Thursday, June 22, 2017

Business Recorder editorial June 21, 2017

Lawyers’ growing misbehaviour A group of lawyers supporting Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) member Maqsood Buttar, a suspect in a missing persons case, ran riot in the Lahore High Court the other day, assaulting counsel Asma Jahangir’s junior associate Barrister Usama Malik, manhandling the complainant Bilquis Zareena, and abusing Asma Jahangir and some other counsel on her team. The case has been brought by Ms Zareena for the recovery of her daughter Ayesha and her grandson Alyan Ali. Ms Ayesha is reported to have been a junior lawyer in Buttar’s office. He later married her (as his second wife) and had a son by her. The habeas corpus petition filed by Bilquis Zareena seeks the recovery of her daughter and grandson who have been missing for the past six months. She fears that their lives are in danger. According to the petitioner, her daughter had informed her that she and Maqsood Buttar had developed differences. Ayesha and her two-year-old son had been living in a flat in Model Town. Bilquis Zareena claims that Maqsood Buttar had tried to kill Ayesha once before by pushing her off a cliff near Murree, causing her multiple injuries and fractures. In November 2016, Bilquis Zareena visited her daughter’s residence in Model Town but she was not there. She also deposed that her family had been receiving threats from Buttar’s side. During the proceedings, Justice Abdul Sami Khan hearing the habeas corpus petition expressed displeasure at the DIG Investigations Sultan Ahmed requesting more time to complete the investigation. The petitioner’s counsel, Barrister Usama Malik, pointed to an all too familiar scenario in which the police had not issued a single summons to any of the suspects, even though an FIR was registered in December 2016. He accused the police of protecting Buttar. On the other hand, arguing on behalf of the legal fraternity, PBC member Ishtiaq Khan argued that the case against his colleague was fabricated, politically motivated, denied Buttar was related to the missing woman, and challenged the maintainability of the petition. After Justice Sami adjourned further hearing till June 23, Buttar’s lawyer supporters attacked Usama Malik, roughing him up and ripping his shirt because of umbrage at his daring to appear against Buttar. They also manhandled the complainant, Bilquis Zareena. While walking out of the court, this bunch of rowdies shouted profanities against Asma Jahangir. This is neither the first nor, given the trajectory of many lawyers’ behaviour since the movement for the restoration of former Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry and members of the superior judiciary removed by military dictator General Pervez Musharraf, likely to be the last. Since that historic movement led by the lawyers community, a strange sense of entitlement bordering on insanity has taken root amongst many in this community. Over the years since that seminal movement, instances of lawyers’ misbehaviour with and even resort to violence against judges, court officials, colleagues and litigants have grown exponentially. This has led many times to judges’ protests and strikes, cases being registered against the offending ‘guardians of the law’ and condemnation by wide swathes of opinion. However, in the absence of deterrent punishment by the judiciary, lawyers’ representative organisations and the authorities, the aggressive misbehaviour of offending lawyers has continued apace. The perpetrators of such abuses, it would be well to remind ourselves, are officers of the court, a status that places upon them the responsibility of upholding the law and the respect and dignity of the judiciary. The malady is by now so widespread that it hardly elicits treatment by the media that reflects its importance as a malign trend or the implications for the functioning of an already beleaguered judicial system, not to mention the offence it causes to every conscious citizen of a civilised society. These bitter fruits of the lawyers’ movement are the unintended consequences of their sense of power after they contributed to the downfall of Musharraf. However, enough is enough. This loutish behavior can no longer be tolerated. If the judiciary, lawyers’ bodies and the authorities fail to stop this trend, the offending lawyers should prepare themselves for a citizens’ backlash that will puncture their inflated egos and seriously affect not just their standing and credibility in society, but their ability to command briefs as well. Citizens’ boycotts are no longer a fantasy, as the brief fruit boycott recently proved. It is still not too late for sense to prevail and the incorrigible black sheep amongst the lawyers to be brought to heel. Failing that, an additional factor of disruption to the business of justice looms.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Business Recorder editorial June 20, 2017

Shutting the stable door… The Rangers, army, intelligence agencies and police personnel carried out a sweeping operation in Karachi jail in the wake of the startling escape of two Lashkar-e-Jhangvi prisoners the other day. The escape was mystery enough. Reportedly, the two men shaved off their beards in a courtroom washroom and then calmly walked out of the main gate of the prison. It boggles the mind how such a bold plan could have succeeded without the complicity of jail staff. If there was even the faintest smidgeon of doubt regarding this suspicion, it was blown away by the results of the sweep and search operation. Around 6,000 prisoners belonging to various political, religious and banned outfits were physically searched and their barracks and cells swept for items not allowed in jail. Lo and behold, the operation netted a veritable treasure trove of illicit things. The list of seized items is self-explanatory: 102 mobile phones, Rs 3.552 million in cash, 18 deep freezers, 449 TVs, 163 LCDs, 995 bracket fans, five packets of heroin, 22 heaters, three DVD players, 30 blankets, 10 scissors, 31 water dispensers, 400 cigarette packets, 45 knives, 46 memory cards and 50 remote control devices and other items. Needless to say, this ‘find’ makes a mockery of the jail manual, rules and security. It is inconceivable, just as in the case of the escape of the two Lashkar-e-Jhangvi terrorists, that any of this could have arrived within the prison walls without the help of the jail staff, from top to bottom. Although 12 of Karachi jail’s staff, including the superintendent and deputy superintendent, were arrested after the escape, what measures would be required now to clean up the Augean stables of the prison beggars description. The operation after the event, regardless of the ‘rich’ discovery, is little more than a face-saving attempt to shut the stable door long after the horse has bolted. Taking their cue from the happenings in Karachi prison, the authorities in their belated wisdom carried out a similar security-oriented mock exercise in Adiala Jail Rawalpindi. Neither operation inspires any confidence in the light of the prisoners’ escape and the considerable ‘illicit’ material recovered in Karachi. It has been common knowledge for many years that our prison security resembles nothing more than a sieve through which almost anything can pass, leavened by money exchanging hands. But if this were the only worry, it would be bad enough. However, one recalls in the light of the discovery of cell phones and anti-jamming devices in Karachi prison, the incident in 2008 when jailed terrorist Omar Saeed Sheikh made hoax calls from inside Hyderabad jail to then president Asif Ali Zardari and the Chief of Army Staff in the wake of the Mumbai attacks posing as an Indian minister and using such threatening language that Pakistan and India went oh high alert. Given the fact that both neighbouring countries are nuclear armed, the incident underlines the scope for mischief because of our rotten, corrupt prison system. Currently, faced with the terrorist threat and the growth of criminal activities, can the citizen rest sanguine that those behind bars can do no further mischief? The woes of governance in Pakistan are too many to recount. As it is, the justice system is virtually dysfunctional if judged by the backlog of cases. If its prison regime too continues to be so decrepit and hopeless, even the stoutest heart must quail before the implications.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Business Recorder Column June 19, 2017

Trump and Cuba Rashed Rahman US President Donald Trump has taken to pandering to the hawkish Cuban exile community in Florida that supported his bid for the presidency. Addressing a meeting of this community in Miami on June 16, 2017 he denounced Cuba’s ‘brutal’ communist regime (throwing in Venezuela for good measure), vowed to restore ‘freedom’ to their homeland, and announced he is cancelling the ‘one-sided’ deal Obama initiated as part of an opening up to Cuba after more than five decades of hostility. He also vowed not to lift the economic sanctions (in fact a total economic embargo) imposed on Cuba soon after Fidel Castro’s revolution triumphed in 1959 until all Cuban political prisoners are freed and free elections held. Trump followed up this foray by issuing a presidential directive to give effect to his declaration. Essentially, the thrust of Trump’s ‘new’ policy is to place restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba, the former in particular having resulted since the US-Cuba rapprochement in 2014 in large numbers of American tourists flooding into Cuba, bringing with them dollars badly needed by the foreign exchange starved Cuban economy. The demand for enhanced accommodation and services for this nascent flood of tourists has engendered small private businesses offering private homes to stay in (the main driver in this being Airbnb) and service providers. Significantly, Trump seems to have bowed to pressures from US businesses and some Republicans to avoid turning the clock back completely. Thus air and sea travel will continue, but with fresh restrictions, including American citizens using services provided by companies controlled by the Cuban military, which have a big stake in the tourism industry. The logic of this measure is ostensibly to not benefit the regime with dollar flows. However, this myopic step is likely to hurt the emerging small private sector in Cuba, which Trump seeks to support in the name of benefits only for the Cuban people. Failing providing a map of which enterprises to deal with, it is obvious that this ‘separation’ of state and private enterprises is practically difficult if not impossible. Trump’s policy will hurt not only enhanced economic engagement with Cuba generally, but its emerging small private sector most of all. Critics of Trump’s reversal of Obama’s policy seek engagement with Cuba since, they argue, 50 plus years of hostility and attempts thereby to overthrow the revolutionary regime have failed. Their overt and covert hope is for such engagement to result in the peaceful transition from the revolutionary regime to a pro-capitalist one. The hawks and doves’ hopes for regime change though are unlikely to be met in the light of President Raul Castro’s clear declaration that the revolution will not bow to pressure or blandishments. For those unfamiliar with the history and trajectory of the Cuban revolution, it would be useful to retrace some of the seminal moments in that journey. Cuba, lying just 90 miles away from Florida, had been since independence from Spain in 1898 a virtual US colony. The US controlled the commanding heights of the Cuban economy and treated its southern island neighbour as a playground for the American rich, including the Mafia. Large tracts of land owned by the local elite (latifundia) showed a cruel contrast between the lives of the rich and the peasants who worked the plantations, the latter mired generation after generation in extreme poverty and misery. Cuba’s seemingly stable status as a colonial outpost of the US was disturbed when Fulgencio Batista mounted a military coup and took power in 1952. A young dynamic lawyer and member of the mainstream Orthodoxo Party, Fidel Castro, decided the time had come for decisive action. On July 23, 1953, he and a band of his comrades mounted an armed assault on the Moncada military garrison in the city of Santiago de Cuba. The assault was beaten back with most of the insurgents killed and a handful, including Fidel, imprisoned. At his trial, Fidel delivered his famous “History will absolve me” speech, which became the clarion call for the Cuban revolution despite his and his compatriots’ exile (including his younger brother Raul Castro). Fidel and his comrades regrouped in exile in Mexico, joined in this period by a significant recruit: Argentinian Ernesto Che Guevara. In 1956, Fidel and this band of revolutionaries, under the banner of the July 23 Movement as it came to be called, mounted an expedition to Cuba on a boat named Granma (this later became the title of the Cuban revolutionary regime’s paper). The expedition was almost wiped out on landing in Cuba by the Baptista regime’s military. A handful, including Fidel, Raul and Che, managed to escape the ambush and set up a guerrilla base in the Sierra Maestre Mountains. From here, the rebels launched a guerrilla war that led to the collapse of the Baptista regime in 1958. The dictator fled to the US. On January 1, 1959, Fidel’s triumphant columns marched into Havana to the cheers and joy of the populace. Fidel’s regime soon fell foul of Washington when US businesses on the island were nationalised, land reform carried out and an increasingly socialist orientation of the new regime became visible. US President Eisenhower responded by imposing an economic embargo on Cuba. The Cuban elite and its supporters fled the island for the US, where John F Kennedy’s administration and CIA trained, equipped and launched an invasion of Cuba with exile mercenaries. This blatant aggression against revolutionary Cuba was decisively defeated at the Bay of Pigs. The US-inspired economic blockade was total, only breached by the then Soviet Union, which came to the rescue of the beleaguered government. The world held its breath when, in 1962, Soviet missiles were deployed in Cuba to ward off another US invasion, leading to a nuclear confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union. A nuclear holocaust was only avoided at the last moment when the Soviet Union’s Premier Nikita Kruschev agreed to withdraw the missiles from Cuba in return for a secret understanding to remove US nuclear missiles deployed in Turkey against the Soviet Union in a quid pro quo. Moscow continued to provide economic and technical support to Havana but could not do enough to overcome the poverty inherited from Cuba’s past, which lingered to devastating effect because of the US’s economic blockade despite the Cuban regime’s efforts to provide relief and a better life to its people. Despite all the difficulties and obstacles, the Fidel Castro-led government provided the Cuban people with a level of education and healthcare that is the envy of the world today. The Cuban armed forces were not only developed to a level of efficiency to give pause for thought to any would be invader, they provided support in far away Africa to the revolutionary national liberation struggles of Ethiopia and Angola, defeating the much vaunted South African army in the latter country. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the US-led imperialists licked their chops at the thought of overcoming the Cuban government, faced as it was with immeasurably greater difficulties in the absence of Soviet support. This was a real test for the Cuban revolution. Whereas many communist countries had either consciously embraced capitalism or at least adjusted their policies to a now almost completely capitalist world, Cuba adhered to its revolutionary √©lan, struggled through the Special Period as it was called, and has kept its revolutionary banner flying even after the illness, retirement and eventual passing away of its charismatic leader, Fidel Castro. Given this brief account of the Cuban revolution and people’s resilience in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, the hopes of the US hawks and doves, separated only by the ways and means chosen to overthrow the Raul Castro government, face the indomitable will of a small Caribbean island people wedded to defending, constructing and maintaining their socialist future.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Business Recorder editorial May 24, 2017

Pakistan-India tensions COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa told the 75th conference of Annual Formation Commanders at GHQ on May 23 about the high state of operational readiness and morale of troops during his recent visits to front line field formations along the country’s eastern and western borders, especially displayed in response to recent border and ceasefire violations. He said notwithstanding Pakistan’s desire for an enduring peace with its neighbours, any hostile action anywhere along the country’s frontiers would be responded befittingly. Those words reflected events on the Line of Control (LoC) on the day. DG ISPR Major General Asif Ghafoor issued a statement the same day refuting as baseless and misleading an Indian claim that their forces had destroyed Pakistani military posts in Azad Kashmir. He stated that none of the posts along the LoC in the Nowshera sector had been destroyed in shelling from across the LoC, nor had the Pakistani forces targeted civilians on the other side, both claims made just hours before by a spokesman of the Indian army in New Delhi. ISPR further clarified that it was the Indian army that had resorted to an unprovoked ceasefire violation on May 13, which had caused civilian casualties and infrastructure damage on our side. A stern response caused substantial losses to soldiers and material on the Indian side. So the exchange of ‘pleasantries’ on the LoC continues. Are Pakistan and India condemned to live forever in hostility? Not according to Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit, who said in an interview with an Indian newspaper that Kashmir was the real bone of contention between the two neighbouring countries and there could be no shying away from settling the issue. The necessary condition for such a settlement, he underlined, was that the two countries restart their suspended dialogue. Certainly the logic is impeccable, since both countries are now nuclear armed and all out war is thereby precluded for fear of mutual destruction. However, Abdul Basit also referred in the same interview to the situation on the western border with Afghanistan, which has seen a ratcheting up of tensions and even exchanges of firing of late. The unfortunate fact is that the Pakistan-India rivalry has spilled over onto Afghan soil, where both countries are vying for influence and Pakistan accuses India of utilising Pakistan’s differences with Kabul to stoke conflict on the western border. While the criticality of talks between Pakistan and India is beyond doubt, the present prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, is no Vajpayee, who expended considerable political capital on trying to normalise relations with Pakistan. Mr Modi may be motivated in his aggressive stance towards Pakistan by domestic political considerations. Amongst these can be counted upcoming State elections (in West Bengal in particular) and the unremitting uprising in Indian Held Kashmir (IHK). The latter may have in fact more bearing on the hotting up of the LoC in recent days. The Indian army’s violations of the ceasefire on the LoC may be an attempt to ‘externalise’ the Kashmir problem, but the indigenous nature of the Kashmiri people’s resistance is hard to deny. The Indian army spokesman’s news briefing referred to above argued that the shelling across the LoC on Pakistani military posts was to prevent them harbouring and facilitating infiltrators into IHK. But no one familiar with the situation on the ground inside IHK can possibly ignore the daily fare of Kashmiri youth combating the unrestrained use of maximum force by the India security forces with nothing more deadly than stones being thrown. The Kashmiri people have shown the world that no amount of overwhelming force has managed to quell their desire for freedom from the Indian yoke. It remains for the Indian political class, and particularly the present incumbents in New Delhi, to open their eyes to reality and recognise that there is no military solution for Kashmir’s pain and that what is needed badly is an uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue process.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Business Recorder editorial May 23, 2017

Social media crackdown The countrywide crackdown on social media activists allegedly running a sustained campaign against the military and other state institutions appears to be gathering steam, but has raised a plethora of questions in its wake about its modus operandi, targets and purpose. This is the first time the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), rammed through parliament by the ruling PML-N in August 2016 despite opposition from rights activists for being overly broad and curbing free speech, has been used in such a wide crackdown against political opponents. Following the directives of Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar about a week ago, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has listed over 150 social media accounts and websites allegedly engaged in a campaign vilifying the armed forces. Of these, 33 persons have affiliations with the PTI and other opposition parties, but surprisingly include some from the PML-N. On May 22, one such PML-N social media activist was summoned from Gujranwala to the FIA’s Islamabad headquarters. The others are reportedly operating their social media accounts from Lahore, Quetta, Waziristan and Australia. A ‘vilification’ campaign against the COAS and the military on social media is said to have started after the DG ISPR’s withdrawal of his tweet on the Dawn Leaks issue on May 10. The FIA has sprung into action after the interior minister’s directive, which seems to go beyond anything the military itself wanted, and is rounding up suspects, questioning them about their tweets and posts. This campaign is being fiercely contested by the opposition parties, particularly the PTI, well known for its activism on social media. Initially, 200 social media accounts were put under the microscope, but according to the FIA, only 18 of these are currently being treated as offenders spreading negative material against the military and other state institutions. The scale of the operation seems far smaller than was initially feared (although it could possibly open the floodgates for more), and the small number of suspects it has yielded suggests that these may be individual irreverent posts rather than a sustained campaign against the military or other institutions. What is it that has persuaded the redoubtable Chaudhry Nisar to tilt against these windmills? The context is the desire for hegemony over and complete domination of the national narrative. Naturally, that points powerful institutions towards the media, seen as the conduit for relaying the said narrative. Having by and large ‘tamed’ the mainstream media, print and electronic, these powerful institutions have now, armed with PECA, turned their unwanted attention to the last redoubt of dissident and critical opinion: the social media. Notoriously difficult as the task is to control the internet and social media (that being their strength in upholding free expression), our powerful institutions have chosen a cruder, albeit direct, method. This involves nothing as sophisticated as attempting to block or build firewalls against the offending websites and social media accounts. It simply involves threatening (and worse) the authors of such postings. It may be recalled that five ‘offending’ bloggers were ‘disappeared’ not long ago and then some blasphemous material mysteriously appeared on their sites while they were still ‘absent’. Of course the mere suggestion of blasphemy attaching itself to one’s name these days means your life is in danger. The bloggers ‘returned’ eventually, but reportedly had to flee abroad. Since then, the powers that be seem to have been emboldened to take on the social media activists considered beyond the pale head on. Presumably these powers feel an ‘admonition’ would normally be sufficient to bring the dissidents in line and in the process send the necessary message to the rest about how far they can or cannot go in exercising their right of free expression. It would appear then that the constitutional provisions about the right of expression have been over-ridden by the provisions of PECA. Therein lies perhaps ammunition for a legal challenge. But the irreducible truth is that the over-reaction, paranoia and downright insecure fragility on display in this crackdown bodes ill for the democratic rights of free expression and critical, dissenting opinion.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Business Recorder editorial May 7, 2017

The courts and politics On the second try, the Supreme Court (SC) bench overseeing the implementation of the Panama Papers case verdict of April 20, 2017 has formed a six-member Joint Investigation Team (JIT) on May 5 to probe the matter of the assets abroad of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his children. At the previous hearing on May 3, the SC special bench had summoned the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) chairman and acting governor of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) after expressing dissatisfaction over the two institutions’ representatives nominated for the JIT. Justice Azmat Saeed regretted that the nominees on examination did not fit the criteria for the JIT, hence the demand for a new list. This was delivered by both the SECP and SBP in a sealed envelope bearing the names of all officers of grade 18 and above in these two institutions. Attorney General (AG) Ashtar Ausaf pointed out that the rejected officers on the first list submitted had unnecessarily been ‘painted black’ by the media. But the bench responded by saying that they had not revealed the names of the rejected officers, therefore the leak lay in the two institutions themselves, whose heads should be held responsible and accountable. There followed an exchange between the bench and the AG regarding comment on the case on television, popular sentiment, political leaders’ statements on the case, etc. The bench made it clear that they were not swayed by any of these and would walk the tightrope of the law and constitution without worrying about the their popularity. The AG pleaded for restraining discussion of the case on television as people were being maligned. Justice Azmat Saeed clarified that they knew how to control the media, but the bench was exercising extreme restraint in the interests of freedom of expression. Disquiet has been rising amongst the judiciary about the ‘free for all’ manner of comment on the media regarding matters that are sub judice. PEMRA is being asked to implement its rule regarding this matter. The apex court is also annoyed about the partisan and distorted interpretations of the April 20 verdict by politicians of all shades and hues. The crowning argument on this issue is the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Justice Saqib Nisar’s sensible advice to the political class: keep political disputes in the political domain and avoid dragging other institutions (especially the judiciary) into the political fray. The CJP has deplored the consequent waste of the court’s limited time and warned against tarnishing the SC’s public image. Sensible as this advice is, it is a fact that apart from the judiciary, politicians have frequently called upon the military or, in the era of Article 58(2)(b), the president to intervene in political crises against their rivals. This practice is the antithesis of the politicians’ inherent responsibility to strengthen democratic institutions rather than seek extra-parliamentary intervention by powerful state institutions. In recent times, it is the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) that has been in the forefront of a ‘war’ against democratic institutions, including the Election Commission of Pakistan. The PML-N government this time round has systematically defanged the accountability institutions, ironically having used them to institute false cases against their political rivals in their previous term. Since political parties across the spectrum appear to have gone into election mode, it is reasonable to assume that the task of reforming and strengthening democratic institutions now stands postponed until the next parliament is in place. Nevertheless, it is only if political parties stop regarding the courts (and the military) as options for resolving political conflicts that the project for strengthening democratic institutions could have a chance to be taken up and even succeed. The institutions approached for such purposes could also help by, for example, the judiciary declining to adjudicate matters with a political taint and the military concentrating on its sphere without ‘leaning on’, let alone overthrowing elected governments.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Business Recorder editorial May 3, 2017

CCI meeting The Council of Common Interests (CCI) met on May 2 after a gap of four months since its last meeting in December 2016. After the 18th Amendment, the CCI is supposed to meet every three months. Hopefully, all the stakeholders will work towards meeting that constitutional requirement. The meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, had all four chief ministers in attendance. Although the chief ministers of Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa met the prime minister separately before the CCI session to express their reservations about water, power and gas projects, this issue was not taken up in the CCI, which decided to settle only contentious outstanding agenda items rather than fresh problems. The decisions arrived at by the CCI reflected this choice. First and foremost, some major amendments were agreed in the Generation, Transmission and Distribution of Electric Power Act 1997 (known as the NEPRA Act). NEPRA was stripped of its power to independently determine electricity tariffs. In future, NEPRA will have to follow the government’s directions in determining tariffs. An “independent panel” would be formed that could challenge NEPRA’s decisions. Reportedly, the changes were not shared with NEPRA before the CCI meeting, although a NEPRA team had been invited to present a “State of Industry Report” but that could not be taken up. Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif criticized the regulator for inefficiency, which had hampered private sector investment. He said his government had been recently able to bring down the solar power tariff to less than six cents per unit, a role that should have been played by NEPRA. Chief Minister Sindh Murad Ali Shah also criticised NEPRA for creating irritants for renewable energy and pushing the Thar coal projects. To cut NEPRA’s regulatory powers, another amendment has been made to Section 31(4) of the Act, freeing the federal government from being bound to seek review of any determination within 15 days, failing which the determination was deemed to have been notified automatically. A new clause in the Act empowers the federal government to impose a surcharge on any consumer category, to be collected by the power distribution companies. The government can use such surcharge for “discharging public service obligations” (a very broad term). This clause is intended to address challenges arising out of judicial intervention against three surcharges for debt servicing, tariff equalisation, etc, surcharges that constitute virtual taxation without proper authorization or representation. It was agreed in principle that the provinces would have their own power regulatory bodies instead of a national regulator since electricity is a provincial subject under the Federal Legislative List-II. Chief Minister Sindh Murad Ali Shah gave up his demand for full federal financing of the Rs 177 billion flood protection plan as advocated by his predecessor Qaim Ali Shah after the three other provinces sided with the Centre for sharing the burden 50-50. The plan had been thrice deferred by the CCI in the past because of such financing disputes. The CCI unanimously decided to punish the corrupt elements responsible for the messed up Kachhi Canal project, heard the prime minister dilate on the sorry track record of delays and inefficiencies in project management, deferred the higher education regime issue till the provinces had discussed it with Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal, discussed LNG import, the ongoing census and the threat to water needs and food security emanating from climate change. Even this brief perusal of the deliberations of the CCI proves the efficacy and importance of the institution. This is even more critical at a time when the 2013 elections have thrown up a fractured mandate, with the PML-N in power at the Centre and in Punjab, in a coalition government in Balochistan, and with the PPP and PTI in power in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa respectively. The CCI is clearly the platform intended for, and able to, mediate differences and conflict amongst the provinces and between the provinces and the Centre. All stakeholders, in recognition of this role, must ensure the CCI meets according to its constitutionally laid down interval of three months. Many of the old, and some new, issues that are on the national agenda lend themselves to positive resolution in the CCI.