Monday, December 31, 2012
Happy New Year? The outgoing year 2012 proved a real annus horribilis for Pakistan. Terrorism, targeted political and sectarian killings, breakdown of law and order and the rise of violent crime, the energy crisis that has grown from just electricity and taken into its fold gas as well in the middle of one of the coldest winters for some time, all this is compounded by an economy seemingly in free fall and arguably on the verge of meltdown. All this, despite being worrying, would still be acceptable if 2013 promised something better, but that is a tall ask. As though things were not bad enough, December 30 saw one more dastardly bombing of a bus in Mastung, Balochistan. The bus was carrying Shia pilgrims on their way to Iran. Twenty were killed, 25 others injured in the fireball the bus was reduced to after, reportedly, being struck by a car bomb along the highway. This is by no means the first such incident. Previous such massacres had given birth to tall claims by the security forces that in future all such buses would be accompanied by a security detail. This latest incident indicates that such claims were either hot air in the first place or fell prey to the usual inertia that all government authorities, but dangerously the security forces too, are prone to. This is precisely what the terrorists rely on. Lapses and gaps in our security arrangements are what they wait for. The result is predictable, as in Mastung, for which the Jaish-ul-Islam has claimed responsibility. But no one knows if such tragedies will shake up what appear to be the indifferent authorities to the mayhem terrorists are wreaking in general, and the specific targeting of Shias in particular. The Shia Hazara community in Balochistan, centred mostly on Quetta, has virtually given up on Pakistan, given the blood, gore and pain that has been and continues to be inflicted on them. Is this what a responsible state looks like? The security forces in that province seem too busy in carrying out brutal military operations in the interior of the province (e.g. Mashkay, where villages have been destroyed, including women and children) and continuing with their kill and dump policy of extra-judicially eliminating all dissidents. Since they operate without any control by the elected politicians, whether at the Centre or in Quetta, there is no one, not even the Supreme Court, that can restrain them from this suicidal course. The wisdom that the province’s troubles stem from long standing political and rights issues and need a political solution has yet to sink in into the impermeable minds of the military establishment. If the Shias are feeling under siege in today’s Pakistan, other minorities are not far behind. Christians, Hindus, Ahmedis, all fear for their lives and properties in a country its founder envisaged as a protective haven for all minorities, religious and denominational. How far we have travelled down the road away from Mr Jinnah’s vision. If there is one factor we can isolate that is the mother of all factors that have led us to this pass, it can be summed up in our megalomaniacal intervention in Afghanistan since the last four decades. This project has given rise to the misconceived and mistaken policy of nurturing, arming, supporting jihadi extremists, an endeavour that has predictably come back to haunt us with a vengeance. The sooner the enterprise of projecting power in the neighbourhood, whether in Afghanistan or against India in Kashmir is done away with, the better the chances that the country may over time be able to scotch the Hydra of terrorism and return us to a peaceful, prospering state and society at peace with itself, the region, and the world. But this needs a courageous, committed leadership, waiting for which may be risky if you hold your breath.
Saturday, December 29, 2012
YouTube unblocking/blocking The government does not seem to know what it is doing or indeed should do about YouTube. It may be recalled that the government blocked YouTube some time ago on the grounds that the blasphemous material on YouTube was not being removed by the hosts, Google Inc. The material in question was the trailer of a blasphemous film posted in the US. The government approached Google to have the material removed or blocked but Google indicated its inability to do so as it had no agreement with Pakistan, unlike some other countries, allowing it to accede to such requests. Thus the ‘ban’ on YouTube came to acquire a semi-permanent character. Lo and behold then, joy broke out in the ranks of YouTube-starved Pakistanis when Interior Minister Rehman Malik announced on Friday that the government was about to unblock YouTube within 24 hours. True to its word, the government did – for one hour! According to media reports the ‘ban’ was reimposed on the orders of the prime minister. A case of the left hand not knowing what the right is doing? What the government has to do is update its knowledge of the internet. The ‘ban’ on YouTube did not work completely, since YouTube fans could circumvent the block and gain access through other hosting sites. This is the ubiquitous nature of the internet. Many countries have tried to deprive their citizens of access to this or that website considered unacceptable, only to find that their ‘firewalls’ could be, and were, breached. Google now requires the Pakistan government, in the absence of an agreement on blocking offensive material, to approach it through the US government since it is not bound by Pakistani law or wishes. We await with bated breath the next scene in this suspense drama. Admittedly, blasphemous material is liable to evoke an emotive, even violent reaction from people of deep faith. However, a tendency has been observed in recent years that the violence manifests itself in mindless fashion on ourselves and our own country. Who that damages surely does not need to be spelt out, except to say that we only harm ourselves and reinforce stereotypes so common about Muslims as illogical, emotional people who cannot think straight. In the brave new world of instant communication globally, we need to take a mature and considered attitude to such provocations, because that is all they are, attempts to get our goat and see us riled up. The more mature and cool we are in dismissing such rubbish in the manner it deserves, the better we will end up serving ourselves, our faith, and the values that make that faith great, based on the example of tolerance and forbearance in the face of provocation set by none other than Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).
Taliban diktat The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) seems to be on a political-strategic offensive these days. Through well timed approaches to the media, first through a letter written by a senior Punjabi Taliban leader Asmatullah Muawiya some days ago, and now a video showing TTP chief Hakeemullah Mehsud sitting with reportedly estranged deputy Waliur Rehman, the TTP has sought to dispel any notion of differences or splits within the movement as speculated in the media in recent days. Also, the purpose of these initiatives appears to be to pose as an organisation prepared for talks with the government for peace. However, closer examination of the conditionalities attached by the TTP to any proposed talks indicate that the whole exercise is a non-starter and probably only aimed at exploiting the divisions in the polity and society at large on the approach to be taken to the Taliban menace. Hakeemullah Mehsud has said yes to talks, no to laying down their arms unless and until Pakistan’s laws and constitution are recast on what the TTP considers correct Islamic lines, i.e., according to their own narrow interpretation of Sharia. Not only that, in a flip on what he considers US diktat that the military and government follow, for which he cites so-called broken deals with the TTP in the past, his own diktat centres on breaking ties with the US, stopping ‘interference’ in Afghanistan, and concentrating (waging war against?) India instead. The craziness of this diatribe can be demonstrated by reference to the fact that it was the Taliban who consistently violated deals struck with the government and military in the past, using the breathing space provided by these abortive agreements for consolidating and extending their strength. The timing of the release of the video is also something to contemplate. It follows three major actions by the Taliban in recent days: the attack on the Peshawar airport, the assassination of Bashir Bilour, and the kidnapping of 22 paramilitary soldiers after an assault on check posts. These attacks demonstrated the capability of the Taliban to strike high profile well guarded targets even as the territory they control has shrunk over time because of the military and security forces’ campaigns. Hakeemullah goes on in the video to say that they assassinated Bashir Bilour because he had made himself a legitimate target by his consistent resistance to the Taliban and all they stood for. He said their struggle was however not against any individuals but the democratic system and all who support it since they consider it is un-Islamic. But the most chilling message in the video is when Hakeemullah asserts that they would follow the lead of the Afghan Taliban after the withdrawal of the US/NATO from Afghanistan by 2014 because the TTP, Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda are one. Then comes the ultimate feather in the terrorist cap. Hakeemullah proudly claims he and his comrades in the TTP are prepared to have their heads cut off for al Qaeda. We owe a vote of thanks to Hakeemullah Mehsud for vindicating our long held position that the nexus amongst the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda and its affiliated groups is an undeniable fact of life that can only be ignored at our own peril. Now having been offered this incontrovertible proof of the Taliban on both sides of the western border and al Qaeda being one and the same thing, one hopes the foolishness about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban can be relegated where it belongs: in the dustbin. Unfortunately though, the TTP is playing cleverly on the divisions within our polity and society, proof of which can be found in the divergent reactions to the TTP conditional and unacceptable offer of talks on their dictated terms. Without falling for these diversionary and divisive tactics, it would be in the fitness of things if the elected and other political forces were to unite on a consensus to take definitive action against this existential threat to the state and society. For this purpose, the expected meeting between ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan and President Asif Ali Zardari to try to achieve such a consensus will be closely and anxiously watched by all those who want to see the back of the terrorists.
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Karachi’s unending woes Sectarian and targeted killings continue daily to extract a high price in Karachi. On Tuesday, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) leader Maulana Aurangzeb Farooqi was attacked by armed gunmen on motorcycles. The Maulana received a bullet in his leg and survived, but four police guards and two of his private guards were killed. The attack was so sudden and swift that the guards had no time to retaliate. Inevitably, the attackers got away. Partly in retaliation, partly business as usual in the city, another 15 people were killed in various parts of the metropolis. The ASWJ supporters came out in protest after the attack on their leader, resorting to aerial firing at the hospital where he had been taken and elsewhere torching at least two vehicles and clashing with the police and Rangers rushed to control the rampaging crowds. Tension spread and caused the city’s markets to close and transport to disappear off the roads. The ASWJ has called for a strike in Karachi today and mourning throughout Sindh. Their spokesman Maulana Saeed Akbar demanded security for his group’s leaders, otherwise they would launch a long march on January 11 over the continued killing of Deobandi leaders. There is an emerging pattern to the mayhem in Karachi, although many questions remain unanswered. The preferred modus operandi of the gunmen appears to be using motorcycles as a highly manoeuvrable and swift means of sudden attacks and ambushes and then speeding away through the densely packed streets of the city before they can be identified or apprehended. Some of the victims of the fallout of the attack on Maulana Farooqi may well be retaliatory sectarian attacks, particularly if the victims were Shias. That sets the parameters of one of the many layers of havoc being wreaked on Karachi. But that is not the whole or even a sufficient explanation for the endemic violence that has the city in its grip for some time and which shows no signs of going away. To the sectarian wars of Karachi must therefore be added the ethnic divide, jihadi terrorists, land and criminal mafias, and just plain criminals taking advantage of the disturbed conditions. Some of the bodies recovered in the streets and alleys of Karachi on almost a daily basis show signs of torture before being killed and dumped. Clearly these are signs of extremely cruel targeting killings of rivals of one kind or another. The gentle, cosmopolitan Karachi of days past has become a distant and hazy memory. Unfortunately the response of the authorities is hardly anything to hold up as an example of responsible governance and the will to tackle a situation that has brought the industrial and commercial capital of the country virtually to its knees. The political turf wars amongst ostensible allies in the coalition government fields armed militias that seem to be engaged in an all-out struggle of each against all. The sectarian outfits, like the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, received a new lease of life by reinventing themselves under new names and banners such as the ASWJ. The ‘ban’ on them therefore exists only in the breach. A disturbed law and order situation offers a heaven-sent opportunity to proliferating mafias and criminals to ply their deadly trade at the expense of the citizen. Having argued many times before in this space that the ultimate responsibility for handling and improving Karachi’s situation lies squarely with the political parties and leaders that are part of the ruling coalition in Sindh, and having been disappointed at their paralysis and/or indifference, there seems little point in reiterating that unless the major and relatively minor coalition allies come together on a compact to relieve Karachi of its unending woes, there cannot be any chance of relief for the hapless citizens of the city. With elections looming, the fears about other parts of the country assailed by terrorism, such as Peshawar, not being able to conduct elections peacefully must also apply to the largest city of the country with its layered complexities. Are the ruling coalition partners in Sindh listening?
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Jinnah’s legacy Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s 136th birthday and the Christian community’s Christmas yesterday were commemorated/celebrated under a pall of gloom, uncertainty, fear and insecurity that has the country in its grip. Without getting into the controversy of the nuances surrounding what kind of Pakistan Mr Jinnah envisaged, the minimum consensus probably acceptable to most if not all schools of thought is that he wished for a democratic welfare state without discrimination against any section of the people, especially minorities, and in which religion would be the private affair of the individual citizen and have nothing to do with the business of the state. In the context of the religious divide that preceded and accompanied the partition of the subcontinent as it achieved independence, many partisan and motivated schools of thought have sought valediction of their own interpretations of what Jinnah wanted Pakistan to be in one or the other of Mr Jinnah’s statements over the years, none of which suggest that he went beyond basing himself on the most egalitarian principles enunciated in Islam. He certainly made clear that Pakistan would not be a theocratic state to be ruled by mullahs with a divine mission. Yet 65 years after it came into existence, Pakistan resembles Jinnah’s vision only in the breach. Jihadi terrorism seeks precisely to turn Pakistan into a theocracy based on the narrowest possible interpretation of religion, rooted in the Wahabbi/Salafist purist, literalist tradition that most other schools of thought in Islam disagree with, especially in the subcontinent, home to a vibrant, tolerant, inclusive Sufi culture. These fanatics and their fellow travellers want to finish off all other denominations within Islam, whether Barelvi (Sufi shrines have been attacked over the years), Shia (declared deserving of being murdered), or religious minorities (Christians celebrated Christmas while cowering in fear, Ahmedis and Hindus are suffering attacks, graveyard desecration, forced conversions and marriages, etc). How would Mr Jinnah have viewed our present state and predicament? And how did we come to this pass? Mr Jinnah’s enlightened, modern, moderate views on the kind of state and society he wanted Pakistan to be were overtaken soon after his death by the pressure from the mainstream religious lobby to overturn Mr Jinnah’s vision. The first blow may have been the Objectives Resolution in 1949, but this opened the gates to a steady, irreversible turning of the state first and foremost into an increasingly religiously oriented entity. General Ziaul Haq delivered the coup de grace to the remains of Mr Jinnah’s project and went further in facilitating the rise of religiosity throughout society. That and the Afghan involvement caused whatever dams or obstacles remained in the path of the extremist jihadi ideology to be burst or cast asunder one by one. As a result, today’s Pakistan is under siege from the fanatical terrorists. If any further proof of this assertion is needed, the assassination of ANP’s senior Khyber Pakhtunkhwa minister Bashir Bilour should clinch the argument beyond doubt. ANP’s Chief Minister Hoti and party head Asfandyar Wali Khan have in the midst of their grief at the fall of their close comrade, appealed to the political forces throughout the country to consult each other on the way forward. The ANP’s view is that it is time the political forces and the other institutions of state come to a consensus on the need for decisive action against the terrorists. This means not sitting passively in defensive mode waiting for the terrorists to wreak their havoc but to actively seek out and destroy the terrorists’ sanctuaries in the wild and woolly tribal areas while proactively rooting them out of the cities and the rest of the country through sustained, coordinated intelligence and police work, backed up with the firepower where needed of the paramilitaries and even the regular army. Without this political consensus behind the effort, the military may not feel inspired to go the whole hog, despite the losses it and the other security forces are suffering at the hands of the terrorists. Political ownership and a strategically coordinated effort is the only way whatever is left of Mr Jinnah’s legacy can be rescued from the pit of oblivion it is threatened with.
Monday, December 24, 2012
Tahirul Qadri’s agenda Dr Tahirul Qadri has burst on the national scene after a long absence from the country with a huge rally at Minar-e-Pakistan, Lahore. The slogan on which the multi-million media campaign leading up to the equally if not even more expensive rally, claimed to have been paid for exclusively by the Doctor’s supporters, was based, and which formed the essential theme of Dr Qadri’s address, is: Siyasat Nahin, Riasat Bachao (Save the State, not Politics). What exactly this slogan means, what are its implications for the polity, and what might be Qadri’s agenda have attracted comment in the media. Most analysts and the variegated leadership of the political class seem to converge on the conclusion that in essence the demand put forward by Qadri to implement various Articles of the constitution before holding elections is an unrealistic and ill-timed initiative that can only lead to a postponement of the elections round the corner if seriously taken up. The notable exceptions are the MQM, which sent a top leadership delegation to the rally, congratulated Qadri on his ‘success’ and regaled the public with Altaf Hussain’s statement from London that he backed Qadri’s stance. Imran Khan too has, in contrast with his own party’s leaders, exhibited a soft corner for Qadri, saying the good doctor has taken up the PTI’s agenda against corruption. Of course Qadri is convinced that there is nothing wrong in delaying the elections, which the constitution too allows beyond the stipulated 90 days. Qadri has also issued an ultimatum to the government to do as he says otherwise a four million march of his followers and supporters will descend on Islamabad after January 14. While Dr Qadri has gone to some lengths to reject any suggestion that he is being instigated or supported by any secret agency or the establishment, most observers are suspicious of the closeness of Dr Qadri’s ostensible agenda and the rumoured toying by the establishment with the idea of postponing if not cancelling the elections in favour of a selected interim setup of uncertain duration (the Bangladeshi model modified to our peculiar circumstances?). Needless to say, based on our history, such an adventure would be an unmitigated disaster. On terrorism, Dr Qadri calls the jihadi extremists and suicide bombers making life hell for the people “sons of the soil”, whom he will support as far as drone strikes are concerned but not to the extent of terrorist actions. When a long absent religious cleric with political ambitions suddenly re-emerges from the woodwork, one is within one’s rights to ask what has prompted this rebirth. Dr Qadri’s track record is hardly inspiring. His political party, the Pakistan Awami Tehreek failed to make any dent in the 1997 elections despite an alliance with the then Benazir-led PPP. In 1999, he openly supported Musharraf’s coup, garnering a parliamentary seat in the rigged elections of 2002 into the bargain, which raises questions about his current posturing vis-à-vis opposing military takeovers and dictatorship. Many of the Articles of the constitution he wants implemented before any elections are a legacy of the Ziaul Haq dictatorship, which the post-2008 elections parliament has been unable to do away with despite the 18th Amendment. The interim setup Dr Qadri wants to oversee the elections should either be composed of, or at least have representation from the judiciary and army. Now if that is not opening the door to an extra-constitutional intervention/setup, it would be difficult to imagine anything more obvious. As to the impact of this or any future marches or rallies Dr Qadri may decide to stage, it remains to be seen. Most politicians seem sceptical of the purpose and thrust of Dr Qadri’s campaign. Whether they consider him (and his possible supporters in the establishment) as a sufficient threat to accelerate their efforts to agree a consensus caretaker prime minister and setup also remains to be seen. If Manzoor Wattoo is to be believed, that consensus is tantalisingly close. The political forces inside and outside parliament are agreed that a free, fair, transparent election that would see the peaceful transition from an elected government serving out its full term for the first time in Pakistan’s history to another elected government would be an event of momentous proportions in helping democracy to grow firmer roots and open the door to a better future. The critics of our present day democracy of all shades and hues have yet to come up with a better idea.
Saturday, December 22, 2012
Transition in Washington It is not unusual for second term US presidents to make changes in their administration. This is not always reflective of any dissatisfaction with the incumbents, only that eight years in the same job sometimes proves too much for some people. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has indicated she will leave to spend more time with her family. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta also seems poised to take flight. General Petraeus has resigned as head of the CIA over an extra-marital affair. In the first signs of the transition to come in Washington, as widely expected after the withdrawal from consideration for the post of US Secretary of State by the US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, President Barack Obama has announced that Senator John Kerry was his choice for Hillary Clinton’s replacement. Senator Kerry brings an impressive set of credentials to the job. A fifth term senator and an unsuccessful contender for the presidency in 2004, he is also the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a position that he has used to good effect to gain friends and confidence virtually all over the world. President Obama is not unjustified in thinking that Mr Kerry’s confirmation will have smooth sailing through Congress. Credentials and experience of foreign affairs notwithstanding, Senator Kerry has an unenviable task before him. The possibility of President Obama nominating former Republican senator Chuck Hagel to replace Mr Panetta at Defence has led observers to comment that the possible induction of two people on key posts who agree with the president’s plans for reducing US military involvement could mean an early US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Questions still linger whether post-withdrawal Afghanistan will see peace return or a continuing civil war that the Afghan security forces trained by ISAF will have a hard time controlling. Nevertheless, it is clear that President Obama is determined to reverse his predecessor George Bush’s military adventures abroad, Iraq having already seen a US withdrawal and Afghanistan poised to follow suit. The US resembles today a colossus with feet of clay, the world’s pre-eminent military power by many times but a country going through one of the worst recessions since the Great Crash of the late 1920s. The incoming secretary of state will have his job cut out for him when he tackles some of the thorny and intractable issues engaging Washington’s attention. First and foremost is the conflict with Iran over its nuclear programme, followed in quick succession by the war raging in Syria, the Middle East in turmoil over the (continuing) Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the unanticipated results of the Arab Spring, managing the transition in Afghanistan in a satisfactory manner, consolidating relations with Pakistan, and overseeing the new strategic thrust of the so-called Asia pivot. The US under Obama may be turning the page on a decade of wars overseas, but the world today is far more complex, in flux, and in a process of the realignment of power amongst older and newer emerging centres. President Obama underlined that Kerry will have to cope with using US power responsibly, a formulation that simplifies a very complex task in an increasingly complex post-cold war world. Kerry is considered a friend of Pakistan and has in the past acted as an informal trouble shooter for President Obama, notably over the Raymond Davis affair, the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and the killing of Pakistani border troops by a NATO attack that virtually unravelled the relationship, now slowly but surely on the mend. He will remain etched in Pakistani memory as one of the authors if not prime mover of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act that offered Pakistan $ 7.5 billion in economic assistance over five years. While Islamabad will welcome dealing with an old friend at State, the world will watch the new inductee to see if some of the old and intractable issues like the Palestinian misery tend towards a more positive role by Washington and not, as in the past, blind support to Israel. Kerry may also be well placed to manage the Iran problem through diplomacy rather than sabre-rattling. If he can pull off an Afghanistan withdrawal amidst a negotiated political settlement of that long running war, the relationship with Islamabad will also be benefited in its wake. We wish Senator Kerry good luck in his tough new assignment and hope he lives up to the world’s expectations of him and his country.
Friday, December 21, 2012
Investigation for Fair Trial Bill In a rare display of across-the-aisle cooperation, the National Assembly, after much debate and discussion, not to mention negotiations, unanimously passed the Investigation for Fair Trial Bill. The bill empowers six military and civilian intelligence agencies and the police to conduct surveillance and intercept emails, SMSs, telephones and any other form of computer or cell based communications. These sweeping powers aroused a great deal of apprehension amongst not just the opposition but even some of the government’s allies such as the MQM. Their fears were founded on the possible misuse of these powers to violate citizens’ privacy and target political opponents or dissidents. The objections of the opposition and others, after lengthy negotiations in the house, produced agreement on incorporating 30 amendments suggested by the bill’s opponents, while three were rejected. Safeguards against abuse of the provisions of the bill include the restriction of these powers to the ISI, three military intelligence agencies, Intelligence Bureau and the police. On the opposition’s insistence, the FIA was dropped from the list. The authors of the bill argue it provides a mechanism for conducting lawful, transparent investigations using modern means, which constitute an integral basis for trial and ensure evidence is collected in accordance with the law while balancing the rights of privacy of individuals with effective administration of justice. The desire of the opposition to restrict the scope of the bill to offences under the Anti-Terrorism Act was rejected, with the government insisting it incorporate offences under the Private Military Organisations Abolition and Prohibition Act 1974, Prevention of Anti-National Activities Act 1974, Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority Ordinance 2001 and National Command Authority Act 2010 as well. Also, the opposition’s proposal that the bill be restricted to one year and reviewed by the next government was rejected. The give and take seen on the floor of the house was the best expression of responsible legislation. If only such seriousness of purpose was seen more often in parliament. Nevertheless, the crucial need for the bill was never in doubt and readily admitted by everyone. It sends a message to the military, judiciary, the terrorists and the world. The military can now feel it is not alone in the fight against terrorism but has the full backing of the civilian parliamentarians. The judiciary’s complaint that terrorists have to be released by the courts for lack of evidence and proper prosecution may be addressed to a greater or lesser extent; only time and the practical implementation of the provisions of the bill can decide this. The terrorists, as Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf put it, have been given the message that they will not be allowed to succeed in destabilising the country and besmirching its face. The world has been conveyed that Pakistan stands united and determined to take the fight to the terrorists. The fears about privacy and misuse will linger, given that ‘informal’ surveillance has been continuing for years, sparing not even the high and the mighty. At least now such surveillance and interdiction will have to be applied for through a warrant issued by no less than a high court judge. That in itself may or may not stop the ‘informal’ surveillance, but at least to the extent of the bill, misuse of the powers inherent in it has been made punishable by imprisonment. There are also apprehensions that the word ‘terrorism’ remains undefined in the bill, possibly opening the door to widening its scope beyond the authors’ intent. The bill reflects the dilemma many countries have confronted after 9/11, including the developed democracies of the world. How to ensure privacy and other human rights while resorting to such widespread surveillance is a conundrum that has troubled many societies in recent years. Cases of abuse are not unknown. Nevertheless, even with all these cavils, the need to intercept the use of modern means of communication by the tech-savvy terrorists of today and thereby gain crucial intelligence about their plans cannot be denied. Political and judicial review of the implementation of the provisions offers safeguards but only in practice will it be possible to see whether the culture of impunity that the secret agencies have operated in for as long as the country has been in existence can be curbed. Extraordinary times such as Pakistan is passing through in the company of many other countries require extraordinary measures, some of which inevitably raise fears of Big Brother’s malign shadow. But in the interests of the struggle against terrorism, some curbs on privacy and rights may have to be swallowed in the hope of better times to come as a result.
Thursday, December 20, 2012
US immunity for ISI The US State Department has determined that Pakistan’s ISI and two of its former directors general enjoy immunity and cannot be tried in a New York federal court in the Mumbai attacks case. This view of the highest executive authorities in Washington, confirmed by legal advice, has been conveyed to the court, with the rider that the determination is not open to judicial review. International and US law is quite clear in this regard. Under the US’s Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), foreign governments and their employees acting in their official capacity cannot be summoned, let alone prosecuted in a US court. Sine the ISI conceptually and practically has consistently been treated as part of the government of Pakistan and operates under the Ministry of Defence, it and its employees enjoy immunity under the FSIA. The case was filed by survivors and family members of the victims of the November 26, 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. They had listed as respondents two former directors general of the ISI, Lt-Generals (retd) Ahmed Shuja Pasha and Nadeem Taj, arguing that the Mumbai attacks were planned and supported by the ISI, over which the government of Pakistan has no control. This argument has been refuted by the State Department’s finding, therefore it is now unlikely that the two former chiefs of ISI will have to make the trip to New York. The State Department however, was at pains to emphasise that it takes no position on the merits of the plaintiffs’ case, strongly condemns the Mumbai terrorist attacks and expects Pakistan to dismantle the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), whose leaders Hafiz Saeed, Zakiur Rahman, Sajid Mir and Azam Cheema are also amongst the respondents. India has surprisingly rejected the determination, calling it a matter of deep and abiding concern and in contradiction with Washington’s commitment to bring those responsible to justice. Since the law is very clear on this issue, the Indian reaction is not understandable, except perhaps as an expression of frustration at the lack of progress in bringing closure to the case. In this regard, India has complaints against Pakistan for not putting the LeT leaders allegedly involved, especially Hafiz Saeed, on trial. India accuses the ISI of being behind and masterminding the attacks. On his recent visit to India, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik argued that the perpetrators were “non-state actors” and the Pakistan government or authorities had nothing to do with it. He also resorted to dilatory tactics by arguing that Hafiz Saeed had been arrested and presented before the courts but for lack of evidence, the courts released him. What he did not mention was that the prosecution of Hafiz Saeed had nothing to do with the Mumbai attacks case but other charges. In any case, we are in a grey area here, since allegations have been rife in the past that the Mumbai attackers were in touch with and receiving instructions from some people in Pakistan. That of course does not necessarily confirm whether the ‘handlers’ were state or non-state actors. India has recently executed Ajmal Kasab, the lone survivor amongst the attackers, and has repeatedly voiced its frustration at the ‘masterminds’ in Pakistan not being prosecuted. Until recently, India had halted the Pakistan-India dialogue in protest. Only after this began to be seen in New Delhi as a dead end policy did India agree to once again restart the dialogue, which is proceeding in a reasonably healthy fashion. The judicial commission that earlier went to India to record the statements of the witnesses in the case in that country had returned with merely the witnesses’ statements, but were not allowed to cross-examine them. After a long delay, both countries have now decided to work out the modalities of another visit by the judicial commission in order to cross-examine the witnesses and thereby satisfy the Rawalpindi trial court as to the admissibility of the commission’s report. Pakistan must cooperate in a transparent manner in getting to the bottom of who exactly was responsible for 26/11 and bring them to justice. This is in the interests of the normalisation of relations process that is ongoing between the two countries. With all their chequered history of relations and mutual mistrust and suspicion, the two neighbours have slowly converged on the understanding that the Mumbai attacks were a ‘spoilers’ effort to halt the peace and normalisation process and that they should not be allowed to succeed and hold both countries hostage to their own agenda. Terrorism, as has been amply demonstrated by now, is no respecter of borders (compare Pakistan-Afghanistan). It is therefore in the interests of all regional states, including Pakistan and India, to come together in the struggle against this mutual menace and bury it for good.
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Threatened polio immunisation campaign The targeted killing of four women polio vaccinators in Karachi and one woman near Peshawar has rendered the polio immunisation campaign a high-risk enterprise. Two male immunisers were also wounded in the attacks in Karachi. A day earlier, a worker with the local government-World Health Organisation (WHO) programme was killed in the city. Earlier still, a paramedic was killed and a Ghanaian doctor associated with WHO was wounded along with his driver in Karachi. The current attacks took place in Pashtun-dominated areas in Karachi, indicating the probable hands behind the dastardly act. Although the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan governments expressed their commitment to continue the campaign, WHO has announced the suspension of the campaign. Condemnations have come from the US and the UN and throughout Pakistan. Karachi and some cities of interior Sindh saw protests against the attacks. The security forces have launched an operation in Karachi against suspects and reportedly killed two people and seized weapons. Meanwhile reports while writing these lines say attacks against women immunisers are continuing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. That underlines the importance of proper security arrangements for immunisation workers if the suspension by WHO and continuation of the critical campaign are to be saved from the savage clutches of the dark and backward looking forces that are holding our society hostage to their antediluvian agenda. The Taliban have been resisting the polio immunisation campaign for years. The programme was launched in Pakistan, one of only three countries in the world still polio-endemic, in 1994 with WHO’s help. It had relatively smooth sailing until 2005, when Mullah Radio began fulminating against it on his illegal FM channel. His example spread to other Taliban-run illegal FM stations, all of them initially painting the immunisation campaign as a conspiracy to make Muslims infertile and thereby reduce their population. New arguments were mustered against the polio immunisation campaign over the years, but they reached the peak of hostility after the Osama bin Laden raid. Now the Taliban have managed to declare a ban in Waziristan, which has put 240,000 children in the tribal areas at risk. The irrationality of the Taliban mindset is nowhere better on display than in this motivated offensive against a healthcare programme that will ensure our children are safe from the crippling disease. The polio virus is threatening to carry over borders into neighbouring countries and perhaps further abroad, which could bring in health restrictions against Pakistani citizens seeking to travel internationally. The targets selected, women and men associated with the work and unable to defend themselves against such attacks, prove that the Taliban, apart from attacking military facilities like the attack on the Pakistan Air Force base in Peshawar following earlier assaults against the Mehran base in Karachi and the Kamra air base, are now also focusing on soft targets. Apparently the authorities had received prior warnings of possible attacks against the polio immunisation teams, but no security was provided to them. This is one more failure of the security authorities, for which Interior Minister Rehman Malik received more than his fair share of flak in the National Assembly from even his own party MNAs. Pakistan will not be able to ensure a better future for its people or its children unless the whole country is united and mobilised in support of the security forces’ efforts against the terrorists. A tiny minority of fanatical extremists and their tacit or explicit supporters in society and sections of the media have managed to so muddy the waters regarding whether or not this war is ours, etc, that the national will required to combat the menace is conspicuous by its absence, the brave souls who still stand up against the fanatics and terrorists notwithstanding. The struggle against the terrorists is for the very soul of Pakistan. Let it not be said with hindsight that we were found lacking.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Jamrud massacre A car bomb killed 17 people and wounded more than 60 in the Jamrud bazaar in Khyber Agency on Monday. Twenty-one cars and seven shops were also destroyed in the huge explosion. No claim of responsibility has been forthcoming but the cast of usual suspects must head the list of possible perpetrators. This is the third attack in Jamrud this year. Each one has yielded a fair crop of deaths and injuries. The attack on the Peshawar airport the other day and now this bombing are part and parcel of the terrorists’ counter-offensive to relieve the pressure on them in Khyber Agency where the military has been conducting an operation. As further evidence of the counter-offensive perception, on the same day, three soldiers were killed and another three wounded in clashes with terrorist attackers at a check post in Lakki Marwat. Another bomb was discovered and defused in time near Bacha Khan Chowk in Peshawar. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Information Mian Iftikhar Hussain has called for a full scale military offensive against the terrorists, who he thinks are now looking for soft targets, having seen the stiffened security forces’ response to the Peshawar airport attack. Another interesting new aspect that has been brought forward as a result of the Peshawar attack is that many foreigners, including Uzbeks and Daghestanis, were part of the group that carried out the action. The authorities have revealed that some of the 10 terrorists who carried out the attack on the Peshawar airport were Uzbeks, or certainly of Central Asian origin, and the by now infamous tattooed gentleman who has found widespread mention in the media, has been found to be from Daghestan according to a letter in Urdu found on his person after he was killed. This has led to the conclusion that the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) are now collaborating in their war against the Pakistani state. Mian Iftikhar surmises that this is because the TTP is running into difficulties now in recruiting people and is being forced therefore to rely on these foreign trainers to carry out actual actions. Certainly the big Bannu jailbreak earlier this year proved the TTP-IMU collaboration according to the respective claims of the two groups. The IMU is well known to have an al Qaeda connection. It follows therefore that the nexus of terrorist groups now enfolds a wide array of groups from the TTP to the Afghan Taliban to Central Asian and other groups that are aligned with al Qaeda. The terrorist fanatics have targeted polio campaign workers according to reports when these lines were being written, causing a halt to the immunisation campaign in Karachi. The terrorists are enemies of everything that a modern, forward looking society aspires to: education, healthcare, and an open, vibrant culture. These enemies of humanity, including women and children, and arguably enemies of the religion they purport to speak for, are the black vermin of our times, unleashed in the past by the unthinking obsession of the west to overcome communism through every and any means, and whose unintended consequences have drenched our country and the region and to some extent the rest of the world, in blood and gore. Without eliminating the threat they pose to everything civilisation stands for, there can be no good future for Pakistan, the region, or the world. This is the existential struggle of our times, and if we fall short, subsequent generations would be within their rights not to forgive us for blighting their future, perhaps beyond redemption.
Monday, December 17, 2012
Fall of Dhaka remembered Prime Minister (PM) Raja Pervez Ashraf said in a speech at a rally in Kasur on Sunday that opposition parties should end the politics of confrontation and help start a new era in politics. He made mention of the events of December 16, 1971, the day Dhaka fell and East Pakistan seceded to become Bangladesh. The PM said December 16 is a constant reminder that there is no room for any future blunders in politics. Ne’er was a truer word spake. Unfortunately though, we are a society of ostriches with our heads buried in the sand. Not only have we brushed the events that led to the breakaway of East Pakistan under the carpet, we have failed to educate successive generations after 1971 about those tragic times. The 1970-71 crisis finds no mention in our curricula or textbooks. The result is that there are many among us by now who are not even aware that East Pakistan once existed as the eastern wing of the country. How then, despite the PM’s good intent, are we as a people expected to know and learn the lessons from that debacle to avoid repetition of similar mistakes when we are wholly or partially uninformed? Pakistan came into existence as a result of partition in 1947 comprising of two wings separated by 1,000 miles of Indian territory. It was an unlikely construct to begin with. Subsequently, successive regimes (largely based on West Pakistani bureaucrats, Generals and politicians) treated East Pakistan like a colony, linguistically, culturally, politically and economically. The resentment that built up against domination by West Pakistan therefore was not an overnight phenomenon but accumulated over 24 years before culminating in the inferno of 1971. As early as 1952, the people of East Pakistan rose in protest against the declaration by none other than Mr Jinnah in 1948 that Urdu, and Urdu alone, would be the official language of the new state. Although it is the student protest in East Pakistan that is best remembered as offering the first Bengali language movement martyrs (at the hands of police firing) in our history, what is often lost or forgotten is that West Pakistan comprised at least four nationalities with diverse languages, culture and historical identity dating back hundreds of years. Their linguistic and cultural rights too were violated in the 1948 declaration. After that bloody 1952 episode, the die was cast for incremental bitterness amongst the people of East Pakistan against their treatment. That treatment consisted of denying the Bengali people their political rights, reflected in the arbitrary dismissal of the united front government in East Pakistan called the Jukto Front in 1954 and the removal of Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy’s government after just 13 months in power in 1957. The 1956 constitution had imposed one unit in West Pakistan and parity of seats between the two wings in a malign effort to deny the numerically greater people of East Pakistan the democratic right of one man one vote. During the 1950s and 60s, a process of extraction of the economic surplus and foreign exchange provided by East Pakistan’s jute exports was ploughed into infrastructure and industry in West Pakistan, a process that reinforced the sense of alienation of the Bengali masses. Mujibur Rehman, once a protégé of Suhrawardy, suffered imprisonment repeatedly for voicing the demands of the people of East Pakistan and was finally arrested in the Agartala Conspiracy case in 1967, a trumped up sedition charge that did not outlast the agitation that overtook the whole country, East and West, against Ayub Khan. The aftermath of that countrywide seven month agitation resulted in the departure of Ayub, martial law under the army chief Yahya Khan, extreme repression to quell mass unrest, the undoing of one unit (a popular and much iterated demand of the progressive political forces of both wings) and the announcement of general elections in 1970. Had Yahya accepted the results of the elections, which gave Mujib a majority and the right to form the government, Pakistan may well have been intact today. Instead, Yahya, in collaboration, it must be said with regret, West Pakistani political leaders like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, launched a genocidal military crackdown in East Pakistan that finally ended, after thousands of lives lost, rapes and other atrocities, in the fall of Dhaka on December 16, 1971 to invading Indian forces. The contention that we have learnt nothing from this past and stubbornly refuse to do so is proved by the fact that Balochistan's political problems are being dealt with today in the same fashion: repression, military operations, kill and dump atrocities. The more things change, the more, it seems, they remain the same. Time to wake up to the dangers posed to the unity of remaining Pakistan before it is too late.
Sunday, December 16, 2012
Asymmetrical and guerrilla warfare The audacious terrorist attack on Peshawar’s airport on Saturday that also houses the Pakistan Air Force’s Northern Command air base once again forces us to revisit the nature of asymmetrical and guerrilla warfare and the struggle against it. The attack involved rocket attacks, suicide bombers, an explosives laden vehicle being rammed into the airport’s boundary wall and accompanying weapons fire. Despite the fact that there was prior intelligence about a possible attack on the airport, gleaned from the interrogation of a would-be suicide bomber captured a few days ago, the attackers were still able to take advantage of the element of surprise. That the security forces’ response was effective and five of the attackers were killed and one wounded, does not take away from the fact that the attack took a toll of four people killed and about 50 injured. Fortunately the attackers were unable to penetrate into the airport or base and were repelled or killed before they could reach their objective. Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Ihsanullah Ehsan claimed responsibility for the attack, confirming that the target was the air force base. Comparisons are being drawn with the Mehran base and Kamra air base attacks. Clearly, the fact that the area had been cleared and was under the control of the security forces in Peshawar within 24 hours is encouraging and indicates that lessons have been learnt from the previous two attacks and others of a similar nature in the past. However, there are some additional lessons that should be drawn from the episode. It is being surmised that the attack on the Peshawar air base was in retaliation for the ongoing military operation against terrorists in Bara tehsil of Khyber Agency, an area that abuts close to Peshawar. Military operations in the area, as in FATA as a whole, are supported by the air force’s and army aviation’s efforts from the Peshawar base. It follows logically therefore, and is in conformity with the strategy and tactics of asymmetrical and guerrilla warfare that when the terrorists are under pressure in their home bases, they will try to relieve that pressure and distract the security forces’ focus to other areas, preferably towards the rear base areas of the counter-insurgency forces. Given this conclusion, drawn from experience of such wars here and elsewhere, it was almost inevitable that the terrorists would target the rear air base of operations against them in Bara. The security forces, while their performance in this episode deserves praise, nevertheless need coordinated strategic planning to ensure that all forward military offensives are designed with the possibility that rear bases will be struck as a diversionary tactic in mind. Pakistan faces a protracted struggle against terrorism that has permeated our society. The enemy is within, and amongst us. One evidence for this are the reports that during the cleaning up operation following the Peshawar attack, the security forces came under fire from the residential areas around the site of the attack. Empirical evidence from many urban neighbourhoods in Peshawar and virtually all the large cities of the country indicates that the terrorists have set up underground cells in all these. Whenever therefore such an action ensues, there is every possibility that there will be further diversionary attacks from residential areas to further distract and divide the attention of the security forces. We have argued consistently in this space for the need of a high powered coordination and operational centre for the struggle against terrorism. Such a centre requires centralisation of all the intelligence and data bases scattered amongst the intelligence and security forces, both military and civilian. It is a pity that the concept has been left to wither on the vine for at least three years over rival claims to lead such a central body. Much time has been wasted thereby and much blood and water has flowed because of this lack of coordinated actions against the terrorists as a whole and not in piecemeal fashion. Many needed steps are on hold currently since the incumbent government is considered a lame duck in the run up to the elections. However, this is a measure that transcends any political or electoral considerations. It is still required, and will still be required no matter what happens in the general elections. The next government too will be charged with the same responsibilities against terrorism and need the centralised command in the struggle against terrorism just as much. The sooner this is undertaken therefore, the better.
Saturday, December 15, 2012
Contempt notice to Altaf The Supreme Court (SC) has issued a contempt of court notice to MQM chief Altaf Hussain regarding his combative December 2 speech, in which he passed critical and even threatening remarks against SC judges. The notice says the remarks are tantamount to interference with and obstruction of the court’s process by advancing threats to the judges, bringing them into hatred, ridicule and contempt. Further, the notice says on account of such assertions, the process of the court was likely to be prejudiced in relation to the implementation of the issues arising out of the court’s directions in the Watan Party case verdict of October 6, 2011 and the orders of November 1, 26 and 28, 2012 for the implementation of the court’s directions in the Karachi target killings and law and order case. The notice is to be sent to Altaf Hussain through the foreign office and a copy delivered to the party’s leader in Pakistan, Dr Farooq Sattar, at the MQM’s headquarters in Karachi. Whereas Altaf has responded by saying he would file a reply to the court after legal consultations and asked his followers to remain calm and not react, since Friday armed men have been indulging in aerial firing in Karachi, Hyderabad and Mirpurkhas to ensure a closure of these cities. The MQM leadership has distanced itself from these developments but suspicions linger that this was the work of Altaf’s followers and no one else. In the speech of December 2, Altaf Hussain had not only criticised the verdicts of the SC on delimitation of constituencies in Karachi and the re-verification of the voters’ lists with the help of the army and Frontier Corps (FC), but gone so far as to ask the SC judges to apologise or face the consequences. A subsequent address to his followers on December 14 tried to repair some of the hurt by the MQM supremo saying he respected the judiciary, but the rush of blood on December 2 had already done the damage. The issues at stake in the two verdicts relate to the gerrymandering of the constituencies in Karachi to advantage the MQM during Musharraf’s regime and the voters’ lists issue has arisen because close to three million voters who reside in Karachi and have been voting in elections there over the years have been ‘removed’ from the Karachi voters’ lists and re-registered in their places of origin, effectively disenfranchising them. The SC’s verdicts seem to have been read by Altaf as an attack on the ‘privileges’ the MQM has enjoyed in Karachi for over thee decades, which have allowed it to retain its grip over the metropolis’ affairs. The confrontation with the SC is not the only trouble afflicting the MQM these days. Its once prominent leader Imran Farooq’s murder in London is under investigation by Scotland Yard, which raided the MQM’s head office in London the other day, an event Altaf tried to repaint as the MQM’s willing cooperation with the investigation. The affair has been made murkier by the fact that the two alleged assassins were arrested in Karachi some time ago but nothing has been heard since about their whereabouts or fate. Naturally the British authorities were very keen to interview the suspects, but reports state they were not allowed access. Meanwhile back home there is a murder charge against the top leadership of the MQM related to the killing of three MQM-Haqiqi leaders in Karachi not so long ago. All in all, one may be forgiven for thinking that the party has fallen on bad days. While the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is gearing up to consult about 20 political parties on the issue of delimitation of constituencies and has written to the executive authorities for the army and FC’s help in re-verifying the voters’ list in Karachi, the SC is once again querying the recent increase once again in target killings in Karachi, the original cause of its verdict on the law and order situation of the city. It remains to be seen how all this pans out, but it is unlikely Altaf Hussain will appear before the SC on the summons date of January 7 or anytime soon after that. However, with the SC determined to see its verdicts on Karachi implemented and the ECP following its directives to the letter, the days of the MQM getting away literally with blue murder in the city may be coming to an end.
Friday, December 14, 2012
The corruption furore A furore has broken out about corruption charges against politicians across the board. The NAB chief, Admiral (retd) Fasih Bokhari, has exploded a bombshell by endorsing the figure for daily corruption first put forward by Transparency International (TI) of Rs seven billion per day. Whereas the TI figure was based more on surveys of perceptions than any concrete facts, the good Admiral seems to have a little more wind in his sails when he claims the country is losing Rs seven billion per day due to tax evasion and another Rs 6-7 billion because of direct corruption at both the federal and provincial levels, based he says, on the TI surveys, government and regulators’ reports, proceedings of the Public Accounts Committee, tax collection departments’ input and NAB’s own assessment of mega projects. None of the data that could back up such sweeping generalisations has so far been presented by the Admiral, whose initial estimate has now almost doubled, casting a shadow of doubt about the findings. Irrespective of the government and the opposition’s reactions to the allegations, a number of questions have arisen because of the Admiral’s actions. First and foremost, is it the NAB’s mandate to be indulging in such kite-flying? NAB is charged with going after specific corruption cases, not indulging in dubious ‘research’. Second, as a department of the government, should the NAB chief not have gone to the government with his ‘findings’ instead of creating a controversy by going public on shaky foundations? Last but not least, the timing of his assertions on the eve of the general elections leaves one scratching one’s head as to the purpose or intent behind this ‘bombshell’. Irrespective of the Admiral’s fulminations or his intent, all he has managed to do is feed into a general perception that corruption exists, the quantity remaining difficult to pin down by the very nature of the phenomenon, which afflicts all tiers and levels of the state, from the lowest rung to the highest. However, perception is not proof. It has to be substantiated by concrete evidence. Sweeping statements are no substitute for what is arguably a serious affliction state and society are suffering from. Feeling targeted, the political class has felt more affronted than responded responsibly. If the political class has been put in the dock on the issue of not filing income tax returns, although some of the names being touted have refuted the allegation, the response expected from our elected representatives is that they behave like responsible holders of elected office and plug any gaps that exist in this regard. There are other issues with the current furore. It appears on the surface that the various authors of the corruption reports see ‘evil’ only in the political class. Their omissions are even more significant than those they name. Have they ‘declared’ the military and bureaucracy squeaky clean in focusing only on politicians? Anyone even superficially acquainted with Pakistan’s history will find it difficult to deny the role these institutions have played in siphoning off state resources, in the case of the military, involving big ticket defence purchases paid for by the sweat and labour of the citizen. About the bureaucracy and the lower judiciary, the less said the better. All the surveyors and purveyors of this pseudo-science needed to do was talk to a representative sample of the citizenry and they would have come away better educated about the phenomenon of corruption and the spread of its tentacles through the entire governance structures of the country. Last but by no means the least, some probing questions need to be asked before we get swept away in a frenzy in another dubious controversy. Is corruption universal or confined? Increasingly, the answer may well be that it is tending towards the former. Did corruption begin only now? This is patently a false and ahistorical perception. Corruption has been around a long time, arguably since independence, and the fact that it has grown in depth and reach suggests it is not about to go away any time soon. The tendency of the military to use its periods in power or even in between as license to manoeuvre benefits, the bureaucracy to permanently have its hand in the till, the political class to incrementally treat public office as a means of private gain, all these have acquired unstoppable traction over time. Adding to this sorry picture is the ethos of unbridled capitalism, which glorifies getting rich by any and all means, including the crooked. Unfortunately, the mud-slinging over corruption, past victimisation of political opponents in the name of accountability, and the lack of any meaningful measures to halt the growing trend means that, especially at this juncture when the country stands poised on the brink of a historic democratic transition, the whole furore is unlikely to turn out to be more than a red herring when juxtaposed against the even more serious challenges facing the country.
Thursday, December 13, 2012
Ankara trilateral moot The trilateral meeting between the presidents of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkey in Ankara has yielded much mutual bonhomie. The three presidents’ joint statement released after the meeting reiterated their determination to address security challenges affecting the region. They also signed a trilateral Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on economic and commercial cooperation. In addition, they underlined the importance of connectivity amongst people, institutions, infrastructures and economies. One example of such connectivity is the recently established hotline among the presidential offices. The joint statement emphasised the common challenge of combating terrorism, extremism and narcotics trafficking, the last having emerged in recent years as a major financier of terrorism. All these afflictions pose a serious threat to regional peace, security and stability. The statement strongly denounced the recent terrorist attack on Afghan National Directorate of Security chief Asadullah Khalid and Malala Yousafzai. The attack on Khalid had raised the temperature between Islamabad and Kabul when Afghan President Hamid Karzai alleged that the planning for the attack had taken place in Pakistan. The host, Turkish President Abdullah Gul, characterised the attack as the handiwork of forces that wanted to spoil relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, fulfilling thereby and through his mediation between the two brother countries the hopes residing in this meeting to overcome Kabul’s suspicions. That does mean that the attack may not have emanated from Pakistani soil, only that there are enough ‘spoilers’ in our country who may wish to see the current moves towards a solution of the Afghan quagmire thwarted. If so, this implies that our military establishment and intelligence agencies may no longer have, if they ever did, total control over their erstwhile Afghan jihadi protégés, some of whom have arguably slipped the leash in the context of Afghan Taliban internal dissension on the response to the peace initiative in Afghanistan. It was agreed that a joint working group of Afghanistan and Pakistan would address the issue of the attack on Khalid. In addition to smoothing frayed nerves in Kabul and Islamabad and providing a mechanism for mutual cooperation on the incident, the trilateral moot underlined the importance of a regional political dialogue to thrash out problems and move the process of economic cooperation along. On the latter, the meeting included in the MoU the setting up of a Trilateral Trade Council to enhance economic exchange amongst the three countries through a preferential trade agreement that would boost trade, the target for Pakistani-Turkish trade being set at at least $ 2 billion a year, which may still seem like a modest goal, given the enormous trade potential of Turkey’s growing economy. Bilaterally, President Asif Ali Zardari and President Abdullah Gul exchanged notes on early implementation of joint projects, with the Gul Train intended to link by rail Pakistan and Turkey taking pride of place as a further example of the desired goal of connectivity. Needless to say, the immense potential of a rail link between Pakistan and Turkey cannot be exaggerated, given its potential to go on and facilitate movement of goods onwards into Europe. President Zardari, as he is wont to do whenever he travels abroad, invited Turkish investment in various sectors, including infrastructure, housing, engineering, agriculture, telecommunications, mining and energy. Ironically, on the last sector, there has been considerable embarrassment because of the Supreme Court’s (SC) striking down the Rental Power (RPP) projects totally, including the ship-mounted Karkey RPP. The SC was persuaded that the RPPs, an interim measure to address the country’s energy crisis until other forms of electricity production could be built, were non-transparent (hinting at corruption). As it turned out however, no charges of corruption could be proved. However, the SC’s wisdom in throwing the RPPs baby out with the bathwater of desired transparency has resulted in friction between the Turkish company and Pakistan. The judiciary is once more advised to exercise restraint and keep the interests of the country and its foreign relations in view when handing down such verdicts. Be that as it may, despite this setback, Pak-Turk relations are strong enough to weather this storm in a teacup and emerge closer and more cooperative than ever, as the Ankara moot has indicated.
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
International Human Rights Day December 10 marks the passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 by the UN General Assembly and is commemorated as International Human Rights Day every year. Pakistan too this year had much to remember and commemorate in the sphere of human rights. Both at home and abroad, significant events took place to position Pakistan very much in the list of countries pursuing the goals set out in 1948. In Paris, President Asif Ali Zardari addressed a conference jointly organized by Pakistan and UNESCO on the theme: “Stand up for Malala, Girls Education is a Right”. The president used the occasion to underline the argument that Pakistan is fighting the forces of darkness, hatred and violence. Since Malala was the focus, the president reiterated to the international community that Pakistan was committed to providing equal rights for education to boys and girls and appealed to the world community to extend support and cooperation in this regard. He argued that the Pakistan government was completing its term, which had boosted its confidence in the fact that democracy was the only vehicle that could deliver peace and prosperity to the people and the region. All political parties and provinces had come together in Pakistan to make fundamental changes in the constitution regarding education for all children and it had been declared a fundamental right and the state’s responsibility, the president said. This would have a transformational effect in defeating the forces of an extremist mindset that are against education for girls. Having met Malala in Birmingham before coming to Paris, the president told his audience that her recovery is a symbol of the resilience of the Pakistani nation and also a symbol of the battle between the mindset that Malala represents – a bright, progressive future for Pakistan – and the second mindset, a fringe minority of darkness, violence, hatred and conflict. Zardari announced Pakistan’s donation of $ 10 million for the Malala Fund being set up as part of the global efforts for girls’ education, dubbed the ‘Malala Plan’. Meanwhile back home Prime Minister (PM) Raja Pervez Ashraf announced in a function in Islamabad on the Day that the government was considering the promulgation of personal laws for the minorities, including marriage and divorce bills for Christians and Hindus. This, the PM said, would fulfil a longstanding demand of the minorities and help bring them at par with the Muslim majority. Certainly in the case of Hindus, this has of late given rise to concerns since they had little or no legal cover for their marriages and divorces. The PM further announced that the government was contemplating the appointment of human rights defenders under the ministry of human rights. He too reiterated the government’s determination not to give in to the narrow minded and bigoted agenda of the extremists. Also in Islamabad, the PPP human rights cell held a seminar on “The Role of Political Parties in Promoting a Culture of Human Rights” to go with this year's theme, “Inclusion and Participation in Public Life”. Notably, all the speakers at the seminar agreed that the greatest threat to the rights of the people today is the culture of intolerance and extremism. It is religious extremism, they argued, which has separated us from Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti. The cell recognized through citations and medals the courage of Salmaan Taseer, Malala Yousafzai, Shahbaz Bhatti and Fauzia Wahab. Civil society and the working class too commemorated the Day, the former dedicating themselves to the campaign to end violence against women under the rubric: One Billion Rising, a symbolic reference to the estimated one billion women all over the world who have been subjected to violence. Whether it is Malala, the almost martyr, or the actual martyrs Salmaan Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti and others who stood firm against extremism and paid the ultimate price, Pakistan has seen many struggles against the fanatics who have made Pakistani state and society resemble nothing more than a blood soaked jungle. However, what has also happened in recent years is the growing awareness in the polity and society of the need to combat this deadly affliction by promoting enlightenment, modern ideas, education and a progressive culture. The PPP-led government too has been part of, if not in the forefront, of this growing awareness phenomenon. However, there is little room for complacency as the examples of human rights abuses of all shades and varieties show. Awareness is good as the first preliminary step, but there is still much to be done and miles to go before we can sleep.
A triumphant return Khaled Meeshal’s return to Palestinian soil in Gaza after 45 years in exile, albeit for a brief visit, represents the triumph of the Palestinian will against all odds. Born in the West Bank, the co-founder of Hamas kissed the earth after stepping across the border from Egypt. His exile followed the 1967 war, in which Israel captured the Sinai, West Bank and the Golan Heights. Sinai was returned to Egypt after the 1973 war as a result of the peace treaty Egypt signed with Israel, the West Bank remains under Israeli occupation with growing Israeli settlements reducing the Palestinians there to a ghetto existence while East Jerusalem has been annexed, and the Golan Heights too are still under Israeli occupation. Gaza has nominal autonomy since Israel vacated it physically in 2005, weakened by the Israeli land and sea blockade that has converted Gaza into the biggest open air prison in the world. The occasion for Meshaal’s return was to join and address a rally commemorating the 25th anniversary of the formation of Hamas. This commemoration came just two weeks after an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire between Israel and Hamas ended the latest round of conflict in which 170 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed. What was notable about this latest round of the simmering war between the Palestinians and Israel was the enhanced rocket and missile capability of Hamas, which allowed it to target Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for the first time. In his address to the commemorative rally, Khaled Meshaal reiterated Hamas’s determination never to recognize Israel and to liberate every inch of Palestinian soil, including the territory on which the Israeli state was created. He also referred to the successful exchange of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners against the Israeli conscript Gilad Shalit who was captured in 2006 and hidden away for five years, vowing that the same tactic would be used again to free all Palestinian prisoners in Israeli captivity. Hamas’s standing internationally and in the region has been enhanced since the Arab Spring brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt and its courage under fire from the Israeli war machine. Many conservative Arab states have come out in support of Hamas and some of their high officials were present at the rally as a show of solidarity. Hamas’s position is in direct contrast if not conflict with Fatah and the PLO under Mahmoud Abbas on the latter’s pursuit of a diplomatic settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through the faltering two-state solution under the Oslo Accords of 1993. Despite that, Meshaal held out the olive branch of reconciliation to Fatah in the interests of the Palestinian cause. After years of differences over the path to Palestinian liberation, and actual fighting between the two factions after Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian elections that led to Hamas ousting Fatah from Gaza, it appears that the two sides are considering unity again. It is ironic to contemplate that Fatah, set up by the late Yasser Arafat, the original author of the armed struggle against Israel, after suffering a series of reverses over the years in Jordan and finally in Lebanon, from where the PLO leadership was ousted and sent into exile in Tunisia, is today associated with the compromise of recognising Israel’s right to exist and for the Palestinians to be satisfied with the scraps of a non-viable ghettoized state, if they can get it. Not to take away anything from the recent success of Abbas in getting Palestinian non-state membership of the UN, the fact remains that Israeli intransigence has buried the two-state solution (land for peace) in the sands of Palestine. Resistance, therefore, was the leit motif of Meshaal’s speech, where he argued that without resistance, there could not even be any diplomatic headway against the Israeli intransigence. Certainly under Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, this argument has found ‘support’ from its very antithesis. The Palestinians have been betrayed time and again by their ostensible Arab brothers and weakened by internal disunity and conflict. The times call for internal solidarity and a nuanced struggle on both the diplomatic and military front if the Palestinians are to win, no matter how long it takes, as Meshaal underlined. The historic wrong of the imposition of the state of Israel on Palestinian territory still awaits undoing. Only a united Palestinian resistance has any chance of reaching that difficult goal, given the weight of the US’s blind support of Israel no matter how brutal and defiant of international opinion its actions may be.
Saturday, December 8, 2012
Murky waters The Arsalan Iftikhar-Malik Riaz affair continues to remain murky even after the Supreme Court (SC) abruptly wound up its own appointed Suddle Commission charged with investigating the allegations of Malik Riaz that the son of the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) had received benefits to the tune of Rs 342 million in return for influencing the cases against Mr Riaz in the SC in his favour. This was indeed a very serious charge and by implication, even before anything had been proved, threatened to compromise the standing and reputation of the honourable CJP. The two-member bench hearing the case, in its order has said the report of the Commission should be made public. Reports state that the Commission’s findings indict both Arsalan Iftikhar as well as Malik Riaz in misdemeanours. Through his statements before the Commission, Arsalan is said to have admitted to receiving benefits from Malik Riaz and his family. In that case, Arsalan’s declaration after the verdict that he had been vindicated as innocent of any wrongdoing is puzzling, to say the least. Malik Riaz has reportedly been held responsible in the report of evading taxes (as has Arsalan) and land grabbing activity. The court took the position that since the judiciary had been initially dragged into the affair, and now cleared of any involvement by the Commission, there was no further need for it. The issue, according to the court, is one between two individuals and they are free to approach any forum for redress. While both parties have expressed satisfaction at the verdict, albeit for different reasons, the SC order has raised more questions than it has answered. The whole affair has been, for lack of a better expression, an inadvertent comedy of errors. When Malik Riaz first raised the allegations against Arsalan, the CJP took what appears in retrospect to be the unwise decision to take suo motu notice and insist on sitting on the bench himself, at least initially. After a slate of objections to this step, which not only pre-empted ‘other forums’ being approached, but also made the action of the CJP to insist on heading the bench controversial, wiser counsel finally prevailed, and the CJP rightly recused himself. However, the controversies did not end there. When the SC ordered the Attorney General to take steps to investigate the case, and a reference was sent to NAB, Arsalan objected to the composition of the Joint Investigation Team constituted to look into the affair. The SC saw fit to grant him relief in this regard and instead set up the one-man Suddle Commission, which has now been wound up prematurely, before it could finish its work. The court’s finding that this is an affair between two individuals does not stand up to scrutiny. Arsalan Iftikhar is no ordinary individual. His actions, whether conscious or inadvertent, had, and still have, the potential to greatly embarrass his illustrious father. If his admission of receiving benefits to the Suddle Commission are taken into account, and the implications of the CJP’s son being open to such benefits in return for unexplained favours according to the Commission’s report, and to influence positively the cases against him before the SC according to Malik Riaz, the court’s relieving itself of the responsibility to see through the implications and order action for what is potentially a criminal liability leaves much to be desired. The whole affair has been, with due respect, mishandled from day one. In this space, when the allegations surfaced, we had argued that for justice to be done and to be seen to be done, the CJP should either resign or go on long leave until such time as his non-involvement in the affairs of his son was proved beyond doubt. On the contrary, the CJP acted hastily, first in taking suo motu notice (in this case a double-edged sword), then insisting on heading the bench, and last bit not least, being ‘cleared’ by his brother judges of any involvement without a satisfactory in-depth investigation and action on whatever has seen the light of day, including, crucially, Arsalan Iftikhar’s own admissions. That none of what was necessary has transpired is far from satisfactory and is likely to lead to fresh controversies surrounding the matter, to the detriment, amongst others, of the superior judiciary itself.
Thursday, December 6, 2012
Verification of voters The Supreme Court (SC) has ordered the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to conduct a door-to-door verification of the electoral rolls in Karachi with the aid of the army and Frontier Corps (FC). The order was passed on Wednesday in the judgement on sundry petitions moved before the SC by the PPP, PML-N, PTI, and JI asking the court to order verification of voters in the city. The MQM had objected to the request. Its chief, Altaf Hussain, had countered the proposal with the argument that if at all such verification was found necessary, it should be conducted countrywide rather than just in Karachi. The court brushed aside this contention on the grounds that it was in Karachi that the issue of accurate voters list had arisen and not for the country as a whole. Reports say 2.7 million votes of people who have been residents of Karachi for decades and voted there in previous elections have had their votes ‘transferred’ to their places of origin. The judgement says categorically that no voter should be transferred from the list in Karachi without their consent, since this violates their fundamental right to franchise. The verdict goes on to say that the objective of a transparent, free, fair election cannot, it is apprehended, be achieved without this step. The ECP has responded through Chief Election Commissioner Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim by saying the ECP was ready to implement the court’s order to the letter. It may be recalled that it was during General Musharraf’s regime that the MQM was advantaged by gerrymandering constituencies in Karachi and other cities of Sindh. This historical wrong has been reinforced by the recently passed Sindh People’s Local Government Act that is seen by the Sindhi nationalists and even dissenters within the PPP as electorally surrendering the cities of Sindh to the MQM in perpetuity. That is why the Sindhi nationalists’ strike against the Act found wide resonance across the board in interior Sindh. Now whether the 2.7 million voters in question have been ‘transferred’ out of Karachi at the wish of the MQM or not is not known, but suspicions have been aroused in this regard because it is only the MQM who will gain by this manoeuvre. Pakistan can no longer afford this kind of sleight of hand if the democratic system is to be consolidated and carried forward through fair, free and transparent elections. Of course there are other, even more serious problems afflicting Karachi, but these were not before the court in this case. The daily toll of lives in the metropolis has reduced the life of its citizens to a hell. Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif has pointed to one of the reasons why this is so. He argues that all political parties in Karachi have armed militias that are responsible for the disturbed conditions of the city. However, he says, there is no solution to this conundrum at present because most of these parties are in the Sindh governing coalition. He may as well have also included in the list of usual suspects extremists of a terrorist and sectarian hue, as well as criminal elements that have taken full advantage of the opportunity provided by the disturbances in Karachi. There is therefore a full panoply of armed groups that have reduced the city to a killing field. What effect this may have on the project of fair, free, transparent general elections in the city can only be conjectured at this point, but it certainly does not bode well. As it is the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Human Rights is seized of the matter of violations of the code of conduct laid down by the ECP in the by-polls conducted the other day in Punjab and Sindh, which involved display and aerial firing of weapons as well as violence between rival groups. Imagine if polls are conducted in Karachi, awash with weapons and killers of all shades, what might transpire. The thought is chilling. The government, the SC, as well as the ECP, while the exercise of verifying the voters door-to-door is about to be conducted, must also ponder the very real danger of a violence-wracked Karachi exploding amidst the heat of an electoral contest. The killers and their weapons have to be cleansed if Karachi is not to see a bloodbath when the general elections are held.
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Electoral landscape By-elections are indicative of political trends, but by no means conclusive proof of the future. In the electoral contest for nine vacant seats, two National, six provincial in Punjab and one provincial in Sindh, the results and the manner in which polling was conducted bear comment. First the outcome. On the face of it, winning five provincial and one National seats outright in Punjab while bagging another provincial seat by backing an independent candidate would appear to give great comfort, if not triumphalism, to the PML-N. The PML-Q can still lick its wounds by pointing to the one provincial seat it managed. But what of the PPP? It faced a whitewash in Punjab, reducing to the dirt heap the claims that newly appointed Punjab PPP chief, Mian Manzoor Wattoo, would restore its long dormant prospects in the province. In fact the party even lost a seat it had won in 2008. The PPP has tried to put a brave face on the debacle by arguing the new leadership needed time to show improvement. Considering these were the last by-polls before the general elections, that leaves the party with no way of assessing whether this will indeed come to pass. Given the zero result in Punjab, perhaps even the one seat won by the PPP in Sindh would not compensate. On the face of it therefore, the electoral results reflect the existing incumbency patterns. However, perhaps a closer look may reveal other factors that impacted on the results. First and foremost, it must be remembered that the by-elections were being held because of the vacation of these nine seats after the Supreme Court’s ruling on dual nationals not being allowed to stand for election. The by-elections in Punjab were confined to central Punjab, well known as the stronghold of the ruling PML-N. And so it has proved. However, the other claimant to central Punjab strength, the PML-Q, has much cause for worry, especially because it even lost in its traditional home constituency Gujrat. The lone seat the party won has not prevented heartburn and questioning of the advantage of the alliance with the PPP. The PTI has not had a bad run in a couple of Punjab constituencies, even if its candidates did not win. This has encouraged the PTI to claim that the general elections will produce a different result. Whereas both the PPP and PML-Q have accused the PML-N of using state resources and violating the code of conduct laid down by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which included aerial firing and physical violence against rivals in some constituencies, it must be conceded that the by-polls passed relatively peacefully. However, the display of arms in both Punjab and Sindh and the instances of code violations are cause for concern and a big challenge for the ECP and its recently appointed Chief, Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim. The ECP has stated all such incidents will be investigated and be dealt with. This is critical if confidence in the conduct of the coming general elections is not to suffer erosion. Be that all as it may, a political analysis of the respective strengths and weaknesses of the contending parties may shed some more light on the results and what they portend for the general elections. The PML-N, despite no great record in incumbency, did not suffer any negative effects. On the contrary, if its accusers are to be believed, it used the ‘advantages’ of being in control of the state machinery to great effect. The PTI bases its argument about different results in the general elections on the fact that there will be a caretaker government in power and the present ‘advantages’ therefore would disappear. The Chaudhries of Gujrat have been handicapped since their traditional methods of patronage are not available in quite the way they have been in the past, despite having gone into a coalition with the PPP and had Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi appointed Deputy Prime Minister. That may be the real basis of their angst about the alliance with the PPP proving inefficacious, since it has not fulfilled their desire for ‘sufficient’ patronage clout. But it is the PPP that shows all the signs of continuing disarray in Punjab. Not since 1977 has the PPP managed to come to power in the largest and most powerful province. Since this government took office in 2008, the Punjab PPP has appeared rudderless and without effective leadership. The Wattoo 'weapon' has failed at the first test to reverse that long-standing reality. All the players will now have to return to the drawing board in preparation for the general elections in the light of their pluses and minuses in this ‘dress rehearsal’.
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Black tide rising Pakistan has been in the grip of terrorist and sectarian violence for many years. Those who see this as the most serious existential threat to the country are alarmed by the rising dark tide of fanaticism that threatens to destroy the state and society and turn it into an oppressive theocracy with the narrowest of possible interpretations of religion. This interpretation regards all who disagree with it or hold different points of view, whether about the kind of society we should be, or belong to different denominations or faiths from the extremists, as legitimate targets for threats, intimidation, and even murder. It should not perhaps surprise us then that the most frequently targeted groups are those that are peaceful, vulnerable, and not wedded to violence. Take for example the Hazara Shias in Balochistan or Gilgit-Baltistan, or Shias generally, including in Karachi, and the minority faiths, and a compete picture of anarchy, chaos, mayhem and blood shedding of innocents presents itself. Disappointingly, the authorities seem either to have no effective answer to this rising tide, or, in the case of vulnerable and voiceless communities, maintain a studied silence and indifference to their plight. Part of the problem is that the law enforcing agencies, particularly the police, seem imbued with the same narrow ideas as the fanatics out there. One only has to quote the example of Salmaan Taseer, the late Governor of Punjab, Shahbaz Bhatti, Federal Minister for Minorities, and sundry others to demonstrate that the infection is both within and without the state. Two incidents in Lahore on Saturday and Sunday illustrate the fact that the disease is now also within the entrails of our society and eating it up from within. On Saturday, a Swedish 70-year-old charity worker was shot in the chest outside her home in Model Town. While she is struggling for life in a hospital, this was followed on Sunday by a horrific attack on an Ahmedi graveyard in the same vicinity. Ten to 15 armed and masked men overpowered the guard and caretakers at the graveyard and desecrated more than 120 graves by smashing their tombstones, all the while threatening the hostages that they would be killed if they did not flee the country. Identifying themselves according to reports as belonging to the Tehreek-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the perpetrators voiced their objection to the tombstones carrying inscriptions from holy texts. Would this too not constitute blasphemy under our flawed laws? After all holy texts, no matter where they occur, are supposed to be sacred, aren’t they? Which religion, including Islam, allows desecration of graves? It seems that while the Swedish charity worker was targeted because she belongs to a Christian organisation helping Christians in Lahore over many decades, the Ahmedis have been sent the message that they cannot find peace even in the grave. Had the policeman accompanying the guard, who had alerted the Ahmedi centre in the vicinity, not opened fire in the air, the vandals would probably have dug up the graves. It should be recalled that these are not the first incidents of this kind. While Lahore has witnessed numerous bombings in recent times, the kidnappings of an American, Warren Weinstein and Shahbaz Taseer from Lahore indicate that there is a malign presence of fanatics right amidst us. As if all this were not bad enough, the authorities in Karachi have done us proud by demolishing a Hindu temple in the Garden area of Karachi, ostensibly as an operation against encroachment at the instigation of a land grabber and despite a stay order by the courts. Denials and dissembling notwithstanding, it turns out to be another instance of the land mafia grabbing even land belonging to the residents or holders for a century. This will add further fuel to the fire of Hindus being driven out of the country and into India to seek safety and a better life. Knowing our police’s legendary efficiency, nothing will come of the investigations into any of these incidents. Although the government/s have failed to stem the rot while terrorism, sectarianism and fanaticism continue to take their toll, it is encouraging that the young chairperson of the ruling PPP, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, has taken a bold stand against the fanatics and terrorists. He has called for all people of good faith and sensibility to rise to defend Jinnah’s Pakistan (a long forgotten venture) and protect the minorities against this kind of targeting. More power to the young, then, since not only is their future at stake in this country, they seem clearer about the challenge and how to tackle it.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Anti-terrorism body The federal cabinet has finally given its approval to a Bill seeking to give mandatory legal cover to the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) to better conduct the struggle against terrorism. The Bill had been due to be tabled earlier to legally strengthen an existing body set up in 2009, which had proved ineffective. It has taken three long years and many deaths and destruction due to terrorism before the Bill has seen the light of day. The body set up in 2009 was in practice reduced to an ineffective cell within the interior ministry, reportedly because other agencies, particularly the military intelligence arms, had reservations about the command structure of the proposed body. Former Prime Minister (PM) Yousaf Raza Gilani had set up a three-member cabinet committee to look into the matter and make recommendations. One prominent dissident on the committee was Senator Raza Rabbani of the PPP, who candidly expressed the view that the body should be headed by none other than the PM and not by the interior minister. Lengthy and perambulatory discussions on the issue failed to yield positive results until now. Reportedly, NACTA would now be headed by the PM and have as its members the chief ministers of all the provinces and heads of intelligence agencies, both civilian and military. Of course, the Bill now has to be passed by both houses of parliament before it becomes law. How long that process will take, and whether it can be completed before the next elections, is uncertain. Even now, there were reportedly dissenting voices amongst the federal cabinet ministers who argued that the need was to strengthen the existing intelligence and security agencies rather than creating a new supra-body. The point they seem to have missed is that the existing structure has spectacularly failed to combat growing terrorism because precisely of the lack of coordination amongst federal and provincial agencies on the one hand, and military and civilian agencies on the other. The most potent demonstration of the efficacy of such a coordination was provided by the massive mobilization and cooperation amongst all agencies to keep the peace during Muharram 9th and 10th, which arguably minimized terrorist attacks and for which the Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik for a change received appreciation by his cabinet colleagues rather than the usual brickbats. During the media briefing after the cabinet meeting, Federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira outlined the scope and thrust envisaged for NACTA. It would be a body conducting research, policymaking, coordination amongst all agencies, and develop long-term policies for combating the terrorist mindset. To achieve the last objective, it could look into curricula, drama, films, and introduce modern education in madrassas, this objective having come to grief despite half-hearted efforts during General Musharraf’s regime. While these aspects are long overdue, the government may also look into the treatment terrorists and their ideas receive on the media and set up guidelines to starve the terrorists of the oxygen of publicity, while framing their ideas in the correct perspective and not sympathetically, as often happens consciously or inadvertently in the media at present. The NACTA Bill should also, if it has not already, look into the legal lacunae that allow terrorists of all hues and shades to wriggle free because of the inadequacy of our laws, prosecution regime, and lack of witness protection against threats and intimidation by the terrorists. We have consistently argued in this space for the need to set up a body like NACTA. The lack of coordination, sharing information and data bases on the terrorists amongst federal and provincial agencies and military and civilian ones has given so many gaps for the terrorists to exploit. The nature of the terrorist threat that afflicts the country is that of decentralized small groups operating underground. There is therefore hardly anything resembling a centralized command for the terrorist movement as a whole, which may be more amenable to decapitation. Given the nature of the beast, small victories accumulated by pre-empting and taking out these small groups one by one will eventually translate into a critical mass of degradation of their capacity to wreak havoc. This depends crucially on excellent and in time intelligence. With the PM heading the proposed NACTA, there is room for greater confidence that all agencies and authorities, federal, provincial and military, will finally be on the same page and without rancour or rivalries eroding its effectiveness. Even if NACTA arrives too close to or after the impending elections, the nature of the struggle against terrorism being of a protracted nature, it is an enterprise worth pursuing irrespective of the timeline involved if Pakistan is to be freed of the clutches of debilitating terrorism.