report notes a 2005 statement by International Atomic Energy Agency director Mohamed ElBaradei that "India, Pakistan and Israel, in my view, are not going to come to the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) through the normal route." ElBaradei suggested that there be an outbreak of common sense; and that it be accepted as a fact that India and Pakistan are declared nuclear weapons states. In the same statement he endorsed the US–India civilian nuclear agreement as a way of bringing a declared nuclear state closer to the NPT. The report recognises that the deal with India cannot be replicated with Pakistan because of concerns regarding proliferation and terrorism, but also says "…it is worth starting a dialogue with Pakistan to explore what might be possible … to acknowledge Pakistan's nuclear weapons status … and bring Pakistan into greater conformity and closer cooperation with the global non-proliferation regime."

The reality is that not only is our own relationship with America undergoing change, but America is also resetting its relationships with other nations – including India. The US is applying reflective pressure on our neighbour to be a little more 'flexible' in regard to any number of sensitive issues. Holbrooke may already be engaged in the very dialogue that is envisioned in the Asia Society report. Ours are not the only arms to be twisted. Pakistan has assumed a new importance, not only because of the current political or 'terrorist' issues; but because America under Obama wants to forge a new strategic alliance with us that stretches perhaps decades into the future – and in doing so is going alter the relationship it previously had with India.

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Re-examining terror


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The high level meeting to review our current strategy on terror is welcome. In fact, given that we are quite obviously failing to make any kind of headway at all against the suicide bombers and killers who seemingly strike at will, where and when they please, perhaps such a meeting should have been convened months ago. The prime minister, interior ministry officials, the four chief ministers and intelligence chiefs who attended what appears to have been a detailed discussion on militancy, have agreed to establish a special force to tackle terror. The force is to number some 100,000 personnel. The failures of police are seen as grounds to set it up and to establish it as a separate, highly trained, well paid unit, highly motivated in its desire to track down militancy.

As far as the effort by top decision-makers goes to tackle the militant threat, this is all very well. The fact they have sat down, reviewed the situation and accepted they have been failures is good news. But the establishment of yet another new force must be questioned. We already have a huge law and order apparatus. The Elite Police Force, created in 1997-98 and expanded in 2004 is just one example of the manner in which we continue to create new units to make up for the failures of the old. The Elite Police, armed with sophisticated weapons, were intended to tackle heinous crime and military-style training was imparted to them for this at a new training centre. If it is deemed they have failed in this, as has the regular police force, there must be some review as to what went wrong. It is pointless to set up one force after the other if there is a risk that it may fall victim to the same weaknesses that crippled outfits established at considerable public expense previously on similar lines.

Even if a new force is considered essential and well worth the costs it will entail, there must also be some effort to clear out the rot that has destroyed existing foundations – including the police. The new anti-terror strategy also talks of establishing a means to check on those renting out premises and a better process for registering tenants. A strong, new structure cannot be built on crumbling foundations. The task of repairing deeply entrenched flaws is a difficult one; it is much easier to create new teams and simply abandon the old with all their faults, allowing them to fall into even greater decay. But to establish mechanisms that work we must also remedy the problems that currently exist.

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Licence to kill


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The gunning down of three female NGO workers in the Mansehra area along with their driver seems, initially at least, to be the work of militants. The NGO workers were ambushed while returning from a rural location where there had been talking to parents about educating girls. Police are said to be working on the possibility that the estranged husband of one of the women killed them, covering it up as action by militants. But even if this theory proves true the fact remains that the dangerous situation created by extremists is being used too by criminals.

The Mansehra area has, since it became the hub for many local and international agencies following the October 2005 quake, been a focal point of hatred directed against NGOs. In 2006 women NGO workers were ordered through a 'fatwa' to quit the area. Many obeyed rather than putting lives at risk. In early 2008 an attack on the office of the UK-based PLAN International killed four local staff members. The latest murders could be a part of the same sequence. But there is also a possibility that the anti-NGO diatribe that has come from many quarters in the aftermath of the flogging of a teenage girl in Swat may have led to the attack intended as an act of revenge. NGOs have been blamed, shockingly even by some linked to the ANP government, of deliberately using footage dating back months to stir up a storm against the Taliban. The truth behind the murders must be brought out into the open. We have in the past seen many attempts to underplay crimes of this nature. We need to act against those threatening to destroy our society. Unless this happens there will only be more murders and more mayhem.
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