Friday, July 6, 2018

Business Recorder Editorial July 6, 2018

Voters’ anger

What started as an unprecedented collaring of Sardar Jamal Leghari by angry and disillusioned voters in his traditional constituency in Dera Ghazi Khan has by now begun to acquire the contours of a movement with momentum. His constituents did not even offer Jamal Leghari the normal respect and even obsequiousness reserved for tribal chiefs. The questions they put to him in no uncertain terms were where he had been since the last elections five years ago, what had he done for them during this period, and why should they, on the basis of his indifference to their problems, once more vote for him. And they would not be pacified or calm down even in the face of Jamal Leghari’s pulling social ‘rank’ on them. This is indeed unprecedented in our political culture, where tribal, caste, landowning and religious factors traditionally play such a huge role in determining political affiliations and voting patterns, particularly in the rural areas. Sardar Jamal Leghari is not the only one to have had to face angry and insistent questioners amongst his constituents. To take just a few examples, Farooq Sattar of MQM-P faced a hostile reception in Memon Masjid, Karachi, PTI’s Arif Alvi and PPP’s former chief minister Murad Ali Shah, PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, all received a ‘roasting’ at the hands of dissatisfied voters in their respective constituencies. Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Awais Leghari, former leader of the opposition Syed Khursheed Shah, former federal ministers Sikandar Bosan, Zahid Hamid and Afzal Rana too have been on the receiving end of their voters’ pent up wrath. Former Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah and PTI’s Sheikh Khurram Shahzad have fallen foul of the Faisalabad powerloom workers for similar reasons. The idea of ‘naming and shaming’ the elected representatives seeking votes for re-election is new, and has found traction because of mainstream and social media exposure and sharing of such ‘confrontations’.

While this new phenomenon reflects an increase in political consciousness on the part of the electorate, credit is also due to the continuity of democracy, however flawed, for the last 10 years, during which the first transfer of power through the ballot box from the incumbents to the opposition in our history took place in 2013. While the right to hold elected representatives accountable is unassailable and should be welcomed as a maturing of political consciousness amongst the masses, the resort to physical misbehaviour or violence is a stretch too far. Pushing, shoving, attacking with sticks and stones (as happened to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s cavalcade in Lyari, and which the PPP has blamed ‘rivals’ for orchestrating) is not within the parameters of democratic accountability nor sanctioned by the law or election rules. Such outbreaks of resort to violent means in the midst of an already tense political atmosphere rife with accusations of pre-polls rigging, stacking of the deck against one particular political party, etc, is not conducive to the peaceful exercise of the right of franchise by the electorate, which is one of the foundations of any democratic order. The disappointment and disillusionment in the existing mainstream political parties on the part of their voters has accumulated slowly but surely, is by now at an all-time high, and arguably has been incrementally fuelled by social media sharing of experiences and issues. This effect is in fact a strong argument in favour of freedom of the media and expression, which is the greatest conduit for informing and making the masses aware and conscious. The electorate now is impatient for the redressal of its issues of socio-economic justice, employment, poverty, civic facilities such as potable water, electricity, gas, garbage disposal, health and a myriad other issues that make life for the ordinary citizen a constant struggle and irritant. The traditional political class had better wake up too to this new awakening amongst hitherto passive and accepting voters. Their day in the old style seems to be done, and if they fail to respond to the new zeit geist amongst the people, their political future cannot be as sanguine and guaranteed as it has been in the past.

Business Recorder Editorial July 5, 2018

Uncertainty in the time of elections

Seldom in our history has there been the kind of currents, cross-currents and uncertainty that swirl around this election. The travails of the former ruling party, the PML-N, continue to grow, take on new forms and directions, and reinforce in the process the perception that all is not above board. So much so that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has felt constrained to take notice of the reports that some PML-N candidates have been pressured into giving up their party tickets and opting to run as independents, with the ‘jeep’ the election symbol of choice. The ECP has asked the caretaker Chief Minister of Punjab (where most of such incidents have been reported) to ensure the safety and security of all candidates to ensure a level playing field and free and fair elections. Meanwhile the judiciary and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) are at pains to deny any role in the election process. The mere fact that the need for such denials has been felt underlines the storm of rumour and speculation that has overtaken the polls exercise. Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) and their local counterpart the Freedom Network (FN) have added their voices to those abroad and at home who are pointing to and questioning the obvious and unseen intimidation, threats, censorship and self-censorship the mainstream media and journalists are being subjected to. Critics and dissidents on the social media are also under threat and a cloud of ‘silencing’. The pertinent question RSF and FN have raised is how a free and fair election can be held amidst curbs on the media and freedom of expression.

Asif Zardari has stated in a television interview that he does not see 100 percent free and fair elections. He points to the arrest of one of his close aides, Ismail Dahiri, near his home in Nawabshah as a ‘message’ to him. Asif Zardari uses this incident to clinch his denial of any deal with the establishment, a rumour that has been strongly doing the rounds for some time. Had he had such a deal, Asif Zardari argues, he would have been the one ordering people’s arrest and not been on the receiving end of such unwanted attention. What is intriguing about this incident is that it was carried out by the Rangers. This follows on the heels of the claims by some of the PML-N candidates who have returned their party tickets and opted to run as independents that they were ‘visited’ by people in black uniforms and civilian clothes to be delivered the ‘message’ that it would be in their and their families’ interests to dump the PML-N. If all this begins to assume a definite shape and pattern in people’s minds, the question inevitably arises who or what is behind such dangerous shenanigans and to what end. In this matter, the ECP, whose constitutional duty it is to ensure the elections are held in a free, fair and transparent manner, expresses its helplessness to stymie or reverse this trend of intimidation by pleading that all it can do is write to the caretaker governments to ensure such happenings are not repeated and the life and limb of all candidates, irrespective of political affiliation, are secure and free of any shadow of discouragement or nudging in a particular direction. Since the ECP’s powers do not go beyond this, and it is not clear what if anything the caretaker administrations can do to prevent such practices despite the federal Information Minister Ali Zafar’s ‘assurance’ that complaints in this regard, if filed with proper evidence, will be acted upon, public confidence in the current elections process has fallen to an all time low. This election is rapidly turning into one of the most controversial in our history. That does not engender confidence that its outcome will be satisfactory, credible, and acceptable across the board by all stakeholders. If this conclusion has even a grain of truth in it, it seems fresh political trouble and instability lie ahead.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Business Recorder Editorial July 3, 2018

Judicial populism

All is not well in the hallowed halls of justice. First and foremost, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Saqib Nisar has admitted that he and the superior judiciary he leads have been unable to reform the judicial system. While this is an honest and welcome admission, the huge backlog of cases stuck up in the wheels of the system causes immense agony, incurred costs, loss of time and hope amongst millions of litigants, their lawyers, and even arguably the judges and other officers of the courts. The CJP’s critics would argue that contributing to this mountain of pending cases (two million by one account) and inability to reform procedures to quicken case disposal has been the diversion of the superior judiciary (especially the CJP) towards suo motu notices under Article 184(3), some of which have transgressed into the domain of the executive and legislature. No one doubts the good intentions of the CJP or the superior judiciary in attempting to address perceived fundamental rights’ transgressions through judicial activism. But this well-intentioned activism runs the risk of crossing the line into the other two pillars of the state’s constitutional structure, i.e. the executive and legislature. That is why jurisprudence generally, including ours in the past, has relied on temperance and restraint so as not to appear to be using the undoubted powers of the judiciary in a manner likely to arouse doubts and criticism, neither of which are helpful to the sustenance of the dignity and respect of the judiciary as an institution. Recent unprecedented examples of the fallout of the judiciary’s activism in recent years serve to illustrate this contention. The Karachi Bar Association has felt compelled to pass a strongly worded resolution of protest against the CJP’s alleged public disparagement of an additional district judge in Sindh, who reportedly resigned after the incident. The Pakistan Bar Council has in turn passed a resolution against suo motu actions. The Islamabad High Court’s (IHC’s) Justice Shauqat Aziz Siddiqui has protested in open court against the alleged derogatory remarks against him by the CJP for orders in a private school fees case, saying while the CJP has the powers to set aside, modify, uphold verdicts of judges, he has no right to humiliate them. He argues that all judges are equally respectable. It is not for this outburst or because his pending reference’s time had come, Justice Siddiqui has been summoned by the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) on July 7, 2018 on a charge of misconduct. And speaking of the SJC, Siddiq-ul-Farooq of the PML-N, the party that feels most hard done by judicial activism, has filed a reference against the CJP for failing to uphold the trichotomy of powers amongst the judiciary, executive and legislature, and intervening and interfering in the domain of the latter two to the detriment of parliament’s powers and the executive’s governance. Reportedly, a sessions judge from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and a former IHC judge have also set a controversial example by filing complaints against the CJP.

This situation is unprecedented in the history of our country. It may be read as the unintended consequences of judicial activism tending to cross the line into populism because of a sincere desire to fix the myriads of flaws that afflict our state and society. Unfortunately, as this experience shows, the judiciary is constrained in many ways from being able to correct all the wrongs of our system and cannot, in the process, entirely avoid the risk of the kind of backlash we are witnessing now. Any sensible well wisher of the country would rue such a turn of events. However the various cross-currents and eddies of what increasingly appears to resemble a clash of institutions and conflict within the judiciary itself pans out from here, the object lesson in the whole affair suggests a return to the time honoured principles of restraint and temperance on the part of the judiciary that have served it well in the past, and may be the only way to overcome the present ruction that is, justifiably or not, sullying the repute, dignity and respect of the judiciary as an institution.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Business Recorder Editorial June 30, 2018

Pak-Afghan-US relations

Advice on relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan and between Pakistan and the US has arrived from three different sources at the same time, with remarkable convergence as to the conclusions. First, a Pak-Afghan Track-II initiative called the Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Committee (PAJC), Beyond Boundaries, met in Kabul on June 25, 2018, having previously had two rounds, one in Kabul on December 15, 2017 and one in Islamabad on February 26, 2018. PAJC welcomed the commitment by Pakistan and Afghanistan to end their mutual blame game and advised both sides to restrain their spokespersons from knee-jerk reactions to events. PAJC found the recent Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) promising and capable of providing the basis for a rapprochement between the two countries. PAJC asked both governments to sign a bilateral consular agreement, work on a dignified, reasonable plan for Afghan refugees’ repatriation, hold meetings to improve trade, both transit and bilateral, address negative perceptions of the other, hold media exchanges and highlight progress under APAPPS. On the other hand, a Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) seminar in Islamabad on the same day advised Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US to bridge their trust deficit in order to bring peace to Afghanistan, a desirable goal no one country could accomplish on its own. The seminar posited a region-led, region-owned peace process, which appeared one step ahead of Pakistan’s formulation of an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation effort. The seminar, while recognising Pakistan’s crucial role in this process, emphasized a sustained western engagement in Afghanistan. Other participants argued Pakistan should be engaged constructively while being treated as a sovereign state. Peace and stability in Pakistan, it was pointed out, was dependent on peace and stability in Afghanistan. The seminar concluded its deliberations by arguing for economic interdependence between Pakistan and Afghanistan, in which mega projects like the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline and the Central Asia-South Asia electricity project were important. The SDPI seminar also called for trade enhancement and facilitation between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The third contribution to the debate comes from an Institute for Policy Reforms (IPR) report that argues that despite their differences and recent tensions over Afghanistan, the Pak-US relationship cannot end. Both sides need to understand each other’s perceptions and interests. The report says both Pakistan and the US want peace in Afghanistan but differ on methods and goals. Concerned about Indian influence, Pakistan wants a ‘friendly’ government in Kabul while the US favoured a military solution over reconciliation (though the latter may be changing now). IPR advises Pakistan to stay engaged with the US, regain trust without necessarily yielding to all demands, state clearly what is possible, what is not, without waiting for US pressure to respond. Pakistan should offer sincere cooperation but make it equally contingent on US accommodation of Pakistan’s security concerns. The US on the other hand must help stop cross-border Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attacks. While Pakistan cannot control all Afghan Taliban acts, it should pledge to restrain them from our borders while nudging them towards reconciliation. The report points out that an Afghan Taliban government in Kabul is not acceptable to most Afghans, the US, China and Russia. Pakistan must help negotiations with the Afghan Taliban while extracting assurances from Kabul of effective border controls and degrading the TTP. The report notes that the recent killing of Mullah Fazlullah, the chief of the TTP, was viewed positively by Pakistan.

All three sources argue for cooperation based on trust between the stakeholders in the Afghan conflict. While the logic of thus paving the road to peace and reconciliation is unassailable, the fly in the ointment remains the intransigence of the Afghan Taliban. On the same day as these sources produced their remarkably congruent advice, the Afghan Taliban refused to respond to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s extension by another 10 days of the (imperfect) ceasefire over Eid by extending their own ceasefire. On the contrary they painted the ceasefire initiative as an attempt to persuade them to lay down their arms and accept the regime in Kabul imposed by the US-led west. This shows that however much the three sources speak eminent sense, the road to peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan remains a long and bumpy one.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Business Recorder Editorial June 29, 2018

NAB’s new-found zeal

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) seems in recent days to have had a fire lit under it by its Chairman former Justice Javed Iqbal. Not only are accountability inquiries and cases being pursued with fresh zeal and vigour, this spurt of energy by the accountability czar has raised eyebrows regarding its impact on the general elections, now less than a month away. In principle, there can be no quarrel with Justice Iqbal’s notion of across the board accountability irrespective of the status of the accused nor with his contention that NAB’s work has nothing to do with the impending polls. But an experienced former Supreme Court judge cannot be unaware of the misgivings increasingly being voiced about the renewed vigour and speed of NAB regarding accountability cases so close to the elections. Reports speak of NAB tightening the noose around the Sharifs before the polls (although others too are receiving similar attention). Now Justice Iqbal has approved initiating a process to bring back former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s sons Hasan and Hussain, former finance minister Ishaq Dar and PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif’s son-in-law Ali Imran Yousaf from London through Interpol. Others on this extradition list include former Ehtesab Bureau chief Saifur Rehman and even Nawaz Sharif himself. Former secretary to the prime minister Fawad Hassan Fawad is to be placed on the Exit Control List. Qamarul Islam of the Saaf Pani Company and PML-N nominated candidate against estranged Chaudhry Nisar in NA-59 (Rawalpindi) has been arrested by NAB one day after he was awarded the ticket. Khwaja Saad Rafique is to be questioned regarding the Paragon Housing Society. Hamza Shahbaz and Zaeem Qadri (despite ‘revolting’ against the PML-N) are also under the NAB cosh. Supporters of the PML-N may have some justification for arguing that all this represents (wittingly or unwittingly) a pattern of doing down the PML-N just before the elections. This perception may be growing outside PML-N circles too. Perhaps the NAB zealots do not realize that these actions so close to the polls, whether intended to damage the PML-N’s electoral prospects or not, may end up increasing the sympathy vote for the perceived ‘victims’. This is not to declare at this point their innocence or guilt, simply to point out the political fallout of what can be considered unfortunate timing. Lest the impression is created that NAB’s attention is focused only on PML-N, it should be pointed out that PTI’s Aleem Khan and PML-Q’s Moonis Elahi, amongst others, are also on NAB’s radar in different cases. However, the preponderance of attention to PML-N worthies raises suspicions in the public mind about a manipulation of the elections.
Hussain Nawaz has shrugged off the NAB extradition plan, arguing that since they have not broken any British law, the extradition is unlikely to find traction. Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has weighed in with the conclusion that Nawaz Sharif will not get justice from NAB. Nawaz Sharif himself has taken time from attending to his ailing wife in London to say that rigged polls will harm Pakistan. With so much uncertainty and conspiracy theories swirling over the elections, the last thing the country needs at this juncture is a suddenly fired up, overzealous NAB queering the pitch further, whether as a coincidence or a well thought out strategy on anyone’s behest or otherwise. Whatever be the truth of the matter, the timing of NAB’s new found zeal to pursue accountability cases literally on the eve of the polls has given rise to, and is likely to exacerbate, concerns about the credibility, fair and free nature of the elections and engendered new worries about what may follow if the polls prove controversial or even unacceptable to any party or parties in the fray. No one is against accountability (although it leaves out very powerful state institutions), but it must not be aimed at, or even be seen to be aimed at engineering a desired outcome for the coming elections.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Business Recorder Column June 26, 2018

Missing persons still missing

Rashed Rahman

In line with the judicial activism that has become the hallmark of Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Saqib Nisar, and which has elevated him in the eyes of the victims of the ‘system’ to the role of a saviour, his recent visits to Sukkur, Larkana and Hyderabad yielded a chorus of cries from the tortured families of missing persons for redress and justice. The CJP then summoned the IG Sindh, DG Rangers Sindh, provincial heads of ISI, MI and IB to the Supreme Court’s (SC’s) Karachi Registry on Sunday, June 24, 2018 on the issue.
The scenes outside and inside the court were as unprecedented as they were heart rending. The families of about 50 missing persons had gathered outside the SC’s Karachi Registry with posters, banners and photographs of their missing loved ones. According to human rights activist Jibran Nasir, the families were held back by a security cordon. Only one member from each family was being allowed into the hallowed halls of the SC’s Karachi Registry. He tweeted that the commotion was because the young could not leave the old outside in the sun and the old needed the support of their young ones inside.
Even inside the court there were rowdy scenes and near clashes between the protestors and the security forces. When things really started getting out of hand, the CJP left the courtroom for his chambers. However, he did return, admonished the protestors for their unprecedented bad behaviour before the apex court, including a woman almost indicted for contempt (but then mercifully forgiven) for thumping the CJP’s rostrum. Unacceptable as such rowdiness is in any court, let alone the SC, it is not difficult to sympathise with the plight of these families. After all for years they have knocked on virtually every door for news of and the safe release or charging under due process of their missing loved ones. The lack of information about the missing, even whether they are still alive or dead, is nothing but cruel torture for their families stretching back over many years.
The CJP did well to overcome the natural umbrage of the court at such behaviour, forgive the perpetrators and order the setting up of a special cell to provide information to the families of the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones. Positive as this step is, there is room for sckepticism as to its effectiveness, based on the track record of enforced disappearances and their aftermath. Having exhausted, and been exhausted by, the perennial running from pillar to post amongst the courts, the Commission on Enforced Disappearances and the like, there was reflected in this behaviour the desperation of poor souls besides themselves with grief and agony. No writs of habeas corpus, petitions to the courts (all the way up to the High Courts and even the SC), or applications to the Commission on Enforced Disappearances have yielded any meaningful results. This is because all these august bodies have failed to penetrate the cloak of secrecy and impunity in which the security and intelligence services have wrapped themselves for years. When a security or intelligence official in the face of the courts or the Commission blatantly denies any knowledge of the whereabouts of a missing person, none of these institutions have any means to challenge through independent investigations such denials. The ‘disappeared’ therefore seldom ‘appear’.
The CJP asked for and accepted the applications of the protesting families vis-a-vis their missing loved ones. What will come out of them is unknown but there is considerable room for scepticism given the impunity of the alleged perpetrators of enforced disappearances and the helplessness of state institutions charged with ensuring adherence to the rule of law in the face of this blanket, blatant denial. Very few cases have emerged over the years (perhaps because of some anomaly rather than a change of heart of the tormentors) of missing persons actually being traced to the secret detention centres run by the security forces. Even then, not many of these have returned to their homes and families. Those few who have dare not speak about their ordeal for fear of reprisals against them and their families.
Since 2002, when the current nationalist insurgency first broke out in Balochistan, reports of enforced disappearances starting emerging. It was perhaps the very impunity enjoyed by the security forces and demonstrated in practice that not only allowed these illegal and inhuman methods to continue, but incrementally emboldened the perpetrators because the response from the polity and civil society was so weak. Mama Qadeer’s long march from Quetta to Islamabad for missing persons was almost completely ignored by the political parties (with the exception of one or two Left parties) and civil society. There was not even a whimper of protest when the ISI had a roundtable discussion on missing persons in Balochistan cancelled by pressurising the LUMS management.
Since we did not speak up when the Baloch were being targeted through enforced disappearances, it became that much more difficult to voice protest when reports started incrementally pouring in of similar methods being employed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Punjab. We can now rightfully claim to be ‘united’ as a country in this affliction.
Human rights defenders, the mainstream media and the social media have all gone through the cycle since the last 16 years of intimidation, threats and ‘silencing’. It appears the powers-that-be can no longer abide even just dissidence or criticism. We are simply asked to lump it. When five bloggers were ‘disappeared’ in 2007, their reappearance after months produced a sigh of relief. When they refused to speak (for obvious reasons) and thought it better for safety of life and limb to flee abroad with their immediate families, we became complacent that the problem was over. Now there are reports that the old and helpless parents of one of those bloggers have been threatened with dire consequences if they do not persuade their son abroad to stop his activities on social media. Gul Bokhari was whisked away from a Lahore Cantonment check post, held for five hours, but mercifully released apparently unharmed. But harm can be of many kinds. She is now incommunicado except for a brief message soon after her release thanking people for their support and asking for respect for her ‘privacy’ (read ‘silence’).
While CJP Saqib Nisar is to be appreciated for taking notice of the wails and tears of these suffering families, perhaps one should point out to His Lordship the scale of the problem. In Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, thousands are missing. In Sindh, it in the hundreds and mounting (on the very day the CJP held the hearing in Karachi, two Sindh Taraqqi Pasand workers were whisked away from outside a courthouse hearing in Mirpurkhas). Punjab has suffered a handful, but unless the most powerful province adopts a vow of silence on such matters, this too is likely to increase, given the ease and facility with which the regime of enforced disappearances has been imposed. The Commission under Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal proved as toothless as the rest. Now that the Justice has his hands full with NAB, it is unlikely the Commission will receive even the cursory attention paid to its task hitherto.
As we speak, the protest camp for missing persons outside the Quetta Press Club has by now assumed a permanent character. On June 24, 2018 (the day of the SC hearing), a seven-day hunger strike began outside the Hyderabad Press Club by the Voice for Missing Persons of Sindh.
Effective or not, the voices of the families and the platforms that have emerged to support them can still be faintly heard on the margins. Unless all of good conscience add their voices to this tragic refrain, the fear is that all our voices will eventually be made to ‘disappear’.