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  #31  
Old Thursday, October 09, 2008
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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Bhakkar blast


Terrorism has killed another 22 people in the country. Sixty others have been hurt, among them PML-N MNA Rashid Akbar Niwani, whose house became the target for a suicide bomber. The bomber hit at a time when the MNA was meeting the people of his constituency. In this, the attack resembled the one at Charsadda a few days ago, outside the guest house of the ANP chief, from which Asfandyar Wali himself escaped only narrowly. Some reports state an attempted attack using rockets may have been made on the home in Peshawar of the NWFP chief minister.

It is unclear why politicians are being targeted, or if the attacks are even inter-linked. There are now so many currents of violence running through our society that it has become impossible to decipher one from the other. The attack in Bhakkar, at first guess, seems to have sectarian motives. Protests by people in the area and in neighbouring Dera Ismail Khan immediately after the incident reflected similar suspicions. A detailed report in this newspaper has raised the possibility that the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ), a Sunni extremist outfit founded in Jhang and banned in 2001, may be behind the bombing. If this conjecture proves accurate, it would demonstrate the ban on a group believed to be behind many sectarian incidents in the 1990s, has served no purpose at all. This is an alarming prospect, suggesting that over the last eight years we have been unable to act against even the most dangerous terrorist organizations, which have inflicted mayhem within our society.

The fact also is that we have no way of knowing who is behind these incidents or why they are being carried out. Even three weeks after the Marriot Hotel bombing, nothing is very clear. Indeed, more doubts creep up with each passing day. The only thing that is certain is that our security apparatus has failed completely against the zealots who run these groups. This failure, as suicide bombings continue, is giving rise to immense insecurity and swirling rumours about purposes, intents and the presence of a 'master plan' aimed at achieving various goals. There is every possibility that these whispers are entirely inaccurate and that these allegations of external involvement in the unfolding scenario represent nothing more than the unfounded conspiracy theories we hear so often. But, regardless of the truth, what they have already done is to create a growing sense of instability and give rise to more and more doubts about the ability of the government to manage the situation. For the economy, and for democracy, this is disastrous.

For these reasons, the government must find means to tackle the situation. There is little point in moving political leaders into the fortress-like presidency, in the hope that this will save their lives. Indeed, the very nature of a democracy demands that political representatives meet the people of their constituencies. When they are unable to do so, the whole system faces a threat. The questions raised by the ANP, at a meeting of its' top leaders in Peshawar over the seriousness of the current operation against militancy, can only add to concerns that terrorists have support from powerful quarters. The party has asked if changes at the top in the structure of intelligence agencies will mean anything beyond the cosmetic. Those taking decisions in the country must realize that this situation, in which so many suspicions lurk, is putting the very future of the country at risk. They must act before it is jeopardized so completely that there is no hope of recovery left and we are all left in still greater darkness.

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Remembering quake victims


Although a tremor felt in Islamabad and Peshawar just days before the third anniversary of the October 8, 2005 disaster acted as a reminder of the destruction an earthquake can instantly bring, the fact is that the plight of the victims of that catastrophe has already been forgotten. The spirit of unity that sprung up spontaneously as thousands drove up to the affected areas of NWFP and Azad Kashmir to offer what help they could, has largely vanished. Sadly, it was not tapped into as a potential source for building something of lasting value. The National Volunteer Movement, established in 2005 by former president Musharraf, means little beyond paper. It is unclear quite what purpose it is intended to serve.

Today, across stricken regions, people will gather at the graves of the 73,000 who died. Their families struggle on. Even though the majority of the 3.5 million people left homeless by the disaster have re-built houses, some with support, some on their own, problems persist in areas such as Muzaffarabad, where planning disputes have held up reconstruction, and in Balakot – a town that is to be re-located against the will of many of its people. Independent reports have found huge flaws in the system of accountability and transparency in the use of funds allocated for reconstruction. ERRA has been asked to account for the huge funds it received. An estimated 70,000 people believed by the World Bank to have been left disabled or severely injured by the quake, still suffer. Some cannot find employment, schools re-built in a number of cases lack access for pupils who are now on wheelchairs and child labour in some quake-hit zones is believed by international agencies to have risen markedly, largely due to the failure to adequately rehabilitate families. The 72 victims of the collapse of the Margalla Towers apartment block in Islamabad have yet to be compensated. Activists fear the owners have used their wealth and influence to get away with murder.

There are also, of course, many success stories. Alongside the tragedy, every disaster also brings forwards examples of fortitude, courage and the basic human will to survive. Due to the efforts of individuals and organizations, new schools and clinics have come up in many places where none previously existed. So too have new infrastructure schemes. Some communities have been assisted in building safer homes and in improving the quality of life. But there are many doubts as to whether the lessons from that day have led us to put in place a disaster relief plan or rules to govern the construction of buildings, including schools. The answers seem largely to be in the negative, and this means that three years after the October 8 calamity we are still no more secure against natural disaster than we were at that time.
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Old Tuesday, October 14, 2008
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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Clutching at straws

The global financial crisis, that has brought a warning from the IMF of an economic meltdown that would affect developing countries most of all, couldn't have come at a worse time for Pakistan. The recession that has hit the world so unexpectedly, crashing down like a sledge hammer, is already bringing forth grim comparisons to the Great Depression of the 1930s. It comes at a time when in Pakistan growth has ground to a standstill, the rupee has fallen dramatically against the dollar, foreign exchange reserves have fallen to their lowest level in years, inflation is gallivanting and the current account deficit gapes. The fact that these problems for Pakistan coincide with international crisis means of course there are fewer 'quick fix' options. While Pakistan for the present seems to have been reduced to holding out the begging bowl to anyone passing by, the coins, as yet, are not quite tinkling in. Many western countries are reluctant to lend at this stage, given the storm rampaging through their own economies, though the World Bank has offered a US1.4 billion loan that should help fill the empty coffers somewhat. Even Saudi Arabia, Pakistan's traditional hard times ally, has not been so forthcoming as the government had hoped for, though China and Iran both seem ready to assist.

The crisis has been reflected in the situation at the Karachi Stock Exchange. The KSE resumed trading on Monday after a proposal stemming from a meeting of Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan directors and KSE bosses that the market be closed for up to fifteen days was turned down by the government. The latest crisis hitting the exchange, which has seen stocks plummeting for weeks, came as the bank credit line to the market dried up Friday due to the liquidity crunch. The prime minister's adviser on finance, while rejecting the suggestion that markets be closed, has assured them funding is being found to resume the flow of credit to it. Traders are also anxious that the floor provided before Eid, to prevent stocks crashing further, be retained and that the government give assurances of financial assistance. The government has not so far made a definite commitment, with a state of deadlock persisting – which may be a good thing given that the brokers seem to be basically pleading for a bailout – at taxpayers' expense. Also, retaining the floor would mean providing the brokers indemnity against losses which may well happen if and when the barrier is removed. In times of acute financial distress for so many and given that no such special concessions were ever given to small investors in the past, these are options that the government must consider carefully before making any decision. The inflation in the country has of course hit everyone, from the poor to the relatively wealthy. But middle-class wage earners have perhaps been hit hardest. It is unfair to expect them to now bear the additional burden of a tumbling stock market.

Given that Pakistan's woes are also linked to a crisis in confidence, the decision not to shut down the market is a wise one. The message this would have sent out would be of total collapse and an inability to manage. The most urgent need at present is to restore faith in the system. It is the perception that both on the economic front and in the sphere of politics things are spiralling out of control that has created much of the panic we see now. What is required is calm, competent handling that can restore trust in the short term, combined with sound economic planning for the future. Realistically speaking, for the country's economic managers, it will be possible to achieve this only if political stability can be achieved. We need cash to once more flow into the country, new accounts to be opened in its banks. The most pressing challenge for political leaders is to create the environment which would make this possible. They must keep in mind that each new bomb blast, each new incident of major political discord, creates a greater loss of confidence, and generates the panic that brings stocks tumbling down. The country's problems are as such closely interlinked. The most critical challenge for our leaders is to tackle them before we fall further towards disaster.

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Friends of the Taliban


As the joint session of parliament, called to create consensus on the issue of terrorism and the battle against it, continues, it seems evident the Taliban have friends in high places. The JUI-F leader has, for instance, called for the leaders of the organization to be called to brief the house on their own position. He has described their battle, once more, as one against the US. While other political groups have perhaps not taken quite so direct an approach, there is much ambiguity in the stand. The largest opposition group, the PML-N, has for instance refused to clarify quite what its position on militancy is, even while lashing out at the military briefing given to parliamentarians by army officers as 'superficial'.

It seems quite obvious that a great deal of confusion lurks everywhere. It is impossible to believe actions that include the bombing of public places killing thousands of innocent persons over the last five years, the beheading of people accused of being spies or the bombing of schools can be condoned by responsible politicians. If they do indeed support such measures, their constituents must ask if these views indeed represent their own opinions. What seems to have happened is that terrorism continues to be seen as a battle against a foreign super power. This is the factor that is making it so hard to unite opinion and build a single front even on a basic point of agreement that militancy needs to be combated by all means possible. Small steps can help. The government needs to stop calling the conflict a 'war on terror'. This phrase, picked up from Washington, is associated with US leaders and their allies. The militants should also not be referred to as 'religious extremists'. There is of course nothing even remotely religious in their words or their deeds. In other words, a new approach needs to be taken to the whole issue. It seems that so far the military briefing has had only a limited impact in terms of persuading leaders to alter thinking. Nor indeed should army officers be expected to achieve this. It is up to political leaders, who will now be discussing the matter at the secret session, to thrash out the points of contention, to find a strategy that is acceptable to all, and, most importantly, to chalk out the outlines of a path that we can follow into a more stable and safer future for us and for the generations to come.
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Old Wednesday, October 15, 2008
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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Road to China


Sticking to tradition, President Asif Ali Zardari has chosen China for his first, full-fledged visit overseas as head of state. But the trip is far more significant than a customary 'good will' visit to a friendly country. Pakistan is urgently seeking assistance to help it tide over a crippling financial crisis. While news from Washington, where the prime minister's adviser on finance is meeting IMF and World Bank leaders, that a bail-out is in the offing, means a cautious sigh of relief has been heaved in Islamabad, Pakistan will still be seeking Chinese support to guide its ship to safer shores. While agreements on trade and commerce are expected to be signed, it is believed an immediate loan on soft terms may also be sought. The high-powered delegation accompanying the president, including the ministers for foreign affairs, defence, finance and the environment, indicates key issues are to come up for discussion.

There is also speculation that Pakistan may seek a nuclear deal with China, to offset the US-India agreement. Pakistan, like India, faces an energy crisis, to which enhanced nuclear technology offers an answer. But there is as yet no confirmation that this will be on the agenda. What is known is that Pakistan is seeking Chinese assistance in improving its security know-how. The adviser on interior has indeed gone to China ahead of the president, to discuss the purchase of equipment and the security situation as a whole. These are to include scanners, arms for security officials and other materials that can assist the country in dealing with terror. China of course, at this particular time, has a key interest in the issue given that two of its citizens are in Taliban custody after being taken hostage.

For Pakistan of course, ties with China are important. The alliance with the Asian giant over the decades brought it many benefits. Agreements on buying equipment and so on from Beijing can also help offset dependence on the US, as well as negative perceptions in the country regarding relations with this super-power. It is of course unwise to bank on just one friend, especially an ally as unreliable as Washington has on past occasions proved to be for many nations that aligned with it. Today, China is also eager to develop a closer relationship with India, its neighbour to the east. Together, the two nations form a potentially powerful duo, housing a huge chunk of the world's population and making rapid advances in the field of technology. Rather than feeling threatened by this new development, Pakistan needs to create a situation in which it can too fit into the alliance. Realistically, it is of course irrational to demand Beijing choose between New Delhi and Islamabad, as some hawks have suggested. Indeed, with the elected government having already indicated it is eager to build closer ties with India, and with over five decades of friendship with China to build on, Pakistan is ideally stationed to work with both these nations. Indeed, a growing system of cooperation between all three nations could benefit the people of Pakistan immensely. The opportunity then must not be missed and every effort made to ensure Pakistan, as an Asian nation, can form a part of the new order many analysts believe is set to evolve in the continent as India and China move closer.

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Water woes


The issue of water that Pakistan claims India has 'stolen' from the River Chenab, by using 200,000 acre feet to fill the Baglihar Dam, and not making releases Pakistan is entitled to, has emerged as another bone of contention between the two countries. Under the 1960 Indus Water Treaty, that determined how water is to be shared between the two nations, water from the three western rivers of the Indus River System, the Indus, the Jhelum and the Chenab is to be used exclusively by Pakistan. Pakistan had already objected that the Baglihar Dam on the river violated this accord, with third-party mediation on the issue leading to changes in its design. Pakistan's government is now stated to have received reports that state India plans to build up to 12 dams on the Chenab. This, it is feared, will not only damage Pakistan in terms of food security, with India able to cut off water flows used to irrigate lands, but also act as a threat in the event of war given that waterways form important natural barriers. An ability to dry out a major river would give India a strategic advantage.

These issues are now being taken up with India. Pakistan has warned it will seek third-party arbitration if they are not amicably resolved. Islamabad's concerns are justified. India's control over water that flows into Pakistan has repeatedly emerged as a source of tension between the two countries. The only way to avoid such problems arising is for the 1960 accord to be respected. India has, on more than one occasion, attempted to violate its spirit if not its letter, by seeking loopholes and technical flaws that can be used to its advantage. But in all this, there is also another message. The interests of the two countries are so closely linked, that they can be protected only by establishing closer ties. A failure to do so will bring only more episodes of discord, over river water, over dams, over toxic dumping in drains and over illegal border crossings. Immediately, India must compensate Pakistan for the water denied to it. In the longer term both countries must work towards building more trust and a relationship that enables them to work together as friends rather than foes.

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Sound of music


A popular Pashto language singer, Haroon Bacha, is in New York seeking refuge from the Taliban who he alleges have threatened to kill him. The musician, one of the more popular vocalists from his province, spoke of performances being forcibly stopped, of obscene calls made to him and his family and of death warnings issued to him. He has been performing at a concert arranged by Pashto-speakers in the US to help the desperate artiste, whose family remains in Peshawar.

The plight of singers, musicians and folk performers driven out of Peshawar and other parts of NWFP by extremists has been an issue ignored for far too long. A bazaar in the city where musical instruments were sold and where musicians gathered was closed down, and shops ransacked, soon after the 2002 election that brought the MMA to power. The campaign against them and the subsequent ban on music in public places destroyed much of the Frontier's rich musical heritage. Some performers fled Peshawar, others were driven to destitution. Their stories of persecution, of fear, of poverty, are immensely tragic ones. The ANP government needs to act. Music, songs and dance are a part of life in every culture. Striking them a death blow and using force against artists amounts to an attempt to cripple that culture. This must not be allowed to happen simply because of the whim of zealots determined to stamp their insanity on the society within which they live.
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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Stand against terror


The joint session of parliament, aimed at building an accord on terror, continues. The PML-N remains displeased with proceedings and its parliamentarians have been no more convinced by the information minister's briefing on the issue than they were by military presentations. Astonishingly, Mian Nawaz Sharif has now asked party members to formulate a policy on terror. Hard as it is to believe, it appears the party had not discussed the matter previously, even as bombs blasted in cities and battles between militants and the army raged across northern areas. On a more positive note, the PML-N chief has instructed his party not to use the issue of terror to score political points. On the other hand, the government must note that it needs to ensure the full picture is put out before public representatives. An exercise that remains cosmetic will serve little real purpose.

But several factors, outside parliament, seem to be coming right for the government. While tribal jirgas have reaffirmed their commitment to take on militants, despite the dastardly attack that killed at least 80 at such a gathering in Orakzai, ulema from all schools of thought, after a meeting in Lahore, have delivered an edict terming suicide bombings un-Islamic. The winds then seem to be changing. The government needs to fan them still harder and faster. The suggestion by the ulema, that an All Parties' Conference be held, including parties not represented in the assembly, to find means to tackle terror may be a plan worth considering.

But, from the response both of opposition parties in parliament and the wording of the edict delivered by scholars who stated a US agenda was being pursued, on the pretext of countering terror, it is imperative this issue be addressed. The government has to find a way to persuade people that fighting terror is necessary for the sake of the internal stability of Pakistan. The fact that both the government and the army lack credibility, and both are seen as being closely bound to US interests, means that all kinds of conjecture and conspiracy theories crop up regularly. The doubts they create make the task of battling militancy harder. The joint session of parliament should be used to clear these doubts, which are clouding thinking and creating unresolved dissent. Indeed, the government should also consider an open session of debate on the issue, so that people can judge where their representatives stand. The need, after all is to create greater consensus. Citizens too should be allowed to play a part in this effort.

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Beyond the communiqués


The dour joint communiqué issued at the end of talks in New Delhi between Pakistan's National Security Adviser Mahmud Ali Durrani and his Indian counterpart, M K Narayanan gives little away. Couched in the staid language of government, it speaks only of a discussion on 'bilateral issues' in a cordial environment. But, voices that speak from behind the scenes indicate far more exciting developments took place during the meeting, and at its sidelines. This mood of elation is said also to have been picked up on by Pakistani diplomats in the Indian capital. Discussions, both between the security advisers and others meeting at a more informal level, suggest both sides are eager to move ahead on key issues. It is believed one of these issues is Kashmir. Both the Pakistan president and the Indian prime minister have suggested in recent talks that they are ready to look at new ideas to try and find some kind of settlement to this issue. There is also a sense of urgency and a desire to achieve solid results before the current coalition government in India completes its tenure next year. Though hawks on both sides of the border will attempt to stop progress, and indeed have already begun their endeavour to do so, the evidence of a strong commitment in both countries to press ahead with a quest for change is a positive sign.

The fact that Pakistan's NSA also met the Indian prime minister is too encouraging, as is his meeting with the chief of the BJP. Mr Durrani is a man who knows the Indian side well, has met with them before in various capacities and seems to be at ease with them. His cordial personal interaction with Mr Narayanan is also important. Too often, personal hostilities and bias influence bilateral ties. This is true not only in the context of India and Pakistan, but in the broader international context too. US President Harry S Truman's undisguised distaste for his Soviet counterpart, Joseph Stalin, was after all a factor in the emergence of the Cold War. Truman's predecessor, Roosevelt, had in contrast been able to develop a close understanding with the dictator. In this respect, the warm glow of friendship emanating from New Delhi is significant. The two NSAs have spoken of the destinies of their countries being tied together. Divisive issues such as the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul have been discussed. This marks a big step forward and may act as the starting point for a walk towards a changed relationship with India.

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Power politics


The Pakistan Electric Power Company (PEPCO) has stated it is facing an increased deficit of 4,000MW against a demand of 14,000MW, forcing it to carry out loadshedding of up to ten hours a day. In some parts of Lahore, and in other towns across Punjab, residents complain the duration of power cuts exceed even this period, with protests staged in many places against the inconvenience and loss of production caused by the problem. Small factories and businesses unable to afford generators have been virtually crippled, forcing the layoff of hundreds of workers. Hospitals too have been badly hit.

The minister for water and power has now stated a 'shake-up' within PEPCO will take place, to remove 'inefficient' employees. There has also been a rebuke to PEPCO for staging unannounced loadshedding lasting hours. But reports in the press state all this show of government ire is nothing more than a staged stunt. Officials in PEPCO say the action against it is intended only to cover up the fact that the country's energy crisis has necessitated ten hours without power. An admission of this would damage the government. Public patience is already running low given the energy crisis has remained unresolved for six months. The advent of better weather in Punjab only slightly improves the public mood. PEPCO blames increased loadshedding on a reduction in water releases from Mangla and Tarbela, combined with reduced gas supplies to power units. But what people most urgently want to know is what is being done to overcome this crisis. So far, no answers are forthcoming. The power issue has become an increasingly pressing one for government but, so far, it has seemed more anxious to thrust blame on other shoulders rather than to find ways to remedy the situation which continues to grow grimmer by the day.
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Friday, October 17, 2008


Visit to China


President Zardari has completed a successful visit to China, with the two sides signing 12 agreements. The focus is on enhancing economic and trade cooperation between the two countries. The Pakistani president also made it a point during his visit to encourage investment, offering preferred treatment to Chinese firms. He spoke also of the opportunities Pakistan offered in various sectors given its strategic geographical location and the presence within the country of many resources. Naturally enough, the Pakistani leader did not mention the bomb blasts, the other terrorist threats or the kidnappings of foreign nationals that today cause the country to make headlines. But at home, policy makers must recognize that it is difficult, indeed impossible, to persuade investors into the country given the prevailing environment. A few days ago, a Polish company involved in land surveying in the Attock district, pulled out all of its' staff following the abduction of an employee. The fate of local personnel engaged by the firm is unknown, but people who were being paid a monthly sum as compensation for the use of their land for the survey have been turned away without their cheques from barricaded doors. Other companies too are reported to have reduced the presence of people on the ground, with the recent abduction of two Chinese engineers demonstrating it is not just westerners who are under threat. In these circumstances, it is hard to imagine any great willingness to take up investment opportunities in Pakistan. Competition of course is tough, with other Asian countries offering similar advantages and fewer risks. The fact that despite these grim realities China has extended offers of help in so many areas, including mineral development, agricultural research, satellite procurement and technical cooperation is encouraging. It demonstrates the value of Pakistan's warm ties with Beijing and also the success of President Zardari's first major overseas trip.

But, friendship should go beyond the signing of documents or the hosting of elaborate banquets. Friends, after all, should learn from each other – and China has much it can teach Pakistan. In 1949, when the country emerged from a long civil war as the People's Republic of China, conditions within it were not vastly different to those of Pakistan in 1947. Disease, poverty and illiteracy were all features of life for the Chinese people. Industry was virtually non-existent, the infrastructure was limited and feudal overlords dominated the countryside. Since then, China, within six decades, has undergone a sea change. Forecasts by international agencies predict it will be a super-power within 20 years. It is already a hub of international manufacturing and business. From all this, its people have benefited – in terms of employment, education and the quality of life. Sadly, Pakistan cannot claim such advances. Indeed, while some gains have of course been made, in other spheres things seem to have remained static or even slipped backwards. Indeed some say that in 1947 there was less corruption than is the case now, wheat was cheap and available in abundance and some administrative systems were better run. The failure to live up to the potential available in a country that had ample agricultural lands, natural resources and manpower, is saddening.

Much time has been lost. Pakistan today faces what seems like collapse. Literacy levels are still low, hunger is endemic, disease rampant. To add to these woes, the state's coffers have emptied, the power crisis has forced the closure of thousands of textile mills and the law and order situation is a source of great instability. But even now, Pakistan perhaps needs to look at what lessons it can learn from China. Its success, even though days of dark repression marred it, has been a phenomenal one. We must hope that along with their sheaves of paper, their gifts and their souvenirs, Pakistan's high-powered delegation also brings back with it some of the commitment that has underpinned China's progress and some of the dedication that has, through the years, driven it steadily forward.

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Jail deaths


At least five prisoners have been killed and 13 others injured after guards opened fire on prisoners that officials say were attempting to break out from the Malir District Jail at Landhi. Unruly scenes of rioting were seen as prisoners set jail offices and records on fire. This is of course not the first incident of its kind. Just weeks ago, riots broke out at the Hyderabad Jail, where prisoners climbed atop the roof of the prison, complaining about inadequate food and poor conditions. In the past few years, similar protests have taken place at various jails across the country. The situation within each of these 82 prisons is in most cases appalling. A key issue is overcrowding. The jails hold almost 90,000 inmates, most of them housing numbers that are far beyond their authorized capacity. The Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore, for instance, has a capacity for 1,053 prisoners. Nearly 4,000 inmates are held at it. Similarly, the Karachi Central Jail, with a capacity for 1,691 held 5,450 according to figures for 2007. At the same time, the Malir Jail, built to house 893, held 3,110. An identical situation can be seen across jails everywhere in Punjab and Sindh.

The conditions mean up to ten prisoners may be crammed into cells intended to hold two or three. Some prisoners have in the past complained they are literally unable to lie stretched out at night. To add to this, inadequate budgets, combined with corruption, means grossly inadequate food. As a result disease rampages through jails, adding to the misery of prisoners. Torture and brutality are endemic and rules are rarely adhered too. Gangs of prisoners in some cases are known to control jails, in connivance with staff.

The present setup in Islamabad is headed by a prime minister and a president who have both spent years behind bars, in some of the country's most notorious jails. More than anyone else, they would be aware of the plight of prisoners, the vast majority of whom are not convicts but are still facing trial. Now that they have moved into the palatial residences in Islamabad that their offices entitle them to, these men must look back through the years to their days in jail and taken immediate measures to remedy the plight of those held there. The purpose of detaining a criminal must also, after all, include some attempt at reform. This is the principal behind modern jails. Pakistan's prisons in contrast remain stuck in a time zone, full of Dickensian horrors, with the insane, the sick, the addicted all held together. Until this is changed, more incidents such as that seen in Karachi will take place. The issue of jails requires immediate attention.
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Monday, October 20, 2008

Unwinnable wars


When the coalition forces declared themselves victorious in Afghanistan after the overthrow of the Taliban government they were fooling nobody but themselves. That the Taliban had been toppled was undeniable - but they had not been militarily defeated in any conventional sense. There had been no decisive battle with a clear winner and in the end the Taliban chose not to fight a battle that they could never win and went home; back to whatever it was they were doing before they toppled the Russians. The Afghan insurgency began the day the Taliban left Kabul and has continued ever since.

The battle for Afghanistan, at least in the south and east, is now stalemated. The Taliban cannot wipe out the coalition and the coalition cannot wipe out the Taliban. The realities of this en-passe have been exposed for us by Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, the commander of UK forces in Helmand province who recently said that “a decisive military victory” was unlikely, that dialogue with elements of the Taliban was the way forward and there was probably always going to be a steady level of rural insurgency no matter that there be a positive outcome to talks. He went on to say that the goal now was to change the way debates were resolved in the country so that violence was not the first option considered. This is clearly in the mind of General Petraeus who takes over as head of US Central Command on Oct 31 and who has already put in motion a reassessment of regional strategy which is likely to have two principal themes: - a government-led reconciliation with Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the bringing into play of diplomatic and economic initiatives with nearby countries that are influential in the war – and perhaps including India.

The people that Brig Carleton-Smiths and General Petraeus’ soldiers are fighting are in all likelihood the same people that General Kayani’s men are fighting in Bajaur, north and south Waziristan and the Swat valley. The same reality holds good on either side of the border and the Taliban fighting in Afghanistan are not going to be defeated any more than the Taliban who live within our own borders are going to be crushed militarily. The current insurgency in Afghanistan and the insurgency in Pakistan have some similarities; and both are open to similar solutions. The Taliban are not homogeneous. They are made up of widely differing groups with no centralised command. Some of them will never give up fighting, but others of a more pragmatic frame of mind could be brought to the table. Those who want to fight will always have to be fought, but those who are willing to talk need to be given the space and place for dialogue to develop, for the creation of a post-conflict zone within which reconstruction and development may begin anew.

There are elements of the war being fought today that are American, but the majority of it is ‘ours’ and was being fought long before 9/11 with those wishing to impose a particular form of Islam being in conflict with the state. We cannot win America’s war but we can win our own. We will have to continue to fight those who will never make peace and who would overthrow the state, but we will also have to talk to those who can be persuaded to do so; and then carry on talking until we move to a place somewhere between war and peace. Winning our war by fighting alone ceased to be an option years ago.

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A ray of hope


Reports that a cabinet committee has recommended ‘drastic’ revisions to the Frontier Crimes Regulations will warm the hearts of many in the human rights and civil liberties lobbies, not to mention the communities that have suffered under this relic of colonial lawmaking. Long regarded as a ‘black law’ the 1901 FCR has been a Damoclean sword that has hung over those living in the tribal agencies and six frontier regions. The laws were devised by the British as a means of controlling the Pakhtoons, and their abolition or revision is long overdue. The recommendations of the committee are to be placed before the cabinet which, one hopes, will take due cognizance of them. The committee is not proposing to abolish the FCR as demanded by many, and it may be that the proposals now on the table are an interim step towards that goal.

The current legislation flies in the face of modern jurisprudence and the values of a civilised society. Family members may be jailed for crimes committed by the head of the family, his brother or any other blood relative. Houses may be razed to the ground and property destroyed under the ‘collective responsibility’ provision. Innocent men, women ands children have been convicted – including children under the age of two years – for crimes they did not commit. Proceedings were not recorded. Individuals may be convicted twice for the same crime – the list of iniquities seems endless.

The new amendments will require the political agent or the DCO to appoint a council of elders in civil matters and disputes in the agencies will be referred to a joint council, of elders appointed by the governor. There will be protection against ‘double conviction’ and in future all proceedings will be properly recorded. The much-hated provision of ‘collective responsibility’ will be amended so that no woman or child under 16 will be arrested, nor any person over 65. In future, only the immediate male relatives of tribal members involved in ‘subversive action’ against the state will be detained. For the first time there will be a right of appeal against the decision of the DCO or political agent – hitherto denied. A FATA tribunal will be constituted which will have the powers of a high court as under article 199 of the Constitution and the accounts of the tribunal will be audited by the auditor general.

Today, these are only recommendations, and much water is to flow under the bridge before we see the FCR revised; but it is to be fervently hoped that the recommendations are adopted and find their way into law, and that the final dismantling of this pernicious colonial anachronism is on the near horizon.
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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Karachi blasts revisited


On the anniversary of the October 18 blasts in Karachi, a second FIR has been lodged by the Sindh government under sections of the law pertaining to murder, attempted murder, causing a bomb blasts and terrorism. Two blasts, one larger than the other, had tragically struck a rally in Karachi held to welcome Benazir Bhutto back into the country after years of self-imposed exile. The blasts killed 150 people and injured twice that number. Bhutto herself escaped narrowly. Her own attempt to lodge a second FIR – the first having been lodged by the authorities, was challenged by the PML-Q government in office in Sindh at the time.

So far in the investigation, over 430 statements have been recorded by police investigators. Despite this Herculean exercise, we seem to be no closer to discovering the truth about who staged the attack. PPP allegations that streetlights were switched off before the bomber struck or that explosives may have been tied to an infant who was brought close to the vehicle carrying Ms Bhutto, have not been followed up on. What is most significant about the second FIR are the accompanying statements, from both President Asif Ali Zardari and the Sindh chief minister, that three persons nominated by the late chairperson of the PPP as being behind the threat posed to her, will be punished. Shah has stated these individuals would indeed be taken into custody. In a letter reportedly sent to then president Pervez Musharraf, Benazir had stated that these persons should be held responsible were she to be killed. The nomination of course becomes all the more significant given that just weeks after the October blasts, which quite obviously constituted a well-planned attempt on her life, Benazir was indeed assassinated in Rawalpindi in a crime that was just as carefully orchestrated and just as meticulously chalked out.

The identity of the three persons named by Benazir has never been officially disclosed. President Musharraf had scoffed at any possibility that persons close to him could have a hand in the murder and had emphatically insisted extremists were behind it. However, newspaper reports state the names written out by Benazir were of former IB chief Ejaz Shah, former ISI chief Hamid Gul and former Punjab chief minister Pervaiz Elahi. PPP leaders say these men could have worked with Taliban elements to eliminate Bhutto. All the three men are reported to be still in Pakistan. Immediately after the October blasts, General (r) Hamid Gul had indeed served a legal notice on Benazir for accusing him of involvement. He has dismissed the charges as being ludicrous.

There can be no doubt that many aspects of the October 18 blasts and Benazir's assassination remain unclear. The Taliban chief, Baitullah Mehsud, has denied involvement. The reliability of evidence pointing towards him is questionable. We certainly need a full investigation into the blasts which claimed so many innocent lives. They changed too the very nature of politics, serving as a reminder that the joyous, carefree rallies that had been a part of campaigns at every stage in the country's history were no longer possible. Every attempt should then be made to uncover the truth. But what is most important is that the exercise be undertaken in a credible way. There must be no element of political vendetta or revenge. Too often in our country, guilt has been attributed on the basis of political affiliation rather than hard evidence. This must change. The shadows that make it impossible to discern truth from fiction must be lifted, but in a manner intended to arrive at facts rather than simply to gain political mileage. This is the most fitting tribute that can be paid to those who died in Karachi that day; many among them were young guards who did all they could to protect their leader even at the costs of their own lives.

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Empty hands


Pakistan may be forced soon to knock at the International Monetary Fund's doors if it remains unable to acquire the bail-out it is desperately seeking to avoid a financial meltdown from other quarters. While the government has not yet spoken of turning to the IMF, negotiations scheduled in Abu Dhabi this week are rumoured to be intended to pave the way for the swift extension of a loan should the need arise. The adviser on finance, who is playing the leading role in Pakistan's effort to escape bankruptcy, has already said this would be the only option left if Pakistan failed to secure funding within 30 days.

The possibility that it may not obtain help from other quarters is now very real. According to the New York Times, China politely but firmly turned down a request from president Zardari for an injection of US$ 1.5 to 3 billion that it needs to stay afloat. Recent reports have stated the country barely has enough foreign exchange to pay for one month's worth of exports. Though China had come to Pakistan's aid during similar crisis in 1996, it seems unwilling to do so this time round. Other traditional 'hard-time' allies have been no more forthcoming. The US is locked in its own financial war, with no immediate extra cash in hand that it is willing to easily part with. The Saudi meanwhile have refused to commit themselves to an oil facility on deferred payments. The finance adviser has stated that Pakistan's next plan of action was to turn to the 'Friends of Pakistan' forum set up recently in New York, but if it returns empty-handed from there too, than the IMF may be the only source left.

The prospects of a return to an IMF imposed regime are not pleasant to contemplate. Over the past decade, more and more nations have indeed abandoned the monetary organization, which more and more economists hold responsible for the economic decline witnessed in countries such as Argentina. Islamabad had made valiant efforts to stay away from the IMF, although the recent cuts in oil and power subsidies are part of conditions imposed by foreign donors (such as the Fund). Seeking a loan from the organization would bring with it still more conditionalities. The few welfare schemes the government has been able to put in place, such as the Benazir Income Support programme, would face threat. Such cash hand-out programmes have consistently met with IMF disapproval. Other spending would also need to be cut and taxes would have to be raised. For people, the IMF option promises to be a particularly unpalatable one, and for these reasons we must still hope it can be avoided – even though Pakistan seems to be edging closer to the IMF trap by the day.
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The IMF regime


Saturday, October 25, 2008

The IMF, which has over the past two decades lost dozens of customers as increasingly savvy nations quit its harsh regime, looks set to move into Pakistan. Other client nations have moved on, many in Latin America having already adopted policies that can more effectively improve the lives of their people. Talks between a team that includes the SBP governor and IMF officials are on in Dubai. Though the federal finance adviser bravely, if unconvincingly, continues to insist the $4.5 billion the country needs within 30 days could be obtained from other sources, and the IMF will be approached only as a last resort, it does appear the options for Pakistan are running out. Aid, in the form of instant cash, is not readily available from any quarter though another approach seems likely to be made to China during the prime minister's visit to the country.

According to a report in this newspaper, the IMF is likely to impose a set of extremely tough conditions in return for the $9.6 billion it is ready to lend for the next three years at an unreasonably high rate of interest. These include a 30 per cent cut in defence expenditure over the next four years. Though accepting dictation from a party that now holds the finance-strapped country in its grip is never pleasant, the fact is that this may not altogether be a bad thing. It is obvious to more and more people in the country that the enormous expenditure on defence that slices out a huge chunk of the budget must be curbed, if Pakistan is to invest capital in its poverty-stricken people and move to improve their plight. This is indeed the only way to build a stronger country. The most serious threat we face today to security comes in the form of militancy and this menace is largely a product of the immense socio-economic disparity we see everywhere. Investing in people, in their education, in their welfare and in their future can create a stronger, more united country. For the same reasons the IMF demands that the amounts given out as pension to thousands each year be limited and agricultural production be taxed may make economic sense. It also gives us cause to re-think our priorities.

But, as we all know from our experience over many decades, the IMF regimes tend to work against poor people rather than for them. The demands put forward by Fund officials in Dubai for an increase in revenues by expanding GST collection falls in this category. The increased costs of products on which tax is levied are of course almost always passed on to consumers. The impact of IMF demands for a cut in subsidies is already upon us. Still greater demands will be made, putting a firmer squeeze on hard-pressed people who, after the removal of the oil subsidy and cuts in power and gas subsidies are already finding life almost unlivable. The desperate plight of people everywhere is visible at workshops, tailoring outfits, photocopying shops where work simply cannot be completed due to the energy crisis and livelihoods simply cannot be earned. Thousands of those who can have already made their exodus from the country fleeing to lands where they hope for improved conditions of life.

In the existing circumstances, it is unclear what the government can do. Immediately there seem to be no options other than the IMF. But in the longer term it is imperative Pakistan's leaders take a hold of matters. This can happen only when they more genuinely commit themselves to the welfare of people and to the task of ensuring greater economic sustainability and stability. It is a dismal failing that a country with as many resources as Pakistan and with so much human potential should today have been brought to its knees on such a fashion, forced to turn to the IMF. The demands being made by the organization are, of course, in part bargaining chips. Some will, through the process of negotiation, be dropped or watered down. But despite this, the fact is the terms will be harsh. No nation reduced to the plight Pakistan faces today should expect more. Once again its people will pay the price for the folly of its leaders, who as yet show few signs of having recognized the gravity of the situation.


Power of parliament


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Acting as a body representing those who eight months ago voted it into power, the parliament, for the first time since it was elected, has moved on behalf of the people. It has called for the 31 per cent raise in power prices announced several weeks ago to be halted, until a parliamentary committee, which is to meet with officials of the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) and representatives from ministries can try and chalk out a solution acceptable to all stakeholders. Media personnel and civil society spokespeople are also likely to be invited to attend the consultation. Till then, people who have received bills at the new rates have been asked to hold on to them till a decision can be made.

The move comes on the directions of the president and the prime minister, and in a situation in which thousands of enraged people have staged countrywide protests. The expression of public anger has been especially heated in Punjab, where people in towns across the province took to the streets for the fourth consecutive day Thursday, in some cases clashing with police. Some attempted to enter offices of power distribution companies where officials barricaded doors and took cover. The delivery of bills at the new rate has enraged consumers, who have faced the increase at a time when the supply of the commodity they are being asked to pay for has reached an all-time low. Cities face nine hours of load-shedding. In smaller towns and in rural areas the duration is often closer to 14 or 15 hours, if not more. Consumers have also complained that, as per a formula devised by power companies they are being charged an amount that exceeds the rate set even under the new rate. This allegation is denied by power companies, although there have been vague rumours of directions to this effect given from higher levels of government. The parliamentary committee must assess all these accusations before arriving at its decision.

The outpouring of public grievance onto the streets should demonstrate to government that there is a limit to how far, and how hard, people can be pressed. It is obvious that the new demand made on them through the dramatic raise in the price of power is impossible for most to bear. Many have already burnt their bills, unable to pay them. The message is clear. The government cannot hope to put its own disorderly house to rights by victimizing people who have in no way contributed to the creation of the mess in the first place. The intervention by parliament is welcome. One must now hope the committee that has been set up can truly act in favour of the people and devise a means to make power available at a more rational rate.
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Sunday, October 26, 2008

A sense of relief


The parliamentary committee set up to review power bills decided to defer full payment on the new rates set for power till a verdict by a sub-committee which will assess the increase of around 31 percent made by NEPRA in the power tariff. The delivery of bills to consumers at the new price had sparked off furious, countrywide protests. Many consumers had burnt their bills, stating that they would not pay them. It is believed that one of the factors behind the government announcement that bills be paid at a reduced rate were fears of widespread default that would plunge power distribution companies into still greater crisis and seriously undermine the writ of government.

The direction given to banks to deduct 40 per cent from the bills as they are presented nevertheless brings some relief to consumers. The deduction will mean that, in effect, the previous rate has been restored. A final decision on the matter will be taken by the sub-committee which is to assess the situation and submit recommendations to the government. The demonstration by the government that it is willing to hear the voice of people is welcome. Even though the wave of anger ignited by crippling loadshedding combined with inflated bills should have been anticipated and the raise considered in the light of the overall situation before it was imposed, it is still better to act late rather than not at all. In the recent past we have seen too many ugly sights of people attempting only to draw attention to their grievances being ruthlessly bludgeoned by police goons acting on orders to quell any display of dissent. Such attacks, on journalists, on teachers, on lawyers and on ordinary citizens, had been one of the especially distasteful aspects the last military regime led by former president Pervez Musharraf. One of the many merits of democracy, no matter how flawed its working may be, is that governments are more receptive to public will and less willing to use brutal force against them.

But the decision taken regarding the power tariff must not be over-played. There are still very real fears that the increase will be restored, fully or partially and that the committee may well be a temporary measure to deflect severe public criticism and anger. The power protests must be regarded as evidence of the wider plight of people. The government must remember that its primary duty is to these people. The decision regarding the power tariff is a miniscule one when superimposed on the full picture. The degree of human misery and the extent of frustration over a system of rule that has been unable to provide the people with basic needs is currently immense. This problem needs to be addressed. The leadership needs to demonstrate it is willing and able to do so. Otherwise we will have more crises such as the one created by the power riots. A holistic strategy is needed to tackle the desperation that exists everywhere. Piecemeal solutions, like the temporary suspension of the power price raise, will in the long run serve little purpose.

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Beyond the begging bowl


As Pakistan continues to thrust its begging bowl in all directions with growing anxiety, seeking the cash handout it so urgently needs to survive, there are indications from Beijing that the Chinese may have taken, finally, pity on their ally. Reports in this newspaper state a 'soft loan' of $1.5 billion and investment of $3.7 billion may be offered. This will obviously come in handy, though it will not solve the immediate problem. To resolve this Pakistan needs an amount of around $4.5 billion.

The current crisis has all brought us staring face to face with the full extent of the country's financial woes. Till now, slick-tongued managers had been able to cover up the true state of the economy. Instead we were told it was booming and that the increased ownership of mobile phones was evidence of this. All this has proven to be a myth. The consequences of years, possibly decades, of lies and figure-fudging are upon us. Even opposition parties concede the present ills are an inheritance from the past and not the doing of the present government. Signing up for a loan with the IMF seems to be the only option, but it will extract a terrible price. Already, hunger threatens millions. These numbers, under IMF-dictated policies, will inevitably grow, perhaps even taking the form of mobs. Many have already predicted such a future if inflation continues to climb.

While the adviser on finance is quite obviously doing his best to manage an almost impossible situation, it seems apparent we need far more intense and more insightful economic planning. The government needs to hire a team of experts for this purpose. The problems cannot be handled by amateurs. Beyond finding money to bail us out immediately, and pocketing what we can from hand-outs offered by the Chinese or by other friends, we must begin the task of putting our own house in order. Rather than fiscal managers, this is a task for economists with vision and commitment. So far, despite the enormity of our crisis, there has been no visible effort to bring such experts on board. This must happen without further delay, so that the planning we badly need can be put in place. We cannot depend indefinitely on external help. The true challenge is to develop policies that ensure we do not need it.

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Lawson's ouster


Pakistan's Australian cricket coach, Geoff Lawson, has been quite ignominiously sacked. The Pakistan Cricket Board, currently undergoing a major resurrection under a new head, has opted to have him pack his bags and depart. Lawson had been under attack in recent days for failing to remedy Pakistan's faltering performance. In this he fared no better than his immediate predecessor, the late Bob Woolmer, under whose stewardship Pakistan crashed out of the 2006 World Cup in its very initial stages or Richard Pybus, the first of Pakistan's string of foreign coaches. As the pendulum swings, it now seems a Pakistani coach is to take over the reins as coach.

The manner in which Lawson's exit has come about does little to enhance the reputation or credibility of Pakistan's cricket. The goings on of the past few weeks, as allegations against past office-bearers are freely hurled and accusations of every kind bandied about, only add to the impression that the PCB is a hot bed of intrigue and of all kinds of politicking. But this having been said, it is questionable if foreign coaches hold the key to an improvement in on-the-field performances. Certainly, the three we have seen produced no miracles. It is unfair to expect them to do so, given the constraints of language, culture, even cricketing style, which they have had to contend with. Pakistani cricket has always produced maverick wonders who simply do not conform to text-books. Bowlers such as Sarfraz Nawaz who pioneered reverse swing or Javed Miandad with his cheeky reverse sweep technique, are examples of this. Such talent is still available. What we need is leadership, of the calibre offered by the likes of Imran Khan or even Wasim Akram, to bring ability together on the field coupled with improvements in domestic structure to hone skill and ensure our players can live up to their potential in the international arena.
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Monday, October 27, 2008

To be or not to be?


Whilst Pakistan has no shortage of ‘culture’ in the broadest sense, it is something of a cultural desert when it comes to displaying and promoting national arts and cultural activities. There was a long-delayed step in the direction of improving matters with the inauguration of the new National Gallery in Islamabad last year but as is often the way in this paradoxical nation, as one door opens, another closes. The dispute over the National Academy of Performing Arts in Karachi is the door at issue today, and it is looking increasingly like this unique national resource is under the axe. Good theatres are few and far between and good training in the theatrical and performing arts are about as rare as hen’s teeth, with NAPA providing the principal pool in which performing arts students may learn their craft.

NAPA is currently situated in the Hindu Gymkhana and the crux of the dispute is around a new building which has been constructed on the site. The legality of the new building is itself in dispute but of perhaps greater significance to the Sindh government is the fact that the building – legal or otherwise – was constructed with money channelled from the Musharraf government. There has been no change to the original structure of the Hindu Gymkhana so there can be no suggestion that a historic monument has been in some way interfered with or modified, and there is no apparent demand from the Hindus for the return of the building to their own community. The building that has so offended the Sindh government is anyway unfinished and requires substantial funding to turn it from a half-completed shell to the finished item. The location of the Hindu Gymkhana in a middle-class part of the city is likely to ensure that were the new building completed it would soon start to pay its way – as anybody who saw the attendance figures for the recent production of ‘Chicago’ could deduce.

We suggest that the Sindh government stands back and takes a deep breath before turfing out the students and faculty from NAPA. Put aside petty politics and the phoney arguments that underpin their dog-in-the-manger desire to erase the works of a previous regime and take a wider and more egalitarian view. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the new building may be, two wrongs do not make a right. We as a nation need this resource, the more so at a time when our culture at every level is under attack from the barbarians who would banish music from our ears and film and theatre from our eyes. The bold step would be to take up the challenge of completing the new building, leaving NAPA where it is and then, a couple of years down the line, treating us all to a festival of the performing arts the like of which Pakistan has never seen before. Be bold, Sindh government, and make an investment in our cultural future – many will thank you if you do, and an equal number will curse you if you don’t.

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Making of ministers

Even five months after the PML-N pulled out of the government, the cabinet has not been expanded. This means that ministers hold up to four portfolios, and, quite naturally, are unable to do justice to any. Additions to the cabinets have been expected for weeks. We are now told this process is being held up because there is an untidy scramble for key posts. Coalition parties are locked in a tussle for ministries that are seen as the most prestigious – and the most lucrative. Those who are currently ministers wish also to cling on to the most important offices. All kinds of efforts are currently on to retain or acquire offices of choice, with key coalition partners making their own demands. There have been threats of pull-outs if requests are not complied with. The ministries of ports and shipping and of communications are reportedly among those that are being most heatedly fought for.

The whole situation is of course highly unfortunate. It is a reflection, for one, on what a place in government means to those who have won seats. The question of personal power and prestige is paramount; everything else secondary. Even in a situation of acute national crisis, where everything seems to be falling apart all at once, our political parties and the politicians that constitute them have not been able to put self-interest aside. Indeed, many seem to be rather oblivious as to the scale of the problems, blithely insisting at dinners and other receptions that all, in the end, will come right.

All of us earnestly hope that these happy predictions will prove accurate. The alternatives are too fearful to contemplate. But the fact is that wishes, after all, are not horses. The task of rescuing the country from chaos is a pressing one. It can be achieved only through dedication, hard work and a sense of commitment. So far, these qualities seem to be missing from government. Complaints of a sense of ineptness come in from everywhere in Islamabad. There are also many complaints about long delays in decision-making and a lack of direction within ministries. The government’s priority must be to correct existing perceptions on this account. Creating a sense of confidence in government is after all essential to managing national affairs. The prime minister and his advisers must keep in mind the inability to form a cabinet is only adding to this impression of incompetence, while the reports of bickering and in-fighting only go to strengthen the negative impression of our ministers and lower respect for them in the eyes of ordinary people.

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Toll of negligence

A woman and her unborn baby are reported to have died at a government hospital in Lahore after being administered blood that did not match her group. Her complaints of feeling unwell during the transfusion were ignored. Just recently, another report from Rawalpindi spoke of a patient whose leg had to be amputated due to the negligence of doctors. Such reports are of course commonplace in a society where the value of human life is limited. It is most limited of all when it comes to the lives of the poor, who depend on poorly run public sector-health facilities to meet their needs. It is in these facilities, where cats roam wards and patients lie unattended for hours, that negligence is most common, though of course cases also occur at the private facilities that remain largely unregulated.

There are few accurate surveys as to the scale of the problem. But the anecdotal evidence available suggests scores of lives are lost each year as a result of negligence or indifference. Many of the deaths, particularly those that take place outside major cities, of course go unreported. There is no mechanism that can enable the relatives of victims to effectively seek redress. The fact that new cases of such needless deaths are reported everyday indicates an urgent need to look into the issue. Doctors must not be able to get away with such crimes of indifference. The means to review instances of negligence need to be updated so that the cases we hear of so often from facilities across the country can be brought down and lives treated with respect no matter whose they are.
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