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  #21  
Old Wednesday, September 24, 2008
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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Bush-Zardari summit


Presidents Asif Ali Zardari and George W Bush met on the sidelines of the UN in New York on Tuesday and the latter more or less said what he has been saying all along in public — that his government would respect sovereignty of Pakistan. Prior to his meeting with President Bush, President Zardari said in an interview that he believes only Pakistani troops should fight within the country, and that any incursion across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border would be a ‘violation of the UN Charter’. President Bush acknowledged in his address to the UN that Pakistan was actively pursuing terrorists and told President Zardari that America wanted to help Pakistan protect its sovereignty. This particular aspect of the US-Pakistan relationship is critical and could well determine the course and nature of the bilateral relationship.

Of course, the issue of how America and Pakistan resolve the issue of sovereignty — especially the former respecting that of the latter — while remaining on the same side of the war is something that will need care and attention from either side. There can be no doubt at all that the war against militancy is Pakistan’s own war. This year more than 2,000 have died in the country as a result of violence related to terrorism. All, with perhaps a dozen exceptions, have been Pakistanis.

Perceptions are as crucial as reality, and the widely held belief that Pakistan is fighting this war as a US proxy has done great damage to the effort against militancy. What people believe decides how they act, and even now, after the horrendous scenes at the Marriott in Islamabad, there is some evidence of a division in opinion. While almost everyone has condemned the attack, some have still suggested it was primarily an attack on the US or that there is perhaps a foreign hand involved (pointing of course to some of our neighbours). Vague reports of the presence at the ill-fated hotel of US marines and mysterious equipment have added to this. Pakistan then needs to keep up its efforts to ensure the war the terrorists are waging is seen as one against it, its people and its very existence as a state.

There is also a need to understand the war better. There are still those who insist that no Muslim could engage in such an act against fellow Muslims. The links between Kabul and New Delhi are referred to every now and then. But this amounts essentially to a reluctance to face up to facts. Zealots claiming religion as their motive have killed Muslims before, they will do so again. It is also a fact that the war and the existence of groups such as the Taliban are a result of games involving geo-political strategy, and indeed wealth. They have little to do with religion. The opium trade, the influx of money and arms and the quest for power all link up. Religion is a tool simply to exploit the sentiments of those at the bottom of this pyramid. Having said that, relations between Afghanistan and India are a source of considerable unease for Pakistan’s military and perhaps this has to do with the country’s past and the not-so-good relations that it has had with these neighbours. This issue is significant given that Pakistan needs its army to tackle the terrorists. The military in turn needs the complete support of the general public - and the tragic Marriott blast may well prove to be a catalyst in this regard - and the confidence to abandon past policies in pursuit of new aims, the most important of which is the war against terrorism and militancy.

The Bush-Zardari summit may have ended on a positive note but the real test of the words will be how things shape up on the ground.

Washington and Islamabad will have to undertake a serious and major review of their strategies and tactics to fight terror. And in this review the US must be seen as a friend of Pakistan not as an enemy in this war. As for President Zardari, he and his team must set about undoing the complex web of realities that are a part of the problem, so that they can find a way of dismantling the terror networks that operate within our territory and threaten every town and every city within it.

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Another abduction


Just a few months after Pakistan’s envoy to Afghanistan, Tariq Azizuddin, was kidnapped while on his way from Peshawar to Torkham, the extremists have claimed another victim. The senior-most Afghan diplomat in Pakistan, a man designated to take over as his country’s ambassador in Islamabad within days has been abducted in an audacious action taken in the heart of Peshawar. His driver was killed. Pakistani authorities have blamed Mr Abdul Khaliq Farahi for failing to take ‘proper’ security measures, but have not fully explained what he should have done. Late last month, the US consulate’s principal officer’s car was attacked also in Peshawar. The security situation in the city clearly leaves a lot to be desired.

It is not yet clear who holds the Afghan diplomat, or why. But it can be assumed that he is in the hands of the Taliban who will soon put forward their demands, as happened in the case of the previous, high-profile diplomatic abduction. Mr Azizuddin was freed after a long ordeal in captivity. Though this was officially denied, it is widely believed his release came in exchange for the freedom of some jailed militants. The awful fact is that the decision by authorities to give in to some of the demands of the kidnappers, in order to save the life of the diplomat, may have put others at risk. The Afghan consul-general appears to have been held in a bid to gain similar concessions. Their success in the past may have emboldened those behind the crime. In this there is a lesson the authorities need to take heed of as they set about efforts to free the latest victim of Pakistan’s terrorist scourge.
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Old Thursday, September 25, 2008
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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Militants, people and state


The death of seven people in Swat at the hands of law-enforcers, while they were taking part in a protest in Mingora against the suspension in the supply of power, gas and water, is a vivid demonstration of the reasons why Pakistan is in very real danger of losing the war on terror. Thousands of people turned out into the streets of Swat's main city to express their outrage over the failure of authorities to cater to their most basic needs. Many parts of Swat have been without power for five days or more. Local people complain this also means water cannot be pumped up to fill tanks, leading to a growing scarcity. Other regions were plunged into complete darkness when militants blew up a grid station two days ago. Gas supply lines have also been attacked while the blowing up by militants of a gas supply plant at Balogram Tuesday is likely to lead to a worsening in the current situation. Already, some, even in the large urban centre of Saidu Sharif and Mingora, are reported to be attempting to cook meals on open fires.

One can hardly expect people deprived of all amenities and also affected by a food shortage created by erratic supplies to troubled areas, to continue to suffer in silence indefinitely. There have also been complaints that security forces have treated local people in a rude or off-hand manner. The violent official action against people, even if the mob had become restless, will only enrage people further. Such anger of course works in favour of militants, who have in the past too manipulated feelings of deprivation to create support for their own cause. The latest attacks on installations may be a part of such tactics, aimed at turning local people against government. In Mingora, banks have also been targeted, forcing some to close doors. It is obvious that in order to defeat militants, people must be won over. This is hardly likely to happen when local residents are made to suffer for days without any attempt to redress their grievances and when they are felled by bullets when they try desperately to draw attention to their concerns. Yet this relatively simple reality appears to have eluded our decision-makers.

It is important that they wake up to its significance. At present, operations against militants are continuing in many places. The NWFP governor has warned militant networks are expanding into the southern Punjab. Many are indeed known to be operating already in this part of the country. The ISPR has reported the death of 50 militants in the Darra Adamkhel area during an operation to secure the strategically important Kohat Tunnel. Thousands from the area, and from Bajaur, remain displaced. It is apparent too that US concern remains high. Another drone is reported to have been spotted over South Waziristan Tuesday. Reports state it was shot down by tribesmen and security forces. There is as yet no official confirmation of the action, but it indicates the already messy and often chaotic war on terror could become even more complex in the days ahead. This means it is all the more necessary for the government to ensure people are allied with it, rather than against it. At present, most people in areas hit by conflict complain that they are being exploited by both state forces and militants. Most do not wish to take sides. They seek only the peace they need to resume interrupted lives and ensuring it must be one of the biggest priorities for authorities. The brutal suppression of the protest in Mingora has generated much ill-will for officialdom. This eventually will only strengthen the hands of militants and make the war on terror still harder to win.

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Downward spiral

Continuing political instability, coupled with a growing financial crisis, has led the credit ratings firm Moody's to cut its outlook for Pakistan's government bonds to negative from stable. The declining foreign exchange situation within the country is cited as a key factor in this decision, which will inevitably act to further deter investment and create still greater economic crisis. Following the bombing at the Marriott Hotel, there are already reports that business and trade teams from other countries have cut short or cancelled trips to Pakistan. Confidence in the country will now slump still further. Moody's has also pointed out that inflation, combined with rising extremism, could in effect paralyze the system and hold up liberalization and privatization within it, adding to its economic woes and preventing the reforms that could help restore normalcy.

At present, total foreign currency reserves stand at $8.91 billion. Moody's has pointed out this is hardly enough to cover imports for the coming two months. This is a situation Pakistan's leaders are already aware of. It is reported also to have figured during President Zardari's talks with President Bush. Emergency funding is also being sought to help Pakistan tide over the crisis. But even if the G-8 nations, Saudi Arabia or China offer a rescue plan, the Pakistani government must realize little will be gained on the economic front until political stability is ensured. Experts have already stated that the unchecked slide in Pakistan's economic indicators, including the fiscal and current accounts deficit, is caused not so much by inherent economic weaknesses or flaws, but by a sense of political turbulence that has not settled down even seven months after the new government took office. Indeed, over the past few weeks, the law and order situation has added to concerns as conflict continues across the northern areas. Rather than tackling the symptoms alone, it is these root causes of the economic crisis the government will need to address. So far, it has struggled to demonstrate that it is able to do so. Too much time has been wasted in bitter infighting between coalition partners; the perception in business circles is that the country lacks capable managers, able to turn around the situation. But now, as Pakistan's economic plight continues to worsen, its leaders must realize there is no time left to lose if Pakistan is to be rescued from spiralling down into the abyss of chaos towards which it seems to be headed. They must then put heads together and devise a plan of action that can prevent still greater ruin.
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Old Friday, September 26, 2008
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Friday, September 26, 2008

Zardari-Singh meeting


President Asif Ali Zardari’s meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has produced results which may well have a lasting impact on relations between the two neighbours. A joint press statement issued after their first handshake in New York covers a broad range of issues and it appears this may be the real outcome of the otherwise ceremonial and introductory first visit of President Zardari to the UN. The statement follows detailed background negotiations between the two sides and it has been widely welcomed by the Indians as Pakistan has agreed to most of their sensitive demands, including one to investigate the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul. Headway had also been made with regard to expanding trade through the border routes of Khokrapar-Munabao, Wagah-Attari and Muzaffarabad-Srinagar routes, with talk apparently even of discussion on opening the road that connects Skardu with Kargil.

However, there are some points which need closer scrutiny. The hawks may find that Pakistan may have conceded a bit much through the content of the joint statement. For example, the document says that both leaders agreed that “the forces that have tried to derail the peace process must be defeated and this would allow continuation and deepening of a constructive dialogue for the peaceful resolution and satisfactory settlement of all bilateral issues, including Jammu and Kashmir”. The pro-peace lobby will of course take heart because it indicates that perhaps the role of the invisible hand is being recognized and a determination expressed that such elements will be fought and resisted. What is important also is that New Delhi also pay attention to this aspect and rein in such elements on its side as well. The hawks, on this side of the border, will perhaps find some cause for concern in the part of the statement where the both leaders agreed that “violence, hostility and terrorism have no place in the vision they share (of the bilateral relationship) and must be visibly and verifiably prevented” through strong action. President Zardari’s assurance to Prime Minister Singh that he will not allow Pakistani soil to be used for terrorist attacks in India is also hopefully a measure that will be welcomed in New Delhi which should also use it to bring under control India’s own often-virulent anti-Pakistan lobby, which tends to blame Pakistan - usually without a shred of evidence - for practically every act of violence that happens in India.

Furthermore, the bit in the joint statement about “verifiably” preventing acts of terrorism would imply some kind of mechanism and it remains to be seen, what shape this will take. Presumably, it will have some element of joint ownership, and this too will be seen by the hawks on this side of the border as somewhat major concession by Islamabad to New Delhi. How much the agreements and intentions contained in the joint statement affect relations between the two countries is something that observers on both sides of the border, and in particular the doves and the hawks, will wait and watch out for in the following months.

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State of war


President Zardari’s appeal, made at a news conference in New York, to recognize that we are in a state of war, comes as an acknowledgement that the government is willing to accept that today militancy poses an immense threat to it and to its people. Mr Zardari has spoken of the need to “increase acceptance” of the fact that Pakistan was in the midst of war. The president’s words coincide with the expression of concern by the federal cabinet over the ‘intelligence failures’ that led to the blast at the Marriott Hotel. The prime minister, by asking members of his cabinet not to issue statements, also seems anxious to avoid a repetition of the situation that arose after the Marriot blast, with contradictory comments damaging the credibility of the government.

Mr Zardari has got it right when he says we are at war. There can be no other words to describe a situation in which suicide bombers target our cities at will, leaving damage and destruction across them. Indeed, this war is far worse than conventional ones. Even though all combat brings much horror, in this case it is innocent civilians who have most often lost their lives as a result of actions by militants. The president is also right when he says there is still a reluctance to realize Pakistan’s situation. But this is largely due to the manner in which the government has handled the issue, rather than due to any inherent lack of foresight on the part of people. Till now, the major parties have made little effort to place the issue of militancy at the top of their priority list. Instead, this slot has been occupied by petty tussles between the coalition partners and attempts to score points over each other. The ‘new policy’ that Mr Zardari now says is necessary to tackle terror should have indeed been put in place months ago, in the weeks after the present government came to power in March.

It is also a fact that no war, especially one against as dangerous and well-organized an opponent than the militant outfits we have allowed to grow in our midst, can be fought successfully unless there is a united front. So far, statements by major parties, indeed even members of the government, have sometimes struck quite different chords. A political consensus on the need to combat terror needs to be built. The prime minister has promised consultations with national leaders. This process should ideally lead to a full-fledged national conference so that all parties can speak with one voice as to the need to vanquish militants. At present, there is much dichotomy of opinion. While both opinion polls and recent election results demonstrate only a tiny percentage of people support extremism and orthodoxy, there is a need to do more to dispel the doubts that still linger in minds, clinging like cobwebs to dark corners. The belief that the war is primarily one on the US contributes to these doubts. So do the views, frequently put forward, that the bombings are a direct consequence of military action in the northern areas. This is not an entirely invalid assertion, but we must all remember that such tactics of blackmail are a means used by the militants to divide and confuse. These outfits, and the forces that support them, must be overcome.

To build the national mindset necessary for this, the government must make the war on terror its top priority. The media and all other available means must be used to persuade people of the need to act as one, with the support of allies outside the country but not on their dictation. This war is Pakistan’s war. Each of us, in our own way, needs to contribute to the task of winning it.
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Old Saturday, September 27, 2008
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Saturday, September 27, 2008

A short, sharp skirmish


The encounter between Pakistan and US forces, close to the Afghan border, is a warning of a potentially dangerous situation ahead. The last thing Pakistan and the US need at this stage, as the terrorist threat continues to grow, is to fall out with each other or develop misunderstandings that lead to a breakdown in the ongoing joint effort on terror. Whereas Pakistan has reason to feel threatened by US actions across its frontiers, and while these bombings have contributed to growing rage in the northern areas from where the HRCP reported recently that 700,000 people had been displaced by US air strikes and conflict, the fact also is that without support from Washington Pakistan cannot realistically hope to win the battle against terrorism. This is both because Pakistan's own increasingly precarious economic plight leaves it more dependent on external help than ever before and because militancy in Pakistan is tied in to the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan – a country run for all intents and purposes by the US. Indeed, when Washington grills Islamabad about its failure to stamp out militancy, our leaders should in turn ask the US to account for its own failure to do so across the border.

This being the case, the two nations need to evolve a joint policy. Friction between forces at the border will prevent this and as such work in favour of militants. Clearly, the Taliban would relish the prospect of a situation that prevents the US and Pakistan working together. We have so far heard at least three separate accounts of what happened at the border. The ISPR has said invading NATO helicopters were warned through firing by Pakistani ground forces not to venture across the border. The US says its helicopters faced fire from a Pakistani check post while still within Afghanistan and President Asif Ali Zardari has spoken of Pakistani forces using flares to demonstrate to the NATO aircraft where the poorly demarcated border lies. There have been unconfirmed reports of a brief ground skirmish following the incident. We can only hope that, whatever the truth in the matter, Washington and Islamabad will work out ways to ensure a repetition is avoided. Both sides need at present to devise an intelligent, cohesive strategy against terror rather than allowing internal discord to weaken their effort against an enemy that seems to muster more strength by the day. The war must be seen as being fought by Pakistan. But this can happen only if it can develop a closer understanding with the US and persuade it to play a subtle supportive role as part of a well-coordinated common plan of action.

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Airport alert


The emergency-like situation prevailed through Thursday at all 36 airports across the country after a telephonic warning that a suicide bomber would target the Benazir Bhutto airport at Islamabad. A separate bomb warning to Lahore airport authorities seems to have added to the crisis. Increased security was in place at major airports into Friday. The panic seen at the airports is an indication of the scale of the terrorist threat we face. Widely circulated SMS messages advising people to steer clear of international food chains and hotels have already added to the rising sense of fear. They have also had a detrimental impact on commercial activity, already affected by growing instability. The airport threat coincides with warnings from official agencies that suicide bombers have moved into major cities. An incident in Karachi Friday, during which two suicide bombers are reported to have blown themselves up during a police raid at a house, gives some credence to these reports.

The fact though is that in the cruel game of creating terror, rumours and hoaxes can play as big a part as actual bombings. We have seen this in the past, when threats to schools of bombs on their premises created swift chaos in Lahore. In psychological terms at least, this can have a truly destructive effect. Airport authorities of course must respond to warnings, although they need to find means of doing so to minimize inconvenience to passengers. But what we require most of all is an improvement in the working of our intelligence networks. The only way to stop a suicide bomber is to gather advance information about their plans. Agencies seem able to warn us as to precisely when bombers have entered cities. They must now improve their functioning so that these persons can also be apprehended rather than merely informing citizens they are likely to strike. The cabinet has stressed the need for agencies to play a more effective role against terror. We must now hope these words are converted swiftly into actions.

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Death in Quetta


A suicide bomber who blew himself up near a vehicle of the Frontier Corps in Quetta has succeeded in killing a schoolgirl and injuring six other children. Over a dozen security personnel are among the injured, some of them severely. Like those before it, this blast too appears to have been carried out by a teenager, a young boy thought to be no more than 14 or 15 years old. Like the small girl he killed, this child too is a victim of the growing brutality in the country. Others like him, currently in the hands of militants, need to be rescued. Parents everywhere, especially in the poverty-stricken belts of NWFP, the southern Punjab and Sindh, from where youngsters are recruited, need to be made aware about the risks of allowing children to go away with slick-tongued militant agents.

Too often, the insidious, almost constant, violence in Quetta is ignored until a major incident takes place. Figures show the city has been hit by dozens of bombs, rocket attacks and grenade blasts this year alone. A surge in kidnappings adds to the dangers in what was once a peaceful city, full of life. Today, sectarian, ethnic and militant factors all contribute to the violence within it. Elsewhere too unrest simmers every where in the province of Balochistan. The need to restore order to it is vital to the wider task of saving our federation. It must not be overlooked any longer.
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Old Sunday, September 28, 2008
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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Friends in need


Pakistan hopes to overcome its growing economic crunch with a little help from its friends. The setting up of a permanent international forum to bail Pakistan out of a situation in which its foreign exchange reserves have been falling rapidly, nearing the danger mark of $3 billion which would leave it struggling to clear import bills, signals growing international concern over potential economic chaos in the country. There have been a number of recent reports in the western media warning that such an economic meltdown would allow terrorists to further tighten their grip, taking advantage of the turmoil and social upheaval caused by economic collapse.

The United States, Britain, Italy, Germany, France, Japan, China, Australia, Turkey, Canada, Saudi Arabia and the UAE attended in New York the inaugural meeting of the new permanent forum, to be called simply Friends of Pakistan. The UN and EU representatives also attended. The first meeting of the forum, set up mainly as a result of an initiative by the US and the UK, will be held next month in Abu Dhabi. The main aim is to raise the billions of dollars Pakistan needs to make an economic recovery. Analysts have put this figure at US$10 billion. Strategies to raise this money are being discussed with generous contributions expected from nations forming the forum, which includes many of the world's richest nations. Pakistan's swift economic decline, which started last year, alarmed the United States and Britain as they feared that financial chaos could allow terrorists to thrive. Much polite rhetoric was heard during the inaugural meeting of nations around the world seeking to support democracy in Pakistan. But Islamabad would do well to remember that rather than a philanthropic desire to assist Pakistan, the setting up of the forum, at least as far as western nations go, is in response to the fears caused by the thought of a still more unstable Pakistan and the haven this would offer terrorists. The emergency effort to bolster Pakistan is aimed at averting such a situation in order to prevent worsening safety for the west. President Zardari, who is quite obviously relieved that the cash flow Pakistan so desperately needs is to come in, has said that rather than being offered fish he wants to 'learn how to fish' himself. One must hope he intends to do just this and seek economic advice on how to clamber out of the mess the country seems to have landed itself in.

To do this successfully, it is important to understand how the current state of affairs came about. Till the very recent past, we were repeatedly told Pakistan was making giant strides as far as its economy went. Former president Musharraf told us this many times. The slump is said to have begun last year. It is of course hard to believe it has been solely the result of policies under the elected government, though the unbroken political tumult since March has not helped matters. An investigation is required into what went wrong, why and what can be done to avert such a catastrophe in the future. Insinuations that some figures put out by the Shaukat Aziz-led administration were puffed up, or simply concocted, need to be investigated. The fudging of figures, which has now said to have reached such immense proportions that even top managers struggle to discern the true statistics from those whipped up to make governments look good, must be stopped.

The fact that Pakistan has had to hold out a giant begging bowl, appealing to the world for help, is not a matter to be taken lightly. The country is rich in many resources. It also has considerable reserves of human talent. There can be no excuse for reaching this sorry state. To enable the nation to once more stand on its own feet, Pakistan must also put the true situation before people. They must not be kept in the dark. A think-tank comprising the nation's best economic thinkers must also be set up to propose policies. Some of these individuals have put forward viable suggestions in reports, studies and articles. The government must seek their expertise and advise rather than relying only on foreign bail outs which in the longer-term may land us in a still thicker soup. What we need is innovative thinking keeping Pakistan's interests at the centre, rather than emergency donations intended to serve other purposes. Much like Old Mother Hubbard, Pakistan has suddenly found its cupboard completely bare. It must now find ways to restock it, and more importantly, prevent such a similar depletion of reserves taking place again.

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Shootout in Karachi


Failures by the intelligence agencies and police tend to make the headlines rather more often than their successes; and it is rare for intelligence-led successful operations to receive broad coverage. The incident at Baldia township appears to have been a notable intelligence success. Three wanted terrorists, one of them was allegedly involved in the Nishtar Park bombing and the murder of Allama Hassan Turabi, were killed. A hostage they were holding since last May against a ransom demand of $5 million also died – apparently at the hands of the terrorists. In an effort to reduce the all-too-frequent collateral damage that is attendant on operations such as this, the police used loudspeakers to warn local residents not to come out of their houses – and there are no reports of civilian casualties. When the shooting stopped the bomb-disposal team found up to 10kg of explosives, suicide jackets and other impedimenta pointing to those who died being members of a banned organisation, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. It is alleged that they were planning to strike a 'high-profile' target and Karachi may well have been saved from "death and destruction" as described by Sindh police chief Babar Khattak in his statement to the media in the aftermath.

There are two matters of note. Firstly, despite Lashkar-e-Jhangvi being a banned organisation for several years, they continue to thrive and are able to field operatives and equip them seemingly with little difficulty. You can ban what you like, but unless you enforce a ban, it is worthless. Secondly, and although reports are fragmentary, it seems that there may have been collaboration and coordination between one or more agencies in the resolution of this incident. If this is the case (and we may never know for sure) then this is welcome news. All too often it is a failure of interagency coordination and collaboration that allows criminals and terrorists to slip through the net. Handling terrorism in an urban environment is a complex matter, heavily reliant on 'humint' – human intelligence. Cities are no-go areas for spy-drones -- unlike rural areas -- and electronic intelligence is largely limited to the monitoring of mobile-phone networks. Word of mouth is going to remain the most common (but not necessarily the most reliable) way to gather information. This requires the cooperation of the general public, the ordinary people who see and may suspect that criminal or terrorist activity is afoot in their locale. The trust deficit between the police and the public is going to have to improve if we are to see more successes such as that in Baldia; but if there has been interagency work in this matter we can only approve of it and hope for more of the same in the future.
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Monday, September 29, 2008

Militias against militants


Tribesmen in the Khyber Agency are reported to have set up a militia aimed at eradicating the threat posed by militants in their area. There are also reports that one such militia took captive 11 Taliban while they were attempting to abduct a prayer leader, and handed over three of the would-be kidnappers to the local administration. Such spontaneous actions against militants have been seen too in other places as well. In some cases, political administrations in tribal areas have called upon various tribes to help tackle the extremists. In other places they have acted on their own. The initiative by the tribesmen belies militant claims that they have huge followings in areas under their control. It is quite obvious that in many parts of the north, people seek escape from their grip. Actions, such as those taken by the Taliban in Swat where two butchers were publicly flogged for allegedly selling the meat of dead animals, does little to endear them to local people. An alleged criminal has also been executed in the same area by extremists. Reports say that the actions are often aimed at punishing those who speak out against extremists, rather than making any genuine effort to purge society of ills within it. Of course, even if this had been the motive, vigilante justice involving public beatings and shooting only brutalizes society and expands the potential for violence within it. It does nothing to combat crime. This can happen only when efficient governance addressing the root causes of crime is put in place.

It is quite obvious that people who have lived under Taliban rule for months or years are now anxious to do away with them. Many communities are outraged over the burning of schools and other actions by militants. In other cases, a struggle for power is also a factor in the efforts of tribesmen who have asked volunteers to take up arms against the Taliban. The militants threaten traditional power structures and challenge tribal hold over people. For logistic reasons, such uprisings against militants need to be encouraged for the present. The immediate task must be to defeat militants. But in the longer run, granting full democratic rights to the people of tribal areas may be the key to ensuring stability in these far-flung parts of the country. Government thinking should indeed already be turning towards this task, for part of the solution to the problem of militancy we face at present is presenting to people a vision of what benefits a future free of extremism would bring to them.

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The fallout


The frontage of the Marriott has had a coat of whitewash and the rubble is being cleared from the building. The CCTV footage of the incident has been played endlessly and it has been dubbed ‘Pakistan’s 9/11’. However, 9/11 changed a lot of things internationally quickly and irrevocably, whereas the Marriott blast so far has changed little internationally – but it is having an effect which is now feeding through the system. These effects are going to be long-term and low-profile, but no less serious for all that; and the capital has lost a significant income-generator. Those who used the Marriott as tourists (few) conference and meeting venue (many) and ad-hoc political and economic ‘safe-space’ in which to negotiate (uncountable) all came with money in their pockets. Some they spent in the hotel shops, some they spent in the city – but the point was that they brought money and spent it – now, that money will not be going into local businesses and shops.

The capital has also lost a significant proportion of its up-scale bed-nights, and this in a city which already has a chronic shortfall of quality hotel accommodation. There is no ‘slack’ in the system and the trade will either relocate to another country – Dubai will be licking its lips in anticipation – or some will disperse into the often sleazy guest houses that sometimes moonlight as houses of ill-repute. The Marriott was a home to any number of foreign diplomats waiting to take up their posts, and was daily host to the crews of aircraft staging through Islamabad airport – more lost revenue. Trade fairs will have to look elsewhere – but where? – and the socialites and glitterati will have to find somewhere else to preen and parade.

The knock-on effect of the blast is triggering ever-more negative travel advisory notes by foreign embassies in Pakistan – telling their nationals not to visit. The airlines trades unions will be advising their staff that it is unsafe for them to visit as well – and as parts of the global airline industry are heavily unionised there is likely to be a falling-off of carriers willing to use Pakistan as a destination. British Airways and Lufthansa have already suspended their flights, others will follow. Domestic and regional airlines will continue to service the vast traffic that circulates between Pakistan and the countries of the Gulf and the Middle East, feeding the migrant labour market of which Pakistan is a large part – but the high value medium and long-haul international traffic is likely to dwindle. The alert at Islamabad airport on Thursday will have done nothing to restore confidence in Pakistan as a destination of choice and the sense of insecurity – real or imagined - continues to erode revenues and livelihoods. We already know the cost of the blast in human and material terms, but economically the costs are going to be paid for years to come.

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KESC concerns


Karachiites will be hoping the change in the management of the KESC will result in an improvement in its working. At present, the organization has been suffering a severe shortfall of power, combined with problems caused by a dilapidated distribution system. This translates into power cuts and unscheduled outages lasting hours in the city. The impact on commercial and domestic life has been devastating. The last major breakdown, a few days ago, led to riots. Despite the optimism expressed by the federal secretary for water and power recently as the task of running the utility was handed over to a group that already held 50 per cent of shares in it, there is much doubt over whether much will change.

The new management is reported to have promised only two hours a day of load-shedding. This of course would spell something akin to bliss for the city’s residents. But it is to be seen if this promise can be kept – and reports suggest that it hasn’t. So far, the privatization of the concern has brought little benefit. Indeed, one must ask what purpose, if any at all, it has served. The power crisis seems as acute as ever, rates of power have risen even as its hours of supply have fallen and the infrastructure is in poor shape. The new management thus has a testing task on its hands as it attempts to revive the fortunes of an organization that has been floundering for years. One must hope though that it is able to run matters better than the last set up and ease the long months of suffering that everyone in Karachi has endured.
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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Eye of the storm


Pakistan will remain a focal issue in US foreign policy, no matter what the outcome of the presidential election at the end of the year proves to be. Both candidates, Barack Obama for the Democrats and John McCain for the Republicans spoke on the country's role in the 'war on terror' at some length during the first of their three presidential debates Friday. The fact that McCain got the name of the Pakistani president wrong while speaking on the matter came as a reminder of the fact that for the US, it is this war, more than Pakistan itself, that matters. It is a point the Pakistani leadership must keep in mind when devising its own strategy. The two men differed markedly in their proposed tactics on how to tackle terror. Obama, who lashed out against US polices in Iraq and elsewhere under Bush, predictably adopted the more strident stance, maintaining he would be ready to send troops into Pakistan to capture Al Qaeda leaders if Pakistan was 'unable or unwilling' to do so itself. He also pointed out Pakistan had done little over the past seven years to get rid of terrorist safe havens despite receiving US$ 7 billion in assistance. The seasoned McCain refused to be convinced, speaking of the need to engage with Pakistan and win over its people. He also reasoned that the Pakistani government needed support in this.

At some point in the not too distant future, Pakistan's leaders will have to deal with one of these two men. At present, they are understood to be hoping this man will be McCain, who promises a continuation of present policy rather than the harder-line approach of Obama, regarded in Islamabad as being 'pro-Afghanistan'. The outcome of the poll itself is still anybody's guess, with analysts rating the inaugural debate, dominated by America's own economic crisis and by Iraq, as a tie with no outright victor. But of course, there are other factors that will determine what policies are actually adopted, when the time comes to take charge at the helm in Washington. Obama's present tough stance is in part a campaign necessity, with damaging slander against him in the US stating he is a 'closet' Muslim, or even less sanely, that he is the 'anti-Christ' out to destroy Christians. The colour of his skin is of course a factor in this. Obama perhaps finds it important at this moment to demonstrate he has no Muslim sympathies. But it should also be kept in mind that his vice presidential hopeful, Joe Biden, more than most US politicians, has a sound understanding of Pakistan. His 'development' plan, which offers assistance to build schools, roads and infrastructure in Pakistan, represents a break from the conventional approach of regarding militancy as a threat simply to be crushed through force.

The Democrats in office may then offer ideas that can aid Pakistan in its battle by altering the current line of thought. The strategies to be adopted by John McCain, a Vietnam veteran and a traditional hardliner, may too evolve once he is able to distance himself from the outgoing administration. Indeed, his vice presidential candidate has already contradicted McCain on Pakistan, suggesting a strike on terrorist targets within Pakistan is a possibility. Remarks during campaigns cannot then be taken as the last word on policies, but there are steps Islamabad needs already to consider. Since it will be dealing closely with Washington in the months ahead, it must keep in mind that it is the way it tackles the situation that will determine US actions. While Senator Obama's tough words seem threatening, they should also act as an eye-opener. The perception that Pakistan has not done enough on terror is damaging and is putting the country's sovereignty at risk. This perception must be altered. Pakistan can best do so by taking decisive action and devising a comprehensive strategy that it can put on the table with the new US administration. The new setup too will be seeking opinion and a vision to combat terror in the weeks after taking charge. By offering it a plan to work towards, and showing it has the commitment to pursue it, Pakistan has an opportunity to seize the initiative and work with the US on a more equal footing towards their common goal of eliminating terror.

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On the frontline


The Chief of Army Staff's visit to Bajaur, where he met military commanders, tribal elders and army officers engaged in day-to-day action against militants demonstrates why it is important to keep the military and political leadership quite separate. For reasons linked both to security and politics, such a visit to the frontline would have been impossible for the previous COAS, General Pervez Musharraf, who also acted as chief executive and later as president of Pakistan since 1999. In his capacity as army chief, General Kayani was able to professionally review the situation and devote to it the full-time attention available only to a man wearing one hat. His visit is also significant as a morale-booster for forces on the ground, caught in a difficult and often dangerous situation. Battling one's own countrymen, with accusations often voiced that the war is a US-sponsored one, is not easy.

The effort by the COAS to interact with troops and officers, both formally and less formally is, therefore, significant. It also sends out a clear signal, that the Pakistan army, this time round, is determined in its effort against militants and that there is no ambiguity within the high command on this count. Past allegations that military offensives have been merely cosmetic in nature have damaged the fight against terror and are also a factor in US actions in our territory. The COAS, who has in the past too made it a point to personally venture on to battlegrounds in Swat and elsewhere, appears eager to underscore this point. The army chief has also made a valid comment when he says popular backing is vital to the efforts against terror. Already, in Bajaur, in the Khyber Agency and in other places too, tribal militias have been formed to take on militants. Kayani's meetings with tribal leaders strengthen this new alliance. The start that has been made must be built on. Removing the support base for combatants is crucial to success in any guerrilla warfare campaign. Pakistan's military appears now to be in control of the situation and in command of events in Bajaur. The re-assertion by the COAS that the operation will continue till militants are eliminated drives home this message at a crucial juncture.
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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Good in parts


As the presidential visit to the US concludes the report cards are being marked around the world, with the consensus seeming to be 'Could do better but not bad for a first attempt.' Taking the debit points first; the Presidential address to the United Nations was halting and a little bland and in direct contrast to the ranting of President Ahmedinajad of Iran. President Zardari ranted at nobody but he did touch all the right bases; the down-side was that his speech was distinctly square-wheeled and under-rehearsed. If you are going to address the world from the podium of the United Nations it makes sense to have stood in front of a mirror and done a read-through of your speech first, and the presidential handlers need to have their boss sharpen up his act for the future.

Secondly, no visit to a western nation by a senior male Pakistani politician would be complete without a gaffe involving a woman or a remark of toe-curling political incorrectness. President Zardari did not disappoint and duly delivered the 'Palin/gorgeous' faux-pas, but it was in the minor league as foot-in-mouth moments go and should be quickly relegated to the realm of political anecdote, with the president making a mental note to engage in hearty badinage with western women off-camera in future.

Thirdly, whether it was wise for our newly-minted president to so fulsomely praise President Bush – a man at the end of his presidency and about as popular as an outbreak of smallpox – is open to question. Superficially it looked like grovelling sycophancy, but on the other hand there was not much else that President Zardari could do or say short of doing or saying nothing at all. America is our largest donor both in terms of direct aid and military assistance and biting a chunk out of the hand that feeds you was never going to be an option. There were the by-now ritualised dances around the matter of sovereignty that all concerned now understand to be a very plastic concept, capable of being moulded into a variety of shapes to suit the moment. America will continue to make incursions into Pakistani territory, there may be an exchange of fatal fire at some point and at no point are Pakistan and America going to war with one-another.

Lastly, and very much on the credit side, there was a positive first meeting with the president of India which it is hoped will bear future fruit in abundance; as well as a number of clear and unequivocal presidential statements that if translated into action really might mean a change of direction and style in terms of the way Pakistan is governed. Telling the Taliban they are a 'cancer' and will get short shrift from any government led by President Zardari was a message we all needed to hear. Overall, it could have been a lot worse but it wasn't and President Zardari got more right than he got wrong…seven out of ten and do better next time.

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Money trouble

As the US Congress fails to agree a rescue package for the stricken financial sector and banks worldwide continue to eat one-another in a frenzy of capitalist cannibalism, Pakistan is once again in urgent need of a financial bail-out. Foreign currency reserves are dwindling by the day and economist Saquib Sherani has said this week that Pakistan needs a capital transfusion of $3-4 billion in order to stabilise the economy – and this at a time when mango exports are down by 20 per cent, oil has dropped to below $100 a barrel, global share markets wander about in the darkness losing value faster than money can be printed, room occupancy in Karachi hotels is down to 8-10 per cent compared to 23 per cent pre-Marriott and trading on the cotton market is reported as 'listless'. Holding the begging bowl out at a time like this is risky, and the donor nations will have been watching as the new government 'beds in' and what emerges as a financial strategy before pledging or giving further funds.

Ultimately, what Pakistan wants and needs are jobs and the revenue from exports that will enable the rebuilding of our forex reserves. Jobs and income are significant in terms of the limits they can begin to apply to extremism, but Pakistan, its people and economy are not helped by the discriminatory trade tariffs imposed by some of our so-called 'friends.' We have an efficient textile industry and the manufacture and export of household linens go a good way to bringing in the hard currency we need to purchase food and fuel. The textile industry is a good job creator and it is said that a single container of towels is worth 500 jobs. Yet look at the tariffs imposed on our goods by our good friend the USA. Tariffs on Pakistan's goods are way above those imposed on products from richer nations. Taking a simple example: Pakistan's towels and T-shirts trigger 7.5 per cent and 19 per cent tariffs, while tariffs on Sweden's cars and aeroplane parts are only 2.5 per cent and zero. So last year, Pakistan's $3.6 billion in goods exported to the US faced a $365 million tariff penalty – almost three times the $142 million penalty on Sweden's $13 billion. To rub salt into the wound, America's exemption of most African and Latin American towels and shirts from tariffs puts Pakistan at a disadvantage against its direct competitors.

By waiving the tariffs on Pakistan's textile goods our good friend the USA could boost urban employment, help Pakistan's government bring down the political temperature, and provide a boost for the still-fledgling democracy that is so dear to the heart of Uncle Sam. Will Uncle Sam help us out? Probably not, because retail politics and effective lobbying have hitherto blocked any such move. But would it not be better if we were stronger economically, more independent, not needing the support of donor nations? Of course it would, but a poor beggar is a lot easier to push around than a robust and independent man with a healthy income from honest labour. Which is perhaps why there are those in the world who would rather we were beggar than rich man.
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Saturday, October 04, 2008

A new chance?


The speculation regarding the serious illness, or even the death, of Baitullah Mehsud, 35, signals the possible end of an era during which he contributed to the extraordinary violence and sense of terror we now live with almost constantly. This terror was as palpable over the Eid break as at any other time, with the decision not to conduct Eid prayers in open places and the intense security visible at many locations in our cities was a sobering reminder that even on our most festive holiday, the possibility of bomb blasts and death cannot now be put aside. This then is the legacy of Mehsud, who took over the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in the aftermath of 9/11. As a commander of some 20,000 tribesmen, most of them Mehsuds from his native South Waziristan, he emerged as one of the most successful guerrilla fighters in Pakistan's history, and a key force behind militancy in the north of the country. He is also widely believed to have played a part in the December 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Mehsud, a man averse to publicity, is known to have links with key Afghan Taliban figures. He is of course not responsible alone for the rapid growth of an organization which has over the past few years carried out multiple acts of terror, in the name of enforcing Sharia and to demonstrate opposition to government policies against militants. These acts include not only the suicide bombings that have devastated cities, but also the beheadings, the shootings, the public floggings seen in the northern areas, of anyone suspected of challenging the writ of the Taliban. Many have already fled Waziristan for fear of persecution at the hands of such men. The news that Mehsud is in coma or otherwise incapacitated represents a possible chance for a break with our violent past.

This is particularly true as the development coincides with several other key events. Perhaps the most important among these are the changes at the top of the ISI. It is known the government had been eager to bring these about for some time. It has now succeeded with the support of the COAS. General Kayani's own determination to go after the militants is also a significant part of the new situation which is beginning to emerge. Also important is the fact that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has what seems like a distinct soft spot for the new President of Pakistan. This is important since close cooperation with Afghanistan is vital to dealing with terrorists and Al Qaeda leaders who apparently slip across the porous borders of Bajaur and other areas as though this divide did not exist. This geo-political reality makes the task of going after them all the harder.

The adviser on interior, some days ago, had already noted with uncharacteristic accuracy that the TTP and the Al Qaeda were one and the same. The TTP had been declared a banned organization. There must now be reason for optimism that the sidelining of Mehsud will provide the government an opening to go after it with greater zeal, and indeed to disband it. There is a belief that if rumours of his death do turn out to be true (or if he is seriously ill and hence indisposed), there may well be a power vacuum within the TTP. Experts monitoring the activities of the organization say there is no immediately obvious second-tier leadership although there may be several commanders all wanting to fill the slot. This weakness must be exploited. After all, as we have seen in the past, simply banning outfits means little if their structures are left intact and their leaders allowed to continue covert activities. What is important also is to cut off the TTP's links with power centres within the country from which it has, in the past, been able to draw strength. Baitullah Mehsud, after all, is/was not a man entirely of his own making. If indeed he is dead, the task should be to ensure that no others like him emerge and that the threat of terror we face gradually recedes.

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Charsadda blast


The suicide bombing at the guest house of ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan in Charsadda represents a continuation in the kind of attacks seen earlier. During the election campaign early this year, the ANP had faced at least two major bombings at rallies. The purpose appears to be to target a liberal party, which in its native NWFP has dared to speak out against extremism and offer a link back to a past when the province, under the leadership of men such as Asfandyar's grandfather, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, was known for its progressive politics, its tolerance and its role in the sub-continental struggle for independence. It will of course take a long time to re-build such values in a region torn apart by violence, but by encouraging the role of women in politics, by suggesting that local people be used to battle terrorists and by proposing development as a means to overcome orthodoxy, the ANP suggests a way forward.

The suicide bomber, who was mercifully stopped at the gates by security guards at Wali Bagh, the family home, claimed four lives. The toll might have been much higher had he made his way through the security cordons. As with so many such bombings, those he killed were the poor – the guards and other personnel employed to safeguard the lives of the influential. Too many such hapless citizens have now perished. There is every possibility that more yet may die. The battle against extremism, despite the intensified fighting in the northern areas and the evidence of greater resolve by the government, has yet to be won. The blast at Charsadda proves once more that terrorists live on everywhere in our midst. It will take time and still greater effort to drive them out.

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Moon madness


The announcement, at around a quarter to eleven on Sept 30, that the Eid moon had indeed been seen took nearly everyone by surprise. The Ruet-e-Hilal committee had previously indicated there had been no sighting. In households across much of the country, people scrambled to prepare for the unexpected occasion. It is believed the decision had more to do with politics than the actual presence of the new moon in the skies. Indeed, the prime minister has stated the government strongly believed that as a token of national harmony, Eid should be observed on one day across the country. This did indeed happen. It is understood that the Ruet-e-Hilal committee was persuaded to accept accounts from NWFP that the moon had been spotted, rather than have a situation, as has happened in previous years, when the province ended the month of fasting a day ahead of people elsewhere. Inevitably, the whole matter has triggered controversy, centred chiefly around the fact that as per Islamic tradition, the actual sighting of the moon is a necessary pre-requisite to the announcement of Eid.

But, it is time we woke up to the fact that we live in the 21st century. Accurate predictions about the lunar cycle are possible. These are used in many Muslim nations, including Saudi Arabia, to announce the date for Eid well before the day itself. This makes for far greater efficiency and planning on many fronts. It also eliminates the wrangling we see each time the committee, dominated by clerics vying for their few minutes of television time, meets. Perhaps it is time we too moved into the age of science and embraced the advantages these advances offer us.
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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Danger zone


Islamabad, the capital once known for its tranquillity, has been placed at par with Kabul and the capital of Somalia, Mogadishu, by the UN, which has declared the city unsafe for the children of some 100 non-Pakistani nationals employed by it in the country. The children are now to leave Pakistan. So too are the children of UK High Commission employees, with Pakistan declared a 'non-family' station.

The move comes as further proof that Pakistan today is among the most dangerous places on Earth. This was a point on which both the US vice-presidential candidates, Senator Joe Biden for the Democrats and Governor Sarah Palin for the Republicans agreed. While they differed on the nuances, with Palin holding Iran presented an immense risk to the US, both the contenders stated Pakistan was now the biggest threat to world security, with nuclear weapons that could hit Israel and Mediterranean nations. Emphasizing that it was Pakistan, rather than Iraq, which needed most urgent attention, Biden warned any attack on US territory would emanate from the Al Qaeda leadership entrenched in its mountains.

During the debate, it was also quite apparent it was the Democrats who had the sounder understanding of Pakistan. Biden spoke of the fact that 7,000 madressahs were located along the Pak-Afghan border, and of the need to replace these with schools. He warned though that the current US economic meltdown put in jeopardy a $15 million Democratic proposal for a ten-year development plan in Pakistan. This of course is not good news for Pakistan. We are already aware of the dangers that now threaten to overwhelm the country. Several recent reports have already stated the number of suicide bombings within it now surpasses the number in Baghdad; western magazines have repeatedly been describing the situation within the country as increasingly volatile and US think tanks have warned this state of affairs remains uncontrolled, putting future stability at risk. Some have warned even of a threat to the country's very survival.

The decision by the UN and the UK to move families away is evidence of how the country is now perceived by the outside world. Previously too, the UN following earlier blasts in Islamabad, including that at a popular restaurant frequented by foreigners and then at the Danish embassy, had warned it would declare Pakistan a 'non-family' station in the event of further blasts. The attack by a suicide bomber at the Marriot hotel, in which 54 persons, including several foreigners died, seems to have prompted the giant organization to act on its threat, even though it has not been directly targeted. The UN and other humanitarian agencies have already reduced staff and operations in Balochistan and the northern areas due to the security threat. The recent kidnapping of Chinese engineers and a Polish national underscores what these dangers are comprised of. Many diplomatic missions, including the UK, have also reduced staff presence on the ground in Pakistan, conducting visa operations from Dubai to cut down on personnel posted in the country.

It sometimes comes as a shock to realize how much the face of our nation has changed within a relatively short period of time. In this, the terrorists have, without doubt, succeeded. US presidential candidates, with opposing views on so much else, agree that Pakistan is a focal point of instability. The challenge before government is to make Pakistan a safe place once more. The efforts on to achieve this need to be intensified, the clock turned back, so that our capital can regain its image as a place of quiet serenity and the negative image of Pakistan improved over the years ahead in the eyes of the world.

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Provincial grievances


The province of Balochistan has recently put before the Council of Common Interests (CCI) a claim seeking Rs13 billion as compensation for a shortage of nine million acre feet (MAF) in water supplied to it since 1991. The province, which also raised the matter at a meeting of the advisory committee of the Indus River System Authority (IRSA) has compiled a full dossier with facts and figures to show how much water it has been deprived of. It says this has caused huge agricultural losses for which it should be compensated. Balochistan accuses Sindh of failing to pass on water released into the Indus to it, despite the fact that it has a sufficient network of canals to put it to use.

The CCI, under the 1973 Constitution, is the body empowered to resolve disputes between provinces. It is deemed to have come into existence with the election of a prime minister and four chief ministers. The body, under the Constitution, is answerable to parliament and includes the prime minister, the chief ministers and an equal number of members from the federal government to be nominated by the prime minister. The CCI has never been called upon before to settle a matter, even though, as we all know, disputes between the provinces, whether they involve water supplies, the building of mega-projects such as the Kalabagh dam or wheat smuggling, are hardly a rarity. How the CCI acts to tackle this matter, reportedly passed on to it by the Water and Power Ministry which initially received the complaint from Balochistan, may thus prove highly instructive.

One of the problems of the federation of Pakistan has been that we are reluctant to discuss issues between the provinces openly. Too often, these have been covered up. At other times, they have been settled in favour of Punjab – the province with most clout. The building of dams, canals, roads and other pieces of infrastructure are all examples of this. The controversial Greater Thal Canal, opposed by Sindh on the grounds that it reduced water in the Indus, badly affecting the province's delta areas, but initiated despite much controversy as it offered a new water supply to parts of southern Punjab, is just one example of this. Such decisions have done a great deal to create discord between Pakistan's federating units. The claim put forward by Balochistan and tabled before the CCI offers a means for this body to test its ability to solve issues. It also offers a forum at which they can be openly aired, and in the context of Pakistan's federation, this could prove a hugely important step forward.

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Still missing


The demand by rights campaigners, seeking the release of hundreds of people still missing in the country, that they be permitted to meet family members on Eid, draws attention once more to the plight of these people. It is also a reminder of the fact that despite various promises, the present government seems to have been able to do little to alter the policies of the past. A petition seeking the release of nearly 200 missing persons had been pending before the Supreme Court of Pakistan that was deposed on November 3, 2007. Since then, the case seems to have been shelved. The vigorous actions of the Justice Chaudhry-led court had resulted in a handful of people being freed. Most, believed to be in the custody of intelligence agencies, remain missing. Estimates as to their numbers range from several hundred to several thousand. The largest numbers are from Balochistan.

It is shameful that an elected government has done so little to uncover the whereabouts of these persons. Despite the fact that international and local human rights groups have taken up the issue vociferously, the government seems unable to act. One is forced to conclude its writ, perhaps, does not extend into the shadowy realm of intelligence agencies. Secret detention is an offence under our law. Those held at 'safe houses' must be produced in public. Any among them accused of crime must be tried in court. Their illegal detention remains a black mark against the government and a source of immense agony for families who have no way of knowing if fathers, husbands, sons and brothers are dead or alive.
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P.R.
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